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File this one under, “Can’t make this stuff up.”

Remember the Pittsburgh Steelers magical playoff run leading up to Super Bowl XL? I’m sure we all remember it like it was yesterday. Everybody also remembers exactly where and what we were doing when Jerome Bettis fumbled against the Colts, nearly blowing our shot at an epic upset and his chance to go out on top. In the days that followed, a story even surfaced of a man suffering a heart attack as the result of that play.

What I’m trying to say here is Steeler Nation takes their football seriously. Continue reading »

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Beaky-Bastards

The Baltimore Ravens must be the luckiest team in NFL history.

They should’ve been one and done in last year’s playoffs only for Rahim Moore’s epic blunder to set them on course for a Super Bowl run. They defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in a pivotal division match-up on Thanksgiving night thanks to five field goals by Justin Tucker. Last night, in an equally crucial Monday Night game, they somehow beat the Detroit Lions without scoring a single touchdown. Six more Tucker field goals was all the offense “elite” Joe Flacco and company could muster.

Maybe they should’ve given Tucker the $120 million dollar contract. Continue reading »

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The Monday after a loss by the Pittsburgh Steelers is always interesting. Local talk radio airwaves are usually filled with a mixture of doom, gloom and Monday morning quarterbacking. The level of vitriol increases exponentially when the Steelers lose a game in miserable a fashion. So in the wake of Sunday’s absolute ass-kicking by the San Diego Chargers, I expected yesterday to be a red letter day for yinzer sports talk.

To my surprise, instead of bemoaning Curtis Brown‘s absolute ineptitude or bitching about the stone hands infecting Young Money Cash Droppahs, the issue on everybody’s minds seemed to be Mike Tomlin‘s decision not to go for a two point conversion in the 4th quarter.

Here’s the scenario. The Steelers were down 24 with about seven minutes left. With Ben Roethlisberger and the rest of the starters still in the game, they scored a garbage time touchdown to make the score 34-16. Tomlin kicked the extra point, which left the deficit at three scores (17 points) instead of going for a 2 point conversion which would’ve cut it to 16 (two TDs + two 2 pts).

When asked why Ben was still in the game despite just missing three games due to life threatening injury, Tomlin responded, “We always look to compete.” But when asked why he didn’t go for 2, he said, “We didn’t want to put our special two point plays on tape.” So which is it? If you’re trying to compete, you go for two and cut the margin to two touchdowns. If you’re in full mop up mode, you kick the XP and put your recovering franchise QB on the bench.

Tomlin’s weekly lie-fest press conference is later today and I wager nobody in the rah rah cheerleader local media presses him on this contradiction. That didn’t stop Steeler fans from calling in droves yesterday to call BS on Tomlin’s nonsense. Leaving aside the obvious lie about the “special two point plays” (they couldn’t call a regular goal line play? I’m sure “genius” Todd Haley has dozens and dozens of those in his wonderful offense), why couldn’t Tomlin just tell the truth?

As I mentioned in yesterday’s recap, there was a minor scrum among Steelers Nation during the game as a #fireTomlin has tag started making the rounds. Later that evening, local sportscaster John Fedko went on Triblive Radio (who once offered me a weekly interview segment but reneged so I won’t link to them) and actually verbalized the notion that Tomlin should be fired. Other Pittsburgh sports personalities have been more muted in their criticism but there is definitely a growing backlash against Tomlin amongst both reporters and fans. And he has nobody to blame but himself.

I’m not a johnny-come-lately to criticizing Tomlin. In fact when I wrote for NicePickCowher many years ago, I was the first person online or anywhere to point out his press conferences were utter jokes. All he does is stand there and spout off a bunch of nonsense he thinks sounds good, very little of which is actually true. I was also the first to float the idea that Tomlin won with “Cowher’s team,” an idea which all of a sudden I hear people picking up on only four years after I first floated it.

Look, I don’t hate Mike Tomlin. I don’t even think he should be fired (yet). But at the same time, I think he’s pulled the wool over a lot of people’s eyes and slowly that facade is beginning to fade. He lies constantly and about everything. He lies about injuries, he lies about line-up changes, he lies about strategy. And his in-game management is absolutely atrocious to the point even Bill Simmons has remarked that he’d never bet on Tomlin in a close game. In just the past month alone, Byron Leftwich was left in a game where he was obviously hurt, the running back situation was botched so badly none of them had any confidence and after Sunday’s loss various Steelers from Ryan Clark to Bret Keisel admitted they felt the team “wasn’t ready to play.”

Weren’t ready to play? How does any team in the middle of a playoff race not come into a very winnable game ready to play? That’s on the head coach. A head coach who inherited a team only one season removed from a Super Bowl championship, by the way. If the team hopes to win another before the window closes, Tomlin needs to start doing a much better job before it’s too late. Or else he risks joining George Seifert and Barry Switzer in head coaching infamy.

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I’ve been a fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers for a very long time. I’m not going to claim I haven’t missed a game in 35 years or anything like that (I was a teenager once and the Steelers did start Bubby Brister). However, since I started following them in the late 80s, I can honestly count on one hand the number of times I’ve turned off a game before the clock hit zero. Well, much like the Steelers, now I have one for the thumb.

Yesterday’s 34-24 loss to the San Diego Chargers was the worst kind of drubbing. It was one of those games where literally nothing went right and your team was never in the game. The Steelers pathetic offense didn’t cross mid-field until there were 30 seconds left in the first half. At the start of the 4th quarter, the Chargers had possessed the ball for roughly 30 of the first 45 minutes. This was as thorough an ass-whupping as the Steelers have had in a long time.

Except instead of coming at the hands of an elite franchise like Baltimore or New England, it was handed to them by a going nowhere 4-8 team about to fire their head coach at season’s end.

Unlike in those other embarrassments, Ben Roethlisberger was the least of the culprits in yesterday’s debacle. Ben actually looked pretty good coming off a three game layoff due to catastrophic injury. He moved around well, scrambled without fear and didn’t look rusty or limited at all. It’s only too bad the rest of the team decided to offer him less support than they offered Charlie Batch in Cleveland.

Young Money should change their name to Cash Droppahs. Once again, they dropped an obnoxious number of passes, several of which would’ve went for big gains in the first half when the game was still within reach. Mike Wallace put up a nice fantasy game with garbage time stats (7 catches 112 yards 2 TDS) but in reality he came up small when the catches counted. He was wide open on at least three occasions in the first half only for the ball to CLANG off his stone hands.

But perhaps the biggest goat was Antonio Brown. Ben made a nifty move to scramble away from danger and launched a perfect throw 30 or so yards down field which hit AB right in the chest before bouncing harmlessly to the turf. As if that drop wasn’t bad enough, AB later gift-wrapped 7 points to the Chargers when a bubble screen hit TE David Paulsen and bounced into the end zone. Brown tried to pick it up which was stupid because he was 5 yards deep and about to be swarmed. Being tackled in the end zone is the same as kicking the ball out of the end zone (a safety) so the result would’ve been the same except by trying to be a hero, he let the ball get away from him and 2 points became 7. What a maroon.

For awhile now Steeler fans (myself included) have sang the praises of the Steelers receiving corps. All receivers drop passes now and then but at what point do we start wondering if maybe we’ve overrated them a bit? Wallace is definitely an one trick ass clown with delusions of grandeur (LarryFitz money my ass…) but what’s going on with AB and Manny Sanders? And why do the Steelers bother signing guys like Plax and the Cotch Rocket if they aren’t going to play them?

Of course, I’ve long said the passing game needs a good running attack to complement it in order to be effective. The Steelers couldn’t run at all yesterday. Jonathan Dwyer finished with 8 carries (EIGHT!) for 32 yards. He narrowly led the team in rushing over Ben who ended up scrambling for 31 yards because he was constantly running for his life. The offensive line allowed only 2 sacks but Ben’s 5 scrambles were due to pressure and there were another half dozen times he got away long enough to throw the ball away. Willie Colon tried to tough it out but had to leave early on with Maurkice Pouncey shifting to LG and Doug Legursky coming in at center.

This will come as shocking news but Colon is injured and reports are he’s LOST FOR THE SEASON. Yes, I know that the guy who is always injured and never plays a full season yet got a big fat contract anyway being injured is totally unexpected but there you go. We’ll talk about where this leaves the O-line and running game going forward later.

All this misery and I haven’t even gotten to the defense yet. I don’t want to hear Steeler fans bitch about Ike Taylor ever EEEEVVVER again. The D loses Troy and still leads the league in pass defense. The D loses James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley and still leads the league in total D. The D loses Ike and goes to complete shit.

The way Curtis Brown played yesterday almost defies description. It literally looked like they took a guy out of the stands an hour before game time and put him in the starting line-up. That’s how clueless Brown looked. This is the guy’s second full year with the Steelers and he didn’t appear to have any idea where he was supposed to be or who he was supposed to be covering. It got so bad that in the second half they actually inserted Josh Victorian, a guy fresh off the practice squad, as the nickel because Brown was such a liability.

When the Chargers scored early in the 4th to go up 34-10, I figured it might be good to take out Ben since the game was lost. Mike Tomlin kept him in, risking both injury and the season in a lost effort. Ben led a TD drive but instead of going for 2 (and possibly cutting the lead to two scores instead of three), he kicked the XP. Why? “I didn’t want to reveal my secret 2 point plays,” Tomlin later said in a lie so hilarious, only the rah rah cheerleader Pittsburgh media could swallow it.

If you’re not trying to win, WHY WAS BEN PLAYING? I can believe you have some 2 point trick plays but, I dunno, you couldn’t just run a regular goal line play? The truth is Tomlin had given up on the game but he didn’t want to justify keeping Ben in and admit he wasn’t playing to win. I was on Twitter and a minor war broke out amongst Steeler fans as a #fireTomlin hash tag started making the rounds. I’m not saying Tomlin should be fired but I’m sick and tired of the Tomlin apologists acting like nothing that happens to this team is his fault. Losing to teams we shouldn’t lose to and putting out performances like this one or the one in Cleveland or a whole bunch back in 2009 are inexcusable. And that falls on the head coach.

The only good news to emerge from Sunday is the Bengals also lost (as did the Ravens but they’ve clinched the division with our loss). Which means the status quo holds over from last week. The Steelers must win out if they want to control their own destiny but one more loss, as long as it isn’t to the Bengals, will still probably get them in the playoffs. PLAYOFFS? (Insert Mora rant here).

 

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There’s an old saying that timing is everything. That’s especially true when it comes to the NFL. Two stories broke yesterday, both of which will have a direct bearing on this Sunday’s game between the Pittsburgh Steelers and San Diego Chargers. As usual, only one of which benefits the good guys.

The positive news for the Steelers is that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has practiced without incident and is officially the starter this weekend. Charlie Batch did a good legendary job in his absence but this team has a very small margin of error going forward. The win at Baltimore doesn’t mean they have to totally win out to make the playoffs although doing so keeps them in the driver’s seat. Realistically, they can still lose one of their last four games and still make the playoffs so long as that loss doesn’t come against Cincy the last week of the season.

The bad news is a story surfaced yesterday that Chargers coach Norv Turner and GM AJ Smith will both be fired at the end of the year. Norv has had nine lives as a head coach, handed a team on the verge of a Super Bowl and doing just barely enough to keep his job every year since. It appears this year’s miserable 4-8 effort is finally the straw that broke the proverbial camel’s back.

Some of you may be thinking, why is that bad news? Doesn’t imminent firing mean the team stinks?  Well, yeah, it does. And while being rid of Norvellus is good news for Chargers fans, it’s bad news for the Steelers because we’ve seen time and time again that teams tend to play their best when everybody counts them out. From all accounts, Norv is well-liked by his players so I can see them extra motivated this week to go out and score a big win for their beleaguered coach. We want to face teams demoralized and ready for winter vacation, not eager to send their man out a winner.

STEELERS DEFENSE vs CHARGERS OFFENSE

What happened to Philip Rivers? The third wheel in the celebrated QB Class of 2004 remains the only one not to have won a Super Bowl. While Ben and Eli have progressed to where they’re undoubtedly franchise QB, Rivers has regressed badly. At this point, Matt Schaub (third rounder) probably has a better chance of winning a Lombardi any time soon.

Last year, Rivers tossed 20 INTs to nearly off-set his 27 TDs. He’s on a similar track this season with a 18-15 split. He’s also fumbled a whopping 11 times although the team lost only 5 of those. Still, these numbers paint a picture of a QB under duress and given to being reckless with the football. I’ve liked Rivers ever since his heroic performance in the AFC Championship Game where he nearly ended the Patriots undefeated season playing with a torn ACL but something has definitely gone awry for him.

Part of it is the lack of talent around him. Years ago, the Chargers had a bunch of weapons on offense. Those weapons have slowly drained away to where TE Antonio Gates remains the last man standing. Star WR Vincent Jackson departed to Tampa while LaDainian Tomlinson succumbed to injury and age long before he became a Jet. Their replacements, Denario Alexander and Ryan Matthews simply aren’t the same caliber. Malcolm Floyd was fine as a #2 WR but that he’s their current #1 says a lot about the dearth of talent. When two of your top four receivers are running backs that’s not a good sign.

It’s good for the Steelers, though, as the banged up secondary will be without Ike Taylor for the first time in a long long time (135 games to be exact). Neither Ryan Clark nor Troy Polamalu have practiced all week so who knows what their status is in the Mao-esque Tomlin regime. Veterans usually are cut slack in regards to mid-week practice with Friday being the deadline for proving you’re ready for Sunday.

Hopefully they’ll both be okay since the young corners will need all the veteran leadership they can get. Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen will start with Curtis Brown playing the nickel. This was the line-up Kevin Colbert hoped for when he drafted all three in the middle rounds of recent drafts. I guess we’ll finally get a chance to see if they can play. Allen was picked on mercilessly against Baltimore, steadily getting better as the game went along. Hopefully that carries over to this week.

STEELERS OFFENSE vs CHARGERS DEFENSE

Ben picked a good week to return as San Diego seems to be okay against the run and lousy against the pass. They’re not abysmal in either category but neither area is an overwhelming strength. Actually, the Chargers are allowing less than 100 yards per game on the ground which is pretty good for any team. The sledding may be tough for Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman, who proved to be a very effective 1-2 punch against Baltimore last week.

It won’t help that the team’s bulldozer in the middle, Willie Colon, continues to struggle with a balky knee. He’s had it drained twice this week (OUCH!) although holds out hope of playing. If Colon returns, Maurkice Pouncey will return to center. If not, the Steelers will probably go back to last week’s formula with Pouncer moving over to LG and Doug Legursky sliding in at center.

Meanwhile, Mike Adams continues to miss time with his foot/ankle issue meaning rookie Kelvin Beachum will probably start his second straight game. You probably noticed Heath Miller not getting many catches during the first half in Baltimore and that’s because the Steelers were worried about Beachum so they kept Heath in to block. They must’ve seen something they liked because in the second half Heath was out catching balls while they left Beachum all by himself one-on-one. Despite the patchwork line, Baltimore only had 2 sacks, both of which came because Charlie held on to the ball way way too long.

Ben should have a full complement of weapons with Antonio Brown working through the ankle injury and Emmanuel Sanders nursing bruised ribs. Mike Wallace also has a sore knee which still doesn’t explain why so many passes clang off his hands. Regardless, if Ben is anywhere near his usual self (and not the Shadow Ben we saw in San Fran last year), he should make some plays. San Diego has some decent pass rushers (23 as a team led by Shaun Phillips with 7) and have come down with 11 INTs but overall have struggled this season.

Last week’s victory over Baltimore was the kind of game that can propel a team toward a big run deep into December. It doesn’t erase the horrible losses to Cleveland, Tennessee or Oakland but it does set alter the momentum of the Steelers’ season. Let’s hope they keep that ball rolling this week.

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