With the Pirates struggling and the Penguins in a full-blown meltdown, Pittsburgh sports fans could use any bit of good news right about now. Rejoice, fellow yinzers, for I bring tidings of great joy. The thug who stabbed Mike Adams down in the South Side has been caught and thrown in the clink.
Also, the Pittsburgh Steelers came to terms with first round draft pick Jarvis Jones. Jones signed a four year contract valued at $8.5 million, a little more than half ($4.7 million) of which comes in the form of a signing bonus. There is also a fifth year club option at an undisclosed amount. Not that eight million clams is chump change or anything but isn’t it crazy to remember four or five years ago when a guy taken in Jones’ position would sign for twice that? The owners actually did something right for a change.
In addition to inking Jones, the Steelers also came to terms on four year deals with RB Le’Veon Bell and DE Nick Williams. Why this flurry of signings? Because the Steelers are suddenly flush with cash now that Willie Colon has come off the books. Colon was designated a post-June 1st cut meaning as of Saturday, his cap hit went from $6.5 million to a little over $1 million. Of course, the team is going to have something like $4 million in dead money next year due to the sheer insanity of giving him that contract in the first place but by then some of the other recent veteran cuts should be off the books.
Make no mistake, the Steelers are reloading with young guys. As such, it’s good that they’ve now signed eight of their nine 2013 NFL Draft picks. Only QB Landry Jones remains unsigned. If he knows what’s good for him, he’ll tell his agent to get a deal done ASAP since his future career prospects depend on him getting on the field. There’s still plenty of time to learn the playbook but every day that goes by the potential of him supplanting Bruce Gradkowski as number two diminishes a little more.
For the other draftees, their chances of making a significant contribution during the upcoming season will be better than any in recent memory. Safety Shamarko Thomas was smartly the first pick to sign and with the team almost barren at the position behind the injury-prone starters, he could see significant playing time. With a lack of depth and talent at their positions, guys like Bell and WR Markus Wheaton will also have a prime opportunity to contribute as rookies. Even Jones is expected to be used in place of starting outside linebacker Jason Worilds in obvious pass rush situations, a big departure from the days when rookies where never expected to take a year to learn the ins and outs of Dick LeBeau‘s complex defense.
Here’s hoping the youngsters are up to the task.
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Day Two of NFL Free Agency was even more wild than Day One. At some point the NFL really should consider televising these things since it makes for great theater. Just gather all the big name free agents in a room and have them pick the hat of the team they decided to sign with like high school kids making their college commitment. It’d be a lot more interesting than listening to talking heads on the NFL Network or spamming the F5 button while visiting Profootballtalk.
For the Pittsburgh Steelers, Day Two saw them lose a pair of starters. To nobody’s chagrin, former first round pick Rashard Mendenhall signed elsewhere, joining head coach Bruce Arians in the deserts of Arizona. Looks like Arizona will continue to act as Pittsburgh West for discarded Steelers despite the departure of Ken Whisenhunt. I wonder if Rashard has a compass so he can be sure to face Mecca during his daily prayers to Allah? Also, it’s kinda ironic that the coach who brought the Flying Circus here to Pittsburgh made his first big free agent acquisition a running back.
The Steelers also cut overpaid fatass Willie Colon. Thus ends one of the most mind-boggling signings in team history. Colon was a 2006 fourth round draft pick out of Hofstra who unseated Max Starks for the starting RT job when Big Max found himself in the dog house following the team’s disappointing post-Super Bowl XL campaign. Colon served on a series of lines that surrendered an insane amount of sacks although he was the starting RT when they won Super Bowl XLIII. Colon was, at best, an average tackle playing a position so easy undrafted rookie Kelvin Beachum handled it fine when pressed into duty last season.
Despite being stunningly mediocre and missing the entire 2010 season due to an off-season injury, the Steelers saw fit to gift Colon a five year $29 million contract the following spring. He repaid their generosity by tearing his triceps in week 1 and sitting out the rest of the 2011 season. The Steelers moved Colon to guard last year and while he proved to be a pretty nasty run blocker he also served as a flag magnet. This time he lasted twelve whole games before blowing out his knee. By cutting Colon, the Steelers lop a whopping $5.5 million dollars off their cap.
Between Colon’s departure and reworking the contract of another lazy fatso, LaMarr Woodley, the Steelers finally have some room under the salary cap. They still have to keep a chunk open for the draft and to sign their RFAs but at least they can now afford to bring in a cheap veteran or two to help fill in some of their numerous holes.
One area they finally addressed is the back-up quarterback. Ben Roethlisberger is a tough man but his sandlot style of play and advancing age make it nearly certain that he’ll miss a game or two every season. The past couple seasons the team put their faith in
China Doll Byron Leftwich who has the unfortunate habit of getting injured tying his shoes in pre-game warm-ups. It was absolutely imperative they sign a dependable back-up.
And they’ve finally done so by bringing hometown boy Bruce Gradkowski back to the ‘Burgh. Gradkowski, who grew up in Dormont and played for Seton-LaSalle, signed a three year deal which may finally signal the end for another local product, Charlie Batch. Gradkowski has bounced around the league, playing for five different teams in his seven year career. He’s fluctuated between starter and back-up, starting three games against the Steelers during that time. His most notable career start came against the Steelers as he was the quarterback who engineered the Raiders memorable upset of the defending Super Bowl champs during the Hangover season of 2009. Gradkowski is the ideal back-up, a durable dependable guy who can come in and win a game for you if need be.
He’s also a yinzer which will probably lessen the blow should the Steelers finally decide to part ways with Batch. It’s no secret the Steelers have been trying to rid themselves of Chaz for a couple years now only for those plans to be undone by Leftwich’s brittleness and Dennis Dixon’s abject stupidity. With Gradkowski slotting nicely into a #2 role, the team can either draft a developmental QB or sign a young guy off another team’s practice squad. Although let’s hope all those high draft picks they’ve invested in their offensive line pay some dividends in the form of a nice healthy Big Ben.
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This Sunday, the Pittsburgh Steelers face the Dallas Cowboys in a game brimming with playoff implications for both teams. A Steelers-Cowboys match-up really needs no added incentive. Steeler fans hate the Cowboys, Dallas fans detest Pittsburgh. Even though the two teams only play each other once in a blue moon, it doesn’t dissipate the level of animosity and anticipation between the fan bases.
The Cowboys have adopted the moniker of “America’s Team.” No two words inspire more bile to well up in the stomach of Steeler Nation. The fact Jerry Jones and his merry band of miscreants have adopted that as both marketing slogan and credo will never cease to anger us. Usually these rivalries mean more to fans than they do to the players but it seems that isn’t always the case.
Ben Roethlisberger gave an interview on Wednesday where he was asked about the “America’s Team” moniker. Ben suggested if the Cowboys represent American, perhaps the Steelers should be referred to as the “World’s Team.” Not the cleverest bit of trash talk although you have to admire that Ben’s heart is in the right place. Certainly no team has a larger or more passionate fan base be it in the US or around the world than do the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Bragging right are all well and good but that’s a secondary concern come Sunday afternoon. As I said, both teams are in the thick of a playoff race. Both teams need a win to keep pace. A loss at this juncture could severely cripple their post-season plans. In fact, a loss could very well wind up knocking a team out of the picture altogether.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs COWBOYS OFFENSE
Tony Romo continues to be Tony Romo. What that means is you always have to take the good with the bad. The good is when he’s on, he can be a very competent passer with the kind of arm capable of making all the throws. The bad is he’s still prone to boneheaded mistakes. Romo has throw for 4,000 in every season he’s been healthy and started and he’s less than 100 yards away from eclipsing that total once again. Unfortunately, coming off a year where he posted a career best TD/INT ratio (31/10) he’s fallen back to old habits this year, nearly balancing his stat sheet with 20 TD against 16 INTs.
One bit of good news for Romo and company is that his best target, WR Dez Bryant, is adamant about playing this Sunday despite suffering a broken finger. Bryant is currently 10th in yardage and has caught 9 of Romo’s TDs so his presence would definitely be missed. How effective he’ll be catching balls with a broken finger remains to be seen. Mike Wallace can’t catch balls with two perfectly manicured hands so maybe having all your fingers operational isn’t that big a deal.
The Dallas packing attack remains strong with TE Jason Witten continuing to be one of the most dangerous pass catching targets in the game. He and Bryant are complemented by Miles Austin, whose 2012 campaign has been beset by injury. Perhaps to their detriment, the Cowboys don’t run as much as they should although Felix Jones and DeMarco Murray remain threats out of the backfield.
I’m not gonna lie, Dallas’ passing game scares the heck out of me. Coming off an utter dismantling at the hands of Phillip Rivers (who really didn’t even play that well) and a crew of utter no-name receivers, this game has the potential to get real ugly real fast if the Steelers’ secondary doesn’t play a helluva lot better. To that end, the Steelers have already decided Curtis Brown, who was about as useful as tits on a giraffe against San Diego, will ride the pine in favor of Josh Victorian. Victorian, who spent the entire season on the practice squad, didn’t exactly shine in his brief stint last Sunday but I can safely say it’d be nearly impossible to play worse than Brown did.
LaMarr Woodley has been practicing and it appears the Steelers will have their oft-injured LB back for the game. Of course, the Football Gods have deemed it unfair for us to have both Woodley and James Harrison together for any length of time so look for one (or both) to leave after a handful of plays. On paper, it looks like the defense will be formidable with both Woodley and Troy Polamalu back after extended absences but I think we’ve seen enough of Troy to know he’s playing at half speed. Whether that’s good enough for him or Woodley or Harrison to force another big game-changing turnover remains to be seen.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs COWBOYS DEFENSE
Big Ben and company better bring their A-game or else last week’s anemic offensive effort is gonna look like an ArenaBall game by comparison. I don’t know what has gone wrong with Todd Haley‘s offense but something clearly has. Going back to the game against KC, the offense has been sputtering to a standstill even with Ben at quarterback.
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what the problem is because nothing seems to work. The running game doesn’t move the chains. The passing game creates opening only for passes to CLANG harmlessly off the receivers’ hands. The short quick routes still end with Ben running for his life. And the end result is a team with a load of offensive talent on paper struggling to score points.
The offensive line will look different yet again with rookie first rounder David DeCastro finally getting a start at RG. Ramon Foster will slide over to the left while Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey remains in the middle. Whether this line-up will open up some holes for the running game is anybody’s guess. It will certainly help matters if Jonathan Dwyer and iRed can get something going on the ground.
The Cowboys boast perhaps the fiercest pass rush we’ve seen all year. OLBs Demarcus Ware (11 sacks) and Anthony Spencer (8.5) will eat Ben up if the team becomes one dimensional. Corners Brandon Carr and Maurice Claiborne aren’t the flashiest secondary even though they’ve combined to form the 8th best pass D in the league. Dallas has a very strong defense so when the plays present themselves, it’ll behoove the Steelers to not let those opportunities slip through their fingers.
The last time these two teams met during the regular season, a pick six by Deshea Townshend turned the tide of the game and perhaps of the season. The Steelers went on to win and then went on a roll which culminated with a heartstopping victory in Super Bowl XLIII. Will this game be a similar springboard? Or will it be just another stop on the path to diminished expectations?
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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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Mike Tomlin held his weekly press conference yesterday afternoon. As I’ve mentioned about a billion times, I tend to ignore what he says because when he’s not lying, he’s using a bunch of words to say nothing. Well, surprise of all surprises, he actually used the time productively yesterday. It looks like there’s a whole bunch of changes in store for the Pittsburgh Steelers.
First, we have the state of the offensive line. I already talked about this quite a bit yesterday but it appears I was in error. I thought for sure they’d re-arrange things however they could to avoid starting rookie RT Kelvin Beachum. Tomlin says Beachum will start against the Baltimore Ravens with Mike Adams nursing a high ankle sprain and Marcus Gilbert out for the year. Of course, the plan is subject to change since there are still a bunch of question marks regarding who’s healthy and who’s not.
Willie Colon is expected back at LG although they probably won’t be sure until an hour before game time. If Colon can’t play, my best guess (and I’ve been misfiring on my predictions more often than Bob Kudzma so take it for what it’s worth) is Doug Legursky would be first man off the bench. First round pick David DeCastro is cleared to return but I have to think if he was 100% healthy and ready to play, he’d be starting. That means we’re looking at either Starks-Colon-Pouncey-Foster-Beachum or Starks-Legursky-Pouncey-Foster-Beachum as your starting line. If there is another injury, DeCastro would probably be pressed into service at RG with Ramon Foster sliding out to tackle. I can’t imagine they’d play recently signed T Tony Moeki unless he was the last man standing.
The line will be blocking for starting running back Jonathan Dwyer. It only took Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley twelve weeks to realize this committee approach where each back gets 3-4 carries doesn’t work. The only time they’ve gotten good results from the running game is when they’ve started one back and stuck with him to the tune of 15-20 carries. Dwyer, who’s been the team’s most effective back, will start with Isaac Redman serving as the back-up. No word whether Rashard Mendenhall is planning a jihad on the coaching staff for busting him all the way down to third string.
Ben Roethlisberger has began throwing and ESPN is saying there’s a “50-50 chance” he makes the superhero comeback this Sunday. Tomlin said he’s proceeding with Charlie Batch as the starter so I wouldn’t get my hopes up for a Big Ben miracle. I haven’t parsed out all the playoff scenarios but barring a massive collapse, the Ravens have firm control of the AFC North whether they win this week or not. I’d rather Ben avoid the beating Baltimore is sure to dish out and be ready for the final three game stretch run against three very beatable teams than rush him back for one game which potentially won’t matter anyway.
Batch will have one important weapon back this week in Antonio Brown. Brown is by far the team’s best receiver so having him back will be huge for whoever plays QB. Tomlin also decided to play some mind games with the receivers, listing Mike Wallace and Emannuel Sanders (who has played very well in AB’s absence) as co-starters opposite Brown. I don’t think Tomlin has the stones to actually start Sanders ahead of Wallace but for those who thought I’ve been too hard on Wallace, clearly the coaching staff isn’t happy with his play either. We can worry about repercussions after the season ends, I’ll just say the team’s treatment of Wallace and Mendy doesn’t exactly bode well for their future here in Pittsburgh.
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Perhaps the most shocking information to emerge in the wake of Sunday’s debacle against Cleveland is the fact that if the season were to end today, the Pittsburgh Steelers would still be in the playoffs. Despite losing two straight games in ugly fashion and being hampered by injuries and miscues, the Steelers are still holding on to the AFC’s second Wild Card spot. Of course, that’s only because they beat the Bengals in their lone match-up this season so if Cincy were to even the score a few weeks from now, the Bungles would leapfrog us by virtue of a superior conference record. While it’s hard to quibble with a playoff berth, I think our current ranking speaks more to the relative mediocrity of the AFC than the strength of the conference.
Later this afternoon, Mike Tomlin will conduct his weekly misinformation session where he answers a bunch of questions with empty platitudes while saying nothing of substance. An ESPN report saying Ben Roethlisberger may return this Sunday in time for a huge showdown with Baltimore Ravens will surely be addressed. I have a feeling we’re not going to like the answer but I’ll wait until tomorrow to address that.
While the sinking Steelers prepare for a head-on collision with the Iceberg Baltimore, they’ve already started re-arranging some of the deck chairs. First round pick RG David DeCastro has been activated off the injured reserve as it appears he’ll be making his first NFL start on Sunday. The offensive line wasn’t good against the Browns with Doug Legursky playing absolutely retched in place of Willie Colon. I never much liked Colon but the move to LG has been nothing short of a career changer as he’s an absolute beast at run blocking. His absence was a big factor in our pitiful run game in Cleveland.
If Colon is healthy, DeCastro will start at RG (where he was expected to play all season) while current RG Ramon Foster can slide over to tackle if RT Mike Adams can’t play due to the high ankle sprain which knocked him out of Sunday’s game. If Colon can’t play, I expect Foster to move to LG while DeCastro stays slotted on the right side. However, if Adams is hurt, I think they’d rather play Legursky at LG and go ahead with moving Foster to RT instead of playing rookie Kelvin Beachum. We know Marcus Gilbert won’t be in the mix because he’s been placed on IR, ending his season. To think, the Steelers braintrust actually went into this year thinking that scrub would be the team’s starting left tackle.
Thank goodness for Max Starks.
Perhaps learning from past mistakes, the Steelers will actually carry eight o-lineman this weekend instead of the usual seven. The team optioned WR David Gilreath back to the practice squad so they could activate T John Malecki. This is also a good sign for Antonio Brown. Unless they plan on using Chris Rainey or Heath Miller as a wide out, the Steelers need at least four active WRs which they wouldn’t have if AB were expected to miss another game with the bum ankle. Ditching Gilreath reunites the Young Money trio with Plaxico Burress assuming the veteran fourth receiver role previously held by the Jerricho Cotchery.
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I don’t even know where to begin with last night’s debacle.
Might as well start with the positives I guess. The Pittsburgh Steelers pulled out a 16-13 win against the Kansas City Chiefs on Monday Night Football after Lawrence Timmons intercepted Matt Cassel’s first pass in overtime. One play later, Stonecold Shaun Suisham booted a 23 yarder to end the misery. And that’s about all the good things I have to say about what happened last night.
Ben Roethlisberger left the game in the third quarter with what preliminary reports are saying is a “sprained” throwing shoulder. I’m so glad we brought in Todd Haley‘s boring dink and dunk offense to protect him from getting injured. That’s sarcasm by the way. Of course, Ben has been remarkably healthy all season so it totally makes sense he’d suffer a serious injury a week before the Steelers play the Baltimore Ravens.
Ben wasn’t exactly lighting up the scoreboard before the injury. If not for a circus catch by Mike Wallace in the end zone, Ben would’ve departed with two FGs to show for his efforts. All week, fans and talking heads alike were calling this game Boss Todd’s shot at revenge against the team that canned him last season. What we failed to take into account is that familiarity is a two way street. Teams practice against each other all week for months on end meaning the Chiefs defense probably has taken hundreds of snaps against Haley’s offense during his tenure there. The result, as Max Starks later told reporters, was that KC’s D recognized practically every play they called last night.
Let’s not make excuses for the offense, though. The tone was set early when they went three and out on their first two possessions and Willie Colon was flagged for “cussing.” Swearing is a crime? What the f#ck?
Any questions about Antonio Brown‘s worth to the team were answered as Manny Sanders repeatedly failed to step up in his absence. The running game was absolutely atrocious the entire game. Isaac Redman was pathetic, fumbling the ball to gift wrap a FG early then getting stoned on a crucial 4th and inches early in the second half. Jon Dwyer relieved him and only did slightly better, averaging 2.9 ypc to iRed’s sad 2.6 ypc. Dwyer had a couple decent runs and he was running into a 7 man box after Ben got hurt but it still was far from an acceptable performance.
Let’s talk about the post-Ben offense. For whatever reason, Steeler Nation seems to have turned on Charlie Batch, mocking him as a broke washed-up bum. Well, if you’re comfortable with Byron Leftwich after what we saw last night then I don’t know what say. The guy plays quarterback like he’s trying to win a stuffed giraffe for his girlfriend at Kenneywood.
Okay, this was Lefty’s first action in like three years. Back-ups are rusty enough since they only get a handful of snaps at practice. And when he gets a nice clean pocket and about five seconds to wind up, he does throw a pretty ball. At the same time, he looked even more immobile than the last time we saw him. Leave it to Mike Tomlin to sign the only immobile black quarterback in NFL history. Lefty took about four or five vicious shots in about a quarter and half of work. He’s never going to survive if he has to play a significant stretch. What’s more, his goofy throwing motion and lousy accuracy is all wrong for an offense that relies on timing and accuracy.
Gotta love that with Ben under center, Haley went deep twice all season, then Leftwich comes in and his first pass is a bomb to Wallace.
I haven’t yet mentioned the Steelers defense. On paper, it looks like they had a good game. In reality, Kansas City’s incompetence was the only thing which saved them from a horrible loss. While we’re on the subject of terrible games, Ziggy Hood played like absolute shit. The Chiefs ran Jamaal Charles (23 carries 100 yards) right at him time after time for big chunks of yardage. Only when Dick LeBeau started switching up Hood and Bret Keisel did the bleeding stop. How bad does Ziggy have to play before Ironhead Junior gets more than a handful of snaps?
Did LaMarr Woodley play yesterday? How about James Harrison? You didn’t hear either name at all. If KC had receivers who didn’t fall into the fetal position when faced with contact and stopped shooting themselves in the foot with stupid penalties, this game wouldn’t have been close. In fact, the key series of the game occurred early in the third when a 22 yard TD to Dwayne Bowe was wiped out on a ticky-tack holding penalty then the KC kicker missed the ensuing FG wide right.
Late in the quarter, the pitiful Steelers offense was going nowhere fast when pass interference and roughing the passer penalties let them drive for the game-tying FG. Even at the end of the game KC tried their damnedest to snatch defeat from the jaws of
victory mediocrity. Cassel hit Bowe for a nice gain but Bowe lost the ball when Ryan Clark concussed himself while dislodging the ball. Then TE Tony Moeki got flagged for offensive PI which took them out of FG range and left them with 4th and 15. Of course, Ike Taylor played it too loose and let them convert a 27 yard pass play.
The Chiefs came in having never led during regulation all season. They led for almost half the game. The Chiefs came in leading the league in turnovers. Until Cassel threw the pick to Timmons in OT (which was tipped by the Diesel, btw), they had zero giveaways. Yeah, they were a desperate team. Yeah, maybe this was a trap game. Injuries, Haley, their Super Bowl, yadda yadda…
No excuses. Any good feelings from last week’s game against the Giants are long gone. This was an abominable effort that would’ve resulted in a loss against any halfway competent team. And now an offense which has already been average at best needs to find a way to score points with their back-up QB. On top of all this, two of the next three games are against the Ravens. Suddenly this season isn’t looking so promising.
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Short week this week as the Pittsburgh Steelers head down south to face the Tennessee Titans on Thursday Night Football. For once the Steelers’ schedule actually breaks in their favor. Short week games are never fun but at least they’re matched up against a bad team that’s reeling from two straight losses. And then you get a nice ten day break before facing the Cincinnati Bengals in the first real make-or-break game of the season.
The Steelers haven’t had the best luck on the NFL Network. They’ve faced the Browns on Thursday night two years in a row, first suffering a shocking loss then seeing Ben Roethlisberger suffer a season-altering injury. The Steelers aren’t a lock against bad teams, either. The Raiders suck yet we still lost to them a few weeks ago.
Of course, every situation is different. The Browns act like playing the Steelers is their Super Bowl so no matter the records or talent level, they always play tough. And as I recounted in my preview, Oakland has always been a house of horrors for the Black and Gold. Tennessee? Well, there was the Lendale White/Terrible Towel incident back in 2008 but the Steelers have beaten the crap out of them both times they’ve met since then.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs TITANS OFFENSE
One step forward, two steps back. James Harrison stepped forward last weekend, Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley stepped back. All the way back to the trainers room. With the short week and the prospect of getting extra rest in advance of the Bengals game, neither Woodley nor Polamalu are going to play. In Mike Tomlin‘s weekly lie-fest/press conference, he said Woodley’s injury is less severe than Troy’s, describing his hamstring strain as “mild.”
Which of course in Tomlinspeak probably means he tore it from the bone.
In the meantime, let’s hope Lawrence Timmons can give us a repeat of his dominating performance against the Eagles. I’m not a Jaworski who watches 285 hours of tape but from what I’ve heard, Timmons looked good because instead of assigning him set responsibilities (which he always abandons anyway), Dick LeBeau let him rove all over the field ala Troy. Timmons is a great athlete and it appears he has a good nose for the ball so perhaps they’ll turn him loose from here on out. Clearly asking him to be a disciplined play-the-system LB ala James Farrior was not working.
The Titans offense has been plain awful this year. The biggest culprit being former star RB Chris Johnson. The Steelers famously snapped his streak of 12 straight 100 yard games back in 2010 and in many ways he’s never been the same. He would have a Pro Bowl year that year but he held out the next and after getting his big contract has never approached his previous level. This year he’s rushed for only 200 yards in 5 games and hasn’t scored a single TD.
The Titans placed a lot of faith in first round pick (8th overall) QB Jake Locker expecting he’d make some leaps in his second year. Locker separated his shoulder a couple weeks back so our old buddy Matt Hasselbeck will start in his place. Hasselbeck was a capable game manager for the Seahawks team we beat in Super Bowl XL and did manage to lead the Titans to a 9-7 record last season. Of course, they played in a terrible division with Jacksonville trying exile themselves out to LA and the Colts who were busy Sucking For Luck. Hasselbeck is a wily vet but he’s at the point in his career where he needs help and when your best receiver is another old friend, ex-Steeler Nate Washington, that’s not enough.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs TITANS DEFENSE
Big Ben needs 300 yards to pass Terry Bradshaw as the Steelers all-time career passing leader. Unfortunately, I don’t think TB will be sending Ben any congratulatory notes in the mail when he does. Their relationship is still reportedly icy and I don’t expect it to thaw any time soon. It’s hard to compare eras so I’m not going to get into any “Who’s the better QB” debate except to say I hope some day these two guys are able to make peace with each other.
Big Ben should have a good shot at the record against a piss poor Titans D currently ranked in the bottom 5 in both rush and pass D. The Steelers scored one offensive TD against Philly and if they don’t do much better this week it’ll be a massive disappointment. Christian F’n Ponder dropped 30 on them last Sunday. Two time Super Bowl Champ Ben Roethlisberger and his Young Money receivers had damn well better do the same.
It’ll help if the receivers actually catch the ball this week. So many plays were left on the field against Philly. Mike Wallace in particular needs to step it up after his stellar 2 catch effort. Instead of begging for flags every time he’s jostled aggressively, how about trying to get open? Even Antonio Brown, who was the best offensive player not named Rashard Mendenhall, had a costly drop that would’ve went for 6.
Speaking of Rashard, his return was about as effective a comeback as you could’ve hoped for. The final numbers weren’t spectacular but 5.8 YPC was a nice change from what we’ve seen. Plus he probably would’ve had close to a 100 yards if not for the 15 holding penalties against Willie Colon. I’d like to see them clean that up this week, especially against a fairly lousy run defense.
The Steelers are 2-2 on the season. 2-0 at home, 0-2 on the road. The chances of that trend continuing all year are slim. At some point the Black and Gold will have to venture into enemy territory and come away with a win. Considering some expect Music City to look a lot like the Steel City come kickoff time, this is a good time to pick up a road win. And if they can get their offense in gear while fixing the penalty situation in the process, all the better.
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There are certain things you can count on every season. The Bengals will find some way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The Cowboys will get talked about incessantly on the Four Letter only to accomplish a whole lot of nothin’ by year’s end. And the Raiders will lead the league in penalties.
Well, the Raiders have some work to do in they want to catch the Pittsburgh Steelers.
The Steelers are used to a sea of yellow when they look up into the stands, now they’re seeing a sea of yellow on ground level as well. A quarter of the way through the 2012 season and the Steelers are leading the NFL with 9.2 penalties per game. And they aren’t cheapies, either. Those penalties have cost Pittsburgh a whopping 346 yards.
That’s 15 yards more than they’ve rushed for the entire season.
Head coach Mike Tomlin held his weekly press conference yesterday. In between the usual half truths and baldfaced lies, the local reporters actually sacked up and questioned him about all the flags. Of course, instead of asking why his team is so reckless and undisciplined, in typical Pittsburgh fashion they asked “Why are the refs making so many bad calls against us?” I wonder if their pom poms ever get caught in their laptops.
To his credit, Tomlin refused to lay the blame on others. “I’m less concerned about judgments and interpretations and so forth. I’m more concerned about playing in the manner that the flags stay in the pocket.” said the always eloquent coach. “It’s my job to get them fixed. We will work on that this week,” he added. Of course we’ve long since learned when Tomlin says he’s going to work on something, it means he’s not going to work on it at all.
Some of the penalties were absolutely bogus. Mike Wallace got called for illegal formation on a play where it didn’t look like he was lined up illegally at all. And the Ryan Mundy personal foul for helmet-to-helmet looked awfully like a nice clean shoulder hit. And going back a few weeks, I don’t think we’ll ever learn what the hell the Lingerie Football refs were calling on that Ike Taylor pass interference penalty.
So, yeah, some of the calls were absolutely ridiculous. A lot of them weren’t. Willie Colon evidently decided to dress as Chris Kemoeatu for Halloween and he’s getting a three week head start by impersonating his play on the field. Colon has been the most frequent offender, getting nabbed for eight times this season (three times on Sunday, plus another one which was declined). The starting corners, Ike and Keenan Lewis, have three pass interferences each.
What’s Tomlin going to do? Tell Colon not to hold? Teach Lewis and Ike how not to get beat like drums down the field? They are what they are. You can’t teach somebody not to suck.
What you can teach is proper tackling technique. One of the Eagles two TDs came on a drive aided by two personal fouls. As I said, the Mundy play looked iffy but when you spend your first four years in the league spearing people, you’re not getting the benefit of the doubt. Ryan Clark‘s hit was a clear PI and was rightly penalized. Clark is a habitual offender who not only refuses to apologize for his reckless play but actually told the media he doesn’t care if he gets fined or flagged, he’s going to play like he wants to play. Way to be a team player, Ryan.
That sort of stuff is what Tomlin should step in and curtail. When James Harrison was getting flagged every time looked menacingly at a QB, Tomlin sat him and told him to clean up his technique. Coach T needs to do that with everybody on defense so they stop giving teams these costly penalties. What’s more, he just needs to rein in the team overall. Penalties are going to happen but you can eliminate the stupid mental errors (like running out of bounds on kickoffs or false starts) by instilling discipline.
Players coach Mike Tomlin has been anything but a strict disciplinarian in his time here. As long as he prefers being liked over being respected, we’ll continue to see more laundry on the ground than after a tornado hits Chinatown. We can hope that it won’t eventually come back to bite the Steelers. Although I think we all know that it will.
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The Pittsburgh Steelers played their first pre-season game last Thursday. During the course of the evening, the worst thing that can possibly happen in an exhibition game happened: somebody was injured. Over the weekend, another player was carted off the field during practice. All this is in addition to the Steelers already having a veritable Pro Bowl team on the PUP list.
And the season hasn’t even started yet.
Here’s a rundown of the various injuries and where the Steelers stand at that position:
- In my recap of Thursday’s game, I mentioned Jon Dwyer ripped off two great runs before disappearing. Well, he didn’t disappear, he suffered a shoulder sprain which knocked him out of the game. The good news is x-rays were negative so all he needs is a little rest before getting back into the mix. Good thing, too, since Dwyer appears slotted as Redzone Redman’s primary back-up.
Elsewhere, John Clay was the guy carted off the field over the weekend. Later reports where that he has some sort of hip/groin injury which really tells us nothing. A hip pointer is painful but not season threatening. A groin tear is indescribably painful. I’d describe it for you but I’m not sure how many of you out there have groins. Point is, we don’t know where Clay stands although it appears he was headed back to the practice squad anyway.
- If you watched Thursday’s game hoping to catch a glimpse of Todd Haley‘s new look offense, well, you were probably more disappointed than the Canadian Olympic team. However, one big change was readily apparent. When the Steelers lined up to run, there was a player lined up in the backfield between the QB and RB. We never saw this during the era of Bruce Arians’ Flying Circus but I am assured it is legal to have a guy standing there.
In fact, the position even has a name: Fullback.
David Johnson was notified over the winter that his days as mediocre TE/FB hybrid were over and he would be moving permanently to FB. He lasted about a quarter against the Iggles before being carted off the field. Word came down over the weekend that it was indeed as bad as it looked. Johnson suffered the dreaded ACL/MCL double whammy and is lost for the season.
That leaves the Black and Gold with but a lone fullback on the roster. Will Johnson, who played his college ball for the hoople-heads of WVU, is now the de facto starter. The problem isn’t that Johnson has never started in the pros, he never even started in college. In fact, he was such a non-factor for the Mountaineers, he wasn’t even drafted when he graduated back in 2011.
Yes, you read that right. Not only wasn’t he drafted, he wasn’t even in football last year. What did he do? He probably planted trees, moved furniture or made Big Macs, you know, your typical post-graduation careers for WVU alums. While he evidently impressed Steelers scouts at his pro day (he talked his school into letting him come out), I’m not sure he’s ready for prime time.
- After Mike Adams horrid showing at LT, it was later revealed that he had sprained his MCL in the course of chasing after the speed rushers who ran right by him. Adams hasn’t been practicing this week and is expected to sit for a couple weeks while he recovers. This has caused some reshuffling of the O-line as the Steelers hope to hit on a combo that doesn’t get Big Ben killed before November. Let’s pray they succeed.
Marcus Gilbert, who didn’t look particularly hot at RT, has shifted over to LT in Adams’ absence. Raise your hand if you think he’s going to be there come the second week in October. The local media has such little faith in Gilbert, understandably so for those who witnessed the debacle in Indy last season, that they’re already writing up Max Starks as the savior at LT. Max is still on the PUP list but I have to think as soon as he gets cleared, he’s probably going to be the default starter at LT until he proves unable.
Meanwhile, Willie Colon didn’t play Thursday because he was hurt, SHOCKER, but it appears he’s finally gotten his fat ass out of the ice tub. He’s been starting at LG over the weekend as the Steelers seem hellbent on keeping David DeCastro on the right side for the time being. Given what I’ve seen of DeCastro, they probably should throw the rookie into the fire because I don’t trust Colon as far as I can throw him.
For those keeping score, the new new look line is (left to right) Gilbert, Colon, Pouncer, DeCastro, and Ramon Foster (who does this guy have incriminating photos of?). I guess they don’t want to confuse Colon by switching him back and forth because one would’ve assumed he would move to RT in a pinch over the horrid Foster. I’m not going to lie, that entire line-up looks absolutely frightening. Get well soon, Max!
- Finally, I neglected to mention the non-football players in my recap because I don’t care about them. Plus, you know it’s a meaningless game when Shaun Suisham booms a 46 yard FG. No way Miss’em Suisham does that in an actual NFL contest. He only excels when the pressure is off.
Besides, the Steelers aren’t going to enter the season with a rookie kicker. Just ain’t gonna do it. Danny Hrapmann can boot a 75 yarder and he’d still be cut in two weeks. So while it was nice to see the kid knock through a 43 yarder with plenty to spare, he’s not beating out Miss’em.
On the flip side, rookie Drew Butler might have a shot. Thanks to an injury to incumbent Jeremy Kapinos, Butler got the spotlight to all to himself on Thursday and may have Lou Gehrig’d himself into a job. Butler averaged an impressive 50 yards per punt with one traveling a whopping 61 yards. Kapinos averaged around 45 yards last season but his career average is around 40 yards, which explains why he’s been cut so many times. Since Kapinos isn’t a Colbert draft pick, I don’t think the Steelers really care if they keep him or Butler. If the kid continues launching moon shots, he’ll win himself a spot on the roster.