´ Steel Curtain Rising: October 2008

Why Did the Steelers Lose to Tampa

Thursday, October 30, 2008

A New Wrinkle in the Steelers Ownership Restructuring

No real “news” surfaced in the Steelers ownership restructuring last week, but a comment by the Post Gazette’s Ed Bouchette did suggest an interesting wrinkle.

When asked during his weekly Steelers chat about the status of the restructuring process, Bouchette offered this:

I think it's status quo for awhile, unless one of the brothers decides to take Dan's offer, which would give him 30 percent. Then the NFL would have to deal with the other brothers' casino interests.
Bouchette cites no sources, but this is the first time anyone has suggested that a partial buyout is a potential possibility.*

If a partial buyout possibility is viable, then Dan Rooney’s road to gaining controlling interest could be eased greatly because it greatly reduce the sum of money that he and Art II second need to produce or borrow. It would also give Dan and Art II more time and flexibility in finding minority partners and/or give the other Rooney brothers time shop their shares.

A potential Catch-22 to the situation is that Art. Jr. and John are the brothers who are most disposed to accept Dan’s offer. The paradox is that Art Jr. and John still retain their seats on the team’s board of directors, and both have been rumored to be interested in maintaining some sort of ownership stake and/or role with the team….


Steel Curtain Rising has been aggressively following the sale/ownership restructuring of the Steelers since the news broke in July. To read the entire series of posts, click here.

*When news of the restructuring first broke in July, it was first suggested that Stanley Druckenmiller was seeking to buy out the shares of Tim, Pat, and John Rooney. Later, through an intermediary, Druckenmiller insisted that he had no interest in becoming a minority stakeholder, and Art Rooney Jr. confirmed that he too was part of the potential buyout.)

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Watch Tower: Cook Wrong on Holmes Apology

Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes apologized to the public and his teammates for being charged with marijuana possession, an incident which caused him to miss the Steelers losing effort against the New York Giants. Post Gazette columnist Ron Cook’s opinion piece about Holmes apology undoubtedly drew praise throughout Steelers Nation, but his central contention is incorrect.

Cook is right in giving voice to the frustration of fans everywhere, and he joins a chorus of others in the Pittsburgh press corps in lambasting Holmes for such selfish and ignorant behavior. Keeping marijuana, let alone smoking, in one’s car defies common sense for anyone, but especially for someone who is in the public eye.

Cook imagines of what it must have been like for Holmes in his meetings with Mike Tomlin and his teammates. Continuing, Cook offers


It would have been nice if Holmes had chosen to apologize publicly. You know, in person…. But Holmes and the Steelers took the easy way out issuing a lame statement that was supposed to serve as his apology. The words – if they were indeed Holmes’ and not those of some staffer in the public relations office – don’t have the same impact on paper that they do coming from a man’s heart. Its just too hard to measure sincerity on paper.

A public Holmes apology would have been satisfying. A mea culpa before the cameras would have been cathartic for all of Steelers Nation. Not only would it have “made the papers” but it would have become an instant YouTube moment.

And that is precisely why Cook is wrong.

The Steelers just lost the biggest game [on paper] of the season. They also just ended a week filled with enough distraction to have made even Chuck Noll’s head to spin.

Coincidence?

Maybe. Maybe not.

The offense was out of sync save for two big plays. Sure, the Steelers offense has had serious issues with consistency all year, but the Giants game was the first time when they flat out shot themselves in the foot.

Cook imagines that Holmes must have castigated himself to the extreme in front of his teammates.

I am fine with that, but my imagination does not stop there.

I’d like to see Mike Tomlin wrapping up the apology session meeting by putting two words up on his white board:

Washington Redskins.

Followed by an admonition that would go something like this:

‘OK, now that that is past us, let me show you what the focus of team is for the entire week. Washington Redskins. Anytime anyone asks you anything, this is the answer you give them. Period. What to talk about fines? We’re focused on the Redskins. What to talk about drugs, sports, society and suspensions, we’re worried about the Redskins. They ask you about Aaron Smith, you got it, we’re talking about the Redskins.’
The Santonio Holmes story is not going away, but a public apology by Holmes would have all but guaranteed that the story dominated news coverage this week.

The press would have had a field day with a public apology, which almost certainly Cook’s motive in suggesting that Holmes should have offered one.

But a public mea culpa would have served the best interests of the team, and that is why Ron Cook is wrong on this one.


Misplaced Praise for the Steelers Offensive Line, Again

I almost hesitate to bring this up, lest new readers think that Watch Tower is a surrogate title for “Dump on Ron Cook.” Fortunately it is not, but he keeps providing good material.

After the Jacksonville game Cook wrote that the “offensive line had kept Ben clean,” to which Steel Curtain Rising took issue.

Now he’s at it again. In discussing the reasons for the Steelers loss Cook postulates: “…They also blamed the offensive line, which isn’t so fine. Those guys played a decent game, certainly good enough to win.”

Yeah, Right.

He’s correct when he says that Ben was having a very off game. He’s also right when he says that receivers were not getting open and making Ben the victim of coverage sacks.

But to claim that the line had a decent game?

While Ben might not have been the subject of some of the incredibly violent hits he took in Jacksonville or against the Baltimore Ravens, he was sacked five times and knocked down at least 13 times.

Indeed, when the team was trying to rally, the pocket seemed to collapse like a sand castle during high tide.

Ben’s style of play may lead to more sacks than another quarterback would otherwise suffer. Cook’s right that quality offensive line play was on display last Sunday, it was coming from the Giants.

Against the NFL’s number one pass rush the Giants front five protected their man. The Steelers did register some pressures, but did not record a single sack, and knock downs, if there were any, were few and far between.

Sure Eli certainly got rid of the ball quickly on a number of occasions, but for the most part he had time to do his thing. Ben did not.

And that is the difference between quality and poor offensive line play.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Giants Vanquish Steelers 21-14

When the history of the 2008 season is written, the summary of the Steelers-Giants might read something like this:

The Steelers hosted the New York Giants at Heinz field in a see-saw defensive battle where Pittsburgh succeeded in going toe-to-toe with the defending Super Bowl Champions until a wild snap made by an emergency long-snapper during a punt play led to a freak safety that tied the game, and ultimately gave New York the
momentum needed to win….


Ah, wouldn’t that give you a nice warm, fuzzy feeling…

No one should be fooled by the score as 21-14 does not begin to reveal the poor showing the Steelers made for themselves. The Steelers lost their first game against “PrimeTime” competition, and their performance revealed some troublesome issues which Mike Tomlin and company must address if the Steelers truly want to become contenders

For three and half quarters the story of the game was the 12 points the Giants netted in five trips to the red zone. New York has a strong offense, and the Steelers defense deserve all of the accolades that come their way for holding the Giants to four field goals in five goal line situations. New York’s domination of the time of possession puts an exclamation point on the defenses’ accomplishments.

All of which begs the question, why did the defense keep finding find itself in those siutaitons?

At the outset of the game I was somewhat surprised to hear Tory Aikman talk about how the Steelers offense has struggled. After all, the team was 5-1 and, while they’d bogged down for a few quarters here and there, the Steelers got on the board when they needed to.

But Bruce Arians and Ben Roethlisberger not only seemed determined to justify Aikman’s criticism, but that determination grew stronger as the game wore on.

Aside from Mewelde Moore’s 32 yard run, and Ben’s long bomb to Nate Washington, the Steelers offense produced nothing all day. They could not protect their quarterback, receivers could not get open or hold on to the ball, they could not convert third downs, and they could not sustain drives.

Did anyone think the Steelers were going to mount a come back when they got the ball after the Giants scored the go-ahead touchdown?

It just wasn’t that kind of day.

Special teams was also once again a liability, as the return units gave up returns of 28 and 35 yards, giving the Steelers defense a short field to defend. While the long-snap fiasco really isn’t anyone’s “fault,” Steel Curtain Rising did point out back when the Steelers re-signed Greg Warren that the value of a long-snapper should not be underestimated (this is one of the times when you hate to be right.)

Bruce Arians and Ben Roethlisberger must bear the burnt of the blame for today’s loss. Ben’s his first and third picks were of the Kordell Stewart variety, even if his second interception wasn't his fault, and maybe his last one can be written off as a desperation heave. Roethlisberger was simply out of sync, and most of the rest of the offense took its cue from him.

The Steelers third drive in the third quarter offers the perfect example. Pittsburgh started on its 23 and advanced to New York’s 38. They were in perfect position to put the Giants away.

Except that a 15 yard unnecessary roughness penalty pushed them back to the Giant’s 47. In the succeeding four plays included


  • A nullified a 53 touchdown strike to Nate Washington (which pushed them back to their own 37)

  • A three yard scramble on a broken play (read, Ben escaped before he was about to get sacked. Again)

  • A poorly thrown deep third down pass dropped by Nate Washington

The Steelers ended up punting from their own 40, and lost Greg Warren in the process.

At this juncture in the season one has to seriously question the play calling of Bruce Arians. The Steelers seemed reluctant to rely on Medwlede Moore, but since then man who went into training camp as an afterthought at running back has shown that he can play.

Against the Giants averaged 4.4 yards per carry, he ripped off 32 yard touchdown, and showed that could both run between the tackles and make a team pay when he can turn the corner on the outside.

Why wasn’t he used more? He did get 19 carries, but he showed every indication of being willing and able to do more. To be certain Moore was held to 21 yards in the second half, but its not like he is the only option. If the offensive coaches were worried about putting too much on Moore shoulders, Gary Russell was there.

Russell has flashed at times at other moments he's been a little flat. But against the Giants his only carry was good for eight yards. Putting Russell in for a series, if only to spell Moore, carried little risk with a might higher potential reward.

The issue of Bruce Arians will be discussed here later on in the week. Suffice to say, the passing offense was unable the execute their portion of his game plan. That was clear early on.

What remains unclear is why Arians showed no inclination to use the other weapons at his disposal. Thus far it has hard to avoid the sensation that Arians, perhaps because of the injury to Parker, (perhaps not) is not comitted to establishing the running game.

The Steelers are seven games into their season and they're having difficulty sustaining drives and they cannot protect their quarterback. The Giants game revealed none of these warts, as each was on display in previous games. But the Steelers were able to compensate for them up until now. In fact, they compensated so well that one wondered if they were aberrations.

The Giants game revealed that the against a legitmate contender the Steelers would not be able simply make up for a several sloppy drives with a heroic comeback.

No, the Giants game demonstrated that the Steelers have some issues on offense, problems that they rectified soon as they play more legitimate contenders over the next several weeks.

Thanks for reading. Please take a moment to either leave a comment or vote in our post-game poll (upper right hand corner.)

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Steelers vs. Giants -- Keys To the Game

The Super Bowl Champions come to town today, and the Steelers had better be ready.

When teams are playing the defending world champs they to elevate their level of play –at the end of the 2006 season Steelers Digest’s Bob Labriolia chronicled how many of the key stars of opposing clubs had their best games of the season against the Steelers.

If you mentioned that to Mike Tomlin, his retort would most certainly be “You know, all of that stuff is great for the fans, but the simple fact is that we should be excited to play simply because there is a football game being played.”

Fair enough. That’s exactly the attitude that you want to hear out of your coach.

But the Steelers need to bring their top game, because the Giants bring a plethora of weapons to the field on both sides of the ball, and the Steelers have had their share of off-the field distractions.

The Giants pass rush, pass protection, running game, and star quarterbacking of Eli Manning are well documented, and there is no need to recount that in great detail here.

It’s (Almost) All About the Pass Rush

Suffice the Giants have been terrorizing quarterbacks with only a four man rush, and protecting Ben has been an issue for the Steelers all year.

Ben has shown he can take a pounding and, it shudders me to say this, but sometimes it almost seems like he thrives on it. (Just think, Cincinnati barely touched him, but his trip the Queen city was hardly his best game.)

On the flip side, Eli Manning has not been sacked much all year. But, as Cleveland has shown, if you get to Eli, you give yourself a shot at winning the game.

The Giants offensive line deserves credit for keeping Eli clean, but they yet to face off against the tandem of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodely.

All things considered equal, this game will be probably decided by who can rush the passer more effectively.

Why probably? Well, last year the team’s rushing defense fell apart with the loss of Aaron Smith. Smith has not practiced all week due to a personal issue, and will likely not play.

If New York is able to run the ball effectively, it will be a long afternoon for the Steelers.

Distractions Yes, Disruptions….?

During the week it seemed like an article on disruptions was going to find its way onto Steel Curtain Rising…. And that was before Santonio Holmes got busted.

  • Prior to the Bengals game all of the talk focused on the numerous fines that the NFL has levied against the Steelers, many for hits that were not penalized.
  • Such talk only increased in the wake Hines Wards, legal, but literally jaw breaking hit in Cincinnati.
  • The NFL saw it necessary to dispatch a league executive to the Steelers South Side training complex to “explain” league policy.
  • …And then Terrell Suggs went on record saying that the Baltimore Ravens had put out bounties on Hines Ward and Rashard Mendenhall.

What Effect Did This Have?

Its impossible to say, but the fact that Hines Ward felt compelled to call a Pittsburgh radio station to defend himself reveals that this is something that players of focusing on.

And of course, the week’s events were topped off with Santonio Holmes being charged with marijuana possession, and his subsequently being listed inactive for the game.

Steelers Digest’s Bob Labriola began the week with his weekly column titled “Time To Find Out What the Steelers Have…”

He’s right, but he was only talking about the X’s and O’s.

Mike Tomlin has said that distractions come with success, and that the ability to deal with distractions separates the good teams from the great ones. In other words, distractions are unavoidable.

Tomlin is right.

Today’s game against the Giants will reveal how well Tomlin is able to keep distractions from becoming disruptions.

If he succeeds then the Steelers will have a chance at mastering the pass rush, on both sides of the ball, which gives them an excellent shot at defeating the defending Super Bowl Champions.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

National Media Continues to Slight Steelers

In a week where ESPN’s Power Rankings rated the Steelers as number three, it may seem odd to do a post on Steelers Nation’s collective complaint that our beloved team gets no respect from the national media. Alas, this gripe would be hackneyed if it weren’t so often true, and Michael Wilbon’s latest article provides perfect evidence.

Those of you who might only be familiar with him from his work with Tony Kornheiser on ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” can rest assured that Michael Wilbon is one of the best sports writers of his age. He does his homework, he sticks to the facts, his opinions (agree or disagree with them) are always well formed, and his writing rarely fails to captivate.

Michael Wilbon is one of the few writers that I read simply for the sake of wanting to know what he has to say. (Having lived the bulk of my life in the Maryland suburbs, I cannot count the number of times I have read his columns thinking, “If only the Pittsburgh press corps had someone of his caliber…” although Gene Collier is an excellent writer in his own right.)

Defining the NFL's "Ruling Class" of the 21st Century

Which makes Wilbon’s column in Tuesday’s Washington Post all the more grating.

It’s titled, “NFL’s Upper Curst is a Shell of Itself,” and as you might expect, Wilbon devotes his attention to the woes that have befallen the NFL’s “Ruling Class,” or the Patriots, Cowboys, Colts, and Chargers to be specific.

Wilbon delves into the details of how the Patriots are faltering, the Cowboys are self-destructing, and the Colts and Chargers are thus far underachieving. No argument there.

What Steel Curtin Rising takes issue with is contention that: “The best two teams of the decade, the Patriots and Colts, appear ready to be overtaken.”

Excuse Me?

How did the Colts and Patriots ascend to the status of being the best two teams of the first decade of the millennium?

It is not too early to crown the Patriots as the team of the decade. They’ve appeared in four Super Bowls, won three of them and repeated once. Given the difficulty of consistently fielding a competitive team in this era of free agency, you can make a strong argument that the Patriots should stake the sole claim to the “team of the decade” title.

But if you are going to add to the list, why stop at the Colts?

Aren’t We Forgetting Someone?

What about the Steelers?

Led by Peyton Manning and Tony Dungy, the Colts have represented themselves well by winning:
  • 89 regular season games
  • Five division titles and making two other playoff appearances

In postseason play, they’ve netted 7 wins and six losses, appeared in two conference championships, and of course bagged the Lombardi Trophy in Super Bowl XLI.

How do the Steelers Stack Up?

During the first decade of the 21st Century, the Steelers have:

  • Won 82 games
  • Four division titles, supplemented by one other wild card playoff appearance.

If the the Steelers have made fewer playoff apperances than Indy, the postseason is also the place where the Steelers begin to get separation from the Colts. In the playoffs they’ve succeded in:

  • Matching the Colts’ postseason win total of seven,
  • Losing two fewer games
  • Appearing in three conference championship games

And of course in 2005 the Steelers became the only team to vanquish four straight teams on the road was they were in route to winning their fifth Lombardi Trophy at Super Bowl XL.

What About Head to Head?

The teams have only played three times in this decade.

  • The Steelers won the regular season match up in 2002,
  • Lost in the regular season in 2005

However, the Steelers returned to the Hooiser Dome in the 2005 playoffs, during the year when the Colts were annointed as "the team of destiny," and upset the Colts, knocking them out of the playoffs.

Unintentional Most Certainly, but A Slight Just the Same

Was Wilbon’s slight of the Steelers intentional? Most likely it was completely unintentional, as he has written a lot of good things about the Steelers through the years.

But that’s the point.

For so long the national media’s discussion of “who is on top” has centered around “Colts vs. Patriots,” “Manning vs. Brady,” and, to a lesser extent “Belichick vs. Dungy,” so its not a surprise when the press corps gets caught up in its own hype.

But any discussion of decade dominance that extends beyond the Patriots clearly must include the Steelers.

And someone of Michael Wilbon's caliber should not need to be reminded of that.

Steelers Discipline Santonio Holmes - Wide Receiver to Sit Against New York

Faced with the most serious discipline crisis of his tenure as Steelers head coach, as Santonio Holmes was caught with misdemeanor marijuana possession on Thursday, Mike Tomlin acted quickly to discipline his errant wide receiver.

The Post-Gazette reported that Holmes was stopped by police in Hill District because his SUV had similar characteristics to one they believed to be carrying a large amount of narcotics. The officer stopping Holmes smelled marijuana, and asked Holmes if he had been smoking marijuana. Holmes admitted that he had done so the day before, and confessed to having a small amount of the drug in his possession. Holmes was not arrested, and will be charged with a court summons.

This is not the first time a Steeler has found his way onto the police blotter during Tomlin’s time, as Najeh Davenport, James Harrison, and Cedric Wilson were all involved in domestic disputes during the past year. (Davenport was acquitted by a jury, Harrison saw the charges dropped against him, and Wilson was released from the team.)

But this incident comes on the heels of the Steelers biggest regular season match up, less than 72 hours before the reigning Super Bowl Champion New York Giants are sent to arrive at Heinz field.

Moving with a Firm Hand

The importance of this match up cannot be understated. The New York Giants are 5-1, and although their play has not been flawless, they’ve played well enough to demonstrate that they are capable of making a repeat run at the Super Bowl.

While the Steelers are also 5-1, they’ve only played two teams that figure to have a serious shot at playing multiple games in January. Holmes importance to the team cannot be overstated. He has caught 22 passes this year, and while he only has one touchdown, his 16.4 yards per catch average shows just how much of a deep threat he is.

Given the urgency of the Giant’s game up, Tomlin deserves praise for taking a resolute stand. Not only did Holmes not practice today, not only will he not play against the Giants, but he has been banned from showing his face at Heinz Field on Sunday.

After today’s practice Mike Tomlin minced no words:

His situation has created somewhat of a distraction. We want to minimize that as much as we can and remain focused on the task at hand which is to compete and play against the New York Giants on Sunday…. I notified him of that and told him I would see him on Monday morning…. This is how I choose to address it and deal with it at this time. My approach and mentality in regards to the situation might be different next week. Right now I don’t have the time or patience to delve into it….



Strong, But Strong Enough?

Tomlin wasted no time in declaring Holmes inactive for the game against the Giants, and in doing so he delivered a strong message his players, but the question is, was it strong enough?

There is no mistaking Tomlin’s tone, but he stopped short of suspending Santonio Holmes.* Benching a player and banishing him from team facilities on the eve of a big game makes a clear statement, and will get the attention of the other players in the locker room.

But a suspension would have added some real sting and sent an unequivocal signal to the rest of the team.

*Yesterday, both the press reports and the Steelers website were on record as saying that Holmes had not been suspended. However, today the Post-Gazette is reporting that "He [Mike Tomlin] declined to say if Mr. Holmes had been suspended by the team or docked a game's pay."

Click here for Steel Curtain Rising's speculation on how this latest incident could affect Santonio's future with the Steelers.

Is Santonio Holmes Future As A Steeler Still Secure?

Santonio Holmes has yet to even be charged for his latest brush with the law, so the headline might seem a little premature at this stage, but precedent invites speculation.

In the early 1990’s when the NFL got serious about drug testing, Terry Long, Eric Green, Tim Worley, and Carlton Haselrig all got busted for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policies. While the timetables were different for each of the men in question, the failed drug tests signaled the beginning in each case. Bam Morris was arrested for marijuana and cocaine procession and never saw another game in a Steelers uniform.

Holmes offense is minor, but it is not his first run in with the law. Santonio Holmes was arrested twice in the two months after the Steelers selected him with the 25th pick of the draft in 2006. He will likely be on the field when the Steelers travel to play the Redskins, but this latest incident must call his long-term future with the team into question.

The Steelers reputation as one of the league’s stricter teams is well deserved, but they certainly do not have a zero tolerance policy. Last spring the team released Cedric Wilson after he was accused of domestic violence, but had taken no similar action against James Harrison who’d been accused of the same crime. (Indeed, Dan Rooney set off a fire storm with his statement on the disparity in the way the team dealt with the two incidents.)

The Steelers are unlikely to cut Holmes, but he’s still playing on his salary cap friendly rookie contract, meaning that they could easily trade him.

Potentially this may open a window of opportunity for Nate Washington, whose value is on the rise. It is beyond a mere stretch to suggest that Washington could make Holmes expendable, but Holmes legal troubles could very mean that the Steelers will be willing to pay more to retain Nate Washington when he becomes a free agent in 2009.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Steelers Smash Bengals, 38-10

The Pittsburgh Steelers trounced the Cincinnati Bengals in Paul Brown Staidum today to the tune of 38-10. The win improved the Steelers record to 5-1, while the Bengals fell to 0-7.

Going into the game the main danger for the Steelers was complacency. And for a while, it looked like the Steelers were going to let the Bengals into the game.

After jumping to a quick 10-0 lead, the Steeler followed up with three straight punts and were miserably failing to convert third downs. The defense held the Bengals in check until the final drive of the first half, when Bengals marched 92 yards in fourteen plays to bring the score to 10-7 at the half.

The Steelers scored at the top of the second half to extend their lead to 10 points, but the Bengals marched 49 yards downfield, and succeeded in converting a four down inside the endzone. But the Steelers defense held fast, and forced the Bengals to settle for a field goal.

After another three and out, the Steelers offense went on to score another 21 unanswered points, while Dick LeBeau turned his defense loose on Ryan Fitzpatrick, as James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons, and James Farrior combined for 7 sacks.

On offense, the Steelers were lead by Ben Roethlisberger and Mewelde Moore. Making his second start in as many weeks, Mewelde Moore had 20 carries for 120 yards, while Ben Roethlisberger completed 17 passes for 216 yards, and connected on touchdowns to Mewelde Moore and Nate Washington.

Byron Leftwich came in to relieve Roethlisberger in the fourth quater, and connected on a 16 yard pass to Hines Ward.

For the first time all season the Steelers offensive line held an opposing defense sackless (ok, the Cincy defense isn't exactly a reincarnation of the '85 Bears defense), and second round pick Limas Sweed made his first catch of the season, hauling in one grab for 11 yards.

[In the interest of transparency, this write up is based on what I could gather from listening to the broadcast on the radio and reading summaries on the internet. Direct TV Argentina, in its infinite wisdom, decided not to allow Sunday Ticket subscribers to see the Bengals game. I guess they decided I wanted to see the 49ers vs. the Giants, or the Cowboys vs. the Rams, or the Vikings vs. the Bears.... They were wrong. You can read my Direct TV rant here.]

Direct TV Does Its Sunday Ticket Customers in Latin America No Favors

I have lived in Argentina for seven years now, and for all of that time, my goal has been to get Direct TV, with the sole motive of being able to watch the Steelers.

This year I got my wish, as my wife bought Direct TV/ the Sunday Ticket for our anniversary.

Due to a trip to the states, and by the virtue of the fact that the ESPN shows both the Sunday night and Monday night games here in Latin America, I did not have the opportunity to watch the Steelers via the Sunday Ticket until today….

…So you can imagine my displeasure when I discovered that, of the early games, Direct TV was only showing the Vikings vs. the Bears, the Cowboys vs. the Rams, and the 49ers vs. the Giants….

Who decided that those are the games I wanted to choose from?

Thanks pal, “… and don’t do me no more favors,” as my Aunt Rose from Mt. Oliver used to say.

OK, I should have read the fine print, where it said that you only got a limited number of games with the local version of the Sunday Ticket…. So shame one me.

But this is still an inane policy. Shame on Direct TV.

If you live outside the US, and you’re willing to plunk down extra money to get Direct TV, and on top of that pay extra for the ticket, there’s, oh what, a 97.5% chance you’re doing because you have a favorite team, and well, gee, you want to see that team’s games….

And the fact is that Direct TV has several channels available, so why not let me see whichever game I choose. That’s the point of the Sunday Ticket, isn’t it? More to the point, that's why I am spending my money with them, isn't it?

Outside of Pittsburgh and Cincinnati, the 2008 versions of the Steelers vs. the Bengals isn’t going to draw a huge audience inside the US, and likewise isn’t going to generate much enthusiasm in the league nascent international market.

But no one is asking that ESPNdeportes knock off its regularly scheduled soccer game to show the Steelers vs. Bengals. Nor are we asking FOX sports to show its Sunday soccer schedule on a tape delay either.

No, we’re paying for a service dedicated to showing NFL games, and this pay-per-view model is based on consumer choice.

Why then are Direct TV Sunday Ticket customers not free to chose?

KT,
President,
Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club of Buenos Aires

P.S. Folks, if you’re interested, and can read Spanish, some local guys down here have dedicated a site to resolving just this issue. Check it out! http://necesitamosmasfootball.blogspot.com/

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Steelers Sale/Ownership Restructuring Still Muddled

The Steelers ownership restructuring was in the news again last week, and although new facts came to light, the situation is as muddled as ever.

Dan Rooney gave a presentation to the NFL Finance Committee at the league’s spring meetings, but was reticent to comment on what he disclosed.

The Tribune-Review scoped the Post-Gazette and secured an e-mail interview with Tim Rooney, who indicated that the sale/restructuring might very well carry over into 2009, despite the fact that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has said that he wants a fast-time table for resolving this issue.

There's a reason why the news coverage of the Steelers ownership restructuring has been so convoluted -- the Rooney brothers themselves do not know what they want to do.


What a Long Strange Trip Its Been

News of the Steelers ownership restructuring took Steelers Nation by storm in early July, and has captivated its attention through a series of meandering shifts, twists, and turns.

In late September it seemed like the story might be moving to a close. Wall Street billionaire Stanley Druckenmiller, who had been approached by the four Rooney brothers about buying their shares, had given the brothers an unofficial deadline of September 19th to accept or reject the offer. It seemed like things were coming to a head: Either Dan Rooney was going to buy out his brothers or Stanely Druckenmiller would.

Then came word shortly before the meeting that Art Rooney Jr. was "not ready to vote." Then sources indicated that the Rooney brothers "might" be interested in shopping their shares to other buyers. The four brothers held a conference call on the September 18th, and there was "not sufficient support" for Druckenmiller's proposal.

Neither was there sufficient support to accept Dan Rooney's counter offer, although that offer had not been rejected (reports conflict, but Rooney has made at least one other offer to his brothers.)

Family Differences...

Significant differences exist between the Rooney brothers over what they want to do. It is known that John Rooney, the youngest of the five, pleaded for his brothers to accept Dan's offer. Art Jr. is about the only brother who has spoken regularly to the press about this matter, and he has said he does not know what he wants to do, although the Tribune-Review reported that he was having difficulty with selling the team to an outsider.

That leaves Tim and Pat, both of whom have resigned their positions on the Steelers Board of Directors. Tim reportedly torn up Dan's initial offer. The Tribune-Review reported that:


Tim Rooney said the brothers won't sell to a buyer outside of the family before giving Dan Rooney a chance to match the offer made to them. It quoted Rooney as saying, ‘I believe Dan has a right of first refusal with all my brothers,
whether he has one legally or not.’
One does not have to look too closely to read between the lines here. Tim is all for keeping the team in the family, as long as he doesn’t have to accept less money from Dan.

He said, She said

One of the interesting things about this story has been trying to dissect who is saying what. Art Rooney Jr. is the only party that speaks to the press regularly, although Tim has answers questions via email. The McGinley family has also spoken with the press, but generally only to confirm that they're on the sidelines.

The stories about this issue have generally fallen into two categories. Ones that say that the Rooneys are going through a difficult process, but still remain committed to family's historic role in the team.

The second variety of stories talk about "a family feud," playing up family rivalries and seemingly petty tensions.

Steel Curtain Rising suggested a number of weeks ago that Stanley Druckenmiller was responsible from this disparity.

It appears Steel Curtain Rising was wrong. After the Rooney brothers rejected his offer, Druckenmiller spoke with the press, and his comments indicated that he was sensitive to the desire to keep the team in the Rooney family.

It now seems clear that the source of the conflicting stories are coming from inside the Rooney family itself.

What about the Race Tracks? (Again)

The most attention-grabbing piece of news emerging this week was the fact that Dan Rooney still controls his shares of the family racetracks. In late August it was reported that Dan Rooney had divested his shares in the race tracks, and this piece of news signaled that the pieces were moving toward an end-game.

The Tribune-Review reported that Dan Rooney only offered assurances to Roger Goodell that he would divest his shares of the racetracks should he win control of the team.

One of the maddening aspects of this story is the fact that no reporter has put together any sort of an estimate on the net worth of Dan Rooney’s shares of the race tracks, although it has been reported that the Yonkers track has revenues of upwards of a billion dollars a year, and that the race tracks are far more profitable than the Steelers

This would perhaps be a key component of any restructuring deal. The more Dan’s racetrack shares are worth, the more cash he has to buy out his brothers. Could Dan simply swap equity in the race tracks for his brother’s equity in the team?

We don’t know, and the press has been remiss in reporting on this possibility from the get-go.

Perfect Storm

When the story broke during the summer, Art Rooney Jr. dubbed the ownership restructuring “the perfect storm.” At the time he was referring to the NFL’s mandate to separate Steeler assets from gambling related-assets, and need for aging Rooney brothers to get on with their estate planning.

Little did he know when he made that statement that the stock market was about to crash, and the US was about to plunge into its greatest financial crisis since the Great Depression.

One of the things that made Druckenmiller’s offer so appealing was that he was prepared to pay each Rooney brother $134.4 million. In cash, at once.

If one or more of the Rooney brothers really did nix the Druckenmiller deal in hopes of finding a better offer, he’s really got to be kicking himself now. There were never too many people out there who can simply write checks for 537.6 million dollars, and suffice to say there are fewer of them today than there were a month ago.

Dan's Dilemma

The financial crisis also puts Dan Rooney in a crimp. He has said that he and Art II have lined up partners to help finance the deal, implying that Dan’s objective was not to put 80% of the team under his and Art II’s ownership. He said at one point that his partners would “have names that you recognize.”

Yet he has not named any of those partners, not even to the NFL. This could be due diligence on his part, but that fact that no reporter has uncovered any information on who Dan’s potential partners might be is interesting.

One has to figure that the value of the racetracks plus whatever cash Dan and Art II have set aside bring them fairly close to being able to buy out one of their brothers. So if Dan’s goal is to reach 51% that would mean he’d need at around 160 million more, (plus partners willing to put up and the other 243.6 million for the remaining 29% of the team.)

Under normal circumstances one would have to figure that Dan and Art II could secure financing for the remaining 160 million.

These are not normal circumstances.

Steel Curtain Rising has second hand knowledge of a non-sports related company that has a BILLION dollars in cash (that’s billion with a ‘B’) that was denied a short term loan for a million dollars (that’s million with an ‘m.’) And while there still are plenty of rich people in the world, in this climate how many of them are going to plunk down 243.6 million to be a minority owner in a low-yield investment into an NFL team based in a shrinking market….?

Beyond that, these back of the envelop calculations are based on the 840 million that Druckenmiller assessed the team at, but we know that at least one of the brothers, probably Tim, wanted more.

Roger Goodell might want a fast timetable for resolving the Steelers ownership restructuring process. Given the discord between the Rooney brothers and the current financial climate, it appears unlikely that he will get what he wants.

Mike Tomlin Is on WHOSE Coaching Tree….?

You can file this firmly under “Bye Week Banter,” but I uncovered an interesting factoid while researching the Chuck Noll vs. Bill Walsh series published earlier this year.

We’ve all heard about “The Bill Walsh” coaching tree more than we would care to recount. To Bill Walsh’s credit, the tree is extensive and its members have been more successful than not. Those are indisputable facts.

What is disputable is just who belongs on that tree. A search on the key word “Bill Walsh coaching tree” on Google reveals some interesting results.

Incorrect Consensus on the Internet

Take Wikipedia, for example. Dennis Green is connected to Walsh with a direct line, which is as it should be since Green coached for him in 1979, and then again in the mid-80’s. Yet another direct line connects Green to Tony Dungy, and Dungy has lines connecting him to Lovie Smith, Rob Marinelli and, of course, Mike Tomlin.

This tree doesn’t just show up in Wikipedia, but in the San Francisco Chronicle, Findarticles.com, the sports oasis blog, and about a gazillion dozen other sites.

One can quibble about any number of the names on the list, but two concern us here: Tony Dungy and Mike Tomlin.

A downside to the internet is that when something gets reproduced repeatedly, people simply accept it at face value as fact. Case in point, the first reference that caught Steel Curtain Rising’s attention (quite a feat, as the site wasn’t even founded yet!) came last year.

On August 11, 2007 the Washington Post ran an excellent article about Mike Tomlin. Excellent accept for the fact that it said something to the effect that (this is a paraphrase) “If Tomlin belongs on a coaching tree, he belongs on the Bill Walsh Coaching Tree.” At the time, it seemed like this was just one journalist's igonrance, but alas, as we mention above, its become accepted as fact.

Let’s get this straight. Tony Dungy, by virtue of the fact that he was Denny Green’s defensive coordinator before becoming Tampa’s head coach is supposed to be a “descendent” of Bill Walsh? And therefore because Dungy gave Tomlin his first job in the NFL, he’s Tomlin is therefore also on the Walsh coaching tree?

19th Century Wisdom from The First Dan Rooney

An insurance man once tried to list Dan Rooney (father of Art Sr., grandfather of the five Rooney brothers) as Welsh (because he’d been born there) instead of Irish. After listening patiently, Pap Rooney retorted:

“Look, if you had a cat, and the cat had kittens in an oven, would you call the kittens biscuits?”*

That settled the issue right there. The Rooneys were Irish.

The same logic applies here.

The Chuck Noll Coaching Tree

If Tony Dungy is part of any coaching "tree" or a prodigy of anyone, then that person is Chuck Noll.

Tony Dungy was a disciple of Chuck Noll. Dungy played for Noll, and Noll made him a defensive coordinator at age 27. Dungy spent his formative years in Pittsburgh under Noll, before moving onto to work under Marty Schottenhiemer (and Bill Cowher) in Kansas City, and then Denny Green in Minnesota. Dungy regularly credits Noll as his mentor.

The offenses that Dungy employed in Tampa were a lot closer to the ones that Noll ran in the 70's than to Bill Walsh's "West Coast offense," and his current offensive coordinator in Indy is none other than Tom Moore, who served as Chuck Noll's offensive coordinator for 20 years.

Tony Dungy has no place on the Bill Walsh coaching tree.

Mike Tomlin’s case is a little more complex, as he spent more time under John Gruden than anyone else. But Dungy brought him into the NFL, and Tomlin regularly cites Tony Dungy as his formative influence. When the Rooney’s were deciding between Mike Tomlin and Russ Grimm, they called Dungy, and Dungy gave his former pupil a ringing endorsement.

Tomlin’s own words are more revealing. During the 75th Anniversary Game, one of the commentators remarked that Tomlin had told them (this is a paraphrase) “The longer I am here, the more I see that things are done here the way Tony Dungy used to do them.”

That should settle it.

If Mike Tomlin belongs on a coaching tree, he belongs on the Chuck Noll coaching tree, right under Tony Dungy.

*Rooney, Art. Jr. Ruanaidh. Pittsburgh: Geyer Printing Company, 2008. p. 5

Friday, October 17, 2008

Tomlin's True Test Against Cincinnati

Coming off their bye week, the Steelers are set to embark on a set of games that will see them face off against the defending Super Bowl Champion New York Gaints, a resurgent Washington Redskins, the Indianapolis Colts, and the San Diego Chargers.

But first they must get past the Cincinnati Bengals.

Seriously.

The 4-1 Steelers are undefeated in their last 7 in Cincinnati, against a team that is currently 0-6. The Benglas are without All-Pro quarterback Carlson Palmer. The Steelers will be returning key starters to the line up and/or getting them back to health. The conventional wisdom would peg the Steelers as hands down favorites in this game. The conventional wisdom is correct. The Steelers should win this game.

And that’s what makes this game so dangerous.

Think it’s silly?

What about the Ram’s knocking off the Redskins? Or Arizona beating the Cowboys? Or the Browns upsetting the Giants?

One of the quickest ways an NFL team can torpedo itself is to play the schedule game – you know, looking a couple of games ahead in the schedule, and mentally ticking of the “W’s.” During the latter half of the Bill Cowher era, the Steelers avoided that pitfall, perhaps better than any other NFL team. Nonetheless, the boys in black and gold still played better when they were underdogs, and underdogs this week the Steelers are not.

In Mike Tomlin’s rookie season, much like the early Cowher years, the Steelers were a team prone to let down.

  • Start 3-0!
...lose to the Cardinals.

  • Enter the Seahawks game without Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Casey Hampton and Tory Polamalu and steal your first shutout

... only to lose the next week to the Broncos.

  • Throttle the Ravens in the 75th Anniversary game

...Follow by struggling back to beat the Browns in the 4th quarter, lose to a 1-7 Jets team, and the escape with a 3-0 win against the 0-11 Dolphins.

If those letdowns were a result, the underlying causes are well known: Poor kick coverage, disappearing pass rush, and an inability to win the close ones.

The 2008 Steelers are still very much a work in progress, but five games into his sophomore campaign Mike Tomlin appears to have made significant inroads towards rectifying the woes that bedeviled the Steelers in 2007. Steelers have closed two close games in the 4th, kick coverage has greatly improved, and the pass rush has returned with a vengeance.

But what about averting let downs?

After all, the Steelers started a strong 2-0, only to get embarrassed by the Eagles.

Mike Tomlin is keenly aware of the danger of complacency. During his press conference this week he brought up the specter of last year’s Jets loss, and went at great pains to point out that Cincinnati is still a very talented team that took the Giants into overtime and almost beat the Cowboys (then again, the later example looks less impressive now than it did then.)

One of the things that Mike Tomlin said when he was named head coach was “the test isn’t how you handle success, but how you handle adversity.”

Mike Tomlin believes every word of that, and the Cincinnati game will reveal if he has succeeded in getting his players to put what he preaches into practice.

Saturday, October 11, 2008

Watch Tower: Media Dropped the Ball on Mewelde Moore

The well-earned adulation that Mewelde Moore is enjoying in Steelers Nation right now is accompanied by a rather inconspicuous irony on the part of the Pittsburgh press.

Consider this sampling of Post-Game articles from Pittsburgh’s two dailies.

Ron Cook of the Post-Gazette elevated Moore to the status of Willie Parker clone, offering:

But not even Tomlin could have imagined that Moore -- a player he pursued and signed as a free agent in the offseason -- would do such a fine Fast Willie imitation….

Where has this guy been?


His colleague at the Tribune-Review, John Harris, was equally effusive:

…Yes, the same Mewelde Moore who could barely get on the field in the Steelers' first four games. The same Mewelde Moore whose lack of playing time was so glaring that people were beginning to wonder if the Steelers made a mistake signing him as a free agent.


Content to play second fiddle to no one, the Post-Gazette’s Gary Dulac doubled down with his praise:

Mewelde Moore had runs of 27, 19, 13 and 11 yards in rushing for 99 yards on 17 carries… Moore looked so fluid and elusive it makes you wonder why the coaches waited so long to use him.

And…

The biggest question to be asked after the comeback victory is not how the Steelers managed to beat the Jaguars with five starters out of the lineup and a sore-armed QB with one day of practice under his belt. Rather, it's why in the world was Mewelde Moore not used sooner?

There you have it. No less than four times did the press take the Steelers coaches to task for keeping Moore under wraps until the Jacksonville game. We’ll address the legitimacy of the “Why didn’t Moore play sooner?” question later, but the more pertinent question is, “Why didn’t the media do more to tell about Mewelde sooner?”

A Little on Moore

The Steelers signed Mewelde Moore on March 3rd and the Post-Gazette’s article on his signing ran all of 40 words (click here to check for yourself.) Ok, that was also the day that Ben Roethlisberger resigned, so of course that overshadowed the news about Moore. You’d figure a more thorough article would follow a few days later?

Nope.

A key word search of the term “Mewelde Moore” on the Post-Gazette’s website yields 127 articles, with roughly 100 coming after Moore has been joined the team.

Yet, from his signing in March until October, the Post-Gazette did not run a single, solitary feature on Mewelde Moore. His name got mentioned a lot, but mostly in oft recycled phrases like, “It may be a reason they drafted Rashard Mendenhall in the first round and signed Mewelde Moore as a free agent. Moore is likely to play on third downs because he can block, catch and run….”

The Tribune-Review’s coverage was somewhat superior, offering an article of 204 words, which at the very least included quotes from Mike Tomlin and Mewelde Moore.

To clarify the contrast however, Steel Curtain Rising’s commentary on Mewelde Moore’s signing ran 306 words, commenting not only on Moore’s past performance, but also his likely impact on the overall composition of the backfield, and the insights Moore would offer into Mike Tomlin’s ability as a talent evaluator.

John Harris of the Tribune-Review at least earned some bragging rights, as he was the only member of the Steelers media corps to do a feature length story on Moore, which ran in late May.

Outside of that, Steelers fans who wanted to know more about their team’s new running back had precious little in the way of information. In fact, the article that speculated that Moore would be an impact player came from outside the Pittsburgh media, with one writer (don’t remember who) from either yahoo.com or Pro Football Weekly offering the Moore would provide a boost to the Steelers backfield.

Steel Curtain Rising attempted to find out Moore about sources from Minnesota. These efforts bore little fruit, but they are also completely pro-bono.

The Post-Gazette assigns two beat writers to the Steelers, plus three columnists who write about the regularly. The Tribune-Review has one full time Steelers beat writer plus at least three or four other columnists who regularly write about the team.

So out of those ten writers, only John Harris thought Mewelde Moore was important enough to warrant a feature-length story during the off season?

There’s nothing really wrong with that, but now that Moore is showing that he does have something very real to contribute, it’s a tad bit hypocritical for the media (John Harris excluded) to be jumping up and down exclaiming, “Why Mewelde Moore play sooner?”*

The more pointed question that they themselves should be answering is “Why didn’t you pay more attention to Moore in the first place?”

Steelers Nation’s appetite for news on the team is voracious.

The Pittsburgh media generally does a good job, but they must keep in mind that quantity does not substitute for quality. Case in point, there was probably more written about Anthony McFarland’s non-signing this off season than there was about Mewelde Moore.

Which story is having more impact on the Steelers fortunes in 2008?

Case closed.

The Pittsburgh media simply dropped the ball on Mewelde Moore this past off season.

*For an answer to this question, click here.

Watch Tower: Should Mewelde Moore Have Played More Sooner?

The Pittsburgh media provided a chorus last week of praise for Steelers running back Mewelde Moore last week and, as detailed above, commentators were tripping over themselves to ask “Why hasn’t Moore gotten more carries?”

Anytime a player comes off the bench and does well, the question of where has this guy been is always an interesting one. A little background is useful, consider….

Anthony Brown and Chris Conrad alternated at right tackle for the Steelers during the 1999 season. The operative question in those lineup shifts was, “Which one is worse?” The Steelers offensive line and running game were horrible that year. Game fifteen saw both men injured and up stepped Shar Pourdanesh. Pourdanesh was no world-beater, but he was a definite upgrade, and his presence (along with the snow) helped the Steelers notch a 30 to 20 victory over the Carolina Panthers, and thus the Steelers averted their worst season since finishing 5-11 in 1988.

When asked why Pourdanesh hadn’t played sooner, Bill Cowher answered that he honestly had no idea....

Considering how poorly the Steelers line played in 1999, the question of “Where was Pourdanesh?” was spot on.

Is the question, "Why haven't we seen more of Moore" legit now?

The answer is no.

During their victories against the Texans and the Browns the Steelers gained at total of three hundred yards. They got smothered against the Eagles, but does anybody think that Moore would have been a difference maker? There’s a chance, but there were a lot of other things going wrong that day.

Moore got plenty of time against the Ravens, but only after Carey Davis got hurt. Ah, but Davis only netted 15 yards on 8 carries, so its obvious that the Steelers should have put Moore in first, right?

Well, Moore did get in, and he also got 8 carries… Alas, he netted 2 yards less than Davis.

Mewelde Moore played exceptionally well against a tough Jaguar defense, and clearly deserves to see the ball more often.

But it’s a flat-out incorrect criticize the Steelers for not giving him more carries sooner.

Watch Tower: The Offensive Line Kept Ben "Clean" Against the Jaguars?

Honestly, if you're a first-time Seel Curtain Rising visitor, this blog does exist to do something other that critique the Pittsburgh sports media

…It just so happens that they’ve provided such an abundant amount of material this week, and heck, it’s a bye week so there’s not a lot of other stuff to write about….

Anyway, back to the point.

The Steelers victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars was exciting and Steelers Nation rightly reveled in its glow. But such revelry should not extend so deeply to the media, which is what must have happened with Ron Cook.

Otherwise, there is no accounting for Cook's praise of the Steelers pass protection:

Stapleton, little-used tackle Trai Essex -- in for Smith (cramps) in the fourth quarter -- and their oft-criticized pals on the offensive line kept quarterback Ben Roethlisberger relatively clean, allowing three sacks.

Excuse me?

Did we watch the same game?

Is there something in Cook’s Kool Aid?

It’s true that the Steelers offensive line did provide quality protection to Ben for extended periods of the game. There were also periods where the pocket was non-existent, and three sacks a game might not sound like much, but it works out to 48 in a season, which is WAY too high.

And if the sack number was low, then the knock down and hit number was way, way too high.

Stapleton did do a good job, but Essex? As soon as he went in the game Jacksonville’s outside linebacker (or perhaps it was a DE) made bee-line right for Ben, blowing past Essex.

Twice.

Ben is certainly one of the toughest quarterbacks in the league. Heck, Al Michaels and John Madden both joked that he, and not Robert Downey Jr., should be cast to play Iron Man in the sequel. That’s because he took a tremendous amount of punishment against the Jaguars.

Steelers fans can be thankful for Ben’s toughness, and his ability to deliver under pressure.

But the Steelers need to protect Ben better, and they need to start doing it now, because at some point all of this punishment is going to start taking its toll.

Monday, October 6, 2008

Steelers Affirm Toughness to Defeat Jaguars 26-21

The Pittsburgh Steelers affirmed their toughness Sunday night as they snapped a four game losing streak to the Jaguars, defeating Jacksonville on the road 26-21.

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect in the two losses to the Jaguars last year was the way Jacksonville manhandled the Steelers, particularly in their first match up. The Steeler's made a better showing for themselves in the second game, but the Jaguars dominated the key physical battles when the outcome of the playoff game hung in the balance.

Sunday night the Steelers wrote a far different story. While it was a see-saw battle from start to finish, the Steelers showed their grit, matching the Jaguars hit for hit, and ultimately came out on top.

With Pittsburgh down to its fourth running back, Ben Roethlisberger was obviously going to carry the bulk of team’s offense on his shoulders. The latent danger was not that he wasn’t up to the task, but that Ben might try to do too much. The first series provided one of those "God, do I wish I were wrong" moments, as Roethlisberger forced the ball twice, once on a wild incompletion and then on a rifle shot downfield right into the arms of Rashean Mathis, who promptly accepted the favor and dashed 72 yards to a touchdown. That was Ben's only poor series all night.

Neither Roethlisberger, nor the Steelers blinked. On a night when the pressure from Jacksonville’s defense came at Ben in fits and spurts, Ben responded to each hit by taking his game up a notch, responding to his interception by driving the team 71 yards, capping it off with a one yard toss to Health Miller.

Gary Dulac of the Post-Gazette reported today that during his one day of practice last week, Ben’s arm was in so much pain that he did not throw a pass beyond five yards. Yet against the Jaguars, Ben rocketed off pass after pass, netting his highest passing total in almost two years.

Last December the Jaguars embarrassed the Pittsburgh at home by beating them at their own game, smash mouth football. The Steelers defense must have taken it personally, as they waltzed into Jacksonville and physically dominated the Jaguars.

Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, and Nick Eason were out, but the remaining Steeler defenders exacted retribution for each and ever one of the 421 yards the Jaguars had gained in last year’s regular season game. Up front, the Steelers gang-tackled anything that moved, in the secondary the Steelers were hitting so hard that Jacksonville receivers began dropping passes late in the game. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley harassed David Garrard all night, and rest of the Steeler defense kept Garrard for burning them with his legs.

Credit Jack Del Rio and his staff for making the adjustments that got Jacksonville back into the game. Late in the second quarter Del Rio benched his corner, moved in a safety, and added a linebacker, sticking with the 4-3 for the rest of the game. These moves helped the Jaguars force the Steelers to settle for three shortly before the half, and the Jaguars played better football through the beginning of the fourth quarter, when they took the lead.

Down 21 to 20 with 6:33 remaining, the Steeler were undaunted. Taking some of the most relentless pressure of the game (why in the hell did Essex and not Starks go in for Marvel Smith?), Ben Roethlisberger marched the Steelers 80 yards down the field. Twice during drive Roethlisberger appeared to be sacked, and twice he hit his man down field.

On 3rd and 8 Ben was again knocked down as he threw and was writhing in visible agony as Hines Ward hauled in an 18 yard pass at the Jacksonville 18. John Madden observed that with Ben obviously shaken up, the Steelers would rush and then kick a field goal to finish out the series.

Two plays later, as if on cue, Ben threw an incomplete pass to Nate Washington, and then heaved an eight yard touchdown pass touchdown pass to Hines Ward immedately after that.

That’s the kind of night it was for the Steelers.

Down to your fourth string running back?

  • Come out running, and rip off runs of 19, 27, yards an total more 129 total yards rushing

Quarterback does not practice all week?

  • Fearlessly fire the ball around the field, and rack up 309 yards through the air

Missing three of your top four defensive lineman?

  • Hold the Jacksonville’s Pro Bowl backfield to 2.2 yards per carry.

When it was all over the Steelers improved their record to 4-1, and began to separate themselves from the rest of the AFC North. These Steelers also put the rest of the league on notice that they do not fear adversity and will yield to no one in a slug fest.

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Key to Jaguar's Game: Roethlisberger Must Show Restraint

Last January the Jacksonville Jaguars defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers in the playoffs, accomplishing what no team had done before: Beating the Steelers twice at home in the same season.

Although the Steelers finished 10-6 and won the AFC North in Mike Tomlin’s rookie season, the loss to the Jaguars added a stark exclamation point to an already weak 1-3 regular season finish. Tomorrow’s game against Jacksonville will serve as an excellent yard stick for gauging how much progress, or lack thereof, the Steelers have made in the eight months that this return bout has been in the making.

Pass Protection

Opposing defenses sacked Ben Roethlisberger 47 times last season. Perhaps the strongest imperative entering the 2008 was to protect Ben better. Pass protection held up pretty well against the Texans and Browns, but the flood gates opened against Philadelphia, as the Eagles sacked Ben 8 times, and added another for good measure against Bryon Leftwich. The Raven’s defense threw Big Ben around like a rag doll during the first half of the Monday night game, but the Steelers pass protection greatly improved in the second half.

  • Bottom line: Jacksonville did not sack Ben once last January, and has only registered 5 sacks thus far. For comparison’s sake, James Harrison already has 6 sacks. Failure to protect Ben in this game means that the Steelers pass protection is a glaring liability.

Ground Game

The more things change, the more they stay the same. The Steelers totaled 46 yards rushing against Jacksonville in the playoffs, but they were playing without Willie Parker. To shore up their rushing game Pittsburgh dumped Najeh Davenport and added Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore…

Alas, Parker is out for this game, Mendenhall is on IR, and Najeh Davenport is back on the roster. Carey Davis is also out against Jacksonville.

  • Bottom line: Mewelde Moore was perhaps Steelers most interesting free agent signing, and now is his time to shine. His rushing numbers this year are unimpressive, but he made plays when things counted against Baltimore. He needs to do more of this against Jacksonville.
  • Gary Russell teased during the 2007 preseason, but has done little to impress since then, but he’s had few opportunities to prove himself. That should change fast.

Defense

Statistically the Steelers defense held Jacksonville in check last time around, limiting David Garrard to 140 yards passing and the Jaguar’s running backs to 3.2 yards a carry. Ah, but there’s the minor matter of David Garrard’s 32 yard on fourth and two….

The Steelers will miss two of their three starting defensive lineman tomorrow night, but LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons have boosted the Steelers defense corps a shot, as has the return of a healthy Troy Polamalu.

  • Bottom line: No deep analysis here. Jacksonville’s offense has been a little inconsistent while the Steelers look to have improved on defense. But the Jaguars play a bruising offense, and the Steelers simply must be more physical.

Key to the game: Roethlisberger’s Restraint.

The Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette opined earlier this week that with the Steelers running back roster depleted, the Steelers offense would “come to pass.” It doesn’t take a football genius to know he’s on to something, and therein might lie a danger.

Many factors contributed to the Steelers playoff loss against the Jaguars, but one of those was Ben’s play in the first half. Roethlisberger simply tried to do too much after Jacksonville immediately tied the score on the heels of their 96 yard kick return. The result was three interceptions that led directly to 14 points for the Jaguars.

The injuries at running back certainly mean that Ben is going to need to throw more, but it’s more important that he throw wisely.

Ben’s credentials as a franchise quarterback are beyond dispute at this point, but Roethlisberger must resist the temptation to try to win the game by himself. If he does that, and if the defense plays has it has thus far this year, the Steelers should defeat the Jaguars.

Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Steelers Sputter, Escape With Costly Win Against Ravens

[From the desk of a writer who watched his first Steelers game on US soil in 6 years, only to have his alternator die on the way home from the game.... And I've got a plane to catch in 15 min.]

The way it was scripted, the Ravens were supposed to be speed bumps that the Browns (or perhaps the Steelers) passed over on their way to the AFC North Division title.

Cleveland started weakly, the Steelers have been inconsistent, and the Ravens, if not resurgent, showed that they have plenty of fight in them.

The Steelers won a 23-20 overtime battle of attrition against the Ravens on Monday night. However, it was a costly victory, and one has to wonder if they do not emerge from it in a weaker position to wage the ensuing war.

Consider:

  • Big Ben got tossed around like a rag doll in the first half
  • Rashard Mendenhall was limited to 3.3 yards per carry, although he did show some flashes -- he's out for the rest of the year
  • Kendall Simmons, the one supposed pillar of stability on the offensive line, is out for the year

Its true that the Steelers primetime players looked sharp when the chips were down Monday night. You don't get 14 point swings in 15 seconds too often.

And, the Steelers closed out a close one in the final moments, something which has been rare in the Mike Tomlin era.... Still the fact that the Ravens were able to tie the game is bothersome.

But a win is a win, and if the defense did disappoint by letting the Ravens back into the game, they delivered in overtime.

The Steelers have uncontested control of the AFC North, but the road ahead of them nonetheless now looks more complicated.