´ Steel Curtain Rising: Watch Tower: Of the Steelers, Injuries, and the Press

Which were the most important reasons the Steelers lost to the Ravens (pick all that apply)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Watch Tower: Of the Steelers, Injuries, and the Press

Steelers Nation held its collective breath when it was revealed that All Pro strong safety Troy Polamalu had “tweaked his calf” in pre-game warm-ups prior to the Chargers game.

With such a revelation in hand, San Diego’s three touchdowns and Philip Rivers 300 yard passing game became slightly more palatable.

Fear not, the Steelers brain trust assured, both Troy and Justin Hartwig, who was also injured in the San Diego game, will be back at full strength for the Ravens game.

It says here that you can probably take Tomlin’s word at face value because Polamalu practiced all week. But the fears of Steelers Nation would be far more assuaged had it not been for the Steelers recent lack of candor regarding injuries to their players.

Exhibit 1: Marvel Smith

Starting left tackle Marvel Smith missed much of 2007 with back issues which off season back surgery. Smith was pronounced fully fit to start the season, and played well enough until he reinjured his back against Jacksonville.

The word was that he had "cramps" and "spasms" and that he would be week to week. This line continued for the balance of the season, until Smith was finally placed on injured reserve on Christmas Eve. Shortly there after the Post-Gazette revealed that during the season Smith had gone under the knife yet again during the season.

The Steelers had kept the nature of his injury secret until after Smith went on IR.

Exhbit 2: Ben Roethlisberger

As the world knows, Ben Roethlisberger got knocked silly in the final regular season game against the Cleveland Browns. He later told of losing sensation in his arms and legs, and he had to be carted from the field on the backboard.

Later that day the word was that prognosis on Ben was good, and that he was expected to play against the Chargers. He did and the result was a happy one.

So well in fact that Gary Dulac’s article in Monday’s Post-Gazette asserting that Ben had actually suffered a spinal concussion against the Browns. The spinal concussion is the same injury that Tommy Maddox suffered against the Tennessee Titans in 2002, on the left him motionless on the field for several minutes.

Mike Tomlin was asked about this in his Tuesday press conference, and he denied the report.

Who to believe?

Hard to say. The Marvel Smith example would tend to lend credibility to the Post-Gazette’s version.

But Dulac’s article cited no sources whatsoever. He simply wrote “the Post-Gazette has learned….” So we don’t know if his source was someone from the Steelers, someone from the hospital, or a third party. One must surmise that they made some attempt to confirm the story, but if they did, they did not explicitly say so.

And What About the Game Plan?

Leading up to the Chargers game, Steelers coaches insisted that Ben was fine, and that his medical condition was not impacting their game planning at all.

Jim Wexell led his column in the Steelers Digest (yes, its subscription only) immediately following the Chargers game by saying “[Roethlisberger] may not have been razor sharp, but the scaled back game plan worked wonders for the team….”

This is interesting on two fronts. One, given the number of deep strikes the Steelers attempted, the game plan did not looked “scaled back” to me.

Nonetheless, Jim Wexell is probably the best full-time journalist who covers the Steelers. The man works his butt off and brings out details behind stories that nobody else finds.

So the question remains, where did the scaled back game plan come from?

Was it Wexell’s interpretation of the game plan as he saw it evolve on the field, or was he privy to inside information?

We’ll probably never find out but it would be interesting to know.

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