´ Steel Curtain Rising: January 2009

Who gets the game ball for the Steelers win over the Texans?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Super Bowl XLIII - A Look to Questions Past Gives Clues to Sunday's Answers

“This group understands the standard that comes with being a Pittsburgh Steeler, and we’ve got some work to do.”
-- Mike Tomlin, on why his players did not celebrate more after defeating the Baltimore Ravens.

The Steelers have come a long way and accomplished a since the convened training camp in Latrobe last July. But, as Mike Tomlin would say, they’re still writing their story.

It will be against the Arizona Cardinals that the Steelers will write the definitive chapter of their 2008 season. While true conclusions remain elusive until the final gun in Tampa, a look at what we’ve already learned about Tomlin and his players offers some insight into how Super Bowl XLIII will transpire.

2007 was a good year for the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger proved that 2006 was a fluke, an AFC North Crown was added, and the Rooneys showed that they’re pretty good evaluators of coaching talent.

As impressive as his rookie campaign was, Tomlin and his Steelers started at St. Vincent with some real questions to answer. 10-6 is a respectable record, but the Steelers finished 1-4, and lost two home games to the same opponent for the first time in conference history. Besides, Steelers Nation does not seek respectability, it demands excellence.

In two separate articles, Steel Curtain Rising probed the areas that would determine Tomlin’s ability to deliver excellence. On the eve of Super Bowl XLIII, this is what we have learned so far and what it means for Super Bowl XLIII.

Is Mike Tomlin Too Chummy With His Coaches?

We won’t spend too much time on this, as the next two questions closely relate to this larger question. The suspicion at the time was that Tomlin was more like Noll and his mentor Tony Dungy than his predecessor Bill Cowher. The former men bent over backwards not to fire assistant whom they liked; Bill Cowher cut his lieutenants loose without a second thought.

Honestly, we do not know this answer yet, and probably will not for a long, long time.

But it is interesting to note that stories about the Steelers are no longer chalked full of quotes about how “great it is to work for a head coach that grants a wide degree of autonomy.”

Also interesting was Phil Simms comment that Tomlin had put his own, person touches on the DB’s pass coverage techniques. None of this means that Tomlin has become overbearing, but it does suggest a slightly different approach.

  • Implications for Super Bowl XLIII: Really, not many. Tomlin’s job is to get the Steelers players and coaches functioning harmoniously and thus far he has shown he is up to the job.

Should Bob Ligashesky Have Been Fired?

What a difference two weeks makes…. At the end of the regular season, the answer to this question looked like a solid “no.” Certainly, the Steelers were not getting any help form their return game. But during the 2008 season the Steelers kick coverage went from being acceptable, to good, to excellent. This stood in stark contrast to 2007, the blood lettng on the coverage teams never seemed to stop.

Special teams performance as slipped in the playoffs. OK, one can argue that Santonio Holmes electrifying 65 yard punt against San Diego cancels the long return by the Chargers.

That’s a great argument on paper that is really bogus in reality. During the Baltimore game the Steelers had 21 yard punt and only a personal foul penalty saved the Steelers from a devastating punt return.

  • Implications for Super Bowl XLIII: The Arizona Cardinals handed Mike Tomlin his first regular season defeat in 2007, largely on the strength of special teams. Bob Ligasheky’s must make sure this pattern does not repeat itself in Super Bowl XLIII.

Do Tomlin and Bruce Arians Philosophies Clash?

Ooh, my. Has Bruce Arians been a lighting rod for criticism this year, and Steel Curtain Rising has contributed its fair share. The root of the issue is simple. When he was hired, and many times since then Mike Tomlin expressed a commitment to attrition football.

Nonetheless, one of the first acts of the man he hired to be his offensive coordinator, was to phase out the full back.

And there you have your disparity.

On the eve of Super Bowl XLIII, this answer remains nebulous. Arains commitment to the run has been suspect to say the least.

In all fairness to Airans, he’s really hasn’t had the personnel to put together a power running game, with four new starters on offensive line, and a rash of injuries at the running back slot.

Still, in a late season on line chat, the Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette indicated that he thought Tomlin might not be completely happy with Arians’ play calling and game planning. (To be objective, Bouchette was quick to add that this was his impression, and did not go into much detail beyond a vague comment.)

  • Implications for Super Bowl XLIII: Going up against Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald, in addition to Arizona’s two other 1,000 yard receivers, it does not take a genius to figure out that ball control is going to figure prominently into the Steelers game plan.

    For the Steelers to succeed in Super Bowl XLIII, Tomlin and Arians must be on the same page.

Can the Steelers Protect Ben?

Early on, the answer to this question would have been “NO.” But the pass protection, and indeed the play of the entire offensive line has improved as the season progressed. Ben got the time he needed against San Diego, and while he did take four sacks against Baltimore, there are also plenty of snaps when he had time to pass.

The Steelers will only underestimate the Cardinals defense at their peril, but the fact is that while Arizona does field a good defensive team, these are not the Ravens.

  • Implications for Super Bowl XLIII: The line's performance should have improved enough to give Ben the time he needs, if not it will be a long day.

Can the Steelers Close?

Man, what a difference a year, not to mention the return of Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu, makes. One of the most disturbing scenes of the Steelers 2007 season was the sight of the Steelers losing close games late in the 4th quarter, in a way that they never, ever did under Bill Cowher.

18 games later, the image the Steelers painted a very different picture. In 2008 the Steelers have been a team that as won games in the final two minutes, time and time again.

And its been a team effort, with contributions on both sides of the ball, and mercifully, cross your fingers, they’ve avoided shooting themselves in the foot on special teams (see above.)

  • Implications for Super Bowl XLIII: Once again, this is going to be the ultimate test. Kurt Warner is one of the quarterbacks in the league that can strike downfield at any moment, and at any time during the game. How many times have we seem him stuffed for 58 minutes, only to draw blood in the last two minutes?

    And he clearly has the weapons to throw to. These Arizona receivers know how to get their hands on the ball if Warner puts it near them.

    There’s no formula for stopping this. James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior, Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons company are simply going to need to get in Kurt Warner’s face up front. Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, and Bret Keisel are going to need to stuff the run game and pressure the passer where they can.

    And Dick LeBeau is going to have to develop a plan that keeps Warner and Ken Whisenhunt guessing.

    The bottom line is that it comes down to execution. The Steelers simply need to do their thing, do it well and maintain focus for the full 60 minutes.

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Thursday, January 29, 2009

Steelers Fans in Buenos Aires – Join the FAA for Super Bowl XLII in downtown Buenos Aires

Greetings from Tandil, in la Provincia de Buenos Aires

Attention to all members of Steelers Nation who find themselves in Buenos Aires, Argentina for the Super Bowl XLIII.

Steelers fans ready to watch Super Bowl XLIII with other devotees of the gridiron, now have a place to meet.

Bring your Terrible Towels, don your Steelers t-shirts and come down to the Run Bar in downtown Buenos Aires to watch our beloved Pittsburgh Steelers square off against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.

The FAA (Federación de Futbol Americano Argentino) will be holding their annual Super Bowl Party there.

  • Event: The Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII
  • Location: Run Bar, San Martin 875 in downtown Buenos Aires
  • Time: 8:30 pm, local time
  • Cost: 40 pesos, which includes tenedor libre de pizza and two drinks. The bar will also be offering Happy Hour specials throughout the game.

If you’re interested in coming, please reserve your space with the FAA, at info@faarg.com.ar.

  • Please note, that as this is sponsored by the FAA, they will most likely be showing the Spanish language broadcast, and there will be Arizona Cardinal fans present at the event as well as fans from other NFL teams.

But if you’re a die hard of the Black and Gold, come out and show your spirit!

Not only will it be great chance to watch the game, but it will be an opportunity to meet the members of the FAA, Argentines who are true, hardcore fans of American Football.

The location is pretty easy to find, but por las dudas, here is a link from Google maps.

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=875+San+Mart%C3%ADn,+Buenos+Aires,+Argentina&sll=-34.566938,-58.455591&sspn=0.051595,0.11158&g=arenales+495,+vicente+lopez&ie=UTF8&z=17&iwloc=addr

See you at Super Bowl XLIII.

Go Steelers!

KT,
President,
Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club of Buenos Aires

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Watch Tower: AFC Championship Varium

Excellent Call by Dulac

Kudos to Gary Dulac for keeping his head about him to point out one very obvious coaching blunder by the Steelers that got lost in the glow of victory. In his Two Minute Drill column, Dulac called out Bruce Arians for calling the pass play on third and 1 after a 7 yard run by Willie Parker.

In his weekly chat Ed Bouchette indicated that the play was designed for Hines Ward, and well, Dwayne Washington didn’t run it like Ward would have. Obviously they did not convert.

This play followed the Steelers 21 yard punt, which, with the help of Ike Taylor’s pass interference call, gave Baltimore 7. Give Gary Russell a shot at pounding out one yard and you can take couple of three minutes off of the clock…. Good pick up Gary.

Letting the Cat Out of the Bag, Sort of

In the same article, Dulac committed a minor faux pax.

One of the most interesting things about keeping an eye on the media is trying to figure out what they know by can’t or don’t say.

Members of the Pittsburgh media watch every team practice, but they’re barred by agreement from revealing what they see. Hence, you’ll never see, “you know, don’t expect much of so-and-so this week because he’s had a really crappy week of practice.”

Commenting on Limas Sweed’s drop of a sure touchdown at the end of the first half against the Ravens, Dulac said: “Practice-watchers will record just another daily drop for the rookie.” In his weekly chat, Ed Bouchette confirmed the observation.

Given that that was Sweed’s second drop in as many playoff games, it’s not as if they’re giving away a big secret. One can imagine that both men’s press credentials are still secure.

Don’t Look Now But…

Literally, this means you cannot look now because you won’t find it. But one of the PG’s early articles on the game was chalked full of errors.

Mike Tomlin was quoted with out any attribution, just the quote and no indication of who it was from. That was after the writer asserted that Tomlin was the first coach to take a team to the Super Bowl in his sophomore season….

…a distinction which of course belongs to Joe Gibbs, who accomplished the feat in the strike shortened season of 1982.

These mistakes, however, were corrected by mid-day.

Regular readers of this site know very well that Steel Curtain Rising has little room to criticize others for typos and other types of syntax mistakes, but then again, we’re not getting paid, nor do we have an editor. (Well, the women in my life sometimes point stuff out. Help for which I am grateful….)

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Both Steelers, Ravens Tough, but Playmakers Decide the Day

The Steelers and the Ravens fought it out on the turf at Heinz Field Sunday night, and while officially the stakes were the AFC Championship, the two teams played as if they were fighting for the right to claim the legacy of the Ray Nitschke, Dick Butkis, George Halas and Vince Lombardi.

The first two games between these two AFC North Rivals both went to the wire for good reason: These two teams are about as evenly matched as is possible.

Both are led by dominating, punishing defenses and bright young coaches. On offense what the Raven’s lack in experience under center in comparison to the Steelers, they make up for in a stronger offensive line and a more productive running game.

Games where the stakes are so high and the teams so close come down to a variety of factors. Coaching, seizing opportunities, will to win, and great players making plays.

Each element impacted the game, but in the end only one proved to be decisive.

It's [Not] The Coaching Stupid

John Harbaugh is nothing if not audacious. When his team got the ball the Ravens came out throwing, which was quite bold considering the quality of Pittsburgh’s defense.

This move cost him 3 points early on, and it took time for Baltimore to gain their footing. If you fault the man for his wisdom, you’ve got to admire his attitude. He and his staff were also quite astute in challenging Santonio Holmes' first long catch, as almost no one in the stadium saw that Holmes had lost possession.

Mike Tomlin had a solid game plan, and the Steelers defense got the better of the Ravens during the early going. Yet, for all of the third down conversions, there was a palpable disruption to the Steelers offense as soon as Hines Ward was lost.

You don’t miss what you’ve got until it’s gone, but the Steelers should have been better prepared for this kind of contingency. Bruce Arians, who has drawn more than his share of fire from Steel Curtain Rising, called a pretty good game, and stuck to his plan to run the ball, even when it wasn’t working as well as anyone would have liked.

Nonetheless, his decision to throw out of an empty set on third and 1 while protecting a lead was foolish. The fact that Hines Ward was to be the primary receiver in the original play makes the call more mystifying.

The uncertain will absolutely arise against Arizona in the Super Bowl, and the coaching staff must adjust better.

Credit both coaches for this game, but in the end, coaching did not make the difference.

Opportunity Knocks

The Steelers have lived on edge all season, and watching this game made one think that they like it that way.

Limas Sweed certainly does, dropping a sure touchdown pass, and then allowing embarrassment to lead led him to feign injury, costing the team a precious time out and ultimately a field goal too.

Chris Kemoeatu and Ike Taylor also appear to be fond of sailing close to the wind, as had penalties called on them that greatly contributed to Baltimore’s second TD. (I won’t single out Bryant McFadden, as his pass interference penalty was borderline at best.)

Yet if you credit the Ravens for scooping up of these hand-wrapped gifts, you must fault them for discipline at a critical juncture. The personal foul on Anthony Madison after the Ravens had returned a punt to the 40 set Baltimore back at a moment where momentum was clearly on their side.

Mistakes aside, Pittsburgh also made its opportunities, in the form of numerous scrambles by Ben and his ad-lib touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes.

As important as these events were, opportunism would not rule the day.

Just the Price of Admission

These teams do not like each other. These teams both wanted a shot at the Super Bowl. Only one ticket to Tampa was to be had.

The result was a game played with an intensity seldom matched in today’s NFL. While momentum may have shifted back and forth, neither team showed any sign of backing down. The hits got harder as the final gun approached. Each side upped the ante when it came time to show who wanted it more.

The will to win has always been the requisite for admission when the Steelers and Ravens have played this year, but never a differentiating factor.

Lynn Swann’s Words Vindicated

In his commentary for the video “The Steelers of the 70’s in their own words,” Lynn Swann said it best:

"Chicago has one Michael Jordan, who with the game on the line takes the ball in his hands, shoots and scores. Well, we had four or five guys who felt that they could do that on every single play."

Steel Curtain Rising is not ready to elevate these Steelers to the status shared by their 70’s counterparts, not yet at least, but this team has some players who flat out make things happen.

Ben Roethlisberger has done it time and time again this year, against Baltimore, Jacksonville, Dallas, and then Baltimore again.

Hines Ward and James Harrison have also come through in the clutch.

The Ravens, with Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and perhaps some others, have their share too. But the Steelers simply have more, and that was the difference in the AFC Championship. And there is no better illustration of this than the decisive score.

After completing a masterful 20 yard completion brought Baltimore to close to mid field, the Steelers held the Ravens to two yards on first.

LaMarr Woodley turned it up a notch and sacked Joe Flacco on second. That brought up third down and it was time for the Steelers stars to shine.

Flacco faded back to pass, but as he has done so often this year, James Harrison was there, arriving just in time to disrupt the rookie’s pass.

Troy Polamalu was in coverage. He read Flacco's eyes, positioined himself, leapted, and came down with the ball.

Hollywood producers would not have scripted what followed next for the simple fact that no one would have believed it. From 40 yards out Polamalu tucked the ball under his arm, dodged and weaved, accelerated and reversed direction, zigged and zagged, lunged forward and then cut back, flying past defender after defender as he found the goal line.

And that sealed the Raven’s fate.

John Harbaugh and Joe Flacco have every reason to be proud, and just as Steelers Nation should know that these men are going to a formidable force in the AFC North to say the least.

But for the moment, the Steelers, led by their playmakers, are the power in the AFC to be reckoned with.


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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Steelers Fans Await Word on Ward

Perhaps the only thing that dimmed the Steelers 26-14 victory over the Ravens in the AFC Championship was the prospect of seeing Hines Ward out of the lineup due to injury.

Ward ran around the edge of the stadium after the game, slapping hands of fans, and in the locker room he vowed that he would play in the Super Bowl.

During the first quarter of the game against the Ravens Hines Ward sustained what was described as a slight MCL sprain. It was announced that was was to have an MRI on Monday, however the Steelers did not release any news of the test.

Ward was seen walking through the Steelers complex without any difficult, and tight end Health Miller told reporters he was sure Ward would be ready by Super Bowl XLIII.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Steelers Defeat Ravens, Head to Super Bowl XLIII !

The Pittsburgh Steelers prevailed in one of the most hard hitting AFC Championship games to vanquish the division rival Baltimore Ravens by the score of 23 to 14.

This game was a war from start to finish, and Baltimore Ravens running back Willis McGahee has the thoughts an prayers of Steel Curtain Rising.

This was a back and forth battle from start to finish, but the outcome was sealed by Troy Poalamalu's incredible interception and return for a touchdown.

Its 1:30 am in Buenos Aires, and work is awaiting tomorrow morning. Check back for a fully analysis tomorrow morning, as the Steelers prepare to face off against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII

Go Steelers!

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Steelers vs. Ravens for the AFC Championship: Who Will Be the Difference Makers?

The Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Baltimore Ravens for the AFC Championship, a chance to play for all the marbles, a shot at the Super Bowl.

The story lines filling this game are enough to make a journalist’s mouth water.

Can you beat a team 3 times in one season? It’s happened 11 times out of 18 in NFL history, but those remaining seven leave plenty of room for doubt.

  • There are the Steelers, fighting through the league’s toughest schedule. They didn’t always look dominant; they simply played well enough to win.
  • There are the Ravens, coming out of nowhere to finish 11-5. They may have been a sixth seed, but they knocked off the number three and number two seeds and are aiming for number two… Just like the Steelers did in 2005.

But the Ravens aren’t merely trying to emulate Steelers history, they’re trying to recreate some of their own. No one, it seems, can avoid reading about the eerie similarities between the Ravens of 2008 and the Ravens of 2000, you know the Wild Card team that won with smart quarterback play, solid running, and dominating defense.

If the Raven’s are trying to emulate history, the Steelers, perhaps, are at least trying to rewrite some of their own. How many times have we heard it? The AFC Championship has been played in Pittsburgh 5 times in the last 14 years, and yet the Steelers only have a 1-4 record in those games.

To top it off, the one opponent which the Steelers vanquished at home during that span are the Colts.

These Colts were of course 13 years removed from the Mayflower trucks that performed the sacrilege of ripping the Colts away from Baltimore, but they did happened to be quarterbacked by a man named whose name was Harbaugh, and whose brother John will lead Baltimore’s new NFL standard bearer.

The Men Who Can Make a Difference

All of that makes for good copy, but when all is said and done this game will be decided, as all games are decided, by the men who play between the lines. Winning and losing is always a team effort, but in a game where teams are as evenly matched as these two are, you can look to certain players to be difference makers. And that’s what we’ll do here.

Ed Reed

Living down in Buenos Aires as I do, my exposure to Ed Reed has been somewhat limited. But if there’s a more dominate safety in the league than Tory Polamalu, its Ed Reed, and those who say that statement should be flipped have a lot of merit to their argument.

Ed Reed has 43 picks in 106 games and seven touchdowns. He had nine picks this year and added 2 more in the playoffs already and returned one for a touchdown.

  • Ed Reed didn't have a pick against the Steelers in 2008. In fact, his last interception came in the Steelers 75th Anniversary game... Suffice to say, the Steelers are unlikely to re-live that game’s glory Ed Reed’s hands spend a lot of time in contact with the pig skin.

Ben Roethlisberger

Ben’s taken a lot of heat this year, but whenever he’s delivered down the clutch. The wrap on Ben is simple. He’s got to balance doing what he does, creating the time that allows him to make the incredible throws, and not trying do to much.

  • Ben Roethlisberger is a gamer. He needs to play smart and just be himself. It says here he will do that.

Ray Lewis

For so long Ray Lewis has set the tone for this defense, and that tone has not been a pleasant one for opposing offenses. Ray Lewis has been around long enough to have seen Kordell Stewart lead a 5 touchdown rally at Memorial Stadium, and then find himself as the team’s lone bright spot as they went down 37-0 at Three Rivers Stadium.

  • Some people think the Lewis is losing a step. Tell that to Rashard Mendenhall. Lewis is always going to be tough, the key to is to never be intimidated by him.

The Steelers Offensive Line

The Raven’s defense ran during the first half of the first match up in October. Ben Roethlisberger apparently called on them to step up and they did so in the second half. Maligned as the team’s Achilles heel for much of the year, the unit has taken it personally and really stepped up their preparation.

  • The Ravens are going to come after Ben, and come after him with a fury. It’s unlikely they can provide the kind of time they did against San Diego, but if the line can give Ben some decent protection, he will force Rex Ryan to respect the passing game.
  • The boys up front also need to show Ray Lewis and company that they are not afraid to be physical.

Ron McClain

McClain would be a hero in Steelers nation had he played for Pittsburgh. A brusing full back who can run the ball. McClain ran for 150 yards in two games against the Steelers, impressive numbers.

  • McClain is nursing an injury. But he'll will play, and he will play hard. The Steelers must shut down McClain and the rest of the Raven's running game.

Willie Parker

It’s been ages since the Steelers have had a 100 yard rusher against the Ravens, in fact Willie Parker has never done it. He missed the first game against the Ravens, and only managed 47 yards in the second meeting.

  • Parker will not duplicate the 150 yard performance he had against San Diego. But if he and Mewelde Moore can help the Steelers move the chains with some frequency it will go a long way to lowering the collective blood pressure of Steelers Nation.

The Flacco Factor

Derided by Steelers Digest’s Bob Labriola, as a “poor man’s Vinny Testerverde” when he was drafted early this year, Flacco has turned more than a few heads, in fact his rookie campaign has drawn comparisons between Ben Roethlisberger’s. While his rookie season’s numbers are below Ben’s, he’s accomplished something that Ben did not – he’s won two playoff games as a rookie.

  • The conventional wisdom is that at some point he’ll actually begin playing like a rookie, but so far he’s bucked the conventional wisdom. Flacco’s post-season numbers have been quite pedestrian, but did not give up a sack or throw an interception in either playoff appearance. He’s also looked cool under fire, particularly on the final drive against Tennessee.
  • Then again, Joe Flacco didn’t have James Harrison rushing him….

James Harrison the Hell Raiser

Of all the players that have the potential to impact this game, none stirs the imagination like James Harrison. The reining AFC Defensive Player of the year does not like the Ravens. He’s never forgiven them for shipping him off to the Rhine Fire and then cutting him without so much a thank you.

  • And James Harrison has made the Ravens pay.
  • The Ravens have faced James Harrison five times at Heinz Field. In those games Harrison has recorded 32 tackles, six sacks and forced five fumbles. He’s also defensed two passes and intercepted one more.

James Harrison is a dominant player, but he becomes more so against Baltimore. How much does he step it up? In those five games mentioned above James Harrison has made 10.5% of his tackles, dropped 21% of his quarterbacks, and forced 35% fumbles in games against Baltimore at Pittsburgh.

Oh, and only three of those games were starts…


Thanks for visiting. Do you agree what we’ve said here, or do you think the out come of this game will depend on someone else turning it up a notch? If so, who and why. Let us know what you think. Leave a comment, vote in our poll, and visit the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

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.

Friday, January 16, 2009

NFL Recognizes Holding of James Harrison as Official Statistic

The sack only became officially recognized in pro football in 1982, but the NFL announced today that holds on James Harrison is now also an official statistic. The decision was made following the regular season and, although it was only made public today, will be retroactive to the Divisional Playoff round.

The NFL’s Senior Vice President of Public Relations, Craig Aiello, broke the news in a press release this afternoon. The text of the release follows:


As the season wore on, it became clearer and clearer to offensive lineman and their coaches that the only way to stop Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison was to blatantly hold him. Steelers fans have been clamoring for the league to take action, and we have done so.

Starting with the Divisional playoff round, we will now begin tracking the number of times James Harrison is held without a flag being thrown, and this will be recorded in the league’s official records. We’re making this move because it’s the right thing to do, and we know the fans will appreciate that we have recognized their concerns.

After the briefing, Ailleo confirmed that they will work in conjunction with the Alias Sports Statistics Bureau to iron out any grey areas that might exist over what constitutes a hold, and what does not. He quickly added, “Really, we don’t expect much work on that front because the holds on James Harrison are always quite obvious.”

“We do want to make football a game for patsies…”

Given the highly charged nature of the issue in question, most NFL officials were reluctant to speak on the record. However, one senior league official in spite of his speaking anonymously makes some surprisingly frank revelations.

When asked about why the league had taken the extraordinary step of making this move in the middle of the season, the source responded in exasperation, “What choice did we have? Tory Polamalu is right, we do want to make football into a game for patsies, particularly when it comes to protecting the passer. We can’t say that publicly, but we just can’t have our fine feathered quarterbacks taking so many hits.”

He elaborated as to why the league was singling out Harrison, “You know, guys like him simply do not cooperate, they’re too aggressive by nature. We’d hoped it would blow over, but the AP really screwed us when they named James Harrison defensive player of the year. We had to do something.”

Controversy, but Not from Where You'd Expect

This move has not come without controversy, and from a surprising sources. The new statistic, dubbed “Harrison Holds” will only be kept cumulatively by offense. Offensive lineman will not be credited individually. San Diego’s Pro Bowl left tackle Neill McMarcus was furious when he learned the news.

“Man that’s bull [explicative]. Like any Norv Turner coached team, there’s a lot of finger pointing going on right now, and some of it is at me. But I mean come on, I didn’t just hold James Harrison, I clotheslined him and rode him down to the ground. Twice. I saved Philip Rivers at least two sacks. The least I deserve is some credit.”



Welcome folks to Steel Curtain Rising's latest feature column, "La Toalla Terrible" (that's Terrible Towel in Spanish for those of you at home keeping score.) In case you hadn't guessed, its intent is to provide a tongue and cheek take on all things Steelers. If you're new, take a moment to check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising. (Please, vote in our poll while you're here!)

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Steelers Defeat San Diego Chargers 35-24

The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the San Diego Chargers to the tune of 35 to 24 in Sunday’s AFC Divisional playoff, giving Mike Tomlin his first post-season win and exorcising some of the franchise's playoff demons in the process.

Most importantly, they showed that they arrived to the NFL’s 2008 postseason ready to play.

I'll Eat My Crow with a Side Helping of Humble Pie

There are sometimes in this business when you like to be wrong, and Sunday was one of them. Less than two hours before game time, Steel Curtain Rising posted an article declaring that Ben Roethlisberger held the key to the Steelers playoff fortunes. That supposition, in-and-of-itself, is probably still valid. But in leading up to that, we had this to say:

The running game might marginally improve, but there is no way this team is running over people they way it did in the 1990’s and even as recently as 2004....

I will happily eat my own words. If the performance of the Steelers running game against the Charges marks “marginal improvement” then I shudder to think of what a significant improvement will be.

Crossroads…

After the Steelers 11-10 regular season victory over the Chargers, Steel Curtain Rising suggested that, the inability to get into the end zone not withstanding, the Steelers offense might have reached a crossroads.

Well, that didn’t happen the first time against the Chargers, but it may have happened Sunday.

Steelers Nation should be crystal clean on one point:

  • Running against the Ravens will be exponentially more difficult than it was on the Chargers

With that said, there are a number of positives that the Steelers can take out of this playoff victory. Not only is the offense peaking at the right time, but the Arians, either by himself or under pressure from Tomlin, finally appears to be committed to a balanced passing attack.

The Steelers historic 3rd quarter against the Chargers, the one where they held the ball for 14:43 vindicates that balanced approach.

The Steelers ran the ball and ran the ball again. And when they found themselves in third downs, they converted them, and went back to running the ball.

More than anything else, you got the feeling that the Steelers offense believed offense they were running, more thoroughly than at any time during the year.

Stepping it Up

The Steelers performance against the Chargers was not flawless, but as they have done throughout the year, no one flinched.

Mike Tomlin went to his bag of tricks early and often, and while we do question some of those calls, the decision to go for it at fourth and goal in particular, there’s a lot to like about the attitude.

The Steelers did what battle-tested, championship caliber teams do. They played to win, and when one part of their game faltered another area kicked into high gear.

Give up a long touchdown on the opening drive...

  • Respond with a surprise punt, and hold’em to three and out and return a punt for 65 yards

Give up a long kick off return?

  • Get the ball back on the very next play

The defense did its part on this front too. The Chargers discovered the “secret” (shish, don’t tell anyone, but here's the secret to stopping James Harrison: hold him, closeline him, and if all else fails tackle James Harrison from behind and ride him to the ground) to shutting down James Harrison, only to have LaMarr Woodley make them pay.

Reason to Worry?

The fact that the Chargers scored two late touchdowns to come within theoretical striking distance of winning has been largely over looked.

  • Should those late touchdowns be overlooked?

In the short-term yes. This group of Pittsburgh Steelers has lived on the edge all year. And they’ve thrived on it.

When they’ve needed opportunities, they’ve gone out and taken them. When it’s come time to execute, they’ve executed. This propensity to lay off the gas a little, as they also appeared to do against the Texans, might develop into a worrisome tendency for Tomlin teams during the long term, but for now it seems to be under control.

  • The Baltimore Ravens will certainly yield no quarter, and Pittsburgh will have little chance for complacency

The calf injury to Troy Polamalu undoubtedly contributed to San Diego’s three touchdown passes. Suffice to say, the worse the injury, the better Baltimore’s chances.

A Bigger Test is Yet to Come

As pleasing as the Steelers victory against the Chargers was, it is only a first step.

The Baltimore Ravens are up next. Both regular season games against the Ravens went to the wire.

There’s good reason for that.

  • The Ravens are physical. The Ravens know how to attack. The Ravens are relentless.

The Steelers will need to bring their ‘A’ game to beat the Baltimore Ravens.

If Sunday’s victory over the San Diego Chargers is any indication, the Steelers will do just that.

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Dissed Unfairly by the Media, Ben Still Needs to Deliver

Its amazing how little respect Ben Roethlisberger gets from the media some times.

Since entering the league in 2004 Ben:

  • Was the first rookie quarterback to win 15 straight games
  • Became the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl
  • Engineered 18 4th quarter comebacks
  • Won 50 games as a starter faster than anyone else
  • That apparently isn’t good enough for many of the pundits.

Prior to the 2007 season, ESPN put out a list of 100 surefire Hall of Famers. If memory serves, both Matt Lienart and Matt Schaub made the list.

Ben was left on the outside looking in, written off as a game manager.

During 2007 the “game manger” an all pro season which included throwing 32 touchdowns and only 11 picks.

Ben’s numbers for 2008 are not as good. He’s thrown fewer touchdowns and more interceptions. His also led his team to two more wins.

National Media Overlooks Roethlisberger

Don’t tell that to FOX Sports however.

They recently ranked the eight playoff quarterbacks, listing Roethlisberger at number six, behind Jake Delhomme, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Dovonan McNabb, and Kurt Warner.

Interesting pecking order, especially because Ben has a ring, something that three of the five people rated ahead of him cannot say.

Criticism of Ben Exclusively National

But the criticism of Ben is also home grown too.

Early last week Mike Prusita of the Tribune-Review wrote an article that concluded that Ben was the Steelers main question mark heading into the playoffs.

To be fair, Purstia’s article was balanced and reasonably objective.

While he does couch his words with some important qualification, Prustia ultimate conclusion is rather harsh:

Without question, his regression from the $100 million contract-earning franchise quarterback he was a year ago deserves an asterisk. The respective states of the offensive line and running game have contributed to his downfall.

“Downfall?” Regression from his franchise quarterback status?

Those are strong words. Too strong in fact, for a quarterback who lead 5 come from behind drives against blue-chip opponents.

Bottom Line: Ben Must Still Deliver

If the criticism of Roethlisberger is unjust, the pressure upon him is not.

About a year ago in one of our first posts, Steel Curtain Rising rose to Roethlisberger’s defense after the Jacksonville game.

The writer called into question Ben’s playoff ability.

True, Ben did not play well during his rookie season in the playoffs. Joe Flacco’s solid play against Miami and Tennessee notwithstanding, this is nothing to be shocked at.

His play in the 2005 playoff is the stuff of legend, although he did benefit from a few dropped interceptions.

He did not perform well in Super Bowl XL, but he did make a couple of key plays when he had to.

Last year against Jacksonville he threw three interceptions in the first half. Then he came back and established that held with less than a minute to go. It says here that if Tyronne Carter had been ready to swarm at the point of attack, instead of allowing David Gurrard to run for double digit yardage, he’d have a playoff comeback under his belt.

Very well.

The Pittsburgh Steelers playoff fortunes depend in Ben’s ability to come through. The running game might marginally improve, but there is no way this team is running over people they way it did in the 1990’s and even as recently as 2004.

Defense and kick coverage figure to be strengths this time around, but it only takes one big play to get seven on the board for the other team.

If that should happen, then it falls on Ben to right the ship.

Catch-22/Paradox about Ben's Play

Call it a Catch-22 or a Paradox, but which ever term you choose it still describes something that Ben needs to work out.

Ben’s biggest weaknesses is that he sometimes holds on the ball too long… and that he sometimes gets impatient.

Ben Roethlisberger has proven himself to be the kind of quarterback you want handling the ball when the game is on the line.

Yet, there are also times when Ben tries to do too much by himself to win games or force the ball in difficult situations. That got him into trouble in the first half of last year’s Jacksonville game, and it got him into trouble at times this year, particularly against the Colts.

So Ben’s got to find a way to walk the tight rope.

  • Ben Roethlisberger, more than any one player has a responsibility for carry the team forward, yet at the same time he must not over reach.

How well he strikes that balance will determine the Steelers fortunes this January.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Steelers Ready to Reverse Playoff History Against Chargers?

Regular readers of this site’s Watch Tower column know that the Post Gazette’s Ron Cook has been a frequent target. The objective behond Watch Tower of course isn’t to flame anyone, let alone single out a lone columnist.

Yet, Cook keeps offering such juicy fodder…..

In this case, it coincides a with preplanned article not even related to media analysis, nonetheless, Cook really helps set the table.

Those Who Ignore History are Doomed to Repeat It
We can be thankful that Cook is a columnist and not a coach. His comments in blue reveal why.

The first rule of tournament play is:
  • Never look past the round you're in

    Because of the [Wild Card Weekend] results, they get a relatively weak opponent -- the San Diego Chargers -- at home Sunday in their first playoff game and won't have to go to Tennessee for the AFC title game….
The first maxim of the true competitor is:
  • Never underestimate your opponent.

    …The Chargers did the Steelers a favor Saturday by beating the dangerous Indianapolis Colts…
And of course, driving with your eyes closed violates plain common sense.
  • To wit, learn from the past.

    …Better that the Chargers come to Heinz Field
Really Ron, you sure you want to put your name on that?
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the San Diego Chargers Playoff Home Away From Home

Cook is crassly ignorant. The story value of division rivals playing the AFC Championship has Cook licking his chops so feverishly that he’s blinded himself to a very pertinent part of Pittsburgh’s playoff history.

The Vegas odds makers are no doubt looking at the Chargers 0-13 record in Pittsburgh when they installed the Steelers as 6 point favorite. The naked truth is this:

The Chargers flat out own the Steelers in the post-season. And all of the games have been played in Pittsburgh.
But while Ron Cook is wrong to thumb his nose at history, there is cause for hope in Steelers Nation.

1979 The Playoff Trip to San Diego that Never Was
History is and should be measured by what happens, not by what doesn’t happen. Most of the time.

So perhaps this is one of those times when the exception counts. The first Steelers-Chargers post-season game is in fact, the one that never was…

The Steelers entered the 1979 playoffs as the number two seed. Don Coryell’s Chargers held top billing. After defeating Miami in the Divisional playoff game, the Steelers awaited the winner of the Chargers-Oilers game. For one moment at least, Steelers Nation was rooting for Bum Philips and Earl Campbell. And its not just because the Oilers would have to travel to Pittsburgh.
  • Of the Steelers four losses in the 1979 season, only one really stood out. And although I was in Maryland and in the beginning of elementary school at the time, I remember the game.
Coming home, excited when my brother told me the Steelers were on, and then devisated to see that they were losing, and of course at that age not understanding why.
Fouts, Winslow and the Chargers of that era are known for Air Coryell. But the fact is it was their defense that decimated the Steelers. Not only did dropping their DB's back into deep coverage result in five Bradshaw interceptions, but the San Diego defense managed to sack the blond bomber on the order of somethink like 8 times.*
  • It says here that the Steelers would have prevailed in an AFC Championship game, but I can also remember the consensus on NBC Sports that January was that with the Oilers upset of the Chargers, the Steelers had dodged a bullet
Steelers 50th Anniversary Celebration Gets Cut Short

The Steelers 6-3 record qualified them for the AFC Tournament in that strike shortened season. Out of the playoffs in 1980 and 1981, much of Steelers Nation had hopes that the two years on and two years off of Super Bowl victories would repeat itself. The Steelers were celebrating their 50th Anniversary after all.

But it was not to be.

Terry Bradshaw and John Stallworth were in playoff form, a strike from number 12 to 82 gave the Steelers a 28 to 17 fourth quarter lead.

But the Steel Curtain of old was no more. Absent Greene, White, Holmes, and Greenwood, and with other stars such as Blount and Ham approaching the end of their days, the Dan Fouts led the Chargers to score 2 touchdowns in the fourth quarter, including one in after the two minute warning.
  • This was Bradshaw's final playoff game. His numbers were 39-23 for 325 yards, 2 TD's and 2 Ints. It was also the final playoff game for Jack Ham and Lynn Swann.
3 Yards Short -- January 15th, 1995, AFC Championship at Three Rivers Stadium, Steelers vs. Chargers
Was there ever a blacker day in Steelers playoff history?
Super Bowl XXX? Nope, no one gave us a chance and we’d have won if not for Neil O’Donnell. The 1976 AFC Championship, perhaps this comes in second, but there were mitigating circumstances.
Fog Bowl II against New England? Certainly a let down, but nothing on the order of this day.

The Steelers were prohibitive AFC favorites throughout the 1994 season. Rod Woodson, Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene, Dermonti Dawson, and Carnell Lake’s day had arrived. Chad Brown and Levon Kirkland were coming into their own.
Behind the league’s best offensive line the trio of Barry Foster, Bam Morris and John L. Williams ran over everyone. Neil O’Donnell was discovering he had weapons such as Yancy Thigpen, Ernie Mills, and Andre Hastings instead of simply trying to force the ball to an overweight and under achieving Eric Green.
  • Cowher Power's day had come... Or had it?
The Steelers had home field advantage, and had utterly destroyed Bill Belichick’s Cleveland Browns in the Divisional round. (God, Times Square at the end of World War II didn’t have anything on the celebration at Baltimore’s Purple Goose that day.)

San Diego entered as the AFC West Champions, but had just eked out a victory against Miami the week before. They were all stood between the Steelers and the right to fight the San Francisco 49ers to be the first franchise to win five Super Bowls.
  • Cowher Power's Day Had Arrived.... Or had it?
No one gave the Chargers a chance. The Steelers themselves were so confident that Eric Green was planning to lead a group of Steelers to pre-record a Super Bowl rap video, until Bill Cowher discovered this an nipped it in the bud.

All credit for that victory goes to Bobby Ross and his staff. The Steelers simply could not run. Neil O’Donnell did move them the air, but twice they got into the red zone and were forced to settle for field goals.
  • The Steelers were holding to a 10-3 lead at half time, but NBC analyst made the ominous prediction: "If Pittsburgh is not careful, San Diego is going to steal this game."
And that’s just what happened.

Alfred Pupunu’s name that will forever live in infamy among Steelers fans. I remember the play like it was yesterday. The Chargers handed off. The entire Steeler defense swarmed. I thought “they’re going to clobber him well behind the line of scrimmage.” Except it wasn’t a hand off, it was the best run fake I have ever seen. Alfred Pupunu was wide open for the 43 yard touchdown pass.

The play only brought San Diego within ten points, but the Steelers could do nothing. Later on cornerback Tim Mckyer blew the coverage against Tony Martin for the go ahead score. O’Donnell marched the team from the 17 to the 3 with time about to expire, and then came up short on a pass to Barry Foster…

History is about Past, but by Those in the Present Who Make Their Own
That brings us to today.

On paper the Steelers are the better team. They’ve beaten San Diego once before. Still, there’s that nasty precedent hanging on their backs?

Or is it?

Of the Pittsburgh press corps, only the Post-Gazette's Gene Collier sought fit to bring up the Steelers tortured playoff history with the Chargers. Based on the rest of the reporting, it seems like its not on anyone’s mind.

Just as well. It shouldn’t be.

As Steel Curtain Rising has said before, one can easily imagine Mike Tomlin’s response to any question about the past “That was their story, we are still writing our story.”

Although John Mitchell is the only player or coach still around who was on the field that day, this team appears to have learned the lessons handed down by that generation of Steelers.

Whatever else might bedevil these Steelers at Heniz field on Sunday night, the players seem well prepared for the game. If any of them read Ron Cook's column, they're clearly not buying into it.
With a 12-4 record after having played the NFL’s toughest schedule, most coverage of the Steelers seems to be punctuated with a kind of “well, but” tone to it.

No worry.

When Willie Parker was asked by Ed Bouchette about the state of the once vaunted Steelers rushing attack his response was this:

"I just have to change that. It doesn't bother me at all. I came into the league with very little respect. My goal has always been to just take respect."

I can’t think of a better attitude to take into the playoffs.
*If anyone can give me the total number of times Bradshaw was sacked that day, I'd be grateful.
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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

James Harrison - NFL Defensive Player of the Year

We'd like to claim credit, but that would be patently insane.

Obviously, the credit for winning NFL Defensive Player of the year goes entirely to number 92. Harrison, of course, insists that other 10 guys on the defense deserve it, and that speaks well of his character.

So we even joke about taking credit...?

Yesterday Steel Curtain Rising wrote an extensive post arguming that James Harrison's accomplishments are all that much more impressive if you consider them in context -- namely the Pittsburgh Steelers made defense what it is in the NFL and that Pittsburgh's linebacker legacy is second to none and...


  • ... James Harrison owns the Steelers single season sack record.

Well, now he's been voted as AP NFL Defensive Player of the year, truly a just honor in its own right, but all the more so when you consider the company Harrison now keeps.

For James Harrison is not the first Steeler to recieve this accolade, and that makes it all the more special. Other Steelers to be honored as defensive player of the year are:

  • Joe Greene
  • Mel Blount
  • Jack Lambert
  • Rod Woodson

Greene, Blount, and Lambert are in the Hall of Fame. Woodson will likely be elected in a few weeks, in his first year of elegibility.

  • All four were named to the NFL's 75th Anniversary team.

James Harrison is truly in class of some elite Steeler defensive players. To read the full article on James Harrison, click here.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Willie Parker vs. Mewelde Moore – Who Should Start in the Playoffs?

Willie Parker went and messed it up.

Heading into the Browns game, Steel Curtain Rising was ready. With the playoffs on the horizon, it was time to officially call for Mewelde Moore to get the starting nod over Willie Parker for the playoffs.

Then came the season finale against the Browns, where Parker went out and gained 116 yards on 23 carries for a five yard per carry average. To top it off, he had a 34 yard touchdown run, which is the Steelers longest run from scrimmage in 2008.

If there ever was talk of asking Parker to ride the pine or yielding up his starting spot among the coaches (and there probably wasn’t), that talk certainly died with the Browns game.

The debate, however, continues to rage among Steelers fans.

So Steel Curtain Rising is holding back on taking a position, and turning the question over the jury, you the members of Steelers Nation.

The Case for Starting Willie Paker

Willie Parker has “it.” In only five years, four of them as a starter, he is already the franchise’s number three all time rusher. And we’re talking about the Steelers here, the team that has rushed for more total yards than any other NFL team since the NFL-AFL merger (and number two is not even close.)

  • Big Play Potential

During the Raven’s game the consensus at Shanghai Kelly’s was that Parker’s injuries have slowed him, that he’s simply not “Fast Willie” at the moment.

Yet against the Browns he rattled off 34 yarder. And while Direct TV Latin America didn’t want Steelers fans in this part of the world to see that game (yep, b_tching about that again) Steel Curtain Rising cannot evaluate if that play was true to “Fast Willie” form, but a 34 yard run is a 34 yard run.

Let’s not forget that he owns the Super Bowl record for the longest run from scrimmage.

Even if Willie is a half step slower than he has been in years past, the argument goes that Parker is still a threat to take it all the way every time he touches the ball.

  • A History of Getting it Done

Ever since the reign of Bill Cowher, analysis of the Steelers offense has been punctuated by the following phrase: When [insert name] gets a 100 yards, the Steelers win. First it was Foster. Then it was Bettis. Now its Parker.

The point is that the entire Steelers game is geared toward controlling the clock with the ground game, and a big part of the Steelers offensive inconsistencies has been their inability (or Arians lack of commitment to) establishing the run.

Parker’s five one hundred yard games this year have all been games when the Steelers were committed to running the ball.

Unlike Mewelede Moore, Parker is battle tested in the playoffs. He’s earned the trust of his teammates, and he’s earned the right to start.

Or has he…..

The Case for Starting Mewelde Moore

New Websters defenition of To Come Under the Radar: Mewelde Moore's arrival with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

No kidding. Steel Curtain Rising’s post noting Moore's signing offered a deeper analysis than did anyone in the Pittsburgh media.

The Steelers offensive staff only gave him one touch of the ball prior to Parker and Rashard Mendenhall’s injuries; heck they even called Carey Davis number before Moore’s during the first Raven’s game.

Mewelde Moore doesn’t have the breakaway speed of Willie Parker. He isn’t going to carry people with him for an extra five yards the way Bettis did in his hey day. He’s not going to be a power rusher like Mendenhall has the potential to be.

No, Moore doesn’t have those qualities, but he does remind die hard members of the Black and Gold Brigade of another, often under appreciated, Steeles running back: Merrill Hoge.

  • That’s right, Mewelde Moore brings back memories of Merrill Hoge.

There was little that was sexy about Hoge, but there was always something you could be sure about when Hoge had the ball in his hands: He would run like hell.

Moore is the same way. He runs like hell whenever he gets the ball. More importantly, Mewelde Moore delivers.

  • In his first meaningful action during the first Raven’s game, Moore made couple of key third down conversions during “must win time.”
  • In his first start against the Jaguars he simply rattled off multiple double digit yards.
  • Every time he gets the ball in his hands, Mewelde Moore hustles. He also adds and element to the air game, as his 40 catches for 320 yards demonstrate.

The Steelers are going to need a work horse type back in these playoffs, and Moore has simply shown he’s up to it.

  • Moore's Downside

Feels kind of funny to say that after having written such a sterling endorsement of Moore. But fair is fair.

Parker’s liabilities are well known and oft discussed, but the same cannot be said of Moore. Against the Ravens and Chargers, Mewelde Moore averaged 1.75 yards a carry, although he only had one carry against the Chargers – which make sense as Willie Parker was in the process of gaining 115 yards, a team that just happens to be on the Steelers plate this week….

Nor did he fair well against Indy, although they are no longer a potential playoff opponent, but nor is it a team known for its run defense.

Another knock on Moore is that he has a total of 7 touches in post season – including kick returns, vs. 67 for Parker… This is of course not Moore's fault, but there is discounting the value of experience is never wise.

Willie Parker vs. Mewelde Moore – The Tale of the Tape

Career Numbers - Rushing

Willie Parker

  • Total Rushing Yards: 4989
  • Rushing Average: 4.3
  • Rushing TD’s: 24

Mewelde Moore

  • Total Yards Rushing: 187
  • Rushing Average: 4.6
  • Rushing Touchdowns

Career Numbers - Receiving

  • Willie Parker
  • Total Receptions: 78
  • Total Yards Receiving 633
  • Receiving Average 8.1
  • Touchdown catches 4

Mewelde Moore

  • Total Receptions: 156
  • Total Yards Recieving 1413
  • Reciving Average: 9.1
  • Touchdown catches: 3
  • Performance in 2008 with the Steelers

Willie Parker

  • Total Rushes: 210
  • Total Rushing Yards: 791
  • Rushing Average: 3.8
  • Rushing TD’s: 5
  • Total Receptions: 3
  • Total Yards Receiving 13
  • Receiving Average 4.3
  • Touchdown catches 0

Mewelde Moore

  • Total Rushes: 140
  • Rushing Average: 4.2
  • Rushing TD's: 5
  • Total Receptions: 40
  • Total Yards Receiving: 320
  • Receiving Average: 8.0
  • Touchdown catches: 1

What do You Think?

So there you have it. Steel Curtain Rising really has no clear opinion on this, so we leave the question to you.

Make sure to vote in our on-line poll and leave a comment to explain your vote! (Scroll up Or just click here to visit Steel Curtain Rising's home page.)

Let the debate begin!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Time to Put James Harrison’s Accomplishments in Perspective

Fading memories do not allow a recounting of the precise game, but the moment itself is nonetheless vivid. It was late 1994, and Steelers linebacker Kevin Greene, with 14 sacks already under his belt, stormed into the backfield and threw the opposing quarterback to the turf.

Ready to record history, NBC Sports flashed the graphic:

“Kevin Greene ties Steelers single season sack record”

  • Except it was not to be
A penalty negated the sack, and Greene finished the game and the season with 14 sacks.

And thus Mike Merriweather’s single season sack record of 15, set ten years ealier, remained unthreated for another 13 season.

Until today. Until James Harrison got a crack at it. Fifteen games into his second season as a starter, James Harrison tied, then broke the record.

James Harrison: The Making of a Legend

We all remember from our elementary school that fables begin with a grain of truth, and then as yarns are spun and re-spun facts get exaggerated, truths gets stretched, and legends are formed.

  • James Harrison is a legend in the making, except for that his story requires no exaggeration.

Opposing quarterbacks look upon James Harrison with fear, knowing he is a man who will pursue them with relentless determination. Opposing offensive lineman see James Harrison as a player the must hold, lest their quarterback be pummeled.

Yet, for years to come Harrison will be held up as a beacon of hope to players who might not have great physical stature, may not be in high profile college programs, but have it where it counts: In the heart.

Harrison played at Kent State, a school more renowned for its role in anti-Vietnam protests than for producing pro football players. Harrison’s began his ride in the NFL in the off season of 2002, when he became a little noticed rookie free agent acquisition. From there is trajectory took the course of an errant missile.

  • During the next three seasons Harrison was cut five times, including a stint with the Baltimore Ravens, who detailed him to NFL Europe’s Rein Fire and the cut him summarily, without even so much as a thank you.

At this point Harrison was ready to hang it up and become a veterinarian, until a freak injury to Clark Haggans brought him back to the Steelers once more.

But the year was 2004, and this time James Harrison was here to stay.

Kent State Linebackers as Pittsburgh Steelers

Perhaps there is something in the water at Kent State. Perhaps it has something to do with years that end with the digit 4. Perhaps its due to something strange in the stars that brings a special alignment of time, place and dominant play at linebacker.

Thirty years before Harrison finally seized his spot in the Steelers roster, another undersized but overachieving linebacker came to the Steelers from Kent State, and his name was Jack Lambert.

  • Both are men of few words
  • Both are fierce copetitors
  • Neither man is wont to be intimidated

Its fitting then that Harrison shares a connection with a linebacker such as Jack Lambert, because Harrison is quickly showing he belongs in that elite company.

The Steelers Linebacker Legacy

The NFL has played 40 Pro Bowls since 1969. 15 Steelers linebackers have made a collective 46 appearances in those games. During that time the Steelers became sinuous with dominating defense.

The list of fellow Steelers linebackers who made the Pro Bowl reads like a veritable who’s of NFL All Pro Linebackers:

Andy Russell
Jack Ham
Jack Lambert
Robin Cole
Mike Merriweather
David Little
Greg Lloyd
Kevin Greene
Chad Brown
Levon Kirkland
Jason Gildon
Kendrell Bell
Joey Porter
James Farrior

Merriweather set the Steelers sack record in 1984, but his sack total never even approached double digits after that. Other than Kevin Greene, no even came close to breaking the Steelers sack record.

Going Beyond the Numbers

On its own, the Steelers single season sack record is impressive, but the truth is that numbers do not define greatness. For evidence of that look no further than Jason Gildon, who is the Steelers all time leader in sacks. Glidon was good, but does anyone consider him to be truly great?

In just two seasons as a starter James Harrison has shown he share something else with the likes of Lambert, Lloyd, and Porter.

He can change the course of games with the force of his will. Consider:

  • Sept 29th vs. Baltimore
    The Ravens have a 13-10 one play after Pittsburgh has just scored its first touchdown. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco drops back 9 yards from his 20 and James Harrison is there, forcing a fumble which LaMarr Woodley returns for a touchdown.
    Harrison finishes the game with 11 tackles and 2.5 sacks.
  • October 5th vs. Jacksonville
    Pittsburgh has just taken the lead in the 4th with 1:53 to play. The Jaguars have the ball at their 39 with 47 second to play. James Harrison sacks Garrard and stips the ball, knocking them back to their 33. Two incomplete passes later and the game is over.
  • November 16, 2008 vs. San Diego
    The Chargers are holding 7 point lead but are backed up to their third. James Harrison darts into the backfield sacks Philip Rivers, strips the ball, and tackles McNeil for the safety
    40 plays later the Chargers are at the Steelers 17 with 1:33 left to play in the half. Philip Rivers what should be a sure touchdown pass that James Harrison intercepts at the 10 and returns 33 yards. The Steelers covert the turnover into a field goal. James Harrison has now accounted for 5 points in a game the Steelers will win 11-10.
  • November 30th vs. New England
    The Steelers already had the game in hand, with a 20-10 lead in the third quarter, but if they had any ideas about comebacks, James Harrison there disabuse them of such heroics, as he sack strips Matt Cassel twice on to consecutive drives.

These are just a few of moments from Harrion’s highlight reel. The blunt truth is that we still don’t know how dominate of a player Harrison can be, because James Harrison is held on almost every play.

Primed for the Playoffs

The post-season is the time for PrimeTime players to truly step up. In the playoffs last year against the Jaguars, James Harrison had eight tackles, 1.5 sacks, and defensed 3 passes – one more than his regular season total for 2007.

Harrison did suffer a hip pointer in the Steelers regular season loss to the Titans, but he still returned to the game to record his record breaking sack.

He’s now had two weeks to rest.

If in football, unlike finance, past performance is any indicator of future return, Philip Rivers and the San Diego Chargers had better be ready.

P.S. As most of you know, on Monday January 5th, James Harrison was named the AP's NFL Defensive Player of the year!

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