´ Steel Curtain Rising: February 2009

Friday, February 27, 2009

Steelers Resign Chris Kemoeatu

If the 2008 season proved that Mike Tomlin is not a man that coaches scared, then the 2009 might end up being the one where Tomlin and his cohort Kevin Colbert revealed that they have no fear when comes to personnel decisions.

The Steelers made headlines even before free agency began with a move that shocked much of Steelers Nation. They waived former first round pick Kendall Simmons, a move which left them with only one experienced NFL guard under contract.

  • Steel Curtain Rising speculated this morning that the Steelers were making this move because they felt they could resign Chris Kemoeatu.

This turned out to be true, as Chris Kemoeatu signed a five year 20 million dollar contract that included a 3.855 million dollar signing bonus.

But before this came to pass, Kemoeatu tested the free agent waters, entertaining an offer from the New York Jets.

The decision to cut Simmons without having Kemoeatu under contract amounted to a major risk on the part of Pittsburgh. Had Kemoeatu signed with another team, the Steelers would have been left with two undrafted guards.

Colbert and Tomlin knew this, yet made their move anyway. As they we would say in Spanish, “Tienen huevos de acero.” [Translated literally, that means “they have eggs of steel” I’ll leave it to you to figure out what “eggs” metaphor stands for....]

Did Kemoeatu Sign for Less?

The Post-Gazette reported that the offer from the Jets was for “about the same amount” as the Steelers offered. Yet his agent’s words are more nebulous.

The Jets were extremely aggressive and professional. At the end of the day, it was an opportunity to win another Super Bowl and stay with his teammates, along with a good, aggressive, solid offer from the Steelers. That was enough to keep him there.

The statement, “good, aggressive, solid offer from the Steelers. That was enough to keep him here…” does not lend one to think that the Steelers outbid the Jets.

It’s obvious that there was not a big difference, but perhaps Kemoeatu signed at a slight discount.

Did the Steelers Make the Right Move by Cutting Simmons?

Now that the initial shock (and subsequent panic) has worn off, the question remains, “were the Steelers right to waive Simmons?” After all, he was a first round draft pick and rookie of the year in 2002, and when Alan Fanaca refused to sign in 2007, they quickly moved to lock up Simmons.

Two years later, they are showing him the door.

The question is difficult to answer.

Simmons came on strong as a rookie, saw his sophomore season marred by diabeties, and then was injured in 2004. He was good enough to start on the Steelers 2005 Super Bowl team, but the pass protection the following year was severely degraded. Anyone who hopped that replacing Max Starks with Willie Colon a guard would solve the problem was mistaken.

To say that this was all Simmons’ fault would be both wrong and unfair.

But Simmons has not distinguished himself as anything more than average over the last few years. (Indeed, sites like Steelers Today are far more critical of Simmons.)

  • Clearly, Kendall Simmons was not indispensable.

The move also shows that the Steelers think the Chris Kemoeatu and Darnell Stapelton can and will improve.

Losing Simmons does complicate their already muddled salary cap picture, but it mainly adds to their waste money. Here the Steelers are also clearly thinking long term, assuming that the NFL and the NFLPA will extend their collective bargaining agreement either in 2010 or at some point soon after.

Steel Curtain Rising was not an overly enthusiastic backer of Kemoeatu, but the Steelers certainly did not break the bank for him, and his signing bonus is meager by today’s standards. Kemoeatu’s cap value will be about the same as Simmon’s would have been, and for the same value they get a younger player who has the potential to improve, whereas Simmons’ injuries were mounting and he wasn’t going to get any better.

Thanks for visiting. Do you think Pittsburgh was right to by sign Chris Kemoeatu and cut Kendall Simmons? Leave a comment, visit our Steelers 2009 free agent focus section, or check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

Steelers Release Starting Guard Kendall Simmons

In a stunning move, the Steelers released former starting left guard Kendall Simmons on the eve of free agency. Simmons had been their first round draft pick in 2002 and became an immedate starter as a rookie. He missed 2004 to injury, and was lost for the season in week five against Jacksonville this year.

The release of Simmons means that Darnell Stapelton is the only full-time guard that they have under contract. Perhaps this move signals that the Steelers believe they can resign free agent guard Chris Kemoeatu, perhaps it means something else.

Who knows?

But you can count on Steel Curtain Rising to vigrously follow up on this story.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Steelers Free Agent Focus: Nate Washington and Bryant McFadden

Readers can be assured that it was mere happenstance that Nate Washington and Bryant McFadden Steel Curtain Risings Steelers 2009 Free Agent focus only arrived at them a few hours before they’re set to become unrestricted free agents.

Nate Washington and Bryant McFadden were both rookies on the Steelers 2005 Super Bowl XL Championship squad. The former arrived as another one of Kevin Colbert’s undrafted rookie free agent gems, the later came as a second round pick out of Florida State.

Neither man saw much action in the 2005 regular season, but both men came up big in the playoffs, which we’ll discuss in the meantime.

Washington started two games in 2006, followed by four in 2007, and one in 2008.

McFadden started one game in 2005, nine games in 2006 (in for injured Desha Towshend and then for benched Ike Taylor) and then did not start any games in 2007. He started several games in 2008, but also missed six games due to injury.

Assessment of Nate Washington and Bryant McFadden

Both men played huge roles in the Steelers 2005 run to the Super Bowl. McFadden made a touchdown saving pass defense in the end zone with 31 seconds on the clock against the Colts in the divisional playoffs.

Washington caught his first NFL pass in the AFC Championship game against Denver, and that 13 yard reception converted a crucial third down play. Washington also played a little defense that day, saving an almost sure Roethlisberger interception in the end zone.

Since then the two men’s careers have developed on incongruous if yet still similar paths. Washington has gotten steadily better year by year. During the 2007 season he established himself as a legitimate 3rd wide receiver, and managed to shed his habit of dropping balls. In 2008 Washington took another leap forward. As the season wore on, Washington became just as likely as Hines Ward or Santonio Holmes to find himself on the receiving end of a Roethlisberger pass during critical moments. And Washington also proved that he can be a very dangerous downfield threat.

McFadden’s case is a little more nebulous. The Steelers almost certainly drafted him with the idea that he would replace Desha Townsend. From his sophomore season on, one of the key battles in training game has been McFadden vs. Townsend. The 2008 off season was peppered with whispers that Townsend was going to move to safety.

While McFadden has gotten better, Townsend has held him off.

What the Steelers Should do with Nate Washington and Bryant McFadden?

In a perfect world, both men would be back with the Steelers in 2009. And if that utopia were to come to pass, the Steelers chances of climbing the stairway to seven in 2009 would be strengthened.

Alas, the world is not perfect. (Heck, the translation of Utopia is "no place.")

The salary cap dictates some bitter realities, and one of them is that it will take a miracle for both men to be back in Pittsburgh in 2009.

When Santonio Holmes has his run ins with the law, Steel Curtain Rising suggested that the so-so season he’d been having up this point, combined with his marijuana arrest, just might lead the Steelers to deal Holmes and resign Washington.

While Washington has done nothing to weaken his case since then, Santoino Holmes was the MVP of the post-season, relegating any scenario of the Steelers favoring Washington over Holmes to a mere pipe dream (excuse the pun.)

The Steelers know they have little chance of signing either man, or else they would have made an honest effort. All reports are that they have not.

They’re just being realistic on that front.

Losing both of these men is going to hurt, no doubt, but neither is irreplaceable. William Gay showed promise in 2008, and Limus Sweed, if he can only manage to learn to hold on to the ball, showed that he can spread the field. (As for Desha Townsend, he shows no sings of slowing, ask Dallas, but how much longer can he perform at this level? Hopefully, a little longer.)

Most Likely Scenario for Nate Washington

The relative free agent value of both men seems elude consensus (more on that in the next edition of Watch Tower.) Clearly both men are going to attract interest from other NFL teams very early on, and its likely that Super Bowls XL and XLIII will bookend both men's time in Pittsburgh.

Of the two, Washington is most likely to go first, and for the most money. Going into the season, Steel Curtain Rising had Washington pegged as a Bobby Shaw type player – a very strong number three receiver, but not someone who was a solid number one or number two receiver.

That was then. Nate Washington showed in 2008 that he deserves a chance to start, and he will get that chance. It just won’t be with the Steelers.

Most Likely Scenario for Bryant McFadden

McFadden will also likely go fast, but not as fast. And theirs is an outside chance he could wind up back in Pittsburgh, however remote that possibility is.

There’s a lot of speculation as to the effect that the current economic crisis will have on the NFL free agent market. (Thus far, no brake on spending is visible.) But some have speculated (both on ESPN.com and in the Washington Post) that while the economy will do nothing to slow the initial free agent signing frenzy, perhaps the frenetic period will be shorter, followed by a sharp drop off in activity.

If that scenario proves to be true, it’s possible that McFadden will still be available after initial breakneck round of free agent transactions. If that is the case then he could find himself as a free agent in a market where teams are either capped out or unwilling to spend. Should that come to pass, he could decide to return to the Steelers.

It is unlikely that this course of events will come to, but it is plausible enough to mention.

Thanks for reading. What do you think the Steelers should do with Nate Washington and Bryant McFadden? Leave a comment, read the rest of our Steelers 2009 Free Agent Focus, or simply check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Defining Moment of the Steelers 2008 Regular Season

The 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers stood out in so many ways.

From start to finish, the Steelers were consistent throughout the 2008 season, distinguishing them from all other contenders.

Seperating the Contenders from the Pretenders

Some started with a brilliant bang, only to end with dull thud (think Redskins, Broncos.) Others took their fans on a roller coaster ride (think Eagles, Cowboys, Jets, and in a different manner, the Cardinals) that ended as they all do, at a full stop on level ground.

The Colts and Chargers started slow, finished fast, collided with each other, and then the latter kicked to Santonio Holmes.

The Giants and Ravens were pretty stable, but New York ran out of steam when Plaxico shot himself, and as for the Ravens, well there’s a reason they played us so tight.

No one matched the Steelers’ steady hand.

Monday Night, Week Five The Steelers Signature Moment

Pittsburgh was consistent, if maddeningly so. Dominating defense, razor sharp quarterback play when it counts, mixed with leaky pass protection, injuries, and difficulty running the ball.

Given that continuity marked their 2008, one might ask, “What was the signature game of the Steelers 2008 season?”

While there was no turning point, there was one, defining game. And it came in week 5.

The Steelers Monday Night victory over the Jacksonville proved to be the pivotal moment of the Steelers’ 2008 season.

Why Jacksonville?

Why a victory over a 4-12 team instead of the many Pittsburgh victories over NFL heavyweights you ask?

Good question.

Each of those games provided plenty of drama, were packed with hard hits and game saving heroics.

The NFL’s best tested the Steelers in 2008, and Steel Curtain Rising takes nothing from those trials by fire.

But the Jacksonville game was defining for the Steelers because it brought together the elements that make mid-season NFL drama what it is:

  • In 2007, Jacksonville became the only team to defeat the Pittsburgh at home twice in a season
  • The Jaguars manhandled the Steelers in the process
  • The Steelers were only 3-7 at Jacksonville…
  • …and entering the Monday Night game they brought a 4 game losing streak to the Jaguars
  • As much as anything else, the 2006 loss at Jacksonville showed that any Steelers Super Bowl XL title defense would be long, and hard road
  • Jacksonville may have ended up at 4-12, but they entered the game 2-2, and in week five it was far from clear that their season would end in disaster.

All of this is compelling, but its just the tip of the iceberg

Injuries are no excuse….” - Steelers Head coach Mike Tomlin, on many occasions

Early in his maiden campaign as Steelers head coach, Mike Tomlin laid down a basic tenet of his core coaching philosophy.

  • Injuries are no excuse

That sounded good enough as the Steelers defeated the Seattle Seahawks sans five starters, including Hines Ward, Santoino Holmes, and Troy Polamalu.

But injuries mounted throughout the 2007 season, and the Steelers sorely missed Tory Polamalu, Aaron Smith, and Willie Parker during the home stretch. Tomlin stuck to his guns, but it got harder and harder not to roll your eyes.

Tomlin’s coaching credo was put to the extreme test against Jacksonville.

  • Two of the Steelers three starting defensive linemen were out
  • Nick Eason, the number one back up defensive lineman, was also out
  • They’d lost starting right guard Kendall Simmons the week before against the Ravens
  • The Ravens also removed first round draft pick Rashard Mendenhall from the line up
  • Against Jacksonville, Steelers would lose Marvel Smith, their only Pro Bowl caliber offensive lineman
  • Ben Roethlisberger did not practice the entire week prior to the game, and the day before was unable to throw beyond five yards.

And just to keep it interesting, the Steelers were down to their fourth and fifth string running backs, if you count Carey Davis.

Becoming Mike Tomlin’s Team

Mike Tomlin made sure the Steelers did not come to Jacksonville looking for excuses. And the Jaguars showed no mercy, intercepting a Ben Roethlisberger pass and returning it 72 yards for a touchdown.

As they did time after time in 2008, the Steelers refused to answering with a 12 play 72 yard touchdown drive of their own.

And so it was throughout the game. Both teams played hard, the lead changed hands several times, until the Steelers found themselves down 21-20 with 6:33 left to play.

The Steelers had been in a similar position against Jacksonville in the playoffs...

  • ...this time they closed the game, setting the tone for rest of 2008

An 80 yard touchdown drive that establishes the lead with two minutes remaining always impresses. And that is what Ben Roethlisberger delivered. But the statistics do not tell the tale. During the drive Ben hit four different receivers, two Steeler running backs ran the ball, and the team converted three third downs.

Ben was not sacked on the drive, but he took such a beating that Al Michaels joked that Roethlisberger should replace Robert Downey Jr. should an Iron Man II be filmed.

On third and 8, Ben hit Hines Ward for 18 yards, but the hit he took after the pass left him writhing on the turf in agony

Down one point, the easy money says your QB is hurt, set up to kick for 3. Even the god of Down and Dirty football, John Madden himself, proclaimed as much.

He forgot to tell the Steelers.

Two plays later Roethlisberger hit Ward again, for an 8 yard go ahead touchdown pass that he literally threw as two Jacksonville defenders were driving him to the ground

Exorcising the Demons

It wasn’t over yet. Jacksonville got the ball back at their 26 with 1:53 left.

The Steelers defense had been manhandled in their first meeting against the Jaguars in 2007, and then embarrassed by Garrard’s late game heroics during the playoffs.

  • Not this time around

The Jaguars converted a 4th and 9, and on the ensuring first down Garrard scrambled… But this time Aaron Smith was there, limiting Garrard to only two yards, 30 fewer than his 4th quarter playoff scramble

Then it was James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley’s turn.

Harrison sacked Garrard for a six yard loss and forced a fumble in the process, and Woodley pulverized the Jaguar lineman who’d audaciously recovered.

Three plays later, Ben was taking a knee.

In a hostile environment, missing several of its biggest stars, with its quarterback ailing and under tremendous pressure, the Steelers prevailed on that night in Jacksonville, and they did so with poise and determination.

Tone and Tenor for the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers Established

Time and time again during the 2008 season, the Steelers would rally in similar fashion. Different heroes might emerge, but calm under pressure, dogged perseverance, and faith in one another were always constants.

It was a night where Pittsburgh embraced and vindicated their coaches “no excuses” rallying cry. It was the night where the Pittsburgh Steelers became Mike Tomlin’s team, and it was the game that set the tone for the season that was destined to end with the Steelers winning Super Bowl XLIII.

Thanks for visiting. Do you agree that the Jacksonville game was the defining regular season contest for the Steelers? Share your thoughts. Check out our Steelers 2009 Free Agent Focus, vote in our poll, or surf the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Charlie Batch: Steelers Free Agent Focus

Charlie Batch entered the NFL as the Detroit Lion’s second round draft pick out of Eastern Michigan in 1998. Over four seasons he started 48 games for the Lions, until a variety of factors led Detroit to cut him in June of 2002. The Steelers did not hesitate to bring this Homestead native back to Pittsburgh.

Batch served as the third string quarterback throughout the 2002 season but did not play and saw spot duty in 2003. After spending all of 2004 on injured reserve he was actually cut the day before the Steelers season opener in 2005, but only to rejoin the team the following Monday.

The Steelers gamble paid off. Batch entered the season as the Steelers third string quarterback, but became Ben’s primary back up on the heels of ineffective play by Tommy Maddox. Rusty in his first start against Green Bay, Batch nonetheless led the team to victory in a game where the Steelers had neither Jerome Bettis nor Willie Parker. His play improved against Cleveland, only to see Batch break a finger before the second half.

Batch started one game and threw passes in five others in 2006 and played well. He also started the final game of 2007. He broke his collar bone in the 2008 preseason, and spent the entire year on injured reserve.

Assessment of Charlie Batch

Batch is a solid number two quarterback, a consummate team player, and a positive force on the locker room. He is also a leader off the field, providing unconditional support for Ben Roethlisberger, and lending both his name and his energy to efforts to help Pittsburgh’s under privileged youth. When Batch first came to the Steelers, both sides figured it would be a short term gig, as they both saw Batch as a starting caliber quarterback.

Yet Charlie Batch has been an excellent fit for the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Batch appears very happy with his role.

What the Steelers Should to with Charlie Batch

This one should be simple, but it does have the potential to get tricky. Bryon Leftwich is most likely going to seek and should receive and shot at starting some where. If that happens, then the Steelers have every reason to bring Batch back.

Most Likely Scenario for the Steelers and Charlie Batch

Football realpolitik demands that the Steelers at least try to bring Leftwich back as Ben’s back up. Leftwich is planning to shop his services around, but openly considering offers to stay with the Steelers. The Steelers run a little bit of a risk here, because if talks with Leftwich go beyond the “thanks but no thanks” stage, Batch could decide to look elsewhere, and Leftwich could ultimately sign with someone else.

Batch has a lot of support inside the Steelers organization, so it’s an unlikely hypothetical scenario, but one that bears mentioning.

In all likelihood, Leftwich will find another opportunity, and Batch will be back as Ben’s back up in 2009.

Thanks for visiting. Who should back up Ben? Charlie Batch or Byron Leftwich? Leave a comment, vote in our poll, check out the rest of Steelers 2009 free agent focus, or just browse around the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Watch Tower: Steel Curtain Rising Ahead of The Curve

Someone needs to tell Ed Bouchette to stop stealing Steel Curtain Rising's ideas! (That's just a joke for you lawyers out there.)

Seriously, today's Post Gazette reported that Byron Leftwich might seriously consider staying with the Steelers as a back up, because he's enjoyed his time here, he likes playing for Mike Tomlin, and he apperciates the Steelers as an organiztion.

That is exactly the secnario that Steel Curtain Rising floated in yesterday's edition of Steelers 2009 Free Agent Focus, which dealt with Byron Leftwich's impending free agency.

OK, it doesn't take a genius to piece together the logic that would bring Byron Leftwich back to Pittsburgh as a back up, but the fact that Steel Curtain Rising, from 6,000 miles away and with zero access to sources, was ahead of the Post Gazette at least buys us some bragging rights....

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Byron Leftwich: Steelers Free Agent Focus

Byron Leftwich got the script backward. Players are supposed to leave the Steelers and then return in a rival’s uniform. Leftwich started his career in 2003 as the 7th overall pick of the once-rival Jacksonville Jaguars, leading his team to victories over the Steelers in both 2005 and 2006.

Injuries and the emergence of David Garrard led to Leftwich’s exodus from Jacksonville, from there he landed in Atlanta where he played well, but was still oft-injured, and was released again.

As preseason began, Leftwich appeared destined to watch the 2008 season from his couch. Then Charlie Batch broke his collarbone and within 48 hours Leftwich was on a plane to Pittsburgh.

Assessing Byron Leftwich

When asked why the Steelers were so quick to sign Leftwich after Charlie Batch went down, Mike Tomlin explained he wanted a backup quarterback who capable of taking Pittsburgh to the Super Bowl should something happen to Ben.

In many ways, Leftwich fits the Charlie Batch mold. Drafted as a starter, he fell out of favor with his coaches and found himself on the NFL unemployment line. Other teams, who had less depth at quarterback than Pittsburgh, showed no interest. But what the rest spurned, the Steelers embraced.

Leftwich saw limited action as a Steeler, but his play against the Redskins and Browns in relief of Ben vindicates Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert’s rush to bring him into camp. Leftwich is a starting caliber quarterback, but he’s enjoyed playing in Pittsburgh, and he’s been a welcome addition to the Steelers.

What the Steelers Should do With Byron Leftwich

Byron Leftwich was happy here in 2008 as a back up, but sees himself as a starting quarterback looking toward 2009…. The same was true for Charlie Batch in 2002 and 2003.

If Leftwich wants to start somewhere, obviously he should follow his dream. But the Steelers must at least take a shot at keeping him as a back up.

The Most Likely Scenario for Byron Leftwich

Leftwich is young enough and played well enough in 2008 that at least some NFL personnel directors have to see that he’s worthy of another shot. It’s important to remember that although Batch is happy in Pittsburgh, he’s never generated a lot of interest when he’s been a free agent.

One would figure that Leftwich would generate interest from other teams. If he gets an offer he’ll go, if not the Steelers will have an interesting decision to make....

We apperciate your visit. What do you think that the Steelers should do with Leftwhich? Take a moment to leave a comment, vote in our poll, read the rest of our Steelers 2009 Free Agent Focus, or just check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

Marvel Smith: Steelers Free Agent Focus

Marvel Smith holds the distinction of being Kevin Colbert’s second pick as director of football operations, and the second Steeler to start at right tackle as a rookie. Smith is the only Steeler lineman with Pro Bowl experience, a distinction he earned during the Steelers 2005 Super Bowl season. Smith played so well at right tackle that the Steelers rewarded him with a six-year contract extension in 2003 to play left tackle.

Assessment of Marvel Smith

Smith is the only member of the Steelers offensive line that can lay claim to the moniker of being “Pro Bowl caliber.” When he’s health, of course.

And that is the rub.

During his career, Smith has missed 30 games to injury, although in all fairness, he’s had 4 seasons where he started end-to-end, including playoffs. But Smith finished 2007 on IR with a back injury. Surgery was supposed to make him good as new. And he did look good until the Jacksonville game where he re-injured his back, had surgery again and was lost for the season.

Smith turned down a contract extension from the Steelers during the past off season, in hopes of finding greener pastures of free agency. He made a mistake, and cost himself/saved the Steelers millions in the process.

What the Steelers Should do with Marvel Smith

This is a tough one because you hate to see this happen to a loyal veteran, but the fact is that the Steelers must not commit long-term, guaranteed money to Marvel Smith. He will turn 31 his year, and has missed 16 games due to injury in the past two years. If the Steelers had a viable heir-apparent, perhaps they could resign Smith to a transitional type salary, assuming he’d be willing.

Alas, no heir apparent exists.

In the early going at St. Vincents last summer, fourth round pick Tony Hills drew comparisons to John Jackson (as in confused now, but could be very good later) but in late August it was reported that Hills was endanger of being cut. The fact that the Steelers made no attempt to dress Hills, let alone play him, does not speak volumes of confidence in him. Given such circumstances, and given the affection Steelers management has for Smith, there was a certain fear that sentimentality might kick in, in the form of “give him another shot.”

Most Likely Scenario for the Steelers and Marvel Smith

The decision to name Max Starks as the Steelers franchise player erases any doubt that the Steelers are sentimental about Marvel Smith. In talking about the move with Starks, Kevin Colbert stopped short of declaring this as an either or situation, but was quite clear that no long term deal for Marvel Smith is in the offing.

Smith, however, could wind up back with the Steelers. Given his age and injury history, it is hard to see the other 31 teams rushing to offer Marvel Smith lucurative, long-term contracts. (Then again, teams willing to overpay an offensive tackle have never been in short supply. John Jackson’s contract with the San Diego Chargers after the 1998 season rings a bell….) If Smith gets no takers on the free agent market, he could decide to return to Pittsburgh in a back up role.

Thanks for visiting. What do you think the Steelers should do with Marvel Smith? Let us know by leaving a comment, vote in our poll, check out the rest of the Steelers 2009 free agent focus, or simply browse around the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Steelers Franchise Max Starks

The Steelers free agent focus became a little clearer today, as the team opted to name starting right tackle Max Starks as its franchise player. The decision means that Starks will receive a guaranteed 8.451 million dollars, and any team wishing to sign him would have to surrender two first round draft picks to Pittsburgh, and the Steelers would have the right to match any offer.

Assessment of Max Starks: “What a long strange trip its been...”

Starks joined the Steelers in 2004 as a third round draft pick out of Florida. Starks played sparingly in 2004, but earned a starting spot at right tackle on the Steelers Super Bowl XL squad. He also started all but the last two games of the 2006 season, but since then it’s been what the late Jerry Garcia would describe as “a long, strange trip.”

Injuries were the stated reason why the Starks did not start the last two games of 2006, although numerous press reports indicated that Starks had fallen out of favor with Steelers coaches, who by then were leaning towards Willie Colon.

One of the lines of continuity between Mike Tomlin and Bill Cowher’s regime, was that Russ Grimm’s departure for Phoenix did not get Max Starks out of the dog house.

  • Max Starks lost his starting job to Willie Colon in 2007.

He served as a back up offensive lineman and reserve, blocking third tight end for much of 2007. He made four starts in place of injured Marvel Smith at left tackle, and relived him on two other occasions.

Despite the fact that Starks had been coming off of the bench, he performed very well in Smith’s absence, well enough that the team decided it did not want to risk losing Starks in free agency. One year ago, the Steelers named him as their transition player. Starks could have signed with another team, and the Steelers would have had the right to match the offer, but he generated little interest.

Unable to agree to terms of a long term contract, Starks entered the 2008 season as a 7.9 million dollar back up, a move that left many fans and much of the press gawking… until disaster struck in the Jacksonville game.

Should the Steelers Have Franchised Max Starks?

Steel Curtain Rising was all over the map last year when the team decided to lay the transition tag on Max Starks. We were for it, then skeptical, then for it again.

Regardless, it was the move very well may have saved the season for the Steelers.

  • Keeping Max Starks is the right thing to do.
He is probably never going to be a tackle in the image of Tunch Illkin or Leon Searcy, but he is a solid, versatile starter. Max Starks is the best of the Steelers unrestricted free agent offensive lineman. With Marvel Smith turning 31 and coming off of two consecutive seasons that ended with back surgery, and Willie Colon a restricted free agent, the Steelers have few options at tackle.

At the very least, Starks will give their line some stability and franchising him buys Pittsburgh time to draft and develop other offensive lineman.

But Is Max Starks Really Worth The Franchise Tag?

Ah, that is the more difficult question. As a franchise player, Starks has a guaranteed offer that is the average of the highest five paid offensive lineman in the league?

When you think of "franchise players," in terms of offensive lineman, you think of guys like Mike Webster, Dermonti Dawson, Anthony Muñoz, perhaps a Toni Boselli.

  • Is Max Starks in that class of players?
No, he is not.
  • Is Max Starks one of the top five tackles in the league?

One should think not.

The Steelers can probably sign him for a deal that averages less than 8.451 million a year, but Starks now has more leveraging power. If he does sign, the Steelers cannot use the franchise tag until his contract expires, which means that the tag will not be available in 2010 when Hines Ward, Heath Miller, and James Harrison become free agents….

The Steelers are probably over paying for Max Starks, and over paying is deadly in the age of the salary cap, but given the alternative, they probably had little choice.

Over paying takes its toll, but the Steelers overpaid him last year didn't win Super Bowl XLIII inspite of that fact, but perhaps because of that fact.

At the end of the day, the Steelers needed to keep Max Starks.

Thanks for visiting. Were the Steelers right to franchise Max Starks, should they have used the tag on someone else, or should they have saved it for next year? What do you think? Leave a comment and let us know, check out the rest of our Steelers 2009 free agent focus, vote in our poll, or simply check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Steelers Resign Jordan Reffett, Add to DL

The Steelers added to their defensive line today by signing defensive end Jordan Reffett, reports the Post-Gazette. If the name sounds familiar, it should. The Steelers originally brought Reffett on board last April as an undrafted rookie free agent one day following the 2008 NFL draft.

The Steelers took Reffet to training game, but then waived him prior to the start of the season. He spent two weeks on the team’s practice squad in October. He is listed at 6-4, 292.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Trai Essex: Steelers Free Agent Focus

Trai Essex joined the Steelers as a third round pick out of Flrodia State in 2005 and got the privilege to start his first two games at left tackle against the Baltimore Raven’s defense, and come into the game against Dwight Freeley of the Indy Colts. He started a few other games in place of Marvel Smith during the Steelers run the Super Bowl in 2005.

Assessment of Trai Essex

Trai Essex has been somewhat of an enigma during his four years in Pittsburgh. He got a lot of starting action as a rookie, and played in goal line situations in 2006. But he did not seriously challenge for a starting role in 2007 and was all but written off as a bust until both Marvel Smith and Max Starks got injured late in the year. While Essex was no world-beater, but he did acquit himself well. He improved his value to the team in 2008 by playing both guard and tackle during training camp, and was the first man in when Marvel Smith got hurt against Jacksonville… only to see two Jaguar defenders blow past him as they made a bee line for Ben.

What the Steelers Should Do with Trai Essex

As a third round pick, Essex must be labeled as somewhat of a disappointment. Nonetheless, versatility in an offensive lineman is nothing to discard. Essex is never going to be a solid starter, but he is a serviceable back up. If the Steelers can sign him to a contract that reflects that, they should. If not, let him become a free agent with the possibility of bringing him back.

What Will Likely Happen

One way or anther, Trai Essex isn’t going to get a lot of money thrown at him. He would be wise to accept any offer the Steelers tender, as no NFL team is going to give him a starting contract. To some degree or another, what happens with Marvel Smith, Chris Kemoeatu, and Max Starks will probably have a large bearing on the Steelers intentions to Essex.

Thanks for visiting. What do you think the Steelers should do with Trai Essex? Leave a comment and share your thoughts. Check out the rest of our Steelers 2009 Free Agent Focus or just browse around the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Trai Essex: Steelers Free Agent Focus

Trai Essex joined the Steelers as a third round pick out of Flrodia State in 2005 and got the privilege to start his first two games at left tackle against the Baltimore Raven’s defense, and come into the game against Dwight Freeley of the Indy Colts. He started a few other games in place of Marvel Smith during the Steelers run the Super Bowl in 2005.

Assessment of Trai Essex

Trai Essex has been somewhat of an enigma during his four years in Pittsburgh. He got a lot of starting action as a rookie, and played in goal line situations in 2006. But he did not seriously challenge for a starting role in 2007 and was all but written off as a bust until both Marvel Smith and Max Starks got injured late in the year. While Essex was no world-beater, but he did acquit himself well. He improved his value to the team in 2008 by playing both guard and tackle during training camp, and was the first man in when Marvel Smith got hurt against Jacksonville… only to see two Jaguar defenders blow past him as they made a bee line for Ben.

What the Steelers Should Do with Trai Essex
As a third round pick, Essex must be labeled as somewhat of a disappointment. Nonetheless, versatility in an offensive lineman is nothing to discard. Essex is never going to be a solid starter, but he is a serviceable back up. If the Steelers can sign him to a contract that reflects that, they should. If not, let him become a free agent with the possibility of bringing him back.

What Will Likely Happen

One way or anther, Trai Essex isn’t going to get a lot of money thrown at him. He would be wise to accept any offer the Steelers tender, as no NFL team is going to give him a starting contract. To some degree or another, what happens with Marvel Smith, Chris Kemoeatu, and Max Starks will probably have a large bearing on the Steelers intentions to Essex.

Steelers Free Agent Focus – 2009

You gotta love today’s NFL. When the Steelers won their first four Lombardi Trophies, the off season was just that. Games ended, players went home (and some even took off season jobs to make ends meet) and the NFL disappeared from sports pages until the draft in April, and essentially did not resurface until training camp began in July.

Not anymore. The NFL is now a 10 if not 12 month a year sport.

The Steelers victory in Super Bowl XLIII is naught a fortnight old, and they haven’t even had time to expand their trophy case to accommodate their sixth Lombardi trophy. Yet, the 2009 season is already coming into focus.

Steelers 2009 Free Agents

On February 27th, 12 Steelers will become unrestricted free agents, in addition to starting right tackle Willie Colon who will become their most prominent restricted free agent.

Those free agents include Max Starks, Marvel Smith, Chris Kemoeatu, Trai Essex, Bryant McFadden, Charlie Batch, Byron Leftwich, Andre Fraizer, Keyaron Fox, Orpheus Roye, Fernando Bryant and Nate Washington.

Joining Willie Colon as the Steelers 2009 restricted free agents for 2009 are, Anthony Smith, Sean McHugh, Arnold Harrison, and Anthony Madison.

Steelers fans always dread free agency. In 1990’s a parade of Pro Bowlers make their exodus, to the anguish of Steelers Nation. (It must be said that with a few exceptions like Kevin Greene and Chad Brown, most of the players the Steelers let go were grossly overpaid by their new teams.)

2009 Free Agency, a Challenge for Colbert and the Rooneys

While free agency has not pillaged Steelers in the first decade of the 21st Century, this off season figures to put Kevin Colbert’s personnel skills to the test. We also might get a glimpse of how much Dan Rooney and Art II’s buy out of the other Rooney brothers is going to affect Pittsburgh’s ability to field a competitive team.

In the coming days and weeks, Steel Curtain Rising will offer its assessment of each Steeler free agent, what the Steelers should do, and what we think will happen. To follow the series, check back regularly, or simply click here to see everything with the Steelers 2009 Free Agent Focus tag.

Thanks for visiting. Leave a comment and let others know what you think the Steelers priorities for free agency should be. Or just browse around the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

Chris Kemoeatu: Steelers Free Agent Focus

Chris Kemoeatu joined the Steelers in 2005 as a sixth round pick out of Utah. Listed at 6’3” and 244 pounds, he captivated the imaginations of Steelers fans who are devotees of the team’s Smash Mouth identity.

  • Then he dropped off the radar screen

Kemoeatu did not play a game as a rookie. He started twice in 2006 and saw playing time in one other. In 2007, he did not start, but saw significant playing time both at guard and on special teams. With that said, heading into the 2008 season coaches said that he came close to beating out Kendall Simmons for a starting spot in 2007….

Assessment of Chris Kemoeatu

A sixth round pick who starts on a Super Bowl Championship team is no bust. But given his size and stature, it is also hard to say that Kemoeatu has lived up to his potential. He seemed to start the season strong, but the few sacks the offensive line allowed against Houston and Cleveland ended up hurting Ben’s shoulder.

It’s unfair to single out Kemoeatu for blame, but the Steelers had a lot of difficulty punching at the goal line in the latter half of the year, and much of that difficulty was due to the run blocking from the interior lineman (think of Mewelde Moore getting pancaked by the Colts from the one.)

What the Steelers Should Do

The Steelers unsuccessfully attempted to sign Kemoeatu to a long term deal in the 2008 off season, and perhaps that’s a good thing. While the Steelers defeintely could do worse than Kemoeatu at guard, he is certainly not a player you break the bank for. With Kendall Simmons returning from IR and Jason Capizzi on the active roster, the Steelers have depth at guard, at least in terms of quantity if not quality. The Steelers should let Kemoeatu test the free agent market, then resign him at a good value if he gets no takers.

Most Likely Scenario

This is probably the easiest prediction to make. The Steelers will most likely let Kemoeatu test the free agent waters, with an eye toward bringing him back at mid-market value.

Thanks for visiting. What do you think should the Steelers do about Chris Kemoeatu? Leave a comment and share your thoughts. Check out the rest of our Steelers Free Agent Focus or browse around the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Signing James Harrison, The Steelers Off Season Priority?

If the word of an agent is any indication, and such words can sometimes be dicey, the Steelers have already telegraphed their most important priority of the 2009 off season: Resigning James Harrison.

ESPN’s James Walker is reporting that:

The Steelers are actively negotiating a pay raise and contract extension, according to Harrison's agent, Bill Parise, with the sides having discussions as often as twice a day.
Parise went out of his way to laud Steelers management, and indicated that he thought Steelers would come to terms with Harrison this off season.

Unlike Trai Essex, Max Starks, Nate Washington, Bryant McFadden, Marvel Smith, and Chris Kemoeatu, James Harrison is not slated to become an unrestricted free agent on February 27th.

Nonetheless, since the advent of free agency the Pittsburgh Steelers modus operandi has been to target key players that they need to win and resign them before they become free agents. There is every reason why the Steelers should make every effort to resign their starting right outside linebacker before he reaches the open market. (Even if his agent’s claim to be talking to the Steelers twice a day does sound somewhat over exaggerated.)

In 2007, his first season as a starter, James Harrison made a splash, stealing the show on the Steelers 75th Anniversary game with 3.5 sacks, an interception, and two forced fumbles. But that was just the warm up, as Harrison redefined the concept of breakout season in 2008, when he led the Steelers with 16 sacks and won NFL Defensive player of the year honors.

For an encore, Harrison played a key role in pressuring Joe Flacco into throwing the AFC Championship clinching interception to Troy Polamalu and, in Super Bowl XLIII, he authored a game-changing 100 yard interception return for a touchdown as Arizona was threatening to score with 18 seconds remaining in the first half.

James Harrison is 30 years old, an age at which many if not most players begin to see their productivity decline, but preparation, determination and innate ability are as much factors in Harrison’s success as his athleticism.

Roy Lewis, Dallas Baker Lead Steelers Signings

The Steelers took steps toward completing their pre-free agency roster today. Some of these moves had been discussed on blogs for about a week, but they only became offical today.

The Steelers resigned all of the players who were on their practice squad at the end of the season. That group includes Roy Lewis, an undrafted rookie free agent cornerback who turned a lot of heads during the 2008 preseason. Lewis spent some time of the Steelers active roster and can also play safety.

Dallas Baker also makes his return. The 7th round draft pick from 2007 spent time on the Steelers active roster, but was waived during mid-season when injuries to the secondary forced the team to create roster room. 2008 sixth round pick Ryan Mundy also rejoined the team.

Center/guard Doug Legursky, TE Dezmond Sherrod, RB Justin Vincent and LB Donovan Woods also rejoined the active roster.

Three new faces join the Steelers roster, they are RB Stefan Logan, WR Brandon Williams and FB Ryan Powdrell. Logan put up some impressive numbers last season for for the CFL's British Columbia Lions, he spent time on the Miami Dolphins 2007 practic squad. Williams has spent time with the 49ers and Rams, while Powdrell has spent time with the Packers and the Bucs.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Super Bowl XLIII - From Tampa to Buenos Aires

Super Bowl XLIII was watched by millions around the globe, and today’s post will give you a chance to see the game through two very unique vantages.

Super Bowl XLIII: The View From Buenos Aires

As regular readers of this site know, Steel Curtain Rising is written out of Buenos Aires. Although yours truly has been here since 2001, Super Bowl XLIII was only the fourth Super Bowl I’ve seen down here.

Believe it or not, there are Argentines who play American Football. Not two hand touch, not flag football, but full pads, full contact American Football. And let me tell you, these guys are serious, hard-core football men.

So the FAA’s annual Super Bowl party was held in the Run Bar, nestled on the other side of San Martin across the street from the vacant Harrods building.

My wife and I had reservations, but the place was packed. Our choices were in the back by the door, or up front by the screen. (I secretly wanted to be up front, but knowing my wife hates being so close to big screens, I let her pick – good move as the place got quite hot, and we were glad to be by the door.)

Prior to the game I got to meet Sergio Biagini, the President of the FAA, and we talked a little business, as we’re going to work together to try to see if we can get the NFL (or someone) to show more games down here. (See my rant about Direct TV’s “One Third of the Sunday Ticket” deal.)

Let the record reflect that the rooting at Run Bar was probably 30-40% pro Arizona, 20-25% pro Steelers, and the rest more or less neutral. But my wife and I had the good fortune to land a seat next to Gustavo, and Argentine Dr. who has been an avid Steelers Fan since the 1990’s.

We talked a fair amount of football, and I can tell you that the guy knows his stuff, and is even able to offer some rather nuanced opinions on Kordell Stewart.

  • All the more impressive considering that the man has never even visited US, let alone Pittsburgh!

The game itself of course was a heart stopper, but enjoyable nonetheless. The Cardinal’s cheering section was louder, but Steelers Nation’s contingent made up for any lack of quantity with quality.

When it was clear that the Steel Curtain Had Risen Again, we even let out the rallying cry of Steelers Nation, “Chew Tobacco, Chew Tobacco, Spit, Spit, Spit, If You Ain’t A Steelers Fan You Ain’t Sh_t, Go Steelers!” Truthfully, the rest of those present didn’t quite know what to make of that, and were somewhat taken aback.

Understandable, but history demands such that refined, time-honored traditions be respected.

Aside from victory itself and the glory of the Steelers Sixth Super Bowl, aside from the joy of spending it with my wife (she stayed home for Super Bowl XL and I would have enjoyed it more had she been there), perhaps the biggest plus came after the game, when I gave Gustavo one of my extra Terrible Towels. He’d mentioned something about getting one of them during a break, but he seemed pleasantly surprised after the game when I asked my wife to get the Towel out of her purse and give it to him.

Try as the NFL might to rip off the talisman that Myron Cope bestowed upon Steelers Nation, but the Terrible Towel will always be unique to Pittsburgh. The yellow terry cloth will always be a special bond between members of Steelers Nation, and Gustavo’s reaction to getting his first one proves it.

Super Bowl XLIII: The View from Tampa

Steel Curtain Rising is proud to share a first hand account of a friend who saw the game in Tampa:

I attended the game in Tampa Bay.The NFL Experience was OK but the entertainment was excellent. Prior to the kick off, John Legend sang for an hour followed by Journey. My Son-in-law and I then proceeded to the game after helping the local economy by buying a good amount of souvenirs.

We watched the 1st half and were pleased that the Steelers were on the winning side at halftime. The play by both teams was marginal.We watched the halftime show and hoped the Steelers would not sit back and just run the ball because the Cards score very quickly. We were really excited with only 5 minutes to go with Pit steal on the win side.

I watched with horror when I saw both safeties near the sidelines and no one anywhere near the middle. The ball was snapped and I did not see it happen because my eyes were glued on Fitzgerald. He glided across the middle and then the ball was in his hands.

Still no one around.

After he took off down the field Farrior and Troy went after him. They were 10 yds back and then #11 put the afterburners on. He pulled away so quickly, Troy tapped Farrior on the shoulder to give up. After that score, my heart sank.

Three minutes to go and it looked as if the Cards might just win it. I just kept shaking my head even as the Steelers marched down the field. When the clock had 35 sec. I was in total denial.

Big Ben threw to Holmes to the left and it went threw his hands. Depression began to set in.
I looked up and saw Ben running to his right and fired the ball Brett Favre style and Holmes was covered by 3. The next thing I saw was the refs arms go straight up and the stadium erupted.

The stadium looked as if it were Heinz Stadium south. The Terrible Towels outnumbered the Card fans by 10 to 1. They had between 7/10 thousand at most. As you can see, I am still not over the excitement yet.

I was there for #6 and history being made. [My wife] and the neighbors back in Phoenix were rooting for the Cards.

When I returned on the last leg of my flight, the plane was full. I was the only one in a black t-shirt. The Southwest staff were providing free drinks to the Card fans. I kidded the stewardess by asking if I was going to have to pay for the water I was drinking. She just smiled. – T. Lakeman

Thanks for visiting. Take a moment to share something from your Super Bowl experience, or just take a look around Steel Curtain Rising.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Steelers Waive Kyle Clement

The Pittsburgh Steelers have made a few personnel moves since Super Bowl XLIII, including signing all of their practice squad players to their 85 man off season regular roster.

They also waived former rookie free agent defensive lineman Kyle Clement, a Division II standout from Northwood University in Michigan. If Clement is little known within Steelers Nation, he is quite a popular draw to this blog. If Google Analystics staistics on keywords are to be believed, hundreds have found this site searching for information on Kyle Clement (thanks for visiting.)

Clement joined the Steelers shortly after the 2008 NFL draft. He got into one game in the preseason, recording a tackle and then was injured.

What follows next is slightly confusing, as the only report we saw (and could find tonight) was that Kyle Clement was cut by the Steelers in training camp, never was there a mention that he'd been put on injured reserve. If anyone out there knows the facts, please fill us in by leaving a comment.

Perhaps there's a chance the Steelers will resign him. Pittsburgh needs youth on its defensive line, but they obviously are ready to look at other free agent defensive lineman.

Friday, February 6, 2009

Super Bowl XLIII: Dick LeBeau vs. Ken Whisenhunt – Who Won the Game Within the Game?

The popular story line of Super Bowl XLIII was of course Mike Tomlin against Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm. The man Dan Rooney chose to lead the Steelers vs. the men to whom he said, “thanks, but no thanks.”

Engrossing as that was, it wasn’t the true story. The real story was how would Dick LeBeau, one of the greatest defensive minds in league history, stack up against Whisenhunt, an emerging offensive wizard.

Heading home from the game I told my wife that if the truth were to be told, Whisenhunt out coached his former colleague. I repeated much the same on the phone to my folks at about 2:00 am Buenos Aires time.

The Obvious Answer Isn't Always the Right One

Browse though major sports sites, and that is also the story line the national media is pushing. But as is often the case, the first, seemingly obvious, answer is frequently incorrect.

For LeBeau partisans, the numbers do not paint a pretty picture. Kurt Warner passed for 377 yards, and three touchdowns. Larry Fitzgerald caught 6 passes for 127 yards and two touchdowns. Arizona scored 2 touchdowns inside of 10 minutes in the fourth quarter.

Larry Fiztgerald scored on what was perhaps one of the most explosive offensive plays in Steelers history.

These are impressive numbers in any circumstance, and they look all the more impressive when you consider that Arizona did this against the NFL’s number one defense.

The Arizona Cardinals deserve ever pat on the back they get for almost engineering the greatest Super Bowl comeback in NFL history. Praise is justified.

But pats on the back are no substitute for a Lombardi Trophy, just as piling up more yards on offense will never supplant the most important stat: the final score.

So while we tip the hat to Ken Whisenhunt, Russ Grimm, and Todd Haley for making some really great adjustments, at the end of the day Dick LeBeau got the better of them.


It Is a Four Quarter Game

Because the almost greatest comeback was necessary in the first place.

For all of the sound and fury of the Arizona’s fourth quarter rally, the Cardinals littered the first three quarters with squandered opportunities.

The Arizona offense’s failure to get it done during the first 45 minutes is all the more inexcusable for the simple fact that the Steelers offense was leaving too many plays out on the field in the form of two field goals born out of three goal line situations.

Nor do Arizona’s stats indicate that Ken Whisenhunt won the chess match with Dick LeBeau. He and Haley certainly were on to something when they started running Larry Fitzgerald on intermediate routs in the middle of the field in the fourth quarter which unleashed the game’s best receiver. (Dare we ask if it was part of their strategy to wait so long?) Likewise, LeBeau’s decision to blitz more often in the second half backfired on him.

But if Arizona won these battles, LeBeau won a far more critical one.

The Most Critical Defensive Play in Super Bowl History?

Arizona’s interception off a tipped ball as time was expiring in the first half was a gift-wrapped chance to take the lead going into halftime. Not only would they have taken the lead, but they would have taken the momentum going into a second half that would begin with the ball back in Kurt Warner’s hands.

Arizona looked like it was going to capitalize on the Steelers mistake. They moved to the one with 18 seconds left (or something like that.)

As if on cue, LeBeau made his master stroke. If Dick LeBeau is master of anything, it is disguising coverage. Steelers piled up close to the line of scrimmage. It looked like LeBeau was going to bring the house. Kurt Warner read blitz, but James Harrison hung back into coverage. Warner did not see him. Warner threw the ball. Harrison saw the ball coming...
  • ...and 100 yards later he put up seven points for Pittsburgh.

James Harrison executed, showing once again that he is a player with the will power to alter the outcome of a game.

So kudos to Harrison. You cannot coach that kind of innate ability.

But if you can’t coach that kind of talent in a player, you can position those players to make plays. The play functioned just as the zone blitz is supposed to. LeBeau put James Harrison in position to execute on a play that resulted in what was most likely a 14 point swing in the Pittsburgh's favor. The Steelers ended up winning by four.

Yes it is true that this argument would be moot had Ben Roethlisberger, Santonio Holmes and the Steelers offense not authored one of the most dramatic closing drives in Super Bowl history.

But they did, just as the defense kept Warner and company bottled up for three quarters while the Steelers offense too often settled for field goals instead of touchdowns.

No Tarnish to the Defense’s Place in History

This Steelers defense came very, very close to becoming only the second NFL defense to finish first in both yards against the run and yards against the pass.

Through 18 games they only allowed one 300 yard passer, and only had six quarterbacks pass more than 220 yards.

Nonetheless, some pundits look at Kurt Warner’s 377 yards passing and say, “Gee, does this knock the Steelers defense down a peg?”

The answer is no, it does not.

Kurt Warner, Larry Fitzgerald, and the Arizona offense gave us an electrifying 4th quarter.

But Roger Staubach and his teammates on the Dallas Cowboys came pretty close to pulling off some of their own heroics against the Steel Curtain defenses in Super Bowl X and XIII.

Does anyone say, “yeah, those Steeler defenses of the 70 were great, but Roger Staubach’s two fourth quarter almost comebacks reveal that the original Steel Curtain really had a rusted underbelly?”

Of course not.

This is what happens when offenses and defenses with All Pro, if not Hall of Fame, caliber players go up against each other in the Super Bowl.

Steel Curtain Rising will leave to others to debate the question as to whether or not Kurt Warner belongs in the Hall of Fame. But he is clearly one of the best big play quarterbacks the game has seen. Larry Fitzgerald is probably the best receiver in the football today.

They both made great plays.

The Steelers defense also forced a couple of key three and outs, held Arizona's rushers to 2.8 yards per carry, and made a great play of its own at a critical juncture.

How to judge which unit is best?

The final score, 27-23, Pittsburgh.

It was close, but in Super Bowl XLIII Dick LeBeau’s defense was better than Ken Whisenhunt’s offense.

Thanks for visiting. Do you agree? Take a moment to vote in our poll, leave a comment, or browse around the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Steelers Win Super Bowl XLIII - The Steel Curtain Rises Again!

The Steel Curtain Has Risen Again!

The 2008 Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers might not enjoy living on the edge, but they are certainly are a team that thrives on it. They lived on the edge throughout the 2008 regular season, and they finished the season true to form.

All season long, the Steelers treaded Bill Cowher’s oft cited “fine line between winning and losing,” and most often they came out on the right side.

And so it was again in Super Bowl XLIII, and for good reason.

Credit the Washington Post’s Michael Wilbon for being clairvoyant. He openly vacillated in his annual Super Bowl prediction column, ultimately concluding that the Steelers would “win 21-20, on the strength of a sack-strip-fumble recover in the final 90 seconds.” You can't get much closer than that. Super Bowl XLIII will be remembered for a long, long time.

One for the Ages

Super Bowl XLIII was one for the ages. It had everything one could ask for:

  • A Cinderella story vs. a dynasty in the making
  • Well prepared and well executed coaching schemes vs. even better adjustments
  • PrimeTime plays made by PrimeTime players at critical moments

In the end, only one team was going to come out on top, and the Pittsburgh Steelers prevailed, but only after pushing the faithful in Steelers Nation to the edge of a collective heart attack.

In a game that was so evenly matched, what made the difference?

Its We Not "I" in Sixsburgh

Calm and closeness.

The scoreboard doesn’t really indicate how close the Steelers came to thoroughly dominating the first three quarters. The score was 20-7 entering the fourth, but easily could have been 28 to 7 had the Steelers been able to punch it in during their three goal line situations.

Had the Cardinals won, their defensive would have been the unsung heroes of the victory.

The Steelers not only had to settle for field goals instead of touchdowns, but the Cardinal’s defense made the adjustments they needed to make to prevent the Steelers from running the ball, and thereby controling the clock, during the second half. In the same vein, the offensive line, which had protected Ben so well in the first half, saw its pass coverage become leaky.

But you never would have known it watching the Steelers on the sidelines or in between snaps.

  • There was no finger pointing, no sighs of exasperation, no shouting matches.

Mike Tomlin has a different style than Bill Cowher but this year he has certainly succeeded in establishing a “there’s no ‘I’ in the team” mentality.

And that was the difference in this game.

Both teams have All Stars, and perhaps legitimate Hall of Famers. And as these caliber players are wont to do in big games, they delivered. James Harrison, Ben Roethlisberger, and Santonio Holmes (and perhaps LaMarr Woodley) all have a legitimate claim on the MVP trophy.

But had things gone the other way, the exploits of Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald would have become the stuff of legend and lore.

Mike Tomlin, Dick LeBeau and yes, Bruce Arians, had an excellent game plan that their players executed almost flawlessly in the first half, but Ken Whisenhunt, Russ Grimm, Todd Haley and their defensive staff adjusted well enough in the second half to take the lead with less than three minutes to go in Super Bowl XLIII.

But the Steelers came out on top because they held their poise and hung together.


Santoino Holmes could have actually caught Ben's first pass in the endzone on the last drive. It slipped through his fingers.

  • Ben went right back to Holmes on the next snap and together they made one of the greatest plays in Super Bowl history

On the drive that preceded Arizona’s first fourth quarter touchdown, the Steelers forced a 3 and out. As Kurt Warner walked off the field the cameras flashed to the world an image of an upset quarterback who was yelling in anger.

  • While Arizona did come back to score the next time they got the ball, you didn’t see Ben anything like that from Ben after the safety was scored, nor at any other moment in the game

After Larry Fitzgerald burned Ike Taylor and the rest of the Steelers secondary to put the Cardinals on top, Ben simply turned around and strapped on his helmet – he was ready to play.

  • Contrast that with the image of Kurt Warner after Holmes’s winning touchdown; he cast aside his towel in anger and shook his head with a aggravated sigh

All of this is superficial, of course, and it would be far too much of a stretch to say that Ben was more well prepared mentally to play than Warner, who had a fablous game.

But considering the context, in the waning moments of the Super Bowl the contrast cannot be sharper.

  • Ben Roethlisberger relished having the ball in his hands with the game on the line...
  • ...Kurt Warner seemed exasperated

Neither team’s execution on either side of the ball was consistent for four quarters. Both teams’ offensive units made history-making plays and their defenses made heroic goaline stands, but both teams’ units had some pretty large lapses mixed in between.

But the Steelers poise and camaraderie were consistent for four quarters. The men in Black and Gold never lost their belief in themselves nor their faith in one another. When faced with adversity, they persevered, they remained determined. And they did it together. That’s been the case all season.

And that’s why the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers are Super Bowl Champions.

Thanks for reading Steel Curtain Rising. Let us know what you think. Share you your comments and memories in the comment box and make sure to vote in our on-line poll.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Mike Tomlin One Super Bowl in Hand, Ready for More

Less than 12 hours after becoming the youngest NFL head coach to ever win a Super Bowl, Mike Tomlin is already focusing in his next one.


Perhaps its fitting that Bruce Springsteen played during half time at Super Bowl XLIIII as he’s the man who laid down 80´s track “No Surrender, No Retreat,” because Mike Tomlin’s new mantra is “No Defending, No Repeat.”

At his post-Super Bowl press conference, Mike Tomlin announced that he did not want to hear the word defend or repeat.

You won't hear me say 'repeat' or 'defending,' because it's brand new [from here]… The thing I'm going to sell to our football team, we're not attempting to repeat…. There will be 53 new men in there. A lot of the faces will be the same, but nothing stays the same in this game. Those that remain, the roles will change….

I think repeating and defending Super Bowl championships in today's NFL is something of a misnomer. When I walk down the hallway [at Steelers headquarters] and look at the championships of the Steelers from the'70s, it's the same faces in the same positions on those photos, in terms of the Steel Curtain and so forth. That's not the reality of today's NFL, to be quite honest with you. We'll start with a new group of men -- hopefully a lot of them will be the same.

In the Post-Gazette book Cowher Power, Gene Collier wrote that he attended the post Super Bowl XL conference for one reason: he wanted to see how victory affected Cowher. Collier claimed he observed a change in Cowher, and less than a year later Bill Cowher was taking his hiatus from coaching.

Not so with Tomlin. He’s a head coach who is hungry for more and is already doing his part to make sure his players share the feeling.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Steelers Win Super Bowl XLIII, Defeat Cardinals 27-23

The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Arizona in a nail bitter to beat all nail bitters 27 to 24 to win Super Bowl XLIII, and become the first NFL franchise to win six Super Bowls.

It was an incredible game.

Its hard to really know what to say, here at 2:10 am in Buenos Aires, with work looming tomorrow.

This game as a titanic struggle. Both teams saw their prime time players step up to make big plays. Both teams saw opportunities slip away.

You can't even say the game came down to who wanted it more, because neither team was ready to yield.

At the end of the game, it came down to which team was able to deliver when it counted.

And on this night, it was the Steelers.

Its now 2:25 here in Buenos Aires, and works looms tomorrow. Check back later in the week, and we will have lots more to say about the game.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Super Bowl XLIII: Mike Tomlin's Hour Approaches

“The standard of expectation does not change.”
- Mike Tomlin on injuries, and on his philosophy of football in general

Insist as he might that the story of the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers is not about him, Mike Tomlin’s hour is at hand.

The Steelers will face off against the Arizona Cardinals today in Super Bowl XLIII in a match up that is anything, if unscripted.

  • The Steelers weren’t supposed to weather the NFL’s toughest schedule
  • Everyone knows that for the Steelers to thrive, their running game has to be dominant With four new starters, the Steeler offensive line wasn’t supposed to be up to snuff
  • Ben wasn’t supposed to survive the onslaught of opposing defenders
  • The Steelers weren’t supposed to win AFC Championship games at Heinz field

The Steelers played the NFL’s toughest schedule and came out 12-4. Their running game and offensive line might not be what they used to be, but they’ve been good enough. And although the excessive punishment Ben is taking has long term implications that are worrisome, Ben seemed to play better as the hits got harder. And with their victory over the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers appear to have exorcized their Heinz field playoff demons.

When the playoff started, the script went like this: Indy would beat San Diego, giving the Steelers a chance to avenge their loss, Joe Flacco would start playing like a rookie and thus give the Steelers a shot at revenge against the Titans. The Giants would show they could live with out Plaxico, and the Steelers revenge tour would be complete.

  • Except none of it happened according to plan, just like Mike Tomlin’s becoming Steelers head coach.

By now we’re all tired of rehearing the story of how Dan Rooney passed over not one, but two of Bill Cowher’s lieutenants to select the a little known defensive coordinator from Minnesota to lead the Steelers.

Tomlin impressed with his 10-6 AFC North Championship season in his debut, but he entered 2008 facing a lot of questions that arose with the Steelers weak finish in 2007.

Mike Tomlin has answered everyone one of them, and more.

If Bill Cowher was loved by anyone in Pittsburgh, it was his players.

Yet, in two years Mike Tomlin has come in and made this team his own. He may not be as vocal as Cowher, but he is every bit as demanding. The quote that we led this article says it all, if someone is injured,

“the standard of expectation does not change.”

And that standard is excellence.

Tomlin has preached perfection from day one. And if the Steelers haven’t always been perfect, they have been good enough to win.

Super Bowl XLIII – Steelers vs. the Cardinals – the Final Analysis

So now it comes down to this. If the Steelers were denied second shots at Indy, Tennessee, and New York, the fates gave Tomlin a chance face off against the men he beat to earn his job, the same men who handed him his first defeat as a head coach.

Tomlin has often said that schemes are overrated, that it comes down to execution.

And so will Super Bowl XLIII.

Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald form the NFL’s most lethal quarterback receiver tandem.

Arizona has a tough defense and special teams that can hurt you.

Tomlin and company certainly have a good game plan prepared, but at the end of the day, it comes down to weather or not he’s got his players ready to play.

Holmes, Washington, Sweed, Ward, and Miller need to catch balls on offense. The offensive line must avoid those stupid pre-snap penalties. Ben’s simply got to do his thing, and not worry about redeeming his poor performance in Super Bowl XL.

And we’ve got to play tough defense.

If Tomlin can get his men to do those things, then the Steelers playmakers will do what they have done all year long – Make big plays at critical moments.

Super Bowl Week from Tandil, in the Province of Buenos Aires…

Thanks to all of our loyal readers who visited during Super Bowl week. While we did manage to get Steel Curtain Rising update a few times, it was mainly a week of much needed rest and relaxation.

As you might expect, there wasn’t much of a Super Bowl buzz in Tandil, given that it is a small city tucked deep into the province of Buenos Aires.

Nonetheless, Steelers Nation was represented, in a manner of sorts.

On la Avienda España, we spied a Pittsburg Paints store. Or Pittsburgh Pinturas, to be more accurate….

That’s right. My wife has lived her whole life (well, most of it) in Greater Buenos Aires and had never seen a Pittsburgh Paints outlet (there is actually one here in Buenos Aires, not too far from where we live, but she’s never see it), and low and behold, she comes to Tandil and finds one on the week of Super Bowl XLIII.

You can see the photo here in the blog, we took a few more, which we’ll use in future articles.

But the hype is about to end. If you’re a Steelers fan in Buenos Aires, you can watch the game with fellow members of Steelers Nation. Click here for more information.