´ Steel Curtain Rising: October 2009

Who gets the game ball for the win over the Colts?

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Defense Heroic, as ´89 Steelers Beat Back Schottenheimer’s Chiefs, 23-17

A won-lost record, the cumulative sum of the efforts of 47 men, defines an NFL team. After sixteen games, all the hits, tackles, extra efforts for more yards, and dropped passes come down in two numbers.

With that said, sometimes teams simply muster their collective will-power to make plays that produce turn-key moments.

In 1989, the week eight contest against the Kansas City Chiefs produced not one, but two turnkey moments for the Pittsburgh Steelers, although in keeping with the character of that year’s squad, neither were apparent at the time.

In the days before the internet, Steelers Nation foraged for news about the team from any source to be had. In my case, that sometimes meant a watching grade “C” local TV program called “Sports Talk” broadcast out of a small, UHF TV station in Northern VA whose number and call letters, although with the names of the show's hosts, escaped memory long ago.

During the week prior to the Chiefs game, a caller asked if Bubby Brister was going to play. The hosts’ response went something like this:
Host A: “No, Brister is definitely out this week. The Steelers aren’t going to make the playoffs anyway, so they should definitely keep him out.”

Host B: “Yeah, they might even want let him sit out next week too, just as a precaution.”

On the heels of the Steelers shutout loss to the Oilers, both assessments were conventional wisdom in the NFL. No one thought the Steelers capable of anything in 1989.

Brister Shakes of Injury, Starts Game with a Bang

Fortunately, Bubby Brister delivered the game’s first turnkey moment because saw things differently and stepped up to start.

As if to put an exclamation point on his decision, Brister began the game by leading Pittsburgh to 16 unanswered points.

Undaunted, Marty Schottenhimer’s Chiefs fought back, getting on the board with a Nick Lowery field goal before half time. Steve DeBerg struck immediately in the second half, leading a nine play 80 yard drive that ended in an 8 yard touchdown, evening the score 16-10.

A two-fold disaster struck the Steelers in the third quarter, as the Steelers lost budding inside linebacking sensation, Hardy Nickerson. Shortly thereafter, Chiefs forced and returned yet another Steelers fumble for a touchdown, making it 17-16, Kansas City. (This translated to 4 Steeler fumbles returned for TD’s in four games at Three Rivers Staidum.)

None of this phased Brister, who wasted no time in answering, throwing a 64 yard bomb to Louis Lipps for a touchdown, as the Steelers pulled ahead 23-17 to close out the third quarter, paving the way for the game’s next turnkey moment.

Jerry Olsavsky vs. the Nigerian Nightmare

Brister’s third quarter bomb set up one of the finest 4th quarter stands in Steelers defensive history.

During the game’s final 15 minutes, the Chiefs offense reached the Steelers 5, 14, and 13 yard lines. Each time, Kansas City came away empty-handed.

Rod Woodson would pick of DeBerg in the end zone once. The Steelers would stop them one fourth down another time. But the play of the game came when the Chiefs were closest to scoring.

The 1989 Chiefs were led by the 260 pound, NFL leading rusher “Nigerian Nightmare” Christian Okoye.

Okoye was a behemoth who battered defenders in much the same way that Jerome Bettis would do a decade later.

So, when it was fourth and goal at the Steelers five, everyone knew who would get the call. The Chief’s offensive line created a huge hole at the snap, and all that remained between Okoye and the go ahead touchdown was 221 pound, rookie 10th round draft pick Jerry Olsavsky, who was replacing Nickerson.

Coming into the NFL, Olsavsky wasn’t supposed to be fast enough, tall enough, or big enough.

But as Okoye discovered, Jerry O. was simply good enough.

Jerry Olsavsky took the “Nigerian Nightmare” head on and blew him off the line of scrimmage, forcing Kansas City to turn over on downs, allowing the Steelers to run out the clock for the 23-17 victory.

'89 Steelers at 4-4 after 8 Weeks

The Steelers had begun 1989 with twin losses of 51-0 and 41-10, suffered a humiliating shut out in Houston, but bucked the odds to achieve a 4-4 record at the NFL season’s mid-way mark.

A dramatic win over a perceived up-and-comer once again nurtured hopes among the faithful that the men in Black and Gold to aspire to something beyond respectability.

Was that realistic?

The following week took Pittsburgh to Denver, where John Elway’s Broncos would put those hopes through crucible that was Mile High Staidum of the 1980's.

Thanks for visiting. Click here to read the entire 1989 Steelers commemorative series.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tomlin Gives Veterans the Bye Week Off

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has given his veteran players the entire bye week off. This move is unprecedented for a Steelers head coach, as both Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher required their players to practice for least some of the bye week, as did Tomlin during his first two years as head coach.

Surprising Move?

This move comes as a slight surprise. In spite of the Steelers 5-2 record, many aspects of the team’s performance can still be described as sloppy – two kick returns for touchdowns and two turnovers in the Red Zone in the last two games alone.

None the less, this is the Steelers latest bye week since getting the November 11th game off back in 1990, and this does give veterans a good chance to rest their bodies.

Rookies however, will be required to report on Wednesday and Thursday.

Trust in Tomlin’s Judgment

Back during training camp in 2008, Steel Curtain Rising questioned Tomlin’s liberal use of the injury report. When the playoffs arrived Steel Curtain Rising was forced to eat its own words as numerous veterans cited Tomlin’s ability to keep the team fresh for the stretch run as a key to success.

So at this juncture, it’s best to simply trust that Tomlin knows what his players need and is giving it to them.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Steelers Defense Delivers in 27-17 Vikings Win

Brett Favre dealt Bill Cowher his first coaching loss when he made his first start back on September 27, 1992. It was a wacky day, which set the tone for all future meetings between the Steelers and Favre. Consider:

  • In 1992, Hall of Famer Rod Woodson muffs a punt and a commits a mind-numbing coverage error, giving Green Bay two touchdowns in a 17-3 Packers win
  • In 1995, Steelers backups play flawlessly, but Yancy Thigpen drops a sure game-winning touchdown catch as time expires on Christmas Eve
  • In 1998, defending a 27-3 lead, the Steelers begin the 4th quarter by fumbling at the 12, Keith McKenzie returns it 88 yards for a touchdown. The Packers score 17 unanswered points, but Pittsburgh holds on.
  • In 2005, with Ben Roethlisberger, Jerome Bettis, and Willie Parker out, Charlie Batch throws for all of 65 yards and Duce Stanely runs for another 76. But the real offense is Troy Polamalu whose 77 yard fumble return keeps the Steelers ahead for good.

Favre of course, has started an NFL record 275 consecutive games since that first meeting in 1992. A lot has changed since then. Favre has even switched teams - twice - but one thing remains constant:

Expect the uncanny when Number Four faces off against the Steelers.*

The Tradition Continues

Sunday’s game at Heinz Field lived up to tradition.

At 6-0, Minnesota came to Pittsburgh as one of the NFL’s annual story book teams. Already armed with super-human Adrian Peterson at running back and an unforgiving defense, newly arrived 40 year old Brett Favre has shown that he still as enough late-game heroics left in him to transform the Vikings.

When the last Minnesota team with Super Bowl aspirations visited Pittsburgh in 1989, the Steelers exposed them as pretenders. With Brett Favre, they arrived today as contenders.

In spite of the Steelers 3 game winning streak they entered the game to a chorus of questions, the most pointed of which was: Can the Steelers defense close?

On Sunday the Steelers defense answered that question with a definitive “YES!”

A quick look at the stat sheet might lead one to think otherwise:

  • Favre threw 51 passes for 334 yards
  • Adrian Peterson had 129 all-purpose yards
  • The Vikings had 21 first downs to the Steelers 14
  • Minnesota dominated with a 13 minute edge in time of possession

But the Steelers defense had it where it counted and when it counted. They not only held Brett Favre’s high octane offense to 10 points, they also put up 14 of their own.

  • Those were the only two stats that mattered.

Steelers, Vikings, Came to Play Hard, Hit Hard

Credit Brad Childress, Adrian Peterson, and Brett Favre for having their troops fired up and ready to go.

Most experts expected a high-flying shoot out. Instead the Steelers and Vikings gave the fans every bit of their money’s worth in a hard hitting slug fest.

From the get go, this one had the feel a game that would come down to who wanted it the most. For that reason, while the Steelers two-touchdown plays will rightly make the highlight reels, the key defensive stand for the Steelers perhaps came on the Viking’s first possession in the third quarter.

Favre took his team 65 yards to the Steelers one, gaining the lion's share of his yards on a 35 yard pass that Troy Polamalu, and only Troy Polamalum prevented from becoming a touchdown.

Give an offense with the NFL’s best rusher a legendary quarterback a 1st and goal at the one and what happens? Most people would assume that is an easy six. Privately, most defenses would have conceded as much.

Not the Steelers.

The Steel Curtain showed they were more than a match for two Adrian Peterson runs and two Favre throws from the one.

Steelers Offense Creates Opportunities

The other key series came at the end of the first half, when Ben Roethlisberger drove the Steelers 8 plays with a minute 39 remaining to land a touchdown with a 40 yard scoring strike.

On a day when balance and rhythm eluded Bruce Arian’s offense – Rashard Mendenhall averaged 6.9 yards a carry but only got the ball ten times. The Steelers offense created and then seized their own opportunities.

Woodley, Fox Steal the Show

Fan of course will rightly remember this game because LaMarr Woodley and Keyaron Fox put on a clinic on seizing on opportunities.

The Steelers had looked to be salting the game away when Rashard Mendenhall fumbled at the goal line. Brett Favre, started at his 3 and marched his team down to the Steelers 8 yard line, and the Vikings looked poised to take the lead. Brett Keisel had other ideas, strip sacking Favre, and LaMarr Woodley did the rest:

Never let it be said that Bob Ligashesky's special teams are not generous. On Sunday they were kind enough to let the Vikings right back in the game (that’s 21 points off of special teams in 7 games) after Woodley's touchdown.

With 3:21 remaining, Favre drove his team down the field again and it looked like he was about to pull out one of his patiented come from behind wins. A routine dump-off to Chester Taylor looked to bring them closer. But strange things happen when Favre shares the field with the Steelers and it was Keyaron Fox's time to strike:

Steelers Looking Good Heading Into the Bye Week

The victory over the Vikings gives the Steelers a 5-2 record heading into the bye week.

The Steelers still “fall short of perfection” as Mike Tomlin will surely say. Nor did they turn in a complete enough performance to call it a "statement game."

But on Sunday the Steelers proved they can defeat a contender.

*The uncanny streak followed me down to Buenos Aires. I was out watching a game of the Argentine American Football Association, and my wife realized that something funky was up with Direct TV Plus -- she made sure the game got recorded -- hence I have nominated her for a game ball.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Watch Tower: Gene Collier Weighs in on Jeff Reed

Gene Collier, one of Pittsburgh’s best sports writers, if not simply the Steel City’s best sports writers has weighed in on the Jeff Reed incident.

With his usual flair for prose, he takes a different track than the one taken by here, namely that Jeff Reed and Santonio Holmes situations are sufficiently distinct to warrant different treatment by Tomlin.

While Collier’s column hasn’t compelled Steel Curtain Rising recant, he offers some excellent arguments.

The Danger of Double Standards

Collier doesn’t find a great deal of distinction between Reed and Holmes' respective infractions of the law. Fair enough.

He also goes at great pains to indicate that Holmes, whose case was ultimately dismissed on a legal technicality, was quite cooperative with the police. That’s important because cooperation with the police is at the very root of Reed’s legal troubles.

Collier is of a similar mind to Steel Curtain Rising as he too finds it difficult to believe Mike Tomlin’s explanation that Holmes was not suspended for disciplinary reasons.

Like most good writers, Collier saves his best punch for last. In concluding his article he offers:

No one's in a better position to know when to deactivate a player in these situations than Tomlin and his superiors, so when I tell you Reed should stay home until after the Vikings game, it's only because a lot of times, just the appearance of inconsistency can be its own locker room malignancy.

Excellent point, here's why.

Double Standards and Locker Room Discord

Most people forget, but before he became a coaching genius in New England, Bill Belichick had a horrible run as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Belichick's record as coach of the Browns makes him look like a dunce's dunce.

The one time I read about Belichick contrasting his experiences with both teams he shared that one of his mistakes in Cleveland was that he had not held all players to the same standard.

But one does not need to look outside of Pittsburgh for examples of havoc that double standards can wreak on a team.

In late 1999 I met a friend of Troy Sadowski, who told me that the back up tight end for the Steelers had confided in him that Bill Cowher lost much of the team when he took Kordell Stewart out and then put her back in on that dreadfully rainy day in Tampa.

This kind of third-hand information can be dangerous, especially when it comes to Kordell Stewart (how many different friends can we remember who insisted “well, my buddy’s the cop who….). But can you imagine any other player getting back into a Steelers uniform, let alone a game after getting in Cowher’s face?

What It All Boils Down To

If Collier’s got an interesting insight, one must also remember that the differences in which the Steelers organization treated James Harrison and Cedric Wilson dwarf any double standard between how Tomlin dealt with Holmes and Reed.

  • Curtain’s Call: Few accepted Tomlin’s pubic explanation over why he benched Holmes and why he’s playing Reed. At the end of the day, it comes down to whether or not the players bought whatever message Tomlin delivered behind closed doors in the locker room.

For Die Hards

Perhaps my eyes are deceiving me, because I could not find the reference on the web, but I do remember reading this week that Santonio Holmes was not fined or docked a week’s pay by the when they benched him for the Giant's game last year. That may be the case, but I do remember and have found an article saying that the Steelers did fine him at the time.

That’s just something to mention here in the Watch Tower because the story seems to have changed, but no one seems to have picked up on it.

Thanks for visiting. To read more media analysis of those who cover the Steelers, click on the Watch Tower tag (and scroll down).

Thursday, October 22, 2009

'89 Steelers Blanked in the House of Pain, 27-0

On their first trip to the Houston Astrodome the 1989 Steelers arrived with their .500 record and a hope that opportunistic defense could compensate for back up quarterback Todd Blackledge’s deficiencies.

They left Houston with a renewed understanding of why Oilers fans dubbed their palace “The House of Pain.”

The final score was 27 to 0, but the game really wasn’t even that close.

Ineptitude on Offense Reaches New Lows

The Steelers rushing total was 32 yards on 17 carries. Their leading rusher? Todd Blackladge, who ran 3 times for 13 yards. As for the running backs?

  • Merrill Hoge 2-8
  • Tim Worley 11-6
  • Ray Wallace 1-5

The Oilers did far more than shut down the Steelers running game. Bubby McDowell picked off two Blackledge passes on a day when completed 41% of them for 105 yards.

Rusted Away

The resilience that Rod Rust’s defense had shown since week 3? Gone, instead the Steel Curtain was simply, er um, rusty, as Warren Moon completed his first eight passes. By the time Moon threw an incompletion, he’d thrown for two touchdowns and seven more yards than Blackledge would throw for during the entire game.

Alonzo Highsmith, Alan Pinkett, Lorenzo White, and former Pittsburgh Mauler Mike Rozier ran for 132 yards.

Unimpressive? Perhaps, but their 3.2 yards per carry average helped Houston mass a 19 minute advantage in the time of possession category.

Not that it really mattered, as the Steelers did not convert a third down until the after the two minute warning in the fourth quarter. (They actually completed two after the two minute warning, for those taking notes at home.)

Through and through, the 1989 Steelers first visit to the Astrodome was rotten to the bone.

The Steelers now had an identical record (3-4) to their next opponent, Kansas City.

But their second shut out to a division rival under their belt, the possibility of beating Marty Schottenhiemer’s Chiefs seemed remote, but not nearly as remote as the idea that these Steelers would live return to the Astrodome again that year.

Thanks for visting. For the latest on the 2009 Steelers click here. To read the entire recap on the 1989 Steelers click here (and remember to scroll down to the beginning.)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

The Difference Between Jeff Reed and Santonio Holmes’s Situations

As everyone knows, Steelers kicker Jeff Reed was arrested during an altercation with police. If you’re thinking “have I seen this movie before?” you’re in good company as just under a year ago Steelers starting wide receiver Santonio Holmes was arrested for marijuana possession.

Mike Tomlin promptly suspended Holmes for one game, a game that saw the Steelers face off against their toughest NFC opponent, the New York Giants.

Once again the Steelers are set to take on their toughest NFC opponent, the Minnesota Vikings this week, but unlike last year, Mike Tomlin is not suspending Reed.

Double Standard

Double Standard? Perhaps, but if there is one it is not as readily apparent as it seems.

Mike Tomlin’s explanation, that Reed’s incident occurred on a Monday whereas Holmes occurred on a Thursday, thereby giving him more time to deal with Reed might be the truth in Tomlin’s eyes, but it certainly rings hollow in other circles.

But there is a basic difference between the two men’s situations. (Unlike the 2008 off season domestic violence incidents involving James Harrison and Cedric Wilson).

Santonio Holmes was caught with marijuana in his car by a police officer conducting a legal search. There are a lot of different opinions in society about whether marijuana should be illegal and if so how strictly any prohibition should be enforced. Reasonable people can differ over that issue, but one thing is beyond dispute: Holmes was had it, and it is against the law.

Reed’s case is different. The police argue that Reed was intoxicated and threatened officers.

Reed and his agent vigorously dispute that, contending the Reed merely got out of the car driven to plead with officers who were issuing a citation to Matt Spaeth for public urination.

Jeff Reed’s past history certainly weakens his case, but ample precedent exists of over zealous police officers going too far in situations like that.

Santonio Holmes situation was cut and dried. Reed’s situation is nebulous.

Given those differences, Tomlin’s decision to play Reed is understandable if not also justified, even if his explanations will understandably fail to satisfy some skeptics.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Steelers Defeat Browns 27-14, Add a Few More Puzzle Pieces

Bill Cowher used to say that an NFL team found its identity in the first four to six weeks of the season.

The Steelers played their sixth game yesterday, but the analysis of the Steelers 27-14 victory over the Cleveland Browns yielded little penetrating insight into the true identity of the 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers.

Perhaps that’s just as well because it doesn't seem like anyone knows the Steelers true identity yet.

By way of contrast, Steelers Nation knew far more about the 2008 Steelers. Six games into the road that would ultimately end in Super Bowl XLIII, Steelers fans knew this:

  • The Steelers could run over inferior opponents (week 1, Houston)
  • Though it would struggle to find rhythm, Arians’ offense would deliver in the clutch, and Mike Tomlin would never coach scared (week 2, Cleveland)
  • The Steelers could fight, sustain losses, but ultimately win street fights (Baltimore, week 4)
  • Ben Roethlisberger was an Iron Man who could lead his team to overcome injuries as the Steelers emerged as one of the NFL’s toughest teams (Jacksonville, week 5)

Comparatively speaking, we still know little about the 2009 Steelers, but the victory over the Browns perhaps added a little more focus.

The 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers, After Six Games

Thus far the 2009 Steelers have shown themselves as a team that:

  • Has progressively run the ball more effectively...

...until yesterday, when the top two running backs totaled less than 100 yards and averaged 3.6 and 3.7 yards a carry – against one of the NFL’s weakest rush defenses.

  • Is learning to win games on Ben Roethlisberger’s arm...

...except against Detroit, when 3 pass-dominated series in the fourth quarter led to 3 punts.

  • Has begun to provide its quarterback with unprecedented protection...

...unless they're trying to protect leads in the 4th quarter, then the line is prone to giving up consecutive sacks, as happened against both Detroit and Cleveland.

  • Shuts down opposing offenses of all shapes and sizes...

...if one can set aside the fact that the defense's apparent obligation to give up at least one quick touchdown drive per game, regardless of whether that quarterback is Philip Rivers, Derrick Anderson, or someone in between.

  • Has impressively ranked special teams, in statistical terms...

....that have let opposing teams back into games by giving up fumbles on punts that should have been fair caught, getting caught asleep at the switch on on-sides kicks, and allowing 98 yard kickoff returns

  • Has recently begun to ratchet up its numbers in the takeaway category...

...only to see the offense extend the opposition the courtesy of giving the ball back.

Tantalize, According to Webster

Webster’s on-line dictionary defines tantalize this way

Tantalize: to tease or torment by or as if by presenting something desirable to the view but continually keeping it out of reach.

And that is exactly what these 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers have done thus far. They’ve shown them capable of dominating on offense through the air and on the ground. Their defense has been less solid, but they’ve nonetheless flashed greatness against the run, in coverage and in pressuring the quarterback.

But six weeks into the 2009 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers have yet to play a complete game.

The turnover carnival at the end of the third quarter provides the perfect metaphor. Each time the Steelers have been in position to dominate an opponent, they end up throwing banana peels in front of themselves.

Silver Lining

The tone of this post has admittedly been a bit negative thus far, but it is not Steel Curtain Rising’s intention to throw cold water on the Steelers 3 game winning streak.

To the contrary, I echo the tone sounded Post Gazette’s Ron Cook and Steelers Digest’s Bob Labriola after the Detroit game. The cup might not be full, but it is half full.

If the Steelers have not put together a complete football game, they are getting closer to doing so.

Against San Diego, the Steelers special teams gave one of the NFL’s most explosive offenses an invitation to get back in a game whose result should have been cut and dried. But the Steelers offense, then the defense, responded.

The offense may have stumbled in attempting to KO Detroit, but the pass rush delivered when it counted.

While the special team’s gaffes and the fumbles against the Browns succeeded in unnerving, the Steelers saw to it that they did not succeed in letting Cleveland back in the game -- Pittsburgh might have slipped on the banana peels, but they did not fall.

Likewise, the difficulty running against the Browns disappoints, but the Steelers dominated Cleveland to the tune of 543 yards to 197 yards, 28 first downs to 12, 36:46 in time of possession to 23:14.

Only an ingrate quibbles at those numbers.

Next Up, Minnesota

Choose your cliché. With each week the focus on the Steelers identity gets a little sharper. With each game the Steelers add a few more pieces to the puzzle.

All true. But all of this comes with a caveat.

Mike Tomlin had better make sure the puzzle pieces fall in the right slots this week. Because right now, at 6-0, Bett Farve, Brad Childress, and Adrian Peterson's puzzle provides a much clearer picture of who the Vikings are as a team.

Monday, October 19, 2009

Steelers Drop Browns 27-14, Improve to 4-2

It seems like we say this every week, but the Steelers certainly know how to make it interesting.

Yours truly indulged in one of the benefits of watching NFL football outside the US - I recorded the game with Direct TV Plus, and watched afterward -- fast forwarding through all of the commericals is nice.

The downside is that the game didn't "end" here until about 8:30 pm, so Steel Curtain Rising's full analysis will come tomorrow.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Watch Tower: Ziggy Hood Is Not Ready to Start Yet. So What?

Let's quickly recap how two of Pittsburgh's top journalists are covering the Steeler's plans for life in the 2009 season without Aaron Smith:

DJSWSP: …How has [Ziggy Hood] looked so far?
Ed Bouchette: Not good enough, apparently, to replace the injured Aaron Smith as the starter this week. That should be troubling for a first-round draft pick.
- Ed Bouchette's weekly
, (emphasis added.)

What is most disturbing about the news on Smith is that No. 1 draft choice Ziggy Hood isn’t ready to take over. That’s a bit of a sad commentary on a top draft choice. He was selected without the expectation of having to make an early contribution. But now that the opportunity has come, it’s unsettling that coach Mike Tomlin doesn’t feel he’s ready for it.
- Bob Smizik, Post-Gazette
(emphasiss added.)

Aaron Smith goes down and Ziggy Hood isn’t ready to fill his shoes – the sky is falling, the sky is falling, it hit me on the head!

Or at least that is the conclusion one might draw based on the commentary offered by the Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette and Bob Smizik.

The Steelers will absolutely miss Aaron Smith, make no mistake about it. In an ideal world, Ziggy Hood could slide right in to his slot, and the Steelers would never miss a beat on the way to Hood winning AFC Rookie of the Year.

But we don’t live in an ideal world, and Hood will not start on Sunday. And you know what?

Steelers Nation in fact has no reason to panic because Hood is not starter-ready six games into his rookie season.

History of Steelers First Round Picks As a Guide

It took Casey Hampton five games to wrestling the starting Nose Tackle job from Kendrick Clancy, but Hampton came from a bigger school and was drafted higher.

Kendall Simmons, Heath Miller, and Ben Roethlisberger not only started the bulk of their rookie seasons, but made significant impacts, which reflects very well on all three men.

But what about Super Bowl XVIII MVP Santonio Holmes? He only started four games as a rookie. Lawrence Timmons? None. 2008’s first round pick Rasshard Mendenhall, he got one start then got his collarbone broken by Ray Lewis and was lost for the year.

And of course, what about the player whom the Steelers have missed the most thus far in the 2009 campaign? Unable to move past the likes of Brett Alexander and Mike Logan, Troy Polamalu did not start a single game as rookie.

Ziggy Hood might turn out to be a bust. He could also be the second coming of Dwight White. No one knows at this point, but the fact that Tomlin isn’t ready to start him shouldn’t become cause for worry.

Alternative Explanation

Before anyone comes down too hard on Bouchette and Smizik for prematurely hitting the panic button on Ziggy Hood, it is important to pay respect to the journalistic process.

Ed Bouchette observes Steelers practices, but by agreement he is limited on what he can report. That's why you never see a reporter print something like "well, they kept trying gadget plays in practice all week, but they only got the flea flicker to work, so don't expect to see anything else."

Stuff does slip out, such as Limas Sweed's repeated drops, but usually only after it becomes so obvious that reporters are not giving anything away.

So given that, it is possible that he knows Ziggy Hood hasn’t looked good in practice and since Bouchette can’t say it directly, this is his way of saying it indirectly. Time will tell.

  • Curtain’s Call: It is simply too early for anyone to make judgments on Ziggy Hood’s development. Mike Tomlin’s using the luxury he has of having veteran backups to bring Hood along at a deliberate pace. After 5 or 6 games, we'll all know a little more.

Steel Curtain Rising's Watch Tower casts a critical eye on press coverage of the Steelers. Click here (and scroll down) to read more from the Watch Tower.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Aaron Smith Goes on Injured Reserve, Steelers Resign Harris

As expected, Steelers starting defensive end Aaron Smith went on injured reserve today and is out for the duration of the 2009 season. Smith will have surgery on Friday to repair a torn rotator cuff.

As expected, the Steelers resigned 2009 7th round draft pick Sunny Harris from the Carolina Panther's practice squad. Smith will be replace by Nick Eason, Travis Kirschke, and 2009 first round pick Ziggy Hood.

Check back soon for more from Steel Curtain Rising on the Steelers defensive line situation.

1989 Steelers Avenge Opening Day Blow Out, Defeat Browns 17-7

Before Mike Tomlin’s Steelers first game against Eric Mangini in Cleveland, Steel Curtain Rising looks back at the 20th Anniversary of the second match up between Chuck Noll’s 1989 Steelers and Bud Carson’s Browns....

Division rivalries are not what they used to be.

Certainly the bitterness between Baltimore and Pittsburgh runs deep. But the intensity of the Steelers modern day rivalry with the Ravens arises from the reality these two teams have been the biggest boys on the block in the AFC Central/North for a decade.

In 1989, it was different.

The hatred between the Steelers and the Browns wasn’t so much part of the job description; it was hardwired into the men’s DNA.

When the Steelers took to the field in Cleveland Municipal Stadium on October 15, 1989 they’d dropped seven straight to the Browns and hadn’t won in the Dawg Pound since 1981.

Make no mistake about it. The Cleveland Browns enjoyed every moment of the 51-0 shellacking they’d administered to the Steelers on opening day.

Cleveland relished the thought of doing it again.

Pittsburgh took it personally. History would not repeat itself, they resolved.

Browns Victory Game A Reflection of the 1989 Season
Just as the ’89 Steelers offered a picture of contrasts, so did their October 15th contest at Cleveland Municipal Stadium. During the game the Steelers revealed some horrendous deficiencies, yet they countered those by showcasing an indomitable resiliency.

So what if back up quarterback Todd Blackledge, starting his next-to last game in the NFL, only completed 32% of his passes?
  • Not a problem, especially if your defense intercepts Bernie Kosar four times for the first and only time in his career.
A leading receiver (Rodney Carter) who goes 3-30?
  • Less important if he scores a touchdown on one of the three.
Is it important that Warren Williams, Merrill Hoge, Rodney Carter, Ray Wallace, Todd Blackledge, and Tim Worley post a combined rushing average of 2.7 yards a carry?
  • Not when you still control time of possession, 35:20 to 24:40
Can the Steelers commit ten penalties for 121 yards and still win?
  • Yes, they can, especially when an opponent scores a touchdown to bring it to 10-7 with 8 minutes left to play and the Steelers answer with a 73 yard kick return.
Fail to convert 14 of 16 third and fourth down situations?
  • Converting on 4th and 1 at your opponents’ 3 just before the two minute warning carries a far greater impact.
You DO Add Style Points for This One
Although he was only a senior in high school then, one can look at the game stats and imagine Mike Tomlin saying "we don't add style points...."

But on this day, he would have been wrong.

The Steelers 17-7 victory over the Cleveland Browns on the shores of Lake Eire that day was a moment of beauty.

Pittsburgh avenged a 51-0 opening day loss that had embarrassed them so and called the Steelers entire legacy into question. They shook off the loss of their (then seen as) rising start young quarterback. They compensated for offensive deficiencies with a hard hitting defense that forced and recovered 3 fumbles on top of four interceptions.

October 15th 1989 was a beautiful day for Steelers Nation. Four Weeks after starting the season losing two games by a total score of 92-10, the 1989 Pittsburgh had clawed their way to back to a .500 record.

And did it against the Cleveland Browns!

Thanks for visiting. Click here for latest on the 2009 Steelers, to read the entire series on the Steelers 1989 season, click here.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Aaron Smith Injures Shoulder, Out, Possibly for the Year

The Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported this afternoon the Steelers starting defensive end Aaron Smith would be out with a potentially “serious” shoulder injury. Later in the day ESPN.com’s John Clatyon reported that Smith has a partially torn rotator cuff, and was debating surgery. On the Post Gazette Plus Site Ed Bouchette confirmed that Smith’s injury was indeed serious and potentially season ending.

The ESPN article reports that surgery would end Smith’s season. Smith could decide to try to play through the injury, but in doing so he would open himself to a potentially career ending injury.

Implications for the Steelers

When the Steelers lost Aaron Smith late in the 2007 season, their defensive performance plummeted like a rock. Without Smith they were completely unable to stop the run or dominate the line of scrimmage.

Smith’s top two back ups, Travis Kirschke and Nick Eason are both in their 30’s and capable stand ins, but neither can off set the drop off. That is not surprising, as Smith is one of the best, if not the best 3-4 defensive ends in the NFL.

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin threw cold water on hopes that first round draft pick Evander “Ziggy” Hood could replace Smith. When asked about Hood, Tomlin praised the rookie’s talent, but then went on to say, “But by no means is Ziggy Hood a potential replacement for Aaron Smith at this point.”

Given that neither Krischke nor Eason’s limitations, Steelers fans must hope that Hood can grow up fast. For the moment, Tomlin has confirmed that the Steelers attempt to bring Hood along by filling Smith's slot by committee.

They have no other choice, with no other defensive ends on their roster, and with 2007 4th round pick Ryan McBean, who was cut in training camp last year, is now starting for Denver.

Implications for Aaron Smith

Aaron Smith is 33 years old and this is his second major injury in two years. While surgery and rehab does offer realistic hope of some sort of return for Smith, one has to wonder if Smith “getting up there” in terms of his “football age.”

What Happens Next?

If Smith does have a torn rotator cuff, he’s likely lost for the year. Even if he did attempt to play, one wonders how effective he would be.

  • Curtain’s Call: Smith has the surgery, the Steelers put him on IR, and attempt to resign Sunny Harris, whom they cut before opening day, from Carolina’s practice squad.

Monday, October 12, 2009

The Difference in the Steelers 28-20 Defeat of Detroit

Match the defending champions with a 1-23 team that is missing its starting quarterback and its All Pro wide receiver, and what do you get?

Another 4th quarter nail biter.

The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Detroit Lions 28-20 at Ford Field, improving to 3-2 and a share of second place in the AFC North.

Alas, the 2009 Steelers have an uncanny knack for keeping it interesting until the final gun. This one never should have been close.

Steelers Run Up Stats on Lions

If statistics dictated score, the Steelers would have run away with this one.

Ben Roethlisberger threw three touchdowns and completed 76% of his passes for just under 300 yards. He hit six receivers with Hines Ward, Heath Miller, and Mike Wallace scoring touchdowns.

Rashard Mendenhall ran strong in his third start, averaging 5.1 yards for 77 yards.

The Steelers offense went 4-4 in the Red Zone.

The Steelers defense held Kevin Smith to 54 yards and tossed Dante Culpepper to the turf 7 times, one shy of doubling their season sack total. They cut short four promising drives, intercepting the Lions once and forcing 3 field goal attempts.

Despite the dazzling stats, the Steelers almost stumbled into another fourth quarter meltdown.


Strong Stats Don’t (Always) Equal Consistent Play

The Steelers victory over the Lions shows how offense, defense, and special teams can all perform well, but you can still fail to play complete game.

The scoring summary tells the tail:

  • The Steelers defense held Detroit to 13 points
  • The Steelers offense put up 28

A 15 point differential is a victory formula on any given Sunday…

…but Ben Roethlisberger weakened that formula with an interception returned for a touchdown.
The defense diluted its accomplishments by letting Detroit quickly drive 82 yards for a touchdown that put the Lions within 8 with 4:57 remaining to play.

But the Steelers defense has no monopoly on 4th quarter difficulties. As Jim Wexell indicated in Steelers Digest, against the Chargers last week the Steelers offense added to a fourth quarter lead for the first time since week 16 of the 2007 season.

Alas, the late scoring streak lasted one game, as the Steelers fourth quarter offensive output amounted to:

  • 13 net yards on 12 plays that ended in 3 punts.

This time Pittsburgh did not stubbornly stick to an ineffective rushing attack late in the game.

If anything, Bruce Arians’ desire to deliver a knockout punch was too zealous. Early the in 4th, Ben Roethlisberger twice took sacks trying to go deep – a broken series which opened the door to Detroit’s final touchdown drive.

Arians mixed the play calling on the two other 4th quarter possessions, but Pittsburgh executed poorly, giving up a sack and failing to convert separate third downs.

With 3:07 remaining, the Steelers once again couldn’t move the chains while the defense once again was giving up quick scores. Once again, the all elements for meltdown were assembled.

Except one.

The Difference Against Detroit

Laymen chalked the losses to the Bears and Bengals to Troy Polamalu’s absence. Pittsburgh certainly missed Troy, but an astute analysis of those collapses revealed that the Steelers defensive emphasis too often shifted from pressure to coverage on key plays.

  • Dick LeBeau took note, and he did something about it.

Like their feline counterparts two weeks before, the Lions began at their own 29 and drove deep into Pittsburgh territory.

The difference in Detroit was that LeBeau mercilessly unleashed the blitz. The Steelers planted Dante Culpepper on his back on four out of final nine pass attempts.

When the Lions reached the Steelers 21 yard line, LeBeau turned it up a notch, sacking Culpepper three consecutive times, backing him up to the Steelers 45.

The Meaning of 3-2 for the Steelers

The Steelers have taken leads into the fourth quarter in each of the four games since the opener. The first two times Steelers Nation agonized as Pittsburgh lost in the closing moments. Against San Diego the offense stepped up, and against Detroit the defense took its turn and both times Steelers won.

As Mike Tomlin says, “they don’t add style points.”

At 3-2 the Steelers aren’t playing dominating football, but nor have they played their best football yet.

Friday, October 9, 2009

Tomlin’s Test -- Steelers to Face Detroit, Cleveland

The next two weeks on the Steelers schedule have them at Detroit and then the Browns travel to Pittsburgh. The opponents’ boast a collective 1-7 in the won-lost columns. If you think the Steelers have nothing to worry about, think again.

Winning the Games You’re Supposed to Win

What is the difference between the 2005 Steelers and the 2006 Steelers?

Besides the fact that the 2005 Steelers delivered One for The Thumb.

The 2005 Steelers defeated the Tennessee Titans (4-12), the Houston Texans (2-4), and the Green Bay Packers (4-12).

The 2006 Steelers lost to the Atlanta Falcons (7-9), Jacksonville Jaguars (8-8), split with the Cincinnati Bengals (8-8), and lost to the Oakland/Los Angeles/Oakland/(someday again to be) Los Angeles Raiders 2-14.

  • The 2005 Steelers regular season record was 11-5. The 2006 finished at 8-8.

Certainly, its true that Ben Roethlisberger’s injury, a lack of a back to share the load with Willie Parker, and perhaps the uncertain status of Bill Cowher's future clouded the 2006 Steelers.

But the fundamental principle remains the same:

  • The 2005 Steelers beat the teams they were supposed to beat*
  • The 2006 Steelers lost to teams they should have beaten

Those 2006 Steelers win 3 out of those 4 games they lost, and they go to the playoffs and get a shot at repeating.

They lost those games and stayed home.

Avoiding the “Schedule Game” Trap

Everyone denies they play the schedule game, looking at a schedule and saying “we got a W there, another W there, the following week’s going to be tough tough, but we got another easy win the next week after that….”

One of Cowher’s achievements, at least in the latter part of his career with the Steelers, was to keep his team focused the week’s opponent. They walked the walk when it came to the schedule game.

Tomlin’s Test

Mike Tomlin certainly does not play the schedule game. Listen to Tomlin in this week’s press conference, and you’d think the Steelers were traveling to Green Bay to play Lombardi’s Packers in late December.

But can Tomlin get the team to follow his example?

Steel Curtain Rising asked that question last year before the first match up against the Benglas, but the truth is, given the brutal nature of the Steelers schedule, Tomlin needed no help keeping the team focused.

He seemed to admit as much when he remarked that he really didn’t need to do anything to focus the team for the playoffs, because their schedule had already focused them.

However, one of the criticisms of Tomlin during his first year was that the Steelers seemed to sink to the level of their competition. The 2007 Steelers lost to:

  • The Arizona Cardinals (8-8)
  • the Denver Broncos (7-9)

To make matters worse, they also dropped one in overtime to the lowly New York Jets (4-12).

  • Curtain’s Call: Tomlin will pass this exam but, given the 4th quarter meltdowns against the Bengals and Bears, one can legitimately classify this as a "test."

*Full Disclosure: Steelers Digest Editor Bob Labriola made this observation early in the 2005 season, after the Steelers opened with victories against the Titans and Texans.

Thursday, October 8, 2009

'89 Steelers Week 5 Upset Hopes End with James Brooks 65 Yard Run

In the 80’s the Washington Post’s Michael Wilbon ran a column on Fridays season titled “The Upset Pick.”

Wilbon chose to lead week five’s UP this way: “The Steelers will show the last two weeks weren't a fluke by beating the Bengals at Three Rivers Stadium.”

Days like that make one appreciate the internet. When the Washington Post printed its weekly TV Guide, NBC assumed the Steelers-Bengals game wouldn’t be worth seeing. Some other game was listed. Today these updates come with a mouse click.

Back then you had to spy something tucked into a corner of newsprint, or miss it, which is what certainly happened to me.

I don’t know if someone called me or if just flipped on the TV to see if I could find out the score, but at about 3:45 I was shocked to discover NBC was showing the game. Not only that, the Steelers had just pulled within three within the two minute warning.

Hold the Bengals, the Steelers have a shot at pulling off another tremendous upset

…Up to that point, it had been a topsy turvey game. The Bengals offense had manhandled the Steelers in week two, with Boomer Esiason racking up 328 yards, James Brooks and Ickey Woods romping for 192 yards, and Tim McGee and Eddie Brown torching the secondary for a combined 166 yards. Week five brought something a little different...

Bengals See a Different Pittsburgh Steelers Squad in Week 5

When I’d turned on the TV, Esiason’s passing was a pedestrian 219 yards, McGee and Brown were in check, and the Steelers defense was “containing” James Brooks having held him to 62 yards.

Less effective than their counterparts, the Steelers offense had managed three Gary Anderson field goals after scoring a touchdown on their opening drive. But it looked like it just might be good enough. Pittsburgh responded to Cincinnati’s fourth quarter go ahead touchdown with Anderson’s third field goal, bringing Pittsburgh within three.

The Bengals had just taken possession when I tuned in. Memory fails to provide details, but the Steelers defense was not yielding. The Bengals had started on their 41 and converted at least one first down, yet they were backed up to their 35.

I clearly remember NBC’s Joel Myers commenting on Pittsburgh’s predictability, to which Paul Maguire responded:

I mentioned that to Chuck Noll, and he said. 'Cincinnati knows we’re going to come at them and play hard-nosed football. There’s nothing we can do about it except go out and do it.'

Third down. The Steelers blitz…

  • ...James Brooks breaks past the Steelers line, and tears through the secondary for a 65 touchdown run...

…So much for “can’t hope to stop him, but only hope to contain him.”

The Steelers were not done.

Brister took command and moved the team to about the Bengal’s 40 when disaster struck. He ended his final play lying on his back, ripping his helmet off writhing in pain. It looked so bad that even Sam Wyche and Boomer Esiason went out to offer comfort while the crowed at Three Rivers waited for the cart.

Todd Blacklage came in and drove the team to the Bengals 7, but time expired.

The Steelers had gone toe-to-toe with the defending AFC Champions and come within striking distance of an upset.

But any sense of “moral victory” was utterly lost at the sight of a promising young quarterback, who was completing 62% of his passes and had not thrown an interception in 4 games, carted off the field with his knee immobilized.

Monday failed to bring better news, as WMAL’s Ken Beatrice informed that Brister “had a sprained knee, he’s out AT LEAST three weeks.” Without Brister, could the Steelers avenge their 51-0 opening day loss by traveling to Cleveland…

…where they had not won since 1981?

Thanks for visiting. Click here to read the entire tribute to the 1989 Pittsburgh Steelers.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Arians, Kemoeatu & Line, Holding James Harrison and Other Final Thoughts on the Chargers Game

The Steelers victory over the Chargers gave Steelers Nation a lot to chew on. Here are some random thoughts, in no particular order.

Arians Innovates

For the second consecutive game, Bruce Arians showed that he can tinker, this time by lining up an offensive lineman as a fullback in the backfield. The play worked wonders, as Doug Legursky made a key block on Mendenhall’s first TD. Apparently, they won’t be doing much more of this when David Johnson gets back, but you have to love thinking.

That was only the beginning of Arian’s tricks. Santonio Holmes was looking to throw on the reverse, and he showed a lot of faith in his offense in calling Mewelde Moore’s half back option pass.

Coming Out Party for Kemoeatu and the Offensive Line

Watching Chris Kemoeatu play against the Chargers, it is easy to see why the Steelers kept him instead of paying Alan Fanaca or trying to rehab Kendall Simmons. Kemoeatu tantalized the Steelers from the day they drafted him, but it wasn’t until last night that he played as the one man wrecking crew that his measurables said he could.

In general the line’s play has improved with each week. Ben is getting better protection that he has had for a long time, and it was a pleasure to see power running between the tackles make its return to Pittsburgh.

  • Curtain’s Call: The line’s improvement is no mirage, but the real test is yet to come.

Qualification on Accolades for the Defense

Steel Curtain Rising devoted a good portion of the Charger game analysis to defending the Steelers defense. That defense still stands, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out I completely skipped over the fact that San Diego scored so quickly.

Strategy and play selection change more based on the time and score in football perhaps more than any other sport. So the Chargers, with all of their weapons, were in “nothing to lose” mode, at least in terms of mentality if not actual play calling.

  • Curtain’s Call: But that still does not take the Steelers defense off of the hook. They played better than they got credit for, but the critique that San Diego made score look too easy is legit.

Stefan Logan Must Master Fundamentals

Stefan Logan has the ability to be a good kick returner in this league but, he needs to be "on the details." He’s had two fumbles in four games. The second one wasn’t his fault strictly speaking, how do you defend against six guys trying to strip you, but he never should have field that punt in the first place.

James Harrison Steps Up Despite Continued Holding

The blatant holding of James Harrison has gone from annoying to infuriating. For the second time this season, but almost certainly not the last, Steel Curtain Rising wonders aloud if the NFL didn’t take La Toalla Terrible’s tongue and cheek commentary about legalizing holding James Harrison too seriously.

One hopped at the time that James Harrison’s status as NFL Defensive Player of the year might reverse the situation, but alas, that only seems to have exacerbated the problem.

Nonetheless, Harrison did disrupt the Charger’s passing game, and it was nice to see him end the game with his strip sack.

Roethlisberger, Mendenhall Lead Steelers Past Chargers, 38-28

Ask a member of Steelers Nation to define “Steelers Football” you’ll likely get something like this:

  • Smash mouth, power running offense,
  • Stout, bone-crunching defense,
  • An ability to thrive under adversity

Against the San Diego Chargers Sunday, the Steelers offense fused power running with precision passing to deliver on the first. The defense did a better job than it is getting credit for in providing the second.

And just to keep everything interesting, the Steelers special teams made sure that the rest of the team experienced some genuine adversity.

Coming on the heels of very disconcerting 4th quarter collapses against the Chicago Bears and Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers once again looked like the defending Super Bowl Champions in defeating the San Diego Chargers 38-28.

As Mike Tomlin likes to say, “They don’t add style points.” True enough. A win is a win. But beyond evening their record to 2-2, the Steelers laid some potential ground work for bigger things in the weeks to come. Below, Steel Curtain Rising examines what those might be in:

Chris Collinsworth Needs to Stop Reading My E-Mail
Rashard Running Out a Ticking Time Bomb?
In Defense of the Steelers Defense

Chris Collinsworth Needs to Stop Reading My E-Mail

Ben Roethlisberger opened up the game in flawless fashion, completing 4 consecutive passes for 65 yards.

By the time he threw his first touchdown pass, he was 6-9 for 110 yards.

Ben’s sterling opening performance led Chris Collinsworth to reflect on the Steelers inability to run out the clock against Cincinnati and Chicago, and reported to the effect that:

There’s a lot of discussion among the Steelers coaches who are asking themselves, ‘we’ve got a 102 million dollar quarterback with two Super Bowl rings, is it time to turn the keys of the offense over to him, and let him win games for us just as Tom Brady and Peyton Manning do?’ (paraphrase)

That was ironic, as on the Wednesday before the game, Neal Coolong, whose work you can read on Behind the Steel Curtain, wrote me this:

It's also hard to rely on the running game when you have a $102 million two-time Super Bowl champion, Pro Bowl caliber quarterback, and the deepest receiving corps in team history, not to mention two very capable pass-catching tight ends. Arians is a new-school, balance/variety kind of game-caller, and I don't have
much of a problem with him. Roethlisberger is the engine of the offense, and he should be the largest producer.

Regular readers know that Steel Curtain Rising has repeatedly argued that Ben Roethlsiberger established himself as an elite quarterback long ago.

But for any doubters, Ben displayed throughout the Chargers game that he was a quarterback in control of his offense, one capable of leading his team, and carrying it if necessary. The good news is, the Steelers may not need Ben to carry the team.

Rashard Running Out a Ticking Time Bomb?

This time a week ago it was open season on the Steelers 2008 draft class. Mendenhall’s mental mistakes in practice had landed him on the bench, and Limas Sweed dropped yet another gimmie touchdown – and this time he cost us the game.

The clock was ticking towards “BUST”on the Steelers top two 2008 draft picks, if not the entire class. Time allowing, Steel Curtain Rising will revisit this subject in greater depth later this week, but for now let's focus on Mendenhall vs. the Chargers.

When the Steelers picked Mendenhall first in 2008, Bruce Arians said that Mendenhall reminded him of Egrin James.

Against the Chargers Steelers Nation saw why for the first time.

Mendenhall ran for 165 yards on 29 carries and scored two touchdowns.

The numbers do not do Rasshard Mendenhall justice.

  • Mendenhall ran decisively
  • He ran with no fear
  • Mendenhall ran with force
  • He protected his quarterback with two crushing blocks

For one night at least, Rasshard Mendehall gave the Steelers the kind of power running that they have not seen since Barry Foster’s days.*

It was a sight for sore eyes.

One game does not a sensation make. Nor is piling up a 5.7 yards per carry average against San Diego the same as doing it against the Ravens.

But if Mendenhall can build on his success against the Chargers, the Steelers offense has the potential to be truly lethal.

In Defense of the Steelers Defense

So your team racks up a 28-0 lead and the game ends with fans clutching Rosary beads hoping your kicker can boot a 46 yard field goal to make it a two score game.

The defense must have folded again. Right?

  • Not so fast

The Chargers got back into the game because the Steelers special teams got caught with their pants down. Twice.

Stefan Logan never should have fielded that punt, and someone from the Steelers return team should have been thinking "fumble" long before Logan had six guys on him trying to force the ball lose.

  • Special teams' failure not only negated a fine defensive stand, but gave San Diego 25% of its points in the bat of an eye

Likewise the Steelers kick return team was caught totally off guard by the on-sides kick.

Philip Rivers, L.T. Darren Sproles, Vincent Jackson, and Antonio Gates give the San Diego Chargers one of the highest octane offenses in the NFL.

  • Spotting San Diego the ball at their own 46 on a momentum-shifting play like an on-sides kick may not be akin to yielding them a touchdown, but the Steelers special teams certainly extended the Chargers offense an extremely a generous helping hand

The Steelers defense neutralized L.T. Sproles, and Vincent Jackson throughout the game.

Rivers and Gates had good games and led the team to three touchdowns, although they only went the length of the field twice.

21 points is more than you like to see a Steeler defense give up, but it is 3 less than the defense allowed against the Chargers in the playoffs, and unlike last night, the Steelers had Troy Polamalu during the playoffs.

The Chargers game certainly wasn’t a statement game – the special teams saw to that. But the Steelers made a step toward regaining their championship form. For more on that, check back later in the week with Steel Curtain Rising.

*Zero disrespect to Bettis intended. For our purposes, Bettis was not a "Power Back," but "Big Back" albeit a powerful one.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Steelers Defeat Chargers 38-28 in Heart Thumper

If nothing else, the 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers do not lack a flair for the dramatic.

They prevailed 38-28 tonight over the San Diego Chargers in a game they were once winning 28-0. But the Chargers clawed their way back into the game with smart offensive play and opportunistic special teams, and with a little over 5 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter, had evened the game to 35-28.

But Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense showed their resiliency, Jeff Reed hung tough for a game-sealing field goal, and James Harrison came up big when he had to.

The victory brings the Steelers to 2-2, and one game behind the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North.

It is already 1:00 am here in my part of the world. Check back tomorrow for Steel Curtain Rising's full analysis.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Townsend to Start at Safety, Ike Taylor to Shadow Vincent Jackson Against San Diego

Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau are not taking the Steelers recent defensive woes lightly.

Sunday night Desha Townsend will take Tyronne Carter’s place at strong safety. Townsend is a veteran corner drafted in 1998 who has started regularly since 2003. Desha Townsend’s move to safety has been discussed for some time.

Steel Curtain Rising first wrote about this potential development during the 2008 off season when the Steelers were unsure if safety Ryan Clark would return at full strength.

By moving Townsend safety, Tomlin is bringing the Steelers four best healthy defensive backs onto the field to confront the Chargers high powered offense, led by quarterback Philip Rivers, tight end Antonio Gates, and wide receiver Vincent Jackson.

Speaking of Vincent Jackson, Tomlin and LeBeau’s game plan calls on Ike Taylor to shadow Jackson throughout the game.

Both of these developments were reported on Friday night by Ed Bouchette in PG Plus.

Isaac Redman Activated – Sonny Harris to Join Practice Squad?

Is undrafted rookie free agent Isaac Redman just the shot in the arm that the Steelers running game needs?

Steelers fans clamoring for Isaac “Redzone” Redman’s promotion to the team’s active roster will soon find out. The Post-Gazette is reporting that Steelers today activated Isaac Redman, who was a preseason goal-line sensation. Redman will not only join the active roster, but will likely dress for Sunday night’s game against San Diego.

The Steelers sudden lack of depth at running back forced the move. Rookie Frank “The Tank” Summers went on injured reserve earlier this week and had back surgery. Willie Parker, suffering from Turf Toe, was ruled out, leaving the team with 2008 first round draft pick Rasshard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore, and recently resigned Cary Davis as their only healthy ball carriers.

To make room for Redman on the roster, the Steelers released veteran reserve lineman Nick Eason.

Harris to Fill Spot on Practice Squad?

Redman’s promotion opens a sport on the Steelers practice squad. The Steelers had hopped to sign 7th round Sonny Harris to their practice squad, but the Carolina Panther’s had claimed him off of waivers first.

Gerry Dulac, writing in the Post-Gazette Plus, speculated earlier this week that the Steelers might seek to resign Harris to their practice squad, and expressed surprise when that did not happen.

Well, now the Steelers can add Harris to their practice squad and not have to worry about making room for him.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

’89 Steelers Defeat Detroit Lions 23-3 in Even Record to 2-2

Fresh off their startling upset of the Minnesota Vikings, rest of the NFL wondered if there the 1989 Steelers really had “something” or if the Vikings game was just another example of “on any given Sunday.”

The Steelers dominated almost every phase of the game during week four against the Detroit Lions.

Rod Rust’s defense proved to more than a match for Wayne Fontes “Silver Stretch” Run’n Shoot offense, as Dwayne Woodruff and Larry Griffin hauled in interceptions of 8 and fifteen yards, and the defense forced and recovered two fumbles. They also collected three sacks, including one more by rookie stand-in Jerrol Williams.

No one yet knew that Barry Sanders was a Future Hall of Famer only four games into his rookie season, but Sanders had already shown some solid explosiveness as a runner.

Rod Rust’s defense held him to 1 yard of five carries.

The Steelers offense took full advantage of the opportunities created on defense. Louis Lipps recorded his sixth 100 yard game and the second of the 1989 season. In addition to Lipps, Bubby Brister hit six different receivers including stand out third down running back Rodney Carter, who pulled down six passes, bringing his season total to 17.

On the way to a 78% completion percentage, Bubby Brister completed 15 consecutive passes, a record that Ben Roethlisberger only tied in 2007.

The fact that Brister accomplished in spite of suffering another 6 sack game makes this feat all the more impressive.

By the end of week 4 the Steelers had improved their record to 2-2. Two straight wins and a .500 record may be nothing to write home about, but it sure beats losing 92-10.

Yet, one of those wins came against an 0-3 Detroit Lions team. So questions remained. Was Steelers Nation witnessing the galvanizing the Steel Curtain under Rod Rust? Could this seemingly no-name offense play consistently?

And what about Bubby Brister?

In two weeks he’d posted completion percentages of 73 and 78%, and had not thrown a pick since week one. Was Number 6 a star in the making?

The Steelers would find a far more difficult test awaiting them, as week five brought a return bout with the division rival defending AFC Champion Cincinnati Bengals at Three Rivers Stadium.

You can follow Steel Curtain Rising’s season long tribute to the ’89 Steelers by clicking here.