´ Steel Curtain Rising: November 2009

What position(s) should be the Steelers highest priorities in the draft?

Monday, November 30, 2009

Ravens Defeat Steelers 20-17

The Steelers lost their third straight tonight, on an overtime field goal in Baltimore. As Mike Tomlin would say, injuries are no excuse. The Steelers had their chances, yet again failed to take advantage.

Steel Curtain Rising blogged during the game. Scroll below for our blow by blow analysis.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Steelers vs. Ravens - Live

Well, here we are. Yours truly is going to try to blog live, watch the game, and for the time being, speak to my folks who are on the phone from Maryland (the DC suburbs, but don't worry, they're pulling for the Black and Gold, for whatever that will get us.)

Let's see how things being to unfold!

1st Quarter:

Well, they started off smart with a run, but then failed to execute on the second run.

Dennis Dixon is lucky his second NFL pass was not a pick six... Folks, this is going to be a long night.

Ravens Take Possession After Punt

What is this? They will be showing that is olding in referee school. That was not just a hold, but a clip on Harrison.

...Right now William Gay is not making anyone forget Bryant McFadden.

And our run defense looks like it is maling it in. Rice just ran 20 something yards untouched.

Boy, is this going to be a long night.

It is now 8:14 in the first, and the Ravens are up 7.... And they're making it look easy.

Steelers Get Possession on the Kick Off

Well, I guess that was sort of a "good series" in that we did not turn over the ball. Clearly, we're not going to win this just feeding the ball the Mendenhall, although he does look good to night.

What! How does Hartwig get holding called on him, when his "holding" was far less evident than what happened with James Harrison!

That was a great run by Dixon, alas, they fooled no one on the ensuing draw play.

Ravens Take Possession After the Punt

Nice run defense. Why can't the Steelers execute on screens like that. Nice coverage on 3rd and 2.

Why did Logan fair catch that?

Steelers Take Possession

Well, those were some nice runs by Willie Parker. Mendenhall has earned the starting job, without a doubt, but it is good to see Parker strut his stuff.

Well, Dixon is 2-3, so I guess that is good. Still, the fact that both calls (and perhaps all three) have been screens reveal a lot about what the coaches think of him. That said, they didn't exactly have time to install a game plan for Dixon.

Second Quarter (Steelers begin with Ball)

I guess I should question Dixon more!

That kid has an arm on him. And take note Bruce, what running the ball a little can do for your play action passing game.

Those were two great tosses by Dixon, and Tone had a great run back for six.

Ravens Take Possession on Kick Off

Nice defensive series, I too was worried that Tyronne Carter was going to draw a flag, but that one was close.

Not sure why Logan fielded that punt, although he did get something out of it.

Steelers Take Possession After Punt

Nice run by Mendenhall. The line has really improved, but if can you imagine how well he would do if we had a dominante line?

Another nice pass by Dixon.

(After the time out)

Baltimore seems intent on turning up the pressure on Dixon. He seems to be making good decisions, however.

Spaeth gets called for holding. If only he had done that to James Harrison.

Nice work on Mendenhall on the screen. Now why can't we et those up better...?

...Tomlin just called another time out. I guess this is a hazzard to having a rookie QB. What a waste of an effort from Holmes. Mewelde Moore certainly was holding but, again, had Ray Lewis' name been James Harrison....

Ravens Take Over After Punt (4:04 left in first half.)

Steelers defense needs to look sharpe here. A Splash Play would not hurt....

Well, the defense let up a couple of good plays, but that was a great play by them that got negated by the illegal formation play.

Why is Keyron Fox in the game?

Well, we got burned, and burned bad by Flacco. And that one was on Gay. Why in the hell did he let up?

I know Desha Townshend has lost a step, but....

Well, we're at the 2 min warning. This is big.

I guess it is time for Ike Taylor to give up a big play. (Although Flacco positioned that ball perfectly, still Ike competely miss timed his jump.)

Pittsburgh Takes Over After Kickoff

OK. Let's see how Dixon runs the two minute offense....

Well, I guess if Dixon does nothing more than had off to Mewelde Moore, we really won't know. I can see running on first, but then to try another draw play?

Of course then again, the hand off to Carey Davis (which we only saw on replay down here in Latin America) worked. Still, they get a first and 10 with 20 seconds left.

Why didn't they throw it, at least once?

Second Half

Ok, we get the ball back and we need to take advantage.

My bad, the Ravens get the ball. OK, let's see if we can get some better play from the secondary. God, we need Polamalu back.

What happened to the run defense?

SPLASH PLAY - Good strip by William Gay!

Now, let's see if we can do better than a one yard run by Mendenhall.

Does it seem like Mendenhall is just one block from breaking one?

That was some intense play by Ray Lewis.

Chris Carr might want to think of Fair Catching the next one. If nothing else, special teams does not lack intensity tonight.

Good Series by the defense, excellent pressure. Interesting that Baltimore did not try to throw on third.

Nice run back by Logan.

Steelers Take Over After Punt

Baltimore Takes Over After Punt

That was a heck of a run after the catch by Mendenhall. You've got to like this guy's hustle.

Wallace should have caught the pass, but it was not thrown perfectly, so that was a tough one. Not sure that I agree with the Spanish commentators who took Dixon to task for showing his furstrations. He's a kid, and he could have just as well been thinking he could have delivered the ball better.

Well, you never want to settle for a field goal, but it is good to get points on the board.

Ravens Take Over After Field Goal.

Again, I do not like the way they're getting long runs on the defense...

Well, Timmons streaks through the line to get a sack.

Woodley gets Flacco on third.

There you have the Steelers 2008 first and second round picks delivering for you.

Steelers Take Over After Punt

Well, the pass to Hines Ward was the only thing to write home about on that series.

Is Dixon getting a little too excited? Some of those passes were a little wild.

Shame to give up a touchback. Would have been nice to pin them down.

Ravens Take Over After Punt

Surprised that the Ravens are not running it, and starting with flanker screens. OK, they just gave it to McClain twice, and he is doing quite well....

Wait, now he's down.

Well, we backed them up on a third and 12, but Gay, Townsend, and Clark all missed tackles on the screen.

Fourth Quarter Begins (Ravens have the Ball)

Well, the fourth quarter is upon us, and the Steelers need to step it up.

Not sure if Taylor should have been flagged, but Mendenhall looked good on the first run... only to get stuffed on his second.

Spanish commentators just made the same observation about Dixon as I did.

My GOD. Now we're going to have problems covering punts....?

Ravens Take Over after Punt.

It looks like Timmons just got a sack strip!

Let's see what the call is. Good way to neuturalize a special teams play!

Steelers Take Over after fumble recovery

A couple of great runs by Mendenhall. Then another by Dixon.

Why doesn't Dixon try to run with it on other plays?

Well, we have our answer now! What a run!

God, this guy is fast. What a way to burn someone on a blitz. Great play by Miller selling the pass all the way.

Ravens Take Over After Kick Off

Baltimore's got the ball back, and they're being aggressive. I hope LeBeau keeps the pressure up.

Big third down coming up. Nope, penalty brings it back ten yard and repeat second down.

Spanish commentators just said the Ravens needed to start taking risks.

Too early, but we'll see.

Ravens make a great play, but Ryan Clark makes a beautiful tackle saving the first down.

Baltimore takes a time out, deciding whether or not it will punt.

Well, they went for it on 4th and were rewarded big time. God, there were a lot of missed tackles.

Steelers take first time out. Mike, be wise about this, Dixon is going to need them.

Steelers hold.

Baltimore kicks a Field Goal, I guess that is better than giving up a TD.

Baltimore About to Kick Off

Logan - Can you step it up?

Well, let's see Dixon under the pressure cooker. Interesting to see if Baltimore blitzes or throws everyone into coverage.

Well, it is third down, and Dixon has looked excited on his first two passes.

I say run the ball, and get the clock running. If nothing else you force Baltimore to burn a time out.

Well, they did just that. I like Mewelede, but these tosses to him on third down are not working.

Now we need to pin them down deep.

Baltimore Takes Over After Punt

Once again the self destruction continues. Ike Taylor's pass interference penalty gives them plenty of time to get the rest of what they need to kick.

I expect Baltimore to keep it on the ground from here on out.

Wow. Cudos for LeBeau for keeping the pressure up.

Now Let's see what happens in OT.

Over Time

Tails two weeks in a row. The Steelers have now had two consecutive games go into OT, twice they have called tails and gotten the ball back. Now let's see if they make a little better accounting for themselves.

Well, that first series was OK, all things considered.

While I am all for taking shots down the field, I honestly think Dixon should have run with it on second.

Well, we pinned them down at about the 15 it looks. Now its up to the defense.

Ravens Take Over After Punt

OK. The Defense forced a three and out. Cannot ask for more than that (actually, a turnover would have been nice.)

I say go for all of the marbels and try to block the punt.

Well, they didn't do that, and Dixon's interception was the end of the game.

Tough way to lose, but don't blame the kid. They should have rolled him out and given him the option to run. And the defense could have done more to protect the lead when they had it.

Watch Tower: Steelers Digest's Labriola Rips into Steelers

Let’s begin with a nod to superstition. Yours truly has been a subscriber to Steelers Digest since 1990, back in the pre-internet days when the publication served as a vital source of information about the Black and Gold.

For many of those 19 years (God, that makes me feel old), tradition has been to read editor Bob Labriola’s column on the Saturday evening before the game.

I didn’t get around to reading Labrolia until Sunday on the occasions of the Bears game, the second Bengals game, and the Kansas City game. The results speak for themselves. Last night was about to turn in, when I remembered I still hadn’t read Labrolia – I made sure it got read before shutting my eyes.

An Apologist He is Not

Even though 97.5% of the “news” to be had in the Digest has been available on the internet for a long, long time, I have continued to subscribe, mostly to be able to continue reading Labriola’s insights.

On this particular occasion, Labroila spared no mercy for the players representing the organization that signs his pay check.

Here’s a sampling of his observations on the 2009 Steelers:
The definitive characteristics of the 2008 Steelers… was the ability to finish. Finish plays, finish possession, finish games. Whenever the team absolutely had to get something done, it did….

That characteristic is gone. [sic] In the wind. This team does not finish. Examples of the inability to finish drives were all over the place in that loss to the Bengals at Heinz Field when the offense was 0-4 in the red zone and 0-3 in goal-to-go situations. Examples of the inability to finish games dotted the early part of their 2009 season, when fourth quarter leads were squandered by the defense in Chicago and then again in the following week in Cincinnati….

The Steelers have been missing something all year, and Labriola has put his finger directly on it. All of that would be harsh enough, but he lays it on even thicker a few paragraphs down:
This season is now into its second half, which means a team’s identity largely has been formed, and what the Steelers are showing in that area right now is not pretty.

Championship team do not continue to make the same mistake over and over and over again, as the Steelers are doing in allowing kickoffs to be returned for touchdowns. Championship teams do not lose the turnover battle, as the Steelers have done in seven of their 10 games this season. Championship teams don’t trip over their own feet when they have an inferior opponent on the opposite sideline, as the Steelers did here last Sunday.

Jeez Bob, don’t hold back, let readers know what you really think.

What makes this particularly ironic is that over the year, in sports bars and among gatherings of Steelers fans when ever I’d mention a point that Labriola had made, almost without fail someone would question his objectivity based on the fact that the Rooney’s are part owners of the Steelers Digest.

Well, if that is and example of a party line publication or a sanitized version of how Steelers management views things, I’d hate to see the raw version.

Media Wrap Up

One of the more attention grabbing things about the bluntness of Labriolia’s assessment is that he is so much more harsh than his colleague in the independent press. The Steelers looked bad and deserved every bit of their last two losses.

Yet the tone of most coverage has been “don’t over react, the season isn’t lost, the Steelers have a lot of cream puffs ahead of them, they’ll still slide it into the off season….”

It is quite a leap to say that the press coverage might be indicative of what the reporters are hearing in the locker room, but this lax attitude of “don’t worry, we’ll be able to pull it out” seems to be part of what is ailing the team.

The One that Comes Back to Bite You in the A_s

Gerry Dulac’s article in today’s Post Gazette departs from that track. He goes back and looks at the Steelers two times previous in this decade when the Steelers dropped a game to an obviously inferior opponent, and catalogues how it cost them.

Yours truly had thought to do something similar, but with a far more ominous tone, as last week’s loss to Kansas City felt a lot more like the losses the team suffered to Cleveland in 1999 and Detroit on Thanksgiving day in 1998….

Arians Confesses: Now I Can Finally Run the Wishbone!

The news that Ben Roethlisberger was not going to play against Baltimore was a downer in all corners. Except one.

La Toalla Terrible has learned that Bruce Arians has secretly relished the thought of running the Wishbone, and will get his chance Sunday night against Baltimore.

“You see, Bruce doesn’t mind all of the heat he has taken over favoring the passing game, because it really distracts from his ultimate goal, running the wishbone,” our source told La Toalla Terrible.

With three accomplished rushers, Rashard Mendenhall, Willie Parker, and Mewelde Moore, the Steelers are perfectly suited to run the Wishbone. Yet, despite such an impressive stable of running backs, the Steelers run to pass ratio for the year stands at about 60% pass 40% run, a historic low for an NFL franchise whose bread and butter has been rushing.

That disparity, however, is all part of Bruce Arians’ master plan.

“You see,” La Toalla Terrible’s source informed, “As an offensive coordinator Bruce has to use the weapons at his disposal, and he loves Ben like a son. So he’s been forced to pass, pass, and pass again. But Bruce’s really always secretly aspired to be the next Ron Erhardt. He’d never wish for anything bad to happen to Ben but with both Ben and
Batch out, he can finally put all three running backs on the field at the same time.”

Should the Wishbone be successful against Baltimore, could the Steelers commit to running more even after Ben gets back?

At that La Toalla Terrible’s source clamed up, with a tart “No Comment.”

La Toalla Terrible (that’s Spanish for Terrible Towel) brings Steel Curtain Rising a zany, tongue and cheek look at the Steelers. To read more of La Toalla Terrible’s writings (ravings?) click here.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Ben Roethlisberger (Likely) Out Against Baltimore

The Post-Gazette, ESPN.com, the Tribune Review, and FOX Sports are all reporting that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will not play Sunday night against Baltimore.

Roethlisberger sustained a concussion against Kansas City during over time. He was tested by the Steelers medical staff, passed those tests, said he felt fine, and practiced all week.

However, late in the week he began getting headaches, a lingering symptom of a concussion. Mike Tomlin had been very clear at his weekly press conference that he would not allow Roethlisberger to play if any signs of the concussion persisted.

Apparently they have.

Dennis Dixon to Get His First NFL Start

With Charlie Batch injured, third string quarterback Dennis Dixon will get his first NFL start. Going into M&T Stadium to face a hostile crowd, and an even more hostile defense featuring Ray Lewis, Terrell Sluggs, and Ed Reed is not an endearing prospect.

Dennis Dixon will get a baptism by fire.

A fifth round pick in the 2008 draft, Dixon has thrown a total of one pass in his NFL career, although Steelers coaches are impressed with his development.

Backing up Dixon will be former Pitt quarterback and CFLer Tyler Palko. Plako was signed to the Steelers practice squad this week, and will be activated. To make room for him the Steelers will waive 4th Wide Receiver Shaun McDonald.

The Steelers worked out two veteran quarterbacks as potential emergency QB's, including former first round pick Patrick Ramsey, earlier this week, but declined to sign either one.

Reports conflict as to whether Roethlisberger will suit up as the emergency third string quarterback, or will watch the game in street clothes on the sidelines.

Tomlin Make the Right Move

Although it could very easily end up costing the Steelers a playoff spot, Mike Tomlin is absolutely doing the right thing by sitting Ben.

The evidence of the long-term damage that concussions do to NFL players would be enough to give even a hardened soul like Vince Lombardi pause.

Ben's future to the Steelers, and more importantly, Ben's future as a person, is far too important to risk, regardless of the stakes in Sunday's game.

Watch Tower: Trib Reports Carter’s Explanation on Missed Call, Post-Gazette Mum

It looked like Mike Tomlin had a major controversy brewing on his hands. Shortly after the debacle in Kansas City, a number defensive players openly complained that they didn’t get the call on Matt Cassell’s 61 yard pass that led to Kansas City’s winning score.

At his Tuesday press conference Mike Tomlin informed that the play had been given on the previous down, totally dismissing such comments in clear an unequivocal language “knowledge of the call was not an issue in that circumstance.”

Speaking with reporters from the Tribuen-Review, Tyronne Carter clarified that the issue was on the field communication, not communication between the coaches and the players. Ryan Clark, for one stepped up to take responsibility, “No excuses. They just made a play. I knew what the play was. I'm not going to point the finger at anybody.”

It’s good to know that, for the moment at least, the Steelers locker room has not degenerated into a self-destructive finger pointing cycle.

It is also interesting to note that, at least to newspaper readers eyes, the Tribune-Review’s John Harris got a scoop on this one. The article appeared on the Tribune-Review’s website on Thanksgiving day, and there was no comparable mention of the same news on the Post-Gazette’s.

Friday morning came and went and, still, the news was not reported on the Post-Gazette’s on-line sports page. Ditto Saturday, no coverage of the communications mishap.

PG Plus?

The likely answer is that the Post-Gazette did cover the story, but in PG Plus. It is easy to see why the Post-Gazette would reserve such juicy story for this premium content section.

Yours truly did try to get a subscription to PG Plus, but ran into problems with Pay Pal and I simply not had time to “get around to it.” (For the record, I liked the Steelers related stuff on PG Plus during the time that I had access.)

The pratical effect of this is going to mean that I’ll make more of a point to check the Tribune-Review’s Steelers section, at least until I get the chance to sort out payment issues with PG Plus….

Friday, November 27, 2009

Steelers Work Out Ramsey, Bouman as Emergency Quarterbacks

Two unemployed veteran quarterbacks had reason to give thanks this week, as they got a chance to peddle their wares with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

They were none other than Patrick Ramsey and Todd Bouman. Steelers reserve quarterback Charlie Batch had surgery this week to repair a broken wrist sustained in the Steelers disastrous 27-24 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Coach Mike Tomlin earlier this week that explained Batch would only miss two to four weeks after a metal plate was inserted to help the healing. However, Tomlin did say that the Steelers would look to add a veteran signal caller if Batch’s recovery takes longer than expected.

Ramsey or Bouman for Taxi QB?

Of the two, Ramsey is the more intriguing. Drafted by the Redskins in 2002 the former first round pick ran afoul of Joe Gibbs, and has bounced around to the New York Jets and Denver Broncos.

Patrick Ramsey has a 10-14 record as a starter, which is not stellar, but he has thrown more touchdowns than interceptions in his career. He showed some good talent early in Washington, but his development was not helped by playing under Steve Spurrier.

Ramsey would not appear to be “the answer” for any NFL team, but perhaps he’s good emergency quarterback, if not back-up QB material.

Splish, Splash, '89 Steelers Give Miami a 34-14 Bath

1988 Steelers had closed out their season by defeating Don Shula’s 6-10 Miami Dolphins. While Noll’s 5-11 season prompted all sorts of “has the game passed him by” speculation, few pundits asked the same question of Shula, despite the fact that Shula had been in the game longer than Noll.

And by week 12 of the 1989 season, it would seem that the pundits had vindicated themselves. At 7-4 Miami was contending for playoff position, whereas, their victory over San Diego notwithstanding, the Steelers appeared to be jockeying for drafting order.

Prior to the game Post-Gazette columnist Ron Cook even speculated at the prospect that Noll might be about to deliver Shula, Noll’s mentor, his 285th victory.

Appearances, however, can deceive.

Dolphins Keep Up Appearances, for a Quarter

The Dolphins opened up the game just as you would expect a 7-4 home team to do against a 5-6 vistor.

They scored touchdowns in both opening possessions, including a 66 yard pass to Mark Clayton.

But Marino’s Bomb to Clayton coincided with the arrival of a dark rain cloud over Joe Robbie Stadium.

  • You’d think that a team that lives in Miami wouldn’t be bothered by a little rain.
  • You’d think it would be a distinct part of home field advantage, much the way cold is in the Northeast.
  • You’d think this would especially be the case when the visiting team had an 0-6 six record playing on your home field.

All logical assumptions. All wrong on this day.

Splish, Splash, Steelers Give Miami a Bath

The rain came. And came, and came. 2 and a half inches in 15 minutes, to be exact.

According to Merril Hoge, the rain was like “a bucket in the face.” Rod Woodson chimed in, sharing that the rain was a “blessing from Mother Nature.”

The Steelers offense responded first, moving the ball down field on a 72 yard drive that included a key third and 2 conversion to Mike Mularkey and one which Merril Hoge cap stoned with a one yard touchdown drive.

Then Rod Rust’s defense struck, and struck with a vengeance just three plays after Hoge’s score when Dolphins running back Sammy Smith fumbled the ball at Miami’s 23 yard line, and Carnell Lake scooped it up, ran three years, and then latereled to Dwayne Woodruff who took it the remaining 21 yards to even the score at 14-14.

Before the half was over, Gary Anderson gave the Steelers a 17-14 lead by booting a 27 yard field goal, and the Steelers kept on rolling out of the locker room, as Bubby Brister nailed rookie Derrick Hill for a 53 yard pass that ended at the Miami 5. Merril Hoge did the honors with a 5 yard touchdown on the next play to make it 24-14.

But the Steelers weren’t done. Miami fumbled the ensuing kick off and Gary Anderson knocked in 42 yard field goal, bringing the total to 27-14.

On the very next series, Scott Secules had a pass bounce off of Jim Jensen but Greg Lloyd was kind enough to catch it for him, returning the ball to the one. Merrill Hoge closed out the score by punching in another touchdown from the one, to make it 34-14.

Dan Marino is on the sidelines with bruised ribs, as the Steelers are holding a 20 point lead over Miami going into the fourth Irve, and it looks like Pittsburgh is going to pull this one out folks.- CBS Sports Anchor, Brent Musberger

The 1989 Steelers-Dophins game of course was not broadcast in the DC area, but I remember Brent Musberger’s game break as if it was yesterday.

I must confess, that when I heard the news, I was ecstatic. I supposed I was old enough to know not to celebrate an injury, but 3 months away from my own first serious sports injury, I can say I didn’t really understand.

Marino was actually out of the game because of a shoulder injury, only the second game he had to leave because of injury, due to a hellacious hit that Carnell Lake had delivered in the first half, making that Lake’s second “splash” play of the game.

Lake wasn’t the only member of the Steelers 1989 draft class to step up. Derrick Hill play key roles in two scoring drives, and ended the day with three catches for 3-93 yards – phenomenal considering the conditions.

Tim Worley, who’d been flashing in recent games, ran 22 times for 95 yards, coming in just shy of his first 100 yard game.

Reflecting on the Rain

Miami refused to use the rain as an excuse, but the Steelers were proud of their ability to perform. Merril Hoge argued that “I don’t think Miami is used to playing in those conditions…. We accepted the weather conditions and overcame them.”

Dwayne Woodruff offered, “Its just normal conditions for us.”

Noll, however epitomized Pittsburghness when asked about the weather:

I guess that’s one of the problems you have when you have lovely weather all of the time. You pay the price.

Do You Believe?

It’s great that the Post-Gazette’s 11/27/89 edition provides us with these quotes via Google Newspapers.

After the Steelers had recovered from their horrendous 92-10 start, much of the NFL ignored Pittsburgh, save for offering them in passing as a living example of the “On Any Given Sunday” phenomenon.

But the most lasting quote comes from my memory, and was supplied by the following Monday by Troop 757 Assistant Scout Master Rick Legger, a Canadian émigré and devout Redskins fan. Reflecting on the Miami game told me:

“Those Pittsburgh Steelers are starting to create some believers – and I am one of them.” Finally, I had some company.

Thanks for reading. Click on the Steelers 1989 Season tag to read the entire series. To leave a comment click here.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Rashard Mendenhall: A Reason for Steelers Fans to Give Thanks

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

As Mike Tomlin declared in his Steelers State of the Union Tuesday:
We’re ten games into this thing, we’re a 6-4 football team. Definitely no where we anticipated being or want to be, but definitely where we are.
Steel Curtain Rising will have more to say about “where we are” later in the week (time permitting) but on this Day of Thanks, we’d like to remember one thing that Steelers fans can be thankful for in 2009.

And that is the emergence of Rashard Mendenhall. Injured in Street Fight Number 1 against Baltimore in 2008, Mendenhall surfaced as somewhat of an enigma when he rejoined the team at St. Vincents.

Judging solely on statistics (remember, they don’t show preseason games here in Buenos Aires, so yours truly never got to see him run), he did not run strong. Steelers coaches nonetheless seemed to bend over backwards to complement him.

His benching for not “being on the details” prior to the first loss in Cincinnati and his rebound against San Diego have almost become an in-season legend.

While Mendenhall’s ability re-inject power rushing into the Steelers offense, to the extent that Arians allows, is certainly his most celebrated accomplishment, today Steel Curtain Rising commends him for something else.

His heart.

When Mendenhall screwed up his very first carry of the season against Tennessee, Steel Curtain Rising observed:
For as boneheaded as collision with Roethlisberger was, he muscled through a would-be tackler and turned a certain 3 yard loss into a one yard gain.

Clearly you expect more from a number one pick, and Steelers Nation should be concerned that he is not delivering more, but Mendenhall’s reaction showed good instincts and some heart.

Mendenhall’s instincts and heart were the one thing that shown brightly in that God-awful loss to the Chiefs.

Take a look the effort and hustle he mustered to make the tackle – and save a touchdown, on Studebaker’s second interception:



There you see it. The man ran clear across the field and was gaining speed as he approached the opposite end zone – Studebaker probably did not even know he was gaining on him.

That was pure want to, and that is something Steelers fans can be thankful for. Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Steelers Cut Woods, Ratliff; Sign Corey Ivy, Rocky Boiman

Donovan Woods tenure on the active squad did not last long, as the Steelers released him yesterday and replaced him with linebacker Rocky Boiman. Joining him on the waiver wire is Keiwan Ratliff, a cornerback whose addition to the team prior to the draft surprised many. The Steelers replaced Ratliff with NFL veteran cornerback Corey Ivy.

All of these moves were designed to bloster the Steelers special teams, which have allowed 4 kickoff for returns, on touchdown on a strip during a punt return, and allowed another on-sides kick that set up another touchdown.

Ratliff, it should be noted got a lot of playing time early in the season during Troy Polamalu’s first stint on the injured list, and failed to impress.

Woods had joined the active roster last week, after the Steelers let go of Arnold Harrison, but the failed to shake up the Steelers special teams, as Kansas City returned the opening kick off 97 yards for a touchdown giving them an automatic 7 points in a game the Chiefs would later win by 3.

Will These Moves Work?

Can Ivy and Boiman contribute to the Steelers special teams? It is hard to say. Special teams is normally the province of the young in the NFL. It is a path that rookies use to make a name for themselves.

However, the Steelers youth have not embraced the opportunity, and it is almost impossible to imagine a scenario where these veterans would come in and make the positions worse.

On the contrary. Steelers Director of Football Operations has an excellent record with bringing in “street free agents.” Let’s hope Colbert’s streak of luck continues.

Other News

The Steelers also released running back Justin Vincent from their practice squad and signed offensive lineman Jonathan Palmer. Mike Tomlin confirmed that Charlie Batch does have a fractured wrist, but insisted the Batch would only be out from 2-4 weeks.

The Steelers will hold a roster spot for Batch, depending on how surgery goes.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Charlie Batch Out, Ben Fine, Dixon to Number Two

Steelers back up Charlie Batch only came in for four snaps or so during the Steelers overtime loss to the Chiefs, but that was enough for him to break his wrist.

He will have surgery, and by all accounts is likely out for the season.* The Post Gazette is reporting, however, that Ben Roethlisberger is not showing any affects of the blow to the head he sustained in Kansas City, and will likely start this week in Baltimore.

The Steelers will not sign a veteran quarterback to take Batch’s place. Instead, 2008 5th round draft pick Dennis Dixon will move into the number two spot.

Swann Song for Batch?

Steel Curtain Rising is a Charlie Batch backer. Batch is an excellent number two man and a leader both on and off the field.

But one has to wonder if the latest injury isn’t the end of the line for Batch. He missed the entire 2004 and 2008 seasons with injuries. He did make some crucial starts in the 2005 Super Bowl season, but also got injured during his second start, ironically, against Baltimore.

During free agency the Steelers openly attempted to get Bryon Leftwich to sign with as a back up to compete with and/or replace Batch, and it was only after Leftwich chose to go to Tampa that the Steelers came to terms with Batch.

Perhaps Batch has another season or two in him, but his high injury-to playing time ratio suggests that his “football age” is becoming a liability in spite of his back up status.

*Since the news broke, Mike Tomlin has said that Charlie Batch will remain on the active roster, pending the results of his surgery.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Steelers Cave to Chiefs, 27-24 as Kansas City Wants it More

For nine weeks Steelers Nation has watched and wondered, “Who are the 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers?”

  • Are the Steeler’s inconsistencies simply part of life in the NFL, or do they have a penchant for self destruction?
  • Can this defense dominate with Troy Polamalu?
  • Has the offensive line evolved from being a liability to an asset?
  • Can the Steelers become a “passing team” and win consistently?

The big question of course has been, is Pittsburgh capable of returning to the hard fought glory won in Super Bowl XLIII?

Today’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs brought the answers into better focus, and the picture is not pretty.

We’ve got some work to do, we’re a team that’s developing.”
- Mike Tomlin, after the second Steelers loss to the Bengals

Before dissecting the loss to the Chiefs, let’s examine the aftermath of last week’s loss to the Bengals.

Mike Tomlin’s assertion the Steelers were still “team that’s developing” turned my head.

Tomlin didn’t and shouldn’t have hit the panic button after the Bengals loss – panic rarely produces anything positive. But what kind of message does a coach send to his defending champion team by describing them as “developing” eight weeks into the season?

If Tomlin eschewed panic he nonetheless needed to instill a sense of urgency into the team, because the Steelers certainly appeared to lack urgency down the stretch against Kansas City. (Clearly, cutting Arnold Harrison and replacing him with Donovan Woods didn’t do that.)

It Was a Gimmie, and They Blew It

On paper this should have been a gimmie. A 5-3 team vs. a 2-6 club that was missing its top running back and wide receiver, and whose offense and defense are both ranked near the bottom of the league.

Perhaps the Steelers bought into that line of thinking a little too heavily, because they spotted the Chiefs 7 points on another kick return for a touchdown to open the game.

Of course both the Steelers offense and defense went on to thoroughly dominate rest of the second half stat sheet, but they only held a ten point lead at the half.

The Steelers started the second half strong, only to self destruct.

Imbalance on Balance on Offense

The CBS broadcast team tripped over themselves praising Ben Roethlisberger’s play. Ben played well, spread out the ball and his touchdown passes were the work of an elite quarterback. And if his second pick was ugly, it was hardly the game’s deciding factor.

Ben was in complete control of the game, except on third down where the Steelers were 4-13, and that’s where things started to unravel.

Bruce Arians claims to want a balanced offense, but Arians’ actions do not always his words. Against the Chiefs the Steelers run-pass ratio was almost 60-40.

The production curve was more lopsided, as Ben and Charlie Batch threw for almost 398 yards, and the Steelers running backs only managed 114.

Yet it would be unfair to criticize Arians’ commitment to the run on a day when he gave his feature back 21 carries. Nor one can argue that Pittsburgh’s reliance on the pass kept them from controlling the clock, as they dominated time of possession by holding the ball for over 44 minutes.

At the end of the day, it wasn’t enough.

Arians has the tools at his disposal, his offense puts up some stunning stats, except when comes to the scoreboard. Until he changes that, Steel Curtain Rising will continue to question Arians’ play calling.

Steelers Offensive Line Overrated?

Early in the Bengals game Phil Simms praised the development of the Steelers offensive line, intimating that the unit had worked itself form being a liability to one of the league’s better front fives.

  • It appears Simms spoke too soon

The Bengals were all over Ben like bugs on fly paper last week, and the Chiefs got in his face, and more important, brought him down when it counted today.

The Chiefs came into the game with one of the league’s worst rushing defenses, yet they held the Steelers to 114 yards rushing, including stopping Mewelde Moore for a loss on that all important 3rd down in OT.

Don’t blame Rasshard Mendenhall, however. He got stopped for plenty of short gains, but Mendenhall should actually be lauded for transforming losses into gains on most of those plays.

The Steelers offensive line simply lost the battle at the line of scrimmage. When you do that, you lose games.

It Came Down to Who Wanted It More...

Pittsburgh’s poor special teams put the Chiefs into the game, and their carelessness with the ball kept Kansas City alive for four quarters.

  • Nonetheless, the Steelers had opportunities to put Kansas City away

Late in the 4th quarter, they had Matt Cassel in a third and 9 situation his own 10. Instead of ending right there Pittsburgh gave him a 30 yard pass and then a 47 yard pass. Four plays later, Kansas City had evened the score with 4:54 remaining.

But the Steelers offense got the ball twice more in regulation, and won the coin toss in OT.

  • Situations like that come down to who wants it more

The Chiefs got the job done where the Steelers failed.

That conclusion may by chilling, but Steel Curtain Rising calls it the way we see it.

The Steelers should have no trouble finding a sense of urgency now. And they’d better find it in a hurry, because the season is quickly slipping away.

Friday, November 20, 2009

'89 Steelers Top San Diego 20-17

Reporters asked Chuck Noll during week 11 if the Steelers 4-6 record meant that he was ready to begin focusing on 1990 and write 1989 off as a rebuilding year.

“No,” Noll insisted, the Steelers would attempt to win their final six games and make the playoffs.

As Noll scoffed, the media snickered.

Playoffs?

Playoffs for a team that had started 51-0 and then 41-0? Playoffs for the first Chuck Noll team to suffer three shut outs in a season? Wild dreams of wild cards for a team that was 1-4 in the AFC Central, and who had already lost 27-0 to Houston, their only remaining divisional opponent?

In the pages of the Pittsburgh Press, Gene Collier entertained the question of how early spectators could leave Three Rivers Stadium and still be considered “loyal” fans.

Fortunately, Noll paid no heed to the critics. Fortune, however, had nothing to do with Noll’s success in convincing his players to turn a deaf ear to their critics.

Such was the setting as the San Diego Chargers arrived at Three Rivers Stadium for week 11 of the 1989 season.

Special Teams Strike Force

During the Steelers sprint to the playoffs at the end of the 1989 season, each unit would step up, and special teams led the way against San Diego.

For three quarters plus, as it had been for much of the season and particularly in the two games prior, the Steelers offense was the little engine that couldn’t, managing a meager 100 yards.

So while Jim McMahon and the Chargers were racking up 396 yards, the Steelers special teams kept San Diego honest.

Football is a game of field position, and Harry Newsome’s first punt bounced off of Lester Lyle’s helmet and Carnell Lake recovered at the 18. While the Steelers did not score on that series, the defense held, and two series later Gary Anderson hit a 49 yard field goal for the games first points.

Dana Brinson fumbled the Newsome’s next punt, which Carnell Lake recovered at the 47. Again, the Steelers offense failed to take advantage, but Newsome was able to pin them deep in their own territory.

Special teams paved the way for the Steelers next score, as Cedric Figaro’s roughing the punter penalty set up Anderson’s next kick, although by that time Jim McMahon had gotten the Chargers on the board with a touchdown to Anthony Miller.

The Chargers added another field goal midway through the first quarter, but their 10-6 lead was short lived.

In Rod We Trust

Rod Woodson fielded the ensuring kickoff at the 16 yard line, started up the middle, but then saw daylight to the left. David Johnson and Tyronne Stowe sealed off San Diego’s containment team. Nothing lay between Woodson and the endzone Three Rivers Stadium’s Tartan Turf.

Woodson sailed 84 yards down the field scoring the Steelers first touchdown in eight quarters and electrifying Three Rivers Stadium and the Steelers sidelines in the process. Woodson had given the Steelers a 13-10 lead and the all important momentum, or had he?

The McMagician Has Another Rabbit in His Hat

In the 1980’s NFL Films once described Jim McMahon as Mike Ditka’s “magician-like quarterback” for his ability to lead comebacks. McMahon appeared ready to do it again.

From the shores of Monmouth county, to the tree-lined groves of Falls Church generations of Jim McMahon fans were enthralled as number 9 hooked up twice with Anthony Miller on a 68 yard drive that put the Chargers ahead 17-13 as the third quarter came to a close.

90 Yards Away from Winning This Game

And so the Steelers offense found themselves with the ball at the 9, down 17-13, with 11:42 remaining. Could an offense that had not scored a touchdown in nine quarters, and had barely managed 100 total yards in the game, go the distance?

It was time to find out.

Bubby Brister led the charge with a 19 yard strike to Louis Lipps. Merril Hoge took over from there, accepting a hand off and trying to go left, off tackle, but no room was to be had. Hoge instead cut back to the right and ripped off a (then) career-long 31 yard gallop that brought the Steelers to the Chargers 37.

Next, Brister hit Mike Mularkey for a 22 yard strike that took them to the 12, and a few plays later, the Steelers found themselves 1st and goal at the one.

But Pittsburgh couldn’t punch it in.

Hoge ran on first and lost a yard on first down, and all Tim Worley could mange to do on two straight carries was regain that yard. At fourth and one, with a little less than seven minutes left to play, a field goal would have made it a one score game.

The Emperor Opens His Bag of Tricks

Chuck Noll had other plans. As Chuck Noll explained after the game, “I felt we needed to score a touchdown.”

Noll decided to go for it, but to do so with a little deception. He inserted third down specialist Rodney Carter into the game and split both tight ends wide, the Steelers preferred goal line passing formation.

The Chargers defenders started shouting “Carter, it’s a pass going to Carter!”

Carter circled to the right at the snap, feigning a pass route.

It was Noll’s best bluff. Brister handed off to Hoge. John Rienstra pulled to the left while Dermonti Dawson and Terry Long opened the gap, Merril Hoge plowed into the end zone, and the Steelers had a 20-17 lead.

McMiracle Not to Be

Jim McMahon wasn’t done, driving his team down to the Steelers 42 yard line. But, 30 seconds before the two minute warning, he got greedy, and David Little intercepted him sealing the Steelers victory.

On the face of it, it appeared that one 4-6 team had vanquished another 4-6 team. Decidedly ho hum in the NFL. But for the 1989 Steelers, it was the start of something much bigger.

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

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bob Ligashesky Did Not Begin Steelers Special Teams Woes (But It Appears He Has Contributed)

Steelers Nation is rightly in an uproar over the team’s special teams failures which most recently gave the Bengals the 6 point margin which cemented their series sweep. Unfortunately, special teams snafus have a precedent in Pittsburgh, one whose familiarity does little to ease frustration.

A (Not So Pleasant) Stroll Down Memory Lane

Chuck Noll was the last in the NFL to hire a full time special teams head coach. What prompted him to change?

  • 6 blocked punts in 1988, plus another errant snap in the mud at Cleveland Stadium at resulting in the ball being hiked 50 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

Noll hired George Stewart in 1989, and the Steelers special teams improved significantly, so much that Bill Cowher’s decision not to retain him in 1992 raised eye brows.

Steelers fans lived to regret that decision. In 1992 John Guy’s special teams were normal.

  • A year later, they gave up 3 punt returns for touchdowns, plus a blocked punt in the playoffs against Kansas City in overtime that cost them the game.

This was all the more ironic, given that Cowher cut his teeth in the NFL as a special teams coach. Ed Bouchette was on record as saying that special teams were “Cowher’s baby.”

Perhaps that explains something. Cowher hired Bobby April, and under him the Steelers special teams excelled.

Yet, April after coaching with the Steelers in 1994 and 1995, April opted to go back to native New Orleans.

Cowher replaced him with Ron Zook, who fielded decent special teams from 1996 to 1998. When Zook departed after the 1998 season to take a job in the college ranks, Cowher replaced him with Jay Hayes, who did an OK job in 1999, but it went down hill from there.

  • Arguably, it was poor special teams play that cost the Steelers a playoff spot in 2000, as they contributed directly to losses to the Eagles and Giants
  • Special teams reached the height of ignominy, in 2001, where the Patriots upset the Steelers in the AFC Championship on the strength of a punt a blocked field goal returned for a touchdown

Steelers Special Teams in the Mike Tomlin Era

Mike Tomlin, like Cowher, caught people’s attention when chose not to retain his predecessor’s special teams coach. Instead Tomlin replaced Kevin Spencer, who fielded fine special teams, with Bob Ligashesky.

Credit Joe Starkey for calling this one. On January 31, 2007 Starkey wrote this of Ligashesky:

Again, it's possible Ligashesky is going to become the special-teams version of Bill Belichick. He had some good years at Bowling Green. But if I'm the guy doing the hiring, and I'm looking at his recent job performance, I'm cringing.

In 2003, Ligashesky coached Pitt's special teams. The Panthers were last in the Big East in kickoff and punt returns. They also finished 116th in kickoff coverage, which might not seem bad until you consider 117 teams played Division I-A football.

In St. Louis this season, Ligashesky's units allowed an NFC-worst three kick-return touchdowns. The Rams somehow managed to finish below the Steelers in punt and kick return average.(27th and 26th, respectively) and had the 28th-best kickoff coverage team. The punt coverage was better -- 10th overall -- but allowed a touchdown. (Emphasis Added.)

The Steelers special teams were absolutely atrocious during Ligashesky’s first year as special teams coach, giving up TD’s both punts and kicks, costing the Steelers the Jet's game.

  • They also gave up a kick off return for a TD in the playoffs against Jacksonville, giving the Jaguars 7 points in a game that would be decided by two.

Mike Tomlin determined that it was the Steelers personnel, and not Ligashesky’s tutelage that caused the Steelers special teams woes in 2007, and to his credit, they improved in 2008.

That Was Then This Is Now

Just nine games into the season the Steelers special teams have given up 3 touchdowns on kick off returns. Once against Cleveland, once against Minnesota, and once against Cincinnati.

To that you can add the 7 points the Chargers got off of the on-sides kick they recovered. At the time it looked like they got caught with their pants pulled down. Mike Tomlin said they’d actually prepped their team to ready, which makes it worse.

What Ails the Steelers Special Teams?

It is hard to say what exactly is wrong with the Steelers special teams. First the word was that special teams weren’t the same without Andre Fraizer, who was out against Cleveland and Minnesota.

Of course Fraizer played against Cincinnati, and that did not prevent the Cincinnati from scoring a quick six on a kick off return.

They cut reserve linebacker Arnold Harrison today, in a move that appears to be related to his special teams performance. They’ve promoted Donavan Woods from the practice squad to take his place. Woods played some special teams while on the active roster in 2008, and his return is supposed to bolster the unit.

Of course that is what they said when they brought Carey Davis back after putting Frank “The Tank” summers on IR.

Will the Steelers get it together on special teams in 2009? It is hard to say.

  • It is easy to say this, if they don’t the Steelers have no hope netting Lombardi Number Seven, even if they do slide into the playoffs.

Finally, when Tomlin decided to retain Ligashesky in 2008, Steel Curtain Rising gave him the benefit of the doubt. That was then. This is now.

  • Curtain’s Call: Barring a dramatic turnaround on special teams, Ligashesky’s head has got to roll at seasons end. If not before.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Bengals Bust Steelers, 18-12

The Pittsburgh Steelers suffered their first home defeat at Heinz Field Sunday, and in doing so yielded a commanding lead in the AFC North to the Cincinnati Bengals.

The Steelers first loss to Cincinnati was hard to swallow because Pittsburgh had left a lot of plays on the field but nonetheless dominated for three quarters, only to blow the game at the end.

Since then the Steelers have made steady, if not linear progress. The defense seemed to find its identity, and the one week ago in Denver Bruce Arians seemed to find the pass-run balance that would make his offense dangerous.

If the Steelers defense was almost its old self against the Bengals, the offense was MIA.

Credit Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer for devising a master game plan which his players executed to perfection.

The Cincinnati defense was simply more physical up front, and their linebackers and defensive backs were phenomenal in coverage. They sacked Ben four times in the first half – when lineman weren’t in Roethlisberger’s face, their counterparts were all over the Steelers receivers giving Ben no where to throw.

The Steelers running game similarly regressed, as the Bengals stuffed Mendenhall for losses or no gain time and time again.

The Cincinnati defense arrived ready to play.

Arians Fails to Come Up with the Answers

The Steelers are loaded on offense. There’s not position that is a legitimate weakness. Sometimes an offensive coordinator can have too many toys and a few weeks ago in the Steelers Digest Jim Wexell suggested that might be the case with Arians.

Perhaps that’s so.

Consider that in 15 Red Zone plays (excluding kicks), Pittsburgh ran three times,* and passed 12 times. To be fair, Mendenhall was stopped for losses in the Red Zone, and the giving up sacks there limits rushing options.

But Arians’s play calling on third down is also at issue. The Steelers were a woeful 3-15 converting third downs. They converted one by passing, and the other two came on a 12 yard Mewelde Moore run and Ben’s 15 yard scramble.

Out of the 12 failed third down attempts, all but one were passes, with Mendenhall failing to convert a 3rd and 1 (and I think he got screwed on the spot, but so be it.) Again, in the interests of fairness, many of those were third and long, but Arians also threw on 3rd & 2, and 3rd & 3, and 3rd & 5, twice.

Mendenhall might not have had his best day, but Mewelde Moore had runs of 9 and 12 yards, and if not Moore why not give Willie Parker a short?

Finding the right mix of weapons on offense might be difficult, but that’s Arians job. Against the Bengals, that mix was no where to be seen.

Ben Had a Bad Day

It is easy to arm chair quarterback play calling, because Ben and his receivers are capable of converting a 3rd and 17 or a 3rd and 14. They make those plays, and Arians becomes a genius.

But they didn’t. They weren’t even close to being close.

This wasn’t Ben’s worst day as a quarterback – that would be the Oakland game in 2006 – but Ben was off. Passes flew high, were thrown too hard, or got there a second too early or too late. The stat sheet shows that Ben only threw one pick, but he is lucky he did not have a half dozen.

Ben faced a lot of pressure during the first half, but even when the line bought him more time in the second, he still failed to deliver the ball on target.

Mike Zimmer placed his to make plays, and they executed. But Ben could have made, should have made and usually makes several of the throws he missed to day. That was the difference in the game.**

An Apocryphal Prediction

Yours truly used to live in Cincinnati, and I’m still in touch with people there. Earlier in the season, a friend in the Queen City confided that in spite of Cincinnati's succession of wins, he still did not "believe." I told him that the Bengals had a lot of talent, that they’d built a foundation by playing hard during a losing season last year, and that winning close ones often builds momentum.

Unfortunately, not only was that prediction apt then, it also serves as an excellent metaphor for today’s game.

The Bengals certainly did not dominate in the traditional sense, but they picked up momentum as the game wore on.

Case in point: it’d be easy to criticize defense for their performance on the Bengals final drive. But did anyone really think the Steelers offense was capable of scoring a touchdown?

When asked if the victory over the Broncos represented a “statement game,” Mike Tomlin said it might, but only if the Steelers showed they could sustain it down the stretch.

Not only did the Steelers not sustain that on Sunday, they appear to have regressed. They’ve got more tests ahead of them, but they’ve made their road far more difficult by giving Cincinnati a 2 game lead in the AFC North, a lead that Cincinnati’s earned.

*Ed Bouchette's numbers seemed to be slightly different, his are probably more accurate.

**Lest it become an unmentioned elephant in the room, special teams failures also played large in Sunday's defeat, but this post is long enough. Steel Curtain Rising will have more to say soon.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Bears Deal '89 Steelers Third, Final Shut Out of Season

The Steelers returned from Mile High Stadium licking their wounds after dropping at 34-7 decision. Week 10 brought the Chicago Bears to Three Rivers Stadium, and at least the potential for hope.

After all, returning to Three Rivers Stadium had inspired rallies in week 3 against the Vikings and then later in week 8 against the Kansas City Chiefs.

History was also on the Steelers side. The Chicago Bears had never won a game in Three Rivers Stadium, nor had they won in Pittsburgh since 1944.

Unfortunately for the Steelers, dice do not have memories.

Case in point, Bubby Brister entered the game not having thrown an interception since the week one 51-0 blowout against the Cleveland Browns. He’d thrown 179 passes with out a pick to be precise, a record for the Steelers under Chuck Noll…

  • …Bears cornerback Lemuel Stimpson intercepted Brister’s very first pass.

That was only Stimpson’s first of the day, as he grabbed one more, as did another Chicago defender.

It actually got worse for the Steelers on the ground, as they gained a meager 54 yards total rushing,

  • a stat made all the more worse when one considers that 32 of those came on a Dwight Stone reverse

In contrast, the Bears amassed 203 yards rushing – without a single back getting anywhere near the century mark. Even Jim Harbaugh ran 7 times for 56 yards.

About the only good news for the Steelers was that they held the Bear’s scoreless in the second half.

Of course that would have meant so much more had the Bears not held the Steelers scoreless in both halves.

When the dust settled, the Bears defeated the Steelers 20-0, handing them their third shut out in just ten games, the first time any Chuck Noll team had been shut out three times in a year.

It was mid-November, six games remained, they had just dropped two in a row, and the 1989 Steelers record was 4-6. Many thought Pittsburgh might be lucky to match the 1988 Steelers 5-11 record.

They were wrong.

Thanks for visiting. To read the entire series click here on the 1989 Steelers tag.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Steelers Offense Finds Balance in Broncos Win

Steelers Nation should be clear that the Pittsburgh Steelers 28-10 defeat of the Denver Broncos on Monday Night Football 28-10 was a big win where the Steelers accomplished something with important implications for the rest of the season.

Conventional Wisdom in the NFL holds that the Raven’s demolition of Denver unmasked the Broncos previous 6-0 record as a façade. If Baltimore did expose some real weaknesses, NFL teams do not get to 6-0 on smoke and mirrors alone.

Denver entered the game with the league’s leading defense, and a quarterback who’d thrown one pick in seven games. That does not happen by accident.

Steelers: Down on Their Luck in Denver

On top of that, the Steelers were playing in Denver, where they had not won in the regular season since 1990. The Mile High City is a locale where the Steelers luck has included:

  • Rod Woodson and Brian Hinkle intercepting back-to-back John Elway passes (including one leading to a quick Steelers TD), only to see Elway score 24 unanswered points
  • A dropped Mark Stock pass and failed center-QB exchange that abruptly ended the 1989 Steelers story book season
  • A 37-13 shellacking following the Steelers monumental 23-0 1993 Monday Night Football thumping of the Bills
  • A scene of an injury ravaged offensive line in 2003 that featured Alan Fanaca rotating between tackle and guard depending on the down
  • Ryan Clark’s life threatening injury in 2007 and the Steelers subsequent squandering of a 4th quarter lead.

Heck, even the Steelers 1990 regular season win in Denver carries Dwight Stone's distinction of blowing a shot at getting the club's longest all time reception in history by stepping out of bounds, untouched, 90 yards into what would have been an easy 100 yard TD catch.

Half of Denver Dominates for a Half

For 30 minutes, one half of the Denver Broncos lived up to their reputation. The Denver defense stymied and frustrated the Steelers offense, which was unable to put any points on the board, had trouble controlling the ball, and gave the Broncos a generous lead in the time of possession.

This latter stat is all the more impressive, as the defense hung in there while the Broncos offense utterly failed to take advantage.

“The standard of expectation does not change.”
-Mike Tomlin

Three starters on the Steelers defense missed the game, one on the defensive line, one in the linebacking corps, and one in the secondary.

But the defense’s performance harkened back to the 2008 Jacksonville game, when the Steelers offense breathed life into Mike Tomlin’s credo, “Injuries are no excuse, the standard of expectation does not change.”

  • Give Kyle Orton credit for his early field goal drive where he and Eddie Royal made life miserable for William Gay.

Then credit the Steelers for the rest of the evening.

Back up safety Tyrone Carter, the unit's supposed weak link, struck first with his pick six, giving him more points in the first half than both offenses combined. After that, it was all Steelers. The Broncos had no where to run, and Kyle Orton had no where to hide.

Brett Keisel registered one sack in all of 2008. Last week he got his first of 2009. As if to put an exclamation point on the “injuries are no excuse” mantra, Keisel sacked Kyle Orton, twice last night. The Steelers defense had a great night, although they're not the story.

Nonetheless, the Broncos had to feel good going into the half at 7-3, as Ben Roethlisberger had thrown for all of 54 yards, and Rashard Mendenhall had been held to 25.

Things, however, were about to change.

Ben Bounces Back

Ben Roethlisberger was all business to start the second half, marching straight down to Denver’s 33.

Then Denver’s defense made its last stab at destiny for the evening, and they made a good one, as a Bronco defender sack-stripped Big Ben and returned the ball 46 yards for a touchdown.

Advice to future defensive coordinators:

  • Do not back Ben into a corner, because he answered burn you with a quick touchdown in response

He did just that last, scoring in just four plays covering 80 yards for a quick touchdown, in a drive that featured precision passes to both Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward.

But Ben and his receivers were not the only heroes on that drive, as Rashard Mendenhall ripped off a 24 yard run.

And therein lies the lesson for the Steelers offense to sustain over the next 8 games.

Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers have been justly recognized for their excellence this year, and just as Rashard Mendenhall has quickly turned a lot of heads with his 5 plus yards per carry average. (There is the matter of his obligatory late-game goal line fumbles, but that’s for another time.)

But something has been missing, until now.

Bruce Arians Finds Balance on Offense

Bruce Arians accomplished something special with his unit. The 180 degree 2nd half turn around was nice, but you expect that from defending Super Bowl Champions.

  • It was the way Arians turned things around – by finding balance.

It has been a long, long time since the Steelers have been able to combine precision, vertical passing in the air, with persistent, punishing power rushing on the ground.

They did that in the second half against Denver last night. They did it against the NFL’s number one defense.

  • And they made it look easy.

Repeating that feat over the next eight weeks won’t be easy. Finding balance never is.

But if they can consistently achieve that balance on offense, the Steelers will give themselves a serious shot at making 2009 just as special as 2008.

Thanks for visiting. If you havetime, check out Steel Curtain Rising's video highlights from the Broncos game.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Steelers Broncos Video Highlights

Check out these highlights from the Steelers 28-10 victory over the Denver Broncos.



Turthfully, if Steel Curtain Rising was cutting together the highlight reel, we'd include do it a little differently, but this does show you really sharp play from key players at key moments.

Check back later for a Steel Curtain Rising's full analysis.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Steelers Defeat Denver 28-10

The Steelers emerged with their first regular season victory in Denver since 1990 tonight. And while some parts of it were not pretty, it appears that the men and Black and Gold accomplished something important.

Folks, its 1:53 am in Buenos Aires, and yours truly has to (attempt to) leave the house an hour and a half early tomorrow because of an all-day Subway strike. Return tomorrow for Steel Curtain Rising's full analysis.

Tuesday the 10th - Alas between the subway strike and meeting friends visiting from Canada, got home very, very late, with no time to do the write up. So be it. (I did get to meet a guy from Prince Edward Island who, in fact, was a Pittsburgh Penguins fans. Not every day you get to meet a Penguins fan down in Buenos Aires, so I guess that counts for something.)

Monday, November 9, 2009

Steelers Offensive, Defensive Lines Embrace Youth Movement

Reality Unfolds at its Own Pace.”
- Jerry Brown

It might seem odd to begin a post on the Steelers offensive and defensive lines with a quote from a California politician, but his observation is quite relevant, particularly in light of line up changes leading into the Denver game.

Mike Tomlin’s Apocryphal Declaration

At the close of the 2007 season, Mike Tomlin offered that the Steelers needed to “get younger and stronger on both lines.” The need was obvious. The NFL is a young man’s league, and the average age of the Steelers starting offensive line in 2007 was almost 28. The average age of their starting defensive line was 30.

Despite that, fourth round pick Tony Hills was the only lineman, offensive or defensive, that the Steelers selected during the 2008 draft.

The Steelers opening day starting line in 2008 featured two new starters in Chris Kemoeatu and Justin Hartwig, yet the average age was just over 27 years old.

Father time has a way of working his will in the NFL, and his means of choice is injury. Week’s 4 and 5 of the 2008 season brought back-to-back street fights with Baltimore and Jacksonville, during which the Steelers lost starters Marvel Smith and Kendall Simmons.

Max Starks and Darnell Stapleton took their place, and viola, almost two years had been shaved off of the average age of the Steelers starting front five. (From 27.4 years to 25.6, for those who insist on precision.)

Things Different on Defense, for a Little While…

Things were a little different on the defensive side. Not only was the average age of the starting line higher, but the so were the backups, whose average age was actually a little higher.

Unlike their counterparts on the offensive line, the Steelers defensive front three escaped the injury bug and remained intact through the 2008 season, save for a few games when Bret Kiesel was out.

The Steelers added Ziggy Hood in the 2008 draft, but returning players from 2008 average age was 32, and Hood only dropped the defensive line’s mean age to just under 31.

But Once Again, father time has worked his will, this time striking down Aaron Smith for the season with a torn rotator cuff. When Smith went on IR the Steelers have replaced his roster spot with Sunny Harris, who reduced the average age of the line by almost two years.

With Travis Kirschke out for the Denver game, defensive line’s average age drops to a full three years below the average of the opening day starting lineup. Mike Tomlin also said Ziggy Hood's playing time would be limited, as he sort of planned to phase him into the line up.

It appears that that plan might have to change too, as the Steelers will need to rotate linemen frequently in the thin Denver air.

Which just goes to show you, Jerry Brown was right. Reality does unfold at its own pace.

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Chuck Noll vs. Bill Walsh - The Series

One of the downsides of Blogger software is that tagged articles appear in reverse order of publication, which can make for awkward reading for a chronological series.

Hence Steel Curtain Rising is publishing a header article to promote our Chuck Noll vs. Bill Walsh series, published in the spring and summer of 2008.

You can read all of the articles by scrolling down and then back up, or simply click on the links below, each of which has links bringing you back to this page and to the next article in the series.

Enjoy.

Chuck Noll vs. Bill Walsh, Part I – The Emperor vs. the Genius

Chuck Noll vs. Bill Walsh, Part II – By the Numbers

Chuck Noll vs. Bill Walsh, Part III - Sizing Up Two Talent Evaluators

Chuck Noll vs. Bill Walsh, Part IV – What Makes A Legacy?

Chuck Noll vs. Bill Walsh, Part IV – Noll and Bill Walsh, Head to Head


Thanks for reading. For the latest on the Steelers, click here to return to Steel Curtain Rising's home page.

Friday, November 6, 2009

’89 Steelers Bounced Out in Denver, 34-7

20 years ago this week, the 1989 Steelers traveled to Denver just as their successors are preparing to do this week. Steel Curtain Rising takes a look back with the caveat that we hope that Tomlin and Roethlisberger fare better in the thin Denver air than did Noll and Brister...

The Denver Broncos were the closest thing the AFC had to a dominant team in the 1980’s.

And if the Steelers had experienced success against the Broncos, with the upset in the 1984 playoffs and again in 1988 as Rod Woodson and Rodney Carter rallied behind a beleaguered Chuck Noll, there was no mistaking who was the favorite when the Steelers traveled to Mile High in the fall of 1989.

Underdogs or not, the Steelers arrived with some measure of hope.

They’d shook off humiliating 51-0 and 41-10 losses to division rivals to upset a Super Bowl contender, only to lose their starting quarterback and then suffer another shut out to yet another third division rival, but again bounced back with a dramatic victory over up and coming Kansas City Chiefs.

Could the Steelers sustain some momentum?

Steelers Flash, then Fade Quickly

For a while that seemed to be an open question. The Broncos jumped to a 10-0 lead and were on the verge of scoring again until Rod Woodson intercepted John Elway in the end zone.

It appeared that the Steelers had the makings of a long afternoon for Elway as Brian Hinkle stepped up and intercepted his next pass, and Bubby Brister and Rodney Carter hooked up for 15 yard strike to bring the score to 10-7.

But appearances can deceive, and this time they did.

The Steelers offense was done after Brister’s touchdown pass. In fact, 8 of their 12 possession ended in three and outs.

Broncos Score 24 Unanswered Points

The Broncos scored 24 unanswered points, as Bobby Humphrey ran for two touchdowns and 102 yards, and John Elway hit a 44 yard touchdown pass, before Gary Kubiack entered for mop up duty (where he went 2-2 for 30 yards, for those who must know.)

The only bright note in the Steelers 34-7 loss to Denver? Despite the team’s offensive impotency, rookie running back Tim Worley ran 75 yards on 12 carries, his best showing of the season.

The best news was that week ten would bring the Chicago Bears to Pittsburgh, where they had not won since 1944. Would the 1989 Steelers keep the Bears winless in Pittsburgh for yet another full decade…?

Thanks for visiting. Click here to check out the entire tribute to the 1989 Steelers.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Lynn Swann or John Stallworth – Who Was Better?

As regular readers will note, Steel Curtain Rising is taking advantage of the bye week to collect more votes on our Swann-Stallworth poll, which was originally posted along side the article on John Stallworth’s Improbable Journey.

The question has fascinated two, going on three, generations of Steelers fans. Who was better, number 88 or number 82? Of the two greatest wide receivers in Steelers history (no disrespect to Hines Ward intended) who do you rank first?

After all:

  • Swann and Stallworth are both Hall of Famers
  • Both Stallworth and Swann stretched the field
  • Swann and Stallworth made the tough catches
  • Stallworth and Swann excelled on the game’s largest stage, the Super Bowl
  • Both Swann and Stallworth had that uncanny knack of getting open and finding the endzone with the game on the line

The arguments that one can make in favor of each man are endless. Steel Curtain Rising makes no pretension of exhausting them here, nor do we offer a definitive answer – that’s up to you.

The Case for Lynn Swann

While Lynn Swann is certainly not the best wide receiver in NFL history, you can argue that no other wideout captured the imagination of football fans like number 88.

Football is as a rough and tumble sport as they come, and few appreciate the fundamentals of smash mouth football more than Steelers fans.

Yet Swann transcended that. He brought an elegance and grace to the wide receiver position few would have thought possible, making dazzling, acrobatic, seemingly impossible catches.

The only “knock” on Swann is that he played for such a short time, nine years, including the strike-shortened 1982 season. His career numbers, 336 catches for 5,462 yards look pedestrian by the standards of today’s NFL.

And that is what kept Swann out of the Hall of Fame for so long. But quality trumps quantity in Swann’s case. A friend of mine, who we’ll simply call “BBD” who is not a Steelers fan, once commented that Swann deserved induction into Canton solely on his Super Bowl X performance.

If any of you are unfamiliar with that, take a look at the video, and you'll understand BBD's argument:





Perhaps whoever said in the mid-1990’s, I believe it was Dan Rooney, put it best when he said that the true mark of Swann’s greatness was that more than 15 years after he retired, people reacted to odds-defying catches by saying “that was a Lynn Swann catch.”

The Case for John Stallworth

John Stallworth may have never been able to match Lynn Swann’s style, but he certainly stood right alongside his teammate when it came to substance.

Since the day he took the field opposite Swann, Stallworth many saw him as a “possession receiver.” But the record tells a different tale.

Stallworth actually had a better yards per-catch average in the 1975, 1977, 1978, 1980, and 1981 seasons. A quick look at Steelers 100 yard receiving efforts shows that John Stallworth had 50% more 100 yard passing games than Swann did – if you limit the count to seasons when both men were playing.

That latter point is probably the greatest argument in Stallworth’s favor. Not only did John Stallworth play five more seasons than Lynn Swann, he excelled during that time.

A small sample of a few games during that span reveals just how much damage John Stallworth did with just a few touches of the ball:

  • 4-109 and 3 TD’s against Houston in 1984
  • 7-116 and 3 TD’s against San Diego in 1985
  • 4-111 and 2 TD’s against Miami in the 1984 playoffs
  • 7-126 and 1 TD against Kansas City in 1985

These numbers might seem less impressive by the standard’s of today’s NFL, but they are perhaps even more impressive when you consider that these passes no longer originated with Terry Bradshaw, but rather David Woodley and Mark Malone.

Who Decides – You Do

The arguments, the number crunching, the highlights drawn from great games, could go on, and on. So be it. Right now, in this little corner of Steelers Nation, you’ve got the chance to make your voice heard. So do it. Vote in our poll above and/or leaving a comment below.