´ Steel Curtain Rising: September 2010

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

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Watch Tower: Mike Tomlin Has Managed the Quarterback Derby Well

You have to wonder what it takes to make some people happy.

Since the final gun of the 2009 season, the Steelers situation at quarterback has taken more twists and turns than the stretch of Glassrun road that connects Homestead to Baldwin.

Through all of it, there has been one constant:

  • The press has taken potshots at Mike Tomlin’s handling of the situation

Dammed If You Do, Dammed If You… Do?

In the collective rendering of the press Mike Tomlin’s quarterback management sins include:

  • Failing to give Dennis Dixon a fair chance
  • Playing Ben Roethlisberger too much
  • Erring by giving Dixon a shot at prime time in the preseason
  • Taking valuable snaps away from Leftwich because of the two reasons cited above
  • Exposing Leftwich to injury by playing him in the preseason finale
  • Starting Dennis Dixon over Charlie Batch to open the season

Makes for a long line at a St. Vincent’s confessional, doesn’t it?

Who’d have thought that, in spite of those ‘sins’ Steelers would go out and establish a 3-0 record. Few would, but the fact that it has happened is not enough for some critics.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s Andy Kaboly, writing before the Tampa Bay game, weighed in on Sunday.

According to Kaboly, Tomlin was doing things just right, all the way up until Dixon began to shine against third and fourth stringers.

That of course, was the death knell for the Steelers quarterback derby. Don’t believe me, take a look at Kaboly’s own words:

Every move Tomlin has made with his quarterbacks since the preseason game against the Giants has been wrong.

Dixon got first-team snaps and started against the Broncos - wrong decision. Leftwich, the presumed starter in Week 1, played the final preseason game and ended up getting hurt - wrong decision. Dixon was named the starter over Batch — another bad decision — even though it was evident that what Tomlin was going to ask Dixon to do was something that Batch does better and has done many more times.
You wonder what criticism Kaboly has been holding in reserve in the event of something less than the 2-0 start that the Steelers had made in spite of Tomlin’s wrong-headed decisions at quarterback?

Kaboly is not alone. Ed Bouchette also rejoined the fray today on PG Plus arguing:
Just because his team is 3-0 does not mean Mike Tomlin handled his quarterback situation correctly. I still think he handled it wrong all the way through. He had no choice but to start Charlie Batch in Tampa and when he had a choice, he went with Dennis Dixon. If you put Batch’s hand to the fire, he would tell you the same thing. [Emphasis added.]
Defending Tomlin's Decisions (Again)

Tomlin has handled the Steelers situation at quarterback just fine. As argued by Steel Curtain Rising before before, Tomlin had to give Dixon time against Denver’s first string. Dixon deserved it and Tomlin needed to know what to expect should Dixon get into the game.

Leftwich, likewise, needed to play in the final preseason match up for the simple reason that he needed reps, reps he otherwise would have gotten had Tomlin not needed to keep Roethlisberger sharp.

Certainly, Charlie Batch could have been a little more well-prepared to go into the game against Tennessee, but again Tomlin was vindicated.

Tomlin gave Batch fewer snaps throughout this entire process, in OTAs, in practices, in preseason, precisely because he knew he could.

Given the contrast between Dixon’s play against Atlanta and Tennessee, and Batch’s performance against the Tampa Bay, many are second guessing the decision to start Dixon over Batch.

Mike Tomlin is not one of them.

When asked this very question, he responded:
Man, I don’t get do overs. I don’t live in that world. I’ll let you guys talk about that. Right now we are 3-0 and we are getting ready for Baltimore.
Which brings us to the final point. Baltimore represents the final game of Roethlisberger’s suspension and that should end the story.

But then again, maybe it won’t. Perhaps the pundits will see fit to question Tomlin’s decision to return the starting job to Roethlisberger.

Mike Tomlin Has Earned Some Respect

When Tomlin decided to start Dixon over Batch, I took exception, but understood Tomlin’s decision. He’s grooming a young quarterback, wanted to give him real starting experience, and felt confident that he would not make any game-losing mistakes.

Tomlin was right. Dixon wasn’t as poised or as sharp as Batch, but he avoided critical errors.

The Watch Tower has spoken out on the media’s constant criticism of Tomlin’s management of the quarterback derby a number of times.

During training camp the plea was to cut Tomlin some slack.

The Steelers 3-0 record changes things.

Tomlin’s deserves respect for his ability to managed a quarterback situation that was unprecedented as it began and has developed in ways no one could have anticipated.

Thanks for visiting. To read more analysis of the media that cover the Steelers, click here to read more from Steel Curtain Rising's Watch Tower.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Report Card: Steelers vs. Buccaneers

Each week Steel Curtain Rising grades the performance of the Steelers individual units. (We offer scouts honor that neither Gerry DuLac’s grades nor any other grades have been consulted. ) Here are the grades for the Steelers performance against the Buccanners.

Quarterback

Charlie Batch did not look like a man who had not started a game since 2007. He was far from flawless, throwing two picks which could have been costly, plus another should have been pick. But those blemishes do not obscure a brilliant performance. Batch went 12-17-186, but beyond the numbers, Batch had a commanding precense in the huddle and in the pocket. Grade: B+

Running Back

Mendenhall ripped off 6 double-digit runs en route to 143 yards and 1 TD. Redman also broke double digits in his five runs for 31 yards. Power rush’s return to Pittsburgh was welcome, at least for one Sunday. Grade: A

Receivers and Tight Ends



Combined, Wallace, Ward, Miller and El only totaled 7 catches, but each man made his catch count. Grade: B+

Offensive line

The Steelers were substituting almost as much against Tampa as they had in Tennessee. But you wouldn’t have know it. They gave Batch time and opened the lanes for Mendenhall and Redman to move the chains. Grade: A

Defensive Line

When your opponents’ leading rusher gained 27 yards you know it’s a good day for the defensive line. Ziggy Hood also had a pass defense. And of course, Brett Kesiel took one to the house. Can’t ask for much more. Grade: A

Linebackers

This group didn’t make the splash plays that it made against the Titans, but it didn’t need to. They got pressure when necessary, made plays in coverage, and in general stuff the run. Jason Worilds got his first sack. Grade: B+

Secondary

William Gay nabbed a sack and while the Steelers did give up a long gain of 46 yards, that is as much on the linebacking and the line corps as it was the secondary. Ryan Clark recovered a key fumble. Grade: B+

Special Teams

Brown didn’t break a big one but he looked like he could have. Reeds kickoffs have been getting deeper, and Sepulveda boomed on for 62 yards. A very good day. Grade: A-

Coaching

It looked like the Steelers might succumb to the dreaded trap game – for about a quarter, but no one will remember that come December. Charlie Batch was ready. About the only negative was the coaches decision to keep so many starters in late in the game. Grade: B+

Unsung Hero: The offensive line.

Batch, Wallace, Ward, and Kesiel took all the headlines, even the television crew failed to point out the regular substitutions as their colleagues had done the week before.

But Batch’s pocket poise and Redman & Rashard’s room to run only happen if the line does its job. It did it, and it did it well. Granted, no one will confuse this front seven with the 85 Bears front seven, but the offensive line dominated an opponent it should have dominated, and that’s where championships start.

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Monday, September 27, 2010

Batch, Steelers Bulldoze Buccaneers, 38-13

The Steelers opened the season with the defense carrying the offense and special teams to victory over the Falcons. A week later, special teams joined the defense in carrying the Steelers to victory over the Titans while the offense was along for the ride.

Against Tampa Bay the Steelers offense roared to life, putting 31 points on the board while the defense continued to dominate.

Lest any part of the story become bland, the Steelers offensive explosion was led by Charlie Batch, a man who was not even an after thought only 30 days ago.

Tampa Tries to Turn the Tables

This game was filled with subplots. Mike Tomlin squaring off against his protégée and best friend Raheem Morris.

Greg Lloyd making his coaching debut against the Steelers.

Josh Freeman growing into his “little Ben” role on the heels of a surprise 2-0 start.

And for a while it appeared Tampa might have caught Tomlin in a trap game as the Buccaneers intercepted Charlie Batch’s first pass and took a quick 3-0 lead.

Batch struck back quickly with his 46 yard lob to Mike Wallace, but Tampa showed no signs of relenting.

On the next possession Tampa looked every bit as impressive as advertised. Their offensive line dominated the line of scrimmage. Josh Freeman was evading the rush, scrambling around, and hitting open receivers on the run.

Freeman, in fact, played like “little Ben” and it looked like the story line was setting in: The pupil surpasses the master; the upstart team serves the NFL notice by surprising an established contender.

That is how it was shaping up as Tampa marched from its 21 to the Steelers 7, threatening to retake the lead.

Dick LeBeau and the Steelers defenses’ pride must have been hurt by that, because at that point they shifted into high gear and never looked back, forcing Freeman into 3 ineffective plays that ended in a field goal.

Charlie Batch Answers the Call

Up to this point in the 2010 season the Steelers offense had not shown much. Yes, Mendenhall’s 50 yard overtime bust against Atlanta was impressive. And Batch’s 46 yard strike to Mike Wallace was also good, although both men benefited from Cody Grimm’s mental error. So the question still hung in the air, could this unit go the length of the field?

Charlie Batch and Rashard Mendenhall answered with a definitive “YES” on the next drive, going 90 yards, 26 of which came on a 3rd down scramble by Batch, and ended with a 3 yard touchdown run by Mendenhall.

Against the Falcons Troy Polamalu’s interception gave the Steelers the chance to win the game in over time. The offense could only muster a meager sum of yards, and Jeff Reed missed makeable field goal.

Against the Titans, the Steelers defense presented the offense with 7 turnovers, of which the offense was only able to convert into 12 points off of field goals.

Without Roethlisberger, could the Steelers offense be capable of converting turnovers into touchdowns?

Again, Batch answered the call.

Two plays after Ryan Clark recovered a fumble Batch lit it up again, with a 41 yard pass to Mike Wallace. It wasn’t perfect, the pass should have been picked off but, as Mike Tomlin says, they don’t add points for style.

Steelers Sitting Pretty at 3-0

It is still early in the season and the Steelers still have yet to play their most difficult opponents, let alone division rivals.

But with each week, they slip something else into place. As Tampa showed in the early going, it is a mistake to take any team for granted in the NFL. Let a young, hungry team build some momentum, and you open yourself to an upset (remember last year against KC?)

The Steelers prevented that from happening today. The defense dominated. Josh Freeman, after starting strong out of the gate, ended confused, battered, and befuddled. Cadillac Williams ran like a second-hand Chevette.

So far we have a mirror image of last week’s contest in Tennessee.

The difference this Sunday was that the Steelers offense took care of business to the point where Brett Kesiel’s 4th quarter 79 yard pick-six was simply icing on the cake.

It is safe to say that few predicted a 3-0 start for the Steelers. Next week brings the Steelers their biggest test as the division rival Baltimore Ravens come to Pittsburgh.

Could the Steelers improve their mark and hand Ben Roethlisberger a 4-0 record?

After what the Steelers offense showed today, we can begin discussing that as a realistic possibility.

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Sunday, September 26, 2010

Harrison Hold Count Stands at 4

As mentioned last week, Steel Curtain Rising is working to promote Neal Coolong’s effort to document incidents of blatant holding of James Harrison with no flag thrown.

As Coolong mentions in Behind the Steel Curtain’s Pre Game Zone Blitz, the official called a pretty clean game last week. None the less, he did document one hold on Harrison that was not called: 12:51 remaining, 3rd quarter, LT Michael Ross.

Coolong admits that the non-call was “pretty borderline,” and further admits that Harrison could have been flagged for roughing the passer.

You can find the season-long tally below. “Harrison Holds” = a hold on Harrison not called.

Number times James Harrison was held last week: 1
Number of “Harrison Holds:” 1
Total “Harrison Holds” for 2010: 4

Spread the Word

This is where you come in. Spread the word!

Last week “Harrison Holds” might not have been much of an issue, but you can believe that offensive line coaches are going to start telling their players “Just hold’em, they’re not going to call it each time.”

If you have your own site or blog please link to it (meaning link to Neal’s article). ReTweet it. Facebook share it, Digg it. Do whatever MySpace users do to share articles.

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Thursday, September 23, 2010

James Harrison Follows in Greg Lloyd’s Footsteps

James Harrison unleashes fury on opposing backfields unlike any Steelers linebacker since Greg Lloyd.

And it seems this week the NFL has facilitated James Harrison’s ability to follow in Lloyds foot steps again.

Yesterday, James Harrison was named Defensive Player of the Week for his play in the Steelers victory over Tennessee. Today the NFL announced they were fining him for this hit on Titans quarterback Vince Young.

Something similar happened to Lloyd, many, many years ago. During one season during the early 1990’s (can’t remember which, but it had to have been before 1992, as Lloyd discussed the issue with Ed Bouchette in a Dawn of a New Steel Age) the NFL fined him for a hit on a quarterback.

A short time later, NFL Flims used footage of that hit in an off season video tape titled “The NFL’s Greatest Hits” or something like that. Lloyd called out the league for its hypocrisy and continued to terrorize opposing quarterbacks with a vengeance.

As for James Harrison? He is a man of few words, so he’ll probably be less vocal, but with a louder non-verbal response.



The hit in question might have gone against the letter of the NFL’s “Don’t Ruin the Shine on the Poor Quarterback’s Shoes” rule, but the fact of that matter is, he might have done Young a favor by convincing Jeff Fisher to take him out of the game….

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Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Steelers, NFL to Scrimmage Against CFL Prior to 18 Game Season…

The first weeks of the NFL’s 2010 season have generated a plethora of complaints from both fans and professional press about erratic officiating, lazy penalties, bone headed turnovers, and general sloppy play.

Hearing the cries of the masses, the NFL is about to react and, as a result, the Steelers could find themselves playing the Ottawa Roughriders next August….

Confused, might you be? Well let the Craig Alielo, NFL’s Spokesman, who spoke at a secret Saturday night press conference in Saskatchewan, enlighten you:

Many observers have noted the unusually sloppy play evident during the first weeks of the 2010 NFL season and tied that to the increasing infrequency of starters playing in the preseason. Against this backdrop, many have asked, ‘will this only get worse when the number of preseason games is reduced by half to make way for the 18 game season?’

Today, we are happy to say we can answer those critics with an emphatic ‘No,’ as the plan we are announcing today assures.

When the NFL moves to the 18 game season NFL teams will play two preseason games against other league teams in addition to playing one full-length scrimmage against teams from the Canadian Football League.

Scrimmaging extensively against CFL teams will reduce the threat of injury while giving NFL franchises an accurate simulation of game-time action that allows teams to build the cohesion necessary for crisp play once the regular season begins.

Finally, this arrangement will also be mutually beneficial to the developmental goals of both leagues.
After making the bombshell announcement, the erstwhile NFL spokesman did not entertain questions, but La Toalla Terrible cut him off at the pass as he was en route to the WC.

Would these scrimmages follow with CFL rules or NFL rules?

“NFL rules, but we think we might just go ahead and give them their 12th player to make it fair.”

How will this reduce the threat of injury?

“Have you seen how small some of those Canadian’s can get?”

And the fact that there are more NFL team than CFL franchises?

“LOGISTICS will not thwart The Commissioner’s mandate to meet the fan's demands!”

The final question relating this business about “mutually beneficial to the developmental goals” drew this exasperated retort:

When the regular season extends into January teams are going to be playing their 4th and 5th strings… Just WHAT talent pool do you think GM’s will dip into to fill their backup slots? [Pause]

Heck, we’re giving these guys free auditions while helping clubs scrimp on scouting expenses. Now PLEASE let me be, I really have to GO...
All of this is quite the shock to be sure. It is uncertain when the NFL will release more information on this, but you can be sure that La Toalla Terrible will be right on top of it (or at least somewhere close….)

La Toalla Terrible’s commentary appears occasionally in Steel Curtain Rising, and provides readers with a jest-filled slice of life from the Bizzaro side of Steelers Nation. To read more rants from La Toalla Terrible (that’s Terrible Towel in Spanish), click here.

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Report Card: Steelers vs. the Titans

Welcome to the first installment of “Report Card” a new feature for Steel Curtain Rising, the title of which is self evident. The caveat I will add (on Scout’s Honor), I have not consulted Gerry DuLac’s grades or those of any other. Here are the grades for the Steelers performance against the Titans.

Quarterback

Dixon got hurt, just when he seemed to be making something happen, albeit with his legs. Batch looked rusty, but he did well considering the circumstances. Grade: C

Running Backs

Mendenhall, Moore, and Redman all got carries. If their average fails to impress, they carried the burden of an offense that was down to its 4th string quarterback and playing its 6th, 7th, and 8th string offensive lineman. Grade: C+

Wide Receivers

No one had too many balls thrown his way, but Ward dropped a certain touchdown pass that he must catch in a game like this. The Steelers needed more from their receivers than they got. Grade: C-

Offensive Line

They didn’t keep the quarterback very clean, nor did they open much in the way of holes for the lineman. But as Mike Tomlin said, it was musical chairs, as the line was held together with spit, tape, and bubble gum before it was all over. Steelers need either Scott or Hills to step up, as neither distinguished himself. Grade: C-

Defensive Line

The Steelers defense didn’t just make Chris Johnson look human, they humiliated him. That starts up front. And while Chris Hoke, Brett Keisel, and Aaron Smith deserve all the accolades they get, the coaches rotated in the second line and the defense did not miss a beat. Credit Tomlin, LeBeau, and Johnny Mitchell, but credit Nick Eason, Ziggy Hood, and Steve McClendon even more. Grade: A +

Linebackers



James Harrison is mean. James Harrison is nasty. James Harrison makes plays. James Harrison raises Hell. Harrison’s numbers: 2 sacks, two forced fumbles and 11 tackles. Lawrence Timmons was simply on fire, in on every play with 15 tackles and 1 forced fumble of his own. LaMarr Woodley netted an interception. James Farrior was James Farrior. Grade: A+

Secondary

Once again, Troy Polamalu reminded everyone of how much we missed him, with a pick and a sack. Bryant McFadden also had a pick. Although it was more a result of the Prevent Defense, the Titans made the final drive look a little to easy. Still, they made up for it by defending a sure touchdown to Nate Washington later. Grade: A-

Special Teams




Wasn’t it nice to be the scorer on a kick return and not the scoree? Jeff Reed was 4-4 on field goals and the Steelers needed everyone of them. Still for the second time in less than a year, the Steelers special teams got suckered on an on-sides kick and they shouldn’t have. Grade: B+

Unsung Hero

Stevenson Sylvester – It wasn’t until Sunday that I realized that he wore 55, Jerry O’s old number. How appropriate. If anyone wondered why the Steelers made a roster spot for this guy, they need not wonder anymore.

Sylvester was all over the field on special teams, making things happen. Guys like that, and the spirit they display, are the reason why the Steelers were able to win yesterday.

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Dixon Out for 3-5 Weeks?

Dennis Dixon, the latest Steelers quarterback to be felled from action, may be out for longer than expected.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Ed Bouchette is citing sources "close to the situation" that indicate that Dixon suffered a torn lateral meniscus against the Falcons, which could sideline him for between 3-5 weeks.

This is good news of sorts, as the long-term implications for meniscus injuries are less grave than they are for ligament injuries, especially for a player who relies on his mobility. But with Byron Leftwich (whom the Steelers resigned today) still on the mend, this latest injury could leave the Steelers with ONE healthy quarterback going into Tampa Bay.

Injury Not Confirmed...

A word to the wise.

This injury has not been confirmed, and the Steelers have disputed Ed Bouchette's injury reports in the past, most famously when he reported that Ben Roethlisberger had suffered a spinal concussion against Cleveland in 2008.

We'll know what the offical word is soon enough.

The Steelers Most Important (Non-Super Bowl) Game in History

As regular readers know, I am a big fan of the site Behind the Steel Curtain, and the series which they concluded today provides a big reason why.

Mary Rose (aka Ed Gleason) has been sharing his thoughts on what he feels are the 12 most important Steeler games in history (non-Super Bowl games, that is).

Mary Rose is a gifted writer with a deep sense of Steelers history, and the series has been a non-stop pleasure to read. He finished today by publishing his article on the Immaculate Reception.

The Immaculate Reception was, in fact, the most important game in franchise history. Not only was it the first playoff win for the team in 40 years, but it represented a turning point, and the coming of age of the most dominant dynasty that professional football has, or ever will, see.

If you haven't been following the series, check out Mary Rose's final installment and then make it your business to read the rest.

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Monday, September 20, 2010

Steelers Defeat Titans 19-11, in Tennesse

Regardless of our demise being reported, we expect to win…. We’re a little bit annoyed to be quite honest about our premature reporting of our death.Mike Tomlin

Raise your hands, raise them high where everyone can see them. How many people penciled in a big “L” for today when the schedule was released?

How many people thought, with a 1-8 record in Nashville, and without Roethlisberger, that the Steelers didn’t stand a chance?

Come on, raise those hands, I know I’ve raised mine.

They’d never admit it, but there are probably several people in the Steelers organization who also wrote this one off as an “L,” although there’s no way to be certain.

One thing, however, is certain,

  • Mike Tomlin wasn’t one of them.

Play of the Game

The Steelers set the tone early and decisively by calling a reverse on the opening kick off which rookie Antonio Brown took 83 yards for the game’s only touchdown.

Those seven points proved to be vital down the stretch but, beyond the points, the message implicit was equally important, “We are not conceding this game.”

Once the special teams established the tone, the defense simply dominated.

The Spirit of Shayne Edge Lives On

The Steelers and the Titans used to be Division rivals dating back to the Titan’s days as the Houston Oilers in the old AFC Central.

The animosity between the two teams heated up a notch when the Oilers moved to Tennessee. How do we know?

In their first game after the move to the Volunteer State had been announced, Shayne Edge, the Steelers backup punter, got ejected from the game for fighting – you know things are bitter when your punter gets tossed from the game for mixing it up.

Today’s game lacked nothing for intensity, with the sideline scuffles and hard hits. It was everything a game with the Titans should be.

Defense Delivers, Defense Dominates

"So sometimes when people write that we’re not going to be very good or maybe they’ll go 2-2 or 1-3 when Ben out, that’s a lot of the stuff that pisses us off." – Chris Hoke

Everyone knew that the Steelers would need to lean on their defense and lean on them hard. What no one could be quite sure about, was whether the unit would deliver.

Today we have that answer, and as a result the Roethlisbergerless Steelers are 2-0.

Any adjective attached to Chris Johnson’s name will fail to do him justice. Not only did he run for 2000 plus yards in his sophomore season, he entered today’s game with a 5.3 yards-per-carry average.

Emmit Smith’s was lower at a comparable point in his career, and Johnson’s average even best’s Barry Sanders’ by a hair. The Bus? Not even close.

When you face a player of Johnson’s caliber the old ESPN NFL PrimeTime adage is, “You can’t hope to stop him, you can only hope to contain him.”

  • Don’t tell that to Dick LeBeau’s defense, who stopped Johnson cold.

And they did it missing their starting nose tackle and while rotating in Nick Eason, Ziggy Hood, and Steve McClendon.

The Steel Curtain, 2010 edition played a flawless game, led by Lawrence Timmons, James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, and Troy Polamalu. This group of players were relentless. Relentless in containing Johnson, relentless in pounding receivers, relentless in tormenting Titans quarterbacks Vince Neil and Kerry Collins.

The scoreboard might show 11 points, but in truth, the Steelers defense pitched a near shutout.

Given that it came so early in the season, against a team of undefined quality, it may never get recognized as such, but this may have very well been one of the finest defensive performances in franchise history.

Offense, Half Full or Half Empty?

Man, I don’t know who we had in there for a spell there.” – Mike Tomlin on the injuries to the offensive line.

When your defense causes 7 turnovers, you have the right to expect your team to score 30 or more points. Instead, the Steelers offense put up 12, all off of Jeff Reed's foot.

The numbers behind those points look even more grim, as the Steelers:

  • Went 2-15 on third downs (that’s 13%),
  • Gave up 4 sacks,
  • averaged a collective 2.65 yards a carry when you take out Dennis Dixon’s 21 yards scramble

Steelers Nation should not ignore the warning signs implicit in these stats, but nor should they be taken with undue alarm.

Mendenhall ground out 23 carries and earned a respectable 3.0 yard average against a very tough front seven that knew the Steelers were going to run the ball.

Charlie Batch might have only gone 5 for 11, but he has seen little time with the first unit, and was playing, at times, with 3rd and 4th string tackles Tony Hills and Jonathan Scott. And while their play left a lot to be desired, Tony Hills has made tremendous strides, and could have done worse in his first real NFL action.

Above all, the offense avoided any costly mistakes.

The offense is going to need to do more in the future, but against the Titans it was enough to carry the day.

It is good to be 2-0.

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Sunday, September 19, 2010

Harrison Hold Count Stands at 3

If you’re reading this page, you know that Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison gets held regularly with nary a flag thrown.

Behind the Steel Curtain’s Neal Colong has decided to so something about it. He’s decided to document and quantify the number of times Harrison gets blatantly held without a flag being throw. He’s dubbed them, at Steel Curtain Rising’s suggestion, “Harrison Holds.”

Number Times James Harrison was held Last week: 4
Number of Flags Thrown: 1
Number of Harrison Holds: 3
Total Harrison Holds for 2010: 3

Spread the Word

This is where you come in. Spread the word! If you have your own site or blog please link to it (meaning link to Neal’s article). ReTweet it. Facebook share it, Digg it. Do whatever MySpace users do to share articles.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

Steelers Release Leftwich, Sign McClendon

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is reporting that the Steelers have released quarterback Bryond Leftwich and activated Steve McClendon from the practice squad.

The move is reported to be temporary, and the Steelers expect to resign Leftwich Monday. The move was made to give the Steelers greater depth on the defensive line, as Casey Hampton will not play, leaving only Ziggy Hood and Nick Eason available as back ups.

The Steelrs signed McClendon to the practice squad after New Orleans wavied him. McClendon was the team's fourth round pick in this year's draft.

Troy Polamalu: Portrait of a Playmaker

"That's just Troy being Troy. A part of being a great players is not only delivering big plays but delivering them in a timely fashion." - Mike Tomlin, on Troy Polamalu's interception against Atlanta.

What defines a playmaker?

Go to Google type in “define: playmaker” or “define: play maker” and you’ll likely be disappointed by bland definitions your query returns.

You’ll be even more disappointed however, if your team lacks playmakers.

When asked to pinpoint his team’s weakness during the dark days of the Steelers 1999 season, Dan Rooney’s response was concise, and it went something like this: “We need playmakers. Guys like Rod Woodson, he was a playmaker when he was here.”

Ten years later the Steelers suffered another disappointing season. Going 9-7 in 2009 was no where near as dramatic as the ’99 nightmare, but the Steelers 5 game losing streak was every bit as ugly as it looked.

Yet, at nearly every position area, the Steelers had playmakers, save perhaps for the offensive line and special teams. Oh, yeah, and the secondary too.

Sunday’s victory against the Falcons starkly demonstrated the difference that a playmaker can make.

Remember the Chicago game.

  • Jay Cutler throws a great pass in traffic, Tyrone Carter is in position, but can’t quite make the play. Touchdown Chicago.

Remember Kansas City.

  • Matt Castle throws deep in the 4th quarter. A red jersey is no where to be found. The ball hits Ryan Clark right in the hands, Clark drops it, and the defending champions drop one to a perennial bottom-feeder.

Remember the debacle against Oakland.

  • The Raiders confidence mounts with each play as they sense the defending champions on the ropes. A ball hits Joe Burnett right on the numbers. He drops it, and the Raiders win.

Something similar could have happened last Sunday. But it did not.

The reason? Troy Polamalu.

Ron Cook of the Post-Gazette thought that Polamalu had a bad game.

Ed Bouchette thought that Polamalu played poorly too.

Troy Polamalu agreed with both.

In the end, it didn’t matter.

It didn’t matter because Troy Polamlu is a playmaker.



Polamalu’s 4th quarter interception was neither as dramatic nor as definitive as the one to seal victory in the AFC Championship sending the Steelers to Super Bowl XLIII.

And although it was a spectacular athletic feat, it was nothing phenomenal on the order of the one he nabbed against San Diego in 2008.

No, it was more mundane, and that’s the beauty of it.

Polamalu simply made a play, exactly when the Steelers needed it.

Such playmaking ability was sorely absent in a Steelers secondary that saw games slip away 5 times in the 4th quarter in 2009.

Welcome back Troy. Let all of Steelers Nation join in on toasting your good health.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Steelers Prepare for Titans, Brown to Dress?

As the Steelers prepare to face off against and old AFC Central rival, their newest wide receiver prepares to make his first start. It appears that injuries may keep wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Arnaz Battle from playing, as they have not practiced.

The Steelers drafted Brown with one of their fifth round picks and expected to place him on the practice squad. But Brown forced their hand with his penchant for big plays. Brown also likes to showboat, if reports are correct, which is cause for concern as the Steelers do not have much of a tradition of Diva wide receivers and presumptively would not like to start one….

If Brown does dress, he will likely return kicks and act as the team’s fourth wide receiver.

Between Dr’s appointments, work obligations, and reuniones de concorcio (one of the more “lovable” aspects to Argentine middle-class life) I haven’t had much time to write this week.

However, the Steelers and the Titans/Oilers have a rich tradition. So if you missed them the first time you can read about some highlights from the Steelers-Oilers rivalries, how the rivalry continued when the Steelers began traveling to Tennessee to face the Titans and, finally, you can “reminisce” about the late Steve McNair’s days as a Steelers Slayer.

Check back over the weekend, as we'll have more to say. Otherwise, enjoy the game.

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Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Attitude Change for Steelers Towards Running the Ball?

Art Rooney II turned a lot of heads last January when he very publicly called on his offense to “run the ball more effectively.” Lest the faithful fear that Art II was succumbing an attack of Daniel Snyderism, Rooney quickly clarified that the Steelers did not need to run more, just run better.

As numerous commentators have mentioned, from Ed Bouchette to the sporadic blogger, running the ball in the NFL is as much about mentality is anything else.

Chuck Noll used to like to say that training camp was as much about mental preparation as it was physical. Although Noll was known for his mastery of the cerebral side of the game, this wasn’t want he was talking about.

Rather, Noll was talking about using training camp to get players in the mindset needed to use their bodies as projectiles (pretty stark way to put it in this age of consciousness about concussions, but Noll was right.)

Mike Tomlin calls its "attrition football." Bill Cowher called it "imposing your will." Either way, it is all about having the mentality, the 'Want To.'

In times in recent years, it has seemed that the Steelers have lacked the 'Want To' when it came to running the ball. Re-establishing the run was a training camp priority.

Did the Steelers succeed in establishing the right mindset needed to run the ball while at St. Vincents?

One victory over the Atlanta Falcons provides far too little to draw conclusions from, but the early indicators are positive.

At no moment was this more apparent than the last play of the game.

According to Ed Bouchette, the Steelers had run 22 double several times before, with far lesser effect. But they ran it again because they felt the were getting the blocking down.



Block they did in overtime. First David Johnson on the lead block, then Hines Ward on the lateral block, and Rashard Mendenhall had room to run.

Reproducing a similar effect against Tennessee looks to be a more difficult challenge, but for one game at least the Steelers were back to Steelers Football.

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A welcome sign for all.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Wexell: Starks Has High Ankle Sprain

Inside the Steel City's Jim Wexell is reporting on twitter that Max Starks has the dreaded, “high ankle sprain.” Starks is listed “doubtful” for next week, but it is highly unlikely that he will play.

High ankle sprains normally take 4-6 weeks to heal, but in reality, they seem to take a full off season to heal properly, at least for running backs, defensive backs, wide receivers, and linebackers.

Perhaps, given that speed is less of a requirement at left tackle, Starks will be back to 100% more quickly.

Wexell is also reporting that Trai Essex (who seems to have assumed the role of spokesman for the offensive line) predicts that Tony Hills will start.

It during his rookie training camp that Wexell first compared the Steelers 2008 fourth round draft pick to John Jackson, who went from being an unhearlded rookie to anchoring the left side of the Steelers line from 1989 to 1997.

Hills of course has been invisible since then and was a total after thought when Willie Colon got injured in OTA. However, Hills blossomed this summer under the tutelage of new offensive line coach Sean Kugler.

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Random Thoughts on Steelers Overtime Victory Over Atlanta

Alas, as mentioned earlier, Steelers fans in Argentina, and presumptively in the rest of the southern cone of South America, were not able to see the Black and Gold square off against the Falcons via Direct TV. (And internet links did not seem to be much of a help.)

Thankfully, highlights were available from The RedZone, although given the low-scoring nature of the contest, few were shown.

Nonetheless, here are a few highlights, based on my limited observations:

  • Bryant McFadden made a first down saving, helmet removing hit during the first half.
  • Ziggy Hood appeared to have a key pressure on a key third down that forced a Falcon’s field goal attempt.
  • The Steelers defense seemed to be playing with two down lineman, at least according to the commentators
  • Lawrence Timmons and James Harrison had a great “sack-strip-six” sequence overturned on replay (probably a good call by the replay official)
  • Troy Polamalu did what Troy Polamalu did what he does, stopping the Falcons cold when they were looking to win it at the end of regulation
  • The Steelers defense forced a very quick 3 and out after the Falcons won the first toss
  • Rashard Mendenhall had a fabulous 50 yard game-clinching run, made possible in part by a key block from Hines Ward

Hines Ward of course led the team in receiving, and in doing so broke the 11,000 yards receiving mark, something that only 23 other men have done. Very little of Dennis Dixon’s play was shown on the Red Zone, but he at least avoided any game-costing mistakes. The box score doesn’t show that he was much of a treat to run the ball, however.

My ears also perked up when I heard that Jonathan Scott was in the game… I am sure there will be plenty of news as to why.

A 15-9 contest and one decided in OT is not what the network execs like, and although you’d like to see the Steelers win by a bigger margin, Mike Tomlin I am sure has already said, “we don’t add style points, a win is a win.” Or, as Bill Cowher would have said, they “found a way to win.”

Share Your Thoughts

Now is when we turn to you. If you saw the game, what were your thoughts? Who else not mentioned here stood out? What was good? What prompted concern? Please leave a comment and share your observations and opinions.

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No Steelers vs. Falcons in Argentina

Steelers fans in Argentina, and presumptively the rest of the Cone of South America woke up Sunday to a rude surprise.

No, the Steelers did not suffer another off-the field injury or other scandal, but instead we learned that Direct TV is not showing the Steelers-Falcons game today!

During the 2008 season Steel Curtain Rising complained vocally that Direct TV was screwing its South American NFL Sunday Ticket customers by providing 6 games a week on their Sunday Ticket. In 2009, largely thanks to the efforts of the Argentine American Football Association, Direct TV restored the full ticket, or something close to it.

Alas, it is not the full ticket. They have seven channels reserved for the 1 o'clock games, but there are nine 1 o'clock games this week.

So they're not showing the Steelers vs. the Falcons or the Browns vs. Tampa.

Detroit Lions fans living in Buenos Aires, can of course see their team play the Chicago Bears....

Mike Tomlin’s Elusive 2010 Challenge

At 38, Mike Tomlin has accomplished more than most NFL coaches achieve in a life time. Beginning their 78th, season the Pittsburgh Steelers have one more Lombardi Trophies than any other team in NFL history.

Tomlin, for all of the accolades that accompany his sterling track record, nonetheless leads the Steelers into their opener against Atlanta with one (ok, two) open questions about his coaching acumen. Similarly, the Steelers, in spite of serving as the NFL’s model of stability, commence this campaign after having weathered one of the worst off seasons in franchise history.

Ironically, the wake created by the off season turmoil may obscure Mike Tomlin’s chance to fill the pending hole in his coaching repertoire.

And the ultimate irony might be that this just might be the best thing that could happen for Steelers Nation.

252 Tumultuous Days

The 252 days that have passed between the Steelers ’09 finale against Miami and the ’10 opener against Atlanta have not treated the Pittsburgh Steelers well. You know the litany.

Off season indiscretions and ill fortune have robbed the Steelers of the services of Ben Roethlisberger, Santonio Holmes, Willie Colon and, although less dramatic of a loss, Limas Sweed.

And just some stability seemed to be setting in, Byron Leftwich sprained his MCL.

The State of the Steelers

In many ways, the Steelers begin the 2010 season as a study in contrasts.

  • They have the best depth at quarterback in the NFL, but no one player is without weakness.
  • One of the Steelers 2010 goals is to run the ball better, yet they begin the season with the smallest stable of running backs in recent memory
  • The Steelers have one of the oldest teams in NFL, yet 12 players on the active roster hail from the 2010 and 2009 drafts

Each point raised above represents both promise and peril for the Steelers in 2010, and that in-and-of-itself, might be a good thing.

The Hole in Tomlin’s Game

Mike Tomlin has exceeded everyone’s expectations in just three years as Steelers head coach. His accomplishments need not be reviewed again.

One thing, that does bear rehashing, is the one, indisputable, coaching weakness.

That weakness was on display as a rookie head coach in games against Arizona, Denver, New York, and Miami.

Last year it was apparent for all the word to see against Chicago, Kansas City, Oakland, and Cleveland.

The common thread in each of those games?

The Steelers played down to the level of competition.

Notice, no games from 2008 serve as examples, because this did not occur to the Steelers in 2008. They played the NFL’s toughest schedule, and were ravaged by injuries during critical junctures of the season.

Yet the Steelers did not blink, to Tomlin’s credit.

The Steelers begin their 2010 season without their All Star quarterback, with no proven depth at running back, and with a defensive line that continues to age, save for the arrival of Ziggy Hood.

They have little margin for error or injury.

And that might be just what they need.

In 2007 and 2009 Mike Tomlin had difficulty keeping his players focused on the proverbial “Eye of the Tiger.” Bill Cowher had similar difficulties early in his tenure, and in time Tomlin will learn too.

But that probably will not happen in 2010, because extenuating circumstances will likely obviate that need.

Instead, Tomlin must prepare his team to play with their backs to the wall from the outset – a situation in which both he and they have excelled at before.

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Thursday, September 9, 2010

Watch Tower: Put Leinart in HOF Over Roethlisberger? One of ESPN Page 2’s Bigger Blunders 3 Years Later

In early August of 2007 ESPN.com’s Thomas Neumann and Scott Symmes did the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Selection Committee a major favor, by going ahead and declaring 50 active players as future Hall of Famers.

The ESPN.com Page 2 article was titled “Ticketed for Canton,” with a really cool graphic titled “Cantonized” heading the page.

But Neumann and Symmes’ spade work for the Hall of Fame selection Committee didn’t stop there. They also decided that several other high-profile names would never get to wear the gold blazer on the dais at Canton.

The list was unnerving three years ago, and Steel Curtain Rising mentioned it a year ago when Trent Dilfer rated Ben Roethlisberger below several less-accomplished NFL signal callers.

The news that the Arizona Cardinals simply cut Matt Leinart outright makes Neumann and Symmes look all the more foolish. Leinart was number 41 on their list of sure bets, and this is what they had to say:



Interesting, to say the least, given that Leinart spent the bulk of the next three years on the bench and/or in the news for all the wrong reasons.

Neumann and Symmes’ blunders are not limited to including Leinart. They also listed Carlson Palmer and Vince Young at 38 and 39, while Drew Brees is merely listed as being “on the bubble.” Both are talented players who could go on to have Hall of Fame careers, but who would put rate Brees below Palmer and Young today?

The real egregious entry on Neumann and Symmes list was the inclusion of Ben Roethlisberger on list of “10 high-profile players who definitely won't be going to the Hall of Fame -- not without buying a ticket, anyway.”

This is why Ben Roethsliberger would never get voted into Canton, according to them:


Gotta love the “game manager” wrap. Wonder if their for-certain-future Hall of Famer Leinart concurs with their conclusion that Ben is incapable of carrying a team after having watched from the beach as Roethlisberger torched his secondary during the waning moments of Super Bowl XLIII in route to his second Super Bowl victory.

Moreover, what would Thomas Neumann say? Well, Steel Curtain Rising emailed him asking if he would still put Leinart, Palmer, and Young in the Hall of Fame ahead of the likes of Eli Manning, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger.

We’ll never know, as Neumann never responded.

Ben Roethlisberger has yet to punch his ticket for Canton, a fact that will be all too poignant as he begins his 4 game suspension.

But one thing is certain. If Ben Roethlisberger does get elected into the Hall of Fame he will arrive in Canton long before Matt Leinart.

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New Site Added to Steelers News Sources

A new site has been added to the Steelers News Sources section in the right column. The site is Respect the Towel, authored by Michael Batista.

It is a new site, and I only briefly browsed it, but it looks sharp. They went ahead and upload a link to Steel Curtain Rising to their site, reached out to me asking to have their site added, and I am only happy to comply.

Watch Tower: Leftwich Injury, Roethlisberger Suspension, Steelers Cuts

The final week of the Steelers 2009 off season provided a lot of news and a lot of drama between Byron Leftwich’s injury and the Steelers final cuts.

How all of this impacts the Steelers is of course what fans care about. And that is as it should be. However, the events of the last week provided some insights into how the press works. Here are some highlights.

Leftwich Injures Left Knee and Leaves Game

This news spread pretty fast – I learned about it from PG Plus, but it was also carried by ESPN and other outlets.

But Ed Bouchette came away with the scoop of the night, informing us that the Steelers were taking Leftwich to the hospital to get an MRI done.

  • Score one for Ed Bouchette and the Post-Gazette.

However those following the comment stream on Behind the Steel Curtain learned that Leftwich had torn his MCL, thanks to a tweet from Leftwich’s agent.

  • Score one for Twitter and fan-based sites like Behind the Steel Curtain

The Big Meeting in New York

ESPN.com’s Sal Palantonio dropped a minor bombshell during the middle of the week, when he reported that his sources had informed him that Ben Roethlisberger and his representatives were going to push Roger Goodell to reduce his suspension to two or three games.

He further reported that Steelers President Art Rooney II was going to New York to support Ben in this endeavor.

The interesting part is that the Pittsburgh papers did immediately pick up the story.

However, the Post-Gazette’s Gerry DuLac reported the day before the meeting that neither Ben nor the Steelers were going to push Goodell for a further reduction of Ben’s suspension. All reports out of New York indicate that he was right.

  • Score one for Gerry DuLac and the Post-Gazette.

Ben Breaks Down in the Locker Room Before Beginning his Suspension

One of the most interesting stories of the last week was one that only readers of Jim Wexell’s Inside the Steel City site saw.

Mike Pruista, the former Tribune Review columnist and current WDVE sports director, reported that Ben Roethlisberger broke down in the locker room and addressed the team, apologizing for the fact that he was about to be suspended.

The interesting thing is that neither rival Pittsburgh publicaions, nor national publications, picked up the story.

I’ve always liked Jim Wexell since his days with the web site Real Pittsburgh.com because I felt he brought something to readers that other beat writers missed, and this amounts to a major another scoop on the part of him and Pruista.

They may have benefited from some sort of exclusive, but if that’s the case it in no way diminishes the power of their story.

  • Score one for Inside the Steel City.

Steelers Reach Cut Down Day

Steelers fans could get information on the team’s first 10 cuts directly from the team’s website, although as noted at the time, Behind the Steel Curtain beat both Pittsburgh papers in getting the information to the web.

Indeed, Scott Brown of the Tribune-Review got something before mid-night, but the Post-Gazette did not have anything up there as of 12:00 am Eastern.

With just a few clicks, fans could learn that Kraig Urbik, Justin Hartwig, and Frank “The Tank” Summers were also going to be included in the next wave of cuts, news that came from Inside Pittsburgh Sports, among other sources.

Interestingly enough, readers of the Post-Gazette did not learn about these impending moves, not even from the paid PG Plus section.

  • Score one for Inside Pittsburgh Sports and Twitter

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Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Watch Tower: Second Annual Steel Curtain Rising Goofs Column

Everyone likes it when they’re right. To some extent, that is impetus driving the sports blogging and fan website phenomenon – people write on the internet because they think they have something to say that no one else is saying.

That sentiment is fine, as long as it is balanced with a dose of humility.

Today that does of humility comes in the form of Steel Curtain Rising’s second annual goofs column (click here to read last year's edition.)

Inspired by the example established by the legendary Washington Post reporter/columnist David Broder, I now take a look back at a year's worth of my work and own up to some of my more egregious errors.

The 2009 Steelers Won’t Succumb to Complacency

Unasked Questions of Camp Tomlin 2009” included this ill-fated observation:
The Steelers may falter in 2009, but don’t bet on compliancy being a cause.
It might be too harsh to condemn the 2009 Steelers for being complacent, but as we observed after the season, they certainly lacked the edge that they enjoyed in 2008.

Tumbling Down the Stairway to Seven

My prognostication skills got no better as the Steelers opened the 2009 regular season.

First I offered this gem:
Curtain’s Call: The Steelers defense can be more dominating.
Maybe of Lawrence Timmons had been more consistent, maybe if Aaron Smith doesn’t go down, maybe if William Gay’s attitude doesn’t get the best of him, maybe if Troy Polamalu doesn’t get hurt. Maybe, maybe, maybe… At the end of the day, the 2009 Steelers defense was a shadow of its former self.

Then came this one about special teams:
If Dan Sepulveda’s preseason performance is any indication, the punting unit should be giving the defense significantly longer fields to work with.

As for the kick return unit? Well, if the return magic that Stefan Logan showed in preseason is no mirage, then Steelers fans could be in for something special.
The Steelers special teams were anything but special, and easily cost the team two games and made a few others closer than they should have been.

Finally, I finished with this:
The road to Lombardi Number 7 is long and difficult…

Curtain’s Call:…But Steel Curtain Rising likes our chances!
Need further comment be made?

Age of Youth on the Defensive Line

In the middle of the 2009 season, Steel Curtain Rising hailed the ascension of youth on the Steelers offensive and defensive lines. It turns out the prediction was only half correct.

The Steelers 2010 opening day roster will include a healthy mix of youth and veterans on the offensive line.

That same mix will be absent on the defensive side of the ball, as both Sunny Harris and Doug Worthington got cut in favor of 30 year old veteran Nick Eason.

The Turning Point that Never Was

The Steelers 8th game of 2009 brought them to Denver and in many respects it was their best game of the season. Despite some early hiccups, it seemed like this was the game when the Steelers would finally get it together.

Afterward, I wrote this:
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.
As we now know, the Steelers then went on to lose the next five straight games, with three of those losses going to NFL bottom dwellers….

Spiraling Out of Control

Following the Steelers loss to Cleveland, Steel Curtain Rising offered this conclusion:
It is difficult for a coach to pull his team out of a total tailspin. Tomlin has clearly not been up to the task.

[I then compared Tomlin’s experience with the ’09 Steelers to the lessons Bill Walsh learned from his own Super Bowl hangover during the 1982 season.]

Hopefully [Tomlin] can learn from this. Perhaps he can follow suit.

But first he needs survive the next three games, which do not look to be pretty.
This is one occasion when you’re glad to be wrong. The Steelers not only fought tooth and nail during their last three games, they won all three of them.

Thankfully, Tomlin was in fact, up to the task.

Thanks Everyone Who Has Lent a Hand

Undoubtedly a thorough review of everything that has been written here in the past year would reveal even more errors and goofs.

And that is not counting typos and other mistakes which in another life would have been dubbed “copy editing errors.” Those have been, and will be plentiful, as editing your own work is never easy.

But on any number of occasions readers have pointed these out via the comment box, and for all of those corrections, in addition to your continued readership, let me extend to all my deepest thanks.

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Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Steelers Start Dennis Dixon: The Pros and Cons

Mike Tomlin ended all speculation and defied some conventional wisdom by naming Dennis Dixon as his starting quarterback for the Steelers opener against the Atlanta Falcons.

To be clear from the outset, I think that Mike Tomlin is making a mistake as the case for starting Charlie Batch is strong and should win the day on the merits.

But there are two sides to each coin, so let’s look at both.

The Case for Charlie

Charlie Batch is a 12 year NFL veteran who has been with the Steelers since 2002. He’s 3-1 as a starter in Pittsburgh. Batch is a locker room leader who commands respect from his teammates.

However, Batch has played sparingly. In six seasons of active service Batch has only throw 135 passes.

But Batch has made his passes count.

The mean of his passing averages is 54%, which might not sound high, but a couple of seasons when he went 1-2 drag that down a lot. More importantly, he’s thrown 7 touchdowns and only 4 picks. This might not sound impressive but several of those picks came in garbage time and/or meaningless games.

And that is probably the most compelling reason to start him now. He is a veteran, who seldom makes the mistakes that only a quarterback can make to lose a game.

That is sufficient reason to start Batch.

The Back Side to Batch

Batch is brittle. He’s missed the 2004 and 2008 seasons due to injury. He broke his thumb in 2005 after playing just a game and a half. He also broke his wrist in less than 4 minutes of action against Kansas City last year.

This past summer, by his own account, Batch did not take a single snap with the starting unit. Experience can make up for lack of repetitions…. To a point.

Defending The Dixon Decision

The negatives against Dixon are his inexperience and that has shown. He was obviously lost last year against Baltimore when he got beyond the first several plays that coaches had scripted for him.

By all accounts, his performance against Denver’s first string was plagued by mistakes.

But Dixon does have an upside.

He is mobile, and that trait will serve him well against an offensive line whose pass protection remains a work in progress (put charitably.)

His mobility gives him, and the Steelers offense, a chance to by dynamic, (assuming to Arians does not attempt to put Dennis Dixon on too tight of a leash.)

Dixon has spent far more time with the Steelers first unit than Batch.

Beyond that, you have the fact that Byron Leftwich is expected to be out for a week or two. Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette observed that Tomlin’s decision not to put Leftwich on IR or waive him indicates that he sees Leftwich as his long term back up.

It is no secret that Tomlin likes Leftwich. When Batch broke his collarbone in 2008, Mike Tomlin wanted Leftwich on his team because he felt that Leftwich was capable of taking the Steelers to the Super Bowl should Ben suffer a long term injury.

The Steelers will likely have to make a roster move once Ben finishes his suspension, and that move will likely be to waive Batch. Is there logic in starting a guy on week one that you know you’re probably going to cut on week five?

Mike Tomlin does not coach scared. Tomlin does not quiver when adversity confronts him, and the decision to start Dixon serves as the latest example.

Summing it All Up

The Post-Gazette’s Gerry DuLac spoke in favor of Batch, arguing that it is easier for a young player to come in and “rescue” the team should Batch falter than it would be for Dixon to handle all of the pressure of starting.

That makes a lot of sense.

But the flip side is also true.

If Dixon runs into have trouble, all of the assets that Batch brings to the table will still be available.

In the final analysis, Charlie Batch gives the Steelers the best chance to win while Leftwich and Roethlisberger are unavailable therefore he should start.

But than Mike Tomlin knows more about the Steelers than all others reading this blog, and for that reason alone, his decision should command a healthy level of respect from Steelers Nation.

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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Joe Burnett, Stefan Logan Top Steelers Final Cuts

The Steelers released 7 more players to get down to the NFL's 53 man roster limit, and the cuts included a few surprises.

2008's rookie of the year? Gone, as Patrick Bailey has hit the waiver wire.

Those young defensive lineman which the Steelers all but promised to develop? That development will either have to take place on the practice squad or with other players as the Steelers cut Sunny Harris and Doug Worthington, two late round picks from the 2009 and 2010 drafts.

What about the training camp sensation and feel-good story of 2009? Well, Stefan Logan might have been the NFL's oldest rookie last year at age 28, but if he is to be the NFL's oldest second year man then it will be somewhere else, as he too got his walking papers.

Some had thought that Tyler Grisham might be another feel-good story in 2010, but someone will need to get hurt for that to happen, as Grisham will not join the active roster, although the Steelers will almost certainly attempt to sign him to the practice squad.

The other big surprise is Joe Burnett, who was the team's 5th round pick in 2009, and actually got some playing time. The Steelers would probably also like to bring Burnett back to the practice squad, but he might get picked up by another team.

The Steelers rounded out their cuts with safety Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith and defensive tackle Steve McLendon.

Check back for further analysis on the Steelers personnel moves.

Could the Steelers Follow the Example of the Washington Redshirts?

Cut down day has arrived. The Steelers formally let go of their first ten yesterday, and rumors circulate that Justin Hartwig and Frank Summers are also on their way out.

That leaves 8 more cuts, none of them easy.

These are all tough calls, literally touching on every position area, save for tight end (although why they continue to keep Matt Speath, whom they don’t throw to despite the fact that he can catch but cannot block continues to befuddle.)

Steelers preseason is not shown in Buenos Aires, as you might expect, so I can offer little in the way of opinion on who should stay and who should go.

But might there be an easier way?

There, in fact is, although it is highly unlikely the Steelers would follow it.

Remembering the Washington Redshirts

The late Jack Kent Cooke, former owner of the Washington Redskins, wanted a winner, and he did not care how much it cost. In an age preceeding both the salary cap and free agency, Cooke spent like no other.

The primary beneficiaries were back ups, who in some cases made as much as starters in other cities.

Rookies also benefited too.

Back in the 1980’s you could put players on injured reserve and reactivate them. If you did it before the season, they were out six weeks. Otherwise, they were out for four.

Every year before cut down day the Redskins would stash a host of players on IR, mostly promising young rookies, who just weren’t quite ready to play.

This was against league policy, but the Redskins had it down to a science.

They’d cut a half dozen or so expensive veterans to get to the roster limit. At the time, a team picking a player up off of waivers had to honor the player’s previous contract. Since Cooke paid these men so well, there were generally few takers.

Once these players cleared waivers, the Redskins would then put the rookies on IR and resign the veterans.

The rest of the league took notice. I can distinctly remember one commentator on ESPN referring to them as the Washington Redshirts.

An SI article by Peter King from the early 1990’s described how some players were asked to “take dives” during practice, so that they could appear on the injury report, and then be put on IR. The article was about abuse of the injured reserve policy in general, but most of King's examples focused on the Redskins.

The most famous beneficiaries of Washington’s policy were Mark Rypien and Stan Humphries, but loads of future starters, backups, and role players for the Redskins got a “redshirt year.”

The NFL, took incremental action until it got to the point where we are today, a player who goes on IR was out for the year. They also created the practice squads, to give teams a place to develop young, but unready, talent.

Would the Steelers Follow Suit...?

The quandary that the Steelers face is that at a number of positions, the Steelers have to choose between two young players who, while unproven, have a lot of potential.

Stashing a couple of them on IR seems like the ideal solution, particularly during this uncapped year.

But it is also highly unlikely that the Steelers will do that. One of the reasons why Hartwig is likely to be gone is his salary. The Steelers do not pay people to sit at home.

And it is also breaking the rules and, while the Steelers are not as saintly as the image that most of us (myself included) like to perpetuate, they certainly do run one of the cleaner shops in the NFL.

By the end of the today, the Steelers will have had to make difficult choices between Frank “The Tank” Summers and Jonathan Dwyer, Joe Burnette and Anthony Madison, Antonio Brown and Stefan Logan, Sunny Harris, Doug Worthington, and Nick Eason.

And that is the way it should be. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin get paid good money to make those tough choices.

And while they do make mistakes, (Ryan McBean couldn’t get a wiff of playing time in Pittsburgh and is now a starter in Denver), they usually get it right.

So keep the faith, and at 6:00 pm let’s get ready to welcome the members of the 2010 Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Steelers Cutting Frank "The Tank" Summers?

Jerry DePaoli of the Inside Pittsburgh Sports is reporting that the agent of Frank “The Tank” Summers in addition to a league source have confirmed that the Steelers 2009 fifth round draft pick has been cut.

The report also indicates that the Steelers will attempt to sign Summers to the practice squad, although Craig Schaffer, Summer’s agent, says he has already gotten calls from interested teams.

Such reports from agents are to be taken with a grain of salt. Sometimes they are true, sometimes talk is just talk, and other times the agent is simply attempting to create the impression that his client is in demand.

Inside Pittsburgh Sports is also reporting that the Steelers granted permission to Justin Hartwig’s agent to seek a trade. Jim Wexell’s Twitter feed carried a report that Steel Curtain Rising referenced earlier saying that Hartwig had been told to “look elsewhere.”

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Friday, September 3, 2010

Justin Hartwig Reportedly Cut By Steelers

359 days ago the Steelers signed starting center Justin Hartwig to a four year extension.

Today Inside the Steel City's Jim Wexell reports that the Steelers have decided to part ways with Hartwig.

If this turns out to be correct, Hartwig would be the biggest cut the Steelers have or will make, as Hartwig started every game for the team since joining as an unrestricted free agent in the 2008 off season.

Hartwig's play, however, had slipped, and many felt he had been out played by back up center Doug Legursky and even Kraig Urbik, whom the Steelers have also decided to cut.

Even if this report turns out to be false, which is doubtful, Hartwig will be replaced in the starting line up by 2010 first round draft pick Maurkice Pouncy.

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