´ Steel Curtain Rising: October 2010

Why Did the Steelers Lose to Tampa

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Ziggy Hood’s Moment has Arrived

When the kids had killed the man I had to break up the band- David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust

OK, I admit, I date myself. But perhaps since the day the Steelers drafted Evander aka Ziggy Hood in the first round of the 2009 draft I’ve been waiting for the chance to make a Ziggy Stardust tie in.

Unfortunately, this one did not come under happy circumstances.

Thank God Aaron Smith’s life is in no danger. But the same cannot be said for his career.

The lyric that is the most apt, in fact, is the most ominous.

Breaking up "the band" hits a little too close to home…

…Well, let’s just say that all sorts of statistics are flying around documenting the Steelers defenses’ effectiveness with and without Aaron Smith.

They all boil down to:

  • With Smith Steelers Win Super Bowl
  • Without Smith Steelers Defense Reduced to a Shell

Ziggy Hood cannot “replace” Aaron Smith any more than Chad Scott could replace Rod Woodson, or Jason Gildon could replace Kevin Greene.

Smith is a Hall of Fame caliber 3-4 defensive end. Aaron Smith has earned his place as one of the best defensive lineman in Steelers history.

Consider the magnitude of that statement. Aaron Smith is one of the best defensive lineman in Steelers history.

Those are some tall shoes to fill.

Preparing for this Eventuality with Evander

Steel Curtain Rising has quoted Mike Tomlin’s credo from the 2008 off season that the team needed to get “younger and stronger on both lines” more times than is good for us.

But the Steelers brain trust did that in April 2009 when they picked Ziggy Hood in the first round of the 2009 NFL draft. Although Aaron Smith was coming off an injury-free Super Bowl year, he was 33 and Nick Eason, the youngest lineman behind him, was 29.

When injury felled Aaron Smith 5 games into the 2009 season some raised their eyebrows when Mike Tomlin did not immediately insert Hood into the starting line up, seemingly calling the young man’s career into question before it even got started.

Such worry about Ziggy Hood was not warranted then, however, as Mike Tomlin was simply being prudent.

Ziggy Hood got plenty of playing time in 2009, and came on with some big plays when they were needed against Baltimore late in the season.

Through out the 2010 off season and into the beginning of training camp, coaches ballyhooed Ziggy Hood. But Hood did not play up to expectations, and his drive to press Brett Keisel for playing time never materialized.

Thus far in the 2010 season Hood has not made any “Splash” plays in the spot duty he’s gotten. But he played a huge role in shutting down Chris Johnson when the Steelers schooled the Tennessee Titans.

Hood’s failure to start when Brett Keisel went down seemed like a red flag at first, but Ed Bouchette leaked the news that Hood has been fighting nagging ankle injuries for much of the year.

Little of that is relevant now.

The Steelers need Ziggy Hood to step in and show that he can be a competent starter at defensive end in 3-4 alignment. He’s show the promise that he can be that since the day the Steelers drafted him.

Now it is time for Ziggy Hood to grow. The Steelers need him to deliver.

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Aaron Smith has Surgery, Does NOT Go on IR

As expected, the Steelers confirmed today that Aaron Smith had undergone surgery to repair a torn triceps.

The unexpected news was that the Steelers were not, for the time being, putting him on injured reserve. While offers a big of unanticipated hope Steelers fans would do well to remember that management has tried this tactic before without reaping much of a reward.

In 2008 the Steelers kept Marvel Smith on the active roster until late in December, even though he did not play after being injured in the Jacksonville game.

Likewise in 2009, the Steelers kept Troy Polamalu on the active roster through the end of the season, even though he did not return after leaving the Cincinnati game.

Room on the Roster?

While the desire to keep Smith active Is understandable, one might question whether the Steelers can afford this luxury. They’re almost certain to activate McClendon from the practice squad, but to do that they would need to cut one of their player.

This will be difficult, given that the Steelers roster has been crafted to balance veterans with defined roles and rookie’s whose potential they hope to develop.

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Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Time for Pittsburgh to Put its Best Foote Forward?

The Monday after the Steelers costly victory over the Miami Dolphins saw Steelers Nation held in bated breath, clutching their roseary beads in hope against hope that Aaron Smith’s injury would not be a severe as anticipated.

In all likelihood, Smith’s season, and perhaps his career is over.

Time allowing Steel Curtain Rising will have more to say on Smith.

But right now we’ll focus on another injury’s impact, that of the loss of LaMarr Woodley.

Woodley of course injured a hamstring. Such injuries are tricky, as hamstrings heal when they are ready, and not a moment sooner.

Nonetheless, someone is going to need to replace Woodley.

Second round pick Jason Worilds did an admirable job in relief of Woodley, (or so I am told, as DirectTV didn’t show the Steelers game in Buenos Aires, yep, I am still bitter about that.)

And were Smith healthy, the wise move would be to give the young some playing time.

But Smith is not healthy. He certainly will not play this week, and no one knows if Brett Kiesel will play either.

Best Foote Forward?

The Steelers will head to New Orleans to take on the defending Super Bowl Champions on National TV. The Saints just got embarrassed by the Browns, and now doubt are itching for a rebound.

The situation dictates that the Steelers get their four best linebackers on the field for the majority of the game. That means it is time for them to reap the dividend that they earned when they resigned Larry Foote.

When the Steelers drafted Lawrence Timmons in 2007, they had him projected as an outside linebacker, and he praticed at that position for much of the year. He of course switched to the inside in 2008.

But Timmons has, daresay, been their most explosive linebacker and the Steelers are going to need his disruptive presence to get into Drew Brees face.

Foote, of course, is starter capable, and the Steelers need to move him into Timmon’s slot, and have Timmons replace Woodley.

This will probably happen, and it is largely a no-brainer. There is one unanswered question however.

The Farrior Factor

This time one year ago the general wisdom in Steelers Nation was that James Farrior was beginning to falter. God knows Farrior could probably beat out most of the other starters in the league at his position, but one can only evade the ticks of Father Time’s clock for so long.

This undoubtedly factored into the Steelers decision to bring back Foote.

Farrior has played better so far this year, but how much of that is due to Timmons’ improved play?

I’ll leave it to a wiser fan to wax on the intricacies of the Mac and Buck inside linebacker positions, but the truth is that Farrior probably has played a little better and the Steelers have probably also benefited in the middle from Timmons’ surge.

At the end of the day, the Steelers are going to need to get their best 11 defensive players on the field, and that means that they need to move Timmons to the outside and slide in Larry Foote.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

The Steelers Defeat Miami 23-22: Positives and Negatives

One thing you can say about the Steelers and Dolphins match ups during the Mike Tomlin era: The game will go down to the wire.

As some readers have already noted, Direct TV decided to show its Sunday Ticket customers in the Southern Cone the San Francisco-Carolina game instead of the Steelers-Dolphins contest.

In light of that, I do not pretend to offer much in the way of penetrating analysis. Instead, we’ll hopefully have some fun with the fortunately, unfortunately game.

  • Fortunately, the Steelers won the game

Unfortunately, they gave up another late touchdown in the first half and gave up the lead late

  • Unfortunately, Emmanuel Sanders fumbled the opening kick off

Fortunately, he made up for it with a 45 yard return when the Steelers needed to regain the lead

  • Fortunately, the Steelers good on their promise to get Moore and Redman more involved in the running game

Unfortunately, the backs managed a collective 2.1 yards per carry

  • Unfortunately, Ben Roethlisberger had three fumbles and looked rusty at other times

Fortunately, Ben had no picks, and threw the ball for two TD’s, including a beautiful bomb to Mike Wallace

This is no where near the level of analysis that I like to offer here, but it his hard to do that when Direct TV relegates you to watching RedZone highlights.

Injuries, Replay

The biggest news outside of the actual result was the controversial end zone call and the injuries sustained to Flozell Adams, LaMarr Woodley and, most ominously, Aarron Smith.

Steel Curtain Rising will have more to say about the injury situation in the days to come.

As for the end zone call, take a look for yourself:



If you’re a Steelers fan and you honestly think that the touchdown should have counted, you might be advised to seek professional help.

Possession after the fumble is another matter.

Dolphin fans will beg to differ, but the officals got call correct.


All that you can see from the replay is that Roethlisberger, Legursky and several Dolphins have pieces of the ball. Add to that the fact that at some point the ball play got whistled dead and a touchdown was signaled, which further muddies the possession picture.

Given that, it pretty hard to say there was irrefutable evidence to indicating that the Dolphins had possession.

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Sunday, October 24, 2010

NFL Sunday Ticket Screws Steelers Fans in South America (Again)

NFL Sunday Ticket is a wonderful concept: You plunk down your money, and you get to see your favorite team, no matter what.

Unfortunately the concept is a little different for some paying customers outside of the US, and more unfortuantely, Steelers fans have come out on the short end of the difference twice so far this season.

The first week of the season brought Steelers fans in South America (or at least in Argentina) the not so plesant surprise that the Steelers-Falcons game was not going to be shown.

It happened again today, as Direct TV NFL Sunday ticket decided to feature these marquee NFL match ups:

The winless Bills vs. the Ravens
The Browns vs. the Saints
The winless Panthers vs. the one win 49ers

I will grant you that all three games generated a fair amount of excitement, but by watching what I could pick up on the RedZone, the Steelers Dolphins game was plenty exciting.

The RedZone is a life saver in these situations, but for hardcore fans it is simply insufficient for several reasons:
  • The Steelers defense held Miami to 5 field goals -- it would have been nice to see those goal line stands
  • Ben Roethlisberger also seemed to be out of sorts on a couple of plays -- were those just isolated incidents, or did he continue to look rusty
  • Mewelde Moore and Issac Redman seemed to be getting the carries late in the game -- was Mendenhall hurt?
  • Flozell Adams went down, did he make it back in the game?
  • How did Ziggy Hood and Nick Eason do?

The answers, of course, to all of these questions are available on-line, but that is not the point -- Steelers Fans in South America Pay for the NFL Sunday Ticket BECAUSE They Want to See the Steelers Play!

Direct TV Argentina reserves only six channels for the Sunday Ticket. Today there were 9 early games, which means that some fans are going to get shafted.

But let's use some logic here. Do you show a game between a 4-1 team and 3-2 team, or do you show a game between a 0-whatever team vs. a 1-4 team?

Saturday, October 23, 2010

James Harrison Hold Count Stands at 7

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

After being quiet for a few weeks Coolong reports on Behind the Steel Curtain’s Pre Game Zone Blitz that the holding of James Harrison picked up a notch this past week.

According to Coolong’s review of the game tape, Harrison was held once at the end of the second quarter, and again at the end of the fourth quarter.

During the season commentators have noted that teams tend to score on the Steelers late in halves. We can see in this instance, that the officials are turning their head the other way as offensive tackles hold one of the league’s preeminent pass rushers.

Coincidence? Perhaps not in this case, as I do not think the Browns scored on either drive, but this does bear watching.

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

Number times James Harrison was held last week: 2
Number of “Harrison Holds:” 2
Total “Harrison Holds” for 2010: 7

Get the Word Out

This is where you come in. Spread the word!

“Harrison Holds” have been down so far this season, but given the storm of public criticism that Silverback has weathered this week, you can well imagine that officials will be more inclined to look the other way when offensive players hold James Harrison.

So, if you have your own site or blog please link to it Neal’s Pregame Zone Blitz. ReTweet it. Facebook share it, Digg it. Do whatever MySpace users do to share articles.

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Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Steelers Report Card vs. the Browns

Each Week Steel Curtain Rising issues its report card, grading the performance of individual units in the pervious week’s game. As a caveat, I offer Scouts honor that I have consulted no other report cards.

Quaterback

Seeing number seven under center was a site for sore eyes. Ben looked at little rusty through the first half, throwing one pick and missing a few key throws. The rust was gone by the second half, and 21 points resulted from it. Grade: B+

Running Backs

Rashard Mendenall got 84 yards and while his 3.1 averge might fail to impress, it should not as he had several strong runs, at other times he had little room to run. Redman had 31 yards on six carries and should have spelled Mendenhall after the outcome was no longer in doubt. Grade: B
Recievers

The downfield pass returned to Pittsburgh, and the recivers took advantage. Wallace, Ward, El, Sanders, and Miller all made big catches. Grade: A

Offensive Line

The line suffered another injury, but their play must be considered subpar nonethless. Mendenhall had too little room to run on too many occasions. And while Ben was not sacked, the protection could have been better. The OL’s performance was “above the line” but they need to play better. Grade: C

Defensive Line

The Browns could never mount and effective running game, and that starts up front. Nick Eason did a good job filling in for Brett Kiesel, but why didn’t Ziggy Hood play more? Why was there not more pressure on McCoy during non-blitzes? Grade B

Linebackers

The linebackers had another monster game, led by James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons, who terrorized the Browns for 22 tackles, 3.5 sacks, 2 tackles for losses, two pass defenses and five QB hits. Oh yeah, and the other linebackes looked good too. Only the lack of pressure on McCoy during non-blitzes knocks this grade down. Grade: A-

Secondary

The seondary picked of McCoy twice, but garbage time or no, hey did comlete 281 yards woth of passes, including some long ones, including one late score. This isn’t entirely the fault of the secondary, but the late scores are becoming too common. Grade: B

Special Teams

Keyron Fox recovered a fumble, and Emmanual Sanders looked good in his debut. Outside of that special teams went largely unnoticed and that is nothing to complain about. Grade: B

Coaching

While this game had a lot of potential for a let down, that did not happen. The coaches made a wise move by getting Emanual Sanders into the game. Their continued insistence on using Mendenhall late in games that are decided is tempting fate. The late long balls must be addressed. Likewise, while the Steelers did get to McCoy, there were other times when he had too much time to throw. Grade: B

Unsung Hero

Emanual Sanders. He only had two catches for 37 yards, but he looked good in his first NFL game, and this is important as it is imperative that the Steelers develop this young receiver.

P.S. All apologies for spelling errors, language is set to Spanish and English spell check not working...

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Monday, October 18, 2010

Roethlisberger Returns, Steelers Defeat Browns 28-10

The record will reflect that in his first post-suspension game, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger led his team to a 28-10 victory over the Cleveland Browns.

A more dispassionate analysis reveals that the game was both more and less.

More because, after shucking off some early rust, Ben provided the Steelers with what they’ve been missing for the previous four weeks:

  • Precision passing
  • An ability to make something out of nothing
  • Big Play Potentail

It was also less because the opponent was not only the Browns, but a Browns team starting a rookie quarterback minus Joshua Cribbs and another key starter.

Given that, the template is set for “rout.”

Yet that is not what happened.

The game was 7-3 at the half. To be sure, Ben moved the team smartly in the third quarter, leading the team to a 5 play 96 yard drive that took less than 96 minutes. Ben hit both Mike Wallace and Health Miller on that drive, and Hines Ward ended it by doing what he does, getting tough yards en route to the end zone.

Likewise, the Steelers sacked Browns rookie QB Colt McCoy five times, but he still managed to hit his receiving corps for throws of 23, 23, 25, and 34 yards.

And that is the other side of the game.

As has been mentioned numerous times here in Steel Curtain Rising, one of Mike Tomlin’s weaknesses is that his teams have tended to “play down” to the competition.

Perhaps that is why Rashard Mendenhall, in spite of some impressive runs, found it difficult to find room to run on many plays.

No Reason to Over React

This is, of course, the National Football League. The entire “On Any Given Sunday” motif is born out of the reality that even teams with bad records have incredibly talented rosters.

Cleveland has played each of its opponents tough, and to expect a cake walk would be folly.

The game nonetheless suggests that the Steeler offensive line, their gallant performance against Tennessee notwithstanding, remains far from being an asset. And the Steelers defense, for all its pomp and circumstance, still gives up the big play and the late score, a little to easy for comfort.

While all of those things are important, none of them outshine what is the story of the day.

Ben Roethlisberger is back, and because of that the Steelers offense is again a unit to be feared.

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Saturday, October 16, 2010

Steelers Browns History - A Selection of Bitter Pills from a Historic Rivalry

Tomorrow Ben Roethlisberger will play in his first NFL regular season game since the Steelers victory over the Miami Dolphins last January.

The opponent, is of course the Steelers long-time nemesis, the Cleveland Browns.

The Steelers Browns-Rivalry is as old as the NFL itself, its lineage so wonderfully chronoicled by Behind the Steel Curtain’s Mary Rose ealier this week.

Ironically enough, Ben will take to the field in his first post-suspension game against the last opponent to issue him a defeat.

The Cleveland Browns may be 1-4, but they have played one of the NFL’s tougest schedules in Mike Tomlin’s estimation. And, like last year’s game, this one has all of the markings of a “trap game,” games in which Mike Tomlin teams have historciaclly sturggled.

In the spirit of superstition that hopes to avoid such an ill fate, Steel Curtain Rising takes the opposite track – by chronicaling some of the Steelers most ignominous lossess to their historic division rival.

Browns Snap the Three Rivers Stadium Jinx 27-24, October 1986

When the Steelers opened Three Rivers Stadium in 1970, they were still a league doormat team. Yet, for nearly 16 years, the Cleveland Browns could not secure a win in Pittsburgh.

Art Modell, ever superstitous, tried busing his players, to Pittsburgh. He tried flying them in. Rumor has it that he even considered assembling car carravan. Nothing worked until 1986 when Mark Malone fumbled away a sure Steelers tieing field goal.

Ozzy Newsome summed it up this way: “The frustration is over, now I can retire”

  • What it told us: After winning the AFC Central in 1984, the Steelers followed with a 7-9 effort in 1985. This win signaled that the s downturn was for real, and that the mid-80’s be lean times for the men in Black and Gold

Punting Disasters in the Mud, November 21st, 1988

Bernie Kosar might have thrown the then longest touchdown pass of his careear this day, but the story was the Steelers punting unit, or lack thereof. Frank Minnefield returned one blocked punt 11 yards for a touchdown and the Steelers suffered another blocked punt.

But the worst was yet to come.



Punting from their own 50, the Steelers legendary center Mike Webster hiked the snap so high above Harry Newsome’s head that it landed 47 yards behind the line of scrimmage.

Bubby Brister, who had raised a firestrom ealier in the year by claiming that the Steelers offense was “so complex and conservative that we might as well punt on first down” told reporters after the game that “we might as well throw on first.”

  • Growing Pains: This was the game that finally convinced Chuck Noll to hire a full-time special teams coach. Jon Klob was relieved of his share of the duties, and George Stewart revitalized the unit, which played a vital role in the resugance of the 1989 Steelers.

Browns Thump Steelers 51-0, September 1988

Steel Curtain Rising fully recounted the Browns 51-0 home defeat of the Steelers in the Steelers 1989 series.

  • Silver Lining: If any silver lining was to be had, it was that this loss, combined with the Steelers encore 41-10 loss the next week against the Bengals, served motivate the Steelers. If memory serves, David Little said after the season, these loses drove the men to prove that they “weren’t that bad,” in a way that twin 3 point losses never could.

Still such silver linings were of little consulation in early September 1989.

13-3 Reveals Woes in Walton’s Offense, September 1990

It was the first game of the Steelers offense under the stewardship of Joe Walton, and it was a sign of things to come. Merril Hoge fumbled at an inopportune time leading directly to a Cleveland score and a befuddled Bubby Brister threw into double coverage.

  • Say it Ain’t So, Joe: The offense struggled all day just as they would for the duration of Walton’s tenure.

Another Reason to Hate Cleveland Stadium, October 1990

The Browns only won this one 17-14, but the way they won confirmed the reality that Cleveland Staidum was truly a wreched place for the Steelers.

At 3rd and goal from the 2 running back Leroy Hoard had been leveled by Carnell Lake and had just rolled onto his back lying flat in the end zone, presumptively out of the play.

Kosar’s pass got tipped by Ketih Willis and landed right on Hoard’s chest for a touchdown.

As Bob Labriola said reflecting on the play a number of years later, "you gotta hate the place."

Steelers Find their Back up Quarterback, the Hard Way, October 1992

It was Bill Cowher’s second loss, and the first and only loss to an AFC Central foe during his rookie season. And it came at the hands of Mike Tomzack, whose performance in the 17-9 victory led the Steelers to bring him on board as a back up, a position he would occupy for the remainder of the decade (save for his starting stint in 1996.)

Eric Metcalf Defeats the Steelers, All By Himself, October 1993

This was one of those exiting games that just happens to end the wrong way. The Steelers dominated in every staistical category, yet still lost.

Early in the game, Eric Metcalf returned a punt for a touchdown. And at the very end of the game, when the Steelers appeared to have it locked up, Metcalf did it again.

  • Special Teams Schizophrenia: Bill Cowher had replaced George Stewart (very good coach) with John Guy as his special teams coach (very bad coach) and at the end of the season Cowher fired Guy and replaced him with Bobby April (excellent coach) continuing the Steelers Dr. Jeckel and Mr. Hyde rotation at special teams coach.
  • Reggie Who? Jerry Olsavsky tore a four ligaments in his knee. Things appeared grim for one of the Steelers unsung heros of the early 1990’s as his career appeared to be over.

    The Steelers had selected Chad Brown in the second round of the 1993 NFL draft, and many assumed it was only a matter of time before he broke the starting line up. However, when O went out, it was undrafted rookie free agent Reggie Barnes, not Chad Brown who got the nod.

    Brown of course did break the starting line up later that year, giving no one else cause to remember the name “Reggie Barnes,” save for the lesson that just because a young draft pick does not play right way, does not mean fans should dispare.

When all is said and done, the odds favor the Steelers. They're playing with a rookie quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger is back, and they will certainly want to avenge the loss from last November.

Nonetheless, I hope you enjoyed this stroll down memory lane and, if nothing else, we should all be reminded to take nothing for granted.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Where to See the Steelers in Novato California?

This week brings me to Novato, California on business (quite a haul from Buenos Aires, Argentina, let me tell you.)

I am very far from any of the city's "hot spots" and with limited transportation. Nonetheless, if anyone knows of a place where I can see the Steelers, (ideally a Steelers bar, but any place where I can see the game will do) please leave a comment with your recommendations.

Many Thanks!

Monday, October 11, 2010

Watch Tower: The Media's Role in the Roethlisberger Rejuvenation

And so it begins.

Since throwing his last pass of the 2009 season, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has endured a storm of media criticism and public outcry unparalleled in Steelers history.

Roethlisberger rehabilitation has been underway for some time, but it will shift into high gear as he prepares for his first post-suspension game. The role the media plays in this process will be interesting to watch.

Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower has commented on the press’ performance in the Roethlisberger story, complementing the Tribune Review’s Carl Prine and the Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac for their rock-solid old school journalistic approach to the story, and it has condemned various members of the national media for distorting the facts in their stories.

Now it is time to examine how the media will help, or hinder, Roethlisberger’s ability to resuscitate his public image.

The Press and Relations Between Public Figures

The personal relationship between the press corps and the figures they cover has a tremendous impact on the coverage that the celebrities and/or politicians receive. Elliot King and Michael Schudson. documented this phenomenon in the Columbia Review of Journalism in 1987 in the article “Ronald Reagan and the Press: The Myth of the Great Communicator.”

As Steel Curtain Rising has commented before, King and Schudson's argument deals with politics, but is readily applied to sports.

Bill Cowher had an often contentious relationship with the press, at least the Pittsburgh press, and one can see this in the fact that the tone of Cowher’s coverage shifted negative very quickly the moment things got rough in the dark days of 1998 and 1999.

Going outside of Steelers Nation, Vinny Testaverde and Drew Bledsoe provide another example. While space and time do not permit the extensive research needed to prove this point, consider the following:

  • Both were number one picks, and neither lived up to his potential.
  • Bledsoe got his team to a Super Bowl once, and made a huge contribution coming off the bench in the 2001 AFC Championship against the Steelers.
  • Vinny barely sniffed a Super Bowl in his career

Nonetheless, assessments of Bledsoe’s career tend to be far more negative than those of Vinny Testaverde (remember the “Vinny Testaverde is a magician on the football field” United Way ads?)

These observations are far from definitive. They don’t need to be to see that the press regards Testaverde as “a good guy” and regards Bledsoe with far less affection.

Ben and the Press

And so it is with Ben Roethlisberger. He has never been a favorite in the press room.

This much was obvious before Ben was named in a criminal sexual assault allegation in March of 2010.

Despite being the first rookie to go 15-0 as a starter, despite being the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl, despite bouncing back from the motorcycle accident and appendectomy, Ben was written off as a "game manager" early in his career.

Even after he led the greatest comeback in Super Bowl history, ESPN’s Trent Dilffer rated Roethlisberger as a third tier quarterback.

Ben seemed to both aware and unconcerned with his poor press relations, as his “I ain’t gonna get no Rooney award” comment revealed last year.

Ben’s apparent ambivalence towards his relationship with the press is quickly becoming a thing of the past.

Meet Bob Smizik Media Consultant

Writing back in May, the Post-Gazette’s Bob Smizik reported that Ben’s agent had reached out to several in the Pittsburgh media seeking suggestions on how his client might begin “reaching out to the fan base through the media.” Smizik had not been contacted, but he offered his two cents, including:

  • Provide television interviews via Pittsburgh’s stations
  • Make himself available to the media
  • “he needs to look reporters in the eye and be engaged. He needs to call people by their first name when he answers a question”
  • Grant one-on-one interviews

Smizik denied that he wanted Roethlisberger “suck up to the press” by conceded that “Roethlisberger needs to use the media -- and the media likes to be used in such a manner -- to win back the fans.”

Big Ben, Sticking to Smizik’s Script

Who knows if Ben or one of this representatives read Smizik’s column, but they’re certainly sticking to his script.

Shortly after he joined Steelers OTA’s, Ben granted two exclusive interviews with Pittsburgh TV stations. He did not agree to newspaper interviews, but Ed Bouchette shared with PG Plus readers that made an effort to say “hello” and later granted an off the record chat.

When training camp began, Ben continued to engage the media, and they took notice. On the day that players arrived at St. Vincent’s, reporters were at pains to make sure that everyone knew that how polite Ben was and that Roethlisberger made sure to apologize for bumping into people as he removed his luggage from his car.

Conclusions

None of this is to suggest that either Ben’s attempts to become a better person or the media’s willingness to accept his overtures are insincere.

I really do hope, for his sake, that Ben is making good on his pledge to live a better life. For their part, the media's first point of reference is always going to be what they see day-to-day.

But the vast majority of Steelers Nation is never going to cross paths with Ben Roethlisberger in a meaningful way. And that means that the only glimpses we’ll catch of “the new Ben” will come through the eyes of the professional press that covers him on a daily basis.

And, as Smizik pointed out for us, Ben’s new found amicability with the press helps ensure that the “new Ben” is the Ben that the public sees.

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, October 5, 2010

Steelers Report Card vs. the Ravens at Home

Each week Steel Curtain Rising grades the performance of the individual Steelers units. “Scouts Honor” no other “grades” have been consulted. Here are the grades for the Steelers loss to the Ravens.

Quarterback

Charlie Batch avoided costly mistakes (at least until the end) and managed to make some tough throws, despite facing a heavy rush during much of the game. Still, he missed on two deep throws to Wallace that he should have made, and he failed to get it done on third down, pressure or no. Grade: C-

Running Backs

Isaac Redman did not get carry, but made some key blocks and caught a pass. Rashard Mendenhall ran when, when he had room and scored both of the team’s touchdowns. The problem was that he had little room to run. But that was not his fault. Grade: B

Receivers

Randal El reminded everyone of why the Steelers brought him back, even if he doesn’t have the speed he used to have. Health Miller also had to clutch catches. Ward and Wallace each had two passes for short yardage, and Brown and Battle each had a grab. The receivers made no “splash” plays, but they did do what was asked of them. Matt Spaeth’s false start hurt badly. Grade: B-

Offensive Line

Mendenhall had no rushing room and Charlie Batch had little time. Unlike against the Titans, their were no injuries or dehydration to fight. The Steelers in large part lost because they could not control the line of scrimmage. While he certainly did not get “crushed” the stat sheet says that Ngata got the better of Pouncey. The false start and holding penalties were inexcusable. The offensive line was, “below the line.” Grade D

Defensive line

Although none of them was in full health, the Raven’s three running backs averaged 2.6 yards per carry. That’s the good part. The bad part was that Flacco had ample time to throw. Pressure is not the line’s prime responsibility in LeBeau’s defense, but the Steelers needed more than they got from their front 3. Grade: C

Linebackers

Timmons had another monster game with 14 tackles. Farrior had a pass defense, Woodley and Harrison both had tackles for losses. Those stats are nice, but don’t be foold. The LeBeau blitzed infrequently, and ultimately ineffectively, meaning the linebackers were used in converge extensively. While they made a few plays, they failed to make enough as evidenced by Flacco’s seeming ease at passing at key moments. Grade: D

Secondary

The Steelers goal line stand was a thing of beauty, and the fact that the Ravens got the ball back does not count against them. But Flacco’s final drive was facile (Spanish for easy.) He also made some other key throws earlier in the game. Grade: D

Special Teams

The return game was a net wash for both teams. 45 plus yards in the open end of Heinz Field is tough for anyone, but Jeff Reed has got to make at least one of those. And if the false start penalties with the Steelers playing out of their own goal were a “get back in the game gift” for the Ravens, the holding penalty was beau on the wrapping paper. Grade: F

Coaching

It is way too early to say that Cam Cameron and Jim Zorn “have Dick LeBeau’s number,” but they clearly had a better game plan, stuck to it, and their players executed better. Roethlisberger or no, the Steelers did nothing to tarnish the credentials of the league’s number one defense. Grade: D

Unsung Hero

Daniel Sepulveda. It may seem odd to honor a man whose unit receive a collective “F” but he averaged 49.4 yards per kick with a long kick of 57, and pinned them inside the 20 once. In a game where yards and points were scarce and field position at a premium, Sepulveda’s punting help keep the Steelers competitive.

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Sunday, October 3, 2010

Ravens Rebuff Steelers 17-14

We knew the defense could not continue to pitch shutout in perpetuity. We knew the Steelers could not continue to both win and fail to transform turnovers into touchdowns.

We knew the Steelers would face stiffer tests.

The Steelers began the day with a 3-0 record and dreams of sugar plums like a 4-0 start in their heads. They ended it by giving the Ravens their first win at Heinz Field since 2006.

The operative question is "why?"

Unable to Even the Odds

The last time these two teams faced off, it was at PSI.net Stadium (or M&T Bank Field, or whatever they call it now) and the Steelers forced the game into OT despite not having Roethlisberger, Polamalu or Aaron Smith.

Today Polamalu and Smith played, and the Raven’s Ed Reed was in street clothes.

What was the difference?

Let's begin by doing away with the easy answers.

This past off season saw the Ravens acquire T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Anquan Boldin while the Bengals picked up Terrell Owens. Someone on the Steelers, whose name escapes me, attributed the moves to a desire to stockpile the firepower needed to overcome the Steelers defense.

  • Houshmandzadeh, Boldin, and Derrick Mason all made key plays today, but those three did not decide the outcome.

A Ravens season ticket holder who is one of my (not so near) but very dear friends explained the victory this way:

“Joe Flacco grew up a lot today. Winning in Heinz Field from behind in the last 1:08 of the game isn't something a lot of QBs can do.”

  • Credit Flacco fully for staying sharp down the stretch. This game is a big step forward for him but, with all due respect to my buddy, Flacco’s play was not the determining factor.

You can attribute one simple reason to the Raven’s victory.

Winning and losing a football game starts with controlling the line of scrimmage. And while Baltimore didn’t necessarily dominate those battles, they won the key battles at the moments when those battles were important.

Cowher’s Fine Line Just Got Fatter

If Bill Cowher had a more oft-repeated line in his cliché repertoire than “There’s a fine line between winning and losing” then someone please inform me.

On the surface, today’s game would seem to serve as a testament to The Chin’s world view.

  • After all, if Jeff Reed gets just a half-inch less of a hook on his second kick, we go to OT.
  • A slightly greater adjustment to his first kick sees the Ravens struggling to recover an on-sides kick.
  • If only Keyron Fox doesn’t get flagged for holding, the Raven’s have 10 more yards to go – a big deal when you have no a timeouts and the clock as at 0:55.

A day when you can seemingly map a three point difference on the scoreboard to three plays would seem to paint a very fine line between victory and defeat.

A closer look at the box score strengthens the case.

  • Time of possession? Baltimore 30:31, Pittsburgh 29:29.
  • Rushing averages: Baltimore 2.6, Pittsburgh 3.1.
  • Longest run from scrimmage: Baltimore, Willis McGahee 10 yards, Pittsburgh, 11 yards.

All of this paints a picture of a race that was neck and neck. And in some ways it was.

Don’t be deceived, however, this one was not as close as it looked.

No, this was no blowout in disguise because even the key statistic the one area that the Ravens dominated doesn’t seem that impressive

  • Sacks: Ravens 2, Steelers 1.

I was surprised when I looked that up, because I expected the Raven’s advantage to be much higher. Numbers aside, the Ravens were in Charlie Batch’s face all day, whereas Joe Flacco had ample time to throw.

In a nutshell, that was the difference. The Raven’s protected their quarterback; in contrast, the Steelers allowed theirs to be hurried.

Look at each of the plays highlighted above, and it comes down to an inability to control the line of scrimmage.

Too Many "Ifs"

If the Steelers can give Batch a little time to throw they can probably convert turnovers into points.

If, on their penultimate possession, the Steelers have enough confidence to risk a thow, then perhaps they can get a first down. And one first down probably means they can run out the clock.

Is it fair to say that the Raven's "dominated the line of scrimmage?" No, it is not. Both teams played the run very well, but even there the Ravens got the better of the stalemate simply because they could move the ball through the air and the Steelers couldn't.

The Steelers hurt themselves with costly penalties committed by the offensive line at inopportune times, and those kinds of mistakes so late in the game frequently occur when an offensive line is frustrated it has lost more many battles up front than it has won.

Tip your hat to John (don't call him Jim) Harbaugh, Cam Cameron, and Greg Mattison - they came with a better game plan. Tip your hats to to John Flacco and Ray Lewis and the men they led, as they executed those plans better than the Steelers players executed theirs.

But the roots of the Ravens victory, and all of the heroics that went into it, can be traced back to their simple ability to win the battles up front when it counted the most.

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Harrison Hold Count Stands at 5

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

Once again, as documented by Coolong on Behind the Steel Curtain’s Pre Game Zone Blitz, the official called a pretty clean game last week. None the less, in the first quarter Donald Penn held Harrison with no flag being thrown.

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

Number times James Harrison was held last week: 2
Number of “Harrison Holds:” 1
Total “Harrison Holds” for 2010: 5

Spread the Word

This is where you come in. Spread the word!

“Harrison Holds” have been down so far this season, but perhaps this is because of Neal’s work an everyone’s efforts to spread it.

So, 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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Dennis Dixon Goes on IR, Steelers Sign McLendon

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Dennis Dixon, who started the team's first two games, has been put on injured reserve according to the Post-Gazette.

Everything about this move was widely expected, except for the timing.

With Dixon out until mid-November, the Steelers were expected to put Dixon on IR and go with Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch as back ups to Ben Roethlisberger.

But the Steelers needed to make the move because back up Chris Hoke did not practice all week and will not play against the Ravens. The Steelers activated Steve McLendon from their practice squad.

Chance of Losing McLendon?

McLendon played during the Steelers victory over Tennessee, and the Steelers were able to put him on waivers and return him to the practice squad after the game.

However, if McLendon performs against the Ravens the way he performed against the Titans, the Steelers may run the risk of losing him if the expose him to the waiver wire again. Still, they need him active for the Ravens game, so they've been left with no choice.

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Friday, October 1, 2010

Reflections on the Steelers-Ravens Rivalry

Tuesday: Mike Tomlin declares the Steelers-Ravens rivalry to be the “Best in the NFL.”

Wednesday: Ravens All-Star linebacker Ray Lewis reveals that he’s been texting Ben Roethlisberger offering his support.

Contradiction? The way most NFL fans like to imagine things, almost certainly.

A product of changing times? Another possibility, but maybe this has more to do with the collective memory preferences of NFL fans above a certain age.

Division rivalries, it seems, are like memories. They’re real, but instead of being something that you can put your hands on, they’re something to be experienced.

All of which makes them so difficult to define. Here’s a shot at it anyway.

Division Rivalries of Yesteryear

Upon reading Ed Bouchette’s story that Ray Lewis was offering support to Ben Roethlisberger my first thought was, “They don’t make division rivalries like they used to.”

Fans above, say 30, remember an age when things were different, or at least portrayed differently. Yours truly falls into both categories, as Steel Curtain Rising’s tribute to the 1989 Steelers testifies.

A year ago, in writing about the Steelers-Browns rivalry I had this to say:

Division rivalries are not what they used to be.

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

In 1989, it was different.

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

And that only scratches the surface. Who can forget the Browns blatant late, out of bounds hit on Mike Kruczek, and Jack Lambert’s furious reprisal?

Ah, those were the days, right?

Division Rivalries at Point-Blank Range

During this week’s chat on PG Plus with Gerry Dulac, Steel Curtain Rising probed the veteran Steeler journalist for his reaction to the apparent contradiction between Tomlin’s pronouncement and Ray Lewis’ support for Ben Roethlisberger.

Dulac’s response was surprising to say the least (apologies for the quality of the screen shot):



On the one-hand, it is hard to argue with someone who has been covering the Steelers since the 70’s. Logic demands that we accept that Gerry Dulac is in a far better position to know than you or I.

Still, part of me longs to resist this latent reality.

After all, isn’t this the same division (under a different name) that saw the normally unflappable Chuck Noll call out Jerry Glanville on the floor of the AstroDome?

Didn’t Sam Wyche once admonish fans in Cincinnati for throwing things on the field by comparing them to Cleveland Browns fans? The same Sam Wyche who a few weeks later ordered an on-sides kick against Glanville’s Oilers while leading 45-0?

Shifting sports, the news about Lewis and Roethlisberger calls to mind an interview with Kevin McHale before his final season with the Celtics, where he lamented, “You know, I liked it when we hated the Lakers… Now everyone has the same agent and hugs and kisses before and after the games.”

Sorry Gerry, but I can’t accept you word. They don’t make division rivalries like they used to....

...Or Do they?

It Was Never As Good As It Was in the Good Old Days

Reminiscing about how good things were in the Good Old Days dates back to Greek Mythology and probably beyond that.

And that brings me back to Gerry Dulac’s final statement.

“Just because you now know that Lewis and Big Ben have been texting, do you think those past games between the teams were any less nasty or violent??”

Free agency might have take a slight edge off of division rivalries overall, and technology has probably weakened the façade that they once presented.



But no one in his right mind would dispute Dulac’s statement about the intensity of the Steelers-Ravens rivalry on the field.

I will not predict what will happen on the scoreboard Sunday at Heinz Field, but I say this with certainty.

  • The hits will be hard. The play will be intense. And the final outcome will likely remain in doubt until the final gun.

In other words, on Sunday afternoon the banks of Pittsburgh’s North Shore will feature the very the essence of a division rivalry.

Just like it did in days long gone bye, and just like it will in days to come.

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