´ Steel Curtain Rising: November 2010

Who gets the game ball for the Steelers win over the Texans?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Steelers Report Card vs. the Bills

The Steelers reports cards of the last three weeks have taken an interesting journey. The Patriots game put them on academic probation. They rebounded against the Raiders to make the Dean’s list.

This week the erstwhile evaluator finds himself in the position of a teacher who sees his star pupil ace the first section of the test, only screw up badly on the second part because skipped a line on a bubble sheet, and only really took his chestnuts out of the fire because he had a killer eraser and because of time extra time gained due to an unexpected fire drill….

Here go the Steelers grade for the Bills game, along with the normal caveat that no other grades have been consulted prior to this posting.

Quarterback


Ben didn’t throw a touchdown and only put up 246 yards. But afforded little protection from his line, Ben did what he does best, make something out of nothing, taking off and gaining a key third down conversion in the 4th quarter. Grade: B+

Running Backs
Rashard Mendenhall ran for 152 yards, and had at least another 50 negated by penalties. Mendenhall ran hard, ran tough, and was the work horse the Steelers needed him to be. Isaac Redman also made his presence felt in short yardage situations. Mendenhall’s strip, however, was costly, knocking the running effort down a notch. Grade: B+

Receivers
Hines Ward was on fire in the first half, and it was a pleasant sight to see. Mike Wallace did not put up big numbers, but did make some key catches, as did Emmanuel Sanders and Health Miller. But on many occasions when Ben did have time, he was left standing there, with no one to throw to. Buffalo obviously had a good game plan, but the receivers need to get open, and Emmanuel Sanders must make the catch he dropped in the 4th. Grade: C

Offensive Line
Last week they protected Ben but failed to open lanes for the running game. This week they failed to protect Ben, but busted paths for the running backs, when they weren’t getting flagged for holding that is. Holding calls along negated 80 plus yards, in addition to putting the team in 1st and 20’s leading to 3rd and longs. This was almost the difference in the game. Injuries or not, the line must play more disciplined ball, and must play better. Grade: D+

Defensive Line
Another unit depleted even more by injury, the defensive line actually gave up signifgant yardage in the run game, and didn’t help enough in pressuring Ryan Fitzpatrick when his receivers finally started catching the ball. Again, injuries or no, this unit is going to need to play better against Baltimore. Grade: C

Linebackers
The James Boys, that is Farrior and Harrison both had key plays, and Lawrence Timmons led the team in tackles. Still Harrison’s penalty, questionable though it may be, hurt, LaMarr Woodley missed a tackle on Fred Jackson’s touchdown, and the Bills did have some success passing in short yardage, for which the linebackers must bear some blame. Grade: C

Secondary
The corners came up big with some key stops and Troy Polamalu’s interception, as well as some of his other hits in the 4th quarter are the stuff that Canton Highlight reels are made of. Keenan Lewis’ penalty was costly. Ryan Fitzpatrick had a little too much success in passing the ball in the second half, and that brings the secondary’s grade down (and let’s not even talk about the should have been touchdown in OT). Grade: B-

Special Teams
Can you really not give an “A” to a unit that features a kicker making his first four kicks for the franchise, all over 40, all under difficult circumstances. Can you really not give an “A” to a unit with a punter that booms a 55 yard punt in over time kicking from way, way back in his own endzone?

Yes, you can. Leodis McKelvin ran the OT kickoff 49 yards and should have scored! The kickoff following the Go Ahead field goal was likewise returned to the Bills 41. Either play could have sunk the Steelers. Grade: B

Coaching
Bruce Arians’ game plan was excellent, and his player executed it to perfection. On the flip side key difference between the performance of the Bills offense between the first and second halves was that Fitzpatrick’s receivers started catching the ball. Tomlin and LeBeau need to figure some way to stop teams from nickling and diming the Steelers. And the offensive line penalties have got to stop. Grade C

Unsung Hero
Punter Dan Sepulveda would be a good candidate, but this week’s unsung hero award goes to Isaac Redman. He only got 25 yards, but he banged them out in situations where the opposition knew the Steelers were going to run the ball. Another step forward for the pride of Bowie State Maryland (where my mom once worked) “RedZone” Redman.

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Steelers, Suisham, (Barely) Beat Bills 19-16

Momentum remains an elusive commodity in the NFL's topsy-turvy world and the Steelers-Bills game serves as a testament to that reality.

  • The game saw the lead change 3 times in the 4th quarter.
  • It saw the Steelers assert their dominance and then seemingly verge on self-destruction.
  • It saw the Bills do what they have done all year long – refuse to succumb and then scare what the standings otherwise say is a “superior foe.”

Ultimately, the Steelers fortunes turned on an embrace of the franchise’s foundation, a pick in time, a gamble that paid off and, yes, pure luck.

All year long, I have watched the CBS scoreboard, watching the Bills keep defibrillator units on-standby in opposing cities. For weeks, they took brand-name teams to the wire. Each week the Bills got closer.

Two weeks ago they started winning.

The question was, what will the Steelers do when they face the Bills?

Returning to Roots

Bruce Arians had an answer.

Since the beginning of his tenure as offensive coordinator, segments of Steelers Nation, including Steel Curtain Rising sometimes, have longed for Arians to return to the Steelers Smash Mouth roots.

Against Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Buffalo Bills, Steelers Nation finally got its wish. Not since the days of Ron Erhardt and Barry Foster have the Steelers seen an offensive game plan so firmly based in the simple strategy of “feed the ball to the feature back.”

The offense executed to near perfection, keeping the Bills off of the field for most of the 1st half, entering half time with a 13-0 win.

Circling the Wagons

Fans of ESPN’s NFL PrimeTime will remember Chris Berman’s off repeated cliché from the 1990’s, “Nobody Circles the Wagons Like the Bills.” You could knock the Bills down, but never count them out.

And so it has been this season. And so it was Sunday.

The Bills began the game attempting to follow the template for beating the Steelers set down by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots – hit them underneath with short passes and nickel and dime your way down the field.

The only flaw to this strategy in the first half was that the Bills receivers neglected to catch the ball.

That changed in the second half, and so did the tempo of the game. No one is going to confuse Fitzpatrick with Tom Brady yet, but he did enough to get his team moving. And to the extent that the Bills execution lacked the Patriot's perfection the Steelers helped them with....

...penalties.

Flagging Self Destruction

Credit Chan Gailey and the Bills for hanging in there, and making a few key adjustments in the second half. Namely:

  • Stuffing the run effectively enough to force 3rd and longs
  • Neutralizing Mike Wallace as deep threat
  • Neutralizing Hines Ward in the second period after a monster first half
  • Covering Steelers receivers well enough to set up several coverage sacks

In this effort the Bills were aided and abetted by the Steelers in general and Chris Kemoatu in particular. According to Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette, penalties wiped 86 yards of offensive production away from the Steelers.

On the defensive side of the ball, James Harrison’s helmet-to-helmet hit set up the Bills only touchdown and Keenan Lewis' pass interference play set up the Bill’s field goal.

Penalties are part of life in the NFL. But just as they did against Cincinnati, the Steelers committed enough penalties at key moments to let a lesser team get back into a game.

Mike Tomlin must address this. His teams have always been well coached. This type of undisciplined play needs to go back to being the exception, and not the rule.

Troy Polamalu, Playmaker

Much has been made of the Steelers 4th quarter woes this year. I make no attempt to offer an answer as to why a defense that is so stingy in the first three quarters only to open the flood gates in the fourth.

This happened late last season too. But while the Steelers gave up games in the 4th quarter last year, this year they’re simply giving up yards. Those looking to understand the difference, need only watch the video below:



Is there a player more valuable to the Steelers than number 43?

The Gamble that Paid Off

Jeff Reed not only entered the 2010 season as one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, he also was one of the NFL’s best pressure kickers.

He was in a serious slump this year. As noted here, slump or no, the Steelers took a serious risk in cutting Jeff Reed.

Shaun Suisham’s numbers were almost as good as Reed's, but he had a history of choking with the game on the line.

Four times he was called upon today to make long kicks in tough situations, and four times he delivered.

Better to Be Lucky than Good?

The Steelers ultimately could not have won the game without some luck, namely Sonny Johnson'ss drop of a sure touchdown wide open in the end zone in overtime.

But such luck would not have mattered had the Steelers not been good.

Luck played no role in the Steelers going from 20 to 20 on their final drive, grinding out five first downs in the process.

The Steelers, of course, must be more disciplined, and must get better play out of their offensive line to have a chance of beating Baltimore.

But they did just enough to get the W against the Bills, and that is what counts.

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Sunday, November 28, 2010

Steelers (Barely) Spook Gameday Superstition…

As regular readers know, yours truly is a long-time subscriber of the Steelers Digest. A life line in the pre-internet, pre-Sunday Ticket days, I still subscribe mainly to get access to the commentary of Bob Labriola, and some of the other publications.

At some point, I am not sure when, I settled into a ritual of reading Labriola's column the day before the game.

I never bought too much into superstition, but I did not read his column until right before the kickoff of the Bears game last year. You know the result.

This year the same thing happened with the Baltimore game....

As fate would have it, I forgot to read the Digest yesterday....

....The Steelers spooked this superstition and came away with the win, but man, it was close!

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No More Harrison Holds (for Now at Least)

Alas, the Harrison Hold endeavor, an effort to document the number of times James Harrison has been held with no flag thrown, has come to an end.

Neal Coolong, of Behind the Steel Curtain, explained that with so many fines and penalties being throw at the Steelers, the Harrison Hold effort seems small potatoes by comparison.

The overarching injustices visited upon the Steelers by the officials and the league office will now be his focus.

I understand and respect Neal's decision, and extend thanks to him for providing Steelers Nation with this valuable service. Thanks Neal!

I'd like for it to continue, but I do not have time or resources (Sunday Ticket or not, you never know if the Steel game will be broadcast in Buenos Aires) which is why I suggested the idea to Neal in the first place.

Nonetheless, we know James Harrison is going to get held, and we know the officials are going to stand there and watch and do nothing as often as they throw a flag.

And where necessary, Steel Curtain Rising will do its best to call it out.

Interested in Lending a Hand?

If anyone out there is interested in collaborating in this effort, your contributions will be most welcome.

Steel Curtain Rising does not reach anywhere near the size of the audience of Behind the Steel Curtain (which is fine, BTSC is a bigger, more comprehensive site), but it is still important to "tell it like it is."

So if you're interested, either leave a comment and email me directly at hombresdeaceroBA@gmail.com.

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Friday, November 26, 2010

Pouncey, Saunders, Everest: Reasons for Steelers Nation to be Thankful

Steel Curtain Rising may be written out of Buenos Aires, where Thanksgiving is just a work day, but last year I inaugurated what I hope will be an annual tradition here at Steel Curtain Rising – citing Steelers specific reasons to be thankful. This year Ed Gleason aka Mary Rose has followed suit, and I encourage you to read his post if you haven’t already.

A year ago, the Steelers were smack in the middle of their 5 week mid-season meltdown, but we recognized Rashard Mendenhall for the heart he displayed in picking himself up and running the length of the field to prevent and interception from becoming a pick six (click here to see the video.)

So, on this day when we give thanks, Steelers Nation can be thankful for:

Maurkice Pouncey

When the Steelers drafted Maurkice Pouncey was supposed to challenge for time and perhaps a starting slot at guard.

He not only won the starting job, but made Justin Hartwig expendable. Pouncey didn’t simply establish himself as a starter, he established himself as the Steelers best offensive lineman.

Emmanuel Sanders

When the Steelers selected Sanders in the third round of the 2010 NFL draft, Steel Curtain Rising questioned the pick suggesting that needs at defensive line and defensive back were more impending.

Emmanuel Sanders has made an impact as a rookie on special teams and as a receiver, providing the Steelers offense with some much needed speed. I am thankful I was wrong.

Al Everest and Antonio Brown

One year ago the Steelers special teams were a glaring liability.

Al Everest has changed that. I lump Everest in with Antonio Brown, although Emmanuel Sanders has also been one of Everest’s weapons of choice.



But it was with Brown, down in the heat against Tennessee, that Everest put the rest of the NFL on notice that he was transforming the Steelers special teams into a strike force. I am thankful that thus far in 2010, the Steelers have been on the right side of special teams splash plays.

Happy Thanksgiving to All

I suspect, and hope, that all of you have other, deeper, more meaningful non-football related reasons to give thanks. Thanksgiving has long been my favorite US holiday, but it is one I have not celebrated now for 10 years.

So please, as you come together with your friends and family to give thanks, have an extra slice of pumpkin pie for me.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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Monday, November 22, 2010

Steelers Report Card vs. the Raiders

The report card for the Steelers 35-3 thrashing of the Raiders takes the Steelers from academic probation to Dean’s list in one week.

As usual, I add the caveat that no other report cards were consulted.

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger looked a little rusty as he has all season – on the first series. After that it was vintage Roethlisberger. Ben made things happen, throwing three touchdowns, running for another and picking up a first down with his legs. The Steelers were also 7-14 on third downs. That does not happen if the signal caller plays poorly. Grade: A-

Running Backs
Can you imagine Rashard Mendenhall with good run blocking? I was shocked to see that his average and his numbers were so low. Yet Mendenhall made it happen enough to give the Steelers some balance. Isaac Redman acquitted himself well in relief of Mendenhall and scored his first NFL TD as a result. Grade: B

Wide Receivers
Eight different players caught balls against the Raiders, and all made plays. Emmanuel Sanders made the most out of his first game as the third wide receiver, as did Antonio Brown. Health Miller and Hines Ward only caught three balls apice, but their made their catches count. Grade: A

Offensive Line
In and act of incredible foresight, Sean Kluger was brought in from the Bills largely on the strength of his ability to manage makeshift offensive lines. The line didn’t open much for the running game, but they did give Roethlisberger time to throw. Tomlin’s creedo is “injuries will be no excuse” and these men lived up to it. Grade: B-

Defensive Line
Do you think Johnny Mitchell and his defensive lineman were a little ticked that the Patriots ran on them? They were, and they lopped 4.2 yards per carry off of his normal rushing average. Ziggy Hood did not rack up gaudy statistics, but he was around the ball. A welcome sign we must see more of. Grade: A

Linebackers
Another unit that took its embarrassment over the Patriots disaster out on the Raiders. The Steelers linebackers were everywhere. Defending passes, sacking quarterbacks, tackling for losses and hauling down interceptions. And who was it that was saying a year ago that James Farrior had lost a step…? Don’t tell that to the Raiders. Grade: A

Secondary
After getting torched and derided for much of the last month, the Steelers secondary answered with one of its finest games of the season. Each member made significant plays, and Troy Polamalu made everyone forget about his Achilles issue. There was no 4th quarter comeback this time nor was there a threat of one, thanks to the defensive backs. Grade A

Special Teams
Tory Brown needs to return more kicks. This is a player who can take it to the house. Shaun Suisham looked like he was hooking his PAT kicks a little to much, but I’ll take 5-5. His kickoffs, however, could have been longer. Grade: B

Coaching
The ugly loss to the Patriots could have triggered an unpleasant chain reaction. Mike Tomlin prevented that from happening. The rest of the NFL might feel that Patriots released the template for defeating the Steelers defense, but Dick LeBeau and Mike Tomlin concede nothing. Bruce Arians and his coaches likewise deserve credit for their game plan, and for their ability to deal with unprecedented offensive line shuffling.

Tomlin also gets the nod for dressing and playing both Emmanuel Sanders and Troy Brown. I have never bought into the “weapons can compensate for a leaky line” but both of these men give the offense some much needed speed. Grade: A.

Unsung Hero
It might seem odd to give this nod to the unit with the lowest grade, but the Steelers offensive line deserves it. This unit has played under more adversity than any other Steelers offensive line in modern memory. And while their play has been dominating, let along flawless, it has been above the proverbial line.

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Steelers Rebound, Rebuff Raiders, 35-3

What a difference a week makes.

What a difference a year makes.

The Steelers entered this week’s game reeling from arguably the worst beating of the Mike Tomlin era at the hands of their contemporary extra-division rival, the New England Patriots.

A little less than a year ago the Steelers faced off against the Raiders similarly reeling from three stinging losses.

At issue today? Relevance. The Raiders had won three straight for the first time since 2002 and were once again looking to add substance to Al Davis' hackneyed marketing mantra “Commitment to Excellence.”

The Steelers were looking to right their ship, just as they were a year ago.

The 2009 Steelers of course fell short, victim to a 21 point 4th quarter scoring spree fueled by Western PA native Bruce Gradkowski and a highlight reel of missed opportunities by the Steelers defense.

The Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Raiders

Against this backdrop, you have the Steelers vs. the Raiders, the two franchises who put non-divisional rivalries on the map for the NFL in the 1970’s.

Outslide the lines, the Steelers vs. the Raiders give you:

  • The NFL's Class and elegance vs. the the NFL's “criminal element”
  • Stability vs. a coaching carousel
  • The Frost Belt vs. the Sun Belt
  • The Rooneys vs. Al Davis

Between the lines, this game wanted for nothing that typifies Steelers-Raiders football – penalties, hard hits, fights, improvisation, quarterback benchings, and ejections.

Another 21 Point Quarter...

And like the 2009 editioin of the series, this game also featured a 21 point scoring spree – except this time it was authored by the Black and Gold at the expense of the silver and black.

After a slow start and while playing from behind, the Steelers exploded for 21 points in the second quarter on the legs of Rashard Mendenhall and Ben Roethlisberger and the hands of Emmanuel Sanders.

Along the way the Steelers defense pounded, confused, and befuddled Jason Campbell while grounding Darren McFadden – a man who merely boasted a 5.4 yards per carry rushing average coming into the game.

A lot of cliché’s get thrown around in sports, something which has become more common place in the age of the internet.

But ever member of the Pittsburgh Steelers played as if they took last week’s debacle against the New England Patriots personally.

On defense, penalties be dammed, the Steel Curtain reasserted itself with the aggressive, hard-hitting, and opportunistic brand of football that has been the hallmark of the franchise for my entire lifetime.

The offense was similarly inspired.

The Steelers seem destined to play musical chairs as they cobble together maks-shift offensive lines this season, for better and for worse. As it was against Tennessee, today it was for better, as each member stepped up as others shuffled in and out of the line up.

Roethlisberger was similarly resilient, never hesitating to improvise, taking off and running 3 times, and breaking his person best for yardage, including a 16 yard touchdown scamper.

Mike Wallace continued to bud into an elite NFL receiver right before our eyes, and finally burned a team on a reverse.

Emmanuel Sanders justified the faith that his coaches displayed in him when they promoted him to the 3rd wide receiver slot.

And just when it seemed like Bruce Gradkowski was going to make a run at another 4th quarter miracle (or at least continue to pad the horrendous stat sheet that opponents have run up in the 4th quarter,) Troy Polamalu stepped up and snatched the ball, and the game, out of the air.

Keeping It in Perspective

One would err to say that today’s game was to decide the “pretender vs. contender” question. Alas, the Steelers participated in one such contest last week, and we know the result.

No, today’s contest was for two teams vying for the right to participate in such “pretender vs. contender” contests come December (see what I mean about cliché’s?)

The underdog was a team perceived being on its way up, while the favorites were perceived as a team on its way down.

The Steelers reversed those trajectories today.

In other words, the Steelers won a game that they were "supposed" to win.

That certainly does not re-qualify them for “elite” status, but in the last three weeks the Steelers have prevailed in two games that they were “supposed” to win.

A year ago, the Steelers lost those games. The fact that they are changing that gives the 2010 Steelers a critical element absent from the 2009 squad.

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Sunday, November 21, 2010

Blockers Have Held Harrison 11 Times With No Flag Thrown in 2010

As we have done all season, Steel Curtain Rising has promoted Behind the Steel Curtain’s drive to document the times when James Harrison is held with no flag thrown.

Neal Coolong is the man spear heading the effort, and last week he cites two holds of James Harrison, on called with 7:52 remaining in the 4th quarter. He also found one “Harrison Hold” that was not flagged with 11:54 left in the third quarter.

Unlike past weeks, this blatant holding of Harrison did not occur in the final moments of either half – not that it would have mattered. I also seem to remember seeing another “Harrison Hold” earlier in the game, when it might have made a difference, but did not review any game tape, so we’ll accept Neal’s count as “official.”

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: 11

Uncle James Wants YOU!

Spread the word!

Lost in all of the news about Jeff Reed this week was the fact that LaMarr Woodley got fined by the NFL. I do not believe in conspiracy theories, but the Steelers do seem to be “first among equals” when it comes to punishing defenders in the NFL’s attempt to make the league into a pass-happy paradise.

While it is wrong to conclude that all eleven “Harrison Holds” would have ended in sacks had no holding occurred, imagining the cumulative impact of all of this legalized holding of James Harrison is not hard.

This is where you come in.

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. Stumble Upon it. Buzz it. MySpace users do what ever it is that you do to share articles.

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Saturday, November 20, 2010

Watch Tower: Roethlisberger, Reed, Polamalu, and Hines Ward, Steelers Wrap Up

“Nothing Sells a Paper Like a Crisis.” Anyone over 30 or so will remember that phrase and it was borne out in the wake of the Steelers pasting at the hands of the Patriots.

The big story of course was the Steelers decision to cut Jeff Reed.

The Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette lashed out at the decision immediately and then repeatedly throughout the week, both on Post-Gazette.com, PG Plus, and on PG TV. Bouchette even went so far as to contrast the way the Steelers have dealt with Jeff Reed vs. who the Raiders have handled similar issues with Sebastian Janikowski.

Ron Cook also weighed on the issue, similarly taking the Steelers to task for casting Reed aside so quickly.

Opposition to the Steelers decision to cut Reed was not unanimous in the press, however. The Tribune-Review’s Joe Starkey wrote a powerful piece praising the move. While other writers tended to fall back on emotional arguments to fortify their position, Starkey assembles some solid statistics to back up his claims.

Cutting Reed a PR Ruse?

In his weekly chat, Ed Bouchette made an interesting observation, stopping short of insinuating that the Steelers cut Reed to distract attention from their horrendous performance against the Patriots.

While I doubt that the public relations angle played any part in the decision to waive Reed (one can only imagine Mike Tomlin’s response to such a question) there is a certain merit to his claim.
One of the week’s under reported stories was the Achilles injury that kept Troy Polamalu out of practice for much of the week. The injury is said to be minor, but is there such a thing as a minor Achilles injury?

Polamalu practiced Friday and is expected to play, so let’s hope that events will vindicate the lack of coverage the story got.

The Reed that Broke the Camel’s Back?

Judging by the number and tone of fan comments on PG Plus, many fans felt that Bouchette went too far. While some of the criticism lobbed Bouchette’s way went a little too raw for my tastes, I think they were on to something.

While everyone was obsessing about Jeff Reed, Scott Brown of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review wrote an excellent article about a conversation that Ben Roethlisberger and Hines Ward had on Tuesday. In keeping with Steel Curtain Rising’s long-standing editorial policy, I will not give away all of the goods.

Rather I’ll simply commend Brown on getting a good story and let you know that Ward and Roethlisberger see their roles in the offense as changing.

Must Read of the Week I

Regarding must-read matieral, Gerry Dulac’s weekly PG Plus chat is quickly raising itself to must read status.

One of Dulac’s comments, already cited here, discounted into a rumor about Bryant McFadden born in the Tribune-Review. He also included some surprising behind the scenes revelations into the interplay between the press and Mike Tomlin.

Dulac does answer fewer questions than Ed Bouchette, and does not have quite the same wit, but the truth is that Dulac doesn’t duck the tough ones, and gives answers which are more substantive.

Must Read of the Week II

The best overall piece this week was penned by Behind the Steel Curtain’s Anthony Defeo, who wrote “Comparing Steelers Place Kickers to Old Girlfriends.”

If you haven’t seen this folks, it is an absolute hoot! Click here to read it now.

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.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Checking In on Some of the Steelers Developmental Prospects

The NFL does not have a farm system, forcing fans read between the lines and scrounge for snippets of information from the special teams stat sheets to gauge how younger players are developing.

When the Steelers opened training camp Steel Curtain Rising fingered six players whose development was vital to the Pittsburgh’s long-term prosperity.

With seven games left in the 2010 season, it is time to take a look at how some of those youngsters are developing.

Ryan Mundy

Ryan Mundy’s name has not been called much, but he has delivered when asked to play. Currently he only stands behind Larry Foote and William Gay Fox in terms of tackles from non-starters, which is good. He’s also had a forced fumble and has played well on special teams.

Lee Flowers blazed this path early in his career, and this is not a bad example for Mundy to follow.

Kraig Urbik

Arguably, he was ahead of Justin Hartwig during training camp and really making strides. The Steelers cut Urbik, hoping to sneak him on the practice squad, but that did not happen as the Bills claimed him off waivers. If Urbik grows into a player, it will not be with the Steelers

Keenan Lewis

Lewis started strong this summer and earned a shot at the starting job, which he fumbled badly against Denver in preseason, and then worsened things by vandalizing a sign.

He’s played a little on special teams, but has infrequently dressed. His penalty for running out of bounds in the New England debacle makes it all the more easier to discount the rumors that Bryant McFadden was heading to the bench.

Lewis’ opportunity has not expired, but he has done nothing to remove “cornerback” from the Steelers prime need areas looking towards the 2011 draft. Not good.

Lawrence Timmons

Now we know why Mike Tomlin’s bestowed his first ever draft selection on Lawrence Timmons.

Timmons is playing like a man possessed. He leads the team in tackles by a mile, has three sacks, one forced fumble, and an interception to boot.

Lawrence Timmons has come of age.

Emmanuel Sanders

It is unlikely that Sanders will be remembered as 2010’s Mike Wallace. But with the return of Randal El, he does not need to.

Sanders has made his gaffes but has also turned out some impressive plays when called upon. About what you’d expect from a rookie – he’s shown off talent yet made some mistakes.

Jason Worilds

Forced into action against Miami, Worilds key pressure late in the game enamored fans. Alas, as Ed Bouchette reported in his weekly chat, Worilds was out of position on a lot of other players.

Like Sanders, Worids is flashing ability while revealing that he still needs to learn the game. The transition from college defensive end to NFL outside linebacker is not easy (just ask Bruce Davis and Alonzo Jackson), but Worilds appears to be on his way.

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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Watch Tower: Bryant McFadden Benching Rumor Bunk?

Last week’s edition of the Watch Tower focused on the Tribune-Review's John Harris’ assertion that the Steelers had been laying the ground work to bench starting corner Bryant McFadden.

At issue was whether Harris was implicitly leaking supposed-to-be confidential observations in practice or whether he was stoking the flames.

One veteran Pittsburgh journalist appears to believe it is the later.

In his weekly PG Plus Chat, Post-Gazette beat writer Gerry Dulac took the following question.



[Full disclosure, I’d submitted a similar question, but this one is not mine.]

Neither the questioner nor Dulac explicitly mention the Harris piece. But given the tone, perhaps neither needs to. After rejecting rumor mongering, Dulac’s clarification is interesting, as he say “especially unfounded rumors.”

One needs no leap of faith to assume that Dulac has read Harris’ and summarily discounted Harris’ article.

One of the interesting things about the whole “on-line chat” medium is that it gives readers a glimpse of what things are like in the press box.

Back in December Ed Bouchette similarly dismissed an argument circulating that Mike Tomlin had quit on his team. Likewise, the story in question also originated with, none other John Harris….

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Steelers Take Risk in Cutting Reed, Signing Suisham

Picked up during a crisis situation in the middle of the 2002 season, Jeff Reed developed not only into one of the NFL’s best kickers and best pressure kickers.

That ended as the Steelers released Reed two days after the humiliating loss the Steelers suffered to the New England Patriots, and one day after Reed seemingly used the turf as an excuse for a missed 26 yard kick.

In his place the Steelers signed Shaun Suisham, whos career percentage is only a few points below Reed’s, but who nonetheless missed several clutch kicks in his recent stints with Washington and Dallas.

Steelers Take Significant Risk in Cutting Reed

Reed was in a slump. Many of the kicks he missed were longer, lower percentage kicks, but Reed had excelled under pressure unlike no other kicker of this era, save perhaps for Alan Venitari.

And, as Ed Bouchette pointed out today in PG Plus as he has many other times, Jeff Reed kicks in the NFL’s most difficult stadium in addition to kicking in the AFC North – which features three outdoor fields and all that the elements can bring to bear.

The rational side of me says “this is a big mistake.”

Jeff Reed - Mala Leche of Late

But the best football decisions are not governed by all that is rational.

Jeff Reed had made not bones about the fact that he was unhappy with his contract situation. If there is any indication that he let this affect his performance, cutting him is a no brainer.

Reed also had made several negative comments, some directed at his coverage units, others at the fans. And he had a history of run-ins with the law, albeit minor ones compared to Santonio Holmes and Ben Roethlisberger.

Something did not sit right with me about Jeff Reed this year. As we say in (Argentine) Spanish, his attitude was "mala leche" which translates literally as "sour milk" but really conveys a more negative, mean spirited mind-set.

And perhaps there is more to the story than has been confirmed. Jim Wexell’s Twitter feed features a tweet claiming that Dale Lolley reported on some sort of an altercation between Reed and a fan.

Take Mike Tomlin at his word when he assures that this decision was not one made lightly. Say one thing for Tomlin and Kevin Colbert – they do not make personnel decisions out of fear.

Their gambles have usually paid off. Let’s cross our figures in hopes that it happens again.

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Steelers Report Card vs. Patriots

Report card day was generally a positive experience for me growing up but for many others it was not. And so it is for the Steelers this week. As with all reports cards, these grades were assigned without consulting similar efforts from others.

Quarterback
I don’t care what the stat sheet says, Ben Roethlisberger’s timing and accuracy have been off since his return. He didn’t have help from his receivers early on, and did well late in the game under a fierce rush. Still, his pick six end any theoretical chance of a comeback. Grade: D

Running Backs
Like most of the offense, Rashard Mendenhall’s final stats are mislead. Neither rusher had much room to work with, but Mendenhall nor Moore could make lemonade out of lemons. Mendenhall also seemed to flinch on a key block. It might not be fair, but the Steelers needed more out of the running backs, and didn’t get it. Grade: D

Wide Receivers
Great week if you had Steelers WR’s on your fantasy football team. Good thing fantasy football does not count drops. Errors by the wide receiving corps negated two sure and one potential touchdown on two separate drives. You can’t do that if you want to compete in Prime Time. Grade: F

Offensive Line
If the Steelers are to contend for anything this season, Jonathan Scott must play better. By the end of the evening New England was collapsing the right side of the line at will. The line failed to protect its quarterback and failed to open holes for the running game. Grade: F

Defensive Line
BenJarvus Green-Ellis didn’t run on the Steelers at will, but he was close. The Patriots imposed their will, and it began up front. Grade: F

Linebackers
Everyone knew going into the game that the New England was going to try to cut up Pittsburgh with short to medium passes. New England went and did it anyway and against what was labeled here last week as the NFL’s best linebacking corps. Grade: F

Secondary
William Gay has gone settling in as a comfortable choice at third corner, to looking third rate, getting burned by a tight end. One of the reasons Brady could get off so many short passes was the HUGE cushions the Steelers corners gave Patriot receivers. The secondary rarely made New England ball catchers play and gave up plenty after the catch. Grade: F

Special Teams
Apparently, this was one miss too many for Jeff Reed. The penalty on Keenan Lewis should not have occurred and does not bode well for a player with discipline issues. Beyond that, the Steelers special avoided any major mistakes but also failed to provide a spark for the team on the night when one was needed. Grade: C-

Coaching
Time will tell if Bill Belichick published the template for how to beat the Steelers. Either way, he and his staff made Mike Tomlin and company look like amateurs. New England came in with a better game plan, and executed it better. The Patriots were in control of this game from start to finish. Grade F

Unsung Hero
There was little to smile about Sunday night, but Mewelde Moore, whose spent most of the year having fans question his role on the roster, turned in a solid performance. His 14 yards on four carries were not stealer, but he had nothing to work with. He also served as Roethlisberger’s safety value, and did not flinch at his blocking assignments.

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Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Patriots Pulverize Steelers, 39-26

Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola successfully rationalized away the Steelers previous prime time loss to the New Orleans Saints. He did so by soothing Steelers Nation with a host of explanations:

  • The Steelers had played a defending Super Bowl Championship team with its back to the wall
  • Pittsburgh had hung with that self-same champion for three quarters
  • And even then, a couple of broken plays here and there could have changed the outcome.

The Saints game, Labriola insisted, should be taken with no greater gravity than the Steelers 2005 road loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Which is to say, the Steelers looked bad that night, but ultimately had the last laugh.

Alas, it will be impossible for the erstwhile Steelers scribe to offer a palliative words to pacify Pittsburgh after the Steelers loss to New England.

Taking a Cue from Ken Beatrice

How bad was it? For that let’s go a back to some logic established long ago some 230 miles south of the ‘Burgh.

DC area natives from their late 20’s and up will remember long time WMAL/WTEM sports radio voice Ken Beatrice. One of the many things that Beatrice never tired of telling his listeners was that, “Very few teams win games in the NFL, it is usually a case of the other team losing.”

Beatrice was right. Without taking any credit away from the victors, think back to the Steelers other losses this season and even going back to the five game losing streak of the 2009 season.

If the Steelers make one or other two plays in those contests, the outcome changes.

No such consolation exists for Steelers Nation in the wake of loss to the Patriots.

  • Bill Belichick, Tom Brady, and the rest of the New England Patriots came into Heinz Field, slipped the Steelers over their collective knee, and gave them and old-fashioned spanking.

Forget about the 4th quarter scoring spree. That was tantamount to cries of “no, no I’ll be good,” that accompany a true spanking setting in.

The Pittsburgh Steelers were thoroughly outplayed and out coached by the New England Patriots from stat to finish.

Categorizing the Loss

It is hard to say which is worse.

The need to rank this loss with the other true ass-whippings the Steelers have suffered in the post-Chuck Noll era, or the need to rank the loss along side the other true ass-whippings the Steelers have suffered at the hands of the New England Patriots during the post-Chuck Noll era.

Leo Tolstoy, Meet Tom Brady

Should the Steelers play that Patriots again, Modern Libraries might want to ask Tom Brady to write the sequel to War and Peace, because he might as well have begun penning a Russian novel with the time the Steelers gave him to throw.

I do not presume to know more than Dick LeBeau or Mike Tomlin about defensive game planning, but I need not to declare that their plan failed.

  • Credit the Patriots line for holding the Steelers defenders at bay
  • Credit New England coaches for keeping the Steelers off balance

– when New England ran Pittsburgh was prepared for pass, when New England passed, Pittsburgh was ready to defend the run –

  • Question Tomlin and LeBeau for the inordinate number of times when they left three defensive lineman to rush five or more Patriot blockers.

The Steelers barely touched Tom Brady all night, but it is no secret that the few drives where the Steelers defense contested control of the game were the ones where Steeler defenders got some penetration.

The Zone Blitz has always been vulnerable to short underneath routes. To compensate, it looks like Dick LeBeau held more of his linebackers back in coverage.

If the Steelers do play the Patriots again this year, and that is an “if,” then might we humbly suggest a different strategy?

Injuries Are, In Fact, No Excuse

We all know Tomlin’s credo, “Injuries are no excuse. The standard of expectation does not change.”

While missing Max Starks, Chris Kemoatu and Hines Ward certainly hurt, last night’s game vindicated what Mike Tomlin has preached since day one.

  • "How's that," you ask?

Those injuries did not cause Randal El and Mike Wallace to drop touchdown passes or Emmanuel Sanders run the wrong route – in the end zone.

Playing with an entirely new left side on the offensive line is never easy, but Roethlisberger arguably had his best protection early in the game – when his throws were the least accurate.

Finally, the absence of Aaron Smith and Brett Kiesel was keenly felt, but who can blame the Steelers getting suckered on a 3 yard quarterback draw at the goal line on injury?

Patriots in Pole Position

Both teams entered last night with a chance to establish themselves as one of the AFC elite.

The Patriots simultaneously showed they belonged there and that the Steelers are not ready for Prime Time.

Sometimes the truth hurts.

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Monday, November 15, 2010

Patriots School Steelers 36-26

Forget about the 10 point difference in the final score, that is just window dressing.

The Patriots had control of this game from start to finish. They schooled the Steelers, through and through.

With a Baltimore loss the Steelers squandered their chance to put themselves in the pole position in the AFC playoff race. Instead, we could easily be spending Christmas and New Years memorizing NFL tie breaking rules.... (And maybe not even that if we cannot get better play out of the line.)

...Its 2:05 here in Buenos Aires, and work looms in the morning. More tomorrow.

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Sunday, November 14, 2010

Keenan Lewis, Crezdon Butler to Dress Against Patriots

James Harrison will play tonight against the Patriots, as reported by the Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette on PG Plus.

There was however a minor surprise on the Steelers inactives list, and that was that Keenan Lewis and Crezdon Butler will dress tonight.

The Steelers no doubt are expecting the Patriots to pass, pass, and pass against them this evening, and the need to activate as many DB's as possible.

But the fact that Steelers are dressing both men does lend plausabiltiy, if not credence, the John Harris report that the Steelers are considering benching Bryant McFadden.

Looking forward to the game...

Watch Tower: Bryant McFadden to Be Benched?

Could Bryant McFadden be about to end his second run as a Steelers starting cornerback?

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review’s John Harris seems to indicate that the answer is ‘yes.’

Life has been difficult for McFadden of late. Brought back on a draft day trade to shore up the Steelers secondary, he warded off a training camp challenge from 2009 third round pick Keenan Lewis.

But Terrell Owens had his way with McFadden in last week’s game against the Bengals. And according to statistics that Harris cites, Carlson Palmer targeted Owens 14 times, and 10 of those balls found their mark, including two that went for touchdowns.

Drew Brees enjoyed similar success against McFadden, although McFadden did have a sack strip in that game.

Perhaps the most interesting part of Harris’ column is the following:

…McFadden's value is falling like Blockbuster stock.

There are indications, if you know where to look, that McFadden's status as the starting left corner is becoming more precarious each day. Local journalists aren't permitted to report what occurs at practice, but there were signs last week that a shakeup in the secondary could be forthcoming.

What can we take from this?

It is hard to be completely sure. Harris certainly wants to convey to his readers that he’s seen evidence, based on who is getting snaps with which unit, that the Steelers are grooming a replacement for McFadden.

This certainly might be the case.

Or it might not.

Credibility Gap

The Steelers have been vocal about journalists leaking confidential information from daily practices, and while Harris avoided revealing specifics, his implication was clear. Would he risk getting his press credentials revoked?

Second, there is Harris’ history. John Harris has made some astute observations in the past, rightly sounding the alarm when the Steelers released special teams ace Anthony Madison prior to the 2009 season.

However, Harris has show a penchant for stoking flames for the sake of stoking flames. Last season he incurred the wrath of the Watch Tower twice for asserting that “Tomlin had quit” on his team, and then offering no journalistic evidence (quotes, off the record comments) whatsoever to bloster such a bold claim.

Harris is right about one thing. The Steelers did not bring back Bryant McFadden to bench him, so it will be interesting to see how this story plays out on the field.

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.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Unflagged Holds of James Harrison Stand at 10

All season long Steel Curtain Rising has been working to promote Neal Coolong, of Behind the Steel Curtain, efforts document the times when James Harrison is held with no flag throw.

Last week against the Bengals, Neal cites to “Harrison Holds” one by Nate Livings with 1:28 remaining in the second quarter, and another by Andrew Wentworth with 2:38 remaining in the forth quarter.

Again, one can not help but note that the blanant holding of Harrison again crops its ugly head late in the 2nd and again late in the 4th quarter. Of course the Bengals scored on neither drive, but that evidence is mounting

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

Number times James Harrison was held last week: 3
Number of “Harrison Holds:” 2
Total “Harrison Holds” for 2010: 10

Let the Word Go Out to Steelers Nation

Spread the word! We know the league has it in for James Harrison and one can only surmise that the officials will give the proverbial ‘nod and wink’ to opposing offensive lines more frequently as the playoff races emerge.

This is where you come in.

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. Stumble Upon it. Buzz it. MySpace users do what ever it is that you do to share articles.

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Friday, November 12, 2010

Watch Tower: Ed Bouchette Right on Steelers Offensive Tackles, But…

Post-Gazette Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette was unusually critical of the Steelers earlier this week in PG Plus when he came down hard on the organization for “ignoring the tackle position.”

Regular Steel Curtain Rising readers know that I essentially agree with him. In the Colbert Record columns and other run ups to the 2008, 2009, and 2010 drafts, I have repeatedly called for the Steelers to return to the unofficial policy of the Cowher years to use a premium pick (1-3) on an offensive lineman.

One could argue on that, if the Steelers were to exclusively draft for need, offensive and defensive lineman should have been their focus on the first three rounds.

As feared, Max Starks injury has ended his season, and injury ended Willie Colon’s before it started. The Steelers began the season thin on the offensive line, and are now thinner.

So while agreeing with Bouchette in spirit, it’s hard to give his argument an unqualified endorsement.

Danger of Distortion When Drafting in 20/20 Hindsight

Redoing drafts in 20/20 hindsight is easy to do. But sometimes that 20/20 hindsight can obscure the forest for the trees.

Quality offensive tackles, and offensive lineman in general (and defensive line for that matter) have frequently been scarce when the Steelers has come to pick in premium rounds of most of not all of the drafts in the Mike Tomlin era.

Drafting for need has certain appeal, but the fact of the matter is that drafting for need easily leads to reaching, and reaching can get you into trouble. Does the name Troy Edwards ring a bell?

And Furthermore...

One final point. Bouchette reminds readers that had the Steelers not signed Fozell Adams, Tony Hills and Jonathan Scott would be their two starting tackles (and let’s not breath a sigh of relief yet, this could happen before all is said and done.)

Bouchette is right of course, that would be a bad situation for the Steelers.

But any NFL team would quickly find itself in dire straights if it lost both of its starting offensive tackles.

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Are the Steelers Who Needed to Step Up, Stepping Up?

With their barn-burning victory over the Cincinnati Bengals in hand, the Steelers reached the midpoint of their 2010 season.

During training camp, Steel Curtain Rising offered a look at six players the Steelers needed to step up in 2010 for them to climb the stairway to seven.

Let’s take a look at how things are shaping up at the halfway mark.

Troy Polamalu

Troy’s back and in good health (knock on wood) thus far this season. He made his impact felt against Atlanta in the very first game of the season. Nonetheless, the Steelers pass defense has struggled statistically and at key moments.

Troy, in no way, deserves to have all of this laid at his feet. But with Aaron Smith out, stepping up the Steelers will need more splash plays from Polamalu.

Ziggy Hood

The accolades poured in for Ziggy Hood as training camp started, yet as the preseason wore on, he failed to for challenge for a starting spot or even playing time.

Aaron Smith’s injury means the Future is Now for Ziggy Hood. He’s looked solid thus far, but has a ways to go before he can be considered and impact player.

Mike Wallace

All signs indicate that Mike Wallace is blossoming into a top tier NFL wide receiver. His 22 catches might not impress, but his 22 yards per catch and 4 touchdowns provide should put secondaries on notice everwhere that Mike Wallace is a man to be reckoned with. The Steelers needed more from Wallace, and Wallace is delivering.

Bryant McFadden

Phoenix’s willingness to part with McFadden for a 5th round pick left some asking, “Why give up a starter for a song?”

On paper, McFadden has been an improvement over William Gay, being second on the team in tackles registering a sack, forced fumble, and an interception. Still, McFadden has gotten burned a few times as well.

McFadden has improved the Steelers secondary, but the Steelers still needed to do more. Fortunately, his strip-sack of Drew Brees at a key moment lends hope that McFadden can provide that. Unfortunately, T.O. had its way with him on Monday Night Football.

Muarkice Pouncey

Wow. Not only did Pouncey push Justin Hartwig off of the team, but he is probably the team’s best offensive lineman, and if offensive lineman got their due, he’d be a candidate for offensive rookie of the year.

You cannot ask for more

Rashard Mendenhall

Mendenhall was asked to carry a tremendous load with Ben Roethisberger suspended, and Dennis Dixon and Bryon Leftwich injured.

And Mendenhall delivered throughout those first three games.

Ironically, initally production slipped from the man who figured to benefit the most from Roethlisberger’s return. But is play on the final drive against Cincinnati was classic Steelers Smash Mouth football.

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Thursday, November 11, 2010

Steelers Report Card vs. the Bengals

The Steelers report card makes its return after a two week absence due to the Miami and New Orleans games not being shown here in Buenos Aires.

As always, I’ll add the caveat that no other “grades” were consulted.

Quarterback

On the plus side, the Bengals blitzed Ben at a ferocious pace, and he hung in there. On the down side, Roethlisberger looked rusty underthrowing Mike Wallace several times, missing Randal El on a key throw, and his interception was one of the worst passes I have ever seen him throw. Grade: C-

Running Backs

Mendenhall only wracked up 99 yards, but his running on the Steelers last drive evoked memories of power rushing not seen in Pittsburgh since the days of Barry Foster. His effort should have been enough. Grade: B

Wide Receivers

Mike Wallace was the only reciver to put up any numbers of any significance, but he made his catches count. As did Health Miller, Matt Speath, and Hines Ward. Grade: B

Offensive Line

Another rough night on the injury front, and that was before learning that Max Starks was lost for the season. The lines protection of Ben was shakey, as was its run blocking, but they transformed themselves into the kind of road graders that smash mouth football pruests fantasize about on Pittsburgh’s final drive. Grade: C+

Defensive Line

Brett Kesiel could only go for a few snaps, so that left it up to Casey Hampton, Ziggy Hood, and Nick Eason. The three men held Cedric Benson to 3 yards per carry and helped open lanes for the linebackers. Still, Casey Hampton’s roughing the passer penalty helped put Cincinnati in position to score. Grade: B+

Linebackers

Another monster night for the linebackers. James Harrison, James Farrior, and LaMarr Woodley all had sacks, and Lawrence Timmon’s interception was key. No better linebacking corps exists in the NFL. Grade: A

Secondary

There is no way to sugar coat it. T.O. had is way with the Steelers secondary. Ike Taylor’s pass interference, albeit it was on the ticky-tacky side, got Cincinnati back into the game. At the end of the day, Cincinnati failed to convert, and the secondary had a role in making that happen. Grade: C

Special Teams

A year ago special teams was a debilitating liability. Al Everest is transforming them into an awesome asset. The plays they made in the first quarter were the difference in this game. Nonetheless, the missed field goal cannot be overlooked. Grade: B+

Coaching

Penalties are often a sign of poor coaching, and the high number of post-snap flags were uncharacteristic of this team. This was a see-saw battle as the Bengals did not quit. Dick LeBeau made sure he kept up the pressure through out Cincinnati’s final drive, and his players delivered. Grade: B

Unsung Hero

So many guys made plays, so many guys stepped up. This week Doug Legursky and Jonathan Scott split the unsung hero award, both of whom shuffled in and out of different positions on the line at the drop of a dime. With Max Starks out this kind of agility is going to be more and more important down the stretch.

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Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Max Starks Injury May End Season

As broken by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette last night, the Steelers starting left tackle Max Starks has a serious neck injury which could end his season. Initally not thought to be serious, an MRI revealed that the neck injury that Starks sustained against the Bengals involved a disc and could require surgery.

Clearly, this is bad, bad news for the Steelers, whose offensive line was not considered to be an area of strength to begin with. Steel Curtain Rising will have more to say on this later.

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Steelers Exorcise Demons with Victory over Bengals

"We've seen that horror flick before. I like this ending better...." - Mike Tomlin

Victory or defeat in pro football might hinge on many things:

  • The victor imposing its will
  • A team creating opportunities for itself
  • A Prime Time Player stepping up at a key moment or committing an egregious error at an in opportune time

Monday night's battle between the Steelers and the Bengals combined each those elements.

No sane Steelers fan can be take comfort in the fact the Bengals were 0:35 seconds away from losing a game that never should have gotten that close but, despite that, this might have been just what was necessary for Steelers to exorcize a few demons.

Making Your Own Opportunities

In Pittsburgh last year, the Steelers and Bengals played each other to a defensive stalemate that resulted in a field goal kicking derby. The operative difference?

  • On Cincinnati’s first kick return Brad Scott ran untouched for a 96 yard touchdown.

Monday Night the Steelers special teams returned the favor, as Emmanuel Sanders and Jason Worilds stripped Scott and set up the Steelers first touchdown.

Far from finished, Al Everest’s added an encore by blocking the Steelers first punt, directly resulting in another 3 points.

The Bengals could have easily folded, but they did not. Their defense dug and unleashed a furious pass rush on the Steelers as their offense clipped the difference to 3.

The Bengals were threatening to do it again when the Steelers defense made its contribution as Lawrence Timmons picked off Palmer’s pass.

Six plays later the Hines Ward extended the Steelers advantage back to 10 points.

Imposing Will to Create Opportunities

The Bengals looked to create an opportunity of their own, answering the Steelers touchdown with a 46 yard return.

Cincinnati had golden field position but the Steelers defense refused to relent, allowing only 10 yards forcing Cincinnati to opt for a long field goal – which they missed.

With a 45 seconds and a ten point lead, the safe money would be to sit on it and be glad to get the ball out of the half. Mike Tomlin, however, plays to win, and a 24 yard pass to Mike Wallace was all that was needed to set up Jeff Reed’s 51 yard field goal.

A Test of Wills in Which Neither Wears Down...

Credit Marv Lewis. Credit Carlson Palmer, credit the entire Cincinnati Bengals organization.

During the Steelers defense clamped down on the Bengals in a way that evoked memories of the 2008 season, blitzing, pressuring, and sacking Palmer from all angles. Neither Palmer, nor the Bengals, ever quit, as the Cincinnati defense imposed some of its own will on Pittsburgh, as both teams remained scoreless through the third quarter.

At the end of 3rd quarter, Steelers offensive coordinator looked to be going for the knockout punch, conjuring memories of similar attempts in Detroit last season, memories which would ultimately prove to be prophetic.

But that was far from clear as Antwan Randal El did redux of his Super Bowl XL glory hitting Mike Wallace with and under thrown, could have been interception, touchdown pass.

Up 27-7 with 14:50 left to play, it appeared that the knock out punch had been landed.

Wrong. The fireworks along the Ohio River, long a Queen City claim to fame, had yet to begin.

Prime Time Players Step Up, And Not

If he is anything, Carlson Palmer is resilient. Refusing to fold, it only took him 5 plays to move his team 57 yards hitting T.O. for a 27 yard touchdown pass.

At the time it seemed like little more than garbage time glory, but again perceptions deceived.

Cincinnati’s defense got its turn, and completely disturbed the Steelers offense forcing Ben Roethlisberger into one of the worst passes he has ever thrown, resulting in a Cincinnati touchdown.

Aided by three straight, bone headed, Pittsburgh penalties, the Bengals only needed 1:01 to cut Pittsburgh’s lead to 6 points.

Few people will label the Steelers offensive line as a unit stocked with Prime Time talent, but anyone who saw them on Pittsburgh’s penultimate drive would beg to differ.

Running behind the some of the best run blocking that has been produced by a Pittsburgh offense in recent memory, Rashard Mendenhall moved the Steelers from their 29 to the Cincinnati 28.

All that remained was for Jeff Reed, who’d already hit a 51 yarder, to knock in another from 46 yards away.

Reed, ever depenedable until recently, missed and Steelers Nation spent the next 3 minutes and 25 seconds warding off cardiac arrest.

Exorcising the Demons?

If Steelers special team’s early experience with exorcism had been exciting then the defense’s late experiment was very bit as excruciating.

One year earlier at Paul Brown Stadium Carlson Palmer had been in the same situation:

  • In 2009 he moved his team 71 yards in 16 plays, his longest pass being 17 yards.
  • This year he moved his team 52 yards, his longest pass being 20 yards.

In 2009, on 4th and 10 at the Pittsburgh 15 with less than a minute to play...

  • ...Carlson Palmer threw an 11 yard pass...

James Farrior arrived just a moment too late, and 2 plays later Cincinnati had taken the lead.

On Monday night, on 4th and 5 at the Pittsburgh 12 with less than a minute to play...

  • ...Carlson Palmer threw a 10 yard pass...

...James Harrison and Ike Taylor arrived right on time, and two plays later Ben Roethlisberger sealed victory by taking a knee for the second time.

Even setting aside the injuries the Steelers suffered in Cincinnati, skeptics have many reasons to see the glass half empty in Pittsburgh’s 4th quarter near-melt down.

But the half-full view reveals a Steelers team pushed to the edge yet refusing to blink.

What a difference one year makes.

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Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Steelers Escape Cincinnati with 27-21 Victory Over Bengals

It is 2:00 am here in Buenos Aires, and work looms tomorrow morning....

As Mike Tomlin has already said, "we don't add style points." And that, tonight is a good thing, as the Steelers escaped with a 27-21 victory over the Cincinnati Benglas.

While the game never should have gotten this close, perhaps the Steelers exercised some ghosts from 2009.

It may not be good for cardiac patients, but at the end of the day, this is why we play games. More tomorrow.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Harrison Hold Count Stands at 8

Due to travel, I have not been able to make any postings on Harrison Holds, that is times when James Harrison is held with no flag throw, for a few weeks.

Hopefully at least some of you have been following, and supporting Neal Coolong’s effort to document incidents of blatant holding of James Harrison with no flag thrown.

Coolong reports on Behind the Steel Curtain’s Pre Game Zone Blitz that James Harrison was held with 0:46 left in the first half of the New Orleans game.

Once again, it is ironic, or not, to note that a lot of the Harrison Holding calls come late in halves. No, the Saints did not score on this drive, but it is interesting to see that the officials begin to turn their head the other way when the opposing offense goes into 2 minute mode.

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: 8

Get the Word Out

Spread the word! James Harrison is already being unfairly targeted by the league in its enforcement of its new “Thou Shall Not Hit” policy. He needs the support of Steelers Nation.

This is where you come in.

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. MySpace users do what ever it is that you do to share articles.

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Sunday, November 7, 2010

NFL Fines of James Harrison to be Automatic?

For the second time since he was named 2008 NFL Defensive player of the year, the NFL has announced that it is making a James Harrison-specific policy change.

NFL spokesman Craig Aiello explains:

The large number of fines levied against Pittsburgh Steelers All-Pro quarterback James Harrison have garnered league-wide attention, and the NFL is acting. The NFL announces that as of this week, the league will no longer publicly acknowledge when James Harrison has been fined for doing nothing than playing the game with the aggressiveness that has been a hallmark of Steelers defensive dominance.

Instead, in the interests of only making announcements that are newsworthy, the league will announce those occasions where James Harrison is NOT fined. We feel that automating the process of fining James Harrison will simplify matters for the fans, his team, the league, our officials, and most of all James Harrison himself.
Neither the Steelers nor James Harrison could be reached for comment on the matter.

Nor would Craig Aiello confirm whether this meant that James Harrison would be fined automatically unless video reviews determine his play warranted no fine.

However, when La Toalla Terrible approached James Harrison's agent, Parise Williamson, to make this very same inquiry, Mr. Williamson declined questions, but could be overheard to be discussing automatic debiting options with a Pittsburgh banking institution....


La Toalla Terrible (that’s Terrible Towel in Spanish) serves as Steel Curtain Rising’s alter ego (some might just say EGO). To read more missives (mischief?) from el mano de La Toalla Terrible, click here.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Vikings Give Steelers Nation Reason to Appreciate the Rooneys

Sometimes the best posts are the ones you don’t write.

How’s that, you ask?

As the entire football world knows, last August Brett Favre again dominated the news coverage with his annual “retire, retire me not” soap opera only to show up at Vikings headquarters 2 weeks prior to training camp.

It made for good football copy, and I fully admit to interest in the outcome.

But the sheer skeptical of a player, with no formal ties or history with a franchise, holding an entire organization hostage bordered on the inane.

Work commitments prevented a “Never Would Happen in Pittsburgh” post from gracing his corner of cyberspace.

And just as well, as Brett Favre came out and did want no one expected him to do, putting together a phenomenal season worthy of a man half his age.

Before going on, let me make a few confessions about Brett Favre’s history with me. I was an early Brett basher. First because he was tremendously hyped even before his first game in Green Bay (I remember the headline “Sunday Could be the beginning of the Brett Favre era in Green Bay.)

The fact that his first game and first win coincided with Bill Cowher’s first loss and Rod Woodson’s worst game helped his cause none here (click here to see lowlights from that lamentable day at Lambeau.)

I remained a Favre skeptic for a while, but waned while he started justify and then not only live up to but beyond the hype. He really earned my respect on Christmas even 1995, when Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd, among others, continually knocked the snot out of Favre, but Favre refused to relent.

So I found myself rooting for Favre in 2009, save for his visit to Heinz Field.

And when the Steelers failed to make the playoffs, I was among those who wanted to see Favre end his career hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.

The thought that Favre’s career might end with an interception pained me.

That Was Then, This is Now

But perhaps not just as much as it pained Favre.

Favre knew he needed ankle surgery if he was to play again, yet he delayed it until late in the off season. He dithered again about whether or not to play, until his coach sent a posse down to Mississippi to get him to play.

Since then you’d think Ringling Brothers had set up shop in the Metrodome. Favre falters (gee Brett, maybe you’d play a little better if you’d taken some snaps in training camp, eh?) Brad Childress brings Favre a toy in the form of Randy Moss. Moss’ performance in Minnesota is Mundane.

Childress cuts Moss after Moss waxes about how much he misses New England and then humiliates the team caterer of all people.

Childress gets taken to the woodshed by Zygi Wilf for not checking with him before cutting Randy Moss. Word is the Wilf polled the locker room to gauge support of Childress….

Can you imagine a player, a quarterback, holding the Steelers hostage, keeping Steelers Nation hanging on a thread by his every word? Can you imainge Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher, or Mike Tomlin bringing in a Diva mid-season only to cut him, and then only to get into a very public spat with upper management over whether it was right or not?

No, you can't.

In contrast, the Vikings are almost a picture of anarchy.

Dan Rooney would never have allowed such a spectacle to unfold. Neither would Art Rooney II.

And for that, Steelers fans should be thankful.

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