´ Steel Curtain Rising: December 2010

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

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Casey Hampton, Farrior, Timmons Snubbed in Pro Bowl Selections

Imagine this:

  • You’re a 10-4 team who has clinched a playoff berth with one game to go.
  • You started the season with your 3 and then 4 string quarterback.
  • You lost the game’s number 1 3-4 defensive end and your other starters have lost time to injuries.
  • You’ve also played the entire year with a make-shift offensive line.

What does that get you when Pro Bowl honors are awarded?

Not much apparently….

Hats off to Polamalu, Pouncy, and James Harrison

The 2010 Pro Bowl selections saw the Steelers come out on the sort end of the stick.

Troy Polamalu, Maurkice Pouncey, and James Harrison fully deserve their honor. But it is almost laughable that they are the only members of the Steelers to make the squad.

Mike Wallace has quickly established himself as one of the game’s most fearsome receivers, leading the league in average yards per catch for two years running.

  • That however, is not enough for some. It should be.

As Ed Bouchette pointed out on PG Plus, James Farrior is having a better year statistically then is Ray Lewis.

  • The timeless veteran also deserves a spot.

Lawrence Timmons has also had a monster year, particularly in the early going. Perhaps his low number of sacks is hurting him, but he likewise belongs along side the best of the AFC.

Curious Case of Casey Hampton

Perhaps no error is so egregious as that of the absence of Casey Hampton.

Hampton’s numbers might not wow anyone, but what 3-4 nose tackle’s do? But the Pittsburgh Steelers are having historic success stopping the run this year. All of that starts up front. Most precisely, it begins at the nose tackle position.

Ed Bouchette opined last spring in PG Plus that the nose tackle’s knees are the fulcrum that the success of the 3-4 defense swings on.

Anyone doubting that need only look to the Steelers defenses of 1998 and 1999. In both years the units started out strong, playing the stout, stingy defense that has long been a staple of Steelers Nation.

But in neither year did the defense finish that way, and in both cases the defensive decline can be traced directly to nose tackle Joel Steed’s deteriorating knees.

Casey Hampton does not deserve all of the credit for the Steelers success against the run. In fact, they’ve shut down primer runners without him.

But success does begin with him. If Hampton does not do his job, then Farrior, Timmons, Harrison, and Woodley have a far more difficult job.

I do not know who which interior lineman will represent the AFC’s defense in the Pro Bowl. I am sure they are men who’ve distinguished themselves appropriately.

But so has Casey Hampton, and he deserves to play along side them.

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Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Steelers Experience Reveals Folly of "Playing for Draft Position"

It is a conversation which, fortunately, rarely rears its ugly head in Steelers Nation.

Fans of other NFL teams, however, are not so lucky.

The drill is familiar. As the NFL season reaches, and then passes, its midway point there are a goodly number of teams that find themselves out of the playoff hunt, long before the Giant Eagles and Krogers of the world begin discounting turkeys.

The dynamics of the NFL draft being what they are, the question inevitably arises head, “shouldn’t we just play for draft position?”

The logic is clear. Teams with the worst record pick first and get dibs on the best players – not just in the first round, but in each successive round.

Think back to say, the 1999 NFL draft.

Wouldn’t it be better to have a top 7 pick and get to choose between Edgerrin James, Ricky Williams, Tory Holt and Champ Bailey instead of having to decide between Chris Claiborne, Daunte Culpepper, Cade McNown, Troy Edwards, John Tait, and Anthony McFarland?

This example has to make playing for draft position tempting for even the most die-hard purest.

But such an approach is fool hardy, and the Steelers experience reveals why.

In Praise of, yes, …Bill Austin

Tim Gleason, aka Mary Rose of Behind the Steel Curtain, rated Bill Austin of as the second worst Steelers coach of all time in his book From Black to Gold. No argument there.

While Gleason does not lay this at Austin’s feet, I can remember an NFL films segment from the late 70’s or early 80’s chronicling the Steelers pre-Chuck Noll woes. Referring to Austin’s final year, the segment opined, “The Steelers didn’t even know how to lose right.”

The implication was that, because Austin’s team had the “misfortune” sandwich in 2 wins and one tie in the middle of 11 losses during the 1969 season, the Steelers drafted fourth instead of first and subsequently missed out on the number one pick, O.J. Simpson.

O.J. Simpson, before embracing life of crime, was a Hall of Fame running back in every sense of the word. O.J.’d have been a Hall of Famer in Pittsburgh too.

However, 100 times out of 100, I would not trade the Steeler’s first round pick in 1969 for the right to pick Simpson. No way.

Why? Because in the franchises’ pivotal decision, the Steelers picked Joe Greene with the fourth overall pick in 1969.

Both men made it into Canton, but Joe Greene did so wearing 4 rings, while O.J. remains bare.

The Steelers and the Aikman Derby

A quick search of Google Newspaper Archives reveals that as early as September 1988, the press was already handicapping “the Aikman derby.” Or otherwise speculating on which team would get the right to draft Troy Aikman.

I bring this up because this season I have found myself in an on going conversation with an old college buddy, “DK” who, although he lives and dies with Cowboys, is a regular Steel Curtain Rising reader.

His response to the Cowboys recent victory over the arch-rival Redskins was:
The winner for that game in a sense will be the loser as I’m pretty certain that Washington will in 2011 have more favorable schedule and of course slightly better draft pick.

For weeks now DK has been laying down the “let’s just play for draft position” card, making reference to the Cowboy’s 3-13 1988 record that netted them three time Super Bowl champion and Hall of Famer Troy Aikman.

The Aikman reference brought back memories of a camping trip with another friend, whom I’ll simply name as Yosefi, who gloated to me late in the 1988 season, “the Cowboy’s are gonna finish worse that the Steelers, we’re gonna get Troy Aikman….”

To show how naïve I was at age 16, I told him “we don’t need Aikman, we have Bubby Brister.”

Nostalgia for the innocence of youth aside, this example would seem to justify “playing for draft position.”

The Steelers started 1988 2-10. They finished 5-11, winning three of their final four, including a win over the playoff bound Oilers and the NFL’s all time winningest coach, Don Shula.

Had guys like Bubby Brister, Rod Woodson, Merril Hoge, Dermonti Dawson, John Jackson, Louis Lipps, and Greg Lloyd not rallied, the Steelers still might have not gotten a crack at Aikman, but could have had a shot at Barry Sanders or Derrick Thomas. Instead the got Tim Worley.

Unlike the O.J.-Greene example, Troy Aikman and Tim Worley do not even belong in the same thought, let alone the same sentence.

Measured by Super Bowls, the Cowboys have three since 1988, whereas the Steelers have only won two.

The Moral of the Story

But you know what? Even knowing that, I still wouldn’t trade those three victories for at shot moving up in the 1989 draft.

The Steelers found plenty of fools gold in the 1989 draft, but the also came away with some gems. That draft, along with those three, “playing for pride” victories in ’88 sparked the resurgence of the franchise that continues today.

Since that fateful 1988 season, the Steelers have had more winning seasons, more playoff appearances, and more overall stability than the Cowboys.

There are many reasons for this, but one of those is the franchise’s commitment to playing to win.

The moral of the story runs deeper:

  • Good things happen to teams that play to win.

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Friday, December 24, 2010

Steelers Defeat Panthers 27-3, Merry Christmas

Merry Christmas!

The Steelers-Panthers game was not shown in Buenos Aires (as you might imagine, local providers are not exactly fighting with each other to carry the NFL Network) and it was way, way to hot to even think of sitting in front of the computer watching it on the internet.

But the Steelers won the game, in a convincing 27-3 fashion. About the only worrisome news I can gleam out of this was Bryant McFadden's hip injury and perhaps Shaun Shisham's first miss.

A win is a win. I am a little annoyed by all of this talk of "zeroing in on a bye" as it is hard to see the Browns defeating the Ravens in Baltimore. No matter, as long as members of the Steelers locker room do not look past the Browns it matters little what the fans are saying.

Enough for the morning of the 24th! (I have to work today....)

Merry Christmas!

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Steelers Report Card vs. the Jets

For better and for worse, we get to start the report card for the Steelers-Jets game with another scholastic analogy. This time around the Steelers memorized their facts, where sharp in answering the flash card, but when the oral evaluation came up they got caught flat footed in face of an opponent who was nimble and agile.

As we always do, we’ll put in the normal caveat saying that no other report cards were consulted prior to this posting.

Ben Roethlisberger was just over 50% passing, and he was off early. But throwing against one of the league’s best cover corners, he committed no turnovers. He was also efficient on third down, and moved the ball spectacularly on the final drive, even if the team came up short. Grade: B

Running Back
Rashard Mendenhall
ran well, notching another hundred yard game, and scoring another touchdown. Isaac Redman made the most of his lone touch. None of the backs was a factor in the passing game. This was the first hundred yard rusher the Jets had given up in eons. Grade: A-

Wide Receivers
Matt Speath had some drops, but also made some good catches, but his miscue in the end zone was costly. The other receivers did a good job of getting open and making yards, although, as Michael Bean of Behind the Steel Curtain pointed out, it looked like Mike Wallace cut his route short in the hopes of drawing flags – don’t expect him to make that mistake again. Grade: B-

Offensive Line
No holding penalties, generally good protection of their quarterback, and opening holes for the running backs. Ah, but a very, very costly slip up leading to a safety. Add Flozell Adam’s momentum killing personal foul call, tarnishing a would-be impeccable performance. Grade: C-

Defensive Line
The Jets totaled over 100 yards rushing, and generally ran well. Sanchez also faced little pressure, although Brett Keisel defended two passes. Grade: C+

Even with Troy Polamalu in the line up, linebackers are the strength of this defense. Timmons and Harrison had double digit tackles, and James Farrior had the only sack, while LaMarr Woodley was quiet.

The Jets out foxed the Steelers on three key third/fourth down conversion attempts, and the linebackers bear some responsibility. Overall, the linebacking was good, on a day when the Steelers needed it to be excellent. Grade: B-

Santoino Holmes was not a factor. Brandon Edwards did get 100 yards, but there were no big plays – always a fear when Polamalu is not in the line up. Ryan Mundy did well breaking up a key pass on third down, but was a little off on a sack attempt on another. Still, a solid, but not spectacular performance. Grade: B

Special Teams
Shaun Susiam
kicked another field goal, but his kickoffs were short. Justin Kapinos did boom a 45 yard punt, but his average was 38. Antonio Brown was ineffective both as a kick and punt returner. The coverage units were horrible. The Jets averaged 16 yards on punt returns, and 29 yards on kickoff returns – and of course their was the touchdown the unit gave up to start the game. Special teams was a real weak link. Grade: F

On the plus side the offensive line eliminated the holding penalties and protected its quarterback for the most part. Rex Ryan out foxed the Steelers at a number of key points, but that reflects more on the players reactions than the coaching.

Still, what is it with throwing 40 passes against the Jets in the snow? Why so little pressure on Sanchez? Why not give Redman the ball more? Why substitute packages on the final drive instead of keeping the same men in? And let's not get started on the special teams. The coaching was well, below the line. Grade C-

Unsung Hero
Ryan Mundy.
Yes, he missed on a key sack, but he also came up big with a key pass defense. Mundy was asked to step into the shoes of one of the top 5 if not top 3 defensive playmakers in the National Football League. And he was asked to do it in his first NFL start. He could have easily been singled out as a weak link, much the way that Tryonne Carter was last year. Mundy, to his credit, did not blink.

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Monday, December 20, 2010

Jets Out Fox Steelers 22-17

It sounded too good to be true.

On top of that, yesterday’s wonder boy quarterback, Mark Sanchez, was seemingly buckling under late season pressure.

It all seemed too good to be true. And it was.

The Pittsburgh Steelers dropped a heart breaker to the New York Jets.

To their credit, the Steelers never overlooked the Jets. To their credit, the Steelers ran the ball well. To their credit, the Steelers protected their quarterback. To their credit, the Steelers (generally) avoided the drive-killing holding and false start penalties. To their credit, they scored on offense.

In spite of all of that, they lost because they failed to do something that they had consistently done during the previous three weeks.

Al Who?

The game's final outcome hinged on several key points. Many key "if the Steelers had only" moments and perhaps none were so egregious as the opening kick off.

All season long, Steelers Nation has relished in the glory of having special teams capable of striking blood instead of self-inflicting wounds.

Alas, that reality changed against New York, as the Jets opened the game with a 7-0 lead, catching the Steelers special teams asleep at the switch.

While this special teams gaffe was a decisive moment, Al Everest’s special teams reverted to a liability all day long. The Steelers never threatened to break one and failed to kick it deep.

Cool Under Fire

Any hope the Jets had of starting the day with a psychological edge as a result of their big play was in vain.

The Steelers did not blink.

Although they did not tie the game until the second quarter, the Steelers offense took a workman like approach began doing all of the things they have not been doing in recent weeks. Running the ball effectively, converting third downs, and perhaps, most surprisingly, protecting their quarterback.

The defense too held up its part. Santonio Holmes failed to dominate the game, or make a big play. The Steelers did give up an uncharacteristic high number of yards rushing, but they managed to hold the Jets to below 50% on third down conversions.

That last static does not seem, and is not, overwhelming, but at the end of the day the Steelers defense only gave up 13 points. That should be enough to beat anyone.

Ah, but it is always the exceptions, the data that falls outside the “standard deviation from the mean” that is most interesting, and in today’s game, determining.

A Word About the Officials

The Steelers cost themselves the game, not the referees. But the officials certainly did not help, by failing to flag:

  • 2, if not 3, blatant pass interference calls on the part of the Jets DB’s
  • A Greco-Roman wrestling match between a defender and a Steelers wide out (Hines Ward?) on the game’s final play.

Oh, but they did manage to call an unnecessary roughness “helmet-to-helmet” on a play where Ryan Clark’s helmet never made contact with Brandon Edwards. How convenient.

Making Plays

The worst incident of the entire Steelers defense biting on a play fake in a big game thus far (and God willing forever) was the infamous Alfred Pupunu touchdown against San Diego in the 1994 AFC Championship game.

  • Matt Sanchez’s 7 yard scamper might count as the next. Everyone, everyone, on the Steelers defense bought the run up the middle hook-line-and sinker.

Rex Ryan’s bait and switch show was only beginning.

Clinging to a 20-17 lead, the Steelers had stopped the Jets at their own 47, bringing up a 3rd and 6. This time it was Sanchez who turned in an Oscar-worthy performance as L.T. got the direct snap and ran for 10 yards.

The Steelers would eventually force a punt, but only after the Jet’s had advanced to the Steelers 32 and burned precious minutes off of the clock. Oh, yeah, and they were able to punt the ball into the Steelers 3 yard line.

Then the line, which had performed so admirably all day, neglected to block Jason Taylor, a man who only has 131.5 sacks to his credit. The Steelers paid with a safety and a punt from the 20 yard line.

  • Make that 9 points scored by the Jets with the defense on the sidelines.

And that folks, is the game.

Howl all you want about the non-calls. All of those are non-issues if the Steelers cover the kick, block a defensive end with 100+ sacks, and refuse to take the bait on two play fakes.

The Steelers did not play particularly well, or at least consistent, football against the Bills, Ravens, and Bengals. But they won because they made plays at critical moments.

Against the Jets the Steelers improved their play on the fundamentals, but allowed the Jets to make plays at critical moments. And that was ultimately the difference in this game.

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Sunday, December 19, 2010

Watch Tower: Post-Gazette Leads Troy Polamalu Injury Coverage

Kudos to Gerry Dulac and the Post-Gazette for being way out in front on the Troy Polamalu injury story.

Dulac reported early morning hours on Friday that Troy Polamalu would not play due to his injury. (Jim Wexell had also been posting regular Tweets on the subject.)

Rival sites such as the Tribune-Review and ESPN.com were late in bringing this information to their readers, failing to report that Polamalu would sit against the Jets until well into Friday afternoon.

Dulac again scooped his rivals with the report that the Polamalu might not play again until if and when the Steelers make he playoffs. Dulac posted the report on PG Plus Friday afternoon, well ahead of the competition.

Ankle, Achilles, or Calf Injury?

And just what is the nature of Polamalu’s injury? Enquiring minds want to know. Here, the picture gets fuzzy. The Steelers have said it was an Achilles injury, something that has been listed since mid-season.

Dulac, and others, have reported that Troy’s teammates say that it is his calf. Other reports say that it is an ankle injury.

Given that Troy Polamalu is one of the few legitimate playmakers in the National Football League, this is important. I am not medical expert, but I don’t think there is such a thing as a minor Achilles injury.

The fact that the Steelers are talking about sitting him for the rest of the year suggests that the injury is in fact with the Achilles, but that amounts to speculation on my part.

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Friday, December 17, 2010

Polamalu Likely Out Against the Jets

Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that Steelers safety Troy Polamalu will not play this Sunday against the New York Jets.

Polamalu has not practiced on Wednesday's and Thursdays for the past several weeks, but has always practiced Friday. Dulac reports that he is unlikely to practice Friday, which puts his status for Sunday in doubt.

There is no sugar coating this one folks.

Troy Polamalu is a play maker and a game changer for the Steelers. With Troy Polamalu in the line up the Steelers defense is dynamic and dangerous. Without him last year, the defense was much more pedestrian, unable to make big plays and just as likley to give them up.

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Thursday, December 16, 2010

Steelers Must Innovate to Protect Roethlisberger

The Pittsburgh Steelers press corps is better for the presence of Jim Wexell. I first discovered Wexell in the late 1990’s when he wrote for the now defunct site RealPittsburgh.com (or at least I think that’s what it was called.)

Wexell always brought readers something extra, something that could not be found in the Tribune-Review or Post Gazette. Since then he’s gone on to found his own site, The Steel City Insider, and he also writes for the Steelers Digest.

Wexell’s Interesting Stat on Pass Protection

The Steelers glaring weakness is their offensive line. The unit’s health has been under assault since before the season, and the storm has not abated since. After one game, Mike Tomlin described the team’s rotation as “musical chairs.”

Can you quantify the impact of repeated injuries on the line? Jim Wexell thinks he can.

By Wexell’s tally, as published in the the Steelers Digest, opponents only sacked Steelers quarterbacks one time in eighteen drop backs with Max Starks playing at left tackle.

And what about without Max Starks?

Without Max Starks at tackle, opponents are sacking Steelers quarterbacks 1 time in every nine drop backs.

That two-fold increase in sacks itself indicates the tremendous pressure which Ben Roethlisberger has been under, and it does not account for knockdowns (not to mention cheap shots) that fall short of sacks.

The line pulled off a major feat against Cincinnati – no starter had to leave the line up for a significant number of snaps. This does not sound like much, and in fact it might not mean much, but quality offensive line play begins with cohesion, and in that sense keeping the same five guys on the field is a plus.

Expecting a dramatic improvement at this late juncture in the season remains unlikely.

An Innovation for Improving Pass Protection?

The cupboard is thin. Both Chris Kemoatu and Flozell Adams are playing through high ankle sprains. Jonathan Scott appears to be the weak link in the unit, but who to replace him with?

Tony Hills did get some playing time early in the year, but the coaches appear in no rush to bring him into the line up. Chris Scott is a rookie who yet to line up for as much as a preseason snap.

Trai Essex?

Essex started at right guard for the Steelers, and Mike Tomlin spared no words in informing that he benched Essex for performance reasons. Essex did do well against Baltimore, but the last time he got significant time at left tackle was the Jacksonville game of 2008, and it was not pretty?

The Steelers, it seems, must innovate.

Why Not Try David Johnson?

Third string tight end David Johnson has been one of 2010’s surprises. His run blocking has improved, and his big plays in the passing game against Baltimore amounted to a minor shock and won him this site's unsung hero award.

The Steelers have lined Johnson up in the backfield to block for Rashard Mendenhall, and Johnson has been effective?

Why not line Johnson up in the backfield on passing plays to provide additional protection for Ben?

Yes, this would potentially remove a weapon, which is less than ideal in obvious passing situations. But, depending upon down and distance, Johnson’s presence in the backfield could suggest a run, and/or he could be used in motion.

Both scenarios likely offer a better prospect of protecting Ben than calling an empty set on 3rd and 1.

Perhaps a million reasons exist to explain why this would not work – Bruce Arians and Sean Kugler do know a little more about pass protection than I do.

But if none of those reasons are relevant then the Steelers need to consider using David Johnson in the backfield as a pass blocker.

They have little to lose, and their lineman need all of the help they can get.

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The Steelers vs. the New York Jets History

At first glance, the Pittsburgh Steelers and New York Jets are two teams that share little history. They’ve only played 19 times. For comparison’s sake, the Steelers and Saints have played 14 times.

This week of course, Mark Sanchez and Santonio Holmes head to Heinz field in a game that will go along way to determining both team’s playoff fortunes.

What the Steelers and Jets history might lack in quantity is made up in quality. Many meetings between these two teams have been steeped in significance, although many times the significance was not apparent at the moment.

Click on the links below or scroll down to relive some of the key moments in Steelers-Jets History:

1969 - The Most Important Steelers Game in History – Not Involving the Steelers?
1983 - The End of Eras
1988 - So Far, Yet So Close
1989 - The Shadow (and Promise) of Things to Come
1990 - IF Only this Could Have Been a Divisional Game…
1992 - Cowher Power is Born as Barry “Bananas” Foster Romps
2000 - Vinny Testaverde – New Uniform, Same Result
2001 - Hines Ward’s First 10 Catch, 100 Yard Game
2003 - 40 Passes, in the Snow….?
2004 - Rookie Roethlisberger’s 11th Victory
2004, Playoffs - Steelers Football at Its Best: Pure Power Rushing Carries the Day
2007 - Tomlin’s Trap Game Trip Up

The Most Important Steelers Game in History – Not Involving the Steelers?“I Guarantee Victory” – Joe Namath, prior to Super Bowl III

You know the story. The NFL and AFL were merging, and the brash young quarterback of the upstart New York Jets guaranteed victory despite being an 18 point underdog.

The Jets of course took an early lead, Don Shula of course waited too long to put Johnny Unitas in, and the biggest upset in Super Bowl history was on.

On the Colts sidelines that day was a young assistant named Charles Henry Noll. Who knows what happens if the Colts win? Does the added notoriety lead to a better offer for Noll? Does perhaps stick around hoping to repeat?

We’ll never know. One thing we do know is this:

  • Noll learned that the Colts were wrapped too tightly prior to Super Bowl III felt it cost them the game. Noll avoided the same mistakes when he led the Steelers to Super Bowl IX.

The rest, as we say, is history.

The End of Eras
December 10, 1983 - Steelers 34, Jets 7

A moment far more bitter than sweet for Steelers fans. The Steelers snapped a three game losing streak, but the price, as Myron Cope would write a decade later, was “the last throws that were left in Terry Bradshaw’s arm.”

Bradshaw opened with a pass touchdown pass to Greg Garrity and followed with another to Calvin Sweeney, but that was it.

  • Not just for the day. Not just for the season. But for good.

It was the last NFL game at Shea Stadium. It was the last pass of the last game of Terry Bradshaw’s career. It was the last time the remnants of the Super Steelers would ever contend. Too many eras ended that day.

So Far, Yet So Close
October 10, 1988 - Jets 24, Steelers 20

The 1988 Steelers had started 1-6, but on the previous week, led by Rodney Carter, Gary Anderson and Rod Woodson, the Steelers had thumped the Broncos to snap a six game losing streak. Could Chuck Noll’s boys make it two in a row?

  • The Steelers jumped to a 10-0 lead but, as was the case many times during the 1988 season, the Steelers saw that lead evaporate in the second half.

The Shadow (and Promise) of Things to Come
December 10, 1989 - Steelers 13, Jets 0

Steel Curtain Rising discussed this Steelers-Jet’s match up in the tribute to the 1989 Steelers, celebrating Greg Lloyd’s announcement to the NFL that he was a force to be reckoned with, as he knocked Ken O’Brien out of the game, caught an interception, and WWE-style three counted a concussed Al Toon.

IF Only this Could Have Been a Divisional Game…
November 25, 1990 - Steelers 24, Jets 7

This victory was sandwiched in between losses to the Cincinnati Bengals. The 1990 Steelers would finish 9-7. Unfortunately, only one of those victories came against an AFC Central team.

  • One more divisional win would have put the Steelers into the playoffs….

Cowher Power’s Second Victory - Barry “Bananas” Foster Romps
September 13, 1992 - Steelers 27, Jets 10

Rookie head coach Bill Cowher’s Steelers shocked the NFL in defeating the Oilers the week before. Chris Berman remained unconvinced, predicting that Brownie Nagel would lead the Jets to victory.

  • Barry Foster had other ideas, as he ran for a then team record 190 yards, and the Steelers revival under Bill Cowher was was on!

Vinny Testaverde – New Uniform, Same Result
October 8, 2000 – Steelers 23, Jets 3

The Steelers had tormented Testaverde in Tampa, Cleveland, and Baltimore. Would things be different in New York?

Afraid not. One week after upsetting the Jacksonville Jaguars in a game that set the tone for a decade, the Steelers showed they were for real. The Steelers did not intercept Testaverde because he got only one pass off before getting knocked out of the game.

Hines Ward’s First 10 Catch, 100 Yard Game
December 6, 2001 – Steelers 18, Jets 7

It is hard to believe that the Steelers had one of the NFL’s best-kept secrets and it is hard to believe that his name is Hines Ward. The previous week the Steelers had lost Jerome Bettis, who had been dominating the league in rushing, and were in need of leadership. Hines Ward delivered posting his first 10 catch game while breaking the 100 yard barrier for the first time.

40 Passes, in the Snow….?
December 14, 2003 – Jets 6, Steelers 0

Ok, it was 38 passes not 40, but the Meadowlands are a difficult place to throw in December, let alone in a blinding snow storm. That didn’t stop Mike Mularkey from throwing the ball, which did stop the Steelers from winning.

  • The Steelers failure to draft Chad Pennington was a subplot that day. During the next draft that proved to be one of Kevin Colbert’s wiser non-decisions

Jerome Bettis broke Franco Harris record that day, causing Mike Prisuta to plead for the Steelers to part ways with the Bus. 1,309 yards and 22 touchdowns and a Super Bowl later, Bettis would prove Prisuta wrong.

Rookie Roethlisberger’s 11th Victory
December 12, 2004 – Steelers 17, Jets 6

The Jet’s played this one closer than the score might indicate, as Curtis Martin crossed the 13,000 yard barrier, marking the first time that 13,000 rushers faced off against each other.
Rookie Ben Roethlisberger won his 11th consecutive game, in route to setting the rookie record

Steelers Football at Its Best: Pure Power Rushing Carries the Day

January 15, 2005 – Steelers 20, Jets 17

People remember this as the game where Ben Roethlisberger started playing like a rookie. They remember it for the Jet’s Doug O’Brien missing 2 field goals that cost his team the game. But the real beauty of the game was the effort put forth by the Steelers running back crops.

  • Jerome Bettis ran 27 times 101 yards and a TD
  • Duce Stanley ran 11 times for 54 yards

That might not be an overwhelming total, but both backs had to come out due to injuries at critical times, and the Steelers ability to beat the Jets into submission with two power rushers was a sight to remember.

Tomlin’s Trap Game Trip Up
November 18, 2007 – Jets 19, Steelers 16

During Mike Tomlin’s rookie season the knock on him was that his Steelers “played down to the competition.” No where was this more apparent than against the Jets. New York was 1-9 in route to 4-12, but the Steelers struggled all day, as Bob Ligashesky’s special teams gave up a 33 yard punt return that allowed the Jets to send the game into overtime where they won by a field goal.

Free free to share your memories of Steelers-Jets match ups past and/or offer your thoughts on the upcoming game.

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Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Steelers-Bengals Report Card from Heinz Field

In keeping with the scholastic theme of recent Steelers Report cards, the Steelers victory against the Bengals was akin to a student that barely gets enough right on the multiple choice section of a test to pass, yet Aces the essay section with flying colors.

As usual, I add the standard caveat that no other grades were consulted prior to this posting.

Credit Ben Roethlisberger for being the toughest QB in the league. Credit him for being a competitor’s competitor for suffering punishment that would result in a flurry of fines and flag were it visited upon the likes of Brees, Brady or Manning. Credit Ben for making some heroic throws, and hurting Cincinnati with his feet. Criticize Ben for being off early. Criticize him for going 2-8 for 3 yards in the red zone. Grade: B

Running Backs
Rashard Mendenhall has gotten his 1000 yards the hard way, as again their was little room to run, and he often made something of nothing and always kept his feet moving. However, Mendenhall has been somewhat tentative at the line of scrimmage, and his production reflected that. Mewelde Moore and Issac Redman made good on their limited carries. Grade: B-

Wide Receiver

When your fifth string wide out makes what will be one of the year’s most spectacular catches, you know things are going well. Ward posted his fourth 100 yard game, and had a spectacular catch of his own, as did Mike Wallace. Antonio Brown also continues to make the most of his opportunities. Forget about Spaeth’s easy drop, but Mike Wallace's failure to stay in bounds in the end zone does bring the group down a tad. Grade: A-

Offensive Line
Cincinnati had 14 sacks coming into this game. They improved that total by almost 40% as Cincinnati’s front seven looked like a reincarnation of the 1985 Bears. The running backs likewise had little room to run against the NFL’s worst run defense. A “just good enough” performance against the Ravens is one thing. This group needs to play better and that improvement should have started with the Bengals game.

It did not.

My high school chemistry teacher gave this grade to a friend of mine with the admonition, "this is largely a gift." And so it is on this report card. Grade: D

Defensive Line
Brett Keisel’s
return has given this group a breath of fresh air, and Ziggy Hood continues to improve. The Bengals had less than half of their rushing total from week one, and while Palmer might not have only been sacked three times, he was under pressure far more frequently. That starts up front. Grade: A

LaMarr Woodley
should jump off sides more often on third and short if he’s going to react the way he did, netting 2 sacks and a pick six. James Farrior had is fourth sack in as many games. Lawrence Timmons had a tackle for a loss and a QB hit. James Harrison has been quiet of late. Grade: A

Ike Taylor’s
pass interference penalty was costly, but other than that this united acquitted itself well. T.O. torched the Steelers last time around, this time he failed to be a factor. Carlson Palmer was held to a puny 4.9 yards per completion average, as the coverage was tight and hits timely. And, of course, Troy Polamalu continues to show that he belongs in the same conversation as Ronnie Lott, Mel Blount, and Rod Woodson as one of the all-time greats at defensive back. Grade: A

Special Teams
Shaun Suisham leaves little to complain about, and if Justin Kapinos punting average was low, he did pin the Bengals inside their 20 three times, which is huge when your offense is not scoring much. Antonio Brown only averaged 20 yards per return, and he narrowly avoided disaster with his muffed punt. Grade: B

Dick LeBeau clearly diagnosed whatever it is that the Bengals did a few weeks ago and corrected the situation. The offense put together some spectacular individual plays, but their inability to score touchdowns disconcerts. Why isn’t Redman given more of a chance to run the ball? Why so many empty sets on 3rd and short? Why so many self-inflicted wounds in terms of holding penalties? Grade: B

Unsung Hero
Antonio Brown
only caught three balls, but he made them count, as two of them converted 3rd downs, the first one coming on the Steelers field goal drive at the end of the first half and the second one coming on the field goal drive that the Steelers used to open the first half. Offenses need to score touchdowns and not field goals, but those were to key third down conversions on drives that put and then helped keep the Steelers ahead.

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Monday, December 13, 2010

Steelers Victory Over Bengals Echos '08

I’m glad Troy’s on my team.” - Mike Tomlin

If it is true that the Steelers have dominated the Bengals in the post Paul Brown era, this trueism comes with an inconvenient corollary – the Bengals have had a nasty little habit of upsetting the Steelers in Pittsburgh.

So, with what Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola described as their “signature win” over the Ravens, came the question, “will the Steelers let their foot off the gas?”

The answer to that question is a definitive “no” as the Steelers improved their record to 10-3 and while their play might not have been pretty, it did harken back to some positive precedents in recent history.

Picking Up Where They Left Off

When these two teams last met at Paul Brown Stadium, the Steelers built up an enormous lead only to let the Benglas back in it by giving up big plays and penalties.

And so began the first quarter, with the Bengals marching straight down the field, with the help off an off sides penalty that nullified a stop on third and short and a pass interference penalty that gave it to the Bengals possession at the one.

After two ineffective drives by the Steelers offense, the Bengals ended the first quarter with Byron Scott ripping off an 8 yard run, causing Dan Dierdorf to exclaim that the Bengals were “dominating the line of scrimmage.”

The Steelers, it seems, should request that Dierdorf call more of their games, and they should explicitly ask him to laud their opponents.

The 8 yard run was the Bengals longest run of the day, and in fact, was more yards than Scott would gain during the rest of the game.

Almost if on cue, the Steelers defense picked up forcing a punt, and the Steelers offense began to move the ball even if it did not score.

43 Rhymes with “MVP

Troy Polamalu is a devoutly religious man, having converted to Greek-Orthodoxy as an adult.

It would appear that Polamalu has taken it upon himself to exorcise the demons of the multiple 4th quarter leads that the 2009 Steelers let lapse.

For three straight weeks Polamalu has come up with an interception at a critical juncture in the 4th quarter, and this week was no exception - he picked off a pass in the end zone in the 4th quarter, just after our friend Dierdorf was explaining that the Bengals could still win the game.

Except that this week Polamalu did not wait until the 4th quarter to make his magic, drawing blood with a 45 yard pick six that tied the game, and firmly put the Steelers in the drivers seat.

The pundits have all but awarded the league MVP title to Tom Brady. No real argument against the body of work Brady has assembled, but what other player has made game changing plays on such a consistent basis this season?

Defense Defiant

Much was made going into the game about how T.O. torched the Steelers defense for 10 catches 141 yards and two touchdowns back in November.

Dick LeBeau took note, and the results speak for themselves, limiting T.O. to one catch. The Steelers defensive dominance was not limited to T.O. as the Steel Curtain limited Cedric Benson to 19 yards on the ground or 35 less than his total from ealier this year.

They also picked Carlson Palmer off twice, more, LaMarr Woodley, who added his own pick six, sacked Palmer twice, and James Farrior now has a sack in four consecutive games.

Echoes of …’08

The Steelers defense turned in what was arguably its best performance of the season against the Bengals at Heinz Field.

The offense on the other hand, left a lot to be desired. Ben Roethlisberger put on a gutsy performance. He faced constant pressure and did what it is that he does, he made plays at key moments, except while in the red zone.

Hines Ward had another hundred yard catch game, and Ward, along with Wallace and Randal El, made some phenomenal catches. Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore ran hard, and ground out just enough yards to move the chains and keep the clock moving.

The Steelers offense certainly did not lack from performance from its key players.

The issue was consistency, as the offensive line could not protect its quarterback, nor could the unit avoid encumbering itself with costly penalties. Scoring in the red zone remains a score bone of contention -- the Steelers defense out scored the Steelers offense.

The combination of dominating defense and sometimes spectacular, sometimes bumbling offense was standard fare for Steelers Nation in the fall of 2008, and we know how that one ended.

“Past performance is no guarantee of future results.” Yes, the offensive line must play better. Yes, the Steelers offense must score touchdowns. But hearing echoes of 2008 at this point in the season is pure music to the ears.

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Friday, December 10, 2010

Watch Tower: Art Rooney II Interview, Plus Footbreakgate

A lot goes on any time the Steelers and Ravens face off, but last week’s pre-game barrage provided the Watch Tower some interesting fodder.

First came the news that Ben Roethlisberger had a broken foot. The Post-Gazette broke the news during the day last Thursday, titling their report as an exclusive. This was a scoop because Roethlisberger’s foot injury had previous been labeled as a "sprain."

The Steelers quickly countered, arguing that Ben foot was not in fact broken but rather that the injury involved some scare tissue from a previous injury.

Two things are interesting about this. First, this is not the first time the Steelers have been less than forthcoming with the press about injuries. Marvel Smith had back surgery during the 2008 season and the news never saw the light of day until long after it happened.

Likewise, this is not the first time that the Post-Gazette has ratted out, or at least claimed to have ratted out, the Steelers in terms of injuries. After the Steelers final regular season game against Cleveland in 2008, the Post-Gazette reported that Ben Roethlisberger had in fact suffered a spinal cord concussion – a report the Steelers later disputed.

The interesting thing about both reports is that the Post-Gazette made no attempt to cite sources, simply leading with “the Post-Gazette has learned” as opposed to mentioning “unnamed sources” or “sources with knowledge of the situation.”

Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower has might light of Ed Bouchette’s inability to get inside information on front office dealings in terms of contract negotiations.

But Ed Bouchette clearly has fairly reliable sources with access to the team’s medical staff.

Rooney Interview Scoop for the Tribune-Review

The Tribune Review missed out on brokenfootgate, but they may have scored a bigger coup. Last Thursday Tribune Review beat writer Scott Brown treated his readers to a full-length interview with Steelers President Art Rooney II.

Although Brown shared no indications of the conditions of the interview, other than to say that it occurred after practice, it appears to be an exclusive, as the Post-Gazette ran no story on it, and neither did the national outlets.

In keeping with Steel Curtain Rising’s long standing editorial policy of not stealing other writer’s thunder, I will not summarize the interview here. However, Rooney’s comments were surprisingly frank given how closely the Rooney family has supported Roger Goodell.

Click here to read Brown’s interview with Art Rooney II.

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Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Steelers Report Card vs. the Ravens

In keeping with the school analogy theme, the Steelers performance against the Ravens must be graded the way Engineering or Physics professors dole out marks on tough exams – the mean score might be low, but all that matters in the end is whether you pass or fail.

As usually, we’ll provide the caveat that no other report cards were consulted in prior to this posting.

The stat sheet says that Ben Roethlisberger only posted a 75.9 passer rating – forget about that. Ben was off early in the game, missing some makeable throws and of course he tossed the interception. But once he accustomed himself to throwing with a broken foot and a broken nose, he did what Ben does. Make plays. On the Steelers second, time-consuming field goal drive, Ben only had two incompletions. Grade A-

Running Back
Rashard Mendenhall did not have room to run, and he hesitated a little too much at times, but otherwise ran hard. But both Mendenhall and Isaac Redman made key plays in the passing game, sustaining drives, and ultimately bagging the win. Grade B

Wide Receivers
Not a lot of pyrotechnics out of this group, just some solid play, with the exception of Hines Ward’s drop. David Johnson tripled his receiving total for the year on a week when Mike Tomlin singled him out for his blocking ability. Both rookies Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders had key long catches, as did Mike Wallace. Grade B+

Offensive Line
Would a game on the Steelers 2010 schedule be complete with out a line up change on the offensive line due to injury? And so it was in Baltimore, with Flozell Adams falling to the dreaded “high ankle” sprain. Trai Essex has now probably played in four different positions. The line did not run block well, and Ben was sacked 3 times and knocked down many more. But they did the best they could do. Grade C

Defensive Line
Ziggy Hood
got his first sack and the Ravens rushing total was only 43 yards – perhaps one reason why they were attempting to pass while trying to kill the clock. Brett Keisel also return, batting down a pass and leading the unit in tackles. Ziggy Hood also and another tackle for a loss. A solid effort all around from the men up front. Grade B+

James Farrior
has now had three sacks in consecutive games for the first time in his career. The rest of the unit either registered tackles for losses to got pieces of the quarterback. LaMarr Woodley also recovered Flacco’s fumble after Polamalu’s sack-strip. Compared to Buffalo and New England, Baltimore had less success nickeling and diming Pittsburgh, and the linebackers were a big part of that. Grade A-

Byrant McFadden made several mental errors and Ryan Clark also blew coverage on Baltimore’s big plays. But the Ravens were 4-13 on third downs, and that does not happen if the secondary is not doing its job. And of course, Troy Polamalu made a game saving change. Grade B

Special Teams
Shaun Suisham
made a tough, long field goal, plus another chip shot while doing double duty as a punter. Despite predictions made here, the Steelers return units were not a factor, but Baltimore’s punt return unit did average 15 yards on their returns. Grade B

The coaches came into this game intent on running a ball control offense with a downfield shots sprinkled in to keep the defense honest. For the most part they stuck to it, even when it wasn’t working terribly well. Despite giving up a few big gains, the defensive game plan kept Baltimore out of the end zone, and got pressure on Flacco when it counted. Grade B

Unsung Hero
How about David Johnson? For a guy that never caught anything, to come in to the number two tight end position and bring down three catches including a 25 yarder that was the Steelers first long gain of the night. The Steelers continue to win in the face of so many injuries because David Johnson and players like him are stepping it up.

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Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Team Effort Lifts Steelers Over Ravens

Injuries will not be an excuse. The Standard of Expectation Remains the Same.” – Mike Tomlin

The Steelers lost Dan Sepulveda. They lost Flozell Adams. They lost Health Miller. The Baltimore Ravens broke Ben Roethlisberger’s nose.

But they never broke the Steelers resolve.

Anyone tempted to say “NFL division rivalries are not what they used to be” must watch this game.

Call it what you will: A Steelers-Ravens Street Fight; A Pittsburgh-Baltimore Bar Room Brawl. Either metaphor applies.

Injuries felled players on both sides, yet the game did not hinge on a battle of attrition. Like previous contests, the outcome remained in doubt until the final minute, yet the game did not turn on a test of wills.

Instead, the contest came down to playmaking ability, and Pittsburgh prevailed.

Team Effort Paves Path for Playmakers

To whom do you award the game ball for last night? Ben Roethlisberger, Isaac Redman, Shaun Suisham, or perhaps Troy Polamalu? You could easily double the choices presented above (vote please) for the game ball award and still snub someone on the Steelers.

But if Steelers Nation will remember the heroic efforts of a few key players in the victory over the Ravens, we must not lose sight of the reality that this victory represented a team effort.

  • Despite giving up a few long balls, the Steelers defense forced no fewer than six 3 and outs
  • Holding a 7-3 lead, the Ravens marched down to the Steelers six – but the defense held, forcing a field goal

Both the Steelers and the Ravens posted nearly identical 3rd down conversion rates, rushing averages, passing totals, and each committed a turnover

  • Yet the Steelers won the time of possession battle, to the tune of 34:08 to 25:52, much of that swing occurring on the Steelers 9 minute 27 second drive that ended with field goal.

Against this backdrop, the Steelers were losing starters, forcing their kicker to double as a punter, and shuffling men and out of their line up. One man goes down, another steps in.

Nonetheless, with just over three minutes left to play the Ravens stood at the Steelers 43 and Ray Rice had just run for 5 yards on first down. A number of commentators described the situation as “looking bleak” – an opinion not shared in the Steelers huddle.

The fireworks were only about to start…

Two First Round Picks and an Undrafted Free Agent Rookie

Chicago has one Michael Jordan, who with the game on the line, takes the ball in his hands and he knows can score… Well, we had 4-5 guys who felt they could do that on any given play.” - Lynn Swann on “The Steelers of the ‘70s In Their Own Words”

Yes, Steel Curtain Rising showcased that quote after the AFC Championship game, and we will showcase it again when appropriate.

Another way of framing the issue is with a question:

  • What do USC, Miami of Ohio, and Bowie State University have in common?

They produce play makers who cause game-changing events for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Watch for yourself.

For the second week in a row, Troy Polamalu stepped up and altered the course of the game with everything on the line.

This is no accident. A phenomenal athlete, Troy Polamalu's training and prepreation routines are legendary. He studies film like no one else. But beyond that, Troy Polamalu has that intangible on the field presence, that instinct, that draws him to the ball during critical situations.
But Polamalu had help.

The Steelers had stalled badly in the Red Zone once before, and they got nowhere on first down. On second down Roethlisberger did what only Roethlisberger can do, with defenders clinging to him he managed to wiggle and pivot just enough to toss the ball away, saving a sack.

The next play found Isaac Redman in the huddle. He apparently was not supposed to be there. Roethlisberger had to call out Redman's assignment at the line of scrimmage.

Redman got the message. More importantly, the 2009 training camp sensation lived true to his name, “Redzone Redman” breaking not one, but two tackles in route to the end zone.

Redman remains a work in progress, but on this night the undrafted rookie was the equal of the two ballyhooed first round draft day darlings.

The Road from Here

The victory over the Ravens puts the Steelers in the drivers seat in the AFC North race. As with many victories, this one was costly.

Logic dictates that the Steelers cannot continue to stay a step ahead of the toll that injuries are taking on this team.

But the same logic says the Steelers should have already capitulated to attrition. It has not happened because this group of Pittsburgh Steelers concedes nothing to adversity.

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Monday, December 6, 2010

Steelers Defeat Ravens, 13-10

What a game! It is 2:00 am in Buenos Aires -- these night games can be brutal, but endings like this make it worth it.

In a game where the odds seemed stacked against them, the Steelers shucked off injuries, and found a way to win. What can you say about Troy Polamalu? Two weeks, two game saving plays.

And what about Issac Redman? The Steelers cut him at least three times last year, and no one took him. The Ravens had chance to get James Harrison and he has made them pay. Now it was Redman's turn. Perhaps the Ravens should pay more attention to the Steelers practice squad cuts.

More tomorrow.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Steelers Special Teams Key to Beating Baltimore?

This week brings the Steelers to Baltimore to battle the Ravens with the AFC North division championship hanging in the balance.

The Steelers lost a tough one to the Ravens in the waning moments of week four. The loss still stings because of the Steelers failure to control the line of scrimmage and because Joe Flacco so easily flailed the Steelers secondary on the final drive.

Both teams bring identical records, a penchant for deciding games in the final moments, and all of the animosity that comes with a division rivalry.

Throughout the professional media and blopesphere Steelers Nation is currently anxiously analyzing this team, tweaking tendencies, and proffering predictions.

And so it happens here at Steel Curtain Rising. Much of what follows below falls into the “no brainer” category however there is one key that most others seem to miss.

Put Away the Penalty Flags

The Steelers had the Cincinnati on the ropes, but several key defensive penalties helped the Bengals make a game of it. Ditto the Bills. If Mendenhall’s 40+ yard runs stands, Steve “Wonder” Johnson likely never gets a chance to drop the game winning pass in OT.

And lest we forget, a series of offensive line penalties late in the game prevented the Steelers from running out the clock and gave Baltimore great field position on its final drive. This cannot happen again.

Protect Ben Open Lanes for the Running Backs

Another no brainer. This is scary, given how easily the Patriots and Bills collapsed the left and interior of our line. The Steeler offensive line must play better than it has in recent weeks to have any chance to remaining competitive with the Ravens.

  • The Steelers have used Doug Legerskey and David Johnson in the backfield as blockers on running plays -- why not put them back there on passing plays as well?

Patrity in the Passing Game

We know Joe Flacco is going to pass the ball on us. We know because he did it in October, when the Steelers defense was far healthier. Still, the Steelers cannot allow him the same amount of time it allowed Tom Brady or Ryan Fitzpatrick. Beyond this, Ben needs to get Hines Ward involved in the passing game as he was in Buffalo and he needs to restore Mike Wallace as a deep threat.

Ready to Run?

Ed Bouchette thinks that neither the Steelers nor the Ravens will have much success on the ground.

Peter King and Behind the Steel Curtain's Michael Bean think there is a chance that Mendenhall will be a factor. I tend to agree with Bouchette, if for no other reason than the offensive line's shaky play. Hopefully I am wrong and King and Bean are right, because the Steelers can help themselves tremendously if they can move the ball on the ground.

Special Teams... Ace in the Hole?

Even the Steelers can get better line play and stay even with the Raven's in the passing game the smart money would still be on the Ravens to win this game, if for no other reason than they are at home, they are healthier than the Steelers, and perhaps because the officials will keep Steelers defenders on an extra short leash.

The key to a Steelers victory could be in their special teams. Although the kick coverage teams suffered some hiccups against the Bills, Al Everest's special teams have shown themselves to be capable of striking blood. To defeat the Ravens in Baltimore, the Steelers will need their specials teams to make momentum changing, "splash" plays.

Mike Tomlin's admission that both Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown might dress is an indication that he is aware of this and is game planning accordingly.

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Thursday, December 2, 2010

James Harrison Should Just Punch the Quarterback

Ed Bouchette stole my thunder on PG Plus Wednesday.

With all that is going on, I had mind to let the La Toalla Terrible run wild with another post about how the NFL was encouraging Harrison to sucker punch quarterbacks.

But La Toalla Terrible already ranted about how the NFL had legalized holding of James Harrison and about how the NFL would only announce when the league was not fining Harrison. But La Toalla plays a comic relief role, and the James Harrison situation has ceased to be funny…..

No Conspiracy Theories Here But…

The NFL does not “have it in” for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Two years ago, the league bent over backwards to ensure that the Rooneys retained ownership of the Steelers. Had the league harbored any ill will, or even neutral will, toward the Steelers, they would have acted differently.
But that certainly does not make their actions toward James Harrison logical or just.

The Power of the Free Market

Free market principles dictate that the value of something is defined by the amount that someone is willing to pay.

Normally we think of this in terms of goods and services, but the same principle applies to fines. I can remember the “One Will Cost You a $100” signs when they first banned smoking in the Boston Subways.

With this mini economics lesson in mind, let’s consider the how severly the NFL values deviant. Let’s begin by conceding that infractions will occur, and that the more serious the infraction, the higher the cost.

In other words, pass interference draws an automatic first down and movement of the ball to the spot of the foul, while the cost of a false start is far lower by comparison.

Now watch for yourself:

Let’s dissect Richard Seymour’s transgression. This Oakland Raider:

  • Punched a player, something he is never supposed to do
  • And did it outside the normal course of play
  • Did so deliberately

His actions were illegal, intentional, and totally outside of a play. Taking all of that into consideration, the league fined him $25,000

Now, watch the latest play by James Harrison that drew a fine (you’ll get to see all of his fineable hits, the last one is at the end):

In contrast to Seymour, James Harrison’s sack of Ryan Fitzpatrick (and arguably the others):

  • Occurred as he was executing the responsibilities of his position
  • Occurred during the normal course of play
  • Was unintentional and within the rules

NFL rules prohibit helmet to helmet contact, and prohibit a defender from leading with the crown of his helmet.

While James Harrison’s helmet (the facemask perhaps) might have make contact – with Fitzpatrick’s chest, it is impossible to argue that he led with the helmet.

Taking all of this into consideration, the NFL fined James Harrison... $25,000.

NFL in “Transition” to… What?

Terry Long, Justin Strzelczyk, and Hall of Famer Mike Webster serve as reminders to Steelers Nation that the importance of protecting players for head trauma is paramount.

The NFL’s new “get tough” policy on hits that involve helmets goes beyond protecting players.

  • In effect, if not because of intent, it is an attempt to neuter defenders.

There is no other way to explain the fact that flagrantly violating the rules in an attempt to hurt someone carries the same price an unintentional hit that perhaps violates the letter of the law.

The Steelers as an organization might not be unfairly targeted in this endeavor, but James Harrison as an individual certainly is.

So the next time James Harrison gets blatantly held with no flag thrown, or he gets penalized for brushing up against a quarterback a second too soon, he might as well haul off and upper cut the quarterback.

It will not cost him any more than he is already paying for simply doing his job.

Oh yes, punching the quarterback would also get James Harrison thrown out of the game...

...But perhaps that’s just what the NFL wants to see happen.

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