´ Steel Curtain Rising: January 2011

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

Monday, January 31, 2011

Super Bowl XLV from Porto de Galinhas

It seems like I began a tradition two years ago by spending the week leading up to Super Bowl XLIII in Tandil, which is in the Province of Buenos Aires.

This time I am going a step further, spending Super Bowl week in Brazil's Porto de Galinhas.

Except this time I will be in Brazil for the game.

I hope to be able to find a place to watch it, or at the very least be able to see the game on TV in the hotel.

So folks, if you're Porto de Galinhas or near that part of Brazil and know of place that is showing the game, please leave a comment, perhaps we can join up.

I'll have limited ability to post this week, but I do hope to get something up before the game.

In the mean time, check out my Primer on Steelers-Packers History if you have not already.

Go Steelers!

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Watch Tower: Super Bowl Media Shine on Tomlin, Arians, and Roethlisberger

A Super Bowl means a media firestorm of coverage, and Super Bowl XLV is no exception.

Rumors about Dick LeBeau’s future were bandied about like a hot potato in the national media, although the Post-Gazette maintained that LeBeau was going no where, and LeBeau has said as much.

Revisiting the Arians Situation

Ed Bouchette raised some eye brows early last week when he reflected that a year ago Bruce Arians almost got fired and “there was serious talk of not renewing Mike Tomlin’s contract.”

It is hard to dispute the bit about Arians, as it appears his job was in jeopardy at some point, but both Tomlin and Art Rooney II have since said that the situation inside Steelers offices was far less dramatic than how it was portrayed outside.

From a media analysis perspective, the interesting thing was that Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac never reported that Arians’ dismissal was imminent, and in a sense wagged a finger at those who’d made it out to be a done deal.

Revisiting the Tomlin Situation

Were Winston Churchill live today and in the media analysis business could he have said, “Never was so much made out of so little?”

Quite possibly.

Responding to a fan who was surprised at the comment that there was “serious talk of not extending Tomlin’s contract” Bouchette responded this way:

As for Tomlin, we wrote and said extensively that the Steelers were dragging their feet on extending Tomlin. It became a big issue in the spring, albeit overshadowed once Milledgeville erupted.


This is news to the Watch Tower.

Last winter and spring Ed Bouchette was all over the map on whether Mike Tomlin’s contract was to be renewed. First he said he had heard nothing, but expected the deal to happen.

Then, as the spring wore on, he began saying, primarily on on-line chats, that he “had heard no talk about talks,” and took that as a bad sign, going on the record as saying he did not expect the deal to be done.

One has to wonder about the whole “dragging their feet” comment Bouchette is making now as well as the “no talks about talk” he said then.

As the Watch Tower has indicated before, Bouchette has excellent sources within the Steelers organization, but when it comes to contract negotiation issues he has been caught flat-footed repeatedly in recent years.

The bottom line is the Steelers extended Tomlin’s contract right on schedule, shortly before training camp began. The fact that Bouchette wasn't in the know does not suggest that the final outcome was ever in doubt, especially when you consider that Scott Brown reported that Art Rooney II had entered the off season wanting to extend Tomlin's contract.

Starkey on Roethlisberger

The Tribune Review’s Joe Starkey stepped out to do what no reporter dare do before – question the whole Roethlisberger rehabilitation, and talk openly about the media’s role in it.

Starkey stops well short of questioning Ben’s turn around, but merely points out that the media only gets to see Ben for a short time, and given that we’re mere months from Midgeville, that’s far too short a time to proclaim a transformation.

I for one, hope that Ben has turned the corner toward being a better person. But I also tip my hat to Starkey for writing something that is not going to make him popular in the Steelers locker room, let alone during Super Bowl week.

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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Steelers AFC Championship Report Card vs. the Jets

In keeping with the scholarly theme, the Steelers report card for the AFC Championship of the Jets is sort of like that of a student who Aces the essay section, slips up on the short answers, but does well enough on the oral section of the final to pass to the next level. As always I add the caveat that no other grades were consulted prior to this posting.

Quarterback
Numbers, in this case, do not tell the tale. Ben Roethlisberger’s running for several 3rd down conversions was key element to winning as was anything else. Quarterbacks of course, are paid to throw not run, and Ben did not have a good day throwing the ball… except when the game was on the line, and then he delivered. Grade: C

Running Backs
Was this his breakout game or was Rashard Mendenhall simply a man on a mission for the night? Time will tell, but Mendenhall’s performance against the Jets certainly ranks up there with some of the Steelers other top post-season rushing efforts. Isaac Redman was also a force and should have gotten more carries. Mewelde Moore had one catch for 9 yards. Grade: A

Receivers
Last time the Steelers faced the Jets without Health Miller – Cudos to Gerry Dulac for warning that if Miller’s play was to be the deciding factor in the game then it would be a tough night. Tough night it was as a lot of throws were off. But each receiver made his catches count, especially at the end. Grade: B

Offensive Line
Has any other offensive line suffered more turmoil and more instability this season? Regardless, the AFC Championship brought more as the unit lost its lone pilar of stability – rookie Maurkice Pouncy. The line blocked well and gave Ben protection, but the fumbled snaps hurt. Grade: B-

Defensive Line
In the words of Peter King, Brett Keisel, James Farrior and Casey Hampton stoned LT at 4th and goal at the one. Still, Shonn Greene got off a few good runs and Mark Sanchez had more time than you would like him to have had in the second half. Grade: B

Linebackers
Lawrence Timmons led the unit in tackles, and LaMarr Woodley extended his post-season sack streak. Linebackers were key in shutting the Jets down in the first half, but failed to get consistent pressure on Sanchez in the second half and gave up some long runs. Grade: B

Secondary
Ike Taylor and William Gay teamed up on the difference making sack strip of Sanchez. And although Taylor slipped and got beaten by ‘Tone, the secondary never let the Jets receivers behind them, which was crucial in making the Jets work for every yard and every point in the second half. Grade: B

Special Teams
The Jets averaged 10.2 yards per kick return. Antonio Brown seemed to recover some of the spark to his returns that has been missing, although he did not break one. Randle El bobbled a punt, and Suisham was 1-1. A sold effort. Grade: B

Coaching

As Michael Bean from Behind the Steel Curtain pointed out, credit Bruce Arians for sensing a weakness in the Jets run defense, exploiting it, and staying committed to the run. While the Steelers defense gave up yards and points during the 4th quarter, the forced the Jets to burn precious time doing it, a luxury which Pittsburgh had because of its 24 point first half scoring spree. Credit Mike Tomlin and Arians for not going conservative at the end of the first half and trusting their players. Grade: B+

Unsung Hero
He didn’t simply do damage with his two catches (although they were big) but he also played a lead role in the blocking that broke Rashard Mendenhall lose. He may be quiet, he may not get a lot of press outside of Pittsburgh, but Health Miller’s focused, consistent play helped carry the day for Pittsburgh and for that he is Steel Curtain Rising’s unsung hero.

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Steelers Defeat Jets, Win AFC Championship

Mike Tomlin may not wear his heart on his sleeve the way Bill Cower does, but his teams certainly do not lack a flair for the dramatic.

Going into the AFC Championship game against the Jets everyone knew the Steelers were 7-7 in previous contests. What escaped most was the Steelers 1-4 record against AFC East teams.

Such statistics tempt one to question Chuck Noll’s dictum that “Losing has nothing to do with geography.”

Fear not, the Pittsburgh Steelers vindicated the Emperor in large part because they embrace another credo laid down by their current standard bearer, Mike Tomlin.

A Historic Playoff Half

If the AFC Divisional Playoff game vs. Baltimore provided one of the darkest quarters in Steelers playoff history, then the first half of the Steelers AFC Championship victory over the Jets offered one of the most glorious.

Somewhere, former WMAL/WTEM sports radio journalist Ken Beatrice was smiling. Beatrice always preached against coaching fueled by emotion, arguing that it led to erratic highs and lows.
The Steelers imposed their will in the first half, making the Jets look like playground bullies that crumple when confronted by someone who isn’t cowed by trash talk.

Pittsburgh thoroughly dominated New York during the first 30 minutes, even mimicking the Raven by scoring two touchdown in less than 30 seconds.

Disrupting Ben Roethlisberger was the only thing the Jets did right in the first half , but at the time, it didn’t matter….

One Man, Who Wanted It

Watching the Steelers first half brought to mind two quotes. One from my former wrestling coach Dave Moquin and another from Peter King.

Moquin once told a story about “Billy” a wrestler who’d gone 0-10 against the top wrestler in his weight class, until they met as seniors in the county finals, where Billy defeat his rival. Billy, Moquin explained, didn’t win because he’d become a better wrestler, but because “He Wanted It More.”

Peter King observed this after the Steelers-Ravens game:

I think Rashard Mendenhall, two touchdowns Saturday and all, is just not a big-time back.”

This past season I too have questioned whether Mendenhall had what it took to be a feature back. But last night, he made one thing clear:

  • Rashard Mendenhall Wanted It

For a franchise that yields nothing in running tradition, Mendenhall did himself proud: Pounding holes, evading tacklers, pumping the legs, pushing through the pile, moving the chains.

The Steelers nine minute time of possession advantage was a key to victory, and much of the advantage came because Mendenhall was on a mission.

Jets Fly on Their Resolve

Give all of the credit in the world the Rex Ryan. Down 24-3, playing in a hostile environment in sub zero temperatures, many others would have mailed it in.

The Jets’ resolve did not flag.

  • They tightened their run defense.
  • They worked the underneath routes with patience and precision.
  • And, as they had first half, befuddling Big Ben and dismantled the Steelers passing game.

And it almost worked. Almost.

Destiny, is what you make it.” - Mike Tomlin, prior to the AFC Championship game

The New York Jets made many plays, often in impressive fashion, during the second half. Except for when it counted the most.

For example, the Steelers two third quarter possessions ended in a punt and an interception...

  • ...but Steelers burned 10 minutes off of the clock.

The Jets drove 80 yards in their first drive in the 4th quarter...

  • ...yet the Steelers stopped them cold on 4th and goal at the 1.

The Jets rebounded with a safety and a touchdown on the ensuing drive...

  • ...but a safety is a cheap substitute for a touchdown in when you’re down by 14 in the 4th quarter.

"If we're going to beat Indianapolis and New England,'' Ryan told Tannenbaum, "we're going to need more speed and athleticism. It's that simple…. all the other stuff won't matter.'' [Emphasis added] - Rex Ryan quoted by Peter King explaining his off season strategy.

Conventional wisdom holds that Ben Roethlisberger played a bad game. No one would argue that he played well… except for when the outcome hung in the balance

Roethlisberger’s rushing was every bit as important as Mendenhall’s, but that counted for little when the Steelers took possession with 3:06 remaining to play.

The Steelers ran. The Jets stuffed them, immediately calling time out, sensing blood in the water.

To win, the Steelers needed Ben to do something he’d only done on one series all night – complete consecutive passes.

  • Ben delivered. First to Health Miller for 14 yards, and then to Antonio Brown for another 14.




All Rex Ryan could do was tear his head set off in anger.

As you can see from the quote above, Rex Ryan's stated off season goal was beating the Colts and Patriots.

The Steelers goal each year is to contend for a championship. Rex Ryan, realized his destiny.

So did the Steelers.

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Steelers Defeat Jets 24-19, Head to Super Bowl XLV!

What a game!

What a tale of two halves!

What a way to celebrate Myron Cope’s birthday!

Thanks go out to Greg and Diane, Nick and of course Gustavo who came out to the Alamo to give Steelers Nation a presence in Buenos Aires!

The Steelers piled up a 24-3 lead in the first half, then held on for dear life in the second.

Hats off to Rex Ryan, Mark Sanchez, and the New York Jets. They could have easily mailed it in on the second half, but they fought the Steelers tooth and nail, turning in one of the most valiant performances in AFC Championship history.

In the end the Steelers prevailed, thanks to some stout defense and some smart offense.

On its on to Dallas for Super Bowl XLV to take on the Green Bay Packers.

Steel Curtain Rising will be back tomorrow with full analysis on the Steelers quest to climb the Stairway to Seven!

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Sunday, January 23, 2011

Steelers vs. the Jets - Keys to Victory

And then the AFC had two. Not the two the world was expecting, but the two that ultimately earned the right to contend in Super Bowl XLV.

The glory of the 20 or so hours when it appeared that the Steelers would travel to Foxboro to take on the then invincible New England Patriots was that the story would write itself.

With almost a decade elapsed since the day when the upstart New England Patriots waltzed into Heinz Field to upset the Steelers, it was to be time for the Steelers to turn the tables.

The New York Jets beat them to the punch.

And that in and of itself makes them dangerous. Oh, that and the fact that they out foxed the Steelers on this same field less than one month ago.

Fate has given the Steelers a second chance. Let’s take a look at what they must do to take advantage.

Stop the Screw Ups on Special Teams

The stunning reversal on special teams provided one of many sub-plots of the 2010 Pittsburgh Steelers.

Special teams were a glaring liability in 2009, at a minimum, special teams gaffes cost the Steeler the Bengals and Chiefs games.

Al Everest's arrival last January appeared to continue the Steelers habit of alternating good and bad special teams coaches. Big play early by the special teams ultimately provided the margin of victory in games that went to the wire against the Titans and the Bengals.

All of that came crashing down as the Steelers let the Jets take the opening kickoff 97 yards to the house.

Unfortunately, this does not appear to be an aberration, as the Steelers gave up a long return against the Ravens last week, and only an iffy holding call prevented the punt coverage until giving up its first TD.

No magic formula exists. Injuries would not serve as excuses, even if they were at issue, which they’re not.

The formula is simple.

The Steelers special teams must step up.

Steelers Need to Stay Smart

Steelers-Ravens games come down to a series of tests. Tests of will, tests of endurance, and ultimately tests of whose tougher.

The Jets pose a different problem.

Make no mistake, Rex Ryan was the Ravens defensive coordinator, and the Jets certainly not any sort of “finesse” team. The Steelers, of course, must win the physical match ups.

Most post-game analysis of the Steelers loss to the Jets focues on the opening kick return and the safety that spotted New York nine points.

No argument there.

But on three key plays, the Jets outfoxed the Steelers, via play fakes and direct snaps. If the Steelers don’t get caught on those plays, then they negate the other errors and win the game.

Last week against the Patriots, Rex Ryan activated 11 defensive backs, leading to the conventional wisdom that if it worked against Tom Brady, it will work against Roethlisberger.

Potentially it could, but not if the Steelers play smart. Afterall, Brady, and his cohort Peyton Manning, are accustomed to precision passing with receivers running routes with near mechanical meticulousness.

Ben Roethlisberger, in contrast, is accustomed to pressure, and excels at improvising on the fly.

Keep Doing What They Do

The highlight reels of the Steelers victory over the Ravens were filled with visions of Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Clark, and James Harrison doing what they have always done – make plays in the clutch.

But the reels also contained contributions from new faces like Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown, and Ziggy Hood.

And so it must continue this week.

This may appear like an oversimplified analysis, but no magic formula exists. Veterans and young players must continue to step up, and everyone must be alert, attentive, and at the top of their game.

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Saturday, January 22, 2011

Steelers Fans in Buenos Aires Unite!

It is time for Steelers fans in Buenos Aires to unite! Tomorrow the Alamo will be showing the game. If you’re in Capital Federal, try to be there.

Last week there was no cover, but they did charge 40 pesos which could be used towards drinks or food.

So bring your Terrible Towels and let’s make our presence known. Last week the place was dominated by Ravens fans, so now let’s turn the tables.

The Alamo is on the fringes for Recoleta, on Uruguay street between Arenales and Santa Fe.

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Watch Tower: Steelers vs. Jets - Rex Ryan on the Couch

Rex Ryan demands attention. From his HBO reality show, to his off the field flamboyance, to his trash talking, Rex Ryan needs not seek the limelight, the limelight seeks him.

Prior to playing the Patriots, Ryan raised the trash talk volume to deafening levels, declaring his animosity for Billy B. and proclaiming that the AFC divisional playoff game was the “second most important game in Jet’s history.”

Initially, all of this figured to play into Pittsburgh’s hands.

Long time Washington, DC sports guru, Ken Beatrice, used to repeatedly caution against employing such nakedly emotional approaches. Citing Buddy Ryan and Jerry Glanville as evidence, Beatrice conceded that motivation via emotion could lead to tremendous surges in performance, but warned that it also resulted in dangerous drops.

As Yoda would say, “All the more interesting this makes Rex Ryan’s lovefest for the Steelers it does.”

And the media has taken notice.

Bragging Rights at Behind the Steel Curtain

Cudos for being ahead of the curve to Michael Bean of Behind the Steel Curtain. After praising Rex Ryan early in the week in his “Steelers Six Pack” Bean noted that:
Here's another reason why I think Ryan is more genius than bafoon. He's got the Jets quiet and focused this week…. Ryan knows the Steelers are more physical and battle tested than the Pats, and it's wise that he and his team have changed gears as they get ready for Sunday's AFC title game at Heinz Field.

A very astute observation.

A Head Dr.’s Attempt to Shrink It Down….

Bean in good company. By mid-week a psychologist felt that something was afoul and contacted Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette.

Bouchette thought enough of the head-doctor’s hypothesis that he printed it in PG Plus. Dr. Yagel argues:
He knows the Steelers are as tough as nails, he knows that if he gets us fired up it will work against his team. So the direct assault won't work. You're going to try and intimidate Hines Ward, you're going to try and bully James Harrison? But what's a scheming, New York, mad scientist of a coach to do? Kill them with kindness, throw them off their game by getting into their heads through the back door.

The good Dr. suggests that the solution is for the Steelers and Steelers Nation to respond with a full-volume roar in Heinz Field on Sunday. If the Ravens game is any indication, the Steelers Nation is up to the task.

Nonetheless, the fact that a seasoned, old-school beat writer like Ed Bouchette would print something like this just goes to show you how dramatically the media landscape has changed.

Mike Tomlin vs. ESPN

The public got another little peep behind the scenes of the workings of the professional football press.

Prior to the Ravens game, Bouchette reported that that ESPN reporter Bob Holtzman upset the Steelers by reporting that Pittsburgh had planned to field Antwan Randel El only to use another player in a trick play.

At issue was whether Holtzman had violated rules that prohibit members of the press from leaking what they see about a team’s game plans during practice. The problem was that Holtzman had not seen the Steelers practice, and he claimed that news item was fair game because it had supposedly come from two Steelers.

One has to wonder what really transpired. Regardless, Tomlin responded to Holtzman’s question about what he expected from the Jets, with “It depends on whether or not you give him my plays.”

Bouchette makes it clear that Tomlin wasn’t joking. Tomlin has had run ins with reporters before about this kind of stuff, attempting in vain to keep Anthony Smith’s “I Guarantee victory against the Patriots” comment out of the press.

Yes, the Roethlisberger Era Steelers Have Won a Playoff Game with the Running Game

We’ll round out this edition of the Watch Tower by picking (albeit) a very small bone with Gerry DuLac.

In his weekly chat, responding to a fan who suggests that the Steelers need to pound the ball to beat the Jets, Dulac rightly pointed out that the Steelers are paying Ben Roethlisberger 100 million dollars for a reason.

The then went on to claim that the Steelers had not won a playoff game because of their rushing since Ben joined the team.

Not true Gerry.

In fact, the Steelers beat the Jets at Heinz Field in 2004 behind the battering of Duce Stanley and Jerome Bettis….

….For the record I agree with Gerry’s essential point about this week’s game.

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click here to read more from Steel Curtain Rising's Watch Tower.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Return on Investment Analysis: Hines Ward vs. Anquan Boldin

Steelers Nation is rightly turning its attention to the impending AFC Championship Game against the New York Jets.

Having both a more than full-time job and internet connectivity problems have prevented me from getting this up sooner. So here goes. Enjoy!

A lot has been made apparently in Baltimore over the drops by Ravens receivers during Pittsburgh’s ferocious second half comeback in the playoffs.

And so it should.

Baltimore spent big bucks to assemble the fire power that they thought would propel them past the Steelers.

Let’s take a quick look at one example of what that fire power bought them. I can’t say I am being all that original, but lack of originality doesn’t mean its still not funny….

Return on Investment in Wide Receivers

Contract Values

Anquan Boldin:

  • Total contract value 28 million dollars

Hines Ward:

  • Total contract value 22.1 million dollars

Average Salaries

Anquan Boldin:

  • 2010 average salary 7 million dollars

Hines Ward:

  • 2010 average salary 5.525 million dollars

Cost per Catch/Cost per Yard (regular season)

Anquan Boldin:

  • 64 catches, $109,375 per catch; 837 yards receiving, $8363 per yard gained

Hines Ward:

  • 59 catches, $93,644 per catch; 755 yards receiving, $7318 per yard gained

Price per Point Scored (regular season)

Anquan Boldin:

  • 7 touchdowns, 1 million dollars per touchdown

Hines Ward:

  • 5 touchdowns, 1,105,000 dollars per touchdown

Ability to Make Clucth Catches with the Game on the Line?



Priceless!



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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Steelers vs. Ravens Report Card III - AFC Divisional Playoffs

In keeping with the snappy scholastic analogies from previous Steelers Report Cards, the Steelers game against the Ravens was a kin to a sharp student getting an “A” on the take home section only to pull an all nighter before a big exam, fall asleep on his books only to wake up when he’s already supposed to be at school. Arriving at the exam when time is halfway expired, he nails the balance of the exam in the time he has left!

Here's the Steelers report card for the Steelers playoff game against the Ravens with the normal caveat that no other grades were consulted prior to this posting:

Quarterback



Ben Roethlisberger's overall numbers of 19-32-226-0-2 might appear pedestrian, but there was nothing pedestrian about his performance. Despite facing a veritable onslaught from the Ravens and taking six sacks, Ben Roethlisberger stood his ground fearlessly and took control of this game. Grade: A

Running Back

Another case where numbers fail to tell the tale. Rashard Mendenhall's 2.4 yards per carry average makes it appear he had a mediocre night, but Mendhenall did what he had to do -- get the ball into the end zone. Isaac Redman also had a key third and one conversion, and Mewelde Moore ran for twice for 12 yards. An “Above the Line” effort Grade: B

Wide Receivers

This is exactly what we all saw coming when the Steelers dumped 'Tone and drafted Sanders and Antonio Brown in the 2010 NFL draft. Right? With the exception of a drop by Emmanuel Sanders, the Steelers wide outs and Heath Miller made plays all game long. Each member of this receiving corps distinguished himself either by the quantity or the quality of his work, and the Steelers were victorious because of it. Grade: A

Offensive Line

To say that musical chairs on offensive line has been a theme throughout the season might be corny, but it is true. But despite playing back up tackles (who are really backups themselves) the Steelers lineman gave Ben time, at least on enough crucial plays, and provided enough push on running plays to move the chains and get the ball in the end zone. Grade: C+

Defensive Line

Ziggy Hood is beginning the post-season the way he ended the regular season -- with a bang, coming in third on the team 5 tackles, a QB hit, a tackle for a loss and one sack on Flacco's final drive. Brett Keisel recovered Flacco’s fumble. He and Casey Hampton did not pile up gaudy numbers, but made their presence known as Ray Rice gain only 18 more yards after his 14 yard scoring scamper. The rest of the Ravens rushing game netted a half yard. Grade: A

Linebackers

James Harrison had gone since 5 games without a full sack, but he set the tone by sacking Flacco on Baltimore's first two second half possessions. LaMarr Woodley had a sack and a recovered fumble, a QB hit and a tackle for a loss. Lawrence Timmons “quietly” led the team in tackles with support from James Farrior, who defensed a pass. Grade: A

Secondary

Losing Bryant McFadden early on was not good, but William Gay stepped up and Ike Taylor neutralized his man throughout the game. Troy Polamalu made no splash plays, but if nothing else, Polamalu’s presence had to have impacted Flacco’s decision making. Raven receivers made innumerable drops – that that happens sometimes when you’re worried about getting KOed from behind.

But Ryan Clark stole the show, causing the two turnovers that sparked the Steelers resurgence in the second half. Grade: A

Special Teams
Let’s start with the positive. Justin Kapinos BOOMED off four punts for 194 yards, and Shaun Suisham’s kick offs were deeper. But the Steelers gave up a long opening return, and benefited from a, questionable call, that nullified a punt return for a TD. Outside of those gaffes coverage was good, but as Al Everest says, it is the screw ups that sting. Special teams play was above the line. Barley. Grade: C-

Coaching
Critique Mike Tomlin for being unfocused and out hustled in the second 16 minutes of the first half. Credit Tomlin for disavowing the emotional roller coaster since the day he was hired. Make no mistake about it: This level headed approach and steady hand at the wheel are what allowed the Steelers to regain focus and unleash fury upon the Baltimore Ravens in the second half. Still the second quarter and inconsistent special teams knock the coaches grade down. Grade: B

Unsung Hero

Who to choose in a game where so many stepped up? How about Doug Legursky? You won’t see his name on the stat sheet, but the man played multiple positions on the offensive line, helping provide stability or at least sanity to a unit under assault. He also did some road grading from the fullback position leading to the first touchdown.

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Monday, January 17, 2011

Resilient Steelers Rebound Against Ravens, 31-24

It was great for the game of football.” - Mike Tomlin

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens’ rivalry is intense, hard-fought, and their players take it personally.

Statisticians generate reams and reams of data to document how closely matched these teams are. But you cannot reduce the beauty of this rivalry to numbers.

That’s because the Steelers and Ravens don’t play each other. They test each other.

  • Sometimes the teams match wills.
  • Sometimes the games become trails of attrition.
  • Other times they test the other’s nerves.
  • And yet other times the game simply tests which team has better playmakers.

In the 2010 AFC Divisional playoff game the Steelers and Ravens tested themselves in each of the above categories and in the process played one of the best NFL playoff games in history.

El Quarto Negro

The title is Spanish for “The Black Quarter” – in this instance, Spanish is just more poetic, which is fitting because the last 16 minutes of the first half were pure poetry – for the Ravens.

Memory can provide no darker quarter of post-season football for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Sure, there have been darker playoff moments (thanks Neil), but never has a playoff opponent dominated the Steelers as thoroughly for a quarter as the Ravens did.

  • Ray Rice’s 14 yard scamper schooled William Gay and made Troy Polamalu look amateur
  • Terrell Suggs strip-sack of Ben and Baltimore’s subsequent touchdown called the Steelers focus into question
  • Mendenhall’s fumble and Todd Heap’s touchdown reeked of an impending rout

With Shaun Suisham’s missed field goal, the Steelers gave every appearance of being in full-self destruction mode.

Testing Nerves
When you turn the ball over the way we did, a lot of teams usually give up, and it ends up being a blowout. But we stayed the course…” - Hines Ward

Prior to the game both Gene Collier and Dan Gigler of the Post-Gazette picked the Ravens to win, agreeing that it was “their time.” They appeared to be correct in as the third quarter began with a pittly 6 play Pittsburgh drive that ended with a punt.



James Harrison, Ziggy Hood, and Ryan Clark had other ideas. In short order James Harrison sacked Flacco, Hood stuffed Ray Rice for a one-yard loss, and Ryan Clark stripped the ball as LaMarr Woodley recovered.

After Mendenhall ripped off a 14 yard run, Ben Roethlisberger found Health Miller for a touchdown.

  • Although still down by 7, in just five plays the Steelers delivered a message – we’re still playing and we’re playing to win.

Football is a game of momentum. James Harrison opened the ensuing defensive series with another sack. The Steelers continued to pressure Flacco and the Ravens went nowhere on their next two plays.

The momentum had swung the Steelers way, and now it was the Flacco and the Ravens whose nerves were tested.

  • The next time Flacco had the ball he tossed an easy interception to Ryan Clark.

Four plays later Roethlisberger threw a laser to Hines Ward to tie the ball game.

  • James Harrison pressured Flacco into an incompletion and then, on his next touch, Flacco fumbled the ball.

Eight plays later Shaun Suisham gave the Steelers the lead. The Steelers were winning the test of nerves.

The Crucible of Attrition

Steelers-Ravens contests are known for their hard hits, and this one was no exception. The Steelers lost Bryant McFadden early in the game.

William Gay stepped in, and made play after play, especially on the game’s final drive.



And, as they have done so all year long, the Steelers injuries forced the Steelers to play musical chairs on the offensive line.

Although the line played far from perfectly, giving up six sacks, the Steelers lineman never gave the impression that they were being overwhelmed, even as guys shifted from guard to tackle, and from tackle to guard.

Test of Wills

Art Rooney II raised eyebrows early in the off season when he declared that the Steelers must run better.

The Steelers rose to the occasion against the Ravens. Forget about Mendenhall’s paltry s 2.4 yards per carry.

Rooney stated that the team needed to be able to run the ball when it needed to, and they did just that:

  • Isaac Redman converted a key first down on the Steelers opening touchdown drive
  • Rashard Mendenhall muscled his way into the end zone not once, but twice in critical goal-line situations
  • Ben Roethlisberger willed his way to a first down on 4th and 1 during the Steelers go-ahead field goal drive.


The Baltimore Ravens fought hard on every play. No one should question their desire or effort. But in a game where the Steelers defense limited Baltimore to 126 yards of total offense, certainly no Baltimore Raven can argue that they wanted this one more than the Steelers.

Putting Play Makers to the Test

It is ironic that in a year where Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Wallace established themselves as one of the league’s most deadly QB-WR tandems, that Wallace was not Big Ben’s target on the game’s biggest play.

Ben Roethlisberger played a fabulous game. Under relentless pressure all day he delivered. After having been sacked an throwing incomplete, Big Ben faced a 3rd and 19 with just over two minutes left to play.

And, if his post-game comments are to be believed, he more or less told Antonio Brown to run deep and other wise “go out and get open.”



Roethlisberger heaved a 54 yard bomb, Brown got open and caught the ball, gaining control just as his momentum took him out of bounds. Five plays later the Mendenhall ran it in from two yards out to put the Steelers ahead for good.

Bring on the New York Jets

The Steelers and Ravens played a game of the ages as Pittsburgh passed each of the tests administered by Baltimore.

But based on their last game at Heinz Field the New York Jets figure to offer a different sort of test.

That's fine. Because the Pittsburgh Steelers are 1-0 in the playoffs against teams who beat them at home during the regular season!

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Sunday, January 16, 2011

Steelers Defeat Ravens 31-24

What a game. The Pittsburgh Steelers of the Mike Tomlin era have a flair for the dramatic, and a knack for pulling out games when all hope appears to be lost.

They took that standard to a new level against the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Divisonal playoffs.

I can't pretend to offer a detailed analysis so soon after a dramatic victory.

So I'll just tip the hat to Greg and Diane, and the other two Steelers fans who joined Gustavo Vallegos and myself at Buenos Aires Alamo resturant for the game -- the other 45 people or so who were in bar were all Ravens fans.

What a joy it was to have them ask me, when the Ravens were winning big, "you're a Steelers fan? Where are you from....?" [Maryland was my response.] "Then why are you rooting for the Steelers?

"Because its Steelers Nation, baby!" We Steelers fans are loyal and today's game was one of the reasons why.

More tomorrow. Go Steeler!

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Saturday, January 15, 2011

Steelers-Ravens III - Youth Takes Center Stage

The Steelers have an aging team. Everyone knows it, everyone has been talking about for as long as anyone has listened.

John Harris of the Tribune-Review was the latest to chime in, suggesting that the window on the Steelers Lombardi Trophy opportunities might be closing.

Harris, doubtlessly might be right.

But what is overlooked and perhaps all the more remarkable, is that how many Steelers will be starting their first NFL playoff game.

Steelers starting their first NFL Playoff game:

  • Maurkice Pouncey,
  • Jonathan Scott,
  • Ramon Foster,
  • Mike Wallace,
  • Rashard Mendenhall
  • Ziggy Hood
  • That’s 60% of the offensive line, two starters from the “skills positions,” and one defensive end.

Of course the Steelers will need more than to put them over the top against the Ravens and many of the key backups will be playing their first playoff game:

  • Emmanuel Sanders
  • Antonio Brown
  • Ryan Mundy
  • David Johnson
  • Sylvester Stevenson
  • Arnaz Battle

Numerically, the Steelers strike a good balance between youth and experience. That equilibrium is of course far stronger on the defensive slide of the ball, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Let’s beat Baltimore!

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Steelers-Ravens III: Key Match Ups

Having already suggested that the outcome of Steelers-Ravens III could boil down to who controls the underneath passing game, I’ll now turn my attention to other key match ups:

James Harrison vs. Michael Oter

As Behind the Steel Curtain’s Neal Coolong pointed out in his Pre Game Zone Blitz, Harrison had his way with Oher during the match up in December, drawing multiple penalties. Oher apparently didn’t look so good against the Chiefs either…

Oher will be looking to rebound, but James Harrison will also kick it up a notch.

  • Let’s hope Harrison reek Havoc against Baltimore. Again.

Steelers Offensive Line vs. Terrell Suggs

Suggs put on the kind of dominating performance against the Steelers that we hope to see from Harrison. The Steelers will need to bring Spaeth, Miller or Johnson back to help with protection.

Rashard Mendenhall vs. the Ravens Run Defense

In two contests vs. the Raven’s Mendenhall rushed for 3.2 yards per carry and 2.4. The conventional wisdom is that this is as good as he can get, isn’t it?

Mendenhall has done better against this stout defense. Last year, with Dennis Dixon under center and the Steelers down to one quarterback, Mendenhall ran for 95 yards, on 24 carries.

  • The Steelers don’t need Mendenhall to have a big game to win, but if he does have one, it will make a lot of other things easier.

Flacco vs. the Steelers Corners

The Ravens have weapons a plenty for Flacco, and if the leaf readers from Baltimore are to be believed, they think he can pass on the Steelers corners.

  • The Steelers don’t need spectacular play from their corners, just smart play.

Mike Wallace vs. the Ravens Secondary

Here is how Mike Wallace has faired against the Ravens:

  • Mike Wallace did not catch a pass in his first game against the Ravens, which the Steelers lost.
  • He burned them for 3 for 83 yards including one 45 yarder in his second game against the Ravens, which the Steelers won.
  • With Charlie Batch under center he only caught 2 passes for 24 yards in this year’s first meeting, which the Steelers lost.
  • Last time around Wallace caught 5 passes for 76 yards and the Steelers won.

Notice a trend here? Yes. Is it a coincidence? Don’t bet on it.

  • To beat the Ravens, the Steelers need a big game from Wallace, and they need him to do something he has yet to do – score.

It will be one heck of a game folks – enjoy the ride. I’ll post more tomorrow as time allows.

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Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Steelers vs. the Ravens – Miller, Farrior, Timmons and Ziggy Hood as Four Difference Makers

So the Steelers and the Ravens meet once again in the playoffs. Who is surprised?

Prior to their last meeting, yours truly boldly predicted that the Steelers special teams – the return and coverage units would be the difference in the game.

It did not turn out to be that way. The Steelers had no returnable kick offs, and Antonio Brown only averaged 5.5 yards on two punt returns. (The Ravens, in fact had one 35 yard punt return.)

Undaunted, I forge on in an attempt to define the difference in what Terrell Suggs has described as “Armageddon.”

Primed For Prime Time

Recent Steelers-Ravens history provides ample evidence that the two team’s headliners can, do and will make impact plays.

Think of guys like LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison for the Steelers. Think of guys like Ray Lewis, Ray Rice, Joe Flacco, and Ron McClain for the Ravens. And of course there is always Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu.

This of course only scratches the surface, because both teams have men who can alter the course of the game in an instant. Saturday’s divisional playoff will present no difference.

Here then is my look at a couple of Pittsburgh Steelers, who although they might not get as much ink, could easily end up being the difference makers.

Can Baltimore's Underneath Be Hurt by Health?

Health Miller suffered one of the most devastating hits in Steelers history in the first half against the Ravens and finished the game with one catch.

Everyone knows what the Ravens defense can do – Terrell Suggs spent more time in the Steelers backfield than did Rashard Mendenhall to prove it.

Yet in spite of that, in spite of a broken foot and broke nose, Ben Roethlisberger managed to hit Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown, and yes David Wallace 3 times. He also hit Mike Wallace 5 times.

More impressive yet, 3 of those 4 receivers had yards-per-catch averages in double digits.

If the receivers can repeat that feat and stretch the field, then that will open up things for Heath Miller underneath. Miller might not have the gaudy statistics of 2009, but Health is a player who knows how to make ever catch count.

Expect him to do so if he gets the opportunity against Baltimore.

Can Farrior and Timmons Heap Coverage on the Raven’s Receivers?

Raven’s Pro-Bowl tight end Todd Heap saw limited action against the Steelers last time due to injury. In Kansas City a health Heap decimated the Cheifs with 10 catches 108 yards.

As Behind the Steel Curtain’s Tim Geason, aka MaryRose, pointed out, since the Patriots debacle the Steelers have been intentionally tightening their coverage. This of course exposes the Steelers defense more to the big play, but it also demands that they shut down the short an intermediate routes underneath.

The Steelers did that against the Ravens – Baltimore got the bulk of its passing yards on a few throws, but that was without Todd Heap.

And that is where inside linebackers James Farrior and Lawrence Timmons come in.

Although Troy Polamalu can and will see some time matched up against Heap, the Steelers need Farrior and Timmons to bear the brunt of neutralizing him, as that will open free Polamalu to do the free lancing he does so well.

Heap is of course not the Raven’s only weapon, and Farrior and Timmons will need to do their part shutting the rest of the Raven’s reciving corps on short and medium routes,

You’ve got to figure that Cam Cameron is looking to Heap as his Ace in the Hole for Steelers-Ravens III.

Timmons and Farrior need to call his bluff.

Can Ziggy, Go Under the Hood?

The papers were all a rage when Steelers 2009 first round pick Ziggy Hood began his second training camp back in July. Hood however, failed to press for playing time and their was some concern for his development when Aaron Smith went down.

But Ziggy Hood likes playing Baltimore. He got his first NFL sack last year against the Ravens, and recorded his second NFL sack against the Ravens in December.

Since then, he’s recorded two more (OK, against the Panthers and Browns, but so what?)

Given his performance against them, it is unlikely that the Ravens will overlook Hood, and that would be a good thing. Hood needs to get in and disrupt the Raven’s backfield.

If he does so it will greatly compromise Baltimore’s ability to pick the Steelers apart with their short-yardage game.

Last time against the Ravens, Hood had a sack, a tackle for a loss, and another QB hit.

The Steelers need for Ziggy Hood to be at least that disruptive on Saturday.

Share Your Thoughts

That’s it for my pre-game analysis. Please take a moment to leave a comment and share yours.

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Saturday, January 8, 2011

Just Say NO to the 18 Game Season!, Part I

They say that from age arises wisdom. If that is true then there is probably no wiser of a veteran than the Steelers James Farrior.

Which makes Farrior’s comments about the owners impending 18 game season nothing short of jaw-dropping. In an article with the Tribune Review’s Scott Brown, Farrior recently conceded that the 18 game season is inevitable (click here to read the full article.)

He may be right. Nonetheless, that fails to make an 18 game season a good idea, and it does not mean that the NFL Players Association should not fight this tooth and nail.

Immediate Impact on the Steelers

I do not make the above statement lightly. A decision by the NFLPA to put its foot down on the 18 game season would likely elevate the probability of a lock out from highly probably to something near metaphysical certitude.

Judged solely from a “how does it affect the Steelers” view point, a protracted lockout leading to a canceled 2011 season would be a disaster.

No football in 2011 could easily mean the end to the careers of Aaron Smith, Hines Ward, and perhaps Farrior himself. It would mean that the next time Casey Hampton set foot on a football field he’d be 35. Brett Keisel would be 34 and so would James Harrison. Troy Polamlau would be 32.

Much has been made of the age of this group of Steelers. Nonetheless it is perfectly plausible that this core of men could make another run at a Lombardi in 2011, regardless of how the current season concludes.

But what about 2012? Add another year to a couple of key players, and you’re much, much more dependant on rookie contributions.

But the game is bigger than the Steelers, which is why the 18 game season must be fought.

The "Problem" of Preseason Football

To listen to Roger Goodell, fans are really demanding the 18 game season, because they’re fed up with preseason football.

Personally, I like preseason and missing not being able to see the games down here in Buenos Aires. Preseason offers fans two things they otherwise do not get:

  • An extended look at new players
  • A chance to see a bunch of guys give everything they’ve got in purist of a dream

Nonetheless, I understand and respect the argument of season ticket holders who object to being forced to buy preseason tickets, and of other fans who are forced to pay full price for something that is less than the NFL's top product.

On top of that, preseason has changed. Those over 30 or so might remember the Sports Illustrated commercials that began shortly after the 4th of July, hyping “the time that helmets are strapped and hands are tapped and protected.” As SI told the story, the dawning of NFL training camps was a time to them to spring into action.

Those spots ran in the 1970’s and 1980’s. Back then, preseason was a beacon of hope for a populace that had been starved of football in 5 or 6 months. There was no internet then, and even if there was, free agency did not exist and OTA’s were just blurb to fill out unused space in Sports sections.

How to Scale the Preseason Mole Hill

Goodell and other 18 game apologists are not even fooling themselves by insisting that extending the season is the only way to go. Several solutions exist, many of which have been suggested first by others, some are my own. Here they go:

  • Simply drop one game from the preseason –

Coaches play starters sparingly in the 1st and 4th games anyway. A three game preseason might give their reps in and rookies could still get a decent look.

  • Convert one preseason game into an all rookie or all youth scrimmage

Similar to the first proposal, but this one would give rookies, undrafted free agents, and guys who simply hang on practice squads year-in and year-out a bigger shot a prime time.

  • Make preseason an optional part of season ticket packages

Owners could roll the costs into the regular season and/or provide incentives (such as greater chances to buy additional playoff tickets, points that you can accmulate to get better seats) to purchase preseason tickets. This would also allow non-season ticket holders a better shot at games.

  • Move games to neutral sites

Having teams play 1-2 preseason games at a site outside of either team's home field would help expand the NFL's fan bases by giving other communities a chance to see NFL football.

The fallacy of the “need” for an 18 game season because of problems with the NFL Preseason is self-evident.

But that says nothing of the why going to an 18 game season would be fundamentally bad for the game. Stay tuned for Part II where we’ll bring that out in detail.


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Thursday, January 6, 2011

Watch Tower: Insights into the Improvement of the Steelers Defense

Have you gotten the feeling that the Steelers defense has gotten better since the Patriots debacle?

You’re not the only ones.

I’d thought it might be the emergence of Ziggy Hood, and/or the return of Brett Keisel.

Undoubtedly both men have made important contributions. But something deeper is afoot.

Alas, I can take no credit for having uncovered it. Tim Gleason, aka Mary Rose of Behind the Steel Curtain, has done it again.

If you really want to understand how the Steelers defense has evolved since the Patriots game you need to check out Gleason’s article.

In keeping with Steel Curtain Rising’s editorial policy, I will not steal the man’s thunder. But this is a well researched article, backed by in-person observations drawn from each home game and one road game the Steelers have played since then.

This later part is important, because some of what Gleason has to say isn’t so obvious to those of us who only see the games on TV. Click here to read Gleason’s full article.

Where Are the Pro’s?

This is not the first time I have read this kind of analysis on fansites like Behind the Steel Curtain and been blown away that someone, working in their spare time, had the insight and the dedication to write a detailed analysis piece on some element of the Steelers performance.

While the Watch Tower has a lot of respect for professional writers such as Ed Bouchette, Gerry Dulac, Scott Brown, Jim Wexell and company, you rarely see articles with this depth of analysis from them, (with the possible exception of Wexell.)

That is a shame, because access to sources would give the insights in this intricately researched article yet another element of depth.

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Steelers Report Card vs. Browns at Cleveland

This weeks scholastic analogy for the Report Card of the Steelers win against the Browns in Cleveland is that of a student who heads off into exam week by knocking his end of the semester paper out of the park.

As usual, we offer the caveat that no other report cards were consulted prior to this posting. Here goes.

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger threw three touchdown passes and no interceptions. He was not sacked, nor did he fumble in route to completing nearly 70% of his passes. In his first action of the year, Byron Leftwich went 5-7 and Antwan Randle El was 1-1 for 3 with a TD. It does not get better than that. Grade: A+

Running Back
On the plus side Rashard Mendenhall ran for two touchdowns in the Red Zone and finished one short of Franco Harris’s record. Issac Redman only had three carries, but made those count for 12 yards. And Jonathan Dwyer looked OK in his first NFL action. AND, Mendenhall and Redman teamed up for 2 catches and 31 yards in passing game.

However, against the same defense Ray Rice ran for 92 yards and averaged a full yard per carry more than Mendenhall. Scoring in the Red Zone is important, but the Steelers will have to run better in the playoffs. Grade: B-

Wide Receivers
Mike Wallace
is beginning to redefine the concept of a player who can do damage with just a couple of touches. Hines Ward had five grabs, including a couple of tough ones. Heath Miller and Antonio Brown caught four balls with the later scoring a touchdown. Randle El brought down two, and Emmanuel Sanders had a nice 17 yard grab. Grade: A+

Offensive Line
Can it be that cohesion is starting to set in on the line? The line gave up no sacks of Ben, and gave the quarterbacks time to throw. And they played a big role in punching in close. Still, some a little more daylight for the running game was all that was missing. Grade: B

Defensive Line
The coaches’ patience in Ziggy Hood is beginning to play off as he is starting to make a name for himself. Brett Keisel registered a sack and a forced fumble. Casey Hampton stuffed the middle as the Browns ran for 43 total yards, well below the Steelers already awesome season-long average. Grade: A

Linebackers
Lawrence Timmons
and James Harrison led the team in tackles, and every member of the unit distinguished himself. In fact, back up Larry Foote lead the unit in splash or quasi splash plays. What else is there to say? Grade: A

Secondary


Anyone fail to understand why Troy Polamalu is the Pittsburgh Steelers 2010 MVP? Polamalu, as usual, tried to deflect credit for this award, and his teammates backed him up, as Ryan Clark and Anthony Madison also came up with interceptions, who also defended another sack and defensed a pass. The secondary saw to it that the Browns never got a shot at making this a game. Grade: A+

Special Teams
Shaun Suisham was under orders to keep it away from Cribbs, and Suisham delivered. His kicks were not long, but that matters little when Cleveland averages 9.1 yards per return. Justin Kapios only punted twice, but made both of them count, albeit with a long loss. The special teams also stuffed a two point conversion attempt. Suisham not only made another kick, but made it from 41 yards out. Grade: A

Coaching
Mike Tomlin
and staff had to do a number of things. Decide whether to play Polamalu or not. Keep his team focused. Disarm the Browns most dangerous man. Tomlin and his team did all three of them allowing the Steelers to do just what they were supposed to do: Clinch the second seed while steamrolling an inferior opponent.

Unsung Hero
Larry Foote
earns this honor this week. Foote’s name has seldom been called since his return last off season. However, in less than a half, Foote had half a sack, defended a pass in the end zone, registered a tackle for a loss, and hit Colt McCoy on another play. All season long “starters in waiting” have stepped into the line up, and not simply done their jobs, but done theme well. Larry Foote’s play Sunday epitomized that spirit.

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Monday, January 3, 2011

Steelers Crush Browns 41-9, Clinch AFC North

One year ago the Pittsburgh Steelers eliminated themselves from the playoffs with a horrendous performance in Cleveland Stadium.

During the final week of the NFL’s 2010 season, the Steelers sealed a first round bye by returning to that venue and vanquishing their erstwhile division rival.

To say, “what a difference a year makes” is an understatement because this game not only provided a nutshell sketch of all that went right for the Steelers in 2010, it also hinted at what else could be possible.

Polamalu Is Polamalu

Troy Polamalu spent his press conference following his teamates’ decision to name him the Steelers MVP attempting to convince the public that he really did not deserve to win the award.

Then he went out during his second play after two weeks on the injured list and proved himself wrong.

So many things that went wrong for the Steelers in 2009 went right for them in 2010 because of Number 43. Troy Polamalu is a very special player and may God keep him healthy.

The Dynamic Duo

Taking their cue from Polamalu, Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Wallace took one play to do what they’re starting to do best – go deep.



Roethlisberger’s 56 yard touchdown hook up to Mike Wallace was the duo’s 8th breaking the team record of 40 yard plus passing combos.

More importantly, it put the Steelers on the board with 7 points, immediately converting a turnover, and had the effect of laying down the law early, nipping any would be Browns spoiler plot in the bud.

Putting Their Best Foote Forward

The Steelers have overcome a slew of injuries this year because their starters in waiting, as Mike Tomlin calls them, stepped up.

Fortunately, the Steelers suffered no significant injuries in this game (save perhaps from Bryant McFadden), but Mike Tomlin went to his backups early.

In just over one half, Larry Foote came off the bench to record four tackles, half of a sack, another quarterback hit, a pass defensed, and a tackle for a loss.

He’s not the only back up to distinguish himself:
  • Doug Legursky spelled Maurkice Pouncey and filled in ably as a blocking full back.
  • Anthony Madison, who was “only” supposed to be a special teams start, recorded a sack and brought down an interception.
  • Keenan Lewis at least compiled some nice stats and avoided mistakes.

Ziggy Hood also had his best game of the year. And so on, and so on, and so on....

Taking Care of Business

Fret about the Steelers 2-4 record against fellow playoff teams this year later.

The 2009 Steelers actually had a pretty decent record against winning teams. They just happened to fall flat when facing off against league bottom feeders.

This group of Pittsburgh Steelers has taken care of business when it has needed to.

Shades of Things to Come…?

When making his Super Bowl pick, the legendary John Madden used to anoint the team that was peaking at season’s end.

Right now the New England Patriots are redefining the concept of “peaking,” but so are the Steelers. There are many indicators to prove this, but only one will suffice.

All season long, no matter who the opponent has been, the Steelers have struggled inside the Red Zone.

Instead of struggling, the Steelers surged inside the Red Zone against the Browns, punching it in from the one twice, and adding on tosses from the 3 and 4 four good measure.

The Cleveland Browns may not have put up much of a fight, but the fact remains that the Pittsburgh Steelers closed their 2010 regular season by clinching the AFC North while playing their most complete game of the year.

No one can ask for a better way to ring in 2011.

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Saturday, January 1, 2011

Roethlisberger, Pouncey, and Polamalu Honored as Steelers Nation Hopes for 7 in '11

Happy New Year to all! Shortly after the New Year arrived here in Buenos Aires, I sent my friend Gustavo a text message: “Feliz Ano Nuevo. Esperamos para seven en eleven.” (For those who do not speak Spanish, that's "Happy New Year. Wishing for Seven in '11."

This is of course what Steelers Nation is hoping for, that 2011 with begin with a climb on the Stairway to Seven.

Whether that happens of course, will be decided in the weeks to come. Mean, while, some thoughts on the one that just ended.

Roethlisberger Comes Full Circle (with the Media at Least)

It was what, October or September 2009 that Ben (not so politely) shucked off questions from Scott Brown about his impending appearance on the WWE’s Monday Night Raw and was overheard, “I ain’t gonna win no Rooney award” or something to that effect?

Earlier this week, the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Pro Football Writers Association gave Ben Roethlisberger the Chief Award, for his cooperativeness with the media.

Steel Curtain Rising has already discussed the media’s role in the Roethlisberger rehabilitation (click here to read the full article) so we need not repeat our argument here. Suffice to say, Ben Roethlisberger is showing a very, very different side to the Pittsburgh media.

Pouncey Wins Rookie of the Year Honors

To the surprise of no one, rookie center and first round draft pick Maurkice Pouncey was named Steelers rookie of the year (when did the award stop being the “Joe Greene Great Performance Award” anyway?)

On the day that the Steelers selected Pouncey with their first pick in the NFL's 2010 draft, Steel Curtain Rising ran a poll, asking if Pouncey would be another Center in the image of Mansfield, Webster, Dawson, and Hartings. At the time, mentioning the name of a rookie along side those Hall of Famers was more of a joke than anything else.

If his rookie season is any indication, Pouncey will not simply show that he live up to the Steeler’s legacy a center, he’ll will add his own contributions to that legacy.

Other Rookie Contributions Abound

The good news is that Maurkice Pouncey was the consensus rookie of the year in a season when several rookies stepped forward to make discernable contributions.

This is a far cry from 2008 when the Pittsburgh Chapter of the Pro Football Writers Association turned to undrafted rookie free agent Patrick Bailey for the award, basically because it had to go to someone.

Finally, a Word on Troy Polamalu

Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu was named by his teammates as 2010’s Most Valuable Player. The amazing thing is that this is the first time he has won the award.

Polamalu, characteristically, sought to deflect credit for the award, but he should have won it in a walk. Polamalu has thus far provided a game-changing or perhaps the game changing play in the Steelers victories against Atlanta, Buffalo, Baltimore, and Cincinnati.

Hats off to Troy Polamalu. Have a happy and a healthy New Year.

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