´ Steel Curtain Rising: September 2011

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

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Steelers Report Card vs. Colts

As a teacher, you have a strict policy. No credit for showing your work all is pass-fail. Yet, you itemize report cards and are disappointed when your students’ worksheets betray their sloppiness as the Steelers did in their outing vs. the Colts.

Here goes the Steelers report card for the Colts game, with the caveat that no other report cards have been consulted.

Ben Roethlisberger played another great game, and was particularly sharp on those all-important third downs. Although his line has given him little chance against All-World defenders, 7 of the Steelers 9 turnovers have left Ben’s hand to find its way into an opponents. Ben has adjusted his game to get rid of the ball faster, but he’s got to protect it better in the pocket. Grade: B

Running Backs
The Steelers poor run blocking is one of the more disturbing aspects of the 2011 campaign thus far, but Rashard Mendenhall must shoulder some blame for inability to ever get more than 2 yards on first down. Isaac Redman and Mewelde Moore gave the Steelers what they needed on the final drive. Grade: C+

Wide Receivers
The amount of talent this group has is breath taking. Mike Wallace is a budding superstar. Antonio Brown is not far behind. This group came up big throughout the game, although both Sanders boneheaded drops on key plays, which lowers the group grade a little. Grade: B+

Offensive Line
The Steelers have had some weak performances from the offensive line since 2008, but the Colts game was one of their worst. Yes, Ben had time on some throws, but twice Colts defenders caused strip-sacks while getting to Ben untouched. And there is little or no consistency in their run blocking. Inexcusable. Grade: F

Defensive Line
This unit needs to be prepared for cut blocks because more are on the way. Ziggy Hood looked good at times, but the Steelers need a little more from their front three. Grade: C-

James Harrison’s making his presence felt is a welcome sign for all of Steelers Nation. But the Steelers need “Splash” plays from the rest of their linebackers, especially young guns like LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons. Ryan Clark should not be tackling so many running backs. Grade: B

Is it possible to say enough good things about Troy Polamalu? Here’s a guy who, if he doesn’t make a game-changing play, gets accused of having a “bad game.” The rest of the secondary played well, but not as good as their numbers would indicate – both Painter and Collins missed boat loads of open wide receivers. And what happened on that final Colt’s drive? Grade: C+

Special Teams
Antonio Brown came up with another hot punt return and you have to like his aggressiveness. However, Dan Sepulveda did not have a good night and Sean Suisham’s ability to make a couple of long kicks in helps compensate for missing one that could obviated his need to clinch the game winner. Grade: B-

Mike Tomlin tried to keep the Seahawks shut out in perspective, and one must supposed that he was “above the line.” Barely. As Tony Dungy said, the Colts matched up well with the Steelers, but the Steelers should have been pulling away when they started handing away turnovers in droves. Aside for lining a tight end or a sixth lineman up in the backfield to help with protection, what else can the coaches do about the line at this point other than hope that Sean Kugler can work miracles again. Grade: C+

Unsung Hero
Steelers running backs coach Kriby Wilson likened Mewelde Moore to an old suitcase that you keep because you’re familiar with it and because it’s dependable. Back in 2008 when arguing that Moore should start over Willie Parker, Steel Curtain Rising compared Moore to Merril Hoge. Moore might not quite have Hoge’s talent, but he does have his work ethic and knack for reliability which he prominently displayed in the game winning drive and for that Mewelde Moore is Steel Curtain Rising’s Unsung Hero.

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Steelers Skirt Self-Destruction, Escape Indy with ‘W’

The late Sports Illustrated writer Ralph Wiley ,later of ESPN fame, once poetically summarized the entire NFL season a single paragraph.

Memory fails to do justice to Wiley’s prose, but his point was hope springs eternal during the NFL off season; opening day brings euphoria and despair in 50/50 proportions; week two either confirms or refutes week one’s sentiment and it isn’t until week 3 that fans begin to get a handle on what they have.

The Debacle in Baltimore wrought despair in Steelers Nation only to be partially countered by the hope that only a shut out can sough. Uneven week 1-week 2 results have long been a staple in the NFL, and the Steelers Sunday Night match vs. the Colts promised to reveal some substance as to the true nature of the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers.

The show down at Lucas Oil Stadium revealed that the Pittsburgh Steelers have some serious questions to answer before anyone labels them contenders.

Accentua... Ur, Um, Tip The Hat to The Positive

A cursory survey of the Steelers-Colts coverage shows that professional media outlets opted to see the glass empty while fan-based sites chose to see it half full.

Michael Bean of Behind the Steel Curtain led the optimists arguing that:

  • The Steelers dominated statistically gaining 408 yards to 241
  • Troy Polamalu and James Harrison put the NFL on notice that “they’re back”
  • Mike Wallace is breaking into super stardom
  • Antonio Brown is only a step behind

I greatly respect Michael Bean (full disclose, I write periodically for BTSC) and (almost) nothing argued here negates his points. But none of positives he cites were serious areas of doubt going as far back as the lockout, save for the play of Polamalu and Harrison.

In contrast, however, the “victory” of the Colts game instead reinforced the questions that the Steelers have been struggling with, which we now turn out attention to.

Can Kugler Stem a Surge with a Sieve?

Sieve is the correct word here, because the term offensive line implies that the players manning it will do something to slow, if not stop the defense men rushing in to kill their quarterback.

As you can see, Jonathan Scott doesn’t even get a chance to attempt to either stop or slow Dwight Freeney. Newly anointed starter Marcus Gilbert faired no better on the right. Robert Mathis literally ran circles around him en route to Roethlisberger.

Yes, their were other times when Ben had ample time to throw. And yes these were the Indy defense’s best to plays of the night. But you can't have your tackles giving up "splash" plays that open the door to a team at the exact moment that you should be pulling away from them.

Last month I wrote about the Steelers offensive line building strategy, or lack thereof. At the time I entertained the thought that the Steelers success in spite of their lack of line stability suggested that perhaps the game has changed sufficiently to reduce the importance of a good line.

No one in Steelers Nation should harbor such notions today. Forget the talk about “Roethlisberger holds the ball too long.” Sometimes that’s true, but Ben Roethlisberger’s getting rid of the ball much faster this season, but still getting sacked.

Worse yet, the Steelers offensive line has failed to open holes for the running backs.

After the Baltimore game I jumped the gun and suggested that the Steelers needed to call Max Starks and/or Flozell Adams. The Steelers opted against patchwork for “promoting from within.”

Steel Curtain Rising has been calling for consistency on the line since its inception, and such sentiments are admirable. But perhaps the Tribune-Review’s Dejan Kovacevic is on to something when he says its time for Kevin Colbert to scour the waiver wire and practice squads, because the current crew isn’t getting the job done.

Can Opponents Now Run on the Steelers?

Ray Rice is a dynamic back, and one of the better rushers in the game. While his success against the Steelers was no given, it was neither cause for immediate alarm.

The picture is murkier this morning. Joseph Addai is no slouch. To claim that he “imposed his will” on the Steelers run defense would be in err.

But the Colts did run the ball when they needed to, which in some ways is worse. In the fourth quarter alone, with Curtis Painter in at quarterback, he had two runs of 8 yards, one for 7, another for 11, and a 6 yard scamper for the tying touchdown.

The Colts, like their successors in Baltimore, used the semi-legal cut blocks at times, and that appears to be SOP for running against the Steelers. The NFL rarely makes enforcement changes in mid-season (unless they involve fining James Harrison), so the Steelers had better find some way to adjust.

Live By Polamalu, Die By Polamalu?

With 6:03 left to play, the commentators from ESPN America Latina suggested that based on what they’d seen against the Colts, the “true” Steelers squad was more of the one that played in Baltimore as opposed to the one against Seattle.

Then James Harrison and Troy Polamalu struck.

And there I had my lead. “Steelers Defensive Stalwarts Save Game.” I even felt sorry for Painter, having to go back out there in shame after costing his team the game.

Then a funny thing happened.

Painter led the Colts on an 80 yard touchdown drive. Granted, he had help from Joseph Addai, but he also completed 4 of 5 passes – all of them against Keenan Lewis.

But should Keenan Lewis serve as the scapegoat here? Troy Polamalu got into the back field and was on the verge of another big play at least once if not twice on that drive. If he reaches Painter a neutrino faster Addai never gets his touchdown run.

But Polamalu is only one player. Where were the other 10 on that play? Ditto for the passes completed over Keenan Lewis.

Maybe getting humiliated like that lit a fire under Curtis Painter that drove him to find something no one, including himself, knew he had.

Maybe Keenan Lewis will prove the trade that 3rd round picks have either “made it” by their third year or are busts.

But echoes of 2009’s late game let downs resonated loudly as Painter was driving those last 80 yards in Lucas Oil Stadium. If focus from start to finish is going to be a problem then 2011 will be a long season….

The Road From Here…

But unlike 2009, the Steelers did come back, and they did win this game. Securing a win, on the road, against another AFC team is important.

But this win should not obscure the fact that the Steelers have questions they must answer, and answer fast if there are to be many more such wins in 2011.

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Monday, September 26, 2011

Steelers Escape with Win Over Colts

Some how I don’t think that even Mike Tomlin will find comfort in his usual, “we don’t add style points” mantra. Nor do I expect him to try.

Yes, the Steelers did escape Indianapolis with what will count as a ‘W’ for their game against the Colts, but it hardly feels worthy of attaching the word “win” to let alone victory.

The Steelers started the game in fine fashion, and after Ben Roethlisberger’s first quarter hook up with Mike Wallace it looked like a route was on.

After that things became unglued for the Steelers in a hurry. It is already almost 1:00 am here in Buenos Aires, and work looms tomorrow.

But before going to bed, here are a few quick concerns about the events in Indianapolis:

  • It would be metaphysically impossible for the Steelers offensive line to have put on a more thoroughly impotent exposition
  • The Colts success with running the ball was more than a little disturbing
  • Do not deceive yourself with the apparent success of the secondary through 3 quarters – Kerry Collins and Curtis Painter missed a lot of open men
  • Did the strip/sack/six ignite something in Painter, or did the Steelers lose focus?

Many other items remain to critique. Fate added injury to impotence on the Steelers offensive line. Jonathan Scott did not look good. Who wants to be that Flozell Adams and/or Max Starks get phone calls tomorrow….?

Its now 1:00 am here in Buenos Aires. Check back tomorrow evening for Steel Curtain Risings full analysis.

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Sunday, September 25, 2011

Containing Kerry Collins the Steelers Key to Victory Over the Colts?

Quick name an NFL quarterback who has:

  • Fended off Chad Brown’s pass rush to toss a TD with Rod Woodson in the secondary
  • Victoriously stared down a front seven featuring the likes of Aaron Smith, Kevin Henry, Earl Holmes, Kimo von Oelhoffen, Joey Porter, Levon Kirkland, and Jason Gildon
  • Schooled a number 1 defense headlined by playes like James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, and Troy Polamalu
  • Given scare to a similar version of that defense, reinforced by presence of players like Lawrence Timmons and Ziggy Hood

That quarterback is of course none other than Kerry Collins.

The Pittsburgh Steelers seek their fist road win tonight against the Peyton Manningless Indianapolis Colts.

Observers near and far have argued that no NFL franchise has seen its fortunes revolve around one player more than the Colt’s have revolved around Manning. Joe Bendel of the Steelers Digest went as far as to claim that taking Manning from the Colts is akin to taking Bruce Springsteen from the E-Street Band.

Thus far the Colts 0-2 lack luster start lends credibility to those dire predictions.

A friend, who is not a Steelers fan, even observed that, “Collins suddenly looks very old.”

There’s a fine line between “old,” and “seasoned pro.” Collins has only had a limited amount of time to learn the Colts offense, get to know his receivers, and feel comfortable in their system.

The process figured to take awhile, and the bitter taste of two defeats added to the adrenaline of playing in prime time at home can serve to speed up the learning curve.

And it is not as if Kerry Collins is any stranger to the Steelers. He’s played the many times before. In 1996 it was with the Carolina Panthers. In 2000 it was with the NFC Champions New York Giants. In 2008, 2009, and 2010 it was with the Tennessee Titans.

Collins record as a starter in those games is 3-1. In both the season opening loss in 2009 and the second game of the 2010 season where Collins came off the bench he pressed the Steelers to the wire.

Is then, Kerry Collins the key to the Steelers-Colts game?

In a manner of speaking yes.

By himself, Collins cannot beat the Steelers. But the Steelers will lose if they allow Collins to get into any kind of rhythm. Unlike his predecessor, Collins is a game managing quarterback as opposed to a franchise quarterback.

If Peyton Manning has been the field general that led the Colts from the front lines, then this field general has had some very talented foot soldiers standing behind him.

Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Dwight Freeney cannot beat the Steelers on their own. They need something from Collins. Against the Steelers Colllins has completed a composite total of 64% of his passes, and has thrown for six touchdowns and only two interceptions.

Collins history suggests that he can give them that “something.”

The Steelers need not walk into this game “fearing” Collins the way they would a Tom Brady, Drew Brees, or Aaron Rodgers. But they had give him the respect he deserves.

If they Steelers can contain Collins on defense and keep Ben Roethlisberger upright on offense then they should conclude the night with their first road win under their belts.

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Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Greg Lloyd Calls Out Roger Goodell

13 years after he played his last down in the NFL, Greg Lloyd continues to capture the imagination of Steelers Nation.

If you’ve ever wonder what the most popular article on Steel Curtain Rising is? Wonder no more.

Something on Ben Roethlisberger and Midegville? Nope? Perhaps the AFC Championship victories over Baltimore or New York? Guess again. Super Bowl XLIII? Of course, its Lombardi Number Six. Nope, not even close.

It is the article commemorating the 10th anniversary of Lloyd’s departure from the Steelers (click here if read now.)

Even a minor mention of Number 95 is enough to draw readers to this site, as the article commenting on the poignancy of Greg Lloyd Jr.’s selection by the Philadelphia Eagles in the 2011 NFL Draft brings people from Google.

Lloyd isn’t the best linebacker in Steelers history. He’ll never make the Hall of Fame.

Nonetheless the mystic surrounding Greg Lloyd surprises no one.

If Hines Ward is a linebacker trapped in a wide receiver’s body, then Greg Lloyd was a warrior destined to play football.

Needless to say when I spied the simply little headline, “Avoid Lloyd” to Dan Gigler’s “Blog and Gold” on the Post Gazette, I pounced.

Gigler had intended to ask Lloyd about a number of things, but he made the mistake of first asking him about Roger Goodell…

…You can imagine Greg Lloyd’s response.

As you know, Steel Curtain Rising does not steal the thunder of other writer’s work. Gigler went out and got the interview so let him and the Post-Gazette reap the benefits.

Click here to read a transcript of the interview, or click here to listen to a condensed version.

As Gigler leads with his intro, 13 years removed from the NFL and Greg Lloyd still won’t get hired for his disposition.

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Steelers to Seahawks: Super Bowl Excuse Making Gets You No Where

The Pittsburgh Steelers clinched “One for the Thumb” on February 5, 2006 in Detroit at Super Bowl XL with a 21 to 10 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

Run into a Seahawks fan and they’re still whining and making excuses. Michael Bean, editor of Behind the Steel Curtain, tells of going in front of a group of school children (who probably weren’t even old enough to remember the game) and getting booed when the find out he writes for a Steelers site.

During the Steelers AFC Divisional playoff victory over the Baltimore Ravens, myself and a fellow member of the Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club of Buenos Aires ran into a guy from Seattle. You can imagine a Florida Election judge getting a warmer reception from Al Gore.

The referee from Super Bowl XL got into the act admitting that “he made mistakes that affected the game.” (Oh, I guess you “made” Matt Hasselbeck throw the interception… I guess you “made” the kicker miss a field goal.)

Ah, but sometimes there is true symmetry in poetic justice.

Since that fateful day at Ford Field, the Seattle Seahawks have had not one, but two chances to redress their grievances with the Pittsburgh Steelers.

And after two regulation NFL games, the some total for there efforts remains: ZERO.

That’s not just zero wins, but ZERO points.

That’s right. Mike Tomlin’s Steelers shut out the Seahawks 21-0 in 2007 and they did it again 24-0 last Sunday at Heinz Field.

The Steelers won Super Bowl XL fair and square. Seattle fans would do well to accept that reality.

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Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Steelers Report Card vs. the Seahawks

Fortunately for the Steelers the NFL regular season is the scholastic equlivant of a series of 16 pass fail tests with the only pluses and minuses coming in divisional games. With that said the report card for Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Seahawks was a good one, in most areas at least. Here go the Steelers specific grades, with the usual caveat that no other grades were consulted prior writing this post.

Ben Roethlisberger’s impressive statistics mask several high passes and that he should have had at least one if not two balls intercepted. But Ben played well, made key 3rd down conversions to move the chains and was forced to make lemonade by making things happen with his feet. Grade: B

Running Backs
If it is true that Rashard Mendenhall had little in the way of run blocking much of the time which has been said before many times, his production was also uneven which has also been said many times. Isaac Redman continues to impress and fully deserves the “Play of the Week” credit awarded to him by Behind the Steel Curtain. Grade: B

Wide Receivers
Bad news? Mike Wallace’s average is down. Good news? The Man is catching everything, notching is 5th straight 100 yard game. Young Money Recievers Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown continue to make quality catches at key moments. And Hines Ward, well perhaps Dancing With the Stars Helped his Fancy Footwork. Grade: A

Offensive Line
Let the record reflect that the Steelers had a goal line situation and couldn’t punch it in. Let the record reflect that Ben Roethlisberger got sacked out of “punch it in position” once and made it to the 20 another time only to end up kicking a 41 yard missed field goal. The Steelers couldn’t run in the second half. And Ben had to scramble 5 times. This unit must improve. Grade D+

Defensive Line
Too old, too slow, too incapacitated by injury. Don’t tell that to Johnny Mitchell’s men. Granted, the Seahawks front 5 are no reincarnation of The Hogs, but the Steelers defensive line dominated the line of scrimmage. The Steelers didn’t blitz for much of the game because they largely didn’t need to. Seattle totaled 31 yards rushing. Grade: A

This is another unit that fought back with a vengeance, helping in coverage to ensure that Pittsburgh got off the field on third down and sacking the day lights out of Jackson on the one drive where he threatened to score. Grade: A

The Steelers didn’t blitz much. Travias Jackson threw 29 times and completed 20 of those throws. Yet Seattle never crossed the 50 until the 4th quarter and was 2-12 on third down conversions. Granted, although he's only a few years shy of 60, Steve Larget might be able to push for a roster spot in the Seahawks, but several some bodies in the Steelers secondary were doing something right. Grade: A

Special Teams
Antonio Brown 41 yard punt return gave this team a spark, and if his other returns did not bear fruit you have to like his aggressive attitude. Equally important, Seattle got nothing from its return game. Ah, but Sean Suisham, you gotta make those 41 yarders. Grade: B

Mike Tomlin clearly had his team mentally and physically prepared to play. Dick LeBeau had his defense mean and hungry. Bruce Arians had a good game and adjusted his play calling well to the inability to run the ball. The only real black mark is Tomlin’s waste of a challenge. Grade: B+

Unsung Hero
William Gay has done for the 3rd corner what Cliff Stoudt and Mark Malone did for the back up quarterback position. If there’s a corner that (some) Steelers fans love to hate it is William Gay. However Gay was trust into the starting line up, and the only time you saw he was either tight on coverage or making well-timed (legal) hits. Other than that, you didn’t hear his name, and for that William Gay is Steel Curtain Rising’s Unsung Hero of the Seawhawks game.

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Monday, September 19, 2011

Steelers Shutout Seahawks 24-0

After the Japanese successfully crippled the US fleet at Pearl Harbor, Admiral Nagumo scrapped plans to launch an additional attack. The Hollywood classic Tora, Tora, Tora depicts Nagumo defending his decision out of fear the he had “woken a sleeping giant.”

For the last decade the Pittsburgh Steelers have been one of the NFL’s giants, and last week during the Debacle in Baltimore the Ravens most certainly caught this giant sleeping.

If the Baltimore Ravens were the locomotive that pounded the Steelers out of their sleep, then the Seahawks were the fly that the giant’s hand found when he woke up swatting.

Although Mike Tomlin will justifiably say “we fell short of perfection” the Steelers nonetheless did what they should have done – squash an inferior opponent.

Stumbling, But Making A Statement

When giants wake they are more likely to stumble instead of springing to life. When that first stumble comes, the question is, does the giant gain his bearings or does he stumble some more and fall?

During the first drive the Steelers flashed and feigned, marching all the way to the one, only to give up easy “punch it in position” via a sack, then regained it only to fail on fourth and goal.

Could this giant be teetering, about to fall?

No. Dick LeBeau’s defense stoned Seattle allowing them one yard as they forced a three and out.

Neither team of course decided anything in that those first two series, but one thing was certain – the giant had awoken on steady feet.

Inconsistent Performance, Lopsided Result

Stat sheets are wont to deceive, and the Steelers-Seahawks game serves as a perfect example. While every unit of the Steelers had its moments, the team fell short of a consistent effort for most of the day.

In particularly, the offense worked in fits and spirits for much of the afternoon.

  • Ben Roethlisberger, despite going 22-30 for 1 TD and almost 300 yards was high on his passes and should have had one if not two balls picked off
  • Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman, despite both peeling off double-digit runs, never got into a rhythm
  • Three of the Steelers trips into the Red Zone yielded 21 points – the other three yielded 3 points
No, this is no attempt to nit pick away the significance of the Steelers first shut out since 2008, but against a more talented opponent such inconsistency can prove lethal.

Against the Seattle Seahawks the Pittsburgh Steelers flashed that they have all of the elements to be a great team led by a high octane offense. But that offense remains a work in progress, particularly the offensive line.

But the fact that Steelers Nation might have to wait a while for a rebirth of a 1979 styled offense was no problem because this afternoon giant showed he had other weapons.

Dick LeBeau’s Defense – Mike Tomlin’s Big Stick

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense ranked number one in ’07, ’08 and number two in ’10. Yet after the Baltimore game, critics from coast to coast derided this unit as no longer being young enough, no longer being fast enough, and no longer being good enough.

Dick LeBeau stood by his men during the week, and his players backed him up handsomely.

Again, stats can deceive. Travis Jackson hit 11 different receivers in passing a pretty 20 of 29 with no picks. Normally that’s indicative of a pretty good day passing, but it went all for naught because of the Seahawks woeful in ability to convert third downs.

The Steelers kept the Seahawks off of the board in the first half, but their effort was largely subdued. Travis Jackson had time to throw, and Dick LeBeau was content to let the Steelers DB’s do their job.

It wasn’t until the second half that the giant fully shook off his grogginess, loosened the stiffness in his neck and shoulder, and began swinging what has been the Steelers big stick – the sack.

Troy Polamalu, Larry Foote, James Farrior, LaMarr Woodley, Steve McClendon and, yes, James Harrison, all got into the act.

If Dick LeBeau had scripted the defensive side of the game in order to answer the critics, he could not have done a better job:
  • Three of those sacks came on the one drive the Seattle actually threatened to score
  • James Harrison ended that drive with a sack on fourth down
And, to those beating the “too old” drum,
  • James Farrior ended the day for the Steelers defense by sacking Jackson for a seven yard loss.
Stiffer tests against stronger opponents certainly await Dick LeBeau’s defense, but their performance against the Seahawks should renew Steelers Nation’s confidence that they’ll be up to the task.

You can’t win the Super Bowl in September.” – James Harrison

Scoring a shut out is always good but, as James Harrison’s quote reveals, the Steelers accepted today’s win but no one at Heinz Field declared victory.

And so should it be because a roused giant still must understand that his journey still only begins with the first step. The Steelers appear to understand that.

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Sunday, September 18, 2011

Watch Tower: Bragging Rights for Bouchette

The Watch Tower tips its hat to Ed Bouchette and calls on him to take a bow. Writing on PG Plus before the Steelers-Seahawks game, Bouchette boldy predicted:
It would surprise no one if there is not a tie at the top of the AFC North today because the Baltimore Ravens could be in for a big letdown in Tennessee after treating their opener against the Steelers as if it were the Super Bowl.
Bouchette's right of course. Ivan Cole of Behind the Steel Curtain made the observation about the euphoric celebration that occured on the Raven's sideline throughout the 4th quater of the Debacle in Baltimore.

But a Baltimore let down was no sure thing.

Of course only one half of Bouchette's prediction has come true thus far. Cleveland won tyring them with Pittsburgh and Baltimore. If Cincinnati would need to lose to Denver to make Bouchette's prediction come true.

A Bengals win would give them sole possession of the AFC North...

...Granted, week 2 division leads are like early April batting averages, but seriously, who'd have predicted that?

Tune in later for more on the Steelers shut out over the Seahawks.

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Steelers Secondary Future is NOW vs. Seahawks

“The standard is the standard,” Mike Tomlin demands. For a while now, that standard in the Steelers secondary, at least at corner, has left something to be desired.

Perhaps the unit will take a step in the right direction today.

Steelers Digest’s Twitter feed informs that Bryant McFadden has been deactivated for today’s game vs. the Seahawks.

An ealier Steelers Digest Tweet indicated that William Gay will start in McFadden’s place, and then go back to his positon as nickel back on third downs.

That means that “veteran” Keenan Lewis along with this year’s 3rd draft pick Curtis Brown and 4th round draft pick Cortez Allen will likely get some playing time. While the prospect of playing so many inexperienced corners remains a little scary, these players represent the Steelers immediate future at corner.

As George Allen once said, “The future is NOW.”

Time to take our first look at what these guys have got.

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Friday, September 16, 2011

Steelers Starting Gilbert Signals Shift in Offensive Line Strategy

The Pittsburgh Steelers caught many in Steelers Nation by surprise when they opted to start 2nd round pick Marcus Gilbert in the place of recently injured right tackle Willie Colon.

After the Steelers offensive line got tossed around like rag dolls in the Debacle in Baltimore many, including yours truly, expected (hoped) the Steelers would opt for the Red Phone to either Flozell Adams or Max Starks. And that was before Colon’s injury was known.

Instead the Mike Tomlin has opted to take a calculated gamble that, if it pays off, will also amount to an important statement about the direction of the Steelers offensive line.

As noted in a piece I recently wrote for Behind the Steel Curtain, the Steelers have engaged in “situational offensive line building” since Mike Tomlin’s arrival. After serving as a source of stability for much of the last decade, the Steelers have fielded a series of patchwork of offensive lines.

Attempts to ensure stability through long term contracts have given way to waivers necessitated by injury and/or declining ability.

The decision to put their faith in their Marcus Gilbert represents a change in philosophy and an attempt to restore stability to the line. The Steelers are projecting Gilbert as their future left tackle, so the thinking is let him cut his teeth at right tackle until Colon returns, and then start the summer off in Latrobe by shifting a seasoned player to the left side.

Gilbert has to succeed at right tackle for the move to work. One must recall Bill Parcells answer to an inquiry about what a young player needs to develop. The answer was “to play.”

Watch Tower: The Steelers and Flozell Adams – Who Called Who?

When news of Colon’s injury broke Ed Bouchette reported that Flozell Adam’s agent had had contact with the Steelers, but that nothing was imminent.

Bouchette’s later reporting suggests that it was the Steelers who initiated the contact, and most Steelers fans assumed that salary demands and/or salary cap restrictions dictated the Steelers move. To put things into context, Bouchette worte:
They first placed a call into another big man, Flozell Adams, but he wanted what their salary cap deemed too much money, so they will turn to their second-round draft choice instead.
All of which made sense and no one gave it a second thought, not at least until Scott Brown of the Tribune-Review threw a curve ball.

Brown’s first story follows largely along the lines of Bouchette’s, as he wrote:
The Steelers spoke with Adams' agent, Jordan Woy, on Monday, but it appears that money prevented talks from getting serious.
But in another story which is believed to have appeared later on the Tribune-Review’s “Steel Mill Blog” Scott reported some very different facts:
The Steelers discussed re-signing Flozell Adams or Max Starks Monday after they learned that Colon had been lost for the season. But they decided to go with Gilbert, the second-round pick out of Florida, and sign a free agent tackle for depth.

Money apparently had nothing to do with them saying thanks but no thanks later when an inquiry was made on Adams’ behalf. [Emphasis added]

The Steelers are fully committed to Gilbert, and he will get more than one game to prove himself at right tackle. [Scott then clarifies that if Gilbert cannot cut the mustard, the Steelers remain open to bringing in Adams or Starks, and money will not be an issue.]
Scott Brown obviously changed his story for a reason. He does not cite any sources directly or indirectly in his “Steel Mill Post” be he is obviously getting new, and very different information from somewhere, most likely inside the Steelers organization.

A Peek Behind the Scenes at the South Side

Steelers Nation is of course most concerned about who plays not how the stories break that reveal that information. Fair enough.

But this little incident provides the inquiring reader with a peek into what goes on behind the scenes at the South Side.

Bouchette and Brown both obviously talked with Flozell Adam’s agent, who let it be known that he’d talked to the Steelers. How much more he told them we’ll never know.

But if both men went into their conversations with the assumption that the Steelers had called Flozell, Jordan Woy did nothing to dissuade them. Ditto any assumptions about no deal being imminent.

Scott Brown did not stop there, however. He went digging for more facts, presumptively in an attempt to verify the story. And what he learned upon further review reversed just about all of the conventional assumptions underlying the story.

Kudos to you, Mr. Brown, you out hustled “The Dean” of the Pittsburgh press corps. yet again.

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

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Marcus Gilbert to Start, Jaymon Meredith Signs, Willie Colon to IR

Willie Colon’s comeback lasted all of one game. The Steelers starting right tackle tore his triceps in the Debacle in Baltimore and had surgery to repair the injury and Colon will finish the season on the injured reserve list the second consecutive year.

Although Colon just signed a 4 year deal with the team, he should be weary given the Steelers penchant for cutting offensive lineman long before their contracts expire.

To take his spot on the roster, the Steelers signed journey man offensive tackle Jaymon Meredith. The Green Bay Packers signed Meredith in the 5th round of the 2009 NFL draft, but he did not make the squad, catching on instead with Buffalo, where he became acquainted with Steelers offensive line coach Sean Kugler.

After playing time in 2009 with the Bills, Meredith suited up for a few contests with both the Bills and the New York Giants.

Marcus Gilbert to Get First Shot at Starting

Mike Tomlin confirmed that in Colon’s absence, 2nd round pick Marcus Gilbert will get the first shot at starting. It is not known who would be Marcus’ prime competition at the spot as the Steelers are short at both talent and depth along the entire offensive line.

Stark Absence of Flozell

Perhaps the biggest news to come out of the South Side is what didn’t happen in the wake of Willie Colon’s injury. The Steelers at this time will neither attempt to bring back Max Starks nor Flozell Adams.

The Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette confirmed that the Steelers had had talk with Adams’ agent, but that those talks did not go to any great depths. Bouchette opined in his weekly PG Plus chat that the Max Starks era in Pittsburgh was over.

This is only speculation on Steel Curtain Rising’s part, but Flozell Adams was due to make 5 million this year before the Steelers cut him. Adams presumptively wants something close to that sum to return. Whether the Steelers are unwilling to pay him, unable to pay him due to salary cap limitations, or simply uninterested is also unknown.

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Watch Tower: Did the Steelers Drink the "Baltimore Breeze" Kool Aid?

Bill Cowher was almost as famous for his clichés as he was his chin. An apt one in the wake of the debacle in Baltimore is:

“Never spend too much time reading your own press clippings.”

Cowher should know. Over confidence was his teams’ Achilles heel during the ‘90’s.

Although “trap games” bedeviled Mike Tomlin in ’07 and ’09, I don’t know if strictly speaking, over confidence was an issue.

That may have been part of the equation leading to the total breakdown in Baltimore.

First, consider the narrative leading into the game:

  • The Ravens couldn’t beat Roethlisberger
  • Flacco couldn’t beat the Steelers
  • The lockout = minimal roster turnover good
  • Ravens had lots of roster turnover (think bad)
  • Ravens had serious upheaval on their offensive line
  • Ravens so desperate that they had to pull left tackle Bryant McKinnie off of the scrap heap

The Watch Tower feels confident in pronouncing that none of this, not an iota, made its way into Mike Tomlin’s consciousness.

IF there is an NFL coach who cares less about what the opinions, interpretations, and pronouncements of the media than Mike Tomlin I don’t know who that person is.

But Tomlin is only one employee. Consider that:

  • He's got 12 coaches on his staff
  • The Steelers 2010 Media Guide lists bios for 22 other scouts, assistants and other front office personnel
  • 53 players plus 8 practice squad players
  • The same Media Guide also devotes two compelte pages of small print listing other team employees
Did any of them imbibe on the breeze through Baltimore Kool Aid inspite of the best wishes and intentions of their head coach?

Social Media and Pro Football Press Coverage

A mere ten years ago an objective observer from outside the organization could only say “You know, you raise a legitimate question, but there’s no real answer to that question, only speculation. Thanks for playing.”

Today in 2011, by virtue of social media, things are a little different.

For starters, the Pittsburgh media bought into this story line hook line and sinker. Some in the Steelers Press Corps stopped just short of openly deriding Baltimore’s personnel moves and subsequent situation.

Particular attention was heaped on the Bryant McKinnie pick up. None of this is new, but a curious Tweet caught my attention just before kickoff. It read:
The word in Baltimore is that LT Bryant McKinnie's weight "is in the 360s." He didn't played a snap all preseason.
Had Ed Bouchette, Scott Brown, Dale Lolley, or Jim Wexell tweeted this they’d just be using the new media to pass on a factoid.

But the Tweeter didn’t originate from the main stream press nor a blogger.

It came from the Steelers Digest, the in house publication. The Digest has been in publication since the late ‘80’s, and yours truly has subscribed since 1990. Its generally a good publication and more objective than it is given credit for.

But the Rooneys sign the paychecks of the paper’s editorial staff. And while 140 characters don’t leave room for a lot of subtexts, this tweet was not meant to complement McKinnie.

This at least raises that possibility that at least some portion of the Steelers organization jumped on the Bash Baltimore bandwagon.

That in and of itself is pretty thin evidence, even if it is drawing on some “hard” information Steelers Nation would not have had a mere decade ago.

But something in Ed Bouchette’s post-game summary on PG Plus also raises an eyebrow:

Troy Polamalu had an interesting line after the game. I did not hear him say it but it was on one of those quote sheets they pass out in the press box after the game. So, I'll just have to take it how it reads (they tape record player interviews and type up their comments) without any voice reflection or context.

He said this: "It's incredibly humbling which, obviously, we needed at this point . . . It'll be interesting to see how we perservere. [sic] This is a big step towards humility.''

They needed to be humbled? I need to remember to ask him why next time I see Polamalu. Were they too cocky, too confident, too full of themselves as the reigning AFC champs? I thought the Packers might have knocked that out of them. Remember the nameplate from the Super Bowl losing locker room that Ben R. said he hangs next to his bathroom mirror so it reminds him daily of that loss?
Bouchette’s pretty clear that he cannot give this quote any context, and Polamalu for one is the same guy who said the Steelers defense would improve with Tyronne Carter starting in his place and didn’t think he deserved the 2010 team MVP honors.

At the end of the day this all still amounts to speculation, albeit speculation support with a modicum of factual evidence.

But one must suppose that such “they were over looking them” explinations make such a horrendous loss just a little more palatable.

Thumbs Up for “After Further Review”

Scott Brown is getting some help on the Tribune Review’s Steelers beat in the form of regular articles and posts by Mark Kaboly.

One of Kaboly’s regular features is “After Further Review” posted on the site’s "Steel Mill Blog," which breaks down the video tape after each loss.

It was a welcome feature during the preseason for those of us who could not see the games.

His breakdown of the Raven’s game in "After Further Review" was excellent, and confirmed a lot of things that had occurred to me watching the game. Its quite common for bloggers to go back and TiVo Steelers game and return with all sorts of analysis.

We’d love to do that here on Steel Curtain Rising but simply do not have time.

After one game, Kaboly’s “After Further Review” serves as the perfect substitute.

In keeping with Steel Curtain Rising's policy of not stealing another writer’s thunder I won’t go into details about his analysis, but I will say that those looking for scapegoats would be wrong to focus soley on Jonathan Scott and Doug Legursky (and yes, yours truly singled both of those men out.)

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

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Willie Colon Tears Triceps (Likely) Headed For IR

The news from France is very bad” – Winston Churchill, 1940 just before the British were overrun and forced flee France at Dunkirk

Already reeling from their first opening day loss in 8 years and the worst defeat of the Mike Tomlin era at the hands of the arch rival Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers got more bad news on Monday.

Numerous reports have confirmed that starting right tackle Willie Colon has torn his triceps muscle. Colon’s agent has confirmed the injury and informed the press that Colon will have surgery tomorrow and will likely miss the season.

This is a bad break for Colon, who sat out the entire 2010 season with an Achillies injury. Its also a bad break for the Steelers who just committed big money to a player who now appears to have suffered his second season-ending injury in as many years….

In the questions posed in the Ravens game summery, Steel Curtain Rising asked whether the signing of Troy Polamalu would allow the leave the Steelers with enough salary cap money to consider bringing back Flozell Adams and/or Max Starks in light of the horrendous play of the offensive line.

That question came before Colon’s injury was known.

Now it appears that the Steelers have been left with no choice but to look into the matter. Ed Bouchette has confirmed on Twitter that Flozell Adam’s agent admits to having been contacted by the Steelers.

Not a moment too soon.

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Steelers Report Card from the Ravens Route

Anyone who has ever worked on the teaching side of a class room can tell you that grading can be the most difficult and often times depressing aspect of education. Issuing the Steelers report card for their 35-7 debacle in Baltimore isn’t difficult at all but certainly depresses.

As usual, we offer the standard caveat that no other grades were consulted.

Has Ben Roethlisberger had a worse game? The ’06 game at Oakland might be a close second, but that’s about it. Ben threw 3 picks fumbled 2 and a half times, and far too many of his passes were wildly in accurate. Grade: F

Running Backs
Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman ran well but their opportunities were too limited to allow them to be a factor. Mewelde Moore looked good catching passes, until he fumbled. The fumble had zero impact on the outcome, but it was endemic of the malaise that infected the entire team. Grade: C
Wide Receivers
If there was any bright spot for the Steelers on Sunday, it was the wide receivers. Mike Wallace showed he was more than a one-note Johnny, Manny Sanders looked sharp on the only TD, Health Miller and Hines Ward were their reliable selves. Grade: B

Offensive Line
The Steelers will go no where if line play does not improve. The Ravens owned the Steelers backfield through and through. Jonathan Scott looked like he should be a back up in Buffalo instead of blocking Terrell Suggs. The team’s weakest unit turned in a thoroughly poor performance. Grade: F

Defensive Line
No one runs on the Steelers right? Think again. Ray Rice and Ricky Williams gouged the Steelers. Cycling in Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward helped not at all. Flacco had a spacious pocket to throw from. This line looked like a group of amaturs, not one made up of seasoned veterans. Grade: F

The strength of the team? Could have fooled me. James Harrison was ineffective, but at least he has back surgery as an excuse. Timmons, Woodley, Foote and Farrior were non-factors and that is generous: Grade F
Yes, Ike Taylor erased Lee Taylor from the field. Everyone else stunk. Joe Flacco hit who he wanted, when he wanted to hit them. Grade: F

Special Teams
Spare the talk about Antonio Browns fancy foot work, Dan Sepulveda’s long punts, the touchbacks or the work of the coverage units. This unit gave up a two point conversion run by a punter who was holding on a kick formation. Inexcusable. Grade: F
The Pittsburgh Steelers were not physically prepared, they were not mentally prepared, the coaching staff did not enter the game with a good game plan, they were completely unable to adjust and, worst of all, Baltimore simply wanted it more. Other than that, Mike Tomlin and his coaches did a great job. Grade: F

Unsung Hero
Ike Taylor has rightfully won recognition for his play against Lee Evans, so that leaves Isaac Redman as the team’s unsung hero. He only had a few carries, but he ran hard and delivered on all of them, including a third down conversion.

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Monday, September 12, 2011

Ravens Run Roughshod Over Steelers 35-7

In 2000, the last time (that I saw) the Steelers open vs. the Ravens, Baltimore kicked Pittsburgh’s teeth in to the tune of 16-0, and folks, the score makes that one look closer than it was.

That was also the last Steelers opener I saw on US soil.

The only opener I’ve seen in 10 years from Argentina was the 30-14 “dread the spread” drubbing the Steelers took at the hands of the New England Patriots in 2002.

One thing gets lost in the afterglow of winning 8 straight openers is that conclusions drawn from opening day thrashings are tricky at best.

While the 2000 opener did signal the Ravens’ rise, those who accepted the opening day shutout as confirmation that Cowher Power was dead were sorely mistaken.

On the flip side, while the Steelers rebounded to finish the 2002 season one bogus roughing the kicker penalty away from the AFC Championship game, New England nonetheless exposed the fact that Lee Flowers, Chad Scott, Dwayne Washington and Brent Alexander could no longer anchor a shut secondary.

In to which category can we put the 35-7 romping the Ravens visited upon the Steelers? Is it just a blip that the Steelers will bounce back from, or does the Ravens dominating performance signal a power shift in the AFC North?

For better or for worse those answers will be largely known by the time the Ravens come to Heinz Field on November 6th, but until then here are some thoughts early thoughts based on today’s game.

Ravens Hit Steelers Head On

When you want to make a statement that you’re the baddest boy on the block not only do you directly attack your opponent, you attack his greatest area of strength head on. If you succeed there, then you systematically exploit his weaknesses.

The Ravens opened running the ball directly at the Steelers right side, anchored by James Harrision, as Ray Rice ripped off 36 yards on the first play from scrimmage. One play later Joe Flacco threw a picture perfect pass past Bryant McFadden to Antwan Boildin for a 27 yard touchdown.

The strength of the Cowher-Capers-LeBeau-Tomlin 3-4 zone blitz defense has been its ability to stop the run, and then dare the opponents to pass. Steelers have done the former so well so well that in recent years few teams have even bothered to running. As Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers revealed, stopping the pass as been a weakness of the Steelers.

In just three plays, the Ravens made a statement that set the tone for the entire game. They attacked the Steelers defense’s supposed strength, and exploited its known weakness.

Steelers Nation prides itself on defense, but it had accepted, however reticently in some quarters, that a high-octane passing game led by Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, Health Miller and the “Young Money” would compensate for a decline in pass defense.

That’s a nice idea in principle, but it is predicated on the Steelers ability to contain Terrell Suggs, Ray Lewis, and Haloti Ngata’s presence in the backfield. Keeping the ball out of Ed Reed’s hands would also be, advisable.

The Steelers did neither of those things. Lewis, Nagata, and Suggs imposed their will on the Steelers offense, and Ed Reed had one of his biggest games against Pittsburgh in recent memory.
The unfortunate aspect to the Steelers failure on offense wasn’t simply their inability to execute, but that Cam Cameron and John (don’t call him Jim) Harbaugh had clearly out game planed them.

The Steelers threw the ball 41 times and only rushed it 16, including one scramble by Ben. Perhaps that run-pass ratio is a little distorted by some excess garbage time throws, but Rashard Mendenhall ran fairly well as did Issac Redman.

The Steelers clearly entered the game intending to air the ball out, but failed to make adjustments when that wasn’t working.

Where To Go From Here?

The Ravens won this round by a clean knockout.

Fortunately for the Steelers this fight is scheduled for another 15 rounds. The Ravens certainly wish them no well in this regard, but Baltimore has helped clarify some of the questions the Steelers must answer as they look toward rounds 2-15.

  • How much of the Raven’s ability to both dominate the line of scrimmage and protect its quarterback was due to the drop off in play by James Harrison?

  • Say the line, and not Harrison, gets the blame for failing to stop the run. Hood and Heyward give the Steelers options on the outside, but what do they do if Big Snack’s play is dropping off?

  • Both Jonathan Scott and Doug Legursky looked lost at times against the likes of Suggs and Nagata, how long of a leash do these men get?
  • (See above question first). Now that the Steelers signed Troy Polamalu, does the salary cap afford them the luxury of picking up the red phone to Max Starks and/or Flozell Adams?

  • The Steelers have the weapons to mount a balanced attack on offense. Is the offensive staff willing and able to take a balanced approach?

There are other questions of course, but these are the big ones.

Streak Ends at 8, But Their Was Life Before Then

After winning 8 straight opening games the Steelers were bound to lose one, and lose they did to the Ravens in dramatic fashion.

Credit the Ravens. They planned for victory, they prepared for victory, they went out and seized victory and never looked back. But Baltimore gets no style points added for winning in such impressive fashion just as Pittsburgh gets no extra points deducted for falling so flat on their faces.

Fans now forget, but opening day debacles were more or less a stable of Bill Cowher’s first ten seasons. The lesson to take is that an opening day debacle doesn’t have to spell doom for the rest of the season if the guys in the locker room react appropriately.

Mike Tomlin’s imperative is to see that they do.

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Saturday, September 10, 2011

Steelers Sign Troy Polamalu to 4 Year Extension

Troy Polamalu has a knack for saving games at the 11th Hour. The Steelers it seems, are about to repay him in kind.

The Post-Gazette, as well as numerous other sources are reporting that the Steelers have reached an agreement to extend Troy Polamalu’s contract through the 2014 season. Steelers Digest confirmed the report, indicating the Polamalu signed the extension prior to boarding the team's charter for Baltimore.

Change of Heart?

When news broke that the two sides were negotiating, Steel Curtain Rising weighed in against making the move now, simply because it seemed questionable to commit big, guaranteed dollars to a player with mounting injuries.

Moreover, the Steelers had given indications that the “vault was closed” after having dished out hefty signing bonuses to stars such as Ike Taylor, Willie Colon, LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons. It made more financial sense to wait.

Obviously Art Rooney II, Omar Khan, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin thought differently.

Reversal of History?

As everyone knows, the Steelers didn’t draft Dan Marino who went to Miami, and it took 20 years and a kid from Miami, Ohio to live down that mistake.

The back story of rumors about Marino’s involvement with drugs along with contradicting confirmations and rejections by Chuck Noll and Art Rooney Jr. are also well known.

But the back story runs deeper.

After the Steelers selected Gabe Rivera in the first round of the 1983 draft, John Clayton, then writing for the Pittsburgh Press, suggested to Dan Rooney that the Steelers get Marino trade back into the first round by packaging Cliff Stoudt and some picks for Miami’s first.

Word is that Chuck Noll and the other Steelers coaches embraced the idea, until Rooney mentioned its source, which killed the deal before it even got started.

Jim Wexell, of both Steelers Digest and Steel City Insider has suggested several times this off season that the Steelers dare not make the same mistake with Polamalu that they made with Rod Woodson.

Did someone on the South Side lend their ear to Wexell?

I have no inside information that this is the case, but it is an interesting enough possibility to throw out there.

Good Football Move

How the Steelers arrived at the decision to resign Troy Polamalu is less important than why they resigned him.

And that reason is simple.

Every generation boasts a handful of players who possess the rare combination of athleticism, skill, dedication, and “on the field presence” that allows them to change the course of games with a single play.

The Steelers of the 70’s had at least a half dozen – something you’ll never see again. Rod Woodson was one such player.

And so is Troy Polamalu

Although I questioned the wisdom of when the Steelers should resign Polamalu, it was always a question of when and not if.

Troy Polamalu is truly a special player and the Steelers have just taken steps to ensure he plays his entire NFL career in Pittsburgh.

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Super Bowl XLV from the Tabapitanga, Porto Galinhas; Brazil

Regular readers undoubtedly noted Steel Curtain Rising’s conspicuous dearth of commentary both before and after Super Bowl XLV. And before the Steelers set out in their quest to capture Super Bowl XLVI I'd like to pause for a moment to explain why.

A hellish work schedule prevented me from posting much in week following the Steelers victory over the Jets in the AFC Championship. A vacation during Super Bowl week at the Tabapitanga en Porto Galinhas, Brazil, prevented me from entering into the pre-game fray.

The Tabapitanga is a truly wonderful resort where my wife and I got some sorely needed downtime during a restful week that some unexpected, and unfortunate events, the least of which was missing the Super Bowl…

Super Bowl Week in the Tropics

As fate would have it, the only week available for our vacation was Super Bowl week.

But, we spent the run up to Super Bowl XLIII in Tandil and that Super Bowl XLIII turned out pretty good for the Steelers, so the thought was, “Why not?”

It seemed that we’d be able to watch the game on TV there (far from a certainty in Brazil). With that in mind we packed up and headed off to Brazil, leaving the lap top at home.

Porto Galinhas is a true tropical paradise. My wife and I did some snorkeling and did some other touristy things, but mainly we just crashed on the beach.

I’d put out feelers on Behind the Steel Curtain and the folks at the Post-Gazette's Blog'N Gold had also published a request for recommendations on where to see the game.

In Rio or Sao Paulo seeing the Super Bowl would not have been a problem, but Porto Galinhas is a small town, and the night ends early there.

Still, the resort had cable, and a good friend of mine from work who is Brazilian called ahead to check to see if they were carrying the game and we were pretty sure they had the channel that was showing the game.

No Super Bowl in Porto Galinhas - The Least of Our Problems

On Friday I decided double check that I’d be able to see the game, and to my chagrin, the resort did not carry BandSports the only (and seemingly little known) channel showing the Super Bowl in Brazil.

That worry faded in importance as my wife felt a sharp pinch in her back while reaching for a towel coming out of the shower on Friday morning.

For the first two days the pain was manageable and reduced to discomfort with a few ibuprofen.

On Super Bowl Sunday things began to change. Not only did the pain worsen, but my wife began “dragging” one of her feet when she walked.

Up until this point, I’d been thoroughly impressed by the hospitality of the staff at the Tabapitanga, but on Super Bowl Sunday they went above and beyond.

First, a wonderful staffer named Alice checked around to see if any of the other nearby resorts were carrying the game. They weren’t.

Then she did something which bowled me over. She loaned us her personal laptop to see if we could watch a live feed. (Can you imagine a US hotel worker loaning a foreigner a personal laptop to watch World Cup Soccer?)

Several options were available some free, others requiring purchase of the NFL Live Pass. But there was no way I was going to abuse the generosity of Alice by installing some unknown software on her machine.

We had to settle for a live feed of WDVE’s radio commentary. It was frustrating not being able to see the game, and of course the first half was painful to listen to.

But by half time it became obvious that the real pain was in my wife’s back – I even suggested shutting down the computer and calling a Dr.

In a ironic twist of fate, we could see the ESPN’s game by game text feed before we could hear the radio commentary – so we learned of some of the Steelers frantic late-game successes before we heard of them.

On the last drive I insisted we minimize the text feed, and just listen. Ben’s second last minute Super Bowl comeback was never meant to be.

The Day After

Unfortunately my wife’s condition worsened the day after. And again the staff at the Tabapitanga exceeded all expectations, attempting to call in a house Dr, helping with the travelers insurance.

Alice, the same woman who’s loan us her laptop, sat with my wife as I struggled to figure out who to get her help and/or who we were going to get back to Buenos Aires. The Tabapitanga even opened up an other ground floor room that my wife could wait in without needing to climb the stairs.
Alice, a mesma mulher que nos empréstou o seu laptop,... ela ficou com minha esposa enquanto eu pedia ajuda para saber se iríamos voltar para Buenos Aires. A Pousada Tabapitanga ate abriu uma sala em outro andar térreo para que minha esposa pudesse esperar sem a necessidade de subir as escadas.

To the staff at the Tabapitanga let me say this:

Thank you Alice, thank you Bruno, to thank you to everyone at the Tabapitanga who was so kind, caring and generous during a very difficult day. To anyone interested in staying at the Tabapitanga, let me just say the resort is beautiful and the service there goes above and beyond the call of simple hospitality. Thank you.
Obrigado Alice. Obrigado Bruno. Queremos agradecer a todos no Tabapitanga, que foram tão gentis, atenciosos e generosos durante um dia muito difícil para nos. Para qualquer pessoa interessada em ficar no Tabapitanga, deixe-me dizer que o resort é bonito eo serviço vai acima e além da melhor hospitalidade . Muito Obrigado.

We made it back to Buenos Aires with some difficulty, but we did make it back on schedule. I’d forgotten to record the game, and I supposed that is just as well. I decided that given everything that happened, my watching Super Bowl XLV isn’t meant to be.

Hopefully Super Bowl XLVI will bear different fruit.

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Friday, September 9, 2011

Keys to the Steelers Success in 2011

The 2011 NFL regular season is now upon us.

The Steelers 2011 off season started in Dallas on the sour note Super Bowl XLV’s final gun. Since then, collegiate pre-draft visits, NFL Owners-NFLPA labor mediation, the lockout, the draft, training camp, free agent signings, and preseason have occupied the attention of Steelers Nation.

All of that is well and good, but the hopes of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2011 come down to two words: Balance and Opportunity.

Pittsburgh and the Punditry

To read what’s written in some quarters the Steelers are more likely to contend for the first draft pick and Lombardi Number Seven this season.

The litany of the Steelers sins goes something like this:

  • The defense is too old,
  • James Harrison isn’t fully recovered from back surgery
  • The Steelers have one viable corner when three are needed
  • Pittsburgh has no offensive line strategy
Either collectively or individually these issues could derail the Steelers season. But every NFL team has strengths and weaknesses – the question as always lies in how you deal with them.

Black and Gold and the Mean Between Two Extremes

Aristotle taught that virtue is about moderating between two extremes. The Steelers success or failure in 2011 will be measured by their ability to do that on the football field.

Age Meets Maturity

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense is the NFL’s oldest. This will matter for little if the Steelers match age with maturity.

3 of the last 4 of Aaron Smith’s seasons have ended in injury. And he’s a year older.
  • Ziggy Hood is also a year older – and a year better. Ditto Steve McClendon.
If the Steelers can rotate Smith, McClendon, and 1st round draft pick Cam Heyward, they can benefit from the energy that youth brings and the wisdom of aging veterans.

Don’t Be Timid About Putting Your Foote Forward

James Harrison’s recovery from back surgery is a serious issue, and Jason Worilds isn’t ready for Prime Time.
  • Perhaps its time for a change up in rhythm at OLB and
  • maybe Larry Foote becomes the unit's unsung hero
Over the last three years, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley have unleash fury on opposing quarterbacks unlike no other outside linebacking duo. But their play has followed a similar pattern – Harrison starts out strong then tapers off while Woodley starts slow and finishes with a bang.

2011 would seem to be an appropriate time to reverse that pattern.

That only works if James Harrison back can heal in the middle of the rigors of an NFL season, which might be totally unrealistic.

If that turns out to be the case and the pass rush suffers, then Dick LeBeau needs to balance the situation by inserting Larry Foote into the lineup and begin working Lawrence Timmons into the rotation at outside linebacker.

Finding Equilibrium Between Coverage and Pressure

It’d be nice to think that the Steelers can get contributions from Curtis Brown or Cortez Allen the way they got them from Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown last year.

And that might happen, but Dick LeBeau cannot bank on it.

But the Steelers corners were good enough to get them to the Super Bowl last year. To transform a Super Bowl appearance into a win Dick LeBeau need to cleverly disguise coverages and pressure schemes. Perhaps no where is the Aristotelian concept of virtue more applicable than here. LeBeau needs to finely calibrate the mix.

Be that as it may, as Mike Tomlin says, “schemes are overrated."

Dick LeBeau and Carnell Lake are smart enough to get their players in position, but the Steelers corners must execute and, yes, Troy Polamlau must stay healthy.

Sean Kugler Must Do His Thing

Injuries kept the Steelers offensive line in almost constant disarray last year, yet offensive line coach Sean Kugler shifted guys in and out of position all year long, some times on a series-by-series if not play by play basis.

Having just written extensively on Behind the Steel Curtain about the Steelers offensive line, there isn’t much more to say here.

The Steelers have won pretty big with their “situational offensive line strategy” of late. Kugler is no stranger to balancing personnel against constantly shifting needs and that trait should continue to serve him and the Steelers well in 2011.

Opportunity Knocks

It is so important that pull off the balancing feats indicated above, because their Super Bowl window remains open.

Super Bowl windows are temperamental things. Sometimes they slam shut quickly, as they did for Tampa Bay after 2002.

Other times they remain, or appear to remain, open indefinitely is it did for the Dallas Cowboys who made Super Bowl appearances in ’75, ’77, ’78 and then tantalized their fans with NFC Conference Championship in ’80, ’81, and ’82 before fading into the mid-80’s.

The Steelers have their Super Bowl window of opportunity and they must seize it.

Book makers would say the percentages are against this happening.
  • ...Only a handful of recent Super Bowl losers even made it to the playoffs in the succeeding season.
  • ...The 1971 Dallas Cowboys were the last team to flip their Super Bowl fortunes for the better in a single season.
  • ...Wikipedia, that ever infalable source, even has its own “Super Bowl Losers Curse” page.
And that’s what makes the Steelers situation so beautiful because you needn't bother breathing a word of that to Mike Tomlin.

He doesn’t care.

The Past is the Past. They Don’t Write Our Story, We Write Our Own Story.

And he’s right.

To bring home Lombardi Number Seven the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers might need to walk a few tight ropes, but their destiny is in their hands.

Sunday against the Ravens we’ll began to see what the Steelers can make of that destiny.

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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Steelers Negotiations with Polamalu Puzzle

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Ed Bouchette dropped a minor bombshell this morning when reported that the Steelers are attempting to secure a long term deal with All Pro starting strong Safety Troy Polamalu.

The move is puzzling for many reasons.

The Steelers wrapped up an aggressive free agent signing spree when they locked up Lawrence Timmons a few weeks ago. All indications were that the Steelers were done until the 2012 off season.

That seemed to be a prudent move on many fronts, not the least of which is financial.

Troy Polamalu is one of the greatest game-changing players in the league today, and a healthy Polamalu is an essential part to any Steelers plans to dominate via defense.

The key word is healthy.

Troy Polamalu as been likened by From Black to Gold author Tim Gleason to an European sports car that dominates the road it rides on but is all too often in the shop.

Polamalu has been injured often in recent seasons, and his explosive style of play combined with his 30th birthday do not figure to make him more durable in the future.

Any agreement between the Steelers and Polamalu would come with a hefty signing bonus, one that the Steelers would be left on the hook for were Polamalu to be injured during the upcoming season.

The Steelers cannot afford to lose Polamalu, but they will be able to use the franchise tag to keep him under contract for 2012.

Like Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu is one player for whom ever effort should be made to allow him to retire as a Steeler. But neither a football or a business case exists to justify the Steelers attempt to sign him before the 2011 commences.

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