´ Steel Curtain Rising: September 2012

Who gets the game ball for the win over the Colts?

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Watch Tower: Scab Referee, '87 Strike, Todd Haley, and More...

Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower has been quiet for a while, mainly because there’s a lot going on in life. No issue has dominated the news as the replacement referees have, so that’s where the Watch Tower first shines its light.

AP, ESPN Ignore the 4th Time Out Awarded to Houston vs. the 1989 Steelers

Regular readers know that the 1989 Steelers are near and dear to Steel Curtain Rising. So what could they possibly have to do with the replacement refs?

Well, the biggest news flub early on by the scab refs was the 4th Time Out they awarded to Seattle in their loss to Arizona in week 1. However, the Associated Press article that ESPN ran was more problematic:  Refs Error in Arizona Third of its Kind.

ESPN Inaccurate on 4th Time Out

The article discusses the extra timeouts the Cleveland Browns and Baltimore Ravens got in 2003 and 2009 respectively. But to read the headline and story, those were the only times such errors occurred in NFL history.

It happened at least once before, on December 3rd 1989 in Three Rivers Stadium when the Houston Oilers got an extra time out on a touchdown drive in a Oilers 23-16 victory over the Steelers. Chuck Noll protested and fired off an apology letter to the league, which admitted the error, not that much could be done about it….

Seattle Seahawks Fans Can Shut Up Now

Of course the biggest news relating to the scab refs was the highway robbery in the form of a Seahawks touchdown instead of a Packers interception.

That blow call generated a lot of Sound and Fury (not to mention a quick agreement between the NFL and its officials), but no one had a more astute observation than my good friend Tony Defeo on “Pittsburgh Best Sports Blog” where he contrasted how Seahawks fans are fine with this blow call, but still whine about Super Bowl XL.

Is there a living soul in Steeler Nation who isn’t sick of hearing the Seahawk’s unending excuse making for losing Super Bowl XL? To listen to them, you’d think that Willie Parker’s 75 yard run came on a questionable call.

As Tony succinctly  concluded, “Seahawks fans need to be very quiet now.”

It’s mildly ironic that Defeo would make such an observation, because in early August, he wrote an excellent tongue and cheek article in Behind the Steel Curtain panning the possibility that scab refs could do much worse than the regular season refs by invoking the interception that Troy Polamalu had stolen from him in the 2005 AFC Divisional playoffs thanks to incompetent use of instant replay.

If you don’t remember the play, check it out here, but do it while you can (available 9/29/12). With the official lockout settled, Goodell now has the time to unleash his YouTube police:

Replacement Refs, What about Replacement Players?

Whether it was editorial coincidence or editorial competition, last Sunday the Post Gazette and Tribune Review featured dueling stories recounting the 1987 players strike.

Both articles were fairly general. Both pointed out that John Stallworth caught his 500th pass from a scab quarterback. Bouchette reminded us that the Steelers refunded tickets, unlike other teams, and that for a time admitted that their sellout record had been broken, although they claim otherwise today.

Robinson went further back, discussing both the ’87 and ’82 strike, and unearthed a story of Steve Courson and Gary Dunn hearing WTAE rebroadcast a Steelers game from a previous season while in the car, and racing back to Pittsburgh thinking a deal had been reached and that they were missing a game. My, how did we live without cell phones and the internet….

Both men wrote good stories, but both left one of the juiciest quotes on the table. It was Christmas time in 1987, and I was sitting with my father and grandfather in some second story waiting room in an office off of Brownsville Road in Carrick, thumbing through the year end edition of Pittsburgh Magazine, when I saw, if memory serves, this priceless gem:

“Yeah, Malone threw one too. But he missed.”

The caption read something on the order of, “A fan recounts striking Steelers pelting Ernest Jackson’s van with Jelly doughnuts as he cross the picket line.”

Mark Malone started all 12 of the 1987 Steelers non-strike games and finished the ’87 season with a 46.7 passer rating….

Haley Holds Court

No off season topic generated as much noise as the decision to fire Bruce Arians and replace him with Todd Haley. Haley returned to Pittsburgh with a checkered past and was known as one who often had trouble working and playing well with others.

The Steelers press office has taken a very proactive approach to diffusing the issue. In PG Plus, Ed Bouchette has lamented several times that under Mike Tomlin the Steelers have been reluctant to grant media access to assistant coaches.

That has not been the case this year. By all appearances, during training camp the press had free access to Todd Haley, and he’s been interviewed regularly since the season started.

While the Watch Tower certainly does not have the time to do any sort of formal count, one is not needed to see that Haley was quoted during training camp more often than Tomlin himself.

The big issue was how would Ben Roethlisberger and Haley co-exist. There’ve been a number of attempts to extrapolate on some of the things Roethlisberger has said to indicate tension. But so far the story has gained no traction.

Part of it is because Ben has immediately shot down such talk. But keeping Haley in front of the microphones also lends a ton of credibility to Roethlisberger’s denials.

It’s still early, but score one win for the Steelers PR team.

Carson Palmer Gets the Last Laugh

This had no impact on the game itself, but both the Post Gazette’s Blog and Gold and Behind the Steel Curtain ran profiles on Carson Palmer’s past, and often miserable, experience vs. the Steelers.

The Steelers play former players all of the time, but Palmer was a little different, in that he’s the first ex AFC North QB to face off against the Steelers in another division. And of course Palmer got the last laugh in the Raider’s victory.

Steelers Problems with Stringing Three Strong Seasons Together

Prior to the season, the media never tired of reminding Steeler Nation that the Steelers have trouble putting three strong seasons in a row. Steel Curtain Rising blasted already blasted this on the merits its preseason analysis.

Its understandable that the press would mention this recent tendency, but sometimes things go too far. Case in point, in his preseason predictions, Alan Robinson mentioned this tendency twice in his 5 arguments against the Steelers winning the Super Bowl.

Ben No Longer a Game Closer? + Timmons Troubles

No one is a better come from behind artist than Ben Roethlisberger, right?

Dale Lolley points out that Ben Roethlisberger failed to rally the Steelers against Oakand, and that in the last two seasons, he’s only done that once.

While I think this is more of a coincidence than anything else, Lolley’s the first person in the Pittsburgh press corps to make this observation, and it is a story that bears watching.

Lolley also came up with some interesting stats on Lawrence Timmons.
[Woodley] was still better than Timmons, who had three tackles. In fact, after recording seven sacks and four forced fumbles in 2009, Timmons has five sacks and two forced fumbles - in the past two-plus seasons.
That hurts. Do numbers lie?

Not exactly, but for all of his splash plays in 2009, Timmons was inconsistent. In contrast, he played extremely well in 2010, even if he lacked the “Splash” plays.

However, Lolley is dead on in concluding that right now the Steelers aren’t getting their money’s worth out of Timmons.

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

Friday, September 28, 2012

Jerome Bettis, Kevin Greene, and Bill Cowher Headline NFL Hall of Fame Ballot

Its only September, but the Pro Football Hall of Fame has already announced its list of eligible candidates for its 2013 class. Could this be another Black and Gold strewn summer in Canton?

It certainly is possible as several high-profile Steelers lead the lists. The Steelers best shot is Jerome Bettis, who played in the NFL for 13 years and retired after Super Bowl XL. Currently Bettis remains 6th on the list of All Time NFL rushers.

The Steelers next shot is likely former Head Coach Bill Cowher, who coached in Pittsburgh from 1992 to 2006, a span where the franchise won more games than any other NFL franchise. During that time Cowher only had 3 losing seasons, earned 8 AFC Central/AFC North division championships, 10 playoff appearances, two AFC Championships, and of course Super Bowl XL.

Gary Anderson is likewise eligible. Anderson of course played for six different NFL teams, but kicked in Pittsburgh from 1982 to 1994.

Kevin Greene only played 3 of his 15 NFL seasons for the Pittsburgh Steelers, but it was in the Black and Gold that Greene first won national acclaim. The Steelers also give Greene his only Super Bowl appearances, which came in their losing effort in Super Bowl XXX. Greene, a member of the Dick LeBeau coaching tree, did get a return trip to the Super Bowl, serving as the linebackers coach for the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV.

Art Rooney Jr.'s name once again is appearing on the Hall of Fame ballot. Often overlooked, Art Rooney Jr. is Dan Rooney's younger brother, and directed the Steelers scouting department and had a HUGE hand in drafting the players that would from the Super Steelers, who went to the mountain top in Super Bowl IX, Super Bowl X, Super Bowl XIII, and Super Bowl XIV.

Rooney Jr. probably will not make it in -- but that is a crime. He deserves induction into Canton, alongside his brother and father.

The HOF list also includes one strong Pittsburgh connection. Buddy Parker, who coached the Steelers from 1967 to 1954, appears on the list.  Parker was below .500 with the Steelers, barely, but did win two NFL Championships while coaching the Detroit Lions.

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Thursday, September 27, 2012

James Harrison's Injury Lingers, Forcing Steelers to Rely on Worilds, Carter

The good news is that the James Harrison went through a full practice this week for the first time since Labor Day.

The bad news is that Harrison's surgically repaired knee did not respond well, and he sat out the next practice, as Ed Bouchette from the Post-Gazette reported via Twitter (which ESPN subsequently picked up).  As if you need to be told that, this ladies and gentleman, is really, really bad news.

Nary a season ago, linebacking was the strength of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Three games into the 2012 season finds linebacking bordering on being a liability.

The Steelers have mainly used third year man Jason Worilds and second year man Chris Carter in Harrison’s absence. Measured by pure stats, neither man has done much.

As tracked by Pro Football Reference, these are Chris Carter's 2012 numbers so far:

And, these are Jason Worild's 2012 numbers thus far:

Stats of course provide an incomplete picture.

Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain has credited Chris Carter with playing well in the Steelers “almost” goal line stand in the loss to Oakland. Worilds did make some noise in Denver, but the next time he was visible was on the face mask penalty that helped keep Oakland in the game.

Its true the experience will benefit Carter and that the team needs the exposure with Worlids, if for no other reason than to give him every last chance to justify the faith they showed in him when they drafted him in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft.

While it would be welcome to see either of these men step up, Harrison can give this defense a boost in a way that neither of them is likely to do at this stage of their careers. But the odds are that Harrison will remain in street clothes for a while longer.

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Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Steelers Report Card vs. Raiders @ Oakland

From the grade book of a teacher who worries that his star student capable of authoring an epic master piece will fall prey to failure due to poor attention to fundamental nuts and bolts issues, here goes the report card for the Steelers loss to the Raiders. Caveat, no other grades were consulted prior to this post.

Has Ben Roethlisberger ever played better? You’d be hard pressed to make that argument. Ben made good decisions, bought time with his feet, spread the ball around, coverted third downs and threw touchdowns.  Grade: A

Running Back
Baron Batch, Isaac Redman, and Chris Rainey all had some good individual runs. But again, consistence remained absent. Remove Roethlisberger’s scramble, and Pittsburgh for 44 yards. Total. The backs caught the ball well. But rushing is their primary role and never, have I ever seen a Steelers team run the ball so poorly. Run blocking is an issue, but someone must find a way to get it done.  Grade:  D

Wide Receivers
The stat sheets says this was another banner day for Young Money and company, and in many ways it was. Health Miller? All he does is make tough catches and catch touchdowns. But for a strong as this unit played at times, they did commit three fumbles, one quite costly and the other two indicated a lack of focus that plagued the team. The fact that the wide receivers are the strength of the team gives them no license to take plays off. Grade:  B-

Offensive Line
Another game and no major injuries, good. Another game and a sub 3 yards per carry rushing average, bad. Willie Colon committed a holding penalty when the team could least afford it and the only sack the unit gave up was later on that same drive when the Steelers needed to score. Strong pass protection is nothing to sneeze at, but more progress in the running game and more consistency in crucial moments are needed if the unit is to transform itself into an asset. Grade:  C

Defensive Line
The Steelers run defense contained the Raiders’ rushing attack. Except for the 64 yard run. Other than that Mrs. Lincoln, how was the… You get the picture. Statistics aside, this unit fails to distinguish itself. Ziggy Hood was supposed to have a break out year, instead he’s invisible. Brett Kesiel had gotten better with age, is age now getting the better of him? Individually the defensive lineman are not winning their match ups, collectively they’re getting no penetration.  Grade:  D

Why are the Steelers paying Lawrence Timmons 60 million dollars? Timmons is supposed to be the unit’s athlete, but Larry Foote, the man he made expendable, is out performing him. LaMarr Woodley made some noise, but mostly in the first half. Neither Jason Worilds nor Chris Carter come close to convincing anyone he’s James Harrison’s heir apparent. Carson Palmer picked the Steelers defense apart with audiles, the no huddle and short, quick release passes. Those are difficult to defend, but that’s what linebackers are paid to do.  Grade:  D

Even if the Steelers win the Super Bowl this year, no one will remember that the secondary helped force a few 1st half 3 and outs, they’ll recall the Raiders scoring  every second half possession. That’s the second time an offense has accomplished this feat. The secondary hardly deserves the all blame for that, but they sure could step up to contribute to a solution. Ryan Clark’s interception nudges this group’s grade up.  Grade:  D+

Special Teams
After two weeks of nearly flawless play special teams served up…. A touchdown nullified by a penalty, a 50 kickoff return, a 29 yard punt, and a facemask that puts the Steelers back to their own 8. You cannot hang all the blame for the loss here but, early on, special teams breakdowns gave the Raiders multiple chances to get back into the game when they were on the ropes. Grade:  D+

The fumbles, penalties, and special teams breakdowns indicated a chronic failure to focus. That blame falls squarely on Mike Tomlin’s shoulders. Any temptation to say “yeah, well that happens” should be met with the realization that losses to inferior opponents doomed the 2009 Steelers. Its hard fault Todd Haley, but he must take some blame for the running game. On defense, the Steelers are below the line. While execution is an issue, Palmer’s familiarity with Dick LeBeau’s offense keyed his success.  Grade:  D-

Unsung Hero
The unit did not escape criticism above, but the fact is that Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, and Health Miller cannot put up a fantasy owners dream come true like numbers of Number Seven is on the Ground. Pass protection needs to hold up better on key plays, but overall Ben is getting the time he needs to thrive, and for that the offensive line is the Unsung Hero of the Raiders game.

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Analysis de los Pittsburgh Steelers en Español!!!!

Welcome to Steel Curtain Rising's first full length post in Spanish - Many more returns. Muchas Gracias Gus! (To show only Steel Curtain Rising English language posts, click here.)

Impossible is nothing
  • Podes iniciar el partido lanzando una intercepción.
  • Podes correr el balón por 2.88 yds por acarreo y 49yds totales (si no se tiene en cuenta la gran corrida para TD de 64 yds)
  • Podes avanzar el balón 121 en yds totales menos que tu oponente.
  • Podes lanzar por 177 yds menos que el adversario.
  • Podes tener la pelota por un cuarto entero menos que ellos. Incluso podes pasar todo el partido (literalmente todo el juego) abajo en el marcador
  • Podés tener un Head Coach novato, jovencito que aún no conociera victoria...
Aún así podés ganar un partido. Porque Impossible is Nothing.

Los Steelers lo hicieron de nuevo.

Muchas veces uno queda pensando: Cómo se perdió este partido? Qué fue lo que pasó? Cuándo lo perdieron? Este fue uno de esos partidos.

(Nota de color: Sucedió que tuve que salir y dejar de ver el juego cuando faltaban 6 minutos para terminar el 3° cuarto, luego del TD de Gordon poniendo a Oakland en 21 puntos, tres menos que Pittsburgh. Más tarde, muy tarde, lo retomé y caí dormido con la notebook sobre mi falda para despertar cuando el marcador igualaba en 31...)
  • Qué pasó!?!?
No lo entendí. Me habían quedado grabadas, las reflexiones que se sucedían en mi mente mientras conducía mi auto, luego de haber salido y dejado el juego inconcluso. Daba por hecho que ese partido se ganaba: Big Ben pasaba por un gran momento, la defensa no le llegaba, no era acosado por linebackers furtivos. Tenía tiempo.
El Sr. Haley había encontrado la forma de dar un respiro a Roethlisberger. Había dispuesto que se realizarían pases cortos y rápidos, algunos de ellos laterales. También disponían de jugadas de engaño con el RB de turno lo cual distraía a la línea defensiva dando más espacio (Ben se desplazaba 2 ó 3 pasas más hacia atrás) y más tiempo para encontrar a sus receptores libres.

“No me imagino la vida sin Heath Miller” había dicho el QB acerero durante la semana. Y ya lo creo que no la imagina. Son un dúo temible. No sé si en toda la liga hay en la actualidad una dupla con semejante simbiosis.

Pero por otro lado, pensaba que los Steelers habían tenido solo 2 marchas contundentes de TD en toda la primera mitad, las dos primeras (TD, TD, Punt, Punt, Fumble, FG), dejando algunas dudas en el pecho de este aficionado. Porque no lograban alejarse de los Raiders, quienes a fuerza de acarreos de Mc Fadden y pases precisos de Palmer se mantenían en el juego. Eran marchas en espejo. Cada equipo lastimaba y se dejaba lastimar por su oponente de igual manera.

Ciertamente no me parece una mirada acertada plantear que solo los Steelers pierden el partido. Había un equipo delante. Un equipo que nunca fue herido de muerte, muy disciplinado, QUE NO COMETIÓ INFRACCIONES hasta bien entrado el último cuarto, si no me equivoco. (are you kidding me???!!!! Hablamos de los Raiders??!!!)
  • No señor. No infractions at all...
Ese equipo tuvo su “Momento”. El fumble de los acereros, el segundo de Antonio Brown que milagrosamente recuperó uno dentro de la end zone antes en el partido, fue como el soplo Divino que le entregó el alma a un Adan de barro. Un Adán de negro y plata.

Luego se desata la tormenta: el dique que contenía los errores que se fueron sucediendo durante el partido finalmente colapsa y se amontonaron las facturas frente a la caja de los Steelers. Una a una hubieron de pagarlas. A saber:
  • 10 infracciones que representaron 81 yds perdidas
  • El retorno de patada que terminó en TD y que fue anulado por un holding durante la jugada
  • Durante la corrida para TD de Mc Fadden, su perseguidor, el n° 23 Keenan Lewis, le dá alcance en la yarda 10 y en lugar de taclearlo lo empuja dentro de la zona final.
  • Se utilizaron todos los times out durante los dos primeros cuartos de manera prematura, obligando a conformarse con un gol de campo en la última marcha. Muy mal manejo del reloj
  • La defensiva nunca terminó de hacerse presente en el partido. Tibia, nunca fue un problema para Palmer. Los profundos permitieron yardas, cometieron infracciones y se ausentaron en momentos clave.
  • El confirmación de que Oakland fue creciendo durante la segunda mitad lo dá el hecho de que la única captura del juego que sufre Roethlisberger fue durante la última marcha quedando en 2da y 15 y luego, en la jugada siguiente, desde 3er y 8 es apremiado y forzado a lanzar mientras caía alcanzado por un defensivo, quedando el equipo obligado a despejar y entregar el balón, para quedar a la buena merced de un Palmer encendido.
  • En el cuarto final, a 31 segundos de finalizar el encuentro, en 1er y 10 para Oakland desde la yarda 43 de Pittsburgh, se manda la carga y se falla en la captura del mariscal quedando detras de los linebackers el receptor solo que avanza sin problemas hasta más o menos la yarda 25 dando una distancia más que comoda a Janikowski para convertir el gol de campo final, definitivo e inapelable.
Los Steelers no solo perdieron. Tambien dejaron de ganar un partido que estuvo al alcance de la mano.
Ahora, hoy, ocupan el 15° lugar entre 16 en la AFC.

Lo bueno de esta situación es que peor no se puede estar.
No sé. Para mí.

Dr de Acero

Monday, September 24, 2012

Steelers Self Destruct in Oakland vs. the Raiders

So you put Ben Roethlisberger on the same field as Carson Palmer and:
  • Roethlisberger nearly doubles Palmer in passing yardage
  • The Steelers gain nearly a 13 minute advantage in time of possession
  • Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, and Health Miller combined for 4 touchdowns
  • Steelers go 2-2 on fourth down attempts
Sounds like the recipe for another Steelers win, right?

Those very well should be the ingredients for victory, but unfortunately the Steelers latest fiasco on the road drives home a time-honored lesson:
  • You can’t take plays off.
(Oh, yeah, and it also helps when your secondary actually covers guys.)

Steelers Give Raiders Second Chances in the First Half

By all rights, the Steelers should have established firm control of the game by the half.  In Steelers Report Card on the Jets game, Steel Curtain Rising noted that to defeat the Steelers, you’ve got to score quickly.
  • Dennis Allen certainly didn’t read my evaluation, but he absolutely took the advice to heart. 
After the Steelers drew first blood in converting Ryan Clark's interception with a Ben Roethlisberger to Health Miller Red Zone touchdown connection, the Raiders responded in 3 plays, as Darren McFadden streaked 64 yards to a touchdown through a gaping hole to touchdown.
Allowing quick scores is disturbing, but this Pittsburgh Steelers team has the firepower to go touchdown-for-touchdown with any team in this league

Case in point the Steelers immediately answered, as Ben Roethlisberger led the team on another time consuming 81 yard drive the culminated in another Roethlisberger-Miller patented touchdown hook up.

The Steelers seemed to be on a roll. The defense forced consecutive three and outs and Antonio Brown took the second punt 72 yards to the house!
  • …which was called back because of a penalty on the Steelers – special teams took a play off
Instead of defending a 14 point lead, Pittsburgh had to slog forward from their 18 yard line making their way to their own 31 where things stalled.

Drew Butler shanked the punt badly, giving Oakland the ball at their own 40.
  • Special teams took another play off
Unlike the incarnation that presented itself in the second half, the Steelers defense did its job, and forced another 3 and out with Antonio Brown signaling fair catch at the 15.

Unfortunately, Jason Worilds got flagged for a face mask, pushing the Steelers back to their own 8
  • Make that three consecutive plays taken off by the special teams.
But the special teams were far from the only unit of the Pittsburgh Steelers guilty of clocking out at the wrong time, as Jonathan Dwyer put the ball on the ground, and the Raiders quickly recovered.
  • Dwyer picked the wrong time to literally let something slip.
The Raiders immediately advanced into the Red Zone, but the Steelers defense responded with a strong goal line stand, until they got flagged on 4th and 2 for a neutral zone infraction…
  • The defensive line took a play off and one play later the Raiders tied the game.
Credit Ben Roethlisberger and the offense for moving the Steelers into position to kick a field goal before the half. At the time, three points seemed like a reasonable consolation prize after such a disappointing turn of events.

Unfortunately, those extra three weren’t enough.

Second Half Shoot Out

Those content to see the NFL transformed into a Madden-style game, the second half of the Steelers-Raiders game was a thing of beauty.
  • For those of us who believe defense and physical football are important to the game… “It is what it is” is about all I can offer.
The Steelers opened the second half with a 9 play, 80 yard scoring drive that ended with a Mike Wallace touchdown. With a ten point lead, the Steelers again had a chance to settle into control of the game.

Oakland’s Mark Goodson responded with a 51 yard kick return, giving the Raiders perfect field position at the Steelers 48.
  • Make the four plays taken off by the special teams.
The kick return gave new life to the Raiders, and 10 plays later the cut the Steelers lead to 3 again.

Pittsburgh responded with a touchdown drive of its own, but Antonio Brown's end zone fumble and recovery foreshadowed things to come.

The Steelers special teams finally managed to do their jobs right, but unfortunately by this time the secondary had checked out. Carson Palmer no longer needed short fields, taking the Raiders on an 80 yard touchdown drive, again, cutting the Steelers margin to 3.

Pittsburgh seemed up to the “touchdown for touchdown” game, until Antonio Brown transformed a midfield crossing 20 yard pass into disaster by fumbling the ball away. (He made a nice tackle on the return, however.)

This time, the defense held Oakland to a field goal, but that was all it needed to tie the game.

The Steelers had moved the ball on the Raiders with ease, and so with 6:31 left, plenty of time remained. The Steelers offense just needed to execute as it had done all afternoon. Sounds simple, right? Guess again:
  • On first and 10 at the Steelers 20 Willie Colon got flagged for holding
  • Mike Wallace responds with a 14 yard pass, but then fumbles and recovers. Slip ups like that with the game on the line are unacceptable.
  • The Steelers fail to convert a 2nd and 3 then and fail to convert a 3rd and 1.
From their own 29 yard line, Mike Tomlin risks its all on 4th and 1, and Isaac Redman barrels through for 6 yards. Statement has been made, momentum established, right? Don’t count on it.

The offensive line, which had pass protected so well all day, took their turn to take a play off, and Roethlisberger suffered sacked on the next play. He completed his next pass to Heath Miller, but misfired on third down, forcing the Steelers to punt.
  • The only time the Steelers needed to score in the second half, they couldn’t.
The Raiders got the ball back and kicked a field goal with time expiring. End of game.

And so goes the Steelers 1-2 start to the 2012 season. When the schedule came out the Steelers week 4 bye seemed way too early for comfort. Now it seems like a Godsend.

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Thursday, September 20, 2012

Raiders Rushing Game is More Anemic Than the Steelers....

The Pittsburgh Steelers running game remains stalled, badly stalled, two games into their 2012 season. Mike Tomlin minced no words about the subject at his Tuesday press conference declaring "We haven't run the ball as well as we have liked."
  • That’s some what of an understatement.
In two games the Steelers have only rushed for a combined total of 141 yards – that was often times a single days work for Barry Foster, Jerome Bettis, or Willie Parker.

What’s more, they’re averaging 2.6 yards per carry, which is well below the respectable 4.4 average the achieved in 2011.

Issac "Redzone" Redman, the man who electrified with 100 yard performances against Cleveland in the regular season finale and in the playoffs vs. Denver, is barely eeking out two yards a pop.

Jonathan Dwyer has done a little better, who 3.4 yards per carry verges in respectability, yet after two games he only has 71 yards to his name.
  • Those aren’t the totals of even an average, let alone an elite NFL rusher.
But you know what?

Jonathan Dwyer has more rushing yards than the entire Oakland Raiders combined.

That’s right, as a team, the Raiders have only totaled 68 yards rushing. Their star running back Darrell McFadden only has 54 yards to his name (at 2.1 yards a pop.)

Oakland’s number two rusher?
You know your rushing game is in trouble when your quarterback is your number two rusher and that quarterback happens to be Carlson Palmer (for those who must know, Palmer has carried the ball twice, for 7 yards.)

Mendenhall to Play?

Rashard Mendenhall has been practicing since the Steelers activated him back in training camp and the conventional wisdom is that he will not play until after the Steelers upcoming bye week.

Steelers Digest suggested as recently as a week ago that Mendenhall’s return might not come until Halloween.

Or it could come as early as this week, per Mike Tomlin.

The smart money says that this is a feign by Tomlin, that he won’t risk Mendenhall. But press accounts indicate that Mendenhall has looked very good in practice, and the Steelers rushing game could use a jolt of power.

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Tuesday, September 18, 2012

Steelers Report Card vs. the Jets @ Heinz Field

From the grade book of a teacher who cannot deny that his star pupil performs better at home here is Pittsburgh's report card for the Steelers victory over the Jets. Remember, as a caveat, no other grades were consulted prior this posting.

After being a little rusty out of the gate, Ben Roethlisberger started throwing with lethal efficiency. And again, he excelled when it counted on third downs. Todd Haley seems to be finding a balance between calling and designing plays that get the ball out of Ben’s hands quickly while letting Ben be Ben. The results -- 75% completion rate, two touchdown passes, and a 13 minute time of possession edge -- speak for themselves. Grade: A-

Running Back
There's no sugar coating the rushing stats -- they're anemic. Consistency eluded both  Issac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer. But that only improved their focus, and by the end of the game, both were burning off precious minutes from the clock by grinding out extra yards with second and third efforts. Baron Batch blocked well but he and Chris Rainey went nowhere with their carries. Grade: C-

Wide Receiver
Another week, another outstanding performance from the entire unit. Antonio Brown had a fabulous game making some of his near-impossible catches. Mike Wallace both caught passes in traffic and hurt the Jets downfield. Emmanuel Sanders was a force underneath. Heath Miller just catches touchdowns. Jerricho Cotchery made a very tough catch that put the Steelers on the one. Will Johnson had another catch. Grade: A

Offensive Line
For the first time in memory the unit suffered no injuries, which we must hail as an accomplishment. Ben Roethlisberger got good protection, "only" suffering three sacks (a high number elsewhere in the NFL). The run blocking on the other hand was atrocious. One out of four times they were handed the ball, Steelers running backs got tackled for a loss, which really isn't their fault. Run blocking must improve. Grade: C

Defensive Line
The defensive line started very weak against the run in the first quarter. But they picked up the slack well enough that the Jets couldn’t or didn’t attempt to run late. The unit neither made splash plays nor got into Sanchez’ face, but they did occupy New York’s offensive line, freeing the defense to make plays. Cameron Heyward closed the game with a sack.  Grade:  C

He’s going to get fined for it, but you can trace the change in tempo of this game to Lawrence Timmons hit of Mark Sanchez. LaMarr Woodley’s sack on the Jet’s first possession of the second half nipped any inkling of a New York comeback in the bud. Larry Foote was “quiet” in that he simply was the number two tackler. The unit was strong in run support and made its opportunities vs. the quarterback count. Grade:  B

Between the penalties and the catches the first quarter made it look like Santonio Holmes was going to own Ike Taylor. But Taylor persisted and shut ‘Tone down for the duration. You didn’t hear Cortez Allen or Kennan Lewis’ names mentioned much, and which means they were doing their jobs. And what about Ryan Clark? Clearly this is a far different, and far better secondary with him playing. Welcome back Ryan. Grade: A-

Special Teams
Shaun Suisham was 2-2 from 45 yards out and his kickoffs were deep. Has this kid built up his leg strength? Drew Butler again punted well. DeMarcus Van Dyke forced a turnover on a punt return. Chris Rainey and Antonio Brown did well in the return game and the Jets got nothing on punt returns, although the Steelers could have covered kickoffs better. Grade:  B+ 

Want to beat the Steelers? You’d score fast. Its still very early, but Todd Haley has thus far shown a ball-control focused offense the late Ron Earhardt would envy. Take away his two former Defensive Players of the Year and Dick LeBeau will merely hold your quarterback to three completions for 2 and a half quarters. Seriously, the main “adjustment” was the Steelers secondary settling down and communicating better, but players on the field can only do that if they’re well prepared, and Dick LeBeau had his players prepped. There are 14 more games to go, but no one is missing Al Everest.

Unsung Hero
The Steelers so thoroughly dominated the numbers of this game that no one will remember that they were behind until late in the second quarter. But with 4:23 left to play Ben Roethlisberger called a time out after a one yard run by Jonathan Dwyer and an incomplete pass left the Steelers at 3 and 9 on their 39. The target of Ben’s next two passes converted with a 10 yard catch and then followed with a 19 yard catch to put the Steelers in the Red Zone. That target’s name wasn’t Wallace or Brown, but his contributions were just as important to the Steelers victory, and that’s why Emmanuel Sanders is Steel Curtain Rising’s Unsung Hero of the Jets game.

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Monday, September 17, 2012

Mike Tomlin Channels His Internal Ric Flair

Mike Tomlin's coaching lineage traces directly back to Chuck Noll via Tony Dungy. Tomlin, however, has never been the stoic that Chuck Noll was but his reaction yesterday to Isaac Redman's touchdown over the New York Jets was far more characteristic of something you'd see out of Bill Cowher.

In case you missed it check it out (available as of 9/17/12):

More than Bill Cowher, Tomlin appears to be channeling his internal Ric Flair! And Steelers Nation never knew he had it in him!

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Steelers Defeat Jets 27-10 at Heinz Field

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the New York Jets have a rich history. While the two franchises are far from being rivals, they’ve squared off in many high-stakes games, which have often gone to the wire with dramatic finishes.

The Steelers home opener of the 2012 season however, was a tale of one and three quarters.

Picking up Where They Left Off….

Much has been made of the age of the Pittsburgh Steelers defense. And, if the “Old and Slow” motif had a lot less to do with the loss in Denver than is commonly understood, it’s a perception that the Steelers will need to fight until some of their younger defenders begin to deliver consistently.

Yet its also a useful metaphor for understanding the Steelers defense because it began the game just as it had finished against Denver – allowing the opposing offense to go the length of the field and looking tentative doing it.
  • The Steelers offense was likewise slow out of the gate, settling for long field goals not even threatening to score touchdowns.
Yes, it may have been a bright sunny day in Heinz Field, but the Steelers collectively looked ever bit like an old Chevy struggling warm up on a cold Monday morning as they built up an edge in time of possession while the Jets built up a 10-6 midway during the second quarter.

But it was during the self-same Jets field goal drive that things began to change. A series of penalties, and smart running plays, brought New York down to Pittsburgh’s 19. Mark Sanchez had already miss fired several times on this drive, and in the red zone he was worse – in fact he didn’t complete a pass during the entire second quarter.

Steelers Warm Up and Get Humming

With 6:43 remaining in the second half, Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers down the field with surgical precision hitting five receivers.

By the time he hit Heath Miller on a fade route in the corner of the end zone, the Steelers were up by three and had consumed 5:40 off the clock.
  • And unlike the Broncos game, this momentum shift was for real.
It would be deceptive to say that the Steelers defensive performance during the second half evoked memories of ones put on by the 2008 and 2010 defenses. There were no turnovers, and only a few “Splash” plays.

But the unit made plays when it counted, LaMarr Woodley’s sack of Sanchez that forced the Jets to punt away their first possession being one such example.

Thus far, Todd Haley’s offense has been characterized more for its efficient ball-control ability rather than for its physicality or fireworks. In their first possession of the second half Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley showed they weren’t afraid to air it out, as Ben Roethlisberger rocketed a 37 yard bomb to Mike Wallace in the end zone, putting the Steelers up 20-10.

Closing Out with a Workman Like Performance  

The Steelers closed out the remaining quarter with a workman like performance. A look at the stat sheet might lead one to wonder why the Steelers final margin wasn’t higher, but penalties buried the Steelers deep on several drives, including one drive that featured a 2nd and 30 and a 3rd and 32 situation (the record will reflect that Antonio Brown had a 25 yard catch and run in that situation that allowed Drew Butler to pin them back into their territory.)

Other signs of hope included:
  • Santonio Holmes abused Ike Taylor early in the game, but Taylor kept him quiet after the first quarter
  • The Steelers running looked absolutely anemic at times, but both Redman and Dwyer showed a lot of fight, and ground out yards when the Steelers needed them to
  • The offensive line managed to stay healthy for an entire game and protected Roethlisberger well
  • For his part, Roethlisberger (and perhaps Haley) showed that Ben can be Ben while not holding on the ball too long
The Steelers run defense, however, leaves a lot to be desired. The Jets would have been wise to try to run more, yet fortunately they kept trying to let Sanchez win the game for them.

The biggest difference in the defense however, was Ryan Clark. Clark was all over the field tackling people in the backfield and breaking up passes. Clark’s hit on Ike Taylor’s phantom pass interference call provided a text book example of how you can still hit hard while staying in the rules.

Steelers Closing in on Their Identity?

Both Bill Cowher preached and Mike Tomlin preaches that a team finds its identity in the first 4-6 games of a season.
  • The ’08 team showed that it could and it would deliver wherever and whenever the game was on the line
  • The ’10 team revealed that it knew no bounds in over coming adversity
In contrast, the ’09 team exposed a chronic inability to close and atrocious special teams. The ’11 team disclosed that it was one team on the road, and another at home.

In the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers have shown Steelers Nation a lot of different looks. That’s to be expected two games into the season.

If Pittsburgh’s workman-like performance against the Jets left room for improvement, the Steelers also gave signs that they were capable of taking the steps needed to grow improvement.

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Friday, September 14, 2012

Steelers vs. Jets Pre-Game: Harrison and Polamalu Out Injured

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense struggled mightly against Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos, with two of three units earning F’s on the Steelers Report Card.

This week they’ll face an inferior quarterback in Mark Sanchez, but they’ll also do it with out their twin Defensive Player of the year winners.

James Harrison, who is recovering from knee surgery, will miss a second consecutive game reports Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette, while Tory Polamalu will also sit out due to an injured calf.

Ryan Clark will rejoin the Steelers secondary, and Ryan Mundy is likely to get his second start. Ironically, Mundy got his first NFL start in Polamalu’s absence in a December match up the Steelers lost to the Jets.

Essex Whisked Away, Steelers Stand Pat on the Offensive Line

Even before Ramon Foster and Marcus Gilbert suffered injuries vs. the Broncos, everyone expected the Steelers to make a roster move and resign Trai Essex. Yours truly went so far as to predict that on Twitter.

However, Bruce Arians, who already “poached” Mewelde Moore invited another former Steeler into Hoosier territory. Essex accepted his offer, and is now a member of the Indianapolis Colts.

The Steelers still could have made an additional move to bolster their offensive line, which only counts eight offensive lineman on the active squad at the moment, at least one below their "normal."

But they didn’t. Remarks by Kevin Colbert in the recent edition of Steelers Digest indicate that they think highly of Kelvin Becham, and perhaps the Steelers made the calculation that none of the available street free agent offensive lineman would add enough value to their team to sacrifice depth and/or a young prospect.

Or perhaps they’re just banking on the law of averages to protect them from yet another offensive line injury….

Steelers vs. Jets Preview Video

I don’t pretend to follow other NFL teams closely enough to offer detailed pregame assessments, but in this case that is not needed.

Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain (full disclosure, I also write for BTSC) has put together an excellent 6 minute video breaking down the key match ups that will dominate the Steelers-Jets game.

This is only the latest in a series of SB Nation videos produced by Michael Bean. Check them out on You Tube – and the good news is that they’re using authorized NFL footage, so no worry that Goodell’s YouTube police will make them disappear.

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Thursday, September 13, 2012

Steelers Report Card vs. Broncos @ Mile High

From the grade book of a teacher who never had much sympathy for those who always found the first day of school to be difficult, here is the Report Card for the Steelers game vs. Broncos. Remember, no other report cards were consulted prior to issuing these grades.

When we last saw him on this field, Ben Roethlisberger was wounded and his pass lacking zip. This time Ben was rocketing off balls to targets all over the field, despite losing the right side of his line. While Roethlisberger did fail to deliver on first and second downs, he was lethal on third down. Threading the needle in pro football is a sight to behold, because it precision, timing and a lighting fast ball. It also involves risk. Roethlisberger had a couple of near-interceptions until he went to the well one too many times. True to character, Ben accepted blame for the loss. He shouldn't, he had plenty of help. Nonetheless his mistake was costly and timely and his grade suffers. Grade:  B

Running Back
Isaac Redman played the game of his life last year in the playoffs, seemingly broadcasting to the world that the one time-training camp curiosity was in fact for real. Redman's encore was a thud, he got no and did nothing of note. Jonathan Dwyer only got 2 more carries but logged 23 more yards, and looked good doing so. Neither Chris Rainey nor Baron Batch did much of note with their carries, and the Steelers never established the ground game.  Grade: C-

Wide Receivers
If the Broncos game is any indication, Todd Haley is one offensive coordinator that knows how to spread the ball around to diverse group of talented receivers. Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Heath Miller, and Mike Wallace each had four catches, and each man found a way to come up with the ball it crucial situations. The unit suffered a few drops, but overall, a very, very solid night from the unit that is quickly distinguishing itself as the team's strongest.  Grade:  B+

Offensive Line
Doesn't the law of averages dictate that the Steeelers can't keep suffering offensive injuries? I mean, it has to, right? Unfortunately dice do not have memories, ans neither do defensive front 7. In a word, this was not a good night for the Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line. The unit was plagued by false start and illegal formation penalties, failed to establish an inside running game, and did an “OK” job of protecting Ben when it counted, and then completely failed at the end. Right now this unit remains a liability. Grade: D+

Defensive Line
This was supposed to be the Year of Youth on the Defensive line. Steel Curtain Rising even bought into the hype about Ziggy Hood’s training techniques. Johnny Mitchell rotated his lineman frequently, so everyone in uniform got plenty of snaps. Maybe that prevented them from getting into a grove, but regardless this group had the worst night of any unit. Brett Keisel, Hood, Cameron Heyward, Steve McLendon and Casey Hampton failed to get penetration, failed to control their gaps, and failed to disrupt well, anything. Grade:  F

Larry Foote was not only the best player of the linebackers, he was the best player on the entire defense, leading with 8 tackles, 1 sack, a pass defensed and a couple of hurries. In contrast, last year’s bonus babies, LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons, were invisible, save for Manning getting away from Timmons. Jason Worilds got onto the field for his first action all year, and registered a sack, but then joined Woodley and Timmons disappearing act. The Steelers need more from their linebackers.  Grade:  C-

Another unit that was supposed to see the flowering of a Youth Movement instead looked inexperienced and tentative. Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen were ineffective in coverage. Troy Polamalu had a bad angle on the 71 yard touchdown pass and got out foxed by Peyton Manning all night. The secondary’s resident “Ryan” failed to make forget “Mundy” is printed on the back of his jersey rather than “Clark.” Grade:  F

Special Teams
Shaun Suisham made good on all of his attempts and kicked the ball deep into the end zone. David Paulson delivered a leveling hit that sprung Antonio Brown loose on a 23 yard punt return. Emmanuel Sanders had a nice 27 yard punt return. Drew Butler boomed off 3 nice punts. Newly acquired Marcus Van Dyke downed a punt at the Denver 1. Overall, a solid effort. If Al Everest’s absence is going to be an issue in 2012, it wasn’t evident vs. Denver. Grade:  B

The Steelers game plan was predicated on keeping the ball out of Peyton Manning’s hands. The Steelers did that yet still got foiled. Game planning really wasn’t at issue on offense, even if execution was at times. On defense it’s a different story. It would be foolish to suggest that “the game is passing Dick LeBeau by” or any such nonsense, but Pittsburgh’s defense was clearly unprepared for Manning. In contrast, Manning was a step ahead of the Steelers defense from the first quarter onward. In terms of making adjustments, Manning ran circles around the Steelers defensive players and coaches. Grade:  C-

Unsung Hero
He’s been called a one trick pony. Vilified as selfish and uncommitted to the team. His lack of physicality has been criticized here and in parts elsewhere. But his production equaled that of everyone else in Young Money and he caught his passes in traffic. He also used his body to prevent the DB from making a play on the ball while catching a touchdown, and for those efforts Mike Wallace is Steel Curtain Rising’s Unsung Hero of the Broncos game.

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Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Sorting Through the Steelers Opening Day Loss to the Broncos

Peyton Manning has dominated the NFL passing game for over a decade. During that time no defense has been as consistently dominant as the Pittsburgh Steelers. Manning sat out all of 2011 with an injury while the Steelers ranked up the NFL’s number 1 pass defense.

What better combination for the marquee match ups that the NFL reserves for Sunday Nights? Unfortunately for Steelers Nation, only one dominator showed up.

Tale of Two Halves

There is perhaps no one player to forces opponents to game plan from him more than Peyton Manning. He isn’t simply a playmaker, he’s an offense maker, and if you doubt that see how badly the Colts imploded in his absence.

The Steelers have faced off against Manning before.

Absent a strong pass defense in 2002, the Steelers quite simply took advantage of Manning’s mistakes, with Brett Alexander and Mike Logan picking him off three times, as the Steelers won 28-10.

During the 2005 regular season a Manning capitalized on Steelers miscues and turnovers to tune of a 26 to 7 drubbing.

In the playoffs however, the Steelers returned to Indy with a little different game plan. That plan  entailed unleashing their secret weapon, Ben Roethlisberger to jump to a quick lead and then sit on the ball. (The plan of course worked to perfection, until Jerome Bettis came within a shoe string tackle of his career ending in disaster.)
  • This time around Todd Haley and Mike Tomlin’s plan focused on one thing:  Ball Control.
Let the record reflect that the Steelers plan worked to perfection, during the first half.

The Steelers defense forced the Broncos offense to punt twice and forced and then recovered a fumble.

On the two drives where the Steelers forced Denver to punt, Larry Foote and Jason Worilds registered sacks
  • That’s no coincidence. 
And unfortunately, Worild’s sack near the end of the first quarter was pretty much the last time a Steelers defender even breathed on Number 18.

The next time Manning touched the ball, he went 6-7 as he marched his team down the field 80 yards for a go ahead touchdown.
  • The Steelers answered with a touchdown of their own.
By the time Manning got the ball back, all had time for was to take a knee and head for the locker room. That would be his past passive act of the evening....

The Half Time Momentum Shift that Never Was...

All of that should have been a good thing.

As everyone knows, scoring a touchdown right before the half is all important as it gives you a momentum shift heading into the locker room. The momentum shift is amplified when you get the ball to start the next half.

Network commentators always remind viewers of this fact. What’s more they’re on to something when they say that such momentum shifts are decisive. Except for when they're not.

Count Sunday Night in Denver as an occurrence of one of those “occasions when no decisive momentum  shift occurs” (try running that through your redundancy filter.)
  • One almost has to wonder if Steelers coaches saw Manning’s first touchdown drive and feared they’d awakened a sleeping giant.
Because Todd Haley and his offensive players seemed determined to ensure that Manning did not touch the ball again.
  • And they made a good run of it as the Steelers offense possessed the ball for all but 21 seconds of the second half’s first 16 minutes.
The plan might have worked, had the Steelers defense been able to stop Manning from throwing Demetrius Thomas, the accomplice to January’s Tebowing of the Steelers, a 71 yard touchdown pass in that brief span of 21 seconds.

That 21 second was pretty much characteristic of Peyton Manning on the entire second half. Ditto the a Steelers defense whose:
  • Defensive lineman couldn’t get penetration or control their gaps
  • Linebackers didn’t get pressure on the quarterback
  • Defensive backs who could neither cover nor threaten to create a turnover
Outside of that, Dick LeBeau’s defense looked every bit ready to take their place alongside some of his other legendary units.

Not Quite Like the Good Old Days

Its understandable that a good chunk of Steelers Nation is a mite bit taken aback by an opening day loss. Until the Debacle in Baltimore last year, there had not been one in Roethlisberger era.

Things were not always such, however.

Opening day losses were a staples of the Cowher years

These weren’t simple losses, but thrashings.
The attentive reader will note (and if you’re read this far, you must be attentive) that each of those was a winning season, all but one were playoff years, and three of those years ended in the AFC Championship.
  • Opening day wins in 1998, 1998 and 2003 turned out to be harbingers of doom, or at least mediocrity. 
The moral of this history lesson is that it doesn't pay to get too worked up over an opening day loss. With that said there’s something bothersome about the Denver loss.

Haley’s offense, while a work in progress, flashed signs of greatness, greatness that the Steelers might be able to realize if they can go a whole game without losing an offensive lineman.

Unlike the losses mentioned above, the Steelers defense didn’t get dominated physically so much as it got out foxed. Peyton Manning simultaneously checkmated Dick LeBeau off the field while playing a constant game of chicken with Troy Polamalu on the field and winning each time.

Now, one would think mental errors are more easily corrected that a lack of physicality. After all, its easier to teach guys to correct their mistakes than to grow them bigger and stronger.

But 48 hours plus after the game, it doesn't feel that way, my gut is telling me the opposite.

Let’s hope that Mike Tomlin will prove me wrong.

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Monday, September 10, 2012

Steelers Fall to Peyton Manning's Broncos

Steelers Nation got a look at the “new” Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the “old” Peyton Manning and it was not a pretty sight.

What Tim Tebow started back in January, Peyton Manning finished.

The Steelers gave up their first game of the 2012 season by a score of 31-19. While that score is not overly lopsided, the fact is that the Steelers never firmly were in control of the game.

The offense struggled to maintain rhythm and alarmingly the defense struggled to slow let alone stop Peyton Manning in all but the first few series.

This was also the debut of the Todd Haley offense. It would be unfair to say that “there’s no where to go but up,” but the fact is they left a lot of room for improvement.
  • Ben Roethlisberger got better protection, except when the game was on the line
  • Performance in the Red Zone was spotty
  • The Steelers suffered from penalties at in opportune moments
Clearly there’s a lot more to digest over this one folks. But it’s almost 2:00 am here in Buenos Aires, and work beckons early tomorrow morning. Check back for more.

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Sunday, September 9, 2012

Ziggy Hood Poised to Lead Steelers Defensive Line

The Steelers overtime playoff loss to the Denver Broncos left a lot of bad memories for SteelersNation. At times the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers played with so much promise, at other times they were maddeningly inconsistent.

But the playoff game also saw a changing of the guard on the defensive line. Long time anchor Casey Hampton went down with a ACL tear. Brett Keisel also fell injured. That left Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward and Steve McLendon on their own. Literally.
  • The results were not pretty. 
Tim Tebow had his way with the Steelers defense. And although some of that does fall on the shoulders of the secondary and Dick LeBeau’s staff, the Steelers defensive lineman didn’t feel that they’d done their part.

As Joe Starkey points out in the Tribune Review, Ziggy Hood didn’t pout, he went out and did something about it.

Check out this video of Hood pulling a 1200 pound sled.

And if that’s not enough for you, check out a longer version of the rest of Hood’s workout:

If Ziggy Hood doesn’t have a break out year it won’t be for lack of preparation, because Hood clearly has the look of a man on a mission.

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Saturday, September 8, 2012

Five Keys to the Steelers Success in 2012

Steelers Nation will soon learn what the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers are really made of. Since losing Super Bowl XLV the Steelers have remained an enigma.
Yet the Steelers bounced back strong enough by mid season to school their long-time nemesis the New England Patriots.
  • Pittsburgh entered 2011 the secondary as their weak link. Nonetheless, the Steelers pass defense finished number 1
Yet, two late game passes, one from Joe Flacco and another from Tim Tebow, defined their playoff fortunes.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are the NFL’s mystery as and the ESPN, SI, and SB Nation vastly differing predictions indicate. Steelers are a team in transition with franchise mainstays off to their “Life’s Work” while others such as Casey Hampton are entering the encore stage of their careers.

Strong organizations weather personnel changes without altering their fundamental character.

But the Pittsburgh Steelers face a different challenge in 2012. Five key, long-held assumptions about the Steelers will be tested this year. Some of these are urban myths, others speak directly to the identify of the franchise. Regardless, the season's fortunes hinge upon them.

The Pittsburgh Steelers Don’t Win Three Years in a Row

The logic goes like this. Since 2001, the Steelers have posted double digit wins and followed them with disappointing ones and the press has bandied this about like it’s the decoding key to the Rosetta Stone.
  • Nonsense.
If the Steelers don’t make the playoffs this year it won’t be because they some how “won too many games” in the previous to seasons.

Outsiders are Doomed as Steelers Offensive Coordinators

Let’s face it, Todd Haley is fighting history.

The 1989 Steelers captured the imagination of Steelers Nation. Chuck Noll followed by bringing in Joe Walton and the offense almost revolted as a result.

Chan Gailey was developing Kordell Stewart nicely, and Bill Cowher tapped Ray Sherman to replace him, who had a sterling record in developing quarterbacks.

Sherman was an utter disaster, contributing heavily to Kordell Stewart’s ruin.

Cowher replaced Sherman with Kevin Gilbride, who only made things worse.

Does this history doom Todd Haley?  Of course not.
  • Todd Haley's ability to get along with Big Ben will play a key role in the Steelers success this year, but...
The misdeeds of Walton, Sherman, and Gilbride will have zero impact on Haley’s ability to control the clock, protect Ben Roethlisberger, and score in the Red Zone.

The Pittsburgh Steelers Always Can Find Good Running Backs

Since the NFL-AFL merger, no team has rushed for more yards than the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Current and future Hall of Famers Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis gave Pittsburgh a good chunk of that yardage.
  • Both were first round picks who made good.
But overlooked and undervalued draft picks have played just as large a role. 10th round picks like Merril Hoge and Frank Pollard and undrafted rookie free agents like Willie Parker and Isaac Redman hold almost as high a space in franchise lore.

Second tier rushers such as Erric Pegram, John L. Williams, and Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala both ran hard and found ways to make it happen when games were on the line.

Even when the Steelers have reached deep into their depth chart, now forgotten running backs responded. In 1988 and 1989 Rodney Carter came out of no where and made big plays, often times by doing little more the “going out and getting open.”

The fourth string running back Mewelde Moore delivered with stunning results in a crucial game against vs. Jacksonville in 2008.
  • Can the Steelers continue the trend?
Rashard Mendenhall is coming off of ACL surgery. Isaac Redman has been banged up and David Johnson and John Clay, two guys the Steelers figured to count on for depth, were lost in preseason.

Two weeks ago the Steelers desperately signed DeJuan Harris simply to get through the preseason finale.

Jonathan Dwyer looks good. Baron Batch has been OK. Chris Rainey’s got burning speed. Redman is practicing and so is Mendenhall.

Will latest mixture of a first rounder plus draft-day afterthoughts rise to the task?

A big part of the Steelers success in 2012 hinges on the answer being “yes.”

Linebacking Leads the Steelers Defense

The headline is arguable. The term “Steel Curtain” does refer to Joe Greene, Ernie Holmes, Dwight White, and L.C. Greenwood.

But the linebackers actually lead in the Hall of Fame count, thanks to Jack Lambert and Jack Ham.

Consider some of the foursomes the Steelers have fielded at linebacker:
And that leaves out key role players like Jerry Olsvasky, Jerrol Williams, and Clark Haggans.
  • Since 1971 the Steelers have sent at least one linebacker to the Pro Bowl 34 times.
If the Steelers running backs are a group on the mend, its linebacking corps continues to ail. James Harrison Jason Worilds sat the entire summer. Sean Spence looked promising, then destroyed his knee. Stevenson Sylvester is also injured and unavailable.

Replacements such as Chris Carter and Adrian Robinson looked good but remain untested in games that count.

The Steelers do still have Larry Foote (who missed practice last week), LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons.
  • The Steelers can afford no more injuries, and these men must deliver.
Woodley, streakiness aside, will come through. Fans worry about Foote, but he too will be above the line.

Lawrence Timmons holds the key. If the Steelers get the aggressive, play making Timmons of 2010 the defense has a shot. If they get the tentative, Timmons of 2009 and 2011, Steelers Nation will be in for some long afternoons.

Will “The Standard” Remain the Standard?

During his first year, Mike Tomlin turned heads when he dismissed concerns about the impact of injuries declaring “The standard is standard. Injuries will not be an excuse.”

Was he saying that Tyrone Carter was as good as Troy Polamalu?

Was this a coaching mind trick?
  • For Tomlin, this is no mind trick.
He once explained in the Steelers Digest that membership in the NFL already means you’re in the top one half of one percent of the football playing population and therefore you’re capable of playing “Above the Line.”

Tomlin’s got a point. How many college superstars struggle to keep third string jobs in the NFL? That’s because when you mix the best of the very best together, the differentiators are going to be subtle.

Tomlin knew that Tyrone Carter isn’t the athlete that Troy Polamalu is, but he doesn’t need to be to have a winning performance.

Think about it. Tomlin’s right. Did lack of athletic ability freeze Carter like a deer in the headlights as David Garrard made the defining play of the 2007 playoff loss to Jacksonville?
  • On the flip side the 2008 Super Bowl run saw the Steelers rebuild their offensive line in mid-season, vindicating Tomlin. 
Those tests will continue in Denver where Robert Golden and Ryan Mundy remain one play away from guarding the center of the field vs. Peyton Manning. And only a couple of mishaps will put Kelvin Bechaman between Ben and a ferocious Denver defense.

Even if they avoid injury vs. Denver, injuries are going to happen and the 2012 Season figures to give “The Standard is the Standard” its biggest stress test yet.

How will the Steelers hold up as they test themselves against these assumptions? Steelers Nation will start finding out tonight in Denver.