´ Steel Curtain Rising: November 2012

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

Friday, November 30, 2012

Tomlin Shuffles Steelers Depth Chart, Voluntary and Involuntary...

In dropping games to Baltimore and Cleveland the Pittsburgh Steelers have repeated something they’ve rarely done since Mike Tomlin’s arrival in 2007 – lose back to back games.

In 2007 it was the Anthony Smith game vs. New England followed by a loss to Jacksonville.

And of course in 2009 the Steelers began by losing to the Cincinnati Bengals at home, and did not stop losing until eeking out a last second victory vs. Green Bay six games later.

After the 2009 season, Steelers President Art Rooney II cited Tomlin’s ability to snap that losing streak – the Steelers won their final three, as part of the reason why he was so comfortable with having Tomlin as his coach.

The 2009 streak was instructive, because Tomlin’s ability to break the losing streak got little discussion in the press. This stands in sharp contrast to Bill Cowher’s ability to snap his Steelers teams out of similar funks. 
 But no one really knows what Mike Tomlin did back in 2009 to get the Steelers to stop losing games.

Steelers Nation does know, however, what didn’t work. Horrendous specials teams were at the root of the Steelers first two losses during that ugly ’07 streak. Tomlin cut special teamers Arnold Harrison, Donavan Woods and reserve corner Keenan Ratliff and brought back Anthony Madison but those moves did not halt the Steelers slide. (Firing Bob Ligashesky would have been a wiser move.)

After a tough overtime loss to the Ravens, Tomlin promised to “Raise Hell in December” only to see the team fall even flatter on its face vs. the Browns in Cleveland. In between he talked big about benching starters, but the only move that materialized was Joe Burnett going in for William Gay on a few series.

Mendenhall Demoted, Mike Wallace Now a “Co-starter”

That was then, however. This is now. Tomlin has made two moves in response to the Steelers latest loss.

Jonathan Dwyer will start for the Steelers vs. the Ravens over Rashard Mendenhall, after Mendenhall fumbled twice, and seemed to shy away from embracing responsibility.
Whether that’s a symbolic move or whether it has more substance behind it remains to be seen, but Mike Wallace has not produced consistently, Emmanuel Sanders has.

Musical Chairs on the Offensive Line, Again

Those won’t be the Steeles only roster moves this Sunday. The Steelers placed Marcus Gilbert on IR, ending his season, and activated first round pick David DeCastro, who has recovered from the knee injury he suffered in preseason.

But Mike Adams is still nursing an ankle injury as is Willie Colon.

So its quite possible that the Steelers offensive line vs. the Ravens will look like this:
This is one of the configurations they’ve been trying, although Tomlin had earlier said that rookie Kelvin Beachum would start at right tackle.

Not exactly the offensive line you want to take into a crucial match up with your division rival Ravens but “The Standard is the Standard.”

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Balon Suelto! Como Pittsburgh Fallo Contra Cleveland

Los Pittsburgh Steelers sucumben frente a la débil escuadra de Cleveland.

Perplejidad. Tal vez esa sea la mejor palabra...

En un partido difícil de explicar los Pittsburgh Steelers cayeron por segunda semana en línea por 20 a 14 frente a los Cleveland Browns.
No recuerdo otra derrota tan irremediable como esta.
Esa es la palabra: irremediable. Sin remedio, no había manera de evitarlo. Nunca presencié una derrota de un equipo de Pittsburgh tan inerme.

Las fallas en el equipo pueden ser ubicadas en múltiples departamentos.

La Ofensiva

Tomemos nota de la increíble secuencia de marchas ofensivas de los Steelers: Fumble-Punt-Punt-Fumble-Punt-Fumble- Touchdown-Punt-Intercepción-Punt-Intercepción-Punt-Intercepción-Fumble-Fumble. Como funcionamiento sistémico de equipo esta claro que las cosas estuvieron lejos de ser mínimamente decorosas.
Las responsabilidades no deben recaer sólo sobre el QB Charlie Batch, aunque es evidente que su desempeño estuvo francamente bajo el “Standard” declamado por el Head Coach Mike Tomlin.
La razón de estas falencias pueden ser atribuidas a errores propios pero también a falta de coordinación con sus receptores propios de un 3er mariscal.
Repasemos las tres intercepciones.

  • En la primera intentó conectar con el reincorporado Plaxico Burress: el pase fue atrasado y corto
  • En el segundo pase interceptado contó con la colaboración de Mike Wallace quien malabareó la pelota debido a que el envío no fue puesto frente al receptor. Se puede decir que de todos modos debía ser atrapado.
  • Finalmente, el tercer pase fue lanzado con demasiado aire debajo, fue corto y Wallace tenía doble cobertura

En el juego aéreo, abundaron los pases cortos y sobre los laterales, lo que solo permitió avances cortos. Se puede dar crédito a la cobertura profunda de los Browns y a la velocidad con que sus linebackers y los esquineros llegaron al tackle.


Entregar el balón es malo. Pero entregar el balón en propio campo tiene algo de perverso, de autodestructivo: de los 8 turn overs, 6 ocurrieron dentro del campo de Pittsburgh.

La conversión de terceros intentos fue claramente deficiente: 1 de 9 (11%)

La línea ofensiva, tal vez debido a la salida repentina de Willie Colon poco antes del partido, jamás abrió los espacios para permitir la corrida de manera fluida.
En la protección del pase, de 40 jugadas por aire, le dieron la Mariscal de Campo adecuada protección en la gran mayoría de los casos siendo presionado en solo 7 ocasiones. Es de destacar que Charlie Batch no fue presionado en ninguno de los tres pases de intercepción que lanzó. El QB acerero fue atrapado en una sola ocasión.

Si tuviera que dar un diagnóstico “médico” al analizar la actuación de los Steelers lo llamaría Falla Ofensiva Sistémica Múltiple (Multiple Systemic Offensive Failure)

La defensiva

En líneas generales la defensiva respondió cubriendo el pase y la corrida con cierta efectividad frente a un adversario (esto hay que decirlo) bastante mediocre. Hubo actuaciones destacadas como la de Lawrence Timmons con 10 tackles, 4 asistencias y una intercepción devuelta para TD; Keenan Lewis con 6 tackles; Ryan Clark 9 tackles y 4 asistencias; Jason Worilds que registró 2 capturas de mariscal, junto a James Harrison (además de 9 tackles) y Brett Keisel con una captura cada uno.

Sin embargo, más allá de las estadísticas, hubo una falla capital. Central y determinante: permitieron a la ofensiva rival convertir 17 de los 20 puntos como respuesta a las entregas de balón.

Sigue estando en el debe, como a los largo de toda la temporada y de la temporada anterior, la obtención de pelotas robadas, sea por intercepciones o fumbles recuperados.

Lo que viene

Lo que viene es otro duelo de división contra el segundo mejor equipo de la Conferencia Americana. No podría llegar este encuentro en un peor momento para los Acereros.


Es muy probable que el lunes los Steelers enfrenten un récord de 6-6.

La buena noticia es que Antonio Brown volvió a las prácticas y es optimista con respecto a volver al equipo el próximo domingo.
Situación similar para David DeCastro quien seguramente esté activado en las bandas en Baltimore y disponible a requerimiento del equipo de entrenadores..
Ben Roethlisberger entrenó de manera limitada al igual que Jerricho Cotchery, mientras que Troy Polamalu participó de la práctica de manera activa y completa.
Se perdieron la práctica Mike Adams, Max Starks, Willie Colon, LaMarr Woodley y Byron Leftwich.

Hay una noticia todavía mejor: No se va a ver, por mucho tiempo, un partido tan malo para los Steelers como el del pasado domingo.
Esa sí es una buena noticia...

                                                                El Dr. de Acero

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Steelers Report Card vs. Browns @ Cleveland Stadium

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is watching one half of the class fail its written test horribly, while the other half is acing the oral exam, here is the Steelers report card for the loss vs. the Browns. As a caveat, no other grades were consulted prior to this posting.

Quarterback
The positives – Charlie Batch worked the two minute drill very well to put the Steelers up at the half. But the rest of the afternoon all but obliterates the one moment. Batch couldn’t hit his man down field and several passes were wild. The Steelers were 1-9 on third downs. He threw three picks, although they weren’t entirely his fault, the quarterback’s job is to avoid tunovers. Grade:  D-

Running Backs
Positives – Chris Rainey was positively brilliant on his touchdown run, showing the type of “X-Factor” that the coaches thought he had in preseason. But that was his only strong run of the game. And he fumbled. As did Rashard Mendenhall. As did Jonathan Dwyer. As did Isaac Redman. Worse than that, when they weren’t fumbling none of the running backs even came even close to establishing the run. Grade:  F

Wide Receiver
The fleeting moments when the Steelers feigned a comeback found Heath Miller catching the ball. Coincidence? Not at all. Emmanuel Sanders was the only receiver to make any downfield head way or do anything with the ball in hand. In his return as a Steeler, Plaxico Burress cut off a route resulting in an interception and dropped a pass he should have caught. Mike Wallace bobbled one ball that got picked off and watched as another got picked off. Batch completed many check downs because he could find no one open. Grade:  D

Offensive Line
Positives – Charlie Batch actually had decent time to throw (which is scary, actually). But the offensive line contributed to the Steelers failure to get into a groove with multiple penalties that negated gains. To win, the Steelers needed to run the ball, and that’s something that rushers did not have much daylight. As a unit, the line needed to step up, and it failed in that regard.  Grade:  D

Defensive Line
If their was any possibility that the coaches might forget him, Steve McLendon made his presence felt loud and clear, slamming Trent Richardson for 3 yard loss. However, Casey Hampton played well too, while Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward did their part. But it was Brett Keisel who was all over the backfield, tipping passes, hurrying the passer, tackling guys for a loss and registering a sack. Grade:  B+

Linebacker
In preseason Steel Curtain Rising said that for the Steelers defense to excel, Lawence Timmons would need to come on strong. Well, Timmons has come on strong at mid season, and his pick six was masterfully executed. He was all over the field after that, leading the team in tackles. James Harrison played well. And don’t look now, but Jason Worilds posted double digit sacks, including one that got the ball back for Pittsburgh. An almost great effort by the linebackers wasted.  Grade:  A-

Secondary
Another strong game by the Steelers secondary that limited Cleveland to 1 for 9 on third downs. When that happens a unit is doing a lot of things right. Keenan Lewis had another strong game. Ike Taylor had two passes defensed, which is actually a problem as the Steelers needed them to be picks. Ryan Clark again was all over the field, and Will Allen continues to ably fill in for Troy Polamalu. Grade: B+

Special Teams
Drew Butler had a solid day punting and Shaun Suisham’s kickoffs were deep. The Steelers punt return coverage unit did contain Joshua Cribbs, but allowed a long return by Travis Benjamin. However, the Steelers struggled could have used a bust from their return game and instead got nothing, although one nice Chris Rainey return was called back on a penalty. Emmanuel Sanders muffed a punt that could have been another turnover. The Steelers needed something special from this unit. They didn’t get it.  Grade: C-

Coaching
Positives – Dick LeBeau has this unit executing at a high level, despite the absence of some key players. That says a lot, although the lack of turnovers is uncanny. “Horrendous” does not do justice to the performance of the Steelers offense. But can you blame an offensive coordinator whose unit turned over on half of its possessions? No, you really can’t.

In a conventional sense, you can’t blame Mike Tomlin for the fumbles and interceptions either. But, as noted in Steel Curtain Rising’s post game analysis, the Steelers suffered from a lack of focus. When things begin to become unglued, it falls on the head coach to find a way to keep his team on track. Tomlin found a way to keep his defense trained on the mark, but the offense only got worse, and that puts the coaching staff below the line. Grade:  C-

Unsung Hero
The Steelers defense began the season as the team’s weak link. Since the Tennessee game they’ve improved bit by bit, and so has one of its key players. By his own admission, he lacks the explosiveness on the premeter that once made him feared, but he’s been finding new ways to quietly contribute each week. Against the Browns, he was no longer quiet, and if he may not have roared, a loud growl was heard in Cleveland’s backfield as he tackled four players for losses, had a sack, and was number 2 on the team in total tackles, and for that James Harrison is the Unsung Hero of the Browns game.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Snake Bitten Steelers Self Destruct vs. Browns, Lose 20-16

If nothing else, the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers embrace symmetry.

For two straight weeks an understaffed Steelers squad has jumped to an early lead thanks to an unlikely contributor
Mike Tomlin’s Pittsburgh Steelers are no strangers to adversity. In fact, under some circumstances, they thrive on it.

The starts to Pittsburgh’s last two games called to mind a similar time when a wounded Steelers squad had to play with the deck stacked against them.

Remember the Steelers 2010 road trip vs. the Titans, where no one but the Steelers gave themselves gave them a chance to win? Recall that during that game, the Steelers:
  • Started the game with a quick strike touchdown
  • Followed with one of the greatest defensive performances in franchise history
  • Found ways to overcome both pregame and in game injuries
Against the Ravens and again against the Browns the Steelers began following a similar template and then backed it up by playing some pretty stout defense, only to watch things fall apart anyway.

The question is, why?

Turnovers Are Symptom, Not Cause….

Injuries are a reality of the NFL. Injuries often serve as an equalizing force.

That much, is easy enough to understand. Subtract a few All-Pros or, worse yet, force a team to play a green third or fourth string rookie, and you expect bad things to happen.

Yet, while the above scenario is common enough in the NFL, it is far from the rule.
  • In the '90’s ESPN’s Tom Jackson and Chris Berman constantly reminded viewers “No one circles the wagons like the Bills” to explain Buffalo’s ability to overcome injury
  • The Green Bay Packers won Super Bowl XLV with 16 players on IR
How is it that sometimes some teams can buck logic? Is it because sometimes an organization just comes across an uncanny stroke of luck?

No, that's not it.

Coaches and commentators attribute such feats to “heart,” “believing in themselves,” “wanting it more,” or “stepping it up.”

The characteristics embodied in those clichés all are relevant to overcoming injury-induced adversity in the NFL. But, alone they are not enough.
  • For any to become truly effective, a team needs another element to bring them together:  Focus.
Former Washington DC area sports commentator Ken Beatrice used to explain that focus is what allows the elderly Kung Fu master to put his hand through bricks he has no business breaking. Its what allowed Michael Jordan to put the ball through hoop with the game on the line.

Focus enabled Franco Harris to author the most improbable play in NFL history.

The difference in the football game for the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Cleveland Browns wasn’t the turnovers. You read that correctly because the turnovers were symptom of a more fundamental problem that plagued the team – lack of focus.

Consider the following:
  • Chris Rainey answered Cleveland’s first touchdown with a 31 yard kick return, only to have it erased by a penalty
  • The Steelers 1st series of the 2nd half saw them:  negate 9 yard pass to Mike Wallace with a penalty, throw passes for -1 yard and 2 yards, commit a delay of game penalty
That brought up 3rd and 19 at the Steelers 12. A nine yard pass to Heath Miller allowed them to punt from the 21, which is where they’d started the “drive.”

A similar series later in the third quarter saw the Steelers start at their own 18, advance to the 29, and then go all the way back to the 7 yard line – thanks to penalties.

Focus allows extraordinary players to make ordinary plays at critical junctures (think Troy Polamalu's pick six vs. the Ravens in the AFC Championship.) Ordinary players make plays they didn't think they were capable of when they are extremely focused (think Merril Hoge in the '89 playoffs.)

When players lose focus, passes bounce off of hands, a grip tightens on a jersey when you didn't want it to, and opponents become just a tad bit more skillful in their attempts to strip the ball.

 “Very few games are ‘won’ in the National Football League. Its more often a case of one team losing.– WMAL/WTEM sports anchor Ken Beatrice, on many occasions

When you turn over the ball 8 times in the NFL, you expect to lose. But in spite of the fact that Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer, and Chris Rainey lost four fumbles and Charlie Batch threw 3 interceptions, the Steelers were in this game until the very end.

That’s due to the heroic effort put forth by the Steelers defense.

For two straight weeks, the Steelers defense has done its part to “step it up” and carry an extra part of the load for an ailing offense.

And for two straight weeks we’ve seen a mix of young, mid career, and aging Steelers veterans answer the call.
But in the end it was not enough. And, like the Baltimore game, its hard to ask them to do more, the Steelers defense also had focus issues at times. The Steelers let two, if not three interceptions slip through their fingers on an afternoon when Pittsburgh desperately needed a momentum changer.

Credit the Cleveland Browns for taking advantage for collapsing on the opportunity the Pittsburgh Steelers laid at their feet.

But make no mistake about it. The Browns did not “win this game.” The Pittsburgh Steelers lost it because they suffered from a chronic lack of focus.

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Thursday, November 22, 2012

Keenan Lewis: Reason for Steelers Nation to Give Thanks

Thanksgiving is a wonderful holiday. It cuts across all colors, ideologies, and creeds. No on has commercialized it. It is one of the noblest of American traditions.

I sincerely hope that everyone reading this has many, many reasons to be thankful that are far more consequential than football or that have nothing to do with the Steelers. I certainly do, especially on this occasion.

However, as is tradition. Steel Curtain Rising takes a moment to find reason within the Pittsburgh Steelers franchise to give thanks.

In 2009 the Steelers were in the middle of their 5 game tail spin, yet the heart Rashard Mendenhall showed in saving a pick six in an otherwise ugly game at Kansas City was cause for thanks.

In 2010, Maurkice Pouncey, Emmanuel Sanders, and Al Everest and the resurgent special teams prompted Steelers Nation to give thanks.

Last year, as Hines Ward was waning, the clear emergence of Antonio Brown as a pass catching demon supplied the reason for Steelers Nation to give thanks.

Cornering the Market on the "Lake Effect"

For a long time the Steelers have searched and searched to find a capable corner to consistently man the slot opposite of Ike Taylor. Part of the reason was that the aging Deshea Townsend didn’t yield his spot as he was ‘supposed to.’ First he held off Bryant McFadden and then it was William Gay.

And while neither Gay nor McFadden were “busts” neither ever quite blossomed into a quality number 1 NFL corner.

In this 2012 campaign, Keenan Lewis is giving every sign that he’s well on his way to realizing the potential the Steelers saw in him when they selected him in the third round of the 2009 NFL Draft.
  • 2009 was a disaster for Lewis where back injuries kept him out of all but four games.
  • 2010 wasn’t much better, as Lewis flashed in camp, then burned in preseason, and did little during the regular season.
As Rebecca Rollett from Behind the Steel Curtain reported, when Carnell Lake arrived as Steelers secondary coach, he learned that many of his compatriots had written Lewis off.
But Lake was hearing none of it, and took Lewis under his wing, and as result of what Ivan Cole (also of BTSC) the “Lake Effect” Lewis established himself as a legit number 3 NFL corner.

2012 has been Lewis’ year to shine, as he currently holds a wide lead over Ike Taylor in both tackles and passes defensed and, perhaps more importantly, has come up with the ability to be in the right place at the right time.

For that Steelers Nation can give thanks (and then add a prayer that we don’t lose him as a free agent.)

Happy Thanksgiving to all of you from "everyone" here at Steel Curtain Rising.

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Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Steelers Report Card vs. Ravens @ Heinz Field

Steelers Report Cards
Taken from the grade book of a teacher who sees a pupil with a performance arch that is startingly familiar to the one he saw last year, here is the Steelers report card for their loss to the Ravens. As a caveat, no other grades were consulted prior to this posting.

Quarterback
Mike Tomlin has reaffirmed his faith in Byron Leftwich several times over through the years. Leftwich began by exceeding everyone’s expectations, but it was all down hill after that. Yes, Leftwich was injured. But, the Report Card focuses on performance and outcome, and Leftwich didn’t get the job done. While it’s hard to blame Leftwich for not taking himself from the game, it doesn’t excuse his misplaced gallantry. Grade:  D

Running Backs
When Rashard Mendenhall, Isaac Redman, and Jonathan Dwyer posted all strong performances, Mike Tomlin promised to go with the hot back. The stat sheets says that hot back vs. the Ravens was Dwyer. Unfortunately, he about split carries evenly with Mendenhall, who looked a little tentative at the line. Redman gained 5 yards on a run, and Baron Batch moved the chains with his lone carry.  Grade: C

Receivers
Catching a ball from an unfamiliar hand requires an adjustment, and the Steelers receivers offered a mixed bag. Some plays were made, but there were drops and times when receivers failed to catch the ball in bounds. Likewise, Leftwich had to throw the ball away several times. Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace led the group, although Wallace’s fumble cost the team dearly as did the non-touchdown catch. Heath Miller played well, but was held back to block. Grade:  D+

Offensive Line
Another shaky performance for a unit that seemed to be coalescing. At times the run blocking was excellent. At times, the line protected Leftwich well. Consistency however lacked. Mike Adams struggled at times, although he was not the only one at fault. The difference in the game probably did not come down to the failed exchange between Maurkice Pouncey and Leftwich, but such mishaps are inexcusable on final drives. Grade:  D

Defensive Line
It was perhaps the defensive line’s strongest performance, with Ray Rice being held to 40 yards on 20 carries. He had no where to run. Brett Keisel led the unit in tackles and the stat sheet doesn’t do justice to the way Casey Hampton clogged up the middle. Cameron Heyward played well in relief of Ziggy Hood. Keisel’s offsides penalty hurt however. Grade:  B+

Linebackers
The linebacking corps also turned in a strong performance. Lawrence Timmons seemed to be in on every tackle and so was James Harrison, whose sack could have be a difference maker. LaMarr Woodley also clocked in with a sack, and Larry Foote was his reliable self. The only thing lacking was a forced turnover, which the Steelers needed.  Grade:  B+

Secondary
With each game, Keenan Lewis just seems to get better. But Ike Taylor is playing very good football, simply making it hard for opposing teams to throw when they need to. Ryan Clark didn’t light up the stat sheet, but whatever he lacked in quantity he made up in quality. Will Allen continued with his solid play, and Ryan Mundy didn’t get noticed for the wrong reasons. Baltimore was 3-14 on third downs. Like the linebackers, the only thing lacking was a turnover, and the again, the Steelers needed one. Grade:  B+

Special Teams
A truly awful night for a unit that has run hot and cold all season. Jacoby Jones 63 yard touchdown on a punt return put the Ravens over the top. But Baltimore’s return game was strong all night, and neither Chris Rainey nor Sanders did anything for the Steelers Shaun Suisham was 1-1, but his kickoffs, which were deep early in the year, fell shallow. Grade:  F

Coaching
Steel Curtain Rising already took Mike Tomlin to task for either not knowing Leftwich was injured and/or failing to act on that knowledge. However, he is not the only one to blame. Dink-and-Dunk is not Byron Leftwich’s game. And while he did attempt and compete some long passes, the question is why was Todd Haley had him throwing so much to begin with? The Raven’s run defense is suspect to begin with, and the Steelers entered the game with a stud stable of healthy running backs. Why didn’t Jonathan Dwyer get more carries?

In contrast, Dick LeBeau called a tremendous game and his players executed, and that’s all that saves the coaching staff from an F-bomb in this weeks’ report card. Grade:  D

Unsung Hero
The 1998 and 1999 Steelers defenses started strong only to peter out, with the rest of the team, down the stretch. One reason for the decline was the disintegration of Joel Steed’s knees. As Ed Bouchette has said, the nose tackle is the fulcrum on which the Steelers 3-4 rises and falls.

Early in the year when something big happened up front, Steve McClendon was as likely as not to be in the game. Not so vs. the Ravens. The Steelers front seven made play after play, and the only happens if Casey Hampton is wrecking havoc in the middle. Havoc Hampton wrought, and for that he win the Unsung Hero award for the game.

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Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Los Steelers Entregardon el AFC North a Baltimore

Ravens 13 - Steelers 10

Los Steelers entregaron el liderazgo de la AFC North

Los Pittsburgh Steelers con la ausencia de su mariscal de campo titular, Ben Roethlisberger, cayeron en el partido de Domingo por la Noche, ante su clásico rival de división, los Baltimore Ravens, por un ajustado 13 a 10.

Contando las monedas de la bolsa...

Durante toda la semana en las redes sociales, se había estado colocando en el centro del debate  la solvencia del QB suplente acerero, Byron Leftwich, para sacar adelante el partido. Había consenso general sobre que, sin dudas es un Mariscal suplente, que no abría un juego como titular desde sus épocas de “bucanero”,y que seguramente debería contar con el apoyo del ataque terrestre y de la defensiva para controlar y alzarse con el juego.
QB Leftwich contaba con el apoyo público de todo su staff de entrenadores y de sus compañeros y con la desconfianza, o al menos, el reparo de gran parte de la Nación Steeler.
El historial de enfrentamientos entre estos rivales cuando no juega Ben, era de un desesperanzador 0 y 4 en favor de los Ravens.

La estrategia, para el Coach Tomlin, parecía clara:

  • Atacar principalmente por tierra a la defensiva número 24 contra el acarreo
  • Sostener la ofensiva con una estrategia conservadora por aire, que no expusiera las debilidades de Leftwich
  • Borrar a los receptores abiertos Anquan Boldin y Torrey Smith
  • Presionar a Joe Flacco todo lo que se pudiera

La hora de la verdad

La máxima del fútbol americano dice: “Aquel equipo que supere las 100 yardas por tierra ganará el juego”
Podríamos agregar: Ningún equipo que corra 47 yds, o 2 yds promedio por acarreo, está en posición de reclamar el día.

Pero esto es futbol americano y por supuesto que ese equipo puede ganar.

Se podrán encontrar muchas razones que expliquen la derrota de los Steelers.

  • Desde las lesiones (además de Ben se encontraban inactivos todavía Troy Polamalu y el WR Antonio Brown)
  • Los fumbles
  • El desempeño de Leftwich, con intercepción incluida (Los turnovers representaron 10 de los 13 puntos que marcó Baltimore)
  • El desempeño de los cuadros especiales
  • La línea ofensiva
  • El bajo porcentaje de conversión de 3er intentos
  • La demora en presentarse al juego el ataque terrestre

En lo que respecta a la performance de Leftwich se puede decir que NO fue desastrosa. Si bien completó un porcentaje menor de pases,
  • sumó más yardas por aire que su rival, Joe Flacco. Hemos visto a Ben, en tardes desenfocadas en las que tampoco acierta sus pases o sus receptores los dejan caer. Basta recordar la primera mitad contra Kansas City.

  • Inició con un TD por tierra al comienzo del partido.
  • Jugó lesionado en las costillas desde temprano en el partido y sufrió un golpe en el hombro derecho durante el TD.
  • No siempre recibió la mejor protección de su línea ofensiva (por ej. durante el 1er cuarto Mike Adams era incapaz de contener los embates de Paul Kruger).


La principal razón de esta derrota radica en que nunca, la ofensiva acerera pudo hilvanar acarreos con pases completos de manera sostenida que pueda haber transformado en puntos en el tablero.
Promediando el 3° cuarto Jonathan Dwyer comenzó a correr efectivamente, la LO abrió mejores huecos por donde acarrear pero faltaba la solidez del pase dado en el momento que debía ser dado y entonces ahí sí, ese déficit puede ser imputado al QB.
No tuvo la capacidad de producir las jugadas que debían ser producidas en esos momentos.

Tal vez ahí radique la razón por la cual no es un QB de elite.

No sabemos cuánto influyó la lesión en las costillas en el desempeño con su brazo derecho y entonces se podrá preguntar al Coach Tomlin por qué, con Charlie Batch calentando el brazo, Leftwich no dejó el partido.


Para concluir, tres apuntes finales:

  • Creo que Jonathan Dwyer es el mejor corredor de Pittsburgh y debe ser RB starter sin dudas
  • Loas al equipo defensivo del Coach Dick LeBeau. Hacen que siga siendo un orgullo pertenecer a la Nación Steeler. Esta escuadra se supera a sí misma domingo a domingo.
  • Queda abierto el interrogante sobre quién reemplazará a Leftwich, tras conocerse que su lesión consiste en 2 costillas rotas.

Fue un encuentro entre dos equipos que “no se tratan”. Es difícil de saber cómo se van a presentar las cosas en el próximo encuentro en Baltimore, dentro de 2 semanas. Por eso este era el partido. Desde este foro vengo repitiendo, que no se deben seguir desperdiciando oportunidades. Este no era un juego más: era uno que se podía perder, aún con Ben Roethlisberger en el campo de juego. Es por eso que quedó el sabor amargo de saber que se pudo ganar y que se escapó por poco.


Si hoy terminara la temporada los Steelers estarían en el juego de comodines.
Es que todavía las posiciones dentro de la AFC nos ayudan a mantenernos en carrera.

Se verá complicado el panorama si seguimos recogiendo lesionados en lugar de victorias...

                                                               El Dr. de Acero


Tomlin's Mistake on Leftwich Injury Costs Steelers Ravens Game

Steel Curtain Rising’s Steelers-Ravens pregame insight was that this contest would test both:
  • the Steelers time-honored commitment to a deep bull pen 
  • and Mike Tomlin’s credo that “The Standard is the Standard”
On the surface, it may seem like the franchise failed on both measures. But Sunday night's distasteful result disproves neither proposition. Instead, the Steelers 13-10 loss to their division rivals to something much more mundane – human error.

Vindicating Their Head Coach…. On Paper 

The Steelers entered the Ravens game without their:
Further complications included losing the redoubtable Isaac Redman early in the game, and then Jerricho Cotechery late in the game.
  • But this is Pittsburgh. Injures are never an excuse.
And, to this end the men in the Bumble Bee uniforms vindicated one of their head coaches’ most cherished philosophies.

How, you might ask?

The essence of Tomlin’s motto of “The Standard is the Standard” is this:
  • Being in the NFL means already puts you in the top half of the top one percent of the world’s football players. Therefore you’re capable of a winning performance. Period.
The brutal reality facing Steelers Nation this morning is that Pittsburgh entered the 4th quarter at home behind 13-10 and saw their defense force four punts in that period alone. The same defense held the Ravens to 3-14 on third downs and kept Baltimore’s offense out of the end zone the entire night….

Necessary, But Not Sufficient

…That, ladies and gentleman, normally amounts to a winning performance.

Why then are the now Steelers down two games to the Ravens?

Explanations abound:
  • Mike Wallace could have held on to the ball instead of gift-wrapping the Raven’s chance to get right back into the game
  • The special teams could have brought its A-Game against one of the league’s most dangerous punt returners
  • The offensive line could have started consistently winning at the line of scrimmage before the third quarter
  • Coaches could have settled on Jonathan Dwyer, who ran better than Rashard Mendenhall
If the Steelers execute on any of the situations above, they likely win the game.

While no one in Steelers Nation should find the defense at fault, a turnover also could have been game changing.

Be careful to note however, that the Steelers injury situation did nothing to prevent a winning performance in any of the situations above.

Yes, these mishaps were all necessary for the Steelers to lose the game, but none of them were sufficient.

Players Win Games, Coaches Lose Games

Like most of its brethren, that cliché gets thrown around too much as a catch all to highlight that coaches hold ultimate responsible for performance.
  • When it comes to the Steelers lose to the Ravens, however, the cliché takes on literal truth
Just three plays into the night, Byron Leftwich scampered 31 yards for the night’s first touchdown.

No one, outside or inside of Pittsburgh, let alone Leftwich himself, thought him capable of such a play.

Yet Alan Robinson of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review reports that Leftwich injured his shoulder when he landed in the end zone. Worse, Leftwich injured two ribs when sacked two possessions later.

Leftwich struggled all night and the offense struggled with him. While ESPN Deporte’s  commentators mentioned nothing about Leftwich having an injury, NBC’s camera’s kept focusing in on Leftwich nursing various parts of his body.

At one point, Charlie Batch even warmed.

Yet Leftwich remained in the game. At half time Mike Tomlin proclaimed Leftwich “fine”
  • He wasn’t.
In theory, Leftwich should have taken himself from the game. But Leftwich has finished 5 of his 9 previous seasons either on IR or inactive due to injury. Its difficult, (but not impossible) to blame him for trying to gut this one out.

But Byron Leftwich wasn’t up to the task.
  • And it’s not up to players’ responsibility to make those decisions anyway.
That responsibility falls on the coaches. And in that aspect, Mike Tomlin failed in his responsibility. (If he didn't know of Leftwich's injury, he should have.)

On Behind the Steel Curtain Ivan Cole offered:
It is also clear that Tomlin is loath to intervene in these cases and I think there is an argument to be made for that position even if you risk losing in the short term, which is what occurred in each instance.
Cole is referring to Tomlin’s decision to stick with a wounded Ben Roethlsiberger at San Francisco last year. While I deeply respect my friend and colleague, I view it differently.

Allowing a quarterback to embrace his modern day gladiator role when he’s delivering is one thing. Allow one to stubbornly cling to hero impulses when injuries impact performance is another.

There’s a reason why the Steelers have the NFL’s deepest depth chart at quarterback:
  • That’s to give Mike Tomlin options when injury strikes this vitally important position.
Mike Tomlin didn’t switch Charlie Batch for Roethlisberger at the half time in San Francisco. He should have and it cost the Steelers dearly.

The same thing was true of Byron Leftwich vs. the Ravens.

Time will tell if it costs the Steelers another division title.

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Monday, November 19, 2012

Steelers Lose to Ravens at Heinz Field

When it was all said and done, the Ben Roethlisbergerless Steelers had all of the necessary ingredients to beat the Baltimore Ravens.

They just failed to mix them together.

Yes, there's little doubt that with Roethlsiberger in the game, the Steelers come away with the win. Ben simply would have made some of those throws that Byron Leftwich misfired on.

But that wasn't the determining factor of the game.

The Steelers had their chances against a Ravens squad that performed mediocre on offense -- at best. But they couldn't capitalize. The Steelers simply failed to put it together.

  • The running game started slow but found its legs, but the Steelers needed 60 minutes of production from the running game
  • The line struggled to protect Leftwich in the early going, but they too stepped up, but the Steelers needed 60 minutes of production from the line
Much can be said for other areas.

Leftwich himself must bear part of the burden. He turned over the ball, and had great difficulty moving the chains on third down. 

No matter how you slice it, this game represents a huge missed opportunity for the Steelers. 

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Sunday, November 18, 2012

Steelers vs. Ravens LIVE on Twitter

Its the Pittsburgh Steelers 80th Anniversary celebration game, and who better to celebrate it with than the Baltimore Ravens.

When was the last time you can remember a Steelers-Ravens game where neither Ben Roethlsiberger nor Ray Lewis played?

That would be a long, long time.
  • But as it is, both teams will be forced to play without their studs. Who will step up?
I for one think the key to the game is the line buying time for Bryon Leftwich. Leftwich's arm strength is only slightly less than than of the Saturn V rockets that sent our astronauts to the moon. Ben Roethlisberger and Charlie Batch have had issues with under throwing Mike Wallace. But you can imagine that Leftwich will not have such issues.

But the key is he needs time, because Leftwich cannot make things happen with his feet the way Ben Roethlisberger can.

Get ready, its going to be a hard fought game.

Steel Curtain Rising plans to be active on Twitter (during the commercial break.) So if you're not already doing it by all means:

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Saturday, November 17, 2012

Ravens to Test Steelers Philosophy on Quarterbacks, Injuries

There are many differences between Mike Tomlin and Bill Cowher, just as there are many differences between Kevin Colbert and Tom Donahoe.

But there is one point of football philosophy that unites all four men:
  • Belief in a deep bullpen at the quarterback position
Given how important the quarterback position is, keeping an accomplished backup might seem like a no brainer. But its not, as Indianapolis’ experience when Peyton Manning went down demonstrates.

Since 1992 the Steelers have gone to great pains to insure themselves against such a calamity.
There were even two season (1995 and 1999) during the Cowher-Donahoe years when the Steelers carried four quarterbacks on their active roster.

When Kevin Colbert arrived in 2000, one of the first things he did was to convince Bill Cowher to go with a QB number 2 who offered at a true value add.

Kent Graham was the first such quarterback, and while he didn’t work out to well, the Steelers added Tommy Maddox in 2001 and wasted little time in snapping up Charlie Batch in 2002.

Mike Tomlin has embraced that philosophy as well. When Charlie Batch broke is collarbone during 2008 training camp, Tomlin wasted no time in bringing Byron Leftwich to Pittsburgh, just as he immediately turned to Leftwich  when Ben Roethlisberger’s legal troubles led to his four game suspension.

The Steelers of course weathered that suspension well, despite the fact that 5 quarters into the season they were playing their fifth string quarterback.
  • So the Steelers philosophy of investing in depth at quarterback has served them well.
But that philosophy is about to undergo it’s most severe test.

Steelers Face Life without Roethlisberger

There’s a certain irony to Ben Roethlsiberger’s injury vs. the Chiefs.
  • Todd Haley was brought in to keep Ben Roethlisberger upright
  • The offensive line had finally begun to improve its pass protection
Yet, Ben Roethlisberger’s number still came up. Yes, the Steelers have prepared for such an eventuality, but this eventuality happens to come when the Steelers have to play the Baltimore Ravens 2 times in 3 weeks.

It is during these three weeks that the Steelers will define their playoff future.
  • Can Byron Leftwich hold the down the fort? 
  • Can Todd Haley adjust his short-passing offense to accommodate Leftwich’s Saturn V strength arm?
  • Can the offensive line return to the dominance it flashed just a few weeks ago?
Mike Tomlin has always lived by the philosophy of  “The Standard is the Standard” or  “Next Man Up” or what have you. What it all boils down to is that Tomlin allows no daylight in which injuries can become excuses.

When the Steelers 2012 season began, Steel Curtain Rising looked at the large number of injuries plaguing Pittsburgh and suggested that Tomlin’s philosophy would undergo its stiffest test yet.

The test is about to get even stiffer.

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