´ Steel Curtain Rising: December 2012

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

Monday, December 31, 2012

Steelers Close 2012 by Defeating Browns, Offer Glimpses of What Was, Could Have Been....

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered their 2012 season finale with the Cleveland Browns carrying a unique distinction – for the first time in the Mike Tomlin era, the men in Black and Gold would play a game with zero playoff implications.
  • How would the Steelers respond?
In defeating the Browns 24-10 and evening their season to 8-8 the Steelers fittingly offered Steelers Nation glimpses of both what was and what could have been.

2012 The Way It Was

Disappointment was in no short supply for the Steelers in 2012, and the first half of their game vs. the Browns showed why.

Through the first 28 minutes the Steelers managed to:
  • Punt the ball way 4 times
  • Secure zero first downs
  • Fail to convert a turnover into any points whatsoever
  • Give up a long punt return (which was mercifully called back on a penalty)
Nor does the stat sheet take into account the interception that safety er um, tight end David Paulson broke up. And of course there were the injuries. A 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers game would not be complete without the loss of at least one starter to injury.

And the Fates were not about to choose Week 17 to disappoint. During the course of the game the Steelers lost:
  • Kelvin Beachum to a concussion resulting for a cheap shot
  • Keenan Lewis re-injured his knee and was lost for the game
  • Brett Keisel injured his MCL
  • David DeCastro suffered a stinger and left the game.
That’s 3 starters for those of you taking notes at home, leaving the Steelers with their 4th string offensive tackle, their 2nd string defensive lineman, their 4th string guard and their 5th or 6th string cornerback.

If you’re a member of Steelers Nation who was holed up at the South Pole and only now are catching up on the 2012 season, the 203 words written below the subtitle provide a concise summary.

Yes, for most of the first half it looked as if Mike Tomlin was going suffer his first losing season. But then the Steelers offered a peek at what could have been.

2012 The Way It Could Have Been

With 3:48 left in the first half the Steelers got the ball and, after making their first down of the half, proceeded to do what they’d done all day so far – go three and out.

Cleveland, playing under second year player Thaddeus Lewis, had looked like the team that wanted it more, and had an excellent shot at getting into the end zone with just two minutes remaining.

But then the Steelers defense went and did something it only began doing with any regularity a week ago – they caused a turnover.

If the Pittsburgh Steelers offense has been consistent at anything this season, it has been at scoring in the final minutes on the first half. And week 17 was no exception.

Isaac Redman set the tone with a bruising 11 yard run, and two plays later Ben Roethlisberger was connecting with Leonard Pope for the Steelers first touchdown.

It would be poetic to say that from this point on, the Steelers controlled the game. Alas, that was not to be.

The Steelers defense did its part, stalling Cleveland at their own 25 on 4th and 5, but for the second time in a four games, the Steelers special teams got caught with their pants down on a fake punt as Raymond Ventrone scampered for 35 yards.

An inane pass interference penalty on Joshua Victorian gave the Browns 1st and goal at the 1, and they only needed two plays to tie the score.

But Jonathan Dwyer answered immediately with the frist of two 12 yard runs on an 12 play 6:24 drive that ended with Ben Roethlisberger hooking up with Antonio Brown in the end zone.
  • The Steelers were ahead, but could they stay there?
The Steelers would stay there on the strength of:
  • A tag team sack by Steve McLendon and Cameron Hewyard
  • Cortez Allen’s forced fumble, recovery and 21 yard return
  • Plaxico Burress’ first regular season touchdown as a Pittsburgh Steeler since December 2004
  • Back to back, lightning quick sacks Lawrence Timmons, including a forced fumble and recovery by Ziggy Hood
In a word, the Steelers closed out 2012 with the type of situational plays that they didn't make consistently enough to keep their season going into January.

Steelers Finish 8-8, Face a Long Off Season

The win over the Browns evened the Steelers 2012 regular season record to 8-8. While missing the playoffs disappointing, this year it is particularly poignant in Pittsburgh.

As discussed here on Steel Curtain Rising this morning, aging, free agency, and looming salary cap complications will likely force the Steelers to retool their roster considerably.

Max Starks, Casey Hampton, Larry Foote, and Mike Wallace are all free agents, Brett Keisel and James Harrison will both be 35 and Deebo may very well be carrying a cost-prohibitive salary cap number.

But they’ll be plenty of time to sort those issues out in the months to come, and Steel Curtain Rising will be there to comment on it all.

In the mean time, thanks to all of for visiting this sight and taking time to share in its insights.

For any number of reasons -- some good, some bad, some on my shoulders, some out of my control -- traffic was down this season, but Google Analytics tells me that we did retain a core of loyal followers, and for that you have my deepest appreciation.

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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Steelers Bid Farewell to 2012, Are They Also Saying Bye James Harrison, Casey Hampton, Mike Wallace and Others?

On Sunday December 30th 2012 the Pittsburgh Steelers end 2012 just as they started it by playing their historic rivals, the Cleveland Browns.

2012 did not start well for the Steelers. Yes, they rang in New Year’s day in Cleveland with a victory, but it came at the cost of injuries to Rashard Mendenhall, a further tweak to Ben Roethlisberger’s injury added to the losses of both Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen.
  • Unfortunately, that game was only the warm up.
The Steelers traveled to Denver short-handed for a show down with Tim Tebow, and lost Max Starks, Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel. Doug Legursky, starting for Marukice Pouncey, was also injured in the game.

The tendency that began in January sustained itself throughout 2012.
  • Both starting outside linebackers missed significant time due to injury
  • 2011 team MVP Antonio Brown missed time due to a high ankle sprain
  • In the space of two weeks, the Steelers lost their number 1 and number 2 quarterbacks fallen by injury
  • By the end of the game in Dallas, the Steelers were playing their number 5 and number 6 corners
  • Despite investing heavily in their offensive line, the Steelers saw four starting offensive lineman spend time on injured reserve.
Finishing a season with no playoffs certainly qualifies as a disappointment to Steelers Nation. But the Steelers if ‘13 can bring better luck on the injury front, then Pittsburgh should shed no tears in bidding 2012 good bye.

Final Game for Hampton, Harrison, Keisel, Starks, Foote, Mendenhall and Wallace?

The Steelers 2012 off season marked a major transition of the Steelers as they parted ways with Aaron Smith, James Farrior, Byrant McFadden, and Hines Ward.

But of the above group, only Farrior was a starter at the close of 2011.

The season finale vs. Cleveland could mark the final game of several starters for the Steelers, many of whom wear two Super Bowl rings.
  • Casey Hampton is in the final year of his contract, and while he still has something left, he is unlikely to return
  • Brett Keisel likewise is finishing 2011 strong, but he will be 35 next year…
  • Max Starks has no contract for 2013, and the Steelers drafted both Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert with an eye towards replacing him
  • At times Larry Foote played well, at other times he was a half step behind, and a half step might be too much
  • Rashard Mendenhall contract is up, and recent events hint that he probably wants out and that the feeling is mutual
  • Finally, James Harrison is another who started slow but has finished strong, but he has a monster contract and the Steelers are facing serious salary cap issues
One player may have already played his final game in Black and Gold and his name is Mike Wallace. Wallace has been ruled out of the Browns game, yes you guessed it, because of injury, but he will be an unrestricted free agent, one whom the Steelers have shown no sign of expecting to resign.

On the defensive line, the Steelers have Cameron Heyward and Steve McLendon waiting in the wings. Ditto Stuart Spence at inside linebacker.

But Young Money was supposed to make the Steelers forget Hines Ward. Instead, Heath Miller out preformed them all.

And while Jason Worilds has shown flashes, but as far as being a replacement for James Harrison is concerned, thus far he has show himself far more of a Jason Gildon or even Carlos Emmons type of player as opposed to being in the mold of Joey Porter or Greg Lloyd.

Such transitions are painful but necessary in the NFL.

If this is the final time that we’ll see these men in Pittsburgh Steelers uniforms, let’s hope they go out with a bang.

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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Steelers Report Card vs. Bengals @ Heinz Field

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who can only now sympathize with Parkland Junior High School’s decision to send out interim progress reports (i.e. failure warnings) before the Christmas holidays, here is the Steelers Report Card for the loss against the Bengals at Heinz Field. As a caveat, no other grades were consulted prior to this posting.

Ben Roethlisberger did not have a good day. He only completed 50% of his passes and led the Steelers to a woeful 2-14 effort on third downs. Those are mediocre numbers, but the true ugliness of his performance lies in two interceptions Ben threw in situations were he was obviously forcing the ball when he didn’t need to. Ben certainly had help in losing the game, but he was clearly the first among equals here.  Grade:  F

Running Backs
Perhaps the greatest difference between this outing for the running backs and others was in the attitude. Jonathan Dwyer, Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman all ran hard, contested every hit, and never stopped pumping legs for extra yards. During the first half the trio managed to put up some nice runs and in doing so helped the team. The second half saw them take hits behind the line of scrimmage more regularly, and they’re efforts suffered. At the end of the day it was a wash, as the running game again was a non-factor.  Grade:  C+

Wide Receivers
For the first time in a long time the Steelers wide receivers put in a solid game from start to finish. Their quarterback put them into some tough positions, but Antonio Brown and Heath Miller led the team, with Jerricho Cotchery, Emmanuel Sanders, and Mike Wallace each following with a catch. This unit did not have a lot to work with, and perhaps could have done more to get open, but no fingers need be pointed at them for the loss. Grade:  B-

Offensive Line
This was the much ballyhood David DeCastro’s second NFL start and the truth is he played like an NFL rookie on the second week of September, as Geno Atkins dominated him through the game. His rookie compatriot Kelvin Beachum faired little better. Maurkice Pouncey suffered another injury but was able to return. Early in the game the line opened some holes for the running backs and afforded “OK” protection to Roethlisberger. But Cincinnati dominated the battle at the line of scrimmage in the second half shutting down the Steelers running game and sacking Ben Roethlisberger 3 times. The playoffs were on the line, and this unit’s performance was far, far below the line:  Grade:  D-

Defensive Line
If Brett Keisel and Casey Hampton are playing their final games at Heniz Field then they’re going out with a bang, as both men lead a unit that completely suffocated the Bengals rushing attack all day long. Ziggy Hood and Cameron Hewyard also got into the action spending plenty of time in the Bengals backfield, and Steve McClendon had a half sack. What’s more, these men won enough of their matchs ups to allow others to pressure Andy Dalton, and that should have been enough. Grade:  A-

Lawrence Timmons was a man on fire, leading the team in tackles, sacking Dalton twice, hitting him two more times, and registering two tackles for losses. James Harrison also got into the act with a sack and a tackle for a loss. Larry Foote added another tackle for a loss. LaMarr Woodley, however, was a non-factor. Overall, a solid performance from the linebacking corps. Grade:  B+

Oh the irony! The Steelers defense in general, and the secondary in particularly, have been a turnover-starved unit for almost two seasons running. Against the Bengals, Cortez Allen accounted for three, intercepting two balls and forcing another fumble which Ryan Clark recovered. Troy Polamalu got into the action and as fate would have it seems to be returning to form now the Steelers find themselves out of the playoffs. This unit was not perfect – Dalton did complete some passes when he needed to, but they were well above the line.  Grade:  A-

Special Teams
Shaun Shuisham had been all but perfect until the playoffs were on the line, and he missed, twice. And it wasn't even his fault. Greg Warren has one job, one sole function justifies his existence on the Pittsburgh Steelers. His bad snap cost the Steelers three points and those three points made a huge difference. Drew Bulter punts had decent length but too many ended up as touchbacks. Chris Rainey had a nice return. Grade:  D

Coaches hold ultimate responsibility when teams lose games and seasons end in failure. Yet can you really blame a coach for things like a bad snap on a 24 yard field goal and two forced passes that end as interceptions? The truth is that the Steelers fielded a focused, championship caliber defense vs. the Bengals. The offensive effort was not as sound, but its difficult to attribute much of that to game planning. However, as has happened at other times in the season, when one part of the Steelers is at the top of its game, another part is falling short, and it is the head coach's job to avoid that, and clearly Mike Tomlin again was unable to do that against the Bengals. Grade:  C-

Unsung Hero
He started the day injured, and for most of the day played on one leg. Yet he still managed to defend two passes and helped contain Andy Dalton and his otherwise A.J. Green and had he had help from offense and special teams, the Steelers success at defending against the Bengals passing attack would have been the difference maker, and for tha Keenan Lewis is the Unsung Hero of the Bengals game.

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Los Bengales Triumfan Contra Los Steelers

Antes que nada quiero disculparme por mi ausencia de la semana pasada. Es que cuestiones de enfermedad familiar ocuparon mi tiempo y me fue imposible dedicar el tiempo que demanda la escritura de estas líneas.

Semana 16: Pittsburgh se despidió de la temporada cayendo, en casa, ante Cincinnati

Desde que comencé a interesarme por este juego, aprendí que:

  • las defensivas ganan los partidos.
  • que aquel equipo que supera las 100 yardas por tierra se queda con el juego.
  • que de los turn overs se obtienen los puntos con los que se ganan los partidos.

Bueno, en la NFL pasan cosas y las verdades a veces no lo son tanto.

Durante este cotejo la defensiva verdaderamente produjo resultados. Como no había sucedido durante toda la temporada se recuperaron 3 balones.
La novedad es que de esos 3 turnovers la ofensiva produjo 0 puntos
Cortez Allen fue figura destacada en la obtención de cada una de estas pelotas:

  • Obtuvo una INT (la primera en los últimos 114 intentos de pases del equipo oponente!)
  • Realizó el tackle que provocó el fumble que recuperó Ryan  Clark
  • Y atrapó el pase que desvió Josh Victorian para una segunda intercepción
Además defendió 3 pases.

Otra de las actuaciones sobresalientes fue, otra vez, la de Lawrence Timmons con 8 tackles, 2 asistencias y 2 capturas de mariscal.
Merece una mención especial la captura de Andy Dalton por parte de Troy Polamalu. Recordó a aquella realizada sobre Kerry Collins en 2010, saltando por sobre la línea defensiva. Esta vez fue atravesandola con una velocidad fantasmal. Tanto así fue, que Dalton no había llegado a ceder el balón a su corredor que ya estaba en el suelo...

Pero cómo es que con esta defensiva se perdió el partido?

Simplemente la ofensiva no hizo su parte.
Cuando Pittsburgh perdió su partido contra Baltimore en la semana 11, yo escribí que fue uno de esos partidos en donde el QB (en este caso Byron Leftwich) está errático, impreciso, no produce las jugadas y que uno ha visto a Ben Roethlisberger en tardes de esas.

Bueno. A este tipo de jornadas es a las que yo me refería.
Big Ben fue un espectro de lo que solía ser.
Es cierto que tenía frente a sí a una línea ofensiva inexperta con David DeCastro y Kelvin Beachum que fue humillada por la línea defensiva que más capturas de mariscal tiene en la liga. De hecho, los cuatro sacks fueron realizados por linieros y más de la mitad por Geno Atkins.
La ofensiva, sencillamente, nunca engranó. Excepción hecha del pase de TD para Antonio Brown al finalizar el 2do cuarto y el gol de campo en el 3ero, la ofensiva fue rechazada en los momentos clave.

  • Hubo tres marchas seguidas en el 3er cuarto en donde Atkins hizo las jugadas, haciendo retroceder a la ofensiva acerera dejándolos en 4ta oportunidad y “muy largo”.  
Para agregar más infortunio a la tarde Shaun Suisham, temprano en el partido (tal vez presagiando el destino oprobioso que tendría el juego) increíblemente,  falló un intento de gol de campo de...23 yardas.
Ya lo dije. Increíble  

Triste, solitario y final

El título de la novela del escritor argentino Osvaldo Soriano, representa la imagen final del equipo dejando el campo de juego.
Con un Big Ben impotente, mirando el piso, se fue la temporada 2012.
Desde mediados de noviembre se obtuvo solo una victoria (tal vez el partido más “perdible” de todos, tal como se habían dado las cosas) y 5 derrotas.

  • Elocuentes palabras las de James Harrison: tenemos que hacer un mejor papel los jugadores jugando y los entrenadores, entrenando.
  • Concuerdo con la falta de sorpresa de Isaac Redman por el resultado
  • Impresiona la lectura de Mike Tomlin al decir que vió “crecimiento” en el desempeño del equipo el último domingo. También concuerdo con la observación de Ed Bouchette al puntualizar que el entrenador no explicó en dónde vió tal crecimiento...

                                                        El Dr. de Acero

A la memoria de mi madre, Gilda.
27-03-1938   20-12-2012

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas to Steelers Nation

When the history of the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers is written, it will go down as "the season that could have been." At times this team flashed greatness that could have propelled them deep into the post-season. At other times they could not stop from tripping over their own two feet.

The team invested heavily in an improved offensive line, only to see every start except Max Starks lose time due to injury, with Marcus Gilbert, Willie Colon and David DeCastro spend time on IR.... 

James Harrison started slow but finished strong. LaMarr Woodley was playing fairly well until injuries removed him from the line up. Troy Polamalu was out much of the year, but no sooner did he return to health  than did the Steelers lose Ike Taylor to injury....

Running backs Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman, and Rashard Mendenhall at times ran like All-Pro running backs, but none were consistent enough to establish themselves as starters....

Ben Roethlisberger started off with an MVP like season, then he too fell to injury, and was not the same player after his return...

More to Life Than Football

Unfortunately, this isn't the story that Steelers Nation wanted to tell at Christmas. But fortunately there is much more to life than football.

From everyone here at Steelers Curtain Rising, to everyone out there in Steelers Nation, we wish you a very Merry Christmas!

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Monday, December 24, 2012

Bengals Best Steelers 13-10 at Heinz Field

Obviously, not our day and, thus, not our year.” – Mike Tomlin following the Bengals loss

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 campaign has been one riddled with ironies and the loss at Heinz Field to the Cincinnati Bengals added yet another layer.

An inability to sack the quarterback and force turnovers plagued the Steelers defense all season.
  • Against the Bengals the Steelers intercepted two balls and forced and recovered one fumble, and sacked Andy Dalton six times
  • ...the Steelers offense scored zero points off of those turnovers
The Steelers secondary was brutalized first against San Diego and then again against Dallas
  • Against the Bengals, the secondary held Cincinnati to 4-15 on third down conversions
  • ...when Andy Dalton needed to complete a pass, he did
All season long, ball security and drops have plagued Young Money at critical points in crucial games
  • Against the Bengals, the wide receivers committed no turnovers, made some nice catches and drops were a non-issue
  • ...too often they never got a chance to work their magic because Ben Roethlsiberger simply lacked time
And what 2012 Steelers loss would be complete without a special teams snafu? Shaun Suisham has been impeccable all year, yet missed another field goal beyond his range, and shanked an absolute gimmie because of – get this – a bad snap.

Steelers Start Hungry, Focused But…

You can describe the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers with a single word.  “Inconsistent.”

To be truly inconsistent implies highs as well as lows, and today certainly qualified for the Steelers, because it may have been one of their better defensive performances.

Against San Diego the Steelers defense looked dazed, confused and at times appeared to play almost in slow motion. Against Dallas, the Steelers defense seemed over matched for much of the game (although the unit did ‘turn it up’ fairly well in the second half.)
  •  None of that was apparent today. In the words of my wife “this is a different team.”
 And it was.
  • At times the Steelers run defense has been suspect this season. Cincinnati totaled 14 yards rushing.
Series after series ended in frustration for the Steelers offense, but the Steelers defense never batted an eye. Yes, Andy Dalton made a number of key throws and connected with A.J. Green and Jermaine Gresham, but neither of those men sniffed the end zone.

Cincinnati offense made enough noise to pin the Steelers deep into their own territory, their total offensive output for the day was six points. 
  • Normally in the NFL you win when you hold your opponent’s offense to six points.
But the 2012 Steelers, ever creative in their endeavors to find new ways to self-sabotage, succeeded yet again.

It’s (Not Quite) About the Quarterback, Stupid

The loss to the Bengals, as all losses are, was a team effort.

If Greg Warren, Drew Bulter, and Shaun Suisham keep it together long enough to make a 24 yard field goal, this game likely goes into overtime.

Rashard Mendenhall and to a lesser extent Jonathan Dwyer ran strong in the first half. Cincinnati made the adjustments necessary to shut down the Steelers running game in the second half.

The Steelers inability to rush the ball in the second half forced them to rely in Ben Roethlisberger and his receivers. Antonio Brown atoned in part for his awful performance last week by burning his man on the Steelers only touchdown of the day.
  • Yet that burst was the exception and not the rule.
 The Steelers passing game might look respectable on the stat sheet, but in truth it struggled all day. They only managed to convert two third downs, and Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 4 times in the second half.

It’s important to get all of these very relevant points out into the open, so that the record reflects that no one man was responsible for the Steelers loss. 
  • But one man must bear extra responsibility for the loss, and that man would be Ben Roethlisberger.
Cincinnati’s only touchdown came when Ben Roethlisberger attempted to force the ball to Health Miller deep in his own territory. Leon Hall wasn’t fooled for a moment and scored easily.

Ben Roethlisberger waited until the 4th quarter for his next self inflicted wound, when he forced a pass to Mike Wallace that he didn’t have to force, setting up the Bengals for a field goal.

Steel Curtain Rising has long argued that Ben Roethlisberger gets short shift from the national media. Yet, if he wants to be regarded as a truly elite quarterback, he needs to stop throwing these stupid interceptions.

Ben’s ability to improvise and make something out of nothing is legendary, and no serious Steelers fan should want to take that away from him. But sometimes he tries to take too much upon himself. He did that today, and it cost the Steelers.

And that adds additional irony to the Steelers 2012 season. Arguably Ben Roethlisberger has played some of his best ball during stretches of 2012. Along with Heath Miller and Lawrence Timmons, Roethlisberger has been one few consistent performers game in and game out this year.

But in this must win game vs. the Bengals Roethlisberger’s number came up, and it was his turn to fall short with the playoffs on the line. Unfortunate and frustrating, but that’s reality in Steelers Nation this Christmas Eve.

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Friday, December 21, 2012

Steelers Nation: "Generation Immaculate Reception" Celebrates 40 Years

Terry Bradshaw and Franco Harris connected through the Immaculate Reception on December, 23rd 1972, combining to make the most spectacular play in football history.

The play happened precisely a week before my 4 month birthday, making me a member of Steelers Nation’s post Immaculate Reception generation.

Comprehending what that means requires knowing what came before, experiencing what followed, and appreciating the almost super natural aspect of what occurred on that day. Scroll down or click on the links below to reach each thread of this incredible story.

The Post Immaculate Reception Steelers
The Pre-Immaculate Reception Pittsburgh Steelers
The Immaculate Reception – A Franchises’s Fortunes Change

The Post Immaculate Reception Steelers

While the Steelers lost in the following week to Don Shula’s perfect 1972 Dolphins team, the Immaculate Reception ushered in an unheralded era of pro football prosperity. Since that fateful the Pittsburgh Steelers have:
  • Won 6 Super Bowls, more than any other team
  • Played in 8 Super Bowls, tying the mark for championship appearances
  • Achieved a winning record in 32 of those 40 years, again, more than anyone else
  • Posted an overall winning percentage that is better than any other NFL team
  • Sent 64 players on the NFL's All Pro Teams, more than any other franchise
  • Never once did they win fewer than 5 games something that no one else in the NFL can say 
These stats come courtesy of Tim Gleason, author of From Black to Gold, whose article on the Immaculate Reception on Behind the Steel Curtain is simply one of the best articles on the Pittsburgh Steelers I have ever read (full disclosure - I also writer for BTSC.)

Pittsburgh measures success in Super Bowls. Few other NFL cities can make that claim. Its often said that Steelers fans are spoiled, and to a large extent that’s true.

No other NFL franchise can match the Steelers record of success, stability and sustained since that day in December 1972.

The Pre-Immaculate Reception Steelers

The Immaculate Reception was also the Steelers first playoff victory.
  • That’s hard for many fans to fathom, just as it was hard for me to grasp as a child.
The morning after the Penguins most recent Stanley Cup victory, I declared that Pittsburgh was once again the City of Champions.

In doing so, I shared memories of seeing framed copies of the Sports Illustrated cover featuring Terry Bradshaw and Willie Stargell adorning walls that overlooked barbershop counters where Iron City Steelers Championship cans were proudly displayed.

An unremarkable memory, until you consider the fact that Dino’s barbershop lay in Aspen Hill, Maryland, which is about 10 miles from the DC border.

But to a 7 year old all of this was "normal." Neither of my parents followed sports closely, but as a child I naturally asked them if they’d similarly been Steelers fans growing up.

“You don’t understand, the Steelers and Pirates were terrible when we were growing up,” was the response.

The Pirates did have their moments in the sun, but the Pittsburgh Steelers were a paragon to futility for 40 years. Aside from failing to win a playoff game, the pre-Immaculate Reception Steelers could “boast” of:
  • A single playoff appearance (a 1962 loss to Detroit)
  • A mere 8 winning seasons and 5 more seasons at .500
  • Not even allowing Johnny Unitas, perhaps the best quarterback ever to play, to throw a pass in practice before giving him his walking papers
  • Cutting Len Dawson, future Super Bowl Champion and NFL Hall of Famer
  • Trading Bill Neilson away for nothing to the arch-rival Cleveland Browns where he’d appear in two NFL Championships
  • Passing on future Hall of Famers Bill Schmidt and Lenny Moore opting to pick dud Gerry Glick in the later case
  • Stubbornly sticking to the obsolete Single Wing formatting deep into the 50’s
The pre-Immaculate Reception Pittsburgh Steelers also suffered their share of bad luck.

Legendary Pitt coach Jock Sutherland coached the Steelers two winning seasons following World War II, but unfortunately died after the 1947 season on a scouting trip. Joe Bach was also making progress towards building a winner, until health problems forced him form the game.

Then there was Gene Lipscomb aka “Big Daddy” tragic death to heroin in 1963. Former Colorado stand out Byron White led the NFL in scoring, rushing, and total offense in 1938, but decided to study for a year at Oxford and played for Detroit in 1940. (White later went on to the US Supreme Court.)

The Steelers just couldn't seem to get a break.

The Immaculate Reception -- A Franchise's Fortunes Change

The root of many if not all of the Steelers ills for those 40 years was the simple fact that Art Rooney Sr., for as decent and honorable of a man he was, was as bad at picking coaches as he was good at handicapping horses.

Dan Rooney began to take over control of the Steelers in the 1960’s while Art Rooney Jr. began building the scouting department. Rooney in fact influenced his father’s decision to fire the mercurial Buddy Parker, yet could not persuade The Chief to ignore Vince Lombardi’s advice to hire Bill Austin.

Austin failed after just two seasons, and Art Rooney Sr. finally relented in allowing Dan to conduct a thorough coaching search. Then, things began to change for the Pittsburgh Steelers:
  • Rooney hired Chuck Noll, the first and as yet only NFL coach to win four Super Bowls
  • The city of Pittsburgh agreed to build Three Rivers Stadium, giving the Steelers a modern home
  • Noll selected future NFL Hall of Famer Joe Greene with his first pick in 1969 NFL Draft
  • Terry Bradshaw, a future Hall of Famer, came to Steelers in the next year as the number one overall pick in the 1970s NFL Draft
  • Jack Ham, another future NFL Hall of Famer followed in the second round of the 1971 NFL Draft
Chuck Noll entered the 1972 NFL Draft actually wanting to draft Robert Newhouse. But Art Rooney Jr. and Dan Radakvoich and prevailed on him to ignore Newhouse and instead take Penn State fullback Franco Harris.
  • Finally, reason intervened in the draft room and tipped the scales in the Steelers favor to another Hall of Famer.
Still, when Harris first joined the Steelers, team capital Andy Russell feared he wouldn’t make it, as Harris seemed to shy from hitting holes.

Yet, in his first exhibition game start off tackle to the left, found nothing, planted his foot, and cut back to the right, exploding for a 75 yard touchdown. After the play Noll offered his running backs coach, Dick Hoak a simple instruction:
  • “Dick, don’t over coach him.”
At 6’2” 220 lbs., Franco Harris was a big back for his day. Yet he was fast. He was also cerebral.

According to The Ones Who Hit the Hardest Harris once confided to NFL Films that “The art of running is being able to change and do things because what you thought would be there is not there.”
  • That ability served Franco Harris, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Steelers Nation extremely well on December 23rd 1972.
The Raiders and Steelers staged the first of many hard-fought battles those two teams would fight throughout the 1970’s. The score stood at 0-0 at the half, and the fourth quarter found the Steelers clinging to a 3 point lead.

John Madden benched starter Daryl Lamonica for of “The Snake” Ken Stabler. With just over a minute to play, Stabler exploited the weakness of a the Steeler Curtain without Dwight White, and ran 30 yards for a touchdown.
  • Art Rooney Sr. had waited 40 years to taste playoff victory, and the Chief concluded he’d have to wait one more, heading to the locker room to console his team.
The Steelers got the ball back, but only advanced to their 40 by the time 22 seconds remained. The call was “66 Circle Option Play” to Barry Pearson.

Terry Bradshaw faded back. The Raiders laid in the blitz. Bradshaw evaded. Bradshaw stepped up. Bradshaw fired a missile downfield to Frenchy Fuqua. The ball soared downfield carrying with the momentum of 40 years of losing.

As the ball reached about the 30 it slammed into a wall created by a hellacious collision between Jack Tatum and Frency Fuqua ricocheting it backwards.

And in that instant, the fortunes of the Pittsburgh Steelers changed (available as of 12/31/12):

Certainly no one diagrammed “66 Circle Option Play” to end that way.

Was it luck or did a divine hand intervene to push the ball in Franco’s? I’ll lean towards the later, but you decide that question for yourself.

But there was nothing super natural about Franco being in the right place at the right time.

Franco Harris role in “66 Circle Option Play” was to block the outside linebacker. He wasn’t even supposed to be downfield. But when the linebacker didn’t appear, Franco took off feeling he might contribute elsewhere.
  • As Chuck Noll explained, “Franco hustled on every play.” 
Fortune’s hand, in one form or fashion, opened the door between winning and losing for Pittsburgh, but it was Franco’s dedication and determination that drove the Steelers through it.
  • And for 40 years the franchise has continued moving forward. 
Since then more Steelers seasons have ended at the Super Bowl than have ended as losing efforts.

Since that fateful day, “Steelers” has been synonymous with success, winning, and championships for an entire generation within Steelers Nation.

You can simply call us Generation Immaculate Reception.

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Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Steelers Report Card vs. Cowboys @ Jerry's World

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is wondering if what once seemed to be his star pupil is actually underachieving or is simply mired in mediocrity, here is the Steelers report card for the loss to the Dallas Cowboys at Jerry’s World. As a caveat, no other report cards were consulted prior to this posting.

Had the Steelers won, it would have been forgotten that Ben Roethlisberger started shaky, was uncharacteristically low on several key throws, and was below 50% passing for much of the early going.  The amnesia is justified, as Roethlisberger put on a sterling performance to close the second half, and brought the Steelers back from deficits in the fourth quarter in strong fashion. But… He threw an interception, inside his own twenty, in over time. Maybe one costly error doesn’t negate everything Roethlisberger did, but it negates a lot.  Grade:  C-

Running Back
Jonathan Dwyer started off with a strong 6 yard run, and then end up averaging 2.4 yards per carry, although nine carries isn’t much to judge by. Isaac Redman had a spectacular 22 yard run and looked good, on his other 2 carries. Ditto Chris Rainey, who made the most of his carries. It may have been through no fault of their own, but the running backs were largely a non-factor. Grade:  B-

Wide Receivers
This unit started out with some ball security issues, drops and inability to get in bounds, and of course finished with an inability to stay in bounds. But in between, the receivers turned in a pretty good game. Heath Miller was phenomenal in the first half. Mike Wallace burned his men so badly he had to wait for the ball, and Jerricho Cotchery made a couple of key catches.  Grade:  B

Offensive Line
Ben Roethlisberger didn’t go down often early, but that was largely from his “Roger the Dodger” imitation. The run blocking was average at best. Both Max Starks and Kelvin Beachum struggled to contain pressure off the edge. But unit put up a winning performance until the Steelers final two possessions – when Roethlisberger needed time the most. That breakdown was unacceptable.  Grade:  D

Defensive Line
Unlike Pittsburgh, Dallas’ running game was a factor, giving Tony Romo lots of 2nd and 3rd and shorts which he converted with relish. That starts with the defensive line. Likewise, the Steelers got little significant  pressure on Romo. In fact, Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward were the only players to register any stats, although Brett Keisel recovered a fumble. With a depleted  secondary, the Steelers needed something extra up front. They didn’t get it much from the line. Grade:  C-

Lawrence Timmons continued to make his case for defensive MVP registering a sack and stopping a key Dallas third down conversion. James Harrison saved a touchdown with a masterful strip at the goal line, and nixed some sort of trickery by slam dunking Romo on another 3rd and short. LaMarr Woodley played, but was invisible throughout the game. Larry Foote did little to distinguish himself. Grade:  B-

You had to feel for Joshua Victorian. Has a Steelers corner ever been picked on so badly? Clearly he was over matched early on, but he did perk up, a little during the game. Still, poor tackling and yards after the catch were as much issues as completions, which were plentifully. Keenan Lewis turned in a strong game including some great touchdown saves. Ryan Clark led the team in tackles, and Troy Polamalu was second, although he’s clearly failed to be a force since his return. The Standard is the Standard, and the secondary was below the line.  Grade:  D

Special Teams
Shaun Suisham was 1-1 on field goals. Chris Rainey had one nice kick return. No returns got called back on penalties. Dallas did have a long punt return. Antonio Brown had two long punt returns. Unfortunately on his second one, where he looked primed to set Pittsburgh up to ice the game, he put the ball on the ground. For an encore he passed on fielding a punt and the ensuring bounce put the Steelers another 15 yards in the hole. This unit cannot seem to stop tripping over its own too feet. The fumble was a decisive momentum shift. Inexcusable.  Grade:  F

After a heart breaking letdown the Steelers started off jittery. To their credit, Mike Tomlin kept the team on an even keel. On a day when Tony Romo was moving with alarming ease, the Steelers maintained their composure and did not hesitate to go blow for blow. And for all of the defense’s flaws, they did force Dallas off the field at a couple of key points (only to watch their special teams self destruct.)

Dick Lebeau had a difficult task. His adjustments didn’t manage to get much pressure on Romo, but overall the defense’s performance might have been good enough. Ditto Todd Haley. Much is made of the inability to get Heath Miller the ball in the second half, but the Steelers offense did tie the game in the 3rd and took the lead in the first. Ultimately the Steelers did make some adjustments, but they weren’t enough. Grade:  C

Unsung Hero
He’s a guy who doesn’t see the stat sheet a lot and will in all likelihood have to fight for a roster spot every summer at St. Vincents. But Ben Roethlisberger called his number twice, and twice he delivered with double digit receptions, including one that helped set up the Steelers first score. On the Steelers second score, he helped open the daylight that lead to Dwyer’s first half ending touchdown, and for that Will Johnson is the Unsung Hero of the Dallas game.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Failure on Fundamentals and Focus Costs Steelers in Loss to Dallas

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Dallas Cowboys are the NFL’s two most popular and by most measures, most successful franchises. They've now faced off 31 times, with Dallas holding a one game advantage in the series. Its hard to generalize about the series, given that:
  • Super Bowl X and Super Bowl XIII came down to which team’s Hall of Famers could make more plays
  • One quarterback’s mistakes empowered the other team’s Hall of Famers secure victory in Super Bowl XXX 
  • Opening day match upd in 1994 and 1997 alternatively served as harbingers and mirages of the season to come
If there’s one constant that’s run through this series of two true NFL titans it is dramatic finishes.

The Steelers second journey to Jerry’s World certainly lacked no fair for the dramatic, but unfortunately for Steelers Nation, Pittsburgh lost because it came up short on both fundamentals and focus.

It’s Keeping Your Eye on the Ball, Stupid

The last few weeks have been a non-stop roller coaster ride for the Pittsburgh Steelers. From losing Ben Roethlisberger vs. Kansas City, to losing Bryon Leftwich after the Ravens loss, to the turnover debacle in Cleveland, to Charlie Batch’s stunning upset in Baltimore, to the equally shocking self destruction vs. San Diego the ups and downs have not stopped.

When the Steelers took to the field for the game’s first possession, the question on everyone’s mind was, “Which Pittsburgh Steelers squad will show up today?”

The answer as previewed on the Steelers first drive left everyone in Steelers Nation queasy. After a nice six yard run by Jonathan Dwyer, Ben Roethlisberger threw:
  • A deep pass to Mike Wallace that Wallace probably should have caught and Dallas probably should have intercepted
  • A short pass to Antonio Brown that he might have been able to catch and that Dallas should have intercepted
  • A deep ball to Emmanuel Sanders that he caught and fumbled, only to have mercifully ruled as an incompletion upon review
  • Another pass that got batted around by Dallas defenders like a volley ball
Sadly, the sight of Drew Butler on fourth down was sign of relief. Things didn’t get much better on the Steelers next possession which ended with Mike Wallace making what looked to be a beautiful catch, only for him to fail to get both feet in bounds.

Even more sadly, these first two series most certainly foreshadowed things to come for the Steelers, although that might not have been immediately apparent.

Keep’n ‘em Honest in Texas

Tony Romo entered the game on a real hot streak, and figured to feast mightily on a Steelers secondary  missing Ike Taylor and Cortez Allen and featuring someone named Josh Victorian starting at corner.

The record will, and should, reflect that Romo and his receivers did pick the Steelers secondary apart for much of the afternoon. At one point Romo was 20-25.

But that’s only part of the story. As has happened all season, in both victory and defeat, members from across the roster have made plays to keep the Steelers in the game.
  • Keenan Lewis broke up a pass to Dez Bryant to hold Dallas to a field goal
  • James Harrison knocked the ball loose from Demarco Murray at the goal line with Brett Keisel recovering
  • Lawrence Timmons smothered Murray on third and one to end Dallas first 3rd quarter possession
  • James Harrison sacked Tony Romo on an attempt to sneak something big on another 3rd and 1
Big plays weren’t solely limited to the defense. Near the end of the first half, Ben Roethlisberger flawlessly executed the 2 minute drill, and completing 3 passes to Heath Miller including a 30 yard touchdown. He also threw a 60 yarder to Mike Wallace to set up Dwyer’s second touchdown.

Jerricho Cotchery, Mike Wallace and Isaac Redman also made excellent plays on the drive the culminated with Antonio Brown’s go ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter.

Failing on the Fundamentals

Although that touchdown gave Pittsburgh its first lead in the game, it also held the seeds for its downfall. Brown made an excellent catch on a very low pass, but the pass was low, as had been several others of Roethlisberger. Even as Pittsburgh was pulling ahead, its fundamentals were flawed.
  • Brown himself would make that painfully clear in just a few minutes. 
A series of Dallas penalties and incomplete passes brought up 4th and 19 for the Cowboys. Not surprisingly, Jason Garrett opted to punt.

Antonio Brown fielded the ball and tore through the defense en route to giving Pittsburgh excellent field position, if not something bigger...
  • ...Then he put the ball on the ground.
The repossession gave Dallas new life and they quickly tied the game. As he did on other drives, Tony Romo exploited the youth and inexperience of the Steelers corners, but he was even more successful because the Steelers failed to tackle cleanly, regularly yielding Dallas extra yards after the catch.

Things cascaded after that point.

The Steelers make shift offensive line, complete with David DeCastro making his first start, had done a workman like job, only allowing 1 sack in the game’s first 54 minutes.
  • The Steelers next possession was ended by a sack on third down
  • On the following possession, Roethlisberger was sacked on consecutive downs, for 8 yards each time 
  • On the next play Antonio Brown inexplicably gave Dallas an extra time out by running out of bounds
Sure, the game went into over time anyway, but perhaps that extra time out is what allow Dallas to pin Pittsburgh deep and with no time to end regulation.
  • Finally, overtime ended with Ben Roethlisberger threw a risky pass and paid the price.
Against the Dallas Cowboys the Pittsburgh Steelers played hard and at times played well. But too often they ignored core fundamentals and ultimately lacked focus at key times.

They now need to find both fast, to have any hope of saving their season.

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Friday, December 14, 2012

The Pittsburgh Steelers History vs. the Dallas Cowboys

“Best” in the National Football League is defined by Super Bowl Championships. But how do you decide who is “the best of the best” when comparing championship teams from different eras? It’s an irresistible, unending, and most often unanswerable question because it’s rare when two truly great teams clash in a single era.

The glory earned by Bill Walsh’s 49ers was real, but in none of those Super Bowls did San Francisco defeat another team that also laid claim to the term “Dynasty.”

Both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys of the ‘70´s established dynasties, and they did play each other in the Super Bowl. Twice. And that’s what makes their rivalry so special.

The Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys have played 30 times and the series stands at a 15-15 stalemate. The links below take you back games that I have memories of starting with the Super Bowls.

Super Bowl X
Super Bowl XIII
The Pittsburgh Steelers First Game without Art Rooney
The Steelers Regret not Drafting Emmitt...
Dallas Embarrasses Pittsburgh on Opening Day I
Super Bowl XXX
Cowboys Embarrass Steelers on Opening Day II
Ben Roethlisberger vs. Vinny Testaverde...
Tony Romo Meets the Zone Blitz

Super Bowl X

January 18, 1976, Miami Orange Bowl
Pittsburgh 21, Dallas 17

First a little poetic license. I’m too young to remember Super Bowl X, but omitting this NFL classic would be a sin. Chad Millman and Sean Coyne chronicle this series in their 2010 book The Ones Who Hit the Hardest, arguing that the tensions between the two teams mirrored the 1970’s Sun Belt-Frost Belt social shift. While that’s interesting, this Super Bowl magnum’s true richness is in the Hall of Fame Talent found on both sides of the ball.

Although the Steel Curtain defense was at its prime, it couldn’t stop Roger Staubach from striking quickly to Drew Pearson for a 29 yard touchdown pass. Pittsburgh rallied quickly, thanks in part of the first of several acrobatic “Lynn Swann” catches. Dallas struck back by with three more, and the two teams stood at a stalemate until Cliff Harris’ ill-advised taunting of Roy Gerela after a missed kick. Jack Lambert would not stand for it, and tossed Harris to the turf.

Although Lambert pleaded with the official not to get ejected, his boldness inspired the Steelers. In short order, Reggie Harrison blocked a punt for a safety, and Roy Gerela kicked two field goals to put Pittsburgh ahead by 3, which they clung to until late in the 4th.

On third and 6 with 3:06 to play Dallas KOed Terry Bradshaw with a helmet-to-helmet hit on all out safety blitz, but not before he lofted a 64 yard pass to Lynn Swann, who put the Steelers up 21-10.

Pittsburgh had the lead, but Bradshaw was out and 3 minutes was a lot of time to give Roger Staubach…
  • What separates a great player in his era from an all time great?
For one, the all time greats elevate those around them. Roger Staubach only need 1:14 to put Dallas back in the game, and he did it with a 34 yard bullet to Percy Howard for a touchdown, making that the first and only pass reception of Howard’s NFL career.
  • Without Bradshaw, the Steelers failed to kill the clock. 
  • Chuck Noll refused to punt, giving Roger Staubach ample time to go 61 yards.
But Noll had the best defense in NFL history at his disposal. He trusted them. And they delivered and they delivered as Mike Wagner tipped Staubach’s final pass into the arms of Glen Edwards.

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Super Bowl XIII
January 21, 1979, Miami Orange Bowl
Steelers 35, Cowboys 31

This was the first Super Bowl rematch and arguably the best Super Bowl ever, with 7 touchdowns, a 22 yard touchdown run, and a fumble returned for a touchdown.

While still strong, the Steel Curtain had begun its decline. But Chuck Noll and Tom Moore compensated by unleashing Lynn Swann and John Stallworth with the help of Terry Bradshaw´s cannon.

The day’s defensive accolades belonged to the Dallas “Doomsday Defense” led by Randy White, Harvey Martin, Ed “Too Tall” Jones, and the coke sniffing Hollywood Henderson. This was the year that Tom Landry unveiled the famous “flex defense” that befuddled the league.
  • Who would triumph? The Irresistible force or the Immovable object?
Super Bowl XIII was Terry Bradshaw’s finest game.
  • Lynn Swann and John Stallworth caught touchdown passes of 18 yards, 28 yards, and 75 yards, respectively
  • Although he threw just 30 times, he had 318 yards passing
Rocky Bleier closed the first half with another touchdown catch, making a play that a former Vietnam vet who was never supposed to walk again had no right to.

The game featured Hall of Fame caliber plays from both teams. Tony Dorsett gouged Pittsburgh’s defense for 96 yards on just 15 carries – an astonishing 6.4 yard average. Roger Staubach himself had a 3 touchdown game, including two in the game’s final 2 and a half minutes.

Looking back at Dorsett’s rushing dominance one might ask, why were Staubach’s heroics even necessary? Why didn’t Dallas run more?
  • The answer lies in Dallas’ inability to take advantage of opportunities, and in that age old flaw – cockiness.
With Dallas trailing 21 to 14 in the third quarter, Staubach hit Jackie Smith perfectly alone in the end zone – Smith dropped the ball

Midway through the 4th, Randy White recovered a muffed kickoff, only to fumble and then watch Dennis Wilson emerge with the ball from the ensuring scrum
  • One play later, Bradshaw hit Swann for an 18 yard touchdown strike
But it was the touchdown that set up the botched kickoff that provides the instructive tale.

Prior to Super Bowl XII, Hollywood Henderson had talked a lot of trash:
  • Insulting Randy Grossman
  • Calling Jack Lambert a “toothless chimpanzee”
  • charging that Bradshaw could not spell “cat” if you spotted him the “c” and the “t”
Midway through the fourth quarter Henderson slammed Bradshaw to the turf on a play whistled dead before the snap. Not content with an illegal it, Henderson took his time climbing off of Bradshaw, taunting him all the while.

Franco Harris, normally reserved to a fault, took exception to the taunts and got into Henderson’s face. According to Millman and Coyne, Henderson rebuffed him, “_uck you in your ass, and your mama, too.”

Harris’ response was simple. It was 3rd and 9 and Harris returned to the huddle and said “give me the ball.” Bradshaw complied, calling a special trap the Noll and Moore had designed to exploit a weakness in the Flex defense.
  • Harris ran straight through the hole, and went 22 yards later he found the end zone.
Staubach’s of course would lead two 4th quarter touchdown drives, leaving Dallas 22 seconds for an on-sides kick and a final shot at glory. But Rocky Bleier recovered the kick, sealing the Steelers 3rd Super Bowl victory.

Afterwards, a Cowboy’s radio commentator proclaimed “It was a triumph of blue collar over white collar.” Maybe that’s true. The grandson of a Mt. Oliver butcher who lived by the sweat of his brow certainly likes that ending to the story.
  • But truth is something perhaps grander yet.
It was a historical rarity that pitted two dynasties clashing in the game’s greatest show, with Pittsburgh coming out on top.

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Pittsburgh and Dallas would meet three times between Super Bowl XIII and 1988, games that unfortunately have no place in my memory.

The Pittsburgh Steelers Begin Life without Art Rooney
September 4th, 1988, Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 24, Dallas 21

Pittsburgh Steelers founder Art Rooney, Sr. passed away on August 28th, 1988. The Chief’s death marked a transition for the team. Gone was Mark Malone, drafted in 1980 to replace Terry Bradshaw. Gone too were John Stallworth and Mike Webster, leaving Dwayne Woodruff as the final link to the Super Steelers.

As fate would have it, Rooney’s team would confront their historic rivals 7 days after his death, making it the final time that Chuck Noll and Tom Landry’s final contest. The game marked Bubby Brister’s first non-injury start and Michael Irvin’s NFL debut. It also began a sort of last hurrah for 1980´s Steelers stables such as Ernest Jackson who would soon find himself benched in favor of an unheralded second year player named Merril Hoge.

The Steelers won 24 to 21, allowing Noll to open with a victory over Landry in a season that would see him close it with a victory over Shula – and get precious little in between.

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Emmitt Smith Makes Steelers Regret not Drafting Him...
November 28th, 1991, Texas Stadium
Cowboys 20, Steelers 10

The 1989 Steelers rekindled the passions and imaginations of an aspiring Steelers Nation. They also left the 1990 Steelers with the 17th pick, and Emmitt Smith was still on the board when their time came.

But Pittsburgh felt good about its 1989 draft in general and especially about Tim Worley. So Noll traded the 17th pick to Dallas, and grabbed Eric Green with the 21st pick….
  • …Dallas of pounced on Emmitt Smith, and Number 22 would make Pittsburgh pay for that error several times, beginning on Thanksgiving Day 1991.
Dallas scored the first 10 points on the heels of an Emmitt Smith touchdown and Ken Willis field goal. Floundering under Joe Walton´s offense, Pittsburgh got its first score in the third quarter thanks to Gary Anderson.

The Cowboys matched with 3 of their own, but with a late 4th quarter Warren Williams touchdown the Steelers threatened to make a game of it. Dallas responded, when Steve Beuerlein hit Michal Irvin across the middle. Gary Jones missed the tackle and even Rod Woodson could not chase him down as Irvin iced the game with a 66 yard touchdown.

Emmitt Smith had 109 yards on the day, more than the entire Steelers rushing offense….

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Dallas Embarrasses Pittsburgh on Opening Day I
September 4, 1994, Three Rivers Stadium
Dallas 26, Pittsburgh 9

Jimmy Johnson brought the Lombardi back to Dallas in 1992, the year an rookie head coach ignighted the passions of Steelers Nation with the phenomenon known as “Cowher Power.” Dallas repeated as champions in 1993 and, although the 1993 Steelers just snuck into the playoffs, they entered 1994 as the class of the AFC.

The stage was set Pittsburgh vs. Dallas at Three Rivers Stadium for FOX´s first NFL broadcast - the Steelers were to have their official coming out party as a legit contender….
  • …And the Steelers fell flat on their faces.
The Steelers did nothing right. Barry Foster was held to 44 yards rushing, and one of the game’s enduring images was Bill Cowher imploring Neil O’Donnell on the side lines “Throw the Ball Neil! You’re a quarterback, throw the ball!”
  • The Cowboys sacked Neil O’Donnell 9 times, including 4 by Charles Haley alone
  • Emmitt Smith decimated the Steelers for 171 yards
  • Michael Irvin had 8 catches for 139 yards
Overconfidence was the Achilles heal of Bill Cowher’s early teams. Every time they had a showcase game they failed miserably. And so it was on opening day 1994 vs. Dallas and so it remained later in January when the San Diego Chargers upset the Steelers in the AFC Championship game.

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Super Bowl XXX
January 28th, 1996, Sun Devil Stadium
Cowboys 27, Steelers 17

As mentioned above, Chuck Noll opened and closed 1988 with wins over Landry´s Cowboys and Shula’s Dolphins with only 3 victories in between. That 5-11 was a low point for Noll, but it disqualified Pittsburgh from the Aikman Derby, an “honor” which fell to Dallas.

Had the 1988 Steelers finished 2-14 Noll almost certainly would have drafted Aikman and probably also would have picked Emmitt Smith in 1990. Could that alternate scenario have led to a Super Bowl XXX pitting a Steelers team led by Troy Aikman and Emmitt Smith vs. a Dallas Cowboys squad led by Steve Walsh and Barry Sanders?

We’ll never know. Dallas got Troy Aikman, leaving Pittsburgh to draft Neil O’Donnell in 1990. And those two picks would make all the difference in the big dance.

Dallas started fast, scoring the game’s first 13 points, as stage fright slowed the Steelers. But the Black and Gold got back into things when Yancy Thigpen caught a touchdown pass despite Slime Time Dieon Sanders’ blatant pass interference.

The Dallas Cowboys deserve full credit for winning this game, but Pittsburgh wounds were self inflicted. Early in the third quarter Neil O’Donnell threw a pass directly to Larry Brown who returned it deep into the Red Zone, where Emmitt Smith easily converted.

Undaunted, the Steelers got back on the board with a 46 yard Norm Johnson field goal, and then Bill Cowher made one of the gustiest calls in Super Bowl history with a surprise on-sides that Deon Figures recovered. The Steelers marched down the field and Bam Morris brought them to within 3, as the score stood 20-17 Dallas.

The Steelers defense held, but that did not stop Neil O’Donnell from striking again, as he once age threw directly to Larry Brown, who again returned it to the Red Zone. O’Donnell apologists argue that Andre Hastings ran the wrong route, but it’s the quarterback’s job to deliver a ball, and there was nary a black jersey in sight on Brown´s second interception.

Emmitt Smith put the Dallas Cowboys ahead for good a few plays later, sealing Super Bowl XXX for Dallas.
  • For the record, Troy Aikman was flawless in the game, going 15-23 with one touchdown and no picks.
The game evened Dallas’s Super Bowl record with the Steelers to 1-2, and pulled the Cowboys ahead in the Lombardi count by 1.

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Cowboys Embarrass Steelers on Opening Day II
August 31, 1997, Three Rivers Stadium
Dallas 37, Pittsburgh 7

Opening day 1997 for the Steelers marked the first day of the Kordell Stewart era, the first day of the post-Rod Woodson secondary, and the beginning of the end for Greg Lloyd.

Throughout the 1990’s free agency and injury had eroded the Steelers talent base, yet they always seemed to be playing in January. The question was, how much longer could it last?

As Ed Bouchette opined in his post game write up, “If the Dallas Cowboys were the measuring stick, the Steelers were the baby seals.”

It really was that bad.
  • The secondary was Dallas weakness, yet the Steelers never attempted to go deep
  • Deion Sanders was injured and played baseball all summer, yet the Steelers never tested him
  • Donnell Wolford, Rod Woodson’s replacement, got burned early and often
  • Jerome Bettis was held to 63 yards
  • Troy Aikman torched the Steelers secondary for 4 touchdown passes
Yes, the Steelers effectively shut down Emmitt Smith, but that didn´t matter, as Dallas jumped to a 37-0 lead and held it until Mark Bruner hauled in a face-saving 4th quarter touchdown.

This game was neither the first nor the last of Bill Cowher’s infamous opening day blow outs. And true to form the Steelers rebounded landing in the AFC Championship later that year, while Dallas imploded losing their last 5 en route to a 6-10 finish as Barry Switzer lost control of the team.

But that future seemed very distant for both teams during that 37-7 drubbing one hot Sunday in August at Three Rivers Stadium.

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Ben Roethlisberger vs. Vinny Testaverde...
October 17, 2004, Texas Stadium
Steelers 24, Cowboys 20

The Dave Campo in Dallas ended with the faithful at Texas Stadium demanding that Jerry Jones bring Bill Parcells to Irving. Bring him he did. Tuna brought Vinny Testaverde with him….

…Vinny Testaverde got and still gets better press than any other overrated under achieving quarterback in the history of the NFL. But Parcells coaxed the best out of Vinny. Yet not even Big Tuna could will success out of Testaverde against his old AFC Central Nemesis….

Vinny Testaverde started the day 1-9 vs. the Steelers who came to Dallas led by rookie Ben Roethlisberger who was looking for his fourth straight win.
  • …and for a while it looked like Vinny might just deny him it.
The Cowboys quickly jumped ahead on a Richie Anderson touchdown, but Ben Roethlisberger struck back with touchdown to Plaxico Burress, followed by a 51 yard field goal from Jeff Reed.

But Dallas tied it at the half, added another three to start the third quarter, and as the third quarter was ending the Cowboys appeared to pull away when Testaverde connected with Meshawn “Will You Just GIVE ME the DAMM BALL” Johnson for a 22 yard touchdown.
  • The Steelers tied it late in the fourth quarter with a touchdown, but Testaderde began masterfully killing the clock.
At third and 13 with 2:36 remaining Dallas only needed a first down to ice the game, but James Farrior knocked the ball lose and Kemo Von Oelhoffen recovered. Five plays later Jerome Bettis was in for the go ahead touchdown, dropping Testaverde´s record vs. the Steelers to 2-10.

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Tony Romo Meets the Zone Blitz
December 7, 2008, Heinz Field

The glory of Super Bowl XLIII tends to make Steelers Nation forget the nerve wracking nature of that entire season. The Steelers special teams were even, its defense phenomenal, but the offense?

…Let’s just say Bruce Arians’ boys sort of applied “Just in Time” principles to putting sufficient points on the board. And the Cowboys first visit to Heinz Field provided a perfect example.
  • Through 3 quarters Dallas only managed 13 points
  • The Steelers defense sacked Tony Romo 3 times
  • Tony Romo threw interceptions to Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor
  • James Harrison forced 1 fumble that the Steelers recovered
Yet the Steelers entered the 4th quarter down 13 to 3. As Dallas held Willie Parker to 25 yards, Ben Roethlisberger and Heath Miller lost fumbles, and the Steelers converted a woeful 3 of 16 third downs.

Early in the 4th quarter the Steelers finally put together a long drive reaching the one, but despite trying on both third and fourth downs, Gary Russell could not punch it in. The Dallas defense celebrated as if it had won the game.

Dallas offense lasted 6 plays and ‘Tone responded with a 35 yard punt return, giving the Steelers excellent field position, but the Steelers were forced to settle for 3. Again the Steelers defense responded with a three and out. Ben Roethlisberger hooked up 3 times with Nate Washington on the ensuring drive before throwing a 5 yard pass to Jeff Reed, trying the game with just over two minutes to play.

On its first play Dallas ran two yards up the middle.

Mike Tomlin called a time out. Tony Romo was audibly incredulous and visibly fluster by Tomlin’s take no prisoners move. You can watch the results for yourself, with a little music interlude, courtesy of “Renegade” (available as of 12-13-12):

On the next play Dick LeBeau disguised a Zone Blitz to look like Cover 2, but as Romo tried to hit Jason Witten in the flat, Desha Townsend lay in wait, intercepted the ball, and took it to the house, securing the win for Pittsburgh.

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