´ Steel Curtain Rising: January 2013

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

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Fans Name James Harrison's 99 Yard Pick Six as Steelers Favorite Super Bowl Moment

All things must eventually draw to a close and in the case of this blog that includes our “Steelers Favorite Super Bowl Moment” poll.

Born during the Steelers 2010 playoff run, the poll got deleted by mistake after the Steelers 2010 AFC Championship victory over the New York Jets when it had at least 500 votes.

The poll immediately went back up, and was kept after the disappointment of Super Bowl XLV as sort of a rallying cry.

However, in the fall of 2012 Google Blogger’s polling function ran into problems, and votes began disappearing from polls. While Blogger fixed it, the patch did not seem to apply to older polls, as this one had close to 1000 votes on it in October, and it closed at 800 and change.

So its time has come.

James Harrison's 99 Yard TD Tops List

And what was the favorite Super Bowl moment of the Steel Curtain Rising faithful? See for yourself:


There’s little wonder why. |


James Harrison made one of the most dramatic game-changers in the history of the Super Bowl. Ben Roethlisberger’s final drive in Super Bowl XLIII comes in second on this list. The only other two moments to get any real “love” were the Lombardi Trophy presentation to Art Rooney Sr. following Super Bowl IX and Lynn Swann’s acrobatic catches in Super Bowl X.

Thanks to all who voted. Steel Curtain Rising is always running a poll of some sort, so if you found this page via Google and have read this far, please scroll up and vote!

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Steelers Hire Jack Bicknell Jr. as New Offensive Line Coach

Make that one position coach the Steelers will need to replace this offseason. It's being reported by several outlets that Pittsburgh has hired Jack Bicknell Jr. to be the new offensive line coach for the 2013 season, replacing Sean Kugler. Kugler, who filled that role for three seasons, left following the 2012 campaign to be the new head coach at the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP).

Bicknell spent the 2012 season as the offensive line coach for the Kansas City Chiefs, but was let go when head coach Romeo Crenell was fired and replaced by Andy Reid, who decided to go with his own staff.

Bicknell, 49, spent more than two decades coaching in the college ranks and  was the head coach at Louisiana Tech for eight seasons from 1999-2006.

The Steelers are still in search of a special teams coach after Amos Jones left this past weekend to fill the same role on Bruce Arians' staff with the Arizona Cardinals.


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Monday, January 28, 2013

Steelers 2012 Report Card

From the grade book of a teacher who could never quite decide of his star pupils simply had too many absences due to sickness, under achieved  or was perhaps the victim of over estimation here goes the Pittsburgh Steelers report card for the 2012 Season.

Quarterback:
Steelers management sought to give some tough love to Ben Roethlisberger by showing Bruce Arians the door and bringing in Todd Haley. The question was, could Roethlsiberger get rid of the ball more quickly but still "be Ben?" Through the first 9 games of the season the answer as a "Yes" as in staistical terms Roethlisberger was having an MVP type season. Then came the injury, and not only was Roethlisberger not the same, he threw two interceptions that cost the Steelers two must win games, and Ben's slide at the end hurts his overall grade. Grade:  B-

Running Backs
Rashard Mendenhall began the season unable to play giving a golden opportunity to both Issac Redman and/or Jonathan Dwyer. Neither man sized it, although both were battling injuries themselves. Mendenhall had a chance to reestablish himself upon his return but instead found himself benched and then suspended. All three running backs showed flashes at times and struggled at others, all had issues with ball security. At the end of the day no one back established himself as "the man" and the Steelers offense suffered accordingly. Grade:  C-

Wide Receivers
Perhaps nothing was more disappointing about the 2012 Steelers than "Young Money." Antonio Brown (probably) dropped more passes in 2012 than he did in 2010 and 2011 combined. Mike Wallace made some spectacular plays, stretched the field, but also dropped the ball and admitted he wasn't concentrating at times. Emmanuel Sanders seemed to be quietly laying claim to the role of "go to guy on 3rd" until ball skills and ball security became an issue with him too. Jerricho Cotchery played well, but his opportunities were limited. Plaxico Burress made good on his return, for what it was worth. The only consistent star of this until was Heath Miller, who was heads and shoulders over everyone on the offense week in and week out. Were it not for Miller, this grade would be lower yet.  Grade:  C+

Offensive Line
After years "plug and patch" on offensive line the Steelers invested four premium picks into their offensive line yet still finished the season starting undrafted rookie free agents, 7th rounders, practices squad promotees and veterans they've tried to cast off. Injuries are no excuse. The report card measures performance and results. Neither were consistent in 2012. The offensive line’s performance rose and fell with Willie Colon. Early in the season pass blocking was better, except at critical junctures in games, but run blocking suffered. After Colon settled in guard run blocking improved, only to suffer again after his injury. The line played well at times and was under duress the whole season, but its performance was not that the Steelers needed.  Grade:  C-

Defensive Line
The Steelers rush defense was 6th in the league – a fall from prior standards but something they improved upon as the year progressed. The unit’s leader again was Brett Keisel, who had 4.5 sacks and got better as the year went on. Casey Hampton started out slow, but finished strong. Ziggy Hood remains a disappointment. Measured by pure statistics, Cameron Heyward had half of his productivity in a quarter of the snaps. Steve McLendon made a lot of noise in preseason, and made the most of his opportunities once the games counted. This unit improved as the year went on, but must bear some responsibility for the lack of turnovers.  Grade:  B-

Linebackers
Larry Foote lead the unit in tackles and registered four sacks. While those numbers are good, he struggled in coverage at times and at other times was a step slow on run containment. Still, his job is to get everyone lined up correctly, and with the Steelers finishing number 1 in overall yards, he did something right. James Harrison started of slow but finished the season with a bang, making “splash” plays when they counted, and tied for the sack lead in spite of his injuries. LaMarr Woodley fought hamstring injuries all year and more or less disappeared form the defense late in the season. Jason Worilds did well in relief of Woodley. The class of the unit was Lawrence Timmons, who finally lived up to his potential.  Grade:  B

Secondary
If someone had told you Troy Polamalu would miss half the season but that the Steelers would finish number one against the pass anyway, would you have believed them. The biggest reason for this was the emergence of Keenan Lewis, who seemed to make highlight reel worth pass defenses week in and week out. Ike Taylor struggled early, called out the media for criticizing him, and then went and backed it up by improving. Ryan Clark was a force all over the field. His contributions are under valued. Will Allen proved his worth while Ryan Mundy disappointed. Cortez Allen came on strong at the end of the year. Strong performance from a unit who finished the year with the arrow pointing up.  Grade:  B

Special Teams
Chris Rainey was one of the few bright spots on this until and now he’s gone. And that’s the kind of year its been. Shaun Suisham’s kick offs were deeper than they’ve ever been, and he was far more accurate than anyone in Steelers Nation gave him credit for. Drew Butler was decent, but he left room to improve in terms of length and directional punting. Antonio Brown had some nice returns. His errors were game-changing however. And that’s the tale of this unit. At least two touchdowns were erased by penalties. Numerous long runs got called back. Even more normal runs saw penalties that put the Steelers with their backs to their own goal. Opponents converted two fake punts and partially blocked another. An errant snap cost the Steelers 3 points in a key division game decided by a field goal in over time. All unacceptable. Grade:  D

Coaching
Mike Tomlin graded himself as an 8-8 coach for 2012 and Steel Curtain Rising concurs. There are positives to the 2012 effort which the coaching staff must share credit in. Tomlin's move to improve the offsense with Todd Haley was a wise one, as Haley designed an offense that allowed Ben to be Ben while reducing punishment taken. Likewise, Tomlin and Dick LeBeau started the season with a defense that could not hold leads in the fourth quarter but they managed to reverse that trend by mid season. Certainly return to health of players like Harrison, Polamalu, and Hampton had a role in this, but early in the year there was talk of LeBeau's defense having been solved. No one said that at year's end. And Tomlin'sSteelers are the final team to defeat the defending AFC Champion Baltimore Ravens. The players of course deserve credit for that, but so do the coaches.

However, there are negatives. Tomlin could not prevent his players from riding the roller coaster following the Raven's win, and the horrendous performance vs. San Diego was the result. For all of the talk about "The Standard is the Standard" injuries hurt the Steelers, particuarly late in the season. It may seem harsh to criticize the coaches here but, as Kevin Colbert pointed out, there were teams that lost more starter games to injury than Pittsburgh yet still made the playoffs.

The issue of turnovers, however cannot be ignored, now that the Steelers finished a second year near the bottom of the league in turnovers and sacks. Perhaps its is because of smart coaching that the Steelers, in spite of this absence of "Splash Plays" still finished number one. Fair enough. But take aways and sacks are game changers, and those game changers were in far too short supply too often.

Discipline also is an issue. No, Tomlin is not responsible for the off the field transgressions of players like Rainey and Ta'amu, but on the field and in the locker room discipline was an issue. Rahsard Mendenhall got benched and opted to skip a game -- what if a running back had injured himself in warm ups? Mike Wallace admitted to checking out mentally during portions of games. The Steelers committed a host of penalties many of which were pre-snap penalities -- ones that good coaching can reduce to a minimum.

And of course special teams remains a glaring issue. We may never know why Tomlin chose to fire Al Everestt, but Amos Jones was clearly not up to the task. Amos Jones is now set to follow Bruce Arians to Pittsburgh West. This is a welcome sign. Tomlin and Jones are close going back to their days coaching together at the University of Cincinnati, so perhaps Tomlin "encouraged" his friend to seek emplomet elsewhere. But any objective analysis reveals that Jones deserved to get the ax outright.

In the final analysis, lurking below Tomlin's 8-8 record lies the fact that he entered the season without established team leaders like Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, and James Farrior. While coaching can only replace locker room leadership to a point, the fact is that the discipline issues show that Tomlin needed to adjust his coaching style to better compensate for the transition.  Grade:  C

Unsung Hero Award
When Steel Curtain Rising previewed the 2012 season the challenges, particuarly on defense were obvious - an aging unit was starting the season without some of its top stars. Others would have to step up if the Steelers tradition of stoudt defense was to be maintained.

One player did that. In a second season where the Steelers defense faced a shortage of "Splash Plays" this man stepped up and not only led in sacks but also interceptions -- two categories for which his position is not necessarily know. He also came in second in total tackles but even there, numbers do not quite tell the tale.

This player excelled because, like other true Steeler defensive legends such as Rod Woodson or Greg Lloyd, he was around the ball at critical times, making tackles that ended drives, prevented scores, or stopped the loss of additional yards. And he did it, for the most part, when most in the media and many in Steelers Nation, were focusing on injuries to James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, and LaMarr Woodley.

For all of that, Lawrence Timmons wins Steel Curtain Risings "Unsung Hero Award" for the Steelers 2012 season.

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Sunday, January 27, 2013

Bruce Arians Hires Amos Jones as Special Teams Coach for Pittsburgh West

Make that two position coaches who the Steelers will need to replace this offseason. Before the 2012 season was even over, it was announced that Sean Kugler, the team's offensive line coach since 2010, would be leaving after the season to be the head coach at UTEP.

And now it's being reported that special teams coach Amos Jones has left the Steelers to take the same position on Bruce Arians' staff with the Arizona Cardinals. Jones, who was an assistant special teams coach in Pittsburgh from 2007-2011, took full control of the unit when former special teams coordinator Al Everest was let go just prior to the start of the 2012 campaign.

Under Jones, the Steelers averaged 7.3 yards per punt return and 25.3 yards per kick-off return.

Kicker Shaun Suisham enjoyed a career year, going 28-31 on field goal attempts (two of his misses were from 50+ yards away).

Rookie punter Drew Butler averaged 43 yards on 79 punts.

Since Jones was an assistant who was promoted to head special teams coach, Pittsburgh will more than likely go outside the organization to fill his vacancy.

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Sunday, January 20, 2013

Steelers Nation Rooting Guide to the AFC and NFC Championships

2013 has not started off well for Black and Gold. The 2012 Steelers never even made it to the playoffs and before they could even big what promises to be challenging off season, Chris Rainey, one of the lone bright spots from the 2012 Draft Class, gets himself arrested and is off the team.

And to add insult to injury, the faithful in Steelers Nation have been forced to watch historic franchise rivals advanced deep into the playoffs.

With Atlanta heading to San Francisco for the NFC Championship and Baltimore traveling to New England to fight for the AFC crown what is a true Steelers fan to do?

What Do True Steelers Fans When There’s No Steelers to Root for in the Playoffs?

True Steelers fans entertain no divided loyalties.
  • This sets Steelers Nation apart. 
The Washington Redskins have a loyal following in DC. They’ve had sold out every game for decades, have a mammoth long season ticket waiting list, and have tolerated one of the worst NFL owners treating their beloved burgundy and gold as if its his fantasy play thing.

Having spent over half my life living in as a Steelers Nation Expat in Aspen Hill, Maryland, allows me to assure you that there is no shortage of people in Metro DC that live and die with the Redskins every game.
  • But for all their loyalty, a large contingent of Redskins fans lack when it comes to heart.
The last full year I lived in the US was 2000, the year the Ravens went to their first Super Bowl and also the year the Norv Turner’s Redskins tanked. And as November faded into December, throughout the DC area you started to see little Ravens decals appear alongside big Redskins bumper stickers.

If it were the Eagles and not the Falcons in this year’s NFC Championship, can you imagine and seeing green and white Eagles logos sprouting up on bumpers while driving down the Boulevard of the Allies?
  • No, I don’t think so either.
No, Steelers fans stick to their team, but still, who do they pull for when the Black and Gold is out of it?

Black and Gold Should Go for Birds of Prey

The easy answers are off the table. There are no members of the Chuck Noll or Bill Cowher coaching trees remaining in the hunt.

Let’s look at what’s at stake. If…
  • The Ravens win a bitter AFC North Rival gets another Lombardi – who wants to see that?
  • San Francisco wins the 49ers increase their Lombardi count to 6, tying the Steelers – that day will come, but why rush things?
  • If New England wins, Bill Bellnick gets his fourth Super Bowl title, tying Chuck Noll. Manifestly undesirable.
That leaves the Atlanta Falcons.

Of course, the Falcons are far from the favorites among the NFL’s final four.

So in Steel Curtain Risings humble opinion, Steelers Nation’s rooting interest in what remains of the 2012 NFL season should follow like this
  • First root for the Falcons
  • If not them, then the Ravens, yes the Ravens,
  • If not them, then the 49er’s
  • A New England victory would be the worst possible outcome
Why the Ravens over the 49ers? If Baltimore wins it certainly does give Charm City bragging rights, but it also gives them the final pick in the draft, and then they get to deal with the Super Bowl hangover.

It would also make them the automatic division favorites, and everyone knows the Steelers need to be underdogs to thrive.

Beyond that, Baltimore's the most likely team to stop New England, and I am sorry, Bill Bellnick is a cheater and does not deserve a spot equal to or above Chuck Noll in the NFL record books. Period.

So there you have it. Alternative thoughts or opinions? By all means feel free to share.

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Friday, January 18, 2013

Big News is about to Break in Steelers Nation

It’s been quite a while since La Toalla Terrible (that’s Terrible Towel in Spanish) has made an appearance here on Steel Curtain Rising.

And the rumor is that he’s only able to sneak in a return because our regular scribe is off on vacation. Cats away, mice will play. Heee…. But that’s the point! Big News is about to break relating to the Pittsburgh Steelers Nation. Its almost a scientific fact. When good old “KT” is away on vacation, things happen in Steelers Nation.

The track record even extends beyond the life of this blog:

  • In 2000 on his first trip to Argentina, the Cowher-Donahoe feud came to a head with Dan Rooney siding with the chin
  • In 2007 he was off to Chile while Steelers Nation, and the Rooneys themselves, agonized between Russ Grimm and Mike Tomlin
  • Super Bowl week in 2009 found him in Tandil deep in the province of Buenos Aires
  • Super Bowl week in 2011 found him in Brazil where he missed Super Bowl XLV
  • When Bruce Arians got the axe in 2012 he was in New York City (Rumor has it that he started writing something on the Arians ouster only to have his wife catch him in the act. Word is she stopped him cold in his tracks….)
  • When the Steelers decided to resign Antonio Brown he happened to be taking a long weekend in Colonia Uruguay 
Just what will the news be?

  • Could Amos Jones be getting the axe? (We should only hope!) 
  • Another assistant coach has another sudden 4 day retirement? 
  • Could it be that Omar Kahn heads to New York or 
  • We know that Todd Haley won't be leaving Pittsburgh East for Pittsburgh West, but might he head elsewhere?
No one can know for sure, but La Toalla Terrible is here to assure you that big news is in the offing….

La Toalla Terrible dedicates himself to taking a wacky, zany view on all things Steelers. While he hasn’t been heard from recently, you can check out his past rantings by clicking here.

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Bruce Arians to be hired as head coach of Arizona Cardinals

It appears that retirement is treating Bruce Arians quite well. According to ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter, Arians will be hired as the new head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. The deal is for four years with a team option for a fifth.

The hiring comes almost exactly a year to the day after Arians was let go by the Steelers and actually contemplated retirement.

Instead of retiring, Arians signed on with the Indianapolis Colts to be their offensive coordinator under new head coach Chuck Pagano, who stepped in to replace the fired Jim Caldwell.

Unfortunately, Pagano was diagnosed with Leukemia early in the 2012 season, and Arians was named the Colts' interim head coach and led them to a 9-3 record (11-5, overall) and a wild card berth in the AFC. Indianapolis was 2-14 the previous year so it was a remarkable turn-around.

Ironically enough, Todd Haley, the man the Steelers hired to replace Arians as OC, also interviewed for the Arizona job and appeared to be a front-runner early on.

Arians has developed a reputation over the years as being able to work with young quarterbacks--most notably Peyton Manning, Ben Roethlisberger and the newly minted Andrew Luck--and it remains to be seen if he'll be able to work any miracles in Arizona, with a quarterback roster led by Kevin Kolb and John Skelton.Thanks for visiting.
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Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Four Words Define the Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 Season: Inconsistency, Injury, Inopportunity, and Irony

The Conference Championships are at hand and the Pittsburgh Steelers are where they’ve been throughout the playoffs – at home. This is true despite the fact Steelers victories over:
If the Steelers were good enough to beat these teams, why did they finish mired in mediocrity at 8-8?

Some seasons this question has been a hard one to untangle. However the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers season review boils down to four words:  Inconsistency, Injury, Inopportunity, and Irony.

Inconsistency and the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers

Inconsistency in pro football takes many forms. Sometimes the performance of individual units or players varies wildly from week to week – that happened in Pittsburgh this year.

At other times a team might start games strong only to finish weakly, or vice-a-versa -- again this happened in Pittsburgh in 2012 with startling frequency.

And yet there are other times when teams have a chronic in ability to stay or even get on the same page – this was by far the 2012 Steelers biggest consistency issue.

Mike Tomlin loves talking about "situational football." Teams that play well in situational football see individual units executing the plays necessary to win.

The 2008 Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers excelled at situational football. The defense played to historic proportions all year long, while the offense often struggled.
  • But when the game was in the line, the offense found a way to make the plays time necessary to win, time and time again.
The 2012 Steelers suffered a chronic inability to play good situational football. Vs. the Broncos, Raiders, and Titans the Steelers offense established leads in the 4th quarter, only to watch the defense squander those away.

Later in the season, the Steelers defense played almost picture perfect in two key AFC North games, only for the offense to struggle in utter futility.

In diagnosing what went wrong in 2012, saying “when the offense was on track, the defense wasn’t up to scratch and when the defense was dominant the offense was inept might sound overly simplistic – but it’s accurate.”

Now, understanding why the Steelers were inconsistent requires delving into the impact of injury in inopportunity….

Injury and the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers

Steel Curtain Rising opened the 2012 season suggesting that Mike Tomlin’s credo “The Standard is the Standard” would be put to the test.
  • Tested “The Standard is the Standard” was.
Counts vary, but Steelers President Art Rooney II asserted that the Steelers lost 78 starter games to injury. The Dallas Morning News has calculated the Steelers injury count differently, but the Steelers finished the year with five healthy lineman, and 2 healthy corners. Clearly injures were an issue.
  • But if we can accept the premise that “injuries will not be an excuse” we can still ask if they were a factor.
Analysis brings back mixed results.
  • At Baltimore the short-handed offensive line played multiple players out of position, yet turned in winning performance
  • But vs. Dallas and Cincinnati, the same injury plagued offensive line gave up multiple sacks at critical times
The situation was similar in the secondary.
And of course one of those to final healthy corners accounted for 3 decisive turnovers in the season finale vs. Cleveland.

Early in the season the absence of Troy Polamalu and James Harrison hampered the defense. Ben Roethlisberger got hurt at an inopportune time. Ultimately the Steelers couldn’t do enough to compensate, and injuries took their toll on the Steelers throughout 2012.

Inopportunity and the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers

Injuries can actually be opportune, at least in a macabre sense. How? Just ask like Tommy Maddox or Drew Bledsoe.
  • But injuries were inopportune for the 2012 Steelers, perhaps none more than Willie Colon’s. 
Colon took time to settle in at guard, but when he did the Steelers offensive line began broaching the Road Grading dominance imagined in the offseason. Colon's injury set the offensive line back quantitatively and qualitatively hampering both run and pass blocking.

That was beyond the Black and Gold’s control, but the same cannot be said for myriad other inopportune events. Consider:
  • The Steelers defense held an opponent to 67 yards on 20 carries, not bad save for the 46 yard touchdown on an additional carry...
  • Then, a 72 yard punt return for a touchdown got called back on a penalty, followed by an 13 yard drive, and then a shanked punt...
  • The defense would hold to 3 and out, but a penalty would leave the Steelers to start at their 8...
  • Jonathan Dwyer promptly fumbled the ball away...
  • The defense would waste a remarkable goal line stand with a penalty after (phantom) penalty hold on on 4th and 2, followed by a touchdown...
...And this is only recounting the Raiders game.

Week in and week out the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers excelled at discovering novel ways to slip on banana peels.
Strategy in pro football is about creating opportunity as much as anything else. The 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers created opportunity after opportunity at critical moments in crucial game – for their opponents

Irony and the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers

Isn’t it ironic?” – Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill

Sometimes reality can be so surreal that even the most creative minds couldn’t have imagined it that way. And so it was for the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers.

After playing 2008 and 2009 with make shift offensive lines built on the “patch and plug” philosophy the Steelers braintrust went out and drafted:
They didn’t stop there. Critics (including yours truly) unfairly blamed Bruce Arians for a lot of things, but Arians openly said he wouldn’t mess with Ben Roethlisberger holding on to the ball too long.

Art Rooney II took note and opted not to welcome Arians back, and Mike Tomlin hired Todd Haley to make a change.
  • In the end, none of it mattered
David DeCastro got hurt in preseason, Marcus Gilbert fell early in the season followed by Mike Adams and, despite Haley’s success in allowing Ben to be Ben while protecting him better, Roethlisberger got hurt anyway.

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg:
As the 2013 off season begins, irony continues to haunt the 2012 Steelers. One of the lone bright spots on special teams was Chris Rainey, whom Steelers cut after an arrest for domestic violence.

Onward to 2013’s Tough Choices

Sometimes it was the Hand of Fate, other times wounds were self-inflicted, but no matter how you slice it, inconsistency, injury, and inopportunity relegated the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers to an uneven 8-8.

One thing is certain -- irony was never in short supply for the 2012 Steelers.

All that counts for little as an aging roster and looming salary cap crunch spell an off season of difficult choices for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Friday, January 11, 2013

Steelers Waive Chris Rainey -- Are They Guilty of a Doublestandard?

Already reeling from a disappointing and decidedly mediocre 8-8 record, the Pittsburgh Steelers got another jolt in the form a Chris Rainey arrest for domestic violence.

Rainey was the Steelers fifth round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, and he came to them with a checkered history. But Rainey had spent time in the home of Maurkice Pouncey, and Pouncey’s parents vouched for Rainey, and that was good enough for Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin.
  • Apparently the dynamic duo were far too trusting in this case.
The Steelers wasted little time in parting ways with Rainey, as Kevin Colbert stated on the team’s website:
Chris Rainey’s actions this morning were extremely disappointing. Under the circumstances and due to this conduct, Chris will no longer be a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
It should also be noted that Rainey also got into trouble with the law after being cited for defiant trespass for entering the Meadows Racetrack and Casino outside Washington, Pennsylvania. The violation arose because Rainey had signed a self-exclusion letter, where he voluntarily barred the casino from allowing him to enter.

Rainey had been one of the few bright spots of the Steelers 2012 Draft class that saw its season marred by injury. Clearly this kind has issues, and the Steelers did the right thing in cutting him….

Do the Steelers Open Themselves to Charges of Double Standard?

…But in parting ways with Rainey, the Steelers also open themselves to charges of a double standard.

In October, Alameda Ta’amu, the Steelers 2012 4th round draft pick was charged with a host of crimes relating to a drunken rampage he engaged in while driving through the South Side. The Steelers did suspend Ta’amu, and eventually cut him, but brought him back via the practice squad.

Reaching farther back, the Steelers declineded to cut James Harrison when he was accused of domestic violence, but it cut wide receiver Cedrick Wilson after he was seen assaulting his girlfriend in a Pittsburgh restaurant.

The difference between Wilson’s and Harrison’s cases is that this was not Wilson’s first offense and his act appeared to be premeditated.

Still critics rightly noted that Wilson was a bit player where as Harrison an All Pro....

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Thursday, January 10, 2013

Plaxico Burress Return Takes Kevin Colbert Full Circle




Admittedly you can’t see a lot in that video.

And perhaps that’s fitting as its significance has largely been overlooked by Steelers Nation.

In case you’re unable to tell, what you can see is a clip of Ben Roethlisberger’s touchdown to Plaxico Burress capping the Steelers season-ending victory over the Cleveland Browns.
  • But the pass holds deeper significance because it brought Kevin Colbert’s career with the Steelers full circle.
Dan Rooney named Kevin Colbert as Director of Football operations in January 2000, following a total breakdown in the relationship between Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher.

At the time many questioned the move, pointing to the fact that Colbert came from perennial loser Detroit.

More than a few scribes were suspicious that Colbert had graduated from North Catholic, a Society of Mary established high school in Pittsburgh that both Rooney and Donahoe himself had graduated from. (Full disclosure, I once volunteered for the MVSC, a great volunteer program run by the SM that fell victim to some petty internal Society of Mary politics.)
  • No one questions Colbert’s credentials today. Nor should they. 
His resume comprises 13 rosters that have produced victories in Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII, an AFC Championship in 2010, 6 division titles, 8 playoff appearances and only one losing effort.

Plex Brings Kevin Colbert Full Circle

Plaxico Burress was Kevin Colbert’s first draft pick with the Steelers, initiating a Colbert’s unparalleled streak of success in the first round of the NFL Draft (OK, after finishing 2010 with a bang Ziggy Hood has been, “inconsistent” to put things charitably.)
  • But the drafting of Burress in wasn’t Colbert’s only feat in 2000. 
Dan Kreider joined the team in 2000, starting a line of Colbert unrestricted rookie free agent steals that today includes Willie Parker, James Harrison, and Steve McLendon, to name a few (click here for a full look).

2000 was the year that Marvel Smith became the first rookie to start for the Steelers on the offensive line for the opening day since Tom Ricketts did so for the 1989 Steelers. Smith’s play was solid at right tackle but in rapid succession he fell to injury and then so did his back up Shar Pourdanesh. (Sound familiar…? And they didn’t even have Marcus Gilbert to blame.)
“Who?” you might ask? Excellent question question. "Larry Tharpe" has long been forgotten and wasn't even close to a household word in Steelers Nation in 2000.

Larry Tharpe had played as a part time starter the Detroit Lions in 1992 and 1993, wasn’t on an active roster in 1994 or 1996 but did play for Arizona in 1995, and then returned to Detroit for 1997 and 1998 season after which Detroit did not invite him back.
  • Tharpe watched the 1999 NFL season from a couch somewhere, presumable out of football.
But Kevin Colbert thought enough of Tharpe to bring him to Pittsburgh, and during the middle of the Steelers 2000 season Tharpe started four games.

No one was considering Tharpe for Pro Bowl honors, but the blunt truth is that he out played both Chris Conrad and Anthony Brown, who’d rotated the starting right tackle's job throughout 1999 in an effort to to see who was more ineffective.

With the selection of Burress in the draft, insight in bringing in players that no one else wanted such as Kreider and Tharpe, Kevin Colbert showed himself as an NFL personnel man who was both smart enough and able enough to add quality contributors wherever he found them.

Plaxico Burress had a decent season for the New York Jets in 2011, but he was out of football for the first three months of the 2012 NFL season. No one wanted him.

When injures robbed the Steelers of Antonio Brown and Jerricho Cotchery’s services, Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert did not hesitate to bring back Burress.

Now Burress only played in three games for Pittsburgh and only caught 3 passes.
  • But one of those was for a touchdown. 
A touchdown that sealed victory for the Steelers, a victory the Steelers needed to avoid a losing season.

Not bad for an NFL street free agent. Kevin Colbert couldn’t have scripted it any better.

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Sunday, January 6, 2013

Steelers Nation to the Barricades! Vote for Joe Greene and Rod Woodson on ESPN

Future NFL Hall of Famer and long time Pittsburgh Steelers rival Ray Lewis has announced his retirement.

Let’s state clearly and unequivocally for the record that Ray Lewis deserves the praise headed his way. He’s a legit first ballot Hall of Famer, one of the greatest linebackers in his era, and a leader of what has been a perennial playoff contender.
  • But Ray Lewis is not the greatest defender in NFL history.
That fact should seem self evident, but ESPN’s (Baltimore bred and based) James Hensley wasted little time in declaring Ray Lewis as the greatest defender in NFL history.

In doing so he discounted arguments in favor of the likes of Dick Butkus, Reggie White, Ronnie Lott, and Lawrence Taylor.

He of course conveniently avoided comparing Lewis to one player, one player who played in the division he covers, one who clearly must be ranked above Lewis.
Joe Greene earned that distinction by serving as the foundation for four Super Bowl Championships. His selection signaled a sea change in the fortunes of a franchise that had done nothing but lose for 40 years. Teams routinely double blocked Greene, and Greene routinely got to the quarterback.

"Mean" Joe Greene personally paved the way for the Immaculate Reception, but going down to Houston and leading a Steelers team missing L.C. Greenwood, Jon Kolb, Gerry Mullins, Sam Davis, Dwight White, Steve Furness and Terry Bradshaw all either sat out the game or left due injury.

It turns out they didn’t need any of them. They had Joe Greene who:
  • Sacked the quarterback 5 times
  • Blocked a field goal
  • Recovered a fumble that set up a field goal
  • Forced another fumble that set up a field goal
That’s a nine point swing in a game that the Steelers needed to win and that they won 9-3.

Ray Lewis had a lot of great games for Baltimore. He was a dominate figure in many of them. But did he ever single handedly win a game? (Oh, and Joe Greene also had 3 more Super Bowl rings than Lewis….)

Steelers Nation:  To the Barricades!

So let’s give Ray Lewis his due. He’s not only a true great of the game, but he’s also one of the few greats in the post-Freeman McNeil era (that’s the court case that brought free agency to the NFL) that played his entire career with one game.

Good for Ray.
  • But let’s keep things in perspective.
ESPN is currently (as of 1/05/13) running a poll asking fans to vote on who is the greatest NFL defender of all time.

Joe Greene trails Ray Lewis (as of 1/5/13) in this ESPN Poll
Currently Ray Lewis is leading that poll and leading by a wide margin.

It shouldn’t be that way and it doesn’t have to be that way fortunately, because you my fellow citizens of Steelers Nation, have a voice.
Click here now to vote to ensure that Joe Greene earns his rightful recognition as a better player than Ray Lewis. While you’re at it, cast a good vote for Rod Woodson, who was certainly better than Dieon Sanders.

Know that you can make a difference. Other Steelers sites are calling attention to this poll, and in the last week both Greene and Rod Woodson have crept up. So do your part.

Go to ESPN and vote.

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Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Steelers Report Card vs. Browns @ Heinz Field

Taken from the grade book of is reminded of Wheaton High School’s old motto “Attenders are Achievers” and is aghast at the number of “sick days” the Steelers suffered during 2012 here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the victory over the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field. Remember, no other grades were consulted prior to this posting.

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger struggled early on with the entire offense. Is performance in the first half was dreadful – until he was able to transform a turnover into money. Roethlisberger was hardly spectacular all day, but he did spread around the ball, throw three touchdown passes and did not turn over the ball.  Grade:  B

Running Back
Jonathan Dwyer led the team with 52 yards rushing and was followed by Isaac Redman with Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Rainey brining up the rear. The Steelers running effort was nothing special and early on it struggled, but both Redman and Dwyer converted some key third downs late in the second half. Grade:  B-

Wide Receivers
Plaxico Burress scored his first touchdown for the Steelers after nearly 8 years. Antonio Brown also got into the end zone for 6, as did Leonard Pope. Emmanuel Sanders led the unit in yardage – at 22 yards and Jerricho Cotchery also came down with some nice ones. Given that Cleveland’s secondary was staffed 75% by back ups, the units performance was only “OK.” Grade:  B-

Offensive Line
It wouldn’t be a complete game without an offensive line injury, now would it? The Steelers out did themselves by sending both David DeCastro and Kelven Beachum to the sidelines, leaving them at 5 healthy lineman as Doug Legursky came in at while Ramon Foster moved out to tackle. Neither the run blocking nor the pass blocking was anything special that day, but at the unit did about as well as one could expect given the circumstances.  Grade:  C

Defensive Line
Cleveland had some success rushing the ball particularly after Brett Keisel went out injured. However, Steve McLendon and Cameron Heyward combined for a sack and Heyward was also credited with another pressure. Ziggy Hood had a fumble recovery and Casey Hampton had one solo tackle on what might have been his final game as a Steeler. Grade:  B

Linebackers
If this was James Harrison’s final game as a Steeler, he went out with a bang.  And he wasn’t even the best linebacker on the field. That distinction belonged to Lawrence Timmons who was once again all over the field, sealing victory with back-to-back sacks and a final forced fumble. However, Larry Foote got burned in the end zone on coverage leading to Cleveland’s only touchdown and LaMarr Woodley was once again invisible.  Grade:  B+

Secondary
The Steelers number one defense has been turnover starved all season long. So you strip the Steelers secondary down to two healthy corners, injure Ryan Clark, and what do you get?  Three turnovers produced by the secondary, including 2 by Cortez Allen alone. Troy Polamalu set the tone with his first interception, and although the offense could not convert on that one, it did turn the other two into money. While the turnovers, and the ability to transform those into points, carried the day, the injury depleted secondary also held Cleveland to 3-10 on first down conversions. All in all, a fine day for an injury plagued unit.  Grade:  A

Special Teams
All year long the Steelers special teams have remained suspect. And so it was on the last day of the season. The unit contained Joshua Cribbs, but Cleveland did have one return approaching 3 yards, although so did Chris Rainey. Antonio Brown added a 10 yard return while Shaun Suisham made his only field goal attempt, from 41 yards. So far a solid day. But they unit suffered another fake punt that resulted in a 35 yard run, one where Robert Golden was caught asleep at the switch. These kinds of lapses have haunted the unit all year and cannot be excused. Grade:  D

Coaching
The Steelers defense had a fine game and although spoiled fans might have wished to see Dick LeBeau’s unit torment a rookie QB making his first start a little more, the bottom line is the defense did its job. The sailing was rougher on the other side of the ball, but the Steelers offense likewise made the plays necessary to win, particularly after the first two turnovers in addition to answering Cleveland’s score in the second half. Its true that in the early going the Browns appeared to be playing like a team that wanted it more, but Mike Tomlin’s Steelers did not get caught up in the ebb and flow of a meaningless game, and Cleveland’s final series firmly erased any doubt who wanted it more. Grade:  B

Unsung Hero
Cortez Allen stole the spotlight with two turnovers. Lawrence Timmons mugged his way in the scene with his twin sacks to close the game. Excellent performance all around. There’s one player who has been steadily gaining strength all season. One player who only knows one speed, which is high gear. This player led the team in tackles, hit the QB once, registered a tackle for a loss, and sacked the quarterback.  If an outside observer used this player’s intensity to gauge the stakes involved, he or she could have only concluded that the Steelers were fighting for a playoff spot, and for that James Harrison is the Unsung Hero of the victory over the Browns.

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