´ Steel Curtain Rising: August 2013

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

Saturday, August 31, 2013

Jonathan Dwyer Leads Steelers Cuts

The Steelers waived 22 players today to get within the NFL’s 53 man roster limit. And there were more than a few surprises.
Dwyer was a 6th round pick in the 2010 NFL Draft and at the time many draftnicks felt the Steelers had a steal on their hands.

Dwyer played well in mini-camp, but showed up overweight to training camp, but played his way on to the team in preseason. The same thing happened in 2011. He fared better in 2012 and was the team’s starting running back, but showed up overweight again in spring practices, although he arrived at Latrobe in good shape.

But Steelers coaches had wearied of Dwyer, and Felix Jones performance in the final two preseason games was enough to push Dwyer off of the roster.

Miller Time? Not Quite Yet, But Sooner Than Expected.

The Steelers moved Heath Miller to the active roster. Miller suffered a torn ACL in the Steelers loss to the Bengals, and had been on the Steelers PUP list. Now Miller can join the team at any time during the season. As it is, the Steelers are carrying an unheard of 5 tight ends on their roster.

No Draft Pick Security on the Steelers

The Steelers also showed no sentimentality when it came to draft picks. Alameda Ta’amu, the team’s 4th round pick in 2012, was cut, as where Terry Hawthorne and Justin Brown, who were 5th and 6th round picks from the 2013 NFL Draft.

All three could return to the practice squad.

Steelers 2013 Roster M.O. – Renewal

Cornerback Josh Victorian, linebacker Marshall McFadden, and tight end Jamie McCoy, players who spent time on the Steelers 2012 active roster and/or practice squad were all let go.
  • When Kevin Colbert talked about the expendability of players from an 8-8 squad, he was serious.
With that said, at least McFadden and McCoy have practice squad eligibility.

The rest of the players cut include:

Running back Alvester Alexander
Wide receiver Reggie Dunn and Kashif Moore
Tight End Nathan Overbay
Offensive linemen Mike Golic Jr., Joe Madsen, Joe Long and Chris Hubbard
Defensive end Brian Arnfelt
Linebackers Alan Baxter, Terence Garvin and Brian Rolle
Safety Ross Ventrone
Cornerback Devin Smith
Punter Brian Moreman

Potential Practice Squad Members

Expect a couple of three of the names above to return via the practice squad, assuming they do not land spots with other teams. Linebacker Alan Baxter impressed many and will likely be asked back. Defensive end Brian Arnfelt play in preseason impressed the scribes at Behind the Steel Curtain, and he could find his way back.

Mike Golic and Joe Long are also potential practice squad players.

Watching the Wavier Wire

One name not on the cut list is Guy Whimper a free agent offensive tackle who did not impress during the preseason. Max Starks is available, and there is the possibility that Starks could return to Pittsburgh, although he did play very poorly in San Diego.

Either way, you can be very, very sure that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin are scouring the waiver wire at this very moment, looking for a quality offensive tackle who got caught up in a numbers game some where.

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Chargers Cut Max Starks; Could Starks-Steelers Hook Up One Last Time...?

The Pittsburgh Steeerls have announced that they will make their final cuts on Saturday, but many other NFL teams are not content to wait.

The San Diego Chargers made one move that should catch the attention of Steelers Nation:
Ah yes, Max Starks. Earlier this year the Steelers completed one half of what has become a familiar ritual for them – informing Max Starks that he is no longer in their plans. Starks, opted to sign with the Chargers seeking starting money.

But a woeful performance vs. the San Francisco 49ers made him expendable (Starks himself is reported to say that it was the “worst game of his life.”)
  • Its been widely acknowledged that the Steelers would search the wavier wire in depth to bolster their offensive line.
Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams are set as starters, although Kelvin Beachum has been rumored to challenge Gilbert. But Beachum is also a back up at guard and center.

After Beachum the Steelers have Guy Whimper, who has lived up to his surname by all reports…

…Could the Pittsburgh Steelers and Max Starks be destined to complete the cycle? Could we see Max Starks once resign with the Steelers for a final time.
The Steelers and Starks are very much like that couple in high school that keeps breaking up, only to get back together again. The Steelers and Starks have more break ups and reunions that The Who.

The "no we won't" "yes we will" relationship between Starks and the Steelers began before the waiving and resigning began. In 2008 the Steelers named Starks their transition player, yet Max Starks couldn’t win a starting job and couldn’t even get top back up priority over Trai Essex in 2008, making him the highest paid 4th tackle in NFL history.
It could happen again. Its a good bet that his dear friend Ben Roethlisberger will lobby Kevin Colbert to bring him back.

Eagles Cut Robinson, Dixon

The danger of the Philadelphia Eagles becoming “Steelers East” appears remote, as the Eagles cut former Pittsburgh Steelers Dennis Dixon and linebacker Adrian Robinson. This move comes one week after Adrian Robison was traded to Philly.

Felix Jones on the other hand very well may have earned himself a roster spot.

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Thursday, August 29, 2013

Steelers Ryan Clark Echos Jack Lambert and He is Right To...

Quarterbacks should wear dresses.” – Jack Lambert, early 1980’s
They might as well just take us off the field and see how many points you can score on offense in 60 minutes.” – Ryan Clark, August 2013

Ryan Clark might lack Lambert’s brevity, but his criticism of the NFL as equally accurate as it is damming.
  • When it comes to hypocrisy, the NFL knows no limits.
Fear not, this is no column decrying new NFL safety rules to reduce the threat of head trauma. Such rules, absent medical break throughs and/or a clearer understanding of what is causing so many former NFL players to lose it up stairs when they’re in their 60’s, 50’s or even 40’s, are needed.

But like a spoiled child, the NFL wants to have its cake and eat it too.

This is nothing new. In the early and mid 1970’s there was an opposing defender who was so physical with receivers downfield that the NFL had to modify its rules, preventing defenders from touching receivers beyond 5 yards.

That defender was of course Mel Blount, and Chuck Noll took advantage of the rules changes to unleash Terry Bradshaw, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, and Bennie Cunningham and Super Bowls XIII and XIV followed.

The NFC Titan’s of the 1980’s followed suit Bill Walsh and Joe Montana and Joe Gibbs and a trio of quarterbacks dominated a decade.
  • But as happens, NFL defensive coordinators did what they do – they adapted.
And the way you adapt to making it more difficult to cover downfield is to increase pressure on the quarterback upfront. Pass rush specialists like Lawrence Taylor emerged. Others developed schemes to bring pressure from unique angles – you may have heard of Dick LeBeau and the Zone Blitz.
  • Of course increase pressure resulted in more injuries to quarterbacks.
So the NFL began legislating to protect its prized primiadonnas – nary a consideration was given to the root cause of the issue.

The same thing is repeating itself today. The NFL is rightly attempting to protect players, both defensive and offensive, from head injuries. So defensive backs adjust their technique to avoid the head and neck.
  • The result is that players like Dustin Keller suffer knee injuries as a result of a hit by D.J. Swearinger.
And of course the NFL steps in. Nothing is illegal. Yet. But we will investigate.

And the one doing the investigating is none other than the Steelers old friend Ray Anderson….

…Ray Anderson who made a similar “not illegal now but…” statement after Hines Ward devastating block of Keith Rivers. Ray Anderson who singled out James Harrison while turning a bind eye to questionable hits on Ben Roethlisberger…. (Click here for more on the Steelers and Anderson)

Yeah, Ryan Clark is right to call out the NFL.

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Wednesday, August 28, 2013

3 Unasked Questions of the Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 Preseason

A tumultuous off season has ended. Training camp is closed. The first roster cuts have been made. Only one preseason game stands between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the 2013 season.

Its been an eventful summer at St. Vincents and on the South Side. Lots has been said and done, with stories answering questions relating to:
Live tackling and increased focus on conditioning and the role of emerging leaders have also been frequent topics of conversation.

But there are a few stories that seem to have fallen from the cracks, a few “less frequently asked questions.

Did Golden Miss an Opportunity? 

The Steelers reputation of having an old defense continues to dog them. And while Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark aren’t the sole players dragging up that average, they certainly do their part.

The Pittsburgh Steelers liked Shamarko Thomas so much that they traded a future pick -- something that they haven’t done since Chuck Noll was head coach and "Star Wars" a rejected name for a Hollywood game show pitting studios of various Hollywood competing against each other.
  • And Shamarko Thomas has delivered thus far.
Yet one of the bigger untold stories of the summer of 2013 has been Robert Golden. Golden made the Steelers squad in 2012 as an undrafted rookie free agent, and while he did not play enough his development was strong enough that management felt comfortable saying goodbye to Ryan Mundy and Will Allen – leaving no veteran depth behind Polamalu and Clark.

There were even rumblings on the blogesphere the Golden could make a more outspoken member of the secondary into a cap casualty….

…That later move doesn’t seem likely to come to pass. While there’s no evidence that Golden’s been a “disappointment” or that he’s in danger of losing his roster spot but his name hasn’t been heard much this summer.

Ziggy Heyward vs. Cameron Hood

This was to be Ziggy Hood’s make or break summer and if all went well Cameron Heyward would help push Ziggy Hood out the door.

Hood’s trajectory since assuming Aaron Smith’s spot in 2010 has plateaued since then and many snap-by-snap analysis showed Heyward out performing him in 2012. Others found Heyward equally disappointing.

While the situation of both men got attention early on in camp, there’s been little discussion who is leading the pack. The reason for that could very well be because Hood is holding off Heyward, but that’s only an assumption, making this yet another unasked question.

The Atrocious Teams 

Mike Tomlin hired Danny Smith to revive a special teams unit that had again regressed into a team liability.

His unit during the preseason would be more aptly named the Steelers atrocious teams. Throughout the preseason the special teams have been a painful constant.

Many have observed this fact, but few have explored its origin.

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Tuesday, August 27, 2013

How Much are the Steelers Worth? Forbes Ranks Team 14th, But Other Financial Indicators Less Promising

You love the Pittsburgh Steelers are you won’t be reading this. But how much are they worth to you? Again, if you’re reading this the answer is almost certainly “priceless.”
  • Moving from the philosophical to the practical the question of how much they are worth takes on new meaning.
NFL franchises, save for the Green Bay Packers, are not public entities.
  • That means that they need not open their books to anyone. 
Still, given that the National Football League is multibillion dollar enterprise, there will be no shortage of those who attempt to translate hypothetical value into dollars.

How Much Are the Pittsburgh Steelers Worth?

If memory serves (and if not the book is 6,000 miles away), Ed Bouchette’s 1993 book Dawn of a New Steel Age pegged the Steelers value at around 200-220 million.

My how things have changed, as Forbes recently pegged the value of the Steelers at 1.118 million dollars. This estimation puts the Steelers at at 14th just over the middle of the NFL pack in terms of market value, which is good considering that the Steelers are located in a modest market that is aging if not shrinking.
  • Should Steelers Nation Care?
Steelers fans care fare more about completion percentages, rushing averages, Ben Roethlisberger and Troy Polamalu's health, and how few points and yards the defense gives up.

And so it should be.
  • But its nice to know that our beloved team is nestled comfortably in the NFL’s value bell curve. 
It’s also important to keep in mind that these “values” mean little in football terms and are really only relevant should the team be put up for sale or if they should seek to borrow money. And no one in Steelers Nation wants to see the Rooney’s sell the team, and the last decade has taught us about what too much debt can do.

Looking deeper into the numbers, however, there are some caution flags that Steelers management, if not Steelers Nation itself should be wary of.

Theoretical market value means nothing in terms of competitiveness. Overall financial health is another question. On that measure, the Steelers are not quite as well off. Consider:
  • The Steelers saw their value increase only 2% - which ranked 28th
  • The Steelers debt burden came in at 18% which ranks them 13th in the league – this is one measure where lower is better
Of course the real importance or measure of debt is in your ability to pay it – a $500,000 mortgage is very different for a couple with a combined income of $175,000 per year to a single income family making $80,000 a year.

In terms of revenue, the Steelers made $266 million, ranking them only 20th in the league.
  • The Baltimore Ravens, in contrast ranked 10th, raking in 292 million. 
Revenue is nice but that number is only the tally of how many dollars you bring in before you pay your bills. When you look at that number, the Steelers are slightly better at 18th in the NFL with 28.2 million in net income for 2012.
  • Both the Ravens and Bengals ranked above the Steelers.
Looking Ahead at the Steelers Financial Future

Given some of these later numbers, it is easy to see why the team not only wants to expand Heinz Field but would like the city of Pittsburgh to pay for it. (Note, Steel Curtain Rising is on record saying that the Steelers should pick up the tab for Heinz Field expansion.)

While the Steelers overall performance is in line with, and in some cases better, than teams from comparable markets, they are also being out performed in every category by the Green Bay Packers.
  • And their placement among the pecking order is by no means assured.
The Minnesota Vikings are set to get a new stadium which will enhance their value/revenue. The NFL desperately wants a team in Los Angeles, which will likely boost the value of the Raiders or Chargers or which ever team moves there.

These future developments don’t mean that the Steelers can’t and won’t have the financial health to compete the in the short and medium term future, but as a family owned franchise they’re going to need to make some wise decisions.

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Monday, August 26, 2013

Video Highlights of Steelers 26-20 Preseason Loss to the Chiefs

The Pittsburgh Steelers lost 26-20 in overtime to the Kansas City Chiefs, assuring them the first losing preseason record of the Mike Tomlin era, for whatever that little factoid is worse.

Based in Buenos Aires, Argentina, (and no fan of watching things on the computer) Steel Curtain Rising could not see the game, but as always we’re happy to bring you highlights. Watch them while you can, because Roger Goodell’s YouTube police seem to be more aggressive than ever.

The results in preseason are of course meaningless. Its performance that counts. In that light Steelers Nation is faced with a half full, half empty situation.

On the plus side…
On the negative side…

  • Special teams were atrocious, giving up a 109 return for a touchdown and seeing a blocked field goal
  • Despite playing Kelvin Beachum as a roaming tight end, Ben Rothlisberger was sacked twice and under pressure
  • The Steelers were penalized 9 times for 98 yards, many of which ensured that the Cheifs stayed in the game
  • The starting defense allowed Alex Smith to look sharp and tie up the score at half time
  • Neither Jonathan Dwyer nor Baron Batch could make headway rushing the ball (no wonder why Batch was cut)
The other big news of the night was the injury to first round pick Jarvis Jones, but it has been reported that the tests he underwent were negative.

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Sunday, August 25, 2013

Baron Batch, Stevenson Sylvester Headline Steelers First Cuts

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 roster began to take shape today, and the list of cuts contain some familiar faces including Stevenson Sylvester and Baron Batch.

Baron Batch’s shot at making the roster figured to suffer a blow when the Steelers traded linebacker Adrian Robinson for Felix Jones; yet the absence of Adrian Robinson should have helped Sylvester’s case, at least on paper.

Reality turns out to be something different.

Also getting a visit from the Turk were:
Van Dyke, Spence Highlight Steelers Injury Moves

The Steelers have placed linebacker Sean Spence on the team’s Reserve/Physically Unable To Perform (PUP) List. Per NFL rules, this action bars Spence from even practicing with the team for 6 weeks, after which the Steelers have 3 weeks to activate him or place him on injured reserve.

Offensive lineman Justin Cheadle who was recently injured found himself on the waived/injured list as did DeMarcus Van Dyke. The only real difference here is that as both players were injured, the Steelers must reach an injury settlement with them.

Steelers seventh round draft pick Nick Williams, whose best shot was the practice squad, was also placed on injured reserve ending his rookie season before it ever began in a move that bolsters Al Woods and Alameda Ta'amu’s chances of making the final roster.

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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Steelers Trade Adrian Robinson for Felix Jones

The Steelers Brain Trust offered Steelers Nation a classic lesson in understanding franchise operations this week:
  • Listen not to what we say, watch what we do
One day after Mike Tomlin provided good news about Le’Veon Bell’s injury, the Steelers traded linebacker Adrian Robinson for Eagles running back Felix Jones.

Clearly the Steelers are not counting on Bell’s availability early in the season, and clearly they are not sold on going into the season with Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman as their lead running backs. LaRod Stephens-Howling also remains and option, but he is seen as a third down back and return specialist.

Beyond that, Baron Batch’s chances of making the team are also impacted, although his ability to play special teams will certainly help his cause.

Jones Not Certainty, Let Alone a Savior

The Steelers are not counting on Felix Jones as a savior. Indeed, Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola put the move in even more stark terms:
The Dallas Cowboys drafted Jones in 2008, one pick ahead of Rashard Mendenhall in what is now the Steelers infamous 2008 draft.

And if Steelers fans think that Mendenhall failed to live up to his promise, Jones offers even less promise as a back whose rushing production topped out at 800 yards in 2010, which was also Mendenhall’s best season, when he ran for close to 400 more yards.

On the defensive side, the move all but assures that Chris Carter will get a roster spot, and opens the door for Alan Baxter to land a spot as well.

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Friday, August 23, 2013

Tomlin Says Kelvin Beachum Threatening Starters; Le'veon Bell Injury Less Severe than Feared

Trai Essex held down a roster spot, and a lifeline to the NFL, with his ability to be the 6th offensive lineman. But that took time, as Essex was drafted as a tackle in 2009, only moving to guard full time in 2009, and didn’t see action at center until 2011.
During training camp Beachum has practiced at all five offensive line positions. And while that versatility is golden as the Steelers depth at offensive line remains precarious, Mike Tomlin is not ruling out giving Beachum a shot at starting at either right or left tackle.

As the Steelers head into their third preseason game vs. the Kansas City Cheifs, if nothing else Tomlin's words should serve as a wake up call to incumbent starters Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams.

Bell’s Injury Less Severe than Feared

The Steelers got some good news on the injury front, as reports that 2nd round pick Le’veon Bell’s foot injury is less severe than feared. Bell has sprained ligaments in his foot, including apparently the lisfranc ligaments, but he is progressing rapidly and will not need surgery.

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Thursday, August 22, 2013

The Life and Times of the Steelers David Johnson - From the PUP to Opening Day Starter?

Oh, to live the life and times of Steelers tight end-full-back-tight end David Johnson. Johnson:
And where is David Johnson now?
  • Well, David Johnson could very well end up as the Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 opening day starting tight end vs. the Tennessee Titans. 
Johnson, along with fellow tight end Heath Miller, open training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, but the Steelers have activated him from the PUP.

The Steelers find themselves in a precarious situation at tight end. Matt Spaeth, brought back in a surprise free agency reacquisition, has a lisfranc injury and will be out 8 to 10 weeks. Miller of course is rehabbing his own ACL tear.

David Paulson had what might have been the catch of the night, a 26 yarder from Ben Roethlisberger in the Steelers preseason loss to the Redskins, but his blocking has been suspect, and with a leaky offensive line that is an issue.
  • David Johnson is no season savior. 
He’s the type of player who lives year-by-year. But, like a great many late draft picks, Johnson gives it his all and has shown the ability step it up when called upon. He is a solid blocker and he should provide some valuable veteran depth at an area where the Steelers truly need it.

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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Le'Veon Bell Suffers Lisfranc Injury, Wreaking Havoc with Steelers 2013 Early Season Roster

It seems like the Steelers 2012 Draft Class has set an unwelcome precedent in the form of preseason injury. The Steelers first and third round picks David DeCastro and Sean Spence saw their rookie season’s ruined by injuries suffered in preseason games.

Now the same is threatening to happen to Le’Veon Bell, the Steelers 2nd round pick from the 2013 NFL draft who, without so much as a preseason touch, found himself listed as a co-starter along side Issac Redman.

Early in the day the Steeler announced that they were seeking a second opinion on Bell’s MRI and today Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Tweeted this news:
The fact that the source of the news is Jay Glazer is important, as Glazer is reported to have a close friendship with Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. The early word is that Bell will not need surgery, unlike tight end Matt Spaeth. Spaeth also suffered a Lisfranc injury and is expected to miss 8-10 weeks.

Move Impacts the Steelers Early Season Roster

Even if Bell is able to make a return to health to salvage something of his rookie year, his injury already will have an adverse impact on the Steelers early season roster.

If a player goes in injured reserve prior to the season, he is lost for the year. For that reason the Steelers are not putting Spaeth on IR nor are they likely to add Bell.

But that means they’ll have to carry both men on their opening day 53 man roster. Last year the Steelers opened the year with James Harrison and Rashard Mendenhall on their active roster, but neither man could play.

The move will also make for interesting roster choices. Rumor has it that either Jonathan Dwyer or Redman would be cut (which would have been a mistake), now both will likely stay. LaRod Stephens-Howling will likely stay. That leaves four running backs with Bell, not including full back Will Johnson.

Baron Batch would seem to be the odd man out, but his value as a special teams player and a blocker who can help protect Ben Roethlisberger behind what has been a leaky offensive line could make him hard to part with….

Suffice to say Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson has a lot on his mind….

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Video Lowlights for the Steelers 24-13 Loss to the Redskins

Perhaps it is a bit of a misnomer to call the highlights from the Steelers loss to the Redskins in preseason “lowlights” as some individual players did have good moments. But any sober Steelers fan has got to admit that the negatives outweighed the positives.

What can we take from this? Is it too early to panic? Or is this “just preseason?”
  • Steel Curtain Rising’s golden rule of preseason is that the preseason is good for evaluating individual players and individual units.
Once upon a time the Pittsburgh Steelers played an America Bowl game in Montreal against the New England Patriots. The Steelers triumphed 30-14 and a strong running game masked a the chaotic debut of Joe Walton’s offense.

Their next game was in Washington, vs. the Redskins which happened to the first pro football experience of yours truly. The Steelers offense was in total disarray. Warren Williams and Merril Hoge looked good, but Bubby Brister, when not running for his life, was throwing to Louis Lipps on the strong side when Lipps was cutting towards the weak side.
  • Those two games began what was an ominous trend that lasted for two seasons, as Joe Walton's offense ultimately drove Chuck Noll into retirement.
Where does that leave us today? Well, Vs. the Redskins Ben Roethlisberger was only sacked once, but was hit numerous times and pressured into a pick six. Marcus Gilbert was completely overwhelmed and Maurkice Pouncey was manhandled. Mike Adams and David DeCastro got hit with penalties.
  • And then there were the injuries.
Second round pick Le’Veon Bell’s debut lasted all of four carries. Issac Redman didn’t play. Neither did Rod Stephens-Howling. Baron Batch suffered a stinger. Full back Will Johnson injured a rib. Jonathan Dwyer looked strong at times but, surprise, put the ball on the ground.

The Steelers defense put in a stronger showing, with first round Jarvis Jones forcing a fumble, LaMarr Woodley registering a sack, and Lawrence Timmons playing like he was on a tear. Shamarko Thomas also hit everything in sight.

The offense had its moments, with Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown, and David Paulson catching some nice long balls along with rookie Marcus Wheaton.

But none of that will mean anything if the Steelers cannot right the ship on the offensive line – staying healthy would help too.

When Steelers Nation Should to Know to Panic

While what Steelers Nation has seen so far is hardly encouraging, it is too early to panic. The Steelers don’t game plan for preseason. A fair number of play calls are designed towards testing players rather than specific game situations.
  • Still getting manhandled is getting manhandled. There's no way to sugar coat it.
If history is any guide, the next game’s performance will be the true gauge.

Back in 1998 after the Steelers let John Jackson depart San Diego, Bill Cowher tried Jamine Stevens, Paul Wiggins, and Chris Conrad out as replacements. The Steelers had an extra preseason game then, giving Bill Cowher a four full games to see all three men go.
  • The coach's most difficult challenge was figuring out which one was worse.
After their fourth game against Atlanta, played at Morgantown, Cowher had had enough. He started Roger Duffy at guard (soon to be replaced by rookie Alan Faneca), moved Will Wolford from guard to tackle, and shifted Justin Strzelczyk from left to right tackle.
  • That worked fairly well until Strzelczyk got hurt.
The moral of the story is that no improvement from the offensive line in the third week of preseason = time to panic. If Mike Tomlin is starting Kelven Beachum over Gilbert in the final preseason game, you’ll know the coaches are really worried…..

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Monday, August 19, 2013

Watch Tower: Right or Wrong, ESPN's Chadiha Simply Fails to Understand the Steelers

ESPN’s Jeffri Chadiha recently weighed in on the Pittsburgh Steelers prospects for 2013, and Steelers Nation will not like his conclusions. In a nut shell Chadiha says that the Steelers are destined for a downswing on the level that epic franchises such as the Redskins, Cowboys, and 49ers experienced.

Chadiha projects the Steelers as a third in the AFC North with 8-8 likely their best possible outcome. Chadiha’s overall argument has some merit. He could in fact be right. But the Watch Tower is more interested in deconstructing how Chadiha builds his argument.

ESPN’s Chadiha on What Ails the Steelers - Offense

The base of Chadiha’s argument for the demise of the Steelers can be summed up in two sentences:
The offense has quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and a ton of questions. The defense is old and missing key performers from a unit that led the league in total yards allowed in 2012.
Right off the bat, the Watch Tower finds bones to pick with Chadiha’s methodology. Taken at face value, his breakdown of the offense appears to be correct, on defense, not so much.
  • So just what are those questions the Steelers face on offense in Chadiha’s eyes?
The first two specifics that Chadiha’s cites are these:
It has been years since Roethlisberger has taken snaps behind an offensive line that could be described as sturdy and it's anybody's guess as to how well he'll coexist with offensive coordinator Todd Haley this season.
On the issue of the offensive line, Chadiha is right. The last time Ben Roethlisberger had a quality offensive line in front of him was 2007…

…And while Steel Curtain Rising has been beating the drum, the fact is that the Steelers have done quite well instead of offensive line deficiencies, particularly in Super Bowl XLIII.
  • This is the first instance of Chadiha being (potentially) right, but through no fault of his own.
Offensive line remains an issue. The issue however is more one of health and depth rather than quality. Chadiha fails make that argument, and ignores the fact that the Steelers have invested heavily in building a high quality offensive line in the form of Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams.

Chadiha is on firmer ground when it comes to the Ben Rothlisberger-Todd Haley relationship but only slightly. As the Watch Tower pointed out, the press saw lots of smoke there in 2012, only to have Ben and Haley say all the right things, which worked fine until Bob Labriola of the Steelers Digest outed them after the season.
  • But Chadiha ignores what have to be at least a dozen stories detailing how Haley worked constructively with his coaches and players to open up the offense.
It would seem that any argument for the Steelers demise that’s based on the Roethlisberger-Haley relationship would have to take those developments into account. Chadiha doesn’t.

Chadiha also talks about the Steelers dismal 2012 running game and the loss of Mike Wallace and now Plaxico Burress.
  • Again, these are potential issues, but he also ignores potential remedies. 
As Steel Curtain Rising has argued, the performance of the Steelers running game in 2012 was directly proportional to the health of the offensive line. In this respect Chadiha’s in good company – everyone else is also missing this.

Mike Wallace will be missed, but Chadiha ignores the fact that Wallace’s attitude has been at issue, and that he’s largely developed into a home run or bust type player.

Furthermore, there are other arguments Chadiha could use in his favor but fails to do so. The Steelers will open the season with David Paulson as their number 1 tight end. Emmanuel Sanders has a lot of potential, but his health has been suspect.

As for losing Plaxico Burress, Burress could have contributed, but he was projected to be a 4th or 5th receiver at best, and was no lock to make the team.

Deconstructing ESPN’s Chadiha on What Ails the Steelers – Defense

The bulk of Chadiha’s argument on the defensive side lies in the perceived age of the defense. Its as if Warren Saap’s “Old, slow and done” pronouncement has been recited enough to somehow take on an air of truth – facts be dammed.

In this respect, Chadiha focuses on the age of the Steelers secondary and ignores tendencies elsewhere. As Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review pointed out in may, the average age of the Steelers starting defense is projected to be at 29.3 years, almost two years younger than its 2011 predecessor.
Perhaps the biggest potential liability facing the Steelers defense is how they’re going to compensate for the absence of James Harrison’s run stopping ability is one that Chadiha leaves untouched.

Deconstructing Jeffri Chadiha ESPN -- National Media's Failure to Understand the Steelers

All of these flaw’s in Chadiha’s methodology lead to one larger, and more fatal, flaw in his overall approach. Chadiha just doesn’t get how the Steelers operate. After detailing the franchise’s legendary stability and success he goes on to observe:
That level of success is the major reason it's so hard to envision their impending demise now. They've always beaten the odds. They've rarely stayed down for long. Just when it seems they've lost one too many key performers, another unheralded contributor steps up his game. This team seemingly can do no wrong at finding players to fit most pressing needs.
The Steelers have been so good in this department that they've never had to go on a spending spree in free agency. The coaches simply waited for their draft picks to grow up, step in and live up to expectations. But that formula will not be as reliable this coming fall. There are too many holes for the Steelers to fill. It's hard to believe they can be that fortunate at every position requiring an upgrade.
This team actually needs to get back to its roots before it ever can become championship-caliber again… [Emphasis added.]
There are a couple of issues here.

Have the Steelers always beaten the odds? Well, they’ve been better than many, but what about 1980’s? Sure, they never quite hit bottom the way say the ’88-’89 Cowboys did, but the period doesn’t exactly serve as an example of Steelers excellence (Steel Curtain Rising’s beloved 1989 Steelers not with standing.)

Indeed, one of the issues weighing down the Steelers in ‘80’s was their unwillingness to part ways with aging veterans and an inability to keep drafting and scouting aligned.
  • Note, these Steelers have taken pains to avoid that.
Indeed, it wasn’t until Dan Rooney fired his brother Art Rooney Jr. that the Steelers drafting improved. (If you think that is a stretch, the firing occurred in late ’86 – Chuck Noll drafted Rod Woodson in 1987 and Dermontti Dawson in 1988 in addition to players like Hardy Nickerson, Merril Hoge, and Greg Lloyd.)

The other issue is Chadiha’s interpretation of the Steelers attitude towards free agency. He claims “[the Steelers] never had to go on a spending spree in free agency.”

Really? The Steelers had multiple times when they could have opted for wholesale rebuilding via free agency in the mid and late ‘90’s, the ‘00’s, and even in this decade.
  • They never have gone on a free agency spending binge because it goes against the philosophy of the franchise.
The fact that Chadiha simply misses or doesn’t get this really cuts into his credibility as a commentator on the team.

One final criticism of Chadiha. He ends his piece saying that the Steelers need to get back to their roots, implying that it is not something in the offing, when a large part of the Steelers offensive plan going into 2013 is to take advantage of the tendency to build defenses to protect against the pass by running on them.
  • Now the Steelers aren’t exactly announcing this strategic shift on their home page, but if a blogger in Buenos Aires with no direct access to sources can learn this, so should a reporter from a network with a billion dollar contract to cover the NFL.
In the final analysis, Chadiha’s predictions for gloom and doom in Pittsburgh in 2013 could turn out to be right. The Steelers have little to zero margin for injury on the offensive line and perhaps the secondary. A number of other things must work exactly as planned.

But Chadiha’s methodology and understanding of the franchise is so flawed that if he is right, the Watch Tower will say he is right be accident, and will award no bragging rights.

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Watch Tower: ESPN Poaches Scott Brown from The Tribune Review

In depth coverage of individual NFL teams has long been the province of the big daily newspapers, a tendency that shows little trend of breaking as the internet reaches its second decade.
  • ESPN, however, has never been shy about its ambition to break that trend.
Over the last several years, ESPN has been launching its own mini-sites directed at individual cities. ESPN Chicago, ESPN New England, ESPN New York etc….

Back in 2009 or so ESPN made a run at the Gerry Dulac and Ed Bouchette of the Post Gazette. At the time Dulac alluded to this in an on-line chat, and later Ed Bouchette was quite explicit.
  • ESPN didn’t get Bouchette or Dulac, but they did get the Tribune Review’s Scott Brown.
Scott Brown joined the Tribune Review in 2006 and covered the Steelers as their main beat writer until 2012, when Allen Robinson took up those chores and Brown departed to cover Penn State – although the move was apparently one that Brown requested.
  • Either way, Brown now has a bigger stage to show his talents.
While Brown was the junior man on the Steelers beat, the Watch Tower noted several times when he out hustled Ed Bouchette. Two that quickly come to mind are:
Scott Brown’s duties covering the Steelers will begin tonight, with his preview of the Steelers-Redskins game.

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

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Steelers Cut Danny Harpmann, Sign RB Jeremy Wright

Place kicker Danny Harpmann put in a very solid preseason of work during 2012 and had Steelers Nation been in charge of the decision, it would have been Harpmann rather than Shaun Suisham doing the Steelers kicking chores in 2012.
  • And that shows you why fan’s should have zero impact in those decisions, because Suisham had a phenomenal year.
Not only was Suisham almost perfect, he routinely kicked balls back into the end zone. Indeed, Suisham was a bright spot in a special teams unit that was otherwise a liability.

The Steelers thought enough of Harpmann to bring him back for another shot at St. Vincent’s. Well the Steelers have broken camp and are leaving Latrobe, but with three preseason games remaining, they’re saying good bye to Harpmann.

Taking Harpmann's place is running back Jeremy Wright, who is an undrafted rookie out of Louisville. Behind the Steel Curtain has speculated that the Steelers are mainly interested in Wright for his return abilities.

However, the BTSC also suggests that, with injuries to second round pick Le’Veon Bell and Isaac Redman, the Steelers may just be looking for a body to help carry the load in preseason. Last year the Steelers brought in Dujuan Harris for just that purpose, only to cut Dujuan Harris and see him do well in two starts for Green Bay.

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Friday, August 16, 2013

Bubby Brister Turns 51 - Facts and Figures on His Time as a Steeler

Thanks to John Stiegerwald for tipping us off to the fact that yesterday was Bubby Brister’s 51st birthday.
  • What did we do without Twitter?
Although he was a native Louisianian like Terry Bradshaw, Brister could never fill the blonde bomber’s shoe. But he certainly did have fun trying.

Brister was as flamboyant as they come. He had a lot of raw talent, if he did lack the game smarts to make it work on the field. But he enjoyed every minute of it, and would have fit in with the likes of Bobby Layne.

Steelers Nation had a love-hate relationship with Brister and for many reasons. Here are some fun facts about Mr. Walter Andrew Brister:
  • Paul “Bear” Bryant recruited him for Alabama, but Brister opted to play in the Detroit Tiger’s minor league system
  • Like Joe Montana before him and Neil O'Donnell after him, Brister was a third round pick
  • Long before Steelers Nation knew Kordell Stewart, Brister scored 6 rushing touchdowns in 1988
  • The United Way once tapped Brister to headline one of its Steelers-oriented public service announcements
  • Brister ranks above Terry Bradshaw in career completion percentage (52.5% vs. 51.9%)
  • Once Bubby completed 15 consecutive passes vs. Detroit in 1989, then a Steelers record
  • With the Steelers, Brister had 3 300 yard games, but not one of them came during his signature 1989 season
  • Before Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Wallace re-wrote long passing records, Brister had five 79 yard plus hook ups with Louis Lipps and Dwight Stone
Bubby Brister career in Pittsburgh saw his ups and downs, some fans wax nostalgically about him, others lament that Joe Walton ruined him, and some just hated him, but all can agree that Brister was never dull. Happy 51st Bubby and many health returns!

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