´ Steel Curtain Rising: September 2013

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

Monday, September 30, 2013

Vikings Beat Steelers 34-27 in London; Pittsburgh's 0-4 Mark is Worse than it Looks

The Pittsburgh Steelers went to London destined to make history of one kind and desperate to avoid making another kind of history.

The former of course was preordained, the Steelers would play their first regular season game outside of the United States, marking a milestone for one of the NFL’s most storied franchises.
  • The other milestone that would damm the Steelers should they not dodge it was the franchise’s first 0-4 start since the days when Bill Austin called the shots.
As Steelers Nation is now so painfully aware, the Steelers now hold an 0-4 mark for the first time since before man set foot on the moon. 0-4 is bad enough, but the root cause of the Steelers record should disquiet anyone wearing Black and Gold.

Steelers Nation Seeks its Fortune in the United Kingdom

The word on the Steelers heading into London was that, in spite of the 0-3 mark, this was a team that was sticking together. On top of that, things were supposed to be coming together.
  • Heath Miller had returned, giving the passing game a boost
  • Cortez Allen, the man supposedly capable of ending the Steelers turnover drought, was back
  • Le’Veon Bell, who drew comparisons to Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis in training camp, was set to make his debut
On top of that they were playing the Vikings, another 0-3 team but one that was playing without its starting quarterback.

One win in London would get the Steelers back on the right path going into the bye. If the Steelers could beat the Jets in their first game back, a successful show down at Heinz Field vs. the Ravens would give the franchise a shot at 3-3.

Alas, that was not to be.

Statistically Speaking the Steelers Played a Good Game, But....

Heath Miller looked good again and is showing few if any signs of the injury. Le’Veon Bell, while far from a show stopper, scored not once but twice and his first NFL game was certainly above the line. These were not isolated achievements either:
  • The Steelers dominated the Vikings in time of possession 36:27 to 23:33
  • Pittsburgh out performed Minnesota on third down by a wide margin
  • Ben Roethlisberger threw for 383 yards
  • Jerricho Cotchery played like a man ten years younger, and Antonio Brown had another strong game
But the Steelers got down early and were looking at 34-17 entering the fourth quarter.

Yet the Steelers fought back, coming to scoring twice in the fourth quarter and had reached the 6 when time expired.

But they failed to get it done. The question is why?

2 + 5 + 51 + 60 + 70 = (4 + 1 + 1/0) = 0

Certainly, a couple of members of the Pittsburgh Steelers did put up some impressive numbers. But all of it was for naught, as some other numbers illustrate.
  • The Vikings had 2 turnovers
  • Steelers had 4 passes defensed (read four lost interceptions) one sack for zero yards, and a forced fumble that served to advance the ball for the Vikings
  • Ben Roethlisberger got sacked 5 times
  • The Steelers defense gave up gains of 51, 60, and 70 yards
All of these numbers are bad. But what’s really worse is that they’re only symptoms of a far deeper problem.

Numbers Don’t Lie, But for the Steelers, They're Merely Symptoms

An NFL team severely handicaps itself with a minus two turnover differential, but a good teams still find aways to overcome that.

Every coach prefers an interception to a pass defensed, but defensing a pass shows that something is going right. Recovering forced fumbles is important, but sometimes that comes down to the randomness of a bounce.
  • None of these numbers, even the sacks and the long gains, are necessarily damming.
But it is the way that these events are occurring which is dooming the Steelers. And to really understand that, one needs to call upon the words of former Washington-area WMAL/WTEM sports journalist Ken Beatrice:

Very few teams ‘win’ games in the NFL. Far more often it is a case of the other team doing something to lose a game.

This was one of Beatrice’s favorite trueisms, and it has applied to the Steelers for three straight weeks.

Going three weeks without a turnover and seeing four passes bounce off hands of defenders and a fumble take a wrong roll reveals a team that is actively losing games. Seeing your quarterback dumped twice in the Red Zone happens to teams that are actively losing. The myriad and multiple missed tackles that led to 3 50+ yard games are symptoms of a team that is actively losing.

Even when the ball bounced the Steelers way and the Steelers seemingly took advantage, they did it in the wrong way. Late in the fourth quarter the Vikings looked to ice the game with a 44 yard field goal. Blair Walsh had already made ones of 54 and 37 yards, so it seemed a sure thing. Walsh missed, leaving the margin at ten.

The Steelers took over on downs, got to the Minnesota 12, but after three plays they were forced to kick a field goal.
  • No big deal, the Steelers only needed 10, right…?

A touchdown there would have made all of the difference, it would have given momentum to the Steelers and greatly simplified the dynamics behind a second drive. Teams that 'win' game score touchdowns in those situations.

The Steelers defense got the ball back, but only after Minnesota burned 1:47 – and all of the Pittsburgh’s time outs – off the clock.

As it was, the Steelers got to the six where a time out would have made all the difference.
  • The Steelers didn’t have one, and their 2013 record stands 0-4. That’s disturbing.
But 0-4 isn’t nearly as disturbing as the reality that in each step it took to arrive there, the Pittsburgh Steelers mastered a new lesson in the art of learning to lose games.

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Sunday, September 29, 2013

Adrian Peterson to Test Already Suspect Steelers Run Defense

Something has been (largely) lost in the clutter of the Pittsburgh Steelers first 0-3 start since ’00.

The poor play of the offensive line, absence of a running game, Todd Haley’s supposed incompetence, cut blocking, regressing of Ben Roethlisberger and prolific turnovers have all been discussed ad nausea. One point has receive comparatively less discussion:
  • Opposing teams can now run against the Steelers.
Dick LeBeau’s 3-4 defense is founded on stopping the run. The idea is to limit damage on 1st and second downs and force the defense into 3rd and 7 or better. This then allows LeBeau to bring pressure from odd angles via the Zone Blitz.

No opposing running back has yet dominated the Steelers.
In an age where quarterbacks drive success in the NFL to an unprecedented extent, Adrian Peterson has made himself into a house hold word the way Emmitt Smith and Jerome Bettis once did.

The apparent decline of the Steelers run defense could have any number of causes.
Whatever the cause is, LeBeau had better have something up his sleeve. With Christian Ponder out and Matt Cassel starting, the Vikings will certainly look to lean on Peterson.

Which makes sense, because the man is a beast.

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Friday, September 27, 2013

Will the Jet Lag Dog the Steelers in London? Tomlin's Time Zone Gambit....

When you’re the coach of an 0-3 team everything you open every decision up to question. Such it is that a decision Mike Tomlin made long before the specter of a Maurkice Pounceyless offensive line loomed will certainly come back to haunt him should the Steelers drop their game to the Vikings.
  • NFL teams playing in London typically leave early in the week to allow players a chance to adjust to the time zone.
Mike Tomlin is taking the early track, arriving a little over 48 hours before the game.
  • Its almost as if he’s following Chuck Noll’s philosophy for playing in the thin air of Denver – get in and get out as quickly as you can.
Traveling to London can be an ordeal. On my lone trip, I arrived early in the morning and could not stay awake, despite warnings not to let myself sleep.

Later that night I feel asleep without any difficulty, only to wake up at 3:00 am completely unable to fall back asleep. It took a full 3-4 days to adjust to reality.

The 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t exactly been a model of focus thus far, turning the ball over with startling generosity while declining opposing offense’s offers to reciprocate.

It says here that:
But who knows?

Perhaps going to London is just what the Steelers need. Perhaps going completely out of their comfort zone will do the team good. But if the Steelers return from London 0-4, you can bet the “They should have traveled sooner” complaints will start in earnest.

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Thursday, September 26, 2013

Even If Healthy, Is It Wise to Start Le'Veon Bell?

While the Pittsburgh Steelers remain firmly entrenched in the “L” column, they have gone two straight games without a major injury. If nothing else the law of averages appears to be working in their favor. For the moment.

Heath Miller of course returned to the Steelers for the Bears game, and it appears that the offense is set to get another boost at the skill position with return of Le’Veon Bell.

Bell is going through practice and Mike Tomlin expects him to play. Which is good. However, word is that Bell might even start.
  • Is it really wise for the Steelers to consider starting Bell?
First there comes the question of injury. Bell is recovering from a Lisfranc injury and at such a young stage of his career one has to question whether he is being rushed back ala Robert Griffin III.
  • Beyond that, what has Bell done to earn the starting role?
Bell was the talk of the early part of training camp. But his resume includes nothing other than 4 underwhelming carries in preseason. A decision to start bell could amount to an indictment of the current roster of running backs. Neither Jonathan Dwyer, nor Felix Jones, nor Isaac Redman have done anything to stake a claim to the starting role.

But Mike Tomlin has been loathe to anoint rookies, going so far as to rotate Jonathan Scott with Flozell Adams during the 2010 preseason to avoid conferring “starter” status on Maurkice Pouncey.
  • Why change now? 
Playing Bell, assuming he’s healthy, is a wise move. But handing him the starting job, could send the wrong signal, and this worry is only reinforced by Ben Roethlisberger's decision to call the rookie's preparation into question.

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Steelers Report Card vs. Bears @ Heinz Field

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is quickly tiring of seeing his student slip because of correctable issues like failing to get work in on time, here is the Steelers Report Card for the loss to the Bears. Note as a caveat, no other Steelers Report cards were consulted prior to this posting.

Something is up with Ben Roethlisberger. Yes it is true that he hasn’t had a running game to work with. Yes it is true that his offensive line has been horrendous. Yes Ben make some fabulous throws vs. the Bears. But Ben Roethlisberger caused four of the Steelers 5 turnovers vs. the Bears. And this is a tendency that is repeating itself. Turnovers doomed a Steeler team that otherwise dominated Chicago. Grade:  F

Running Backs
Jonathan Dwyer proved his worth as a blocker and as a runner. Felix Jones looked smart running the ball, yet he put the ball on the ground, which hurt the team when it could lease afford it. Grade:  C-

Tight Ends
Heath Miller made his triumphant return, and looked very sharp. His impact was not only visible in the plays he made, but in the success of the rest of the passing game. The tight ends contribution to the blocking efforts was not apparent, however. Grade:  B-

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown had a break out game, just barely missing the 200 yard mark and making two difficult catches in the end zone. Emmanuel Sanders likewise put in a strong game and made the catches he had to make. Jerricho Cotchery did all he was asked to do. Markus Wheaton had a ball thrown at him that he didn’t catch. Grade: B+

Offensive Line
David DeCastro did look good on some running plays. But he had difficulty pass blocking as did Ramon Foster. Marcus Gilbert split time with Kelvin Beachum, as did Mike Adams who was abused terribly the entire night. This unit’s play, particularly at the tackle position, remains dangerously far below the line. Grade: D

Defensive Line
Brett Keisel had a monster game with a sack four solo tackles and a tackle for a loss. Cameron Heyward continues to pressure the quarterback but has not struck gold yet. Steve McLendon had 5 tackles. Ziggy Hood had 2 in what looked like reduced playing time. The unit’s play was solid, save for Matt Forte’s 55 yard touchdown run, which has to bring down the grade a bit. Grade:  B-

Lawrence Timmons was all over the field leading the team in tackles in defensing to passes (how about picking one off?)  Jarvis Jones was next in tackles, but still has yet to register a sack. LaMarr Woodley spent plenty of time behind the line of scrimmage. Vince Williams and Kion Wilson are both playing with a passion that says they want to stay there. A good performance, but something broke down on the 55 yard play, which hurt. Grade: B-

Troy Polamalu played a strong game and destroy a play with a brilliant tackle behind the line of scrimmage. Willam Gay also played well. Ike Taylor had a strong game, but let Brandon Marshall get ahead of him on a key conversion. Likewise the unit must shoulder some responsibility for the 55 yard run. Robert Golden did not shy from Jay Cutler’s challenge, but Culter made one hell of a play. Once again, no turnovers. This has to change. Grade:  C+

Special Teams
Felix Jones did well on two kick returns. Brown’s punt returning was a non-factor. Shaun Suisham was 3-3 but his kickoffs were short, although that might have been by design. There were a couple of penalties and forgotten in the roughing the kicker penalty on Zoltan Mesko that sparked the rally is the fact that the defender was untouched. Polamalu’s blocked extra point was meaningless, but nice to see nonetheless. A mixed bag on special teams. Grade:  C

Dick LeBeau’s game plan and play calling was solid. Todd Haley, Steelers Nation’s latest whipping boy, saw his offense nearly double that of the Bears. And while you can fault the coaches for ruining continuity on the offensive line, these tackles cannot be allowed to take comfort in their level of play.

While Mike Tomlin will ultimately be judged on W’s and L’s, and he doesn’t have anything in the W column almost 25% of the way in, his team was down 23-3 and fought back valiantly, showing that he maintains control of the team. Is it really the coach’s fault when his quarterback develops and acute case of butter fingers? For one week at least Tomlin gets a pass on this front. He and his coaches were “above the line.” Grade: C

Unsung Hero
When a team goes down 23-3 in the first quarter a lot of things can happen, and most of them are ugly. One of them is not coming back and making game of it, which is exactly what the Steelers did. Lots of players won and deserve accolades for that, but one of those who stepped up with big plays that no one would have thought him capable of was David Johnson, who caught 2 passes for 50 yards and for that he is the Unsung Hero of the Bears game.

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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Steelers Loss to Bears; 0-3 Start Gives Steelers Nation Erie Reminder of '00 0-3 Start...

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the game vs. Chicago attempting to fend off three opponents:  The Bears, themselves, and their first 0-3 start since 2000.

The Steelers failed on all three fronts. Now they share the 0-3 mark of Bill Cowher and Kevin Colbert’s inaugural squad. A lot has happened since then, but there are both promising similarities and disquieting asymmetries shared by these two editions of the Steelers, separated by 13 years.

Looking Back at the Steelers Last 0-3 Start

Unlike in 2013, the Steelers entered the 2000 season as an afterthought. No one wondered “Can this team still be a contender?” “Can they surroned their quarterback with enough talent to win?”

Instead the question was “Can Cowher keep his job past midseason?” and “Can the Steelers win in spite of Kordell Stewart and Kent Graham?”

The early going was rough:
  • Baltimore defeated the Steelers at home in the opener 16-0. Make no mistake about the score, it wasn’t even close.
  • Week 2 saw the Steelers, unable to kick a last second field goal, drop a 20-23 decision to the Browns
Week 3 brought a Tennessee Titans team to town that had fallen about a foot short of victory in the Super Bowl. The Steelers were to be Tennessee’s sacrificial lamb. Yet Cowher’s squad stubbornly refused to follow the script.

Instead they want toe-to-toe with the AFC Champions, holding a 20 to 26 lead late into the fourth quarter on the strength of two Kris Brown field goals and touchdowns by Stewart and Bettis.

What’s more, poetic justice was being served, as Chad Scott and Dewayne Washington had picked of Neil O’Donnell 3 times and Jason Gildon sacked him, knocking him from the game as the two minute warning loomed….

The Windy City Blows Up Against Big Ben

Steelers Nation remembers the last two weeks all too well. Any positive preseason prognosis for Pittsburgh included the caveat “As long as the offensive line stays healthy…” And of course good health only lasted 7 plays.

Against Cincinnati, the class of the division, the Steelers played to a 10-10 half time tie in spite of their efforts to make it easy for Cincinnati by giving them the ball. In the second half the Steelers gave it their best shot, and came up short.

The Steelers treated their guests to similar hospitality turning over the ball twice and giving up a long run.
  • Before the first quarter was even over, the Steelers were down 17-0.
Dale Lolley’s tweet summed up the story of the game perfectly:
Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin have invested heavily in the offensive line via the draft. Yet Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert both proved woefully inadequate. The result was Ben Roethlisberger personally spotting the Bears 14 points.

All hope seemed lost, yet then a funny thing happened.

Echo’s of ‘00er’s Resiliency 

Like their predecessors from 13 years earlier, the Steelers refused to fold, fired after Zoltan Mesko drew an illegal contact penalty.

Roethlisberger first hooked up with Emmnauel Sanders for 22 and then he found Antoino Brown in the end zone. Almost on cue, guys began to step up.
  • David Johnson hauled in not one, but two long catches
  • Jonathan Dwyer helped shore up the pass protection – and ran as if his NFL career depended on it
  • LaMarr Woodley and Brett Keisel reintroduced the sack into the Steelers lexicon
  • David DeCastro started throwing crushing blocks and pushing guys past the pylons
Late in the third quarter Ben Roethlisberger threw deep to Antonio Brown for another show stopping catch. The Steelers held the Bears and the offense tacked on three.

In a game that once saw Steelers down 23-3 now had knocking at heaven’s door, 27-0….

3 Throws and 2 Runs = 0-3 for the 00er’s

…Steelers Nation can be forgiven if they cheered at the sight of Gildon forcing a bloody Neil O’Donnell from the field.

But the Catholic nuns and monks that instructed the Rooney boys will tell you that the Good Book tells us not to wish ill for anyone, and Steelers Nation got a lesson why.

Steve McNair came into the game. McNair would prove himself to be a “Steelers Slayer” and this game showed why, as it only took him 3 passes and 2 runs to reclaim the lead and the game, for Tennessee.
  • Bill Cowher was close to tears and Steelers Nation distraught. 
Yet the ’00 Steelers were far from done. The following week, left for dead by the NFL, they traveled to Jacksonville, and with their backs to the wall won the game. They just missed the playoffs, but that Jacksonville victory set the tone for the decade (click here for recap.)

Many factors contributed to that turn-around, but one sticks out. The 00’ Steelers had fallen victims to two last second touchdown drives by McNair and Tim Couch. One constant in those drives had been the presence of safety Scott Shields in the dime defense.

He rode the pine after week 3, and the Steelers late-game defense was the better for it. One small change made a big difference.

Cutler Tough, Ben Butterfingers

…The Steelers appeared to have the Bears on the ropes, forcing a 3rd in 10 when heavy pressure flushed Jay Cutler from the pocket. Cutler of course scrambled with it, lowered his shoulder, and nearly KOed Robert Golden in the process.

That allowed Cutler to hit Brandon Marshall for 41, and then Earl Bennett for a 17 yard touchdown. 34 to 23 with 5 minutes left to play is daunting, but not impossible.

Especially if you have a big game, comeback tested quarterback.
  • Which everyone knows Roethlisberger is. Right?
Unfortunately, Ben Roethlisberger fumbled, with the Bears returning it for 6….

…Steel Curtain Rising isn’t ready to give up on Ben Roethlisberger yet. God knows he’s had zero time to throw. But the fact is that he has not played well since his return from injury last season.
  • Worse yet, the turnover, instead of the touchdown has become Ben's signature play in late "come from behind" drives which used to be Ben's strength.
Perhaps that weakness can be rectified by shifting around the tackles and/or shifting Kelvin Beachum into the line up, just as Bill Cowher improved things by benching Shields.

Steelers Nation had better hope so, because Ben Roethlisberger is not so easily replaced.

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Monday, September 23, 2013

Roethlisberger, Steelers Self Destruct vs. Bears, 40-23

The Pittsburgh Steelers dropped a 23 to 40 decision to the Chicago Bears dropping their 2013 record to 0-3, marking the first time the Steelers have started 0-3 since the year 2000.

The lopsided score does not indicate how competitive of a contest the game was, with the Steelers having been down 23-3 in the first quarter, only to work within a touchdown in the 4th quarter.

The key play of the game came on a third down quarterback scramble by Jay Cutler, who had no where to throw and was facing pressure, only to dart out of the pocket past the first down marker, and lower his shoulder to deliver a whalloping hit on Robert Golden.

The real story of the night was Butter Fingers Ben Roethlisberger, who threw two interceptions and fumbled the ball away twice. Points scored off of Roethlisberger's turnovers and Felix Jones' fumbles accounted for 23 of the Bears points.

It was a night of many wasted performances including:
  • Antonio Brown's nearly 200 yards catching and two touchdowns
  • Troy Polamalu's blocked extra point
  • Signs of life from the running game in the form of long runs from Jonathan Dwyer and solid running from Jones
Alas, none of it meant anything as the Steelers could not keep from shooting themselves in the foot.

Its 1:20 am here in Buenos Aires, and work is looking tomorrow. Steel Curtain Rising will have full analysis late tomorrow evening. Go Steelers! You may be 0-3 but Steelers Nation is still with you.

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Saturday, September 21, 2013

Keeping the Steelers 0-2 Start in Perspective....

The Pittsburgh Steelers have started the 2013 NFL season at 0-2, so naturally it is now predetermined that the seas will rise, dogs and cats will start living together and the world is headed for 7 years plague and famine.

Or something like that.

Recently at Behind the Steel Curtain did Steelers Nation a favor by putting things in perspective, offering that:
Part of me almost wishes we could go something like 3-13 so some of us could truly understand what bad really is.
Let's be clear. Going 0-2 is not trivial in the NFL. The statistics about the slim number of 0-2 teams making the playoffs and such are not pretty. What's more, the Steelers have been terrible on offense (outside of the two minute drill) and been so-so on defense.

But some of the outright panic, the "Fire Colbert!" "Fire Tomlin!" "Let's play for the first pick in the draft!" is simply unwarranted.
  • That doesn't mean that all of the news out of Pittsburgh is good. Far from it.
In the space of 4 days Steelers Nation saw these news stories:
The Watch Tower will review the Brown-Haley (non?)incident in detail soon, but here we'll focus on the practical implications.


Since no ESPN camera's caught the flair up fans are left to choose between Haley and Brown's statements and those of undisclosed sources.
  • Clearly, however, frustration was setting in with the Steelers offense. 
ESPN caught Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown talking after another three and out. Nothing seemed to be over the top, but it was an intense conversation and neither man was terribly happy. If Brown and Haley did have their own "intense" conversation on the sidelines that is not necessarily a bad thing.
  • Show me a wide receiver who doesn't want the ball more, and I'll show you a wide receiver who shouldn't merit consideration for an NAIA squad.
If we can take Brown at his word that he approached Haley the way he said he did, and if he did it respectfully (with the understanding that it was in the heat of a game) then there are no worries. Now, if Brown went Diva al la Terrell Owens, Chad Johnson, and/or Meshawn "Will You Just Give Me the Damm Ball!" Johnson, then that is another story, and Steelers Nation does have something to worry about.

As of now, the only prudent thing is to wait.

08ers Hold Meeting

The issue of the team being in panic mode is another interesting one especially because Tunch Ilkin made a statement after the Titans game that this was a franchise that doesn't do panic.
  • Since there is no one knows who made the "panic" mode statement, it is very difficult to assess.
The fact that the remaining Steelers veterans from the '08 team are meeting own is a positive development. Learning "how" to win games is something that begins early season and goes far beyond simply running routes and finishing blocks.
These players need to get instilled with the proper work ethic and discipline to understand what it takes to win in this league.
  • Some of those are lessons players must learn on their own through experience. 
However, in other cases mentorship can be vital to making that happen. Why do you think that the Steelers made sure that Rod Woodson roomed with Dwayne Woodruff as a rookie?

Woodruff was the last Super Bowl veteran remaining on Chuck Noll's defense (Mike Webster and John Stallworth were still around) when Woodson arrived in 1987. Rod Woodson arrived as a hotshot, having held out all of training camp and half of the season. It was said that he ran with the fast crowd, including Delton Hall.
  • Noll and Tony Dungy could not have picked a better mentor in Woodruff. The results speak for themselves. 
There’s no assurance that the remaining veterans from Super Bowl XLIII can instill the proper lessons into their successors. But they are very right to try.

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Thursday, September 19, 2013

Steelers Report Card vs. Bengals @ Paul Brown Stadium

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is trying to figure out which of his pupils is underachieving and which simply lacks what it takes, here is the Steelers Report Card for the loss to the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. As a caveat, no other report cards were consulted prior to this posting.

How things change in a week. Last week Ben Roethlisberger stood as the lone bright spot for the Steelers offense. Vs. the Bengals he was a liability. Yes, he was under duress at times, but at other times his line gave him time and on far, far too many of those occasions Roethlisberger's passes were either high and/or overthrown. His second half interception was a poorly thrown ball which essentially ended the game for the Steelers. Ben really hasn't had a good game since the injury. Which is troubling.... Grade: D

Running Back
Felix Jones managed to squeeze himself a dixie cup of lemonade out of some lemons. Isaac Redman increasingly looks like he is not suited for this zone blocking offense. Jonathan Dwyer gained 2 yards on one carry. Its not all "their fault" but the running backs are not getting it done. Grade: D

Tight Ends
David Johnson was invisible, and that's not a very good thing, esp. when the run and pass blocking were suspect. David Paulson made what could have been the catch of the night, only to fumble it away. His pass blocking remains woeful. Yes, these are 3rd and 4th string tight ends playing. No one would mistake them for anything else.  Grade: D

Wide Receivers
For second straight week this group was the offense's most consistent unit, although it is clear that collective they do not have enough talent to make up for Heath Miller's absence. Emmanuel Sanders led the team and set up the first score. Antonio Brown was close behind and looked to be his old self -- getting open and making the catch. Jerricho Cotchery also looked good. Derrick Moye scored his first NFL touchdown on a perfectly executed fade. Grade: B

Offensive Line
This unit improved considerably from week 1. Which is not to say that they were good. Pass protection continued to be a serious problem despite sporadic moments of quality protection. However the run blocking was atrocious as running backs went nowhere. This unit is young and inexperienced and very much needs to prove that it has the talent that prompted the team to draft them. Grade: D

Defensive Line
Cameron Heyward, Ziggy Hood, and Steve McLendon are all getting high praise from Steelers commentators and sites like Pro Football Focus. Praise is nice, but the rock of the Steelers 3-4 defense is stopping the run, and teams are running on the Steelers. No one is dominating them, but chains are being moved. Dick LeBeau planned to use his ends to improve the pass rush, and they do seem to be playing closer to the quarterback. But the group is not getting sack, nor are they forcing fumbles. Grade: C-

The knock on Jarvis Jones coming out of college was that he would arrive a half step late to the quarterback, which is what he did in his first start. Still his first NFL start was not bad LaMarr Woodley however was little better. Both Kion Wilson and Vince Williams were all over the field, but both men must bear some of the responsibility for break down of the run defense. Lawrence Timmons made several tackles, but was not as visible on the field as he has been in the past. Jason Worilds, remained invisible the entire night. Grade C

Ike Taylor blanketed AJ Green and while he "didn't stop him, he did contain him." William Gay handled his man well too. Troy Polamalu led the team in tackles but dropped a would-be pick six. Ryan Clark made his share of tackles, but was out of position a number of times, and let a couple of players slip out of his grasp. This unit bear part of the blame for Andy Dalton’s strong second half. Grade:  C

Special Teams
For the first time in recent memory there were no long returns and no idiotic penalties.  Grade:  B

Coaches are hardly responsible for fumbles and interceptions, but that does not absolve them form answering some hard questions. Why was Jerricho Cotchery running a reverse? If he had the wrong people in, why was that? Why was Ben so out of sync with his receivers? Why did the Steelers run defense regress from week 1 to week 2. Why wasn’t the no huddle used more? Chuck Noll once said that when people ask these kinds of questions, they’re asking “Why don’t you win?” Well, these questions are certainly being asked. Grade:  F

Unsung Hero
Few things can ignite or extinguish a team like a big special teams play. That fact is well known. But the value of consistent special teams is under appreciated. Good field position can make a bad offense look mediocre. A well covered  deep punt can help an average defense look above average. The Steelers special teams weren’t spectacular vs. the Bengals, but they were solid, and that was one  reason why the score stayed so close, and for that they get the Unsung Hero Award.

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Con Dos Anotaciones del Novato Giovani Bernard, los Bengals Fundieron El Acero

Los Pittsburgh Steelers se trasladaron hasta Ohio para el juego de Lunes por la noche y tratar de dar la vuelta a la pobre imagen que dejaron en la primera semana en casa, en donde cayeron ante los Tennessee Titans.

Los visitantes entraron al campo de juego llevando consigo estadísticas más que mediocres en los rubros yardas totales y yardas terrestres. De hecho eran las peores de la liga.

Todd Haley debía hacer funcionar la marca registrada histórica de los Acereros que son los acarreos y mejorar el desempeño de una reconstituida línea ofensiva que incluía a Fernando Velazco como Centro, veterano de 4° año, recientemente incorporado de Tennessee debido a la lesión de Maurkice Pouncey, tanto para proteger a Ben Roethlisberger en las jugadas de pase como para abrir brechas para los acarreadores. Luego de ver el juego contra los Titans, la Nación Steeler abrigaba serias dudas de que esa fuera una tarea fácil.
  •  Y en efecto no lo fue.
 La Inconsistencia de la Ofensiva

 El RB Antonio Brown, en su rol de devolvedor de patadas, colocó al Mariscal Acerero en muy buena situación territorial ni bien comenzó el partido. Los acarreos por el centro, el exceso de potencia en el brazo de Ben Roethlisberger volando a sus receptores (situación más que inexplicable en un QB de su talla, que se repetiría sin embargo a lo largo de todo el encuentro) y un conservador acarreo por tierra en la yarda 40 de Cincinnati en 3er y 16, solo sumaron 3 puntos para el tablero visitante.

Más adelante, el TE David Paulson dejó caer un balón bien dentro del territorio rival lo que a su tiempo Cincinnati cambiaría por 7 puntos gracias al TD terrestre del RB Giovani Bernard.
No fue, por mucho una noche a destacar para el ala cerrada a quien deberá anotarse también en el  debe su poca capacidad de bloqueo, sobre todo en situaciones de pase lateral.

En el 2do cuarto, la visita logró hilvanar una buena marcha, con jugadas en serie, con buena protección de la línea ofensiva, con un pase por el centro a Emmanuel Sanders quien fue detenido en la yarda 2 de los Bangals. Una jugada más tarde un pase a la esquina fue atrapado por el WR #14 Derek Moye, quien anotó así el primer TD de su carrera en la NFL.

Por fin parecía que la ofensiva tomaba ritmo sobre el final de la primera mitad.
Pero en la primera marcha ofensiva del 3er cuarto, si algo faltaba, un fallo equivocado (un clipping tan incidental como inexistente) del ampuloso referee Mike Carey transforma un 1er y 10 en 3er  y 20 y posterior despeje en 4ta oportunidad, en el terreno profundo de los Steelers. Este fallo pudo haber cambiado el momentum del juego. Un hecho que claramente pudo haber influido en el trámite del partido sobretodo teniendo en cuenta que en la siguiente marcha, otra vez Giovani Bernard ingresó a la zona de anotación luego de recibir (sorprendentemente solo en el centro por detrás de la línea de golpeo) un pase de su QB Andy Dalton.                                

Finalmente las desventuras de esta ofensiva terminaron con 5 minutos por jugar, en el 4to cuarto, cuando Ben Roethlisberger lanzó un impreciso pase alto a Jerricho Cotchery que fue interceptado por Reggie Nelson.
  • Lo demás es pura anécdota. allí terminó el encuentro.
La Pesadilla del Ataque Terrestre

 Por segunda semana consecutiva el ataque terrestre fue ineficiente. Solamente se lograron 44 yardas totales, promediando 2.8 yds por acarreo. Muy pobre faena.

Isaac Redman sufrió una concusión cerebral temprano en el partido por lo que fue retirado hasta que su condición mejoró hacia el final del encuentro, siendo reemplazado por Felix Jones..
Se intentó, en más ocasiones de las que creo conveniente, correr por el centro. Allí por donde era francamente un fracaso. Tanto fue así que en el 3er cuarto, cayendo por 7 y con menos de 5 minutos en el cuarto, en la propia yarda 29, en 3er y 2, el RB Felix Jones intentó recorrer esa mínima distancia… por el centro. Resultado: 4to y 1 y despeje.

La línea ofensiva pudo ajustar más rápidamente la defensa del pase. El centro Fernando Velazco, poco a poco fue tomando su lugar y terminó con un buen desempeño. El QB Ben Roethlisberger fue alcanzado sólo en un par de oportunidades, aunque debió correr por su vida  algunas veces más.

 La Defensiva en Zona y el Juego Corto

La defensiva acerera optó por la defensa en zona previniendo el pase largo pero  permitiendo el juego corto que al final del día pagó dividendos en el tablero local.  Tanto William Gay como Ike Taylor dejaban entre 8 y 10 yardas a los receptores Adriel J. Green, Jermaine Gresham, Marvin Jones o Mohamed Sanu. Daba igual si faltaban 4 ó 10 yardas por completar o si el ovoide se centraba desde la yarda 40 ó la 8.  Cuando el esquinero hacía contacto con el receptor, este ya había recorrido al menos 5 yardas.

Esto facilitó el juego lateral de Andy Dalton y la conversión de primeros intentos. Fue muy destacada sin embargo la tarea de Ike Taylor cubriendo el pase profundo. Impecable, sin fallas.
Ryan Clark, en cambio, cometió un error fatal cuando debiendo cubrir el fondo central de la cancha, se desplazó hacia la banda derecha, dejando libre una avenida por donde ingresó el TE novato Tyler Eifert hasta la yarda 13 de Pittsburgh para completar en pase de 61 yardas.
  • El LB novato Jarvis Jones castigó con 6 tackles encabezando junto a Ike Taylor la nómina de máximos tackleadores.
Un hecho que se debe destacar, si comparamos  con la temporada pasada, es la sensible disminución de infracciones que comete el equipo, sobre todo la línea ofensiva, que ha disminuido drásticamente las penalidades por holdings.

Los Pittsburgh Steelers han iniciado la temporada con un 0 - 2, por quinta vez en los últimos 25 años.
Para sumar más datos a una noche para el olvido se lograron 3 conversiones de 3er down en 12 intentos y se cedieron 2 turnovers sin provocar ninguno.

En conferencia de prensa el Entrenador en Jefe Mike Tomlin ha dicho que no ha llegado todavía el momento de apretar el botón antipánico y Ben Roethlisberger que lo que han sacado de este juego es un sentimiento de enojo que esperan transformar en juego.
  • La División Norte de la AFC está “plana”, con Baltimore y Cincinnati 1-1.
Se está a un juego de distancia.

Veremos de qué está hecho el carácter de estos Steelers si realmente están enojados, en solo 6 días más cuando el próximo domingo reciban a Chicago en casa, en el Sunday Night Football.

                                                                                                                El Dr. de Acero

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Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Heath Miller to Return vs. Bears? One Reporter Says "Yes"

At his weekly press conference Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced that injured tight end Heath Miller would return to a normal week of practice this week, albeit with a caution that no one should expect Miller to be Super Man.

While many have forecast Miller’s return for following the Steelers trip to London, veteran Oberver-Reporter journalist Dale Lolley reports that Heath Miller is expected to play when the Steelers host the 2-0 Chicago Bears at Heinz Field this week.

Millers return, should he be able to perform to past standards and should he not be jeopardizing his knee by coming back so quickly, could provide a real boost to the Steelers offense.
While Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery have been solid this year so far, its painfully obvious that the trio cannot compensate for the absence of Miller.

Repaclement tight ends David Johnson has one catch and has been invisible in the offense, while David Paulson blocking ability is woeful. Paulson does have 3 catches on the year, but he fumbled his most important one away.

Steelers Change Graham for Green

The Steelers 2013 roster shuffling continues.

As it turns out, emergency place kicker Shayne Graham will not get a chance to live up to the fighting standard set up by long ago emergency punter Shayne Edge. The Steelers signed Graham as insurance for Shaun Suisham injured his hamstring vs. Tennessee. Suisham was able to kick vs. the Bengals, and the Steelers waived Graham.

To take Graham’s place on the roster, the Steelers activated cornerback Isaiah Green from the practice squad. Green primarily is on the team for his special teams ability, but could see time if Curtis Brown and/or Cortez Allen do not return to health.

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Why the Steelers Loss to the Bengals Stings So Much....

Steel Curtain Rising preluded season by talking about challenges that held both the promise and peril for the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers.
  • Against the Titans the Steelers abandoned any semblance of that black-shades of grey- white continuum, answering the many “ifs” confronting them with resounding “no’s.”
Vs. the Bengals however, the Steelers again wrestled with promise and peril, but unfortunately the results peril won the day fair and square.

Tale of Two Halves – The First Half Promise

The NFL preseason is meaningless, but one of the mysteries it left Steelers Nation this year also serves as a perfect metaphor for the Bengals game.

What to make of results in meaningless games where backups may have been wanting, but where a limited (read healthy) subset of the starters did “OK” when not beating themselves?

Pittsburgh Tribune Review writer Mark Kaboly summarized a similar puzzle that now faces the 0-2 Steelers:
The Steelers began the game with a statement of sorts, returning the opening kickoff 34 yards. That resulted in a three and out which the Steelers defense dutifully matched.
The Steelers sputtering offense of course gave up a sack, but a 14 yard Felix Jones scamper allowed Pittsburgh to bank the first three points of the night.
  • Clearly, the Steelers had no intention of feeling sorry for themselves after the Titans embarrassment.
It would be poetic to say that following that, the Steelers went out and played “hard nosed football that resulted in a 10-10 tie at the half,” but alas it did not happen that way.

The Steelers failed to convert a third down prior to the two minute warning. When Ben Roethlisberger’s passes weren’t high they landed well in front of the receivers. They failed to establish the run.
  • Yet the Steelers defense managed to confuse Andy Dalton, or else Dalton was misfiring on his own passes.
The Steelers verged on establishing something when Ben Roethlisberger hit David Paulson with a 34 yard pass that took him all the way to the Bengals 13 yard line, where, and you knew this was coming, Paulson fumbled away.
  • But even when the 2013 Steelers wound themselves in the foot, they still can’t shoot straight.
Paulson had been ruled down by contact, and the Steelers had – and miss – the chance to get another playoff before it could be reviewed.

It was that kind of half for the Steelers. Yet, in spite of it all the Steelers found themselves with the ball at the 4:13 mark, Roethlisberger went into no huddle and two passes to Emmanuel Sanders later the Steelers were at the on.
  • Another one to Derrick Moye and the Steelers had the game tied at 10-10.
To add the cherry on top, Cincinnati got the ball back with 1:54 remaining and all 3 time outs. Dalton put in a workman like performance, but the Steelers defense held with help from Ike Taylor’s pass defense of a Hail Mary.

And in one half held Pittsburgh’s implicit promise of 2013 – if the Steelers could only stop beating themselves, they’re a team that might go places.

Second Half – Steelers Embrace Their Peril

Story spinners might seek to wave a tale that revolves around the Steelers second half hopes disintegrating with a bogus tripping penalty called on Marcus Gilbert that nullified a 33 yard catch by Brown.
  • The penalty was bogus, but pay the apologists who use it as an excuse no mind.
The Cincinnati outplayed the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first half. No, Bengals hardly looked like a championship team themselves.

And that’s what makes this one sting so badly.
  • Ben Roethlisberger may have only been sacked twice, but he got hit six times
  • When not under duress, Roethlisberger continued with his erratic passing
  • Unlike the first half, the Steelers running game didn’t even feign an appearance
Worse yet was the defense. On paper, holding a offense loaded with weapons such as Cincinnati’s to 20 points on a night when your own offense only manages one non-garbage time 3rd down conversion might seem like a feat.
  • But Cincinnati nickled and dimed the Steelers defense.
They did it by being more physical up front in the running game, and by smartly working the short passing game.

Dick LeBeau has instructed Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, and Cameron Heyward to take a more active role in pressuring the quarterback.

And they have, somewhat successfully. Yet they haven’t come up with a sack, and the middle of the Steelers defense is suddenly vulnerable for the first time since Joel Steeds knees disintegrated in 1999.
  • This does not bode well, especially when the Steelers are 0-2 for the season and have recorded zero turnovers.
Tackling was also an issue, as multiple times during the night Bengal rushers and receivers extended plays and drives as single Steelers defenders failed to bring them down at first contact.
  • That in a nutshell is the story of the night.
When Cincinnati needed to throw for four yards, they completed passes for four or more; when Pittsburgh needed six Roethlisberger was as more likely to complete it behind the line of scrimmage than he was to throw it incomplete near the pylon.

Pittsburgh defense gang tackled the Bengals running backs just as Cincinnati’s defenders gang tackled Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer. The difference is that Bengals backs went down 3 or 4 yards past the line of scrimmage; Steelers backs were lucky if the got there.

All of this simply shows you that, while isn’t doing itself any favors with turnovers and penalties, even when those mental issues aren’t factors, the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers simply have not shown they’re capable of playing good football.
  • Ryan Clark is right. The Pittsburgh Steelers cannot win the way they’re playing now.
That’s the truth. And the truth most definitely hurts sometimes.

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