´ Steel Curtain Rising: July 2014

Screwed by Bloggers Polling, Again

Folks, it looks like Blogger's polling has decided to stop working. We had a good poll on the Steelers draft which suddenly got dropped to zero.

Guess you get what you pay for on these free platforms. Thanks to all those who voted.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Foote Surprised He Got Boot from Steelers

On of the first moves the Pittsburgh Steelers made to open their 2014 off season was to wave veteran inside linebacker Larry Foote. And by Foote’s own account, the caught him by surprise.

Speaking on Pittsburgh sports radio station 93.7 “The Fan” Foote recounted:
My agent met with (the Steelers) down at the Combine in Indianapolis. The talk was that we couldn’t get lined up, we lost a few games early on because we couldn’t even get lined up.
Based on that conversation, Foote assumed he would be spending 2014 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania instead of Pittsburgh West aka at the Arizona Cardinals. The Steelers gave Foote the boot, clearly having made other plans.



The move itself is not surprising. While the Steelers did struggle with Vince Williams starting, Williams improved, and could certainly be expected to deliver more value for the salary cap dollar than 34 year old Foote.

Insight into How the Steelers Function?

The main function of stories like these is to tide Steelers Nation’s voracious appetite for news until training camp starts. This one might, however, offer some insight into how the Steelers do business.
  • Before proceeding, it’s important to acknowledge that Steel Curtain Rising has no inside information here.
It’s impossible to understand the meaning of Foote’s story without knowing the context of the conversation. What’s most likely is that Foote struck up a causal conversation with a Steelers coach or scout, who said something like “How’s Larry doing? You know, we missed him dearly last year. We couldn’t even get lined up right for the first half of the year….”

It’s also possible the Steelers arrived at Indianapolis intending to bring Foote back but saw enough of the available inside linebackers to make the veteran expendable.

But there’s also a chance that the conversation reveals a split between Steelers scouts and coaches over whether to bring him back or not. Such disagreements are common.
At the end of the day, Steelers Nation will never know and even if there was disagreement, it is healthy for coaches and front offices to have differing opinions.

Regardless, despite subtracting Foote and his 12 years of experience, the Steelers nonetheless have to potential to see inside linebacker swing from one of the thinnest to one of the deepest units on the team in years.

Lawrence Timmons will return to start, and 1st round pick Ryan Shazier is already projected as a fellow starter. Sean Spence recovery has progressed far enough to give him a serious shot at a roster spot, and the there’s incumbent starter Vince Williams. Free agent Arthur Moats can also play on the inside, and of course there’s Kion Wilson, the man who took the field when Foote got hurt vs. Tennessee.

That’s all on paper of course. Things will start sorting themselves out for real on the fields at St. Vincent’s very, very soon.

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Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Watch Tower: Pouncey's Victims of Gold Digging Attempt; Brett Keisel Story Takes a Twist

Social media is a double edged sword for sports fans and sports journalists. On the plus side fans are no longer dependent on the whims and agenda’s of network, PR offices, and newspaper editors. On the negative side, every Tom, Dick and Harry has his (or her) chance of taking a stab at 15 minutes of fame.
Early Saturday afternoon word got out that the Pouncey’s were in the news for the wrong reasons again (OK, that was this site’s head line.) A man and a woman, whose instagram video and photos made it clear had been assaulted, claimed it had been the Pouncey’s. Behind the Steel Curtain published a story about it, but wisely stuck close to the facts, which were thin.
  • No other major outlet ran the story on Saturday, and the Pittsburgh Tribune Review did a short summary the following day. The Post-Gazette remained silent, as did ESPN.
On Monday, Mark Kabloy of the Tribune Review informed readers that the Pouncey’s were not named in the initial police report and did not seem to be suspects. Today a staff report on the Trib reveals that the police have not even talked to the accusers.

By Tuesday the news surfaced that the individuals in question were suing the Pouncey’s. This prompted Dale Lolley to call them out as gold diggers (although he did not use expression itself) and there it appears the story will and should die.

Quick Kesiel Update

As Steelers training camp approaches, the BIG question is will the Steelers resign Brett Keisel. Steel Curtain Rising has invested a lot in the debate on Keisel's return and the Watch Tower has delved into the coverage.
  • And the only thing that is clear is that no one can agree on what the Steelers plans are.
Jim Wexell took to Twitter to answer a question from fans, sharing this:
Further on in the exchange, he doubled down:
Dale Lolley casts the story very, very differently. Talking about the Steelers additional personnel priorities, Lolley offers this:
No. 1 on that list would be defensive end Brett Keisel. Make no mistake about this. IF the Steelers bring Keisel back, it would not be to start. In fact, he would be, at best, a 10-snap-per-game player as a situational pass rusher.
This is truly an amazing story. Other writers, such as the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac, a reporter whose sources guide him to the story, have insisted that the Steelers will not bring Keisel back.

Lolley does add one interesting twist to the story, however. Keisel’s locker on the South Side has not been cleaned out. That would seem to imply that at least Keisel is planning on returning.

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Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Immaculate Reception Untouchable as Steelers Greatest Play; Harrison's Pick Six Strong Second

This year ESPN is filling the void before training camp by polling fan bases on the greatest play in their respective franchise history. As Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain points out, for Steelers Nation there is no debate.
  • The Immaculate Reception simultaneously ended 40 years of losing and was the Big Bang that created Steelers Nation.
Everything else takes second place – including games that end in presentation of the Lombardi.

But that leaves a lot of doubt about choices 2-4. The truth is, ESPN’s poll is a little too slanted towards the contemporary period. Unlike the Patriots, Ravens, and Seahawks, the Steelers have won Super Bowls in years that begin with “19.” For the record, the three choices on ESPN and BTSC’s poll are ‘Tone’s Toe Tap in Super Bowl XLIII, James Harrison’s 100 yard pick six in the same game, and Ben Roethlisberger’s shoe string tackle in the ’05 AFC Division playoff game.
  • All worthy plays certainly.
But there are other plays that merit consideration, even if one limits selection to Super Bowls. Here are only a few:
If you expand the list to the playoff games, Troy Polamalu’s pick six in the 2008 AFC Championship Game must be included, not only for how it incredible it was, not because it came at a crucial moment in the game, but because it slammed the door shut on another AFC Championship home loss.

A similar, sentimental nod, can be given to Randy Fulller’s pass defense at the end of the 1995 AFC Championship game.



All of these are worthy candidates. Each involved players putting them into position to harness their talents in exactly the moments their team needed them to.
  • But in the final analysis, the Steelers second greatest play must go to James Harrison.
Harrison gets his pick six brought the total package –
  • It was an unscripted play born out of tireless preparation
  • It involved tremendous athleticism
  • It came at a critical time
Thanks to end game drama on the part of Larry Fitzgerald, Big Ben and ‘Tone, the impact of Harrion’s interception is largely forgotten. It shouldn’t. Arizona was about to score. Sliverback’s pick prevented 3 if not 7 points from going on the board, and added 7 more amounting to a 10 or 14 point swing in a game decided by 4.

Franco Harris’ place in Steelers lore will forever be safe – men who hustle on every play enjoy such privileges – but James Harrison will be equally difficult to dislodge from his perch at number two.

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Saturday, July 12, 2014

Maurkice Pouncey in the News.... For the Wrong Reasons....

Beware the Ides of July 24th…. That maybe a stab over poetic, but it seems relevant in the case of Pittsburgh Steelers and Miami Dolphins centers Maurkice Pouncey and identical twin brother Mike Pouncey.



Just a year ago the two men got their name in the papers for the wrong reasons for sporting “Free Hernandez” clothing while celebrating their birthday, Hernandez being former New England Patriots start Aaron Hernandez, who played with the Pouncey’s in college and is now facing multiple murder charges.
  • A year and another birthday party later, and both men are in the papers for the wrong reason again.
And this time it is for something more serious than appearing to support someone who is on trial for a capital offense. Behind the Steel Curtain is reporting, citing sources from social media, that the Pouncey’s are being accused of assaulting a man and a woman accompanying them at a Florida nightclub while celebrating their birthdays.
  • Per BTSC’s report, the accusers have filed reports with the police. 
Beyond that, there is little solid information circulating, because as of 3:10 Eastern on July 12th neither the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, nor the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, nor ESPN.com has any news on the subject.

At the very least, this an unwelcome distraction for the Pittsburgh Steelers and their newly minted 42 million dollar center Pouncey as the team is set to commence training camp in two week’s time on the campus of St. Vincient’s, in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.

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Thursday, July 10, 2014

September 7, 2014 Declared "Chuck Noll Day."

Prologue

Back when the ’88 Steelers were sitting on a 1-6 record , Terry Bradshaw went on national TV to declare that the Steelers lacked talent, and that it was “Time to give Chuck Noll his day” and let him step aside in favor of a new coach….

The Blond Bomber’s suggestion came at the height of the Noll-Bradshaw feud; 26 years have passed since then, but legendary Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Chuck Noll is finally getting his day.
chuck noll terry bradshaw day feud
Noll, Bradshaw don't see eye to eye

Literally.

Thanks to a joint resolution sponsored by Pennsylvania Senators Bob Casey Jr. and Pat Toomey, Sunday September 7th 2014 will officially be declared “Chuck Noll Day.”

Chuck Noll, who passed away last month at age 82, would doubtlessly not approve. However, it is a fitting day to offer tribute to the Emperor, as it marks the Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 opener, when they will play the Cleveland Browns, who Noll played for as one of Paul Brown’s messenger guards.

Epilogue

…Bradshaw had plenty of company in calling for Noll’s head that week. When prompted to respond to his critics, Noll only replied, “Winning is the only response.”
Rodney Carter exploded for 105 yards on 11 runs, caught two passes including one touchdown, and even completed a pass. Louis Lipps got into the trickery with a 23 yard reverse. Merril Hoge didn’t start, but chalked up 94 yards just the same, and Rod Woodson had a 29 yard interception as the Steelers beat the Broncos 39-21.

Afterwards, Noll joked that he’d gotten the idea for the trick plays in a letter from a fan.
  • Noll was never one for introspection. 
Later that night it fell to ESPN’s Chris Berman for the serious analysis as he observed, “You back Chuck Noll into a corner? I want him on my side.”

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Monday, July 7, 2014

Cortez Allen at the Crossroad - Kevin Colbert's Choice

Once upon a time, the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted a cornerback in the third round.

His rookie year he mainly played special teams, but even then flashed greatness. Coaches and fans alike expected great things going into year two, yet the up and coming 3rd rounder failed to crack the starting lineup. Nonetheless, in his third year he did earn a starting slot, and even began shadowing opponents’ top receiver.
  • Inconsistency aside, the third rounder left the Steelers with a difficult choice.
Six years later, the Steelers took another corner in the third round. He little as a rookie year, sitting behind sixth rounder. He played more in his second year, but disappointed nonetheless. Many coaches wrote him off as a lost cause. Yet, in his third year, his play improve dramatically, leaving the Steelers with another difficult choice….

If you haven’t guessed it already, the two third round corners in question are none other than Ike Taylor and Keenan Lewis, and the choice they both left the Steelers was whether or not to commit long-term money based on a three year body of work.
  • The Steelers ponied up big money to lock Ike Taylor down long-term, prior to the 2006 season
And although he faltered in that campaign, earning himself a slot of Bill Cowher’s dog house, he bounced back with Mike Tomlin’s arrival and the organization hasn’t looked back since.
  • The Steelers declined to offer Keenan Lewis a long-term deal and allowed him to play out the final year of his rookie contract. Lewis blossomed into an good if not great NFL corner in his fourth year.
The Steelers, hamstrung in salary cap purgatory, were unable to make Lewis and offer, Lewis left, and Steelers Nation has suffered buyers remorse since.

All This Has Happened Before, and Will Again...

This experience is important, because Kevin Colbert is now faced with a very  similar situation with yet another inconsistent, yet up and coming corner in the form of Cortez Allen.



The Steelers drafted Cortez Allen out of the Citadel in the 4th round of the 2011 NFL Draft. Unlike Taylor and Lewis, Cortez Allen saw playing time as a rookie, play a key role in the defensive effort that led to the Steelers Halloween upset of the New England Patriots.

Allen made a bull rush at Keenan Lewis for the starting job, but Lewis held him off. Allen’s name didn’t get mentioned much during the disappointing 2012 season, yet as the rest of the team was floundering, Allen flourished. Vs. the Bengals, Allen picked off two passes and forced a fumble, and vs. the Browns Allen forced two more fumbles.
  • In two games, Allen single handedly accounted for the lion’s share of the Steelers takeaways.
Even if that stat says a lot about the Steelers defense chronic inability to generate turnovers, it also shows Allen’s game-changing potential, and that was one reason why the Steelers let Lewis go.
  • Yet, like Taylor and Lewis before him, Cortez Allen has weaved threads of inconsistency into his own story.
Allen won the starting job was expected during Steelers 2013 training camp, yet got injured vs. Tennessee. His return in London vs. the Vikings is something that Steelers Nation would rather forget as he managed to both get burned and miss tackles on long touchdown plays.

Indeed, as the Steelers began their rebound, it was William Gay, (dubbed “Big Play Willie Gay” by my friend Tony Defeo), who won the accolades as Allen reverted to the bench. But Allen didn’t take his demotion sitting down, and recorded two interceptions and a crucial pick-six in the win over Green Bay.

What to Do About Allen?

Since the advent of free agency in 1993, the Steelers have made it their practice to resign the players the want to keep in the final year of their contracts. On a few occasions, think Levon Kirkland and of course Kordell Stewart, this has gotten them into commitments to players who ultimately proved unworthy.
  • But by an large, the philosophy has paid the Steelers dividends both on the field and on the salary cap ledger.
Now they need to decide if they want to do the same with Allen.

Some number are helpful

cortez allen keenan lewis ike taylor steelers stats
Cortez Allen compared to Taylor, Lewis

Of the three players, Ike Taylor had both the most solid body of work and the most consistent line of development. Lewis’ first two years were for naught, and his third year while solid, hardly projected “spectacular.”

However, compared to Lewis, Allen’s third year was gang busters, and while he’s lacked Taylor’s consistency, he arguably authored more splash plays in his limited time than Taylor’s entire career – save of course for Super Bowl XL.

The Steelers also have greater salary cap flexibility here in the summer of 2014 than they did in the summer of 2010.

Curtain’s Call

There are no guarantees in pro football. But Ike Taylor is probably playing is final year, and William Gay is the only other Steelers cornerback with experience. The Steelers aren’t going to offer nor will Cortez Allen’s agent allow him to sign, a low-ball, long term offer. Yet, the Steelers almost certainly keep him off the market in July or August 2014 for far less than he will command in come March 2015.

Ultimately, Carnell Lake, Dick LeBeau and Mike Tomlin know Allen and his work habits.

If he is in fact as diligent as he’s said to be, then the Steelers would be wise to resign him this off season.

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Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Steelers "June Curse" Exacts Costly, Off Field Toll

Fortunately, the Pittsburgh Steelers passed through the month of June without suffering any sort of calamity whose impact will be felt on the field come September.
  • But of course they failed to dodge the dreaded “Steelers June Curse.”
There’s no way anyone can say that about the month in which the Steelers Nation lost “The Emperor” Chuck Noll. Chuck Noll’s impact on Pittsburgh, the Steelers and the men he coached has been lauded here and parts elsewhere and need not be recounted now. Even if his formal role with the Steelers ended long ago, his loss will be keenly felt.
chuck-noll-steelers-june-curse-2014
Steelers Lost Noll in June '14

Yet, in terms of X’s and O’s, the impact is nill.

Still, there’s something eerie about the Steelers and the month of June since in this new millennium. Consider:
Of course, until proven otherwise, all of this is just coincidence. In the last year important figures such as Bill Nunn and L.C. Greenwood were lost outside of the month of June.

But no matter how you measure it, the month of June has not been kind to the Pittsburgh Steelers organization of late. Thankfully, its over. Into July an on to St. Vincents!

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