Thursday, November 29, 2012

Ravens To Test Steelers Depth Perception

Didn't we just see these guys?

This Sunday at 4:25 p.m. EST the Pittsburgh Steelers travel to M&T Bank Stadium to play the division leading Baltimore Ravens (9-2) where they haven't lost since December 5, the Steelers.

That's one of the few things we can be completely sure of at this point. A lot has happened in the four days since the debacle that was the Cleveland Browns loss.

As reported by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette on Tuesday, former starting running back Rashard Mendenhall was demoted to third on the depth chart.

"Rashard Mendenhall is dead man walking," Bouchette wrote, "as far as being a member of the Steelers in 2013 and Mike Tomlin made that pretty clear by busting him down to third string on Tuesday."

A more surprising change in the Steelers depth chart, however, was head coach Mike Tomlin listing Mike Wallace OR Emmanuel Sanders. Bouchette said that it's the first time that has happened.

Did Wallace get demoted too? Was it praise for Manny? Was a message being sent to Wallace? Or was it some sort of motivation for a "frustrated" Wallace, as Tomlin referred to it at his press conference Tuesday? -

It was a curious move nonetheless. Because, while Wallace has his issues, a demotion would be an uncalled for move. -

But, back to Wallace in a minute. Because along with the depth chart moves were the releases and additions with regard to the roster and practice squad.

In part, right tackle Marcus Gilbert was placed on IR and rookie right guard David DeCastro and offensive lineman John Malecki were added to the 53-man roster.

With rookie tackle Mike Adams out for the next few weeks, the Steelers will use rookie Kelvin Beachum at right tackle and will have Ramon Foster, and possibly Malecki, back him up. Expect the fullback and running backs to chip and for Todd Haley to employ 12-personnel packages to help in blocking considering that Haloti Ngata and Paul Kruger are on that side.

Coming back to the running back situation briefly, the fumbling issues are what put Mendenhall on the bench. And as Tomlin said, fumbles are unacceptable. Mendy fumbled twice in four carries against the Browns and only had three yards. Mendy also has one more fumble than Dwyer in about a third as many carries (34 to 98).

Per Steelers beat writer Mark Kaboly, Mendy has fumbled nine times in 847 carries (incl. three times in his last 28 carries), or one every 94 carries. As a point of comparison, Hall of Fame runner Curtis Martin fumbled just 29 times in his 11-year career, or once every 121 carries.

Dwyer is also averaging 4.4 yards per carry while Mendy is only averaging slightly more than three yards per carry. In the Ravens game, Dwyer carried the ball 12 times for 55 yards, a 4.6 YPC average. So, without a doubt, the move of Dwyer into the number one spot was the right call.

As for Wallace, I'm hoping that this is just Tomlin giving him a nudge, another "one-trick pony" type of motivation. Tomlin generally knows how to reach his players and how to get the most out of them. Not always, but better than most. My main concern is Wallace's reacting in kind.

If Wallace does use this as proper motivation, great. Despite what many in Steeler Nation are saying, we need him. Even when not catching a pass, as long as the play is executed properly, his being a decoy opens the middle of the field so that Heath Miller and Manny are able to get open.

Does Wallace have his faults? Of course. Among other things, Wallace has to do a better job of getting open on routes, especially his short routes. He is great as a deep threat, but still not much else. And when he has been open in those situations, he's dropped several (I believe he's credited with seven drops), including also a fumble against the Ravens.

That's more than disappointing, it's disturbing. At the same time, though, it is not his fault when balls are thrown off target or way behind him as they were against the Browns. Such as the deep pass that was picked off was under-thrown. That wasn't his fault and he did make an attempt to fight off the defenders and prevent the interception.

The pass on the underneath route that hit his hip was behind him and not his fault. Could a greater effort have been made? Yes, but if that pass is thrown even just a foot more in front of him, he gets a first down or more. Maybe even a repeat of the Giants game. The flack he's taking for his few faults is out of proportion.

Yes, I have my issues with him too. The deep or streak routes are fine, but right now that seems to be the only route where he can get open on a consistent basis. With his speed and the compliment of receivers he has around him, he should be running those routes more regularly. Part of that is him, but Haley is to be blamed for not scheming these for him as well.

The coaches have to make the calls necessary to put the players in the best positions to succeed, and need to take responsibility when they don't do so.

There's no question that Wallace needs to work harder getting open on his route running and on catching with his hands instead of letting it hit his body first. Those were two of the knocks on him coming out of Ole Miss.

Despite, though, what has been deemed a "demotion" for him also, Wallace doesn't seemed phased by the move. "If I do, I'll give everything I have. If not, I'll cheer whoever starts. It really doesn't matter...I'm still gonna be in the game." - /

Fellow wide receiver Antonio Brown said that Wallace should look at the demotion as a wake-up call: "It should be. It will give him a spark. Make him come back hungry to respond."

This is the perfect week for him "to respond" as the Ravens will be without starting cornerback Jimmie Smith. He has already been ruled out of the game because of an abdominal injury.

The Ravens, however, do have a 12-game division winning streak and would love nothing more than to get a baker's dozen against their arch rivals. -

They will be going against a Steelers team led by veteran quarterback Charlie Batch. Batch started in place of backup Byron Leftwich last week who started in place of some guy who wears No. 7. It didn't turn out so well.

Per ESPN Stats and Info, Batch completed 2-of-11 (18.2 percent) passes with two interceptions on throws of more than 10 yards downfield. He threw three INTs overall.

Uncle Charlie, whose record with the Steelers fell to 5-3 with that loss, was frank about his poor performance last week: "I have to play better, figure out a way to help get us in the endzone." -

Don't expect any change, though, because Tomlin is sticking with the 38-year old, that's 266 in dog years, quarterback and says "his body of work" makes him a "capable, veteran guy" who can provide "winning-type performance.''

Let's hope so. The Ravens are perfect at home of late and there will be no John Wayne riding into town this time.

Speaking of Big Ben, Tomlin said he will judge him with his own eyes. He said that he must prove in practice that "he's capable."

Tomlin said on Sirius XM on Tuesday that Big Ben only threw short and intermediate passes on Monday, and it was reported that he went through a "very" light practice on Wednesday.

Tomlin says that they hope to be able to "raise the bar" as week progresses, but reiterated that Uncle Charlie is the guy.

Despite Tomlin's public approval of Uncle Charlie, I honestly don't think I would keep him over Brian Hoyer when everyone is healthy. The Steelers need youth ans value at the position. Brian Hoyer, 27; Uncle Charlie, 46 (he's getting older even as I write this).

So, for the Steelers to expect to win Sunday, they're going to need to win the old fashioned way, running the ball and with defense.

With those two elements, and a splash of speed, the Steelers dominated a Giants team, in their stadium, that last week dominated a strong 49ers team. Things can change just that quickly. Injuries are a big part of it. Injuries that are slowly turning back in the Steelers favor.

The Steelers look to possibly have All-Pro strong safety Troy Polamalu at their disposal again. Troy is now doing what the Steelers were hoping he could do in advance of the previous Ravens game. It smacks at how tough the recovery from a torn calf muscle can be.

Troy practiced fully on Wednesday for the first time since October 5th. Antonio Brown practiced fully on Wednesday also. Both of them practicing is serious reason to believe they'll play Sunday, assuming no setbacks of course.

As pointed out earlier, rookie offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum will be the starting right tackle against the Ravens. Beachum has been a part of 27 snaps this year and has two holding penalties to show for it. He got work at both right and left tackle Wednesday and Ramon Foster took some snaps at right tackle as well.

Maurkice Pouncey says he will play left guard if starting left guard Willie Colon can't go. Not a problem. Pouncey played (right) guard almost his entire freshman year at Florida and Legursky is no stranger to the center position. -

So, your starting offensive line Sunday could be (L to R): Starks, Pouncey, Legursky, Foster and Beachum.

Nonetheless, the Steelers are still a threat to take the crown if these injuries are healed in enough time to make a run. Thanks to a pummeling defense, a revamped "dink and dunk" offense (including a newly found power running game) with yet untapped potential, they can play big boy football against anyone. -

Therefore, this Sunday's game won't just be a test of the Steelers depth, but also of how they perceive and utilize that depth.


TIDBITS: Ryan Clark said that the Pittsburgh Steelers are a 'spoiled bunch.' That after a loss, specifically in this case after the Browns loss, that the sky is falling. He says this is a must-win game, but, he says, that should always be their outlook. -

Nothing at all wrong with what RC said. In fact, the "spoiled" part applies to most of the fan base too.


Offensive guard Ryan Lee was released from the practice squad to make room and was claimed by the New Orleans Saints.

Wide receiver David Gilreath was waived to make room for the promotion of offensive lineman John Malecki, but was subsequently claimed by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Toney Clemons was signed by the Jacksonville Jaguars off of the practice squad.


Signed to the Practice Squad:

Former Florida State wide receiver Bert Reed. Originally signed by Cleveland as an unrestricted free agent. Reed spent time this season on the Buccaneers and Broncos practice squads. Reed is 5'10", 183 pounds and ran a 4.46/40 at his Pro Day. -

Offensive guard Justin Cheadle is 6'3", 295 lbs. Mainly played right guard. Has an uncle John Tarver who played four years in the NFL. -

Offensive tackle Joe Long is a rookie out of Wayne State. He is 6'6", 308 lbs. Younger brother of Dolphins' Pro Bowl OT Jake Long. He was in Training Camp with the Rams after going undrafted. -

To make room for the three signed to the practice squad, the Steelers released cornerback Josh Victorian. (Don't feel bad if you don't know who he is, cuz he doesn't even know.)


PRACTICE REPORT: Max Starks (back) took advantage of veteran Wednesday and didn't practice. Neither Mike Adams, Willie Colon, Byron Leftwich nor LaMarr Woodley practiced Wednesday. Big Ben and Cotch were limited.