Tuesday, August 27, 2013

If It Ain't Steel's 2013 Steelers Roster Projection

It's time for our look at the projected Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 roster, time to project who'll maintain the standard we have come to expect. Mind you, with the surgeries in the offseason, injuries in Training Camp and in the preseason games, it hasn't been easy.

We've had to figure out ways to free up roster spots because the list of injured players makes it so that the roster that we'll see week one won't be the roster we'll see after the bye, and then week eight. I've thought of the Steelers possibly (initially) keeping just four running backs, five wide receivers or maybe just three tight ends as ways to complete a 53-man roster. Per the league, teams must reduce rosters to 75 players on the Active List prior to 4:00 p.m. EST on the 27th releasing nearly 500 players to waiver wires (which the Steelers have done) and to 53 by 6pm EST on the 31st releasing over 700 players across the NFL.

(ASIDE: Players who aren't claimed off of waivers will then be allowed to sign to a team's eight-man practice squad. A player is eligible for the PS if they haven't accrued a season or have not been on the active roster gameday roster for more than nine regular season games. The practice squad limit is three years.)

The Steelers find themselves with two injured tight ends, one running back, and two linebackers. How does that affect how many of each are initially kept on the roster? We expect the Steelers to keep nine linebackers, that one is pretty easy. But, the RB and TE situation may dictate how many wide receivers are kept. Will they only keep with a sixth being sent to the practice squad?

OFFENSE (25 players):

Ben Roethlisberger- 7 for #7? Not this season. But, things will be better in year two of the Todd Haley era; Bruce Gradkowski- New backup in town, he needs to stop dictating his passes; Landry Jones- from Uncle Charlie's walker and hearing aid to Jones' baby bottle.

Running Backs:
Le'Veon Bell- his healing Lisfranc foot will keep him out until after the bye in week four, but the rookie has the ability to be the next signature runner in the Steel City; Isaac Redman- though he's had only two carries this preseason, the coaches know he runs with authority whenever he has the ball in his hands; Jonathan Dwyer*- going out on a shaky limb here, but we think he'll acquit himself against the Carolina Panthers; LaRod Stephens-Howling*- he has the electricity to be the lightning to the thunder of the other RBs; Will Johnson at fullback- he has the blocking ability to excel at the position and will be used in the passing game and in more of an H-Back role this season .

Wide Receivers:
Antonio Brown- The number one guy now. He has the wheels and the route-running ability. Plus, he's like the energizer bunny, he just keeps going and going and going...; Emmanuel Sanders- though he's likely gone next season, he's still the best all-around WR on the team; Jerricho Cotchery- over half of his NFL touchdowns have come in the redzone and his experience and maturity will help the younger guys; Markus Wheaton- the real MW? MW 2.0? Regardless, he's got Mitts and Wheels Justin Brown- not very fast, but the rookie is a big target with sure hands; Reggie Dunn- special teams ability and looks to have sure hands if the Steelers want to go Zero Formation. It was either him or Derek Moye, neither of whom will clear waivers. Which might open the door for JD Woods to come back to the PS.

Tight Ends:
Heath Miller- incredibly underrated TE who had career numbers in new offense and should pick up where he left off; David Paulson- better at receiving than at blocking (in fact, he is a bad blocker), but he's a big red zone target; David Johnson- but only until Matt Spaeth comes back after his eight-game IR designation which we believe the Steelers will assign him..

Offensive Line:
Mike Adams- the blindside - nothing more needs to be said - step up, young man; Ramon Foster- he could be Pro Bowl caliber if he wants to be; Maurkice Pouncey- the anchor; David DeCastro- is solid at right guard, especially in the run; Marcus Gilbert- so far, the weak link of an inconsistent (at best) line; Kelvin Beachum- has the ability to play nearly every position on the line and should be the starter at right tackle over Gilbert - C/G/T/TE - the new "Slash?"; John Malecki- coming along slowly but could be much more regular in the rotation by the end of the season if his current learning curve continues; Joe Long- Guy Whimper proved he can't play guard or tackle or any semblance of an NFL player, so it's either Long or Chris Hubbard, with Mike Golic, jr. being moved to the PS.

DEFENSE (25 players):

Defensive Line:
Evander Hood- Ziggy showed up much better in the dress rehearsal, but he has to take control of the position or he'll have signed his ticket out of time; Steve McLendon- Will have fans forgetting Big Snack by the end of the year; Brett Keisel- the Pro Bowler had another solid season last year, but will this one be his final; Cam Heyward- a real mean streak...just need to see it more often; Al Woods- Woods is veteran player who can play either side if needed and at nose tackle; Alameda Ta'amu- was supposed to be the future until Training Camp showed that the future isn't now - Hebron Fangupo may actually have surpassed him.

Lamarr Woodley- I expect bigger things this year from Woodley, he stepped up in preseason and now needs to be the leader of the linebackers; Larry Foote- the Buck stops here; Lawrence Timmons- finally being left in his natural Mack position last season, he should have been a Pro Bowler; Jason Worilds- make or break season for Worilds who is being nipped at the heels by...; Jarvis Jones- the black cat will be starting by season's end; Marshall McFadden- will backup the Buck and Mack positions; Vince Williams- The Destroyer, 'nuff said; Alan Baxter- the first step of Mr. Baxter is so fast that QBs barely have time to let out a scream before he can get there; Chris Carter- Yeah, but he might relinquish his spot to Brian Rolle or to...; Sean Spence- once he comes off of PUP. Spence had the hybrid quickness, speed and ability to stay with TEs - will he still have it?.

Defensive Backs:
Ike Taylor- Face me, Ike!; Cortez Allen- has earned a starting spot and has the coverage ability and ballhawking ability that Keenan Lewis didn't have (though we think they should have tried to keep him and use Tez in the nickel instead of bringing back...; William Gay- nickel specialist who ain't worth a dime otherwise; Curtis Brown- will see the field more this year between special teams and Dime and select nickel packages; Josh Victorian- Young and still wet behind the ears, but he has a great attitude and aptitude which should start to show on the field; Terry Hawthorne- the rookie is fast and will mainly show that speed on special teams initially; Ryan Clark- led the Steelers in knockout tackles last year as well as quotable quotes; Troy Polamalu- I hear this guy's good; Robert Golden- has real potential, flashes big-play ability at times; Shamarko Thomas- The Shark!

Special Teams (3 players):
Shaun Suisham (K)- SUSHI! (I still wanna see ID)Drew Butler(P)- he beat out Brian Moorman mainly because of his youth; Greg Warren(LS)- he wears no. 60 and you'd be surprised at how many down-field plays he actually makes.

Practice Squad:
LB Kion Wilson- These are the Pittsburgh Steelers, aka "Linebacker, Inc", so he benefits by learning here.
G Mike Golic, jr.- A guard who is very smart but needs to build his strength.
WR Derek Moye or JD Woods- Maybe.
DE Brian Arnfelt- Had too many other DEs in front of him, but worth watching.
CB Isaiah Green- Showed himself well in Training Camp, is a good cover guy and is fast.
RB Alvester Alexander- Good runner who was picked up halfway through TC.
G Chris Hubbard- He should circle back around to the PS if he clears waivers.
NT Hebron Fangupo- If he doesn't actually make the 53.

*Despite their abilities, either LSH or Dwyer may be expendable once players come off the PUP and IR lists. Room will need to be made and it likely would come from one of these two if the roster falls the way we have projected here.


TIDBITS: DeMarcus Van Dyke and Justin Cheadle have reverted back to the Steelers IR after clearing waivers.


Below is the blog written post-game and that chronicled the roster cuts. Blogger.com was giving us serious problems, so it wasn't able to be posted. So, here it is:

"Steelers Lose To Chiefs, Trim Roster To 75"
It wasn't good enough. We've got a lot of work to do." - Antonio Brown after the loss to the Kansas City Chiefs 

The Pittsburgh Steelers played light years better than they had in the previous two exhibition games, but, like the Steelers wide receiver said, they still have work to do. 

Certain parts of the Steelers offense showed definite improvement. After previously doing their best to establish the run, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger aired it out to positive results. The running game had mixed results with Jonathan Dwyer and Felix Jones being the two main runners. The offensive line wasn't nearly the revolving door it was last Monday. And the first-team defense spent about 25 minutes knocking around Alex Smith.

Not exactly the 2008 Steelers, but it is progression. 

Big Ben, the Steelers Digest Player of the Week, completed 13-19 passes for 166 yards and a touchdown (almost two), with no interceptions for a 113 passer rating. Big Ben connected with Brown for a 49-yard gain on their first passing play of the evening. He also barely missed connecting with Emmanuel Sanders on a touchdown pass, but Manny wasn't able to pull it in.

The big-play ability wasn't left to just the first team, though. We also saw Markus Wheaton have a long reception of 34 yards, Sanders for 24 yards and Jerricho Cotchery for 21 yards. Tight end Michael Palmer also had one for 25 yards.

Dwyer played well overall as he actually blocked well when in the game, carried the ball eight times for 25 yards and caught Big Ben's lone touchdown pass. Jones, without any chance to even practice, was thrown into the mix rushing for 29 yards on eight carries and returning two kickoffs for 51 yards.

The offensive line continued to have its issues, as was evident by the five sacks allowed, but acquitted themselves better overall. Steelers Maurkice Pouncey believes they can be even better still.

"This is probably the best I’ve ever felt," Pouncey said of his confidence in the line. Knowing that they slipped up in pass protection, Pouncey further said, "It’s small things that we can fix so easily, man, and that’s what we’ve been doing in practice, working our butts off to get everything squared away."

Time is ticking, Pouncey.

The defense played like they are ready for prime time, sacking the quarterback and stonewalling on 4th-and-inches. Cortez Allen hit and stymied his assignments and showed why the coaching staff put their faith in him by not retaining Keenan Lewis. Brett Keisel and Troy Polamalu played like they were completely healthy, and Steve McLendon, Al Woods, Ziggy Hood, Jarvis Jones, who received a scare with a bruised sternum after his interception, and Alan Baxter, who had two sacks, were beautifully disruptive. 

The biggest problems were once again the same thing - penalties and special teams. 

Of the nine penalties, one of which proved costly, we'll simply quote HC Mike Tomlin: "Some of those calls were suspect."

As for the other, somewhere Danny Smith is screaming as he watches tape of his not-so-special teams. The squad endured two more gaffes in a sloppy exhibition season. In addition to a 109-yard return, Steelers kicker Shaun Suisham saw his 52-yard field goal attempt in the second quarter get swatted to the turf. 

Being completely new, Smith has yet to find the right combination of players in order to get them to practice together and gel as a unit. But, part of that dilemma may have been alleviated approximately 24 hours after the game. 

Sunday evening, the Steelers announced the first list of men who wouldn't make the roster. Though one or two of them could feasibly circle back around to the practice squad. The list is as follows:

Tackle D’Anthony Batiste, running back Baron Batch, tackle Mike Farrell, wide receiver David Gilreath, wide receiver Tyler Shaw, cornerback Ryan Steed, linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, tight end Peter Tuitupou, quarterback John Parker Wilson, receiver J.D. Woods, and running back Jeremy Wright.

The only surprises were Sylvester, who many considered still having the possibility of making the team as the ninth linebacker, and Woods who had reportedly played well in Training Camp and had two circus catches when he was in the game against the Giants. 

Also, injured inebacker Sean Spence was placed on the reserve PUP list. He’ll be eligible to return to practice after week six and through week 11. He then has another week to actually be placed on the roster. 

The Steelers also placed guard Justin Cheadle and cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke on the waived/injured list. If they go unclaimed by another team, they’ll revert to the injured reserve list. Rookie defensive end Nick Williams has been placed on the injured reserve list.


According to Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, the Steelers reportedly think Jarvis Jones suffered a bruised sternum or chest when he was tackled from behind following an interception Saturday night against the Kansas City Chiefs. 

Jones was taken to an area hospital via an ambulance and strapped to a gurney  following the game. He was kept for observation, but was released Sunday after their battery of tests came up negative. 

Florio speculates Jones wouldn't be "accepting the diagnosis as conclusive," which is his right per the collective bargaining agreement. Why he speculates this is anyone's guess. 


I am not surprised Mike Golic, jr. didn't get cut. They need OLine bodies, so he has another chance to make an impression. But, I also think Chris Hubbard has a chance to battle Golic, jr. for a PS spot. 

We told you that Hebron Fangupo had the edge on Alameda Ta'amu going into the third game. While Fangupo was playing in the fiurth quarter, Ta'amu was standing with coaches on the sidelines. This suggests Ta'amu may soon say aloha.  

Friday, August 23, 2013

How The Steelers' Adrian Robinson-For-Felix Jones Trade Affects The Respective Positions

Regular readers of this blog know of the infatuation I had with Adrian Robinson, the promising young outside linebacker who was the darling of the 2012 minicamp and Training Camp. Well, now the love affair is over. The Camp darling, if a 6'1", 250-pound man can be a "darling", has become trade bait as the Pittsburgh Steelers sent him to the Philadelphia Eagles in exchange for running back Felix Jones. 

The departure of Robinson and the addition of Jones shifts the seedings of the Steelers' linebackers who are battling for roster spots, and complicates those of the running backs and tight ends. 

To start, the linebacker position is one where the Steelers were fortunately well stocked, and they knew that keeping Robinson on the final 53-man roster would actually be difficult. Why? Two reasons. One is because he played in 12 games last season, as a result he hasn't any practice squad eligibility remaining. So if he were to be cut, he'd simply be gone with no compensation or anything to show for the time he was in town. 

The other reason is this year's Camp darling, Alan Baxter, the bantam but bulldozing undrafted rookie outside linebacker out of Northern Illinois. From all reports, Baxter is an outstanding athlete with a Howitzer for a first step, but in still very young (22 years old) and lacks the size (6'0", 238 lbs.) and strength needed at this level. But, it's his athletic explosiveness that the Steelers' defense has missed the last two seasons. Just as importantly, he has practice squad eligibility. 

Those factors made Robinson expendable. Because, otherwise, there would've been difficult decisions to make for the last two linebackers spots. Now, at worst, Baxter is now a lock for the practice squad, with Brian Rolle being in the discussion as well. At best, Baxter's explosiveness knocks the heretofore unproductive Chris Carter off of the roster.

That was the easy one. 

Though in Eagles Camp this offseason, Felix Jones was drafted by the Dallas Cowboys one spot ahead of former Steelers running back Rashard Mendenhall in the 2008 NFL Draft. Jones rushed for 2,728 yards and averaged 4.8 yards per rush in five years with the Cowboys. -

This is a depth move, a stop gap, pure and simple. As If It Ain't Steel said individually on social media and as we alluded to in our previous blog, Le'Veon Bell's injury isn't a simple tear or "day-by-day" thing. - http://ifitaintsteel.blogspot.com/2013/08/six-takeaways-from-camp-games-as_22.html

In his press conference, head coach Mike Tomlin never said that Bell didn't have a Lisfranc injury, he said that "it's a mid-foot sprain. I guess the Lisfranc is involved in it in some way, but it's not a Lisfranc tear like Matt Spaeth experienced that will require surgery." 

"Not having a Lisfranc tear like Spaeth" simply means Bell doesn't need surgery. It's an injury like any other that has varying degrees and grades. He did finish that, though, by saying that the doctors informed that it is correctly termed a mid-foot sprain, but that sentence was capped by, "not that I know." And since he doesn't know, listen to someone who does as Christina Rivers expertly breaks down the injury and what it means for Spaeth and Bell. -

So, don't go jumping for joy (and causing your own mid-foot sprain) as if Bell will be back against the Carolina Panthers. This type of injury can be tricky and can still put him out for some time. The trade for Jones is proof of that. 

The 5'10", 215-pound Jones adds speed to the Steelers' backfield - the kind of speed possessed by neither Isaac Redman nor Jonathan Dwyer. So, their signing him indicates they weren't exactly content with one of them, probably Dwyer whom they tried to trade during the NFL Draft, and that one of them may not make the roster. They could pair Jones with one of the two as a sort of thunder and lightning approach in order to anchor the running game until Bell returns. 

The Steelers will protect their interest when it comes to Bell, and will presumably ease him back into action once cleared. That presents a problem when settling on the final 53 who will make the roster. 

One scenario suggests that the Steelers will keep three running backs and a fullback. That would allow for three tight ends and six wide receivers. Another suggests keeping four RBs, three TEs and five wideouts. 

If four RBs are kept, that would mean that one would be cut once Bell and then Spaeth, who'll likely receive the eight-game IR designation, return to action. 

Either way, the Steelers' benefiting from an embarrassment of riches at one position may allow them to avoid simple embarrassment at the other. 

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Six Takeaways From Camp, Games As Steelers Prepare For Chiefs' Dress Rehearsal

Another Training Camp at St. Vincent College came to a close Saturday, and the second preseason game is in the books for the Pittsburgh Steelers. They spent over two weeks together at Camp looking to set the foundation for the 2013 season. They have also played two exhibition games in which they didn't exactly look like February 2nd participants.

The integration of the rookies and young players hasn't exactly gone as one would hope, the offense appears pedestrian at best and there is a precipitous drop off in experience and talent once the starters leave the field on both the offensive line and on defense. 

Fielding a team of healthy starters and mixing in the youth on the team will take time. In fact, it may take more than preseason for all to gel, especially with the team dealing with such transition. 

That said, there are elements that were either positive points, or points to focus on in the next game against the Kansas City Chiefs. What were they and what are the things to look to?

Head Coach Mike Tomlin went in to camp needing to find out about his team. The 2013 camp was touted as the most physical camp since the Chuck Noll era. Tomlin set the tone early by having live tackling drills with pads whenever possible. The drills helped give the coaches a better barometer of the players and helped establish an attitude in the RUNNING GAME.

Le'Veon Bell’s injury was "clarified" Thursday at Tomlin's press conference. NFL.com's Albert Breer quoted him as saying on his Twitter (@AlbertBreer) account: "Good news, tho still a problematic injury. RT @steelers @L_Bell26 has a mid-foot sprain, will not need surgery to repair it. - @CoachTomlin."

"Problematic" is right, because the injury could involve a brief rehabilitation, or it could be as injury expert and media contributor Dr. Ray Solano, who is familiar with Bell's situation, tweeted.

In comes the solid play of Jonathan Dwyer in Bell's absence. Dwyer's acquitting himself as well as he did is very significant. Now that Bell is sidelined for some time, Dwyer will get his shot at not only a roster spot, but at moving up on the depth chart as well. It may even force the Steelers to keep an fifth running back or to cut someone else in his stead as both Isaac Redman and LaRod Stephens-Howling seem to be destined to make the roster.

Hopefully, OFFENSIVE LINE coach Jack Bicknell, jr. lit into his linemen this week, because they all looked terrible. Save maybe Ramon Foster, the starters all committed an infraction of some sort, and their backups weren't any better. Guy Whimper was particularly atrocious. 

While Bicknell's zone-blocking scheme seems to be a hit with the players, we need to see if it’s a hit in a game. We also need to see who the capable backups are. Kelvin Beachum is the first lineman off of the bench and will sub for multiple spots. After Beachum, though, nothing is clear. That needs to be settled Saturday night. 

BEN ROETHLISBERGER and TODD HALEY are now on the same page. And according to the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review, Big Ben is getting more needed flexibilities and freedoms within the offense. Such trust between coach and player early on can only help later on. - http://tinyurl.com/kvcdfhs

The Steelers players as a whole seem to have a better understanding of the offense and Todd Haley seems to have a better understanding of his players. Now, we simply need to see that new harmony pay dividends for the Steelers offense.

The Steelers are fine at WIDE RECEIVER even with the season-ending injury to Plaxico Burress. The Steelers have Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery and rookie Markus Wheaton

The obvious rising star is Wheaton, and draft pick Justin Brown seems to be the fifth WR, but the Steelers have an interesting battle going on between Derek Moye and undrafted free agent rookies J.D. Woods and Reggie Dunn. If It Ain't Steel's thoughts on who makes the roster to come. Nonetheless, watch this battle Saturday night. 

The TIGHT END position is a curious one to decipher at present with both Heath Miller and David Johnson now off of the PUP list and Matt Spaeth still out for the next 7-9 weeks. With Johnson returning to practice for the first time on Wednesday, it has yet to be seen if he will push the healthy tight ends on the roster. Namely David Paulson (who lacks real blocking ability), Jamie McCoy (who is playing H-back), and blocking TE Michael Palmer. - http://tinyurl.com/lxzqeaf

Players to look for to get EXTENDED PLAYING TIME to evaluate is the next thing to focus on considering that during his press conference today, Tomlin confirmed he intended to play starters for at least a half, and play the rest 'by ear'. - http://tinyurl.com/mm9hzd3

Aside from J.D. Woods mentioned earlier, outside linebacker Jarvis Jones and safety Shamarko Thomas have had good camps and good games. Safety Robert Golden looks to be a ballhawk and capable back up, defensive end Al Woods has really looked good at both end and nose tackle. Coaches and players both have raved about his play. Nicholas Williams, Vince Williams and Marshall McFadden are to be looked at closely as well. Lastly, going into the 3rd preseason game, Hebron Fangupo has a slight edge over Alameda Ta'amu at nose tackle. So, keep an eye on that position as well.

Looking backward at the performance last Monday night helps us to look forward to Kansas City. In doing so, we will find out if the coaches are making sure the standard remains the standard. 

If It Ain't Steel's 2013 Top 25 NFL Players

Written by Jayden and Jason

As the season gets ready to begin, it's time to take a look at the top players in the NFL. It's an extension of If It Ain't Steel's Top 12 Quarterbacks. - http://ifitaintsteel.blogspot.com/2013/08/if-it-aint-steels-2013-top-12-nfl.html

Each year we're blessed and disappointed, we cheer and we cry, we scream and we...scream. The NFL is America's true pastime and the five months that we have it always go entirely too fast.

So, before it's too late...

1. Aaron Rodgers, QB, Green Bay Packers - Honestly, he just seems to get better every year. The thing that should scare every man with a "DC" attached to his name is that he is just now getting into his prime.

2. J.J. Watt, DE, Houston Texans - Nicknamed J.J. "SWAT", he was as dominant as any down lineman we may have ever seen. He was completely unblockable. Maybe that should be his new nickname: "C-Block." He was so dominant that the Texans might utilize his high level of talent on offense. - http://t.co/OLLJ6PFVzf

3. Calvin Johnson, WR, Detroit Lions - How do you stop the 6'5", 235-pound Megatron? With 122 receptions, 1,964 receiving yards, 122.8 yards per game average, 16.1 yards per catch and 11 100-yard receiving games, he commands a double on almost EVERY play. Oh, and he'll turn just 28 a month into the 2013 season.

4. Tom Brady, QB, New England Patriots - The Dorian Grey of NFL quarterbacks. He doesn't seem to be slowing down, as he threw for nearly 5,000 yards, had 34 touchdown passes and just eight interceptions in 2012.

5. Adrian Peterson, RB, Minnesota Vikings - If he came back from his ACL injury legally, then to do what he did was amazing. Think about it - he almost took down the single-season record for total (not yards per game) rushing yards.

6. Geno Atkins, DT, Cincinnati Bengals - He was a true force in 2012 with 12 sacks from the defensive tackle spot. Very special and scary player.

7. DeMarcus Ware, OLB-DE, Dallas Cowboys - Whether a rushing down end or an outside linebacker, Ware is a true force. His sack numbers were down (11½) some last season, but it doesn't change the fear factor.

8. Patrick Willis, ILB, San Francisco 49ers - An athletic freak, he can run, tackle and get to a lot of plays you didn't think he would. Best middle/inside linebacker in the game.

9. Von Miller, OLB, Denver Broncos - Great speed, intense and is a good tackler, Miller has the goods. Goods you'll see in 2013 after the first six games.

10. Drew Brees, QB, New Orleans Saints - Despite last season's results, he threw more interceptions than in 2011, he remains one of the top players in the league.

11. Richard Sherman, CB, Seattle Seahawks - The best cornerback in the NFL - just ask him. But he backs up his cockiness. He can cover, had eight interceptions and led the league with 32 passes defended.

12. Cameron Wake, DE, Miami Dolphins - Another guy who moved to a rushing down end spot from a 3-4 pass rusher and responded with 15 sacks. Just damn good.

13. A.J. Green, WR, Cincinnati Bengals - He has an incredible catch radius and brings in nearly everything he lays even a finger on. He led all receivers in 2012 with seven 40-plus-yard receptions and had nearly 100 catches total.

14. Peyton Manning, QB, Denver Broncos - The Sheriff bounced back to look like the Manning of old. His monster of Frankenstein act didn't stop him from coming back and dissecting the NFL in the regular season.

15. Duane Brown, T, Houston Texans - He simply pancakes guys. Makes lot of pass rushers look pedestrian. Simply the best in the game right now.

16. Larry Fitzgerald, WR, Arizona Cardinals - The best thing we can say about him is that only bad quarterback play keeps him from being the best.

17. Clay Matthews, OLB, Green Bay Packers - He had 13 sacks in 12 games. 'Nuff said. Whether you call him Samson or Goldilocks, he's a beast.

18. Aldon Smith, OLB, San Francisco 49ers - One half of the Smith brothers had 19½ sacks, but he didn't get any during the absence of...

19. Justin Smith, DE, San Francisco 49ers - A shoulder injury derailed what was a very good season. He demands the double team and allows other player to be great. Just ask Aldon.

20. Julio Jones, WR, Atlanta Falcons - Explosive. A big-play threat. A man among men. So many superlatives can be thrown his way. He's simply the real deal.

21. Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Pittsburgh Steelers - No. 7 with/times 3 Super Bowls = 21 on our list. He threw 26 touchdown passes and only eight interceptions in just 13 games. He was injured in week 11 and was in some MVP talks before that. Look for him to return to that form this season.

22. Rob Gronkowski, TE, New England Patriots - He is the league's best pass-catching tight end and can block too. He's a true weapon for Brady.

23. Haloti Ngata, DT, Baltimore Ravens - He has been slowed by injuries lately, but when he's healthy he's a bruising inside player. Just ask Big Ben's nose.

24. Joe Flacco, QB, Baltimore Ravens - We're giving him the benefit of the doubt here, because he had didn't even complete 60% of his passes last season and he had the two worst quarterback ratings since the system was invented. But he did have a remarkable playoff and Super Bowl run.

25. Eli Manning, QB, New York Giants - In some ways he's better than his brother, and he's twice better than Brady, but he does have his inconsistencies. He's still one of the better in the game.

The Next (Magnificent) Seven:

Matt Ryan, QB, Atlanta Falcons - Matty Ice!

Marshal Yanda, G, Baltimore Ravens - Rock at guard.

Jimmy Graham, TE, New Orleans Saints - 85 receptions and nine touchdowns despite time missed with injuries.

Gerald McCoy, DT, Tampa Bay Buccaneers - The anchor on the league's best run defense.

NaVorro Bowman, LB, San Francisco 49ers - Great against the pass and defends almost as well as his line mate.

Lawrence Timmons, LB, Pittsburgh Steelers - Very underrated. Second on Steelers in tackles with 106 and had six sacks, three INTs and two forced fumbles.

Patrick Peterson, CB, Arizona Cardinals - A cover man (7 INTs) and return man (4 TDs) and now catches passes too.

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Steelers Go Out With A Whimper, Lose Bell And The Game 24-13 To Redskins

Is it safe to open my eyes now?

It was...bad. Just so bad. And not just the loss itself, going down 24-13 to the Washington Redskins. There were the injuries. LaRod Stephens-Howling was already sidelined due to a minor knee strain. Baron Batch got hurt (stinger). Fullback Will Johnson got hurt (ribs).

Then, I got hurt throwing things at the t.v. Feels like rotator cuff. I'm probably down for a couple of weeks.

What hit the hardest, though, was when Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said after the game that rookie running back Le'Veon Bell got hurt with a mid-foot injury and that there would be an MRI Tuesday. - http://tinyurl.com/mdhppr7

Then Will Carroll, lead sportswriter for Sports Medicine, tweeted from his Twitter (@injuryexpert) account: "Bad news on Le'Veon Bell. Midfoot sprain is going to keep him out weeks on the low end."

Well, let's just hope it isn't that b**ch Lisfranc, because we've had enough of her! Just ask Matt Spaeth. But, to ask Bell, he's ready to prove all doubters wrong.

UPDATE: Per Ed Bouchette from his Twitter (@EdBouchette) account: "#Steelers RB Le'Veon Bell's injury to right foot not as significant as teammate Matt Spaeth's Lisfranc." As Will Carroll said above, though, that still means Bell will be sidelined for awhile.

If he is actually down for an extended period, it could be even worse. The Steelers are a team doing all it can to simply tread preseason water. They were in the bottom six in rushing yards, yards per carry, and rushing touchdowns in 2012. So far, we are not seeing change in the offensive line play. They didn't even get their first 1st down until about nine minutes to go in the third quarter.

Le'Veon Bell is talented, but not that talented.

This just in: Guy Whimper was just penalized again.

The success that the Steelers did have running the ball last year was with power downhill running from Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman. Proof? Dwyer had 14 carries for 68 yards, getting the majority of his yards on just such runs.

That, though, really isn't Bell's style. He actually somewhat resembles Rashard Mendenhall in that he's big, but agile. Bell runs with more of a finesse style for a bigger running back. He has the power and balance to be a bruiser, but he'd prefer to string things out.

Unless things are remedied quickly, that isn't going to work with this OLine.

Speaking of the OLine, Maurkice Pouncey was candid in his description of their play: "Everybody kinda knows the OLine is gonna carry the team this year. We all feel like sh** tonight. We'll get better at it."

Um...you have to. You'd better if the quarterback is expected to last the season. Or even to be at least to be somewhat successful. One of the very things we talked about in the pre-game write up. - http://ifitaintsteel.blogspot.com/2013/08/steelers-prepare-for-redskins-as.html

One way to get better is to send Guy Whimper packing. Now. Jonathan Scott was...aaaargh! Sorry, I still get flashbacks. Jon...he was let go for a reason. Why being him back in the form of Whimper? We wrote a month ago that Whimper was a revolving door. He proved it Monday night. He was beaten so many times his new nickname is Tina Turner. Seriously, he may as well have not even have been in there.

Speaking of not being there, too bad Jason Worilds couldn't make the trip to the game.

In other post-game comments from Tomlin, he also acknowledged the rash of penalties and attributes them so far to "poor execution. Maybe an official or two will be at our practices to help us in that regard."

Or just send Guy Whimper packing.

Neither team looked like the '78 Steelers nor the '91 Redskins, though. There were 15 penalties and seven turnovers, including three Steelers offensive linemen committing infractions to kill what was otherwise a good drive directed by Ben Roethlisberger and a sequence of three giveaways in five plays.

As Steelers safety Ryan Clark said after the game, "Too much Steelers beating ourselves."

Bright spots? There were some. Markus Wheaton had 3 catches for 52 yards, including a big catch for 36 yards. Shamarko Thomas, who was the Steelers Digest Player of the Week, laid several slobber-knocking hits. Jarvis Jones is making everyone believe. Big Ben was 5 for 6 for 66 yards before putting on the baseball cap early in the second quarter.

The Steelers got their only touchdown in the fourth quarter when rookie Landry Jones, 9 for 22 for 111 yards and one 1 touchdown, hit wide receiver Derek Moye for a 10-yard score.

That basically it as far as bright spots. Unless you count Guy Whimper running off of the field with a few minutes left in the 4th quarter.

The coaches, both coaching staffs, have a lot of...teaching moments this week. A lot of challenges to attempt to solve.

Oh...and send Guy Whimper packing.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Steelers Prepare For Redskins As Training Camp Ends

The Pittsburgh Steelers ended their latest stay in Latrobe yesterday as they took the field in shorts and without running like tackle drills. They took it easy on their last day there before heading to Heinz Field for the upcoming season.

However, it wasn't just Saturday. They won't be live tackling anymore until the season starts per head coach Mike Tomlin.

As they leave, they look to prepare for the second leg of their tour of the NFC East as they play the Washington Redskins on the kickoff to ESPN's Monday Night Football lineup. The NFL's main marquee will be missing a few names as Robert Griffin III won't be playing for the Redskins, and the Steelers could be without running backs Isaac Redman and Le'Veon Bell.

The Redskins' RGIII is still recovering from his ACL and LCL injuries. He has returned to practice, but head coach Mike Shanahan rightly won't release him to play. As for Redman and Bell, they scared everyone within a stone's throw of the three rivers and everywhere else in Steeler Nation when they went down within a half hour of one another in practice Thursday. Redman suffered a stinger, and Bell re-aggravated his left knee.

Both running backs returned to practice on Friday, but remain game-time decisions. If one or both are down, that puts Jonathan Dwyer back into the position of starter. Once again, though, it would be because of injury. But, as Behind The Steel Curtain's Neal Coolong wrote, "it may be his last chance to do so." - http://tinyurl.com/k9khge8

The Steelers have endured their share of injuries this off-season, however they aren't nearly as bad off as the Miami Dolphins, Philadelphia Eagles, San Diego Chargers and Cleveland Browns. If the Steelers can be considered relatively healthy otherwise, what does that mean for them going into Monday night's game?

Monday night's game could ultimately reveal a lot about Danny Smith and his special teams unit's preparation. This is more than just another preseason game, it's a game that provides nine days of rest after the New York Giants game. Being new to all of the men in front of him, he needed every bit of that time.

“We're mixing and matching a lot of guys. And that's hard. It's not only hard on me, it's hard on them, to be honest with you,” Smith said. “When you start playing next to a guy, you get a feel for the other. But when you're trying to find those fits, it's difficult. It's a process.” - http://tinyurl.com/mqcgov5

It being a difficult process was proven true last Saturday when the unit made mistake after mistake. At least one of which that could be considered a game changer.

One area that isn't of concern is kicker Shaun Suisham, who was 28-of-31 on field goals last season, with only one of the three misses actually being shanked. He showed an even stronger leg during Training Camp by nailing a 60-yard attempt last week.

We were told that the offense was streamlined to fit quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and company. The distance between the first game of preseason and the first game of the playoffs is chasm-like, but more is still expected from them than what seen lastly. Especially from the No. 3 and No. 4 men, John Parker Wilson and Landry Jones.

They ran fairly well, blocked fairly well and the passing game looked fairly well at times. But "fairly well" is a C to C+ if you're grading. It is basically middle of the road, and middle of the road in the NFL is 8-8.

Last week, Jarvis Jones said he wasn't happy with his performance. It was other people who said they weren't happy with Jason Worilds'. Including his coaches and the NFL. Per Ed Bouchette, linebackers coach Keith Butler was not at all happy with Worilds' two personal foul penalties in three plays and even called him "selfish."

"It's something we can't do. We can't hit the quarterback in the head, we can't hit him with the head and that's what Jason did." - http://t.co/4eMvfLZ47P

Also, on Thursday, the fourth-year linebacker was fined $15,750 for one of those penalties.

As for Jones, he has said that he just wants to get better each time he's out there, that he studies film on his own and that he wants to learn. All well and good, but there is a short window of opportunity in which to do that if he's going to start at any point this season. And as If It Ain't Steel has said many times, he won't. But he 'must unlearn what he has learned' before we see him in numerous subpackages.

Nonetheless, both may possibly have their pass coverage skills tested as Redskins' tight end Fred Davis will play more of a role Monday night.

Was last week Al Woods' coming out party? Will Ziggy Hood ever have one? Is Cameron Heyward ready to take over? Is Brett Keisel ready to bow out?

Only one of those questions will actually be answered Monday night. If Woods can play as well as he did against the G-Men, then he'll move higher on the depth chart, or at least in the rotation. As for the other men, those questions will be asked (by us) and answered as the season itself goes on. For now, Woods, Alameda Ta'amu, Hebron Fangupo and possibly Brian Arnfelt will continue their fight over the two remaining defensive line spots.

UPDATE: Mike Prisuta of the DVE Morning News tweeted from his Twitter (@DVEMike) account: "Le'Veon Bell scheduled to get the start at RB for the Steelers tonight against the Redskins”


TIDBITS: Terry Hawthorne and other defensive backs made their way back to the practice field this week, which helps them get back into contention for the final roster spots. Another defensive back whose spot was already set is coming along more slowly.

Cortez Allen, who has been out for nearly all of Training Camp, was recently asked if he feels like he's made the progress he'd hoped to make.

"Yeah, I feel good," said Allen. "The rehab has been going good and I'm just out there testing it out to see where I'm at."

He went on to say "it's still a day-to-day thing, but I do feel that I've made a lot of progress from when it first happened, and I'm positive about the future of it and getting back on the field."


Steelers NT Alameda Ta'amu is on the road to redemption, wants to prove the Steelers were right to give him a second chance. - http://t.co/peEzxF6HBS

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Projecting The Steelers Receiving Corps In 2013

photo courtesy of ESPN's David Todd (@DavidMTodd)

There's no doubt that today's NFL is pass oriented to say the least. To have payed any attention over the past nine or ten years is to have witnessed the ascent of the passing game. Passing records are falling, history is being rewritten and modern day quarterbacks are greatly eclipsing the production of their predecessors from as little as two decades ago.

The ratio of runs to passes has fallen over the past decade from approximately 45% to around 42.5% and, as proof of the proclivity of the pass, the offense that passed the most in 2012 ran the ball just over 33.5% of the time.

That fact isn't lost on the Pittsburgh Steelers by any means. They have one of the better tight ends in the NFL and a very good-to-great wide receiver corps. They have also have a two-time Super Bowl winning quarterback, and have drafted offensive linemen to help protect him.

But Heath Miller, the aforementioned tight end, won't be available to start the season. He is still recovering from a terrible knee injury suffered in week 16 last season. But the Steelers recently announced that they would be removing him from the Active PUP list before the season starts. Miller himself has said he doesn't quite know when he'll be ready, but he's "hoping sooner rather than later."

“I think in any rehab process, there are ups and downs,” said Miller, the Pro Bowl tight end who was the Steelers' leading receiver last season. “But I definitely think we've had more positives than negatives, and I feel good.” - http://tinyurl.com/m2pf4x4

The best educated guess is week six. The Steelers have a bye in week five after facing the Minnesota Vikings in London, so October 13 against the New York Jets is a very viable return date for him. If they left Miller on the Reserve PUP list to start the regular season, he wouldn't then be able to return until at least week seven.

With Matt Spaeth and David Johnson also both injured and returning at various points this season, the Steelers will start 2013 with pass-catching TE David Paulson as their No. 1 guy and recent signees Michael Palmer and Nathan Overbay in more of blocking roles. At least until Miller and Spaeth return. Also look for the Steelers, as If It Ain't Steel has written before, to use fullback Will Johnson in more passing situations. Gerry Dulac of rhe Pittsburgh Post-Gazette supports this by writing that they will not be signing anyone else. - http://tinyurl.com/kf8vjvc

The wide receivers that the Steelers have drafted in the last few years comprise a very talented, very potent and very fast unit that is ready to tax secondaries this season. Whether or not they nickel and dime them or take a pocketful of change at a time.

The key, though, isn't the passing game unto itself, it's how productive they are with those passes.

"Antonio Brown, I think, is going to one of the most feared receivers in the league this year," Plaxico Burress told the Associated Press. "And I'm going to do everything in my power to help him get to the level where he can be an elite receiver."

Now that he's on IR, Plax can't help on the field, but he can still mentor him. Nonetheless, the point here is that Brown is expected to do big things this season. He may not quite have the dearly departed Mike Wallace's speed, but deep touchdowns like the 58-yard score against the Baltimore Ravens in 2010 and the 60 yarder he had against the Cincinnati Bengals last year show he can stretch the field.

Keep in mind also that he missed three games after going down during the week nine win over the New York Giants with a high ankle sprain. If he hadn't missed that time, he would've been on pace for approximately 80 catches and over 960 yards - both numbers would have led the team.

Following AB is Emmanuel Sanders, the faster of the two young wideouts. He also has a little more polish to his game and can be interchanged on the outside and in the slot. He is a very good route runner and very good blocker. We used to refer to him as "the future Hines Ward." Let's just hope he stays in Black and Gold in order to have that come to fruition.

With Plax gone, the Steelers lone, true veteran receiver is Jerricho Cotchery. Cotch has great hands and knows how to get open. He's very good at using his body to fend off the defender so as to get the needed yards. His presence on the field, on the sidelines and in the locker room could be invaluable.

That value is exactly why we have to disagree with NFL.com's Jason La Canfora who says that he "could see the Steelers shopping Jerricho Cotchery, for instance, and finding a better market than they may have anticipated."

Neal Coolong of Behind The Steel Curtain contends, however, that La Canfora has a point, saying that the Steelers have "needs all across the roster and will have some awfully tough decisions to make. Perhaps trading Cotch would prevent the Steelers from losing a young prospect they believe could be a future star with time to develop; especially if they believe Sanders will leave in free agency following this season."

Among those "prospects" is Markus Wheaton, because it is Wheaton who can and will contribute significantly this season. In fact, according to Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, he already "looks like a veteran."

"He's not playing like a rookie, he doesn't act like a rookie. He looks like a veteran,” Taylor said. “Of course he's going to make rookie mistakes because he's a rookie. But watching him over the course of weeks, the guys is smart, polished. I can't wait to see him during the season.” - http://tinyurl.com/mmdf2ff

Neither can we. Which is exactly why the Steelers shouldn't play (read: risk) him on special teams. Wheaton will still have to fight for playing time, but Cotch will push Wheaton in his first season. If he can stay consistent and focused, there’s no reason to think that Wheaton won’t make 35-40 catches in 2013. So, don't risk it, even more so considering those behind him.

Bringing up the rear in the fifth and possibly sixth positions are Justin Brown, Derek Moye, David Gilreath and Reggie Dunn. All have specific skills that they bring to the table and that could benefit the team. All can make their bones on special teams as well. Some more so than others.

The final roster's makeup is yet to be determined, but it could be speculated that the Steelers could keep four running backs (Bell, Redman, Stephens-Howling and Johnson), thereby allowing them to keep WRs (AB, Manny, Cotch, Wheaton and Brown 2.0, who has had a very good Training Camp), allowing them to hold the extra TE spot for Miller and Spaeth.

If they do work the numbers to open up an extra spot, it could just as easily be for an extra RB (Redman) for the purpose of safety, or a sixth WR spot (Dunn) for the extra special teams specialist.

And the next two preseason games will determine if that rings true or not.