Friday, October 25, 2013

Steelers Gameplan vs. Raiders: Run; Roethlisberger Gives Statement On 'Most Hated' List

Last Sunday against the rival Baltimore Ravens, the Pittsburgh Steelers were able to finally run the ball like, well, the Pittsburgh Steelers. They banged forward for a total of 141 yards on 29 rushes, mostly on the legs of rookie running back Le'Veon Bell.

We believe the Steelers should endeavor to pick up where they left off when they head into the "Black Hole" Sunday afternoon against the 10th-ranked defense of Oakland Raiders.

Make no mistake, though, it wouldn't be possible without the play of the offensive line. Jack Bicknell, jr. said upon arriving that he wanted quicker guys "who can move" and we saw that come to fruition last Sunday. The offensive line was smaller and more athletic and able operate in space much better. As offensive coordinator Todd Haley said, "you could go right down the line and probably say all played their best game."

That will allow Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Heath Miller to test a secondary giving up exactly 241 yards per game. The Steelers have been very good at working the deep safeties as Big Ben's pump fake can be deadly.

Add to that, they now have an actual and viable play-action based on the emergence of the run game. The patience, vision and cutback ability of Bell is a threat the Raiders will have to respect. As we have said before, Bell may be a bigger back, but he has the lateral agility to make quick cutbacks and get outside.

If the Raiders are in their usual vanilla two-deep safeties with man defense in front of them, expect the Steelers to test the their cornerbacks, Tracy Porter and Mike Jenkins, with short, quick passes and with the over-the-top game.

All things being equal, a top-level quarterback like Big Ben should be able to shred the Raiders secondary, even with veteran and multiple All-Pro Charles Woodson. But all things haven't been equal in the Twilight Zone known as Oakland-Alameda County Coliseum.

Defensively, the Raiders have ways of making things difficult for the Steelers. Terrelle Pryor is a force to be reckoned with as he is developing as a passer and is also their leading rusher. Pryor can call his own number in the read-option or he can feed running back Darren McFadden or air it out to wide receivers Denarius Moore and Rod Streater. -

Another option that can't be overlooked is H-back Marcel Reese. The 6'3", 240-pound Reese doesn't carry the ball much, but averages 5.2 yards per carry, making him a load in short-yardage and goal line situations, and is a good receiver out of the backfield.

Linebackers Lawrence Timmons and Vince Williams will have their hands full, especially when the Raiders go to a formation they've used several times this season.

The look is the pistol with a 'full house' or "bear backfield" where two players flank Pryor as well as having a running back behind him. It's difficult to defend and requires defenders to stay in their lanes and not get lost in the shuffle and flow. Keeping the play in front of them will be paramount.

Regardless, the key is containing Pryor. In fact, think of it as the "3 C's":

Contain him - Timmons or Shamarko Thomas could be used as a spy to stay with him the entire game. Confuse him - he's still young and learning; lots of talent, but can be lulled into mistakes. Finally, Clobber him - bring back the ghosts of Steelers-Raiders games of the past and make him think Jack Lambert came out of retirement just make him pay whenever he leaves the pocket.  

Make Pryor be a quarterback first. He still primarily wants to use his athletic ability - make him go through his progressions. The more he does, the greater the chance the likes of LaMarr Woodley, Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones have of making his day very long.

Do that and the Steelers may just be able to escape the Black Hole alive this time.


FORBES recently put out an article regarding a survey taken that listed the NFL's most disliked (read: "hated") players. The Steelers' Big Ben came in 4th with 40%. 

The maligned QB decided not to take this lightly and released a statement firing back at his haters:

"I got a letter from the haters
The other day. I opened and read it
It said they were suckers. They had me on their list or whatever.
Picture me giving a damn - I said never
Posing as friends, but never gave a damn about a brother like me and myself. Because they never did
I wasn't with it,
but just that very minute
It began to make sense -
The haters had influence.
Cold sweating as I looked at my rank - How long has it been?
Even if they're hiding behind an ink pen,
I gotta get 'em, but that was thought before
I made a plan on the locker room floor.
They don't understand that I'm a Steeler, man
And I've never turned and ran.
Like Coach says, I "obviously" got a raw deal, 
So I'm gonna lay the steel!

I'll just venture onto the yard followed by 52 brothers
Bruised, battered, and scarred but hard
We'll go out with a bang, ready to win out,
Do a Fast & Furious kinda spin out.
Get a number of vict's and try to host,
Against an anti-Steeler machine designed so I don't come out alive, but I'll come out clean.
Because the steel is Black and Gold, so the chase is on.
We're 53 brothers on the run, and we are gone!"

Wow...I didn't know Big Ben could flow like that.

-- Obvious parody. Lyrics paraphrased from Public Enemy's "Black Steel In The Hour Of Chaos." --


TIDBITS: Steelers very healthy as they head to Oakland. Only WR Markus Wheaton and TE Richard Gordon are out; all others full participation in practice, no one questionable or doubtful.

Oakland starting SS Tyvon Branch out (ankle)


Steelers restructure Ike Taylor's contract freeing up around $3 million under the salary cap this year. The Steelers and Taylor agreed to turn his base salary this year into a signing bonus that can be spread over the remaining two years on his contract. - 


Steelers had interest in Terrelle Pryor, but he said no. - 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Steelers, Raiders Renew Old Rivalry, Try To Renew Season Hopes

A big-time matchup between two perennial powerhouse AFC teams that is sure to have playoff implications.

In the 1970s.

The 2013 version of the Oakland Raiders and Pittsburgh Steelers matchup, however, isn't exactly your father's rivalry. There won't be anyone who'll be mistaken for John Matuszak, Mean Joe Greene, Lyle Alzado or Jack Tatum.

With both teams at 2-4, neither division nor conference titles are on the line, either.

Nonetheless, there is a rivalry that does still exist between the two teams. Certainly not like that of, say, the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday. Still, these are two teams rich in tradition and history - 3-3 head-to-head in the playoffs between 1972-1984 - as they combine for a total of nine Super Bowl Rings, which is tied for the most of any two AFC teams.

When they take the field Sunday afternoon, though, only recent history will matter. A recent history that has seen the Raiders defeat the Steelers on a three-year interval in the last decade: 2006, 2009 and 2012. Each time, the loss costing the Steelers a chance at the playoffs.

The same would happen this season as the Steelers are already in a hole having lost their first four games. Another loss, another loss to the Raiders no less, would essentially end the Steelers already-slim playoff hopes. It would take arithmetic requiring more than the fingers and toes I have to calculate whatever sliver of possibility remained.

That means this is a must-win game for the Steelers. Each game is.

The Raiders won't make it easy, though. Sunday will have twice as much of a chance of seeing LaMarr get a sack...because LaMarr Houston leads the Raiders pass rush. He's accompanied by Charles Woodson and Tracy Porter leading a Raiders defense ranked 12th in the NFL, but that has twice as many sacks (16) as the Steelers.

On offense, Denarius Moore and Rod Streater lead the passing attack, while Darren McFadden and Jacoby Ford provide enough wrinkles to keep Dick LeBeau and the defense on alert.

But it's quarterback Terrelle Pryor who is their main and true weapon. His numbers aren't exactly All-Pro, but he is dangerous. He's completing 64.5% of his passes and leads the Raiders in rushing. He's sleek, shifty and can strike at a moment's notice - kind of like a snake. (I know you got that...)

Two things, however, are in the Steelers favor: the Raiders haven't won a game coming off of a bye in approximately 10 years, and the Raiders return from said bye facing many questions on the offensive line.

The Raiders struggled mightily in their last game in Kansas City as many of their starters were and are down with injuries. Backups are working with the first teamers as the Raiders may be without center Stefen Wisniewski, tackle Tony Pashos and guard Andre Gurode Sunday. -

The Steelers will take any and all advantages that may come their way as they continue to attempt to turn the season around toward a winning record.

And also as they attempt to reverse the recent losing trend to the Raiders - every three years in the last 10.

Maybe even start a new trend. The last Steelers victory against the Raiders? Three years ago in 2010.


TIDBITS: Steelers signed RB George Winn to their practice squad. They signed TE Richard Gordon last week. They also have Bruce Gradkowski as backup QB - all former Raiders. Gamesmanship, anyone?


STEELERS INJURY REPORT: {tuesday} Beachum (ribs), Woodley (knee), Keisel (ribs), Gilbert (quad), Gordon (toe), Heyward (sick) and Timmons (broken hand/wrist - in cast, but will play Sunday).


Tomlin singled out CB Curtis Brown and P Zoltan Mesko for "below the line" play. He said Brown was set Sunday because his special teams play has slipped. Brown has had just one defensive play all season, so special teams was his meal ticket.

Mesko has had at least one "junior varsity," as Tomlin put it, punt per game and needs more consistency. True to Tomlin's word, Mesko ranks near the bottom of the NFL with a 42.4 yards per punt average. 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Steelers Get Purple Hearts As They Notch 2nd Straight Win

courtesy of Billy Hartford

"What I'm most proud of is it was a team win. All three phases did something to contribute positively today. How it has to be." - Brett Keisel

The veteran defensive end was correct as the Pittsburgh Steelers had their first complete game of the season en route to a 19-16 over the hated Baltimore Ravens.

Le'Veon Bell, Lawrence Timmons and finally Shaun Suisham ran, tackled and kicked the Steelers to something Steelers' fans haven't seen yet this season - a winning streak.

Break up the Steelers!

They're actually looking now like the team we expected from the beginning of the season. The running game is finally looking like something worthy of the team that leads the entire NFL since the 1970 merger. The Steelers ran for 141 yards, which was the first time they went over 100 yards as a team since November 18, 2012 - against the Ravens.

Bell himself shown great patience and vision in running for 93 yards on just 19 carries, averaging 4.9 yards per carry. With doing so against the seventh-ranked run defense going into the game, Bell was assuredly pleased with his performance. Right?

"I'll go to a C-," Bell said laughingly, referencing the "D" he gave himself last week. -

The humble young running back received slightly higher praise from his teammates and coach.

"He did a great job! You know, he was patient when he needed to be, physical when he needed to be. He used his speed...I thought that he did a great job today," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "He's got that patience, he's a good runner and he knows his surroundings.” -

Head coach Mike Tomlin looked a bit miffed that neither of the first two questions at his post-game press conference were about his running back.

"Any questions about Le'Veon Bell today? No?" Tomlin quipped. -

Bell was who Tomlin wanted out of college and was practically glowing when talking about him back in April. Tomlin even went to Bell's defense during his weekly press conference last week after the running back came under criticism. Bell has finally now shown what Tomlin, and those few of us who had knowledge of him in college, knew he could do.

In averaging 4.9 YPC, 12 of Bell's 19 carries today went for four yards or more. Only two carries went for zero yards or less. Also, 62 of Bell's 93 yards came on first down.

The Steelers much-maligned offensive line opened holes and got push for the Steelers and Bell, but also in protecting Big Ben who played a turnover-free game and directed the game-winning drive. Point blank, the Steelers were simply the more physical team Sunday. Both on offense and defense.

The blitzes, the multiple looks, the push from the interior of the defensive line, Troy Polamalu lining up everywhere, LaMarr Woodley, who recorded another sack, and Jason Worilds bringing pressure on Joe Flacco and stuffing running backs, Cortez Allen being brought off of the slot on a run blitz throughout the game, William Gay providing good coverage...this was swarming Steelers defense.

But the one who should receive the most praise was inside  linebacker Lawrence Timmons who had a career-high tying 17 tackles. Not bringing any undue attention to himself, he summed up the overall performance succinctly, ultimately giving credit to the coaches.

"It's the Baltimore Ravens," he said. It's a defensive player's type of game....They're passing more because Flacco throws a great deep ball. The run-and-gun coaches prepped us well."

But, even with all provided by the aforementioned players, it came down to kicker Shaun Suisham.

Big Ben marched the Steelers downfield, after Emmanuel Sanders was one heel away from taking a kickoff all the way, to get into Sushi's range. As always, Sushi was as cool as a Canadian autumn as split the uprights for the last-second win.

Are the Steelers enjoying this? Are they exhaling?

"{No.} We're still a 2-4 football team," Sanders said, "{but} we're pointed in right direction."

Several quotes from Ken Laird of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.


TIDBITS: The only significant injury was Marcus Gilbert's deep quadriceps bruise. Brett Keisel's ribs were of the "minor bumps and bruises" category. 


Ben Roethlisberger is 10-4 in his career vs. the Ravens (including playoffs), and ties Peyton Manning for most wins vs Ravens by starting quarterback.


John Harbaugh on the onside kick: "We were struggling to get possessions and get our offense on the field. We needed a TD either way to tie or win."

"A guy offsides when we do a surprise onside kick...that's the part that ticks me off more than anything"

Harbaugh on Dumervil's face-mask of Big Ben: "You can't grab it but Ben ducks all the time. Biggest, strongest QB in the NFL. Have to wrap strong."

Harbaugh on the Steelers run offense: "Credit to them. Good job of scheming. The wildcat...extra OLinemen...give them credit."


"@MarkKaboly_Trib: David DeCastro is quickly turning into one of the best guards in the AFC."


Sunday was the fourth consecutive Steelers-Ravens game that was decided by three points.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Steelers Look For 2nd Win In "Grudge Match" Against Ravens


“It’s a grudge match. It really is. It always seems to be close." - Brett Keisel on rivalry with Ravens.

Whether it could be labeled a "grudge match," a blood bath or the 'best rivalry in the NFL' (to which it is often referred), one thing is very certain - these teams just don't like each other.

When the Pittsburgh Steelers and the defending world champion Baltimore Ravens take the field Sunday afternoon, one player new to the rivalry may not be able to get himself acquainted.

Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones was diagnosed with a concussion early this week and is listed as questionable for the game Sunday. He practiced fully on Friday but must still pass a concussion test.

If he is unavailable, fellow outside linebacker Jason Worilds will start in his stead. Something with which defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau is just fine.

"If you look at the video and, really, the team record," said LeBeau, "you will see that Jason {Worilds} played pretty dag gone well last year....Jason has always been excellent at {the point of attack}. He is a good, growing young player. We are glad we got him."

Be it Jones or Worilds, they will need to get to quarterback Joe Flacco and to stop running back Ray Rice. While Bernard Pierce has been a valuable compliment to him, Rice is still the main man to stop.

Since the start of 2011, when Rice gets 20 or more touches (carries and receptions) in a game, the Ravens have a 22-2 record. However, when Rice gets fewer than 20 touches the Ravens are only 7-11.

Rice's value is undeniable. The Steelers run defense, unfortunately is ranked 22nd in the league, giving up 114.8 yards per game. What helps is that Rice is only averaging 2.8 yards per carry this season providing a dynamic that might lean in the Steelers favor.

While the Steelers still must contain Ray Rice if they expect to win, it doesn't end there. As LeBeau also said, they have "a good corps of wide receivers that can go deep. They kind of live on that big play..." Point blank, the Ravens have the weapons to hurt the Steelers by going deep.

They are led by wideout Torrey Smith who is fourth in the NFL in receiving yards with 568, including a 20.3 yard per catch average. Another player to watch out for is rookie Marlon Brown. His three receiving touchdowns are already fourth most by a rookie in team history.

The Steelers secondary would seem to be up to the task as it is ranked fourth best in the NFL allowing just 196 yards per game.

Speaking of wide receivers, the Steelers have their own who's leading the league in receiving categories.

Antonio Brown has been targeted 53 times by Ben Roethlisberger this season resulting in 41 catches and 498 yards. He is second in the NFL in receptions, behind Andre Johnson of the Houston Texans - who haven't had their bye yet. AB average 12.1 yards per catch and 99.6 per game. He is also second amongst all wide receivers, again minus Houston's Johnson, with 27 receptions for first downs.

“...He's our No. 1 guy,” offensive coordinator Todd Haley said on Thursday. “When Mike {Wallace} left, {AB} knew he had an opportunity to step into that role. He's embraced it, he's worked hard and he's making plays. That's tough to do when you're ‘the' guy because that's the guy that generally sees double coverage.” -

Truth. Case in point was the play that led the Steelers' lone touchdown scored against the Jets last Sunday.

On the 55-yard strike to Emmanuel Sanders last Sunday, the Jets were in the old "46 defense" with strong safety Dawan Landry cheating over to Antonio Brown's side, while free safety Antonio Allen was in the box for a blitz or hot read. i.e. AB was doubled covered which allowed Manny to take Antonio Cromartie one-on-one.

Teammates have even said that AB is even better and that he isn't taking any downs off. Manny had previously been the better route-runner of the two (especially three), but AB has been running his routes with greater precision than ever before, leading to possible record-breaking numbers.

AB is currently on pace for 131 receptions and 1,593 yards, which would decimate his previous career highs of 69 catches for 1,108 yards (in 2011), and would rearview mirror Hines Ward's team record of 112 catches in a season and Yancey Thigpen's team record of 1,398 yards.

With all that said, two things still need to be considered going up against the Ravens Sunday: the fact that, as successful as they were with them last week against the Jets, don't expect the Steelers to run as many screens against Baltimore, and Le'Veon Bell must continue to get better.

While Bell has battled injuries, after making his debut he’s become the clear top option for the Steelers. Though having a slow start as a runner, averaging only 2.84 YPC, he has shown promise and has done a very nice job as a receiver catching all seven of the passes targeted his way for 100 yards. He has also shown his blocking skills with no pressure being surrendered on his 16 pass-block snaps.

Yet, Bell is capable of offering more to this offense. With the ZBS and outside-run blocking, if he trusts himself and his teammates and displays a little more patience, he can be very good for this team for a very long time.

The Steelers will be up to the task regardless, though, as linebacker Terrell Suggs knows all too well.

"This is a team," Suggs told NFL Network's Aditi Kinkhabwala, "they're never going to say die."

A team facing its bitterest rival. And it all resumes Sunday afternoon.


TIDBITS: Jarvis Jones (concussion) practice participation was adjusted to "limited" Friday; listed as questionable for Sunday. Still must pass concussion test.
The rest of the Injury Report is as follows: Keisel, Gilbert, Heath all probable; Wheaton, Gordon both out

Ravens: ILB Josh Bynes (hand), Out; NT Ngata (elbow), OLB Upshaw (foot), CB Webb (thigh) all limited on Friday and all listed Questionable.

The Ravens have added linebacker Jameel McClain to their roster, the club said Saturday.


"@MarkKaboly_Trib: Did you know that the OL the #Steelers put out for the 2nd half of the season opener last year is 100% different than it is right now"

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Steelers Elemental Wide Receivers Needed Against Ravens

Before the season ever began, If It Ain't Steel stated that Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin's  reestablishing control, an iron fist when dealing with the team if you will, would be welcomed if not essential.

He must have been paying attention.

Last week, Tomlin banned games in the locker room, now he has banned somersaults into the end zone. We always want to bring you the most accurate and up-to-date information, and this is no different. In doing so, we were able to be privy to what Tomlin told the team.

'Put that ping-pong down! Ping-pong's for winners only....Oh, have I got your attention now? Good. 'Cause we're changing a little something with end zone celebrations, too - no more flipping.' --

Ok, that wasn't actually Tomlin, but the sentiment is the same - no more games. It's nothing personal, it's strictly business. And two of the most important matters of business are the maturation of Le'Veon Bell and the continued development of the mercurial corps of wide receivers.

As far as Bell is concerned, Tomlin had high praise for him in his weekly press conference on Tuesday, saying that he Bell "ran well."

"I thought he did a great job of picking vision and putting the ball where it was supposed to be and running with the type of demeanor that we desire," Tomlin said. -

Bell only ran for 34 yards on 16 rushes, but he set up brilliantly the team's lone touchdown of the day.

After running for seven yards on first down and two on second down, he helped quarterback Ben Roethlisberger pull off a textbook play action pass which resulted in a 55-yard touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders.

That said, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Mark Kaboly made some salient points about his game when he tweeted that "Bell needs to make decision quicker and hit it; needs to realize he's not going outrun (for the most part) defenders to the outside."

"Bell just 2 games into career. He'll get better real quick....Le'Veon Bell," he continued, "has all the talent in world, but has to make better decisions and has to get accustomed to NFL game. It will come."

That it will.

Nonetheless, the Steelers will be facing their arch rivals the Baltimore Ravens who, despite the Packers' Eddie Lacy’s 120-yard performance last week, are still stopping the run. They currently rank seventh in the NFL in fewest yards per game and sixth in yards per carry.

So, if the Steelers continue to abandon the outside zone, at which Bell could very well excel, the short-passing game could help set up the run and the deep game.

Whether in the short game or via the long ball, the Steelers wide receivers were key again Sunday in the Jets victory and will continue to be Sunday afternoon.

This is nothing new as the offense, good or bad, has gone through them. Each of the main four wide receivers brings a little something different to the table that adds to the whole. Think of them as the four needed elements - Earth, Wind, Water and Fire - that contribute to our daily life.

Earth - Jerricho Cotchery:
Grounded, mature, seasoned and dependable. Over half of his career NFL touchdowns have come in the red zone. The elder statesman of the corps, and a rock steady contributor: he has the highest yards-per-catch average of the four.

Wind - Markus Wheaton:
This analogy is appropriate in more ways than one. Yes, he's very fast and can blow(ITALICS) past defenders, as we saw in the preseason. Also, though, he has barely been seen on the field - invisible, as it were, like the wind. Hopefully, as soon as his finger heals, only the former analogy will apply.

Water - Emmanuel Sanders:
The most polished of the corps. We have even referred to him in the past as "the future Hines Ward" because of his skill set, including his very good blocking ability. He can play both outside and in the slot and is a very fluid water.

Fire - Antonio Brown:
Brown is becoming one of the hottest receivers in the league. He is second rated receiver in the NFL and also ranks second in receptions for first downs (27). His mercurial nature and sudden nature make him hard to catch, and also has the breakaway ability to burn defenders downfield.

The Ravens pass defense is ranked 16th in the NFL and their secondary has been susceptible to the big play at times.

If the Steelers receivers can get separation, it opens the door for them to be able to control the game in their favor. Add a seething quarterback who has lost his previous two games to them and it could be a recipe for victory.


TIDBITS: Steelers Injury Report: LB Jarvis Jones (head) did not practice Wednesday; Marcus Gilbert, Brett Keisel, Heath Miller and LaMarr Woodley were limited. Sean Spence has begun to practice again, albeit on a limited basis. The Steelers have 3 weeks to IR him again or to add him to the 53-man roster.


"Mike Tomlin is absolutely correct. It's dangerous, but it is something I have been doing since I was young ... I felt at that moment ... at that time, it was something I needed to do." -- Emmanuel Sanders

When asked what he has in store for his next TD celebration, Steelers WR Emmanuel Sanders said: "Not a flip." - Mark Kaboly

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Steelers Get Much Needed Win, Now Must Get Back To Work

"A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step." - Lao-tzu

The Pittsburgh Steelers did something they hadn't done in the previous eight games - they won.

Now the work begins.

After an ignominious start - left tackle Levi Brown tore his triceps muscle in pre-game warmups (I don't know, don't ask), and Kelvin Beachum's game looked as if it had been also - the defense kept the team in the game until the offense settled down. They expiated for a listless performance in the London loss to the Vikings where they missed 17 tackles. 

In doing so, they improved defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's record against rookie quarterbacks to 16-2.

They also allowed the team as a whole to do things that led to the win.  Things that they can use to build momentum. Like head coach Mike Tomlin said in his post-game conference, "hopefully, it's a spring board of things to come." -

• Shaun Suisham's 48-yard field goal with :45 to go in the 1st half marked the largest lead the Steelers have had this season - Sushi is 42 of his last 43 inside 50 yards.

• After leading 9-6 at half and the offensive line actually giving Ben Roethlisberger some semblance of a pocket, Emmanuel Sanders victimized (as we said could happen with the receivers) cornerback Antonio Cromartie for a 55-yard touchdown pass from Big Ben - the longest of Manny's career.

• What did If It Ain't Steel say would happen if they could sustain a lead? With just under eight minutes to go in the 3rd quarter, the Steelers finally got a takeaway when safety Ryan Clark intercepted rookie QB Geno Smith at the 1-yard line - one of two on the day, the second by Lawrence Timmons.

• The win made the Steelers the first AFC team and only the fourth team in NFL history to reach 600 franchise wins (including the postseason).

• The win took the Steelers to an NFL best 146-2-1 (since 1992) when posting a lead of 11 or more points.

• On a more personal note, wide receiver Antonio Brown tied the club record receptions over a three-game stretch with 30 (he tied someone named after the stadium I think. "Heinz Ward" or something like that. Anyone know the guy?).

• Coach Tomlin improved to 18-6 in the month of October.

But...all this is now in the past. The Steelers still have MUCH work to do.

There are still OLine issues, especially now when considering Levi Brown's injury. They are really limited now when it comes to protecting Big Ben's blind side.

Though the effort and the blocking were there, the running game is still limited. That, however, was somewhat expected considering the Jets went into the game only allowing 76 yards per game. Still, the more efficient the running game, the better the passing game will be.

Speaking of which, Big Ben had a great game going 23-30 for 264 yards and a touchdown. More importantly, he had no turnovers.

The entire offense finally stopped being so charitable and, on top of that, the defense finally got greedy. More of each is needed. A lot more.

It's good to get the win, and they should enjoy that win. Today. Tomorrow is the next step in the journey back to respectability. A step that begins against the Baltimore Ravens. 'Nuff said.

Stats provided by Bob Labriola of Steelers Digest and Steelers PR guy Burt Lauten

Saturday, October 12, 2013

No More Games For Steelers, Jets Are A Must-Win

In our last article, we discussed how the defense of the Pittsburgh Steelers has been bereft of takeaways so far this season and how that this, along with a shortage of sacks (and not the taking away of ping-pong), needs to change for the team's long-term success. -

According to Elias Sports Bureau, the lack of takeaways has the Steelers on the verge of establishing an unenviable mark: no team in NFL history has failed to record a turnover five games into a season. 

That touches on one of the four things the Steelers must do to defeat the New York Jets. All of which we discuss below. 

Eliminate Turnovers - Well, not only have the Steelers not produced enough takeaways, but the offense has had too many giveaways. The offense has given the ball away 11 times in four games with the main culprit being quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. 

Big Ben has committed eight turnovers, throwing five interceptions and fumbling three times. While not every turnover was solely on him, he shoulders the majority of the blame. Steelers safety Ryan Clark even went so far as to say that the team isn't "playing well enough... (to) take sacks and have turnovers." 

Though Big Ben is well aware of this and endeavors to play a clean game, he isn't going to change his style of play.

“It is what it is. I’m just going to play the game the way that I play it and try not to turn it over,” Big Ben said. -
Offensive Line Gelling -Remember the scene in Blazing Saddles where Mongo punched the horse? Well, it's the only thing I could think of that was akin to a "beating a dead horse" analogy. Because that's what talking about this has become. Regardless, for Big Ben to have the success needed for a win, the newly shuffled offensive line must perform better than it has. 
The addition of Levi Brown and the promotion of Kelvin Beachum to left tackle needs to coagulate quickly so as to stop the bleeding. Or prevent it if Muhammad Wilkerson has his way.

Get The Ball Rolling - Part of the problem Big Ben and the Steelers have had is the lack of a sustained running game. They are currently last in the NFL in rushing, putting up just 58 yards per game on the ground, and running for just 3.2 yards per carry (28th in NFL). 

Per Pro Football Focus, Big Ben is "last of league's top 32 quarterbacks in percentage of dropbacks that are play-action passes at 12.4%."

That could all be alleviated with the emergence of Le'Veon Bell. He ran for 57 yards and two touchdowns in the loss to the Minnesota Vikings, and has generated a bit of a buzz in Steeler Nation.

Bell was used to running behind a bad OLine at Michigan State, one of the reasons why Kevin Colbert drafted him, and had consistent yards-after-contact numbers. Skills he'll definitely need against the Jets' 2nd-ranked run defense. 

Go Deep - Rookie wide receiver Markus Wheaton is the only Steelers player ruled out for Sunday because of surgery on his right pinkie finger,

The 6'5", 210-pound Derek Moye will replace Wheaton as the No. 4 wide receiver. He has not dressed the past two games, but he provides Big Ben with a tall receiver. His only catch this season accounted for the Steelers’ only touchdown in a 20-10 loss at the Cincinnati Bengals - a fade for a 1-yard touchdown.

The undrafted free agent is looking forward to getting an opportunity against the Jets.

“Obviously the game’s a whole different scenario," Moye said, "so I’m just looking forward to the opportunity to carry over what I’ve been doing in practice.”

He and the other wide receivers will be doing so against a defense without first-round draft choice Dee Milliner and against an Antonio Cromartie who is on one leg. Taking advantage of their depleted secondary could be a crucial element in securing a win. 

If even three of these four criteria is met, combined with the factors brought out in our article covering the defensive side of the ball, the Steelers might just creep out their first win. 


TIDBITS: Steelers Injury Report - Out: Wheaton; Probable: Big Ben, H. Miller and R. Foster 


Pro Football Focus credits the Steelers defense with 17 missed tackles against the Minnesota Vikings. 


Per Aditi Kinkhabwala, Big Ben was bitter about arriving in London as late as they did which caused fatigue and jet lag. When asked why passing in 2nd half was better than in the 1st, Big Ben said, "You might have to ask the people on the next level up." 

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Steelers Go Back In Time As They Prepare For Jets

Getty Images
What once was old is new again...

The Pittsburgh Steelers have lost their first four games of 2013 and in those four games have failed to force a turnover in any of them. In further efforts to shake things up and turn them around, the Steelers and head coach Mike Tomlin have made even more roster adjustments and additions. 

Ten-year veteran safety Will Allen had spent the last three years with the Steelers, but signed with the Dallas Cowboys this past offseason as a free agent. He was brought back to the Steel City on Thursday. Wednesday saw the return of inside linebacker Stevenson Sylvester, a 2010 fifth-round draft pick, who had been waived on Aug. 25 when the team cut down its roster to the mandatory 75 players. 

Each player will wear their previous numbers, No. 20 and No. 55 respectively.

Allen expressed that he is "very grateful to be back" and Sylvester said that he has been keeping in shape so that he'd be ready if and when a team called. He says, though, that he has found it hard to watch the team play (haven't we all?), but hopes to help energize his once and former team to victory. -

Such help from both is welcomed. Though being ranked in the top 10 in the NFL in fewest yards allowed in each of the past nine seasons, including finishing No. 1 in the league four times, the Steelers defense was ranked 12th overall in the league in yards allowed before the bye week (currently ranked 2nd per ESPN thanks to said bye) and allowing 321.8 yards per game. In a bit of time travel, that is the most since way back in 1991 - Chuck Noll's final season.

Worse yet, this defense is void of turnovers. Allen now leads the Steelers with one interception - which he got in Dallas. 

"We've got to find ways to get the ball. That's what great defenses do," defensive end Brett Keisel said. "It's been one of those things for a while now we haven't been able to get turnovers. Hopefully it will change."
The NFL is a pass-happy league. More strong-armed pocket passers and dual-threat read-option quarterbacks are making their mark on this league than ever before.
There were over 200 touchdown passes thrown through five NFL weeks, the most ever in that span in NFL history. Several of them have been running for touchdowns as well, which has lead to an NFL average of about 45 points per game.
The Steelers now must face just such a young quarterback in Geno Smith. Smith has had the expected ups and downs associated with being a rookie quarterback. Through four weeks of the season, Smith committed 11 turnovers, but also led the NFL in deep passes (20 yards or more) with twelve. 

Then the Jets rookie completed 16 of 20 passes for 199 yards, three touchdowns and no turnovers as the nation watched on Monday Night Football. On top of that, he led the Jets downfield in the final two minutes for his second fourth-quarter comeback of the season, earning him AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors. 

Smith set many records for the West Virginia Mountaineers and was a second-round 2013 draft choice. He was thrust into the starting role when former starter Mark Sanchez went down with an injury, which ended up being season-ending. 

Smith is generally calm, cool and collected. In fact, he has been quoted as saying he can't even remember the last time he felt nervous on a football field. Not in the pros, college or even high school.

"I mean," Smith said with a smile, "it's a football game."

But, take it from two watched nearly every game Smith played in the last two seasons, he can be rattled. 

In the 1989 Sugar Ray Leonard-Thomas Hearns rematch, Leonard made reference to Hearns' legs going to jelly with a few good shots to the body and chin. 

LaMarr Woodley and Jarvis Jones, is the reference clear, guys?

As first reported by Behind The Steel Curtain, Shamarko Thomas will be seeing the field more at free safety, with Ryan Clark's snaps being reduced. Since Thomas' nickname is "Headache", he'll have more opportunity to live up to his name also. 

Regardless, along with wide receivers Santonio Holmes and Stephen Hill and tight end Jeff Cumberland, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau knows he will have his hands full with the West Virginia product. 

"He is definitely better every outing," said LeBeau Thursday. "You can see it. He was damn good Monday night. I think everybody saw that." -

Jets coach Rex Ryan concurs, but realizes they also have to do their part to help him along. 

"The young man has got a lot of talent, and he's accurate with the football, but again, we have to do a great job to try to keep him away from the clutter and things," Ryan said. "Going against Pittsburgh, there are a heck of a lot of defenses that are easier to play than the Pittsburgh Steelers, Dick LeBeau and company....this will be the biggest challenge to date for our offense, without question." 

A challenge the Steelers went back to their past to prepare for...and they didn't even have to use a flux capacitor to do it.

UPDATE: Jets Injury Report: WR Santonio Holmes, CB Dee Milliner and TE Kellen Winslow (suspended) have been ruled out; CB Antonio Cromartie is questionable - he didn't practice on Friday


TIDBITS: Sean Spence and Matt Spaeth will practice, return soon. 
Spence, who was Reserve PUP listed at the start the season, can begin playing right after the sixth game, but that won't happen because of the time he's missed. The Steelers will slowly reacclimatize him into action (he hasn't seen action since the 2012 preseason finale against the Carolina Panthers).
As we've written before, he has three weeks to actually begin practicing, per the CBA. Then once he does begin practicing, he'll have another three weeks to be placed on the roster or on injured reserve. 
Spaeth suffered a Lisfranc injury during training camp and was placed on the eight-week designated injured reserve list in week one. He can resume practicing as early as next week, per rules, but he cannot play of course until week nine.
Once Spaeth resumes practicing, also, he will have a three-week window open in which the Steelers must place him on the roster or on IR.
Todd Haley and his wife failed to pay a dog-watching tab and get sued. -

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Tomlin Shakes Up Steelers Lineup, Makes Good On Promise

Updated 10/9/13
The Victor Hugo-novel based Broadway musical "Les Miserables" has a song of lamentation called "Empty Chairs at Empty Tables." It is sung by the character Marius who is mourning his friends who are no longer with him.

Seeing the photo posted by Pittsburgh Steelers beat writer Ed Bouchette reminded me of that scene in the play. Because, since death is often colloquially equated with dying, there empty chairs associated with empty microphones at head coach Mike Tomlin's press conference. It was more sparsely attended than your typical meeting of Congress. 

A lifeless 0-4 start will do that.

In light of said start, after the loss to the Minnesota Vikings, Tomlin promised that there would be changes. 

"We'll continue to work and get better as long as I see belief and effort and continued improvement in detail because that's what's going to change the outcome of these games," Tomlin said. "Those who don't, they won't be a part of it, whoever it may be. It's just that simple."
True to his word, players were benched. 
The elephant in the room was Mike Adams at left tackle. Atrocious would aptly describe his play in the last two games. Yes, like Tomlin alluded to, Jared Allen is Jared Allen. But when the Steelers last played the Vikings in 2009, when Allen had 14.5 sacks, five forced fumbles, three fumble recoveries and in contention for the Defensive Player of the Year award, Max Starks held him to all of two tackles and zero sacks.
Adams allowed Allen to get 2.5 sacks and four tackles. After awhile, he looked as if he was a part of the backfield. And he would've been pulled had Ramon Foster not gotten hurt, forcing Swiss Army Lineman Kelvin Beachum to fill in at guard. Instead, he got chip help from David Johnson. The worst part, though, is that when Adams got that help, he couldn't even recognize who he should be blocking. 

That said, Tomlin says he isn't giving up on Adams and that he "absolutely" sees potential in him. It is just that how he responds to his benching will go along way in defining him as a player. 

“The most important thing is not maybe what has happened to him to this point, it’s how he responds to it and moves forward,” Tomlin said. “I think it’s going to have the opportunity to define him and his career. There are a lot of solid professional players that have been through ups and downs, the emotions and so forth, and the guys that that show staying power and the guys that respond to it appropriately. That roll their sleeves up and go to work – solid, steady players, even within our organization.”

Therefore, after being speculated upon last week, it is now confirmed that Kelvin Beachum is the starter at left tackle going forward, with newly acquired Levi Brown backing him up. Adams is now third string. 

More promotions and demotions surrounded the defense, as rookie Vince Williams is now listed as the starting Buck Inside Linebacker. He was sharing the role with Kion Wilson.

Though he missed a key initial tackle on the long touchdown run by Adrian Peterson against the Vikings, overall the coaches "feel he’s earned it."

If It Ain't Steel wrote two articles over the last year questioning how long Ziggy Hood would remain the starter while playing the way he had been. That has now been answered in Cameron Heyward being promoted to starter. 

"He...will play more, and deservedly so," said Tomlin when asked Tuesday if Heyward had moved ahead of Hood in the base defense. "I think he's been really solid, not taking anything away from Ziggy [Hood], obliviously, both guys will continue to play, we just want Cam to play more than he's been playing and in order to ensure that, we are going to put him in the starting lineup." -

Heyward has nine pressures, second behind Brett Keisel's 13, has batted down two passes, has two tackles and one quarterback hit in approximately one half of the plays (114) as Hood. 

Another move was that of Isaiah Green, after again clearing waivers, being added to the practice squad and Devin Smith being released from it. 

As for the rest of the presser, and aside from the usual minutiae where he makes the opponent sound 14-2 even if they're 2-14, he made valid points about Muhammed Wilkerson and rookie quarterback Geno Smith being players to watch on Sunday at the New York Jets. 

Wilkerson is a force who had five tackles, one forced fumble, one quarterback sack and even more quarterback pressures Monday night. 

Per Pro Football Focus, through four games Geno Smith led the NFL in deep completions (with a target of 20 yards or more) with 12 (Ben Roethlisberger was tied for second with 11).

The Steelers travel to the Meadowlands to take on the 3-2 Jets at MetLife Stadium in a bit of rematch of the AFC Championship game from three years ago. Though their roles are reversed this season, traditionally, the Steelers have had the edge. They are 18-4 all-time against the Jets, including a 9-3 road record.

UPDATE: the Steelers have re-signed inside linebacker Stevenson Sylvester and have released Kion Wilson.
The 6-foot-2, 230-pound Sylvester was cut by the team on Aug. 25. He is a former Steelers fifth-round draft pick fro the 2010 NFL draft out of Utah. In three seasons for the Steelers, he recorded 22 tackles and two forced fumbles.
Wilson had started games two and three for the Steelers before being replaced by rookie Vince Williams. 
The Steelers also worked out tight ends Ryan Otten and Chase Clement.

TIDBITS: Injury Report - Safety Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith (hip) is questionable to start the week, per Tomlin. Guard Ramon Foster (pectoral) practiced partially capacity on Monday with his left pectoral strain. His availability is crucial. Linebacker Kion Wilson (hamstring) also practiced partially Monday. He is questionable for the week. Wide receiver Markus Wheaton (finger) was ruled out for the Sunday game by Tomlin after having surgery.


NFL may compel teams to participate in "Hard Knocks" if none volunteer. If Steelers don't make playoffs, we may see them as next year's team.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

The 2013 Steelers Defense Is In Decline - Is It Salvageable?

After having endured the first four weeks of the 2013 season, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense is having to contend with numbers they aren't exactly used to experiencing. They aren't in the top ten in total defense - they're No. 11 - they have already allowed six plays of 40 yards or more, they have only four sacks, and they're the only defense in the NFL with zero turnovers. 

These numbers have been a major reason for their also being 0-4 and fourth in the AFC North. But there is one number that may the least appealing of all: 29th in rushing defense. 

In a nearly unprecedented display, the Steelers have allowed each of the first four teams they've played to rush for 100 yards rushing or better against them.

"To put that into perspective, when the Steelers won the Super Bowl after the 2008 season, they allowed only five teams to rush for 100 yards in 16 regular-season games and three postseason contests. Even the 8-8 team last season allowed just four opponents to rush for 100 or more." (UPDATE: the article is wrong on the 2012 team allowing only four teams to rush for 100 yards, it actually happened five times) -

To put it in further perspective, using Dick LeBeau's first season as Steelers' defensive coordinator as a benchmark, from 1995 until 2012, the Steelers allowed just 34 individual 100-yard rushers in 309 total (regular and post-season) games over that period. That's just an 11% clip. 

Over that same period, they have also allowed just 108 teams (most of them expectedly being from the AFC North) to rush for 100 yards, or only 35% of the time. 

And the Steelers have the most post-merger seasons leading league in fewest rushing yards allowed with six. But, this season? One running back in four (25%) has run for 100 yards and all four teams have topped the century mark.

In that same 18-year stretch, they led the league or the AFC in sacks at least five times. Seven players have as many or more sacks than the entire Steelers' team has this season. As it stands, we may not see many sacks or turnovers until they get and maintain a lead. That said, poor tackling has been one big reason why they have been ridden bareback like this was a remake of "Brokeback Mountain." As one Steelers defender is well aware. 

"What is unique here, what we take for granted and what the media takes for granted is we have very good secondary tacklers. We make a lot of plays in space," Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. "It's been a big reason why we've been No. 1 in defense for so many years. Runs do break. Runs do get to the secondary, but we've always done a good job of getting people down. I think this year we've missed more than we're used to missing. We have to get guys on the ground, and we haven't done that."
Clark speaks the truth - the secondary, with he himself being a major culprit, has been porous this season. Head coach Mike Tomlin had them doing live tackling drills in training camp more than he ever has, but it has not seemed to help. 

There is no real excuse for the No. 1 defense in fewest yards allowed in both 2011 and 2012 to have fallen off so precipitously. But, it basically goes back to what If It Ain't Steel constantly preaches: execution. 

The problem is that the tool is only as good as its user - the deficiencies on defense are not nearly as much actually scheme related as they are a result of poor execution, not being fundamentally sound and having too few playmakers. Combine that with Father Time and you have a potential recipe for disaster. -

The thing about this is that most of it is able to be rectified. Though they can't turn back the hands of time, they can get back to fundamentals, playing their gaps and containing instead of getting caught watching the paint dry. Read, react and keep the feet moving. The Steelers know how to do this, LeBeau knows how to coach it and this is still the majority of the defense that was No. 1 in the NFL last season. 

The question is if they are able to do it.


TIDBITS: NFL fined DL Al Woods $7,875 for a grab of Adrian Peterson's face mask in the London Vikings game.

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Desperate Times, Desperate Measures - The Steelers Trade For Levi Brown

“We’ve gotten below-the-line work and that’s the reality of it. It needs to be above-the-line and we’ll turn over any stone in order for that to happen.” - Mike Tomlin on the play of the offensive line

The Arizona Cardinals have agreed to terms on a trade that would send left tackle Levi Brown to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Will he provide the "above-the-line" play Tomlin spoke of above?

Brown was a first round pick in 2007, the 5th overall out of Penn State. He played two years under Todd Haley at Arizona, including protecting Kurt Warner in their Super Bowl season of 2008, and also played well at the end of 2011.

Brown was injured in 2012, though, and has graded out poorly according to Pro Football Focus so far this season.

The Cardinals had thought enough of Brown to sign him in 2012 to a five-year contract worth $30 million with a $7 million signing bonus and $8 million guaranteed. That changed.

"The tackle we evaluated in 2011 was a heck of a left tackle," Cardinals head coach Bruce Arians said of Brown. "The tackle that we got back isn't the same guy."

Cardinals GM Steve Keim said something similar: "Levi Brown was not living up to our expectations on the field."

The Steelers won't have to absorb that money, though, because, as Bob Labriola reports, the Cardinals renegotiated before the trade.

Isaiah Green has been released to make a roster spot.

As far as the player not living up to expectations, the number bear this out.

While Mike Adams was the 68th ranked tackle (out of 72 eligible) according to Pro Football Focus, Brown was only slightly better at number 60. PFF further reveals that Brown has been involved in 269 plays this season and has been bad in pass blocking, grading out at -8.5, but on 174 run plays has graded out at +2.9. By comparison, Adams grades out at -10 and -1.2 respectively.

If Brown returns to his previous potential and form, he could be a rock at left tackle. If he cannot recover well enough from his injury and advance, he can be cut without further monies being paid to him. He will, though, still have cost the Steelers another draft pick (they traded their third-round pick during the 2013 draft).

A certain blog/website reported on Tuesday that offensive lineman Kelvin Beachum had usurped Adams in practice and would be starting against the New York Jets on October 13th. This is completely wrong, or at least incompletely accurate and premature.

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Mark Kaboly reported Wednesday morning that the entire starting offensive line was benched during practice on Tuesday. Rightly so.

But the Steelers have yet to announce a new starting left tackle yet, whether it be Brown or Beachum.

Regardless, if Brown isn't the pedigree that the Steelers are "obviously" banking on, it will be yet another failed move by Kevin Colbert. -

Moves that have cost the Steelers much in the way Salary Cap problems, and have caused the Steelers to have an offensive line reminiscent of the Keystone Cops.

Though Levi Brown isn't Duane Brown, I suppose desperate times call for desperate measures.