Thursday, October 10, 2013

Steelers Go Back In Time As They Prepare For Jets

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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. - http://tinyurl.com/lz3wg8m

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." - http://tinyurl.com/llv3xwc

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

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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.
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Todd Haley and his wife failed to pay a dog-watching tab and get sued. -  http://tinyurl.com/n6o2fwz