Tuesday, December 31, 2013

End of Steelers Season Portends Potentially Positive Future For Offense

A 2-6 start and a 6-2 finish to the season. Offense starts to really assert itself, with the defense doing what it can to assure wins. A young and dynamic player, barely 26-years old, beraks records as the team looks forward to a promising upcoming season.

But, enough about 2006.

The Pittsburgh Steelers ended another decade of home victories over their longtime rivals, the Cleveland Browns, and their 2013 season with a 20-7 win. There was still a slight chance at that point that they could've made the playoffs, with the Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins having lost and the San Diego Chargers still to play, but then the referees had something to say about it. - http://tinyurl.com/kesvw6h

Instead of a playoff berth, the Steelers end the season as in 2006 with losing key games early that derailed a great second half of the season.

Mark that: the refs are not to blame for the Steelers not making the playoffs. There is an old saying in football - "Never let the officials determine the outcome of the game."

In actuality, it's the Steelers themselves who are to blame. From Art Rooney II, to GM Kevin Colbert, to head coach Mike Tomlin, to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and all the way down to Steely McBeam. (Alright, maybe not Steely.)

Early losses, starting 0-4 and 2-6, too many turnovers and too many big plays by the defense. Too many little things, too.

They say that football is a game of inches. That was never more apparently truthful than on Antonio Brown's half pitch-and-catch, half Hail Mary run up the sidelines to almost win the game against the Dolphins.

There were other little things, also. There was Isaac Redman's fumbled handoff near the goal line in their opening-day loss to the Titans. There was a key dropped pass in Cincinnati by tight end David Paulson. There were many overthrows by Big Ben that were off by inches against the Bears. And the team knows there was no sense losing against Oakland and Minnesota.

Big Ben was more inaccurate this season than people realize. Short passes and screens skew the actual completion percentage. Not to mention his plethora of turnovers - 20 and nearly half of them (nine) in the first four games alone.

Make no mistake, though, there were big plays too. A lot of them - 17 plays given up by the defense of 40 yards or more, including 11 of over 50 yards. Five of those those 17 plays, also, were runs and two of those were by quarterbacks.

Most all of this was early, though. The second half of the season was a smoother ride with only the Carolina Panthers (7-1) having a better second-half record than the Steelers (6-2):
It saw more points scored - 28.2 point average over the final nine games.
It saw a more efficient offense - 14-for-20 in the red zone in the final six games.
It saw fewer turnovers - from -11 in the first four games to +7 over the final eight.
It saw the defense tightening up on the big plays - no plays over 40 in the final six games and none over 50 in the final three.

In 2006, running back Willie Parker, who turned 26-years old during the season, broke the Steelers single-game rushing record, 218 yard by Frenchy Fuqua, when he ran for 223 yards against (guess who?) the Browns.

With his nine-reception, 87-yard effort today against the Browns, not-yet 26-year old wide receiver and team MVP Antonio Brown became the first player in NFL history to have at least five catches and 50 receiving yards in every regular season game.

Brown also broke Yancey Thigpen's single-season receiving yardage mark of 1398 by gaining a franchise-best 1499 yards. Though he finished the year with 110 receptions, that mark fell two shy of Hines Ward’s franchise-best 112 receptions. Still, Brown is just the second player in team history to break triple digits.

Tomlin referenced former outside linebacker James Harrison in his complementary acknowledgment of Brown's work ethic. Brown's season was the embodiment of consistency and something that Ben Roethlisberger has come to rely upon now. A level of trust and comfort that is somewhat unusual for a 5'10" wideout.

Brown also scored nine touchdowns (eight receptions and one punt return), answering the question as to where a loss scores would because of free agents lost. He deservedly earned his first trip to the Pro Bowl as a wide receiver this year. But he also made it this year as a punt returner, his second time doing so, making it the first time a Steelers player has been voted to the Pro Bowl at two positions since Rod Woodson (PR/RCB '89, '90).

There was talk recently about Brown's nomination as team MVP, claiming it should've gone to Big Ben who had a franchise record 375 completions, a 4,261-yard season, 2-to-1 TD/INT ratio and three more game-winning drives and/or fourth-quarter comeback.

We can see the arguments for a possible co-MVP award, but not for it clearly being Big Ben. In fact, there's no debate when considering, again, that he turned it over nine times leading almost single handedly to the team's 0-4 start.

Back to the receivers, the only issue now is a true No. 2 receiver, especially if Emmanuel Sanders leaves via free agency. Because of early offensive problems and hand injuries at two different points in the season, what the Steelers exactly have in Markus Wheaton isn't yet known. We saw flashes in preseason, but that was preseason.

The other wide receivers are Jerricho Cotchery, the Steelers leader in YAC and receiving touchdowns, and Derek Moye. Moye's size (6'5", 210lbs) is very attractive as a third down and red zone target if nothing else. Similar to that of practice squad rookie Justin Brown (6'3", 207lbs and a poor man's Keyshawn Johnson), whose chances to make the team increase if Manny does in fact leave.

With his total of 96 yards vs. the Browns (notice a trend developing here?), running back Le’Veon Bell finished his initial campaign with 1,259 yards from scrimmage - the most in Pittsburgh Steelers franchise history. He bettered the mark set by Franco Harris in 1972 when he gained 1,235 yards.

If you're saying to yourself, "But Bell had more games than Franco who did it in a 14-game season", you'd be wrong -  Bell missed the first three games of the season, meaning that he gained more yards than Franco did in one less game.

Bell rounded into a very good runner who is able to identify the open lane, and showed good hands (though, even by his own admission he dropped more than he should've) out of the backfield. His blocking was good and got better as the season went on as well - all things the Steelers saw in him and that If It Ain't Steel wrote about him coming out of college.

One of the things in particular we wrote about him was that his college career showed that he could run behind an offensive line that wasn't exactly "The Hogs." He was at home, then, in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers used nine different starters and between 12-16 different combinations of blockers this year, and it was hard for them to find stability between the injuries and ineffectiveness. But former seventh-rounder Kelvin Beachum, after second-rounder Mike Adams failed to hold him off, seemed to find himself the fixture at left tackle.

Right guard David DeCastro finally started playing up to his draft status as well, as the former first-rounder began road-running and mauling defenders. He looks to be the long-term anchor he was expected to be out of college.

The return of Pro Bowler Maurkice Pouncey and Fernando Velasco next season will present a good problem at center. Both can play center and guard and are interchangeable. Does Pouncey fit better at guard so as to concentrate on the opposing blocker and not the other assignments as well?

Even Marcus Gilbert solidified himself on the right tackle spot. He isn't exactly an All-Pro, but he holds his own in the run game and is surprisingly better in pass blocking. The opposite is the case with Ramon Foster. Don't be surprised to see the Steelers explore other options, even if only for competition and depth, in the May NFL Draft.

Regardless, their offensive line coach, Jack Bicknell, jr. - dealing with three centers and virtually countless rotations - looks like "Scotty" from Star Trek: the miracle worker. Should be a fixture in the Steel City for a long time.

But make no mistake, as we called them in a previous article, the Killa B's (Big Ben, Brown and Bell), barring contract/Salary Cap issues with Big Ben, are the key to the engine's offense moving forward and the brightest part of the immediate future.


UPDATE: Not more than 24 hours after we wrote this, Jack Bicknell, jr. was fired. The subject has since been covered in a subsequent piece.

~

TIDBITS: Per the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Alan Robinson, @arobinson_Trib on Twitter, the Steelers-Ravens game on "Thanksgiving night was 8th highest-rated show of fall TV season, according to NBC. Bears-Steelers was No. 11."

~

Highlights from Mike Tomlin's final Press Conference:
On the season: "I'm really proud of the guys, the way they improved and the way they stuck together in the midst of adversity." Tomlin said he wouldn't "speak too soon" on potential staff or roster changes, or on "some of the natural business that needs to transpire."

On the 0-4 start: "We need to insulate ourselves a little better (from injury). I could adjust a little bit better schematically."

On the KC/SD situation: "We didn't state a strong enough case. I'm not going to lose sleep over something that went on in a stadium we weren't in." Said he saw Chargers illegal formation on TV and has received "calls, texts, emails" from NFL about it. "It doesn't change what transpired."

On NFL officiating: "There's a lot of work that needs to be done. I look forward to being part of the process of helping it improve."

Sunday, December 29, 2013

She...

She is beautiful. All the way down to the soul of her being. Beautiful.
To look upon her is to know why we love in the first place. To know what actual beauty is.
But she is more than her visage...
She is not limited by time or a "muddy vesture of decay."
Her external beauty is temporary, but her true beauty lives on in history.
She is beautiful in every possible aspect - for the way she thinks, for the sparkle in her eyes and for the way she makes others feel.
She is beauty. All the way the very heart of her persona. Sheer beauty.

Saturday, December 28, 2013

Steelers Face Browns In Season-Ending Game - Will Lightning Strike Twice?

The Pittsburgh Steelers will be going into the final weekend of the 2013 NFL regular season with one goal: beat the Cleveland Browns.

Not only because they are the Steelers' longtime rivals and they always want to beat them, but it's also imperative because it is the only part of the Steelers' immediate future that they themselves can actually control. With them needing three teams - the Ravens, Dolphins and Chargers - to lose, the thing that the Steelers must do first is take care of home.

Though they did just that back in Week 12, in a 27-11 win in Cleveland, it wasn't the most impressive of showings. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for only 217 yards, they only ran for a total of 88 yards as a team and Browns wide receiver Josh Gordon torched them for 237 yards and a touchdown.

The maturation of the Steelers' offense, though, has seen scoring come more easily lately. This could bode well for the Steelers as the Browns have given up an average of 29.6 points per game over the last three weeks, with them being 0-3 in that span.

During that same period, the Browns have given up an average of 5.23 yards per rush per team. Which is something that should put a smile on the face of Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell and of those on the Steelers offensive line.

As for the defense as a whole, though, the Browns are still formidable. They rank 10th in total defense in yards against, ninth in pass defense and have collected 39 sacks. The Steelers will need all hands on deck in pass blocking and the passing game.

That means that if Steelers' WR Emmanuel Sanders, who is listed as "Questionable" for Sunday's game, isn't able to go, or if rookie WR Markus Wheaton is still limited, as he was in practice, by his fractured finger, we may see Derek Moye take the field.

It could also mean more from tight ends Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth, utilizing Miller in bunch-receiver formations and Spaeth in more of a traditional blocker-receiver tight end role, along with WR Jericho Cotchery and especially team MVP and Pro Bowler Antonio Brown.

"He's exceeded expectations," Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said of Brown. "{And} he's represented himself well as a No. 1 in this league." Haley also spoke on the situation with Manny and his "questionable" knee. - http://tinyurl.com/l28bvrg

Expect the Steelers to move Brown around in different formations to force the Browns to show their hands, allowing Big Ben to audible or check out of a pass into a run when applicable. Bell, who is recognizing his running lanes better now, runs very well out of a one-back set as it gives him a clean look at those lanes.

So, expect a lot of the Killa B's - Big Ben, Brown and Bell - early on to establish the offense, push them back on their heels and get on top allowing the defense to pin their ears back when they're on the field.

Speaking of the defense, Steelers DC Dick LeBeau says he 'expects to see Jason Campbell' at quarterback and that the Browns will likely use wildcat formations. - http://tinyurl.com/nxmct2s

Throwing for only one touchdown and four interceptions in the last two games he has played in means the Steelers will attack Campbell. The Steelers should attack with the zone blitz, confusing and hitting him causing him to press and throw when and where he doesn't want to, forcing the incompletions and turnovers of which Campbell is very capable.

One way to do this is to line up 2014 Pro Bowler Troy Polamalu in his pseudo-linebacker role to help Lawrence Timmons, Vince Williams, Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones. They are essential in making Campbell as uncomfortable as possible because the Browns' running game has been suspect and they rely heavily on one person.

As stated earlier, Josh Gordon torched the Steelers for 237 receiving yards in their November meeting. Knowing his abilities, they don't want lightning to strike twice - "We need to stop him from catching it." - though, they may not have much say in the matter. - http://tinyurl.com/m2puepu

Gordon has been virtually scary in the last five weeks. Including the Steelers game, he has had 40 receptions for 813 yards, a 20.6 yard-per-catch clip. He is used in wildcat and/or stretch formations running the ball as the Browns are doing whatever they can to get him the ball.

Per Pro Football Focus, he is also third in the NFL in yards after the catch (YAC) with 629. To call him a formidable receiver is a gross understatement.

The key? "We need to stop him from catching it." Also, "the other team's quarterback must go down and he must go down hard." Plain and simple, hit Campbell early and often, force mistakes. 

As brought out earlier in the article, the Steelers had five sacks and a interception returned for a touchdown in the first meeting, and here, not with Gordon, is where they need lightning to strike twice.

~

TIDBITS: Status report for Steelers vs Browns: LB Garvin is out; WR Sanders, OLB Worilds questionable. David DeCastro and everyone else is probable.

Worilds leads the Steelers in sacks (eight). Sanders is second on the team in targets (106), catches (65) and receiving yards (714). DDC, meanwhile, has started all but one game this season.

~

Antonio Brown makes the Pro Bowl as both receiver and punt returner. Troy Polamalu makes it at strong safety.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Deja Vu - Steelers Defeat Packers In Another Shootout, 38-31, Keep Playoff Hopes Alive

They were able to get the ball back with barely enough time on the clock. Needing to absolutely get into the end zone to get a win, they would have to do so with the entire length of the field in front of them. If they score, it's a chance at the playoffs. If they don't, they're watching at home.

With time running out, the ball is snapped on the last play of the game and...Ben Roethlisberger connects with Mike Wallace just inside the left edge of the end zone line, lifting the Pittsburgh Steelers over the Green Bay Packers, 37-36, back in 2009.

On Sunday, history almost repeated itself, except that it was the Packers who were having to come back. But as Big Ben said in his postgame interview, "there's no quit in this team." - http://tinyurl.com/lvut6p6

Steelers running back Le'Veon Bell scored on a 1-yard touchdown run with 1:28 left on the clock to put the Steelers up 38-31. Micah Hyde returned the ensuing kickoff 70 yards and the Packers (7-7-1) were quickly in good position. But as it was four years ago, a touchdown was needed to win, or in this case tie, the game.

The Packers moved across the legendary tundra of Lambeau Field and found themselves at the Steelers 1-yard line. A false start penalty on Green Bay moved the ball back to the six and also incurred a :10 second runoff. With just 10 seconds on the game clock the last-ditch pass by quarterback Matt Flynn was incomplete and the Steelers would leave Wisconsin with a 38-31 victory.

The Steelers' 38 points Sunday marked the fourth time in their last eight games where they have scored at least 30 points. It also marked the fifth time this season that they scored that much, including more than 35 points twice, which is the first time a Steelers team has done that in over 40 years.

Once again, the Steelers (7-8) did it in all three phases of the game, also.

Roethlisberger, wide receiver Antonio Brown and Bell led the way on offense, while the defense was led by cornerback Cortez Allen, safeties Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu, linebackers Jason Worilds and Lawrence Timmons, and defensive linemen Brett Keisel and Cameron "Candyman" Heyward.

A far cry from 2009's 503-yard performance, Big Ben put in a workman-like effort as he threw for two scores and ran for another - the 15th of his career, putting him 3rd on the Steelers all-time list.

For yet another week the offensive line protected the QB (just one sack again) and opened holes for Bell, who was the Steelers Digest Player of the Week. He rushed 26 times for a career-high 124 yards, ending the Steelers drought of no 100-yard rushers at 22 games. His 129 yards from scrimmage pushed him to 1,163 for the season and second all-time for rookies in Steelers history and just 72 yards from tying Franco Harris.

Antonio Brown had six receptions for 105 yards and almost broke another punt return for a touchdown, going 41 yards on one return in the second half. There was one thing he did break on Sunday, though, that being the Steelers' record for receiving yards in a season with 1,412.

But, despite giving up 31 points and two rushing TDs to Eddie Lacy, it was the defense that ultimately won the game for the Steelers. Mainly by way of splash plays.

Cortez Allen, as well as Ike Taylor and William Gay, provided tight coverage overall on the Packers' receivers, and Ryan Clark had 10 tackles to tie for the team lead with Timmons. But the splash plays - Tez Allen's 40-yard interception return for a touchdown at the end of the third quarter, Troy Polamalu's forced fumble, his fifth of the season, and Keisel's recovery of the fumble, leading to Bell's TD run - were the difference makers, especially in the second half.

Those plays not only made it possible to win the game, but to keep their ever-so-slim playoff hopes alive. Does Polamalu acknowledge that his play could end up being key in a playoff run? Are they looking ahead like that?

"It's irrelevant, to be honest. Nothing has changed from our standpoint", Polamalu said. "Our mental approach to the game has got to be a week-by-week thing."

It would be nothing short of a miracle for the Steelers to make the playoffs. They have to beat the Browns, who'd love nothing more than to play spoiler and assure the Steelers a losing season and to be home for the holidays. They also have a bit of a Warriors-like gauntlet in front of them, needing the Dolphins, Ravens and Chargers all to lose. Can you dig it?

Back in 2009, the Packers had entered the shootout at Heinz Field as one of the NFL's most penalized teams and did commit five (out of seven total) penalties resulting in first downs for the Steelers.

Fittingly Sunday, the last few seconds were disrupted by the false start penalty mentioned near the beginning of the article. It ultimately was the dagger in the heart of the Packers that disallowed history from repeating itself in favor of the home team yet again.

But the Steelers did come off victorious. They did keep their playoff hopes alive. And they did not quit.

~

TIDBITS: Tomlin Postgame presser: http://tinyurl.com/l2kbwl9

Around the locker room: http://tinyurl.com/kn4pz4m 

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Steelers Place LaMarr Woodley on IR - Are His Days Numbered?

"All of those things are up to discussion....Obviously with a new injury, similar to the one that had kept him out for a number of weeks, he may not be available to us and that might be a process that's discussed this afternoon." - from the Mike Tomlin Press Conference discussing LaMarr Woodley's injury - http://tinyurl.com/nbtqlt9

After discussing it, they made the decision many knew was coming. The  Pittsburgh Steelers placed outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley on Injured Reserve Tuesday, ending his season.

Woodley injured his calf when jumping to knock down an Andy Dalton pass on the second play of the Bengals game last Sunday night. Earlier this season, Woodley injured his left calf. This latest injury was to his right calf. In addition to the ankle injury, he was also hampered by a hamstring injury.

Over the course of the last three years, Woodley has seen his play and time on the field diminish. He has played in only 34 games, has missed 14 games as well as being unable to finish several others due to injury and has recorded just 18 sacks.

Not exactly living up to the approximate $36 million "earned" during that time. Meanwhile, Jason Worilds is an unrestricted free agent and has outplayed Woodley for essentially a year and a half.

As Steelers Digest's Bob Labriola pointed out on Tuesday, "While Woodley will have missed 14 games because of injury during the past three seasons, during the three seasons from 2008-10 he was one of the most versatile and productive outside linebackers in football. He stopped the run, recorded 35 sacks, had three interceptions and defensed 12 passes, forced six fumbles and recovered seven."

That, though, raises questions as to what could and/or should be done with a player who can't seem to stay on the field. Looking at what Labriola pointed out, it feels as if we're dealing with degrees of diminishing returns.

That being the case, taking into the pros and the cons of the situation is imperative.

For one, there is his contract. Per sportrac.com, Woodley is scheduled to earn $8 million in 2014 and to count $13.59 million against the Salary Cap. If the Steelers release him before June 1st, though, he will be a $14.17 million dead money hit against the 2014 cap. - http://www.spotrac.com/nfl/pittsburgh-steelers/lamarr-woodley/

However, if the Steelers designate Woodley a June 1st release, they'd carry his full $13.59 million cap hit until then. That would save them his $8 million base salary, again against the Cap.

Alex, I'll take "Chickens Coming Home To Roost" for $8 million.

But, they would still suffer a $8.58 million 2015 dead money hit because of the prorated money from bonuses and restructures still on the books.

This all becomes especially relevant with the emergence of Jason Worilds.

Worilds is an unrestricted free agent linebacker after the season and the Steelers will want to do what they can to get him under contract or to place the franchise tag on him. Doing either would require having the cap space to do so, especially come June 1st.

Finding a way to bring back Worilds should be priority one. Last season, he had five sacks in 422 defensive snaps. According to Football Outsiders, that equates to approximately 10 sacks over the course of a season.

Beyond that, in an article If It Ain't Steel wrote back in March, Worilds "is decidedly better on the left side than on the right. Nonetheless, during those three seasons {2010-12}, he played 999 snaps or the equivalent to one full season. In that time he has 10 career sacks" in 10 career starts to that point.

This season he has become a virtual sack machine with six sacks in seven games and his 18 quarterback hits are more than the other outside linebackers on the team...combined. Most all of this is also, again, since moving to the left side. A fact which isn't lost on Tomlin.

“I think he is emerging and developing like all players should,” Tomlin said at last week's press conference. “He is healthy, more healthy than he has been in recent years....Also, I think he's a different, athletic matchup for right tackles.”

Others will be paying attention as well. Worilds could playing himself into a contract worth tens of millions. That's an amount the Steelers could find difficult to match, thus the consideration to designate him as their franchise player, an amount that could cost approximately $9 million, and then work on extending that into a long-term deal.

So, between Woodley and Worilds, head coach Mike Tomlin, GM Kevin Colbert and Director of Football & Business Administration (and resident Cap guru) Omar Khan have quite the decisions to make.

~

TIDBITS: To fill the roster spot vacated by Woodley, the team signed linebacker Jamaal Westerman who was released by the Buffalo Bills last week. He was originally an undrafted free agent out of Rutgers in 2009. Signed by the New York Jets, he has also spent time with the Miami Dolphins, Arizona Cardinals and Indianapolis Colts. He has appeared in 21 games over the past two seasons and has recorded 1.5 sacks. He just fills a roster spot and purely provides depth behind Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds.

~

LB Kion Wilson, who was released from the Steelers' active roster on Saturday, has cleared waivers and was signed back to their practice squad.

Monday, December 16, 2013

Steelers Pound Bengals Early, Hold On For 30-20 Victory

Was it 2013 or 1978? 

Aided by the honoring of Hall of Famers running back Franco Harris and cornerback Mel Blount before the game, the Pittsburgh Steelers looked from the opening kickoff as if they were going to pound the Cincinnati Bengals like they were in the Steelers way of another Super Bowl title. 

As it stands, the Bengals (9-5) were in the way of the slimmest of playoff hopes. The pounding, though, was the same. 

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw a touchdown pass in his 27th straight game, wide receiver Antonio Brown scored twice, running back Le'Veon Bell had over 100 yards from scrimmage and the oldest defense in the NFL put a whipping on the Bengals Sunday night to gain a much-needed win, 30-20. 

Big Ben's stat line wasn’t show-stopping (he was 20-25 for 191 yards, a touchdown and an interception), but he ended the game with 340 completions which bettered his own franchise-record 337 in 2009 (he also has the Steelers three highest single-season totals).

With nine different starters and 16 different combinations of blockers this year because of injuries and ineptitude, being able to keep Big Ben virtually clean has been almost Herculean. But, due to yet another upright performance by the patchwork offensive line, he stayed mostly clean, suffering only one sack. 

Before Sunday night, the Steelers (6-8) had been 0-11 when Big Ben committed a turnover, which he did late in the second half when Adam Jones intercepted a pass that seemed to get caught up by the wind. Big Ben had gone 207 pass attempts without a pick, a span of more than four games. 

But AB gave Big Ben a bit of a cushion to be able to overcome the turnover when he caught Big Ben's lone touchdown pass - a 12-yarder with 2:16 to go in the first quarter. 

AB once again caught five passes, for 66 yards and the aforementioned touchdown, and now needs just 92 yards in the last two weeks to pass Yancey Thigpen for the most receiving yards by a Steelers player in a season.

AB also returned a punt 67 yards for the Steelers third score of the opening period. One move, aided by a crushing block by West Virginia product Terance Garvin on the Bengals punter Kevin Huber, and AB would not be caught. 

It would also be Huber's final play as the violent hit from Garvin broke his jaw. The hit appeared at first to be helmet-to-helmet, but no flag was thrown on the play. It could still lead to a fine if the NFL determines Garvin used his shoulder or helmet to hit Huber from behind or the side, violating the - wait for it - "Hines Ward Rule" born from a Ward hit against - wait for it - Keith Rivers of the Cincinnati Bengals. (Didn't see that comin', did ya?)
Bell ran aggressively for the most part, but was also a little too patient at other times, ending with just 57 yards and just a 2.4 yards per carry average. But he also caught five passes for 50 yards and again showed glimpses of what the Steelers believe he can be. 

Late in the game, he stiff armed Bengals defensive end Michael Johnson and then trucked more Bengals on one of his best runs of the night. Earlier, Bell hurdled Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick, though the play was called back. 

All-in-all, Bell had 107 yards from scrimmage putting him in fairly elite atmosphere as he joined Franco Harris and Bam Morris as the only rookie running backs in franchise history to gain at least 1,000 yards from scrimmage. He has the chance to be tops as his 1,034 scrimmage yards are the third-highest total for a Steelers rookie behind Franco Harris' 1,235 and Bam Morris' 1,040.

As for the defense, they simply pounded the Bengals. They didn't just beat them, they beat them up. As many as seven Bengals left the game for a while or for good. And it started quickly.

First, a moment of silence for the passing of LaMarr Woodley...into oblivion. Woodley got hurt again. Will the regular-season finale against the Cleveland Browns be his final home game at Heinz Field? 

Back to the game... A mishandled snap by Huber led to the first score, and with the advantage of that early lead, Steelers defensive coordinator was able to say "sick 'em" to his players. They responded by harassing Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and sacking him in the first half - the first sack he'd suffered since Nov. 10 at the Ravens.  

They completely stymied the Bengals run game holding them to just 57 yards on 22 carries. Bengals receiver A.J. Green was held short of 100 yards, getting nine receptions for 93 yards at less than 11 yards a catch. 

In fact, at one point early in the game the Steelers had accumulated more plays (26) than the Bengals had accumulated yards (23). 

Remember the stat that If It Ain't Steel brought you regarding the Steelers defense allowing 17 plays of 40 yards or more (including 11 of 50 yards or more)? Sunday, the Steelers allowed exactly zero of such plays. In fact, they surrendered no explosive plays (20 yards or more) at all against the Bengals.

The only explosions were the hits the Steelers - on offense and defense - were administering to the Bengals. It was just a good old fashioned beat down led by Lawrence Timmons, Jason Worilds, Cameron Heyward, Vince Williams, Cortez Allen and even Jarvis Jones who batted down a two-point conversion pass in the fourth quarter showing the kind of play he’s capable of making. 

It may not have been a means to Super Bowl berth, but it was still a beat down that should've made Franco and Blount proud. 

~

TIDBITS: INJURIES - Aside from Woodley, the Steelers offensive line took another blow when right tackle Marcus Gilbert left late in the first quarter with another right ankle injury. Left tackle Kelvin Beachum, who returned to the starting lineup after missing last week with a knee injury, left the game briefly with what seemed to be an aggravation of the injury. He returned. Ike Taylor had bruised ribs, but the rest were, as HC Mike Tomlin would say, the normal bump and bruises associated with life in the NFL. -  http://www.steelers.com/news/article-1/Coach-Tomlin-post-game-vs-Bengals/82ea60a8-aa3b-44b3-860d-902079739102

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Mike Wallace's Homecoming Is A Must-Win For Steelers


It’s like a playoff, must-win atmosphere,” said Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor. “Both teams are in the hunt for the playoffs....This is a huge game. It’s going to tell a lot. This game is like a playoff game.”

After being on the road the past two weeks, the Steelers will be glad to be home again. But they aren't the only ones who will have a homecoming.

Wide receiver Mike Wallace returns to Heinz Field Sunday where he averaged 17.2 yards per catch on 235 receptions in four seasons with the Steelers. He had more touchdowns of 40 yards or longer with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (14) than any other duo in franchise history, a number that was also second all-time in the NFL (behind Peyton Manning and Reggie Wayne).

Though Wallace's receptions haven't diminished this season (his 56 catches have him on a career-high pace), his impact has. His yards per catch has dropped to 13.3 YPC and he has only three touchdowns.

Wallace seems, however, to have been peeking at the schedule - in what might be perceived as a dress rehearsal of sorts, he has 12 receptions for 209 yards and two of his three scores in the last two games.

But Wallace isn't the only threat. The aforementioned Taylor usually draws the assignment of the opponent's No. 1 WR, meaning he'd likely cover Brian Hartline. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has a lot of respect for Hartline, and rightly so as he leads the Dolphins in receptions (62) and yards (804).

But Taylor has surrendered more yards than any other cornerback this year, with 854 to date. Wallace, on the other hand, is a receiver who is 61st at his position in receiving yards, despite being the NFL’s 15th-most targeted receiver.

Regardless, the Steelers have given up seven passing plays of at least 50 yards this season, so whoever draws Wallace will get have to have safety help over the top. The last thing defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau wants is for Wallace to have another big game at Heinz Field.

"Mike's one of the faster receivers in the league and he's got good run-after-the-catch," said LeBeau. "You could say, make sure he doesn't get behind you, but if you get too far off him he can catch it in front of you, and he's hard to get on the ground."

So, as LeBeau would also point out, defensing the "ball in the air" and tackling the catch (if caught) thereafter is imperative. But there's something else that's even more important.

"I've said this many times," LeBeau added, "that the best pass defense is sack the quarterback, so he can't throw it."

Dolphins QB Ryan Tannehill has been sacked 45 times this season and has a poor QB rating when under duress, which is similar to his QB rating (63.5) on throws toward Wallace. So hurrying, harassing and hitting him is especially important this Sunday. Whether LaMarr Woodley or Jason Worilds, a relentless pass rush is vital. - http://tinyurl.com/jvqrmcb

Historically, when taking into account players like Paul Warfield, Bob Griese, The Marks Brothers and Dan Marino on one side, and Mel Blount, Donnie Shell, Rod Woodson and Carnell Lake on the other, if I had told you that this Sunday's game was a matchup between the NFL's ninth-ranked pass defense and its eight-ranked passing offense, you'd probably have the opponents transposed in your mind.

But when the Dolphins visit the Steelers this Sunday, the Steelers passing game will test its mettle against the top-ten passing defense of the Dolphins. A pass defense that is spearheaded by seven-year cornerback Brent Grimes.

The soft-spoken veteran quietly leads the Dolphins with four interceptions, one of which he returned 94 yards for a touchdown, and with 14 passes defended. As of last week, he ranked as the second-best cornerback in league according to Pro Football Focus. He hasn't allowed a touchdown all season and quarterbacks have a rating of under 63.0 when throwing to his coverage area.

The 5'10", 180-pound CB has great hips and will likely draw the Steelers WR Antonio Brown. Grimes' ability to turn and run will be needed against the Energizer Bunny that is AB, who has the third-highest receiving grade per Pro Football Focus.

Because of what they run schematically, Grimes is used to being on an island, mainly on the left, and will need that experience against AB, though AB does move around the formation almost half of the time.

But a big reason Grimes and the rest of the Dolphins' secondary do so well is because of their front seven - a group mainly responsible for their defense having a takeaway in each game this season and for 37 QB sacks, led by their defensive ends.

In that case, it is that very aspect of the Steelers offense, AB's moving around the formation, that will be needed Sunday. Spacing will be important. Spread Miami out and keep them spread. Also, a bunch & 1 formation highlighting AB alone on one side should be effective as well.

Additionally, five total receiving targets keeping the secondary occupied opens lanes for Le'Veon Bell. When running to the strong side, the Steelers have extra help with tight end Matt Spaeth being activated Saturday. If the Dolphins vacate to defend the pass, then running to the left would be an option as well.

Either option is predicated upon the patchwork offensive line. Cody Wallace will start at center, the Steelers' third this season, and starting right guard David DeCastro is not likely to return to the lineup. So, the probable lineup will be:

LT-Mike Adams
LG-Ramon Foster
C-Cody Wallace
RG-Guy Whimper
RT-Marcus Gilbert


It is Steelers' tackles Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert, though, who will have the biggest jobs as they will have to contend with Dolphins' DEs Olivier Vernon and Cameron Wake respectively. Olivier leads the Dolphins with 10.5 sacks and Wake has 6.5 sacks of his own. They will be a handful for the Steelers tackles, especially Adams. - http://t.co/XnRkddmQ0e

"They have multiple guys that can rush the passer," Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said. "Adversity, and how you handle it, is really the key thing. You can handle it in a couple of different ways. [Adams] has chosen to handle it in a positive manner and it's allowed him to work harder and get better, knowing that his opportunity would come up again." - http://tinyurl.com/lbg55z8

It will likely come down to how the Steelers handle the Dolphins' pass rush as to set their offense in motion. In four career games against the Dolphins, QB Ben Roethlisberger has a 108.2 QB rating.

All of Big Ben's Houdini-like tricks will be needed in order to help combat the newest hits taken to the OLine. If he can and if the Steelers current No. 1 WR can outplay their former No. 1 WR, they can take the game and take one step closer to a potential playoff run.

~

TIDBITS: Steelers Injury Report - Missing practice for the Steelers on Friday: Keisel, Beachum, DeCastro and McLendon. Woodley was limited. Adams and Le'Veon were full participants.

The Steelers medical staff will continue to monitor Le'Veon Bell’s status through the week to make sure he continues without symptoms. At present, he is probable.

~

Steelers activate TE Matt Spaeth from the IR/Designate list, get a little blocking help: http://t.co/6xpjkpfcYq

~

Earlier this week, the Steelers signed C/G David Snow to active roster; C Brandon Jones replaces CB Devin Smith on PS. They have signed center/guard David Snow. They were granted a roster exemption for OT Butler after he was placed on the Exempt List.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Deliberation Of Penalties On Tomlin, Steelers Is Credibility Issue For NFL


Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was fined "$100,000 Wednesday for his actions on the sideline last Thursday in Baltimore" and "because the conduct affected a play on the field, a modification or forfeiture of draft choices will be considered after the final order of the 2014 draft has been determined," the NFL said in a statement.

In a statement released by Tomlin, he addressed the penalty this way: "As I stated yesterday, I take full responsibility for my actions, and I apologize for causing negative attention to the Pittsburgh Steelers organization. I accept the penalty that I received. I will no longer address this issue as I am preparing for an important game this Sunday against the Miami Dolphins."

In If It Ain't Steel's last article covering Tomlin's "SidelineGate", I was very clear that I didn't believe anything would happen to the Steelers themselves, i.e. a forfeiture of draft picks. What I said was:

"To honestly believe the NFL will actually take the quantum leap from a fine (knowing their true main objective is money) to taking away a draft pick is as viable as me walking into my closet and walking through it into a land where I find myself conversing with a talking lion." - http://ifitaintsteel.blogspot.com/2013/12/tomlin-steelers-to-be-fined-but-wont.html

So, I was just in Narnia talking with Aslan and...

So, the fact that the Steelers could potentially lose a draft pick (a late-round draft pick is what is speculated) or see their picks somehow "modified" (moved from 17th to 32nd?) in the draft isn't the main issue for me. It's the elongated deliberation of the final decision.

If NFL is going to take or modify a Steelers draft pick, why wait until a later date? Why not simply announce it now and then announce the particulars at a later time? Why does there have to be so much time taken to make this decision? Consider this.

In 2007, NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell spent little time before handing down "SpyGate" fines to the New England Patriots that totaled approximately $750,000 ($500,000 for Bill Belichick, $250,000 for the team) and stripping New England of their first-round draft pick, though they already had a second first rounder that year, for the premeditated and willful video taping of teams for years. How little time? All of 6 days.

For premeditated and willful actions surrounding "BountyGate," the New Orleans Saints suffered a $500,000 fine and the loss of their second-round picks in 2012 and 2013 over that scandal. Sean Payton forfeited the entire 2012 season and his entire 2012 salary. Also, DC Gregg Williams was suspended for the season, GM Mickey Loomis for eight games and assistant coach Joe Vitt for six games. It took Goodell just under three weeks to mete out all that punishment.

Yet, for an unintentional and admitted "blunder" Goodell wants to wait as much as four months to decide whether or not draft picks are affected?

Now, because of this elongation, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac has reported that the "Steelers are very upset with the NFL's threat of draft choices in the Mike Tomlin penalty, saying 'there is no precedent for it,' per team source."

And rightly so. As Neal Coolong of Behind The Steel Curtain said recently in a conversation we had, "They haven't taken a pick, they don't have any justification for doing so, it's nothing more than precautionary talk for the rest of the league, and getting it on the record in case, in an extreme hypothetical scenario, Baltimore and Pittsburgh end up at a tie-breaker that is determined by points, they can take action."

Though Coolong is correct, the notion of waiting to see how it affects draft order based on tie-breakers is ridiculous and just as egregious as the "crime" itself. (But, it's Goodell, what else is new?) The NFL's "unforeseen ramifications" response in this case is simply absurd.

The game still could have gone any direction because I firmly believe that Cortez Allen would have caught Jones anyway. Then they say that four points (the difference between a field goal and a touchdown) is an impact on playoffs? Please!

Does anyone truly believe playoff tie-breaker factors ever go that deeply into the process? The tie-breaker factor of points is so low that the only factors following it were the colors of the teams' uniforms and whether Fireman Ed was at the last New York Jets home game. Stop it. The NFL is simply embarrassing itself.

As for those four months referenced earlier, compensatory picks are announced for every team in March and this punishment could be part of that equation. If so, it is then the NFL who is committing a premeditated and willful act.

Monday, December 2, 2013

Inferno

I reach for you, but to no avail;
I continue my journey, I will not fail.
Leave me to bleed, leave me to cry,
Just touch my heart as you pass by...

This moment. This fleeting moment before our first kiss. Before our lips touch for the very first time. The electricity between us palpable. The desire for each other undeniable. This alone is enough to completely weaken me. This alone is enough to thoroughly empower me. This alone is enough to enervate me. This alone is enough to embolden me. I ache for this. I want it. Crave it. Need it. Desperately.

Because I reach for you, but to no avail;
I continue my journey, I will not fail.
The truth I believe will break the walls,
The barrier between us crumbles and falls.

to Thumper

by Antonio

08/24/17

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Tomlin, Steelers To Be Fined But Won't Forfeit Draft Pick

 “I lost my placement as he broke free, and (I) saw at the last second how close I was to the field."

This was Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin's apology and explanation for what happened Thursday night against the Ravens. Tomlin possibly interfered with Jacoby Jones' 73-yard kickoff return in the third quarter by being on the field, which is not permitted.

That's the part of this that is old news. The part of the story that has Steeler Nation up in arms is the talk of the Steelers possibly losing a draft pick over this. Now, allow me to delineate my rebuttal to this as eloquently as I possibly can.

Please!

The concern over the loss of a draft pick is with the Steelers, is in-house. They are the ones mainly concerned that it will cost them a draft pick in the late rounds. Per Fox reporter Jay Glazer, the NFL isn't actually discussing it to that degree.

Now, don't get me wrong, Tomlin will be fined. The NFL rule regarding such potential incidents and what are deemed "sideline interferences," per Glazer, had been reiterated before the game earlier this week. So, yes, a fine is forthcoming.

The last time something like this happened was with the New York Jets in 2010. In that happening, an assistant coach, Sal Alosi, actually tripped a Miami Dolphins as he ran up the sidelines. After admitting intent, they were fined $100,000 and he himself received a $25,000 fine.

Let me emphasize that he actually tripped the Dolphins player and all they received were the fines. No draft picks were forfeited.

Fast forward and the Steelers coach Mike Tomlin’s near-interference is the subject of what has been called “an aggressive review” by the league office and is likely to result in similar stiff financial penalties for the coach and the team.

The trump card in this, though, is that Tomlin was recently appointed to the NFL’s powerful Competition Committee. Therefore, he knows better, and the league could take that into consideration regarding any action along those lines.

They may, therefore, also be the ones who leaked the draft pick-threat information to the Adam Schefters, Ian Rapaports and Jason LaCanforas of the NFL world in an effort to put a little fear into Tomlin as well as other teams to ward of anyone who may have an inkling to try something like this again.

But to honestly believe the NFL will actually take the quantum leap from a fine (knowing their true main objective is money) to taking away a draft pick is as viable as me walking into my closet and walking through it into a land where I find myself conversing with a talking lion.

To go to that length would mean the league knew his intent and that he was in the "white area" to purposely deter Jones. Which they cannot. How could Tomlin have known Jones would be coming that far up that sidelines in order to be perfectly positioned to get in his way just in enough time to jump out of the way? Just as the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review's Mark Kaboly brought out in his article: http://tinyurl.com/oskzmzz

This is in now way equivalent to the black eye the New England Patriots gave the NFL with SpyGate. That garnered a fine for the team, for the coach and the forfeiture of a draft pick. Is this in any way, shape or form as egregious as that deplorable fiasco?

No, I didn't think so, either.