Thursday, January 31, 2013

Third's The Charm For Steelers Special Teams?; Bicknell jr. Wants "Guys Who Can Move"

Brad Miller-US Presswire

Three special teams coaches in three seasons. Amos Jones took over after Al Everest was fired immediately prior to the start of the 2012 season, and now former Washington Redskins special teams coach Danny Smith has taken over for Jones after his contract wasn't renewed. Is the third a charm?

If It Ain't Steel laid out the Steelers special teams' rankings under the guidance of Jones and Everest in part three of All the King's Horses, showing that both the kickoff and the punt return units were average, and that defending kickoffs and punts in 2012 were just bad. -

At first glance, it would seem that Smith, a Pittsburgh native, is a wonderful choice to reinvigorate the special teams unit and rein in a discombobulated bunch. According to, "in 2011, Smith's special teams unit ranked first in the NFC in kick return average allowed (20.8 yards) for the second consecutive season. Additionally, the unit ranked fifth in the NFC in opponents' average starting position (21.8-yard line on kickoffs).

"He also helped Brandon Banks become one of the league's most consistent return specialists. Banks finished the season with career highs in kick returns and kick return yards with 51 kick returns for 1,174 yards, which led the NFL in both categories....

"In 2010, Smith's unit ranked first in the NFC in kick return average allowed (19.0 yards) and second in the NFC in opponents' average starting position (23.7-yard line on kickoffs)."

You excited yet, Steeler Nation? Well, slow your roll. The team's website should be expected to paint a flowery picture of its personnel. We're not saying that it's sophistry, but what's presented isn't the entire picture.

Behind The Steel Curtain interviewed Kevin Ewoldt, managing editor of, and he 'mentioned how much the players like Smith,' but suggested that the fans "generally are not too fond of Danny Smith."

As further pointed out, 'Football Outsiders' rankings of the Redskins special teams units has them ranked 27th last season.' In fact, they were ranked '25th, 6th, 11th, 16th, 18th, 27th, 26th, 22nd and 30th in the NFL since 2004.' -

So don't start the parade just yet. There are pros and cons to Mr. Smith. There were definitely highly-rates individual numbers to hang his hat on, and there may be "talent" issues involved in some of the lower rankings. But there is still the consistency of those lower rankings - a matter that would be up to him directly to solve.

BTSC, in our link posted above, did also bring out how "much respect there is for Danny Smith around the league," expressing the fact that "a few years ago, at least five teams (including Pittsburgh) sought permission to interview Smith, but all were denied because the Redskins were intent on keeping him."

As Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Thursday, he wanted "a guy who can inspire a large group of men," and we've noted that his players like him. We see that his bosses obviously did too. That smacks at character. -

So, a little new blood and fresh outlook could still be a positive thing, and he doesn't exactly come into a bare cabinet personnel-wise. Then there's the fact that he is a local boy. Let's hope the third's a charm...and that Thomas Wolfe was wrong.


On Tuesday, Bob Labriola of Steelers Digest tweeted some comments from the Steelers new offensive line coach Jack Bicknell, jr.

Labriola tweeted these tasty morsels from his Twitter (@BobLabriola) account regarding what Bicknell said of his priorities: "I always talk about how important the run game is, but protecting that QB is our No. 1 job."

Bicknell stated an obvious fact: "I believe the offensive line is the foundation for the football team."

He provided a saliva-inducing statement for any true Steelers fan: "If you can walk off the field and know we dominated the opponent physically, that's the most important stat."

He offered plaudits for the offensive line's anchor: "All you need to do is look at Maurkice Pouncey and figure out what you want in a center."

And, being a zone-blocking teacher and coach, he revealed the importance of athleticism on the line: "(O-linemen) can get too big. Then again, it's not about being too big, it's about not being able to move....I want to be able to have guys who can move, run, and have some quickness off the ball to be able to get into people."

Sounds good, but of course you know that, using that criteria, this means that certain OLinemen won't be back.

Dear Roger Goodell, Stop Turning A Blind Eye And Suspend Ray Lewis

by Jayden Matthews

The Super bowl is upon us and it has been every Steelers fans nightmare the Ravens are in the big dance. Congrats to them for making it again finally after a 12-year absence. Now, most of the attention has been focused on Ray Lewis this week and this being his last ride. No one was surprised about it because he announced before the Ravens started the playoffs that it would be. But that is not the only thing that has him at the center of attention.

Sports Illustrated broke a story this week that implicates Ray Lewis in using a product known as Deer Antler Spray. What is Deer Antler Spray you ask? It is a spray that is made off the velvet of deer horns that contains high concentrations of IGF-1. The body naturally produces this hormone, but as a person ages the body tends to slow down in its producing of it. The main thing this product does is it helps increase lean muscle, but it also helps promote quicker recovery of overall healthy and natural performance gains. The bad thing about this product is that it is a banned substance on the NFL’S banned substance list. You can read about the benefits here on this link:

The NFL has come out and said that there is no accurate test for this substance and from what I have been reading on this subject the tests are flawed. So the NFL has chosen to turn a blind eye on this matter and not address it any further.

That gets us to our point of this. It is not for us to say whether Lewis did or did not use this product, but the truth usually has a way of coming out regarding things like this. Lewis has vehemently denied these accusations and said he has never tested positives for any banned substance. For the record, so did Lance Armstrong. With others as well it has been found out after the fact that they did in fact use banned substances.

The thing that gets us is that the NFL has chosen not to address this matter further. Seriously, this is the biggest game of the year, and Goodell goes on endlessly about staining the shield. What if, in fact it comes out that Lewis did use this product? What if the Ravens win the Super Bowl? What if Lewis is named MVP? Well, that looks like a lot of staining to me and a huge black eye to boot. Don’t you think?

Oh, but wait, we are talking about cheating here, and we are all well aware of how the Patriots "Spygate" scandal was handled. The funny thing, though, is that the Patriots haven’t won a Super Bowl since then. Goodell may have given them a slap on the wrist for it all, but Karma went ahead and stepped in picked up the slack.

Goodell has been a huge promoter of player safety, so why he is not a big promoter, or at least tolerant, of doping-to-get-back-on-the-field? He has suspended players for helmet-to-helmet hits to promote safety, but turns a blind eye when it comes to cheating. He himself said that all he needs is an accusation, but I guess that only pertains to big name player’s right? But, wait...Lewis is the face of the Ravens. So why is he still being allowed to play in this game? No wonder his approval rating is so low amongst players.

Lewis has come out and said that the accusations are the work of the devil, but S.I. has claimed that they have records of phone conversations between Lewis and Mitch Ross, the founder of Sports With Alternatives to Steroids, who gives the All-Pro linebacker instructions on how to use the spray version of the Deer Antler product (it also comes in pill-form), which is banned by the NFL:

“Spray on my elbow every two hours?” Lewis asked.
No,” Ross said, “under your tongue.” Lewis later tells Ross to “just pile me up and just send me everything you got, because I got to get back on (the field) this week.”

Lewis came out this week and said that is was, again, the work of the devil and tried to deflect attention. No, these look to be solid accusations that were not only made against Lewis, but against accusations towards Alabama and Auburn as well as several others. -

But, again, the NFL and Roger Goodell chose to turn a blind eye. I read a great blog post from a fellow blog writer that I have to share and I agree with his assessment on this of how one sided the NFL is on these things. The Steelers Forum writer Kipper sums it up well in his take on all this. -

If It Ain't Steel is by no means an advocate of Rogers inconsistencies. We have written several articles on his inconsistencies, but now, all this on the biggest week of the NFL? Enough is enough Roger, you need to grow a spine and stop having different set of rules depending on the player of team. You were all over things when Ben Roethlisberger was accused, and made it clear that all you needed was an accusation. You made it clear he would be suspended not matter what the outcome was. Lewis is the face of the Ravens, and I understand that these are just allegations right now, but that is all they were against Big Ben too. That's all they ever were, yet you brought the hammer down on him anyway. Lewis is no different - he needs to feel the hammer as well.

You are sending the wrong message. Period. You're intimating that it is OK to dope and cheat. If the allegations turn out to be untrue, then so be it, but at least address and investigate it. OK, the test is inconclusive, flawed. But, when you have alleged phone conversations, there are ways to find out if the voices are those of the accused and Ross or not. The NFL has an investigation team. Use it! Get on it.

If it’s false, then clear him, but if it’s true, then do not allow him to play. Because the only message you are sending to the younger players in and coming into the NFL is that it is OK to dope, you just better not get falsely accused or caught. But, in choosing to turn a blind eye, you are setting up the NFL to have a big can worms opened from which you may not be able to recover.

You already have a very low approval rating amongst the players and the fans and this is not helping that case. Especially if the Ravens win the Super Bowl and these accusations turn out to be true. You need to make a stand now, not turn a blind eye. Things will be easier to clean up now rather than later, because the truth always comes out. Always. Do the right thing here, Goodell, but NFL fans already know you won’t. The reason? You are making a fortune off of Lewis being in the Super Bowl, so why do the right thing?

Oh, Roger, you've got a little hypocrisy on your chin there...wipe that off.

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Will Steelers New Offensive Line Coach Be A Prayer Answered?

After Sean Kugler left to be the head coach of his alma mater, the University of Texas-El Paso, Pittsburgh Steelers fans prayed for an offensive line coach with experience and pedigree. Appropriately, those prayers were answered by someone used to playing that role. -

On Tuesday the Steelers announced that Jack Bicknell, jr. had been hired to fill that vacancy. -

He played for his father, head coach Jack Bicknell, Sr., at Boston College from 1981-1985. Bicknell played center during Doug Flutie's 1984 Heisman Trophy season and snapped the ball to him for the famous last-second "Hail Flutie" pass that beat the Miami Hurricanes.

Bicknell was the offensive line coach for the Kansas City Chiefs in 2012 before they cleaned house at season's end. From 2009-2011 he was assistant offensive line coach for the New York Giants.

The Chiefs had a very good zone-blocking offensive line, as opposed to the Steelers' man-to-man and pulling styles, that enabled Jamaal Charles to finish the season with 1,509 yards. And as Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin accurately said, "the proof is in the pudding."

"They played the AFC North, and they ran the ball very well against all the teams in the AFC North," said Tomlin. "They ran the ball effectively against us when Jamaal Charles had a 100-yard game. That was attractive to me. The plan they were able to put together, the success they were able to have vs. some people we are going to see quite a bit was a selling feature." -

Those games against the AFC North that Tomlin spoke of included 142 rushing yards against the Steelers, 214 yards against the Baltimore Ravens, 180 yards against the Cleveland Browns and 113 yards against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Despite Bob Labriola writing that success for the Steelers lies more 'in teaching than in a zone scheme', the young group of Mike Adams, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert and Kelvin Beachum ("Big Money?") should have their athleticism highlighted. -

On the other hand, the veterans are an uncertainty, especially with contracts and injuries causing a state of flux.

Max Starks' status is uncertain as he may look to free agency to get all that he can in one last multi-year contract. Willie Colon, who ended the season on the Injured Reserve again, will cost $6.45 million against the Steelers' salary cap in 2013 if nothing is done with his contract.

Though the easy answer would be to cut him, Ramon Foster is sure to explore free agency as well, and that might force them to keep Colon on for insurance if nothing else. -

What of the quarterback and running backs? Though he doesn't oversee them directly, what his line does, or doesn't do, naturally affects their play.

For No. 7, it's easy: keep the franchise upright. 'Nuff said.

As for the running backs, the Steelers don't exactly have the caliber of backs that Bicknell had in New York, nor do they have near the quality of running back that he had in Charles. Especially not with Rashard Mendenhall's future in Pittsburgh not looking too bright. -

Mendenhall has a lot of talent and speed, but he fumbled, per Steelers beat writer Mark Kaboly, "11 times in 1,006 career touches." That's one fumble every 91.45 touches (rushes and receptions), or one every 3-4 games.

As we wrote recently, Isaac Redman has lost five fumbles in three years. Yet, he believes he can be a feature running back. He recently said in an interview that he believes he "had a big game against" the New York Giants, but that he "just never got the opportunity to be the every-down back after that." -

Neither Steelers president Art Rooney II nor general manager Kevin Colbert spoke highly at all about any of the running backs on the roster, Mendenhall, Redman or Jonathan Dwyer. With Redman and Dwyer both being restricted free agents, therefore, expect both to be tendered at the lower level. Also expect them to have someone pushing them in Training Camp.

What Bicknell has in front of him is no small task. With the injuries suffered by the Steelers the last three years, especially on the OLine, any sort of stability and forward momentum would be welcomed. In fact, it'd be like a prayer being answered.

Sunday, January 27, 2013

The 2012 Steelers - All The King's Horses..., pt. 3: Special Teams

by Jayden and Jason

They had a great fall...
It's fitting that this final piece covering the Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 season begins with an ending. The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported on Saturday that Amos Jones, the Steelers now-former special teams coach, accepted the same position with Pittsburgh West, formerly known as the Arizona Cardinals. -

In part one of the All the King's Horses series, we addressed where quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, offensive coordinator Todd Haley and even team president Art Rooney II all had a hand in the demise of the offense. -

In part two we took on the defense and how numbers can be misleading. Yes, they were ranked No. 1, but there were key components missing that prevented the unit from being truly dominant. -

Now, the third installment covers the final field unit: special teams.

The lone bright spot for the special teams unit this season was the Wunderkind himself, Shaun "Sushi" Suisham. Sushi was 34-34 in extra points and 28-31 in field goals, with two of those missing kicks being from 53 and 54 yards, which was good for 90.3% and seventh in the league. That's basically where the good news ends.

Drew Butler, the son of former NFL kicker Kevin Butler, was an undrafted free agent rookie signed by the Steelers who beat out Jeremy Kapinos for the starting punter position. But he was inconsistent and ranked 18th overall among NFL punters, and his 43.8 yard average landed him all the way down at 26th among his brethren. While punt coverage, or lack thereof, can affect averages, it ultimately still falls on the punter.

Speaking of "coverage," it almost seems a bad word to use in this case considering that's something the Steelers' special teams did so little of this season. They were ranked 12th and 23rd in opponents kick and punt returns in 2012, allowing 24.0 and 10.2 yards respectively.

The punt unit also allowed a touchdown, which was the straw breaking the Steelers' back in the first Baltimore Ravens game, and committed costly penalties in several other games that altered field position as well as outcomes.

The Steelers ranked 12th and 23rd in returning kicks and punts also, averaging 25.3 and 7.3 yards in each category, with Antonio Brown averaging only 6.8 yards on 27 punt returns.

Days before the season, head coach Mike Tomlin fired then-special teams coordinator Al Everest and Jones was promoted to the head position. They were no better in 2011 under Everest.

The Steelers ranked 19th in the NFL in opponents' kick returns and 25th in punt returns. They ranked 25th and 14th in their own kick and punt returns.

It is unclear why Everest was ever let go in the first place, but 'philosophical differences' seemed to be the reasoning. One feather in Everest's cap was that there were no returns for touchdowns, something that had plagued the previous regime.

And now Jones is gone too. Who'll replace him? We don't know, but it couldn't be difficult to make a lateral shift. Based on his team's performance, Jones comes off as if he could go bobbing in a barrel of boobs and still come out sucking his thumb.

Since the Steelers organization hasn't said much of anything about it, we believe that he simply didn't have his contract renewed.

The Steelers special teams unit this season often seemed disjointed, out of position, overly aggressive and overly penalized at different times. Fumbles and missed tackles also plagued them. It's an ugly, ongoing trend that all the Rooney's horses and men must rectify in order to put this back together again.

UPDATE: After the posting of this blog, Ed Bouchette reported that the Steelers were granted permission to interview Washington Redskins special teams coach and Pittsburgh native Danny Smith. Rather than write another piece on this, we'll let Behind The Steel Curtain do the talking for us:


TIDBITS: Two-time Super Bowl champ "Big Play" Deshea Townsend will lead Mississippi State's cornerbacks. -


Mike Tomlin has to replace more than one position coach, including the offensive line coach. Russ Grimm won't be on the short list. Per Ed Bouchette, Grimm thought he had the Steelers head coaching job when Bill Cowher quit. Instead, the Rooneys gave it to Tomlin, and Grimm bitterly left with Ken Whisenhunt to Arizona. To quote Bouchette, "there is no way he would come back for the same job as line coach."

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The 2012 Steelers - All The King's Horses..., pt. 2: Defense

They had a great fall...
It was week six against the Tennessee Titans game, and an eight-minute stretch in the fourth quarter played out as a microcosm of Pittsburgh Steelers' season on defense:

A crossfire blitz that couldn't get to quarterback Matt Hasselbeck...
A dropped interception by cornerback Keenan Lewis that could have ended the touchdown-tying drive...
And minutes later on the next drive, James Harrison is beaten on a shallow-cross drag route by tight end Jared Cook for 25 yards to set up the game-winning field goal.

A macrocosm analysis of the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2012 roster and season reveals more missed plays than playmakers, more wallowing in the shallow end than big splash plays and ultimately more questions than answers.

The 2012 Steelers defense was ranked No. 1 again, but, similar to 2011, it was a bit misleading. It was a very good defense to be sure, but it lacked the playmakers, youthful savagery and dominance of recent years.

As mentioned in a previous post, for the second straight year, the Steelers defense hobbled their way to the quarterback, taking down the opposing passer only 37 times.

As Lance Williams of Steel Curtain Radio further explains, "the real issue is not just sacks alone, it's when you get sacks. I've learned that you have to put teams in bad down-and-distances consistently to get sacks. That means you have to play good defense on first down. Look at the Steelers sack woes over the years, third and long was the killer."

Very accurate. Also, along with the lack of pressure, they paralleled that by only forcing 20 turnovers, with their 10 interceptions being a tie for the second fewest in the team's 80-year history, and that just does not cut it.

As points of comparison, the Cincinnati Bengals' defense was ranked sixth in 2012 and had 46 sacks and recorded 26 turnovers. They made the playoffs. The Baltimore Ravens, AFC North winners and AFC Champions, forced 33 turnovers. The need for playmakers who'll bring about the much-needed splash and explosive plays is obvious.

Two of the Steelers playmakers usually responsible for those types of plays spoke after the season ended about their absence.

“That‘s what was hard for me - I wasn't healthy all year....What‘s nice about it is I‘ll go into the offseason on the rise and continue to get better, get in better shape and be more prepared for next year," Troy Polamalu said.

“It took a little while to get my knee back to where it needed to be, and it‘s still not there,” Harrison said. “But now I‘ll have the time to rehab it properly and get it back to 100 percent and get back to training the way I‘m used to training.” -

While it's good to know that Polamalu and Harrison are healthier and set for a productive offseason, next season isn't assured. Their comments, though, are reflective of other problems the Steelers defense had this season.

The Rusty Curtain:
Polamalu, who turns 32 in April, missed nine games in 2012 with a calf injury. Harrison, who had knee surgery last summer after being hindered by back problems prior to that, turns 35 in May. Those aren't the only ones, either.

Nose tackle Casey Hampton will be 36 at the start of next season, Brett Keisel will be 35, and Larry Foote, Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor will be 33.

The Steelers defensive is now in a state of flux and it isn't known who will stay and who will seek greener (monetarily speaking) pastures. The first element of that to consider is the defensive line, which is, or at least should be, the core of any defense. And as Alan Robinson of Trib Total Media pointed out, with a 3-4 defensive alignment, that's especially so. -

As Robinson made clear, the Steelers "use their defensive line to clog the middle, slow the run and create rush lanes for their outside linebackers," but age and inconsistent play from all of the front seven prevented that from happening and from delivering results when absolutely needing it.

As alluded to earlier, the defensive line will undergo a transition this offseason. Hampton most likely leaves and Steve McLendon would replace him. We've made enough noise regarding McLendon this season - from draft day all throughout the season. Whether in actual blog articles or in Twitter and Facebook posts, we've called for McLendon to take a big bite out of Big Snack's playing time. So we'll allow make the case for him this time:

If Keisel stays, he could probably have another strong season at right end, but what of his successor? Cameron Heyward, as Robinson showed in his article, looks ready to step in once Da Beard gets the follicle outta town. But Ziggy Hood, on the other hand, is an 'enigma.' He just has not lived up to the expectations that come with being a No. 1 draft pick. Yes, he's strong, but not consistent. We spoke specifically about this before the season, but received the same lackluster results. -

To draw from the Robinson piece again, though Heyward's and Hood's stats were similar, Hood "was on the field for more than three times as many snaps (833) as Heyward (267). In fact, "Hood was, by far, the league’s worst-rated pass-rushing defensive end."

Outside linebackers Harrison and LaMarr Woodley combined for only 10 sacks this season - at least half of what they normally provide. Injury issues slowed one and injury and weight issues slowed the other for much of the season. As a result, the Steelers failed to generate a consistent pass rush.

Lawrence Timmons and Foote stepped up their play and had good-to-very-good seasons. Timmons had 106 tackles, six sacks, three interceptions (one for a touchdown) and two forced fumbles. Four of those sacks and one of the forced fumbles, though, came in the last two games.

Foote led the team in tackles with 113 and had four sacks and two forced fumbles. Both failed, however, to be consistent throughout the entirety of the season.

As for the secondary, it was the strength of the defense, being No. 1 against the pass. Few interceptions were still a concern, though, and the late-season absence of Ike Taylor hurt them. They do have youth in their ranks and should continue to get better.

However, the safeties are a different story. Clark had 102 tackles and was again a reliable player. But age is age, and he and Polamalu are elder statesmen in this league. Will Allen stepped up and played adequately, but Ryan Mundy is the only other safety with any experience. Change must come.

That said, with no viable or proven backups beyond the players cited, the Kevin Colbert must find the youth and talent necessary to be the immovable objects and depth the Steelers sorely need.

To help quantify the lack of dominance factor and how numbers can be deceiving, consider this: the Steelers defense, when compared to the rest of the NFL's top five defenses, faced the fewest scrimmage plays with only 951. That's 70 fewer than the team with the most in the top five, the Denver Broncos, at 1,021.

Conversely, though, the Steelers allowed more points per game (1.5 more) than any defense in the top five at 19.6 PPG. It had been suggested by some this season, including If It Ain't Steel, that the Steelers defense was aided by the third down conversion proficiency and time of possession by the offense, especially in the first two-thirds of the season. This seemingly is evidence to that possibly being true.

Consider this also: Remember the goal-line stand in the 2008 game against the New York Giants? Big running back Brandon Jacobs was stymied for no gain and the Giants had to settle for a field goal. A truly strong defensive line and defense in general provided a stop when needed. It's the type of play head coach Mike Tomlin means when he refers to "situational football."

Was their any consistent feeling or belief that this defense had the ability to duplicate that this season?

We've mentioned players who could help provide the playmaking ability, youth and savagery needed to get back to where they once were. Ziggy Ansah is on the short list of such players. There are others who might fill in at needed positions via free agency, like a Rey Maualuga or a Darrelle Revis. Not to mention the players the Steelers will get back from Injured Reserve, as in inside linebacker Sean Spence.

But this no quick fix. It may not even be a one-season turnaround. There are more questions than answers, to say the least. Questions that one can only hope is answered adequately enough to allow all the king's men to put the Steelers back together in time for a playoff-certain 2013 campaign.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Do Kevin Colbert's Comments Give Insight Into Steelers Draft Plans?

Pittsburgh Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert met with a handful of writers last Wednesday and spoke candidly about the 2012 team. He provided a very honest assessment of where the fault lies for the team's overall performance and lack of success, changes coming to the roster and draft problems that saw two players, Alameda Ta'amu and Chris Rainey, get into trouble with the Law.

"I know Art (Rooney II) used the term 'frustrated.' I'm going with 'disappointed.' I'm disappointed in myself, that those 61 (players) were 8-8. Like I said, I'm at the head of the class." -

As all good leaders should do, Colbert rightly accepted responsibility. "The buck stops here," as a former U.S. president once made his motto. That doesn't mean, though, that's where it starts. We all know what rolls downhill, and in this case it rolls right down onto the field of play.

In further comments, Colbert made it sound as though change is coming to the roster. In fact, he wasn't even subtle about it. The draft, and possibly free agency, will affect major change for next season. The "best available player" will come in many forms this April 25-27.

"We won't close the door on any position in any round. We can't....Once we get into free agency and the draft, I don't see any position that's off limits," Colbert stated.

"When you're 12-4 and a playoff team, sometimes you get mesmerized by your success and you get a little reluctant to change...If we don't change 8-8, if we don't change the roster that produced 8-8," he also said, "we'd be silly to expect a better result if we have the same group of guys. We're not married to any of these guys."

How did Albert Einstein define "insanity?"

But, before we address any players or positions that he mentioned or that have a greater chance of getting special attention, let us be clear about one thing: despite what Colbert said about not ruling out drafting "any position in any round," It won't be a quarterback on the first two days of the draft. Ok? We clear? Good, let's move on now.

Regarding the Salary Cap dilemma, Jim Wexell of said that their Cap-ologist Ian Whetstone, whom we've used as a source several times before, said the Steelers being $12 million over the Cap is doable.

By 'cutting James Harrison they'd save $5.1 million,' and "a Ben {Roethlisberger} restructure could save $7.2M max. {Lawrence} Timmons another target at $5.4M max."

"Cutting {Willie} Colon," he said further, "would save only $1.2M. Don't see any other realistic possibilities (aside from aforementioned Harrison)....But need the cap cuts {and to be Rule of 51 compliant} by March 12. If you keep Colon past March 12, you may as well keep him another year."

He finished his mini Twitter dissertation by saying the "team could restructure {LaMarr} Woodley for max savings of $6.2M. I'm optimistic, but that's risky." (brackets ours)

Since Colbert said that they don't have "too many franchise players" and that compliance "will include terminations, possible extensions and reconstructions," any or all of that is feasible.

Earlier this month, we talked specifically about the need to fill defensive holes early in the 2013 NFL Draft. Not the entire draft, not the first two days...just early. With Harrison's contract ripe for 'termination,' as mentioned above, an outside linebacker is a great possibility.

One whom we've mentioned before and whom Mel Kiper even has the Steelers taking in his 2013 NFL mock draft is BYU's Ziggy Ansah. Is he a defensive end or an outside linebacker? As his position coach said, he's both. Behind The Steel Curtain says it's the former, we say it's either. The link provided includes a video to help you decide. -

But, let's say, because of Rashard Mendenhall ("Any time a player doesn't show up for a game, that's unacceptable"), Mike Wallace (franchise tag: "Very doubtful") and Chris Rainey ("lost the trust of the organization" all having character issues of some sort, might they look only toward choir boys? -

Since the aforementioned players are very likely all leaving the team this offseason, the "best available player" may be on offense - of questionable background or not. That said, is a wide receiver or multi-skilled player like West Virginia's Tavon Austin, a possibility? Scoring is essential in today's NFL, and Austin can help generate it.

Listed at 5'9", 175 lbs., with a 4.38/40 and nicknamed Tavon "Awesome," he was WVU's electric star of That 70's Show. Austin lined up at wide receiver, in the slot, as a returner and as a running back and "shows a surprising amount of patience, even as an inside runner."

Such a player could stretch the field or do any and all of the things Rainey should have done. But, don't take our word for it, read the brilliantly detailed breakdown of him and his best collegiate game by

"Where we were in running game last year was indicative in the talent at the position," Colbert said of the Steelers' second-worst rushing offense since 1978. "That group of players didn't produce the way we anticipated they would."

Was that actually the running backs or was it issues, injury-related and otherwise, with the offensive line? Let's assume it was the running backs as a whole. If so, neither Jonathan Dwyer nor Isaac Redman should feel too secure about starting in 2013: Dwyer's vision and decision making keep him from being a true No. 1 back, and Redman has lost five fumbles in three years. -

If it was more a product of the continued offensive line issues, there is no shortage of guard prospects in this draft, as there are 73 underclassmen who've declared themselves eligible for the draft. -

The guards of note include Jonathan Cooper of North Carolina, Alabama’s Barrett Jones or Chance Warmack. Warmack is a viable option at the 17th pick. -

Regardless, in looking over what is in front on the Steelers, the Salary Cap issues that affect decisions, the age on defense and the vacancies needing filled on offense, their needs are simply their needs.

So, while the interview with Colbert didn't give direct insight into what the Steelers will do in the upcoming draft, rest assured that the "best available player" will come in many forms in this April's NFL Draft.


TIDBITS: Points off turnovers were the difference in six of the eight losses. Much bigger problem than the fan-driven tension between Big Ben and Todd Haley. He says a lot of that was "anticipation." He liked offense in 1st half of the season. -


Omar Khan, one of the finalists for Jets' GM job, was eventually passed over. According to Colbert, "He's earned it. We think he's ready." Fortunately, he's still here. (That sound you hear is a collective sigh from Steeler Nation.)


Despite no minority coaches hired this offseason, Rooney says the "Rooney Rule" is still 'workable with some tweaking.' -

Yet, one source says the proposed coordinator expansion wouldn't apply to new head coaches:

Friday, January 18, 2013

Art Rooney II: The State Of The Steelers, pt. 3: Injuries

With all due respect to every sideshow, Atlantic City, and downtown Las Vegas "magician" ever, the real magic words still are "please" and "thank you."

Last Wednesday, when Pittsburgh Steelers team president Art Rooney II held his postseason 'State of the Steelers' address he pointed out several areas of contention that led to the team's failure in 2012. The last article surrounded the many turnovers - those on offense and the lack of those on defense. -

The final article deals with the part of the interview which arguably 'frustrates' and confounds the Steelers organization and its fans the most, that of its rash of injuries: "We have to look at everything we're doing," Rooney II said, "and we will look at everything we're doing, from the training and conditioning side of things, from a practice side of things and see if there are things we can do to get better." -

Please and thank you.

As Bob Labriola of Steelers Digest noted in the article on, the Steelers were a M.A.S.H. unit again this season: "Troy Polamalu missed nine games. Rashard Mendenhall missed seven. Marcus Gilbert missed 11. Mike Adams missed six. Ben Roethlisberger missed three, as did Antonio Brown. James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley were on the field together for only nine games."

"David Johnson," Labriola continued, "went on the injured reserve list before the start of the regular season, and No. 1 pick David DeCastro didn't come off that list until the regular season was 13 games old." As a matter of fact, Steelers players missed over 100 games due to injury, with 11 players ending the season on the Injured Reserve list.

The Steelers offensive line alone started seven different line combinations. They started nine different offensive line combinations in 2011. Now with guard Willie Colon hurt again and Ramon Foster, Doug Legursky and Max Starks all being unrestricted free agents, major questions once surround the depth of the OLine and how this will affect offseason moves. Even prompting some to say that it needs to happen sooner rather than later. -

The player on the Oline that many are pointing at is Colon. Considering his injury history, it may just be time to cut ties and continue the Kelvin Beachum experiment. Cutting Colon outright will save $1.2 million and it is something the Steelers need to think about doing. If he had stayed healthy/healthier this season, he might have received the benefit of the doubt. Now there's just just plain doubt. -

According to team GM Kevin Colbert, the Steelers, per one study taken, had fewer injuries that some playoff teams had. "We were not the only team that had injuries. Teams that had more had better results." He said the amount of injuries "really wasn't unique to us."

That's the problem. Yes, injuries happen - they're an unavoidable part of the game - but it's the recent consistency of them and how the Steelers have reacted to them that is of concern. We've already touched on the fact that the OLine has been especially ravaged and what may be expected to happen, but there was more of what seemed to be a lack of mental toughness.

How often was the 'standard not the standard?' Wasn't the 'next man up' seemingly sometimes absent when roll was called? As was said, all teams face injuries. How they react, as individuals and as a team, speaks volumes. And, as much as Steelers fans may not like reading this, the team that tends to speak the loudest in this regard is the New England Patriots.

In a league where a team's hopes crash and burn because of one key injury, the Patriots' version of the "next man up" continues to produce winning results year after year. Patriots insider Tom E. Curran talks about that quality here:

There has to be a mental toughness to go far. It takes time to develop, but that's where the veterans who have been through the tough days help to pass it on to the younger players. It must become contagious, permeate the entirety of the team. It's something that was missing with the Steelers this season.

As former Buffalo Bills and Washington Redskins defensive end Bruce Smith once said in an interview, there's a difference between playing "hurt" and playing "injured." Playing hurt is something players often do. Like he said, players can be dinged up in some fashion from week two on. Playing injured, however, in the most cases, is detrimental to the team and usually only serves to worsen the injury.

Winning is a mindset - 10% is physical and 90% is mental. Which also means knowing when your offseason regimen may not be working. Like as brought out in part two of this series, Woodley has been offered to work with Ike Taylor's trainer Tom Shaw since Woodley's offseason routine...aww, who are we kidding? What offseason routine?

Another who may consider adjusting his offseason regimen to aid in durability throughout the season is Polamalu. Especially because of his wonderful reckless abandon, he has seen fewer field time the last few seasons.

The website (Pitts Burgh-Jedi on Facebook and @Pittsburgh_Jedi on Twitter) offered up an assessment on Polamalu's offseason ritual.

"I think a lot of [Polamalu's] getting hurt is because he's not training using the same standards as everyone else," they surmised. "He does holistic-style training with no weights at all. As a younger, more resilient man, he could get by [with] doing that. At 30 years old, 10 years in the league, and 10 years full of big hits and collisions, it seems logical to say his sort of wear-and-tear calls for something additional. He's still huge, but with gravity-based training that depends on using your body-weight as resistance, it means there's a ceiling you can hit with your training."

People are training harder than him using weights and he's not holding up against their hits....maybe it's time to use some more health science and not so much of these alternative, natural methods," they continued. "A half-baked theory, but knowing the correlation of proper training and risk of injury, it holds some water, if not a lot of it."

It just might. But, whether because of training, conditioning, mental toughness, offseason regimens or even because of the new Collective Bargaining Agreement rules, there has to be a reason or conglomerate of reasons to why the Steelers have been snake bitten the last few seasons.

"I would like to see us have some of that [CBA] loosened up a little bit, but that's not something completely in our control," Rooney II pointed out.

Regardless, as he said, "people are always coming up with new ideas on how to train, and so we'll look at all of that."

Please and thank you.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Art Rooney II - The State Of The Steelers, pt. 2: "Turnovers"

"We need to get more pressure on the quarterback, because as everyone will tell you that creates turnovers." - Art Rooney II

Those words were quoted and briefly touched on in part one of this series, and he is correct. Those, among many other "blunders" committed by the Steelers this past season, were collectively responsible for the disappointing 8-8 campaign. -

But Rooney II emphasized two of the more important. Ergo, pressure on the quarterback and the totality of turnovers are appropriately a priority for 2013. -

"If you look at the playoffs, teams that are on the negative side of the turnover ratio are not in the playoffs. It's really as simple as that," said Rooney II. "That was an area on both sides of the football that we fell short of, and certainly something we can improve upon and something we need to improve upon."

There's no denying that. There was a direct correlation between the lack of pressure and the subsequent lack of turnovers, as Bob Labriola of Steelers Digest pointed out in the article posted to In the 2008 Super Bowl season, "the Steelers posted 51 sacks and 29 takeaways," and in the 2010 Super Bowl season, "they had 48 sacks and 35 takeaways."

In comparison, "there were only 35 sacks and 15 takeaways in 2011, followed by 37 sacks and 20 takeaways this past season." Point taken.

If you need further numbers backing up this summation, consider that the teams with most takeaways this season were: Bears (44), Patriots (41), Giants (35), Cardinals (33), Redskins, Seahawks and Falcons (31), and the Bengals (30). Five of those eight teams made the playoffs, with one more only missing out (Bears) because of losing their quarterback for a period of time.

By contrast, the teams with the fewest takeaways were: Chiefs and Eagles (13), Colts (15), Dolphins and Cowboys (16), Lions (17), Raiders (19) and the Steelers (20). Only one of those teams made it to the postseason.

Principally mentioned by Rooney II as ones relied upon to provide those defensive splash plays were James Harrison, Lamarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu - all of whom were injured and/or ineffective much of it. According to Rooney II, those players needed to be "difference makers," but weren't.

Harrison, who was already having back problems, entered the season coming off of summer knee surgery and was hampered by those issues most of the year. He didn't really round into form until approximately the 15th week. That had a profound affect on the overall pass rush and low sack numbers.

As far as Woodley is concerned, though he has had groin and hamstring problems the last two years, he was hardly even effective when he was healthy. Mark Kaboly gives a bit of insight into how far his productivity dropped in 2012. -

As his position coach Keith Butler said of him last offseason, “Wood has to decide if he wants to be a great player,” and not to "come to camp weighing 290 (pounds)." That excess weight would of course inhibit his ability to recover as quickly and/or completely as he could otherwise.

Point blank, if Woodley is to be a part of the Steelers long-term plans, he is going to have to rededicate himself this offseason to being the "bear" that Butler says he can be, and not the sloth he was this season when he had all of four sacks, rarely pressured the quarterback and was hardly a run stopper. Because, as plainly expresses, his absenteeism was "alarming." -

Of course, to aid in those splash plays and to eventually push one of the two linebackers, another player must be drafted. A list of possibilities were discussed in a previous blog article. -

The third player Rooney II mentioned, Polamalu, who was injured the majority of the season also. What he brings to the playing field when healthy was made evident in the final two games when he was back to wreaking havoc at the line of scrimmage and recording more Troy-like stats of 10 tackles, one sack and one interception.

At one point Rooney II said that the Steelers "would have been competitive" if they had made playoffs. No, they wouldn't have.

The realization of that set in when having all three of those men on the field at the same time still resulted in a loss. At home. When they needed it. Realizations that they can't just flip a switch, as it were, or just walk out there and expect to win. Realizations that Polamalu hopes humbles them. -

The point was further driven home when seeing the scores of the divisional weekend's games. The four games had an average score of 38.5 - 30.5, with the high being 45 points. When was the last time the Steelers scored 45 points? October 15, 2006, 45-7 over the Kansas City Chiefs.

That brings us to the offense, which was all too eager to give the ball to the other team this season. The Steelers turned the ball over 30 times this season. Five of the eight games lost this season were by three points and another by six points. Four of those game had a late turnover that led to the loss, and a fifth (Denver) that had a pick six to seal the victory.

Then consider that there were over 100 points scored directly off of turnovers. Now, let's assume that eliminating those blunders would have led to 100 more points for the Steelers instead. The Steelers scored 21 points per game this season, up from 20.3 PPG last season. Add those assumed 100 points and the average jumps to 27.25 PPG and five more games are won.

Granted, that is oversimplifying things, but the point is that turnovers take their toll. They are a like a pothole-filled road: some are bigger than others, but they all inhibit being able to have smooth, or efficient, ride, and ultimately cause underlying damage.

Case in point, the teams with the most turnovers in 2012 were Chiefs, Eagles and Jets (37), Bills and Cardinals (34), Lions (33), Steelers (30), Cowboys (29) and Titans (28).

Conversely, the teams with the fewest turnovers were the Redskins (14), Patriots, Ravens, Packers and 49ers (16), Texans (17), Falcons and Seahawks (18).

The teams with the best turnover differential in 2012 were the Patriots (+25), Bears (+20), Redskins (+17), Giants (+14), Falcons and Seahawks (+13), Texans (+12) and Ravens and 49ers (+9).

Worst 2012 turnover differentials belonged to the Chiefs and Eagles (-24), Lions (-16), Jets (-14), Bills and Cowboys (-13), Colts (-12) and Dolphins and Steelers (10).*

The teams with the fewest all made the playoffs. The teams with the most got lovely parting gifts. All but two of the teams with the greatest differential made the playoffs. All but one of the teams with the worst differential received extra vacation time.

Do you notice a pattern developing here? This isn't rocket science. Regular readers of this blog know that we preach execution and fundamentals. The lack of those key elements were rampant all season.

Some of that is on the coaches, yes, but the majority is on the players themselves. Because, as was expounded on before, not one coach fumbled, dropped a pass or threw an interception. As Rooney II said, "It's really as simple as that."

However, what isn't so simple is what each of the players highlighted in this article had in common: injuries. The three usually defensive stalwarts missed a total of 15 games due to injury.

How do they alleviate them? Is it pandemic? Is it cyclical? Are they snake bitten? These and other questions will be addressed in part three of this series examining Art Rooney II's interviews.

* Thanks to Russell S. Baxter of who did the legwork on these turnover stats. You can also find him on Twitter at @BaxFootballGuru.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Chris Rainey and Jerome Bettis: A Tale Of Two Running Backs

by Jayden and Jason

By now you know that Pittsburgh Steelers' 2012 fifth-round draft pick running back Chris Rainey was arrested on Thursday for the assault of his girlfriend, and then released that same day. It cast a bit of a dark cloud over the news previously reported that beloved former Steelers phat back Jerome Bettis was among the 15 finalists for the Hall of Fame. With respect to Charles Dickens, it was a tale of running backs.

It was the worst of times...

We're truly looking at a juxtaposition here in style, stature and abilities. Rainey has the potential to make the NFL his own personal pinball machine, sending opposing teams to TILT on a regular basis if used properly. The depth of his talents were barely tapped his rookie season in a Steelers uniform. Nonetheless, his mercurial speed, slithery elusiveness and his third-to-fifth gear explosiveness was evident. Even if only in flashes. The potential was apparent.

As is often the case, though, potential can be a dirty word. And with Rainey's troubles not going away, the Steelers decided that he must.

“Chris Rainey’s actions this morning were extremely disappointing,” Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert said. “Under the circumstances and due to this conduct, Chris will no longer be a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.” -

Being that one half of this blogger team is a surviving victim of domestic abuse, there was an immediate, visceral and emotional reaction designed toward writing a scathing eulogy for Rainey. We decided to hold off, though, because we assumed something more may come down the pike regarding the alleged incident. We were correct.

Here are the facts as we all know them now. The Steelers will waive Chris Rainey, they can't until the day after the Super Bowl at the earliest and by the end of March at the latest, because of an "alleged" assault of his girlfriend. -

Then Rainey's (erstwhile?) girlfriend, through her lawyer, denied she was assaulted...the common reaction from victims of abuse. -

What may be most telling about his release is that Rainey seems to have several demons, one of which is gambling:

So, let's run it down: in 2010, he was arrested and charged with felony stalking after threatening his ex-girlfriend, he lied to the Steelers organization by saying that he was over such things and that he'd learned from his mistakes, he previously had or he developed a gambling problem and now he's allegedly assaulted his girlfriend. Is there any wonder why he was released?

It was the best of times...

Rony. The Battering Ram. The Bus. Brian Urlacher's daddy. Super Bowl champion. Jerome Bettis has been known by many names over the years. It's high time to add another to that list of epithets: Hall of Famer.

Where Rainey dodges and darts his way in between defenders, Bettis bowled over opponents just as easily as ran past them. Appropriate analogy considering he loves to bowl and because of...well, his shape. Quickly named "The Bus" by the legendary late Myron Cope, Bettis ran roughshod over linemen, linebackers and safeties all the way to the endzone 100 times in his career, 78 with the Steelers.

Bettis was drafted out of Notre Dame into the NFL in 1993 by the then-Los Angeles Rams. He had an immediate impact on the league by rushing for 1,429 yards, and was named Offensive Rookie of the Year as well as receiving First-Team All-Pro honors. But, it was his move to Pittsburgh that cemented his legacy.

On April 20, 1996, Bettis was traded to the Steelers and hit the ground running. He totaled 1,431 yards in his first season in the Burgh, to go along with 11 touchdowns. A star was born.

All told, Bettis would pound out 10,571 yards for the Steelers earning him several Pro Bowl and All-Pro honors. The Bus pulled into the depot for the last time in February of 2006. Poetically, it was in Detroit, his hometown. Fittingly, it was in Super Bowl XL -- shouldn't the NFL's best ever truly big back end his career in a game labeled "XL?"

All aboard. Next stop: Canton.


TIDBITS: Maurkice Pouncey, the only center in NFL history to be voted to the Pro Bowl in his first three seasons, has also been named to the 2012 NFL All-Pro 2nd Team:


Pittsburgh Steelers' official and resident Cap-ologist Omar Khan is set to interview for the Jets' GM job. If he leaves, be very afraid. But...would The Wrath of Khan even fit in with the Jets? Mark Kaboly, Steelers beat writer and someone who is close to the situation offers his assessment: "Khan, the cap guru of cap gurus, will interview with the Jets on Thursday for their general manager job.

"While it will be a great experience for Khan," Kaboly continued, "I really can't see him fitting in with Woody Johnson, Rex Ryan and that circus. Khan is too classy for that, so expect him to be back with the Steelers."

"But eventually," he concluded, "Omar Khan will find a perfect fit and the Steelers will suffer because of it."

Art Rooney II - The State Of The Steelers, pt. 1: 'Frustration'

The president spoke, he delivered his address and everyone took note. However, this wasn't Obama or the State of the Union, but Pittsburgh Steelers' team president Art Rooney II speaking to the local media on the State Of The Steelers.

With the offseason for the Steelers underway, Rooney II's now annual season wrap-up featured a few points of interest for Steelers fans. Nothing, however, that was unexpected nor anything that took football's version of Pythagoras to figure out. In a word, it was "frustrating."

"It was clearly a frustrating season, mostly because we had so many opportunities that we didn't take advantage of," said Rooney. -

One of those missed opportunities was turnovers related. The defensive side of the turnover ratio, as we've covered in previous blog posts, was a result of the lack of pressure on the quarterback. As Rooney II stated, "We have to get more pressure on the quarterback. Anybody will tell you that creates turnovers."

As he pointed out, the Steelers need a better pass rush, more turnovers on defense and fewer on offense. These are priorities for 2013, and will be discussed in more detail in part two of the interview. None of them, though, are going to happen if one thing in particular isn't taken care of first: the Salary Cap problem.

ESPN reported recently that the Steelers currently are $10.8 million over the Cap. Rooney said that it's much more than the $10 or so million over. As we said also, add the exclusive rights free agents and it's around $12 million. -

However, as some have further reported, add the dead money that's owed and it is closer to about $15-$16 million over. There are more tough decisions ahead, Rooney said, and called it a "jigsaw puzzle."

Many of the pieces in that puzzle are amongst the unrestricted free agents as they attempt to determine who will be kept and who will be allowed to go off into free agency making room for the restricted free agents they'll need to retain. These are the ones we believe will be allowed to go:

Casey Hampton
Ryan Mundy
Justin King
Brandon Johnson
Greg Warren

Charlie Batch
Byron Leftwich (Injured so much he got a hangnail clicking this link)
Plaxico Burress
Rashard Mendenhall (2014 compensatory draft pick)
Mike Wallace (2014 compensatory draft pick)
Ramon Foster (Unless they decide to cut Willie Colon after June 1st)
Doug Legursky

There is unfortunately one more on that list: Max Starks. Starks was the only Steelers lineman to play every snap this year. We'd love to see the team extend a two-year deal to him since he has given so much to the organization. Will it happen? Probably not. What does he think will happen? -

Starks isn't the only player on the team who is contemplating his future. Many realize how much of a possibility it is to be in another uniform next season, or simply looking for work. It can be a sobering thought, especially when one's season ends unfulfilled. -

There are a few currently under contract as well who might have to be let go because of not fitting into that puzzle anymore. The most obvious of those are defensive end Brett Keisel ($2.8 million), linebacker James Harrison ($10 million), and guard Willie Colon ($1.2 million). Releasing those players would save the Steelers about $14 million in Cap space.

The problem with that is whether or not their backups would be ready to step into their vacated positions? There's the rub. A jigsaw puzzle indeed.

Rooney II also spoke on the problem the team has had lately with injuries. He said that while injuries do come in cycles, the Steelers will evaluate their training methods to see if they need to change anything.

Here's a consideration: In June of 2011, Ariko Iso, the first and only female NFL athletic trainer, left the organization to take the position of head athletic trainer at her alma mater, Oregon State. She seems to have taken with her the knowledge, training tactics and experience that the current person does not have. It also might be pure coincidence. But it is a feasible thought considering that the last two years have been replete with injuries. It is something worth considering at the very least. -

Rooney II naturally spoke on the offense as well and gave both head coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley votes of confidence, saying that each did a "good job." He made the point that nine games into the season, the offense was functioning at a high level and that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was taking fewer sacks. Something that he had wanted to see when former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians' contract was not renewed. Points that were discussed and emphasized on Talkin' Steelers Football:

He's basically accurate. Through those first nine games, the Steelers were 6-3, were scoring 23.0 points per game, were just -1 in turnover differential and were averaging 103.8 rushing yards per game. Not record setting numbers, but certainly winning football.

The last seven games on the other hand, they were 2-5, scored only 17.5 PPG, had a turnover ratio of -9, and their rushing YPG dropped to 86.1.

The two biggest reasons for this was the putrid turnover ratio and the declined play of Big Ben. Regarding his part in this equation, Big Ben admitted after the season was finally over, that he came back too early from his injury and, because of either not trusting the game plan, not trusting his teammates enough or both, he tried to do too much. -

It wasn't just him, though. Frankly, how could he completely trust his teammates when his top two wide receivers, Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace, were in double figures in both drops and fumbles?

How could he completely trust the game plan when it went away from Heath Miller about halfway through the season? A man whom Ben calls the "best player on the field whenever he's on the field." Or, for that matter, when Tomlin and Haley couldn't settle on a feature running back? A point that was perplexing and that even brought "friendly criticism" from one teammate in particular. -

But Big Ben believes the offense can work if they simply execute properly. He said so earlier in the season when he attempted to dismiss any philosophical disagreements with Haley. Big Ben is quoted as saying that he was convinced the offense “works for us. When we‘re executing, I think it works.”

He also said that a full offseason working with Haley should be productive, and that they just "need to continue to grow." -

The only problem with that is whether he'll be able to or not.

On Thursday, January 3rd, the Arizona Cardinals officially asked for permission to interview for their vacant head coaching position. The Steelers granted permission and, according to those associated with the Steelers organization, Haley did interview.

What would happen to the Steelers offense if Haley were to leave? Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review offers this assessment:

Yes, it is a big "if" on Haley's possibility of leaving. If he does leave, however, Kirby Wilson is considered the only one in-house replacement candidate. After that, there is long list of possibilities. Haley did say, however, during his final interview before the offseason, that he is happy where he is.

“Really, it isn’t anything I am thinking about,” said Haley about head coaching jobs. “I’ve said a bunch of times, and even when I came in and sat down with Mike {Tomlin} earlier on, this is where I want to be." -

If Haley and Big Ben are to be taken at their word regarding their relationship, and that their "feud" was more media-driven than anything, the full offseason time that Big Ben spoke about will be welcomed and needed, especially with him at an essential crossroads in his career. -

The offense has its issues, yes, as Rooney II alluded to, but they are things that can be fixed. Through the upcoming draft, a possible dip into free agency and, most importantly, simply learning to execute better, the offense can be what they want it to be.

However, there is still one more thing, as touched on earlier, that they will need to address. Something about which Rooney II spoke extensively: turnovers -- but on both sides of the ball. We'll discuss this in part two of this series.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Fixing the Steelers Starts with Drafting for Defense

Al Davis once said, as was regularly imitated years ago on SportsCenter by Keith Olbermann, "The (other team's) quarterback must go down and he must go down hard." The late Oakland Raiders coach-then-owner also famously said, "Don’t adjust. Just Dominate."

Despite being the NFL's No. 1 defense once again, tops in total defense in yards per game and in passing yards and the No. 2 rushing defense, the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers defense neither 'dominated,' nor did it get to the quarterback enough. And make no mistake, despite whatever issues were had on offense, fixing the Steelers starts with the defense.

For the second straight year, the Steelers defense hobbled their way to the quarterback, taking down the opposing passer only 37 times. With little pressure being brought, they paralleled that by only forcing 20 turnovers...and that just does not cut it.

We'll delve more into this in part two of "All The King's Horses" where we will address the defense looking back at the season. Here, though, we're looking forward at the three defensive positions that are of greatest need and that the Steelers will most likely address in the early rounds of the April 25-27 NFL Draft. First off within that, the Salary Cap issues.

Per Steve Wyche of in June of 2012: "The salary cap slightly increased to $120.6 million from $120.37 last season. Several team management officials said it's not projected to jump much in 2013, prompting one general manager to say there could be "carnage" for some big-contract players...after next season."

So, we'll go with the assumption of a rounded up salary cap of $121 million. The Steelers are roughly $12 million, when you include the exclusive rights free agents, over that number and will need to restructure, reduce and cut to have room to sign there own free agents and to possibly do a little shopping. -

The Steelers are getting older at key positions also, and three players, James Harrison, Troy Polamalu and Larry Foote, play prominently in what Kevin Colbert and Omar Khan will be able to do. Like the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review made painfully clear, the Steelers' dollars go to the defense. -

These three gentlemen present daunting age and salary cap situations. Harrison, for starters, is due $6.57 million next season and would count just over $10 million against the Cap. It has been well publicized by now that Deebo will be willing to restructure. Good, but the problem is that there isn't much room to restructure. He would more accurately have to take an actual pay cut to stay with the team.

Whether he does or not, the Steelers have need right now at his position. Even if he comes back and plays at a Silverback-ish level, the depth behind him is either woefully suspect, woefully untested or they've woefully underperformed.

So, another vicious pass rusher who is also athletic enough to cover is needed to replace Harrison. We think the two who stand out as possibles in the first round for the Steelers are Brigham Young's Ezekiel "Ziggy" Ansah and Oregon's Dion Jordan.

Ziggy Ansah is a 6'6" 270-pound outside linebacker/defensive end with speed whom his position coach, Kelly Poppinga, called "remarkable" and said that "he has all the numbers they want to see at the combine. He'll blow that part away."

If chosen, what else will Keith Butler and Dick LeBeau love about him? Poppinga said that he could play all three of the down lineman positions, as well as both linebacker spots, and that "he picks up things super fast and doesn't forget them." -

Don't take our word for it, though, take the word of someone with intimate knowledge of both the Steelers and the Cougars, Chris Hoke.

The former Steelers nose tackle/defensive end had this to say on his personal Twitter (@hokiebro76) account: "Ziggy Ansah? Raw... Unbelievable kid! So much talent it spews out of him." Sounds good to us.

Dion Jordan is another OLB/DE who has size (6'7" 243 lbs) speed (4.68/40) and can defend in space. A former tight end, Jordan has the athletic ability to drop into coverage as well as to rush the edge. The type of versatility the Steelers like. -

(UPDATE: As this was being edited and about to be posted, it was reported that it has been confirmed that Jordan will have surgery to repair a torn labrum. Since that alters his draft stock, here are alternate possibilities: the 6'5" 240-pound OLB/DE Barkevious Mingo out of LSU, who had 15 QB hurries and five QB sacks on the season; the 6'5" 265-pound raw, but mean DE out of Texas, Alex Okafor, may drop enough to be found in the second round; and Gerald Hodges, a 6'2" 235-pound OLB who could be taken in the second round.)

As the Steelers defense started to gel, they began keeping nearly every quarterback they faced from doing what they wanted. They even went eight straight games without allowing more than 200 yards passing. Most of that, though, was due to the coverage of the secondary.

The cornerbacks are a young unit, outside of Ike Taylor, who came into their own this season. Assuming Keenan Lewis can be signed, another UFA Salary Cap situation, he'd be one third of the holy trinity of the Steelers future in the secondary, along with Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown.

The issues are at safety. Both former Pro Bowl safeties, Polamalu and Ryan Clark, are getting up in age and are near the end of contracts. Polamalu specifically is due approximately $9 million from a contract due to expire after next season. Could this affect what the Steelers do with Troy and in the draft?

If the Steelers feel the "best available" need is at safety in the first round, there are two who should be available at the 17th pick: Florida's strong safety Matt Elam and LSU's free safety underclassman Eric Reid.

Matt Elam, at 5'10 and 202 lbs is nearly the epitome of strong safety. He's a strong, bruising hitter who isn't afraid to throw his body around the field and into opposing wide receivers. Per Dane Brugler, he also has the "read/react skills to be effective against both the run and the pass." -

Eric Reid is a 6'2" 210-pound "centerfielder" with the requisite build and athleticism, and the instinct and tenacity to deliver the big hit. Hm...sounds like another LSU safety on the team.

If the Steelers go pass rusher in the first round, then there are two safeties who just might be available in the second.

The first and potentially better choice is Texas FS Kenny Vaccaro. He is 6'1" 218 lbs with good instincts. He can pass rush as well as tackle the catch, and is starting to rise up mock draft boards. In fact, according to Todd Swoopes of National Football Direct, he is actually first-round worthy. -

The other whom we think would be a second-round consideration is the son of former San Francisco 49ers Pro Bowl safety, USC FS T.J. McDonald. He's 6'2" and 205 lbs, runs a 4.52 40-yard dash and was a consistent defender for the Trojans, recording 67 tackles and three interceptions.

Jim Wexell of Steelers Digest and added his two cents on the subject, not to mention a couple of more names to consider: "So far, I like 3 safeties (I'm letting E.Reid go to the Ravens): {Kenny} Vaccaro, {Matt} Elam, {FS D.J.} Swearinger. Fallback {SS Phillip} Thomas a small ballhawk." Brackets ours.

Using Wexell as a reference again, let him now springboard us into the last position being covered in this piece. That of inside linebacker.

Wexell points out that the Steelers haven't forgotten about last season's third-round draft pick is still a a possibility. From his personal Twitter (@jimwexell) account, in part, he tweeted: "#Steelers believe Sean Spence will recover fully..." But if we're going to speculate about the future, take a brief look back at the past:

The Steelers are facing a situation they aren't used to, in that they have to draft for right now at certain positions. With Spence an unknown commodity, Stevenson Sylvester an uncertain one and Foote an old one (though he did play very well this season the UFA has openly said he'd take less to come back), the Steelers may still look to inside linebacker if a particular one is still on the board.

Manti Te'o had a dream season: 113 tackles, seven interceptions, an undefeated regular season and more trophies than an Iranian prince has "trophies."

However, someone stole his dream catcher, causing him to have a rude awakening as his Notre Dame Fighting Irish ran out of luck and lost to the Alabama Crimson Tide, 42-14. A game where he finished with 10 total tackles, but missed almost as many.

Now, one game doesn't discount an entire season, but people have a tendency to form opinions on what they saw lastly. So, could knee jerk reactions cause Te'o to slide somewhat and be ripe for the plucking at the 17th pick? Yes, they could. They shouldn't, but they could.

The Steelers conceivably could feel they still need a coverage ILB that could roam the middle of the field in Nickel and Dime packages, but also in man coverages against tight ends and running backs alike. If so, Manti fits that to a tee('o).

If not, and they want to wait on scratching that itch, Nico Johnson, who was on the same field Monday night, could be found as late as the third round. He's 6'2" and 245 lbs with a 4.63/40 time. A solid selection, he was third on his team in tackles (54), had two tackles for losses, two forces fumbles, a QB pressure and a pass defense in just five starts.

Those are the three positions that are most important on the defensive side of the ball and possibilities for players who may wear Black and Gold next season. Will we see one of them? Two of them? None of them? Time will tell.

Regardless of whether, though, any of those names will be heard being called on that Thursday or on the subsequent days, those positions absolutely will called. Maybe even in each of the first three rounds. Because that's where they begin to dominate again.

Friday, January 4, 2013

If It Ain't Steel's 2012 NFL Awards and Super Bowl Predictions

by Jayden Matthews

The NFL regular season has now ended and the debate can truly begin as to whom will win the yearly awards as well as which teams will take the coveted ultimate prize - the Super Bowl.

We at If It Ain’t Steel wrote a piece mid-season where we made predictions for the season awards based on what we knew then. Now that the season has shown us everything, we are going to follow that up to see if it has changed any and to make our official prognostications. Then, when the awards are announced, you can refer back to this to see if we hit it on the head (or, if Jason was wrong), and also if our Super Bowl prediction holds up. -

The MVP Award: We predicted that Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning would win this in our mid-season article, and that has not changed. Though, there is a candidate who ended up making a good case for himself: Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson. A.P., also known as A.D. for "All Day", cemented himself in the Most Valuable Player talk with a monster year. After coming back from an ACL (anterior cruciate ligament) and MCL (medial collateral ligament) injury that some thought would sideline him for some of the season, A.P. did not miss a single game and coming within nine yards of the recognized single-season NFL rushing record. -

We still believe Peyton, "The Sheriff", has the edge because, like A.P., he came back from what some considered a career-ending injury. Some, myself included, didn't think The Sheriff would make it much past the first game, let alone all season. But he did far more than that, he led the Broncos to a 13-3 season and the first seed in the AFC Playoff chase. The Sheriff played the way he always played, deadly lethal, again making household names out of ordinary receivers. For those reasons, we believe that Peyton “The Sheriff” Manning will deservedly win the MVP award.

As for A.P., we still believe that, though this and the MVP awards could ultimately be flipped, "Purple Jesus" has the Comeback Player of the Year award...all day.

Defensive Player of the Year: We predicted the Houston Texans J.J. Watt at the mid-season and that, like our MVP, hasn’t changed. San Francisco 49ers outside linebacker Aldon Smith was building a good resume, but in the end we still believe it will be Watt. He led the league with 20.5 sacks, had 81 tackles, 16 passes defensed (which is more than some defensive backs), four forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and a partridge in a pear tree. Though the Texans Defense struggled down the stretch, the AFC's Defensive Player of the Month for December didn’t. He may even be more feared right now than Clay quarterback wants to see No. 99 coming for them right now.

Coach of the Year: We really didn’t make a choice on this one because there seemed to be a lot of good choices at the time. Arguably, one could say that Indianapolis Colts "interim-head coach" Bruce Arians deserves consideration, naturally, though, he won’t get it because he is still just an offensive coordinator. If he could be, though, he would be my (Jayden's) clear cut choice. What Arians was able to do with the Colts, to keep them winning in the absence of their head coach Chuck Pagano as he battled cancer, is nothing short of amazing. No one really give the Colts a chance once Pagano went out, but Arians took the bull by the horns and led them to a winning season and a playoff spot. Even his former team's (former) players admit he's a good coach. Way to go Brucey!!! -

So, while there are only a few truly viable choices, this even put my partner-in-crime and I in a quandary of as to who should get the nod. So, we are each going to make our individual cases for who we think will win.

Jayden: John Fox I believe John Fox is the best choice for Coach of the Year. He took the Broncos from 8-8 last year to 13-3 this year and in the playoffs again. Yes, my partner argues that it was because of Peyton, and we both do say that Peyton makes any coach look great. While that is true, I still just think that he deserves the nod. Even though he has Peyton now, he still had to provide Peyton a dominant defense as a compliment in order to have a chance at the last dance. To his credit, he has done that. He has slowly built a great team in Denver that keeps a smile on John Elway’s face. Therefore, I believe he deserves that nod and should get it. Peyton doesn’t may not need coaching, but the rest of the players do.

Jason: My choice for the coaching award is, once again, Mike Smith of the Atlanta Falcons. But, I admit that his winning it in 2008 may put a damper on this prediction. Since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970, there have been only been six repeat winners (Chuck Knox{3x}, Joe Gibbs, Mike Ditka, Bill Parcells, Dan Reeves and Bill Belichick {3x}), but I believe his team's consistant performance all season, pulling them up from an average 2011, gets "Smitty" the trophy this season.

Rookie of the Year: Andrew Griffith 1.5 - No, we didn’t have a clear cut choice then and we still don’t now that the season is over. RGIII and Luck are arguably the best rookies to come into the NFL at the same time in a long time. At the quarterback position at the very least. Both are playing very well and both will be in the playoffs this year as the 4th and 5th seeds in their respective conferences. So, we still are at a quandry over coming to a clear choice because an entire article could be written making a case for either of them. Not to mention the fact that another emerged as a solid choice, the rookie playing for the Seattle Seahawks: Russell Wilson.

Wilson has also played well enough to be in consideration for this honor. And oh, yeah, he has his team in the playoffs as well. So, with that being said, we're going to go out on a limb and say that the 2012 NFL Rookie of the Year will be Russell Luck III. We know it's a bit of a cop out, but we have no idea which one of these guys will win it.

That now brings us to our Super Bowl prediction, which naturally will not involve a repeat champion considering the Giants missed the playoffs. With the Pittsburgh Steelers also on early vacation, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger cannot participate in helping keep the streak alive of one of only three teams representing the AFC in the big show. However, while the Colts and the New England Patriots are in the playoffs, Manning is with Denver now. There is still a chance that either he or the Patriots Tom Brady, the other two QBs in this streak, could be in the Super Bowl and we believe the streak will remain intact.

We chose the Texans and the Chicago Bears as our early picks, and that has definitely changed. The Bears took a turn for the worse and missed the playoffs, and while the Texans at the time were arguably the best team in the AFC, they are not anymore. The Texans were sitting pretty in the No. 1 spot for a long time, but fell down to the third seed in the AFC and now may have to take their act on the road. We believe the Denver Broncos will come out of the AFC and that The Sheriff will fire his six-gun all the way to New Orleans and could walk away with another piece of jewelry in the process. On that, we agreed. The NFC, not so much.

As stated earlier, there will be a new team emblem on the NFC side of the Super Bowl ensign. My partner and I have once again disagreed on who that will be. Shocking, I know. So we are going to again make our case just like with coach of the year.

Jayden: I think the Seattle Seahawks will represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. They are playing lights out right now and have a very good defense. They have been on a tear as of late with Wilson and Marshawn Lynch going all "Beast Mode" on defenses. The though that they could not win on the road has been laid to rest with wins over Buffalo and Chicago. They have a ball-hawking secondary that can pick you off or force a team to fumble and are poised to make a strong run and make it to the big show. I know I may be wrong on this, but I like the Seahawks chances.

Jason: As long as Justin Smith is on the field, the defense of the San Francisco 49ers and the Colin Kaepernick-led offense will take them to The Big Easy. Linebackers Patrick Willis and Aldon Smith get more of the publicity, but defensive tackle Justin Smith is the glue to their front seven that solidifies a bruising and stingy unit. Add to that a running game led by Frank Gore, and the 49ers should see their first NFC Championship and Super Bowl berth since 1994.

There you have it, If It Ain't Steel's final 2012 season award and Super Bowl predictions. Come February 4th, we'll see how many of our prophecies came true.