Saturday, November 30, 2013

What Is The Steelers Direction After Loss To Ravens?

“Have to clean up some things down there at the goal line. The run comes first. We'll fix that. Gotta get the run game going.” - Pittsburgh Steelers fullback Will Johnson

That will be more difficult if rookie running back Le'Veon Bell is out for an extended period, and, if so, greatly hinders any real playoff hopes.

In the Steelers 22-20 loss Thursday night to the rival Baltimore Ravens, Bell, who appeared to lose consciousness, fell backwards into the end zone for what was originally ruled a touchdown, but the rookie running back was ruled down just short of the end zone because his helmet came off before the ball broke the plane. -

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hit wide receiver Jericho Cotchery on a quick slant for a 1-yard touchdown, but fellow receiver Emmanuel Sanders was unable to hang on to a potential game-tying two-point conversion pass on the next play.

“He (Sanders) had a corner just come into the game, so I went to him,” Big Ben said. “You get so close, but it's a tough team, tough environment, and I've got to make plays down the stretch.”

After the game, though, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin after the game implied that Manny wasn't the primary target. It seems he was correct, or at least that Cotchery felt that way too. -

“I was open (on the two-point attempt), but a quarterback has a lot of decisions to make,” Cotchery said. “The touchdown (play) was going to be the 2-point play call, but we had to go with it.”

As for Bell, he got more than his rung and was promptly taken to the locker room and examined for a concussion. The Steelers haven't as of yet given an update in his status. But it would be a bad blow if they're forced to go without their leading rusher the final four games.

As the initial quote alluded to, getting the ground game going was and is important. Starting the game with five straight runs isn't exactly the way to do that, but that was done as part of a patient *ahem* gameplan due to the presence of Elvis Dumervil.

They were just starting to see Bell's potential and wanted also to establish his presence. Bell has rushed for 528 yards in nine games this season, had developed into a good every-down running back and a very good receiver out of the backfield (his 29-yard catch-and-run got the team to the Ravens 20-yard line on the near game-tying drive). His previous best game had been against the Ravens, and he then was repeating that against them again.

However, his wasn't the only injury sustained Thursday.

The Steelers team announced Saturday that center Fernando Velasco had been placed on injured reserve with an Achilles tendon injury. The 28-year old had stepped into the starting lineup after Maurkice Pouncey suffered ACL and MCL tears in the Steelers’ season-opening loss to the Titans.

Cody Wallace replaced him and finished out the game. Steelers also announced that they signed former Saints center/guard Eric Olsen and former Browns offensive tackle Rashad Butler. Wallace and Olsen are now the Steelers centers. 

Kelvin Beachum and Mike Adams were also hurt in the game. But Beachum won't likely be switched to center because the offensive line has been playing very well, better than they have in a long time, and cannot withstand any further shifts.

They also released cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke.

But what does this mean for the rest of the season? How will the team react to losing the game and one or more players?

“I don't expect any quit,” a resolute Big Ben said after almost pulling off yet another fourth-quarter comeback. “We haven't quit to this point. I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to fight my butt off all the way to the end.”

The same should be expected from the rest of the team.

Though some teams might (and have in the past) tank the remaining games to better position themselves for a higher draft pick, the Steelers won't do that.

Big Ben has said more than once that he never wants to have a losing record. To this point in his career, he hasn't. Last season was his worst record as starting NFL QB to date, a record that may be duplicated this season.

Consider this: many veterans on the team have at least one Super Bowl ring. A few have two. Big Ben, Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel and Ryan Clark have a lot of pride, and losing hurts. Being that several, including some of the above mentioned, won't be on the team next season, it is something that they are not used to and isn't how they want to end their stay.

But, while the Steelers could still reach a 9-7 record, wouldn't a 5-11 record be better come the last weekend in April?

Actually, there is little value in the Steelers tanking their remaining four games of the season to ensure such a final record as it would likely only result in a selection three or four picks higher. Because, if they set their sights on a particular player within their reach, say in the 14-to-18 range, moving up two or three spots wouldn't affect them.

Case in point, last year they wanted Jarvis Jones. Period. If the team had lost the last one or two games they would have has a higher draft pick, but they still would've selected Jones.

Also, draft position does not always equate to draft success. There are busts every year and surprises every year. Drafting is an inexact science and is a challenge for all NFL teams. All still must make the right selection if they are going to have any success.

Not only that, but losing games means potentially losing your job. That goes for the players and coaches alike, and we all know that the Rooneys are patient with their coaches. But that doesn't go for assistants as much as it does for head coaches.

Also, general manager Kevin Colbert may feel the pressure as well given the lack of production from recent draft classes. As a point of reference, no players remain on the roster from the 2008 draft class.

No, the Steelers won't fold, won't mail it in. Too much rides on their licking their wounds and finishing out their season on a positive note. Too much pride. While they may not dare to dream of a run reminiscent of the 2005 run, their sights are still set straight ahead.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Roethlisberger, Polamalu and Coaches Alike Key in Steelers Surge, Beating Ravens

"It's not how you drive, it's how you arrive." Outside linebacker Jarvis Jones

The NFL season is a marathon, not a sprint. The coaches knew that. They even tried to tell us that. The typical fan, though, lives very much in the now. So much so that Steelers fans have called for more heads than the Queen of Hearts.

After an ignominious start to the season - 11 turnovers, zero forced turnovers and 15 sacks allowed in four losses - the Steelers are actually looking like a team to be reckoned with down the stretch. Somewhat sparked by a recent loss, all of the above numbers have been turned in their favor.

The coaches and coordinators had taken a lot of abuse during that period, even having much-loved defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's job being questioned. If It Ain't Steel even suggested as much. But it was based on the team's direction at the time - a direction that has been navigated back to a winning one.

One thing that was made clear, however, was that the players needed to execute. During the recent win streak, players on both sides of the ball are doing just that.

First four weeks:
11 offensive turnovers
15 sacks allowed
0 defensive forced turnovers
4 defensive sacks
17.25 points per game

Last three weeks:
1 offensive turnover
5 sacks allowed
8 defensive forced turnovers
10 defensive sacks
29 points per game

In the previous three weeks, Big Ben has only been sacked five times, while not getting dirty once last Sunday against the Cleveland Browns top 10 defense. It a unified effort between coaching, players finally getting comfortable and Big Ben's presence in the no-huddle.

"When you have different people you are plugging in that haven't been exposed to [the no-huddle] quite as much as some of the others, that causes you some speed bumps....I think that is why you are seeing a little more efficient operation, and it's obviously a weapon," said offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

"Ben is an elite quarterback as I've said," Haley said further of the AFC's Offensive Player of the Month. "I think he is preparing, a big part of that is his preparation and being ready for the opponent, because when he is out there, he obviously has to make some decisions that we all have to trust and count on him. He's done a very good job of it." -

It's that kind of play against the Baltimore Ravens, reflecting his 7-2 record against Ravens' QB Joe Flacco, including a 3-1 mark at Baltimore since '08, which will be needed this week, especially with such an emphasis on the pass.

Not that running back Le'Veon Bell isn't adequate, having not yet had a 100-yard game, because he is very versatile back with a high upside. In fact, it is his ability to catch the ball out of the backfield that makes him a valuable cog in the Steelers offense. -

But the Steelers offense has joined the NFL's pass-happy mentality. The Todd Haley offense, basically a West Coast Offense, has the passing game ranked eighth in the NFL. Not only because of the short passes, slants and bubble screens, but because of splash plays, also, as Big Ben leads all quarterbacks in deep throws/completions on (20+ yards down field) with 23, and is tied for the lead in completions that result in 20 yards or more with 47.

One main reason is that his No. 1 wide receiver and target, Antonio Brown, is also the No. 1 receiver (receptions) in the NFL. Though many thought this would be a problem this season with the departure of a receiver now playing with the Miami Dolphins, AB continually proves them all wrong as he has racked up 1,044 yards and six touchdowns on a league-best 80 receptions.

Speaking of no-huddle offenses...

"[The Ravens] no-huddle, but the thing that they have is the balance on the outside," said LeBeau. "They've got not two, but three very adept deep receivers on the outside. I would say any able bodied defensive back would be very welcomed against those guys because they've got a great deep passing quarterback with guys with a lot of speed."

This will be a test for LeBeau's defense. Flacco likes to go deep and will do so to Torrey Smith (859 receiving yards) and the potentially dangerous Marlon Brown (five touchdowns in only 28 receptions).

Having a complete secondary ready to execute will be imperative. Which means Ike Taylor can't take the second half off like he did Sunday, and rookie Shamarko Thomas will need to cause a "Headache" or two once again.

The running game, should still be respected because of Ray Rice being "one of the best backs that ever played," per LeBeau. "As long as he's in there, they're going to have a good run game." With nose tackle Steve McLendon being out Thursday, Hebron Fangupo and Al Woods must step in his absence. It is also important once again to have the front seven to, not only shut the running game down and make them one-dimensional.

They will also need to cause confusion and to get to Flacco who can be rattled. LaMarr Woodley and Troy Polamalu have had memorable moments in getting to him in the past, although Woodley is likely out this week.

If so, the disruption caused by the hybrid linebacker may just be essential. Last Sunday, Polamalu totaled four tackles, one sack, knocked down a pass, forced a pair of fumbles and recovered another fumble en route to this week's AFC Defensive Player of the Week award.

The Ravens have been very inconsistent, but one thing that hasn't been is that when they tie or lose the turnover battle, they lose the game. The recent head-to-head matchups have produced similar results. And since we've established that the Steelers surge has been in part because of the lack of turnovers, this is yet again essential.

One last important statistic: In the last four games between the two teams, the team winning the third-down conversion battle won the game.

In the previous two wins by the Ravens, they were at a 48.5% conversion rate to the Steelers' 41%. In the last two Steelers wins over the Ravens, they were at 48% to the Ravens 40%.

Do those things and the Steelers will "arrive" at .500 and in the driver's seat for the final playoff spot.


TIDBITS: Steelers Injury Report: McLendon out; Woodley doubtful; Gilbert, Keisel, Miller, Polamalu, Sylvester and Thomas probable.

Ravens injury report. Safety Bryden Trawick (ankle) didn't practice and DE Chris Canty (shoulder) limited.


According to the American Brain Tumor Association, there are nearly 700,000 people living with a brain tumor (diagnosis). How many people love in Baltimore, Md? Nearly 700,000. Coincidence?

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Turnover-Free, Ball-Control Steelers Surging, Beat Browns 27-11

Remember the 1991 movie "Hook?" The Lost Boys are in obvious disbelief that the shadow-of-his-former-self Peter Banning that Tinkerbell has brought them is their Peter Pan. It wasn't until Pockets smoothed away the wrinkles and looked deeper that the real deal could be seen: "Oh, there you are, Peter!"

The first four weeks of the season were like Peter Banning -- 0-4, -11 in turnover ratio and in disarray on offense and defense.

Since then, the edges have been smoothed out, the team focused and galvanized and have turned around the turnovers. They're starting to look like a team who might just be a legitimate contender come playoff time.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Right?

"Can't," Roethlisberger said after being asked about playoff scenarios. "I'm not looking around. It's all about focusing on one game because that's all we can control, you know?"

For the most part, the Steelers have done just that and have shown a resilience in the past few weeks that has brought them back to, not just respectability, but a team with which to be reckoned.

They are +7 in turnover ratio in the last three weeks, are creating turnovers and controlling the ball, are protecting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (just one sack in two weeks and none Sunday) and at least are running the ball effectively (80 yards on 23 rushes for Le'Veon Bell). Just as we said in the pre-game piece, turnovers were key. -

They also have become very comfortable with Todd Haley's offense and are incorporating the no-huddle efficiently if not impressively.

"I think it’s growing on this team, I think it's growing on the city of Pittsburgh. I think everyone likes it," wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said of the no-huddle. "We've got one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL. He can throw. Why not use him? He likes it, it's been successful."

"We said coming [into the first] series 'no-huddle', but think all runs," Big Ben said. "Even on third down, run it. Even on the second series."

It worked yet again, but not just there. The Steelers No. 1 wide receiver, Antonio Brown, was again one of the stars of the game partly because of it. His anticipated matchup with the Browns cornerback Joe Haden was advantage: Brown. AB caught six balls for 92 yards, including a 41-yard touchdown pass.

After the game, Joe Haden was classy and succinct when speaking on allowing the score: “That’s a good receiver, a good quarterback, making a good play. I’m saying I got beat.”

In all, AB has posted at least five receptions in 11 straight games this season, which is a franchise record, and is only the fourth wide receiver in Steelers history with an 80-reception season (Hines Ward - 2001-04, '08-09; Yancey Thigpen - 1995; and John Stallworth - 1984).

The defense, though giving up 367 total yards and 237 receiving yards to Josh Gordon (most of which coming because of being down most of the game and Ike Taylor more-or-less giving up late), was viciously reminiscent of Steelers defenses of the past recording five sacks, nine quarterback hurries, four quarterback hits, forced and recovered three fumbles and had one partridge-in-a-pear-tree pick six. The wealth was spread evenly as well.

Cornerback William Gay notched the pick six, as well as a strip sack of Browns quarterback Jason Campbell, which led to a touchdown. Troy Polamalu forced a fumble (he has two on the day) and the Steelers' recovery led to a field goal. The Steelers sack attack of Browns' quarterbacks Campbell and Brandon Weeden were led by Al Woods' two sacks and by outside linebacker Jason Worilds' six QB pressures.

"I just enjoy being out there. Being out there consistently," said Worilds. It allows me to open up some of the things I do."

You want to be playing your best football in November and December. Though the pass defense is still a concern, the Steelers definitely are an improving football team.

It couldn't come at a better time, either, as the next two weeks are critical to the team's, dare we say, playoff hopes. They have the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving night, and in two weeks they host the Miami Dolphins.

Or as Sanders said following the game, "Right now we’re playing playoff football."

Oh, there you are, Steelers.


TIDBITS: Injuries: Steve McLendon (ankle) and Curtis Brown (knee); post-game press conference and highlights of the win -

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Roethlisberger, Turnovers Will Be Key To A Steelers Victory Over Browns

10 years and 17 games.

That's how long it has been since the Cleveland Browns have been favored to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers, since 2003. The year before Reggie White passed away. The year before the Patriots went back-to-back. Maybe most relevantly, the year before Ben Roethlisberger was drafted.

When the Steelers go to Cleveland on Sunday, the Browns, who are just 5-23 against the Steelers in regular season since 1999, will take the field as one-point favorites - and for good reasons. 

AFC North teams are 0-7 on the road in division games (the Steelers are 0-1), and the Browns defense, according to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, presents them with their "biggest and toughest" challenge to date. He says their defense has "no weaknesses."

The Browns rank fourth in the NFL in total defensive yards and have one if the best cornerbacks the Steelers face this season in the Browns' Joe Haden. He is one player the Steelers must account for and who will be assigned to wide receiver Antonio Brown. 

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said of Haden: "I don't think any corner's playing better. At least none that we have faced."

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley praiseworthy words for the 5'11", 190-pound CB as well when he said that "Haden is a heck of a player. He's the best cornerback we've seen this year, for sure. He's just really a good football player. He has great feel, instincts and speed. He's a complete package, and it has shown up against some of the big-time receivers that he has faced." -

Ultimately, two things stand out as being imperative. It is paramount that Big Ben not turn the ball over. Since coming back from his injury last season, when Big Ben doesn't commit a turnover, the Steelers are 5-0. When he commits at least one turnover, they are 0-9. 

Before that, a successful game plan is one that maximizes the skills of Big Ben, the AFC and Fed Ex Air Player of the Week and who is on pace to throw for a career-high in passing yards this season. Spreading the Browns out will force them to send fewer rushers and substitute with fewer personnel changes and packages. 

Then the Steelers will likely move Brown around the formation, with Haden likely following him. That, then could open things up for wide receivers Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery and tight end Heath Miller to thrive, as well as opening lanes or chances for catches out of the backfield for Le'Veon Bell. If so, and if the Steelers spread them out as they should, it should create a mismatch.

When on defense, coordinator Dick LeBeau pointed out that whether Brandon Weeden, Brian Hoyer or Jason Campbell, "they want to call plays to the strengths of each one. They've got a good veteran quarterback there now. He's started a lot of games in the NFL and they can pretty much run whatever they want to run."

Even so, the Browns rank in the bottom half of the NFL in offense and struggle to move the football, particularly in the run game. They do have a nice target in wide receiver Josh Gordon, though. He's no Calvin Johnson, but he has skills that the Steelers must respect with a safety over the top to help cornerback Ike Taylor. 

Outside of that, the Steelers defense must be the more disciplined unit and the individual players must be more trusting of the scheme and defensive game plan set up. Also, whether Jason Worilds is setting the edge or whether it's LaMarr Woodley, pressure from the front seven, led by the ever-improving Cam Heyward, is vital. 

The turnover battle must be won by the Steelers who are +3 after starting -11 in turnovers. With the forecast calling for a high of 27 degrees with winds 20-30 mph, it's even more apparent that he team that wins that battle should win the game. 

The Steelers know what's at stake for them and are the more veteran team, so this should play in their favor - in favor for a 20-13 kind of game and (hopefully) win.


TIDBITS: Brett Keisel (foot), LaMarr Woodley (calf) questionable for Sunday's game at Cleveland. Limited in practice Friday. Stevenson Sylvester and Shamarko Thomas are out.


Ben Roethlisberger on whether he'd take less money in next contract to stay with Steelers: "Obviously I would do whatever I need to do. That's something that can be discussed when the time comes. That's not really my thing. I play football, I have people that deal with that stuff. I'll do whatever it takes to stay here and be a part of this team and help this team out." - 


If It Ain't Steel has said for over a year that Worilds is batter on the left side and that a change should at least be explored. Someone finally listened:

Thursday, November 21, 2013

If It Ain't Steel's 2013 NFL Not-So-Midseason Reports, MVP and Super Bowl Predictions

by Jayden and Jason
The NFL season is now past the midway point and we at If It Ain’t Steel are once again throwing our two cents in to the 'midseason awards and predictions' hat.

(Aside: We were down for approximately two weeks and missed getting this out after Week 9 or 10 at the latest. The choices, though, are no different now from what they were a week ago.)

Week 11 is in the books and we're now at a crucial point for a lot teams. It's the time of year when the cream rises to the top individually and as teams are concerned. 

Without further ado, let's just get into the midseason awards and predictions for 2013. We'll start off with...

Comeback Player of the Year: Running Back LeSean McCoy, Eagles, or Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs, Ravens - McCoy leads the league in rushing yards (1,009), averaging 4.7 yards per carry, and in total yards from scrimmage (1,408), touching the ball 247 times, all of this after missing four games and only rushing for 840 yards last season.

But If It Ain't Steel's choice for the midseason winner and the season-award prediction is Terrell Suggs. Suggs suffered a partially torn Achilles tendon requiring surgery in the Spring of 2012, sidelining him for the first six games of the season and causing him to miss a total of eight games. He was largely ineffective and finished the season with just two sacks

Fast forward to 2013 and a fully recovered Suggs is wreaking havoc once again. He is tied for 6th in the NFL in sacks with nine (in 10 games) and has 65 tackles, which is 26 more than the NFL sack leader Robert Mathis - keep that name in mind for later.

Coach of the Year: Andy Reid, Chiefs - Andy Reid is the only one in the discussion. The one-loss Chiefs have already improved upon its win total from 2012 of 2-14. The NFL record for win improvement from one season to the next is 10 (the Colts from 3-13 in '98 to 13-3 in '99, and the Dolphins from 1-15 in '07 to 11-5 in '08). Reid and his team are well on their way to breaking that record. At 9-1 they are tied atop the AFC West with the Broncos and could easily make it to 13-3 or better in the regular season and could go a long way in the playoffs - earning Reid the award in the process.

Defensive Rookie of the Year: Outside linebacker Alec Ogletree, Rams, or middle linebacker Kiko Alonso - With 65 tackles, 55 solo, six passes defended, three forced fumbles and a 98-yard interception return for a touchdown, Ogletree is definitely in the consideration for defensive rookie honors.

But our choice for the midseason winner and the season-award prediction is Kiko Alonso. Alonso, the second-round pick out of Oregon, leads his team with 112 tackles (including amassing a very impressive 22 tackles in a loss to the Bengals), leads them in interceptions with four (which is also tied for second in the NFL), has four passes defended and both a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. More worthy candidates could emerge over the next few weeks, like Sheldon Richardson or even our pre-draft favorite Kenny Vacarro, but Alonso is the current leader in the clubhouse.

Offensive Rookie of the Year: Quarterback Geno Smith, Jets, or running back Eddie Lacy, Packers - The talented West Virginia product has the requisite tools to be a starter and star in the NFL. Smith was thrown into a difficult situation when Mark Sanchez went down for the season and has played well, leading the Jets to a 5-5 record so far after the team was 6-10 all of last season.

But the one we've chosen as the midseason winner and the season-award prediction is Eddie Lacy. Coming out of Alabama, there were concerns about Lacy: he had injury issues, he had bigger numbers against lesser opponents and he was the beneficiary of an NFL-caliber offensive line in college. Well, he's silenced his critics, yours truly included, and has become the main back in the Packers offense. He leads all NFL rookies with 696 yards rushing and a 4.0 yard average. While there's still time for him to be caught, say maybe by DeAndre Hopkins, he has a strong hold on the lead for now.

Defensive Player of the Year: Free Safety Earl Thomas, Seahawks, or DE/OLB Robert Mathis - Thomas is the "Road Runner", because when he catches you you're through! (Thank you, John Gruden.) He has 78 tackles this season to along with seven passes defended, four interceptions and two forced fumbles. According to his coach, also, the 2012 All-Pro is just hitting his stride. "There's no end to the potential Earl has," said Pete Carroll, "because he's so fast and he's so tough, but more than that, he's just so driven to be great."

Even with such a résumé, though, our midseason winner and the season-award prediction goes to Robert Mathis. The 6'2" 245-pound Mathis has been a strong-side defender throughout his career. Now with the switch to 3-4 defense, Mathis is the primary rush LB and doesn't have to set the edge and so just pins his ears back and attacks. Because the position change has buoyed his sack total, Mathis no longer has a pre-game meal - he simply eats left tackles for lunch. With 13.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and a safety, Mathis is in good position for 21.5 sacks - a career-high - and DPOY award.

Offensive Player of the Year: RB Jamaal Charles, Chiefs, or QB Peyton Manning, Broncos - Charles is all over the field. He runs the ball, catches passes out of the backfield, plays the option (w/QB Alex Smith) and even runs the Wildcat. He is the key to the Chiefs' offense.

However, our choice for the midseason winner and the season-award prediction needs no introduction. Peyton Manning has been nothing short of brilliant all season. Seeing Joe Flacco's image all over Peyton's city before the NFL's opening Thursday Night Kickoff caused this Bronco to stampede the Ravens and then never looked back. With a 118.3 QB Rating, almost 12 points higher than the next passer, a 69.9% completion rate, and 34 touchdown passes against only six INTs (a near 6-1 ratio), Manning just may get the award that eluded him last season. If so...

MVP: QB Peyton Manning, Broncos - Yes, Cam Newton, Calvin Johnson, Jamaal Charles and Drew Brees are in the discussion, but it may be against the Law to choose anyone but The Sheriff this season. His numbers are better across the board over every other QB in the league and he's poised to break Tom Brady's record of 50 TD passes set in the 2007 season, on a pace for 54. He isn't just the best player on the best team, he is the captain that drives the wagon train - they won't arrive at their destination in February without him. You don't get much more valuable than that.

Super Bowl prediction:
A few years ago, this would have been a prediction for the AFC Championship game. Now it's the final game. And while the 49ers, Patriots and Bengals may have something to say about it, Seattle Seahawks vs. Denver Broncos.
Three months of football are in the books, and in three more months we'll know how many of these will have come to fruition. Until then.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Focused Roethlisberger Transforms Deficit Into Comeback Win For Steelers, 37-27

The next in the Transformers movie franchise won't be out until 2014, but for one Sunday in Pittsburgh in 2013, one thing was made clear: Bumblebee was greater than Megatron.

After a week of controversy regarding the franchise quarterback being unhappy with the team and that he'll demand a trade, which he vehemently denied, Ben Roethlisberger came out focused and lead the Pittsburgh Steelers to just their fourth win of the season.

"False and false," Big Ben said regarding whether money and multiple losses will cause him to want out sooner rather than later. "I don't want to go anywhere for any reason."

Thank you, Ian Rapoport. If It Ain't Steel wrote about the trade talk nearly two weeks ago when this first started surfacing. -

Big Ben used the rumors as motivation to focus him. His ability to pick apart the Detroit Lions secondary was evident right away as he went 5-for-5 with a 34-yard touchdown to his No. 1 wide receiver Antonio Brown, and was 2-for-2 on third downs on the first offensive possession - the first time all season they scored a touchdown on their opening drive. He then finished the first quarter going 7-for-8 for 121 yards and two touchdowns. That's a perfect 158.3 passer rating.

The determined quarterback was sharp all day completing 29 of 45 passes for 367 yards, with four touchdowns and no interceptions, finishing with a 119.4 QB rating. The Steelers are 49-4 when he surpasses 100.0 in passer rating.

The two-touchdown lead quickly dissipated, though, as Lions' QB Matthew Stafford threw for 327 and two touchdowns, mostly in the second quarter. His first-half 114.2 QB rating was mainly because of Megatron.

The Lions' All-Pro wide receiver Calvin Johnson, nicknamed "Megatron", had 163 of his 179 receiving yards and five of his six receptions in a resurgent second quarter. Johnson also saw six of his 10 targets in that quarter, with the Lions looking as if they were going to run away with the game.

Amazingly, the Lions never even threw a pass to Megatron in the third quarter and only two more targets the rest of the game. Stafford also threw for only 35 yards in the second half, finishing with a QB rating of 74.7.

The Steelers players, offensively and defensively, praised Big Ben for his play, with wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery saying pointedly that he "came here to play with (Ben), he has a lot of respect from the league and is a top-flight quarterback." -

Also worthy of praise was Brown who finished with 147 receiving yards and two touchdowns on seven receptions, and was the Steelers Digest Player of the Week.

Brown, probably hearing about Megatron all week, wanted it known that he's the NFL leader in receptions for a reason. Brown now has 74 catches for 952 yards through 10 weeks, both numbers are 2nd best all time in Steelers history (Hines Ward - '02 76 catches; Buddy Dial - '63 961 yards).

The defense also deserved a lot of credit. After surrendering 27 points in the second quarter and 379 yards in the first half, the Steelers stiffened allowing a total of only 72 yards the rest of the game, thanks in part to changing from a majority of Cover-3 defense to a Cover-2 with a man under.

Ike Taylor deserves much of this praise as he had a better second-half than any other cornerback has had against Megatron, completely shutting him out. -

But the main praise goes to the franchise QB who never faltered. But if Johnson is Megatron, then Big Ben was Optimus Prime this day. Even faced with a fourth-quarter deficit and 97 yards, after a questionable fake field goal failure, Optimus led them the length of the field for the go-ahead touchdown. The Steelers never looked back. 

The win pulled the Steelers within one game of the final Wild Card playoff spot. Not that we're looking that far ahead because too much needs to be done. It's one game at a time for sure. 

But if this team can be more consistent and put together more games like they did on Sunday, there could be more than meets the eye. 

UPDATE: The aforementioned performance and 97-yard drive earned Big Ben a Fed Ex Air Player of the Week nomination. Vote for him here! -


TIDBITS: After already playing without Ramon Foster, LaMarr Woodley and Brett Keisel, the Steelers faced injuries in the game. Most notably, Emmanuel Sanders left the game with a right foot injury. It will be evaluated Monday. Also, Stevenson Sylvester sustained a hamstring injury. The rest, as coach Tomlin said, were "normal bumps and bruises." -

Update: Manny didn't need an MRI and should be fine for Sunday, as should Foster, Woodley and Keisel.


Big Ben improved to 17-2 against the NFC at home. In those 17 wins he has thrown just 4 Interceptions versus 8 in the two losses.


It has been a rough two weeks for us, but we should be regular again now. Thanks for sticking by us. 

Friday, November 8, 2013

Tomlin Takes Responsibility For Personnel Woes - Should He Do So Alone?

by Jason and Jayden

When things are going badly, like they have lately with the Pittsburgh Steelers, it's common and all too easy to point fingers. It's equally easy for the accused to retaliate defensively since we tend to operate with a self-conscious notion/tone without the perspective of relative responsibility.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin doesn't seem to have a problem with this.

In his weekly press conference Tuesday, Tomlin handled questions regarding the state of the team, which centered mainly around the historic beating they took with Sunday's loss still fresh in everyone's mind. Those questions expanded not surprisingly to the quality of players the Steelers have. When asked essentially how figures into draft-day decisions, he answered in no uncertain terms.

"I take responsibility for the players we've drafted," Tomlin said.

He even repeated it more succinctly and sternly when the media tried to have him expound upon his initial answer.

Falling on the grenade and, somewhat literally, taking one for the team is admirable of the Super Bowl-winning head coach.

Admirable, but inaccurate.

No single individual is solely responsible for each year's draft decisions. In fact, Steelers GM Kevin Colbert has in the past alluded to himself as having the final word in the NFL Draft. The coordinators and position coaches have a certain say in players as well. Beyond that, players have to take opportunities as they come and to make the most of them.

So, despite what he contends, this isn't by any means a burden that Tomlin carries alone. The Steelers' poor draft record through much of his tenure - in the five years from the 2008-2012 draft, only 18 of the 42 players drafted (43%) remain with the team - has many calling for him to not just fall on the grenade, but his sword also. Again, though, this doesn't fall solely on him. Not by a long shot.

Colbert has the responsibility to oversee the draft as well as the Salary Cap, with Omar Khan at his side, under which those draftees will perform.

He is directly in charge of providing the coaches, including Tomlin, adequate talent to be developed into a winner. By way of his own visits to games, suggestions from the coaching staff regarding players who catch their eye and the ever-so-vital information brought to him from the team's scouts, he looks to maintain a certain level of talent on the field. A talent level that has clearly been below the line in recent years.

Along with that is the Salary Cap which has been mismanaged since the uncapped year of 2010 when the team uncharacteristically signed several free agents that would result in their recent Cap hell that they still aren't completely out of yet.

In doing so, they have tied up too much of their Cap space in expensive contracts owed to older players past their prime (Aaron Smith comes immediately to mind).

As a for instance, they didn't attempt to retain cornerback Keenan Lewis this past offseason and instead re-signed William Gay and also chose to hold onto to 33-year old Ike Taylor. The result: Lewis has three interceptions for the Saints this season while the Steelers as a team have four.

Such bad decisions by Colbert and company cause them to constantly restructure contracts to get back down under the Cap. In effect, just pushing money forward and mortgaging their future, over which Tomlin has no control.

Returning to the draft itself, Tomlin does absolutely have a say in who is selected, yes. But could it just be that he doesn't have enough say? Or maybe it's that the two don't work together as well as Colbert and former head coach Bill Cowher did?

It is just speculation, yes, but it is certainly feasible. Cowher and former Director of Football Operations Tom Donahoe had their own issues during a time when the team was similarly bereft of talent and wins. Those issues turned into a bit of a power struggle that caused Donahoe to leave after the 1999 season.

Enter Colbert into the mix and the rest is history, as it were. But Cowher was established already and seemed to have greater control of the draft. Remember the t.v. shot of prospect Ben Roethlisberger on the phone being told he was about to be drafted by the Steelers? He was on the phone with Cowher.

Maybe Colbert isn't as qualified to take on majority control of the situation? Maybe he is approaching his Waterloo. -

Not to suggest an ouster or that another power struggle is forthcoming, but maybe he should acquiesce more of the control to Tomlin. Whatever may be most accurate, if Tomlin is to blame for the recent woes, Colbert and team president Art Rooney II are as well, if not more so.

Speaking of Rooney II, his role in more recent results cannot be understated. Though it might have seemed to make sense at first (as it was just meant to be a "tweak", right?), Rooney II's meddling in team affairs was the beginning of the current snowballing.

Rooney II's signing of the "retirement" papers for former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, after Tomlin had said Arians would be back, undermined Tomlin's authority and made him look like an impotent figure head.

Poor personnel decisions from the front office, like the release of Jonathan Dwyer in favor of Isaac Redman despite Dwyer having been the team's leading rusher last season, having fumbled less and having blocked better, have further tied his hands when attempting to put forth the best talent.

Yet, Tomlin stands firm and tall with a hypocycloid target on his chest willing to take the responsibility or blame, as a true leader should. Irrespective of whatever slings and arrows come his way, it's his dog and he's walking it.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Addressing The "Trade Ben Roethlisberger" Talk; Sean Spence Put On IR

Updated 11/17/13
by Jayden Matthews
Mid-season is upon us and things aren't exactly what we'd have expected in the City of Bridges. To the degree that many fans are ready go to one of them and jump off. Especially regarding her favorite son and quarterback. 

Earlier in the season, we at If It Ain’t Steel had decided we weren’t going to unnecessarily defend said quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger, because of his play. And frankly, he hasn't deserved it. Big Ben has played nowhere near to the best of his ability and at times has resembled some guy we simply are not used to watching. What's more is he will be the first to admit that. So why defend his play? 

But what has me angered and therefore the reason for writing this is that some fans are calling for him to be benched. Further than that, more than a few are saying the Steelers should not extend their two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback and even trade him. Now, we wrote a parody blog in the offseason about trading Big Ben, but...

What are you people thinking???

I was born after the Terry Bradshaw, Steel Curtain, four Super Bowl-winning run of the 1970's. When I was born, frankly, the Steelers were not that good. But that happens when players get old, new players come in, coaching staffs change, front office personnel change, etc... When I realized what football even was, despite their not being very good, I chose to be a Steelers fan. They were not forced on me, even though my dad was a true blue, diehard Steelers fan, as was most of my family. I chose to be a fan, again, even though they weren’t winning championships.
The first Super Bowl that I, myself, can remember was when Larry Brown became Neil O’Donnell’s favorite target - the problem was just that Brown played for the Cowboys. Sorry for the bad flashback, but, if you're like me, you probably still ruminate over it knowing it's the reason we don’t have seven Lombardi trophies. 

But that is my first recollection of a championship caliber team, and the Steelers did not return to their again until 2005, after they drafted Big Ben. There were AFC Championships during that time, but no big dances.

The Steelers drafted Big Ben in 2004 and I was very happy because I had followed him in college and I knew he could be that guy to get them back to glory. He did not let me down, either. He has led them to the promised land three times in his first 10 years under center, winning twice. His play, capped by the greatest Super Bowl-winning drive in NFL history, in SB 43 should've earned him at least co-MVP also. 
This season, however, Big Ben has hardly looked like that championship-winning quarterback. The Steelers are having one of the worst seasons on record for this storied franchise. Is he the problem? Maybe, but he is not the entire problem, a subject which will be addressed again over the next few articles. 

Big Ben, though, has been turning the ball over a lot this season, throwing interceptions and fumbling. The last time he turned the ball over this much was in 2006. Is this on him? Yes and no. Some of it is that he is getting hit often because the offensive line forgot how to block, some of it is on the receivers not running the right routes and some are definitely on Big Ben. He hasn’t been securing the ball the way he should, has sometimes been reckless with it or has simply been inaccurate. Again, he will admit to all of this.

But now fans have it in their heads that not extending Ben or trading him is what's needed. "Just cut/trade him and move on." Their reasoning being the Steelers' Salary Cap issues, saying the team would be better off not extending him. Well, those saying that didn’t do their homework. 

Trading Big Ben would not help the Steelers cap-wise. Any team that he would be traded to would only be on the hook for his contract, not the money that was pushed back due to restructuring. Trading Big Ben would actually put the Steelers in a bigger hole than what they are already in cap wise because of the dead money hit they would take. 
Right now, the Steelers are $1.65 million under the Salary Cap and approximately $3-$4 million over the cap for 2014. Yes, players will be cut at the end of the season and contracts will be renegotiated to get under the Cap. But, if they would take that extra step and trade Big Ben they would take a $18-$24 million dead money hit against the cap, basically meaning they'd be working with only a $100 million Cap. So how is that helping the Steelers? 

(UPDATE: According to Ian Whetstone, whom we often reference, the Steelers would actually take a $13.59 million Salary Cap hit, and by extending him, the Steelers would only save $5.3 million. I unfortunately went elsewhere for the Cap information and was incorrectly informed. The fault is my own. In fact, Jayden had initially told me that the dead money hit was closer to $14 million...I really hate it when she's right.)

Are you comfortable with having an approximate $110 million Cap? That ties up money that can be used in signing and re-signing players that they need. Is there a solution? Why yes, there is. 

Rip up his current contract and redo  it overall, which in effect turns his old agreement into a new one, and of course extend him. That would do away with the dead money hit, his massive salary cap hit, etc... The beautiful thing of that is that the Steelers still have their franchise quarterback. Can that be done? Yes, it can. 

The New England Patriots did that very thing with Tom Brady, doing away with his old contract and it's liabilities and most of his salary was paid as a bonus which doesn't count against the Cap. -

In doing this the Steelers would not only save money but it would also allow them two years to clear up other money issues, freeing up money under the cap allowing them to re-sign their free agents and possibly sign other players. This is what I firmly believe will happen, because Big Ben has shown, including on his radio show this week, that he is all about the team and will do what is needed to help the team. -
The only drawback is the possibility of a per year salary being around $20 million. We'll be getting back to that soon enough.

Another thing ones have thrown around is that Big Ben is too old and needs to go. I say hogwash! Big Ben will be 32 at the start of 2014. Yes, he takes more hits than most QB’s, but a lot of that goes back to his style of play too. But to say he is getting old is funny because I don’t think Peyton Manning or Brady got that memo. 

If Ben at 31 is old, what would you call Brady and Manning? “Grandpas”? It's just insane to even utter those words and no need to further address any of that nonsense.

Look, I get that fans are frustrated, but to want to cut a guy that has never had a losing season is ludicrous. Especially considering he is fourth in win percentage all-time among NFL quarterbacks. 

All he does is win and you want him gone? You are willing to throw that all away and take a chance on an unproven guy that may or may not be the answer? Just ask Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw, because he agrees with me. -

As a way of putting a bow on this, allow me to illustrate it this way: Cliff Stoudt, Bubby Brister, Jim Miller, Mike Tomzack, blah, blah, "we suck at QB", blah...


TIDBITS: Inside linebacker Sean Spence has been placed on IR. Can't agree with Gerry Dulac’s take, though, that the Steelers should've kept Spence on 53 for practice time. It's still a waste of a roster spot and would affect player(s) evaluation as season ends, or would be a hindrance if multiple players were to go down. It doesn’t matter whether or not he's gonna start in 2014, either, because he'll have ALL of the offseason to prepare (eligible for all camps because of injury).

“@MarkKaboly_Trib: On bright side for Sean Spence, at least Steelers thought enough of him to put him on IR rather than outright release him. Had both options”

"@MarkKaboly_Trib: Actually, Sean Spence not put on IR. Kept on PUP. Either way, season is over. Just semantics."


Ike Taylor and Vince Williams did not practice. David DeCastro and Markus Wheaton practiced.

Monday, November 4, 2013

Latest Steelers Defensive Debacle May Beg For LeBeau's Job

"They handled us and they handled us well."  - head coach Mike Tomlin after the Pittsburgh Steelers' 55-31 loss to the New England Patriots.

Where do we begin?

The Steelers walked into Gillette Stadium Sunday afternoon with their playoff hopes hanging by a thread. The Patriots ceremoniously cut that thread, dropping the once mighty Steelers to a lowly 2-6. It's almost too difficult breaking down this loss. Like Steelers announcer Bill Hillgrove said after the game, "Too many stats."

It's for that very reason that we're going to leave the majority of the actual breakdown to Bob Labriola so that we can focus on a broader problem. -

Something one scribe wrote in his article following the game was that the Steelers had "one of the top pass defenses statistically heading into the game." Well, it is Mark Twain who is credited with the quote,"There are three types of lies: lies, damn lies and statistics."

The poor performance we saw in last Sunday's 21-18 loss to the Oakland Raiders prove some numbers don't lie, though. Meaning, in that case, the numbers of missed sacks, missed tackles and the many missed assignments.

In retrospect, that was a virtuoso performance compared to what the Steelers defense tried to pass off as professional against the Patriots.

Jason Worilds had pity sacks (pun intended) and LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons and Vince Williams got pressure only a few times, but none of it was enough. The Steelers did actually have several pressures, as helped by defensive ends Brett Keisel and Cam Heyward, but too few led to sacks managing only three for the game.

To say that their current effort simply isn't enough is an understatement. For a point of reference, the Kansas City Chiefs not only lead the NFL in sacks (36) and forced turnover (23) through nine games, but also in wins. In fact, their 9-0 record is, in large part, due to those sacks and turnovers.

That used to be the Steelers forte: a rock-hard, fearsome defense that punished quarterbacks and teams in general. They led the league or were top three in the league in sacks six times in the 10 years from 2001-2010:
2001 .................. 55
2002 .................. 50
2003 .................. 35
2004 .................. 41
2005 .................. 47
2006 .................. 39
2007 .................. 36
2008 .................. 51
2009 .................. 47
2010 .................. 48

That's the crux of this article, though. The defense isn't feared as it has been, nor does it cause the chaotic confusion it once did. A confusion that is supposed to be the driving force behind the 3-4 scheme defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau uses.

Last season, Raiders' quarterback made reference to the Steelers doing pretty much what they had done "six, seven years ago." Sunday against the Patriots, the Steelers had to blitz regularly just to get the amount of pressure alluded to earlier. And it may simply be time to make one very hard decision.

It may be time for Dick LeBeau to retire and allow new blood in at defensive coordinator.

Look, it hurts to even write that. LeBeau is tremendously respected and is one of the best all time at what he does. Few have achieved more in football than Dick LeBeau, as a player, as a coach and as a man. Who doesn't love Coach Dad?

Still, the evidence has been there over the last few years and it's a subject that needs to be addressed now.  The word "predictable" has now been used entirely too often in connection with Lebeau and his schemes. And while execution always trumps predictability, there is too much evidence to be ignored.

Let's look at Super Bowl 45 an example, where the Green Bay Packers exploited the Steelers  secondary all game. It could have been worse, also, as the Packers receivers dropped several balls, including a few that would have been big gains.

What was most bothersome, though, was after the Steelers had stormed back and made it a 28-25 ball game with just over seven minutes left, the defense gave up a huge clock killing field goal drive. The Steelers didn't get the ball back till the 2:07 mark. The defense just couldn't get off the field.

Just like they couldn't Sunday against the Patriots. And there have simply been too many situations where the defense does not show up when needed most, especially late in games.

Now with this last example being presented, it is clear that changes must be made. LeBeau had seemingly shown the ability to change his attack given the circumstances, as he did in the last New England Patriots game in 2011. Yet, his game plan was horrible, reverting back to previous years' performances.

Too much base defense, not enough bump coverage, barely any effective "quarters" coverage and great liabilities in Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark. All of this allowing quarterback Tom Brady, held to 118 passing yards the week before, to pass for 432 yards. His 151.4 QBR was nearly perfect.

The Patriots put up 610 yards total - 98 more yards than a LeBeau-coached or any Steelers' defense has ever allowed. The 55 points were the most ever allowed, also, by any Steelers' defense, with the previous high being 54 points set twice - in 1941 to the Packers and in 1985 to the San Diego Chargers.

"Probably as disappointed as I have been," Tomlin said after the game, "especially under the circumstances of how we were able to fight back there at the beginning of the second half. I am angry. We are capable and better than that. We've got to be better than that. We weren't, so we are going to fix it." -

The defense couldn't stop the pass, made rookie receivers look like seasoned veterans and, worst of all, they couldn't stop the run - they surrendered almost 200 yards on the ground. Worst of all, the last rushing touchdown scored by the Patriots was just the bully being bullied as LeGarrette Blount powered out of the arms of Ziggy Hood to score.

"For a long time here we've been tough because we've played great defense here", Keisel said. "We need to get back to that."

They were unprepared, outmatched and outclassed. In neither scheme nor adjustments were the Steelers successful. Like Clark said, the Patriots "were able to run it when they wanted to run it, which is an 11-man job, and they were also able to pass it when they wanted to pass it, which is an 11-man job....We were beat by a much better team."

That isn't merely a player-execution problem when it's as consistent as it has been for the Steelers. Like Tomlin said, they need to fix it. Well, there's a lot to fix.

And fixing it starts from the top of the defensive pyramid down.


TIDBITS: Injury report: CB Ike Taylor (concussion), ILB Vince Williams (concussion) RT Marcus Gilbert (ankle)

"I got rolled up on my bad ankle, but I'll be fine." ~ Gilbert