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Sunday, November 26, 2006

Baltimore bashing

There wasn’t much good to come out of this game. Ben Roethlisberger was walking with a noticeable limp afterward and Troy Polamalu has what head coach Bill Cowher termed, “a serious knee injury.”

But Polamalu was walking around the locker room with more ease than Roethlisberger, so go figure.

Polamalu will likely be out for two weeks with a sprained MCL.

© Hines Ward will be out for at least two games as well after having surgery to repair a broken bone in his knee.

Things are really coming together now.

© I won’t completely fault just the offensive line for the high number of sacks Sunday. On several occasions guys were coming in untouched. And that’s a problem with the scheme, which can be attributed to the coaching.

The same goes for the way the Ravens gashed the Steelers with their running game in the first half.

© So let’s see, they got outplayed physically and outcoached. Yep, that pretty much sums up a 27-0 beating.

© If you didn’t blink, you got to see the changes Cowher made on the kickoff coverage unit.

It largely consisted of putting Chad Brown out there for Anthony Smith.

The Steelers only got to kick off once, though, so we don’t know if that’s a full-time change.

© Brett Keisel was back on kickoff return teams and the Steelers averaged just 15.0 yards per return. So much for that experiment.

© Not only did the Ravens have nine sacks, they also had nine quarterback hurries and 10 pass defenses. The Steelers had no sacks, one pass defense and one hurry. Both the hurry and the pass defense came on the same play when Keisel came through and batted down a Steve McNair pass.

Monday, November 20, 2006

Ain't easy being Peazy

He may not be the player he once was, but Steelers linebacker Joey Porter is still the focal point of a lot of the anger from opposing teams.

Sunday was no different as Peazy spent the entire pregame jawing with Browns, most notably Kellen Winslow.

Some would say it was too bad Porter and Winslow didn’t fight the way he and William Green did a couple of years ago. Had Porter and Winslow gotten themselves ejected before the game, that would have been a win for the Steelers.

© That’s not to say Porter isn’t still good for a great quote.

After the game Sunday, Porter had this to say about the Browns: “They can’t beat us. They talk like they’re a different team, but they’re not.”

Think that one will be on the bulletin boards in Cleveland for the rematch in a couple of weeks?

© If there was any question about how important Troy Polamalu is to the Steelers’ defense, he showed exactly how valuable he is on Cleveland’s possession after Pittsburgh scored to cut Cleveland’s lead to 20-17.

Polamalu had a sack, then assisted Casey Hampton in tackling Cleveland running back Jason Wright for a 2-yard gain before knocking down a Charlie Frye pass on a blitz for single-handedly force the Browns to punt the ball back to the Steelers.

He was also the guy that broke up the Browns’ last-second pass into the end zone to end the game.

© Santonio Holmes is going to be a very good receiver in this league. Because of his lack of height he’ll probably never be a great receiver, but the kid is really starting to get a feel for Ben Roethlisberger.

And Roethlisberger is getting more comfortable with Holmes as well. Watching Holmes and Roethlisberger scramble simultaneously before Holmes’ 20-yard touchdown catch was a thing of beauty.

© Believe it or not, after Sean Morey hit the Browns for a 76-yard kick return, they started kicking the ball away from him.

© Bill Cowher obviously has no faith in his coverage teams any longer. How else can you explain those final two kickoffs?

The Steelers would have been better served to just have Jeff Reed kick the ball directly at Browns coach Romeo Crennel on the sidelines and give Cleveland the ball at the 40.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Nawlins notes

Ben Roethlisberger is really starting to look like a quarterback on a roll. Even when faced with a blitzer in his face, he threw the ball to a spot where only his receiver would have a chanced to catch it.

I guess he's learned a little something.

© I thought the Steelers had figured out how to solve their punt return problems – never make the opposing team punt. But then Cowher sent Santonio Holmes out to field a couple of punts in the second half.

Was there any doubt that Holmes was calling for a fair catch on both occasions?

© Speaking of returns, Sean Morey was back to return kickoffs with Najeh Davenport.

But, as Cowher related after the game, Morey was only supposed to be blocking for Davenport, who was supposed to handle all of the kick returns. Nothing like having a 190-pound wide receiver blocking for a 250-pound fullback.

Morey ended up handling a couple of kickoffs, though, when the Saints foiled Cowher’s plan by kicking off to him instead of Davenport. After Morey fumbled at the end of his first return - though I thought he was down by contact - I correctly assessed when he took off with his next return that he would simply run out of bounds. He did.

© If not for a blocked field goal by the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers would have found themselves just three games out of first play headed to Cleveland next week.

Oh well.

© Ryan Clark said he was directing traffic in the second half like a crossing guard.

As bad as the Steelers’ pass defense was, especially in the second half when both Deshea Townsend and Troy Polamalu were out, it could have been worse. Had Joe Horn played for the Saints, it surely would have been worse.

The Steelers finally started doubling Marques Colston in the second half and forcing Drew Brees to beat them throwing to the likes of Aaron Stecker, Terrence Copper and Reggie Bush. He nearly did it.

© It’s hard to believe the Steelers had never had a 200-yard rusher under Cowher. In fact, given how much they’ve run the ball over the years, it’s hard to believe they’ve only had three 200-yard rushers – period.

Parker may not scare defenses physically, but teams will certainly look at film of Sunday’s game and make sure their safeties don’t get caught inside like New Orleans’ did.

© In previous years Cowher may have gone to Jerome Bettis in the fourth quarter with a seven-point lead. This year, he was forced to run Parker. There’s some dumb luck for you.

© The Steelers’ kickoff coverage teams included the likes of John Kuhn, Anthony Madison, Ronald Stanley, Marquise Cooper and Anthony Smith.

That should be a hungry group of players.

But it also shows the difference between this year’s coverage units and last year’s since none of those players were on the active roster last season.

Monday, November 06, 2006

More of the same

Once again, Max Starks was awful up front against the Denver Broncos Sunday. Once again, most of the Pittsburgh media will ignore that fact because Starks is such a good guy for the TV and radio people to talk to. He’s eloquent and always available for their interviews.

In fact, while watching the New England-Indianapolis game Sunday night, I saw a commercial for Monday’s news in which the teaser was an exlusive look at Starks’ custom car.

Are you kidding me? This team is 2-6, Starks is stinking up the joint and they’re doing a feature on his car?

Must be sweeps week.

© Let’s see, the right tackle is stinking up the joint, the outside linebackers can’t get consistent pressure on the quarterback, the cornerbacks are having trouble covering and nobody can seem to hold onto the football.

So what direction this team do with its first-round draft pick?

If wide receiver Calvin Johnson from Georgia Tech is available, the Steelers should grab him.

We saw Sunday with Denver’s Javon Walker torching the Steelers all over the field what a big-time offensive playmaker can mean for a team.

Hines Ward is good, but he’s just not that kind of player. At this point in his career, he’s more Rod Smith than Walker – not that there’s anything wrong with that.

© Joey Porter was absent from the locker room quickly Sunday. Then again, he was largely missing in action from Sunday’s game as well.

There’s no truth to the rumor that he led the cheer after the game, “Who stink? We stink.”

© Though Ike Taylor ended up being the target of several long passes and a couple of fade patterns in the end zone, Denver quarterback Jake Plummer said the team’s plan coming in was to target Deshea Townsend on those plays.

© Plummer tried on several occasions tried to give the Steelers a chance to win this game. The Steelers either couldn’t hold onto the passes he threw them or they fell harmlessly to the ground.

It’s really been the story of the season thus far.

Wednesday, November 01, 2006

More changes

It looks as if Kendall Simmons will regain his starting spot at right guard this week, but will it last.

Head coach Bill Cowher said Tuesday that the battle between Chris Kemoeatu and Simmons would be a week-to-week thing. It looks like this is Simmons' week after Kemoeatu struggled in Oakland in place of Simmons.

Could it be that simple, or is Cowher playing matchups? I guess we'll find that out next week.

Also, it looks like John Kuhn, just activated off the practice squad, will dress instead of Duce Staley this week.

The reason? Kuhn can help out on special teams. Staley can't.

Oakland debacle

Ben Roethlisberger wanted more responsibility this season and he’s gotten it. Thus far, the third-year quarterback doesn’t appear ready to handle that kind of load.

He looked a lot more like Tommy Maddox Sunday than a quarterback who won a Super Bowl last season.

© Another week, another bad performance by the offensive line and right tackle Max Starks in particular.

But here’s betting you won’t hear Starks called out for his poor play by too many TV types in Pittsburgh. Starks is always quick with a quote and the TV types love to talk to him because he’s so well spoken.

Starks looked lost, however, trying to block Derrick Burgess Sunday.

I don’t know that the Chris Kemoeatu experiment at right guard is going to last all that long either. The big fella didn’t exactly dominate in the run game and his pass blocking looked pretty shoddy to say the least.

But Kendall Simmons was one of just three Steelers who dressed and did not play Sunday - Rodney Bailey and Charlie Batch were the other two – so maybe head coach Bill Cowher is preparing for the future.

© The play-calling Sunday by offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt was questionable at times to say the least.

We saw way too much of the four and five-wide receiver packages when the team was in short yardage situations. That tells me the Steelers don’t have any faith in their ability to run the ball and get a yard or two when needed.

Maybe Duce Staley will be the answer. Staley will be active from here on out with Verron Haynes being done for the season with a left leg injury.

© When it’s thought that Staley might be a savior, the team’s in trouble.

© Where was Cowher’s spit and fire when the defense was getting penalized for unsportsmanlike penalties on back-to-back plays?

Maybe the head coach is resigned to the fact that this is just not a good football team.

© Oakland averaged 0.9 yards per pass play, 2.9 yards per rushing play and 2.0 yards per play overall and won.

After 14 years of covering the NFL, I have officially seen it all.

At least in 2002 when Tommy Maddox single-handedly handed Houston a win with a performance like the one Roethlisberger had Sunday, the Texans’ defense stopped the Steelers on occasion.

The only thing stopping the Steelers Sunday was the Steelers.

© Shane Lechler was Oakland’s most valuable player in this game. The Raiders’ punter continually put the Steelers deep in their own territory to start drives, forcing them into bad situations.

© With this team floundering so badly, you can forget those Cowher retirement rumors. Cowher is now going to have to come back in 2007 to prove that he can turn this thing around after a 6-10 or 7-9 season.

Then again, at this point, 7-9 would be an achievement in itself with this squad.