Thursday, September 28, 2006

Changes coming

Everybody has been screaming for Willire Reid to return punts for the Steelers. But it looks like they'll have to settle for Ricardo Colclough not doing it.

Reid is in the mix of players the team is working out at punt returner right now, but I doubt Bill Cowher will be able to find a spot for a sixth wideout on game days.

That means Santonio Holmes or Cedrick Wilson will be back there against San Diego.

In kickoff returns, Colclough has also been replaced. Look for Najeh Davenport to get a shot at returning kickoffs.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Blame Cowher

Sometimes a coach just thinks he’s smarter than everyone else and he wants to show them so as often as possible.

That’s the only explanation for Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Bill Cowher continuing to send Ricardo Colclough back for punt returns in the team’s 28-20 loss to Cincinnati Sunday.

What in Colclough’s history has suggested he is a good punt returner?

Every time the Steelers had tried him back there in the past, Colclough had mishandled punts.

Seemingly every practice at training camp was punctuated by Colclough mishandling a punt.

Last week at Jacksonville Colclough had a punt jump out of his hands before he reeled it back in. And he also mishandled one in the opener against Miami.

Yet there was Colclough back there to return a critical fourth-quarter punt against the Bengals.

What did Colclough do?

What he’s always done.

That’s why I don’t blame Colclough for muffing a punt that the Bengals recovered at the Pittsburgh nine yard line. You don’t blame a lion for attacking a water buffalo. He’s just doing what lions do.

Cowher should shoulder all of the blame in this instance. He made the decision to put Colclough back there.

I’m not going to say Willie Reid would have made a difference in this game. But he certainly didn’t muff any punts during training camp.

But we still haven’t seen Reid during the regular season because he’s been inactive for the first three games.

If Cowher says having Reid active comes down to numbers on game day, that’s fine.

But that doesn’t explain why Santonio Holmes wasn’t back there instead of Colclough. At worst, Holmes would have just allowed the punt to bounce and the Steelers would have taken over the ball deep in their own territory instead of Cincinnati doing so.

© The miscues of the Steelers offense and Colclough ruined another strong effort by the defense, which is performing at the same level it did during last year’s playoff run.

Talk all you want about the four touchdown passes Carson Palmer threw Sunday, but the defense opened the second half in dominating fashion against the Bengals.

On four possessions prior to the muffed punt, Cincinnati had managed just one first down as Palmer was intercepted once, lost a fumble and was sacked three times.

All told, the great Cincinnati offense managed 64 second-half yards.

That should have been good enough for the Steelers to win.

© Ben Roethlisberger is obviously struggling with his throws, leaving a lot of balls high or otherwise off-target. He’s also forcing some throws.

But the receivers aren’t helping a lot by dropping a lot of passes.

Part of the reason is that they are being forced to leave their feet to make catches and are dropping the ball on contact with a defender. These guys are professionals, though, and should be expected to come up with more of those than they drop.

Through three games, the Steelers’ leading receiver is running back Verron Haynes, who has 10 catches for 59 yards.

That speaks volumes about how badly the passing game is struggling.

Through two games, Roethlisberger is completing less than 50 percent of his passes and his passer rating is 34.3. There were even a smattering of boos at times after some of his poorer throws.

If Roethlisberger has any doubts about how quickly fortunes can change for quarterbacks in Pittsburgh, he can give Kordell Stewart a call.

© If I’d have told you prior to Sunday’s game that Rudi Johnson would average just 2.5 yards per carry, gaining 47 yards on 19 carries, while Chad Johnson would get one catch for 11 yards, you’d have taken it in a heartbeat.

© Kudos to guard Kendall Simmons, who handled Sam Adams play after play in this game, often taking the big man wherever he wanted him to go.

If I’m the Bengals, when I look at the film of this game, I’m hoping that the second meeting with the Steelers in the final week of the season is meaningless.

If the Steelers are pushing the big man around like this now, what are they going to do to him in the second meeting?

Certainly getting middle linebacker Odell Thurman back will help Cincinnati’s run defense. But Adams looked old and fat Sunday, which is fine if you’re watching the game from the couch or press box, but not all that impressive if you’re being asked to catch Willie Parker.

© This is the fourth time in Cowher’s tenure that the Steelers have opened a season 1-2. In each of the other three seasons – 2002, 1997 and 1993 – the team has rebounded to make the playoffs.

But with Cincinnati and Baltimore already off to 3-0 starts, the team certainly has dug itself a nice hole.

© After his quick start against Miami, Joey Porter again had a day in which he played but didn’t show up a lot in the stat sheet. Porter was credited with one pass defensed and one assist on a tackle against the Bengals.

He did push Palmer out of the pocket on one occasion, into the waiting arms of defensive end Brett Keisel. And the defense did finish with six sacks, so it’s hard to fault Porter for Sunday’s loss.

© So why was Haynes in the game following Cincinnati’s go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter?

Parker had taken himself out of the game after his 31st carry after getting speared.

That wasn’t a coaching decision. That was fate.

© Safety Ryan Clark nearly did society a favor when he decked Cincinnati receiver Chris Henry in the third quarter, a hit that resulted in a Pittsburgh interception and Henry laying on the ground for several minutes.

Henry, who has been arrested four times in the past year, received a slap on the wrist last week on a gun charge in Orlando.

Here's betting the league will come down harder on Clark for leaving his feet to hit Henry than it will on Henry for his mutiple infractions.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Jacksonville debacle

Running back Willie Parker pretty much summed up what happened to the Steelers in Monday night's 9-0 loss at Jacksonville with one statement.

"They kicked our asses," said Parker, who was held to 20 yards on 11 carries as the Steelers were limited to 26 yards rushing.

It was a statement nobody who watched the game could argue.

The Steelers, a team used to being a bully, were out-bullied by the Jaguars. And there was nothing the Steelers could do about it.

"They were out there dancing and having a good time because they were beating us up," said Parker. "Heck, they were even doing it before the game. We just got out-physicalled."

And thats not ever supposed to happen to this team.

"I know I'm not happy about it and there's nobody else in this locker room who's happy about it either."

What the Steelers will do about that remains to be seen.

But as the defending Super Bowl champions, the Steelers are going to get everybody's best shot when they play them, especially on the road. Monday night, they weren't ready for that.

© One week after showing up in a big way in a victory over the Miami Dolphins, Joey Porter completely disappeared from action against Jacksonville.

I know I saw Porter on the field Monday night. But the stat sheet said he had one assist on a tackle. I don't even recall that one.

The NFL's most feared player was more like the Invisible Man here at Alltell Stadium.

© The same couldn't be said of the rest of the Steelers linebackers, who played their butts off.

Fred Taylor gashed the Steelers for a couple of mid-range runs in the third quarter, but other than that, he was largely held in check.

Nose tackle Casey Hampton also had a strong game against Jacksonville center Brad Meester, who is one of the best at his position in the league.

But the secondary was flat-out awful.

Cornerback Deshea Townsend missed a bunch of tackles coming up on short passes. And Ike Taylor was giving too much cushion. He was pulled from the game for a play and chewed out by head coach Bill Cowher after giving up back-to-back passes to Matt Jones.

© It's becoming apparent that opposing teams are going to double Hines Ward constantly until the other Steelers receivers prove they can do something to hurt them.

In two games, Cedrick Wilson has drawn more pass interference penalties -- two -- than he has catches -- one. And that one catch came late in the fourth quarter Monday night meaning Wilson played seven quarters without catching a pass.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger wasn't sharp and threw some bad balls Monday night. But the receivers didnt give him a lot of help, either.

Wilson is getting very little separation from opposing defensive backs, hence the extra contact he's drawing for the pass interference calls.

At some point, Nate Washington has to push Wilson out of the starting lineup.

© After he very nearly muffed another punt in the first quarter, I'm pretty sure we've seen the last of Ricardo Colclough as a punt returner.

The question is, what took so long?

Then again, Santonio Holmes didnt exactly light things up returning punts after Colclough's near muff, allowing several kicks to drop inside the 10 rather than fielding them and coming up for one fair catch.

Cowher said Tuesday Reid will not be active again this week when the team plays Cincinnati.

Did Reid get caught with his hand in the cookie jar or something?


© Speaking of punters, Chris Gardocki was the Steelers MVP in this game, dropping five of his eight punts inside the 20 and kicking very well when backed up in his own territory.

The coverage units were also much better with Anthony Smith and Colclough serving as the gunners on punts. Their hustle down the field caused a lot of those balls to be fair caught.

© Monday night's loss is nothing a victory Sunday against Cincinnati wouldn't cure. Then again, a loss Sunday to Cincinnati would put the Steelers in a pretty big hole just three games into the season and have them searching for answers heading into their bye week.

Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Davenport hungry

Speaking with Najeh Davenport for the first time today since his signing by the Steelers Friday, I was struck by how hungry he is to show Green Bay that it was wrong to let him go.

Getting cut by a team that is quite possibly the worst team in football will do that to you.

Davenport feels he has plenty to prove after his release by the hapless Packers and he feels he'll fit right into the Steelers' running scheme.

We could find out as soon as Monday because Davenport will likely be active when the Steelers play at Jacksonville.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Thoughts from Miami

What hold does Ricardo Colclough have over Bill Cowher? There has to be something.

How else can you explain Cowher putting him back to field a punt after the problems Colclough had fielding punts in training camp?

Colclough looks like Lonnie Smith trying to play center field when he’s back there fielding punts.

I can kind of understand why Cowher would rotate Colclough and Braynt McFadden at cornerback. You have to keep them both ready to play.

But putting Colclough back there for punts is just crazy.

© Ike Taylor shut Chris Chambers out in the first half, holding him without a catch while shadowing him. In fact, Chambers really didn’t get going until late in the game, finishing with five catches for 59 yards.

But on the drive home after the game, I heard more than one radio pundit talk about what a bad game Taylor had.

What the heck were they watching?

Yes, he missed an easy interception in the back of the end zone and Miami scored a touchdown on the following play. And yes, he missed a couple of tackles in run support. But Miami finished with 43 yards rushing.

The bottom line is that Taylor kept Chambers off the board, something Miami couldn’t do with Ward.

It’s like basketball. You can’t expect the guy you’ve got covering the other team’s best player in man-to-man defense to also come down and score 20 points as well. It doesn’t work that way. Let him shut down the other team’s top gun and be happy if he gets you a basket here or there.

© The offensive line’s blocking was spotty, at best, especially in pass blocking. But that was because Miami was mixing things up defensively like New England plays against the Steelers, giving them various looks.

In fact, the Dolphins were defending the Steelers like the Steelers play defense. You saw what that did to Daunte Culpepper, who looked confused for much of the game.

© Special teams play was a problem. You’d hate to think Chidi Iwuoma and Willie Reid would mean that much to this team and that the problems were due to the group not having a lot of playing time together in the preseason.

Then again, you can bet Iwuoma and Reid will be active when the Steelers line up to play Jacksonville.

© Where’s the love for Nate Washington now?

© Speaking of love, Joey Porter professed his for Cowher following the game. This after Porter laid a smooch on Cowher following the linebacker’s interception return for a touchdown.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

© Antwaan Randle El would have been caught from behind had he been on the receiving end of the pass Heath Miller took 87 yards for a touchdown. Cedrick Wilson didn’t catch a pass, while Miller – who actually was the Steelers’ second-leading receiver last year – had three catches for 101 yards and Washington had two for 32 and also ran a reverse for eight yards.

I guess they didn't need Randle El as much as everyone thought.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Veteran replacements

Who will the Steelers look to as a replacement for Ben Roethlisberger while he's out?

Omar Jacobs is out. In fact, the team may release Jacobs from the practice squad to make room for whomever they cut from the active roster to make room for the veteran QB they sign.

Who might that veteran be?

Tommy Maddox and Brian St. Pierre are possibilities, though both burned some bridges when they left here.

Jay Fiedler, Shaun King or Todd Bauman are also possibilities, as are the over-the-hill gang of Vinny Testaverde and Jeff Blake.

The bottom line is that there just isn't a lot out there right now. Roethlisberger had better get well quickly.

Practice squad

The Steelers' practice squad has no real surprises as the team re-signed a bunch of players who were with them in training camp.

Tight end John Dekker, defensive linemen Orien Harris and Shaun Nua, running backs Cedric and John Kuhn, quarterbacks Omar Jacobs, cornerback Anthony Madison, offensive lineman Brandon Torrey and wide receiver Marvin Allen were signed by the team to complete its practice squad.

As I said, no real surprises, though Kuhn is listed as a fullback despite the fact that the next person he blocks will be the first. Then again, Dekker is listed as a tight end and he can't block either.

Friday, September 01, 2006

Steelers deal for RB

Looking to bolster their depth at running back, the Steelers pulled off a deal with the New England Patriots Friday for rookie Patrick Cobbs, the AFC’s second-leading rusher in the preseason.

The 5-9, 210-pound Cobbs, who led the NCAA in rushing in 2003 at North Texas, was acquired for a conditional draft pick in 2007.

What that means about the future of running back Duce Staley remains to be seen.

Staley led the team in rushing in the preseason with 92 yards, but took 42 carries to do so, an average of just 2.2 yards per attempt. His long carry in the preseason was six yards as the 10-year veteran looked sluggish.

The Steelers had hoped that the 5-11, 242-pound Staley would fill the role of short-yardage back that Jerome Bettis held last year behind starter Willie Parker.

Though he’s just 5-9, 210 pounds, Cobbs could fill that role. A former high school power lifting champion, Cobbs led the NCAA in rushing in 2003 with 1,680 yards on 307 carries. He also scored 19 touchdowns. He suffered a season-ending knee injury in 2004, but came back in 2005 to gain 1,154 yards and score six touchdowns while sharing time with Jamario Thomas, the 2004 NCAA rushing leader.

Cobbs finished his college career as North Texas’ all-time leading rusher with 4,050 yards. He holds the North Texas and Sun Belt Conference career records for rushing yards, rushing touchdowns (36), rushing attempts (818) and all-purpose yards (5,255).

Cobbs also excelled in the Patriots’ four preseason games, finishing second in the AFC in rushing with 188 yards and three touchdowns on 38 carries. He also caught seven passes for 115 yards and another score.

Staley by default?

Duce Staley and Bill Cowher both spoke after Thursday’s preseason loss to the Carolina Panthers as if there was nothing wrong with the Pittsburgh Steelers running back.

If they really think that, neither is as smart as I’ve given them credit for.

It’s obvious Staley is no longer hitting the hole like he once did. Heck, he’s not even hitting the hole like Jerome Bettis once did and Bettis was never exactly quick into the hole.

What Bettis did have, was that wiggle to go along with the power to do something even if he didn’t exactly get to the hole that was there.

We did see a little bit of power running out of Staley against the Panthers. More often than not, he drove forward through the tackle. But there were times when a faster running back would have taken the ball for a nice gain and Staley rumbled forward for a two-yard gain.

The question is, can the Steelers live with that in their backup running back?

The thinking here is yes, unless a better option comes along.

John Kuhn didn’t help distinguish himself by fumbling for the second time in this preseason, while Cedric Humes just hasn’t shown enough to be a better option than Staley.

Carolina’s Eric Shelton is rumored to be on his way out and ran well against the Steelers, but he was a second-round pick last year. The Steelers would likely have to work out some kind of trade to get him since they probably wouldn’t get a shot at him in waivers.

Nehemiah Broughton is another guy the Steelers liked last year when he was coming out of college who may not have a spot on Washington’s roster this season with the team’s trade for T.J. Duckett.

© Arnold Harrison may have won himself a job on this team with his performance against the Panthers.

Harrison had played well during this preseason and put the exclamation point on that by recording eight tackles and two sacks – along with a special teams tackle – against the Panthers.

It may help matters that Richard Seigler, who was also pushing for a spot, was in a walking boot after the game. That injury may allow the Steelers to sneak Seigler through waivers or even put him on injured reserve if they so choose.

© Harrison wasn’t the only young linebacker who did good things Thursday night. The team’s four leading tacklers in the game were Rian Wallace (9), Harrison and Andre Frazier (8) and Seigler (6).

Not bad for a team who was questioned for not taking a linebacker in the draft.

© Chris Kemoeatu continues to impress with his aggressiveness, but sometimes his nature gets the best of him.

His offensive facemask penalty on a play on which Kuhn fumbled got him a good tongue lashing from Cowher.

© I don’t think it matters who Cowher names the starter at free safety. They are only keeping the position warm for Anthony Smith, who continued to show off his skills as a big hitter against the Panthers.

When will that move come? Maybe as soon as the bye week.

© Did Omar Jacobs win a spot on the 53-man roster with his performance Thursday?

Maybe.

It’s more likely the team will still try to sneak him onto the practice squad, but Jacobs’ performance may have made that move a little more difficult. Before Thursday’s game, the Steelers could have put Jacobs on the practice squad and not worried about him getting picked up by anyone else. Now, who knows?

At the very least, Jacobs threw his name into the mix to stay on the 53-man roster. He also probably saved himself a phone call at least until Saturday. He won’t be among Friday’s cuts.

© I like the signing of Willie Parker to what should turn out to be a bargain deal.

Parker is going to have a big season both running with and catching the ball and would have cost the Steelers much more than what they paid him after this season.

It’s too bad cornerback Ike Taylor didn’t realize he would have saved himself a lot of sleepless nights by taking a similar deal. Taylor has to realize he is in a similar situation to Parker.

No matter how good they were last season, they have still only done it for one year. Sure, he’s confident in his ability to play well again.

But if he does indeed like Pittsburgh as much as he says, he has to realize the team wasn’t going to break the bank to sign him – not with the bank-breaking contracts the team is going to have to pay safety Troy Polamalu and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the near future.