Sunday, October 22, 2006

Quit whining

The way the Steelers and head coach Bill Cowher were complaining at the end of the game, I thought I had wondered into the Seattle Seahawks locker room rather than Pittsburgh’s after its 41-38 loss to Atlanta.

The Steelers were in quite a state over a false start penalty called on wide receiver Nate Washington at the end of regulation that cost them a shot at a possible game-winning field goal.

“I don’t feel like I moved,” said Washington. “The only thing he could have gotten me on was my upper body. And the last time I checked, that’s not even (the referee’s) call. That’s the side judge’s call. The referee (Ron Winter) called it and he was behind me.”

But Washington definitely appeared to move right before the ball was snapped.

A much more questionable call was the roughing the kicker penalty moments before on Troy Polamalu. Polamalu was lying on the ground when kicker Michael Koenen kind of hopped into him on his follow-through. That not only gave the Falcons another shot at the field goal – one Morten Andersen missed – it cost the Steelers five seconds and five yards they could have used. Had that penalty not been called, Washington’s false start wouldn’t have been a problem.

The bottom line in this one for the Steelers is that they never put the Falcons away when they had the chance.

© On the subject of penalties, why wasn’t one called on Chauncey Davis’ helmet-to-helmet hit on Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger?

Davis will likely draw a fine for a hit that knocked Roethlisberger out of the game and will likely draw him a nice fine from the league.

That’s actually not a bad tradeoff for the Falcons even though Charlie Batch played well in Roethlisberger’s place.

Roethlisberger was on fire in this game, while some of Batch’s good fortune came because of awful coverage and tackling by Atlanta.

© Up 17-7 in the first half with the ball, Roethlisberger’s fumbled snap deep in his own territory changed the momentum.

Not only did the Falcons cash that in for a touchdown, they then pulled off a successful surprise onside kick and scored another touchdown, a 14-point swing.

The Steelers were forced to scramble for another touchdown just to take a 24-21 lead into the half in a game that they were dominating to that point.

The Steelers had given up 28 yards on the ground to the vaunted Atlanta rushing attack and put up nearly 300 yards of offense, yet held just a three-point lead.

Somebody needs to convince these guys it’s OK to hold a team to field goals when they get a turnover inside your territory.

© When they are doing the voting for the Pro Bowl, somebody should show tape of this game to those thinking about voting for Falcons cornerback DeAngelo Hall. If that’s what passes for a great cover corner these days, then NFL defenses are doomed.

© It seems that Bryant McFadden’s move into the starting lineup in place of Deshea Townsend is now more than just because of injury. McFadden is there to stay.

Townsend played again Sunday as the third corner and was beaten badly by Michael Jenkins for a touchdown.

© One week after Michael Vick was sacked seven times by the Giants, the Steelers got to him just one time.

Some people are down on Joey Porter, but in the two games he’s missed, the Steelers have all of two sacks.

Is it possibly Porter is somebody opposing defenses have to contend with and helps free up other pass rushers?

© Once again that was a tired Pittsburgh defense on the field in the fourth quarter and overtime as Atlanta rushed for 87 yards in the fourth quarter and another 44 in the extra period.

Perhaps it would help if the Steelers could run the ball a little more themselves. Pittsburgh ran the ball 10 times for seven yards in the second half.

And we also saw a backup running back doing some damage late in the game as well. A couple of weeks ago it was San Diego’s Michael Turner dicing up the defense in the fourth quarter after the Steelrs had shut down LaDanian Tomlinson. This week it was Jerrious Norwood gaining 63 yards on seven second-half carries.

That may be the Steelers’ biggest need in this year’s draft – getting a quality running back to pair with Willie Parker.

Yes, it’s not too early to start talking about the draft now that this team is 2-4.

“It just seems like the ball isn’t bouncing our way this season,” said defensive end Brett Keisel. “I still think we have what it takes to do what we did last year. But with this loss, it’s going to be tough.”

That kind of sums things up.

Monday, October 16, 2006

KC just not that good

The question was asked following the game, “How did the receivers get so open all day?”

It was a good question to be sure and one Cowher really didn’t answer.

Is it possible that the Kansas City defense just isn’t that good? Yep.

© How about those replacements?

Chris Kemoeatu wasn’t all that noticeable on too many plays starting in place of Kendall Simmons, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. His best stat? The Steelers rushed for 219 yards and Roethlisberger was sacked once.

I don’t know how Kemoeatu will grade out, but it couldn’t have been bad. He was at least Simmons’ equal.

Arnold Harrison? Well, he truly was the best Arnold Harrison he could be starting in place of Joey Porter. Harrison finished with three tackles and a pass defensed, which is often a typical outing for Porter. Again, the biggest stat in favor of Harrison was the production of the running game, this time Kansas City’s. The Chiefs managed just 38 yards on 19 carries, so Harrison couldn’t have been too bad.

You don’t replace Porter with Harrison, but it certainly goes a long way toward showing why the Steelers weren’t real hot to re-work Porter’s contract.

Deshea Townsend showed why he’s still starting ahead of Bryant McFadden. Townsend surprisingly played in the nickel and defended two passes with three tackles, including one that was in the open field on third down against Larry Johnson.

McFadden, meanwhile, was OK. He had three tackles, two pass defenses and an interception, but also drew a pass interference penalty. McFadden will be fine down the road, but Townsend is still too cagey a veteran to replace.

© Anybody who suggested that Troy Polamalu needed to sit out some games until he was healthy should feel pretty silly right now.

Polamalu was, quite simply, one of the top two players on the field Sunday. The other player? Roethlisberger. And yet some people were suggesting he needed to sit as well.

Take a deep breath, people, and think about things clearly before you say or write them.

© The Steelers got their hands on 13 passes, coming away with three interceptions. They had just one sack, but Keisel told me after the game that their scheme was to just rush four players on most plays because they knew Damon Huard was going to get rid of the ball quickly. Plus, they didn’t want Johnson sneaking through a blitz and running free in the secondary against defensive backs.

Neither was a problem. Huard never hurt the Steelers, while Johnson’s long run was eight yards.

© Santonio Holmes did a nice job in the return game, but still had some ball-control issues. His first fumble on a punt return came when a Chiefs defender flashed by him at the last second, causing him to miss the ball. The second was a straight fumble as the ball was ripped free from his hands.

Sometimes, however, the ball just bounces your way. It was that kind of day for the Steelers.

© Najeh Davenport claims he was gassed from being on the punt return unit the play before his 48-yard run on which he was run down from behind by Kansas City defensive end Jared Allen.

OK, I’ll buy that. Davenport was playing over the center on punts and didn’t look out of place. That should give you an idea of how big he is.

Monday, October 09, 2006

Injury updates and more

The Steelers suffered three serious injuries in this one, two that were reported during the game and one that didn’t show up until well after.

Linebacker James Harrison’s left ankle sprain looks to be the most serious. He was in an air cast and on crutches following the game and could be lost for several weeks.

Wide receiver Willie Reid suffered a mid-foot sprain, but was only on crutches and will probably only miss a week or two.

Defensive end Brett Keisel suffered what is believed to be a bruised kidney. He was taken to a San Diego hospital for X-rays after complaining of pain in his side when the team arrived at the airport.

Keisel appeared to be OK, however, upon his return, though the team erred on the side of caution following Tampa Bay’s Chris Simms’ lacerated spleen during a game two weeks ago.

© That ill-fated fourth-down end around to Bryant McFadden in the first quarter needs to be sent back to the drawing board.

First of all, when you split punter Chris Gardocki out wide, you’re tipping your hand that there won’t be a punt. Secondly, why have McFadden running with the ball instead of, say, Reid or Santonio Holmes? Find somebody on the team who’s used to making guys miss with the ball in his hands.

McFadden told me after the game that play was one the team had been working on for several weeks and that it was used because of the down and distance, not because of something they had seen with the Chargers. That’s all the more reason it shouldn’t have been used.

The other trick play the team ran, a flea-flicker to Holmes, didn’t fool anybody on the San Diego sidelines either, as Holmes was double covered.

That play was one of the few poor decisions Roethlisberger made, throwing the ball despite the double coverage. The Steelers were moving the ball on San Diego to that point, but his interception there by Drayton Florence at the Chargers’ 6, and the subsequent 94-yard TD drive that followed, really turned the momentum.

© Jamal Williams pretty much had his way with Steelers center Jeff Hartings much the same way Casey Hampton did with Chargers center Nick Hardwick.

That was a big reason why neither team’s running game produced much.

Oh, I know that San Diego finished with 119 yards rushing, but LaDanian Tomlinson managed just 36 of that, with much of the damage coming on a late 23-yard run by Michael Turner and a 15-yard scamper by Philip Rivers late in the game.

© Roethlisberger said he wanted to show the Chargers that they erred in taking Rivers instead of him in the first round of the 2004 draft.

They didn’t.

Rivers fits what the Chargers do more than Roethlisberger would have. Then again, the Chargers’ coaching staff has done a good job of accentuating the things that Rivers does well. He’s very accurate on his short and mid-range passes.

© Najeh Davenport, nice to see you.

© Willie Parker averaged a healthy 4.1 yards per carry against one of the NFL’s top run defenses. The problem was that he only got 14 carries, just four of which came in the second half.

In fact, the Steelers ran just 18 plays in the second half as the defense was unable to keep San Diego from scoring on four consecutive drives.

© Cedrick Wilson was relegated to being the fourth receiver on several occasions, slipping behind Nate Washington and Santonio Holmes in some three-receiver sets.

© The surreal moment of the night came not during the game, but after it.

After filing my stories for my newspaper, I went with another reporter to get on the elevator and head down to the locker rooms. A security guard stopped us saying, “We’re holding the elevator for Mr. Madden.”

I explained in less-than-pleasant terms that we were on deadline and needed to get quotes to call back to our papers, while “Mr. Madden’s” work was finished for the evening.

Just then, another security guard came out and said that “Mr. Madden” was running late and they could send the elevator down again.

We got on and went down one floor where the elevator stopped, allowing Dan and Art Rooney and Dean Spanos to get on.

What kind of world do we live in when some TV schlub can hold up an elevator for himself, but the owners of the teams can climb aboard one with us common folk?

The people who voted for Madden for the Pro Football Hall of Fame should be ashamed.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

You stay classy

I sit here in the San Diego press box, where I've been at for the past three hours, with still another hour to go before tonight's game pondering the NFL.
Who in this league is any good, after all?
At this point, it looks like Chicago is the best team in the league. Indianapolis remains unbeaten, but has been unimpressive in getting there.
I still think Cincinnati is a fraud because it can't stop the run and can't protect Carson Palmer.
Baltimore? It faces a stiff test at Denver Monday night where we'll find out about the Ravens. But I don't think they have enough offense to be a a contender.
Jacksonville? Too up and down. Tough at home, but mediocre on the road.
Seattle? Overrated, but in the NFC, they'll contend.
We'll find out a lot about the Steelers as well tonight.