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Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Week 8 Power Rankings

1. New England (8-0) OK, the offense impressed me last week against Washington, a tough defense.

2. Indianapolis (7-0) Had a strong showing at Carolina without Marvin Harrison.

3. Dallas (6-1) The Cowboys hold down the No. 3 spot, for now. A week 10 meeting with the Giants looms.

4. Pittsburgh (5-2) That was more like it last week against a desperate Cincinnati team.

5. Green Bay (6-1) Did what Pittsburgh couldn't do, win in Denver, by doing what the Steelers refused to do, run the ball.

6. San Diego (4-3) Rolling along now.

7. N.Y. Giants (6-2) That was less than impressive against a sorry Miami team.

8. Jacksonville (5-2) Found a way to win at Tampa Bay.

9. Tennessee (5-2) Aren't going to win with less than 100 yards passing every week.

10. Washington (4-3) Last week was an anomaly.

11. Baltimore (4-3) Tough matchup with the Steelers this week.

12. Detroit (5-2) Starting to get on a roll.

13. Kansas City (4-3) Jared Allen has made a big difference.

14. Seattle (4-3) Starting to get healthy again.

15. Cleveland (4-3) Beating Miami and St. Louis in back-to-back weeks doesn't prove much.

16. Tampa Bay (4-4) Falling off the map.

17. Denver (3-4) Playing better, but still has defensive holes.

18. Carolina (4-3) The Panthers are 4-0 on the road, 0-3 at home. Go figure.

19. Philadelphia (3-4) McNabb's starting to come around and Westbrook is healthy.

20. New Orleans (3-4) Slowly coming out of its early season slump.

21. Arizona (3-4) Warner's elbow should be a lot better this week.

22. Buffalo (3-4) Two of the three wins have come against the Jets.

23. Houston (3-5) Could get Andre Johnson back this week.

24. Cincinnati (2-5) The wheels are coming off.

25. Chicago (3-5) The wheels have already come off.

26. Minnesota (2-5) All the Vikings have is wheels. Can't throw the ball at all.

27. Oakland (2-5) Looked like the Raiders of old last week with 14 penalties. Some of those teams were good enough to overcome those kind of things. This team is not.

28. San Francisco (2-5) Remember when this team was 2-0?

29. Atlanta (1-6) Maybe it's time for overrated DeAngelo Hall to go.

30. N.Y. Jets (1-7) The Kellen Clemens era begins.

31. St. Louis (0-8) Just seems to be snakebit this year.

32. Miami (0-8) No end to losing in sight.

Monday, October 29, 2007

What we learned, Cincinnati

Here's what we learned in Cincinnati.

Maybe the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 24-13 victory over the Bengals wasn’t perfect, but it was pretty close to it considering the circumstances.

Here’s the good:

© The Steelers rolled up 390 yards on offense and held the Bengals under 300, limiting Cincinnati’s high-powered offense to just one touchdown.

© Ben Roethlisberger was sharp, completing 19 of 26 passes for 230 yards and two touchdowns with one interception.

© Willie Parker gained 126 yards on 22 carries with a touchdown.

© The big three pass catchers – Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes and Heath Miller – combined for 16 catches for 217 yards and two touchdowns.

© The secondary – led by Anthony Smith – was flying around nailing the Bengals receivers at every opportunity.

© That was a heck of a play by James Harrison to take the ball away from Kenny Watson in the fourth quarter.

© Three penalties for 20 yards in a loud venue like Paul Brown Stadium is outstanding.

Now for the bad:

© This defense apparently really needs Aaron Smith. The Bengals spent a lot of time running right, where Nick Eason was starting in place of Smith.

Giving up 88 yards to Watson is unacceptable. Then again, the Steelers were very concerned about the pass and playing a lot of cover-2, so I’m sure that had something to do with it.

© The kick coverage was spotty. William Gay lost outside contain in the second quarter that allowed the Bengals to return the ball to midfield after the Steelers had gone ahead 14-3.

© The interception Roethlisberger threw in the third quarter is one that he can’t make against a good team. The Steelers have to get at least three points out of that trip. If they go up 24-6 there, the game’s over.

I know with Roethlisberger you have to live with the bad because there’s an awful lot of good when he starts moving around in the pocket, but at least he’s learning.

Sunday he admitted that maybe he’s becoming too reliant on running around and is doing so a little early and more often than he actually has to.

Now for the bad news, good news:

© The defense got very little pressure on Carson Palmer, but really didn’t blitz all that much. Palmer was also getting rid of the ball very quickly.

Those quick throws aren’t a bad thing for a defense. Cincinnati’s long gain was 28 yards as the Bengals averaged 8.9 yards per catch.

© Dan Kreider didn’t last a quarter as the starting fullback. But Carey Davis had some big blocks in this one.

© The Steelers’ four leading tacklers in this game were defensive backs. That’s usually the sign of a bad game by a defense.

But in this case it was because the secondary was doing a pretty good job of tackling. They missed a couple of times, but that’s going to happen when you get so many opportunities.

And many of the missed tackles came against Watson, who had a full head of steam after running through the holes where Eason was supposed to be.

As a side note, I got a good chuckle out of the idiot Bengals fan who was running alongside our buses on the way out giving us the finger. He was so intent on flipping the buses off that he never saw that tree he ran face-first into. It typified Cincinnati's day and season.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Friday update

It looks like Ryan Clark will sit along side Aaron Smith this weekend when the Steelers play the Bengals. Clark didn't practice all week as he continues to recover from the spleen inflamation brought on by playing in Denver while carrying the sickle cell anemia trait.

I did some research on the sickle cell trait after talking to Clark this week and he actually could have died had the Steelers doctors not treated him quickly.

For the Bengals, it doesn't appears as if Rudi Johnson will play.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Week 7 Power Rankings

1. Indianapolis (6-0) Change at the top. Sorry, Patriots, but Indy's win at Jacksonville was much more impresside.

2. New England (7-0) The offense is great, maybe the best ever. The defense has shown some holes, though.

3. Dallas (6-1) Here by default at this point.

4. Green Bay (5-1) Maybe the Pack found a running game during the bye week. Then again, they play at Denver this week, so …

5. Pittsburgh (4-2) I still think they are the third-best team in the AFC, which makes them pretty good.

6. Tennessee (4-2) Winning without Vince Young was huge last week.

7. Jacksonville (4-2) If Garrard is out an extended period of time, this team is in trouble.

8. San Diego (3-3) Going to have a tough time this week with the wildfires.

9. N.Y. Giants (5-2) I'm not as high on this team as some others. Who have they beaten?

10. Washington (4-2) OK, the Giants have beaten the Redskins, but this team is really offensively challenged.

11. Kansas City (4-3) I'm starting to believe in this team a little.

12. Seattle (4-3) Should still have enough to win the NFC West.

13. Carolina (4-2) Needs to be more consistent.

14. Tampa Bay (4-3) Tough loss at Detroit last week.

15. Detroit (4-2) The defense showed some signs of life against Tampa Bay.

16. Houston (4-3) The defense is still pretty good and Andre Johnson should be coming back soon.

17. Baltimore (4-2) How in the world do you lose to Buffalo?

18. Denver (3-3) Had their backs against the wall last week and pulled one out, but has still been outscored 106-164 this season.

19. Cleveland (3-3) Still has to show me a road win.

20. Chicago (3-4) Don't count this team out in the NFC.

21. Arizona (3-4) Tough loss at Washington last week.

22. Cincinnati (2-4) Saved the season last week, but then again, it was just the Jets.

23. New Orleans (2-4) Not a great efffort considering it was just the Falcons last week.

24. Oakland (2-4) Reverting back to form.

25. San Francisco (2-4) No offense and the defense is starting to follow suit.

26. Philadelphia (2-4) Can't score against anybody but Detroit.

27. Buffalo (2-4) At least the Bills are getting better.

28. Minnesota (2-4) The Vikings have a running game and nothing else.

29. N.Y. Jets (1-6) Blew a 23-10 lead at Cincinnati.

30. Atlanta (1-6) Ick.

31. St. Louis (0-7) Gets Steven Jackson back this week. Could beat Cleveland.

32. Miami (0-7) Could go winless, except for the fact they get to play the Jets and Buffalo.

Monday, October 22, 2007

What we learned: Denver

Denver enters the game worst in the league against the run. And so the Pittsburgh Steelers, of course, come out passing.

A game plan that included just three running plays in the first quarter – compared to 10 passes – just makes no sense to me against a team that had been giving up five yards per carry and 187.6 yards per game.

“We knew they would come out in preparation to stop the run and they were,” said Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin following the team’s 31-28 loss at Denver Sunday night.

“It’s the same cat and mouse chess game. … That’s just football.”

Sorry, but in my mind, it’s just not very smart.

Unless the Broncos came up with all 11 men in the box, the game plan for the Steelers should have been to run the ball again and again until Denver proved it could stop it. Three carries in the first quarter doesn’t tell me whether they could stop the run or not.

That’s neither cat and mouse nor chess. The Steelers outsmarted themselves.

Maybe they looked out there and didn't see Champ Bailey playing and thought that was a better matchup. But the Steelers are a running team. Why go away from your strength?

© Despite all of that, the lack of running the ball early in the game wasn’t the reason the Steelers lost. The defense, which had been stout all season long, showed some holes.

Just about every time the Steelers put points on the board, Denver responded with a score of its own.

Against a defense that entered the game No. 1 in the league in both points against and yardage allowed, that was unacceptable. There was very little pressure on quarterback Jay Cutler in the first half and the Steelers only got their hands on two passes the entire game – both of which were interceptions.

Considering the Steelers have Cincinnati up next, the pass defense better tighten up or it’s going to be a long day.

© What in the world were Najeh Davenport and Allen Rossum doing on that kick return on the first play of the fourth quarter?

Rossum came up like he expected Davenport to field it and Davenport let the ball go over his head. By the time Rossum came back and picked the ball up, Denver’s coverage teams were there and he was stopped at the 6.

I guess it was miscommunication.

The Steelers went down and scored on the ensuing drive, but that 1:03 the Steelers ate up getting the ball out to the 34 sure would have come in handy at the end of the game.

© Now that we’ve seen it happen a couple of times, we can surmise that center Sean Mahan has some trouble with the shotgun snap.

He snapped the ball low in the second quarter to Ben Roethlisberger, forcing Roethlisberger to come up and pick the ball up off the ground. By the time he was able to set up in the pocket, it had collapsed, he was sacked and the ball was returned 50 yards for a touchdown.

That’s a game-changing play that, in my mind, doesn’t happen if the ball is snapped where it’s supposed to be at.

© Roethlisberger isn’t without blame in this one. He didn’t have a very good first half, though he kept several plays alive by breaking tackles in the pocket. But he still hasn’t realized that sometimes it’s OK to just throw the ball away.

Roethlisberger keeps a lot of plays alive by shucking would-be tacklers. But Sunday night, a lot of those scrambling throws were sailing high on him. He threw two interceptions and could have had several more.

“You live by the sword, you die by the sword,” Roethlisberger said. “You make plays with it, other times you don’t. You’re not going to look back and second guess.”

© Even with Sunday’s loss, the next three games are the important ones for the Steelers as they face Cincinnati before hosting Baltimore and Cleveland.

Win all three – or even two of three – and they’ll be sitting pretty for the stretch run.

Anything less than two wins in those games, however, is going to have this team fighting for a playoff spot all the way down the stretch.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Wednesday update

The Steelers had a surprise participant at practice Wednesday as cornerback Bryant McFadden was working in the team portion of drills as he continues to recover from a high ankle sprain.
McFadden is listed as doubtful to play Sunday at Denver and likely won't play as he'll take another week to rest his ankle injury, but the fact he was able to get on the field and run and cut was a promising sign.

Troy Polamalu was icing the left side of his rib cage following practice Wednesday, but will be good to go Sunday in Denver.

Hines Ward proclaimed himself at 100 percent.

Casey Hampton will try to practice Thursday and will definitely be ready to go by Friday.

Week 6 rankings

1. New England (6-0) Had their way with the Cowboys.

2. Indianapolis (5-0) Tooling along unbeaten while the Patriots get all the fanfare.

3. Pittsburgh (4-1) I told you the Steelers were better than the Cowboys. Dallas is a fraud as a Super Bowl contender.

4. Jacksonville (4-1) The Jags play the same style of football the Steelers did in the '90s.

5. Green Bay (5-1) Won despite an off day by Brett Favre.

6. Dallas (5-1) Couldn't put the Pats away at home. The secondary is awful.

7. San Diego (3-3) Finally getting the ball to LT.

8. Washington (3-2) I like the defense and running game. The passing game is coming along.

9. Baltimore (4-2) The defense isn't as dominating as previous seasons, which helps expose a putrid offense.

10. N.Y. Giants (4-2) Starting to turn it around.

11. Tampa Bay (4-2) Jeff Garcia is playing very well.

12. Tennessee (3-2) Need Vince Young healthy to thrive.

13. Carolina (4-2) Vinny, Vinny, Vinny.

14. Arizona (3-3) Need to get Warner back as soon as possible.

15. Seattle (3-3) That's two stinkbombs in a row.

16. Kansas City (3-3) Could the Chiefs be turning it around? Probably not.

17. Cleveland (3-3) Could finish 8-8 with a soft schedule ahead.

18. Detroit (3-2) Have to get the offense figured out again to have a chance to win.

19. Houston (3-3) Needs to get Andre Johnson back soon.

20. Denver (2-3) The Steelers could run for 300 yards this week against this defense. There's no reason for this team to be that bad.

21. Oakland (2-3) Got exposed by the Chargers.

22. Minnesota (2-3) Surprised the Bears - and me - last week.

23. Philadelphia (2-3) Struggled to beat the Jets.

24. San Francisco (2-3) Gets Alex Smith back this week.

25. Chicago (2-4) How low can the Bears go?

26. Cincinnati (1-4) The implosion is beginning.

27. New Orleans (1-4) Nice win last week, but I need to see more.

28. Buffalo (1-4) Sticking with Trent Edwards is probably a good idea. J.P. Losman stinks.

29. N.Y. Jets (1-5) Will win a couple of more games, but only since Miami and Buffalo are in the division.

30. Atlanta (1-5) How long can they stick with Joey Harrington?

31. St. Louis (0-6) Marc Bulger and Steven Jackson will be back soon.

32. Miami (0-6) Old and bad can't get any better.

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Week 5 power rankings

1. New England (5-0) Will finally face a stiff challenge this week at Dallas, provided Tomo Romo doesn't turn it over five times.

2. Indianapolis (5-0) Tooling along unbeaten while the Patriots get all the fanfare.

3. Pittsburgh (4-1) Surprised? The Steelers are just plain better than the Cowboys.

4. Dallas (5-0) Should have lost to Buffalo. Buffalo!

5. Jacksonville (3-1) I don't know why, but I just like this team more than Green Bay.

6. Green Bay (4-1) Found a bit of a running game, but it wasn't enough to beat the depleted Bears at home.

7. Tennessee (3-1) The Titans have done nothing but win with Vince Young at the helm.

8. Washington (3-1) Playing solid ball.

9. Arizona (3-2) Another team playing solid ball. Will be better with Kurt Warner running the show.

10. Baltimore (3-2) A very flawed team.

11. Seattle (3-2) Didn't show up in Pittsburgh last week.

12. Tampa Bay (3-2) Defense is playing well, but the Bucs have no healthy running backs left.

13. San Diego (2-3) Will Norv Turney turn the defense loose?

14. N.Y. Giants (3-2) Plaxico Burress has been unstoppable.

15. Houston (3-2) A decent, but not great, team.

16. Carolina (3-2) Julius Peppers is still looking for his first sack.

17. Detroit (3-2) The offense is suddenly sputtering.

18. Chicago (2-3) The once-vaunted defense is very banged up.

19. Denver (2-3) Would be 0-5 if not for two last-second field goals.

20. Oakland (2-2) Better than some thought, but still not good.

21. Cincinnati (1-3) Maybe the Bengals found some linebackers during the bye.

22. Cleveland (2-3) Getting better, but still not good.

23. Philadelphia (1-3) Has to protect Donovan McNabb.

24. San Francisco (2-3) The defense is pretty good, the offense stinks.

25. Kansas City (2-3) Larry Johnson has to get more carries to be effective.

26. Minnesota (1-3) Tavarius Jackson is back this week. Yawn.

27. Buffalo (1-4) Couldn't take advantage of Tony Romo's career bad night.

28. N.Y. Jets (1-4) Mangenius huh? More like Manmoron.

29. New Orleans (0-4) Maybe they are this bad.

30. Atlanta (1-4) The old Joey Harrington was back last week.

31. St. Louis (0-5) Incredibly beaten up.

32. Miami (0-5) The Cleo Lemon era begins.

Sunday, October 07, 2007

What we learned: Seattle

Early in the week, Mike Tomlin called out Nate Washington and Cedrick Wilson for their poor play the week before at Arizona.

Tomlin was particularly upset with their lack of downfield blocking, Washington's tendency to give up on plays and Wilson's constant bitching.

None of those things were evident Sunday. Message sent and received.

© Of course Tomlin wasn't planning on Washington and Wilson needing to be such big parts of the offense Sunday. The third play of the game was supposed to be a deep ball to Santonio Holmes - who was injured in pre-game warmups.

Instead the Steelers' third play was a two-yard run by Willie Parker.

© That win was all Ben Roethlisberger on offense and an inspired defense led by James Farrior and Ike Taylor.

Roethlisberger was as sharp as I've ever seen him - and mind you I've seen every snap he's taken in the NFL in person and seen him in practice for countless hours. Even the passes he missed were just off the finger tips of receivers.

Farrior had 2 1/2 sacks Sunday and already has set his career-high with 4 1/2.

Taylor had one interception Sunday and could have had five if he had better hands.

© Seattle really didn't give Matt Hasselbeck a lot to work with on many occasions.

The Seahawks went max-protect a lot and the receivers who were out in patterns were only getting five or six yards from the line of scrimmage. That's very easy to cover, even when Hasselbeck had plenty of time.

© Once Deion Branch was out, that was pretty much it for anything deep.

© The Steelers dodged a bullet when Marvel Smith got dinged and came back in later. You'd better believe there were a lot of people wearing headsets with black and gold shirts on holding their collective breath on that one.

Smith is the player the team can least afford to lose. And that's why the Steelers' No. 1 pick will be an offensive tackle next year - one who is able to play guard as well. The kid can then challenge Chris Kemoeatu for the starting left guard spot.

© Allen Rossum isn't much of a punt returner, but he is heady.

When he tried to field a punt at the goal line after a Seattle player had touched it, many in the press box wondered what he was doing.

Those of us who actually knew the rule knew that he was being smart. There is no penalty for the offense to attempt to advance the ball after the kicking team touches it. Rossum could try to get the ball off the one with no downside.

© The Steelers have yet to allow a point in the second quarter of a game this season. That's impressive.

© So much for those red zone problems. Three-for-three in this one. Of course those of us who have Jeff Reed on their fantasy team aren't all that happy about that.

You can't please everyone.

© This was a big win for this team as it heads into the bye week. With two weeks off before they head to Denver, the Steelers have an opportunity to get healthy.

Friday, October 05, 2007

Ward out; Polamalu, Hampton iffy

Hines Ward will be out again this week after sitting out practice again Friday. Nate Washington will again start in his place against Seattle Sunday.

Troy Polamalu and Casey Hampton also sat out practice again. I expect Polamalu to play, but Hampton will be a game-time decision with a hamstring injury.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Week 4 Power Rankings

1. New England (4-0) Still dominating on offense, but I saw some chinks in the armor on defense Monday night.

2. Indianapolis (4-0) See above.

3. Dallas (4-0) The Cowboys really haven't been challenged and may not be in the NFC.

4. Green Bay (4-0) Favre's carrying the Packers now, but at some point the lack of running game is going to bite them.

5. Pittsburgh (3-1) Played poorly last week and still had a chance to win on the road.

6. Seattle (3-1) Dominated the 49ers last week. Will face a stiff test in Pittsburgh this week.

7. Tampa Bay (3-1) Forget Green Bay, this is the surprise team in the league.

8. Jacksonville (2-1) The week off should help the passing game.

9. Tennessee (2-1) Good defense and Vince Young.

10. Arizona (2-2) The two wins have come over Pittsburgh and Seattle. But the Cards need to win on the road.

11. Washington (2-1) The defense is pretty good and Jason Campbell is getting better.

12. Denver (2-2) The run defense is atrocious.

13. Carolina (2-2) Perhaps the most inconsistent team in the league.

14. San Francisco (2-2) How good will the 49ers be with Trent Dilfer at QB?

15. San Diego (1-3) Maybe L.J. Smith should have been fired instead of Marty Schottenheimer.

16. N.Y. Giants (2-2) The Giants are still sacking Donovan McNabb.

17. Baltimore (2-2) Where's the defense?

18. Houston (2-2) Too many injuries on offense.

19. Detroit (3-1) Explosive offense, still doesn't have a defense.

20. Oakland (2-2) Going to have to throw the ball more than 11 times to beat anybody other than Miami.

21. Kansas City (2-2) How this team has two wins is beyond me.

22. Cleveland (2-2) Showing signs of life on offense.

23. Cincinnati (1-3) Will be holding open tryouts for linebackers this week.

24. Philadelphia (1-3) Really need Westbrook back.

25. Buffalo (1-3) New England will clinch the division title by the halfway mark.

26. N.Y. Jets (1-3) Should rename the division the AFC Patriots and the Patsys.

27. Chicago (1-3) The injuries are mounting and the offense still stinks.

28. Atlanta (1-3) Still a bad team.

29. Minnesota (1-3) Can't throw the ball at all.

30. New Orleans (0-3) The loss of McAllister really hurts.

31. Miami (0-4) That Joey Porter signing looks really good.

32. St. Louis (0-4) No offensive line and no Steven Jackson. Now, they're benching Bulger.

Monday, October 01, 2007

What we learned, Arizona

The Steelers played about as poorly as I think you'll see them play this season in Sunday's 21-14 loss to Arizona, basicially beating themselves on many fronts.

That's not to say the Cardinals didn't deserve to win. They did. They had a good gameplan - particularly on defense with their changing fronts that seemed to confuse the Steelers' – and they executed it better than Pittsburgh did with its plan.

But when you have 11 penalties, give up a special teams touchdown and don't get any points out of a first-and-goal series from the 4, you're going to lose.

© The Cardinals were very disruptive defensively against the run, getting plenty of penetration. Strong safety Adrian Wilson was a big reason for that. He was very disruptive in the running game and the Cardinals used him much the same way the Steelers use Troy Polamalu.

Fortunately for the Steelers, not every team has a strong safety capable of playing like that.

© Three of the Steelers' four leading tackles Sunday were cornerbacks. That should tell you what kind of day it was.

It could also be a glimpse of what they are going to see in the future.

Because there are few teams out there who can line up and run the ball against the Steelers' base defense, more teams are going to attempt to spread things out and beat the Steelers with short, quick throws.

It only added up to 14 points for the Cardinals, but they did move the ball somewhat effectively with it. And it sure beats running your back into the line 20 times for 50 yards.

© On Steve Breaston's 73-yard punt return, it looked to me like the Cardinals had three guys take out linebacker James Harrison at the line of scrimmage.

If that's what teams are going to do to Harrison, somebody else has to make the tackle.

© Did Cedrick Wilson play Sunday?

I know Nate Washington did because he at least showed up on the stat sheet with a couple of catches – and also just missed on a couple of deep passes.

But Wilson added nothing to the equation.

At least the Steelers were able to run a couple of wide receiver screens with Willie Reid. Maybe it's time Reid is active and Wilson sits when Hines Ward returns.

© Ben Roethlisberger claims he didn't see Wilson when he picked off a pass intended for Heath Miller from the 2.

My only question is, did he see the other two guys?

© That said, I overheard Roethlisberger talking to head coach Mike Tomlin in the locker room after the game, with the quarterback apologizing to the head coach for blowing it.

Tomlin's response? "Don't worry about it. We win as a team, we lose as a team."