Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Doesn't look good for Ward

Though Hines Ward remains optimistic, it's unlikely he'll play Sunday in Arizona.

That would mean Nate Washington would likely get the start against the Cardinals.

Sean Mahan has a better chance to play, but the Steelers are working on contingency plans. Kendall Simmons took all the snaps with the first-team offense at center, with Chris Kemoeatu was at right guard.

Week 3 rankings

1. New England (3-0) After a slow start, the Pats wiped out the Bills. Can Cincinnati hold them under 37?

2. Indianapolis (3-0) The champs still finding a way to get it done.

3. Pittsburgh (3-0) Continuing a strong start, but Arizona will be a good test this week.

4. Dallas (3-0) The best team in the NFC without a doubt, though the Packers are closer than any would have thought.

5. Green Bay (3-0) This is the surprise team of the league thus far.

6. Tennessee (2-1) Only a narrow loss to Indianapolis has kept this surprise team from a 3-0 start.

7. Baltimore (2-1) It's a shaky 2-1, but 2-1 nonetheless. Age will catch up with this team.

8. Seattle (2-1) Good win over Cincinnati last week. The defense played very well, especially against the run.

9. San Diego (1-2) This team is better than it's showed. Might be 3-0 if Marty Schottenheimer was still coach. He only loses in the playoss.

10. Jacksonville (2-1) The running game still hasn't clicked, but the Jags are solid.

11. Carolina (2-1) DeShaun Foster is playing well and hasn't gotten hurt - yet.

12. Denver (2-1) The Broncos can't stop the run and Jay Cutler is struggling. Definite danger signs.

13. Washington (2-1) Terrible play calling at the end of last week's loss to the Giants. But the defense is solid.

14. San Francisco (2-1) The defense is solid, but the offense is limited.

15. Chicago (1-2) The injuries are mounting, but at least Brian Griese will be starting now.

16. Houston (2-1) The Texans lost Andre Johnson and now Ahman Green. So much for the good start.

17. Cincinnati (1-2) The defense is just atrocious and now New England is coming to town. The Bengals are staring 1-3 in the face.

18. Tampa Bay (2-1) There's nothing special about this team but it's winning.

19. Philadelphia (1-2) Can't play the Lions every week, but Donovan McNabb looks like he's coming around.

20. Detroit (2-1) Was Mike Martz calling the defense last week too?

21. Arizona (1-2) Took Baltimore to the limit last week.

22. Minnesota (1-2) Good defense and running game, no quarterback.

23. N.Y. Jets (1-2) Mediocre.

24. N.Y. Giants (1-2) Also mediocre.

25. Oakland (1-2) The offense is better than last season, the defense is worse.

26. New Orleans (0-3) Anybody who thinks Reggie Bush is going to carry the load by himself has been partying too much on Bourbon Street.

27. Cleveland (1-2) The Browns are getting better, but not much.

28. Kansas City (1-2) The Chiefs had to win sometime. But they still stink.

29. Miami (0-3) This is an old, bad team.

30. St. Louis (0-3) I thought the Rams would be a surprise team this season. I was right, they're surprisingly bad.

31. Atlanta (0-3) Joey Harrington played better last week, but it still wasn't good enough to win.

32. Buffalo (0-3) The injuries are mounting, including losing quarterback J.P. Losman. No wait, that's a good thing.

Monday, September 24, 2007

No damage for Ward

Hines Ward said today that the MRI he had on his knee revealed no damage. We'll find out more about it Tuesday from head coach Mike Tomlin.
But that's good news for Ward and the Steelers.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

What we learned, San Francisco

The final score ended up being lopsided, but Sunday's 37-16 victory was no cakewalk for the Steelers.

The 49ers defense was a challenge for the Steelers, particularly with the multitude of blitzes San Francisco ran at quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. It really was a page out of Baltimore's book, as the Steelers said throughout the week.

The only difference was that while Baltimore can also stop the run while sending various blitzers, San Francisco wasn't very stout up fron and Willie Parker was able to gouge the 49ers on the ground.

But I also think we got a look at how the Steelers will attack the Ravens this season as the tight ends caught five passes for 91 yards.

© I have a feeling that Hines Ward's knee injury is a little worse than the bone bruise the team is calling it. Team doctors were showing president Art Rooney X-rays after the game and there was a look of concern on their faces.

On the plus side, the Steelers proved Sunday they can win without much of a contribution from Ward.

© Are the Steelers throwing the ball enough to the tight end for you?

© Willie Parker is emerging as one of the best running backs in the NFL before our very eyes.

He's so much more patient this season and he's making some great cuts, running inside and outside.

© Yes, that was punter Daniel Sepulveda out there on the hands team at the end of the game. There's no truth to the rumor that Sepulveda will be considered as a replacement at wide receiver if Ward can't play next week.

© The Steelers are averaging 5.5 yards per carry this season after picking up 6.2 yards per attempt Sunday. The offensive line is run blocking better than I've ever seen it.

© I think we now see why the Steelers signed 49ers punter Andy Lee to an offer sheet during the offseason. The kid is pretty good.

© That conditional draft pick for Allen Rossum doesn't seem like such a bad thing now, does it. Then again, Rossum didn't do anything special other than run straight upfield very fast on that kickoff return. Of course, that's what you're supposed to do on kickoff returns.

© The Steelers are going to see more teams rolling the pocket on them in the future after San Francisco had some success with it.

But you need a quarterback who can throw on the run to do it.

© The division is Pittsburgh's to lose.

Cleveland stinks. Cincinnati's not much better, especially on defense. And Baltimore is showing its age.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The mind of Dick LeBeau

The interview seemed innocuous enough in typical Troy Polamalu fashion.

Polamalu, who talks softly but carries a big stick on the field, isn’t one to cause a controversy with something he says. In fact, he’s known for doing anything but that.

But when asked this week whether or not he felt Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau was being given more freedom this season than in the past under Bill Cowher, Polamalu came out and said what many have thought for a while now.

“I think he has more control (over the defense),” Polamalu said of LeBeau. “I don’t think they have any reigns on coach LeBeau that I know of. We are a lot more active. We’re not as conservative, we’re kind of initiating what the offense needs to do, not just reacting to what they do.”

And there it was. Polamalu didn’t say it and he wouldn’t have said it if pressed, but he obviously felt that Cowher tended to get a little conservative at times on defense.

New head coach Mike Tomlin, a proponent of the cover-2 defense, was supposed to be the more conservative one. But it appears Tomlin is willing to allow LeBeau the freedom that Cowher wouldn’t.

“I think he (Tomlin) has so much respect for coach LeBeau, rightly so, that he just said, ‘Hey, do what you do best,”’ Polamalu said.

For Tomlin, it was a matter of allowing the Steelers to do what they are best suited to accomplish.

“First and foremost, we have players here that have been acquired to fit that scheme and what they do, they do well,” Tomlin said. “That’s coaching to me. Put your guys in a position to do well. It’s no question that we have people that have continuity with the scheme. From a staff standpoint, I have known some of these guys for quite some time. I have a lot of knowledge on and a lot of respect for Coach (Dick) LeBeau.”

Certainly Cowher wasn’t always overly conservative on defense. In fact, when he first became head coach of the Steelers in 1992, he was considered a risk taker and somebody who used a defense that constantly attacked.

But let’s be honest, we all become a little more conservative as we age. And in 15 seasons with the Steelers, there were plenty of times when the players felt they were being reigned in on defense. Remember Joey Porter complaining that the coaching staff had handcuffs on the defense?

Maybe when he gets burned a time or two with the aggressive style of play Tomlin will pull things back a bit. Maybe he won’t.

But for now, we’re just enjoying a look into the mind of Dick LeBeau.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Power rankings

Now that we're two weeks into the season and I've seen most everybody play, here are my NFL power rankings.

1. New England (2-0) Cheaters or not, they're playing well.

2. Indianapolis (2-0) Still the champs, but they have some holes.

3. Pittsburgh (2-0) The Steelers have outscored their first two opponents by a combined score of 60-10.

4. San Diego (1-1) This team is not as bad as it looked Sunday night in New England.

5. Dallas (2-0) Cowboys are looking like the best team in the NFC, which is kind of like having the coolest fanny pack.

6. Baltimore (1-1) The Ravens got robbed in Week 1, but the injuries are mounting.

7. Chicago (1-1) The defense is still dominating, especially at home.

8. Denver (2-0) The Broncos are a very shaky 2-0, but better than the other unbeatens below them.

9. Green Bay (2-0) The defense is pretty good and Brett Favre can still get things done.

10. Washington (2-0) This team is better than I thought it would be.

11. San Francisco (2-0) Barely 2-0, but 2-0 nonetheless.

12. Detroit (2-0) Not being capable of running the ball will affect the Lions at some point.

13. Houston (2-0) I'd have them higher, but the Texans will be without Andre Johnson for a while.

14. Carolina (1-1) Decent all-around team.

15. Cincinnati (1-1) Where's the defense?

16. Tennessee (1-1) Just seem to be a good matchup for Indianapolis, especially at home.

17. Jacksonville (1-1) The defense found its swagger again last week.

18. Arizona (1-1) Should be 2-0, but gacked against the 49ers opening weekend.

19. Seattle (1-1) Still struggles to win on the road.

20. Tampa Bay (1-1) Demolished New Orleans, but still has many problems.

21. Philadelphia (0-2) McNabb showed some signs of life in the second half against Washington.

22. New Orleans (0-2) This team can't be this bad, can it?

23. Minnesota (1-1) The Vikings aren't going to get good QB play all year.

24. St. Louis (0-2) Paging Steven Jackson, Steven Jackson?

25. New York Jets (0-2) The Jets are proving they were a fraud last season.

26. New York Giants (0-2) The Giants can't play a lick of defense, which would be OK if they could score.

27. Cleveland (1-1) One win over Cincinnati does not a season make.

28. Buffalo (0-2) The defense bends but doesn't break. The offense needs J.P. Losman to get going.

29. Oakland (0-2) Still not a very good team.

30. Miami (0-2) Have you seen Ronnie Brown's numbers? Ouch.

31. Atlanta (0-2) How long before Byron Leftwich is ready?

32. Kansas City (0-2) Anybody who saw the show on HBO knew this team was going to be awful. Art imitates life.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

What we learned, Buffalo

Another week, another butt kicking.

How about that offensive line? What was once thought to be a weak point is now turning out to be a strong one. For the second week in a row, the Steelers dominated the line of scrimmage. And Ben Roethlisberger pretty much had as much time as he wanted to throw the ball.

© Willie Parker was down on himself for missing some holes last week in Cleveland. He looked much more patient this week.

© I saw more than one NFL expert who ranked Ben Roethlisberger below the likes of J.P. Losman and Jay Cutler in their rankings of quarterbacks during the offseaosn. I wonder how they feel about that now?

© Are the Steelers throwing enough to the tight ends for you? I don't want to hear that tired complaint any more.

© I took a peek at the stats from the Miami-Dallas game late in the fourth quarter Sunday. Joey Porter had two tackles, no sacks. Once again, James Harrison outplayed Porter - and Harrison only played the first half.

© Harrison, by the way, will be fine. Word has it he tore his neck collar off in the ambulance at halftime and stormed back out to the field.

© You could tell early in the game that the cornerbacks didn't get much open-field tackling practice last week against Cleveland. Both Deshea Townsend and Ike Taylor whiffed on Marshawn Lynch out in space.

© The Steelers are rotating Anthony Smith in at free safety everry third series. Apparently, they were doing it last week at Cleveland as well, but the Steelers weren't in their base enough to notice.

© The biggest news from Sunday? Jeff Reed made all four of his field goal attempts at Heinz Field. Considering he was 10 of 17 there last season, that's a good start.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Ward fined

Hines Ward was fined $5,000 by the NFL for a late hit and unnecessary roughness in Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns.

In other news, Casey Hampton has re-structured his contract for this season, taking $2.5 million in bonus money to save the Steelers $1.6 million on their salary cap this season. That money was apparently used to sign Kendall Simmons to his extension.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Wednesday update

Neither Deshea Townsend or Clint Kriewaldt practiced today, but both are expected to play Sunday against Buffalo.

Funny moment of the day was seeing offensive coordinator Bruce Arians wearing an LSU visor on top of his straw hat during practice. Arians, a former Virginia Tech quarterback, lost a bet with guard Alan Faneca, whose Tigers blew out the Hokies Saturday.

The Steelers were pretty upset about the cheating allegations involving the New England Patriots and understandably so. When a team beats you twice in the AFC Championship and many feel it's because of halftime adjustments they made, you can't help but wonder if it was because they were stealing signals.

I had a long conversation with Najeh Davenport today and he admitted that he never really felt 100 percent - physically or mentally - until about 10 weeks into the season last year. Davenport was coming back from a broken ankle when he was cut by Green Bay and picked up by the Steelers after the opening week. And he just didn't run with the pop or determination he did Sunday against the Browns. He looked like a different running back.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Okobi to Arizona

Though it's not particularly surprising, Chukky Okobi is expected to sign with the Arizona Cardinals today, pending a physical.

The move would reunite Okobi with former offensive line coach Russ Grimm.

The Cards have a need for a center after starter Al Johnson injured his knee in Monday night's meltdown loss to San Francisco.

Monday, September 10, 2007

What we learned: Cleveland

Here's what we learned in Cleveland:

First and foremost, the Browns still stink. They're going to feel really good about Brady Quinn in Cleveland next season when they have to send their first-round pick to Dallas instead of getting a shot at taking Brian Brohm or Darren McFadden.

I've said it before and I'll say it again: Dick LeBeau is a genius. Why the man isn't in the Pro Football Hall of Fame is beyond me.

You people who have complained that the Steelers don't throw to the tight ends enough have nothing to complain about this week. Then again, I've said all along that the Steelers throw to the tight ends plenty.

The most impressive thing about the Steelers' pass rush Sunday was that on more than one occasion, the defender was beating somebody at the line of scrimmage to get to the quarterback. They weren't just coming in free - though that happened to.

What got into Jeff Reed? He had seven touchbacks all of last season. Sunday he had three.

Santonio Holmes is going to have a very good season.

James Harrison had a team-high seven tackles and a sack Sunday and was a force to be reckoned with. Joey Porter had three tackles in a Miami loss to Washington. Yep, that's what I thought.

Imagine how good Ben Roethlisberger's numbers would have been without the four drops the Steelers had.

Najeh Davenport didn't run with that kind of conviction last season. It makes me wonder if he was completely healthy last season. That's something I'll have to ask him this week.

Sunday, September 09, 2007

What to look for in Cleveland

The Steelers will show off a different variation of their nickel defense today against Cleveland.

Watch for safeties Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu to come up and play the outside receivers at the line of scrimmage, with the corners shifting deep. The Steelers apparently want to be more physical with Braylon Edwards and Joe Jurevicius at the line of scrimmage and feel this is the best way to do so. Plus, when Kellen Winslow shifts wide, it's not the physical mismatch it would be with a corner.

Carey Davis will be a factor at fullback, particularly in the passing game. Look for Davis to catch three or four dump offs today.

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Changing of the guard

Though some in Pittsburgh questioned whether the Steelers were serious about cutting fullback Dan Kreider, we now know that they were considering it.

How do we know? Carey Davis will start in Cleveland at fullback in the opener, with Kreider only lining up at fullback on short-yardage plays.

According to SteelCityInsider.com, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians plans to use the fullback more this season as an offenive threat, something that better fits Davis' skills.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Browns auditioning punters

According to reports out of Cleveland, the Browns are auditioning punters after Scott Zadsudil was injured in practice on Monday.

One of the punters Cleveland is looking at is Chris Gardocki.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Readying for Cleveland

The Steelers began focusing solely on Cleveland Monday with a couple of twists.

First, as I surmised, Kendall Simmons saw a little time at center. He'll be the gameday backup there if something happens to Sean Mahan.

Also, first-round pick Lawrence Timmons saw some time at the Mack position behind Larry Foote. I truly believe Timmons' future with the Steelers is on the inside, possibly as a replacement for James Farrior. They are similar athletes.

Sunday, September 02, 2007

Practice squad announced

The Steelers signed eight players to their practice squad Sunday, including seven players who had been in training camp with the team this year. Added to the team’s practice squad were wide receiver Dallas Baker, tight end Jon Dekker, safety Grant Mason, defensive end Ryan McBean, defensive tackle Scott Paxson, center Marvin Philip and wide receiver Gerran Walker.

The team also signed running back Jamaal Branch, who spent the 2007 preseason in the New Orleans Saints training camp. McBean and Baker were draft picks by the Steelers this year.

The only draft pick who was not signed to the practice squad was guard/center Cameron Stephenson, a fifth-round pick. The team did keep Stephenson's teammate at Rutgers, center Darnell Stapleton, on its active roster. Stapleton was one of two undrafted rookies to make the team's final roster.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Steelers acquire Rossum

The Steelers, who have sought a dependable kick returner throughout training camp, acquired cornerback Allen Rossum from the Atlanta Falcons on Saturday for a conditional 2008 draft pick.

It appears the team has released Marvin Philip to make room for him.

I guess that makes Kendall Simmons the backup center.

The final cuts

There were no real big surprises in the Steelers' list of final cuts for regular readers of this blog.

Chukky Okobi and Verron Haynes were two veterans sent packing among the 22 players released Saturday.

Also cut were three rookie draft choices - defensive end Ryan McBean, a fourth-round pick; guard Cameron Stephenson (fifth) and wide receiver Dallas Baker (seventh).

I thought McBean might make it on potential, but the Steelers felt otherwise and will try to sign him to their practice squad.

Defensive end Shaun Nua, linebacker Rian Wallace and former special teams co-captain Chidi Iwuoma were also cut.

The players released from the Steelers roster include WR Dallas Baker, TE Cody Boyd, OT Jason Capizzi, TE Jon Dekker, RB Verron Haynes, CB Chidi Iwuoma, CB Jovon Johnson, FB John Kuhn, S Mike Lorello, CB Anthony Madison, CB Grant Mason, DE Ryan McBean, DE Shaun Nua, C Chukky Okobi, DT Scott Paxson, C Marvin Philip, QB Bryan Randall, LB Ron Stanley, OG Cameron Stephenson, OT Brandon Torrey, WR Gerran Walker, LB Rian Wallace and WR Walter Young.

I guess Marquis Cooper is the surpise on the roster. But he's a solid special teams guy.