Thursday, November 29, 2007

Goodbye Danny

We've probably seen the last of Dan Kreider in a Steelers uniform as the eight-year vet went on the disabled list with a knee injury Thursday.

Kreider has been phased out of the Pittsburgh offense this season in favor of Carey Davis, who's a better runner and receiver out of the backfield.

But the Steelers still used Kreider when they wanted to line up and punish opponents or late in games when they were milking the clock.

But Kreider is an unrestricted free agent after this year and his knee injury was his third injury this season in limited playing time. Running into brick walls head first for eight years will do that to a guy.

It was good while it lasted for Kreider, a true class act.

And yes, that was former Steelers fullback John Kuhn lead-blocking for Green Bay Thursday night.

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Week 12 Power Rankings

1. New England (11-0) Survived a scare against Philadelphia.

2. Dallas (10-1) Will beat Green Bay this week because it's in Dallas.

3. Green Bay (10-1) I think the Packers are a better all-around team than Dallas, but they have to play the Cowboys in Big D.

4. Indianapolis (9-2) Starting to get healthy.

5. Pittsburgh (8-3) Survived in the mud. Face a good test this week with Cincinnati.

6. Jacksonville (8-3) This team is really playing well, but has to travel to Indy this week.

7. San Diego (6-5) Don't forget about the Chargers.

8. Seattle (7-4) Found a way to win on the road.

9. Cleveland (7-4) The defense is playing better, but still isn't where it needs to be.

10. Tampa Bay (7-4) Tampa's defense is playing very well.

11. N.Y. Giants (7-4) The annual second-half swoon may be starting.

12. Detroit (6-5) Needs to right the ship.

13. Tennessee (6-5) In the same boat as Detroit.

14. Philadelphia (5-6) Could sneak into the playoffs in the NFC.

15. Minnesota (5-6) No QB, but it might not matter in the NFC.

16. Chicago (5-6) Why does anybody kick to Devin Hester if they don't have to.

17. Houston (5-6) Still not ready for prime time.

18. Denver (5-6) This team just can't seem to bring it all together.

19. New Orleans (5-6) The Saints could still make a playoff push.

20. Washington (5-6) How do you lose to a team that fails to record a first down in the second half?

21. Arizona (5-6) How do you lose to San Francisco twice?

22. Buffalo (5-6) The Bills could win seven or eight games this season by default because the rest of the divison is so bad, or they may not win again. It's that close.

23. Cincinnati (4-7) The offense is getting healthy. If they only had a defense.

24. Kansas City (4-7) That loss to the Raiders will haunt them.

25. Carolina (4-7) How do you fail to win a home game in more than a year?

26. Baltimore (4-7) The wheels have come off.

27. Oakland (3-8) A commitment to Justin Fargas.

28. San Francisco (3-8) Is Fank Gore finally healthy? If so, they could play a spoiler role.

29. Atlanta (3-8) Bobby Petrino could be one and done in Atlanta if the right college program comes calling.

30. St. Louis (2-9) If Bulger comes back, this is as dangerous a two-win team as there is in the league.

31. N.Y. Jets (2-9) Forget the win against the Steelers coming out of their bye, the Jets are who we thought they were.

32. Miami (0-11) The Dolphins have problems and they are great.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

What we learned, Miami

I tried to post this Monday night at Heinz Field, but apparently, the rain delayed the posting.

© We had a Lawrence Timmons sighting on defense Monday night and the rookie replaced, of all people, Troy Polamalu in the nickel defense.

Timmons made some plays, too, picking up a couple of tackles and recovering a fumble.

That team rookie of the year award is still hanging in the balance.

© Then again, punter Daniel Sepulveda may have wrapped it up with his effort against the Dolphins.

Sepulveda punted five times and all five were downed inside the Miami 20 with no returns thanks to excellent hang time.

Considering Miami’s only real chance to score Monday night would have come on a return by Ted Ginn, that was huge.

© A win is a win is a win, but that one was as ugly as any of the Bill Cowher era.

The Pittsburgh Steelers slogged through a 3-0 win against the Miami Dolphins at Heinz Field Monday night.

Many will blame the sloppiness of the game on the turf at Heinz Field, which was re-sodded following Saturday’s Pitt game here. But the field actually held up well after the rain stopped.

The problem was that the rain didn’t stop all that much. And no matter what kind of surface you have, when you get about three inches of rain in the course of a day, the field is going to be treacherous.

Anybody remember the famous Terry Bradshaw slide against the Houston Oilers at Three Rivers Stadium during which Bradshaw spun round and round as he slid on the soaking wet turf? That was on Astroturf.

Monday night’s game could have been played on the finest surface known to man, but unless it was going to be played indoors, it wasn’t going to matter.

© Willie Parker carried the ball 24 times for 81 yards, but I didn’t see too many carries where he could have gotten more.

Parker’s game is cutting and going and in this game, that wasn’t going to be possible. He was sticking the ball up in the middle against the Dolphins defense and getting what he could, even breaking some tackles.

That was a great effort.

© Hines Ward is a mudder, pure and simple.

© If James Harrison doesn’t make the Pro Bowl this season, it’s a crime. He’s been that good.

© Larry Foote and James Farrior were also outstanding Monday night. They spent more time in the Miami backfield than Dolphins’ running back Ricky Williams, who was knocked from the game in his return from an 18-month suspension after just six carries.

© Marvel Smith’s sore back kept him out of this game and Max Starks started at left tackle in his place. Starks looked much better at left tackle in this game than he did in the preseason.

Of course he was playing for a contract in this one, showing that he can be a serviceable offensive tackle in this league.

Starks, by the way, also deflected the Dolphins’ field goal attempt in the fourth quarter, a three-pointer that would have been nullified anyway by a delay of game penalty.

© It’s hard to believe, but Ben Roethlisberger was 18 of 21 for 165 yards passing in this game, completing 15 in a row at one point to tie his own team record.

Of course none of those passes were more than 10 yards downfield as Roethlisberger’s long pass before the Steelers’ game-winning drive was a 15-yard completion to – egads – Dan Kreider.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Week 11 Power rankings

1. New England (10-0) Rolling right along.

2. Dalls (9-1) Struggled against Washington at home, but won.

3. Green Bay (9-1) The best team nobody is talking about.

4. Indianapolis (8-2) Banged up but found a way to win.

5. Jacksonville (7-3) Getting healthy at the right time.

6. Steelers (7-3) Should be angry after last week's debacle.

7. N.Y. Giants (7-3) Losing Kiwanuka for the season will hurt.

8. Seattle (6-4) Starting to turn it on now that Alexander is out.

9. Cleveland (6-4) The Browns are 6-2 against everyone in the league that doesn't wear black and gold.

10. Tampa Bay (6-4) Playing outstanding defense.

11. Detroit (6-4) We'll find out how good they are on Thanksgiving against Green Bay.

12. San Diego (5-5) Something's just not right with this team.

13. Denver (5-5) Don't look now, but here come the Broncos.

14. Arizona (5-5) The defense is playing great.

15. Philadelphia (5-5) A 23-point underdog at New England!

16. Houston (5-5) Andre Johnson is back and so is the passing offense.

17. Tennessee (6-4) Struggling without Haynesworth in the middle. Young's passing is erratic.

18. Washington (5-5) A middle-of-the-road team.

19. Buffalo (5-5) How will the Bills respond to last week's whooping?

20. Kansas City (4-6) May wish they hadn't made that Michael Bennett trade.

21. New Orleans (4-6) Just when you thought the Saints had righted the ship …

22. Chicago (4-6) Injuries have made this a lost season.

23. Minnesota (4-6) Maybe it's the o-line, but I think I could go for 100 for the Vikings.

24. Baltimore (4-6) Upon further review, the Ravens should be lower. Nah.

25. Carolina (4-6) Bill Cowher could be coaching here by the beginning of January.

26. Cincinnati (3-7) Fading, fading, fading.

27. Atlanta (3-7) Maybe Steve Bartkowski can come out of retirement.

28. St. Louis (2-8) The Rams won, but struggled against the hapless 49ers.

29. N.Y. Jets (2-8) Played their game of the season against the Steelers.

30. Oakland (2-8) Maybe the NFL should leave the Bay area.

31. San Francisco (2-8) That's eight losses in a row.

32. Miami (0-10) The Dolphins have now lost 13 straight dating back to last season.

Monday, November 19, 2007

What we learned, Jets

People will look at the seven sacks registered by the New York Jets in their victory over the Pittsburgh Steelers Sunday and point the finger solely at the offensive line.

And to be sure, the offensive line deserves the blame for at least half of the sacks and pressures against Ben Roethlisberger in New York’s 19-16 overtime win.

But Roethlisberger and the wide receivers have to shoulder some of the blame as well.

Roethlisberger is believing in his ability to scramble and keep plays alive perhaps too much.

Instead of getting rid of the football on a four or five count, Roethlisberger tried to keep plays alive too much against a Jets defense Sunday that was using its ends to keep him hemmed in and bringing pressure via stunts and blitzes from different points. The Jets also spied Roethlisberger with a linebacker or lineman in the middle of the field to keep him in the pocket.

So on several occasions when Roethlisberger couldn’t find somebody open downfield, he began to move around in the pocket and ran himself into pressure and/or sacks.

There were also times when Roethlisberger stood in the pocket – such as on the Jets’ second sack of the game – where the quarterback had plenty of time to throw the ball, but couldn’t find anyone open downfield.

The offensive line can’t be blamed in those situations.

Considering the success New York had with that defense, the Steelers had better expect to see more of it the remainder of this season.

© All of that said, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some changes up front when the Steelers line up to play Miami next Monday night.

Chris Kemoeatu and Max Starks on the right side can’t be any worse than what we’ve seen this season out of Willie Colon and Kendall Simmons.

And at some point, you’ve just got to send a message.

© For all of the talk from the Steelers in the week leading up to it, it was obvious that they took the New York Jets lightly.

It’s probably only human nature that it happens. But you had better believe that it won’t happen anytime soon again.

© The run defense, for the first time in the past two seasons, was awful.

And it’s hard to figure out why.

Despite a 56-yard completion off a flea-flicker on his first pass, Kellen Clemens didn’t break 100 yards passing until the fourth quarter.

So with little threat of the pass, the Steelers still allowed the Jets to run for 151 yards, mainly because they missed tackle after tackle.

© Willie Parker continues to have problems with his footing. And on the turf at Giants Stadium, there was no real reason for it.

Everybody likes to complain about the field conditions at Heinz Field, but Parker, apparently, is struggling with his footing everywhere.

He’s also doing a little too much dancing at the line of scrimmage instead of just hitting the ball up in there.

The Steelers went with Najeh Davenport a little more than usual against the Jets and he had more success because he did just find a seam and hit it.

Parker may be thinking a little too much instead of just allowing his natural ability to take over.

Tomlin said earlier this season that he will run Parker until the wheels come off. It’s possible that is in the process of happening.

© If you were to forced to pick an MVP for the Steelers, Jeff Reed would have to do. Reed kept the ball out of Leon Washington’s hands on kickoffs most of the day with some perfectly placed pop-up kicks and was perfect on three field goal attempts in a tough place to kick.

© Santonio Holmes looked fine after the game after getting his ankle rolled up on in the fourth quarter on a short pass play.

But Troy Polamalu looked very banged up in the locker room. Polamalu was walking very stiffly and appeared to have some kind of leg injury.

© That 33-yard punt return that Washington had to set up New York’s game-winning score was as much punter Daniel Sepulveda’s fault as it was the coverage unit’s. Sepulveda hit a short line-drive kick that allowed Washington to catch the ball on the run.

© You could also credit some poor play calling in that situation.

Parker ran for three yards on first down and Roethlisberger was sacked for a six-yard loss on second down that moved the ball back to the 14.

On third down and 14, the Steelers ran a draw with fullback Carey Davis, who has just a handful of carries all season.

That’s a give-up play. And in overtime, when all the opponents needs is a field goal to win, you can’t run a give-up play deep in your own territory.

Even if Sepulveda hit a 45-yard punt and Washington called for a fair catch, the Jets were going to get great field position.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Week 10 rankings

1. New England (9-0) Nothing to say here.

2. Dallas (8-1) Looking strong for the top seed in the NFC, though Green Bay is playing well too.

3. Pittsburgh (7-2) A top-five offensive and defensive team and Ben Roethlisberger is playing as well as any QB in the league. The special teams could be a downfall if not fixed.

4. Indianapolis (7-2) If Freeney is indeed out for four weeks, the Colts could be in trouble.

5. Green Bay (8-1) And to think, Brett Favre was actually thinking about retirement.

6. Jacksonville (6-3) Found a way to win two of three without Garrard, who should be back this week.

7. N.Y. Giants (6-3) There's just something missing with Eli Manning.

8. Tennessee (6-3) Teams are forcing Vince Young to throw on them. He has precious few receivers to get the ball to.

9. San Diego (5-4) Philip Rivers needs to play better.

10. Cleveland (5-4) The Browns are better, but not ready to handle the big boys yet.

11. Detroit (6-3) Stumbled in the desert last week.

12. Seattle (5-4) Still need to play better on the road.

13. Tampa Bay (5-4) The bye came at a perfect time for a banged-up team.

14. Washington (5-4) This is a Jekyl and Hyde team to be sure, but so are a lot of teams in the teens.

15. Buffalo (5-4) The win streak ends this week at New England.

16. Arizona (4-5) This team could make a push for the playoffs in the second half.

17. New Orleans (4-5) All the momentum they acquired by winning four in a row was lost last week.

18. Philadelphia (4-5) Is the old Donovan McNabb back?

19. Denver (4-5) Dominated the Chiefs without Larry Johnson.

20. Chicago (4-5) Don't count the Bears out in the NFC just yet.

21. Kansas City (4-5) Johnson's out and they now have big trouble at QB. Not a good sign.

22. Houston (4-5) Should finally get Andre Johnson back.

23. Carolina (4-5) John Fox has to be on the hot seat. Bill Cowher anyone?

24. Cincinnati (3-6) Two of three wins have come against the Ravens.

25. Baltimore (4-5) Remember when people thought the Ravens were still good?

26. Atlanta (3-6) Believe it or not, the Falcons have won two in a row.

27. Minnesota (3-6) In trouble without Adrian Peterson.

28. Oakland (2-7) If they combined both teams on the Bay, they still wouldn't have a QB.

29. San Francisco (2-7) Putrid offense.

30. St. Louis (1-8) Starting to get healthy.

31. N.Y. Jets (1-8) Only hope of another win comes against Miami.

32. Miami (0-9) Challenging for the spot of the worst team in history.

Monday, November 12, 2007

What we learned, Cleveland (again)

Some things just seem to be destined to happen.

The sun rises. The seasons change. The Steelers beat the Browns.

That's why, even when the Browns were up 21-6 against the Steelers Sunday, there was little doubt Pittsburgh was going to win the game.

Cleveland is, well, Cleveland. You knew the Browns would find a way to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.

© I liked seeing big Chris Kemoeatu in there at fullback down by the goal line.

What I didn't like was the pass Willie Parker threw on second and goal with Kemoeatu in there.

With Max Starks at tight end and Kemoeatu at fullback, there were precious few options for Parker to throw to on that play.

© Once again, Ben Roethlisberger proves why he's one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL, even though he doesn't get credit for it.

The Steelers are winning games because of him this season, just as they did down the stretch in 2005 and in the second half of last season.

© Alan Faneca spoke up in the huddle when the Steelers needed a score to go ahead, yelling at his teammates to get them going. Most of what Faneca said is unprintable, but the message was received.

So much for all the bozos out there who thought Faneca would be mailing it in this season, his final one in Pittsburgh.

© Heath Miller is a better tight end than Kellen Winslow, even though it will be Winslow who joins Antonio Gates in Hawaii for the Pro Bowl.

Unforuntately, the Pro Bowl voters only look at catches as the measure of a tight end. Milller may be the best all-around tight end in the AFC, if not the NFL.

© Braylon Edwards' TD catch in the second quarter was an outstanding play. But if Edwards hadn't made it, you wouldn't have known he played Sunday.

He did nothing else.

© James Harrison continues to be a force. That's two more fumbles he forced against the Browns, giving him five in the past two games.

Joey Porter will be coming back to town later this season. Steelers fans should cheer him. Had he not declined so much in the past couple of seasons, Mike Tomlin may not have cut him and Harrison would not be starting right now.

© I usually don't comment on things that happen in other games, but I did watch the San Diego-Indianapolis game Sunday night.

First, Antonio Cromartie's second quarter one-handed interception of Peyton Manning was perhaps the best defensive play I've seen in some years.

Second, people who were giving Indianapolis the No. 2 seed in the playoffs may have been a bit premature.

If the playoffs began right now, the Steelers would be No. 2 based on a better conference record than Indianapolis.

The Steelers will be favored in all but one of their final six games this season. Indianapolis will be favored in all of its final six games. But you never know.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Update on Clark

After talking to Ryan Clark today and seeing him in the locker room the past couple of weeks, I can only come to the conclusion that it may be weeks or even months before he's ready to play football again.

The spleen problem he has – which was brought on by playing football in high altitudes while carrying the sickle cell trait – is a painful one and Clark is still struggling to move around in everyday life.

It's a difficult situation, especially considering what a good guy Clark is and how well-liked he is by his teammates. You can only hope that he gets well enough to move on from this setback.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Week 9 Power Rankings

1. New England (9-0) It wasn't necessarily pretty, but the Pats won in Indianapolis.

2. Indianapolis (7-1) You can't blow a 10-point lead with nine minutes and change remaining in the game, even to New England.

3. Dallas (7-1) Big game with the Giants looms. Dallas should win.

4. Pittsburgh (6-2) Should head to New England in a month with just two losses in what will be billed as the next game of the century.

5. Green Bay (7-1) Winning a road game is difficult following a Monday night road game. But the Packers did it.

6. Tennessee (6-2) I like how this team is playing defense.

7. N.Y. Giants (6-2) I'm not sold on this team just yet. But the record is good.

8. Detroit (6-2) Jon Kitna predicted 10 wins before the season and everyone laughed. Who's laughing now?

9. Jacksonvile (5-3) That was a blip on the radar last week. This is still a good team.

10. Cleveland (5-3) We'll see just how far the Browns have come this week. I still expect a two touchdown-win by the Steelers this week.

11. New Orleans (4-4) Could end up winning the NFC by the time it's all said and done.

12. Tampa Bay (5-4) The defense dominated against a good Arizona offense.

13. Washington (5-3) That was not how I expected the Skins to rebound from the New England loss, but at least they won.

14. San Diego (4-4) What the heck was that against Minnesota? We'll chalk it up to the wildfires.

15. Kansas City (4-4) Tough loss last week. Even tougher considering Larry Johnson was injured.

16. Seattle (4-4) Still the best team in an awful division.

17. Buffalo (4-4) Maybe the win over the Ravens two weeks ago wasn't all that strange.

18. Baltimore (4-4) This season could really get away from Brian Billick fast.

19. Carolina (4-4) The Panthers finally lost one on the road last week. Now maybe they'll get their first home win.

20. Arizona (3-5) Need a win this week in the worst way.

21. Houston (4-5) Better than they were last season, but the Texans are still struggling.

22. Minnesota (3-5) Will only go as far as Adrian Peterson can take them.

23. Philadelphia (3-5) This has turned into a lost season in Philadelphia.

24. Denver (3-5) The defense is awful and now Cutler is out.

25. Cincinnati (2-6) Should draft all defensive players this year.

26. Chicago (3-5) Maybe they fixed things over the bye, but I doubt it.

27. Oakland (2-6) Slipping back into a familar role.

28. Atlanta (2-6) May not have many wins left on the schedule.

29. San Francisco (2-6) I can't believe they're still this bad and New England gets their first-round draft pick.

30. N.Y. Jets (1-8) Nearly pulled off the upset last week.

31. St. Louis (0-8) Didn't lose last week because they were on the bye.

32. Miami (0-8) See above.

What we learned: Baltimore

While all the hype this weekend in the NFL surrounded the Colts and Patriots, there was an important game being played in Pittsburgh Monday night.

The Pittsburgh Steelers needed Monday night’s victory over the Baltimore Ravens to prove that they could slay the dragon.

The dragon, in this case, was a Baltimore team that dominated the Steelers 58-7 last season, whipping them in every facet of the game.

There will be bigger games for this team down the road. A game at New England and one against a Jacksonville team that physically manhandled the Steelers last season come to mind. And then there’s the playoffs – that’s right, I said it.

But consider Monday night’s 38-7 domination of the Ravens a big hurdle that has been crossed.

© If there is a quarterback in the NFL playing better than Ben Roethlisberger right now, I don’t know who it is.

There, I said it – I guess I’m into making statements tonight at 2:44 a.m.

That includes Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

If you gave Roethlisberger Brady weapons or offensive game plans, he’d be putting up crazy numbers right now too. Think Randy Moss could get open with Roethlisberger scrambling around, buying extra time?

Roethlisberger could have thrown 10 touchdown passes against the Ravens Monday. He could have piled up 400 yards passing.

But because the Steelers have some class, he didn’t. And it’s been that way for much of this season.

© Roethlisberger is OK, by the way. He banged his hip and shoulder in the third quarter on a hit from Terrell Suggs, but is fine after the initial shock.

Roethlisberger, if you haven’t figured it out yet, is a bit of a hypochondriac. You never really know if he’s near death or ready to come back into the game.

© OK, now we can get to James Harrison.

That was one of the most dominant games I’ve seen a defensive player have in 15 seasons of covering the NFL, bar none.

Harrison was unblockable, unstoppable and unflappable.

All right, he was flapped a little by the media throng that waited by his locker after the game.

Harrison, you see, is not a guy who particularly likes to talk to the media. In fact, he likes to try to intimidate those who are easily intimidated by a guy who’s built like a brick wall and owns a stare that could stop traffic.

But really, Harrison’s a pretty shy guy. He can also be funny when he wants to be.

He also happens to be a pretty good NFL linebacker, one who likely earned himself a spot in the Pro Bowl Monday night.

© Part of the reason Harrison felt he was so effective was that the coaching staff took him off of two of the three special teams coverage units.

He claimed to be fresher. Of course he was still out there covering punts as we saw when he body slammed Ed Reed, forcing a fumble.

No, he didn’t recover that one.

© Were there any Ravens that Hines Ward didn’t put on their behinds?

Just asking.

© It would do the Steelers well to play with that same swagger and ferocity when they play the Patriots later this season.

We saw a little bit of that from the Colts against the Patriots and they didn’t necessarily handle that physical style of play very well.

Heck, even Jeff Reed was going after people Monday night.

© Of the teams in the AFC North, the Ravens might be in the most trouble.

The Steelers, Browns and Bengals all have a quarterback they can build around. Baltimore, on the other hand, does not.

And the defense is getting old, as is left tackle Jonathan Ogden. In fact, Ogden isn’t getting old. He is old.

The Ravens should have let him stay in retirement and started the rebuilding process this season rather than prolonging the process another year.

© The resurgent Browns are up next. Considering the Steelers have won all four of their home games by at least 20 points, there’s no reason to believe the Steelers won’t dominate them at Heinz Field as well.

Derek Anderson may be a nice story in the NFL right now. And sure, he’s playing well, as are Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow. But how are the Browns going to run the football? How are they going to stop the run? How are they going to slow down Roethlisberger?

They aren’t.

Saturday, November 03, 2007

Who's in, who's out

Ryan Clark has been declared out for Monday's game against the Ravens as he continues to struggle to recover from his spleen problem. I saw him in the locker room this week and he still doesn't look like himself.

Jerame Tuman is out as well with a sprained back.

Aaron Smith hasn't practiced all week and it's looking like he won't play, either. The Steelers will practice Saturday, so there's still a chance Smith could play, but he has to get on the field first.

Alan Faneca missed practice Friday with a back problem, but is probable to play.

For Baltimore, tight end Daniel Wilcox is out, while cornerback Chris McAlister is doubtful. McAlister has been limited at practice all week and it's looking like he won't play.

Samari Rolle is questionable and missed practice Friday with an illness.

Tight end Todd Heap has also been limited at practice this week and remains questionable.