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Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Tuesday update

Ben Roethlisberger was on the practice field today, but did not work. He seemed lucid speaking to his teammates and left the locker room without speaking to the media.

Speaking to players in the locker room, they said Roethlisberger's concussion was mild.

Mike Tomlin said he expects Roethlisberger to be fine and wouldn't rule him out of returning to practice this week.

© Ryan Clark, James Harrison, James Farriror, Willie Parker, Aaron Smith and Hines Ward were the veterans who did not practice Tuesday as the team held its first bye-week workout.

Tomlin is not having the team spend a practice on each of their possible opponents. They are instead focusing on their own play.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Tune in to Fox 970

I'll be hosting the Steelers' show on 970-AM Tuesday night from 7 to 9 p.m. the next two weeks with Jim Wexell.

Give us a listen. Don't be afraid to call in.

© As expected, Bill Cowher will sit out another year before coming back to coach in 2010 – though he will talk to the Jets about their opening. Though, I don't expect anything to come of that, either.

There was no way Cowher was going to go to Cleveland.

Cowher coached against the Browns enough times to know what a mess that team is. And considering it traded half of next year's draft away this year to acquire a couple of picks, there's no quick fix.

© The Giants are 2-1 favorites to win the Super Bowl according to Las Vegas.

You can get 4-1 odds on the Titans, while the Steelers are third at 9-2.

The Arizona Cardinals are the biggest longshots for the title at 40-1; in the AFC, the Miami Dolphins have 30-1 odds.

The two preseason favorites — the New England Patriots (2-1) and Dallas Cowboys (7-1) — failed to reach the playoffs.

Not unexpectedly, all four road teams are favored in this weekend's wildcard games.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Post-Cleveland thoughts

The big news coming out of this one is, of course, Ben Roethlisberger's injury. Word is that Roethlisberger is expected to be just fine, however.

He should be ready to go in two weeks when the Steelers host their AFC Divisional playoff game, probably against Indianapolis. At least that's my best guess at this point.

© After a slow start, you could see Willie Parker start to gain confidence Sunday. He had just 22 yards on his first 10 carries and finished with 116 on 23 attempts.

That was what the Steelers really wanted to accomplish in this one.

Parker's knee is fine, but he didn't have a lot of confidence making the cuts he needed to be effective.

He does now.

So what if it was against the Browns. The Steelers need the threat of a running game to be effective in the playoffs. And a confident Parker gives them that.

© The Steelers really wanted to lead the league in scoring, total, rushing and passing defense but will have to settle for three of the four.

That's not bad. And considering that the Browns really made no attempt to throw the ball Sunday, it's not all that bad.

The Steelers allowed 156.9 yards passing per game this season, their best since 1990 when they gave up 156.3 per game.

For a team whose weakness was supposed to be the secondary, that's not bad.

© Would I have played Roethlisberger Sunday? You bet.

Roethlisberger was coming off a four-turnover game and needed some positive plays as well heading into the playoffs.

Harrison out

James Harrison will join Ryan Clark on the sidelines today as the Steelers finish off the regular season against the Browns.

It's not a bad move, as Lawrence Timmons will start at OLB and get plenty of work there, something he hasn't had a chance to do a lot of.

Everybody else will play as usual - at least until the Steelers get a big lead, which against these Browns could be 7-0.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Christmas Eve news

Whilst the children are all nestling in bed - OK, not yet – I was toiling away at the Steelers offices today.

Here's what we learned.

© It comes as no surprise that James Harrison was named team MVP for the second year in a row.

Harrison was a near unanimous choice with Aaron Smith getting some votes as well.

© Ben Roethlisberger took all the snaps today at practice and it appears as if he will see the majority of the playing time Sunday against the Browns. Roethlisberger had a wrap on his right ankle, but appears no worse for the wear.

© Ryan Clark (shoulder), Harrison (hip pointer), Willie Parker, Smith, Deshea Townsend and Hines Ward did not practice Wednesday.

Clark is out for Sunday's game, while Parker, Smith, Townsend and Ward were getting their regular veterans day off.

© The Steelers worked a lot against the wildcat package today. I would guess they're figuring to see a lot of Josh Cribbs at QB Sunday.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Tuesday Tomlin

Safety Ryan Clark won't play this week after injuring his shoulder in thte fourth quarter against Tennessee. He'll be the only starter who won't play, though.

Mike Tomlin said today that Tyrone Carter would start in Clark's place, but that Anthony Smith would see some time at free safety as well.

© James Harrison (hip pointer) and Ben Roethlisberger (ankle) will be limited at practice early in the week, but are expected to play.

© The Steelers finally gave up on getting Marvel Smith back this season and placed him on IR Tuesday.

To replace him on the active roster, the team signed Jason Capizzi to its roster. Capizzi was on the practice squad of the St. Louis Rams.

© Tomlin refused to address whether he stood behind offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and took offense at the question.

It was a poor time to ask about Arians. The team is 11-4 and readying for the playoffs, not 4-11.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Post Tennesee thoughts

The final score was 31-14, but this game was much closer than that.

Four turnovers to none will do that.

© I know Ben Roethlisberger said he was going to go into this game loose after the Steelers clinched the division title and a bye in the first round of the playoffs but I didn't realize he meant he was going to be loose with the football.

© Chris Kemoeatu had an awful game. Ike Taylor too.

© Mitch Berger actually had a good game, for those of you keeping track.

That was one positive to take out of this one.

© The Titans were pressing the Pittsburgh receivers a lot to take away the short passes that had been working so well in recent weeks. That opened some stuff up downfield, but it also caused Roethlisberger to get sacked and pressured on three-step drops because his primary reads were covered.

© Stomping on Terrible Towels is really a meaningless act, but you can bet Mike Tomlin will use it as a motivational tool the next time these teams meet - in about a month.

Yes, the Steelers and Titans will meet in the AFC Championship - unless Baltimore goes to Tennessee and beats the Titans.

© Tomlin said he will play the Browns next week as a regular game.

The guess here, though, is that he'll play it more like a preseason game. Once the Steelers get up 21 or so points - roughly three minutes into the second quarter - he'll start pulling some key starters.

Sunday morning

The Steelers have solved their short-yardage problems. Jerome Bettis was on the team flight to Nashville Saturday.

Bettis, however, was just hitching a ride to the game.

© There's ice on the field here at LP Field. The crew has been busy all morning scraping it off.

It rained here last night and apparently - though the field was covered - the cover is not heated. The water on the cover froze up and in the spots where there were gaps, there were large patches of ice on the turf.

© Anthony Smith is among the inactives today in something of a surprise.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Friday's update

Brett Keisel practiced again today, but it listed as questionable to play Sunday at Tennessee. Best guess is that he plays, albeit rotating generously with Travis Kirschke.

Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark, James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are all probable. All but Woodley, who has a sore knee, have foot problems.

© The money in Vegas is heading the Steelers way. This game opened with the Titans favored by one, but now the Steelers are favored by two, a swing of three points.

That's a big swing for an NFL game, but as people looked at the Titans' 3-13 record without Albert Haynesworth, it made sense.

© It's been 24 quarters and counting since an opposing offense has had a holding call against the Steelers.

That's six games for those of you with problems in math.

But, as laid out in my story in Friday's O-R, that's a trend that's league-wide. NFL officials just aren't calling holding penalties - though I did see a couple in Thursday night's game.

In the same six games, the Steelers have had eight holding penalties called against them.

But for the season, the Steelers have had 19 holding penalties called on them, opponents, 21.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Thursday thoughts

Everybody was back at practice today, leaving Marvel Smith as the only player out.

This team is getting healthy at just the right time.

Win this week and they get to play Cleveland's JV team next week in what will likely be treated like a preseason game. Starters play a half, get a big lead and take a seat.

Cleveland hasn't scored a touchdown in more than 200 offensive plays and won't likely do so against the Steelers, either.

One of the dumbest questions bandied about the locker room this week by my media brethren was why do the Steelers want the No. 1 seed?

Sure, the Steelers have lost four of their past five AFC Championship games at home, but that was with Bill Cowher as head coach.

Really, only a couple of those games were upsets.

And I was there for each one of Cowher's crushing moments.

In 1994, they were big favorites over an average San Diego team and choked.

In 1995, they struggled with an average Indianapolis team before pulling it out.

In 1997, Denver was a wildcard team, but went 13-3 in the regular season. One of those losses was to the Steelers at Three Rivers Stadium, but the Broncos were a very good team.

In 2001, the Patriots were big underdogs, but a couple of fluke plays got them a win. And as we would later find, the Patriots were pretty good - and also cheating.

In 2004, the Steelers took a rookie quarterback - albeit a good one - into an AFC title game against the aforementioned Patriots and lost again.

So of those four losses, three were against he eventual Super Bowl champion. The only team I see in these AFC playoffs that's capable of winning it all other than the Steelers is Indianpolis. And, as the No. 1 seed, if the Steelers play the Colts, it would likely be in the divisional round.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Wednesday update

Sorry this is so late, but I'm trying to fit Christmas shopping in among everything else.

Quite a few bodies missing from practice today, but none are really considered serious.

Ryan Clark was hobbled today by a sore foot, but it's not expected to keep him out of Sunday's game at Tennessee.

In fact, foot injuries were the craze today as James Harrison and Troy Polamalu also were out with them. Again, they aren't considered serious.

© Speaking to some different guys in the locker room, I got some interesting answers to why they thought there hadn't been a holding penalty called against a Steelers opponent in 23 quarters – a span of nearly six games.

I'll have that story in Friday's Observer-Reporter.

© There were more than a few guys ticked off about the team's three Pro Bowl selections. But, as was pointed out, last year's Giants had just one Pro Bowl representative.

These guys will take a Super Bowl over a Pro Bowl every day.

© James Farrior offered to take anyone from the defense with him to Hawaii who wants to go.

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Tuesday Tomlin

Brett Keisel will again try to return this week from his sprained MCL and has a pretty good shot of being ready to play at Tennessee.

That would leave the Steelers with just one starter out from the lineup they began the season with - Marvel Smith.

His back injury remains the same.

But Max Starks has played well in his absence, justifying the team's decision to put the transition tag on him in the offseason, despite a $7 million salary that came with it.

Not too many people complaining about that now.

Lost in the win was the fact the offensive line held up pretty well last week against a very good Baltimore defense.

The Steelers didn't move the ball great throughout the game, but they only had a couple of three-and-outs and those came at the beginning of the second half.

© Tomlin again refused to say what he would have done on fourth and goal at the end of the game against the Ravens. I don't blame him. It serves no purpose.

Though I was told they were preparing to go for it.

Had Santonio Holmes not been ruled in the end zone, the ball would have been placed at the one-inch line. I'm guessing Ben Roethlisberger gets into the end zone in that situation on a sneak.

© Tomlin brought up the fact that Kerry Collins has only been sacked seven times and thrown seven interceptions this season. That's all well and good, but he's also only thrown 11 touchdown passes.

Teams aren't going to beat the Steelers running the ball. Collins is going to have to beat them through the air.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Post-game thoughts-Baltimore

Was it a touchdown or not?

I didn't think so when Santonio Holmes first caught the pass from Ben Roethlisberger with 43 seconds remaining.

But after seeing the overhead replay and the side view, I thought the ball did reach Holmes hands just across the goal line.

People in Baltimore will obviously think otherwise, but that's water over the bridge as Bill Cowher once said.

© Ben Roethlisberger will go down as this generation's John Elway.

That's five times this season he's led the Steelers to game-winning or tying drives in the fourth quarter.

The crazy thing is that he can look awful at times, but when the game is on the line, he becomes a totally different quarterback.

The players and coaching staff believe in him and that's perhaps the biggest thing.

© We heard all week that Joe Flacco hasn't looked like a rookie of late.

He certainly looked like one Sunday.

Maybe that's the difference between playing the Bengals and Browns or playing the Steelers.

© Then again, the Ravens coaching staff didn't allow Flacco to try much downfield until they needed to.

They played not to lose instead of playing to win.

© That was one excited locker room after the game.

Most of the players on this team had never before won in Baltimore.

To get that monkey off their backs while also winning the division and locking up a first-round bye in the playoffs was a pretty good day for the Steelers.

© I said Saturday night when another writer asked me why I liked Pittsburgh to win this one that I felt if the Steelers could keep things close, the more veteran quarterback would win it. That proved to be the case.

That won't be the case next week in Tennessee. I don't think Kerry Collins can beat the Steelers. I just don't see it happening.

© Holmes was fortunate the Steelers came back and won this one – and he had the game-winning score - or he may have gone down as one of the biggest goats in Pittsburgh sports history.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Beautiful day in Baltimore

What a beautiful, sunny day here in Baltimore. There's practically no wind and the conditions look great.

I didn't see many Steelers fans here running around Fells Point or on the drive in to the stadium. This will truly be a hostile environment.

Pretty much every national media personality that covers the NFL is at this game, which is somewhat surprising considering the Cowboys are playing the Giants, and the Falcons are hosting Tampa.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Keisel won't play

Brett Keisel was unable to practice again today and won't play Sunday against the Ravens.

Fullback (?) Carey Davis did practice and is questionable to play.

James Harrison was also back at practice today after sitting out Thursday with a sore knee.

© While doing my weekly picks, I iniitally picked Baltimore to win this game.

But I've been thinking about it and Bob Prince's hidden vigourish comes to mind. The more something happens, the more likely it is that the opposite will occur.

The Steelers are due to win in Baltimore. And Ben Roethlisberger has only started one of the five games the Steelers have lost there.

I like Pittsburgh, 14-13.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Parker fallout

"Every morning when I come to work I walk past five Lombardi’s, not five rushing titles. The issue is winning, so do we need to get better in terms of running the football? Absolutely. The reason is this, because it increases our chances of winning. So that is my response to it and he needs to be a little more careful with the things he says and how he says it because they can be misinterpreted as uninformed or selfish, of which he is neither."

That was Mike Tomlin's response to Willie Parker's statements on Wednesday.

Tomlin said he also addressed the team about keeping its eye on the prize.

Certainly some of what Parker said about the problems with the running game are true. But some of it was also said out of frustration.

Tomlin also said that Parker didn't have a big problem running out of the two tight end sets last season when he was leading the league in rushing before being injured in the team's 15th game.

He has a point there.

But last year's offensive line was probably a little better with Alan Faneca in there and Parker wasn't banged up like he is now. Ben Roethlisberger was also having a better season, keeping opponents from stacking the box.

© Aaron Smith, Troy Polamalu, Deshea Townsend and Hines Ward returned to practice today, while James Harrison sat out to take a break.

Brett Keisel and Carey Davis both worked out a bit before practice, but did not practice. They could give it a shot Friday.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Parker blows up

Willie Parker went off for about the fourth time this season about the Steelers' lack of a running game.

Only this time, he was a little more specific with his complaints.

Parker said Wednesday that he prefers to run with a fullback in front of him - something the team rarely does - and that until the Steelers do that, the running game is going to look sporadic.

We'll see how Parker's outburst flies with the head coach.

When Parker complained to me and a couple of others following the Washington game about the team's lack of running, he promised to meet with head coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians about his unhappiness with the rushing attack.

But then Parker was injured, so the meeting never happened.

But he's healthy now.

© Brett Keisel will try to practice Thursday, while Troy Polamalu (calf) may wait until Friday as he did last week before practicing.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Tuesday Tomlin

Once again, not much injury news to speak of at the Tomlin PC today.

Brett Keisel will try to go this week, which would give the Steelers their healthiest lineup since opening day.

Marvel Smith is still out - and Carey Davis is questionable with a calf injury - so they won't have everybody back.

But considering how much they use Davis and the fact that Smith hasn't played in two months, it's about as healthy as they could be.

It's a good thing, too, with the Ravens up next.

Even a loss in this game doesn't hurt the Steelers all that badly, though.

As I laid out in today's Observer-Reporter, the Steelers have a good shot at winning the division and the No. 2 seed in the AFC even if they lose to Baltimore and Tennessee.

The Ravens would need to go to Dallas and win - something they probably have a 10 percent chance of accomplishing - if the Steelers lose to Tennessee - which isn't a given.

Both teams will win their finales - Pittsburgh versus Cleveland, Baltimore against Jacksonville.

But if they finish in a tie, the Steelers have beaten teams with better records - assuming San Diego finishes with a better record than Oakland and New England at least matches Miami.

The two teams currently have identical schedules except for those games - though the Ravens own a win over Philadelphia, a team that beat Pittsburgh.

The Steelers own a win over Dallas, however, that would pretty much cancel that out.

Monday, December 08, 2008

Post-Dallas thoughts

Two games into their supposedly make-or-break four-game stretch the Steelers are 2-0.

But this offense continues to look like it's stuck in neutral.

One week they come out and run the ball like they really want to establish a running game, the next, it's run, pass, pass, or pass, run, pass.

Even when the run on first down picks up four or five yards, they still go right back to the air. You just can't establish a running game that way.

You also can't establish a running game when you hand the ball off to the backs just 21 times.

Maybe they were afraid of getting into third-and-longs against the Dallas pass rush. But because of the weather conditions that limited the passing for both teams, they did anyway.

Dallas picked up five sacks Sunday, but really, only two were the fault of the offensive line.

The first sack came on a corner blitz and two others were a case of Ben Roethlisberger holding the ball well past the point he should have.

Then again, Roethlisberger made a play scrambling around in the fourth quarter, so once again, things have a way of evening out.

But it sure is frustrating at times to watch him hold the ball and take a sack when he could have gotten rid of it.

Roethlisberger did throw a couple away Sunday as well, but all of this passing against a team that rushes the passer well just doesn't make a lot of sense to me.

© Was there a worse use of a challenge in the history of challenges than Wade Phillips’ decision to challenge whether Roethlisberger’s knee was down late in the third quarter?

Phillips had already used a challenge in the first half and loss and even though he won the second challenge – giving Jason Hatcher a sack – was there really any difference between second-and-10 from the 18 and second-and-18 from the 26?

Phillips probably realized that with about five minutes to go when Nate Washington had a questionable catch in front of the Dallas bench on the Steelers’ game-tying touchdown drive.

© Mike Tomlin is the first coach in team history to win 10 games in each of his first two seasons.

Just in case you were wondering.

Can he win a playoff game in his first two seasons as well? Bill Cowher didn't do that either.

Not that anyone is keeping track of such things.

© The Steelers defense has now held 13-straight opponents under 300 yards of offense this season, the second-longest such streak since the NFL merger in 1970.

Dallas finished with 289 yards and rookie running back Tashard Choice hurt them a couple of times. But forcing five turnovers in back-to-back games against quality competition more than makes up for that.

The Steelers are a good bet to make it 14 in a row next week at Baltimore.

In fact, the first team to 200 yards or 10 points wins.

© Fans who were booing punter Mitch Berger needed to take a closer look at the conditions.

The wind was definitely in their face going into the close end of the field and when both teams were moving in that direction, that’s when bad things happened.

All three touchdowns were into the open end zone - including Deshea Townsend’s.

And every bad punt in this game was booted toward the closed end. That’s why the Steelers deferred after winning the coin toss and chose to open the game kicking toward the open end zone.

That's not to say Berger is a great punter. He's not.

But let's be realistic. It's not like the next Ray Guy was out there waiting to be signed after Daniel Sepulveda was injured.

© The Steelers’ kick coverage teams are the best that I’ve seen in the 16 seasons I’ve covered this team. And I’m talking about opposing teams as well.

And we’ve even begun to see some flashes in the return game in recent weeks, most notably Santonio Holmes’ 35-yard punt return in the fourth quarter.

Rookie linebacker Patrick Bailey has been a big part of that, which is why he'll get my vote as the team's rookie of the year.

© We’ve now seen James Harrison and DeMarcus Ware on the same field together and Harrison is by far the more disruptive force.

Ware had five tackles and a sack Sunday, while Harrison had eight tackles, a sack and a forced fumble. He also had a big stop on a fourth-down run.

And then he nearly killed Adam Jones on a punt return early in the game.

Harrison has to be the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year.

He'll get a chance to be on the same field in a couple of weeks with another of the leading candidates, Tennessee's Albert Haynesworth.

Here's guessing he dominates that performance as well.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Friday news and notes

Troy Polamalu was back at practice today as expected and will play Sunday.

Only two players out for the Steelers are Brett Keisel and Marvel Smith, neither of which is a surprise.

For Dallas, it's looking like Marion Barber won't play. He's listed as questionable, but didn't practice all week and the Cowboys activated a running back from the practice squad to back up Tashard Choice, the only other back on the active roster.

I'd be shocked if the Cowboys beat the Steelers on a cold, wet Heinz Field turf with Tashard Choice at running back.

© Speaking of the Heinz Field turf, it got the highest vote (27 percent) as the worst in the NFL in a player's vote taken by Sports Illustrated.

But that's doesn't bother me as it does some others.

The turf at Heinz Field is a home field advantage for the Steelers. It's obviously in the heads of opposing players.

Watching films at training camp this year of games played in the 70s and on up through the 80s, there were some bad fields around the league at that time. Certainly Heinz Field is better than them.

And there's something about playing football in the mud that's just so natural.

The Steelers? Other than Willie Parker, I've never heard any players grousing about it. They're used to it and it really does give them a home field advantage.

The second-place finisher was Oakland at 13 percent.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Thursday thoughts

As expected, Ben Roethlisberger practiced today and is on schedule to start Sunday against the Cowboys at Heinz Field.

Roethlisberger, of course, was slightly injured Wednesday when he slipped dropping back to pass during practice and hyperextended his right knee.

© Aaron Smith, Travis Kirschke and Willie Parker were back at practice Thursday after sitting out Wednesday and should be ready to go Sunday.

Strong safety Troy Polamalu did not practice Thursday with his sore calf, but is expected to play, perhaps even if he does not practice Friday.

© DeMarcus Ware was back at practice Thursday for Dallas, but in a limited fashion.

That's better news than Dallas had on running back Marion Barber and cornerback Mike Jenkins. Both missed their third day of practice this week Thursday.

In fact, head coach Wade Phillips said Barber is very doubtful this week, though he will be a game-time decision.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Down goes Roethlisberger

OK, maybe Ben Roethlisberger didn't go all the way to the ground at practice Wednesday, but he certainly slipped and hyperextended his plant leg a little bit dropping back to pass.

Roethlisberger didn't finish practice and his backup, Byron Leftwich, also slipped a couple of times dropping back on the outdoor practice field - falling to the ground once .

Why work outdoors when you have an indoor facility?

First, it was a nice afternoon.

Second, since many of the players aren't from the northeast, to get them ready for the cold weather, they've got to practice in it.

Third, the soft field can't be any worse than what it could be like at Heinz Field if it gets wet this weekend.

Since the Steelers play a warm-weather team this weekend - Dallas - they want to be as ready for the weather conditions as possible.

Roethlisberger will be fine, but the team certainly got a scare.

© It looks like Bryant McFadden will be back this week, which will leave the Steelers with an interesting problem.

William Gay has played well with Deshea Townsend and McFadden out. Now, both are back, but who starts and who goes to the bench as the fourth corner.

The bet here is that Gay starts Sunday, with him shifting to the slot in the nickel with McFadden playing the outside and Townsend going to the bench.

© A number of players took the day off with some minor injuries, including Aaron Smith and Willie Parker.

But it was pretty much a veterans day off.

The only players the Steelers will be without this weekend are Brett Keisel and Marvel Smith.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Tuesday Tomlin

Not a whole lot on the injury front from Tuesday's Mike Tomlin press conference - and that's a good thing.

Marvel Smith and Brett Keisel are the only two players who are out.

Tomlin did speak more at length than he has in weeks about Smith's back problems and how the team is holding out hope that it will get Smith back at some point.

Willie Parker may not practice Wednesday, but should be back on the field Thursday.

Tomlin expects Bryant McFadden back this week. That will be a big addition against a Dalllas passing game that is even more dangerous than New England's.

The Steelers will prepare as if Marion Barber and DeMarcus Ware will play. Barber has a toe injury, Ware a knee.

Tomlin called Ware the best defensive player the Steelers have faced this season and also talked at length about how dangerous the Cowboys' offense is.

Monday, December 01, 2008

Post-New England thoughts

OK, so maybe the Steelers can run the football.

They just need to stick with it as they did Sunday in the rain. Of course it took them a half to figure that out.

After dropping back to pass 19 times in the first half - with 14 runs - the Steelers had Ben Roethlisberger drop back 14 times in the second half, with 20 runs.

As Willie Parker told me after the victory, that's Steelers football.

Those 20 second-half carries netted 121 yards as Parker ripped off a 31-yard run and Mewelde Moore had a 20-yard carry.

The two alternated possessions, wearing the Patriots down.

Parker told me after the game he didn't know that was the plan going into the game, but was OK with it since he's still not 100 percent. He certainly looked good Sunday.

© Some credit has to go to the offensive line, which allowed just one sack in addition to opening holes for 161 yards on the ground.

And that sack came on a corner blitz that, had Roethlisberger picked up a second earlier, would have gone for a nice gain to Nate Washington, who was standing in the flat by himself after the blitz.

© That was a vicious hit Ryan Clark put on Wes Welker and he's probably going to draw a fine. But it was a hit that needed to be made.

Clark left his feet on the play, otherwise it would have been perfectly legal. Brutal, but legal.

© I've said it before and I'll say it again: James Harrison is the best defensive player in the NFL.

That was an All-Pro left tackle he was beating like a red-headed stepchild Sunday in Matt Light.

I think Light is overrated - always have - but his resume says he should be able to handle Harrison. He couldn't.

© The Steelers special teams coverage teams are outstanding and make up for some return problems - though that phase is starting to come around as well.

© Don't be too hard on Lawrence Timmons for running out of gas on his 89-yard interception return.

Remember, he started in the middle of the field, sprinted into the flat to pick off the pass intended for Kevin Faulk and kept on sprinting until he got to about the New England 20, where he slowed down.

He probably ran about 110 yards on the entire return after running around for an entire game.

© Timmons had a blitz earlier in the game where he came from the outside and crushed Matt Cassel just after he released the ball. Cassel gave Timmons a look like, "what the hell was that?" Timmons hit him hard.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Game day news

It's my understanding that Willie Parker and Deshea Townsend will play today. McFadden will not.

It's very rainy and wet here today and the weather is supposed to turn to snow around 6 p.m.

Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday's update

Willie Parker practiced again Friday and looks like he'll be ready to go Sunday at New England.

Deshea Townsend also made it through every practice this week and appears to be good to go as well.

Bryant McFadden continued practicing, but there's no word yet if he's been cleared medically to play. As noted earlier this week, his agent, Drew Rosenhaus is telling McFadden to wait. We'll see how that plays out for the free agent-to-be,

Richard Seymour returned to practice for the Patriots Friday after sitting out Wednesday and Thursday, but linebacker Tedy Bruschi and defensive lineman Ty Warren were limited in practice for the third day in a row, Bruschi with a knee, Warren with a groin injury.

If either of those guys can't play, it could be a long day for the Patriots.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Secondary getting healthy

The Steelers on Thursday re-signed running back Najeh Davenport, a sure sign they expect to get at least one of their injured cornerbacks back in the lineup Sunday at New England.

How does the re-signing of a running back figure into that?

To make room for Davenport on the roster, the team released cornerback Roy Lewis.

On first glance, it might appear the re-signing of Davenport would be insurance if Willie Parker doesn't play because of his sore knee.

But Parker practiced Thursday and looks to be on schedule to play.

Davenport is a solid special teams player and with Deshea Townsend practicing for the second consecutive day Thursday while coming back from a hamstring injury, and Bryant McFadden also being a possibility, the Steelers didn't need Lewis.

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Manufacturing drama

Leave it to the Boston media to try to manufacture something that isn't there.

In a story in last week's Indiana Gazette, Anthony Smith - yes that Anthony Smith - was asked if he still felt the same way about his guarantee of a victory over the New England Patriots last season.

Smith said he didn't feel any different about it - as he said after the game, what's he supposed to think, that his team is going to lose?

He then went on to say that IF the Steelers defense continues to play well and IF the offense plays well, the Steelers will win on Sunday.

That's kind of like saying that IF I met a supermodel and IF she liked me, I might have a chance.

Of course the idiots in Boston are taking that as a guarantee - from a guy who plays nothing but special teams.

Smith is the Steelers' fourth safety this season and has barely seen the field as a defensive player. He's been used mostly on special teams.

But hey, guys, whatever you think you need to do to generate a controversy.

In fact, Smith's quote was so innoculous, that it was the last paragraph of the story.

It's good talk-show fodder - and the Pittsburgh radio guys swamped Smith Wednesday - but there's no reason to talk to a backup safety and there was no reason for him to make any guarantee, which he didn't do anyway.

© Willie Parker didn't practice Wednesday and is looking iffy to play Sunday against the Patriots.

Bryant McFadden practiced again and said he's waiting for clearance from team doctors to play this week.

Word has it, though, that McFadden's agent, Drew Rosenhaus, has been in his client's ear about returning to quickly and getting hurt.

McFadden is scheduled to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

On the plus side, Deshea Townsend did practice. I don't know if that means he'll play, but it certainly seems like a possibility, even though Mike Tomlin said he was doubtful on Tuesday.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Four with Steelers ties reach semifinals

Rod Woodson, Kevin Greene, Dermontti Dawson and Russ Grimm are among the 25 semifinalists being considered for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 2009.

Of that group, this is Woodson's first year of eligibility.

Woodson is considered a shoe-in for induction, while the others have been up for vote in the past and come up short.

To me, Woodson, Dawson and Grimm should all be easy choices.

Woodson was a game-changing cornerback for the Steelers before switching to safety later in his career and excelling at that as well.

Dawson was the most dominant center - and possibly lineman - of his era.

And Grimm was a cornerstone for the Redskins' Hogs of their Super Bowl teams in the '80s before going into coaching.

Greene is among the league's all-time sack leaders, but was perhaps too one-dimensional in my opinion to be a sure-fire Hall of Fame player.

That one dimension was pretty good, but he was a liability in coverage. When he was with the Steelers, he wasn't even the best defensive player on his team, ranking behind Woodson, Greg Lloyd, Levon Kirkland and Carnell Lake in the pecking order - in my opinion.

© The Steelers should get Bryant McFadden back this week against the Patriots, while Willie Parker is questionable to play.

Deshea Townsend and Brett Keisel are definitely out, as is Marvel Smith.

© Mike Tomlin didn't exactly give Mitch Berger a ringing endorsement today when asked why the team chose to re-sign him, saying it came down more to continuity at holder for Jeff Reed.

That's what I've been saying about the signing. But even a hobbled Berger has to be better than Paul Ernster was in the two games he replaced Berger in.

Berger has had nearly a month since he last kicked, so his injured hamstring should be better.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

A Sunday update

The Steelers moved into first place in the most important defensive statistic Sunday when Tennessee got blitzed by the Jets and now lead the league in scoring defense.

They lost their lead to Philadelphia in sacks and now trail the Eagles by two in that category, but lead the league in pass, rush and total defense in addition to scoring.

© Baltimore isn't going away and the Steelers are going to have to keep the pedal to the metal the rest of the way.

I still think they need to go at least 2-2 in their next four games - and 3-2 - overall to win the division. That would force Baltimore to go 4-1 in games at Cincinnati and Dallas, and at home against the Redskins, Steelers and Jaguars.

If that happens and the Ravens beat the Steelers in Baltimore, the two teams would be tied atop the division having split their two meetings and both owning 5-1 records in the AFC North.

The third tiebreaker is record against common opponents.

If that's the case, everything could hinge on what the Steelers do against Tennessee and/or Dallas.

The Ravens lost to the Titans, while a victory by the Steelers would cancel out Sunday's win by Baltimore over Philadelphia, a team the Steelers lost to.

If the Steelers beat the Cowboys at home and the Ravens lose in Dalllas, that would also cancel out the Philadelphia loss.

The fourth tiebreaker is conference record and if the two teams finish tied and if the Ravens go 2-2 against the NFC East, while the Steelers go 1-3 – losing to Dallas – Pittsburgh would win the division based on a better record within the AFC, 10-3 compared to Baltimore's 9-4.

The fifth tiebreaker is strength of victory and it's likely the Steelers would have the Ravens there if they go 2-2 in the next four weeks.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Post-Cincinnati thoughts

Paul Ernster, we barely knew ya.

When I asked Mike Tomlin about the aforementioned Ernster following Thursday's 27-10 victory over the Bengals, the look he shot me could have cut glass.

The Steelers are playing championship defense and their coverage units have been pretty darn good throughout the season.

But you can't average less than 30 yards per punt against good teams and win.

The Steelers will begin the tryout process for a new punter this weekend.

© The team hosted its portion of the punt, pass and kick before Sunday's win against San Diego. Here's betting the 13 and 14-year-old winner booted the ball more than 30 yards - and I'm talking about the girls champion.

© The Bengals came out with short, quick passes to negate the Steelers' pass rush and it worked for a series.

But Dick LeBeau isn't Dick LeBeau for no reason.

He turned up the pressure at just the right time to make Cincinnati quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick feel like he had less time to pass than he did

It was perfect.

The Steelers had better get used to seeing that kind of attack. There's no way opponents are going to allow LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison to have free shots at their quarterback on a play-to-play basis.

This team is impossible to run against and if your quarterback gets on a bit of a roll, the only way to move the ball consistently is to throw those three and four-yard passes and hope somebody misses a tackle.

© Cincinnati's defense is playing better, but the Steelers have to be a bit concerned that their running game produced little in the first half.

People - myself included - have been clamouring for this team to run the ball more. They tried against the Bengals and spent two quarters banging their collective head against the wall before it finally opened up.

© Willie Parker left the game in the third quarter after tweaking his knee - the same one that caused him to miss four games - but it's not considered serious.

Brett Keisel's knee injury in the fourth quarter, however, could be a little more serious - though we won't know for sure for a few days.

© The Steelers have put themselves into good position entering their toughest stretch of the season. Three of the next four are on the road, with the only home game being against the Cowboys.

The Steelers have to travel to New England, Baltimore and Tennessee.

If they can go 2-2 in that stretch, it will say a lot about this team's chances in the postseason.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Wednesday news

Heath Miller made it through both days of practice this week and is good to go Thursday night against Cincinnati.

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said, however, they expect Miller to probably tweak the ankle here or there - nothing serious - and to be limited to about 75 percent of the offensive plays.

If you've ever had a badly sprained ankle before, you know how easy it is to turn it again doing the most simple of things. But the pain goes away pretty quickly.

It kind of gives you an idea, however, of how serious they're taking this game.

The Steelers could allow Miller another week off to rest the ankle and get it ready for the game at New England. But they're going to put him on the field at less than 100 percent this week because they need this win against the Bengals.

Miller likely can't do any more damage to the ankle, but the Steelers need him to make their offense go.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Tuesday news

Short week, short notes.

Bryant McFadden is practicing again this week, but the team is waiting until the New England game to bring him back.

That's probably a smart move since it gives his broken forearm another 10 days to heal and the Steelers need him for the long run.

© Heath Miller could be back this week, which would be good news for an offense that's struggled to score without him.

© Marvel Smith continues to be out and Mike Tomlin said surgery hasn't been decided upon - yet - for his injured back.

© For the first time in weeks, the team came out of a game with no new injuries. That's a good thing considering they'll have a mini-bye after Thursday's game with 10 days off before they head to New England.

© Willie Parker and Gary Russell could share short-yardage carries.

Monday, November 17, 2008

The $64 million mistake

We all make mistakes from time to time. Fortunately, most aren't as costly as the one made by Scott Green in Sunday's 11-10 win by the Steelers Sunday over San Diego.

According to R.J. Bell of, Green's blown call on the final play that robbed Troy Polamalu and the Steelers of a touchdown was a $64 million swing in Las Vegas.

The Steelers were giving 5 points in the game and Polamalu's touchdown would have covered the spread.

Of course that doesn't take into account the "ahem" local interests, so you can bet - no pun intended - that the figure was actually over $100 million since most of the money was going Pittsburgh's way in this one. The spread went from 3 1/2 to 5 points in favor of the Steelers during the week.

Others who are a little angry about Green's call include fantasy owners who have either Polamalu or the Steelers defense on their teams.

Chargers post-game thoughts

OK, I've watched and re-watched the final play of Sunday's 11-10 win and read and re-read the official explanation of the play and no, the play still doesn't make any sense the way it was called.

That was a touchdown scored by Troy Polamalu at the end of that game.

The final score should have been 18-10.

That won't help anybody who bet on the Steelers. The final score is the final score and that's why gambling is, well, gambling.

© Willie Parker explained he wasn't in the game on fourth-and-goal in the first quarter because the coaching staff didn't want him running any short-yardage plays with a sore shoulder.

That makes sense. But why didn't the coaching staff go to Gary Russell in that situation instead of Mewelde Moore.

Moore has proven that for all the good things he can do, short-yardage running is not one of them.

Parker said after the game that he'll be lobbying for short-yardage runs. But you can bet Russell will be in that mix as well.

© I didn't see any weakness in Ben Roethlisberger's arm, particularly on that ball he zipped in to Hines Ward on third down on the final drive.

He put that ball in the only spot Ward could catch the ball and also threaded it between two defenders. That was a big-time throw.

© If there's a defensive player in the league playing better than James Harrison, I don't know who he is.

© Now you can see why the Steelers went with Mitch Berger instead of Paul Ernster at punter.

Don't be surprised if the team makes another change there soon.

© Why do opponents continue to try to cut block LaMarr Woodley?

Haven't they seen enough of him leaping over players and getting to the quarterback anyway to see that it doesn't work?

© There may not have ever been a game in the NFL in which a team has had 410 yards of offense, no turnovers and failed to score - before Sunday, that is.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Let is snow

The snow is falling hard here at Heinz Field a half-hour before the start of today's game with the Chargers. Should make things interesting.

No real surprises in the inactive list for either team.

With Baltimore getting smacked around in New York as expected, the Steelers have a chance to create some room between themselves and the Ravens today.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Ownership getting settled

Dan and Art Rooney II have reportedly reached an agreement with the other four sons of team founder Art Rooney to purchase their shares of the Steelers.

That would keep ownership of the team in the family and resolve issues the NFL had with the Rooneys about dual ownership of the Steelers and several racing tracks involved with gambling.

So much for the sky-is-falling crowd who thought there would be a day in the near future in which the Steelers would not be owned and run by the Rooney family.

Overtime strikes again

Watching Thursday night's Jets-Patriots game, we saw another reason why the NFL should change its overtime rules.

The Patriots stormed back to tie the Jets at 31-31, only to watch helplessly as the Jets - who had done very little in the second half - win the coin toss and move into field goal range for a game-winning field goal in overtime after winning the coin toss.

How much more exciting would that game have been if both teams were given the ball at the 50?

Think the Jets would have settled for a field goal unless they had to knowing the Pats would get the ball as well with a chance to score?

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Wednesday thoughts

Ben Roethlisberger practiced Wednesday, but didn't want to admit that maybe his timing was off because of his lack of practice time this season.

That may be a bit of a pipe dream.

Roethlisberger's reasoning was that the team's receivers are guys he's worked with in the past. But that just doesn't matter. When you're missing half the practices, your timing is going to be off. Otherwise, nobody would ever practice.

© The Steelers are about as healthy this week as they've been in the past month - with the notable exception of the cornerback position.

They had better dial up the pressure this week against San Diego.

LaMarr Woodley didn't practice Wednesday, but he'll be back for the game. That will help.

© Roethlisberger was chucking the ball deep in practice Wednesday. So much for the theory being touted on local radio that he couldn't.

The people saying that discounted the fact the Colts play a Cover-2 defense, which allows the ball to be thrown underneath.

© Willie Parker said he's embarrassed that the running game is averaging under 100 yards per game. That might not change this week against a San Diego secondary that's the worst in the NFL.

But at least Parker will be back.

He put his shirt on over his head while talking to me Wednesday, raising both arms over his head. There was no grimmace of pain like I've noticed with Roethlisberger at times. That's a good sign.

© Word is that Marvel Smith may undergo another back surgery - no surprise to readers of this blog.

So much for the back spasms, as head coach Mike Tomlin called them.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Tomlin PC news

The Steelers added veteran cornerback Fernando Bryant to their roster Tuesday to help add depth to a unit depleted due to injuries to Bryant McFadden and Deshea Townsend.

To make room for Bryant on the roster, the team released linebacker Donovan Woods, who they hope to add to the practice squad again.

The team also added safety Ryan Mundy to its practice squad. Mundy was a sixth-round draft pick this year who was injured in training camp. To make room for Mundy on the pratice squad, the team released Grant Mason.

Bryant, a 10-year veteran, has played for Jacksonville – where he was a first-round draft pick – Detroit and New England.

He was released by New England at the end of training camp by the Patriots.

Head coach Mike Tomlin said Bryant will battle Anthony Madison for the nickel corner spot this week with Townsend out with a hamstring injury and McFadden needing at least one more week to recover from a broken forearm.

© Heath Miller will likely not play again this week due to a high ankle sprain.

© LaMarr Woodley is expected to be back this week after sitting out Sunday with a calf injury.

© Willie Parker is also expected to return this week after sitting out against the Colts with a shoulder injury. Tomlin said Parker's shoulder briefly popped out of the socket against the Redskins, but Parker did not realize it at the time.

While he did not exactly deny Parker has a torn labrum, he also did not confirm it.

© Left tackle Marvel Smith could be back at practice this week, but he may not be ready to step back into the starting lineup. Smith has been out a month with a back injury and Tomlin admitted Smith may be a little rusty.

© Tomlin is hopeful that Ben Roethlisberger will be able to go through an entire week of practice. He admitted that Roethlisberger's lack of practice time this season may be starting to have a trickle-down effect.

Monday, November 10, 2008

Visiting Steigerworld

I'll be on KDKA radio with John Steigerwald Monday at 8:05 talking about the decline of Ben Roethlisberger.
You can be Kordell Stewart's name will be mentioned once or twice.

Indianapolis post-game thoughts

Two shots from the 1 and no touchdown against one of the league's worst run defenses.

It was almost like the Colts knew what was coming.

Oh, that's right, they did. The Steelers ran the same play they did to score two touchdowns in the first half.

© Bruce Arians is taking a lot of heat for his play calling and in previous games it was deserved.

But there was nothing wrong with Sunday's game plan, which called for plenty of short passes and running.

It would have worked if the quarterback hadn't gotten greedy and tried to force a couple of passes.

© Uh oh, I'm criticizing Ben Roethlisberger. Let the name-calling begin.

© That's one touchdown and eight interceptions by Roethlisberger in his past 10 quarters of football.

I know the guy has won a lot here – including a Super Bowl – but he's not playing well right now. There's no sugar-coating it.

And don't give me the, "He has no time to pass," argument. The Colts only had two sacks Sunday on 44 dropbacks. The pass blocking wasn't the problem.

© Willie Parker's got a torn labrum. That'd be a problem if he were a pitcher or quarterback. But they'll have to put a harness on him and he's going to have to play through it.

They could have used him Sunday.

© Could have used Heath Miller, too, particularly down by the goal line.

One of the best ways to attack a Cover-2 is to use the tight end down the middle. Matt Spaeth had some nice grabs Sunday, but he gets nothing after the catch.

© The Steelers may be forced to rush Bryant McFadden back this week with Deshea Townsend going down with a hamstring injury.

© Mike Tomlin said LaMarr Woodley, being a young guy, needs to practice to play.

He would have been a help Sunday, but I don't know that he would have made a difference coming from Peyton Manning's front side.

The Steelers gave Manning fits with their pressure Sunday, forcing him to throw on the move, something he does not do well. But that's about the only thing he doesn't do well.

In the long run, giving Woodley the week off will help. He should be back next week against San Diego, a game that is now a must-win contest.

© Glad to see the Steelers finally found themselves a kick returner.

Friday, November 07, 2008

Reading the injury report

Let me preface this by saying that getting injury information out of the Tomlin regime is like prying state secrets out of the former U.S.S.R.

Bill Cowher had his faults, but he rarely played games with the injury report. He would tell you up front who was likely to play and who wasn't.

Tomlin is not that way. I can understand why, but it doesn't make my job - or that of fans who want to know if their favorite player is going to play or not - any easier.

But I digress.

Ben Roethlisberger practiced Friday and it appears that he'll play Sunday against the Colts. Tomlin could still change his mind about that, but I doubt it.

Willie Parker, on the other hand, likely won't play. His sore shoulder didn't get any better as the week wore on, so it appears Mewelde Moore, Gary Russell and Carey Davis will get the carries against the Colts.

Moore will also likely have to return kicks because Najeh Davenport has been out all week with a hamstring injury. Santonio Holmes will handle the punt returns.

linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who was fined $10,000 this week for a hit on Jason Campbell last week, did not practice all week with his calf injury. But Woodley didn't practice last week, either, and played against the Redskins, picking up a pair of sacks.

I would guess that he'll play this week.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Thursday update

Ben Roethlisberger sat out practice again Thursday, but is targeting Friday as a day to possibly return.

Willie Parker sat out again with his shoulder injury, but like Roethlisberger, he is targeting Friday as a day to practice.

At this point, I would say that Heath Miller, Marvel Smith, Najeh Davenport and Bryant McFadden are the guys who will be out.

© There are several reports that the Steelers are interested in signing former Atlanta and Oakland cornerback DeAngelo Hall. Even though the Steelers could use some help at the position - particularly next season – I don't see it happening.

Hall has been a bit of a goofball during his career and, in my opinion, is overrated as a player. He's certainly not as good as he thinks he is.

He could possibly help the Steelers in the return game, however. Hall has done a little punt and kick returning in his career.

Perhaps bringing a me-first guy into this locker room is something the Steelers feel they could get away with because they have strong leadership.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Playing the game

Tony Dungy in his conference call with the Pittsburgh media Wednesday said he expects to see Ben Roethlisberger in the starting lineup Sunday when the Colts meet the Steelers.

Mike Tomlin and Roethlisberger are playing a little game of cat and mouse with the decision.

Sure, Roethlisberger told the media later in the day, he'd like to play and will do everything possible to play.

Tomlin, meanwhile, was more vague.

Roethlisberger could play without practicing, Tomlin said. Heck, he's already done it once this season.

The whole point for Tomlin is to keep the Colts guessing. And why not? Make the Colts prepare for both Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich.

© A number of Steelers didn't practice Wednesday in addition to Roethlisberger, but of that group, only Bryant McFadden, Marvel Smith and tight end Heath Miller are likely definitely out for this game.

© There's some growing disgust in the locker room about the lack of running the team is doing. Ask a question about the running game - or lack thereof - and you'll get the company answer. But with it is an accompanying eye roll and smile that tells you all you need to know.

Steelers release Berger

The Pittsburgh Steelers on Wednesday released punter Mitch Berger, replacing him with veteran Paul Ernster.

The 26-year-old Ernster had been released by the Steelers at the end of training camp after losing a preseason battle for the punter's position with Berger.

Berger, 36, was signed in training camp to compete with Ernster for the punting job when Daniel Sepulveda suffered a torn ACL in training camp.

Berger averaged 41.9 yards per punt, but had seen his average decrease in recent weeks as he struggled with a hamstring injury in his left (non-kicking) leg.

Ernster has appeared in 19 games in parts of four NFL seasons. He averaged 41.7 yards per punt with Denver in 2006, the only season in which he spent the entire year on a team's roster.

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Post-game Washington thoughts, Tomlin PC

The Steelers defense is playing the best football I've seen a unit play in the 16 seasons I've been covering the team.

Not only is this defense getting after the quarterback at a record pace, it's also stopping the run at a record pace as well.

That combination allows head coach Mike Tomlin to do silly things like try surprise onside kicks to open games.

After the Steelers turned the Giants away time after time two weeks ago, Tomlin knew there was no way the Redskins were getting the ball into the end zone.

It was a roll of the dice by Tomlin, but it didn't hurt him because the defense continues to bail this team out.

© Tomlin said today that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hurt his shoulder on the quarterback sneak at the end of the first half, but it certainly looked like Roethlisberger's shoulder was bothering him throughout the game.

Roethlisberger is also wearing a brace on his left thumb after hyperextending it against the Giants. He's beat up and it might be a good idea to sit him down this week against the Colts, even if he's cleared to play.

They need a healthy Roethlisberger for the stretch run and playoffs. And Byron Leftwich showed that he can lead this team.

That will particularly be the case against an Indianapolis team that the Steelers figure to run the ball plenty against.

© Willie Parker was upset after the game because he didn't feel like he had a particularly good game.

Parker told me he's still not 100 percent, but he's very close. He added that the Steelers are going to run the ball and run it plenty soon and was very adamant about it.

© Mitch Berger's hamstring problem is becoming a big problem for the Steelers. The defense is playing outstanding, but this team can't continue to get 35 yards a punt.

© Heath Miller will definitely miss Sunday's game against Indianapolis. Ryan Clark could be back.

Tomlin was a bit evasive about Marvel Smith's status again. But at some point, they have to think about shutting him down for the season, particularly if they get another injury on their offensive line.

They're holding out hope with Smith, but unless his back responds to treatment soon, it's just that, hope.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Washington-Pittsburgh inactives

Inactive for the Steelers are McFadde, Clark, Bruce Davis, Keyaron Fox, Tony Hils, Marvel Smith, Orpheus Roye and Dixon.

Santana Moss is active for the Redskins and will start.
Springs and Taylor are out. Fred Smoot will start for Springs.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Parker will play

Willie Parker made it through practice this week and will see his first action in more than a month at Washington.

That's good news for a Steelers' offense that has been a little pass heavy without Parker in the lineup.

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians seemed to fall in love with Mewelde Moore's pass catching ability in recent weeks, constantly splitting Moore out wide with an empty backfield.

It didn't hurt them against Cincinnati, which has no pass rush. But it did have an effect againsts New York last week.

With Parker back, the Steelers will rely a little more on their running game.

© Marvel Smith is out again and doesn't appear anywhere close to returning. But Mike Tomlin continues to call his injury back spasms.

Regular readers of this blog know it's more than that. Maybe someday Tomlin will admit it.

© Ryan Clark is out, meaning Tyrone Carter will get the start.

Santana Moss has missed practice all week for the Redskins with a sore hamstring, but is expected to play. Could hurt his ability to get deep.

© This game is the perfect matchup for the Steelers.

The Redskins are a run-heavy offense that doesn't generate a pass rush on defense (10 sacks in eight games).

The Steelers will limit Clinton Portis, of that you can be sure. And of Ben Roethlisberger has time to throw, look out.

As long as the Steelers don't give up anything in the return game, they'll be OK.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Parker looking good to play

Barring another setback, it appears Willie Parker will be back in the lineup for the Steelers Monday at Washington.

Parker has made it through two days of full practice, the first time he's done that since spraining his knee in a Week 3 loss at Philadelphia.

© Linebacker LaMarr Woodley and nose tackle Casey Hampton sat out again Thursday, but it was just an extra day of rest. In fact, Hampton may not practice Friday. Since the game isn't until Monday, the Steelers have an extra day of practice on Saturday.

Both are expected to play, Hampton with a toe injury, Woodley with a sore calf.

© The NFLPA is filing a grievance against the Steelers for their handling of the Santonio Holmes situation.

But you'll notice that Mike Tomlin never said Holmes was suspended - only deactivated for Sunday's game against the Giants.

Holmes was also paid for the game, despite the deactivation, though it appears he was fined.

As Tomlin said at his Tuesday press conference, it's up to him to decide who is active and who isn't on game days.

© Aaron Smith wasn't at practice again today after being there Wednesday.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Wednesday update

Willie Parker practiced today and looked good running around. Parker appears to be ready to go this week against the Redskins.

Of course we thought that before as well, only to have him suffer setbacks with his sprained knee.

Today's practice was indoors thanks to snow in Pittsburgh, so there's less of a chance he'll tweak the knee again.

© Hines Ward, Deshea Townsend, Marvel Smith, Casey Hampton, Ryan Clark, Keyaron Fox and Ben Roethlisberger sat out practice today.

Roethlisberger said he expects to practice Thursday.

Ward, Townsend and possibly Hampton will as wel.

© Clark really wants to play this week and looks good moving around. Of course he's not nailing anyone with his injured shoulder right now, either, so that makes a difference.

© Mitch Berger said the team will make a decision Friday on his status. Clark said the same.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Tuesday Tomlin

Mike Tomlin is clearly trying to put the Santonio Holmes situation behind the team.

Tomlin said Holmes spoke with his teammates Monday afternoon and he will be back in the starting linup next Monday night against Washington.

He also said on more than one occasion he wants the media to let this one go. That, of course, can't happen. But it does kind of show how Tomlin wants to try to control things.

Holmes will likely offer up a no comment Wednesday, but Tomlin has to understand, we have to ask him about it.

© Ryan Clark will open the week as doubtful, though Tomlin said Clark was better than the team anticipated.

Tyrone Carter will likely start if Clark can't play, showing just how far Anthony Smith has fallen in the pecking order.

© Willie Parker worked out on Tuesday morning and according to Tomlin looked good. But Tomlin has been optimistic before. They'll see how he is Wednesday before getting too excited.

© Tomlin was pressed about the return game and said Najeh Davenport is their best/only option at this point. If Parker returns, however, Mewelde Moore could go back to returning kickoffs.

© The team will sign a long snapper today. They also have a punter ready if Mitch Berger is not ready to go this week.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Thoughts on the Giants

Who would have thought the one player the Steelers seemingly couldn't replace was long-snapper Greg Warren?

It seems amazing to me that the Steelers couldn't have just sent one of their two centers out to snap the ball 10 to 12 yards back to punter Mitch Berger. They could have even lined up and quickly pooched a punt.

But the Steelers were worried about the Giants putting an all-out rush on and blocking the kick.

I would think an NFL team would have a better plan in place than to throw a guy on the field to snap who's never done it in an NFL or college game before.

That was the case with linebacker James Harrison and it showed.

© That play didn't lose this game for the Steelers, but it certainly gave the Giants a boost.

New York had 17 total yards in the third quarter and Eli Manning looked rattled.

© Santonio Holmes would have made a difference in this game. His teammates were saying all the right things about Holmes after the game, but they can't be happy that he got himself arrested for possession of marijuana Thursday.

Head coach Mike Tomlin made the right decision in sitting Holmes down for this one, even if it did help cost the Steelers a win.

You can't let that kind of stuff happen with some form of discipline.

Next thing you know, you've got Plaxico Burress on your hands.

© Giants head coach Tom Coughlin sat Burress in the first quarter of Sunday's game after he skipped a rehab session on his injured shoulder.

Burress, who had already been suspended for a game this season for missing a practice and not calling to tell anyone, wasn't a factor, cathing three passes for 15 yards.

© The Steelers' run defense is the best I've seen in a long time, maybe ever.

Baltimore has had some good run defenses over the years, as has Tennessee. And the Steelers have always been very good against the run in the 16 years I've covered them.

But the Giants were averaging 5.7 yards per carry coming into this one and averaged 2.4 a carry Sunday.

That's outstanding.

© The Steelers' goal-line stand in the second quarter was tremendous if you like smash-mouth football. And who doesn't like smash-mouth football?

© In the grand scheme of things, this loss won't hurt the Steelers all that much.

Heading into this four-game stretch of games against the Giants, Redskins, Colts and Chargers, I figured if the Steelers split them, they'd be OK.

That would put the Steelers at 7-3 with Cincinnati coming to town the following week.

Losing the first game in that stretch makes next week's game at Washington interesting, but the Steelers' three games after that are at Heinz Field and I just don't see them losing any of those three, unless, of course, they lose another long snapper.

Aaron Smith active

The good news for the Steelers today as they prepare to play the Giants is that Aaron Smith is active and expected to start at defensive end.

Smith missed practice all week with family issues, but returned and is ready to go.

On the Giants' side, Plaxico Burress will not start after skipping an injury treatment. He's active, though, so he will play.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

WPXI says Holmes busted

According to WPXI, Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes was pulled over Thursday night and found to have marijuana in his car.

There has been no confirmation on the report, but the revelation could lead to an eventual suspension of Holmes if convicted of possession.

The severity of a suspension would depend on if Holmes has tested positive in the past for marijuana. First-time offenders in the NFL's drug program are not suspended and are instead entered into the NFL's drug offender program, getting increased testing.

You'll also remember that Jacksonville's Matt Jones was arrested last spring in an automobile using cocaine. He was only recently found guilty of an offense and word is that he'll receive a three-game suspension.

Holmes has, of course, run afoul the law in the past, getting arrested twice soon after being drafted by the Steelers in 2006. One incident was for assault, but those charges were dropped.

The other was for an incident in South Beach for failing to heed an officers warnings to clear the street.

Parker limited

After practicing Wednesday, Willie Parker was limited to team drills today as he continued to recover from his sprained knee.

Friday will be a big day for Parker. If he's again limited, he could be held out of his fourth consecutive game.

As expected, Marvel Smith did not practice again. Max Starks will start at left tackle.

© In other news, the Steelers and Heinz Field management are warning fans to watch out for counterfeit tickets when attempting to make a purchase from scalpers for Sunday’s game against the New York Giants. Kickoff is at 4:15 p.m.

The Steelers are recommending that fans only purchase tickets from authorized agents.

“We have received information that indicates we can expect some scalpers to be selling counterfeit tickets to Sunday’s game,” said Steelers spokesperson Dave Lockett. “It is hard to tell the difference between some counterfeit tickets and the real thing, so the only way to be sure is to only buy tickets from authorized agents.”

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Injured bodies return

Willie Parker and Casey Hampton returned to practice today and looked good. There's no reason to believe they should not be able to play Sunday.

Troy Polamalu was also practicing. I spoke with him afterward and he seemed normal. I don't see any reason why he won't be able to play as well.

As I've been reporting, don't look for Marvel Smith to play this week. He did not practice again Wednesday and was nowhere to be seen before or after practice. I even asked the PR staff to speak to him and nobody knew where he was - at least that was their story.

Team doctors were on hand at practice, though – something that's not unusual - and Smith was likely with them.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

No fine for Ward

Confirming Mike Tomlin's assertation from earlier today, Hines Ward won't be fined for his block on Bengals' rookie linebacker Keith Rivers that ended with Rivers suffering a broken jaw.

But the NFL will likely be looking into the admission of Baltimore's Terrell Suggs that the Ravens have a bounty on Ward's head.

Bounties are a no-no in the NFL, which is desperately trying to shed any kind of thug mentality.

It also shows that Suggs isn't too bright to admit something like that on a radio show.

But nobody has ever accused Suggs or his fellow partner in crime, Bart Scott, of being all that bright.

Tuesday's Tomlin

Mike Tomlin confirmed that Bryant McFadden will be out for an extended period of time with a broken right forearm. McFadden had surgery to repair the arm Monday.

Troy Polamalu could play this week, in fact the Steelers will prepare with the thought that he will. The only other time Polamalu has had a concussion with the Steelers, in 2006, he played the following week at Cleveland.

Willie Parker and Casey Hampton are expected to return as well.

Tomlin said the team may make a move to add an extra corner, but it will likely be a practice squad move. They have eight active defensive backs and that's all they need.

Tomlin continues to say that Marvel Smith's injury is just back spasms, but back spasms don't cause numbness in your toes. I've been told that's what Smith is dealing with in addition to the back pain. He's taken shots in the back to try to alleviate the problem.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Cincinnati thoughts

Same old Bengals.

It wasn't that long ago Cincinnati looked like one of the up-and-coming teams in the NFL.

But much like the Cleveland Browns, they just can't beat the Steelers. In fact, Cincinnati's just not beating anybody right now.

The Steelers were a little slow starting, but they wore the Bengals down, offensively and defensively.

Ben Roethlisberger didn't have his best game. He missed some throws he usually makes with ease in the first half.

But with the defense playing as well as it was, it didn't matter.

Cincinnati hurt the Steelers a little bit when they spread things out, but with Ryan Fitzpatrick running the show instead of Carson Palmer, there was no way the Bengals could score more than 20 points even if they played another four quarters of football.

© Troy Polamalu had a pretty serious concussion and Bryant McFadden may have a broken arm.

Two more tough injuries for the Steelers as they head into a tough stretch of games.

Polamalu's concussion was serious enough that he was having some amnesia and couldn't remember the play on which it happened - a tackle at the end of a 15-yard run by Cedric Benson.

He'll have some tests Monday to judge just how serious the problem is.

Deshea Townsend's Achilles tendon problem is still bothering him, so McFadden's injury could be troublesome as well.

© Max Starks played very well at left tackle in place of Marvel Smith. And he may have to continue doing so. My sources tell me Smith's back problem is pretty serious and he could miss a number of games.

I guess that investment the Steelers made in keeping Starks has paid off.

© LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons have combined for 10.5 sacks already this season, including four Sunday.

That 2007 draft is looking better and better all the time.

Game day moves

Davis, Parker, Hills, Marvel Smith, Dallas Baker and Casey Hampton are down for the Steelers.
Parquet, signed Saturday, is active.
Starks starts at LT. Davenport starts at fullback.

For Cinci, Palmer's the third QB. Holt, Shayne Graham, Fletcher, Mays, Utecht, Orien Harris and Jason Shirley are down. Cedric Benson will start at RB

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Thursday update

Willie Parker and Marvel Smith didn't practice again Thursday and it appears neither will play Sunday at Cincinnati.

Casey Hampton went through some position drills, but nothing else. It looks like he'll be out as well.

To clarify Parker's injury, Mike Tomlin said Parker woke up Tuesday morning and felt a twinge in it.

I know Gerry Dulac is reporting that Parker stepped in a hole at practice Monday, but that is unconfirmed. He did finish practice Monday, though.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Best guess

After speaking with Willie Parker after practice today, I'd have to say he's not going to play Sunday in Cincinnati.

As I understand it, Parker practiced Monday with no problems, but came back with some discomfort and sat out practice Wednesday.

Parker refused to answer questions in regards to his MCL sprain, referring all questions to Mike Tomlin.

I would say that Mewelde Moore gets his second start in place of Parker as the Steelers try to get their starting running back completely healthy for the long run.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Hampton may play

The big news coming out of Tuesday's Mike Tomlin press conference was that there's a chance Casey Hampton could play this week at Cincinnati after sitting out the past two games with a groin injury.

Hampton will run on Wednesday and take a shot at practicing on Thursday.

He initially wasn't expected back until after the Cincinnati game - though there's still a chance the Steelers will hold him out this week. They are playing the Bengals, after all.

© Willie Parker, Brett Keisel and Jeff Reed look like they're good to go.

© Marvel Smith is still a question mark with back spasms. Tomlin said Max Starks would start if Smith is unable to play.

This is why the Steelers felt it necessary to keep Starks, even at a $7 million price tag.

Smith has had little nagging injuries like this throughout his career. It's also a reason why there's a good chance Smith won't be back in Pittsburgh after this season when his contract runs out.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Things change quickly

When the Steelers made the move to sign Byron Leftwich after Charlie Batch suffered a broken collarbone in the team's preseason opener, there was quite a bit of hoopla surrounding the move.


Because people in Pittsburgh understand the importance of a good backup quarterback. Heck, in many cases, the backup QB in Pittsburgh has been as popular as the starter.

This past weekend, the chosen ones – AKA the Dallas Cowboys – learned that Tony Romo will be out four weeks (three games) with a broken pinkie suffered in the team's overtime loss at Arizona.

The backup is Brad Johnson, a player who, if you looked up journeyman in the dictionary, would have his photo as part of the definition.

Maybe the Cowboys can keep their heads above water while Romo is out. But even a 2-1 record in those games in the NFC East could leave Dallas playing for a wildcard spot this season.

And for all of the media love – and Jessica Simpson sightings – surrounding him, Romo has yet to win a playoff game in his career, let alone winning three in a row on the road, which is what making the playoffs as a wildcard would entail.

Leftwich would have looked pretty good in a Cowboys uniform about now.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

A fine, fine day

It's been an expensive week for the Steelers. Not only did James Harrison get hit with a $20,000 fine for criticizing the officials after the team's win at Jacksonville, but Hines Ward and Ryan Clark have also been nailed by the NFL.

Ward was fined $5,000 for unneccessary roughness against Baltimore - even though he was never penalized during the game.

Clark got hit for $7,500 for his helmet-to-helmet hit on Jacksonville wide receiver Matt Jones.

I guess the team had better make the playoffs so these guys can make up that money.

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Harrison angry

James Harrison is angry. And like Bruce Banner, you wouldn't like Harrison when he's angry.

Harrison is upset over his $20,000 fine, he basically refused to talk about it, saying only that he's no longer allowed to have an opinion on anything.

Harrison, of course, questioned the officiating in the Jacksonville game over a roughing the passer penalty he received in the fourth quarter.

Harrison is correct that the hit in question shouldn't have been a penalty. But he also should not have questioned whether the officials had a bet on the game.

Harrison will appeal the penalty, but it won't be rescinded.

I wouldn't bet against some of his teammates chipping in to help him pay it.

You wouldn't want to make James, angry, after all.

James breaks things.

Tuesday, October 07, 2008

Tuesday's notes

Tuesday was a good day for the Steelers to get a lot of younger guys some work as a number of vets took off practice today.

One who didn't was defensive end Brett Keisel, who was back on the practice field for the first time in a few weeks after sitting out with a calf injury.

Willie Parker also went through some team drills for the first time since suffering a knee injury and it appears he'll be ready to go in Cincinnati in two weeks.

© As I said after the game at Jacksonville, Jeff Reed's calf injury isn't a big deal. Mike Tomlin said today that he expects Reed to be ready to go at Cincinnati - at least on PATs and field goals. They may have Mitch Berger – or somebody else – handle kickoffs.

Tomlin said Reed could have kicked a field goal at the end of the game in Jacksonville if needed. We'll never know.

So much for the TV wonks making a big deal out of that one.

© Tomlin said he expects Ben Roethlisberger to be at or nearly at 100 percent when the Steelers come out of their bye week.

© His reasoning for going with Trai Essex over Max Starks after Marvel Smith went down with cramps was because they felt Essex was better suited to handle Quentin Groves in pass pro than Starks.

The Jaguars knew the Steelers would be passing pretty much on every down and the coaching staff reasoned that Essex's foot speed would be better served to keep Groves at bay rather than Starks' size.

Tomlin said Starks is still the team's No. 3 tackle.

© Darnell Stapleton will continue to start at right guard.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Thoughts on Jacksonville

There's no way this game should have even been as close as it was, but that's the way things go when you're playing on the road in the NFL.

The Steelers dominated the Jaguars in every way imaginable, save the scoreboard.

Sure, Pittsburgh failed to record a first down in the third quarter, but Jacksonville couldn't take advantage thanks to a once-potent running game that was going nowhere.

The Steelers' run defense is playing its best football of the past decade – which is saying something. Opponents are averaging just 2.8 yards per carry against the Steelers this season, the lowest total since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger.

Jacksonville averaged 2.0 yards per carry Sunday night on 19 attempts, with a long run of eight yards by David Garrard.

That puts opponents in a lot of second and third and longs and sets the table for what has become a ferocious pass rush.

© Offensively, this was Ben Roethlisberger's game to win or lose, but you have to love what Mewelde Moore brought as well.

Moore showed nice elusiveness in the open field and the Jaguars never really got a bead on him.

It makes you wonder what he was doing languishing on the bench the first three games.

Moore's also an excellent receiver and we saw him split out wide a lot as a fifth receiver.

That's a good set for this team because it spreads the defense out and doesn't really allow them to send more then four or five guys after Roethlisberger.

© Interesting that when Marvel Smith went down with cramps in the second half, he was replaced by Trai Essex, not Max Starks.

Starks must have taken a pee in somebody's Wheaties because there's no way anyone is going to convince me that Essex is a better tackle than Starks.

© Best play of the night was one that went largely unnoticed, I'm sure, by the television audience.

On the opening kickoff of the second half, Keyaron Fox pulled up at midfield and began clutching his hamstring. He still one-legged his way down to stick his nose into the mix and help bring down Jacksonville's return man.

Anthony Madison got credit for the tackle, but Fox tripped him up.

© OK, maybe that wasn't the best play, but it was a gutsy one.

© The bye couldn't come at a better time for the Steelers. They're a banged-up team.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Key matchup for Jaguars game

This is a tough one this week, but I'm going to go with nose tackle Chris Hoke versus center Dennis Norman. Both are backups, Hoke for Casey Hampton, Norman for Brad Meester. If Hoke can handle Norman and push the pocket, it will force the Jaguars to double-team him and plug up the running game. That will keep the Jaguars from doubling James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley on the outside and keep James Farrior and Larry Foote free to roam the middle without a guard getting on them.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Thursday update

Ben Roethlisberger missed his second consecutive day of practice Thursday, but don't make too big a deal of it. He'll play Sunday. Mike Tomlin is working the QB as little as possible this week so that he'll be able to give him the entire bye week off and get him back to 100 percent coming out of the bye.

It doesn't appear that Nick Eason and Carey Davis will be able to play.

Davis is no surprise, but Eason is another blow to an already thin defensive line.

Look for the team to activate Scott Paxson from the practice squad to add some depth.

Paxson would probably play some nose tackle behind Chris Hoke, with Orpheus Roye rotating with Travis Kirschke and Aaron Smith on the outside.

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Tomlin Tuesday

Mike Tomlin said today that Willie Parker, Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton, Rashard Mendenhall and Kendall Simmons are out for Sunday's game at Jacksonville.

There's a chance Carey Davis could play, but I think it's unlikely after seeing him in a boot and on crutches Monday night.

Tomlin also said Trai Essex and Darnell Stapleton will compete for the starting job in place of Simmons.

As expected, Najeh Davenport will likely sign here today. And Gary Russell will be activated off the practice squad.

They'll team with Mewelde Moore and Sean McHugh to fill the running back positions against Jacksonvillle.

Costly win

The 23-20 win by the Steelers Monday night over Baltimore was a costly one as rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall and right guard Kendall Simmons were lost for the season.

Mendenhall, the team's top draft pick, suffered a fractured shoulder against the Ravens. He was starting in place of Willie Parker, who was out with a knee injury.

Simmons, meanwhile, suffered an Achilles tendon injury. He was replaced during the game by second-year pro Darnell Stapleton, but it's likely that veteran Trai Essex will likely be the starter at right guard the remainder of the season - though that decision has yet to be made.

Fullback Carey Davis suffered an ankle injury in the fourth quarter and did not return. He was on crutches following the game and his return looks like it will be a ways off as well.

There was some good news, however. Linebacker Andre Frazier, who was taken off on a stretcher and back board after being hit hard on the opening kickoff was walking around the locker room following the game and looks like he's OK. It was announced that Frazier had a spine injury, but it appears it's nothing serious.

© Ben Roethlisberger gave a motivational speech at halftime after the team played a listless first half. It's a big moment in the leadership progress of Roethlisberger.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Key matchup

Troy Polamalu vs. Joe Flacco: Polamalu moves all over the field prior to the snap of the ball. It will be hard on the rookie to identify where Polamalu eventually winds up. Polamalu has three interceptions in three games this season and could add to that total tonight if the rookie fails to properly identify where Polamalu is going to drop into coverage at.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Friday update

Strong safety Troy Polamalu returned to practice Friday after sitting out Wednesday and Thursday with a quad injury. Polamalu is expected to play Monday night against the Ravens.

Baltimore got some bad news when starting cornerback Samari Rolle for Monday night’s game because of shoulder and neck injuries.

In Rolle’s place, the Ravens could go with a combination of reserve cornerbacks Fabian Washington, Corey Ivy and Frank Walker.

Not having Rolle is a huge blow for the Ravens, who will also be playing without safety Dawan Landry.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

The one constant

The time has come to point the finger at the real blame for much of the Steelers problems with protection of the quarterback.

In 2006, Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 46 times working behind the same offensive line that had given up 32 sacks the previous season - eight of which were recorded against potted plant Tommy Maddox.

Roethlisberger's 23 sacks came on 268 pass attempts in 2005, while his 46 sacks the next season came on 469 attempts. By comparison, Charlie Batch, who threw 53 passes in 2006, was sacked just three times.

In 2007, Roethlisberger went down 47 times on 404 pass attempts, more than one time per 10 pass attempts. Batch threw 36 passes and was not sacked.

The line was a little different. Sean Mahan replaced Jeff Hartings at center and Willie Colon was in place of Max Starks at right tackle. Marvel Smith also missed some time at left tackle, with Starks replacing him.

But remember, Smith missed some time in 2005 and was replaced by Trai Essex, then a rookie. And still, the Steelers gave up 32 sacks on 379 pass attempts that season.

Roethlisberger has already been sacked 12 times this season, including eight on Sunday against Philadelphia.

Again, the line is different, with Justin Hartwig replacing Mahan and Chris Kemoeatu in for Alan Faneca.

The only constant has been Roethlisberger.

The biggest problem on Sunday against the Eagles was that on a number of occasions, Philadelphia sent more guys after Roethlisberger than the line could block.

But when the defense is sending six pass rushers and you have five blockers, the quarterback is responsible for the extra man.

But Roethlisberger trusts his scrambling ability too much. How many times on Sunday did we see him try to scramble up into the pocket to escape on oncoming rusher only to step into a sack? Five, six?

Think he would have been better served getting rid of the ball or taking a shot throwing to a receiver working on one-on-one coverage?

Certainly not all of the blame lies with Roethlisberger. The line play was not good - particularly once the Eagles got rolling.

But Roethlisberger's got to realize that when the defense is rushing six or seven guys, he's got one-on-one coverage.

He's got to recognize that and take a shot at beating the one-on-one. That's the only way teams will stop sending the house at him.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Bad news

Everybody went to the Mike Tomlin press conference looking for an injury update on Ben Roethlisberger.

What they got instead was news that running back Willie Parker will miss Monday night's game agianst Baltimore - and possibly more - with a sprained knee.

Rookie Rashard Mendenhall will make his first career start in place of Parker, a tall task against the No. 1-rated Ravens defense.

Parker's injury could also keep him out of the following week's game at Jacksonville as well.

© As expected, Casey Hampton is also out. Chris Hoke will get the start at nose tackle, with Travis Kirschke backing him up. Trouble is, Kirschke took the majority of the snaps at defensive end last week in place of Brett Keisel, who was also out.

© The Steelers will likely bring Gary Russell back on the active roster later this week with Parker out.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Post-Philadelphia thoughts

I've been covering the Steelers since 1993. I've never seen a Pittsburgh team beat up like it was Sunday in Philadelphia.

There were nine sacks and it just as easily could have 15. The running game went nowhere. And the Steelers made precious few changes to stop it.

Keeping Heath Miller in the backfield was the only visible adjustment in the blocking scheme and, as Kendall Simmons pointed out, all that did was bring another blitzer into the fold since the Eagles now only needed to cover two or three receivers.

The Eagles knew the Steelers running backs weren't receiving threats, so they jammed the wideouts at the line of scrimmage and kept Ben Roethlisberger from hitting his hot reads. And then they hit Roethlisberger.

A few passes to the backs would have slowed that down.

© The Steelers began the game in a three tight end package and opened the second half in the same package.

Roethlisberger threw nine yards to Heath Miller in the first half out of that package. Willie Parker gained four yards on a run in the second half.

And then we didn't see the package again.

© Ike Taylor does an awful lot of jawing after every play for somebody who constantly gives up catches.

Make a play Ike, then you can talk.

© A lot will be made out of Ben Roethlisberger's banged-up hand, but the bigger injury may have been to Casey Hampton, who suffered a groin injury.

The defensive line depth was already being tested with Brett Keisel out with a calf injury. Now Hampton could be out as well.

That's not good.

© The first few sacks Sunday were just on overloads, bringing more guys than the Steelers could block. But as it kept happening, guys started getting beat in their individual matchups as well.

It turned into a feeding frenzy and the Steelers were the meal.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Key matchup, roster move

OLB LaMarr Woodley vs. RT Jon Runyan
If you remember back to the first quarter of the preseason meeting between
the Steelers and Eagles, Woodley dominated Runyan, a 13-year veteran.

Woodley was getting a lot of pressure on QB Donovan McNabb and
Runyan responded with a couple of penalties. The Eagles were forced
to bring a back over to help Runyan out with Woodley. If Woodley can
have the same kind of day, he can keep McNabb from throwing those deep
balls he loves so much.

Roster move: The Steelers made a roster move today when they promoted
rookie LB Patrick Bailey to their active roster. The team needed Bailey this week
because linebacker Donovan Woods is out with a hamstring injury.

Bailey (6-4, 235) spent the first two games of the season on the
Steelers' practice squad after originally signing with the team as an
undrafted rookie free agent from Duke. He started 26 games and recorded
191 tackles (24.5 for losses), 8.5 sacks, one interception and four
forced fumbles during his college career.

The Steelers made room on their roster for Bailey by releasing
second-year RB Gary Russell. Russell originally made the Steelers roster
as an undrafted rookie free agent in 2007. The Steelers will likely re-sign
Russell on Monday.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Thursday thoughts

Unlike many in the media, I never really took the Stanley Druckenmiller offer to buy up shares of the other Rooney brother's stock in the Steelers instead of taking Dan Rooney's offer all that seriously.

The NFL is a bit of a closed boy's club and the league most certainly didn't want to ace Dan Rooney out of ownership of the Steelers. It just wasn't going to happen. Dan Rooney has done too much and brokered too many deals in this league to suddenly be on the outside looking in.

There's also the whole thing with the other Rooney brothers likely not wanting the team to leave family hands.

In fact, there stands a good chance they were using Druckenmiller's deep pockets to get Dan Rooney to sweeten his offer.

We don't know if that has happened, but there's little doubt Dan Rooney has been speaking to some money men of his own and will retain ownership of the team.

© I don't look for Deshea Townsend to play again this week and that's a problem for the Steelers. Bryant McFadden is a capable replacement for Townsend, but now, they'll be asking William Gay to play plenty against Philadelphia's pass-happy offense.

Townsend told me he probably couldn't have even played last week against Cleveland even if it had been a playoff game because he can't take a pain-numbing shot where the injury is at because it could tear his Achilles tendon. That doesn't sound good.

© Marvel Smith got a little indignant in the locker room this week while talking to reporters about Mike Tomlin's comments that the offensive line is playing more physically and with a greater edge.

It's understandable. Smith always gives his all out there and is a true professional. The way Tomlin made things sound was like the line wasn't trying as hard last season - or at least that's what Smith thought.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Latest Steelers book should be a hit

I haven't read this book yet - I just got my copy today - but I can tell you, from some of the stories Jim has told me about the trip, it should be a good read.

Last year, on September 17, Pittsburgh sportswriter Jim Wexell embarked on a road trip to chronicle Steeler Nation.

The book, Steeler Nation: A Pittsburgh Team, An American Phenomenon, is now available at

The book tells the tale of a six-week football road trip that swung south from Pittsburgh through Atlanta and Mobile, west through New Orleans, Phoenix and Los Angeles, north to Seattle, and then back east through Yellowstone Park, Denver, St.
Louis and Cincinnati.

The trip covered nearly 10,000 miles as Wexell talked to Steelers fans, players, ex-players, as well as their family, friends and rivals, while the Steelers played their way to a division championship. The author found fans in the most remote outposts of the country and he walked in the footsteps of the current Pittsburgh Steelers.

The lives of 19 current Steelers are examined, including James Harrison, Heath Miller, Willie Parker, Lawrence Timmons, Hines Ward, Ike Taylor, Casey Hampton, Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel, Aaron Smith, and Ben Roethlisberger, and the result is
plenty of fresh information about the group that made up the core of the 2005 championship team.

Along with pre-game tailgates and post-game interviews, included in Wexell's trip are visits with the greatest Steelers bars and fans in the country, and interviews with former Steelers greats such as Greg Lloyd, who discusses his past, present and
future with typical Lloyd passion.

Wexell spent the first two weeks of the trip with friend and RV owner Jan "Pappy" Jones. The two rode in a 35-foot motor home with Wexell's car in tow. Jones dumped the load in Tombstone, Arizona, but Wexell and his car made it home with all but a muffler and common sense intact. The trip continued into the northeast corner of the country to complete the season, the Steelers' landmark 75th in the NFL.

Wexell hosts a radio talk show on Fox Sports Radio 970 in Pittsburgh and has covered the Steelers since 1995 for numerous area newspapers, Steelers Digest, Pro Football Weekly, and

It's the trip every Steelers fan would love to make, and Jim Wexell takes you with him in this 256-page journey. Steeler Nation: A Pittsburgh Team, An American Phenomenon, is available only at