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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.