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.

Why?

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.