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 Pregame.com, 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.