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Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Polamalu practices

For the first time in a month and a half, strong safety Troy Polamalu participated in practice Wednesday for the Pittsburgh Steelers, albeit in a limited fashion.

Depending on how Polamalu's sprained knee reacts to his participation, he could be available for the Steelers for the remainder of the seaso - however long that may be.

© Ricky Williams, who is nursing a shoulder injury, practiced today for the Dolphins and it appears he will play.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Harrison, Hampton make Pro Bowl

Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison and nose tackle Casey Hampton have been selected to the 2010 AFC Pro Bowl team announced today by the NFL. Harrison was named the team’s only starter in the NFL’s annual All-Star game.

Harrison was named a starter on the AFC Pro Bowl squad for the third consecutive season, in as many seasons as a starter for the Steelers. The 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year posted another outstanding season in 2009 with 70 tackles, 10 sacks, five forced fumbles and 20 quarterback pressures.

Harrison was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month of October in 2009 when he registered seven sacks and 21 tackles. He recorded a season-high three quarterback sacks in Week 5 at Detroit, earning him AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.

Hampton will make his fifth Pro Bowl appearance in nine NFL seasons. The anchor of the NFL’s third-ranked rushing defense, Hampton has recorded 40 tackles and a career-high 2.5 quarterback sacks this season. Hampton was also a member of the 2004, 2006, 2007 and 2008 AFC Pro Bowl squads. His five Pro Bowl appearances rank fourth in Steelers’ history among defensive linemen behind only Joe Greene (10), Ernie Stautner (nine) and L.C. Greenwood (six).

Monday, December 28, 2009

Steelers playoff scenarios

Pittsburgh clinches a playoff spot:
1) PIT win + HOU loss or tie + NYJ loss or tie
2) PIT win + HOU loss or tie + BAL loss or tie
3) PIT win + NYJ loss or tie + BAL loss or tie + DEN loss or tie

Of those scenarios, No. 2 is the most viable, in my opinion.

I think NE will play to win because it has performed poorly on the road this season and Houston hasn't been dominant at home. Either way, that game should be a shootout.
Joe Flacco is very inconsistent and if the Ravens struggle with Oakland's rushing attack - which is pretty good - they could lose out there.

But it doesn't look as good for the Steelers as it would have had Miami held serve at home.

And from our friends at the Cincinnati Enquirer via Elias Sports, here's how Cincinnati could finish with the No. 3 seed in the AFC even without a victory and a New England loss Sunday:

If the Bengals and Patriots both lose:

* Cleveland must beat Jacksonville
* Pittsburgh must beat Miami
* Indianapolis must beat Buffalo
* And any of the following four: Baltimore beats Oakland, Green Bay beats Arizona, Kansas City beats Denver, New Orleans beats Carolina, Seattle beats Tennessee

If the Bengals and Patriots both win:

* Cleveland must beat Jacksonville
* Pittsburgh must beat Miami
* Plus one of the following two groups
* If Indianapolis beats Buffalo any of three following three must happen: Baltimore beats Oakland, Green Bay beats Arizona, Kansas City beats Denver, New Orleans beats Carolina, Seattle beats Tennessee.
* If Buffalo beats Indy all of the following must happen: Baltimore beats Oakland, Green Bay beats Arizona, Kansas City beats Denver, New Orleans beats Carolina, Seattle beats Tennessee.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Post-Baltimore thoughts II

I'm sure people in Baltimore will be complaining about 11 penalties for 113 yards the Ravens were assessed in their 23-20 loss to the Steelers Sunday, but honestly, there wasn't one that when reviewed wasn't an actual penalty.

The Ravens lost their composure quite a bit in this one.

There was no reason for Terrell Suggs to block anyone in the back on Domonique Foxworth's interception return for a touchdown. But he did it.

There was really no reason for Kelley "I celebrate every catch like a jackass because I've apparently never had one before" Washington to hold Deshea Townsend like a 12-year-old at a middle school dance during a Willis McGahee touchdown run. But he did it.

And there was no reason for ONiel Cousins to go all WWE on LaMarr Woodley right in front of an official five seconds after Joe Flacco had released the football to draw a penalty that moved the Ravens out of field goal range. But, again, he did it.

They were stupid penalties by what is apparently, a stupid team.

But they seem to be the norm for the Ravens, who have been penalized 110 times this season compared to just 83 for their opponents.

All you need to know about how those things are treated on that team is that when Haloti Ngata – who is a great player – was penalized 15 yards in the third quarter for a late hit on a punt that moved the Ravens back to their own 35 instead of getting the ball at the 50, he was all smiles and getting props from his teammates on the bench.

© That said, the Ravens are likely going to the playoffs and the Steelers aren't. That's what losing games to the likes of the Browns, Raiders and Chiefs will do.

The Ravens traditionally beat up on weak teams and lose to the better ones. That hasn't changed this season, which is why they'll probably beat up on the Raiders next week to clinch a spot in the postseason.

© Indianapolis head coach Jim Caldwell probably got himself taken off some Christmas card lists Sunday with his decision to bench his starters – most notably Peyton Manning – with just a 15-10 lead against the Jets.

I'm sure Steelers fans are ticked off by that decision, but I refer back to the aforementioned losses to Cleveland, Kansas City and Oakland.

© Rashard Mendenhall has great talent. What he does not seem to have is great vision. And that spin move is something this coaching staff has to spend the offseason getting him to take out of his bag of tricks.

That stuff might work in high school. It might work in college. But all it's going to do in the NFL is get you tackled - if you don't fumble.

© Willie Parker is showing he still has something left in the tank. He came very close to breaking free for long touchdown on one of his only two carries.

© Pittsburgh's run defense has now given up 171 yards rushing to the Browns and 175 to the Ravens in their past three games. The Steelers only gave up 60 yards rushing to Green Bay, but that was more because the Packers only ran the ball 12 times.

There's more to that than this team just missing Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu.

The defense is so concerned about getting burned through the air that it is giving up yards on the ground in bunches.

Harrison will play, Reed won't

Though ESPN was reporting that Ed Reed will play for Baltimore, he's inactive.

James Harrison is active for the Steelers and will start.

Reed will miss his fourth consecutive game with a groin injury.

Harrison suffered a biceps injury in practice this week and was questionable. But he tested the water this morning and will give it a go.

Keenan Lewis, Carey Davis, Troy Polamalu, Kraig Urbik, Chris Kemoeatu, Sunny Harris and newly acquired Joey Galloway are down for the Steelers.

Justin Harper, Reed, Keith Fitzhugh - excuse me - Tavares Gooden, David Hale, Jared Gaither and Kelly Talavou are down for Baltimore.

Dannell Ellerbe will start at LB in place of Gooden. Oneil Cousins starts at RT with Michael Oher moving to the left side in place of Gaither.

Tom Zbikowski will continue to start in place of Reed.

For the Steelers, David Johnson will start at fullback in place of Davis. Tyrone Carter gets another start in place of Polamalu, while Deshea Townsend will start at cornerback in place of William Gay.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas and who I like

Merry Christmas from NFL From the Sidelines. Hope Santa brought you all everything you wanted.

What the Steelers want this week is a victory and I liked their chances in this one even before the offense put up more than 500 yards against Green Bay last Sunday.

The Steelers and Ravens don't care for each other. That much is no secret to anyone.

And regardless of anything else that's happened this season, these two teams will get after each other like they do nobody else.

The Steelers sacked Joe Flacco five times - all in the second half - in their overtime loss at Baltimore earlier this season.

That was a game in which the Steelers were not only missing Troy Polamalu - who won't play again this week - but Ben Roethlisberger as well.

That balanced out with Baltimore missing defensive end/linebacker Terrell Suggs and safety Ed Reed.

Suggs will be back for this one, but Reed is still out. And without him, Baltimore's secondary is as scary as … the Steelers' without Polamalu. In other words, not scary at all.

Now that the Steelers have gotten a good long look at the speed and shiftiness of Baltimore running back Ray Rice, they'll have a little better idea of how to get him on the ground. That was a problem in the first meeting.

And Pittsburgh's defense will do enough to confuse Flacco, who will be outplayed by Roethlisberger.

Take Pittsburgh to win, 24-17, to stay alive in the AFC playoff race.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Polamalu iffy

Troy Polamalu said today that the latest MRI he had on his injured knee was very positive. But the All-Pro strong safety would not commit one way or another as to whether he'll play this weekend when the Steelers host Baltimore in a must-win game.

Polamalu did say that he won't practice today. He did not, however, rule out practicing at some point this week.

Ideally, Polamalu would like to practice for an entire week before taking the field again, but as we know, the Steelers certainly face less than ideal circumstances at this point.

© Ben Roethlisberger was named the AFC Offensive Player of the Week for his 500-yard performance against Green Bay.

© Though he aggravated his hamstring injury against Green Bay and could barely walk Sunday, wide receiver Hines Ward said there's no way he's missing the game against the Ravens.

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sweed, Warren done for year

The Steelers announced Monday that wide receiver Limas Sweed and long snapper Greg Warren will miss the rest of the season.

Sweed, a former second-round draft pick, is on the reserve non-football illness list. He missed Sunday's 37-36 win over Green Bay with an illness.

Warren, a fifth-year pro, has been placed on the reserve/injured list. He injured his right knee after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament on the final play of Sunday’s game against Green Bay.

Post-Green Bay thoughts

No sooner had Ike Taylor recovered the Steelers' surprise onside kick - only to have the flag thrown for touching the ball at 9 1/2 yards - than the press box armchair coaches started with the 'I can't believe he did that' refrains.

I was not one of them.

At the time, I told another writer that Tomlin likely did it because he knew his defense couldn't stop the Packers and even if the Steelers didn't recover the ball, it would give the Pittsburgh offense more time to score.

Turns out, that was exactly what Tomlin was thinking. He admitted as much after the game.

That, in itself, was a refreshing bit of honesty. All too often coaches make a move like that and then say they were just rolling the dice.

Tomlin called out his defense while also taking a risk calculated to help win a game.

It was a good move.

© I know the Bruce Arians bashers will look at the run-pass ratio in this game and say it's proof that Arians doesn't know what he's doing.

But when you look at what the Steelers were doing when they did try to run it against Green Bay's front seven and then look at what they did attacking the Packers' overrated secondary, you see what the Steelers were trying to do.

The Steelers averaged 3.4 yards per rushing attempt and Ben Roethlisberger threw for a team-record 503 yards.

Green Bay's front seven is fast and athletic. It's secondary, well it's made up over overhyped Charles Woodson - how many penalties is that? - and a bunch of bums.

Sounds sort of like the Steelers.

© I know I'm in the media and - at least according to Ryan Clark - don't know what I'm watching, but if I'm Tomlin, I've seen enough of Tyrone Carter missing tackles and taking bad angles on the back end of plays.

© Now, we can start talking about playoff scenarios and including the Steelers in them.

And they aren't as far-fetched as they once seemed, especially with Denver's ridiculous loss at home to Oakland. Wait, where have we seen that one before?

Seriously, I thought Sunday's game was the one the Steelers would lose before rebounding to win their final two.

I expected Miami to lose in Tennessee and the Jets-Falcons game was a tossup. That Denver loss was an early Christmas gift to all of you Steelers fans from Santa Goodell.

So here's what we've got now coming up:

The Steelers, of course, host Baltimore next Sunday. The Steelers need a win, but a loss wouldn't do much to hurt Baltimore given Denver's loss Sunday. The Ravens will win a tiebreaker with the Steelers based on a better division record.

Denver travels to Philadelphia, where the Broncos should get the snot stomped out of them by an Eagles' team that is hitting its stride and needs the win to clinch a division title.

Now, let's look at the 7-7 teams.

Jacksonville heads to New England, where the Patriots always play tough and need a victory to try to gain the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs. That should be a loss for the Jags.

Miami hosts Houston in what will be an elimination game for the loser. The Steelers would be better served by Miami holding serve at home since they finish up with the Dolphins in Week 17. But even if Houston wins, it must host New England in Week 17 and the Texans are behind the Steelers in the AFC playoff race, anyway.

The Jets, the other team ahead of the Steelers right now, travel to Indianapolis this week. The wildcard is whether the Colts will play their regulars in the game. But they will have had 10 days off between games, so the guess here is that they do. Even if the Jets somehow win that one, they have to finish up with the Bengals at home, a game Cincinnati could need to possibly move past New England into the No. 3 spot in the AFC.

Tennessee hosts red-hot San Diego on Christmas day. I would say the Titans should win that based on San Diego's soft run defense, but since the Steelers hold the head-to-head tiebreaker on the Titans.

Obviously, we'll know a lot more about what's happening after next weekend's games, but the Steelers' win Sunday made them relevant once again.

© That's a tough injury for Greg Warren, who tore his ACL on the final play of the game.

It's also a tough injury for the Steelers, who must now find a new long snapper. It's a good thing it happened on the final play, though.

Imagine if the Steelers had been forced to go for a two-point coversion on the final play of the game instead of just kicking the PAT because Warren was out.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pittsburgh-Green Bay inactives

Sweed, Keenan Lewis, Polamalu, Urbik, Kemoeatu, Sunny Harris and Nick Eason are down for the Steelers. Batch is still the No. 3 QB.

John Kuhn is down for the Packers. Ryan Pickett is active but B.J. Raji will start at nose tackle in his place.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Who I like

It's come to this, the Steelers are two-point favorites this week but I'm not sure why.

Maybe they are mad as hell and not going to take it any longer, but they should have been at that stage the past few weeks and it hasn't been the case.

Green Bay's passing game is going to cause the Steelers problems for obvious reasons. They haven't defended the pass very well without Troy Polamalu and don't force any turnovers.

Green Bay's defense is also going to be a tough matchup.

It seems pretty cut and dried to me as I expect the Packers to win, 27-20.

That said, it wouldn't surprise me if the Steelers win since they've been totally unpredictable this season. But I doubt it.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

NFL from the Sidelines will be moving

In the near future, this blog will be moving to . You'll still be able to access it by going through the Observer-Reporter web site.
Thanks for your patience.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Last three weeks should be interesting

I'll be watching the Steelers closely these final three weeks to see how they finish.

Understandably, there's a lot of disappointment in the locker room thanks to the team's collapse following its 6-2 start.

But it will be interesting to see if this group allows the losing to continue, as the 1998 and 1999 Steelers did, or whether they go down fighting, as the team did in 2000, 2003 and 2006.

That has been what has separated the Steelers from the Clevelands and Cincinnatis of the NFL over the past couple of decades – how they've dealt with adversity.

The bad teams have gone out expecting something to go wrong and not being surprised when it does.

The Steelers have usually looked at it the other way and gone down fighting.

© Free safety Ryan Clark went off on the media today, blaming it and negative comments made about the team for the Steelers' struggles.


That's an age-old cop out and Clark is better than that.

But it kind of gives you some insight into how this team – at least some of them – is looking at its five-game losing streak.

They don't want to point fingers in the locker room and they can't say bad things about the fans – who will surely boo this team Sunday if it struggles against Green Bay – so they point them at the easiest villan around, the media.

I've always had a good relationship with Clark and have found him to be one of the better and more insightful thinkers I've been around in 17 seasons of covering this team.

But in this case, he's barking up the wrong tree.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cloudy AFC playoff picture

The Steelers' season remains on life support as despite their 5-game losing streak, they're still alive - technically - in the AFC playoff race.

This coming weekend should help clear the picture up a great deal.

Jacksonville (7-6) hosts Indianapolis, which will continue to play its starters - at least this week. And next week, the Jaguars travel to New England before finishing up at Cleveland.

Miami (7-6) travels to Tennessee (6-7). A loss by the Titans would end their playoff hopes, while a loss by the Dolphins would make things difficult for them considering they have to host Houston (6-7) and the Steelers (6-7) to finish things off.

The Jets (7-6) host Atlanta (6-7) before travelling to Indianapolis next week and finishing up with Cincinnati. That's a pretty tough road, though the Colts and Bengals could be resting some people.

Baltimore (7-6) hosts Chicago this week before coming to Pittsburgh in Week 16. The Ravens head to Oakland in Week 17.

After hosting Miami this week, Tennessee heads to San Diego in two weeks and finishes up at Seattle.

And Houston has games with St. Louis and New England sandwiching the game with the Dolphins.

One of that group of teams will win the final playoff spot in the AFC.

Jacksonville currently owns the best conference record at 6-3, which could come into play in a three-way tie. But the Jaguars would need to beat either Indianapolis or New England to get to 9-7. It's possible, but not likely.

Miami has a tough road as well, starting with this week's game at Tennessee, where the Titans have won four games in a row. Houston and its high-octane passing attack could also cause troubles for Miami's soft secondary.

The Jets have been up-and-down behind rookie quarterback Mark Sanchez, who's likely to return this week. I don't trust them to win two of their final three at all.

Which brings me to Baltimore. It may not be what Steelers fans want to hear, but I expect the Ravens to at least get to 9-7. Though Baltimore is just 2-4 on the road this season, the Ravens have a 6-4 conference record. They should beat Chicago this week and though I think the Steelers will give them a tough battle and could beat them in Pittsburgh in two weeks - neither team ever wants to lose to the other - I would expect them to win in Oakland to get to 9-7, at worst.

In tiebreakers with two teams, head-to-head is the first consideration. Next is conference record. If there is still a tie, best won-loss record in games against common opponents, with a minimum of four is considered.

If that still doesn't settle things, strength of victory is considered.

Friday, December 11, 2009

Post-Cleveland thoughts

Losing to Kansas City was bad. Losing to Oakland was worse. But losing to that Cleveland Browns team was definitely the lowest of the low points for the 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers.

Cleveland entered that game dead last in the NFL in offense and defense. And the Browns were missing a number of starters, including Pro Bowl nose tackle Shaun Rogers.

Not only could the Steelers not stop Cleveland's running game, they couldn't run the ball.

This was a total team effort against a team that should have been making the first selection in the NFL draft in a few months.

© I'm sure usual whipping boy Bruce Arians is taking all the blame for that loss, but Ben Roethlisberger played like a rookie.

You can argue whether it was prudent for the Steelers to go to the shotgun with empty backfields on their first three third-and-shorts, but that's pretty much what everyone does in today's NFL.

But there's no way the quarterback should be taking sacks in those situations - three times in a row. And those sacks were his fault. He's got to see that Cleveland is bringing seven pass rushers and get the ball to his hot read - especially when you only need a yard or two.

Those defensive calls for Cleveland came right out of the Philadelphia playbook from 2008. And Roethlisberger froze on them.

Not all of the eight sacks were on Roethlisberger in this game, but the majority were.

To quote the big guy, "Who's laughing now o-line?"

© I've heard from a number of players over the past few weeks that this team hasn't paid attention to the details or hasn't been on the same page.

To me, that's inexcusable. If you're a professional football player, you'd better play every game like it's the last one you'll ever see.

Not paying attention to the details is another way of saying that they took somebody lightly. That explains how the Steelers have beaten San Diego, Minnesota and Denver but lost to Kansas City, Oakland and Cleveland.

It explains it but it doesn't justify it.

Heads are going to roll after this season and a lot of that is going to depend on what happens in these last three games.

It will be interesting to see if the free agents to be mail it in the rest of the way or whether they go down fighting.

Santonio Holmes told me he got up following Mike Tomlin's post-game speech and told the team he'll be fighting the rest of the way. That's a good sign from a young player.

We'll see if anyone joins him.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Just got to Cleveland

The wind is bitterly cold here and heavy, both of which should affect this game a great deal.

But I already expected that.

But this wind is whipping and colder than I even imagined it would be.

© After testing his sore hamstring, it appears that Hines Ward will play for the Steelers.

I think this is a big mistake - especially considering the weather. There isn't likely to be at lot of passing in this game and the cold weather could cause that hamstring to lock up.

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Who I like

First, let's address the injury issues. Both Hines Ward and William Gay will likely be out for the Steelers' game against Cleveland Thursday.

But with heavy winds and snow forecast, that might not be all that significant. This game will come down to an old-fashioned running contest.

In that kind of matchup, you have to like the Steelers, even though the weather conditions may make things a little tricky.

Brady Quinn has struggled mightily with his accuracy on his deep passes and his young receiving corps has struggled holding onto the football on a regular basis.

That makes this a perfect game to see what rookie cornerbacks Joe Burnett and Keenan Lewis have to offer.

Much like their game in Cleveland last year, a 10-6 win in heavy winds, the Steelers will win a game that is closer than it should be, 14-7.

© With Ward out, rookie receiver Tyler Grisham has been promoted from the practice squad to give the Steelers a fourth receiver.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Polamalu not done for season

Contrary to the AP report that says Troy Polamalu may be done for the season, the strong safety will likely be back – sooner rather than later.

In fact, it's likely he will return when the Steelers play Dec. 20 against Green Bay.

Polamalu likes to play with the media, particularly large groups.

He will be examined by doctors following Thursday's game at Cleveland.

© Hines Ward did some light running Tuesday with trainers, but did not practice. He looks unlikely to play against the Browns.

© William Gay was back at practice Tuesday - funny how quickly guys heal when their jobs are on the line - but it's likely rookie Joe Burnett will start at cornerback opposite Ike Taylor against the Browns.

Keenan Lewis will also get some playing time.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Gay, Ward doubtful

Because the Steelers play on Thursday this week in Cleveland, head coach Mike Tomlin had his weekly press conference Monday.

As expected, cornerback William Gay could be out of action against the Browns after suffering a concussion from a hit by teammate Ryan Mundy in Sunday's 27-24 loss to Oakland.

Rookie Joe Burnett would start in Gay's place, with fellow rookie Keenan Lewis also likely to get at least some playing time, probably in the nickel in place of Deshea Townsend.

Burnett would slide inside to Townsend's spot, while Burnett would play on the outside.

Tomlin also said wide receiver Hines Ward may miss the game after suffering a hamstring injury while making a catch on the next-to-last play of the game.

Rookie Mike Wallace and second-year pro Limas Sweed would share time at Ward's spot, with veteran Shaun McDonald likely to be re-signed - though Tomlin didn't name him specifically.

Tomlin said veteran quarterback Charlie Batch could return to practice this week, meaning Tyler Palko would no longer be needed and Palko would likely be released to make room for McDonald.

Tomlin said other changes could be made as the team tries to get out of the four-game tailspin it is currently in. And, he said those changes could come in all three phases of the game.

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Steelers-Raiders post-game thoughts

Though the players won't admit it, it has become painfully apparent the Steelers' secondary just cannot play without strong safety Troy Polamalu.

Without anybody in their secondary other than Polamalu who can consistently catch the ball, the Steelers just don't scare anybody.

Oakland's Bruce Gradkowski threw a number of balls up for grabs in Sunday's 27-24 win over the Steelers and the Raiders either came down with the pass or saw it fall harmlessly to the ground.

We already knew that catching the football was not Ike Taylor's strong point, but now it's become apparent that neither can anyone else, sans Polamalu.

And the group is also playing without any confidence as well. It's not a good combination.

Opponents are obviously targeting Willie Gay play after play and Gay has not been up to the challenge at all.

In fact, after Gay was beaten a couple of times Sunday, defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau just started sending him on corner blitzes.

I guess if you can't cover, you might as well go after the quarterback.

Head coach Mike Tomlin said Sunday that the team will consider changes in its lineup. The only changes they could make defensively would probably be in the secondary – though the run defense allowed more than 100 yards rushing for the second consecutive game.

All you need to know about the difference between the Steelers defense of 2008 and the 2009 version is that Gradkowski completed five of 16 passes for 18 yards and two interceptions against them last season. Sunday, he threw for more than 300 yards with three touchdown passes.

© I've taken heat all season long for blaming the defense for not holding leads late in games.

That was again the case Sunday. Anybody want to defend the indefensible defense this week?

© I was not a big fan of Tomlin's decision to attempt a 53-yard field goal on the opening play of the fourth quarter and even after Tomlin's explanation that Jeff Reed had been making them from there before the game, I'm still not.

With a four-point lead, why punt there and make the Raiders - who had not shown anything offensively to that point - drive the length of the field?

By giving Oakland the ball at its own 43, all the Raiders needed was 20 yards to get into field goal range. They did better than that, scoring the first of three fourth quarter touchdowns.

© Rashard Mendenhall did not have a carry in the entire second quarter.

He didn't even set foot on the field as Willie Parker was given two consecutive series of play - the first a two-play touchdown drive – while Mewelde Moore was in on the final possession of the second quarter in the two-minute offense.

I'm all for keeping everyone involved, but that's taking it to the extreme.

© Ben Roethlisberger made one bad mistake in this one, throwing a pick from the Oakland 16 late in the first half.

He forced that throw to Hines Ward, who was open coming out of his break, but certainly was not once Roethlisberger let go of the ball.

It was the only sign of post-concussion play that Roethlisberger really showed.

Steelers-Raiders inactives

Batch, Keenan Lewis, Polamalu, Urbik, Hills, Harris and Kirschke are down for the Steelers.

Heyward-Bey and Greg Ellis are down for Oakland.

Eason starts at DE for Kirschke, Carter for Polamalu.

Matt Shaughnessy starts at DE for Ellis for Oakland. Louis Murphy at WR for Heyward-Bey.

The weather here is great. The field looks good.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Who I like

If the Steelers are to start a run into the playoffs, it starts this week at home against Oakland.

Bruce Gradkowski will get the start at quarterback for the Raiders, which should tell you a little about how badly JaMarcus Russell played this season.

Last we saw of Gradkowski in Pittsburgh, he was having arguably the worst quarterbacking performance I've seen in 17 seasons of covering the Steelers - and I saw every one of Kordell Stewart's starts.

Starting for Cleveland in the regular season finale last year, Gradkowski was 5 for 16 for 18 yards and two interceptions in a 31-0 loss.

Gradkowski has been a little better in Oakland this season, but he's still completing just 52.5 percent of his passes.

Even though I think the Steelers will limit Ben Roethlisberger's passing a little bit to keep him from taking any big hits, Pittsburgh's offense should be able to do more than enough to cover the 13 1/2-point spread.

Take the Steelers, 27-6

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Madison is back

The Steelers today signed cornerback/special teams ace Anthony Madison, who was waived Tuesday by the Colts.

To make room for Madison on the active roster, they released Corey Ivy. Ivy had been signed last week to help bolster the special teams unit.

Madison, of course, led the Steelers in special teams tackles with 25 in 2008 but was released in training camp.

© Guard Chris Kemoeatu went through a full practice today, as did quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Troy Polamalu is still out.

© From the Associated Press today:

"NFL teams now have new, stricter instructions for when players should be allowed to return to games or practices after head injuries, guidelines that go into effect this week.
In the latest step by the league to address a hot-button issue, commissioner Roger Goodell sent a memo to the 32 clubs Wednesday saying a player who gets a concussion should not return to action on the same day if he shows certain signs or symptoms.
Those include an inability to remember assignments or plays, a gap in memory, persistent dizziness, and persistent headaches.
The old standard, established in 2007, said a player should not be allowed to return to the same game if he lost consciousness.
Wednesday’s memo also says players “are to be encouraged to be candid with team medical staffs and fully disclose any signs or symptoms that may be associated with a concussion.”
Nearly one-fifth of 160 NFL players surveyed by The Associated Press from Nov. 2-15 replied that they have hidden or played down the effects of a concussion."

Monday, November 30, 2009

Steelers-Ravens thoughts

If I'm a member of the Baltimore Ravens, I don't know that I'm all that happy after beating the Steelers, 20-17, in overtime at M&T Stadium Sunday.

OK, sure, I'm happy because I got the win, but let's be honest, Pittsburgh was playing its third-string quarterback.

Should you be happy that you had to go to overtime - at home - to get the win against a third-string quarterback who had thrown all of one career pass before Sunday's game?

Baltimore's defense isn't what it once was and we're seeing the decline of Ray Lewis, who doesn't look like the Ray Lewis of old.

He's still a good player. He's just not a great one any longer.

© By the same token, if I'm a member of the Steelers' defense, I'm pretty upset.

Your third-string quarterback got you 17 points on the road, but you allowed Baltimore to convert a third-and-22, albeit in two plays, into a first down to go in for a game-tying field goal.

And the Ravens rolled up 393 yards, including 132 on the ground on 29 carries. That's 4.6 yards per carry, more than a yard per carry more than what the Steelers had been giving up.

© While waiting for the bus to take us to M&T Stadium, I noted that the first three players I saw get on the buses were guys who weren't with the team in Kansas City.

And not only were they now on the active roster, they were all dressing. That was a bad sign.

© The Steelers broke their string of an NFL-record eight consecutive games with a return touchdown allowed.

They tried to add a punt return to the list - something they had not done this year - but Baltimore's Chris Carr fouled things up by stepping out of bounds on a 34-yard run.

© That was the kind of game plan that Steelers fans were used to seeing from the team five or six years ago when Ben Roethlisberger was a rookie.

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians called 38 running plays and 26 passes.

Rashard Mendenhall looked very good running against the Ravens and the Steelers appear to have a budding star on their hands at the position.

Though this is not the Baltimore defense of old - as I already noted - Mendenhall ground out 95 yards on 24 carries and looked powerful doing so.

© The Steelers' pass rush really had Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco flustered by the end of that game.

After not getting to him in the first half, the Steelers got home five times in the second half.

Now, about that coverage.

© Hines Ward's said he was misquoted when he said the locker room was split 50-50 regarding Roethlisberger not playing.

He then proceeded to talk about how other guys have played with concussions and how it would have been nice to know that Roethlisberger wasn't playing before Saturday.

It will be interesting to see if this effects Ward's relationship with Roethlisberger.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Steelers-Ravens inactives

Roethlisberger is the No. 3 and is dressed.
Batch, Keenan Lewis, Polamalu, Urbik, Kemoeatu, Sunny Harris and Nick Eason are down for the Steelers.
Eason's a surprise. I guess they're sure Kirschke can make it through a whole game.

Antwan Barnes and Suggs the only notables for the Ravens.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Roethlisberger may not play

I'll admit when I'm wrong and in this case, I was. The NFL Network's Jason La Canfora's report Friday night that Ben Roethlisberger may not play Sunday against the Ravens was correct.

Roethlisberger apparently is suffering from workout-related headaches and will serve as the No. 3 QB behind Tyler Palko, who will be added to the active roster.

Wide receiver Shaun McDonald will be released.

It's a surprising turn of events, especially considering the Steelers don't have backup Charlie Batch available.

But the Steelers will do some things that are specific to third-stringer Dennis Dixon's talents.

Against Baltimore's defense, however, that's not likely going to be a winning combination.

Because of that, I also have to change my pick in this game. Despite Baltimore's defensive injuries, the Ravens should be able to win this one, 20-10.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Who I like, dispelling Roethlisberger report

I've gone back and forth all week long with the Steelers game against Baltimore this week, one day liking Pittsburgh, the other liking the Ravens.

But that usually seems to be the case in this matchup, in which the games are usually decided by five points or less.

But one thing changed my mind this week to tilt me in Pittsburgh's favor. There had been some question as to whether Terrell Suggs would play or not.

Suggs suffered a sprained knee just two weeks ago against Cleveland on a hit from Brady Quinn that drew a fine. But he had been targeting the game against the Steelers for a return.

Remember, this is the guy who had two sacks against the Steelers in the AFC Championship playing pretty much with one arm. And he had four sacks in three meetings with Pittsburgh in 2008.

But Suggs was unable to practice all week and is listed as doubtful to play. Couple that with Fabian Washington's placement on injured reserve this week and the fact that both Ray Lewis and Ed Reed are nursing injuries as well and I'm leaning back toward the Steelers winning, 20-17.

© Jason La Canfora is back at it again with some truly ridiculous rumors.

You'll remember that La Canfora, who works for the NFL Network, reported in late August that the Steelers were considering releasing Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton.

Now, La Canfora is reporting that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger may not play Sunday against the Ravens despite being cleared medically to do so.

La Canfora goes on to report that Roethlisberger will inform the team Saturday morning whether he'll play or not.

Roethlisberger "may" also grow wings and fly to Baltimore on his own, but I doubt it.

The Steelers are quite certain that Roethlisberger will play. How do we know this?

They've only got one other quarterback on their roster, second-year man Dennis Dixon.

If they thought for a moment that Roethlisberger might not play Sunday, they would have signed another QB immediately.

They didn't.

And, because of the respect he'd lose in the locker room, Roethlisberger most certainly wouldn't wait until Saturday morning – when the team is leaving for Baltimore a few hours later – to inform the coaching staff if he intends to play.

So where did something like this come from?

La Canfora cites an unnamed source. But unless that unnamed source is Roethlisberger or head coch Mike Tomlin – and it isn't – this report holds as much water as the Hampton report, which was laughed off by both Hampton and the Steelers.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Steelers working out a pair of vets

The Steelers are reportedly working out a pair of veteran quarterbacks today in Todd Bouman and Patrick Ramsey.

It's likely, however, that it's a precautionary thing just in case something happens in Sunday's game against Baltimore to either Ben Roethlisberger or backup Dennis Dixon.

Dixon will be the team's only backup QB to Roethlisberger against the Ravens and possibly beyond.

Veteran backup Charlie Batch suffered a fracture in his left wrist last Sunday against Kansas City and had surgery on the wrist Wednesday.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Roethlisberger practices Wednesday

Ben Roethlisberger practiced Wednesday for the Steelers, but backup Dennis Dixon took more than 50 percent of the snaps.

Roethlisberger wasn't talking Wednesday as he recovers from a slight concussion, but it's likely the Steelers were getting Dixon more snaps just in case he were forced into action Sunday in Baltimore.

With No. 2 QB Charlie Batch out for two to four weeks with a broken left wrist, Dixon is the only QB behind Roethlisberger on the roster.

Roethlisberger took a knee to the head in last Sunday's 27-24 overtime loss at Kansas City but has been medically cleared to play against the Ravens.

© Guard Chris Kemoeatu (knee) and safety Troy Polamalu (knee) did not practice due to injuries Wednesday.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Tuesday with Tomlin, licking the wounds

After back-to-back losses, Mike Tomlin was in pure Tomlin mode today as he discussed what the Steelers need to do to turn things around heading into a critical game against Baltimore.

Tomlin said he expects Ben Roethlisberger to be his quarterback when they play the Ravens on Sunday night, with Dennis Dixon as the team's primary, and only, backup.

Charlie Batch will have surgery Wednesday and is expected to miss two to four weeks. Former Pitt star Tyler Palko is expected to be signed to the practice squad to give the team an extra quarterback for practice purposes.

Meanwhile, linebacker Donovan Woods and defensive back Keiwan Ratliff were the latest to be released as the team tries to solve its special teams coverage problems.

They were replaced on the active roster by veterans Rocky Boiman and Corey Ivy.

Travis Kirschke is expected to practice this week and the team hopes he'll return to play against the Ravens.

Troy Polamalu remains questionable, while guard Chris Kemoeatu is out.

As for the excuse from some members of the secondary that they were unaware of the play call for the 61-yard catch-and-run in overtime by Chris Chambers in the 27-24 loss to Kansas City, Tomlin said defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau called the third-down play before the players took the field, then reiterated the call following second down.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Steelers should adjust game plan

With Charlie Batch out with a broken wrist, many Steelers fans are in a panic.

Who will start next week against the Baltimore Raves with Batch out and Ben Roethlisberger having left Sunday's game against Kansas City after taking a knee to the head?

Don't worry, Roethlisberger is fine.

But let's be honest here. It's likely that Roethlisberger will be a little more susceptible to a full-blown concussion after taking the knee from linebacker Derrick Johnson Sunday.

With that in mind, now would be a good time for the Steelers to dust off an older playbook, one that won't require so many passes from the unquestioned leader and best player.

Rashard Mendenhall is proving capable of carrying the load and Willie Parker looks as if he's as close to 100 percent as he's been in two months.

Baltimore's defense is also not the Baltimore defense of old. The Ravens can be run on - even though the real weakness is at cornerback.

Plus it would make far more sense to have Roethlisberger hand off 35 times than drop back and throw into a secondary that includes Ed Reed.

He may have passed all of the cognitive tests the team gave him Monday, but testing Reed too much is tempting fate, especially if Roethlisberger is even the slightest bit slow.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Post-Kansas City thoughts

How in the world do you lose a game in which you roll up more than 500 yards of offense?

Yeah, I know, three turnovers and a special teams touchdown.

But, seriously, that was pretty pathetic to lose to Kansas City's popgun offense.

Put it this way, Lance Long had a big catch against the Steelers in the fourth quarter, picking up 30 yards down the middle of the field on third down from the 10.

Lance Long for cripes sakes. Dude with a name like that should be making porn, not catching 30-yard passes.

© As things stand, the Steelers would be the No. 2 wildcard in the AFC playoffs. But I'm seeing nothing from this team that would suggest it could make it through a playoff run as a wildcard as the 2005 team did.

Then again, a healthy Troy Polamalu would help.

A number of national reporters have said Polamalu will miss a month.

Don't believe it. Polamalu is closer than that and could play this week against Baltimore.

© I would expect to see Ben Roethlisberger as well.

He seemed pretty lucid in the locker room after the game.

© Four kickoff returns in the past five games has left this team shellshocked. That's also eight consecutive games with a return of some type against this team, an NFL record.

It's stat akin to the 'fat, dumb and stupid is no way to go through life' line from Animal House.

© Rashard Mendenhall ran hard Sunday and blocked well in blitz pickup.

Willie Parker ran hard Sunday and even looked good catching a pass out of the backfield.

Yet it was Mewelde Moore, the slowest of the three, carrying the ball on a critical sweep on third-and-two in overtime.

Genius. I've defended Bruce Arians quite a bit this season, but I can't defend that.

Moore also blew a couple of blitz pickups late in the game.

I'm sorry, but Mendenhall should be on the field full-time from here on out. If he needs a breather, Parker has shown he's healthy enough to effectively spell him.

Moore would be my last resort at this point.

© Ike Taylor, you've got to come up with that interception if you want to make the Pro Bowl.

Taylor had an interception on the play before Matt Cassel threw a six-yard pass to Chris Chambers that turned into a 61-yard catch-and-run to set up Ryan Succop's game-winning field goal.

But Taylor lost control of the ball as he rolled over.

It would have been a nice interception. Instead, it's a footnote to a sorry day.

Taylor was also one of the guys who missed Jamal Charles on the opening kickoff.

© Nobody will be blaming Jeff Reed for missing any tackles this week.

Steelers-KC gameday thread

I'm already here at Arrowhead and the field looks bad. Spotty grass with plenty of brown spots.

I love this stadium - it's one of my favorites in the league - but people in Pittsburgh would be complaining about this grass.

© This is a must-win game for the Steelers, more so than next week's game at Baltimore.


You have to make your layups - to steal a term from another sport - and this game is one of them.

© The Steelers have Carey Davis, Polamalu, Urbok, Hills, Sunny Harris, McDonald and Kirschke down this week.

Mike Vrabel and guard Andy Alleman, a couple of starters, are down for the Chiefs.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Who I like, Week 11

After getting burned last week by the Bengals, the Steelers should be smarting a bit this week against Kansas City.

The Chiefs just aren't very good offensively and even though Troy Polamalu and Travis Kirschke won't play for the Steelers, their defense should have no trouble locking them down.

Defensively, Kansas City is very young in the secondary and that's something the Steelers will exploit, Kansas City also has just 12 sacks this season.

Take Pittsburgh, 31-10.

© Linebacker James Harrison was fined $5,000 by the NFL for his personal foul Sunday against Cincinnati offensive lineman Andrew Whitworth.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Kirschke suffers setback

After going through some individual drills on Wednesday, defensive end Travis Kirschke sat out Thursday as he continues to attempt to come back from a calf injury that has sidelined him the past two games.

Kirschke, of course, had been thrust into a starting role after Aaron Smith was lost for the season.

Nick Eason has started the past two games at defensive end with Smith and Kirschke out.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Polamalu in knee brace

Strong safety Troy Polamalu was at the Steelers practice today, but was wearing a large knee brace and did not participate.

Head coach Mike Tomlin said Polamalu is "very questionable" to play this week against Kansas City. By the looks of things, Polamalu may be out even longer than that.

Considering the Steelers play in Baltimore in two weeks, that's not a good thing for Pittsburgh, which is 2-2 in games that Polamalu has missed.

© I keep hearing the stat that the Steelers haven't won this season without Polamalu. Paul Alexander said it following the Mike Tomlin press conference Tuesday. It was repeated on an ESPN 1250 radio show Wednesday afternoon as something that's a fact.

I'm sure they probably read it somewhere, even though it's false. Don't these people do any research of their own?

© Carey Davis and Travis Kirschke were back at practice on a limited basis today and look like they could be back against Kansas City.

© Mike Wallace was out today with an undisclosed illness.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Kansas City's Bowe suspended

As if the Steelers needed any more help defeating the Kansas City Chiefs this weekend, now wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, the team's top receiver, has been suspended by the NFL for four games for violating the performance enhancing substances policy.

This leaves the Chiefs very thin at wide receiver.

Tuesday with Tomlin-Polamalu update

Mike Tomlin said the injury to All-Pro strong safety Troy Polamalu is not as serious as the team feared when he left Sunday's loss to Cincinnati.

Tomlin said Tuesday that Polamalu's injury is a PCL strain as opposed to a re-injury to the MCL that forced him to miss four games earlier this season.

"Troy's status for this game is questionable, at best," said Tomlin as the Steelers prepare to play at Kansas City Sunday. "Although we have had some favorable information in regards to where he is from a health standpoint. We're going to take it day-to-day with him."

In other injury-related news, Tomlin said defensive end Travis Kirschke will work in individual drills Wednesday, as will fullback Carey Davis.

Both have missed the past two games, Kirschke with a calf injury, Davis with a hamstring pull.

© The Steelers have also signed linebacker Donovan Woods from their practice squad, releasing linebacker Arnold Harrison.

Woods is expected to help the team's kickoff coverage problems.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Post-Cincinnati part II thoughts

Give credit where credit is due, Cincinnati defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer coached himself a heck of a ball game Sunday.

Individually, Cincinnati's defenders aren't all that good. In fact, they're largely the same group that has lined up for the Bengals the past few years - with a few notable exceptions.

But people have said that about the Steelers for years as well.

Sometimes scheme can outperform ability.

It did Sunday for Cincinnati.

© Cincinnati's offense didn't do a whole lot again against the Steelers, picking up 218 yards.

That's why it's kind of funny that quarterback Carson Palmer spoke after the game about how they outschemed the Steelers in the run game and in the play-action game.

Hey Carson, you outschemed the Steelers to the tune of 61 rushing yards, 157 passing and four field goals.

No, this day belonged to Zimmer.

© Ben Roethlisberger was off all day long in this one, overthrowing open receivers on a number of occasions.

Many of his throws were high. Again, credit Zimmer for keeping Roethlisberger in the pocket and for some well-timed delayed blitzes that kept Roethlisberger from stepping into his throws.

© The injury to Troy Polamalu is troubling.

Including Sunday's loss in which he played exactly one defensive series, the Steelers have won 13 of of the past 15 games he's started.

They're 2-2 when he doesn't play.

There's no word yet on Polamalu's status, but he pulled himself out of the game, so obviously he felt something wasn't right.

© That's seven consecutive games the Steelers have allowed a return touchdown, including three-straight home games that they've given up a kickoff return touchdown.

The defense has allowed 11 touchdowns all season.

Mike Tomlin joked following the game that he'd put himself out there if he thought it would help the kickoff coverage team.

But a call to Anthony Madison, who's unemployed right now, might be in order.

Keiwan Ratliff was inactive Sunday and rookie Keenan Lewis went down with a rib injury.

Ratliff could be released or Lewis could go on IR to make room for Madison, who was the Steelers' leader in special teams tackles in 2008.

© Chris Kemoeatu was the only Steelers player named to Sports Illustrated's midseason All-Pro team by Peter King.

Sunday, Kemoeatu gave up a pair of sacks to somebody named Johnathan Fanene. He also was penalized once for holding Fanene.

I'm pretty sure Fanene was not on King's All-Pro team.

Just saying.

© I'm sure Steelers fans are hitting the panic button right now after being swept by the Bengals.

But really, the Steelers still control their own destiny.

Sunday's loss will likely cost the Steelers any chance of a bye in the playoffs and could mean they might have to settle for a wildcard spot, but outside of Indianapolis and New England, who in the AFC playoff picture scares anyone?

Don't think for a second the Steelers wouldn't welcome a third game with Cincinnati.

Steelers-Bengals inactives

Keiwan Ratliff, Carey Davis, Urbik, Hills, Sunny Harris, Shaun McDonald and Travis Kirschke are inactive for the Steelers.

Keith Rivers is down for Cincinnati.

Brandon Johnson will start in his place.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Who I like

Really, this is one of the easier picks I've made this season. The Bengals are a legitimate playoff contender, but they aren't coming into Heinz Field and winning. It's just not going to happen.

And if you think back to the first meeting, the Steelers dominated it for about 3 1/2 quarters. Even with Cincinnati's two late TD drives, the Steelers still outgained the Bengals by 100 yards.

An interception return for a touchdown caused by Santonio Holmes and botched snap on a PAT made a big difference.

How did the botched PAT make a difference. Had the Bengals made the PAT after the interception return in the third quarter, they'd have been behind 20-17 and facing fourth-and-11 with under a minute remaining. Marvin Lewis would have kicked the tying field goal instead of going for the first down.

And who knows what happens after that.

Add in Limas Sweed's dropped touchdown pass and a Jeff Reed missed field goal and you just had the perfect storm for the Bengals.

Won't happen again this time.

Take Pittsburgh, 27-13

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Timmons back at practice

Linebacker Lawrence Timmons was back at practice Wednesday and looked good moving around on his sprained ankle.

All signs point to Timmons returning to play after sitting out the Steelers' victory over Denver.

Travis Kirschke and Carey Davis sat out.

© Chad Ochocinco wrote on his Twitter page that he was going to send the Steelers defensive backs mustard in the mail this week because, "they weren't going to be able to ketchup" on Sunday.

It's really not that big of a deal for the Steelers, who seem to like Ochocinco's playful little digs.

Ochocinco is just 5-12 in 17 career games against the Steelers, so I guess they get the last laugh.

Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis, though, apparently nixed Ochocinco's plans and told him not to send the package.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Post-Denver thoughts

Sorry these are so late, but after spending all night in the air and getting in at 5:30 a.m., the need for sleep took over.

© I loved how the Steelers consistently attacked Denver All-Pro cornerback Champ Bailey again and again.

Bailey has the reputation as a shut-down cornerback. But the Steelers tested him over and over.

Bailey finished with a team-high 12 tackles, which is not a good thing if you're a cornerback.

© I asked Brett Keisel as we walked out of the stadium if the hometown officials - they're not really, but it works for this note - wanted to give him the sack trifecta with that ridiculous call late in the game on the pass he batted backwards.

But the fact was that Keisel's play helped set the tone in this one as Kyle Orton got less and less comfortable in the pocket.

Keisel's two sacks were the only ones the Steelers had, but they were in Orton's face from the second quarter on once Dick LeBeau realized the Broncos were not going to – could not? – test the Steeler deep.

© Denver is a fraud. That will be a team that will be fortunate to finish this season with nine wins.

They're not bad, but they're also not going anywhere with Kyle Orton at quarterback.

I could be wrong about that since Denver gets four gimmee wins because of the division in plays in, but San Diego is going to win the AFC West.

© Rashard Mendenhall is averaging 5.7 yards per carry and just hit the 100-carry mark for the season Monday night.

Many people will focus on his long runs, but I was much more impressed when he hammered the ball into the line early in the game, getting positive yards each time.

He still goes to that spin move a little too often, but he's starting to get it.

© Troy Polamalu continues to amaze me.

On one play late in the game, he lined up outside of the left tackle and at the snap took off across the field and covered wide receiver Brandon Stokley in the right flats, covering a good 50 yards before Orton could get the ball there.

It was something only Polamalu does.

© What makes the Steelers so good?

Three defensive starters were out and it looked like the exact same defense that has taken the field in the first seven games this season.

In fact, the replacements perhaps outplayed the usual starters.

Keyaron Fox, starting for Lawrence Timmons, was everywhere helping shut down Denver's running game and finished with a team-high seven tackles.

Tyrone Carter, starting in place of Ryan Clark, picked off a pair of passes at free safety, taking one of them to the end zone.

And while the stat line says that Nick Eason and Ziggy Hood combined for just one tackle subbing for Travis Kirschke at defensive end, they were very disruptive.

Monday, November 09, 2009

Pittsburgh-Denver inactives

As stated, Ryan Clark is down for the Steelers.

Also down are Sunny Harris, Urbik, Hills, Shaun McDonald, Kirschke and Timmons.

Peyton Hillis, Ryan Harris and McBean are inactive for Denver.

Sunny Harris is a bit of a surprise. It leaves the Steelers with three DEs, but Hoke can play there in a pinch.

No surprise, Clark won't play

In a move that should surprise no one, safety Ryan Clark will not play in tonight's game at Denver against the Broncos.

Doctors cleared Clark medically to go against the Broncos, but head coach Mike Tomlin decided to err on the side of caution rather than play Clark.

Clark, of course, has a rare blood disorder that caused his blood to sickle after Pittsburgh's last game here. He had his spleen removed, which was supposed to solve the problem, but there are no guarantees it would not have happened again.

If this were a playoff game, Clark and the Steelers may have come to a different decision. But since it is not, they decided it would be best not to play.

Friday, November 06, 2009

Who I Like, Steelers at Denver

This one really isn't as difficult as many would think.

The Steelers are 2 1/2 or three-point favorites against the Broncos, depending on what service you use.

But Pittsburgh's offense is way more dynamic than Denver's and that should be the difference.

The Steelers will get after Kyle Orton and force him to make those quick short throws that really aren't going to hurt Pittsburgh.

Playing this game in Denver will keep it reasonably close, but the road team will win it in the end, take Pittsburgh, 20-16.

© Lawrence Timmons and Travis Kirschke still have not practiced this week. That's no surprise for Kirschke, who has a slight tear in his calf. But Timmons will need to practice Saturday if he's to play in Denver.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Ward the dirtiest player? I don't think so.

The fine people at Sports Illustrated have put together their annual list of the dirtiest players in the NFL and the Steelers' Hines Ward ranked No. 1, while safety Troy Polamalu was ninth.

Ward plays hard and he has drawn a couple of fines during his career, but he's not dirty.

A dirty player is one who goes for an opponent's knees. A dirty player is one who is out to hurt people. A dirty player has likely been suspended a time or two.

Ward is none of that. The same goes for Polamalu.

In fact, of the players on the list, the only ones I would consider dirty are Richie Incognito of the Rams, Harvey Dahl of the Falcons and Roy Williams of the Bengals.

Incognito is well known for his less-than-legal play, while Dahl is a cut-blocking specialist. Williams is so dirty that the league had to make horsecollar tackling illegal because of him - though it hasn't stopped him from doing it.

Albert Haynesworth of Washington and Kevin Mawae of the Titans are also on the list and I've heard from different players that they do some dirty stuff. But they are also very good players.

The thing to remember about these polls is that SI sends a lackey out to each training camp and polls 15 or so players - usually not starters because they're too busy – asking them a number of questions.

Many of the players polled really have no idea what to answer because they are end-of-roster guys or rookies. So they come up with what they've seen on the highlight shows. It's hardly a scientific process.

But kudos to SI for getting people to talk about it.

© As expected Travis Kirschke did not practice again Thursday as he continues to rehab his slightly torn calf muscle.

Linebacker Lawrence Timmons also sat out, though the team has two more practice days before leaving for Denver Sunday afternoon.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Tuesday with Tomlin

Not much news out of head coach Mike Tomlin's press conference today.

As he said Monday, Tomlin reiterated that a decision about safety Ryan Clark's status would not be made until Thursday.

Linebacker Lawrence Timmons and defensive end Travis Kirschke are both questionable. Timmons, with an ankle injury, is more likely to play than Kirschke, who has a calf strain.

Willie Parker missed practice Monday with an illness. His status at this time is up in the air.

One thing of note that Tomlin did talk about Monday was that wide receiver Santonio Holmes, like Clark, also carries the sickle cell trait. But, Tomlin also noted that a couple of Denver's players also carry it as well.

Clark's illness after playing there, while tied into his carrying of that trait, was not soley based on that. There were some other determining factors as well.

Sunday, November 01, 2009

Next three weeks could decide AFC North

The next three weeks may very well decide who wins the AFC North title this season.

While Cincinnati and Pittsburgh are off, Baltimore hosts unbeaten Denver in one of the marquee matchups of Week 8.

A loss by the Ravens, which would be their fourth in a row following a 3-0 start, would all but bury them in the division race.

Week 9 will send the Ravens to Cincinnati, while the Steelers head to Denver.

Again, given that Baltimore has already lost once to the Bengals at home, a loss at Cincinnati would severely damage Baltimore's playoff hopes, even if it defeats Denver this weekend.

A loss by the Steelers in Denver would drop them to 5-3 and would, more importantly, be the team's second AFC loss.

It wouldn't be a killer, but it would hurt.

Week 10 then sees Cincinnati visiting Heinz Field, while Baltimore heads to Cleveland for what should be a cakewalk over the Browns.

Having already lost in Cincinnati, the Steelers have to beat the Bengals at home to have a chance to win the division, particularly with two games remaining against the Ravens.

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Harrison named AFC Defensive Player of the Month

Steelers linebacker James Harrison was named the AFC Defensive Player of the Month for October.

The reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year finished October with 25 tackles, seven sacks and two forced fumbles in leading the Steelers to a 4-0 record.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Clearing up some things

There's been a lot of talk back and forth between Pittsburgh and Minnesota fans about what did and did not occur in Sunday's meeting between the two teams.

First, Heath Miller did interfere with the Minnesota defender at the goal line. Was it away from the play? Yes. But Miller extended his arm on contact and that's going to get called every time.

Second, Jeff Dugan threw his legs up backward on his cross body block on James Harrison which is going to get called as a trip every time. Had he just dove at Harrison's legs, he'd have been OK. He didn't.

Finally, Harrison did not take a dive at Brett Favre's knee. He was held on the play by Bryant McKinnie - which was rightfully called for a penalty – and his momentum from that hold carried him into Favre's knees.

Last time I checked, the Vikings have a big game coming up this week with Green Bay. Maybe the Vikings trolls will finally start thinking about that game.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Post-Minnesota thoughts

Many Steelers fans like to complain about the play calling of offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, but how would you like to be a Minnesota Vikings fan right now.

As I sat in the press box and watched Adrian Peterson used sparingly, I was dumbfounded.

How in the world can you not run the best running back on the planet three times from the two-inch line?

I realize the great Brett Favre is the king of the one-yard touchdown pass to the tight end, but Minnesota offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell should have some 'splainin to do.

I didn't go over to Minnesota's locker room, but I checked the post-game quotes from Vikings head coach Brad Childress and he was never asked about that decision. That, my friends, is inexcusable.

But, as Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola so often likes to say, "The other team has coaches too."

It's Labriola's way of saying that coaches get too cute instead of just doing the obvious.

© The Steelers did some of that as well Sunday, doing things like taking tight end Heath Miller off the field to instead play Shaun McDonald.

Sorry, but the only way Miller comes off the field if I'm running things is if he's injured. He's become way too valuable an option to not be out there on every play.

© I did like the backfield pairing of Mewelde Moore and Rashard Mendenhall. They're both solid receivers and are matchup problems on the edge.

© Did Jared Allen play?

I know a lot of people questioned the Steelers' decision to put the transition and franchise tags on Max Starks the previous two seasons before giving him a new contract this season, but he's turning into a solid NFL left tackle.

© The Vikings played a lot of cover-2 in this game to take away the Steelers' deep passing game.

That opened up some running lanes for Mendenhall, particularly on the right side, where Willie Colon had a solid game.

But Mendenhall has got to learn that you don't leave your feet in the NFL with the ball in your hands unless you're diving into the end zone.

That was a silly fumble in the fourth quarter.

© 5-2 at the bye week is about as good as could be expected.

The bye comes at a good time, too.

That was a nasty ankle injury for linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who got clipped from behind by teammate James Farrior. The guess here is that he might need every day in the next two weeks to get that healthy again.

And the calf injury suffered by Travis Kirschke is one of those things you get when you're a 35-year-old trying to play full time.

© The three neutral zone infractions on Casey Hampton were for lining up with part of his helmet in the zone. Some officials call it, others don't.

But once you're whistled for it once, don't you think you might get the idea?

© The pass interference call on Miller that negated a touchdown pass to Santonio Holmes likely would not have been called had he not extended his arm on contact.

Minnesota-Steelers game thread

You have plenty to say about today's game. Say it here, say it clear.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Who I like

This game is setting up perfectly for the Steelers.

Antoine Winfield, Minnesota's best cornerback, is doubtful to play with a sprained foot.

Percy Harvin, Minnesota's talented rookie return man/wide receiver, is questionable with a shoulder injury.

And Adrian Peterson, the best running back on the planet, has been slowed with an ankle injury.

The big thing, however, is Winfield's injury.

The Vikings' pass defense was 24th in the league with him in the lineup. It certainly won't be any better without him.

That's not good news against this Pittsburgh passing game.

Take the Steelers, 27-21

© Troy Polamalu practiced Friday and will play, as if there was any doubt.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Polamalu sits out again

Troy Polamalu sat out his second consecutive day of practice Thursday as the Steelers prepare to play the Minnesota Vikings Sunday.

But the Steelers expect Polamalu to practice Friday and be good to play against the Vikings.

The team sat him out the past two days to give his left knee, which caused him to miss four games with an MCL sprain, some extra time to rest following his comeback last week against Cleveland.

Running back Rashard Mendenhall returned to practice today after being limited Wednesday with a bruised knee.

Mendenhall said he's taking the starting job week-to-week, while Willie Parker said he's OK with Mike Tomlin's decision to continue starting Mendenhall.

"I'm not 100 percent yet," said Parker, who missed two games with a sprained toe. "Coach (Mike) Tomlin knows that."

Defensive end Travis Kirschke also returned Thursday, while linebacker Andre Frazier sat with a quad injury.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Reed will play

As expected, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that placekicker Jeff Reed will play Sunday when Pittsburgh hosts Minnesota.

It's actually not that difficult of a decision for Tomlin to make.

The NFLPA could file a grievance against the team if Tomlin chose to bench Reed over his arrest Sunday night in Pittsburgh on several charges, including resisting arrest.

And the NFLPA would likely win any such grievance.

It's a bit different than Tomlin's benching of Santonio Holmes last season following his arrest for marijuana possession.

First off, Holmes' situation happened on a Thursday, just a couple of days before the Steelers were set to play the New York Giants.

That gave Tomlin the leeway to bench Holmes because his arrest could be considered a distraction. You'll notice that Tomlin never said he was keeping Holmes inactive because of the arrest.

Also, because the Steelers have multiple wide receivers, Holmes' deactivation didn't affect the overall roster.

A coach can decide to deactivate whomever he wants, after all. We've already seen Tennessee have Jevon Kearse and New England deactivate Adalius Thomas – both of who were healthy - for games this season.

But to deactivate a kicker, the Steelers would have to cut somebody else and sign another kicker. That player who lost his roster spot, even for a week, would have a serious complaint.

So the Steelers will wait, see how this thing plays out, and move on from there. Any suspension would have to be mandated by the NFL and would likely only occur if Reed is convicted.

By the time that happens, Reed's problems could be some other team's. He'll be an unrestricted free agent at the end of this season and this latest run-in with the law probably means he's playing his last season with Pittsburgh.

© In other news Tuesday, Tomlin said Rashard Mendenhall will continue to start at running back, giving way every third series to Willie Parker.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Post-Cleveland thoughts

I've covered every game Ben Roethlisberger has played at quarterback and can tell you without a doubt, he's playing the best football of his career.

Roethlisberger still makes an occasional dumb throw - like his second half interception, what was he thinking? – but he's playing quarterback better than anybody in the history of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

There, I said it. Roethlisberger is better than Bradshaw. Better than Layne. Better than O'Donnell. Better than Stewart. You get the idea.

© The run defense didn't really suffer this week without Aaron Smith as Travis Kirschke and Nick Eason, with a little bit of rookie Ziggy Hood thrown in, helped shut down the running lanes for the Browns pretty well.

We'll see this weekend, when the Steelers host the Vikings, if they can kick that into the next gear.

© Following Sunday's game, the Heinz Field maintenance crew began tearing up the center of the field to re-sod it. It's supposed to be completed by the morning.

© Cleveland is so bad that even the usually cheerleader-laden Browns media is looking ahead at how this team can get the No. 1 pick in next year's draft.

© All of those people who spent all of those years screaming for the Steelers to throw the ball to the tight end have to find themselves a new mantra.

Heath Miller is playing Pro Bowl football. With Tony Gonzalez now playing in Atlanta, this might be the year that Miller gets his due.

But let's be honest, despite all of the lobbying of previous years, he really didn't deserve it. Yeah, he's a pretty good blocker and reliable receiver, but the Pro Bowl is about production.

He's got that this year.

© The Steelers offensive line is playing outstanding football but will be facing its biggest test of the season against the Vikings.

Left guard Chris Kemoeatu and left tackle Max Starks both had to be helped off in the first quarter and while both returned, you don't want to be at anything less than 100 percent facing that Minnesota defensive line.

© People who were worried about this team's receivers coming into this season didn't realize that Hines Ward found the fountain of youth.

© Welcome back Troy Polamalu. Two games, two interceptions.

© Outside of Josh Cribbs, Shaun Rogers and Joe Thomas, I don't know who on Cleveland's roster would play for the Steelers.


Kamerion Wimbley is a surprise inactive today for the Browns. Apparently, he had the flu and was sent home.

Also down for Cleveland is starting tight end Steve Heiden.

Sweed is inactive for the Steelers, along with Keenan Lewis, Carey Davis, Andre Frazier, Urbik, Hills and Sunny Harris.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Who I like; Mendenhall will start

While losing Aaron Smith for the season can never be considered a good thing - even though some idiots on local talk radio have tried to make a case for it by citing it as a chance for Ziggy Hood to play - the one silver lining for the Steelers is that they've got their annual whipping boys, the Cleveland Browns, coming to town.

Make no mistake about it, the Steelers will miss Smith on defense. They will not be as stout against the run.

But this team is better able to handle that because of a much-improved offense. This team can win shootouts.

The Steelers won't, however, have on this week with the Browns.

Cleveland has scored four touchdowns this season. The Browns have 55 points in five games.

The Steelers could score 55 points in this game if they chose to.

Take Pittsburgh, 34-6

© By the way, Rashard Mendenhall was back in practice today and will get the start against the Browns at running back.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Mendenhall misses practice

Running back Rashard Mendenhall missed practice Thursday for the Steelers due to an illness, but is expected to be ready to play by Sunday when the Steelers host the Browns.

Of course the illness could be used as an excuse by head coach Mike Tomlin to split carries more evenly between Mendenhall and Willie Parker, who is expected to return after missing the past two games with a toe injury.

Mendenhall has run the ball well with Parke out - albeit against two weak defenses - but the Steelers have been mum about how they'll split the carries upon Parker's return.

Prior to Parker's injury, he was starting, with Mendenhall spelling him every third series.

That changed in a loss at Cincinnati, when Mendenhall was benched on offense. But Parker was injured during that game and Mendenhall has responded with the two best games of his young career.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Smith placed on injured reserve

The Steelers have placed defensive end Aaron Smith on injured reserve with a torn rotator cuff and signed lineman Sonny Harris off the Carolina Panthers' practice squad.

Harris, of course, was with the Steelers in training camp after being a sixth round pick in this year's draft.

I was a little surprised Carolina didn't add him to its active roster to block the Steelers from signing him away, but the Panthers must not have liked him that much.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Steelers could get Polamalu, Parker, back, lose Smith

The hits just keep on coming for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Though they are likely to get Troy Polamalu and Willie Parker back in the lineup this week, they have lost Aaron Smith, perhaps for the season, to a torn rotator cuff.

The star defensive end suffered the shoulder injury in the second half of the win against Detroit and was being evaluated Thursday.

Look for Travis Kirschke to step into the starting lineup this week against Cleveland, rotating with Nick Eason and rookie Ziggy Hood.

Hood's not quite ready to step into a starting role just yet, though he has gotten better at holding the point of attack.

They'll put the hard-sell on Hood and likely try to get him ready to take on a starting role coming out of the bye in a few weeks.

As for Smith, the Steelers can place him on injured reserve, thus ending his season, or they can keep him on the 53-man roster - ala Rod Woodson in 1995 - and hope that the surgery he has later this week will allow him to return in January.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Post-Detroit thoughts

It was a little more difficult than expected, but a win is a win.

And the fact that the defense came up big when it needed to at least showed something - particularly after an otherwise lackluster day.

Some fans - read gamblers – will make a big deal out of the fact the Steelers didn't cover in their 28-20 win over the Lions. But if they beat Cleveland and Minnesota at home in the next two weeks before their bye, all anyone will be talking about is 5-2, not how they got there.

© That rape case has really been a distraction for Ben Roethlisberger, huh?

Roethlisberger is completing and NFL-best 73.8 percent of his passes and is averaging just under 300 yards passing per game.

The biggest difference has been his willingness to check down to his running backs and tight ends.

It's no coincidence his completion percentage is what it is when he's already completed 29 passes to Heath Miller.

© Because of his pass catching ability, Rashard Mendenhall is a better fit as the starter for this team.

Oh yeah, he's running well too.

I like Willie Parker a lot. In fact, I was probably the first person in Pittsburgh to do a story on hiim when a I did a feature for on him during his first minicamp. Makes me feel like I discovered him, even though I didn't.

But Mendenhall has taken the bull by the horns.

The Steelers can keep resting Parker for another week or two to get his toe completely healed and use that as an excuse to keep on starting Mendenhall.

© I did find it interesting that when the Steelers were backed up against their own goal line in the second quarter, they came out with Mewelde Moore at tailback.

My first thought about that the coaching staff still has some fumble concerns with Mendenhall.

© Anybody who paid to see Cleveland play Buffalo today should get a refund. And their heads checked.

© In his past six quarters of football, James Harrison has five sacks.

That, my friends, is called production.

He has a tough matchup coming up with Cleveland's Joe Thomas, who has held him to a half-sack in three career meetings.

Sweed's active against Lions

Limas Sweed is active this week against the Lions after his benching last week.

Down for the Steelers are Lewis, Parker, Polamalu, Urbik, Hills, McDonald and Eason.

Culpepper will start at QB for the Lions; Jon Jansen at RT in place of Gosder Cherlius; Turk McBride at RE in place of Dewayne White; Landon Cohen at DT in place of Sammie Hill.

© The only way the Steelers lose this game is if Larry Foote gave them food poisoning. A bunch of the guys went to Foote's house last night.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Who I like

Does this one even need any explanation?

Take the Steelers this week, 34-13, against a Detroit club that has given up 12 touchdown passes and more than 5-yards per carry.

Willie Parker and Troy Polamalu won't play, but it won't matter as the Steelers' MIA pass rush will get going.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Team still distanced from Mendenhall

Listening to my tape over the past week, I've picked up on something that may give a little insight into how Rashard Mendenhall is perceived by his teammates.

When talking about the second-year running back, the only player who uses Mendenhall's first name is Willie Parker - a guy who would know him reasonably well from sitting through meetings with him.

Everyone else calls him Mendenhall.

Mendenhall didn't spend much time around the team after his injury last season - at least not until the playoffs. I only saw him on one road trip.

That's not really as big a deal as it was made out to be last season. He did his rehab. He got healthy. And some coaches don't like a lot of injured players around anyway because they really can't help the team - particularly a rookie.

But it's obvious Mendenhall isn't "one of the boys."

He's quiet and in fact, comes off as a little shy.

But another 165-yard game or two and you can bet the teammates will be talking differently about him.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Parker not optimistic

Willie Parker isn't optimistic about being able to play this week against the Detroit Lions due to his turf toe injury.

Parker said this injury is worse than previous turf toes he's had but that he expects to be back soon. There's also no need to rush things with backup Rashard Mendenhall having shown he can carry the load.

But, as Parker noted, that's also a reason why he, as a competitor, wants to come back and do well.

© Safety Troy Polamalu went through practice on a limited basis Wednesday as he moves toward returning from his sprained knee.

Several teammates, however, would prefer Polamalu sit out the game in Detroit and return against Cleveland.

Their reason is that Detroit's artificial surface is less forgiving than Heinz Field's natural surface and they don't want Polamalu to aggravate his knee.

© The Sporting News has named Pittsburgh the No. 1 sports city on the continent. Congratulations Steelers fans.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Post-San Diego thoughts

There's no truth to the rumor that San Diego was founded by the Germans. If it had been, the Chargers would have been much better prepared to handle the Steelers' blitzkreig rushing attack Sunday night.

Yes, that was the Steelers rushing for 177 yards on 36 carries in this game, bolstered by former whipping boy Rashard Mendenhall's 165 yards on 29 carries.

That said, San Diego's defense isn't a good one. But looking down Pittsburgh's schedule there aren't a lot of stout defenses remaining.

Baltimore twice. Check. Minnesota. Check.

Outside of those two teams, the rest of the schedule looks like the college football equivalent of Temple.

Who made this schedule, Joe Paterno?

© Perhaps the best thing we saw out of the Steelers Sunday night was that they continued trying to score in the fourth quarter.

Turned out to be a good thing, too, as San Diego got a gift touchdown from referee Jeff Triplette's crew on a "fumble" by Stefan Logan that was returned for a score.

Even after the play, the officials seemed to be looking at each other as if to say, "I thought it was your turn to blow the whistle."

Logan's forward progress was clearly stopped - he had six Chargers hanging on his 185-pound body – and had been for several seconds before the ball came loose.

© I loved Mike Tomlin's decision to go for it on fourth-and-inches from his own 30 with a 14-0 lead in the second quarter.

It was if he was thumbing his nose at Norv Turner and the San Diego defense because he knew there was no way the Jamal Williams-less Chargers were going to stop the Steelers from running.

Faced with a fourth-and-two from his own 40 minutes later, Turner punted.

© I'm not sure why reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year James Harrison was 30 yards downfield with less than five minutes remaining in the game to pick up perhaps the most obvious pass interference penalty in NFL history.

I'm pretty sure, judging from the way Harrison smacked would-be receiver Antonio Gates to the ground, that Harrison didn't know why he was put in that situation either.

I hate to question the great Dick LeBeau about such things, but given Harrison's sack-strip on San Diego's final offensive play – something he does with some regularity – it really stood out.

© Rashard Mendenhall will find Steelers fans very forgiving of past transgressions if he is able to continue pounding out 5.7 yards per carry as he did Sunday night.

The same will go for Limas Sweed when he gets back on the field – which will come at some point – when/if he starts holding onto those deep passes.

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Sweed down, Mendenhall starting

As expected Limas Sweed is inactive tonight for the Steelers against San Diego.

Also down are Keenan Lewis, Willie Parker, Troy Polamalu, Kraig Urbik, Tony Hills and David Johnson.

Rashard Mendenhall will start in place of Parker.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Steelers promote Redman, release Eason

The fans have gotten their wish as running back Isaac Redman has been promoted from the practice squad to the active roster for Sunday's game against San Diego.

To make room for Redman on the roster, defensive end Nick Eason was released.

the move means that Willie Parker is out for Sunday's game, which isn't a huge surprise since he didn't practice all week.

How Redman will fit into the running back rotation remains to be seen. But he will likely get a chance in short-yardage.

Friday, October 02, 2009

Parker doubtful

Willie Parker was unable to practice again Friday and is listed as doubtful to play Sunday night against the San Diego Chargers due to turf toe.

For San Diego, linebacker Shawn Merriman and running back LaDainian Tomlinson are both probable to play after making it through the week.

If Parker does not play, look for Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore to share carries for the Steelers against a soft San Diego run defense.

Who I like

If the Steelers weren't desperate for a win last week, they certainly are this week against the San Diego Chargers.

These two teams met last season, with the Steelers coming away with a pair of victories at Heinz Field over the Chargers. In fact, the Chargers have struggled in Pittsburgh, having not won there since 1994.

LaDainian Tomlinson could return for San Diego this week, but has never run well against the Steelers. And, in fact, the Steelers may have less of a problem stopping Tomlinson than they would have had with Darren Sproles.

Don't get me wrong, Sproles wasn't going to hurt the Steelers running the ball, but he's dynamite on screens. And if Tomlinson plays on first and second down before giving way to Sproles, it takes some of the element of surprise away.

The Chargers are also not a dink-and-dunk team. Phillip Rivers is going to drop back and chuck the ball. San Diego has an X-factor in tight end Antonio Gates, but I would expect Lawrence Timmons to draw Gates in coverage a lot. He can run with the big man and also give him a physical matchup as well.

Both teams have struggled scoring touchdowns in the red zone and the winner will be the team that at least partially solves some of those woes.

I like Pittsburgh to be that team at home, winning, 27-20.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Parker will play

Though he couldn't name a specific game, Willie Parker today said this isn't the first time he's had turf toe and he doesn't expect it to keep him from playing Sunday against San Diego.

That could be good news against a San Diego run defense that's been awful thus far and will be playing without nose tackle Jamal Williams.

Then again, the Steelers don't have the running game of Oakland, Baltimore or Miami, San Diego's first three opponents.

© Limas Sweed didn't have anything to say to reporters, today, waiving off interview requests.

© Matt Spaeth was a surprising non-scratch at practice. I'm not sure if that's good or bad.

© Interesting to note that the Chargers run the ball worse than the Steelers. San Diego's averaging 2.8 yards per carry and has a long run of 13 yards.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Sweed, Mendenhall put on notice

Mike Tomlin made no bones about it today at his Tuesday press conference, putting running back Rashard Mendenhall and wide receiver Limas Sweed on notice.

Tomlin said he is definitely giving consideration to benching Sweed in favor of veteran Shaun McDonald, while he wants to see a better week of practice out of Mendenhall after benching him last week against Cincinnati due to a lack of preparation.

© Rookie tight end David Johnson has a high ankle sprain and could be out several weeks. Fullback Frank Summers, meanwhile, has issues with his back and the team sent him out to a specialist to have it looked it.

That prompted a call to everyone's previous favorite whipping boy, Carey Davis, with Summers being placed on IR.

© Safety Troy Polamalu is progressing well, though Tomlin would not give a timetable as to when the All-Pro would be back in the lineup.

Monday, September 28, 2009

Post-Cincinnati thoughts

Perhaps the Bengals were just due.

Former Pirates announcer Bob Prince used to talk about the hidden vigorish. His theory was that the more often something happens, the less likely it is that it will continue to do so.

The Steelers hadn't lost in Cincinnati since 2001, including a 2006 playoff victory there.

The Bengals have had some decent teams during that span, yet still found ways to lose to the Steelers at home.

© Until the Steelers figure out that they need to continue scoring points no matter how big their lead, they are going to continue to struggle.

It's something other NFL teams have figured out. But you have to cut the Steelers a little break, they're new to this whole pass, pass, pass thing.

© I'm pretty sure Shaun McDonald wouldn't have dropped that pass in the end zone that Limas Sweed did.

I don't know if McDonald could have gotten open like Sweed did, but I know he'll catch everything thrown to him.

And no, Limas, holding your hands in the air to signal a touchdown isn't going to make it so.

Just a guess, but Sweed will not be active again this season unless one of the other receivers is injured.

© The Steelers used Deshea Townsend and Keiwan Ratliff at strong safety on obvious passing downs to combat Cincinnati's three- and four-receiver packages in place of Tyrone Carter.

Even with that, Troy Polamalu can't get healthy soon enough for this team.

© Rashard Mendenhall was benched because Mike Tomlin didn't like how he handled a little success.

I think that was coach-speak for Mendenhall failing his weekly assignment test, but I'm not positive of that.

Either way, he was MIA until deciding it would be a good idea to pitch Cincinnati's squib kick back to Stefan Logan at the 35 rather than falling down to give Ben Roethlisberger one shot to hit something down the field and kick a tying field goal.

It would have been a long shot, but no more so than Logan scoring when the entire Cincinnati defense was five yards from him.

© It's a shame that the Steelers blowing this game will overshadow strong games from cornerbacks Ike Taylor and William Gay.

They both made plays all over the place and got their hands on passes. Now, they just need to start catching those passes.

© Before you get too excited about the 1-2 start, remember that the Steelers opened the 1995 season by losing all-world defensive back Rod Woodson, their best player, in the opener to a knee injury and proceeded to begin the season 3-4.

Included in that run were losses at Jacksonville - the expansion team's first victory - and yes, a loss to the Bengals - in Pittsburgh, no less.

That 1995 team rebounded to go to the Super Bowl and probably should have won that game.

It happens.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Summers inactive

Frank Summers is inactive this week, with David Johnson taking over the fullback duties.

Also inactive for the Steelers are Keenan Lewis, Troy Polamalu, Kriag Urbik, Tony Hills, Shaun McDonald and Nick Eason. Dennis Dixon is the third quarterback.

Tyrone Carter will start at strong safety.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Look for Steelers to rebound

I took some grief for picking the Bears to beat the Steelers last week - as if me picking Chicago somehow affected the outcome of the game.

But I saw a Pittsburgh team that was going to take some time to adjust to playing without Troy Polamalu. That turned out to be the case, as replacement Tyrone Carter was targeted numerous times by the Bears.

But Chicago is a team with a good tight end in Greg Olsen. This week's opponent, Cincinnati, is not quite so blessed.

Carson Palmer is a good quarterback, but he's been turning the ball over early this year and it doesn't look like his arm is what it once was before he injured his elbow last season.

And while Cedric Benson has been running hard, nobody runs consistently against the Steelers.

Take the Steelers to win this week, 27-17.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Wednesday notes

There were a couple of scoring changes from the Steelers' loss to Chicago.

First, Tyrone Carter was credited with a sack of Jay Cutler in the second quarter that was originally ruled a scramble in the press box. The play went for a one-yard loss and happened with 40 seconds left in the first half.

That gives the Steelers three sacks this season instead of two, thus nullifying everyone's questions about the lack of a pass rush for this team.

© Willie Parker was charged with a first quarter fumble with 1:18 left in the first quarter. The forced fumble was given to Charles Tillman, while Parker was credited with a recovery.

© Tyrone Carter and Troy Polamalu were the only players out with injuries today. Hines Ward and Aaron Smith got a vet's day off.

Limas Sweed was back at practice after sitting out last week and being inactive against the Bears.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Post-Chicago thoughts

The last time the Steelers played in Chicago - in 1995 - they came back forced overtime, winning at Soldier Field for the only time in team history.

It was a game that proved the 1995 Steelers - a great defensive team - had enough juice offensively to be a Super Bowl contender.

Sunday, we saw the Steelers show why this team – which is great offensively and defensively – might not make it again.

For whatever reason, this team just doesn't seem to be able to keep its foot on the pedal offensively.

The Steelers walked down the field with relative ease on their opening possession and were on their way to a second score when Ben Roethlisberger threw a duck of a pass that was picked off by Charles Tillman.

We didn't see a whole lot of offense after that.

Certainly the rain played a factor in that. But the Steelers played plenty of games in horrid conditions last season.

I know Roethlisberger likes leading the Steelers on fourth quarter game-winning drives and the team has plenty of confidence in him doing that, but it's OK to win by 20 sometimes too.

© From the number of e-mails I received this week about my pick of the Bears to win this game, I guess there were a good number of people who didn't believe me when I wrote that the Steelers would have a more difficult time replacing Troy Polamalu than Chicago would replacing Brian Urlacher.

After watching Polamalu's replacement, Tyrone Cater, get beat for both Chicago touchdowns, I wonder if they believe me now.

© Cincinnati went to Green Bay and won on Sunday, making next week's game against the Steelers at Paul Brown Stadium a big one.

The winner will move to 2-1 and keep pace with Baltimore.

The loser will be 1-2 and trailing the other and Baltimore.

Trust me when I say that the Steelers can lose that game as well.

Actually, I think the loss Sunday will help refocus this team and the Steelers will win in Cincinnati.

© All the people continuing to trash the offensive line should chill out a little bit. The line played pretty darn well Sunday and Roethlisberger had plenty of time to throw.

This team still can't run the ball when opponents know they're going to run it, though.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Timmons active

As expected linebacker Lawrence Timmons is active today to play against the Bears and will start.

Inactive for the Steelers are Dennis Dixon, Limas Sweed, Keenan Lewis, Troy Polamalu, Kraig Urbik, Tony Hills, Nick Eason and Arnold Harrison.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Sweed out, Timmons in

Limas Sweed won't play this week for the Steelers - did he play last week? - after suffering a foot injury Wednesday in practice.

That means Shaun McDonald, who was inactive against Tennessee, will 'get a hat this week,' as head coach Mike Tomlin is fond of saying.

McDonald will share time as the Steelers No. 3 receiver behind Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes with rookie Mike Wallace.

© On the good news front, it looks like linebacker Lawrence Timmons will play against the Bears.

Timmons missed the opener with a sprained ankle, but made it through practice Friday OK after being limited Wednesday and Thursday.

© Who I like - I think the Steelers will struggle a little bit as they get accustomed to playing without Troy Polamalu, while Chicago will be OK without Brian Urlacher because the Steelers won't run the ball effectively enough to hurt the Bears.

Jay Cutler will also bounce back a bit and the Steelers will lose, 20-17.