Saturday, January 31, 2009

Saturday update

I ran into former Steelers PR guy Joe Gordon in the lobby of the hotel Friday night while waiting for a ride out to Tank's Tap Room - actually, we took a limo since it was the only thing available at the time.

Gordon, was, of course, the Steelers' PR guy during the 70s and was without a doubt, the best in the business.

He retired back in the early 90s, but has remained close with the team over the years.

He mentioned how much bigger the Super Bowl has gotten over the years and few would know more about that than Joe - a class act all the way.

© The crowd at Tank's Friday night was ridiculous - in a good way.

I think half of Pittsburgh was there. It's a good thing they don't get too concerned with open container laws down here - or maybe just not this week - because there was quite an overflow outside the bar.

Apparently, they weren't too concerned with fire codes, either, because there had to be about 500 more people in that bar than what was supposed to be there. And it's a pretty good-sized place.

© Just so the bosses don't get too worked up about the limo, the driver agreed to take five of us out to Tank's for $25. His scheduled fare didn't arrive until 9 p.m., so we were good to go.

© I really believe weather will be a big factor for the Steelers Sunday. They haven't played a good weather game in months and it's really affected their offense.

I believe that's been a big factor in Ben Roethlisberger's completion percentage being down from previous seasons.

© What's the over/under on the number of times Brenda Warner's face is seen on TV Sunday? I'm punching in at seven, which is about seven more times than she needs to be seen.

© Congratulations to Rod Woodson for his election into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

But how in the hell does Bob Hayes get in and not Dermontti Dawson?

I know some people will say that about Randall McDaniel, but if you look at his career honors, he's deserving. But so is Dawson.

Friday, January 30, 2009

Time for a pick

I guess since all the other media types are making their predictions, the time has come for mine.

I'm 8-2 in these playoffs against the spread and would hate to blow that by missing the Super Bowl pick.

That said, this is a tough game to figure because the Cardinals have been a tough team to figure. I did, however, pick them to beat Atlanta in the first round and Philadelphia in the NFC Championship game. I totally blew the Carolina game, however, as did most of the rest of the country.

I'm 2-0 with the Steelers this postseason, picking them to win and cover against both San Diego and Baltimore.

But I was put on the spot the other night on the radio and asked for my pick in this game and I'm going to stick with my first inclination, that the Steelers win and cover, 27-17.

I haven't seen an offense all season that's been able to figure out this defense and if the Steelers don't turn it over, the Cards will have a tough time breaking 20 points.

The Steelers, on the other hand, should be able to have some success against Arizona's defense.

Local ties

While walking into the Observer-Reporter's media booth at the media center today – we're tucked in here between the New York Post and Dallas Morning News – I noticed a policeman following me back.

I didn't think I had done anything wrong recently, but you never know.

Turns out, Detective Philip C. Eonda is a 1978 graduate of Trinity High School and grew up in North Franklin Township.

Det. Eonda is one of the many members of law enforcement on patrol here at the media center – Tampa's Convention Center. He has been here in Tampa for a number of years, but wanted to stop back and say hello to somebody from his hometown.

I've given his information to Mike Jones, one of our news writers who's arriving here in Tampa today, so I'm sure Det. Eonda will appear in some way, shape or form in the Observer-Reporter over the weekend.

Friday morning

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin and Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt held their final press conferences of the week Friday morning, much, I'm sure, to both men's pleasure.

I can't speak for Whisenhunt, but I know that Tomlin has spoken to the media every day – except last Sunday - since beating the Baltimore in the AFC Championship.

They've got to be talked out.

© Speaking of talking, I'll be on Fox 970-AM tonight live from Tank's Tap Room here in Tampa from 8:30 to 10 p.m. with Tim Benz. Our segment will follow one by Gerry Dulac and Joe Bendel.

Tank's is a Steelers bar here that's owned by a guy from Johnstown. It should be hopping tonight.

© I finally saw my first fans in Arizona Cardinals jerseys last night. I haven't seen a ton of Steelers fans here yet, but it had been 100-to-one before last night.

© People are saying economics are playing a factor in the lack of fans here. I think it had more to do with the weather in Pittsburgh this week. People just couldn't get out of town.

That said, there are still plenty of tickets available for this game and they should start going at discount rates soon.

© We had our first major rainfall here in Tampa last night. The monsoon-like rain lasted a couple of hours.

It wouldn't be a Steelers game this season without some poor weather.

It's in the 50s here today and threatening rain again.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

The mouth that roared

Thursday, one of the Steelers took some shots at the Arizona Cardinals. And it wasn't somebody anyone would have expected.

It wasn't Anthony Smith guaranteeing a win over New England, but it was surprising none the less.

I was talking to center Justin Hartwig about the offensive line and if getting to the Super Bowl is some vidication for that group when he started questioning the Cardinals a bit.

I'm sure Hartwig didn't really think he was being all that disrespectful as he was doing it, but questioning the team's schedule and talking about how they got pounded by New England when the Steelers beat New England sure won't go over well in Arizona's locker room.

You can read all of Hartwig's comments in Friday's Observer-Reporter.

© These guys are obviously getting tired of the constant questions coming from the gathered media.

In fact, it's gotten to the point now where when they see a familiar face from Pittsburgh, you get a reaction like you're an old friend they haven't seen in years.

The two-week lag between the championship games and the Super Bowl is too long, but I really don't see any way around it.

The logistics of having a Super Bowl in different host cities just makes holding the game the week after the championship games unworkable.

© Head coach Mike Tomlin was named the Motorola coach of the year today. That one's voted on by the fans, so Steelers fans can give themselves a pat on the back for getting Tomlin that award.

© Tomlin put the word "Wetsu" on the black board in the team's locker room Thursday. It's short for We Eat That Shit Up.

Apparently, it's something his high school coach came up with to talk about big plays.

Thursday morning

I can't believe the week is only halfway complete. It already seems like we've been here forever.

The players are getting a little tired of the bombardment of questions as well. They probably wouldn't mind so much if many of the questions weren't so repetetive.

I can only imagine how annoying that gets. I know it annoys the hell out of me when I'm standing there and hear the same question three times from three different people - and it's something I covered in a story in, say, November.

© Did radio from Tank's Tap Room here in Tampa last night.

Tank's is a big Steelers bar here in Tampa. It's owned by a Johnstown guy (actually Southmont, I checked since I went to Pitt-Johnstown) and has about 60 different beers on tap.

I got a sandwich there, I believe it was called the Tankenator or something like that. It was roast beef, cheese, hot peppers, green peppers, onions and mushrooms.

I ordered the small - it comes in three sizes - and it was a monster. I can only imagine what the $20-plus sandwich looks like.

© A few weeks ago, I alluded to an interesting game plan the Steelers were working on for the Ravens.

During the season, we're not allowed to talk specifically about what we see in practice under agreement with the Steelers. We don't talk about what we see other than basic stuff and they keep their practices completely open - something few teams now do.

But since we're shut out of practice now, I can tell you they've been working a wildcat package with Mewelde Moore in the backfield. No more secrets.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Ward looking good

Hines Ward will wear a brace on his right knee Sunday, but it's looking highly likely that he'll play, not that it's a huge surprise.

It would be more surprising if Ward, a warrior, didn't play in a game of this magnitude.

© I just finished a huge feature story on Mike Tomlin for Sunday's paper.

Sometimes you just have too much information to delve through. Every word Tomlin has spoken publicly in the past two weeks is transcribed and put up on the net. It's also e-mailed directly to me along with all of the other quotes from this week.

You don't realize how much stuff that is until you open you e-mail and see 500 different collections of quotes. And that's pretty much just from the last two days.

© As the week wears on, there are more and more former players milling around.

I just stopped over at radio row - it's actually a big room - and Darrelle Revis and Franco Harris were being shuffled about to various radio shows.

I'll be on 970-AM tonight from 7 to 9 p.m. from Tank's Tap Room here in Tampa. But we won't have any big names, just me, Jim Wexell and Tim Benz.

I guess the listeners will have to live with that.

Wednesday morning

I went to the Tampa media party last night - probably the only party I'll get to this week. But it was worth it.

The food - from many of Tampa's best joints - and liquor were plentiful and the price was just right.

The event was held at the Cuban Club in Ybor City. When I found that was where it was going to be, I looked the place up on line to learn a little more about it.

It was an interesting place, much like a party being held at the Duquesne Club in Pittsburgh.

Many of the buildings down here aren't that old - the city itself was barely a blip on the map 100 years ago. But cigar makers moved their production centers here around that time, turning this area into a giant smokehouse.

As such, there were gentlemen at the party last night rolling cigars on the spot. I'm not a cigar smoker, but some of the guys I was with are and they took advantage of the opportunity getting several different varieties.

Like everything else at the party, they were free as well.

The main entertainment was .38 Special, a band that I guess at this point would be considered classic rock. God, I must be getting old because I remembered every song they played from my high school days. But they were pretty good.

After that night, it's back to the grind today. There are more interviews to be done and plenty of stories to be written. Just thought I'd update you all on some of the non-football stuff going on here.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Sitting down with Rod

I sat down with length today with former Steelers cornerback and current Hall of Fame finalist Rod Woodson.

Woodson, now an analyst for the NFL Network, was very concerned about the Steelers' matchup with the Cardinals because of what Arizona can do offensively spreading a defense out.

I'll have more on that in Thursday's Observer-Reporter.

Media day madness

Media day has just ended. It should actually be called media/I'm just a guy who wants to be on TV or get my picture taken day.

The lunatics were out in full force as usual today.

Just a quick rundown of what I saw:

© A guy interviewing players in a wedding dress. (As Casey Hampton said, "that's f-ed up.")

© An idiot in a coonskin hat.

© Several female reporters - apparently all from Spanish-speaking stations – who were either scantily clad or wearing clothing so tight they apparently had it painted on.

© A ponytailed dude from the islands who got off getting the players to say aloha to him.

The craziness seemed a little toned down this year as opposed to others - or maybe I'm just getting used to it. I hope not.

I did get a chance to get a lot of interviews done with some people I normally don't get to speak to on the record.

Director of football operations Kevin Colbert is one of those people. Colbert doesn't speak to the media during the season because he doesn't want to be a distraction.

But he's kind of forced to talk today, so we had a nice long chat about the team's future and its current roster.

I'll have a story on it later this week.

© Today was when I saw a big difference in the two teams.

The Cardinals went first with their media day and they seemed a little tight. They didn't have a lot of fun with all of the silliness that goes on.

The Steelers were very loose. Even James Harrison was having some fun with it, sitting down at Mike Tomlin's table for a while before Tomlin came in.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Monday afternoon

We just finished up with the Steelers' portion of Monday's media schedule, as head coach Mike Tomlin, linebacker James Harrison, safety Troy Polamalu, wide receiver Hines Ward, tight end Heath Miller, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and defensive end Brett Keisel were made available to the media.

I had a nice moment with Tomlin and a couple of other reporters before he went up and answered questions from the masses as he arrived a little early.

Tomlin made a joke about making us work an extra week, to which I replied that at least he wasn't still working next week. My line of thinking was that if he were working next week, it would mean he would be coaching in the Pro Bowl - the job that falls on the losing coach in the conference championship game.

But he went another way with it, saying he wouldn't mind taking the Steelers and playing against the NFC in the Pro Bowl.

Tomlin really seemed to be enjoying the moment in the sun.

© I asked Keisel if the rumors about defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's retirement after the Super Bowl had been addressed.

He said they had and that they weren't true.

I'll have more in Tuesday's edition of the Observer-Reporter.

Greetings from Tampa

We touched down in Tampa at 11:55 a.m. after a quick and painless flight.

The players are having a lot of fun with this. A number of them are carrying camcorders to record the memories of this week.

Some even ventured back into our part of the plane to record us. I guess since we record them all the time, fair's fair.

After the plane touched down, a pillow fight was started in the front of the plane, with the little airplane pillows flying freely.

The team is very loose.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Ready to go

The bags are officially packed and the plane leaves in the morning.

Tonight will be the last night of normalcy for me for the next eight days until I return home Monday afternoon.

There's a lot happening at the Super Bowl – every day, in fact. I've gotten the schedule of events for the week from the NFL and will try to get to as much stuff as I can.

I'll be updating this blog several times per day, so check back often.

And I'll try to get to as many questions as I can - but the daily newspaper is my master and the master has me very busy this week.

Dale

Saturday, January 24, 2009

What's the big deal?

From the AP: ALEXANDRIA, Va. – Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Jonathan Dekker was arrested early Saturday and charged with obstruction of justice.
Dekker, who injured his knee in August and spent the season on injured reserve, was released on $1,000 bond, police said.
Police said they responded to a complaint at 3:30 a.m. near Old Town Alexandria. When they arrived, police said, Dekker tried to flee but was apprehended.
Police did not provide details of the complaint. A hearing is scheduled for Feb. 2.
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound Dekker played three games for the Steelers in 2007. He was signed by the Steelers in 2006 as a free agent from Princeton and spent that season on the practice squad.
Pittsburgh plays Arizona in the Super Bowl on Feb. 1.

The Steelers put Dekker on injured reserve after he tore knee ligaments, but his chances of making their final roster weren't great. He's a receiving threat at tight end, not a blocker.

But that won't stop some from saying this will be a distraction for the Steelers as they prepare for the Super Bowl.

Puhleez. Dekker has spent time in Pittsburgh rehabbing his knee, but he's hardly relevant in the grand scheme of things.

Record breakers?

Assuming he plays, Hines Ward has a good chance to set a franchise record for postseason receiving yards.

Despite playing just the first quarter last Sunday against the Ravens, Ward passed Lynn Swann for second place on the team's all-time posteason receiving yards chart.

Ward now has 1,021 postseason receiving yards and needs 34 in the Super Bowl to pass John Stallworth and become the Steelers' all-time leader.

Placekicker Jeff Reed needs one field goal to tie the franchise postseason record of 14 held by Roy Gerela and Gary Anderson. Reed is two back of Gerela’s record of 34 extra points.

He's got a ways to go to catch Gerela in career postseason attempts, though. Gerela had 27. That's right, the great Roy Gerela was 15 of 27 on field goal attempts in his career.

Put up those kind of numbers these days and you won't last very long.

© Here's a did you know: Troy Polamalu's interception return for a touchdown was the first in Steelers' postseason history.

Friday, January 23, 2009

An injury report already?

In a suprising move since the game won't be played until Feb. 1, the Steelers issued an injury report for the Super Bowl.

Hines Ward and linebacker Patrick Bailey are questionable, Ward with a knee injury, Bailey with an ankle problem.

Oensive tackle Max Starks and linebacker Lawrence Timmons all returned to practice Friday after sitting out Wednesday and Thursday.

Center Justin Hartwig still isn't practicing to rest his injured knee, but is listed as probable for the Super Bowl.

Running back Mewelde Moore (ankle) and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (back) are also listed as probable despite returning to practice Thursday.

I realize head coach Mike Tomlin wanted to treat this week as if the Steelers were playing Sunday, but this is a little ridiculous.

But the Steelers aren't alone in the craziness.

The Cardinals issued a practice report for Wednesday, even though they did not practice, but did not issue one Thursday, even though they did.

The league doesn't require them this week.


© The Steelers are making an extra effort to help Ward recover quickly from his sprained MCL suffered in the AFC Championship against the Ravens.

The Steelers are sending Ward's hyperbaric oxygen chamber to Tampa to help with his rehab regimen.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Thursday update

Ben Roethlisberger and Mewelde Moore were back on the practice field today after sitting out Wednesday. Roethlisberger had a sore back, Moore an ankle injury suffered against Baltimore.

Linebacker Patrick Bailey (hamstring), center Justin Hartwig (knee), offensive tackle Max Starks (knee), linebacker Lawrence Timmons (illness) and wide receiver Hines Ward (knee) missed their second consecutive day.

© Interesting note out of Arizona:

The Cardinals are using former Steelers backup QB Brian St. Pierre to simulate Ben Roethlisberger's scrambling ability in practice according to coch Ken Whisenhunt.

“We have Brian St. Pierre who was in Pittsburgh, so he has seen Ben do that. I’m not saying that physically he can do the things that Ben can do, but as far as scrambling and moving around in the pocket and those kinds of things, extending the play, we are trying to give them a picture for that. I think it’s not just Ben. It’s their receivers too because they are on the same page as Ben as far as where they are going when he scrambles. You are trying to give (the defense) that look, but it is not always easy.”

© The Pittsburgh Steelers will host a Super Bowl Pep Rally Friday, January 23, at Heinz Field in anticipation for the team’s trip to Super Bowl XLIII on Sunday, Feb. 1, at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla.

The following is a schedule of events for the Pep Rally, which is being presented by PNC Bank and Comcast.

Here's the schedule of events rundown:

Admission - FREE
3 p.m. – Stadium lots and Carnegie Science Center lots open (parking for $5 available)
3 – 7 p.m. – WDVE live broadcast (Coca-Cola Great Hall)
5 – 7 p.m. – KISS FM live broadcast (Coca-Cola Great Hall)
5 p.m. – Gates A & B open
Highlights to be shown on Jumbotron
Concession stands will be open
Official Steelers merchandise will be available
5:40 p.m. – Performance by Pittsburgh Poison All-Stars Dance Team
5:45 p.m. – Performance by South Fayette Marching Band
6 p.m. – Free concert by The Clarks
7 p.m. – Pep Rally to begin
Big Machine Recording Artist Dusty Drake to perform 12th Man song
Hosted by KDKA-TV’s Bob Pompeani and Ken Rice, along with Steelers’ Radio Network talent Tunch Ilkin and Craig Wolfley
Steelers’ players and local dignitaries will be on stage
7:30 p.m. – KDKA-TV Live Steelers Super Bowl TV Special
8:05 p.m. – Pittsburgh Fan Club performance – “Here We Go”
8:10 p.m. – Pep Rally to conclude

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Wednesday update

The Steelers are treating this as a regular work week - albeit with five times the media – as Mike Tomlin had said.

Wednesday was a normal practice day, though a number of players sat out, including Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, Deshea Townsend, Patrick Bailey, Justin Hartwig, Mewelde Moore and Willie Parker.

For Roethlisberger, Townsend, Smith and Parker, Wednesdays is a normal day off - a veteran's day off as I call it. Hines Ward is usually included in that group, but he's actually nursing a knee injury this week.

The others who sat out Wednesday are injured as well.

© The crush of ticket requests and such is great on these players, but usually abates toward the end of the week as players let people know they don't get a bunch of tickets for free. Yes, they have to pay as well for anything above the two they normally get.

You can imagine the friends and family that come out of the woodwork for something like this.

But pulling a Nancy Reagan and just saying no is probably the best tact to take. If you get tickets for one friend or family member and not another, I'm sure it can lead to hard feelings.

© The worst thing about covering a team that reaches this point - at least for the guys who cover the team regularly - is the crush of national media that descends.

Suddenly, guys you've spoken privately with all season long are no longer available even for a quick word.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

What they're playing for

Just in case you think NFL players are only there for the payday, consider what they actually get paid for the playoffs:

Wild-card games (division winners): $20,000.
Wild-card games (fifth- and sixth-seeded teams): $18,000.
Divisional games: $20,000.
Conference championship games: $37,500.
Super Bowl winners: $78,000.
Super Bowl losers: $40,000

That may seem like a lot of money, but when you consider the cut the government and their agents get, it's really not.

If the Steelers win the Super Bowl, the players will have pocketed an extra $135,500, of which they'll probably actually get between $60 to $70 thousand per player.

It's a nice chunk of change, but when you consider the risk involved – ask Willis McGahee – it's not all that great.

This is much more about winning a championship to these guys than anything.

Injury update:

Here's what Mike Tomlin has to say about injuries Tuesday:

"Hines Ward has a right knee sprain. We’re going to do everything in our power to make sure he gets the medical attention he needs. In his mind, he’s playing. So chances are, he is. It’s not going to be comfortable between now and game day in terms of making that happen. But it’s not about comfort, particularly for Hines. This guy, this morning, was down there aggressively getting after his rehabilitation and putting himself in position to help this football team. We’re definitely not going to count him out. We’re going to save a seat on the bus for 86."

Other injuries are:
Mewelde Moore right ankle sprain.
Darnell Stapleton ankle sprain.
Patrick Bailey hamstring strain.
Justin Hartwig knee
Max Starks knee sprain

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Post AFC Championship thoughts

Sunday's game was the seventh AFC Championship I've covered, but it was perhaps the best one that I've seen.

If you like football, you liked this game. The hitting was phenomenal. The chess match between the two teams was interesting to watch. And there were some great plays made out there.

That was the good.

The bad was the length. It just shouldn't take four hours to play an NFL game under any circumstances.

The officiating crew was an "all-star" group that included Tony Steratore at back judge. Tony is, for those of you who don't know, a Washington business owner and a McMurray resident.

Part of the problem with the length of the game, in my opinion, was that these guys weren't accustomed to working with each other. It led to a few more post-play huddles than usual.

© I thought going into this game that the play of Joe Flacco would be the difference – and I didn't mean that in a good way.

These really were two pretty evenly matched teams, with the only glaring difference being Flacco's inexperience. That proved to be the case.

Flacco never solved what the Steelers' defense was doing to him. Even though the Ravens generated more of a running game than the Steelers did, they couldn't take advantage of it.

© Limas Sweed, you've got to catch that deep ball. There's just no excuse for a guy who's paid to get open and catch the ball not to catch that pass.

On the plus side, that's two weeks in a row he's gotten himself wide open.

And he did come up with some catches later in the game while also making a crushing block on a catch by Heath Miller.

But you've got to catch the ones when you're wide open like that behind the defense.

© LaMarr Woodley has six sacks in three career postseason games. That's called a money player.

© We got a glimpse of what the Steelers offense might look like without Hines Ward and it wasn't pretty.

But Ward's got a few more years left in him and should be back for the Super Bowl. That gives some other guys – are you listening Sweed? – some time to polish their game.

© Ryan Clark's hit on Willis McGahee may have been the exclamation point on this game, but it was Carey Davis' decleater of Daren Stone on the opening kickoff that was the opening statement.

© Listeing to the radio on the way into the game, I heard my good friend Joe Starkey say that nobody has a winning record picking games in these playoffs.

Joe must not read this site – I don't know why – because I'm now 8-2 in these here playoffs picking games.

With that said, I'm picking … well you're just going to have to wait to see who I pick in the Super Bowl because I'm not even sure how I feel about this one yet.

Tampa beckons.

Game-day updates

I've been here at Heinz Field for an hour or so now and, of course, it's snowing. It's not real cold, however, and the win seems light.

Word is that Suggs, as expected, will play today on at least a limited basis.

I'll update with any other tidbits I find out throughout the day.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Will they or won't they/picks

Cornerback Samari Rolle is doubtful to play Sunday against the Steelers, while linebacker Terrell Suggs is questionable.

I expect Suggs to play, or at least try to, with his shoulder dislocation. How long he lasts, is the only thing in question.

Rolle, on the other hand, won't play, which will leave the Ravens very thin at cornerback considering Chris McAlister is already on injured reserve. I don't think the Steelers are too concerned with Frank Walker and Fabian Washington at cornerback.

Troy Polamalu and Justin Hartwig are both probable for the Steelers and are their only players on the injury list.

© I'm 6-2 in the playoffs thus far after my 4-0 opening weekend. I blew it changing my mind and picking the Giants over the Eagles based on the early weather report. I should know by now that you can't trust a meteorologist.

This week we have a couple of intruguing matchups.

In the NFC, Philadelphia is favored by four points at Arizona. The over-under for running plays in this game combined are 35. Neither team runs it a whole lot. The Eagles trounced the Cards earlier this season in Philadelphia, but I don't see that happening again. Anquan Boldin will be back for Arizona, which could make a big difference. And the Cardinals are 7-2 at home this season. Take Arizona, 31-27

In the AFC, the Steelers are 6-point favorites over the Ravens. That would seem strange consideing the Steelers beat the Ravens twice this season by a combined seven points. And we all know how tough it is to beat a team three times in a season - OK, not really. The team that won the first two matchups is 3-1 in this situation in championship games and there's no reason to think the Steelers won't make it four out of five. They're the better all-around team. Joe Flacco will make a rookie mistake or two in this game and the Steelers will win, 24-10.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Thursday notes

Troy Polamalu was back at practice today and looks good to go Sunday against the Ravens. Center Justin Hartwig participated on a limited basis with his sprained knee. He should also be ready to go against Baltimore.

Le'Ron McClain was back at practice today for the Ravens, but Terrell Suggs and Samari Rolle were not. Wide receivers Derrick Mason (knee) and Mark Clayton (thigh) also missed their second day of practice.

© Dermontti Dawson and Rod Woodson will be the Steelers honorary captains on Sunday. Both are finalists for induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

It's a good move for the team to get the duo out there in the public eye, especially in this setting. Woodson obviously doesn't need the exposure, but it can't hurt Dawson.

© Suggs said today he's unsure if he'll be able to play - a stark contrast to his guarantee earlier this week that he would play.

It could be the Ravens just trying to play some games with the Steelers. But the Steelers expect Suggs to play.

Suggs said today that he could have some ligament damage in the shoulder. He'll be a free agent after this season, so there may be some concerns there.

Sorry so late

What a night in Pittsburgh.

Heavy snows that began in the afternoon blanketed the roads and made getting home from the Steelers offices an adventure.

Those of you who have been on the Southside can appreciate the fact it took me nearly two hours to get from the Steelers offices to Greentree hill.

I-79 wasn't much more fun. The roads weren't all that bad and I didn't see a single wreck, but everybody was driving like we were in Washington D.C. and there was an inch of snow on the roads. It was ugly.

© Leaving the Steelers' practice this afternoon, I couldn't help but laugh as a number of the players remarked about the amount of snow falling. Several of them had never really spent much time in the snow.

It's been cold in Pittsburgh this winter, but the snow really hasn't stuck all that well - particularly in the city.

This snow, however, isn't going anywhere and will be there for this weekend's game.

© The Steelers look to have an interesting game plan from what I saw at practice today. Because we agree not to report what we see in terms of plays and such, I can't share it with you, but suffice it to say, it will be interesting if they do some of the stuff they were working on.

Now, maybe they were just taking a look at it live to see what things looked like, but with in a situation with one game for all the marbles, there's no reason to leave any plays in the book unused.

© Troy Polamalu will play Sunday, though he didn't practice Wednesday. Justin Hartwig was the same.

Polamalu, by the way, did not have the flu Sunday against the Chargers as was reported somewhere. Don't know where that one came from.

© As this week wears on, I'm really liking the Steelers more and more in this game. They are very loose and confident.

James Farrior called it a different feeling than, say, 2004, when the team was 15-1 and expected to beat the Patriots.

They expect to win Sunday, but with the majority of this roster having already won a Super Bowl, they know not to look past this game.

They've beaten the Ravens twice and largely shut their offense down doing it. They know if they don't turn the ball over or give up a return or two, they'l beat the Ravens again.

Ravens' coach John Harbaugh, on the other hand, seemed a little uptight when we spoke to him today.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Tuesday Tomlin

Mike Tomlin said today that Troy Polamalu played with a strained calf against the Chargers Sunday.

Tomlin said Polamalu suffered the injury in warm-ups and he wasn't sure Polamalu was going to play until he saw him run onto the field.

Polamalu will be limited in practice early in the week, but will play Sunday in the AFC Championship.

Center Justin Hartwig suffered a slight knee sprain in the first half Sunday, but was fitted with a brace and finished out the game. He'll be limited as well early in the week, but will play.

© Word out of Baltimore is that linebacker/defensive end Terrell Suggs expects to play with his injured shoulder, but head coach John Harbaugh didn't sound as sure.

It will be interesting to see if Suggs does play, how long he's out there or if he's out there on every play.

The big injury for the Ravens, though, will be running back Le'Ron McClain. McClain sprained his ankle against the Titans and only carried the ball a couple of times after that. He wasn't effective after the injury.

If McClain is limited, so is the Ravens' offense.

Samari Rolle has a groin injury as well, which could definitely affect Baltimore's secondary. If Rolle can't play, Baltimore will be without both of its starting cornerbacks.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Post-San Diego thoughts

I'm hoping all those people who wanted to trade Willie Parker this offseason will now officially shut up.

Parker punished the Chargers Sunday for 146 yards on 27 carries and scored a pair of touchdowns.

It was the third-highest rushing total in Steelers' playoff history. And that's a long and storied history.

Parker's finally feeling healthy and confident. He's running decisively and with speed.

All that may change next weekend against Baltimore, but as we've seen over the years, it's tough for any running back to have a lot of success against the Ravens.

© If LaMarr Woodley did hit a wall at some point this season, he crashed through it – and Philip Rivers – Sunday.

Woodley was a force, picking up two sacks, the second of which left Rivers dazed and confused. That was also Woodley covering speedy Darren Sproles out in the flat early in the first quarter, forcing Rivers to throw the ball high.

In two career playoff games, Woodley has four sacks, just in case you were wondering.

© The worry all week long was that the Chargers would handily defeat the Steelers on special teams.

Didn't happen.

In fact, the Steelers handily won the special teams battle, with the much-maligned Mitch Berger more than holding his own against Mike Scifres.

In fact, the Steelers used Scifres propensity to hit booming punts against him on Santonio Holmes' return for a touchdown. Holmes had a nice running start by the time any of the Chargers had gotten downfield.

© The third quarter was the strangest I've seen in 16 years of covering the NFL.

Pittsburgh ran 25 offensive plays compared to one for San Diego.

That just doesn't happen at this level.

© Can't wait for the third Steelers-Ravens matchup. If you like football, this is the game for you.

There doesn't promise to be a lot of offense, but the hitting should be outstanding.

Tomlinson a scratch

Tomlinson is scratched for the Chargers today, but Antonio Gates is active.

No surprises on the Steelers' list.

The weather here is cold with a light wind. There has been some light snow on and off, but no accumulation.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Friday's news, Weekend picks

Both Antonio Gates and LaDainian Tomlinson missed practice again Friday - as did placekicker Nate Kaeding – for San Diego, putting their status for Sunday's playoff game in doubt.

Tomlinson, in fact, is listed as doubtful to play. Gates is questionable. Kaeding is probable, but will likely be limited.

I wouldn't expect Tomlinson to play with his torn groin and even if he does, he won't last long.

Gates, who already had a high ankle sprain, now also has a sore Achilles tendon. I would expect him to try to play, but he will be very limited.

With that in mind here are the much-awaited playoff picks for this weekend:

Baltimore at Tennessee: I've gone back and forth on this game all week long. On the radio Tuesday, I picked Tennessee, 17-13, then I started leaning the other way later in the week, especially if Tennessee center Kevin Mawae is unable to play. That looks as if it will be the case, so I can't see the Titans pulling this one out without perhaps their best offensive lineman. Baltimore will shut down Tennessee's running game and force Kerry Collins to win the game. I don't see that happening again - though he led them to 10 fourth quarter points in a 13-10 win over the Ravens earlier this season. Take Baltimore, 17-10

Arizona at Carolina: To me, this is the easiest game of this weekend to pick. Arizona manned up and won last week at home as I expected, but on the road at Carolina, that's not going to happen again. Carolina played awful at home offensively in the first half and still managed to beat the Cardinals at home earlier this season. The Panthers should be able to do so again. Anquan Boldin will try to play with his injured hamstring, but it's going to be difficult. Take Carolina, 31-17

Philadelphia at N.Y. Giants: This is another game I changed my mind about this week, but this time due to the weather forecast. There's supposed to be sleet and snow at the Meadowlands Sunday. That will make things awfully difficult for a team that doesn't run the ball - like Philadelphia - to get anything going. I think the Giants are ripe for the picking without Plaxico Burress in the lineup and picked the Eagles in an upset earlier this week. But I don't see that happening now. Take the Giants and their running game, 20-16

San Diego at Pittsburgh: My thoughts on this game really haven't changed since earlier in the week. I just don't know how San Diego is going to score much once the Steelers make them one dimensional, as they will do stopping Darren Sproles. Philip Rivers and the boys have been a nice comeback story, but people forget, this is where this team was supposed to be all along. They just underachieved for much of the season. The Steelers defense will lock the Chargers down and Willie Parker and the running game will control the clock. Take Pittsburgh, 24-13

Thursday, January 08, 2009

All in

The Steelers had everybody back at practice Thursday as wide receiver Hines Ward returned from taking Wednesday off.

The Chargers are not so fortunate. While defensive tackle Jamal Williams was back after sitting out Wednesday, running back LaDainian Tomlinson and tight end Antonio Gates were still out – Tomlinson with his groin injury, Gates with a high ankle sprain.

They were joined on the sidelines by placekicker Nate Kaeding, who also has a groin injury.

I thought earlier in the week that the Steelers win this game 24-13 and I've seen nothing that has changed my mind.

The Steelers likely expect the Chargers to play a lot of cover-2 against them as they did the first time. That will allow Willie Parker and the running game some lanes working against a seven-man front.

It will also allow tight end Heath Miller and wide receiver Hines Ward to work the underneath stuff. So long as quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn't get greedy and try to force the ball downfield – and I saw nothing at practice to make me feel he will – Pittsburgh should win this one going way.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Wednesday update

Another nice quiet day for the Steelers. Everybody practiced today, with the exception of Hines Ward, who got his usual Wednesday veteran's day off.

San Diego could not say the same. LaDainian Tomlinson, Antonio Gates and Jamal Williams were among the Chargers not practicing - though Williams was non-injury related.

Tomlinson is unlikely to play against the Steelers, while Gates continues to struggle with a high ankle sprain that has bothered him for a number of weeks.

Placekicker Nate Kaeding has a groin injury that could be troublesome as well.

© The Steelers are a very loose bunch right now. I think this team has a lot of confidence heading into this game with San Diego.

They know they dominated the Chargers on both sides of the ball in the first meeting, rolling up twice as many yards and holding the ball for over 36 minutes.

They also know that the Chargers are 3-5 on the road this season, with those lone road wins being at Oakland, Kansas City and Tampa Bay.

Only Tampa Bay would be considered a strong opponent and that win came in late December, when the Bucs had mailed in their season.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Tuesday Tomlin

Not much to report from Tomlin's press conference today.

Everybody's healthy. The Chargers are great. And the Steelers have a huge challenge ahead of them.

On the other hand, the big news of the day was twofold.

© The Chargers' Vincent Jackson was arrested early Tuesday morning for driving under the influence.

San Diego head coach Norv Turner is unlikely to suspend Jackson – and there won't be any league punishment at this time if at all - but it has to be a bit of a distraction, something the Chargers didn't need.

© The Steelers' Rod Woodson and Dermontti Dawson were both among the 15 finalists for the Hall of Fame.

Woodson is a shoe-in. Dawson should be.

But my best guess is that only Woodson gets in this year.

Monday, January 05, 2009

Monday news

Ben Roethlisberger has been cleared to play Sunday by team doctors and should be good to go against the San Diego Chargers.

That, of course, was just some of the big news for the Steelers today.

Linebacker James Harrison became the fifth member of the Steelers to win the AP's Defensive Player of the Year award.

Harrison joins the elite company of Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Mel Blount and Rod Woodson as Pittsburgh players who have won the award. The first three are in the Hall of Fame, while Woodson will be voted in this year.

Harrison outpointed DeMarcus Ware by nine votes. Troy Polamalu also garnered two votes.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Steelers-Chargers initial thoughts

The Steelers rolled up 410 yards to 213 for the Chargers and held the ball for more than 36 minutes in an 11-10 victory.

Yet the Chargers talked after the game as if they had dominated the Steelers.

That could come back to haunt them.

I don't expect LaDanian Tomlinson to play, which means Darren Sproules will have to carry the load. I don't think he'll have a lot of success against this Pittsburgh defense, which does a great job of closing down gaps.

Sproules could hurt Pittsburgh on some swing passes, though. He's very fast when he gets the ball on the edge.

Punter Mike Scrifres is also a weapon. He only punted twice the first time, but pinned the Steelers at the 6 and 15. He's a guy who changes field position every game.

But at this point, I like the Steelers, 24-13.

They'll get after Phillip Rivers and Willie Parker had 115 yards rushing in the first meeting. It's a good matchup for the Steelers.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Round 1 playoff picks

Here's what I see happening in this weekend's playoff games in which all four road teams are favored. All four road teams won't win. You can bet on that. The trick is figuring out which home teams will hold serve.

Indianapolis at San Diego: These two teams met earlier in the season, with Indianapolis pulling out a 23-20 win. Both teams are hot. Indianapolis has won nine straight, while the Chargers won four in a row to get in when Denver stumbled. But I like the home team here. San Diego's weakness is rushing the passer. But Peyton Manning doesn't get sacked anyway, so that won't hurt them here. The Chargers can certainly score with the Colts and have the better running game. San Diego 27, Indianapolis 24

Baltimore at Miami: Another rematch that was won, 27-13, by Baltimore. I don't see that changing much here as the Dolphins will have a heck of a time moving the ball against the Ravens. The Dolphins used the Wildcat five times in that first meeting, gaining four yards. That won't work here. To beat Baltimore, you've got to be able to spread the Ravens out and challenge them down the field. Miami doesn't have the weapons to do that. Baltimore 20, Miami 10

Atlanta at Arizona: Arizona was 6-2 at home, 3-5 on the road. Yes, the Cardinals stumbled down the stretch, but I think that was largely because they weren't challenged in the NFC West. Their offense will be too much to handle at home for Atlanta. And if the Cardinals can turn this into a track meet, they could win going away. Arizona 30, Atlanta 24

Philadelphia at Minnesota: The Vikings' strength on defense is their run defense. But that won't help them against the Eagles, who don't even try to run the ball. Philadelphia's defense may be the most under rated unit in the league. These guys can get after it and their corners are excellent. Adrian Peterson is also having ball control issues, which won't help. I like Brian Westbrook to have a big game catching the ball out of the backfield. Philadelphia 23, Minnesota 14