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.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Timmons back at practice

Linebacker Lawrence Timmons was back at practice Wednesday in a limited basis as he further tested his sore ankle, pushing forward toward playing Sunday in Chicago.

He did not, however, work in the team portion of the practice.

Getting Timmons back would be huge for the Steelers, who will be playing without strong safety Troy Polamalu.

© Limas Sweed was limited in practice Wednesday with a foot injury.

© Jeff Reed was named the AFC's special teams player of the week for his performance against Tennessee.

© Ben Roethlisberger was a little more open with the media on Wednesday than he usually is.

Roethlisberger usually talks in cliches and gives very short answers as he purposely tries to be bland.

Perhaps his most interesting comment came when asked about the 'Steelers' mentality.

"I think some of it comes from that being what the Steelers always did in the past. I always say you have to keep up with the times. That’s kind of evolving into a passing offense - league wide. People talk about the Steelers and the run game because we want to be physical. When you want to be physical, people assume that’s the run game. But that can mean a lot of different things. I guess you can go all the way back to the ‘70s and we were a grind-it-out team. We’re not that ‘70s team. We’re our own identity and that includes a lot of no-huddle stuff. It’s been good."

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Bettis rips Steelers

Former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis ripped the Steelers on Sports Illustrated's web site, saying, among other things, that the Steelers are, "a mediocre running team on their best day."

Bettis went on to trash pretty much every running back on the team - save Mewelde Moore – particularly rookie running back Frank Summers.

"The running back I like least on that team is Frank Summers, the rookie fullback. He doesn't seem to understand what's going on. He's missing plenty of blocks, and that's affecting everything. That definitely has to be addressed off the field this week."

The coaching staff and offensive line didn't get away unscathed, either, as Bettis said the line can't protect and allows the running backs to get hit behind the line of scrimmage too often.

As for the coaching staff, Bettis wondered why the line wasn't addressed during the offseason.

It was some pretty good stuff, the kind that you usually don't get from players who are still close enough to their playing days that they know many of the current guys in the locker room.

© In other news Tuesday, head coach Mike Tomlin said that the team is hopeful linebacker Lawrence Timmons will be back at practice by the end of week.

That would be a big boost for the Steelers. With Troy Polamalu out, the Steelers need Timmons to shadow Chicago tight end Greg Olsen, who would be a matchup nightmare for Tyrone Carter.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Steelers talking with Tomlin

The Steelers are reportedly talking about a contract extension with head coach Mike Tomlin.

That, in itself, is not a surprise. Tomln's contract runs through the 2010 season, so getting him a new deal and avoiding a similar issue to the one that happened with Bill Cowher is something the team should be looking to avoid.

But where do you start with the money?

Cowher is reportedly looking for $10 million per season to get back onto the sideline.

That would obviously be on the high end of the wage scale.

Of current coaches, Tennessee's Jeff Fisher, the league's longest-tenured coach, makes $5.5 million per season. Lovie Smith is getting the same salary to coach the Bears, while Bill Belichick is costing New England $5 million per season.

Tomlin currently makes $2.5 million per season, so it only makes sense that he'll be asking to move into the $5-million club.

Of course the team will likely argue that he hasn't been around as long as those three aforementioned coaches.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Post-Tennessee thoughts

Strong safety Troy Polamalu has a sprained MCL in his left knee and though it's too early to tell, head coach Mike Tomlin classified it as a three-to-six week injury.

That's not good news for the Steelers defense, which will play its next two games on the road at Chicago and and Cincinnati before coming home to host San Diego.

Even at the minimum of three weeks, those are three opponents who will be a stiff test for Pittsburgh's pass defense.

And Tyrone Carter is in no way, shape or form as good as Polamalu.

© Polamalu's leaping, one-handed interception in the first half of this game was one of the top five defensive plays I've seen in person in any sport.

Polamalu also has at least one of the others - his diving finger-tip interception last season being the other.

© The national media at this game were raving about Ben Roethlisberger's comeback and improv skills. Welcome to the party, boys.

Roethlisberger was 18 of 22 passing in the second half and overtime and three of those incompletions came on the game-winning drive.

© With Polamalu out, it becomes very important that Lawrence Timmons, who sat out this game with an ankle injury, be back in time to play against Chicago next week.

Keyaron Fox played well in Timmons' spot, but Timmons' speed in the passing game will be needed against the Bears.

© Though it wasn't on the same stage, Hines Ward almost pulled a Jerome Bettis with his fumble at the end of regulation.

Roethlisberger saved Bettis on that occasion as well.

© After a slow start, I thought the offensive line played better as the game wore on.

I'm still not sure why right tackle Willie Colon didn't pick up Jevon Kearse on Tennessee's lone sack of the second half, though.

What'd he think, Kearse was going to drop into coverage?

Colon let him go unblocked, turning to pick up the inside guy.

© Was punter Craig Hentrich thinking just a little bit about kicking the ball to Stefan Logan when he shanked a 28-yard punt late in the game? Just asking.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Steelers-Titans inactives

Nate Washington is active tonight for the Titans.

Inactive for the Steelers are Joe Burnett, Keiwan Ratliff, Kraig Urbik, Tony Hills, Shaun McDonald, Nick Eason and Lawrence Timmons.

Interesting thing is that Ramon Foster is your backup RT. Essex the backup LT.

Who I like

The first game of the regular season is always the most difficult to get a feel for.

Most teams don't show a whole lot during the preseason and you've got to try to guess the direction they will go in based on last season and what moves they made during the offseason.

The Steelers enter Thursday night's opener against the Titans as 5 1/2-point favorites. That's a pretty good sized spread against what should be a pretty good Tennessee team.

But I think the Steelers' offense should be better in 2009 than it was in 2008 and the defense should again be solid.

Tennessee also doesn't have the weapons to attack the Steelers in a way that could be effective - ie. spreading the Steelers out and chucking the ball around off of quick drops.

Because of that, I like the Steelers to cover in this one on a night when the players should be very hyped up.

Take Pittsburgh to win, 23-14.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Hartwig signs extension

The Steelers on Tuesday agreed to a three-year contract extension with center Justin Hartwig.

The deal will keep Hartwig in Pittsburgh through 2012.

© It does not appear linebacker Lawrence Timmons will play against the Titans on Thursday. Though he's walking without a limp, Timmons has still been unable to practice and is likely waiting until next week to see if he can make it back for the team's second game.

Timmons sprained the ankle two weeks ago against the Buffalo Bills in the Steelers' third preseason game.

© The team had its special teams charts up in the locker room this week and the one thing that jumped out at me was on the depth chart.

Behind long snapper Greg Warren there was simply a ? I guess James Harrison is no longer the team's backup long snapper.

Monday, September 07, 2009

Steelers add practice squad player

The Steelers have added defensive back Tuff Harris - gotta love that name - to their practice squad.

The 6-0, 198-pound Harris has played to NFL seasons, in 2007 for Miami and 2008 for Tennessee.

Is there some gamesmanship going on here since the Steelers play the Titans this week?

Perhaps.

We'll know for sure next week if the Steelers release Harris.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Sonny Harris gone

The Carolina Panthers must have liked what they saw of Sonny Harris Thursday night as much as I did. The Panthers signed Harris to their 53-man roster.

The Steelers did get pretty much everyone else they wanted back on their practice squad, which will be TE Dezmond Sherrod, C A.Q. Shipley, RB Justin Vincent, RB Isaac Redman, WR Tyler Grisham, DL Steve McLendon and LB Donovan Woods.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Cuts (as we find them)

Because they don't have to officially release the names until 4 p.m. Saturday, the Steelers aren't doing so. Their reasoning is that it allows them some wiggle-room to make trades.

But here's a list of who I've found that will be released.

Dallas Baker, Roy Lewis, Jeremy Parquet, Desmond Sherrod, Carey Davis, Isaac Redman, Bruce Davis, Anthony Madison, A.Q. Shipley, Scott Paxson, Sonny Harris, Jason Capizzi, Mike Reilly, Peter Czech, Justin Vincent, Tyler Grisham, Tom Korte, Steve McLendon, Andy Schantz and Brandon Williams

That's 20 of the 22 cuts they have to make. Again, these aren't official - yet.

If, for example, they can work out a trade for, say Travis Kirschke or Nick Eason, a guy like Sonny Harris could be back on the squad.

Post-Carolina thoughts

First things first, I think the police had better get a search warrant for the NFL Network's Jason LaCanfora's house. He's been smoking some serious stuff.

LaCanfora is the bozo who reported that people he knows close to the situation have told him the Steelers are considering cutting Pro Bowl nose tackle Casey Hampton.

Let me just say this about that: There's a better chance the Steelers will sign me to play quarterback than there is that they'll cut Hampton.

To even suggest that they will borders on lunacy. In fact, the NFL Network may want to re-check LaCanfora's credentials as a reporter.

© There was little doubt that Stefan Logan had earned a spot on the Steelers' roster before the 21-10 win over Carolina.

The 80-yard punt return was nice. But I was even more impressed with his crackback block in the third quarter to help spring Shaun McDonald for a big run after the catch.

© Issac Redman has likely beaten out Tank Summers for the fifth running back spot as well.

Tank just didn't show enough in the two preseason game he played in, while Redman ran through the entire Carolina defense and an official to get into the end zone in the first half.

© Sorry Jason Capizzi and A.Q. Shipley fans, I don't see either player making this roster.

In fact, the team took a good long look at rookie Ramon Foster at left tackle and he was fine.

Shipley, meanwhile, looks like he's bound for the practice squad.

And don't give me that stuff about somebody scooping him up. It could happen, sure, but all of those teams also passed on him six or seven times in the draft as well.

© Arnold Harrison, Ryan Mundy and Travis Kirschke made strong statements against the Panthers.

Bruce Davis and Keiwan Ratliff did not.

The cutdown will come by 4 p.m. Friday. It's going to be one of the most difficult ones I've seen in 17 years of covering the Steelers.

This team is deep and talented.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Watching the bubble

As the Steelers head into their final preseason game, there are plenty of roster spots yet to be won. There are also a number of veterans who find themselves on the bubble with this team, a testament to how deep Pittsburgh is this season.

Here's a look at the veteran bubble guys:

Keiwan Ratliff, CB - Ratliff was brought in as Deshea Townsend insurance and just in case rookies Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnett weren't ready to contribute. None of those things have happened. It may come down to keeping Ratliff, Ryan Mundy and/or Anthony Madison. Madison is a stellar special teams player.

Travis Kirschke, DL - Kirschke has been a nice find for the Steelers, helping them to a pair of Super Bowl wins. But he's also 34 and has a cranky back. If the Steelers are going to cut a lineman to keep both Ziggy Hood and Sonny Harris, it's likely to be Kirschke, not Nick Eason.

Jeremy Parquet/Jason Capizzi, OT - I know he's a favorite because he's a local guy, but Capizzi is fighting the odds. The team likes Tony Hills' feet better. Darnell Stapleton going on IR helps, though. It could come down to who plays guard better and Parquet has more experience there.

Shaun McDonald, WR - I like what McDonald brings to the table, but the team could decide that if it's going to keep Stefan Logan, it may only need four full-time receivers.

Patrick Bailey, LB - The 2008 team rookie of the year is on the bubble even though he's a very good special teams player. But all of their other backup linebackers – Keyaron Fox, Andre Frazier, Arnold Harrison and Donovan Woods, are solid special teamers as well. The difference is that those other players can actually help out on defense as well. Bailey would be overmatched at this point. He's still better than Bruce Davis, though. This is where Lawrence Timmons' injury could come into play, with the team perhaps keeping an extra linebacker if it feels Timmons may miss the first couple of games.