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.

Inactives

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 SteelCityInsider.com 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.