Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Polamalu practices

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Harrison, Hampton make Pro Bowl

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 28, 2009

Steelers playoff scenarios

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


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

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

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

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


If the Bengals and Patriots both lose:

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

If the Bengals and Patriots both win:

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

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Post-Baltimore thoughts II

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harrison will play, Reed won't

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

James Harrison is active for the Steelers and will start.

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

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

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

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

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

Tom Zbikowski will continue to start in place of Reed.

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

Friday, December 25, 2009

Merry Christmas and who I like

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Polamalu iffy

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 21, 2009

Sweed, Warren done for year

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

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

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

Post-Green Bay thoughts

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

I was not one of them.

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

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

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

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

It was a good move.

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

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

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

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

Sounds sort of like the Steelers.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Pittsburgh-Green Bay inactives

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

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

Friday, December 18, 2009

Who I like

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, December 17, 2009

NFL from the Sidelines will be moving

In the near future, this blog will be moving to http://www.observer-reporter.com/or/sidelines/ . You'll still be able to access it by going through the Observer-Reporter web site.
Thanks for your patience.
Dale

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Last three weeks should be interesting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hogwash.

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, December 14, 2009

Cloudy AFC playoff picture

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, December 11, 2009

Post-Cleveland thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It explains it but it doesn't justify it.

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

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

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

We'll see if anyone joins him.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

Just got to Cleveland

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

But I already expected that.

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

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

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

Wednesday, December 09, 2009

Who I like

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Polamalu not done for season

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keenan Lewis will also get some playing time.

Monday, December 07, 2009

Gay, Ward doubtful

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, December 06, 2009

Steelers-Raiders post-game thoughts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Steelers-Raiders inactives

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

Heyward-Bey and Greg Ellis are down for Oakland.

Eason starts at DE for Kirschke, Carter for Polamalu.

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

The weather here is great. The field looks good.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Who I like

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

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

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

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

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

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

Take the Steelers, 27-6

Wednesday, December 02, 2009

Madison is back

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

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

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

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

Troy Polamalu is still out.

© From the Associated Press today:

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