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Friday, December 31, 2010

Polamalu practices

Steelers safety Troy Polamalu practiced for the first time in three weeks on Friday, meaning its likely he could play Sunday in the team's regular season finale at Cleveland.

Polamalu has missed the last two games with a right Achilles’ tendon injury. The team’s medical staff wants to see how he responds to Friday’s practice before deciding whether he can play Sunday.

Polamalu was selected this week by his teammates as the Steelers’ most valuable player, the first time in his career he was chosen. He also was picked for his sixth Pro Bowl.

Cleveland running back Peyton Hillis, meanwhile, missed his third consecutive practice with a rib injury.

Both of those things make this week's pick pretty straightforward.

Take the Steelers, 27-13

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Thursday news and notes

Despite not playing in the past two games, safety Troy Polamalu was voted by his teammates as the Steelers MVP this season.

The award is well-deserved for Polamalu, who leads the Steelers with six interceptions and has seemingly made every big defensive play the team has had this season.

n Polamalu did not practice Thursday as he continues to rest his sore Achilles' tendon, but that was expected.

Friday is the big day for Polamalu.

n Also sitting out Thursday were running back Mewelde Moore (knee), offensive tackle Chris Scott (personal) and defensive end Aaron Smith (triceps).

Linebacker Jason Worilds (knee) was a partial participant after sitting out Wednesday, while linebacker LaMarr Woodley was a full particpant after being limited Wednesday.

© California University of Pennsylvania quarterback Josh Portis has been invited to the NFL combine.

Portis, the cousin of Washington Redskins' running back Clinton Portis, is the first player in Cal U history to be invited to the combine.

Before playing his final two seasons at Cal, Portis was at Florida, where he saw time as a backup to Tim Tebow, and Maryland.

n The NFL has reduced the fine levied on Harrison for his Oct. 17 hit on Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi from $75,000 to $50,000.

The league’s appeals officer, Ted Cottrell, reduced the fine because he said Harrison understands the player safety rules and has made an effort to adjust his technique to play within those rules. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell supported the reduction.
Harrison’s four fines this season for dangerous hits now total $100,000.

Harrison’s agent, Bill Parise, also plans to appeal a $25,000 fine Harrison was assessed for a hit on Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick on Nov. 28.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Chief/Joe Greene awards coming today

The Chief Award, given to the Steelers player who best represents former owner Art Rooney's cooperation with the media will be handed out today. It's voted on by the local members of the Pro Football Writers of America, of which I am one.

The winner of this year's award will be something of a surprise.

The Joe Greene rookie of the year award was something of a no-brainer, even though the Steelers have a number of good candidates. It wasn't that long ago that we gave it to Patrick Bailey for his special teams contributions.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Three Steelers earn Pro Bowl honors

Three Steelers were named to the Pro Bowl on Tuesday, including rookie center Maurkice Pouncey.

Pouncey was named to the team as a backup to starter Nick Mangold of the Jets.

Also making the team for Pittsburgh were strong safety Troy Polamalu and outside linebacker James Harrison.

Both have been selected to the Pro Bowl in previous seasons.

Polamalu a possibility

Here's the injury run down from today's press conference with Mike Tomlin:

Troy Polamalu’s improving. The Steelers will hold him back from practice until Friday to give him as much time off as possible.

Cornerback Bryant McFadden has a hip pointer that may limit him in the early part of the week.

Linebacker LaMarr Woodley has some swelling on his left knee that could limit him early in the week.

Rookie linebacker Jason Worilds has some swelling on his knee that will likely limit him early in the week. If he can't practice by Thursday, he likely won't play at Cleveland.

Running back Mewelde Moore has a right knee sprain. He is questionable to play.

Aaron Smith underwent another scan on Monday and is "healing nicely." It does not sound, however, that Tomlin has any intention of playing him against Cleveland, particularly with how well Ziggy Hood has been playing.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Steelers 2011 opponents

With Kansas City’s clinching of the AFC West title on Sunday, the Steelers’ 2011 opponents have now been set – barring an expansion by the league to an 18-game schedule.

The Steelers will host Cleveland, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Jacksonville, Tennessee, New England, Seattle and St. Louis.

They will travel to Cleveland, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, San Francisco and Arizona.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Watching Sunday's games

The Browns are attempting to do the same thing against the Ravens that they did to New England, drop eight into pass coverage and rush three - two from the extreme outside and one guy up the middle who is more of a spy than anything.

That won't work against Baltimore.

You have to rush Joe Flacco hard. He doesn't feel pressure well and Baltimore's receivers will eventually get open. There's also the Ray Rice factor.

© We're seeing some chinks in the armor with Colt McCoy as well. He's forced a couple of passes deep and paid for it.

McCoy is pretty accurate on the underneath stuff, but his arm strength is lacking on the deep passes.

© I told my wife I wanted to watch the CBS pre-game show to see an indignant Bill Cowher deny that he put out any rumors about what teams he'd like to be coaching next year.

Cowher didn't disappoint.

© That was quite the choke job by the Chargers in Cincinnati Sunday.

That's also two wins in a row for the Bengals, who have suddenly become dangerous without TO and Ochocinco's Show.

Go figure.

Remember, too, that the Bengals have won at least three in a row against Baltimore.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Post-Carolina thoughts

The outcome of Thursday night's game was about as much in doubt as the Republicans taking control of Congress in the most recent elections.

You knew both were going to happen, it was only a matter of how big the wins were going to be.

© Mewelde Moore and Jason Worilds both suffered knee injuries, the extent of which is not yet known.

© It was good to see James Harrison finally get to the quarterback again for a sack. Harrison had gone three games without one, his longest stretch this season.

The guy works way too hard and had been too close too many times not to get at least one more to close out the season.

© It's getting pretty obvious why punter Jason Kapinos was available for the Steelers to pick up when Daniel Sepulveda was lost for the season a few weeks ago.

He usually gets decent hang time on his punts, but the distance is certainly lacking in the cold Pittsburgh winter.

For a team that likes to play the field-position game, that's not a good thing.

© I'm not a fan of Mike Tomlin leaving starters in the game in a rout like this.

Though Tomlin began pulling starters midway through the fourth quarter, for some reason a banged-Ben Roethlisberger stayed in the whole way.

Same goes for Mike Wallace, who the Steelers threw a quick pass just before the two-minute warning to get him 100 yards.

If either of those two guys were injured, this team wouldn't win a single game in the playoffs, regardless of the opponent.

Yes, I know the Steelers went 3-1 without Roethlisberger to start the season, but that was a team that was relatively healthy on defense.

That's not the case now.

And Wallace means a heck of a lot to this team as well.

© Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Steelers-Panthers inactives

Dwyer, Polamalu, Chris Scott, Tony Hills, Steve McLendon, Battle and Aaron Smith are down for the Steelers.

Chris Gamble and Tony Fiammetta are among those down for the Panthers.

The weather here is not bad. Cold, but the field looks to be in good shape.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Who I like, Carolina version

The Steelers should get an early Christmas present in the form of the Carolina Panthers.

Everything about this game looks like a rout.

Carolina's pass offense is non-existent. The Panthers have just eight touchdown passes this season to go with 19 interceptions.

It gets even worse when you look at Jimmy Clausen's stats. In eight starts, Clausen has two TD passes and seven interceptions with eight fumbles. He's been sacked 26 times.

Pittsburgh's defense will control Carolina's rushing attack and force Clausen to throw, something that will lead to bad things, even without Troy Polamalu in the lineup.

Rashard Mendenhall should find some running lanes and the Steelers could spread the Panthers out early in an attempt to build a lead.

Take the Steelers, 24-6

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Miller practices, Polamalu does not

Heath Miller returned to practice today as the Steelers held their first and only full workout in preparation for Thursday's game against Carolina – though today was more of a glorified walkthrough than anything.

The Steelers will have another walkthrough Wednesday.

Troy Polamalu did not practice, leaving him unlikely to play against the Panthers.

Aaron Smith said that he has one more test to undergo - early next - week before he can be cleared to return to full action.

Jonathan Scott was back at practice today and took the majority of the reps at left tackle.

After re-watching Sunday's game against the Jets Monday night, Scott was actually solid in that game, outside of the missed block on Jason Taylor that led to a safety. But that play can be blamed more on the call itself than the execution.

Ben Roethlisberger said today that he will continue to wear a visor to protect his broken nose for the remainder of this season.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Good news from Tomlin

Mike Tomlin was the bearer of good tidings today as he said defensive end Aaron Smith, strong safety Troy Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller could all be available for Thursday night's game against Carolina.

I don't expect any of them to play - with the possible exception of Miller - but it's positive that the team is even considering it at this point.

Smith will be fitted with a shoulder sling to help protect his surgically repaired triceps. But with just one full day of practice and a walkthrough on Wednesday, it's unlikely the Steelers will rush him back.

Polamalu said he was feeling better after Sunday's 22-17 loss to New York, but is kind of in the same situation as Smith after not practicing last week. Plus, as Tomlin noted, backup Ryan Mundy played well in Polamalu's absence.

Miller practiced on Wednesday and Friday last week. If he can get through practice Tuesday without his recurring headache problems as a result of a concussion three weeks ago, he could play against Carolina.

Tomlin also did not rule out a switch to Trai Essex at left tackle - though he said it was too early for him to commit to such a move.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Post-Jets thoughts

A tough loss to a good team. I liken this loss like the first one to Baltimore when the Steelers gave up a touchdown late to lose without Ben Roethlisberger.

The Steelers pretty much handled everything the Jets gave them but came up short thanks to a kick return for a score and an inexplicable draw call from their own end zone.

Can't defend Bruce Arians on that one. In fact, I was calling the play in the press box. Seems that Jason Taylor knew that tendency as well.

But really, the Steelers handled the Jets up front with their offensive line pretty well. One sack was complete luck and another came when Roethlisberger dropped the football.

All in all, three sacks on nearly 50 pass attempts isn't bad. And Roethlisberger had a lot of time to throw the ball throughout the game.

The running game also clicked pretty well and the Jets' big-bad cornerbacks were non-factors – unless they were grabbing a handful of jersey of a receiver who had gotten behind them.

© If the Steelers have Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller - who they had made a big part of the game plan before he couldn't go - in this game, they win by 10 points.

Don't expect either one to play Thursday against Carolina, but they will be back for the regular season finale at Cleveland, which is now very meaningful.

© After watching Trai Essex at left tackle during the final drive, I wouldn't be surprised to see him move Jonathan Scott to the bench.

© The best thing to take out of this game is the development of Emmanuel Sanders as a complete weapon.

Sanders consistently got open in this game and really seems to be coming into his own in terms of being on the same page as Roethlisberger.

He's going to be a big factor for the Steelers the remainder of this season.

© Looking at what the Green Bay Packers did in New England Sunday night - albeit in a loss - with their backup QB, the Patriots don't look nearly as unbeatable as they did a week ago.

Did they peak too early?


The Colts taking charge of the AFC South is also an interesting development. If anybody can go into New England and pull out a win, Peyton Manning can.

Polamalu, Miller out

Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller are inactive today for the Steelers, obviously a big blow for the Steelers.

Ryan Mundy and Matt Spaeth will start instead.

Eric Smith is out at safety for the Jets, leaving them with two backup safeties starting. Damien Woody and Trevor Pryce are also down for New York.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Who I like, Jets version

If Troy Polamalu doesn't play this week - and I'm not sold that he won't - it affects my pick only in which team I think will cover the 5 1/2-point spread in this game.

The Steelers' defense should dominate New York and erratic QB Mark Sanchez.

New York will not be able to run the ball against the Steelers, forcing Sanchez, who has a propensity to try force the ball into some tight spots, to beat them.

Sanchez isn't capable of doing that.

The Steelers will likewise struggle to move the ball as well. But Sanchez will have a turnover or two that will help set up Pittsburgh's offense.

Heath Miller returning to practice Friday is also big for the Steelers. I expect Pittsburgh to use him to help beat New York's seven and eight-man blitzes with quick passes.

Take the Steelers, 17-9, if Polamalu plays.

Take the Steelers, 17-13, if he doesn't.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Setback for Miller

The Steelers suffered a blow Thursday when tight end Heath Miller was forced to sit out practice with headaches, a lingering symptom of the concussion he suffered two weeks ago in Baltimore.

That could be bad news if Miller is unable to play Sunday against the Jets. With the Jets banged up at safety, Miller would be a heavy target if he plays.

If not, the Steelers are forced to settle for Matt Spaeth trying to go over the middle - ugh.

© On a related note, Darrelle Revis is suffering from a bit of a hamstring injury. That could be good news. But it also continues to lead me to believe the Jets will have Revis follow Hines Ward and Cromartie shadow Mike Wallace.

© Bryant McFadden and Flozell Adams both returned to practice today, but James Harrison sat out for the second consecutive day with an illness.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Week 15 Playoff scenarios

Pittsburgh clinches AFC North division:

1) PIT win + BAL loss + PIT clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over BAL

Pittsburgh clinches a first-round bye:

1) PIT win + BAL loss + PIT clinches strength of victory tiebreaker over


2) PIT win + BAL loss + JAC loss or tie + PIT clinches strength of victory

tiebreaker over BAL

Pittsburgh clinches a playoff spot:

1) PIT win or tie

2) IND loss or tie + SD loss or tie

3) IND loss or tie + KC loss

There are other scenarios in which Pittsburgh may clinch a playoff spot if

it clinches the strength of victory tiebreaker over certain teams this weekend.

© Troy Polamalu earned his second consecutive AFC Defensive Player of the Week award for his efforts against the Bengals.

With his recent play, Polamalu, who got off to a hot start this season before going through a lull in the middle of the year, has forced his way into consideration for NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Tuesday with Tomlin

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said defensive end Aaron Smith's health continues to improve as he works back from a torn triceps muscle.

Smith has been lifting weights for a little over a week now with no ill effects and it looks like he may be back before the end of the regular season.

Smith has been targeting the Carolina game as a possible return, but it's more likely he may see a little action in the regular season finale against Cleveland, just to get his feet wet before the playoffs.

Tomlin said that tight end Heath Miller passed all of his concussion tests and will be cleared to return to practice Wednesday.

Flozell Adams continues to deal with his ankle sprain and will be held out of practice early in the week.

Bryant McFadden, who is still dealing with a hamstring injury, could be limited as well.

Troy Polamalu, as has been the case the past few weeks, will be held out of practice early in the week as he continues to deal with his Achilles' tendon soreness.

Anthony Madison (knee contusion) and Keyaron Fox (elbow) were injured in last Sunday's win over Cincinnati, but should be good to play this Sunday against the Jets.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Post-Cincinnati thoughts, Part II

That was how you're supposed to close out a game against a mediocre opponent.

The Steelers limited the Bengals to 190 total yards and even when they went to their prevent on the final drive, Troy Polamalu picked off Carson Palmer at the goal line, Palmer's third interception of the game.

Yes, the offense failed to punch the ball into the end zone, which is troubling. The offensive line is still the biggest obstacle facing this team and is killing it when the field gets short thanks to sacks and holding penalties.

But with the Chiefs losing Sunday, the Steelers moved a game closer to wrapping up the No. 2 seed in the AFC.

© LaMarr Woodley had a busy day.

Woodley had an interception return for a touchdown to go along with a pair of sacks - his third career multiple-sack game against the Bengals.

He was also largely responsible for Cincinnati's only touchdown. First, he jumped offside on third down on the Bengals' opening possession negating an incompletion.

Then, once the Bengals got down to the 1, Woodley allowed backup offensive lineman Andre Whitworth a quick release into the end zone.

But, we'll forgive him for that since he evened it up with a score of his own.

© Next up are the Jets, losers of two straight and a team that hasn't scored an offensive touchdown in nine quarters.

Quarterback Mark Sanchez also has 8 touchdowns, 12 interceptions and eight fumbles in the last eight games.

He's also completed more than 60 percent of his passes in just one game during that span.

The biggest difference between Sanchez early in the season to Sanchez now?


Sanchez was sacked seven times in New York's first five games. He's been sacked 19 times in the last eight games, including six Sunday by the Dolphins.

The Steelers, who have 39 sacks, have to feel very confident against the Jets.

© Heath Miller can't come back soon enough.

Cincinnati Game Day thread

Heath Miller is down for the Steelers, no surprise there.

Keenan Lewis is down after his gaffe last week, running out of bounds on a punt coverage. Crezdon Butler is active.

Johnathan Joseph is down for Cincinnati.

The rains have let up, but it's still coming down lightly. There's also a steady wind that seemed to be knocking down deep passes in warmups.

The freshly re-sodded field looks OK. We'll see how it holds up once the water soaks all the way in.

Friday, December 10, 2010

Who I like, Cincinnati II

Coming off of an emotional, hard-fought win over hated division rival Baltimore last week, the Steelers face the challenge of not giving up the one-game lead in the AFC North they worked so hard to acquire.

That’s why it’s almost perfect that the Steelers face another division rival at home this week in the Cincinnati Bengals.

If there was any doubt about why the Steelers wouldn’t have a letdown against Cincinnati, the Bengals’ PR department trotted out reason No. 1 in its weekly press release. The Bengals have won two of the past three meetings between the two teams thanks to a sweep of the Steelers in 2009.

The Steelers don’t have to look too far into their past to realize how dangerous the Bengals are, despite their 2-10 record.

They also have the previous meeting between the two teams from which to call upon.
Yes, the Steelers jumped out to a 27-7 lead in that game. But the Bengals scored a pair of fourth quarter touchdowns and were inside the Pittsburgh 20 before being stopped on fourth down late in the game to end their hopes of a comeback.

The difference was that the Bengals opened thigns up in the fourth quarter after trying to establish running back Cedric Benson early.

Against Pittsburgh’s defense, which leads the league in fewest rushing yards allowed, that’s a losing proposition.

The Bengals likely learned their lesson in that game and will try to spread the Steelers out from the start when the two teams meet today at Heinz Field.

But that only works if you have a quarterback who isn’t prone to mistakes. Cincinnati’s Carson Palmer, who has 15 interceptions and five fumbles, is not one of those quarterbacks.

Take Pittsburgh to win, 28-13

© This from the Associated Press: The NFL has suspended New England Patriots linebacker Brandon Spikes four games without pay for violating the league’s policy on performance-enhancing substances.
Spikes, the team’s second leading tackler, will miss the rest of the regular season, starting Sunday at the Chicago Bears. The rookie drafted in the second round from Florida will be eligible to rejoin the active roster after the finale at home against Miami, and would be eligible for the playoffs.
Spikes said in a statement issued by the Patriots that the substance “was a medication that I should have gotten clarification on before taking. It was not a performance enhancer or an illegal drug.”

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Adams returns to practice

The Steelers got some good news Thursday when right tackle Flozell Adams returned to practice. It appears that Adams will not miss any time with the high ankle sprain he suffered Sunday night in Baltimore.

That's great news for a team that was looking at the prospect of starting its sixth different offensive line.

That won't be the case now as Adams is likely headed to his 13th start for the Steelers. He and Maurkice Pouncey are the only linemen to start every game this season.

© On another note, I'm sitting down to watch the Titans play the Colts and this thought came to me: Am I the only one creeped out by the Ray Lewis Old Spice commercial where he tears his own heart out, eats it and gets the little mini-Rays on his shoulder.

What ad agency thought that was a good idea?

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Steelers playoff scenarios


Pittsburgh clinches a playoff spot:

1) PIT win + JAC loss or tie + NE win or tie + MIA loss or tie

2) PIT win + IND loss or tie + NE win or tie + MIA loss or tie

3) PIT win + IND loss or tie + NE win or tie + OAK loss or tie + SD loss or tie

4) PIT win + IND loss or tie + MIA loss or tie + OAK loss or tie

5) PIT tie + MIA loss or tie + OAK loss or tie + SD loss or tie + IND loss

There are other scenarios in which Pittsburgh may clinch a playoff spot if

they clinch the strength of victory tiebreaker over certain teams this weekend.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Tuesday with Tomlin, Miller likely out

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that tight end Heath Miller is likely out for Sunday's game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Miller, of course, suffered a concussion against the Ravens.

But, Tomlin said that backup Matt Spaeth, who has missed the past two weeks with a concussion, has been cleared to play.

The Steelers signed punter Jeremy Kapinos to replace Daniel Sepulveda.

Aaron Smith had an MRI Monday and has been cleared to begin lifting weights.

I'm told he's targeting the Carolina or Cleveland games for a return.

Flozell Adams has what Tomlin deemed a "mild" high ankle sprain.

If he cannot play, Trai Essex would start in his place at right tackle.

Monday, December 06, 2010


Maybe now Rex Ryan will keep his mouth shut for a while.

As I sit here, the Patriots just went ahead of the Jets, 45-3, in what was supposed to be the "Game of the Year," a term that seems to get thrown around every two weeks or so.

Ryan spent all of the offseason tweaking Patriots every chance he got. He was emboldened when the Jets beat the Pats, 28-14, early in the season.

But the Patriots are $&@$stomping the Jets tonight.

The fact is this, the Jets are a fraud. Mark Sanchez might be the most overrated quarterback in the NFL. He still doesn't read defenses well and constantly forces passes into places they should not go.

If you get ahead of New York and take the Jets running game out of the equation, they're in trouble.

And as we saw in this game, the defense is a bit overrated as well.

Realistically, the Patriots are the top team in the league right now with the Steelers and Ravens right behind them.

And even those three teams have flaws that could be fatal in the postseason.

But when your flaw is your quarterback, that's a pretty big one to overcome.

Post-Baltimore thoughts II

Just some quick thoughts here before I get off to bed following a bumpy flight back into Pittsburgh:

I loved Bruce Arians' adjustment to a pony offense in an effort to take some of the pressure off Ben Roethlisberger's injured right foot. In fact, I wouldn't be at all against the Steelers continuing to use that look moving forward, even after the foot is healed.

And obviously, I didn't give anything away to the Ravens by mentioning that the Steelers might have something up their sleeve.

© Sunday night's game is the biggest example of why there is so much confusion surrounding the NFL's crackdown on helmet-to-helmet hits and hits on the quarterback.

It's shameful that those calls were missed.

© Great call by Dick LeBeau to send Troy Polamalu on a blitz.

The Steelers had gotten burned blitzing Polamalu earlier in the game when Ray Rice did a nice job of picking him up, leaving Ryan Clark one-on-one with Anquan Boldin, a play that turned into a 61-yard gain for Boldin.

Nobody picked up Polamalu this time around and it changed the Steelers' fate.

© Joe Flacco just doesn't handle pressure well and it's the one thing that is keeping him from being considered among the upper echelon of quarterbacks.

When he's pressured, he panics.

Ben Roethlisberger is just the opposite. He thrives in those situations.

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Game-day thread

Word has it that Ben Roethlisberger's foot isn't nearly as bad as he's playing it up to be, which is why the Steelers released the statement they did regarding the injury.

I'm also told that some defensive players are a bit ticked off at Roethlisberger because they are playing with injuries but are a little fed up with Roethlisberger's theatrics.

© Brett Keisel is active for the Steelers tonight and will start.

Le'Ron McClain is out for Baltimore with his ankle injury. Michael Oher is active.

By the way, Sanders and Brown are both active for the Steelers.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Who I like - Baltimore version

This should be a very interesting game on Sunday night, one with a great deal on the line.

A victory by the Steelers would put them a game up on Baltimore in the division race and split the season series. Baltimore would lose the tiebreaker at this point, based on the Steelers having a better division record.

A win by the Ravens would all but guarantee them the division title based on having beaten the Steelers twice.

Much has been made about Ben Roethlisberger's injured foot, but it could be a blessing in disguise for Pittsburgh.

The injury is at its worst when Roethlisberger has to drop back, plant his injured right foot and throw.

How do you guarantee he doesn't have to do a lot of that? Go to the shotgun.

The Steelers haven't used their no-huddle offense much this season, but Roethlisberger's injury could force them to do so.

And much like the Steelers, the way to hurt the Ravens is to spread them out. Roethlisberger excels in that kind of attack.

At this point in his career, that's not what Joe Flacco does best.

The key player for the Steelers could be Mewelde Moore, who has become a player Roethlisberger looks to on third downs. The Steelers will split him out wide and have him run patterns out of the backfield. He's very good at finding the soft spots in a zone or beating man coverage.

The same could be said of Baltimore's Ray Rice, who is second on the team behind Anquan Boldin with 47 catches.

This group of Steelers has also always thrived when they get an "us against the world" mentality. It certainly has that this week.

This is also a group that went into Baltimore last season without Roethlisberger, Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu and took the Ravens into overtime before losing.

They'll beat the Ravens this time around, 24-23

Thursday, December 02, 2010

Does he or doesn't he?

Reports surfaced Thursday that Ben Roethlisberger's sprained right foot is actually a broken pinky toe.

The Steelers are disputing that report.

In response to inquiries about Ben Roethlisberger having a broken foot, Steelers spokesperson Dave Lockett said there is no new fracture in Ben’s foot. Ben’s current injury is an aggravation of an old injury where scar tissue is present.

This is, of course, not the first time Roethlisberger and the Steelers have clashed over injuries.

There were the broken toes following the 2005 AFC Championship game against New England, and the broken ribs prior to Super Bowl XLIII against Arizona.

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Roethlisberger, McFadden practice

Both Ben Roethlisberger and cornerback Bryant McFadden practiced on a limited basis Wednesday as the Steelers began preparations for Sunday night's game in Baltimore.

That's good news for the Steelers.

Roethlisberger was still in a walking boot Wednesday morning to stabilize his sprained right foot. But trainer John Norwig came up with a shoe that held the foot in place and allowed Roethlisberger to go through team drills.

McFadden made it through practice with no apparent problems with his injured hamstring. How well the hamstring responds Thursday will be a be test for McFadden.

© A number of Steelers players expressed disgust with the league in regard to its fines of James Harrison.

But so did Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs in a conference call with Pittsburgh reporters.

Apparently, the league has done what nobody else has been able to – get the Ravens and Steelers to agree on something.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Good news on injury front

Mike Tomlin had some pretty good injury news Tuesday, all things considered.

Ben Roethlisberger will be limited early in the week with his foot injury, but should be ready to go Sunday against Baltimore. Roethlisberger is in a walking boot, but that's more of a precautionary thing to help allow more healing to take place.

Rookie wide receiver Antonio Brown, who sat out with a swollen knee worked out Tuesday morning and Tomlin is optimistic Brown will be available to play at Baltimore Sunday.

Nick Eason, who suffered a sprained MCL against Buffalo, is feeling better Tuesday and, though he'll be limited early in the week, he could play against Baltimore.

The same could be said of cornerback Bryant McFadden, who left last Sunday's game with a hamstring injury, though Tomlin did note that hamstrings are tricky.

Troy Polamalu, as he has been the past couple of weeks, will be limited again in practice. Tomlin said the team is just taking precautions to make sure Polamalu stays healthy down the stretch.

Brett Keisel, hamstring, will be a full participant in practice this week and the Steelers are moving forward with the thought he'll play Sunday.

Tight end Matt Spaeth will get some post-concussion tests to determine his availability.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Post-Buffalo thoughts

Every week the talking heads talk about which team is the best in the NFL.

Good luck with that.

If this season has proven anything, it's that no game is a given.

The Steelers' 19-16 overtime win against the Bills showed that once again.

The Steelers dominated the first half as much as they had dominated any game this season. Yet Buffalo took them to overtime in a game in which the Steelers rushed for 200 yards.

The biggest difference was penalties for the Steelers.

Guard Chris Kemoeatu and Ramon Foster had a combined six holding penalties called against them - four by Kemoeatu.

That's a tough day at the office, despite the big rushing totals.

The bottom line in this league this season is wins and losses. And right now, the Steelers' record says they're 8-3.

That's not the best record in the AFC, but it's right there. And they will head to Baltimore next week with an opportunity to take control of the division.

That's all you can ask for.

© Shaun Suisham gets high scores for his four field goals - including the game-winner in overtime - but his kickoffs weren't anything special.

In fact, the special teams coverage units had easily their worst game of the season, nearly costing the Steelers the game - until Keenan Lewis came up with a big strip of Leodis McKelvin in overtime that cost the Bills another five yards.

But, since they've been solid all season, we'll write that off as one bad game.

© Had the Steelers lost the game to the Bills, would Kemoeatu have been released as Jeff Reed was earlier this season after having a bad game in a bad loss?

© The Steelers were blowing some ridiculous holes open in Buffalo's defensive line. I think I might have been able to get 50 yards Sunday.

Maybe not.

© James Harrison now has 10 sacks, the first player in team history to have three consecutive seasons with at least 10 sacks.

But, apparently, he's no longer allowed to hit the quarterback unless it happens to be a sack.

Steelers-Bills game day thread

Brett Keisel was downgraded to questionable Saturday with a calf injury and will be a game time decision to play today.

The guess here is that Keisel won't play as the Steelers will save him for next week's game at Baltimore and were just looking for a reason not to test his hamstring in the cold at Buffalo.

© Speaking of Buffalo, it's cold and windy here.

The bus in was also pelted with snowballs, so that gives you an idea about the conditions.

© Keisel is, in fact, inactive today.

Eason will start in his place.

Matt Spaeth is also down. Expect Trai Essex to see time as the third tight end.

Kraig Urbik will start at right guard for the Bills.

© On a side note that does not involve the Steelers, it appears Pitt is ready to pull the plug on Dave Wannstedt.

I'm hearing that Marvin Lewis is very interested in the Pitt job.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Who I like, Buffalo version

Many people are looking at Sunday's game between the Steelers and Bills as a possible trap game for Pittsburgh with a game against Baltimore coming up next week.

Having been in that locker room this week, I don't see it happening.

The memory of last season's collapse is still very fresh with this team and even if it wasn't, it has been brought up time and again by reporters.

Buffalo's defense, particularly its run defense, is awful.

The Steelers haven't gotten a 100-yard game out of Rashard Mendenhall since Ben Roethlisberger's return from suspension and will look to change that this week in an effort to get Mendenhall rolling into the game against Baltimore.

The Steelers have also faced Ryan Fitzpatrick on two occasions, holding him under 170 yards passing in both games. Yes, that was at Cincinnati in 2008, but the Steelers also sacked him seven times in those games and forced three fumbles.

They have a pretty good idea how to rattle him.

Take the Steelers, 27-13

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

No fines for Steelers

Further enforcing the idea that the Steelers had some very bad calls against them in Sunday's game against the Oakland Raiders is the fact that no fines were assessed to any of the team's players by the NFL this week.

Under normal circumstances, when a player draws a personal foul, the league looks at it and assesses a fine - in addition to the in-game penalty.

In this case, no notice of fines were awaiting the players in the locker room when they returned Wednesday to prepare to play the Buffalo Bills this Sunday.

I spoke privately with a couple of players about the issue and they think they're being watched more closely than other teams, which may have been a factor in the flags that were thrown Sunday.

It's hard to argue that theory after watching Sunday's game.

© On a different note. Happy Thanksgiving to the readers of this blog. I want to thank all of you for making this a regular stop during your daily surfing of the net.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin refused to comment on Richard Seymour's fine - not suspension - for slugging Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger during Sunday's 35-3 Pittsburgh win.

That's not all that surprising, since it would serve no purpose for Tomlin to comment on it.

But the Steelers aren't happy about having their quarterback attacked like that with little repercussion.

© Tomlin said he expects Brett Keisel to be a full participant in practice this week and will play Sunday against the Bills.

Safety Will Allen has also be cleared to return to practice.

Rookie wideout Antonio Brown has some knee swelling and it could limit him in practice. If he doesn't get at least two days of practice, he won't play this week.

© Don't forget to listen to me from 7 to 9 p.m. tonight on WBGG Fox 970-AM.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Seymour fined $25,000

I can hear the Steelers players complaining here in Washington following news Monday that Richard Seymour has been fined just $25,000 - according to - for his cheapshot punch in the face to Ben Roethlisberger in Sunday's 35-3 whipping of the Raiders.

James Harrison has a very legitimate point on this one.

If the league is going to fine or possibly suspend players for things that happen during the course of a play, how can it allow Seymour - who is a repeat offender himself - to walk away with a slap on the wrist on this?

It shouldn't matter what, if anything, Roethlisberger said that caused Seymour to do it. And Seymour has said he didn't hear Roethlisberger say anything. He was reacting to being bumped.

But this isn't the NHL. This is the NFL. And the league really messed this one up.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Post-Oakland thoughts

Was that a dominant enough performance to end any thoughts of a meltdown ala. 2009?

It should have been.

The Steelers dominated the Raiders in every fashion – with the lone exception being when Rashard Mendenhall was running the ball.

Outside of that, the Steelers should have won this game by 50.

It was that dominant of a performance and the Raiders were that overwhelmed.

© Much of the discussion regarding this game will be on the officiating.

The Steelers were penalized for six personal fouls and the Raiders had a player, Richard Seymour, ejected for punching Ben Roethlisberger after he threw a touchdown pass to make it 21-3.

It will be interesting to see the fines that come down from this one and you can bet your last dollar that the Steelers will be watching closely.

The call against James Harrison for tackling Jason Campbell with his full body weight was iffy. Harrison let up at the end of the play.

But he'll probably draw another fine because of who he is.

The call against LaMarr Woodley for roughing Campbell was ridiculous. Woodley bumped Campbell, who went down, tripping Woodley.

The call against Ryan Clark for a helmet-to-helmet hit should have been a personal foul. It just shouldn't have been for helmet-to-helmet contact.

Clark put his helmet into the receiver's back and should have been penalized for hitting a defenseless receiver - if anything.

But the only way that was a helmet-to-helmet hit by Clark is if the receiver was wearing his helmet on his back.

© The officials flat out lost control of this game and obviously decided at halftime - after Seymour's ejection - that they were going to regain control.

Hence, we had 11 flags thrown in the third quarter.

© What in the world were Harrison, Woodley and Roethlisberger doing in the game late in the fourth quarter after all the other starters had been pulled with the Steelers holding a 28-3 lead?

Just asking.

© It was nice to see Troy Polamalu up in the box more often in this one instead of playing deep centerfield.

© It still amazes me every time Mike Wallace runs by defenders like they're standing still.

Foster replaces Essex, Asomugha inactive

The Steelers have announced they will start Ramon Foster at right guard in place of Trai Essex.

While Essex struggled last week against New England, it could be a move that is greasing the skids for Essex to move to left tackle if Jonathan Scott struggles.

Brett Keisel is also inactive again today.

But the biggest injury news comes from Oakland, which has Nnamdi Asomugha inactive today, leaving the Raiders without their best cornerback.

Darius Heyward-Bey is also down.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Who I like, Oakland version

Revenge isn't often a factor in pro football games. Rosters change from year to year and, unless a team or individual does something truly remarkable, memories are short.

The Raiders did something remarkable last season in Pittsburgh, spending three quarters being unable to get out of their own way before rallying with 21 fourth-quarter points for a 27-24 win against the Steelers.

Some players this summer talked about that being the low point of a sub-par 2009 season.

The Steelers get a chance to avenge that loss Sunday when they host the Raiders again.

Both teams will be relatively healthy, so that will not likely be a factor.

But Oakland will try to play a lot of press coverage against the Steelers and that could be the Raiders' downfall. One mistake and Mike Wallace will be all by himself behind the secondary.

And that's something that has happened a bit to the Raiders this season. Despite allowing less than 200 yards passing per game and giving up an NFL-low in completions, the Raiders have permitted 16 touchdown passes, or one for just over every 10 completions they give up. That's a lot.

Oakland can get after the passer. The Raiders have 27 sacks this season, again, about one for every 10 pass attempts. But they have also allowed 26 – one per every 10 pass attempts.

You get the idea.

Oakland coach Tom Cable said this week when asked if the Raiders will try to spread the Steelers out, the way New Orleans and New England did, that his team is not built to do that. He's right.

There's a big difference between Jason Campbell, Oakland's quarterback, and Drew Brees and Tom Brady.

Campbell, by the way, has a passer rating of 67 in road games this season.

The Steelers are 7-point favorites and though that is a big number, I think they'll cover it, winning 24-13.

Sanders not fined, Woodley is

New England safety James Sanders was not fined for his helmet-to-helmet hit that knocked Hines Ward out of last Sunday's 39-26 loss to the Patriots.

Steelers' linebacker LaMarr Woodley did draw a $12,500 fine for a late hit on New England quarterback Tom Brady.

Go figure.

© The Steelers look pretty healthy going into Sunday's game against Oakland. Only Aaron Smith and Will Allen have been declared out.

Brett Keisel, who went through a full practice Friday, is questionable.

Troy Polamalu, Ward and Chris Kemoeatu are all probable. Polamalu returned to practice Friday after resting his sore Achilles' tendon Wednesday and Thursday.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Reed was no scapegoat

There was some feeling that the Steelers released placekicker Jeff Reed as a scapegoat following last Sunday’s 39-26 loss to the New England Patriots.

That couldn’t be farther from the truth.

It was obvious that Reed, the Steelers’ placekicker since 2002, had lost his confidence.

When players start blaming the playing surface, media and fans for failure, it means they really don’t have any answers.

And with that, the Steelers knew they had to move on.
Reed, who was scheduled to become a free agent at the conclusion of the season, wasn’t going to be in 2011. So why not try out a new kicker?

What’s the worst he could do, miss some kicks?

With Reed making an NFL-low 68.2 percent of his field goal attempts this season, there was no fear of that, either.

Of course, every kick Shaun Suisham misses the remainder of this season will be highly scrutinized. People will wonder if Reed would have made the kick.

But that’s part of the job description for NFL kickers.

© Chris Kemoeatu and Lawrence Timmons were back at practice Thursday, meaning both should be good to go on Sunday.

Brett Keisel was still limited.

Troy Polamalu sat out again, but plans on playing.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Kemoeatu expects to play

Guard Chris Kemoeatu returned to practice on a limited basis today and said he expects to play Sunday against Oakland.

Defensive end Brett Keisel also returned on a limited basis, while outside linebacker Lawrence Timmons was also limited.

The fact that they are practicing on at least a limited basis suggests they, too, should be ready to play Sunday.

Hines Ward went through an entire practice and said he feels no ill-effects from the helmet-to-helmet hit he took from New England's James Sanders on Sunday.

There's still no word on whether Sanders has or will be fined by the league for the blow, something Ward admitted he was curious about.

Safety Troy Polamalu did not practice Wednesday as he rests his sore Achilles' tendon.

© Some Steelers expressed some displeasure with placekicker Jeff Reed's release Tuesday. Read more about it in Thursday's Observer-Reporter.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Steelers release Reed, sign Suisham

A few years ago, the Steelers brought young kicker Shaun Suisham to training camp to provide some daily relief to Jeff Reed.

Now, the Steelers have replaced Reed with Suisham.

The Steelers released the struggling Reed Tuesday, signing Suisham.

Reed, who had missed seven kicks this season, was making an NFL-low 68 percent of his kicks.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Steelers tiring of Reed

Jeff Reed, who got into a verbal confrontation with a fan while leaving the field Sunday night, may have finally worn out his welcome in Pittsburgh.

The Steelers will try out kickers on Tuesday in an attempt to find someone better, or, at the very least, light a fire under the struggling kicker.

There's no word on who the Steelers might bring in yet, but the best available guys would include Steven Hauschka, Piotr Czech, Shaun Suisham and Matt Stover.

Post-New England thoughts

It was a humbled group in the Steelers locker room following the team's 39-26 loss Sunday night to the New England Patriots.

And it should have been.

The Steelers were soundly beaten in every phase of the game.

Heck, the Patriots even ran for 103 yards.

You knew going in that New England's offense was going to score some points. That's what the Patriots do.

But Pittsburgh's offense took nearly two quarters to finally adjust to playing without wide receiver Hines Ward, who was knocked out of the game with a concussion on a helmet-to-helmet hit – that was not penalized – by safety James Sanders.

By the time that happened, the Steelers had already dropped three passes in the end zone and Jeff Reed had missed a 26-yard field goal, a chip-shot by any definition.

You can't beat good teams doing that.

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger completed one of 10 passes attempts to wide receivers in the first half.

The Steelers were fortunate to be down just 10-3 at that point.

© I've seen about all of tight end David Johnson in the backfield that I care to see. If you're not going to block somebody, at least get in their way.

© The Steelers had done a good job of tackling in their secondary until Sunday night, limiting the damage from quarterbacks, who were completing over 65 percent of their passes against them.

That changed against New England, which had a number of plays where receivers picked up extra yardage after contact.

If you're not going to cover well, you'd better tackle well. The Steelers did neither Sunday night.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Harrison active for Steelers

James Harrison is active for tonight's game against New England.

Will Allen, Jonathan Dwyer, Chris Kemoeatu, Aaron Smith, Antonio Brown and Brett Keisel are down for the Steelers.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Who I like, New England version

Heath Miller returned to practice Friday for the Steelers, so that's one problem averted.

New England's defense is awful, having given up 400 or more yards in half of the Patriots' games this season. This isn't your father's New England club.

The Patriots can score, to be sure, but they've also limited just one opponent to under 20 points this season.

Tom Brady is also hobbled with a foot injury, something the Steelers may be able to take advantage of.

Finally, New England's pass rush has generated just 13 sacks. Even with two new starters on the left side of the Steelers' line, the Patriots may not be able to take full advantage.

I'll give a nod to Brady to keep things close, but I like the Steelers to win, 27-24.

Still think the Ravens don't have any holes?

For the people coming onto this blog and saying the Ravens have no holes, did you catch the game against Atlanta Thursday night?

Baltimore's pass defense was awful. The pass blocking was mediocre. And Joe Flacco was pretty bad as well.

The bottom line is that while the Steelers have their problems, there is no perfect team in the NFL this season. Period.

There are five or six pretty good teams, but they all have issues.

The two that get hot down the stretch will be in the Super Bowl.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Miller sits out again

Tight end Heath Miller missed his second consecutive day of practice with a swollen knee. That could be troublesome if Miller is unable to play Sunday against the Patriots.

With Max Starks out and Jonathan Scott slated to replace him at left tackle, the Steelers could use Miller to chip a lot out of the backfield.

But if he doesn't play, that would leave them with Matt Spaeth and David Johnson to work with at tight end.

Miller expects to play, but we'll see.

© Expect to see more of Casey Hampton in the Steelers' nickel defense from here on out. Read my story in Friday's O-R to find out more about the move.

© I'm sure a lot of Steelers fans will be watching tonight's big game with Baltimore at Atlanta.

Atlanta has been very tough with Matt Ryan at home. They are 17-3 at home under coach Mike Smith and Ryan has won 13 in a row at the Georgia Dome.

For that reason - and the short week - I like Atlanta, 24-20.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Tomlin talks about offensive line

Mike Tomlin said Wednesday that Jonathan Scott is the team's left tackle moving forward and that there are no plans to move right tackle Flozell Adams to replace injured Max Starks.

Tomlin said that he likes what he's seen of Adams at right tackle and doesn't want to change that. The team also has confidence in Scott.

It also appears that Ramon Foster will start next to Scott at guard instead of Doug Legursky.

Foster started four games in place of Chris Kemoeatu in 2009 and the Steelers like him on the left side.

Starks placed on IR

Max Starks was placed on injured reserve this morning and will undergo surgery to repair a disc problem suffered in his neck in Monday night's game at Cincinnati.

To replace him on the roster, the Steelers activated rookie offensive tackle Chris Scott, who had been on the physically unable to perform list.

Scott, a fifth-round draft pick, suffered a foot injury prior to the opening of training camp.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

The news just gets worse

The cause of left tackle Max Starks' stinger problem from the game at Cincinnati may cause him to miss the remainder of the 2010 season.

Starks left Monday night's 27-21 win at Cincinnati in the first half with what coach Mike Tomlin called a stinger. He returned for the opening series of the third quarter, but did not play again after that.

Post-Cincinnati thoughts

That James Harrison, he's a peach.

After shutting down the Bengals' last-gasp effort to win Monday night by taking Jordan Shipley's head off and knocking the ball free, he got on the intercom on the plane.

"Everybody take a seat so I can get this plane in the air," Harrison said.

He later came on and went through the entire pilot spiel about the length of the flight and such.

Go ahead, you tell him to put the mike down.

The only reason I know Harrison wasn't flying the plane is because our landing was way too gentle.

Had Harrison been flying the plane, we would have touched down violently.

© All kidding aside, it doesn't look like Harrison is changing too much about his game despite his numerous fines. And the Steelers are OK with that.

He did not, however, lead with his helmet on the hit to Shipley.

Harrison said he was free-lancing a bit on that play. It was a good move.

© That game shouldn't have been as close as it was.

That was a bad interception by Ben Roethlisberger at an inopportune time.

Follow that up with three bad penalties and you open the door right up to give Cincinnati an easy seven points.

© I did like the way the Steelers blitzed the heck out of Carson Palmer on the final drive.

© Jeff Reed's got to be able to bang a 45-yard field goal in the game's closing moments, especially after nailing a 53-yarder earlier in the game.

© Offensive line coach Sean Kugler must feel like he's been cursed.

The 2009 Buffalo Bills, his former employer, used about 25 different line combinations.

The Steelers are closing in on that number.

© Maurkice Pouncey looks to be OK, as does Max Starks.

Chris Kemoeatu said he already had an MRI and it doesn't look bad, though he's the worst of the bunch.

© Now, it's off to bed. It's nearly 4 a.m. and the inside of my eyelids are calling.
I talked to Isaac Redman after the game and he seems OK as well.

Monday, November 08, 2010

Beautiful day in Cincinnati

It's a beautiful day here in Cincinnati. The sun is shining and the temperature and conditions tonight should be perfect for football.

© There were some big, vicious hits doled out during Sunday's games that will test the commissioner's office's crackdown on such blows.

The one I thought was OK was the hit on Indianapolis' Austin Collie.

The original blow came from his back side after he had caught the ball and made a football move.

That blow lowered his head and knocked him into the second defender.

The play was penalized, but should not have been. It was a legal hit.

It's unfortunate that Collie was injured, but it was a football play.

The play that isn't being talked about a whole lot was the Jets' Trevor Pryce taking out Detroit kicker Jason Hanson's knee.

The play was penalized, but the Jets gained a distinct competitive advantage from an illegal hit.

That's one where the penalty should be severe.

Friday, November 05, 2010

Who I like, Cincinnati version

As I said last week when I picked the Steelers to lose a close game at New Orleans, I like the Steelers to win their remaining road games this season.

That starts Monday night in Cincinnati.

The Steelers are by far the more healthy team and should be extremely motivated after losing to the Saints.

The Bengals also swept Pittsburgh last season, adding a little fuel to the fire.

Pittsburgh enters this game as a 3 1/2-point favorite and that looks to be something of a gift.

Cincinnati will put some points on the board, but not enough to keep this close.

Take Pittsburgh to win, 27-17

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Harrison hit with $20,000 fine

Another day, another fine for James Harrison.

Two days after meeting with commissioner Roger Goodell, Harrison was fined $20,000 by the NFL for a late hit on New Orleans' quarterback Drew Brees last Sunday.

That brings Harrison's fine total this season to a cool $100,000.

Harrison won't appeal this fine.

© Defensive end Brett Keisel practiced for the second consecutive day on Thursday and looks to be a go for Monday night's game at Cincinnati.

In fact, the Steelers are so sure, they aren't even list Keisel on their injury report.

© Last Sunday's game at New Orleans was the first time this season the Steelers have really missed Sanontio Holmes.

Read more about it in Friday's Observer-Reporter.

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

Steelers now need two practice squad players

The Steelers now need to not only replace Steve McClendon on their practice squad, they have to find a replacement for Al Woods as well – at least according to one report.

Woods, according to the report. was signed by the Tampa Bay Bucs off the Steelers practice squad, leaving the Steelers short on defensive linemen with Aaron Smith out indefinitely.

Woods, however, was seen in the Steelers' practice facility today - though that could have been to clean out his locker here.

Expect the team to sign at least one defensive lineman today.

UPDATE: The Steelers just signed outside linebacker Chris Ellis to the practice squad. Ellis, a Virginia Tech product, was with the Bills in training camp.

UPDATE II: The Steelers have signed Sonny Harris to replace Woods on their practice squad.

© The line of the day came from Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis when asked about Randy Moss being available.

At first Lewis declined to comment. But when told he could have a "triple threat" at wide receiver with Moss, Terrell Owens and Chad Ocho Cinco, Lewis, without missing a beat replied, "I don't have enough bullets for my gun."

© Ben Roethlisberger admitted today to being a "little nervous" about calling a QB sneak on the goal line because New Orleans had a big nose tackle and rookie center Maurkice Pouncey was working on a silent count.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Keisel expected to return

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday he expects defensive end Brett Keisel to return after missing the past two games with a hamstring injury.

In fact, the only player Tomlin listed as unlikely to play this week is Aaron Smith.

Only Flozell Adams and Isaac Redman, who both suffered ankle sprains in the loss at New Orleans, will be limited in practice this week. Both are expected to play Monday at Cincinnati.

Tomlin again refused to speculate how long Smith, who suffered a triceps muscle tear two weeks ago, will be out of action.

He did say he was pleased with how Ziggy Hood played in Smith's absence.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Post-New Orleans thoughts

Sorry this is so late, but I didn't get in until 5 a.m. and I wanted to collect my thoughts before writing them.

I'm sure many fans are lamenting a wasted opportunity of first-and-goal from the 1. I'm sure offensive coordinator Bruce Arians is being lambasted. But Arians didn't miss any blocks at the goal line.

And I liked his play calling a lot better than that of New Orleans in the same situation later in the game.

The Saints, who had absolutely no success running the ball all night, attempted a pass on first down - to an offensive lineman.

They then ran the ball on back-to-back plays for losses.

© The Saints attempted to spread the Steelers out and beat them throwing the ball.

It didn't work all that well.

I know a loss is a loss. But the Saints attempted 44 passes and score 20 points - at home.

The Steelers struggled offensively in a very loud environment with a rookie center making the line calls.

That was a learning experience for Maurkice Pouncey that will pay dividends down the road.

© Brett Keisel should be back this week, which will help the Steelers moving forward. Nick Eason played well in Keisel's absence, but having Keisel in the lineup will help the pass rush.

© Is James Harrison a marked man?

That roughing the passer call on him in the fourth quarter was pretty borderline.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Game day thread

I had the opportunity to sit and watch the entire Jets-Packers game today and if the Jets are supposed to be the Steelers' top competition in the AFC, I'm not seeing it.

Offensively, if you shut down New York's running game and force Mark Sanchez to beat you, it's awfully difficult for the Jets to win.

Sanchez remains the king of the horizontal passing game. Everything he throws is sideways. And when he does push the ball down the field, he's not very accurate.

That's why Baltimore and the Steelers are the two best teams in the AFC.

Even though I'm not a big Joe Flacco fan, at least he has some weapons to get the ball down the field.

© Trai Essex is active and it appears he will start at right guard tonight.

Cornerback Tracy Porter is inactive for the Saints, as is fellow corner Jabari Greer. That's both starting CBs for the Saints.

Friday, October 29, 2010

Who I like, New Orelans version

This is truly a tough spot for the Steelers.

New Orleans on Halloween night is not only going to be loud, it's going to be hostile. While Steelers fans often overrun many visiting stadiums, I don't expect that to happen this week.

Saints fans aren't likely to sell tickets for a game pitting the last two Super Bowl champions in one of the biggest night games of the season.

The fact that Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith are both likely out of action also bothers me.

Though we know the Saints won't run the ball a ton, Ziggy Hood and Nick Eason are going to get a workout rushing the passer - with little in the terms of backups behind them.

Also, Smith and Keisel are the two tallest defensive linemen on the roster. Keisel, in particular, has very long arms and is good at batting down passes, something that comes into play against 6-0 Drew Brees.

The other thing that gives me caution is the defending Super Bowl champion factor.

Yes, I know the Saints have struggled, but so did the Steelers in both of their seasons after winning the Super Bowl.

If you remember those seasons, the Steelers invariably lost to lesser teams but somehow got inspired to beat the good ones.

And make no doubt about it, the Steelers will have the full attention of the Saints.

Pittsburgh could certainly win this game and I wouldn't be surprised if the Steelers did.

But they aren't going to go 8-0 on the road this season and I like them to win their remaining road games - yes, even at Baltimore Dec. 5.

Take New Orleans, 28-27

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Woodley, Adams return

The Steelers got some good news Thursday when LaMarr Woodley and Flozell Adams both returned to practice.

It would appear both will be ready to play Sunday at New Orleans.

© Brett Keisel (hamstring) is still out - though he could return Friday.

Also missing practice was center Maurkice Pouncey, who was out with an illness. That's perhaps a more troubling issue, especially if he's still sick on Friday.

Rookies need as much preparation as possible, particularly heading into what will be a loud, raucious environment in New Orleans.

© Apparently, the league thought so highly of the new, kinder, more gentle James Harrison that it is now giving him gifts.

Harrison was awarded an interception in an official scoring change on Miami's final offensive play last Sunday.

Maybe I was seeing things, but the ball appeared to hit the ground.

It doesn't matter in the context of the game - Miami turned the ball over on downs on the play.

But it could in terms of contract bonuses and such.

The Dolphins, by the way, have already appealed the scoring change.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Sanders admits the push has helped

I spoke to Emmanuel Sanders today and he admitted that Mike Tomlin making him compete for a spot on the active roster each week has been good for him.

Sanders, by the way, was named the AFC's special teams player of the week for his effort against Miami.

© Brett Keisel, Aaron Smith (obviously), LaMarr Woodley and Flozell Adams did not practice Wednesday.

Keisel, Woodley and Adams will try to go Thursday or Friday.

© The big question this week is whether the Saints will even try to run the ball against the Steelers.

With New Orleans' weapons, they have the ability to spread the Steelers out and pass on every play.

That becomes even more likely if Reggie Bush can come back this week - though he didn't practice Wednesday.

If Woodley can't play, that takes away one of the deterrents for that strategy as well - though I expect Woodley to play.

© Word out of Cleveland is that Mohamed Massaquoi harbors no ill will toward James Harrison and isn't holding a grudge.

I'm sure Harrison will sleep better at night knowing that.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Tuesday with Tomlin, preparing for life without Aaron Smith

Aaron Smith had surgery Monday to repair a torn tendon in his biceps and will be out indefinitely. That's the bad news.

The good news is that the Steelers are holding out hope Smith will be able to return at some point this season - though Mike Tomlin wouldn't put a timetable on it – so the Steelers aren't putting him on IR.

That could change if they get a rash of other injuries. But for the time being, Smith could possibly return.

© Tomlin is optimistic about getting Brett Keisel, LaMarr Woodley and Flozell Adams back this week for Sunday night's game at New Orleans.

All will be limited in practice to start the week.

© It looks like Trai Essex will be back this week. Though Tomlin wouldn't commit to a starter at right guard, the bet here is that if Essex is healthy, he'll start.

© You can hear me on FOX 970-AM every Tuesday night from 7 to 9 p.m. - beginning tonight - for the remainder of this season.

We'll be discussing the previous week's game and upcoming game for the Steelers each week.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Post-Miami thoughts

A wise man said – OK, it was Craig Wolfley – that during the course of a season, you win a game you should lose and lose a game you should win.

That was probably the case for the Steelers on Sunday as they won a game they probably should have lost.

Why should they have lost?

The defense didn't have a very good game. Yes, the final numbers aren't bad, but as the injuries mounted, the Dolphins moved the ball pretty easily.

The Steelers can be thankful that Miami's offense bogged down again and again inside the 20.

Chad Henne missed some throws and checked down a couple of other times instead of taking a shot at the end zone to 6-4 wide receiver Brandon Marshall.

© As we saw, Lawrence Timmons just isn't the same Lawrence Timmons when he has to move to outside linebacker as he did at times Sunday to replace injured LaMarr Woodley.

Timmons' game is built on speed and his explosiveness. He's not a guy who's going to line up and beat you with his pass rush moves.

I would expect Woodley to at least try to play next week at New Orleans, but if he doesn't, the Steelers have to at least take a long look at starting rookie Jason Worilds in place of Woodley.

© We won't know for sure until Monday, but it doesn't look good for Aaron Smith and his torn triceps muscle.

The Steelers are a little more optimistic about Flozell Adams' ankle injury.

© Everywhere I go, people are hammering me this year for my NFL picks. But I ask you, who can figure this league out this year?

Baltimore should have had a cakewalk against Buffalo Sunday and probably should have lost.

New Orleans did lose at home to Cleveland.

Tennessee is looking a little better, but that's still a team the Steelers beat on the road with Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch putting up high school football quarterback numbers.

Picking games against the spread this season is a losing proposition.

Game-Day thread

It's a beautiful day here in Miami, though there was a quick shower here at the field that lasted about five minutes. (Note: It is now flat-out pouring here).

The field looks to be in good shape.

© I ran into Gene Steratore at the hotel last night. The Washington resident and his crew will be working the game today.

© Trai Essex is inactive for the Steelers. That means Legursky gets the start.

Nick Eason will get the start in place of Brett Keisel.

Antonio Brown is also inactive.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Who I like - Miami edition

Credit Mike Tomlin for trying to avoid a distraction with James Harrison by sending him home on Wednesday. But that, apparently, only continued the distraction into Thursday.

That said, the Steelers are a veteran group and should be focused on the task at hand, beating the Miami Dolphins.

Three-game road trips are never easy and that starts this week at Miami.

Getting the first win is the most important thing.

The Steelers will handle Miami's running game and force Chad Henne to beat them. I just don't think he's capable of that.

Pittsburgh will win, 23-16

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Redman to get more carries

I spoke with Isaac Redman. He told me he'll be getting the carries in the last five minutes of games to help ease the load on Rashard Mendenhall.

You can read my story in Friday's O-R to see more about it.

© As expected, James Harrison returned to practice today.

Retirement avoided.

© I learned Wednesday that Ziggy Hood suffered a sprained ankle early in the season that has limited his play.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Harrison-Tomlin meet

I've just been informed that Mike Tomlin met with James Harrison this morning and that the two had a "very productive" meeting.

Tomlin then excused Harrison from practice today.

Harrison, of course, has gone on numerous sports talk shows and expressed his frustration at the $75,000 fine levied against him for a hit on Cleveland's Mohamed Massaquoi last Sunday.

He's even gone as far as saying he's contemplating retirement if he feels he's unable to play under the current rules - which he has 20 million guaranteed reasons not to do.

Tomlin is likely allowing Harrison - who sometimes does not practice on Wednesdays anyway - a little cooling off period.

© On a side note, the play on which Josh Cribbs suffered a head injury has now been changed to a sack, with Harrison and LaMarr Woodley each getting credit for a half-sack.

Cribbs originally dropped back to pass before scrambling out of the pocket.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Tuesday with Tomlin, preparing for the road show

The Steelers will not have Brett Keisel available this weekend when they travel to Miami. He'll be out with a hamstring injury.

Coach Mike Tomlin is opening things up at the position to see if Ziggy Hood or Nick Eason step up their game to fill that role. But that's nothing new for Tomlin, who likes to pit one player against another rather than simply elevating a guy into a starting role.

Trai Essex is expected return to practice this week after missing the past couple of games with an ankle injury. Doug Legursky has been starting in his place and has played reasonably well. But he suffered an MCL sprain against Cleveland - and returned to the game.

The healthier man will probably start.

Rashard Mendenhall has a bruised shoulder and will sit out early in the week. Tomlin admitted to being concerned with Mendenhall's heavy workload and - as I said on another post this week - look for Isaac Redman to spell him a little more often moving forward in an attempt to keep him a little more fresh.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Hypocrisy 101

Rodney Harrison talking about players needing to be suspended for helmet to helmet hits on other players screams of hypocrisy.

This is the same Rodney Harrison, after all, who routinely won the vote for being the dirtiest player in the game when he still played. This is the same Rodney Harrison who was fined over $200,000 during his playing career and suspended himself for illegal hits.

And some of the hits he pointed to were made by Steelers linebacker James Harrison Sunday against the Browns.

I sat in, as I do every year, on the officials meeting with the media when they come to training camp to explain rules interpretations and points of emphasis.

One of the new ones this year was put in place to protect receivers from dangerous hits. Defenders are no longer permitted to launch themselves into those receivers and must aim their hit to the torso.

Take a look at the hit by Harrison on Mohamed Massaquoi in the photo that is posted here and you see he's not launching himself. He simply lowers his shoulder moments after the ball arrives. It's a legal hit - as explained to me this summer by the NFL officials who attended the Steelers training camp.

As for the hit on Josh Cribbs, he's a running back on that play and there are no rules in place to protect them from helmet-to-helmet plays. In addition, that play was more of a freak happenstance than anything. Cribbs happened to turn into Harrison just as he arrived to help LaMarr Woodley get Cribbs to the ground.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Post-Cleveland thoughts

At 4-1, the Steelers find themselves in a pretty good spot.

But now, things start to get a little more difficult.

Heading out onto the road the next three weeks - at Miami, New Orleans and Cincinnati. It's usually difficult enough to play on the road, but three in a row is murder.

The only saving grace for the Steelers is that after playing Miami next weekend, they'll have plenty of reason to stay focused. The Saints are the defending Super Bowl champions, while the Bengals are an AFC North rival that beat them twice last season.

This will be the make-or-break portion of the schedule, followed by a return trip home against New England.

The Steelers have to go at least 2-2 in those four games if they hope to have a chance to win the division - though the Patriots helped them out by beating the Ravens Sunday.

© Were the Steelers flat Sunday against the Browns?

No. The reason they didn't blow the Browns out earlier was offensive coordinator Bruce Arians' (correct) decision to use plenty of running to allow Ben Roethlisberger to ease himself into things.

Roethlisberger missed some open receivers and threw a bad interception on the team's first drive.

And the Browns also pinned the Steelers deep in their own territory on several occasions as well.

It took Roethlisberger a little while to find his rhythm, but the Steelers really were never challenged in this one.

The outcome of the game was never really in question. It was just going to be a matter of whether or not the Steelers covered the spread.

© Given the fact Roethlisberger needed as many game snaps as possible, I have no problem with the Steelers throwing into the end zone with under two minutes to play and up 11 points.

The Browns hadn't stopped playing, so the Steelers shouldn't stop trying to score.

© One nice thing the NFL did for the Steelers was set them up to face wildcat teams in back-to-back weeks coming off the bye.

The Steelers can roll some of the same defenses they used against the Browns right into the game at Miami - though, in my opinion, Ronnie Brown isn't as dangerous as Josh Cribbs is in the wildcat.

© Colt McCoy has a chance to be Cleveland's best QB since the Browns' return to the NFL. And there have been quite a few.

Ditto Peyton Hills at running back - though Jamal Lewis wasn't bad in his short stay with the Browns.

Cleveland is much better than it has been - though the Browns still aren't ready to challenge for a playoff spot.

Game-day thread

Here's where you can put all your praise/complaints for today's game against the Browns.

It's a beautiful day at Heinz Field. The crowd is amped up.

Great day for football.

© There was a huge ovation for Ben Roethlisberger, who was announced next-to-last on the offense, right before Hines Ward.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Who I like - Cleveland edition

This is the perfect storm for the Steelers.

Ben Roethlisberger is coming back and is fired up to play. Cleveland is starting a rookie quarterback and is banged up. And the Steelers are coming off a bye.

Add to that the fact the Browns embarrassed the Steelers in Cleveland in their last meeting and you have all the makings of a rout.

For some reason, the spread in this game opened at 14 and has actually gone down to 13 points.

Don't people pay attention to the warning signs?

This has all the makings of a classic Browns-Steelers blowout, which is what I expect to happen.

Take Pittsburgh, 38-6.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Mid-week thoughts

You can feel the excitement surrounding Ben Roethlisberger's return in the Steelers' locker room, particularly among the offensive players.

This is a team that has thought all along that it was pretty goood - as Max Starks told me, they have a cockiness, even without Roethlisberger.

© Outside of the return of Roethlisberger, there's not a lot of buzz around the Steelers this week.

They expect to beat the Browns because that's what they do – with the exception of a 13-6 loss in Cleveland last season.

The Browns have made some moves to get better, but they're still the Browns.

© I spoke with Doug Legursky and he's taking his starting role in stride. He still looks at the right guard position as belonging to Trai Essex and hasn't been told by the coaching staff otherwise.

© Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians told reporters today that rookie Emmanuel Sanders will be active instead of fellow rookie Antonio Brown and will return kicks.

Sanders is the more polished receiver between the two, though Brown is the better return man.

But the Steelers feel that with Roethlisberger back, they want the more polished receiver available.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Big week to check on improvements

You could make the argument that the Browns cost a couple of Steelers coaches their jobs in 2009 and very nearly cost offensive coordinator Bruce Arians his as well.

Josh Cribbs had a 98-yard kickoff return against the Steelers at Pittsburgh last season, one of four kickoff returns for touchdowns allowed by the Steelers.

It was obvious that special teams coordinator Bob Ligashesky wasn't coming back after a season of lowlights.

But the low point for offensive line coach Larry Zierlein and Arians came in a 13-6 loss in December at Cleveland.

In a driving wind and temperatures that were well below freezing, the Steelers ran the ball just 22 times for 74 yards.

And quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was sacked eight times in a game plan that was obviously not adjusted to account for the weather.

That loss was the final one in a five-game losing streak for the Steelers, who won their final three games to finish at 9-7.

But the damage was done - at least for Ligashesky and Zierlein.

The were replaced by Al Everest and Sean Kugler, respectively, while Arians got a reprieve with the promise to run the ball more often.

We've seen the early results in the first four games, but Cleveland will offer some challenges this week, particularly for Everest, with Josh Cribbs.

Three of Cribbs' eight career kickoff returns for touchdowns have come against the Steelers. And he's just missed scoring on a couple of other occasions.

The Browns are not a good football team. But, as we saw last season, when you give up big plays on special teams or allow an all-out assault on your quarterback, you can lose to anyone.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Winning while off

The Steelers were a big winner on Sunday despite being off.

How so?

Looking around this league after Sunday's action and you have to ask yourself, who exactly is any good?

OK, Baltimore is good, but the Steelers already went toe-to-toe with the Ravens sans Ben Roethlisberger.

Tennessee went into Dallas and beat the Cowboys and now own wins at Dallas and the Giants, but the Steelers have already beaten Tennessee.

The NFC may not have one good team, though Atlanta has gotten off to a good start and now looks like the favorite.

But again, the Steelers have beaten the Falcons - without Roethlisberger.

With San Diego losing at Oakland, ending a 13-game winning streak against the Raiders, the AFC shapes up like the Steelers, Ravens and Jets, with Indianapolis clinging precariously to a spot among those teams, and then everybody else.

Thursday, October 07, 2010

Moss trade shakes up AFC

The trade of Randy Moss to the Minnesota Vikings changes the complexion of the AFC in several ways.

At first glance, it obviously makes the New England Patriots a weaker team.

The Patriots are not the Patriots of old. The defense is not great - particularly in the secondary. And, without Moss, who are teams going to be afraid of in that offense? Wes Welker isn't a guy who's going to beat teams over the top. Maybe one of the younger receivers is, but until we see it, the Patriots' offense looks weaker.

Maybe the Patriots were looking at this as addition by subtraction. Maybe Moss' attitude was just that bad.

But I can't see how this makes them a better team now.

It opens the AFC East up for the Jets, who already own wins over each of the other teams in that division. It also opens things up a little bit for the Jets to possibly be the No. 1 or 2 seed in the AFC playoffs since it does not appear they will be challenged in their division.

Then again, they do have to face Moss again this week at Minnesota, so who knows?

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Roethlisberger looks good

After watching Ben Roethlisberger throw the ball around the Steelers' indoor facility today, you had to come away impressed.

Charlie Batch didn't practice, but Byron Leftwich did. And the differences between Leftwich and Roethlisberger's passes were easy to spot.

Not one of Roethlisberger's passes fell incomplete and there were a couple of occasions when Roethlisberger slipped a pass into a tight spot, eliciting a "Woah," from some of his teammates.

He was that good Tuesday.

© I've heard a lot of talk about how the Steelers shouldn't change their offensive philosophy now that Roethlisberger is back.

After all, the team is 3-1 with its current run-heavy offensive balance.

But anyone who expects Rashard Mendenhall to make it through the season with his current workload is delusional.

Mendenhall is on pace to log more than 350 carries. Add in some receptions and he'll be up over 375 touches.

That's too many.

Yes, the Steelers still need to be able to run the ball. But they're not paying Roethlisberger $102 million to hand the ball off.

Steelers at the bye

OK admit, even the most ardent Steelers fans among you didn't have this team going 3-1 heading into their bye week.

This team is 3-1 with Ben Roethlisberger coming back and could have just as easily been 4-0 if not for a play here or there against the Ravens Sunday.

The offensive line has played well, regardless of who has played - and every lineman on the 53-man roster has seen action. The only one who has looked overmatched has been Tony Hills.

Running back Rashard Mendenhall is one of just three backs in the league averaging over 100 yards rushing per game. His blitz pickup has been very good and backup Isaac Redman has been solid as well.

We haven't gotten to see much from the receivers due to the quarterback situation, but Roethlisberger will make them better. Remember, a great quarterback can make even average receivers look good. Think about the guys that Brett Favre has made stars of over the years.

The defensive line has been strong, despite a missed game each by nose tackles Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke.

The linebackers have been, well, the linebackers. Lawrence Timmons is an emerging star and James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and James Farrior have done their usual solid work.

The secondary is actually catching the ball this season, something it did not do last year. Yes, Bryant McFadden was beaten for the winning touchdown against the Ravens, but Baltimore's wide receiver group of Derrick Mason, Anquan Boldin and T.J. Houshmandzadeh is pretty darn good. The fact that Baltimore scored just 17 points with those three receivers on the field cannot be overlooked.

Much of the yardage allowed through the air this season has come late in games when the team is in a prevent.

Special teams have been much better than last season. The coverage units have been solid. Al Everest also came up with a solid trick return at Tennessee.

Yes, Jeff Reed has missed four field goals at Heinz Field. But kicking at Heinz Field is no day at the park. Anything over 40 yards is difficult, particularly toward the open end of the field.

Sometimes, field goals are taken for granted. They should not be at Heinz Field.

At the beginning of the season, I had the Steelers down for a 10-6 record. Looking at things have shaken out over the first month, there's no reason this team can't go 9-3 the rest of the way.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Post-Baltimore thoughts

Anybody who would have taken 3-1 coming out of the first four games, raise your hand.

OK. That's pretty much everybody.

Yes, I'm sure you don't like it that the Steelers lost to the Ravens, but it gives this team two weeks to re-focus with what Hines Ward called an angry Ben Roethlisberger coming back.

That's not a bad thing.

The Steelers will still control their own destiny this season.

And Sunday's loss should shut all the idiots up who don't think the Steelers need Roethlisberger.

© Baltimore's pass defense was a little better than I gave it credit for. The front seven makes a lot of that happen with the pressure it brings.

Still, there were things that could have been exploited.

© Rashard Mendenhall should make the Pro Bowl this season. He's running hard. He's running decisively. He's been the Steelers' entire offense - for the most part - through the first four games when everyone knew he was coming.

Mendenhall will no doubt need the next two weeks off to rest his body up for the remainder of this season.

© The Steelers have made it to their bye relatively healthy.

That's good news. Chris Hoke and Trai Essex will be back following the bye.

© Everybody wanted to talk about the first four games being the make-or-break portion of this season, but really, it's the next four games.

After playing Cleveland at home in Roethlisberger's return, the Steelers play road games at Miami, at New Orleans and at Cincinnati. That's a tough stretch for any team.

The only good thing about that is that there's no way the Steelers will take the third of those three games, at Cincinnati, lightly.

That's a big thing because history shows that NFL teams don't do well in the third game of three consecutive road games.

If the Steelers can at least split those four games, giving them a 5-3 first half, they'll be in excellent shape.

Remember, Baltimore still has to play at New England, at Atlanta and at Houston. The Ravens also have home games against the Steelers, Dolphins, Saints and Bengals. That's seven pretty tough games left on the Ravens' schedule.

© I thought Charlie Batch did a good job with his hard counts against the Ravens. Were they a factor in the two false starts late in the game?

Possibly. But if the Ravens had jumped offside on those, everyone would be saying what a great move they were.

The offense knows the snap count. There's no reason for them to jump offside.

Those two offside penalties really limited what the Steelers could do.

Look at it this way, Mendenhall had two carries for five yards that were negated by the false starts. That would have put the Steelers in a third-and-five from the 8, as opposed to third-and-10 from the 3.

They may have attempted a pass from the 8 off a three-step drop. But you don't want Batch dropping back into the end zone to pass the ball. Too many bad things can happen.

And no, I'm not taking a safety in that situation. When your defense has only given up three touchdowns - to that point - in nearly four games and a touchdown is the only thing that can beat you, you have to make the opponent score a touchdown.

Game-day thread

It's game day and since there are no real surprises for the Steelers on the inactive list - though Baltimore defensive end Cory Redding is down - I thought I'd put this post up for your thoughts on the game.

The weather here is slightly chilly - between 50 and 60 degrees - and wet. It's not raining now, but it has been sprinkling and there is a chance of showers during the game.

I would think that favors the home team since the Steelers are better stopping the run than Baltimore has been this season.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

Dixon to IR

In a move that wasn't too surprising, Dennis Dixon was placed on injured reserve Saturday to make room for defensive tackle Steve McLendon.

The Steelers needed McLendon on the 53-man roster because backup nose tackle Chris Hoke won't play Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

Dixon suffered a torn meniscus two weeks ago that required surgery to repair. He was likely to miss another three to four weeks.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Who I like, Baltimore-Pittsburgh

There's been no smack talk this week - at least publicly - because the Steelers and Ravens know how much is at stake this week.

A win by the Steelers would put them in excellent position and put the Ravens behind the eight ball at 2-2 - and more importantly, 1-2 in the AFC North.

Because of that, the Ravens need this game more than the Steelers, which is usually a big factor for me when picking games.

But, the intensity of the rivalry cancels that out. Neither of these teams takes a game against the other for granted. There will be plenty of emotion to go around.

The Steelers have a way of making Joe Flacco look like some guy the Ravens just brought in off the street. But, Ray Rice's quickness and elusiveness also causes problems for the Pittsburgh defense.

That said, the Steelers are 4-0 under Mike Tomlin against the Ravens in Pittsburgh.

And this Baltimore defense can be run on - not because of its front seven, but because its secondary doesn't play the run very well.

Rashard Mendenhall has been getting into the secondary this season.

Take Pittsburgh, 16-13

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Mid-week thoughts

To a man, there's nobody in the Steelers locker room who does not expect Ray Rice to play Sunday.

That's the bottom line in this game. Neither team wants to be the first to blink. And Rice sitting out would be the Ravens blinking.

© I asked Max Starks today if he's had to explain to all the new guys starting on the offensive line what kind of game they're in for.

He said he has with Maurkice Pouncey, but that Doug Legursky has been here long enough to have seen the battles.

I asked about Flozell Adams. He replied, "I don't have to explain anything to Flozell. He hates everybody. We just tell him, 'Flo, we don't like these guys.' He's like, 'Cool, I hate them too.'"

© A reporter asked John Harbaugh today about the Stanford Cardinal, the team coached by his brother, Jim.

"They're kicking butt and taking names," Harbaugh said before correcting himself. "Actually, they're kicking so much butt they don't have time to take names."

© Jim Wexell reminded me today how much I liked Cleveland running back Peyton Hillis coming out of college.

At the time, I thought Hillis might end up being a better player than the two guys he blocked for in the Arkansas backfield, Darren McFadden and Felix Jones.

I don't know if that has come to fruition, but McFadden and Jones have both been very injury prone.

Hillis, meanwhile, went for nearly 150 yards on Sunday against the Ravens.

© The Steelers' practice Wednesday was more subdued than usual. Usually, they are very boisterous during practice.

But, as PR man Dave Lockett noted when I mentioned something about it to him, the Steelers weren't in pads.

Mike Tomlin was giving the players an easy day of practice in anticipation of the kind of game they will play in Sunday.

© I sit here watching "The Big Lebowski," one of the most underrated comedies of its kind.

Gotta love The Dude.

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Interesting stuff

Ray Lewis just had his conference call with the Pittsburgh media and had some interesting things to say.

Lewis said he and Ben Roethlisberger were exchanging texts last night and Roethlisberger was lamenting the fact he won't be playing against Baltimore this weekend.

Lewis said he exchanges texts with a number of the Steelers regularly.

It's a far cry different from the days when he and Joey Porter went back and forth with a war of words.

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin on Tuesday called the Steelers-Ravens rivalry the best in football.

While I haven't been able to witness first-hand many of the other good rivalries around the league, I have seen all 30 games between Baltimore and Pittsburgh.

They are all memorable, particularly since the Ravens became a factor around 1998.

In the past 24 meetings, 11 of the games have been decided by three or fewer points.

In the past 11 meetings, four have gone to overtime.

The Steelers are 5-2 against the Ravens under Tomlin, but the aggregate score of those games is 99-83, showing just how close the margin is.

© Tomlin said defensive tackle Chris Hoke (knee) and guard Trai Essex (ankle) could be available this week.

© And, of course, Charlie Batch will start at QB.

And then there were three

Three weeks into the season, we're already down to just three unbeaten teams.

What kind of odds do you think you could have gotten at the beginning of the season that those three unbeatens would be the Steelers playing without Ben Roethlisberger, the Chicago Bears and the woeful Kansas City Chiefs?

Which one is the biggest surprise to you?

Even though I picked against the Steelers to win the first two weeks, I'd still have to go with Kansas City.

I'm still nowhere near sold on the Chiefs being a playoff contender – I think Chicago and Pittsburgh are – but they've already beaten San Diego and San Francisco - a pair of teams picked to win their respective divisions by many.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Post-Tampa Bay thoughts

Am I vindicated now?

I pick the Steelers to win and cover and they do so with great ease.

Some felt this game could be a bit of a trap game, coming before a big showdown with the Ravens. But this is a highly motivated, highly focused team.

If anybody nearly got caught in a trap Sunday, it was the Ravens, who struggled to beat the Browns in a game sandwiched between meetings with Cincinnati and Pittsburgh.

It's still early, but the Steelers have the look of a team that wants to make its third Super Bowl trip in the past six years.

Injuries will play a big factor in that, but as the Steelers have already shown, they are not only talented, they're deep.

In fact, Mike Tomlin referenced the fact that every offensive lineman on the team's 53-man roster has already seen playing time this season. That can only help this team down the road.

© Many people feel the Steelers, at 3-0, are playing with house money in regard to these first four games without Ben Roethlisberger.

But these guys honestly feel like they should win every game.

© It's easy to second-guess Tomlin for his decision to start the season with Dennis Dixon at quarterback rather than Charlie Batch. But, in reality, he had painted himself into that corner.

Dixon had gotten way more work in the preseason and training camp than Batch. And then there was Batch's lengthy injury history, something Tomlin noted was part of his decision to start Dixon.

The bottom line is that the Steelers are 3-0. It hasn't always been pretty but it has been effective.

© One of the key plays in Sunday's game is something that likely won't be mentioned in any of the game stories - including mine.

But, trailing 3-0, the Steelers went three-and-out on their second possession. Punting from his own 29, Daniel Sepulveda nailed a kick 62 yards with no return to the Tampa Bay 9, completely changing field position.

Tampa Bay then went three-and-out and punted from its own 15.

The Steelers took over from the Tampa Bay 45 and two plays later, Batch hit Mike Wallace on his first long touchdown pass.

© Chris Hoke's sprained knee doesn't look bad, but it could be a big thing if he can't play against the Ravens in what will be a battle of the trenches.

© Speaking of the trenches, the Steelers did not allow a sack Sunday.

The last time that happened was when the Steelers played at Baltimore last November, a game started by Dixon.