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Friday, December 30, 2011

Who I like this weekend

It should be a very interesting weekend in the NFL with all but a handful of games being meaningful in some way, shape or form.

Of course, here in Pittsburgh, the games everyone will be keeping an eye on will be at 4:15 p.m.

That's when Cleveland will host the Steelers, Cincinnati hosts Baltimore, Denver hosts Kansas City and Oakland hosts San Diego.

The Steelers will be as healthy as they've been in quite some time with only LaMarr Woodley sitting this one out.

Pittsburgh should be plenty motivated and the Browns are, let's face it, not very good. Cleveland will be inspired by the idea of helping to put a bump in Pittsburgh's playoff road, but the Browns are 4-11 for a reason - they earned it.

Take the Steelers, who are favored by 7, 23-13.

In Cincinnati, Marvin Lewis owns a 10-7 record against the Ravens as the Bengals' head coach and they probably would have won the game in Baltimore if not for the league's silly rule about receptions in the end zone.

The Bengals match up well against the Ravens and will have a full house for only the second time this season. The other was in a seven-point loss to the Steelers when they were driving late before being stopped by Pittsburgh.

Baltimore is a 3-point favorite but is just 3-4 on the road.

I like Cincinnati, 21-17

In Denver, Kyle Orton returns and will exact some revenge on the Broncos for cutting him to go with Tim Tebow.

The Chiefs also seem to be inspired to play for interim coach Romeo Crennel.

Kansas City is getting three points and I like the Chiefs to win, 16-14

Finally, the Raiders can win the AFC West with a win and a Denver loss.

They are three-point favorites over San Diego, which will be playing what is surely the last game of the Norv Turner era.

I like the home team in this one, 24-20.

That will leave the AFC playoff seeds as so: 1. New England 2. Pittsburgh 3. Houston 4. Oakland 5. Baltimore 6. Cincinnati

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Brown named Steelers' MVP

In somewhat of a surprising vote, Antonio Brown was named the Steelers MVP after a vote of his teammates.

Not bad for a player who started three games this season.

But Brown broke the team record for yards from scrimmage in a season and has the highest kick return average for the Steelers since Mel Blount in 1970.

There were, however, a number of good candidates on this team this season, Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Wallace and Ike Taylor among them.

You could also make a case for Max Starks as well. The Steelers were 2-2 without him and have gone 9-2 with him.

© Marcus Gilbert was named the team's top rookie in somewhat of an awkward moment.

The vote, which is made by the writers who cover the team, was done before last Saturday's game.

That was also prior to anyone learning Gilbert had been benched in that game.

Gilbert, who has started 12 games this season, still deserved the award, but getting benched because you missed a meeting and apparently have a sleeping problem - ie. falling asleep in meetings - is an issue.

Hopefully, Gilbert learned his lesson here and starts going to bed a little earlier - or at least drinks some coffee.

© James Farrior won The Chief award, which is given to the player who works the best with the media that covers the team.

I voted for Casey Hampton, but it was purely for personal reasons. I wanted to see Hampton step up in front of a podium.

Hampton is always funny to talk to and really doesn't hold anything back.

But Farrior, who's a guy others look up to in that locker room, was a good choice as well.

© James Harrison returned to practice Thursday and Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey both went through a full practice for the second consecutive day.

Troy Polamalu sat out again with his knee issue, but I expect him to return Friday.

© It appears Chris Kemoeatu, who somehow was named third alternate to the Pro Bowl, will be back in the starting lineup Sunday for the Steelers.

Trai Essex is too valuable to have out there every down, particularly since the Steelers would like to get Pouncey out of the game if they can build a big lead.

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Wednesday news and notes

Ben Roethlisberger went through a full practice on Wednesday and appears to be on course to start for the Steelers Sunday at Cleveland.

It's the first time Roethlisberger has practiced since suffering a sprained ankle Dec. 8 against the Browns.

It's also a needed step for Roethlisberger. He needs to be on the field to be ready for the playoffs.

© Things don't look quite so good for LaMarr Woodley. I spoke to Woodley at length today and he sounded like a player who was resigned to sitting out again this week to get another week's rest for his injured hamstring.

© Maurkice Pouncey was also back on the field today and says he's pain free.

© Missing from practice most notably was safety Troy Polamalu, who is said to be suffering from a knee injury.

That's a new one. Polamalu had been playing through a hamstring problem, but he was very active last Sunday against the Rams.

© Interesting to note that the Steelers finished their home schedule with 28 sacks at Heinz Field, but have just five in seven road games this season.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Tuesday with Tomlin

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that there's a good chance Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouncey, LaMarr Woodley and Emmanuel Sanders will suit up and play in the team's critical game at Cleveland on Sunday.

Tomlin said the the foursome practices this week, they'll play, which would be a boost for the Steelers, who need a win over Cleveland and a loss by Baltimore at Cincinnati to clinch the AFC North title and No. 2 seed in the playoffs.

Tomlin said he expects Pouncey, Woodley and Sanders to practice on Wednesday, but would not commit to Roethlisberger doing so.

© Doug Legursky and Mewelde Moore were the only two players declared out against the Browns.

© If Trai Essex starts at left guard as expected, the Steelers would start their eighth different grouping of offensive linemen this season. They started seven different variations in 2010.

© Since averaging 3.0 yards per carry in Pittsburgh's first four games, Rashard Mendenhall has averaged 4.4 yards per carry.

That coincides with the team's signing of Max Starks to play left tackle.

© Pouncey, Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace were named to the Pro Bowl Tuesday night.

James Harrison and Ryan Clark were among the alternates at their positions.

Getting the snub for the Steelers: Ike Taylor and Brett Keisel.

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Post-Rams thoughts

Not a lot to say about this one. The Rams flat-out stink other than Steven Jackson.

As much as Maurice Jones-Drew is Jacksonville's entire offense, Jackson is the same for St. Louis.

It is somewhat troubling that, knowing that, the Steelers still permitted Jackson to rush for 100 yards and the Rams to go for 164 as a team.

The defense had been trending toward better showings against the run after some horrendous efforts early in the year.

It took a step back in that regard Saturday.

© Rashard Mendenhall takes a lot of flak from Steelers fans, who apparently prefer their runners to be 250-pound plodders.

But he made some outstanding runs in this one.

Yes, it was against St. Louis, which is awful against the run.

But coupled with Mendenhall's recent efforts - including a strong game last week at San Francisco – and you have a unit that has to at least keep opponents on edge heading into the playoffs.

Mendenhall's yards and carries are way down this season - 890 on 220 heading into Week 17 – but he's been kept fresh from having just one 20-plus carry game all season.

© Chris Kemoeatu played an entire game without a penalty

There's your early Christmas gift.

© Charlie Batch played OK in this one. Not great, but not bad.

But he didn't enough to show me that he would have led the Steelers to a win at San Francisco last week.

I'll stick with my original feeling that starting Roethlisberger in that game gave the Steelers the best chance to win. It didn't work out that way, but it's the truth.

© Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin send a message to rookie offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert, benching him because he wasn't happy with his preparation.

I've got a feeling, however, that if Baltimore would have been the opponent, Gilbert would have been out there.

© Kudos to Antonio Brown for breaking the team record for all-purpose yards in a season.

© The Steelers-Cleveland game has been moved to 4:15 p.m. and will be played at the same time as Cincinnati-Baltimore.

© Merry Christmas everyone. Enjoy your friends and family if you have the opportunity.

Who I like, St. Louis version

I know this one is up late this week, but there's a reason.

I wanted to see what the atmosphere at Heinz Field would be like on Christmas Eve before making a pick.

After seeing that, I like … nobody!

On, head coach Mike Tomlin made a strong comment that this game isn't all that meaningful for the Steelers, saying that while the standard is the standard, he also wants to make the most of opportunity.

The opportunity he is speaking of is not winning the AFC North or securing a first-round bye, but instead is allowing Ben Roethlisberger, LaMarr Woodley and Maurkice Pouncey to sit out against what he feels is an inferior opponent.

So much for the old line about how the other guys are getting paid as well!

It will be interesting to see how the Steelers respond to that when the head coach dismisses an opponent in that manner.

The line on the game is 12 1/2 points and I don't like the Steelers to cover it.

Take Pittsburgh, 17-9

Thursday, December 22, 2011

If Roethlisberger sits, what message does it send?

It now appears to be at least a 50-50 proposition that the Steelers will rest Ben Roethlisberger this weekend against St. Louis.

Roethlisberger did not practice again Thursday and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians called him a game-time decision.

But what message does it send to the team if Roethlisberger, who said he feels better this week than he did last, doesn't play against the lowly Rams?

They don't need their best players to win?

They can afford to take the Rams lightly?

Roethlisberger did not suffer any kind of setback and if I were coaching the Steelers, he would at least start and hand the ball off a lot to Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman.

© It now appears the Steelers will keep Maurkice Pouncey out of this game as well. But at least Pouncey didn't play last week.

© It is probable that the Steelers will activate running back John Clay from their practice squad to replace injured Mewelde Moore.

Moore's injury, coupled with that of Jonathan Dwyer, leaves the Steelers with only Mendenhall and Redman.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Roethlisberger laughs off report he won't play

Ben Roethlisberger was surprised by an NFL Network report that he will not play Saturday against the St. Louis Rams.

The report, made via Tweet by Jason La Canfora, claimed that team officials told him Roethlisberger would sit out against the Rams.

"The NFL Network said that? Not really, they always like to say things," Roethlisberger said when asked if he was surprised by the report.

"Unless coach has said something, I’m going to wait to hear it from him."

Roethlisberger said he expects to play.

© Maurkice Pouncey also expects to play this week. He's been fitted with a brace for his injured ankle.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Post-SF thoughts

Starting Ben Roethlisberger Monday night was absolutely the right call for the Steelers.

Roethlisberger is the Steelers' franchise quarterback, a two-time Super Bowl winner.

He said he was healthy enough to play. If that happens, he plays.

© The fact that Baltimore lost Sunday night had nothing to do with Roethlisberger playing. That decision had already been made.

© Really, there's not a lot to say about this game.

The Steelers did the one big thing against the 49ers that they absolutely needed not to do - turn the ball over.

They didn't force any of their own - though that call against Keenan Lewis for interfering with the return man was a bad one and should have resulted in a fumble recovery for the Steelers.

You can't beat anyone at minus-4.

© Steelers fans should be rooting for the Bengals.

Given Baltimore's struggles on the road this season, there's no reason a motivated Cincinnati team can't beat the Ravens at Paul Brown Stadium in Week 17.

© All the Rashard Mendenhall haters need to watch Monday night's game. He ran the ball well and hard against the league's top-rated rush defense in a game in which the Steelers needed a running game to protect their quarterback.

© The offensive line did an outstanding job keeping Roethlisberger clean until late in the game.

© The Steelers' rush defense was solid for the most part against a very good rushing attack. But where was the pressure?

The few times the Steelers did get pressure on Alex Smith, Smith threw the ball wildly.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Roethlisberger is active

Ben Roethlisberger is active tonight and will start against the 49ers.

But, the Steelers also have both Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon active as well.

Cornerback Curtis Brown, Maurkice Pouncey, Chris Carter, Al Woods, Jamon Meredith and Emmanuel Sanders are inactive.

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Who I like, San Francisco version

Who will play and who won't?

That is always a key heading into any game. And for the Steelers and 49ers, it's critical.

Being here in Pittsburgh, we all know about the question marks for the Steelers.

Obviously, James Harrison is out, suspended by the NFL for this game. But quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, safety Troy Polamalu and center Maurkice Pouncey are huge question marks for the Steelers as well.

For San Francisco, running back Frank Gore, linebacker Patrick Willis and left tackle Joe Staley are hurting.

That's a lot of star power.

Polamalu, Gore and Willis, in my opinion, are the three biggest factors there.

We all know the Steelers' struggles over the past few seasons without Polamalu. They are a Super Bowl team with him, a sub-.500 team without.

On the other hand, they proved last season they could win without Roethlisberger in the lineup – at least in the short term. And Doug Legursky is a capable replacement for Pouncey, even if he's not the Pro Bowl player Pouncey is.

Gore is San Francisco's entire offense. He's dealt with ankle and knee injuries over the past six weeks and without his running, the 49ers' offense relies solely on Alex Smith. That could be difficult without Staley at left tackle.

Gore should play, but he managed just 10 carries last week in a loss at Arizona.

And Willis is the heart and soul of San Francisco's defense. While Ray Lewis may get the publicity, it's Willis who is the best inside linebacker in football.

He's a big reason why the 49ers are allowing 3.2 yards per carry and haven't given up a rushing touchdown this season.

Regardless of who plays and who doesn't, the Steelers are the better team.

Take Pittsburgh, 17-16

© Update: Polamalu practiced today and is probable to play.

Roethlisberger was again limited and will be a game-time decision.

Pouncey is out.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

No news remains good news for Harrison

Defense attorneys will tell you that the longer a jury deliberates, the better the chance is that their client will get off on whatever he is being charged with.

So it seems to be with Steelers linebacker James Harrison.

Harrison had his appeal conference call with Ted Cottrell on Wednesday at 2 p.m. And more than 24 hours later, Cottrell still had not made a ruling on Harrison's suspension for a helmet-to-helmet hit on Cleveland's Colt McCoy.

It would seem that if Cottrell was inclined to go along with the league's suspension, he would have already made an announcement in that regard.

But the longer Cottrell considers the appeal, the more it appears he is looking for a way to rescind the suspension without leaving the league with egg on its face.

© Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu and Maurkice Pouncey did not practice again on Thursday.

And that's OK. As long as they can get on the field by Saturday, they will be OK to play Monday night at San Francisco.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Wednesday news and notes

James Harrison had his appeal heard by Ted Cottrell on Wednesday and a ruling is expected to come on Thursday.

The Steelers aren't too optimistic Harrison's suspension will be lifted.

That means Jason Worilds will slide over to Harrison's spot after starting four of the past five games in place of LaMarr Woodley, who was nursing a hamstring injury.

© Woodley went through a who practice on Wednesday with no issues and looks ready to go on Monday at San Francisco.

Same goes for Emmanuel Sanders.

© Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu and Maurkice Pouncey did not practice Wednesday. But expect that to change by Friday.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Tuesday with Tomlin

As I'm sure everyone now knows, James Harrison has been suspended by the NFL for one game.

Harrison will not be permitted to be at the team facility until Dec. 20 - pending an appeal, if there is one.

Harrison Tweeted Tuesday: "Thank you to all of my fans and supporters, I'm just going to move on from here and get ready for my next game."

Harrison and his agent had earlier talked about appealing any fine/suspension, but that statement makes it sound as if Harrison will not do so. We'll see where this goes.

© I didn't think what Harrison did rose to the level of a suspension - given that he has not been fined this season.

And in that regard, the NFL has been inconsistent this season.
The league came out with a chart detailing its fine process this summmer.

Here is the link:

The fines listed are the minimums.

As we've seen this season, other "repeat offenders," which is what Harrison - who has been fined five times since the start of the 2009 season – was not given the same leeway the league gave some other repeat offenders, teammate Ryan Clark among them.

You can't help but wonder if Harrison's statements in a magazine article released in the offseason had an affect on this.

© Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that he expects LaMarr Woodley back again this week, which will help lessen the blow of losing Harrison.

Woodley and Jason Worilds would likely start at OLB for the Steelers against the 49ers next Monday night.

Troy Polamalu (hamstring), Ben Roethlisberger (ankle) and Maurkice Pouncey (ankle) are among those who are questionable.

Tomlin said he expects Emmanuel Sanders (foot) to play as well.

Friday, December 09, 2011

I don't see Harrison being suspended

I just don't see linebacker James Harrion getting suspended for his hit on Cleveland quarterback Colt McCoy Thursday night. A stiff fine in the $40,000 range? Sure.

But he hasn't had a helmet-to-helmet hit this season.

Heck Ray Lewis has had two in the past two years as well, but he got fined the minimum for the hit on Ward, his second in two seasons.

The NFL seems to have reset the clock this year, even though it says it didn't.

Steelers safety Ryan Clark's big fine came on his second offense, even though he had also been fined last season.

People are comparing this to Ndomukong Suh, but Suh had multiple infractions both this year and last. And, I might add, what he did came after a play was over. His stomp that was the final straw wasn't done in the context of playing the game.

© Ben Roethlisberger was in a walking boot today. So was Maurkice Pouncey.

Some have questioned why Roethlisberger was able to return to the game with the same injury that Pouncey was unable to come back from.

It's simple, really. Roethlisberger isn't pushing on a 320-pound defensive tackle on every play like Pouncey needs to be able to do.

Roethlisberger's mobility was very limited following the injury. But he got by.

Pouncey would not have been able to do the same thing.

Post-Clevleand thoughts

I predicted 27-10 in this one and it should have been a three-score win had the Steelers not turned the ball over three times in the red zone - four counting an interception at the 15 by Ben Roethlisberger. I count turnovers on downs as turnovers, even though the Steelers don't.

When I asked Mike Tomlin if he had any doubt about going for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1, he replied, "None. If you can't score on four shots from the 2, you potentially deserve to lose the game."

© If there was any doubt about who the toughest QB in the league is, just watch the tape of this game.

© Chris Kemoeatu should be cut, re-signed, and then cut again.

Three penalties in two and a half quarters of play? Are you serious?

I was watching Full Metal Jacket the other night and had several of R. Lee Ermey's famous lines come to mind while watching that.

The worst thing about it was that Kemoeatu was getting called for holding penalties and still allowing his man to hit Roethlisberger.

If you're going to hold the man, hold him so he doesn't hit your quarterback.

© Even though the score was 7-3 through three quarters, you never really had the idea that the Browns were going to even kick a field goal to make it interesting.

That was still the case even after James Harrison's roughing the passer penalty against Colt McCoy.

Did Harrison hit the quarterback in the head after he threw? Yep.

But McCoy had also tucked the ball and started running with it prior to dumping the ball off when he saw Harrison peel off of Montario Hardesty.

Tough call, but he's going to be fined for it.

© Same goes for James Farrior, who called McCoy a "good actor" after Farrior was penalized for knocking him down three yards out of bounds.

Farrior said he barely brushed McCoy when he went sprawling.

When I asked him if he wished he'd have just drilled McCoy – since he drew the penalty and likely a fine anyway – Farrior replied, "I wish I would have."

© Ziggy Hood said he didn't feel like his sore groin was serious and that he will be back by the time the Steelers play San Francisco.

Thursday, December 08, 2011

Who I like, Cleveland version

The Steelers continually made a point of saying that the Browns are No. 1 in the league against the pass and eighth overall in total defense.

It's a farce. Cleveland's pass numbers are so good because everybody is running like crazy against them, particularly in recent weeks.

Over the past five games, the Browns have given up 1,098 rushing yards, nearly 220 per game.

Why throw the ball a lot when you can do that?

The Steelers will have a similar game plan tonight. They'll come out throwing and use the no-huddle to build a lead and then turn things over to Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman to finish it off.

And on the short week against a team with five rookies in the starting lineup, this could get ugly.

Take the Steelers to win 27-10

Tuesday, December 06, 2011

Tuesday news and notes

A bevy of Steelers did not practice today. In fact, the Steelers really didn't practice. It was more of a glorified walkthrough using a Nerf ball instead of a normal one for most of the session.

But two players who did not work were linebacker LaMarr Woodley and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders.

The bet here is that neither will play Thursday against Cleveland.

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said Sanders favored his sore knee and ended up with a sore foot. Sanders had surgery on both feet in the offseason and likely will sit until the Steelers travel to San Francisco.

One player who did practice was guard Ramon Foster. He looks like he'll play against the Browns.

© Nose tackle Chris Hoke will have neck surgery next week and his season is done.

It's likely Hoke's career is finished as well.

Apparently his stinger issue was not getting any better and the best course of action was surgery.

© Arians said today that its a priority for him to get Hines Ward the 10 catches he needs to get to 1,000 career receptions - so long as its in the context of winning football games.

The Steelers wanted to get Ward some more catches against Cincinnati, but the Bengals doubled him all over the field, knowing what the Steelers were up to.

Sunday, December 04, 2011

Post-Cincinnati thoughts part II

It's funny how a game is looked at as total domination and the Steelers had just 295 yards of offense, their third-lowest total of the season.

Then again, many of the starters were pulled midway through the fourth quarter.

The most impressive thing about this victory for the Steelers was that their running game was highly effective. Pittsburgh picked up 136 yards on the ground of 33 carries against a good Cincinnati front seven.

That set up a lot of the other things the Steelers did offensively.

And Pittsburgh's domination up front was never more apparent than on its final scoring drive in the third quarter when Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman combined for five carries for 48 yards during a 93-yard drive.

If the Steelers can keep that up, they are going to be tough to beat in January.

© The Steelers have been looking for ways to get talented rookie corner Cortez Allen into their dime package and may have found it.

They brought safety Ryan Clark off the field at times in the dime in favor or Allen, giving them four corners and Troy Polamalu on the field at the same time.

That's a lot of coverage.

© It was nice to see Hines Ward get his 12,000 yards in front of the home crowd, which gave him a nice ovation for the feat.

It also didn't seem like the Steelers forced the issue, just allowing it to happen.

© The Steelers have now won seven of their past eight games and beaten Cincinnati (twice) and New England during that stretch.

That doesn't look to bad on the résumé.

The win over Kansas City wasn't all that inspiring, but there was plenty to be optimistic about following the dismantling of the Bengals.

© LaMarr Woodley told me after the game that he could wind up being a part-time player for a period of time until he gets his wind back.

That's the trouble with hamstring injuries. Unlike James Harrison, who was out with an eye injury and therefore able to keep his cardio up, Woodley's exercises have been limited to stretching and such to build his hamstring strength.

He said his hamstring felt "tired" Sunday, so the Steelers shut him down.

Having Jason Worilds prove that he can be competitive out there helps the situation.

© Steelers special teams coach Al Everest was taken aback when asked if he thought Curtis Brown had a block on in the back on Antonio Brown's 60-yard punt return touchdown at the end of the first half.

"You could call three of those on any play," said Everest. "We've had them go against us."

But not on this occasion.

In the grand scheme of things, it wouldn't have mattered. It's likely that with two timeouts, the Steelers would have gotten the ball at their own 30 and at least gotten into field goal range. But even if they didn't, this game was never in question.

Nate Clements down for the Bengals

Nate Clements is inactive for the Bengals today, meaning Kelly Jennings will be in the starting lineup.

In the first meeting with the Bengals, the Steelers went into the game hoping to target Jennings, who stinks.

Now, he's starting opposite Pac Man Jones.

I originally predicted a 24-20 Pittsburgh win, but we can bump that a bit and make it 27-17 Steelers.

Friday, December 02, 2011

Who I like, Cincinnati version II

It's rare that two division opponents meet so soon after playing just a couple of weeks before, but that is what faces the Steelers and Bengals this week.

The Bengals have gone 1-1 since losing to the Steelers Nov. 13, while the Steelers have played just once, winning last week in Kansas City, 13-9, coming off their bye.

The Bengals suffered a big loss in the previous meeting, a 24-17 Pittsburgh victory in Cincinnati, as cornerback Leon Hall was lost for the season to an Achilles' tendon injury.

That's huge considering Hall is their best cover corner.

Against the Steelers, that's a considerable loss. While Baltimore and Cleveland, Cincinnati's past two opponents, aren't built to exploit the loss of Hall, the Steelers are.

Pittsburgh is getting healthy as well, as linebacker LaMarr Woodley will make his return after sitting out three games with a hamstring injury.

The Steelers are 6 1/2-point favorites and that's a pretty big spread against a solid Cincinnati club.

I like the Steelers to win, but the Bengals to cover in a 24-20 Pittsburgh victory.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Wednesday news and notes

It appears the Steelers will get linebacker LaMarr Woodley back this weekend to face the Cincinnati Bengals.

Woodley was a full participant in practice Wednesday and looked good moving around.

His return would help bolster a defense that has recorded just 24 sacks this season. Woodley and James Harrison, who have played just three full games together this season due to injuries, have recorded 14 of those 24 sacks.

© Emmanuel Sanders said today that he has been told he will continue to return kickoffs this week and he guaranteed that he will do a better job of it than he did last week at Kansas City.

I also spoke to Antonio Brown, who had been handling all of those duties, about it and he said he takes way more of a beating returning kicks than he does punts.

Remember, Sanders was the team's primary kick returner last season and averaged 25.1 yards per return.

© Troy Polamalu and Maurkice Pouncey did not practice today, but both are expected to be ready to play against the Bengals.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tuesday with Tomlin

Steelers coach Mike Tomlin sounded optimistic about LaMarr Woodley returning to the lineup this week against the Bengals. Woodley has missed the past three games with a hamstring injury.

Same goes for safety Troy Polamalu. Tomlin said Polamalu has not had any concussion symptoms since Sunday and actually didn't have any during the game. But the Steelers erred on the side of caution.

I thought from the beginning Polamalu's injury appeared to be more of a shoulder than a head and watching it again, that still appeared to be the case.

Getting Woodley back would be huge for the Steelers. Stevenson Sylvester missed Sunday's game with a calf injury, while rookie Chris Carter and Larry Foote went down with hamstring injuries against the Chiefs. That left the Steelers with just four linebackers to finish Sunday's game.

© Tomlin said he was unhappy with the results in the return game Sunday night. That could mean that Antonio Brown, who had been returning all the kicks, could move back into that spot.

Emmanuel Sanders was used in some situations against the Chiefs.

I'm not a big fan of using a starter as your primary return man. Why give some team's scrubs a shot at a receiver who's on pace to go over 1,000 yards receiving?

Monday, November 28, 2011

Post-Kansas City thoughts

Sloppy is the only way to describe the Steelers' 13-9 win at Kansas City Sunday night.

And not just sloppy play, but coaching as well.

Both the offensive and defensive units were penalized for having 12 men on the field. I can't remember the last time that was called on the Steelers once, let alone twice, in the same game.

Add to that Ben Roethlisberger's inexplicable brain cramp when he waived the punting team off the field on fourth down in the third quarter from the KC 39, only to take a timeout with time expiring and you get the idea that nobody's head was really in this game.

Kansas City outcoached and outplayed the Steelers for much of this game. The Steelers were fortunate that Tyler Palko was in the Christmas mood and kept on giving.

© Any game plan in which Mewelde Moore gets five first-half touches compared to none for Mike Wallace in the first two quarters of play is not a good one.

Nothing against Moore, who's made some big plays over the years, but Wallace is one of the premiere game changers in the league.

I also realize he was being doubled constantly and some of Moore's touches came on dumpoffs and such, but you've got to get the ball into Wallace's hands.

© The same theory is why Hines Ward isn't a big part of this offense any longer.

Who would you rather have the ball, Ward or Antonio Brown?

Yes, Ward came up with a big third-down catch, but his other three receptions went for seven yards.

Wallace, by the way, finished with two catches. Ward and Moore combined for seven for 30 yards.

© Hard to believe that LaMarr Woodley would have had a more impactful game than the one Jason Worilds played.

Subbing for Woodley, Worilds had six tackles, including one for a loss, four hurries and the Steelers' lone sack.

© The coaches were also raving about the catch Wes Saunders made in the back of the end zone for the game's lone TD as well.

Couple that with the fact that Saunders is a credible blocker and you have to feel a little better about the Steelers' overall depth.

© Oh, and did I mention that Ryan Mundy had a team-high 10 tackles and an interception?

© The Steelers played poorly and stole a game on the road. Baltimore has played poorly on the road a couple of times this season and lost.

It happens.

The biggest issue is that the offensive line just doesn't seem to handle crowd noise well, which could be an issue in the postseason.

There weren't a lot of Steelers fans in Kansas City Sunday night and pretty much every offensive lineman had a holding penalty – except Chris Kemoeatu. Go figure.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Steelers-Chiefs news, notes

Don't look for the Steelers to use any of the pony formation tonight as they did when Ben Roethlisberger was having injury problems a year ago.

Head coach Mike Tomlin hates the formation.

© It's a little windy and cold here at Arrowhead Stadium, my favorite venue in the NFL.

© Cincinnati had to deal with a little emotional letdown today after playing the Steelers and Ravens in back-to-back weeks.

To the Bengals' credit, they found a way to win at home against Cleveland.

The bad news is that they now have to face the Steelers again next week - in Pittsburgh.

© LaMarr Woodley is down again tonight for the Steelers. Emmanuel Sanders is active.

Also out for the Steelers are Dennis Dixon, Stevenson Sylvester, Al Woods, Jamon Meredith, Chris Hoke and Arnaz Battle.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Who I Like, KC version

I thought the Chiefs were highly overrated last season and took advantage of an easy schedule. This season, that is proving true.

Kansas City is 4-6, but the Chiefs have been blown out by four or more touchdowns in four games this season.

If it weren't for Indianapolis and a couple of wins over AFC West opponents, everyone would be asking what happened to the Chiefs.

The Steelers are also as healthy as they have been all year. Yes, LaMarr Woodley will sit out again, but it won't matter against Tyler Palko.

Palko may have all the football smarts in the world - and I don't doubt the he does - but what he doesn't have is an NFL-caliber arm.

And given that the Chiefs have trouble running the ball, that's not a good combination.

Take the Steelers to win, 31-6

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Wednesday news and notes

Doug Legursky is fully healthy and will return to the starting lineup when the Steelers play Sunday night at Kansas City - in place of Chris Kemoeatu at left guard.

Kemoeatu, a four-year starter, said he considered the move a demotion, though he did say the coaching staff told him he just doesn't look healthy out there.

Kemoeatu has been dealing with a knee injury all season.

The move doesn't come as a huge surprise. Kemoeatu has struggled throughout his career with his pass protection and Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 31 times, the fourth-most in the NFL.

© Only Roethlisberger, LaMarr Woodley and Arnaz Battle were limited in practice today, the healthiest the Steelers have been all season.

© Roethlisberger said today that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians talked to the offensive unit about forgoing personal goals in order for the team to win.

That could have been aimed at Hines Ward - though Ward has handled his demotion well. It also could have been aimed at Mike Wallace - who has been getting frustrated regarding his lack of looks of late due to opponents doubling him.

In the last month, Antonio Brown has 26 receptions, Wallace 20 and Heath Miller 19.

© Perhaps this would only interest me, perhaps not.

The Steelers are 7-0 when they have a higher third down conversion rate than their opponent, 0-3 when they don't.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Tuesday with Tomlin, coming out of the bye

From the sound of things, Mike Tomlin expects Emmanuel Sanders to be available when the Steelers travel to Kansas City this weekend.

Sanders has been out of action a couple of weeks following the death of his mother and having his knee scoped.

What that means for Hines Ward remains to be seen. Tomlin said the team hasn't come up with its complete game plan yet for the Chiefs and decided on what role, if any, Ward will play.

One thing that likely won't happen is Ward being a healthy scratch. No. 6 receiver Arnaz Battle, a special teams ace, is still dealing with a hamstring injury and won't play this week.

But what happens when Battle is healthy is anyone's guess.

© Linebacker LaMarr Woodley is continuing to work his way back from a hamstring injury. Tomlin said he'll continue to be limited in practice for now. But he's been less limited of late than he was a couple of weeks ago - when limited meant he did some work with trainers.

© Tomlin said there are a couple of reasons for Cameron Heyward's lack of playing time against the Bengals.

Tomlin doesn't want to take Brett Keisel and Ziggy Hood off the field – "they are highly conditioned athletes" – and the Steelers have been playing more sub packages that use only two defensive linemen.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Things that make me go hmmm

The Steelers have scored points on 60 percent of their opening possessions of the game. On all of their other possessions, they score 34 percent of the time.

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians scripts the first 15 plays of the game and - seemingly - they work well.

It makes me wonder why the team struggles so much after they're done with the script.

Part of it, I'm sure, are adjustments made by the other team. Another part of the blame could also fall on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's shoulders.

Roethlisberger calls audibles quite a bit and sometimes it just doesn't work.

Perhaps the best thing would be for the Steelers to run Arians' scripted plays and then go to a no-huddle, when Roethlisberger seems to be at his best.

© Pittsburgh is unbeaten when it scores on its opening possession, 1-3 when it doesn't.

© It's been a tough couple of weeks for quarterbacks, with Jay Cutler going down on Sunday.

This came after Matt Cassell, Matt Schaub and others were lost for the season the weekend before.

It shows why the league has the protection rules in place for its QBs. We'll see tonight how Tyler Palko does replacing Cassell.

© If that wasn't a touchdown by Cincinnati's Jermaine Gresham in the fourth quarter against Baltimore, they should just stop playing the game.

Gresham pulled the ball in, had it under his control when he crossed the goal line and took three steps.

Then he lost the ball when he went to the ground.

If that happened in the field of play, it's a catch. If he were a runner and did that, it's a touchdown.

But since the ball was thrown, it's not a score?

Ridiculous. It's a rule that needs to be changed.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Who I like, Cincinnati at Baltimore

This is a big game and you all know all the reasons why for the Steelers.

The Bengals are going to have a bit of an adjustment to make without top corner Leon Hall in the lineup. But Ray Lewis is also banged up for the Ravens, which could help negate that against a solid Cincinnati run game.

Know this, in his last four games against the Bengals, Joe Flacco has thrown two touchdown passes and nine - count 'em - nine interceptions.

Also, after giving Ray Rice just five carries last week - you've gotta love Cam Cameron - expect the Ravens to try to get him a lot more involved this week. That's all well and good, but the Bengals can actually stop the run pretty well.

Baltimore is also finally expected to get Lee Evans back.

If this game were in Cincinnati, I'd pick the Bengals. As it is, I still like them to cover the 7-point spread.

Rookie QB Andy Dalton is playing some good football.

Take Baltimore to win, but Cincinnati to cover in a 23-17 loss

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Roethlisberger injury no big deal

Ben Roethlisberger announced to the world today that he has a broken thumb on his throwing hand.

Let the drama begin.

Actually, the break is a small fracture, one he played with before in 2005. It didn't hinder Roethlisberger then and it won't now.

The one difference is that the Steelers are now primarily a passing team as opposed to 2005, when if he threw it 30 times in a game, it was a lot.

The Steelers will splint the thumb and he'll wear a glove to protect it. And as we've seen in the past, Roethlisberger usually plays better, more focused football, when injured.

The news could have been worse. Think about the situations in KC, Philadelphia and Houston.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Post-Cincinnati thoughts

I've said it before and I'll say it again, there's a reason why they play the games.

And that's all I'm going to say about what happened in Seattle on Sunday.

© Tough day all around for Heath Miller. First he gets hammered a half-second after making a catch by Reggie Nelson; then he bobbles a ball that gets intercepted; and finally he draws an iffy pass interference penalty that negates a touchdown.

To me, the hit by Nelson, by the way, was on a defenseless receiver. The only thing was that Miller held onto the ball.

© The bye comes at a good time for the Steelers.

They'll get LaMarr Woodley and Emmanuel Sanders back in two weeks. And Ben Roethlisberger got pretty beaten up in this game. Cincinnati was credited with 13 QB hits and added five sacks.

© The Bengals are going to be a team to be reckoned with moving forward. They're building a nice nucleus, though the loss of top corner Leon Hall Sunday will hurt them moving forward this season.

© Mike Tomlin said the decision to keep Hines Ward on the bench was his and that Ward was OK to play. But if Tomlin admitted he was protecting Ward, who was coming back from 'concussion-like symptoms,' he might have gotten himself in trouble with the league for playing him in the first place.

With Arnaz Battle and Sanders out, the Steelers needed Ward active. But they didn't need to play him all that much and risk further injury.

And Jerricho Cotchery is getting more comfortable in the Pittsburgh offense.

This is going to be a scary wide receiver group moving forward.

© All the people who wanted to bench/cut William Gay coming out of last week's game can see why the Steelers didn't do so. Gay is having an outstanding season.

© The Steelers were 3-4 scoring touchdowns in red zone trips Sunday. But some people will still complain about the one trip inside the 20 in which they didn't score.

Of course, they actually did score a touchdown on that trip as well - only Miller was called for the penalty.

© With their two turnovers Sunday, the Steelers now have six for the season. That still puts them on pace for just under 10 for the season.

Makes you wonder how they're 7-3.

But they have forced three turnovers in the past two weeks, so maybe they're turning the corner there.

© The lack of turnovers, in my opinion, is because the only player in their secondary who can consistently play the ball in the air, Troy Polamalu, is spending so much time at the line of scrimmage because of the team's issues against the run.

And the corners, who don't play the ball well to begin with, are playing more man, which doesn't allow for a lot of picks either.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

© Can't wait to watch the Ravens and Bengals play next week.

Steelers inactives

Chris Hoke, Al Woods, LaMarr Woodley, Arnaz Battle, Emmanuel Sanders, Dennis Dixon, Jamon Meredith down for the Steelers today.

The Steelers catch a break with Carlos Dunlap inactive for the Bengals.

Friday, November 11, 2011

Who I like, Cincinnati version

I have to admit, I'm surprised at how well the Bengals are playing this season. The defense, which has been solid the past couple of years, is again playing well - not having allowed more than 20 points in a game - and the offense isn't making the big mistake.

That's really saying something considering the Bengals have started rookie Andy Dalton at QB all season.

But the Bengals have also not faced a quarterback as good as Ben Roethlisberger this season, beating the likes of Colt McCoy, Curtis Painter, etc.

Yes, they beat the Buffalo Bills, their only quality win this season, but that was coming off a game in which the Bills won their Super Bowl, having knocked off New England for the first time in a decade the week before.

The same could be said of the Steelers this season. They have only beaten one quality opponent - New England.

But, the Steelers are a proven commodity, much more so than the Bengals.

And something tells me the rookie QB isn't quite ready for what he's going to see Sunday.

How do I know this?

When asked this week if the city is starting to buzz about how well the Bengals are playing Dalton replied that it must be because the game is a sellout, the first one for the Bengals this season.

What Dalton didn't realize is that it's a sellout because Paul Brown Stadium will be filled to the rim with Steelers fans.

Take the Steelers, 24-17

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

Wednesday news and notes

Ryan Clark was fined $40,000 for his penalized hit on Baltimore tight end Ed Dickson last Sunday and he and his teammates aren't happy about it.

This is the second week in a row Clark has been fined. He got hit with a $15,000 fine for hitting New England tight end Rob Gronkowski out of bounds two weeks ago.

Meanwhile, Baltimore's Ray Lewis was fined $20,000 for his unpenalized helmet-to-helmet hit on Hines Ward that knocked Ward out of the game.

And therein lies part of my problem with the way the NFL levies its fines.

If a player draws a penalty for what it deemed and illegal hit, hasn't he already paid - and by extension, his team - for the incident?

How can an incident that drew a flag also draw a larger fine for a hit that wasn't flagged and also knocked a player out of a game?

Some will say it is because Clark is a repeat offender, and there is some truth to that. But Lewis has also been fined for illegal hits in the past.

James Harrison said he has not heard anything from the league about a potential fine from Sunday's game. ESPN reported that Harrison will be fined, but Harrison said that was speculation on the part of reporter Adam Schefter.

He does not expect to be fined.

© Mike Tomlin released this statement in regard to the fine on Clark: "I think the fine that Ryan Clark received was excessive. I am a proponent of player safety and the league's pursuit of improvement in this area. I, like the vast majority of people in this industry, witness daily the steep price that these young men pay to play this game on so many levels. Ryan has my full support if he chooses to appeal this in any way."

© Ben Roethlisberger talked about the final sequence of plays at the end of the game against the Ravens today. Here's what he had to say:

Q: Ben, in retrospect, would you just rather have run the ball three times at the end?

Unfortunately, the plays were there. It was either a miscommunication where one guy saw something and the other guy say something else. The plays were there. You can look at it now and say, ‘If we would have done this, this would have happened.’ You can do that in every sport after every game. We’ll go and we’ll stay aggressive because that’s the kind of offense we are.

Q: Re: The miscommunications?

I think it’s always going to happen. I guarantee that Tom Brady and Peyton Manning and those guys that you say are the best offenses, have had miscommunications. You have to limit them. You can’t have them in key situations like that with guys that you expect to make the plays. If you have one a game, you have one a game, but we have to limit them and not have them in key situations.

Q: You and Mewelde Moore have completed a lot of passes over the years.

He’s running a flat route and he’s got the option to turn it up late. He felt he had the linebacker on him, which he did, he could beat him turning it up the field. He’s supposed to wait a second to see if I wait half a second to turn it up. He was excited about turning it up because he had the backer trailing him. I was trying to get it to him in the flat to get the first down. That’s one of those things that it’s the first time it ever happened and it probably won’t ever happen again.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin said today that Emmanuel Sanders had his knee scoped and will be out until after the bye.

Daniel Sepulveda also had surgery to repair a torn meniscus in his knee, but he's already been placed on injured reserve.

Hines Ward is OK after suffering from "concussion-like symptoms" following an illegal helmet-to-helmet hit by Ray Lewis that was not flagged during the game.

They'll watch Ward this week to determine his status for Sunday's game at Cincinnati.

LaMarr Woodley could possibly return this week, but there's a better chance James Farrior comes back.

If Farrior returns, Lawrence Timmons could be moved to left outside linebacker - where he lined up at times Sunday - with Farrior and Larry Foote inside.

Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery is experiencing some swelling in his knee, but is expected to be OK.

Monday, November 07, 2011

Steelers-Ravens thoughts II

The Steelers locker room was as subdued Sunday night as it was after they lost the Super Bowl in February.

There were no what ifs or questioning of officials calls. There was only shock that the vaunted Pittsburgh defense had allowed Joe Flacco and the Ravens to drive 92 yards in the closing moments to snatch victory from the jaws of defeat in a 23-20 win over the Steelers.

Pittsburgh's defense did a much better job of bottling up Ray Rice Sunday night, limiting him to 43 yards on 18 carries and five catches for 43 yards.

But at what cost.

While the concern about not allowing Rice to beat them as he did in a 35-7 win in Baltimore earlier this season was understandable, the Steelers, for whatever reason, couldn't seem to get off the field on third downs.

Baltimore was a ridiculous 14 of 21 on third down and converted its only fourth-down attempt.

That allowed the Ravens to run 77 plays, compared to 58 for the Steelers.

© The main culprits were the secondary.

While William Gay will get tortured because he's everybody's favorite whipping boy and he gave up the game-winning score, Ike Taylor may have been worse in this game.

If not for Torrey Smith's poor hands, it would have been Taylor, not Gay, who allowed the go-ahead score.

© If Ryan Clark had hit Hines Ward the way Ray Lewis did in the first quarter, a penalty flag would have been thrown.

That hit on Ward was clearly helmet to helmet and should have resulted in a penalty.

Clark was flagged for a hit on Smith later in the game that, while a penalty under the letter of the (new) law, wasn't nearly as vicious as the hit Lewis put on Ward.

© While we're on the subject of Ward, I apparently no longer know what constitutes a catch in the NFL.

Ward caught the ball, got hit in the head by Lewis, yet went to the ground with the ball in his possession. Once he landed, the ball was knocked loose by a defender's behind.

Ward was already flat on his back when the ball finally came loose, or at least that's the way I saw it from the replays I viewed.

© I've been a pretty harsh critic of Joe Flacco over the years. But the Steelers have seemed to bring the best out in him this season.

I still don't think Flacco is a championship-caliber quarterback. But he seems to be getting the hang of playing against the Steelers defense.

© I understand Mike Tomlin's hesitation to send Shaun Suisham onto the field to kick what would have been a 47-yard field goal into the open end of Heinz Field late in the game with the Steelers up 20-16.

With a new holder and kicking into that end, it was probably about a 50-50 proposition that Suisham would have made the kick.

But how about using a timeout? How about keeping the offense on the field and just going for it, driving a dagger into the Ravens?

Instad, Tomlin hesitated, the Steelers took a delay of game penalty and gave the ball back to the Ravens.

That said, the defense still could have come up with a stop.

Sunday, November 06, 2011

Baltimore-Pittsburgh game thread

James Farrior is down for the Steelers tonight, a move that is not surprising. But the decision to scratch Chris Hoke is somewhat interesting.

No real surprises for the Ravens on the inactive list.

The loser of tonight's game falls behind the Bengals in the AFC North standings.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Steelers place Sepulveda on IR

The Steelers on Saturday placed punter Daniel Sepulveda on IR, replacing him with Jeremy Kapinos.

Sepulveda's name surprisingly came up on the injury list Friday as he was listed as questionbale with a knee injury to his plant leg.

The injury is to the same knee that cost him the final four games of the 2010 season and marks the third time in his career that he will end the season on IR.

Sepulveda was having his best season in 2011, averaging 46.1 yards per punt.

Kapinos replaced Sepulveda for the final four games and in the postseason in 2010, averaging 41.9 yards per kick.

Friday, November 04, 2011

Who I like, Baltimore version II

Going into their Week 1 loss at Baltimore, the Steelers had a 6-0 record against the Ravens when Ben Roethlisberger was their starting quarterback.

The Ravens forced seven turnovers in that game, including five by Roethlisberger, whipping the Steelers, 35-7.

Since then, the Steelers have turned the ball over six times, including just twice in their current four-game winning streak.

As for the Ravens, they've looked like garbage in six of the past eight quarters they've played - at least offensively.

A big reason for that is the regression of Joe Flacco.

Flacco's 75.4 passer rating and 53.8 completion percentage have him keeping company with the likes of Curtis Painter, Matt Moore and Blaine Gabbert.

Imagine what those numbers would be if he hadn't checked down 33 times to running back Ray Rice.

Rice will be tough for the Steelers to handle, but without Lee Evans in this game, Ike Taylor, who followed Evans all over the field the first time these two teams met, will likely match up one-on-one against Anquan Boldin.

That's going to make life just a little more difficult for Flacco, who has led the Ravens to one win in three road games - that one win being at St. Louis.

Take Pittsburgh to win, 20-16

Wednesday, November 02, 2011

Wednesday news and notes

Ben Roethlisberger was named AFC Offensive Player of the Week for the second time in the month of October.

Roethlisberger has a good chance to also be named offensive player of the month in October after completing 114 of 176 passes for 1,360 yards, 11 touchdowns and three interceptions in five games last month as the Steelers went 4-1.

That's a passer rating of 102.0 for those of you keeping track at home.

© Quote of the day came from the Ravens' Terrell Suggs via conference call with the Pittsburgh media.

Suggs, when questioned about the ferocity of the rivalry with the Steelers said, "F$#% it. Let's do it."

Suggs also called Heinz Field his, "Madison Square Garden," and several times referred to getting his p@$$ hot, particularly when talking about Hines Ward.

© The Steelers will wear their throwback uniforms this week. Maybe the Ravens can wear their throwbacks as well. Oh wait, they already do.

Then again, perhaps they could wear some old Colts unis.

© The Steelers released nose tackle Elisha Joseph from their practice squad and signed wide receiver Jamar Newsome.

Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders will be dealing with the death of his mother all week and, with Ward still limited with an ankle injury, the Steelers needed an extra receiver to practice.

© The Steelers listed a number of players as limited in practice Wednesday. Some were much less limited than others.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Tueday with Tomlin (Baltimore edition)

Mike Tomlin declared just one person out for Sunday's game against Baltimore - guard Doug Legursky.

As expected, Tomlin said linebacker James Harrison has been cleared to practice and that his status, along with that of LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior and Jason Worilds would be determined later in the week.

But that was purely coach speak.

More realistically, Worilds is the only player expected to return and the Steelers aren't sure what they are going to get from him since he has very little playing experience.

More telling was Tomlin's statement that the Steelers might have to line up with a four-man defensive line - though you can assume if they do that, Brett Keisel may do so as a stand-up end, sometimes dropping into coverage.

© New to the injury list this week is wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders, who has a left knee issue.

Sanders is also dealing with the death of his mother.

© Hines Ward could return this week after sitting out against New England with an ankle injury.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Post-Patriots thoughts

Tom Brady was supposed to own Dick LeBeau, but that was LeBeau's defense on the field Sunday - minus several stars - that shut down the vaunted New England offense.

Or was it Bruce Arians' offense that did that?

The Steelers offense did a great job of keeping the chains moving via the short passing game and the defense was outstanding when it was on the field, particularly in forcing three and outs in the first series of each half.

Part of the reason for that was Ike Taylor's blanket coverage all day on safety net Wes Welker, but the Steelers also got a strong game from youngster Cortez Allen, who had Rob Gronkowski one on one several times, forcing Brady to hold the ball.

If Taylor doesn't make the Pro Bowl off of what he's done the past two weeks - shutting down Larry Fitzgerald and Welker - they should just stop playing the game.

But the addition of the likes of Allen, Stevenson Sylvester, Cameron Heyward and even Chris Carter bodes well for the Steelers the rest of this season.

© LeBeau showed that you can teach an old dog new tricks by stepping out of character and having his corners play a lot of press man coverage.

According to Tom Brady, it was more than the Steelers had shown all season. And the Patriots couldn't beat it.

The same plan should be used against Baltimore next week. The Ravens receivers can't beat and egg and Joe Flacco looks to have completely lost his confidence.

Or, as Bill Hillgrove put it, "Flacco is playing like Tyler Palko's backup."

© Don't look now, but the old, slow and done Steelers now have the best record in the AFC.

Wonder if anyone will bring that up to old, slow and done Warren Sapp this week?

© The Steelers could get James Harrison back this week against the Ravens, but it looks like they could be without LaMarr Woodley, who sacked Brady twice in the first half, then went down in the third quarter with a hamstring injury.

The beat goes on for the Steelers, who have had their worst season for injuries in quite some time.

© Loved the play by Troy Polamalu to bat Brett Keisel's sack-strip backward toward the end zone. Polamalu was going to have to fight a couple of offensive linemen for the ball.

Instead, Ziggy Hood nearly recovered it in the end zone before it went for a safety.

© On a final note, this is why you play the games instead of just figuring out who is going to beat who on paper.

Friday, October 28, 2011

Who I like, New England version

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is on a bit of a roll in the past three games, with a Tom Brady-like eight touchdown passes.

Sunday, he'll get another opportunity to go head to head with the real thing when Brady and the Patriots come to Heinz Field.

This has been a traditionally tough matchup for the Steelers due to Brady's ability to pick apart zone defenses.

And that has led to Brady compiling a 6-1 record against the Steelers.

But Roethlisberger has had some success against New England's defense as well. He owns a 2-3 mark against the Patriots, though one of those wins came against Matt Cassell.

These Steelers are better suited to match up against New England in a point-for-point battle.

The Steelers showed some of that in 2010 when they rallied against New England before dropping a 39-26 decision, with the big difference being an interception and touchdown in the middle of the fourth quarter by the Patriots.

The Pittsburgh receivers are a year older and wiser, which will make a difference, but it likely won't be enough.

Brady gets into these kind of shootouts on a weekly basis, while the Steelers still have to get comfortable doing so.

New England is a three-point favorite and I think the Patriots will win, but they won't cover.

Take New England, 33-31.

© The Steelers on Saturday released defensive lineman Corbin Bryant and signed linebacker Mortty Ivy off their practice squad.

Bryant will likely be re-signed to the practice squad after he clears waivers.

The activation of Ivy is a sign that the Steelers aren't all too sure about the status of James Farrior, who is questionable to play Sunday with a calf injury.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Thursday news and notes

Hines Ward missed his second consecutive day of practice with a sprained ankle, but said he is going to do everything in his power to play Sunday against the Patriots.

If not, Emmanuel Sanders will start.

© Linebacker James Farrior was limited today after tweaking his calf Wednesday. You'll remember that Farrior went down briefly with a cramp in the same calf against Arizona.

Farrior expects to play.

© Linebacker James Harrison, nose tackle Chris Hoke and guard Doug Legursky were out.

Linebacker Jason Worilds returned to practice on a limited basis with his quad injury.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Wednesday news and notes

Got to the bottom of Chris Hoke being out two weeks with a stinger.

The issue is that the stinger is the second in a close period of time for Hoke and the nerve sheath still hasn't regenerated.

It will be an issue for Hoke for the remainder of the season.

© James Harrison is getting closer to a return. He said he's still experiencing some light sensitivity and will wear a visor when he does come back.

The biggest issue for Harrison is his vision.

@ Chris Kemoeatu was fined $25,000 for a facemask and unnecessary roughness penalties against Arizona last Sunday.

© Hines Ward sat out practice today for the Steelers, but that's nothing new. He never practices on Wednesdays.

Ward told reporters that it will take a lot for him not to play against the Patriots Sunday.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Tuesday with Tomlin

The biggest news to come out of Mike Tomlin's press conference today is that Casey Hampton is expected to return against New England on Sunday after sitting out the past three games with a shoulder injury.

Of course, getting a nose tackle back against New England may be a moot point. Because of New England's propensity to spread the field out against the Steelers, the nose tackle often only sees 15 to 20 plays.

© Tomlin said he'll wait and see how Hines Ward is Wednesday before he makes any declarations if Ward will play or not. Ward suffered a sprained ankle against Arizona.

© James Harrison, Chris Hoke, Jason Worilds and Doug Legursky are likely out.

Rookie corner Curtis Brown is suffering from back spasms.

© Tomlin said he's not sure Ike Taylor will follow Wes Welker all over the field since Welker lines up so much in the slot.

The stakes have risen

The Steelers likely went to bed - or at least couldn't watch the train wreck any longer – behind the Ravens and woke up in first place, a half-game ahead of Baltimore.

The Ravens' showed some of the same problems on offense they've had in previous years in Monday night's 12-7 loss at Jacksonville.

They don't play well on the road - at least not offensively. Joe Flacco still isn't very accurate. And if you take Ray Rice away from him, he's toast.

The Steelers host the Ravens in two weeks at Heinz Field.

Yes, there's an important game this weekend against New England. But the one the following week against Baltimore will be far more important in the grand scheme of things.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Post-Arizona thoughts

Check-down Ben was back today for the Steelers and, amazingly, the Steelers had another big offensive day.

Imagine that.

I thought Roethlisberger played outstanding football against the Cardinals, pretty much doing whatever he wanted.

He seemed to have the Cardinals guessing wrong all day – witness his fake in the backfield on former teammate Clark Haggans, getting Haggans to go airborne while Roethlisberger scrambled around him and made yet another short completion.

And the deep balls were still there.

© That said, Roethlisberger still took some unnecessary hits in this game. He got sacked twice - including once by Haggans – and hit six times.

And that was in a game in which the Steelers led 14-0 and never trailed.

One player who did not get a QB hit was Joey Porter. He's finished.

© Chris Kemoeatu was back and so were the stupid penalties and plays.

First was a grab of the facemask of a pass rusher running by him.

Then came an inexplicable dive into a pile of players lying on the ground after a short pass to Hines Ward that drew an unnecessary roughness penalty, about the 10th time in his career he's pulled that one off.

He finished things off by wasting about 10 seconds jawing with a defensive player behind the play while the Steelers were trying to run their two-minute offense late in the first half.

Head coach Mike Tomlin could be seen pointing to his head, reminding Kemoeatu to think after he was dragged back to the line of scrimmage following the third bozo play of the game.

And that was all in the first half.

Kemoeatu is only seven years into his career with the Steelers. There's still room for growth there.

By the time he spends his final years in the league with the Cardinals, maybe he'll finally get it.

© Steve McLendon played an outstanding game on the nose.

The Cardinals ran right at him on a number of occasions and McLendon was more than up to the challenge most of the time.

Beanie Wells, before he was knocked out of the game by Ryan Clark, didn't find much running room – save for one time when Larry Foote got trapped out of position.

© How do you leave LaMarr Woodley unblocked inside your own 5?

© The young receivers were on the same page as Roethlisberger throughout the game today. They had better be again next week against New England because the Steelers will need to score all the points they can.

© Tomlin said after the game that Aaron Smith had some neck pain, but thought it was due to the rigors of playing.

But when he sat out a couple of weeks and the pain persisted, they had it checked out.

That's when they found a problem that will require season-ending surgery. No conspiracy there.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Neck injury landed Smith on ir

According to Steelers Digest - Bob Labriola - it was a neck injury that landed Aaron Smith on injured reserve. Smith had been sitting out with a foot injury.

It appears that Smith's brilliant NFL career is over.

@ Chris Hoke is among the Steelers inactives. Steve McLendon will get the start. Corbin Bryant is also active.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Who I like – Arizona version

This game comes down to simple terms for me: If the Steelers don't let Beanie Wells run wild, they will beat the Cardinals.

Now, Wells is having a fine season. He's already scored six touchdowns and is averaging five yards per carry.

But he's not the style of back the Steelers have trouble with. In other words, he's going to be where the Steelers think he'll be.

Wells isn't a plodder by any means, but he's not very shifty, either. He's a big, strong power back with decent speed. He won't be cutting back against the grain ala. Ray Rice, Arian Foster and Maurice Jones-Drew because that's not his style.

And the Steelers should score some points against the Cardinals, who are in the bottom third of the league in both run and pass defense.

That's why I like Pittsburgh, 27-17

© Nose tackle Chris Hoke is doubtful to play after not practicing all week long. Hoke suffered a stinger in last Sunday's win over Jacksonville.

With Casey Hampton also out, that would leave Steve McLendon as the only nose tackle on the roster.

I expect Hoke to try to give it a go on Sunday, but the Steelers could also make a move to activate Corbin Bryant off the practice squad Saturday.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Thursday practice notes

Mike Wallace returned to practice for the Steelers today on a limited basis and should be ready to play Sunday at Arizona.

More troubling was that center Maurkice Pouncey was limited today as well with a left elbow injury.

Linebacker Jason Worilds and running back Rashard Mendenhall were also added to the injury list. Worilds aggravated his quad injury, while Mendenhall has a slight knee injury.

Chris Hoke was missing again today, which would be troubling if he were a younger player.

But for Hoke, who has been around longer than most of the coaches on this team, practice isn't a necessity.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Wednesday news and notes

Both Casey Hampton and Chris Hoke missed practice today, but Hoke is expected to be ready to play at Arizona on Sunday.

Jason Worilds returned to full practice today, but don't expect him to be automatically thrust into the starting lineup.

On the other hand, it looks like rookie Marcus Gilbert will go back into the starting lineup ahead of Jonathan Scott at right tackle despite the fact that Scott has played well the past two games subbing.

Chris Kemoeatu is also back, though he says the cartilage problem in his knee that has forced him to miss three games will require surgery at season's end. He said he has already had the knee drained three times.

© Ben Roethlisberger said today that he went to Bruce Arians midway through the fourth quarter last Sunday and asked to run the no-huddle offense. Arians told him no, as he should have with the team nursing a 17-10 lead at that point.

Roethlisberger always wants to run the no-huddle because that's what he's very comfortable doing. But, as we've seen with Pitt this season, sometimes you have to be able to milk the clock a little bit.

If the Steelers convert a third-and-short just once in the fourth quarter, the Jaguars never get to 17-13.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin said today that Troy Polamalu passed all of his concussion tests and will be ready to practice Wednesday in preparation to face Arizona on Sunday.

Polamalu sat out part of the fourth quarter of last Sunday's win against Jacksonville after getting a knee in the head while tackling Maurice Jones-Drew.

In other news, guard Chris Kemoeatu, linebacker Jason Worilds and Marcus Gilbert are expected to return to the lineup.

Tomlin said he will make a decision later this week about whether it will be Worilds or Lawrence Timmons at outside linebacker in place of James Harrison.

Harrison remains out, as do Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton.

Doug Legursky will also be out several weeks after suffering a dislocated toe against the Jaguars.

Chris Hoke will likely be back this week to replace Hampton. Hoke suffered a stinger in the first half against Jacksonville and did not return to the game.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Post-Jaguars thoughts

That was about as ugly a win as you'll see.

The Steelers jumped on the Jaguars early and then went into turtle mode, throwing the ball five times in the second half.

OK, they actually dropped back to pass eight times in the second half, but three resulted in sacks.

And yes, that was Max Starks giving up one to some dude named John Chick – couldn't make that one up – and allowing Chick to get by him to push Ben Roethlisberger into another one.

Roethlisberger said following the game that the Jaguars were taking away the short passes and forcing the Steelers to throw the ball deep – which probably wasn't a bad game plan once the winds picked up at Heinz Field.

© That was probably the only good coaching move by Jacksonville.

Jack Del Rio's most crucial error? Lining up to convert a fourth-and-6, taking a timeout and then kicking a field goal with less than five minutes remaining and down 17-10.

What good does 17-13 do you when your quarterback still hadn't broken 100 yards at that point?

It goes back to a something one of the longtime reporters likes to say, "The other side has coaches too."

© OK, the Lawrence Timmons at outside linebacker thing has pretty much run its course.

Can you believe Timmons played an entire game today with the Jaguars running his way and had not a single tackle. That's right, zero.

He also was a non-factor as a pass rusher despite being lined up against Cameron Bradfield and guard Will Rackley, a pair of rookies from football powerhouses Lehigh and Grand Valley State.

Timmons is a run-and-chase linebacker who excels in coverage. If Jason Worilds is able to play next week at Arizona, the Steelers would be well served to put him at outside linebacker or move Timmons back inside.

If not, Beanie Wells could run wild.

© Brett Keisel, by the way, did what you're supposed to do lined up against a pair of rookies from Lehigh and Grand Valley State, picking up a pair of sacks and batting down a couple of passes at the line of scrimmage.

© I wonder if the Rashard Mendenhall haters – and they are many – will be as vocal this week or if they'll wait until the next time he has a tough game to come out of the woodwork again.

© Same goes for all the people saying LaMarr Woodley was overweight and lazy.

© That's 11 TDs in his last 11 games for Mendenhall and 11.5 sacks for Woodley in his last 13 games, including the postseason. But who's counting?

© Doug Legursky suffered a dislocated toe, while Troy Polamalu was suffering from concussion-like symptoms.

Both are expected to be OK. In fact, Polamalu is expected to play next week at Arizona.

Greetings from Heinz Field

Nice, pleasant day here at Heinz Field. The winds that whipped through the area Saturday are gone.

It's a little overcast here at Heinz Field, but pretty calm other than that.

Nice day for football.

No surprises in the Steelers inactives since they were all players declared out on Friday.

The Jaguars will be starting a pair of rookies on the left side of their offensive line. Could be a big day for Keisel/Timmons.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Who I like - Jacksonville version

Rookie quarterback faces defense looking to continue re-establishing itself as a force. This isn't a good spot for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Rashard Mendenhall will also be back and should be motivated after watching his backups have some success last week.

The Steelers are 13 1/2 point favorites in this one, which is a big spot.

But if they control Maurice Jones-Drew, they should be OK.

Take Pittsburgh, 27-10

© In a poll of players conducted by Sports Illustrated, James Harrison was named the meanest player in the NFL, garnering 35 percent of the vote.

It reminds me of when Joey Porter was on the cover of SI as the "baddest man in the NFL."

At the time, the joke among reporters was how could Porter be the baddest man in the NFL when he wasn't even the baddest man in his own locker room.

Harrison had that honor.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Thursday news and notes

Rashard Mendenhall got through his second day of practice and will start Sunday against Jacksonville.

Don't expect a full workload, but 15 to 20 carries, with Redman getting 5 to 10, should be what we're looking at.

© Linebacker Jason Worilds returned to practice on a limited basis today and could be available.

Worilds missed last week's game with a quad injury, giving rookie Chris Carter a limited chance at some playing time.

Marcus Gilbert, Casey Hampton, Chris Kemoeatu and Mewedle Moore all sat out for the second consecutive game and are looking unlikely to play.

© Antonio Brown currently ranks 13th in the NFL in kick return average and fifth in punt returns.

He now just needs to break one for a score to be mentioned among the top return men in the league.

© Jacksonville is 3-0 at Heinz Field and is the only team to win twice there in one season.

Don't think Mike Tomlin isn't throwing that stat out at the Steelers this week, especially after being peppered with questions about the 2007 season by the Jacksonville media on Wednesday.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

No surprises

No surprises among the Steelers who missed practice Wednesday as Marcus Gilbert, Chris Kemoeatu and Casey Hampton were among those who sat out.

Rashard Mendenhall was back and said he should be ready to go Sunday against Jacksonville.

I would expect Mendenhall to start against Jacksonville, though the Steelers will likely use give Isaac Redman a series in each half like they did against Seattle.

* I talked to Ziggy Hood today and he told me he did have a tough time on the right side because he hadn't seen a ton of practice there. Remember, all of his practice time last season came on the left when he replaced Aaron Smith.

It may not seem like such a big deal, but Hood said the hand placements and leverage are different on the other side of the line. That likely forced him to think more than react, leading to him getting pushed around.

* Also spoke to Antonio Brown about his return game. He's very confident in his abilities and feels he can be a Pro Bowl returner - if teams kick to him.

Tennessee kicked away from him in the punt game last week, the ultimate show of respect for a return man.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Tuesday with Tomlin

The big news out of Tuesday's press conference was that Mike Tomlin only expects James Harrison to miss four weeks after having surgery to repair a broken orbital bone last week.

In fact, Tomlin wouldn't rule out Harrison returning sooner than that, saying if anyone could do so, Harrison would.

In other news, only Harrison and Aaron Smith have been declared out for Sunday's game against Jacksonville.

Mewelde Moore, Jason Worilds, Marcus Gilbert, Casey Hampton and Chris Kemoeatu are questionable.

Maurkice Pouncey, Cortez Allen, Rashed Mendenhall and Ben Roethlisberger are all expected to be available to play.

Interestingly enough, Tomlin didn't automatically declare Kemoeatu or Mendenhall the starters when they return, saying he would wait to see how they look in practice.

In addition, Tomlin said that William Gay and Keenan Lewis will continue to start ahead of Bryant McFadden.

"We're not going to fix it if it's not broken," Tomlin said.

The same goes for Lawrence Timmons at outside linebacker, even if Worilds is ready to go.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Monday news and notes

If rookie Marcus Gilbert is unable to play next Sunday against Jacksonville - and that looks pretty likely - the Steelers will start their sixth different offensive line in six games.

I've been covering the NFL since 1993 and don't ever remember that happening to a team before.

© The Steelers have opened as 12 1/2-point favorites to beat the Jaguars at home.

This will be another get-healthy game for the defense, which has just 10 sacks to this point, well off its usual pace.

These are the kind of games where the Steelers defense comes out and gets five or six sacks - if not more.

© It will be interesting to see if Mike Tomlin sticks with Lawrence Timmons or goes to Jason Worilds at outside linebacker - if Worilds is over his quad injury.

If it were me, I'd go with Worilds.

This is a perfect opportunity to get the young man's feet wet against a team you should dominate. And Timmons is way better inside than he is outside.

Sunday, October 09, 2011

Post-Tennessee notes

I came into this game offering the Titans plenty of R-E-S-P-E-C-T, but after watching them play, I had to wonder how they won three games, including thumping Baltimore at home in Week 2

Then I remembered how Baltimore had won its Super Bowl the previous week by beating the Steelers.

That same trend has held true the last two weeks as well.

Buffalo won its Super Bowl by beating New England in Week 2 and promptly lost to Cincinnati the next week.

Houston won its Super Bowl in Week 3 and lost to Oakland in Week 4.

It's a good reminder of one of former coach Bill Cowher's go-to sayings, "Don't get too high with the highs or too low with the lows."

The Steelers didn't get too low after their losses to Baltimore or Houston and bounced back the following weeks with victories.

© For those of you keeping score at home, Jonathan Scott was on the field for all five of the Steelers touchdowns Sunday.

He was subbing for Max Starks – who was getting a breather – at left tackle on their first two scores. He was in at right tackle for Marcus Gilbert on their final three.

Scott is much better suited to play right tackle – where he won't face premiere pass rushers every week. Because of that, the Steelers won't rush Gilbert, who left with a shoulder injury, back next week.

© OK, admit it, you were saying, "Here we go again," when Chris Johnson ran for 21 yards on his first carry.

The Steelers defensive players were saying it as well. Then they actually remembered to stay on their feet, stay in their gap and converge on the backside.

Johnson didn't have a cutback lane the rest of the game.

© Jonathan Dwyer admitted after the game that he thought he was going to score on his 78-yard run in the second quarter.

But this is the NFL, not the ACC.

That was a pretty big hole right in the middle of the line. I'm pretty sure Rashard Mendenhall would have scored on that play, which is why he'll be the starting back once he's healthy again.

© Isaac Redman did a credible job replacing Mendenhall as well, though he averaged just 3.3 yards per carry.

His biggest contribution with some crushing blitz pickups.

© Ben Roethlisberger was off badly on his first two passes, though Mike Wallace somehow came up with the second throw for an 11-yard gain.

You can't blame Roethlisberger, though. He was just so surprised that he actually had a pocket to step up into.

© All kidding aside, the offensive line did an outstanding job in pass protection – though running the ball effectively sure did help.

How bout all those play-action and three-step drops?

Tennessee was playing plenty of cover-2 and the Steelers took advantage by working underneath. It's what they should have done at Indianapolis, but had a bad combination of Roethlisberger refusing to throw underneath when it was open or having everybody going deep at other times.

© There's no reason the Steelers shouldn't be 5-2 – right where everyone felt they should be – in a few weeks heading into a big game at Heinz Field against New England.

Then they face Baltimore the week after that. Come out of that stretch at 6-3 and it's all downhill from there to the playoffs.

© Keenan Lewis just keeps getting better the more he plays. Now, he'll get to continue to improve and the Steelers don't face New England for a few weeks, but he's trending in the right direction.

He and William Gay – who is also playing well – have turned Bryant McFadden into a high-priced special teams player.

Easy inactives

The inactives for today's game against Tennessee look pretty simple:

Aaron Smith, James Harrison, Casey Hampton, Jason Worilds, Mewelde Moore, Chris Kemoeatu and Cortez Allen.

My guess at this point is that Rashard Mendenhall will dress, but would only play in an emergency.

They could also keep Dixon active, but why have three QBs active - unless Dixon is your emergency running back.

It's a beautiful day at Heinz Field. Sun is shining and it's in the low 70s.

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Remembering Al Davis

Raiders owner and AFL pioneer Al Davis has died.

There's little doubt Davis was one of the most flamboyant owners in the NFL. He also always marched to the beat of his own drum.

I'll never forget being a young reporter in my first or second year on the beat and walking to my seat at Three Rivers Stadium.
When I reached my seat, there was a guy standing there in a white warm-up suit with his hair all slicked back. He had an entourage of three or four guys with him.

It didn't take me long to realize it was Davis.

I waited for him to clear out of my space before finally sitting down. I've been around or talked to a lot of different owners in the league – none quite so humble or unassuming as the Steelers Dan Rooney – but Davis had a presence about him.

Friday, October 07, 2011

Who I like, Tennessee version

Plenty of new starters this week, as I laid out in my previous post. And you can add one more to the mix, as Casey Hampton has been declared out for this game as well.

That means Chris Hoke and Steve McClendon will hold down the middle of the Steelers D.

But I like the Steelers this week at home. Tennessee is not good enough to be a 4-1 team. The Titans just aren't.

And playing at home, the Steelers should get a much-needed boost to force Matt Hasselbeck, who has been playing well, into some mistakes.

I think the addition of Max Starks at left tackle this week as well, will solidify things a little more, though the Steelers will be starting their fifth offensive line in five games.

But I like Pittsburgh to pull out a close one, 21-17

Thursday, October 06, 2011

A week of new faces

The Steelers had another laundry list of guys missing in practice again Thursday and it's looking likely they'll have more than just a few new starters in the lineup this week.

For the fifth time in five games, you'll be looking at a new starting offensive line.

After splitting snaps 50-50 at left tackle Wednesday, Max Starks took even more snaps than Jonathan Scott at left tackle Thursday and looks like he could be in line to start there against Tennessee.

Starks has looked good in practice.

Chris Kemoeatu missed another practice Thursday with a knee problem and it appears that Doug Legursky will move over to start at left guard, leaving Ramon Foster at right guard. You'll remember that Foster started at left guard for Kemoeatu in Week 2, so it appears that Foster is going to stick at right guard for a while.

Brett Keisel should be back, so Ziggy Hood will start in place of Aaron Smith.

Casey Hampton also sat out again with a sore shoulder, but I'd expect him to play.

Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore were also out again. The Steelers are hopeful that Mendenhall should at least be able to give them limited carries - possibly as the backup to Isaac Redman. But it appears Redman will make his first career start.

And finally, we already know about Lawrence Timmons starting at outside linebacker, with Larry Foote getting the nod inside at the mack position.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Myriad of players out today

There were a bunch of players missing from practice today as the Steelers began preparations for their game against the Titans Sunday.

Ben Roethlisberger didn't practice, but was getting around pretty well - albeit in a walking boot.

Roethlisberger did participate in the first walk-through and said that's the really important part for him, seeing what looks the Titans will use.

He also said he'll wear a fortified shoe on his injured left foot, just like the one he wore last year on his right foot.

Also sitting out were Casey Hampton, Cortez Allen, James Harrison, Chris Kemoeatu, Rashard Mendenhall, Mewelde Moore, Aaron Smith and Jason Worilds.

© Good news for all of you Jonathan Scott haters. He split time with newly signed Max Starks today at left tackle.

Starks to be signed?

It appears the Steelers will make a move today to sign offensive tackle Max Starks to help solidify their offensive line.

But with the team just $750,000 under the cap, the team may have to get creative to make the signing work.

Obviously, somebody also has to go.

The guess here is that player will be Bryant McFadden.

The Steelers like what they've seen of rookies Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen. And William Gay and Keenan Lewis have been solid while McFadden has been out of action the past three weeks – including the last two as a healthy scratch.

Recently signed Jamon Meredith is also a possibility, though, as we've seen, the Steelers apparently can't have enough offensive linemen.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

Tuesday with Tomlin, more bad news

Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that linebacker James Harrison suffered a fractured orbital bone that will cause him to miss the next several weeks.

Harrison will have surgery Wednesday.

With linebacker Jason Worilds doubtful to play Sunday against Tennessee, Lawrence Timmons will shift outside, with Larry Foote starting inside.

On the positive side, Tomlin said he expects quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to play, though he'll obviously be limited early in the week.

Tomlin also expects Brett Keisel, Doug Legursky and Jonathan Scott back in the lineup this week.

The return of Keisel would be particularly helpful, considering Aaron Smith is doubtful to play Sunday.

The Steelers are also hurting at running back. Mewelde Moore has a sprained ankle, while Rashard Mendenhall has a hamstring strain, though Mendenhall is far more likely to play than Moore.

All in all, it's a long list of injuries.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Post-Houston thoughts

The Steelers made enough mistakes in this game to last them a season, but were somehow in it to the end.

The mistakes, though, were made by many of the players the Steelers consider their future, which is somewhat disconcerting.

You had Ben Roethlisberger refusing to take checkdowns that were available, instead holding onto the ball far longer than he should and taking some ridiculous hits. I know, it's an age-old issue for Roethlisberger, but you're supposed to get wiser as you get older.

You had Mike Wallace taking a silly taunting penalty after a great 22-yard catch-and-run in the first quarter that would have put the ball inside Houston territory. Instead, the Steelers were forced to punt later from their own 48 instead of possibly being in field goal range. Wallace has to be better than that.

You had LaMarr Woodley constantly getting too far upfield on runs away from him, allowing Arian Foster lanes to cut back to his side.

"I have to be better on that," Woodley said. "I have to play the cutback and the boot instead of just playing the boot."

Ya think?

You had Antonio Brown making some great adjustments on back-shoulder throws. But then fair-catching a punt at his own 5 and being seemingly oblivious to what he was supposed to do on hot routes on a number of occasions.

You had Maurkice Pouncey taking a stupid unnecessary roughness penalty after a nice run by Mewelde Moore to the Houston 6 at the end of the first half. That pushed the Steelers back to the 21 and set up what would be a blocked field goal to end the first half.

You've got to be better than that if you hope to win on the road against quality opponents.

© Is the season over? Certainly not.

Few expected the Steelers to win in Houston. It was disconcerting to see how they lost, with Houston running the ball at will in the first half.

The Steelers did tighten up in the second half - save the 42-yard TD run by Foster - but, again, you have to be better than that to win on the road against a quality opponent.

© Roethlisberger was in a walking boot and on crutches after the game after suffering a sprained foot.

I'd be surprised if he doesn't push to play next week, however, with the season on the line against a surprisingly good Tennessee team.

The Titans have already beaten Baltimore and Cleveland, so if the Steelers can find a way to beat Tennessee, it's like making up a game on the competition.

© Mike Wallace had four catches for 77 yards in the first half, then wasn't targeted again in the second half.

There were some opportunities for Wallace without safety coverage over the top in this game, but the Texans gambled that their blitz could force Roethlisberger to throw before Wallace had a chance to get deep.

It worked, save a 40-yard catch by Wallace in the second quarter.

Most of the time, however, Wallace was bracketed, something the Steelers had better get used to.

© If I'm Mike Tomlin, I go for it on 4th and inches from the 8 down 10-7 on the opening play of the fourth quarter.

The Steelers had just run seven times for 55 yards and had the Texans on their heels.

Instead, Tomlin kicked a field goal and took the 10-10 tie.

Greetings from Houston

It's a beautiful day here at Reliant Stadium. The roof is closed and it's nice and cool inside the building.

© The Steelers inactives are Dixon, McFadden, Dwyer, Chris Carter, Legursky Jonathan Scott and Keisel.

For Houston, starting corner Kareem Jackson is out. Jason Allen will start in his place.

© McFadden is a healthy scratch for the second consecutive week. He's ready to play, but the coaching staff is happy with the way the pass defense has performed.

© All teams are now required to have two offensive linemen wear microphones in order to hear if the opponent is simulating the snap count.

Maurkice Pouncey will be one of the linemen for the Steelers wearing a mic.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Who I like, Houston version

This is going to be a tough spot for the Steelers, heading into Houston for a game against the Texans coming off a loss against New Orleans.

I think the Steelers will settle down with the turnovers. They're not a team that's going to turn the ball over three-plus times in every road game.

The Steelers actually match up with the Texans pretty well. Yes, Mario Williams is going to be a problem. But he's more of a power rusher. Trai Essex may be able to hold his own there - as long as the Steelers can stay balanced.

The Texans also have some issues of their own, as last week's 1-5 effort in the red zone against the Saints. They're also allowing 4.8 yards per rushing attempt and 12.5 yards per pass reception.

Arian Foster is expected to be back and see a full workload for the Texans.

Jonathan Scott, Doug Legursky and Brett Keisel are out for the Steelers.

Look for Pittsburgh to keep things close, but lose, 27-23.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wednesday news and notes

From the AP:

Retired coaches Bill Cowher, Bill Parcells and Marty Schottenheimer are among the modern-era candidates for the 2012 class of the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Cowher is eligible for the first time, as are Keyshawn Johnson, Tiki Barber, Drew Bledsoe, Stephen Davis, Rod Smith, Will Shields, Troy Vincent and Mike Vanderjagt.

Parcells and Schottenheimer previously were eligible under different requirements.

In 2008, the Hall of Fame made it mandatory for coaches, like players, to be retired five consecutive seasons. Before that, coaches were eligible immediately upon retirement, allowing Parcells to be a nominee in 2001, 2002, and 2003, and Schottenheimer in 2000. This is their first year of eligibility under the new provision.

© I don't think Cowher gets in this year - Dermontti Dawson seems to be a favorite, though.

If the players listed above, the only one who has a shot is Will Shields, but probably not this year.

Barber will get some push because he played in New York, but he's not Hall of Fame material, particularly not with Jerome Bettis and Curtis Martin still waiting to get in.

© Wide receiver Antonio Brown was fined $7,500 for his low block during an interception return against the Colts.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tuesday with Tomlin

The big injury news Tuesday was that both Doug Legursky (shoulder) and Jonathan Scott (ankle) are questionable to play this week at Houston.

Rookie RT Marcus Gilbert is expected to be OK.

Mike Tomlin did say that if Scott can't play, Trai Essex will start at LT. They'll leave Gilbert at RT.

Ramon Foster would replace Legursky.

Tomlin did say that the Steelers aren't interested in bringing in a starter-type offensive lineman at this point. IF they sign somebody this week, it will be another Jamon Meredith-type player, somebody who will help them practice during the week.

© Tomlin said he didn't have a conversation with Emmanuel Sanders regarding his failure to tap the Colts' Joe Lefeged down following an interception.

He said Sanders immediately acknowledged his mistake on the sidelines and he didn't feel the need to harp on the obvious.

© One mistake Tomlin did acknowledge today was his timeout with eight seconds remaining prior to Shaun Suisham's game-winning field goal.

Tomlin thought he had another timeout remaining - in case of a botched snap - but he forgot he lost a timeout when Scott was injured with less than two minutes remaining.