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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.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Post-Indianapolis thoughts

How does Mike Wallace just disappear from the game plan as he did in the second quarter?

I know the Steelers turned the ball over three times in the quarter, but it wasn't like they did so without running some plays.

And yet, the team's best playmaker had four balls thrown his way in the first quarter, resulting in three catches for 129 yards and a score – and then nothing.

If I'm throwing a bubble screen or something of that sort, it's going to Wallace - sorry Hines Ward.

© Those pick plays the Colts run are pretty much unstoppable if the officials aren't going to call the picks - and they didn't.

The Steelers did do a great job for the most part, however, of limiting the damage on them - at least until the Colts' final drive, when they seemingly couldn't get anyone on the ground.

© Ike Taylor wasn't credited with a tackle in this game – and that has to be a misprint - but his impact was this: Reggie Wayne 13 targets, three catches, 24 yards.

Will Gay, who got the start on the other side, was also solid once again. I know he's a favorite whipping boy on the message boards, but Gay and Keenan Lewis have played well enough that the Steelers aren't in a hurry to push Bryant McFadden back into the lineup.

© I feel badly for Jonathan Scott.

I know, I know, he had a tough game. But do you blame Scott for that, or do you blame the people who felt he was capable of blocking Dwight Freeney?

© It sure would help matters in a game like that if Ben Roethlisberger didn't hold the ball so long - but that's beating a dead horse.

© The Steelers running game produced 10 yards on 10 carries in the first half. Then, they finally decided to start running straight at the Colts rather than sideways.

That resulted in 57 yards on the ground in the second half.

© Scott, by the way, looks like he'll be out for the next couple of weeks.

He was in a walking boot after the game.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Steelers-Colts inactives

Bryant McFadden is a healthy scratch tonight. Also down are Dwyer, Meredith, Chris Scott, Cotchery and Keisel.

Six starters, including Manning out for the Colts.

Mike Pollak starts at RG for Ryan Diem; Eric Foster – all 265 pounds of him - at DT for Flil Moala; Pat Angerer at MLB for Gary Brackett; Phillip Wheeler at SLB for Ernie Sims; David Caldwell at SS for Melvin Bullitt.

That's four starters right up the middle of the defense.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Top and bottom and who I like

1. New England - Moves into the top spot, but could lose this week at Buffalo

2. Green Bay - Packers, like the Patriots, have to be concerned with their pass defense

3. New York Jets - Face a tough test this weekend at Oakland

4. New Orleans - Drew Brees is playing excellent football

5. Houston - Head to New Orleans for a big showdown

6. Baltimore - Stumbled in Nashville

7. Steelers - Rebounded with a strong effort against Seattle

8. San Diego - A Norv Turner-type loss in New England last week

9. Atlanta - Rally to beat the Eagles

10. Philadelphia - Vick has four fumbles in two games. That's an issue.

Bottom 10

23. San Francisco - Alex Smith is barely averaging 150 yards passing per game

24. Denver - Remember when the Broncos were relevant?

25. Cleveland - Big win over Indianapolis?

26. Cincinnati - At least the Bengals haven't gotten smoked yet - pun intended

27. Jacksonville - Blaine Gabbert takes over at QB. Ick

28. Minnesota - Donovan McNabb faded fast

29. Carolina - I don't care how many yards Cam Newton is throwing for. They're still losing

30. Indianapolis - Peyton Manning may win the MVP award without playing a game

31. Seattle - Averaging less than 50 yards rushing per game

32. Kansas City - Ten points in two games

Who I like this week

Remember when the schedule came out and you wrote this game off as a loss?

Those days are long gone. The Steelers will control the game with Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman and slow the Colts pass rush.

The Colts have some offensive weapons, but the Steelers will get after Kerry Collins.

William Gay will start again in place of Bryant McFadden, while Brett Keisel is also out.

Chris Kemoeatu will be back.

Take Pittsburgh, 31-16

Thursday, September 22, 2011

What's going on

Brett Keisel, not surprisingly, was the only player to miss practice Wednesday for the Steelers as they prepare to play Indianapolis.

There's really no reason to play Keisel this week, particularly with a big game at Houston looming next week.

© Don't be surprised if Ramon Foster wins back the starting right guard spot from Doug Legursky.

After watching the game against Seattle a second time, I saw that Foster was very effective in the run game.

© The Steelers have to get their running game going this week against Indianapolis. IF they can do that, it will slow down speedy defensive ends Rasheen Mathis and Dwight Freeney and help out offensive tackles Jonathan Scott and Marcus Gilbert.

© Through two games, Mike Wallace is leading all NFL wideouts in receptions with 18, putting him on pace for 128 for the season. His average per catch is down to just over 15 yards per game, but if he keeps up his pace, Wallace will approach the 2,000 yards he set as a goal this season.

Wallace also has five consecutive 100-yard games in the regular season. Yancey Thigpen and Lynn Swann are tied for the fifth-most 100-yard games in team history with 10 each. Plaxico Burress had 11.

Hines Ward is the team's all-time leader with 29. Wallace has five in a row!

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tueday with Tomlin

Brett Keisel has a grade 1 PCL sprain and is questionable to play this week. The guess here is that he'll sit this week as the Steelers will need him much more in Houston in two weeks.

Ziggy Hood would get the start if Keisel doesn't play.

© Mike Tomlin was a little more optimistic about CB Bryant McFadden and LG Chris Kemoeatu returning after both sat out Sunday's win against Seattle.

Jerricho Cotchery is also getting closer to return and Tomlin said Chris Carter should definitely be available.

© On Ramon Foster and Marcus Gilbert, Tomlin said, "I thought Ramon did some nice things. I like his effort and finish. Marcus Gilbert did some nice things as well. I thought we won the line of scrimmage in the first half, not so much in the second half."

© On the missed goal line opportunities: "It's execution."

© On Keenan Lewis: "He did a solid job. … He played a lot of routes close. It was a good start for him."

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Post Steelers-Seahawks thouts

That was pretty much the way the Steelers were expected to handle a far-inferior Seattle team.

Then again, considering that Baltimore went into Tennessee and lost, 26-13, as James Farrior said after this game, any NFL team is capable of winning a game in a given week.

Fans will still be grumbling that this win over Seattle proves nothing. And, for once, those naysayers are probably right.

The Steelers were the better team. They were at home. They are supposed to win in dominating fashion.

© Isaac Redman's best play in this game wasn't on his 20-yard TD run, though that was a great cut he made to get past the final Seattle defender.

His best play came on a block to free Antonio Brown during his 41-yard punt return at the end of the first quarter.

Redman sealed the edge and allowed Brown to scoot down the sideline.

That block occurred inside the 10. Had Brown been tackled there, everyone would have been screaming at him for returning a punt from inside his own 10.

Instead, he was a hero for giving the Steelers great field position to set up their second score - Redman's touchdown.

© The Steelers gave Redman a series of his own to work with in the first half and the scored on it. Redman had two carries for 23 yards in the drive.

Expect to see more of that moving forward.

© The Steelers also gave Redman a look at the goal line after Rashard Mendenhall was stuffed on three goal line carries in the first half.

Redman also failed to get in, but did pick up the yard that Mendenhall had lost.

The Steelers were only 2 of 4 inside the red zone and need to fix that moving forward.

© Brett Keisel appears to be OK. He'll likely be slowed after leaving the game with a sprained PCL, but it could have been worse.

Same goes for Ben Roethlisberger, who had to leave the game after a late, low hit by Raheem Brock in the second quarter.

Roethlisberger returned to the game and appears to be fine.

We'll see if any fines are forthcoming to Brock, although it appeared he was somewhat - and I'm saying somewhat - blocked into Roethlisberger's knee.

© William Gay started in place of injured Bryant McFadden and made several nice pass breakups. Gay isn't great, but he's not as bad as some would have you believe.

© I watched rookie Marcus Gilbert quite a bit and he held up OK in his first career start. He was particularly effective in the run game.

He's got some tools the Steelers can build on.

Kemoeatu, McFadden out

Chris Kemoeatu and Bryant McFadden are out today for the Steelers.

Ramon Foster and William Gay are in the starting lineup in their places.

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Who I like, Seattle version

Thanks to Patrick – the real one – for reminding me about putting my pick for the game up on the blog.

This week seems pretty simple. The Steelers got embarrassed last week and will be looking to right the ship.

Enter Seattle, a team that has all the look of a five-win club. Add to that the fact that the Hawks are coming cross country to Pittsburgh, where they are 1-6.

It's a good game for rookie Marcus Gilbert to get his feet wet at right tackle.

Take Pittsburgh, 31-10

Friday, September 16, 2011

Week 2 Power rankings

1. Green Bay - Nice performance against a good New Orleans team.

2. New England – The Patriots looked strong on opening weekend

3. Baltimore – Impressive win by the Ravens over their biggest rival.

4. N.Y. Jets – Needed Tony Romo to be Tony Romo to win against Dallas. Luckily for them, Romo came through.

5. Philadelphia – Vick's numbers weren't great, but they were effective.

6. New Orleans – I'll give the Saints a mulligan for losing at Green Bay on opening night.

7. Steelers - Will right the ship after sleepwalking at Baltimore.

8. Houston - Looking at a possible letdown game this week at Miami after demolishing the Peyton Manning-less Colts.

9. San Diego – I had them high last week, but even though they won, they looked bad at home against a pretty mediocre Minnesota squad.

10. Detroit – Yes, I actually believe in the Lions - as long as Matthew Stafford can stay healthy.

Dropped out: Atlanta

Bottom 10

23. Kansas City – Got a feeling that wasn't an anomaly last week against the BillsI

24. Indianapolis – Could be a lot lower than this by the time Peyton Manning is ready to return.

25. Cincinnati – Caught the Browns sleeping to pull out a win. Still not very good.

26. Jacksonville – Curious move cutting David Garrard.

27. Minnesota – Donovan McNabb looks like and old, old man.

28. Denver – Lost at home to Oakland and looked bad doing it.

29. Seattle – Truly awful performance at San Francisco

30. Tennessee – Has to get Chris Johnson going.

31. Cleveland – The Browns are improving, but still have a way to go.

32. Carolina – Nice start by Cam Newton, but he won't be taking anyone by surprise now that he's starting to build some game tape.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

What's up

I saw a Steelers locker room today that wasn't overly concerned about its loss last Sunday at Baltimore.

Before you fly off the handle about that, realize that this is professional football. These guys can't dwell too long on what happened last week - at least not if they hope to take care of the next task.

Are the Steelers more focused this week following their 35-7 whipping?


But they're not going to allow it to consume them. That's one of the signs of a solid locker room.

© Six of the last seven times the Steelers have lost their season opener, they've rebounded to make the playoffs.

Just thought I'd throw that out there.

Included in those losses are some pretty bad ones - 30-14 at New England in 2002, 21-3 at Jacksonville in 2001, 16-0 against Baltimore in 2000, 37-7 to Dallas in 1997, 24-9 at Jacksonville in 1996 and 26-9 against Dallas in 1994.

You get the idea.

When the Steelers lay an egg in the opener, it's usually a pretty big one.

© Why in the world would the NFL put Bill Levy on Sunday's Steelers-Seahawks game?

Given the PR saavy the NFL usually shows, putting Levy on Sunday's game makes absolutely no sense.

Somebody in the league office got caught sleeping at the wheel on this one.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin confirmed today that right tackle Willie Colon suffered a torn triceps muscle in Sunday's loss at Baltimore. Surgery was performed today.

Tomlin said rookie Marcus Gilbert, a second round pick out of Florida, will get the first chance to replace Colon at right tackle Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks.

The move actually makes the most sense.

The Steelers think Gilbert is their left tackle of the future. He played well enough in the preseason that they were comfortable with him as one of the seven players active on game day against the Ravens.

Why not put him in there and see if he runs with it?

The Steelers placed Colon on injured reserve and signed veteran Jamon Meredith.

Meredith, a 2009 fifth round draft pick of Buffalo, has spent time with the Bills, Giants, Packers and Lions. He has started four NFL games.

© Tomlin said linebacker James Harrison, who left Sunday's game with a knee injury, is OK.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Steelers lose Colon for season

The Steelers have lost starting right guard Willie Colon to a torn triceps, marking the second time in the past two seasons Colon will be gone for the year.

Colon, who missed all of last season with an Achilles' tendon tear, apparently suffered the injury in the fourth quarter of Sunday's loss to the Baltimore Ravens.

He signed a five-year deal worth $29 million to stay with the Steelers in training camp.

When Colon was lost last season, the Steelers signed veteran tackle Flozell Adams as his replacement. That is the likely course of action again this year, though it's likely that Chris Scott or Trai Essex will get first opportunity this week against Seattle at Heinz Field.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Post-Baltimore thoughts

Boy, I didn't see that one coming.

The Baltimore Ravens clearly treated Sunday's game against the Steelers as their season. And they probably should have.

While it may be a little short-sighted considering it's a 16-game season, the Ravens treated Sunday's game as their Super Bowl.

They knew if they lost, they'd be chasing the Steelers all season and would need to win in Pittsburgh to even things out - much like what happened to Pittsburgh in 2010.

Baltimore outplayed the Steelers in every facet because their stars showed up.

Yes, Baltimore has 20 new players. But they still have their stars.

Ray Rice was a one-man wrecking crew for the offense, gaining over 150 total yards.

Ray Lewis, Haloti Ngata, Ed Reed and Terrell Suggs all made plays on defense.

Pittsburgh's stars were invisible.

Football is still a team game, but stars still rule the day.

© If you needed any clue to how important this game was to Baltimore, you only had to see coach John Harbaugh running around on the sidelines like a maniac throughout the game.

Harbaugh knew his team hadn't beaten the Steelers with Ben Roethlisberger at QB in seven tries.

To be considered a championship contender, they had to show they could beat Roethlisberger.

© It was a humbled locker room after that game. The Steelers were beaten physically and mentally by the Ravens.

But, it is still just one game. It will be interesting to see how this team bounces back next week at home against Seattle, a team they should trounce.

More importantly, it will be interesting to see how this team works this week in preparation.

Mike Tomlin took it easy on the team throughout training camp and it showed Sunday.

I don't expect Tomlin to suddenly start brow-beating or physically beating up a veteran squad, but it was obvious the team wasn't ready to play from the start - beginning with Rice's long run on the first play of the game.

© The Steelers first two turnovers, a pair of fumbles, were caused by miscommunications on the offensive line.

On the first, they allowed Suggs to come up the middle untouched and hit Roethlisberger, forcing a fumble. On the second, it was Ngata being passed off untouched.

Even if it wasn't my job to block either of those two guys, I'd have my eye on where they are. They are both too good and too important to what Baltimore does up front to just ignore.

It appeared that Doug Legursky and Maurkice Pouncey were at fault both times. Those two didn't get a lot of snaps together in the preseason.

© Antonio Brown was targeted nine times, which resulted in two completions. He and Roethlisberger seemed to be off throughout the game.

© For many teams, having more turnovers than Super Bowl wins wouldn't be a big deal. For the Steelers, that's saying something.

Greetings from Baltimore

I found Troy Polamalu's Tweet regarding his new contract interesting. Polamalu Tweeted that this new deal will allow him to retire as a Steeler.

That would mean Polamalu plans to retire by 2014. That will most certainly be the passing of an era, though Ben Roethlisberger will still have a few good years left in him.

© The line on the Steelers versus Ravens game has moved dramatically. When it opened, Pittsburgh was a 2 1/2-point underdog. Now, the Steelers are favored by a point.

That means a lot of money in Vegas went toward Pittsburgh.

Apparently, everyone else saw the Ravens play in the preseason.

© Expect the Steelers to have Charlie Batch as Ben Roethlisberger's backup today, with Dennis Dixon inactive. Hines Ward would be the Steelers emergency QB.

Friday, September 09, 2011

The NFL as it is now

Thursday night, we saw what happens to a pass defense when a good quarterback is on the field.

Only we got to see it the entire game, as both Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and New Orleans' Drew Brees threw for more than 300 yards and three touchdowns.

The way the NFL's rules are now, the game heavily – and that doesn't begin to describe it – favors the offense.

People in Pittsburgh tend to look at the Steelers pass defense and say, "They get exposed every time they play an elite quarterback."

That's a silly statement. Everybody's defense gets exposed when playing an elite quarterback. That's what makes those quarterbacks elite!

The trick is to outscore the opposing offense.

New Orleans put 30-plus points on the board Thursday night. It wasn't enough because the Packers were in the 40s and the Saints made a couple of mistakes inside Green Bay's red zone.

But with the offense the Steelers now have, they have the weapons to get into a shootout such as Thursday night's game and come out on the winning side.

The days of three yards and a cloud of dust and defenses dominating games are over. The NFL in its current state is all about putting points on the board and doing so quickly.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Redman to get more work

Isaac Redman said he's been told by running backs coach Kirby Wilson that the Steelers are kicking around the idea of giving him a series each in the first and second half to spell Rashard Mendenhall.

Redman ran hard through the preseason and offers a little bit of a bull in a China shop style. He deserves some more carries.

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

© Jerricho Cotchery missed practice again today and is looking questionable to play against the Ravens - not that he would have seen much playing time anyway.

Week 1 power rankings

I haven't done them in a while, but I think I'll bring back the power rankings this season.

Here are my top 10 and bottom 10 NFL teams as we head into the season.

1. Green Bay - The champs until somebody proves otherwise.

2. Steelers - The AFC champs were thisclose to being the Super Bowl champions last season.

3. San Diego – The new kickoff rule will help the Chargers greatly.

4. Atlanta – Julio Jones gives them another receiving threat.

5. N.Y. Jets – Somebody needs to tell Rex Ryan he hasn't won anything yet.

6. New Orleans – Everyone is forgetting about the Saints.

7. New England – May take a slight step back.

8. Philadelphia – Not sold on the Eagles.

9. Baltimore – The Ravens aren't as good as they were last season.

10. Houston - Should win the AFC South in a walkover. Matt Schaub is the only returning starting QB in the division.

Bottom 10

23. Minnesota – What was it about Donovan McNabb's play last season that didn't make the Vikings feel he was washed up?

24. Washington – Mike Shanahan came back for this?

25. Cleveland – The Browns are improving, but still have a way to go.

26. Tennessee – How many games will Matt Hasselbeck play?

27. Buffalo – Getting better, but slowly.

28. Seattle – Hard to believe this team was in the playoffs last season.

29. Denver – Bad defense that did little to get better.

30. Jacksonville – Curious move cutting David Garrard.

31. Cincinnati – Too many rookies at key positions, particularly on offense.

32. Carolina – Little talent anywhere.

Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Not much news with Tuesday Tomlin

Mike Tomlin held his first Tuesday press conference of the season and there wasn't a lot of news to be had.

On the injury front, Tomlin said rookie linebacker Chris Carter (hamstring) is looking like the only player who won't be available to play Sunday in Baltimore.

Cornerback Ike Taylor had the pins removed from his broken thumb today, but Tomlin doesn't think that will hinder Taylor against the Ravens.

© Tomlin did say he likes the fact that so many people are focusing on the age of the Steelers, particularly on defense.

"Keep talking about how old they are," Tomlin said. "That makes my job easier."

Sunday, September 04, 2011

Practice squad set

The Steelers haven't officially announced it yet, but a number of guys were at practice today and in the locker room afterward.

Here's who I saw today.

OT Trevis Turner; TE Jamie McCoy; RB John Clay; LB Morty Ivy; DE Corbin Bryant; WR Tyler Grisham; OL John Malecki; and safety Da'Mon Cromartie Smith.

I previously thought I saw guard Keith Williams – and they didn't take down his nameplate from the locker – but it was another guy.

The Steelers have confirmed the above signings.

© All starters were accounted for and practicing today, including cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden.

It marked one of just a handful of times both starting corners have been on the field together.

Friday, September 02, 2011

Steelers start making moves

The Steelers have placed quarterback Byron Leftwich on their Reserve/Injured List and released 21 others, reducing their roster to 58 players. Leftwich suffered a broken arm in the Steelers’ third preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons and will miss the 2011 season.

The team needs to release five more players before Saturday’s 6 p.m. deadline to get their roster to the league-mandated 53 players.

The 21 players released today include linebackers Baraka Atkins, Mario Harvey, Chris McCoy and Mortty Ivy, defensive lineman Corbin Bryant, defensive backs Brett Greenwood, Macho Harris, Donovan Warren and Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith, running backs James Johnson and John Clay, offensive linemen Colin Miller, Kyle Jolly, John Malecki, Trevis Turner and Keith Williams, wide receivers Armand Robinson, Wes Lyons and Tyler Grisham, tight end Jamie McCoy and kicker Swayze Waters.

Post-Carolina thoughts

The Steelers made it through their final preseason game without any major injuries, which was the best they could hope for.

They also got some nice contributions from players who had been out throughout most of the preseason, Emmanuel Sanders and Cortez Allen.

Sanders wasn’t an unknown commodity and the Steelers knew he would be a contributor in 2011. They just weren’t sure when after he had two offseason foot surgeries.

But Sanders had four catches for 60 yards, showing he’s ready to roll in the opener at Baltimore.

Allen, meanwhile, is a raw rookie who had missed the team’s first three preseason games. The fourth-round draft pick showed his athleticism, recording two tackles and defending three passes, including one that he batted into the air for teammate Will Allen to pick off.

There’s now no way the Steelers can risk trying to slip Allen onto the practice squad.

Fellow rookie Curtis Brown also showed some nice coverage skills, while last week’s star, Crezdon Butler had an up-and-down game, making a couple of nice plays, but also allowing a touchdown – though safety help over the top would have helped.

© Morty Ivy also made a strong case to stick on the roster, at least as a special teams player.

Ivy had a team-high nine tackles, a sack, a pass defense and a quarterback hit.

One would think that Stevenson Sylvester is safe, but could Ivy push Larry Foote off the roster?

That’s doubtful as well, but it shows you the kind of tough decisions the Steelers face in the next two days.

© It was about time for Jason Worilds to show up in a game and he finally did.

Yes, he was unblocked on his sack, but he showed nice burst throughout the game getting down the line of scrimmage.

I liked the sense of urgency he played with and would like to see more of it.

© Jonathan Dwyer, welcome to the team.

Again, like Worilds, I liked the sense of urgency I saw from Dwyer. Mike Tomlin likely noticed as well.

© David Johnson looks much quicker in the open field than previous No. 2 tight end Matt Spaeth, even if he doesn’t offer Spaeth’s height.

Then again, it would be difficult not to look quicker than Spaeth.

He’s a better blocker as well – again, something that isn’t all that difficult.

© Wesyle Saunders has wrapped up the No. 3 tight end position.

© I don’t see how the coaching staff can cut Corbin Bryant, but looking at the numbers at other positions, it will also be difficult to keep him.

That will also leave a tough decision between Chris Hoke and Steve McLendon.

McLendon still has some practice squad eligibility, which could mean he's headed there again.

Bryant, however, would get scooped up in a heartbeat.

© The Steelers look like a team that can't wait to roll into Baltimore in a little over a week.

Thursday, September 01, 2011

The bubble watch

Here are some players who need big games tonight to earn spots on the roster:

Chris Hoke - Youngsters Steve McLendon and Corbin Bryant are pushing hard for roster spots. Hokie is a locker room favorite and would be a tough cut, and he's carved out a 10-year career by beating the odds. But the Steelers need to get younger and he could be a casualty.

William Gay - It's telling that the Steelers always slide Gay inside to the slot when they bring their nickel corner on the field. They don't trust anyone else just yet to play the slot. But that could change. Bryant McFadden is off the watch list because the coaching staff is still concerned about ability of the young guys to stay healthy, but Gay could be pushed out if Cortez Allen comes out with a big effort.

Jonathan Dwyer - Mike Tomlin is pushing Dwyer hard to become more than what he is. John Clay and possibly even James Johnson will get an opportunity to unseat Dwyer as the No. 4 running back. Right now, he's got the spot by default.

Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith - A big game from Cromartie-Smith could make things interesting for Will Allen and/or Ryan Mundy. Cromartie-Smith has been getting looks on all of the first team special teams units.

Chris Scott - He opened training camp with an opportunity to win the starting right guard spot. But he whiffed on that. The signing of Trai Essex puts him in position to possibly get cut.