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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.