Monday, January 31, 2011

Greetings from Texas

Made it in to Fort Worth this morning with the Steelers.

The offensive linemen and line coaches all wore Flozell Adams Michigan State uniforms. Big Flo even had one on that they gave him.

They thought about getting Adams' Cowboys jersey but they didn't want to wear those to Dallas and went for the Michigan State uni instead, placing a special order for them after it was learned Nike couldn't get them that many in the sizes they needed.

Hines Ward wore a black cowboy hat and boots with mock spurs on them. It looked like he was channeling his inner Mel Blount. I've never seen Blount without his cowboy hat when he comes around.

We landed at 12:30 local time and after the long trip to the hotel, we had to immediately get over to the team hotel for a media event.

Mike Tomlin wouldn't rule out Maurkice Pouncey for the Super Bowl, despite reports to the contrary.

In fact, Tomlin said the broken bone in Pouncey's ankle isn't the issue, characterizing it as a floating body.

He's more concerned with the high ankle sprain, but said Wednesday will likely be the day he makes any decisions about the Pro Bowl center.

© The other big topic here was Peter King's quote in his Monday Morning Quarterback from commissioner Roger Goodell about Ben Roethlisberger.

Goodell said he spoke to around two dozen Steelers about Roethlisberger this summer, but none of them would defend the QB.

Of course, Goodell said it was mostly due to things such as Roethlisberger not signing jerseys for them or things like that.

Defensive end Brett Keisel, one of Roethlisberger's best friends on the team, said he was asked about Roethlisberger by the commissioner and really didn't know what to say about the line of questioning.

For his part, Roethlisberger was caught off guard by the whole thing, expressing some shock about the questions from reporters about the report following his media session.

The Steelers were pretty much caught off guard by the whole thing and one does have to question the timing of it.

Sunday, January 30, 2011

Ready for the lunacy

I started packing my bags tonight, getting ready for the trip to Dallas - Fort Worth, actually.

This will be the fourth Super Bowl that I've covered, the first coming in 1995 in Tempe, Arizona.

Of the previous three that I've been to, I probably had the best time in Tempe. We stayed in Scottdale and, while we worked all day, we went at it hard at night in Old Scottdale.

My favorite memory from that trip was watching Thor Tolo almost get the crap kicked out of him at a place called the Sugar Shack after he accidentally spilled a beer on a guy and his date.

That was also the first time I met Mike Bires from the Beaver County Times. Mike wasn't on the beat yet and made the trip down as secondary coverage for Mike Prisuta.

It was 10 years before the Steelers went back. There were near-trips in 1997, 2001 and 2004.

The 2001 game was particularly memorable because Bill Belechick made a big deal about the Steelers making plans to leave after the game. We all had our bags packed.

You had to. Because of 9/11, there was only one week between the championship games and the Super Bowl. We were leaving the next morning.

New England had its plans in place as well, but Belechick being Belechick, he used that as a motivating factor.

Of course, when the Steelers finally did go back to the Super Bowl, it came in Detroit. We stayed in Pontiac, making it a bit of a hike to get around.

It also snowed like hell the night before the game. That's the thing I'll always remember about that trip. The only day I had off was basically one where you couldn't go anywhere.

Then came Tampa. Tampa had a great layout for a Super Bowl city. It was easy to get around and everything was close. We hung out at a place called the Green Iguana next to our hotel all week, though we did hit a couple of parties at night as well.

The best was the media party in Ybor City at the old Havana Club. They had guys rolling cigars in the place and were giving them away. Of course, the food and drinks were flowing freely as well.

We went out back and .38 Special was playing a live concert. I'm a child of the 80s, but I had forgotten how many hits that band had. Of course, they all sounded alike, so it's understandable.

What will the Super Bowl in Dallas bring? We'll see.

But check in on the blog daily for little nuggets I'll pass along throughout the week.

© ESPN 970-AM has added a pre-game show to the pre-game show from 2 to 4:30 p.m. that will feature yours truly and Joe Bendel.

We'll give you all the updates heading into the big game.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Three return to practice

The Steelers held their final practice on Friday before leaving for Dallas Monday morning and got some good news. Cornerback Bryant McFadden, safety Troy Polamalu and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders were all back on the field for the first time this week.

Left tackle Jonathan Scott (ribs), center Maurkice Pouncey (ankle) and safety Will Allen (knee) all sat out again.

Nobody has been talking about the injury to Scott, but the fact that he's still missing practices is concerning.

Trai Essex would start at left tackle if Scott is unable to play – though word is that he is expected to tough it out.

© I'll be on Fox 970-AM from 7 to 9 p.m. Thursday and Friday next week as part of the station's pre-game build-up to the Super Bowl.

Thursday night, I'll host a shot with Gerry Dulac and Joe Bendel.

Friday night, it will be me, Dulac and Craig Wolfley.

All the shows will be broadcast from Buffalo Wild Wings in Fort Worth, where 970 will be broadcasting from 7 to 9 p.m. all week long.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Thursday news and notes

Things are starting to get packed up and readied for the trip to Dallas as the Steelers prepare for their final practice here at home on Friday before heading south.

The same cast of characters that missed practice Wednesday also sat out Thursday for the Steelers.

Again, it doesn't look good for Maurkice Pouncey and Aaron Smith is also looking like he's not going to play as well.

© Hines Ward admitted Wednesday that even his mom is asking him about his retirement plans following this season.

You can read that story on the O-R's web site.

© Friday, I have a story on some players questioning why they aren't considered an elite team like the Patriots.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Doesn't look good for Pouncey

Maurkice Pouncey has gotten rid of his walking cast. The problem is that he's traded it in for a regular one.

That doesn't bode well for Pouncey being able to play in the Super Bowl in a week and a half.

Doug Legursky would get the start if Pouncey can't go. The Steelers would also likely have to make some kind of move for a backup center.

Jonathan Scott serves as the team's backup long snapper and could probably center the ball in a pinch, but he's also the starting left tackle.

Word has it that Trai Essex would serve as the backup center at this point.

© I've heard from two different sources now that it looks like Dermontti Dawson has a good chance to get into the hall of fame this year.

I kind of discounted the first source, but when you hear it from two, it starts to add up.

© Aaron Smith did not practice again today and it's looking doubtful that he'll play in the Super Bowl.

Also sitting out today were Troy Polamalu and Bryant McFadden.

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Tuesday thoughts

I was just re-watching the 2009 Steelers-Packers meeting and was struck by how easily the Steelers moved the ball against the Packers.

Every receiver seemed like he was running wide open.

The Steelers also utilized a lot of passes to the tight ends and running backs, while also hitting a lot of the wide receiver screens they like to run.

They had trouble blocking Clay Matthews in the game, but pretty much every time they needed a score, they got one.

Conversely, the Packers moved the ball well on the Steelers, but remember, Tyrone Carter was playing in place of Troy Polamalu.


The Steelers did not do a great job of tackling in that game, either.

Hines Ward had a huge game working against Green Bay's zone blitz scheme. He's obviously not playing at the same level he was in 2009, but he's still able to find openings in the zone.

Aaron Rogers is probably a little better QB than he was in 2009, but so is Ben Roethlisberger.

The Steelers had a heck of a time dealing with Jermichael Finley. Couldn't cover him. They won't have to worry about that this time around.

It really got my juices flowing to see this matchup in Dallas.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Post-AFC Championship thoughts

As they came off the field following their 24-19 win over the New York Jets, the Steelers couldn't help themselves.

"Can't wait," they screamed, taking a shot at Jets linebacker Bart Scott's rant last week following the team's 28-21 upset of New England.

Mike Tomlin added a little more fuel, telling the players that the next time they play the Jets, "It will be personal."

That was an obvious shot at Jets coach Rex Ryan, who told his team prior to games against Indianapolis and New England in the playoffs, it was personal.

For their game against the Steelers, Ryan was abnormally quiet.

But you can bet that if the Steelers play the Jets in 2011 – assuming there's a season – Ryan won't be quiet.

© Despite losing to New York, 22-17 last month, the Steelers knew they could run the ball against the Jets, gaining 146 yards in that game.

That's why we saw such a run-heavy offense in this game from Pittsburgh. The Steelers had little respect for New York's run-stopping ability.

Kudos to the offensive line for continuing to grind away at New York despite losing center Maurkice Pouncey during the first series to a sprained ankle.

Pouncey said, by the way, that there's no way he's missing the Super Bowl.

© The NFL has to love a Pittsburgh-Green Bay Super Bowl.

The fan bases should be in a frenzy.

© It's not too early to start talking dynasty with these Steelers. Three Super Bowl appearances in six years - with two victories already in hand - qualifies in my eyes.

© It's too bad that Ike Taylor fell down and allowed Santonio Holmes to fly by him for a touchdown catch. Holmes did nothing else in this game.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

AFC Championship thread

The field here at Heinz Field looks immaculate. There's a very slight wind.

As we are seeing in the NFC Championship game, things are going to come down to the talent.

The Steelers have more, in my opinion, particularly on defense.

© Will Allen, Dwyer, Butler, Chris Scott, Tony Hills, Steve McClendon and Aaron Smith are down for the Steelers.

John Conner, Gholston, Jarron Gilbert, Matthew Mulligan, Patrick Turner and Marcus Dixon are down for the Jets.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Who I like, AFC Championship version

The Steelers are 7-1 in their past eight games, constituting half of an NFL season.

That one loss came at the hands of their opponent in today’s AFC Championship game, the New York Jets, who defeated the Steelers 22-17 Dec. 19 at Heinz Field.

So why are the Steelers favored by 31⁄2 points to defeat the Jets today and advance to the Super Bowl?

Quite frankly, they are a better football team.

As Steelers fans know all too well, that doesn’t necessarily mean they should start buying plane tickets to Dallas for the Super Bowl. The Steelers were bigger favorites in 1994 and 2001, only to lose to San Diego and New England, respectively.
Upsets happen. They just haven’t happened as often of late.

The favorite has won seven of the past eight AFC Championship games, with the only upset coming when the Steelers upset the Broncos, who were 3-point favorites, in Denver to advance to Super Bowl XL.

Yes, the Jets beat the Steelers earlier this season. But strong safety Troy Polamalu and tight end Heath Miller did not play for Pittsburgh in that game.

Having those two players in the lineup will help make a difference for the Steelers today.

Take Pittsburgh to win, 24-17

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Thursday's news and notes


Thursday's practice report is the same as Wednesday's for the Steelers.

Troy Polamalu, Will Allen, Arnaz Battle and Bryant McFadden all sat out again for the Steelers.

Aaron Smith was again limited.

The Steelers, however, expect to have everyone available with the exception of Allen and Smith.

© Jason Taylor was cleared to return to practice for the Jets after suffering a concussion last week.

But, the Jets continue to have a number of defensive backs who are limited, including Darrelle Revis.

© Polamalu, by the way, has always been very active visiting hospitals and talking with sick children there.

Apparently, he's developed a friendship with one young lady who has Ewing's Sarcoma, which forced her to have part of a lung and several ribs removed.

Here's a picture of Polamalu visiting the young lady at the hospital. Yes, they're playing Guitar Hero.

Polamalu and the young lady share texts, even in a big week like this one, and he brought her his game jersey from the win over Baltimore.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Wednesday update

Aaron Smith practiced on a limited basis today and it doesn't look all too promising for him to suit up on Sunday for the AFC Championship against the Jets.

Of the Steelers who did not practice Wednesday, only Will Allen (knee) is not expected to be ready to go.

The Jets are a little more banged up than the Steelers.

Defensive end Jason Taylor (concussion) did not practice Wednesday. Cornerbacks Darrelle Revis (hamstring), Drew Coleman (knee), safety James Ihedigbo (knee, ankle) and wide receiver Brad Smith (groin) were limited in practice.

© I saw today that Santonio Holmes said that if the Jets win the Super Bowl, it would be a "slap" in the face to the Steelers.

I don't know about that.

I've heard nothing but good things about him from his former teammates and coaches.

But does Holmes really think he gave the Steelers any choice but to get rid of him after his second failed drug test and then telling fans on his Twitter account that he hoped they died and he owed them nothing?

© Apparently, Mike Tomlin was a little ticked off at ESPN's Bob Holtzman for reporting the Steelers planned to use a trick play if they got a certain look on defense against Baltimore.

Holtzman wrote his report citing two unnamed Steelers players and did not give away either the trick play or the look.

But when Holtzman asked Tomlin how much extra time it takes to prepare for the Jets and Rex Ryan, Tomlin replied, "It depends on whether or not you give him my plays."

Tomlin should focus his anger on the players that let the cat out of the bag with Holtzman.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Tuesday with Tomlin, AFC Championship version

Mike Tomlin said he was very pleased with the team's injury situation heading into Sunday's AFC Championship with the Jets.

Offensive tackles Jonathan Scott and Flozell Adams are both fine.

Defensive end Aaron Smith will practice full-time this week and could be available as a backup end. Tomlin said Ziggy Hood has done enough to deserve to continue in a starting role.

But having Smith available for 10 to 15 snaps could be huge.

Bryant McFadden will be limited early in the week with an abdomen injury, but is expected to play.

Will Allen is the more serious injury. He's got a sprained knee that will limit him early in the week. But Tomlin is hopeful he will be available.

© Tomlin would offer no fodder for a battle of words. He says he respects Jets coach Rex Ryan a great deal and says the two actually coach in a very similar fashion.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

It's the Jets

The Steelers caught what appears to be a huge break with New York's improbable 28-21 victory at New England on Sunday.

Once again, the Steelers won't have to face their biggest tormentor, Tom Brady, in the playoffs.

And when that happens, it usually means the Steelers are going to the Super Bowl.

Since 2004, the only team other than the Patriots to knock the Steelers out of the playoffs was Jacksonville in 2007.

© It will be interesting to see what Rex Ryan has to say this week after investing so much into beating the Patriots.

Ryan called the game at New England, the second-biggest game in Jets history, behind only Super Bowl III.

After getting the team to believe that, it will be interesting to see if there is a letdown.

© The Steelers came out of their 22-17 loss to the Jets last month feeling pretty good about a possible rematch with New York.

The Steelers felt their offensive line played its best game of the season in that game, as Ben Roethlisberger was sacked just once and the running game produced nearly 150 yards.

Add to that the fact that Troy Polamalu did not play in that game and there's a lot to be optimistic about.

Post-Baltimore thoughts III

The Ravens are going to be kicking themselves about this one for a very long time - particularly considering what they invested into this season.

Supposedly, the only thing that was keeping Baltimore's great defense from winning a Super Bowl was the team's lack of receivers.

So the Ravens traded for Anquan Boldin and signed T.J. Houshmandzadeh when he was released by Seattle.

In the biggest game of the season, Boldin dropped a potential game-winning touchdown pass at the goal line in the fourth quarter.

Houshmandzadeh followed that up with a fourth down drop on Baltimore's final offensive play of the season.

Neither had a whole lot of luck getting open in the Steelers' 31-24 victory and the trio of Boldin, Houshmandzadeh and Derrick Mason combined for four catches for 36 yards, with three of the receptions and 38 of the yards coming from Houshmandzadeh.

Boldin and Mason combined for one catch for minus-2 yards on eight passes thrown their way.

Ray Lewis and Ed Reed aren't getting any younger. The window of opportunity for this team is just about closed.

The defense is already starting to slip and Boldin, Houshmandzadeh and Mason - if he doesn't retire – are looking well past their prime.


© Ike Taylor had perhaps the best game of his NFL career Saturday.

Taylor was all over whatever receiver he was slated to cover and was a big factor in why the Ravens couldn't get the ball to Boldin and Mason.

© James Harrison owns Michael Oher, who is ridiculously overrated.

In fact, if not for the movie made about him, you would have a tough time telling Oher from Jonathan Scott.

© The Steelers didn't get a typical Troy Polamalu day, but James Harrison did a nice impersonation.

Working mostly against the aforementioned Oher, Harrison had seven tackles, three of which were for losses, three sacks, two QB hurries and two pass defenses.

He got a little dinged up chasing Joe Flacco out of bounds for a sack in the fourth quarter, but did not miss a play.

© Brett Keisel was elevated to the Pro Bowl in place of injured Dwight Freeney on Sunday.

Don't be surprised if Ziggy Hood makes it there next season.

Hood continued his strong late-season surge with five tackles and a sack Saturday.

© Shaun Suisham's poor kickoffs are going to force the Steelers to seriously look at other kickers this offseason.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Game-day thread, Ravens-playoffs

Brett Keisel has been added to the Pro Bowl roster, replacing Indianapolis' Dwight Freeney on the AFC squad.

This marks the first Pro Bowl for Keisel.

© No real surprises on the inactive lists for either team, though the Ravens will be without KR David Reed, who is inactive despite practicing all week.

Josh Wilson will handle KR duties for the Ravens.

© The weather here is excellent, though there is a bit of a wind.

One thing that could affect the game. The Steelers have inserted some new stands in the open end of the stadium that go as high as the top of the goal posts on that end.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Who I like, Baltimore-playoff version

The opening week of the NFL postseason was a strange one.
Not only did three underdogs win games outright, the only home team to win (Seattle) pulled off the biggest upset of all, topping the defending Super Bowl champion Saints despite being 10-point dogs.

This weekend, all four home teams are favored, but notice has been served. Anything can happen in the playoffs.

The only favorite to win last weekend was the Steelers’ opponent today, the Baltimore Ravens.

The Steelers and Ravens are certainly not strangers. Not only do they meet twice per season, but this will be the second time in three seasons that they will meet in the playoffs.

The Steelers swept three games from the Ravens in 2008 en route to a win over Arizona in the Super Bowl.

Pittsburgh split with Baltimore in each of the last two regular seasons. The aggregate scores of those games: 67-67.

This game doesn’t figure to be much different.

Both defenses play their best football against each other because of their familiarity. That means this game is likely to come down to which offense makes the big mistake.

In the Steelers’ 17-14 loss to the Ravens at Heinz Field, the mistake was not being able to convert a first down late in the game from inside their own 10-yard line because of a holding penalty and false start. That forced the Steelers to punt from their own end zone, and Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco made them pay for their mistakes by throwing a game-winning touchdown pass in the final minute to T.J. Houshmandzadeh.

In Pittsburgh’s 13-10 win at Baltimore, safety Troy Polamalu sacked Flacco late in the game, forcing a fumble that the Steelers returned to the 9. It set up Ben Roethlisberger’s game-winning TD pass to running back Isaac Redman.

Roethlisberger has thrown only one interception in the Steelers’ last seven games, and has thrown 158 consecutive passes without an interception.

The Steelers also are 8-2 against the Ravens in games started by Roethlisberger, including winning the last six in a row.

The one area where Baltimore would seem to have a decided advantage is on special teams, where placekicker Billy Cundiff and punter Sam Koch are clearly better than the Steelers’ Shaun Suisham and Jeremy Kopinos.

But that advantage could be negated by the weather, which figures to make every kick a dicey proposition.

That means the game will likely come down to the quarterbacks, and Roethlisberger will be the difference in this one, though it promises to be a close game, which is why the Steelers are favored by three points.


Take Pittsburgh to win, 20-17

Side note: ESPN is reporting that Baltimore running back Ray Rice spent all day Friday throwing up with the flu. The flu swept through my family last weekend and had me feeling the effects for two full days.

If that's the case with Rice, the Ravens are trouble.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Looking inside the numbers

Many guys who cover the National Football League don't take a lot of stock in what's reported on internet sites, particularly some of the "stat-drive" sites.

But there are a couple that I follow pretty closely.

The first is linked to on this site, 4for4.com, which, in my opinion, is the best fantasy football site out there. Greg Alan, the site's founder, has computer programs that more often than not nail a player's production within a few yards. It's amazing.

ColdHardFootballFacts.com is another site I pay attention to.

And that's why, despite Baltimore's dismantling of Kansas City last week, a closer look at the Ravens' numbers this season show a team that's ripe for picking by the Steelers.

In the site's Quality stats, which measure a team's strength, the Steelers are tops among playoff teams - thanks to New England's bad defense - while the Ravens ranked fourth.

Kansas City ranked ahead of just Seattle, Indianapolis and New Orleans in those rankings.

It's no surprise that three of those four teams lost last weekend, with the one victory, Seattle over New Orleans, coming because somebody had to win.

And for those who think the Steelers' offense line will be the weak link in this game, in the site's Offensive Hog stats, which measure the effectiveness of a team's offensive line, the Steelers were a respectable 14th in the league, their worst ranking in any category.

Baltimore's offensive line? It finished the season ranked 22nd.

Given the fact the Steelers are at home, everything adds up to a Pittsburgh victory.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

McFadden, Smith practice

Bryant McFadden returned to practice on a limited basis today for the first time since suffering an abdominal injury in the regular season finale at Cleveland.

McFadden told me he plans on playing Saturday against the Ravens, though the team will remain cautious.

Defensive end Aaron Smith also practiced on a limited basis – though he won't play this week.

Safety Troy Polamalu did not practice, but will do so Thursday.

© For Baltimore, center Matt Birk (knee) and wide receiver Donte' Stallworth (illness) did not practice.

Cornerback Chris Carr (knee) was limited.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Looking back

I was perusing the net tonight and found these comments from some scribe on his blog from this summer. Thought I'd share them again:

With the countdown to the end of training camp down to hours as opposed to days, it's time to reflect on what we've learned at Saint Vincent College over the past three weeks:

© If the Steelers can get even adequate play out of their offensive line, they have a chance to be very good in 2010. But that's a big if.

Willie Colon was certainly no world-beater. But he was the best the Steelers had at right tackle. I'm still not sold that Flozell Adams is the answer there and if he's not, this team could be in some trouble.

I'm not ready to close the book on Adams, however. He was playing his first game at right tackle against Detroit in the preseason opener. I'll be watching again this week to see if there is any improvement there. The real test will come in Denver next week when the first-team offense is on the field for an extended look.

© Ben Roethlisberger is saying and doing all the right things. But can this team survive the four to six games he is suspended to begin the season.

If it is a four-game suspension - which I feel it will be - a 2-2 record in those games is a must. A game at Tampa Bay should be a gimme with this defense, so the Steelers either have to beat Atlanta at home in the opener or win at Tennessee the following week to avoid facing a must-win game against Baltimore at Heinz Field in Week 4.

That game will still be big, given that Baltimore is an AFC North opponent and Pittsburgh's biggest rival, but heading into that game at 2-1 rather than 1-2 would be a much better situation.

If the Steelers can get by at 2-2, they should be able to go 10-6 this season - barring the major injuries they dealt with in 2009.

That's assuming losses at New Orleans, Cincinnati and Baltimore with another stumble along the way.

The schedule just isn't that daunting.

© I heard the pundits talk about everything that Baltimore and Cincinnati have added this offseason while saying the Steelers added nothing.

Correct me if I'm wrong, but didn't Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith miss a combined 22 games in 2009?

Getting both of those players back presumably for a full season is two pretty big additions.

In fact, Polamalu was the best player on the field for either team in every game he suited up for last season.

© I also like the depth, particularly on defense, the Steelers have this season. This is much more capable of handling some minor injuries.

© I think the special teams units will be much improved this season. New coach Al Everest has a lot to work with in terms of young talent on special teams. I expect him to get the most out of it.

News and notes

Baltimore coach John Harbaugh, who has a long-standing relationship with Ben Roethlisberger – both are Miami (Ohio) products – said he was just joking around when he said he was glad the Ravens had broken the quarterback's nose during their game at M&T Bank Stadium earlier this season.

Roethlisberger took it that way as well.

© In something that is sure to be played up in New England next week, Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs said Tuesday that the winner of the Baltimore-Pittsburgh game will win the Super Bowl.

If Suggs truly believes that - and there's no reason to suggest he doesn't - he just put a lot of added pressure on himself and his teammates.

If they don't win on Saturday, it's one thing.

But if they do, he gave Bill Belechick and Tom Brady some nice bulletin board material.

© Not that this is a real big deal, but the Steelers signed six players to futures contracts for the 2011 season, including linebacker Mortty Ivy, who played at Gateway High School in Monroeville and West Virginia University.

Also signed were linebacker Baraka Atkins, running back James Johnson, guard Kevin McCaskill, fullback/tight end Jamie McCoy and cornerback Donovan Warren.

None of these guys is seen as much more than practice fodder, but they will get an opportunity to open some eyes – if there's not a lockout.

© According to numerous reports, former Steelers quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple is going to be hired as the head coach at UConn.

Sunday, January 09, 2011

It's the Ravens

So we get to see a third meeting between the Steelers and Ravens this season next Saturday at Heinz Field.

I, for one, can't wait.

The two best games I've seen this season were the meetings between the Steelers and Ravens.

The aggregate score of those games? Pittsburgh 27, Baltimore 27.

Of course, in that first meeting between the two teams, Ben Roethlisberger did not play. And that will likely be the difference this time around as well.

Quite frankly, Roethlisberger owns the Ravens.

Hall of Fame finalists announced

Five first-year eligible players – Jerome Bettis, Marshall Faulk, Curtis Martin, Deion Sanders, and Willie Roaf – are among the 15 modern-era finalists who will be considered for election to the Pro Football Hall of Fame when the Hall’s Selection Committee meets in North Texas on Saturday, Feb. 5, 2011.

Joining the five first-year eligible players, are nine other modern-era players and a contributor. The 15 modern-era finalists, along with the two senior nominees announced in August 2010 (former Washington Redskins linebacker Chris Hanburger and former Los Angeles Rams linebacker Les Richter) will be the only candidates considered for Hall of Fame election when the 44-member Selection Committee meets. To be elected, a finalist must receive a minimum positive vote of 80 percent.

Also, for the second consecutive year, the Pro Football Hall of Fame has teamed up with Van Heusen and JCPenney to ask fans to voice their choice for whom they think should be included in the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Class of 2011 at www.fanschoice.com.

The Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee’s 17 finalists (15 modern-era and two senior nominees*) with their positions, teams, and years active follow:

* Jerome Bettis – Running Back – 1993-95 Los Angeles/St. Louis Rams, 1996-2005 Pittsburgh Steelers
* Tim Brown – Wide Receiver/Kick Returner – 1988-2003 Los Angeles/Oakland Raiders, 2004 Tampa Bay Buccaneers
* Cris Carter – Wide Receiver – 1987-89 Philadelphia Eagles, 1990-2001 Minnesota Vikings, 2002 Miami Dolphins
* Dermontti Dawson – Center – 1988-2000 Pittsburgh Steelers
* Richard Dent – Defensive End – 1983-1993, 1995 Chicago Bears, 1994 San Francisco 49ers, 1996 Indianapolis Colts, 1997 Philadelphia Eagles
* Chris Doleman – Defensive End/Linebacker – 1985-1993, 1999 Minnesota Vikings, 1994-95 Atlanta Falcons, 1996-98 San Francisco 49ers
* Marshall Faulk – Running Back – 1994-98 Indianapolis Colts, 1999-2005 St. Louis Rams
* Charles Haley – Defensive End/Linebacker – 1986-1991, 1999 San Francisco 49ers, 1992-96 Dallas Cowboys
* *Chris Hanburger – Linebacker – 1965-1978 Washington Redskins
* Cortez Kennedy – Defensive Tackle – 1990-2000 Seattle Seahawks
* Curtis Martin – Running Back – 1995-97 New England Patriots, 1998-2005 New York Jets
* Andre Reed – Wide Receiver – 1985-1999 Buffalo Bills, 2000 Washington Redskins
* *Les Richter – Linebacker – 1954-1962 Los Angeles Rams
* Willie Roaf – Tackle – 1993-2001 New Orleans Saints, 2002-05 Kansas City Chiefs
* Ed Sabol – Founder/President/Chairman – 1964-1995 NFL Films
* Deion Sanders – Cornerback/Kick Returner/Punt Returner – 1989-1993 Atlanta Falcons, 1994 San Francisco 49ers, 1995-99 Dallas Cowboys, 2000 Washington Redskins, 2004-05 Baltimore Ravens
* Shannon Sharpe – Tight End – 1990-99, 2002-03 Denver Broncos, 2000-01 Baltimore Ravens

Brown, Carter, Dawson, Dent, Haley, Kennedy, Reed, and Sharpe have all been finalists in previous years. Although they were eligible in previous years, this is the first time Doleman, Hanburger, Richter, and Sabol have been finalists.

Thursday, January 06, 2011

Roethlisberger named AFC offensive player of the week

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was named AFC offensive player of the week for his performance against the Browns, when he threw for 280 yards and a pair of touchdowns in just over two quarters.

© Maurkice Pouncey was again overlooked for rookie of the month honors.

I know he's an offensive linemen and thus doesn't acquire any of the "stats" of skill position players.

But when a rookie linemen makes the Pro Bowl, it shows you that other teams are noticing his play.

I expect Pouncey to be second to St. Louis QB Sam Bradford in the AP offensive rookie of the year voting. And after seeing Bradford play Sunday night at Seattle, I'm not so sure Pouncey shouldn't win the award instead of Bradford.

St. Louis' coaching staff did an outstanding job protecting the young QB. He had just one pass over 40 yards all season. I understand St. Louis' receiving corps was pretty bad, but Bradford numbers aren't all that outstanding when you consider that.

He rarely took any chances.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Wednesday notes

The Steelers did some Steelers vs. Steelers work today, working on their hurry-up offense with the addition of piped in crowd noise.

The offense easily scored all three times - though the defense was missing a number of veterans.

The other interesting thing was that even though the team practiced indoors and most of the players were in shorts, Ben Roethlisberger wore a glove on his throwing hand – for continuity purposes.

© Aaron Smith again dressed for practice and participated in the team stretch, but did little else.

© Watching Byron Leftwich this week, it's obvious he needs the addition snaps this week is providing him.

Leftwich is throwing a lot of flutter balls right now.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Tuesday news and notes

The Steelers held their first practice of the bye week today with a number of veteran players getting the day off.

One veteran who did not take the full day off was Aaron Smith.

Though he did not participate in any team drills, Smith did some light position work as he continues his comeback from a torn triceps injury.

The Steelers, however, are still uncertain when Smith may be ready to return. His left arm is getting stronger, but it's not ready to take on 300-pound blockers.

© As we sit here, a day after Black Monday, there don't appear to be a lot of openings for former Steelers coach Bill Cowher to take advantage of.

Cowher obviously wants another coaching job, but two days into the offseason for the majority of the league, there's not a lot out there.

It looks like Jason Garrett and Leslie Frazier are going to stay on in Dallas and Minnesota, respectively.

Houston is keeping Gary Kubiak, as are the Giants with Tom Coughlin.

Miami has not made a move, but the word is that GM Jeff Ireland is going to stay no matter what and since Cowher wants control of personnel, that won't work.

Denver wants to make a bold move at head coach and is wooing Jim Harbaugh.

Carolina also wants Harbaugh and won't pay the $8 to $10-million Cowher will command.

Cowher and Cleveland president Mike Holmgren are friends, but Holmgren has control of personnel matters, so that marriage isn't likely to happen.

And Cincinnati looks ready to stick with Marvin Lewis, though there was no way Cowher was going there.

Sunday, January 02, 2011

Post-Cleveland thoughts

The Steelers played Sunday like a veteran team that new what it wanted and knew how to get it.

That first offensive play to Mike Wallace off of play-action was a message to the Browns: "What happened last year isn't going to happen again this time around."

© After a while, I started to feel a little bad for Colt McCoy in this game.

I wonder why McCoy's dad didn't call somebody on the Cleveland sidelines and tell them he wasn't going back out there?

For those of you who don't remember, that's what McCoy's dad did last year in his final game at Texas.

© I would have loved to have been in Baltimore when they kept showing the Steelers-Browns score.

Ravens coach John Harbaugh said he and the players would be keeping an eye on the scoreboard Sunday.

I can only imagine the reaction as the the scoreboard showed 14-0 at about 1:10 p.m.

© I think the Steelers like where they're at right now.

Though Pittsburgh is the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs, they will be about the last team that everyone talks about heading into the postseason.

New England will get a lot of hype and rightfully so. But Baltimore, Indianpolis, the Jets and even the Chiefs will be sexier stories.

The national media will forget all about the most recent AFC team to win a Super Bowl.

© I like the way the offensive line is protecting in front of Ben Roethlisberger right now.

Roethlisberger was not sacked on Sunday and did pretty much whatever he wanted to in the pocket.

© My Marvin Lewis-to-Pitt tip on this blog well over a month ago is starting to get some legs again.

A bigger surprise is this. Word has it that Tom Bradley is so fed up with things in State College that he would leave Penn State to come to Pittsburgh as Lewis' defensive coordinator.

© Here's the final fallout on who the Steelers will play in 2011 – assuming there is a season:

Home: Cleveland, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Jacksonville, Tennessee, New England, Arizona and St. Louis

Away: Cleveland, Cincinnati, Baltimore, Houston, Indianapolis, Kansas City, San Francisco and Seattle.

That's six playoff opponents - including Baltimore twice – with four of those games coming on the road.

Of course, the Steelers were 7-1 on the road this season.

Polamalu is active

Troy Polamalu is active and will play for the Steelers today - at least until they get the game in hand.

Peyton Hillis is active for the Browns despite not practicing all week.

Mewelde Moore is down for the Steelers, giving Jonathan Dwyer a shot today.

Jason Worilds is down as well.