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Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Coaching wheels turning

Mike Tomlin met with Todd Haley on Tuesday as he continues his search for a new offensive coordinator.

Previously, Tomlin met with former Indianapolis Colts head coach Jim Caldwell, who was later hired as QB coach by Baltimore.

According to the NFL Network, meanwhile, the Steelers have also made some inquiries regarding former Pitt QB Alex Van Pelt.

Van Pelt, a 1993 draft pick of the Steelers who never played with the team, was most recently QB coach in Tampa Bay. He previously served as a QB coach and offensive coordinator in Buffalo.

It's likely, however, the Steelers are interested in Van Pelt as a quarterbacks coach if they choose to elevate current quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner.

One other name that could surface in Tomlin's search is current University of Colorado offensive coordinator Rip Scherer.

Scherer, like Tomlin, is a graduate of William & Mary and is the cousin of Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert.

The 59-year-old Scherer served as assistant head coach of the Cleveland Browns from 2005 through 2008 and quarterbacks coach in Carolina in 2009 and 2010.

© The news that Keith Butler decided to stay with the Steelers rather than accept the defensive coordinator position in Indianapolis isn't all that surprising.

Butler continues to be the leading candidate to eventually replace Dick LeBeau as defensive coordinator with the Steelers – though when that happens is anyone's best guess – and his family likes it in Pittsburgh.

© The Steelers have given Tampa Bay permission to talk to current defensive assistant Jerry Olsavsky, while also granting offensive assistant Harold Goodwin permission to speak with Indianapolis and Chicago about openings.

UPDATE: Goodwin was hired as Indianapolis' offensive line coach on Tuesday.

Both are good men and quality coaches who deserve shots to become position coaches.

In fact Goodwin stepped in as the Steelers running backs coach when Kirby Wilson was injured in the fire in his home a few days before the team's playoff loss at Denver.

Speaking of Wilson, according to Lance Zierlein, who runs a great blog out of the Houston area, his father, former Steelers offensive line coach Larry Zierlein, said that Wilson is now sitting up and doing much better.

He still faces a long road to recovery.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

If Butler leaves, who replaces him

It appears that Steelers linebackers coach Keith Butler is going to take the job as defensive coordinator of the Indianapolis Colts under new head coach Chuck Pagano.

Butler is expected to be in Indianapolis on Tuesday to finalize things, leaving the Steelers another opening on their coaching staff.

This one, however, will be pretty easy to fill. Former Steelers linebacker Jerry Olsavsky, who is already on staff, will be the no-brainer replacement.

As a player, Olsavsky always got the most out of his talent by knowing the defense inside and out and being technically sound. Those traits will make him a great linebackers coach and possible future replacement for Dick LeBeau.

It is interesting to note that Pagano, who had been Baltimore's defensive coordinator, will now have Bruce Arians coordinating his offense and Butler coordinating his defense.

Adding to the irony of the situation is that Mike Tomlin was seen at a downtown Pittsburgh hotel meeting with former Indianapolis head coach Jim Caldwell, who was replaced by Pagano.

Caldwell presumably was interviewing for the Steelers offensive coordinator position vacated when Arians was fired/retired last week.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Roethlisberger's words not damning

Some people will try to make a mountain out of a molehill, which is what is happening with the Steelers jettisoning offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.

But Ben Roethlisberger seems to have put things in proper perspective.

"When I get back, I'm going to go up to Mr. Rooney's office and ask him what he wants from me, what he wants from this offense, because I think that's a viable question for him," Roethlisberger told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review on Thursday following an AFC practice at Hickam Air Force Base. "He's our owner and our boss, so I really would like to know kind of what he wants and where he sees our offense going because I'd like to tell him where I see us going."

Roethlisberger is 100 percent correct, though he didn't identify which Rooney, Dan or Art II, that he was speaking about.

The bottom line is that Dan Rooney has the title of chairman and Art II that of team president. If they were unhappy with the direction of the offense, they were free to express it.

In fact, Art did just that a couple of years ago, saying the team needed to run the ball more effectively.

And you know what, the Steelers made that a point of emphasis in 2010.

But the offense obviously took a step backward in 2011, though the defense's lack of forced turnovers certainly didn't help.

Still, the point is that Art Rooney II or Dan Rooney or whoever made the call for Arians to go - I believe it was Dan - was perfectly within their rights to do so. They are, after all, the guys writing the checks.

And this isn't out of character for the Steelers. Remember, back in 1989, Dan Rooney ordered Chuck Noll to fire linebackers coach Jed Hughes.

If Noll can be ordered to fire an assistant - one that Noll liked - why not Mike Tomlin?

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Steelers looking in-house first

The Steelers will look for an offensive coordinator in-house first, giving Randy Fichtner and Sean Kugler the first shot at replacing Bruce Arians.

Fichtner, the team's wide receivers coach when hired, has spent the past two seasons as quarterbacks coach.

Kugler, meanwhile, has been with the Steelers for two seasons as offensive line coach, joining them after stints in Detroit and Buffalo.

Both men are sharp and it seems becoming an offensive coordinator would be the next logical step for either man.

Monday, January 23, 2012

And then there were two

The Super Bowl matchup is now set and for Steelers fans, I offer this insight.

On one side, you have the kind of offense the Steelers have long proclaimed they'd like to be - the multiple sets of New England.

On the other side is the kind of offense they should be - a Giants offense that employs two running backs to go along with its three pretty darn good receivers.

Here's why the Steelers could be the Giants offensively a lot easier than they could the Patriots.

Pittsburgh has three outstanding young receivers in Antonio Brown, Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders. Add Jerricho Cotchery to the mix - if they can re-sign him - and add in a dash of Heath Miller and the Steelers could be every bit as dangerous as New York.

The interesting thing here is that while the general belief is that the Giants are a run-first team, they decidedly were not this season. But they ran the ball reasonably well when Ahmad Bradshaw was healthy.

Rashard Mendenhall could be used in the same fashion, if, and this is a big if, he would get more looks in the passing game.

Bruce Arians always raved about Mendenhall's hands. But the Steelers rarely did much to take advantage of them.

As for Brandon Jacobs, I'd say that Isaac Redman is a better, younger version of the big back, capable of picking up a yard when you need to and help run out the clock at the end of the game.

And yes, the Giants employ a fullback, former Pitt star Henry Hynoski.

It is interesting to note that Hynoski said in a radio interview last week with Joe Starkey that the Steelers wanted to sign him as an undrafted free agent.

Odds are that whomever the Steelers hire as their new offensive coordinator, having a true fullback will become a priority once again.

It is, after all, easier to find a fullback than it is the next Rob Gronkowski.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Philbin hire means Clements likely out

With Joe Philbin's hiring Friday as head coach of the Miami Dolphins on Friday, you can likely cross Green Bay QB coach Tom Clements off the list for potential Bruce Arians replacements.

It's likely that Clements will get the first shot to replace Philbin as Green Bay's offensive coordinator. So unless he has a burning desire to come back to Pittsburgh – where he grew up – to join the Steelers staff for a second time, it's unlikely Clements will be the man.

Arians, of course, "retired" on Friday after being with the Steelers since 2004, including the past five seasons as offensive coordinator.

Randy Fichtner would be the top candidate from within the organization to replace Arians.

The top two outside candidates could be a pair of fired NFL head coaches, Kansas City's Todd Haley and Indianapolis' Jim Caldwell.

Haley is a Pittsburgh native whose father - a McDonald native – Dick was a longtime personnel man for the Steelers.

Caldwell, meanwhile, coaches with Tomlin under Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay and the two maintain a relationship.

© Here are my picks for this weekend's games:

Baltimore (plus 7 1/2 ) at New England
The Ravens were bad on the road this season, but New England made it to the AFC Championship without beating a team this season that finished the season with a winning record.

Something tells me the Pats will figure out a way to bottle up Ray Rice.

Take Baltimore to cover in a 27-20 loss

N.Y. Giants (plus 2 1/2) at San Francisco

The Giants look like a team of destiny right now. Plus, they led the NFL with 48 sacks, while the 49ers gave up 44, most of any team that made the playoffs.

Take the Giants, 23-17

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Early entrants for the draft

Here is the list of early entrants into the NFL draft:

Players granted special eligibility for the 2012 NFL Draft on April 26-28 in New York:
Alvester Alexander, RB, Wyoming
Dwayne Allen, TE, Clemson
Edwin Baker, RB, Michigan St.
Mike Ball, RB, Nevada
Jamison Berryhill, RB, Texas
Justin Blackmon, WR, Oklahoma St.
Michael Brockers, DT, LSU
Bryce Brown, RB, Kansas St.
Vontaze Burfict, LB, Arizona St.
Orson Charles, TE, Georgia
Morris Claiborne, DB, LSU
Fletcher Cox, DT, Mississippi St.
David DeCastro, G, Stanford
Tiree Eure, TE, Minnesota
Marcus Forston, DT, Miami
Stephon Gilmore, DB, South Carolina
Chris Givens, WR, Wake Forest
Dorian Graham, WR, Syracuse
Robert Griffin, QB, Baylor
Jewel Hampton, RB, Southern Illinois
Cliff Harris, DB, Oregon
Dont’a Hightower, LB, Alabama
Stephen Hill, WR, Georgia Tech
Ronnie Hillman, RB, San Diego St.
Max Holloway, DE, Boston College
Jayron Hosley, DB, Virginia Tech
Janzen Jackson, DB, McNeese St.
LaMichael James, RB, Oregon
Alshon Jeffery, WR, South Carolina
Aldarius Johnson, WR, Miami
Damaris Johnson, WR, Tulsa
Chandler Jones, DE, Syracuse
Matt Kalil, OT, Southern California
Dre Kirkpatrick, DB, Alabama
Peter Konz, C Wisconsin
Luke Kuechly, LB, Boston College
Ronnell Lewis, DE, Oklahoma
Andrew Luck, QB, Stanford
Terrell Manning, LB, N.C. State
Jonathan Martin, OT, Stanford
Bobby Massie, OT, Mississippi
Whitney Mercilus, DE, Illinois
Lamar Miller, RB, Miami
Brock Osweiler, QB, Arizona St.
Eric Page, WR, Toledo
Donte Paige-Moss, DE, North Carolina
Nick Perry, DE, Southern California
Bernard Pierce, RB, Temple
Ken Plue, G, Purdue
Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
Rueben Randle, WR, LSU
Riley Reiff, OT, Iowa
Trent Richardson, RB, Alabama
Josh Robinson, DB, Central Florida
Mohamed Sanu, WR, Rutgers
Darrell Scott, RB, South Florida
Tommy Streeter, WR, Miami
Darron Thomas, QB, Oregon
Johnny Thomas, DB, Oklahoma St.
Phillip Thomas, DB, Syracuse
Barrett Trotter, QB, Auburn
Olivier Vernon, DE, Miami
Brandon Washington, OT, Miami
David Wilson, RB, Virginia Tech
Jerel Worthy, DT, Michigan St.

Arians retiring?

Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette is reporting that Bruce Arians is strongly considering retirement.

If Dulac is reporting it, you can bet it came directly from Arians. The two are pretty close.

Most Steelers fans will rejoice at the news that Arians is considering retirement again - Ben Roethlisberger reportedly talked him out of it last year.

Quarterbacks coach Randy Fichtner would be the in-staff replacement for the Steelers.

The team will also be searching for a replacement for running backs coach Kirby Wilson, who suffered burns over 45 percent of his body in a fire in his home earlier this month.

Wilson faces a long recovery before he's out of the woods with his injuries.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Kirby Wilson's family releases statement

The family of Steelers running back coach Kirby Wilson released this statement today:

“Mr. Kirby Wilson remains in critical condition in the Trauma Burn Center at UPMC Mercy in Pittsburgh. In addition to burns sustained over 45 percent of his body, he has suffered a smoke inhalation injury and will require multiple operative procedures in the future.”

Wilson was burned in a fire in his home two weeks ago.

East-West Shrine rosters set

East-West Shrine Classic Rosters
By The Associated Press
Saturday, Jan. 21, at St. Petersburg, Fla.
Coach: Bobby Ross
1 Jerrell Young, S, South Florida
2 Micah Pellerin, DB, Hampton
3 Tim Benford, WR, Tennessee Tech
4 Gary Gray, DB, Notre Dame
5 A.J. Jenkins, WR, Illinois
7 Nick Sukay, LB, Penn State
8 Tysyn Hartman, S, Kansas State
9 Chase Ford, TE, Miami
10 Shawn Loiseau, LB, Merrimack
11 R.J. Blanton, DB, Notre Dame
12 Austin Davis, QB, Southern Mississippi
13 Kevin Hardy, WR, Citadel
14 Charles Brown, DB, North Carolina
15 Davin Meggett, RB, Maryland
16 John Brantley, QB, Florida
17 LaRon Byrd, WR, Miami
18 Thomas Mayo, WR, California (Pa.)
19 BJ Coleman, QB, Chattanooga
20 Lance Lewis, WR, East Carolina
21 B.J. Cunningham, WR, Michigan State
26 Justin Bethel, DB, Presbyterian
28 Tauren Poole, RB, Tennessee
29 Steven Erzinger, LB, Army
31 Josh Norman, DB, Coastal Carolina
32 Alfred Morris, RB, Florida Atlantic
33 Christian Thompson, S, South Carolina State
35 Brandon Lindsey, LB, Pittsburgh
38 Emanuel Davis, DB, East Carolina
40 Matt Daniels, S, Duke
42 Najee Goode, LB, West Virginia
44 Emil Igwenagu, TE, Massachusetts
45 Shawn Powell, P, Florida State
48 Bruce Figgins, FB/TE, Georgia
50 Joshua Linam, LB, Central Florida
53 Quentin Saulsberry, C, Missisippi State
54 Micanor Regis, DL, Miami
55 Max Gruder, LB, Pittsburgh
57 Blair Walsh, PK, Georgia
63 Derek Dennis, G, Temple
65 Tyler Horn, C, Miami
70 Jeremiah Warren, G, South Florida
72 Lamar Holmes, OT, Southern Mississippi
73 Desmond Wynn, G, Rutgers
75 Rishaw Johnson, G, California (Pa.)
76 Jeff Adams, OT, Columbia
79 Joe Long, OT, Wayne State (Mich.)
78 Bradley Sowell, OT, Mississippi
88 Evan Rodriguez, TE, Temple
90 Nick Jean-Baptiste, DL, Baylor
92 Travian Robertson, DL, South Carolina
94 Matt Conrath, DL, Virginia
95 Kyle Wilber, DL, Wake Forest
97 Julian Miller, DL, West Virginia
98 Jabaree Tuani, DL, Navy
99 Akiem Hicks, DL, Regina
Coach: Brad Childress
2 Duke Ihenaho, S, San Jose State
3 Rodney McLeod, DB, Virginia
4 Jarius Wright, WR, Arkansas
5 Lennon Creer, RB, Louisana Tech
6 Matt Prewitt Punter Kentucky Christian
7 Aaron Henry, S, Wisconsin
8 Austin Cassidy, S, Nebraska
9 Tyler Hansen, QB, Colorado
10 Darius Hanks, WR, Alabama
11 Ronnie Thomton, LB, Southern Mississippi
12 Chandler Harnish, QB, Northern Illinois
13 Dale Moss, WR, South Dakota State
14 Dan Persa, QB, Northwestern
16 Greg Zuerlein, PK, Missouri Western
17 Brandon Hardin, DB, Oregon State
19 Bryan Anger Punter California
21 Blake Gideon, S, Texas
23 Keith Tandy, DB, West Virginia
24 Trevin Wade, DB, Arizona
25 Devon Wylie, WR, Fresno State
26 Marc Tyler, RB, Southern California
27 Chris Greenwood, DB, Albion
28 Shaun Prater, DB, Iowa
30 Bobby Rainey, RB, Western Kentucky
31 Kentrell Lockett, DL, Mississippi
33 Brandon Marshall, LB, Nevada
34 Jerry Franklin, LB, Arkansas
40 Tyrone Crawford, DL, Boise State
43 Tank Carder, LB, Texas Christian
45 Arnaud Nadon, DL, Laval
47 David Paulson, TE, Oregon
49 Kaniela Tuipulotu, DL, Hawaii
52 Steven Johnson, LB, Kansas
53 Markus Zusevics, G, Iowa
54 Moe Petrus, C, Connecticut
56 Brandon Brooks, G, Miami (Ohio)
58 Josh Kaddu, LB, Oregon
61 Ben Heenan, G, Saskatchewan
70 Matt Reynolds, OT, Brigham Young
73 Ryan Miller, OT, Colorado
75 Al Netter, OT, Northwestern
76 Tom Compton, OT, South Dakota
77 Josh LeRibeus, G, Southern Methodist
78 David Snow, C, Texas
79 Marcel Jones, OT, Nebraska
82 Junior Hemingway, WR, Michigan
84 George Bryan, TE, North Carolina State
85 Greg Childs, WR, Arkansas
86 Kevin Koger, TE, Michigan
87 Cory Harkey, TE, UCLA
89 Tyler Shoemaker, WR, Boise State
90 Dominique Hamilton, DL, Missouri
91 Justin Francis, DL, Rutgers
95 Vaughn Meatoga, DL, Hawaii
97 Dajohn Harris, DL, Southern California

Season wrap-up story

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Final Four set

The NFL's Final Four are now set with the Ravens set to visit New England in the AFC and the Giants traveling to San Francisco in the NFC.

There are a couple of interesting notes about that.

First is the fact the Steelers played three of the final four teams this season - and five of the eight final eight.

In fact, all five of Pittsburgh's losses this season came to teams that were in the final eight teams standing. Three of their five losses – and one victory - came against teams that reached the conference championship game.

Home teams went 7-1 in the first two rounds of the postseason, a far cry different than things had been in the previous four seasons when the home teams were just 21-19.

Finally, three of the final four teams employ more traditional offenses - ie. a fullback on a regular basis.

New England is the only team that uses the multiple tight end formations favored by the Steelers, though San Francisco certainly uses plenty of multiple tight end sets.

The 49ers remind me quite a bit of the 1994 Steelers. Great defense, solid running game and so-so quarterback.

Does that make Eli Manning Stan Humphries next weekend. We'll see about that.

© As I was talking about how I'd hate to see another Harbaugh vs. Harbaugh game in the Super Bowl, my wife remarked how silly the their parents were before the first meeting on Thanksgiving.

Jack Harbaugh and his wife, whose name escapes me, said something to the effect that watching their two sons coach against each other was one of the hardest things a parent could do.


Their sons are making millions to coach football teams. Every once in a while, they'll face each other.

But there are plenty of other tough things that parents go through on a daily basis that make what the Harbaugh family went through on Thanksgiving look like a day at the beach.

Friday, January 13, 2012

More odds and ends

Casey Hampton's partially torn ACL did not need surgery, but apparently Maurkice Pouncey's ankle did.

According to Kirk Kazienko on Twitter, he was on a flight with Pouncey out of Pittsburgh and the center's injured ankle was in a cast after having surgery.

© Sanity prevailed and Troy Polamalu's fine for using a team doctor's cell phone to calm his wife after getting his bell rung in a game earlier this season was waived upon appeal by the NFL.

© James Harrison was not fined or reprimanded for drawing a personal foul for a penalized late hit last week at Denver.

Could it be that what was called on Harrison wasn't a penalty?

© I like three of the four home teams to advance in this weekend's playoff action, but I do like Houston to make things interesting and cover against Baltimore.

The only road team I'm favoring this week is New Orleans, which will finally win the first road playoff game in team history at San Francisco.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Odds and end zones

Both offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau have told Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin they want to return for the 2012 season.

Cue the complaining, particularly about Arians.

© The Steelers have now played eight playoff games under Tomlin. All eight have gone over, including the 29-23 loss to the Broncos in which the over/under went off at 33.

File that away for future use.

© Hines Ward has told the P-G that he wants to play for the Steelers next season and is willing to take a pay cut to do so.

But, if a deal can't be worked out, Ward plans on trying to play somewhere else.

There are some on the coaching staff who don't want Ward back. In fact, one member of the staff didn't want him back in 2010.

But ownership wanted Ward with the team then and will likely want him back in 2012 as well.

Ward has been such a popular player for such a long time that the team will allow him to go out on his own terms and in a Steelers uniform. Unless, of course, Ward insists on having a greater role than what he played in the second half of 2012.

© I'll have my season wrap on the Steelers in Sunday's paper. Hopefully, it will be an interesting read for those who frequent this blog. It does answer a lot of the questions posed - many of which I haven't answered because I knew I was going to do so in the season wrap.

© My thoughts are with Joe Philbin and his family following the death of his son, Michael, whose body was found in a Wisconsin river earlier this week.

I did a story on Philbin, the Packers offensive coordinator, at the Super Bowl last season and found him very nice and accomodating.

Philbin is a 1984 graduate of Washington & Jefferson College here in Washington.

Monday, January 09, 2012

Monday news and notes

Mike Tomlin said today that given another opportunity, he'd defend Tim Tebow the same way.

I actually don't blame him. Tebow hadn't shown the ability to throw the ball like he did on Sunday in previous weeks.

And Ike Taylor had more than done his job throughout this season on the opposing team's No. 1 receiver.

There was no reason to believe Tebow would suddenly become John Elway and Taylor would no longer be able to tackle in the open field.

© A report surfaced today that Hines Ward told his teammates he was probably retiring.

That may have been the way Ward was leaning prior to Sunday's game – if the Steelers made a long run in the playoffs.

But something tells me he'll want to come back in 2012 if the Steelers want him. He won't want to go out with a loss and without a reception.

For the Steelers, bringing Ward – at a discounted price – back could make sense.

Ward will count $4.6 million against the 2012 cap with a base salary of $4 million. If he cuts that in half, having a veteran leader behind the disappearing Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and somewhat brittle Emmanuel Sanders could be a plus. That becomes even more critical if the Steelers are unable to bring Jerricho Cotchery back.

© The same thing could be said of James Farrior.

Farrior's base salary is just $2.8 million next season with a cap value of $3.8. If he's willing to take a cut, his veteran presence could be big.

© So where do the Steelers find the $15 to $20 million they are going to need to get under the cap next year?

Casey Hampton is scheduled to make $4.9 million in 2012 and has a cap value of just over $8 million. That might be a place to start, particularly if the team can get a young nose tackle in the draft.

Guard Chris Kemoeatu and his $3.5 million salary would be another place to look. Then you've got Bryant McFadden ($2.5 million) and Johnathan Scott ($2.2 million), Will Allen ($1.2 million) and Arnaz Battle ($1 million) that could also free up some cash.

The Steelers have been blessed in recent years to have some veteran backups. But those veteran backups also cost more money. The team is likely going to have to go with more youngsters behind their starters in 2012.

© If I had to bet, Aaron Smith and Chris Hoke will retire. Charlie Batch might as well, though the team could coax him to come back one more time if Byron Leftwich is not re-signed. William Gay probably played well enough this year to get himself a contract elsewhere (Detroit anyone?). Dennis Dixon, Mewelde Moore and Daniel Sepulveda won't be back.

Post-Denver thoughts

Well, I couldn't have been more wrong about that game. Then again, I couldn't have been more wrong about a team all season long.

This Steelers' team really left me perplexed this season. And Sunday's game was a microcosm of everything that was wrong with it.

The offense marched up and down the field in the first quarter, yet had six points to show for it.

Then, after Denver hits the defense for a couple of plays to score in the second quarter, Ben Roethlisberger decides it's time to start chucking it deep. Only Mike Wallace can't come up with the catch - which was slightly underthrown – and the Steelers have to punt the ball back to Denver.

The Broncos again hit them for a long gain and score.

Roethlisberger comes out, gets hammered on a sack and then intercepted.

Wham, bam, thank you mam. A 6-0 advantage turns into a 17-6 disadvantage.

© Ike Taylor had a tough day, but you have to give some credit to Tim Tebow. He looked lost holding the ball against Kansas City last week and John Elway told him he should just let the ball fly.

Tebow apparently took that to heart and made some very nice throws.

His first long completion to Demaryious Thomas was an excellent throw, as was his TD pass to Eddie Royal.

After that, the Pittsburgh defense was caught in a tough place. They were bringing nine or 10 men to the line of scrimmage to stop the running game, but that was leaving the corners in one-on-one situations and Denver was winning those.

© Not having Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton and Max Starks really hurt the Steelers.

Losing Keisel and Hampton left the Steelers with just three active linemen.

Losing Starks left the Steelers with Jonathan Scott on the field.

The Steelers would have been without all three next weekend at New England, so it's just as well that they lost now instead of dragging the season out another week.

© If that was a late hit for roughing the passer on James Harrison as called, they should just quit playing football and make the games a seven-on-seven passing drill.

You think if anyone other than Harrison makes that hit that it's called? I don't.

© Some people were complaining about Harrison's hit on Eric Decker that knocked him out of the game. But that's what defenders are almost forced to do rather than take a chance at helmet-to-helmet contact - particularly Harrison.

He can't even take a chance that he'll come in contact with another player helmet-to-helmet for the remainder of his career without facing a lengthy suspension.

© The offense scored 23 points, but squandered points at the end of each half.

Some people will put that on offensive coordinator Bruce Arians – mostly because they hate Arians.

But it's Roethlisberger.

Instead of taking the short passes that are available, he constantly looks for the home run or bigger play.

Until he's content to take what the defense is giving rather than constantly trying to make the splash play, he won't be considered in the same breath as Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers.

© On a personal note, I think I made journalistic history today, writing both my game story and column on my Droid after my power cord died.

It made for a perfect ending to what was a tortuous season watching the Steelers muddle their way through a 12-4 season.

Is it possible to muddle your way through a 12-4 season? The Steelers apparently did.

Sunday, January 08, 2012

Pouncey inactive

Maurkice Pouncey is inactive for the Steelers today.

Also inactive are Mewelde Moore, Ryan Clark, Cortez Allen, Mortty Ivy, Al Woods and Jamon Meredith.

Friday, January 06, 2012

Lots of news today, prediction

First and foremost today, my thoughts and bests wishes go out to Steelers running back coach Kirby Wilson who was burned in a fire in his home in Butler County early Friday morning.

According to sources, Wilson, 50, suffered burns on 30 to 50 percent of his body in the fire, which began in his kitchen.

Thankfully, the injuries are not considered life-threatening to Wilson, who has been with the Steelers since 2007.

© Maurkice Pouncey, who along with Troy Polamalu, was named a first-team All-Pro on Friday, will not play for the Steelers in Denver.

He has experienced some swelling in his injured ankle and did not practice at all this week.

Doug Legursky will get the start at center with Chris Kemoeatu at left guard.

LaMarr Woodley, Ben Roethlisberger, Brett Keisel and Polamalu will all play.

© It's strange, but I didn't think either Pouncey or Polamalu had outstanding seasons.

Don't get me wrong, Polamalu was still very disruptive, even though he only had two interceptions.

But to me, him being a first-team All-Pro – meaning he was the best at his position – seems a bit of a stretch, especially when Ed Reed was on the second team.

Pouncey being named to the first team, however, is a bit more strange. Pouncey's play wasn't nearly as good in 2011 as it was in 2010. He also missed some games.

I know offensive linemen often get chosen based on their reputation, but I didn't see Pouncey as the best center in the league this season.

© This week's game at Denver looks like a layup for the Steelers. It seems like a layup for the Steelers.

That probably means it won't be a layup, particularly on the road.

Don't get me wrong, I think the Steelers will win. But it won't be easy.

Outside of the opening loss at Baltimore, the Steelers have played up or down to their competition all season.

This week will probably be no different.

But a quarterback who completes just 46 percent of his passes isn't going to beat the Steelers.

Pittsburgh will control Denver's running game, especially with guard Chris Kuper out of the lineup, and force Tim Tebow into some third-and-long plays.

That will spell doom.

The Steelers offense has struggled of late with Ben Roethlisberger hobbled, but should be good enough against Denver's 20th-ranked defense, which will be playing without safety Brian Dawkins.

Take the Steelers to win, 17-6

Thursday, January 05, 2012

Pouncey sits out again, looking questionable

Maurkice Pouncey, James Harrison, Brett Keisel and Troy Polamalu were among the players who sat out practice again on Thursday and of that group, it appears that Pouncey is the only one who is a question mark to play this week at Denver.

Pouncey, like Ben Roethlisberger, tweaked his injured ankle at Cleveland - only his occured in the first half.

Pouncey said the injury is still bothering him a bit and the Steelers may keep him out of this one.

The return of Doug Legursky could help ease that loss. Legursky has practiced the past two days after sitting out with a shoulder injury the past two weeks.

© Ben Roethlisberger returned to practice Thursday for the Steelers. There were no setbacks.

© For the Broncos, safety Brian Dawkins, who missed last week's game, was out again today and is looking highly questionable to play against the Steelers.

That would be a big blow for Denver.

Wednesday, January 04, 2012

Wednesday news and notes

Ben Roethlisberger announced to the world today that he had suffered a "setback" in Sunday's 13-9 win at Cleveland.

Roethlisberger said the setback put him back a week in his recovery from a high ankle sprain. Even at that, however, playing Roethlisberger in Cleveland was the right move for Mike Tomlin to make.

Here's why:

Had Roethlisberger sat out the game against the Browns, he would have gone into Sunday's game at Denver not having played in three weeks.

That's too much inactivity and the Steelers may not have been able to handle the quarter or half it took for Roethlisberger to shake off the cobwebs.

In addition, had the Steelers started Charlie Batch and lost at Cleveland - and Cincinnati had beaten Baltimore – the Steelers would have looked pretty silly for not starting Roethlisberger, who was feeling good before the game against the Browns.

As it is, Roethlisberger said he feels as good now as he did prior to the game against St. Louis. That's better than he felt before the game at San Francisco.

© There's an undercurrent in the Pittsburgh locker room that Tim Tebow is getting too much attention this week.

Nobody is going to come right out and say it, but it's there if you read between the lines.

The Steelers feel like the Broncos defense has been winning games for the Broncos, not Tebow. They'll get a chance to end the Tebow mystique on Sunday.

© Isaac Redman said he's going to be a full-time back this week, playing all three downs.

That will change some next week if Mewelde Moore gets back, but rookie John Clay isn't going to help on third down at all.

And the Steelers will need Redman's third-down blocking as much as anything to help slow Denver's pass rush.

Tuesday, January 03, 2012

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin didn't hedge on this one: Ryan Clark will not play when the Steelers travel to Denver Sunday for the opening round of the NFL playoffs.

Clark will miss his second consecutive game in Denver after suffering through an episode of illness following playing there in 2007.

Clark carries the gene for sickle cell anemia and the high altitude there coupled with the physical strain of playing there that year forced him to miss the final 10 games of the season after he lost 30 pounds and had to have his gall bladder and spleen removed.

Ryan Mundy will get the start at free safety.

© In other news, Tomlin said the hamstring injury suffered by Keenan Lewis does not appear to be serious and he should play against the Broncos.

In fact, the only players Tomlin said were questionable were cornerback Cortez Allen (forearm) and running back Mewelde Moore.

© Doug Legursky is expected to return and start at left guard.

© If the Steelers add a running back because Moore is unable to play, it would be Chad Spann, a rookie from Northern Illinois who is on the practice squad.

Monday, January 02, 2012

2012 NFL Draft order

NFL Draft Order
By The Associated Press
At New York
April 26-28
First Round
W L Pct Pct W L
1. Indianapolis Colts 2 14 .125 .539 138 118
2. St. Louis Rams 2 14 .125 .590 151 105
3. Minnesota Vikings 3 13 .188 .559 143 113
4. Cleveland Browns 4 12 .250 .531 136 120
5. Tampa Bay Buccaneers 4 12 .250 .551 141 115
6. Washington Redskins 5 11 .313 .477 122 134
7. Jacksonville Jaguars 5 11 .313 .500 128 128
8. Carolina Panthers-x 6 10 .375 .504 129 127
9. Miami Dolphins-x 6 10 .375 .504 129 127
10. Buffalo Bills 6 10 .375 .520 133 123
11. Kansas City Chiefs-x 7 9 .438 .512 131 125
12. Seattle Seahawks-x 7 9 .438 .512 131 125
13. Arizona Cardinals 8 8 .500 .469 120 136
14. Dallas Cowboys 8 8 .500 .473 121 135
15. Philadelphia Eagles 8 8 .500 .488 125 131
16. New York Jets 8 8 .500 .500 128 128
17. Oakland Raiders 8 8 .500 .504 129 127
18. San Diego Chargers 8 8 .500 .516 132 124
19. Chicago Bears 8 8 .500 .527 135 121
20. Tennessee Titans 9 7 .563 .461 118 138
21. Denver Broncos-y 8 8 .500 .520 133 123
22. Cincinnati Bengals-y 9 7 .563 .492 126 130
23. New York Giants-y 9 7 .563 .520 133 123
24. Houston Texans-y 10 6 .625 .453 116 140
25. Atlanta Falcons-y 10 6 .625 .480 123 133
26. Detroit Lions-y 10 6 .625 .535 137 119
27. Baltimore Ravens-y 12 4 .750 .477 122 134
28. Pittsburgh Steelers-y 12 4 .750 .492 126 130
29. New Orleans Saints-y 13 3 .813 .441 113 143
30. New England Patriots-y,x 13 3 .813 .449 115 141
31. San Francisco 49ers-y,x 13 3 .813 .449 115 141
32. Green Bay Packers-y 15 1 .938 .457 117 139

x-Subject to coin flip
y-Subject to playoffs

Post-Cleveland thoughts Part II

I'm really glad Hines Ward got his 1,000th catch. He's always been a good guy to talk to and has worked hard.

But I'm also glad it's over. Now, the Steelers can just play Jerricho Cotchery, who is a better receiving threat at this point in their respective careers.

It is a shame, though, that Ward's milestone catch came on a three-yard loss on a shovel pass.

He had a couple of big catches in this game, but his final stat line read five catches, 24 yards.

© It's amazing how Josh Cribbs has his best games against the Steelers.

Ike Taylor began the game by shadowing Greg Little. He finished it shadowing Cribbs, who finished with seven catches for 91 yards.

Cribbs also led the Browns with three special teams tackles.

Yet some bozo from New England was named the AFC's special teams representatives.

If there's a better special teams player in the NFL than Cribbs, I haven't seen him.

© The final stats show that Troy Polamalu had just two tackles in this game. But if there was a defender who made a bigger impact, I didn't see him.

© The Steelers had better hope those two fumbles by Isaac Redman didn't hurt his confidence. I spoke at length with him after the game and it didn't seem like they did, but you never know until he gets back out there again.

Without Rashard Mendenhall, Redman is going to have to shoulder the load.

© The games still must be played, but I wouldn't bet against a Pittsburgh at Baltimore AFC Championship, in a reversal of 2010.

I know, that's discounting the Patriots and counts on Houston beating Cincinnati.

But New England beat one playoff team this season - Denver – and doesn't own a victory over a team that finished with a winning record.

Pittsburgh and Baltimore are the two best teams in the AFC.

© The Steelers finished with seven sacks in eight road games this season. They'll have to fix that if they hope to get to the Super Bowl.

A healthy LaMarr Woodley opposite James Harrison will help.

© Much will be made about whether Ryan Clark plays or doesn't play in Denver.

If it's me, I'm not playing.

Clark wants to play, but it could be a life-or-death situation for him. He was the Steelers' leading tackler this season with 100 and has played solid football.

But none of his teammates will think any less of him if he doesn't play - at least not the ones I spoke with.

Having seen Clark in 2007 when he had to have his spleen removed after playing in Denver, his teammates know the hell he went through.

Plus, against Denver, is the free safety really all that important - even one who has a knack for filling the holes in the run defense?

© UPDATE: The Steelers have reportedly signed veteran cornerback Anthony Madison.

Madison, a special teams ace, would appear to be a replacement for Cortez Allen and Curtis Brown, who have been the team's best special teams gunners this season.

Brown was put on IR a couple of weeks ago, while Allen suffered a forearm injury against Cleveland Sunday.

Sunday, January 01, 2012

Happy new year from Cleveland

LaMarr Woodley leads the Steelers inactives today.

Also down are Mewelde Moore, Chris Carter, Doug Legursky, Al Woods, Jamon Meredith and Arnaz Battle.

Colt McCoy is inactive for Cleveland, as is starting right tackle Tony Pashos.

Artis Hicks will start for the Browns at RT opposite Ziggy Hood and Jason Worilds.

© The weather here is pretty horrid. Windy and rainy. The temperatures are dropping and the rain could turn to snow before this is over.