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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Newsy day on the South Side

It was a busy day at the Steelers practice facility on the South Side Wednesday. Here's a rundown of what was going on.

@ Safety Ryan Clark was cleared by doctors to return to practice Wednesday morning. Clark was on the practice field in the afternoon, the next step in coming back from a concussion suffered Sunday against Washington.

The final step for Clark will be to pass another test on Friday that will allow him to play this Sunday against the Giants.

@ A sure sign that Clark is fine? The Steelers released safety Damon Cromartie-Smith from the active roster to make room for nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu, who was activated from the reserve/suspended list.

As for Ta'amu, he had this to say about his arrest for DUI and a bevy of other charges three weeks ago on the South Side, “It was a big mistake, one of the biggest mistakes I have ever made in my life. It won’t happen again.”

@ Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said he has been summoned to the NFL offices on Saturday when the team travels to New York to talk about his injury two weeks ago in a win over Cincinnati.

Sanders grabbed his hamstring and went down while the Steelers were in a no-huddle late in the game, summoning team trainers onto to the field. One play later, he was back out there.

His quick recovery from what he called cramps has caused some to say he was faking the injury to give the Steelers and extra timeout. Trouble is, the Steelers had timeouts remaining at that point.

I don't know whether Sanders was faking an injury or not, but it will be awfully tough for the league office to prove otherwise. And why would Sanders fake an injury when the Steelers still had timeouts remaining?

@ Jonathan Dwyer didn't practice Wednesday but said he intends to go on Thursday.

When asked who the team's starting running back is, Dwyer simply replied "RAC," the team's nickname for Rashard Mendenhall.

With Mendenhall likely out again this week, expect Dwyer to get the start again in New York.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tuesday with Tomlin

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin would not commit to a starting running back today, saying only that he expected Isaac Redman back at practice Wednesday, while Rashard Mendenhall has been cleared to return to individual drills.

Jonathan Dwyer, who has started the past two games - gaining over 100 yards in each - is expected to sit out practice Wednesday and return Thursday.

Tomlin said he'll wait until later in the week to make a decision on who starts, but the feeling here is that Dwyer starts, Redman serves as a third-down and short-yardage back and Mendenhall sits out again while he gets that Achilles' tendon 100 percent healthy.

@ Troy Polamalu and Marcus Gilbert are out again, while Stevenson Sylvester is also looking doubtful with a hamstring.

@ Ryan Clark will have to pass concussion tests but should be OK.

LaMarr Woodley's hamstring is still a little sore and the Steelers will be limited at practice early in the week.

@ Tomlin said he expects that the league is keeping a close eye on the situation in New York this week with the weather.

There's been extensive flooding in the New York/New Jersey area, making travel around the city difficult.

Things aren't expected to get back to normal for several days and I wouldn't be surprised if this game was bumped to Monday night to allow an extra day for cleanup.

UPDATE: As of Tuesday, the NFL is not moving the game from the 4:30 p.m. Sunday start. But, according to an NFL spokesman, the league is continuing to monitor the situation.

@ If you're looking for some insight into what the Steelers are planning to do with rookie nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu, look no further than the move they made Tuesday.

The Steelers released practice squad defensive tackle Corbin Bryant and signed John Malecki and tight end/fullback Jamie McCoy to the practice squad.

That tells me that they are planning on activating Ta'amu to the active roster and releasing a tight end.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Post-Washington thoughts

And to think, there were people who actually thought this would be a close game.

The Steelers set the tone defensively in this one on their first series.

The Redskins ran a reverse at James Harrison and Brett Keisel for nine yards on first down. They then ran Alfred Morris at them again on second and third downs. Result? Minus three yards and a punt.

Harrison continually manhandled the tight ends the Redskins kept running at him, sealing the edge on play after play.

So much for him having lost something.

Harrison is playing his way back into game shape and is starting to get there.

@ The Steelers are now 14-1 against rookie quarterbacks since Dick LeBeau became defensive coordinator in 2004.

Rookie quarterbacks are, after all, still rookie quarterbacks.

Not that Robert Griffin III played poorly, but he wasn't great, either. Yes, his receivers dropped a bunch of passes, but Griffin - I refuse to refer to him as Griffin III as the press box announcer did Sunday - also had just eight yards rushing on six carries.

The Steelers kept him in the pocket for the most part and limited his big plays.

@ Morris, by the way, came into the game second in the NFL in rushing and left with 59 yards.

He was more effective running the ball than Griffin, but also got stopped - like in the first quarter - as often as he ripped off a 10-yard run. And he had a few of those.

@ Todd Haley continues to come up with new wrinkles in his offense. Sunday, it was a fake bubble screen that allowed Heath Miller to slip downfield for a 25-yard gain.

It was well designed and future opponents are going to have to take a look at that before they jump up to bite on those bubble screens.

@ Haley is also doing exactly what was asked of him when he was hired - keeping Ben Roethlisberger upright.

In fact, after being sacked five times in the opener at Denver, Roethlisberger has been sacked just eight times in the past six games, a span of 228 passes.

When did you ever think you'd see Roethlisberger sacked once every 25 pass attempts?

And this is with pretty much the same group of guys the Steelers have been getting things done with the past few years, you know, the guys who couldn't block a toilet.

Goes to show that a different offense can lead to different results.

Of course, the Steelers head to New York to face the Giants this week, so that line will be tested greatly.

@ Speaking of Haley and Roethlisberger, the Steelers had three TD passes Sunday, two to tight ends, one to a fullback.

That was a season's worth of TD passes to those positions under Bruce Arians.

@ In their past 12 home games, the Steelers are 11-1 and have given up 126 points.

Steelers-Redskins game-day thread

It's chilly and wet in Pittsburgh today, but at least it's not raining - for now.

That shouldn't affect the play of the game.

Isaac Redman is inactive for the Steelers, meaning Jonathan Dwyer should get the bulk of the carries.

DeMarcus Van Dyke is also down, with Damon Cromartie-Smith active in his place.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Who I like, Washington version

This is a game the Steelers have to have for a number of reasons.

First, this team needs to prove to itself it can win two games in a row. The Steelers haven't done that yet and need that for some peace of mind.

Second, with a game at New York against the Giants next week, a loss here would be trouble.

Third, given the team's early road struggles, the Steelers have to go 7-1 or 8-0 at home if they hope to get to 10 or 11 wins.

I think they'll take care of business.

While Washington's defense has been opportunistic, picking off 10 passes, it's not very good in the secondary.

Ben Roethlisberger and company should have a field day there.

And the Steelers, who have given up 104 points in their past 10 home games, will come up with enough defense to slow Robert Griffin III and company enough to force them into a pure passing mode late in the game.

Also not to be discounted: Washington has already changed kickers once this season, going to Kai Forbath. Forbath has made all four of his field goal attempts this season, but this is about the time of year when Heinz Field starts to get a little tricky.

For an inexperienced kicker, it can be tough.

With the Steelers getting Maurkice Pouncey and Isaac Redman back this week - though Jonathan Dwyer will get the start at running back - Pittsburgh is inching closer to full strength.

Take the Steelers, 31-17

Thursday, October 25, 2012

It's looking like Dwyer

It's looking like Jonathan Dwyer will get his second consecutive start this week against Washington as Rashard Mendenhall sat out practice again Thursday, while Isaac Redman was limited.

That's not necessarily a bad thing.

Frequent readers of this blog know that I've thought all along that Dwyer was a better all-around player than Redman - though I like Redman as well.

And given Washington's shoddy defense, letting Mendenhall sit another week isn't a bad thing.

@ I've had to laugh when I hear the topic of the Steelers having to sit either Redman or Dwyer once everyone's healthy.

Were people not listening to what Mike Tomlin had to say about his special teams units on Tuesday.

As Tomlin said, once everyone's healthy, there may be some special teams regulars on the bench if they continue to draw penalties.

We know Baron Batch plays teams, so, in effect, he doesn't necessarily count as a running back. Same goes for Chris Rainey.

The Steelers could keep all five running backs on their roster active on game day with no real problems.

What does Leonard Pope really do, anyway? Same goes for DeMarcus Van Dyke if he continues to draw penalties.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin said today that he expects to have Maurkice Pouncey back at practice Wednesday after he sat out Sunday's game at Cincinnati with an MCL sprain.

Isaac Redman, Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Carter are all expected to practice at some point this week and could be ready to go against Washington on Sunday.

Safety Will Allen, who has started the last two games at strong safety, could be limited with an ankle injury.

That could be big because Troy Polamalu will be out again as he continues to deal with a calf injury.

Marcus Gilbert will also be out again this week, meaning rookie Mike Adams will get another start at RT.

@ Tomlin said he is troubled by the continued penalties the Steelers are drawing on special teams and that some of the repeat offenders might find themselves on the bench when the team gets in position to do so from a health standpoint.

That could be coming this week if Carter is back.

DeMarcus Van Dyke would be the biggest offender to this point.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Lolley's post-Cincinnati thoughts

The Twittersphere was erupting when the Steelers got in a 14-3 hole to open this game following a Ben Roethlisberger sack and fumble - where the QB stepped right into the waiting arms of several Cincinnati pass rushers.

The season was over. It was time to start thinking about the draft, yada, yada, yada.

And just like that, the Steelers took back the momentum.

They also kept it, thanks to Keenan Lewis.

It was Lewis, on the opening possession of the second half, who peeled off his coverage after reading Andy Dalton's eyes and came back to help Ike Taylor in the end zone on A.J. Green.

If Lewis doesn't tip that ball away, it's a touchdown and a 21-14 Cincinnati lead.

Instead, the Bengals kicked a field goal and then gained a total of 28 yards on 17 plays the rest of the way.

@ I wrote on this blog last week that everything was still right there to accomplish for these Steelers.

It most certainly is now.

That was a signature defensive performance against what has been a pretty good offense.

Yes, the Steelers failed to record a sack, but they had consistent pressure throughout the evening to keep Dalton off balance.

And after the opening drive by the Bengals, the Steelers adjusted and kept Cincinnati from further gouging them on the ground.

It was also the first time this season that the running game looked competent.

I know, they ran the ball with some effectiveness against the Jets, but not as effectively as they did Sunday night against the Bengals.

@ Willie Colon showed some real nasty in this game. It's what everyone had been waiting for when the Steelers moved him inside to guard.

@ If not for some dropped passes, and some ill-timed penalties, this game would have been a 20-point blowout.

The biggest penalty to me was a holding call on DeMarcus Van Dyke - at least the third special teams penalty on him this season - that negated an Antonio Brown punt return to midfield.

That set up Roethlisberger stepping up into a fumble that handed the Bengals their second touchdown - on A.J. Green's only catch.

@ Taylor did a nice job on Green, following him around throughout the game.

I don't think that was originally the plan - or at least that's what Ryan Clark said.

Clark said he went to Mike Tomlin and asked that Taylor be put on Green one-on-one.

Taylor had help a lot of times with Green, and there's nothing wrong with that.

The way the current NFL rules are, it's damn near impossible to play defensive back in this league.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Steelers-Cincinnati thread

With the Ravens getting pounded today in Houston as expected, the AFC North race is wide open again.

In fact, you could argue that the winner of tonight's game - particularly if it is the Steelers - is in the driver's seat in the division.

While Cincinnati has already lost to Baltimore - and Cleveland - in the division, the Steelers still get to play Baltimore twice.

The way the Ravens are headed - with perhaps more injuries than the Steelers - they could fall apart.

@ Maurkice Pouncey won't play tonight for the Steelers. Doug Legursky will start in his place.

Will Allen will get his second start at strong safety.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Who I like, Cincinnati version

I know the Steelers are 0-3 on the road this season. I know they've given up fourth quarter leads in all three of their road games. And I know they will be playing without their top two running backs.

But for some reason, I like this team this week.

Actually, there are several reasons.

First and foremost is the fact that Cincinnati is converting just 27 percent of its third downs - 20 of 75.

The Steelers are allowing opponents to convert at a 49.2 percent rate, but even if that number is somewhere in the middle this week - let's say 36 percent - the Steelers will win.

So long as the Steelers don't let anyone get behind them - and despite their struggles, they lead the league in fewest explosive plays allowed (everybody's defense stinks) - they should be OK.

Another factor that makes me favor the Steelers is Cincinnati's offensive line.

The Bengals have allowed quarterback Andy Dalton to be sacked 17 times in 232 pass attempts, an average of one every 13.6 dropbacks. And if you throw out a game against pitiful Jacksonville in which the Bengals didn't allow a sack in 31 pass attempts, that number falls to one every 11.8 attempts.

With LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison on the field together, the Steelers - who had eight sacks against the Bengals in 2011 - will generate some pressure. In fact, Woodley has eight sacks against the Bengals, his most against any opponent.

The final thing favoring the Steelers is the desperation factor. This is a team that was in shock after losing at Tennessee, but part of that shock could have been from Mike Tomlin's decision to attempt a 54-yard field goal with just under one minute remaining.

That decision, more than anything, cost the Steelers. When Shaun Suisham missed the kick, it gave the Titans the ball in excellent field position, needing just 20 or so yards to get into field goal range.

That's a tough spot to put any defense in, let alone one that is struggling.

Finally, there's this: The Steelers are 11-2 all-time at Paul Brown Stadium.

The Steelers are 1 1/2-point favorites to win this one and will do so.

Take Pittsburgh, 24-20

Thursday, October 18, 2012

See how far we've come

In Ben Roethlisberger's rookie season, if he missed any time during practice, the local TV stations would break into their regular programming with breaking news of the injury.

Eight years later, it's become just another day at the office.

Roethlisberger rolled his ankle at practice Thursday, sitting out the remainder of the session.

And the world didn't end.

Of course, that didn't stop some reporters from asking offensive coordinator Todd Haley if Byron Leftwich was capable of executing the offense if Roethlisberger didn't play - where have they been the past eight years?

Roethlisberger is fine and Leftwich isn't going to play.

@ Maurkice Pouncey gave it a go at practice Thursday and appears to be on track to play Sunday at Cincinnati.

Of course, Friday will be the big day. If Pouncey's injured right knee swells up, the Steelers would be forced to play Doug Legursky against the Bengals.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Not a lost season ... yet

Fans tend to focus on only their own team - hence the term fans.

But those writing the Steelers off aren't looking around at the rest of the AFC right now.

Who's any good in the AFC? Seriously?

Houston, the supposed best team, just got spanked at home by what was a struggling Green Bay team.

Baltimore? The Ravens have been fortunate to win their last two games. I know, good teams find ways to win, but Kansas City fumbled five times last week - including once at the Baltimore 1, and Dallas really outplayed the Ravens Sunday.

The defense has given up more than 400 yards rushing the past two weeks and just lost its middle linebacker and top corner for the season.

New England? Stuck with a group of seven other AFC teams at 3-3.

Cincinnati? The Bengals have lost to the Dolphins - at home - and Browns - on the road - in the past two weeks. Nobody is going to confuse the Dolphins and Browns for good teams.

Fact is, every team in the AFC has its flaws at this point.

Do the Steelers have some as well? Certainly.

But we tend to forget that they are still learning this offense, whether they admit it or not.

And the defense isn't nearly as good as it has been in recent years. But it might be good enough if the offense stops kicking field goals and starts scoring more touchdowns.

Look at it this way, if the Steelers score one more touchdown per game, rather than kick a field goal, they are 4-1 right now rather than 2-3.

That's a play here or there. It's that close.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Busy, busy couple of days

It's been a busy weekend for the Steelers, starting with the release of tight end Wes Saunders on Friday.

Saunders was coming back from a suspension for violation of the league's substance abuse policy and, given how well rookie David Paulson has progressed, there just wasn't any room for a player the coaching staff doesn't trust.

@ While Paulson has stood out, fellow rookie Alameda Ta'amu, a fourth-round draft pick, struggled throughout training camp.

But since the Steelers need a nose tackle in the future to replace Casey Hampton, Ta'amu was on scholarship this season. All he needed to do was learn his position, learn how to be a pro and keep his nose clean.

That ended Saturday night on the South Side, when Ta'amu played drunken bumper cars, ran from police - at least as fast as a 350-pounder can run - and added an assault charge to his other issues.

I can't see Ta'amu hanging on the roster after this.

@ Word is that Rashard Mendenhall's Achilles' tendon tightened up in Tennessee, which is good news.

He should be ready to play at Cincinnati next week.

There's good news on the Maurkice Pouncey front as well. His MCL sprain isn't considered serious. He might play at Cincinnati as well.

The Steelers could also get linebacker LaMarr Woodley back for that game.

I'm now hearing that it could be another two weeks for strong safety Troy Polamalu.

Friday, October 12, 2012

Post-Tennessee thoughts

Mike Tomlin said following this latest road loss that you could blame him for the missed field goal attempt from 54 yards by Shaun Suisham.

No kidding.

You certainly can't blame Suisham there. Even with his make from 52 yards moments before Tomlin sent him on the field with the game on the line, Suisham is just 5 of 12 from 50-plus yards in his career.

And yet Tomlin sent him onto the field to attempt what would have been a career long kick.


I thought when Tomlin called timeout after initially sending Suisham onto the field, it was because he had second thoughts - rightfully - about what he was about to do.

Trying to convert the fourth-and-7 or punting in that situation would have made more sense. Tomlin elected to kick.

That gave the Titans the ball back at their own 45, pretty much needing one play to win it. They got that on third down when a Steelers blitz failed to get to Matt Hasselbeck and he found tight end Jared Cook on a crossing pattern with James Harrison - Pittsburgh's best pass rusher - trailing.


You can't make this stuff up.

I'm sorry, but if it's me and I'm facing a situation where I really, really need to get to the quarterback, I'm having James Harrison try to get there rather than dropping him into coverage.

I know that it's easy to second-guess decisions after the fact, but really, these are such no-brainers, you have to scratch your head and wonder.

@ Ike Taylor is playing with zero confidence right now, which is leading to all of the clutching and grabbing.

Grab, grab, grab. That's all he's doing out there.

Taylor's stat line of six tackles and two pass defenses really doesn't tell the story. Three defensive penalties - one of which was declined because the receiver made the catch anyway - there's your true stat line.

Taylor is better than that.

@ The Steelers actually found a way to make Chris Johnson look like something other than a Milli Vanilli castoff.

Johnson averaged 4.8 yards per carry against this once-vaunted defense, with a long run of 13 yards. That tells you exactly how effective Johnson was. He was consistently banging out five or so yards every carry.

@ I'm going to the stats again on this one. The stat sheet says Ben Roethlisberger threw for 363 yards, which would presumably mean he had a good game.

But a closer look shows that he completed just 10 of 20 passes to his wide receivers, with 14 receptions on 19 attempts to his backs and tight ends. That's Flacco-like.

Isaac Redman made some things happen after the catch, but realistically, who would you rather have with the ball in his hands in the open field, Redman or Antonio Brown.

Brown, by the way, had his worst game in a long, long time, finishing with four receptions for 20 yards despite being targeted 10 times.

The bottom line? Roethlisberger wasn't very sharp in this one.

@ Realistically, I blame this one on the special teams as much as anything.

Not only did the Steelers get a punt blocked to set up a 1-yard touchdown, but DeMarcus Van Dyke had a huge holding penalty on Tennessee's final kickoff to put the ball at the Pittsburgh 11 rather than the 22.

Think those extra 11 yards would have helped Suisham?

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Greetings from Nashville

It looks like great weather in Nashville right now, though there is a chance of rain later on this evening.

The Steelers will start Will Allen at strong safety tonight in place of Troy Polamalu.

The move shows that the team has been displeased with the play of Mundy - though Mundy could still see some time rotating with Allen.

Jason Worilds, as expected, will start in place of LaMarr Woodley.

The Steelers' inactives include Charlie Batch, Jonathan Dwyer, Polamalu, Woodley, Adrian Robinson, Kelvin Beachum and Alameda Ta'amu.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Who I like, Tennessee version

What a busy week it's been, what with a game on Sunday and having to travel on Wednesday.

It really doesn't offer time for a whole lot of analysis, but here's what we know.

Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley won't play Thursday night for the Steelers.

Woodley should be back when the Steelers travel to Cincinnati Oct. 21, while Polamalu could be back for that game - though the following week against Washington is more likely.

It says here that it won't matter against the Titans.

Tennessee's biggest issue has been scoring. The Titans allow way too many points and score way too few.

Tennessee is averaging 17.6 points per game and allowing 36.2. You don't often see a 20-point disparity like that in the NFL, which shows just how bad the Titans have been playing.

Yes, the Steelers have had some issues on the road this season as well, giving up 65 points in two road games - both losses - but that shouldn't matter here.

The addition of running game should help.

Part of Pittsburgh issue in its two road losses has been stopping opponents in the second half. The Steelers have given up eight scores in nine second half possessions.

A running game would really help limit some of those second half touches for opposing teams, and Rashard Mendenhall showed Sunday against Philadelphia that he can be a game-changer in that respect.

I think the Steelers build a nice early lead in this one and actually get some stops in the second half.

Take Pittsburgh to win, 31-13

@ On the subject of Polamalu, it's ridiculous that some are ready to jettison one of the team's greatest players.

"He's too injury-prone, blah, blah, blah," the critics say.

I pretty much tune them out when they start that garbage.

Last I checked, Polamalu played all 16 games in 2011. He played 14 games in 2010, when he won the NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.

Yes, he missed 11 games in 2009, but really, that was the exception, not the norm.

This is a player who is as special as any man who has ever put on a uniform, not just for the Steelers, but for any team.

He'll go out on his own terms. And he will be back this season and will again be a difference maker.

In fact, many of the same bozos saying this is the end for Polamalu were probably the same people saying the Steelers should release Mendenhall.

Polamalu's all-out style of play is going to lead to an injury here or there. But he's still one of the biggest difference makers in the league.

Sunday, October 07, 2012

Post-Eagles thoughts

We got a good look at what life without Mike Wallace could look like for the Steelers on Sunday as Wallace did a nice impersonation of the invisible man against the Eagles.

Oh, he was out there, as could be judged by his two catches for 17 yards and a couple of dropped passes. But it was certainly not one of the better games in Wallace's career.

With Wallace blanketed and struggling, the Steelers were forced to look elsewhere. That got them Antonio Brown missing a catch in the end zone and Jerricho Cotchery stumbling his way to the 2-yard line on what should have been a touchdown.

@ The people who wanted to get rid of Rashard Mendenhall need only look at the game tape from Sunday to see the difference between Mendenhall and the other backs on the Pittsburgh roster.

I have to admit - even though I wasn't one of the dump Mendenhall crowd - that I didn't think the dropoff between him and Isaac Redman/Jonathan Dwyer was as great as it actually is.

But there it was right in front of me Sunday at Heinz Field, as Mendenhall showed the burst that Redman and Dwyer just don't have.

Though he is in his fifth NFL season, it's easy to forget that Mendenhall is still just 25 years old.

@ Funny what a running game - or at least the threat of one - can do to a pass rush.

The Eagles didn't record a sack Sunday and rarely even seriously pressured Ben Roethlisberger.

@ I asked Mike Tomlin after the game if he is concerned about his defense giving up another fourth quarter lead.

He simply replied, "No."

But it has to be troubling.

Pittsburgh allowed Philadelphia to gain just 246 total yards and gave up only two touchdowns. But both came in the second half.

Certainly, Philadelphia got 30 yards of their first TD drive on a pair of personal fouls and had to convert a pair of fourth downs on the second one, but the Steelers have to find a way to get stops in those situations.

@ James Harrison made his presence felt in this one, even if his stat line didn't show all that much - two tackles, three QB hits.

It was especially important considering that LaMarr Woodley is out for the time being with another hamstring injury.

You have to figure that the Steelers will be without Woodley and Troy Polamalu on Thursday night against Tennessee. Polamalu left in the first half as well after his calf injury flared up.

Couple that with the possibility - and I'm saying possibility here since who knows how the NFL will rule this - that backup safety Ryan Mundy could get a one-game suspension for his second helmet-to-helmet hit on a receiver in the past two games, and the Steelers could be down to Ryan Clark and Will Allen backed up by rookie Robert Golden at safety against the Titans.

Friday, October 05, 2012

Who I like, Philadelphia version

With their backs against the wall a bit, the Steelers are finally healthy, as all 53 men on the team's active roster practiced this week for the first time this season.

In fact, Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles will mark the first time since last year's opener that the Steelers will have their projected starting defense on the field at the same time.

That game didn't work out so well as the Ravens pounded the Steelers, 35-7, in Baltimore.

But this game is at Heinz Field, where, quite frankly, the Steelers don't lose often to NFC teams.

In fact, the Steelers have won their past seven games at Heinz Field against NFC opponents, with the last loss being a 21-14 defeat at the hands of the New York Giants in 2008.

Despite Antonio Brown calling out Eagles' nickel corner Brandon Boykin, the Steelers will probably have more of a running-based attack in this game - at least early on.

Pittsburgh feels like Philadelphia's wide sets with its defensive ends will allow Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman some running lanes.

There will be some losses in the running game since Philadelphia's stunts sometimes lead them into the right hole, but the Steelers feel that with Ben Roethlisberger playing so well, they can offset that.

The Steelers are 3-point favorites in this one and should win and cover that spread, beating a Michael Vick-quarterbacked team for the first time. Vick is 1-0-1 against the Steelers, making him the only current starting quarterback with at least 100 career games that Pittsburgh hasn't beaten.

Take the Steelers, 24-16

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Boykin responds to Brown

On Wednesday, Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown called Philadelphia nickel corner Brandon Boykin the "candy bar" of the Eagles defense and said whoever is matched up against Boykin in their game had better win that matchup.

Thursday, Boykin responded.

"That's his opinion," Boykin told the Philadelphia media. "That's funny to me. We're just going to continue doing what we've been doing as a secondary, and me as well."
"We'll see on Sunday. The game's on Sunday. There's no point in rah-rahing in the media on Thursday. I'll let my game do the talking."
Boykin even went as far as to say he hadn't heard of Brown, a Pro Bowl player in 2011, before this week.
"I don't know too much about Antonio Brown," Boykin said. "I just found out who he was this week."

 @ The Steelers had all 53 players on their active roster on the field again Thursday, though defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said he might have to pick his spots with injured stars Troy Polamalu and James Harrison coming back.

Harrison, in particular, hasn't played in a game since last year's playoff loss at Denver.

"They might not be able to play the whole game but we’ll get a lot of quality snaps from them. They both looked real well in the practices the last few days, and I’m anxious to see them play," LeBeau said.

@ Offensive coordinator Todd Haley said offensive lineman David DeCastro is now pain-free and rehabbing well from the knee injury he suffered in the preseason.

DeCastro hasn't even needed a knee brace for the past week, though he's not able to return to practice for about another month.

The Steelers placed DeCastro, their top draft pick, on the injured reserve list with the intent on bringing him back later in the season using the new rule that permits teams to do that with one player.

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Steelers finally healthy

The Steelers are expected to have their projected starting defense on the field Sunday against Philadelphia, marking the first time since the opener last year in Baltimore that will have happened.

Head coach Mike Tomlin listed neither Troy Polamalu or James Harrison on the team's injury list and expects both to play Sunday against the Eagles.

The Steelers had their starting 11 on the field together just once in 2011 for the first game against Baltimore. Cornerback Bryant McFadden was among that group, but was injured in that game.

You could argue that McFadden wasn't a starter - since he couldn't get on the field after his return - but even at that, the Steelers lost defensive end Brett Keisel the following week against Seattle.

The next guys to go down were Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton and Harrison at Houston. Smith was lost for the season - and his career - while Hampton missed three games and Harrison four.

By the time Harrison returned to play against Baltimore Nov. 11, fellow linebacker LaMarr Woodley was out of the lineup, having suffered a hamstring injury the previous week in a win over New England.

What does all of this mean?

We really haven't seen the Pittsburgh defense at its projected full strength in quite some time.

That's all part of the game as players age - they become more injury prone - but it will be interesting to see if the troubles the Steelers have had closing out games the past two seasons are solved by having a defense at full strength - or at least as close to it as they have been in some time.

Ziggy Hood has taken over on a full-time basis for Smith and isn't of Smith's caliber, at least not at this point in his career.

Though the Steelers haven't blamed injuries for their issues, it has certainly been pointed to by many, including myself, as a reason for some of their problems.

@ The only player Tomlin listed on his injury report was offensive tackle Marcus Gilbert, who is expected to return to practice today despite a groin injury.

Monday, October 01, 2012

Harrison back at practice

He didn't really want to talk about it, but James Harrison was a surprising participant at practice today for the Steelers as they got back to work following their bye.

The Steelers remain optimistic that Harrison, who hasn't played yet this season, will be ready to play against Philadelphia Sunday.

Harrison practiced for the first time since training camp began last Tuesday, but sat out again on Wednesday as he continues to try to work his way back onto the field following knee surgery in August.

Coupled with the return of Troy Polamalu, who again practiced Monday, the Steelers could be getting two key veterans back.

@ It should come as no surprise to the readers of this blog, but Rashard Mendenhall is also expected to return against the Eagles.

As I have been saying for several weeks, the Steelers were shooting for a return date of after the bye for Mendenhall, who has not played since tearing his ACL last Jan. 1.