Sunday, December 30, 2012

Post-Cleveland thoughts II

The Steelers have locked up the 17th pick in the draft with Sunday's 24-10 victory over Cleveland.

That's not a bad place to be, especially considering the success the Steelers have had selecting in the teens in recent years.

In 2010, they grabbed Maurkice Pouncey with the 18th pick in the draft. He's worked out OK.

In 2007, it was Lawrence Timmons taken with the 15th selection. He's become the team's best defensive player.

In 2004, they took Ben Roethlisberger 11th. Enough said.

Same goes for Troy Polamalu at 16 in 2003 - though they had to trade up to make that pick.

Add in Casey Hampton at 19 in 2001 and you have to go all the way back to Troy Edwards in 1999 - a Tom Donahoe/Bill Cowher pick - to find a selection in the teens that hasn't worked out.

@ Phil Taylor's blindside shot on Kelvin Beachum was as cheap as they come and deserved all of the ire it raised with the Steelers.

But was it that much worse than Doug Legursky diving at the knees of linebacker Craig Robertson earlier?

That kind of got the ball rolling in the cheap shot department in this game, though the Browns also submarined guys on a PAT, drawing a pair of unsportsmanlike penalties.

Maybe the heat will start coming back for the Cleveland-Pittsburgh series.

@ If that didn't do it, then Greg Little (!) catching a pass and staring down the Pittsburgh sideline like he has actually done something in the NFL might.

@ It won't so much be what the Steelers do in the first round of this year's draft that makes a difference as much as it is what they do in rounds 2 through 7.

I think everyone trusts Kevin Colbert and company to get a player who will help immediately in 2013 in the first round. History tells us that will happen.

But the Steelers need solid picks this year in the later rounds to help make up for a 2008 draft that is now a total washout.

At least it will be if Rashard Mendenhall leaves, as expected. At this point, only Mendenhall and Ryan Mundy, a sixth-round pick, remain on the Steelers roster.

@ The Steelers need to do what's necessary to keep Keenan Lewis, even with the late emergence of Cortez "Turnover" Allen.

You need three solid corners in this league and the trio of Ike Taylor, Lewis and Allen is outstanding.

Pair that with a healthy Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark next year, and you don't have to worry about the secondary.

Josh Victorian showed enough that he deserves to come back, and Curtis Brown was the team's best special teams player and might still develop into a solid corner.

As I said last week, I'd also teach Allen to play safety if they don't get a young stud to groom at that position.

@ The Steelers were without leading receiver Heath Miller, their receiving yardage leader, Mike Wallace, and had a pair of Dougs, Legursky and Malecki, playing guard with Ramon Foster at right tackle after Beachum and David DeCastro left with injuries in the first half.

Is it any wonder the offense was a bit limited?

@ The key to playing defense in the secondary in today's NFL is the ability to get turnovers.

With the way the rules now favor the offense, you don't necessarily need good cover guys as much as you need guys who can catch or force fumbles back there.

Allen has shown that he has the instincts to be a turnover guy. I think with a full year of starting under his belt, Lewis will be better at that in 2013 as well.

And, according to the other defensive backs, Brown has the best hands of any of the corners.

@ It's a shame Brett Keisel's season ended the way it did, but it gave Cam Heyward a chance to play. He was his typical feisty self and disruptive in the passing game.

The run defense, however, wasn't nearly as good after Keisel left.

@ If I'm putting this roster together for 2013, I try to find a way to keep Casey Hampton around - though maybe as the backup to Steve McLendon.

I also want Larry Foote back, at least as a locker room presence and insurance plan in case Sean Spence isn't ready to take over and I don't get someone in the draft.

But I also want Plaxico Burress back to help mentor my young receivers.

Jerricho Cotchery is a great guy and solid citizen, but he doesn't command the respect among his peers that Burress can. And Burress showed Sunday that with a whole offseason under his belt, he could be a factor in 2013.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Who I like Cleveland II

Not a lot to say about this one.

Cleveland's backfield will consist of second-year player Thaddeus Lewis, who will be making his first career start after being signed off the practice squad earlier this week, handing the ball to Montario Hardesty.

The Steelers haven't been swept by the Browns in a season since 1988 and Cleveland is unlikely to change that this time around with Lewis at QB.

There's no line on this game because Vegas doesn't like to lose money.

Take the Steelers to win., 24-7.

@ As things currently stand, the Steelers hold the 14th pick in the draft.

Even with a win over Cleveland, it's unlikely the Steelers would move down in the draft too far.

The Giants and Cowboys already have eight with. Miami, St. Louis and New Orleans are sitting with seven wins.

All have better strength of schedules than the Steelers. So there's a chance the Steelers could win and still have the 14th pick at the end of the day.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Wednesday news, notes

Steelers tight end Heath Miller will have surgery on Thursday to repair a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee. But he will do so knowing that he was voted to the Pro Bowl.

Miller was one of just two Steelers selected to the Pro Bowl on Wednesday.

The other was center Maurkice Pouncey, who will be making his third trip.

It's a second Pro Bowl for Miller, who obviously won't be playing in the game as he recovers from surgery.

Miller sounded optimistic today that he'll make a full recovery, though he would not commit to a timetable.

@ I was kind of surprised that not one defensive player from the Steelers was selected.

Ryan Clark is a favorite of fans and had a solid season, but since Baltimore's Ed Reed is still playing and the league selects only one free safety, he really had no chance - though he could wind up going if/when Reed decides not to.

But I thought inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons was certainly deserving. Instead, New England's Jerod Mayo and Kansas City's Derrick Johnson were chosen.

Timmons has been the best player on what is statistically the league's best defense. He leads the Steelers in interceptions and tackles and is tied for second in sacks.


Sunday, December 23, 2012

Post-Cincinnati thoughts Part II

Well, that was disappointing.

Of all the things that have gone wrong for the Steelers this season - and it's been a myriad of issues - seeing Ben Roethlisberger implode in back-to-back games wasn't high on the worry list.

To be fair, Roethlisberger played a great game in Dallas a week ago before his gack in overtime cost the Steelers a win.

Against Cincinnati Sunday, he never looked like a quarterback who was in control of the game.

Sure, the Bengals did their best to take Heath Miller out of the game, but Roethlisberger was just off, forcing the ball to covered receivers and missing open ones.

The other thing to note here - for all of the Todd Haley bashers - Roethlisberger has thrown four interceptions in the past three games, all of his interceptions in the past two games came in the no-huddle, when he was calling the shots.

That's not on Haley, that's on the quarterback.

Roethlisberger had been highly successful early in the season running Haley's offense, which called for quick throws and check downs to the running backs.

But after coming back from his rib and shoulder injuries, it seemed like he was intent on doing things his way, scrambling around, making stuff happen, both good and bad.

That didn't work so well Sunday when the Bengals took his security blanket, Heath Miller, out of the game, first figuratively with double teams, later literally with a torn ACL and MCL.

Roethlisberger will have a whole offseason to digest what's happened here. And he'll have a whole offseason to digest Haley's offense once again.

Roethlisberger looks awfully silly right now for complaining about the playcalling last week and then going out and laying another egg.

@ Sure, Roethlisberger was under heavy pressure from the Bengals on Sunday, who took advantage of the inexperience on the right side of the Steelers' offensive line.

But the Bengals had four sacks - and had one was nullified by a defensive penalty. The Steelers had a season-high six sacks.

The Steelers also turned the Bengals over three times, with Keenan Lewis hobbled and Ike Taylor standing on the sideline.

Cortez Allen had a coming out game working on the outside, instead of the slot, picking off a pair of passes - and just missing a third - and forcing an A.J. Green fumble - yes, other team's receivers fumble too.

The Steelers now have three long, tall corners to work with. And if Allen can prove to be a playmaker when given more opportunity, they have to find a way for him to play more.

This team proved to be a couple of playmakers short of being a solid team this season.

Lawrence Timmons is one on the defensive side, but there weren't any others - though Troy Polamalu showed he still has it, for those who were doubting him.

The Steelers don't often dip into the veteran free agent market, but given the results this season, maybe it's time, especially if this team has to replace wide receiver Mike Wallace in the offseason.

@ Roethlisberger isn't the only one who should feel silly right now.

How about all the people who were saying the Steelers should cut Troy Polamalu in the offseason. Or that he should retire.

I've been saying for the past couple of weeks that Polamalu has been playing fine. The only issue was that his return coincided with the team losing Ike Taylor and then nearly every other corner on the roster getting banged up.

He was playing a lot of deep safety.

Sunday, Dick LeBeau changed things up and turned Polamalu loose in the Steelers' biggest game of the season.

The results were there for all to see. Polamalu still has it.

That doesn't mean that you don't have a better option at safety to back up both he and Ryan Clark - Cortez Allen anyone? - but Polamalu has earned the right to able to let the Steelers know when he's done, not the other way around.

And he's not done.

@ If you were going to put together a list of the biggest disappointments for the 2012 season, LaMarr Woodley would have to be at the top.

James Harrison had a reason for his slow start, and his play down the stretch has been solid, so much, in fact, that the Steelers have to consider bringing him back in 2013, contract allowing.

But Woodley hasn't been a factor rushing the passer at all this season and you have to wonder if his hamstring issues of 2011 have robbed him of his explosiveness.

If that's the case, the Steelers have some issues. Jason Worilds showed in limited playing time this season that he isn't the bust some thought he was, but he also might never be a star.

And the Steelers need their outside backers to be stars.

@ Keenan Lewis, hats off to you. That was a Jerome Bettis-like performance Lewis put forth Sunday, limping out of the huddle and then playing some solid cornerback.

Lewis has earned himself a lot of money this season - though he might be more valuable to the Steelers than another team due to his lack of interceptions.

I know that sounds crazy, but he's why: Lewis is just what the Steelers look for in their corners, long, strong and a solid tackler.

His speed is underrated, and as LeBeau said this week, the more he plays, the more confident he will get coming out of his breaks to get interceptions.

@ Ah, Shaun Suisham. Sorry for mushing you this week.

I wrote Saturday on this blog that Suisham was quietly having a Pro Bowl season. He then went out and missed 24 and 53-yard field goals.

Actually, the 24-yarder wasn't his fault. Usually reliable Greg Warren had a bad snap.

@ Brett Keisel said the officials told him he was penalized for doing his bow-and-arrow sack celebration because he was simulating a weapon.

That's insane. And if the league was going to crack down on that type of thing, perhaps somebody should have informed Keisel, who's done that same celebration since, oh, around 2005.

@ Rashard Mendenhall looked better than he has all season on Sunday, gaining 50 yards on 11 carries.

@ Just so you can start planning for next year, here's the Steelers' schedule for 2013:

Home: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Baltimore, Tennessee, Buffalo, Miami, Chicago and Detroit

Away: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Baltimore, Oakland (Again!), New England, N.Y. Jets, Green Bay and Minnesota (in London)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Random thoughts

I keep on seeing people rip the Pittsburgh offense because it has broken 30 points just once this season.

But that's a lazy thought, in my opinion.

In fact, I've seen people using the Seattle Seahawks' recent points explosion as a way to rip the Pittsburgh offense. Look at how many of those Seattle points came off of turnovers.

Opponents have scored 101 points off of 27 Pittsburgh turnovers this season. The Steelers have scored 41 points off of their 13 forced turnovers.

Turnovers matter.

Add in the fact the Steelers have played three games with backup quarterbacks, and you have an offense that isn't being helped by its defense.

That has been my point with the Steelers the past two seasons. In their past 30 regular season games, the Steelers have forced 28 turnovers, less than one per game.

Yet when I've ripped this defense, which has played well in terms of yards allowed, some on this blog have ripped me. A big part of playing defense, however, is forcing an opponent into mistakes and taking advantage of them. And it never hurts to give your offense a short field or two per game.

The Steelers defense hasn't done that the past two seasons.

@ Shaun Suisham won't make the Pro Bowl because he's not a glamour name at kicker and he's not leading the league in points.

But Suisham should get consideration.

Suisham has made 15 consecutive field goals - tying his career high - and his only miss was an ill-advised 54-yard attempt in Tennessee.

When you consider Suisham does half of his work at Heinz Field, one of the toughest venues in the league for kickers, you realize what a good season he's had.

@ I've seen a number of stats bandied about by people looking for reasons why the Bengals will beat the Steelers Sunday.

One of the (many) laughable ones is this: The Bengals are 10-5 in road games started in the past two seasons by Andy Dalton.

That's all well and good, but three of those losses have come at Baltimore (2) and Pittsburgh (1).

The more important stat is that Dalton has thrown for just over 400 yards in three starts against the Steelers - or fewer yards than the 431 the Steelers rolled up in their 24-17 win at Cincinnati earlier this season when Dalton was 14 of  28 for 105 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Does that mean the Bengals can't win? No.

But I have to see it before I believe it.

@ Was talking with somebody tonight at my son's championship game in the indoor 18-under baseball league - shameless plug - and they brought up that the Steelers miss Hines Ward.

I started to go into an explanation about how Ward couldn't play anymore, but then said, "You're right."

This team misses Ward's leadership in the wide receiver room. It was thought that Jerricho Cotchery could help replace that, but even though Cotchery is a quality vet and good leader, it's hard to follow someone who's No. 4 or 5 on the depth chart - especially when he's a guy who hasn't put up big seasons in the NFL.

That's no knock on Cotchery. But I think that's part of the reason the Steelers finally decided to sign Plaxico Burress.

Burress has put up 1,000-yard seasons and performed well on the game's biggest stage. You could see that there was an immediate respect with Burress among Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Who I like, Cincinnati version part II

I find it interesting that so many of the experts are picking the Cincinnati Bengals to beat the Steelers.

Looking back at the last meeting between these two teams in Cincinnati, the Steelers thoroughly dominated the game, outgaining the Bengals, 431-185, in total yards.

The Ravens pounded them 44-13 in Week 1. Yet when you call up ESPN's web site today, the headline reads "Cincy's standing up to AFC North bullies this season"

Really?

Sure, the Steelers are coming off back-to-back defeats and have lost four of five, but three of those games were played without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger has played the past two weeks and though the Steelers have lost both of those games, it's just the second time since the 2007 season that the team has lost back-to-back games with Roethlisberger at quarterback.

Considering the kind of competitor Roethlisberger is - bordering on the ridiculous - and that he feels like he lost the game last weekend in Dallas, I expect him to come out more focused than ever on Sunday.

Roethlisberger is 14-4 against the Bengals, compared to counterpart Andy Dalton's 0-3 record versus the Steelers.

The mid-week knee injury to cornerback Keenan Lewis is concerning, but Lewis returned to practice on a limited basis Friday and is probable to play Sunday.

The Steelers will double wideout A.J. Green and force Dalton to throw the ball elsewhere. Considering Dalton didn't complete a pass to another wide receiver in Cincinnati's 34-13 win at Philadelphia last week - a game that was closer than the final score would indicate - it's a good theory.

The Steelers are favored by 3 1/2 points in this one and I think that Roethlisberger finds a way to get it done at home.

Take Pittsburgh, 26-21

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Thursday news, notes

Not only was DeMarcus Ware penalized for clubbing Ben Roethlisberger in the back of the head - a play  that drew a 15-yard penalty Sunday, but Dallas running back DeMarco Murray was fined for grabbing the facemask at the end of a run against Larry Foote - a play that was not penalized.

I thought Murray should have been penalized on the play since he both grabbed and held onto Foote's facemask, but you seldom see it called in the NFL, even though it is illegal for an offensive player to grasp an opponent's facemask.

@ Keenan Lewis sat out practice today after tweaking his knee Wednesday in practice. Lewis, however, still insists he's going to play on Sunday. Given the way he's moving about, that's starting to look questionable.

@ Todd Haley brushed off the whole rift with Ben Roethlisberger thing today. Again, people pursuing this as a story are the same people who have been waiting for a blowup all season.

It hasn't happened.

Do Roethlisberger and Haley always see eye to eye? Nope. But Roethlisberger has seldom seen eye to eye with his offensive coordinators.

There were instances even when Bruce Arians was here that the quarterback would question why the team didn't run more no huddle offense.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wednesday news, notes

Ben Roethlisberger said today that he apologized to Todd Haley, Mike Tomlin and Art Rooney II for comments he made following Sunday's loss that were seen by some as ripping Haley's play calling.

As stated, I didn't necessarily see it that way - certainly not some of the comments, anyway - and Roethlisberger basically said he apologized for the firestorm that was caused, adding that he was frustrated with the way he played.

@ Keenan Lewis said there was nothing that was going to keep him from playing Sunday and that he would be following A.J. Green all over the field.

He then went out and twisted his knee in practice.

Lewis, who is dealing with a hip injury, said after practice that he is OK.

@ Mike Adams, Lewis and Emmanuel Sanders were limited in practice Wednesday.

@ Rashard Mendenhall wasn't exactly in a talkative mood after practice Wednesday. He wouldn't answer questions regarding his suspension directly, but did say that everything he does is well thought out.

So we can read from that Mendenhall's decision not to show up on game day against the Chargers was a well-thought-out response to being inactive for two straight games.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin met with the media Tuesday and only fielded about 15 questions about why Heath Miller didn't get the ball in the second half of Sunday's 27-24 overtime loss, and Ben Roethlisberger's misconstrued comments about the play calling.

Here are the facts: The Cowboys, who had been burned for six receptions for 85 yards and a score in the first half, rolled their coverages to Miller in the second half.

Roethlisberger, who has the OK to change plays at the line of scrimmage, did so on a number of occasions because that's what the defense dictated. He went 10 of 13 for 169 yards and a score in the second half.

Roethlisberger, whom Tomlin met with on Monday as he always does, was a little frustrated with the loss following this game, but he most certainly was not ripping the offensive coordinator, as some have tried to say.

It was a situation of some reporters trying to make something of a situation that wasn't there.

@ Tomlin had some good news on the injury front.

While he said Ike Taylor is out again this week - though he is out of the walking boot - Tomlin said Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen should be ready to play.

DeMarcus Van Dyke was placed on IR and the Steelers signed Justin King.

Also, rookie tackle Mike Adams will be back this week, though it's no given that he will automatically replace Kelvin Beachum, who has play well.

@ Tomlin also said that while Antonio Brown is a very good player, he's a very good young player and is still learning the game.

Tomlin said he felt Brown could have fielded a punt - at least for a fair catch - late in the game, instead of allowing it to bounce another 15 yards.

Tomlin has full confidence in Brown as his punt returner.

@ At this point, Tomlin said his running back rotation will remain the same, though he did leave the door open for Rashard Mendenhall to have a role.

Remember, Jonathan Dwyer had a 100-yard rushing game against Cincinnati the first time around.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Post-Cowboys thoughts

A lot is going to be made of a statement Ben Roethlisberger made following this 27-24 overtime loss.

After saying that he blamed himself for this loss, Roethlisberger said when asked why tight end Heath Miller wasn't a bigger part of the game plan in the second half, "I don't think we called the right plays to get him the ball."

Notice that Roethlisberger said WE. He didn't say the coaches. He didn't say the offensive coordinator. He said WE.

That is because Roethlisberger was probably as responsible for the playcalling in the second half as offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

Let's take a look at the second half.

The Steelers' first series was two Jonathan Dwyer runs and an incompletion to Dwyer in the flat on which Roethlisberger bounced the ball to Dwyer for what would have been at least a 10-yard gain.

On their second possession, they again ran three plays, but this time one of those plays was a 60-yard gain to Mike Wallace. No chance to throw to Miller there.

Their next series again ended with a touchdown, so did it matter that they threw no passes to Miller?

After that, it was pretty much Roethlisberger calling plays until the overtime period, when his first pass went to Miller.

So was Roethlisberger blaming Haley, himself or both?

Look for Roethlisberger to clarify that statement on Wednesday.

@ I thought there was a lot to like about this game for the Steelers. They went into Dallas - which owns one of the top passing attacks in the NFL to go along with a solid pass rush - and while the Cowboys had some success throwing the ball and rushing Roethlisberger, neither of those things was the deciding factor in this game.

@ While Roethlisberger blamed himself for this loss, so, too, did Antonio Brown.

Brown made three critical errors in this game.

The fumbled punt was the biggest one, as it completely changed the momentum.

But he also failed to field a punt with less than two minutes remaining that cost the Steelers at least 15 yards in field position, then ran out of bounds on third-and-26, rather than staying in bounds and forcing Dallas to use another timeout.

Neither of those last two miscues cost the Steelers this game, but both could have easily been the difference.

@ Will the people calling for Mike Tomlin's head just chill out? He's not going to be fired, nor should he be fired.

This team has dealt with a number of crippling injuries, such as the aforementioned ones heading into this game.

And yet if they win their final two games, they will be in the playoffs. In fact, there's a good chance that if they win their final two games, they could win the division.

Here's how: If the Steelers finish in a three-way tie with Baltimore and Cincinnati at 9-7, they win the AFC North based on a better head-to-head record, 3-1, against those teams.

Sure, the Steelers have struggled of late, but it's nothing getting some players back healthy wouldn't fix.

Mike Adams should be back to play right tackle this week, and the running game could certainly use his presence.

There's also a chance that Ike Taylor could be back as well - though I'd put that at around 50-50 right now.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Who I like, Dallas version

This might be the toughest Steelers game to pick all season - not that I've exactly been nailing it with this team this season.

The line has moved all over on this game, which means Las Vegas has struggled with it as well.

The Steelers and Cowboys have had almost identical up-and-down seasons.

Both teams play good defense and have the potential for explosiveness on offense, but have been inconsistent.

The biggest differences are that Dallas is better rushing the passer, while the Steelers are better at quarterback.

Both teams are also banged up - Dallas up the middle of its defense, the Steelers at cornerback and on the offensive line (the Cowboys' line has been bad all season).

And both teams are 7-6 and fighting for a playoff spot - though the Cowboys certainly need this game more than the Steelers.

A loss by the Cowboys would pretty much end their playoff hopes. It's doubtful anyone is making the playoffs in the NFC at 9-7.

While the Steelers can lose to the Cowboys, win their final two games - both at home - and reach the postseason. They don't necessarily want to take that route, but it's certainly possible.

The Steelers are 1-point favorites in this game in this game, but with their offensive line injuries - and more importantly, secondary issues - I see the Cowboys pulling this one out.

Take Dallas, 26-23.


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wednesday news, notes

Offensive tackle Mike Adams (ankle), corners Ike Taylor (ankle), Cortez Allen (groin) and Keenan Lewis (hip), guard Willie Colon (knee), linebacker James Harrison (illness), safety Troy Polamalu (vet day off) and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (shoulder) did not practice for the Steelers today.

The Allen injury was originally described as a hip flexor by Mike Tomlin on Tuesday, but is actually a groin, which explains why he is more questionable to play than Lewis.

Linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who has missed the past two games with an ankle injury, returned to full participation today.

@ The Steelers players aren't talking about the Rashard Mendenhall suspension - on Tomlin's orders - but swear that it won't be a distraction.

Safety Ryan Clark, one of the team's player reps, said it is written into the CBA that teams can fine inactive players for not showing up on game days, though Clark admitted he didn't read the entire CBA - because he didn't agree with it - until Mendenhall's situation arose.

@ Rookie offensive lineman David DeCastro is excited about an opportunity to finally player get a shot to play, while guard Ramon Foster feels it will be a positive thing for him moving forward to show that he can not only play well on the right side, but left side as well.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Breaking New Tuesday

The Steelers have suspended running back Rashard Mendenhall for one game for conduct detrimental to the team after he failed to show up for last Sunday's 34-24 loss to San Diego after being told he would not be active.

Though Mendenhall's future with the Steelers was highly in doubt, there was a chance the team might re-sign him as a free agent following this season if he didn't draw a lot of interest elsewhere.

That is likely out the window.

The Steelers activated running back Baron Batch from their practice squad to fill Mendenhall's roster spot this week.

@ Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said that guard Willie Colon had surgery Monday to repair his injured left knee.

The Steelers have not yet placed Colon on the disabled list. They are waiting for the swelling to go down in order to see the severity of the injury and length of recovery time.

As expected, with Colon out, the Steelers are going to take a look at moving Ramon Foster to left guard and inserting rookie David DeCastro at right guard.

DeCastro wasn't quite ready a couple of weeks ago when he was activated from injured reserve, but has built up some strength in his knee, which he injured in the team's third preseason game.

@ Colon's injury wasn't the only big one announced by Tomlin Tuesday.

Corner Cortez Allen, who started in place of Ike Taylor last week, has a hip flexor injury, as does fellow starter Keenan Lewis.

Allen's injury is more serious than the one to Lewis, though both will be limited in practice early in the week.

Lewis is expected to play Sunday, while the Steelers are unsure about Allen.

That could leave Curtis Brown, Josh Victorian and DeMarcus Van Dyke playing bigger roles in Dallas this weekend.

@ I spoke with Taylor after Sundays loss to San Diego. He's planning on trying to come back against Cincinnati, but that might be pushing things.

@ Tomlin said he has no plans to change the running back rotation, meaning Rashard Mendenhall will continue to be inactive.

Monday, December 10, 2012

What Colon injury means

With Willie Colon likely headed to injured reserve with yet another injury, the Steelers have to ask themselves some serious questions moving forward about the offensive lineman.

Colon will cost $6.45 million against the Steelers' salary cap in 2013, so the easy answer would be to cut him, re-sign impending free agent Ramon Foster, who has done a good job at right guard, and move forward with Foster and David DeCastro as the starting guards.

But that might not work.

Cutting Colon would save the Steelers just $1.2 million in cap space in 2013, money that could be used to re-sign Foster. But considering the awful state of offensive lines around the league and the other free agents the Steelers will want to bring back - Keenan Lewis and their restricted players - that won't be enough.

Then again, if the Steelers decide to slide Foster over to left guard and insert DeCastro down the stretch with Colon out, and that duo performs well, it could change plans.

But for now, plan on having Colon as part of this team in 2013.


Sunday, December 09, 2012

Post San Diego thoughts

I saw a Steelers team Sunday that seemed relieved that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was back.

So relieved, in fact, that it came into a game against the San Diego Chargers thinking it could just rely on Roethlisberger to get the job done.

The Steelers talked about being backup quarterback friendly in the games in which Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch started when Roethlisberger was out.

But they did very little to help Roethlisberger out in the first 40 minutes Sunday, dropping passes, failing to open holes in the running game, and doing little with the running lanes that were there.

The defense didn't help much either, seemingly allowing the Chargers to drive to at least midfield even when they didn't score, to pin the offense deep in their own territory.

The Steelers' starting position in the first half was their own 20, 8, 21, 9, 7, 11, 38 and 10.

 Now, certainly, the Steelers could have helped themselves with a couple of first downs, but offensive coordinators tend to get a little conservative with their play calling in when starting inside their own 11 five times.

We saw why in the third quarter, when Roethlisberger threw a WR screen at his own 8 that bounced off of David Paulsen's behind and into the end zone, where it was recovered by Quinton Jammer for a touchdown.

@ Lost in the win last week at Baltimore was the fact the Steelers running game wasn't over productive.

It was even less so on Sunday, as Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman combined for 10 carries for 32 yards.

Both were stuffed on short-yardage plays from the Pittsburgh 47 when they appeared to line up somewhere between the jumbotron and bank of the Allegheny River in an attempt to pick up the yardage.

It begs the question, is Rashard Mendenhall so far in the doghouse that he can't get a shot at playing ahead of one of these two guys?

I know Mendenhall isn't the most popular guy with some Steelers fans, but he's still their most talented running back right now.

And who cares if he's not on the roster next year. This team is built to win now.

@ I'm not even going to get into playoff scenarios at this point any more. All you need to know is that the Jets at 6-7 are now back in the conversation.

@ The Chargers played with three backup linemen and the Steelers managed one sack, that being a play where Ziggy Hood ran Philip Rivers out of bounds at the line of scrimmage.

Then again, you have to credit Rivers there. He threw away more balls on Sunday than Steve Sax in his prime.

Game Day thread

The teams have just finished warm ups and headed back to the locker room.

Ben Roethlisberger looked good again throwing the ball around, so that shouldn't be an issue.

Inactive for the Steelers are Leftwich, Taylor, Mendenhall, Woodley, Malecki, Woods and Adams.

For San Diego, Royal, Donald Butler, Jeromey Clary, Tyronne Green, Antonio Garay, Mike Harris and Lardarius Green are down.

There are no surprise lineup changes for the Steelers. Beachum starts at RT; Allen at CB; and Worilds at OLB.

For San Diego, Kevin Haslam and Reggie Wells will start at tackle for the Chargers in place of Harris and Clary, while Rex Hadnot will start for Green.
Demorrio Williams will start at LB in place of Butler.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Who I like, San Diego version

The time is now for the Steelers.

Coming off of last weekend's 23-20 win at Baltimore, the Steelers head into the home stretch of the season in good shape to at least earn a wildcard spot in the playoffs.
 
But they could be looking at more.

Baltimore travels to Washington Sunday, then hosts Denver and the Giants in back-to-back weeks before finishing the season at Cincinnati.

A loss by the Ravens - they are two-point underdogs - and wins by the Steelers and Bengals, who host Dallas, would certainly make for an interesting finish.

But I digress.

First up for the Steelers are the Chargers, who are 1-7 in  their past eight games.

San Diego's offensive line, which was already struggling,  has injury issues across the board. For a group that has allowed 36 sacks, that's not a good thing.

And the Steelers are starting to hit their stride in terms of their pass rush.

Ben Roethlisberger also returns for the Steelers and has looked good in practice this week.

The Steelers are 8-point favorites in this game and given that they are allowing 12 points per game at home, they should be in good shape to cover that.

Take the Steelers, 24-13

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Roethlisberger looking ready

Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that he needed to see Ben Roethlisberger make all the necessary throws in practice on Wednesday.

After practice Wednesday, Tomlin said Roethlisberger made all of the necessary throws.

So at this point, it appears Roethlisberger will return for the Steelers this weekend against San Diego.

@ The Steelers had a myriad of players sitting out of practice on Wednesday, most of who are expected to return to practice Thursday.

We'll know more about those injuries Thursday, but I expect the team to have everyone except Mike Adams and Ike Taylor available against the Chargers.

@ It will be interesting to see what the line on the game is once Las Vegas realized Roethlisberger is playing.

I'm guessing the Steelers will be favored by about a touchdown, but we'll see.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin said today that Ben Roethlisberger threw again on Monday and is closer to returning, but the quarterback must practice this week if he is going to play Sunday against the Chargers.

The Steelers will hold their first practice of the week on Wednesday, and Roethlisberger will get an opportunity to show he's ready.

In the meantime, the Steelers are moving forward with Charlie Batch at quarterback.

I would expect Roethlisberger to play this week.

@ Cornerback Ike Taylo.r is out at least two weeks with a fracture in his ankle. Tomlin said no surgery will be required.

It's a hairline fracture and Taylor is a fast healer - as his 135-consecutive games played streak would suggest - so I would expect him back before the postseason.

@ LaMarr Woodley will be questionable to play this week with his ankle sprain.

With Jason Worilds playing well, the Steelers won't rush Woodley back.

@ A number of players will be limited early in the week, including Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace.

@ Willie Colon is expected back this week, as is Jerricho Cotchery.

@ Tomlin said the running back rotation will remain the same, with Rashard Mendenhall sitting again because he doesn't play special teams.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Post-Ravens thoughts Part II

I have believed all season that the Steelers are one of the best three teams in the AFC, but I had to admit that confidence was shaken the past two weeks.

It was beginning to look like this team didn't have the chops to win without Ben Roethlisberger.

But the Steelers not only did that Sunday against the Ravens, they did so with an effort that was a throwback to four or five years ago.

There was Troy Polamalu looking like Troy Polamalu.

There was James Harrison looking like James Harrison.

Heck, even Charlie Batch looked like the Charlie Batch of five years ago.

It's a promising outcome for these Steelers, who have four very winnable games down the stretch once they get Roethlisberger back.

Losing Ike Taylor for what looks like at least a couple of weeks will hurt, but Taylor played just the first two snaps of this one before going out with what is being called a fibula injury.

And the Ravens threw for 177 yards.

It wasn't for lack of trying the deep throw. But with constant pressure in his face and the young Steelers corners plastering themselves to the receivers, it just didn't work.

@ While the Steelers ran for just 96 yards, they were an effective 96 yards. And Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman were running like they were carrying precious cargo.

It didn't stop them from running with passion and looking for contact, but they were definitely cognizant that they needed to hold onto the ball.

Looks like Mike Tomlin's tough love with his running backs worked.

@ The Steelers were giving Kelvin Beachum plenty of help early in the game. By the end, they were leaving him one-on-one to fend for himself.

He played that well.

Beachum had a tough start this preseason, but when you watch his athleticism, you see why the Steelers were so high on him after the coaching sessions and mini-camp.

@ The Steelers won the rematch with the Ravens, but it says here there will be a rubber match in Baltimore in January.

From what I saw Sunday and in the first meeting with the Ravens, the Steelers, with Roethlisberger, will win that game by two touchdowns.

@ Sunday marked Tomlin's 100th game with the Steelers. He's now 67-33.

I'm no math whiz, but I think that works out to Tomlin winning two out of every three games.

@ I'm still scratching my head as to why the Ravens ran the ball just 20 times and Ray Rice had just 12 of those carries.

@ The Pittsburgh pass rush was ferocious in this game. Sure, they had just three sacks and was credited with three hurries, but it seemed to me that they had guys in Joe Flacco's face all day.

Flacco completed just 10 of 27 pass attempts to his receivers and tight ends, badly missing on a lot of throws.

@ I wrote a couple of weeks ago how this season could take on the look of 2005. And then the Steelers went out and lost to Cleveland.

Now, it's possible for the Steelers to win their final five games heading into the playoffs - and they might need all five.

I don't think that will be the case, but given the way this team responded Sunday, it has the look of a very dangerous playoff team.


Sunday, December 02, 2012

Steelers-Ravens game-day thread

Woodley, Roethlisberger, Leftwich, Adams, Mendenhall, Cotchery and Van Dyke inactive today for Steelers.

Mendenhall is inactive because he doesn't play special teams.

Willie Colon is active for the Steelers, but looks like he's still a little slow moving around. Would probably only play in an emergency.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Who I like, Baltimore version part II

Let's get straight to the point: I don't expect the Steelers to win this game.

In fact, it's likely that nobody does.

But that doesn't mean it's not important in some way.

The Steelers outplayed the Ravens a couple of weeks ago at home, but lost, 13-10, when they allowed a punt return for a touchdown.

The Byron Leftwich-led offense could only muster 10 points.

Charlie Batch will make his second start this week after Leftwich suffered fractured ribs early in that loss, but played through the injury.

Since I fully expect that this will be the first of three meetings between the Steelers and Ravens, Pittsburgh has to send a message in this one.

Sure, Joe Flacco plays better at home - the Ravens average 36 points per game at home, 16 on the road (how's that for a home-road difference) - which is why they won't be going to the Super Bowl.

So what the Steelers need to show in this one is that they can hold Baltimore's much-better home offense in check and not allow another big play - like Jacoby Jones' 63-yard punt return for a score - in this one.

Troy Polamalu and Antonio Brown are back this week, which should help. And the Steelers will get Ben Roethlisberger back next week. At least that is the plan at this point.

Baltimore is now an 8-point favorite to win this one and I expect that the Ravens will cover that spread, but it won't be easy.

Take Baltimore, 24-14.