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Sunday, November 30, 2014

Post-Saints thoughts

I thought the Saints defense would be a bad matchup for the Steelers. I thought the Steelers would run and pass their way through them with no issues.

I thought the Steelers would force a turnover or two that would change this game.

Turns out, I had my teams backward.

@ Ben Roethlisberger was horrible in this game for the first three quarters. And before we start blaming hand injuries, realize that he was 2-7 for 31 yards before banging his hand on Curtis Lofton at the end of the first quarter.

He had also already thrown what should have been a pick 6.

Roethlisberger was not good Sunday by any stretch of the imagination until the fourth quarter. And the Steelers can't afford for him to be not good.

The easy thing  to do is blame the head coach or coaching staff for this game. But that doesn't hold water. Roethlisberger can take this one on his shoulders.

Maybe it will inspire him to pick it up down the stretch.

@ The defense played inspired football in the first quarter. The offense played inspired football - outside of Roethlisberger - in the first and fourth quarters.

In between were a bunch of blah. It's become a recurring theme for this team.

@ I'm sure you'll hear all of the "flat" talk that is thrown around after every loss. But the defense allowed two first downs on the first three New Orleans possessions and the offense was moving up and down the field in the first quarter.

@ The Steelers are now 2-4 in games that start at 1 p.m. And they're 2-4 in games in which they allow a 100-yard rusher.

Their remaining four games all start at 1 p.m. There's nothing that can be done about that.

But the 100-yard rushers? That's something they can certainly work on.

My first move would be to get Stephon Tuitt into the starting lineup. Getting Steve McLendon back will help as well.

Either would keep Cam Thomas off the field more.

And with Brett Keisel likely done for the season (career?) with a torn triceps, it's time to get around to Tuitt.

@ Despite the loss, the Steelers are still in pretty much the same position they were before the game. Win out and they're in the playoffs.

Losses by Baltimore and Cleveland helped that. Sweeping Cincinnati and also beating Atlanta and Kansas City would put the Steelers at 11-5.

But does anyone have confidence in this team to do that? Only if Roethlisberger plays his best.

@ Le'Veon Bell spent a lot of time pass blocking when he wasn't running the ball in the first half. He was unleashed in the second half, catching eight passes for 159 yards.

Some of that came in garbage time at the end, but Bell should have been a bigger part of the passing game throughout.

@ If you would have told me the Steelers would hold Jimmy Graham without a catch, I'd have guaranteed a victory.

But Drew Brees was good, really good in this game. He threw his five TD passes to five different receivers.

Steelers-Saints game day thread

Greetings from Pittsburgh.

The weather here is overcast with temps in the high 50s, low 60s. There is a chance of rain, but it's not expected to hit until after the game ends.

Inactive for the Steelers today are Ryan Shazier, Marcus Gilbert, Steve McLendon, Justin Brown, Cortez Allen, B.W. Webb and Landry Jones.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Who I like, New Orleans version

I've heard all of the angst surrounding this game.

"The Steelers sometimes lose to bad teams." "Drew Brees is dangerous." "This game could be a trap because the Steelers play the Bengals next week."

I think it's all a bunch of mularkey.

It is precisely because of those three things that the Steelers won't lose this game.

Yes, at 4-7, the Saints aren't a very good team. But they do have Brees, which should have everyone's attention - most notably, the guy who wears No. 7.

Ben Roethlisberger gets pumped to play against other great or big-name quarterbacks, especially at home.

And because the Steelers know they can't afford a stumble before giving Cincinnati their best shot, they'll be focused as a team as well.

Roethlisberger went as far as to call this a must-win game. The Steelers will treat it as such.

With Brees at quarterback, the Saints can score. But the Steelers will take a similar tact to the one they did against Indianapolis earlier this season.

They'll try to keep the ball out of Brees' hands while also putting up as many points as possible. They won't back off the throttle.

And New Orleans' defense isn't nearly as formidable as the one in Indianapolis.

The Saints give up big yards on the ground and through the air. And they'll do stupid thins like play Cover-0, with seven or eight pass rushers and no safety help.

Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan can't help himself. It's what he does.

With Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant, two guys who are built to beat one-on-one coverage, that's a recipe for disaster.

And Roethlisberger is at his best when blitzed.

The Steelers also are getting healthy at the right time - right tackle Marcus Gilbert's ankle injury in practice this week notwithstanding.

The Steelers are 4 1/2-point favorites in this one and I like them to force a couple of turnovers and win this one going away, 38-27.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin sounded much more positive about the situation regarding the availability of safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Ike Taylor today than he did about linebacker Ryan Shazier or nose tackle Steve McLendon.

Tomlin said the decision surrounding the return of those four players from injury would, of course, be determined by their participation in practice this week. But he also noted that Polamalu and Taylor have "decades" of experience while Shazier, in particular, has missed a lot of practice time for a rookie.

The Steelers won't rush Shazier back, though he could see playing time in certain situations this week.

McLendon, meanwhile, has missed three of the past five games with a nagging shoulder injury. If he's able to fully practice this week, it would give the Steelers an interesting decision to make on their defensive line.

Do they sit Cam Thomas, who for reasons beyond my ability to see, continues to see more playing time than rookie Stephon Tuitt and can also serve as the backup nose tackle, or do they sit Tuitt or rookie nose tackle Daniel McCullers?

I know what everyone else feels about the situation, but for whatever reason, the coaching staff remains tied to Thomas.

@ Tomlin said today that cornerback Cortez Allen suffered a broken thumb in practice two days before the team's last game against the Tennessee Titans. Allen played in that game on special teams but had surgery during the bye week.

He's in a cast now and with Taylor coming back, would be bumped to the fifth cornerback spot.

That doesn't mean Allen won't be active against the Saints this weekend. He could still play special teams. But his ability to make any kind of push to get back into the lineup is certainly hampered.

Ironically, the game book from the Tennessee game incorrectly lists Allen as a starter in that game. He was obviously confused with Will Allen, who started at safety in place of Polamalu.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Monday news, notes

The Steelers, as expected, got a number of injured defensive starters back for practice today as they returned from a weekend off.

Cornerback Ike Taylor, who had a broken forearm, said he has been completely cleared by team doctors to return to full practice.

Taylor has been working out with the team during practices for much of the past month and it wouldn't surprise me if he's back in the starting lineup when the Steelers play New Orleans Sunday.

Rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier, safety Troy Polamalu and nose tackle Steve McLendon were back on the field today as well.

It appears the defense will be as healthy as it's been since the Carolina game in late September.

@ Jarvis Jones started practicing today as well. That means the clock starts ticking on his comeback.

The Steelers now have 21 days to either activate him or place him on season-ending injured reserve.

Jones said he will still be forced to wear a brace on his injured wrist, but said it felt good today.

Jones had a broken bone and ligament damage in his wrist. He said he still must do rehab exercises every day in an attempt to build the strength back in his hand.

That will be an ongoing process. At this point, if he returns, it would be the week before the Steelers host Kansas City Dec. 21.

@ I spoke with some players in the past week about social media usage. Here's what they had to say:

Sunday, November 23, 2014

The Steelers could move into first place this week in the AFC North while on their bye. That's how crazy things have been in the division this season.

Even more crazy? The Cincinnati Bengals could go from first place to last place.

Here's who I like in this weekend's games involving the division:

Cincinnati (plus 2) at Houston
The Texans went into Cleveland and won last week to knock the Browns out of first in the AFC North. Now, they’ll knock the Bengals out of the top spot.

Take Houston, 27-23

Cleveland (plus 3) at Atlanta
The Falcons are 4-0 against the NFC South, 0-6 against everyone else. But they’re 4-6 and in first place in the division. Cleveland is 6-4 and in last place in the AFC North.

Take Cleveland, 24-20

Baltimore (plus 3 1/2 ) at New Orleans
The Saints have lost two in a row at home to fall to 4-6 but are tied for first in the NFC South. Baltimore, like, Cleveland is 6-4 and tied for last in the AFC North. Saints should regain their home mojo.

Take New Orleans, 31-24

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Blount to Patriots and other notes

LeGarrette Blount cleared waivers and was signed by the New England Patriots on Thursday, two days after his release by the Steelers.

It brings up an interesting question. Some people within the Steelers organization feel that Blount made a calculated move by leaving the field prior to the end of regulation in the team's 27-24 win over Tennessee Monday night because he wanted out of Pittsburgh.

Blount was unhappy with his role with the team, which had gotten increasingly less in recent weeks - remember, he was introduced as a starter early in the season, even though he was only getting a handful of carries each week.

And the Steelers' plan going into the game against the Titans was to run Le'Veon Bell almost exclusively, which turned into exclusively given the damage he was doing against the Titans.

Could Blount have contacted the Patriots, who were short at running back after a season-ending injury to Steven Ridley, secretly to gauge an interest?

Perhaps. But I don't think so.

It's easy to come to those kind of conclusions when the Patriots are involved. After all, they have been known to push the rules.

But I really believe Blount's reaction was more spontaneous. He celebrated a touchdown with Bell early in the fourth quarter and likely thought he might get some carries down the stretch as the Steelers ran out the clock at the end of the game.

But when Bell got 12 fourth quarter carries, I'm sure that didn't sit well.

@ Ike Taylor said he has an appointment Monday with Dr. Jim Bradley to see if he's cleared to return to contact.

If he is cleared, he should be ready to return to the lineup. Taylor has been practicing for nearly a month.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Steelers cut ties with Blount

Mike Tomlin sent a strong message through his locker room today. You're either with us or against us.

Cutting LeGarrette Blount had to be a difficult decision for Tomlin.

On one hand, you had a player who had been something of a problem. First was the incident in August when he and Le'Veon Bell were pulled over on their way to the airport for a preseason game and charged with possession of marijuana.

And during the practices with the Buffalo Bills, Blount had to be pulled away a couple of times from going after Buffalo players when minor fights broke out.

Monday night was the final straw, as Blount left the field early in the closing moments of the Steelers' 27-24 victory at Tennessee. Not only did he do that, he left the locker room early, before Tomlin had spoken to the team, and had to be ordered back into the room by assistant coach Joey Porter - with whom Blount had also nearly fought during a backs on backers drill in Latrobe.

But the Steelers also are very thin at running back now without Blount on the roster.

Their only experience at the position behind Le'Veon Bell now consists of Dri Archer's eight career carries. Josh Harris, the player promoted from the practice squad to replace Blount on the roster, was an undrafted rookie who wasn't signed by the Steelers until they had other injuries at the position in training camp.

Tomlin had to weigh those things when he made the decision to give Blount his walking papers.

Bell was on the field for 71 of the Steelers' 74 offensive plays against the Titans. Blount was in for just one play.

Bell is an every-down back to be sure, but the Steelers are going to need more out of Archer for sure while also figuring out ways to incorporate Harris into things. They now cannot afford an injury to Bell.

Post-Titans thoughts

Stylistically, there won't be many points given out for the Steelers' 27-24 win over the Titans Monday night.

Then again, maybe there will be.

After all, Le'Veon Bell's 204-yard performance was just the fifth 200-yard game by a Steelers running back.

Willie Parker had two and Frenchy Fuqua and John Henry Johnson had one each. Period.

For a team that for a long time prided itself on being a hard-nosed run-oriented offense, that's hard to believe.

@ The Titans really worked hard to protect rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger from the numerous blitzes that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau sent at him.

But in the second half, even though the Steelers didn't get any sacks, they did get in the rookie's wheelhouse a couple of times to force bad throws.

Don't think for a second that Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt didn't pick defensive coordinator Ray Horton's brain about what LeBeau liked to run and when he liked to run it.

Both are former Steelers assistant coaches and know LeBeau well.

@ LeGarrette Blount reportedly left the field in the closing minutes of the game after being told Bell was going to finish things off.

Blount wasn't in the locker room following the game.

Though he saw some snaps, Blount didn't get any carries in the game as Bell carried the entire load, getting 33 of the team's 36 rushing attempts. Roethlisberger had the other three, two on kneel downs at the end of the game.

If Blount did, indeed, leave before the game was completed, that was not a good, or smart, move by him.

I'm sure head coach Mike Tomlin will have some kind of punishment for him, even if it's not made public.

@ The offensive line set a goal of getting Bell, who had just 21 carries in the previous two games, 150 yards rushing in this game.

@ It appears that Markus Wheaton has found a home as the team's kick returner.

@ The Steelers need to figure out why it's taking Roethlisberger three quarters to get going in road games this season.

Pittsburgh has scored one or fewer offensive touchdown in four of its six road games this season - though it had two in this game.

It also has failed to score an offensive touchdown in the first three quarters of four of its six road games, including Monday night's contest.

@ The Steelers ran 21 plays in the fourth quarter to just seven for the Titans.

@ The bye comes at a much-needed time for the Steelers. They were without six starters from their opening day lineup on defense.

They should get at least a four of those guys - Ike Taylor, Ryan Shazier, Troy Polamalu and Steve McLendon - back coming out of the bye.

Jarvis Jones also will start practicing soon. The other starter, cornerback Cortez Allen, was benched due to his play.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Steelers-Titans game day thread

It's a chilly night here at LP Field in Nashville, a perfect night for the Steelers to come out and re-establish their running game with Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount.

The Steelers (6-4) need a win in this one to move ahead of Cleveland and Baltimore, who are both 6-4, in the AFC North standings, though with Pittsburgh on a bye next week, that could again turn into a three-way tie for second or last in the division, depending on how you want to look at it.

As we already know, Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, Steve McLendon, Ryan Shazier and Shamarko Thomas will be out today for the Steelers.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Who I like, Titans version

The Steelers travel to Nashville needing a win over the Titans Monday night to keep pace in the AFC North.

And really, it seems like it should be something they will do with some relative ease - unless road issues plague them again.

The Steelers are averaging 17 points per game on the road this season compared to 35 at home. And that includes the 37 points they scored at Carolina.

They've just had issues on the road.

But that Carolina defense was mighty similar to what the Titans will bring at the Steelers. Neither can stop the run.

If you remember, in that game against Carolina, the Steelers had both Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount run for more than 100 yards.

While that might not happen again, the Titans are 29th in the league stopping the run. That will take some pressure off of Ben Roethlisberger to do everything.

Likewise, the Titans will be have Zach Mettenberger making just his third NFL start. The Steelers are 18-2 since 2004 against rookie quarterbacks and unbeaten with Roethlisberger at quarterback.

Again, they don't lose to rookie quarterbacks when Roethlisberger plays.

The Steelers are 6-point favorites in this game and I like them to win, 31-16.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday news, notes

The Arizona Cardinals have signed defensive end Josh Mauro off of the Steelers practice squad.

Ironically, it was the Cardinals attempting to sign Brett Keisel at the end of training camp that probably cost Mauro a spot on the 53-man roster in August.

Keisel called the Steelers at that time and said he wanted to play. They decided to bring him back and it was Keisel who made the final roster, likely over Mauro, an undrafted rookie from Stanford who had two sacks in the preseason.

@ Steve McLendon (shoulder), Troy Polamalu (knee) and Ryan Shazier (ankle) did not practice Friday for the Steelers.

Cortez Allen (thumb), Ike Taylor (forearm) and Shamarko Thomas (hamstring) were limited.

Safety Ross Ventrone (hamstring) made it through his second consecutive day of practice and appears to be in line to return this week.

For the Titans, tight end Delanie Walker still has not passed his concussion tests.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

McCullers will start

The Steelers plan on starting rookie Daniel McCullers at nose tackle if Steve McLendon doesn't play - which is likely.

Defensive line coach John Mitchell confirmed to Steelers Nation Radio that McCullers would get the nod Monday night at Tennessee, though Cam Thomas will see some time there as well.

McCullers has been active for just three games this season, but saw action in 11 snaps last week when he was active due to injuries at a number of other positions.

Things are going to get interesting for the Steelers coming out of the bye week if McCullers plays well.

McLendon should be back and has played pretty well this season.

But the Steelers are also set to get linebacker Jarvis Jones and cornerback Ike Taylor back from lengthy injuries as well.

Could Thomas wind up being inactive, or worse, released?

I don't think he'll be released and he's still - at least technically - starting ahead of Brett Keisel. But Keisel is logging more plays and rookie Stephon Tuitt also is seeing action in a handful of plays each week.

Thomas has played better in recent weeks. Then again, he couldn't have played much worse than he had in the preseason and first month or so of the season.

Some of that is because he's not a true defensive end. He's been better when asked to play the nose.

But that definitely looks like a bad free agent signing.

@ McLendon, who is dealing with a nagging shoulder injury, did not practice on Thursday.

Ross Ventrone, who missed last week's game with a hamstring injury, was back on the field Thursday. Taylor and Shamarko Thomas, who is also dealing with a hamstring issue, were limited.

Brett Keisel and Arthur Moats were given the day off, while Troy Polamalu an Ryan Shazier, who have already been declared out, did not practice.

Taylor has also been declared out.

For Tennessee, tight end Delanie Walker, who left last week's loss at Baltimore with a concussion, did not practice.

If he doesn't make it back, that's a huge loss for Tennessee. Walker is the Titans' top red zone threat and second-leading receiver.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Some midweek news, notes

Jarvis Jones is no longer in a cast and said he's getting closer to making a return.

He won't begin practicing  until after the bye week because he's not quite ready to make his return. He needs to rebuild his strength and flexibility in his injured right wrist, which looks markedly smaller than his left.

Once he starts practicing, the clock starts ticking on him and the Steelers will have 21 days to either activate him or place him on season-ending injured reserve.

James Harrison and Arthur Moats have been fine filling in for Jones, but wouldn't a Harrison/Jones rotation look better?

@ The NFL has released its results from early Pro Bowl voting by fans and Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are both among the top 10.

Bell has the second-most votes among running backs behind DeMarco Murray with just over 210,000. That ranks him sixth in the overall voting.

Brown leads all wide receivers with just over 200,000 votes and is seventh among all players.

@ I had a long talk with Bell today and asked him what he thinks he'd be doing if he weren't playing football.

Bell didn't hesitate. He said he'd be playing in the NBA.

If you think that's crazy, consider that Michigan State didn't offer Bell a scholarship to play football until seeing him on the basketball court.

Bell said he scored 31 that night.

He also high-jumped 6-8 in track that year.

To that point, Bell had been getting offers from a number of MAC schools to play running back. Some bigger schools wanted him but only as a safety or linebacker, likely a nod to the fact he's a legit 6-1, a height many don't consider ideal for a running back.

Bell wanted to be a running back or nothing. But after seeing his explosiveness and athleticism in that basketball game, Michigan State offered.

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin said today that Troy Polamalu, Ryan Shazier and Ike Taylor will be out this week when the Steelers travel to Nashville to take on the Titans.

Taylor is getting  close to a return from a broken forearm but still hasn't been cleared by doctors to return. That should happen after the bye week.

Polamalu and Shazier were both out last week against the Jets, Polamalu with a knee sprain, Shazier with an ankle.

The Steelers really could have used Shazier in that game as a possible spy on Michael Vick and as somebody to run down a couple of the jet sweeps New York ran with Percy Harvin.

Those plays didn't go for huge yardage, but they did move the chains.

Nose tackle Steve McLendon was dealing with some shoulder soreness and there could be a thought by the team to hold him out this week in order to allow the injury nearly three full weeks to heal.

@ Tomlin called Mike Mitchell's jump over the New York line with 1:14 remaining in the game and the Jets attempting to take a knee, "unprofessional."

Tomlin also said he addressed the team regarding the incident.

Personally, I don't have as big a problem with it - as long as everyone else on the defense is in on the play - which they were not.

It was a one-score game and if the Jets fumble there and the Steelers recover, there's still plenty of time remaining to make something happen.

Now, if Mitchell had done it down two scores or with 3 seconds remaining in the game, that's different. But that wasn't the situation. There was still plenty of time left in that game.

It wasn't like Baltimore calling timeout with 2 seconds remaining the previous week down three scores. That forced both teams to compete for one more play on which an injury could have occurred.

@ Tomlin wouldn't bite on a question about John Harbaugh's locker room quotes about the Steelers, saying it didn't matter because Pittsburgh and Baltimore don't play again this season.

He did note that the Steelers will have a chance to do get to play the Ravens twice next year.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Post-Jets thoughts

Call it a letdown, trap or whatever you'd like. But this was definitely a game that had danger written all over it.

The Jets like to sloppy things up and play that style of game and the Steelers played right into their hands.

Four turnovers? Really?

And by their two best offensive players.

Blame Mike Tomlin and his coaching staff all you want, but the defense played its' collective behind off and the team's two best offensive players both committed two turnovers.

Think about this: How much of the outcome of this game changes if Ben Roethlisberger doesn't throw his two interceptions, both of which came well into Jets territory?

Even if they just get field goals there, is it a different outcome? Perhaps.

New York did very little offensively after the first quarter. In fact, in the final three quarters, the Jets looked like a team trying to allow the Steelers to come in the back door for a win.

Michael Vick got more than half of his 132 passing yards on one play and had 33 yards passing in the second half.

And the Jets had 57 of their 150 yards rushing on nine carries on the opening drive. After that, they averaged 3.3 yards per carry. And that includes Vick ripping off a couple of decent gains.

The Jets turtled and the Steelers couldn't take advantage.

@ This was a missed opportunity to be sure, but it's not the end of the world.

Going into this weekend, I figured the Steelers would go 2-1 in their remaining road games not against the Bengals.

This loss just means that they now have to beat the Titans and Falcons.

Given this loss and the fact the Tennessee game is being played in prime time, I expect the Steelers to get that one.

The game against the Falcons will be difficult but not impossible to win, especially if the Falcons have mailed things in at that point, which is highly possible.

And heck, given Cincinnati's current issues, it's not out of the realm of possibility that the Steelers could get a sweep of the Bengals.

The bottom line is that this is still a 10-win team at the least. And 10 wins gets you into the tournament.

@ That said, the Steelers had better figure out their issues on the road. Roethlisberger has five TDs and four interceptions in five road games this season. He has 18 TD passes and one interception at home.

@ Even though I know they've been working on it, I don't like using James Harrison in the goal line package.

Isn't that why you carry three tight ends - or even Mike Adams?

@ I would have run a QB sneak on first-and-goal inside the 1. If your 250-pound quarterback can't get into the end zone following your Pro Bowl center and future Pro Bowl right guard, you don't deserve to score.

You also don't deserve to score when your 250-pound running back gives eight yards of ground.

@ Everyone is down on Tod Haley again because the Steelers ran several screens early on. But that was a way to slow down New York's pass rush, which came into the game with 25 sacks.

The Jets countered by dropping eight guys quite a bit.

@ I would have gone for a first down or touchdown on fourth-and-goal from the 5 early in the fourth quarter, but I understand why Mike Tomlin went for a field goal that Shaun Suisham promptly missed.

A field goal would have made it a two-score game and the Jets were in complete turtle mode.

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Steelers-Jets game day thread

Rejoice Steelers fans. Daniel McCullers is active today.

With so many other guys out with injuries, the Steelers really didn't have much of a choice.

Inactive today are Ike Taylor, Shamarko Thomas, Ross Ventrone, Troy Polamalu, Ryan Shazier, Chris Hubbard and Landry Jones.

Hubbard and Jones are the only guys on that list who are healthy scratches.

For the Jets, former Steelers offensive lineman Wes Johnson is inactive, as is starting corner Darrin Walls.

The Jets will start Marcus Williams and Phillip Adams at cornerback. Either could walk into any party in America that is not their family reunion and be recognized.

Friday, November 07, 2014

Who I like, Jets version

Let's get the injury stuff out of the way first.

As we already knew, Troy Polamalu, Shamarko Thomas and Ryan Shazier will not play in this game for the Steelers. You can now add Ross Ventrone to that list as well, which leaves the Steelers very thin at safety going into this game.

Will Allen will start next to Mike Mitchell, with only Robert Golden currently on the roster as a backup. William Gay could play safety in a pinch, but the Steelers could also activate Jordan Dangerfield, signed earlier this week, from the practice squad.

As for the game itself, the Steelers are 5-point favorites, which shows that those guys in Vegas are looking at what Pittsburgh has done on the road this season and aren't necessarily buying just yet.

To that point, outside of a big game at Carolina, the Steelers have scored 6, 17 and 10 points in their other road games this season.

But that was then and this is now.

This team is playing with a lot more confidence than the one that scored two combined offensive touchdowns at Jacksonville and Cleveland a month ago.

Ben Roethlisberger is on fire and rookie Martavis Bryant and Lance Moore weren't really in the mix at wide receiver, with Justin Brown still getting the majority of the snaps.

All Moore and Bryant have done is catch seven TD passes in the past four games.

Defensively, the Steelers also are playing a little different. They're attacking more. Part of that is because the score of the games has allowed for that, but the Steelers are attacking from the opening kickoff.

The Jets are as dangerous a 1-8 team as I've seen in the NFL. They have some very good players and some dangerous offensive weapons.

But they're also a team that has allowed their quarterbacks to be sacked 25 times, including 10 on new starter Michael Vick in just over 80 pass attempts.

The matchup of Roethlisberger and company against New York's secondary is also not a good one for the Jets, who have allowed 24 touchdown passes, six more than the next closest team.

As long as Pittsburgh controls the Jets' running game - and by control, I mean not allowing New York to go for 200 yards - and doesn't turn the ball over against a defense that has forced just three turnovers, it should win this game.

I like the Steelers, 27-17

@ The NFL handed out fines to five players from last week's win over Baltimore, and not surprisingly, four of the fines went to the Ravens.

Courtney Upshaw drew a $20,000 fine for his late hit on Roethlisberger, while guard Jeremy Zuttah, Albert McClellan and, yes, Terrell Suggs were each fined $8,268 for late or unnecessary hits.

The fine for Suggs was for his much-talked-about hit on LeGarrette Blount.

The NFL uses a system for its fines, hence the bigger fine for Upshaw, who obviously has had other incidents in his recent past.

It's a one-size-fits-all mentality rather than looking at each hit on its own.

For the Steelers, Vince Williams was fined $8,268 for taunting, which in the grand scheme of things, seems either excessive or makes the other fines look small.

How is yelling at another player even on the same scale as hitting them late or, in the case of the Suggs, hit, taking a chance at ending their career?

Then again, maybe he told somebody that their mother was a hamster and their father smells of elderberries. Oh, the humanity.

No other Steelers were fined, including Steve McLendon, who was flagged for what the game officials ruled was a heavy hit on Joe Flacco.

Apparently, the NFL, when looking at the hit, saw that Flacco was already in the air when hit by McLendon, who was jumping over another player himself to get to the quarterback. It looked ugly in regular time, but once it was slowed down, it was easy to see that it wasn't a malicious hit.

Thursday, November 06, 2014

Thoughts on this week

Mike Tomlin spent a lot of time talking up the New York Jets on Tuesday and apparently did more of the same to his team.

Several guys that I spoke with on Wednesday talked about how the Jets were a good team that has been derailed by turning the football over 18 times this season.

There's a lot of truth to that.

The Jets have a very good front seven, led by linemen Sheldon Richardson and Muhammad Wilkerson, that has generated 25 sacks.

The issue, however, in addition to the turnovers, is that the Jets have allowed 25 sacks and, more importantly, 24 touchdown passes.

The NFL record for TD passes allowed in a single season is 40 by the 1963 Denver Broncos. The Jets are on pace to easily surpass that.

Twelve of the turnovers belong to former starting quarterback Geno Smith, who threw 10 interceptions and fumbled twice in 233 pass attempts while getting sacked 15 times.

But new starter Michael Vick hasn't been markedly better. His passer rating of 67.4 is barely above that of Smith (65.6) and he's thrown one interception and has lost two fumbles in 84 pass attempts while also being sacked 10 times.

The Jets can beat the Steelers. That much is certain. But if it does happen, it will be because the players didn't heed Tomlin's warnings and Vick suddenly finds his groove.

@ I got to the bottom of the Steelers' use of their inside linebackers on Wednesday. Here's the link that explains it:

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that Troy Polamalu, Ryan Shazier and Shamarko Thomas are all out for Sunday's game against the New York Jets.

Polamalu has a sprained knee suffered in the second quarter of the victory over the Ravens. To that point, he had played every snap of the past two seasons.

It's not expected to be a lengthy injury, though the Steelers could play it safe and bring him back after their bye in three weeks.

Veteran Will Allen will start in his place.

Shazier suffered an ankle sprain in the first half against the Ravens. Though Tomlin didn't say it, Shazier's injury looked like it could be a high ankle sprain.

He's had some bad luck thus far in his career. Both of his injuries have occurred when he's gotten rolled up around piles.

It should be a good learning tool for the rookie. Don't be around the pile, be part of the pile.

Thomas' hamstring injury is his second in the past month, though the last one was on the other leg.

His injury will leave the Steelers thin at safety this week, though Ross Ventrone could be back after sitting out last week with a hamstring injury.

@ Tomlin was particularly unhappy with his kickoff return unit, calling it out for not being ready to cover Jacoby Jones prior to his 108-yard return in the fourth quarter.

Tomlin said guys were dancing as they were waiting for the walk up and said that definitely won't happen again.

Thomas, by the way, pulled that hamstring on Jones' TD return.

@ As expected, Tomlin spent a lot of time talking about the individual talent the New York Jets have.

And it's true, the Jets do have some very good players - as is the case with every NFL team.

But New York's secondary is a mess. The Jets have allowed 24 TD passes - six more than any other team in the league - and have just one interception.

And the Jets quarterbacks have thrown 12 TD passes in the past 15 games. Ben Roethlisberger has 12 in the past two weeks.

New York does have 25 sacks this season, but has also allowed 25 sacks. In fact, Michael Vick, who will start this week against the Steelers, has been sacked 10 times in just over 80 pass attempts.

Monday, November 03, 2014

Post-Ravens thoughts part II

Remember that team that was left for dead a month ago in Cleveland?

It's now in control of its own destiny the rest of the way this season thanks to three impressive wins over AFC contenders.

Certainly, playing Houston, Indianapolis and Baltimore at home helped, but it seemed that each one of those wins was more impressive than the last.

The Steelers are a legitimate contender in the AFC because they finally figured out that to win, they just need to keep on scoring.

Welcome to today's NFL.

After becoming the first quarterback in NFL history to have two 500-yard games in his career, Ben Roethlisberger set another NFL record Sunday night by throwing six TD passes in back-to-back games.

That's the most in a two-game stretch in NFL history.

And it's what the Steelers will need to continue to do moving forward. Keep on scoring and let it all be sorted out at the end of the game.

@ Anybody else notice, by the way, that all six of Roethlisberger's touchdown passes came after Courtney Upshaw came at him with a shoulder to the chin in the second quarter?

Joe Flacco, on the other hand, immediately threw an interception after Steve McLendon was penalized for roughing the passer.

@ The defense has chipped in during this three-game stretch with seven turnovers.

With the offense as explosive as any in the NFL, that's all that's needed. It has been a winning formula over the past decade for teams such as New England, Green Bay and New Orleans.

The defense doesn't need to be great if it's taking the ball away from the other team.

@ All of that said, James Harrison is playing out of his mind right now.

He had another two sacks and hit Joe Flacco four other times in this one. And that was after being steamrolled in a dogpile that left him lying on the ground like Sargent Hulka in Stripes for several moments.

He finally picked himself up went off for a couple of plays and then continued his assault of Flacco.

Harrison said after the game, however, that he is not considering coming back next season. And he's not likely to change his mind about that.

@ While Roethlisberger, Tomlin and other keep trying to downplay Martavis Bryant's contributions, all the kid does is keep making plays.

I understand that the Steelers don't want Bryant to think that the NFL is easy. But boy, he sure is making it look easy at this point.

@ Having Antonio Brown working on the other side helps. Brown might be the most unstoppable force in the NFL right now.

While Roethlisberger deserves to be mentioned as an MVP candidate and likely will get some of that push after Sunday night's game, Brown deserves to be in the conversation as well.

He now has 71 receptions for 996 yards and eight touchdowns. That's a season's worth of production for most guys.

@ The best news for the Steelers in this game was that they did what they did with little to no production out of the run game. In fact, you could say they really started clicking once they abandoned their run game.

Part of that was due to game circumstance. The Steelers had terrible field position throughout the first quarter of this game.

But once they finally started just throwing the ball, they began moving it consistently.

@ To put what the Steelers did to the Ravens Sunday night into perspective, consider this: The Ravens entered the game having allowed just seven touchdown passes in their first eight games.

They exited with 13 now on the board.

@ Bryant matched an NFL and team record by scoring his fifth touchdown in his third NFL game.

That matched former Steelers tight end Eric Green (remember him?) for the most in three games to start an NFL career.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Steelers-Ravens game-day thread II

The Steelers answered the question about what they will do with Steve McLendon now healthy on their defensive line.

Rookie Daniel McCullers is inactive for this game.

A lot of fans will howl about that, but realize that it comes down to who can do more as a backup, McCullers or Cam Thomas.

Thomas will back up both end and nose tackle. McCullers would have strictly been the backup nose tackle.

Cortez Allen is active today and will serve as the Steelers' No. 4 corner. That means he'll likely just see a lot of special teams action.

It's chilly here tonight with a very light wind.

Given what happened earlier in the day, we can now say definitively that the loser of this game will be in last place, a 1/2-game behind Cleveland, which won earlier to improve to 5-3.