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Thursday, November 19, 2015

Visit the new site

The new NFL From the Sidelines site can be accessed at http://www.observer-reporter.com/section/BLOGS08

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Friday, October 16, 2015

Who I like: Steelers vs. Cardinals

I correctly nailed the outcome and score last week vs. the Chargers.

Here's what I think this week: NFL From the Sidelines new location

Monday, October 12, 2015

Steelers-Chargers game day thread

Greetings from sunny San Diego.

It’s a nice, warm night here. It was sprinkling off and on throughout the day but now it’s in the 80s and the sky has cleared so it should be a nice night for football.

The Steelers, as expected, did not activate wide receiver Martavis Bryant from their suspended list. They have until 4 p.m. Tuesday to do so. There will be a move forthcoming by the team on Tuesday.

Inactive tonight for the Steelers are Ben Roethlisberger, Ryan Shazier, Daniel McCullers, Chris Hubbard, Jessie James and Cortez Allen.

Roethlisberger was doing some light throwing with team doctors watching before the game tonight and appears to be getting closer to making a return. He’s not limping like he was before, but still has a way to go before he’ll be ready to escape a pass rush.

Inactive for the Chargers are offensive tackle King Dunlap, guard Orlando Franklin, wide receiver Stevie Johnson, linebacker Tourek Williams, defensive back Craig Mager, defensive lineman Darius Philon and running back Donald Brown.

Dunlap and Franklin are starters on the offensive line, so that will hurt.


I went on a tour of the U.S.S. Midway today. There were thousands of people on board and most were wearing some kind of Steelers gear. It should be a big pro-Steelers crowd tonight.

Friday, October 09, 2015

The times they are a changing

After a number of successful years and millions of hits here on blogger, my paper is moving NFL From the Sidelines to its web site.
We should still be able to have meaningful discussions and interaction regarding issues surrounding the Steelers.
To access the new site, please go here: NFL from the Sidelines. I hope to see you all over there.

Since, apparently, things aren't working well on the new site just yet - though the link above is now fixed, here it is:

First, let’s talk about the Martavis Bryant situation. Bryant, who is coming back off a four-game suspension, has practiced sparingly this week.
That’s not a good sign for a young man who has missed the past month because of a suspension.
The team doesn’t have to disclose what kind of injury with which Bryant is dealing since he is not yet on the active roster and they don’t actually have to activate him for this game if they do not choose.
It’s looking more and more like that will be the case.
Mike Tomlin doesn’t like to play young players who don’t get at least a couple of practices in before a game. He’s not real likely to put Bryant in the lineup when he hasn’t practiced in a month.
That move also would give the Steelers another week with which to kick the can down the road in terms of making a roster move.
* I do expect inside linebacker Ryan Shazier to play in this one. In fact, with the notable exception of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, every play on the 53-man active roster practiced this week. It’s a far different situation than the Chargers are dealing with right now, though at least quarterback Philip Rivers is healthy.
* I don’t know that not having Bryant on the field will have a huge effect on this game. This will be a run, run, run game.
San Diego is allowing 4.9 yards per carry this season, tied with New England for the worst in the league.
And Le’Veon Bell just ran for 129 yards against the Baltimore Ravens, a team that hadn’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in 29 games and against whom the STeelers hadn’t had a 100-yard rusher since 2004.
The Steelers will take some shots down the field to keep the Chargers honest and they’ll try to get the ball to Antonio Brown and Heath Miller a little more.
But this will be Le’Veon Bell’s game to win or lose.
I just don’t see how the Chargers are going to stop him and with a week under his belt, I expect Mike Vick to be much more comfortable running the offense this time out.
San Diego also has some issues at wide receiver. Malcom Floyd is expected to play despite leaving last week’s game with a concussion, while Stevie Johnson looks as if he’ll be out.
Antonio Gates will be back after a four-game PED suspension, but there’s the difference between the suspension of Gates and that of Bryant.
While players suspended for illegal drugs are permitted contact with their team and can work out at team facilities, those who are suspended for PED use are not.
Gates is a veteran player, but it’s not real likely he’s completely up to speed after sitting out an entire month and having no contact with the Chargers.
The Chargers are 3 1/2-point favorites in this game, but I don’t see that happening.
I think the Steelers dominate the game with their rushing attack, get after Rivers and protect Vick enough to be effective - the Chargers have just five sacks this season.
I’ll take the Steelers to win, 24-20.

Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Mid-week news and notes

Martavis Bryant sat out today's practice but said he plans on being back at practice Thursday.

The Steelers don't have to put out an official injury report until Thursday, but suffice it to say, they appear to be very healthy heading into Monday night's game at San Diego.

* Antonio Brown said on his weekly radio show Tuesday night - of which I am a co-host - that he did have more issues than he thought he would catching passes with a left-handed spin from Mike Vick.

He also said some of Vick's balls cut through the air a little differently than those thrown by Ben Roethlisberger, forcing him to make other adjustments.

Brown spent plenty of time after practice Wednesday working on catching balls with a left-handed spin - including extra time with Vick - and he should have that rectified Monday.

Brown did, however, say that he was at fault for two of the incompletions -  one in the end zone and another along the sideline - and that it's his job to catch the passes no matter who is throwing them.

* The Steelers will have to make a roster move to activate Bryant to their 53-man roster by Monday.

There aren't a lot of candidates.

Anthony Chickillo was signed to the active list but now must spend at least three weeks on the active roster.

Tight end Jesse James, running back Dri Archer and fullback Roosevelt Nix would be the most likely candidates to go, All would be eligible to be placed on the practice squad.

It's unlikely that James would make it that far, though you never know at this time of year as teams play roster games to account for injuries.

There's also always the off chance they let an offensive lineman go - say Doug Legursky - and kick the can down the street a couple of weeks.

Mike Adams will be eligible to come off the PUP list after six games and the Steelers will have to make a decision at that time with their line. They could go for the next couple of games with seven active linemen and hope they avoid injuries.

If they don't, they can always sign Legursky - or another lineman - to fill in the back end of the roster.

Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Tuesday with Tomlin

If I've been asked once, I've been asked a thousand times already this season about the Steelers' cornerback situation.

Why isn't Brandon Boykin playing? What's up with Cortez Allen? It goes on and on.

Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that Ross Cockrell is the team's nickel cornerback - at least at this time. That could certainly change since the Steelers have other options there in Boykin and Allen.

But for now, Cockrell is the guy in the nickel and Antwon Blake is going to continue to play.

Save all the analysis from Pro Football Focus, that's what the Steelers are going with for now.

"As we sit here today, but obviously we have some preparation time," Tomlin said of Cockrell remaining as the team's nickel. "We have to evaluate Cortez and his practice performance and availability.

Boykin, as you can see, wasn't part of the equation.

The Steelers haven't necessarily been unhappy with Boykin, but he had an opportunity after Week 1 to get into the lineup and strained his hamstring the Monday after the opener against New England. That gave Cockrell an opportunity to show what he could do in practice and he has done nothing to lose the job.

But that doesn't mean the Steelers won't use or need Allen or Boykin moving forward.

At this point, however, the Steelers have allowed an NFL-low five passes of 20 or more yards - they gave up 50 such plays in 2014 - and are 13th in the NFL in pass defense, with a large chunk of the passing yards having been allowed in the fourth quarter of a blowout win over San Francisco.

The pass defense has been good and the Steelers aren't about to make a change to mess with that.

* Speaking of defense, Tomlin said today that the issues with the run defense against the Ravens last week were because the Steelers were intent on shutting down Baltimore's play-action passing game.

That meant the safeties and corners basically ignored the running backs coming out of the backfield and stuck with their coverage responsibilities.

In the first three games, the Steelers allowed 162 yards on 57 rushing attempts by opposing backs - a 3.2 yards per carry average. Justin Forsett nearly had that himself for the Ravens, hitting the Steelers for 150 yards on 27 carries.

"They got significant chunks via play-action pass going into the game, so we wanted to attack that to minimize those chunks," Tomlin said. "We realized in doing so, we might expose ourselves to some run. We probably exposed ourselves to a little more run than we anticipated, but you give them credit for executing from that standpoint."

* Tomlin said Ryan Shazier will open the week as questionable to return against San Diego from his shoulder injury but did note that the linebacker had improved "dramatically."

Expect Shazier to play. But Tomlin's wording is to make sure the second-year linebacker continues to practice all week.

* Daniel McCullers (knee) and Markus Wheaton (ankle) are also expected to be back this week, while Matt Spaeth is probably more on the doubtful side of questionable with a broken hand.

* Tomlin said the Steelers don't have to activate Martavis Bryant's until 4 p.m. Monday if they want to play him against the Chargers and said they probably wouldn't make an announcement about their intentions until 3:58 on Monday.

Expect Bryant to play.

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Roethlisberger looks good

Lost in Thursday night's debacle against the Ravens was the fact that Ben Roethlisberger was permitted to be on the sideline.

Roethlisberger had said earlier in the week that head coach Mike Tomlin had a rule that nobody on crutches is permitted on the sideline.

Roethlisberger was not on crutches and was on the sideline against the Ravens.

Having seen Roethlisberger earlier in the week, it was surprising. He was in obvious pain moving around the team's practice facility on Tuesday and needed the crutches to get around.

That was not the case Thursday.

While the MCL sprain is obviously a problem, there were some in the organization who felt the bone bruise might the thing that kept Roethlisberger out for more than four weeks - the typical healing time for an MCL sprain.

The fact that Roethlisberger was able to capably - and apparently painlessly - on the sideline Thursday night shows the bone bruise might not have been as bad as previously thought.

Roethlisberger could, in fact, be back in three more weeks.

Saturday, October 03, 2015

News, notes and nuggets

I've now re-watched the Steelers' game against the Ravens a couple of more times today and I really only have a couple of minor issues with the coaching job done in that game by Mike Tomlin and his staff.

One would be attempting a third-down pass to Sammie Coates late in the game on a quick slant. I don't know that Coates was the primary target, but that's where Mike Vick went with the ball.

Coates isn't known for having great hands and asking him to catch a ball in traffic in what is his first real NFL playing time is a risk I wouldn't have taken.

But again, I don't know that Coates was the top target there.

And you expect Josh Scobee to make a 41-yard field goal.

The other was the attempted keeper call by Vick in overtime. You've got Le'Veon Bell. Use him in that situation.

Outside of that, it's easy to second-guess things that don't work. But I didn't have an issue with Tomlin's decisions in those cases.

@ Speaking of Scobee, the Steelers will begin trying out kickers, as I wrote here.

Kai Forbath, Chris Boswell and Randy Bullock will all get a shot at replacing Scobee.

Breaking: The Steelers have signed Boswell.

And no, Jeff Reed was not an option.

@ Vick struggled waiting for things to develop in this game. He got off his initial read too quickly, especially when that read was Antonio Brown.

And Vick also didn't utilize Heath Miller at all.

He'll get better at those things the more comfortable he gets in this offense. Having Martavis Bryant back won't hurt, either.

@ I meant to make mention of it but forgot. Dri Archer got an opportunity to return a kick - at the start of overtime - and made a nice 31-yard return out to the 31.

Was it a great return? No, not great. But it was solid.

@ A lot is being made about the Steelers' missed tackles in this game - and there were a bunch - but the Ravens certainly missed their share as well. It's a league-wide dilemma.

@ I didn't make note of it at the time, but a mishandled snap by Vick late in the game was costly, as well.

In the grand scheme of things, it wasn't huge, but it was a lost play.

Friday, October 02, 2015

Post-Baltimore thoughts

That one hurts, at least from the standpoint for the Steelers that they had the Ravens on the ropes - several times, in fact - and did not put them away.

A big part of the reason for that is because the coaching staff just didn't trust Mike Vick to make a lot of throws down the field.

And Vick didn't trust Antonio Brown enough.

Vick and Brown just weren't on the same page all the time in this one, missing by a few inches here or a few feet there.

None was as big as Vick's fourth-and-1 pass from the Baltimore 33 in overtime, when he overthew Brown by a lot on what should have been an easy completion for a first down.

"That one is going to haunt me for a long  time," Vick said.

Vick is now 3-13 in his past 16 starts. Quarterbacks always get too much credit for the wins and too much blame for the losses, and Vick hasn't been awful in those games, throwing 19 touchdown passes and nine interceptions.

But he lost this one much in the same way Joe Flacco "won" it.

Neither was great.

@ Much of the blame for this loss will be placed at the feet of placekicker Josh Scobee, and while that is fair, it's not the only reason the Steelers lost.

They couldn't convert some first downs late in the game despite having good field position and the defense, which had been solid against the run in the first three weeks, allowed Justin Forsett to go for 150 yards on 27 carries. Forsett was averaging 3.2 yards per attempt and had 124 yards in three games coming into this one.

That won't do.

@ I thought the Steelers did a nice job in pass defense overall in this one and while Ross Cockrell came up with two big plays, making an interception and fumble recovery, the latter of which set up a Pittsburgh touchdown that made it 20-7 early in the third quarter, he also gave up a TD on the ensuing possession.

Forsett hit a 33-yard run and then Cockrell allowed a 17-yard TD catch by Kamar Aiken that made it 20-14.

"From all aspects of the game, we could have all done something," said Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons. "We gave up 191 yards rushing. I feel like we could have done something better there. We look at it all across the board. We all could have done something better. It was definitely a team loss."

@ Can the Steelers get it together and rebound from this? I think so. The defense is still showing flashes of being better. It sacked Joe Flacco five times and forced a pair of turnovers.

Vick, with a full week of practice before the Steelers play again - and actually a couple of extra practices since they don't play until Oct. 12 at San Diego - will get plenty of practice time with the receivers.

And there's a guy named Martavis Bryant that will be back for the next game. That should help as well.

@ Dri Archer and Brown both had big returns in overtime that should have helped the Steelers to a win. They didn't.

And punter Jordan Berry had an off game that should have cost the Steelers points, especially when he hit one that only went 40 yards standing on his own goal line. It was returned to the Pittsburgh 33.

But for some reason, John Harbaugh decided to attempt a fake field goal after the Ravens stalled. And Sean Spence sniffed it out.

It was one of three failed fourth-down attempts for the Ravens in the second half. And the Steelers didn't make them pay.

They let Harbaugh off the ropes for his stupidity.

@ The Steelers continue to have issues with tackling. But it's a problem around the league.

I get the fact that fans focus on what their team is doing. But the Ravens missed plenty of tackles in this game as well.

In fact, watch any game around the league and you'll see plenty of missed tackles.

But it doesn't change the fact the Steelers seem to be missing them at inopportune times. Yes, I'm talking about you, Arthur Moats.


Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Who I like, Ravens part I

Oh the story lines for this game.

The Steelers will be playing without starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger once again against the Ravens. It will mark the seventh time they've faced the Steelers without Roethlisberger since he became the starter in 2004. Baltimore has won five of the previous six matchups.

I think the Steelers will be OK in the long term with Vick at quarterback - and it will be long-term as Roethlisberger is expected to miss closer to six weeks than he is four - but this is a tough spot for the Steelers to get Vick prepared.

They had one "regular" practice on Tuesday and it was more of a glorified walk through. Considering Vick's talents do not mimic those of Roethlisberger, it's a lot to expect to have him be a finished product at this point.

But the Ravens have some issues of their own. In addition to having defensive star Terrell Suggs out for the season, Baltimore will be without tight end Crockett Gillmore, left tackle Eugene Monroe and defensive end Chris Canty.

Monroe is overrated in my opinion, but he is the starter, so anytime you get the backup out there, that's not a good thing.

The big loss is Gillmore, who has emerged as a secondary target behind Steve Smith. Justin Forsett is second on the team with 12 catches, but is averaging four yards a catch.

Does that even things out?

A bit. But not enough in my mind for the Steelers to win this one on a short week.

The Ravens are in circle-the-wagons mode right now at 0-3. I'm not surprised they are struggling. I thought they would be the team in the AFC that would take a step back this year to, say, 8-8. But I didn't expect them to be 0-3 at this point.

If the Steelers can exploit Baltimore's horrid pass defense - you think Pittsburgh's pass defense is bad, wait 'til you get a load of these guys - they can win this game. But I just don't think that Vick, on a short week, will be able to completely do that.

The Steelers will have more than a full week of practices before playing against in two Mondays against San Diego and I expect Vick to be better prepared for that one.

The Ravens are 2 1/2-point favorites for this game and I expect them to cover that line and win, 23-17.

* A housekeeping note: The Steelers waived defensive end Caushaud Lyons Wednesday and elevated linebacker Anthony Chickillo to their 53-man roster.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Mid-week news and notes on a short week

Ben Roethlisberger said today that he feared the worst when he was initially hit in the Steelers' 12-6 win at St. Louis.

According to Roethlisberger, he felt something very wrong with his leg and feared he had broken it. Even after that was ruled out, Roethlisberger was concerned he had torn his ACL.

The initial pop that he felt was attributed to the bones in his knee banging together, something that caused the bone bruise that went along with his MCL sprain.

Roethlisberger wouldn't put a timetable on his return but did say he'd like to return sooner rather than later, Thursday, in fact, against the Ravens.

* Offensive coordinator Todd Haley admitted that he'll have to change things somewhat to tailor the offense toward Mike Vick.

The biggest change for Haley? He said that will be adjusting to a left-handed quarterback.

The Steelers haven't had many lefties over the years - the last was Tyler Palko, who had a cup of coffee here a few years ago.

Haley said because of that, he has to kind of flip his mentality when it comes to where the ball is placed. They will adjust their formations to make the left side the strong side in many cases.

* Haley said he and Vick met Monday night to go over the plays with which Vick is most comfortable and that they will go from there.

But on a short week, Haley said he can't make big changes to the playbook to take advantage of Vick's skill set.

* Another issue will be catching passes with a left-handed spin on them. But that didn't seem to be a problem Tuesday.

The Steelers also adjusted their jugs machine to simulate a lefty, allowing the receivers to get accustomed to that spin.

* Vick still throws a pretty deep ball. It's effortless when he flicks the ball deep.


Monday, September 28, 2015

Tuesday with Tomlin/Monday edition

Mike Tomlin didn't have a lot of time to either celebrate the Steelers' win Sunday at St. Louis or lament the loss of Ben Roethlisberger for at least the next month.

He's got a game Thursday night against an 0-3 Baltimore Ravens team for which to prepare his team.

And Tomlin expects the Ravens to be angry.

"I would imagine that they are not demoralized," Tomlin said. "Quite frankly, I would imagine that they are angry."

That's all well and good. The Ravens should be angry. They should be angry that they laid an egg at Oakland in Week 2. They should be angry that they were shut out at home by Cincinnati and then blew a pair of fourth quarter leads to the Bengals.

* Tomlin did admit the Steelers might have to adjust their offense some to make things easier on quarterback Mike Vick, who has been with the team for just over a month.

It was a rare admittance for Tomlin, who typically wouldn't say something like that about a backup playing.

But the reality is that the quarterback position is the most important position on any football team. People who say it isn't typically don't have one and are trying to trick themselves into believing that isn't true.

The Steelers are 10-8 in games not started by Roethlisberger since they selected him in the first round of the 2004 draft. They are 9-7 overall without him since he took over for an injured Tommy Maddox three weeks into that 2004 season.

A healthy portion of those missed games have, ironically, come against the Ravens, the team against which he saw his first NFL action in place of Maddox.

Since 2004, Thursday's game will mark the seventh game he's missed in his career against the Ravens, though one of those games came because the Steelers chose to sit him. The Steelers are 2-4 against the Ravens without Roethlisberger at quarterback. They are 9-6 against the Ravens when he starts.

* If Roethlisberger is, indeed, out for a month, this game Thursday is an important one. The Steelers have to win at least one of the next four games without Roethlisberger if they hope to still have a shot at the playoffs.

After Baltimore, they travel to San Diego, host Arizona and play at Kansas City. That's a tough stretch.

* Tomlin said linebacker Ryan Shazier is experiencing weakness in his injured shoulder, which would be in line with my initial report of it being a stinger.

A stinger is weakness or numbness caused by a nerve being pinched. It's just lingering with Shazier.


Sunday, September 27, 2015

Post-St. Louis thoughts

The big news coming out of Sunday's 12-6 win by the Steelers is obviously the state of Ben Roethlisberger's left leg.

Roethlisberger was knocked out of Sunday's game in the third quarter on a play that should have been penalized in former head of officiating Mike Pereira's opinion.

There was no penalty on the play and things were left up to the defense to close this one out.

There is a possibility Barron could draw a fine for lunging at Roethlisberger's knee.

As for Roethlisberger's injury, the Steelers are assuming it's a sprained knee and that he'll be out four weeks. That's best-case scenario.

Roethlisberger had an MRI Sunday night to make sure the ACL is not torn, but team doctors are cautiously optimistic that it's not.

In the meantime, the Steelers will turn to Mike Vick.

* There have still be protests outside of Heinz Field regarding Vick, just in case you're wondering.

* The Steelers can all but bury the Ravens with a win over Baltimore Thursday night.

* The way Pittsburgh's defense is playing right now, I wouldn't bet against them. The players have a way of rallying around a backup quarterback.

And the young defense is playing well. Stephon Tuitt and Cam Heyward have been beasts.

In fact, the whole defensive line is continually making plays. Yes, Cam Thomas, I saw you busting through the line into the backfield to force the back to change directions and get stuffed.

* The special teams coverage units also give the Steelers an excellent chance to win each week. The coverage against very dangerous Tavon Austin Sunday was very good.

* The sledding was tough out there for Le'Veon Bell in his first game back, but it will get better. I know Rams were gouged the previous week by Washington, but they did shut down Seattle's run game in Week 1.

* St. Louis came in allowing opponents to complete 81 percent of their passes. Roethlisberger and Vick were a combined 25 of 30, so the Rams lowered their completion percentage allowed.

* The offensive line had its hands full, particularly in the second half with St. Louis' pass rush.

The Rams' defensive line is very, very good, probably the best the Steelers will see.

* It was funny watching Twitter erupt when the Steelers finally missed on a two-point conversion. Yeah, because they were never going to miss.

* At that point, the Steelers had pretty much done what they wanted on offense. Why not go for 2?

* Ryan Shazier had his arm in a sling Sunday. That wasn't the case all week, so there's something going on there that the team was letting on.

I thought Vince Williams would start in his place. The team instead went with Sean Spence. I can't say that was a bad choice. Spence played well.

But I really like Williams' game.

Steelers-Rams game-day thread

Rookie L.T. Walton will see his first  NFL action today for the Steelers against the Rams as he's active with Daniel McCullers out with a knee injury.

Cortez Allen also is out today for the Steelers, meaning the corners will be William Gay, Antwon Blake and Brandon Boykin.

Also inactive for the Steelers are Landry Jones, Ryan Shazier, Chris Hubbard, Jesse James and Caushaud Lyons.

For the Rams, rookie running back Todd Gurley is active. It will be interesting to see how much he's used today. Remember, he hasn't taken a snap since tearing his ACL last November while at Georgia.

Ryan Shazier has his right arm in a sling today on the field. That was not the case all week.

Friday, September 25, 2015

Who I like, Steelers vs. Rams

Guess who's back? No, not just Le'Veon Bell, but Todd Gurley as well. That's the only reason I can figure the line moving this week from the Steelers being favored by 2 1/2 to this being a pick-em game.

Then again, the Steelers' offense over the past two seasons hasn't been as prolific on the road as it has been at home.

Ben Roethlisberger has thrown 26 TD passes and four interceptions in his past nine home games. On the road over the past nine games, those numbers are 10 an 6.

For this Steelers team to truly be a Super Bowl contender - and I believe they are - they have to get more even performances from Roethlisberger in his home-road splits.

This week would be a good time to start.

As mentioned, the Steelers get Bell back. That should be a huge boost. He's yet another difference maker in an offense loaded with them.

But the Rams will see Gurley make his debut. The top back selected in this year's draft, Gurley was the best running back in college last year before tearing his ACL.

As we have seen, however, even when a player returns from an ACL injury, it typically takes some time to round into form.

St. Louis can get after the quarterback, but the Steelers have done a nice job protecting the passer and the insertion of Bell into the equation should only help that. Opponents have to be aware of where he is at all times.

If the Steelers can continue to protect Roethlisberger as they have - he's been hit an NFL-low five times in two weeks - they should win this one going away. The Steelers have done a nice job thus far of stopping the run and I don't see how the Rams keep up unless Pittsburgh turns it over two or three times.

I like the Steelers to win this one, 31-17.

The Dale Lolley Steelers podcast

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Mid-week news and notes

Tyler Murphy was the player released by the Steelers on Wednesday to make room for Le'Veon Bell on the 53-man roster.

It was a bit of a surprise only because I figured the team would wait and release Murphy in two weeks when Martavis Bryant returns.

For this roster spot, I thought L.T. Walton or Caushaud Lyons would be the one released, since the team doesn't need seven defensive linemen.

But Daniel McCullers' knee injury and possible unavailability this week might have cost Murphy his job and saved Walton or Lyons a roster spot for at least a couple of weeks.

Some felt Dri Archer was going to be released. I didn't see that happening and actually had some side bets on it - I won.

The Steelers aren't about to give up on a third-round pick 18 games into his career. Archer also hasn't exactly gotten an opportunity to show one way or another if he's capable of being the kick return guy this season.

Archer got four opportunities to return kicks in the preseason. He averaged 24.5 yards per return - not great, but not bad. And it's a small sample size.

He's gotten one chance to return a kick in the regular season and picked up 22 yards on that one.

The point is, we don't know for certain that Archer can't do it this season. Yes, he stunk doing it last season, but that was just that, last season.

Some fans - and media members - were ready to move on from Archer. The Steelers, however, are not.

* Ben Roethlisberger while talking about the two-point conversion success the team has had early on said the players finally talked Mike Tomlin out of opening Wednesday's practice sessions with 7 Shots - their two-point conversion practice.

He did say they will continue to open with it Thursdays and Fridays.

The Steelers credit their success with two-point conversions to 7-Shots and Roethlisberger said they go into each game with 7 to 10 two-point conversion plays in their back pocket each week.

Roethlisberger said the Steelers will continue to be steady users of the two-point conversion because they are comfortable with it. And more importantly, they are good at it.

* Much is being made about how the Steelers will utilize DeAngelo Williams now that Le'Veon Bell is back.

I don't think it really matters.

Bell is the horse. He needs to be on the field all the time. If there are times when he's spelled by Williams, so be it.

But Williams isn't going to pout if he's not utilized. He knows what he was brought he to do. And he knows who the main guy is.


Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tuesday with Tomlin, other thoughts

Mike Tomlin couldn't talk enough about the St. Louis defensive line, and most notably, Aaron Donald, today at this weekly press conference.

The Rams have five former first-round draft picks on their defensive line and Jeff Fisher has does what he typically does, build his defense from the front to back.

Fisher's defenses have always given the Steelers fits, both because they've typically done a nice job of stuffing the run and getting to the quarterback.

But this group did allow a bunch of rushing yards on Sunday against Washington, which might have the worst roster in the league, losing 24-10.

The Rams stop the run on the way to the quarterback. And if the Steelers can get Le'Veon Bell out on the edge, he could have a lot of success.

The Steelers offensive line also has done an outstanding job both in run blocking and pass blocking in the first two weeks.

That should be a premiere matchup.

* Tomlin spoke a lot about going into a hostile environment this week but I don't know that will be the case.

The Rams announced a crowd of 50,000 or so for their opener against Seattle two weeks ago but that seemed like a stretch.

People in St. Louis aren't supporting this team because it has one foot out the door to Los Angeles.

I have a feeling the stadium could be filled a little closer to capacity this week, but it will be filled with Steelers fans, not those wanting to see the Rams.

* Tomlin said only Daniel McCullers (knee swelling) is on the injury report at this time. He was also asked about Cortez Allen, who also has had issues with knee swelling and missed last week's game.

Tomlin said he's not sure that the current knee issue is the same one Allen was dealing with in the preseason, though it is. I asked if there was a possibility of surgery being needed, but Tomlin said that wasn't the case.

* Tomlin said he's not concerned with placekicker Josh Scobee at this point. Scobee has missed two of four field goal attempts and missed a PAT against the 49ers.

Part of the problem could be new punter Jordan Berry, who is the holder, but that's just a theory on my part. I, and the Steelers, expect Scobee to be better as the season moves on.

* The Ravens, Seahawks and Colts are all 0-2 and history says that 0-2 teams make the playoffs just under 12 percent of the time.

The Colts have the best chance of bucking that trend. They started 0-2 last season and made the playoffs thanks to playing in the AFC South, where they get what should be six easy wins.

Seattle also has a chance to rebound in a pretty wide-open NFC playoff race.

The Ravens, however, are in deep trouble. They host Cincinnati this week and play the Steelers on the road on a short week next Thursday.

An 0-4 start would leave them finished. A 1-3 start is barely passable.

* The Houston Chronicle is reporting that Martavis Bryant is in Houston working with former NBA player and coach John Lucas during his 4-game suspension for marijuana use.

Lucas is well-known for his work with athletes who have issues with drug abuse. This is a good step for Bryant, who is one failed test away from a 10-game suspension.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Post-San Francisco thoughts

I thought the Steelers would come away with a relatively easy victory Sunday against the 49ers. I didn't, however, think it would be as easy as it wound up being.

The key, at least to me, was the defense's ability to do a nice job against the run again.

After limiting the Patriots to 80 rushing yards last week, the Steelers gave up 111 on 31 attempts Sunday. But that doesn't tell the true story.

Nearly half of those rushing yards - 51 - came on eight carries by quarterback Colin Kaepernick. San Francisco's running backs had 60 yards on 23 carries.

We didn't see as many missed tackles as we saw last week, too.

Yes, the 49ers finished with just over 400 yards of total offense, but that number was just over 100 yards and three points in the first half and two third quarter possessions resulted in no scores for the 49ers, as well.

* The Steelers defensive backs came with an attitude in this one as well.

Mike Mitchell had a hit on Carlos Hyde early that some were calling dirty on Twitter. I didn't see that as being the case, as Hyde was still up and fighting for yards when Mitchell came in and hit him on his leg.

Hyde later left with a head injury and did not return.

But the defensive backs were aggressive and that aggressiveness led to some pass breakups, something we didn't see last week at New England.

* Ben Roethlisberger not only wasn't sacked Sunday, he wasn't touched.

There wasn't a lot of running room in this game - though the run game did produce 84 yards - but Roethlisberger had all day to sit back and scan the field. And he made the 49ers pay time and again.

* With all due respect to J.J. Watt or Tom Brady or anyone else, Antonio Brown is the best player in the NFL regardless of position.

Opponents know he's getting the ball. And yet he's constantly open.

Roethlisberger attempted 11 passes to Brown Sunday. He caught nine of them for 195 pounds and a touchdown.

* What does a team do a day after scoring 43 points? How about bench the NFL's second-leading rusher?

The Steelers offensive line is playing really well and so has DeAngelo Williams.

But LeVeon Bell comes back Monday.

That can't be comforting to any opponents.

* Ryan Shazier had 15 tackles, three for a loss, a sack, a fumble and a fumble recovery. And he's still just scratching the surface of what he can do.

The Steelers didn't use Shazier as a spy on Kaepernick. They didn't have to.

He played a short zone and used his speed to run Kaepernick or whoever was carrying the ball, again and again.

Yes. Kaepernick averaged 6.4 yards per rushing attempt. But if Shazier doesn't tackle him on some of those rushing attempts, he might still be running.

Shazier is going to be a special, special player.

* Yes, there is some concern about Josh Scobee's misses. He banged a PAT off the upright Sunday, giving him three misses in two games.

He's got to be better then that. Then again, the Steelers shouldn't be settling for field goals or kicking PATs with this offense.

Friday, September 18, 2015

Friday notes and who I like vs. San Francisco

The Steelers list Brandon Boykin as probable to play this week despite sitting out practice Wednesday and Thursday with a groin injury. Cortez Allen is questionable with his knee issue, which has been an ongoing problem.

Despite Boykin being probable, look for second-year player Ross Crockrell to get the nod as the team's nickel cornerback Sunday against the 49ers.

Cockrell played just a handful of defensive snaps for the Buffalo Bills last season and was released at the end of training camp and quickly scooped up by the Steelers. He's a lanky corner who appears to have good hands.

All of that said, the 49ers are more of a double tight end team than they are one that will go three wide and spread the field. Last week against Minnesota, their No. 3 receiver saw 17 snaps in 60 plus plays from scrimmage.

* If I'm calling the plays for the Steelers in this one, I take a page out of the book teams used against the Steelers in early 2002.

The Steelers were coming off a 13-3 season with Kordell Stewart at quarterback. But they relied heavily on their defense and running game to control game, much like this 49ers team appears with Colin Kaepernick and its 3-4 defense.

I would spread the 49ers out and throw nearly every down as New England and Oakland did to start that season, something that led to Stewart's eventual benching.

I think Kaepernick is a more refined passer than Stewart, but Stewart, with a young Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress had better receivers.

The plan should be to score and keep scoring to force the 49ers' limited offense to throw the ball to keep up.

If the game stays close, the 49ers will be content to continue hurling Carlos Hyde into the line. The Steelers allowed just 80 rushing yards last week against New England, but they did get hurt on a couple of runs by Dion Lewis.

Hyde isn't as shifty as Lewis, but he's more shifty than you might think.

I would want to put the game on Kaepernick's shoulder's and force him to win it. In 40 career starts, he has 14 games with fewer than 200 passing yards and three with more than 300.

He also was sacked 52 times last season on 478 pass attempts.

Get the lead, make him throw and go after him.

I think the Steelers will do that, break the game open in the second half and come away with a 26-20 victory with San Francisco getting a late window dressing score.

* Here's my podcast on this week's game http://www.observer-reporter.com/article/20150918/SPORTS0403/150919416#.VfxmB01WgYo.twitter

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Mid-week news and notes

So much for Brandon Boykin getting into the lineup.

Boykin was sidelined by a groin injury today, joining Cortez Allen (knee) on the sidelines.

That left Will Gay, Antwon Blake and newcomer Ross Cockrell as the Steelers' top three corners.

I hadn't paid much attention to Cockrell since he signed last week after final cutdowns following his release by Buffalo, but he's a long, lanky corner and it looks like he has good hands.

I don't know that the Steelers will be in a ton of nickel defense this week since San Francisco's not exactly going to use a lot of three-wide sets and try to spread the Steelers out, but from what I saw, Cockrell wouldn't be a bad fallback. At this point, he's certainly a better option than Doran Grant.

That's no knock on Grant. Cockrell just has more experience.

* Saw Shaun Suisham at the facility today. He's out of his knee brace and walking normally. It looks like his surgery was a success.

That's good news for Suisham, who's one of the nicest guys you'll find.

* Will Allen was cleared of his concussion and was back on the practice field.

That's good news, since the Steelers remain intent on starting him over Shamarko Thomas, at least in the short term.

But they'll have to keep a close eye on Allen. San Francisco's Carlos Hyde is a very physical runner.

*Antonio Brown has caught seven or more passes in 12-straight games. That's an NFL record. He just might be the most unstoppable force going in football today.

He had nine catches in the opener. If he averages nine catches per game, he'll break Marvin Harrison's single-season receptions record.

Is that possible? Sure. If Bill Belichick didn't devise a way to slow Brown, can anyone else?

* Bonus pick: The Broncos visit the Kansas City Chiefs Thursday night having won 12 consecutive road games within the division.

But Kansas City is a 3-point favorite in this one.

I like Kansas City's pass rush against a revamped Denver offensive line, especially in that stadium, which is the loudest in the NFL.

Take Kansas City to go to 2-0 with a 24-17 victory.


Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Tuesday with Tomlin

While Brandon Boykin confirmed Monday that he had worked as the nickel corner with the first-team defense here, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin, not wanting to tip his hand, would only say that Boykin is under "strong consideration" for more playing time this week against San Francisco.

Tomlin was asked today why Boykin didn't play last week against New England, as the team went with William Gay, Antwon Blake and Cortez Allen against the Patriots.

He simply replied, "We chose to go with other guys."

That explanation won't satisfy, well, anyone, but Tomlin doesn't have to divulge his reasons, either.

It could have been a myriad of things. But most notably, it shouldn't have surprised anyone. Boykin got very little work with the No. 1 nickel unit in the preseason because he hadn't beaten any of those guys out. There were some thoughts he was dealing with a minor, nagging injury.

Now, after last week's game, Tomlin has reason to make a move. Like it or not, this is typically how the Steelers work.

They rarely just move a guy out of a starting spot because they think someone else might be better. I can only think of it happening a couple of times since I've covered the team.

One was Ryan Shazier last season. The other was Jarvis Jones in 2013.

Shazier started from the opening day of OTAs over Vince Williams, while Jones was inserted as a co-starter with Jason Worilds.

Other first-round picks, star rookies or even free agents had to earn their spots. Boykin got a late start coming in a week into training camp. It wasn't out of character for the Steelers to start the guys who had been here longer.

* Tomlin noted that the Steelers pass rushers had better be ready to keep San Francisco QB Colin Kaepernick in the pocket this week.

Kaepernick scrambled seven times for 41 yards against Minnesota Monday night, converting some of those runs on third down into first downs.

The 49ers also ran the ball well with Carlos Hyde. This will be a game to break out the big boy pads.

* Conversely, Tomlin also noted that the 49ers stuffed Adrian Peterson, limiting him to 31 yards on 10 carries.

San Francisco's line dominated the Vikings. The Steelers had better be prepared to attack the line of scrimmage on both sides of the ball.

* Depth chart change: Will Allen is now officially listed as the starter at strong safety and Tomlin said Shamarko Thomas needs to be better "above the shoulders."

The Steelers aren't giving up on Thomas by any stretch. But he's struggling with some of the new concepts he's being asked to play.

* At right cornerback, it lists Cortez Allen or Blake as the starter. Allen was listed as the starter last week, but Blake actually started.

I thought Allen - who got called for a terrible pass interference penalty - had a better game than Blake last week, but it was very close.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Week 1 musings

Half the fan bases in the league right now are singing the blues while the other half are printing playoff tickets.

It's way too early for both.

But we did see some things in the opening week of NFL play - Monday night's games aside - that give us a glimpse of the way of things.

Steelers fans are going nuts about the team's secondary after Tom Brady threw four TDs against Pittsburgh  in the opener.

I've even seen comments where people are saying they wish Dick LeBeau was back. I respect the hell out of Dick LeBeau. He's probably the greatest defensive mind I've ever been around.

But the last time the Steelers visited New England, the Patriots hung 28 points on the Steelers - IN THE FOURTH QUARTER - and put 55 points on the board.

And before you say that the Patriots took their foot off the gas and could have kept scoring, realize that they threw the ball 10 times in the fourth quarter. They ran it seven times. They were still trying to score.

* Peyton Manning might be done. He looked much the same as the Manning that finished the 2014 season.

The Broncos later said Manning was dealing with a leg injury that led to his poor play in December. But Denver's offensive line stinks. And Manning can't get anything on the ball.

* Tough blow for the Ravens losing Terrell Suggs for the season with a torn Achilles' tendon.

That's the second time Suggs has torn his Achilles. That's not good for a guy who turns 33 in October.

Steelers fans hate Suggs. I get that. He's brash and he's been a very good player for a long time for a hated rival.

But you have to respect the way he plays the game and the heat he brings to the rivalry between the two teams.

It won't be the same this year.

* Tyler Eifert had nine catches for 104 yards and two scores for the Bengals in the opener after missing his rookie season with an elbow injury.

It's an embarrassment of riches on offense for the Bengals right now. Two good running backs, three very good receivers and now Eifert.

Andy Dalton might not have to be anything special with all of those offensive weapons.

* The Colts were a chic pick to win the Super Bowl or at least get there - note, I picked them to win the AFC myself.

But the offensive line is garbage. Andrew Luck will be running for his life all season.

* The most impressive AFC team of the day might have been Kansas City, which was my pick to win the AFC West.

I'm not going to count the Titans since they were playing a garbage team in Tampa Bay, though Marcus Mariota did play well.

Titans coach Ken Whisenhunt knows how to handle rookie quarterbacks.

* Odell Beckham has been compared to Antonio Brown. And for good reason. They're the same size and have a very similar skill set.

But with the game on the line Sunday night against the Cowboys, the Giants chose not to go to their best receiver. In fact, Beckham got just eight targets in that game altogether.

He finished with five catches for 44 yards.

People make fun of Brown's streak of 33 consecutive games with at least five catches and 50 yards, calling it a made up NFL record. OK, it is.

But he also has a streak of at least five catches for 70 yards that is now 20 consecutive games.

That's because the Steelers don't care if he's double teamed - he almost always is - they still find ways to get him the ball.

The Giants didn't do that with Beckham - easily their best offensive weapon - and lost.



Friday, September 11, 2015

Post-Patriots thoughts

Mike Tomlin was very upset that his team's coaching headsets were picking up only the Patriots' radio broadcast in the first half of Thursday night's game.

In fact, Tomlin said it's something that seems to happen in New England every time the Steelers play here.

The Steelers asked the league to look into the situation and NFL Vice President of Communications Michael Signora released a statement following the game.

"In the first quarter of tonight's game, the Pittsburgh coaches experienced interference in their headsets caused by a stadium power infrastructure issue, which was exacerbated by the inclement weather. The coaches' communications equipment, including the headsets, is provided by the NFL for both clubs' use on game day. Once the power issue was addressed, the equipment functioned properly with no additional issues."

So there's that.

* The Steelers did have some communication problems in this game - at least from a coaching standpoint.

On Tom Brady's first TD pass to Rob Gronkowski, the Steelers had just 10 defenders on the field.

* Tomlin when asked if he has any concerns about placekicker Josh Scobee said he has none.

That's fine. Kickers aren't going to be perfect.

But those six points the Steelers left out there were costly.

Then again, so were the two touchdowns the team missed - one when Roethlisberger threw late to Darrius Heyward-Bey in the end zone and Heyward-Bey stepped out of bounds as he went to the ground, the other when left tackle Kelvin Beachum false started inside the 1-yard line on third and goal.

Score a TD in either situation and it's a different game.

Actually, when the Steelers scored to make it 21-11, had they scored on the Heyward-Bey play and made both field goals, it would have been tied at 21-21.

* I don't understand the teeth gnashing over the defense in this one. That was Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski the Steelers were playing against.

And the defense gave up 28 points. This was a game in which many people were saying they expected the Patriots to hang 50 on this defense.

Yes, Brady completed 19 passes in a row at one point, but most were short passes. And they actually sacked him twice and got decent pressure considering he was getting the ball out quickly.

There were some positive signs there.

* The Steelers' offensive line really dominated the line of scrimmage against the Patriots. DeAngelo Williams averaged 6.0 yards per carry and really only got stuffed a couple of times as he had 127 yards on 21 attempts.

That bodes well for things down the road.

* The Steelers could have done a better job on Gronkowski but that's why that guy is who he is.

Put a defensive back on him and he's going to win the physical battle. Put a linebacker on him and he's going to use his speed and agility to get free.

We saw all of that in this one.

Gronkowski's a hall-of-fame talent. And the Steelers got burned by him.

* The defending Super Bowl champions are now 10-0 when they open the season at home on a Thursday night.

That's no fluke.

But I thought the Steelers represented themselves well. They left some plays on the field that could have changed the outcome of this game. They dominated the line of scrimmage. They were a couple of plays here or there from having a chance to win.

And I think that will help this team, especially defensively, with its confidence.

As Antonio Brown said to some Patriots fans as he walked to the team bus, "We'll see you again."

He meant it.

Yes, this was a loss. But the Patriots didn't simply outclass the Steelers, as they did back in 2013, when they beat them 55-31.

This was a bit of a dogfight. And that bodes well for the Steelers the rest of the way.

They won't play in too many situations where the environment will be more hostile. They won't face many quarterbacks or receivers who are better. And they held their own.

They were beaten, yes, but they weren't embarrassed.

* One of the big questions for fans was why Brandon Boykin didn't play in the defense. Quite frankly, they felt Antwon Blake has outplayed Boykin to this point.

That doesn't mean Boykin won't be out there at some point, but remember, he's still only been with the team a month.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Steelers-Pats game-day thread

Welcome from Gillette Stadium.

It's rainy and chilly here with thunder storms in the area until about 10:30 p.m. Hopefully, we don't have a lightning delay tonight.

The Steelers inactives include Landry Jones, tight end Jesse James, wide receiver Sammie Coates, cornerback Ross Cockrell, defensive end L.T. Walton, offensive lineman Chris Hubbard and defensive end Caushaud Lyons.

Coates is a bit of a surprise. He has more special team ability than Tyler Murphy. But obviously Murphy is viewed as a more complete receiver at this point,

New running back Jordan Todman getting a hat also is a surprise. He's been with the team for less than a week. We'll see what kind of playing time he gets, if any.

For New England, the big deactivation is Ryan Wendell, who is listed as the starter at right guard. With starter Bryan Stork already on IR with a designation to return, it was assumed Wendell would start at center. Now, it appears that job will fall to rookie David Andrews.

The Patriots also are expected to start rookie Shaq Mason at guard in place of Wendell, who was not on the injury list all week.

Should make things interesting.

Tuesday, September 08, 2015

Thoughts going into NE game

Pretty much everyone is writing this game off as a loss for the Steelers.

And they're pointing at the defense as the main culprit.

Guess what? It hasn't mattered how good of a defense the Steelers have taken to New England. The Patriots have still rung up a bunch of points on them. That's what they do, particularly at home.

The defending Super Bowl champions also are 9-0 with an average winning margin of 11 points in Thursday night openers at home since the league started kicking off its season in this fashion in 2004.

At some point, the champions have to lose one of these games, right?

I don't think it will happen in this case, but I expect the Steelers defense to play better this season than most people seem to think.

The preseason showed us little in terms of what this defense will be like in 2015.

Mike Mitchell played 22 snaps. Lawrence Timmons didn't play after the opener. Stephon Tuitt sat out the final two games. Will Allen, who will start at strong safety, started only the opener.

The Steelers were both 18th in total and scoring defense in 2014, not last as many would lead you to believe.

I believe they have, at worst, a middle-of-the-pack defense again this season. But it also is one with some upside potential.

And it doesn't have to be a top-5 defense for this team to win games, not with the offense the Steelers will put out there on a weekly basis.

The Patriots are 7-point favorites in this game and I think they'll cover, 37-28, but it will be closer than many think.

* Plenty of people are pointing at the benching of Shamarko Thomas as a failure by him to win the starting job and thus a failure of the front office.

I don't think that's the case on either point.

Will Allen gives this team the best chance to win at New England because he not only has more playing experience, he's got more experience playing the Cover-2.

I truly believe the Steelers looked at Thomas' preseason - he struggled in space in the Cover-2 - and decided Allen gave them a better chance to win now.

That doesn't mean that Thomas is being given up on. He was, however, drafted to play a different style of safety than what the Steelers are currently asking of him.

That doesn't mean he can't learn that and be part of the equation at some point this season. It just means he wasn't ready now.

* I wouldn't be surprised to see the Steelers play some dime defense against the Patriots, who will likely be starting James White or Brandon Bolden at running back with LeGarrette Blount suspended.

Both White and Bolden are bigger threats as pass catchers than they are as runners. Getting an extra defensive back on the field who can cover and yet also tackle, say Robert Golden, could be the way to go.

* Antwon Blake also told Jim Wexell of Scout.com that he expects to start in the base 3-4.

That's all well and good, but I don't expect the Steelers to play a whole lot of base in this game. Cortez Allen, who has been bothered by a sore knee throughout training camp, will see plenty of playing time.

* I also don't expect newly signed running back Jordan Todman to be active on Thursday. Todman was signed Sunday and could play if he absolutely had to, but the Steelers feel comfortable with Will Johnson and Dri Archer backing up DeAngelo Williams.

Williams is going to have to shoulder a big load the next two weeks. Despite being 32 and a 10-year veteran, he's had 20 or more carries in a game just 14 times in his career. Ten of those 20-plus carry games have been 100-yard games for him.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

Sunday news, notes

Shamarko Thomas told me this morning that the coaching staff has decided to go with Will Allen over him at strong safety this week against the Patriots.

It's a demotion to be sure, but it doesn't necessarily mean that Thomas is done as a player.

He was visibly upset when I spoke to him, but I don't think he'll just give up. I think Thomas will continue fighting and trying to get better.

In the meantime, the Steelers will go with a more experienced player at strong safety - one who is especially more experienced in the Cover-2 defense that Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler want to run.

Allen has long been a Tomlin favorite. He was the defensive backs coach in Tampa back in 2004 when Allen was drafted and Tomlin then brought Allen to Pittsburgh in 2010.

Allen is a stay-at-home safety. He trusts his eyes and instincts. He's not going to make a bunch of big plays for you, but he'll play the defense as it's called and won't make many mistakes, either.

* The Steelers signed veteran running back Jordan Todman, who was waived by Carolina Saturday, and claimed rookie defensive end Caushaud Lyons off waivers from Tampa Bay.

Todman, you'll remember, torched the Steelers for a 49-yard run in the preseason finale, when he had 72 yards on five carries. He's also spent time with Jacksonville and has 450 yards and three TDs on 111 carries.

Lyons (6-5, 295) was considered a prototypical 3-4 defensive end prospect in this year's draft. The Tusculum product is, however, raw.

To make room for them on the roster, the Steelers waived both Doran Grant and Anthony Chickillo.

The Steelers will try to get both of those guys back on their practice squad.

* It was interesting that the team didn't IR Maurkice Pouncey to make either of those moves. There should be another coming, with Pouncey designated to return at some point this season.

* The practice squad - at least for now, is running back Dominique Brown, defensive back Jordan Dangerfield, offensive linemen Reese Dismukes and Antonio Johnson, linebackers L.J. Fort and Shayon Green, defensive end Ethan Hemer, wide receivers Shakim Phillips and Jarrod West, and tight end Harold Spears.

* Ben Roethlisberger, Cam Heyward, Will Gay and Robert Golden were voted team captains on Sunday.

This is the first time Gay and Heyward have been so honored, while Golden was special teams captain last year.

* According to Mike Tomlin, Lawrence Timmons and Mike Mitchell were back at practice today. Stephon Tuitt also confirmed his participation.

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Steelers cuts are in

The Steelers have made several roster moves, trimming their roster to the league-mandated 53 players prior to today’s 4 p.m. deadline, the team announced.

Released were running backs Jawon Chisholm and Josh Harris, defensive linemen Matt Conrath, Ethan Hemer and Mike Thornton, safeties Jordan Dangerfield, Alden Darby and Gerod Holliman, offensive linemen Reese Dismukes, B.J. Finney and Doug Legursky, cornerbacks Kevin Fogg and B.W. Webb, linebackers L.J. Fort, Shayon Green and Howard Jones, and wide receivers Shakim Phillips and Jarrod West.

The Steelers placed offensive linemen Kelvin Palmer and Mitchell Van Dyk on the team’s Waived/Injured List. Both were injured in Thursday's preseason finale against Carolina.

Legursky likely will be re-signed Sunday after Maurkice Pouncey is placed on injured reserve with a designation to return.


The Steelers also signed free agent cornerback Ross Cockrell to a one-year contract. The 6-0, 190-pound Duke University product entered the NFL as a fourth-round (109th overall) draft selection of the Buffalo Bills in 2014 and appeared in seven games during his rookie season. He was released by Buffalo last month. Cockrell will wear No. 31.

* Mike Tomlin said today that Dri Archer and Antonio Brown will both return punts this season and that Archer and Markus Wheaton will both return kicks.

* My initial thoughts on the Steelers' roster are that there are still some moves to be made.

This is a team that needs to find an upgrade at defensive end for sure. Another veteran offensive lineman would help as well.

Some are concerned about running back - but it's a short-term need. Same thing at wide receiver.

The Steelers could address those positions from the players released Saturday, but it's likely that they will wait until next Friday or Saturday to make any moves.

A veteran who is signed before Week 1 has his whole base salary guaranteed. If you wait until after the first week, it is not.

Unless it's a player who is getting a lot of action on the market, the team will likely wait and let the roster ride this week.

* Gerod Holliman was the only draft pick who was released.


Thursday, September 03, 2015

Post-Carolina thoughts

Thank God that ugly, ridiculous preseason is over.

In their final two preseason games, the Steelers gave up more than 1,000 yards of offense in losses to Buffalo and Carolina, as their backups proved that many of them don't belong in the NFL.

That's not to say there aren't some guy who can play on those units, but the Steelers don't have much of a JV squad this season.

That might not bode well over the course of a 16-game season. Some of the backups will be pressed into action at some point. And unless it's at the right position - inside linebacker, perhaps CB - they will be in deep trouble defensively.

I've been saying all along the Steelers only have four NFL-caliber defensive linemen. But after watching Daniel McCullers get moved around by the Panthers reserves Thursday night, they might not even have that.

The Steelers had better scour the waiver list Friday and Saturday and come up with one or even two defensive linemen and another offensive linemen.

* Shamarko Thomas, one of just two defensive starters to play in this game along with linebacker Arthur Moats, was getting killed on social media for taking a bad angle on Jordan Todman's 49-yard touchdown run in the second quarter.

Thomas did take a bad angle, but part of the problem was that Todman came through completely untouched through the line. Gotta at least get one hand on him up there, don't you?

* Mike Tomlin singled out Roosevelt Nix as a guy who stood out to him in this game thanks to a blocked punt. That's the kind of thing that will win you a roster spot, regardless of position.

And the fact that fullback Will Johnson got four carries late in the game tells me the Steelers might be leaning toward keeping Nix over Josh Harris.

Harris was hurt a lot this preseason and didn't do much against Carolina or Buffalo.

Could they go with DeAngelo Williams, Johnson, Nix and Dri Archer to open the season until Le'Veon Bell gets back in Week 3?

Why not? Unless there's another back cut loose that can really help them - in which case, he'll be in demand - that's still better than what they went into the playoff game against Baltimore with last season.

* Tomlin also said the picking a punter will be difficult not because both guys stunk, but because both guys really kicked well.

It's a good problem to have. I'd keep Jordan Berry. I saw how Brad Wing's kicks got shorter and shorter as the weather got colder last season.

Wing has kicked well in this preseason, but Berry has better hang time and, as we saw Thursday night, he can kick a knuckleball that is difficult to catch,

* I expect the Steelers to cut down Friday. They will then scan the waiver wire after putting Maurkice Pouncey on short-term IR and see what's available.

There could also be more cuts Sunday after guys clear waivers. It's going to be an interesting process.

Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Steelers kick tires on Taylor

The Steelers surprisingly - or not surprisingly - brought in defensive tackle Phil Taylor for a visit, 24 hours after he had been released by Cleveland.

In a way it's a surprising move because Taylor is a nose tackle, a position at which the Steelers have depth.

 At the same time, it shows just how desperate the team is to acquire NFL-caliber defensive linemen. Right now, they have four.

They need at least five and possibly six.

It could just be a case of the Steelers kicking the tires on Taylor, who has had some serious knee issues, in case they need to sign him.

But the Steelers are in a pretty bad spot on the defensive line. They'll be watching the cuts very closely.

@ I've been asked several times for a 53-man roster update. But there's been so much going on with this team in the past couple of weeks, I haven't had time.

Well, here's what I think heading into the preseason finale.

Quarterback (3): Ben Roethlisberger, Michael Vick and Landry Jones - Pretty cut and dried. You can argue until your face turns blue about Jones and/or keeping three QBs. It's what Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin believe in.

Running back/Fullback: (4) DeAngelo Williams, Dri Archer, Will Johnson, Josh Harris - Harris has done nothing to earn this, but Jawon Chisholm hasn't been great, either. Perhaps Roosevelt Nix gets the spot to open the season. He could line up as a lead blocker for Johnson. The Steelers get a roster exemption for two games for LeVeon Bell but I can't see them going to New England next week with three running backs on the roster.

Wide receiver: (5) Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Sammie Coates, Tyler Murphy - Again, they get a roster exemption for four games for Martavis Bryant. I'm keeping Murphy, who has shown me enough to keep me interested in his future.

Tight end: (3) Heath Miller, Matt Spaeth, Jesse James - The last men standing. Pretty easy.

Offensive line (9): Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster, Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Marcus Gilbert, Cody Wallace, Alejandro Villanueva, Doug Legursky, Chris Hubbard. Steelers will put Pouncey on IR with designation to return.

Defensive line (5): Cam Heyward, Steve McLendon, Stephon Tuitt, Daniel McCullers and Mystery Lineman No. 1 from parts unknown, weight unknown. Walton has promise, I suppose, but he's not ready to play. The Steelers need a DE to back up Heyward and Tuitt. They don't currently have one.

Linebacker (10): Jarvis Jones, Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Arthur Moats, James Harrison, Bud Dupree, Sean Spence, Terence Garvin, Vince Williams, Anthony Chickillo. I'm trying to trade Garvin or Williams, if I'm the Steelers, to get back the draft picks I've already dealt away. If that happens, I'm keeping L.J. Fort, who was picked up a couple of weeks ago but has flashed as a special teams guy. But that goes to show that those kind of guys can be had cheap. Fort has already been released by Seattle and New England this year.

Defensive backs (10): Cortez Allen, William Gay, Brandon Boykin, Antwon Blake, Doran Grant and B.W. Webb at CB; Mike Mitchell, Shamarko Thomas, Will Allen, Robert Golden and Ross Ventrone at safety. Tough cuts here. Josh Fogg has consistently made plays throughout training camp and the offseason and has the team's lone interception in the preseason. But he's not beating out one of the top four, so you slide him to the practice squad over Grant, who would get claimed, and Webb, who would be claimed. At safety, it's Ventrone for special teams purposes over anyone else.

Specialists (3): Josh Scobee, Greg Warren and Jordan Berry. I'm keeping Berry because of his big leg. But it wouldn't surprise me if Wing wins it again. It's a very even battle.




Tuesday, September 01, 2015

Kind of a newsy day

It was kind of a newsy day on the South Side today to let's dig into some of the major topics.

I found it interesting that the Steelers cleared about $6 million in salary cap space by restructuring the contracts of tight end Heath Miller, placekicker Shaun Suisham and wideout Antonio Brown.

Brown's deal, in particular, was revealing.

While Miller and Suisham had straight restructures done - turning salary into signing bonus - Brown's deal moved $2 million of his 2016 salary moved to this season to up his pay to $8 million,

He's now scheduled to earn $6.25 million in 2016 and will have one year remaining on his contract after that. But this move tells me the Steelers are likely to negotiate a contract extension with their star receiver after the season is completed.

* The money freed up could be used on a contract extension with left tackle Kelvin Beachum.

The Steelers entered the day with a decent amount of cap space, between $10 and $15 million, though it's tough to keep track at this time of year. Picking up a little over $2 million for new placekicker Josh Scobee was an added expense.

But the Steelers still would like to get something done with Beachum. Perhaps that will happen in the next few days.

* I really think Martavis Bryant is sorry for the position he put the Steelers in with his suspension for smoking marijuana. He has talked to his teammates about it and they are understandably upset with him.

But when Bryant continues with his "I don't know how this happened" act, as he did again Tuesday, it comes off as disingenuous.

Mike Tomlin was forthcoming about the situation Tuesday. Bryant should have been as well. It would make his statements about not wanting to put the team in this situation again a little more believable.

Then again, it doesn't matter if the fans and media believe him. It only matters if he has the trust of the team.

That obviously is shaken. Hence the selection of wide receiver Sammie Coates in the third round of this year's draft, something Tomlin said was a reaction to Bryant's pending suspension.

* Scobee hasn't played for a winning team since 2007. The Steelers haven't had a losing record since 2003.

Think the former Jacksonville kicker is a little happy today?

* Tomlin said he is a little concerned that his presumed starting safeties, Mike Mitchell and Shamarko Thomas, haven't been on the field at lot together in this preseason.

He's not, however, concerned enough to play them together Thursday against the Panthers, saying they got plenty of time together in the offseason.

We'll find out if that's the case in a week and a half in New England.





Monday, August 31, 2015

Steelers trade for Scobee

The Steelers on Monday traded for placekicker Josh Scobee, who had spent all of his career in Jacksonville.

On the surface, it seems like a move made out of desperation. But when you look a little deeper, it appears the Steelers might have made an upgrade not only over Garrett Hartley, but over Shaun Suisham - at least in some aspects - as well.

Scobee has long been one of the better long-distance kickers in the league, making 62 percent of his career kicks from 50 yards and beyond. And, perhaps more importantly, he is a legitimate kickoff guy.

Scobee had an off season last year on field goal attempts, making 20 of 26 - though three of the misses were beyond 50 yards - but he had 63 kickoffs and just 20 of them were  returned.

Suisham had 89 kickoffs last season, but 54 were returned.

Hartley, well, he wasn't much of a kickoff guy at all. In fact, he just wasn't good at it, kicking line drives that failed to make it into the end zone.

Scobee's career make percentage of 80.9 percent isn't as good as Suisham's 84.1, but what the Steelers will give up - at least for this year - in made field goal percentage, they'll gain in kickoffs.

The big thing with Scobee is that he'll cost the Steelers $3.4 million this season. He'll be a free agent at the end of the year, so they'll likely go back to Suisham. The Steelers and Jaguars are splitting Scobee's salary.

That could be enough to still do something with Kelvin Beachum before the season starts, but time is running out on that.

* The Martavis Bryant suspension news came down today.

I'm not going to delve into it to greatly, but I did clear up a couple of things.

This would have been Bryant's third positive test. The first puts you in the system and for the second, you are docked two game checks. The third positive test now results in a mandatory four-game suspension.

Obviously, the Steelers knew about Bryant's other positive tests. It's likely a big reason why they selected Sammie Coates, who has a similar skill set to Bryant, at least in terms of speed and size, in the third round of the draft this year.

Also, both Bryant and Le'Veon Bell will be permitted in the Steelers practice facility during their suspensions.

This was not always the case. The league used to ban players who were suspended from team facilities during those periods. Now, that is only the case, at least for banned substances, if the suspension is under one year in length.

If the player is suspended for PED usage, they are not permitted in the facility at any time.

* The team made its roster cutdowns today to 75. The only players that stood out to me were safety Ian Wild and receiver C.J. Goodwin.

Wild, who also has lined up at linebacker at times, might have lost out to Jordan Dangerfield's knockout blow on special teams against the Bills. I still think he'll be a possibility to come back on the practice squad.

Goodwin also was released in the first roster cutdowns last year and was signed back to the practice squad. But he missed a significant portion of training camp with a shoulder injury, which hurt his chances.

In many cases, the first cutdown is made to make sure the team has enough players at each position to get through the final preseason game.

Don't read too much into players being let go now.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Post-Buffalo thoughts

That was a defensive performance worthy of a team that was missing three key starters - Stephon Tuitt, Lawrence Timmons and Mike Mitchell - up the middle.

That's right where the Bills gashed the Steelers on the first two drives - when the "rest" of the starters were out there.

Rookie L.T. Walton got the start for Tuitt and got completely blown out on Fred Jackson's 41-yard run on Buffalo's first play from scrimmage.

That helped allow Ryan Shazier to get engulfed as well, and then it was off to the races for Jackson in the Steelers secondary, where Mitchell's speed might have been a factor in getting him on the ground after, say, a 20-yard gain.

On the next possession, Vince Williams didn't get nearly the depth he needed in his zone against tight end Charles Clay, who turned in a 67-yard TD.

Williams, of course, was starting in place of Timmons.

Do we give the defense a pass for that? Nope.

We haven't seen much of the first-team defense on the field in training camp or the preseason. And that, in itself, is a problem.

But Tuitt, Mitchell and Timmons should be ready to go for the start of the regular season.

* Mike Tomlin was ticked that many of the backups, who played from about the second series on, looked completely overmatched and didn't put up a lot of fight.

That is disturbing, especially with cutdowns looming.

I know it's not been the Steelers' MO over the years, but they should be scouring the waiver wire looking for depth in the next week.

They could use a defensive end who is ready to play - I'd keep a close eye on Buffalo, where Alex Carrington and Red Bryant are both far down the depth charts - for sure.

And now placekicker is again a problem after Garrett Hartley pulled his hamstring on a kickoff.

* Jordan Berry did a credible job kicking off and probably won the punting job with a 58.3 average on his four kicks.

Included in that was a 78-yarder out of his own end zone. That's putting the exclamation point on a day.

* Maybe Michael Vick has more in the tank than I gave him credit for.

* DeAngelo Williams has flashed enough to tell me the Steelers will be fine without LeVeon Bell for two games.

And Darrius Heyward-Bey is a credible enough deep threat to still get the attention of opposing defenses - dude had nearly 1,000 yards receiving for the Raiders a couple of years ago, after all.

But Cody Wallace is going to have to be better than he was in this one if he wants to be the long-term replacement for Maurkice Pouncey.

Corbin Bryant looked like a guy who had something to prove Saturday playing against the team that drafted and released him, but you can't allow him to get to Ben Roethlisberger right out of the gate on the opening series. That's a tone setter.

* Jordan Dangerfield is limited in coverage, but boy does he like to hit people - hard.

I know that's not allowed in today's NFL, but his physical presence and the way he plays reminds me of a young James Harrison.

Like Harrison, the Steelers have cut Dangerfield loose a couple of times, as well.

* Yes, the Bills' QBs picked the Steelers' defense apart. But if Brandon Boykin holds onto what should have been one of the easiest interceptions in his career, he walks into the end zone.

And the entire first half has a much different feel to it.

The dropped interception came after the Steelers had forced Buffalo to punt following its third possession.

A quick score there would have possibly stemmed the tide.

As it was, it was one of just two incompletions the Buffalo quarterbacks threw in the first half and one of three in the game.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Steelers game day thread

Should be an interesting game today at Ralph Wilson Stadium between the Steelers and Bills.

It was a somewhat turbulent week for the Steelers with the loss of center Maurkice Pouncey, signing of Mike Vick and news that Martavis Bryant will be suspended for the first four games of the season.

Today will give Cody Wallace a chance to show he can play at center against a very good front four for Buffalo.

The Steelers will definitely want to see that.

Vick is also expected to see some playing time today. It likely won't be much, but it wouldn't surprise me to see him at some point in the first half with the first unit.

Speaking of that, we'll also get to see a good bit of DeAngelo Williams with the starters as well today. The Steelers want to give him a chance to play with the 1s considering that he'll be one of them in two weeks when they play at New England thanks to Le'Veon Bell's two-game suspension.

That brings us to Bryant. The team has still not gotten confirmation from the NFL that Bryant will be suspended to open the season. That will likely come next week at some point when his appeal is heard.

Expect the Steelers to work Darrius Heyward-Bey into the lineup with the starters some today to help prepare for that. Scratch that. Heyward-Bey is not dressed today, which is interesting.

It would have been a good day for him to work with Ben Roethlisberger and company, but they got plenty of work together in the offseason and training camp.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Another day, another controversy for your Steelers

This has turned into one of the more eventful weeks in Steelers' history - at least for a preseason week.

First, the Steelers lost center Maurkice Pouncey to a broken leg and backup QB Bruce Gradkowski to a finger and shoulder injuries last Sunday in a preseason win over Green Bay.

Then, Mike Vick was signed on Tuesday to replace Gradkowski, who was placed on injured reserve.

Finally, Adam Schefter of ESPN reported Thursday that wide receiver Martavis Bryant will be suspended the first four games of the season for violation of the league drug policy.

Coupled with Le'Veon Bell's two-game suspension to open the season, the Steelers could definitely be behind the 8 ball a little when the season opens.

Bryant is being roundly ripped for his possible suspension - which he is appealing.

It's automatically assumed that Bryant's violation was for an illegal drug, such as marijuana. But we don't know that - though ESPN is now reporting that is is a marijuana violation.

If that is the case, that means he's a second-time offender. And if this is his second offense, he's been randomly tested a lot.

It appears the Steelers will be without his services for the first month of the season.

That means Darrius Heyward-Bey will step into a more prominent role, at least to start the season.

With Bryant suspended, the Steelers almost certainly have to account for that on their roster, whether it be keeping a sixth wide receiver or using Dri Archer as the fifth or sixth guy.

That trickles down to the rest of the roster, which is why I have avoided doing a 53-man projection to this point.