Visit NFL from the sidelines on the new Observer-Reporter site:

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Tuesday with Tomlin

Updates on Roethlisberger, Pouncey at NFL From the Sidelines

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.