Tuesday, September 02, 2014

Browns Week: Hello, Cleveland.

What do we really know about the 2014 Cleveland Browns? ... other than that, from top to bottom, they are probably the most dysfunctional organization in the NFL and that they had probably the most tumultuous off-season of any franchise. On the field, however, what can we expect to see on Sunday at Heinz Field?

What we do know is that the Browns have a rookie head coach, Mike Pettine, about whom questions are already being asked.  And it is fair to question the way he's handled the two-headed quarterback monster that is the combination of Brian Hoyer and Johnny Manziel.

As for the coordinators, Cleveland's offensive coordinator is the polarizing Kyle Shanahan.

The Browns have some good personnel on defense, but, in Jim O'Neil, they have a first-time NFL defensive coordinator. Nobody knows how he's going to handle the defense, which also happens to be Pettine's specialty, so we can expect to see his stamp on it to some extent.

Back on offense, this will be the first time former Steeler (for about 20 minutes) Brian Hoyer opens a season as an NFL starting quarterback. The Browns plan to do a "running back by committee" approach, according to Pettine, and they have a pretty good offensive line.  But they have a receiving corps that is questionable, at best, except for Jordan Cameron, who is a very good tight end.

For what it's worth, Vic Carucci on the Browns' website noted, "the last time the Browns began a season in Pittsburgh, 1989, they also had a first-year head coach in Bud Carson. They won, 51-0. "

The last time the Browns beat the Steelers was in 2012, in Cleveland, when they forced eight turnovers on a windy day with Charlie Batch at QB for the Steelers.

The Steelers should win this game, but what do we really know about the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers? ...  If they don't win this game, at home, look out below.

Monday, September 01, 2014

It all starts with the quarterback ...

In Cleveland, the Browns have had 20 starting quarterbacks since 1999. That's right, 20 starting quarterbacks.

In the past six years, the Browns have had five different opening day quarterbacks.

This year, the Browns will open with former Steeler Brian Hoyer at QB. Hoyer was with Pittsburgh for about 20 minutes, you might recall, in 2012.

Turnabout is fair play, and it's worth noting (or not) that current Steelers' backup QB Bruce Gradkowski started for Cleveland against the Steelers in Week 17 of the 2008 season.  Gradkowski completed 5 of 16 passes for 18 yards. He three two interceptions and had a quarterback rating of 1.0. The Browns lost, 31-0.

It will be interesting to see whether Hoyer fares better against the Steelers this Sunday than Gradkowski did against the Steelers in 2008.

Since 2008, the Browns have had the following head coachs: Mike Pettine (2014), Rob Chudzinski (2013), Pat Shurmur (2011-12), Eric Mangini (2009-10) and Romeo Crennel (2008).

The Browns' offensive coordinators: Kyle Shanahan in 2014, Norv Turner in 2013, Pat Shurmur in 2011-12; Brian Dabol in 2009-10.

In Cleveland, the Factory of Sadness grinds on.

Work: Ironic, isn't it, that Labor Day is a holiday?

"Find a job you love, and you'll never have to go to work."
      -- Mom

Lyrics from the song, "U.S. Steel," by Tom Russell:
"You made their railroads, rails and bridges.
You ran their driving wheels.
And the towers of the Empire State are lined with Homestead Steel.
The Monongahela valley no longer hears the roar.
There is cottonwood and sumac weeds,
inside the slab mill door.
And this mill won’t run no more."

Labor Day is a uniquely American holiday. 
For many people, Labor Day isn't even a "holiday" -- they go to work: on farms, in retail stores, convenience stores, in public safety, sports, entertainment, news, construction, mining, etc. These people have to work on Labor Day, whether they want to, or not.

Lots of people without jobs don't have that opportunity. Others choose to work -- self-employed entrepreneurs, artists, writers, musicians, etc.; they can't help themselves.

Granted, work is something you do, not talk about, but Labor Day is a good day to reflect on the nature and meaning of work. Work, any kind of work, represents opportunity. It puts food on the table; a roof over the head; toys for the dog.

Work can be enervating, energizing and inspiring. Or it can be soul-sucking; energy-depleting; drudgery. Work can be something you do because you want to do it -- because it gives you the satisfaction of a job well done, of achievement, of accomplishment, of something to be proud of. By work, we can make a difference; a better place of the world.

Mining: dirty, dark and dangerous
That holds true whether your work is "play" (pro sports), or entrepreneurship, craft, blue collar, white collar, gray collar, pink collar, sweat-stained collar, on the farm, in the factory, in the plant, at the waterworks, in the snakepit of politics, in the cloud of academia, or the gray of Cubicle City, Dilbert's world. Work is work.

One thing for sure: If you've ever been in deep coal mine, you'll appreciate working above ground.

There's such a thing as "Pittsburgh work ethic," and anybody from Pittsburgh knows what that is. You work.

The unemployment line
If you're fortunate enough to have gainful employment, to have work that enables you to support yourself and the ones who rely on you, you're blessed, lucky, fortunate. Anybody who's been poor can relate. Work is good. It's good to have the opportunity to apply your talents and skills, your blood, muscle, corpuscles, neurons, hands, brainpower, energy. It's good to work up a sweat.

Even if you're unemployed, you have an opportunity: Your job is to get a job, or to make a job -- which more and more people are forced to do in this economy of self-employment.

Work is an opportunity. What you do with it is your business.

Our late friend Mickey McGovern once said of a neighborhood slacker who avoided work at all costs, "He thought Manual Labor was a Mexican waiter!"

Or, as Maya Angelou said, "Nothing will work unless you do."

Labor Day: Time to get to work.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Roster Composition (for now)

Looking at the composition of this team, "positional flexibility" notwithstanding ...

Let's start at the back end of the defense: Five safeties and six corners.  Five inside linebackers. Three outside linebackers. Six defensive linemen.

The offense: Six wide receivers. Three tight ends. Three running backs. One fullback. Nine offensive linemen. Three quarterbacks.

A kicker. A punter. A long-snapper.

That's it. Make of it what you will.  2014 Pittsburgh Steelers.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Not-so-final roster cuts

Remember last year's "final" roster  cuts announced on the Saturday following the final pre-seaon game? They weren't so final. By the following Tuesday, the Steelers had made another five roster moves. The five players added in those few days after the initial "final" roster cuts were Terence Garvin, Antwon Blake, Kion Wilson, Vince Williams, and Zoltan Mesko.

So, when "final" cuts are announced today, Saturday, August 30th, don't be surprised if they're not so final. Additional roster shuffling is sure to follow. 

It's worth remembering the Steelers entered the season opener at home vs. the Titans with 19 new players. Nineteen! They lost that game, and the next three. They weren't ready. Could the same thing happen this year?

The Dog Days of August
It's Labor Day weekend, so people will be car-shopping and doing lots of fun stuff with family and friends. It's a good weekend to adopt a dog. Natch, Joey Porter's must put in a good word for our brave canine friends awaiting adoption at the Animal Rescue League and Animal Friends.  Visit your local animal shelter today, just for fun, or to volunteer to walk dogs, or even to adopt a dog (or cat, or bunny) into your home and their forever home.  You won't regret it.

And, as if you didn't know it already, Pit Bulls are cool.

Friday, August 29, 2014

"It's time to put the hay in the barn"

Holy cow, last night's wannabe Steelers-wannabe Panthers sham pre-season finale scrum was dreadful to watch. There were lots of empty seats, but anybody who actually sat through that charade should have been paid to watch it, not the other way around. It's amazing the NFL gets away with it.

Antwon Blake struggled vs. the Panthers.
It's hard to read too much into the performance on the field. A lot of the guys who played won't be in NFL uniforms next week. The guys in Steelers uniforms last night got beat by guys like Philly Brown and Fozzy Whitaker. Let's get real.

The next round of cuts shouldn't be too hard in most cases. It's time to end the Mike Adams experiment. And, do Steelers really need more than two quarterbacks on the active roster to start the year?

There are other concerns, of course. These new free-agent signees won't get cut, but to be honest, Joey Porter's Pit Bulls don't see what Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin saw in off-season additions Cam Thomas and Mike Mitchell.  Neither has shown much this camp or in the pre-season games. With Brett Keisel's recent arrival, where does Thomas fit on the defensive line? The run defense has looked awful all pre-season, and Thomas was supposed to bolster it. He's looked slow, fat and a pushover. Mitchell may be able to hit, allegedly, but he can't tackle, apparently; and he takes bad angles in pursuit -- which he seems to be doing a lot (chasing down guys already past him).

Not encouraging.

After the game, Coach Tomlin said, "We’re very much still a team in development like all teams are.  I think you’re kidding yourself if you think you’re a finished product this time of year. We’re going to continue to put the hay in the barn."

Let's hope this team somehow gels before the season opener vs. Cleveland at Heinz Field. Last year, the Seelers lost the season opener at home vs. Mike Munchak's Tennessee Titans, and then proceeded to lose the next three games.

The Steelers weren't ready to start the season last year, and they don't look ready now. It's time to put the hay in the barn.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The annual dreaded exhibition vs. the Carolina Panthers

Fans will get the torturous privilege of watching quarterbacks Landry Jones and Joe Webb get the bulk of playing time tonight at Heinz Field and the Pittsburgh Steelers and Charlotte North/South Carolina Panthers in the dreaded annual preseason finale between the two teams.

Let's get this over with already and hope nobody sustains a major injury.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

"Witching Hour ... in the Deep End of the Pool"

Not surprisingly, this year's first round of player cuts produced no major shocks, but a few mild surprises. Linebacker Vic So'oto had showed some good things in camp and during the pre-season games.

What Joey Porter's Pit Bulls liked about So'oto was that he played with leverage, ferocity and velocity -- good traits for a linebacker.  We haven't seen that with consistency in the play of some of the higher-pedigree linebackers remaining on the team, but what do we know?  The coaches are at camp every day ... although coaches routinely make mistakes in evaluating personnel (James Harrison and Mike Vrabel come to mind, and both played with leverage, by the way).

Based on everything we'd read and heard about Brian Arnfelt last year and during the off-season, we thought he had a chance. Again, though, the coaches know what they want.

Same goes for nose tackle Hebron Fanguopo. For some reason, every time his name came up, we would hear the little Myron Cope voice in our head calling him "the dear Hebron Fan-GU-po."  But Daniel McCullers is here, and Joey Porter's Pit Bulls wouldn't be surprised if McCullers is the starter by Game 3 of the regular season.

Remaining position battles that bear watching: 

  • Offensive line: Wesley Johnson vs. Guy Whimper vs. Mike Adams
  • Linebacker: Howard Jones vs. Chris Carter

Summer's Almost Gone
In anticipation of the dreaded annual final preseason game against the so-called Carolina Panthers (ugh), head coach Mike Tomlin invoked a couple of new Tomlinisms: "It's the witching hour," for a lot of players on the bubble, he said, and it's time to throw newly signed Brett Keisel into "the deep end of the pool." Good ones, Mike.

Tomlin also may have tipped his hand a bit by sending kudos the way of wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey, whose primary role apparently will be as a gunner on the special teams. Tomlin had this to say about the special teams in general:
“Many of the guys who are fighting to improve their position within the group and carve out roles for themselves at the 11th hour, we’re not talking about defensive backs who are going to play defensive back, or wideouts who are going to play wideout. Usually we’re talking about defensive backs who are going to be gunners or corners in the kicking game. A lot is written and said about how they perform offensively or defensively, but what they do on special teams is going to be a significant element in determining who sticks and who does not.”
About Heyward-Bey, specifically, Tomlin said:

“I’m just as pleased with what he’s provided us from a special teams standpoint as I am what he’s doing at wide receiver. I really like some of the things he’s shown us in the kicking game of late. Some things that quite frankly I didn’t know he had in terms of his willingness and ability to cover punts. His willingness and ability to block for punt returners. It’s attractive and he’ll be given an opportunity to display those things, along with his wide receiver play in this game."

Those words are encouraging for Heyward-Bey; not so much for Justin Brown.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Is this how they normally prepare for team business?

The smoke has mostly cleared from the aftermath of last week's police interaction with Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount, Le'Doobie Brothers.

Coach Mike Tomlin has disclosed that the team will deal with the incident internally, whatever that means, and the discussion on Tuesday will be about the first round of roster cuts, so the fallout from the Bell/Blount incident will continue to dissipate for a while.

Questions remain, however, and one question is this: Is this the way these guys typically prepare for games? It's a legitimate question.

For that matter, how often do they (and other Steelers) go to team functions, practice or games immediately after getting high?  How about other players? How about some of the coaches? Clearly, Bell and Blount felt comfortable gathering in close quarters (a plane) and interacting with coaches and teammates. Apparently they were unconcerned that would anybody would notice.

Mike Tomlin always likes to talk about the importance of having "a singular focus, obviously."

Well, "obviously," the singular focus of Bell and Blount is getting high. It seems to be their priority over and above what they get paid for as professional football players. We are what we do.


Last Word on Sports: Are Blount and Bell to be Trusted?

Dejan Kovacevic: "The Standard is the the Standard."

Eagles.com:  The Eagles are loaded at running back

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Le'Doobie Brothers

This story just keeps getting better and better.

According to the official police report and as reported in various media outlets, including ProFootballTalk.com, the exchange between Bell and the officer continued:
When the officer asked what game he was referring to, Bell replied: “I have to be on a plane at 3 to be in Philadelphia. I play for Steelers.” 
Bell initially told the officer there was no marijuana in the car, but when asked if they had smoked any, he replied: “It was about a minute ago,” before clarifying that it could have been within the previous two hours.
As one of the PFT readers commented, "If guys like this had to think in order to breathe, they would have been dead years ago. There’s dumb, and then there’s the level of dumb that just makes you numb to consider."

As a proud citizen of Steeler Nation, it pains Joey Porter's Pit Bulls to write this, but Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount -- Le'Doobie Bros. -- have made the Steelers the laughingstock of the NFL.

Dumb and dumber.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Room for Improvement

Le'Veon Bell drops a pass in Philadelphia.
Ugh. This one was ugly, lackluster, sloppy, messy and borderline-unwatchable. The Steelers looked pitiful. Mike Tomlin played mostly starters for three quarters and trailed 31-7.

The Steelers scored no points in the first half, with just 96 yards of total offense and one interception.

The defense was worse. For the game, the Steelers' defense surrendered a total of 482 yards offense and a total of 36 first downs. For the game, the Eagles had 13 first downs rushing. Thirteen! Rushing. The Eagles topped that with 17 first downs passing. And the Steelers gave the Eagles six first downs by penalty. Philadelphia racked up 79 plays on offense; the Steelers had just 54 plays on offense.

The new-look high-speed defense got pushed around all night by the Eagles, who came out fast, just as expected. Everybody knew the Eagles, at home in the next-to-last game of the pre-season -- the annual "most important" tune-up game for starters in anticipation of the regular season -- everybody knew the Eagles would start fast with the home crowd behind them. The Steelers looked totally unprepared and out of sync. Were they distracted? Unfocused? We don't know, but it looked that way.

"Obviously," as Tomlin might say, "There was a lack of singular focus." They were just bad.

Worst of all -- and this may be a knee-jerk reaction to a "meaningless" exhibition game, but maybe not, considering the Steelers are coming off consecutive 8-8 seasons -- this team looks like it has far too many players who just aren't talented enough to compete effectively in the NFL.

As Heath Miller said earlier in the week, before last night's game, “This will be the closest taste we get as far as an actual game to the time we are in there. This will be a good gauge in that respect.”

If that's the case, look out below. Speaking of which ...

Now, even the Browns might have some hope
This performance must give encouragement to fans in Cleveland. If the Steelers play like this in the season opener at home vs. the Browns, they're going to lose -- no matter who is at quarterback for Cleveland: Brian Hoyer, Rex Grossman, Connor Shaw or even Johnny Manziel.

This sounds absurd, but it's so obvious: The season opener looms as a must-win game.

The first roster cuts will probably start on Saturday. As Chuck Noll once said, "Cutting players isn't the problem. The problem is going to be where to stop."

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Cheech Blount & Le'Veon Chong: Up in Smoke

Chronic: "Hey how am I driving, man?"
Blunt [looks around]: "I think we're parked." 

Tomfoolery, hijinks, chicanery and shenanigans with the 420 in the 412 with LeGarrette "Blunt" and Le'Veon "Chronic" Bell!
Just imagine how that conversation in the car went?
Chronic: "Ya wanna get high, man?"
Blunt: "Does Howdy-Doody have wooden balls?"
This isn't a distraction, is it? What could possibly go wrong?  
  After all, just a week ago, the Tribune-Review quoted Mike Tomlin as saying:
“They're both going to get their share (of carries). But in terms of the details and anything more detailed than that, no, we'll deal with that on a game-by-game basis based on the plan, based on health of the men and a lot of other variables,” Tomlin said last Thursday. “We have a great deal of confidence in both guys. Both guys are going to be central reasons why we're successful. That's the plan, and I think they're open to that.”
Well, they were open to something
What's with the hand signals?
Now, in the aftermath of this latest imbroglio, lots of talk will ensue about some of the alleged incidents allegedly involving Blount before he arrived in Pittsburgh, but that's all in the past, right? What's past is past, and what's done is done. A fresh start and all that. All is good. Right?

Just wondering: Where was Alameda Ta'amu, anyway? Maybe the Steelers can sign Ricky Williams?

Welcome Back, Ol' 99

The timing is perfect, just as planned and agreed upon with the Steelers, no doubt.

Now that the indignities of training camp are over, Brett Keisel, Ol' 99, is back with the team as Defensive End Emeritus.

The bearded professor will tutor and mentor the younger guys -- the graduate student-athletes, if you will -- in the finer points of playing defensive line in the NFL and how to conduct oneself professionally.

We and everybody else figured it was entirely possible that Kesiel would return, and Joey Porter's Pit Bulls are very happy that Keisel didn't end his career in the wasteland of Arizona or Carolina or anywhere else. He is and should be a Steeler for life. Welcome back.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Looking forward to the season opener

Add caption
We're so happy the Cleveland Browns have Johnny! Johnny!! Johnny!!! Manziel. On Monday night vs. the Washington Redskins, Manziel was the player we'd thought he was: scrawny, manic, skittish and inaccurate.  Better yet, he flashed the finger on national television. Classy.

Manziel looked unready for NFL competition. He appeared as if, instead of working out and readying himself mentally during the months following the NFL draft ... well, he looked as if maybe he'd been partying hard right up to the beginning of training camp. But that couldn't be right, could it?

Johnny Manziel's swan dive
Monday night, Manziel flashed the finger immaturity evident in earlier displays this summer, from the "money phone," to the champagne swan, to the highly publicized trip to Vegas and the rolled-up $20 bill in a bathroom, to his partying-with-the-Bieb escapades and antics on TMZ, Twitter and Instagram. So far as we're concerned, it's all good. We're Steelers fans.

After Monday night's display, when Manziel was consistently off-target and throwing behind receivers on mostly short routes, it seems doubtful Manziel will play much, if at all, in the season opener in Pittsburgh. Against the Redskins, Manziel went 7-16 passing for just 65 yards. The middle-finger flash was icing on the excrement. His performance reflected poorly on the Browns, and himself.

“It did not sit well,” Browns coach Mike Pettine said of Manziel’s gesture. “I was informed of it after the game and it’s disappointing. Because what we talk about is being poised and being focused — that you have to be able to maintain your poise.”

Steeler Nation cannot help but watch with fascination what is happening in Cleveland. The Browns have had an off-season marked by turmoil, chaos, turbulence and discord, not to mention false steps, mis-steps, blatant incompetence, tomfoolery, chicanery, skulduggery and hijinks of the most eyebrow-raising, head-shaking sort, from the firing of head coach Rob Chudzinski, CEO Jim Banner and general manager Mike Lombardi, to the clownish buffonery and legal troubles of owner Jimmy Haslam, to the flirtation with Jim Harbaugh, to the delayed hiring of a rookie head coach (Mike Pettine) and then a first-time general manager (Ray Farmer); the off-season antics of players like Josh Gordon (DUI, etc.), Davone Bess, etc., ad infinitum, ad nauseum.  

The big story, of course, has been all the drama wrapped around Johnny Sporkball. Rookie coach Mike Pettine has not handled the quarterback situation well, and it doesn't look like it's going to get better anytime soon in Cleveland.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Going in the right direction, but still too sloppy

Ryan Shazier, intercepting an E.J. Manuel pass.
Steeler Nation is very happy to see first-hand evidence that Ryan Shazier is the real deal, as he displayed the speed, instincts and athleticism we've all heard about.

"Obviously," the final score doesn't matter much in pre-season games, but the Steelers' sloppy 19-16 win over the Buffalo Bills broke a five-game pre-season losing streak, so that's a good thing.  It was the first pre-season win by Pittsburgh since August 30, 2012, when the Steelers defeated the Carolina Panthers, 17-16, to wrap up a 3-1 pre-season campaign.

Antonio Brown, off and running.
The Steelers' first-team offense looked crisp vs. Buffalo's first-team defense. Ben Roethlisberger looked like the seasoned vet that he is. He knew where he was going with the ball, and he got rid of it. It's as if Roethlisberger, after 11 years in the league, decided he simply wasn't going to get hit in a meaningless exhibition game.

Now, if only Roethlisberger can continue that sort of quick-release tempo into the regular season, the offense should be mostly okay ... although the running game accomplished nothing against the Bills. That shouldn't be too much of a concern, though, as the plan was to work the no-huddle passing game.

"We kind of came in with the mindset that we would throw the ball around with our first group and run some no-huddle things," Mike Tomlin said. "I thought that went well."

On defense, despite Shazier's heroics, should we be worried that a Buffalo offense led by E.J. Manuel tallied 212 yards of total offense in the first half? Granted, it was dink-and-dunk, with Manuel averaging only 5.5 yards per attempt, but still, surrendering 212 yards in one half to E.J. Manuel doesn't sound good. And the Bills had nearly a 10-minute edge in time of possession, with 66 offensive plays to 35 late in the game.

"We created some turnovers, the defense, and that’s always good," Tomlin said. "We responded to some situations but some things obviously need to be cleaned up. Too many penalties, too many missed tackles."

True dat.

It's just good to be in the win column again, even if it's a "meaningless" pre-season game.

Next up: At Philadelphia, where we should expect to see a very aggressive up-tempo offensive effort by the Eagles.

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Keep the Buffalo Bills in Buffalo

The NFL seems hell-bent on letting speculation run rampant that the Bills will leave Buffalo, the Raiders will leave Oakland, the Rams will leave St. Louis, and the Jaguars will leave Jacksonville.  

Leave the Bills in Buffalo, for crying out loud. The people of western New York deserve to keep the franchise they've loved for more than 50 years.

The Steelers play the Bills tonight in exhibition play at Heinz Field. It may be the last time the Buffalo Bills play in Pittsburgh. That would be a shame, not because the Steelers and Bills have a great rivalry, but because it would be shameful of the NFL, disgraceful, in fact, if the NFL allowed the Bills (under new ownership, still to be determined), to move from Buffalo.  There's a trust between an NFL franchise and the community that supports it, and the NFL needs to respect and nurture that trust, not abrogate and violate it. 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Linebackers: Who's really on the bubble?

The inside linebackers are set: Timmons, Shazier, Williams and Spence. Terrance Garvin makes the roster as a hybrid linebacker-safety and special teams force.  Jordan Zumwalt can play inside/outside, and he remains in contention to make the roster.

Outside, there's competition, and more question marks. The OLB starters are Jason Worilds and Jarvis Jones. Battling for roster spots are veteran incumbent Chris Carter; newly signed Arthur Moats; futures contract signee Vic So'oto; and rookie Howard Jones.

The big question is, What do the coaches really think about Chris Carter? His three years in Pittsburgh have been undistinguished, and he is entering his contract year. Carter plays only the OLB position. That lackluster track record and lack of position flexibility may hurt Carter's chances of making the final roster.

Moats almost certainly makes the roster. So'oto has played well in camp and looked solid vs. the Giants.  Howard Jones has tantalizing athleticism and upside -- much more so than Carter, although Hones is "raw," inexperienced at the position, and coming from a tiny school.

It should be interesting. The Steelers will probably keep 10 linebackers.  What do you think?

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Who's really on the bubble?

It's getting near judgment time. Roster cuts aren't due until next week, but this is the week many decisions will be made.

“If you’re going to make a move it’s going to happen,” said head coach Mike Tomlin. “There are no new surprises, speed of the game, environmental things and so forth. If somebody’s going to make a substantial move it’s going to happen this week.”

Which makes us wonder: Which players are really on the bubble?

The depth chart on Steelers.com may or may not be a semi-accurate indicator.  Is Bryant Browning really the second-team guard behind David DeCastro?

Mike Adams, who is listed as second-team left tackle, is one of the players we're watching closely. Reports on his performance in camp to date have been mixed.  Guy Whimper is listed as second-team right tackle. The options behind Adams and Whimper are rookies: Emmanuel McCray and Wesley Johnson.

If we had to guess, it would be that one of either Adams or Whimper will make it; and one of either McCray or Johnson will make it. One veteran and one rookie; and the ability to play multiple positions may factor into the decision.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Typical Preseason Opener

Sloppy, ragged, erratic and featuring players who won't be in the NFL on opening day, last night's glorified practice before 74,611 paying customers at MetLife Stadium was a drab mess. Ben Roethlisberger (1-2 passing) barely played, and Eli Manning didn't complete either of his two pass attempts.

The lone highlights of "consequence" for the Steelers were Dri Archer's 43-yard sprint with a screen pass on the opening series and Jarvis Jones's eight-yard sack of Manning.

Jarvis Jones sacks Eli Manning
We expect to see more of that sort of dash from Archer. As for Jones, it was good to get his first sack of calendar year 2014 out of the way. Nobody in authority in the Steelers' organization has said anything particularly derogatory about Jones's work during training camp, but nobody has said anything particularly noteworthy either.

The underlying current of thought is this: Jones can say all the right things, demonstrate that he works hard and show that he has a great attitude -- but he has to produce results on the field. He must prove he can make tackles and sack the quarterback.

As Craig Wolfley and Tunch Ilkin have said repeatedly about Jones: "Chuck Noll used to say, 'Don't give me somebody who's around the ball. I want a guy who's on the ball.'"

Jones also must show he is stronger, quicker and has better moves and technique than he showed last year.

On last night's pre-game radio show, Wolfley said, "I want to see Jones sack the quarterback. He's got to show he can do it on the field, not just want to do it. We saw flashes of that last preseason. But, then, during the regular season, next to nothing."

That's why it was encouraging to see Jones sack Manning. Now we need to see that sort of play consistently.

Saturday, August 09, 2014

With the Super Moon tonight, the games begin

The Super Moon is tonight. Coincidentally, the Steelers resume competitive play in NFL stadiums tonight. Finally.

After a long-offseason of ugly headlines from across the NFL landscape ... after Ray Rice and Janay; after the Notorious Pouncey Bros. ("Dumb & Dumber"); after nonstop Johnny Football Manziel and his rolled-up-money-phone-partying-with-Justin-Bieber stupidity; after Josh Gordon and his DUI and failed drug tests; the endless Aaron Hernandez murder trial ("Free Hernandez"); after the Darren Sharper drug-and-rape charges; and other assorted nonsense such as the threat of the Buffalo Bills moving out of Buffalo and the Oakland Raiders possibly moving to San Antonio and on and on, ad nauseum ... 

After all that and more, well, finally, the Steelers begin playing in stadiums again this evening. People in Steelers' uniforms, anyway. Regular starters will get limited action, and we will see mostly prospects and suspects taking the field against the NewYork-Jersey Gints, but the Steelers return to play tonight. 

Even though many of the players who play tonight won't make the regular-season roster, it will be good to see the Black 'n Gold in action again. Let's hope everybody stays injury-free.

Oh, and leave the Bills in Buffalo. That's a great region of our great nation, and the good people there should get to keep their beloved Bills. Leave 'em alone.

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Encouraging Signs

The early days of NFL Training Camp are much like MLB Spring Training: Hope and optimism are in the air. And why not?

We can't read too much into much of anything at this point, but early reports out of Steelers training camp are encouraging. By all accounts, the defense is looking fast, fast and faster. Rookies Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt project to be impact players, hopefully from Game One. Shazier's emergence will allow Troy Polamalu to go back to doing what he does best. Tuitt will buttress a defensive line that got pushed around too often last year.

Markus Wheaton
On offense, the reports on wide receiver Markus Wheaton also are encouraging. Various observers report that Wheaton has shown polish, speed, good hands and a professional approach. He seems to offer everything that Emmanuel Sanders brought, and more, but with better hands and without the ego.

As reported by ESPN.com's Scott Brown, all this has not gone unnoticed by head coach Mike Tomlin and veteran receiver Lance Moore:
“He’s a detailed guy,” Tomlin said. “I see him not only working out (on the field) before and after but into the evening. He’s just taking a really professional approach. I think he understands what we expect and what we need from him.” 
“He’s definitely got all of the ability and speed and hands and runs good routes,” said Moore, who is entering his 10th NFL season. “He’s definitely going to be an emerging player. It’s a deeper [wide receivers] group than I think people would imagine because there’s a lot of guys that haven’t played as much ball but guys that are definitely capable. I’ve been around long enough and seen enough guys and I think we’ve got a pretty special group.”
Joey Porter's Pit Bulls would like to believe we have reason to be cautiously-hopefully optimistic that Wheaton is a guy who will do well enough to make us forget the high hopes we once had for Emmanuel Sanders, and his disappointing drops, as well.

Wheaton is neither Emmanuel Sanders nor Mike Wallace, and we'll take that as a potentially good thing.

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What took so long?

It's about time the Steelers retired Joe Greene's number, for crying out loud. Finally. What were they waiting for?  That number, 75, was defined by Joe Greene and is sacrosanct in Steeler annals. 

Nobody else could wear it.

Same goes for other numbers: 12, 32, 47, 58, 59. And maybe 86 should be in the conversation.

Seriously. Why wait any longer? 

Monday, July 28, 2014

The First "Obviously" of the 2014-15 Campaign

"Obviously, we have some young people who are capable of infusing some speed into the unit, but we're not going to hang our hat on it, and we're going to talk too much about it."

-- Head Coach Mike Tomlin, at Steelers Training Camp in Latrobe

Friday, July 25, 2014

Ray Rice Got Off Easy

What's up with Roger Goodell?  If there was a time to send a message ... but, no.

Ray Rice gets a two-game suspension for that?  Ravens fans must be happy.

Come on, Roger. Maybe Goodell figured a stiffer suspension might hurt sales of NFL merchandise, specifically Rice's $59.95 pink jersey styled for women.

Maybe Goodell figured that since, after all, Janay appeared at that ridiculous, theater-of-the-absurd press conference the Ravens staged a couple months ago -- the one where Janay actually somehow apologized for putting her face in the way of Rice's fist -- well, maybe Goodell figured that counts for something.

Ray Rice and Janay should both watch Will's Story, which is Steeler cornerback William Gay's account of how, as an eight-year-old, he lost his mother to an abusive step-dad.

The Ravens have had five players arrested this off-season. That's almost 10 percent of their roster. Ravens will be cheering Rice when he returns to the field in September.

Congratulations, Roger Goodell. You've fixed the NFL's image problem. Go ahead, brush the next incident under the rug.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

An interesting look at Jarvis Jones's struggles on the pass rush

Over at Steelers Depot, blogger-extraordinaire Alex Kozora offers an interesting look at Jarvis Jones and his techniques, or at least the patterns and tendencies shown last year, during his pass-rush approach to the quarterback. So far, Silverback he ain't. 

Based on his review, Kozora raises a valid question: Does Jones have the requisite raw talent to become a consistently successful pass-rushing threat?  Time will tell, and soon. Well worth a read. Check it out here.

Jones certainly has room for improvement, but as the 17th overall choice in the 2013 draft, much is expected of him, and soon.  Right now, for what it's worth (not much), the team's depth chart lists Chris Carter as the starter at one OLB position and Jason Worilds the other, with Jones as the backup to Worilds.

And if that's not enough to think about, there are goats at work in Polish Hill.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Countdown to Training Camp

Our hopes for training camp this year are the same as for any year: No major injuries, a few pleasant surprises, and a team coming together in cohesiveness and unity. It rarely works out that way.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Mr. Goodell's Funhouse: The London Patriots vs. the Santa Clara Raiders?

There's something 1984/Orwellian about this
picture of Roger Goodell speaking at
yesterday's grand opening of
Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara.
Photo credit:
Karl Mondon/Bay Area News Group
Roger Goodell is full of ... ideas.

Amend that: Goodell and his full-time team of actuaries, lawyers,  marketers, broadcast-rights execs and media minions are full of ... ideas.

A team in London, one in Toronto and another in Los Angeles? Sure, why not?  In fact, according to various reports, New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft yesterday endorsed the idea of an NFL Franchise in London, reports Mike Wilkening at ProFootballTalk:
"Speaking at an event promoting CBS’ “Thursday Night Football,” Kraft said putting a team in London by decade’s end ought to be a goal the NFL strives 'very hard' to achieve, according to Marc Sessler of NFL Media."
Okay, Mr. Kraft, here's an idea: How about the London Patriots? Huh? How's that sound?  You'd have to admit, it would be a bit ironic, eh? It would give a whole new meaning to "Patriot Nation."

Other prizes up for grabs from Mr. Goodell's Carnival Spinning Wheel of Fun 'n Money game:
  • The 2015 NFL Draft will be in either Los Angeles or Chicago, Goodell pronounced yesterday. You want to bet that the draft will spread over three or four days? 
  • More games in more places.  Games on Saturday, Saturday night, Sunday,  Sunday night, Monday night, Thursday night and, for all we know, an expansion of the calendar to eight days a week to accommodate even more games. Why not? 
  • And, last but not least, the Oakland Raiders perpetual stadium mess? Well, Goodell suggests, maybe the Raiders can play their home games in the 49ers sparkling new high-tech palace, Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, which just had its grand opening ceremony yesterday.
San Francisco  49ers fans must love that last idea. Inviting the Raiders and their fans to Levi's Stadium would be like inviting Bluto and his Animal House frat mates over to Dean Wormer's Sunday afternoon tea party for distinguished alumni.

Talk about a tarantula on a slice of angel food cake at a garden party.*
*Metaphor credit: Raymond Chandler 

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Singular Focus, Obviously

One question Joey Porter's Pit Bulls would like to hear Mike Tomlin address is this:

"What are the Steelers doing to avoid a repeat of an 0-4 and 2-6 start to the 2014 season?"

Looking back on it, there's no disputing the Steelers weren't ready for the 2013 season. They went 0-4 in the pre-season, 0-4 to start the regular season and closed out the first half at 2-6, capped in spectacular embarrassment by the exclamation mark of a 55-31 thrashing by the New England Patriots.

They simply weren't ready to start the season, and you could see they wouldn't be, even as the pre-season unfolded. It was inexcusable.

If they had been ready, there is no way they would have lost the home opener to Tennessee. Remember that?  There's no way they would have given up 40 points in a home loss to the Bears in Week 3. There's no way they would have lost to Minnesota at any location, including London, and maybe especially London.  Let alone the woeful Oakland Raiders, for crying out loud.

To their credit, the Steelers finished 6-2, but that 2-6 start dug them in such a hole that it's almost easy to overlook the fact that the Steelers had an easy schedule for the 2013 season, thanks to their lousy showing in 2012.

And that 6-2 finish was marred by one loss in particular: There's no way they should have lost to Miami. At home. In a snowstorm. Disgraceful. At least the Miami offensive line was well-fed.

What about the upcoming 2014 season? What will Mike Tomlin and his coaching staff do differently to ensure that a repeat of 0-4 and 2-6 does not happen?

“That (one game at a time approach is) something that stops a bad problem from becoming worse,” Tomlin said shortly after the season concluded.

“The No. 1 key to getting out of a hole is to stop digging, and I believe that’s what the singular focus allowed us to do. To stop digging. Not to worry about what we had done to get ourselves into the position we were in, but to look singularly forward at the challenge that’s in front of us. That’s what I’m talking about when I talk about having the ability to focus on this week’s challenge.”

It's been a long week since the end of the season.  We can only hope that "this week's challenge" has been, all offseason, to prepare for Week 1 of the 2014 season and get off to a fast start.


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Music by DJ E-Feezy and DJ A-N-D.

And here we thought it might be a distraction-free off-season for the Steelers.

But no-o-o-o ... the Notorious Pouncey Twins, newly empowered after signing ridiculous contract extensions: They're back in the news.

"Like a horribly gone-wrong Doublemint Gum commercial," wrote somebody identifying himself as Papa'sBasement in one of the many reader comments on this item on ProFootballTalk.com.  Lots of funny reader comments there, by the way.

Say "allegedly" all you want, but these guys just keep putting themselves in situations that call attention to themselves, and not in a good way. Not that they care.

The latest incident "allegedly" happened at 4:20 a.m. after Friday night, 7-11-14, at Cameo nightclub (open 11 p.m.-5 a.m.) in Miami's Entertainment District. Apparently it was the Pouncey Twins annual birthday bash, at least according to this promotional poster/handout and the club's promotional calendar. And that at least explains why the party wasn't held on one of the club's regular "Lapdance Tuesdays."

But on Friday night, it was the "Pouncey Twins Annual Birthday Bash," with Music by DJ E-Feezy and DJ A-N-D.

Was Johnny Manziel there?

Maybe not, but the Pouncey Brothers surely were, given that it was their "Annual Birthday Bash," which for all we know a hapless rookie offensive lineman may have been coerced and bullied into picking up the tab. Cameo (part of  The Opium Group) was the same place where the Pouncey twins were photographed with the infamous "Free Hernandez" caps at -- last year's birthday bash -- expressing their support for alleged murderer Aaron Hernandez.

All of which brings us to 4:20 a.m. Saturday morning and all of whatever it is that's going to follow in its wake. Which is probably nothing. Except more opprobrium and ugliness.

It's getting harder and harder to root for like feel halfway decent about not feel doubts about  Maurkice Pouncey. Thanks once again for making Steeler Nation proud. The world breathlessly awaits your next witty, rancid Tweet.

That recent contract extension for Maurkice Pouncey didn't feel right at the time, and feels less so now. It feels like we've said it before, but it's worth repeating in the wake of that ridiculous contract extension. Yes, "ridiculous." As in, Ridicule. Us.

Management has shown misplaced faith in some players, held on to some others for too long, given others probably too much rope, and let some others go they probably should have kept. It's that way to some extent for most teams, but the most successful teams do less of that, of course, and make adjustments along the way.

Is Maurkice Pouncey as good as he thinks he is, or as good as the long-time Steelers' braintrust have seemed to think he is? Has Pouncey ever performed as well as he did during his 2010 rookie year, when the first-round draft choice earned a spot in the Pro Bowl?

Nobody at Steelers' offices will say it publicly, of course, but many people think Pouncey is over-rated. Many more were put off by his association with alleged murderer Aaron Hernandez (including Pouncey's clueless "Free Hernandez" B.S.); antics like hosting dinner for the Miami offensive line the night before the Steelers lost to the Dolphins; and some of his Twitdiocy (Twitter Idiocy) over the past few years, including inane comments like, "I’m rich play for the steelers and have a awesome life!! Are u mad loser", which he posted shortly after the playoff loss in Denver.

And there was the Rolling Stone article.

It's tough to root for this guy.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

What's in the news worth talking about ...

We're grasping at straws here.
What's going on in the NFL? Not much. Frankly, we're struggling here. Hence, the lack of posts lately -- a temporary lull.

Yeah, we could discuss Josh Gordon, but his latest arrest is not much of a surprise; Rashard Mendenhall's new $1.4 million home (we don't care); or we could speculate on the depth chart for special teams or other positional groups (too soon). But it's that fallow time between OTAs and training camp, and it's mostly just a lot of hot air at this point ...

What else is there? Johnny Manziel's partying? ... or the recent photo of him apparently in the men's room of a nightclub, apparently rolling up a $100 bill into a tightly wound straw? Eh, no thanks; he's getting tiresome already -- and just last week, we said all we're interested in saying about him for a while. The Browns, too, for that matter. And the Bengals.

We've looked at individual players we'll be watching with interest this year: Markus WheatonJarvis Jones; Ben Roethlisberger; Dri Archer; and even the revamped linebacking corps; etc. But at this point, it's all speculation. We'll know more when training camp starts, but even then, it takes a while for the roster to shake out.

What else is going on? Lots of stuff outside the NFL, of course: The Pirates and MLB. And, of course, The World Cup, which has been compelling, dramatic and entertaining this year. The USA squad acquitted itself reasonably well this year and gave some tough teams all they could handle, Germany included.

The final World cup match will be Germany vs. Argentina. Germany's going to be the prohibitive favorite, but Argentina has a proud heritage and won't roll over like Brazil did, as surprising as that was. Should be a good one.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

An Under-the-Radar Opposing Player to Keep an Eye On

Margus Hunt
As a rookie last season, defensive end Margus Hunt did little for the Cincinnati Bengals. The 2013 second-round draft choice out of SMU was always pegged as a bit of "project" because he was a native of Estonia who played little football until going to SMU.

At 6'8", however, and 277 pounds at the NFL Combine, Hunt possessed what some called freakish athleticism first as a member of Estonia's national track and field team and then as a novice defensive end at SMU, where he blocked an NCAA-record 17 kicks (PATs and field goal attempts). His rookie season in the NFL was basically a red-shirt campaign spent learning some of the intricacies of playing defensive end in the NFL.

Reports out of Cincinnati indicate that Hunt spent the off-season working out. He's up to 291 pounds, which sounds a lot like Aaron Smith territory, although Hunt would have a long, long way to go before he earns the right to be compared in any way (other than size) to Aaron Smith.

Back in February 2013, Joey Porter's Pit Bulls suggested a scenario whereby the Steelers might draft Hunt and convert him to inside linebacker, which of course never happened.  He's with the Bengals now, and we just think he might be an interesting player to watch. 

Friday, July 04, 2014

Happy Independence Day

“It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade, with Shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this Continent to the other from this Time forward forever more.”

-- John Adams, writing about the Declaration of Independence in a letter to his wife, July 3, 1776

Happy Independence Day!!!

Let's fire up the grill and set off some explosions!

“Thus may the 4th of July, that glorious and ever memorable day, be celebrated through America, by the sons of freedom, from age to age till time shall be no more.”
The Virginia Gazette, following the first Independence Day celebration, 1777, in Philadelphia, which included fireworks, cannons and toasts.

Here is some more information about this most American of holidays, including ...

Some interesting tidbits and factoids about Independence Day/Fourth of July, courtesy of the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette in Indiana, and courtesy of The Billings Gazette in Montana: "What You May Not Know About Independence Day May Surprise You"

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

Let's look at the Cleveland Browns

Studying preparatory game film, no doubt:
Tyreese, Justin Bieber, Floyd Mayweather and
Johnny Manziel at about 1:30 a.m. Monday night
That brown splotch on the map of Northern Ohio is home to the woeful Cleheaveland Browns. Let's take a closer look: Yep, same as it ever was.

The 2014 Cleveland Browns have a new head coach, new coordinators and a new quarterback.

The 2013 Cleveland Browns had a new head coach, new coordinators and a new quarterback.

Yep, same as it ever was.

This new quarterback is different, some would say. Well ... Johnny Manziel was taken with the 22nd overall pick in the 2014 draft. Brandon Weeden was taken with the 22nd overall pick in the 2012 draft. Brady Quinn was taken with the 22nd overall pick in the 2007 NFL draft. They keep making the same mistake.

But Johnny Manziel is different, some would say. Yeah, with about three weeks to go before start of his first training camp, he's partying with Justin Bieber and Floyd Mayweather, among others.

Man, Justin Bieber? Come on, Johnny Sporkball, can't you do better than that?  There's a saying: "Make friends with people who can make you a better person." And another: "You are known by the company you keep."

Johnny Manziel
But then, Johnny boy never had to worry much about consequences. He comes from a rich family. He's had luck, beautiful girlfriends, every opportunity, and no matter what he does, somebody is there to defend him.

Joey Porter's Pit Bulls don't care about any of that.

Because Manziel is the quarterback of the Cleveland Browns, our arch-rival for the past 55 years or so, and the face of the franchise -- we care about how Manziel will perform between the white lines on the field -- just like he says is what's most important to him.

If Johnny Manziel wants to be the reincarnation of Bobby Layne, let him -- if he can pull it off.  Let him knock himself out.

Our question is about how he will perform in NFL stadiums and, particularly, against the Pittsburgh Steelers -- starting Week One of the 2014 NFL season

If he can beat out Brian Hoyer (?!), Tyler Thigpen and Connor Shaw for the starting job, the opportunity for stardom is there for Manziel, if he can reach out and grab it.  But, to us outsiders, it doesn't appear his focus is on doing that. And yet training camp is just around the corner.

Ready or not ...
The NFL game can be unforgiving. It will come at Manziel fast. He hasn't played one snap in the NFL, but first he has to navigate about two months of: The playbook, the terminology, head coach Mike Pettine, the digital-film review sessions, quarterbacks coach Dowell Loggains, the Cleveland media, the coaching sessions, the fans, mainstream media, the dorms in Berea, social media, offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan, the already-questioning teammates, his agent, advertisers clamoring for him to do car commercials, workouts, scrimmages, Twitter,  the internal competition, Brian Hoyer, hangers-on, girlfriends, pre-season games (Lions, Redskins, Rams, Bears), distractions galore, Instagram, the NFL Network, ESPN, Deadspin, Entertainment Tonight, Justin Bieber, TMZ, the fans, groupies, etcetera, etc.

And then the Steelers. Week One, Sept. 7. In Pittsburgh. And the next week, the Saints, in his first home game. Then the Ravens. And the Titans. And the Steelers again. He may not see any action in any of those games.  He may not be ready.

Whether Manziel plays or not, he will get a first-hand look at three quarterbacks, in those first three games, who have won Super Bowls: Ben Roethlisberger; Drew Brees; Joe Flacco. Professional quarterbacks.

Ready or not, it will all come at Manziel fast. If he thinks all the partying he's doing this summer will help him prepare, then so be it. If he's going to play, though, he'd better be ready, and he'd better start getting ready, now. He's young, but late-night partying has a way of sapping physical energy and mental focus, quickly. But Manziel doesn't seem too serious or particularly studious about much of anything. Or mature.  Russell Wilson, he's not.

Johnny Manziel, preparing for training camp.
If what Manziel has done the past few weeks is his way of getting prepared, well, maybe it will work for him. But playing quarterback in the NFL has humbled better, more accomplished players.

And that's what we wonder about Johnny Manziel. Is he really an NFL-quality quarterback?

Again, he hasn't played a down. But for Joey Porter's Pit Bulls, Manziel doesn't pass the eye test. He never did. He looks awkward. He's smallish. His arm strength looks so-so. The linebackers he out-ran in college won't be on the field in the NFL.  He won't have Michael Evans at wide receiver. He won't even have Josh Gordon, not for a while, at least.

What's more, he's never faced adversity. If, in one of his early games, he goes for 4 for 21 with three picks and two fumbles ... well, let the howling and second-guessing begin.

If the Browns were going to draft a quarterback at that spot in the first round, we'd think they would have taken a very close look at Derek Carr out of Fresno State, who went a few picks later in the draft to Oakland. But owner Jimmy Haslam wanted Manziel. Be careful what you wish for.

Maybe Manziel will carry his fairy dust from College Station to Cleveland and find that it dazzles Dick LeBeau and the Steelers' defense in Week One of the 2014 season. We wouldn't bet on it.

Our money says the boy with the "money phone" has a long way to go before he proves himself a man in the NFL.