Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Jamaal Charles Factor

A strong case could be made that Kansas City's Jamaal Charles has been the best running back in the NFL the past few years. In 2010, he had 1,467 yards. His 2011 season was cut short by a knee injury after two games. He rebounded in 2012 with 1,509 yards. In 2013: 1,287 yards, with 12 touchdowns. Dating to 2008, Charles's career average is 5.5 yards per carry.

Jamaal Charles
This year, hampered by assorted injuries, Charles's number of carries is down, just 182 carries, or 14.2 per game, but his average yards per carry is still a lofty 5.2 for 950 yards, which comes to 73.1 yards per game through 14 games.

Charles has nine touchdowns, which is third in the league among running backs (Le'Veon Bell is tied for fifth, with 7 TDs).

Make no mistake: Charles is key to Kansas City's offense, and he remains a great running back. Still a breakaway threat, Charles has had six runs this year over 20 yards, two over 40 yards, and a longest run of 63 yards for a touchdown.

One knock on Charles, though, is his four fumbles this season. His backfield running mate, Knile Davis, also has four fumbles. Eight fumbles in 14 games from two running backs? That ain't good. By comparison, Le'Veon Bell has zero fumbles.

On the other hand, Charles and Davis score touchdowns: Charles's nine touchdowns are complemented by Davis's six touchdowns.

At 5'10" and a solid 225 pounds, Davis was clocked at 4.37 in the 40-yard dash at the 2013 NFL Combine. He was a third-round pick out of Arkansas. While Charles is a smooth, shifty glider, Davis punches through holes with impact in a straight-ahead, power/speed combination that makes him tough, extremely tough, to knock off his feet.

Davis had a 70-yard touchdown catch-and-run last Sunday against Oakland. Davis is also a lethal kickoff returner -- very dangerous.

Charles and Davis will be a challenging duo for the Steelers to shut down.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

The Chiefs Bring a Fierce Pass Rush

Tamba Hali (91) and Justin Houston (50)
converge on Miami QB Ryan Tannehill
One Big Reason the Kansas City Chiefs are 8-6 and remain in the playoff hunt is their pass rush, led by linebackers Justin Houston, who is tied for the league lead with 17 sacks, and Tamba Hali.

Allowing only 18.1 points per game, the Kansas City defense is keyed by those two pass rushers, who are relentless and have tortured the Steelers in prior meetings.

In a mid-November 2012 Monday night game at Heinz Field, Houston and Hali knocked Ben Roethlisberger out of a game with a shoulder injury, and Roethlsberger was never the same that year.

The Chiefs' outside pass rush is augmented by a good push up the middle from nose tackle Dontari Poe, who is a force. So far this year, the Chiefs defense has 38 sacks. By comparison, the Steelers' defense has 24 sacks.

With the Steelers operating a prolific passing offense, ranked second in the NFL in passing yards, "obviously" the Chiefs will want to pressure Roethlisberger.

The Chiefs' run defense, however, is rated 27th in the NFL, allowing 132.6 yards per game and 4.9 yards per carry.

With that in mind, this may be a good game for the Steelers to run more -- which is something we keep saying more and more often as the season plows through December.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

In a serious WR TD drought, the Chiefs can still bring grief

The Kansas City Chiefs are tough to figure, even for their own followers.

The 8-6 Chiefs still haven't thrown a touchdown pass to a wide receiver this season. If they make it through the entire season, they will have matched an "accomplishment" set by only one other NFL team, your 1950 Pittsburgh Steelers, who played just 12 games (with a 6-6 record) and attempted only 255 passes.

During Sunday's 31-13 over the Oakland Raiders, quarterback Alex Smith threw two TD passes, one to tight end Travis Kelce, and the other to running back Knile Davis. He also completed a couple of deep passes (but not touchdowns) to his receivers, a 37-yard pass to Dwayne Bowe and a 48-yard pass to receiver Albert Wilson.

Against the Raiders, Smith completed 18 of 30 passes for 297 yards, the two TDs, and no interceptions.

Smith's history has shown that he can be the kind of cooly efficient, mobile-enough quarterback that typically gives the Steelers fits. But he's not gotten the ball deep to his wide receivers much this year, which head coach Andy Reid says doesn't concern him too much.

Still, the Chiefs are merely 2-3 over their last five games and just 3-4 on the road. While they've scored a middling 322 points (vs. the Steelers' 389), their defense has allowed just 254 points (vs. the Steelers' 339).

Three big things the Chiefs  have going for them:
  1. They have a serious running game with Jamaal Charles (14 TDs) and Knile Davis. The Chiefs rank seventh in the NFL in team rushing, with 127.3 yards per game.
  2. They can bring a heavy pass rush.
  3. And their kick returners can do some serious damage; Knile Davis on kickoffs and De'Anthony Thomas on punt returns. At 5'10" and 227 pounds, Davis is a hard knot of a blur who can be extremely tough to bring down when he gets up to speed, which is fast (4.37 40-yard dash at the 2013 NFL Combine); and Davis is a change-of-direction jukester who had an 81-yard punt return for a TD against the Raiders. The Steelers' coverage teams will need to be on their game.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Two to Go

Key play: William Gay's pick-six TD early in the second quarter.
It's a big step in the right direction: For the first time since 2011, the Steelers have nine wins in a season.

The Steelers' solid win in Atlanta on Sunday whittles their magic number to two. The competition, however, gets stiffer than the 5-9 Falcons, who were playing without star wide receiver Julio Jones.

The Steelers will host the 8-6 Kansas City Chiefs next Sunday and the 9-4-1 Cincinnati Bengals the Sunday after that. If the Steelers win both games, they win the AFC North.

Antonio Brown, hauling it in at the one
For now, Steeler Nation can enjoy the win over Atlanta.

Antonio Brown was his usual, dazzling self; Le'Veon Bell continued his great, breakout season; and William Gay returned his third pick-six INT return of the season, a franchise record.

Ben Roethlisberger was accurate (77.1% on 27-35 passing for 360 yards passing; no interceptions) with more than half his total passing yards going to two targets (Brown for 123 yards, and Bell for 72 yards receiving).

Roethlisberger also connected for 138 yards on nine of 10 targets to Heath Miller and Marcus Wheaton.

Jason Worilds, nailing Matt Ryan
The offensive line did a decent job protecting Ben, and the Steelers kept a lid on their penalties, committing just three, one of which was a bogus call on Jason Worilds*.

Without Julio Jones, Atlanta's diminutive Harry Douglas stepped up with 10 catches for 131 yards. That amount of yardage from the six-year veteran who was a college teammate of William Gay at Louisville, indicates the Steelers' thin secondary remains vulnerable to a decent passing attack.

Antwon Blake, sticking Harry Douglas
But it was an errant Matt Ryan pass intended for Douglas on the first play of the second quarter that was arguably the pivotal play of the game. Gay's interception return gave the Steelers a 13-0 lead, coming as it did on the heels of two stalled drives that ended in the red zone and produced field goals for the Steelers instead of touchdowns, another season-long trend.

Yet the defense stepped up when it needed to, limiting the Falcons to field goals on two long drives that produced just six points.

“We fought in a big way, defensively," Mike Tomlin said after the game. "I thought we did a good job of keeping a lid on it that prevented some of the big plays that have hurt us in the past. Obviously, they created some big plays with some shorter passes but that is life. We are who we are and we are not a perfect group by any stretch but we will fight the fight until the end together.”

They'll have to. The depth in an already-thin secondary may be tested yet again. It remains to be seen whether Mike Mitchell's groin injury late in the game will keep him out of action next week. Mitchell hasn't been good this year, but if he can't suit up, it will mean very limited options behind Will Allen. Robert Golden would be the next man up. We might even see a Shamarko Thomas sighting, although his role is as backup to Troy Polamalu.

Steeler Nation and William Gay, after a TD
Notes:
  • *Jason Worilds got jobbed on a roughing-the-quarterback penalty. Worilds did everything by the NFL's impossible book, nailing Ryan with his shoulder pads square in the sternum.  Anybody who saw the play knows Worilds shouldn't have been flagged. The NFL needs to look at how officials are calling these hits, or it need to adjust the rules. 
  • When the Steelers' offense took possession of the ball with 4:34 remaining in the game, Steelers' radio broadcaster Tunch Ilkin said, "Now we get to see if the Steelers can run their four-minute offense and end the game here." They did, converting two critical third downs. The second conversion came on a well-designed formation that left Heath Miller wide open for a crucial 25-yard pass on third-and-one.
  • Ben Roethlisberger has 29 touchdowns against just eight interceptions this year. On Sunday, in the 14th game of the season, he once again set the franchise record for passing yards (now 4,415 yards) in a season.
Le'Veon Bell, into the end zone
  • Le'Veon Bell went over 2,000 total yards for the season, surpassing Barry Foster's record. Bell finished with 47 yards rushing, 72 yards receiving, no fumbles and no injuries. He's been great this year.
  • Antonio Brown just continues to dazzle. With 10 receptions for 123 yards, his 115 catches this year also set a franchise record (115, passing Hines Ward's 112 in 2002). Brown leads the NFL with 1,498 yards receiving. A terrific season.
  • Second-year inside linebacker Vince Williams played a strong game, and he's looked mostly solid during the past several games, which is a very encouraging sign.

Good stuff, and congrats all around. 

Next up: The Kansas City Chiefs at Heinz Field, 1 p.m., next Sunday, Dec. 21st.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Game Day 14: Steelers at Atlanta Falcons

Can Todd Haley resist the temptation to show how smart he is today in Atlanta?

The Steelers are coming off a win when they ran the ball impressively. Atlanta's woeful pass defense, however, is ranked 32nd in the NFL. It may be tempting for Haley and Ben Roethlisberger to go after that secondary, even though such a plan almost certainly would lead to a shootout with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and Roddy White.

So, the question is: Will the Steelers forget about what worked so well for them in Cincinnati last week? ... when Le'Veon Bell ran for 185 yards and 7.1 yards per carry? ... when Ben Roethlisberger, hampered by some sort of hand or wrist injury, often lined up in the short shotgun (pistol) formation with Bell behind him. And the Steelers repeatedly ran the counter sweep with David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey pulling behind Heath Miller and/or Matt Spaeth to clear lanes for Bell to find open lanes or simply trample Bengals defenders.

As Ralph Paulk reported in his fine article on DeCastro in Friday's edition of the Tribune-Review, “It's something teams are going to have a hard time stopping,” right tackle Marcus Gilbert said. “We run it so well. We can run it 10 or so times a game. We're confident (in) Dave pulling, so we don't see it slowing down any time soon. We got to get a body on a body, and Dave is the best guard in the league. Once you pull him, he's going to open up holes.”

The Steelers can run the counter-sweep 10 times or so a game, but will they run it that often?

David DeCastro
Paulk reported that DeCastro is finally feeling healthy and confident in the knee he injured in his 2012 rookie season, so the Steelers are starting to feel confident in the kind of pulling, trapping and counter running schemes that suit the talents of Bell, DeCastro and Pouncey.

DeCastro's mobility is one reason the team drafted him, even giving him Alan Faneca's old uniform number (#66).

The ability of the blockers to move laterally plays to their strengths, as opposed to straight-ahead push-blocking against massive nose tackles like Baltimore's Haloti Ngata and and others throughout the NFL, including Kansas City's Dontari Poe, whom the Steelers will see next week.

While Steeler running backs Le'Veon Bell and Josh Harris combined for 30 carries last week, Bengals running backs Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard combined for only 14 carries. This, despite Cincinnati offensive coordinator Hue Jackson adamantly insisting all during training camp that the Bengals were "committed to the run." Fourteen carries is not "committed to the run." The Steelers won by 21 points.

Will Haley make the same mistake today that Hue Jackson made last Sunday?

The Bungles vs. the Clowns
Speaking of the Bengals, there is perhaps no more interesting game on the NFL's Sunday schedule than Cincinnati at Cleveland.

In the first meeting between the teams on Nov. 6th, Cleveland's defense coerced Andy Dalton into a miserable QB rating of 2.0 for the night. Two! Dalton completed only 10 of 33 attempts for a mere 86 yards but also threw three interceptions. Dalton had more yards per attempt running (2.67) than he had yards per attempt passing (2.61). It was an historically miserable performance, but one from which he had rebounded reasonably well -- until he fumbled early in the fourth quarter last Sunday vs. the Steelers, who went on to score 22 unanswered points. Dalton's fumble was the turning point in the game and fueled more talk in Cincinnati and elsewhere that he doesn't have what it takes to win big games.

Johnny Manziel, starting quarterback for the Cleveland Browns
For both Cincinnati and Cleveland, today's matchup is a big game. They both need to win, but especially Cleveland. If they lose, they're post-season aspirations are done.

Yet the Browns, being the Browns, chose this day to start rookie Johnny Manziel against a Cincinnati defense that can be pretty good, or at least has a lot of talent (on paper), despite the 42 points they surrendered to the Steelers last week.

Cleveland's defense can be fierce, too. In fact, last week, the Browns produced four takeaways and two defensive touchdowns -- and still lost, 25-24, to the Indianapolis Colts.

That was with Brian Hoyer at quarterback for most of the game. Today, with Dalton and Johnny Football tossing the pigskin around, it may be that both defenses will outscore both offenses.

Should be interesting. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Secondary Concerns

Irrespective of the looming matchup with Julio Jones, Roddy Smith and Matt Ryan, the Steelers' secondary has issues that must be addressed. The problems are such, however, that no quick fix will provide a solution before Sunday's game in Atlanta.

Going over the top.
The safeties have not produced takeaways this season, and opposing offenses have become emboldened to attack deep. Over the past four games, the back end of the defense has surrendered touchdown passes of 67, 80, 69 and 81 yards.

With Julio Jones coming off a game in which he caught 11 passes for 259 yards, what do you think Atlanta is going to do? ... especially after they saw Cincinnati's A.J. Green amass 224 yards against the Steelers last Sunday?

Safety Mike Mitchell pointed the finger at himself for being out of position on Green's 81-yard jaunt past a struggling Ike Taylor. While Mitchell's mea culpa and sense of accountability are admirable in this instance, his struggles this year have not been fun to watch. Mitchell has been out of position and/or late to plays all season. And Ike Taylor may be well less than 100 percent this Sunday, if he even plays (although he is projected to be available).

Still, the Steelers currently have just three reasonably healthy cornerbacks who have seen playing time this season: William Gay, Brice McCain and Antwon Blake. Considering the extent to which the defense usually has a nickel (slot) corner on the field, that means no depth behind those three.

Is it possible we could have a B.W. Webb sighting? Uhhhh, as we said, there is no quick fix in sight.

Footnote/Addendum: Long ago and far away, William Wilson Webb, Jr., aka B.W. Webb, averaged 18.2 yards per punt return as a senior in high school and had three returns for touchdowns.

Tuesday, December 09, 2014

What a hot mess Hot 'lanta and the NFC South is right now.

The Steelers will be in Atlanta on Sunday to face the 5-8, first-place Falcons, who are the last of the four NFC South teams to face Pittsburgh this season.

The Falcons just surrendered 43 points to the Packers in Green Bay last night. To their credit, however, the Falcons scored 37 points against the Packers.

The Falcons also scored 37 points while losing to the New Orleans Saints, who beat the Steelers.

Probably the highlight of Atlanta's season was scoring 56 points at home vs. the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who beat the Steelers.

On the other hand, the Steelers beat the Carolina Panthers, who bludgeoned the New Orleans Saints ... who beat the Steelers. And the Falcons beat the Panthers, too.

We don't know what to expect from the Steelers on Sunday. One thing that's worrisome is the secondary, particularly the play of the safeties. They still don't have an interception this year, and the Steelers have surrendered at least one pass of 60 yards or more in each of the past four games.

Still, if Good Ben shows up, the Steelers have a pretty good chance of winning. But if it's the same Bad Ben who showed up for the games vs. Tampa Bay and New Orleans and the New York Jets and Cleveland and Baltimore and Jacksonville and Tennessee, look out. Not particularly good performances by Big Ben in any of those games.  The Steelers need Good Ben to show up on Sunday in Atlanta.

Monday, December 08, 2014

Can the Steelers stand success?

Let's hope the Steelers aren't thinking they passed their biggest test of the last quarter of the season by beating the Bengals in Cincinnati yesterday. With Sunday's demonstrative victory, the Steelers proved they can get it together to win challenging games on the road. And the Bengals proved they are the Bengals. They can be caught.

Now the Steelers have to prove they can win an "easy" game on the road next Sunday in Atlanta. Not that it will be easy, even though the Falcons will be coming off this evening's Monday night road game in Green Bay. Tough for them.

The 5-7 Falcons are not a particularly good team. But neither are the Buccaneers, Jets and Saints, all of whom beat the Steelers.

The Falcons can be dangerous at home. Three of their wins have been at home, where they've beaten the Bucs, Saints and Cardinals. They rang up 37, 56 and 29 points in those three wins.

Next Sunday's game in Atlanta may not be the toughest remaining game on the Steelers' schedule, but it won't necessarily be easy.

Sunday, December 07, 2014

What it is

"Bipolar" is a word that's been used to describe the Steelers a lot lately. Apparently, it also applies to the Bungles.

Steeler Nation has all week to wonder which Black 'n Gold team will show up next week in Atlanta. Never mind that the Falcons are a bad team. We'll worry about that next Sunday.

For now, let's all enjoy the win over the mistake-prone, mystifying Cincinnati Bengals, whose fans must be dumbfounded and confounded. It's going to be a long week for Andy Dalton, who can't win the big game, the latest instance of which was Sunday's tilt vs. the Steelers. The Bungles bungled a perfect opportunity to extinguish the Steelers' playoff hopes, slam the coffin lid, nail it down and bury the Steelers for the 2014 season. They failed, miserably.

Andy Dalton was occasionally brilliant, as on almost every pass he threw to the formidable A.J. Green (11 catches for 224 yards) and on his own 20-yard TD run off a perfectly executed play-fake handoff where Dalton tucked the ball and ran past a faked-out Troy Polamalu into the end zone.  Despite going 21 of 29 for 302 yards and two touchdowns, Dalton didn't do enough to overcome the failures and miscues of a highly touted, much-hyped Cincinnati defense featuring five first-rounders in the secondary. And, of course, Dalton made a crucial mistake, botching a handoff to Jeremy Hill. The fumble was recovered by Arthur Moats, and a few plays later, the Steelers converted the miscue into seven points.

Good Ben showed up for the Steelers in Cincinnati, as opposed to the Bad Ben who took the field last week in Pittsburgh vs. the Saints. Antonio Brown was electric, again, and the offensive line played cohesively for the most part, thank you, Mike Munchak.

But the star of the game, of course, was Le'Veon Bell*, who joined the immortal Walter Payton as among the backs in NFL history to tally three consecutive games of 200 total yards from scrimmage. Elite company, indeed, and hope for Steeler Nation that maybe this Steelers team can stand a measure of success, after all, and build on it to attain some semblance of consistency.

A good win, and hopefully one that foreshadows three more just like it over the next three weeks.

*Le'Veon Bell: 185 yards on the ground, six pass receptions for 50 yards; three touchdowns; no fumbles.

Thursday, December 04, 2014

What defense?

Last Sunday, the Saints scored 35 points on 54 plays against a Steelers defense with flailing corners, invisible safeties and a limp pass rush. Thirteen plays by New Orleans went for 10 yards or more.

Again, we ask: Where are the linebackers? Where are the safeties? Where are the sacks? Where are the takeaways?

Every team has been hit by injuries, and the Steelers are no different. Absent have been three young guys who were expected to get significant playing time. Linebackers Jarvis Jones and Ryan Shazier, both first-rounders, and safety Shamarko Thomas, have played hardly at all this year.

For Jones and Thomas, this is the second consecutive year they haven't shown much. At this point, the Steelers still don't know what they really have in all three of these guys.  Much was expected of them, and little has been delivered. Not necessarily their fault (because of injuries), but their absence has not helped the team.  It's worrisome, especially considering the pricey investments the Steelers made in them: First-round draft investments in Jones and Shazier, and the trade of the this year's third-round choice to Cleveland to draft Thomas last year. So far, those investments haven't paid off.

Free-agency duds
On the other hand, and not happily, we do know pretty much what we have in the free agent signees the Steelers added to the defense this past off-season.

It's safe to say few people are impressed with the performance of safety Mike Mitchell and Cam Thomas. Both have been downright abysmal, and neither would be missed if they weren't here next year.

Backup linebacker Arthur Moats is just that: a backup linebacker and special teams player. Just a guy. He has not exactly exceeded expectations when he's had the opportunity to play linebacker. Brice McCain has had some positive moments, most notably the game-sealing pick-six TD return against Jacksonville, and he's probably played better than most people expected. He's been more or less okay, but he's not a shutdown corner by any means. The same goes for Antwon Blake, only less so.

It's safe to say, too, that linebacker Jason Worilds has not played up to his $10 million one-year contract. His performance has been underwhelming, to say the least. He's lucky he got his money already, because it will be a major surprise if he gets anything close to that again.

The defense's inability to stop the run has been a real problem this year. They've been gashed by Cleveland (twice), Baltimore, Houston and New Orleans. Terrance West, Arian Foster, and Mark Ingram have had 100-yard games against them, and Bernard Pierce rushed for 96 yards.

The Bengals like to run the ball, and offensive coordinator Hue Jackson has made it a point to do so.

We'll see how it shakes out on Sunday in Cincinnati, but we should expect for the Steelers to see a heavy dose of Jeremy Hill and Giovanni Bernard.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Jumpy Jr.

Clifton Geathers, nephew of the great Jumpy Geathers, is your newest defensive end for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The Steelers become the eighth NFL roster Geather has joined since being selected by Cleveland in the sixth round of the 2010 NFL draft. Eight teams in less than five years.


Geathers, 6'8", 325 pounds, played college football at the University of South Carolina in Columbia, S.C., which is where this picture was taken.

Monday, December 01, 2014

Ben said it ...

Last week, you will recall, Ben Roethlisberger said Sunday's game vs. the Saints would be a "must win" game.

The Steelers lost. And it's how they lost that defines this particular defeat and this Steelers team.

The Steelers looked listless and unprepared. That was especially so for the defense, which looked clueless and hapless as the Saints put together four drives of 80 yards or more. The defense had no answer for running back Mark Ingram, who amassed 122 yards on the ground. The Saints had 11 runs that went for at least five yards. Eleven!  Hardly a stout run defense. And the pass rush was negligible, as it allowed Drew Brees ample time to carve up a woeful secondary that featured flailing corners and invisible safeties.

On offense, Roethlisberger was off his game. He missed targets all day long. Roethlisberger threw two interceptions, and New Orleans cornerback Patrick Robinson could have had three more, including one that would have been a pick-six had Robinson secured Roethlisberger's pass right to him early in the first quarter.

Obvious as it was that Roethlisberger was off his game, he still ended up dropping back to pass 59 times (one sack; 58 pass attempts). This, despite the fact that New Orleans was starting its backup nose tackle on a defense that entered the game ranked 23rd in the NFL against the run.

Despite that, and even as it was clear early on that Roethlisberger was off his game ... there he was, trying to fling the ball all over the field -- 58 attempts -- while the Steelers' running backs got just 22 rush attempts. Roethlisberger had more incompletions (26) than the running backs had running plays (22).

Fifty-eight pass attempts vs. 22 running plays.  Something here doesn't make sense.

So, considering that Roethlisberger had stated that it was a "must win" game, and the Steelers lost, where does that leave us?

In the shadow, on the margins, at the dark end of the street, that's where.

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Stick a fork in 'em. They're done.

DE Cameron Jordan intercepts Ben Roethlisberger
The Steelers aren't mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but they might as well be.

They may not win another game. Considering they lost to the 2-10 Bucs, 2-9 Jets and 4-7 Saints, how can anybody feel confident the Steelers will beat the Bengals, Falcons and Chiefs?

This was a Steelers team, mind you, that entered Sunday's game at home fresh off its bye week, against a reeling New Orleans squad that had just lost three consecutive games (all at home) and was 2-8 on the road over its past 10 away from the Big Easy. Disgraceful.

Once again, it seemed the Steelers weren't ready. Once again, they played listlessly. Maybe they're just not good enough. It is a flawed team with inadequate talent and, arguably, poor coaching by a staff that didn't have its team prepared. What other explanation could there be?

Against a team with a dreadful run defense, Ben Roethlisberger threw the ball 58 times.

Does that make any sense?

Roethlisberger's passes sailed high and wide repeatedly. He refused to blame his off-target throws on a hand or wrist injury apparently sustained in the first quarter.

Whatever, the fact remains: Pittsburgh running backs had only 22 carries, with 21 of them by Le'Veon Bell -- so much for getting Dri Archer or Josh Harris involved. Twenty-one rushes vs. 58 pass attempts. By the end of the first half, Roethlisberger had completed just 8-of-22 for 115 yards, but the score was only 14-6. There was plenty of time to run the ball.

Not to blame Martavis Bryant for things going sideways, but his second-quarter drop of a contested but catchable pass that would have gone for a touchdown felt like a turning point. The Steelers settled for a field goal, the Saints answered with a touchdown, and it was downhill from there.

Ike Taylor had a bad day.
After that second field goal, Drew Brees went to work. He scorched the secondary for five touchdown passes. Brees completed passes of 69, 44, 21, 18, 17, 15 and 13 yards.

Somebody name Kenny Stills hauled in five passes for 162 yards. Mark Ingram reeled off runs of 34 and 20 yards en route to his 122 yards rushing for 5.3 yards per carry. The Saints had five plays of 20 yards or more. The Steelers' secondary was horrific, and the front seven wasn't any better.

The Saints outclassed the Steelers on a day when the Black 'n Gold were honoring the 1974 Super Bowl squad. Used to be, not so long ago, the Steelers would never lose on such alumni-honoring occasions. The loss today is just another sign of how things have changed and maybe indicative that too many players on the current roster simply don't get what it means to be a Steeler.

Even the Saints' punting game was superior. New Orleans punter Thomas Morstead punted six times for 291 yards with a 48.5 gross punting average and an impressive 45.4 yard net average. Morstead's efforts included a clutch 55-yard punt in the fourth quarter that pinned the Steelers at their five-yard line. That was one of two Morstead punts that the Saints were able to down inside the 20. Pittsburgh's Brad Wing had two punts for a 37.5 yard net average, with one downed inside the 20.

Four games remain for the Steelers. They may win one or two; they may win all four. Or they may not win any. Yes, at this point, it is conceivable that the 2014 Steelers could end up with a 7-9 record.

Friday, November 28, 2014

Saints vs. Steelers: Dissa 'n Datta

Photo credit: Maury Burgwin, Pittsburgh, Pa.
On paper, the Saints-Steelers game on Sunday at Heinz Field appears to be a matchup of two potent offenses.

Both teams have scored an average of 26.2 points per game. The Saints are third in total offense with 433.6 yards per game; the Steelers rank fifth, with 406.4 yards per game.

Both are passing-based offenses:
  • The Saints and Steelers are ranked fourth and fifth in passing attempts per game.
  •  Saints and Steelers rank third and fourth in passing yards per game (308.8 and 286.9 yards per game, respectively). 
  • With the Saints ranking 10th in rushing attempts and the Steelers 12th in rushing attempts, New Orleans has the edge in rushing yards per game (124.8 vs. 119.5).
The  New Orleans offense ranks first in the NFL in first downs (290) and first in third-down efficiency (50.7 percent).

What do these numbers portend? Who knows, but the forecast could be for a Breesy day in Pittsburgh on Sunday. Let's hope the Steelers secondary is ready for a busy day.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Happy Thanksgiving

Thanks for visiting Joey Porter's Pit Bulls. We're grateful to be here.

Enjoy your turkey, your fixings, your turkey bowl, your football, all of it. Appreciate, enjoy, express thanks, extend gratitude, and, if possible, give somebody a helping hand.

Pirates manager Clint Hurdle passed along the following thought in one of his e-mails: "Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it."

Joey Porter's Pit Bulls gotta send a shout-out to the Greater Pittsburgh Community Food Bank, the Society of St. Vincent de Paul, Animal Rescue League of Western Pennsylvania, Animal Friends, the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, and the list goes on and on. Lots of ways to help.

And, in the spirit of this holiday, because the following is so much better than anything we can write, here is the classic Big Daddy Drew’s Thanksgiving Itinerary, posted on Kissing Suzy Kolber on Thanksgiving Eve 2006 (the year Joey Porter's Pit Bulls was founded.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Exactly the same stats ...

Yes, the New Orleans Saints' defense has yielded a ton of big plays this season: 40 plays of 20+ yards allowed and nine plays of 40+ yards allowed.

Guess what? So have the Steelers. 

The Steelers have the exact same numbers as the Saints in those categories: 40 plays of 20+yards allowed; and nine plays of 40+ yards allowed.

The New Orleans wide receivers and running backs are respectable enough (nothing special), but the thought of Drew Brees targeting tight end Jimmy Graham all day with safety Mike Mitchell matched up against Graham ... that's ominous, if not downright terrifying.

Looking forward ...

In a "one game at a time" league, it's almost tempting to look past the New Orleans Saints, who have lost three consecutive games and whose defense looked typically awful in Monday night's dispiriting loss to Baltimore in the Superdome.

Then again, the Steelers apparently looked past the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and New York Jets, and Pittsburgh lost listlessly to both of those doormats.

The Saints are no doormats. They may be just 4-7, but the Saints are in the first place in the weak NFC South, and, more importantly, they still have Drew Brees and tight end Jimmy Graham. The thought of Graham matching up against safety Mike Mitchell is enough to instill dread in any Steeler fan, but ...

On Monday night, the Saints proved once again what everybody knew already, which is that their defense can't stop the run. The New Orleans defense coming into Heinz Field on Sunday ranks 23rd in the NFL against the run (123.8 yards per game). Overall, the Saints' defense ranks 27th (377.1 yards per game). On Monday, the Ravens' offense blistered the Saints for an absurd 11 plays of 20 yards or more (including five runs of 20+ yards apiece), and five plays of 35 yards or more. Baltimore converted nine of 13 third downs. That's weak.

The New Orleans defense has some talented players, but defensive coordinator Rob Ryan usually has them over-schemed, flying around with exotic blitzes and unusual formations -- as if he's going to outsmart anybody instead of just lining up his guys and letting them play.

The Saints' run defense is particularly awful, and if Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley fails to exploit that weakness, shame on him.  Historically, however, Haley's tendency has been to try to show the world how smart he is. The fourth quarter against the Tennessee Titans was an exception. The Steelers ran Le'Veon Bell repeatedly off tackle -- some players said it was the exact same play call for nine straight snaps -- and Bell wound up with 204 yards rushing.

If Haley is really smart, he will run the ball against the Saints, and run it some more.

It's funny how, in an NFL that has become a passing league, running the ball still wins games.

Monday, November 24, 2014

A Little Help from the Saints, Please

The Steelers look to get a little help from the Saints in New Orleans tonight, as the Saints take on the visiting Ravens.

It's worth noting that the Saints have not only won 14 consecutive prime time TV games at home, they've won by an average of 20 points per game.

And it's worth noting that Baltimore quarterback Joe Flacco simply hasn't been good on the road for the past year-and-a-half. That's a large reason why Baltimore's record since the beginning of the 2013 season is only 14-12. The Steelers' record in the same span is 15-12.

The 4-6 Saints sit atop the NFC South, ahead of the dreadful 4-7 Atlanta Falcons, who lost at home to Cleveland yesterday, despite Brian Hoyer's three interceptions. The Steelers also got no help yesterday from the Houston Texans, who lost at home to Cincinnati.

Way down in New Orleans ("the prettiest girls I've ever seen"), the Saints' defense has been less than imposing this year. While their defense, "led" by coordinator Rob Ryan, has some notable names (cornerback Keenan Lewis, safety Jairus Byrd, linebacker Junior Gallette, defensive end Cameron Jordan, safety Kenny Vaccaro) the unit as a whole has been mostly awful.

Last week, the Saints allowed Andy Dalton and the Bengals to convert six first downs on third-and-8 or longer. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the Saints' defense has yielded 23 such plays, which is more first downs than any team in the NFL this year on plays of third-and-8 or fourth-and-8 or longer. The Ravens would be crazy not to probe the New Orleans secondary early and often.

On the flip side of the ball, New Orleans quarterback Drew Brees is great, and the Saints' offense hs been very good at converting third downs. As ESPN.com's Jamison Hensley notes, "The Saints have converted a league-best 51.6 percent of their third downs and lead the NFL in fewest three-and-outs with 13."

For Steeler Nation, then, there is reasonable hope the Saints will defeat the Ravens tonight. In any case, the Steelers should watch tonight's Baltimore-New Orleans game very closely. The Steelers host the Saints next Sunday at Heinz Field.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Lack of Mack

It's the Steelers' bye week but also time to pay close attention to the competition. Maybe no team this season has been more interesting than the Cleveland Browns.

After center Alex Mack went down with a knee injury on Oct. 12 when the Browns trampled the Steelers, 31-10, Joey Porter's Pit Bulls couldn't help but wonder how his absence would affect the Browns. Guys like Mack aren't replaced easily. When healthy, he is arguably the best center in the NFL.

How key is Mack to the Browns? If there was a player besides Brian Hoyer the Browns couldn't afford to lose, it was Mack. Since Mack's injury, Cleveland is 3-2, with the two losses being to Jacksonville and Houston.

More importantly, as noted by ESPN.com's Pat McManamon, here is how Cleveland's running game has fared since Mack went down:

"The Browns averaged 146. 4 yards per game 
and 4.4 yards per carry with Alex Mack, 
but 77.2 per game and 2.4 per carry since Mack was hurt."

Say no more. Even with Josh Gordon's return from suspension, the Browns are going to have a tough time, if they can't run the ball.

Add these numbers to the equation: Four of Cleveland's final six games will be on the road, and four of those six games will be against opponents with a record of .500 or better.



This is a laugh

Joey Porter's Pit Bulls have heard Bill Bellichick called a of things before, but "100 percent honest" isn't one of them.

But that's how LeGarrette Blount, of all people, described Coach Hoodie this weekend. Blount's statement implies, of course, that Mike Tomlin, Todd Haley, Kevin Colbert and the Steelers organization are less than 100 percent honest.

Whatever. Consider the source.

On This Date in History: A Tipping Point

Like Dec. 7, 1941 and Sept. 11, 2001,
Nov. 22, 1963 was one of those days.

If you're ever in Dallas, we recommend
that you make time to visit the
Sixth Floor Museum at Dealey Plaza.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

The Knucklehead Express


Why did the Steelers sign LeGarrette Blount in the first place? They knew he was a knucklehead, and he's proved them right.  The Steelers finally had to "blink open the blind eye," to borrow a phrase coined by Frank DeFord. Now Blount is on The Knucklehead Express outta town.

Twitter photo courtesy of Mark Kaboly, Tribune-Review:
"Blount dressed and ready to go
while rest of team still in their pads." 
The Steelers wasted time and money investing in the two-year, $3.85 million contract they awarded Blount. He had a history in Tampa Bay, and in Oregon, and there were even questions about him in New England, which allowed him to walk after last season.

Now, just 11 weeks into the 2014 season, the Steelers have seen enough. Blount wore out his welcome quickly, even among his teammates, according to the Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette.

When you see the success of undrafted free agent running backs like Jonas Gray (four touchdowns and 201 yards rushing for the Patriots on Sunday; cover of Sports Illustrated) and Isaiah Crowell (starting for the Browns; 358 yards rushing and five TDs this season) -- and considering the presence of Le'Veon Bell -- why was it necessary to sign Blount as a free agent?

The Steelers' decisions regarding free-agent talent acquisition this past off-season merits second-guessing, if not downright criticism. Blount, Cam Thomas, Mike Mitchell, Lance Moore -- all have disappointed for one reason or another.  The Steelers knew Blount was a knucklehead. They knew Cam Thomas had lost his starting job in San Diego. Mike Mitchell had one year of modest success on a good defense in Carolina, and he's been less than good, to say the least, in Pittsburgh. And Moore has always been an overachiever who played with a great quarterback in New Orleans and may be past his expiration date. He's barely seen the field for the Steelers.

The Steelers had to release Blount. They should never have signed him.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

A Good Time ... for the Bye Week

If the playoffs were to start today, the Steelers would qualify for a wild-card slot as the sixth seed. Yikes.

Le'Veon Bell, carrying the load.
For the Steelers, the good and the bad, the ying and the yang, the beauty marks and the ugly warts -- all were on display in last night's entertaining but, eh, frown-inducing game in chilly Nashville. Thanks mostly to Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown and Heath Miller, the Steelers barely got by a 2-7 Titans squad starting a rookie sixth-rounder at quarterback.

Truth be told, though, Zack Mettenberger showed many of the qualities that generated pre-draft buzz that he might merit a first-day selection in the draft. Following his bad throw that resulted in a pick-six on his first pass of the game, Mettenberger played like a legitimate NFL quarterback, with a 110.2 passer rating, 263 yards passing, no picks and no sacks taken. On a cold, breezy night with a wind chill of 16 degrees, Mettenberger's average gain per pass play was 11.0, which compares more than favorably to Ben Roethlisberger's less-than-stellar 4.9 yards per pass

It's a very good thing the Steelers controlled Time of Possession by almost two to one, controlling the ball for almost 40 minutes. The Steelers ran 73 offensive plays to Tennessee's 39, but the Titan's average yards gained per play was 8.0 vs. 5.3 for the Steelers.

Nate Washington, leaving everyone
behind on his 80-yard TD.
The Steelers' defense is simply not a good defense right now. It needs to get some of its injured players back, but keep in mind this is a unit that allowed Mike Glennon to drive the Tampa Bay Buccaneers downfield on them late in the fourth quarter in an ignominious loss at Heinz Field.

Last night, it showed all the deficiencies that will get exposed, badly, by any offensive unit with more talent than the Titans.

As it was, last night the defense surrendered five plays of 20 yards or more.

The safeties were not good last night. Again, we ask: What did the Steelers see in Mike Mitchell?  He's late on way too many plays. And Will Allen went AWOL on Nate Washington's 80-yrd touchdown.

The linebackers, for the most part, also were not impactful. Jason Worilds is playing nothing like a big-money linebacker. Arthur Moats, who had no tackles, is just a guy.  Sean Spence looks like just a guy, although he was the Steelers' second-leading tackler ... with two individual stops. Two. Will Allen led the Steelers with three solo tackles.  Spence, Allen and Mitchell all got in on five tackles apiece, including assists. It's a good thing the Titans ran only 39 plays.

The defensive front seven generated no sacks. Zero.

The Steelers' offensive line, meanwhile, allowed five sacks and way too much pressure up the middle. Maurkice Pouncey had his hands full, to say the least; no, that's too kind: Pouncey was overmatched and got pushed around, much like he did last week by the Jets.

Although it struggled in pass protection, the offensive line must have done something right in clearing lanes for Bell, who had 204 yards rushing. Bell may well have done much of that on his own, for all we know. He is that good.

It's a good week for the bye. There is much work to be done.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Game Day 11: Steelers at Tennessee

A few more interceptions would help.

Once again this year, the lack of takeaways by the Steelers' defense is a problem.  The Steelers have only 13 takeaways, which puts them at 22nd in the NFL rankings, tied with St. Louis.

Overall, Pittsburgh's giveaway/takeaway ration is only -2, which ties them for 19th in the league, along with Carolina and, yes, Tennessee.

The Steelers have a mere seven interceptions on the year, which puts them 21st in the NFL rankings (tied with Philadelphia).

Cortez Allen leads the team with two interceptions. Players with one interception are Brice McCain, Antwon Blake, William Gay, Jason Worilds and Brett Keisel.

The safeties have no interceptions. Zero. That's pitiful.

If they don't start taking away the ball more often, the Steelers are going to struggle to win games. Tonight, against a rookie quarterback, would be a good time to start upping that total of a meager seven interceptions made so far in 2014.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

The Browns Lost at Home to the Texans

J.J. Watt catches a TD pass over Karlos Dansby
The Browns took a major step back today with a 23-7 loss to the Houston Texans in Cleveland. The Texans played without Arian Foster, but still racked up a whopping 214 yards on the ground, as rookie tailback Alfred Blue out of LSU ran for 156 yards on 36 carries.

Thirty-six carries by a rookie running back starting his first game. Fifty-four rushing attempts in all. That is Commitment to the Run. Thirty-six carries by a rookie tailback starting his first game. For the Texans, too, Ryan Mallett made his first start and did okay, throwing two TD passes, including one to J.J. Watt.

Cleveland made too many mistakes. Cleveland gave Houston four first downs on penalties, Paul Kruger dropped an interception, and Brian Hoyer was off his game. He tripped over the feet of his own linemen on more than one occasion, and he missed open receivers multiple times.

The Texans ran for 214 yards against the Browns.
Hoyer threw 50 times -- which was about 25 too many attempts for him. He completed 30 of the 50 attempts and had one interception and one TD pass.

Watt hounded Hoyer all day. As reported on NFL.com, "Watt was all over the field. Along with his TD, he recorded a strip sack, made five tackles - three for a loss - recovered a fumble and hurried Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer into several bad throws. Watt provided more proof he's the NFL's best defensive player."

Adding injury to the insult of the loss, defensive leader Karlos Dansby suffered a knee injury. No word yet on how severe the injury is.

Where was this the last couple years?

If you want to shake your head in wonderment (and a little nausea), read this article (with video highlights) posted on the Denver Broncos' website.

Titled, "Emmanuel Sanders on the Art of the Spectacular Catch," it gushes about how wonderful Sanders has been this year for the Broncos.

The article pronounces, "Sanders has secured 62 of 63 catchable passes this season (according to Pro Football Focus), good for the second-lowest drop rate (1.59 percent) of any receiver with at least 50 targets. He has at least 14 more receptions than any player who PFF has not credited with a drop this season."

Emmanuel Sanders, dropping the ball in Baltimore
Anybody who watched Sanders with the Steelers last year remembers his maddening propensity to come up short in clutch situations. He had key drops in numerous games, starting with the season opener vs. Tennessee, when he dropped two perfectly thrown long passes, and -- most infuriatingly -- in the end zone against Baltimore in a must-win game late in the season. He makes that catch, the Steelers make the playoffs. He was not clutch for the Steelers.

Sanders's 62 receptions this year puts him close to last year's total of 67 for the Steelers. He has six touchdowns. His designated primary replacement, Marcus Wheaton, has 35 receptions so far this year, and two touchdowns.

Still, Sanders's performance for the Steelers last year left a lot to be desired. His drops last year came at crucial times -- remember the dropped two-point conversion on Thanksgiving night vs. Baltimore? ... the nail-in-the-coffin loss when he choked repeatedly, dropping several passes, as noted the next day on this blog:
"Sanders topped his first-quarter drop of a long pass right on the numbers by failing to catch another long pass right on the numbers, with just over two minutes left in the fourth quarter and looking stupid doing it. Then, Sanders bungled the two-point conversion that would have tied the game. 
If the definition of "clutch" is to thrive and get better in the bigger moments, Sanders ain't clutch."
Emmanuel Sanders, after the infamous
dropped two-point conversion vs. Baltimore.
This point was reiterated over at Behind the Steel Curtain:
"Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders choked throughout the game, dropping several passes, including a two-point conversion with a minute and change left on the clock that would have tied the game."
For all his shortcomings, Sanders was slippery, showed some flash on occasion and came up with enough catches to end up with 67 receptions in 2013 for a pedestrian 11-yards-per catch average (740 yards), a long catch of 55 yards for a TD, six touchdowns, 12 catches of 20 yards or more, three catches of 40 yards-plus. He had 10 kick returns for a very decent 28.6 yard average, with the longest return being 46 yards.

Sanders is gone, now, of course, and lighting it up for the Broncos. But, as Scott Brown at ESPN noted before the last game of the 2013 season, "Sanders' well-documented drops have raised questions about his consistency, and his high opinion of his skills will price him out of the Steelers' range if another team agrees with him."

While Sanders is doing well this year, Steeler Nation has to ask, "Where was this sort of consistency and reliability last year?"

Zack Mettenberger has a chance

Less than a year ago Tennessee Titans rookie quarterback Zack Mettenberger tore his left ACL, which occurred during a Nov. 29th LSU-Arkansas game. That injury, and some other issues (behavioral) left question marks about him, and he fell to the second pick of the sixth round, the 178th overall selection of the 2014 NFL Draft.

Zach Mettenberger
He definitely has an NFL arm, and he's got the size (6'5", 225). Before the draft, Joey Porter's Pit Bulls was checking out some LSU video to see wide receivers Odell Beckham Jr. and Jarvis Landry. Both of them looked dynamite, but some of the throws Mettenberger made were seriously attention-getting. Like, "whoa," eye-popping, attention-getting type throws.

When he was there in the sixth round, the Titans had to take a flier on him. Now that he's the starter, the job is his until he loses it. He's got every opportunity to establish himself in the NFL, and he could end up being a very good NFL quarterback.

Steeler Nation will get a closer look at him on Monday night, and we'll see whether he looks more like Ben Roethlisberger ... or Landry Jones.

For what it's worth, while Mettenberger is a starting quarterback in the NFL after lasting until the sixth round, the Steelers' two fifth-round picks are no longer with the team. Cornerback Shaquille Richardson (157th overall) was placed on the practice squad reserve/injured list on Oct. 17th and subsequently reached an injury settlement with the team; and offensive lineman Wesley Johnson (173rd overall) was released on Oct. 13th and then claimed off waivers by the New York Jets.

Links:

Memphis Daily News: How's Mettenberger doing? Same as other rookies

ESPN: Mettenberger not holding onto the ball long most of the time

The Sporting News: "Zack Mettenberger has six weeks to prove he's worthy of the Titans' trust"

Sports on Earth: LSU Pro Day Report


Friday, November 14, 2014

And Yet Cam Thomas Remains on the Roster

What's up with that, Dude?
The Steelers lost rookie defensive end Josh Mauro, the future Pro Bowler who the 8-1 Arizona Cardinals added to their active roster from Pittsburgh's practice squad. Mauro looked good in the preseason and appears to have a promising future.

And yet Cam Thomas remains on the Steelers' active roster.

This may be a good week to run the ball

The Tennessee Titans, with a 2-7 record, rank 29th in the NFL in opponent rushing yards allowed, yielding 136.6 yards per game.

Last week vs. the Jets, the Steelers ran the ball only 17 times, and look where it got them. Conversely, the Jets ran the ball 36 times for 150 yards.

John Henry Johnson was fearsome.
Although this has become a passing league ... and although offensive coordinators around the NFL want to be unpredictable ... running the football still wins games. That's not to say passing doesn't also win games, as we saw when Ben Roethlisberger threw for six touchdowns in each of two consecutive games, or when Aaron Rogers threw six TD passes in the first half vs. Chicago last Sunday.

But when an opponent is weak against the run, it usually pays to run the ball. On Sunday, the Seahawks trampled the New York Giants for 350 yards rushing on 45 attempts.* The Giants couldn't stop them, and there is nothing more demoralizing to a team than realizing it cannot stop an opponent running the ball, over and over and over again. After last week, the Giants rank 32nd against the run.

The 29th-ranked Titans are weak against the run.

It doesn't have to be rocket science.

*Coincidentally, the Giants attempted just 17 rushing attempts against Seattle -- exactly the same number (17) the Steelers attempted to run vs. the Jets. 

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Another bad team

Lots of talk this week about the Steelers having trouble beating bad teams. The Tennessee Titans are a bad team.

The Titans have been bad, or at least mediocre, for a good while now. Yet that hasn't stopped the Tennessee franchise from defeating the Steelers 13 of the last 19 times the two teams have met.

The two most recent losses to Tennessee were especially ugly for the Steelers.

In the 2013 season opener at Heinz Field, the Steelers inexplicably played flat and appeared not ready for the game ... after seven weeks of training camp ... at home ... against an inferior opponent.

The Steelers lost, 16-9, as Ben Roethlisberger took five sacks. Emmanuel Sanders dropped a perfectly thrown long pass on the first play of the game. Isaac Redman lost a fumble. Maurkice Pouncey got hurt. The offensive line looked terrible, the running game was absent, and pass protection was abysmal.

By the late fourth quarter, with about five minutes left, CBS announcer Ian Eagle pronounced, "This has been a nightmare for the Steelers: injuries, poor execution, lack of execution, no running game."

After the game, head coach Mike Tomlin said, "Inexcusable. Not good enough. Unacceptable."

Sound familiar?

The Steelers went on to lose another three straight games to open the season 0-4. They never recovered, and finished 8-8.

Blocked punt, Oct. 11, 2012.
In 2012, in a Thursday night game at Nashville, the Steelers made mistake after mistake, letting a bad Titans team hang around and hang around until the very end, when Rob Bironas kicked a 40-yard field goal as time expired.  That was an ugly game, and it was one of several bad losses to inferior teams that year. The Steelers finished 8-8.

In that game: Drew Butler had a punt blocked; Shaun Suisham missed a 54-yard-field goal attempt; Roethlisberger killed a drive with a bad interception just before halftime; Keenan Lewis dropped a gimme interception; penalty flags flew; the defense got pushed around and couldn't generate a pass rush; and defensive end Derrick Morgan had his way with Mike Adams for most of the night. It was embarrassing.

Whatever whammy bad teams have on the Steelers, let's hope the Black 'n Gold figure out a way to get past this year's woeful Titans.

Link:

Lots of Connections between the Titans & Steelers

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Capt. Alejandro Villaneuva

It was nice of Mike Tomlin to give a shout-out to veterans during his weekly news conference today and mention how the team is honoring Alejandro Villaneuva, a member of the Steelers' practice squad.

Capt. Alejandro Villanueva
Come on, Coach Tomlin, activate him already. Put Villanueva on the active roster. Surely he could play special teams, at the very least. Put him in to block kicks. The Steelers list Villaneuva (6'8", 277) as an offensive tackle, but it sounds like he has the makings of a tight end (and target in the red zone). He played defensive end, offensive tackle and wide receiver at Army.

As Army's offensive team captain, Villanueva started 12 games at wide receiver, led the team in receptions (34) and scored five touchdowns his senior season in 2009.

If you're going to have James Harrison run pass patterns in the end zone, then surely Villaneuva could do it, too.

Villaneuva happens to be an active member of the U.S. Army Rangers Reserve -- a captain, in fact --and a graduate of West Point who was awarded a Bronze Star for valor during one of his three tours of duty in Afghanistan. In 2011, as a 23-year-old lieutenant, he commanded a 38-person unit in combat.

You can read more about Villanueva in this excellent article by ESPN columnist Ashley Fox, titled, "Army Veteran's Long NFL Path."

Alejandro Villaneuva, as a wide receiver for Army.
Photos courtesy of MMQB.SI, which provided the following caption:

"As a receiver at Army, Alejandro Villanueva pulled in a one-handed grab against VMI in November 2009 (left) and soared against Navy a month later. (Frank DiBrango/Icon SMI and Matt Slocum/AP)"





Seriously: A 6'8", 277-lb. guy who has experience playing both tackle and wide receiver? To Joey Porter's Pit Bulls, that sounds like: "Tight end and red zone target."

"One of our teammates is a serviceman," Tomlin said. "West Point grad, Villanueva, we acknowledged him yesterday in our team meeting. We’ll honor him not only today but all week. We’ll carry him with us to Tennessee when we play this game this weekend, just as a sign or a token of our appreciation for not only the sacrifice that he had made, but all of the servicemen and women in our country."

Villanueva's honors for service include: the Bronze Star Medal for Valor, the Ranger Tab, the Parachutist Badge, the Bronze Star Medal for overseas service, National Defense Service Medal, Afghanistan Campaign Medal with Campaign Star, Global War on Terrorism Service Ribbon, Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon, NATO Medal, Combat Infantryman’s Badge and Expert Infantryman’s Badge.

Just promote him to the active roster already.