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  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.

So close ... USA

Julian Green's goal sailing past the Belgium goalkeeper.
The USA 2014 World Cup squad came so close.  It was a motley crew easy to root for. They were plucky, resilient and dogged. Nothing to be ashamed of here. None of our guys spit on or bit anybody, and our team showed it can compete with the better squads in the world. They came up just short, and we're gonna miss 'em.  It would have been fun to see them continue. We're looking forward to 2018.

We'll see how the rest of the World Cup tournament plays out.  It's still fun, interesting and compelling viewing -- Costa Rica, anyone? -- but very soon futbol will take a back seat to football.

Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Classic Joey Porter Words to Live By

"You're not supposed to go into a game like this and act like you like the other team, anyway."

Joey Porter said those words about the Seattle Seahawks the week before the Super Bowl in February 2006.

Porter had kept a low profile until that point but erupted after he learned that Seattle tight end Jerramy Stevens had mouthed off about the Seahawks planning to spoil Jerome Bettis's Detroit homecoming and appearance in the first Super Bowl of his long and distinguished career.

Upon hearing Stevens's remarks, Porter could contain himself no longer. He erupted, calling Stevens "soft."

Porter went on: "I don't think he should even be talking about a guy of Jerome's status. This is a guy who hasn't done nothing yet.

"If they ever leave him in to pass block, he's definitely a liability. If they want him to play to my side, him being the tight end, to block me, he's a liability. If they do anything using him to make a play coming to my side, it's not going to work, I'll tell you that right now. If they run the ball with him trying to block me, it's not going to happen. If they leave him in to pass block against me, I'm going to hit their quarterback. Those are the facts."

Saturday, June 21, 2014

What do we have in Markus Wheaton?

Markus Levont`e Wheaton, the 2013 third-round draft pick out of Oregon State, is being counted on to replace Emmanuel Sanders at the No. 2 wide receiver this year on the Steelers.

Sanders set a fairly low bar for performance. His drops 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, in Baltimore
Points 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, having departed via free agency for the Denver Broncos. No surprise. 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."

In 2014, with Sanders gone and with Dri Archer returning kicks, all Markus Wheaton has to do is catch passes. Will he be able to replace Sanders's production? Very possibly.

Let's take a closer comparative look.  Sanders and Wheaton have similar size. According to the official team numbers, Sanders was listed at 5'11, 180. Wheaton is listed at 5'11, 182. Subtract an inch and about 10 pounds, and you're probably close their real height and weight.

Sanders was a third-rounder out of Southern Methodist in 2010 (82nd overall). Joey Porter's Pit Bulls remember watching pre-draft video of some of his play at SMU and being impressed. He seemed polished, and he had put up numbers in a pass-happy offense. His speed was plenty good enough (4.40 40).

Wheaton was a third-rounder out of Oregon State in 2013 (79th overall). He came out of a pass-happy offense at Oregon State. He also put up good numbers, and his speed (a 4.45 40) is good enough to have success in the NFL. At Oregon State, Wheaton caught 227 passes for 2,994 yards and 16 touchdowns. That's college, though.

When he got to training camp with the Steelers last year, by all accounts, Wheaton looked very good. He showed polish and a professional approach to the game. During training camp last August, Ike Taylor famously said that Wheaton was already a better wide receiver than Mike Wallace -- just not as fast as Wallace.

Taylor also said of Wheaton:
"He's not playing like a rookie, he doesn't act like a rookie," Taylor said. "Of course, he's going to make rookie mistakes because he is a rookie, but watching him over the course of weeks, the guy is smart, polished. I can't wait to see him during the season."
That didn't happen much, mostly due to a broken finger that curtailed Wheaton's playing time and production.

This year, for all intents and purposes, the Steelers are adding a third-round wider receiver ... just one that was drafted a year ago. One plus is that he has a year being around the Steelers, studying and working with the coaches and other receivers.

Now healthy again, presumably, the questions for Markus Wheaton in 2014 are: Will he get open? And will he catch the ball?

To find the answers, we can go back to look at some of the things that got people excited last training camp. A nice report from Behind the Steel Curtain's Neal Coolong, offered at this link, pores over details of some plays he made at Oregon State, and they show a workmanlike approach and attention to detail that bodes well for success at the pro level. Doing it against UCLA is one thing, of course; doing it against the Ravens is another.

So, back to our original question: What do we have in Markus Wheaton?

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, June 18, 2014

The Cleveland Browns Suck

The Browns suck and are a rolling clown car of a franchise.

Here's how the 2014 season will shake out: Early excitement, as Browns' fans love Johnny Manziel, and he enjoys sporadic flashes of success while generally having trouble adjusting to the speed and complexity of the NFL game. Cleveland struggles on offense. Manziel lasts five games before head coach Mike Pettine turns to Brian Hoyer. Hoyer sucks, too, and the Browns do little on offense.

Owner Jimmy Haslam gets called before a grand jury. Manziel goes to Vegas and signs with MTV as the star of his own reality show. On defense, the Browns' corners turn out to be not all they're cracked up to be. Manziel is reinstated as the starting quarterback. Cleveland finishes 4-12.

During the off-season, Haslam announces that Pettine has been fired, along with general manager Ray Farmer, and that Manziel has been traded to the Toronto Bills, who immediately name him the starting quarterback for the 2015 season opener vs. the London Jaguars.

Cleveland fans cry.

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Funeral Mass for Chuck Noll Today at St. Paul Cathedral

To be carried off one last time. 

Funeral Mass at 10 a.m., at St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland.  
May he rest in peace. 

Click the writers' names below for links
to some good articles about Chuck Noll ...

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Rest in Peace, Chuck Noll

Surely the scene in heaven tonight: The Chief and the Emperor, reunited.
"Welcome, Chuck. We've been waiting for you."

Read more about the great Chuck Noll here

Steelers Depot: Chuck Noll milestones

Steelers Depot: Chuck Noll Links

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Today's Joey Porter Quote

What the Steelers have been missing the past few years.

The following quote is from Joey Porter, Feb. 2, 2006, in a media session a few days before the Steelers took on the Seahawks in the Super Bowl in Detroit, as reported by the Post-Gazette:
"We're going to go out there and play football our style. It's going to be very physical. We're going to try to tap out as many people as we can; put it like that. We're going to try to send as many people to the sideline as we can. That's all you need to know. Every chance we get a chance to tap somebody out, that's what we're going out there to do." 
Asked to explain "tap out," Porter said, "Tap out, make them quit, send them to the sidelines. You never seen the word 'tap out' before? 'Take me out of the game.' You see somebody tap on their helmet, they don't want it anymore. We're going to try to make every one of them tap out if we can."
It's a good thing for Jonathan Dwyer's sake that he is no longer with the Steelers. Joey Porter would not put up with him, or anybody else, tapping out.  You've been warned, rookies. Welcome back, Joey Porter.

Monday, June 09, 2014

It's All About the Quarterback

Joey Porter's Pit Bulls have long wondered why the Steelers don't run more no-huddle offense. For that matter, we have long believed the Steelers should let Ben Reothlisberger call his own plays. Ben seems to be at his improvisational best when he can wing it, so turn him loose. Granted, the running backs might get fewer than 10 carries a game, the offensive line may disintegrate, and Todd Haley may go bald and apoplectic, but what's the worst that can happen? Well, besides that?

Surely Todd Haley knows by now that when he calls plays through the headset that he might as well be ordering a pizza, for all the attention Ben pays to his play calls.

Ben seems more settled now that he's a father, and he seems to be more of a leader, too, at least so far as embracing the role of a leadership persona. Who knows? Turn him loose.

Saturday, June 07, 2014

What did the Steelers see in Jarvis Jones?

Last year, his first in the NFL, rookie linebacker Jarvis Jones accomplished little and showed less.

It makes you wonder what the Steelers saw in him. They didn't meet with him at the NFL Combine, and when his Pro Day came up at the University of Georgia, he ran an abysmal 4.92 40-yard dash. Still, the Steelers made him their No. 1 draft pick (No. 17 overall).

Jarvis Jones, No. 95
Last year, Jones showed basically one pass-rush move. He couldn't bull-rush many blockers. He didn't hold the edge consistently on run plays, and he had trouble shedding blocks. He struggles with outside contain. He's not especially strong. And he's slow.

Seriously, what did the Steelers see in this guy? Last year, Jarvis Jones showed so little he might as well have been Landry Jones.

Let's hope he's better this year. To be fair, the Steelers' defense is notoriously difficult for rookies to learn. He says the game has slowed for him now that has a full NFL season under his belt, and we hope so. Steeler Nation is counting on him, although today's depth chart lists nondescript veteran backup Chris Carter as the starter at left outside linebacker, with Jones as the backup to Jason Worilds on the right side.

Most people expect Jones will be handed a starting job, much like Mike Adams was handed the starting left tackle job last summer.  A first-rounder should be making an impact by the time his second year starts. Let's hope Jones justifies the investment the Steelers have made in him.

We hope he succeeds, but if he falls flat this year, well, it makes you wonder what the Steelers were thinking when they drafted him instead of a couple of other players still on the board.

Eric Reid, rookie Pro Bowler, drafted No. 18 overall
in 2013, one pick after Jarvis Jones
LSU safety Eric Reid went to San Francisco with the very next pick (No. 17 overall), and Reid made the Pro Bowl his rookie season. Reid had 77 tackles, 11 breakups, four interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Jones was in on 40 tackles and one sack.

Two picks after Reid, the Bears selected guard Kyle Long, and he went to the Pro Bowl. Tight end Tyler Eiffert was on the board, too, and he went to Cincinnati with pick No. 21.

Considering Reid went to the Pro Bowl, however, and was selected immediately after Jones ... well, if Jarvis Jones doesn't pick up his game early this season, Steeler Nation may be clamoring for Howard Jones at linebacker instead of Jarvis Jones.

NFL teams cannot miss on No. 1 draft choices. It's too soon to put the "bust" label on Jones, but the pressure will be on him this year.

It may be early, but it's later than you might think.

Wednesday, June 04, 2014

The Bengals take a step back this year?

On the one hand, it's a team that's had a taste of success and should be hungry for more.

On the other hand, the Cincinnati Bengals carry the weight of a crushing history of ignominious failure when it counts.

On the one hand, the Bengals have drafted extremely well, uncharacteristically so, for the past five years.  A.J. Green, Giovanni Bernard, Geno Atkins, etc. and this year, high hopes for Darqueze Dennard and others, no doubt.

On the other hand, all those other number one draft choices in the secondary -- six of 'em (Dennard, Leon Hall, Adam Jones, Terence Newman, Dre Kirkpatrick, Reggie Nelson; not all drafted by the Bengals) -- those guys haven't played up to expectations.

There were enough question marks about Hall, Jones, Newman and Kirkpatrick (all corners) that the Bengals invested yet another No. 1 in Dennard. And, honestly, Joey Porter's Pit Bulls weren't sold on Dennard at No. 15 for the Steelers; it could be that he is a half-step too slow and that his clutch-and-grab tricks won't fly in the NFL.

Shaky Quarterback?

On the one hand, the Bengals have Andy Dalton.

On the other hand, they have Andy Dalton

The fourth-year quarterback (entering his contract year without an extension) has performed well in the regular season. Miserably in three playoff appearances. Last year, he took 29 sacks, lost three fumbles and threw 20 interceptions. There is room for improvement, and he knows it. Everybody knows it.

Two New Coordinators
We were initially inclined to look at the two new coordinators as a minus, but Hue Jackson actually may do some good for the Bengals. Dalton threw an unseemly 586 times last year. If Jackson can whittle that number down by about 180 passes, Dalton may reduce his mistakes and the Bengals may increase their time of possession, which would help the defense -- if they actually commit to the run, as Jackson said they will.

Then again, do you really expect the Bengals to be anything but a finesse team? It's in their franchise DNA. 

The departure of Mike Zimmer as defensive coordinator is likely to hurt more than the loss of Jay Gruden as offensive coordinator. New d-coordinator Paul Guenther has been with the Bengals for eight years, though, so he should know what he's doing. Still, Zimmer was a proven commodity. His absence will be felt.

A Tougher Schedule
Perhaps most importantly, the Bengals face a tougher schedule this year, by virtue of winning the division last year.  The division will be better. And, yes, the Steelers will be better.

And, as with any team, there will be injuries, which are unpredictable. As with any team, you wonder how the Bengals will fare if their starting quarterback goes down, or a star like A.J. Green

But if Andy Dalton misses any significant time with injury, look out below. The backups are Jason Campbell and A.J. McCarron. Ugh.

It says here the Bengals take a step back this year. They can't stand success.

Tuesday, June 03, 2014

Ol' No. 99

Now that it's June 3rd, and all that Lamarr Woodley cap money is freed up, it's no surprise there is rekindled talk that the Steelers are interested in resigning Brett Keisel.

It seems like a no-brainer, except for a few things: First and foremost, Keisel may not want to return at a team-friendly salary; also, Keisel is 36, and the Steelers are going younger on the defensive line.

Still, to our untrained eyes, Keisel seemed to play reasonably well last year. It would be good to have him back.

Keisel would provide a steadying presence on the defensive line the way Ike Taylor will in the secondary. Like Ike, he would get some playing time, but probably not most of the snaps. Second-round draft choice Stephon Tuitt projects as the starter, although the depth chart today shows Brian Arnfelt as the starter at Keisel's old position, right defensive end.

For what it's worth, the Steelers signed an undrafted free agent described as "a young Brett Keisel." That would be Josh Mauro, (6'6", 271), DE, Stanford, whom some people projected as a fifth-round draft choice. Another undrafted free agent, Ethen Hemer, (6'6", 285, Wisconsin), will compete for a roster spot, as will 2013 seventh-round draft choice Nick Williams (6'6", 309, Samford).

This gets a little deep, but there was one other player in this year's draft, in addition to Josh Mauro, whose style of play brings Keisel to mind for some observers. That player is Taylor Hart (6'6", 281, Oregon), who was drafted in the fifth round by the Philadelphia Eagles.  In fact, the NFL Network's Brian Baldinger described Hart this way: "To me, if I had to make a comparison now, he looks like a young Brett Keisel without the beard. He's got a promising future as a five-technique in any 3-4 defense. He broke his foot at the end of the (2013) season but he was a four-year starter. He's 6-foot-6, 280, can run and he's got violent hands."

In a roundabout way, Hart has a peripheral connection to the Steelers.  That's because, in the 2013 draft, the Steelers dealt this year's third-round choice to Cleveland for the right to draft safety Shamarko Thomas in the fourth round last year. The Browns used that third-round choice as part of a package to move up in the first round this year to draft quarterback Johnny Manziel, via a trade with Philadelphia. The Eagles, in turn, dealt that pick they got from Cleveland to the Houston Texans in a trade that landed Houston what would have been the Steelers' third-round pick this year, which the Texans used to select Louis Nix, (NT, Notre Dame). And, finally, with the fourth- and fifth-round picks the Eagles received from Houston, they selected Jaylen Watkins (CB, Florida, Rd. 4, No. 101 overall) and, yes, Taylor Hart (DE, Oregon, Rd. 5, No. 141 overall).

Got it?  In a post last month, we asked, "Would you rather have Louis Nix or Shamarko Thomas?"...since Louis Nix was taken with the pick that the Steelers traded for the right to draft Shamarko Thomas.

But today, since we're talking about Brett Keisel, we could just as easily ask, "Would you rather have Shamarko Thomas or ... Taylor Hart ("a young Brett Keisel without the beard)? ... and a fourth-round cornerback from Florida named Jaylen Watkins.  It's just hypothetical, because there is no possibility the draft would have worked out that way (for the Steelers to have those picks). If the Steelers were still on the board and Nix was available, they may have taken him. Or maybe not. Maybe they weren't sold on him at all.

For now, they have who they have, and they don't have Brett Keisel.

But that could change any day now. And over time we'll just have to see if Josh Mauro or Taylor Hart develop into the next Brett Keisel. If Mauro does, we'll say "great!" If Hart does, in an Eagles uniform, we'll say, "He should've been a Steeler!"

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

In defense of the Dri Archer Draft Pick

Nobody should be surprised that the first three draft picks will start for the Steelers. To start the season.

Ryan Shazier starts. Stephon Tuitt starts. Dri Archer starts. 

Yes, even Dri Archer. He starts. General Manager Kevin Colbert said so

Selected with the 33rd pick in the third round, Archer will start as a kick returner (kickoffs and punts). He will also get a significant number of snaps at both running back and as a receiver, presumably in the slot, mostly, but also some on the outside. As a kick returner, he should certainly help improve field position, which was a trouble-spot for the Steelers last year because of their mostly lackluster kick-return game.

If Shazier, Tuitt and Archer don't start immediately for a team coming off consecutive 8-8 seasons, something will have gone drastically wrong between now and the start of the regular season.

People have questioned the Archer draft pick in particular. Archer's selection immediately raised howls of protest from some Steeler fans, bloggers and media types. Many called him a "luxury pick" and said the Steelers could have gotten him with their fourth-round choice ... that they should have taken a "tall" wide receiver instead in the third round -- say, for example, Martavis Bryant, whom the Steelers took with their next pick anyway, in the fourth round at No. 118 overall.

How the next 20 picks shook out ...
Well, we're always interested to see who else was available in situations like this, so let's take a look.  

Immediately after the Steelers drafted Archer, the next two picks, also compensatory selections that closed out the third round, were tight ends:  Richard Rodgers, 6'4", 257, from Cal, to the Packers; and Crockett Gillmore, 6'6", 260, Coloroado State, to the Ravens. With the final, 36th pick of the third round, No. 100 overall, the 49ers selected Brandon Thomas, OT, 6'6", 317, Clemson. Those weren't necessarily the kind of guys the Steelers were looking for at the point they took Archer. They wanted an immediate playmaker, so they went with Archer.

Twenty players went off the board between Archer and pick No. 118, when the Steelers selected their 6'4" receiver, Martavis Bryant, Clemson.

Two small running backs ... 
In the run-up to Bryant, the first 17 selections selections in the fourth round included five cornerbacks, one strong safety, three running backs: Devonta Freeman5'8", 206, Florida St., to the Falcons; Andre Williams, 5'11", 230, Boston College, to the Giants; and Carey Ka'Deem, 5'9", 207, Arizona, to the Bears with pick No. 117, immediately before the Steelers took Martavis Bryant at No. 118.

Two of the three running backs, Freeman and Ka'Deem, are notable because they are diminutive and fast, like Archer, and project to fit more or less the same type of role, although not exactly, If Archer had still been on the board, it's reasonable to think the Falcons and Bears would have considered him instead of Freeman or Ka'Deem. Archer may well not have been available for the Steelers at No. 118.

And two small receivers ...
The other interesting part of what happened in those first 17 picks of the fourth round was the type of wide receivers taken. Not one of the three was a "tall" receiver (6'3" or taller). In fact, the first two of them are listed at 5'9", which makes them closer in body type to Archer than to Bryant and also makes us wonder whether those teams (the Jets and 49ers) might have selected Archer had he been available in those slots. In all cases, the three teams selecting receivers clearly valued them over Bryant.

The receivers taken after Archer, and ahead of Bryant, were:

4(104)Jets (From Buccaneers)Saunders, JalenWR5'9"165Oklahoma

6(106)49ers (From Browns)Ellington, BruceWR5'9"197South Carolina

15(115)JetsEvans, ShaqWR6'1"213UCLA

Clearly, the Steelers like Archer better than Saunders or Ellington (both 5'9"), and they even had Ellington in for a pre-draft visit. 

The point here is, for all the pundits who objected to the Steelers drafting Archer at the end of the third round and claimed they could have gotten him later, the answer is, "No. They wouldn't have been able to draft Archer in the fourth round, at No. 118 overall. He would have been gone." 

That's because one of the teams that selected small, quick-fast RBs/WRs/KRs would have selected Archer instead of the guys they took: The Falcons (Freeman), Bears (Ka'Deem), Jets (Saunders) and 49ers (Ellington) all took speedy players who were 5'9" or shorter and fit the role, to some extent, that Archer projects to play for the Steelers -- only probably with more limitations, not nearly so multi-dimensionally, and likely with less immediate dynamic impact. The Steelers might have ended up with one of those guys, if they'd taken Bryant in the third round instead of Archer; but they clearly liked Archer better than any of them, including Bryant. The Steelers are counting on Archer to make more of an immediate impact. 

What's up for debate, perhaps, is the players selected after Bryant, with the question still to be answered: Could the Steelers have done better than the roll of the dice they took on Bryant? That's another story for another day.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Chaos Defense & Joey Porter's Pit Bulls

No. 8, by Jackson Pollock
In recent years, we've heard occasional but too frequent comments from opposing players summarily dismissing the Steelers' defense by saying things like, "It's really no problem. They've played the same defensive scheme for years." ...or, "We run the same defense, so we're used to seeing it in practice."

Approximately half the teams in the NFL now play some variation of the 3-4 defense, so offensive coordinators and quarterbacks across the NFL are used to seeing it. Steelers' defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has usually been able to apply his own special sauce to the scheme, but there's only so much you can do, to a point.

That point has come long past due. The game has changed. It's become faster, more up-tempo, and it involves more involvement of tall, fast tight ends like Jimmy Graham, Rob Gronkowski, Vernon Davis, and Tyler Eiffert. The emphasis is on speed and movement. Mobile quarterbacks and multiple receivers open up the game laterally, while vertical seam and go routes are more lethal than ever with the big tight ends and tall, fast receivers such as Calvin Johnson, Larry Fitzgerald, Alshon Jefferey, Torrey Smith, Denaryius Thomas, et al.

That's why, last year, the Steelers increasingly had Troy Polamalu playing in the spot formerly occupied by heavier inside linebackers like Vince Williams, Larry Foote and James Farrior. Polamalu's role was to run down lateral plays close to the line of scrimmage and also drop into full-speed deep coverage with the big tight ends and receivers running vertical routes. Let's be honest, though: Polamalu was a mis-fit at linebacker.

Enter Ryan Shazier.

The Chaos Defense
We haven't even had mini-camp yet, but Joey Porter's Pit Bulls are confident asserting that Shazier will start, and so will rookie defensive end Stephon Tuitt. If they don't, something drastically wrong will have happened. Add new safety Mike Mitchell to the equation, along with additional playing time from newer players such as Shamarko Thomas, and the Steelers will have more speed and (hopefully) more disruptive impact at all three levels of the defense.

It's become less about whether a team is playing a 4-3 or 3-4 scheme, and more about disruption. It's all about covering the over/under (back end and front seven) areas of the field. That's why the Steelers, along with so many other NFL teams, run so many "sub-package" schemes, with six defensive backs, one of whom is always in a traditional second-level (linebacker) role.

The trouble with the Steelers' ability to run sub-package schemes was they didn't have the personnel to do it. They wanted Sean Spence to begin filling that role, but he got hurt in pres-season two years ago. We saw a bit of that late last year with Terrance Garvin, the undrafted rookie from West Virginia. Garvin played fairly well, but all too often we found ourselves screaming at the TV, "Where are the linebackers?"

Orange, by Zivi Aviraz
Cross-pattern, vertical/lateral coverage
Now, we will see a lot more of it with Shazier. If he is what they hope he will be, Shazier will be able to drop into deep zone coverage, and his presence should enable Troy to return to his usual freelance role on the back end.

Mitchell, who is much faster than Ryan Clark was last year,  should be able to help the corners on deep routes, move vertically with the big tight ends and tall wide receivers, and also move up to the line of scrimmage for run support and occasional blitzes.

Hopefully, the addition of Tuitt, Cam Thomas and Daniel McCullers to the defensive line rotation will enable more of a push from the front three on running and passing plays alike. A fourth, fifth or sixth pass rusher could come from any spot in the defense. The ability of players to run vertically and laterally is going to be key to this defense -- as long as they can cover and actually, you know, tackle.

As much as we liked Ryan Clark, he just couldn't run anymore, and that really hurt the defense last year.

Bucky Brooks of the NFL Network offers a nice article explaining how the revamped defense might work this year with the new personnel, and his analysis is sound, reasoned and explained clearly. You can read it here in a piece titled, "Steelers' revamped defense equipped to wreak havoc."

Brooks's article contains a subhead, "The linebackers' collective speed and athleticism will create chaos," and that contains the nugget of what this new defense should be all about.

If it works, we'll call it The Chaos Defense.

And if the newly revitalized linebacking corps plays to the standard of new defensive assistant Joey Porter, well, there will be only one nickname for the linebackers:

"Joey Porter's Pit Bulls." 

All too often last year, we found ourselves screaming, "Where are the linebackers?"  Hopefully, with this newly rebuilt linebacking corps, we won't have to do that anymore.