Friday, October 31, 2014

Shazier or Mosley?

Ryan Shazier played really well in the
August 16th pre-season game vs. Buffalo
This would be a good time for Ryan Shazier to have a breakout game.

Back in May, the Steelers made a choice: They selected Shazier over C.J. Mosley, the more highly touted linebacker from Alabama.

It's way too early to say one or the other is going to have the better career. So far, Shazier's been hampered by injuries since early in training camp. Mosley has played his way into consideration for Defensive Rookie of the Year.

The Ravens' website has article on "Why the Steelers Passed on C.J. Mosley."  It's worth a look, but consider the source.

It's Hallowed Eve: Buenos de Los Muertos

It’s Hallowed Eve, also known as All Hallow’s Eve, or Halloween, the eve of All Saints Day or The Feast in Celebration of the Day of the Deador, Dia de Los Muertos, as it is known in Mexico, where skulls are considered a symbol of life and regeneration.

"Sugar skulls"... a good name for a band.

This celebration of Hallow’ed Eve is rooted in Christianity, since it is on the eve of All Saints Day (Nov. 1), which honors those who have made it to heaven and “attained the beatific vision,” which Joey Porter’s Pit Bulls would like to see some day.
The subsequent All Souls Day (Nov. 2) commemorates the departed faithful who have not yet been made it to heaven ‘cause they ain’t yet purified and sanctified, ‘n ‘at.
Got it? Saints first, Souls to follow. "We ain’t jaggin’ around."

Anyway, the celebration of Hallowed Eve dates more than 2,000 years to ancient Ireland and Scotland. The Celts believed their departed family and friends returned home during harvest time to eat and drink before going to heaven. Being harvest time, food was more plentiful, and some was left out in the evening for the souls of The Departed.
So, in this way, it was in Ireland and Scotland and England that All Hallow’s Eve became a combination of merriment and prayer; prayer and merriment.
Following the break with the Holy See, however, England’s Queen Elizabeth forbade all observances connected with All Souls' Day.

Tight-ass, no-fun prude, she was.  What was the "Holy See" anyway? It was probably when the Queen said, "See? See-ee? I told you the Browns could get it together to beat the Steelers this year!  I told you so. I TOLD you so!"

Still, kids eventually started dressing like ghosts, goblins, witches, etc, to have fun and play along with the notion of the dead returning to their homes. The pranksters would demand treats of neighbors … or, you guessed it, threaten to play some sort mischievous "trick" on them.

Soul, soul, an apple or two,
If you haven't an apple, a pear will do,

One for Peter, two for Paul,

Three for the Man Who made us all.

"St. John's Infirmary"

I went down to the St James Infirmary,

Saw my baby there,

Stretched out on a long white table,

So sweet ... so cold ... so fair.



Let her go ... let her go ... God bless her,

Wherever she may be,

She can look this wide world over,

But she’ll never find a sweet man like me.



When I die want you to dress me in straight lace shoes.

I wanna a boxback coat and a Stetson hat,

Put a $20 gold piece on my watch chain,
So the boys’ll know that I’ll be back.

Louis Armstrong, “St. James Infirmary”

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Kickin' up a storm

Steelers-Ravens games are typically close, often within a three-point margin, with Baltimore's 20-point win on Sept. 11th being more the exception than the rule.

If Sunday night's game comes down to a long field goal attempt -- 50 yards or more -- the Steelers may or may not send Shaun Suisham out to try one. They kept him on the sideline late in the first half vs. the Colts last Sunday when the opportunity for a 51-yard attempt presented itself.

The Ravens would not have hesitated to send kicker Justin Tucker out on the field in that situation.

Justin Tucker, doing his thing
Last Sunday in Cincinnati, Tucker kicked field goals of 45, 50 and 53 yards. Last year, he made 33 consecutive field goals, including a 61-yarder at Ford Field (indoors) last December. In that game, he became the only kicker in NFL history to kick FGs from 20, 30, 40, 50 and 60 yards in a single game.

Now in his third year, Tucker has made all eight field goal attempts in his career vs. the Steelers, including the three he's tried at Heinz Field. In the Nov. 28th game at Baltimore last year, he kicked five field goals to key the Ravens' 22-20 win over the Steelers. He had 133 points his rookie season in 2012 and 140 points last year.

Tucker is making a strong case as arguably the best kicker in the NFL. As noted by ESPN's Jamison Henley, "The Ravens have shown a lot of confidence in Tucker this season, and his six attempts from 50 yards or longer are tied with Atlanta's Matt Bryant for the most in the NFL. Tucker has converted 10 of his 11 last field-goal tries, and his only miss was a 64-yarder that got blocked. He is 18-of-21 (85.7 percent) on the season after making his first Pro Bowl last season."

A 51-yard FG attempt too long?
One of the few unfortunate decisions the Steelers' coaching staff made on Sunday vs. the Colts came shortly before the end of the first half. Indianapolis had just gone 80 yards in eight plays to narrow the blowout score to 35-17, still within shouting distance.

After the the Steelers got the ball back with 1:56 left on the clock, they drove to the Indianapolis 34-yard line, where the drive stalled with 41 seconds left in the first half. At that point, rather than having Shaun Suisham attempt a 51-yard field goal, which would have been probably just a bit out of his range, the coaches instructed Ben Roethlisberger to attempt a pooch punt. It was blocked.

The Colts took over, and Andrew Luck drove them down to the Pittsburgh five-yard line, where Adam Vinatieri kicked a field goal with one second left to make it a two-score game at halftime.

That was 10 unanswered points before halftime, usually not a good thing. As it turned out, the Steelers took the opening kickoff of the second half and marched right downfield en route to another touchdown, but that late field goal in the first half was unnecessary and made things uncomfortable later in the second half, until Andrew Luck was called for a safety in the end zone with 12:44 left in the fourth quarter and the Colts down by just eight -- a one-score game. The decision to pooch punt before the first half was a contributing factor to the game being so close at that point.

It seemed a curious call at the time: Most observers would have said, "Either go for it on fourth-and-four, have Brad Wing punt it, or have Suisham attempt a 51-yard field goal."

The Baltimore Ravens would have had no qualms about sending out Tucker to attempt a 51-yarder. He's a key asset for the Ravens, just as the incredibly reliable Suisham is for the Steelers. Tucker just has a little more leg, and that could be a factor.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Baltimore will be tough, but the Ravens are hurting at key positions

A lot has happened since the Steelers' Week 2 loss at Baltimore. Having just come off the second-half of the home opener vs. Cleveland, during which the Browns thoroughly outplayed the Steelers, the Black 'n Gold looked shaky and uneven, even flat, during its Sept. 11th visit to Baltimore. The Ravens were in control just about the whole game, winning 26-6 and rushing for 157 yards.

Justin Brown's early fumble set the tone in Week Two. 
The Steelers opened the game with a promising drive that ended abruptly when wide receiver Justin Brown fumbled deep in Baltimore territory. That fumble breathed life into the Ravens, got the home crowd into the game and completely reversed momentum. The Steelers never recovered.

Joe Flacco marched the Ravens right downfield, capping the drive with a two-yard touchdown pass to tight end Owen Daniels. The Steelers never recovered, and Baltimore dominated the rest of the way.

You'll recall that linebacker Courtney Upshaw hit Ben Roethlisberger hit hard early in that game, and the Steelers' quarterback never looked the same after that hit to the sternum. For that matter, Roethlisberger didn't look right for a couple weeks afterward.

The Steelers turned over the ball three times in that game. Le'Veon Bell had only 11 carries for 59 yards. For the night, the Steelers tried just 18 runs vs. 36 by the Ravens.

The Steelers mounted only 301 yards of total offense, which is less than half what they put up on Sunday vs. the Colts. The Steelers also racked up nine penalties to foreshadow what would become a troubling trend. Everything was a struggle in that game. Baltimore won by 20 points.

It may not be much "easier" this Sunday night vs. the visiting Ravens -- games against Baltimore are never easy -- but much has changed since that Sept. 11th beatdown in Baltimore.

Baltimore is hurting at tight end
For one thing, the Ravens have had some key injuries, just like every NFL team.

Both starting tight ends, Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels, are hurt. Pitta's career is in jeopardy after fracturing and dislocating his hip the following week against Cleveland. That's the second consecutive year he's had the same injury. He's been a good one, but Pitta's successor, Daniels, was just about as good and an ideal replacement. He's an excellent receiver and had two touchdowns vs. the Steelers in Week 2.

For the last couple weeks, however, Daniels has also been hurt. Daniels missed last Sunday's game in Cincinnati after having his knee scoped during the week. His status for Sunday's game is up in the air.

The loss of Pitta and (potentially) Daniels really hurts the Ravens. Joe Flacco relies on his tight ends. And, although Flacco throws as good a deep ball as anybody in the NFL, the tight ends are arguably the key to Baltimore's offense.

Without Pitta and Daniels, we expect Baltimore to rely more heavily on its running game and swing passes, shuttle passes, screens and outlet passes to the running backs.

The Ravens Are Hurting at Corner, Too
Just as troubling for the Ravens is the loss of starting cornerback Jimmy Smith, who will miss the next few weeks with a sprained foot suffered in the loss to the Bengals. The former first-rounder was playing the best ball of his career this year. Although the other starting corner, Lardarius Webb, likely will match up with Antonio Brown, not having Smith on the other side really hurts the Ravens.

The Ravens lack depth at the position. Backup Dominique Franks, who was signed off the street five weeks into the season, got burned on a long bomb to A.J. Green, and if the Steelers look at Martavis Bryant as "A.J. Green Lite," then Franks may be targeted similarly on Sunday night. Then again, the Ravens may play backup corner Chykie Brown, who was inactive the last two weeks. Their options are limited.

Also worth noting, the Ravens are hurting on the offensive line. Last Sunday vs. the Bengals, they played two rookies on the left side of the offensive line. While the rooks played reasonably well, James Harrison is rounding into form.

This should be interesting.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

"Martavious"

Martavis Bryant bringing one in vs. the Colts.
Coach Mike Tomlin called Martavis Bryant "Martavious" today.

"Martavious." Sounds like a Roman gladiator. "All hail Martavious!"

If Bryant keeps scoring touchdowns at the pace he's set so far -- three TDs on seven catches -- everybody else might start calling him "Martavious," too.

And there'd be no better time to start than Sunday night vs. the Ravens. Three touchdowns on seven receptions would be a good start.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Smiths

The Baltimore Ravens have four Smiths on the roster, for crying out loud.

There's Daryl Smith (linebacker) and Jimmy Smith (injured cornerback) and Torrey Smith (youngish wide receiver) and Steve Smith (old wide receiver and, oh, make that, Steve Smith Senior -- what an A-Hole).

Daryl Smith starts at inside linebacker, and he's still pretty good, even at 32. The other inside linebacker, by the way, is rookie C.J. Mosley, whom Baltimoreans proclaim is the NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. It should be interesting to see how his counterpart on the Steelers, Ryan Shazier, responds to that gauntlet thrown his way.

Jimmy Smith will be a non-factor on Sunday because he won't play. He was hurt in Sunday's loss to the Bengals.

For all Steve Smith Senior's general douchebaggery, Steve Smith and Torrey Smith present a formidable combo at wide receiver for the Baltimore Ravens. And Steve Smith (Sr.) will be the first to tell you he's under-appreciated, disrespected and plays with a chip on his shoulder, blah, blah, blah. His act gets tiresome, but he can still play -- and he can still push off with the best of them.

Baltimore head coach John Harbaugh, in typical Harbaugh hyperbole, called Smith's 80-yard touchdown that was called back because of offensive pass interference on Smith, "One of the greatest plays I've ever seen."

The officials may or may not have got the call wrong. Depending on your perspective, it looks like Smith definitely pushed off, but it also looks like Bengals safety George Iloka flopped intentionally to draw a flag -- he went down way too easily -- and that call probably wouldn't have been made if the game had been in Baltimore instead of Cincinnati.

In any case, Smith is a notorious push-off artist, and the officials are definitely calling these sorts of penalties more aggressively this year. Smith probably doesn't make that catch if he hadn't pushed off. Boo-hooo.

By the way, the Indianapolis Colts' defense earlier this month limited Steve Smith Sr. to five receptions for 34 yards in a game just a few weeks ago -- yeah, those same Colts we saw the Steelers obliterate on Sunday. You never know.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Wow!!!

Ben Roethlisberger was on the money all day long.
To say Ben Roethlisberger was at the top of his game is an understatement, if that's possible.

Six touchdown passes; 40-49 for 522 yards passing; a whopping 25 first downs passing; a staggering 639 total net yards offense; 51 points on the board; and Roethlisberger would have had even better stats if not for at least three drops by receivers he hit in stride and on the money. Roethlisberger was spot on from the jump, and he just kept clicking. He took no sacks and threw no interceptions.

Give Todd Haley credit, too. Whatever Haley called worked, and Roethlisberger didn't miss. The Steelers toyed with a Colts' defense that shut out the Cincinnati Bengals just one week before.

Not only did Roethlisberger become the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for more than 500 yards in two separate games, he joined Terry Bradshaw, Joe Montana and Tom Brady as the only quarterbacks in NFL history to win 100 games in 150 or fewer starts.

Big Play William Gay, scoring on his interception.
Although the Colts put 34 points on the board, the defense played with intensity. William Gay's pick-six was arguably the key defensive play of the day. Also encouraging was the welcome presence and activity of the linebackers: Jason Worilds, James Harrison, Lawrence Timmons, Ryan Shazier, Vince Williams and Arthur Moats made their presence felt the entire game. They were visible.

The only blemishes for the Steelers were self-inflicted -- penalties, a couple of fumbles and the ill-conceived pooch punt before the end of the first half. Cortez Allen was exploited for some big plays, but, really, there's not much to complain about in the Steelers' 51-34 win over the Colts.

Before the game, Joey Porter's Pit Bulls said this game would reveal what this team is made of; that this would be a defining game for the 2014 Steelers. The team answered the challenge emphatically. Now they'll want to replicate that intensity and quality of performance, and make it consistent.

Next up: Baltimore Ravens at Heinz Field, next Sunday night.

Game Day 8: Indianapolis Colts at Pittsburgh Steelers

After today, the season's half done.  

After today, we will have a much clearer sense of just what sort of team the Steelers have. Or will we? Last year, the Steelers were reeling at the halfway mark but went 6-2 against a fairly soft schedule in the second half of the season.

People talked about that 6-2 record as if it should have augured well for this season -- but what sticks in Joey Porter's Pit Bulls' craw is that abysmal loss at home vs. the Miami Dolphins in the December cold and swirling snow. That was a low point, as was the Week 8 loss to the Raiders in Oakland.

Now, here we are in Week 8 of the 2014 season, with the stench from losses to Cleveland, Tampa Bay and Baltimore still fouling the air and the Steelers facing a major challenge today from a very good Colts squad.

Which Steelers' team will show up today? It's not a stretch to say this will be a defining game for the 2014 Steelers.

Win, and Steeler Nation can feel reasonably upbeat about the second half of the season, starting with the Baltimore Ravens next week at Heinz Field. If the Steelers lose today, however, question marks will continue to swirl around this team. Lose by 20 points or more, as the Steelers did to the Browns and Ravens earlier this year ... well, if that happens, buckle your seat belts, fellas, 'cause it's going to be a bumpy ride the rest of the way.

It's time to step up and put on the Big Boy Pads, starting today vs. the Indianapolis Colts.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

The Colts' Defense May be Better Than Their Offense

Vontae Davis rocks Giovanni Bernard
The Indianapolis Colts bring the NFL's second-rated offense to Heinz Field on Sunday, so it's almost easy to overlook how good their fourth-rated defense has been this year. It is jelling into a unit that has to be in the conversation as possibly the best defense in the NFL today.

It's getting better as the season goes on. The Colts not only shut out Cincinnati last Sunday, they completely stymied the Bengals. Even without injured receiver A.J. Green, nobody would deny the Bengals have a lot of talent; they entered that game against the Colts ranked No. 5 in the NFL on offense.

Yet the Colts forced the Bengals to three-and-out 10 times, held the Bengals to just 1-of-13 on third-down conversions, and kept Cincinnati on the wrong side of the 50-yard line until the fourth quarter.  Time of possession for the Bengals: 20:17.

Vontae Davis and Josh Gordy contesting a pass attempt.
That's dominant.

No doubt that performance has gotten the attention of Todd Haley, Ben Roethlisberger and company. But it wasn't just the Cincinnati game; the Colts have been coming together on defense all year.

It's a cohesive unit that is getting better and better.

Safety Sergio Brown: "Our secondary is playing lights out. Our linebackers are playing lights out. Our defensive line is playing lights out.''

Give Chuck Pagano credit. The former Ravens defensive coordinator is doing exactly what he set out to do when hired to become head coach of the Colts, which is to build a defense modeled after the dominant squad he led in Baltimore.

Patience Required
Down goes Dalton.
If the Steelers' overall game plan is to limit Andrew Luck's time on the field, it will be up to Roethlisberger to orchestrate an offense that can convert third downs regularly and score touchdowns instead of field goals. Haley and Roethlisberger are going to have to be patient. They are going to have to resist the temptation to force plays that aren't there.

Blunt Force
With that in mind, this is the perfect game for the Steelers to finally put running back LeGarrette Blount to work in earnest, early and often. Blount has had more than eight carries only once this season, and that was just 10 carries vs. Carolina (for 118 yards). It's time to give him some work.

"Blunt Force" may be the Steelers' best weapon against the Colts.

Friday, October 24, 2014

Lots of Receiving Options for Andrew Luck

T.Y. Hilton
T.Y. Hilton is a problem. He is the deep threat for the Indianapolis Colts in the NFL's top-rated passing game.

Two weeks ago vs. the same Houston Texans team the Steelers defeated last Sunday, Hilton caught passes of 49, 40, 37 and 33 yards. Over Hilton's last three games, he has caught at least seven passes a game, averaging 140 yards receiving per game. He's trouble.

How the Steelers counter that threat will be largely dependent on cornerback Brice McCain getting help from the safeties -- we're looking at you, Mike Mitchell.

Hilton may be Indianapolis's most dangerous deep threat, but he certainly is not the Colts' only receiving option. With running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson combining for 43 catches this season, and with tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener combining for 38 catches, the Colts present a diversified passing attack.

And the thing about the tight ends, they're not used solely for short, move-the-sticks checkdown throws: Allen averages 14.5 yards per reception, which says he gets downfield (like Cleveland's Jordan Cameron, who gave the Steelers fits). Fleener averages a very respectable 12.6 yards per catch, in the mold of Carolina tight end Greg Olson.

We haven't even mentioned future Hall of Famer Reggie Wayne, who may be sidelined with an elbow injury. If he can't play, expect veteran Hakeem Nicks and rookie third-round draft pick Donte Moncrief, from Ole Miss, to play instead of Wayne, who has been the target of one of every five passes the Colts have thrown this season.

Donte Moncrief vs. Jacksonville
Moncrief is 6'2" and 221 pounds and runs a 4.4 40. He and the Steelers' rookie fourth-rounder, Martavis Bryant, were often mentioned in the same grouping of tall, fast but unpolished wide receivers coming out for last May's draft.

Moncrief appears to be a bit ahead of Bryant in his development so far. He has nine receptions this year, and this week offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton had this to say about Moncrief:  "He's ahead of schedule. He's a guy that we feel like at any given moment we can plug him in and he'll be ready to go out there and perform at the level that's expected."

Head coach Chuck Pagano said this about Moncrief: "From the minute he got here, we knew we had a long, athletic guy that could run, a guy that was mature beyond his years. We're getting him a little bit of burn, he is going to continue to get a little bit more action as we move forward. Obviously he's got playmaking ability and again, the game's not too big for him."

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Dissa 'n Datta: Points per Game, etc.

Scoring defense: 
  • The Indianapolis Colts' defense is ranked fourth in the NFL, allowing 19.4 points per game. 
  • The Steelers' defense is ranked 16th, allowing 23.1 points per game.
Scoring offense: 
  • Indianapolis's offense has scored an average of 30.9 points per game, ranked second in the NFL behind Denver's 31.5 points scored per game.
  • The Steelers have scored an average of 22.0 points per game, tied with the New York Giants for 21st in the NFL.
Stats for Sacks: 
  • On offense, the Colts have allowed 11 sacks. 
  • On defense, the Steelers have sacked the QB 10 times.
  • On offense, the Steelers have allowed 20 sacks. 
  • On defense, the Colts have sacked opposing quarterbacks 21 times.
That's nearly proportionally inverse (stats for sacks) on both sides of the ball.

Common Opponents: 
  • The Steelers and Colts have played three common opponents: Baltimore, Jacksonville and Houston. 
  • The Colts beat all three teams; the Steelers lost to Baltimore.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

The Steelers' defense had better be ready

Beating the Steelers by at least 20 points in each game, the Ravens and Browns both administered whippings on the Steelers this season.

The Indianapolis Colts will be Pittsburgh's stiffest test so far. 

Following losses to Denver and Philadelphia, the Colts are a hot team with five straight wins. The Colts are coming off a 28-0 shellacking of the Cincinnati Bengals. They've put up 30 or more points five times, including games where they've racked up 44 points (vs. Jacksonville) and 41 points (vs. Tennessee).

Visiting Heinz Field late Sunday afternoon, here's how the 5-2 Colts stack up vs. the 4-3 Steelers in four of the NFL broadest team statistical categories:

  • First in passing offense (329.6 yards per game) vs. the Steelers' 13th-ranked passing defense (230.9 ypg)
  • Fifth in passing defense (214.4 ypg) vs. the Steelers' 8th-ranked passing defense (230.9 ypg)
  • Ninth in rushing yards per game (123.3 ypg) vs. the Steelers' 14th-ranked rushing defense (114.1 ypg)
  • Ninth in rushing defense (128.6 ypg) vs. the Steelers' 9th-ranked rushing game (123.3 ypg).

On defense, the Colts don't have any mega-stars like J.J. Watt, but they've been playing good, solid team defense -- as evidenced by Sunday's shutout of the Bengals.

On offense, the leader of course is Andrew Luck. Receiver T.Y. Hilton is emerging as a big-time playmaking deep threat.

Their receiving corps is deep: In addition to Hilton (47 receptions; 15.1 ypc), there's Reggie Wayne (38 catches; 11.4 ypc); tight end Dwayne Allen (21 catches; 14.5 ypc); tight end Coby Fleener (17 catches; 12.6 ypc); Hakeem Nicks (17 catches; 8.3 ypc); and rookie Donte Moncrief (9 catches; 11.4 ypc).

Not to be overlooked, running backs Ahmad Bradshaw and Trent Richardson have combined for 43 catches in seven games.

The Steelers' defense is going to have their hands full.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Big-time plays, takeaways and lucky bounces

Three touchdowns scored in 73 seconds late in the second quarter. Bing bang boom. That was the difference in the game. 

Martavis Bryant: Touchdown!
Ben Roethlisberger was opportunistic and spot on when he absolutely needed to be, with drop-a-dime, Big-Time-Franchise-Quarterback passes on the money to Martavis Bryant for a 35-yard touchdown and Antonio Brown.

Running back Le'Veon Bell was evasive, slippery and clutch the whole game, with 88 yards receiving, 55 yards rushing and a touchdown reception.

Todd Haley made a brilliant play call in the red zone that would have been called absurdly idiotic if it had been intercepted instead of going for a touchdown pass thrown by Antonio Brown to Lance Moore. Haley would have been tarred, feathered and pilloried if that pass had been intercepted. Antonio Brown, though, threw a perfect pass that Moore caught. Everything worked on that play, thank goodness.

Antonio Brown, running free
And the defense played takeaway, for once. The bounces went their way. Fumbles recovered, and the ball that bounced off Lawrence Timmons' head into Brett Keisel's arms cannot be scripted. Then Keisel did his best J.J. Watt impersonation on the return.

Speaking of Watt, he was held more or less in check most of the night -- if you count a fumble recovery, a sack and a hard hit on Roethlisberger being held in check. Still, for that guy, yeah, that's being held in check. Somebody (Haley, Mike Munchak, the offensive line, et al, collectively) deserves credit for that. Team effort.

Room for Improvement, with Better Teams Coming
For all of the big plays, opportunistic breaks, lucky bounces and solid game-planning, it took all of that to keep the Houston Texans at bay in a one-score win at home on a Monday night. Not all was lollipops and roses: Arian Foster averaged 5.1 yards per carry for 102 yards. Pittsburgh's defense had only one sack and allowed a 33-yard run and pass plays of 32, 24, 18 and 15 yards. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked three times and fumbled the ball once. The Steelers got next to nothing on their kickoff returns, again, and that is now a trend.

Better teams are coming to Heinz Field, beginning next Sunday with the 5-2 Indianapolis Colts, who shut out and thoroughly humiliated the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. One game at a time, though, and there's lots to feel good about this desperately needed win over the Texans.

Now, it's time to build on the good vibes and get another win. Beat the Colts and then the Baltimore Ravens the following week, and we can begin to consider the Steelers legitimate contenders this year. It's a tall order but within grasp.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Game Day 7: Texans at Pittsburgh

It will be interesting to see tonight how the Steelers respond to the widespread criticism levied at them recently. It wasn't only Hines Ward and Bill Cowher who called them "soft," which the rest of the world could see anyway. Their own coach, Mike Tomlin, told them they aren't tough enough, mentally and physically, according to Antonio Brown.

No doubt, the Steelers have some very talented players (Brown, Roethlisberger, Polamalu, Bell, Timmons, etc.).  Just not enough of them. So, it may not even be a mater of toughness. If the team doesn't have enough talent, the Steelers are going to have trouble even with another so-so team like the Houston Texans.

Tonight, we will find out whether the Steelers are merely mediocre or just a lousy football team.

Friday, October 17, 2014

Still Searching: A Question of Identity


Zeke's Coffee opens its new drive-through location on
Broad Street near the East Liberty Post Office 
The defense is a problem,"obviously," to borrow Mike Tomlin's oft-used fall-back word. The defense has been soft against the run and loose in pass coverage. And there's been precious little pass rush. Jason Worilds has done next to nothing six games into a contract "walk" year (during which he's being paid $11 million).

"Obviously," too, the offense is a problem. There have been flashes: The Steelers rank second in the NFL with 11 plays (eight passes; three runs) of 30 yards or longer. But the Steelers rank 20th in the NFL in points scored at 20.7 points per game.

That last stat is unfortunate when your defense allows 23.2 points per game (14th in the NFL).

It looks like the Steelers have to outscore opponents, and this is yet another week where some match-ups on offense appear to favor Pittsburgh.

The Texans' defense have allowed more plays of 30-plus yards than any other NFL team. That seems to favor the Steelers, eh?

Yes, BUT ONLY IF the Steelers' offensive gives Ben Roethlisberger enough time to throw. The Texans do have J.J. Watt, and he alone could be enough to disrupt Roethlisberger's timing with his receivers -- which, as we have seen recently, hasn't exactly been orchestrated with any sort of reliability.

That offensive line the Steelers have been trotting out has two players who received big-money contract extensions during the off-season: Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert. Yet the Steelers failed to get enough of a push up front that they failed to score against the Browns on three rush attempts inside the 10-yard line. On the other side of the ball, Pittsburgh's defense failed to stop Cleveland's three runs by Ben Tate and Isaiah Crowell inside the Steelers' 10-yard line.

No wonder Bill Cowher and Hines Ward called them soft.

Everybody's been wondering what sort of identity the Steelers have on offense -- because they don't have one. Ramon Foster said this week that it's "versatile."

Nice try, Ramon.

As Joey Porter's Pit Bulls wrote a few weeks before the Jacksonville game:
"The overall tenor and identity of the offense, though, is more or less set by the coordinator, head coach and quarterback. Three years after Haley's arrival, it is fair to say the Steelers still lack a cohesive, consistent identity on offense. 
"This week's visit to Jacksonville presents a perfect opportunity to set a tone and establish some continuity and a sense of identity."
Substitute "Houston" for "Jacksonville" in that last sentence, and we will say, once again, "Now's your chance, Todd Haley."

Thursday, October 16, 2014

The Elevator Music isn't what it used to be

The volume button on the "elevator music" washing over the Steelers has been dialed up from a dull roar to a cacophonous crescendo. 

"I don't worry about that; that's elevator music," Mike Tomlin said about criticism of the Steelers' play from former player Hines Ward and ex-coach Bill Cowher, both of whom described the Steelers as playing "soft."

Our fair city.
That kind of elevator music is what you get, Mike, when you get crushed in a Thursday night game against Baltimore; lose at home to woeful Tampa Bay; barely eke out a win over dreadful Jacksonville; and allow a resurgent Cleveland squad to romp and stomp your team although the Browns' roster is largely comprised of rookies and undrafted free agents led by a quarterback you released less than two years ago.

The elevator won't stop until at least Monday night, when the Steelers take on the Houston Texans, against whom they've had spotty success over the years. Like the Steelers, the 3-3 Texans do some things well and some things not so well.

It's Time to Change Some Things
Whatever happens on Monday night, no ending coda for the elevator music is likely to happen unless the Steelers fix some of their most pressing issues, lack of talent notwithstanding.

Where do we start? Offense?

Questionable play-calling aside, Ben Roethlisberger has been sacked 17 times, second-most in the NFL. Even with J.J. Watt looming, is that a problem that can be fixed?

Sure.

When you run the ball, you don't get sacked. We're not saying run the ball 100 percent of the time, but if the Steelers are looking to forge an identity, they could take a cue from this year's Dallas Cowboys, of all teams, who have lost just once and have shown a commitment to the run rarely seen anymore.

We thought for sure the Steelers would use a no-huddle running game more this year, especially at home. One example of a team that does that is Chip Kelly's Philadelphia Eagles: On Sunday night vs. the New York Giants, the Eagles ran the ball often out of the no-huddle, gained 11 rushing first downs and racked up 203 yards on the ground.

On defense, it's past time for the Steelers to switch up personnel. Whatever fascination the decision-makers have with Cam Thomas, it's time to try somebody else. The same goes for at least a couple of other positions. What are they clinging to?

It's time for the players to step up, and the coaches, too.  Switch up the personnel, adjust the schemes, do something. Play defense. As Chuck Noll said, "Whatever it takes."

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Chalk Talk: Mike Mitchell was out of the picture

Steelers' radio broadcaster Tunch Ilkin does a fantastic job in the booth every week, on his radio talk show, and also in his weekly Chalk Talk video-breakdowns of key plays every week on Steelers.com.

Mike Mitchell is on far left of screen, moving toward
Travis Benjamin, who is being trailed by Cortez Allen and
Troy Polamalu in the big circle in the center of the screen,
while Jordan Cameron, in the small circle near the
40-yard marker, make his way to the far sideline.
Following Sunday's game against the Browns, Tunch took a look at the key 45-yard pass play to Cleveland tight end Jordan Cameron immediately following Pittsburgh's botched field goal attempt early in the second quarter.

The Browns set up the Steelers for this misdirection play by their previous commitment to the run (including prior games); their earlier play calls in this game; the three tight-end formation; effective play-action; the movement off the line of scrimmage; and the absolutely perfect execution by Brian Hoyer, Jordan Cameron, Travis Benjamin and everyone else in a Cleveland uniform. Flawless execution on a well-schemed play.

On the Steelers' side of the ball, eh, confusion reigned, and the execution was, shall we say, less than perfect.  In his excellent review of the video, Tunch points out the position of several Steelers and says, "I am not sure who was supposed to be covering him (Jordan Cameron)."

That's because it looks like there were 10 defenders on the field. Why? Safety Mike Mitchell was so far downfield and moving in the wrong direction to boot that he was literally out of the screen on the video. You'll see at about at the 2:33 mark of the video, Mitchell's shadow shows up on the far left of the screen, though, so we know he was actually on the field.

Mitchell just wasn't anywhere near where the ball ended up -- he was moving to the complete opposite side of the field away from Cameron -- along with fellow safety Troy Polamalu and cornerback Cortez Allen. With those two already covering Benjamin, why was Mitchell also going there? And why did leave his side of the field completely wide open? What was he thinking?

Not good judgment or instincts, apparently, on the part of Mitchell.
Lots of wide-open pasture for Jordan Cameron.
Mike Mitchell, meanwhile, is to the far left of the screen , moving in the opposite direction

Again, to review: It was first and 10 at the Steelers' 47-yard line. Cleveland sets up in a three tight end formation, giving the appearance of a running play, with wide receiver Travis Benjamin split wide right. Jordan Cameron is the near tight end off the left tackle. As the ball is snapped, the line flows right, but Benjamin streaks downfield on a slant post while Cameron meanders sneakily on a cross in the opposite direction across the back of the line behind the linebackers. Cameron pivots and makes his way downfield along the right sideline. He gets wide open. Why?

Because, if you look at Tunch's video, in the pre-snap formation, Mike Mitchell had lined up 20 yards downfield on Benjamin's side, where Cameron ended up. As the soon as the ball was snapped, Mitchell immediately started dropping back even further and moving to his right. In other words, he followed Benjamin, who was streaking across the field toward the far corner, providing unneeded backup to both Cortez Allen and Troy Polamalu, who were also in trail.

Despite all the attention, by the way, Benjamin was still wide open, and Hoyer could have hit him just as easily as Jordan. That's because neither Cortez Allen nor Troy Polamalu could keep up with the speedy Benjamin, and Mitchell was nowhere near him, either.

By the time Hoyer released the ball, Mitchell was so far downfield, about 40 yards, he was completely out of the picture. His shadow was still there, on the far left side of the screen, so you could see that he was moving in the direction of Benjamin -- and completely in the opposite direction of Cameron.

And that's how Jordan Cameron got so wide open. A breakdown in the Steelers' secondary, and to our untrained eye, it looks like Mike Mitchell should have stayed on his side of the field and at least tried to close some ground to cover the wide-open Jordan Cameron.  Had he been over there, Mitchell might have at least stopped some of the yards after catch. That 45-yard completion completely turned the momentum of the game, and it was all downhill from there.

You can watch Tunch's entire "Chalk Talk" video of the play at this link. It's instructive, revealing and ultimately dismaying. As Tunch said, "After that, it was Katie bar the door."

A Lot of "Obviously" and Do Tell?

Odds and ends, dissa and datta ...

Mike Tomlin offered much of the familiar blah, blah, blah during his weekly media session, with a lot of "obviously."

Remember last week, before the game, when Cleveland head coach Mike Pettine hinted that the Browns were aware of several "tells" from Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers' offense? Everybody dismissed that talk as so much gamesmanship, but ... 

Following Sunday's loss to the Browns, Cleveland linebacker Karlos Dansby had this to say:
“We were out-executing them,” said Dansby. “We were beating them to the punch. We knew how they wanted to attack us. We were just well prepared.”
Hmmm, maybe there was something to all those veiled references about Roethlisberger's "tells," and maybe Todd Haley's play-calling tendencies, too.

Dansby finished the game with 11 tackles and his 40th career sack. He's provided smarts, toughness and veteran leadership for the Browns, kind of how James Farrior was for the Steelers. Too bad the Steelers didn't sign Dansby when he became a free agent after Arizona let him walk two years ago. He would have been a perfect fit.

For that matter, veteran safety Donte Whitner has also added toughness and leadership to Cleveland's secondary. He would look good in a Steelers' uniform about now, too. Mike Mitchell, the free-agent safety the Steelers signed in the off-season doesn't seem to be working out too well, with just one example to follow in our next post examining the first big pass to Jordan Cameron.

Monday, October 13, 2014

If the Standard is the Standard ... What is the Standard?

Isiah Crowell and the Browns romped
Joey Porter's Pit Bulls never want to hear Mike Tomlin say, ever again, "We have to swallow this one and we will," as he did following Sunday's debacle in Cleveland.

Just what is Tomlin trying to say? ... that the Steelers suck and swallow?

Another question: For the Steelers now, is the new "Standard" .500 football? Has the standard been lowered to such a low bar that it is acceptable to allow Cleveland 193 yards rushing in one game and 158 yards rushing in the second match-up? Is that acceptable?

Does the new "standard" entail asserting, as safety Mike Mitchell said, that "We beat the crap out of them," with "them" being a Cleveland Browns team that had thoroughly drubbed the Steelers by a score of 31-10. It was no contest, and Mitchell has contributed little this season, except to irritate Steeler fans with his celebratory gyrations after the few inconsequential plays he's made -- jumping around as if he'd singlehandedly won the Super Bowl, despite being down by 24 points at the time. Somebody should tell Mitchell, "Hey, Mike, we don't do that here."

That Cleveland team, by the way, had only three healthy defensive linemen on Sunday and featured more than a few rookies and undrafted free agents in key roles -- and a first-time head coach.

Other teams must be licking their chops when they see the Steelers on the schedule. Todd Haley's offense --or is it Ben Roethlisherger's offense? or is it Mike Tomlin's? -- was held to three points until garbage time on Sunday by Cleveland's 27th ranked pass defense, and just 10 points the week before by Jacksonville's 32nd-ranked pass defense. The Steelers have scored no touchdowns in 15 of the 24 quarters played across six games.

Now the schedule gets tougher ... well, after the next game, on Monday night (hah!) featuring the Houston Texans. Has there ever been a matchup of two worse 3-3 teams?

Link: 

Jason LaCanfora: "Steelers Stink Until They Prove Otherwise"




Sunday, October 12, 2014

A new era in Steeler football

Over the past six quarters vs. the Cleveland Browns, the Steelers have been outscored 55-13.

A new era in Steeler football has begun. Sunday's 31-10 drubbing that the Steelers "swallowed" (to use Mike Tomlin's term) makes the .500 Steelers 19-19 over the past 38 games (nearly two-and-a-half years). That record provides enough of a sample size to allow only one conclusion: The Steelers are mediocre at best. And that's being generous.

Actually, they're a bad football team right now, and the future looks unpromising. So much for "stacking wins."

Jordan Cameron scorched Cortez Allen, et al
"We have to swallow this one and we will," Mike Tomlin said after the fiasco.

That sentiment is unacceptable. We've heard Tomlin say that sort of thing before, and it's getting old. It sounds very much like Tomlin and the players and coaches are willing and able to accept losing. How about rejecting, or regurgitating, losses like this, eh, Coach? How's that for a concept?

"Hopefully it will be a learning experience for us moving forward," Tomlin added.

Apparently not. Haven't the Steelers had enough "learning experiences" over the past two-and-a-half years? How many more "learning experiences" do they need?

The on-field ineffectiveness that is becoming chronic reflects poor talent, poor preparedness and poor coaching. There's no other way to explain it.

Once again, they were lousy in the red zone (0-3) and goal-to-go efficiency (0-2). Todd Haley, do you have a clue?

The Stupid Penalties Continue
Here's a question for Coach Tomlin: What happened to the emphasis on averting pre-snap and post-snap penalties?

Bob Labriola on Steelers.com makes the following salient points about some of the stupid yet hurtful six penalties the Steelers incurred:
  • "The first quarter ended with the Steelers having a first down at the Cleveland 24-yard line. Following the television timeout, the Steelers had to burn a timeout to avoid a delay of game penalty."
  • "Pittsburgh’s next offensive possession ended in a three-and-out, and then Sean Spence was flagged for a false start, which meant Brad Wing ended up punting from the Steelers 15-yard line."
  • "On a third-and-5 from the Steelers 34-yard line, Troy Polamalu got good pressure on Brian Hoyer, whose hurried throw to Jordan Cameron became a first down when safety Mike Mitchell was flagged for pass interference.
  • "First-and-goal at the Browns 1-yard line. After a slant pass to Antonio Brown that was incomplete, Kelvin Beachum was flagged for a dead ball personal foul that pushed the ball back to the 16-yard line. After two mis-fires between Ben Roethlisberger and Markus Wheaton in the end zone, the Steelers ultimately turned the ball over on downs at the Cleveland 9-yard line."
Where's the Talent?
Brian Hoyer had a clean pocket and plenty of time to throw.
The lack of talent is glaring. The secondary is awful. The front seven is just bad.

How about those off-season free-agent additions? Whatever other skills safety Mike Mitchell may have, pass coverage isn't one of them. And neither is tackling. Cam Thomas is a fat slob who looks lazy, soft and slow. If he's a "space-eater," why were the Browns able to run through gaping holes up the middle after Steve McClendon left with injury? Wide receiver Lance Moore is dissed by his own coaching staff and dropped a critical pass early in the third quarter.

Why did they sign these guys?

The judgment shown in evaluating personnel merits scrutiny and second-guessing. Joey Porter's Pit Bulls keep bringing this up, and it goes back to 2012, but ... Josh Victorian over Brian Hoyer?

Maybe Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin should have signed Vic So'oto instead of James Harrison. As great as Harrison has been throughout his illustrious career, maybe the Steelers should have allowed him to stay retired.

This was a crossroads game for both teams, and it's clear: For the Steelers, "the arrow is pointing down."


Game 6: Steelers at Cleveland

Pittsburgh, by Peter Max
Today's game between the Steelers and Browns features two quarterbacks who were spurned by the team on the opposite sideline.

On 24, 2004, with the sixth overall pick of the 2004 NFL Draft, the Cleveland Browns passed on the opportunity to select Ben Roethlisberger. Instead, the Browns put their chips on tight end Kellen Winslow, Jr., who is out of football.

Cleveland has not had more than five wins in a season since 2007, and Roethlisberger has helped the Steelers win two Super Bowls.

Roethilsberger''s career record vs. the Browns is 18-1.

On Dec. 8, 2012, the Steelers released quarterback Brian Hoyer, who had been on their roster for two-and-a-half weeks. Instead of keeping Hoyer as a backup to Charlie Batch (after Byron Leftwich was put on injured reserve), the Steelers opted to promote reserve defensive back Josh Victorian, who is out of football. The Detroit Lions released Victorian just this past week.

In retrospect, it is mind-boggling that the Steelers kept a fringe-undrafted-free-agent-backup defensive back instead of a three-year veteran NFL quarterback who had been the understudy to Tom Brady and in the tutelage of Bill Bellichick and quarterbacks coach Tom O'Brien in New England.  Hoyer is proving this year that he is without a doubt a starting-caliber NFL quarterback. Why the Steelers discarded him for Victorian is a question only Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley can answer.

"We really got kind of excited about Brian while he was here,'' Haley said this week. "He is a really smart guy. He was well prepared. He brought a lot to the meetings and out on the field. He has real good football intellect as far as the feel and what was going on.''

If he was so impressive in 2012, Todd, why then did the Steelers release Hoyer? Was Josh Victorian that much more impressive?

No doubt the Brown wish they had selected Roethlisberger. And the Steelers must surely regret they allowed Hoyer to slip away and become the starting quarterback for division rival Cleveland, leading a resurgence for the Browns.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

Mystic Pizza vs. Mystic River: A Question of Identity

Jack Lambert
What kind of identity do the Steelers have?

The fact we're even asking that question says it all. They don't have one. Or do they?

LeGarrette Blount says he wants more carries. Fair enough, and why not? LeGarrette Blount should get more carries, but so should Le'Veon Bell. The Steelers rank 11th in the NFL in rushing attempts. Nobody would say they are a running team.

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley and/or Ben Roethlisberger and/or Mike Tomlin just can't resist getting cute -- like in the red zone against Tampa Bay and Jacksonville -- when they should be getting tough, when they should allow their offensive line and running backs to gain momentum, turn 'em loose, let off some steam, vent, hit, explode, into blocks: roll, downhill, and pound, pound, pound.

That's the identity the Steelers used to have. No more. Now the offense is like most others in the NFL. Eh.

And the defense doesn't scare anybody.  

The Steelers' identity used to be the running game and tough, ferocious defense. No more.

Joey Porter's Pit Bulls miss those days. Do you like "Mystic Pizza" or "Mystic River"? Which is it? Cute and funny, or tough and gritty?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Brian Hoyer has marginalized Johnny Football

Brian Hoyer (No. 3), on the Steelers'
practice field with Charlie Batch (No. 16), in 2012
Sunday will be Brian Hoyer's last day as a 28-year-old.

Born Oct. 13, 1985, the former Steeler will take the field as the undisputed on-field leader of the Cleveland Browns. And, if a team with a 2-2 record can be perceived as an upstart, it is this year's Browns, and that is largely due to Hoyer.

The world no longer waits with bated breath for Johnny Manziel. Unless he does something stupid that lands him on TMZ between now and Sunday afternoon, America's breathless fascination with Johnny Football has ebbed.

The cool, level-headed play of Hoyer, the sober one of the two quarterbacks, has quelled virtually all talk of Manziel taking over as Browns' starting quarterback anytime soon.

Brian Hoyer
Hoyer's been more than solid. He ranks ninth among NFL quarterback in Quarterback Rating, at 97.3, which is not far off Ben Roethlisberger's sixth-rated 100.1.

Hoyer has completed 82 of 132 passes (62.1%). Roethlisberger has completed 122 of 177 passes (68.9%).

Keeping in mind that the Browns have played just four games vs. five games played by the Steelers ... Why in the name of Todd Haley have the Browns averaged more points than the Steelers?

Yes, the Browns have scored 25.8 points per game vs. Pittsburgh's 22.8 points per game.

The one thing that concerns us about this game is that Cleveland has a superior offensive line. Their O-line gets a good push for the running game and typically sets a clean pocket for Hoyer, who is decisive and releases the ball quickly. He doesn't take many sacks (just five in four games, vs. Roethlisberger's 15 in five games), and he makes good decisions. He's thrown just one interception in four games and hasn't fumbled.

On defense, though, Cleveland's surrendered more points than Pittsburgh: 26.3 vs. the Steelers' 21.6 points per game allowed.

Looking at stats and numbers all day can make your head spin. They can also lead to misleading conclusions.

Long-suffering Cleveland fans have every right to be excited about the direction of their team. Joey Porter's Pit Bulls suspect they are going to be disappointed on Sunday when the overly amped Browns make too many mistakes and find a way to lose to the Steelers on a windy day in Cleveland.

It says here the Steelers will win in Cleveland. On Monday, Brian Hoyer's 29th birthday will not be entirely candles and cake.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

A Crossroads Game

There may not be a more fascinating contest in the NFL this season. The Steelers vs. Browns on Sunday in Cleveland is sure to be full of intensity, drama and twists 'n turns nobody can predict.

This is a crossroads game for the Browns. Win, and they may confidently build on the momentum they've gained so far this year. Lose, and it's more of the same ole same old.

It's a pivotal game for the Steelers, too. Todd Haley's offense MUST score more than 10 points, which is all they managed in Jacksonville. That's ridiculous.

And Dick LeBeau's defense must withstand an aggressive uptempo, no-huddle offense fueled by Cleveland's impressive running game. As noted previously on Joey Porter's Pit Bulls, the Browns are No Longer a Running Joke.

The Browns run the ball even when they are way down on the scoreboard.

Fueled by their running game, the Browns have proven the ability come back from large deficits: 24 points in Pittsburgh and 25 points in Nashville. In last Sunday's game vs. the Titans, Cleveland ran the ball 25 times after they'd fallen behind by 25 points. Their run/pass ratio for the game was balanced: 36 runs and 37 passes.

  • In Jacksonville, Steelers' running backs had 25 rushing attempts, and Ben Roethlisberger dropped back to pass 41 times, which includes five sacks and 35 pass attempts.
  • Against Tampa Bay, Steelers' running backs had 24 carries, and Ben Roethlisberger dropped back 45 times, including five sacks.
  • In the convincing win over Carolina, the running backs (Bell and Blount) had 31 carries, and Ben Roethlisberger dropped back 31 times. An even 50-50.

Which Team Runs More?
For all the talk about Cleveland's commitment to the run and Todd Haley's spotty run/pass ratios, it should be noted: Pittsburgh has more rushing attempts than Cleveland: 136 (11th in the NFL) to 127 (17th in the NFL) this year.

Questions abound: Which team on Sunday will be more successful running the ball? Will Roethlisberger exploit a Cleveland secondary likely to give substantial playing time rookie Justin Gilbert, the first-rounder who has been less than impressive so far, even according to Cleveland head coach Mike Pettine?

Lots of questions, but one thing is certain: The Steelers' offense MUST put more than 10 points on the scoreboard.

Wednesday, October 08, 2014

How different things might be today ...

Think how different things might be today if the Steelers had not released quarterback Brian Hoyer on Dec. 8, 2012.

Considering the Steelers had just signed Hoyer two-and-a-half weeks earlier, on Nov. 20, it was a curious move, but Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin felt they just had to have an extra defensive back for depth in an ailing secondary.

Quick quiz: Who was that extra defensive back the Steelers added to the roster on Dec. 8, 2012? That was the day they released Hoyer.

Josh Victorian, in a Steelers uniform in 2012
It was Josh Victorian, who was released just yesterday by the Detroit Lions to make room for somebody named Mike Harris, a cornerback promoted from Detroit's practice squad. And if you know anything about Detroit's secondary this year, well, getting released by the Lions at this point cannot bode well for Mr. Victorian's future in the NFL.

Victorian, dreadlocks and all, wore No. 35 for the Steelers during those last four games of the 2012 season, three of which were losses.

He got in on 10 tackles. The three losses started the very next day after the Steelers released Hoyer: Horrifically, to the Chargers at home in the snow; to the Cowboys at Dallas, where Tony Romo absolutely lit up the Pittsburgh secondary; and also an ugly last-minute loss to the Bengals at Heinz Field. We have vague but unpleasant memories of Victorian struggling in those losses, particularly against the Chargers.

What may have happened had the Steelers kept Hoyer and released another player instead from that roster?

Who knows? Maybe Bruce Gradkowski would be the starting quarterback for the Browns on Sunday instead of Hoyer. Maybe even Johnny Manziel?

One thing is certain, though: The Browns wouldn't be enjoying the resurgence of hope and spark of life Hoyer has injected into that long-dormant, miserable life form of a franchise. Hoyer's played extremely well this year and has quieted virtually all talk of Johnny Football taking over. In four games this year, Hoyer has been crisp and efficient, completing 62.1% of his passes, throwing just one interception and getting sacked just five times. His QB rating is 97.7. He's thrown for 1,008 yards.

Just for fun, check out the series of roster moves the Steelers made during that ill-fated 2012 season, courtesy of Wikipedia:
  • On September 7, 2012 the Pittsburgh Steelers signed free agent (CB) DeMarcus Van Dyke to a 1-year contract.[39]
  • On October 16, 2012 the Pittsburgh Steelers signed (DE) Corbin Bryant to the active roster, signed (G) Jacques McClendon to the practice squad and released (TE) Jamie McCoy.[40]
  • On October 16, 2012 the Pittsburgh Steelers suspended (NT) Alameda Ta'amu for two games.[41]
  • On October 20, 2012 the Pittsburgh Steelers promoted (OL) John Malecki to the active roster and released (DE) Corbin Bryant.[42]
  • On October 27, 2012 the Pittsburgh Steelers promoted (S) Da'Mon Cromartie-Smith to the active roster and released (OL) John Malecki.[43]
  • On November 26, 2012 the Pittsburgh Steelers promoted (OL) John Malecki to the active roster and released (WR) David Gilreath.[49]
  • On December 11, 2012 the Pittsburgh Steelers suspended (RB) Rashard Mendenhall for one game for conduct detrimental to the team and promoted (RB) Baron Batch to the active roster.[51]