Wednesday, July 30, 2014

What took so long?

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

Nobody else could wear it.

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

Seriously. Why wait any longer? 

Monday, July 28, 2014

The First "Obviously" of the 2014-15 Campaign

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

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

Friday, July 25, 2014

Ray Rice Got Off Easy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, July 24, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Countdown to Training Camp

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

Friday, July 18, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Singular Focus, Obviously

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Saturday, July 12, 2014

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

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

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

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