Sunday, August 31, 2014

Roster Composition (for now)

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

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

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

A kicker. A punter. A long-snapper.

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

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Not-so-final roster cuts

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, August 29, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Not encouraging.

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

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

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

Thursday, August 28, 2014

The annual dreaded exhibition vs. the Carolina Panthers

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

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

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

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

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

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

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

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

Remaining position battles that bear watching: 

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Is this how they normally prepare for team business?

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Dejan Kovacevic: "The Standard is the the Standard."  The Eagles are loaded at running back

Saturday, August 23, 2014

Le'Doobie Brothers

This story just keeps getting better and better.

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

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

Dumb and dumber.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Room for Improvement

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Cheech Blount & Le'Veon Chong: Up in Smoke

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

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

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

Welcome Back, Ol' 99

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Looking forward to the season opener

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Going in the right direction, but still too sloppy

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

True dat.

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

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

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Keep the Buffalo Bills in Buffalo

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

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

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

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Linebackers: Who's really on the bubble?

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Who's really on the bubble?

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Typical Preseason Opener

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, August 09, 2014

With the Super Moon tonight, the games begin

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, August 05, 2014

Encouraging Signs

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

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

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

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

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