Tuesday, September 30, 2014

At the quarter-pole of the season, what conclusions can we draw?

Looking at the Steelers one quarter of the way through the 2014 season, the first, most obvious thing for all to see is the record. This is a .500 team. The record is 2-2.

Regrettably, .500 is the level the Steelers seem to be settling at long-term, just like the lamentable and not-to-be-emulated Dallas Cowboys. Over the past 36 regular season games, the Steelers are a .500 team (18-18).  That just about constitutes an era.

That is not good.

The other conclusion we might draw, is that the Steelers are not consistently ready to play games. 

This year, unlike the last three years, they appeared ready at the start of the season; but even that may be debatable, considering how they stunk up the second half against Cleveland and came out inexplicably flat at Baltimore. They certainly were not ready to play Tampa Bay. They should have beaten that team, and that is not debatable.

Will they be ready vs. Jacksonville? Historically, that toxic cesspool of a city has not been a friendly place for the Steelers.

The bigger question, long-term, is this: Are the Steelers talented enough to truly compete in the NFL this season? It's debatable.

Some of the players, eh, we're really not sure what the front office and coaching staff see in them. 

Mike Tomlin's press conference today should be a gem.  Or not.  

Sunday, September 28, 2014

There's no way to sugarcoat this one

Ben Roethlisberger's lost fumble on the first series.
Losing a fumble on the first possession inside your own 10-yard line. Spotting the opponent a 10-0 lead. Committing 13 penalties for 125 yards. And letting an 0-3 team that's lost six straight games come into your stadium and win a game on a fourth-quarter comeback keyed by a 41-yard catch-and-run by a wide receiver signed off the street during the week on a pass thrown by a second-year quarterback making his first start of the season?

That's bad football.  And losing (once again) to an inferior football team is becoming a hallmark of Mike Tomlin's Steelers.

There's no way to sugarcoat this one. The Steelers are a bad football team. They're averaging 11 penalties a game! That's not a good football team.

Where were the linebackers?  Except for Lawrence Timmons (10 tackles), the linebackers were nowhere.

Where was Jason Worids (one tackle)? Where was Arthur Moats (one tackle)? Sean Spence (three tackles) had trouble keeping up in pass coverage. James Harrison had no tackles in limited action.

Mike Evans beating Cortez Allen
In the secondary, where was safety Mike Mitchell all day? ... especially on that last drive? Cortez Allen is coming up short time and again.

The defense allowed Tampa Bay, of all teams, to convert seven of nine third downs in the second half.

Where was the pass rush? Cam Thomas is a fat slob. The Steelers sacked Mike Glennon once for 15 yards?

Meanwhile, Ben Roethlisberger got taken down five times for 26 yards. Maurkice Pouncey is over-rated. An illegal snap penalty? Come on, man.

Pouncey said the official told him he moved the ball too much before snapping it. Pouncey does that all the time -- we noticed it earlier in the game and in fact consciously thought, "We thought you weren't supposed to move the ball like that before the snap -- aren't you supposed to be set?" Unfortunately, the zebras called it at the worst possible moment.

Pouncey's ill-timed final-possession gaffe cost a crucial first down that would have allowed the Steelers to kneel on the ball and end the game (ahead). But, no, that penalty led to the next critical mistake, a lousy punt ...

Louis Murphy kills the Steelers, again.
(Photo courtesy of USA Today)
Brad Wing's last punt, a 29-yarder, was a killer, coming up way short of where it needed to be and giving the Bucs excellent field position on the Steelers side of the 50. That did not help.

And then the defense collapsed, which brings us back to the questions, where was the pass rush? ... Where were the safeties? Mike Mitchell? Troy?

Speaking of the kicking game, Tampa's Patrick Murray kicked a 50-yard field goal.  Sean Suisham missed a 50-yard attempt.

This loss stinks, and it looks like it's going to be a long season the rest of way (12 games).

They can beat Jacksonville next week, can't they? Maybe. More worrisome, we're not at all confident the Steelers can beat the Browns in Cleveland the following week. The Browns will be coming off a bye week, playing at home, buoyed by the confidence of their second-half performance against the Steelers in the opener and what they saw the Steelers do on Sunday.

"The bottom line is that we are an undisciplined group." Mike Tomlin said. "We are too highly penalized. Obviously we are not coaching it. We are allowing it to happen. So I take responsibility for that. We are not going to win close football games being penalized in the manner in which we’ve been penalized over the first month of the season. It’s unacceptable. It’s inexcusable."

Well, that's one thing Tomlin got right. "It's inexcusable."

Game Day 4: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Pittsburgh Steelers

Tampa Bay's Buccaneers enter Heinz Field today riding a six-game losing streak dating back to last year. The Buccaneers' offense leads the NFL in turnovers, with nine, including five fumbles (three by RB Bobby Rainey).

After missing the past two games, running back Doug Martin returns to action today as the feature back, so the 5'8" Rainey will return to spot duty, mostly on passing downs, although he averaged 5.3 yards per carry in the first three games.
  • As a team, Tampa Bay's running backs average 5.0 yards per carry, fifth in the NFL. Coincidentally, Pittsburgh's run defense is surrendering 5.0 yards per carry, 25th in the NFL.
With second-year QB Mike Glennon starting today in place of veteran Josh McKown (out with a torn ligament in his right thumb), the Buccaneers may test Pittsburgh's run defense. Although the Steelers surrendered just 42 yards rushing vs. a Carolina offense that was short of running backs, the Steelers looked vulnerable against the run vs. Baltimore and Cleveland. In three games, the Steelers have allowed 130 yards rushing per game, 22nd in the NFL.

The Steelers' defense still has not intercepted a pass this season, and safeties Mike Mitchell and Troy Polamalu have yet to break up any passes.

In 14 NFL games played, Glennon has thrown nine interceptions and lost three fumbles. Last year, his rookie season, Glennon was sacked 40 times in 13 games.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

55 points allowed was not so long ago

Two teams take the field on Sunday at Heinz Field, and it was not so long ago that one of them had 50+ points scored on them.

The Steelers.

Oh, and Tampa Bay's Buccaneers, too, a week ago Thursday, when they lost to Atlanta, 56-14.

But the Steelers let the New England Patriots ring up 55 on them less than 11 months ago, on Nov. 3, 2013. That's just 326 days ago. Granted a lot has happened in those 326 days. Still, though, it wasn't that long ago.

Joey Porter's Pit Bulls don't believe the Buccaneers are going to go into Heinz Field and beat the Steelers on Sunday. But you know what happened the week after the Steelers surrendered those 55 points? They won. They beat the Buffalo Bills, 23-10.

The Bucs were horrific in Atlanta, and there's little reason to think they'll give the Steelers much trouble.

The Bucs' problems are many, and they are great. For example, in that 56-14 loss, Tampa was penalized 11 times for 110 yards.

Sound familiar?

The Steelers were assessed 11 penalties in their last game, too, for 91 yards in the win over Carolina. Previously, the Steelers had flags thrown on them nine times for 75 yards in the loss at Baltimore and 11 times for  96 yards in the win they eked out over Cleveland.

In fact, the Steelers rank 31st in the NFL (in front of only San Francisco) in penalties assessed against them. The Bucs rank 14th in that category.

On the plus side for the Steelers, when it comes to punting net yards, thanks to Brad Wing, the Steelers rank in the middle of the pack (16th, with a 42.0 yard net punting average) vs. Tampa Bay, which ranks 31st with an abysmal 34.0 yards net punting average.

The Bucs have imposing receivers, but QB Mike Glennon will need time to throw to them.  He's not likely to get it. Glennon was sacked 40 times last season (of 47 allowed by Tampa). Ben Roethlsberger was sacked 43 times in 2013.

Tampa's QBs have been sacked seven times this year, vs. six this year for Ben Roethlibserger. On the flip side of the ball, Tampa's defense has sacked the QB only four times compared to six by Pittsburgh's defense.

Speaking of those big receivers, 6'5" veteran Vincent Jackson is playing with a hairline fracture to his wrist and will be wearing a brace for the next several weeks. Now, that's a hockey player.

No-Huddle Running Game Coming?

Joey Porter's Pit Bulls wouldn't be surprised to see the Steelers' offense go to no-huddle, hurry-up mode early and often on Sunday at home vs. the struggling Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Dri Archer, at practice this week,
getting ready for the Buccaneers.
We expect to see much the same approach the Steelers took in their second pre-season game vs. the Buffalo Bills on August 16th at Heinz Field.

One new wrinkle: We suspect the Steelers might do more running plays from no-huddle, shotgun sets. In fact, this may be where we get to see Dri Archer for the first time this regular season.

Tampa Bay runs a base 4-3 defense, with a lot of cover-two, so this will be a good defense to run against from the shotgun in no-huddle mode.

The running game is working. It's time to open it up a little bit and make sure it works in hurry-up mode.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Hey! There's a game on Sunday!

In the wake of the Steelers' dismantling of the Carolina Panthers and in all the excitement of the signing of James Harrison, let's not forget the Steelers play an NFL team on Sunday.

Granted, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have been wretched. Led by new head coach Lovie Smith, the Bucs are 0-3, having lost to the Panthers (20-14), the Rams (19-17) and the Falcons (56-14) last Thursday night. The Bucs will be without offensive coordinator Jeff Tedford, who has taken a leave of absence with a medical condition.

If the stinkin' Buccaneers come into Pittsburgh and beat the Steelers .... perish the thought.

Let's not overlook the fact, however, that they are still an NFL team, with some highly paid NFL players.

On offense, the Bucs have some big names -- and big receivers, namely veteran Vincent Jackson and Mike Evans, the highly touted first-rounder from May's NFL draft. Other familiar names are guard Logan Mankins, formerly of New England, running back Doug Martin (returning from injury) and veteran QB Josh McKown.

McKown has a thumb injury, however, so the Bucs are expected to start second-year QB Mike Glennon, who actually was pretty good at times last year, although he was sacked 40 times. The Pro Football Writers Association of America named Glennon the NFL's top rookie quarterback.

On defense, the Bucs will be missing defensive tackle Gerald McCoy, a 2013 AP All-Pro, but are expected to have former Bengals' defensive end Michael Johnson, an off-season free agent signee, return from injury. Johnson has given the Steelers (Mike Adams, specifically) fits in the past, but he sounds a little tentative about what's going on in Tampa:

"There isn’t a lot of blitzing,” Johnson said. “We have to generate [the pass-rush] ourselves. That comes with just continuing to work, continuing to learn each other and continuing to just get better week-in and week-out. We’ll get this thing rolling and when we get to rolling, it will be like clockwork. I’m excited to get to that point but like I said it’s a process."

The Steelers should knock the stuffing out of this team, but they'd better be focused and ready. The Steelers aren't good enough to overlook any NFL team.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Return of the Silverback

James Harrison, The Silverback, has returned to the Steelers.

Harrison was instrumental in helping the Steelers forge an identity of ferocity during his best years here, 2006-10. Harrison was hampered by a balky knee, bad back and other injuries in 2011 and 2012, his final year with the Steelers, and he was out of position last year with the Bengals' 4-3 scheme. He just wasn't himself.

He may not have the sheer explosiveness and mobility he once had, but he is reportedly in great shape, and he can surely add something to the team. His menacing presence can only amplify what has already been the boost added by assistant coach Joey Porter's intensity.

No doubt, he's baaad.
Perhaps more importantly, James Harrison has an incredible work ethic. His advantage on the pass rush always was his leverage, power and explosiveness. If he can impart any of his tricks of the trade to Arthur Moats, Jarvis Jones, Terrance Garvin, Ryan Shazier and Howard Jones, all the better.

Post-Carolina Observations
Kudos to the Rushing Defense: Carolina does not have a great offensive line, was depleted by injury at the running back position for this game and attempted just five runs in the first half. Still, the Steelers' front seven was active and got after it. Surrendering just 42 yards rushing is a good game by almost any measure.

Surprise Performance of the Night: Steve McLendon -- Where did that burst come from all of a sudden? And where's it been? Maybe a function of a subpar OL? Yet Ryan Kalil, Carolina's center, is an accomplished veteran with good technique and is known to be a pretty good NFL center. Tunch Ilkin observed that just about all the Carolina offensive linemen are fairly light in the core, but still ... kudos to Steve McLendon. Keep it going.

Unsung Hero of the Night: Brad Wing -- Wing's a left-footed kicker, and his spinning 59-yard punt with 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter following a Carolina touchdown that made the score 23-13 was crucial. The punt came down at an awkward angle for inexperienced returner Philly Brown, who muffed it, and Robert Golden recovered the ball in the end zone for the Pittsburgh touchdown that put the game out of reach. Wing averaged 46 yards per punt on three punts, including one he nailed inside the Carolina 20-yard line.

Unsung Hero of the Night II: Cody Wallace -- Wallace had no trouble at all stepping in for the injured Ramon Foster. He may not be quite as strong as Foster, but as we saw last year when he started at center for four games, he can play more than capably.

Footnote: Le'Veon Bell has 315 yards rushing and 146 yards receiving to lead the NFL in all-purpose yards overall and all-purpose yards from scrimmage (461). He had 146 yards on 21 carries Sunday night. When he gets at least 25 touches in a game, good things happen.

A thought: Maybe the Steelers knew the NFL was about to change its Drug Policy related to marijuana when Mike Tomlin refrained from suspending Lev Bell and LeGarrette Blount after the McKnight Road incident in August. Something could still happen down the line. Granted, it's not a good look to show up for work high, but Bell and Blount sure make it appear as though it's working for them. Maybe the game slows down for them; who knows? Maybe the weed helps Bell to see things better and helps him show the patience he is becoming famous for when following his blocks and setting up his runs. Who knows?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Now That's More Like It

Run the ball and stop the run. The Steelers racked up 264 yards on the ground and begrudged just 42 yards rushing against them in Sunday night's 37-19 win over the Carolina Panthers before thousands of Steelers' fans clad in Black 'n Gold in Charlotte, N.C.

This was a major win for the Steelers, and one they needed. A road win vs. a solid opponent early in the season.

There's plenty of time to quibble over some things that can be fixed (penalties) and worry about other things that maybe can't be fixed this year (injuries; lack of talent and depth at some positions), but make no mistake: This was a perfect game for the Steelers to make a statement, and they did, with an exclamation mark.

It was only the third game of the year, but for the Steelers to even be considered to be contenders, this was a game they had to win.  We thought they would win, and naturally we're glad they did.

Next up: Tampa Bay. Time to get on a roll.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Game Day 3: Steelers at Carolina Panthers

There is no reason the Steelers should not win this game. The only thing stopping the Steelers is themselves.

That, and a lack of talent at several key positions. No, seriously, the Steelers should win tonight's game against the South/North Carolina Panthers. Of course, though, should win in one thing. Actual winning is something else.

The Steelers are 17-17 over their past 34 games. The Panthers have gone 13-1 in their past 14 games.

The Carolina defense has played well in that span, surrendering an average of 14.6 points per game and helping the team to a +17 turnover differential. On offense, the Panthers haven't turned the ball over this season.

Kelvin Benjamin 
On offense, the Panthers rely heavily on tight end Greg Olson, who has the ability to torture the Steelers in the same manner Owen Daniels did in Baltimore. Olson leads the Panthers with 14 receptions for an 11.2 yards-per-catch average.

Then, too, there's 6'5" rookie receiver Kelvin Benjamin, who poses a potential matchup problem for the Steelers' corners. Benjamin has a 17.3 yard average on eight receptions in two games.

To thwart the Panthers' offense, the Black 'n Gold Defense must do two things they haven't done well at all lately: Force turnovers and sack the quarterback. The defense has generated no turnovers this season and has just three sacks.

Last week, Carolina's opponent, the Detroit Lions sacked quarterback Cam Newton five times, but Newton didn't turn the ball over in leading the Panthers to a convincing 24-7 win. Newton was an efficient 22-of-34 passing for 284 yards and one touchdown.

On the other side of the ball, the Panthers' defense forced three Detroit turnovers. Pittsburgh right tackle Marcus Gilbert will have his hands full with a mobile, fast and aggressive rotation of defensive ends and linebackers coming at him. How well he holds up will be one key to this game.

If Gilbert does his job, and if the Steelers protect the ball on offense and force turnovers on defense, the Steelers should win this game.

That sounds like a lot of "ifs," but Joey Porter's Pit Bulls are calling it: The Steelers win this game.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

This is the kind of game the Steelers used to win

A measuring-stick kind of game, and a good road test to see what kind of team the Steelers really are in 2014. That's what they have on Sunday night vs. a Carolina Panthers team that has gone 13-1 in its last 14 games (best in the NFL).

The Panthers lay in wait with a very good defense that has gathered six turnovers so far this season and has enabled Carolina to register a +17 turnover differential since Oct 13th. On offense, the Panthers seem to have just enough to get by, but with a defense that has allowed just 14.6 points per game over their last 14, the offense doesn't have to do much.

Luke Kuechly, tearing it up.
Carolina plays a base 4-3 defense anchored by third-year middle linebacker Luke Kuechly, the AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year in 2013, and second-year defensive tackle Star Lotulelei (6'2", 320), who is everything the Detroit Lions probably hoped they were getting with Ndamukong Suh, the second overall pick in the 2012 draft. Both Kuechly and Lotulelei are fierce and mobile, and it's doubtful the Panthers would trade Lotulelei for Suh if given the option.

Many in Steeler Nation took encouragement from the Steelers' 6-2 record down the stretch in 2013, even if it included that inexcusable loss to the Miami Dolphins at home in the snow on Dec. 8th.  Still, 6-2 is 6-2. But 8-8 is 8-8, which is the record the Steelers have had the past two years. Not good.

This test in Charlotte will be a good game by which to measure the 2014 Steelers. If they can win on the road vs. a team that's gone 13-1 in its past 14 games, then we might begin to feel reasonably confident this year's edition of the Black 'n Gold is one to take seriously. If they lose, however, it will begin to look like more of the same of what we've seen the past two years and take on the look of an uphill struggle to the playoffs.

This is a big game for the Steelers. Although it's early in the season, it's later than you think.

The Odoriferous North/South Carolina Panthers

Which is it? North or South? Or is "it" just "Carolina"?

This is the franchise that counts among its alumni Rae Carruth who is in prison today for attempting to hire a hit man to murder his pregnant girlfriend. Today's Carolina Panthers are paying the execrable Greg Hardy about $777,000 to not play this weekend because the 25-year-old is accused of doing the following to a woman named Nicole Holder, according to court testimony before a North Carolina judge, who said, "Guilty," even if Hardy has another trial before a jury in the offing ...
"Hardy, Nicole Holder said, flung her from the bed, threw her into a bathtub, then tossed her on a futon covered with AK-47 rifles. Holder said Hardy ripped a necklace he had given her off her neck, threw it into a toilet and slammed the lid on her arm when she tried to fish it out. The 6-foot-4, 265-pound Hardy dragged her by the hair room to room, she said, before putting his hands around her throat. 
“He looked me in my eyes and he told me he was going to kill me,” said Holder, 24, who said she used to live with Hardy.  Later, as Holder said she was held by her former boyfriend’s personal assistant, she said Hardy made the 911 call, showed her the phone, and said, "Run, little girl. You’re going to jail.'"

Friday, September 19, 2014

Will the Steelers be ready?

For the second consecutive week, the Steelers go on the road for a prime-time TV game (ugh) against a team coming together with an "us-against-the-world" mentality because one of their star players is at the swirling center of the NFL's Domestic Violence nightmare.

The Steelers had better be ready.

Baltimore should have been the team with distractions last week, but it was the Steelers who seemed off their collective game. It's doubtful whether Todd Haley missing the team flight had anything to do with it, as weird as that seems, but it couldn't have helped. Not a good look.
The opportunity is there, if the Steelers are
willing and able to reach out and grasp it.

This week, the Steelers visit Charlotte to play a Carolina team that has a good defense even without the execrable Greg Hardy, who will get paid about $777,000 this week for staying home because of the ugly charges of domestic violence against him. It's been a distraction for emotional head coach Ron Rivera and the bloodless Panthers' organization this week.

We guarantee, however, that the Panthers' players themselves will adopt the tired-and-true "us against the world" approach, which tends to coalesce team unity, galvanize motivation and focus players. Count on it.

The Steelers had better be ready. The past three seasons, Mike Tomlin's teams have gotten their seasons off to slow starts. This year, the Black 'n Gold came out with guns blazing in the first half vs. Cleveland. They've been outplayed in every quarter since.

One thing we've found a bit curious: Why has Justin Brown played on 112 of the team's 132 offensive snaps?  The backup tight end, Matt Spaeth, has 12 snaps. The backup running back, LeGarrette Blount, has seven carries in two games. Go figure.

Speaking of Todd Haley, here is what he had to say this week, and make of it what you will:
"I don’t think you are going to be what you are going to be until the end of the season. The idea is to continually get better. We showed signs in the first game. Last game that was an important thing, to show some signs of being a good offense. We didn’t show enough. But really when you broke it down in the first five possessions there were one, two or sometimes five plays that if little things had been done, and I am not talking about major things, just little technique things, there would have been a different outcome on those possessions. Obviously the fumbles are easy to see and the most obvious but on that first possession we probably had five plays that had one guy done their job just a little better or a little more the way they were supposed to do it, we might have scored before that play even occurred. We just have to really stay focused on that, guys doing what they are supposed to be doing and doing it the way they are being coached. And I think we have the ability to go out and be a really good offense if we do that. 
"Carolina has a quality defense that plays really well, whether they are home or away. They create turnovers. They make you go the distance of the field. They don’t give up big plays. We are going to have to be on our game. We can’t have many of those plays I was just talking about."

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The ugly Carolina Panthers

The shameful and disgraced Carolina Panthers ... ugh, an ugly organization in so many ways, and a blight upon the landscape, starting with their ugly uniforms ... but it looks like we have to talk about them.

For now, though, we'll talk about on-field football: The Panthers had a good defense last year, and over the first two games this year, they're looking pretty good again, even without Greg Hardy, their highest-paid defensive player, who will collect pay of about $777,000 to sit out this week, despite having been judged guilty of domestic violence. Watch the video at this link to learn more.

Key Performance Indicators (KPIs)
Over the first two games, the Carolina defense has surrendered just:
  • 10.5 points per game (vs. 26.5 by the Steelers' defense)
  • 86 rushing yards per game (vs. 174 by the Steelers' defense)
  • 207.5 passing yards per game (vs. 182 by the Steelers' defense)
  • 293.5 yards per game total (vs. 356 by the Steelers) 
  • 7 sacks (vs. 3 by the Steelers)
  • 6 takeaways (vs. 0 by the Steelers)
The driving wheel of Carolina's defense is inside linebacker Luke Kuechly, who was the ninth overall pick in the 2012 draft, out of Boston College. We grow weary of Mike Tomlin's overblown hyperbole when talking up the attributes of opposing players, but it's hard to overstate Kuechly's impact.

“There’s nothing that he can’t do,” Tomlin said of Kuechly. “He is good at blitzing. He is a sideline-to-sideline tackler. He has innate instincts. He can slip blocks. He can defeat blocks physically. He is great in the passing game."

It's true. Kuechly gets after it. At 6'3", 238 pounds, Kuechly followed up his Associated Press Defensive Rookie of the Year season in 2012 by winning AP Defensive Player of the Year last year. He had 156 tackles last year and intercepted four passes last season. Currently, he is tied for third in the league with 20 tackles.

Kuechly plays inside linebacker the way it should be played.

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Even more running blues: An alarming trend on defense

It's an NFL truism for a reason. Teams that don't run the ball, and can't stop the run, lose..

The Steelers haven't run the ball, and they can't stop the run. That latter part is especially worrying.

The late Big Daddy Lipscomb
would not tolerate this.
The Steelers rank 29th in the NFL against the run, with only St. Louis, Green Bay and Oakland behind them. Worse, the Steelers' 5.0 yards-per-rushing-attempt-against is tied for worst in the league, and opponents know it.

Despite playing from behind, Cleveland kept running the ball. Baltimore ran the ball, consistently, especially to the right side of their offensive line. The Steelers couldn't stop it.

There's nothing more demoralizing to a football team than knowing it cannot stop the run.

Steelers' opponents are averaging 170.0 yards per game on the ground vs. the Steelers. That cannot continue. If it does, this is going to be a very long season.

Where are the linebackers?  Where's the front seven? So far, this defense is not even a shadow of the legendary Steel Curtain. This defense has shown itself to be anything but stout. It has shown no ferocity. It does not strike fear.

If personnel changes need to be made, make 'em. It's early in the season, but it's later than you think.

As for the offense ...
As noted in yesterday's post, Todd Haley, Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin's Steelers' offense can run the ball effectively, when they do it, averaging 4.8 yards per attempt.

It's just that Haley and Company don't run the ball much, with just 47 rushing attempts in the first two games. Cincinnati had almost that many carries (45) in one game, last Sunday's win over Atlanta.

Le'Veon Bell had just 11 carries in Sunday night's loss at Baltimore. This, despite the fact that Bell was on the field for 30 of the offense's 33 snaps in the first half, and the game stayed close until the fourth quarter.  It's curious, too, in retrospect, when we learn that Roethlisberger still remains sore from the hit that Courtney Upshaw delivered on the first series of the game. No wonder his passes were off. And the Steelers were on the road in a noisy environment. You'd think that Haley and Co. -- whomever was doing the play-calling -- would have wanted to run the ball more. They just chose not to.

The Steelers have a lot of problems. They may not be able to fix the lack of talent in certain spots immediately, but they can fix play-calling and schemes.  So farm there's been no consistency or traction in the offensive running game.

Of course, then, too, players have to make plays. So far, too many players aren't making the plays that need to be made.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Run, run, running blues

Steelers' great John Henry Johnson,
circa 1963, getting it done.
The Steelers are tied with Tampa Bay for 26th in the NFL in Rushing Attempts, with just 47 rushing plays in the first two games.

Some teams talk about committing to the run. Other teams do it. All during the off-season, Cincinnati offensive coordinator Hue Jackson insisted the Bengals would commit to the run this year.  Now, the Bengals rank second in the league with 71 attempts, behind only Houston's 80. On Sunday vs. the Falcons, the Bengals ran the ball 45 times for 171 yards, led by Giovanni Bernard's 27 carries and Jeremy Hill's 15 caries. The Bengals won convincingly.

Even the Dallas Cowboys demonstrated a newfound commitment to the run during their convincing win over Tennessee. Dallas's defense was on the field for only 49 snaps, as the Cowboys racked up 241 yards rushing and a whopping 41 minutes time of possession behind DeMarco Murray's 167 yards rushing on 27 carries. Dallas is tied with Buffalo for fourth in the league with 66 rushing attempts.

Cleveland is 8th in the league with 60 rushing attempts. Just ahead of them is San Diego, with 61 rushing attempts. San Diego had the ball for a whopping 42:15 time of possession during the team's convincing victory over Seattle on Sunday.

The Steelers are running the ball okay, with a 4.8 yard average per attempt, which is ninth in the league. Todd Haley, Ben Roethlisberger and Mike Tomlin just can't commit to it.

More NFL idiocy, ugliness and situational ethics

Nice timing, Zygi Wilf, Mark Wilf, Rick Spielman and all the other Minnesota Vikings decision-makers who announced yesterday afternoon that, yes, accused child abuser Adrian "Whoopin'" Peterson will play on Sunday.

The Vikings need to find a new sponsor-backdrop screen
for their news conferences, now that Radisson has suspended
its sponsorship of the team. Shown: Vikings GM Rick Spielman
Wolf, the team owner and a notorious sleazebag, and Spielman, the general manager, weren't at all clear on what factors went into their decision, so we can only surmise it had nothing to do with, or everything to do with the fact that Minnesota running backs averaged 2.0 yards per carry on Sunday.

Clearly, Wolf and Spielman, however, would have us believe their decision to welcome back Peterson had little to do with Sunday's abysmal on-field performance by the Vikings' offense, which looked dreadful without the star running back in a 30-7 loss at home to the New England Patriots. The Vikings' owner and management team want Peterson on the field to help the team be more competitive. Winning, or attempting to win, trumps everything. It seems to be a classic example of flexible, situational ethics.

Karma Trumps Situational Ethics?
Then, to spice things up later on Monday, a Houston TV station reported a second mother of another four-year-old son of Peterson's has come forward to also accuse him of accusing that boy in a separate incident. The television station reported that other mother of the second four-year-old filed a report with Child Protective Services but no charges have been filed yet.

And, in an announcement that must have surprised the Vikings late Monday, one of their "sponsor partners," the hotel chain Radisson, displayed uncommon good sense by issuing a statement to the effect that they were suspending their sponsorship of the team, effectively disassociating themselves from the Vikings.

Evidently, Radisson takes all this more seriously than the Vikings do:
"Radisson takes this matter very seriously particularly in light of our long-standing commitment to the protection of children," said the company's statement. "We are closely following the situation and effective immediately, Radisson is suspending its limited sponsorship of the Minnesota Vikings while we evaluate the facts and circumstances."
Sponsorship money. Now that's something the NFL understands.

Meanwhile, the Steelers' next opponent, the Carolina Panthers, left it to head coach Ron Rivera to announce yesterday that star defensive end Greg Hardy remains with the team and is not suspended, but may or may not play on Sunday night vs. the Steelers in a prime-time nationally televised game.

We'll get around to talking about on-the-field football at some point soon. We still like the game itself and some of the people playing it.

Monday, September 15, 2014

The Steelers' defense doesn't sack the QB or force turnovers

Antwon Blake & Co. struggled vs. the Panthers
in the pre-season game at Heinz Field.
It's been only a few weeks since the Steelers hosted the dreaded Carolina Panthers in their annual meaningless final pre-season match-up.

Because so few regulars played in that game and the coaches kept things vanilla, it's impossible to take much out of that dreadful August 28th exhibition and extrapolate how the two squads may fair Sunday night (prime time! yippee! ugh) in Charlotte, N.C.

Maybe even Greg Hardy will play for the Panthers! Something for Carolina fans to look forward to!

This past Sunday, Carolina starting QB Cam Newton played for the first time this season in the Panthers' win at home over the enigmatic yet problematic Detroit Lions, and Newton did okay. Trailing 7-6 in the third quarter, Newton led a scoring drive, completing five of six passes, including a nice 14-yard TD throw to Jason Avant. On the day, Newton went 24-34 passing for 281 yards, one TD and no interceptions.

The Lions' formidable defensive front sacked Newton five times, but he shouldn't have to worry too much about getting sacked by a Steelers defense that has just two on the season and has forced zero turnovers in the first games (vs. Cleveland and Baltimore).

The lack of turnovers by the Steelers is a point that's been hammered on many people the past few days, and rightly so.  It's an alarming trend.

In each of the past three seasons, the Steelers' defense failed to record as many as 20 turnovers. If the Steelers fail to record 20 turnovers this year, the fourth straight year, they will be the first team in NFL history to go four straight seasons without forcing at least 20 turnovers in any one of those years.

Something's wrong. It's either the talent or the scheme, and possibly both, which is really bad. Any way you look at it, the sample size is large enough and has been compiled for long enough to conclude this defense doesn't sack the quarterback or force turnovers with any consistency or forcible impact.

Saturday, September 13, 2014

The NFL has major problems, as on-the-field football news takes a back seat ... and actually seems pretty trivial right now

Because this week's Steeler game was the weekly made-for-TV-that-nobody-wants-to-watch unless-it's-your-team-Thursday night special, Steeler Nation has a few extra days to brood over the state of our team, in which we all have an emotional investment, at the very least, if not a financial investment, not to mention the Black 'n Gold blood that runs through our collective veins.

We still love our Steelers, warts and all, but there's other stuff going on in the cesspool that has become the NFL, never mind that the games themselves (on the field) have become a mostly unwatchable mess ...

Holy cow. 

Ray Rice, Janay Rice, the Baltimore Rayvens and their prideful Baltimoron No. 27 jersey-flaunting fans -- they just don't get it -- may be taking some twisted, misguided solace and relief in the knowledge that the latest ugly, ugly news from the NFL has at least temporarily bumped their own sordid, disgraceful Domestic Violence story and the NFL's self-appointed "independent investigation" off the front pages for the moment.

The Steelers' own Art Rooney II and the New York Giants' John Mara, both lawyers, are overseeing that investigation, by the way, to be run by former FBI Director Robert Mueller, who has ties to a law firm that has done business with the NFL for years.

And for as much heat as Roger Goodell has been taking (deservedly so), let's not overlook Ray Rice's culpability in all this. Those punches to Janay's face came too easily, too casually, and he expressed absolutely no concern after cold-cocking her. He was entirely too comfortable slugging her.  Think he hasn't done that sort of thing before?

But for now ...

The NFL now has to deal with star running back Adrian Peterson facing charges of child abuse (and an arrest warrant), as reported by TMZ, Deadspin and other national media outlets, as well as immediate NFL Player Twitteridiocy... from the likes of Roddey White.

All this follows, of course, on the heels of assorted sordid, ugly, unsavory, unseemly and unwanted news from the NFL over the past few days: (Ray McDonald, Greg Hardy, Roger Goodell); ... weeks: (Jerry Jones; Johnny Manziel, Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount); ... months: (Darren SharperJosh Gordon, Jimmy Haslam, Davone Bess, the Pouncey Brothers); ... and recent years: (performance-enhancing drugs, HGH, Richie Incognito, Aaron Hernandez, Michael Vick, Terrell Suggs, concussions, Jovan Belcher, Alameda Ta'amu, Chris Rainey, Riley Cooper, Mike Adams, Jonathan Vilma, Ben Roethlisberger, Donte Stalworth, the Bountygate scandal, Gregg Williams, Spygate, Bill Belichick, Ray Lewis, Michael Irvin, Warren Sapp, Leonard Little, taxpayer-funded stadiums, various other ignominious absurdities, etc.), etc., etcetera, ad infinitum, ad nauseum.

The parade of arrests just goes on and on.

A fine little rogue's gallery you've got there in your playpen, Roger Goodell (lawyer) and the association of billionaire franchise owners that employ you -- an association of franchisees ("League") that may be even more powerful, exclusive and unsavory than the U.S. Senate, complete with an anti-trust exemption, taxpayer-funded stadiums and an unbelievable "non-profit status" that boggles the mind and is disingenuous at best on the face of it.

It's getting tougher and tougher to buy what the NFL is selling. 

Phil Mushnick: "Ray Rice, Ray Lewis, and the Absurdity of the NFL"

Chicago Tribune: "NFL's Bogus Investigation Further Soils Reputation"

PFT: "Mara, Rooney to Oversee Investigation"

Colin Dunlap: "Rooney II in No-Win Situation"

Yahoo Sports: "Just How Independent is 'Independent Investigation Going to Be?"

ABC News: "Who's in Charge of NFL Investigation"

Bill Plaschke:  "Goodell needs to be cut, quickly and coldly"

The Daily Kos: "Dear Roger Goodell"

Yahoo Sports: "Contradictions in the Ray Rice Scandal"

Friday, September 12, 2014

Mistake City

Justin Brown's early fumble set the tone.
Three turnovers and nine penalties are no way to win a game.

Neither will scoring just two field goals. And neither will allowing 157 yards rushing, or allowing the other team a glaring time-of-possession advantage (35:08 to 24:52), which may explain in part why running back Le'Veon Bell got only 11 carries.

For the night, the Steelers tried just 18 runs vs. 36 by the Ravens. Guess who won? Ravens, 26-6.

A Costly Early Fumble
The first of the three turnovers, Justin Brown's early fumble at the Baltimore 15-yard line, killed any fledgling momentum the Steelers had on their opening possession and let the Ravens off the hook. Brown's fumble quashed a 14-play drive that felt a little off-kilter the whole way and was actually kept alive by a ticky-tacky roughing the passer call on the third play of the game, way back at the Steelers' 11.  David Decastro's subsequent penalty for being too far downfield nullified a 19-yard pass play to Heath Miller. Antonio Brown got racked hard on a 23-yard catch but held onto the ball.

Two plays later, however, Justin Brown's fumble ended the drive and galvanized the home crowd. Justin Brown wasn't hit particularly hard -- he just had the ball poked out while getting tackled. Breathing new life, the Ravens marched right down the field to take an early 7-0 lead, assisted greatly by cornerback Cortez Allen's 38 penalty yards.

Down goes Roethlisberger.
Worrisome Trends
The Steelers' nine penalties for 75 yards on the night came on the heels of last week's 11 penalties against Cleveland, and that's not a good trend. "Obviously."

Oh, and the Steelers allowed the Ravens 157 yards on the ground after giving up 183 yards rushing to Cleveland. That's as alarming as anything we've seen so far in 2014. If Dick LeBeau's defense is going to keep allowing teams to run the ball, it's going to be a long, torturous season.

A Soft Middle
On defense, too, the Steelers should have foreseen Joe Flacco would be going to his tight ends over the middle of the field. The Ravens love to do that, if they can, and against a Steelers defense starting a rookie inside linebacker (Ryan Shazier) and a new safety (Mike Mitchell), the Steelers should have seen it coming. And the Ravens took what the Steelers gave them. All night long. It was reminiscent of the 2011 season opener in Baltimore, when Joe Flacco went to Dennis Pitta and Ed Dickson all day during a 35-7 beatdown of the Steelers.

In Thursday night's 26-6 loss, it was Pitta and Owen Daniels doing the damage, with Daniels scoring two touchdowns. Daniels used to play for Gary Kubiak, Baltimore's new offensive coordinator, and the Steelers did not account for him. Inexcusable.

The middle of the field was there for the taking. It makes you wonder why the Steelers' offense didn't try the same strategy against a Ravens defense also starting a rookie inside linebacker (C.J. Moseley) and a pair of young safeties. Then again, the Ravens have two legitimate receiving tight ends in Pitta and Daniels. The Steelers have only Heath Miller, who is great, but they simply do not have two legitimate receiving tight ends.

Getting Pushed 
Around Up Front
Pittsburgh's defensive line and offensive line got pushed around too much. On defense, once again, Cam Thomas did next to nothing, and an aging Brett Keisel seems to have the youngest legs on the line.

The entire offensive line failed to get much of a push vs. the Ravens in the running game, and we're still trying to figure out why the Steelers gave  contract extensions this year to Maurkice Pouncey and Marcus Gilbert. Neither did much to provide a surge in the running game, and Gilbert got tossed around in pass protection. Again.

Gilbert also committed a costly false start on 3rd-and-four at the Baltimore 36 in the second quarter. That hurt. It put Roethlisberger in 3rd-and-nine, and the Steelers couldn't convert. Brad Wing punted to the Baltimore 11 and, on the next play, Joe Flacco kneeled on the ball to end the half.

Gilbert allowed two sacks and it sure looked like he was responsible for no help at all on the hit to the sternum Roethlisberger took on the third play of the first series. That hit was penalized unjustly; otherwise, Gilbert might have been "credited" with allowing another sack.

Steve Smith, running free through the secondary.
Major Questions 
About the Secondary
Speaking of mystifying contract extensions, Cortez Allen certainly hasn't looked like a shutdown corner the first two games, or even a competent one. He didn't even look good in the pre-season games, yet the Steelers awarded him with the questionable contract extension on the eve of the season opener.

Allen struggled again vs. the Ravens, committing a 15-yard face mask penalty on the first play after Justin Brown's fumble, committing pass interference on a deep pass, and failing to corral an interception early in the fourth quarter. Two plays after the bungled interception, Justin Tucker kicked a field goal to make the score 23-6, effectively putting the game out of reach.

Allen wasn't the only one to commit a facemask penalty. Safety Mike Mitchell also committed one, and he added an unnecessary roughness penalty later for good measure. He hasn't done anything in the first two games to justify being signed to big money. Based on what we've seen so far, he stinks.

All in all, it was a disjointed, sloppy and ugly effort by the Steelers. And a well-deserved loss. They went into Baltimore with a chance to send the Ravens reeling, and they blew it.

Not that it helps, but Mike Tomlin summed up the entire night pretty well during his opening statement of the post-game news conference:
"Obviously a disappointment for us, a lot of self-inflicted wounds are going to prevent you from being in football games. We turned the ball over too often, we were highly penalized, particularly, on the drives that they were able to manufacture and produce points. We were highly penalized defensively. Those two things are a lethal combination. When you turn the ball over, and you’re highly penalized, and you’re extending drives, you’re going to lose football games like that, and we did tonight."
Next up: At Charlotte, N.C., vs. the Carolina Panthers, at 8:30 p.m., Sunday, Sept. 21. As of this writing, more than 4,000 tickets remain available, starting at $100 a ticket. It should be exciting.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Just what will Terrell Suggs never forget?

For so many Americans, Sept. 11th is a solemn and poignant day; a day of reflection and mourning.

Sept. 11, 2001 carries a special significance and resonance.

So do the words, "We will never forget."

Given that tonight's NFL game in Baltimore is actually on Sept. 11th, it is unfortunate but still callous and ignorant that the Baltimore Ravens' Terrell Suggs decided to co-opt, trivialize and debase the statement, "We will never forget" by placing it on his stupid t-shirt aimed at lampooning Mike Tomlin for stepping on the field last year during Jacoby Jones's punt return.

In the great scheme of things, we have to ask, "It's that important to you, eh, T-Sizzle? Just what will you never forget, Terrell?"

To say Suggs is tone-deaf and ignorant is an understatement.

Suggs's sheer ignorance is evident, too, in his choice of selecting Monday, the day the Ray Rice news broke, to Tweet out the photo of his "We will never forget" t-shirt. In fact, the Ravens' own Twitter account publicizes and promotes the t-shirt, as well, as if to distract the public from the Ray Rice disgrace.

Suggs has a history, too
In light of the timing, Suggs's lame attempt at humor was especially tone-deaf, given his own documented history of having been accused of assaulting his longtime girlfriend,  Candace Williams.

In 2009, Candace Williams filed court papers and a request for a protective order. Suggs was alleged to have punched her in the neck and dragged her with his car.

Related to that case, according to court papers and as reported by the Baltimore Sun
"Williams said Suggs threw a soap dispenser at her head, hit her in the chest with his hand, and held a bottle of bleach over her and their 1-year-old son, which spilled on them and caused a rash. Baltimore City District Court Judge Ronald Alan Karasic wrote that a laceration was visible on Williams' chest."
In December 2012, the Baltimore Sun reported on a court order that required Suggs to turn over his collection of firearms after a series of ongoing domestic disputes and two 911 calls made from Suggs's address the previous Nov. 21.

Terrell Suggs will wear the black and purple of the Baltimore Ravens tonight.

We Will Never Forget

"All the darkness in the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle." 
-- St. Francis of Assisi

It is a solemn and poignant day.  We will never forget.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

The Steelers Can Put the Ravens in Very Deep Hole

The Steelers have a chance to bury the Ravens on Thursday. It's tough for a team to recover from starting the season 0-2 in the division -- with both losses at home, no less -- and that's what Baltimore is facing at home on Thursday vs. the Steelers.

Here's a guarantee: The Ravens, with their collective back to the wall and reeling from the disgraceful Ray Rice situation, are going to adopt the requisite "Us Against the World" mentality. Somebody in that locker room is saying "Nobody's giving us a chance!"

Against this backdrop, at home and on national primetime TV, the Ravens are going to be very, very tough for the Steelers to beat.

No-huddle Coming
Baltimore fans must be very proud.
Another guarantee: The Ravens' offense will go no-huddle early and often. The Browns showed that the hurry-up offense works against the Steelers, and until Dick LeBeau's defense proves it can stop the no-huddle, other teams will press it, too.

There's a catch here for the the Ravens, though, and a hopeful sign for the Steelers. The Ravens panicked early in their game vs. the Bengals, missed chances and failed to establish any sort of identity on either offense or defense.

It's almost never a good thing when your quarterback passes 62 times in a game, as Baltimore's Joe Flacco did on Sunday vs. the Bengals in Baltimore for the season opener between the two AFC North rivals.

In the first half, the Ravens held Cincinnati out of the end zone, but the Bengals compiled five goals en route to a 15-0 halftime lead. After an early fumble by running back Bernard Pierce and with no Ray Rice, Flacco went to the air.

Flacco completed 35 of 62 pass attempts (56.5%) for 345 yards and one touchdown. The  Ravens' receivers did Flacco no favors, though, dropping seven passes. The Bengals sacked Flacco three times.

The Ravens had no rhythm on offense and a sense of disconnect across the board.

As John Eisenberg on the Ravens' website noted, "Their first game of 2014 felt a lot like 2013. That’s not a compliment. The offense experienced an early power outage marked by a rash of mistakes. The defense struggled to get off the field, yet fought hard and kept the score reasonably close. A late rally showed heart and gave the Ravens a chance to win, but the other team made a key play and won, deservedly so. It’s a familiar narrative, one the Ravens didn’t want to reprise."

Where was the Ravens' running game?
During the off-season, the Ravens, Bengals and Browns all stated, repeatedly, their commitment to the run. Of the three, only the Browns backed up that commitment, despite trailing by 24 points at halftime. The Browns ran 30 times for a total of 183 yards (6.0 avg.) vs. the Steelers. The Bengals ran 26 times for only 79 yards (3.0 average) in Baltimore. The Ravens attempted just 20 runs for a mere 91 yards (4.0 avg.) at home vs. the Bengals.

The Steelers? They had 28 running plays (for 127 yards) and 34 pass attempts (for 365 yards) vs. the Browns. We'll see if they can keep scoring 30 points a game, but it wont be easy on the road against a Ravens squad desperate to avoid going 0-2 in the division.

How important is it to avoid going 0-2 in the division to start the season? According to Terrell Suggs, “It’s everything. It’s everything. You don’t want to come out of an 0-2 hole, especially giving up two at home. Wins in the NFL are hard to come by, so that’s why you’ve got to win your home games.”

This is the Steelers' chance to bury the Ravens. Beat them on Thursday, and they'll be forced to climb uphill the rest of the season.

Monday, September 08, 2014

The Baltimore Ray-vens

Here is all you need to know about Ray Rice and the Baltimore Ravens AND Roger Goodell and his NFL:

From one Ray-Ray accused of murder, to Ray Rice, shown in the video above.

And all the apologists surrounding this very ugly Ray/Janay incident.

It's time for Roger Goodell to resign.
From the way Goodell handled the New England Cheatriots' "Spygate" B.S. to the way he failed to handle the New Orleans Saints' "Bountygate" crap, to the rules changes, the over-saturation of the NFL on TV, all the way through the toothless drug policy, HGH, PEDs testing, to Richie Incognito, to the disingenuous and backpedaling domestic violence policy, and now this.  Goodell's got to go.

Goodell's got some 'splaining to do.

Sunday, September 07, 2014

STOMP, Stomped, and then a Win. "Obviously."

Antonio Brown stomps Spencer Lanning.
Photo Credit: Gene Puskar / AP
The final score almost doesn't matter.  Yes, it was a win, thankfully, but the second half is pretty much all anybody will talk about, and it was alarming. As ESPN.com's Scott Brown wrote, "The Steelers were unstoppable in the first half and unwatchable in the second half."

Final score: 30-27, in favor of the Steelers, but ... mistakes, 11 penalties, poor choices, plays allowed and plays not made, including Ike Taylor's trademarked interception-drop to be followed by an opponent's touchdown a few plays later.

It almost doesn't matter what the Steelers did in the first half. They stunk up their own stadium in the second half. The defense let the Cleveland Stinking Browns come back from a 24-point halftime deficit. That was Disgusting.

Good defenses don't blow 24-point halftime leads.

Granted, there were numerous good plays by more than a few Steelers, and several players were downright outstanding: Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Heath Miller, LeVeon Bell, Justin Brown and Ben Roethlisberger.  Even the Special Teams were mostly good.

In some positions, however, maybe the Steelers just don't have the right talent. The front office gave contract extensions to Cortez Allen (why?), Maurkice Pouncey (?) and Marcus Gilbert (??). The offensive line anchored by Pouncey and Gilbert allowed four sacks, which is too many. "Obviously."

Let's see, four sacks a game for 16 games = 60 sacks. Obviously. Numbers like that rarely extrapolate so neatly, but, still, the idea is to protect Ben, isn't it?

And the defense? Ugh. In Joey Porter's Pit Bulls' posts during the week before the game, it was noted the Steelers must stop the run. They didn't.

The Browns racked up 183 yards on the ground, including runs of 29 and 25 yards, and 6.1 yards per rush.

Allowing 183 yards on the ground is unacceptable by anybody's criteria.

The porous defense allowed running back Terrance West, a small-college (Towson) rookie playing his first NFL game, to run for 100 yards, and another small-college rookie, Isiah Crowell (Alabama State), to score two touchdowns. West averaged 6.8 yards per carry; Crowell averaged 6.4 yards per carry, and starter Ben Tate averaged 6.8 yards per carry before leaving with an injury.

Mike Mitchell, in trail
Backup and no-name receivers running free made us wonder why Cortez Allen got an extension.

And, we have to ask, where was Mike Mitchell, the big-money free agent safety? He was in on seven tackles, but if anybody thinks he had anything resembling a good game, uh, no. Same goes for Ike Taylor, Jason Worilds, Cam Thomas and Steve McClendon.

Each of the linebackers had at least one good, noteworthy play, but there were plays and tackles left unmade, and that was obvious by the numbers.

The Steelers had better get their act together by Thursday.

Next game: Thursday night in Baltimore vs. the Ravens, who clearly have problems of their own.