Thursday, September 17, 2015

Jim Tomsula: Pittsburgh-style Football?

San Francisco's new head coach, Jim Tomsula, is a Pittsburgh-area native who took over for Jim Harbaugh in the off-season. A typical Pittsburgh guy, the former defensive line coach is first and foremost defensively oriented: The Niners held the Vikings to just three points.

Tomsula's hiring and initial meetings with the media in San Francisco were widely panned. Many prognosticators forecast the 49ers would be among the NFL's worst teams this year.

After reading some of the articles about him, however, particularly this one and this one, Joey Porter's Pit Bulls came around to thinking the 49ers would be a lot better than people expect. After all, Tomsula is a Pittsburgh guy; he's a football guy.

Against the Vikings, the 49ers did something the Steelers did not: They played good, fundamentally sound football. Blocking and tackling. 

It would be nice if we could also see good, fundamentally sound football from the Steelers. What a concept.

Niners TE Vernon Davis Must be Looking Forward to This Game

Rob Gronkowski had open space in front of him for much of the game vs. the Steelers. 
Going into the season opener in New England, we knew the secondary was a hot mess. A week later, and it's still hard to fathom how bad the Steelers' secondary was against the Patriots. They lived down to expectations, and then some.

If there was one guy you'd think they would have had a game plan for, it was Rob Gronkowski. But no-o-o-o.  By some combination of incompetence, lack of talent, lack of planning and lack of brains, the Steelers let Gronkowski romp and roam through wide swaths of open space.

The San Francisco 49ers bring a pretty talented tight end of their own in Vernon Davis to Heinz Field on Sunday. In fact, Vernon Davis is a very talented tight end. The Niners also have two wideouts familiar to Steelers' fans, and familiar not in a good way: former Ravens Anquin Bolden and Torrey Smith.

San Francisco also demonstrated in their season opener that they can run the ball, with Carlos Hyde, who racked up 163 yards rushing against Minnesota.  And quarterback Colin Kaepernick, of course, brings a multi-dimensional game that includes running speed that the Steelers just haven't seen in another quarterback.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Everybody's Looking for the Next Russell Wilson ...

The Buffalo Bills' selection of Tyrod Taylor as their starting quarterback raised eyebrows across the NFL. Taylor vindicated their decision by playing well on Sunday in leading the Bills to a decisive victory over the Colts. What we might be seeing, increasingly, is effort by NFL teams to find the next Russell Wilson.

Tyler Murphy
We might be tempted to speculate that's what the Steelers had in mind with respect to Tyler Murphy, except that he is now playing wide receiver instead of quarterback, which is what he played at Boston College.  The undrafted rookie free agent acquitted himself well during training camp and beat the odds to earn a roster spot. Not only that, but he earned a game-day helmet for the season opener, which is more than can be said of fellow rookie Sammie Coates, the more highly touted third-round draft choice out of Auburn. The coaching staff declared Coates inactive for Sunday's game.

Kudos to Murphy for adapting to a new position and apparently surpassing Coates to this point; admittedly it's early, and maybe Coates will be great. The fact that Coates was on the inactive list instead of Murphy, however, raises questions about his development and how far away from being a contributor he might be.

The Steelers might not have drafted Coates had it not been for Martavis Bryant's immaturity, poor decision-making and inability to keep himself from failing repeated drug tests. The Steelers knew of Bryant's failed drug tests and potential consequences last Spring, before the 2015 NFL Draft, and that his tenuous status influenced their decision to draft Coates in the third round.
“We have known about the possibility of it for some time,” head coach Mike Tomlin said this past week. “In a lot of ways, it directed our course of action throughout the offseason, specifically drafting Sammie Coates, because of the potential of this event.
Maybe the Steelers would have drafted Davis instead of Coates; maybe not. Different positions, different circumstances and different teams, but apparently Carl Davis is further ahead in his development than Sammie Coates.

Once again, in any case, Pittsburgh's nose tackle play was unimpressive during the loss at New England.  It would have been interesting to see if Davis would have fared better against New England's undrafted rookie center.

Thanks, Martavis. 

The big problem for the Steelers right now appears to be the defense, particularly the secondary. One thing is sure: Nobody is scared of or intimidated by the Steelers' defense anymore.  And that's been the case for several years.

Looking at the bright side, maybe the Steelers actually have the next Russell Wilson on their roster in Tyler Murphy.  They just have him playing wide receiver.  Over Sammie Coates.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

They Are Who We THOUGHT They Were!

Rob Gronkowski breaking free from Robert Golden
The secondary.  Yikes.

To borrow the words of former Arizona Cardinals Denny Green, "They are who we THOUGHT they were!"

Which is, for most of them: Not very talented. Not very smart. Lousy tacklers. Hapless. Clueless. Undersized. Slow. And not very good at their craft,

It was no surprise, the way they performed; but it was shocking, the ineptitude.

Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler, the rest of the coaching staff and the players should be ashamed of themselves. They had all off-season to prepare for that game. The entire off-season.  It was the season opener, for crying out loud. They knew what the Patriots were going to do.  Everybody knew what the Patriots were going to do.  It's what they do.

Yet the Steelers, time and again, allowed Rob Gronkowski to break free, unjammed, and roam free, unmolested and uncovered, romping an frolicking past the undersized, overmatched and all-too-slow safeties, corners and linebackers who flailed haplessly as they were either getting outjumped, stomped or run around by Gronkowski.

The missed tackles. The blown coverages. The half-hearted attempts at coverage. Honestly, it was embarrassing.

What happened to the plans to jam Gronkowski, play him tight and disrupt patters? Big talk. Turns out it's easier said than done.

If the performance we saw Thursday night is what we have to look forward to watching all season, it's going to be a long year.

Frankly, Joey Porter's Pit Bulls still don't understand why the Steelers' brass seems to be so infatuated with certain players in the secondary: Shamarko Thomas. Mike Mitchell. Cortez Allen.

Well, we're stuck with them.

It's Michael Vick's fault. Bad karma.

Friday, September 11, 2015

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.

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Blame it on Michael Vick

It's Michael Vick's fault.

The Steelers had all off-season to prepare.  The entire off-season.

"It's unbelievable how much the Pittsburgh Steelers have given away tonight," exclaimed Chris Collinsworth early in the fourth quarter, following another long pass to Rob Gronkowski, who soon thereafter recovered a Dion Lewis fumble at the goal line.

The secondary is a hot mess. Brady at one point had 19 consecutive completions, a new team record. Four touchdowns. Hot toast. Crumbs.

The big trouble with this game: Too few TV commercials.  "More commercials! We need more commercials!!"  

Sloppy tackling by the Steelers all night long.  Which only compounded the loose coverage and apparent lack of communication on the back end of the defense. Lack of communication? Lack of talent.

And the Steelers nose tackles made the undrafted free agent rookie center making his first start in the NFL look like an All-Pro.  What a weak effort by the defense. We wonder what Donald Trump would say about this.  "They're very low energy. It's kind of sad."

At least they beat the spread, as Josh Scobee almost made up for the two missed fields that he'd Scobee'd earlier by kicking the last-second extra point that made some money for people who bet the underdog Steelers.

Nice game, guys.

We blame Vick.

Game Day 1: Steelers at New England - NFL Season Opener

Let's hope Steelers defensive Keith Butler applies a scheme different from what Dick LeBeau used the last time the Steelers visited New England, Nov. 3, 2013, when the Patriots rang up 55 points.

If the corners play off the Patriots' receivers, Tom Brady will dink and dunk all night long,just like he did in the Super Bowl, controlling the clock in the process.

If this game turns into a shootout, look out. Without Le'Veon Bell, the Steelers are not built to "keep Brady off the field." The Steelers are no longer built to control the clock. And, without either Bell or Martavis Bryant to worry about, Bill Bellichick will scheme to take Antonio Brown out of the game as much as possible.

On defense, based on what we've seen so far in 2015, the Steelers' secondary appears to be a hot mess.  We'll see.  Safety Will Allen is a steady veteran, but nobody will ever compare him to Ronnie Lott. William Gay has always been better than people give him credit for being, but he's played best in the slot. Tonight, he starts at left corner. Newcomer Brandon Boykin likely takes over in the slot, where he performed well for Philadelphia last year, grabbing six interceptions.  He is smallish.  Antwon Blake is physical and will see the field, and he's shown flashes at times.  But ...

Cortez Allen, who is slated to start at right corner, was downright bad last year.  And starting safety Mike Mitchell has shown next to nothing since he joined the Steelers. He takes poor angles, has been a lousy tacker and makes poor decisions. The same could be said of fellow safety Shamarko Thomas, who is 5'9", can't stay healthy, has fragile confidence and most definitely is not a good matchup for either of New England's tight ends.

Expect the Patriots to employ a lot of two tight end sets with Rob Gronkowski and Scott Chandler, who was signed in the off-season (and would have been a nice addition to the Steelers, if they'd been able to get him).  This will be much the same offense (with new wrinkles, of course) that we've seen before from the Patriots.  And it will likely look much the same as the two tight end offense the Baltimore Ravens have employed so effectively against the Steelers ... including last year's ugly loss in Baltimore, when tight end Owen Daniels caught two touchdown passes.

The Steelers' defense will have to prove tonight that they don't have a soft middle. Brady will probe the middle of the field all night long, and the linebackers will have to help in pass coverage.  The Patriots like to use the small but quick Julian Edelman and Danny Amendola to scoot through the secondary on intermediate and crossing routes, and both Gronkowski and Chandler are actually threats to go deep.  Look out.  It could be a long night.

Thursday, September 03, 2015

Martavis Bryant: Dumber Than a Box of Rocks

Martavis Bryant
Chris Henry

Following the reports of multiple failed drug tests since he entered the NFL in 2014, many people have chimed in on the Martavis Bryant situation and how dumb, clueless, obtuse or just plain stupid he was -- or addicted -- to have gotten himself into the jam he currently finds himself, which is a four-game suspension to start the 2015 season (with the corresponding loss of salary -- about $105,000 in game checks), which follows in the wake of the six games he missed at the beginning of last season.

Chris Henry Redux?
People have said Bryant may end up being the next Josh Gordon, but Bryant reminds Joey Porter's Pit Bulls of another troubled former player, the late Chris Henry, formerly of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Chris Henry died at the age of 26.  His death followed a brief but tumultuous NFL career during which he not only was arrested five times but made an infamous name for himself for all the wrong reasons.
Martavis Bryant

Chris Henry

On the field, the former Bengals wide receiver was built much like Bryant (6'4", 210) and could fly --  a deep threat exactly in the mold of Bryant.

Off the field, however, Henry had a knack for getting in trouble, including numerous arrests for marijuana use, a DUI and other mishaps, calamities, tomfoolery, hijinks, shenanigans, chicanery and sloppiness.

Not to say that Martavis Bryant is destined to for the same fate that befell Henry, but he's off to a fast start down a path that could abruptly end his NFL career.  By now, of course, we all know that's not news.

In fact, it wasn't even news that Bryant was, uh, "troubled" even before the Steelers drafted him.  The red flags were there for all to see, and why he lasted until the fourth round of the 2014 draft.

As reported on this blog on May 21, 2014, here is what his college coach, Clemson's Dabo Swinney, had to say about him in an interview recorded in April 2013, before Bryant's final season at Clemson:
"Accountability, responsibility, dependability, trust-ability - those are the 'abilities' that matter," said Swinney. "He's got plenty of ability, it's all them other ones that have kept him from being a complete player. He's had some great moments, but he's been inconsistent. When you're not fully committed, you're going to be inconsistent."
But then here's another "red-flag" quote (from earlier in the article) that makes us wonder which Martavis Bryant the Steelers are getting (again, keeping in mind this was published in April 2013, before his senior season):
"Martavis isn't a bad guy, not at all. He's just been an immature, uncommitted guy - off the field, academically, in the meeting rooms, on the practice field, in the way he's prepared, not being dependable."
After the Steelers drafted Martavis Bryant, a skeptical Joey Porter's Pit Bulls asked if Bryant might end up being a latter-day Fred Gibson, another tall, skinny fourth-round receiver -- who never made it out of his first training camp. Gibson was cut before the first game of the regular season.

At least during his rookie season, Bryant showed flashes of big-time playmaking potential. At this point, however, everybody will be relieved if Bryant doesn't end up like Josh Gordon ... or, worse, like Chris Henry.

The Ripple Effect
It came to light this past week that the Steelers knew of Bryant's failed drug tests and potential consequences last Spring, before the 2015 NFL Draft, and that his tenuous status influenced their decision to draft wide receiver Sammie Coates in the third round.  To most observers of the draft, the selection of Coates was a head-scratcher, as he is somewhat physically similar to Bryant, as well as raw and unpolished with a reputation for dropped passes.
“We have known about the possibility of it for some time,” head coach Mike Tomlin said this past week. “In a lot of ways, it directed our course of action throughout the offseason, specifically drafting Sammie Coates, because of the potential of this event. So we are going to deal with it the best we can.”
At the time of this year's NFL Draft, we weren't crazy about the Coates pick because it seemed redundant and, more so, because the Steelers need so much help on defense.  We were further dismayed when, just three picks after the Steelers selected Coates, the Baltimore Ravens selected a player Joey Porter's Pit Bulls really liked and thought would be a good fit on the Steelers' defense.

That player was Iowa defensive tackle Carl Davis (6'5", 320 pounds), a rough and disruptive force on the defensive line -- and Lord knows the Steelers could use that.

But, no, because of Martavis Bryant's inability to stay clean, the Steelers felt they had to reach for another wide receiver, Coates. Now, as it turns out, the reports out of Baltimore (nauseatingly enough) are that Carl Davis could have been "the steal of the draft" and, according to Pro Football Focus, was rated as the Ravens' top-rated defensive player after the first three preseason games. Just great.

  • Quote: "There's a value pick right here. Some thought Davis would sneak into the back end of the first round. He had an outstanding Senior Bowl week. He has dominating height-weight-speed physical traits." -- Mike Mayock

Thanks, Martavis.  You've not only deprived the Steelers of your services, your irresponsible behavior prompted them to draft a player they wouldn't otherwise have needed, and very possibly at the expense of drafting an impact defensive lineman who went three picks later to our divisional arch rival, the despised Baltimore Ravens.  But you don't get any of that, do you, Martavis, and chances are you don't care.

Your NFL career is in jeopardy, Martavis, as is your very future.  Time to grow up and act like an adult.  You might actually be able to salvage something of your life -- unlike Chris Henry.  Let his tragedy be a cautionary tale to you.

One final Footnote, because that ugly signing still reeks: 

Meanwhile, the Steelers' signing of Michael Vick still is such a turnoff that ... ugh, it's tough to even comprehend that they gave him a uniform and put him on the payroll.  Puke.

It's tough to feel good about this franchise right now, especially with Vick in Black 'n Gold.

What? We're supposed to embrace and celebrate that guy?  Vick?  No thanks.  Nothing but bad karma that guy.  We'll pass.