Sunday, November 15, 2015

The Browns are Clowns

Following one of the most rousing renditions of the National Anthem by singer Robert Roundlee, the Steelers put on a pretty rousing performance themselves, led by Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown, and the Cleveland Browns were, well, particularly Browns-like.

They were Brown as Browns can be, with Johnny Manziel's early squirt-up fumble setting the tone, followed by numerous other Keystone Kops-like moments en route to a thorough pummeling that was maybe closer than the score indicated but sure didn't feel like it.

Johnny Manziel somehow passed for 372 yards and one touchdown despite his early pop-up fumble, a later interception, and enduring six sacks.  He did some good things, but the Browns as a whole did some very Browns-like things:  Lots of penalties (12 of 'em, to be precise, for a whopping 188 yards), some of them stupid (two on the same play, twice) and utterly Browns-like -- including back-to-back pass interference penalties for 39 and 38 yards -- and numerous other unforced mistakes. They had an unbelievable 173 more penalty yards than rushing yards (15). And, of course, there was that preposterous sequence in the fourth quarter when the Browns had a first-and-goal from inside the Pittsburgh one-yard-line. What followed were a holding penalty, a sack, an illegal formation penalty and an interception. Quintessential Browns.

The Steelers have defeated the Browns 28 of 34 times since Cleveland re-entered the NFL in 1999.  With Cleveland having lost five straight and now just 2-13 in its last 15 games under head coach Mike Pettine, could Browns owner Jimmy Haslam be contemplating change in the coaching ranks?  Haslam denies it, but anything's possible in that mess of an organization.


  • Something to worry about, possibly: Manziel's 372 yards passing make us wonder about the Steelers' pass defense, especially in the wake of Derek Carr's 300+ yard performance last week.  
  • Ben Roethlisberger is now 19-2 vs. the Browns.
  • Jacoby Jones was less than effective, to be kind, in his handling of punts and kickoffs. Zero punt-return yards, zero kick return yards, and a fumble. Most definitely not an improvement over his lackluster showing last week vs. Oakland.
  • After all the talk about poor clock management the last few many weeks, it should not go overlooked that Mike Tomlin actually handled the clock masterfully in the final two minutes of the first half.

Next Up: The Bye Week, and then a 4:30 p.m. (EDT) game in Seattle on Sunday, Nov. 29th in Seattle. After three consecutive 1 p.m. home games, the Steelers get the bye week next weekend, and then just two more 1 p.m. starts the rest of the way, both on the road (at Cincinnati, Dec. 13th, and at Cleveland, Jan. 3rd).

Game 10: Browns at Pittsburgh

First, a shout-out to our friends, 

It's Browns Week. Always reason to get up for this one.

Cleveland Browns quarterback 
Johnny Manziel
With the 2-7 Browns coming to Heinz Field, we'll see if Mike Tomlin continues his penchant for losing to bad teams quarterbacked by crummy QBs led by lousy coaches.

Make no mistake about it: The Browns are a bad team, just as they were last season, when Mike Pettine's squad embarrassed Tomlin's team in Cleveland, 31-10.

Johnny Manziel
Cleveland's Defense is Awful
This year, Cleveland ranks dead last (32nd) in rushing defense, surrendering a whopping 147.6 yards rushing per game, including 11 runs of 20 yards per more and four runs of at least 40 yards. Cleveland has yielded nine touchdowns on the ground.  By comparison, the middling Steelers' run defense, ranked 12th in the NFL, has surrendered 101.7 yards per game on the ground and three touchdowns.

Bigger picture, Cleveland's defense has surrendered 401.6 total yards per game (29th in the NFL) and 27.4 points per game (26th). They've allowed at least 30 points to five of their nine opponents.

Nine games into the season, Cleveland has allowed 18 passing TDs but  tallied just 15 sacks, seven of which were put down in just one game, vs. the woeful Titans.

With just five interceptions (and just two INTs over the past seven weeks), the Browns' secondary today will be without their star cornerback (Joe Haden) and most experienced, hardest-hitting safety (Donte Whitner). Their secondary has allowed nine pass plays of more than 40 yards. The Browns have been outscored by 53 points their last three games.

It's a bad defense. 
Johnny Manziel, on the right, partying
with Floyd Mayweather, Justin Bieber.
It's almost as bad on offense. Their running game has been limp, ranking 31st in the NFL at just 82.3 yards per game and 3.5 yards per carry, with only two rushing touchdowns but four fumbles. Twice as many fumbles as rushing touchdowns.

Granted, Cleveland's 15th-rated passing offense out-ranks Pittsburgh's 19th ranked passing offense, but ... much of Cleveland's success was due to the surprisingly effective Josh McCown, who likely won't play today.

Instead, the Steelers will face the reckless, feckless and immature party boy, Johnny Manziel, who, on the field, is skittish, manic, diminutive and inaccurate. Johnny Manziel? Puh-lease.

If Mike Tomlin's Steelers lose today, at home, to this edition of the Cleveland Browns ... no, that just cannot happen. Can it?

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Mr. Brown

Now that was a shootout. 

Sunday's 38-35 Steelers' win over Oakland featured Antonio Brown's 17 catches and 284 yards receiving (and 22 yards rushing); Derek Carr's four touchdown passes and 301 yards passing; DeAngelo Williams's 170 yards rushing and two receptions for 55 yards receiving; Pittsburgh's nearly 600 yards of total offense (597 total net yards, to be precise) and Oakland's 440 net yards on offense. Time expired on the game-winning kick.

Heckuva an entertaining game.

Big Ben looked good passing the ball for 334 yards (despite at least five early drops by intended receivers) before his latest injury, which is a problem. Yet another challenge.

Roethlisberger's injury presents another opportunity, you might say, for Landry Jones to show what he's got.  Jones hit Antonio Brown on the final drive for the pivotal 57-yard gain that put Chris Boswell in position to kick the game-winning field goal, even if it was about a 10-yard pass and 47 yards after the catch. That's okay. Got the job done. Whatever it takes.

  • Next up: The Cleveland Browns, at Heinz Field, at 1 p.m., next Sunday, Nov. 15. It's a rivalry game.  Browns Week. Now the real fun begins. We might even get Johnny Manziel.

Footnote No. 1 - Sign of the times, or of how the times have changed (the stat is courtesy of On Sunday, "Ben Roethlisberger surpassed Joe Montana (40,551) for the 14th-most passing yards in NFL history. Next up on the list for Big Ben is No. 13 Kerry Collins (1995-2011) with 40,922 yards."

No disrespect, but ... Kerry Collins? Ahead of Joe Montana? What is wrong with this picture?

Footnote No. 2: Anybody else notice that Cam Thomas didn't play? No? He was not on the "inactive" list, but he didn't play, meaning he contributed about as much as usually does. And maybe more so.

Footnote No. 3: Jacoby Jones didn't do so well.  He managed two punt returns for one yard. Four kickoff returns for an average of 20.8 yards per return. Not good.

Official Gamebook may be found here.

Monday, November 02, 2015

Blame it on Michael Vick

Yeah, we know. He didn't play.  But. The bad karma continues.

The big story of the day, of course, was the loss of Le'Veon Bell to what is being reported as a season-ending knee injury (torn MCL). What a bummer. The game's best running back. Done for the year. Get well, Le'Veon.

Even as the bad karma continues, so does the uneven quality of play across the NFL ... way too much bad football, a sloppy, shoddy, spotty mess: the continuous rain of yellow flags; the indecipherable rules; the injuries; and the constant, interminable interruptions for commercial TV breaks. Roger Goodell's NFL is just about unwatchable anymore. But still we do. Watch it, that is. Although, there are plenty of other things to do, Roger.

With a 4-4 record halfway through the season -- and all four losses to AFC teams -- Mike Tomlin's Steelers have the look of a .500 team that may not make the playoffs.

Case in point: On Sunday, going just 3-for-11 (27%) on third-down conversions. Although, to be fair, Cincinnati converted just four of 15 (26%) third-down conversion attempts. Yet they found a way to win. On the road.

The Rain of Yellow Flags
Last week at Kansas City, one big issue for the Steelers was missed tackles. This week at Heinz Field, it was penalties: 10 of them, to be precise, for 91 yards, not to mention a couple that were declined, for good measure. Those 10 penalties hurt flow and compromised field position, never mind that the Bengals also incurred 10 penalties (for 94 yards).

The 10 penalties the Steelers incurred were on them, and they hurt.

  • Too many of those were stupid penalties, too: After a key stop, James Harrison removed his helmet to get in somebody's face. 
  • In the first quarter, Marcus Gilbert's flagrant hold negated a 17-yard pass to Will Johnson.  
  • Punt-coverage gunner Brandon Boykin had a going-out-of-bounds penalty that resulted in a field-poisition advantage for the Bengals that they should never have had.
  • Robert Golden got flagged for a block in the back on Mike Mitchell's interception return.
  • Mike Mitchell incurred another costly penalty himself when he got flagged for taunting after Lawrence Timmons swatted away a third-down pass intended for Tyler Eifert. Mitchell's taunting penalty gave the Bengals a fresh set of downs, however, allowing them to start afresh at the 45-yard line instead of having to punt from their own 30. Stupid.
  • Mitchell also got flagged in the first half for taunting star receiver A.J. Green following a mid-air shot Mitchell administered to receiver Marvin Jones. Mitchell supposedly told Green, "You're next," which prompted the flag. Green who finished with 11 catches for 118 yards and the game-winning touchdown catch, said of Mitchell's taunting, "That woke me up. Thank you." Green added, "Some guys just have to talk. I just play."

Questionable Play Calling and Poor Clock Management (again)
Ben Roethliseberger's three interceptions also didn't help, to say the least.

We have to question the play calling on the fourth-quarter pick by third-year safety Shawn Williams on the sideline in front of Will Johnson. It's easy to question Roethlisberger's decision-making and execution there, too, but the play call there makes you wonder why that play-call was even made there, with 5:45 left on the clock.

  • Despite an average of 6.1 yards per rushing play on Sunday, the Steelers ran the ball only 19 times. Late in the fourth quarter, however, when it could be argued the team should have been trying to run out the clock, there was Roethlisberger making ill-advised throws. 

If the excuse was, "no Le'Veon Bell," then what happened to the "next man up" mantra? Those are questions for Mike Tomlin, Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger, the latter of whom was quick to take the blame for the loss. But, still.

The coaching, the play-calling, the continued mismanagement of the clock ... that's on Tomlin, first and foremost, although he will never admit to it.

  • This is pointless, but we've been clamoring, off and on for several years, for the Steelers to hire a "Clock Management Specialist" -- call him Special Assistant or whatever -- whose sole job is to watch the clock and advise Tomlin to not do stupid things like waste 38 crucial seconds at critical junctures. Not that Tomlin would listen.

Roethlisberger's been a stand-up guy in recent years when it comes to mea culpas. He is often the first to take blame, even when it's not necessarily deserved. This time, his self-criticism is spot-on, as his fourth-quarter unraveled with two interceptions, two short drives that ended in punts and a pass overthrown, out of the back of the end zone, as the game clock ran out. Still, a few of those 38 seconds would have helped there at the end, eh Coach Tomlin?

The National Passing League
On the game's first drive, Roethlisberger surpassed 40,000 yards passing for his career, making him just the ninth quarterback in NFL history to reach that milestone.  FIVE of those quarterbacks are currently active, which tells you all you need to know about how the National Football League has devolved into the "National Passing League."

The other four active QBs are Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Tom Brady and Eli Manning. How the game has changed in recent years. If I had to guess, without bothering to look up the names of the previous four, I'd venture the names of Tarkenton, Marino, Elway and Favre.

Other Notes
The Steelers will supposedly bring in former second-rounder Isaiah Pead, who was recently cut by the St. Louis Rams after missing most of 2014 with a knee injury.

Sunday, November 01, 2015

Game 8: Bengals at Pittsburgh

On a day when the Steelers will celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Terrible Towel, quarterback Andy Dalton, who currently has the NFL's second-ranked passer rating (116.1), leads the undefeated Cincinnati Bengals (6-0) into Heinz Field today to take on the Pittsburgh Steelers (4-3). Dalton is enjoying a superb year, but until he wins big games consistently, questions about his poise, leadership and talent will remain.

This is a big game. For both teams. Not a playoff game (something Dalton has never won in five tries). But a big game. It's a statement game.

With a win, the Bengals would effectively secure a first-round bye as the AFC North Division's presumptive champs and one of the NFL's best squads. The Steelers must win today game to retain any hope of overtaking the Bengals in the standings. And, as they jockey for a wild-card playoff slot, the Steelers also must worry about their number AFC Conference losses (currently three).

For what it's worth, historically, the Steelers have been less than good in games featuring Ben Roethlisberger's return from time missed due to injury. The team has a 2-4 record in such situations. Roethlisberger has thrown eight touchdown passes in those six games, but also seven interceptions.

Draft-Day Decisions That Have Reverberated Down the Line
Cincinnati's front office and coaching staff have built their current team largely through successful drafts. Over recent years, the Steelers and Bengals have been fairly close in the standings, which means their respective drafting positions have also been in close proximity.

David DeCasstro
Notables who were drafted in the same year, same round: in 2012, guards David DeCastro (first round, 24th overall) and Kevin Zeitler (27th overall); and, in 2014, linebacker Ryan Shazier (first round, 15th overall) and cornerback Darqueze Dennard (24th overall). Dennard may get significant playing time today, if fellow cornerback Leon Hall's back injury keeps him out.

Looking back at the 2013 NFL draft, the Steelers passed on tight end Tyler Eiffert (6'6", 250) to select linebacker Jarvis Jones with the 17th overall pick, despite some observers' concerns, including our own, about Jones's medical history and 4.92 time in the 40-yard dash. The Bengals selected Eiffert with the 21st overall pick.

Myron Cope, father of The Terrible Towel
Not crazy at the time about the selection of Jones over Eiffert, Joey Porter's Pit Bulls wrote"At the very least, let's hope Jarvis Jones can cover Tyler Eiffert, who was snapped up by division rival Cincinnati in the first round.  In our book, Jones and Eiffert will be linked for years to come. Who will be the better player?"

Yeah. Although hampered by injuries during most of their respective NFL careers, Eiffert is having a better year than Jones, no question. He has six touchdowns and 28 receptions for a 12.2 yards-per-catch average.

While Jones and Eiffert were the first-rounders in 2013, the second-rounders certainly cannot be overlooked. The Bengals took running back Giovanni Bernard (No. 37 overall) over Le'Veon Bell (48th overall) in the second round.

Bell is the better running back, no doubt about that. And he's been better than both Eiffert and Jones, for that matter, as well. With their other second round selection in 2013, the Bengals picked defensive end Margus Hunt (53rd overall). The Steelers' next pick that year was wide receiver Markus Wheaton (third round, 79th overall).