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An Emotional Rollercoaster for the Steelers and Fans

Published: January 7, 2010

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Some Steeler fans may blame New England for blowing a lead in the fourth quarter, allowing Houston to score 21 unanswered points and win 32-27.

Some may curse the Raiders for losing to Baltimore after they defeated the Steelers and the Bengals earlier in the season.

Other fans are bitter at Cincinnati for playing their scrubs in the loss against the Jets to get them in the playoffs.

Many Steeler fans complain there is a conspiracy in keeping the Steelers out of the playoffs this season.

Whether you believe any of this or not it’s on you.

But there is one thing that does hold true, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost five games in a row, three to the worst teams in the NFL, and got themselves eliminated from the playoffs.

If kicker Jeff Reed made the two field goals in Chicago, the Steelers qualify.

If Limas Sweed held onto the ball in the back of the end-zone against Cincinnati, the Steelers make the playoff.

If corner Joe Burnett held on a sure interception against Oakland, the Steelers are in the top six.

If special teams had covered a couple of kickoff returns in Cleveland, the Steelers are given the chance to defend their Super Bowl title.

Instead, the 9-7 Steelers, ranked third in the AFC North division, were eliminated from the playoffs for the second time in four years after winning a Super Bowl. The last time was in 2006 after winning Super Bowl XL. But when you lose to Cleveland, Oakland and Kansas City, they deserve their own fate.

For the first time in Steeler history, the offense can boast a 4,000-plus yard passer who in one game threw for 503 yards, two 1,000-plus yard receivers who including the tight end caught 75-plus passes, and a 1,000-plus yard rusher.

During his postgame interview, Roethlisberger defended offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and his play-calling. He described the offense as the most dynamic and potent offense in the league because of Arians.

2007 was considered a banner year for Roethlisberger’s career as a quarterback under Arians with 3,154 yards passing, 32 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. It was that years’ performance that made many sports pundits sit up and take notice of Roethlisberger as an elite quarterback instead of just a care-taker.

But this season he finished with another banner year, passing for 4,328 yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

So with such incredible statistics, and an offense so dynamic, so potent, why is there a drop in touchdowns? Most importantly, if the offense was so dynamic, so potent why didn’t they score enough to make the playoffs? At least in 2007, they made the playoffs.

Then there is the offensive line. They were much maligned last year and yet they won a Super Bowl.

You would think that after a year of playing together, they would act more like a Super Bowl-caliber unit. Instead, they couldn’t run-block, and allowed Roethlisberger to be sacked 50 times (two more than last year). Individual members complained of not being prepared when faced with a 4-3 defense or were confused by defensive line changes.

And yet through all of that, the Steelers have a 1,000-yard rusher in Rashard Mendenhall. Can you imagine what he could do if the line could block? How about a 2,000-yard rusher?

What happened to the No. 1 ranked defense of 2008? The lack of production cannot be due solely to the absence of SS Troy Polamalu and DE Aaron Smith (although by some it was). And yet the absence to these two individuals made the defense look horrible.

They couldn’t stop anyone in the running game. Ravens RB Ray Rice ran for 141 yards to end the Steelers 33-game streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher.

The defensive backs were torched repeatedly. In fact they may have helped some journeyman quarterbacks (Bruce Gradkowski, Matt Cassel) get new contracts next season because of how bad they played them in the fourth quarter. Needless to say, the defense was less than mediocre.

Finally, there is special teams. This is a head scratcher. For years, even under Cowher, special teams has been a challenge.

Being in attendance at Tomlin’s first training camp, I witnessed for the first time in my five years’ of going to training camp, special teams workout. I felt excited about the attention to special teams’ which was not a priority under Cowher.

Last year the coverage team improved dramatically. After allowing three kickoffs of 90-plus yards and a half-dozen 44-plus in 2007, the 2008 season saw the special teams allow one return for approximately 44 yards reducing the opposition’s average from 30 yards per carry in 2007 to 26.4 yards per carry. 

This year the hope was for the return game. Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert drafted two big-time college return men and signed one free-agent. A couple of return guys for kickoff and punt return will link special teams’ into a dynamic unit.

Although the return game wasn’t half bad, the coverage team was horrible. The coverage unit allowed an NFL-high four kickoff-return touchdowns in five games this season. That’s two more than in 2007.

This has been a nightmare of a season and I for one am glad its over. A new 53-man roster will be formed and new coordinators will replaced those how failed. It has already been announced that line coach Larry Zierlein has been fired. In addition, Bruce Arians stays as offensive coordinator.

Here’s to a new season and the climb to that dream to acquire the seventh Lombardi in 2010”.

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A Faint Heartbeat Keeps the Steelers Playoff Hopes Alive

Published: December 30, 2009

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Defeating the Baltimore Ravens 23-20, the Steelers playoff hopes, although on life support, are still alive. They don’t control their own destiny and will need help from others this weekend.

Although chances are slim to none for the Steelers, this is not the first time they have found themselves with their backs up against the wall for a spot in the playoffs. Stranger things have happened for this team.

To get a wild card berth, the Steelers will need to win their final game against the Miami Dolphins (7-8) . A win over the Dolphins would at least earn Coach Tomlin his third consecutive winning season in Pittsburgh.  

In addition to the win over Miami, the Steelers must depend on losses from the Houston Texans, New York Jets, Baltimore Ravens and/or the Denver Broncos.

These playoff scenarios mean nothing if the Steelers don’t defeat the Dolphins, which could be a problem since the Steelers are 2-5 on the road this season.

Challenges await both teams as they fight for a wild-card berth.

The Steelers are on a two-game win streak—defeating the Green Bay Packers and the Baltimore Ravens—while the Dolphins experienced a two-game losing streak to the Tennessee Titans and the Houston Texans.

Isn’t it interesting; the Steelers can defeat good teams and lose to sub-par teams, while the Dolphins defeat sub-par teams and lose to the good ones? 

Both teams have defenses that have lost fourth-quarter leads after handling their opponents for three quarters. Both teams’ secondary has been torched by the pass.

The difference in the defenses is Miami has a productive cornerback, Vontae Davis, who has four interceptions, to zero by both Ike Taylor and William Gay of Pittsburgh.

Both teams have been challenged defensively throughout the season and have suffered major casualties with their starting lineups.

Although it is speculative that SS Troy Polamalu could play Sunday, the prognosis is close to doubtful. Polamalu has been quoted saying he will not play without a full week of practice. He has not had that opportunity this week.

The Dolphins suffered a loss of a sure-tackler at linebacker as Channing Crowder is out with a foot injury.

The Steeler defense must prepare for the Wildcat again, which the Dolphins like to run. This will be the second time they have to face this offensive scheme; the first time was against Cleveland three weeks ago where the Steelers lost, 13-6.

It will be interesting to see which defense prevails. Let us not forget, ex-Steeler LB Joey Porter has a vested interest in defeating the Steelers, other than as a wild-card hopeful.

Offensively, Dolphins RB Ricky Williams is hampered by a right shoulder injury, and three members of the offensive line are nursing some pretty serious injuries; such as shoulder, knee, foot and back ailments which will hamper their running game.

This will likely put first-year starter QB Chad Henne, for the most part, in passing situations. To date, Henne has completed three 300-yard games in four weeks. This cannot be good for a weakened Steeler secondary.

Henne is becoming a serious contender who has throughout the season rallied his team to come from behind; even in some of their losses, much like Roethlisberger.

The Steelers air-attack on the other hand, seems to be the flavor of the day. Roethlisberger recently defended offensive coordinator Bruce Arians’ play-calling to the media, stating that fans and alike should stay off his back, as he believes the offense is playing well. Hopefully, this so-called high power offense will create havoc on an already weakened Dolphin secondary.

The Dolphins’ secondary was blistered by Houston’s QB Matt Schaub last week, allowing 286 yards passing and two touchdowns.

The Steeler defense allowed Ravens QB Joe Flacco 166 yards passing and two touchdowns.

On the rush, Miami allowed 129 yards total to the Steelers 174 total yards, including the first 100-yard rusher in 32 games, Ray Rice.

The Dolphins are 4-3 at home this season and 5-6 against AFC opponents. The Steelers on the other hand are 5-6 against AFC opponents.


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Gasping for Playoff Breath

Published: December 23, 2009

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Due to some bizarre scenarios, there is a faint heartbeat keeping the Steelers playoff chances alive.

But the problems that put the Steelers in such a precarious situation where they don’t control their destiny outweigh the playoff hopes.

So much so that Coach Tomlin took some bold strategic moves to downplay Steelers weaknesses against the Green Bay Packers to put the Steelers in the win column after five straight losses.

It was necessary since two of the three phases of the game have underachieved throughout the year.

The Steelers have struggled in kick coverage all season.

They allowed a league-high four kickoff return for touchdowns in five games before not permitting one during their 20-17 loss to Baltimore.

Lacking confidence with the special teams’ coverage unit, Tomlin called for a pooch kick which came up short. The purpose was to keep the opponent from taking an opportunity to return a kick for a touchdown. Instead, it put the opponent in good field position in the hopes the defense would either hold them to no score, or at the most a field goal.

The defense had allowed three fourth quarter touchdowns to the Packers.

Now up by two points and approximately four minutes left, Tomlin boldly called for an onside kick. Although they failed to recover it, the idea worked. Tomlin lacked confidence in the defense to stop the Packers from chewing up clock with a long drive in an attempt to kick a field goal, or even worse, score a touchdown with little time left.

The intention was to recover the ball. Unfortunately, CB Ike Taylor touched it before it went 10 yards, giving the ball back to the Packers. But with the Packers taking possession, Tomlin banked on hope that the Packers would score and score quickly with time to spare.

This move was to get the ball back into the confident hands of his quarterback to go for the win.

It came down to the passing game, focusing on the interior of the field and taking strikes in the end zone because the running game was stifled.

The Steelers are now in the precarious position to defend their honor and keep their playoff hopes alive meeting their division rival, the Baltimore Ravens.

The (8-6) Ravens have a two-game winning streak against the Bears and Detroit, and can lock a playoff berth winning their last two games.

The Ravens won the first meeting at home in overtime without QB Roethlisberger at the helm.

Roethlisberger coming off a 503-yard passing day last Sunday will likely want to repeat that feat against the No. 4 ranked defense that has allowed only 16.1 points per game, and surrendered the fewest number of touchdowns.

The Steeler receiving corps has become decimated with Hines Ward suffering an aggravated hamstring, Mike Wallace-bruised knee, and Limas Sweed, out the rest of the season on an undisclosed non-football related illness.

In place of Sweed, the Steelers signed veteran WR Joey Galloway to the lineup.

Galloway started his NFL career drafted by the Seattle Seahawks in 1995. In 1999, he was released to spend three years as a Cowboy, three with Tampa Bay (Tomlin was defensive backs coach then), and earlier this season with the New England Patriots.

Although an accomplished receiver in his own right, Galloway hasn’t caught a touchdown since 2007 in Tampa Bay. At New England, Galloway caught seven passes for 67 yards.

The Steeler defense will have to do better against the running game this time.

In the last contest, RB Ray Rice almost single-handedly won the game accumulating a combined total of 155 yards rushing and receiving including a 44-yard run off a fourth-down reception in the fourth quarter.

Although it is questionable the SS Ed Reed will be in the lineup, one who was missing last time will return, LB Terrel Suggs. Suggs is a game changer. He along with LB Ray Lewis will keep the offensive line busy as they attempt to keep Roethlisberger off his back.

Unfortunately, the Steeler defense issues in the fourth quarter continue to stymie the most discerning of analysts.  Sunday, the Green Bay Packers were allowed to make three-fourth quarter touchdowns that put them in position to win the game. In the last meeting against the Ravens, the Steeler defense allowed a fourth-quarter field goal to tie and a field goal in overtime to allow the Ravens to win.

Considering how the Steeler special teams’ have performed this year, it is scary to think that they will be up against the third best kickoff return unit in the NFL led by CB Lardarius Webb.

But Tomlin says they are “not dead yet.”

Heinz Field has always been a “house of horrors.” The Steelers have won the past three meetings at home. The Ravens are 2-8 at Heinz Field since its opening in 2001. Ravens QB Joe Flacco, however, is 1-3 against the Steelers.

The Steelers must win their final two games to finish 9-7.  A loss against the Ravens or the Miami Dolphins and they are done.

The Steelers need a three-way tie with Baltimore and Denver; then the Steelers and Ravens would advance to the playoffs.

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Steelers to Salvage What Is Left Of Their Season

Published: December 18, 2009

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The Wild Card situation has become mathematically bleak for the Steelers. There are so many teams ahead of them—Denver, Miami, Jacksonville, Baltimore and NY Jets—and their AFC conference record is dreadful. 

A teams’ conference record is one of the key tie-breakers to determining Wild Card seeding. For the Steelers to get into the playoffs would be by divine intervention, to say the least.

Who would have thought the Super Bowl champions would be 6-7 with no shot to playoffs?

Who would have thought that this season after winning a sixth Super Bowl, the Pittsburgh Steelers would be trying to salvage what is left of what has become a miserable season of play?

Losing to division opponent Cleveland Browns who came into the game 1-11 was an absolute insult. The Steelers are now staring in the face a possibility of finishing the season 6-10.

The last time the Steelers were 6-10 was in 2003 when Cowher and Mularkey were enamored by the gun-slinging arm of QB Tommy Maddox.

It has come to the point where the Steelers have to try and salvage what is left of their season. With three games left in the regular season, Pittsburgh will face the Packers and Ravens at home and a game at Miami against the Dolphins.

The Steelers will host the 9-4 Packers for the first time at Heinz Field during the regular season. The last time the Packers visited Heinz Field was a pre-season game in August 2007. The Packers are on a five-game winning streak, while the Steelers are on a five-game losing streak.

After winning a division title in his first season as head coach and a Super Bowl in his second, Tomlin will be tested on his ability to lead his team through adversity. He spoke of the possibility of facing adversity before the season started; now he is facing it.

Tomlin lost some credibility when stating he will make sweeping changes in his starting lineups and schemes and did not follow through on his threats.

It has been noted that Tomlin plans to initiate some changes going into the Packer game. Tomlin was not happy with offensive coordinator Bruce Arians’ play-calling against Cleveland. He had issues with all the passes Arians called, especially the attempts that turned into sacks.

Monday, Tomlin laid down the law that he wants more of an established running game.

It is no secret that Arians does not respect the run. The Steelers rushed 22 times 75 yards, and 16 of those attempts were by Rashard Mendenhall.

Despite the lack of running plays throughout the season, Mendenhall is 60 yards from breaking a 1000-yard rushing this season. He is averaging 4.8 yards per carry.

A reoccurring theme appears to be the Steelers’ offensive line having assignment issues. This should not be a problem with a veteran line who won a Super Bowl together. There should be some finger-pointing at line coach Larry Zierlein.  

The Steelers can expect the Packers to throw the ball, which is their strength.

Steeler corners have been exposed, and the weakness is in the secondary and their inability to cover receivers. The Packers have some good ones in Donald Driver and Greg Jennings.

The Steelers still rank No. 1 in NFL against the run, even after yielding 171 rushing yards to the Cleveland Browns last Thursday. Packer running back Ryan Grant has rushed for 1068 yards with seven touchdowns and will be a stiff test to the aged and ailing Steeler front line.

Defensively, it will be a match of wits from two old compadres Dom Capers and Dick LeBeau. These two created together what is infamously known as the “zone-blitz defense.” Capers created it; LeBeau perfected it. Both worked under Bill Cowher early in his coaching career—Capers as defensive coordinator and LeBeau a defensive backs coach.

This is the first year the Packers are using the 3-4 and have adept to the complexities to help the the team on this five-game win streak.

CB Charles Woodsen is having perhaps his best season and could wreak havoc if allowed to target on third down situations and red zone opportunities that have alluded the Steelers in the last five games.

The Steelers haven’t had a six-game losing streak in 10 years, and they will be the first Super Bowl champions to suffer a six-game losing streak if they don’t beat the Packers.

When I last looked, the Steelers have six Super Bowl trophies. There will be a seventh, but not this season.

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Steelers Attempt to Salvage What’s Left of Their Season

Published: December 9, 2009

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“We met the challenges laid before us in the terms of the 2008 season. It was awesome…. But if you are a legitimate competitor, at the appropriate time you ready yourself for the challenges that lie ahead in 2009 and 2010. That’s the perspective I have and I don’t ask my guys to do anything that I don’t”

“But for me and what I try to see to this football team, is that we are not attempting a repeat. That special group of men in that locker room last night and the end of that game are gone forever.”

“There will be a new 53 men. A lot of the faces will be the same. But nothing stays the same in this game.”

“A few will come and go. Those that remain, some the roles will change, some will ascend, some will descend. That’s the nature of today’s NFL. Our focus will be about being the One. We are no different than any one else.” Coach Mike Tomlin, Feb. 3, 2009 Super Bowl Press Conference.

Those aforementioned words ring so true today for “who would have predicted that the Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers currently 6-6 are a hair’s throw of being eliminated from the playoffs.

“What’s that? Ah, Playoffs? Don’t talk about playoffs? You kidding me? Playoffs? I just hope we can win a game!” Jim Mora Sr. after the Colts loss to the San Francisco 49ers, November 25, 2001

After that press conference, the Steelers lost CB Bryant McFadden to free-agency, LB Larry Foote, (released at his request because of diminished playing time on the field), and two key starters at the start of the regular season, DE Aaron Smith and SS Troy Polamalu.

There are sports analysts who attribute the Steelers failure to win games because of these losses.

Coach Tomlin says they must be ready for the challenges that lay ahead in 2009.

This is only the sixth season in 30 years, the Steelers lost four or more games in a row, and the outcome was not good.

In 2003, the Steelers lost five games in a row and finish (6-10). In 1999 six games (6-10); 1998 five games (7-9); 1991 four games (7-9), in 1988 six games then four games in a row (5-11).

As you can see, Coach Tomlin is not immune to failures and he certainly was not alone as a Steelers Head Coach.

However, many Steelers fans are throwing in the towel and chucking this season as a loss even though there are four remaining games to play.

The Steelers must win out against Cleveland, Green Bay, Baltimore and finally Miami to stay in contention.

They also are dependent on some losses from other AFC teams.

Tomlin stated, “We acknowledge that we have an undesirable pattern kind of behavior which produces a series of outcomes that are not what we are looking for.”

“Moving forward this week and beyond, we can’t continue to keep doing what we’ve been doing assuming the behavior is going to change and those outcomes are going to change.”

“We are analyzing all aspect…aggressive in working at potential changes in not only what we do schematically but who we have to do it in all three phases.”

Tomlin has put on his serious game face and sent out the signal to all the players, if they are not playing well they will get benched.

Shouldering this challenge he has intimated that heads are going to roll by first replacing some starters with younger players, in some instances rookies.

Attention immediately focused on the secondary.

It has been evident that since Polamalu’s absence due to injury, the defensive backs have been ineffective, especially Ike Taylor.

Tomlin plans to replace Taylor with either rookie Joe Burnett and/or Keenan Lewis.

This is the not the first time Taylor has been threatened to loss the starting position.

After allowing two touchdown catches by Denver Broncos WR Javon Walker, Nov. 5, 2006 which attributed to the Steelers sixth loss of the season, Taylor found himself practicing with the second-string defense the following week.

In addition, FS Ryan Clark or SS Tyrone Carter will be replaced for S Ryan Mundy.

DE “Ziggy” Hood will see more playing time and T Ramon Foster will replace G Trai Essex.

Thursday, the Steelers will be hosted by division rival (1-11) Cleveland Browns.

Again they face another subpar team who last week against the San Diego Chargers positioned themselves for a comeback.

QB Brady Quinn had a solid performance against the Chargers and has played well at times throughout the season, but has yet to develop any consistency.

In Week Six, the Steelers defeated Cleveland 27-14.

Cleveland, Tenn. and Denver are the only teams that did not amass fourth quarter points to come dangerously close to winning, or win the game against the Steelers.

The Steelers last four losses came from that fourth quarter surge.

Against the Chargers, Brady threw two touchdowns and with one minute and 16 left orchestrated an eleven play, 28-yard drive to setup a Phil Dawson field goal to get within seven points for a tie. Cleveland lost 30-23.

This is the final stretch.

The Steelers must take care of business in Cleveland before addressing a tough three-game closing schedule.

Tomlin’s young coaching career is now facing serious adversity and how he responds as well as his players respond will be paramount to the rest of the 2009 season.

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Steelers Having Tough Time Closing Out Games

Published: December 3, 2009

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3:55 in the fourth quarter, third-and-22 Baltimore on their 29-yard line

QB Joe Flacco passes deep down the middle to WR Derrick Mason for 17 yards to the Baltimore 46.

On a fourth-and-five Coach Jim Harbaugh took a gamble.

Flacco throws a short pass up the middle to RB Ray Rice (beating James Farrior) , for 44 yards to the Steeler 10 yard line.

Although the outcome was a field goal, the Ravens tied the score to send the game into overtime and eventually win the game by three.

Steelers are having a tough time closing out games.

With leads of seven points or better in the fourth quarter, the Steelers lost four games by three points.

At least two were subpar teams.

Then there are the ones they almost gave away, like Detroit and San Diego.

Now they have lost three crucial games to division foes, and chances of a wild-card berth are getting slim.

What happened to the team that was on the upswing with back-to back wins against Cleveland, the Minnesota Vikings, and the Denver Broncos?

The defense is giving up too many big plays. They are not putting away teams in the fourth quarter.

On Sunday, the Baltimore Ravens drove 73 yards on nine plays to score in the first quarter.

And in overtime after the 26-yard interception, the Ravens were able to advance 16 more yards to set up the winning field goal.

What about the final two quarters and overtime against a very bad Kansas City Chief team?

The Steeler defense allowed QB Matt Cassel to finish with 248 yards and two touchdowns after a horrible first half passing for 35 yards on four completions.

How about the 21 points San Diego QB Phillip Rivers put on the board in the fourth in an attempt to snatch the lead and the win from the Steelers in Week Four?

The defensive backs are playing badly especially without SS Troy Polamalu.

It is especially true of the two corners, Ike Taylor and William Gay. (I guess a lot can be said about missing Bryant McFadden.)

Both Gay and Taylor are playing poorly and are giving up too many big plays.

Gay has been playing soft and allowing some easy plays.

Offenses no longer fear the “Big Bad Wolf” of the NFL.

With Polamalu out of the picture, offenses don’t have to worry about where he is or what he can do.

Now offenses can target the secondary at will. Without Polamalu, tackling has been dismal across the board, and it’s inexcusable.

FS Ryan Clark, always known as a very good tackler, has not been the same since he was pulled from the Denver game for health reasons.

The other missing link is DE Aaron Smith.

Although the defense has still not allowed a 100-yard rusher, they are still allowing big plays up the field.

LB James Farrior has been beaten twice by running backs, Cincinnati’s Cedric Benson and Baltimore’s Ray Rice.

Remember December 30, 2001: 12-3 Pittsburgh Steelers were hosted by the 5-10 Cincinnati Bengals.

Offensive Coordinator Bob Bratkowski called plays for QB Jon Kitna, who with precision torched the two Steeler cornerbacks, DeWayne Washington and Chad Scott.

Bratkowski, a former Steeler receivers coach under Bill Cowher, hoped to fill the offensive coordinator position left vacant by Kevin Gilbride in 2001.

But Cowher elected tight ends coach Mike Mularkey for the job.

However, then-Bengals Head Coach Dick LeBeau, in need of an OC, offered the position to Bratkowski.

Although the Steelers defeated the Bengals earlier that season, Bratkowski had another attempt to get back at his former team in December.

Matching wits with his former colleague, defensive coordinator Tim Lewis, Bratkowski knew the deficiencies of the secondary and prepared a game plan to expose it.

The Bengals not only overcame a 23-10 lead in the fourth to tie, but took the game into overtime where they eventually won on a field goal.

It was that game that set up the torchfest the following year, when Tom Brady and the New Patriots and Rich Gannon and the Oakland Raiders lit up the Steeler secondary with 43 and 63 passing attempts, respectively, for 30 points each to win the first two games of the 2002 season.

History can repeat itself if the secondary continues with the poor play.

What is even more disgusting, our beloved defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau has been nominated for Hall of Fame induction.

What a wonderful tribute to him to be presented to the Hall with another winning season commandeering a “great defense.”

There is definite uncertainty to where the Steeler defense will stand in the coming weeks.

The defense cannot depend on a few. On Sunday James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons will surely come with their A-game.

The rest must follow suit.

The Steelers play against another subpar team (3-8) Oakland Raiders.

Then they face the lowly Cleveland Browns, the Packers, and the Ravens at home, then finally Miami.

These next five games are crucial.

It’s not like the Steelers haven’t been down this road before.

The difference it’s 2009, not 2005 and the coach is Tomlin, not Cowher.




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Dennis Dixon: A Different Quarterback with a Different Skill Set

Published: December 2, 2009

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The Steelers had a decent chance with time left in the first half to get into field goal range to close in on that seven–point deficit.

Nineteen seconds left in the first half and down 14-7, the Steelers on their 40, hand off to RB Carey Davis for a one yard gain.

They needed twenty yards for a field goal to end the half.

Instead they play conservative and run out the clock.

In the third quarter No. 3 QB Dennis Dixon puts the Steelers in position to earn a field goal to make the score 14-10.

Gaining confidence as the game went on Dixon gave the Steelers the lead in the fourth quarter.

6:32 left in the fourth quarter, 3rd-and-5 on the Baltimore 24, Dixon thinking on his feet, rushes for 24 yards to score his first NFL touchdown.

It was a perfect call against that Raven blitz.

TE Heath Miller was used more for blocking to prevent an all-out blitz but Dixon did much better against the blitz than when the Ravens were in the zone four-man rush.

Dixon did well in a tough spot, a hostile environment.

He showed poise and control of the offense. He played faked extremely well.

For a No.3 quarterback, Dixon’s performance was solid.

Offensive Coordinator Bruce Arians called a horrible game.

He did not do what makes Dixon special which was getting him out on the field and allowing him to take advantage of his athletic ability.

Dixon has a different skill set from QB Ben Roethlisberger.

Arians kept Dixon in the confines of the traditional offense designed for Roethlisberger.

Why could there not have been designed runs, quarterback draws and option plays?

As we saw, Dixon was more effective in getting outside the pocket.

In his first start, Dixon worked everything inside the pocket on a normal down and distance.

As Dixon got more comfortable, we saw him move around the pocket, around the edge, surveying the field, making plays.

Arians could have called some of those designed runs, quarterback draws and option plays that could have open up the offense. But he didn’t.

Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette reported on game day, some Raven officials were worried about the Steelers putting in something that would allow Dixon to run around.

They weren’t sure how to handle that but the Steelers never tested them.

Arians should have put Dixon in position to be able to do something to change up the offense, giving the Ravens a different look.

Instead, as reported Arians ask Dixon what 15 plays did he feel the most comfortable and designed the playbook around those plays.

It only stifled the talent instead of unleashing it.

It was not all Arians play calling that lost the game; it was in fact the defense giving up the lead in the fourth quarter.

It could have been Dixon’s first NFL game win.

The (6-5) Steelers are preparing to host the (3-8) Oakland Raiders this Sunday.

Coach Tomlin reports that Roethlisberger has not suffered any more headaches from his last concussion since last Friday and intends to suit up for Sunday’s game.

After what I have seen of Dixon against a really good defense in a hostile arena, he should be the one to start on Sunday at home, in friendly territory.

The most recent report is that Dixon may see more action after his performance on Sunday, even if Roethlisberger is able to go.

Roethlisberger should sit out at least one more week to improve his condition.

We all know what it is like when he rushes back on the field less than one-hundred percent—the outcome is not good.

The Steelers can ill-afford to lose a fourth game in a row and against another sub par team.  


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With Six Games Left, What Kind of Character Will The Steelers Display?

Published: November 24, 2009

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The home team generated 282 yards of total offense.

68 yards rushing and 214 yards passing generated three touchdowns and two field goals.

The opponent generated 515 yards of total offense.

114 yards rushing and 401 yards passing produced three touchdowns and one field goal.

The winner, the home team (3-7) Kansas City Chiefs.

Yes, add another Steeler defeat against a sub par team.

It’s hard to comprehend how the Steelers play down to sub par teams.

With a lead 17-7 half time lead, the Steelers allowed the bottom to fall out in the third with Kansas City striking back with ten unanswered points to tie the score.

Yes, Roethlisberger had one of his best days 32-42, 398 yards, 3 touchdowns and 2 interceptions, but he was sacked 3 times.

The running game was just miserable, 31 attempts for 114 yards and no touchdowns. 80 of those yards came from Rashard Mendenhall with 21 carries.

The bright spot (yes, there was a bright spot), the rush defense without defensive ends Aaron Smith and Travis Kirschke continue to hold rushers under a 100 yards rushing.

Chiefs’ running back Jammal Charles was allowed 58 yards on 17 carries and no touchdowns.

But the secondary continues to get burnt without strong safety Troy Polamalu in play.

Without their star-receiver Dwayne Bowe, Chiefs’ quarterback Matt Cassel threw a 21-yard pass to Leonard Pope early in the third quarter.

With less than five minutes left in the game, Cassel hits receivers Lance Long for 30 yards and Chris Chambers for 47 to set up a two yard touchdown pass to Jammal Charles that tied the score 24-all.

The Steeler defense allowed Cassel 15 completions for 248 yards, two touchdowns and zero interceptions. What’s worse is his passer rating climbed from 75.3 to 100.4 against a super bowl champion defense. 

The biggest blow has to be special teams.

Special teams’ has allowed four kick-off returns for a touchdown in five games which is also a team record.

They are now tied for the NFL record with the 1998 Minnesota Vikings.

In addition, the Steelers have allowed either a kick, interception or a fumble return for a touchdown in eight straight games. 

In an attempt to shore up their kickoff coverage unit, the Steelers released Keiwan Ratliff and linebacker Donovan Woods for linebacker Rocky Boiman and safety Corey Ivy.

Ivy played for the Ravens from 2006-08, had been a free agent since getting cut by the Browns at the end of preseason practice.

Which sets up for next Sunday’s game In Baltimore against the 5-5 Baltimore Ravens.

The Ravens are coming off a loss on Sunday against the unbeaten Indianapolis Colts.

No need to go over stats. What good on paper does not transcend what goes on the field.

The Ravens have had November 29 and December 29th circled since the schedule was released.

Division opponents play each other differently and vying for a chance in the postseason..

It will be especially critical meeting since both teams are wounded, missing key players in their arsenals.

The Ravens will be without lynchpins Fabian Washington and Terrell Suggs.

The Steelers injuries continue to mount with Polamalu out indefinitely, along with Smith. No sign of Kirschke returning anytime soon. Kemoeatu suffered an MCL sprain Sunday and could be questionable to probable.

With six games left in the regular season, the question will be what kind of character will the Steelers show down the stretch?

Will they prevail as they did to win Super Bowl XL or XLIII or will they falter as they did in 2007?

It will all begin this Sunday. Every game from now on is a playoff game-one game at a time.










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Rashard Mendenhall: Growing Pains or Carelessness?

Published: October 29, 2009

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Seven games into the season, the Steeler offense has had a dismal showing in the fourth quarter of games.  

Four out of the seven fourth quarters were shutouts; the other three generated a total of 16 points.

Besides Ben Roethlisberger’s interceptions, the offense is plagued with fumbles especially from the running game.

Fumbling the football is the fastest way to go from a starting position to being demoted to the bench.

Good or great running backs that have game-breaking runs on a regular basis can lose their playing opportunity if the coach thinks that a fumble might be the end result.

As primary carrier, Rashard Mendenhall lost two fumbles in scoring territory the past two games and was benched in the fourth quarter.

Coach Tomlin feels that Mendenhall got a “little careless” when he fumbled inside the Minnesota Vikings’ five-yard line on the second play of the fourth quarter.

Mendenhall had runs of 14, 16, and 17 yards; all on first down and averaged 6.9 yards per carry against a Vikings defense that has ranked first against the run each of the past three seasons.

He fumbled on the Vikings’ five yard line after diving through the air, dropping the ball on the way down and deprived his team of a chance to build a 10-point lead.

A little careless?

Week three, Mendenhall was benched because he was confused about his assignments and didn’t appear to know his playbook.

A little careless?

Is it really just being careless in the fourth quarter when you want to protect your lead that your running back would drop the ball only to have it recovered by the opposing team?

Despite the fact that Mendenhall has control issues, Tomlin continues to make him the featured back.

“The young fellow fumbled and every time he puts a helmet on, it’s a learning experience,” says Tomlin.

“It’s a learning experience,” Mendenhall said. “You learn in the NFL that the minor things are major, so you have to stay on top of everything. I just look forward to getting an opportunity to get to play and show the fans and my teammates what I can do.”

If it is a learning experience as he so describes, why is it that Tomlin chooses Mewelde Moore as the fourth-quarter back instead?

Could Tomlin be losing confidence in Mendenhall? 

Moore holds onto the ball better than any of the other backs, in addition to his receiving skills.

Even with his skills, defenses don’t feel intimidated by him as they do Mendenhall.

So what seems to be the problem with Mendenhall and fumbling; is it technique? 

New York Giants coach Tom Coughlin went through a similar problem with former running back Tiki Barber.

Finishing his career with more than 10,000 rushing yards and 2,217 carries, Barber had a problem running with his elbow out.

Barber compensated by bringing his elbow closer to his chest. He had the ball in that position while doing drills and running on the treadmill to break his bad habit.

Or could it be physical?

Former Green Bay Packer coach Mike Sherman dealt with similar fumbling issues with running back Ahman Green.

There was a notion that Green had a condition called Hyperhidrosis, which is the overproduction of sweat, which could have contributed to his tendency to fumble.

The solution, the Packers developed a sleeve he could wear during games that keep sweat off the ball and enabled Green to hold the ball more securely.

However, that did not work. Sherman realized that Green wasn’t adequately protecting the ball.

It was noticed that left-handed Green showed unwillingness to switch the ball from left to right arm when running plays to the right side

“He needs to secure that football like it’s his first-born son,” says Sherman.

So with increased emphasis in practice, Green got a handle on his fumbling.

In his career, Green rushed for 9,045 yards at an average 4.5 yards per carry and 59 touchdowns.

Mendenhall averages 5.4 yards per carry and has four rushing touchdowns this season. Willie Parker averages 3.1 yards per carry and has no rushing touchdowns.

Mendenhall is a big back who has out-gained Parker by 231 yards with only 18 more carries.

The big issue the Steelers need to face is trending. Thus far, Mendenhall has fumbled in back-to-back weeks.

His fumbling was an issue last preseason and he played only four games last season.

Tomlin has put the responsibility on Mendenhall to carry the torch as the “featured back” and therefore cannot be dropping the ball in key games.

It gets difficult after the bye as the Steelers will face Denver, Cincinnati and Baltimore in the next few weeks.

During the bye, Kirby Wilson (running backs coach), Bruce Arians and Tomlin have to consistently work with Mendenhall to ensure he is not a ball dropper.

It doesn’t matter what a running back can do starting from the 10-yard line to the opponents’ 10-yard line if he is giving the ball away in great field position.

That’s how you lose games.

Mendenhall is not a Jerome Bettis, and it’s still early in his pro career.

Maybe he’ll eventually grow into becoming more comfortable running inside as Bettis did if he follows a few instructions:

Step 1: Learn the proper way to accept the football from the quarterback.  

Step 2: Mendenhall should press the ball against his upper body as hard as he can.  

Step 3: He should learn how to carry the ball with your opposite arm and shoulder as well

Step 4: He should listen to his coaches when they give him advice on how to secure the ball before contact.  

Step 5: He should keep in mind he is going to get hit and hit hard. Protect the ball!

Mendenhall is young and he is still learning.

He needs to continue to improve his skills and build off it moving forward. 

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Pittsburgh Steelers: Week 7 Will Be a Stiffer Challenge

Published: October 22, 2009

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Nov. 19, 1995, QB Neil O’Donnell and the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated QB Jeff Blake and the Cincinnati Bengals 49-31.

The Steelers generated 556 yards of offense.

Neil O’Donnell threw for 365 yards and three touchdowns; while RB Bam Morris ran 191 yards and scored three touchdowns.

Sunday, the Steelers out-gained Cleveland Browns 543-197 with the final score of 27-14.

But they scored two passing and one rushing touchdown.

A win is a win in the NFL and the Steelers found a way to get it done.

But last Sunday’s game against the Cleveland Browns should have been a blowout and it wasn’t.

You can make a point that the Steelers should have won every game so far this season hands down.

What’s the use of generating all of this offense it all we are going to see is two passing touchdowns?

That’s not being efficient

The past couple of weeks the Steelers have played inferior teams, and for whatever reason they have let their opposition hang around late in the second half, to come dangerously close to win.

Although this win was by dominance, the offense turned the ball over four times, with an interception and three fumbles each by Ben Roethlisberger, Rashard Mendenhall, and Willie Parker.

The Steelers will need to focus more on ball security and do a better job of maintaining possession of the football going into next Sunday’s game.

Sunday the Steelers will compete against one of the better teams in the NFL, the Minnesota Vikings.

The Vikings’ only other visit to Heinz Field came in the stadium’s first year, 2001, when they lost 21-16 in December.

The Vikings are 6-0 lead by the arm of a 40-year old gun-slinger by the name of Brett Favre.

The Vikings are currently ranked 17th in passing overall.

Favre has some nice weapons in receivers Percy Harvin, Sidney Rice, and tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.

Although Favre has played well through his first six games, he will be tested by the third-ranked Steeler defense.

Favre managed to avoid being intercepted by Ravens CB Ed Reed but will he be able to avoid SS Troy Polamalu?

The spark to the Steeler defense, Polamalu will have his second start since his knee injury early in the season.

The litmus tests for the defense Sunday will be stopping running back Adrian Peterson, who thus far has had some success rushing for more than 100 yards against AFC North teams this season.

Peterson gained 180 yards against the Cleveland Browns and 143 yards against the Baltimore Ravens.

The Steelers haven’t allowed a 100-yard rusher in their past 24 regular season games.

Ex-Jacksonville Jaguar RB Fred Taylor was the last to run for 147 yards that led to a loss for the Steelers in December, 2007.

However, against NFC teams, Peterson has rushed for less than 100 yards per game.

The question will be how the rush defense will hold up without defensive end Aaron Smith.

Smith is such a good run stuffer as he eats up those blocks for the linebackers.

Currently, the Steelers have manned in his absence defensive ends Travis Kirschke, Nick Eason, and rookie Evander “Ziggy” Hood.

Head coach Mike Tomlin said he feels they did a good job last week even though it was against the Browns.

Kirschke was quoted he did not feel that much pressure from the Browns last week.

All of that could change on Sunday.

Offense needs to put up more points-because they need to support the defense.

The offense has become a pass first/run later team.

Pass to generate a lead and run later to protect it.

In the passing game, it all starts with the leading receiver in the NFL, Hines Ward, with 41 receptions for 599 yards.

In seventh place overall is Santonio Holmes with 28 receptions for 438 yards.

At 30th is rookie wide receiver Mike Wallace, 18 receptions for 296 yards, and is on target for 50 catches this season, as the No. 4 receiver.

At tight end is sixth-ranked Heath Miller who has 34 receptions for 315 yards.

Roethlisberger has been throwing the ball at will,fitting it into any slot he wants and basically marching this team downfield.

He is being protected by an offensive line that has improved leaps and bounds in the passing game.

The line is protecting Roethlisberger much better this year and the result has been an incredible productive start for him in the passing game.

Left tackle Max Stark will face his stiffest challenge to date against the best pass-rushing defensive end in the NFL, Jared Allen.

A combination of strength, speed, and intelligence, Allen can run over offensive linesman or beat them on the outside to get at the quarterback.

Allen has 22 solo tackles, 7.5 sacks, and three forced fumbles for the Vikings.

Another pivotal matchup for both guards and center will be overcoming Vikings defensive tackles Kevin and Pat Williams.

The Williams duo are beasts up the middle, clogging up running lanes and collapsing the pocket up the middle so that Jared Allen can do his thing on the perimeter.

So the question will be, will the Steelers be able to get the run game going against this formidable front line of the Minnesota Vikings?  

The Vikings will probably be short on cornerback as Antoine Winfield suffered a sprained right foot against Baltimore last Sunday and is in a walking boot on Monday.

One of the league’s best tackling cornerbacks, Winfield managed to hold the edge against the Ravens running backs and kept receivers Derrick Mason and Mark Clayton under wraps.

When he went down in the second quarter, Ravens’ quarterback Joe Flacco erased a 17-point deficit by picking apart the Vikings’ secondary, completing three touchdowns in the fourth quarter to close in for a win.

Unfortunately, it was the Ravens kicker Steven Hauschka who missed the 44-yard field goal that could have given the Vikings their first loss.

It appears unlikely Winfield will be able to play Sunday.

The Vikings replaced Winfield last week with Karl Paymah who, during the fourth quarter against the Ravens, let wide receiver Mark Clayton caught 32-yard touchdowns pass on him.

This will be the 15th regular-season meeting between the two teams.

Vikings leads series 8-6, since 1962.

The Steelers have won the past two games against the Vikings, most recently Dec. 18, 2005 in Minnesota, 18-13.

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