Saturday, December 30, 2006

Santonio Holmes Makes All-Rookie Team

One of the best football sites on the web is Football Outsiders, and another reason to love the Outsiders is their inclusion of Santonio Holmes on their 2006 All-Rookie Team.

Here's who made the squad:

QB: Vince Young (Titans)
RB: Joseph Addai (Colts) & Maurice Jones-Drew (Jaguars)
FB: Ahmard Hall (Titans)
WR: Marques Colston (Saints) & Santonio Holmes (Steelers)
TE: Anthony Fasano (Cowboys)
OT: Marcus McNeill (Chargers) & D'Brickashaw Ferguson (Jets)
OG: Daryn Colledge (Packers) & Jason Spitz (Packers)
C: Nick Mangold

DE: Tamba Hali (Chiefs), Elvis Dumervil (Broncos) & Mark Anderson (Bears)
DT: Barry Cofield (Giants)
LB: DeMarco Ryans (Texans), A.J. Hawk (Packers), Thomas Howard (Raiders)
CB: Jonathan Joseph (Bengals) & Richard Marshall (Panthers)
S: Donte Whitner (Bills) & Danieal Manning (Bears)

Special Teams
K: Stephen Gostowski (Patriots)
P: Sam Koch (Ravens)
PR: Devin Hester (Bears)
KR: Laurence Maroney (Patriots)
Gunner: Ethan Kilmer (Bengals)

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A Little Prespective on a Steelers Coaching Candidate

The name of Baltimore Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan was included on the list of external candidates for the Steelers' head coaching position generated by Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic. Now comes this article by Jamison Hensley of the Baltimore Sun in which Ray Lewis insinuates that Mr. Ryan is the best coordinator he has ever played for (and he has played for Marvin Lewis, Jack Del Rio, and Mike Nolan). Mr. Lewis goes on to describe Mr. Ryan as "the ultimate players' coach."

"Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis concedes he has a fear for the next couple of months, and it has nothing to do with LaDainian Tomlinson or Peyton Manning.

It's the prospect of losing defensive coordinator Rex Ryan after the season.

When teams begin their search for a new head coach after this weekend's final regular-season games, Ryan could be the next in a line of Ravens defensive assistants to leave.

'I've lost Marvin [Lewis], I've lost Jack [Del Rio], I've lost Mike Nolan. ... I ain't losing Rex,' Lewis said while shaking his head.

Lewis might not have a choice.

In Ryan's second season as coordinator, the Ravens rank atop half of the NFL's 12 major defensive categories, including fewest yards per game (264.8) and fewest points (12.9).

This is the first Ravens defense to rival the team's historic 2000 group in dominance, which is why Ryan's name is beginning to circulate throughout the league as a potential head-coaching candidate.

'You know how long I thought about it? Not for five seconds,' Ryan said. 'I signed up to do the best job possible and my focus is on the next opponent. When it's all said and done, the teams that win, their coaches move on.'

After having 10 new hires last season, the NFL is expected to have more coaching upheaval this year.

The list of potential openings at the end of the season could include: the Cleveland Browns (Romeo Crennel has 10 wins in two seasons), Miami Dolphins (constant rumors of Nick Saban leaving), Oakland Raiders (team hasn't responded to Art Shell), New York Giants (late-season collapse could be costly for Tom Coughlin), Atlanta Falcons (continue to regress under Jim Mora) and Arizona Cardinals (Dennis Green has not lived up to expectations).

Under NFL rules, assistants on teams in the playoffs can interview once with each club interested in them for a head coaching job but cannot participate in a second interview or be hired until their season is over.

'I think Rex is as ready to be a head coach as anybody I've been around,' Ravens coach Brian Billick said. 'We'll do everything we can to help him through that process.'

In some ways, Billick has already helped Ryan by association.

Billick's first defensive coordinator, Marvin Lewis, has turned around the Cincinnati Bengals. His second one, Mike Nolan, has improved the San Francisco 49ers in his second season. And former Ravens linebackers coach Jack Del Rio has led the Jacksonville Jaguars to the playoffs.

Ryan, 44, is the last of the Ravens' defensive coaches left from the Super Bowl team.

'Obviously, you want that opportunity, especially if you believe in yourself,' Ryan said. 'And people want that Brian Billick tree. They know the organization part of it. The things you learn from him, it gives you an advantage over other possible candidates.'

Ryan could also draw interest for being the son of former NFL coach Buddy Ryan, although they are much different coaches.

Buddy Ryan had a brash, in-your-face approach that sometimes rubbed people the wrong way. Rex Ryan is the exact opposite, an affable coach who is considered one of the most popular people on the Ravens' staff.

'He's the ultimate players' coach,' Lewis said.

Ryan frequently laughs and jokes with players during practice. He even allows them to have input on game plans, discussing which calls work best with them throughout the week.

'He's on our side. He's not your typical coach,' defensive end Trevor Pryce said. 'When Rex starts talking, everyone is quiet because what's going to come out of his mouth is going to help you. And it's not going to come out as typical coachspeak. You want to hear what he has to say. It is a breath of fresh air.'

Asked whether he thought Ryan would make it as a head coach, Pryce said, 'If he becomes a head coach, I'm going to find out and I'm going with him.'

The defense also carries a chip on its shoulder, which Ryan has been known to do.

Early in the season, Ryan was quick to defend a defense that was allowing some big plays. Now, despite playing six games against top-10 offenses, the Ravens have separated themselves as the NFL's elite defense.

"I told everyone to wait until the end of the season before they make any judgments," Ryan said, "because I knew I wasn't going to be the one looking stupid.'

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Friday, December 29, 2006

Things are Tough All Over

The Steelers and their fans have been mourning the end of the team's playoff hopes -- some of us actually started in late October -- and as Bill Cowher mentioned in his press conference this past Tuesday misery does love company.

Just ask the Cincinnati Bengals.

Like the Steelers, the Bengals entered the 2006 season with high expectations only to see those cruelly dashed as the result of inconsistent performances. The following is an article by Mark Curnutte of the Cincinnati Enquirer that discusses the disappointment that the Bengals are feeling and combating as they prepare for what is likely to be their season finale this Sunday.

"There was a sense of resignation Wednesday among Bengals players that the postseason might have slipped through their hands Sunday in the snow at Denver.

Or maybe it was in the heat at Tampa Bay, or at home against Atlanta, or in the first five minutes at Baltimore.

The Bengals needed to win against the Broncos, and they would have been in.

Instead, they now need to defeat rival Pittsburgh and get help from hapless Oakland, or Kansas City and San Francisco.

The Bengals' focus, say players and head coach Marvin Lewis, is solely on the Steelers.

'I mean, we all would like to be in a better situation, but the only thing that I can even focus on now is Pittsburgh,' right guard Bobbie Williams said. 'That's who we got. Whatever happens after that happens after that.'

The Bengals are 8-7. The 7-8 Steelers were eliminated last week from defending their Super Bowl XL title with a 31-7 home loss to Baltimore.

Besides its victory, Cincinnati needs a Jets loss to the Raiders, or a Jacksonville loss to the Chiefs and a Denver loss to the 49ers.

'We don't worry about the playoffs,' Lewis said at his news conference Wednesday, tipping off the message he gave his players. 'We're playing the Steelers. You want to talk about the Steelers? We'll talk about the Steelers.'

Pittsburgh has won five consecutive times, including the 2005-06 wild-card playoff game, at Paul Brown Stadium.

'It's disappointing to be in the position we're in,' right tackle Willie Anderson said. 'But our goal is to keep on fighting and try to put ourselves in the best possible position.'

The Bengals won three games in a row to open the season, then lost five of six, then won four in a row and now have lost the past two. The Bengals have not swept the two-game, division series since 1998.

'I definitely think we underachieved this season,' Anderson said. 'Everyone talks about how good this team is and how talented this team is. But for seven games, we weren't. And those seven games really cost us.'

Tailback Rudi Johnson and his blockers will face a Pittsburgh rush defense that is ranked fourth in the NFL at 91.2 yards a game.

'We could be sitting pretty right now,' said Johnson, who needs 138 yards to reach 1,400 yards for the third consecutive season. 'We blew an opportunity. Now we have to depend on other people for help Sunday. But first we have to take care of business. We're not out of it. There are scenarios. But we need help. Go Oakland.'

The Bengals could finish 9-7 for a second consecutive winning season. Still, at 8-7, they are guaranteed a fourth consecutive non-losing season.

But the expectations in Cincinnati now are higher now than .500 seasons. Playoffs are the standard.

'I don't think if you asked anybody at the start of the year where we would be heading into the 16th game of the year, nobody would have predicted it,' free safety Madieu Williams said. 'We dug ourselves the hole. We have one game left as a team, and there would be no better way to go out than to put a positive stamp on the end of the year.'

In 2003, the Bengals entered the season finale at 8-7 and needing a victory at home against the Browns and some help from other teams to make the playoffs. They lost 22-14 to Cleveland.

'I don't think the 2003 game will matter this year,' said defensive tackle John Thornton, who was in his first season with the Bengals in '03.

There was talk Wednesday - from quarterback Carson Palmer, Lewis, Anderson and Thornton - about how the Bengals need to evolve into a less selfish team.

"It's going to test us to see what guys really play for," Thornton said. "Are you playing for each other or playing for yourself?'

Thursday, December 28, 2006

Willie Parker Named Steelers MVP

In a vote of his teammates Willie Parker was chosen as the Pittsburgh Steelers most valuable player for the 2006 season.

Mr. Parker, who is in his third season with the Steelers, was signed as a non-drafted free agent out of the University of North Carolina.

Clik on this link to see the complete story of Mr. Parker's selection at

Steelers @ Cincinnati: The Team Matchups

Way back in July, August and early September all indications were that both the Pittsburgh Steelers and Cincinnati Bengals were legitimate Super Bowl contenders, and that this New Year's Eve game would be a battle for the AFC North championship. Instead the Steelers are out of the playoffs and the Cincinnati is hanging on by the narrowest of threads.

While trying to figure out just which team is more of a disappointment here's a look at how they match up:

Bengals Offense v. Steelers Defense
Average total yards per game: Bengals "O", 8th (344.5) v. Steelers "D", 10th (300.7)

Average net rushing yards per game: Bengals "O", 22nd (105.7) v. Steelers "D", 4th (91.2)

Average net passing yards per game: Bengals "O", 5th (238.8), v. Steelers "D", 18th (209.5)

Third down conversions: Bengals "O", 25th (35.6%) v. Steelers "D", 19th (39.3%)

Average points per game: Bengals "O", 7th (23.73) v. Steelers "D", 14th (19.87)

Steelers Offense v. Bengals Defense
Average total yards per game: Steelers "O", 7th (349.5) v. Bengals "D", 28th (346.6)

Average net rushing yards per game: Steelers "O", 14th (119.0) v. Bengals "D", 12th (110.4)

Average net passing yards per game: Steelers "O", 9th (230.5) v. Bengals "D", 31st (236.2)

Third down conversions: Steelers "O", 8th (42.2%) v. Bengals "D", 21st (41.0%)

Average points per game: Steelers "O", 11th (22.o) v. Bengals "D", 16th (20.53)

Special Teams
Average yardage per punt return: Bengals 29th (7.1), Steelers 31st (8.5)
Average yardage allowed per punt return: Bengals 1st (5.6), Steelers 19th (6.1)

Average yardage per kick return: Bengals 30th (20.4), Steelers 11th (22.5)
Average yardage allowed per kick return: Bengals 8th (21.3), Steelers 23rd (22.5)

Net yardage punting average: Bengals 5th (38.5), Steelers 15th (36.9)
Opponent net yardage punting average: Bengals 23rd (37.5), Steelers 31st (37.9)

Turnovers: Bengals 9th (+5), Steelers 25th (-6)

Time of possession: Bengals 24th (29:07), Steelers 11th (30:48)

Red Zone Touchdown Efficiency: Bengals 6th (58.0%), Steelers 18th (50.0%)
Red Zone Touchdowns Defense: Bengals 25th (56.3%), Steelers 7th (46.5%)

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Wednesday, December 27, 2006

The Rumor Mill Begins to Churn

Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic was out early with its conjecture of who the leading candidates will be for the Steelers' head coaching position if, and when, Bill Cowher steps aside. However, the mainstream media is now getting into things and the name of Iowa head coach Kirk Ferentz is being mentioned as a possible replacement.

Certainly Mr. Ferentz is a quality football coach who has experience at both the NFL and college levels. However choosing him as the head coach for the Steelers would be something of a surprise given the team's modus operandi.

Specifically, the Steelers have not had a head coach who came directly from a college campus since John Michelson was hired -- in 1948!

Obviously the Rooney family will, as always, seek to do what is best for the franchise. Despite Mr. Ferentz's qualifications he is not a candidate who distinguishes himself from those already coaching at the coordinator level in the National Football League.

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Can it Only Get Better?

In the aftermath of another poor performance by the Steelers' offense quarterback Ben Roethlisberger told the media that the 2007 season simply had to be better than this one: " 'It was tough, frustrating', Roethlisberger said. 'At least you know it will be awfully hard for next year to be any worse. We're going to get better' ."

Perhaps, but a distubing trend in the performance of the Steelers' third-year quarterback continues to emerge and if it doesn't change then next season may be every bit as frustrating as 2006 has been. A quick look at some numbers highlights just how concerned fans of the Black & Gold should be:

QB #1QB #2
Pass Attempts441519
QB Rating74.075.3

Fans who have been keeping up with this season's numbers already have recognized Ben Roethlisberger as "QB #1." The mystery quarterback in the second spot? Those are the numbers that Tommy Maddox accumulated in 2003, his final full season as the Steelers' quarterback. At this time last season how many of you thought those two were comparable?

The concern over Mr. Roethlisberger's performance goes beyond comparing his performance to other quarterbacks from Steelers history. Here's a look at Mr. Roethlisberger's three year performance:

YearPass AttemptsCompletionsYardsTDsINTsQB Rating

The steady decline of Ben Roethlisberger -- first highlighted here last summer -- continued in 2006 (and is part of the reason that the "Mark Whipple to Boston College" rumors were of little concern to Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic), with no end in sight.

One final comparison -- this one between Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer. Here are Mr. Palmer's number of the last three years:

YearPass AttemptsCompletionsYardsTDsINTsQB Rating

While Mr. Palmer's performance in this season has not been as good as his performance in 2005 he is still improved from his first season. Also, for those who would point to Mr. Roethlisberger's offseason injury as part of the decline in his 2006 performance please remember that Mr. Palmer rehabilitated an injured knee, and at the time of the injury was expected to miss as much as the first six weeks of the 2006 regular season.

Additionally, for those who would argue that the decline in the Steelers' running game is responsible (at least in part) for the decline in Ben Roethlisberger's performance please keep in mind that the Bengals have also suffered a similar decline (2004: 1839 yards, 2005: 1910 yards, 2006: 1585 yards) without the catastrophic affects seen in Pittsburgh.

It seems obvious that whomever is head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2007 will have to diagnose just what is going on with the team's talented, but youthful, quarterback and what steps are necessary to halt what appears to be a slide towards mediocrity.

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Tuesday, December 26, 2006

Cowher Watch

Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic has outlined just who can be expected to compete for the head coaching job of the Pittsburgh Steelers --both internal candidates and the external candidates -- assuming that Bill Cowher steps down.

Now comes this tidbit from Pro Football Weekly:
'It does not look like many jobs are going to open this year. After having so many (10) turn over a year ago, there might be only one or two this year. That's a good thing if you are an owner. It becomes a buyer's market. You're not competing with other teams for the best coach. The hot prospects are always the guys who got shut out of jobs the previous year because of the playofffs -- the Ron Riveras and Ken Whisenhunts.' "

Both of those coaches are included in our list of names with which Steelers fans should become familiar.

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Bill Cowher Press Conference - Coaching Future to Be Announced Next Week

Bill Cowher met with the assembled media on Tuesday, and thanks to the miracle o the internet Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic was there. Here is some of what Mr. Cowher discussed.
  • Injuries: Ryan Clark, Max Starks are out for Sunday. Clark Haggans is doubtful, and among the other players Ben Roethlisberger -- who has a shoulder problem -- is probable.

  • Baltimore Game: "Very disappointing outcome" considering all that was at stake. The offense never got into a rhythm, and was poor on third downs. The defense gave up some big plays, and the Baltimore conversion on third-and-thirteen in the third quarter hurt. The Willie Parker fumble took the wind out of the Steelers' sails. The Ravens were more dominating. The Steelers played better than the first meeting, but were fighting uphill all game long.

  • Cincinnati Game: Pride is at stake, and the team wants to finish at 8-8. There is a real difference between 8-8 and 7-9. The team wants to end the season with a win.

  • Next Season: He's not ready to reflect on the season, the team is getting ready for the Bengals. Coach Cowher will talk about his future next week, and it won't take long to make a decision. Finishing strong this season will help for the next season.

  • Willie Parker: He is one of the better backs in the National Football League, and he is the first running back who has played for Coach Cowher who brings big play possibilities to the running game. Turnovers are a problem for the team, but Willie Parker is only a part of that.

  • This Season: The team lost early games this season that, frankly, they should have won -- Oakland, Atlanta, and the first Cincinnati game are three that come to mind. The players were unable to make plays -- e.g. "jump ball" plays on which opponent receivers scored -- and the result is that the Steelers were unable to create an identity for themselves. A play here, a play there -- a different outcome on some individual plays might have made a difference.

  • Being Super Bowl Champ: Teams definitely bring their "A" game to play the champs, and the scheduling is different, but winning and losing comes down to execution and the team did not execute very well this season.

  • Willie Colon: Improved as the game went on.

  • Steve McNair: He's a good player -- a good quarterback. He exploited some of the defenses that the Steelers showed. The Baltimore offense is good, and the Baltimore defense is special.


Baltimore v. Steelers: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

The season that began with a bang -- the bang of celebratory fireworks on the opening night of the 2006 season -- for all intents and purposes ended Sunday with a resounding thud as Baltimore dominated the Steelers for the second time in a month.
Here's some of what went right (there was very litle of that) and what went wrong.

The Good
How poorly did the Steelers play this past Sunday?, Well one of the few positives for the team was the performance of punter Chris Gadocki. Coming into the game Mr. Gardocki had a net average of 36.4 yards per kick, 20th in the NFL. In Sunday's game he managed to kick for a net average of 40.6 yards on seven punts. More than a couple of those were not necessarily asthetically pleasing, but the results were an improvement over what had been done throughout most of the season.

The other positive was the ability of the defense to take the ball away from the Ravens' offense. Granted two of the turnovers ocurred in the Steelers' end of the field, but the defense managed to show flashes of the excellent play that was the hallmark of the defense during the 2005 season. Unfortunately the defense was unable to maintain a high level of performance. That fact, combined with the lackluster play of the Steelers' offense, sealed their fate.

The Bad
As unpleasen as it is to say, Troy Polamalu was pretty bad on Sunday. Beaten for two touchdowns on the day, he alsom failed to be much of a playmaker for the defensive unit -- which brings up another, more important point.

Even worse was the coaching of Ken Whisenhunt. Certainly much of the blame must be laid at the feet of the offensive players, and given to the Ravens defense, but would trying an up-tempo offense have been such a terrible idea? Clearly executing the game plan was a major problem on Sunday (Willie Parker rushed for 29 yards -- four fewer than Ben Roethlisberger -- and Ben Roethlisberger's 47.2 QB rating was disgraceful), and there just seemed to be no response. Perhaps the Steelers' braintrust saw that their team was overmatched and simply didn't want to compund the problems they were already facing. However, short of that the lack of reaction by the offensive coaches was just as disappointing as the performance of the offensive players.

The Ugly
The offensive players are, no doubt, still hanging their heads in shame.

The Steelers offense was 2-for-14 on third down conversions (14%). The Steelers amassed a total of 251 yards (108 yards fewer than Baltimore despite having run one more offensive play) on 65 plays for a pathetic per play average of 3.86 yards per play.

Ben Roethlisberger, whose performance has already been touched upon, was downright offensive (in all the wrong ways) in the fourth quarter (5/9, 53 yards, 0 touchdowns, 2 INTs, 33.3 QB rating).

The offensive line was dominated by Baltimore's front seven, giving up five sacks to go along with the horrifyingly low rushing totals.

In postgame comments Mr. Roethlisberger said "at least you know it will be awfully hard for next year to be any worse. We're going to get better." While the optimism is surely appreciated, this season is the second consecutive season in which Mr. Roethlisberger's performance has worsened relative to the prior season -- i.e. he is getting worse, not better (look for more about this in a posting later this week).

The losing streak earlier this season made this moment -- the elimination of the Steelers from playoff contention -- inevitable. It is to the team's credit that they fought to remain a factor in the playoff battle, but their inability to genuinely compete against their old rivals is indicative of just how far the defending -- and soon to be former -- Super Bowl champions have fallen.

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Saturday, December 23, 2006

Bill Cowher's Replacement: The Internal Candidates

Sunday may be Bill Cowher's last game at Heinz Field (or maybe it won't be), and the rumors are already swirling as to who will be the next head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic has already provided a snapshot (both figuratively and literally) of the leading external candidates, now it's time to do the same for a couple of the Steelers coaches who will also be seriously considered.

Ken Whisenhunt (44 years old) - Pittsburgh Steelers Offensive Coordinator (2004-Current)
  • Tight ends coach - Pittsburgh Steelers (2001-2003)
  • Tight ends coach - New York Jets (2000)
  • Special teams coach - Cleveland Browns (1999)
  • Tight ends coach - Baltimore Ravens (1997-1998)
  • Special teams, Tight ends & H-backs coach - Vanderbilt University (1995-1996)
Was all but hired for the Oakland Raiders' head coaching position after Super Bowl XL before unexpectedly pulling out of consideration. Before the disaster that was the first half of the 2006 season the Steelers' offense had steadily improved under Whisenhunt -- who picked up where Mike Mularkey left off -- becoming more diverse and dynamic (i.e. they could run and pass with equal effectiveness).

Russ Grimm (46 years old) - Assistant Head Coach/Offensive Line Coach - Pittsburgh Steelers (2004-Current)
  • Offensive line coach - Pittsburgh Steelers (2001-2003)
  • Offensive line coach - Washington Redskins (1997-2000)
  • Tight ends coach - Washington Redskins (1992-1996)
The only assistant coach under Bill Cowher to ever have been given the "Assistant Head Coach" title, which he received after nearly getting the head coaching position in Chicago -- that went instead to Lovie Smith. Was seriously considered for the head coach position in Detroit this past offseason, but was reportedly not one of the finalists for the job (it came down to Jim Haslett and Rod Marinelli). Under Mr. Grimm's leadership the Steelers offensive line has -- except for this season -- been one of the very best in the NFL.

Darren Perry (38 years old) - Pittsburgh Steelers Defensive backs coach (2004-2006)
  • Assistant defensive backs coach -- Pittsburgh Steelers (2003)
  • Safeties coach - Cincinnati Bengals (2002)
There is no way Darren Perry is going to be hired as the next head coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers. However, the next head coach should choose Mr. Perry as the next Defensive Coordinator for the team. His work with the secondary, especially with the injuries suffered this season to Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark, and the free agent loss of Chris Hope, has been outstanding.

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Friday, December 22, 2006

Heinz Field News

It seems there are some people in the NFL who don't like the field at Heinz Field, and apparently 53 of them play for the Baltimore Ravens.

The following is taken from an article by Edward Lee in the Baltimore Sun:

"Home-field advantage has taken on a literal meaning for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The 65,050-seat Heinz Field in Pittsburgh is home to not only the Steelers, but also one of the worst playing surfaces in the NFL.

The turf there is called DD GrassMaster, a mixture of Kentucky bluegrass and polypropylene fibers that are sewn vertically into the sod.

The grass, however, is nonexistent between the hash marks and through the entire length of the field and gives the stadium a sandlot look that seems to contradict the modern appeal the venue was supposed to present when it opened for the 2001 season.

The turf at Heinz Field was ranked as the sixth-worst surface in the league, according to an NFL Players Association poll that surveyed more than 1,500 players and was made public in February 2005.

The Ravens have played there once a year, but this week was the first time players revealed that they haven't warmed up to the turf.

'It's not a good field,' linebacker Ray Lewis said. 'That's no secret. Everybody knows it's a terrible field. The grass is always up. You're playing on plain dirt. You have to deal with it. Bottom line, you just got to go play.'

Added coach Brian Billick: 'They feel very good about their surface being in the condition that it's in. They feel like that's an advantage, and they play to that advantage. So, [you face] the great crowd and the field and having to be on the road late in the year and all the things that you struggle with on the road. That's why you like to play at home.'

The Ravens aren't going to win any sympathy from the Steelers. Coach Bill Cowher is a big advocate of the surface at Heinz Field.

'Both teams are playing on it. I like that stuff. That's what the game should be played on," Cowher told The Tribune Review of Pittsburgh earlier this month. "I think a natural surface is much better. Most players would much rather play on grass than any kind of artificial surface.'

Another article about Heinz Field comes from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette and discusses the less than adequate jumbo screen at the stadium, and its impending replacement:

" Heinz Field is going HD.

The city-Allegheny County Sports & Exhibition Authority yesterday approved the purchase of a new $2.4 million high-definition video display board for Heinz Field, to be ready for the 2007 season.

The Daktronics video board will replace the existing screen, which has been in use since the stadium opened in 2001 and which does not have high definition capabilities.

Steelers officials told the board they have had problems with the existing board, including times when they've lost the use of parts of the screen and in some cases feared it would not operate at all.

The new board also will enable 3,600 ticket holders who now are unable to see anything on the existing screen because of their viewing angle to get a clear picture. That will leave only about 400 fans without any ability to see the giant screen, which sits at the south end of the stadium.

Of the cost for the new board, $1.9 million will come from a SEA-overseen capital replacement reserve account funded by Heinz Field ticket surcharges. The Steelers will pay the rest

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Thursday, December 21, 2006

So, Just HOW are the Steelers Going to make the Playoffs? UPDATE

Update: December 21, 2006
I stumbled across a terrific page created by hard core Steelers fans that goes in-depth on the Steelers and just WHAT needs to happen for them to make the playoffs.

Original Posting
I'll be honest, I sat down to figure out -- armed with only the current AFC standings, the NFL schedule for the final two weeks of the season, the litany of NFL tie breaker criteria, and several sharp pencils -- just what has to happen for the Steelers to make the playoffs. It wasn't long before my head hurt quite badly, so instead I offer this item from the website of WTAE-TV in Pittsburgh (which was posted prior to Cincinnati's Monday night loss to Indianapolis):

"The Steelers kept their faint playoff hopes alive by crushing the Carolina Panthers on Sunday.
But can the black and gold really make it to the postseason?

Unlike last year, Pittsburgh needs plenty of help from other teams to grab a wild-card playoff spot.

If the season ended Monday afternoon, Cincinnati (8-5) and Jacksonville (8-6) would be the AFC wild cards.

Denver (8-6), the New York Jets (8-6), the Steelers (7-7), Buffalo (7-7) and Tennessee (7-7) are each within striking distance.

The Steelers must win both of their remaining games, and they need Tennessee to beat Buffalo on Sunday.

Pittsburgh also needs the Jets to lose one of their remaining two games.

Denver must lose its final two games because they hold a tiebreaker over the Steelers.

How about the front-runners?

Jacksonville would need to lose both of its games, or Cincinnati would have to drop two of its final three -- and Cincy's only victory can come against Denver next week.

If Cincinnati collapses, Pittsburgh keeps winning, and both teams end the season tied, then that tie would be broken by their records against common opponents

Of course we now know that Cincinnati has fallen to 8-6, travel to Denver for a Christmas Eve matchup, and then host the Steelers in the season finale.


Cowher on the Way Out? Who Will Replace Him? Let the Rumors Begin!

In 1969, 36-year old Chuck Noll was chosen to serve as head coach of the moribund Pittsburgh Steelers and the rest was history. Twenty-three years later, in December of 1991, Mr. Noll announced that he would be stepping down at the end of that season; and the conjecture as to who would replace the greatest NFL coach of the 1970s began almost immediately.

The list of candidates, according to media reports at the time, was pretty impressive even in hindsight: Mike Holmgren (San Francisco Offensive Coordinator at the time), Vince Tobin (Chicago Defensive Coordinator), Dave Wannstedt (Dallas Defensive Coordinator), Richie Petitbone (Washington Defensive Coordinator), Pete Carroll (years away from his success at USC, he was the Defensive Coordinator for the New York Jets), Joe Green (who was on Chuck Noll's staff at the time), and Bill Cowher (Defensive Coordinator at Kansas City).

As everyone knows 34-year old Bill Cowher was tabbed to be Mr. Noll's replacement, and the rest has been history.

Is Bill Cowher going to be coaching his final home game in Pittsburgh this Sunday? Only time will tell, but if that turns out to be the case here are the resumes of some of the coaches (listed alphabetically) all of us are going to be hearing about as possible, external candidates (along with their respective ages) to serve as the Steelers' third head coach in thirty-eight years:

Bob Bratkowski (51 years old) - Cincinnati Bengals Offensive Coordinator (2001-Current)
  • Wide receiver coach - Pittsburgh Steelers (1999-2000)
  • Offensive Coordinator - Seattle Seahawks (1995-1998)

Chuck Bresnahan (46 years old) - Cincinnati Bengals Defensive Coordinator (2005-Current)
  • Assistant coach - Cincinnati Bengals (2004)
  • Defensive Coordinator - Oakland Raiders (2000-20003)
  • Defensive back coach - Oakland Raiders (1998-1999)
  • Linebacker coach - Indianapolis Colts (1996-1997)

Cam Cameron (45 years old) - San Diego Chargers Offensive Coordinator (2002-Current)
  • Head coach - Indiana University (1997-2001)
  • Quarterback coach - Washington Redskins (1994-1996)

Pete Carroll (55 years old) - University of Southern California Head Coach (2001-Current)
  • Head Coach - New England Patriots (1997-1999)
  • Defensive Coordinator - San Francisco 49ers (1995-1996)

Rick Dennison (48 years old) - Denver Broncos Offensive Coordinator (2006-Current)
  • Offensive line coach - Denver (2001-2005)
  • Special teams coach - Denver (1997-2000)
  • Offensive assistant coach - Denver (1995-1996)

Steve Fairchild (47 years old) - Buffalo Bills Offensive Coordinator (2006-Current)
  • Offensive Coordinator - St. Louis Rams (2004-2005)
  • Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks coach - St. Louis Rams (2003)
  • Running backs coach - Buffalo Bills (2001-2002)
  • Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks coach - Colorado State University (1997-2000)
  • Quarterbacks coach - Colorado State University (1993-1996)

Jim Haslett (51 years old) - St. Louis Rams Defensive Coordinator (2006-Current)
  • Head coach - New Orleans Saints (2000-2005, 45 wins-51 losses)
  • Defensive coordinator - Pittsburgh (1997-1999)
  • Defensive coordinator - New Orleans (1996)
  • Pittsburgh native

Donnie Henderson (49 years old) - Detroit Lions Defensive Coordinator (2006-Current)
  • Defensive coordinator - New York Jets (2004-2005)
  • Defensive backs coach - Baltimore Ravens (2000-2003)
  • Assistant defensive backs coach - Baltimore Ravens (1999)
  • Assistant head coach/Defensive backs coach - University of Houston (1998)
  • Defensive backs coach - Arizona State University (1995-1997)

Tim Lewis (45 years old) - New York Giants Defensive Coordinator (2004-Current)
  • Defensive coordinator - Pittsburgh Steelers (2000-2003)
  • Secondary coach - Pittsburgh Steelers (1995-1999)

Mike Mularkey - Miami Dolphins Offensive Coordinator (2006-Current)
  • Head coach - Buffalo Bills (2004-2005)
  • Offensive Coordinator - Pittsburgh Steelers (2001-2003)
  • Tight ends coach - Pittsburgh Steelers (1996-2000)

Ron Rivera (44 years old) - Chicago Bears Defensive Coordinator (2004-Current)
  • Linebacker coach - Philadelphia Eagles (1999-2003)
  • Defensive quality control - Chicago Bears (1997-1998)

Rex Ryan (44 years old) - Baltimore Ravens Defensive Coordinator (2005-Current)
  • Defensive line coach - Baltimore Ravens (1999-2004)
  • Defensive coordinator - Oklahoma University (1998)
  • Defensive coordinator - University of Cincinnati (1996-1997)

Mike Zimmer (50 years old) - Dallas Cowboys Defensive Coordinator (2000-Current)
  • Secondary coach - Dallas Cowboys (1995-1999)

From this list Tim Lewis is a lock to get an interview, after all he is a legitimate minority candidate. Meanwhile the inclusion here of Pete Carrol is, of course, the worst kind of rumor mongering (and the fact that it is included in a posting that is built upon unsustantiated supposition -- i.e. that Bill Cowher is leaving Pittsburgh at the end of this season -- makes it all the worse), but there have been rumors off-and-on for the last three years that Mr. Carroll could be lured back to the NFL. Of course, he might have to take a pay cut to get the Steelers' job.

We'll take a look at the internal candidates next time.

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Wednesday, December 20, 2006

THIS is Why I Love the Football Outsiders

I have heralded the virtues of the Pro Football Outsiders on more than one occasion, but here is another reason to love these guys.

All of you know how I feel about Steelers punter Chris Gardocki, and in his most recent posting on Aaron Schatz offers this tongue-in-cheek tidbit:

"This might be the last home game ever for Chris Gardocki. I hope we don't have to go through another one of those off-seasons where every day there's another Chris Gardocki story. Will Chris Gardocki retire, will Chris Gardocki come back, do all the young punters idolize Chris Gardocki, etc."

If keeping Bill Cowher as head coach means keeping Chris Gardocki as punter then I say "enjoy North Carolina, coach!"

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Baltimore @ Steelers: The Team Matchups

Ravens Offense v. Steelers Defense
Average total yards per game: Ravens "O", 19th (313.3) v. Steelers "D", 9th (296.5)

Average net rushing yards per game: Ravens "O", 22nd (101.6) v. Steelers "D", 5th (90.4)

Average net passing yards per game: Ravens "O", 12th (211.6), v. Steelers "D", 15th (206.1)

Third down conversions: Ravens "O", 10th (40.6%) v. Steelers "D", 18th (38.7%)

Average points per game: Ravens "O", 12th (21.64) v. Steelers "D", 9th (19.07)

Steelers Offense v. Ravens Defense
Average total yards per game: Steelers "O", 6th (356.6) v. Ravens "D", 1st (265.8)

Average net rushing yards per game: Steelers "O", 12th (123.0) v. Ravens "D", 2nd (90.4)

Average net passing yards per game: Steelers "O", 8th (233.6) v. Ravens "D", 6th (186.4)

Third down conversions: Steelers "O", 5th (44.3%) v. Ravens "D", 2nd (29.3%)

Average points per game: Steelers "O", 8th (23.07) v. Ravens "D", 1st (13.36)

Special Teams
Average yardage per punt return: Ravens 20th (8.5), Steelers 20th (8.5)
Average yardage allowed per punt return: Ravens 22nd (9.4), Steelers 3rd (6.5)

Average yardage per kick return: Ravens 7th (23.8), Steelers 16th (22.6)
Average yardage allowed per kick return: Ravens 12th (21.9), Steelers 20th (22.7)

Net yardage punting average: Ravens 13th (37.4), Steelers 20th (36.4)
Opponent net yardage punting average: Ravens 30th (38.3), Steelers 19th (37.7)

Turnovers: Ravens 1st (+15), Steelers 25th (-6)

Time of possession: Ravens 2nd (32:22), Steelers 8th (31:05)

Red Zone Touchdown Efficiency: Ravens 24th (44.4%), Steelers 20th (50.0%)
Red Zone (Touchdowns) Defense: Ravens 1st (30.4%), Steelers 8th (45.0%)


Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Bill Cowher Press Conference - Max Starks Out

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach met with the Media on Tuesday and thanks to the miracle of the internet Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic was there. Here is some of what Mr. Cowher discussed:
  • Injuries: Chad Brown (grade three MCL on left knee -- no surgery), Chidi Iwuoma (left wrist dislocation -- had surgery Tuesday), and Max Starks (right knee -- to be scoped) are out. Ryan Clark is doubtful (groin). Troy Polamalu (knee) is questionable as is Mike Logan (hamstring). Four probables: Clint Kreiwaldt (neck strain), Tyrone Carter (concussion), Jeff Hartings (knee), and Bryant McFadden (shoulder). Roster moves will be made in the next couple of days to fill in spots. Mr. Iwuoma and Mr. Brown may be placed on injured reserve.

  • Carolina Game: The most complete game this year, and the Steelers need to match that to be competitive against Baltimore. The Steelers have not been eliminated, and they have to keep winning to have any chance of moving on to the playoffs.
    • The offensive line did a good job of giving Ben Roethlisberger time to throw, and the Steelers were very good on third down.

  • Baltimore Game: In the first meeting this season the Steelers threw the ball more than 50 times which is not Pittsburgh football. Their defensive line is playing very well, and the linebackers and secondary are great. The Baltimore defense does a good job of moving around, disguising blitzes, and giving the offense different looks. The game plan is going to have to be better than the last game. Despite having clinched the division the Ravens still have a great deal to play for. The Ravens are playing with a great deal of confidence and the Steelers are beginning to do so. The Ravens have stayed healthy, and have good team chemistry.
    • Playing at home improves the Steelers ability to communicate and that should help though execution is the key.
    • The Steelers need to be able to run the football to succeed against Baltimore.

  • Willie Colon: May fill in for Max Starks. Colon is strong but hasn't played much.

  • Coaching Future: Coach Cowher hasn't made a final decision, and NOW isn't the time for making a decision on whether or not to coach next year. The same process that was employed at the conclusion of last season will be utilized at the conclusion of this season. He still loves the challenges of coaching the NFL, and isn't feeling burned out. He's seen his daughters play basketball this season and doesn't believe that will be a factor in his final decision. He called upon the reporters to not be "judgmental." He will not answer any more questions about his coaching future.

  • The 2006 Season: He is very pleased with the veteran leadership on the team, and has seen young players (e.g. Santonio Holmes) have grown and gotten better. The team lost same games that they probably should have won but there is nothing that can be done about that now.

  • Ryan Clark: Mr. Clark has played very well and very unselfishly. He has played very well on defense and on special teams. Anthony Wright has filled in very capably since Mr. Clark was injured.

  • The NFL: Watching the Tennessee v. Jacksonville game reminded Mr. Cowher of the Steelers @ Oakland game ("Been there, done that").


Looking Forward by Looking Backward

When the Steelers host the Ravens on Christmas Eve they will be just four weeks removed from one of the worst beatings any Steelers team has ever absorbed. In order to prepare for this rematch it is necessary to look at the train wreck that occured in Baltimore. To that end Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic offers up insights from Football Outsiders game charter Bill Benetti who, unlike most fans of the Steelers, watched the entire game:

"I was assigned the second half of the Week 12 Baltimore-Pittsburgh game, but by the time I started charting, the game had become a one-sided affair. Baltimore scored 17 points and kept the Steelers off the board altogether. In watching the game, I saw a very good defense at work, both in terms of scheme as well as execution. I’m sure this is no surprise to anyone, but I don’t know if people realize how overmatched Pittsburgh was that day.
I recorded 39 Pittsburgh pass plays in the second half. During most of those plays Roethlisberger was under enormous pressure, even though Steelers generally kept back players to assist in pass protection. Baltimore rushed only four 23 times in that second half, and 18 times Pittsburgh left additional players back in pass protection. With only four rushing, more defenders in coverage reduced Roethlisberger’s options even further.
Baltimore also called blitzes at the perfect times. Here’s the listing of the rushers and blockers for one drive at the end of the third quarter.
Rushers   Blockers
4                 6
5                 6
6                 5
4                 7
3                 7

Note that the first pass play was fairly normal; keeping one extra blocker in is common. But on the second play, Ravens defensive coordinator Rex Ryan called a corner blitz, bringing Gerome Sapp in from the edge. On that play, Sapp hurried Roethlisberger, but Ben managed to get the ball to Heath Miller regardless. On the third play, Baltimore brought six rushers, while Pittsburgh only had five blockers. This resulted in a sack and a loss of 10 yards. On the next two plays Pittsburgh, fearful of the pass rush, left in two extra blockers, while Baltimore chose not to blitz. This limited the passing options that Roethlisberger had available to him. Ryan blitzed when Pittsburgh least expected it, and he wanted to avoid blitzing when the offense kept in extra blockers. Of the 13 blitzes (either five or six rushers), only two ran up against seven or more blockers.
Another thing that Ryan is doing right is mixing up the defenders he sends on a blitz. Sapp (who is listed as a safety, but appeared to be a corner) and Corey Ivy both blitzed from the edge. I also saw a number of delayed blitzes that Pittsburgh seemed to have no answer for. Multiple times I would see Ray Lewis or some other blitzer hit Roethlisberger untouched, with no offensive player trying to block him


Monday, December 18, 2006

Mark Whipple Going to B.C.? Nope!

Update: December 18, 2006, 9:00PM (PST)
Despite initial reports that Steelers quarterback coach Mark Whipple was under serious consideration for the head football coach job at Boston College, ESPN is reporting that Jeff Jagodzinski has been hired for the position.

Mr. Jagodzinski is in his first season as offensive coordinator in Green Bay after having most recently served as the tight end coach in Atlanta (2004-2005) and in Green Bay (1999-2003). Prior to that he served as the offensive coordinator and offensive line coach at Boston College (1997-1998).

Update: December 10, 2006, 3:30PM
In a very brief item on its website the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is reporting that the Steelers have given Boston College officials permission to interview Mark Whipple for their vacant head football coach position. According to the report the interview was to take place December 10, 2006.

Update: December 9, 2006, 11:03PM
The FOX affiliate in Boston is reporting that Mark Whipple is close to reaching a contract agreement to assume the duties as head coach of the Boston College Eagles:

"Sources close to the negotiations have told FOX25 that Boston College is close to hiring Pittsburgh Steelers Quarterback’s coach Mark Whipple.

Whipple spent six season as head coach at UMass, winning the 1-AA National title back in 1998. Before that he coached at his alma mater Brown.

He’s spent the last three seasons with the Steelers, winning a Superbowl with Pittsburgh last season.

Boston College Athletic Director Gene DiFillipo would not confirm that he is close to hiring Whipple, but did say that he will be moving quickly to fill the Eagles head coaching vacancy

Original Posting
My friends at are reporting that Steelers' quarterback coach Mark Whipple is on tap to be the next head coach at Boston College, replacing Tom O'Brien who is leaving to become the head coach at North Carolina State University.

No confirmation on this from the Steelers (what a shock), but in a Saturday afternoon report, the Associated Press speculated that Boston College Athletic Director Gene DeFilippo might be targeting Mr. Whipple: "If DeFilippo seeks a coach with New England connections, he could interview Pittsburgh Steelers quarterbacks coach Mark Whipple, the former head coach at Massachusetts and Brown, or Connecticut head coach Randy Edsall, an assistant at BC from 1991 to 1993."

Mr. Whipple joined the Steelers in his current capacity in January 2004.

An email to Steelers' Communication Coordinator seeking comment on this was not immediately answered.

In the report on an unnamed source described the potential departure of Mr. Whipple as a "big loss for the Steelers." Perhaps, but a looking at the statistical evidence may indicate something else entirely. In Ben Roethlisberger's first season with the Steelers -- also Mr. Whipple's first regular season as quaterback coach for the Steelers -- he completed 196 of 295 passes (66.4%), with 17 touchdowns and 11 interceptions (one interception for every 26.82 pass attemtps). In season two Mr. Roethlisberger completed 168 of 268 pass attempts (62.7%), with 17 touchdowns, and 9 interceptions (one interception for every 29.78 passing attempts). This year, as all Steelers fans know, has been disasterous: 236/393 (60.1%), 15 touchdowns, 20 interceptions (1:19.65).

The steady decline of Ben Roethlisberger as an NFL quarterback certainly cannot all be blamed on Mr. Whipple, but let us not overstate how much his possible departure will mean.


Steelers @ Carolina: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

The reality of the Steelers' situation is this: despite having gone 5-1 in their last six games they find themselves in eleventh place in the AFC Conference. Only slightly more galling is the fact that two weeks ago they were in tenth, but remain out of the playoff picture despite their two most recent wins.

But despite this sad fact this is a time for happiness and good cheer, and thanks to a wonderful effort by Pittsburgh the Good, the Bad, & the Ugly will not feature an "Ugly" section. Merry Christmas one and all!

The Good
Fans of the Black & Gold have an embarassment of riches this week.

But let us begin with those most maligned earlier this season -- the offense.

For instance, the offensive line (after some first quarter struggles with pass protection) performed wonderfully, providing Ben Roethlisberger ample time to throw (on those few occasions when he actually did throw) and more importantly opened holes through which Willie Parker ran wild. Indeed the offensive line and Willie Parker have been rounding into form during this six game stretch (i.e. Willie Parker's rushing statistics for the last six games have been: 125 carries, 697 yards, 5.58 yards per carry, and five rushing touchdowns). Larry Johnson and LaDanian Tomlinson are statistically the top running backs in the AFC, but Willie Parker is #3 and, despite the team's disappointing performace this season, deserving of a spot in the Pro Bowl.

Also performing well Sunday were the Steelers' pass throwers -- Ben Roethlisberger, Charlie Batch, and . . . Cedric Wilson?!? His pass was one of the prettiest thrown by a Pittsburgh Steeler all season, and the 21 yard completion matched a Ben Roethlisberger pass of the same length for longest of the day. All told the Roethlisberger, Batch, and Wilson combined to go 13/20, 169 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions, and a 108.1 QB rating.

Moving on, Santonio Holmes has been under the microscope -- thanks to some issues off the field that have since disappeared -- since before the season began, but it also appears that Mr. Holmes is beginning to fulfill the promise that motivated Kevin Colbert and Bill Cowher to move up in the 2006 NFL Draft to get the Ohio State product. In today's game Mr. Holmes had three catches -- more than a quarter of Ben Roethlisberger's completions -- and his third quarter, ten yard reception (on third down and nine yards to go), carrying a defender on his back, showed a strength and determination that is refreshing to see.

However, if plaudits are being passed out to the Steelers' wide receivers then the biggest of them all must go to Hines Ward -- welcome back Super Bowl MVP! Four catches normally isn't much to get excited about, but given the season that Mr. Ward has had (i.e. hamstring injury, smothering double coverage) it was great to see even a glimmer of the 2005 Hines Ward.

Of course the defense also performed wonderfully -- five sacks, two interceptions, limiting Carolina to 43 yards rushing. There were several players who stood out, amongst those:

The defensive line
Brett Keisel, with 1.5 sacks in this game, now has 5.5 for the season to go along with 35 tackles and 15 assists (in 2005 Kimo von Oelhoffen, the man Mr. Keisel has replaced, had 3.5 sacks, 22 tackles, and 13 assists for the entire season). On the other side of the defensive line Aaron Smith -- who should make the Pro Bowl, but probably won't -- had 3 tackles and one sack (for the season Mr. Smith has 39 tackles, 11 assists, and 4.5 sacks. Last season he had no sacks, 29 tackles, and 10 assists). In the 3-4 defense the linemen are normally responsible for keeping blockers off the linebackers who are the real playmakers in this alignment. But with the emergence of Mr. Keisel, the continued development of Aaron Smith, and the continued Pro Bowl play of Casey Hampton this unit is one of the strengths of the team.

The secondary
There is no denying that the last three opponents that the Steelers have faced are not exactly blessed with top-flight quarterbacks. However it is also true that teams do not typically lose the services of a Pro Bowl safety (Troy Polamalu) at the same time their other starting safety is also out because of injury (Ryan Clark), and one of their "starting" cornerbacks is benched (Ike Taylor), and still manage to play at a high level against the pass. Over the last three games opposing quarterbacks have combined to go 65/110, 777 yards, 1 touchdown, six interceptions, and a 61.061 QB rating. In this most recent game the Steelers faced two of the best receivers in the NFL -- Keyshawn Johnson and Steve Smith -- and were more than equal to the task. Anthony Smith, Tyrone Carter, and Bryant McFadden are all playing very well and the result is that the defensive secondary is as strong and as deep as at any time in the team's recent history.

The final shout out this week HAS TO BE FOR SPECIAL TEAMS!! A blocked punt AND a punt return for a touchdown?!? Oh there is a Santa Claus! Even my resident whipping boy, Chris Gardocki, had a very good day with a 40.3 yard net average on three punts. Of course it should be of no surprise to anyone that the kicking game has improved with the return of James Harrison (from an injury) and special teams master Chidi Iwuoma (who NEVER should have been cut -- to think that Duce Staley was kept on the roster at the beginning of the season and Mr. Iwuoma was let go -- HORRIBLE decision-making).

The Bad
I promise to be brief and gentle -- Santonio Holmes cannot go around dropping PUNTS! He's lucky Carolina was flagged for a penalty on the play; and of course the "do over" was terrific (in one of the more prescient moments by any broadcast team the Carolina announcers proclaimed that "bad things happen" when teams are forced to re-kick just before Mr. Holmes broke off his return for a touchdown).

Lastly, Anthony Smith . . . please don't make Dick LeBeau angry any more, ok?

Finally, and perhaps worst of all, was the knee injury (career ending?) suffered by Chad Brown who returned to the Steelers and contributed a great deal earlier in the season.

It's been a nice stretch of games for the Steelers, and now the team is going to be tested. With their final two games of this season against their two biggest rivals the Steelers are going to find out just how much they've improved, if at all.

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Sunday, December 17, 2006

The Big Hitters Weigh-In

Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette is one of the best sports writers anywhere, and is arguably the best writer -- of any kind -- in Pittsburgh. In Sunday's paper Mr. Bouchette adds his two cents on Bill Cowher's status for next season, and for the first time I'm beginning to believe that Mr. Cowher's tenure in Pittsburgh may well be drawing to a close.

"It's time.

That's what Chuck Noll told me when I asked why he was retiring as Steelers coach in December 1991. He shrugged his shoulders and said, 'It's time.'

Now it's Bill Cowher's time. I have the same feeling now as I had near the end of the 1991 season when I believed Noll was ready to hang it up. I think Cowher will "retire" soon after this season ends.

First, here's some history on Noll's retirement, the only end to a head coach's career with the Steelers in the past 37 years.

Noll nearly quit after the 1988 season because Dan Rooney forced him to make changes on his coaching staff after the Steelers went 5-11. He relented, accepted the changes and coached the team to within a whisker of reaching the AFC championship game in 1989. That would be the only season over Noll's final seven that the Steelers made the playoffs because they did not make it in '90 or '91.

This time, Noll realized there would be more changes, particularly in management, and the coach felt it was time for him to step down.

'It would have been great to have had 10 victories and been in the playoffs and have gone all the way, and then said, "Goodbye," but it didn't work out that way,' Noll said at his final news conference.

Cowher must feel the same way, too, although he's had much more success recently than Noll had at the end of his career. Perhaps if he had it to do over, Cowher would have retired next to Jerome Bettis in Detroit.

The circumstances with Cowher are unlike those that drove Noll into retirement. Management isn't demanding change, the coach is. He wants it in the kind of form where he can live in Raleigh, N.C., and work in Pittsburgh. And, likely, he wants more money than the Steelers offered before negotiations ended in August. That may be why his agent has been placing calls to the Rooneys lately.

Cowher or his agent can talk all they want about the coach's living arrangements not detracting from his job. Maybe that's so, but it's also unusual and unnatural, and it's difficult to believe he would continue to work in this town on a full-time basis while his wife and daughter live in Raleigh, N.C. He has made the trip there at least three times during this season and likely will spend much of his offseason there as well. As close as he has been with his daughters, it's hard to believe that he will kiss off his youngest's final three years at home while she attends high school.

Football is a year-round business. It requires a head coach not only to be with his team from August through at least the end of December, but at most other times as well -- in late January, when the weeklong Senior Bowl practices take place; in February when the combine workouts are held and decisions are made on free agents; during March, when free agency begins and preparation for the draft takes place; during April, which is consumed by the draft and the start of voluntary workout sessions, and during May and early June, when the more structured voluntary practices occur.

Steelers coaches traditionally get time off from early or mid-June to late July. Other than that, they're around their club or working players out or attending meetings or watching video of other NFL teams and players. The Steelers may want Cowher to remain their head coach, but they don't want him as a commuter from Raleigh.

Those who work with Cowher say he's different this year, that he does not speak with people in the front office as often as he has in the past. Rooney has spoken with him behind a closed office door a time or two recently, and the guess by others is that those two discussed his future.

Probably the most telling thing lately is that Cowher is discussing his future publicly -- although not with the media in Pittsburgh. He did it with the NFL Network's Cris Collinsworth 10 days ago and he did it again this week with the media in Charlotte.

Whenever anyone has asked him about it here, Cowher would not elaborate other than to say he was taking things 'year to year' and showed aggravation at the questions. But he was more expansive Wednesday when he told the media in Charlotte that he has a decision to make at the end of the year. When the Pittsburgh media asked to talk to him about that, to ask their own questions of him the next day, a Steelers spokesman refused the request.

Collinsworth paraphrased Cowher as telling him his decision is 'not about the money. He just wants to be like an ordinary guy, go somewhere and have a beer and have nobody ask about football.'

There may be no way for him to do that, even if he retires to Raleigh, because he and that famous jaw are so well known now. But if that's how he truly feels, he won't coach much longer, at least not before taking a few years off.

It says here, it's time

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Saturday, December 16, 2006

Injury Report for This Weekend

Here is the complete injury report from the NFL for this weekend's game versus Carolina.

"Pittsburgh Steelers
DOUBTFUL S Troy Polamalu (Knee); S Mike Logan (Hamstring)

QUESTIONABLE WR Cedrick Wilson (Ankle)

PROBABLE S Ryan Clark (Groin); C Jeff Hartings (Knee); WR Hines Ward (Knee)

Listed players who did not participate in ''team'' practice:
(Defined as missing any portion of 11-on-11 team work)
WED Mike Logan; Troy Polamalu; Cedrick Wilson

THURS Troy Polamalu; Mike Logan; Cedrick Wilson

Carolina Panthers
QUESTIONABLE WR Taye Biddle (Groin); QB Jake Delhomme (Right Thumb); CB Chris Gamble (Thigh);
RB Nick Goings (Shoulder); CB Ken Lucas (Thigh); G Mike Wahle (Shoulder); TE Kris Mangum (Hip)

PROBABLE LB Brandon Jamison (Thigh)

Listed players who did not participate in ''team'' practice:
(Defined as missing any portion of 11-on-11 team work)
WED Taye Biddle; Jake Delhomme; Chris Gamble; Nick Goings; Ken Lucas; Kris Mangum

THURS Jake Delhomme; Chris Gamble; Nick Goings; Mike Wahle; Kris Mangum

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Friday, December 15, 2006

Webster Family Gets Theirs

For those of us who were old enough to appreciate the great Steelers teams of the 1970s, no single player was more emblematic of the team's toughness than Mike Webster. But his post-football story is well-known and tragic. Now comes word that NFL is being compelled to provide his family with the benefits that Mr. Webster earned as the result of his long career in the league (this is from a report in the Los Angeles Times).

"The estate of NFL Hall of Fame center Mike Webster is entitled to collect more than $1.5 million in disability benefits because brain damage left him unable to work after his football career.

The unanimous decision Wednesday by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals upheld a Baltimore judge's order that the NFL pay Webster's estate benefits retroactive to the date of his retirement, plus interest and legal fees. The amount is about $1.5 million to $2 million, the estate's lawyers said.

The court said the board that administers NFL players' retirement and disability plans ignored overwhelming evidence that the pounding Webster absorbed during his 16-year career left him permanently disabled when he retired in March 1991.

Webster, a former Pittsburgh Steeler, died in 2002 at age 50.

'The main thing this would mean to my dad is vindication for all he went through,' said Garrett Webster, 22, who will share the benefits with his three siblings and their mother.

A lawyer for the estate said the ruling also gives hope to other NFL players fighting for benefits.

'We're happy first of all for Mike's family,' said attorney Cy Smith of Baltimore. 'We're also happy for other players that got a raw deal from the NFL pension plan.'

Edward Scallet, a lawyer for the NFL's pension board, did not immediately return a phone call seeking comment, but NFL spokesman Greg Aiello said no decision has been made regarding an appeal


Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Steelers @ Carolina: Team Matchups

As Ed Bouchette discusses in his Pittsburgh Post-Gazette article "Shattered Dreams," the Panthers and Steelers are amongst the more disappointing teams in the 2006 season.

Here is the tale of the tape for "Disappointment Bowl 2006":

Panthers Offense v. Steelers Defense
Average total yards per game: Panthers "O", 16th (321.2) v. Steelers "D", 9th (300.8)

Average net rushing yards per game: Panthers "O", 21st (102.1) v. Steelers "D", 5th (94.0)

Average net passing yards per game: Panthers "O", 12th (219.2), v. Steelers "D", 13th (206.8)

Third down conversions: Panthers "O", 32nd (29.8%) v. Steelers "D", 18th (39.8%)

Average points per game: Panthers "O", 28th (17.38) v. Steelers "D", 15th (20.31)

Steelers Offense v. Panthers Defense
Average total yards per game: Steelers "O", 6th (360.5) v. Panthers "D", 10th (304.4)

Average net rushing yards per game: Steelers "O", 14th (120.2) v. Panthers "D", 14th (110.3)

Average net passing yards per game: Steelers "O", 8th (240.2) v. Panthers "D", 10th (194.1)

Third down conversions: Steelers "O", 5th (42.9%) v. Panthers "D", 2nd (28.6%)

Average points per game: Steelers "O", 10th (22.0) v. Panthers "D", 7th (18.77)

Special Teams
Average yardage per punt return: Panthers 32nd (4.6), Steelers 29th (6.7)
Average yardage allowed per punt return: Panthers 2nd (5.7), Steelers 4th (6.6)

Average yardage per kick return: Panthers 32nd (19.2), Steelers 16th (22.7)
Average yardage allowed per kick return: Panthers 15th (21.9), Steelers 22nd (23.1)

Net yardage punting average: Panthers 3rd (38.7), Steelers 22nd (36.2)
Opponent net yardage punting average: Panthers 19th (40.2), Steelers 30th (38.8)

Turnovers: Panthers 26th (-7), Steelers 27th (-8)

Time of possession: Panthers 22nd (29:34), Steelers 10th (30:37)

Red Zone Touchdown Efficiency: Panthers 22nd (46.2%), Steelers 19th (50.0%)
Red Zone (Touchdowns) Defense: Panthers 17th (52.8%), Steelers 10th (47.4%)


Monday, December 11, 2006

Week 14: Playoff Possibilities Update

More than a few of the fan websites dedicated to the Steelers are examining just what has to happen for the Steelers to make their way into the playoffs. While the very idea of the Steelers making the playoffs seems most improbable it doesn't do any harm to take a moment or two to consider just what does have to happen for the Black & Gold to be playing in January.

Going into Sunday's games the Steelers were ranked tenth in the American Football Conference, and with all the AFC teams having completed play a look at the curent conference standings reveals that despite their win on Thursday the Steelers have slipped to eleventh.

As of now the top six teams in the AFC are San Diego (who clinched the Western Division chanpionship with their win versus Denver), Indianapolis, Baltimore, New England, Cincinnati, and Jacksonville. The Steelers have lost to four of the teams on the list, and both teams currently in the Wild Card positions (so while the Steelers get another shot at Cincinnati, the Jacksonville win over Indianapolis isn't good news for the Steelers).

What follows is a list of the teams between Pittsburgh and the #6 seed in the AFC playoffs (assuming of course that the Steelers win their final three games to finish the regular season at 9-7), as well as the cumulative won-loss records of their respective opponents in the season's final three games.

10. Buffalo (22-17)
09. Denver (17-22, with two games against NFC opponents -- Arizona and San Francisco)
08. Kansas City (21-18)
07. New York Jets (14-25)
06. Jacksonville (22-17)

By way of comaprison the cumulative record for the Steelers' final three opponents is 24-15, the toughest stretch of any of these teams. It may seem premature to some but I believe that the Steelers are likely to come up one game short of making a playoff spot (i.e. the Steelers will tie the Jaguars record, but miss the postseason because of the head-to-head loss); and the inexcusable loss to Oakland will come back to haunt Pittsburgh again.


Sunday, December 10, 2006

Observations from Pro Football Weekly

Pro Football Weekly is one of the best sources for information on the football (despite the title of the magazine they also have good information on college teams and players). Here are their observations on the Steelers' victory Thursday night over Cleveland (emphasis added):



Dick LeBeau’s defense enters the final three games as confident as it’s been all season. The Steelers shut down the Browns without starting safeties Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark.

The Steelers’ run game, which was under fire after a poor three-game stretch in Weeks 11-13, bounced back because of some excellent blocking by the interior of Pittsburgh’s offensive line. OLG Alan Faneca and C Jeff Hartings had strong games. The Steelers ran at Browns DE Simon Fraser with success. The Browns rarely win the battle in the trenches vs. Pittsburgh. Parker had no shortage of space to work with, and when he can get into the secondary, look out.


WR Nate Washington let a potential TD pass slide through his hands early in the second quarter. Washington entered the game with three dropped TD passes, and this would almost certainly have been a fourth. Roethlisberger threw the ball toward Washington’s back shoulder, away from Browns CB Leigh Bodden. Then, a few plays later, Roethlisberger missed Washington in the middle of the endzone. Roethlisberger appeared upset after the play, and the NFLN’s Cris Collinsworth suggested that Washington didn’t finish his route. While Washington did haul in a 49-yard TD pass early in the second quarter, he has a long way to go to become the consistent target the Steelers hope he’ll become. Nevertheless, he’s only in his second season, and he’s getting excellent coaching

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Saturday, December 09, 2006

Another Bengals Player Arrested

This item from the Associated Press, though brief, speaks volumes:

"AMELIA, Ohio (AP) -- Cincinnati Bengals cornerback Deltha O'Neal was charged with driving while intoxicated early Saturday after being stopped at a traffic checkpoint.

The two-time Pro Bowl player had a blood-alcohol level of 0.10, above Ohio's legal limit of 0.08, the State Highway Patrol said. O'Neal was alone in his car and arrested at the scene, Sergeant Kevin Long said. O'Neal took a breath test and was released,

He is to appear in Clermont County Municipal Court on Dec. 12. The seven-year veteran is the eighth Bengals player arrested this year. Rookie receiver Reggie McNeal was charged with resisting arrest this week outside a Houston nightclub.

Bengals spokesman Jack Brennan said Saturday he was unaware of this latest arrest. The team withholds comment on unresolved charges against players, he said.

The Bengals host the Oakland Raiders on Sunday

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Getting Draft Ready

Like all fans of the Steelers I'd love to see another "December Miracle" occur, and the playoffs become a reality for the Black & Gold. However, the odds are definitely stacked against the team, and as a result it's prudent to begin looking forward -- to the end of April.

One of the best resources for the NFL draft is Ourlads Scouting Services, and they recently released their list of the "highest rated draft eligible seniors" (i.e. as a rule Ourlads does not project the draft status of underclassmen until, and unless, they have declared for the draft). This particular list is not a prediction of where the players will be drafted, but rather is a ranking based upon abilities. Here is Ourlads Top Twenty:

01. Tony Smith, QB (Ohio State) -- Heisman Trophy winner
02. Brady Quinn, QB (Notre Dame)
03. Joe Thomas, OT (Wisconsin) -- Outland Trophy winner
04. LaRon Landry, FS (LSU)
05. Leon Hall, CB (Michigan)
06. Gaines Adams, DE (Clemson)
07. Quentin Moses, DE (Georgia)
08. Marcus McCauley, CB (Fresno State)
09. Marcus Thomas, DT (Florida)
10. Paul Posluszny, LB (Penn State)
11. Levi Brown, OT (Penn State)
12. Patrick Willis, LB (Mississippi)
13. Michael Friffin, SS (Texas)
14. Jeff Samardzija, WR (Notre Dame)
15. Aaron Ross, CB (Texas)
16. Quinn Pitcock, DT (Ohio State)
17. Adam Carriker, DE (Nebraska)
18. Victor Abiamiri, DE (Notre Dame)
19. Tim Crowder, DE (Texas)
20. David Harris, LB (Michigan)

Going into this Sunday's games the Steelers are in the thirteenth draft position.

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Friday, December 08, 2006

Cleveland v. Steelers: The Good, the Bad, & the Ugly

Breaking News: The Steelers go to 2-0 on Thursdays!

On a day when two bad teams played for nothing but pride one team exhibited plenty of that while the other played as if the cold weather was just too much to bear.

While many fans can no doubt identify with Cleveland's pain (the weather at kickoff included a temperature of 18 degrees, 10 mile-an-hour winds, and a wind chill factor of 6 degrees), their pathetic performance enabled the Steelers to appear to be world-beaters despite not playing their best -- though they were pretty darn close.

What am I talking about? Let's explore the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The Good
Ben Roethlisberger, nice job! The numbers aren't particularly impressive (11/21, 225 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions, a 106.2 passer rating), but for one off the few times this miserable season he looked like the Ben Roethlisberger of old. Specifically, he moved around in the pocket to create time to throw the football. He looked confident and in control, and his 49-yard touchdown pass to Nate Washington was beautiful.

In his post-game comments Bill Cowher discussed his belief that Willie Parker is one of the premier running backs in the NFL, and after an absolutely amazing performance Thursday evening it's hard to argue the point. His numbers from this game have been widely reported (32 carries, 223 yards, 1 touchdown), and for those fortunate enough to see his performance you know that on more than a few occasions he managed to turn nothing into something. It was an amazing individual performance.

However, the real credit -- both for the success of the running game, and to a lesser extent the passing game -- has to go to the Steelers' beleagured offensive line. The Browns clearly missed Orpheus Roye, and the Steelers' offensive line punished the left side of the Browns' defensive line mercilessly. Indeed the Steelers' net rushing yards for the third quarter (109) exceeded their total net rushing in seven of their previous games. And to prove that Willie Parker's performance was no fluke, Najeh Davenport added 62 yards of rushing and Ben Roethlisberger was never sacked.

Also earning plaudits is Santonio Holmes, both for his receiving (4 catches -- one of which was just spectacular -- for 81 yards) and his punt returns (3 for 31 yards -- only the second time this season Pittsburgh punt returners have averaged 10 or more yards per return). Indeed, given the goodwill that a win generates, here's to all the receivers! Nate Washignton, who according to some reports is playing for a spot on the 2007 Steelers, had the play of the night (not the best double-move route one will ever see, but not bad), and there were Sean Morey and Walter Young sightings!

Defensively the team hit hard and often, and a suddenly young secondary (i.e. Anthony Smith, Tyrone Carter, and Bryant McFadden -- along side Deashea Townsend and Ike Taylor) performed capably.

Most impressive on the defensive side of the ball for the Steelers was their defensive line -- Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith are Pro Bowl-caliber, and Brett Keisel has proven a talented replacement for Kimo von Oelhoffen. Last night these three were the main reason that Cleveland never had more than 8 yards rushing in any single quarter. To describe their collective performance as "dominating" is an understatement.

The Bad
Despite how well the defensive front played the overall defensive effort was pretty poor, and if it hadn't been for an absolutely disgraceful performance by the Cleveland receivers (except for Joe Jurevicius -- and if you don't believe me read this piece from the Akron Beacon) -- I counted six dropped passes, many at key moments -- the Browns might well have been able to make more of a game of this contest.

Most frustrating of all was the Steelers' inability to generate any significant pass rush against the Browns' patchwork offensive line -- a line against whom the Steelers managed five sacks in their previous meeting last month. Yes, the Browns went to a "max protect" approach, but the lack of pressure allowed Cleveland quarterback Derek Anderson to look like a seasoned veteran -- and a good one at that.

Of course, no game analysis is complete without calling-out Chris Gardocki. His net average Thursday night? 29.5 yards, and his longest kick was 35 yards. "Pathetic" doesn't even begin to describe that performance. Because of his role as place holder for Jeff Reed it is unlikely that he will be dropped during the season, but there is no reason that Mr. Gardocki should be the Steelers' punter in 2007.

The Ugly
I don't usually spend space discussing opponents, but Kellen Winslow Jr. is a punk, and his cheap shot/late hit on James Farrior should have resulted in an ejection. Of course, it is a measure of the player that he is seemingly incapable of such hits when play is actually underway.

Also ugly was the blocked field goal. The left side of the Steelers' offensive line -- at least on that single play -- caved in like a West Virginia coal mine.

It may not seem like much but the Steelers are 2-0 in December, and are 4-2 in their last six games. Given how far down the playoff ladder they are, it is still highly unlikely that the playoffs are in the team's future (the website Cool Standings calculates that there is a 0.2% chance of a Wild Card berth). However, no one should discount the value of a strong finish this season carrying over into the next. Barring a miracle, that's all we have left to hope for.

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Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Browns v. Steelers: Team Matchups

How much could change in a few weeks? Unfortunately for both of these teams, the answer is not much.

The Browns have improved slightly in their kickoff return average (moving from fourth in the league to third), but their red zone defense (i.e. as it relates to giving up touchdowns) has significantly worsened.

Meanwhile, the Steelers punt coverage has improved while their punter's net average continues to sink, reltive to other punters in the league; and the running game is an embarrasement.

Browns Offense v. Steelers Defense
Average total yards per game: Browns "O", 29th (267.5) v. Steelers "D", 11th (301.4)

Average net rushing yards per game: Browns "O", 30th (85.9) v. Steelers "D", 8th (100.3)

Average net passing yards per game: Browns "O", 24th (181.6), v. Steelers "D", 14th (201.1)

Third down conversions: Browns "O", 21st (35.8%) v. Steelers "D", 21st (40.8%)

Average points per game: Browns "O", 29th (16.75) v. Steelers "D", 20th (21.42)

Steelers Offense v. Browns Defense
Average total yards per game: Steelers "O", 7th (346.5) v. Browns "D", 21st (340.2)

Average net rushing yards per game: Steelers "O", 19th (105.0) v. Browns "D", 24th (132.7)

Average net passing yards per game: Steelers "O", 7th (241.5) v. Browns "D", 16th (207.5)

Third down conversions: Steelers "O", 10th (40.9%) v. Browns "D", 25th (42.4%)

Average points per game: Steelers "O", 11th (21.58) v. Browns "D", 23rd (21.17)

Special Teams
Average yardage per punt return: Browns 5th (11.4), Steelers 30th (6.3)
Average yardage allowed per punt return: Browns 10th (7.5), Steelers 4th (6.8)

Average yardage per kick return: Browns 3rd (25.1), Steelers 12th (23.0)
Average yardage allowed per kick return: Browns 20th (22.6), Steelers 25th (23.9)

Net yardage punting average: Browns 3rd (38.7), Steelers 18th (36.4)
Opponent net yardage punting average: Browns 14th (36.4), Steelers 30th (39.3)

Turnovers: Browns 30th (-11), Steelers 29th (-9)

Time of possession: Browns 15th (29:47), Steelers 17th (30:48)

Red Zone Touchdown Efficiency: Browns 18th (50.0%), Steelers 15th (51.2%)
Red Zone (Touchdowns) Defense: Browns 25th (58.8%), Steelers 12th (47.4%)


Monday, December 04, 2006

Tampa Bay v. Steelers: The Good, the Bad & the Ugly

A win is a win, and given all that the Steelers have been through this season we should all be grateful. But if a win can feel like a loss then the Steelers' offense saw to that.

But after the complete meltdown versus the Ravens it's good to get back on the winnning side of things.

Here's a quick look at just how the Steelers performed.

The Good
Obviously the best part of the Steelers on Sunday was their defense; and though they were up against a vastly inferior opponent, they did all that was necessary to win.

Certainly if any individual defenders are deserving of praise they are perennial team MVP James Farrior (3 tackles, 9 assists), Larry Foote (2 tackles, 4 assists, 1 interception), and Bryant McFadden (8 tackes, 1 assist, 1 interception). These three led the way as the Steelers dominated the Buccaneer's anemic offense.

Finally, in what has been less than his best season, it was wonderful to see Jeff Reed make a little history in Heinz Field with a reall live 50 yard field goal!

The Bad
What is given with one hand is taken away with the other -- the defensive unit, despite five sacks of Bruce Gradkowski -- has to be criticized for allowing 110 yards of rushing to the team that was 29th in the league in rushing, and averaging only 92.1 yards of rushing per game.

From the "dead horse" file . . . Chris Gardocki continues to perform horribly. His net average of 34.8 yards -- despite good coverage by his teammates (Tampa Bay had a total of 9 yards on four punt returns) -- was more than two yards below his season average coming into the game.

The Ugly
The offense.

All of it.

76 yards rushing?

ANOTHER interception?

When will it end?

Then there are the injuries to Ryan Clark (who has proven to be everything the Steelers could have hoped -- i.e. an adequate replacement for Chris Hope) -- and Cedric Wilson (who has been something of a disappointment this season). The list of the walking-wounded only deepens the pall that hangs over this team and its fans.

The remaining schedule is certain to be rocky, with none of the games appearing to be a "gimme" for the Black & Gold. With the short, short week there's no rest for the weary and battered Super Bowl champions.


Staley Cut, Reid to IR, Iwuoma & Mays Return

The following item is from the Pittsburgh Steelers official website; and while it may not seem like much, the signing of special teams demon Chidi Iwuoma is going to help the Steelers' struggling special teams:

"The Steelers made several roster moves today, including the release of veteran running back Duce Staley.

Staley, a 10-year veteran, was in his third season with the Steelers but had not been active on game day this season since Week 1. In two-plus seasons with the Steelers, Staley played in 16 games and made 11 starts, and rushed for 978 yards and two touchdowns on 230 carries (4.3 avg.). He also caught 12 passes for 89 yards (7.4 avg.).

Staley signed with the Steelers on March 12, 2004 as an unrestricted free agent from the Philadelphia Eagles. He enjoyed his best season with the team that year when he rushed for 830 yards and one touchdown on 192 carries (4.3 avg.). Staley has rushed for 5,785 yards and 24 touchdowns on 1,430 carries (4.0 avg.), and caught 287 passes for 2,587 yards (9.0 avg.) and 10 scores during his career. He was originally drafted by the Eagles in the third round (71st overall) of the 1997 NFL Draft out of South Carolina.

The Steelers also announced that rookie wide receiver Willie Reid has been placed on the team's reserve/injured list and will miss the remainder of the season. Reid, who was the team's third round draft choice in 2006 (95th overall), injured his foot Oct. 8 at San Diego in his only action of the season. Reid returned one kickoff for 19 yards and one punt for 11 yards this season.

The Steelers filled their open roster spots by signing veteran cornerback Chidi Iwuoma and wide receiver Lee Mays.

Iwuoma originally signed with the Steelers as a free agent in 2002 but was released Sept. 6 this year prior to the team's season opener. Iwuoma served as special teams co-captain for the Steelers in both 2004 and '05. He recorded 69 special teams' tackles in four seasons with the team after beginning his NFL career in 2001 with the Detroit Lions.

Mays was originally selected by the Steelers in the sixth round (202nd overall) of the 2002 NFL Draft. He spent training camp with the team in 2006 before being released on Sept. 2. Mays was also released in camp by the team in 2005, but was re-signed on Jan. 10, 2006, after wide receiver Quincy Morgan broke his leg in the Steelers' Wild Card playoff game at Cincinnati. Mays has caught 11 passes for 154 yards (14.0 avg.) and returned 36 kickoffs for 750 yards (20.8 avg.) during his career with the Steelers (2002-04)

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