Sunday, August 31, 2008

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

The Steelers wrapped up their 2008 preseason with a win which improved their record this preseason to 3-1, and 8-2 in Mike Tomlin's first two seasons as head coach in Pittsburgh. Even more importantly were the roster cuts that were made this past Saturday. Here's a look back at the game and those roster decisions.

The Good
  1. With his fumbles in consecutive games Rashard Mendenhall came frighteningly close to be consigned to the "Ugly" portion of this posting, however his work in the second half which resulted in 11 caries for 54 yards ~ along with the decision by the coaching staff to keep him in the game ~ had even the most cynical Steelers fan believing that the team has finally come up with their Bettis replacement. And there is this note: Mr. Mendenhall was the third leading rusher in the NFL this preseason (54 carries, 222 yards).

  2. We are the first to admit that, leading into this game, we hadn't heard much about Roy Lewis as a member of the Steelers. However, living in Pac-10 country we are familiar with a player who had a solid college career at Washington. In the game against Carolina Mr. Lewis made the most of his opportunity ~ with two tackles and two passes defended he did enough to impress ~ and after our initial dismay at his release we were pleased to see that he had cleared waivers and been signed by the Steelers to the practice squad.

  3. Anthony Smith is best known for his outlandish guarantee prior to last season's game versus New England and the nightmarish results, but his play at strong safety, as opposed to free safety which is the position he played last season, has been impressive. The switch allows Mr. Smith to play closer to the line of scrimmage and deliver big hits which he did versus the Panthers ~ 3 tackles, 1 for a loss, 1 assist, 1 hit on the quarterback, and 1 pass defended. If he can play at at that level for an entire season he may make people forget all about Troy Polamalu.

  4. Darnell Stapleton outperformed Justin Hartwig, period. While the center cannot be given all the credit, the running game was more effective in the second half (108 yards versus 70 yards in the first half) and time of possession also improved (18:04 in the second half versus 14:34 iin the first). But more than that Mr. Stapleton showed better quickness, speed, and overall understanding of the offense. For one half of one game Mr. Stapleton was the better option at center.

  5. We're glad Mitch Berger was around to be signed. Though it is only the preseason he ranked third in the NFL in both gross punting average (46.3 yards) and net punting average (42.7 yards).

  6. As for the Steelers' placekicker, Jeff Reed was in mid-season form (he was #2 during the preseason in scoring by kickers), and we are looking forward to next Sunday's battle between Mr. Brown and Houston's kicker ~ the former Steelers player formerly known as Mr. Brown.
The Bad
  1. The Steelers pass defense was borderline ugly.

    We know Matt Moore is a former UCLA Bruin but, with the exception of Bryant McFadden's first quarter interception, it seemed as though more than a few of the starters were sleepwalking through the first fifteen minutes. Even worse of course is the fact that, after Mr. Moore's departure from the game (at the end of the third quarter), Brett Basanez (who had not previously played this preseason, and who has played in one game in his entire NFL career, had a 118.0 passer rating. Moreover, though he played just one quarter Mr. Basanez ended up with 106 yards passing and one touchdown. One can only wonder what the likes of Peyton Manning, Tony Romo, Philip Rivers, and Tom Brady are going to be able to accomplish in their respective games against this defense.

  2. When push came to shove we were surprised that Willie Reid was cut. He was the preseason leader in receptions (9) second in receiving yards (81), he led the team in kickoff returns (5) and kickoff return yards (110). The decision to keep Limas Sweed ~ who seemingly had more drops than receptions during the preseason ~ is an argument for a rookie salary cap. The only thing going for Mr. Sweed, beyond his raw physical ability (often referred to as "potential"), is the fact that the Steelers could not afford to take the salary cap hit that they would incur by cutting him.
The Ugly
  1. Someone tell John Fox that you do not play for the tie in preseason. Despite the obvious benefit that the Steelers derived from the situation (i.e. practice the two-minute offense, kicking under pressure) it was a ridiculous decision.

  2. This may seem a bit harsh, but we're wondering how much longer it will be ~ if ever ~ before Troy Polamalu returns to "form." We would never question Mr. Polamalu's work ethic but his effectiveness has declined steadily over the past couple seasons, and after missing most of the preseason one wonders if he is really the person to start at strong safety as the season begins ~ or if he is even physically able to perform as an adequate backup. We love Troy, but the Troy we fell in love with hasn't been seen in Pittsburgh since 2005.
For all the excitement and angst expressed here, and by everyone in the Steeler Nation, every member of the National Football League starts with a clean slate this week ~ are you ready for some football?

What a silly question.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Are the Steelers Getting
What They're Paying For?

We are firm believers in the notion that you get what you pay for ~ or at least you should. This notion led us to examine the salaries of the starters along the Steelers' offensive line relative to those of the other teams in the AFC North. Using the depth charts for each team (as listed on and compensation information available on the NFL Player's Association website we took a look at what kind of a bargain the Steelers have gotten themselves.


Chris Kemoeatu's compensation this season, compared with that of his counterparts in the division, may be additional explanation as to why Alan Faneca is no longer with the team. Additionally, with a $6,800,000 backup at left tackle (at least for this season) the Steelers can hardly afford to pay any more at that position; however given that the starting offensive front in Pittsburgh is still the second highest paid unit in the division expectations amongst all concerned should continue to be high.


Sunday, August 24, 2008

Steelers v. Vikings: The Good, the Bad & the (Really) Ugly

After watching the Steelers and Vikings muddle through their preseason tilt Saturday evening there is only one thing that need be said.


An an ugly game and an ugly win, here are a few observations for your consideration.

The Good
  1. Larry Foote wasn't seriously injured. After watching him go down and taking in the "dramatic" shots provided by CBS (not to get off on a rant here, but is there any commentator more hateable than Dan Dierdorf?) it was a huge relief to see him hop up and trot off the field. Injuries have been a big part of this preseason for the Steelers, fortunately this one wasn't something catastrophic.

  2. Rashard Mendenhall is going to make more than a few teams regret not selecting him while they had the chance. He showed great speed, and more importantly a terrific ability to run between the tackles. The stats (79 yards on 15 carries) do not adequately express the energy he infused into what was otherwise a moribund offense.

  3. Willie Reid's performance was encouraging and showed just how much this young man is capable of as a receiver. We've been pretty critical of Mr. Reid, and like nearly everyone we believe that this is a make-or-break preseason for him. Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians gave Mr. Reid ample opportunity to showcase his receiving skills (he ended up as the Steelers' leading receiver ~ 5 catches, 55 yards) and, though he was unable to elevate above defensive back Marcus McCauley on a jump ball play (third quarter, first-and-10) and was whistled for an illegal formation penalty, he acquitted himself well.

  4. Obviously the field goal team was terrific ~ and that is no small accomplishment considering that the battle for the punting position on the Steelers' roster between Mitch Berger and Paul Ernster may come down to which of those men works best with Jeff Reed and Greg Warren (though Mr. Berger did not punt at all Saturday night). Mr. Reed's 4-for-4 performance was the only bright spot in an otherwise miserable evening offensively.
The Bad

The starting offense was horrible ~ a shocking revelation we know, but it's true. A few pertinent facts to support this claim:
  • Minnesota's starting defensive front seven limited the Steelers' starting offense to a first half performance of 76 net yards on 33 plays (2.303 yards per play).

  • In the first half Willie Parker carried the ball 10 times for 18 yards.

  • The Steelers' starting offense was 1-for-7 on third down conversions.

  • In the passing game Ben Roethlisberger was hounded on nearly every play that required more than a three step drop.
Certainly the offensive line deserves its share of the blame, however when it comes to passing the ball Ben Roethlisberger needs to get rid of the ball more quickly. This has been a criticism of ours since Mr. Roethlisberger ascended to the starting QB position, and he just doesn't seem to understand that dumping the ball off is preferable to getting hit. Additionally, running backs need to be able to pass block and if Mewelde Moore is going to be the featured back in third-and-long situations he had better pass block more effectively than he did Saturday.

The Ugly
  1. Rashard Mendenhall achieves a rare "Good, Bad, Ugly" double dip. Two lost fumbles is a thousand too many.

  2. Limas Sweed improved his vision by heading over to the ophthalmologist and being fitted for contact lenses. Who does one go to in order to improve the gripping ability of one's hands? It got so bad that Byron Leftwich could be seen expressing his frustration to the rookie wide out.

  3. Who does Byron Leftwich think he is to be yelling at anyone? Out of the league until the Steelers rescued him from oblivion, from our perspective it seems as though he would do well to be a tad bit more encouraging ~ i.e. a team leader. While we understand that he is striving for a long-term place on the Steelers' roster, Mr. Leftwich should remember that it's only preseason and everyone is trying to improve.
It wasn't much to look at, but if we thought Saturday night's game was ugly just wait until this Thursday when the benches will be emptied against Carolina.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Preseason Begins: Injury Bug Bites Again

While on vacation in Florida we managed to keep apace of the developments iin the Steelers' first preseason game, and naturally the most important development was the injury to Charlie Batch.

The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Byron Leftwich is expected to be in Pittsburgh Sunday or Monday, and we have to wonder iif Brian St. Pierre -- currently third or fourth on the Arizona Cardinals' depth chart -- can be far behind.

We'll offer a more detailed look at the game, as well as Thursday night's matchup in Toronto versus Buffalo in a few days.


Saturday, August 02, 2008

Steelers News Wraparound

A few items from around the web:

In its online edition the St. Louis Post-Dispatch fills us in on what's happening with a fan favorite ~ fullback Dan Kreider. Go to the site for the article, stay for the picture of Mr. Kreider in Rams gear.

Bruce Davis, a fellow UCLA alumnus, has (depending upon whom you ask, and when you ask) looked athletic and lost. In this item from the Beaver County Times & Allegheny Times tells us that he is toning down his off-the-field act while also making friends.

The Register-Herald gives us the heads up that undrafted free agent Doug Legursky, who was signed immediately after the draft and then cut, is on his way back to the Steelers' camp.

According to F. Dale Lolley at the Washington Observer-Reporter the Steelers' offensive line was getting pushed around during the first week of camp.

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More Punter Information

A recent item in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette does not exactly inspire confidence in the current incumbent for the Steelers' punting job. Additionally, there have been reports that the team would prefer to find a punter who can also handle kickoffs and (of course) holding for extra points and field goals.

In our posting on potential replacements for Daniel Sepulveda one of the players highlighted was Zac Atterberry. After an email conversation with a person familiar with Mr. Atterberry's experience we can now also tell you that he has "4 years+ of holding for Field Goals" and also had occasion to kick field goals "from time to time" though his abilities in the area of kickoffs "need work."

According to this same person Mr. Atterberry is thoroughly enjoying Bears' training camp; however with two veterans solidly ensconced in both the punting and kicking positions (i.e. Brad Maynard and and Robbie Gould) there is a chance that Mr. Atterberry may be available once cutdown day rolls around (8/26/08). While the Steelers might well prefer to get someone to camp sooner to compete with Paul Ernster it seems that the punting situation may remain unsettled even as the regular season begins.

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