Saturday, February 28, 2009

Pro Days Schedule Announced

In the lead-up to the NFL draft a great deal of attention is paid to the Combine, and understandably so. However another part of the draft preparation for NFL teams is attendance at the so-called "Pro Days" for players in whom they have an interest. As described at "[t]hese are not as all-encompassing as the combine, but they are important enough for the key decision-makers in the league to travel around the country for more than a month to see the talent up close and personal."

The schedule for these workouts is available at, and some of the more interesting workouts include (in alphabetical order):
  • Alabama (March 11): Andre Smith ~ can he recover from his Combine debacle?

  • Arizona (March 14): Eben Britton, currently projected by more than a few as being of interest to the Steelers, will be looking to enhance his standing amongst the scouts.

  • Arkansas (March 10):Center Jonathan Luigs has been projected by some as a possible second round choice for Pittsburgh. He had a solid Combine performance (5.07 40-yard dash and a 31" vertical jump); but questions persist about his strength.

  • California (March 18): Alex Mack did not participate in drills at the Combine, and his pro day performance may mean the difference between going somewhere in the top 25 picks of the first round or falling to Pittsburgh at #32 ~ or beyond.

  • Connecticut (March 25): In the earliest mock drafts William Beatty was viewed as someone who could end up in Pittsburgh with the final choice of the first round. Mr. Beatty had a nice time in the 40-yard dash (5.03) but did not perform as well in the 20-yard shuttle or the bench press. Despite that, conjecture is that he is moving up most draft boards.

  • Iowa (March 23): Robert Bruggeman, an offensive lineman, was one of the top performers in the bench press at the Combine but did not participate in the 40-yard dash or any other running drills. Has been mentioned as a possible second round choice for the Steelers.

  • Oregon (March 12): Our favorite, Max Unger, looks to impress after a mediocre performance at the Combine.

  • Penn State (March 18): A.Q. Shipley was a top ten Combine performer in the bench press, vertical jump, three-cone drill, 20-yard shuttle, and was tied for fourteenth best in the 40-yard dash. We wonder what more he has to prove?

  • Richmond (March 19): Lawrence Sidbury Jr. was a monster at the Combine ~ performing in the top ten in the 40-yard dash, vertical jump, broad jump, and 20-yard shuttle ~ and his size (6'2", 266) leads us to believe that he could be the next young outside linebacker to join the Steelers. The scouts at Ourlads gave him good marks for his performance at the Senior Bowl while still suggesting that he must improve in both his play against the run and expanding his repertoire of pass rushing moves.

  • Texas Tech (March 12): Michael Crabtree ~ will he or won't he? Also, offensive lineman Louis Vasquez, who led all offensive linemen at the Combine with 39 repetitions in the bench press, will workout as well.

  • UCLA (March 31): Any self-respecting alumni of UCLA would highlight their pro day. Running back Kahlil Bell was a top performer at the Combine in the 3-cone drill, 20-yard shuttle, and 60-yard shuttle; but his 4.68 time in the 40-yard dash is likely to keep him off draft boards. However, he is a strong, muscular runner (5'11", 212 lbs.) who could make a career for himself as a fullback.

  • Vanderbilt (March 5): Cornerback D.J. Moore, mentioned by some as a possible first round selection for the Steelers, will try to improve on a fair Combine performance.

  • Wisconsin (March 4): Offensive lineman Kraig Urbik will try to convince Steelers scouts that he is worthy of a second round selection.
Dates and participants will be added to the Pro Day schedule as they become available (i.e. bookmark that page).

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Kemoeatu to the Jets: There are sources
and then there are sources

We knew better, but we cited an article that cited an article (indirect references ~ the bane of the serious researcher's existence), and a source that does not inspire great confidence at that.

Now comes word from the oracle, Ed Bouchette, that Chris Kemoeatu has re-signed with the Steelers, and that Sean McHugh has also re-signed.

We are sincerely, and sufficiently chastened.

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Kemoeatu to Jets?

Away from the computer, we are still in touch - we saw an item at Pro Football Weekly that definitely causes some concern:

"The New York Daily News is reporting that the Jets have made a contract offer to Steelers OG Chris Kemoeatu, whom they hope to move in at the ORG spot that has been vacated since the release of ex-starter Brandon Moore."

We are not exactly admirers of the original source (i.e. The Daily News), but that does not mean that this story has no merit.

Mr. Kemoeatu (along with Bryant McFadden) is one of those we are hoping to see back in Pittsburgh in 2009. Of course, the irony of seeing the New York Jets using two former Steelers at the offensive guard spots while being coached by the former defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens is almost too much to believe.


Happy New Year!

Today is the first day of the NFL's 2009 calendar, and the player movement ~ both in free agent signings, and other signings, and still more signings, and trades ~ has been hectic (so much so that a special free agent tracker is now required).

Word coming out of Pittsburgh is that Kendall Simmons is headed to Buffalo for a visit, while Sirius NFL Radio is reporting that Bryant McFadden is expected to drop in on the Lions, and Nate Washington is also expected to visit Detroit as well as Minnesota.

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Getting Draft Ready: The Mock Draft
Hit Parade

We love mock drafts.

Though there is clear and compelling evidence that once "experts" begin trying to speculate what will happen in the bottom half of any round (even the first) their accuracy degrades remarkably, we wait breathlessly to read their opinions and analysis. So we offer up links to seven of our favorite mock drafts (none of who believed Rashard Mendenhall would fall as far as he did, and all of whom projected the Steelers as selecting an offensive lineman in the first round) ~ enjoy:

Scott Wright's Draft Countdown: Mr. Wright's current mock draft (which has not been updated since before the NFL Combine) is a two round effort. He is projecting Oregon center Max Unger as the #32 choice and Jarron Gilbert, a defensive end from San Jose State University, at #64. Both players have been moving up draft boards since the combine, and we have seen some who are projecting Mr. Gilbert at #32.

NFL Draft Dog: Another two round effort, this one is in agreement with Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times with Eben Britton, an offensive tackle from Arizona, at #32. With their second round pick Draft Dog projects Wisconsin's Kraig Urbik as the Steelers' choice. The folks at Ourlads Scouting Services assessed Mr. Urbik's performance at the Senior Bowl thusly: "Good drive blocker and use of hands in the running game. Gave ground too quickly at times in pass protection. Physical player that projects outside as a right tackle."

FF Toolbox: This site offers multiple mock drafts from multiple writers. They currently have a two round mock draft up, with Alex Mack (Center, California) as the consensus first round pick. As for the second round the writer's are all over the map. One writer (Randall Weida) has the Steelers choosing Duke Robinson, an offensive guard from Oklahoma, at #64. Meanwhile another writer (Ricky Dimon) sees William Beatty, the offensive tackle from Connecticut, lasting until the end of the second round (we see that as being very unlikely). Asher Allen, a cornerback out of Georgia, is still another writer's choice (Raul Colon) ~ and an interesting choice. Finally, Jamon Meredith, offensive tackle from South Carolina, is the choice of two writers (Ben Standig and Joel Wesler).

NFL Draft Blitz: This mock draft offers up seven rounds of projections, but only the first round is available for free. In that round Eben Britton is projected as the Pittsburgh pick.

My NFL Draft: A one round mock draft, they are projecting Alex Mack as being available at the end of the first round.

Draft Daddy: Sometimes it is nice to see something different, and this one round mock draft is that. In this one Matthew Stafford and Mark Sanchez are hanging around until the second half of the first round (picks 19 and 20 respectively); and Alex Mack, Eben Britton, Max Unger,et al are not projected as first round choices. Instead the Steelers will select . . . D.J. Moore, a cornerback from Vanderbilt. According to FF Toolbox Mr. Moore ran a 4.58 40-yard dash (outside the top ten), and had a vertical jump of 39.5 inches (third best amongst cornerbacks).

Draft King: A one round draft that projects Duke Robinson, the offensive guard from Oklahoma, as the Steelers choice at #32.

The Football Expert: Like FF Toolbox, this site offers up multiple mock drafts. Players like Alex Mack, Duke Robinson, and Troy Kopog (an offensive tackle from Tulane about whom Ourlads said "More physical than athletic. Struggled with the speed of the edge pass rushers.") figure prominently in the Steelers' plans.

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Season in Review: Second Down (2008)

We wondered how Pittsburgh's poor first down performance in 2008 would impact subsequent downs.

And now we know.

Let's begin with a breakdown of rushing plays to passing plays:

Rushing Plays196182155151230
Passing Plays144173209186112
Total Off. Plays, 1st Down340355364337342

Rushing Plays178160174152
Passing Plays150177165185
Total Off. Plays, 1st Down328337339337

The median number of second down plays for the period 2000-2008 is 339, making 2008 about as average as average can be, at least in that respect. That fact makes the number of rushing plays called all the more alarming. Specifically, 152 rushing plays on second down is the second lowest total in the past nine seasons (only 2003, a season in which the Steelers went 6-10, was worse). Not surprisingly the number of pass plays called on second down in 2008 was the third highest of the past nine seasons, and the highest since 2003.

As mentioned earlier, the Pittsburgh offense performed poorly on first down but the question now is "how poorly?" To answer that we look at a breakdown of the second down plays by the distance required (i.e. for a first down or touchdown):

What the graph shows us is that the number of second down plays on which Pittsburgh required five yards or fewer was tied for the lowest number in the past nine seasons (88, tied with 2007). The number of plays requiring 6-10 yards was at its fourth highest during the past nine seasons.

Of even greater concern the number of second down plays on which more than ten yards was required reached a four year high and was at its fourth highest point of the past nine seasons. This fact can only mean that the number of first down plays in 2008 which resulted in lost yardage was amongst the highest of any season in the past nine.

Finally we look at how the Pittsburgh offense operated on second down, offering up a look at the average gain on second down and the difference between the average passing play and the average rushing play:

The notion that the Pittsburgh Steelers are a "run first" team is simply a fiction.

While second down passes averaged more than six yards (6.36) for only the second time in the past nine seasons, rushing plays had their second worst average (3.76 yards) over the same period (in 2003 the Steelers averaged 2.95 yards per second down rushing attempt).

First down performance was poor, forcing the Steelers to throw the football more often. However on those occasions when a rushing play was called the offense performed as poorly as at any time in recent memory.

We are afraid to examine third down ~ let's take the weekend to prepare ourselves.


Thursday, February 26, 2009

Farmer's Mock Draft

Living in Southern California we have witnessed first-hand the demolition of a world-class newspaper, the Los Angeles Times. But whatever else Sam Zell has wrought, he still has not offered NFL reporter Sam Farmer a buyout. We are glad for that, and happy to offer up Mr. Farmer's first mock draft of 2009.

Mr. Farmer believes that the Steelers should use pick #32 to acquire Eben Britton, an offensive tackle from Arizona. Mr. Britton is 6'6" tall, and weighs in at 309 pounds so he certainly fits the part. However, Pat Kirwan of (if you were able to watch Mr. Kirwan's live commentary, online, of the NFL Combine you know why we have so much respect for him) has Mr. Britton going to the Eagles at #21 in his mock draft.

The 2008 draft was marked by a first round run on offensive linemen, and there is no reason not to expect something similar to happen this year. As much as we would like to see someone like Mr. Britton available at #32 it seems unlikely that he will be wearing a Steelers' uniform in 2009.

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Season in Review: First Down (2008)

We are closing in on the conclusion of our "Season in Review" series for this season; and the evidence of that is that we now turn our attention to determine how Pittsburgh's offense performed by down (i.e. first, second, or third) and distance.

To begin with we look at just how many first down plays the Steelers' offense had in 2008 and what they did with those first down plays (i.e. did they run or pass?):

Rushing Plays247295273235292
Passing Plays182167214199147
Total Off. Plays, 1st Down429462487434439

Rushing Plays286252259253
Passing Plays142214168189
Total Off. Plays, 1st Down428466427442

What we see in the numbers is a renewed emphasis on passing the football in the early downs (a la 2006). The total number of first down plays in 2008 was the fourth highest of the past nine seasons, and the number of passing plays was also the fourth highest during this period.

However, despite having fifteen additional first down plays in 2008 as compared to 2007 the number of rushing plays declined. We can only guess as to the reason(s) for this trend, but the guess here is that the extraordinary number of sacks suffered by Pittsburgh quarterbacks must factor in to the play calling.

The other side of this particular coin is whether or not the Steelers are having success on first down ~ i.e. gaining good yardage. Anyone who watches the team closely already knows:

The first down rushing average in 2008 (3.56) was the worst in the past nine seasons, and the passing average (6.58) was third worst (in 2000 the Steelers' passing average on first down was 5.4 yards, and in 2001 in was 5.81).

Stated bluntly, on first down during the 2008 season the Steelers' offense stunk.

What impact this ineffectiveness had on successive downs we will see in the coming days.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Season in Review: The Return Units (2008)

As previously promised we now offer the second posting regarding the Steelers' special teams. Specifically we turn our attention to the kick and punt return units; and it should come as no surprise to anyone that the numbers for those two units are exceedingly poor.

For the kick return unit, their 20.3 average for each return of the 2008 regular season was the fourth lowest in the NFL (Baltimore averaged 20.1 yards per return, as did Green Bay, and Miami averaged 20.2 yards per return) and was the second lowest for a Super Bowl champion in the past nine seasons. Here is a ranking of the Super Bowl winners by kick return average for the seasons 2000-2008:

SeasonTeamKick Return Avg.
2002Tampa Bay24.1
2007N.Y. Giants23.9
2003New England23.8
2004New England23.3
2001New England20.1

If there is any consolation to be taken from this is that winning the Super Bowl does not appear to be directly tied to performance in kick returns. However, there is no arguing with the fact that every yard gained on a kick return is one fewer yard the offense needs. By that logic the Steelers are making things tough on their offense.

As for the punt return unit, for the sixth time in the past nine seasons Pittsburgh's punt return unit performed below the NFL average ~ though this season the disparity was minimal (i.e. 9.08 v. 9.05). Here is a graphical look:

As frustrating as the punt return team was in 2008 ("get up the field Santonio!") their performance was nearly three yards better than in 2007 (6.1. yards), and at least began approaching the excellent performance turned in by Antwaan Randle-El and his compatriots in 2005 (10.2 yards per return).

In the overall scheme of things the Pittsburgh special teams showed marked improvement in 2008, at least compared with the 2007 season. However, as with most aspects of football, there is still tremendous opportunity for improvement.

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Friday, February 20, 2009

Live from the Combine

In addition to the live coverage available through the NFL Network and, Doug Farrar of Football Outsiders is doing Twitter-esque updates for the Washington Post.

The information available at the Post site is terrific ~ succinct and informative ~ and right now there is a good look at the top offensive linemen available in the 2009 draft.

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The $123,000,000 Salary Cap

The NFL has released a Q&A fact sheet about free agency (e.g. what is a transition player, when does a player become an unrestricted free agent, etc.) which we thought we would share in its entirety. The final question regards the 2009 salary cap.

Q. When can players start being signed in the 2009 free agency signing period?
A. Beginning at 12:01 AM ET on Friday, February 27.

Q. What are the categories of free agency?
A. Players are either "restricted" or "unrestricted" free agents. Within the categories are also "transition" and "franchise" players.

Q. What is the time period for free agency signings this year?
A. For restricted free agents, from February 27 to April 17; for unrestricted free agents, from February 27 to July 22 (or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp, whichever is later); and for franchise players, from February 27 until the Tuesday after the 10th week of the season (November 17).

Q. What is the difference between a restricted free agent and an unrestricted free agent?
A. Players become restricted free agents when they complete three accrued seasons and their contract expires. Unrestricted free agents have completed four or more accrued seasons with an expired contract.

Q. What constitutes an "accrued season?"
A. Six or more regular-season games on a club's active/inactive, reserved-injured or "physically unable to perform" lists.

Q. Other than accrued seasons, what determines a restricted free agent?
A. He has received a "qualifying" offer (a salary level predetermined by the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the league and its players) from his old club. He can negotiate with any club through April 17. If the restricted free agent accepts an offer sheet from a new club, his old club can match the offer and retain him because it has the "right of first refusal." If the old club does not match the offer, it can possibly receive draft-choice compensation depending on the amount of its qualifying offer. If an offer sheet is not executed, the player’s rights revert exclusively to his old club after April 17.

Q. What determines an unrestricted free agent?
A. A player with four or more accrued seasons whose contract has expired. He is free to sign with any club, with no compensation owed to his old club, through July 22 (or the first scheduled day of the first NFL training camp, whichever is later). On July 23, his rights revert to his old club if it made a "tender" offer (110 percent of last year's salary) to him by June 1. His old club then has until the Tuesday after the 10th week of the season (November 17) to sign him. If he does not sign by November 17, he must sit out the season. If no tender is offered by June 1, the player can be signed by any club at any time throughout the season.

Q. What determines a transition player?
A. A club can designate one transition player (or one franchise player) in any given year. The player’s club must offer a minimum of the average of the top 10 salaries of last season at the player's position or 120 percent of the player's previous year's salary, whichever is greater. A transition player designation gives the club a first-refusal right to match within seven days an offer sheet given to the player by another club after his contract expires. If the club matches, it retains the player. If it does not match, it receives no compensation.

Q. What determines a franchise player?
A. A club can designate one franchise player (or one transition player) in any given year. The salary level offer by a player's club determines what type of franchise player he is. An "exclusive" franchise player -- not free to sign with another club -- is offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries at the player's position for the current year as of April 17, or 120 percent of the player's previous year's salary, or the average of the top five salaries at his position as of the end of last season -- whichever of the three is greater. If the player is offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries of last season at his position, or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, he becomes a “non-exclusive” franchise player and can negotiate with other clubs. His old club can match a new club's offer, or receive two first-round draft choices if it decides not to match.

Q. Can a club decide to withdraw its franchise or transition designations on a player? If so, can it then use them on other players?
A. A club can withdraw its franchise or transition designations and the player then automatically becomes an unrestricted free agent either immediately or when his contract expires. The club cannot name a new franchise or transition player that year. It can name a new franchise or transition player the next year.

Q. What is the salary cap for 2009?
A. The salary cap is $123 million per club.

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Thursday, February 19, 2009

Max Starks and the Franchise Tag

As most everyone knows by now the Steelers have designated Max Starks as a non-exclusive franchise player. According to a press release from the NFL
"[i]f the player is offered a minimum of the average of the top five salaries of last season at his position, or 120 percent of the player’s previous year’s salary, he becomes a “non-exclusive” franchise player and can negotiate with other clubs. His old club can match a new club’s offer, or receive two first-round draft choices if it decides not to match. The signing period for franchise players to sign with new clubs is February 27 until the Tuesday after the 10th week of the season (November 17)."
Unlike last season's move to slap a transition tag on Mr. Starks, we see this a prudent move (though it is hard to argue with how well the move worked out). For all intents-and-purposes Mr. Starks will remain in Pittsburgh (what team is going to give up two first round draft picks?).

According to the league there are no potential free agents who have received the exclusive franchise tag. Here is a list from the league of the franchise players:

ArizonaKarlos DansbyLB
AtlantaMichael KoenenP
BaltimoreTerrell SuggsLB
CarolinaJulius PeppersDE
CincinnatiShayne GrahamK
HoustonDunta RobinsonDB
New EnglandMatt CasselQB
New York GiantsBrandon JacobsRB
PittsburghMax StarksT
San DiegoDarren SprolesRB
St. LouisOshiomogho AtogweDB
SeattleLeroy HillLB
Tampa BayAntonio BryantWR
TennesseeBo ScaifeTE

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Season in Review: The Coverage Units (2008)

Now we turn our attention to the an area of play about which we care inordinately ~ Special teams. In the first of two installments we examine the effectiveness of the kick and punt coverage units, both in relation to the league overall as well as within the historical context of previous editions of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

We will begin with the kick coverage unit; and bolstered by the play of rookie Patrick Bailey, free agent acquisition Keyaron Fox, Pro Bowl caliber Special Teamer Anthony Madison, and a host of others the Steelers had the best season in the past nine seasons, and 3.5 yards better than the 2007 season. Here are the Steelers' kick coverage numbers for 2000-2008:



Whereas the Steelers' 2008 defense could not beat their 2001 predecessor in nearly any statistical category, this past season's kick coverage unit has set the standard for the decade with a dramatic, and rather unexpected improvement. With Keyaron Fox a free agent the question is whether or not Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert has the wherewithal to re-sign an impactful but one-dimensional player.

Of course all of this talk is beside the point if, despite improvement, the Steelers have underperformed against the league. Here is a look at that:

So there it is ~ after eight years of relatively average performance the Steelers' kick coverage unit had a breakthrough season. So, what do they do for an encore?

As for punt coverage, the news good if not quite so spectacularly so. Here are the Steelers' numbers for the past nine seasons:



The 2008 punt coverage unit had the third best season in the past nine; and last season was a significant improvement over the previous one. As for how the 2008 group compared to others in the NFL, here is that information:

The see-sawing from on season to the next continued in 2008; and the question now becomes whether the improvement of the past season will be in evidence in 2009. But you might wonder just how much better can the Steelers be in this area ~ after all they had the fourth best punt coverage in the league this past season. Well, Atlanta had the #1 punt coverage unit, which gave up an average of 2.5 yards per opposition punt return.

Clearly, there is still plenty of room for improvement.

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Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Season in Review: Passing Yards Allowed (2008)

Going in, we thought this one was a slum dunk. After all, the Steelers had the NFL's #1 pass defense; but once again we were surprised, at least a little bit, by what we found inside the numbers. As it turns out the 2008 pass defense was not as good as 2007's. Here is a look at how Steelers' defenses have performed (i.e. how many yards they have given up) over the past nine seasons:



Despite its #1 rating this past season the 2008 Steelers' pass defense was only second best amongst Steelers' defenses of the past nine seasons. However, on a more positive note the 2008 defense was the only defense in the league this past season to surrender fewer than 3,000 yards through the air. That is pretty amazing by itself, but what is even more shocking to us is that 2008 was the first time in the past nine seasons that only one team's defense surrendered fewer than 3,000 yards passing. Here is a graphical look at the trend league-wide over that period:

We are not sure what factors contributed to this low ~ changes in rules, improved passing attacks, declining defenses ~ but it certainly appears things are changing.

Finally, in the interest of completeness, here is a look at how the Steelers' pass defense has performed against the league average between 2000 and 2008 (inclusive):

While the rest of the league struggles the Pittsburgh defense continues to excel, which makes for a beautiful picture indeed!


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Charlie Batch goes back to school

Word from the NFL is that Steelers quarterback Charlie Batch has returned to school.

According to a league press release he is one of 95 players, active or retired, who has enrolled in the NFL Business Management and Entrepreneurial Program. The press release describes the program as "part of an ongoing NFL-NFLPA initiative to assist players in preparing for their post-playing careers."

Mr. Batch will be attending classes during the month of March at the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School of Business. According to the NFL "[t]he Wharton program focuses on a broad range of business topics, including financial analysis, entrepreneurship, real estate development, stock market investing, negotiation skills, risk management, and community reinvestment. Attendees work on directed as well as individual real estate, entrepreneurial and personal finance projects."

Hopefully someone will remind Mr. Batch that, if Byron Leftwich departs for an opportunity to start with another franchise, his services may still be needed in Pittsburgh next fall.


Monday, February 16, 2009

Season in Review: Net Rushing Yardage (2008)

We continue our look at the 2008 regular season with an assessment of the performance by the Pittsburgh defense against the run. In the simplest terms it did very well ~ performing much better than the average of all NFL defenses ~ as has been the case for most of the past nine seasons, bu was not only second best amongst Steelers' defenses during the 2000-2008 period but was also second best in the NFL this past season.

The least surprising aspect of the Steelers' defensive performance is that they were vastly superior to the NFL average in net rushing yards. Here is our graphical look:

Even in their worst season (i.e. 2003) the Steelers' run defense has been significantly better than average.

Only marginally more surprising is that the 2001 Steelers' defense outperformed the 2008 group, and that the 2004 unit was nearly as good.



The 154 yard improvement this past season compared to the 2007 season is certainly noteworthy, however the decline from 2000-to-2001 (498 yards) and 2003-to-2004 (442 yards) were far more significant.

Finally, the aspect of this that surprised us the most is that over the past three seasons the defense that has performed best against the run has been in . . . Minnesota?

In the 2005 season the Vikings surrendered 1,841 yards rushing. Then in the 2006 season a certain someone that all fans of the Steelers know took over as defensive coordinator, and net rushing yards allowed by the Vikings that season plummeted to 985 yards ~ the largest year-on-year decline by any team during the 2000-2008 time period. In the two seasons since that defensive coordinator made his way to Pittsburgh the Vikings have still been #1 against the rush but have not performed quite as well.

For fun, here is a comparison of the Steelers run defense versus the Steelers for the past three regular seasons:

Despite the fact that the Steelers' defense was worse against the run in 2007 than 2006 (something that we believe was directly related to the absence of Aaron Smith because of injury) the 2008 defense improved; and the job that the defensive coordinator did in Minnesota in 2006 gives us hope that more improvement lies ahead.


Friday, February 13, 2009

Season in Review: Yards allowed per catch (2008)

In our statistical analysis of the 2007 season we observed that the Steelers' defense had shown tremendous improvement in its pass defense, pointing out that the 4.9 yards they surrendered per pass last season was the second lowest such number given up by any time in the eight seasons we examined.

The 2008 Pittsburgh defense decided to do something truly special.

This past season the Steelers' defense surrendered an average of 4.3 yards ~ the lowest seasonal average of any team in the past nine NFL seasons. The next best average this season was Baltimore at 5.10 yards per pass; and the next best average during the past nine seasons was achieved by Tennessee (4.7 yards) during the 2000 season.

To put the achievement into its proper perspective, and because we love how easy it is to create graphs using modern software, here is a graphical look at both the NFL average and the Steelers' defense over the past nine seasons:

We have mentioned the 2001 Steelers' defense a number of times, and that one was superior in some ways to the 2008 defense. However it must be noted that only twice in the past nine seasons has the defense held opponents to less than five yards per pass, and that was the 2007 defense and the 2008 defense.


Thursday, February 12, 2009

Season in Review: Sacks (2008)

Everyone knows that the Steelers' defense had a terrific season during 2008, but just how great a season it was becomes more and more clear as we dive into the numbers. Today it is the total number of sacks by the defense and the improvement, year-on-year, is stunning.

Overall the Steelers were #2 in sacks (Dallas led the league with 59), and just looking at the number of sacks by the defense, year-by-year, the nature of just how special this season's defensive effort was jumps out:

After a slight setback (i.e. the 2007 season) the pass rush continued what had been a steady climb into the upper echelon of the league's defenses.

As if that wasn't there is this ~ the number of sacks increased dramatically despite the fact that the total number of passing plays by opponents fell from the previous season (2007: 536 pass attempts by opponents, 2008: 533 pass attempts). As a result the ratio of sacks per pass attempts more than two percent:

What we see both in the raw numbers and the percentage of sacks to pass attempts is that the Steelers are bucking the trend within the NFL ~ while the league average for sacks and the percentage of sacks to pass attempts falls the Steelers are improving; and in 2008 they improved dramatically.

Having said all of that we just have to wonder if, as fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers, did we fully appreciate how great that 2001 defense was?


Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Improving the offensive line

It is no secret that Steelers quarterbacks have been sacked at an alarming rate over the past few seasons, and given a decline in rushing yardage this past season it is difficult to not look at the offensive line as an area of the team that requires some improvement.

But just where that improvement will come from remains to be seen. As our friend and confidant Big Dan the 'Burgh Man pointed out to us the other day the collection of offensive linemen the Steelers currently have ~ and many of whom are free agents this offseason ~ is a very young group. How young? Glad you asked. Here they are listed by their age as of the opening night of the 2009 season:

PlayerAge as of September 10, 2009
Justin Hartwig30
Kendall Simmons30
Max Starks27
Trai Essex26
Chris Kemoeatu26
Willie Colon26
Darnell Stapleton23

The question that no doubt has been asked within the Steelers' offices, and is also being asked by fans, is whether or not this group has the potential for improvement; and if so how much improvement? Looking at it a different way, is Pittsburgh better off perusing a list of top free agents or by investing more money into this group of players?

While signing a free agent may seem sexier, and discussing the draft is more fun, the answer to the offensive line issue in Pittsburgh may lie in sticking with, and continuing the development of, this cast of characters.

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Season in Review: Points Allowed (2008)

We began our review of the 2008 season with a look at the points scored by the Steelers' offense (the short version: not many). We now shift our focus to the defense, and if any of you are surprised by what we found then you just were not paying attention this season.

The 2008 edition of the Steelers' defense grudgingly gave up 223 points ~ the second lowest total for a Pittsburgh defense in the past nine seasons (inclusive ~ the 2001 defense gave up 212 points, and that year the Steelers went 13-3), and the third lowest total by a Super Bowl champion during that same period (the 2000 Baltimore Ravens gave up 165 points, and the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers surrendered 196).

Interestingly the 2008 defense compares more favorably then the 2001 Steelers' defense when compared to the league average (i.e. the average points given up by defenses around the league). Here is a chart that highlights that fact:

The blue line represents the average NFL scoring defense for each season, the pink line represents the points allowed by the Steelers, and the yellow line represents the variance between the two. Since being just better than average in 2006 the scoring defense has improved in both of two most recent seasons. Indeed, it has improved to the point that the Steelers have now surrendered the fewest points over the past nine seasons. Here is a look at the top five scoring defenses, 2000-2008:

TeamPoints Allowed
Tampa Bay2,533
New England2,612

The only surprise here is how well Tampa Bay ranks, and it is testimony to how choosing a sample set can have a profound impact on the results. In three of the past five seasons the Bucs have surrendered 300 or more points (including 323 this past season), however in the four prior seasons (i.e. 2000-2003) they never surrendered more than 280 points in any one season. We do not want to say that anyone was living off their reputation but it seems clear that Tampa Bay's defense has seen better days.

As for the Steelers it is difficult to imagine that they could improve on their 2008 performance; however the 2001 group has set the bar (i.e. in terms of scoring defense) and until they surpass that group then improvement remains possible.


Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Season in Review: Passing Yards & the Mix

We have taken a look at rushing yards in 2008 (along with points scored and sacks allowed) and now it is time to examine the passing game; and what we found was that the total yardage gained by the Steelers' via the forward pass was far from being remarkable despite the drop in the running game.

As we have done in previous recaps we offer up the raw numbers for the seasons 2000-2008 (inclusive), and compare the production of the Steelers' passing game with the average of all the teams in the NFL:

NFL Avg.3,309.193,292.93,395.663,207.133,368.663,255.25

NFL Avg.3,277.003,248.813,380.53

So 2008 was only the fourth most prolific passing season in the last nine; and with the drop in rushing production this past season ~ to a point where the Steelers performed below the league average ~ as well as the drop in points scored by Pittsburgh, it will surely go down as one of the most mediocre offensive seasons on record (which makes the way the Steelers won Super Bowl XLIII all the more ironic).

To put an icing on this installment we offer a graphical look at rushing and passing production trends side-by-side, along with the NFL averages for both:

What we see quite clearly is that for the first time in the past nine seasons both the running and passing attacks performed below league average during the same season. All things considered the 2008 regular season was extremely tough for the Pittsburgh Steelers' offense.


Monday, February 09, 2009

Getting ready for 2009:
Regular season opener

In a blog posting of his own James Walker of has speculated that the Steelers may host the Baltimore Ravens in the Thursday, September 10, 2009 kickoff of the NFL regular season. Anything is possible, but such a matchup is far from a sure thing.

The current format (i.e. the Super Bowl champion opens the season on a Thursday evening) began in 2004 (according to a article) and here is how those previous opening nights have been scheduled:
  • 2004: Indianapolis v. New England
  • 2005: Oakland v. New England
  • 2006: Miami v. Pittsburgh
  • 2007: New Orleans v. Indianapolis
  • 2008: Washington v. New York Giants
This past season was the first time division rivals had met in the season opener. Three times a non-divisional conference opponent was scheduled, and once a non-conference opponent was scheduled. With that in mind it seems more probable that the league would go with the non-divisional, conference opponent ~ we think a San Diego v. Pittsburgh matchup would appeal to the folks at NBC. Of course, how many times would we see video of LenDale White desecrating a Terrible Towel if Tennessee opened their season in Pittsburgh on September 10th?

If the league chooses to go outside of the AFC, a Green Bay v. Pittsburgh matchup has a certain football traditionalists appeal, as would watching Adrian Peterson rush against the league's best defense (in 2008), with new quarterback Matt Cassell under center, as Minnesota makes their scheduled visit to Pittsburgh.

All of this is to say that television is going to have a prominent role in playing that opening game, and Baltimore v. Pittsburgh for the fourth time in less than a year may not have the same draw nationwide as it does to fans of those two teams. In one final note on this, since 1996 the Steelers have opened against the Ravens three times (1998 @ Baltimore, 2000 in Pittsburgh, 2003 in Pittsburgh).

Also, last year we calculated strength of schedule ourselves; and apparently intent on not being beaten by the news-breaking dynamo that is Pittsburgh Steelers Fanatic, ESPN has done it for us this year. Thank you!

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Roethlisberger played with broken ribs

Peter King is reporting in this week's "Monday Morning Quarterback" that Ben Roethlisberger played in Super Bowl XLIII "with at least two small rib fractures -- which didn't show up in an X-ray the week before the game but did when he got an MRI after returning to Pittsburgh."

Mr. King, after having re-watched the game this past weekend (including some praise for Mewelde Moore), breaks down the final drive in great detail, and has a few additional comments to make ~ ultimately we were glad to find out that we were not the only ones who watched the game again (and again) this past weekend.

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Mike Tomlin and Chuck Noll:
More alike than different?

This may be hard to believe but we have never read About three bricks shy of a load: A highly irregular lowdown on the year the Pittsburgh Steelers were super but missed the bowl written by Roy Blount Jr., and originally published in 1974. We actually were given a copy shortly after its paperback publication but never actually read it ~ perhaps the incredibly lengthy title or the stream of consciousness, droll treatment of the subject kept us from getting through it . . . we really cannot remember. Whatever the reason we never read it and now we are pretty glad that is the case.

A week ago we watched with rapt attention as Mike Tomlin met with the media to discuss his team's victory in Super Bowl XLIII, and made these (highly publicized) comments:
“[What] I’m going to sell to our football team is that we are not attempting to repeat. That special group of men in that locker room last night at the end of that game – that’s gone forever. There will be a new 53-man (roster). A lot of the faces will be the same, but nothing stays the same in this game. Few will come and go, those who remain, the roles will change. Some will ascend, some will descend. That’s the nature of today’s NFL . . . [w]e are going to roll up our sleeves at the appropriate time and start with a new group of men . . . and go about our business of trying to compete in ’09. You won’t hear me say words like repeat or defending because it will be brand new. This group will always be special to me, but sometime soon, that group will assume its place with others in history. It will be just that – history."
Blown away by the maturity and drive evidenced in that statement ~ we immediately scaled back our own celebration plans.

A few days later we picked up Mr. Blount's book (a first edition from a nearby library), and were struck by comments attributed to Chuck Noll concerning whether he celebrated the Steelers' first division championship in 1972:
"No not really. One thing I learned very early, you never have it made. You never relax, never rejoice very long. One thing I realized early in my football career, you play a game, it's a very emotional thing, you get all up for it, you work like hell, you get keyed up. Then when it's over, you take a shower and go out and sit down on the bus, and it's like someone stuck a pin in you. For me. For me, the doing is the pleasure, not the rejoicing therein. Once you get the goal, it's over" (64).
If we had read this book thirty years ago there would be no way that we would have remembered that passage, and there would be no way for us to realize that this new, young coach may just be more like the Steelers' old, new coach than we could have ever known.

For those of you who may not have read the book (or perhaps even heard of it before) click here to check for a copy at a library near you.

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Saturday, February 07, 2009

Joey Porter speaks

The National Football League Players' Association (NFLPA) has asked Joey Porter to write a "diary" of his experience at the Pro Bowl. We have only been able to find one page so far, so we are not sure if this is really a diary or not, but there was a passage we wanted to share:
"It was good to see the Steelers win the Super Bowl. I’ve got a lot of friends on the team. I was happy to see it. I have some people that I like on Arizona that I’m friends with on the team. Like I said, I’m really not mad either way but I was happy to see the Steelers get it. I talk to all of them. They’re still my guys, regardless."
One wonders if Mr. Porter will be so generous of spirit next season when the Steelers travel to Miami to take on the Dolphins?

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Getting draft ready: A look at William Beatty

The Yahoo! mock draft we alerted you to recently has the Steelers choosing William Beatty, an offensive tackle out of Connecticut.

Now the Sporting News Today has a brief assessment of Mr. Beatty's skills. According to this assessment Mr. Beatty is 6'6" tall and weighs 291 pounds ~ rather light for NFL competition. The author's of the profile go on to say that he demonstrates good footwork and quickness but is "unable to physically dominate [a] defender to drive him out of [a] play."

With the draft combine less than two weeks away it will be interesting to see if Mr. Beatty has been able to bulk up at all since the end of the Huskies' season; but we must admit that the Sporting News assessment has left us somewhat underwhelmed by Mr. Beatty.

However, Scott Wright at NFL Draft Countdown has come out with his first two round mock draft, and while he has the Steelers selecting Max Unger (our preference) at #32, he projects Mr. Beatty as going to the Detroit Lions at the thirty-third spot. So, at least for now, Mr. Beatty appears to be a realistic option for Pittsburgh at the end of round one.

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Getting Draft Ready: Mike Mayock
Rates the prospects

We really enjoy the work of the NFL Network's Mike Mayock ~ and not just because he was a 10th round draft pick of the Pittsbugh Steelers in 1987 (in all honesty, a pretty forgettable draft for the Steelers ~ their #1 pick that year was Keith Gary). He brings an insider's knowledge and expertise to player evaluation, and does not talk down to the audience. He really is someone from whom we learn a great deal. So when we found his college prospects rankings we took note.

Like most Steelers fans we are hoping that some quality offensive linemen will be available in the latter parts of each round. According to Mr. Mayock here are the best of the bunch:

  1. Max Unger (Oregon)
  2. Eric Wood (Louisville)
  3. Alex Mack (California)
  4. A.Q. Shipley (Penn State)
  5. Antoine Caldwell (Alabama)

Offensive Guards
  1. Andy Levitre (Oregon State)
  2. Duke Robinson (Oklahoma)
  3. Kraig Urbik (Wisconsin)
  4. Tyronne Green (Auburn)
  5. Herman Johnson (LSU)

Offensive Tackles
  1. Jason Smith (Baylor)
  2. Eugene Monroe (Virginia)
  3. Andre Smith (Alabama)
  4. Michael Oher (Mississippi)
  5. Eben Britton (Arizona)

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Friday, February 06, 2009

"James Harrison's Epic Run"

The title is from a photographic archive available, online and free, from Sports Illustrated.

The fifteen photographs of James Harrison's tide-turning play take us from the Steelers' end zone, down the field, and into the Cardinals' end zone ~ a beautiful jaunt for fans of the Black & Gold

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Steelers trying to upgrade return teams?

According to reports from north of the border the Steelers have plucked a player from the Canadian Football League in an effort to enhance the punt return and kick return units.

Reports are that the Steelers have, or will shortly, sign Stefan Logan who played last season with the Toronto Argonauts B.C. Lions. According to a brief item from Rotoworld, Mr. Logan (nicknamed "Joystick" ~ we're not sure we want to know) "was Canada's most exciting player, averaging a ridiculous 7.3 yards per carry in 2008." However, the understanding Mr. Logan has is that the Steelers are looking at him as a possible return man on kicks and/or punts.

Mr. Logan attended college at the University of South Dakota, and according to information on the official web site of the university, Mr. Logan was a finalist for the Harlon Hill trophy, emblematic of the Player of the Year in Division II (see a promotional brochure outlining Mr. Logan's accomplishments here).

Mr. Logan, who is from Miami, was signed as an undrafted free agent in 2007 by the Miami Dolphins but did not make the team.


Season in Review: Rushing Yards (2008)

One of our favorite articles from our friends at Football Outsiders states that a "good running game certainly contributes to the winning effort. But teams don't win because they run 30 times. Teams run the ball 30 times because they are protecting the lead on their way to a win."

The 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers are evidence of that.

For only the second time in the past nine seasons the Steelers' net rushing yardage for the season was below the league average; and the drop from last season was fairly precipitous. Here are what the numbers look like:

NFL Avg.1801.711,788.391,858.091,885.661,865.911,799.47
NFL Avg.1,876.971,774.691,855.47

For you visual learners out there, here is a graphical representation:

Some will argue that the injury to Willie Parker, and perhaps Rashard Mendenhall as well (certainly hopes were high for him during the preseason), negatively impacted the Steelers' ability to move the ball on the ground. However in the five games that Mr. Parker was inactive, Mewelde Moore rushed for a total of 373 yards on 88 carries (including a 13 yards on 8 carries effort versus Baltimore on 9/29/08) ~ a per rush average of 4.24 yards. This compares to Mr. Parker's 791 rushing yards on the season, on 210 carries ~ a 3.8 per rush average.

The depths to which the rushing attack has sunk is driven home when one realizes that, as a team, the yards gained per rush fell to 3.7 yards this season ~ only the second time it has been below 4.0 yards in the past nine seasons. This despite the fact that the Steelers rushed the ball only 460 times ~ the second lowest total in the past nine seasons. Here is how the number of rushing plays over the past nine seasons looks graphically:

Typically, we would expect an average to increase when the number of running plays decreases; so the question we have to ask is whether the Steelers have reduced the number of running plays they call because they do not run the ball well, or do they not run well because they do not call as many running plays?

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Thursday, February 05, 2009

Steelers re-sign center

Word has come out that the Steelers have re-signed center Doug Legursky. Mr. Legursky spent this past season, his first in the NFL, on the practice squad.

With so many free agents on the Steelers roster it is invariable that some will leave, and Mr. Legursky will have opportunities to prove himself.


Season in Review: Sacks Allowed (2008)

When does a team give up 49 sacks of their quarterbacks and call it an improvement? When they are the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Proving that the old saw that there are "lies, damned lies, and then there are statistics" is more true than nearly anyone realizes, the Steelers saw their raw number of sacks return to a high-water mark while the ratio between sacks and pass attempts improved.

Here is a look at the raw number of sacks over the last nine seasons (inclusive) versus the league average:

League Avg.39.8738.6136.7234.1337.3836.9436.3434.4432.38

Prior to the 2006 season the Steelers had surrendered 40 or more sacks in two seasons, both of which were utterly forgettable (in 2000 the Steelers had a record of 9-7, missing the playoffs, and in 2003 they were 6-10). Now they have done so in three consecutive seasons, have made the playoffs in the two most recent seasons, and have won a Super Bowl ~ clearly the team is evolving.

It is worth noting that the 49 sacks surrendered by the Steelers this season is the most given up in a season by the team that eventually won the Super Bowl. In fact only three Super Bowl champions have given up 40 or more sacks in their championship season (43 by Baltimore in 2000, 46 by New England in 2001, and 41 by Tampa Bay in 2002). During the 2005 season the Steelers gave up just 32 sacks.

So, you must be wondering, where is the good news? That comes when examining the total number of pass attempts this season by the Steelers versus the league average. Here is a look at the past nine seasons (2000-2008, inclusive):


After a big drop in the 2007 season pass attempts returned to a level reminiscent of Ken Whisenhunt's final season in Pittsburgh, with this season's pass attempts increasing by 12.65% over the previous season.

With all of that in mind, here is how it all looks graphically:

In this representation it is easy to see that the general trend league-wide over this period has been downward (i.e. the ratio of sacks to pass attempts has been falling). Meanwhile in Pittsburgh 2008 was the fifth season out of the last nine in which Steelers quarterbacks were sacked 9.00%, or more, of the time they dropped back to pass.

We suppose there is some comfort in knowing that the problem is not a new one; and that there was some slight improvement this past season. However, everyone involved (i.e. the quarterbacks, the wide receivers, the offensive line, the offensive line coach, and the offensive coordinator) all need to develop a plan for improving in this area.

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On this date . . .

February 5, 2006 the Steelers finally got their "one for the thumb," defeating the Seattle Seahawks 21-10 in Super Bowl XL. In the process they helped Jerome Bettis finish off his (hall of fame) career with his only Super Bowl championship. At the same time head coach Bill Cowher exorcised some demons by getting his first Super Bowl championship in his second appearance as head coach in the game.

The game featured a record setting performance by Willie Parker (longest touchdown run, 75 yards in Super Bowl history), gadget plays, and controversial calls by the officials (at least if you were rooting for the Seattle Seahawks).

For a more detailed look at the game the Wikipedia page is here. Meanwhile the NFL's recap of the game is here, and you can take a peek at the game ticket and the champion's ring here.

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Wednesday, February 04, 2009

Getting Draft Ready: A Yahoo! Two-Rounder

Like most fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers we are only beginning to come back down to earth. However we came across a Yahoo! Sports two-round mock draft, and decided to share.

In their scenario the Steelers will be choosing William Beatty, an offensive tackle from Connecticut at #32 and Eric Wood an offensive center/guard out of Louisville. To be honest we do not know much (yet) about either player, so Yahoo! may have it exactly correct. However, one issue we do have is that they project Oregon offensive center/guard/tackle Max Unger at #55 (to the New England Patriots).

We are going to be very honest here ~ we saw a lot of Max Unger this past college season, liked what we saw, love his versatility (we think he will be a guard in the NFL), and would like to see the Steelers find a way to get him into the Black & Gold.


Own a piece of history, own a piece of art,
help a worthy cause

We received an email alerting us to an eBay auction to benefit Habitat for Humanity. The question of course is what does that have to do with the Steelers?

It turns out that, using scraps of steel from the demolished Orange Bowl, artistic "representations" of all 32 NFL teams have been created and are being auctioned, with the proceeds going to Habitat for Humanity.

As we write this the bid for the Steelers item (pictured above) is at $910 (shipping is free). The highest bid for any item is by a Baltimore Ravens fan (the bid for that item is at $1,225), and that just seems unacceptable!

Bidding ends on Thursday, February 5, 2009.


Upon further review

In assessing the whole "ball as a prop" issue with Santonio Holmes' touchdown we posited that the officials simply had not seen what Mr. Holmes did and that is why no penalty was called.

Now Mike Pereira, the outgoing supervisor of officials for the NFL, is weighing in on that (and other) issues ~ including the Kurt Warner fumble at the end of the game ~ from Super Bowl XLIII in this interview on the NFL Network.

The bottom line: The referees did not see Santonio Holmes use the ball as a prop, and Kurt Warner did fumble the football.

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Free Agency Update

With the 2008 season nearly concluded (technically the Pro Bowl is the final game of the season), many fans are interested in what is happening on the free agent front.

The Sporting News has a free, email product called Sporting News Today which is a daily sports "newspaper," and it has quickly become one of our must reads. On Wednesday they published an annotated list of the available free agents, and we are happy to offer it to you here.

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Season in Review: Points Scored (2008)

With the season over, and the draft still more than two months away, we like to use this time to look back at the recently completed season. Specifically, we offer up a statistical look at how the Steelers performed in a raft of categories compared with the rest of the league. Over the next week or so we will post a chart and brief analysis of just how the Steelers really did.

We begin with points scored, and the news is not good. For only the third time in the past nine seasons the Steelers scored fewer points (347) than the NFL average (352.47) and 46 fewer points than during the 2007 season.

The biggest difference between this season and those other two (i.e. 2000 and 2003) is that this season the Steelers made the playoffs. Indeed the 2008 season was their best by far of those in which they scored beneath the league average (in 2000 they were 9-7, and in 2003 they were 6-10). Moreover the 2008 Steelers have the third lowest points scored total of Super Bowl champions during the last nine years (inclusive). Only the 2000 Baltimore Ravens (333 points) and the 2002 Tampa Bay Buccaneers (346 points) scored fewer.

Stay tuned throughout the next couple of weeks as we take an in-depth look at the offense and defense of the 2008 champions of the National Football League!


Tuesday, February 03, 2009

One random, quick thought

While reflecting on Super Bowl XLIII one wonders if it is not as significant for what we did not see as for what we did.

Specifically, after some pre-game talk about Arizona's trick plays we saw none.

Big plays, yes. Trick plays, not so much.

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The Sports Illustrated Cover

Sports Illustrated did not have to think too hard or too long about what image to place on their cover this week; and as usual the image is a winner (figuratively and literally).

The following is the text from a press release sent to us with the image:
This week’s issue – the cover of which features Santonio Holmes’ game-winning touchdown catch with the headline “Steelers… That’s Six for the Sixth” . . . hits newsstands tomorrow. In addition, a special commemorative issue recapping the Steelers’ 2008 championship season arrives at area retailers throughout western Pennsylvania on Thursday.
We have had a chance to read the feature article, and as one might expect it is grand! Here is the first couple of paragraphs, as if you required any motivation to get out and purchase a copy:
By midnight half the team was dressed in white Pittsburgh Steelers bathrobes, their fingerprints mucking up a sixth Vince Lombardi Trophy, their cigars burning smoky and sweet. After one of the greatest Super Bowls ever played, wide receiver Santonio Holmes wiped tears from his eyes, owner Dan Rooney pulled on a championship baseball cap and linebacker James Harrison asked if he could fall asleep right there on the locker room floor.

Among the quietest in the group was the quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, who slipped out of the room alone, his robe covering his civilian clothes, the ball with which he knelt to close out Pittsburgh’s heart-stopping 27–23 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII cradled in his left arm.

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There really is a great deal going on

There is a tendency for all who love the NFL to feel something of a let down following the Super Bowl ~ especially when the Steelers win that game ~ in the mistaken belief that there is no more football. In an effort to disabuse you all of that notion we share with you the NFL calender of events between now and next season (emphasis added).

February 8
AFC-NFC Pro Bowl, Honolulu, Hawaii (NBC).

February 18-24
NFL Scouting Combine, Indianapolis, Indiana.

February 19
Deadline for clubs to designate franchise and transition players.

February 26
Deadline for submission of qualifying offers by clubs to their restricted free agents whose contracts have expired and to whom they desire to retain a right of first refusal/compensation.

Deadline for clubs to submit offer of minimum salary to retain exclusive negotiating rights to their players with fewer than three seasons of free agency credit whose contracts have expired.

February 27
Veteran free agency signing period begins.

Trading period begins.

March 22-25
NFL Annual Meeting

April 17
Signing period ends for restricted free agents.

April 24
Deadline for old club to exercise right of first refusal to restricted free agents.

April 25-26
NFL Draft

June 1
Deadline for old clubs to send tender to unsigned unrestricted free agents to receive exclusive negotiating rights for rest of season if player is not signed by another club by July 22.

Deadline for old clubs to send tender to unsigned restricted free agents or to extend qualifying offer to retain exclusive negotiating rights.

June 15
Deadline for old clubs to withdraw original qualifying offer to unsigned restricted free agents and still retain exclusive negotiating rights by substituting tender of 110 percent of previous year’s salary.

Training camps open.

July 22
Signing period ends at 4:00 PM ET for unrestricted free agents who received June 1 tender.

August 9
Pro Football Hall of Fame Game [Bills v. Titans] Canton, Ohio.

August 13-17
First preseason weekend.

September 1
Roster cutdown to maximum of 75 players.

September 5
Roster cutdown to maximum of 53 players.

September 10-14
Kickoff 2009 Weekend.

Between the Combine, the NFL Draft, free agency alone there is plenty to keep our collective attention until training camp opens in July!

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