Monday, March 30, 2009

Preseason Opponents Announced

The NFL has announced the preseason opponents for all teams, and some game dates.

The Steelers will host the Arizona Cardinals in their preseason opener on August 13. That game will be televised by ESPN.

The dates for the remaining preseason games that Pittsburgh will play remain to be set; however they will play at Washington (sometime between August 20 - August 24), then host Buffalo (sometime between August 27 - 31), and finish up the preseason at Carolina (most likely September 3).


Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Getting Draft Ready: The Complete Draft Order

With the awarding of 32 compensatory picks (more on that later) the order of the 2009 NFL Draft is now set. The Steelers will have picks 32 (first round), 64 (second round), 96 (third round), 132 (fourth round), 168 and 169 (final two choices of round five), 205 (end of round six), 226 (seventh round choice received from Tampa Bay in the Sean Mayhan trade), and 241 (seventh round).

For those of you who are working on your 256 pick mock draft here is the complete draft order for all teams:2009 NFL Draft Order


Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Competition Committee Update

According to a report from the Associate Press some of the proposed rule changes have been adopted:
"NFL owners have passed four player safety rules for next season. One of them is the elimination of blindside helmet-to-helmet blocks.

The changes came Tuesday at the NFL meetings in California.

The new rules state that the initial force of a blindside block can't be delivered by a helmet, forearm or shoulder to an opponent's head or neck. An illegal blindside block will bring a 15-yard penalty.

Initial contact to the head of a defenseless receiver also will draw a 15-yard penalty.

On kickoffs, no blocking wedge of more than two players will be allowed. Also, the kicking team can't have more than five players bunched together pursuing an onside kick."

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Competition Committee Proposals

Rich McKay met with the media a few days ago to outline proposals that will be forthcoming from the Competition Committee, and we thought you might be interested to see what is being discussed.
  1. Bunch formations on kickoffs: Since requiring kickoff teams to keep a minimum number of players on one side of the kickoff formation teams have moved increasingly to grouping players in a tight bunch inside the hash marks in an attempt to disguise what its intentions were. The proposal would require teams to line up in a more easily discernible formation.

  2. Reduce the number of players in the wedge: According to Mr. McKay some teams use three or four players in the wedge when returning kicks. Mr. McKay told the media that some teams do not use a wedge at all, therefore three or more players in that role "will [not] adversely affect kickoffs." We're not sure of the logic there, but that is what he said.

  3. The Hines Ward Rule: Technically this rule would ban blocking defenders in the head, but the hit by Hines Ward on Cincinnati Linebacker Keith Rivers seems to be the impetus for this proposal.

  4. No hits to the head of a receiver who has not yet received the ball: In this proposal no defender could hit a receiver in the "head area of the defenseless receiver" ~ i.e. a receiver who has not caught the ball. Mr. McKay indicated that a defender would not be permitted to "hit that receiver with your forearm or with your shoulder as that receiver has yet to catch the ball. In other words, have two feet on the ground with possession of the ball." This may be a result, in part, of Ryan Clark's wicked hit on Wes Welker last season.

  5. Expanded Instant Replay: Two specific types of plays would become reviewable ~ "an incomplete pass where there is a recovery of a fumble," which would allow the play to continue (i.e. the fumble recovery would play out) and then provide for a review/challenge, and "a loose ball being out of bounds when it's recovered on the field of play." Mr. McKay referred to "a couple of kick plays where the ball landed right by the sidelines" as the impetus for that change.

  6. No onside re-kicks: Currently the rule is that a foul on the kicking team during an onside kick does not result in a rekick. This proposal would extend that rule to the entirety of the game.

Changes that are adopted should be announced in the next day or two.

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Expanding the schedule

In a previous posting we speculated/hoped that the reconfiguration of the NFL's offseason would result in additional regular season games being added to the schedule.

Our wish is, apparently, going to come true.

According to a report from Judy Battista of the New York Times (who, we believe, has the press credential to the owner's meetings that would have otherwise been ours) the league is making plans to add "at least one regular-season game while reducing the preseason schedule." According to the report such a change would not occur any sooner than the 2011 season.

One can only wonder how the head coaches around the league will feel about such a change, and the players will surely want a piece of the enhancement to the league's revenue stream. As season ticket holders we would love such a change ~ paying a regular season price for an exhibition game has always seemed a bit exorbitant ~ and hope that it can be implented as quickly as practicable.

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Monday, March 23, 2009

It's a Good News - Bad News kind of thing

Word from the NFL is that LenDale White is going to be thrown to the wolves (i.e. Steelers fans) to open the 2009 regular season: "In a tradition that began in 2004, the Super Bowl champion annually hosts the NFL Thursday night season kickoff the following year. This September 10 at 8:30 PM ET on NBC, the Super Bowl XLIII champion Pittsburgh Steelers will host the AFC South champion Tennessee Titans, who had an NFL-best 13-3 record last season."

Like all Steelers fans we are looking forward to tormenting Mr. White for his Terrible Towel desecration during last season.

Not all the news from the league was good. Apparently the NFL has decided to allow DirecTV to keep its monopoly of the Sunday Ticket package ~ obviously all the rumors about the package becoming more widely available were incorrect, again. Here is the press release from the NFL, which includes information about enhancements to the package (emphasis added:
The National Football League announced today an agreement to extend DIRECTV’s rights to carry NFL Sunday Ticket. DIRECTV will continue to have exclusive television rights to air the package of Sunday afternoon games through the 2014 NFL season.

The agreement also significantly broadens the reach of NFL Sunday Ticket by enabling NFL fans that cannot receive DIRECTV satellite service to get NFL Sunday Ticket via broadband. This service will begin no later than 2012.

In addition, the NFL will offer fans (also no later than 2012) a new “Red Zone Channel” that shows crucial live action cut-ins of all Sunday afternoon games starting at 1 p.m. ET and continuing through the conclusion of the 4 p.m. ET games. The “Red Zone Channel” will be available to cable, telco and satellite systems, wireless devices, and the Internet.

“We are pleased to extend a partnership with DIRECTV that has complemented and supported our broadcast television packages for 15 years,” said NFL Commissioner ROGER GOODELL. “We are looking forward to having the Red Zone channel on cable and other media platforms as well as showing NFL Sunday Ticket via broadband to the homes that cannot get satellite. This new content enhances our tradition of being the most pro-consumer, widely available sport on television.”

“The NFL SUNDAY TICKET™ service has been a part of DIRECTV since our first year of operation and is one of the defining characteristics of our best-in- class positioning,” said Chase Carey, president and CEO of DIRECTV Group. “This latest extension allows us to retain and broaden our most popular sports subscription service. Through our wireless offering to NFL SUNDAY TICKET™ customers and the new broadband service to non-customers, we’re now able to expand the reach to even more NFL fans everywhere.”

Among the new features for fans are:
  • Red Zone Channel: subscribers who do not have DIRECTV will have access to the “Red Zone” channel through local cable systems or telco, satellite systems and Internet providers. This special channel has been part of NFL Sunday Ticket on DIRECTV the past four seasons and will continue for those subscribers. It provides live look-ins and real-time highlights from every Sunday afternoon game starting at 1 P.M. (ET) through the late afternoon games. The channel switches from game to game and airs live action when a team is in the Red Zone (inside the 20-yard line) and poised to score. A host also provides real-time scoring and fantasy updates.

  • NFL Sunday Ticket on Broadband: Fans who live in areas where DIRECTV’s service is not available, such as apartment buildings or in residences with poor sightlines to a satellite signal, will be able to purchase a new NFL Sunday Ticket broadband package.
DIRECTV customers who purchase NFL SUNDAY TICKET™ and the SuperFan™ package receive all Sunday afternoon games in HD; a Game Mix channel with up to eight games on one screen; the Red Zone Channel; the SUPERCAST™ service that streams every live NFL SUNDAY TICKET™ broadcast to laptop computers; and the NFL SUNDAY TICKET™ Mobile service that delivers up-to-the-minute highlights, and soon full-length games, to cell phones, pda’s and other wireless devices.
The current deal, which was set to expire following the 2010 season netted the league a reported $700,000,000 ~ details were not released on how much this new deal will bring to the league.

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Sunday, March 22, 2009

NFL Owner's Meetings: A Preview

We have to admit to a little disappointment. The NFL Owner's meetings are being held in Dana Point, California; and to say that the location of those meetings is close to home would be an understatement ~ indeed the hotel where the meetings are at is a stopping point for our weekend bike ride. But the league turned down our credential request (it is hard to blame them ~ you have seen this blog, do you think of us as "media"?), so we are relying on the usual suspects for our information ~ just like you.

The folks at Pro Football Weekly are predicting big changes including a shift in when the draft is held which in turn would alter the college all-star games (e.g. the Senior Bowl) and the Combine.

All of that is well-and-good, but what concerns those of us who love the game (both during the season and the off-season) is a desire amongst league leaders to "create a lengthy break from league business — allowing for ample downtime in May and June."

One can only hope that such a reconfiguration of the off-season would improve the potential for an additional game (or two) to the regular season ~ anything to breakup the monotony!


Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What a proud day

Perhaps we are making too much of this, but the announcement today that Steelers owner Dan Rooney has been chosen to be the U.S. ambassador to Ireland seems like a pretty big deal for the people of Pittsburgh, and Steelers fans everywhere.

As season ticket holders we are just wondering whether or not we could drop in on the Ambassador when/if we make it over to the Emerald Isle?

Happy St. Patrick's Day one and all!


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Light posting for a bit longer

The day job is unexpectedly heating up, and as a result it is a bit tougher than usual to keep the entertaining and illuminating postings rolling.

Things should be closer to normal next week ~ we did just receive the invoice for our 2009 regular season tickets (it looks as though there is no price hike in our level of seats, the first time that has happen in the five seasons we have had the tickets) ~ so hang in there for a little bit longer!


Friday, March 06, 2009

Kirby Wilson visits Sin City

We do not know if Steelers running back coach Kirby Wilson attended Ben Roethlisberger's recent birthday soiree in Las Vegas, but he reportedly was in town recently to attend UNLV's pro day ~ and apparently saw a tremendous performance Frank Summers.

Mr. Summers, a running back for the Rebels, suffered a knee injury in a game last season versus San Diego State; and perhaps as a result of that was not invited to the NFL Combine. According to an article in the Las Vegas Sun Mr. Summers put on quite a show running a 4.55 40-yard dash (which would have been eighth best at the Combine), a 34.5 inch vertical jump (outside of the top ten), and 30 repetitions in the bench press (225 pounds, would have been tied for first at the Combine).

According to the article one scout described Mr. Summers as "a junior Bus."

Late round pick? Undrafted free agent? Time will surely tell.

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Thursday, March 05, 2009

Is Bryant McFadden Returning to Pittsburgh?

In an article in today's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette Ed Bouchette discusses the relative lack of activity by the Steelers in the free agent market. But we are beginning to wonder if there are not some things in the works that could bubble to the surface in the next couple of weeks.

What piqued our interest is the NFL's official list of free agent signings; more accurately what piqued our interest is who is not on the list ~ Chris Kemoeatu. Like nearly everyone we were thrilled to hear of Mr. Kemoeatu's return to Pittsburgh however no such signing has been reported to the league office (as of 3/4/09). Indeed, the only official signing that has occurred in Pittsburgh is the re-signing of Sean McHugh which was reported on March 2.

As Mr. Bouchette points out in his article negotiations with James Harrison's agent are still ongoing, as are negotiations with the agent for Max Starks. The signing of more cap-friendly contracts by those two players, along with free agent signings in Arizona (i.e. Kurt Warner) and Detroit (i.e. cornerback Phillip Buchanon and running back Maurice Morris) ~ two teams that are perceived, along with the Steelers, as being most interested in Mr. McFadden's services ~ may be creating some downward pressure on Mr. McFadden's negotiating position. Stated as a question, is the market for Bryant McFadden breaking the Steelers' way?

Of course it could also be possible that more cap-friendly contracts for current players may be required in order to re-sign Mr. Kemoeatu ~ but we like Mr. McFadden and are trying to keep hope alive.


Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Season in Review: Third Down (2008)

We press on with our look at the performance of the Pittsburgh offense on a down-by-down basis with an examination of third down. As you may recall, the 2008 performance of the offense on downs one and two was pretty poor; so what did that mean, overall, for the offense?

As with previous downs we look at the mix of run-to-pass for 2008 in the historical context of the past nine seasons (i.e. 2000-2008, inclusive):
Rushing Plays, 3rd Down5673604864
Passing Plays, 3rd Down174162163179155
Total Off. Plays, 3rd Down230235223227219

Rushing Plays, 3rd Down66364930
Passing Plays, 3rd Down126181172194
Total Off. Plays, 3rd Down192217221224

Despite the poor performance in the early downs Pittsburgh's offense "only" faced the fourth highest number of third downs during this nine season period. Of course the most important thing about third down is whether or not the offense converted it into a first down. We look at that in two parts. First, a breakdown of the offensive plays by distance required for a first down/touchdown:

The numbers never lie ~ while the number of short-yardage plays was far from its highest level (i.e. 106 in 2004) there was a slight improvement over 2007. Of more interest is the fact that the four seasons in which the offense has had the fewest third-and-shorts have been the past four seasons. Clearly this past seasons's early down struggles were no anomaly. On the other hand the number of "third-and-who-are-we-kidding" plays (i.e. more than ten yards needed) was at its lowest point since 20003 (also 42), and was tied for the third lowest total of the past nine seasons.

With that in mind we now look at the all-important third down conversion rate. Here is how it looks for the past nine seasons:

A pretty unique "pattern" emerges, one that has involved a couple of two year trends (downward in 2001 and 2002, upward in 2006 and 2007) and some swings back-and-forth in-between. Coincidentally, in the four most recent seasons the two that saw the worst third down conversion rate were 2005 and 2008 ~ seasons that saw the Steelers win the Super Bowl.


Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Eben Britton speaks

University of Arizona offensive tackle Eben Britton has been mentioned as a possibility to the Steelers with their pick in the first round; so we read with particular interest an essay he wrote for for Sporting News Today.

Entitled "You have to do whatever it takes to protect your quarterback" (what it lacks in panache it makes up for with clarity), Mr. Britton speaks with great enthusiasm on his admiration for Kyle Turley ~ the former NFL offensive lineman best remembered for an incident while a member of the New Orleans Saints in which he tore the helmet off the head of a defensive player and threw it (i.e. the helmet) across the field.

Oh, and there is alleged incident when Mr. Turley was playing in St. Louis in which he may have threatened to kill then head coach of the Rams Mike Martz (an accusation denied by Mr. Turley).

In his essay Mr. Britton describes a "Turley moment" of his own from last season in which he and a defensive lineman squared off. I have no doubt that draft evaluators will highlight Mr. Britton's "nastiness" as being a possible asset (both Chris Kemoeatu and Willie Colon were described that way by some draft experts when they were coming into the league). However I have visions of a young player losing his cool in a big game at an inopportune moment and hurting the Steelers' cause.


Monday, March 02, 2009

Former Steeler Missing ~ Updates

Update #4: 3/2/09 12:00PM (PST)
The Coast Guard has released photographs of the rescue of Nick Schuyler. Here is one:

Update #3: 3/2/09 11:00AM (PST)
The St. Petersburg Times is reporting that one of the four missing men has been found alive, and is now at Tampa General Hospital.

Update #2: 3/1/09 5:30PM (PST)
Bay9 News in Tampa is reporting that the missing boat was owned by Marquis Cooper, not Corey Smith as was previously reported by the Associated Press, and "was about 50 miles out in the Gulf [of Mexico]." There is no indication in the Bay 9 report as to the source of that information.

Their report goes on to say that inclement weather is hindering the search.

Update #1: 3/1/09 3:00PM (PST)
The Coast Guard's District Seven is responsible for this rescue mission and have released a statement regarding the mission which reads in part:
Watchstanders at Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg, Fla., received a call at about 1: 30 a.m., Sunday, reporting that four friends, Victor "Marquis" Cooper, Nick Skyler, Corey Smith and William Bleakley did not return from their fishing trip as expected. The four boaters left at about 6:30 a.m., Saturday, from the Seminole Boat Ramp in Clearwater Pass, in a 21-foot center console boat.

A Coast Guard 47-foot motor-life boat crew from Station Sand Key, Fla., HH-60 Jayhawk helicopter and C-130 Hercules fixed-wing aircrews from Coast Guard Air Station Clearwater, and the Coast Guard Cutter Crocodile are searching a 750-square mile area west of Clearwater Pass for the missing boaters. An Urgent Mariner Information Broadcast (UMIB) is also being transmitted on marine VHF radio channel 16.

If anyone has any information regarding this case they are asked to call Coast Guard Sector St. Petersburg at or by marine VHF radio channel 16.

Here is a look at the area from which the four men departed:

View Larger Map

Original Post
Former Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Marquis Cooper, who may be best remembered in Pittsburgh for wearing jersey number 55 following the departure of Joey Porter in 2007, is reportedly missing at sea.

A report from the Associated Press indicates that Mr. Cooper and Corey Smith, a defensive end with the Detroit Lions, left Saturday morning aboard Mr. Smith's 21-foot boat on a fishing trip. The two were expected to return the same day but did not, and have not been heard from.

According to the same report the Coast Guard is searching a 750 square mile area for the two.

During two separate stints in Pittsburgh Mr. Cooper played in five games. Last season he played in eight games for the Oakland Raiders.