Posted on: March 11, 2009 6:25 am

Quiet in the Land of Steel - Kind of, Sort of

There’s a reason the Cardinals have the nickname “Steelers West”.  Okay, not only is Whisenhunt taking the mentality he had as the Steelers OC (not to mention some of the former Steeler coaching staff) but he also has been slowly acquiring former Steeler players, most recently, cornerback Bryant McFadden.  It was no secret that Whisenhunt is looking at reshaping the Cardinals defense into a 3-4 defense and it was also no secret that he wanted McFadden, and he got them.

Of course, in the land of the black and gold, the city of Steel, the original Steelers, we’re watching them leave.  Well, not really.  Only two major losses through free agency.  Wide receiver Nate Washington and cornerback Bryant McFadden.  Can’t blame them for taking the money, both have two superbowl rings.  But for the most part, while other teams were trying to bring in players to help their chances, the Steelers were trying to shore up the contracts of the one’s they currently have.  

There were some quiet acquisitions, mostly to the practice squad.  Of course, with Washington’s leaving, it now opens up the opportunity for Dallas Baker to contend for the 3d receiver slot.  

Now with the majority of contracts being laid out and at least in negotiation stage, there is some movement inside the Steelers camp.  No, not signings, but at least interviews.  This week the Steelers will have interviewed former Buccaneers Wide Receiver Joey Galloway and Titans FA cornerback Chris Carr.  Of course the interesting of the two is Chris Carr.  

Two glaring and immediate needs for the Steelers lay with the offensive line and the return for Special Teams.  The acquisition of Chris Carr could become a viable weapon when it comes to punt and kick returns.  Of course, there is the added benefit of adding depth to the position at cornerback.   

Last season, special teams had improved immensely in it’s kickoff and punt return coverage, but was still glaringly weak when it came to actually returning the ball.  It was inconsistent at best and at worse, well, being ranked 29th  in the league for punt and kickoff returns kind of explains it all.  Should the Steelers acquire Carr, then this could possibly address the need in this area.

Of course, don’t look for the Steelers to use FA to build on their strengths, but more to address their immediate weaknesses.  The acquisition in FA last preseason of running back Mewelde Moore was to address a need that was glaringly apparent when Willie Parker went out for the season with a broken ankle in the St. Louis Rams game.  Moore proved to be invaluable in this past season when he became the starting running back when both Parker and rookie draft choice, Rashaad Mendenhall went out with injuries.  

Despite, the interview process, no matter how many come through the gates to talk to Steelers management, those of us who have followed the black and gold know that, as with every FA period, this one will be another without excitement or major splash. Is it time for the draft yet?


Posted on: February 3, 2009 6:00 am

The Year of the Six Pack

A day has passed and the dust has settled.  All that’s left now is the celebration and the memories, yes the memories.  As the Steelers now join the other 31 teams, their season is over.  No doubt there will be the parades and other events rejoicing in their obtaining the their 6th Lombardi Trophy and while plans are made, I reminisce.

It was called the “year of the six-pack”, the road to “Sixburgh”, a run to their sixth ring, the most in the history of the Super bowl era.  It was a season that started out with low expectations by some, progressed into a season quest to become try to be the best in all categories on defense.  It would be a season that would show the Steelers offense as vulnerable or mediocre.  It would be a season that showed an improved specials team coverage unit and a mediocre punt and kickoff return unit, yet they seemed to have improved a little from last season. 

Through the season the Steelers found ways to win, if not with their offense, then with their defense.  It would be rocky for the offense, often seeming to struggle without the run, struggle getting into the end zone, yet somehow be brought back in the clutch.  We would question Bruce Arians play calling and call for his head after a loss.  We would buy stock in Maalox for one of Mike Tomlins “faith” plays.  Sometimes they worked, sometimes they didn’t.  Through it all was one constant, a defense that was consistent.  No, they weren’t perfect, 12-4 would be their best, but it got them on the road to their final destination.

I’ll admit that I was cautiously confident going into Sundays game against the Arizona Cardinals.  Not only because of the defense, but also because of the offense.  There was a consensus that if needed, the Steelers offense would not be able to keep up.  No, I didn’t buy into the hype about Whisenhunt and LeBeau knowing each other.  Anything that Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt knew about the Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers offense had become inspiration for defensive coordinators around the league after last years matchup. 

Sunday’s game somehow was a replay of how the Steelers got to where they were.  We would see the defense on a big play, an interception, that first ever in Superbowl history returned for 100 yards.  The play, now dubbed the “Immaculate Interception”, will join the Steelers sports lore along side of the “Immaculate Reception”, the “Immaculate Deflection” and the “Immaculate Redemption”.  Linebacker James Harrison interception and runback for a touchdown, not only stopped the Cardinals from going up, or at least tying going into the half, but also put the Steelers up by two scores before going into the locker room. 

We know the results of the game, so there is no need to recap.  Once again, Roethlisberger had shown why the comparisons with John Elway when talking about clutch quarterbacks are valid arguments.  With driving the field for the come from behind touchdown in a Superbowl.  Bruce Arians had come out earlier on Sunday saying that the Steelers wide receivers deserved respect also.  Santonio Holmes proved that yes they did.

Make no mistake, any team in the Superbowl, deserved to be there, because they were the one’s in the NFC who actually got it done when it counted.  The Arizona Cardinals offense did it’s own spectacular come from behind and made the Steelers pass coverage look average.  Kurt Warner showed why he deserves to be in the Hall of Fame, despite not getting the ring, Larry Fitzgerald still is unstoppable and knowing Whisenhunt and company to build up that defense in the draft, I don’t foresee the Cardinals returning to oblivion.  What Whisenhunt and the Cardinals team have done in the two years there, has been the best story in the NFL this season. 

For now it’s the celebration of “Sixburgh”, tomorrow, it’s 0-0 again, and just one of 32 teams.  As a fan who has seen the Steelers in seven Superbowl, I cannot help but rejoice in the win, especially since the Steelers weren’t given much hope going into the season.

Congratulations to the Arizona Cardinals and their fans.  They’ve faced those who’ve doubted them and deserved to have played the game Sunday, because, despite their record, they beat who they were suppose to beat to get there, and came within a breath of winning the trophy.  Ken Whisenhunt and company went in to a team that seemed to have been perennial laughing stocks and within two years, had coached and motivated the players to get to where they’re at today. 

Thank you to CBS Sportsline for allowing me the privilege to be called the official Steelers team blogger.  Hopefully I have not done a disservice to the Steelers organization, the Steeler fans or CBS in my writing.

Posted on: January 30, 2009 6:20 am
Edited on: January 30, 2009 6:31 am

Superbowl Ponderings

Lot’s of rumors going around about the Steelers personnel lately.  Okay, only two.  First there was speculation that Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau would retire after SB XLIII and now Ben Roethlisberger’s x-rays show a rib injury? 

The rumor of LeBeau’s retirement may have many of the leagues offensive coordinators breathing a little bit easier, but it took me by surprise, since reports earlier in the season had it that the Steelers DC planned on returning next year.  The day after the rumor came out, the Pittsburgh Post Gazette and other media sources reported LeBeau telling his players he would return next year.  With LeBeau’s history and bond with his players, I don’t see LeBeau pulling a Herm Edwards.

Now with Ben’s ribs.  In today’s edition of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette , the rumors of Ben’s xray’s was squashed by Steelers headcoach Mike Tomlin and pretty much confirmed by Peter King who stated in his report that Ben looked sharp in practice.  Okay, with Ben not talking about the xrays, I know it could lead to a lot of speculation, but consider this…it’s a major HIPAA violation to release medical information about a person without their consent.  I’ll take Peter Kings word that Ben looks healthy.

I’ve heard a lot about the advantage that the Cardinals have against the Steelers because of the Whisenhunt and Grimm connection.  After two years, there is no longer a “special advantage” that no other coach facing the Steelers has.  Ben’s strength and weaknesses, as well as the strength and weaknesses of the offense is readily known via game tape. 

As far as Whisenhunt having practice against LeBeau’s defense while he was with the Steelers.  Okay, first of all, not this squad.  Chris Hoke is no longer on the team, and Dick LeBeau’s secondary was always suspect and didn't lead the league in passing defense.  Plus, ummm, didn’t Whisenhunt actually practice against the practice and scouting squads, whose job it was to imitate their opponents defense?  Just saying.

Okay, I know we say some silly things as fans as to why we believe the team we’re cheering for is going to win.  The silliest that I’ve seen is that the Steelers are going to win because “I got new clothes”.  Yep, my reasoning so far has been the silliest.  The second silliest would be “the Cardinals beat the Steelers last year and they’re not the same team”. 

Let’s talk about last years Cardinal/Steelers match up.  Last years match up had the Cardinals swapping out quarterbacks each quarter.  There were two turnovers, Ben had two touchdowns and Warner had one.  Let’s add the 77 yards to James who also had a touchdown.  Steelers controlled the time of possession by 5 minutes.  The difference, Steve Breaston’s punt return. 

No doubt that the Cardinals run through the playoffs are impressive.  Let’s keep something in mind though, the Cardinals had met two of their opponents, in regular season and lost to them.  One thing about Whisenhunt, he rarely loses to a team twice. 

On an off-season note, the Chiefs hadn’t hired a new headcoach yet, have they?  Wouldn’t it be great to see Russ Grimm finally get a team of his very own?

Speculate all you want about Hines Ward.  If he’s on the field and even if he’s not 100%, you don’t think he’ll be a factor?  Anytime Ward is on the field, you have to game plan for him. 

Some other things I’ve heard going into this game:

“They’re going to be hard to stop, they’re hot right now” .  They said this about the Chargers and the Ravens before they met the Steelers.  They also said this about the Colts before they met the Chargers in the playoffs.

“They’ve never seen an offense like this before” .  Ummm, okay.  Phillip Rivers had one of the best quarterback ratings in the league going into their games in Pittsburgh the first times.  Statistics would show that he had better numbers the second time, but let’s face it, Rivers ended up trying to come from behind in the last few minutes of the game and the defense backed off because, for the most part, the Steelers had the game.  Tony Romo and the Cowboys thought they’d show the Steelers defense another offense they hadn’t seen before.  Okay, I know, Romo became Romo again, but then, you have to allow the possibility that we’ll see the old Kurt Warner who doesn’t do well when his oline doesn’t get him enough time.  The Colts?  Well let’s give the Colts defense credit.  Due to interceptions, the Steelers gave Manning short fields and you don’t give Manning short fields.  Besides, Eric Kay in his blog showed some of the best that had “issues” against this Steelers total defense

“Kurt Warner is unstoppable” .  Ummm, okay.  Funny, how myopic we can be as fans.  Kurt Warner has been playing great in the post season, but if he’s truly unstoppable why were they 9-7 and not 13-3.  The funny thing is, the same people who are looking only at the playoff run for the Cardinals are looking at the regular season games for the Steelers offense.  Can’t have it both ways folks.  It’s either all or only the post season and if you want to use the post season…well Ben’s been perfect, with no interceptions, compared to Warners two.  Besides, look what happened to the last quarterback who went into the Superbowl unstoppable.

“The Eagles defense is just like the Steelers defense” .  Huh, how much football do you watch.  No doubt Jimmy Johnson’s defense is a very good, if not great defense, but to say they play the same type of defense is well, ummm, WRONG.  Sheesh, I’m a girl and even I know that the Eagles are a 4-3 and not a 3-4 and their blitzing schemes are different. 

On a final note to my ponderings, I’m debating as to whether or not to do an unbiased analysis of the game on Sunday (I really didn’t do one on the Ravens for fear of jinxing the Steelers).  As much as I respect the opponent that the Steelers are facing, any “love” that comes from me regarding the Cardinals will come after the game now, win or lose.  So feel free to jump me if you want for not showing your Cardinals love just yet.  Better yet, get your butts on a blog and write why you believe your Cardinals are going to win.

Posted on: January 29, 2009 10:27 am
Edited on: January 29, 2009 11:16 am

Don't Write off the Offense Just Yet

It started with a loaf of bread and an encounter with a fan in a Walmart parking lot.  Steelers left tackle Max Starks would tell you that a Steelers fan yelling at him in a Walmarts parking lot that he better “protect our quarterback” was the turning point for him.  Indeed the Steelers oline has received it’s share of criticism this season, and rightfully so.  Ed Bouchette from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette would point out that they’ve gotten better and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin would agree that they’re trying but doesn’t want to let up the heat on them yet.  Seems that the Steelers offensive line does better when it has something to prove. 

In the Cleveland game, after criticism that the Steelers have no running game, the offensive line celebrated after the use of the I-formation that allowed Willie Parker to run for 116 yards.  Willie Parker would follow up in the AFC divisional game with 146 yards against the San Diego Chargers.  You might want to argue though, what about Baltimore, and my response to that is “what about Baltimore?”.

But Roethlisberger was sacked 46 times, one taking him out of the game.  Yeah he was, but let’s keep things in perspective.  Last year was his career high sack of 47.  In 2006, with both center Jeff Hartings and guard Alan Faneca on the line, and Russ Grimm as coach, Ben was sacked a surprising number of 46 times.  Same as this year.  Difference between 06 and now, well night and day.  Then the Steelers finished 8 and 8, now they’re competing to be called this years best team in the NFL. 

After Starks was called out in the parking lot, the Steelers oline allowed only one sack on Roethlisberger in the Chargers play off game.  This is noteable because in the week 11 game against the Chargers at Heinz Field, the Chargers defense would register four sacks against the Steelers quarterback.  Okay before you say it, “what about Baltimore?”  Grant it, the Steelers gave up four sacks to the Ravens defense.  My suggestion, never use a Ravens/Steelers game as a barometer to determine how one or the other team will do against other teams in the league, trust me on this one. 

Of course the Steelers oline isn’t the only part of the offense that has been deemed either bad or mediocre.  Steelers have no run game right?  Actually not true, and in a way, I have to agree with Bruce Arians when he argued that they actually do, just not one that we’re use to.  Watching a replay of “Road to Glory” about the Steelers 05 run to the Superbowl, you’ll see a clip of former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis running over Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.  This is the running game that we’re use to from the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Sadly it wasn’t Jerome retiring that changed the face of the Steelers running game but the retirement of backfield and running back coach Dick Hoak.  Hoak had been a major component to the Steelers running game as a player and a coach.  Hoak would retire as a player and become a backfield coach in the early 70s.  Hoak would retire from the Steelers in 2007. 

Of course the face of the running game changed and not saying it was ineffective, after all, up until his injury in 2007, Willie Parker was on track to be the leagues leading rusher.  In the off-season the Steelers would pick up a power back in the draft in Rashard Mendenhall, and acquire Mewelde Moore from the Vikings in free agency.  Up until the Eagles game, Parker had two 100 plus games, against the Texans and the Browns.  Parker would go down with an injury in week 3 and the next week, the Steelers would lose their powerback for the season.  This left the Steelers management scrambling for replacements.  Enter Gary Russell and Najeh Davenport.  Davenport would have less of an impact then Russell and would later be released, to be signed by the Colts.  Although Moore would not excel in the running game, he was effective.  He ran for 99 yards against the Jaguars and 120 against the Bengals.  In the Giants game, he would come out as the top back of that game, with 84 yards.  But where Moore was more valuable was on the screens and receiving.  Although Russell wouldn’t be utilized until week 11, he turned out to be the answer for the 3d and short yardages, something the Steelers offense struggled at. 

Although it seemed like the running game was struggling through the regular season, a lot of that also had to do with the quality of defenses the Steelers were facing.  Facing Baltimore twice, the Eagles, Giants, Titans and Cowboys, all run stingy defenses, it just enhanced the “illusion” of no running game.  Of course, we were use to this not being a factor when the Steelers had the big backs.  Once completely healthy, Willie Parker and rushing offense clicked.  As mentioned before, the Steelers would have big running games going into the AFC Championship game.  The lack of a run game against the Ravens, in a way is immaterial since the Ravens have historically given the Steelers grief when it comes to running the ball. 

Compared to other offenses in the league, statistics wise, the Steelers total offense would look weak.  However, statistics don’t show the complete picture.  Against teams with “lesser” defenses, Steelers would move the ball and be able to score.  Against the tougher defenses, they found a way to win or at least tie the game.  The most classic would be against the Cowboys in December.  The Steelers offense drove the field twice to put themselves in scoring position to come back from behind.  Ben’s ability to comeback from behind during the regular season had several analysts comparing him to former Bronco’s quarterback John Elway. 

What seemed to hurt this offense more in the regular season was not lack of the running game but mental errors.  Dropped balls at crucial times, offensive penalties that would negate Steeler touchdowns or first down conversions, interceptions and turnovers. However, a lot of this had seemed to be addressed going into the playoffs, with the exception of some rookie mistakes by a young wide receiver, Roethlisberger has been error free, not giving up any interceptions and the Steelers offense has been a little more disciplined. 

A lot is being made of the Arizona Cardinals high powered offense and rightly so.  Going into the playoffs, a mixture of using the run and Warner’s ability to avoid pressure by releasing the ball early has made the Cardinals offense look unstoppable.  However, there is an idea that if the Steelers needed to rely on their offense to win the game, it would be impossible.  If Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians decides to get in a shoot out like he did against the Colts, then yes, it would be impossible. 

Where the Steelers offense does excel at is keeping the opposing teams defense off the field, but for this to be effective, Arians will have to call something other the run on 1st and 2nd and deep passes on 3d downs.  If Arians mixes it up, or allows Roethlisberger to determine the play based in coverage, then the Steelers do have a chance to repeat the same offensive performance they had against San Diego into the playoffs.  If he chooses to abandon the running game, then the Cardinals defense may have a day like they had against Carolina’s offense. 

Yes, I know that the Cardinals defense has stepped up, but taking away the running game isn’t guaranteed to stop the Steelers offense, especially since they’ve had to overcome that attempt all season long against some of the best defenses in the league.  Not taking anything away from the Cardinals performance on defense, but they didn’t exactly become the Ravens, Giants or Titans defense coming into the playoffs.  Where the Cardinals defense has excelled at is coverage in their secondary and the ability to intercept the ball.  Roethlisberger recently faced one of the best in Ed Reed and Reed went home empty handed. 

And yes, I know that Ken Whisenhunt has been practicing getting to Roethlisberger, and if the offensive play calling gets conservative and predictable, it will be a long day for the Steelers offense, however, when Roethlisberger is allowed to determine plays based on what he sees rather then what Arians sends in, he’s been much more efficient in getting plays off.  This was something they did not do against the Cardinals in their 07 meeting in Arizona.

A lot will be made about the Steelers defense and while the focus will be on the plays they make, I think in the end, an underrated Steelers offense may just step up and surprise everyone on Superbowl Sunday.

Posted on: January 25, 2009 6:41 am

A House Divided

Yesterday, my daughter, after seeing me wear my Pittsburgh Steelers sweatshirt, asked about the Superbowl.  Yes, I was excited, finally, my daughter showed an interest in football.  My excitement was short lived though, because shortly after that, she announced that she was pulling for the Cardinals to win. 

My daughters reasoning, “well, ya’ll already have a ring and the Cardinals don’t”.  In the words of the late Myron Cope, “yoi”.  So it’s not bad enough that I’m married to an Indianapolis Colts fan, but now my very flesh and blood, the baby that I endured swollen feet and acute indigestion for nine months, not to mention the hours of relentless pain giving birth to her, is pulling for the Steelers to lose to “Cinderella”.  Yeah, I tried to use the “birth” ploy to guilt her into changing her mind but she told me it wasn’t going to work.  Oh well.   At least my husband is pulling for the AFC team during the game. 

Funny the conversations that come up in this family during Superbowl runs.  I found myself repeating a lot of what I said to my husband in 2005.  After the Colts beat the Steelers in Indianapolis in 2005 during regular season, my husband told me that the Colts were going to win the Superbowl, which I replied, “not this year”.  So when my daughter told me the Cardinals were going to win, I found myself replying once again, “not this year”.  Of course, she wasn’t satisfied with that answer and had to press it.

Her:  But Mom, wouldn’t it be awesome if they (Cardinals) would finally win one?

Me:  Yes, and they can do it next year, this year it’s the Steelers year.

Her:  Why, they (Steelers) already have a ring.

Me:  Well, actually they (Steelers) have five rings, I’ll be gracious to other teams once the Steelers become the first to have six.

Her:  But how can you be sure that the Steelers will win?

Me:  Because I got new clothes.

Her:  Huh?

Me:  Well, the year the Steelers won, I had just bought a Bettis jersey.  Then your grandmother sent us those t-shirts for the Steelers Superbowl run. 

Her:  So

Me:  Well, this year, I picked up the AFC North Division Champions t-shirt, just received the Steelers hoodie that I have on and your grandmother is sending me a James Harrison t-shirt.  Every time that I start “collecting” clothes, the Steelers get the ring.

Her:  Ummm, okay…

Me:  Seriously, I just have this feeling.  Had it from the beginning of the year.

Her:  But the Cardinals are hot right now. 

Me:  Ummm, who’ve you been reading?

Her:  No one, just what I’ve heard.

Me:  Yeah, the Cardinals are hot right now…then again, so were the Colts, the Chargers, the Ravens, the Titans, the Falcons.  Only one “hot” team is now left and they didn’t get “hot” until the playoffs. 

Her:  Oh, the Steelers aren’t hot? 

Me:  No, they’re consistent.  They went 12-4 in the regular season.  Their offense is just starting to click in the last few games.

Her:  Oh.  But they say that the Cardinals Fitz…something or other can’t be stopped

Me:  Larry Fitzgerald, no, he’s probably the best wide receiver in the game, but the Steelers have covered the best before and effectively most of the time. 

Her:  Huh?

Me:  We’ve heard it all the time, the Steelers can’t cover T.O, can’t cover Chad Johnson, can’t cover T.J. Housh…you get what I mean.  They’ve managed to cover the best before.  Not that covering Fitzgerald is going to be easy but it’s not going to be impossible. 

Her:  Ummm, okay.  But the Cardinals are still going to win.

Me:  Maybe they will, but do you want to hear the football reasons as to why I don’t think they will?

Her:  Well, ummm, not really.  Just a good thing that I won’t be home to watch the game with you. 

Me:  Mmmmhmmm…by the way, next time I’m watching a Steelers game and you ask how “we’re doing”, just keep in mind you jumped on another teams bandwagon. 

Her:  Well you know that I don’t like football anyway.

Me:  So why are you pulling for the Cardinals?

Her:  Because you’re pulling for the Steelers.

*Sigh*.  You know, there are times when living alone looks like it would have it’s benefits.

Category: NFL
Posted on: September 5, 2008 6:18 am

2008-09 NFL Projections - NFC West

You are the weakest link.  Okay that tv show drove me nuts.  However, the NFC West, like the AFC West, is considered one of the weakest divisions in their conference.  Interestingly though the lower three are making progress.

NFC West

#4) – San Francisco 49’ers – Sorry, even though I think that having J.T. O’Sullivan is the best bet for this team, instead of Alex Smith (yes, I know Smith got a raw deal), I don’t see them adding enough just yet to advance up the division.

#3) – St. Louis Rams – An older Torry Holt, Marc Bulger is questionable at getting it done and well Stephen Jackson, okay so we’re not going to hold your hold out over your head, but I see them still a little weaker then the top two.

#2) – Arizona Cardinals – aka the Steelers West.  Honestly, if you doubt that bringing in Ken Wisenhunt and Russ Grimm wasn’t the best thing that could have happened to this team you need to have your head examined.  Cardinals are now developing a Russ Grimm oline.  Do you know what a Russ Grimm oline is?  Remember the oline from Pittsburgh that up till a few years ago was deemed as one of the best olines in the NFL?  That’s a Russ Grimm oline.  Now add J.J. Harrington, Hightower, a quarterback in Warner, when given enough time can be damn good and some star wide receivers.  I see this team taking a wild card slot.

#1) -  Seattle Seahawks – sadly I think this is the last year you’ll be seeing this team in the top of the division with the impending retirement of Mike Holgrem.  However, given it’s his last year, I see Matt Hasselbeck giving it his all.  Great defense,  Watch Justin Forsett, he’ll be the key to this team.

NFC West Division Champions – Seattle Seahawks
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com