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Sunday, December 30, 2012

Post-Cleveland thoughts II

The Steelers have locked up the 17th pick in the draft with Sunday's 24-10 victory over Cleveland.

That's not a bad place to be, especially considering the success the Steelers have had selecting in the teens in recent years.

In 2010, they grabbed Maurkice Pouncey with the 18th pick in the draft. He's worked out OK.

In 2007, it was Lawrence Timmons taken with the 15th selection. He's become the team's best defensive player.

In 2004, they took Ben Roethlisberger 11th. Enough said.

Same goes for Troy Polamalu at 16 in 2003 - though they had to trade up to make that pick.

Add in Casey Hampton at 19 in 2001 and you have to go all the way back to Troy Edwards in 1999 - a Tom Donahoe/Bill Cowher pick - to find a selection in the teens that hasn't worked out.

@ Phil Taylor's blindside shot on Kelvin Beachum was as cheap as they come and deserved all of the ire it raised with the Steelers.

But was it that much worse than Doug Legursky diving at the knees of linebacker Craig Robertson earlier?

That kind of got the ball rolling in the cheap shot department in this game, though the Browns also submarined guys on a PAT, drawing a pair of unsportsmanlike penalties.

Maybe the heat will start coming back for the Cleveland-Pittsburgh series.

@ If that didn't do it, then Greg Little (!) catching a pass and staring down the Pittsburgh sideline like he has actually done something in the NFL might.

@ It won't so much be what the Steelers do in the first round of this year's draft that makes a difference as much as it is what they do in rounds 2 through 7.

I think everyone trusts Kevin Colbert and company to get a player who will help immediately in 2013 in the first round. History tells us that will happen.

But the Steelers need solid picks this year in the later rounds to help make up for a 2008 draft that is now a total washout.

At least it will be if Rashard Mendenhall leaves, as expected. At this point, only Mendenhall and Ryan Mundy, a sixth-round pick, remain on the Steelers roster.

@ The Steelers need to do what's necessary to keep Keenan Lewis, even with the late emergence of Cortez "Turnover" Allen.

You need three solid corners in this league and the trio of Ike Taylor, Lewis and Allen is outstanding.

Pair that with a healthy Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark next year, and you don't have to worry about the secondary.

Josh Victorian showed enough that he deserves to come back, and Curtis Brown was the team's best special teams player and might still develop into a solid corner.

As I said last week, I'd also teach Allen to play safety if they don't get a young stud to groom at that position.

@ The Steelers were without leading receiver Heath Miller, their receiving yardage leader, Mike Wallace, and had a pair of Dougs, Legursky and Malecki, playing guard with Ramon Foster at right tackle after Beachum and David DeCastro left with injuries in the first half.

Is it any wonder the offense was a bit limited?

@ The key to playing defense in the secondary in today's NFL is the ability to get turnovers.

With the way the rules now favor the offense, you don't necessarily need good cover guys as much as you need guys who can catch or force fumbles back there.

Allen has shown that he has the instincts to be a turnover guy. I think with a full year of starting under his belt, Lewis will be better at that in 2013 as well.

And, according to the other defensive backs, Brown has the best hands of any of the corners.

@ It's a shame Brett Keisel's season ended the way it did, but it gave Cam Heyward a chance to play. He was his typical feisty self and disruptive in the passing game.

The run defense, however, wasn't nearly as good after Keisel left.

@ If I'm putting this roster together for 2013, I try to find a way to keep Casey Hampton around - though maybe as the backup to Steve McLendon.

I also want Larry Foote back, at least as a locker room presence and insurance plan in case Sean Spence isn't ready to take over and I don't get someone in the draft.

But I also want Plaxico Burress back to help mentor my young receivers.

Jerricho Cotchery is a great guy and solid citizen, but he doesn't command the respect among his peers that Burress can. And Burress showed Sunday that with a whole offseason under his belt, he could be a factor in 2013.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Who I like Cleveland II

Not a lot to say about this one.

Cleveland's backfield will consist of second-year player Thaddeus Lewis, who will be making his first career start after being signed off the practice squad earlier this week, handing the ball to Montario Hardesty.

The Steelers haven't been swept by the Browns in a season since 1988 and Cleveland is unlikely to change that this time around with Lewis at QB.

There's no line on this game because Vegas doesn't like to lose money.

Take the Steelers to win., 24-7.

@ As things currently stand, the Steelers hold the 14th pick in the draft.

Even with a win over Cleveland, it's unlikely the Steelers would move down in the draft too far.

The Giants and Cowboys already have eight with. Miami, St. Louis and New Orleans are sitting with seven wins.

All have better strength of schedules than the Steelers. So there's a chance the Steelers could win and still have the 14th pick at the end of the day.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Wednesday news, notes

Steelers tight end Heath Miller will have surgery on Thursday to repair a torn ACL and MCL in his right knee. But he will do so knowing that he was voted to the Pro Bowl.

Miller was one of just two Steelers selected to the Pro Bowl on Wednesday.

The other was center Maurkice Pouncey, who will be making his third trip.

It's a second Pro Bowl for Miller, who obviously won't be playing in the game as he recovers from surgery.

Miller sounded optimistic today that he'll make a full recovery, though he would not commit to a timetable.

@ I was kind of surprised that not one defensive player from the Steelers was selected.

Ryan Clark is a favorite of fans and had a solid season, but since Baltimore's Ed Reed is still playing and the league selects only one free safety, he really had no chance - though he could wind up going if/when Reed decides not to.

But I thought inside linebacker Lawrence Timmons was certainly deserving. Instead, New England's Jerod Mayo and Kansas City's Derrick Johnson were chosen.

Timmons has been the best player on what is statistically the league's best defense. He leads the Steelers in interceptions and tackles and is tied for second in sacks.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Post-Cincinnati thoughts Part II

Well, that was disappointing.

Of all the things that have gone wrong for the Steelers this season - and it's been a myriad of issues - seeing Ben Roethlisberger implode in back-to-back games wasn't high on the worry list.

To be fair, Roethlisberger played a great game in Dallas a week ago before his gack in overtime cost the Steelers a win.

Against Cincinnati Sunday, he never looked like a quarterback who was in control of the game.

Sure, the Bengals did their best to take Heath Miller out of the game, but Roethlisberger was just off, forcing the ball to covered receivers and missing open ones.

The other thing to note here - for all of the Todd Haley bashers - Roethlisberger has thrown four interceptions in the past three games, all of his interceptions in the past two games came in the no-huddle, when he was calling the shots.

That's not on Haley, that's on the quarterback.

Roethlisberger had been highly successful early in the season running Haley's offense, which called for quick throws and check downs to the running backs.

But after coming back from his rib and shoulder injuries, it seemed like he was intent on doing things his way, scrambling around, making stuff happen, both good and bad.

That didn't work so well Sunday when the Bengals took his security blanket, Heath Miller, out of the game, first figuratively with double teams, later literally with a torn ACL and MCL.

Roethlisberger will have a whole offseason to digest what's happened here. And he'll have a whole offseason to digest Haley's offense once again.

Roethlisberger looks awfully silly right now for complaining about the playcalling last week and then going out and laying another egg.

@ Sure, Roethlisberger was under heavy pressure from the Bengals on Sunday, who took advantage of the inexperience on the right side of the Steelers' offensive line.

But the Bengals had four sacks - and had one was nullified by a defensive penalty. The Steelers had a season-high six sacks.

The Steelers also turned the Bengals over three times, with Keenan Lewis hobbled and Ike Taylor standing on the sideline.

Cortez Allen had a coming out game working on the outside, instead of the slot, picking off a pair of passes - and just missing a third - and forcing an A.J. Green fumble - yes, other team's receivers fumble too.

The Steelers now have three long, tall corners to work with. And if Allen can prove to be a playmaker when given more opportunity, they have to find a way for him to play more.

This team proved to be a couple of playmakers short of being a solid team this season.

Lawrence Timmons is one on the defensive side, but there weren't any others - though Troy Polamalu showed he still has it, for those who were doubting him.

The Steelers don't often dip into the veteran free agent market, but given the results this season, maybe it's time, especially if this team has to replace wide receiver Mike Wallace in the offseason.

@ Roethlisberger isn't the only one who should feel silly right now.

How about all the people who were saying the Steelers should cut Troy Polamalu in the offseason. Or that he should retire.

I've been saying for the past couple of weeks that Polamalu has been playing fine. The only issue was that his return coincided with the team losing Ike Taylor and then nearly every other corner on the roster getting banged up.

He was playing a lot of deep safety.

Sunday, Dick LeBeau changed things up and turned Polamalu loose in the Steelers' biggest game of the season.

The results were there for all to see. Polamalu still has it.

That doesn't mean that you don't have a better option at safety to back up both he and Ryan Clark - Cortez Allen anyone? - but Polamalu has earned the right to able to let the Steelers know when he's done, not the other way around.

And he's not done.

@ If you were going to put together a list of the biggest disappointments for the 2012 season, LaMarr Woodley would have to be at the top.

James Harrison had a reason for his slow start, and his play down the stretch has been solid, so much, in fact, that the Steelers have to consider bringing him back in 2013, contract allowing.

But Woodley hasn't been a factor rushing the passer at all this season and you have to wonder if his hamstring issues of 2011 have robbed him of his explosiveness.

If that's the case, the Steelers have some issues. Jason Worilds showed in limited playing time this season that he isn't the bust some thought he was, but he also might never be a star.

And the Steelers need their outside backers to be stars.

@ Keenan Lewis, hats off to you. That was a Jerome Bettis-like performance Lewis put forth Sunday, limping out of the huddle and then playing some solid cornerback.

Lewis has earned himself a lot of money this season - though he might be more valuable to the Steelers than another team due to his lack of interceptions.

I know that sounds crazy, but he's why: Lewis is just what the Steelers look for in their corners, long, strong and a solid tackler.

His speed is underrated, and as LeBeau said this week, the more he plays, the more confident he will get coming out of his breaks to get interceptions.

@ Ah, Shaun Suisham. Sorry for mushing you this week.

I wrote Saturday on this blog that Suisham was quietly having a Pro Bowl season. He then went out and missed 24 and 53-yard field goals.

Actually, the 24-yarder wasn't his fault. Usually reliable Greg Warren had a bad snap.

@ Brett Keisel said the officials told him he was penalized for doing his bow-and-arrow sack celebration because he was simulating a weapon.

That's insane. And if the league was going to crack down on that type of thing, perhaps somebody should have informed Keisel, who's done that same celebration since, oh, around 2005.

@ Rashard Mendenhall looked better than he has all season on Sunday, gaining 50 yards on 11 carries.

@ Just so you can start planning for next year, here's the Steelers' schedule for 2013:

Home: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Baltimore, Tennessee, Buffalo, Miami, Chicago and Detroit

Away: Cincinnati, Cleveland, Baltimore, Oakland (Again!), New England, N.Y. Jets, Green Bay and Minnesota (in London)

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Random thoughts

I keep on seeing people rip the Pittsburgh offense because it has broken 30 points just once this season.

But that's a lazy thought, in my opinion.

In fact, I've seen people using the Seattle Seahawks' recent points explosion as a way to rip the Pittsburgh offense. Look at how many of those Seattle points came off of turnovers.

Opponents have scored 101 points off of 27 Pittsburgh turnovers this season. The Steelers have scored 41 points off of their 13 forced turnovers.

Turnovers matter.

Add in the fact the Steelers have played three games with backup quarterbacks, and you have an offense that isn't being helped by its defense.

That has been my point with the Steelers the past two seasons. In their past 30 regular season games, the Steelers have forced 28 turnovers, less than one per game.

Yet when I've ripped this defense, which has played well in terms of yards allowed, some on this blog have ripped me. A big part of playing defense, however, is forcing an opponent into mistakes and taking advantage of them. And it never hurts to give your offense a short field or two per game.

The Steelers defense hasn't done that the past two seasons.

@ Shaun Suisham won't make the Pro Bowl because he's not a glamour name at kicker and he's not leading the league in points.

But Suisham should get consideration.

Suisham has made 15 consecutive field goals - tying his career high - and his only miss was an ill-advised 54-yard attempt in Tennessee.

When you consider Suisham does half of his work at Heinz Field, one of the toughest venues in the league for kickers, you realize what a good season he's had.

@ I've seen a number of stats bandied about by people looking for reasons why the Bengals will beat the Steelers Sunday.

One of the (many) laughable ones is this: The Bengals are 10-5 in road games started in the past two seasons by Andy Dalton.

That's all well and good, but three of those losses have come at Baltimore (2) and Pittsburgh (1).

The more important stat is that Dalton has thrown for just over 400 yards in three starts against the Steelers - or fewer yards than the 431 the Steelers rolled up in their 24-17 win at Cincinnati earlier this season when Dalton was 14 of  28 for 105 yards, one touchdown and one interception.

Does that mean the Bengals can't win? No.

But I have to see it before I believe it.

@ Was talking with somebody tonight at my son's championship game in the indoor 18-under baseball league - shameless plug - and they brought up that the Steelers miss Hines Ward.

I started to go into an explanation about how Ward couldn't play anymore, but then said, "You're right."

This team misses Ward's leadership in the wide receiver room. It was thought that Jerricho Cotchery could help replace that, but even though Cotchery is a quality vet and good leader, it's hard to follow someone who's No. 4 or 5 on the depth chart - especially when he's a guy who hasn't put up big seasons in the NFL.

That's no knock on Cotchery. But I think that's part of the reason the Steelers finally decided to sign Plaxico Burress.

Burress has put up 1,000-yard seasons and performed well on the game's biggest stage. You could see that there was an immediate respect with Burress among Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Who I like, Cincinnati version part II

I find it interesting that so many of the experts are picking the Cincinnati Bengals to beat the Steelers.

Looking back at the last meeting between these two teams in Cincinnati, the Steelers thoroughly dominated the game, outgaining the Bengals, 431-185, in total yards.

The Ravens pounded them 44-13 in Week 1. Yet when you call up ESPN's web site today, the headline reads "Cincy's standing up to AFC North bullies this season"


Sure, the Steelers are coming off back-to-back defeats and have lost four of five, but three of those games were played without quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Roethlisberger has played the past two weeks and though the Steelers have lost both of those games, it's just the second time since the 2007 season that the team has lost back-to-back games with Roethlisberger at quarterback.

Considering the kind of competitor Roethlisberger is - bordering on the ridiculous - and that he feels like he lost the game last weekend in Dallas, I expect him to come out more focused than ever on Sunday.

Roethlisberger is 14-4 against the Bengals, compared to counterpart Andy Dalton's 0-3 record versus the Steelers.

The mid-week knee injury to cornerback Keenan Lewis is concerning, but Lewis returned to practice on a limited basis Friday and is probable to play Sunday.

The Steelers will double wideout A.J. Green and force Dalton to throw the ball elsewhere. Considering Dalton didn't complete a pass to another wide receiver in Cincinnati's 34-13 win at Philadelphia last week - a game that was closer than the final score would indicate - it's a good theory.

The Steelers are favored by 3 1/2 points in this one and I think that Roethlisberger finds a way to get it done at home.

Take Pittsburgh, 26-21

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Thursday news, notes

Not only was DeMarcus Ware penalized for clubbing Ben Roethlisberger in the back of the head - a play  that drew a 15-yard penalty Sunday, but Dallas running back DeMarco Murray was fined for grabbing the facemask at the end of a run against Larry Foote - a play that was not penalized.

I thought Murray should have been penalized on the play since he both grabbed and held onto Foote's facemask, but you seldom see it called in the NFL, even though it is illegal for an offensive player to grasp an opponent's facemask.

@ Keenan Lewis sat out practice today after tweaking his knee Wednesday in practice. Lewis, however, still insists he's going to play on Sunday. Given the way he's moving about, that's starting to look questionable.

@ Todd Haley brushed off the whole rift with Ben Roethlisberger thing today. Again, people pursuing this as a story are the same people who have been waiting for a blowup all season.

It hasn't happened.

Do Roethlisberger and Haley always see eye to eye? Nope. But Roethlisberger has seldom seen eye to eye with his offensive coordinators.

There were instances even when Bruce Arians was here that the quarterback would question why the team didn't run more no huddle offense.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Wednesday news, notes

Ben Roethlisberger said today that he apologized to Todd Haley, Mike Tomlin and Art Rooney II for comments he made following Sunday's loss that were seen by some as ripping Haley's play calling.

As stated, I didn't necessarily see it that way - certainly not some of the comments, anyway - and Roethlisberger basically said he apologized for the firestorm that was caused, adding that he was frustrated with the way he played.

@ Keenan Lewis said there was nothing that was going to keep him from playing Sunday and that he would be following A.J. Green all over the field.

He then went out and twisted his knee in practice.

Lewis, who is dealing with a hip injury, said after practice that he is OK.

@ Mike Adams, Lewis and Emmanuel Sanders were limited in practice Wednesday.

@ Rashard Mendenhall wasn't exactly in a talkative mood after practice Wednesday. He wouldn't answer questions regarding his suspension directly, but did say that everything he does is well thought out.

So we can read from that Mendenhall's decision not to show up on game day against the Chargers was a well-thought-out response to being inactive for two straight games.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin met with the media Tuesday and only fielded about 15 questions about why Heath Miller didn't get the ball in the second half of Sunday's 27-24 overtime loss, and Ben Roethlisberger's misconstrued comments about the play calling.

Here are the facts: The Cowboys, who had been burned for six receptions for 85 yards and a score in the first half, rolled their coverages to Miller in the second half.

Roethlisberger, who has the OK to change plays at the line of scrimmage, did so on a number of occasions because that's what the defense dictated. He went 10 of 13 for 169 yards and a score in the second half.

Roethlisberger, whom Tomlin met with on Monday as he always does, was a little frustrated with the loss following this game, but he most certainly was not ripping the offensive coordinator, as some have tried to say.

It was a situation of some reporters trying to make something of a situation that wasn't there.

@ Tomlin had some good news on the injury front.

While he said Ike Taylor is out again this week - though he is out of the walking boot - Tomlin said Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen should be ready to play.

DeMarcus Van Dyke was placed on IR and the Steelers signed Justin King.

Also, rookie tackle Mike Adams will be back this week, though it's no given that he will automatically replace Kelvin Beachum, who has play well.

@ Tomlin also said that while Antonio Brown is a very good player, he's a very good young player and is still learning the game.

Tomlin said he felt Brown could have fielded a punt - at least for a fair catch - late in the game, instead of allowing it to bounce another 15 yards.

Tomlin has full confidence in Brown as his punt returner.

@ At this point, Tomlin said his running back rotation will remain the same, though he did leave the door open for Rashard Mendenhall to have a role.

Remember, Jonathan Dwyer had a 100-yard rushing game against Cincinnati the first time around.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Post-Cowboys thoughts

A lot is going to be made of a statement Ben Roethlisberger made following this 27-24 overtime loss.

After saying that he blamed himself for this loss, Roethlisberger said when asked why tight end Heath Miller wasn't a bigger part of the game plan in the second half, "I don't think we called the right plays to get him the ball."

Notice that Roethlisberger said WE. He didn't say the coaches. He didn't say the offensive coordinator. He said WE.

That is because Roethlisberger was probably as responsible for the playcalling in the second half as offensive coordinator Todd Haley.

Let's take a look at the second half.

The Steelers' first series was two Jonathan Dwyer runs and an incompletion to Dwyer in the flat on which Roethlisberger bounced the ball to Dwyer for what would have been at least a 10-yard gain.

On their second possession, they again ran three plays, but this time one of those plays was a 60-yard gain to Mike Wallace. No chance to throw to Miller there.

Their next series again ended with a touchdown, so did it matter that they threw no passes to Miller?

After that, it was pretty much Roethlisberger calling plays until the overtime period, when his first pass went to Miller.

So was Roethlisberger blaming Haley, himself or both?

Look for Roethlisberger to clarify that statement on Wednesday.

@ I thought there was a lot to like about this game for the Steelers. They went into Dallas - which owns one of the top passing attacks in the NFL to go along with a solid pass rush - and while the Cowboys had some success throwing the ball and rushing Roethlisberger, neither of those things was the deciding factor in this game.

@ While Roethlisberger blamed himself for this loss, so, too, did Antonio Brown.

Brown made three critical errors in this game.

The fumbled punt was the biggest one, as it completely changed the momentum.

But he also failed to field a punt with less than two minutes remaining that cost the Steelers at least 15 yards in field position, then ran out of bounds on third-and-26, rather than staying in bounds and forcing Dallas to use another timeout.

Neither of those last two miscues cost the Steelers this game, but both could have easily been the difference.

@ Will the people calling for Mike Tomlin's head just chill out? He's not going to be fired, nor should he be fired.

This team has dealt with a number of crippling injuries, such as the aforementioned ones heading into this game.

And yet if they win their final two games, they will be in the playoffs. In fact, there's a good chance that if they win their final two games, they could win the division.

Here's how: If the Steelers finish in a three-way tie with Baltimore and Cincinnati at 9-7, they win the AFC North based on a better head-to-head record, 3-1, against those teams.

Sure, the Steelers have struggled of late, but it's nothing getting some players back healthy wouldn't fix.

Mike Adams should be back to play right tackle this week, and the running game could certainly use his presence.

There's also a chance that Ike Taylor could be back as well - though I'd put that at around 50-50 right now.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Who I like, Dallas version

This might be the toughest Steelers game to pick all season - not that I've exactly been nailing it with this team this season.

The line has moved all over on this game, which means Las Vegas has struggled with it as well.

The Steelers and Cowboys have had almost identical up-and-down seasons.

Both teams play good defense and have the potential for explosiveness on offense, but have been inconsistent.

The biggest differences are that Dallas is better rushing the passer, while the Steelers are better at quarterback.

Both teams are also banged up - Dallas up the middle of its defense, the Steelers at cornerback and on the offensive line (the Cowboys' line has been bad all season).

And both teams are 7-6 and fighting for a playoff spot - though the Cowboys certainly need this game more than the Steelers.

A loss by the Cowboys would pretty much end their playoff hopes. It's doubtful anyone is making the playoffs in the NFC at 9-7.

While the Steelers can lose to the Cowboys, win their final two games - both at home - and reach the postseason. They don't necessarily want to take that route, but it's certainly possible.

The Steelers are 1-point favorites in this game in this game, but with their offensive line injuries - and more importantly, secondary issues - I see the Cowboys pulling this one out.

Take Dallas, 26-23.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Wednesday news, notes

Offensive tackle Mike Adams (ankle), corners Ike Taylor (ankle), Cortez Allen (groin) and Keenan Lewis (hip), guard Willie Colon (knee), linebacker James Harrison (illness), safety Troy Polamalu (vet day off) and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders (shoulder) did not practice for the Steelers today.

The Allen injury was originally described as a hip flexor by Mike Tomlin on Tuesday, but is actually a groin, which explains why he is more questionable to play than Lewis.

Linebacker LaMarr Woodley, who has missed the past two games with an ankle injury, returned to full participation today.

@ The Steelers players aren't talking about the Rashard Mendenhall suspension - on Tomlin's orders - but swear that it won't be a distraction.

Safety Ryan Clark, one of the team's player reps, said it is written into the CBA that teams can fine inactive players for not showing up on game days, though Clark admitted he didn't read the entire CBA - because he didn't agree with it - until Mendenhall's situation arose.

@ Rookie offensive lineman David DeCastro is excited about an opportunity to finally player get a shot to play, while guard Ramon Foster feels it will be a positive thing for him moving forward to show that he can not only play well on the right side, but left side as well.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Breaking New Tuesday

The Steelers have suspended running back Rashard Mendenhall for one game for conduct detrimental to the team after he failed to show up for last Sunday's 34-24 loss to San Diego after being told he would not be active.

Though Mendenhall's future with the Steelers was highly in doubt, there was a chance the team might re-sign him as a free agent following this season if he didn't draw a lot of interest elsewhere.

That is likely out the window.

The Steelers activated running back Baron Batch from their practice squad to fill Mendenhall's roster spot this week.

@ Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin said that guard Willie Colon had surgery Monday to repair his injured left knee.

The Steelers have not yet placed Colon on the disabled list. They are waiting for the swelling to go down in order to see the severity of the injury and length of recovery time.

As expected, with Colon out, the Steelers are going to take a look at moving Ramon Foster to left guard and inserting rookie David DeCastro at right guard.

DeCastro wasn't quite ready a couple of weeks ago when he was activated from injured reserve, but has built up some strength in his knee, which he injured in the team's third preseason game.

@ Colon's injury wasn't the only big one announced by Tomlin Tuesday.

Corner Cortez Allen, who started in place of Ike Taylor last week, has a hip flexor injury, as does fellow starter Keenan Lewis.

Allen's injury is more serious than the one to Lewis, though both will be limited in practice early in the week.

Lewis is expected to play Sunday, while the Steelers are unsure about Allen.

That could leave Curtis Brown, Josh Victorian and DeMarcus Van Dyke playing bigger roles in Dallas this weekend.

@ I spoke with Taylor after Sundays loss to San Diego. He's planning on trying to come back against Cincinnati, but that might be pushing things.

@ Tomlin said he has no plans to change the running back rotation, meaning Rashard Mendenhall will continue to be inactive.

Monday, December 10, 2012

What Colon injury means

With Willie Colon likely headed to injured reserve with yet another injury, the Steelers have to ask themselves some serious questions moving forward about the offensive lineman.

Colon will cost $6.45 million against the Steelers' salary cap in 2013, so the easy answer would be to cut him, re-sign impending free agent Ramon Foster, who has done a good job at right guard, and move forward with Foster and David DeCastro as the starting guards.

But that might not work.

Cutting Colon would save the Steelers just $1.2 million in cap space in 2013, money that could be used to re-sign Foster. But considering the awful state of offensive lines around the league and the other free agents the Steelers will want to bring back - Keenan Lewis and their restricted players - that won't be enough.

Then again, if the Steelers decide to slide Foster over to left guard and insert DeCastro down the stretch with Colon out, and that duo performs well, it could change plans.

But for now, plan on having Colon as part of this team in 2013.

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Post San Diego thoughts

I saw a Steelers team Sunday that seemed relieved that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was back.

So relieved, in fact, that it came into a game against the San Diego Chargers thinking it could just rely on Roethlisberger to get the job done.

The Steelers talked about being backup quarterback friendly in the games in which Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch started when Roethlisberger was out.

But they did very little to help Roethlisberger out in the first 40 minutes Sunday, dropping passes, failing to open holes in the running game, and doing little with the running lanes that were there.

The defense didn't help much either, seemingly allowing the Chargers to drive to at least midfield even when they didn't score, to pin the offense deep in their own territory.

The Steelers' starting position in the first half was their own 20, 8, 21, 9, 7, 11, 38 and 10.

 Now, certainly, the Steelers could have helped themselves with a couple of first downs, but offensive coordinators tend to get a little conservative with their play calling in when starting inside their own 11 five times.

We saw why in the third quarter, when Roethlisberger threw a WR screen at his own 8 that bounced off of David Paulsen's behind and into the end zone, where it was recovered by Quinton Jammer for a touchdown.

@ Lost in the win last week at Baltimore was the fact the Steelers running game wasn't over productive.

It was even less so on Sunday, as Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman combined for 10 carries for 32 yards.

Both were stuffed on short-yardage plays from the Pittsburgh 47 when they appeared to line up somewhere between the jumbotron and bank of the Allegheny River in an attempt to pick up the yardage.

It begs the question, is Rashard Mendenhall so far in the doghouse that he can't get a shot at playing ahead of one of these two guys?

I know Mendenhall isn't the most popular guy with some Steelers fans, but he's still their most talented running back right now.

And who cares if he's not on the roster next year. This team is built to win now.

@ I'm not even going to get into playoff scenarios at this point any more. All you need to know is that the Jets at 6-7 are now back in the conversation.

@ The Chargers played with three backup linemen and the Steelers managed one sack, that being a play where Ziggy Hood ran Philip Rivers out of bounds at the line of scrimmage.

Then again, you have to credit Rivers there. He threw away more balls on Sunday than Steve Sax in his prime.

Game Day thread

The teams have just finished warm ups and headed back to the locker room.

Ben Roethlisberger looked good again throwing the ball around, so that shouldn't be an issue.

Inactive for the Steelers are Leftwich, Taylor, Mendenhall, Woodley, Malecki, Woods and Adams.

For San Diego, Royal, Donald Butler, Jeromey Clary, Tyronne Green, Antonio Garay, Mike Harris and Lardarius Green are down.

There are no surprise lineup changes for the Steelers. Beachum starts at RT; Allen at CB; and Worilds at OLB.

For San Diego, Kevin Haslam and Reggie Wells will start at tackle for the Chargers in place of Harris and Clary, while Rex Hadnot will start for Green.
Demorrio Williams will start at LB in place of Butler.

Friday, December 07, 2012

Who I like, San Diego version

The time is now for the Steelers.

Coming off of last weekend's 23-20 win at Baltimore, the Steelers head into the home stretch of the season in good shape to at least earn a wildcard spot in the playoffs.
But they could be looking at more.

Baltimore travels to Washington Sunday, then hosts Denver and the Giants in back-to-back weeks before finishing the season at Cincinnati.

A loss by the Ravens - they are two-point underdogs - and wins by the Steelers and Bengals, who host Dallas, would certainly make for an interesting finish.

But I digress.

First up for the Steelers are the Chargers, who are 1-7 in  their past eight games.

San Diego's offensive line, which was already struggling,  has injury issues across the board. For a group that has allowed 36 sacks, that's not a good thing.

And the Steelers are starting to hit their stride in terms of their pass rush.

Ben Roethlisberger also returns for the Steelers and has looked good in practice this week.

The Steelers are 8-point favorites in this game and given that they are allowing 12 points per game at home, they should be in good shape to cover that.

Take the Steelers, 24-13

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Roethlisberger looking ready

Mike Tomlin said Tuesday that he needed to see Ben Roethlisberger make all the necessary throws in practice on Wednesday.

After practice Wednesday, Tomlin said Roethlisberger made all of the necessary throws.

So at this point, it appears Roethlisberger will return for the Steelers this weekend against San Diego.

@ The Steelers had a myriad of players sitting out of practice on Wednesday, most of who are expected to return to practice Thursday.

We'll know more about those injuries Thursday, but I expect the team to have everyone except Mike Adams and Ike Taylor available against the Chargers.

@ It will be interesting to see what the line on the game is once Las Vegas realized Roethlisberger is playing.

I'm guessing the Steelers will be favored by about a touchdown, but we'll see.

Tuesday, December 04, 2012

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin said today that Ben Roethlisberger threw again on Monday and is closer to returning, but the quarterback must practice this week if he is going to play Sunday against the Chargers.

The Steelers will hold their first practice of the week on Wednesday, and Roethlisberger will get an opportunity to show he's ready.

In the meantime, the Steelers are moving forward with Charlie Batch at quarterback.

I would expect Roethlisberger to play this week.

@ Cornerback Ike Taylo.r is out at least two weeks with a fracture in his ankle. Tomlin said no surgery will be required.

It's a hairline fracture and Taylor is a fast healer - as his 135-consecutive games played streak would suggest - so I would expect him back before the postseason.

@ LaMarr Woodley will be questionable to play this week with his ankle sprain.

With Jason Worilds playing well, the Steelers won't rush Woodley back.

@ A number of players will be limited early in the week, including Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace.

@ Willie Colon is expected back this week, as is Jerricho Cotchery.

@ Tomlin said the running back rotation will remain the same, with Rashard Mendenhall sitting again because he doesn't play special teams.

Monday, December 03, 2012

Post-Ravens thoughts Part II

I have believed all season that the Steelers are one of the best three teams in the AFC, but I had to admit that confidence was shaken the past two weeks.

It was beginning to look like this team didn't have the chops to win without Ben Roethlisberger.

But the Steelers not only did that Sunday against the Ravens, they did so with an effort that was a throwback to four or five years ago.

There was Troy Polamalu looking like Troy Polamalu.

There was James Harrison looking like James Harrison.

Heck, even Charlie Batch looked like the Charlie Batch of five years ago.

It's a promising outcome for these Steelers, who have four very winnable games down the stretch once they get Roethlisberger back.

Losing Ike Taylor for what looks like at least a couple of weeks will hurt, but Taylor played just the first two snaps of this one before going out with what is being called a fibula injury.

And the Ravens threw for 177 yards.

It wasn't for lack of trying the deep throw. But with constant pressure in his face and the young Steelers corners plastering themselves to the receivers, it just didn't work.

@ While the Steelers ran for just 96 yards, they were an effective 96 yards. And Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman were running like they were carrying precious cargo.

It didn't stop them from running with passion and looking for contact, but they were definitely cognizant that they needed to hold onto the ball.

Looks like Mike Tomlin's tough love with his running backs worked.

@ The Steelers were giving Kelvin Beachum plenty of help early in the game. By the end, they were leaving him one-on-one to fend for himself.

He played that well.

Beachum had a tough start this preseason, but when you watch his athleticism, you see why the Steelers were so high on him after the coaching sessions and mini-camp.

@ The Steelers won the rematch with the Ravens, but it says here there will be a rubber match in Baltimore in January.

From what I saw Sunday and in the first meeting with the Ravens, the Steelers, with Roethlisberger, will win that game by two touchdowns.

@ Sunday marked Tomlin's 100th game with the Steelers. He's now 67-33.

I'm no math whiz, but I think that works out to Tomlin winning two out of every three games.

@ I'm still scratching my head as to why the Ravens ran the ball just 20 times and Ray Rice had just 12 of those carries.

@ The Pittsburgh pass rush was ferocious in this game. Sure, they had just three sacks and was credited with three hurries, but it seemed to me that they had guys in Joe Flacco's face all day.

Flacco completed just 10 of 27 pass attempts to his receivers and tight ends, badly missing on a lot of throws.

@ I wrote a couple of weeks ago how this season could take on the look of 2005. And then the Steelers went out and lost to Cleveland.

Now, it's possible for the Steelers to win their final five games heading into the playoffs - and they might need all five.

I don't think that will be the case, but given the way this team responded Sunday, it has the look of a very dangerous playoff team.

Sunday, December 02, 2012

Steelers-Ravens game-day thread

Woodley, Roethlisberger, Leftwich, Adams, Mendenhall, Cotchery and Van Dyke inactive today for Steelers.

Mendenhall is inactive because he doesn't play special teams.

Willie Colon is active for the Steelers, but looks like he's still a little slow moving around. Would probably only play in an emergency.

Saturday, December 01, 2012

Who I like, Baltimore version part II

Let's get straight to the point: I don't expect the Steelers to win this game.

In fact, it's likely that nobody does.

But that doesn't mean it's not important in some way.

The Steelers outplayed the Ravens a couple of weeks ago at home, but lost, 13-10, when they allowed a punt return for a touchdown.

The Byron Leftwich-led offense could only muster 10 points.

Charlie Batch will make his second start this week after Leftwich suffered fractured ribs early in that loss, but played through the injury.

Since I fully expect that this will be the first of three meetings between the Steelers and Ravens, Pittsburgh has to send a message in this one.

Sure, Joe Flacco plays better at home - the Ravens average 36 points per game at home, 16 on the road (how's that for a home-road difference) - which is why they won't be going to the Super Bowl.

So what the Steelers need to show in this one is that they can hold Baltimore's much-better home offense in check and not allow another big play - like Jacoby Jones' 63-yard punt return for a score - in this one.

Troy Polamalu and Antonio Brown are back this week, which should help. And the Steelers will get Ben Roethlisberger back next week. At least that is the plan at this point.

Baltimore is now an 8-point favorite to win this one and I expect that the Ravens will cover that spread, but it won't be easy.

Take Baltimore, 24-14.

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Thursday update

A little late with this, but I had other things to take care of first.

Though he's been cleared for contact again, don't expect Ben Roethlisberger to play Sunday in Baltimore.

Just the fact that Roethlisberger is talking about coming back last season to play against San Francisco - a game where he was beaten up - and then sitting out the next week against St. Louis, tells me that conversation has already taken place between the quarterback and Mike Tomlin.

The Steelers will take their lumps this week and hope to come back stronger next week at home against San Diego in order to roll down the stretch.

That's the play to make at this point. With Baltimore holding a three-game lead, the Steelers would need a miracle to win the division even if they were to win this weekend.

Roethlisberger should practice fully next week and be ready to go.

@ Dick LeBeau said he doesn't necessarily expect Troy Polamalu to be on the field full time on Sunday as he works to get his wind back.

Then again, he said the same thing a few weeks back about James Harrison, and Harrison never came off the field in his first game back. Great players never want to come off the field.

But even if Polamalu only plays on passing downs - which I don't expect - his presence could be huge.

@ Willie Colon missed practice again Thursday and that's troubling. On the plus side, Max Starks was back.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Wednesday news, notes

Mike Tomlin shook up his depth chart on Tuesday, and then proceeded to shake things up Wednesday on his offensive line.

With Mike Adams, Willie Colon and Max Starks all sitting out Wednesday, the Steelers moved Maurkice Pouncey to left guard, Ramon Foster to right tackle and Kelvin Beachum to left tackle.

Doug Legursky was at center, while rookie David DeCastro was next up at right guard.

But just because the Steelers made these moves on Wednesday does not mean that will be the starting line Sunday in Baltimore.

In fact, I highly doubt that it will be.

This is a shell game Tomlin is playing with the Ravens, hoping they will take their eye off the ball enough to allow the Steelers to come away with a win.

Chances are, when the Steelers line up Sunday, Starks will be at LT, Colon at LG, Pouncey at C, Foster at RG and Beachum at RT.

But if there's an injury during the game, particularly to Colon, Pouncey could make the move to guard.

And if Beachum is overmatched at RT making his first career start, Foster could move over.

But that is not the plan right now.

@ Ben Roethlisberger did some light throwing Wednesday as he was limited in practice. He's getting better, but I'd be surprised if he plays this weekend.

@ Antonio Brown and Troy Polamalu both looked good Wednesday, a big plus for the Steelers.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Tuesday with Tomlin

The Steelers will use Jonathan Dwyer as their feature back moving forward after Mike Tomlin made some adjustments in the team's depth chart.

Tomlin said he arrived at the decision because Dwyer has been the team's most effective running back.

Currently, the depth chart lists Dwyer first, Redman second, Mendenhall third.

The Steelers also now list the starting WR spot opposite Antonio Brown as Emmanuel Sanders/Mike Wallace.

Tomlin said situation will dictate that.

Not coincidentally, both Rashard Mendenhall and Mike Wallace will be unrestricted free agents at the end of this season.

@ Tomlin said both Ben Roethlisberger and Byron Leftwich threw on Monday.

At this point, he is leaving the "door open" to the possibility of Roethlisberger playing on Sunday, but currently, Charlie Batch is still the starter this week heading to Baltimore.

@ Antonio Brown and Troy Polamalu are both expected to practice Wednesday and should play Sunday in Baltimore.

@ At this point, Kelvin Beachum will play RT this week, though Tomlin left the option of moving Ramon Foster to RT and inserting David DeCastro at RG.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Steelers-Browns thoughts

If I told you before this game, the Steelers would return an interception for a touchdown, force 10 punts, limit the Browns to 238 yards and record four sacks, you'd have almost guaranteed a victory.

Then again, if I told you the Steelers would turn the ball over eight times - to once for Cleveland - and would still have a chance to win the game in the fourth quarter, you'd have told me I was crazy.

@ Despite this loss, all is not down the drain for the Steelers.

Troy Polamalu and Antonio Brown should be back this week to play against the Ravens, while my gut feeling is that the Steelers will hold off another week with Ben Roethlisberger, even though he is saying that he's going to give playing this week a shot.

The final four games - three of which are at home - are winnable. The Steelers will likely be a three-point underdog at Dallas Dec. 16, but Pittsburgh is a better team.

And even if the Steelers only win three of those four games, the Bengals would have to go 4-1 in the final five to beat the Steelers for the final wildcard spot.

Cincinnati travels to San Diego this week for a tough road game, then hosts Dallas and travels to Cincinnati before closing the season at Pittsburgh and at home against the Ravens.

And there's a good chance Baltimore will be playing to assure a first-round bye in that game.

So if the Steelers can beat San Diego, Cleveland and Cincinnati at home, they'll be in the playoffs.

@ Honestly, what was the difference between Chris Rainey's momentum not being stopped at the end of the first half and Trent Richardson's being whistled dead prior to his fumble at the end of the game?

@ I seriously don't get Mike Tomlin's usage of the running backs at all. All four fumbled in the first half of this game. Yet Rainey didn't get benched because his fumble happened to go out of bounds?

And I really think this fumble rule is putting bad thoughts in the heads of his backs.

Not to mention the fact that Brown and Mike Wallace have both lost key fumbles this season, but neither has been benched.

@ I've praised Todd Haley's play calling quite a bit this season, but I felt he was way too conservative early in this game.

The Steelers really didn't start throwing the ball downfield at all until they were down 13-7 late in the first half.

To that point, everything had been short screens and such, almost as if the Steelers were playing not to lose - or not to have to put Brian Hoyer in the game.

Charlie Batch didn't play all that bad. Sure, he threw three interceptions, but really, only one was his fault - the deep ball into double coverage for Wallace.

Plaxico Burress ran a soft route that allowed Sheldon Brown to easily undercut him on one interception, while Wallace batted another into the air over the middle.

And Batch had some other nice throws called back on holding penalties by Ron Winter's crew, who must get paid per flag thrown.

@ Jason Worilds, subbing for LaMarr Woodley from midway through the first quarter on after Woodley left with an ankle injury, played a whale of a game.

James Harrison showed up strong for the second consecutive game as well and seems to be rounding into form.

Makes me think that outside linebacker might not be the glaring need in the draft that many feel. Though it would be tough to pass on a dynamic young pass rusher.

@ Ryan Clark continues to throw his body around with an apparent disregard for his own safety.

And that, and Troy Polamalu's issues this season, lead me to the safety position as the premiere first-round option for this team, which could use a ballhawk in the secondary.

@ Really, Ike Taylor undercut two passes in the first half just as Brown did in the second. The only difference was that Brown caught the ball, while Taylor dropped it - twice.

@ I honestly didn't understand Tomlin's decision to decline a holding penalty on the Browns at the 18-yard line and allow them to kick a 32-yard field goal as opposed to forcing them into third-and-18 from the 28.

Sure, the Steelers had stopped Cleveland. But a sack, fumble or even quarterback Brandon Weedon falling down, takes the Browns to the edge of field goal range - or even out of it.

Instead, Tomlin conceded the field goal instead of keeping the NFL's best defense on the field and allowing it to try to make a play.

Steelers-Browns gameday thread

BREAKING: Willie Colon will not start today with a knee injury. He is still dressed. Doug Legursky starts at left guard for Steelers.

It's a beautiful day here in Cleveland after a snowy morning. The sun is shining, though there is a slight wind.

No surprises on the inactive list for the Steelers, as Roethlisberger, Leftwich, Brown, Cotchery and Gilbert are all down, as is DeMarcus Van Dyke.

Friday, November 23, 2012

Who I like, Cleveland version

The Steelers are a desperate team heading into Cleveland this weekend.

Coming off a loss last week to Baltimore, the Steelers currently stand two games behind the Ravens in the AFC North race and one game ahead of Cincinnati for a wild card spot.

A stumble this week in Cleveland would be a killer, especially with a rematch against the Ravens in Baltimore looming next week.

The Steelers will again be without Ben Roethlisberger, who is getting closer to a return from his sprained shoulder and separated rib. In fact, there is an outside chance Roethlisberger could be back next week.

If that is the case, this could be the final game of Charlie Batch's career. Batch knows that and I expect him to play accordingly.

The Steelers are 5-2 over the years when Batch starts and he'll give them his best effort again Sunday.

Cleveland's offense revolves around running back Trent Richardson, just as Baltimore's does around Ray Rice. Both are not only their team's leading rusher, but leading receiver as well.

The Steelers shut down Rice last week, limiting him to 40 yards on 20 carries.

And then there's these two tidbits: Since inserting Will Allen into the starting lineup six games ago, the Steelers are allowing 16.6 points per game, down from 22.2 in the four games he didn't start. Also, the Steelers are 14-1 with Dick LeBeau as defensive coordinator against rookie quarterbacks.

Those will all play a factor in this one.

I like the Steelers to win 16-13

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Wednesday news, notes

We got a good look at why the Steelers signed wide receiver Plaxico Burress Wednesday in his limited action.

Burress spent most of practice watching and learning. But he made an impressive catch on one of the few patterns he did run, leaping above practice squad corner Josh Victorian to snatch a ball thrown by Charlie Batch out of the air.

Speaking to Burress before practice, I saw a much more mature person than he was in his first stay in Pittsburgh.

Obviously, what he has gone through has changed him somewhat. He was always a guy who was well-liked by teammates.

But there was sometimes a perception that he wasn't playing up to his potential when he was in Pittsburgh the first time around. That perception wasn't always correct. Burress had some excellent years with the Steelers, and followed that up with some excellent years with the Giants.

And then there is this: Burress said his decision to turn down the offer the Steelers made to him during training camp in 2011 came down to him not wanting to move his family from the New Jersey area.

Burress can help this football team, especially in the red zone. Opponents have begun to double tight end Heath Miller in the red zone. And while Mike Wallace is still one of the fastest receivers in the league, some of that speed is negated in tight spaces.

If opponents try to play the 6-5 Burress one-on-one in the red zone, he will beat them. That could be the missing link for this Steelers team.

@ Ben Roethlisberger looked good on Wednesday, far better than he did a week ago. In fact, Roethlisberger was no longer wearing the sling that he had on all of last week.

He was talking on his cell phone using his right arm and was also able to easily remove his T-shirt over his head without any apparent discomfort.

That has to be a good sign for the injured quarterback moving forward.

@ Antonio Brown also looked good Wednesday. Though he was limited in practice, the injured wideout was walking around without a limp.

I followed him up a flight of stairs Wednesday and he easily took them two at a time.

@ Isaac Redman passed his initial concussion tests and practiced on Wednesday.

DeCastro to return to practice

The Steelers have informed the NFL that rookie David DeCastro will return to practice today.

DeCastro has been on injured reserve all season after injuring his knee in the team's final preseason game at Buffalo.

The Steelers have a two week roster exemption with DeCastro before he must be activated.

DeCastro had been slated to start at right guard this season before injuring his knee. Ramon Foster has started every game in place.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin revealed today that not only does Byron Leftwich have fractured ribs, but Jerricho Cotchery has "multiple" fractured ribs as well.

Because of that, the Steelers are expected to sign both Plaxico Burress and Brian Hoyer today.

The Burress signing also tells me that the Steelers are very unsure about Antonio Brown's availability this week against Cleveland, though Tomlin says that Brown ran Tuesday and will hopefully practice this week.

Tomlin also said that he was encouraged by a checkup Ben Roethlisberger had Tuesday. Though Roethlisberger is doubtful to play this week, he's moving in the right direction.

Troy Polamalu and Marcus Gilbert are also expected to practice this week, though both are listed as questionable at this point. That's a step up for Polamalu.

Tomlin would not commit to Gilbert or Mike Adams at right tackle when asked.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Leftwich hurting

Steelers quarterback Byron Leftwich reportedly suffered two broken ribs late in Sunday night's 13-10 loss to the Baltimore Ravens and is highly questionable to start in this Sunday's game at Cleveland.

With that in mind, the Steelers are exploring their options at quarterback.

If Leftwich can't play, 37-year-old Charlie Batch would get the start in Cleveland. But with Ben Roethlisberger still out with shoulder and rib injuries, and Leftwich also hurting, the Steelers wouldn't have a healthy backup.

Options include re-signing Jerrod Johnson, who was cut by the team at the end of training camp, signing a veteran such as David Garrard, or even bringing back former backup Dennis Dixon, who is currently on Baltimore's practice squad.

In the meantime, Batch, who is 5-2 starting in place of Roethlisberger, might be asked to hold down the fort.

@ In other news, with the injury to Jerricho Cotchery late in Sunday night's game and the Steelers apparently unsure if Antonio Brown will be ready to return, the team will likely sign Plaxico Burress on Tuesday pending his passing of a physical.

Mike Tomlin had an interest in Burress in training camp when Mike Wallace was holding out, but didn't want to bring the veteran in unless he was sure Burress would make the team.

Burress caught 45 passes and - more importantly - 8 touchdown passes last season for the Jets.

Post-Ravens thoughts I

The Pittsburgh defense did everything it needed to do in this one to come out of this game with a win.

Pressure Joe Flacco into poor throws?


Shut down Ray Rice?


Hold the Ravens to field goals once they got into the red zone?


Force a turnover or two to set your offense up with a short field?

OK, the Steelers didn't do that.

And that wound up being the difference between a win and a loss Sunday night against the Ravens.

Baltimore gained 200 total yards and Flacco was a pitiful 20 of 32 for 164 yards, while Rice gained 40 yards on 20 carries.

But the Steelers lost because they couldn't give their offense anything resembling a short field.

I know I'm splitting hairs here, but when the offense's average starting position is its own 19, that's tough to ask it to move the length of the field more than once or twice with a backup quarterback making his first start in three years.

This defense is playing lights out - having held its fifth consecutive passer to 174 yards or less - but the lack of turnovers continues to be the difference between this being a very good defense and a great one.

@ The field position battle was lost on the leg of Baltimore punter Sam Koch, who averaged 46.5 yards per punt and placed half of his eight kicks inside the 20.

Drew Butler put half of his eight punts inside the 20 as well, but his averaged was 44.4 yards and his net was 35.4 thanks to a 63-yard return for a touchdown by Jacoby Jones.

@ I asked Mike Tomlin after the game if Baltimore did anything special to block up that return for a touchdown. He said the Ravens doubled the gunners, which forced the Steelers to get a tackle out of their inside guys.

That obviously didn't happen, even though - with the gunners doubled - the inside guys outnumbered the Ravens, 10-6.

@ Byron Leftwich wasn't great Sunday night. Heck, he wasn't even all that good. But he played well enough to lead this team to a win next week at Cleveland.

Getting Antonio Brown back next week will help immensely.

There were, just like last week against Kansas City, several times when Leftwich dropped back to pass, had plenty of time and there was nobody open.

And when he did throw some great passes - like the one that Mike Wallace fumbled in the first quarter and the one in the third quarter that Wallace couldn't get his feet down on in bounds in the end zone - they just didn't work out.

Wallace has got to come up with that throw in the end zone and tuck that ball away over the middle before he takes off like a bolt of lightning, especially if he wants to get a big contract at the end of this season.

But the Steelers gave Brown a new contract in the training camp because he's at his best on third downs. In fact, he might be the best third down receiver - or at least in the conversation - in the NFL.

Having him back returning some of Koch's punts might've helped as well.

@ James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley showed up in this game like they haven't in some time.

Both outside linebackers were getting consistent pressure, and both recorded sacks.

They also showed up big in the run defense, which limited the Ravens to 47 yards on 23 carries.

We also saw inspired play out of Casey Hampton in this game.

If the Steelers can get that out of those guys, they will be a very dangerous team the rest of the way - especially once Ben Roethlisberger returns.

I'm hearing Roethlisberger could be back in time for the rematch with the Ravens in two weeks. At least that is what the Steelers are hoping.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Game-day thread, Steelers-Ravens

Plenty of starters out for tonight's Baltimore-Pittsburgh matchup.

For the Steelers, Roethlisberger, Polamalu, Gilbert and Brown are down, as are Van Dyke, Sylvester and Adrian Robinson.

On Baltimore's side, starters Jimmy Smith, Bobbie Williams and Pernell McPhee are out, as are Asa Jackson, Terrence Cody, Ramon Harewood and Deonte Thompson.

We know who is starting for the Steelers in place of their injured starters.

On the Ravens' side, it's Arthur Jones for McPhee at DE, Corey Graham in place of Smith and Jah Reid at guard in place of Williams.

The Ravens also activated CB Anthony Levine from their practice squad and he is active.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Who I like, Baltimore version I

This is a game where Todd Haley is going to earn his money.

The Steelers went 3-1 a couple of years ago without Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback to open the season. The only loss came to the Ravens.

But that Baltimore team was far different from this one.

These Ravens can't play a lick of defense - until they get to the red zone. Baltimore ranks 27th in the league in total defense - 26th versus the run and the pass - but is first in touchdown percentage allowed in the red zone at 36.1 percent.

This is where Byron Leftwich can actually make a difference.

With his big arm, Leftwich is the best deep passer on the Steelers' roster. And with Baltimore missing both Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith - two of its top three corners - the Steelers figure to take some deep shots with Mike Wallace.

Last week, Kansas City doubled Wallace most of the time and played press coverage on Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery. It worked on the wet, windy night.

The Steelers will be without Antonio Brown again this week, which hurts, but Sanders and Cotchery should have some success working against the likes of Chykie Brown and Corey Graham.

Then there is this. Joe Flacco's home/road splits are awful.

In five home games, Flacco has thrown for 1,612 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions, a passer rating of 108.3. On the road, those numbers fall to 719, three touchdowns and four interceptions, a rating of 62.7.

That is a big difference.

I think Haley will tailor his play calling to Leftwich's strengths. attack the line of scrimmage with Rashard Mendenhall, Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman, and get just enough of this offense to pick up a win this week.

If the game was in Baltimore, I'd feel differently. But it's not.

The Steelers are now 4-point underdogs in this game, but I think they'll win it outright, 17-16.

@ Plenty of people are asking what's up with Troy Polamalu.

The answer is simple, nothing.

The Steelers rushed Polamalu back after a two-week hiatus earlier in the season and he didn't make it through a quarter before aggravating his calf injury.

With Will Allen playing well in Polamalu's place, the Steelers are being patient and allowing their All-Pro safety time to fully heal.

They would much rather have a healthy Polamalu out there disrupting things than put him out there too early again and lose him for the season.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thursday update

I know I haven't been around much this week and I apologize. I'm having computer problems and am now using my third laptop this week - my trusty old Mac - since both of the Dells that work gave me have crapped out.

Anyway, it's Ravens Week and there has been plenty of news, but sometimes you just have to chase the news and get by.

@ Ben Roethlisberger's injury has changed plenty of people's opinions about the Steelers, but I'm not so sure it should.

Sure, Roethlisberger's injury comes at an inopportune time, with the Steelers playing Baltimore twice in the next three weeks.

But I haven't been sold on this Baltimore team all season, particularly on the road, where the Ravens have not played well.

Also, I think Todd Haley will adjust his playcalling to do what Byron Leftwich does best, so I don't know that the injury to Roethlisberger is a killer - unless he doesn't return this season.

@ I don't expect Antonio Brown to play again this week - and that is a problem.

Kansas City was able to double Mike Wallace a lot and leave Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery in single coverage. Sanders and Cotchery didn't win those matchups much.

Perhaps the weather had an affect, but there were plenty of times when everyone was covered up - including the play on which Roethlisberger was injured.

Sanders and Cotchery have to win those matchups - especially considering the Ravens will be down to their fourth and fifth corners with both Lardarius Webb and Jimmy Smith out.

@ Rashard Mendenhall will be back this week and will start for the Steelers.

It will be interesting to see how the Steelers utilize their backs will all three healthy this week.

I expect Isaac Redman to be used in short-yardage and on third downs, while Jonathan Dwyer could get a series here or there to spell Mendenhall.

Mendenhall gives the Steelers something the other two don't - speed.

@ The onus is going to be on the offensive line to block things up well for the Steelers while Roethlisberger is out.

The Steelers will also rely on their running game a little more.

The player who could be hurt the most without Roethlisberger is Heath Miller. Miller may be asked to do a little more blocking to help protect the immobile Leftwich.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Tomlin Tuesday

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a sprain of his SC joint in his shoulder.

It's the same injury that finally forced Brett Favre to miss a game in his career, so you can expect that Roethlisberger will sit this week against the Ravens.

The general diagnosis for such an injury is - at minimum, three weeks - so Roethlisberger will be out for a little while.

Head coach Mike Tomlin confirmed that Byron Leftwich would be the starter in Roethlisberger's absence.

Strong safety Troy Polamalu is "doubtful" according to Tomlin, while Antonio Brown, Marcus Gilbert and Rashard Mendenhall are questionable.

Tomlin did say that Ryan Clark is being evaluated after suffering another possible concussion Monday night, but that Clark is feeling OK.

Post Kansas City thoughts

James Harrison was asked the $1 million question following this game: Were the Steelers looking past the Chiefs to Baltimore?

Harrison thought long and hard about it before answering, "I don't know. I wasn't."

He then said, however, that it might have been in the back of some players' minds.

This wasn't the first time that the Steelers played down to an opponent's level this season. But unlike losses against Tennessee and Oakland where they did so, Pittsburgh won this game.

@ OK, did the Steelers win it, or did Kansas City simply lose it?

It's semantics, sure, but when you look at the bumbling plays Kansas City made in the second half, it's easy to see why the Chiefs are 1-8.

@ There is also the train of thought that the Chiefs played up to the level of the Steelers, what with this being a Monday night game in front of a national audience and all.

But the Chiefs also played their last game - two Thursdays ago - in front of a supposed national audience on the NFL Network and laid an egg against San Diego.

@ OK, maybe the extra four days to prepare for this game helped. That's my story and I'm sticking to it.

@ I can't believe I made it this far into this without mentioning Ben Roethlisberger.

Many were hush-hush about Roethlisberger, but the early word is that it's a shoulder sprain of some type, not a more severe separation.

That's the good news.

The bad news is that with the Ravens coming up in just six days, there doesn't seem to be a lot of time for Roethlisberger to heal up and be ready to play.

@ Kansas City must have run the same stretch play 20 times. The Steelers finally adjusted to getting cut and stayed in their lanes, shutting it down in the second half.

Kansas City had 82 yards on 19 first half carries, 60 yards on 16 second half runs, one of which was a nine-yard scramble by quarterback Matt Cassel.

@ With the Chiefs so run-heavy, the Steelers needed their defensive line to play big.

They got a huge game out of Brett Keisel.

Keisel finished this one with eight tackles, two sacks and four quarterback hurries. He spent nearly as much time in Kansas City's backfield as Cassel.

They will need a similar effort this week against Baltimore.

@ James Harrison is still very good against the run, helping to set the edge better than LaMarr Woodley. But he's still looking for his legs as a pass rusher.

Perhaps it's time to come to the conclusion that Harrison isn't going to get that explosion off the edge back any time soon.

He wouldn't be the only star on the field who is lacking explosion as a pass rusher. Baltimore's Terrell Suggs is playing much the same way.

Not that I'm ripping you, James.

Monday, November 12, 2012

Who I like, Kansas City version

Not a lot to say here. Kansas City has earned every bit of its 1-7 record, while the Steelers have won four of their past five.

The Steelers have also won 13 consecutive Monday night games at home.

The line on this game opened at 11 1/2 and has since climbed to 13 1/2. It could be 14 1/2 by the time this kicks off.

I don't think it matters.

The Steelers will finally force a couple of turnovers - against a team that has committed 29 - and get after quarterback Matt Cassel.

The Steelers win this game, 31-13

Thursday, November 08, 2012

Thursday news, notes

Jonathan Dwyer and Chris Rainey both practiced today for the Steelers.

With Isaac Redman also practicing, the Steelers could have some backfield choices for the first time in several weeks.

Who will start? Who cares.

The Steelers will likely run both Dwyer and Redman against the Chiefs on Monday, while Rainey, who has a cracked rib, will likely only return kicks.

@ Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said all of the right things today when he met with the media.

Haley says he's over his firing in Kansas City, he's moved on, yada, yada, yada.

But you had better believe that Haley wants to beat the Chiefs - and more importantly, general manager Scott Pioli - in the worst way.

That does not mean, however, the Steelers will still be chucking the ball into the end zone up 31-7 in the fourth quarter.

Haley has a long relationship with current KC coach Romeo Crennel. He won't embarrass a man whom he respects.

@ Safety Troy Polamalu still has not practiced this week for the Steelers. But that's not such a big deal.

Because they play on Monday night, the Steelers will get an extra practice Saturday this week.

The team treated Wednesday as a bonus practice day and Thursday as their official first day of practice for this week.

Though Polamalu won't play this week against the Chiefs, I would be surprised if he doesn't at least go through some position drills by Saturday.

Tuesday, November 06, 2012

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin today didn't sound very optimistic about the chances of wide receiver Antonio Brown playing Monday night against the Chiefs.

Tomlin said Brown has an ankle injury and that he will "keep the door open" for the receiver, but I don't expect Brown to play.

Tomlin also said Troy Polamalu and Marcus Gilbert should return to practice at some point this week, but he does not expect them to play against the Chiefs, either.

The same is likely true of Rashard Mendenhall.

With the Ravens coming up in two weeks, the Steelers are going to play things safe.

@ Jonathan Dwyer is expected back this week, though Tomlin wouldn't commit to a starter at running back.

He did say that the guy who is running the ball the best is going to get the ball.

@ Chris Rainey has a rib injury that Tomlin admitted is going to be painful. But the Steelers' head coach said the injury might not keep Rainey from playing this week.

@ Though Tomlin said the Steelers don't necessarily need to activate a wideout if Brown does not play, they would only have three active if that is the case.

That's not going to happen.

Look for David Gilreath, who could serve as an emergency return man, to be activated.

Sunday, November 04, 2012

Post-Giants thoughts

The Steelers didn't necessarily need a signature victory at this point in the season, but they got one Sunday against the Giants.

By beating the defending Super Bowl champions on the road, the Steelers announced their presence with authority to the rest of the NFL.

The Steelers are a team to be reckoned with.

And the Steelers didn't just win this game; they dominated it.

Holding that offense to 182 total yards and 13 points is the kind of effort you can hang your hat on.

If not for some questionable defensive penalties - a pass interference on Keenan Lewis and a supposed helmet-to-helmet hit call on Ryan Clark in the end zone - the Steelers would have given up less than that.

More importantly, the Giants had three possessions in the fourth quarter and went three-and-out in all three.

@ Speaking of Keenan Lewis, he played yet another outstanding game.

Everyone has been talking about who the Steelers need to re-sign this offseason as they head into free agency.

Lewis might now be at the top of that list.

@ Apparently, since offensive coordinator Todd Haley simplified the runs and run blocking schemes, it doesn't matter who the Steelers put back there.

All Isaac Redman did Sunday was run for 147 yards and a score as the Steelers got their third consecutive 100-yard rushing game from a running back.

There's a good chance they go four-for-four next Monday night against Kansas City, which might be the worst team in the NFL.

@ Antonio Brown suffered a "minor" high ankle sprain and Chris Rainey suffered a rib injury.

Both should be held out of the game against the Chiefs.

Emmanuel Sanders did a fine job in the return game - and catching the ball - while Jerricho Cotchery showed why the Steelers resigned him in the offseason with some big catches as well.

@ The special teams return game was a big difference maker against the Giants.

@ I don't necessarily have a problem with Mike Tomlin's decision to run a trick play on a field goal attempt.

The Steelers work on that play all the time.

And with the way the defense was playing, why not go for the jugular there.

But it would have made more sense to run Redman in that situation. The Giants couldn't stop the run all day.

Steelers-Giants game day thread

A lot has been made of the Steelers' travel today. I don't think their travel schedule affects this game any more than the Giants' issues with having players and their families displaced by Hurricane Sandy for much of the week.

Remember, the Giants were unable to do anything as a team until Wednesday. Injured players couldn't even really get treatment until then.

@ Here are the Steelers' inactives for today: Charlie Batch, Jonathan Dwyer, Rashard Mendenhall, Troy Polamalu, Stevenson Sylvester, Marcus Gilbert and Alameda Ta'amu

Friday, November 02, 2012

Who I like, Giants version

It has been no secret that the Steelers have struggled on the road this season, particularly on defense, where they are not nearly as good as they are within the friendly confines of Heinz Field.

But the numbers are alarming.

At home, the Steelers have given up an average of 12 points per game. On the road, that number climbs to just over 26 points per game.

That's not a good trend, especially when facing a high-powered offense like the Giants on the road.

But Ben Roethlisberger has also been at his best on the road this season as well, throwing eight touchdown passes in those four road games - against just three interceptions - while averaging 317.5 yards per game.

And because of Roethlisberger working against a banged up Giants' secondary, the Steelers will keep this game close and have a chance to win it at the end.

This game has all the looks of one that will go to whichever quarterback has the ball last.

Eli Manning owns 23 career fourth quarter comebacks, including an astounding nine since the start of the 2011 season.

Roethlisberger has 29 such comebacks on his resume, though just three in the last season and a half.

Part of the reason for that is because New York's pass defense has been so bad - and the offense will go an entire half without doing anything.

Witness last week's 29-24 win at Dallas for an example. The Giants built a 23-0 lead in the first half thanks to a bunch of Cowboys' turnovers, then had to rally to win after falling behind 24-23 in the fourth quarter.

But the Steelers have gone through some similar lulls with Roethlisberger. The Steelers have built leads in all three of their losses this season, only to see them slip away when the offense stops scoring and the defense can't hold up.

The Giants are favored by 3 1/2 points in this one and that half point just might be the difference.

Take the Steelers to cover in a 27-24 loss.

@ LaMarr Woodley was back on the practice field today for the Steelers and will play against the Giants.

That's the good news.

The bad is that running back Jonathan Dwyer, coming off back-to-back 100-yard games, was unable to practice and is doubtful to play.

With Rashard Mendenhall also doubtful, Isaac Redman will get the bulk of the carries for the Steelers.

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Newsy day on the South Side

It was a busy day at the Steelers practice facility on the South Side Wednesday. Here's a rundown of what was going on.

@ Safety Ryan Clark was cleared by doctors to return to practice Wednesday morning. Clark was on the practice field in the afternoon, the next step in coming back from a concussion suffered Sunday against Washington.

The final step for Clark will be to pass another test on Friday that will allow him to play this Sunday against the Giants.

@ A sure sign that Clark is fine? The Steelers released safety Damon Cromartie-Smith from the active roster to make room for nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu, who was activated from the reserve/suspended list.

As for Ta'amu, he had this to say about his arrest for DUI and a bevy of other charges three weeks ago on the South Side, “It was a big mistake, one of the biggest mistakes I have ever made in my life. It won’t happen again.”

@ Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said he has been summoned to the NFL offices on Saturday when the team travels to New York to talk about his injury two weeks ago in a win over Cincinnati.

Sanders grabbed his hamstring and went down while the Steelers were in a no-huddle late in the game, summoning team trainers onto to the field. One play later, he was back out there.

His quick recovery from what he called cramps has caused some to say he was faking the injury to give the Steelers and extra timeout. Trouble is, the Steelers had timeouts remaining at that point.

I don't know whether Sanders was faking an injury or not, but it will be awfully tough for the league office to prove otherwise. And why would Sanders fake an injury when the Steelers still had timeouts remaining?

@ Jonathan Dwyer didn't practice Wednesday but said he intends to go on Thursday.

When asked who the team's starting running back is, Dwyer simply replied "RAC," the team's nickname for Rashard Mendenhall.

With Mendenhall likely out again this week, expect Dwyer to get the start again in New York.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Tuesday with Tomlin

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin would not commit to a starting running back today, saying only that he expected Isaac Redman back at practice Wednesday, while Rashard Mendenhall has been cleared to return to individual drills.

Jonathan Dwyer, who has started the past two games - gaining over 100 yards in each - is expected to sit out practice Wednesday and return Thursday.

Tomlin said he'll wait until later in the week to make a decision on who starts, but the feeling here is that Dwyer starts, Redman serves as a third-down and short-yardage back and Mendenhall sits out again while he gets that Achilles' tendon 100 percent healthy.

@ Troy Polamalu and Marcus Gilbert are out again, while Stevenson Sylvester is also looking doubtful with a hamstring.

@ Ryan Clark will have to pass concussion tests but should be OK.

LaMarr Woodley's hamstring is still a little sore and the Steelers will be limited at practice early in the week.

@ Tomlin said he expects that the league is keeping a close eye on the situation in New York this week with the weather.

There's been extensive flooding in the New York/New Jersey area, making travel around the city difficult.

Things aren't expected to get back to normal for several days and I wouldn't be surprised if this game was bumped to Monday night to allow an extra day for cleanup.

UPDATE: As of Tuesday, the NFL is not moving the game from the 4:30 p.m. Sunday start. But, according to an NFL spokesman, the league is continuing to monitor the situation.

@ If you're looking for some insight into what the Steelers are planning to do with rookie nose tackle Alameda Ta'amu, look no further than the move they made Tuesday.

The Steelers released practice squad defensive tackle Corbin Bryant and signed John Malecki and tight end/fullback Jamie McCoy to the practice squad.

That tells me that they are planning on activating Ta'amu to the active roster and releasing a tight end.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Post-Washington thoughts

And to think, there were people who actually thought this would be a close game.

The Steelers set the tone defensively in this one on their first series.

The Redskins ran a reverse at James Harrison and Brett Keisel for nine yards on first down. They then ran Alfred Morris at them again on second and third downs. Result? Minus three yards and a punt.

Harrison continually manhandled the tight ends the Redskins kept running at him, sealing the edge on play after play.

So much for him having lost something.

Harrison is playing his way back into game shape and is starting to get there.

@ The Steelers are now 14-1 against rookie quarterbacks since Dick LeBeau became defensive coordinator in 2004.

Rookie quarterbacks are, after all, still rookie quarterbacks.

Not that Robert Griffin III played poorly, but he wasn't great, either. Yes, his receivers dropped a bunch of passes, but Griffin - I refuse to refer to him as Griffin III as the press box announcer did Sunday - also had just eight yards rushing on six carries.

The Steelers kept him in the pocket for the most part and limited his big plays.

@ Morris, by the way, came into the game second in the NFL in rushing and left with 59 yards.

He was more effective running the ball than Griffin, but also got stopped - like in the first quarter - as often as he ripped off a 10-yard run. And he had a few of those.

@ Todd Haley continues to come up with new wrinkles in his offense. Sunday, it was a fake bubble screen that allowed Heath Miller to slip downfield for a 25-yard gain.

It was well designed and future opponents are going to have to take a look at that before they jump up to bite on those bubble screens.

@ Haley is also doing exactly what was asked of him when he was hired - keeping Ben Roethlisberger upright.

In fact, after being sacked five times in the opener at Denver, Roethlisberger has been sacked just eight times in the past six games, a span of 228 passes.

When did you ever think you'd see Roethlisberger sacked once every 25 pass attempts?

And this is with pretty much the same group of guys the Steelers have been getting things done with the past few years, you know, the guys who couldn't block a toilet.

Goes to show that a different offense can lead to different results.

Of course, the Steelers head to New York to face the Giants this week, so that line will be tested greatly.

@ Speaking of Haley and Roethlisberger, the Steelers had three TD passes Sunday, two to tight ends, one to a fullback.

That was a season's worth of TD passes to those positions under Bruce Arians.

@ In their past 12 home games, the Steelers are 11-1 and have given up 126 points.

Steelers-Redskins game-day thread

It's chilly and wet in Pittsburgh today, but at least it's not raining - for now.

That shouldn't affect the play of the game.

Isaac Redman is inactive for the Steelers, meaning Jonathan Dwyer should get the bulk of the carries.

DeMarcus Van Dyke is also down, with Damon Cromartie-Smith active in his place.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Who I like, Washington version

This is a game the Steelers have to have for a number of reasons.

First, this team needs to prove to itself it can win two games in a row. The Steelers haven't done that yet and need that for some peace of mind.

Second, with a game at New York against the Giants next week, a loss here would be trouble.

Third, given the team's early road struggles, the Steelers have to go 7-1 or 8-0 at home if they hope to get to 10 or 11 wins.

I think they'll take care of business.

While Washington's defense has been opportunistic, picking off 10 passes, it's not very good in the secondary.

Ben Roethlisberger and company should have a field day there.

And the Steelers, who have given up 104 points in their past 10 home games, will come up with enough defense to slow Robert Griffin III and company enough to force them into a pure passing mode late in the game.

Also not to be discounted: Washington has already changed kickers once this season, going to Kai Forbath. Forbath has made all four of his field goal attempts this season, but this is about the time of year when Heinz Field starts to get a little tricky.

For an inexperienced kicker, it can be tough.

With the Steelers getting Maurkice Pouncey and Isaac Redman back this week - though Jonathan Dwyer will get the start at running back - Pittsburgh is inching closer to full strength.

Take the Steelers, 31-17

Thursday, October 25, 2012

It's looking like Dwyer

It's looking like Jonathan Dwyer will get his second consecutive start this week against Washington as Rashard Mendenhall sat out practice again Thursday, while Isaac Redman was limited.

That's not necessarily a bad thing.

Frequent readers of this blog know that I've thought all along that Dwyer was a better all-around player than Redman - though I like Redman as well.

And given Washington's shoddy defense, letting Mendenhall sit another week isn't a bad thing.

@ I've had to laugh when I hear the topic of the Steelers having to sit either Redman or Dwyer once everyone's healthy.

Were people not listening to what Mike Tomlin had to say about his special teams units on Tuesday.

As Tomlin said, once everyone's healthy, there may be some special teams regulars on the bench if they continue to draw penalties.

We know Baron Batch plays teams, so, in effect, he doesn't necessarily count as a running back. Same goes for Chris Rainey.

The Steelers could keep all five running backs on their roster active on game day with no real problems.

What does Leonard Pope really do, anyway? Same goes for DeMarcus Van Dyke if he continues to draw penalties.

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin said today that he expects to have Maurkice Pouncey back at practice Wednesday after he sat out Sunday's game at Cincinnati with an MCL sprain.

Isaac Redman, Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Carter are all expected to practice at some point this week and could be ready to go against Washington on Sunday.

Safety Will Allen, who has started the last two games at strong safety, could be limited with an ankle injury.

That could be big because Troy Polamalu will be out again as he continues to deal with a calf injury.

Marcus Gilbert will also be out again this week, meaning rookie Mike Adams will get another start at RT.

@ Tomlin said he is troubled by the continued penalties the Steelers are drawing on special teams and that some of the repeat offenders might find themselves on the bench when the team gets in position to do so from a health standpoint.

That could be coming this week if Carter is back.

DeMarcus Van Dyke would be the biggest offender to this point.

Monday, October 22, 2012

Lolley's post-Cincinnati thoughts

The Twittersphere was erupting when the Steelers got in a 14-3 hole to open this game following a Ben Roethlisberger sack and fumble - where the QB stepped right into the waiting arms of several Cincinnati pass rushers.

The season was over. It was time to start thinking about the draft, yada, yada, yada.

And just like that, the Steelers took back the momentum.

They also kept it, thanks to Keenan Lewis.

It was Lewis, on the opening possession of the second half, who peeled off his coverage after reading Andy Dalton's eyes and came back to help Ike Taylor in the end zone on A.J. Green.

If Lewis doesn't tip that ball away, it's a touchdown and a 21-14 Cincinnati lead.

Instead, the Bengals kicked a field goal and then gained a total of 28 yards on 17 plays the rest of the way.

@ I wrote on this blog last week that everything was still right there to accomplish for these Steelers.

It most certainly is now.

That was a signature defensive performance against what has been a pretty good offense.

Yes, the Steelers failed to record a sack, but they had consistent pressure throughout the evening to keep Dalton off balance.

And after the opening drive by the Bengals, the Steelers adjusted and kept Cincinnati from further gouging them on the ground.

It was also the first time this season that the running game looked competent.

I know, they ran the ball with some effectiveness against the Jets, but not as effectively as they did Sunday night against the Bengals.

@ Willie Colon showed some real nasty in this game. It's what everyone had been waiting for when the Steelers moved him inside to guard.

@ If not for some dropped passes, and some ill-timed penalties, this game would have been a 20-point blowout.

The biggest penalty to me was a holding call on DeMarcus Van Dyke - at least the third special teams penalty on him this season - that negated an Antonio Brown punt return to midfield.

That set up Roethlisberger stepping up into a fumble that handed the Bengals their second touchdown - on A.J. Green's only catch.

@ Taylor did a nice job on Green, following him around throughout the game.

I don't think that was originally the plan - or at least that's what Ryan Clark said.

Clark said he went to Mike Tomlin and asked that Taylor be put on Green one-on-one.

Taylor had help a lot of times with Green, and there's nothing wrong with that.

The way the current NFL rules are, it's damn near impossible to play defensive back in this league.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Steelers-Cincinnati thread

With the Ravens getting pounded today in Houston as expected, the AFC North race is wide open again.

In fact, you could argue that the winner of tonight's game - particularly if it is the Steelers - is in the driver's seat in the division.

While Cincinnati has already lost to Baltimore - and Cleveland - in the division, the Steelers still get to play Baltimore twice.

The way the Ravens are headed - with perhaps more injuries than the Steelers - they could fall apart.

@ Maurkice Pouncey won't play tonight for the Steelers. Doug Legursky will start in his place.

Will Allen will get his second start at strong safety.

Friday, October 19, 2012

Who I like, Cincinnati version

I know the Steelers are 0-3 on the road this season. I know they've given up fourth quarter leads in all three of their road games. And I know they will be playing without their top two running backs.

But for some reason, I like this team this week.

Actually, there are several reasons.

First and foremost is the fact that Cincinnati is converting just 27 percent of its third downs - 20 of 75.

The Steelers are allowing opponents to convert at a 49.2 percent rate, but even if that number is somewhere in the middle this week - let's say 36 percent - the Steelers will win.

So long as the Steelers don't let anyone get behind them - and despite their struggles, they lead the league in fewest explosive plays allowed (everybody's defense stinks) - they should be OK.

Another factor that makes me favor the Steelers is Cincinnati's offensive line.

The Bengals have allowed quarterback Andy Dalton to be sacked 17 times in 232 pass attempts, an average of one every 13.6 dropbacks. And if you throw out a game against pitiful Jacksonville in which the Bengals didn't allow a sack in 31 pass attempts, that number falls to one every 11.8 attempts.

With LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison on the field together, the Steelers - who had eight sacks against the Bengals in 2011 - will generate some pressure. In fact, Woodley has eight sacks against the Bengals, his most against any opponent.

The final thing favoring the Steelers is the desperation factor. This is a team that was in shock after losing at Tennessee, but part of that shock could have been from Mike Tomlin's decision to attempt a 54-yard field goal with just under one minute remaining.

That decision, more than anything, cost the Steelers. When Shaun Suisham missed the kick, it gave the Titans the ball in excellent field position, needing just 20 or so yards to get into field goal range.

That's a tough spot to put any defense in, let alone one that is struggling.

Finally, there's this: The Steelers are 11-2 all-time at Paul Brown Stadium.

The Steelers are 1 1/2-point favorites to win this one and will do so.

Take Pittsburgh, 24-20