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Saturday, November 30, 2013

Bell OK but Steelers lose Velasco

Much of the focus following the Steelers' 22-20 loss Thursday night at Baltimore was on the health of running back Le'Veon Bell, who took a vicious hit at the goal line that left him with a concussion.

But the real injury was to center Fernando Velasco.

Bell is going to be OK, though he must now pass concussion protocol.

But Velasco was placed on injured reserve Saturday with an Achilles' tendon injury.

That's a big blow. Velasco had played well in 11 games in place of Maurkice Pouncey and had been a stabilizing factor.

He hadn't been the team's best lineman - that distinction goes to David DeCastro, but he's been close.

DeCastro (foot), left tackle Kelvin Beachum (knee) and tackle Mike Adams (ankle) were also injured against the Ravens, though none was as serious as Velasco, who was in a walking boot following the game.

With all of that in mind, the Steelers released cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke and signed offensive tackle Rashad Butler and center Eric Olsen.

Butler, who has appeared in 50 career games and made four starts, gives them some depth. Olsen, who has appeared in 17 games and made four starts, gives them another option at center.

Currently, Cody Wallace is the backup, but he's appeared in just 14 career games with no starting experience.

The Steelers could also shift left guard Ramon Foster to center and play Guy Whimper at left guard. They could also move Beachum to center and put Adams at left tackle.

It will be interesting to see which direction they go.

On a side note, Velasco's injury could help the Steelers in the long-term. He was only signed to a one-year deal and will be a free agent at the end of the season.

Since he'll be rehabbing with their doctors, they'll have a better idea of his progress than any other team. And other teams might balk at giving him a new contract without some knowledge of his rehab process.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Post-Ravens thoughts part II

The NFL has been playing games on Thanksgiving for a long time, but Thursday night's game between the Ravens and Steelers just might have been one of the best ever played.

It was that great of a game.

Even Steelers fans, who are no doubt disappointed, have to admit it was an enjoyable viewing.

@ Both Emmanuel Sanders and Ben Roethlisberger took the blame for the failed two-point conversion play, but that would not have been as easy catch - not with Chykie Brown face guarding Sanders.

Sorry, but that should have been a penalty.

@ Many will focus on that failed conversion as the reason for this loss. But there were plenty of other reasons that were far more important.

How about the special teams coverage unit, which has been solid all season, giving up a 73-yard return following Sanders' touchdown catch that cut the lead to 13-7?

When your head coach comes the closest to tackling the return man before he's finally dragged down, that's not a good thing.

And then there was the botched field goal attempt.

The defense has to shoulder some blame as well. The Steelers forced one punt. Two other Baltimore possessions ended with the clock running out at the end of the halves.

The other six possessions were finished off with the Ravens scoring - one touchdown and five field goals.

To be fair, though, the Ravens had just two drives in the game that were over 50 yards. They had field goal drives of 48, 31, 52, 37 and 36 yards thanks to good field position.

Baltimore had just two possessions that started inside its own 20. It didn't score on either one.

The Steelers had six of eight possessions start inside their own 21.

@ Jason Worilds had more tackles (10), sacks (2) and QB hits (3) than Baltimore's Terrell Suggs (0 sacks, 1 tackle, 1 hit) and Elvis Dumervil (3-0-0) had combined.

@ As badly as the Steelers would have liked to have won this game, it doesn't kill their playoff hopes.

The Ravens get the Vikings at home next, then have road games at Detroit and Cincinnati sandwiched around a home game against New England. Can you say 1-3? They'll go 2-2 at best.

The schedule for the other 5-6 teams aren't much easier.

The Steelers have three home games, including one against the Bengals, who are much better at home than one the road, and a road game at Green Bay.

The Ravens needed this game at lot more than the Steelers, who should be able to finish out 3-1 at worst, especially if they continue to protect Roethlisberger.

He's now been sacked just once in the past three games.

@ A number of fans went after Sanders on Twitter, with those telling him he stinks being the nicest.

There were also some downright nasty tweets thrown his way.

What kind of life do you have if you think it's your mission in life to tweet a player to rip him?

Seems a bit silly and childish. Then again, I get similar tweets all the time. Come to think of it, that might be more sad.

@ Count me among the people who buy Mike Tomlin's explanation for being on the edge of the field for Jones' kickoff return.

Tomlin was clearly watching the return when Jones was fielding the kick in the end zone. Not that you'll see that on ESPN or the NFL Network. They need to drive some ratings with the latest controversy.

That said, Tomlin will be hearing from the league office and will likely face a fine.

@ Le'Veon Bell has had his two best games this season against the Ravens.

The concussion Bell suffered at the end of this game was one of the worst I've seen in 20-plus years of covering the NFL.

@ It's now 6 a.m. and I've got to get to bed and digest this one a little more.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Happy Thanksgiving from Baltimore thread

Happy Thanksgiving from Baltimore.

The weather here is chilly but there's very little wind.

Landry Jones, Derek Moye, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Richard Gordon, Stevenson Sylvester, LaMarr Woodley and Steve McLendon are inactive for the Steelers.

Al Woods will start at nose tackle, while Jarvis Jones will be at outside linebacker for the Steelers.

There are no notable inactives for the Ravens.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Who I like, Baltimore version Part II

Coming down to Baltimore today, I couldn't help but think about how much this trip was like the  Steelers' visit to New York last year to face the defending Super Bowl champion Giants.

Because of the storms that ripped the New York/New Jersey area last November, the Steelers were unable to get in for the game until that morning. They met in their hotel after the short flight and headed off to the stadium, where they beat the Giants, 24-20.

It's much like the scenario this year, only the storm that has rolled through is the NFL.

The Steelers are the first team to have to play on the road on Sunday, then have to turn around and travel for a Thursday night road game four days later. And they're playing the defending Super Bowl champions to boot.

Baltimore is a three-point favorite in this game and the Ravens have only given up three touchdowns at home all season. Of course, they've also played the Jets, Browns and Texans in three of their five home games, so maybe it's understandable.

The winner of this game is going to be in good shape in the AFC playoff race, where six teams currently are vying for the sixth and final playoff spot, tied at 5-6.

And if the Steelers win this game, they could be in solid position to make a run at winning the AFC North. Current division leader Cincinnati (7-4) comes to Pittsburgh in two weeks, and with a victory Thursday, the Steelers would guarantee themselves a non-losing record in the AFC North, along with a regular season split with the Bengals.

I've looked at this game a hundred different ways and keep coming back to this: The Steelers are 10-5 against the Ravens with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback. Included in that record is a 7-2 record against the Ravens when Joe Flacco is Baltimore's quarterback.

Linebacker LaMarr Woodley won't play, but Brett Keisel will be back for the Steelers.

Remember, too, that rookie Le'Veon Bell had his best game - 19 carries for 93 yards - against these same Ravens at Heinz Field.

I like the Steelers to pull out a close one, 16-13

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

Mid-week news, notes

Brett Keisel was a full participant in practice Tuesday as the Steelers held their final practices for Thursday night's game at Baltimore. Linebacker LaMarr Woodley, however, was only a partial participant.

The guess here is that Keisel will play - at least sparingly - as the Steelers try to nurse him back from a painful plantar fasciitis injury, while Woodley will sit out again and come back against Miami Dec. 8.

The Steelers are thin on the defensive line with Steve McLendon out and need as many of their defensive linemen ready to go as possible.

But remember this, McLendon played just 17 snaps in the first meeting with the Ravens, a 19-16 Pittsburgh win, as the Steelers played a lot of their sub-package against Baltimore's three wide receiver sets.

@ Speaking of the sub packages, Will Allen told me today that he will stay in as the third safety for the time being in place of rookie Shamarko Thomas.

Thomas is returning from an ankle injury and had 22 tackles in the Steelers' first nine games.

Allen has made 12 tackles, an interception, forced one fumble and recovered another in two games in Thomas' absence.

Can't argue with the move. You have to play the hot hand.

@ The key to Sunday's game could be rookie running back Le'Veon Bell for the Steelers.

Bell had his best rushing game of the season against the Ravens, running for 93 yards on 19 carries earlier this season.

Bell has averaged 88.9 total yards per game in his eight starts this season.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Post-Cleveland thoughts

I took a good amount of heat here for much of this season for sticking with my original assessment that the Steelers weren't a bad football team.

I continue to stick by that assessment.

Are they a great team? Nope. But there also aren't many of those around in today's NFL.

Are they a good team? They might be as close to what passes for good in today's NFL, where there are about four or five very good teams and then everybody else.

The Steelers have now won five of their past seven heading to Baltimore Thursday night.

If they can make that six out of eight, they will make the playoffs. In fact, with three home games remaining after playing Baltimore, the Steelers might just push Cincinnati hard for the division title.

@ The NFL schedule makers didn't do the Steelers any favors. With the league adding Thursday night games every week this season - except in Weeks 16 and 17 - there are 17 Thursday night games this season, including three this week.

The Steelers are the only team among the 17 visiting teams in those games who will be playing back-to-back road games.

@ I wonder if people still think Jason Worilds is a bust?

That word is thrown around way too much in today's NFL.

Limas Sweed was a bust. Worilds, even if he signs somewhere else after this season, is most certainly not.

He can play some football.

I am continually asked if I think the Steelers will re-sign Worilds after this season. Will they re-sign him? That I don't know given their cap situation.

Should they re-sign him? Given LaMarr Woodley's recent injury history and the fact that you always need three solid outside linebackers, absolutely.

The Steelers didn't want to simply hand Jarvis Jones a starting job this season. And I just can't see them wanting to hand him a job with no competition next year either.

Sunday's game marked the 17th start of Worilds' career. He has 14 career sacks.

He didn't have a sack Sunday, but might have had one of the biggest impacts of any Steelers defender getting six hurries.

@ William Gay's touchdown on an interception return was the first return for a score of any kind for the Steelers this season.

Yet Pittsburgh is averaging 25.25 points per game since Week 4. That is the week Le'Veon Bell returned to the lineup.

Somehow, though, people still want to complain about offensive coordinator Todd Haley, or at least want to downplay his contributions.


@ The Steelers have now allowed just one sack in their past two games. Against Detroit, which only had 15 sacks entering last week's game, at home, that wasn't a big deal. But at Cleveland, which had 31 sacks entering Sunday's game, not giving up a sack was huge.

So was Bell rushing for 43 yards on 10 carries in the first half. The Steelers had to establish some kind of running game on this cold, windy day.

@ Every time I see something written about the possibility of the Steelers cutting Troy Polamalu after this season, I just laugh.

He finds a way to make an impact in nearly every game.

Polamalu has had one bad game this season - at New England. But as I sit here watching Denver blow a 24-0 halftime lead at New England, I can't help but come to the realization that the Patriots do that to a lot of future Hall of Famers.

Doesn't mean they are done. Just means they had a bad game.

Steelers-Browns gameday thread

It's a chilly, windy day here in Cleveland, though the wind on the field doesn't appear to be as stiff as it was outside the stadium.

LaMarr Woodley and Brett Keisel are both out for the Steelers. They are joined on the inactive list by Landry Jones, Derek Moye, Shamarko Thomas, Richard Gordon and Stevenson Sylvester.

Starting inside linebacker Craig Robertson is inactive for the Browns.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Who I like, Cleveland version part I

The Steelers and Browns both find themselves on the cusp of being in the middle of they playoff race with both teams holding 4-6 records heading into Sunday's game.

Only the two teams appear to be heading in different directions.

After an 0-4 start, the Steelers have won four of their past six to get to 4-6. The Browns, meanwhile, started 3-2, but have lost four of five since.

The Steelers will likely be without linebacker LaMarr Woodley and defensive end Brett Keisel again for this one after both sat out - along with guard Ramon Foster - in last week's win over Detroit.

Woodley and Keisel were both limited in practice Friday, so there's a chance both could play, but with a short week coming up with a game against Baltimore next Thursday, the Steelers might be better off allowing both to sit on Sunday with an eye on returning against the Ravens.

Not that either game is less important than the other.

The Steelers need wins in these two games to stay alive in the AFC playoff race. A loss in either would be a killer since it would not only be a division loss, but one within the conference as well.

The Steelers are currently 3-4 in the conference with five conference games remaining. If they win their five remaining conference games, they'll make the playoffs. A loss in one of those games, even coupled with a win at Green Bay, would make things tough.

But know this, no AFC North team has won a divisional game on the road this season. Even Cleveland is 2-0 at home after beating both Cincinnati and Baltimore.

But the Browns have also never beaten the Steelers and Ravens in the same season. And the Steelers are 23-5 against Cleveland since the Browns returned to the NFL in 1999, with Tim Couch owning three of those wins. And he hasn't quarterbacked the Browns in 10 years.

The Browns did earn a split with the Steelers in 2012, thanks to an eight-turnover game by Pittsburgh in Cleveland last season. And even with the eight turnovers, the Browns only won that game, 20-14.

Add in the fact that Ben Roethlisberger owns a 15-1 record in games started against Cleveland, and you can see why this is the first time the Browns have been favored in a game against the Steelers since 2003, the year before Roethlisberger arrived.

The line opened with the Steelers getting two points, but that has since dropped to one. I expect by the time the game starts, it will be a pick 'em game or the Steelers might even be favored by a point.

Either way, I'm taking Pittsburgh to win, 20-13.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Good news/bad news day for Steelers

The good news for the Steelers today was that tight end Matt Spaeth, who has been out since training camp after suffering a lis franc injury, returned to practice on Thursday for the first time.

The Steelers now have 21 days from Thursday to decide whether to activate Spaeth, who was placed on injured reserve with a return designation, or place him on season-ending IR.

The bad news was that, after practicing Wednesday, LaMarr Woodley sat out today. Brett Keisel also sat out for the second day in a row and it appears that neither might be ready to play against the Browns.

Guard Ramon Foster, however, did return.

@ When asked about whether he thought Cleveland cornerback Joe Haden would shadow him all over the field this weekend, Steelers receiver Antonio Brown said, "Hopefully."

Brown should be careful what he asks for. Haden held A.J. Green to two catches for 7 yards last week and earlier this season limited Calvin Johnson to three receptions for 25 yards.

Here's the complete story: Brown hopes for Haden

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Mid-week news and notes

Ben Roethlisberger said Wednesday that he'll do whatever he has to do to stay in Pittsburgh. That will likely head off the next big rumor that the NFL Network was working on in regards to Roethlisberger, who has two years remaining on his current contract.

"I would do whatever I needed to do, but that's something that can be discussed when the time comes," said Roethlisberger. "That's not really my thing. I play football. I have people that deal with all of that stuff. I'll do whatever it takes to stay here and to be a part of this team and help this team out."

@ Brett Keisel and Shamarko Thomas were the only Steelers to miss practice Wednesday.

Keisel's foot was a little worse than the Steelers had hoped. He could be out again this week.

@ Emmanuel Sanders said his foot got stepped on last week and twisted it a little, which is why he sat out the remainder of the game.

But everything checked out OK and Sanders fully participated in practice Wednesday.

@ Jason Worilds had some interesting things to say to me today about the comparisons between him and Dallas linebacker Sean Lee.

Here's what Worilds had to say:

Worilds calls comparisons to Lee foolish

@ The NFL announced the 25 semifinalists for the Hall of Fame Wednesday night. They include former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis and linebacker Kevin Greene.

Bettis has a very good shot at making this year, though former Denver running back Terrell Davis will also get a push.

If I were voting - and unlike the voting for the baseball hall of fame, all of the member of the Pro Football Writers of America don't get to vote - I would back Bettis, Derrick Brooks, Marvin Harrison, Jimmy Johnson and George Young.

Claude Humphrey will probably make it as a veterans' committee nominee, but I don't see Ray Guy getting in. He wasn't even the best punter of his era.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Tuesday with Tomlin

It appears that LaMarr Woodley, Brett Keisel and Ramon Foster could be back for the Steelers this week against the Browns.

All three missed last week's win over Detroit. 

Woodley is the most likely to return this week from his calf strain.

Keisel is fighting  through a foot injury that was a little worse than the team thought. He didn't practice at all last week and might not do so this week until Friday.

Same goes for Ramon Foster, who is dealing with a mild high-ankle sprain.

The Steelers are also optimistic about wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders' foot. He checked out OK after leaving  Sunday's game.

Sanders and the Steelers are always concerned when he has any kind of foot pain.He's had surgery on both feet since joining the team in 2010.

Shamarko Thomas and Stevenson Sylvester were the only players Tomlin said were doubtful to play.

@ While much of the focus the past two days has been on the effectiveness of the no-huddle, which the Steelers ran 50 percent of the time Sunday, Ben Roethlisberger's numbers weren't really any different in the no-huddle as opposed to when the Steelers huddled.

Here's what I wrote about it today.

I was as surprised as anyone when I broke everything down. It seemed the no-huddle was much more effective. But the reality was different.

Ben Roethlisberger had a good game no matter what the Steelers did offensively.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Post-Detroit thoughts

This was the kind of win we've been waiting  for out of these Steelers in 2013. Backs against the wall - as it has been the past month-and-a-half, working against a team that looked superior on paper, the Steelers came out and dominated the second half.

Did I write dominated? Yep.

Even if Jim Schwartz doesn't inexplicably try a fake field goal and fail, the Lions were having issues stopping the Steelers from driving the length of the field. The Steelers went through a little bit of a lull at times. But so did the Lions early in the third quarter.

And when they did drive to the Pittsburgh 10, Schwartz knew he couldn't settle for a field goal. He saw that his defense was having issues stopping the Steelers and that Matthew Stafford was starting to see more pressure thanks mostly to Jason Worilds.

Worilds had four QB hits and a sack subbing on the left side for LaMarr Woodley.

Jarvis Jones had a couple of passes batted down at the line of scrimmage in the second half as well.

It all added up to a second half in which Stafford, who was 16 of 30 for 327 and two touchdowns in the first half, most of which came in an impressive second quarter, saw those numbers change considerably in the second half.

Stafford was just 3 of 16 for 35 and one interception after the intermission.

The Steelers defensive backs insist they didn't change anything in the second half, they only did a better job of disguising what they were doing pre-snap.

Ike Taylor was still matched up on Calvin Johnson for the most part, but didn't allow a single reception.

There was one little nugget from Ryan Clark, however, on how things changed. According to Clark, the Lions dipped into their playbook to try to run some of the same plays in the second half that had worked in the first half.

You know what they say, "fool me once, shame on you, fool me twice, shame on me."

@ Ben Roethlisberger threw four touchdown passes in this one, but could have had six or seven. In fact, he probably should have had that many.

Le'Veon Bell, Heath Miller and Antonio Brown had drops in the end zone - though the Steelers did score their go-ahead TD after Brown's drop.

Roethlisberger also overthrew a wide open David Paulson in the back of the end zone before the Steelers kicked another field goal.

The Steelers scored 37 points, yet still only rushed for 40 yards. They also left another 12 points on the field with the dropped passes and overthrow.

@ Only five teams in the AFC currently have winning records.

The Steelers, at 4-6, are currently one game out of the sixth and final wildcard spot and play many of the teams they are tied with or chasing down the stretch.

And when you look at the race for that final spot, the Steelers might be playing the best football right now, having  won four of six.

The others? The 5-5 Jets and Dolphins, and 4-6 Browns, Ravens and Chargers.

One of those six teams is going to be in the playoffs. The bet here is that it's the Steelers, who have home games remaining against Cleveland, Miami and Cincinnati, and road games at Baltimore, Green Bay and Cleveland this week.

Wins in five of those games will all-but guarantee a playoff spot. Wins in four of them, with the right combination, could also get the Steelers in at 8-8.

They already hold a tiebreaker over the Jets, who can't win two games in a row, and one win over Baltimore.

And it says here that if the Steelers find a way to get in, they'll be a dangerous out. To get to 9-7, they would have had to have strung together a 9-3 finish after their 0-4 start.

In fact, I'll got out on a limb and predict that the two wildcards this season will win in the first round of the AFC playoffs over Indianapolis and Cincinnati, both of which are likely to win their divisions.

The only way that changes is if the Steelers somehow overcome the Bengals to win the division, which is also a possibility. The Bengals are winning some games right now in spite of themselves. Andy Dalton has really taken a step backward as a quarterback.

Roethlisberger is starting to heat up and I liked offensive coordinator Todd Haley's decision to allow the team to use the hurry-up today as its main offensive package.

I also liked how the Steelers kept trying to score once they got the ball back with just over three minutes to play up 30-27.

The safe thing to do would have been to try to run the ball three times, force Detroit to use up its timeouts, and kick a field goal.

Instead, the Steelers put the Lions away.

@ The Steelers should give serious consideration to keeping Jason Worilds at the end of this season and playing him at outside linebacker with LaMarr Woodley, with Jarvis Jones sliding to the inside.

Jones is a natural in zone coverage over  the middle and could really be a force in the middle teamed with Lawrence Timmons on blitzes.

@ The Steelers are now averaging 24.8 points per game over their past seven games. That coincides with having both Heath Miller and Le'Veon Bell in the starting lineup.

That total, over the course of the season, would rank the Steelers 12th in scoring in the league right now. That's not great, but it's also not bad.

Steelers-Lions game-day thread

It's a rainy day here in Pittsburgh, though temperatures are mild and there's not a lot of wind on the field.

The Heinz Field turf looks OK, for now. But today's game will be the fourth game played here in the past seven days. That can take a toll.

LaMarr Woodley, Brett Keisel and Ramon Foster are out for the Steelers, as are Landry Jones, Derek Moye, Shamarko Thomas and Richard Gordon.

Guy Whimper will start at left guard. Jarvis Jones will start at ROLB, with Jason Worilds moving over to LOLB.

For Detroit, WR Nate Burleson is out again, as the team's best edge pass rusher Ziggy Ansah.

Also, rookie LaAdrian Waddle will start at RT, while Devin Taylor will start in place of Ansah at defensive end.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Who I like, Detroit version

The Steelers played their most complete game last week and defeated the Buffalo Bills, 23-10, in a game that wasn’t even that close.

That win put them at 3-6 and, surprisingly, pulled them within two games of both the AFC North lead and the second wildcard spot in the AFC.

This week we’ll find out for sure if we have to start looking at the playoff races or if the it’s time to start looking at potential draft picks when the Steelers host the Lions.

Of Pittsburgh’s remaining seven games, only three are against teams with winning records, and Cincinnati and Green Bay, two of those teams, are struggling right now.

The other is the Lions, who come into Pittsburgh on a bit of a roll, having won three of their past four.

Obviously, everyone knows the Lions have star wide receiver Calvin Johnson and quarterback Matthew Stafford throwing him the ball. It’s all that’s been talked about this week, along with Detroit’s potent offense.

But that offense is a little less potent on the road (21.8 points per game) than it is at home (32.2). And while the Lions don’t allow Stafford to be sacked – just 10 this season – they also don’t get a lot of sacks. Detroit, despite the presence of defensive tackles Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley, has just 15 sacks this season.

That means today’s game will be the first this season outside of the opener in which the Steelers, who have 16 sacks, will have more than their opponent.

Certainly, other teams with low sack totals, Chicago, for example, have found ways to get to Ben Roethilisberger. The Bears just 14 sacks this season, but three came in a win over the Steelers.

The Lions are two-point favorites to beat the Steelers and this game could go down to the wire.

If the Steelers can keep Johnson under control and force somebody else on Detroit’s offense to beat them, they can win.

If Detroit can get to Roethlisberger and force some turnovers, they could run away with it.

Take Detroit, 24-17

Friday, November 15, 2013

Talking Steelers-Roethlisberger

The NFL Network is trying to generate ratings on the backs of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Twice in the past five days the network's "insiders" have released stories revolving around Ben Roethlisberger and have even added a dash of Mike Tomlin in there as well.

I don't doubt for a second that Ian Rapoport and Michael Silver have some sources. But I don't think either of them have strong sources within the Steelers organization.

There are certain national reporters who, when they say something about the Steelers, I pay close attention. Nothing against either man, but Rapoport and Silver are not among  them.

I don't doubt that both of them heard something - though I'm not sure it's "news" that Tomlin's coming back next year. No kidding. Has anybody in Pittsburgh not been saying that all season long?

Any reporter you see on TV has an agent. And many of those agents also represent both players and coaches. And that's how a lot of this kind of stuff gets started, through agents hoping to make themselves and a client more money.

After wandering through the wasteland of the '80s and '90s without a star quarterback, does anyone think that the Steelers, who finally found one in Roethlisberger, are in any hurry to get rid of him?

Last Sunday, when Rapoport's initial report that Roethlisberger was unhappy and would seek a trade and the Steelers would be open to exploring that option - and had, in fact, done so the previous summer - was denied by Roethlisberger's agent, then the Steelers and finally Roethlisberger  himself. In fact, Roethlisberger denied it several times.

For their part, the Steelers are standing by team president Art Rooney II's simple and succinct statement:

"Contrary to erroneous reports, the Pittsburgh Steelers have not explored trading quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and have no plans to do so."

Rapoport immediately grasped at Rooney's use of the word "plans," as proof that something might happen.


This is not to say that Roethlisberger won't ever play for another team. Heck, Peyton Manning and Joe Montana finished their careers elsewhere.

But neither were traded by their respective teams without a solid plan already in place. In Manning's case, the Colts knew they were getting Andrew Luck. In the case of Montana, the 49ers had Steve Young waiting in the wings.

The Steelers have Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones. Nothing against either guy, but neither should be the heir apparent to a two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback.

The Steelers aren't about to head into the wasteland of not having a franchise quarterback. They've been there and struggled through that.

And please save me the idea that they can tank the rest of this season and get one of the top quarterback prospects in this draft. Even when the Steelers found themselves fortunate enough to take Roethlisberger in the draft, they didn't plan on playing him as a rookie.

It's just not the way they work. They never want to be forced to play a rookie.

Roethlisberger is also sincere in his desire to finish his career with the Steelers. His wife and her family is from here. He's made Pittsburgh his home.

Is there perhaps some jockeying being done right now behind the scenes for offseason contract negotiations? Absolutely that could be the case.

But there's also this. The Steelers are losing this season and remain one of the NFL's most popular franchise.

The people at NFL Network know that  they can drive some ratings by talking about a popular franchise that is struggling.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Mid-week blues

The Steelers entire starting offensive line - whatever that is - sat out practice on Wednesday. We'll probably see several, if not most, of them return to practice today, but it's a troubling trend to have a line that is so banged up, especially considering what the Steelers have ahead of them.

The Steelers play three games in 11 days starting with Sunday's game against the Lions. That's a pretty quick turnaround by anyone's standards, especially in the middle of the season when they've already logged nine games - 13 if you count the preseason.

Of the injured linemen, I would expect Ramon Foster to be the only one who sits out this weekend with his high ankle sprain.

Everybody else returned on Thursday.

@ Pro Football Talk ran a blurb Wednesday with the headline "Roethlisberger keeps talking about how he doesn’t want to talk about trade rumor"

Perhaps the headline should have read, "Roethlisberger keeps being asked about trade rumor that everybody has already dismissed."

The accompanying story made light of the fact that Roethlisberger keeps saying he doesn't want to talk about the trade "rumor," but continues to do so.

What's he supposed to do when he's continually asked about it?

@ LaMarr Woodley and Brett Keisel were both still out of practice on Thursday, though I would expect both to try to play.

It's important for Keisel, in particular, to get back onto the field.

The Steelers will need him to help their run defense. The Lions have only allowed 10 sacks all season, so it's not like the pass rush and, in particular, Woodley, is going to get there a lot on Sunday anyway.

Defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau did say, however, that part of the reason for that is because Detroit QB Matthew Stafford has a tendency when pressured to just throw the ball up for grabs. When you've got a 6-5 receiver in Calvin Johnson and a 6-7 tight end in Joseph Fauria, you can do that.

@ We'll see if Detroit running back Reggie Bush gets on the Steelers' radar for this quote, "There have been some big lanes," when talking about the Pittsburgh run defense.

Those lanes have mostly happened in road games, where the Steelers are allowing 149.8 yards per game compared to the 99 per game they allow at home.

The Lions, by the way, average just 87.8 yards rushing in their road games and 21.8 point per game away from Ford Field.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Tuesday with Tomlin

The Steelers are a little banged up heading into their game next Sunday against Detroit.

Head coach Mike Tomlin said rookie safety Shamarko Thomas is out this week - and possibly longer - with a high ankle sprain.

Guard Ramon Foster also has a high ankle sprain, but Tomlin isn't counting him out just yet. Guy Whimper would likely get the start at left guard if Foster can't play.

That's a big injury considering the strength of the Detroit defense is its interior line play.

LaMarr Woodley (calf) and Brett Keisel (foot) also will be limited early in the week.

@ With Thomas out, look for veteran safety Will Allen to play a more prominent role.

@ Tomlin said that veteran tight end Michael Palmer has earned more playing time due to what he's shown in practice.

The depth chart reflects that. Palmer is now No. 2 with David Paulson No. 3.

Tomlin didn't have an update yet on the status of Matt Spaeth, but Spaeth has been around the facility more often lately and has made a couple of the recent road trips as well.

I've been asked why the Steelers are carrying four active tight ends on their roster. The reason is simple, even though Richard Gordon has yet to dress for a game.

Heath Miller has been given every Wednesday off this season to rest his knee. The Steelers need Gordon around to practice on Wednesdays.

If/when Spaeth is activated, Gordon will be let go.

@ Tomlin's line of the day came when discussing running back Jonathan Dwyer's contributions this season.

When asked if he's seen a change in Dwyer's outlook, Tomlin replied, "I would guess that unemployment does that."

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Post-Buffalo thoughts

Ben Roethlisberger, his agent and Steelers president Art Rooney II all denied the NFL Network report that Roethlisberger wants to be traded after this season and that the team is considering doing so.

In fact, Roethlisberger vehemently denied it, saying he's a Pittsburgher now and wants to end his career with the Steelers.

Judging from Roethlisberger's denial, his voice inflection and body language, he's either serious in his denial or a very good liar.

@ Sunday's 23-10 win over Buffalo improved the Steelers' record to 19-2 against rookie quarterbacks with Dick LeBeau as the defensive coordinator. That mark has been improved by a 2-0 record this season.

The trouble is, the Steelers aren't scheduled to face any more rookie QBs the rest of the way - unless some teams decide to change starters.

@ Still, the most important thing was not that the Steelers beat another rookie starter Sunday, it was that they showed the ability to shut down a good rushing attack.

C.J. Spiller had nowhere to go throughout this game and finished with 23 yards on eight carries.

Fred Jackson's numbers - 12-55 - look better on paper, but were propped up by an 11-yard run late in the game and an 8-yard carry late in the first half. On both occasions, the Steelers were more than happy to allow the Bills to run the ball.

Take away those two carries and Jackson had 10 carries for 34 yards.

The Steelers did an excellent job of staying in their gaps and stringing out plays to the sideline. That was especially big against Spiller, who is faster than anyone the Steelers have on defense.

@ After Sunday's effort, it was obvious it was a good thing the Steelers didn't keep Brian Moorman around.

@ Mario Williams was a huge focus for many coming into this game. He  not only failed to record a sack in this game, he didn't sniff  making a tackle, either.

@ Le'Veon Bell might be the Steelers' best running back coming out of the backfield as a receiver since John L.Williams.

He's still feeling his way as a running back, ie. hitting holes, etc. But he's really providing some punch in the short passing game.

@ Some people have asked why I think Mike Adams still has a future on this team. Take a  look at Sunday's game tape.

Adams is a ferocious run blocker. He needs to get better in his pass sets, but that should come. Then again, the entire team needs to get better in its pass blocking.

@ I didn't pick the Steelers to win this game because I thought they would have issues stopping Buffalo's run game and also slowing the Bills' pass rush.

But that didn't mean I didn't think the Steelers could win this one.

Now that they have, what does it mean?

We'll see next week. If the Steelers can get a win next week over Detroit, they're back in the playoff hunt.

As it stands now, they're two games out of the division lead with a game still remaining at home against Cincinnati.

They're also just two games out of the final AFC wildcard spot currently held by the Jets, over  whom they hold a tiebreaker.

Again, a win over Detroit this week could make things very interesting.

Steelers-Bills game-day thread

First, let's address the Ben Roethlisberger trade "rumor."

Not only have the Steelers not explored trading Roethlisberger, they have $14 million reasons not to. That's the amount of dead money he would count against their salary cap next season if they moved him after this season is complete.

The Steelers would have to sign Roethlisberger to a more cap-friendly contract extension before moving him. And if they were able to do that, why would they want to trade him?

The whole thing stinks to me of an agent trying to lay the groundwork for offseason contract talks, something that goes on all the time but doesn't necessarily get reported.

Roethlisberger's agent later Tweeted that the entire report was wrong and that the QB wanted to finish his career in Pittsburgh.

The only time the Steelers even remotely considered trading Roethlisberger was during the 2010 offseason when he was going  through his legal problems.

At that time, they had both Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch as backup quarterbacks.

And all he did that season was lead them to a third Super Bowl.

The Steelers aren't going to trade Roethlisberger now with only Bruce Gradkowski and Landry Jones as possible replacements.

They don't want to be forced to play a rookie QB. Remember, the only reason Roethlisberger played as a rookie was because Tommy Maddox got hurt. The plan was to allow him to sit and learn a season under Maddox.

@ Jones, Derek Moye, DeMarcus Van Dyke, Richard Gordon, Kion Wilson, Chris Carter and Hebron Fangupo are inactive for the Steelers.

For Buffalo, the only inactive of any import is Robert Woods, a rookie who is the team's third-leading receiver.

Both  Marcus Gilbert and Kelvin Beachum are active for the Steelers and are expected to start.

William Gay will start at CB.

Friday, November 08, 2013

Who I like, Buffalo version

The Steelers have allowed 197 yards rushing in back-to-back games to fall to 31st in the NFL against the  run.

They're better than that, but there's no doubt the run defense hasn't been up to snuff this season.

That’s bad news against the Bills. With Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, Buffalo runs the ball as well as anyone. The Bills average 145.3 yards rushing per game. Add in E.J. Manuel doing some running  out of the read-option as well, and the Bills can hurt the Steelers on the ground.

Buffalo also has some premium pass rushers, led by Mario Williams, and is third in the NFL in sacks.

Like the Steelers, the Bills have found ways to pull defeated out of the jaws of victory.

The Steelers are 3-point favorites in this game and could certainly win it. It wouldn't surprise me at all if Ben Roethlisberger has a lot of success throwing the ball. Buffalo has allowed an amazing 20 touchdown passes already this season.

But the feeling is that the Bills will control this game with their rushing attack and squeak out a win.

Take Buffalo, 21-20

Thursday, November 07, 2013

Thursday news, notes

This is a big week for the Steelers. At 2-6, they don't have a lot to hang their hats on.

They've been within a touchdown of the lead or a tie entering the fourth quarter of each of their games this season, only to fall short six times.

But watching the Thursday night game, I was reminded that, at 2-6, you're not necessarily out of the playoff race.

In 2012, Washington started its season 3-6, then won its next seven games.

That's why the Steelers aren't making sweeping changes. Right now, they're two games out of a playoff spot in the AFC and three games off the lead in the AFC North.

As we saw Monday night when Green Bay lost Aaron Rodgers for six weeks to a broken collarbone, you never know what might happen with your future opponents or division rivals.

@ A lot is being made this week of the fact that both of Buffalo's starting guards were with the Steelers.

Kraig Urbik was a third-round draft pick of the Steelers in 2009.

He was terrible in camp as a rookie that season and was barely passable in 2010 but was going to make the roster.

Unfortunately for the Steelers, Ben Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games of 2010 due to the Milledgeville, Ga., incident.

Pittsburgh planned to go into the season with two quarterbacks, Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon, to ride out the first month without Roethlisberger. But Leftwich was injured in the preseason finale and the Steelers had to keep a fourth quarterback, Charlie Batch, on the roster.

That meant that somebody had to go that the Steelers had planned to keep. That somebody was Urbik.

Doug Legursky is the other starting guard and he left Pittsburgh as a free agent before this season. The Steelers liked Legursky as a center, but not as much as a guard.

The Steelers felt they would be better served with Kelvin Beachum, who they felt could play all five spots on the line, being their top backup. He's now their starting left tackle.

@ Ike Taylor was back in practice today as he tries to return from a concussion.

Vince Williams was cleared as well, but was limited.

That's bad news for him. Mike Tomlin usually keeps rookies who don't get a full week of practice on the sidelines because he feels they need as much practice as possible to play.

If Williams doesn't play, Stevenson Sylvester will get the call.

@ Beachum and Marcus Gilbert were also out again today.

Wednesday, November 06, 2013

Wednesday news, notes

Earlier in the week, I stated that Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau isn't the part of what's ailing the team right now. In fact, he'll be one of the solutions.

But one of the prevailing questions being tossed around the locker room today - when Incognito-Martin questions weren't being lobbed at players - was whether LeBeau had lost his fastball.


Since LeBeau returned to Pittsburgh in 2004, the Steelers have ranked 1st, 4th, 9th, 1st, 1st, 5th, 2nd, 1st and, yet again, 1st in the NFL in total defense.

In that period, the Steelers also went to four AFC Championships, three Super Bowls and won a pair of championships.

Just because Terrelle Pryor broke off a 93-yard run and Tom Brady torched the defense for 610 yards in back-to-back weeks doesn't mean LeBeau can't coach.

It means the players just aren't getting things done right now.

The biggest issue, to me, is that the run defense has allowed 197 yards in back-to-back games.

This is a team that basically has three new starters in its front seven - nose tackle Steve McLendon, Vince Williams at inside linebacker and the Jason Worilds/Jarvis Jones combo at outside linebacker.

Those three are replacing Casey Hampton, Larry Foote and James Harrison, respectively.

By themselves, those changes could be covered up. All together, it's a big change, not only in level of play, but experience.

And when the Steelers aren't crushing the run - they've fallen to 31st in run defense - it opens up a lot of things in the passing game.

Safeties Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu are biting  on pretty much every run fake because they have to with this front seven. And that's hurting the Steelers on the backside in the passing game.

@ David DeCastro was back at practice today, but Kelvin Beachum (knee), Marcus Gilbert (ankle) and Fernando Velasco (thigh) were all out.

@ It was good to see rookie receiver Markus Wheaton back at practice today. He still has his pinky wrapped, but it didn't appear to bother him catching the football.

@ Sean Spence was placed on season-ending injured reserve and wasn't around the facility today.

I'm sure Spence was hurt by the news that the Steelers weren't going to put him on the active roster as he continues his attempt to come back from a dislocated knee and torn ligaments suffered last preseason, but at least the Steelers are keeping the door open for him.

Pittsburgh could have released him outright, but he showed enough in the past few weeks of practice that the organization is willing to keep him around. The Steelers could have released him outright.

Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Tuesday with Tomlin

Mike Tomlin is apparently not much of a David Bowie fan. You know, Ch-ch-ch-changes.

Tomlin announced there would be no changes at this point after Sunday's debacle in New England and that he did not see any "blatant" lack of effort issues for the Steelers.

As I've stated before, Tomlin's hands are really kind of tied at this point.

Many of the young guys on this team are already playing: Jarvis Jones, David DeCastro, Vince Williams, Mike Adams, Kelvin Beachum, Shamarko Thomas, Le'Veon Bell.

And Markus Wheaton, who has been out the past month with a broken finger, is expected to return Sunday.

The Steelers aren't going to give up on a season. And, at least according to the standings, they're still alive for a playoff berth.

Perhaps if the losing continues, they'll make some moves later in the season to get some younger guys in the game on a full-time basis. But right now, they're still fighting.

Remember, the last time they started 2-6 - in 2006 - they went 6-2 in the second half to finish 8-8.

This is a proud bunch and it's just not the Steelers way to give up on a season.

@ For those wondering, here's the snap counts thus far for some of the younger players:

Jarvis Jones 230 snaps; Shamarko Thomas 189; Vince Williams 289; Le'Veon Bell 264; David DeCastro 426; Kelvin Beachum 392; Mike Adams 339.

The Steelers have had 527 defensive and 530 offensive plays.

Again, it's not like those guys aren't seeing the field and seeing it plenty.

@ Tomlin was asked about Dick LeBeau today and whether he still has faith in his defensive coordinator. He simply answered, "Certainly."

When pressed on that, Tomlin replied, "Because he's Dick LeBeau. Does that answer your question?"

Good for Tomlin. LeBeau isn't the problem. In fact, if he decides to stay around, he'll be part of the solution.

@ Tomlin said he pulled Antonio Brown out of the game Sunday because he made a mistake in his route running that led to Ben Roethlisberger's last interception.

Some ran with that saying that because Tomlin was willing to bench Brown, he should have also taken Roethlisberger out of the rout in order to protect his quarterback.

But they didn't listen to the rest of Tomlin's explanation.

"As opposed to continuing to absorb negativity from that standpoint, potentially, with some things we were doing in the no-huddle offense, I chose to remove him from the game."

Later, Tomlin explained further: "He was frustrated at the end of the football game, and rightfully so. There were a lot of us that were."

Sounds to me like Brown got a little chippy on the sideline following the interception and Tomlin decided to bench him for it.

@ In addition to Wheaton, DeCastro is expected to be a full participant this week in practice.

Marcus Gilbert (ankle), Ike Taylor (concussion) and Williams (concussion) will be limited.

With Taylor limited and possibly out - he has to pass concussion tests - the Steelers re-signed DeMarcus Van Dyke and released Isaiah Green.

Van Dyke gives them some leeway in case Curtis Brown isn't recovered from the death in his family suffered last week.

@ When asked who should be held accountable for the team's draft failures, Tomlin said, "I take responsibility for the players we have drafted since I've been here."

Monday, November 04, 2013

Post-New England thoughts

There's not a lot to say about this game on the defensive side of the ball. In fact, there's nothing good to say about what the Steelers put on tape defensively on Sunday.

There were some good plays - Steve McLendon getting penetration at the goal line to stuff a fourth-and-inches run, Jason Worilds getting a couple of sacks - including one on which he beat the tackle - Troy Polamalu forcing a fumble early in the third quarter. But those were few and far between.

The secondary had easily its worst day of the season, failing to get its hands on a single one of Tom Brady's 33 pass attempts and drawing three pass interference penalty.

It was like an added scene from Airplane. "The Steelers picked the wrong day to quit playing defense."

The biggest problem was the run defense, or lack thereof. New England averaged 5.6 yards per carry with a long run of 23 yards and one Tom Brady kneeldown.

The Patriots averaged a ridiculous 8.6 yards per play.

@ By the same token, the Steelers offense played a reasonably good game - outside of three Ben Roethlisberger turnovers.

Roethlisberger was sacked five times, but at least four were because Roethlisberger held the ball too long.

@ As bad as things are right now, the Steelers were in the same boat in 2003. The Steelers didn't quit that season and went 4-4 down the stretch, including a 13-10 overtime loss at Baltimore in the regular season finale.

These Steelers won't quit, either.

So forget about all of the "They have to play this young guy or that young guy" stuff.

Jarvis Jones, Le'Veon Bell, Shamarko Thomas and Vince Williams are getting plenty of playing time. Markus Wheaton has been held back by his broken finger, but he wouldn't deserve playing time over Jerricho Cotchery at this point.

Cotchery is having an outstanding season.

@ Cam Heyward continues to get better and better.

But there's something missing in the team's run defense. McLendon makes some plays here and there, but he's not the long-term answer as the starting nose tackle.

In fact, he's probably better suited to be the No. 2 nose tackle.

@ It's probably not going to happen, but I would take a serious look at Jones at inside linebacker moving forward.

You can win with Jason Worilds at outside linebacker, but I'm not so sure that you can with Williams at inside linebacker.

Williams left Sunday's game with a concussion, so his status for next week's game against Buffalo will be in doubt.

Jones has good coverage skills and might be better served in the NFL if he didn't constantly have to take on offensive linemen. Put him inside and let him run the ball.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

Steelers-Patriots game-day thread

No surprises on the inactive list today for the Steelers.

Landry Jones, Markus Wheaton, Curtis Brown, Richard Gordon, Kion Wilson, David DeCastro and Hebron Fangupo are inactive for the Steelers.

It's sunny but chilly here at Gillette Stadium.

Cornerback Aquib Talib, who leads the Patriots with four interceptions, and wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins, who has four touchdown catches, are inactive for the Patriots.

The Patriots are going with seven active offensive linemen for the game.

Friday, November 01, 2013

Who I like, New England version

For all of the talk about New England dominating the Steelers, Pittsburgh has actually won two of the past three matchups against the Patriots. Of course, one of those games came with Matt Cassel at quarterback instead of Tom Brady.

Brady owns a 6-2 career record against the Steelers, though four of those meetings came prior to 2005, when Brady and the Patriots were still winning Super Bowls.

As hard as it is to believe, the Patriots haven’t won a Super Bowl since the 2004 season. Since then, the Steelers have won two Super Bowls and been to another.

But that wasn’t these Steelers, or these Patriots, for that matter.

While the Steelers’ issues during their 2-5 start have been well-documented – turnovers, sacks and lack thereof and allowing big plays on defense – the Patriots have found a way to overcome some of the same issues to win.

New England has allowed 23 sacks, is converting on 32 percent of its third downs, Brady has been intercepted six times and the Patriots have fumbled 11 times. But they’ve only lost three of those fumbles.

New England’s opponents have also lost 11 fumbles, but the Patriots have recovered six.

It adds up to a plus-7 for the Patriots in turnover margin, which will help you overcome some shortcomings.

By contrast, the Steelers have fumbled 10 times and lost seven. Their opponents have fumbled seven times and recovered one.

The Steelers are minus-9 in turnover margin, but much of that was built during the team’s 0-4 start. Pittsburgh has turned the ball over just three times in its past three games.

The Patriots have 10 interceptions this season, though four have been by corner Aqib Talib, and he’s questionable to play with a hip injury.

The Patriots are 7 ½-point favorites in this game and that seems like a big number for a team that has seen six of its eight games decided by a touchdown or less.

The Steelers will continue to take better care of the football, and it wouldn't surprise me if they won. But not having David DeCastro, who has been their best offensive linemen, available will hurt.

I expect them to lose yet another close one.

Take New England, 24-20