Your 2012 Steeler Draft Class

I doubt he ends up with this number.

"Character Issues" or "Off-field Issues" abound with this group. A closer look shows a series of conditions that at worst should serve as an area of concern, but at best could have given The Steelers an oppurtunity to get discounted merchandise. Sortof like shoppin at Gabe's. Whatever the price, The Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 Draft Class is here, and they just may end up being the best since the 70s.

David DeCastro, OG (yea, he is), Stanford
Round 1: 24(24)
Player The Experts Expect: Alan Faneca, Steve Hutchinson
2012 Ceiling: Starter from Day One, Ben Roethlisberger's new bestie, Self-loathing Seahawks fan
You May Have Seen Him: Losing the 2011 Fiesta Bowl (41-38 in OT), Keeping his diary, mauling defensive linemen
Career Possibilities: Future HOF'er, ESPN's replacement for Mark Schlereth, Golden Corral sponshorship deal

My Uninformed Take: Everyone seems to label this guy as playing angry or having a chip on his shoulder...considering he graduated in three years from Stanford with a degree in Management, Science & Engineering, I'm betting that anger might just be a drive to succeed. We can hate on Andrew Luck all we want (and we'll certainly have time for that), but he's polished. DeCastro is said to be Luck's best friend, their NFL fates likely inexorably linked. Some express concern over DeCastro's value being inflated by playing in a great system and with a great player at Stanford. I don't care if you played for Presbyterian University...if you have the physical numbers and highlight real of Mr. DeCastro. You likely watched him fall down the draft board thinking The Steelers would end up taking Dont'a Hightower once DeCastro was selected...but that never happened. I don't like using Belicheck as validaiton, but the fact that The Pats traded up immediately after we grabbed DeCastro to get Hightower makes me think he was probably ranked the number one LB in the draft, Luke Kuechly excepted (but even Bawstohn can't have that much grit). Still, anyone who watched more than a few snaps of The Steelers '11 campaign knows Offensive Line is our clear and present danger. Had to do it, good pick.

Well, you can't be number 1 also...

Mike Adams, OT, Ohio State
Round 2: 24(56)
Player The Experts Expect: Jammal Brown, D'Brickashaw Ferguson
2012 Ceiling: Starter, Off-field Issue-free season, Cam Heyward's bestie (again)
You May Have Seen Him: Losing to Florida 21-14 in the Gator Bowl, On tumblr (J/K, J/K LOLZ)
Career Possibilities: All-Pro (though, not going to Hawaii "THANKS, ROG"), WWE Superstar

My Uninformed Take: Adams is best known for his involvement in the OSU Tattoo Scandal popularized by Mr. Terrelle Pryor. He also failed the NFL Combine's drug test, a fact which he originally lied to Steelers brass about. If that weren't enough, some believe his play in the Senior Bowl was erratic. So, how/why in the nuts did they still take him? The Steelers ability to rehabilitate their players' public images has been unwittingly put to the test recently. The fact that they chose to bring further scrutiny upon themselves by selecting Adams speaks to their confidence in the pick and their ability to set him on the proper path. Either that, or they just couldn't pass up the possibility of a second future All-Pro offensive linemen in as many days. Things seem to be more of a gamble with Adams than The Steelers usually take...but if the charges were dropped, and his involvement with the tattoo situation was nominal, both facts which I'm sure Rooney's employees vetted, then his fall to the 2nd round will be their gain. Willie Colon is a relative unknown after his lack of play, Marcus Gilbert represents a good bet for starter, but Adams has likely already eclipsed Jonathan Scott on the depth chart. If either DeCastro or Adams end up a "10-year starter" as many already dubbing them, both picks are a success. If both do, the entire draft is.

Sean Spence, LB(weak side), Miami (FL)
Round 3: 23(86)
Player The Experts Expect: Derrick Brooks, James Farrior
2012 Ceiling: Spot starter, Learns LeBeau's schemes well enough to teach others
You May Have Seen Him: Being suspended a game for receiving improper benefits from Miami Douche-booster Nevin Shapiro, Standing out on a sub-par Hurricanes team
Career Possibilities: Carnell Lake 2.0, Multiple contracts with Steelers, Dental Hygienist 

My Uninformed Take: "The Book" on this guy is he has really good speed, awareness, on-field leadership abilities and overall athleticism. His question marks appear to be size and strength. Under performing on the bench press at the combine is not something I'm too concerned about, especially if The Steelers have him pegged for a coverage linebacker. I'm sure many will say he could be moved to safety...only time (and team need) will tell. I'm not going to pretend to know what The Steelers see in Spence, but he certainly seems to be smart, which makes him capable in LeBeau's defense. He also appears to be versatile, which makes him useful as well. 

Alameda Ta'amu, DT, Washington
Round 4: 14(109)
Player The Experts Expect: Casey Hampton
2012 Ceiling: Shadowing Hampton (except at the buffet), Adopts cool "Snack Attack" nickname
You May Have Seen Him: 

My Uninformed Take: Nose tackles are extremely hard to find. Even taking the second best overall NT in the draft is a risk. Watching Casey Hampton when breaking down film is the quickest way to see just how impressive 350 lbs moving at 5.5 speed can be. With Hampton's minutes dwindling, I think even the staunchest fan would say taking a 4th round flier on a possible replacement is worth it. If nothing else, Ta'amu has exhibited durability, another rarity at this position. He started every game of this final two seasons at Washington and got playing time in every game all four years he played. His weight has apparently fluctuated greatly at times while in school, topping out at nearly 400 lbs. at times...that's a lot of Husky. Combine that with "shorter arms/reach" and you may have the reason this kid dropped out of his original "Second Round" grade. Whatever. As a fourth-rounder, I'm hoping he shows promise in camp this year and can begin to actualize some of it by season's end. Tempered expectations, to be sure.

Oh, he looks tall...

Chris Rainey, RB, Florida
Round 5: 24(159)
Player The Experts Expect: Chris Henry; PacMan Jones (in more ways than one)
2012 Ceiling: Main Kick-Returner, Scandal/Arrest-Free Year, Maurkice Pouncey's bestie (again)
You May Have Seen Him: Oh, there's SO MANY options...

-Unwittingly putting his own recruitment under scrutiny during an interview in which he bragged about receiving gifts as a high school player.
-Having his BCS Championship Ring stolen.
-Speaking ever-so-eloquently about his time at Florida under Urban Meyer (sarcasm).
-Being arrested for Aggravated Stalking (yikes)...though he was cleared of the charges.

My Uninformed Take: A 4.37 forty time. FOUR POINT THREE SEVEN.  That was good enough for 2nd at the combine at RB. He's going to make the team unless he has issues beyond football, which obviously is not something to count out. Any time you can dramatically increase your chances of a run-back on special teams...you take it. I mean, The Steelers have taken gambles on returners in the free agent market in the past in the from of Eddie freakin' Drummond, Allen Rossum and of course, Stefan Logan.  So, the value here is undeniable. However, Rainey appears to be the biggest public relations gamble from a standpoint of run-ins with the law and just all around general stupidity. I truly wish I could dig up the audio of his high school radio interview...it's legendary. Having said that, Steelers Brass can polish this guy's image and maybe even give new OC Todd Haley a weapon they haven't had in...well...nearly forever.

Round 7 Guys: None of these guys are likely to make the team outright...practice squad fodder, mostly.

24(231) Toney Clemons WR, Colorado
Sweeping Generalization: Think "Stone Hands" Featherstone from "Necessary Roughness"

33(240) David Paulson TE, Oregon
Sweeping Generalization: Fullback or bust for this guy. "His name is David Paulson."

39(246) Terrence Frederick CB, Texas A&M
Sweeping Generalization: Undersized, but who knows...we certainly need help at corner.

41(248) Kelvin Beachum Jr. OG, Southern Methodist
Sweeping Generalization: He is a very sound sleeper.

The Steelers are used to being in the top 1/3 of the NFL year in and year out. Sometimes sneaking in to the playoffs, sometimes serving as the lead mark. The trick, of course, is to maintain consistency. That consistency combined with a "you know what we're going to do, just try and stop us" approach to the game can result in some experts or talking heads seemingly taking them for granted from year to year. So too we have the case this Draft. I have not heard a single "expert" pick ours as the draft's biggest winner...but more importantly, none list us as having big questions unanswered or positions unfilled. Thinking again of these prospects' collective label of off-field concerns, this has to restore some faith in the front office that saw a bit of conspiracy pertaining to the dismissal/firing/retirement of Bruce Arians, not to mention those lingering misgivings of other notable players.


The Bubble Screen of Death is Dead

Presumably, at least. How knows if the Steelers will double down on pass happiness and sign Mike Martz just to see how high I'm willing to climb to leap to my demise. Even worse, some are saying Jim Caldwell is a possible replacement candidate. What conversations

For now, let's just celebrate Bruce Arians being gone forever. Granted, he wasn't the worst offensive coordinator the team has ever had in my lifetime (Kevin Gilbride), but the Steelers could certainly do better. I'm sure the guy got tired of the constant hate and blame heaped on him (hate and blame I was only happy to contribute) and really, that was the only way he was gonna leave. Tomlin and Roethlisberger were fiercely loyal to the guy.

If nothing else, hopefully this spells the end of the stupid bubble screen strategy the Steelers routinely employed under Arians. Not only was it usually a waste of a down, it was also turning into turnover bait on a consistent basis. The INT Terrell Suggs got a bubble screen the team telegraphed possibly cost the Steelers the second game against Baltimore. Had they won that, the team is probably still playing this weekend. Only a bad early whistle by the officials stopped the bubble screen from resulting in another turnover in the Wild Card loss in Denver.


Tebow 3:16 Means You Just Got Sideline Smolderfaced



It's been readily apparent for weeks that the Steelers were too banged up and otherwise out of sorts to put together another bid for the Super Bowl. Most likely they were going to lose to New England in six days in Foxboro, but they should have enough - even with half the defense sidelined or compromised - to down a 8-8 team, even on the road.

The Steelers might have (could argue they should have) pulled it out, but poor coaching and, more importantly, a lack of adjustments kept them from advancing. Moreover, the Steelers just became evidence for the many Tebowtards out there that Timmy is "for real", whatever the hell that means. I'll give the guy credit, of his 10 long completions, a lot of them were pinpoint throws that were downright impressive. But a lot of quarterbacks in this league will excel if the opposition is defending their receivers in man coverage with no safety help.

I don't fault Dick LeBeau for trying that scheme at the outset. Who would trust Tebow to make accurate throws the way he has played? But how was that still the coverage by the time overtime rolled around? LeBeau's ancient and maybe that advanced age makes him more resistant to change than he should be. Shit, it took four or five losses to the Patriots before he tried something new with them. If anything, the loss deprives us of the chance to see if LeBeau would actually stay creative with the challenge of New England. It could have been hubris that convinced him even after his defense got burned several times in the second quarter that lowly Tebow couldn't hit another open receiver streaking down the field.

I'm not among the irate knee-jerkers calling for LeBeau's ouster or even the dispatching of Ike Taylor. Obviously, Taylor was put in a difficult position with Ryan Mundy giving him no help over the top. But you can't be a supposed shutdown corner and get abused the way he was by Demaryius Thomas. Thomas is a great young player who has been on fire the last month of the season. Not really a guy to take lightly in single coverage, even if it's Tebow throwing to him.

The clock management on the final drive of regulation was atrocious. The Steelers seemed to have more issues with that this season than at any point in Tomlin's tenure. Mike is a guy who talks a good game about being hard on himself and his strategies, and he usually, if not always, follows through on that. Let's hope he makes a point to revisit some of those blunders between now and September.

Give it up to Ben playing hurt and rallying the team back. He was obviously hobbled and appeared to have reaggravated his injury at one point in the game, but stuck it out and was solid throughout. Can't say his receivers did him a lot of favors either. Jerricho Cotchery and Mike Wallace had two critical drops on what would have been big plays when the throws were there. It's nice that Wallace made the Pro Bowl as a starter and all, but I can't image that it did a lot for his contract demands that he forgot how to catch the ball the second half of the season.

Had to have heartened a lot of Mendenhall's detractors to see Isaac Redman play so well. That's probably the brightest point for me. If Mendy didn't just suffer a torn ACL, you could conceivably see him offered as trade bait, both to acquire another pick and maybe clear some cap room for Mike Wallace.

In some ways, I guess losing to Tebow isn't as bad as losing to New England, because then at least the last meeting between the Steelers and the Pats was a victory and we don't have to hear about how this season was a repeat of 2004, when the Steelers won the regular season meeting, only to drop the playoff rematch with the Greatriots. That said, I'm not watching a goddamn minute of SportsCenter or any sports talking head show all week.

Pretty shitty showing by the refs yesterday. The botched fumble on the lateral seems to be getting all the attention, OF COURSE. It was a terrible call, no doubt, but the Broncos got their share of breaks as well, if you wish to count three grievous no-calls on Harrison holds, a puzzling incidental contact explanation when a defender tripped Antonio Brown streaking toward the end zone (the Steelers had to settle for a field goal instead) not to mention what could have been a helmet-to-helmet hit on Mike Wallace in the second half. There was some garbage officiating throughout the weekend, which makes yet another case for full-time officials, but don't hold your breath or anything.

Yeah, the Steelers will be back next year, presumably healthy at a lot of positions where they didn't finish the year healthy, so that's nice. Except people like James Farrior, Casey Hampton, Brett Keisel, Ike Taylor and Max Starks are gonna be a year older. Will Starks still be a capable tackle for one more year. Does anyone trust Willie Colon being worth another shot if he even comes back? Another postseason loss that showed that the corner play is a liability might lead you to think a DB would be a big priority come draft time. Who knows, though. With Green Bay and New England the likely participants in the Super Bowl, the line of thinking may just be that defense doesn't mean shit so long as you can put up 40 per game. That would lead you to think that the Steelers are a strengthed O-line away from being a serious threat again.

There's also the matter of the middle linebackers. Fans are furious with Lawrence Timmons, who did have a down year, but James Farrior has lost a step as well. They're two positions that certainly must be addressed. So even though Mike Wallace is the only guy to be concerned about, the Steelers have some veteran fat they can trim, but will have to have a big score or two in the draft to be able to enter 2012 with an eye on another championship run.


My Grandma's Wild Card Weekend Picks

Pretty sure this is graphic for a baby's bib. Whatever.

My Grandma grew up on the mean streets of Sharpsburg, PA. She lived between a brewery and a cement factory. She worked at a bank for 40 years and only took 3 days off. When she "retired" she got bored, so she went to work at the snack bar at Hills department store in the Waterworks.

Grandma is endemic of so much of what Pittsburgh is. She is a tough lady. She's a busy-body. She tells stories, usually interrupting our conversation to do so. And she tells it like it is. But, she loves each and every one of us in her family. Fiercely.

Growing up, she refused to come see me play football, only baseball (that's her favorite sports and she watches the Buccos on TV whenever she can) because she didn't like, "seeing all of those boys hit into each other."

But, in her golden, hell, platinum years, she's taken to entering her assisted living center's weekly Steeler block pool. It's given us something to bond over. This week, I hoped to solicit her "picks" for the upcoming NFL Wild Card Weekend. Once I dangled the idea of going to lunch at Atria's out there, she quickly agreed. Hey, I figured we had my cat do it previously, so why not? Anyway, here's the first go 'round:

Grandma likes the Steelers, which is sort of surprising actually. She obviously expresses some doubt, but as I said, she used to have a real problem with tackle football. When I was younger, any mention of them and she would immediately say "Bah humbug! Football stinks! Let's Go Buccos!" I suppose this matches the overall sentiment of SteelerNation this week. With all of the injuries and nagging concerns I think most fans will simply be relieved by a win. While we are the better team in nearly every facet on paper...well...Grandma heard they might lose SOMEWHERE, right?

As you can hear, her pick of the Bengals is simple: she knows people in Cincinnati (my in-laws...don't worry, they're Steeler fans). With Andy Dalton's health being a surprise quesiton mark, it's no wonder she took her time to decide/swallow the cheese dip she was eating. This game is likely the most indeterminate of the weekend. If you're like me, pausing to decide who to root for (and ostensibly pull for as an opponent for next week) is a thought, but it has been restricted to a passing one at that. Cannot allow for the 'ole "Thinking Ahead" jinx. She's also a bit confused by the playoff format in the NFL. And I'm not sure I really did much to clear that up...

She goes with the Saints in a matter-of-fact fashion, as have most of the pundits and experts. I suppose that makes sense, especially considering the game is in New Orleans. But, it's worth noting that a healthy Lions defense could easily, yes easily, swing this game the other direction. But, Grandma isn't buying that "rubbish" - she knows the Saints have too many weapons to succumb to what amounts to a leveraged pass-rush. Ok, time for the final segment, a review of her picks and the final one, Falcons/Giants:

So, it's Giants. I actually deleted the story she told me about how her first ever plane ride was to NYC with some of her fellow cashiers from The Federal Reserve Bank she used to work with. They saw a show. It was "delightful"

I'll be back next week with more picks...

Steelers Go Before God Boy

Unless the Steelers overcome injuries to pull another 2005-esque three-win playoff run on the road, the team is going to end up having its season come to close with a loss to either Tebow, the Patriots or Baltimore. None of those is particularly pleasant to contemplate. Being myth building fodder for the Tebow media machine might not be quite as bad as conceding a first playoff loss to the Ravens, but it's not far off.

The hype behind Timmy has fallen off slightly given Denver's implosion the final month of the season. That should help allay fears that the Steelers won't suffer a crushing one-and-done road upset, but even an out-of-sync Broncos team can pose some problems for a Steelers squad at considerably less than full strength. More to the point, given how Pittsburgh has played on the road this season, I'm not sure how most pundits are calling for a Steelers blowout. What was the best Steelers road performance this season? A 24-17 win in Cincinnati? A two-score victory over Arizona? Those are the only outings I can think of where they didn't lose or squeak by with a sloppy day.

That Maurkice Pouncey will probably also miss this game concerns me more than Rashard Mendenhall being out. This is a game for the Steelers' line and passing game to win or lose. Unless the defense chips in with a score, Denver isn't scoring 20 points. If this were the Steelers run defense of last season, I'd say Denver wouldn't clear double-digits, but McGahee should probably get at least a little traction on the ground.

Anyway, should be the Steelers put up another turnover-laden performance despite the offense moving the day (see either Cleveland game) and the team is probably setting itself up for a unbearable Tebow Time finish. The problem is, Denver knows this. They know Ben isn't as mobile as he usually is. And now the line has further vulnerabilities. So you're gonna see a fierce pass rush from Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil. How Pittsburgh copes with that decides the game, almost certainly.

Ryan Clark's absence hurts run stopping possibly even more than pass coverage. Polamalu gets more of the credit for safeties crushing the run, but Clark has been fairly instrumental with
coming in and taking out the fullback. Ryan Mundy's an okay fill-in, but I'm worried, just as I am that LaMarr Woodley, even though he's playing will be anywhere close to where he was when he was winning AFC Defensive Player of the Month earlier this season. Hell, apparently James Harrison has a toe issue now, which, you know, greeeeaaaaattttt. A pure pass rush probably isn't as import against Tebow as is just being disciplined about how you try to bring him down. It's probably similar to the way a lot of teams approach playing against Ben. The worst way to let Denver to move the ball, other than just let their run game dominate you, is to miss on Tebow and have him take off for 20 yard gains.

During the Broncos much overblown run when Tebow first assumed the starting job, Football Elmer Gantry was at least good about not turning the ball over. If anything, that's where his strength lie. He let the running game and defense do their job. In some ways, he obviously helped the run game with some option looks, but for the most part, he didn't hurt the defense or put the team out of the position to stick with the run by not turning the ball over. During the recent three-game skid, that's clearly hasn't been the case, as Tebow is responsible for seven turnovers over that span, compared to only five the previous eight weeks combined. The Steelers defense has also gotten better about creating turnovers, though they're never exactly been great about it this year. Those are two encouraging trends, as any turnovers by Tebow are practically fatal for the Broncos on Sunday. The best chance for a Denver win is their pass rush frustrating Ben, maybe getting a fumble, while Tebow, maybe not even playing what a reasonable viewer might call "good", just doesn't make the killer mistake.

I know I sound racked with worry that the Steelers, but I feel pretty comfortable that the team will win, even though it won't be anywhere near as lop-sided as a lot of the general public believes. Were the Steelers totally healthy, yeah, they'd probably throttle Denver. But that seems to be lost on a lot of casual fans. So if the game remains close, I'm sure I'll see a lot of the Twitter commentary on the game be about how it's a lot closer than people expected and HURR DERR here comes Tebow Time. Not looking forward to that. I think most anxiety from Steelers fans about Sunday come from the fact that the Steelers are getting propped up like that from those hoping Tebow goes down that anything less than complete slaughter will come off looking like a disappointment. Kind of a no-win scenario. That and the prospect of losing and being background fodder for the media hero-making campaign for Tebow is too horrifying not to gnaw at you even a little bit.

As long as the Steelers win, hopefully don't lose another half dozen players to injury and put an end to Tebowmania, at least for this season, I'll be pleased however it comes about. That has to be a Mike Tomlin-approved disregard for style points.


Lights Go Out On Steelers Playoff Bye

I haven't watched any reaction or sought any feedback regarding Monday night's loss in San Francisco. Not because I'm avoiding it because I'm overly crushed. Disappointed, to be sure, but this outcome was largely an expected one. I try to avoid live blogging Steelers games at KSK mostly because I'd like to focus on watching my favorite team play rather than moderating comments from a thousand readers at a time. Also, since KSK readers know I'm a Steelers, a lot of get off on being trolling dicks whenever I write about them, even though I've taken great pains to strip my writing there of the homerism that I've been guilty of in the past. If anything, I've actually been pretty hard on Pittsburgh over there recently to combat that perception. Nevertheless...

The point here is I expected the Steelers to lose, so what the hell. The most discouraging thing is that my biggest reason for assuming that was Roethlisberger's limited mobility. And, yeah, the guy was very clearly hobbling last night, but as the game wore on, you could tell that the hitch was leaving his gait and Ben was moving pretty fluidly. It was shoddy decision making on his part that was largely to blame for the Steelers' loss. I tend to rail at the "drama queen" trash talk that Ravens fans especially use to smear Roethlisberger as a player. They want to believe he milks injuries, when the guy actually just gets hit a lot and tends to play through pain, usually well. That's in keeping with the usual empty tough-ass facade of Baltimore sports fans, though. I will say you know that if Ben is ever guilty of the drama queen stuff, it's when he goes overboard trying to be the hero. Last night, it wasn't enough that he was playing through injury. Toughing out pain isn't enough; you have to make impossible throws while doing it. There were a lot of times he ignored open shorter routes because he wanted to jam it in to a tight space for a big gain. Now, obviously some of his inaccuracy can be put on having an injured ankle support your plant leg. Knowing that's the case, maybe Ben shouldn't be trying to force post patterns to Mike Wallace in triple coverage on the opening drive. Just a thought.

Going forward, with so much of the offense based ar0und Roethlisberger's ability to scramble, it's imperative the guy gets healthy. But as you always see this time of year, two weeks to get rusty is just the kind of thing that leads to flat playoff performances. So I can't say I advocate not giving Ben any play time over the next two weeks. I would argue that he should sit against the Rams in favor of Dennis Dixon, of course. I'm not confident that Batch at this point is a safe bet to pull off the win against lowly St. Louis. Let Ben close out the season in Cleveland, yes, against the team that hurt him last week. Better that than a QB trying the field, likely in Denver where building a lead early is important, but being rusty with several weeks of inactivity.

The health concerns with Ben are paramount, but the sluggish pace at which LaMarr Woodley is recouping is really troubling. Granted, just having him play more than a drive for the first time in more than a month should be welcome news. But the guy showed barely any drive at all last night. Woodley had one decent drive that drew a stupid holding penalty, but that was about it. The absence of James Harrison felt all the more pronounced. But would it really have mattered that much if Harrison played, given how LeBeau reverted to the old "death by a thousand dinks and dunks" strategy that gives receivers 10 yards of cushion off the line of scrimmage? It's like the win against New England never happened. Why be afraid to play press coverage? Are the Niners' receivers really worthy of that much respect? Not when Alex Smith missed badly on every deep pass.

Last night felt like the Steelers reverting to all their worst habits. Ben trying to force big plays when moderate gains are there for the taking. The defense playing back on its heels. I know it's still technically possible for the Steelers to win out and have Baltimore lose in the season finale in Cincinnati, but not only would I not count on it, but I don't think the team really deserves it at this point. Yes, Pittsburgh was severely handicapped by injuries and a suspension last night, but hell, the Niners were without Patrick Willis. If you want to look for him on a list of slouches, you're gonna be scanning for a while. There was bad gameplanning and bad execution. It was hard coming away from last night's game saying that this team is one that deserves a playoff bye. We've seen them play at their best and hopefully can again before the season gets away from them, but it may be a few weeks on autopilot before we can even get the opportunity to see one way or the other.

Worth filing away for the next time you hear the trite cries of officiating bias for the Steelers were the two huge egregious calls last night. The first wrongly wiped out a possibly momentum-swinging fumbled punt (when the game was still only 6-0) deep in San Francisco territory. Replay showed hit a San Francisco player first but couldn't be challenged. Instead, the Niners got a 15-yard gain out of it. Then there's that bizarre leaping call on Lawrence Timmons that set the Niners up for an extra four insurance points late in the game. The Steelers played poorly throughout and even if those calls were made correctly, there's still a good chance Pittsburgh loses anyway. Still, for a team that's supposedly protected as the Steelers are by the refs, those were two painful oversights in a big game.

Anyway, on to the Rams. Can't lose to 'em or you get kicked out of the league.


James Harrison Receives Inevitable Suspension

Just yesterday, I expressed doubts that James Harrison was going to be suspended by the NFL for his hit on Colt McCoy. There's no question that league executives have been waiting for an opportunity to levy this punishment on Harrison, but I figured they would have waited for a less borderline infraction. Guess not. I mean, since Harrison is such a VICIOUS MALACIOUS HEADHUNTER ANGRY BAD MAN it should just be a matter of time, right?

From my vantage point watching the game live, it looked clearly like an instance where Harrison was aiming at McCoy's lead shoulder. There certainly was helmet contact, and perhaps that could have been avoided with Harrison went lower with the shoulder. Then again, this is a moving target, so second guessing the angle a tackler takes is a fairly glib criticism. That said, I have no problem with the play being flagged or Harrison even being fined. But he wasn't headhunting. It doesn't help all the slow motion replays I've seen of the hit have come from the angle behind Harrison. The linebacker's body obscures the first point of contact at the shoulder, so all the viewer sees are the helmets colliding. Harrison is a media villain and most talking heads want to give him a fair shake about as much as they want to impugn any aspect of Tebow's game. Honestly, I still can't believe Deion Sanders stuck up for James during the NFLN postgame.

All said and done, Harrison obviously didn't make matters easier for himself with his outlandish comments about Goodell. This was going to happen sooner or later. Hell, the same might happen to Ryan Clark within the course of time. The NFL gets to be vindictive toward players that have been critical of the league under the pretense that they're making the game safer while at the same time leveling no sanctions against a team like the Browns that probably knowingly sent a concussed player back into a game.


High Ankle Spains Complicate Chase For AFC North Crown

Looks like I'm guilty of a little blog neglect.

Don't have much in the way of illumination from the two wins over four days last week. The victory over Cincy was as decisive and encouraging as the win over Cleveland was not. Don't want to bemoan the lack of style points in the Thursday win. The Steelers actually played that game well and Roethlisberger looked as sharp as he has all season before he suffered the high ankle sprain. But one careful red zone fumble by Hines and a perfect hit to dislodge the ball from Heath Miller kept the game from getting away from Cleveland early, as it should have. As soon as the second fumble occurred, Ben went down and the offense was significantly hamstrung, as it were.

While we're on squandered scoring chances, even as a Mendenhall fantasy owner, I'd like it if Redman were made the default goal line back. There's no question he gets better push than Mendy and that wasn't more clear than during the four-and-out sequence inside the two in the second half of the Cleveland game.

Still don't know how Ben played the second half of that game, even if he was given the shot at halftime. I was at the game live and the experience was twice as bizarre as it would have been watching TV, where the reports were constantly updating. I just remember repeating to myself that the best case scenario is that it would be a sprain and maybe Ben would miss at most a week or two. Then there's Roethlisberger sitting on the sidelines grabbing his helmet just before the second half kickoff. I figured, even then, that there was no way. Possibly the team would give Batch a few more series to hand the ball off en route to a three-and-out.

It's as a much a testament to a lack of faith in Batch as it is to Ben being tough that he came back in or was even allowed to do so. Charlie's been more than a capable fill-in when called upon in his time in Pittsburgh, and he was important during the labor standoff, but the guy is very obviously finished as a quarterback. It's sad that the team has seemingly no confidence in Dennis Dixon, because they're gonna need him to become the next back-up unless they can sign another veteran, which won't happen until the off-season at the earliest.

Roethlisberger and Pouncey are reportedly on track to play in a week in San Francisco despite their respective high ankle sprains. That Ben's is the lowest grade sprain leads to believe at least some of his mobility will have been restored with 11 days' time. I'd really Pouncey not even bother to go. It seems even more likely that he'd have a setback trying to take on an attacking defense on a weakened leg. Doug Legursky starting against that Niners defense is surely not ideal, but sticking Pouncey in there more than likely dangers Ben and his center more than if he's kept out.

Some are arguing that it doesn't really matter if the Steelers have to settle for the 5 seed, because that may be even easier than if they get the bye. Can't say I agree with that, even with the disdain I have for Tebowmania. Denver has the kind of attacking defense that could give the Steelers' line fits. Not to mention the Pittsburgh run D isn't quite what it was. If this were last year, I'd say a run-heavy team like the Broncos plays right into the Steelers strengths, but, well, it's not last year. I wouldn't go as far to say that the run D is a liability now, but it's not the shutdown guarantee it once was. And you can't gloss over just how difficult it is to win on the road in the playoffs anywhere, especially an environment in Denver that automatically eliminates one of your starting safeties because of a health issue with the high elevation.

The Chargers have rebounded in the past two weeks and are probably the best possibility to knock off the Ravens among Baltimore's remaining opponents. Yeah, they still have a game left in Cincinnati. With the way the Bungles have fallen off, I'm not liking the upset chances there. If Baltimore wins Sunday night, I won't exactly be crushed if the Steelers can't eke one out in the Bay Area. Losing to Arizona was no doubt a sobering experience, so now that the Niners' once assured bye in the playoffs is now threatened by the Saints, I wouldn't expect anything less than their best shot.

I've tried to ignore most of the hue and cry about the James Harrison shot on Colt McCoy. That said, I think there's more of an understanding this time around that it wasn't Harrison's intent to go at McCoy's helmet, since the quarterback was a moving target out of the pocket. Hell, Deion Sanders on the NFL Network postgame gab session said that it wasn't Silverback's fault at all. If only the consensus were so level-headed when Massaquoi ducked his head into a tackle last year and begun a lot of the focus on James. As far as a suspension, I don't see it, but just because discipline is being discussed yet again, I don't consider it out of the realm of possibility just because the media echo chamber might force Goodell to set pointless examples.

This time of year presents a usual challenge to the Steelers of having their stars performing at significantly less than 100 percent. Last year, Polamalu was demonstrably not at full capacity from the Bengals game on. And we all remember the concussion that Ben got in Week 17 of the '08 season - also against the Browns - before embarking on a title run. Ben, Pouncey and Woodley will have to be the ones excelling through pain this time around if the team wants another crack at Green Bay (assuming, but it's more than a fair assumption).


You're So Dreadfully Ugly, Ugly Win

Bless you, Anthony Becht.

A lot of comparisons are being made between last night's ugmo win in Kansas City and the equally putrid yet also equally victorious showing that the Steelers had in the beginning of the season in Indianapolis.

And while I was one of the many down on the team after the win in Indy, I'm much less so after last night. Why? Because now, as opposed to then, I know the Steelers are capable of much better. And this shoddy performance was coming off a bye week, which has mysteriously been tripping up more than a few teams this season.

Not that the Chiefs haven't been dealt more than a few personnel setbacks (Tyler Palko being able to commit terrible turnover after terrible turnover last night is evidence enough) but the Steelers had more than a few of their own on Sunday night. There's the obviously concerning head injury to Polamalu. The team had to deal with Maurkice Pouncey not being able to go at the last minute.

Then, of course, a potential trap game started off in the least desirable way. The Chiefs, whose defense came out fired up as they did the week before against New England, got on the board first. The Steelers looked primed to respond with a touchdown to take the lead, only for Mewelde Moore to cough the ball up as he was making a nice run inside the five. I'll question a lot of Bruce Arians' playcalling, but I didn't necessarily hate the idea of that run. And it's not as though the play failed. Had Moore not fumbled, it's at least a five- or six-yard gain to set up a third and goal from the 1 or 2. It's not like Arians told MeMo to put it on the ground just before reaching the goal line. Unless he actually is evil personified. Still, I feel like even if that were the case, he would have funneled his evil through a bubble screen of some sort.

Not gonna let Mike Wallace off the hook. He's quickly become one of my favorite players on the team, but that was one of his worst showings. He dropped a pretty routine touchdown grab on the play before Moore's fumble. He let another long pass go through his hands later on. The latter was far more excusable. Wallace didn't have tons of separation from a defender who had a 10-yard cushion to try to cover him deep, plus the DB's outstretched hand also blocked his vision. Nevertheless, Mike got his hands on the ball and maybe we're spoiled, but we're used to seeing him haul those in.

For as poorly as the offense played - the O-line's regression (possibly because of Pouncey's absence) was troubling - the defense got turnovers. Yes, two of them were giftwrapped, but, hey, sometimes turnovers are giftwrapped and teams still don't get them. Look at the Chargers on Sunday, for instance. so, that was nice. Could have lived with more of a pass rush, but Woodley is coming back soon and thank goodness for that.

So I'm not gonna join the chorus of pessimists, unless of course Polamalu will have to miss extended time because of the concussion. I've heard mixed reports on that issue thus far, but he was able to come back the following week after taking a similar blow earlier this season against Jacksonville, so hopefully that trend will be followed.

The Steelers won't have the luxury of playing down to competition next week, when they face the Bengals for the second time in a month. Taking down Cincy again at Heinz Field would erase a lot of the nagging doubts that resurfaced last night. It would almost open up a mostly easy closing stretch for the team.


Defense Actually Gets Turnovers, Steelers Enter Bye On High Note

As far as the national media narrative, yesterday's Steelers-Bengals game was going to teach us more about Cincinnati than it would about Pittsburgh. Accordingly, we did discover that the Bengals are an upstart team worthy of its 6-2 start, but still a little ways off from challenging for the division.

For the Steelers, a lot of it was reinforcement of trends that have been prevalent all season. It's a team that typically comes strong out of the gate, at least on offense, but has some difficulty sustaining that momentum throughout games. For a while, it seemed like yesterday's win would be very similar to the win at home against Jacksonville, where the Steelers leaped out to a double-digit advantage, only to watch it slowly erode for the remainder of the game. It didn't end up being quite that agonizing, as the offense still found had some gas in the second half.

But the real reason that Pittsburgh won is because on Sunday the defense equaled its entire interception total for the season coming into the game. Lots of credit to William Gay, who had been torched for the deciding touchdown by Torrey Smith the week before, for jumping a route on an Andy Dalton pass late in the game to seal. Lawrence Timmons grabbed an earlier pick on a fortunate deflection. I'm not complaining. Any turnovers the defense can muster are more than welcome this season. Any season, really. They're turnovers. When don't you want your defense to force turnovers? Given the general paucity of them this season, expectations have been skewed a bit, I guess.

A follower asked me on Twitter during the game whether this game marked Antonio Brown surpassing Mike Wallace as the team's best, or most complete, wideout. I think that would be a very hasty pronouncement to make, but AB is making his case. Obviously, I think it's unfair to say Brown is better now because Wallace certainly draws more attention from opposing defenses. Brown is a better receiver in the middle of the field and a better possession receiver, but there's so many ways Wallace can kill with his speed that he more than makes up for that facet of his game being underutilized. While the Steelers did try Wallace deep against Cincinnati - Ben should have hit him deep once - I like that most of his focus was on underneath stuff and designed runs. Not that you want to ignore the home run potential, but if you can get those quick dump offs where Wallace can sprint for a first down, not unlike Santonio used to do, that's easy money worth taking.

Glad to also see Jerricho Cotchery finally being worked into the offense. It's borne out of necessity with Emmanuel Sanders banged up, but he's already showing himself to be a vital and useful weapon. Hines is good for a play or two a game at this point, but he's not really a viable starting receiver anymore, in my opinion. I think it hurt the offense a lot in the Super Bowl last year when Manny went down. Wallace becomes a lot easier to defend when he doesn't have a nice complement like Sanders or Cotchery on the opposite side.

Speaking of Hines, that was his first catch in three weeks (because dicksmack John Harbaugh challenged the one last week where Ray Lewis got away with an illegal helmet shot on him) so that puts Hines 19 catches away from 1,000 on his career. I think and hope it's reasonable to expect that he can reach that mark over the final six games of the season.

Up and down game for Heath. He made an incredible 3rd down catch in the red zone to set up a touchdown, taking a shoulder to the facemask and hanging on. Sadly, he followed that up later by handing the Bengals a momentum swinging interception by bobbling a pass twice and knocking it into the hands of Leon Hall. The corner would later suffer a season-ending injury, which will certainly be a blow to Cincy's fortunes for the remainder of the year. And, surprise, surprise, the Bengals play Baltimore next week. The Ravens always seem to catch teams at the right time when it comes to injuries.

Max Starks left the game for a spell with an injury which prompted the frightening return of Jonathan Scott. It's amazing how quickly I went from disdaining the return of Starks to the Steelers to not imaging they could even put together a scoring drive without him. I'm a knee-jerk asshole like that.

As we all know, the Ravens once again lost in gloriously inept fashion a week after blowing their load beating the Steelers. Just fantastically terrible coaching by John Harbaugh and Cam Cameron. Cam actually makes me glad for Arians, which hurts so much to say it might be inspired trolling if it weren't so destructive to the Ravens. How do you have Joe Flacco throw 50 times in any game? I realize Seattle jumped out to an early lead, but that game was never out of reach. A shame the Ravens waste all of their halfway decent coaching on the Steelers. These letdown losses really have to fall on Harbaugh, who made a jackass of himself celebrating to the point of personal injury last week while still bitching about some song played on the Heinz Field PA that he deemed offensive to poor delicate Joe Flacco. All of that, and Harbs has his team fall flat again. Maybe the Ravens just can't sustain top performances on a week-to-week basis? That doesn't figure well for the postseason, where one big win is going to do for you.

Anyway, I'm looking forward to the Steelers likely getting Woodley back after the bye. His presence has been sorely missed these past few weeks. The Steelers, it should be noted, had no sacks on Dalton. James Harrison didn't quite have the dominating performance he had the week before against Baltimore, but he shouldn't be asked to do everything for the pass rush.

Again, it wasn't a perfect victory, but few ever really are and perfect victories usually don't come in big wins against surging division opponents, so I'm more than grateful for just keeping the Bungles in their place and moving on to what is hopefully another shot at a division title and an extended run through the postseason.