Hines Out for Sunday

Hardly a surprise, as he was listed as doubtful and didn't practice all week, but now it's official: Hines is out for Sunday's game against the Buzzsaw. Interesting that Tomlin announced it on Friday, considering how cagey Whisenhunt is being about the Cards' QB situation.

Hopefully, Nate Washington can have another solid performance like he did last Sunday against a tough Niners' secondary, which means, of course, that he not drop four passes. Again, given that Hines hasn't had huge production in the Steelers first three games and they've still managed to put up tons of points is somewhat reassuring, here's hoping Hines gets back on the practice field next week.


Chukky Okobi: Wah, Wah, Wah, Bitch, Bitch, Bitch

"Yeaaahhh, Booooyyyyeeee"

I was remiss yesterday when I wrote that former Steelers Ken Whisenhunt, Russ Grimm and Sean Morey had been relatively subdued in their talk about meeting their former team this Sunday. It seems I neglected to mention one Chukwunweze Sonume Okobi, the former backup lineman who didn't survive the last round of cuts this year after losing the competition for starting center to free agent acquisition Sean Mahan. Okobi got some good blubbering into the P-G.

"To think I wasn't good enough to be on that team is ridiculous," said Okobi, a backup center with the Arizona Cardinals, where he has been reunited with head coach Ken Whisenhunt and offensive line coach Russ Grimm. "But I know how this business works. I've been in this league a long time. Part of it is money, and they're doing what they feel they need to do. It's their team now. It's not Bill Cowher's team."

Okobi immediately hopped on the Steelers diaspora to the desert, thus occupying the same reserve role he had with Pittsburgh. I admit, I was shocked to see Okobi not make the team this summer, but considering that he was scheduled to make $2 million a year, it's not that surprising, especially with the Steelers cap situation being rather tight. Clearly, Alan Faneca can attest.

It does drain us of some depth. Mahan is already dinged up with a sprained right knee, though he's expected to start Sunday. If not, the backup center is rookie free agent Darnell Stapleton, who was kept on in favor of Okobi and Mavin Phillip.

The suggestion that roils me is that Okobi is convinced, or wants to convince others, that he was let go simply because Tomlin wanted to put his stamp on the team with a player he brought in. While that isn't inconceivable, it would go far more to explain his simply not making the first team rather than getting cut outright.

Meanwhile, though the Cards' center Al Johnson is nursing a knee injury but he's also expected to start. Their starting left tackle and first round pick Levi Brown is out with an ankle injury. Still, even with Johnson starting, there's probably a healthy chance Okobi could hand some snaps to the rotating band of mediocre Arizona QBs.

Grimm has the Buzzsaw line playing better, but they're going to need to be on their game for Edgerrin James to repeat as the last back to go over a hundred against the Steelers.


Another Milestone Looming?

In a mere three games this season, the Steelers have already set a number of historic milestones, what with taking the first ever lead in the all-time series against the Browns and becoming the first franchise in the AFC with 500 wins. In this week's Tuesday Morning Quarterback column, Gregg Easterbrook points to another in the offing:

Since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger, Miami consistently has been the league's leader for most wins in all seasons combined. Season in, season out, through different coaches, owners and quarterbacks, the Dolphins consistently win. At the start of each of the past three seasons, TMQ has written an item noting that the Dolphins could go 0-16 and still end the year as the league's winningest team since the merger.

Well, no more. Miami is now just nine games ahead of the second-winningest team since 1970, the Pittsburgh Steelers. It is possible the Steelers will end the year as the NFL's best since the merger, with both Marino and the Miami franchise itself staring at someone else's taillights.

It should be fun to see how close the two teams will be nine weeks from now when Miami visit Heinz Field. If the Steelers were still undefeated (I hope, I hope) and the Dolphins were still winless (a distinct possibility), it would have worked out perfectly, except for those pesky bye weeks. They always fuck everything up.


  • In history I'd sooner forget: remember, of course, that through three starts last year, Ben has no touchdowns and seven interceptions. Quite the turnaround now to have six TDs, one INT and a rating of 102.9. Ah, the benefits of not suffering near-fatal vehicular accidents. All of a sudden the "Ben is just an exposed game manager" comments have dissipated a smidge.

  • Whisenhunt, Grimm and Sean Morey are all playing it predictably low key in the run-up to Sunday's game in the Pink Taco against their former team. Says Wiz, "I don't have any feelings. I have a tremendous amount of respect for that ballclub, that organization." You hear that, Steelers? Ken Whisenhunt is an unfeeling trick play-calling robot who wishes to learn about these things you call emotions.


The Ravens Best Player is Their Kicker

Some producer from a radio station in Baltimore sent this over to we sexy beasts at Kissing Suzy Kolber. Other than that it's the typically lame reimagining of an annoying hit song to fete a favorite player - unlike the completely awesome Puhlamalu - I think it gets at just how unimpressive the Ravens have been so far this season.

A winning record? Sure. But their one loss came to the Bungals, who haven't won since, and the Ravens' two wins came narrowly at home against teams they should beaten comfortably. One of those wins came against the Jets, who were without starter Chad Pennington.

Also, Jeff Reed is leading the league in scoring, both on the field at and at the bar. So suck on that, Matt Stover, you boring asshole.


Tomlin Has Trailed for 12 Seconds

Yes, out of the 10,800 seconds of football played in the Mike Tomlin era in Pittsburgh, the Steelers have been behind for 12 of them, which amounted to the time between the 49ers taking a 3-0 lead in the first quarter Sunday and Allen Rossum running the ensuing kickoff back for seven. It was a trying 12 seconds though, wasn't it?

It's been noted extensively - here as well - that Tomlin has matched Cowher's 3-0 start in 1992. Certainly it's a pointless comparison, but that won't stop me from extending it further. The Steelers have outscored their opponents 97-26, whereas the '92 Steelers were up 79-40 through three games, however that team had beaten the Oilers and the Chargers, who went on to win 10 and 11 games respectively that year. Of the Steelers opponents this year, only the Niners even have a shot at a winning record.

Some quick hits:
  • Hines is listed as doubtful with a sprained knee for Sunday's game at the Pink Taco. It would only be the fourth game that he's missed due to injury in 10 years, but the third in the last two seasons.
  • Kenny Wiz is trying to keep the Steelers on their toes by continuing to shuffle PT for Kurt Warner and Matt Leinart. Can't see how game planning would vary much either way. Neither of them are particularly mobile, but Warner was clearly the more impressive of the two against the Ravens, so I would expect him to get more snaps against a complex, blitzing defense than his younger, less Jesus obsessed counterpart.

Redskins Fans: Still Insufferable

Ah, the pitfalls of being a displaced fanbase. Having to occupy the native soil of an opposing team, especially one with obnoxious fans, is an everyday reality for Steelers fans outside the 'Burgh. D.C. is certainly no different. I know because I've spent most of my life in these parts. Even some members of my family are 'Skins fans. When I was in fifth grade, y'know - the last time the Redskins went to the Super Bowl, I had to attend an assembly where they tried to force everyone to sing "Hail to the Redskins." It haunts me still.

Naturally, it could much worse - our group could be stuck in the midden heap that is Bawlmer, as is a large and intrepid contingent of Steeler Nation. Sure, Redskins fans aren't anywhere nearly as annoying as Ravens followers, but they have a douchey bluster all their own. A pretty vocal bunch in preseason and after big-ticket free agent signings, the town typically quiets down in mid-November when the team has meekly collected its sixth or seventh loss.

The indispensable Dan Steinberg of WaPo's D.C. Sports Bog met up on Sunday (before Washington's embarrassing second half implosion against the Giants) with the most grating of the R(acist)skins' faithful, the Dead Tree Crew.

A snippet:

"Well, the origin is pretty simple," said The President, who gave me his real name, which I'm withholding, in the interest of not getting him fired from his job. "There was a dead tree--not quite that dead tree (pointing to a nearby dead tree) but one similar to it. It died, we always tailgated by it, people go, 'Hey go tailgate with those guys.' 'Which guys are those?' 'The ones that hang out by the dead tree.' 'Oh, you mean the Dead Tree Crew? We're like wow, that kind of works. That was a lot to say, so we shortened it to DTC."

And thus, history was made. The DTC hails largely from Sterling and Ashburn, in case you had bets on Waldorf and/or Manassas. Oh, and what happened to the original dead tree? "So many people urinated on it, it fell down," The President explained. "So that's the dead tree that we're living with right now. It's not the original, but it's holding strong." If you're like me, you might think that the fact that the DTC is now tailgating at a different spot, by a different tree, under a different colored parking sign would have disheartened the DTC. Not so.

The trappings of the Raljon, MD faithful continue to astound. The Mayor is fond of claiming DTC "runs FedEx Field," an overbuilt stadium with poor sightlines that requires a minimum three hours to get out of unless you leave before the game is over. Believe me, it's all yours, buddy.

Back in August, we took a trip to FedEx to see the Steelers/Redskins preseason game. I saw two Redskins fans fight each other two seats away from me and not get thrown out. It's a wondrous place. I posted about it here and it seems one DTC member took exception to us being at his stadium, leaving this comment:

Well, the DTC doesnt attend preseason games. But we will be there on Septepmber 9th. Please introduce yourself as the guy that talks ahit about us on multiple blogs and we will be sure show you what "scary" is.


Yeah, somehow, as a Steelers fan, I didn't feel too much like attending the 'Skins home opener against the Dolphins. I'm sure he found someone else at whom he could hurl homophobic slurs and pretend threats.


Steelers Win in More Places, Like Cleveluffalancisco

Using tough red zone defense and a welcome contribution from the return team, the Steelers weathered a difficult first quarter, in which the other team had possession 11 of the first 12 minutes, before dominating the 49ers 37-16 yesterday to improve to 3-0 for the first time since the last time they welcomed a new coach.

Willie Parker had his third 100-yard performance of the season and Ben continues to remain in solid form, relying more and more on his tight ends, as Jerame Tuman got in on the scoring act, hauling in the only Steelers receiving TD of the game. The tight ends so far have caught four of the six Steeler TD passes this season.

The Steelers held fantasy football wunderback Frank Gore to a paltry 39 yards and gave Alex Smith fits. Former Pitt punter Andy Lee did get off a 66-yard punt (entirely in the air!) that perhaps was the most impressive feat of the day for the Niners. Speaking of special teams, I can't enough how good it is to have someone who can catch a punt, much less run a kickoff back for a score. Seriously, how is Ricardo Colclough still on this team?

Still waiting to hear an estimate on how long Hines Ward will be out with the bone bruise he suffered from a helmet to the knee in the third quarter. So far, P-G reports he showed up today without a noticeable limp and that the MRI revealed no tear. Nothing too serious, it sounds like. If it's going to be a couple weeks, and hopefully it won't, at least the team is coming up against the bye and he'll only miss the two games against Arizona and Seattle. Since we only seem determined to throw to the tight ends, perhaps it's not a huge temporary loss.

Meantime, the Steelers are gearing up for a reunion in the desert with Ken "I love shotgun draws on 3rd and 1" Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm next week, who all of a sudden seem to have a quarterback controversy on their hands, as the Buzzsaw is going through that Hobson's Choice of temporarily competent washed-up veteran versus underperforming young Paris Hilton paramour.


Matt Spaeth: All He Does is Catch Touchdowns

Gotta love the stats through two games for rookie tight end Matt Spaeth. Three catches, 15 yards, two scores. Sure, if you happen to have Heath Miller on your fantasy team, if might already be cursing Spaeth as something of a touchdown vulture. Personally, I'd prefer that, I have Tony Gonzalez and I'm cursing because he's old and he sucks. It seemed an odd choice when the Steelers took Spaeth in the third round, especially when they already have an established pass catching tight end, but can't really argue with the results thus far. You is expendable, Tuman!

All throughout the Mark Bruener era, Steelers fans had whimsical notions of passing to the tight end, no doubt fondly remembering the early '90s Steelers offensive strategy of running on first and second down and passing to Eric Green if it's longer than 3rd and 4. Well, I recall it as well, and it's not nearly as fun as we remember it.

The Post-Gazette today reports that there's a good chance "Silverback" James Harrison could play Sunday against the 49ers. Of course, an ape is pulling for a gorilla. With Harrison and LaMarr Woodley playing as well as they are, I feel somewhat conflicted being so happy that first round pick Lawrence Timmons is getting virtually no PT. Oh God, please don't be another Jermaine Stephens!


Steelers More Than Solid

When you go 0-4 in the red zone in a half, it helps if you hold the opposing team to a single first down and a paltry seven minutes of possession. That's what Pittsburgh was able to accomplish, albeit while togged up in ugly throwback unis, in its convincing 26-3 win today over the Bills, who looked about as offensively inept as the Browns did last week. The Browns this week? Well, let's just say I was a big fan of the Browns offense this week.

Excluding the inability to get the ball in the endzone in the first half, there's little fault to find, save that reappearance of the Roethlisberger's "heave the ball deep into double coverage foolishly when the Steelers have momentum" call on the team's second drive, which was a signature of last year. However, let us not forget that after two starts last year, he was yet to throw a touchdown pass, so I'll take the five touches and one pick he has thus far.

The Steelers picked up their 500th win as a franchise, making them to only AFC team to reach that mark to go along with being the AFC team with five Super Bowl rings. So, c'mon AFC, let's pick it up a little, huh? We're sick of carrying your dead ass on our shoulders.

Next week presents perhaps the biggest challenge of the season so far, as the 2-0 Steelers face the 2-0 49ers at home. Sure, even though 49ers haven't blown out their first two opponents the way Pittsburgh has, they've at least proven to be resilient enough to pull out back-to-back tight wins over division foes.

Hopefully the injury to James Harrison, who has been impressive with a sack in a half in his game and a half of play this year, isn't as severe as it looked when it happened at the last play of the first half and he'll be able to continue filling in aptly for J-Peezy.


Host No Bills

A lot of reminiscing over at the Post-Gazette about the 29-24 2004 regular season finale win over the Bills. What was most impressive about the game, other than that Tommy Maddox managed not to single-handedly lose the game, is that the Steelers, with their reserves or third-stringers, bested a team that needed a victory for a playoff berth on the road. That's gotta hurt.

Of course, it also presaged big things to come for Willie Parker, who had his first of, to date, 14 100-yard performances. The latest of which, Parker isn't all that enthused about his effort last week, vying that we're all going to see a "different Willie Parker in this game." If that's a Willie Parker who doesn't put the ball on the ground, then count me as super psyched.

Of course, the Bills have a pretty solid impressive rookie rusher of their own in Marshawn Lynch. Jamal Lewis never got a chance to get going last week, as the Steelers had already put upa sizeable lead by the end of the first quarter, forcing the Browns to, uh, well I feel charitable in calling it passing.

But Lynch, as this video shows, has a lot of explosiveness and drive that the older ex-con has lost.

Along with cruising through a cake opponent, the Steelers avoided any injuries last week and come in to their home opener extremely healthy, with only reserve linebacker Marques Cooper (OUT) on the injury list. The Bills, meanwhile, will be missing six players, including three defensive starters, including Ko Simpson, linebacker Keith Ellison and corner Jason Webster. One of the non-starters is, as you might expect, tight end Kevin Everett, who has thankfully made a lot of progress after being nearly paralyzed during the Week 1 game against Denver.


Another Brown Beatdown

The Browns weren't able to accomplish much yesterday during the 34-7 opening day throttling they took from the Steelers, but they did manage the inglorious feat of committing four penalties on one play, the botched opening punt that led the first of four Ben Roethlisberger touchdown passes. It was the worst Week 1 Browns beating since the Steelers handed them a 43-0 loss to start the 1999 season.

That makes it eight in a row for the Stillers over the Brownies and 14 out of the last 15. More importantly, it finally gives the Steelers a 56-55 edge in the all-time series. At one point, the Steelers had trailed 32-9. So suck it, Paul Brown. Goes for you, too, Jim Brown.

Not that everything went perfectly for Pittsburgh. Had they been facing a team of even marginal competency, this would have been a dramatically different game. Up 17-0 midway through the second quarter, the Steelers had several chances to put the game decisively away before the half, but Willie Parker put yet another ball on the ground, then receivers and backs dropped about five passes in a row on successive drives. That's three lost fumbles in Willie's last three regular season games dating back to last season. You're getting close to being on notice, Willie. This close.

The six sacks were nice to see but many of them seemed like coverage sacks or that Charlie Frye or Derek Anderson were holding the ball too long. The front seven needs to be able to create more pressure on its own. We're not always going to be facing mediocre quarterbacks who can't read defenses.

Quibbles notwithstanding, it was an impressive start to the Mike Tomlin era, and long may it prosper. Next week comes the home opener against Buffalo, who lost a last second heartbreaker at home yesterday to the Broncos. Rookie back Marshawn Lynch looked solid, and as he'll tell you, it don't get no better than that.


Are You "Charlie Frye Experience" 'd?

Sad news today, as we discover the Steelers won't get to tee off on Brady Quinn just yet. That's because the Browns have announced that the eminently mediocre Charlie Frye will be getting the nod in his place.

Romeo Crennel is trying to mess with our heads, as he hasn't even designated Quinn as the back-up for Sunday's game. Which means, should the Steelers concuss Mr. Frye, we'd likely just have to deal a couple Derek Anderson interceptions. Where's the fun in that?

With Quinn's holdout for part of training camp, this was pretty predictable, though unfortunate nonetheless. All is not lost: barring a tragic crotch-grabbing episode, Quinn should be starting by the time Cleveland visits Heinz Field in Week 10. And I think that's the one we'd all really prefer he started.


Cuts Both Ways

Odd as it was to see Chukky Okobi and Verron Haynes on the final list of cuts - and thankfully not Dan Krieder - I have to admit being baffled at Chidi Iwuoma being included, like last year, among those not making the team.

With Sean Morey's departure to Arizona earlier in the offseason and now Iwuoma getting cut, the Steelers have probably lost their two best kick coverage guys in a unit that has struggled with as much the last few years. Remember, of course, that they had to bring back Iwuoma late last season because the coverage was such a liability.

One hopes that with them carrying four running backs: Willie Pizzle, Dump Davenport and now Carey Davis and Gary Russell. Hopefully, one of the latter two can be put to use in goal line situations (where Davenport's upright running style has proven ineffective, though he's great in a screen).

In addition to not have much ability in short yardage situations, Parker has developed quite the knack for coughing up the ball inside the red zone. In each of the last two regular season games last year (against Baltimore and Cincy, no less) he put in on the ground inside the five, as well as doing it again in the fourth preseason game against the Iggles. I'm starting to fear we have another early-career Tiki Barber on our hands.

While I'm on the subject, here's to hoping Allen Rossum can hold onto the fucking ball. The various experiments on punt return since Antwaan Randle El's payday here in D.C. haven't been the prettiest. Heck, it's gotten to the point where I'm happy if someone can drop back there and fair catch the damn thing. All offseason we were led to expect the much vaunted Willie Reid would show us glimpses of his college greatness, only to have him pull a few Ricardo Colcloughs of his own.

Oh, joys of joys, Kendall Simmons got a four-year extension. Memo to training staff: stock a lot more insulin. Or maybe he can get it himself once he loses his starting job like he did midway through last year.