Some Perspective Before the Stretch Run

With the Steelers looking less than a powerhouse the last two weeks against cake opponents, there seems to be a heightening chorus of criticism leveled at Mike Tomlin, not all of it undeserved.

My hopes at the outset of the season were merely that the Steelers return to the playoffs and vie for the division crown. So far, they are in terrific position on both scores. The early season blowouts may have stoked higher expectations than those in the offseason, but had you told me the Steelers would be 8-3 through 11 games back in July, I'd have been borderline giddy after the debacle of '06.

Tomlin certainly takes the blame when it comes to the team coming out flat against poor teams. The decision to sign Sean Mahan and dump Chukky Oboki isn't looking all that sagacious either. And don't get Steelers fans started on Chidi Iwouma.

Remember, of course, that this is Tomlin's first year as a head coach on ANY level of football. The expectations of Steelers fans being as astronomical as they are, I can't expect people to share these views, but I think the guy is going to improve considerably in the short term.

I'm not waving the flag on this season. This Steelers team, when playing at their peak, can beat any team in the league. If they can put together a string of consistent performances and get some semblance of stability on the offensive line, the Super Bowl is a strong possibility.

If not this year, the next few don't look so terrible either.


Dominance, But Not at Home

Since Marvin Lewis took over the reins of the Bungles in 2003, he's only managed a 3-7 record against the rival Steelers, but all three of those victories have come at Heinz Field, where the Steelers haven't beaten Cincinnati since 2004 and are only 1-3 against the Bungles in Marvin's tenure.

Why the two teams are playing each other better on the road is something I can't really pin down. What I know is that Cincinnati has won two of its last three and are coming off a dominating win over the Titans while the Steelers foundered against two pathetic teams and are still in search of stability at offensive line and special teams.

Though Troy and Santonio were reported to be testing their injuries in practice this week, I would imagine it would be highly unlikely either would suit up for Sunday night's game. More likely, they're testing themselves early for the likelihood of playing the following week in New England. More troubling is the uncertainty surrounding Marvel Smith's back. Max Starks performed relatively well against Jason Taylor Monday night, but had the aid of the sludge to slow his speed rushes.

Smith in action and, one would hope, an improvement of the playing surface at Heinz are necessary for FWP, who averages 119 yards and 4.8 per carry in his five starts against the Bungles and is looking for another positive showing following a few subpar weeks.


Steeler Shaken By Murder of Former Teammate and Friend

Steelers safety and former Redskin, Ryan Clark started more games at free safety than any other player in Sean Taylor's 53 games in the NFL. As The Washington Post's Jason La Canfora points out, they were also close friends.

Redskins teammates said that Clark was a calming, soothing influence on Taylor, and a devout Christian who played a role in Sean becoming more interested in his faith.

When Clark was allowed to depart in free agency in March 2006, most Redskins veterans took it as a massive blow to team chemistry, and when Taylor struggled with new partner Adam Archuleta in 2006, some said privately that Taylor was brooding over the loss of his friend.

"Every time they show something about his they show his legalities and things like that, but that's not who he was," Clark said. "it paints a picture like he lived a certain way, so he deserved to go a certain way. But he was a good man and good talent who had become a great man, and I'm said all the people want to focus on is the negative. He was a 24-year-old kid, a brother and a father who passed away.

"All you can do now is lean on your faith and I know Sean did get the opportunity to get right with God and he did get the opportunity to change his life and you have to take the approach that Sean would have taken and that's that he's moved on and he's going to be watching us all now, and if you have faith then you have to believe that he is better off there than he was here."

Clark, presently on injured reserve after having his spleen removed weeks ago, has reached out to Taylor's fiancée and daughter to offer support.

I'm wont to take shots at Redskins fans now and then, largely because I've lived most of my life in the area and have had to hear it from them about supporting an outside team. Because they only play every four years now and the Redskins haven't beaten the Steelers in a meaningful game since 1991, the most heated arguments in recent memory revolve around comparisons between Troy Polamalu and Sean Taylor.

Though the media portrayals of the two are appreciably different - Troy as quiet and contemplative, Taylor as brash and uncontrollable - the way each affected a football game was nearly identical. They were clearly the top two players in the league at their positions (Ed Reed can eat shit). Teams had to gameplan around them, and they could still find a way to fly to the ball and change the outcome of a play.

You could point to statistics - if so, Taylor was having a better season than Troy - but in the metric of demonstrative ability it was hard not to argue to a draw. The Redskins lost a hell of a player and it's a damn shame.

Image via Bucktown Skins Fan.


Swallowed by the Earth

The one indelible image from last night, other than me pulling my hair out one follicle at a time was this Miami punt that deposited itself meteor-like in the Heinz Field sludge. I imagine the grass had the consistency of mashed potatoes, only a little too watered down. Yeah, Thanksgiving was last week and I still want mashed potatoes.

A Tough Slog in a Rough Bog

Somehow, through sheer artistry of ineptitude, the Steelers offense managed to reach Dolphins territory on each of their possessions and were unable to put any points on the board until the 59:43 mark of regulation. Until then, the Steelers 3-0 win over the Dolphins looked to be a contest of who could score the first touchdown.

The opening possession presages good things up until Ben failed to see Joey Porter hanging out in the flat. Peezy had a fine game and the Steelers and the Dolphins took turns further mangling the Heinz Field slop with leg kick celebrations. Ultimately, it was Joey's replacement, James Harrison who came up with one game's biggest plays, a sack and forced fumble on quarterback John Beck on the Dolphins final offensive play on 4th down in Steelers territory.

The offensive line, missing left tackle Marvel Smith, gave up another five sacks, though Ben can be faulted for holding the ball too long on several of them. Willie Parker passed the 1,000-yard mark with his 81 yards on 24 carries, none of which went for longer than nine yards. The offense fared well on first downs but failed to convert on second and third or were hit by costly penalties when they did.

Hines Ward was one of the game's few bright spots, making a number of tough catches down the stretch to extend drives. If not for two catches negated by penalties - one of which was a ridiculous offensive pass interference call on Heath Miller - Ward would have gone over 100 for the first time this season.

In the end, the Steelers escaped what would have been a second straight crushingly embarrassing loss and retained a game and a half lead on the Browns in the division. Toss out the old chestnut that a win's a win, but the same mistakes are making them harder to come by.


Peezy Something Something Something BEEE-YAAAA

Joey Porter has been oddly quiet in anticipation of his return to Pittsburgh tonight. Granted, he didn't leave the team on terribly acrimonious terms and was even fairly accepting of the economic realities that led to his departure. I figured there'd be nothing close to his verbal sparring with Sgt. Kellen Winslow, but there'd at least be some good natured jawing toward his old mates.

And I'll remember Joey fondly, between bouts of chuckling at Ricky Williams, when he's shown in a Dolphins uniform at Heinz, unless he lays a finger on Ben, then I'll curse him for being the traitorous dog that he is.

Of paramount importance is that the offensive line, special teams show marked improvement. It might be against lesser competition and they may not get any media plaudits for doing so, but some foundation for a stretch run has to be laid in this game. If struggles at these two positions are something the team is just willing to live with or try to play around, at best the Steelers can hope for is a first round playoff victory and at worst the wheels coming off down the stretch.

With the Browns winning yesterday and their remaining schedule looking like a veritable cakewalk, it's imperative for the Steelers to maintain the one-game cushion, even with the tiebreaker in place. Granted, fans have to be reassured after the Iggles near upset of the Pats in Foxborough that the Steelers chances are at least extant going in, but with the Jaguars coming in the week after, the Rams showing signs of life and an always bitter Ravens showdown in Bawlmer, holding off the Browns may prove to be a tough task.


Dolphins Present Matchup Very Similar to the Jets

That is, an inexperienced quarterback, a speedy return man and a defense ranked last in the league against the run.

As auspicious as that latter has sounded in the two previous times this season that the Steelers have faced the then-32nd ranked run D, they've fared terribly on the ground against the Broncos and the Jets. The condition of the Heinz Field turf after a weekend of abuse won't do Willie Parker any favors come Monday night.

Not undeservedly, the Steelers are acquiring a reputation as a team that slaughters people at home and caves on the road. In keeping with that, they shouldn't have much to worry about for the next two weeks, but with the obvious specter of the New England game, as well as the fact that the Steelers close the season with what should be two critical but winnable games on the road, some confidence building and tweaking of weaknesses will have to occur these next two weeks.

Any sort of buzz for this game - and there isn't much, as ESPN is basically running the same ad they used to promote the Pats/Bengals game in Week 4 (because, naturally, you have to work the Patriots into everything) - will revolve around the return of J Peezy to Pittsburgh. Fortunately, he'll be charging at the side of the offensive line that has actually made an attempt to pass block this season.


Steelers Left With Costly Injuries in Wake of Jets Loss

What's worse than an underwhelming performance in a loss to a team you have no business losing to? One in which you also lose a bunch of core players for a couple weeks. That apparently seems to be the case with the Steelers, as now leading receiver Santonio Holmes and defensive cornerstone Troy Polamalu could miss several weeks, putting in doubt the chances that either will play when the Steelers travel to New England in three weeks.

Of course, the last time the Steelers were left without Holmes and Polamalu, the rest of the team responded with a dominating 21-0 beatdown of the Seahawks in Week 5, so perhaps all is not lost. Though if the humiliation they suffered at the hands of the Jets isn't motivation enough, I don't know what more a few sidelined teammates is going to help in terms of urgency.

At this point I would consider the loss of Santonio far more damaging, even though the depth at safety was already thin before Troy went down, as no other Steelers receiver has gone over 100 yards in a game this season. One of the problems that led to the Jets seven sacks were many of the receivers' inability to get open, which is something Cedrick Wilson and Nate Washington have repeatedly demonstrated they have problems with.

In the meantime, Mike Tomlin is putting on his hardass hat for the holiday season, explaining that on Thanksgiving, "We are going to come to work and we are going to be thankful that we have an opportunity to do so."

Super. Maybe you should withhold a few portions of pie from Kendall Simmons, Max Starks, Sean Mahan and Willie Colon on the condition that they actually block somebody?


Well, Brett Keisel Got His First Sack

Other than that, not a whole lot of encouragement to be had from Sunday's bed-shitting in the Meadowlands. Out of the entire team, who can we say actually had a decent showing? Jeff Reed and possibly Santonio Holmes, whose status following a sprained ankle in the fourth quarter is as yet uncertain for next Monday against Miami.

Then there were any number of uncharacteristic miscues: A stout run defense couldn't tackle. Troy Polamalu being out of position on a number of passing plays, most notably a catch by Chris Baker in the redzone that almost won the game for the Jets in regulation. Hines Ward displaying some stone hands and putting balls on the ground.

It's becoming evident that the Steelers are a far better second half team, which isn't necessarily a terrible thing, but there seem to be obvious flaws with how the gameplan is implemented for the first half. In consecutive weeks, they've gone into halftime trailing. Only against Arizona have the Steelers lost a game in which they led going into the half, and that particular lead was an unspectacular four points. The Steelers have lost two of the three games in which they've trailed at the intermission, though in each case they've rallied to tie the game or recapture the lead at some point in each contest.

Against the better teams in the league, the Steelers can't afford to sit back on their heels coming out of the gate with the hope of only reducing the bleeding until the team can make adjustments. It's almost clear within a few drives what type of performance that you're going to see from the Steelers during any given game. Granted that Mike Tomlin is showing the ability to make good in-game changes, but some concern has to be directed as his pregame planning.

UPDATE: Polamalu and Holmes are listed as doubtful for MNF against the 'Phins. Fanfuckingtastic. I'd be tempted to say that at least we're playing Miami, but after Sunday, I'm taking nothing for granted.


Offensive Line and Special Teams Amount to Fatal Flaws

All of the Steelers weaknesses were on display and a few more shed light upon in the 19-16 overtime loss to the Jets. The offensive line allowed seven sacks and kept the Steelers' offense from being able to finish the game when the defense intercepted Kellen Clemens and later forced a turnover on downs. The defense couldn't finish tackles on running plays, allowing Thomas Jones to be the first back to eclipse 100 yards against them in two years.

Then, of course, there's the special teams. The entire strategy centered on avoiding Leon Washington by kicking short. When called upon to make one stop on a punt in overtime, the Steelers whiff on a few tackles and Washington races deep into Pittsburgh territory to set up the winning field goal.

A week after gaining the no. 2 seed in the AFC, the Steelers have surrendered it in humiliating fashion, falling flat once again on the road to an inferior opponent. The Jets were the first team this season to solve Ben Roethlisberger's ability to escape the rush that he's been inundated with all season. Willie Parker couldn't blame a sloppy Heinz Field for repeatedly slipping to the turf, likely explaining why Najeh Davenport saw a larger share of the carries and was more effective altogether.

Having now faltered on the road against Arizona, Denver and the Jets, any hope on beating New England in three weeks in Foxborough rests on having many glaring shortcomings addressed in a hurry.


Take That Pete

Not really sure who this Pete character is, but he's got some okay friends. For one, they're Steelers fans and they're helpful enough to let him know his team, the Jets, blows elephant cock.

I'm all for ripping on Mangina's man boobs and generally calling the Jets gay, but comparing Chad Pennington to Kordell? C'mon now. If anything, he has the noodle arm of Mike Tomczak mixed with the accurate passing - except when it counts - of Neil O'Donnell. See, O'Donnell: There's a quarterback Steelers and Jets fans can agree to hate.


Help Us, Pittsburgh Steelers, You're Our Only Hope

Those looking for a nice Friday afternoon diversion should head on over to Doubt About It, where they've crafted a fine Flash game involving Ben Roethlisberger's interstellar quest to thwart the Patriots perfect season.

Not sure if I'm too wild about him fraternizing with Gregg Easterbrook, but situations such as these make for strange bedfellows. Anyway, the game involves firing Lombardi Trophy missiles and lethal copies of "The News" at Patriots, Kordell, Bill Simmons and the giant cyborg disembodied head of Bill Belichick. Not only will you be having fun, but you'll be disposing of a necessary foe.


The Pour House in Pictures, Week 10

In my estimation, though decidedly unscientific and largely clouded by drink, the turnout this past Sunday at the Pour House for the Steelers and Browns tilt was the largest of the season to date. It's helps the the game wasn't broadcast on local TV, because Dan Snyder can't brook competition for woefully underachieving football and its befuddled coach.

Good to know, as I nearly keeled over a few times from anxiety and frustration, usually whenever the Steelers had to cover a goddamn kickoff. There might have been a least someone willing to call the paramedics or drag my ass out to the curb.

This coming week is a little interesting for me, as the first Steelers game I watched at the Pour House was the divisional round playoff game following the 2004 season against the Jets. Having weathered (read: narrowly escaped) that one, little wonder that I consider the place lucky.

Observe: Here is our halftime ritual of tossing the ol' pigskin around Pennsylvania Avenue, on the median strip or in the road itself, usually with little regard to oncoming traffic. Yeah, we're stupid, stupid drunks.

The Batman and this woman are showing the two schools of reacting to Shannon Sharpe commentary. She look bewildered and possibly frightened by his mushmouthery, while The Batman knows there is no understanding Shannon and merely laughs at the funny sounds.

Call me a stickler if you will, but I'm not a huge fan of the gold jersey. Boobies jutting out from said gold jersey? Those'll do.

Can't say I'm really sure what's going on in this photo. Serious discussion about the situation in Pakistan? The beginnings of a summer-autumn romance? I can see from the background, that the 4 o'clock Cowboys-Giants game had been going on. Perhaps, to pass the time, they were in an epic staring contest. It might be still be going on. I fully expect to arrive about 3 p.m. this Sunday and see these two, haggard and sweaty, straining to stare each other down. She's got the advantage of sitting down. I'm going lady on this one.


Durability Issues Arise As Protection Lacks

The P-G reports that Ben Roethlisberger will sit out practice today with an assortment of ailments, from continued pain from the hip bruise he suffered against the Ravens along with a hurt shoulder. Though his status isn't in doubt for Sunday, there has to be a mounting concern for what shape Ben is going to be at the end of the season given the consistent abuse his style of play and the lack of protection makes him endure.

If Ben has showed anything thus far in his career, it's the willingness to play through pain, even if foolishly. He's not going to change his style of play, which exposes him to taking his share of licks, but improved pass protection could go a long way to extending the prime of what is proving to be a top-5 passer.

Beyond even this season, there has to some worry for the longterm ramifications for the this kind of abuse. I'm not suggesting the Steelers need to try to turn him into a purely pocket passer or dissuade him from tucking and running, as we've seen repeatedly that these are some of the strongest parts of his game. But repeatedly, I'm reminded of the cautionary tale that is Daunte Culpepper, a quarterback, who in his prime, had similar stature and mobility to what Ben has now. It seems that the shelf life for big quarterbacks who can take and shake off a lot of big hits isn't that long and that the drop-off comes fairly suddenly. Obviously, Culpepper's decline was precipitated by major knee surgery but sustained exposure to oncoming rushers isn't the way to avoid that.

This is all to say nothing of Willie Parker having to miss a practice the last two weeks, including today, because of an inflamed knee. Willie has proved that he can last the rigors of a full season, but any problems with a knee are a huge red flag. Parker rushed fine on Sunday, but I can't imagine having to cut on the divotastic turf of Heinz Field was helping matters much.


Steelers Offered Two Servings of Cake

The complexion of games can change drastically between when the schedule is released and the midpoint of the season. In retrospect, contests on the road against the Jets, coming off a surprise playoff appearance, and at home with the Dolphins, bolstered by the signing of J Peezy and a then-sentient Trent Green, appeared to be among what looked to be a very difficult second half of the season. Now, not quite so much.

Clearly, playing teams with a combined 1-17 record should be considered opportunities to fine tune weaknesses while emphasizing what has been working. The most salient example will come this week with the kick coverage. The Jets' Leon Washington has proved one of the premier return threats in the league this year and it'll be incumbent on the Steelers to contain to, so as not to make it any easier on second-year QB Kellen Clemens.

I would think the Steelers would get after Clemens with the same ferocity that they went after Steve McNair last week, as opposed to the more Cover Two oriented schemes they've showed against Derek Anderson and Carson Palmer in recent weeks.

Though wresting the Jets' starting job away from noodle armed Chad Pennington, Clemens stats aren't spectacular, but he's played admirably, if not spectacularly against some of the league's better defenses in Baltimore and Washington.

Above all, it should be a standout game for Willie Parker, as the Jets allow an astounding 152 rushing yards a game, the worst in the NFL. Of course, the Steelers didn't fare so well earlier in the year when they faced a then-NFL worst Broncos run D, but with Ben's seven passing TDs the last two games, teams with be a lot more reluctant to stack the line against them.

The Steelers meanwhile, are pulling a defensive sweep, ranking first in the league in overall defense, both in terms of yardage and in points allowed, as well as first against both the run and the pass. In other words, they good.


With Colts Loss, Steelers Hold No. 2 Seed in AFC

I know this falls into the Department of Looking Too Far Ahead, - hey, it's okay as long as the team isn't doing it - but with the Colts' loss to the Chargers last night, the Steelers are in decent shape to get a first round bye. Presently, by virtue of the record versus the AFC tiebreaker, the Steelers would get the bye over Indy. See, that loss in Arizona wasn't so damaging.

I know, I know, there are still seven games left. I don't think 13-3 is an unreasonable expectation. The Colts would still need to drop another and their remaining schedule isn't terribly difficult (they still have games against the Titans and Jags, but at home). But with how banged up that team is, they could let another game like last night's get away from them.

The romantic notions of winning three road playoff games linger, and I'll admit they make the 2005 title run especially sweet, but with the way the Steelers play at home versus on the road, having a second round home playoff game may be key for having a shot at the Super Bowl.


Despite Uncharacteristic First Half, Cleveland Maintains Proud Tradition of Sucking

The Browns' vaunted offense collected more yards on kick returns than on plays from scrimmage, as the Steelers survive horrendous play from the special teams and first half red zone inefficiency to stake a bold claim that the AFC North is not up for grabs.

Ben Roethlisberger's performance in the second half further confirms what Mondesi's House put so forcefully earlier this week: that Ben has arrived as one of the league's elite quarterbacks. The Browns admirably stuffed the run as the game was on the line, and Ben made play after play, with his arm and with his legs, even noticeably wincing after scrambling for a critical first down in the red zone on the deciding scoring drive.

Pittsburgh's defense, after getting shredded by the Browns on 3rd downs all through the first half, responded well in the second half, despite never getting to Derek Anderson and not showing much of a pass rush altogether. James Harrison still managed to strip Jamal Lewis twice, with the Steelers recovering the second early in the second half, leading to the team's first touchdown.

As dispiriting as the special teams played, and it was plenty bad, the game signifies that the Steelers can win close games. In the Steelers six prior wins, they've won by an average of 22.3 points. In their two losses, it's been by an average of five points. If this game tells us anything, other than that the Steelers need desperate and immediate help on the special teams, it's that the team can overcome less than perfect performances for wins.


Steelers Not Invited to 2007 Brady Quinn Hand Party

The way the schedule was laid out, it seemed like there would be no way that Brady Quinn could avoid having to play the Steelers. If the Browns opted to throw him to the slaughter and let him start from Week 1, there'd be the Steelers to welcome him and usher him out of the league in one fell swoop. If they let him learn the offense for a few weeks, while another marginal QB gets killed, the Steelers would still get him for the home game in Week 10.

But, nnnnooooo. You had to go and fuck everything up by playing occasionally well, didn't you, Derek Anderson? Depriving the Steelers of their chance of ass-reaming Brady Quinn hurts both the Steelers and Quinn, who would have most certainly enjoyed it. For that, Horse Balls, you will pay the ultimate price. A Silverback suplex or six should learn ya.

Despite riding the pine and possibly getting traded if Derek Anderson continues to impress, Quinn's Browns jersey is still 10th on the list of top-sellers. You hear that, NFL, the gays have spoken. Somebody in the league office needs to get Brady in Baltimore or Minnesota. That purple Quinn uni will be a stroke of marketing brilliance and a way to keep him looking FABU.


God to Cleveland: "I Hate You"

Sure, Browns fans have some to something to get worked up about for next few days, delirious in the prospect that they might gain a tie for the lead in the AFC North, with what would be the first win against the Steelers in nine tries.

Such mawkish optimism belies the crushing big game downfalls that Cleveland sports teams have already weathered so far this year. I know this is nothing out of the ordinary for the Town That Success Forgot, but I would think that even Cleveland would have a hard time dealing with all its franchises getting cockpunched in the postseason. So, Brownies, before you do something drastic like getting in the AFC North race, consider your fans. They don't need yet another devastating playoff exit.


The Pour House in Pictures, Week 9

With the field trip this weekend, members of D.C. Steeler Nation will again get the experience of attending a game at Heinz Field, which tied for first with the Packers in the NFL Fan Value Experience survey released by SI today (the Steelers were bumped down to second because the Packers have a streak of home sellouts extending to the '60s, whereas the Steelers' only goes back to the '70s).

For the rest of us, it's the stadium-like atmosphere of the Pour House, which was somehow crawling with Ravens fans on Monday. One slinked away after it got to be 14-0, the rest stuck around and took their beating like honorable subhuman scum.

Down by 31 points? Yeah, not a whole lot you can say. I like the dead-eyed look on her friend. I think that pretty accurately captures the Baltimore experience. At she didn't wear something that was entirely purple.

This striking fellow looks as though he's about to lower the boom on Mr. Ravens Fan. It's probably good that he didn't. The cruelest punishment would be to force the Bawlmer fans to watch the remainder of their team's season as they fight with the Browns for second place.

Ooooohhh, yeah. It's business time. It's business...it's business time. But, seriously, am I going to mock this guy for wearing a pink tie? Yes, but only if I'm carrying my big pink gun.

The time-honored Pour House tradition of doing Scrappy crowd push-ups. We one for every point the Steelers score. So that's why Pittsburgh doesn't run up the score, they know they're just making us work harder. Also of note: The Sepulveda (or "Spatula" or he's known around the Pour House) jersey on the left. That's quality.

Scrappy, usually seen in an Ohio State hat, found the one piece of headwear even less appealing to pose for this shot. I'd rather have a keg full of afterbirth dumped on my head, but that's me.

Why Isn't Tomlin Given His Due?

Given the benefit of low expectations, a majority of the football punditry seems content to place Romeo Crennel above Mike Tomlin for consideration for coach of the year. They cite that he's been able to overcome instability at the quarterback position - which, of course, he created by stalling to make a decision in the preseason, ultimately picking the wrong QB by virtue of a coin flip - and a culture of losing, which he's had now three seasons to turn around. He's still 15-25 as a head coach.

Derek Anderson's emergence does a great deal to compensate for many of Crennel's other shortcomings. Like fellow vaunted coordinator turned mediocre AFC North coach Marvin Lewis, Crennel was known for his defensive acumen as the coordinator in New England, yet Cleveland's D ranks dead last in the NFL in terms of yardage allowed.

Tomlin, though taking over a more talented team, was filling a position held for 15 years by his predecessor, coming off a season in which the team looked lost and dealing with the outsize expectations that greet any Steelers coach. Crennel has the Browns dealing with the pleasant surprise of a possible playoff run. Tomlin has the Steelers in the conversation of Super Bowl contenders.

Crennel does look like a Battletoad, so I suppose he deserves some additional adversity points for that.

His Browns, meanwhile, will have to achieve something approaching parity to have a chance in Heinz Field, where the Steelers have won all four games of their games there this season by a combined score of 122-26. The Steelers open the week as nine and a half point favorites and have a good chance of having the boost of having Aaron Smith return to the lineup.

Note: The kick-off of the Steelers game Dec. 9 against the Patriots has been moved to 4:15 p.m., no doubt to ensure a larger TV audience witnesses James Harrison snapping Brady's legs. He'll make a pretty corpse, I think.


Mel Blount is Quite Blunt

Lost in all the exulting of victory at the Pour House and the taunting of the opposing fans was this clearheaded summation of the play of the Baltimore Ravens by All-Time Steeler and HOFer, Mel Blount:

"Well, I’ll tell you what, it’s kind of embarrassing that you’re in a professional league and you can’t perform any better than that. Granted, the Steelers are a tough defense but... it’s pretty pathetic."

Preach on. Of course, God's Linebacker, Ray Lewis, in the locker room had to adopt the most shrill, whiny voice I've ever heard emanate from a convict, when he huffed and puffed about the Week 17 rematch. Awful ballsy for the leader of a defense who just got 38 put on them by their biggest rival. And the constant dancing and woofing following two-yard Willie Parker carries when already down by a few touchdowns? Inspiring. Probably doesn't help when receivers are blowing up your best players.

Ben's quarterback rating: Perfect. Can't really blame offensive turnovers for that, huh, Ray?

Taking a peek at the Baltimore Sun, it seems most Ravens fans don't share Ray-Ray's bluster:

Billick must go. How many more years must we put up with his miserable offensive genius. QB's have been changed, offensive linemen have been changed, wide receivers, offensive coordinators, running backs but still the same pathetic offensive. The one constant in this misery has been Billick. Time to end it and get rid of him. We all know that Marvin Lewis won the Super Bowl, not Billick.

Whoa, Marvin Lewis a better coach than Billick? A guy who keeps ten defenders on the field? Harsh, dude.

I believe McNair is done. At least Boller can try a long pass.

I suppose long interceptions are somewhat better than short ones. It's more like a punt that way.

Your defense cannot cannot play against the opposition and your offense. Shut it down Ray and wait one more season. Marty will be hired and at least give us a chance in the playoffs next year.

Silly deluded Ravens fan. Marty gives you a chance to get to the playoffs but once there, he turns into, oh, the '06 Ravens losing their opening playoff game at home to the INDIANAPOLIS Colts.

HT: Lion in Oil.

James Harrison Might Be Good

And Steve McNair may no longer be the reputed Steeler killer he once was. And the Ravens most assuredly have issues with holding onto the ball, which could probably be lumped into the rubric of general suckery.

The Steelers' defense, in a testament to what can happen when one attempts a pass rush, held the Bawlmer offense to a franchise low 104 yards. They collected six sacks and four turnovers, despite the incalculable genius of Brian Billick. Man, does that guy know how to gameplan.

Silverback had three and a half sacks, a pick, three forced fumbles, a fumble recovery and five quarterback hurries. By the third quarter, he had also invented a teleportation device, universal health care and a car that runs on Ravens fans' tears. Quite a showing, if you ask me.

To mark Harrison's coming out game, I direct fans to Believe's very awesome Silverback shirt. They're even on sale. Buy one before he gets upset.

The offense was opportunistic, if fairly one-dimensional. Five of Ben's 13 completions were touchdowns, two each going to Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington. With 20 TDs on the year, Roethlisberger has passed his career high in half a season. But, yeah, he's totally a game manager, right?

It looked as though I might have jinxed Ben good when T-Sizzle threw him to the turf in the third quarter in what seemed to result in a certain hip pointer injury. Happy to see that he recovered enough to be able to come back into the game. But should he have returned to the game? Hell and no. Up 31 points in the second half, there's really nothing to gain by having Ben take another sack after what appeared to be a serious injury. Many speculated, and I agree, that that was probably Ben's decision, but it was one Tomlin certainly should have overruled.

The O-line didn't quite match the defense's mammoth effort, as the running game never really got anything going and many of the plays Ben made were again the result of him breaking tackles and improvising while out of the pocket.

The most dismaying aspect to me was that such a great performance once again came in those horrid 75th anniversary unis. The ugly yellow helmets improve to 2-0. In fact, the Steelers have outscored opponents 64-10 in the two games in the dreadful throwbacks. We might have to pack the damn things for the trip to Foxborough.

Next week's game against the Browns will go a long way to determining the fate of the AFC North. The Ravens, now 4-4, soon enter quite the gauntlet, having to host the Chargers, Patriots and Colts in consecutive weeks. Given the way they played tonight, this could easily be a 7-9 team.


Are the Browns a Legitimate Threat? Is That the Most Absurd Question Ever?

Not to peer ahead of tonight's game against the Cleveland Browns of Baltimore, but those upstart expansion Browns, following a comeback victory at home yesterday in overtime against the Seahawks, could hold a full game lead over the Ravens for second place in the AFC North and give the Steelers a much more meaningful Week 10 matchup than anyone could have envisioned even weeks ago.

Following the Week 1 curb stomping in Mistakebythelakeland, in which the Browns opprobriously committed four penalties on a botched punt that led to the first of four Roethlisberger touchdowns, Cleveland has been a startling 5-2, with one of those losses coming in a last second field goal on the road and two impressive come from behind victories in the last two weeks.

Over those seven games, the Browns have averaged more than 31 points a game. Now, I've only caught some snippets of any of these contests, so my familiarity with the Browns has only come in their humiliating defeats against the Steelers, when they've only managed 7 points each of the last two games, with Derek "Horse Balls" Anderson being an unexceptional 34 for 65, with 460 yards, two TDs and two picks.

Returning to the displaced Brownies, the Ravens are suffering from costly injuries on both sides of the ball, potentially being without both starting corners. Todd Heap is a gametime decision. But even if he plays, he, like McNair, is coming off weeks on inactivity and bound to show some rust. Some signs of life from the Steelers pass rush would be a fine way to welcome them back.


Kendall Simmons, Please Read

In Ben Roethlisberger's three years in the league, he's only 2-2 against the Ravens as a starter, and Bawlmer has compiled a nice track record at dinging him up, especially in Heinz Field.

2004: In the second game against the Ravens, Terrell Suggs (or T-Sizzle, if you're a fan of retarded nicknames) took a cheap, late hit to Ben's ribs. Roethlisberger didn't miss significant time, but he was clearly hobbled for the next few weeks.

2005: Roethlisberger hurts his knee in the first game against the Ravens in Pittsburgh, causing him to miss three weeks and return rusty for critical games against the Bengals and Colts. Tommy Maddox starts the rematch in Baltimore and practically single-handedly loses the game.

2006: In the first game in M&T Bank, Willie Parker decides it's in his best interests not to block Bart Scott coming off the end. Scott proceeds to knock Ben to a small fishing village somewhere in Mexico. Having already weathered a motorcycle accident, an appendectomy and multiple concussions last year, he returned to the game soon thereafter. Ben must have slept with one of Cowher's daughters last year. Why else you'd subject your quarterback to that kind of punishment, I know not.

This has been a season where Ben, despite a few frustrating interceptions (endzone against Arizona, ending possible game-clinching drive last week in 3rd quarter), has played exceedingly well while having to run for his life.

It's a credit that's he's made so much out of so many plays where lesser or more Bledsoe-like QBs would have gone straight down. The pass he completed to Santonio Holmes for a first down while being dragged to the turf was nothing short of spectacular. It's also asking for trouble in a lot of cases, especially against a team as fond of the cheap shot as is Baltimore.

The O-line has been spotty at best thus far this season, but this isn't a game they can afford to take off, less so for their ability than their willingness to injure opposing players.


How Appropriate

The Browns wasted no time in picking up the Steelers recent castoff, Ricardo Colclough.

And, really, short of them starting Brady Quinn in two weeks when they come to Pittsburgh, this couldn't have been an any more joyous occasion. Hopefully, he can be their return man, in lieu of Joshua Cribbs, who not at all hilariously guaranteed a victory over the Steelers in Week 1.

Most likely, though, it 'sone of those cases where a team signs a former player from their next opponent, to squeeze some info about their formations and gameplanning from him. After all, Romeo Crennel can use all the strategizing help he can. This is the guy who flipped a coin to decide on his starting quarterback in the preseason. Luck didn't smile on you with that one, did it, Battletoad?

You Just Keep On Using Me, Until You Use Me Up

Post-Gazette has a notebook item today about the Steelers defense's new rallying mantra for 2007. And it comes in shirt form.

Today, the Steelers sport a new T-shirt that reads simply "Use Me." They wore them during warmups Sunday in Cincinnati and, yes, there is a story behind it, according to defensive end Brett Keisel.

"We were in meetings once, and coach said, 'Arnold Harrison!' And Arnold said, 'Use me!' It kind of started from that.''

And its meaning?

"It means all of us are accountable and all of us in here want to be on the field," Keisel explained. "If you're on the field, then you have an expectation level you need to play to. That's what it means. When you're out there, you're part of the group and you're being useful."

Makes sense, even if it has the potential for unwanted connotations. Perhaps "Have Me Rush the Quarterback" might have been more apropos, but that doesn't look as good on a cotton tee, I bet.

It's also a shirt that I implore these fine makers of Steelers gear to make a "Use Me" shirt for the fans. And when I say fans, I mean sexy female Steelers fans. You all I truly have a use for. Or even just hot women in general. I'm willing to make exceptions, unless they root for the Ravens, Bengals, Browns, Pats or Cowboys. Then they might as well don their "Use Me, And Get the Clap and Have Your Dick Fall Off" shirts.

The defense shouldn't have to overextend themselves too much to get a handle on the Ravens, who currently rank 21st in yardage and 26th in points. Brian Billick, who in Minnesota parlayed all the offensive acumen it takes to coordinate the league's top attack when seven of you 11 offensive starters are Pro Bowlers, has only once in his tenure in Baltimore had an offense finish in the top 10 in scoring, and that was four years ago.

Can't imagine why Ravens fans call for his head every time they lose. You simpletons just can't understand his genius. Once of these days, he's gonna get tired of telling you.