Not Enough Hatred

One of the most unsettling aspects of Sunday's loss was the number of Giants fans in attendance at Heinz. I would attribute this to their being one of the more proximal non-division opponents and their fans having a decent amount of marginal income to spend on tickets (at least more than, say, Buffaloians SP?). One such individual was seated next to me and proceeded to lay claim to the title of "Single Most Obnoxious Fan I Have Ever Encountered." I hope his genitals rot off.

Which brings me to Reason #738 why the NFL is the best sports league ever: Hatred.

Unlike many leagues, there is always a reason to root for one of the two teams playing to fucking decimate the other. Regardless of the two teams playing, one is a better conduit for your hatred than the other. Even better, each season brings new reasons to despise, case in point: I didn't give a hefty shit about the Seahawks before they started with all their whining after Super Bowl, now I take pleasure in watching Mike Holmgren's slow decent into football hell in the "Emerald City". Before Sunday, I would venture to guess that most Steelers fans would list the NY Giants in thee bottom 1/3 or even 1/4 of their personal "List of Loathing". Yes, Eli and Ben are the source of an overblown, media-contrived "rivalry", but aside from this, what reason did we have to abhor the Giants? Consider:

We never play them
They knocked off the Patriots last year
They play in a division with the Cowboys (and 'skins)

THIS must be the cause of so many fans' ambivilance and their selling tickets to assholes from the cesspool that is New York/New Jersey. THIS is why I witnessed an audible "Here we go Giants" chant in the 4th quarter for the first time ever by an opponent fan base. And THAT is now why the Giants are making a rapid ascent up my personal hatred list.

I'm curious, what does your "Loathing List" look like? (Personally, the Ravens can get fucked at the pole position on mine)
Leave'em in the comments...


Santonio Returns; Taylor and Springs Out For 'Skins

Mike Tomlin broke the suspense today by announcing that Santonio Holmes will return from his one-week weedcation to thankfully start on Monday in the epic shithole that is FedEx Field. And thank Jeebus for that, because the Giants had a ton of fun stacking the line knowing the Steelers couldn't stretch the field without Holmes.

Meanwhile, the 'Skins, already struggling to generate much of a pass rush this season, will be likely without Jason Taylor, meaning, there's a decent chance - and I don't want to get anyone worked up here - that Ben could have a iota of time to scan the field before getting savaged by an oncoming rusher. Missing yet another week is cornerback Shawn Springs, who actually attended my high school and is one of the few 'Skins players I have a modicum of sympathy for. Not true, I've met Chris Cooley and he was all right.

Stifling the run is usually a given with the Steelers defense, but going against early MVP candidate Clinton Portis this week is going to take a similarly stout effort to the one they had last week. Pittsburgh's own pass rush is another matter. Most fans had expected Eli Manning to be worth a few careless turnovers in the face of the Steelers D, but under no pressure, he provided none, though there were a few that could've been picked had defenders reacted to the ball as opposed to receivers. However, Jason Campbell has yet to throw an interception yet this season. Controlling the ground game is enough but it won't amount to much if the defense continues to exert no pressure on the passing game allowing conversion after conversion on 3rd down.

In other lineup shakeups, the Steelers welcomed new long-snapper Jared Retkofsky, who presumably will outperform James Harrison by a touch. Hopefully punter Mitch Berger has recovered from his hammy injury and his abortion. The latter problem I was unaware of, but it would explain some of the wincing.


Defense Can't Do Everything; Offense Can't Do Enough

The Steelers' defense was put in a bevy of difficult situations today and came out of most of them bending but not breaking, even if they weren't getting any pressure on Eli Manning. In the end, two big plays by the offense wasn't enough for to cover for a variety of bad penalties, drops and an inability of the D to get 3rd down stops.

Up 14-9 in the second half, the Steelers had opportunities to put the game away, but failed to get any offense going in the fourth quarter, with a line that had been blocking fairly well crumbling, receivers unable to get open and a quarterback unwilling to release the ball. Taken together, it's a familiar recipe for failure for the Steelers. Willie Colon's holding penalty, as borderline as it was, negated what might have been a deciding second touchdown pass to Nate Washington. One would think that if Marvel Smith ever gets over his problem with back spasms that Max Starks deserves another chance at right tackle.

Bruce Arians playcalling was predictably atrocious, with nothing but poorly designed slants on long passing downs. What he hoped to do with the last offensive play to Hines Ward, I'll never know.

And if it's a mid-to-late season Steelers game, injuries had to play a big role. Already coming into the game shorthanded, the Steelers lost safety Ryan Clark late, as well as sustaining critical special teams injuries to punter Mitch Berger and long snapper Greg Warren. Blame will undoubtedly be heaped on James Harrison for the botched snap that resulted ina safety to tie the game, but with the way the Giants were allowed to controll the clock and the tempo of the game, there wasn't much doubt that New York could have gotten into scoring position without the gifted two points.

As the heart of the schedule gets underway, the manner in which Pittsburgh was outphysicaled most of the game is never the most encouraging sign. The big game here in D.C. next week will bring the same sort of gameplan the Steelers way: bruising running coupled with an offense that excels at protecting the ball. For the line's sake, the 'Skins can't bring quite as much heat as the Eagles and Giants can. Whether that means that receivers can provide an available target may hinge on whether Santonio is allowed to contribute.


Santonio Can Stay Home and Get High on Sunday

This is a weird infraction to approach. On one hand, possession of a small amount of weed is something I'm supposed to be mad about because it could get a player suspended. But it sure as fuck isn't something I'm morally opposed to. I wish I was carrying at the moment, to be perfectly honest. This isn't like when he was charged with beating one of his girlfriends two years ago. It's not like he was even driving while high. Across the border to the north, possession of a small amount of weed isn't even be a crime and really shouldn't be in this country either. Still, it's against the rules and you have your whole post-football life to get high and blah blah blah blah priggish football values.

What hasn't been made clear to me is why was Holmes was pulled over in the first place. Some search for drugs in a car that just happened to resemble his? That sounds like some fishy shit. The arresting officer, so eager to pronounce Santonio a nice, cooperative guy, wasn't really clear on what caused him to target Santonio in the first place.

It looks like word has come down that Tomlin announced Holmes won't even be allowed on the sidelines Sunday, which is less than encouraging. Who does that make the no. 3 receiver? Dallas Baker? Ggguuuhhhh. At least there's a chance Plaxico could be sidelined for his return to the 'Burgh, but I doubt it. He made a nice habit of sitting out practice all during the postseason last year and still played, and played well, in each game.

It hasn't necessarily been a terrible year for Santonio, though not a spectacular one either. It just happens most fans were expecting the latter, this being the year the third year wideout was going to put up the huge numbers that injuries prevented him for doing last year. But it's obvious that he isn't Roethlisberger's preferred target by any means. Even on the deep balls that are supposed to be his specialty have gone more often to Nate Washington in recent weeks. Meanwhile, the Steelers are looking at another week of Mewelde Moore and Max Starks in the starting lineup. At least last week's performance is making me feel halfway relaxed about that. Having the possibility of Aaron Smith out against Brandon Jacobs, however, is not a prospect I look forward to coming to fruition.


Ravens Put a Bounty on Hines and Mendenhall

This week Steelers fans have had to get on the defensive in arguing against the usual phalanx of haters that claim that Hines Ward is a dirty player because of his recent spate of fines and the supposedly "dirty" block he put on Keith Rivers on Sunday. As per the usual, the classless Baltimore Ravens are on the scene to show the world that they wrote the book on being dirty little dickheads who require discipline from the league, as their linebacker with the incredibly lame nickname has been bragging on the radio that his team had a bounty on Hines Ward and Rashard Mendenhall when the teams played in Week 4, and bragged about putting the rookie running back out for the year. Class-E.

[Ward] also said he's not worried about Internet reports that Baltimore linebacker Terrell Suggs claimed the Ravens put a "bounty" on Ward the way they did on halfback Rashard Mendenhall, who was knocked out for the season with a fractured shoulder by Baltimore's Ray Lewis.

Suggs acknowledged recently on the syndicated sports radio talk show "2 Live Stews" that the Ravens had a bounty on Mendenhall and on Ward.

"We definitely like to send our messages to rookie running backs who think they've made it." Suggs said. "We did a good a job of sending a message."

As for Ward, Suggs said, "Hines Ward is definitely a dirty player, a cheap shot artist."

"If he chooses to say that, so be it," Tomlin said. "We respect that guy. He's a heck of a player. I saw him run with the ball on somebody last week. We don't lose any sleep over what anybody says."

Wasn't there supposed to be a culture change in Bawlmer with the departure of Brian Billick? Nothing beyond lip service, of course. This is still the same band of obnoxious thugs that have cost their team victories time and again with stupid penalties and undisciplined antics like these. Whenever people charge the Steelers with being a dirty team, all you have to do is point to shit like this.


Dixie Notes: McFadden Out, Troy In, Ward Keeps His Cash

-Per the Post-Gazette, CB Bryant McFadden will likely miss 5 weeks due to a broken forearm he sustained in Sunday's game in Cincy.

-Despite likely sustaining a concussion on Sunday, it looks probable that Troy Polamalu will be suiting up against the Giants this week.

-According to Terrel Suggs, the Ravens have placed a (highly illegal) bounty on Mr. Ward's head. Roger Goodell would like to have a word with you.

-Speaking of which, it looks like Hines' jaw-breaking hit on Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers was both clean and legal...no pansy-ass fine coming his way, says Adam Schefter.

-Lastly, take a moment and head here to vote for LaMarr Woodley for this week's Defensive Player of the Week.


Even With a Lax First Half, Complete Domination

The Steelers made things difficult for themselves with needless penalties in the first half, making a dominant performance look like one that could be susceptible to a strong second half performance by the Bengals. Nevertheless, Pittsburgh came out committed to the run in the second half and ran away with the game in the second half.

Mewelde Moore has again proven to be the best off-season pick-up for the Steelers, while the line was shockingly adequate in warding off the Bengals' blitzes. Once Bruce Arians jettisoned the strategy of empty set passes on nearly every down in the first half, the Steelers got things going in the second half.

It would be nice to see the corners play less than 10 yards off each receiver, which enabled the Bengals to move the ball on the drives that they were able to put together a semblane of rhythm. Even with the adjustments made by Cincy, the defense was able to create enough disruption to to undo Ryan Fitzpatrick's attempts to closing the gap after the Steelers' initial scoring drive in the second half. James Harrison, in particular, was a hazard in the backfield, collecting two sacks to place him at the lead amond all defenders in the league.

The takeaway that the Steelers will presumably take away from this game is not to damamge themselves when they have opportunites to put away opponents, like they did with a number of penalties in the first half against the Bengals. Still, with a number of crucial starters out for this game, and even Byron Leftwich getting a TD pass, it's difficult to overlook what the Steelers are able to do when they're rolling.


Bye Week Not As Restorative As We Might've Hoped

The news of Willie Parker reaggravating his sprained MCL on a divot on the practice field (thanks again, grounds crew) would've been the talk of the town for the week, were it not for Troy speaking truth to pansies. Problem is, Fast Bill isn't the only injured Steeler having a hard time getting back onto the field, now that it's been announced that Casey Hampton and now Marvel Smith will not be suiting up for tomorrow's game in Cincinnati. Oddly enough, Max Starks, the $7 million man who the team didn't see fit to put in for Smith in the 4th quarter against Jacksonville, gets the start over Trai Essex. It seems Marvel's back problems are going to dog him for much of this season as they did the last. Consider me less than thrilled.

Even presuming Parker and Hampton return the following week against the Giants, you'd like them not to be rusty going into the teeth of the schedule. As for tomorrow, given what Mewelde Moore showed against Jacksonville and what Chris Hoke has displayed on any number of occasions, the team should be all right, but the absence of Marvel gives Cincy a needed weakness to exploit in hopes of keeping the Steelers' offense from putting Ryan Fitzpatrick in deficit he can't recover from.

[For those who haven't seen it - check out the refresher on the life of Amos Zereoue over at One for the Other Thumb]


Home Game in Cincy

Out of a job in 4,3,2...

According to The Cincinnati Enquirer, Sunday's 26-14 loss to the New York Jets prompted a groundswell of bargain ticket scalping in the The Queen City. Early reports are that upwards of 3,000 tickets have been posted for sale by Bengals season ticket holders for this Sunday's tilt between the Steelers and Bengals on sites such as Stubhub.

All this despite head coach Marvin Lewis pleading for "patience" on the part of the weary fan base, and the city's mayor pledging to vigilantly tailgate Sunday.

With Cincinnati only about 4 1/2 hours away from the 'Burgh by Winnegabo, I doubt he'll be the only one lighting grilles outside Paul Brown.


Ryan Fitzpatrick Gets Start, Defense Gets Ready

Bengals backup QB Ryan Fitzpatrick, who - you might have heard 10,000 times by now - attended Fair Harvard, will get the start for the second straight week Sunday when the Steelers come to town to renew the divisional rivalry. In two starts, he has a QB rating of 57.7, with one touchdown and three picks.

/trying not to overlook opponent, really, really trying


Despondent Bengals fans and Internet troubadour Ryan Parker put out this little ballad a few weeks back that made clear he was at the end of his tether and wants to know if he can switch allegiances. Well, no, buddy, you can't. Bengals fandom is your cross to bear. And please stop showing us picture of Dick LeBeau as your head coach. It's sickening.


No Steelers Football Makes Dixie Something Something...

This is what my life has been reduced to watching while suffering through a languid bye week. In the process of surfing WNBA blogs, scrap-booking and alphabetizing my 1989 Donruss baseball card collection I DID come across something worth passing along to you tech savy sports fans out there. Dave Dameshek is Pittsburgh transplant currently broadcasting out of Los Angeles' ESPN710. From what I can tell he's a reasonably intelligent and well-versed Steelers, Pens and yes, Pirates fan with a bi-weekly free podcast. It's pretty entertaining as he routinely talks with D-list celebs and personalities from the Pittsburgh blogosphere (think Bill Simmons, only with the 'Burgh). In fact, he and Simmons both wrote for Jimmy Kimmel Live, a show that is apparently on television. HERE is a link to the show's site with the pod-cast available for download.


Golf Clap for Sean Morey

Nice to see Kenny Wiz and the fellow Steeler defectors out in Arizona get a big win over the Cowboys in OT. Former Steelers special teams ace Sean Morey, who the team had sorely missed until they got their kick coverage house in order this year, had the punt block that decided the game in the first drive in OT. Clark Haggans also contributed some pressure on the now-injured Tony Romo. So, kudos to Pittsburgh West on a fine victory.

In games more relevant to the Steelers, the Colts blasted Bawlmer 31-3, forcing unflappable Joe Flacco to toss three picks while finally discovering some semblance of rhythm to their own attack. Wasn't it just 14 days ago that the Ravens were 2-0 and holding first place in the division?

Oh yeah -shock of shocks - the Bengals lost. Still, after seeing the winless Rams pull one out against a very flat looking Redskins team, I know I was hoping the Steelers can avoid a similar fate by not looking past Cincy to the very tough road that follows.


Report Card: Week 5

With each week comes new reason to think that the next game is the one that will define the season and forever alter the Steelers' shot at another 'ship. The contest against the Jaguars appeared to be one that we'd be relieved to simply get through without any substantial injuries, lick our existing wounds and attempt to mount a charge into the remainder of the schedule against the hapless Bungles.
But...we found $20 in the back pocket of our jeans. That dick who passed us going 100mph got pulled over a mile later. And our girlfriend decided to take "Stripper-robics". Yeah, it was that kind of day.
Maybe we'll look back on the Jacksonville game as the high point of the season. Maybe we'll consider it the momment that our team (and offensive coordintor) finally jelled. Maybe I'll just keep self-touching every time I think of our linebackers. Whatever the case, I'm glad that I'm so painfully superficial that the outcome of a professional sporting event can so easily determine my mood for the next two weeks.
Kudos if you had the stones to take our boys +5 going in...


QBs: B+
309 yards passing. The quick passing game was a key to his (and the offense's) success, hitting Miller over the middle numerous times and Washington, Ward and Holmes with shorter routes. It's good to see that our offense has been altered to accommodate for our inadequacies a the line AND our strengths in personnel. I still get frustrated when Ben's "internal clock" malfunctions and he holds on to the ball too long, but it's a double-edged sword as he also often will scramble away or make a pass like he did in the 4th while in the grasp over the middle. Ben is one of maybe three or four QBs that can make that play and he's the best of the bunch at doing it. Horrendous INT in the first keeps him from an A.

Line: C-
I was very hopeful that Kemoeatu would step into the starter's role this year and shine...not so much. He was the Jags whipping boy Sunday night, overmatched and overwhelmed. Stapleton appears to be a capable replacement, but Colon had another off day with a false start and holding. Nobody on our O-line seems to be capable of pre-snap adjustments to obvious blitz packages and are thrown way off by stunting, etc. Our offensive skill players continue to compensate for these glaring weaknesses and while this can hold up for awhile and against all of our divisional opponents it is NOT reliable. Work needs to be done here.

Wide Receivers: B
Despite a few surprising drops by Hines, the three-headed monster of Holmes (4 for 65), Ward (7 for 90-1td) and Washington (6 for 95-1td) took advantage of a suprisingly soft Jaguar secondary and really got open for Ben. It looked like Holmes will be getting the bulk of the doulbe teams going forward - and this freed Ward who filled his typicical role with great, clutch catches including the final TD catch.

Tight Ends: B-
I DVRed this game and going back through, it was easy to spot Miller and Spaeth missing some important blocks that resulted in Ben feeling pressure early. These guys are not effective against DEs and with our max protect schemes, that's where they line up. It's also one of the main reasons the pulling plays weren't working. Miller looked great catching the ball though, hauling in 5 for 45 with a TD.

RBs: B
High marks have to be given to Moore for stepping up into the starter's role and running between a collapsing line all night - 99 yards on 17 carries is impressive. Russell's 25 on 6 carries was a nice number to never have to depend upon. It's games like this one that prove that the Steeler's approach to football dictates adequate backs (not stellar ones) in order to be successful. Also, I'd love to see some outside the tackles play calling like we saw in the 2nd and 3rd quarters for Willie when he comes back.


Line: B+

38 yards rushing. These boys played tremendously considering we were down 2 starters and the Jags O-line was supposed to be one of the better units in the conference coming in. Smith, Keisel and Hoke all played big and freed up some serious lanes for the linebackers. Anyone else see when Hoke pushed a C and RB into Garrard and did enough to allow Woodley to pickup that sack?

Linebackers: A
Woodley gets 2 sacks and is seemingly instantly thrust into the national spotlight and Harrison grabs one and a forced fumble. Farrior, Foote and Timmons all represent swarming backers that any team in the NFL would die to have and will have to scheme for going forward. Like so many other years, it's looking like there'll be a bunch of boys in Black and Gold suring up the linebacker corps in Hawaii.

Defensive Backs: B
Zone coverage most of the night meant there weren't many problems, save an interference call on Taylor in the end zone. Why he didn't have deep help from Troy is odd, may have been a blown coverage. Shutting down Matt "nose candy" Jones was exactly a herculian task, but Ike did well. McFadden actually looked the best, swatting away three passes. Troy played well again and was not as involved as there were literally no plays developing too far down field.


Kickers: A-/B
Standard evening for Reed with a bunch of Kickoffs touched back and everything going through the uprights. Strained calf scares the shit out of me. Mitch Berger out of nowhere with the 49.5 yard average. Whatever.

Return/Coverage: C/C
Good job, Santonio still scares me and fucked up that one kick, dancing around. That kickoff was attrocious, being run back for 40 yards, but it seems that our punter and coverage team are clicking together.


LeBaeu was on his game again, shutting down the Jags runnings game and keeping Garrard from being very effective. Realistically, we were two plays away from having an absolute route Sunday.

The absence of Marcus Stroud on the Jags' D-line is obvious as few doubleteams were necessary on our part and there was not real "game changer" on the other side of the ball for them. This allowed for no real doubleteams and meant teeing off on linebackers down field by freed up linemen. I would feel a lot better if we get the fullback position more involved in the running game, but do take solace in the fact that Arians apparently has been shown his role and Ben is clearly the leader in the huddle - good stuff.Excellent way to go into the break, I fucking loathe losing into the bye. Now hurry up and heal, boys...


Is Woodley and Silverback the Best Steeler Pass Rush Tandem Since Greene and Lloyd? Gildon and Porter?

The two outside backers have combined for 12 sacks through five games, earning each a spot in the top four in league sack leaders. The Steelers are tied with the Eagles for the league lead with 18 sacks, half as many as the team had through all of last year.

A lot of fans had high hopes for Woodley coming into the season and it's fair to say he's met or exceeded all of those. If these two can keep it up, we're probably not only talking about Pro Bowl nods for the two of them, but surpassing the sack totals of past great Steeler linebacking duos like Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd in 1994 and Jason Gildon and Joey Porter in 2000, when each pair of 3-4 bookends combined for 24 sacks.

UPDATE - Woodley was on Jim Rome yesterday talking about the transition from defensive end to linebacker.


Steelers Exact Revenge, Despite Injuries And Refs

The Steelers survived an early deficit by dint of an opening drive pick-six, found ways to move the ball with quick drops and found critical moments to stifle David Garrard to get their first win over Jacksonville since 2004. With the win and the Ravens' last-minute loss to the Titans, the Steelers push ahead to a game and a half ahead in the division and now head into a much needed bye week.

The referees had an absolutely atrocious showing in this game, ignored glaringly obvious holding calls on Jacksonville and nailing the Steelers with ticky-tack calls on Nate Washington and a late-hit call on the defense that sprung Jacksonville on their drive that let them take the lead, not say nothing of what was up with the play clock on the Steelers two-point conversion attempt following their go-ahead score.

Mewelde Moore turned in a great showing in emergency relief, getting 99 yards on 17 carries. With him out of returning duties, Najeh Davenport did his best to suck up the joint in that role. Still, with Willie Parker hopefully returning in two weeks against Cincinnati, the running games looks to be capable hands given what Moore and Gary Russell showed in this game.

The Steelers, despite gaining 300 yards in the first half, looked like they deviated from some of the quick-drop plays in the second half and reverted to the let's-have-Ben-drop-back-and-twist-around-for-seven-seconds-before-getting-sacked plays.

The D-line, missing two starters, is worthy of every plaudit holding the combo of Fred Taylor and MJD to 19 yards and, though giving a few too many 3rd and longs than I'd like to see, stopping the Jags on the brink of moving drives into scoring territory.

Considering the difficulties Pittsburgh had coming into this game, facing an opponent that's had their number of late and the clutch performance they had in the end, this instantly becomes the signature win of 2008 to date.


Your Quarterly AFC Review

Mini helmets are bad-ass.

Bye weeks aside, we’re effectively ¼ of the way through NFL regular season agenda. As we pass the quarter-mile post let’s take stock of the other 15 teams in the AFC race for the playoffs. IF and when we get to the point where we should take interest in the apparently superior NFC then we’ll expand and expound. Because, as we’ve learned all too well in the past weeks, we should keep our aspirations grounded in reality. Team capsule style by record followed by playoff predictions, like I’m some sort of fucking soothsayer, I know:


Tennessee (4- 0) – Impressive stable of backs, superior defense, but bullshit schedule. Opponents thus far are a combined 2-10 and on deck are the Ravens and Chiefs. ..worst 6-0 team ever? “Hey, VY, see if you can find your dignity under that outright release over there, you bi-polar pussy.”

Buffalo (4-0) –
Trent Edwards is an above average QB and they have more staying power than the Kerry Collins piloted Titans, but…bullshit schedule. Two wins came against teams who don’t have their head coaches any more (St. Louis & Oakland). I consider the Bills impressive, but untested…still they’ll cruise to the playoffs with KC, Cleveland, Arizona and the East left on their schedule. Enjoy your swan song, Buffalo as your team is steadily moved to “shared with Toronto” status by Ralph Wilson’s slight-of-hand.

“The Blemished”

Denver (3-1) -
The “Diabetic Dynamo” Jay Cutler has led the Broncos to a league-leading 314 passing ypg. Shanahan’s eyebrows have churned out another decent running back by committee love-fest. Surprising loss at KC, while spelling doom to my suicide league, is not too damning as Arrowhead is a bitch to play in. Photo finish with San Diego for the division.

Baltimore (2-1) –
Frightening defense. Joe Flacco isn’t going anywhere from the look of things and although we got the W against these guys, they’re still very much in the hunt for the division. I’ll be curious to see how having the bye forcibly removed from their schedule already affects the ‘birds. Circle Dec. 14th on the calendar, it’s liable to cost us or them a playoffs spot.

New England (2-1) -
With the offense only generating 16 points a game, much has been made of Cassel and Moss up in Foxboro, but their defense is piss – giving up over 140 rushing yards per game. My guess is .500 or slightly better, but they still have that cupcake schedule to lean on.

“Middling and Muddled”

San Diego (2-2) – Slow start again, but neck and neck with Denver for the lead in just about every offensive category. If they can remain relatively healthy (Tomlinson seems like he’s one hard sneeze away from IR), the Bolts look to be headed for the post season. If their D wasn’t sub-par they’d have a shot at a first round bye.
Jacksonville (2-2) – Pretty average season for these guys so far. Garrard has put them on his back with two come from behind victories since starting 0-2, but doubt that strategy will get them to a division title. Back to back games against Pittsburgh and Denver will go a long way in determining if the Jags will have a January.

NY Jets (2-2) – They’ll jump out of this position quick with their next three being Cincy, Oakland and KC. Favre is good for five or six wins a season based solely on his play-making and slinging of guns…problem is he’s also good for that many loses without a stellar D backing him up. Sub-par running game and a swish cheese secondary spell eventual doom for Gang Green, but they’ll make it interesting.

“So, what else is on?”

Indianapolis (1-2) – Only team in this group that has a prayer at the postseason. I’m not buying any of the hype about the Colts being over the hill, their O-line is getting healthier, Manning hasn’t started bitching yet and they still have one of the best collections of offensive weapons in the game.

Miami (1-2) –
Fresh off the stunner against the Pats, these guys are a bit of an unknown, but that offense was unorthodox and won’t fool many D-coordinators going forward. Things are not good if Ronnie Brown is your personal Jesus, Fins fans and remember: your quarterback is Chad Pennington.

Kansas City (1-3) –
Win over the Broncos was a moon-shot, not happening again for awhile. Dwayne Bowe is an impressive wideout…problem is Tyler Thigpen is the one responsible for getting him the ball. Will barely be edged out by Oakland for worst record in the West.

Cleveland (1-3) –
How the mighty preseason pundit’s pick have fallen. I expect the Brady Quinn era to begin sometime around week 7 or 8 and the Romeo Crennel era to end around week 11 or 12.

Oakland (1-3) –
Al Davis is like a cross between Montgomery Burns and the creepy neighbor from Family Guy. Also, “Run DMC” is a bullshit nickname.

“With the first overall pick…”

Houston (0-3) – Better than the record indicates, these guys will be fucking up some teasers and parlays in the coming weeks. Slaton hasn’t looked too bad, but Schaub is putrid.

Cincinnati (0-4) –
“Now, with more clubhouse dissension!” You signed Cedric Benson? Wow. Just, wow.


East – Buffalo 12-4(BYE)
West –San Diego 11-5(BYE)
North – Pittsburgh 10-6
South – Tennessee 11-5
Wild Card – Denver 10-6
Wild Card – Indianapolis 9-7
(Don't hold me to this shit...)

A Little Payback Before The Bye

Try and count all the linemen holding on this play.

When the schedule was first put out, other than the Steelers return to Foxboro (which has since lost some luster), there was no game I wanted more of a win from than the fifth annual Jaguars-Steelers showdown. Either of the losses to the Jags last year was frustrating enough on its own, with the Steelers putting and digging themselves out of holes just to lose in the end. Taken together, you have to believe the team is staking a lot of pride on exacting some vengeance on Sunday, banged up or not.

With the way Ben took control of the game in the second half of the playoff game, people are expecting the pass to be focal point of whatever attack the Steelers are going to be able to muster. The fact that Gary Russell might be carrying the ball at some point probably factors into that as well. The no-huddle proved to be a decent catalyst against the Ravens and Ben showed he actually wants to get rid of the ball when he imposes a sense of urgency against the offense.

For the sake of not despairing about the running game, Mewelde Moore has shown flashes of explosive tendencies when he's actually been utilized. I'm assuming those showing didn't consist of the six plunges up the gut that Arians called for him against the Ravens. Perhaps - and I don't wanna rock the boat too violently here - Arians could get a back known to have pretty good hands out in the flat. Subversive ideas are dangerous, but you never know - they work out sometimes.

The loss of Hampton and Keise was evident last week against Bawlmer. Woodley and Harrison got decent pressure at times on Flacco but there were far too many times when he had tons of time to sit in the pocket, even if many of those were behind max protect schemes. The run D, while adequate, still managed to let Le'Ron McClain peel off a respectable 63 yards on 16 carries. If there's a point of emphasis against the Jags, it's tamping down on the ground attack. As the Steelers showed in the playoffs and has been demonstrated through the Jags' first four games is that David Garrard is more prone to mistakes than his reputation would suggest if he's put in difficult passing situations.

In a lot of ways, this is one of the most important games on the Steelers schedule: a chance to go 4-1 going into the bye against a likely (though if they fall to 2-3, who knows?) playoff opponent and a chance to show that they're done having their identity put into question by the Jags. No one expects anything to come easy Sunday night, but they need to a little more forceful a performance than we've seen the last two outings, both this season and against Jacksonville.


Report Card: Week 4

Saying that we barely survived week 4 is a drastic understatement. Simmons and Mendenhall lost for the season and Ben won’t be far behind unless we can string together something resembling a goddamn O-line. Jeff Reed, Baltimore Penalties and above all – DEFENSE eked this one out for us.


QBs: B

Ben’s ability to scramble and improvise was on full display. Arians designed the offensive game plan for Ben’s hot reads and some counters and traps early and it worked, but only until Baltimore adjusted. I’m still not convinced that enough quick outs and slants are included in the play book for #7’s benefit. But hopefully the biggest revelation in this young season was that he was essentially the play-caller once we shifted to the no-huddle and lead three successful drives in the second half and overtime.

Line: D

3 sacks, 3 false starts and missed blocks galore. After Philly, we knew it was going to be bad, but Christ. Kemoeatu’s worst game, without question, as he was manhandled into the backfield on a number of critical downs in the first half. Marvel and Hartwig weren’t far behind. Simmons’ large and re-upped contract is depressing now, but at least Stapleton seemed somewhat adept in there. I just can’t get over how wide open the middle is on blitzing downs.

Wide Receivers: B-

Low total of only 191 yards, but most well-rounded distribution of passes to date. Considering Ben was under siege all game, it does give us some hope for future matchups. On the other hand, I was one Holmes catch and run for TD away from drinking paint thinner.

Tight Ends: D

Atrocious blocking as two of the sacks came right over Spaeth and Miller. Conversely, Heath Miller continued to look decent as Ben’s safety valve even if it was for only a few yards. The more comfortable Ben gets with play calling and adjusting, the more I expect to see Miller hauling them in.

Running Backs: C

So much for Mendenhall, who was actually moving the ball somewhat with 3.3 yards per. And now we have Poops Davenport…I’ll be curious to see how the backs are mixed in against the Jags who typically have a stout run D. Holding out hope that FWP will return after the bye week, but if you were him, would you be excited about that?


Line: A-

Considering the lack of depth here, LeBeau continues to look like a masterful schemer. Our D-line improved on last week’s performance to command even more double teams, freeing up our LBs to make some seriously impactful plays. Kirschke looked impressive, with seven tackles, three solo.

Linebackers: A+

Quite simply the best linebacking corps in the league. Harrison and Woodley were absolutely swarming, combining for 4 sacks! Foote and Farrior both played mistake free ball. The dicks in the booth went on about Timmons getting run over by McClain for the TD, but he snagged a sack too.

Defensive Backs: B+

Only Mason did any damage, catching the bulk of the 192 yards passing for Flacco, not bad as I’m thinking he’ll be putting up a bunch more as the season progresses. Typical bend, but don’t break secondary with nobody getting burnt real long. First game without a pick for Polamalu.


Kickers: A+/C

Jeff Reed is quickly becoming one of the heroes of this season. Touchbacks and game winners = all you can ask for out of your PK. Berger is another story, a few shanks and a few pins inside the 10; not the model of consistency I’d hope for.

Return/Coverage: B-/B

Still fearful of Holmes back there for punts, but he did well. Not so for the kickoff squad, it seems like the first guy down the field for the other team makes the solo tackle every time - unacceptable. Coverage was average as the Ravens started on the 21, 12, 27, 26.


Tomlin says the right things, but I am starting to wonder if he’s doubting his personnel on the field (O-line)…or off it. I’ll be real interested to see what level of freedom Roethlisberger is given against Jacksonville. It’s important to note that Tomlin selected Arians from a short list of available O-Coordinators after he was named head coach so late…wonder if he’s regretting that move.

· Messy, scary, frustrating, costly and unsatisfying…but a win’s a win.

· I muted the MNF crew about three plays into the game and don’t regret it one bit. I highly recommend using WDVE’s internet stream if that’s at all possible…especially when Kornheiser is involved.

· Welcome to the AFC North, John Harbaugh…

· I think it’s fair to say that Jacksonville won’t exhibit the defensive prowess of Baltimore or Philly, but the rationale that we have what it will take to overcome theirs isn’t exactly sound, either. Other than a healthy Ryan Clark, we have the exact same team that was stunned by Jacksonville only now, we’re on the road…

· December 14th is already shaping up to be a big game