Now We Play the Speculating Game

When you have a week off, this is the kind of speculative bullshit you get into, which is still better than getting really excited that the Steelers could run the ball on the Browns (okay, they did finally run the I-formation, which is nice).

Not that we have control over it, but who should we be looking forward to in two weeks? I think you have two fairly even teams and one higher-seeded dud.

Indianapolis: The revenge factor would be nice. Of the Steelers' four losses, the one to Indy was the most frustrating, because they had no business losing that game. Reggie Wayne got a fluky touchdown on a ball that should have been intercepted and Ben Roethlisberger played his sloppiest game of the year. Plus, there's that whole "Steelers 5-0 in the playoffs vs. the Colts" thing.

San Diego: Another frustrating regular season game, but at least one that went our way. The Steelers put up over 400 yards of offense put only got nine points (the defense should have also had nine, but had to settle for two). The Chargers are playing with house money right now, which makes them a dangerous, though I'm not buying Tomlinson's one-week resurgence against a sieve-like Broncos defense.

Miami: I really don't see this team getting by Baltimore, but if they do the Joey Porter return will obviousy dominate the headlines for the week leading up to the game. Can't say I'd be thrilled about him going against Max Starks either. Still, this would probably be the easiest of the three opponents they could face. Chad Pennington presents some problems with his accruacy, and the Steelers have yet to face an opponent that runs the Wildcat with any frequency (Baltimore and Cleveland tinker with it), so that would present an interesting match-up.

My guess: San Diego. Like I said, I don't see Miami beating the Ravens and the Chargers always play the Colts tough. They narrowly lost to Indy earlier in the season when they were in a rough patch. Running teams still give Indy fits and I like Marmalard can float enough passes over their corners at home to get it done.

Also, holy shit, does the schedule look easy for next year. Sure, it can be more than a little deceptive nine months in advance, but getting matched up against the NFC North and AFC West could make for a relatively easy return to a top-2 seed next season, y'know, if the team bothers to address the line, fire Arians, etc.


Season Post Mortem: Part I

Time to start the tournament, baby.

This season certainly hasn’t progressed as many would have guessed. Brady’s knee. LT’s shittyness. The Dolphins. The robot-that-is-Peyton-Manning. My bleeding ulcer. John Madden's still walking the Earth.

The coaching merry-go-round has been set in motion by the firing of Marinelli, Mangini and Crennel. It’ll be interesting to see how it affects the teams below, most are likely to be sorted out in the coming weeks.

We’re doing this as a Two-Parter in reverse order starting with the bottom eight because I fucking LOVE seeing in print just how much better we are than everyone.

“With the Third Overall Pick…”

Kansas City (2-14) – It’s almost not worth stating, but these guys were putrid, their defense at the bottom of nearly every category. Their once impressive win over the Broncos now comes into better focus. Arrowhead is supposed to be one of the toughest places to play, so I’m usually wary of picking against the Chiefs at home, but not this year. Why do people think Herm Edwards can coach? I’ve seen it written elsewhere, but I cannot wait until he’s fired so that Coors Light can incorporate his infamous HREF="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IMk5sMHj58I">press conferences

“Ohio’s Finest”

Cleveland (4-12) – Well, well, well. Looks like some peoples’ sleeper pick to take the AFC North didn’t quite pan out. The Browns do have some useable pieces: D’Qwell Jackson lead the league in tackling. Jamal Lewis obviously still has something left in the tank. If Brady Quinn actually pans out, these guys could be more than a door-mat next year. Then again, their leading receiver can’t catch the ball and they have the worst offense in the league...they could be the Browns again.

Cincinnati (4-11-1) – Edging out Cleveland with a tie. I am absolutely floored Marv Lewis still has a job. This squad was as bad as Detroit for the first half, starting 0-8. But, then the Bungles “roared” into the offseason with three straight wins against teams with a total of nine wins. That being said, Cedric Benson will be an issue next year and Palmer may actually be able to throw the ball. Look for the Bengals to approach .500 next season.

“Down and Out”

Jacksonville (5-11) – I was surprised to see the Jags wind up down this far and annoyed that they couldn’t give the Ravens more of a game Sunday. They started the season 3-3 and then the wheels fell off with losses to both the Bengals and Brownies. Shiiiity O-line. Jones-Drew only topped the 100 yard mark twice and what few highlights of Garrard I gleaned showed him scrambling for his life. Are we looking at the new worst team in the AFC South?

Oakland (5-11)
– I guess things are looking tentatively up in the bay area as Tom Cable may have done enough to keep his job as head coach. I still am not buying Russell under center (or McFadden, for that matter), but any team that can travel across the country and keep a playoff-bound team out, at home, with nothing to play for other than pride piques my interest. A serviceable defense, get some receivers (and an owner with real blood) and who knows, you might take the West next year.

Buffalo (7-9)
– Whoops. An absolute train-wreck after starting 4-0. A 10-3 loss at home to San Fran was the final straw, as injuries changed the make up of this squad significantly. Going 0-6 against your divisional opponents doesn’t help, either. Too bad, as Edwards looks usable and they have some offensive weapons in Lynch and Evans. The D is adequate too, finishing in the top half of every category.

“Onward and Upward”

Houston (8-8)
– Steve Slaton crushed the Bears’ playoff hopes and my fantasy squad this season. He’s likely to nab ROY and deservedly so. Andre Johnson was quietly the leading receiver in football this year, impressive considering Sage Rosenfels and Matt Schaub were the ones chucking it at him. Mario Williams anchors an extremely young yet improving defense with the likes of Xavier Adibi, Dunta Robinson and Demeco Ryans, one that I think should put them in the Wild Card hunt next year, assuming they can handle that QB issue.


Denver (8-8) – Only team on this list that has a case against Buccaneer fans for the title of Most-Likely-to-Commit-Suicide. I’ll admit: I bought in, figured Cutler’s cyborg arm and the endless carrousel of Denver running backs would be enough to clinch a playoff spot. What really chafes my sack is they DEFINITELY were not a threat to make it to the Super Bowl, but San Diego is. Not saying the Chargers are going to be the odds on favorite, but LT is looking better and Rivers has the highest passer rating in the league. More on that tomorrow. Fuck.


Panic Breaths! Panic Breaths!

Obviously, everything else - the first shutout of the year, another demolishing of the Browns, Hines getting 800 receptions and over 1,000 yards - is overshadowed by the severity of the concussion suffered by Roethlisberger.

There are those who will criticize Tomlin for playing Ben at all, but the starting unit needed to build some confidence coming off the debacle last week in Tennessee. And it didn't fare much better this week. Ben threw a bad pick early on on the Browns side of the field. They had a touchdown pass called back on a holding penalty. Even if Ben is physically able to play in two weeks, there have to be concerns about how the offense is going to establish any rhythm.

Byron Leftwich played well in his second relief appearance, though at times he was holding the ball much the same way Ben is criticized for it. Still, I think if a team has to gameplan for Byron, things won't turn out as swimmingly for him, though depending on the prognosis, that's what might happen.

Bruce Arians seemed awfully committed to running the ball off the right end, behind Willie Colon, and it was surprisingly (even against the Browns) effective. But this was less than competition. The Steelers could have lined up against tackling dummies and had a more difficult time. I'm not sure there's even a metric to measure how poor Bruce Gradkowski's line was for the day. I mean, 5/16 for 18 yards and two picks. Joshua Cribbs fared better going 1/2 for 8 yards. A fitting swan song for Romeo. It's been a pleasure beating him eight times.


'Tis the Season to be Merry

I'd like to take a moment (and some editorial freedom) to restate Joe Dimaggio's immortal quotation: "I thank the Good Lord for making me a Yankee Steelers fan."

Aside from bagging the epic-piece-of-ass that was Marilyn Monroe, another notable attribute of Joltin’ was his unique and overt level of reverence for his team and franchise. In today's superficial, free-agent pandering, "Popcorn Readying," ultra-accessible NFL perhaps it's jaded of me to consider that such a thing is even possible. But I do. I bet that if you anonymously polled a sampling of Pro players, they'd list the Steelers as the most desirable franchise to receive a paycheck from. Not bad for a rusted out cold steel-mining town in Western PA. But this isn't a space for defending the city, merely its team and its fans.

The Steelers seem to be finding themselves in the spotlight a little more, lately. In fact, between illicit shots of our players' junk, ownership jockeying and all-important Power Rankings, it's now commonplace to see the Steelers on the Deadspin top stories ticker. Captain Caveman over at KSK took a rather large swipe at the Steeler faithful recently, but even he seemed to acknowledge that the effort was difficult to justify/muster. This got me thinking, why are there so many more hated franchises than ours, when we are routinely the ones beating the others' asses? Why are we so hard to hate?

I contend it's because it means more to be a fan of the Steelers than it does any other team.

And my, what a fan-base we are. Dedicated. Yes, we have yinzers, but they turn out in droves even in the somewhat rare lean years. We have a rich tradition (no transplants or expansion teams, here). We play football the way it's meant and fun to be played: stellar defense and a commitment to the ground game (at least, we did). And we scout better than any team ever.

But above all else, we have loyal, educated owners who stress morality above media appeal, effort ahead of pay and consistency before ticket office numbers. The Cowboys are "America's Team" but they are a frenzied joke. The old guard squads such as the Pack, Bears, etc. have some similarities but fall short in the constancy department – up one year, down the next. Just this year we stared the league’s toughest schedule and myriad of injuries, all while driving toward a record 18th division title and first-round bye.

And that’s the thing, THAT’S what Steeler football has become, dependable, winning football. In fact, Pittsburgh’s heart and soul have amassed more wins than any other team since the merger. Others can have the Pats, Eagles or even the Giants, give me the toughest team in the toughest division (no warm weather cities or pussy ass domes here).

Many will quibble over band-wagoners or fans who arbitrarily happened to root on the Steelers or the fact that we’re an easy team to like because we win. No shit.

Don't get me wrong, I'll still be bitching about Arians (and our steadily declining running game) if/when we make our early exit from the playoffs this year. But that's just it: We’re in the playoffs. Again. Now let’s see about snagging that 6th ring...


Sunday's Marquee Match-up: Bruce Gradkowski vs. Byron Leftwich

For now, at last, we're ready to put the towel stomping aside and focus on pushing the winning streak to the Browns to 11. Romeo's swan song looks to have Pittsburgh native Bruce Gradkowski at the lead vocals. Poor Bruce, he already had to get punished by leading a broken Buccaneers team into Heinz Field in 2006, only to get punished. Now he's forced to do it again with an even lowlier, turd-colored team.

Given the insignificance of the game, you'd like to think Bruce Arians can take a crack at some novel offensive strategies, like, say, running out of the I-formation. Maybe just not using that delayed draw. He actually took a chance with Limas Sweed against the Titans, which failed miserably as the rookie drew an obvious offensive pass interference call on a jump ball. Still, give the kid plenty of game action. This is the best chance you're going to get all year.

However relatively pointless, it's still important the Steelers put together a decent effort. Going into a bye with consecutive losses is no way to enter the postseason. In fact, it almost always spells trouble in the second round. Though if the Bengals can shutout this Browns team, it may not much of a Herculean effort by our slew of starters and reserves to top them at Heinz.

That said, I'd still like to see Hines play the first half, if only so he can get the 27 yards necessary to eclipse the 1,000 yard mark for the first time since 2004. He came within 25 yards in '05 and '06. Who knows if it really means anything to him, but it's unfair knock that critics levy at him that Hines hasn't put up the casual fan friendly 1,000-yard seasons.

For the moment, the big news centers on waiting on the exact injury status of Ryan Clark, not that he should be playing Sunday regardless. Still, the fact that even the X-ray results haven't been disclosed yet has me a little concerned. I'm hoping three weeks gives him sufficient time to bounce back from the shoulder injury, as he's one of the main reasons the Steelers secondary has shown the year-to-year progress it has from '07.

UPDATE: Shock of shocks -- Marvel Smith goes to IR, where he'll have about the same impact on the team he's had all year.


A Sloppy Effort And, Hopefully, a Wake-Up Call

Thanks for the motivation, shithead.

There wasn't a whole lot of positives to take away from a 31-14 loss to the Titans to place the Steelers as the two-seed in the AFC. The defense gave up more than 300 yards for the first time in the season, registered only one sack and forced no turnovers. Ben Roethlisberger committed four turnovers, several at key inopportune moments. And Bruce Arians gameplan still makes less than no sense.

Still, I didn't come away from this game believing Pittsburgh couldn't take this team in a postseason rematch, even with Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch. Coming off three tough, emotional games against the Pats, Cowboys and Ravens, the Steelers were about due for a letdown and that's what they got. They squandered opportunities, while the Titans played almost flawlessly and the Steelers were still either winning or in it for the majority of the game.

Granted, the Steelers were royally rumped by the unsportsmanlike conduct penalty called on Aaron Smith for supposedly calling out the Titans snap count on a field goal attempt near the end of the third quarter, thus allowing Tennessee to go up 24-14 and change the outlook of the game. Would the Steelers have come back if it remained a one-score game? Maybe. Maybe not. But I'm curious to see all the people who say the refs hand the Steelers all their wins after that one. That was a questionable call the broadcasting team wouldn't even touch the rest of the game.

Nevertheless, the more mistake-prone team rightfully lost. A Steelers team committing four turnovers, and nearly two more on fumbles, had no business winning this game. This team left a bunch of points on the field and certainly lived to regret it. Roethlisberger deserves a lot of the blame, as does Arians. Ben is to be faulted for coughing up the ball near the goal line on his run, but look at Arians two inept running plays out of passing formations that preceded that. None of the Steelers opponents are ever fooled by it. The three tight end formation has proven time and time again to be ineffective when blocking for the run, yet Arians repeatedly refuses to go back to the I.

Going into this game, I had no animus toward the Titans. But Tennessee is chock full of gloating, high-stepping assholes. Whether it was Chris Johnson dancing into the endzone on his touchdown or LenDale stomping on the towel, this team showed less than no class against a Steelers team they have no reason to hate. I'm looking forward to seeing Tennessee again come January.


Don't Fear the Frontrunning

LenWhale's already making plans for his Super Bowl ring. Not so fast, ersatz Bettis.

I'm freaked out this week because now everyone's high on the Steelers, proclaiming them surefire Super Bowl favorites, which always gets anxiety flowing in paranoid assholes like me. Couple that with the NFL world assuming that the Steelers are going to roll Tennessee just because Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch are out and I'm more than a bit panic-stricken. Even more than I normally am during this season of last-minute nerve-wracking improbable wins.

I will say I think the Tennessee offense is a good match-up for the Steelers. Even though Pittsburgh's defense has slipped out of the top spot for rushing defense (let's see how long the Vikes hold that with Pat Williams out), any team that wants to line up and pound the ball is pretty much playing into their hands. I'm sure that given the way the Titans killed themselves by trying to rely on the pass in critical situations against the Texans that they're going to try to reinforce the run in the this game.

With the benefit of injuries, the Steelers won't have to worry as much about the pass rush this week, though the Titans secondary is certainly no joke. Every week it seems, Santonio is pissing me off more with added mental mistakes. Obviously last week, he got away with the muffed punt, only to cough up the ball on a slant pattern near our own goal line, a turnover that could have cost Pittsburgh the game. Sure, he ended up with the deciding touchdown later on, but it was Hines and Nate Washington (not that Nate is any less prone to mistakes) that got them 86 of those 92 yards. Santonio's obviously a gifted player when he's tuned in and it's probably too late in the season to hope he'll cut out the dumb brainfarts this year. Still, CUT IT OUT ASSHOLE! ARIANS IS ALREADY KILLING THE OFFENSE AS IT IS!

As much as the failures of homefield advantages past still linger in the psyches of Steelers fans ("We got to Super Bowl XL on the road! Why do we want homefield?"), I think we have to realize that was another era and that you can't be afraid of being a frontrunner. Moreover, I want next week's game against Cleveland to be a meaningful one. Two weeks off from serious competition always spells down for teams in the playoffs who are expected to flip it back on against fired-up competition. For that alone, the Steelers need to take this Sunday.

Friday Circle Jerk

God I love football.

I like ravioli. I like open bars. I like doggy-style (especially if the chick can balance a pint on her back during). BUT I FUCKING LOVE FOOTBALL.

This is the time of year that fact is made abundantly clear. This week is fan-fucking-tastic, with 5 out of the 8 days having a game on. And a vested rooting interest in nearly every game, and not just because my cock-smoking fantasy squad is playing, cuz they shit the bed in week 12. Let's look at what we, the sad sacks that don't have Ticket, will be watching.


I'm torn here. My prime directive as a Steelers fan is to root for their best chance of success, in all circumstances, so I'll pull for a Ravens loss. I have no desire to face them again. But, I ALWAYS against big D as they're the only franchise with a shot at beating us to the 6th ring. Oh, and I want to see T.O.'s head explode. In a perfect world the Patriots' plan would crash into the stadium and all three teams would be snuffed out. Yea, I'm rooting for that. How about you?


Clearly the reason you're waking up Sunday. A lot has been made of the Titans' absent players Haynesworth and Vanden Bosch leading up to this one , but I'm more intrigued by the escapability/protection of Kerry Collins. He's only been sacked 7 times this year. The fuck? Ben went down more than that against Philly alone. The Titans have been slow out of the gate, if we CAN get to Collins quickly this one will be over before the half. Whatever bullshit, pointless "Powerpoll" you happen to read, this game is likely to be the last one that truly matters to the Steelers for three weeks.


Pretty much everyone will be watching this one. Obviously, you're pulling for the Pats to their r-dropping asses handed to them. It's unlikely. A stat thrown around a lot this season has been West Coast teams travelling east. They're like 2-24 or something. Plus, 'zona appears to be mailing the rest of the season in until they blow it in the playoffs. Worth jumping to during commercials.


I hate Fox. I hate watching their goddamn robots and listening to anyone other than Summerall. But one of these two teams is going to miss the playoffs, and this game will be the reason. It's like that sceen in Dark Knight where he throws the split pool cue between the three henchmen for "tryouts" to join up with him - badass.


Stop Trying to Rename the Defense

As happy as I am that LaMarr Woodley graces the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated (SO MUCH BETTER THAN A PRO BOWL SPOT!), that "Steel Curtain II" subhead pisses me off good and proper. Why is it every time the Steelers have had a top-5 defense the last two decades, some cheesedick wants to try to give them a Steel Curtain-derivative nickname? Oh yeah, the SI Cover jinx I can do without also.

I remember in 1994 it was "The Steel Trap" or somesuch garbage. It seems like every few years there's some other attempt at a new nicknamed defense in Pittsburgh. Just stop. Please. Seriously, I love this year's defense, but it's not the Steel Curtain. Even if they win Super Bowl and hold the defensive Triple Crown, they're not the Steel Curtain. And they're not Steel Curtain II, 'cause that's fucking lame.

Maybe they'll be worthy of some catchy moniker. Maybe not. Allow it to present itself. Until them, stop with the forced annoying puns. Or James Harrison will separate you from your spinal cord.


Harrison, Farrior and Polamalu Named to Pointless Squad No One Cares About

Yes, yes, very fitting that all the Steelers Pro Bowl representatives come from the defense, not that's there's anyone on the offense deserving of serious consideration this year. Would have been nice to see LaMarr Woodley get in there with Silverback and Farrior, but who gives a shit? He's got plenty of time for individual accolades. If Pittsburgh's still alive late in January and early February, none of them will play anyway.

Still, nice to see some recognition for the defense. And I see former Steeler and current opponent Chris Hope got a nod. Nice work, fuckface. Since Kyle Vanden Bosch and Albert Haynesworth aren't playing this week, you've got a little more work to do now that the opposing quarterback doesn't have less than zero time to throw. Either way, it's gonna be a tough one of the road with both teams playing for the one-seed.


Oh, So You Want to Complain About the Refs?

Officials have very seldom flagged any of the frequent holding infractions committed by blockers assigned to James Harrison this season. There are probably at least three or four a game that go unnoticed, willfully or not, by the refs. Yesterday was certainly no different.

I don't understand how there can exist such a different standard for any one player. Obviously, holding is a very gray area in NFL officiating. There are those who make the claim that it's so subjective that one could call holding on practically any play. That said, when most casual fans can notice that James Harrison gets dragged down from behind on a good percentage of his pass rushes, you know something is a amiss.

Ravens have let out their hue and cry about the Santonio Holmes goal line call. I think it was a questionable ruling, though anyone who has the ball being nowhere outside the plane is full of shit. Holmes receives the ball while it is above the line. What it boils down to is where Walt Coleman considered that he first had possession. It could have gone either way and one went our way for once. I'll take it, rather than the prospect of Arians running another counter on 4th down on the goal line.

Still, considering Baltimore got away with murder (wink, wink, nudge, nudge) with their blocking on the Steelers' pass rush all night, they should probably be a little hesitant with this whole "we got screwed" business. The refs didn't allow the Steelers offense to mark 90-plus yards down the field, did they?

Someone Put Sour Grapes in Ray Lewis' Prison Wine

"All game they didn't make plays,'' Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said. ''One drive they did."

There's some truth to that, Ray-Ray. Except that one drive was a 92-yard march when all your overrated defense had to do was get one stop and they would have had themselves a victory. How did it feel to get blocked straight-up by Willie Parker in the first quarter? How did it feel to whiff on a bunch of tackles on him in the second half? Probably not as good as it feels to stab people.

Must also suck that the player who you put a bounty on went for over 100 yards on your team. In the biggest game of the year.

Get sodomized by a chainsaw.

Is It Time to Anoint the Cardiac Steelers?

I don't know so much if we want to celebrate the Steelers' last-second tendencies as tolerate them. Either way, Pittsburgh is making a habit of pulling critical victories out in the final minutes. With a sweep against the most dispicable trio of teams to Steelers fans no less and thus earning their first victory in Baltimore in six years. The division title and first round bye clinched, the team sets its sights on homefield next week. While that would be nice to take and is a realistic goal, the first-round bye is probably the greater gain, especially considering how much better the Steelers play on the road.

Drives were stalled by penalties, drops by Nate Washington and a fumble by Santonio Holmes that gave three precious points to the Ravens. Nonetheless, Pittsburgh drove more than 90 yards when it counted, with Ben Roethlisberger relying on Hines Ward for critical first downs. Naturally, Bruce Arians tried to botch an otherwise smartly called final drive with

No doubt there will be griping about the touchdown call regarding Santonio Holmes winning TD grab. As the overhead shot displayed, Holmes had possession with the ball breaking the plane of the endzone. Of course, you won't hear Ravens fans bemoaning several of the non-calls on holds on James Harrison that led to the few decent pass plays by the Ravens.

While it won't be easy on the ticker, the defense is able to keep the team in games long enough for the offense to gain its composure. Joe Flacco and the Ravens offense came in with momentum and looked dreadful. Flacco looked every bit like a rookie in this game. While our offense didn't perform much better, Roethlisberger is avoiding stupid throws. Now if only we can get Santonio and Nate to keep a grip on the ball.

Aw, don't look so glum Ray-Ray. You might still get the chance to lose in Pittsburgh in the playoffs. Bring your bearded friend with you. Why don't you dance a little? That's what you do, right? Kill people and dance? Way to captain a bend and break defense that gives up a 90-plus yard scoring drive when it counts, you fraud.


Run, Don't Huddle, Against the Ratbirds

The Ravens are coming in decidedly banged up as the Steelers are getting about as healthy as they're going to be the rest of the way. Bryant McFadden is getting his start since returning from injury and Brett Keisel is still a possibility to make it back onto the field at M&T Bank. Both the Ravens offensive tackles are dinged up, which can't be a good thing for Joe Flacco's chances of avoiding Woodley and Harrison. Derrick Mason and "Greatest Raven Ever" Matt Stover practiced for the first time today. Mason, in many ways, is the key to the Ravens offense and is a reputed Steeler killer. If he's slowed significantly, that's a big plus for the Steelers. Elsewhere, Ray Rice is likely out for Sunday, which be another huge boon to the defense. Willis McGahee hasn't produced worth a damn this year, so the onus has fallen on the effective McClain/Rice tandem to perform in his place and they have admirably. With a pounding back like Rice out, there's less a chance Baltimore can have fresh backs against a worn down D in the second half.

Odd as it sounds, the biggest key to stifling the Ravens offense is stop the deep pass and gadget plays. Flacco throws a good deep ball and, with a stifled offense, the Ravens are going to try to pick up yardage in big chunks when they can. Because the game will be so tight the Ravens will probably try a few deep balls to see, if nothing else, they can come down with one in a fluke or draw a pass interference penalty. Mark Clayton made a few big catches against Cincy, but that's Cincy. Even so, the Ravens will take their shots and the defense has to be ready.

But then, as it's been all year, the crux for the Steelers is on the offense, which has seen nothing but struggles in recent years in Baltimore, to say nothing or just the struggles in recent weeks. As futile as it sounds with Arians at the helm, I'd like to think the team won't abandon the run if Baltimore shows early success, as they should, in slowing it. Whether FWP's advice is heeded or not (I'm betting on no) for using the I-formation, the team has to stick with the run no matter what. Lining up five wide against the Ravens is getting to get Ben killed, whether they sack him or not. The Ravens are all too happy to take late hits at our QBs, as they've demonstrated on countless occasions in recent years.

There has to be more use of the no-huddle. It was what sparked the Steelers offense in the first meeting with Baltimore and it's what got them their only touchdown last week. I'm not sure how else this will get through to Arians. Beginning in training camp, there was an emphasis on Ben taking the reins of the offense and running the no-huddle. They've had 14 weeks worth of time to practice it and it's shown success in the few times they've utilized it.


Mike Tomlin: "Mutual Respect," Ravens: "Bounty"

I appreciate Mike Tomlin's insistence on not providing the Ravens locker room with any sort of bulletin board material, insisting the team's rivalry is based on "mutual respect." While there might be a recognition on both sides that they are playing worthy opponents, there is nothing but undisguised enmity and downright ugly intentions on the part of Baltimore.

This is a team that has threatened injury on a number of occasions to one of Tomlin's starting receivers, going so far as to announce on a radio show earlier this season that the team had a bounty on Hines Ward. This is a team whose defensive leader bragged when he put Rashard Mendenhall out for the season. And how many times has Ben Roethlisberger come away from Ravens games with injuries resulting from cheap, late hits from the likes of Terrell Suggs? There is no concept of respect on the Ravens. They're the same brash, tough-talking band of miscreants they vowed to reform from when Brian Billick left.

Even beyond all this, there's no doubt Tomlin does in fact respect Baltimore. Even if he's never lost a meaningful game to the Ravens, he knows it's the only team other than the Steelers in the AFC North capable of putting together more than one fluky winning season every decade or so. I'm sure he identifies with another young defensive-minded head coach like John Harbaugh, but deep down he and everyone on the team knows this is not just another game between worthy opponents. It's a fucking fight.

The Ravens, even with all their chest-thumbing bullshit, know they can't intimidate the Steelers. In a way, Tomlin's remarks speak to that. The Steelers don't have to resort to the Ravens' level of cheap, idle threats to show their toughness. Those tactics are for losers. Which is very well why you might hear some more cheap, idle threats after Sunday.


Beat the Baltimorons

Pass the eye-bleach, please.

I know nobody wants to think about the possibility of losing to the Ravens Sunday, but as far as I can tell a loss would put us at a slight disadvantage as far as winning the division is concerned. The scenarios are quite muddled and remember: I got my undergrad at Maryland, so these ponderings should be taken with a significant grain of salt.

Things to Consider:

NFL's Tie Breaker Rules

-Division Title is first determined by record: Losing to the Ravens would give us both the same record.
-The next tie-breaker is head to head. A loss would mean a push here, too.
-Division record is the next level tie-breaker.
-Win/loss percentage vs. common opponents comes in next. Two of our losses already cancel out with the Ravens' as they have also lost to the Giants and The Colts. This leaves the Eagles a team that
beat us, but the Ravens have beat. The good news is both of the Ravens remaining games (Cowboys/Jags) have lost to us.

So here are the scenarios that could play out if we lose to the Ravens next week:

1)We beat one or two more than them and the Ravens wind up in their rightfull place amongst the pool of potential wild-card shitbirds.
2)They win one or two more than us...we fucking lose the division and I dip my nuts in acid
3)Both us and they win out from there on...we would have a better in conference record (the 4th tie-breaker) and have the edge on the Ravens.
4)Both us and they lose out from there on...Ravens take it as our division record would be worse with a lose to the Brownies.
5)Using the same logic, even if we beat the Titans a loss to the Brownies would mean losing the division assuming the Ravens beat either the Cowboys or Jags

Not that we need to add any more pressure to the upcoming game, but if we lose Sunday the remaining divisional game on our schedule against Cleveland takes on a whole new level of importance, both for the division and a possible first round bye. Basically, with the log-jam that is the AFC East and Denver limping in out West, it's a good bet we'd at least snag a wild-card, but a loss Sunday brings other middling teams like the Broncos, Jets and Dolphins into that discussion.

Can We Never See This Again? Please?

Of all the terrible gameplans Bruce Arians has put together in his tenure as offensive coordinator, yesterday's had to be the most scattered and rudderless. Granted, the offense was helped out by fumbles from Heath Miller and Roethlisberger on a sneak, but the playcalling on a whole was horrendously bad.

This is an offense without identity, but one that leans toward the pass. Yesterday was evidence enough of a lack of commitment to the running game. Even if a back picks up five yards on first down, the defense knows the Steelers will be throwing on second and third down. When have the Steelers tried to run on a 3rd or 4th down on anything less than two yards. As the Patriots and Cowboys have shown, the shotgun draws are quite effective against a defense selling out on pass coverage. Can the Steelers incorporate that into their gameplan? Probably not while Arians is around.

If there's any downside to the Steelers having more success as a team than last year is that it makes the argument for firing Arians more difficult unless there is some epic offensive meltdown on the playoffs. God forbid the Steelers postseason fortunes come down to a 4th down on the opponent's goal line. What're the chances Arians dials up the counter run yet again? A thousand percent?

Any time I see the above formation, the shotgun five-receiver empty set, on first down, I start shouting uncontrollably, whether it works or not, though it doesn't more often than it does. It signals a complete lack of faith in a running game that picked up 160 yards the week before on the road. Whisenhunt used to drive me nuts with shotgun formations on 3rd and 2s. The Steelers are well removed from their grind-it-out days of the '90s but I think most fans still like to embrace the illusion that they haven't tried to turn into a watered down West Coast Offense.


The Defense, Again, Finds a Way to Win

In one of the more frustrating performances by an offense misled by Bruce Arians predictable run-pass-pass play sequence, the Steelers defense forced five turnovers for the second week in a row, including a clinching pick-six, to hand the Steelers a 20-13 win over a Cowboys team eventually overcome by a great defense that receives little help from its offensive counterpart.

On 4th down on the goal line with a chance to cut the lead to 13-10, Arians called up the same counter play that was ineffective against the Colts and Chargers. If it weren't for the four possessions that went for a two punts, a pick-six and a turnover on downs, the result of this game would have been significantly different.

Both quarterbacks played fairly sub-par, but Tony Romo was absolutely abhorrent. Romo was off-target dramatically on the majority of his passes and picked three times, one of which went for the deciding score. Only on one play in which he was fortunate to evade Aaron Smith did he hit T.O. for the prima donna receiver's only catch for a touchdown.

The Cowboys weren't prepared the play in cold weather, as demonstrated by the host of players who exited early with minor injuries. The turf held up well. It didn't appear as if anyone was slowed by the new sod put down. If Pittsburgh could have committed to the run earlier, they would have out-toughed this Cowboys team.

As shocking as it was to see Ike Taylor actually haul one in, the defense is playing better than any other in recent memory. The Steelers have gotten away with winning games on account of the defense, but Arians is going to have to get the offense to capitalize on turnovers. There's no excuse for an offense to not get points off an opponent turning the ball over twice on downs and throwing a pick in the first quarter. He needed to be gone before this season. Likely Arians will cost this team to exit before it should because of his nonsensical playcalling.


Time to Put the Cowgirls in Reverse

Ah yes, Week 6 of the '04 season. Only Ben Roethlisberger's fourth career start and he went into Dallas to knock off the Cowboys to show the NFL he was for real. Heck of a toss he made in the red zone to gun safety expert Plaxico Burress to clinch that one. Of course, that was in the pre-Romo days, back when the Cowboys weren't getting to the playoffs instead of getting to the playoffs and losing their first game.

While a game between 9-3 and 8-4 teams is bound to attract notice for playoff implications alone, the memories the Cowboys and the Steelers evoke of contests on the grandest stage is getting the hype machine in high gear for this one. Dallas fans will undoubtedly make a showing at Heinz, buoyed with confidence that their seemingly lost season has rebounded back into the playoff race.

How effective Bryant McFadden can be after a prolonged absence is going to be a key factor to how the Steelers can match up with the T.O.-Roy Williams-Jason Witten-Miles Austin foursome. The huge size advantage Dallas' receiver have over all of our receivers mean jump balls could be a problem, lending added urgency to our push rush getting to Romo. Beyond familiarity they have with it, the new turf should benefit the Steelers in slowing the 'Boys outside receivers, helping the secondary when they have matched one-on-one with the wideouts. T.O. is bound to get more than his share of looks (or else he'll bitch about it), but I like the Steelers chances of holding those to underneath and medium-range routes. Cowboys fans are quick to predict that the Steelers will get beat deep because Polamalu plays too close to the line, but then everyone calls for this and it seldom, if ever, happens.

As the game against Arizona when Romo hurt his pinkie showed, if James Harrison can get to him, he may not have much difficulty performing his patented strip-sack maneuver he's utilized to great effect on the Matt Cassel's and Joe Flacco's of the football world.

Even with the O-line putting together a pretty good performance against New England, and the fact that DeMarcus Ware isn't 100 percent, doesn't make me any less uneasy about him going against Max Starks on the left side, but what're you going to do? Adam Jones is going to struggle against whoever he has to cover. That coupled with a new welcome emphasis on throwing the ball to Heath Miller but counteract some of the pressure Ware is bound to generate.

If all goes well, next week will be the Steelers in M&T Bank Stadium a game up in the standings with tiebreakers on the line. I wouldn't count on the struggling Redskins to eke out a win in Baltimore Sunday night, as much as I'd to see that happen. Except an early season victory in Philly, Washington has had nothing but problems with pressure-happy defenses, and I don't think that looks like a great match-up for them.

Not that you will, but if you need any help getting motivated for this game, the following video should do the trick for you.

Update: Didn't realize Miles Austin was out for Sunday. Huzzah!


Five Questions With Cowboy Nation

I agreed to do a preview of this Sunday's game with the proprietors of the blog Cowboy Nation. We sent each other five questions, with the arrangement that we'd post each others' answers on our own blog . You can see his questions for me and my responses at his blog.

1. If DeMarcus Ware and Marion Barber can't go, how does that affect the Cowboys gameplanning on both sides of the ball? Do you think they win without them?

First off, DeMarcus Ware will play as will Marion Barber. Both players would be a huge loss to this team. Defensively without Ware the Cowboys lose a large portion of their ability to create pressure. Without Barber the Cowboys would be strictly dependant upon Romo and allow the Steelers to completely disregard the run, and blitz on every play. No i do not think Dallas wins without them.

2. Adam Jones will likely be covering Santonio Holmes. Any chance he doesn't try to sell him weed?

There would be about a 50% chance he does not try to sell Santonio Holmes weed. However the odds of them ending up running a train on a Pittsburgh stripper are exceptionally high!

3. Why hasn't Roy Williams been effective since joining Dallas? Has he showed progress over the month and a half he's been on the team? Considering how much the Cowboys gave up to acquire him, one might expect more output.

How productive can anybody be with Brad Johnson throwing you the ball? Since Romo's return he has shown a lot of progress. It is just a matter of Romo and Williams getting on the same page with one another. Thanks to Pac Man we really only lost a mid 20's draft pick for him. I have not seen a college WR that will go that late,that can do the things he does. Have you?

4. The last time Terrell Owens came to Pittsburgh, it was in 2004 with the Eagles. After being limited to 7 catches for 53 yards, he was spotted by cameras yelling at Donovan McNabb late in the game on the sidelines. Is T.O. too chummy with Romo for a repeat performance?

God himself could be the quarterback and if T.O. is not getting the ball enough he would hear about it. So no he is not too chummy!

5. You know that "America's Team" thing isn't really yours, right?

Were you on the bike with Ben when he crashed? Or do you live in a bubble? I can promise you Dallas has more fans than the Steelers! Just remember with all the glory of being "Americas Team" you also get all of "Americas" shit!


Your Quarterly AFC Review

¾ of the way through this thrill ride known as the NFL regular season and this Super Sonic Shit Show is coming into shape. I feel it’s safe to say that the average Steelers fan is pleased with the overall state of things. At 9-3 we have put ourselves within striking distance of a first round bye. For the educated fan this is nothing new, your team goes through ups and downs, injuries and media bullshit, but the end goal remains the same: put yourselves into the best possible position for the tournament health-wise, matchup-wise. There are six teams who already have 8 loses, they’re fucked. The rest still have some semblance of a shot at the postseason and we’ll look at them as potential opponents.

Once again, team capsule style by record followed by playoff predictions, like I’m some sort of fucking soothsayer, I know:

Lead Dogs:

Tennessee (11-1) – With a two game lead in the conference and the Ken Dorsey-led Browns coming to town my guess is the Titans have home field through-out wrapped up. Am I the only one that thinks they seem ripe for a one-and-done playoff experience, though? I mean, Kerry Goddamn Collins? Chris Johnson is good, but Lendale White seems shaky at best and Justin Gage is their best receiver? You can bet your ass we’ll hear enough about the “Possible AFC Championship Preview” as we approach our Dec. 21st match-up with these guys. We have the statistical edge in literally every category against them it if does come down to it. God, I hate fucking Joe Nedney.

Likely In:

Indianapolis (8-4) – Fucking Colts. You just had that feeling when they came back against us that they would make the playoffs. Having ripped off four straight, these guys would have been dangerous as shit with home field, so we should be thanking Christ that they play in the Titan’s division. With Cincy, Detroit and the Jags on their slate, they may be the only wild card team in recent memory to have a better record a bye team, which would put them squarely in our crosshairs were they to get a W in the opening round…getting my perineum pierced would be preferable to 3 Manning losses in one year.

Baltimore (8-4) – You knew. You probably circled Dec. 14th on your mental calendar. One way or the other the Ravens are going to go a long way in determining what happens in our season. Joe Flacco is good, but not great. Their running game is pieced together. And their defense is above average. If they catch us sleeping either in two weeks or in the playoffs we could go down, but I like our chances. Bunch of knuckle-dragging thugs.

NY Jets (8-4) –The weakest of the three here, they still might not be the ones coming out of the East. Sure, Gang Green is glad they nabbed Favre in the offseason, but his aged, Wrangler Jean-wearing ass and their porous defense will be their undoing, count on it. The Jets were embarrassed at home by Denver and shown to be the 30th ranking defense against the pass that they are.

First Round Fodder:

Miami (7-5) – A cursory look at the statistics shows that these guys have given up more points than they’ve scored, but if they can get past Buffalo this Sunday they might be able to stake a claim to a wild card or even snag the division. Any team with a decent defense and a powerful running attack would be somewhat troublesome in the playoffs and Pennington’s numbers don’t indicate he’d necessarily crumble. All that being said, these guys won’t make it past wild-card weekend.

New England (7-5) – Well, I think we definitively showed that the Pats aren’t likely to add a fourth ring this season. They trail the Jets by a game, otherwise I’d say they are a lock for a wild card. They finish with Seattle, Oakland, Arizona and Buffalo so as long as they don’t shit the bed they’ll be in it to the end, unfortunately. If conspiracy theorists are correct Goodell will fix it so that the Colts and Pats meet up in the first round, at which point I will begin rooting for a terrorist attack on the stadium.

Denver (7-5) – The definition of lowest common denominator, it was looking like a bunch of shaved apes was going to have to come out of the West until the Broncos were able to knock off the Jets this past week. There’s no denying Cutler can be impressive at times and that the same can be said for the team as a whole. They’ve beat some legit contenders (Falcons, Bucs, Saints, Jets), but no running back and sporadic offensive play limits their potential.

That’s About Enough Out of You:

Buffalo (6-6) – Trent Edwards might not play Sunday and the Bills’ remaining schedule is less than conducive for a playoff push…shame as I was sort of pulling for these guys since they won’t have a home soon. Marshawn Lynch is a legit back, look for the Bills to challenge for the East next season.

Houston (5-7) - Another Squad whose bid will come up a game or two short. Steve Slaton and Mario Williams are solid foundations on which to build a team, however. But they need an actual QB down there, Sage Rosenfels and Matt Schaub aren’t it.

And the Rest :

San Diego (4-8) – Nothing but disappointment here and likely to get worse next season. Good move shipping off Brees, clearly.

Cleveland (4-8) – Anyone else get the feeling the Football Gods are pulling an extremely elaborate long-con on the people of Cleveland? If Bill Cowher really signs on with these guys any suggestions for what I should do with my “Chin” bobblehead?

Jacksonville (4-8) – At the onset I was convinced the Jags were a playoff team, but Garrard is the only good thing on the offensive side of the ball. Later, Del Rio.

Oakland (3-9) – Raiders fans should consolidate their efforts toward plotting Al Davis’ death, because “natural causes” won’t be getting that job done any time soon.

Kansas City (2-9) – Thigpen and Bowe. Blow everything else up.

Cincinnati (1-10) – The Bengals might do well to just admit Carson Palmer is not the same guy as 2005 and draft a QB that can get Housh the ball more. Also an entire defense.

- Our three losses have come against teams with a combined record of 25-10-1, so it’s not like we’ve gone down to patsies. That being said, I’d feel better if two weren’t at Heinz, it’d bode well for the playoffs

- Saying we control our own destiny is not an overstatement. We simply cannot afford to lose more than one game down the stretch and still get the bye. The Cowboys and Ravens will be tall orders, but we are capable. Here’s hoping Barber and Ware are out for this Sunday.


South – Tennessee 14-2 (BYE)

North – Pittsburgh 11-5 (BYE)

East – New England 10-6
West –Denver 9-7

Wild Card – Indianapolis 11-5

Wild Card – Baltimore 9-7
(Don't hold me to this shit...)