12.30.2009

Silverback and Big Snack Make the Pro Bowl

The Steelers has two Pro Bowl selections this year, which sounds about right for an 8-7 team. James Harrison is one of the starting outside linebackers, obviously, while Casey Hampton gets in a reserve defensive tackle.

The Hampton nod is a little odd and, frankly, feels mostly based on reputation. The guy looked gassed most of the time and was getting spelled about as often as Albert Haynesworth in some games. Early in the season, you could argue that Chris Hoke was outplaying Big Snack. Hampton's been a great player, but he's certainly within the final few years of his career.

Would have been nice to see Woodley, Santonio or Hines get recognized. Wood got screwed in my opinion. He's second to only Elvis Dumervil in sacks by linebackers. Granted he had a sluggish start to the season, but he's been dominant over the last eight or nine games. Still, Brian Cushing has a compelling case and they had to get someone who isn't mostly a pass rushing outside backer.

Tone is third in the NFL in receiving yards, but he only has four touchdowns, so I don't have a huge issue with his getting snubbed. And Hines numbers dipped too far after the halfway mark for him to get included.

12.27.2009

Big Ben Still Owns the Ravens

5-0 for Big Ben against the Ravens since 2006. How much does Baltimore have to thank Kansas City for the concussion right now? It's the difference between the Ravens being in the playoff hunt and being eliminated. Not that this was Ben's best game, but it was just enough to secure the all-important win.

The run blocking definitely missed Kemoeatu again. That and the Ravens had a better sense of what to expect of Mendenhall, who generally killed them in the first meeting. Today there was decidedly less to be excited about. Ray Rice, meanwhile, had a huge game, save for the critical fumble he committed inside Steelers territory after the Ravens recovered a Mendenhall fumble.

The coverage for both teams was as pathetic as expected. Tyrone Carter got burned a number of times. DBs were horrible out of position to ever fight with Todd Heap for jump balls in the endzone. Frank Walker and Chris Carr were victimized a number of times by Big Ben. That it was only 23-20 is a credit to both sloppy play (highlighted by red zone drops by Rashard Mendenhall and Derrick Mason) as well as some key ploays by both teams front seven.

Ravens fans are already crying about the refs. Don't believe me? Read the always pathetic trolls at PFT or the number of ones who frequent KSK. If anything, Baltimore got the benefit of a lot of calls. Foxworth's interception looked like interference after he dragged Holmes down by the arm. Count that with Mason dropping the ball after taking two steps before taking a jarring hit by Lawrence Timmons. But these are Ravens fans. They're pathetic and we would expect no less.

As I type Denver is getting beat handily by the Eagles. Should that continue, the Steelers would need a win from New England and, I believe, either KC or Oakland next week in addition to beating the Dolphins in Miami. Either latter scenario would be a long shot. That's fine. Today was satisfaction enough. The Ravens are dicked in the playoffs. Honestly, they're lucky to even be in the position they're in. Baltimore is Ray Rice and 21 other scrubs.

12.26.2009

Terrell Suggs Will Want to Bleach The Memory of This Game

The Steelers winning might not get them in the playoffs. The Ravens losing might not knock them out of playoff contention. Does it really matter? It does not.

The Ravens got to sweep the Steelers for the first time in their ill-gotten existence three years ago. How obnoxious were they about it? Despite their team not having beaten Roethlisberger since that sweep and the Steelers taking all three games last year, Ravens fans still invoke 2006 like it happened yesterday. Moreover, Ray Lewis kills people then Terrell Suggs drenches the body in bleach.

Last week, Baltimore lost their only halfway competent cornerback, rookie Lardarius Webb, for the season. Add to that the likely absence of Ed Reed and Big Ben could very well throw for 500 yards again. Then again, with the way the offensive line in general and Max Starks in specific seem to have regressed in the last two weeks, Big Ben may be more concerned with not sustaining another concussion.

Not the Steelers secondary has been playing any better in recent weeks. The pass rush will have step up like they did in the first meeting in Baltimore to keep William Gay from being torched on Baltimore's requisite three or four "fuck it, we're throwing it deep" attempts. That in mind, Ray Rice is still the chief concern when Baltimore has the ball. Take away Rice and the Ravens probably have nine or 10 losses right now. He's by far their biggest threat on offense.

Rice is good enough that even gameplanning for him, you know he's going to break a big play either running or through a short pass. Joe Flacco played pretty badly in the first meeting, but his numbers were made to look respectable because he was able to hit Rice in the flat and let his running back do all the work. Can't flaut them for that - it's the Ravens best strategy for success on offense.

So what we could likely have is an uncharacteristic shoot-out between two teams reputed for their defenses. Which is fine by me. Really any scenario which results in the Ravens being brought low suits me just fine.

Side note: Please go to the fan club site to vote for a charity to receive money from the shirt sales this year. Thanks.

12.21.2009

Ramon Foster Demands 100 Packer Scalps


Or maybe just their helmets.

Can you tell I just watched Inglourious Basterds again the other day?

12.20.2009

:00

500-plus yards passing for Big Ben barely eclipses a pathetic performance by the secondary, with William Gay and Tyrone Carter (let's whiff on Greg Jennings on a long TD catch) sucking up a show. A monster game by Roethlisberger makes up for Arians either refusing to run or opting not to run outside of obvious 1st down plays. But, hey, no 10 losses for the Steelers this year.

Wasn't the Packers line supposed to be horrible? Couldn't the Steelers muster more than one sack? No matter - the end of the 4th quarter finally went the Steelers way this time around, as it had so many times in '08.

Now to crush the Ravens when it counts. Unless the Steelers feel like spotting them another three or four key starters.

12.18.2009

Stop the Implosion!

Some of you may say, "Hey! The Steelers are done. They should just tank the rest of the season and take a high draft pick."

And I would counter, "Hey! You didn't get to become an astronaut like you wanted as a kid so you should just tank the rest of your life and become a drunk."

Admittedly, it doesn't really matter if they beat the Packers, other than to see which players will find themselves losing jobs in the offseason. Still, not letting a bunch of bloblets who still cling to Favre lust come into Heinz Field and celebrate a Packers victory would be nice. And do you really want the Steelers to suffer the ignomity of 10 losses? Helllll no. Not when there's a Ravens team to knock out of the playoffs in two weeks.

So let's hope the secondary decides not to play like ass. Otherwise Aaron Rodger is gonna grow back his pornstache just he can wax it with our defense. Also, I need Mendenhall and Santonio to get me some fantasy points. Some (fantasy) teams still have something riding on this.

12.17.2009

The 10 Most Agonizing Steelers Losses of the Decade

Given what we've been through the last month and a half, I realize this isn't the best time to revisit what devastation this mostly generous decade has given Steelers fans. But being a true fan isn't merely about delighting in victories. You got to stick it out through the bad. And this was the worst it got for us in the Aughts.

10. The Kris Brown Game (2001)

When watching Kris Brown shank two potential game-tying field goals this season with the Texans, all I can do is wrap myself in a warm Snuggie of schadenfreude. Brown was a disaster with the Steelers and the 2001 home game against Baltimore typified the whole mess. He missed FOUR FIELD GOALS in what wound up being a 13-10 Ravens victory. The Steelers could have had two three-game sweeps of Baltimore this decade were it not for this slapdick.

9. The Tommy Maddox Gets His Home Vandalized Game (2005)

Tommy Maddox's window of competence for the Steelers was a very, very narrow one. He had a pretty good year in 2002, then proceeded to nosedive right back into the shittiness that got him out of the league his first go-round. The 2005 overtime loss to the Jaguars was the absolute worst - he finished 11 for 28 with three interceptions and a lost fumble and that doesn't even begin to describe how utterly horrible he was. Considering how poorly Maddox played, the fact that Pittsburgh even forced OT against a team that ended up finishing 12-4 that year is a testament to how good that '05 Steelers team was. In overtime, Pittsburgh was even in position to win, with the ball well into Jags territory when Maddox dropped a snap that Jacksonville recovered. Pittsburgh forced another punt, so Tommy decided to speed up the process by throwing a pick-six to end the game. I can't endorse how some Steelers fans reacted to the loss, but I certainly understood their frustration.

8. The Running into the Kicker Game (2002)

What's so funny about the haters who swear that the NFL tries to make the Steelers win or that the referees are always on their side is that the fact that Pittsburgh has suffered two playoff losses this decade in which questionable calls (or non-calls) went against them at critical moments, and almost a third with the overturned Polamalu interception against the Colts in 2005. Joe Nedney missed a 31-yard gimme kick in overtime but the refs gave him a second chance after flagging Dewayne Washington for a ticky-tack running into the kicker penalty. Still, the Steelers had a three-point lead late in the 4th and they couldn't hold it. This time a break went against us. We're not crying conspiracy about it.

7. The Losing to a Goddamn Expansion Team Game (2002)

One reason that Titans playoff loss doesn't sting so much is because that 2002 Steelers was a bit of a maddening conundrum. Exhibit A: THEY LOST TO A TEXANS TEAM IN THEIR FIRST SEASON IN THE LEAGUE! WITH DAVID CARR STARTING! THE GAME WASN'T EVEN CLOSE - THEY LOST 24-6! GGGGAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHH!

6. The Perils of Starting After a Concussion Game (2006)

And this, besides the NFL's efforts to bolster awareness of the effects of head injuries, is why Ben Roethlisberger did not start against the Ravens in Baltimore. A week removed from a concussion suffered against the Falcons, Big Ben threw for 300 yards. He also threw two pick-sixes, including one in the redzone that went back 100 yards for a score the other way. Yes, the Steelers lost despite the fact that Oakland had 98 yards of total offense. Ninety eight. On a personal note, this game was an extra slap to me because I ran the Marine Corps Marathon that morning and still went out to the bar even though my legs were killing me. And this was my reward. Just a further reminder that running is for suckers.

5. The Game Ravens Fans Think About While Masturbating (2006)

How many Ravens fan sites use this picture or some other shot of Ben getting hit in '06 in every other post? You got it - ALL OF THEM! Admittedly, this is one of the very few times the Ravens lived up to their extensive trash talk. They did for once punish the Steelers completely. In winning 27-0, they sacked Roethlisberger nine times and knocked him out of the game. The Ravens handed the Steelers another big loss later in the season in Pittsburgh, but this was the one that extinguished any lingering hopes that the Steelers would turn around what was a disappointing '06 campaign.

4. The Last Game (2009)

Hey, remember that game from last Thursday? I wish I didn't. You might argue that this one is rated a little high, but then I can't recall a game where the Steelers looked more complacent. Bruce Arians gameplan of throwing out of four and five receiver sets despite 30 mph winds was textbook retardery. Dick LeBeau gets some blame too. Everyone in the stadium knew what Josh Cribbs would be doing in this game. And the Steelers just laid down for it. Disgusting.

3. Not The Actual Choke Game (2004)

Very cute, Masshole. At least the Steelers didn't blow a perfect season.

The 2004 AFC Championship wasn't a choke by the Steelers. They did host the game and had a superior regular season record to the Patriots, though only 15-1 to 14-2. At the same time, the Patriots were the defending champs with a decorated veteran QB under center, while the Steelers had a rookie QB, albeit one who was having the best rookie season by a QB ever. Still, Big Ben showed his age like all rookies do in the postseason. The Steelers were extremely fortunate to have gotten by the Jets the previous week. It stands to reason that you can't hide your quarterback in the postseason, and the Steelers couldn't in this game. Big Ben didn't play well, though the team deserves credit for rallying to make it interesting in the second half, even if Cowher played it far too conservative by kicking an extra point late rather than going for two.

2. The Game That Should Have Gotten Bruce Arians Fired (2007)

Mike Pereira, the NFL's head of officiating, kindly informed the Steelers after this game that the refs neglected to call a holding penalty on James Harrison on a deciding 4th and 2 run by David Garrard. But Steelers fans aren't Ravens fans. The refs didn't screw us. The Steelers had every opportunity to put away this game after coming back from an 18-point 4th quarter deficit to regain the lead. Facing a 3rd and 6, when a first down ices the game for Pittsburgh, Bruce Arians dials up a designed quarterback rollout run by Ben Roethlisberger. Now, Big Ben is fairly nifty in the pocket. He can break free from some pass rushers. But he's not Vince Young. Suffice it to say, the moronic playcall didn't work. Even more tragically, Arians kept his job.


1. The Actual Choke Game (2001)

The special teams struggles of this season harken back to what was a staple of the Bill Cowher era. In two-thirds of the game, the 2001 Steelers were a better team than the eventual champion Patriots. Ah, but they they found that Achilles heel and exploited it for two special teams touchdowns, one a long punt return by Troy Brown, another a blocked field goal by previously mentioned failure Kris Brown that was returned for a score. The Steelers knocked Tom Brady out of the game and useless robot Drew Bledose came in to finish the job. That's how bad it was. And it wouldn't be a Kordell Stewart AFC Championship Game if he didn't throw two backbreaking interceptions in the 4th quarter when the team had a chance to tie the game.

Dishonorable mentions:
-- Pretty much the entire '03 Season
-- The Chiefs and Raiders games this year
-- 2006 Bengals and Broncos games
-- Losing to the Pats in 2002 season opener
-- Losing to Kellen Clemens and the Jets in 2007

Chris Henry, 1983-2009

It's a sad day in the NFL no matter who you root for.

12.16.2009

10 Most Satisfying Steelers Wins of the Decade

The anguish of the Steelers losing to the Browns hasn't quite dissipated and I fear that it may be a while yet. It doesn't help that Troy Polamalu and Chris Kemoeatu have already been ruled out of Sunday's game against the Packers. For now, let's pause to think back to the happier moments of the recent past. Because decade retrospectives are the thing to do with the Aughts coming to a close in two weeks, here are what I consider the 10 most satisfying Steelers wins of the decade that was. Few will argue with the top two, but feel free to do so with the others if you're so inclined.

10. This is How Hell is Unleashed (2005)

The 2005 Steelers were coming off a 15-1 season and had been coasting for most of the year until the Ravens laid a cheap late hit on Ben Roethlisberger, putting on ice for a month. Thanks mostly to Tommy Maddox's bumbling, the team lost three straight to fall to 7-5. They could have responded like this year's team and crap out of contention, but instead they put up on the last old school Steelers grind-out victories we became so accustomed to in the Cowher era. It was the launching point to a title and also Jerome Bettis' final 100-yard game. Oh yeah, and Brian Urlacher got run over by The Bus going into the endzone.

9. Putting Down the Bungles, Again (2006)



While beating Cincy in the '05 playoffs may have been a bigger kick in the nuts, the Carson Palmer injury does take away some of the oomph of that particular victory. 2006, like this season, didn't allow for many happy moments, but this was one of them. The Bengals only needed to beat the Steelers at home to claim a playoff spot. Instead they got eliminated by Pittsburgh for the second straight season. Santonio's biggest moment as a rookie came on the season's final play.

8. The Ravens Are Pathetic (2007)



The Ravens got their only season sweep ever of the Steelers in 2006 (I would say the biggest goal remaining of this season would be stopping them from getting another). Ravens fans were tugging it to their pictures of Bart Scott laying out Big Ben in Baltimore (actually, they still are). The Steelers brought out the legends and the throwback unis and laid a hell-king ass-whipping on Baltimore. "Ben Worthlessberger" as Ravens fans are fond of calling him, threw five first half touchdowns. Better than Mel Blount calling the Ravens pathetic, better than Hines Ward laying out Ed Reed STRAIGHT UP (because he always blindsides people, of course) was Ray Lewis whining after the game that the 35 points didn't mean anything because the Steelers had a short field on a couple of possessions. Class act as always, Ray-Ray.

7. Den-nis North-cutt (2002)


My favorite aspect of the decade in Steelers football (aside from those two titles) is the fact that they went beat each divisional opponent in the playoffs at least once over that span (the Ravens twice). Oddly enough, this is the only Steelers playoff game I didn't get to see live because I was studying abroad at the time - foreigners have bizarre priorities. What's worse is that by a quirk of fate I WAS ABLE to find a place in my small Italian town showing the following game against the Titans, which of course they lost. This one I finally saw not too long ago on NFL Network and I'm kind of glad I didn't get to see it there, because I would have made a scene.

6. 21 and Done (2004)


On the bragging rights ledger, the Pats definitely come out ahead of the Steelers this decade with two wins in conference championship games. Still, it was awfully sweet at the time to end what was then the Patriots record winning streak. At the time, the 2004 Steelers weren't being taken seriously, which made sense. They had a rookie quarterback and their best win was a road victory over a mediocre Dallas team. That changed with back-to-back victories over both the unbeaten Pats and Eagles. The Steelers were a team to take very seriously.

5. Gunfingaz! (2005)

Even after making it past the Colts in the second round, there was no sense that the Steelers had really done anything until they finally got over their conference title game funk. They had lost three straight at home before this one, and it was on the road. The Steelers erased all doubt early on, taking a commanding 24-3 lead at half. To date, this is probably the best performance of Ben Roethlisberger's career.

4. "Super Bowl XLIII! Pittsburgh Might Be Bound For That Thanks to Number 43" (2008)



The Ravens could sweep the Steelers this year. They could sweep them next year. They could sweep them the year after that. It still won't make up for losing the biggest game the two teams could possibly play against one another - the AFC Championship. For all the officiating whining Baltimore fans do, they were kept in this game by two very suspect pass interference penalties that put them at the Steelers' 1. In this game, Troy Polamalu stopped Joe Flacco short on a 4th and 1 and made a game-clinching pick-six. Where was Ed Reed? Backpedaling 20 yards as Santonio Holmes raced into the endzone.

3. The Tackle and Other Tribulations (2005)


Without treading too far into Bill Simmons "Nobody Believed in Us!" territory, there weren't a great many people even considering the possibility that Pittsburgh would even make this game competitive. Not without good reason. The Colts were seemingly unstoppable that year. But even when the Steelers lost to them in the regular season, the announcers were talking about how a lot of the defensive schemes the Steelers were using were flustering Peyton Manning. If the Steelers could get another crack at them, they certainly weren't guaranteed to win, but they would give them a better game. Manning looked dreadful for three quarters. Before he found any semblance of rhythm, it was too late. A mistakenly overturned Polamalu interception and a Bettis fumble gave Indianapolis a shot, but they didn't deserve to win. And they didn't.

2. Ben to 10, The Immaculate Interception and the Sticky Lombardi (2008)



I swear to God, the 2008 season cost me 10 years off my life. As fans, we don't do anything except show up, yell and maybe abide by our superstitions, but I felt like I worked for this title (even though in reality I obviously did nothing). I get chest pains thinking how many times they waited until the last second to win games last year. Then I think how many times they've waited until the last second to lose this year, and that only makes matters worse.

1. One for the Thumb (2005)


Super Bowl XLIII was a vastly superior game to watch from an objective fan's point of view. XL was marked by sloppy effort from both teams. Then there was the endless and ongoing officiating nonsense. Sorry. There was one obviously bad call in the game - the clipping penalty on Hasselbeck after the interception. Is that enough to swing a Super Bowl by itself? If you hate the Steelers enough it does. Everything else - even if you think it was ticky-tack, was the correct call. The fact remains that only one team made all the big plays. As a Steelers fan, flawed as it was, if this isn't your game of the decade, I don't really want to know you.

Other Five-Star Games:
-2001 MNF in Baltimore (The Shannon Sharpe "Plexiglass" game. One of the few fond memories of Plaxico)
- Eliminating Buffalo in Week 17 with backups (2004)
-2006 Saints (A rare display of potential in an otherwise ugly season)
-2009 Vikings (Ditto)
-2005 Wild Card over Cincy
-Dallas victories in 2004 and 2008
-Blanking the Seahawks 21-0 in 2007

12.10.2009

It Happened.

No more consequential football until 2010. You just watched a team that quit. Maybe Santonio and Woodley actually gave a shit.

On the bright side, if this doesn't get Bruce Arians fired, nothing ever will.

Don't Lose to Goddamn Cleveland

Forget playoff scenarios and who the Steelers need to lose to stay in the hunt.

Just don't drop one to Cleveland. Even in the '06 letdown debacle, Pittsburgh couldn't manage to lose to the Browns. Embarrassing losses to Kansas City and Oakland are one thing, but letting the Browns break the Steelers 12-game winning streak would be the nadir of the second half of this decade.

Even with Hines either not playing or not playing extensively, even with rookies Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnett getting most of the time at the corner positions, the Steelers are a superior team. But then you could say that with a lot of teams they've fallen to this year.

Against a healthier Steelers team earlier in the year (remember, it was Troy's first game back from his first injury), the Browns gave them a game. Mohamed Massoquoi had five catches for 83 yards. Now, with no Troy and two rookies (at least) starting in the secondary, there's more than just Josh Cribbs to worry about with that offense.

Cleveland has the worst statistical defense in the league, but having watching them in a few games, I don't think they're necessarily deserving of being called the worst. If they didn't have a horrendous offense (also ranked 32nd in the league) keeping them on the field all game, they'd like at least be seen as respectable. Even minus Hines, though, the Steelers offensive should be able to put up more than enough to come out on top, provided they don't keep turning it over in the red zone.

James Harrison doesn't usually strike me as much of a vocal leader, but of all the jawing going on publicly between players, I'm glad he's calling some of the other defenders out, seeing as how he's at least one of the few guys bringing his game from week to week. Debo is going to be here for some time to come, while James Farrior looks to be on the way out in the not too distant future. He's going to have to take over the mantle of captain at some point.

It stands to reason there's nothing left this team can take for granted at this point. They really could lose to Cleveland. Or they could win convincingly. You can really say they know what to expect with this team at the moment? A win here and maybe we'll talk (in guarded tones) scenarios and probabilities in the weeks to come.

12.07.2009

An Onside For Our Season

Never understood why Cleveland has an Elf for their old school logo.
But he sure as shit could ruin my Christmas. Little fucker.

The high point of this season was likely the Denver game. The Steelers defeated one of only a handful of remaining undefeated of the top AFC teams at the time, on the road. We looked the part of a proper Defending Champion squad. The Steelers' percentage of making the playoffs at the time, sitting at 6-2, was 87.8%.

And yet, here we sit.
A .500 ball club at 6-6.
Four straight losses.
Injured and inept starters.

Steeler Nation is shell-shocked. Efforts to discern the cause of our struggles are reaching a frantic and fevered pitch. For some, this has devolved into bickering and finger-pointing. A porous defense. An unreliable offense. Historically bad special teams. The excitement of what a title defense can be has given way to the notion of what could have been.

And so, our season (at least the remainder of it) is much like an onside kick.

You know what I'm talking about. You're sitting there in front of your TV, at the bar or at the stadium. Your team is losing. The clock is winding down. You start to think about what the loss will mean to your day. Your attitude that week. To your team's season. It's a sick feeling.

Is it insurmountable?

No.

Look, I'm not a cheerleader. I'm not here to "Rah Rah" us on blindly. We look like shit. We look like a team that at best would get embarrassed on Wild Card weekend. But there's four weeks left and so much can happen in that time. What's it going to take?

Well, first off, we need PERFECTION.

Some have labeled the remaining schedule as difficult or even too much to overcome. And while we do face as many as three potential playoff teams, the task of winning out (gulp) CAN be achieved. Four wins. One at a time. If we've learned anything, it's that we shouldn't look past this week. Beat Cleveland. However you can. By as many or as little points as you can. Beat Cleveland and your reward is a 10 day lay-off and a home game. Possibly even Polamalu back in the lineup. Beat Cleveland because I don't think I can handle the prospect of going 1-4 against the AFC North. Beat Cleveland because even with injuries and Tomlin "shaking up" the lineup, we still have far more talent than them. Beat Cleveland because even though the idea that the playoffs started last week or the week before it REALLY is the case, now.

We also need LUCK.

It is naive to think that some of football isn't determined by luck. In fact, Steeler fans clinging to their Terrible Towels, recalling The Immaculates (Reception and Interception) and otherwise will be the first to acknowledge that some of what it takes to reach the tournament is just plain good fortune. The ball bouncing off of rookie cornerback Joe Burnett's chest Sunday would be an example of NOT getting the luck we need. . At some point, in some game, there will be a turnover or a coach's challenge or a penalty...something that can go either way. In a way, it's fitting that we're pitted againgst Cleveland this week. No franchise has been more unlucky than they. If we can't make our own luck Thursday, it'll be obvious that the season is over. We've burned through our wiggle room by losing our last four and now we need to catch nearly all of these breaks. The ball must bounce our way or we'll be bounced from the playoffs.

We need HELP.

Relying on others adds to the uneasy feeling we all have. Are we excited to be cheering for the Raiders to beat Denver now? No. But we have no choice. I'm done extrapolating in this space who we need to root for and against. Besides, it's too voluminous. Go HERE if you care to see the raw data. We need Jacksonville to stumble (can happen) and only one team to come out of the West. And that's just a start. There are still too many permutations to factor and winning is more than enough to concern ourselves with for now.

The likelihood of an NFL team recovering an onside kick is listed at between 15 and 20%. That's about where we are now. What our percentage is. 16% or so.

I think we can do it. But, I have no idea if we will.

Or if the Denver Game will remain our high point.

Nightmare. Fuel.

12.06.2009

That Game Needed More Hell

I suppose there remains a remote possibility given enough things shaking in their favor that the Steelers COULD make the playoffs, but they don't deserve it. This is a team content to play up or down (usually down) to whomever they're facing. And refuse to make the play that will finish off the other team. That's not a tendency teams often shake in the course of a month, let alone a season.

Kudos to Bruce Gradkowski. He was able use his mobility to thwart the pass rush and exploit the various defensive Pittsburgh breakdowns. He got a little fortunate at times - having Louis Murphy come down with an ugly float and have Joe Burnett drop an easy would-be game-clinching interception on the final drive. - but, the winners often take advantage of such things.

There's usually one clear-cut scapegoat in these games, but the fuckuppery was roundly distributed in this remarkable bed shitting. And the special teams wasn't actually one of them.

Mike Tomlin: Even without the comments last week, it was too evident from his decisions that he really wanted this to be a statement game. Going on 4 & 1 in the red zone by having your recently concussed QB trying a head first dive? Really? Against a team that wasn't supposed to be able to put up any points? And the decision to try the 53-yard Jeff Reed field goal was mindbogglingly stupid. You're up 10-6 in a field position game with a kicker who doesn't have particularly good range in Heinz Field and you want to try that? As soon as they lined up for that kick I knew he would miss and it was going to kill them.

Ben Roethlisberger: Stupid interception in the endzone capped a miserable first half of play in the red zone. He played fairly well otherwise, but that's a mammoth mistake.

Dick LeBeau: As has been the case in these losses, the Steelers are having red zone difficulties while the opposition has not. That's three consecutive games they've surrendered leads in the final minutes. Twice it happened today. And there were a number of huge coverage breakdowns, none worse than the lack of safety help on the 75-yard Louis Murphy touchdown. If he can get credit for the defense when it plays light-out, he can get the knock for when they fail to close out for the third straight game.

Of course Limas Sweed was in position to make a catch on the Hail Mary and let the ball get by him. It was just gonna be that kind nutpunch today. Speaking of amazing hands, Joe Burnett has 'em. I know the cliche goes that if defensive backs had hands, they'd be receivers. But that was a dart into his chest that would have secured the game. Brutal. And what happened to Heath Millers'? He had a ball clank off his just weeks after having flubbed a catch to lead to a costly interception against the Chiefs.

Did anyone play well? Rashard Mendenhall continues to impress, even if Arians doesn't want to use him inside the 20. His touchdown run where he bulled into the endzone after what looked to be a broken play on the edge lets me think he'll be good for a long while. Santonio Holmes had one of his better games of the year in what ended up bring a wasted effort. Stefan Logan showed some of the first flashes of his potential as a kickoff returner. As a punter returner, however, he's still a liability. LaMarr Woodley is one of the few defensive players who's shown up in recent weeks. He registered the only two Steelers sacks (granted that the first was on a play that James Harrison blew up) and has six of his eight on the year all in the last four weeks.

Maybe the team can win out and get lucky and get into the postseason. I wouldn't hold my breath at this point. With another game in four days, they don't have a lot of time for them to dwell on what just happened. Hopefully it's enough to learn something though, but then if some of this stuff hadn't gotten through in three straight losses, I don't know why a fourth would be any different.

12.04.2009

Glory at the Bruce Gradkowski Triptych of Fail

This Sunday marks the third time in the past four seasons yinzer Bruce Gradkowski has returned home to Pittsburgh for a late season game at the helm of a garbage team. Steelers fans aren't complaining. Between his trip with the Bucs in 2006 and the Browns last year, the Gradkowski lead offenses have compiled a grand total of three points in two games.

On Thanksgiving in Dallas, Gradkowski completed something like two of his first 11 passes. Don't get me wrong, Gradkowski will never be confused with an adequate quarterback but there's a little of the Derek Anderson syndrome working here, where a mediocre QB is made to look even worse with monstrously poor receiving corps. But the Raiders can run the ball. Anyone who's watched them at all this season knows they have a solid running game. Granted, a team that can run well but can't pass worth a damn generally plays right into the Steelers hands, but then the Raiders stole a victory against the Steelers a few years back with the defense doing all the scoring.

That has to be the main concern going into this game. Yeah, the Steelers ended their record eight-game opposition special team/defensive scoring streak, thankfully, but like with the Kansas City game, any sort of relapse could allow this team to hang around with disastrous results. Really, it's all the Raiders are counting on. But then, while the Steelers are coping with the fallout of HeadacheGate, the Raiders are a neverending font of drama. In the latest installment, noted shutdown corner Nnamdi Asomugha is complaining that Oakland's defense is too simple. And, hey, I'll take that, Punchin' Tom Cable. Big Ben could use an easy game coming back from all this nonsense the last two weeks.

I wish it were more complex (actually, I don't) than crush the Raiders run game, don't turn the ball over or slip up on special teams coverage. The kick coverage did generally look better last week and, like most, I'm happy to see Anthony Madison return to the unit, not only bringing back a key contributor from last year, but deposing Raven scum Corey Ivy. Kind of funny how Madison became the new Chidi Iwuoma over the course of a few weeks. But, yeah, now we get to see for sure.

12.01.2009

Rooting Interests: Week 13

Undress works just as well as Unleash, Hun.
3 weeks, 3 losses.

On the outside, looking in.

The Pittsburgh Steelers have gone from AFC challenger to playoff challenged. When I began tracking the other AFC games three weeks ago I had no reason to believe that we'd fall below the demarcation of a playoff spot, come December. The thought was WHERE we'd end up in the playoff mix, not IF.

But here we are. Technically, in need of help. Although, if the Steelers do "Unleash Hell" as coach Tomlin posed, I'd imagine we'd be in as a Wild Card.

Let's just see what we have (Once again, team to root for in BOLD and arbitrary "Importance" as determined by me):

THURSDAY GAME:
Jets @ BILLS
Importance: 10%

The Jets aren't stealing our playoff spot. Just not happening. But, much like the Jaguars they can go on a small tear and go from 4-6 a week ago to 8-6 as they took out the Panthers and face the Bucs and potentially Turner/Ryan-less Falcons after this game. I like the idea of watching this game (which is being played in Toronto) and having some La Fin du Monde for added flava. I dated a chick from Canada - the beer was the best part. But I'll cheap out and buy the Labatt case with free Pens' Championship t-shirt in it.

1 O'CLOCK GAMES:
LIONS @ Bengals
Importance: 25%

Catching the Bungles is the least of our worries, right now. But it's in our blood to root agasint them. Standard Operating Procedure here. Go Lions.

Titans @ COLTS
Importance: 20%

Brace yourself for the collective media story-gasm if the Titans pull this one out. With St. Louis and Miami on their schedule next, they'll be the hottest story not invovling The Saints. I know many wish to root against "The Undefeateds" but it's not like we're the Dolphins, clinging to their '72 season. If you're worried about our franchise's identity go check out the Lombardis in The Great Hall. Besides, we've been down this road with the 2007 Pats, worry about teams' records when they get to the playoffs, not before.

Broncos @ CHIEFS
Importance: 30%

The Broncos' win over The Giants last week puts them in as the better of the two Wild Cards. A loss at Arrowhead could definitely occur and would throw a large wrench in their chances of making the playoffs. A win and I'd say they're all but in as Oakland and KC at home remain on their schedule along with winnable games versus Philly and Indy. It may not be a sexy game to watch, but the right outcome would be a big help for The Steelers.

Patriots @ Dolphins
Importance: 20%

The Patriots are winning the AFC East. Even if they limp in, I simply cannot envision the Dolphins or Jets catching up in time. That being said, I like the idea of them in complete dissaray and a log-jam of marginal 6-6 teams. Belichek will likely having these guys chewing glass or whatever diet of motivational/cheating tactics he espouses leading up to this game. Hey, the Wild Cat took them down last year, right?

TEXANS @ Jaguars
Importance: 20%

A true Steel Cage Match. Loser is likely out of the playoff hunt. The Texans certainly have an easier remaining schedule, so one might think it makes more sense to root for the Jags. But trying to predict the outcome of games from week to week has lost me hundreds of dollars this year, so I'll just take one less team to worry about now, thanks.

4 O'CLOCK GAME:
Chargers @ BROWNS
Importance: 10%

Only one AFC afternoon game, Sunday and boy is it a shitty one. If the Browns get a number of turnovers, a Josh Cribbs return TD and a few lucky breaks with San Diego injuries they MIGHT lose by only 14 or so.

MONDAY NIGHT:
Ravens @ PACKERS
Importance: 45%

Only game that is a must watch other than ours. The Ravens' schedule has them looking like a 10 win team even with a loss to us. Unless they lose this game. Going in to Lambeau is quite a difficult task and luckily The Pack come here. It's one of the few schedulling advantages between us and Baltimore at this point.

As I see it for the remaning games, we go undeafeated and are likely in. One loss (except to the Ravens) and we'd still have a decent chance. Anything less than that and it's the offseason.