Why Didn't Anyone Warn Me About Joe Sacko?

I was watching the Bucs-Ravens game on Sunday and announcer Sam Rosen made reference to a Ravens player named Joe Sacko. Not only have I never heard of him, but apparently he now holds the Baltimore franchise record for touchdown passes.


Then again, the previous record holder was Vinny Testaverde, who set the previous franchise mark in only two seasons with the team. That's one less than Sacko. And with a vastly inferior receiving corps to what this Sacco guy gets to work.

Testaverde's top receivers in '96 and '97: Derrick Alexander and Michael Jackson (Zero combined career Pro Bowl selections). He did have former Steelers tight end Eric Green, however (two-time Pro Bowl selection).

Joe Sacko's main target for his first two seasons was Derrick Mason (two-time Pro Bowler) and now he has Anquan Boldin (three-time Pro Bowler) and T.J. Houshmandzadeh (one-time Pro Bowl selection). Oh, and don't forget Todd Heap (two more Pro Bowls).

So, I don't know - Joe Sacko might be all right, but Vinny Testaverde is still obviously the best quarterback the Ratbirds ever had. Good thing he's not around anymore.


Luckily The Bills Hate Winning

Can we count the ways the Steelers got lucky in overtime against Buffalo? I probably shouldn't, but let's do it for the sake of exorcising the stink of that game and being grateful for an improbable win.

1. Leodis McKelvin gets tripped by teammate Arthur Moats as McKelvin broke free near midfield on the opening kick return of overtime.

2. Roethlisberger falls on his own fumble after a sack on the Steelers' 1. Flozell was uniquely terrible on this play. Let his man blow right by him and watched helplessly as he looped around and stripped Ben from behind. Guh.

3. God blessedly smiting Stevie Johnson.

Of course, you can make an easy and sensible argument that it should never have gotten to that. Another bullshit personal foul on James Harrison galvanized a dead Buffalo offense late in the third quarter. Emmanuel Sanders dropped a huge pass in the fourth quarter that could have probably put the game away for Pittsburgh.

That's a mighty impressive start, yet the Steelers led only 13-0 by the end of a first half they absolutely dominated. As we saw, all it took was one blown play for the Bills to get back in it. You can't leave that kind hope alive to a team being crushed for 40 minutes. And that's exactly what the Steelers did.

Why? One quick explanation was "holy hell, Chris Kemoeatu owned by Kyle Williams." Williams had two sacks and drew four holding calls from the Steelers' left guard, though the one that nullified the long Mendenhall run was some bullshit, as Williams initiated the hold by hooking his fingers on Kemo's facemask.

But other than the Harrison hit and one of Kemo's holds, the penalties were pretty much justified and taking away those two still leaves more than a bit of penalty yardage. That's back to back games giving up more than 100 yards from flags. Yeah, the Steelers have won both those games, but Sunday's game is a clear lesson of how it can let an inferior opponent get the best of you.

Hines and Shaun Suisham were clear bright spots on the day. Hines had more yardage than the past four games combined while Suisham was the polar opposite of Jeff Reed's long distance ineptitude this season. Besides Kemoeatu, LaMarr Woodley had a disappointing day, which marks the second for him in three weeks. Woodley typically performs well against the Ravens and will need to have a game to reverse some of the funk of getting little pressure on his own of late.

Oh, and you know who else performs well against the Ravens? The quarterback they haven't beaten since 2006. Ben has a foot sprain, but it certainly didn't stop him from pulling off this 18-yard scramble, so I wouldn't be too worried.

Bryant McFadden probably won't be able to go against the Ratbirds, which is unfortunate, though William Gay appears to have bounced back well the past two weeks after a disastrous game against New England. Keenan Lewis still doesn't look ready to take over as an outside corner role, so Gay will have to turn in another big effort.

Ratbirds fans are already chirping about the Steelers getting lucky in Buffalo, as though Baltimore didn't get several huge breaks of their own at home against the Bills. Can't expect any better from fuckwit fairweather Ravens fans. Sunday night's game will surely be a huge test, though I saw a lot of things the Steelers can exploit on that weakened Ravens defense during Sunday's game against the Bucs. Baltimore seems to be attacking more than they have earlier in the season, and they obviously will on Sunday against that O-line, but the coverage behind it has shown to be highly vulnerable.

It will be interesting to see if Arians has the guts or the imagination to try the kind of spread stuff that the Patriots did to the Steelers or even that the Ravens tried in the first match-up in Pittsburgh. Not saying I'm encouraging a steady diet or shotgun four- and five-wide sets, but pulling them out occasionally outside the obvious third down pass situations would be well advised rather than telegraphing the run at the start of most series, as Arians was prone to do with Batch starting the first game against Baltimore.

Despite the Ravens' "miracle" the first time around, that offense hasn't figured out the Steelers defense by any means. Of course, Keisel being able to return will figure hugely with Eason being banged up. It was thought Keisel would come back against Buffalo, but ended up waiting another week. Having an improved showing from the pass rush will be imperative and Keisel's return can certainly help set that up, especially with Michael Oher's false starting ass being slightly banged up.


Nobody Circles The Drain Like The Buffalo Bills

Sorry for a spin on a Berman reference in the headline, but it was either that or something playing on Stevie Johnson's "Why So Serious?" celebration last week. And at this point, Dark Knight references are only slightly less overplayed.

And while I'm on the subject, when did that extra "i" get shoehorned into his Johnson's first name? Up until last week, every mention of the guy I'd seen had his name as Steve Johnson. Who's this Stevie? Is there an unspoken rule that once a receiver scores three touchdowns in one game that he is free to rejigger his name in any way he pleases?

As for the Bills, despite their record, they certainly aren't a team to be taken lightly. That's what we saw yesterday on Thanksgiving early game - even the teams with terrible records in the NFL aren't very terrible this season. After for weeks being on the verge of capturing their first win, by pushing some pretty good teams (Chiefs, Bears, Ravens) to the brink, now Buffalo has won two in a row.

The Steelers were able to dominate the Raiders' offense last week, but Oakland's run-first attack plays directly in the Steelers' strength. Even though they had a pretty good game running the ball, the Patriots understand that you're better off not even trying to run against the Steelers. At best, you pass to set up the run. That said, very few teams in the league can do to the Steelers what the Pats did a few weeks back. Ryan Fitzpatrick is having a pretty good year, but it remains to be seen whether he's quite that good. Having Brett Keisel back at defensive end should further help a pass rush that bounced back well last week.

And if it helps you sleep better, the Steelers have won their only matchup against Fitzpatrick, a 27-10 victory when he started for the Bengals in 2008. That won advanced the Steelers to 8-3, which would be a nice parallel for a win on Sunday.

It should allay concerns that Steve or Stevie will take over that the Bills huge second half against the Bengals last week coincided with four Cincy defensive back leaving the game with injuries, including starting corner Jonathan Joseph. Nevertheless, Buffalo absolutely bombarded the Ravens through the air. Let's just hope that William Gay sees as little man coverage on Johnson as possible.

Concerns over a trap game get less worrisome when you focus on the Bills' porous defense. They're 25th in yardage allowed. They allow the seventh highest third down conversion rate. There's no one on the roster with more than three sacks. They've forced only about 60 percent of the turnovers the Steelers have, and, most importantly, they're given up the fourth most points of all NFL teams. Me likely.

They are last in penalty yards, however, so don't expect any make-up calls for the officiating disaster that was last week. And that's fine for me so long as no one (on either team, really) gets flagged for hitting a receiver in the back or pushing a quarterback a quarter of a second after they release the ball. If you saw the Jets-Bengals game last night, you know it's a league-wide issue.

As a quick aside - I was happy to see much more of Antonio Brown last week against Oakland, even if he didn't have a huge impact. Other than one big reception in the first meeting with the Ravens and a touchdown pass that was more the result of a great play by Mike Wallace, Randle El hasn't been that much of a positive factor in the offense. He was crazy with the drops against New England and just doesn't seem to have much quickness is routes or on returns. Brown is at least going forward and taking the yards given him on punt duty.

It might be a closer game than any of us would be comfortable with against the Bills, but there's still no excuse for the Steelers not to go into Buffalo and get the job done, likely setting up a huge contest the following week in Baltimore with what could be the division on the line.

On a final note, I loved this very, very Ben opener from this article about Sean Kugler returning to face Buffalo, where he coached the O-line last year:

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger joked this week that he didn't remember offensive line coach Sean Kugler's first name until a Buffalo reporter mentioned it.

"We just call him Koogs," Roethlisberger said.


Steelers Big Win Overshadowed By NFL's Ongoing Identity Crisis

I feel confident in saying that I never have and likely never will be more upset after a 32-point Steelers victory than I was after the one on Sunday.

Don't get me wrong - I was thrilled the Steelers beat some Raider ass and showed ferocity that was wholly absent the week before in doing so. I could have done without additional offensive line injuries, but on the whole it was a very impressive effort. At least after the first quarter.

It's not that bad calls went against the Steelers that enraged me, per se, because bad calls happen all the time to every single team in the league. No, it's the type of calls and what they indicate about the direction of the NFL that pisses me off.

Of course, I can't mention the officials without some fuckwit commenter on KSK or elsewhere calling me a hypocrite because of the way I rant about Ravens fan conspiracy theorists who blame all their team's losses on the officiating. There's a very key and obvious difference to what I'm talking about and how Ravens fans claim the NFL is out to get them and doesn't want Baltimore to win. It's whiny bullshit to explain away losses.

And that difference is I don't think the NFL is out to "get" the Steelers. If they were, they're doing a piss-poor job of it, the 163 penalty yards on Sunday notwithstanding. The fines are one thing. James Harrison has been targeted by the media and the media dictates largely who gets fined and how much, sure, but that's more a function of circumstance than the fact it's James Harrison. Had the hits he gave Massaquoi and Cribbs happened last year, or any other year, it would have been dramatically different. It was the worst of all timing of him.

No, I think the Steelers are among the victims of a league that doesn't know how to solve its current PR crisis with head injuries and their after effects. The Steelers aren't the only victims, mind you. It's the entire league that suffers. Pittsburgh has just been the most visible case so far. Because they stand out with their style of aggressive defense.

And the NFL has made it clear that it wants defenses to be completely reactionary to what the offense is doing. To follow the NFL orthodoxy is to wait and let a play happen rather than attack. A receiver is not to be contacted until he's been allowed to make a catch and adjust. The quarterback can't be touched at any point after a throw has been made, even if it's a millisecond later and the momentum of the defender cannot be stopped. You might call those oversimplifications, but with the results of the past few weeks, it's difficult to draw alternate conclusions.

Let's take a look at the three egregious calls that bespeak the new NFL "emphasis":

The supposed helmet-to-helmet call here on Clark is by far the most troubling. At least one could say with the Woodley and Harrison roughing the passer penalties, as bad as they are, is that they are consistent with what the NFL has done of the last few years, which is protect the quarterback at all costs. The execution might be inane, but the spirit has been there for some time. The move to make receivers practically impossible to contact is relatively new and looks to be headed for just as an idiotic conclusion. Here we see Ryan Clark hitting a receiver IN THE BACK and being flagged for 15 yards. In fact, the new "emphasis" almost causes Clark to injure himself on the play.

The problem with penalizing any contact with the helmet by DBs is that you even make leading with the shoulder dangerous territory. You can make a perfectly legal tackle with the shoulder and still make contact with the helmet. It's something the NFL doesn't want to admit. The league is operating as though randomly throwing flags changes reality. That means a tackler is going to have to aim so low that you're see defenders nailed in the head with knees or jamming their necks. You basically trade receiver injuries for defensive back injuries. Or there's no contact at all and the sport changes irreparably.

The flags on Woodley and Harrison were dumb and wrong, but this is how referees are going to confront these types of hits going forward. They're under such pressure from the league to prevent injuries, even on legal contact, that penalties will get increasingly ticky tack. The only hope for those hoping to see the game maintain anything of its current (or past) form is the chance that the NFL is only going way overboard with its enforcement as a token show of empathy for player safety to make the ownership look better as it enters into CBA negotiations with the players union and tries to get a longer regular season schedule.

Fans want to heap all the blame on Roger Goodell. He's obviously part of the problem, but certainly not all of it. The commissioner has no authority without the consent of the owners as a collective. Getting rid of Goodell isn't going to give the NFL a sudden burst of clarity on what to do on the helmet hits issue. Furthermore, he's just not going anywhere. Well, at least for the time being. We'll see after this lockout happens.

Sunday was a great win for the Steelers but it was also a sad convergence of a bunch of worrisome trends that might plague the league for years to come. I love the Steelers but I also love the sport they play. The former won big on Sunday. The latter did not.


The Raiders As Annoying Bellwether

2006 and 2009, the only two seasons the Steelers missed the playoffs since Ben Roethlisberger was drafted also featured humiliating losses to either plain terrible or woefully underachieving (take your pick) Raiders teams. Certainly there were other things going wrong those seasons, but it's hard to take a loss to Oakland as another other than a metaphorical canary going through the death throes on the ground of the coal mine.

This time around, the Raiders are flirting with respectability coming in. All of their starting defensive linemen have at least four and a half sacks. Darren McFadden is finally starting to fulfill his incredible promise. Darrius Heyward-Bey still isn't doing shit, but then the Raiders have gotten surprise contributions out of guys like Jacoby Ford. A loss to this team wouldn't be quite as embarrassing, but it could still be devastating to a season that started so promisingly.

By even their own admission, the Raiders can't do what the Patriots did to the Steelers last Sunday night, which is to say, they can't spread out the offense and dink the defense to death. The fact that the Raiders live mostly by the run plays right into the strength of the Pittsburgh defense. Yes, BenJarvus Green-Ellis actually had a pretty good outing last week, but I'm really not overly concerned with the run defense. When you're getting beaten that badly through the air, it's hard to clamp down seriously on the ground game as well.

The big issue, obviously come with the Steelers line having to block Oakland's front four. The Steelers' O-line made the Patriots parlous pass rush look like they were the goddamn Giants last week. The problem with that is threefold: the line had to improve, Roethlisberger has to be more decisive when he has the luxury of more than a second to throw and Bruce Arians has to call more pass plays that rely on three-step drops and routes that don't take far too long to develop.

How much confidence do you have in seeing all three of those things happening? Probably not a ton. Getting Chris Kemoeatu back will help up front, but even a thoroughly terrible loss like the one on Sunday won't even be enough to get Arians to make adjustments. I can only hope I'm wrong on that score.

Hines being back should help the red zone offense significantly, which was a huge liability last week and a reason why the game got out of hand the way it did. The pass rush too will have to rebound in a big way. The struggles against the Pats were partially brought on by design. If you're going to let the opposition spread you out, you're not going to have as many pass rushers getting to the QB. That said, Woodley was uncharacteristically dominated by Vollmer. He has to play better. Timmons and Polamalu are dinged up as well, but all indications suggest they will play.

And then of course, there's the great undesirable unknown that is the debut of Shaun Suisham. Let's just say the receivers are going to have to be better about hauling in passes they get their hands on in the end zone.

I know this was good week to be down on this team. Plenty of fans were. It's understandable, to a degree. The Steelers haven't played all that well the past few weeks and it's seldom any Steelers team loses by as much as the team did last week. Good teams respond to those kind of drubbings. Let's not forget that the Pats were coming off quite an embarrassing loss of their own the previous week in Cleveland. It was a bad loss to a team we hate to see beat us, but at 6-3, I doubt the Steelers will come in Sunday feeling sorry for themselves. Now they just have to give themselves a reason to feel good about the season again.


Disasters Don't Get Much More Unmitigated

Criticism of Dick LeBeau isn't something readily offered or even reluctantly accepted among most Steelers fans, but he has to take a bit hit for the gameplanning against the Patriots on Sunday night.

That was every bit what the Patriots do every single time they play the Steelers and Pittsburgh looked wholly lost in their efforts to stop the New England offense or adjust to what they were doing. Underneath shit open all night. Outside stuff under 10 yards wide open.

That isn't to say all the throws were immediately there for Brady. It was another masterful performance against the Steelers, evidenced by the pinpoint accuracy on the first touchdown pass to Rob Gronkowski, who was actually well covered by William Gay.

LeBeau was also done no favors by James Harrison or LaMarr Woodley, who generated little to no pressure on Tom Brady. Woodley in particular was taken out of the game by Sebastian Vollmer. Timmons was by far the most impressive of the linebackers on Sunday night, which made it all the more distressing when Timmons left the game in the third quarter with a hip pointer.

Analysts and fans will gripe that most of Roethlisberger's stats came in mop-up duty and technically that's true, but I don't think Ben really played a poor game. He was done no favors in the first half with critical drops by Randle El and Wallace in the end zone.

Wallace excelled in more complex routes later in the game, which might be one of the few bright points to take away from this game. He'll need to continue to step up and be able to get open on patterns where he's just not streaking down the field when the rush comes.

Combine the drops with how little time Roethlisberger had to throw behind the patchwork offensive line and give him some credit for not even hanging in there. Losing Hines Ward in the first half on a helmet-to-helmet hit certainly didn't help matters, either.

The Hines hit sucks, but I'm fine with no penalty being called. It was a case similar to the Austin Collie concussion in the Colts-Eagles where a second defender hit the receiver with his helmet after the first defender started bringing him to the ground. Of course, the Collie hit was penalized in that game, but that was a mistake and I'm not advocating for the officials being wrong as long as it helps us. What does irritate me is the huge amount of attention given by the NBC announcers to a completely benign hit by James Harrison on Tom Brady later in the game. This is the second helmet hit that Hines has taken this season, along with the one issued by Saints DB on Sunday night a few weeks back, and no one cares. No stink is made. This one might be legal, but the Torrence one wasn't. Just imagine if that's James Harrison hitting Wes Welker. Never hear the end of it, regardless of the rules.

As for the line being a mess, I don't know what could possibly be done except hope for incremental gains from Jonathan Scott, the quick return of Chris Kemoeatu, Trai Essex sucking less and no one else getting hurt. That's not the most reassuring plan, but it's all we have until the off-season.

I'm willing to attribute some of what we saw to a fired up Patriots team coming off a loss, but that doesn't begin to cover what a monumental clusterfuck this game was. The line was slow and useless. The defense looked bamboozled and afraid to play aggressively.

Then there was this asshole:

I'll be the first to say I'm terrified of having Shaun Suisham as the team's kicker after the Steelers finally bid a long overdue smell ya later to Skippy. But there was no way the team could hold onto him at this point.

The team tolerated so much idiocy that Reed had no choice but to play well enough to make looking for a replacement unthinkable. And he really tried to test that by bitching about his contract during the preseason even after the team was made to look bad by bringing him back while ditching other so-called trouble cases like Santonio. Then he followed up shanking a 26-yarder at home in a still-competitive game by knocking fans, the media and the grass at Heinz. All of that might still have be forgiven if this year hasn't been one extended string of missed critical kicks.

If there's one minor solace it's that Suisham's try-out occurred at Heinz Field, which suggests that he fared at least halfway well at the stadium. But who knows just how desperate the team was to find ANYONE to take Reed's spot. Just as we'll found out how the line tries to rebound, that's something we're likely to discover with gritted teeth.



Never have I wanted more to rub stats all over myself.

A team trying to make the first adjustments to life without their left tackle could do worse than draw an opponent with a negligible pass rush and an otherwise porous defense. That's what the Patriots have this year. To their credit, they also still have managed to post a 6-2 record despite that lackluster unit.

Of course, it's all on account of having MO-AH GRITTY HAAHHHHTTTT IN WOODHEAD NATION! or somesuch other thinly veiled racism from Pats fans.

A lot of the reason why, along with Miami and San Diego imploding against them, is that the Pats have Brady and an offense that doesn't turn the ball over a lot or commit a ton of penalties. The Steelers haven't beaten the Patriots with Tom Brady since Halloween in '04. Yeah, Pittsburgh rolled the Pats in Foxborough for a critical win in '08, but don't act like Brady being under center wouldn't have made it that much more sweet. The Stillers still have three consecutive losses to Dreamboat to avenge.

By now, we've all noticed the odd Cleveland Browns connection with the Steelers schedule. Cleveland played Baltimore the week before the Steelers did. Though the Browns lost, it wasn't by much and Peyton Hillis ran for 144 yards. The following week, the Ravens run D was slightly better and the Ravens beat the Steelers. The Browns beat the Saints in New Orleans the week before the Steelers went in there and lost. Then of course, there was the surprise pumbling the Brownies administered to New England last weekend.

Other than the to the paranoid among us (to which I'll admit to belonging occasionally) this doesn't mean a whole lot than hand wringing about facing a team now fired up after getting challenged by what's considered a lesser team. That's as much an excuse as the Patriots writers blaming some of Tom Brady's recent struggles on a minor foot injury that appeared on the injury report this week. Why, it's so debilitating that he's shown no visible effects of the injury.

So the focus will be on the O-line not to play so poorly as to make the Pats look competent on defense along with obvious improvement from William Gay and Bryant McFadden in coverage. Other than Brandon Tate, who isn't quite as skilled, the Patriots don't have anyone capable of burning them the way that T.O. did.

The Steelers took two out of three pretty tough road games in a row. Beating the Patriots would be important for reasons beyond the obvious sanity maintenance and playoff position implications, but because the following two weeks against a much improved Raiders team and the Bills, who despite still being winless are somehow able to play an agonizing brand of football where they are just good enough to lose as narrowly as possible to an opponent.


Oh Criminy

Yesterday I was expressing relief that the Steelers, despite having three linemen go down on Monday night, seemed to escape any serious injury in the trenches. Then hours later, Ed Bouchette drops the bombshell that Max Starks' neck issues are much more serious than Mike Tomlin has been letting on and that Starks is probably/possibly done for the season.

Starks is seeking a second-opinion and is feverishly looking for a way to recover without season-ending surgery, but I'm operating under the assumption that his season is done. Which puts in the Steelers in a bit of a predicament in the trenches going forward. The obvious immediate move is to switch Flozell Adams from the right to the left side, which is where he's played most of his career anyway. Of course, Flozell's weakness is a slightly amplified version of Starks': he's slow and can be beaten around the edge by speed rushers. Not exactly a quality that makes you thrilled about someone protecting the QB's blind side.

That and Flozell has been generally good on run blocking to the right side, which is very the majority of the big plays in the running game have been coming from.

There aren't any particularly enticing candidates and the trade deadline has passed, so the chance for a quick fix through an acquisition seems slim. The team will probably sign someone to bolster depth on the line, but there isn't any chance for success in the near term that doesn't include Jonathan Scott, Tony Hills or Trai Essex stepping up.

It's an ominous way to mark the fourth consecutive season the Steelers have started 6-2. The three times the second half has failed to live up to the first, injuries have been a huge culprit. While Starks isn't anywhere near the talent level of Aaron Smith, but given the lack of depth the Steelers have at the position, it's still significant to lose the guy for the year. Let's just hope his replacement is up to the task and Bruce Arians is forced into coming up with more and better ways to counteract quick pressure from the defense than a goddamn bubble screen.


Ochocinco Hit The NyQuil Too Soon

Some night to debut your ads for a sleep remedy, Ocho. If Chad didn't make his biggest impact on Monday night's game by yelling at his quarterback, you might be excused for forgetting that he was even on the field. Way to backup that "team of girls" bullshit you were spewing months back. Then again, let's just be glad Ocho isn't anywhere as good as his tard tandem buddy T.O. or that could have gone more worse.

I could have used some sleeping pills myself after that nerve-wracking finish. Thankfully Jordan Shipley is a little less trustworthy on 4th down than Brian Leonard or I'd be harping about one of the most agonizing collapses in Steelers' history. Even though the Bengals got quite a bit of help on questionable calls in their last touchdown drive, the Steelers have no one to blame but themselves for failing to put that game away before it got too dramatic for anyone's liking.

Jeff Reed missed another huge field goal. Yeah, he hit one from 53 yards, but the way he's been performing this season, who actually thought he would hit the one that counted most? I doubt the team will dump him before the season is out, unless he turns in some 0-for-4 performance at some point in the year, and that's a cause for concern going forward. The Steelers can't keep having to cover for him missing big kicks and hope to win. They just can't. It cost them against Baltimore. It cost them against New Orleans. They were fortunate that it didn't against Atlanta.

Bryant McFadden had an epically shitty night. I'm still glad to team reacquired him in the offseason, because without him the team might be in even worse straits in the secondary. But McFadden has been inconsistent at best this year. He's been good at times, but was burned by Houshmandzadeh at the end of the Ravens game and multiple times last night. I would include William Gay on the list of the burninated as well, but at least Gay made a handful of good plays to offset the stink of getting torched repeatedly by T.O. in coverage.

Roethlisberger deserves blame for a bad pick on an attempt to Miller when the Steelers still had a 27-13 lead in the 4th. You can bitch about Arians deciding to throw the ball in that situation, but it wasn't a bad playcall and Miller was open. Just a bad throw. I think Ben was fairly solid otherwise, but that error proved costly.

Where you can bitch about Arians is the pointless and maddening dependence on a never effective bubble screen. Yes, the offensive line was banged up last night and so the Steelers needed quick release plays to counteract the pass rush, but they have to come up with something else. It was one thing when they had Santonio, who is absolutely brilliant in the open field. Hines is a great player, but he's simply not quick and nimble enough at this point in his career to make that work. I really just assume they throw him one per game just to ensure that he maintains his consecutive games with a reception streak, but they went with bubble screens on consecutive plays to Hines and he fumbled the second when Leon Hall got his helmet in on Hines' hands. Even had Hines not fumbled, that play was going nowhere. At least try them at Wallace or don't even bother with them. Better yet, don't even bother with them.

I'm willing to excuse the fumble as a good play by the defender, but Hines can cut out that John Wall dance shit he did after he scored. It's old and brings too much joy to irritating D.C. fans. Cut it out.

Mike Wallace has great instincts to get jump balls. For someone of his size, he seems incredibly good at it. The TD pass from Randle El really wasn't that well thrown, but as was the case twice against the Buccaneers, Wallace just went up and got it. His four receptions were a season high, which seems odd for a guy now on pace for a thousand year season. I'll never get tired of the big plays, but I'd still like to see Wallace used for a few other functions than just fly routes.

Though the Steelers sustained more than a few injuries going into a short week - Will Allen, Mewelde Moore and Isaac Redman suffered concussions while Starks, Pouncey and Kemoeatu were all dinged up on the line. Of the O-line guys, only Kemo's seems to be at-all serious, though it looks like he'll only be limited in practice in advance of the game against the Patriots on Sunday.

I was a mess by the end, but the Steelers got a key win on the road over a division opponent that might just now check out for the season. The pass defense is going to have to step it up for Brady and the Pats, but I like the match-up with the running game going against the weak New England defense. Hopefully the line is in decent shape by the time Sunday rolls around. Should be a fun one.


Let's Get 'Em, Ladies

I am watching Steeler film and i swear #onmymoma if James Harrison hit me like i am seeing on film we gone be fighting on the field #promiseless than a minute ago via web

My Friday previews are typically earnest affairs where I parrot the same half-baked analysis that a couple dozen other Steelers bloggers are churning out in advance of the upcoming game. It helps me pretend like I actually have an idea how things are going to play out. A nice comforting delusion, you might say.

But in lieu of regularly scheduled ruminations of hot routes and not letting the opposing quarterback complete almost 90 percent of his passes in the second half, I would like to present an important message. And that message is fuck Chad Ochocinco and the withered Spanish dick he rode in on.

Chad's antics are occasionally amusing and altogether he seems an outspoken but generally decent guy. But his hang-up with the Steelers is enough to make me forget all of that and hope that he follows through on the threat he made last night on Twitter to fight James Harrison. PLEASE OH PLEASE LET THIS HAPPEN. I'll take James Harrison being further demonized by the media if it means Ochocinco gets knocked into a nice deep - most importantly SILENT - comatose state.

Ocho talks loads of shit regardless of the opponent, but he's been taking it to another level with the Steelers over the past year. This would seem odd given that the Bungles swept Pittsburgh last year, but then you have to remember Chad never does shit against the Steelers. Me-first assholes aren't concerned whether the team wins if they don't get to look good. Three touchdowns in 17 career games against the Steelers. An average of 65.4 yards per game, which is the worst figure for Chad among all AFC North opponents. Astounding stuff, Ocho.

In short, dude's grossly overrated and worked up by his lack of production against the division's regular powerhouse. It helps to explain why, apropos of nothing, he called the Steelers a "team of girls" during some random interview in the offseason to promote one of his many shitty TV shows. DURR HURR THAT CHAD FLINGS THE ZINGS!

It's even worse because this year he's being badly outperformed by Terrell Owens, the other half of his tard tandem in the receiving corps. Owens is probably are the only part of the Cincinnati offense that worries me going in Monday night. The Bengals are a talented enough team that they, like the Saints, could put together a good performance with the added motivation of being desperate for a win and playing in primetime. But Chad, as always, won't do shit but maybe throw in some more empty talk if the Bengals do happen to win.

Oh, and fuck both these diptards for this dim racial commentary on the Roethlisberger and Vick suspensions. I'm sure the difference in punishment has nothing to do with Vick actually having been convicted of a felony. When Michael Vick gets suspended for something when he's not even arrested or charged, get back to me, shitheads.


Your Quarterly Team-by-Team Breakdown

Oh, yes. AFC Pencils, circa 1989.
(Bonus points if you can spot the only missing one)

As Mr. Tunison has pointed out, The NFC struck back a bit this past week. But instead of focusing on the merits league parity, he aptly stated, it should be noted that the playoff picture is a rather muddled one. Really, EVERY TEAM HAS ISSUES. Let us sift through them, shall we...

New England (6-1):
With Cleveland this Sunday, these guys are likely to be 7-1 when they come to Pittsburgh in two weeks. I cannot stand Bill Belichek, but there is simply no denying that his ability to groom a team of slightly-above-average talent in to one that will challenge for home field advantage in the playoffs is impressive. That's the "Bad News" as far as I'm concerned. The "Good News" is, as a team, they are fatally flawed and I cannot see them making it too deep in the playoffs. Their secondary is abysmal. They give up nearly 300 yds/gm in the air, 31st in the league. The Jets were able to exploit this, Sanchez spread around 3 TDs to his receivers (sans Santonio), pressured Brady on defense with aggressive blitz schemes and dealt New England their only loss. These are things that a more polished Steelers' O and keyed-up Steelers' D are certainly capable of. I just hope we can make the necessary adjustments on a short week following Cincy.

New York Jets (5-2):
Most of the talking heads mention the Jets & Steelers as the two best defenses this season. Some of that praise is fair, as they've been shutting down teams' running games all season. But, their offense has sputtered at times. They are coming off a surprisingly stymied 9-0 loss to the Packers, especially considering it followed the team's bye week. With games in Detroit & Cleveland coming up, I would be shocked if they don't challenge for their division at the very least. Our matchup with them on Dec. 19 will go a long way in determining the AFC's playoff picture and may be a preview of Wild Card Weekend.

Baltimore (5-2):
Joe Flacco and his band of miscreants hold the tie-breaker in our division. After we lost to them in October, I figured we'd have to beat Baltimore in December to win the division. But with the Ravens having yet to face six teams with winning records to our three, we could backdoor the AFC North crown. The Steelers' wins over Atlanta, Miami & Tampa (all teams Baltimore has yet to face) are huge now, as could be a loss by the Ravens to Cincy. Ed Reed's impact on the Ravens' secondary was immediate and cannot be overlooked (2 INTs), but even "Homeless Beard" couldn't keep the great Ryan Fitzpatrick under 350 yards passing. And let's not forget, the FIX WAS IN in Miami, so the Dolphins are likely a better team than we all realize. Coming off the bye this week, Baltimore opened at nearly a touchdown favorite over Miami, but then Vegas remembered Chad Henne prefers to win on the road, so who knows.

Kansas City (5-2):
It is likely that KC will be a home underdog in the first or possibly even second round of the playoffs this year (if they sneak out a bye). This team continues to post wins, flying under the radar and taking advantage of a schedule that is beyond easy. Seriously, someone from Elias or Football Outsiders get on this: They haven't won a game against a single team with a winning record. And it's possible that they won't all season and still get to double-digit wins! Amazing. But, let's not kid ourselves, the stats bear out that the Chiefs have one of the best running offenses in football and are rather adept at stopping the run. That's a good combination. Matt Cassell won't be hoisting any Lombardi's, in my opinion, and there is NO team I'd rather face in January, but they'll be there, make no mistake.

Indianapolis (5-2):
I'm not going to fall at the feet of Jim Caldwell, but he's obviously pulling the right strings in Indy. The Colts have dealt with a myriad of injuries since the season's onset and have still managed to lead their division, albeit tenuously. Monday Night Football painted a picture of a Colts defense that was disruptive of the pass and stout against the run. A lot of that was just Gary Kubiak's ineptitude, if you ask me. The Colts give up an average of 133 yards on the ground a game. They also have proven to be shakey on the road, where they are headed this Sunday against Philly. Manning has worked efficiently in almost every game this season, as the Colts have had to outscore, rather than stop their opponents. It'll be interesting to see if that approach will work against a rather potent Eagles offense.

Tennessee (5-3):
Vince Young is the number one rated QB in the league. Chris Johnson is third in the league in total yards. Kenny Britt has established himself as a dynamic receiving threat, hauling 7 TDs in as many weeks. But Vince Young has been knocked out of part of three games. Chris Johnson has been feast or famine, with four games over 100 yards rushing and four games under 70 yards. It is looking like Kenny Britt might not be around for awhile. And all of this is to say nothing of a defense that is toward the bottom of the league (28th). With four teams at .500 or better, the AFC South is looking like a game of divisional playoff musical chairs, with a good chance at a second-place finisher snagging a Wild Card Birth. I'm just not so sure the Music City will have a chair when the tune stops.

Miami (4-3):
I wrote before about how Miami is curious. At 4-3, they still have a shot at the playoffs, but they're sucking hind tit in a division that may very well produce two playoff teams ahead of them. Here's the deal: they rank right around the middle on all four statistical team categories, much like the Patriots. They have more talent in the backfield and on the defensive side of the ball than does New England. But their coach and QB are second-rate. An upset here or there and they could leap-frog the Jets or Pats, but I don't see it happening as games against both will be on the road. Wait, they're good on the road?

Houston (4-3):
As I stated above, Gary Kubiak really mismanaged the game this past Monday. I'm not saying Houston would've won if they'd handled the ball to Foster or thrown to Johnson more. But, I cannot imagine having two potent weapons like that and failing to use them would be a GOOD thing. Giving up 300 passing yards a game on defense is never good, but averaging 136 rushing is. With Johnson and Schaub failing to meet last season's form, the Texans will have to pound the rock and develop some effective defensive strategy in order to make a playoff push. But, it's unlikely. I think they'll lose to the Chargers this week, essentially burying them behind a tough schedule and two or three teams in their own division.

Jacksonville (4-4):
The last team on this list that could conceivably make the playoffs. David Garrard went nuts, Sunday, but that was against a reeling Cowboys squad that, it makes me giddy to even type this: Is already circling the drain. A closer look at Jacksonville's season shows they've only beat one team with a winning record and have yet to play Houston as they head in to the bye. A week 10 matchup between those two teams will go a long way in determining who could rise to the playoff ranks. My money is on neither, though. In fact, the two teams are VERY similar: Above average running backs, porous defense and a QB that can flash the deep ball, but little else. I just don't think the Jags will avoid two or more losses against the Giants, Colts, Titans and twice vs. the Texans. It's going to take 10-6 to dance this year.

San Diego (3-5):
Finishing 7-1 is not out of the question for the Chargers. Yes, that's right. I mean, look at this:
Those numbers are indicative of a team with MAYBE one loss. The Chargers will have to upset Indy, KC or Houston to reenter the playoff discussion. But, that's not impossible. Still, I have to believe the hole is too deep. I'm not a Rivers fan by any means, but watching him put up numbers with 4th and 5th string receivers that could end up being some of the best of all-time is impressive. It's a shame, really.

Cincinnati (2-5):
This is great. A free-fall against below average opponents, a crumbling before our eyes QB and an offense that basically gave up on what was a good system last year (TO & Ocho deserve each other) and you have a concoction that I pray that we can reap the benefits of in the form of two wins. If we are able to do so, and that's still a big "if" then we may have the Bungles to thank for helping our season as much as say, the fumble in to the endzone rule. I'm going to say something here: I've always thought Marv Lewis was a good coach. Certainly an adept defensive mind. But he will likely get the boot at some point this year. Completely undeservedly so. I will, however, be glad when he's no longer in our division as a head coach.

Cleveland (2-5):
Cleveland started off the season with three straight heart breakers. It's a shame, too, because they have some legitimate building blocks. Peyton Hillis is not awful. He's been a great find and something that the Browns, if they know what they have, will use to establish a running game to pound lesser opponents with. Also, early returns indicate that Colt McCoy is not terrible. Were he to have a few more vertical threats, like any, maybe they'd make .500 a reality. Next year, perhaps. I'll tell you one thing, however: If we are counting on a week 17 win against this squad to get us in to the playoffs, then we've already lost in a way.

Denver (2-6):
Another disappointment. People paying attention to the Broncos reliance on the pass early on in the season may have known that they were in trouble, but it wasn't until their absolute trouncing at the hands of the Raiders that the issues came fully in to the light. Kyle Orton & Brandon Lloyd. Both putting up crazy fantasy numbers. On my team. Both in football purgatory. Hilarious.

Toronto/Buffalo (0-7):
They're not going winless. That is about all that matters as far as their season is concerned.


I just don't see any way the Pats & Jets don't come out of the East. Right now, I'd give the edge to the North to snag the other Wild Card, but the South certainly has the most teams positioned to do so. Hopefully the Jags & Texans will neutralize each other on that front.

East: New England 12-4(BYE)
North: Baltimore 12-4(BYE)
West: Kansas City 10-6
South: Indianapolis 11-5

Wild Card:
Pittsburgh - 11-5
NY Jets 10-6

(Don't hold me to this stuff...)


Steelers Run Into The Wrong Saints

Ben setting up for his lethal back body drop on Will Smith.

Otherwise occupied by various other blogging jobs from pregame Sunday night until, well, just a few minutes before 11 p.m. on Monday night. Without getting into too much detail about the blog slog, I haven't had a ton of time to post a recap here. Your bated breath is appreciated.

By now everyone has had time to digest or vomit in the face of the disgusting display of offense the Steelers put on in the Superdome. I've seen it compared to the game in Cleveland last season, but I'd say is apt. In that game, the Browns kept bringing the house and the Steelers couldn't burn them, mostly because Arians elected to pass into heavy wind gusts with poor blocking schemes.

There's not much blaming wind inside the dome, but Arians didn't do a great job of designing quick throws to counteract the blitz. Of course, Ben deserves his share of blame for holding the ball in some situations, but there's only so much a quarterback can do when a offensive coordinator calls for slow-developing pass patterns when a defense is sending six rushers.

It doesn't help that Pittsburgh didn't get any lucky breaks on offense, either. Emmanuel Sanders foolishly slapped away what would have probably been a Hines Ward touchdown on a 4th down attempt in the 3rd quarter.


After Antwaan Randle El's touchdown was overturned, Rashard Mendenhall got the ball over the plane two plays later, but he was ruled short. The Steelers should have challenged, but didn't, claiming they didn't get a good review angle after the game.

But wait, I thought the refs bended over backwards to award Steelers touchdowns at the goal line. Guess I'll have to glom on to some other conspiracy. Got any good ones about the reserve vampires?

Credit to Drew Brees. He had a monster second half and responded to what could have been a killer fumble forced by Bryant McFadden to put the Steelers away when Heath Miller gave the ball back.

A couple other rants before I get some much-needed sleep:

- We all know the pass coverage blew in the second half. I wonder if sending more elaborate blitzes, as Cleveland did the week before to force turnovers might have been more effective.

- Emmanuel Sanders has been a decent fourth receiving option and looked solid as a return guy, at least when he isn't putting the ball on the ground. There were excuses that his first fumble was the result of a head shot and the second is because he was hit from behind. I'm willing to accept the first, but unexpected hits are no excuse for dropping it on kick returns. Will be interesting whether Antonio Brown will get another shot if that persists.

- Mike Wallace made one big catch over the middle, but the Saints taking away the deep ball with safety help contributed to tightening up the Steelers offense. Hopefully this will force Arians to expand his role beyond streak patterns. That isn't to suggest that was all Wallace was doing on Sunday night, but it certainly seemed that way on pass plays of longer than six yards or so.

- Get fucked, Jeff Reed.

-Get double fucked by a chainsaw, Leigh Torrence. Of course, everyone is carrying on again about how James Harrison is dirty and horrible for a late hit on Drew Brees. It was dumb, don't get me wrong, but while Harrison will be fined for his hit, Torrence seems likely to get nothing for his helmet-to-helmet shot on a defenseless Hines Ward in the first half. Wasn't this what the NFL was supposedly guarding against now. Goddamn, Goodell's enforcement is completely predicated on media pressure.

- Polamalu didn't exactly have his best game. His missed one tackle in the open field on Julius Jones and guessed wrong on coverage on a play that ended up going for 50 yards. Like Heath Miller's fumble, it's an unfortunate rarity that you hope doesn't reemerge in another big game.