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Steelers win, but lose Leftwich

August 28, 2011 By: Admin Category: Post-Game Reports

There’s a line in the movie “White Men Can’t Jump” that says “Sometimes when you win, you really lose”.  Well, that’s what happened to the Steelers last night.  They won the preseason game against the Atlanta Falcons by a score of 34-16, but they lost backup quarterback Byron Leftwich for the season.

Leftwich had been scheduled to be the #2 quarterback on the Steelers’ roster this year.  He was having a good preseason, and the only question the Steelers had at quarterback was whether Dennis Dixon or Charlie Batch would win the #3 quarterback position.  But that question became moot when Leftwich broke his arm when he fell awkwardly on it last night.

Byron Leftwich injures arm.

Despite the loss of Leftwich, the Steelers turned in a very good performance last night.

The sign outside of Heinz Field didn’t say “Welcome to the Antonio Brown Show”, but it probably should have.  Brown, a second year receiver, probably solidified his position as the Steelers’ #3 wide receiver with another solid preseason performance.  He caught 4 passes for 137 yards and 2 touchdowns.

Last season, fellow rookie receiver Emmanuel Sanders outperformed Brown, and secured the #3 receiver position, while Brown was relegated to being the #4 receiver.   But Sanders has been out of action this preseason nursing a foot injury, and Brown has taken full advantage of Sander’s injury.

Several other Steelers turned in solid performances in last night’s game as well.  Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had another outstanding performance.  He completed 11 of 16 passes for 214 yards and 2 touchdowns.  He also finished with a QB rating of 151.0.

Cornerback Crezdon Butler also had a solid game.  He came into the game after Keenan Lewis left with a knee injury.  Butler took advantage of the opportunity when he intercepted a Falcons pass and returned it 95 yards for a touchdown.  Butler also had 2 passes defensed, and was the Steelers’ leading tackler in the game with 9 tackles.

Linebacker Lawrence Timmons showed why the Steelers signed him to a new contract.  He intercepted a pass and returned it 44 yards.  He almost scored on the play, but he was caught from behind just short of the goal line.

Despite the win, the Steelers still have a few areas of concern.  The Falcons attempted to take advantage of the Steelers’ cornerbacks, just like teams did last season.  Matt Ryan attempted 42 passes, and passed for 220 yards and 1 touchdown in just 2 quarters of play.  He would have had a second TD, but one of his receivers dropped a pass in the endzone.  Starting cornerbacks William Gay and Keenan Lewis didn’t look particularly impressive as Ryan picked them apart.

The Steelers’ offensive line also has room for improvement.  They allowed Big Ben to be sacked twice, and they didn’t dominate the line of scrimmage.

But overall, the Steelers have to be happy with their performance.  They came away with a win over a very good Falcons team that had a 13-3 record last season.

Despite the loss of Leftwich, the Steelers look good heading into their final preseason game.

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The Leftwich “waiver” question

September 20, 2010 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency, Players

Several people wrote to me asking why the Steelers released Byron Leftwich last week.  They didn’t understand why the Steelers would make a move that might lead to them losing Leftwich permanently.

After reading comments from Steelers fans here, on my Facebook page,  and on Steelers message boards, it became apparent that the confusion is rather widespread.

The source of the confusion was a misplaced belief that another team could claim Leftwich off the waiver wire.  There was never any threat of that.  In order to understand why, you first have to understand the “waiver system” as defined in the NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The Collective Bargaining Agreement basically says that a player who has less than 4 years of service in the NFL is subject to the “waiver system”.

The waiver system is the process by which an NFL team releases their claim to a player on their roster.  That player is then made available to the other 31 teams in the league.  Those teams may either file a claim to obtain the player, or waive their right to do so.  Thus the term “waiver”.  If the player is claimed by a team, they acquire him under the exact same contract that he had with his previous team.  Thus, there is no need to negotiate a new contract.

If more than one team claims the player, then his rights are granted to the team with the worst record among the teams that are attempting to claim him.

However, if a player has more than 4 years of service in the NFL, he cannot be claimed by another NFL team.  He isn’t “waived”, he is “released”.  No other team has the opportunity to claim him under his existing contract.  Instead,  the player immediately becomes an unrestricted free agent, and he can negotiate a new contract with any team that he pleases.

That was the case with Byron Leftwich.  He has more than 4 years of service in the NFL.  So there was no risk of another team claiming him.  That was the biggest point of confusion that I heard among Steelers fans.  They seemed to believe that the Steelers took an unnecessary risk of losing Leftwich.  This simply wasn’t true.  The Steelers effectively took no risk at all.

Leftwich wasn’t healthy enough to play during week 2.  He knew that, and the Steelers knew that.  So rather than hold a valuable roster spot for him, the Steelers chose to use it to bring up Steve McLendon, a defensive lineman, from their practice squad.  This proved to be a wise move, as the Steelers suffered injuries and dehydration versus the Tennessee Titans.  They needed the extra defensive lineman.

Because Leftwich was released, he became an unrestricted free agent.  However, Leftwich and the Steelers already had a pre-existing agreement in place that the Steelers would re-sign him on Monday (which they did).  Leftwich wanted to be with the Steelers, and the Steelers wanted Leftwich.  So there was no risk.  Did anyone really think that Leftwich was going to leave the Steelers and sign with the Buffalo Bills?

The Steelers re-signed Leftwich today, and they waived Steve McClendon.  Because he has less than 4 years of NFL experience, McLendon will have to clear waivers.  However, since McLendon is not a high profile player (he was an undrafted free agent out of Troy in 2008), it is unlikely that any other team will claim him.  However, if the Steelers were to waive a player like WR Mike Wallace, he would be claimed by all 31 other NFL teams.  So the Steelers would never take a risk like that.

Hopefully, that helps fans to better understand the waiver system.  Moreover, I hope it helps to explain why the Steelers made a smart move by releasing Byron Leftwich, and not a “stupid” move like many Steelers fans accused them of doing.


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Steelers win, lose Leftwich

September 03, 2010 By: Admin Category: Post-Game Reports

The final preseason game was supposed to be uneventful.  Teams usually try to protect their starters, and give most of the playing time to non-starters who are still trying to make the roster.  This is exactly what the Carolina Panthers did.  The only played their 3rd and 4th string quarterbacks.  The Steelers, on the other hand…….

In the 1st quarter, the Steelers started Ben Roethlisberger.  The team wanted to get him some final snaps prior to his suspension.  The coaches said that they wanted to get him more snaps in the “no huddle” offense as a final tune-up.

After Roethlisberger played two series, he was replaced by Byron Leftwich.  Leftwich was presumed to be the Steelers’ starting quarterback going into the regular season.  However, things can change quickly.

On his second series, Leftwich sustained a knee injury and had to leave the game.  MRI results haven’t been reported yet, but it is believed that the injury may be serious enough to prevent Leftwich from playing for at least two games.  If that’s the case, then the Steelers quarterback plans have suddenly been turned upside down.

Dennis Dixon had been battling Leftwich to see who would be the starting quarterback in Big Ben’s absence.  But once Leftwich got injured, the team immediately started questioning their quarterback situation.  Fourth string quarterback Charlie Batch, who has barely gotten any snaps during training camp or the preseason, suddenly emerged as a potential starter.

Charlie Batch & Dennis Dixon

After Dennis Dixon’s poor showing against the Denver Broncos, the Steelers are probably reluctant to name him as the starter.  So Charlie Batch, who was probably going to be cut from the team, is now the most seasoned quarterback the Steelers have available to them.  More importantly, he may emerge as the starter.

Batch played the majority of the second half, though he mainly handed the ball off to the running backs.  After Leftwich’s injury, the Steelers didn’t want to take any more chances with quarterbacks, so the called almost no passing plays.

The final score of the game was 19-3.  However, after losing Leftwich, winning the game didn’t seem very satisfying.

Despite the bad news from the game, there were a few bright spots worth noting.  Rookie running back Jonathan Dwyer got a lot of playing time at running back, and he capitalized on it.  Dwyer carried the ball 20 times for 86 yards.  He led the team in rushing yards.  He was also the rushing leader in last week’s game against Denver.

Dwyer had been in jeopardy of not making the team, after sitting out most of training camp with injuries.  But his recent performances may have won him a roster spot.

Another player who may have redeemed himself is Keenan Lewis.  Lewis almost played himself out of a job last week when he lost his head and got called for several penalties.  Coach Tomlin chewed Lewis out for his performance and benched him for the rest of the game.

But Lewis played well against the Panthers.  He didn’t allow his man to catch any passes, and he seemed to be in the right place on most plays.

The Steelers have to submit their final 53-man roster to the NFL by Saturday, so they must make some very tough decisions over the next 48 hours.  Prior to Thursday’s game, the quarterback position looked like one of the easiest roster decision.  Now, it is suddenly one of the more difficult decisions for the coaches.

Stay tuned.


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Steelers get Byron Leftwich

April 20, 2010 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency, Players

The Pittsburgh Steelers seem determined to get the old band back together again.  First they signed former Steelers Larry Foote and Antwaan Randle El.  Today, it was announced that the team has traded one of their 7th round picks in this year’s NFL Draft to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in exchange for former Steelers backup quarterback Byron Leftwich.

Leftwich was once the proven starter for the Jacksonville Jaguars before losing his starting job to David Garrard.  Since that time, Leftwich has longed to be a starter again.  His pursuit of that dream has taken him to the Atlanta Falcons, Pittsburgh Steelers, and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, since leaving the Jaguars.

Now, in a surprise move, the Steelers have traded for Leftwich.  Yet another former Steeler rejoins the team.

Byron Leftwich

Leftwich was a very capable backup, and his presence will now open up a true competition for the backup quarterback role.  It is unclear which of the Steelers’ backup quarterbacks, Dennis Dixon, Charlie Batch, or Byron Leftwich, will occupy the #2 and #3 positions.  Moreover, it gives even more options to serve as a possible temporary replacement for Ben Roethlisberger should he be suspended for a few games, as has widely been speculated.

Welcome back, Byron.  You always looked good in black and gold.


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If I were Steelers’ GM Kevin Colbert (Part 2)

February 10, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

February 10, 2009
By Donald Starver

Note: This is the second installment in a three-part series.  If you haven’t already read the first part, please click here.

After dealing with the offensive linemen, Bryant McFadden, and Nate Washington, the next position that Kevin Colbert is going to have to turn his attention to is backup quarterback.  Both Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch are unrestricted free agents.  The Steelers will still have Dennis Dixon under contract, but they probably won’t feel comfortable placing the Steelers’ season on his inexperienced shoulders if Big Ben gets hurt.  Thus, resigning either Leftwich or Batch is going to be imperative.

At this point in their careers, there is no doubt that Byron Leftwich is the better quarterback.  However, Leftwich is only one year older than Ben Roethlisberger, and he thinks he still has a future as a starter in the NFL.  He knows that he won’t get to compete for that position with the Steelers, so he will probably choose to go elsewhere.

Charlie Batch, on the other hand, is from the Pittsburgh area, and he would like to spend the rest of his career with the Steelers.  He understand that he has the ideal job.  He gets to collect Super Bowl rings with the team that he grew up cheering for, make more money than most people can even dream of making, and rarely have to even get his jersey dirty.  Not a bad deal for a 34 year old quarterback.  Unlike Byron Leftwich, Batch knows that his days as a starter are over, and he will do whatever it takes to stay with the Steelers.  He’s going to tell his agent to get this deal done.

So next year, I’d expect to enter the season with Ben as the starter, Batch as the backup, and the Steelers will probably bring in an undrafted free agent or a 6th or 7th round draft pick to compete with Dennis Dixon for the third string quarterback position.

The final unrestricted free agent that the Steelers will have to take care of is Keyaron Fox.  Fox will probably never be a starting linebacker for the Steelers.  However, he is a very competent backup, and a terror on special teams.  Fox emerged as one of my favorite Steelers, and that is difficult to do as primarily a special teamer.  But the Steelers were terrible on special teams for quite some time, and Fox has been a big factor in their turnaround.    With a salary of less than $500,000, Fox was one of the better values on the Steelers’ roster.

After languishing for years in that football Hell called the Kansas City Chiefs, Fox probably understands that he has a great situation in Pittsburgh.  He is a valued contributor on a team that has the potential to win more Super Bowl rings.  Moreover, he sees that the Rooneys run a class organization.  My guess is that he will want to remain a Steeler.   I also believe that Kevin Colbert and the Steelers coaching staff will want to see him stay as well.  Thus, this deal should get done quickly and quietly.

With the unrestricted free agents taken care of, Colbert will turn his attention to the restricted free agents.  We’ve already discussed Willie Colon in Part 1 of this series.  After him, the most visible restricted free agent is Anthony Smith.  When Smith was drafted, I had high hopes for him.  However, his act has worn thin.  He has never really shown anything on the field (except that he is easily fooled by a pump fake).  Fans and coaches won’t soon forget his silly prediction against the New England Patriots a few years back.  They also won’t forget watching Tom Brady throw touchdown after touchdown at Smith’s expense.  Smith just doesn’t seem to understand that his role is to be the last line of defense, and that he can’t bite on every pump fake that quarterbacks throw at him.

Frankly, I want to see Smith leave because I am tired of watching him try to take his own receivers’ heads off during training camp.  I don’t know why he thinks that he can prove his worth by showing how hard he can hit his own teammates.  The Steelers can’t afford to lose Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, or Nate Washington  to injury because Anthony Smith was trying to prove how tough he is.  Everybody but Smith understands this simple point.  Besides, can anyone ever remember seeing Anthony Smith get a good hit on ANY player who wasn’t wearing black and gold?  Ever?  Even once?  Neither can I.  Goodbye Anthony.  don’t let the door hit you on the way out.

The 3 remaining restricted free agents are LB Arnold Harrison, TE/FB Sean McHugh, and CB Anthony Madison.  None of these players are going to get much attention in free agency.  Harrison might be able to get some attention as a special teamer or as a backup LB, but that’s about it.  All of them will be best served doing everything that they can to stay with the Steelers.  Afterall, if they want to win additional championships, there aren’t many organizations that give them a better opportunity to do so than the Steelers.

In my opinion, losing any of these players won’t be a major loss to the organization.  Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians has a tight end fetish, and he collects as many of them as he possibly can.  Therefore, he is likely to try to keep McHugh, even though most fans would probably prefer to see the Steelers get a legitimate blocking fullback (as opposed to a tight end playing out of position).

Harrison (Arnold, not James) is a good special teams player, and he is a good backup LB.  He has spent several years in Dick LeBeau’s defensive system, and he should know it pretty well by now.  Unfortunately, the Steelers are busting at the seams with talented linebackers.  Lawrence Timmons is going to supplant Larry Foote next year, and Bruce Davis has a lot of potential and will probably move ahead of Arnold Harrison on the depth chart next year if he continues to work hard.  The Steelers will probably keep Harrison if they can sign him for reasonable dollars.  But if he asks for too much money, the Steelers will let him go without losing any sleep.

Anthony Madison is a career special teamer.  Technically, he is a cornerback.  However, in his 3 year career, he has never started a game, has never made an interception, and has never even had a single pass defensed.  He only makes approximately $450,000, so if he is willing to sign a new contract for the same amount, the Steelers will probably keep him around.  However, his position will be one of the most vulnerable come training camp.

That will take care of Colbert’s free agents.  However, his most pressing problem is not his free agents.  He has 9 important players with one year left on their contracts.  Among them are Hines Ward, James Harrison, Heath Miller, Ryan Clark, and Brett Keisel.  We’ll discuss what Kevin Colbert should do with these players in Part 3 of our series.

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