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Pittsburgh Steelers vs. Tennessee Titans preview

September 17, 2010 By: Admin Category: Pre-Game Analyses

The Pittsburgh Steelers will travel to Tennessee as underdogs this weekend.  Hardly anyone believes the Steelers have a chance of beating the Tennessee Titans.  Particularly not without franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

To make matters even worse, history is not on the Steelers’ side.  They are 0-3 in the last 3 road games against the Titans.  Moreover, they are 1-6 all-time against the Titans in Nashville.  Suffice it to say that LP Field is a tough place for the Steelers to play.

Fortunately, I’ve never been one to follow the crowd.  I feel confident that the Steelers are going to beat the Titans.  Moreover, they’re going to do it in the Titans home stadium.

In order to beat the Titans, the Steelers are going to have to do a few important things:

  1. Stop Chris Johnson - Not many NFL teams have been able to figure out how to do this.  That’s why Johnson was able to rush for over 2,000 yards last year.  However, the Steelers are one of the few teams that have been able to contain Johnson.  In his only two games against the Steelers, Johnson was held to 69 yards (2008) and 57 yards (2009).  The Steelers are built to stop the run.  So this should be a great battle of strength against strength.
  2. Force Vince Young to try to win the game with his arm - I know that Vince Young turned around the Titans last year after they got off to an 0-6 start under quarterback Kerry Collins.  However, I’m still not sold on Vince Young.  He seems to find a way to win, but he wins ugly.  He is not a classic drop-back passer who is going to beat you with his arm.  Instead, he beats teams with his legs, and by handing the ball to Chris Johnson.  So the Steelers need to apply pressure to Young, and force him to throw the ball.
  3. Dennis Dixon must complete passes - Just like the Steelers are going to try to force Vince Young to beat them with his arm, the Titans are going to do the exact same thing to Dennis Dixon.  They’ve watched film of last week’s game.  They’ve seen Dixon throwing the ball at his receivers’ feet.  So they will likely stack the line to stop the run, and force Dixon to throw the ball.  When they do, Dixon has got to complete passes.  If he can’t make Tennessee respect his arm, it’s going to be a long day for the Steelers.

I watched Dennis Dixon throughout training camp, and I know he is capable of completing passes.  He’s just got to be confident in his own abilities and unleash the ball.

Last week, I could see that he was thinking too much.  He was too concerned with delivering the ball on the numbers.  It looked like he was throwing darts rather than passing a football.  That’s not how I’ve seen him throw it in the past.  Hopefully he will be more comfortable this week, and he’ll deliver the ball the way he is capable of delivering it.

If Dixon passes the ball successfully, the Steelers will win this game.  I’m going to give the young man a vote of confidence and predict that he will do just that.  I anticipate a low-scoring defensive struggle that ends with a Steelers win.  Final score:  Steelers 17, Titans 13.

Injury report

One concern going into the Titans game is injuries.  The Steelers will be without starters at a few key positions.

Casey Hampton - One concern going into the Titans game is injuries.  Casey Hampton is a key component to stopping the run, and he will not be playing due to a hamstring pull.  Fortunately, the Steelers lose very little when backup Chris Hoke replaces Hampton.

Max Starks - The Steelers starting left tackle injured his ankle last week.  In his place, the Steelers will be starting Jonathan Scott.  This will be Scott’s first start for the Steelers, so everyone will be watching to see what he’s capable of.  Expect the Titans to send a lot of pressure from Scott’s side of the line.

Bryant McFadden - McFadden missed practice Thursday due to a groin injury.  Friday’s practice will probably determine if McFadden can go this weekend.  If not, William Gay may get the start.  This would not be good new for the Steelers.   If there is one thing that can make Vince Young look like Peyton Manning, it’s William Gay.  Yikes!


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Steelers win 24-17 over Giants

August 22, 2010 By: Admin Category: Post-Game Reports

The Pittsburgh Steelers are now 2-0 in the preseason, after defeating the New York Giants 24-17.  The Giants were without starting quarterback Eli Manning, who is still recovering from an injury received during the Giants’ first preseason game.

Though Eli Manning didn’t play, one quarterback who DID play was Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.  Big Ben did not play in the Steelers first preseason game, but he was the starter for this game.

Ben looked a bit rusty, and the rust was evident in his statistics.  Roethlisberger completed 6 of 8 passes for 76 yards.  However he was sacked once, and he threw an interception during his short time in the game.  And as he usually does, Big Ben held onto the ball waaaaaaay too long.  Because of this, he was often running for his life.  The Steelers’ porous offensive line didn’t help the situation.  New York Giants players were constantly in the Steelers’ backfield applying pressure.

Big Ben passes under pressure.

Big Ben ended his short stint in the game with a sub-par 64.6 quarterback rating, the lowest among the three Steelers’ quarterbacks who played during the game.

When the second quarter began, Roethlisberger was replaced by Byron Leftwich at quarterback.  Like Roethlisberger, Leftwich was constantly under pressure.  However, unlike Roethlisberger, Leftwich got rid of the ball.

On one play in particular, Leftwich made a play which we seldom see from Roethlisberger.  Leftwich saw speedy wide receiver Mike Wallace racing down the field, and he threw the ball past him so that Wallace could run under the ball and catch it in stride.  Steelers fans have gotten used to seeing Roethlisberger under-throw Wallace on his deep routes so Wallace usually has to come back to the ball rather than catch it in stride.  Because Wallace was able to catch the ball in stride, the play resulted in a 68 yard touchdown.

Leftwich played the entire second quarter, and completed 3 of six passes for 95 yards and a touchdown.  His final quarterback rating was 135.4, the highest among the three Steelers’ quarterbacks.

In the second half, Dennis Dixon started at quarterback, and he played the entire half.  Just like he did against the Detroit Lions, Dixon appeared to be the most effective of the Steelers’ quarterbacks.  He marched the team down the field for touchdowns on both of his first two offensive series.  Dixon also provided a running threat that neither of the other quarterbacks offer.  On one play, Dixon broke a 22 yard run that he probably could have gotten into the end zone.  However he was running along the sideline, and his momentum carried him out of bounds.

Dixon completed 7 of the 8 passes that he attempted.  He ended the game with 82 passing yards and a 109.4 quarterback rating.

So just like in the Steelers’ first preseason game, Dennis Dixon made a strong argument for why he, rather than Byron Leftwich, should be the Steelers starter during Ben Roethlisberger’s 4-6 game suspension.

Steelers’ Head Coach Mike Tomlin may ultimately decide to go with Leftwich as the starter, but Dixon is certainly making his decision much more difficult than he anticipated.

Other points of interest:

  • Punter Dan Sepulveda handled all of the kick-offs for the Steelers’ second preseason game.  Sepulveda practiced kick-offs regularly during Steelers Training Camp, but was not called upon to kick-off during the team’s first preseason game against the Detroit Lions.  Several of Sepulveda’s kicks seemed short.  However, he did get 2 of his 6 kick-offs into the end zone, and one was downed for a touchback.  Last week, Jeff Reed only got one of his 5 kicks into the endzone, and none were downed for touchbacks.
  • Rookie Antonio Brown handled the majority of the Steelers’ kick and punt return duties last night.  He averaged 10.8 yards on 4 punt returns, the longest of which was for 18 yards.  He also averaged 25 yards on 2 kickoff returns.
  • Isaac Redman once again made a strong case for being the backup to starting running back Rashard Mendenhall.  Redman rushed for 34 yards on six carries.  He also scored a touchdown.

Isaac Redman scores TD.

  • Justin Vincent was the Steelers’ leading rusher with 37 yards on 6 carries.  However, most of his carries came in the 2nd half against the Giants’ second and third string defenses
  • Rashard Mendenhall didn’t look particularly impressive running the ball.  He carried the ball 8 times for a total of 11 yards.  His 1.4 yards per carry was the lowest among the Steelers’ running backs.  He also continues to do that annoying spin move anytime he senses contact coming.  Mendenhall almost seems reluctant to face contact head-on.
  • Steelers’ cornerback Ike Taylor was ejected from the game after getting in a fight in the opening minutes of the game.  Dumb, Ike.  Really dumb.


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Steelers lose in Dixon’s debut

November 30, 2009 By: Admin Category: Post-Game Reports

The Steelers suffered their third consecutive loss last night, losing to the Baltimore Ravens 20-17.

Prior to the game, most of the comments that I received from Steelers fans expressed fear.  Most thought that with Dennis Dixon making his first NFL start, the Steelers had no hope of beating an opponent like the Baltimore Ravens.  In fact, I can’t ever remember seeing such a prevalant sense of hopelessness among Steeler Nation.

As it turns out, Dixon played much better than most expected.  He was almost flawless in the first half, going 8-10 for 87 yards, with one TD and no interceptions.  His passer rating at the end of the first half was 136.2.

Steelers QB Dennis Dixon

Steelers QB Dennis Dixon

In the second half, things didn’t go quite so well for Dixon.  The Ravens came out after half-time seemingly intent on flustering the young quarterback.  They started out with an array of blitzes that had Dixon rushing passes.  Then they transitioned into more of a zone defense that made it hard for Dixon to find open receivers.  Dixon ended up going 4-16 after the half.

But it wasn’t Dixon who was most responsible for the Steelers loss.  No, that distinction goes to the defense……and the coaches.

The vaunted Steelers defense seemed to completely forget how to tackle.  On multiple occasions, a Baltimore runner seemed ready to be tackled by a Steelers defender, only to see the defender completely miss the tackle.  William Gay, Ryan Clark, and James Farrior had some very noticeable missed tackles.

Another missed tackle

Another missed tackle

As the season progresses, I’m noticing that William Gay is emerging as the weak link on the Steelers defense.  Teams even seem to be targeting him now.  He’s not a sure tackler, and he is very vulnerable to double moves when in coverage.  Whenever the Steelers get beat for long pass plays, Gay and Ryan Clark always seem to be the defenders who are in the area.  Clark is the free safety, so I expect him to be in the area.  But Gay’s presence is a too common occurrence.

The Steelers’ special teams also turned in a poor performance.  But that has been a consistent theme this season, so it’s almost not worth mentioning.  Almost.

But the real culpability in the loss probably belongs to the Steelers’ coaches.  I don’t consider myself to be a mind reader, yet I was able to predict almost every play that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians called.  If I was able to predict his calls, I’m sure the Ravens were able to do so as well.

Run, run, pass.  Run, run, pass.  Sound familiar?

Despite Dennis Dixon’s mobility, they seldom utilized it.  When they did, he threw for a touchdown, ran for a touchdown, and had a 31 yard run called back due to holding.  So why didn’t they put him in motion more often?  I understand that that they may not have wanted to subject Dixon to too many hits, since his backup had just been signed to the practice squad last week.  Nevertheless, there are “safe” ways to put a quarterback in motion.

They also didn’t seem to be interested in involving Mewelde Moore in the passing game, despite the fact that dumping the ball to the running back is probably the best safety valve that they could have provided to a young quarterback.  But the Steelers dumped the ball to Moore a grand total of 0 times.  That’s right, zero.  In fact, they only threw to their running backs twice during the entire game.   Moreover, the team seemed to be more interested in throwing the long pass than in attempting safer short passes.

I am not one of those people who is constantly calling for offensive coordinator Bruce Arians to be fired.  But I was very disappointed in his play calling in this game.

So the Steelers have dug themselves even deeper in the hole when it comes to the playoffs.  They are not mathematically eliminated, but things get tougher with each loss.

Ordinarily, I’d take great solace in the fact that the Steelers next two opponents are the Oakland Raiders and the Cleveland Browns.  But the way the Steelers have played lately, I’m not sure those are guaranteed wins.  In fact, if the Kansas City Chiefs game is any indication, we might actually lose one of those games.

Hopefully, some of the injured players like Troy Polamalu and Big Ben will be available to play soon.  But even with them, something tells me that the remainder of the season is going to be an emotional roller coaster for Steelers fans.


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Dennis Dixon to start against Raven

November 29, 2009 By: Admin Category: Players, Pre-Game Analyses

Looks like the Steelers lost 3 times last week against the Kansas City Chiefs.  They lost the game, they lost starting QB Ben Roethlisberger to a head injury, and they lost backup QB Charlie Batch to a wrist injury.

With both Big Ben and Batch out for today’s game against the hated Baltimore Ravens, the game will now be in the hands of third string quarterback Dennis Dixon.

Dixon has made an appearance in a total of one NFL game in his 2-year NFL career.  During that game, he attempted 1 pass.  That pass was completed for a 3-yard gain.

This will be Dixon’s first NFL start.  Obviously, that would be a scary thing for just about any young quarterback.  But to make matters even worse, Dixon gets to do so against the Steelers’ AFC North nemesis - the Baltimore Ravens.  The Ravens have always played tough defense, and they won’t make it easy for Dixon.

Steelers QB Dennis Dixon

Steelers QB Dennis Dixon

We all remember what happened last year when Rashard Mendenhall made his first start against the Ravens.  Ray Lewis hit Mendenhall with a crushing blow that put him on the injured reserve for the rest of the season.  Let’s hope that history doesn’t repeat itself.

Should Dixon be hurt, the Steelers signed Tyler Palko from their practice squad to serve as the #2 quarterback.  Big Ben is listed as the #3 quarterback.  However, he can only play if both Dixon and Palko are injured and are unable to perform.

I’ve heard some fans say that the Steelers should use the Wildcat offense to take advantage of Dennis Dixon’s athleticism.  Let me be the first to say that that would be absolutely INSANE.

The Wildcat offense would allow the quarterback to take too many hits.  In case you haven’t noticed, Dennis Dixon is not built like Big Ben.  He only weighs 209 lbs., and it is a tall, lanky 209.  He would get killed in the Wildcat.  Moreover, if he got injured, then the Steelers playoff hopes would be in the hands of Tyler Palko.  Need I say more?

I think that even in 2009 fans often look at black quarterbacks and assume that they are more comfortable running the ball than throwing it.  But not all black quarterbacks are like Michael Vick.  Dennis Dixon certainly isn’t.

Prior to injuring his ACL during his last year in college, Dennis Dixon was leading Oregon to a potential national championship.  Moreover, he was the front-runner for the Heisman trophy.  The kid was a star, and NFL scouts were drooling over him.

Dixon was an accomplished passer at Oregon.  He has a powerful arm, and can make all of the throws.  In fact, prior to his injury, he was viewed as a better prospect than last years’ NFL freshmen sensations Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco.

All three quarterbacks came out of college the same year.  That year, Dennis Dixon had a QB rating of 161.19.  Joe Flacco’s QB rating was 144.91, and Matt Ryan’s was 127.04.  Advantage: Dixon.

Dennis Dixon’s pass completion percentage was 67.7%.  Joe Flacco’s was 63.5%, and Matt Ryan’s was 59.3%.  Advantage: Dixon.

Dennis Dixon threw 4 interceptions.  Joe Flacco threw 5, and Matt Ryan threw a whopping 19.  Advantage: Dixon.

Most impressive of all, Dixon averaged 8.4 yards per pass.  Joe Flacco averaged 8.2, and Matt Ryan averaged 6.9.  So not only was Dixon a more accurate passer than Flacco or Ryan, but he also tended to make longer passes than them.

I’m not saying that Dixon is going to play better than Joe Flacco in this game.  After all, Joe Flacco has a year of experience behind him, while Dixon will be making his first start.  But do not be confused about Dixon’s potential.  He is more than just a gadget quarterback.  He can stand in the pocket and pass the ball.  He just needs experience.

It looks like that experience begins today.


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Notes from Steelers training camp: Day 2

August 02, 2009 By: Admin Category: training camp

August 1, 2009

Steelers Today will be blogging from Latrobe, PA for the next few weeks.  We are here at Pittsburgh Steelers training camp to bring you all the Steelers news that’s fit to print.

Rather than write this in the form of an article, here are my actual notes from today’s open practice.

2:55 PM practice starts.  Things are slow as the players break up into their respective units and walk through drills.  The offense is on one practice field, and the defense is on another.

-Santonio Holmes‘ arms look noticeably bigger.   He’s been pumping iron.

-Who is the short white guy wearing #19 standing with the wide receivers?  He’s standing next to Mike Wallace who is listed as 6’0″, and Mike is at least 3 inches taller than him.

-#19 is Tyler Grisham, a rookie out of Clemson.  He’s listed as 5’11″, but he can’t be much taller than 5’9″.

-Say what you want about Willie Colon, but his legs are massive.  They’re far bigger than any of the other offensive linemen’s.

3:22 PM A horn blows, the fans cheer, and practice gets started in earnest.

-”Big Snack” is very efficient with his motion.  Translation: he stands around when everyone else is running or stretching.

-Frank “The Tank” Summers isn’t as massive as I expected him to be.  Rashard Mendenhall actually looks more powerful.

-Dennis Dixon throws a beautiful spiral, but he looks a bit frail.  He needs to gain some weight.

-Shaun McDonald, Mewelde Moore, Joe Burnett, and Santonio Holmes take turns fielding kickoffs.  Where is Mike Wallace?

-#18 ( rookie WR Steven Black out of Memphis) looks impressive.  He’s big and has already made a few shoestring catches.

-Matt Spaeth looks too tall and lanky to ever be an effective blocker.

-Shaun McDonald is playing like he wants to impress the coaches.  He ran all of his routes very fast, and he makes quick, precise cuts.

-Martin Nance has already dropped too many balls, and they’re not even playing against a defense yet.

-#84 (TE Dezmond Sherrod) is slow and plodding when he runs his routes.

-Santonio Holmes’ status is clearly elevated since his Super Bowl MVP.  The crowd erupts each time he catches a ball.

-The Steelers were blessed with great weather for their first day of open practice.

4:03 PM - Another horn sounds and the defense comes over to join the offense.

-Big Ben’s first pass against the defense is a quick slant to Sean McHugh for a completion.

-Willie Parker broke a long run, and the crowd erupted.

-Jeff Reed is practicing kicking to Dan Sepulveda.  Jeff is kicking across the field (53.3 yards) and Sepulveda is catching the ball.  Reed’s kicks are so accurate that Sepulveda never had to move more than 4 steps to catch the ball.

-Andre Frazier intercepts a pass from Roethlisberger.

-Santonio Holmes looked very elusive dodging and weaving after a short pass from Big Ben.

-#85 (rookie TE David Johnson) looks very effective holding his blocks in drills.

4:28 - The crowd erupted when Hines Ward caught a quick slant pass in traffic.

-Mike Wallace made a pretty sliding catch along the sideline on a pass from Charlie Batch.

-Keyaron Fox intercepted a pass and was chased down by Hines Ward.

-Dennis Dixon threaded a pass to Steve Black that went right between two defenders for a completion.

-If this had been full contact, Donovan Woods would have destroyed Ben Roethlisberger as he came in unblocked on a blitz.

4:34 PM - Another horn blew, and the team split up again for drills.

-Jeff Reed is kicking field goals.  Has he missed one yet?

-Jeff Reed hits 3 straight 47 yard field goals and the horn blows again.

4:42 PM - Keenan Lewis breaks up a long pass from Charlie Batch to Mike Wallace.

-Rookie Andrew Schantz gets in a shot on David Johnson that was probably harder than it should have been on the first day of practice.  The team is not doing any hitting or tackling today.

-The crowd erupted when Dennis Dixon completed a 45 yard pass to #19, rookie WR Tyler Grisham.

-On the next play, Dixon connected with Grisham on a diving catch along the sideline.  This kid has good hands.

-Dixon connects with Steve Black along the opposite sideline.

-Dixon hit David Johnson right in the hands over the middle of the field, but Johnson dropped the ball.

-Dennis Dixon hits Tyler Grisham for another diving catch in traffic.  Who is this kid?
(Note:  The Pittsburgh Tribune Review has picked up on my Tyler Grisham observations.  Read about it here.  Of course I wrote about him 2 days earlier than they did).

-Keenan Lewis intercepted a long pass from Big Ben to Hines Ward.

-Ben overthrows Dallas Baker on a long fade route.

4:56 PM - The #1 offense and #1 defense take the field.

-On the first play, Willie Parker burst through the line and avoided the linebackers on a play that he would have taken all the way for a touchdown in a real game.

-Carey Davis breaks a nice run that would have gained 15 yards.

-Charlie Batch hits Rashard Mendenhall on a short pass behind the line of scrimmage that looks like no gain, but Mendenhall reverses field and picked up 10 yards.

-Ryan Clark intercepts a 20 yard pass from Big Ben that hit Santonio Holmes in the hands and bounced off.

5:07 PM - The final horn blew, and coach Tomlin gathered the team to end practice.

-After huddling together, the team breaks up and practice is over.

-Coach Tomlin leaves the field and runs past fans without signing any autographs.

-Dan Sepulveda is very gracious with fans.  He signs more autographs than any other Steelers player.

-Sepulveda assured me that he is 100% recovered.  When a fans said “We missed you last year”, Supulveda replied “Not as much as I missed the team”.

-Ryan Clark is also very gracious with fans.  Only Sepulveda signs more autographs.

-Ziggy Hood is very good with fans.  He is friendly and humble.  He signs lots of autographs.  Fans are going to like this kid.

If you haven’t read our other Day 2 coverage, be sure to read the following articles:

Fans flock to Steelers training camp

Steelers training camp Day 2 photo gallery

To read our coverage of Day 3 of Steelers training camp please click the link below:

10 observations from Steelers training camp day 3

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