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What does Sweed’s injury mean for Steelers?

May 03, 2010 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency, Players

This was going to be Limas Sweed’s year.  I really believed that.

Sweed, a second round draft pick out of Texas, was going to be entering his third season with the Steelers.  The 3rd season has often been a turning point for Steelers wide receivers.

If we look at former Steelers wide receiver Nate Washington, his career had many parallels with Sweed’s.   Washington was a fast receiver who had lots of physical talent, but who just couldn’t seem to master the mental aspects of the game early in his career.  He would get great separation from his defender, but then he would drop a perfectly thrown pass.  This (very frustrating) scenario played out repeatedly during Washington’s first two years on the team.  He just couldn’t seem to hold onto the ball.  But then, in his third season, something just seemed to click in Washington’s brain, and the drops turned into catches.

I was optimistic that the same transformation was going to happen for Limas Sweed this year.  He came into Steelers mini-camp with a renewed focus, after being placed on injured reserve for the final two games of the 2009 season due to emotional problems.  Limas seemed to be working hard, and he had even changed his jersey number to indicate that he was looking for a fresh start.  But then on the final day of mini-camp, Sweed injured his left achilles tendon.  The extent of the injury has not yet been announced, but it is thought to be potentially serious.

Steelers WR Limas Sweed

A major achilles tendon injury could easily cause a player to lose an entire season.  That would be a big disappointment, both for Limas Sweed and for the Steelers.  But injuries happen.

Sweed was probably the leading candidate to become the Steelers’ #3 wide receiver.  Despite bringing back Antwaan Randle El, Sweed was the favorite to win the job.  Sweed is taller and faster than Randle El, and we all know that Ben Roethlisberger likes tall wide receivers.  That’s why the Steelers drafted Sweed in the first place.

With Sweed out, the door is suddenly open for a few players to work their way into the wide receiver picture.  Arnaz Battle was brought in primarily as a special teams player, but he will now get a closer look at wide receiver.  Tyler Grisham spent most of last season on the practice squad, but he was activated for the final 4 games of the season.  He will also have an opportunity to work his way up the depth chart.  And of course, the Steelers drafted two rookies who both had prolific college careers.  Both Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders will have an opportunity to try to win a spot in Bruce Arians’ passing offense.

While Sweed’s injury is unfortunate, it definitely shines a spotlight on several players that I didn’t expect to make much of  a contribution this season.  The question is, “which one will rise up and snatch the opportunity?”  If I were a betting man, my money would be on……….


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What have we learned so far?

November 03, 2009 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

The NFL just finished week 8.  That’s the halfway point in the season (although the Steelers have only played 7 games).  With the Steelers coming off of a bye week, it seemed like a good time to reflect back on the season so far to see what we’ve learned so far about the 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers.

These are in no particular order.  But as I think back to what has occurred so far this season, these are some thoughts that come to mind.

1.  The Steelers could easily be 7-0.
The Steelers find themselves with a 5-2 record.  However, the two losses could have just as easily been wins.  In the loss to the Bengals, the Steelers dominated just about every statistical category.  From yards of offense to time of possession, the Steelers were dominant.  Yet, a dropped touchdown by Limas Sweed, a missed field goal by Jeff Reed, and poor 4th quarter defense somehow led to a loss.

Similarly, in the 17-14 loss to the Chicago  Bears, the Steelers led in most statistical categories.  Most viewers would probably have thought that the game was a blowout in the Steelers favor.  But untimely turnovers, and two missed field goals by Jeff Reed led to yet another unexpected Steelers loss

If not for two poorly played 4th quarters, the Steelers would be right there with the New Orleans Saints and the Indianapolis Colts as the last remaining undefeated teams in the NFL.

2. The Steelers are a passing offense
I know that that is anathema to some Steelers fans.  After all, the Steelers have ALWAYS been a power running team.  In some fans’ minds, the Steelers SHOULD always be a power running team.  But the reality is that this offense is a passing offense.  Just ask Big Ben.

The Steelers’ passing attack is ranked #5 in the NFL, and they actually average more yards per game than the potent New Orleans Saints offense led by Drew Brees.  Chew on that for a moment. 

The Steelers have 3 receivers among the NFL’s top 30 in total number of receptions.  They have 4 receivers among the top 40 in the NFL in receiving yards.  Are these the Steelers that we’re talking about?

While the Steelers have the #5 passing attack in the NFL, their rushing attack is ranked #18.  The Steelers don’t have a running  back in the top 15 in the NFL in rushing yards.

3. Big Ben still takes too many sacks
This is becoming a broken record.  I am not even going to try to ascertain whether the fault lies with the offensive line, or with Big Ben himself.  But suffice it to say that Ben spends far too much time on his back. 

Roethlisberger has already been sacked 20 times.  He’s well on his way to another 40+ sacks season.  I’m no doctor, but that can’t be good for his health and longevity.

Roethlisberger is sacked....again.

Roethlisberger is sacked....again.

4.  The Steelers pass defense has still not played to their full potential
While the Steelers’ run defense is ranked #1 in the NFL, their pass defense is ranked #17.  That’s a big departure from last year’s defense that was ranked #1 against the pass.

The biggest contributor to the decline has been the absence of Troy Polamalu.  Now that Polamalu is back, I expect to see the Steelers pass defense show a marked improvement.

5.  Limas Sweed is not the answer to the Steelers’ #3 receiver need
Drop.  Drop.  Drop.  ‘Nuff said.

6.  Mike Wallace IS the answer to the Steelers’ #3 receiver need
I’m starting to feel like a broken record, but I’ll say it again; I love Mike Wallace.  The kid doesn’t play like a rookie.  He’s got dependable hands, and he’s got speed to burn.  That’s a deadly combination for a #3 receiver.  Because Wallace is the #3 receiver, he’s usually matched up against the opponent’s #3 cornerback, or against a safety.  Wallace’s speed would pose a challenge to a #1 cornerback.  A #3 cornerback or the average safety has absolutely no chance against the kid.

Steelers WR Mike Wallace

Steelers WR Mike Wallace

7.  It’s still too early to assess Rashard Mendenhall
I know that some fans want to anoint Rashard Mendenhall as the next great Steelers running back.  And Mendenhall’s 5.4 yards per carry average is compelling evidence of his potential.  But Mendenhall has to do a better job of protecting the ball before he can truly be trusted to carry the load for the Steelers. 

8.  Jeff Reed’s antics may have insured his exit from Pittsburgh
I have always been a supporter of Jeff Reed.  When he missed those field goals that cost us games against the Bears and Bengals earlier this year, I stood up for Reed.  When he had his little incident at Sheetz, I also stood up for Reed.  However, Reed’s antics are growing tiresome.

Reed has been one of the most dependable kickers in the NFL during his time with the Steelers.  However, Reed is also the player who is most likely to embarrass the organization off the field.  He doesn’t seem to understand that Steeler Nation takes great pride in the fact that the Steelers are excellent off the field, as well as on the field.  We know that guys like Terrell Owens, De’Angelo Hall, Jeremy Shockey, Tank Johnson, or Randy Moss could never play for the Steelers, despite their considerable talent.  So if we wouldn’t bring in guys with that type of all-world talent, why do we continue to tolerate Reed’s misdeeds?

So there you have it, Steeler Nation.  Those are some of the things that we’ve learned so far this season.  Are there any other observations that we’ve forgotten?  Do you disagree with any of the observations that we’ve made?  What have YOU learned about the Steelers so far?  We’d love to hear your thoughts.


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10 reasons to feel optimistic about the Steelers

October 01, 2009 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

October 1, 2009
By Donald Starver

The Steelers have lost two games in a row, and just as quickly as that, Chicken Little has come out of hiding.  The sky is falling!  The sky is falling!

The Steelers are 1-2, and some are quick to point out that the Steelers have the same record as the Detroit Lions and the Oakland Raiders.  But is that really so bad?

Statistics can be often be misleading.  Sure, the Steelers have more losses than wins.  They are also in third place in the AFC North, and trail the Baltimore Ravens by 2 games.  Despite this, I am not the least bit concerned about the Steelers.  In fact, I feel quite confident.

Let’s look at a few facts that leave me feeling extremely optimistic.

1. The Steelers have outgained their opponents 704 yards to 563 yards in their two losses. That’s right, the Steelers had significantly more yards than their opponent in both losses.

2.  Willie Parker was the leading rusher in each of the Steelers’ losses. Some have overlooked this statistic.  Sure, Willie hasn’t had any 100+ yard performances, but he’s outperformed the opposing running backs in both games.

Willie Parker

Willie Parker

3.  The Steelers led in time of possession in each loss. Usually, when you control the time of possession, you win the game.  It is rare for a team to control the ball for a full 10 minutes more than their opponent and still lose.  But that’s exactly what the Steelers did against the Bengals.  Despite the loss, I’m still happy to see the Steelers dominating the time clock.

4.  The Steelers punted a combined 5 times in their two losses compared to 11 total punts by their opponents. Any team that punts half as often as their opponent is very likely to win the game.  Unfortunately in these two games it didn’t turn out that way.  But if the defense can continue to force the opponents to punt, good things will happen.

5.  The Steelers dropped easy touchdown passes in both losses. Santonio Holmes dropped a sure touchdown against the Bears, and Limas Sweed dropped one against the Bengals.  Both of those touchdowns would have meant victory.

6.  The Steelers lost the two games by a combined 6 points. That’s all.  They lost by 3 points to the Bears, and by 3 points to the Bengals.  That’s much better than losing by a large margin.

7.  Jeff Reed missed 3 out of 5 field goal attempts in the two losses. Both games were lost by 3 points, so those missed field goals proved to be disastrous.  Despite the missed field goals, I truly doubt that Reed is going to continue to hit less than 50% of his field goal attempts.  The 3 missed field goals were an anomaly, not the norm.

Jeff Reed

Jeff Reed

8.  After 3 games, the Steelers are only one game behind their pace during their last two Super Bowl seasons. In 2005, the Steelers started the season 2-1.  They went on to finish 11-5, and won the Super Bowl.  Last year, the Steelers also started off 2-1, and finished the season 12-4 before going on to win the Super Bowl.  So after 3 games, this years’ team is only one game off of their recent Super Bowl pace.

9.  The Steelers haven’t played the Baltimore Ravens yet. Remember, we beat them 3 times last year.  Two wins over the Ravens this year will completely eliminate the current deficit.

10.  Troy Polamalu will be back soon. Do I really need to say anything more?


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Steelers dominate Bills

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

August 30, 2009
By Donald Starver

Typically, the third preseason game of each season is the final tune-up for most of the Steelers’ starters.  The 4th and final preseason game is reserved for the players still struggling to make the 53-man roster.  They will be given the majority of the playing time in order to try to convince the Steelers’ coaches that they deserve to be on the team. Thus, the Steelers hoped to see a solid performance from all components of their starting team last night, and that is exactly what they got.

The Steelers dominated the Buffalo Bills in all phases of the game. They got scores from the offense, the defense, and the kicking game.

The offense looked crisp and efficient. Big Ben showed no signs of his recent ankle injury, as he completed 15 of 19 passes for 168 yards in two quarters of play.

In particular, Roethlisberger and Hines Ward looked to be in mid-season form. Big Ben connected with Ward 5 times for 74 yards. Roethlisberger also connected with Limas Sweed 4 times for 34 yards.

With Willie Parker out for the game with a slight hamstring injury, Rashard Mendenhall got the starting nod. Mendenhall answered the call by rushing for 48 yards and a touchdown. This was probably Mendenhall’s most impressive outing since joining the Steelers, despite the fact that he did lose a fumble.

On defense, the Steelers completely stifled the Bills’ offensive attack. They allowed only 135 total yard of offense, and kept the Bills off the scoreboard.

In the first half, when the Steelers’ starting defense was in the game, the domination was especially pronounced. The first unit allowed only 3 first downs and 50 yards of offense.

The defense also got into the endzone when linebacker James Farrior intercepted a Bills’ pass and ran it back for a touchdown. Farrior played like the Pro Bowl player that he is. He led the team in tackles with 4, he got a sack, forced a fumble, defensed 2 passes, and returned an interception for a touchdown.

The Steelers dominated time of possession holding the ball for an astounding 41:15, compared to only 18:45 for the Bills.

Even the kicking game joined the party.  Kicker Piotr Czech, who started for Jeff Reed who is nursing a minor injury, added 5 points.  He made both of his extra point attempts and added a 34 yard field goal for good measures.

Even the special teams players looked impressive.  Keyaron Fox played like a man possessed.  He excelled on both special teams and as a backup linebacker.  Stefan Logans had another nice night returning punts.  He averaged 15.8 yards on 4 returns.  He returned his longest one 27 yards.  And Mike Wallace averaged 24 yards on kickoff returns.


James Farrior - If I didn’t know better, I would have sworn that Farrior was wearing a red cape last night.  He certainly played like Superman.

Ben Roethlisberger - Forget any thoughts about his injury being a problem.

Limas Sweed - Played with confidence and made some big catches.

Rashard Mendenhall - Lost a fumble, but still had a good night.

Keyaron Fox - Fox played like he is not satisfied to only be a special teams player.

Joe Burnett - He seems to have already lost the punt returner battle to Stefan Logans.  However, the Steelers’ coaches must have noticed Burnett’s block of a Bills’ field goal attempt.


Bruce Davis - Davis has done little to show that he deserves to be on the team.  He didn’t make his presence known on special teams or as a backup linebacker.  The Steelers are always slow to release high draft picks, but Donovan Woods, Patrick Bailey, Arnold Harrison, and Andre Frazier all seem to want this more than Davis.

Frank “the tank” Summers - It’s probably not fair to call Summers a dud.  After all, he didn’t even play last night.  However, Isaac Redman did play, and he played well.  As unfair as it may sound, Summers may lose his competition with Redman simply by not being in the fight.


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Steelers Training Camp: Wide Receivers

August 15, 2009 By: Admin Category: training camp

August 15, 2009
By Donald Starver

This is Part 7 in a series.  If you haven’t read the previous installments, please click below:

Part 1:  Defensive linemen

Part 2:  Linebackers

Part 3:  Safeties

Part 4: Cornerbacks

Part 5: Quarterbacks

Part 6: Running backs

The wide receiver battle is probably the most intriguing story at Steelers training camp.  The Steelers have a good mix of high draft picks, veteran free agents, and undrafted free agents all battling to make the 53-man roster.  Regardless of who makes the team, I think it is safe to say that Big Ben is going to have some pretty exciting weapons at his disposal.

No other team can boast having two Super Bowl MVPs at wide receiver.  Yet that is exactly what the Steelers have in Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes.  Their contribution to the team is well-documented, and their places on the roster are guaranteed.  So we really don’t need to spend much time talking about those two.  The real question is “who will take up the other wide receiver roster slots?”

Since becoming Steelers head coach, Mike Tomlin has always carried 5 wide receivers on the Steelers’ roster.  Thus, I am going to assume that 5 is the number of wide receivers that Tomlin is looking for in training camp.

Let’s take a look at all of the wide receiver candidates and see if we can predict who will make the final roster.

Hines Ward- As we mentioned earlier, the jaw breaker’s roster spot is guaranteed.  He’s the Steelers’ all-time leading receiver.  He’s a multi-time Pro Bowl participant.  He’s the best blocking wide receiver in the NFL.  He’s clearly a leader on the team, and has the respect of his teammates.  And he probably personifies what the Pittsburgh Steelers are all about better than any other current player.

Santonio Holmes- Everybody remembers that final catch in the Super Bowl.  However, it was Santonio’s earlier catches, and his yards after the catch that put the Steelers in the position to be able to pull out a last second win.  That Super Bowl performance will define Holmes for the rest of his career.  His elevated status is already evident at Steelers training camp where the fans cheer any time Holmes makes a catch.  Like Ward, Holmes doesn’t have to worry about making the roster.

Limas Sweed- After getting few chances to make plays during the regular season, Limas Sweed blew his first big opportunity when he dropped a critical pass in the AFC Championship game against Baltimore last year.  That play, along with the fact that he faked an injury afterwards, made many Steelers fans lose faith in Sweed.

Academy award winning performance.

Academy award winning performance.

Fortunately, Sweed has used that as motivation, and has had a very impressive training camp so far.  Moreover, he had two nice catches in the Steelers’ pre-season win over the Arizona Cardinals.

Sweed is a big, fast receiver who is in the mold that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger seems to like.  Roethlisberger actively lobbied for a tall receiver, and the Steelers answered him by drafting Sweed.  At 6’4″, Sweed is an easy target for Roethlisberger.  Sweed is the favorite to win the #3 receiver position that was vacated by Nate Washington when he signed with the Tennessee Titans.

Shaun McDonald- Because they were uncertain of what they had in Limas Sweed, the Steelers brought in Shaun McDonald to add an experienced veteran to the wide receiver competition.  McDonald led the Detroit Lions with 79 receptions for 943 yards in 2007.  McDonald lost his position as the Lions’ primary receiving target when they drafted super-human receiver Calvin Johnson.  However, that doesn’t negate the fact that McDonald is a proven NFL receiver.

McDonald has looked consistent but unspectacular so far in Steelers training camp.  But isn’t that exactly what a team needs from their #3 receiver?  After all, if he were spectacular, he would be the #1 or #2 receiver.  When you add in the fact that he can also return punts, I believe that gives McDonald a good chance of making the team.

Dallas Baker- “The touchdown maker” has been anything but since joining the Steelers.  He has scored a grand total of zero touchdowns for the black and gold.  At 6’3″, Baker is a big receiver, so that is a plus.  However, he just hasn’t done anything to catapult himself onto the roster.  Baker spent 2008 on the practice squad, so that says that the Steelers’ coaches believe he has potential.  He has an outside chance of winning the #5 receiver spot, but I don’t foresee that happening.

Touchdown maker?

Touchdown maker?

Martin Nance- At 6’3″, Martin Nance is another big receiver.  He was Ben Roethlisberger’s favorite receiver at Miami of Ohio, so that relationship is probably why he is in Steelers training camp in the first place.  Nance has been very inconsistent in my opinion, and has dropped far too many passes at training camp.  While he is big, he is not particularly fast, and doesn’t get good separation.  He will not make the team.

Steven Black- Going into Steelers training camp I had never heard of the rookie wide receiver from Memphis.  He is 6’3″ and is another big target.  He has caught my attention a few times at training camp.  He has good hands, and is willing to dive for the ball.  However, with all of the competition at WR this year, he has little chance of making the team.

Brandon Williams- Williams is another experienced receiver that the Steelers brought into training camp.  The 3rd year player has been with both the St. Louis Rams and the San Francisco 49ers.  He has never caught a pass in the NFL, and unless an asteroid falls to Earth and kills all of the other wide receivers in training camp, he won’t be catching any for the Steelers this year either.

Tyler Grisham - This kid caught my eyes on the second day of training camp.  I first noticed him because he was so small compared to the other receivers.  But by the end of camp, I was asking “who is that little white guy who keeps diving all over the field catching everything that comes his way?”  When he started putting hard blocks on people, he really caught my eyes.  Some people have said that he reminds them of Wes Welker, but he reminds me of another wide receiver who isn’t big enough, or fast enough, but who is willing to block and manages to catch everything that’s thrown his way.  Has anyone ever heard of a guy named Hines Ward?

Grisham won’t make the team, but this rookie from Clemson has done himself proud in his time at Steelers training camp.  I won’t be the least bit surprised if he makes the Steelers’ practice squad.

Mike Wallace - You probably thought that I forgot about the 3rd round pick out of Mississippi.  Nope, I just saved him for last.  This kid has impressed me more than any other receiver in Steelers training camp.  First of all, he is FAST.  I don’t mean “Santonio Holmes fast”.  Nope, I mean “Willie Parker fast”.  He ran the second fastest time at last year’s NFL combine.  Not only is Wallace fast, but he also has good hands.  I’ve seen him make sliding catches and diving catches at training camp.

Mike Wallace

There is seldom a day at training camp where Wallace doesn’t beat a defensive back…..badly.  He even burns Ike Taylor.  Not many receivers can do that.  I keep having dreams of Big Ben firing long bombs to Wallace.  Each time I have this dream, I wake up with a big smile on my face.

There is a very good chance that this kid could actually come out of training camp as the #3 receiver.  That’s right, I said it.  Mike Wallace might actually win the #3 receiver position.  He’s THAT good.  Even if he doesn’t, he is very likely to become the primary kick returner.  This kid is going to make the team.  No doubt.

Stefan Logans- Logans is primarily a kick returner, but the Steelers have been working him with the wide receivers, so I’ll mention him here.  Logans has NO CHANCE of making the team as a wide receiver.  He will either win a spot as a punt returner, or he will not be wearing black and gold.

So in summary, I believe the 5 receivers who will make the Steelers’ roster will be Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes, Limas Sweed, Shaun McDonald, and Mike Wallace.

I’ll leave you with one final thought about the Steelers’ wide receivers.  Just picture how exciting the Steelers are going to be in 2-3 years when the starting wide receivers are Santonio Holmes, Limas Sweed, and Mike Wallace.  Yeah, the idea puts a big smile on my face too.

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