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Steelers dominate Jags in close game

October 16, 2011 By: Admin Category: Post-Game Reports

No, you didn’t read that headline wrong.  The Steelers did actually manage to dominate a game, and also keep it close.  Sounds crazy, doesn’t it?

The Steelers had almost twice the total yard that the Jaguars accumulated.  They outgained them 315-68 in the first half alone.  They held the Jaguars to only 76 net passing yards for the game.  They sacked Jags’ QB Blaine Gabbert 5 times.  Rashard Mendenhall rushed for 146 yards.  Sounds like total domination, right?

Most sane people would read the paragraph above and assume that the Steelers won 28-3.  Or perhaps they’d assume that the Jags had been kept off the scoreboard completely.  Maybe 31-0.  But that wasn’t the case.  Believe it or not, the Steelers barely won.  The final score was 17-13, and the Jaguars had a chance to win on the final play of the game.

So how did a game that should have been a blowout turn into a nailbiter?  The answer lies in the second half statistics.  After racking up over 300 yards on the Jags in the first half, the Steelers were held to only 70 yards in the 2nd half.  Steelers’ quarterback Ben Roethlisberger only completed one pass in the 2nd half.  That’s right, one.  And to make matters worse, he was sacked 3 times in the second half.

It isn’t often that a quarterback finishes a half with more sacks than completions.  In fact, prior to this game, I would have assumed that it was impossible.  But Big Ben proved me wrong.

That was really the story of the game.  The Steelers suffered from schizophrenia.  In the first half, they were a determined, prepared team that was set on winning an important game.  And in the second half they were a tentative, unprepared team that seemed like they were trying to lose.

Perhaps the Jaguars made some amazing adjustments at the half.  But shouldn’t the Steelers have made adjustments to the Jaguars adjustments?  Instead, they appeared to be completely inept for the final 30 minutes of the game.

A win is a win, and we have to be happy any time the Steelers can leave with a victory.  But to be honest, this was one of the least satisfying wins I can remember.

The Steelers’ challenges (Part 9)

April 22, 2010 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

This is part 9 in a series evaluating the Steelers’ off-season needs.  So far, we’ve looked at the cornerbackssafeties, linebackersdefensive linemenoffensive linementight endsquarterbacks, and wide receivers.   The final position that we’re going to look at is running back.

The 2009 Steelers didn’t look much like a Steelers team.  The traditional running emphasis was gone, and the team looked more like the Indianapolis Colts than the Pittsburgh Steelers.  The team threw the ball early and often.  In passing situations, they threw the ball.  In obvious running situations, they threw the ball.  If offensive coordinator Bruce Arians could have found a way to do it, I’m sure that he would have had the team throw the ball when they were on defense too.

Big Ben threw for a whopping 4,328 yards in 2009.  That’s not going to happen this season.  It won’t happen for two reason.  Firstly, Ben is going to be suspended for a minimum of 4 games, so he isn’t going to have the opportunity to pass as often as he did last season.  Secondly, the Rooney family is insisting that the team return to its running roots.  And when the Rooneys want something, they usually get it.

With that in mind, it looks like the Steelers running backs should play a much larger role this year than they did last year.

Willie Parker is no longer with the team, having signed with the Washington Redskins, so Rashard Mendenhall is going to be in the spotlight even more than he was last season.  Mendenhall seemed to perform well when called upon to be the primary rushing threat.  I expect him to do even better this season.  I just hope that he learns to run straight ahead, and stop spinning like a top.  Am I the only one who gets irritated every time he starts to spin for no apparent reason?

Steelers RB Rashard Mendenhall

Mewelde Moore appears to be the top backup behind Mendenhall.  Moore has always performed admirably when called upon, and I expect nothing less from him this year.  Moore is not spectacular, but he is competent in all aspects of the game.  He can run, he can catch the ball, and he is a willing blocker who seldom misses his blocking assignment.

Justin Vincent and Frank Summers are both listed on the roster as running backs.  However, I don’t expect either of them to make a meaningful contribution this year, and both will have to win their positions in training camp.

Isaac Redman was the star of last year’s preseason.  Most fans were surprised when Frank Summers beat Redman out for a position on the Steelers’ roster.  Redman has had a full year to learn the playbook, and to lift weights and get stronger.  I fully expect to see Redman on the Steelers’ roster this year.

Stefan Logan is listed as a running back.  However, he is used almost exclusively as a kick/punt returner, so I am not going to discuss him in the context of the running game.

What  should the Steelers do?

Once you start looking at the Steelers running backs, you quickly realize that they lack quality depth.  It felt good knowing that we had Willie Parker waiting in the wings last year.  We don’t have that luxury this season.  In fact, we don’t have a single running back on the roster who is likely to make Rashard Mendenhall lose sleep at night.  Personally, I don’t like that.

I wish we had a talented young running back who was challenging Mendenhall for playing time.  But we don’t.  Moreover, we don’t have anyone who I feel completely confident in should something happen to Mendenhall.

It would not surprise me if the Steelers selected a young running back in this year’s draft to fill that role.  Here are a few of the names that may be available to the Steelers in the early rounds.

C. J. Spiller (Clemson) - Spiller is the undisputed star of this year’s running back class.  C. J. was the only player in college football to score in every game last year.  That’s impressive.  He is a speed demon, and he reminds a lot of people of the Chris Johnson of the Tennessee Titans.  There have been durability concerns, due to his size and a history of injuries in college.  There is a very real possibility that Spiller will be available at pick #18.

C. J. Spiller

Jonathan Dwyer (Georgia Tech) - Dwyer is the best power back in this year’s draft.  He’s got a powerful frame, and is very hard to bring down.  Despite his running style, he never missed a game due to injury.  He shouldn’t be expected to catch many passes, but he does what he does very well.

Jahvid Best (California) - Like C. J. Spiller, Best is a speed back.  He actually ran a better time than Spiller at the NFL Draft Combine.  However he was not as productive in college as Spiller was.  Best is not a big player, and he should not be expected to excel at running between the tackles.  He also has a history of concussions that may be a concern to some teams.    His college career ended early due to a concussion.


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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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And the winner is…..Mendenhall

October 23, 2009 By: Admin Category: Players

Perhaps the writing was on the wall when the Steelers failed to sign him to a new contract during the off-season.  Willie Parker’s days as the Steelers starting running back seem to have come to an end.

Parker returned to the playing field last Sunday despite a toe that is still not completely healed.

Prior to the game, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was non-committal as to who would get the majority of carries.  Both Tomlin and offensive coordinator Bruce Arians used the same neutral reply; “we’re just happy to have both running backs available to play”.

Fans, on the other hand didn’t seem to be quite so neutral.  Many Steelers fans had already grown tired of Parker’s inability to gain short yardage between the tackles.  Parker’s running style was often seen as being “feast or famine”.  Parker would either get to the outside and picks up significant yardage, or he would be stopped for little to no yardage.

Fast Willie Parker

Fast Willie Parker

Personally, I’ve always felt that Parker’s game was rather one-dimensional.  Parker is fast.  Period.  He isn’t a powerful runner, which is why he is often unsuccessful running between the tackles.  He also isn’t particularly elusive.  He has never been known for having much “swivel in his hips”, and his running style will never be confused with Barry Sanders’.  Oh yeah, and he can’t catch.

But despite the collective thoughts of much of Steeler Nation, the Steelers coaches decided to make it an open competition.  And after a one game competition, the winner is Mendenhall.

Mike Tomlin announced that Rashard Mendenhall will get the majority of the snaps for the foreseeable future.  “Rashard has earned the right to take the majority of the snaps as we move forward”.  And with those words, a baton was passed in Steelers running back history.

Parker doesn’t quite see it that way.  He seems to think that the reason that he is not starting is because he is not healthy.

“I am not ready to take the load right now,” Parker said. “When I am ready, we will make another decision.”

Perhaps Parker is right.  However, if that were the case wouldn’t Mike Tomlin have said that Mendenhall will start “until Parker is healthy” ?  Instead, he said that Mendenhall had “earned” the right to take the majority of the snaps.  That sound like Tomlin believes that Mendenhall has proven that he is the better choice (at least for now).

Mendenhall is averaging  5.1 yards per carry, compared to 3.1 yards/carry for Parker.  Moreover, they have almost the same number of carries.

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

(AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)

But before we get too excited about Mendenhall’s future, we have to remember that most of his yards were gained during starts against the Detroit Lions and the Cleveland Browns, two of the worst teams in the NFL.

We have to remember that Mendenhall does have a history of fumbling.  Even during his impressive games against the Lions and Browns, TV commentators mentioned how loosely he was holding the ball.

Besides those two dynamic games against lesser foes, Mendenhall doesn’t have much of an NFL resume.  Fans quickly forget that Mendenhall was all but invisible during the preseason.  In fact, most fans were calling for an undrafted rookie named Isaac Redman to become the Steelers’ starting running back at the end of the preseason.

The bottom line is that the ball belongs to Rashard Mendenhall….for now.  He still needs to show what he can do against quality NFL defenses.

In Willie Parker, we have a back who has proven himself over a long period of time.  In Mendenhall, it is still not clear what we have.

Perhaps Tomlin and Arians were right prior to their commitment to Mendenhall.  Perhaps we all should have just been happy to have both backs available to play.


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Steelers get another too close win

October 11, 2009 By: Admin Category: Post-Game Reports

October 10, 2009
By Donald Starver

I know that I should be happy that the Steelers defeated the Detroit Lions  28-20 today, yet I feel strangely unfulfilled. 

Many fans have already written to remind me that a win is a win, and that I should be satisfied.  But I’m not satisfied.  Perhaps I’m ungrateful.  Perhaps I’m too demanding.  But I’m not satisfied at all.

I am happy that the Steelers are finally above .500.  I really am.  But I’m not happy with how they did it.  After all, these were the world champion Pittsburgh Steelers facing one of the worst teams in the NFL.  The Lions went 0-16 last season.  So could you blame me for desiring a blowout?  Reigning champs should beat reigning chumps…..Soundly.

So why did the Lions score first?   And why did the Lions run for more yards than the Steelers?  Why did the Lions also pass for more yards than the Steelers?  Why did the Lions have more first downs than the Steelers?  Why did the Lions have a greater time of possession than the Steelers?  And why did the Lions outscore the Steelers in the 4th quarter?

I don’t mean to sound ungrateful.  I really don’t.  But these are questions that have to be asked.

To be fair, there were some bright spots in the Steelers’ win.  James Harrison accumulated 3 sacks and a forced fumble.  William Gay and LaMarr Woodley each racked up 1.5 sacks.  Rashard Mendenhall rushed for 77 yards on 15 carries.  Heath Miller scored another touchdown.  Hines Ward and Mike Wallace also caught TD passes.  And of course Big Ben passed for 277 yards and 3 touchdowns.

But even with all of those positives, there were still things that left me baffled.  For example, why did the Steelers seem to stop going to Rashard Mendenhall in the 2nd half?  Mendenhall started off on fire and rushed for 65 yards in the 1st half.  But offensive coordinator Bruce Arians seemed to forget about him as Mendenhall only got 6 carries and 12 yards in the entire 2nd half.  Note to Bruce Arians:  When a running back is averaging over 5 yards per carry, GIVE HIM THE BALL!!!!!! 

RB Rashard Mendenhall

RB Rashard Mendenhall

Also, why did the Steelers throw the ball to Limas Sweed on their very first offensive series?  As might be expected, Sweed dropped an easy pass.  Fortunately, the Steelers learned from their mistake and didn’t throw to Sweed again for the rest of the game.  Frankly, I was under the impression that Mike Tomlin had Sweed chained up in the basement of the Steelers’ practice facility.  Who let him out?

Perhaps most disappointing was the Steelers’ defense.  The ” D” made Lions quarterback Daunte Culpepper look like Peyton Manning.  Culpepper shreaded our defense.  He also rushed for 44 yards.  Culpepper, who was only playing due to an injury to starter Matthew Stafford, did all of that without star wide receiver Calvin Johnson who left early in the game with an injury.

So perhaps you now understand why this game left me feeling a little unfulfilled.  Sure, it’s a win.  But I’m not happy about it.  Nope, I’m not happy at all.


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