Steelers Today - A Pittsburgh Steelers blog


Steelers beat Bengals

November 14, 2011 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

Having been swept by the Baltimore Ravens, it’s important that the Steelers win all of their remaining AFC North games to even have a chance at the playoffs.  A loss to the Cincinnati Bengals may have brought the Steelers 2011 season to a crashing halt.  Fortunately, that didn’t happen.

The Steelers beat the Bengals 24-17 in a game that wasn’t really as close as the scoreboard made it seem.

The Steelers set the tone for the game early by scoring touchdowns on their first two possessions.  Simultaneously, they forced the Bengals into two consecutive 3 and outs on their first two possessions.  It looked like it was going to be a long day for the Bengals, and an easy day for the Steelers.  But that’s when the mistakes started happening.

On the Steelers’ next possession, Heath Miller bobbled a pass that ended up being intercepted by the Bengals.  Cincinnati went on to score on that possession, and suddenly they were back in the game.

But the Steelers’ offense was simply too much for the Bengals’ defense.   Ben Roethlisberger continued his recent trend of spreading the ball among all of his receivers.  Big Ben completed passes to 9 different receivers.

While Roethlisberger hasn’t completed any 40+ yard touchdown passes to Mike Wallace lately, I really like the way Ben is distributing the ball around.  It makes the offense much less predictable, and keeps everybody involved.  In particular, it’s been nice to see Jericho Cotchery making a contribution over the last few weeks.

Roethlisberger wasn’t the only player on offense who had a good game.  Running back Rashard Mendenhall ran for two touchdowns during the game.  Mendenhall was held to only 44 total rushing yards for the game, but he got into the end zone when he needed to.

But the player who was probably the hero of the game was William Gay.  That’s right, William Gay.

Steelers fans probably aren’t used to hearing William Gay’s name in such a positive light.  Gay has had some struggles during his time with the Steelers.  Most recently, he let a Baltimore receiver get behind him for the game winning touchdown last week.  But that was then, and this is now.

Gay swatted a pass away from the intended receiver on one play, and Lawrence Timmons ended up intercepting the ball.  Most people probably credited Timmons with the interception, but if you go back and watch the tape, you’ll see that it was actually Gay who deflected the pass that resulted in the interception.

More importantly, with the Bengals driving late in the game, Gay stepped in front of a Bengals receiver and intercepted a pass that ultimately put the game out of reach for the Bengals.

Because he played an integral part in two key interceptions, I give the game ball to William Gay for his performance on Sunday.

Way to go, William.  Keep up the good work!

Other AFC News

The Baltimore Ravens lost to the Seattle Seahawks 22-17.  Seattle was a pathetic 2-6 coming into the game.  Most experts thought there was no way that the Ravens could lose to to the lowly Seahawks.  But lose they did.  Bwahahahaha!!!!!!!

Losses by the Ravens and the Bengals leave the Steelers in first place in the AFC North with a record of 7-3.  The Ravens and Bengals are both tied at 6-3, and the two teams have yet to face one another this season.


The cornerback battle

July 26, 2010 By: Admin Category: Players, training camp

With Steelers training camp less than a week away, many Steelers fans are anxious to see if Bryant McFadden will beat out William Gay for the starting left cornerback position.

Okay, that’s probably an understatement.  The reality is that most Steelers fans are PRAYING that McFadden will beat out Gay for the starting spot.  Fans remember McFadden, and they feel confident that he will do a much better job than Gay did last year.

CB William Gay making a play

Personally, I don’t think it’s possible to do a worse job than Gay did last season.  However, I think fans are missing the mark if they believe that the Steelers have a two-horse race on their hands this summer at training camp.

Sure, McFadden and Gay are the Steelers’ most experienced cornerbacks, outside of Ike Taylor whose starting position is basically assured.  However, Gay and McFadden are not the only players with a chance of emerging as starters this season.

William Gay shared snaps with McFadden in 2008, and then took over the starting position in 2009 after McFadden signed with the Arizona Cardinals.  Gay struggled as a starter.  He was often out of position, and he seemed to have difficulty covering his man (regardless of who he was covering).  He didn’t make a single interception during the entire season.  In fact, none of the Steelers’ cornerbacks recorded an interception until the final game of the season in 2009.  Gay did have 10 passes defensed, but that number is not particularly impressive considering how opposing quarterbacks seemed to go at him at least 20 times per game.

William Gay makes another play

While some believe that McFadden is the answer, I’m not sure that’s the case.  Remember that back in 2008, the reason that McFadden and Gay split playing time was that McFadden was better against the run, but Gay was thought to have better coverage skills.  Like Gay, McFadden also had no interceptions last year despite starting all 16 games for the Cardinals.  In fact, he only has 7 interceptions in his five years in the NFL.  By comparison, cornerbacks Asante Samuel (PHI) and Charles Woodson (GB) each recorded 9 interceptions last season.  McFadden also recorded fewer tackles than Gay last season (69 versus 78).  So I wouldn’t be so quick to anoint McFadden as the starter.

In 2009, the Steelers selected Keenan Lewis in the 3rd round of the NFL Draft.  Lewis was injured most of last season, so fans never really got to see what he could do.  But there was a reason the team took him so early in the draft.  He is long and rangy, and his size will remind fans of Ike Taylor.  Lewis is taller than either McFadden or Gay.  He is also almost 20 lbs. heavier than either of them.  Despite not getting to play last year, he has had a full year to digest Dick LeBeau’s defensive scheme.  That experience should serve him well in training camp this year.

The Steelers also took another cornerback in the 2009 NFL Draft.  Joe Burnett was selected in the 5th round out of Central Florida.  Burnett was taken primarily for his All-American status as a kick/punt returner.  Stefan Logan seems to have won the primary returner spot for the Steelers, but Burnett still has a chance to win a spot as a cornerback.  Most fans probably remember Burnett most for dropping an easy, potentially game-winning, interception against the Oakland Raiders last year.  It is probably not fair that that is the play that most fans remember Burnett by.  He was actually quite a playmaker in college.  He set the record for career interceptions at Central Florida.  While he is a bit under-sized, I won’t be surprised to see Burnett show a lot more during training camp than we saw from him last year.  He’s a better athlete than William Gay, and with a year of experience under his belt, he should be ready to compete with Gay and McFadden for playing time.

William Gay makes yet another play

Crezdon Butler was drafted in the 5th round of this year’s NFL Draft, and expectations for him are high.  Like Keenan Lewis, Butler is a tall cornerback.  Butler has very good speed and athleticism.  However, in college he relied too much on his athleticism and did not develop good technique.  Like Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnett before him, I think that Butler is going to spend his rookie season simply learning the Steelers’ defense.

Despite not having a great season last year, I believe that Ike Taylor’s position is secure.  He is the Steelers’ best cornerback, and he usually defends the opposing team’s best receiver.   I believe that last season was an anomaly for Taylor, and that this year he will return to being the same “cover corner” with hands of stone that he has always been.  The one thing worth noting is that this is the final season of Taylor’s contract, and the Steelers have not offered him an extension.

The Steelers did sign former Baltimore Ravens CB David Pittman during the off-season.  Pittman has spent his career as a journeyman, and has never made an impact in the league.  I doubt he will make the Steelers’ roster.

William Gay doing what he does best

Of all of the position battles that will take place during training camp, cornerback is the one that I am most interested in.  It is the position that looked the weakest last year for the Steelers.

The question that the Steelers will have to answer is “do they have a strong group of cornerbacks who simply looked bad due to Troy Polamalu’s absence, or do they have a weak group of cornerbacks who were exposed by Polamalu’s absence?”  One way or another, that question is going to be answered this season.


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The Steelers’ Challenges (Part 2)

March 06, 2010 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

This is part 2 of a series on the Pittsburgh Steelers off-season challenges.  In part 1, we discussed the Steelers’ safeties.    In this installment, we are going to take a look at the Steelers’ cornerbacks.

The cornerback position was definitely a weak link in the defense.  Quarterbacks feasted on the Steelers cornerbacks all season.  Moreover, much ado was made about the fact that the Steelers cornerbacks had not accumulated a single interception for most of the season.  In fact, their first interception didn’t occur until the very last game of the season.  That is an almost unheard of statistic in the NFL.

The Steelers’ interception total was 25th in the NFL last season.  The prior season, they had 20 interceptions and were 6th in the NFL.

The Steelers’ defense went from being #1 against the pass in 2008 to #16 in 2009.  That’s a big drop.  They went from giving up 23 passes of 20+ yards in 2008 (best in the NFL) to giving up 46 of them in 2009 (15th in the NFL).

As I mentioned in part 1 of this series, a defensive backfield is an interdependent unit.  Each piece relies on the others.  If one component is out of place, the others have to compensate, which takes them out of place as well.

It is obvious that Troy Polamalu’s injuries had a significant impact on the secondary.  I already showed that Ryan Clark actually had a very good season in Troy’s absence.  But the cornerbacks weren’t so lucky.

Ike Taylor had his worst season since becoming a starter.  He had fewer total tackles than he’s ever had.  He had his lowest number of passes defensed, and he tied for his lowest interception total.  All in all, it wasn’t a good season for Ike.

But Ike has been one of the best cornerbacks in the NFL for some time now.  He has regularly matched up against the best receivers in the NFL and held his own.  I am not prepared to write off Ike Taylor just yet.

William Gay, on the other hand, is a different story.  Gay seemed to be targeted on a weekly basis by opposing quarterbacks.  He got burned so often, I started thinking that he was microwave popcorn.  He was the first starting cornerback for the Steelers to record no interceptions in a very long time.

Gay’s number of passes defensed was much lower than what Deshea Townsend averaged back when he was the starter.  Moreover, his number of tackles was much higher.  This was indicative of the fact that receivers were catching far more passes against Gay, so he was getting more opportunities to make tackles.

CB William Gay

Going into 2010, Gay is going to have to improve his performance, or he will have to be removed from the starting line-up.

What should the Steelers do?

The Steelers aren’t likely to make any major changes through free agency.  It’s not their style.  Besides, Dunta Robinson has already been signed by the Atlanta Falcons.  Lito Sheppard is still out there, but the Steelers won’t sign him.  The Patriots’ Leigh Bodden would also be an upgrade, but the Steelers won’t sign him either.  None of the other free agents are particularly interesting.

The Steelers spent two draft picks last season on cornerbacks, so it is hard to imagine them taking one in the first round this year.  However, if there is one thing that I’ve learned about the Steelers, it’s that it is impossible to guess what they will do in the draft.

Should the Steelers decide to select a cornerback, there are a few that might be attractive in the draft.  A handful of them might even be able to step in and contribute right away.

Joe Haden (Florida) - Haden is widely considered to be the best cornerback in the draft.  He ran a slower than expected time at the NFL Scouting Combine, and has dropped on some draft boards.  This might actually make it possible for Haden to still be available when the Steelers make their selection at pick #18.  If he is available, the Steelers should definitely consider taking him.

Kyle Wilson (Boise State) - Wilson is not good enough to be taken at pick #18, but if he is still available in the second round, he would be a nice pick for the Steelers.  Wilson’s ball skills are not stellar, but he is a very good athlete who is very capable in run support (which is important in the Steelers’ system).

Patrick Robinson (Florida State) - Like Wilson, Robinson is not good enough to be selected at pick #18, but he would be a nice second round selection.  Robinson is a gifted athlete who has relied on his athleticism, and has not put enough time into developing proper technique.  That worked at the college level, but may not work in the NFL.  Robinson is athletic enough to shadow most NFL receivers.  He is probably the most “boom or bust” cornerback in the draft.

Perrish Cox (Oklahoma State) - Cox is a talented athlete with nice size and speed.  Like the previous 2 cornerbacks mentioned, he would be a second round consideration, but not a first rounder.  Cox led the NCAA with 19 passes defensed, but character issues may scare the Steelers away (Cox was suspended from the Cotton Bowl for missing curfew).

Personally, I believe that the biggest impact in the Steelers’ defensive backfield is going to be due to improvement by last year’s draft picks.  Joe Burnett and Keenan Lewis both have a lot of potential.  They will each have a full year in Dick LeBeau’s system under their belts, and should be much more capable of contributing than they were last year.


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What’s wrong with the Steelers? - Part 3

December 18, 2009 By: Admin Category: Uncategorized

This is Part 3 of a multi-part series that is intended to identify what went wrong with the Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2009 season.

If you haven’t read Part 1 yet, please click here.  If you haven’t read Part 2, please click here.

We’ve already discussed two of the reasons for the Steelers poor showing this season.  Now it’s time to discuss the third reason.

Factor #3 - Failure to generate turnovers.

If there was one thing that characterized the Steelers team last year, it was their ability to generate turnovers at just the right moment.

If we think back to Super Bowl XLIII, one of the plays that probably stands out in everyone’s mind is James Harrison’s interception that he returned for a touchdown.  It seemed like the Steelers defense was always able to come up with a key play when the team really needed it.

Do you remember Troy Polamalu’s interception against the Chargers?  How about DeShea Townsend’s interception against the Cowboys?

And let’s not forget James Harrison’s many forced fumbles.  In fact, Harrison invented a new statistic; the “strip sack”.  Last year, it seemed like  every time Harrison sacked the quarterback, he also stripped him of the ball.  The two seemed to go hand-in-hand.  Sack and strip the ball.  Sack and strip the ball.  It happened so often, I just started calling it a “strip sack”.

When you get down to it, football is a fairly simple sport, and some fairly simple principles apply.  For example, having the ball more often than your opponent gives you more chances to score, and thus a better chance of winning the game.  Therefore, turnovers can play a critical role in generating wins (or losses).  Taking the ball away from your opponent can help you win, and turning the ball over to your opponent can help you lose.

Last year, the Steelers’ turnover ratio was +4.  That means that they took the ball away from their opponent 4 more times than they lost the ball to opponents.  That was 11th best in the NFL.

This season, their turnover ratio is -5.  They have allowed opponents to take the ball away from them 5 more times than they’ve been able to take it from opponents.  That’s not a good thing.  The Steelers rank 25th in the NFL in this regard.  There are only 32 teams in the NFL, so ranking 25th isn’t good.

The key reason for the Steelers’ drop in their ability to generate turnovers has been their lack of interceptions.  Last year, the Steelers were ranked 6th in the NFL with 20 interceptions.  This year they have only 8 interceptions, and are ranked near the bottom of the NFL.  Only the  Cleveland Browns have fewer interceptions than the Steelers.

With 3 games remaining, the Steelers are on a pace to finish the season with 9 interceptions.  That’s less than half of last year’s total.  Last year, they averaged 1.25 interceptions per game.  This year they are averaging .62 interceptions per game.

Troy Polamalu is one of the Steelers’ most prolific interception generators.  He leads the team this year with 3 interceptions (which is sad, since he’s missed most of the season).  Troy also led the team in interceptions last year with 7.  So his production is greatly missed.

But the biggest failure this season has come from the team’s cornerbacks.  Ike Taylor, William Gay, Deshea Townsend, Joe Burnett, and Keenan Lewis have managed to generate a total of 0 interceptions this year.  That’s right, ZERO.  None.  Nada.  Zip.  Zilch.  They are the only group of cornerbacks in the entire NFL without an interception.

Oops, dropped another one.

Oops, dropped another one.

Back-up linebacker Keyaron Fox has more interceptions than all of the Steelers cornerbacks combined.  That’s pathetic!

We all remember watching Joe Burnett drop an interception late in the game last week that would have assured the Steelers of a victory.  That has been the story of the Steelers’ 2009 season.  The cornerbacks have dropped too many potential interceptions.

Today’s NFL has become a pass-happy league.  Just look at the dominant teams this year.  The Colts, Saints, Vikings, and Eagles are all passing teams.  If you can’t stop passers in the NFL, you can’t win.  And unfortunately, the Steelers cornerbacks can’t seem to stop anybody.


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If I were Steelers’ GM Kevin Colbert (Part 5)

March 11, 2009 By: Admin Category: Draft/Free Agency

March 11, 2009
By Donald Starver

Note: This is the fifth installment in a series.  If you haven’t already read earlier installments, please click the links below

Part 1,

Part 2,

Part 3

Part 4

In our last installment in this series, we talked about what the Steelers’ top priority should be in the upcoming draft.  Most fans probably think that the Steelers’ top priority is the offensive line, and most mock drafts reflect as much.  However, I argued that the Steelers’ top priority should actually be the defensive line.

Having established what the top priority should be, I now want to move on to the Steelers’ second priority in the 2009 NFL draft.

I can hear some of you saying, “finally, he’ll address the offensive line”!  Ummmm, no.  In my opinion, the offensive line is not the Steelers’ top priority in the 2009 draft, nor should it be their second priority.  Nope, that honor falls to the defensive backfield.

The Steelers need DB’s much more than they need offensive linemen.  No, I haven’t been smoking crack.  I’m completely serious.  The Steelers have their entire starting  offensive line from the Super Bowl returning next year.  Every single player will be back.  Moreover, they also have lots of young talent waiting in the wings to challenge the starters for playing time.

Last year’s 4th round draft pick Tony Hills will have a year under his belt, and will actually know what is going on.  Trai Essex looks like he’ll still be around, even though he hasn’t been able to win a starting job after 4 years with the team.  Jason Capizzi is huge, and seems to have potential.  Doug Legursky also shows promise.  As does Jeremy Parquet.

In addition to all of those players waiting in the wings, the Steelers will almost certainly take at least one offensive lineman in the upcoming draft.  So offensive line is covered.  Sure, they’re not world-class, but they’ll do.

Contrast that with the Steelers’ defensive backs.  Unlike the offensive line, the DB’s did lose a starter.  Cornerback Bryant McFadden signed a free agent contract with the West Pittsburgh Cardinals.

We all know that Ike Taylor is the Steelers’ most talented cornerback.  But Bryant McFadden was probably their most consistent cornerback last year, and he was definitely the best in run support.  He will certainly be missed by the Steelers.

Backup cornerback William Gay did get a lot of playing time last season, and Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau feels that he’s ready to step in and replace McFadden.  But Gay is not as good as McFadden.

Frankly, I still question the mental competence of William Gay.  After all, he’s the same guy who wore a NY Yankees cap and Arizona Cardinals colors to the Pittsburgh Steelers’ Super Bowl victory parade.  How smart can the guy be if he can make such an inexcusable (and unforgivable)  faux pas?  (Note to William Gay:  our baseball team is the Pittsburgh Pirates, and our team colors are BLACK AND GOLD!!!).

Deshea Townsend is still on the roster as a backup, but Deshea has never been an incredible talent.  Deshea has remained in the league because he is one of the smartest players on the team.  He’s neither big, nor fast, but he seldom makes mental errors, and he never gets caught out of position.  That is a great asset to have as a backup, but Deshea is in his 13th year in the league, and it’s time to yield to younger, faster legs.

What would happen if Ike Taylor ruptured his achilles tendon and had to miss the 2009 season?  The Steelers would be screwed, that’s what would happen.  They have no other cornerback on the roster who can defend top-tier wide receivers, and they have almost no depth at the position.

The situation is not quite as bad at the safety position, since they didn’t lose a starter.  However, the Steelers did lose depth at the position when safety Anthony Smith was allowed (or should I say, “asked”) to leave.

Troy Polamalu is All-Universe, and Ryan Clark is solid.  Their positions as starters are basically guaranteed.   No worries there.

Tyrone Carter is the only other safety on the Steelers’ roster with any actual NFL experience.  Last years’ 6th round draft pick, Ryan Mundy, spent most of the season on the practice squad after being released during the Steelers’ final cuts.

Tyrone Carter has always played competently when called upon.  However, I have always felt uneasy having to rely on a 5’9″ safety.  Sure, lots of 5’9″ guys flourish at cornerback.  But not many do at safety.

Earlier, I listed a slew of young, aspiring offensive linemen waiting in the wings for the Steelers.  As you can see, we have no such list at defensive back.  We basically have an old man, a munchkin, and a practice squad player.  That is our depth in the defensive backfield.  Does that make you feel either comfortable or confident?  Me neither.

That is why if I were Kevin Colbert, my second priority in the 2009 NFL draft would be defensive backs, NOT offensive linemen.

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