Posted on: January 13, 2009 5:28 am

They Believe

It was in his eyes on Sunday, confidence.  You just saw it on his face each time the camera panned to him.  Mike Tomlin, going into the game against San Diego was a coach with the look of confidence.  Confidence in his team.

Tomlin had been criticized by about playing his starters in a meaningless game at the end of regular season against the Cleveland Browns.  After all, by doing so, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger ended up with a concussion after hitting the turf.  Yeah, the Cleveland game might have been meaningless for the books, but this past Sunday proved that it provided something much more valuable, confidence.

Sunday, against the Chargers, the Steelers played with confidence.  They reflected their coaches belief, their own belief and they came out with something to prove. 

- Mike Tomlin wanted to prove that his Steelers deserved to be there.

- Bruce Arians wanted to prove that his offense wasn’t as bad as every one wanted to think they were, and that they did have a running game.

- Special Teams wanted to prove that they could be good on all aspects of the return and coverage. 

- Ben Roethlisberger wanted to prove that he was healthy and could play well in a playoff game. 

- The oline wanted to prove they could protect their quarterback. 

And Sunday, they proved everything and more.  What part of the team didn’t come out big.  Roethlisberger had good throws that kept drives alive, read the field well and didn’t give up the ball.  The concerns about the concussions were all wiped away Sunday. 

The running game came together, perfectly.  Willie Parker, finally healthy ran wild on the Chargers offense, and when he was out, Mewelde Moore came in with positive yardage.  Chargers defense may have denied Gary Russell one touchdown, but they weren’t going to deny him a second one. 

Big plays on special teams, both in returns and coverage.  Holmes would run one back for 6, something that hadn’t happened all season for the Steelers.

Defense would come up with one interception and would sack Phillip Rivers four times. 

However, it would be the oline that proved themselves in a big way.  In their initial meeting with the Chargers defense, the Steelers offensive line gave up four sacks on Roethlisberger.  This game, they gave up only one sack and opened up some nice holes for the running game. 

Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians proved that he could actually stick with play calling that worked and that it was okay to put more faith in his quarterback.  

Head coach Mike Tomlin once again proved that he wasn’t afraid to take chances and play the game to win, versus playing not to lose.  Although the fake punt failed, it showed some creativity in finding ways to try to get something started on offense. 

With the win on Sunday, Steelers stayed alive to face the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC Championship.  They’ll be going into that game with a dangerous combination.  Confidence and a completely healthy team.  Unlike the Ravens/Titans games were a number of Ravens players sustained injuries, the Steelers left the Chargers game relatively unscathed and no injuries.  

Forget that the Steelers record at home in the AFCC isn’t the best.  They proved this season that none of that matters.  They’ve shaken monkeys before.  They weren’t suppose to win against the Jacksonville Jaguars or the New England Patriots, because…well…their record against them wasn’t the best.  They were 0-2 against San Diego in the playoffs before Sundays games.  They’re beating those monkeys back.  Curses, jinxes are not factors in this upcoming game. 

They say that third times a charm.  Perhaps.  Then again, there’s a truism that bad news comes in threes.  Perhaps it’s not a good thing for the Ravens to meet the Steelers in Heinz Field this time.  Either way, these sayings offset each other, so they're not factors either. 

This past Saturday, the Ravens won the battle of the turnovers against the first seed Titans, to advance on to the AFCC.  However, the Titans aren’t divisional rivals.  In their two previous matchups, the Steelers and Ravens were equal in turnovers.  In the first game, Roethlisberger threw for one interception.  It was Joe Flacco that would throw for two interceptions in their last matchup. 

The question for the Steelers will be in the play calling.  Will Bruce Arians become overconfident in his play calling against a defense, though exhausted and beat up, pulls from their very soul to find a way to make the stops when necessary?  Will the Steelers offense become one dimensional, or will he use the running game to help wear the Ravens defense down?  This game will be a defensive battle, as Ravens/Steelers games always are.  Can the Ravens defense sustain the energy to last 60 minutes and will Joe Flacco maintain his cool against a defense he had already met up with twice before? 

This will be a game where a “never” will be answered.  A rookie quarterback never started in the AFC Championship and went on to the Superbowl.  Ben Roethlisberger never won the AFCC at home.  Despite the Ravens being the media darling for this game, I’ll take the Steelers at home.  After all, look at what happened to the other media darlings this season. 
Posted on: January 11, 2009 8:45 am
Edited on: January 11, 2009 8:46 am

Steel Curtain + Blitzburgh Defense = Steel Blitz

I would love to sit down and chat with Mean Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, L.C. Greenwood, Dwight White and other legendary…yes, legendary…members of the Steelers defense of the 70’s.  What would I love to chat with them about, of course, the obvious, the defense that I grew up watching.  The one that gained it’s place in the annals of NFL history with being an integral part of four Superbowl wins.  While others began to love the high powered games of offense, my love of defensive battles had it’s roots from this corp, because, even if the offense wasn’t able to get it done, the defense did. 

Their play was brutal and bone crushing.  Truly smash mouth football.  The play that put Greene, Lambert, Jack Ham and Mel Blount into the Hall of Fame.  They’ve been considered one of the best defenses in NFL history. 

For the past four decades, Steelers fans have been accustomed to having some truly great defensive players wearing black and gold.  Kevin Greene, Rod Woodson, Carnell Lake, Greg Lloyd just to name a few.  Often times, these defenses have been dubbed the Steel Curtain, because they carried over the traditions and the mindset of the original “men of steel”

Perhaps the squad that best epitomized the original Steel Curtain defense is the one that we’re watching prepare for today’s divisional game against the San Diego Chargers.  For a few years, we’ve been watching this squad develop under defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and for years they’ve been very good, in the top of the league but this year, is it safe to call them great? 

Perhaps, it’s too soon to do that, after all, the final prize hasn’t been won yet.  Ask any Steeler defender that they won’t consider themselves great until they win the Superbowl on their defense…and that’s what they plan to do too, get to and win the ring on their defense alone.  Remember the original Steel Curtain…when the offense can’t get it done, the defense will?  This is exactly what Dick LeBeau’s defense has been doing this year.  Getting it done.  When the offense struggled, the defense kept their opponents pinned down.  They just fell short of being considered one of the best ever.  They managed, until the last game of the season being first in most aspects of defense, but unfortunately, they fell to second against the rush. 

But we knew this already.  So now Dick LeBeau’s defense heads into it’s first playoff game for the season, rested, healthy and out to prove that they can do it on their own, if need be, and they’re going to do it as a team.  Maybe that’s why the “Blitzburgh Defense” has become so darn good, because they play as a team.  No doubt you have great defenders on every team.  Yet who can you say is instrumental on this defense? 

The front three?  The linebacker? The safeties?  Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel have been instrumental in closing gaps and stopping the run.  Yet if the runners did get through, you had Larry Foote, James Farrior, James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley and even Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark getting to them.  Take out Woodley and Harrison and Lawrence Timmons steps up just nicely for them.  Take out Clark or Polamalu and Tyrone Carter makes big plays.  Bryant McFadden, Ike Taylor, Deshea Townsend and even William Gay have performed superbly on a secondary that years prior was considered suspect.  One member of the defense goes down and someone else steps in and surprises us in a good way.  Even the weakest link, Anthony Smith has stepped up in special teams, helping the Steelers improve to 1st in kick off return coverage and 4th in punt return coverage in the NFL.  Every member of this defense have become ball hawks.

Three Steeler defenders will be going to the pro bowl this year, Polamalu, Harrison and Farrior.  Polamalu and Harrison will be voted to be on the NFL All-Pro team for 2008.  James Harrison will not only be named the Steelers MVP for his second consecutive time, but will have been voted the 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year.  There are three names that will have stood out on this Steelers defense, yet, many more who are just as deserving of recognition on this squad. 

Perhaps the most important component of this squad is the one who doesn’t get named in any awards.  Defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau himself.  This year the Steelers honored Coach LeBeau for his 50 years in the NFL and his “family”, the Steelers defense, made sure they were on the field when he was honored.  Perhaps that is why the Steelers defense is as good as they are.  Not just the play calling, but also the cohesiveness of the squad.  Because of Dick LeBeau, this squad has formed what seems an unbreakable bond that believes they can do anything.  Family, that’s about right for LeBeau’s defense.  And if you were to view the “family portrait” taken this week, somehow, you get a sense that they will do anything.  It’s not a secret that LeBeau’s “family” want to see him get into the HOF, and if winning a Superbowl ring on defense, will do it, then that’s what they’re trying to do. 

As a fan, I’ve had the pleasure to watch LeBeau and his defense evolved.  In 2005, while I was holding my breath as the Steelers made the run to be the first 6th seed wild card team to win the Superbowl, I remember a conversation that I had with one of the CBS Sportsline board members.  Then, we were discussing the defense and how they reminded us of the original Steel Curtain.  As I look back on that conversation, I would have to say we were both wrong.  It’s this years team that compares more to the Steel Curtain then that defense.  How awesome though, that the majority of that 05 defense is still on the 08 Steelers defense, and the new members, well just made the team better. 

The possible reincarnation of the Steel Curtain defense bodes well for the Steelers and their fans though.  This squad, like the original one, knows what it takes to get it done and, somehow, I think they will. 
Posted on: January 6, 2009 6:24 am

Questions for Sunday, Another Bizarre Meeting?

In January of 2006, Allegheny County decided to leave up it’s Christmas tree but instead of Christmas ornaments, donations of black and gold ornaments were taken and thus the birth of the “terrible tree”.  The Steelers went on a streak and ended up with the “one for the thumb”.  Like Myron Cope’s Terrible Towel, why mess with something that works.  Three years later, Allegheny County will once again bring back the “terrible tree”.  Yeah, I know laugh.  They laughed at the towel too, when it first came out, even Andy Russell was skeptical, but as the late Myron Cope had pointed out about the towel, there could be magic. 

So while Allegheny County made plans for use of their Christmas tree and the Steelers waited to find out who they would be facing in their AFC divisional playoff game, the Steelers players were busy honing their skills, refining them shall we say.  This may not be good news for Chargers quarterback Phillip Rivers that James Harrison is honing his skills.  Last meeting in Pittsburgh, Harrison ended up with one sack, one interception and forced fumble.  That sack led to a safety. 

Once the Steelers found out who they would meet, they began practice in earnest, the same day that Steelers linebacker James Harrison had become the Associated Press’s Defensive Player of the Year.  That was on Monday.  Monday was also the first day the Ben Roethlisberger practiced after receiving his concussion during the final game of the season against the Cleveland Browns.

Could this Sundays match up between the Steelers and Chargers at Heinz Field be the same type of game as their first meeting on November 16th?  Maybe, maybe not.  They’re calling for snow that weekend, it promises to be cold and Chargers will be facing a fired up fan base, and a team that not only has had a chance to heal up and rest, but one that ended it’s last game with a win. 

Okay, so the Chargers are on a roll also and fired up with their win over the Colts.  However, that win came with a running game by Chargers running back Darren Sproles, Could Sproles run like he did this coming Sunday against the Steelers defense, one that has yet to allow a single 100 yd rusher?  It’s possible, but the Steelers defense had a chance to review the Chargers/Colts game film by Monday. 

Last match up against the Chargers, the Steelers dominated every aspect of the game except one, scoring.  Roethlisberger completed 31 for 41 passes to seven different receivers with no interceptions, despite being sacked four times.  Willie Parker ran for 115 yards.  The problem was, not only the inability to get it into the end zone, but 13 penalties for 115 yards, one which nullified a Santonio Holmes touchdown.  With the exception of that one play, the Chargers red zone defense contained any attempt by the Steelers offense to get the ball in for seven.

Neither quarterback registered a touchdown that day.  In fact, the only touchdown came from a 3 yard run by Tomlinson after a defensive pass interference call on Troy Polamalu which set the Chargers up in scoring position.  Their only other score was on Nate Kaeding field goal in the fourth quarter.  Steelers offensively would only score 9 points, but it was the final drive down the field by Ben Roethlisberger that would set up a Jeff Reed field goal to put the Steelers up by one point. 

Now going into the Steelers first playoff game, we’re wondering if we’ll see a repeat of the November game.  Of course there are questions.

Will Ben Roethlisberger, have the same type of game against the Chargers defense or will his injury coming into the game have an effect?

Will Willie Parker be able to run for 115 yards again, against the Chargers defense?

Will Bruce Arians play conservative or will he actually use Gary Russell on 3d and short and try to punch it over the goal line (something they failed to do the last match up)?

Will the Steelers defense contain both Antonio Gates and Darren Sproles?

How many sacks will James Harrison (and LaMarr Woodley) have this game?

Will the oline not only protect Ben enough but also keep from making the mental mistakes that have cost them touchdowns?

If the referees call offensive holding on the Steelers, will they also call offensive holding on the Chargers? The November matchup had 13 penalties against the Steelers while the Chargers only had 2 for five yards, none of which were offensive holding. 

Will the stock in Maalox rise this week as we hold our breath while Mike Tomlin goes on 4th and short?

Guess we’ll have to wait till Sunday to have these questions answered.
Posted on: December 29, 2008 6:01 am

Somethings to Ponder

  • Had Ben Roethlisberger not gotten hurt in Sundays game and sat in the second half, would fans still be crucifying Mike Tomlin for playing his starters?  What if he got hurt the first snap of the game? 
  • If Tomlin sat the starters Sunday and the Steelers came out looking lackluster in the divisional game, how many of us would be crucifying for Tomlin for letting the Steelers get cold?
  • Will the oline quit making it's mental mistakes in the playoffs?  Several touchdowns were negated this season due to either a holding penalty or false start. 
  • The Browns game was the first game in quite a few weeks that the Steelers opponents actually had an offensive holding call on the.  Will we actually see some calls against the opponents on blatant holds on James Harrison in the playoffs?  (You know both teams are going to try to get away with it, only the Steelers tend to get caught more often then their opponents).
  • Will we ever see Casey Hampton angry again?  After a holding call against Hampton in the Patriots game, two plays later, Hampton found a hole and ran straight through to get to Matt Cassell.  I, for one, would like to see Hampton get angry more often.
  • Willie Parker surpassed Rocky Bleier and became the eighth on the Steelers all time for rushing touchdowns, with his touchdown yesterday against the Browns.
  • Will we see Mike Tomlin be as aggressive in the playoffs as he was in the regular season?  Will Bruce Arians revert to conservative play calling like he did last year against the Jaguars in the Wild Card game?
  • How long will it take for Arians to abandon the running game in the playoffs?
more ponderings to come
Category: NFL
Posted on: December 28, 2008 5:29 pm
Edited on: December 28, 2008 5:55 pm

Steelers Sweep and Shut Out the Browns

They said it was a meaningless game…perhaps.  However, it was to be an opportunity for a team that was coming off of a stinging loss from the week before to gain confidence going into the playoffs   So on a bright Sunday afternoon, the Steelers faced the Cleveland Browns for their last game of the regular season. 

For as suspect as the Steelers offense had been called, perhaps it was good for them to play, especially starting the first quarter where the offense couldn’t seem to get anything going.  Somehow, we second guessed ourselves though, when the stadium went quiet and those of us at home watched with baited breath as the Steelers franchise quarterback lay on the field after a hit by two Browns defenders and a sigh of relief and a cheer going through the stadium as Ben Roethlisberger raised his thumb up as they were carting him off the field.  But let me digress a bit.

It was not a very good start for the Steelers offense.  An interception on Roethlisberger, then later, a beautiful touchdown pass from Ben to Nate Washington, negated on holding penalty.  Troy Polamalu would be denied a forced fumble by the referees and a defensive touchdown, would be called an incomplete pass.  But somehow, Willie Parker found enough rhythm and ran one in for his 24th career touchdown.  Hines Ward would not only have his 5th career season 1000 yard game, but would go on to complete a career 800+ possessions.  As Ben was getting into the groove, he would find himself out of the game, taken away to a local hospital by ambulance.  Byron Leftwich would come in and continue to take this offense down the field on the Browns, to include having a rushing touchdown on his own.

Defensively, James Harrisons presence was missed.  One would have to wonder if Browns running back, Jamal Lewis, would have met his 1000 yd season had the Steelers MVP been in.  However, defense held well today and shut out the Browns offense.  Romeo Crennell had hoped the wildcat offense could help the Browns fourth quarterback, however, the Steelers defense adjusted well and it would not be a good day for the kid from the Burgh in his first NFL start.  Defensive stud for the game was not a name well known throughout the season.  Tyrone Carter would replace safety Ryan Clark, who had dislocated his shoulder during the Steelers/Titans game.  Carter would come up with two picks, one which he ran back for a touchdown. 

Meaningless game, yes, probably.  Given the injury to Roethlisberger, in hindsight, was it a good idea.  I’m sure Ben would tell you it was a good idea and besides, as many analysts and players will tell you, an injury could occur on the first play or the fiftieth.  However, if coming off with not only a shutout, but also a sweep of the division (something that hasn’t been done since 2002), along with confidence going into the playoffs is meaningless, well then you have to be the judge on that one. 
Posted on: December 27, 2008 7:36 am

For The Love Of Mike

No, this is not a testimony of my love for my husband (who just happens to be named Mike), nor am I proclaiming that I have the hots for Steelers coach Mike Tomlin (though he is a rather nice looking man), however, as a female football fan, I think I can get away with using the word love while referencing a football coach. 

With the departure of Lane Kiffen from the head coaching position of the Oakland Raiders, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has become the youngest head coach in the NFL and now has his second division title to add to his two year career as a head coach. 

No doubt, when Tomlin took over the position of head coach for the Pittsburgh Steelers, he was in an enviable position, taking over a team that was only two years out from a Superbowl win, still stocked with talent in an organization that was seeing only it’s third coaching transition in three decades. 

I’ll admit it, I was skeptical of Tomlin when he was first hired.  Of course my loyalties were to Russ Grimm and Ken Wisenhunt, but neither would end up with the position.  No doubt, I had my concerns.  How would this coach change the way the Steelers played.  My biggest fear, Tomlin was going to replace Dick LeBeau.  It didn’t happen.  In fact, there was little transition in the coaching staff upon Tomlin’s arrival.  I won’t go into that however, since Pittsburgh Post Gazette’s columnist Gene Collier does a great job of outlining Tomlin’s transition and the respect he’s earned from his players.

What I do want to go into though is why I like Tomlin.  For the most part, it’s this simple.  He plays to win.  Before you mutter about all the negatives that you might see with him, you cannot argue, for better or worse, he plays to win.  Hear me out.

After the Dallas Cowboys game, when a lot of analysts were questioning as to why Tomlin went for a failed 4th and 1 instead of kicking a field goal to put the Steelers only one score behind, I was cheering that decision.  Okay, so it failed.  But what Tomlin consistenly has shown me is that he has the most important thing that a coach can have…faith in his players and his team. 

The same question came up as to whether Tomlin would have gone for it on 4th and short in the Ravens game or had taken the field goal to tie the game and send it in to overtime.  Tomlin would finally answer that question mid-week that he would have gone for it.  Basically because, he was playing to win the game. 

We’ve seen the difference in coaches that play to win versus coaches that play not to lose.  Give me a coach that plays to win, maybe that’s why the Steelers have had two winning seasons under Tomlin, 10-6 in 2007 and 11-4 (okay maybe 12-4 after the Cleveland game on Sunday). 

Perhaps we should nickname him “Maalox Mike”, for the Maalox moments that he has given us over the past two seasons, with the fourth down calls, that sometime work and sometimes don’t.  At least, for better or worse, he’s not afraid to put his trust in his players and take the chance. 

In the fore mentioned article, Collier wrote about how “smart” Tomlin was.  That seems apparent going into Sunday’s game against the Browns.  In recent press conferences, Coach Tomlin, as mum as Patriots coach Bill Belichick, when asked about the upcoming game would only comment that “we’re playing”. 

With nothing on the line for this game, it’s implied that Tomlin would be playing the majority of his players.  At the moment, everyone is a probable with the exception of strong safety Ryan Clark, who dislocated his shoulder during the Titans game.  Why play everyone in a game that means nothing?  I can see the upside to playing the game and not giving a two week break.  Steelers fans only have to go back to 04 to see what happened when the starters sat out for two weeks.  Of course they don’t have to go back that far.  Teams that seem to sit their starters and take two weeks off tend to come out cold in the playoffs.  It could also give the Steelers offense to sync up before it heads into the divisional game. 

Now I’m not proclaiming Tomlin god, after all, I still think it was a mistake not to make some moves to shore up the oline during the draft, and giving Bruce Arians carte blanche over the offense might not be the best idea.  But then, in a way, Tomlin is a mid-level manager who relies on his “supervisors” to advise him.  Of course, when it fails, he does hold them accountable.  After the loss to the Colts, Tomlin did call out his players and coaches.  Since then, the only loss the Steelers would have was last weeks game to the Titans.  The one nice thing about Tomlin is his youth.  He’s still young enough to learn from his mistakes. 

Only time will tell if Tomlin will live up to the expectations and continue in the tradition of former Steelers coaches Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher.  If he continues the way he is now, I can see a long tenure for Tomlin with the Steelers organization.
Posted on: December 27, 2008 6:03 am

Steelers Faithful Answers the Call

Often we talk about the players and the organizations.  Their on the field play, their off the field contributions.  No doubt the Rooney's and the rest of the Steelers organization, in the tradition of "The Chief" makes the community and their fans a part of their "family".  When the team reaches out to the community for help, the "family" responds by giving themselves.  Not their money, not canned goods, but literally, giving a part of themselves.

Each year the Pittsburgh Steelers, along with the Central Blood Bank, host their annual blood drive, which normally draws a large response.  This year, Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith reached out to the community with the plight of his five year old son Elijah and the transfusions necessary to help Smith's son battle leukemia, to show the dire need to maintain the blood banks supplies.  This year, nearly 900 Steelers faithful responded by showing up at Heinz Field on Friday and giving a pint of themselves, making this blood drive one of the largest and most successful drives in several years.  On hand to meet the donors were Steelers players, including Mr. Smith.

It is around the holiday season, that blood supplies tend to reach a critically low level.  Nationwide, the American Red Cross and local blood banks step up their efforts to reach out and make sure there is enough blood on hand for those patients that need it. 

Personally, I know the importance of blood donors, they helped save the life of my mother.  My mother under went a routine operation that went bad.  In the end, what saved her life was the blood transfusions (at the time, she made AMA journals for having received the largest amount of blood and surviving).  Had those donors not stepped up, an 11 year old girl and her sisters would have been left without a mother.

If you've donated blood this season, thank you.  If you haven't, please take a moment and stop by your local blood drive, blood bank or American Red Cross and give a little bit of yourself.  Don't worry, those needles only hurt for a second.

Source:  Steelers plea brings hundreds to blood drive at Heinz Field,  by Torsten Ove, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, dtd 12/27/08
Posted on: December 25, 2008 1:25 pm
Edited on: December 25, 2008 1:28 pm

Steelers Name Their MVP

With all the talk about who should be NFL league MVP and Offensive/Defensive Player of the Year, the Steelers acknowledge one of their own this year...again. 

For the second year, linebacker James Harrison has been named the Steelers MVP for 2008.  Harrison has been one of the main staples of the Dick LeBeau top ranked Steelers defense, with registering 101 tackles, one safety, 16 sacks and one interception this season. 

Congrats to Harrison, he deserves the honor.

Source:  Pittsburgh Post Gazette, dtd 12/25/08
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