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Posted on: January 29, 2009 10:27 am
Edited on: January 29, 2009 11:16 am
 

Don't Write off the Offense Just Yet

It started with a loaf of bread and an encounter with a fan in a Walmart parking lot.  Steelers left tackle Max Starks would tell you that a Steelers fan yelling at him in a Walmarts parking lot that he better “protect our quarterback” was the turning point for him.  Indeed the Steelers oline has received it’s share of criticism this season, and rightfully so.  Ed Bouchette from the Pittsburgh Post Gazette would point out that they’ve gotten better and Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin would agree that they’re trying but doesn’t want to let up the heat on them yet.  Seems that the Steelers offensive line does better when it has something to prove. 

In the Cleveland game, after criticism that the Steelers have no running game, the offensive line celebrated after the use of the I-formation that allowed Willie Parker to run for 116 yards.  Willie Parker would follow up in the AFC divisional game with 146 yards against the San Diego Chargers.  You might want to argue though, what about Baltimore, and my response to that is “what about Baltimore?”.

But Roethlisberger was sacked 46 times, one taking him out of the game.  Yeah he was, but let’s keep things in perspective.  Last year was his career high sack of 47.  In 2006, with both center Jeff Hartings and guard Alan Faneca on the line, and Russ Grimm as coach, Ben was sacked a surprising number of 46 times.  Same as this year.  Difference between 06 and now, well night and day.  Then the Steelers finished 8 and 8, now they’re competing to be called this years best team in the NFL. 

After Starks was called out in the parking lot, the Steelers oline allowed only one sack on Roethlisberger in the Chargers play off game.  This is noteable because in the week 11 game against the Chargers at Heinz Field, the Chargers defense would register four sacks against the Steelers quarterback.  Okay before you say it, “what about Baltimore?”  Grant it, the Steelers gave up four sacks to the Ravens defense.  My suggestion, never use a Ravens/Steelers game as a barometer to determine how one or the other team will do against other teams in the league, trust me on this one. 

Of course the Steelers oline isn’t the only part of the offense that has been deemed either bad or mediocre.  Steelers have no run game right?  Actually not true, and in a way, I have to agree with Bruce Arians when he argued that they actually do, just not one that we’re use to.  Watching a replay of “Road to Glory” about the Steelers 05 run to the Superbowl, you’ll see a clip of former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis running over Chicago Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher.  This is the running game that we’re use to from the Pittsburgh Steelers.  Sadly it wasn’t Jerome retiring that changed the face of the Steelers running game but the retirement of backfield and running back coach Dick Hoak.  Hoak had been a major component to the Steelers running game as a player and a coach.  Hoak would retire as a player and become a backfield coach in the early 70s.  Hoak would retire from the Steelers in 2007. 

Of course the face of the running game changed and not saying it was ineffective, after all, up until his injury in 2007, Willie Parker was on track to be the leagues leading rusher.  In the off-season the Steelers would pick up a power back in the draft in Rashard Mendenhall, and acquire Mewelde Moore from the Vikings in free agency.  Up until the Eagles game, Parker had two 100 plus games, against the Texans and the Browns.  Parker would go down with an injury in week 3 and the next week, the Steelers would lose their powerback for the season.  This left the Steelers management scrambling for replacements.  Enter Gary Russell and Najeh Davenport.  Davenport would have less of an impact then Russell and would later be released, to be signed by the Colts.  Although Moore would not excel in the running game, he was effective.  He ran for 99 yards against the Jaguars and 120 against the Bengals.  In the Giants game, he would come out as the top back of that game, with 84 yards.  But where Moore was more valuable was on the screens and receiving.  Although Russell wouldn’t be utilized until week 11, he turned out to be the answer for the 3d and short yardages, something the Steelers offense struggled at. 

Although it seemed like the running game was struggling through the regular season, a lot of that also had to do with the quality of defenses the Steelers were facing.  Facing Baltimore twice, the Eagles, Giants, Titans and Cowboys, all run stingy defenses, it just enhanced the “illusion” of no running game.  Of course, we were use to this not being a factor when the Steelers had the big backs.  Once completely healthy, Willie Parker and rushing offense clicked.  As mentioned before, the Steelers would have big running games going into the AFC Championship game.  The lack of a run game against the Ravens, in a way is immaterial since the Ravens have historically given the Steelers grief when it comes to running the ball. 

Compared to other offenses in the league, statistics wise, the Steelers total offense would look weak.  However, statistics don’t show the complete picture.  Against teams with “lesser” defenses, Steelers would move the ball and be able to score.  Against the tougher defenses, they found a way to win or at least tie the game.  The most classic would be against the Cowboys in December.  The Steelers offense drove the field twice to put themselves in scoring position to come back from behind.  Ben’s ability to comeback from behind during the regular season had several analysts comparing him to former Bronco’s quarterback John Elway. 

What seemed to hurt this offense more in the regular season was not lack of the running game but mental errors.  Dropped balls at crucial times, offensive penalties that would negate Steeler touchdowns or first down conversions, interceptions and turnovers. However, a lot of this had seemed to be addressed going into the playoffs, with the exception of some rookie mistakes by a young wide receiver, Roethlisberger has been error free, not giving up any interceptions and the Steelers offense has been a little more disciplined. 

A lot is being made of the Arizona Cardinals high powered offense and rightly so.  Going into the playoffs, a mixture of using the run and Warner’s ability to avoid pressure by releasing the ball early has made the Cardinals offense look unstoppable.  However, there is an idea that if the Steelers needed to rely on their offense to win the game, it would be impossible.  If Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians decides to get in a shoot out like he did against the Colts, then yes, it would be impossible. 

Where the Steelers offense does excel at is keeping the opposing teams defense off the field, but for this to be effective, Arians will have to call something other the run on 1st and 2nd and deep passes on 3d downs.  If Arians mixes it up, or allows Roethlisberger to determine the play based in coverage, then the Steelers do have a chance to repeat the same offensive performance they had against San Diego into the playoffs.  If he chooses to abandon the running game, then the Cardinals defense may have a day like they had against Carolina’s offense. 

Yes, I know that the Cardinals defense has stepped up, but taking away the running game isn’t guaranteed to stop the Steelers offense, especially since they’ve had to overcome that attempt all season long against some of the best defenses in the league.  Not taking anything away from the Cardinals performance on defense, but they didn’t exactly become the Ravens, Giants or Titans defense coming into the playoffs.  Where the Cardinals defense has excelled at is coverage in their secondary and the ability to intercept the ball.  Roethlisberger recently faced one of the best in Ed Reed and Reed went home empty handed. 

And yes, I know that Ken Whisenhunt has been practicing getting to Roethlisberger, and if the offensive play calling gets conservative and predictable, it will be a long day for the Steelers offense, however, when Roethlisberger is allowed to determine plays based on what he sees rather then what Arians sends in, he’s been much more efficient in getting plays off.  This was something they did not do against the Cardinals in their 07 meeting in Arizona.

A lot will be made about the Steelers defense and while the focus will be on the plays they make, I think in the end, an underrated Steelers offense may just step up and surprise everyone on Superbowl Sunday.

Posted on: January 25, 2009 6:41 am
 

A House Divided

Yesterday, my daughter, after seeing me wear my Pittsburgh Steelers sweatshirt, asked about the Superbowl.  Yes, I was excited, finally, my daughter showed an interest in football.  My excitement was short lived though, because shortly after that, she announced that she was pulling for the Cardinals to win. 

My daughters reasoning, “well, ya’ll already have a ring and the Cardinals don’t”.  In the words of the late Myron Cope, “yoi”.  So it’s not bad enough that I’m married to an Indianapolis Colts fan, but now my very flesh and blood, the baby that I endured swollen feet and acute indigestion for nine months, not to mention the hours of relentless pain giving birth to her, is pulling for the Steelers to lose to “Cinderella”.  Yeah, I tried to use the “birth” ploy to guilt her into changing her mind but she told me it wasn’t going to work.  Oh well.   At least my husband is pulling for the AFC team during the game. 

Funny the conversations that come up in this family during Superbowl runs.  I found myself repeating a lot of what I said to my husband in 2005.  After the Colts beat the Steelers in Indianapolis in 2005 during regular season, my husband told me that the Colts were going to win the Superbowl, which I replied, “not this year”.  So when my daughter told me the Cardinals were going to win, I found myself replying once again, “not this year”.  Of course, she wasn’t satisfied with that answer and had to press it.

Her:  But Mom, wouldn’t it be awesome if they (Cardinals) would finally win one?

Me:  Yes, and they can do it next year, this year it’s the Steelers year.

Her:  Why, they (Steelers) already have a ring.

Me:  Well, actually they (Steelers) have five rings, I’ll be gracious to other teams once the Steelers become the first to have six.

Her:  But how can you be sure that the Steelers will win?

Me:  Because I got new clothes.

Her:  Huh?

Me:  Well, the year the Steelers won, I had just bought a Bettis jersey.  Then your grandmother sent us those t-shirts for the Steelers Superbowl run. 

Her:  So

Me:  Well, this year, I picked up the AFC North Division Champions t-shirt, just received the Steelers hoodie that I have on and your grandmother is sending me a James Harrison t-shirt.  Every time that I start “collecting” clothes, the Steelers get the ring.

Her:  Ummm, okay…

Me:  Seriously, I just have this feeling.  Had it from the beginning of the year.

Her:  But the Cardinals are hot right now. 

Me:  Ummm, who’ve you been reading?

Her:  No one, just what I’ve heard.

Me:  Yeah, the Cardinals are hot right now…then again, so were the Colts, the Chargers, the Ravens, the Titans, the Falcons.  Only one “hot” team is now left and they didn’t get “hot” until the playoffs. 

Her:  Oh, the Steelers aren’t hot? 

Me:  No, they’re consistent.  They went 12-4 in the regular season.  Their offense is just starting to click in the last few games.

Her:  Oh.  But they say that the Cardinals Fitz…something or other can’t be stopped

Me:  Larry Fitzgerald, no, he’s probably the best wide receiver in the game, but the Steelers have covered the best before and effectively most of the time. 

Her:  Huh?

Me:  We’ve heard it all the time, the Steelers can’t cover T.O, can’t cover Chad Johnson, can’t cover T.J. Housh…you get what I mean.  They’ve managed to cover the best before.  Not that covering Fitzgerald is going to be easy but it’s not going to be impossible. 

Her:  Ummm, okay.  But the Cardinals are still going to win.

Me:  Maybe they will, but do you want to hear the football reasons as to why I don’t think they will?

Her:  Well, ummm, not really.  Just a good thing that I won’t be home to watch the game with you. 

Me:  Mmmmhmmm…by the way, next time I’m watching a Steelers game and you ask how “we’re doing”, just keep in mind you jumped on another teams bandwagon. 

Her:  Well you know that I don’t like football anyway.

Me:  So why are you pulling for the Cardinals?

Her:  Because you’re pulling for the Steelers.

*Sigh*.  You know, there are times when living alone looks like it would have it’s benefits.

Category: NFL
Posted on: January 20, 2009 5:25 am
 

Waiting to Exhale

Can I breath yet?  It seems like all season I’ve been holding my breath, waiting for the shoe to drop.  Don’t get me wrong, I knew the Steelers would be to this point, going to the Superbowl, I even blogged my homer picks prior to the season starting calling for a Steelers/Cowboys Superbowl.  Okay, so I was half right.  I also predicted the Cardinals to make it to the playoffs, just never saw them getting this far, but I’m not surprised. 

But yes, despite my beliefs, I held my breath and would do nothing to upset the balance.  I stuck to my rituals, as if somehow changing them would jinx the Steelers.  Do I have that much impact on the Steelers, not really, but it should be noted on the day of the big loss to the Titans, I had done none of my rituals, and come game time, wasn’t even wearing the jersey. 

So going into this past Sunday, for the AFC Championship at Heinz Field, a place where the Steelers, as favorites, had lost twice before, there was nothing I was going to do to even tempt the fates.  That morning I donned my AFC North Division Champions t-shirt, something I had picked up on my last trip to the ‘Burgh, and went about my normal routine.  I stayed away from the smack talk on the boards, well, almost.  I did predict that Jim Harbaugh would enjoy coaching the AFC in the Pro-Bowl.  Come game time, I donned my #7 Roethlisberger jersey (which my husband bought for me after #36 retired) and parked my carcass in front of the tv, clutching my Terrible Towel.  Only leaving the couch come commercial breaks, not wanting to miss a thing.

Not that my rituals would have changed the outcome of the game, however, it seemed fitting for this season to stick to rituals, since, well, we’ve seen the Steelers overcome jinxes, curses and shaken monkeys for most of the season to get to that point on Sunday.  Now they were playing at home, to get to the big game and the hope of the third time being a charm.  Of course, the Ravens went into Pittsburgh hoping that their third time would be a charm also. 

By now, we know the outcome of the game.  The charm was for the Steelers.  The Ravens magical season came to an end, basically in the same fashion that another rookie quarterbacks first magical season ended, to a veteran quarterback and a defense that took advantage of mistakes and miscues.  Not that Joe Flacco made a lot of mistakes, two interceptions were good reads by Steelers defenders.  But the reality was that Flacco’s inexperience and the inability to move the ball down the field against the Steelers defense didn’t exactly help keep an already battered and bruised Ravens defense off the field.

Some will point to a personal foul in the fourth quarter during a return as the changing point for Baltimore, at least taking away the Ravens momentum, perhaps, but if that’s the case, there were more mental errors done by the Steelers that day.  The only scores from the Ravens were due to two pass interference calls that put the ball close to the goal for two rushing touchdowns. 

Mental errors, we’ve seen a lot of that this season.  I’ve lost count of how many big plays and touchdowns were called back due to penalties this season.  Teams make them.  Steelers were no different.  Of course, there were missed opportunities also, dropped passes by veteran receivers, not to mention one big one from a rookie.  But rookies make mistakes (hopefully Limas Sweed is a quick learner).  No doubt, this game wasn’t different.  The Steelers just overcame them, the Ravens, weren’t able to. 

As like any game between the Ravens and the Steelers, there would be bodies taken off the battlefield.  One wouldn’t expect anything different in this game.  In the first matchup, the first kickoff of the game, Steelers linebacker and special teams player, Andre Frazier would be carted off the field.  Steelers rookie running back, Rashard Mendenhall would suffer a broken shoulder incurred with his collision with a mac truck known as Ray Lewis, Steelers running back Carey Davis and Ravens running back Willis McGahee would also leave the game.  So there was no surprise that we’d see hard hits in this game.  Steelers would lose their star receiver Hines Ward to a knee injury and the stadium held it’s breath after seeing both Willis McGahee and Ryan Clark laying motionless on the ground after the two trains collided.  Clark is probably no longer seeing the little birdies circling his head and reports out of Pittsburgh and Baltimore expect McGahee to make a full recovery. 

The Steelers accomplished two of their three goals that night when they hoisted up the Lamar Hunt Trophy for the AFC Championship.  Despite the win, hopefully the Steelers aren’t breathing easy yet, their most difficult challenge is yet to come. 
Posted on: January 15, 2009 1:43 pm
Edited on: January 15, 2009 1:48 pm
 

HOF Nominee Rod Woodson Honorary Co-Captain

Having won his Superbowl ring wearing Purple and Black, NFL Hall of Fame nominee and former Steelers cornerback Rod Woodson will be serving as honorary Captain for the.... Pittsburgh Steelers, according to Ed Bouchette with the Pittsburgh Post Gazette.

Woodson, in his online chat with NFL.com today acknowledged that if he had to chose a team to be inducted into the HOF from, he would pick the Steelers.   Woodson will be serving as honorary co-captain, with another Steelers HOF nominee, former Steeler center, Dermontti Dawson. 

Last week, former Steeler running back Jerome Bettis was on hand for the coin toss in the Chargers/Steelers game. 

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 31, 2008 4:42 am
Edited on: December 31, 2008 6:20 am
 

Remembering a Legend

When CBS Sports had their “Sports Appreciation Day”, CBS member Pittcontact had talked about getting his first baseball cards and how it grew into a passion, I was able to relate.  As kids, we would cart the empty pop bottles (soda bottles for those who aren’t familiar with the terminology of pop bottles) down to the local store and with the money we received, bought comic bottles, candy and the packs of Topps bubble gum with the baseball cards.  Pittcontact took me back to a time, in my mind where cards were either coveted, or used as attachments for bicycle spokes to make pretty cool clacking sounds as we road up and down the road.  The day that blog took me back to many fond memories and I had determined to recreate my card collection.

On my last trip home, I had in hand two of the same baseball cards for my nephews.  They were 1976 Topps Willie Stargell cards. My nephews, 16 and 11 are avid baseball fans and like I did when I was their age, collect baseball cards.  They thought it was cool.  As Josh would say, it was their first “old” card they had for their collection.  They were impressed with Stargell’s career averages that were printed on the back of the card.  If they were impressed with what he did in 76, wait until they get the one from 79 and 82 that I’m planning on picking up for them.  Even more so, wait until they get the card of another player that I’m planning on picking up for them. 

One wonders if the ARods and Jeeters of today will have the same lasting impact that the players of my day had, not just to their fans but also to baseball.  Will their contributions inspire others from another generation to wear their number?  Will they go on to be remembered twenty, thirty, even 50 years later as one of the greats, like Babe Ruth, Cy Young, Jackie Robinson?  Will a young boy who idolizes Sammy Sosa, take the mound years from now wearing a 21 in honor of Sosa and understand why Sosa wore that number in the first place?  While the MLB teams make there acquisitions and prepare for spring training, will there be one from this batch that will end up living forever in sports lore?

Thirty six years ago, I was a tom-boy of 11.  That summer I would be in bicycle races with the neighbor boys, build forts, get in trouble for handing out my dad’s collection of Playboys to the same boys I rode bikes with and played “kick the can”.  My life would begin to change a bit.  I would have to become a little more mature to help my mother out after her surgery, I shared my first kiss with a boy that was actually a little memorable, I would get my first training bra, and it would be the last time I got to see my hero play in Three Rivers Stadium and somehow hoping to see the Pittsburgh Pirates repeat for pennant. 

As I write this, I cannot help but tear up, remembering.  Thirty six years is a long time, but even for my failing memory, it seems like yesterday.  The Pirates team of the 60s and 70s would produce some names that would live on in the annals of baseball history, no doubt, and live even longer in the hearts of those who lived close to the Steel City and followed Pirate baseball.  Yet there will be one who will never be forgotten, the City of Pittsburgh won’t let that happen (after all, not only is there a statue of this player but also a bridge and schools named after him) and the MLB won’t allow us to forget by presenting annual awards in his name. 

It was New Years eve in 1972, on a trip to a country devastated by an earthquake that the fate of Pittsburgh Pirates Roberto Clemente Walker, would go from being a hero to a legend.  In baseball, he was known as “The Great One”.  He would see his first World Series one year before I was born and his second one year before his death.  1972 would see the Pirates just falling short in the National League Championship Series due to a wild pitch by Pirates Pitcher Bob Moose. 

Clemente would receive the Gold Glove Award from 1961 through 72, have a career .317 batting average, hit for 3000, with 240 homeruns.  His career cemented his spot in the Baseball HOF and would put him up there with other greats of the game.  Yet his legend doesn’t end on the field.  Roberto Clemente, having been born in poverty, had a genuine desire to help people, especially children.  It was this desire to help that led him to get on a relief flight to Nicaragua that would take his life, when his plane went down. 

Roberto Clemente once said, "I want to be remembered as a ballplayer who gave all he had to give."  That wish and his memory was kept alive.  He was inducted posthumously into the Baseball HOF one year after his death, received the Congressional Gold Medal in 1973 and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2002.  Each year, teams recognizes a player from each team for their achievements both on and off the field with the Roberto Clemente Award and at the end of the season, the MLB presents one player with this honor. 

Clemente will always be remembered, for those of us who saw him play, for those of us who pass on his achievements to the next generation.  For those who saw his statue in front of Three Rivers Stadium and then moved to PNC Park. For those young men, like Sammy Sosa.  For the future generation of players coming out of Puerto Rico.   His will be a legacy that will not be marred in scandal or with accusations of greed, only what was best in the game and best in humanity. 

So thirty six years after, as I raise my glass to welcome in the new year, I will also remember one of the greatest, not only in baseball, but in humanity.  Today, I will remember the legend.
 
 
 
 
The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com