Achilles Heel? Jesse James Healthy but Steelers Could be in Tight Spot @ Tight End

Ah, gotta watch those June Achilles tears. On the Jesse James return to practice following his injury in Pittsburgh’s preseason win over Tennessee, but tight end could be a tight spot for the Steelers this season, and if it is it will have all started with a June Achilles injury.

Jesse James, Steelers 2018 tight ends

Jesse James after catching a high Ben Roethlisberger pass vs. Titans. Photo credit: Yahoo! Sports

Pittsburgh’s problems at the position of began during spring practice, when reserve tight end Jake McGee torn his Achilles tendon during OTAs. The Steelers had carried McGee on their practice squad during 2018 and coaches expected McGee to push Xavier Grimble for a roster spot.

The Steelers situation at tight end grew more complicated arrived at St. Vincents when Vance McDonald injured his foot after after only one day of practice. Vance McDonald has not practiced since that fateful day in July, although Mike Tomlin has publicly listed McDonald as “Day-to-day.”

The Steelers of course acquired McDonald last season in a trade, only to see him sit on the sidelines injured, although he rebounded for strong game in the playoff loss to the Jaguars.

That left Xavier Grimble and Jesse James, but Grimble injured his wrist/thumb on a blocking sled on August 18th and had to have surgery. Grimble has been characterized as “Week-to-week.” If McDonald’s absence is any guide, perhaps month-to-month would be for fitting for Grimble.

Let’s hope that not the case, but as good Reimagined Battlestar Galactica fans know, “All this has happened before and [hopefully] will [not] again.”

June Misfortunes Can Set the Tone for an Entire Season

The advent of the digital age has magnified everything. Trivial, bit-sized bites of Steelers news that once would have merited 2-3 inches of newspaper column wedged in somewhere deep in the back pages of the Pittsburgh Press or Post-Gazette now serve as feature-length click generating stories (sometimes for good reason, sometimes not.)

  • In that spirit, news from OTAs and minicamp often gets taken too seriously.
  • But sometimes what events from June can end up dictating the entire narrative of the season.

Take the case of Willie Colon. In 2010 Willie Colon, the Steelers starting right tackle, tore his Achilles tendon in late June. This came after Steelers 5th round draft pick Chris Scott had already broken his leg. Those two injuries initiated a torrent of offensive line injuries that lasted the entire year.

During the Steelers 2010 win over Tampa Bay, the Steelers were force to substitute so many offensive lineman that Mike Tomlin remarked jokingly (or perhaps not so jokingly) that coaches didn’t even know who was in and who was out of the game.

The Steelers lost Max Starks in week 7 against Cincinnati, and in the next week against New England, Ben Roethlisberger suffered 5 sacks as the Patriots collapsed the Steelers offensive line at will. Roethlisberger’s sack rate nearly doubled with Jonathan Scott starting at left tackle.

  • Offensive line injuries continued literally through to the taild end of the season.

After the Steelers playoff win against the Ravens, Ben Roethlisberger lauded Flozell Adams for wanting to come off of a gurney to return to the game, and Pittsburgh of course was forced to start Doug Legursky at center in Super Bowl XLV due to injuries to Maurkice Pouncey.

Will the same thing happen to the 2018 Steelers at tight end? Hopefully not, but with less than two weeks to go before the regular season, tight end appears to be the Steelers Achilles heel.

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Roger Goodell Suspends James Harrison

Justice is blind.”

It is a principle that has guided western jurisprudence for millennia. “All men are bad judges in their own cases” wrote James Madison in Federalist Number 10. Madison was right of course. When deciding between what is just and what is unjust it is near impossible to divorce oneself from self-interest.

So we insulate judges from the political process. We try people with anonymous juries. Parties are represented in courts by professional advocates with a limited personal stake in the outcome. The system of blind justice, while imperfect, has served western civilization well.

Over the last several years evidence has mounted on the disastrous, long-term impact that concussions and repeated head trauma can have an NFL player. The NFL took note, encouraged players to keep a watchful eye on their teammates, put posters up in locker rooms, and prohibited players from returning to games after suffering concussions.

But on the field things continued as normal. That is, until October 6, 2010. The big news that weekend was not the return of Ben Roethlisberger, but two hits by James Harrison.

Those hits led NFL commissioner Roger Goodell to implement an arbitrary policy aimed at cracking down on hard hits, particularly hits to the head.

And he made James Harrison his whipping boy, fining him a record $125,000 dollars. The record reflects that the first several fines that James Harrison drew did not even warrant flags on the field.

Harrison did himself no favors, admitting that while he never sought to injure a fellow player, he did seek to inflict pain. There’s a fine line between the two, particularly when you’re talking about 250-300 pound men running at each other at full speed.

Whether Harrison knew it or not he was throwing the gauntlet down to the NFL, and Roger Goodell and his lackey Ray Anderson were only too happy to pick it up. The James Harrison fine fest began.

The Steelers stood by James Harrison. Art Rooney II was clear that he had no problem with protecting against helmet-to-helmet hits: Rooney’s quibble was with the way the league was changing the rules in mid-season.

Rooney was right of course. He also might have added that Goodell’s enforcement of his 2010 seat-of-the-pants helmet-to-helmet hit policy was arbitrary. Referees started throwing flags for love taps on quarterbacks, at the request of the Tom Brady and Peyton Mannings of the league and, on the flip side, fines started being awarded for plays that no one even thought warranted a flag.

Clarified Rules, Fuzzy Enforcement

The NFL did clarify his rules and procedures aimed at of minimizing head trauma. This is completely the right thing to do, as head trauma could do to the NFL what an incoherent Muhammad Ali did for pro boxing.

Nonetheless, enforcement has been spotty.

In 2011 the NFL has issued ticky tacky fines, reasonable and justified ones, but turned a blind eye to other helmet-to-helmet hits, such as the one James Harrison suffered in Houston. (Interestingly enough, no You Tube video of that hit seems to be available – could it be that the NFL PR people don’t want people to know that all helmet-to-helmet hits are equal, but some helmet-to-helmet hits are more equal…?)

Precedent Breaking Suspension

James Harrison, for all his bravado, has altered his style of play this season, and going into the Browns game he had not been flagged for a helmet-to-helmet hit.

In suspending Harrison, the NFL cited his past history dating back to 2009, and clarified that players had been informed they were not entering 2011 with a clean slate.

Yet, as Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain documented, several other players with a past history have been guilty of far more blatant violations of the helmet-to-helmet hits. Worse yet, players like Richard Seymour continue to punch people out post whistle hits, and continue to draw smaller fines than ones levied for actions taken in the heat of a game.

The Harrison suspension is without precedent.

The last NFL player to be suspended* for a pre-whistle illegal tackle on a quaterback was Charles Martin. Look at the video for yourself (available as of 12/13/11 – not sure how long before the NFL’s lawyers force YouTube to take this down).

A couple of things stand out:

  • Jim McMahon had clearly released the ball before being hit
  • Charles Martin knew McMahon had thrown the ball
  • McMahon had his back to the rusher
  • Martin not only had time to stop, but adjusted his momentum to deliver a late hit

For this Martin got suspended two games.

Now, look at James Harrison’s offense (video available as of 12/13/11):

Let’s make a few points

  • Colt McCoy had clearly tucked the ball and was running
  • McCoy was facing Harrison
  • Harrison began his tackle while McCoy was still a runner
  • McCoy tossed the ball away at the last moment

No one can argue that Harrison did not lead with the helmet. But that is legal against an open field runner (whether it should be is different question).

You can say that Harrison should have adjusted his strike zone, given that when it comes to quarterbacks, the burden of proof is on the defender. Ok, but unlike Martin, can you reasonably say that Harrison had time to alter his actions when it was clear that McCoy was going to throw the ball?

Regardless, there is no way anyone can argue that Harrison’s act was anywhere near as malicious as Charles Martin’s was 25 years ago.

Eye on Harrison’s Explosion

James Harrison doesn’t say much, but when he does speak, words explode from his mouth. This past off season Harrison took NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell to task in an interview with Paul Solotaroff.

Later, the Solotaroff confirmed that Harrison was merely saying on the record what scores of other NFL players were too timid to publicly.

Harrison’s comments went public while the lockout was on, and Roger Goodell could do little to act, and when the lockout ended, Goodell issued no punishment.

One wonders why?

Is it too much to surmise that Goodell simply sat quiet and bided his time until James Harrison gave him an excuse to get even?

There’s no way to prove that of course, but it would be equally hard to disprove the fact that, far from being blind, in the NFL justice is guided by the selective gaze of Goodell’s eye.

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Watch Tower: Troy Polamalu Overrated? Yeah, Right.

Tory Polamalu is not finding much love in the peanut gallery these days.

The Reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year recently found himself on the blunt end of some pretty harsh criticism of two members of the national media. Let’s dissect these arguments.

Polamalu “Over Rated”?

CBS Sports Pete Prisco went so far as to label Troy Polamalu as the league’s “most overrated player.” He further explained:

He was selected as the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2010 — an award I couldn’t figure out — and then disappeared in the playoffs, even getting trucked by Ray Rice of the Ravens in the playoffs.

He was a spinning top in the Super Bowl, trying to cover Packers receivers and instead watched them rip off big gains and two touchdowns on his watch.

The Packers exposed the reason I think Polamalu is overrated. He isn’t great in coverage and the NFL is now a cover game. [Emphasis added]

Ok, let’s attack Prisco’s points on Polamalu in order.

He can’t understand Polamalu’s Defensive Player of the year award? Really?

All he did was make game-changing plays in contests against Atlanta, Buffalo, and Baltimore. His play-making ability also ensured that the Steelers struck blood early and dominated rivals Cincinnati and Cleveland.

  • OK, both teams were terrible in 2010, but these were both crucial, must win division contests in December. That’s when underrated players fold.

Let’s not forget the red zone interception that Polamalu made against the Raiders, which slammed the door on any possible comeback in a game where the officials seemed determined to penalize the Steelers for sneezing, let alone hitting, too hard.

As for the Ray Rice comment, having watched the play again, give Rice (and the entire Ravens offense) credit for an incredible play. Polamalu appears to have simply miss judged the angle on his hit. Not to excuse him, but hardly an error that negates the rest of his accomplishments.

Polamalu’s Performance in the 2010 Playoffs

Polamalu took some criticism for not making a dramatic play against Baltimore but, as Joe Starkey pointed out, Joe Flacco only passed for 125 yards in that game, didn’t complete a pass longer than 16 yards, and his top two receivers had zero catches for zero yards.

That only occurs if good things are happening in the secondary. And good things do not happen in the Steelers secondary if Polamalu’s plays poorly.

  • It is true that Polamalu was not up to par in the AFC Championship and the Super Bowl, but he was playing with an Achilles injury.

The argument that a player is overrated if his level drops off in post-season is both a valid and one which Mike Wallace perhaps needs/may need to answer.

But has Prisco forgotten what a healthy Polamalu can do in the playoffs? Perhaps, so let’s remind him:

Yeah, now you were telling me that Polamalu was overrated?

49 Players Ahead of Number 43?

Sports Illustrated columnist Peter King has been issuing his own list of the NFL’s top 100 players, and he only rated Troy Polamalu at number 50 (while also questioning another ranking that put Ben Roethlisberger at 41.

King explains his low rating of Polamalu this way:

Here’s why I put the reigning defensive player of the year where I did: This list is not based entirely on how a player played in 2010, or where his current body of work places him today. It also includes how a player will play in 2011 and the future. The past is important for establishing greatness, and Polamalu has certainly been a great strong safety. But what is he now? I’m not sure. He’s missed 13 games due to injury in the last two seasons. He was mostly invisible in the Steelers’ run to the Super Bowl last season.

I take issue with King’s comment that Polamalu was “invisible in the Steelers run the Super Bowl” for the reason below.

Beating the Ravens in December in Baltimore was most certainly an integral part of the Steelers run the Super Bowl.

Beyond that, I am unable argue to vigorously against the rest of King’s charge.

  • Troy Polamalu is one of the greatest players in the game today – when healthy.
  • Given what he does, the way he does it, and when he does it, it I argue that Troy Polamalu has the mark of an all-time great – when healthy.

If you think the later comment is an overstatement, think again.

One of the strongest arguments in favor of Lynn Swann’s enshrinement in Canton during the 1990’s when Hall of Fame voters, including King, resisted his induction was that even 20 years after his retirement, fans would still marvel at an acrobatic catch and say “That was a Lynn Swann catch.”

  • 20 years from now, people are likely to look at incredible defensive plays and say, “That was a Troy Polamalu play.”

But with that said, King, sadly, may be right. Earlier this off season Tim Gleason of Behind the Steel Curtain aka “Mary Rose” compared Polamalu to a European sports car – best car on the highway – when not in the shop.

Polamalu’s explosive play is taking its toll on his body.

With 8 seasons under his belt Polamalu is unlikely have the type of 14 season career that other great safeties like Ronnie Lott or Donnie Shell had.

But Steel Curtain Rising certainly hopes that Polamalu has a couple of three more years of peak performance left in him.

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Steelers Interview Carnell Lake for Defensive Backs Coach Position

The Steelers missed out on a chance to bring Rod Woodson back as a coach, but they could very well end up with the franchise’s second best defensive back of the 1990’s.

Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette reported that the Steelers interviewed 1990’s all-star defensive back Carnell Lake for the defensive backs position vacated by Ray Horton’s exodus for Pittsburgh West.

After playing linebacker at UCLA, Carnell Lake was picked in the second round of the Steelers 1989 draft and moved on to become a fixture in the defensive backfield for a decade.

Lake’s natural position with the Steelers was strong safety.

However, on two occasions, Lake sacrificed personal glory and saved the Steelers seasons by moving to corner back. The first time was in 1995, when Rod Woodson’s ACL injury left the Alvoid Mays open to regular and frequent torchings at the hands of opposing quarterbacks.

The second time came in 1997, when Donnell Wolford proved to be woefully inadequate as a replacement for the departed Woodson.

In both season’s Lake’s position shift had a dramatic impact. The Steelers made it to Super Bowl XXX in 1995 and to the AFC Championship and (two bad calls by Chain Gailey some might argue) one game away from another Super Bowl in 1997.

Lake coached the UCLA defensive backs in 2009.

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Steelers 2010 Report Card

Ah, what a year it was. An up year, but a bumpy ride.

Breaking with the scholastic theme of previous report cards, grading the Steelers 2010 season is like grading the guy who went through 3-4 rounds of job interviews, passed pre interview tests, had excellent references, but slipped up just enough in the final interview to swing the decision the other way….

…And alas, unlike high school, they do not award partial Lombardi Trophies for “showing your work.”

Nonetheless, these grades do reflect an overall evaluation of the Steelers 2010 performance.

How many teams make the Super Bowl after starting their 4th string quarterback for 3 games?

Ben Roethlisberger showed some rust following his 4 game suspension. While this rust was hardly toxic it went. Still Roethlisberger returned to top form before season’s end. His release was faster, accuracy up, and he gave up fewer sacks despite what at times was non-existent protection.

Roethlisberger made some costly errors in Super Bowl XLV and, although it may not be fair, many will hold that against him arguing it disqualifies him as an elite quarterback. (Never mind that those same “many” refuse to hold Peyton Manning to the same standard.)

2010 was not Ben’s best year under center, but his play did leave indications that that year is yet to come. Grade: B+

Running Backs
Rashard Mendenhall
did not have a breakout year in 2010. After flashing so much promise in 2009 Mendenhall plateaued in 2010, sometimes hitting holes decisively, while other times he shuffled tentatively.

His performance in the post season was emblematic of the year – the Steelers defeated the Jets because of Mendenhall’s power and ability to impose his will. Yet he committed costly turnovers against Baltimore and then in Super Bowl XLV.

Isaac Redman lived up to his cult-hero status. The question about Redman at this point is why he doesen’t carry more? Mewelde Moore made few splashy headlines, but played solid football when called upon. Jonathan Dwyer looked OK in one outing against Cleveland.

The Steelers were able to run the ball when they needed to in 2010, a marked contrast to 2009. Grade: B

Wide Receivers
Santonio Who?

The Steelers discarded their youngest Super Bowl MVP wide out, doing some addition by subtraction. This unit made plays.

Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown both developed and made impacts as rookies far beyond what anyone had the right to expect.

Mike Wallace’s playoff production indicates he still needs more development, but his 20 plus yards per catch average indicates he is fast becoming a force to be reckoned with in this league.

Health Miller had a “quiet” year, if you consider calmly making clutch catches “quiet.”

Hines Ward remains driving force behind this unit. He may have had more 1-2 catch games that Steelers Nation is accustomed to, but he made those catches count.

The fact the Arnaz Battle was a special teams Ace and Antwaan Randle El had the catch of the year and are still afterthoughts speaks volumes of the rest of the unit. Grade: A

Offensive Line
Has a Steelers offensive line ever experienced such turmoil? The 2010 offensive line sage makes the 2008 offensive line double rebuilding project look trite. Guards played tackle. Tackles played guard. Back ups were called into replace the… backups.

No, the offensive line was neither dominate nor consistent. Outside of Maurkice Pouncey, few members of the unit would get poached in a hypothetical expansion draft. Yet, when examined collectively, the offensive line remained “above the line” in 2010, against all odds. Grade: C+

Defensive Line
Another unit that stared upheaval in the face and refused to blink. Unlike their brethren on the offensive line, the Steelers do have defenders who are the envy of their peers, and their ability to step up in the face of injury is a major reason why the Steelers finished just shy of setting an NFL rush defense record. Grade: A

The strength of the team in 2010, the Steelers linebacking corps was also the NFL’s best. Every Steelers linebacker made plays in 2010, despite finding themselves squarely in the crosshairs of the NFL’s new “Thou Shalt Not Hit” policy. James Harrison continued to, in Mike Tomlin’s words, “make plays in timely fashion,” James Farrior defied father time, LaMarr Woodley had a Pro Bowl year, and all Lawrence Timmons did was lead the team in tackles. Grade: A

The secondary finished 2009 a maligned, shell-shocked unit which played with zero confidence absent their leader, Troy Polamalu. 2010 brought a different story as Ryan Clark and William Gay rebounded, Bryant McFadden made good on his return, and Troy Polamalu made game changing play after game changing play. With these improvements duly noted, the Steelers were more vulnerable to the pass this year than in years past, and the secondary must bear responsibility for that. Grade: B

Special Teams
At mid season, Al Everest was looking like a miracle worker, but then the Steelers special teams started slipping. The Steelers special teams improved in 2010. Two victories can be directly traced to their “splash plays.” That they made this improvement despite the departure of Jeff Reed and injury to Dan Sepulveda is all the more impressive.

Still penalties and inconsistencies in the return and coverage units were at issue. While we laud the improvements, playing championship football will require the special teams to move beyond simply not being a liability. Grade: B

Why Bill Belichick won AP Coach of the Year Honors is beyond me…
…The Pittsburgh Steelers coaching staff began the year in crisis and spent the rest of the year managing injuries, suspensions, and some selective prosecution from the officials. Mike Tomlin always maintained a clear head, kept his team focused, refused to make or allow excuses, adjusted game plans and approaches, and made tough personnel calls.

Pittsburgh measures success in Lombardi’s and the Steelers failed to nab one this year. But the truth is the coaching staff did one hell of a job. Grade: A-

Unsung Heroes
This is a tough award to give out because so many men stepped up at so many critical times. But how about singling out Doug Legursky, Ramon Foster, Jonathan Scott, and Trai Essex, the offensive line’s key backups. These men not only rotated in and out of the starting line up, they rotated from position to position – often multiple times in the same game. Lacking that selflessness, absent that versatility, or without that will to win, the Steelers don’t even sniff a chance at Lombardi number Seven.

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Steelers Lose Frank “The Tank” Summers

Perhaps some things are just not meant to be.

The Pittsburgh Steelers drafted Frank “The Tank” Summers in the 5th round of the 2009NFL draft to great fanfare.

Summers made the squad despite arguably being out-preformed by 2009’s training camp sensation Isaac “Redzone” Redman. Summers played in two games, starting one as the team’s fullback, but he looked lost.

After the Steelers loss to Chicago, Summers went on IR with what at the time appeared to be a mysterious back injury, but the injury was later corroborated by media reports of surgery.

Summers returned to training camp in 2010, where many suggested that despite his size he was miscast as a full back, that he should have been used as a conventional running.

Regardless, it was Isaac Redman’s chance to turn the tables, as Redman made the team, relegating Summers to the practice squad.

Summers neither attracted interest while on the waiver wire nor while on the Steelers practice squad, but the San Diego Chargers signed Summers, where he’ll get a chance to compete for a slot on their 2011 roster – assuming there is a 2011 season.

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The Decline and Rise of the Steelers Secondary and Ray Horton’s Changing Fortunes

My what a difference a year makes.

A little over a year ago Steelers Nation was still smarting in the aftermath of a 9-7 season. While plenty of blame was to be passed around, one of the main culprits of the Steelers 5 game slide was the secondary.

The once proud unit, albeit in the absence of Troy Polamalu, stood in shell shock. The unit had failed to protect fourth quarter leads in five of the Steelers 7 losses , worst yet, members of the secondary dropped game-saving interceptions on not one but two of those loses.

While no one was ready to label these miscues as secondary coach Ray Horton’s “fault,” few wanted to sing his praises.

Horton did get a job interview for a position at a University in Texas, but Gerry Dulac reported on PG Plus that Horton had been encouraged to “find another job” by Mike Tomlin, and was only kept on the Steelers staff at Dick LeBeau’s urging.

That Was Then, This Is Now

A year later the Steelers are coming off a record trying 8th Super Bowl appearance, and while the secondary might been one of the Steelers short comings in their in ability to defeat Green Bay, the unit as a whole was never a liability to the Steelers in 2010.

Which made Horton a hot coaching commodity.

Dick LeBeau’s 3-4 fire zone-blitz defense was at center stage in Super Bowl XLV, with Dom Capers running his own version, and in this outing, to greater effect.

Dallas was reportedly interested in Ray Horton, but Ken Whisenhunt in the end convinced him to set sail for “Pittsburgh West.”

I do not pretend to know enough to evaluate Horton’s job as Steelers DB’s coach – he did a great job in bringing William Gay and Ryan Mundy along, not so much with Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnette but Lewis’ problems at least seem to be between the ears.

Nor do I pretend to offer predictions on how he’ll do as a defensive coordinator.

Even if I could, all of it would miss the point.

Horton’s transition in one year from cast-away to coordinator just underlines how much of a “what have you done for me lately” league the NFL is.

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Steelers Self-Destruct in Super Bowl XLV

As we all know, the Steelers lost Super Bowl XLV, largely because they self-destructed through 3 turnovers and pointless penalties.

Unfortuantely, I did not see the game, as it was not being shown in the part of Brazil that I was vacationing in.

Beyond that, a family medical emergency reared its ugly head during the game itself.

As disappointed as I was at the outcome, the medical issues helped me keep things in perspective.

Thanks to everyone who has commented — I will get the corrections up on the Steelers-Packers history page, and I will attempt to get more into the swing of things with what is going on with the Steelers in the off season.

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Watch Tower: Super Bowl Media Shine on Tomlin, Arians, and Roethlisberger

A Super Bowl means a media firestorm of coverage, and Super Bowl XLV is no exception.

Rumors about Dick LeBeau’s future were bandied about like a hot potato in the national media, although the Post-Gazette maintained that LeBeau was going no where, and LeBeau has said as much.

Revisiting the Arians Situation

Ed Bouchette raised some eye brows early last week when he reflected that a year ago Bruce Arians almost got fired and “there was serious talk of not renewing Mike Tomlin’s contract.”

It is hard to dispute the bit about Arians, as it appears his job was in jeopardy at some point, but both Tomlin and Art Rooney II have since said that the situation inside Steelers offices was far less dramatic than how it was portrayed outside.

From a media analysis perspective, the interesting thing was that Ed Bouchette and Gerry Dulac never reported that Arians’ dismissal was imminent, and in a sense wagged a finger at those who’d made it out to be a done deal.

Revisiting the Tomlin Situation

Were Winston Churchill live today and in the media analysis business could he have said, “Never was so much made out of so little?”

Quite possibly.

Responding to a fan who was surprised at the comment that there was “serious talk of not extending Tomlin’s contract” Bouchette responded this way:

As for Tomlin, we wrote and said extensively that the Steelers were dragging their feet on extending Tomlin. It became a big issue in the spring, albeit overshadowed once Milledgeville erupted.

This is news to the Watch Tower.

Last winter and spring Ed Bouchette was all over the map on whether Mike Tomlin’s contract was to be renewed. First he said he had heard nothing, but expected the deal to happen.

Then, as the spring wore on, he began saying, primarily on on-line chats, that he “had heard no talk about talks,” and took that as a bad sign, going on the record as saying he did not expect the deal to be done.

One has to wonder about the whole “dragging their feet” comment Bouchette is making now as well as the “no talks about talk” he said then.

As the Watch Tower has indicated before, Bouchette has excellent sources within the Steelers organization, but when it comes to contract negotiation issues he has been caught flat-footed repeatedly in recent years.

The bottom line is the Steelers extended Tomlin’s contract right on schedule, shortly before training camp began. The fact that Bouchette wasn’t in the know does not suggest that the final outcome was ever in doubt, especially when you consider that Scott Brown reported that Art Rooney II had entered the off season wanting to extend Tomlin’s contract.

Starkey on Roethlisberger

The Tribune Review’s Joe Starkey stepped out to do what no reporter dare do before – question the whole Roethlisberger rehabilitation, and talk openly about the media’s role in it.

Starkey stops well short of questioning Ben’s turn around, but merely points out that the media only gets to see Ben for a short time, and given that we’re mere months from Midgeville, that’s far too short a time to proclaim a transformation.

I for one, hope that Ben has turned the corner toward being a better person. But I also tip my hat to Starkey for writing something that is not going to make him popular in the Steelers locker room, let alone during Super Bowl week.

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Steelers AFC Championship Report Card vs. the Jets

In keeping with the scholarly theme, the Steelers report card for the AFC Championship of the Jets is sort of like that of a student who Aces the essay section, slips up on the short answers, but does well enough on the oral section of the final to pass to the next level. As always I add the caveat that no other grades were consulted prior to this posting.

Numbers, in this case, do not tell the tale. Ben Roethlisberger’s running for several 3rd down conversions was key element to winning as was anything else. Quarterbacks of course, are paid to throw not run, and Ben did not have a good day throwing the ball… except when the game was on the line, and then he delivered. Grade: C

Running Backs
Was this his breakout game or was Rashard Mendenhall simply a man on a mission for the night? Time will tell, but Mendenhall’s performance against the Jets certainly ranks up there with some of the Steelers other top post-season rushing efforts. Isaac Redman was also a force and should have gotten more carries. Mewelde Moore had one catch for 9 yards. Grade: A

Last time the Steelers faced the Jets without Health Miller – Cudos to Gerry Dulac for warning that if Miller’s play was to be the deciding factor in the game then it would be a tough night. Tough night it was as a lot of throws were off. But each receiver made his catches count, especially at the end. Grade: B

Offensive Line
Has any other offensive line suffered more turmoil and more instability this season? Regardless, the AFC Championship brought more as the unit lost its lone pilar of stability – rookie Maurkice Pouncy. The line blocked well and gave Ben protection, but the fumbled snaps hurt. Grade: B-

Defensive Line
In the words of Peter King, Brett Keisel, James Farrior and Casey Hampton stoned LT at 4th and goal at the one. Still, Shonn Greene got off a few good runs and Mark Sanchez had more time than you would like him to have had in the second half. Grade: B

Lawrence Timmons led the unit in tackles, and LaMarr Woodley extended his post-season sack streak. Linebackers were key in shutting the Jets down in the first half, but failed to get consistent pressure on Sanchez in the second half and gave up some long runs. Grade: B

Ike Taylor and William Gay teamed up on the difference making sack strip of Sanchez. And although Taylor slipped and got beaten by ‘Tone, the secondary never let the Jets receivers behind them, which was crucial in making the Jets work for every yard and every point in the second half. Grade: B

Special Teams
The Jets averaged 10.2 yards per kick return. Antonio Brown seemed to recover some of the spark to his returns that has been missing, although he did not break one. Randle El bobbled a punt, and Suisham was 1-1. A sold effort. Grade: B


As Michael Bean from Behind the Steel Curtain pointed out, credit Bruce Arians for sensing a weakness in the Jets run defense, exploiting it, and staying committed to the run. While the Steelers defense gave up yards and points during the 4th quarter, the forced the Jets to burn precious time doing it, a luxury which Pittsburgh had because of its 24 point first half scoring spree. Credit Mike Tomlin and Arians for not going conservative at the end of the first half and trusting their players. Grade: B+

Unsung Hero
He didn’t simply do damage with his two catches (although they were big) but he also played a lead role in the blocking that broke Rashard Mendenhall lose. He may be quiet, he may not get a lot of press outside of Pittsburgh, but Health Miller’s focused, consistent play helped carry the day for Pittsburgh and for that he is Steel Curtain Rising’s unsung hero.

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