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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Steelers Sign Flozell Adams

The Steelers have in fact been concerned about the quality of the options that they have for mitigating impact of losing Willie Colon. The Post-Gazette is reporting that the team has come to terms with offensive tackle Flozell Adams, who signed a two year deal and will join the team in Latrobe when camp commences Friday afternoon.

Just a week ago they signed guard Adrian Jones and earlier this week they worked out Chester Pitts.

Adams was drafted in 1998 by the Dallas Cowboys, where he started at left tackle where he excelled, being named to five Pro Bowls.

Door Opening Options?

The addition of Flozell Adams immediately alters the offensive line calculus for the Steelers. Most observers had penciled Trai Essex in as the prospective starting right tackle, that likely changes now.

The Steelers can now put Adams at left tackle and move Max Starks to the right side if that suits them. Likewise, should Maurkice Pouncey show enough promise, or if injury necessitate it, the Steelers have greater flexibility to move him to center.

Keeping It Real

The Steelers offensive line is certainly stronger today than it was on the day after Willie Colon’s Achilles tendon tear.

But before putting any champagne on ice, Steelers Nation would be wise to keep in mind that both of these free agents were still available in late August both because their best days are behind them and they have injury histories.

Enough talk. Training camp is about to start.

Let’s let the competitors settle the starting slots for themselves out on Chuck Noll Field at St. Vincents.

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Chester Pitts’ Workout Reveals Steelers Concern With Quality of Options at Offensive Line

Last week’s signing of guard/tackle Adrian Jones gives the Steelers of plethora of options for replacing Willie Colon.

Theoretically, Jones, Trai Essex, Ramon Foster, and Jonathan Scott could contend all for Willie Colon’s starting right tackle spot. All of these men could compete for the starting right guard spot, with Doug Legursky, Kraig Urbik, and Maurkice Pouncey thrown into the mix for good measure.

If the Steelers have a quantity of options whether they have quality options remains an open question, and one the Steelers appear to be asking themselves.

Steelers Give Chester Pitts A Second Look

The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review is reporting that the Steelers have worked out veteran guard Chester Pitts for the second time in a week, as Pitts visited the Steelers South Side training facility today.

Pitts was drafted by the Houston Texans in 2002 and started 114 games before falling to a knee injury that required microframe surgery to correct. Mark Kaboly reports that Pitts recovery has only recently allowed him to begin workouts.

If the Steelers are serious about signing Pitts, and one must they are, they’ll have competition, as the Colts and Bills have recently worked him out, and he also has trips planned to Denver and Seattle later this week.

Chester Pitts also has experience starting at tackle, so his arrival would give the Steelers yet another candidate to start at right guard. Or right tackle. Which ever comes first.

Seemingly, the Steelers coaches could hold the type of shell game on the offensive line that Steel Curtain Rising predicted for the 2008 training camp that failed to materialize.

Regardless of whether Pitts appears in Latrobe, it is a safe bet that prospective starters will shuffle in and out of the line up this summer at St. Vincents.

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Steelers Sign Detemetrius Taylor, Other Rookie Free Agents

It happened almost a week ago, but the Steelers completed their off season roster by signing the 2010 group of rookie free agents who will vie with draft picks and veterans for roster spots at St. Vincents.

The 2010 undrafted rookie free agent class includes:

Dorrian Brooks, Guard, James Madison University, 6’2”, 306 lbs
Justin Thornton, Safety, Kansas, 6’1”, 213 lbs
Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith, Safety, UTEP, 6’2”, 210
Kyle Jolly, Offensive Tackle, North Carolina, 6’6”, 300
Lindsey Witten, Defensive End, Connecticut, 6’4”, 249 lbs.
Cordarrow Thompson, Defensive Tackle, Virginia Tech, , 6’2”, 301 lbs.
Detemetrius Taylor, Fullback, Virginia Tech 273 lbs.

Who is the Next Pro Bowler?

Rookie free agent signings for most NFL teams are ho-hum affairs. But Kevin Colbert and his scouting team have a well-deserved reputation for finding steals among the players who did not get drafted.

James Harrison, Willie Parker, and Nate Washington all started Super Bowl XLIII after joining the Steelers as unrestricted free agents.

And while no one is ready to declare him a Pro Bowler, 2009 rookie free agent Ramon Foster bypassed draft picks and veterans to become the team’s top back up at guard.

The most interesting pick up of course, is Detemetrius Taylor. The former, 273 pound defensive lineman from Virginia Tech is vying for a spot as the team’s only fullback.

This might seem like an odd move, but credit Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert for creative thinking. There’s very little risk involved, but plenty of upside if the move works out.

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Willie Parker’s Departure: What No One Asks

The Steelers were in the news on Easter Sunday, and for a welcome change the news had nothing to do with the judicial branch of government.

Nonetheless, the news was far from happy, as Steelers Nation learned that Willie Parker had signed a one year deal with the should be rival Washington Redskins. Parker’s departure was not surprise, although must be considered a little disappointing on several fronts.

Parker’s story is the stuff that Steelers Nation, of the “how dare you over look us” chip on our collective shoulders, love. Didn’t get to play in college. Didn’t get drafted. Buried on the depth chart behind Jerome Bettis, Duce Stanley and, yes, even Verron Hayes during his rookie year.

Yet Parker capped of his sophomore season with the longest run from scrimmage in Super Bowl history during Super Bowl XL in Detroit.

Before we say adieu, let’s pay that moment its proper homage.

Steelers to Face Life Without Willie Parker

Many believe that the clock began ticking toward Willie’s departure the day the Steelers drafted Rasshard Mendenhall. Parker never let such talk get him down, vowing to take the rookie under his wing.

For a while it looked as if Parker had nothing to worry about, as Mendenhall was injured in his first start against Baltimore, and then disappeared from the Steelers South Side complex. Mendenhall of course got off to a very bad start in 2010, finding himself benched for the Cincinnati game.

But Parker had the misfortune to get injured in that game, and Mendenhall exploded in his place against San Diego.

Neither Mendenhall, nor the Steelers looked back, as he wracked up over 1,100 yards rushing along with 25 catches for 261 yards.

As a player who started the season with questions about his attitude and commitment, the incredible heart Mendenhall displayed in the disastrous loss to Kansas City remains the Steelers lone bright spot from that day.

No one questions that the Steelers need a solid backup for Mendenhall.

Mike Tomlin has suggested that Mewelde Moore is up to the task. Moore’s play in 2008 certainly suggests that, but his performance dropped a level in 2009.

Others have suggested that Frank “The Tank” Summers and/or Isaac “Redzone” Redman might be up to the task. Or the Steelers might look to the draft as early as the second round.

All of the above are getting their just discussion in both the press and the blogesphere. But there’s one issue everyone seems to miss.

The Unasked Question

Mendenhall, while still not yet a complete runner, has all the tools to be a high caliber NFL powerback.

But can he hold on to the ball?

According to Pro Football Reference, Mendenhall only coughed up the ball 3 times in 2009. My how the memory can play tricks, as it seems like a lot more. Perhaps that’s because he seemed to cough it up in critical situations.

And this did not begin in 2009, as fumbles plagued Mendenhall during his rookie preseason campaign.

One of the reason’s why Mendenhall’s fumble total did not climb higher was that Mike Tomlin took him out whenever the Steelers needed to salt one away.

And that is where we’ll miss Willie Parker.

Steel Curtain Rising has been a Mewelede Moore backer from the get go. But if Moore exceeded the expectations of most in 2008, he seemed to reveal his limits in 2009.

With the quarterback hurting and the Steelers desperately needing to run out the clock against Miami, Mike Tomlin turned to Willie Parker.

Afterwards, Ed Bouchette speculated that Tomlin was making a last ditch attempt to show Parker he was wanted. Maybe he was.

But it seemed to me that Tomlin probably entrusting the close to Parker’s hands.

What a good set of hands they were. Steelers Nation will miss those.

Critics have argued that a big part of Mendenhall’s fumbling problem is tied to his ball handling technique, and by inference, he can be coached to improve.

But can he?

The importance of that answer being “yes” takes on new signifigance with Willie Parker’s departure.

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Steelers Resign Nick Eason

The Steelers announced that they had come to terms with back up defensive end Nick Eason. No terms of the deal were announced other than the two sides had agreed to a one year deal.

Eason joined the Steelers in 2007 after playing his first three years in Cleveland, and at age 30 a veritable spring chicken on a “mature” defensive line. With 2009 first round pick Ziggy Hood, and 2009 seventh round pick Sunny Harris waiting in the wings, many have wondered if Eason would be brought back.

Given that no signing bonus information was reported, one must assume that Eason’s signing bonus was minimal, or else his agent would have made sure the press knew the terms of the deal. Little or no signing bonus makes Eason more less expendable, so this move should have no impact on the team’s plans for the upcoming draft.

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Charlie Batch Resigns with Pittsburgh for Two Years

In what seems to be an annual rite of free agency, the Pittsburgh Steelers resigned Charlie Batch. One year ago Batch re-upped for one year, this time it was for two. Unlike last year, this move just might shed some insight into what the Steelers brain trust is thinking.

Batch as Back Up, or Third String?

As a back up quarterback, Charlie Batch is thoroughly dependable with the exception of his durability.

Batch broke his collar bone during his first preseason action in 2008. In 2009, after entering for only a handful of plays in the loss to Kansas City, Charlie Batch inexplicably broke his wrist. He also missed the entire 2004 season because of injury.

Dennis Dixon, the Steelers fifth round pick in the 2008 draft, showed good potential when forced to start on short notice in the overtime loss to Baltimore, and this has led to speculation that Dixon will enter the season ahead of Batch on the depth chart. Of course, depending on how Ben’s legal trouble evolve, “ahead” could land Batch at the number three slot, or perhaps it could land him in the number two slot…

No Information on Batch’s Signing Bonus

Reports from, the Post-Gazette, and the Tribune-Review only reveal that Batch resigned for two more years, they say nothing of his signing bonus.

This is an important piece of data, as trade rumors have tied the Steelers to Tampa back up quarterback Bryon Leftwich should Ben’s legal troubles render him unavailable.

If the Steelers did in fact give Batch a healthy signing bonus, that might indicate that they anticipate having Roethlisberger. For the sake of integrity, it is also important to say that if Roethlisberger is unavailable the Steelers would likely enter the year with Dixon, Batch and Leftwich, or whoever else they might decide to bring in.

Either way at the moment the Steelers are not keeping an extra roster spot open in anticipation of bringing in an additional quarterback. That of course could change….

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The Impact of Larry Foote’s Return

In a stunning, if expected, reversal of direction, the Pittsburgh Steelers welcomed home inside linebacker Larry Foote, who yesterday signed a 3 year, 9.3 million dollar contract on Monday.

In doing Foote becomes the second 2002 draft pick to leave and rejoin the team, after Antwaan Randle El returned last week.

Foote began making grumblings shortly after Super Bowl XLIII not wanting to yield his starting spot to 2007 first round draft pick Lawarence Timmons. That, combined with Foote’s high cap value, led to his release following the 2009 draft.

Foote however was not happy on the 2-14 Lions, and perhaps not entirely comfortable playing in a 4-3 system. Nonetheless, he had a chance to sign with “Pittsburgh West” aka Arizona, but opted to rejoin the team that brought him two Super Bowl rings.

Impact on the X’s and O’s

From a pure football perspective, this is an excellent move for Pittsburgh. Foote not only bolsters their run defense, a weakness of Timmons, but provides instant depth throughout the entire linebacking corps.

Foote’s return frees Timmons to move to the outside slots should something happen to James Harrison or LaMarr Woodley. Likewise, should James Farrior falter, Foote is there to step in.

Foote also gives Steelers coaches a chance to give players like Farrior and James Harrison periodic breathers.

Reading Between the Lines…

As previously mentioned on Steel Curtain Rising, there is a worrisome trend behind the Steelers newfound aggressiveness in free agency. This is a new tendency born out necessity not choice.

Each Steelers free agent move can be tied directly to a recent high round draft failure.

Had 2008 draft pick Bruce Davis panned out, the Steelers might not need the extra insurance at outside linebacking.

And with Foote return, comes the, thus far, unasked question:

Are the Steelers bringing back Foote because of concerns about James Farrior, or are they concerned about Lawrence Timmons’ development?

It is probably the former, but Timmons’ hot and cold tendencies during 2009 cast enough room for doubt.

At the End of the Day, An Excellent Move by the Steelers

All things considered the Steelers decision to bring in Larry Foote is a good one. They now have five starter capable linebackers, something few other teams can boast of, and in an age where talent is so evenly matched, the difference between winning and losing frequently comes down to depth.

By bringing Foote back they’ve shored up their depth considerably at linebacker.

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Steelers Draft Performance, Not Free Agency Philosophy, At Issue

The NFL is 10 days into its first uncapped year since 1993 and rhe Steelers have given the NFL what amounts to a minor shock – they signed three free agents and resigned Ryan Clark.

Such aggressiveness from the Steelers slams head-on into a well-established script: It is the Daniel Snyder and Jerry Jones of the league that are supposed to go on free agent signing sprees, not the Daniel Rooneys.

Unprecedented though it might be, four free agent signings in rapid succession does not unveil some radical shift in team philosophy. Instead, it reveals something far more worrisome.

The Steelers signed so many free agents because they had no choice.

Their actions amount to a latent admission: Recent drafts have been below par.

Let’s take a closer look:

I am going to make a player out of one of you, I just don’t know which one yet.”
Mike Tomlin at Latrobe in 2008, watching rookies Tony Hills and Bruce Davis in one-on-one drills.

It appears Mike Tomlin erred. The Steelers took Bruce Davis and Hills in the third and fourth rounds of the 2008 draft.

The Steelers gave Davis all of one year. He was inactive for all but five games as a rookie, and when it came clear he could not even play special teams Pittsburgh let him go at Latrobe in the summer of 2009..

Tony Hills never made the active roster as a rookie, but the Steelers still had hopes for him. Jim Wexell even compared Tony Hills to John Jackson. Another year has come and gone with Hills yet to dress.

Players usually make the biggest leaps between their rookie and sophomore years.

The decision to sign Jonathan Scott reveals that Hills leap wasn’t long enough. Jonathan Scott is no world beater, but he is a back up who can step up and play in an emergency.

As a fourth round draft pick entering his third year, we should at least be able to say the same about Hills. Alas, we cannot.

Out Through the In Door

This might not have been exactly how it happened, nor exactly how it was reported, the but word was that as Antwaan Randle El was walking into Steeler offices, Limas Sweed was walking out.

This coincidence is likely more than symbolic. Sweed teased as a rookie. His drops were so frustrating because in each case he had burned the DB covering him. Late in the year, Sweed went on IR. The Steelers have been mum about his condition, but most people suspect he has some sort of depression or other psychological condition.

When the Steelers grabbed Sweed in the second round of the 2008 draft, some labeled the move as a steal.

Randle El, a second round pick in his on right, has his best days are behind him, but he brings a lot of versatility and depth to the team. It is good that the Steelers were able to bring in someone of his caliber.

It is sad that another second round draft bust made El’s return necessary.

Safety Dance

The Steelers also signed safety Will Allen from Tampa Bay. Tampa drafted Allen in 2004, when a certain Mike Tomlin was their secondary coach.

2004 was also the year the Steelers picked Ben Roethlisberger in the first round.

Anyone remember who their second round pick was?

Richardo Colclough.

“Who?” You ask?

No apologies needed if you forget Colclough, who was last seen muffing a punt to give the Bengals a victory at Heinz Field in 2006. Colclough suddenly developed a mysterious injury and was on IR before the next game, never to be heard from again.

When Chris Hope departed after Super Bowl XL, the Steelers brought in Ryan Clark. Their thinking was that he would be a stop gap there, while some of their younger DB’s matured.

Colclough was of course one of those, but he was joined by 2006 third round pick Anthony “I guarantee we’ll beat the Patriots” Smith. Like Colclough Smith had all of the tools, he just completely failed to understand what it would take to succeed in the NFL.

If either of those men develops, the Steelers either don’t bring in a career back up at safety or resign veteran safety who is over 30 years of age, and coming off a bad year.

Instead, the Steelers needed to make both moves.

A Draft Board for the Burning?

Time allowing, Steel Curtain Rising will do another edition of the Colbert Record prior to the draft.

But the bottom line is this. The Steelers made four unprecedented free agent moves in rapid succession. You can tie each one of those moves to two second round failures (’04 and ’08), one third round failure (’06), and another fourth round failure (’08.)

These free agent moves might help the Steelers plug a few holes in the short term, but if the team is to remain competitive in even in the medium term, they cannot continue to squander premium draft picks.

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Watch Tower: Roethlisberger’s Sexual Assault Story, Free Agency Week 2

Steelers Nation has been riveted by the second Ben Roethlisberger sexual assault accusation in eight months.

Relatives tell me it has been a round the clock story in Pittsburgh, and it seems to have spawned its own cottage industry on the internet.

The tone of the coverage has been moderate, with everyone going at great pains to point out that “we don’t know what all of the facts are yet.” Day by day, more information leaks out.

  • We know that Willie Colon was with Ben when it happened,
  • We know that two police officers were in Ben’s entourage,
  • We know that Georgia police officers posed for pictures with Ben, before the alleged incident occured

We’ve also been told, via that Ben has told the police that “there was no contact.” Whether this report is reliable or not is unknown. Legally, depending on what “no contact means,” it would seem that Ben could be in serious trouble if he actually exposed himself in a public bathroom.

If it is something more innocuous than that, perhaps Ben will be in less legal trouble, but Roethlisberger trashed his reputation no matter what.

The Post-Gazette’s Bob Simizk pointed readers to an interesting article done by a lawyer, who indicates that if Ben does indeed get charged, he is going to be in for a hell of a time. I won’t summarize the entire article on the NFL Fanhosue here, but the writer makes a lot of interesting, and most likely valid, observations about how a rural Georgia jury will look at this.

Think my Cousin Vinny, except that nothing is funny about this.

Writing in PG Plus, Gerry Dulac discounted the rumors that Ben has met in person with the Rooney’s or anyone else from the Steelers organization. He also indicated that some sources, outside of Georgia it sounds, do not expect Ben to be charged.

Lot’s, and lot’s of people are speculating on that the Steelers will do. Joe Starkey of the Tribune Review is telling people that the Steelers clean cut reputation is already in tatters. Starkey makes some good points, but he also over states his argument.

On the flip side, the Washington Post ran a series asking about what the Steelers should do about Ben. It is a good series. Perhaps the most interesting article is by Blitzburgh, from Behind the Steel Curtain. Credit Blitzburgh for arguing what many fans are thinking but unwilling to say.

That said, Steel Curtain Rising’s view is that Blitzbrugh is going too easy on Ben.

Bouchette Must Give Steelers Nation the Heads Up Next Time…

Steelers Nation should batten down the hatches the moment Ed Bouchette announces he is heading for vacation.

Bouchette was on vacation when the news of the Steelers ownership restructuring broke in July 2008 (or at least Gerry Dulac was covering the story for the first week or so.) That is a shame because he is the only writer, other than Jim O’Brien, to even talk about how the Dan Rooney and his brothers would manage the ownership succession. Bouchette first discussed some scenarios in his 1993 book Dawn of a New Steel Age.

Its now 2010, and Bouchette picked a bad time to head out of town. You can forgive the Steelers beat writer for planning a vacation the coincides with the first week of free agency. Normally one cannot find a more ho-hum, affair.

But this week was different, as the Steelers resigned Antwaan Randle El and three other free agents in the span of close to 24 hours.

To be sure, none of these were “big ticket” free agents, but such an rapid-fire signing spree has been unheard of for the Steelers.

Steel Curtain Rising will examine the significance of this move in depth in the coming days, but for now we will simply say that the media missed the boat on this. By all accounts they were caught as badly off guard as were the fans.

That is not something to get too worked up about, but one would think that reports who are dedicated to covering the Steelers full-time would have some inking that this off season would be a little different.

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