The Colbert Record: Steelers 2011 Draft Grades

The picks are in. The number 1 jerseys have been printed and proudly displayed. Roger Goodell has been summarily booed. The press conferences have been held….

Yes, the 2016 NFL Draft was just a few days ago while the 2011 NFL Draft is a foggy memory after all. But day-after NFL draft grades are about as valuable as the bridge in Brooklyn that your new best friend salesman can get you a really good price on.

It takes several years to evaluate the impact of an NFL Draft Class and, as Steel Curtain Rising will indicate shortly, in our next post, the Steelers 2011 Draft Class shows it does take 5 years to grade an NFL drat class.

steelers, draft, grades, evaluations, bust, Kevin Colbert

True NFL Draft grades only come with years of hindsight

Steelers 2011 1st round pick – Cam Heyward, Defensive End, Ohio State

All NFL coaches and general managers are required to proclaim their love for their draft picks as soon as they’re announced, and especially 1st round draft picks. The Steelers are no example.

  • But Kevin Colbert declaration that drafting Cam Heyward in 2011 represented a “Historic day for the franchise” was out of character

And Kevin Colbert was right.

Cameron Heyward is every bit the ass kicker on the defensive line that the Pittsburgh Steelers drafted him to be. Cam Heyward brings it on every down. He stuff the run. He tackles backs behind the line of scrimmage (and then some). He rushes the passer. He routinely makes difference-making plays that fail to appear on the stat sheet. He leads both on the field and off it. Grade: Quality Performer (projects to Grand Slam before he’s done)

Steelers 2011 2nd round pick – Marcus Gilbert, Guard, Florida

When the Steelers picked Marcus Gilbert in the 2nd round of the 2011 NFL Draft, the plan was to give him an apprentice year behind Willie Colon and Jonathan Scott. That changed after the Debacle in Baltimore sidelined Willie Colon for the season. Flozell Adams made it be known his severices were available…. For a price.

Gilbert did well enough in 2011 that the Steelers could finally move Willie Colon to guard, as it had been rumored they’d long wished to do. Marcus Gilbert’s tenure as the Steelers right offensive tackle hasn’t been without its rocky stretches, but since the Steelers said “Thanks, but no thanks” to Flozell, Marcus Gilbert has been the Steelers right tackle. Grade: Over Performer

Steelers 2011 3rd round pick – Curtis Brown, Cornerback, University of Texas

As far back as 2011, fans and the press were calling on the Steelers to invest a first round pick in a cornerback. That year, they had to wait until the 3rd round when the Steelers drafted Curtis Brown out of Texas.

Pro Football Reference tells us that Curtis Brown stuck around with the Steelers four 3 seasons, and appeared in 34 games, mostly on special teams. The truth is that Brown is most memorable for getting his first extended playing time in the San Diego Chargers shocking upset of the Steelers in 2012.

Brown struggled with injuries, appeared in 7 games in 2013, and was out of football after that. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2011 4th round pick – Cortez Allen, Cornerback, The Citadel

Cortez Allen as a draft pick has been evaluated recently when looking at Kevin Colbert’s record with 4th round picks. Here’s the skinny:

In mid-2011 Dick LeBeau turned to rookie Cortez Allen to help upset the New England Patriots. At the end of 2012, Cortez Allen made his first starts, and looked like his name really should have been Ike Woodson Blount, causing 5 turnovers in two games. Injuries and below-the-line play slowed got Allen off to a slow start in 2013, but he finished with a bang.

The Steelers extended his contract, and Allen’s career promptly derailed. Perhaps there’s another side to the Cortez Allen story that Steelers Nation will someday learn. Perhaps not. Either way his grade remains unchanged. Grade: Disappointment

Steelers 2011 5th Round pick – Chris Carter, Linebacker, Fresno State

While the Steelers were at St. Vincents during the summer of 2011, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Gerry Dulac said to readers that Chris Carter would become the steal of the 2011 NFL Draft (provided he bulked up.)

  • And no one can say the Steelers didn’t give Carter the chance to shine.

When James Harrison was recovering from an injury in early 2012, the Steelers actually started Chris Carter over Jason Worilds, as Carter made 3 starts and appeared in 8 games. Carter even made a start in 2013. Alas, he had little to show for it in terms of “Splash plays.”

The Steelers parted ways with Carter after 2013, and he’s appeared in 19 games for the Bengals, Colts and Ravens, but never seeing anything but has yet to bring down a quarterback…. Grade: Disappointment

Steelers 2011 6th Round Pick – Keith Williams, Guard, Nebraska

The Steelers used their 6th round pick in 2011 on Guard Keith Williams, who didn’t make the team. He did make appearances in two games for the Buffalo Bills in 2012. Grade: Bust

2011 7th Round Pick – Baron Batch, Running Back, Texas Tech

Has there ever been a Steelers 7th round pick who created more of a buzz than Baron Batch? Perhaps there has, but you’d be hard pressed to uncover him. The Steelers drafted Batch at the bottom of the 7th round, but the pick drew positive reviews.

  • The early returns were good in training camp.

Then disaster struck, as Batch tore his ACL. Batch returned in 2012, but per observations made by Tony Defeo who’d seen him the previous summer, he lacked the spark he’d shown as a rookie. Batch did do well enough to qualify for a roster spot, but only saw spot duty, and did not do particularly well when his number was called, although this young man can tell his grandchildren that he scored a touchdown in the Steelers loss to the Titans.

The Steelers brought Baron Batch back to training camp in 2013, but he was cut. Grade: Disappointment

Final Grade on the Steelers 2011 NFL Draft

While this logic might not be universally accepted, conventional wisdom holds that picking 3 starters makes a draft a success.

  • By that measure, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin came up short with the Steelers 2011 Draft Class.

The Steelers struck gold with Cameron Heyward and Marcus Gilbert in rounds 1 and 2, looked like they had something in Cortez Allen, but their other 5 picks amount to 3 Disappointments and 2 outright busts. Overall Grade for Steelers 2011 Draft:  C+

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Steelers Should Not Play Ben Roethlisberger vs the Browns

Word out of the South Slide is that Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was able to practice in a limited capacity on Thursday and is holding out hope that he can play Sunday at Heinz Field vs. the Cleveland Browns.

Per Dejan Kovacevic of DK on Pittsburgh Sports, Ben Roethlisberger practiced in a limited capacity. While news of Ben Roethlisberger practicing is by definition good, it also comes with a danger. Ben Roethlisberger clearly wants to play vs. the Cleveland Browns, and his desire is understandable.

  • The Steelers are only one game above .500
  • Pittsburgh is 0-2 in the AFC North
  • The Steelers are 2-4 in the AFC
  • The Cleveland Browns are the Steelers final home divisional game this season

All of those spell “Must Win” for the Pittsburgh Steelers. While Landry Jones closed out the Steelers games vs. the Cardinals and the Raiders with “saves,” to borrow a baseball analogy, he struggled in his first start vs. the Kansas City Chiefs. A healthy Roethlisberger gives the Steelers a better chance to win. That’s a no brainer. Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin seemingly has a difficult decision to make.

  • But it shouldn’t be hard at all.

The Steelers should not play Ben Roethlisberger vs the Browns unless he is absolutely 100% healthy.

Steelers, Tomlin, Roethlisberger, Have Seen this Movie Before

The Steelers situation is not at all unlike the one they faced in 2011. Ben Roethlisberger injured his ankle in a Thursday night game vs. the Browns. Roethlisberger stayed in the game and put on a performance that was nothing short of heroic. After the game Roethlisberger vowed to play in the Steelers upcoming game at Candlestick Park vs. the 49ers.

Everyone remembers that game as the game that prompted Roger Goodell to suspend James Harrison. But the more important news coming out of the game was the choice Mike Tomlin had to make at quarterback.

  • Mike Tomlin opted to play Ben Roethlisberger.

Even when it was clear that Roethlisberger was nowhere near 100%, he kept Roethlisberger in the game, despite having Charlie Batch in the bullpen. Given Batch’s rustiness in coming off the bench at times, Tomlin’s decision to start Roethlisberger was understandable. But Ben Roethlisberger was hurt so badly that he could not even make it back to the line of scrimmage after long completions during the hurry up offense.

Worse yet, Ben Roethlisberger was sacked 3 times and threw 3 interceptions. Tomlin started Batch as the Steelers shut out the St. Louis Rams the following week. Ben Roethlisberger returned for the Steelers 2011 season finale vs. the Browns, and then for the playoff loss at Denver.

  • But Roethlisberger clearly wasn’t the same quarterback.

Fans remember many things about the playoff loss to Tim Tebow, but Mike Wallace dropping a sure touchdown pass is one of them. While that added fuel to the anti-Wallace bandwagon, the truth is Roethlisberger couldn’t deliver on that pass because he was playing hurt.

  • The Steelers resigned Ben Roethlisberger to an 108 million dollar contract this off season.

It was the right move for all parties involved. All signs indicate that the Steelers have the nucleus of players around Roethlisberger on both offense and defense to make a serious Super Bowl run in 2016 and perhaps that window extends into 2017. But none of it will matter much if Ben Roethlisberger is too injured to play.

The good news is that Ben Roethlisberger seems to be aware of his limitations, as he told Pittsburgh Tribune Review Reporter Mark Kaboly “If I can’t do that, there is no need to be out there.” That’s good news, but not nearly as good as what he told Kaboly next, when he refused to lay odds on his playing:

If I am feeling good enough and if coach determines I am well enough to be out there Sunday, then that’s the goal. I can’t give you a percentage because my percentage is probably different than his percentage.

While it’s impossible to read tea leaves here, it at least seems like Mike Tomlin is taking a more cautious approach to keeping his starting quarterback healthy than he did in 2011. And if that’s a welcome sign.

Let’s repeat it for prosperity: the Pittsburgh Steelers should not play Ben Roethlisberger vs the Browns if there’s even a shadow of a doubt about his health and mobility.

Williams Practices Fully, Harrison, Shazier, Thomas Out

The Steelers did get some good news with no strings attached on the injury/practice front, as starting running back DeAngelo Williams practiced fully after missing the previous two days. William’s absence at practice highlighted the Steelers thin depth at running back, leaving only Jordan Todman and Isaiah Pead behind him.

All of the news was not good, however. James Harrison, Ryan Shazier and Shamarko Thomas all missed practice, and will presumably not play vs. the Browns.

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Art Rooney II’s Forcing Bruce Arians Firing Benefited Both Arians and Steelers

An appropriate sub-headline for this blog could be “Blogger remembers when he got caught with his pants down.” Why, well, read on….

Shortly after the Steelers suffered their Tebowing in Denver ending their 2011 playoff hopes, Mike Tomlin declared that both Bruce Arians and Dick LeBeau would return as offensive and defensive coordinators. And that’s the way things stayed, for a while at least. Within a few weeks shocking news broke that Bruce Arians had “retired.”

  • And truth be told, as DK on Pittsburgh Sports writer Neal Coolong has pointed out, Arians did actually file retirement paperwork.

But the retirement didn’t last long. Within days Arians was headed to Chuck Pagano’s staff on the Indianapolis Colts and word leaked that “Arians retirement” had been brought about by Art Rooney II’s refusal to renew Arians contract.

Of course, Steel Curtain Rising was silent on the Bruce Arians firing at the time, because, as always happens when big Steelers News breaks, I was on vacation and unable to write (well, I did try to sneak in something, but I got “caught” by my wife.) Fortunately Pittsburgh West’s (aka the Arizona Cardinals) impending visit to Heinz Field provides plenty of opportunity to discuss this in depth.

Arians and Roethlisberger – Coach & Quarterback Too Close?

Steelers defensive coordinators might not win popularity contests with everyone in Steelers Nation, but they do generally command respect. The names Bud Carson, George Perles, Tony Dungy, Dom Capers and Dick LeBeau generally get discussed in reverential tones by Steelers fans.

  • Offensive coordinators aren’t so lucky.

To this day you can probably find Steelers bars fans will gleefully burn likenesses of Joe Walton, Chan Gailey, Kevin Gilbride, and most certainly Bruce Arians in effigy. That’s just the way it works.

But let the record reflect, that before Bruce Arians took the reigns of the Steelers offense, a large swath of the NFL wrote off Ben Roethlisberger is nothing more than a mere “game manager.” Super Bowl XLIII ended Arian’s second year as offensive coordinator and it was at about that point that the “Roethlisberger game manager” nonsense died.

  • Whereas Ken Whisenhunt kept Roethlisberger on a tight leash, Bruce Arians simply let Ben be Ben.

And it is hard to argue with the results. Under the guidance of dynamic duo of Roethlisberger and Bruce Arians Pittsburgh Steelers went 75-25 and appeared in two Super Bowls. Since Todd Haley arrived the Steelers are only 30-23. But Bruce Arians hands off philosophy had its cost. From 2007 through to 2011 Ben Roethlsiberger was sacked 215 times.

  • Arians adamantly refused to ask Roethlisberger to adjust his game.

Some of that came from simply not wanting to cover coach Ben, but part of it also came from the close, almost father and son relationship the two men shared. A December game between the Redskins and Patriots, Art Rooney II saw New England offensive coordinator Bill O’Brien berate Tom Brady on the sidelines. At that moment, according to Gerry Dulac, the idea of firing Arians was born.

Art Rooney Forces Bruce Arians Firing

Of course Rooney’s firing of Arians was awkward. Four games into his tenure as offensive coordinator of the Colts, Chuck Pagano got cancer and Arians found himself as interim head coach, where Arians promptly went 9-3 and won AP Coach of the year honors.

The Arizona Cardinals saw a good thing and hired Arians as their head coach and since arriving in Pittsburgh West Arians has gone 21-11, resurrected Carson Palmer’s career, and made it to the playoffs in 2014 despite having to start 3 quarterbacks.

Ever since Art Rooney II forced the Bruce Arians firing, the arrow has pointed up for Arians.


Of Haley and Roethlisberger….

If Bruce Arians and Ben Roethlisberger had a father and son-like relationship, at first Ben Roethlisberger and Todd Haley were more like Chuck Noll and Terry Bradshaw. Of course, during Haley’s first season in Pittsburgh both Haley and Roethlisberger said all the right things. Every time any reporter tried to finger a bone of contention between the two, both men denied anything was wrong.

2013 got off to a rocky start, as you’d expect an 0-4 team to, but return of Heath Miller, the addition of Le’Veon Bell, the benching of Mike Adams and starting of Kelvin Beachum helped turn the Steelers offense around.

steelers, ravens, thanksgiving, ben roethlisberger, todd haley

Ben Roethlisberger struggles to direct Steelers comeback vs. Ravens on Thanksgiving Day 2013

But even as late as the Steelers 2013 Thanksgiving Day loss to the Ravens, reporters were sniffing out tension between Haley and Roethlisberger, as Dejan Kovacevic dissected the Steelers late game play calling and concluded:

But this offense still clearly lacks imagination, diversity and, yeah, let’s bring it up for the millionth time, a healthy vibe between quarterback and offensive coordinator.

The process was painful, but as Joe Starkey of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review observed, under Haley Ben has evolved “from a quarterback who held the ball longer than anyone in the NFL to one who gets rid of it faster than all but a few.” Starkey backed up his opinion with hard numbers,

  • Per Pro Football Focus, Ben released the ball in 2.5 seconds in 2014, vs. 3 seconds in 2007
  • He also faced less pressure than all quarterbacks not named Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Andy Dalton

Early in his tenure, while no one had said the Steelers had become a “West Coast offense” there were complaints that Todd Haley’s offense was too horizontal. Yet again, Starkey’s statistics show how misfounded those arguments are:

  • In 2014 the Steelers attempted more “bombs” passes of 40 yards or more
  • Only Andrew Luck attempted more passes that traveled 20 yards or more
  • Roethlisberger was third in yards-per-pass attempt

The process has taken some zig zags and some twists and turns, but the Bruce Arians firing, while painful at times, also benefited Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers as well.

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Chargers Cut Max Starks; Could Starks-Steelers Hook Up One Last Time…?

The Pittsburgh Steeerls have announced that they will make their final cuts on Saturday, but many other NFL teams are not content to wait.

The San Diego Chargers made one move that should catch the attention of Steelers Nation:

Chargers announced: Released veteran OT Max Starks.
— Adam Caplan (@caplannfl) August 30, 2013

Ah yes, Max Starks. Earlier this year the Steelers completed one half of what has become a familiar ritual for them – informing Max Starks that he is no longer in their plans. Starks, opted to sign with the Chargers seeking starting money.

But a woeful performance vs. the San Francisco 49ers made him expendable (Starks himself is reported to say that it was the “worst game of his life.”)

  • Its been widely acknowledged that the Steelers would search the wavier wire in depth to bolster their offensive line.

Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams are set as starters, although Kelvin Beachum has been rumored to challenge Gilbert. But Beachum is also a back up at guard and center.

After Beachum the Steelers have Guy Whimper, who has lived up to his surname by all reports…

…Could the Pittsburgh Steelers and Max Starks be destined to complete the cycle? Could we see Max Starks once resign with the Steelers for a final time.

The Steelers and Starks are very much like that couple in high school that keeps breaking up, only to get back together again. The Steelers and Starks have more break ups and reunions that The Who.

The “no we won’t” “yes we will” relationship between Starks and the Steelers began before the waiving and resigning began. In 2008 the Steelers named Starks their transition player, yet Max Starks couldn’t win a starting job and couldn’t even get top back up priority over Trai Essex in 2008, making him the highest paid 4th tackle in NFL history.

It could happen again. Its a good bet that his dear friend Ben Roethlisberger will lobby Kevin Colbert to bring him back.

Eagles Cut Robinson, Dixon

The danger of the Philadelphia Eagles becoming “Steelers East” appears remote, as the Eagles cut former Pittsburgh Steelers Dennis Dixon and linebacker Adrian Robinson. This move comes one week after Adrian Robison was traded to Philly.

Felix Jones on the other hand very well may have earned himself a roster spot.

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Watch Tower: Conspiracy Theories on Hines Ward, Kordell Stewart, and Russ Grimm

The Watch Tower was quiet during much of 2011. Rest assured lack of time and not lack of motive explains the absence. Unfortunately the long layoff means a lot will go uncovered, but those are the breaks. The media has given us plenty to chew over, and the Watch Tower first shines its light on the Hines Ward situation.

Having It Out for Hines?

Steelers Nation knew the day would at some point, and the juncture was reached in 2011 when Hines Ward lost his starting job. It was a sobering moment to be sure, but one that came with a captivating back story.

Writing on PG Plus, Ed Bouchette was the first to note Ward’s demotion, commenting on Ward’s lack of play at Cincinnati, and discounting Mike Tomlin’s denial that Ward had dropped on the depth chart, reminding readers that Tomlin had spun the same line about Randel El a year earlier.

A few days later, Bouchette wrote an impassioned post on PG Plus strongly criticizing the Steelers coaches for not having the decency to inform Ward of his benching prior to the fact. Bouchette continued the full court press with the Ward story throughout the season, although he did appear to shift his tone when it suited him, observing on November 16th that:

It’s not wrong that he lost his starting status or has been dropped to No. 4 or even No. 5 on the depth chart. But someone owed him at least a heads-up that it was going to happen and maybe even an explanation as to why. [Emphasis added.]

The “Dean” of the Steelers press corps is pretty consistent here. However, writing on December 21st, Bouchette, discussing Ward’s quest to get break the 1,000 catch mark, flatly changed his tone charging “They’re not even giving him the chance.” It would appear that Bouchette, it was in fact wrong that Ward was now the 4th or 5th wide receiver.

It only took Bouchette another sentence, however, to drop a bigger bomb shell when he asserted:

It seems to me, someone has it out for him.

Going from not giving a player his due to actively trying to keep him from breaking milestones is a huge leap, and one which Bouchette made without offering any type of reporting or indirect reporting to support such a bold assertion.

The season’s final two games made it quite clear in fact, that the Steelers were going to try to do everything to give Hines Ward is 1000 catches, in fact if memory serve, Mike Tomlin even went into the finale having informed the TV broadcast team that this was his intention.

Bouchette’s bravado looked quite foolish, at this point.

Dale Lolley to the Rescue

However, in his post season write up, veteran Washington Observer scribe Dale Lolley scooped the competition with this:

There are some on the coaching staff who don’t want Ward back. In fact, one member of the staff didn’t want him back in 2010.

Lolley then went on to explain that management put its foot down and insisted that Ward be welcomed back, and predicted (as did Bouchette) that they will do so again in 2012.

This is a tremendous piece of reporting by Lolley (why he put this in his blog and not his paper is mind boggleing). If Lolley’s right, and there is every reason to suspect he is, someone on the Steelers coaching staff really does not like Hines Ward, because Number 86 caught 95 catches in 2009.

The said coach is also more than a little stupid, because Ward followed that up with 59 catch effort in 2010, scored a key touchdown in the playoffs vs. the Ravens, and would have been the Super Bowl MVP had the Steelers defeated the Packers.

Dale Lolley of course didn’t divulge who that coach is – he couldn’t lest he lose every friend he has in the locker room, but in responding to a reader’s comments he did offer that:

As for the coach who wanted to cut him, let’s just say it was somebody who had some say in those things, but not the final say.

If nothing else, Lolley is, most likely, telling his readers that Mike Tomlin is not the one who has it out with Ward. That would leave the other offensive coaches. It wasn’t Scotty Montgomery, who joined the staff as wide out’s coach in the spring of 2010 ,and likely would have no standing to make such a bold claim.

Randy Fichtner is also an unlikely candidate, if for no other reason than one of the enduring images from the horrid loss at Cleveland in 2009 was Fichtner comforting Ward on the sidelines. So I guess that leaves us with Bruce Arians, although that’s only a guess….

Bouchette Beats a Dead Slash

During the 2011 off season season the Watch Tower took exception with Ed Boucette’s insistence that Bill Cowher showed too little patience with Kordell Stewart (click here to read.)

Bouchette, apparently couldn’t let it go. But while the first case was a clash of opinions, Bouchette followed up with some statements that were flat out wrong.

Comparing Kordell Stewart to Tim Tebow, Bouchette offered this:

He [Kordell] would start the next five seasons at quarterback, off and on, even though Cowher and his offensive coordinators did everything they could to find someone else, such as that big walruss Kent Graham, a Kevin Gilbride favorite. [Emphasis added.]

Just how does Bouchette conclude that Cowher and his coaches “did everything they could to find someone else…?” Reality fails that statement. After his awful 1998 season, the Steelers, with Cowher’s assent, gave Kordell a new, lucrative long-term, contract.

In the 1999 draft the Steelers made attempt to move up to take one of the five quarterbacks taken before their first round pick. Kordell’s 1999 season was worse than his 1998 season, yet the Steelers passed on the chance to take Chad Pennington during the 2000 NFL draft.

And after a strong, but not spectacular 2000 season, the Steelers again opted to allow Drew Breees and Quincy Carter to remain on the board, taking Casey Hampton and Kendrell Bell instead during the 2001 NFL draft.

Ed Bouchette is entitled to his opinions about how the Steelers coaches mishandeled Kordell Stewart – he’s right to a certain extent and he’s got plenty of facts on his side – but he’s not entitled to ignore basic facts that happen to be inconvenient to his argument.

Did the Steelers Snub Russ Grimm?

Now that the Watch Tower has thrown Bouchette under a bus over Kordell Stewart, let’s give the man credit for some truly excellent reporting.

As most Steelers fans know, there was initially some confusion over who would succeed Bill Cowher, with conflicting reports that the job had been offered to Russ Grimm and Mike Tomlin.

Art Rooney II explained afterwards that he had gotten as far as discussing prelimary contract numbers with Grimm, but insists that no offer had been extended.

And that’s where the story stood for four years.

Russ Grimm was portrayed in the press as disappointed at not getting the job, but said all of the right things leading up to the Steelers game vs. Arizona in 2007 and again repeated all of the right things before Super Bowl XLIII.

However, prior to this year’s Cardinals game, Bouchette added something that was potentially explosive to the mix:

He [Russ Grimm] believes he was told by Art Rooney that the job was his after Bill Cowher quit. He even had a part to celebrate. Later, he was told that it wasn’t a done deal and then that Mike Tomlin was hired. Bitter doesn’t describe it. He is the Cardinals line coach and assistant head coach, just as he was in Pittsburgh.

Still pretty innocuous stuff, although the news of Grimm having held a party and his bitterness (in contrast to public statements) are new news.

Later on, responding to a fan’s question, Bouchette dived deeper:

Grimm believed all along the job was his because, in my opinion, they led him to believe it. Now it comes down to specifics. Those close to Grimm say Art Rooney told him “Congratulations, you are the new Steelers coach” and Grimm and his friends and family celebrated. However, the Rooneys insist that he was never told that and what he was told he misinterpreted.

The “’Congratulations’” quote amounts to an impressive, and unprecedented piece of reporting. Clearly it Bouchette’s sources are 3rd and 4th hand, but he takes the story farther than it’s ever been and in doing so he delivered the goods that make PG Plus worth the 17 Argentine pesos it costs monthly to subscribe.

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Steelers Report Card vs. Broncos

From the grade book of a teacher who sees that their star pupil gave it all, but just couldn’t get it together when it counted, so goes the Steelers report card for their Wild Card loss to the Denver Broncos.

Ben Roethlisberger stepped up and made some conragous plays during a game where the offensive line protection was shaky at best. He nonetheless threw a costly interception that fed the Broncos momentum when the Steelers could ill-afford it (and should have had at least one other pick.) He also got lucky with a blown call on a botched lateral. For some unknown reason, Roethlisberger’s timing with Mike Wallace has been off in the second part of the season, and that as much as anything else hurt. Grade: C

Running Back
Isaac Redman was a senseation. This man has a motor that simply does not quit, and he more than lived up to the standard set by Merril Hoge in this same city back in 1989. Redman had to carry the load all by himself, and he was more than up to the task, running for 121 yards on just 17 carries. Ball protection, however, is becoming an issue with Mr. Redzone. Grade: A

Wide Receivers
Emmanuel Sanders justified the coaches wisdom in making sure he was healthy for the playoffs. Antonio Brown likewise looked sharp in his catches. Heath Miller was Mr. Dependable as usual. Jerico Cocherty was great on the TD catch but dropped another ball. Mike Wallace was largely a non-factor, and failed to control the ball on what could have been a game-changing 50 yard completion. Hines Ward had a couple of drops and no catches in what might have been his final game. Grade: B-

Offensive Line
Another week, another injury to the offensive line. This time it was Max Starks who fell with Jonathan Scott stepping in to take his place. The line blocked well for Redman, but Ben Roethlisberger suffered repeated sacks when the team was trying to run its two minute drill at the end of both halves. And Doug Legursky’s errant snap was another costly, untimely mistake. This unit had its moments and weathered some adversity, but ultimately the Steelers needed more. Grade: C-

Defensive Line
The Steelers lost Casey Hampton and Brett Kiesel early in the game, leaving them with just three healthy lineman. Ziggy Hood, Steve McLendon and Cameron Heyward did an excellent job of containing the Denver running game, but contributed next to nothing in the pass rush. Given the set of cirumstances they were forced to work with, this unit did OK. Grade: B-

LaMarr Woodley was not a pass rushing force but came up with a key fumble recovery, and Lawrence Timmons was second on the time in tackles with one tackle for a loss. And the unit did well in containing the run. But James Harrison was not a factor in the pass rush, and seemed bewildered as to how to read Tebow’s options. James Farrior was not much of a factor. The bottom line is the Steelers needed much, much more from this unit, and that was not to be found. Grade: D.

Let’s give them this, Ryan Clark was out, Keenan Lewis was playing on a bad hamstring, and Cortez Allen was out. Even if you take all of these mitigating factors into account, the until still had a nightmare performance unlike anything that has been seen in decades. Ike Taylor topped off his career year with the worst game of his career. William Gay did play well, but where were the safeties on the Tebow’s multiple 40 plus throws? Whether by coaching, cockiness or happenstance, the DB’s were attempting to be ball hawks when they should have been focusing on limiting yards after the catch. Grade: F

Special Teams
Shaun Sushiam was 3-3 including a 45 yarder that hooked at just the right moment. Justin Kapionos boomed off punts with authority and the Denver return units never made any noise. That said, hats off to Denver’s kickers, as Antonio Brown didn’t get a chance to attempt any returns. The Steelers had a lot of weaknesses on display in Denver, but specials teams was not one of them. Grade: B

The logic behind Dick LeBeau and Mike Tomlin’s decision to force Tebow to beat the Steelers throwing is understandable, but his failure to adjust as Tebow’s 40 yard plus throws is not. Where was the pass pressure? Why was Tebow able to consistently draw blood with his option plays? The Steelers wracked up 400 yards but only 23 points, under performing on the road yet again. Over all, the Steelers did not appear to be focused or well prepared, although their persistence in the face of injury was impressive. Grade: D

Unsung Hero
Had the Steelers won the game Ben Roethlisberger, Isaac Redman, or perhaps even Shaun Suisham would have gotten the game ball. But this young man led the Steelers receiving crops, and did it and impressive way, reminding everyone of why he, and not Antonio Brown was the player coaches were touting for greatness heading into 2011, and for that Emmanuel Sanders is Unsung Hero for the Steelers Wild Card game.

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Tebow Sears Steelers in OT, Broncos Win Wild Card 29-23

In the run up to the Steelers Wild Card game vs. the Denver Broncos at Mile High Stadium, I invoked the ’89 Steelers, offering that with the odds against Pittsburgh getting to the Super Bowl, this was their chance to claim redemption for the ’89 playoff loss.

Unfortunately, it was underdog Tim Tebow who captured the mojo of the 1989 Steelers, as he and Demaryius Thomas sent the Steelers 2011 season to a crashing halt, and ending that was eerily similar to another Steelers team from that era.

By any measure, the Steelers loss to Denver counts as a tremendous upset and a huge let down, but in a sense loss served as a microcosm for the Steelers 2011 season.

Yes, We Have Seen This Movie Before

When the NFL’s number one pass defense limits the NFL’s worst passer to 10 lowly completions you’d generally concluded that things are playing out as they “should.”

The problem is that with those ten lowly pass Tim Tebow torched Ike Taylor and the Steelers secondary for 310 yards. During the entire season, which included games against the like of Tom Brady and Joe Flacco, the Steelers only gave up 2 completions for longer than 40 yards.

  • Tim Tebow more than surpassed that total in the second quarter alone.

For as shocking as that may be this kind of turnaround has its precedent in Steelers history. The 1990 Steelers finished number one in defense overall and number one vs. the pass. During the season they allowed a league-low nine touchdown passes.

The problem was that they gave up three of those in a final, must win game at the hands of Cody Carlson, a journeyman back up who was subbing for Warren Moon. (Carlson, in fact finished 22-29 on the night.)

Ending the Way We Started

The reasons for Carlson’s success are of course different from the reasons why Tebow was so successful.

Carlson faced a young defense, led by the likes of Greg Lloyd, Carnell Lake and Rod Woodson, who’d been carrying a slightly better than .500 team who simply got caught by the law of averages.

  • The reasons for the Steelers failure vs. Tebow are far more damming, unfortunately.

Mike Tomlin’s rational behind “the standard is the standard” is that the fact that someone is in the NFL to begin with means that they’re already in the top one half of the one percent of the world’s football playing population. Therefore, the expectation is that everyone in that talent pool is capable of winning football.

The Steelers have embraced that credo when it comes to their own personnel, but made the deadly sin of forgetting it when it comes to others. We perhaps saw glimpses of that vs. the Colts, Jaguars and Chiefs, but that reality was painfully obvious at Mile High.

The Steelers stacked the line and dared Tebow to throw on him and Tebow made him play. As my friend and colleague Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain writes:

Taylor’s failures were not technique, they were with overconfidence. And frankly, every Steelers defender can be accused of that today. They didn’t respect the Broncos offense, and were going for the interception on every pass.

I’m ok with it. Why? Because I was saying all week they can gamble and force turnovers. They gambled and they lost.

Before the game week Brett Keisel said that Dick LeBeau and company were not doing anything special to prepare for Tebow which I took to be pregame boiler plate misinformation. Its obvious now that Keisel was telling the truth.

In September an unprepared and overconfident Steelers team opened the season by traveling to Baltimore and got its asses handed to it. The sad fact is that the Steelers pass defense closed the season in the same fashion.

Overcoming Injuries

The Standard is the Standard. True enough. The Steelers failed to take advantage of the chances they had to win this game. But let’s also keep in mind that the Steelers opened the game without:

  • Rashard Mendenhall, their number one running back
  • Maukice Pouncey, their Pro Bowl Center
  • Ryan Clark, their leading tackler
  • Cortez Allen, a stand out rookie cornerback

Ben Roethlisberger played on an injured ankle, Keenan Lewis on a bum hamstring, and during the first quarter the Steelers lost Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel, and during the course of the game Max Starks would also fall injured.

LaMarr Woodley was playing, but did not seem to be himself and had to be spelled by Jason Worilds.

In the face of such adversity the Pittsburgh Steelers withstood a withering attack on their secondary, found themselves litteraly short of bodies on the defesnive line, yet fought back valiantly.

  • Isaac Redman played a phenomenal game, living every bit up the standard for Steelers running backs at Mile High that Merril Hoge set in 1989
  • Emmanuel Sanders also let it be known that Antonio Brown isn’t the team’s only up and coming stud receiver.
  • Ben Roethlisberger led three scoring drives, including one of his patented game-tying fourth quarter touchdown specials
  • Ryan Mundy, who must share of the blame for the secondary’s breakdown, forced the fumble that made the game tying touchdown possible.

While the 2011 Steelers had better luck than some other teams with injuries, all season long they’ve had to shift men in, out and around the line up. Rarely has a week gone by where the Steelers didn’t need to shift one offensive lineman out of one position and into another.

And so it was vs. the Broncos. No, the Steelers didn’t get the job done, but that in no way diminishes the valor of their efforts.

Great teams don’t need to be great all of the time, just when they need to be.” – John Facenda, NFL Films commentary on Super Bowl XIV

The 1979 Los Angeles Rams gave the 1979 Steelers a very strong run for their money in Super Bowl XIV. But as John Facenda explained in leading up to John Stallworth’s go ahead 4th quarter touchdown catch, the Steelers made plays when it counted.

In a similar vein, the 2008 Super Bowl Champion Steelers played their very best football when it was all on the line time and time again during their season.

In contrast, their 2011 successors did just the opposite – they came up short at the wrong times, whether it was the final drive vs. Baltimore or keeping Roethlisberger in the game in San Francisco (and arguably vs. Cleveland) instead of making sure he was healthy to start the playoffs.

And so it was vs. the Broncos.

The Steelers succeeded in neutralizing Denver’s running attack but lost badly by gambling in the secondary. Offensively the Steelers had some great individual performances, but couldn’t quite get the job done.

The 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers had all of the elements of greatness at their disposal, but ultimately couldn’t put the pieces together when it mattered.

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Maurkice Pouncey Out, Kirby Wilson Injured in Fire

Art Rooney II has got to be asking himself, “What next?”

With each passing day the news out of the South Side gets worse. First Ben Roethlisberger revealed that he suffered a set back vs. Cleveland. Then Maurkice Pouncey showed up on the injury report. Then word came that Pouncey was out for the playoff game vs. Denver.

Both those men are relatively lucky. The Post-Gazette reported that Pittsburgh Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson was burned badly when his town home caught fire last night.

The burns are reported to be moderate to severe, but not life threatening. He is reportedly under the care of UMCP-Mercy Hospital.

Steelers Running Game Reeling

This is just the latest blow that the Steelers running game has suffered, dating back to training camp. First rookie Barron Batch, who’d been the star of camp, tore his ACL at St. Vincents.

For the first three quarters of the regular season the position remained stable for the Steelers. Then Jonathan Dwyer injured himself in the Cincinnati game went on injured reserve. Then Mewelde Moore sprained an MCL vs. San Francisco.

Rashard Mendenhall appeared to be coming on strong as the Steelers were entering the stretch run, only to tear his ACL in the season finale vs. Cleveland.

Now they must rely on Isaac Redman to lead them, and Redman must do it without guidance from Wilson, the man whom he credits from helping him grow from being a practice squad wonder to a legitimate NFL running back.

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Injuries Limit Roethlisberger, Pouncey

“He has a high ankle sprain.”

Injury news of course gets much worse, but high ankle sprains appear almost to be a class into themselves. They’re not career threatening, nor (does it appear, yours truly has no medical expertise) does their long-term impact appear to be cumulative.

Nonetheless, high ankle sprains linger and linger.

As a fan it has always seemed that when a player suffers the dreaded “high ankle sprain” he’s effected by it for the rest of the year.

Fate would have it unfortunately that 2011 be the year that both Ben Roethlisberger and Maurkice Pouncey would offer “high ankle sprains.”

Both suffered them during the Thursday night game vs. Cleveland. Pouncey hasn’t played since, and after missing practice on Thursday might not play vs. Denver.

Ben Roethlisberger of course played in the next game vs. San Francisco, and in Steel Curtain Rising’s analysis, Roethlisberger had no business finishing that game after it became clear that injuries had drastically reduced his effectiveness.

At his weekly press conference Mike Tomlin said that Ben was fine, having suffered no further setbacks as a result of playing in the second victory vs. Cleveland.

Ben Roethlisberger told a different story, claiming that he had in fact hurt himself in the third quarter, and he missed practice on Wednesday but was back at it on Thursday.

Roethlisberger is some what of a drama queen when it comes to injuries, but Ed Bouchette noted on PG Plus that Roethlisberger looked hobbled in the locker room on Sunday after the game and he is expected to play.

The 2011 Steelers have over come a lot in terms of injuries, but suffice to say this is not the kind of news you want to read if your team’s about to play its first road playoff game in six years.

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Steelers to Put Mendenhall on Injured Reserve, Anthony Madison Returns

Today’s news confirmed the worst for the Pittsburgh Steelers and Rashard Mendenhall, as Ed Bouchette reports on PG Plus, as are numerous other sources reporting, the Mendenhall did in fact tear his ACL.

That leaves the team with 3 running backs heading into the playoffs, in the form of Isaac Redman, John Clay, and Mewelde Moore.

Mendenhall is not the only injury the Steelers suffered in defeating the Browns. They lost cornerbacks Keenan Lewis to a hamstring injury and Cortez Allen to a separated shoulder injury. While neither injury is expected to be season-ending, their availability for the playoff game in Denver has to be in doubt.

Factor in the fact that Ryan Clark will likely be unavailable to play, and the Steelers are mighty thin at defensive back for their first road playoff game since visiting Denver for the 2005 AFC Championship.

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