Steelers Need Ben Roethlisberger to Bring “A Game” vs Patriots in AFC Championship

The Steelers AFC Championship show down against the Patriots has drawn a lot of analysis from the pundits.

In addition, Keith Butler has confirmed that the Patriots have always “…tried to find our rookies” – in other words this is no time for Sean Davis, Javon Hargrave or Artie Burns to have stage fright set in.

The Steelers must do all of these things to beat the Patriots in the AFC Championship. But together they won’t be enough unless something else happens:

Ben Roethlisberger, Ben Roethlisberger Patriots AFC Championship,

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger must bring his “A Game” for Pittsburgh to prevail over Patriots in the AFC Championship. Photo Credit: The Big Lead

While that should be self-evident, the truth is that Ben Roethlisberger has been at his best during the Steelers 2016 playoff run.

Big Ben certainly started strong against the Dolphins, but his interception late in the 2nd quarter could have allowed Miami back into the game. His 4th quarter interception came in garbage time, but nonetheless represented a bad decision by Ben.

The Steelers struggled in the Red Zone. Kansas City has one of the NFL’s best run defenses and the truth is that several of their defenders stepped up to make some pretty impressive plays against the Steelers. But according to Jon Ledyard’s analysis on Steel City Insider, Ben Roethlisberger muffed two throws that he should have made, and erred in checking out of a running play on his only interception of the game.

Ben Roethlisberger Must Thread a Fine Needle in the AFC Championship

Throughout his career, Ben Roethlisberger has shown himself to be a big game quarterback. Michael Wilbon once said that if his life depended on the outcome of a game, he’d rather had Roethlisberger than any other NFL signal caller under center.

  • But Ben Roethlisberger also sometimes tries to do too much by himself.

You could see it in the 2007 playoff loss to the Jaguars, perhaps in Super Bowl XLV (never saw the game, never will) and arguably in the third quarter of the Christmas show down with the Ravens. And therein lies a special challenge for Ben Roethlisberger in the AFC Championship.

Eli Rogers isn’t Martavis Bryant, Darrius Heyward-Bey isn’t Markus Wheaton and, if Cobi Hamilton IS out performing Sammie Coates, Hamilton still lacks Coates athleticism.

And while Jesse James has quietly developed into a legitimate receiving threat and Ladarius Green may suit up, the Ben Roethlisberger is still going to need to do his part to make all of the wide receivers not named Antonio Brown look a little better than they are.

  • Yet, he must accomplish that without trying to do too much.

It is a delicate balance to strike, but if Ben Roethlisberger strikes that balance, then the Pittsburgh Steelers should head to Super Bowl LI.

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Steelers Attitude Towards Patriots Entering AFC Championship Game Healthy, Balanced

By all accounts the Steelers attitude towards the Patriots going into the AFC Championship game is a healthy one, which Steelers fans with long memories know not to take for granted. When asked about the upcoming game Ben Roethlisberger proclaimed the New England Patriots as the NFL’s “Gold standard” and likened the trip to Gillette Stadium as “going up to the lion’s den, the dragon’s lair.”

  • There’s nothing objectively or even subjectively wrong with the Steelers standard bearer’s statements.

But, in Steel City Insider  scribe Jim Wexell’s estimation, “many of the younger Steelers just shrugged” at their leader’s estimation – and there’s nothing wrong with that reaction either. Those might seem to be contradictory positions, but they’re not.

Antonio Brown, Steelers vs. Patriots, Steelers Patriots AFC Championship Game, steelers attitude towards patriots

Steelers Antonio Brown at Gillette Stadium. Photo credit: Getty Images via Sportingnews.com

Steelers Struggle in Patriot’s Shadow

Steelers fans rightly protest national media’s reduction of 00’s to a “Brady battles Manning for NFL dominance” story. That narrative is sexy, but it gives the Steelers a short shift.

  • After all, Pittsburgh doubled Indy’s Lombardi count by the time the decade was done.

Yeah, doubling the Lombardi count…. Unfortunately the Patriots have done the same to the Steelers. And while Super Bowl titles serve as the debates the most important metric, the Patriots’ dominance over Pittsburgh drives far deeper than the Lombardi count.

That’s the simple truth. And this truth hurts. The Patriots began their Super Bowl run by upsetting the Steelers, fair and square at Heinz Field and have shredded the Steelers in all but 3 occasions since then. The tandem of The Chin and Ben Roethlisberger share something in common with Big Ben and the Tomlinator – they’ve both only beaten Tom Brady and Bill Belichick once.

  • And please, spare me the talk of Spygate.

Yes, what Bill Belichick and the Patriots did was wrong, but the Steelers only have themselves to blame for the blocked kicks in ’01. Ditto ’04. If you remember how much of a raw rookie Ben looked like in the ’04 AFC Championship, then you’ll know that Billy B’s illegal signal stealing had nothing to do with the Steelers loss.

Mike Tomlin Sets Tone for a New Generation

If Wexell’s reporting on the Steelers attitude is representative of the Steelers locker room at large, then the younger members of the Steelers are taking their cue from Mike Tomlin. A few weeks back, in responding to Terry Bradshaw, Mike Tomlin hailed Bill Belichick as one of the few coaches worthy of the “great” moniker, so the Steelers head coach is well aware of the Patriot’s perch in the pecking order.

Yet, when challenged that the Steelers have never had to beat the Patriots en route to Super Bowl XL, Super Bowl XLIII or Super Bowl XLV Tomlin defied: “They haven’t had to go through us either, since I’ve been here. So stay tuned.”

  • So, while showing respect to his opponent Mike Tomlin refuses to concede anything.
Mike Tomlin, Steelers vs. Patriots, Steelers Patriots AFC Championship, steelers attitude towards patriots

Mike Tomlin addresses the media ahead of the AFC Championship game. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Neither are his players. Nor should they. The Patriot’s record against the Steelers demands respect from any odds maker, but the Patriots have never faced a Steelers team that fielded Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell together. Likewise, James Harrison has never started a playoff game against the Patriots, and New England has never seen Lawrence Timmons or Ryan Shazier on the field in the post-season.

Does that guarantee success? Hardly.

But, as David DeCastro confided in Jim Wexell:

Nothing scares me. We know we can beat ’em, but we have to play really well to do that. So, we have confidence. We know what it takes. It just takes a lot more this week.

You can’t help but think that this is a fundamentally healthy attitude for the Steelers to take into the AFC Championship game. They understand that they’re entering the game as underdogs, yet they retain the quiet confidence that they can win if they execute.

  • Win or lose Sunday evening, credit Mike Tomlin for getting his players to strike a healthy balance.

No one in the Steelers locker room is shuttling off to make a Super Bowl rap video, al la Eric Green 1994, but these Steelers are not heading up to Gillette Stadium in awe of the Patriots. Mentally, the Steelers are where they need to be.

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Wanted in Pittsburgh: Steelers Red Zone Receiver to Step Up in AFC Championship vs. Patriots

Reality unfolds at its own pace.” – Jerry Brown

While this site maintains a strict “No politics” rule there is no better quote and Jerry Brown’s to illustrate the key lesson that the Steelers take from their win over Kansas City to the AFC Championship against New England. And what, pray tell, is that lesson?

  • The Steelers need a Red Zone receiver to step up if they’re to bring Lombardi Number 7 back to Pittsburgh.
Eli Rogers, Steelers red zone receiver, AFC Championship, AFC Divisional playoff, Ron Parker, Steelers vs. Chiefs

Ron Parker tackles Eli Rogers in the AFC Divisional Playoff game. Photo Credit: Charlie Riedel, AP via Honolulu Star-Advertiser

There you have it Steelers Nation. While concern about the need for someone to step up alongside Antonio Brown dates back to Markus Wheaton’s going on injured reserve, this concern more or less faded as the Steelers stacked wins in November and December.

  • Just two weeks ago Steel Curtain Rising declared the Steelers Super Bowl hopes depended on the defense.

That remains true, but two playoff games of Sean Davis breaking up critical passes, Bud Dupree pressuring quarterbacks into throws that Ryan Shazier intercepts, and James Harrison being James Harrison show that the Steelers defense is delivering.

But Pittsburgh need to have Chris Boswell boot them over the Chiefs reveals that the Steelers offense has an issue.

Steelers Tough Between the 20’s

A quick glance at the statistics the Steelers offense amassed in the playoffs against the Chiefs and you can be excused for thinking this game must have been a blow out.

  • Antonio Brown broke the 100 yard mark
  • Le’Veon Bell broke the Steelers playoff rushing record. Again.
  • Jesse James caught 5 passes for 83 yards on 6 targets averaging 16.6 yards per carry.
  • The Steelers dominated time of possession to the tune of 34:13

Those numbers are nice, but they’re largely neutered by the Steelers going 0-4 in the Red Zone. To that end, Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell offers some revealing statistics. While Antonio Brown has scored 14 touchdowns this season, only four have come in the Red Zone, and Brown has only scored 2 Red Zone touchdowns in the last 10 games, including the Immaculate Extension against the Ravens.

  • It says here that Ben Roethlisberger doesn’t suddenly forget to look Antonio Brown way in the Red Zone.

But its logical to assume that keeping Brown confined inside the 20 makes efforts to double and triple team Brown more effective. And that’s really where the Steelers are missing another receiving threat.

antonio brown, justin houston, antonio brown vs justin houston, Steelers vs. Chiefs, steelers red zone receiver

Antonio Brown smokes Justin Houston in the AFC Divisional Playoff game. Photo Credit: Medley, USA TODAY Sports via Steel City Insider

Eli Rogers has some on strong late in the season, and has come up with several clutch catches, but his end zone drop against the Chiefs shows that he still must prove he can make the leap from number 3 to number 2 wide receiver in the NFL. Cobi Hamilton and Demarcus Ayers only got 1 target a piece and Darrius Heyward-Bey and Sammie Coates didn’t see Ben Roethlisberger look their way all night.

  • Those statistics reflect the Steelers run-oriented approach in the playoffs thus far than any lack of confidence in those receivers

But it also means that no one is stepping to and demanding that opposing defensive coordinators respect them in the passing game.

Solution to Steelers Red Zone Issues Must Come from Within

Jim Wexell argues “Run the thing when you’ve got them by the throat in these seemingly guaranteed situations.” Fans old enough to remember Chan Gailey calling two goal line pass plays that turned into Kordell Stewart interceptions instead of handing it to Jerome Bettis in the 1997 AFC Championship game would agree.

  • And I have no objections if we saw Roosevelt Nix, Chris Hubbard and the rest of the Big Boy package check into the game in “Whatever and Goal” situations.

But at the end of the day, the Steelers can’t win beat the New England Patriots with a one-dimensional Red Zone offense. Ladarius Green is practicing and that’s positive news, but Mike Tomlin and Todd Haley know they can’t count on him leaving the concussion protocol.

And that means that someone, be it Eli Rogers, Jesse James, DHB, Cobi Hamilton or even Sammie Coates must step up in the Red Zone.

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Report card for Steelers divisional round victory over Chiefs

Quarterback 

Sunday night wasn’t one of the greatest performances for Ben Roethlisberger (he completed 20 of 31 passes for 224 yards, no touchdowns and one interception). However, he could have had a better fate, had Antonio Brown and Eli Rogers been able to hold on to touchdown passes. Of course, things could have been better for Roethlisberger, had he not checked out of a running play down at the goal line and had his subsequent pass deflected in the air and intercepted by Eric Berry in the second quarter. It wasn’t a suburb performance for No. 7, but he did find a way to make a spectacular play on the third and three pass to Brown late in the game that sealed the deal. Grade: C

Running Backs 

What more can be said about Le’Veon Bell? After breaking the franchise single-game postseason rushing mark a week earlier against the Dolphins in the wild card game, Bell broke his own record against the Chiefs, by rushing for 170 yards on 30 carries. If he isn’t the most explosive and dangerous offensive weapon in football right now, I don’t know who is. Grade: A+

Wide Receivers 

Aside from Brown’s 108 yards on six catches, there wasn’t much in the way of contributions from the wide-outs on Sunday. While Rogers netted 27 yards on five catches, Cobi Hamilton and Demarcus Ayers combined for 10 yards on two catches. Still, though, it’s hard to expect much from secondary receivers with little pedigree and even less experience. Grade: B-

Tight Ends 

The Steelers may not have had the still recovering from a concussion Ladarius Green, but Jesse James sure did provide some big catches and yards. All-told, he had five catches for 83 yards–including one for 26. Grade: B

Offensive Line

When your star running back rushes for 170 yards, and your franchise quarterback only gets sacks one time in 31 pass-attempts, it’s hard to criticize the offensive line. I won’t criticize the line, but a suburb performance by the unit could have been even better, had the offense been able to trade a couple of field goals for touchdowns. Grade: A

Defensive Line 

It was mostly a stellar performance for the defense, including just 61 yards against the run. It wasn’t a stand-out night for anyone on the line, but it was workman-like. Grade: B

Linebackers

James Harrison led the team in tackles with six and also notched the only sack of Alex Smith on the night. Harrison also came through by getting himself held by Eric Fisher during the two-point conversion try that could have tied the game late in the game. Ryan Shazier had five sacks and an interception, while Bud Dupree had four and caused the interception by Shazier, but pressuring Smith and hitting him just as he threw the pass. Grade B+

Secondary 

The Chiefs had just 172 passing yards on the night. Not much more can be said about that. Grade: A

Special teams 

The Steelers limited dangerous return man Tyreek Hill to 72 yards on four kickoffs. Also, Chris Boswell netted all the points for the  team by kicking a postseason record six field goals. Grade: A

Coaching

The Steelers were the better team in all three phases of the game, out-gaining the Chiefs 389 yards to 22y and stifling Kansas City’s return game. Again, a few touchdowns would have been perfection, but when you come out of Kansas City’s Arrowhead with a playoff win, that’s saying a lot. Grade: B+

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Steelers Hours Away from Some Unfinished Business in Divisional Round

When the Steelers lost to the eventual Super Bowl-champion Broncos last year in a divisional round match-up in Denver, didn’t it seem like things should have gone the other way?

Maybe that’s why, literally hours after that game ended, and tears were shed–including some by head coach Mike Tomlin–Pittsburgh was being championed as, well, a Super Bowl champion of the future, meaning 2016.

The Steelers went into Denver last year, missing Le’Veon Bell, DeAngelo Williams, Antonio Brown, Kelvin Beachum, and a few other key cogs. Yet, they kept on fighting until the very end, until third-string running back and important postseason contributor, Fitzgerald Toussaint, coughed up the football early in the fourth quarter, with his team up by a point and driving for more.

Pittsburgh couldn’t overcome this mistake, and they exited Sports Authority Field as 23-16 losers.

But the Steelers weren’t losers in 2015, they were simply compromised due to injuries; when those pile up, it’s hard to keep fighting through January and into February.

But 2016 is different. Actually, it’s now 2017; and while the Broncos, minus the retired Peyton Manning at quarterback, are home watching the postseason, Pittsburgh is back in the same position it was almost a year ago to the day: about to take on the AFC West champions at their home for the right to advance to the conference title game.

As I write this, the game should be mere minutes from kicking off, but thanks to an ugly ice storm that is or about to wreak havoc on the Kansas City-area, the game has been moved back to 8:20 p.m. (EST).

Is that good news or bad for the Steelers?

What did Bill Cowher often say about prime-time games at old Three Rivers Stadium and current Heinz Field? It gave the fans a few extra hours to “lube up” for the action.

In other words, a few extra hours to prepare might make Chiefs fans a little more “vocal.”

But on the other hand, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s first career start came on a Monday night in Week 3 of the 2004 season. The Steelers were supposed to play in Miami on Sunday afternoon, but a hurricane delayed the start of the game a mere 30 hours or so.

Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh won that game and kept on winning the rest, as they went on to finish with  a 15-1 regular season mark and the number one seed in the AFC.

Unfortunately, the rookie Roethlisberger proved to be not ready for postseason-play, and after barely escaping a divisional round match-up

Steelers, Chiefs, divisional round match-up

Photo credit: news3lv.com

against the Jets, Roethlisberger and the Steelers were no match for the Super Bowl-seasoned Patriots the following week in the AFC title game at Heinz Field.

But that was then and this is now; and last year was last year, and this year is this year.

The Steelers are battle-tested and actually drew a pretty decent divisional round match, this despite entering the playoffs as the number three seed and needing one extra victory to reach the Super Bowl.

Pittsburgh blew the doors off the Chiefs, 43-14, when the two teams met at Heinz Field in Week 4.

So what does that have to do with tonight? Nothing, other than to say that, revenge factor aside, I’d much rather be the team who won by 29 points in the previous match-up than the one who lost by that many.

Fun fact: since the Steelers first started winning playoffs games in 1972, they’ve only managed to make it as far as the AFC title game once, when beginning the postseason in the wild card round. That one time, of course, was in 2005, when they entered the playoffs as the sixth seed and didn’t stop winning until they were Super Bowl XL champions.

It says here that the Steelers will change that number from one to two tonight. The last time these two teams met, Roethlisberger threw five touchdown passes, while Bell rushed for 144 yards in his regular season debut.

Those guys–along with Brown–will do a lot of  those same things tonight, and the Steelers will walk away with a 28-17 victory.

That’s my prediction; what’s yours?

 

 

 

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Le’Veon Bell Leads Steelers Killer Bees in Dolphins Win Game Ball Voting with Silverback in Pursuit

To no one’s great surprise, Le’Veon Bell topped the rest of the Steelers Killer Bees in the game ball voting for the Steelers Wild Card victory over the Dolphins.

Ben Roethlisberger, Le'Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Steelers killer bees, Steelers vs. Dolphins

The Steelers Killer Bees. Photo credit: Steelers.com

steelers vs. dolphins, steelers dolphins wild card game, steelers dolphins game ballsThat’s the kind of thing that happens when you make your playoff debut by setting Steelers records in one game that neither Franco Harris, nor Jerome Bettis, nor Willie Parker nor Rocky Bleier could top in their collective 58 playoff games.

James Harrison came in second in the voting earning 29 votes, which also is not surprising given his role in completely neutralizing the Miami Dolphins rushing attack. Next came Antonio Brown, who himself had a record setting day with his two touchdown performance that was good enough to earn him 17 votes.

  • Bud Dupree was the next highest individual vote getter, grabbing 14 votes, or one more than the Steelers offensive line, which was a write in vote.

Ben Roethlisberer was the only other player to reach double digits, reaching 10 votes. Ryan Shazier got close with 9 votes, followed by Lawrence Timmons with 7, and Stephon Tuitt who got 6. Jesse James got 2 votes, as did a write in favoring Danny Smith’s dismissal, followed by 1 vote for Mike Mitchell.

  • The write in success of the Steelers offensive line deserves to be commended.

The synergy between Le’Veon Bell and his offensive line is something truly incredible, and truly special. With that said however, the lukewarm support enjoyed by Stephon Tuitt and Mike Mitchell is perhaps a surprise, but this poll is about what you readers think, not about what yours truly thinks.

As always, Steel Curtain Rising thanks everyone who took out time to vote. Now its on to Kansas City!

 

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Watch Tower: Reviewing Steelers Press Coverage on Joey Porter’s Present, Roethlisberger’s Past, Film Reviews & More

How time flies. The last time the Watch Tower switched on its lights, the Pittsburgh Steelers had just defeated the Redskins and were preparing for the grudge match with the Bengals. Not in coincidentally, that column came immediately before a month long trip abroad, and since then, to borrow Mike Tomlin’s metaphor, it’s been like trying to get on to a moving train.

But a lot has happened, and this edition of the Watch Tower focuses on the Joey Porter arrest incident, coverage of Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers injuries, Tomlin trap games (or lack thereof) and comings in goings in the Steelers press corps.

Joey Porter, Joey Porter arrest, press coverage of Joey porter arrest, officer Paul Abel

Steelers Outside Linebackers coach Joey Porter looks on during a preseason game at Heinz Field. Photo Credit: Pittsburgh City Paper

Balance Needed in the Joey Porter Arrest Story

As everyone in Steelers Nation knows, celebration of the Steelers Wild Card win over the Dolphins was cut short with news that Steelers Outside Linebackers Coach Joey Porter got arrested for an incident on the South Side.

  • The next morning, the folks at ESPN had already determined that the Steelers should issue Porter his walking papers (we’ll get to that in a moment.)

Nearly every story of the event not only described what was known at the time, but then issued a laundry list of off the field issues that Porter has had. That seems logical, but it was Dale Lolley who clued the Watch Tower into another side of the story. Lolley observed:

The Steelers are likely a little reluctant to quickly make a move with Porter despite the bad timing of this incident and because the officer in question, off-duty City of Pittsburgh officer, Paul Abel, has quite a checkered past. Google his name to find out more.

To be fair, Lolley wasn’t the only Pittsburgh writer to bring this up. In fact Charlie Deitch of Pittsburgh’s City Paper wrote a full length article on the subject, noting the failure in some publications to cite the Paul Abel’s controversial past, and sharing that some of his readers had begun to question whether the officer’s history should be relevant, concluding:

So that brings us back to the media reports of Porter’s arrest. If mentioning his previous run-ins with the law has new value and speaks to his credibility, then the police officer should be held to the same standard. The word of a police officer is automatically given more weight than the person arrested. We see it in court when an officer testifies against a perpetrator, and we see it in civil cases when police officers are accused of acts of excessive force and false arrest.

In this case, I think it is absolutely appropriate to bring up Paul Abel’s past.

  • Charlie Deitch can’t be more right, and for that he earns Watch Tower Kudos.

Finally, in discussing Porter’s arrest and Adam Schefter included Porter’s presence on the field in the Steelers Wild Card win over the Bengals in his laundry list of transgressions. Given that both video and audio evidence have shown that Porter did nothing to provoke the Bengals, citing that incident although with Porter’s other incidents amounts to shameless piling on to make things look as bad as possible.

Schefter has done this before, namely with Ben Roethlisberger in 2010. The Watch Tower called him out for it then. And sadly, it will probably have an opportunity to do so again in the future. Still Schefter should be ashamed.

Roethlisberger Recycling @ SI

Ben Roethlisberger’s own off the field issues have surfaced again, which shouldn’t be terribly shocking given that the Steelers have entered the post season on a hot streak.

  • In fact, in the Watch Tower’s eyes, there IS a legitimate story, or perhaps essay, relevant to Midgeville that is ripe for the writing.

But that’s not what Sports Illustrated’s S.L. Price chose to do. Instead he wrote a far-ranging piece, 5,000 word plus piece on Roethlisberger’s past that report few, if any relevant new facts. Price for example, did quote a number of people, including several women who refrain from rooting for Roethlisberger and encourage others to follow suit.

Ben Roethlisberger

That’s a legitimate human interest angle, but adds nothing to what we know about the Midgeville story, nor does it shed any light on Roethlisberger’s public reform, beyond letting us know that some people remain skeptical.

  • Price also obsesses Ben Roethlisberger’s decision change his declared home town from Findlay to Corey Rawson.

While Price stops short of making the point explicit, he clearly wouldn’t mind if readers took this fact as evidence that Roethlisberger’s public character reform is somehow insincere. As the Watch Tower stated at the outset, there is an unexplored angle to the Midgeville story. But Price opts against that route, and instead confines his 5,000 words to repeating what is out there.

In response, Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell wrote a very personal, revealing piece on Ben Roethlisberger’s character change. Wexell’s work includes interviews and quotes that report some new, if not earth shaking facts, on Roethlisberger’s character rehabilitation, at least as far as it extends to his presence on the South Side.

The article was behind the site’s paywall but, if Watch Tower understand correctly, visitors can read it for free on a trail basis. If you can, the Watch Tower highly recommends it.

Head to Cook’s Kitchen for Scoops on Injuries

As the Watch Tower has observed, the value of journalist getting “scoop” just isn’t is what it used to be. Google “Troy Polamalu Retires” and you won’t even see Jim Wexell’s exclusive show up in the first page of SERPs.

But scoops on injury news still move the needle, and Ron Cook of the Post-Gazette was ahead of his peers on two of the biggest injury stories this season

Ron Cook was first to break these key Steelers injury stories, and both of those turned out to be correct.

Jeremy Fowler also got the early word to his readers on Stephon Tuitt’s injury:

Given the amount of misinformation that circulates on injuries in this age of the internet – note the national press getting the story right on Antonio Brown’s concussion status during last year’s playoff while Pittsburgh reporters kept leaving the door open for him to play – its good to know that a reporter’s word can be trusted.

So Ron Cook wins Watch Tower Kudos on this one.

Tipping Off on the Next Play

Jeremy Fowler of ESPN also came up with a great story prior to the Steelers win over the Giants.

Fowler got Mike Mitchell on the record discussing how he and his study group, which includes Ryan Shazier, Sean Davis, Tyler Matakevich and cornerback Ross Cockrell, got a tip from how Steelers pro scouting coordinator Brandon Hunt that Odell Beckham telegraphs at the line of scrimmage whether the coming play is a pass or a run.

You don’t see stories with revelations like that often, at least coming out of Pittsburgh. Fowler’s predecessor Scott Brown did a good job of bringing them to his readers and in this instance Fowler followed suit.

Tomlin’s Tripping Up on Trap Games… Or Not

Mike Tomlin teams “play down to the competition.” Mike Tomlin doesn’t know how to prepare his teams for trap games. Mike Tomlin’s record against teams below .500 is sub par….

  • We hear this all the time.

Truth be told, this site has criticized Tomlin for getting tripped up on by trap games more than once. The Steelers losses this season, particularly to the Dolphins and the Eagles added a lot of fuel to this narrative.

Mike Tomlin, Mike Tomlin Trap games

Mike Tomlin’s record against sub .500 team’s isn’t quite what some internet trolls make it out to be. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Fortunately, Steel City Blitz’s Ben Anderson took the time to tabulate Mike Tomlin’s record against losing teams (meaning teams that finish below .500) and compare it to that of Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher’s.

The Watch Tower doesn’t steal the thunder of other writers, but as we encourage you to read Ben Anderson’s story we will say that Tomlin’s record against sub .500 teams stands up well to both his predecessors.

Anderson’s analysis has also proven quite useful in dealing with internet trolls who simply fall flat when confrontd with hard numbers that refute opinions that they present as Gospel…

Reviewing the Film Reviewers….

Film breakdown has grown exponentially in popularity since this the founding of this site. While the Watch Tower has praised a number of film reviewers in its time, one writer’s work who has caught its attention this season has been that of Steel City Insider’s Jon Leynard.

Leynard brings a truly experienced eye to his Steelers All 22 film breakdowns. He clearly takes his time with his reviews and offers a depth analysis, comprehensive scope and sophistication to his breakdowns seldom found on other sites.

  • About the only thing missing from Jon Leynard’s film reviews is that they lack, well, film.

Seriously. While Leynard doesn’t need to lean on animated GIFs the way some writers might, he could do even more to educate his readers if say, he could show Artie Burns using his hands correctly (or incorrectly.)

Comings and Goings in the Steelers Press Corps

Finally the Watch Tower comes to pointing out what has been a busy season of comings and goings in the Steelers press corps. The biggest move of course was the decision of Mark Kaboly to leave the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review in favor of DK on Pittsburgh Sports.

Mark Kaboly, DK on Pittsburgh sports

Long time Tribune Review reporter Mark Kaboly now with DK on Pittsburgh sports. Photo Credit: Mark Kaboly

Dejan Kovacevic’s upstart site has landed (as well as lost) big names before, Mark Kaboly represents the biggest name he’s landed for his Steelers beat, filling a void that the site has struggled to fill following Neal Coolong’s departure. And as one industry veteran privately observed to the Watch Tower, Kaboly’s move signaled more.

  • Joe Starkey departed the Tribune Review for the rival Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

The Watch Tower has praised Starkey’s work before, and his defection represents a major coup for the Post-Gazette. These moves have been fueled in large part by uncertainty created by the downsizing of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review, which has killed its print edition and has been steadily losing money without Richard Mellon Scaife to subsidize its operations.

  • Another possible casualty to the Tribune-Review’s downsizing appears to be Ralph Paulk.

Paulk’s byline has disappeared from the Tribune Review’s pages since early November, and his Twitter feed is not showing any new Tweets since before the Steelers loss to the Ravens. Like Scott Brown’s disappearance from ESPN and Allen Robinson‘s disappearance from the Tribune Review, no announcement has been made.

  • If Paulk’s days as a Steelers beat writer are in fact done, Steelers Nation will be the loser.

Apologies to those Steelers scribes, be they credentialed or bloggers who posted good work deserving of Watch Tower praise. And to those who deserved criticism – we’ll get you next time.

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Mike Tomlin’s Record vs Andy Reid ahead of Steelers 2018 Home Opener vs Chiefs

The Vegas line had the Kansas City Chiefs holding a 2 point edge over the Pittsburgh Steelers heading into the January 2017 AFC Divisional playoff game.

The book makers favoredthe Chiefs despite the fact that Steelers held a 20-11 advantage in the series, including a 10-7 edge in games played at Arrowhead Stadium, a notoriously difficult place to play. But all of those were regular season match ups.

  • The Steelers and Chiefs have played in the playoffs once, with the Steelers losing in overtime.

That game came after the 1993 season, when James Harrison struggling to hold down a practice squad slot…. (Ha! fooled you didn’t I?) That’s a joke about Harrison, but the game was so long ago that it DOES precede Steelers defensive line coach John Mitchell’s time with the team, as Bill Cowher fired Steve Furness after that playoff loss.

  • How have things worked out since that fateful day when a Mark Royals’ blocked punt opened the door to another Joe Montana comeback?

Well, per Dale Lolley, the Chiefs are 0-4 at Arrowhead since that win and 1-9 overall in the playoffs. The Steelers in contrast are 19-12 in the playoffs since that day.

The bottom line is that the Steelers and Chiefs don’t have a lot of playoff history so perhaps the operative metric should have been Mike Tomlin’s record against Andy Reid.

Mike Tomlin, Andy Reid, Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers vs. Chiefs, Mike Tomlin's record vs Andy Reid

Mike Tomlin, Andy Reid shake hands after the Steelers 2014 win over the Chiefs at Heinz Field. Photo Credit: David Eulitt, The Kansas City Star

Mike Tomlin’s Record vs Andy Reid

Not including Steelers and Eagles annual preseason match ups, Mike Tomlin is 5-2 against Andy Reid. Tomlin’s games against Reid came in 2008, 2012, 2014, 2015, the 2016 regular season, 2016 playoffs and the 2017 season, which provides a fairly good cross section of both coaches work.

By 2012, both the Steelers and Eagles were in re-building phases as the Steelers prevailed at Heinz Field. In 2014 both the Steelers and Chiefs were fighting to establish themselves as playoff contenders. The Steelers got the better of that December 2014 tussle, while the Chiefs stayed home in January.

By 2015 and 2016 both the Steelers and Chiefs had reestablished themselves as contenders. In fact, Tomlin’s last victory against Andy Reid came in October at Heinz Field as Le’Veon Bell, steamrolled the Kansas City to the tune of 43-14.

Tomlin’s last loss to Andy Reid came in October 2015, with Ben Roethlisberger injured and Landry Jones making his first, unsuccessful, start.

  • At the time it was viewed as a “Tomlin Trap Game” but the Chiefs went on to win 11 straight.

As recently as January 2017, those two games perhaps, ominously, highlight the operative trend in Mike Tomlin’s record against Andy Reid. At the time Mike Tomlin was 3-0 against Andy Reid at Heinz Field, but Andy Reid had never lost to Mike Tomlin at home.

That changed in 2016 as Le’Veon Bell and Chris Boswell led the Steelers to a narrow playoff win against the Chiefs at Arrowhead. And in 2017 the Steelers again returned to Kansas City, where the Steelers vanquished the Chiefs to the tune of 19-13.

Going into Pittsburgh’s 2018 home opener, the Steelers hold a 23-11 edge of the Chiefs and their edge improves to 11-4 while playing in Pittsburgh, where Kansas City has not won since 1986.

 

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Even Though Injury Not Serious, Ben Roethlisberger Shouldn’t Have Been in Late vs. Dolphins

I’m not usually one to second guess when it comes to football games (okay, I’m a writer, so you better believe I’m one to second guess), but in the case of head coach Mike Tomlin’s decision to leave quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the game late into the fourth quarter of the Steelers thoroughly convincing 30-12 wild card victory over the Dolphins at Heinz Field on Sunday, I was actually first guessing things.

With Pittsburgh equipped with a 30-6 lead and possession of the football early in the fourth quarter, my uncle and I, enjoying the rare postseason blow-out at Primanti Bros. on Route 60, both agreed that pulling all key offensive personnel at that point was absolutely the right decision.

  • This didn’t happen, as Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Ben Roethlisberger took the field for what soon became a quick three-and-out, followed by a punt.

No problem.

Ben Roethlisberger, Cameron Ware, Steelers wild Card win Dophins, Roethlisberger injury dolphins

Ben Roethlisberber hit by Cameron Ware late in the Steelers Wild Card win over Dolphins. Photo Credit: James Lang, USA Today Sports

Miami then proceeded to march 70 yards on nine plays and closed to within 18 points on a short touchdown pass from Matt Moore to Damien Williams. The problem for the Dolphins, however, was that they burned 4:20 of game-clock and only 5:57 remained. What further decreased Miami’s chances of a miraculous comeback was a failed two-point conversion thanks to Ross Cockrell.

  • And what did the visitors in for good was an unsuccessful onside kick that Brown recovered with 5:55 remaining.

Sure, the score didn’t look like a blowout at that point, but it may as well have been. The Steelers had possession of the football, an 18-point lead and less than six minutes remaining to preserve things.

Therefore, not only did the Dolphins have to find a way to regain possession pretty quickly, they needed to score a touchdown and convert a two-point try, recover an onside kick, score a touchdown and convert a two-point try, recover another onside kicker and then make a game-winning field goal.

  • Maybe one of those things was going to happen over the final 5:55 of  the fourth quarter, but all of them?

Not a chance, given the way James Harrison, Ryan Shazier, Stephon Tuitt, Bud Dupree and Lawrence Timmons were corralling the Dolphins.

At that point, the Steelers Killer B’s (or Big Three, as they’re now being called in some circles) should have been excused to the sidelines. DeAngelo Williams was in for Le’Veon Bell was, but Ben Roethlisberger and Antonio Brown remained in the lineup.

Ben Roethlisberger, Mike Tomlin, Steelers wild card win dolphins

Ben Roethlisberger never wants to come out of games. Mike Tomlin shouldn’t be so accommodating. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive

Unfortunately, not only did the Steelers not move the ball, they turned it over when Roethlisberger threw his second interception of the day with 4:23 remaining. No big deal, other than the franchise quarterback–the most indispensable member of the entire organization, as it pertains to competing the 2016 season with Lombardi in hand–suffered an ankle injury on the play and was seen wearing a walking boot after the game.

  • This started a firestorm of criticism directed at Mike Tomlin Sunday night and all day Monday…and rightfully so.

I’m a huge Mike Tomlin supporter, but he, like everyone else in Steelers Nation, was/is well-aware of how key injuries either wreck or compromised Pittsburgh’s postseasons in the very recent past.

In 2014, a hyper-extended knee suffered by Le’Veon Bell absolutely wrecked the Steelers season as they had no viable backup at running back after cutting LeGarrette Blount in November.

A season ago, the Steelers put up a good fight, but they went into the postseason without their top two running backs and lost Antonio Brown and almost lost Ben Roethlisberger as they progressed through the Wild Card round and into the divisional portion.

  • How might both 2014 and 2015 have turned out without those key injuries?

We’ll never know.

Remember the 2008 finale at Heinz Field when Mike Tomlin insisted on playing his starters in a meaningless game against the Browns? Pittsburgh had the number two seed locked up and nothing to gain or lose, yet many key players–including Roethlisberger–started the game.

Early in the first half of what would be a 31-0 victory over the Cleveland Browns, Roethlisberger suffered a concussion and had to be carted into the locker room.

  • Obviously, if you know how 2008 ended, you know that Big Ben was fine.

But that was quite the scare.

Sunday was quite the scare, as well, but it looks like Roethlisberger will be fine and ready to go against the Chiefs this Sunday in the divisional playoffs.

As far as I and just about everyone else are concerned, that was one scare that was far from necessary.

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Le’Veon Bell Breaks Steelers Playoff Rushing Record – Now Pause & Think about What that Means….

For two straight off seasons, Steelers Nation has fretted and fidgeted while watching the Steelers asking the question “What IF.” The big “What IF” of course was “What if Le’Veon Bell had been playing?”

Going into the playoff loss to the Ravens in 2014 (2015, actually) Bell’s absence represented a loss of 34% of the Steelers total offense. It is harder to calculate the impact of Le’Veon Bell’s absence in the 2015 postseason because Bell missed the majority of the season injured or suspended.

But it is quite possible that Ryan Shazier and Ben Roethlisberger’s late game heroics wouldn’t have been necessary against the Bengals had Bell been available to kill the clock in the 4th.

In Pittsburgh’s wild card win against the Dolphins, Steelers Nation finaly got to see their “What IF” come true. So how did that work out?

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Le’Veon Bell in his Steelers playoff record breaking performance against the Dolphins. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive

  • Le’Veon Bell ran 29 times for 167 yards and scored two touchdowns. In the process, Le’Veon Bell broke the Pittsburgh Steelers single game post-season rushing record.

Let’s restate that: In his first post season appearance, Le’Veon Bell broke the Pittsburgh Steelers single-game playoff rushing record. Now consider what that really means. Had Le’Veon Bell broken this record, say, for the San Francisco 49ers, he wouldn’t have turned many heads, no disrespect to Roger Craig or Rickey Waters.

  • But Le’Veon Bell broke the Pittsburgh Steelers playoff rushing record for a single game.

This is the same franchise that has sent Jerome Bettis, Franco Harris and John Henry Johnson (you forgot about him, didn’t you?) to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. It is the team that gave Willie Parker, holder of the Super Bowl record for the longest run from scrimmage, his shot in the NFL.

What’s more amazing is the way in which Le’Veon Bell broke the record. As Peter King, who is no Steelers cheerleader, observed:

Watch the man. He’s got the oddest rushing style in football today. “The Great Hesitator,” Phil Simms called him on CBS, and that’s just about perfect. Usually, Bell lines up as the classic I-back, seven yards deep, and when he takes a handoff from Ben Roethlisberger, he’ll take a couple of jab steps toward a hole and almost stop in his tracks. Denver, under Mike Shanahan, had a one-cut running style; the back was told to hit up in the hole immediately—that charging into the hole was the one cut. Most coaches decry what they call pussyfooting.

Peter King then backed up his argument with a statistic, that someone on his staff deserves a ton of credit for unearthing:

I find this amazing: Emmitt Smith, the all-time rushing king, gained 860 yards in his best seven-game stretch. That’s 142 yards less than Bell’s current seven-game run.

So in other words, in the space of just 8 games, Le’Veon Bell broken a record set by one Steelers Hall of Fame running back that another Steelers Hall of Fame Running back couldn’t touch, and rushed for 142 yards more than Emmitt Smith rushed for during his best seven-game stretch.

Jerome Bettis, Jerome Bettis AFC Championship, Jerome Bettis Broncos

Jerome Bettis in the 2005 AFC Championship Game. Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images via BTSC

A little bit of research reveals that it’s not unusual for a Steelers running back to break the century mark in his playoff debut.

  • Barry Foster ran for 104 yards on 20 carries in the 1992 Steelers playoff loss to the Bills
  • Jerome Bettis ran for 102 yards in the Steelers 1996 playoff win against the Colts, although he injured himself
  • Merril Hoge rushed for 100 yards even in the 1989 Steelers New Year’s Eve upset of the Oilers

Rashard Mendenhall, Bam Morris, Frank Pollard and Rocky Bleier also had 100 yard (or near 100 yard) performances early in their careers, but these came after their first post season game.

All impressive efforts, to be certain. But if you really want to appreciate what Le’Veon Bell accomplished, look no further than to the comments made by Ben Roethlisberger:

I’ll never forget when Charlie Batch was here, he used to always tell me about how he would hand off and just watch Barry Sanders. I am not trying to put Le’Veon with Barry Sanders yet, but it is fun to sit and watch and just see what he is going to do because he is incredibly talented.

So if you’re keeping track at home, in addition to outperforming 3 Steelers Hall of Fame running backs, Le’Veon Bell’s playoff performance against the Dolphins has now drawn comparisons to two other non-Steelers Hall of Fame running backs.

Walter Payton, Walter Payton Steelers, Le'Veon Bell Walter Payton

Walter Peyton dives over the pile as the Steelers are powerless to stop him. Photo Credit: Jonathan Daniel, Getty Images via NFL SpinZone

During Le’Veon Bell took a lot of heat during his rookie season with a lot of journalists both inside (see John Stiegerwald) and outside of Pittsburgh doubting his ability. Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell took the time to compare his game-by-game results to Walter Payton’s rookie campaign, despite getting needled about it on social media from some of his peers.

  • Three seasons, a couple of injuries, 2 suspensions, and 1 playoff game later, Bell is getting the last laugh.

As Ben Roethlisberger cautioned, it is still too early to categorize Bell alongside the Smiths, Harris, Sanders, and Paytons of NFL lore, but in Le’Veon Bell, the Pittsburgh Steelers certainly have a special running back.

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