Steelers (Again) Prioritize Character with Terrell Edmunds & Other 2018 Draft Picks

The Pittsburgh Steelers may not draft in their fears, as pointed out in a recent article, but as it pertains to their recent draft classes, they sure do seem to be steering clear of those prospects with character/off-the-field issues (those proverbial “red flags”).

Two years ago, it was Artie Burns, the responsible new father and a surrogate dad to his little brother, following his mom’s untimely death; Sean Davis, the bilingual safety out of Maryland; and Javon Hargrave, the big nose tackle known as The Gravedigger who likes to give back by hosting youth football camps. 

Last season, it was T.J. Watt, the outside linebacker out of Wisconsin with a penchant for learning fast and a motor that never stops, the little brother of J.J. Watt, the Texans’ legendary defensive end who raised $37 million last season for the victims of Hurricane Harvey.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, the absolute breath of fresh air of a receiver whose biggest off-the-field issues in 2017 had to do with someone stealing his bicycle and Alejandro Villanueva teaching him how to drive because JuJu came to the NFL without a drivers’ license; James Conner, the University of Pittsburgh running back who battled both a major knee injury and cancer during his college career; and Cam Sutton, the Tennessee cornerback who was known for his intelligence and his ability to be a locker room leader.

Entering the 2018 NFL Draft, one wondered if Pittsburgh would stray from its recent trend of high-character guys by perhaps selecting someone with a more checkered past.

Terrell Edmunds, Ryan Shazier, Roger Goodell, 2018 NFL Draft Steelers

Terrell Edmunds with Ryan Shazier and Roger Goodell. Photo Credit: Tom Pennington, Getty Images via Full Press Coverage

Nope.

While other, higher-value prospects were still on the board at 28–including LSU running back Derrius Guice who was said to have had some maturity issues and unsubstantiated off-field problems in college–the Steelers selected Virginia Tech safety Terrell Edmunds.

A player labeled as a major reach by the vast-majority of  experts and fans, Edmunds comes from a close-knit family and has two brothers who are also in the NFL–older brother, Trey, who plays for the Saints; and younger brother, Tremaine, who the Bills selected 12 spots ahead of Terrell in the most-recent draft.

  • Furthermore, Ferrell Edmunds, their father, played seven seasons as a tight end for both the Dolphins and Seahawks.

You may have scratched your head with the selection of Terrell Edmunds, but as soon as you saw him on stage on draft night, and then touring the Pittsburgh community last week, you just wanted to root for him.

In the second  round, the Steelers selected Oklahoma State receiver James Washington, whose biggest off-field problem at college seemed to be trying to find a peaceful spot to fish. 

There were certainly no reported off-field issues with Washington’s college teammate, quarterback Mason Rudolph, Pittsburgh’s first of two third-round selections.

As for that second third-round pick, Chukwuma Okorafor, the big left tackle from Western Michigan, his worst college attribute seemed to be that he was “too nice.”

  • Perhaps the best part of the Steelers recent draft philosophy is that they’ve managed to not only find players of high-character, but ones who are actually very good football players.

Smith-Schuster and Washington don’t have the blazing speed of a Martavis Bryant, the team’s fourth-round pick in the 2014 NFL Draft, but judging by their histories and overall character, it’s highly-unlikely either will face long-term suspensions for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

And if Smith-Schuster’s rookie season was any indication–58 receptions for 917 yards and seven touchdowns–he could be in-line to be the Steelers next great receiver.

Okorafor may not have quite as much potential as Mike Adams, the team’s 2012 second-round pick out of Ohio State, but he obviously didn’t fail a drug test at the NFL Combine, and he’ll get a chance to develop his skills under  the best offensive line coach around, Mike Munchak.

Perhaps Hargrave wouldn’t be the Steelers starting nose tackle right now (or a Steeler at all) if Alameda Ta’amu, Pittsburgh’s fourth-round pick out of Washington in the 2012 NFL Draft, hadn’t been charged with a felony DUI during his rookie season, after striking several cars with his vehicle while fleeing from police. 

James Conner may not have the explosiveness of Chris Rainey, a running back Pittsburgh selected in the fifth round of the 2012 NFL Draft, but he’s currently a Steeler with a chance to make an NFL career for himself, while Rainey, who was released in January of 2013 after he was arrested for battery following a cellphone dispute with a woman, is currently playing in the CFL (come to think of it, 2012 was a bad draft for character guys).

  • The organization was slowly gaining a reputation that strayed from its regal, if mythical, moniker of “The Steeler Way.”

But if they keep focusing on talented football players who are also really great young men, the Steelers reputation could soon become one based in reality.

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The Colbert Record: Grading the Steelers 2012 Draft, B-

The with 2017 NFL Draft in the books, it is now time to turn our attention to grading Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin’s performance with the Steelers draft class.

  • Of course, we’re talking about grading the Steelers 2012 Draft Class here.

The question of when a draft class is ripe to grade is an interesting one with no definitive answer. Same day draft grade border on inane, as Ike Taylor and the Steelers 2003 Draft Class demonstrates. Year after draft grades certainly aren’t much more helpful either.

After the rookie years of Sean Davis, Artie Burns and Javon Hargrave, the Steelers 2016 Draft Class is looking pretty smart. But the same could be said in May 1990 about the 1989 Steelers Draft class, which had its gems but also a lot of fools gold.

The Steelers 2011 Draft Class seems to make a solid case for why you really need to wait five years to grade a draft class, and while others may quibble, we’ll stick with it grade the Steelers 2012 Draft Class.

David DeCastro, Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers 2012 first round draft pick

David DeCastro blocking for Ben Roethlisberger. Photo Credit: Photo Credit: Chuck Cook, USA Today via kickoff coverage.com

 

Steelers 2012 1st Round Pick – David DeCastro, Guard, Stanford

When a highly rated prospect falls in the first round of the NFL Draft, it usually for two reason. First, some sort of off the field issue, be it true or not, surfaces and prospective buyers shy away. Second, sometimes one team will make an unexpected pick or trade scrambling everyone else’s draft board.

Going in to the 2012 NFL Draft, David DeCastro had been rated very highly, some experts had him in the top then. But then a run started on defensive lineman, and DeCastro continued to fall. The Steelers didn’t hesitate to pick DeCastro, and haven’t looked back since.

David DeCastro started as a rookie, although he lost most of that season ton injury, but was a full time starter by 2013. By 2014, DeCastro was establishing himself as a force on the field, and showing that streak of nasty that makes offensive lineman great. By 2015, David DeCastro had done well enough to see the Steelers exercise their 5th year option on him and eventually sign him to a long term deal.

For what it is worth, the NFL Network is rating DeCastro as the 97th best player in the league. Grade: Quality Value Pick (trending toward Grand Slam).

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

True NFL Draft grades only come with years of hindsight

Steelers 2012 2nd Round Pick – Mike Adams, Tackle, Ohio State

Mike Adams provides the perfect example of a player who fell for kind of reason. In his case it was a failed drug test at the NFL Combine. The Steelers knew about this, and took them off their board because of it.

  • Mike Adams of course worked his way back into the good graces of Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin.

The Steelers took him admitting that there are risks with every pick. The easy evaluation, based on the disaster that was Mike Adams starting at left tackle, is that the Mike Adams pick was a bust. That’s a tempting conclusion to take, but it is not quite accurate.

  • People forget that Mike Adams started 6 games (per Pro Football Reference’s count) at right tackle in 2012 and played fairly well.

HE also made four starts at right tackle in 2014 and again he performed well. 2015 was lost to injury. OK, if you pick a man in the a tackle in the second round, and you project him as a left tackle, you expect more than 10 good starts at right tackle out of the player.

But the Steelers did get some value out of Mike Adams, it just wasn’t enough. Grade: Disappointment

Steelers 2012 3rd Round Pick – Sean Spence, Inside Linebacker, Miami

This pick perhaps illustrates just how much of a factor luck plays in forming a successful NFL Draft. The Steelers drafted Sean Spence with an eye towards replacing Larry Foote. All indications in training camp and preseason were that Spence was capable of being that player.

  • Then disaster struck, as Sean Spence suffered what could have been a career ending injury during preseason.

The Steelers kept Spence on injured reserve for two years, and in the meantime drafted Vince Williams and Ryan Shazier. Spence returned to full health in 2014 and functioned effectively as “The Next Man” up starting 13 games over the next two years.


Sean Spence after forcing a fumble in Steelers 2014 win over the Houston Texans. Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire, USA Today Steelers Wire

Who knows how good Sean Spence would have been had not been injured? How well would have he would have played during 2014 and 2015 had Shazier not forced him to the bench? Will never know the answer. All indications are that Colbert and Tomlin made the right pick with this selection, but unfortunately due to no one’s fault, injury prevented the Steelers from recouping its full value. Grade: Serviceable Pickup

Steelers 2012 4th Round Pick – Alameda Ta’mau, Nose Tackle, Washington

Note to Kevin Colbert: Next time you think of trading up to grab someone in one of the middle rounds, don’t pick a guy that is getting KOed on highlight films by your first round pick.

Because that’s exactly what the Steelers did in 2012 when they traded up to get the “last pure nose tackle in the draft” even though one of David DeCastro’s highlight reels included him totally dominating
Alameda Ta’mau.

That didn’t stop some pundits from predicting that Ta’Mau would become Casey Hampton’s heir apparent. Instead Ta’Mau became best known for his South Side drunken rampage, where only by the grace of God no one got seriously injured.

The Steelers didn’t cut him immediately, but he was gone by year’s end without playing a down and played in 14 games for Pittsburgh West over the next two season. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2012 5th Round Pick – Chris Rainey, Running Back, Florida

Unlike Ta’Mau who had a previous alcohol incident that the Steelers knew of but was not public knowledge, Chris Raniey brought a checkered history to Pittsburgh. However, the Pouncey family vouched for Rainey and the Steelers gave him a chance.

  • Chris Rainey was supposed to be a utility back for the Steelers – a small speedy back who could come out of the flat to spread the field.

As a running back Rainey saw spot duty in 2012 and had a respectable rushing average, and he also caught 14 passes on 22 targets which is also respectable, although he never showed any of that field stretching ability. Rainey had a minor run in with the law late in the season, and then his name popped up in the police blotter for domestic violence in January.

The Steelers cut their losses immediately and sent Rainey packing. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2012 7th Round Pick, A – Toney Clemons, Wide Receiver, Colorado

Toney Clemons never caught on with the Steelers, but he did play four games in 2012 for the Jacksonville Jaguars and was never heard from again. Grade: Farm Team

Steelers 2012 7th Round Pick, B – David Paulson, Tight End, Oregon

Fans will remember David Paulson for his dropped pass in the Steelers road loss to the Bengals in the second game of the 2013 Steelers 0-4 start. And yes he should have caught that, and yes it could have been a difference maker.

  • But David Paulson was a number 4 TE playing as a number 2 TE.

All told, David Paulson had 13 catches on 21 targets over 32 games for the Steelers. Those are hardly Mike Mularkey numbers, let alone Heath Miller type stats. But not bad production from the 240th man taken in the draft. Grade: Quality Value Pickup

Steelers 2012 7th Round Pick, C — Terrence Frederick, Cornerback, Texas A&M

Terrence Frederick never made caught on with the Steelers but played 5 games in 2012 and 2014 for the New York Giants and New Orleans Saints. Again, not bad for a 7th round pick and not a bad way to pocket six figures before starting your “Life’s Work.” Grade: Farm Team

Steelers 2012 7th Round Pick, D – Kelvin Beachum, Tackle, SMU

If most NFL General Managers would be forced to confess, when they get to the 248th pick of the draft they’re probably thinking, “If this works out well, he’ll land on the practice squad.” You don’t pick a man that late and expect him to play seven games for you that year, let alone start 5.

Yet that’s what Kelvin Beachum did for the Steelers as a rookie. There weren’t many bright spots for the Steelers offense on the backend of 2012, with Ben Roethlisberger’s injury to Young Money going broke, to the three headed implosion at running back.

But Kelvin Beachum was a true bright spot for the Steelers, as he went on to save the Steelers season in 2013 by stepping in at left tackle, and established himself as a legit starting left tackle in 2014. Grade: Grand Slam

Grading the Steelers 2012 Draft

Only David DeCastro remains of the Steelers 2012 Draft Class and by many measure’s that’s bad, because in theory this is when your draft picks should in their prime, hitting their stride. And when that happens, a team wins. See the roles the Steelers 2002 Draft Class played in winning Super Bowl XL.

  • But the 2011 NFL Collective Bargaining Agreement’s rookie salary cap altered that calculus a bit.

By essentially mandating that every NFL team devote the same portion of his salary cap on its draft class, it raised the marginal value of the production a team gets out of its draft picks during their rookie contracts.

Viewed in that light, the Steelers got excellent value out of David DeCastro and Kelvin Beachum. They also got solid contributions from the Sean Spence and even got “Something” out of Mike Adams and David Paulson. Unfortunately are weighed down by the loss of value of Ta’amu and Rainey and the draft pick they used to get Ta’Amu.

All told, Steelers 2012 Draft Class had a “Good But…” quality to it, and that’s why we’re grading out with a B-.

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Return on Investment? Steelers Sign Knile Davis to as Kick Returner, Backup Running Back

Bargain hunting continued on Pittsburgh’s South Side Monday as the Steelers signed Knile Davis, a free agent running back who most recently played for the Kansas City Chiefs.

Knile Davis is listed as a running back, but the Steelers are eyeing him primarily as a kick returner, a specialist position which the franchise has struggled to fill for most of the Mike Tomlin Era.

Knile Davis, Sean Spence, Jarvis Jones, Steelers vs Chiefs

Sean Spence tackles Knile Davis as Jarvis Jones arrives a second too late. Photo Credit: USA Today’s Steelers Wire

To put the matter into perspective, the last time the Steelers had a kickoff returned for a touchdown as in the 2010’s game against the Tennessee Titans, when Antonio Brown took a reverse and ran it all the way in.

The only Steelers kick returners who’ve returned more than 10 kicks during Mike Tomlin’s tenure to remotely approach an average of 25 yards per return are Stephan Logan, Markus Wheaton, Chris Rainey, Emmanuel Sanders and Brown.

  • In just four seasons, Knile Daivs has already returned 73 kicks for a total of 1920 yards, for a 26.8 yard average for two touchdowns.

Given that a touchback now results in the ball being spotted at the 25 yard line, having a kick returner who can routinely better that marks a welcome addition to the return team. (For the record Stefan Logan and Chris Rainey were the only returners during the Tomlin era to average more than 25 yards.)

Now Knile Davis Impacts the Steelers Depth Chart @ Running Back

Le’Veon Bell remains the uncontested Alpha Male atop the Steelers running back depth chart, and the unsigned status of DeAngelo Williams might suggest that the he’s been replaced by Knile Davis. Davis would certainly like coaches to see it that way as indicated by his statement to reporters:

I feel like they are confident I can (complement Bell). I’ve had to fill in before. I’ve had 100-yard games in this league. I’ve done well in this league, and I’m prepared for whatever comes in the future.

That’s a little bold, but healthy nonetheless or the new arrival. However, if press reports are any indication, the Steelers primarily interest in Knile Davis is as a kick returner, not as a running back. Nonetheless, Fitzgerald Toussaint has been put on notice that he will need to defend his roster spot at St. Vincents next summer.

The Steelers tried to work Toussaint in at kick returner last year, but without much effect. And while Knile Davis’ 3.2 rushing average isn’t much to write home about it is better that Fitzgerald Toussaint’s career average of 2.9.

  • The Kansas City Chiefs drafted Knile Davis in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft.

He played in Kansas City for three seasons until the Chiefs traded him to Green Bay for a seventh-round draft pick in October 2016. But Davis didn’t remain a Cheesehead for long, as the Packers cut him after two games. He spent one day on the New York Jets’ roster before re-signing with Kansas City.

Struggling to keep up with Steelers free agency? Click here for our Steelers 2017 Steelers Free Agent tracker and/or click here for all Steelers 2017 free agency focus articles.

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Ex-Steelers in the News for Both Wrong and Right Reasons

While the NFL’s been having some its worst weeks in history, (see why Goodell should be fired) a duce of ex-Steelers have made the news for both the right and wrong reasons.

On the dark side of things, former Steelers and current Pittsburgh West aka Arizona Cardinals running back Jonathan Dwyer was of course arrested for domestic violence this week.

On Twitter, Walter Maselli summed up what everyone in Steelers Nation was thinking:

This is not to make light of domestic violence, which is a serious crime. But although he never had any history of off the field issues in Pittsburgh, it fits Dwyer’s history to a T.

  • The man simply doesn’t get it. 

Both his rookie and sophomore years in the NFL he showed up to came over weight and made the team due to injuries. In 2012 he had a chance to grab the starting job, but couldn’t. In 2013 he got cut, and to his credit played well.

Still, when it came time to decide on whether to keep him in Pittsburgh or not, we said this:

Steel Curtain Rising’s call is for the Steelers to bring back Jonathan Dwyer, but with the caveat that the signing bonus of any second contract must be rock bottom.
If Dwyer balks at that or if some other team is foolish enough to open the check book for him, the Steelers need to let him walk.

Dwyer left quickly in free agency to join Bruce Arians in Arizona. Apparently the Steelers didn’t have interest in even offering him a bargain basement contract. Smart move on the part of the Steelers brass.

In addition, Pittsburgh West announced that it had cut Chris Rainey. Rainey of course had been the Steelers 5th round draft pick in 2012, only to be cut after a domestic incident of his own. Bruce Arians I am sure will assure you that both roster moves were coincidental.

Kemoeatu’s Kidney Transplant

Negative news is what makes the headlines and generates the page views, but one should never allow that to define things, and the Kemoeatu story out of the University of Maryland Medical Center shows why.

The Pittsburgh Steelers of course drafted Chris Kemoeatu in the 6th round of the 2005 NFL Draft. After a year on the practice squad and another two on the bench, he broke the starting lineup in 2008 under Mike Tomlin and held it there until mid 2011.

Despite his impressive size, Kemoeatu never developed into the dominate lineman he was projected to be, and was known for his nasty temperament and penchant for holding, including one call on the Steelers final drive of Super Bowl XLIII, which earned him the wrath of Ben Roethlisberger.

  • The Steelers cut Kemoeatu after 2011, and he was out of football.

However, he had Kidney issues, and needed a transplant. His brother Ma’ake Kemoeatu, himself a former Baltimore Raven, Carolina Panther, and Washington Redskin, donated one, and the transplant was made successful.

When asked about the decision, Ma’ake’s response was simple: “It’s my duty to take care of my younger brother. If he needs blood, I’ll give blood and if he needs a kidney, I’ll give a kidney.”

Love doesn’t get any purer than that. Yes, ladies and gentleman, there are good men in the NFL.

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Maurkice Pouncey Apologies for “Free Hernandez Hat,” Brother Mike Remains Silent…

Pittsburgh Steelers starting center Maurkice Pouncey took to Twitter to stem the tide of criticism stemming from Pouncey’s decision to don a “Free Hernandez” hat at a private party, “Hernandez” referring to former New England Patriot Aaron Hernandez who was a collegiate teammate of Pouency’s.

I fully recognize the seriousness of the situation involving my former teammate, and I regret that my (cont) http://t.co/SuA4mDABiY
— Maurkice Pouncey (@MaurkicePouncey) July 15, 2013

The full text of the tweet provided via “Tweet Longer” reads like this:  “I fully recognize the seriousness of the situation involving my former teammate, and I regret that my actions appear to make light of that serious situation. I apologize to anyone who was offended by my actions.”

The interesting thing is that there was only one Pouncey Twitter apology. As of 7:25 eastern time on July 16, 2013 Mike Pouncey, Maurkice’s twin brother, has neither apologized nor mentioned the issue on his Twitter feed, although the photo in question showed both Pouncey twins sporting “Free Hernandez” hats.

Steelers Influence at Work?

Offically the Pittsburgh Steelers declined comment on the matter. However, ESPN’s John Clayton reported that the sources inside Steelers offices indicated that they would “talk to Pouncey” about the incident.

Regardless of whether this move was prompted by a phone call with Mike Tomlin and/or Kevin Colbert, Pouncey made a wise move to distance himself from the event.

Even if the hat was put on in jest at a private party, the image puts Pouncey on the wrong side of one of the NFL’s most unsavory stories in a generation.

Already commentators such as Behind the Steel Curtain’s PaVASteel were beginning to call Pouncey’s reputation into question, reminding readers that Pouncey last vouched for the character of former teammate Chris Rainey, only to see the Steelers pick Rainey in the 5th round of the 2012 NFL Draft and then end up cutting him after a promising rookie year.

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Alameda Ta’amu Pleads Guilty, Tries to Make Amends

Pittsburgh Steelers reserve nose tackle Alameda Ta’amu pleaded guilty yesterday to three counts of reckless endangerment, resisting arrest and driving while under the influence.

In return for his guilty plea Ta’amu was sentenced to 18 months probation, four days in DUI housing, and 150 hours of community service. Ta’amu was found not guilty of fleeing and evading in a drunken rampage on Pittsburgh’s South Side that saw Ta’amu damage four cars injuring one passenger and nearly run over four police officers on foot.

Ta’amu Apologies, Attempts to Make Good

After receiving the verdict Ta’amu offered to make amends stating:

I know what I’ve done is wrong. I’d do anything to make it right. What I did affected my whole family. I’ve got to keep learning from my mistakes. So far, I think I’ve done a good job of staying away [from alcohol].

The Steelers initial response to Ta’amu offense was to suspend him, although the team waived him during the season. He was resigned to the regular season roster for the season’s final game.

The Steelers drafted Ta’amu in the fourth round of the 2012 NFL Draft, trading up to get one of the last pure nose tackles on the board. Immediately after making that move, pundits rushed to project him as Casey Hampton’s successor, but such enthusiasm cooled when Ta’amu looked lost in training camp and struggled in preseason.

The Steelers have made it clear that Ta’amu, should he make the team, will remain on a short leash, as the team as already parted ways with its 5th round draft pick from 2012, Chris Rainey, for his own off season legal issues.

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Steelers Nation Rooting Guide to the AFC and NFC Championships

2013 has not started off well for Black and Gold. The 2012 Steelers never even made it to the playoffs and before they could even big what promises to be challenging off season, Chris Rainey, one of the lone bright spots from the 2012 Draft Class, gets himself arrested and is off the team.

And to add insult to injury, the faithful in Steelers Nation have been forced to watch historic franchise rivals advanced deep into the playoffs.

With Atlanta heading to San Francisco for the NFC Championship and Baltimore traveling to New England to fight for the AFC crown what is a true Steelers fan to do?

What Do True Steelers Fans When There’s No Steelers to Root for in the Playoffs?

True Steelers fans entertain no divided loyalties.

  • This sets Steelers Nation apart. 

The Washington Redskins have a loyal following in DC. They’ve had sold out every game for decades, have a mammoth long season ticket waiting list, and have tolerated one of the worst NFL owners treating their beloved burgundy and gold as if its his fantasy play thing.

Having spent over half my life living in as a Steelers Nation Expat in Aspen Hill, Maryland, allows me to assure you that there is no shortage of people in Metro DC that live and die with the Redskins every game.

  • But for all their loyalty, a large contingent of Redskins fans lack when it comes to heart.

The last full year I lived in the US was 2000, the year the Ravens went to their first Super Bowl and also the year the Norv Turner’s Redskins tanked. And as November faded into December, throughout the DC area you started to see little Ravens decals appear alongside big Redskins bumper stickers.

If it were the Eagles and not the Falcons in this year’s NFC Championship, can you imagine and seeing green and white Eagles logos sprouting up on bumpers while driving down the Boulevard of the Allies?

  • No, I don’t think so either.

No, Steelers fans stick to their team, but still, who do they pull for when the Black and Gold is out of it?

Black and Gold Should Go for Birds of Prey

The easy answers are off the table. There are no members of the Chuck Noll or Bill Cowher coaching trees remaining in the hunt.

Let’s look at what’s at stake. If…

  • The Ravens win a bitter AFC North Rival gets another Lombardi – who wants to see that?
  • San Francisco wins the 49ers increase their Lombardi count to 6, tying the Steelers – that day will come, but why rush things?
  • If New England wins, Bill Bellnick gets his fourth Super Bowl title, tying Chuck Noll. Manifestly undesirable.

That leaves the Atlanta Falcons.

Of course, the Falcons are far from the favorites among the NFL’s final four.

So in Steel Curtain Risings humble opinion, Steelers Nation’s rooting interest in what remains of the 2012 NFL season should follow like this

  • First root for the Falcons
  • If not them, then the Ravens, yes the Ravens,
  • If not them, then the 49er’s
  • A New England victory would be the worst possible outcome

Why the Ravens over the 49ers? If Baltimore wins it certainly does give Charm City bragging rights, but it also gives them the final pick in the draft, and then they get to deal with the Super Bowl hangover.

It would also make them the automatic division favorites, and everyone knows the Steelers need to be underdogs to thrive.

Beyond that, Baltimore’s the most likely team to stop New England, and I am sorry, Bill Bellnick is a cheater and does not deserve a spot equal to or above Chuck Noll in the NFL record books. Period.

So there you have it. Alternative thoughts or opinions? By all means feel free to share.

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Four Words Define the Pittsburgh Steelers 2012 Season: Inconsistency, Injury, Inopportunity, and Irony

The Conference Championships are at hand and the Pittsburgh Steelers are where they’ve been throughout the playoffs – at home. This is true despite the fact Steelers victories over:

If the Steelers were good enough to beat these teams, why did they finish mired in mediocrity at 8-8?

Some seasons this question has been a hard one to untangle. However the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers season review boils down to four words:  Inconsistency, Injury, Inopportunity, and Irony.

Inconsistency and the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers

Inconsistency in pro football takes many forms. Sometimes the performance of individual units or players varies wildly from week to week – that happened in Pittsburgh this year.

At other times a team might start games strong only to finish weakly, or vice-a-versa — again this happened in Pittsburgh in 2012 with startling frequency.

And yet there are other times when teams have a chronic in ability to stay or even get on the same page – this was by far the 2012 Steelers biggest consistency issue.

Mike Tomlin loves talking about “situational football.” Teams that play well in situational football see individual units executing the plays necessary to win.

The 2008 Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers excelled at situational football. The defense played to historic proportions all year long, while the offense often struggled.

  • But when the game was in the line, the offense found a way to make the plays time necessary to win, time and time again.

The 2012 Steelers suffered a chronic inability to play good situational football. Vs. the Broncos, Raiders, and Titans the Steelers offense established leads in the 4th quarter, only to watch the defense squander those away.

Later in the season, the Steelers defense played almost picture perfect in two key AFC North games, only for the offense to struggle in utter futility.

In diagnosing what went wrong in 2012, saying “when the offense was on track, the defense wasn’t up to scratch and when the defense was dominant the offense was inept might sound overly simplistic – but it’s accurate.”

Now, understanding why the Steelers were inconsistent requires delving into the impact of injury in inopportunity….

Injury and the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers

Steel Curtain Rising opened the 2012 season suggesting that Mike Tomlin’s credo “The Standard is the Standard” would be put to the test.

  • Tested “The Standard is the Standard” was.

Counts vary, but Steelers President Art Rooney II asserted that the Steelers lost 78 starter games to injury. The Dallas Morning News has calculated the Steelers injury count differently, but the Steelers finished the year with five healthy lineman, and 2 healthy corners. Clearly injures were an issue.

  • But if we can accept the premise that “injuries will not be an excuse” we can still ask if they were a factor.

Analysis brings back mixed results.

  • At Baltimore the short-handed offensive line played multiple players out of position, yet turned in winning performance
  • But vs. Dallas and Cincinnati, the same injury plagued offensive line gave up multiple sacks at critical times

The situation was similar in the secondary.

And of course one of those to final healthy corners accounted for 3 decisive turnovers in the season finale vs. Cleveland.

Early in the season the absence of Troy Polamalu and James Harrison hampered the defense. Ben Roethlisberger got hurt at an inopportune time. Ultimately the Steelers couldn’t do enough to compensate, and injuries took their toll on the Steelers throughout 2012.

Inopportunity and the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers

Injuries can actually be opportune, at least in a macabre sense. How? Just ask like Tommy Maddox or Drew Bledsoe.

  • But injuries were inopportune for the 2012 Steelers, perhaps none more than Willie Colon’s. 

Colon took time to settle in at guard, but when he did the Steelers offensive line began broaching the Road Grading dominance imagined in the offseason. Colon’s injury set the offensive line back quantitatively and qualitatively hampering both run and pass blocking.

That was beyond the Black and Gold’s control, but the same cannot be said for myriad other inopportune events. Consider:

  • The Steelers defense held an opponent to 67 yards on 20 carries, not bad save for the 46 yard touchdown on an additional carry…
  • Then, a 72 yard punt return for a touchdown got called back on a penalty, followed by an 13 yard drive, and then a shanked punt…
  • The defense would hold to 3 and out, but a penalty would leave the Steelers to start at their 8…
  • Jonathan Dwyer promptly fumbled the ball away…
  • The defense would waste a remarkable goal line stand with a penalty after (phantom) penalty hold on on 4th and 2, followed by a touchdown…

…And this is only recounting the Raiders game.

Week in and week out the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers excelled at discovering novel ways to slip on banana peels.

Strategy in pro football is about creating opportunity as much as anything else. The 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers created opportunity after opportunity at critical moments in crucial game – for their opponents

Irony and the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers

Isn’t it ironic?” – Alanis Morissette, Jagged Little Pill

Sometimes reality can be so surreal that even the most creative minds couldn’t have imagined it that way. And so it was for the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers.

After playing 2008 and 2009 with make shift offensive lines built on the “patch and plug” philosophy the Steelers braintrust went out and drafted:

They didn’t stop there. Critics (including yours truly) unfairly blamed Bruce Arians for a lot of things, but Arians openly said he wouldn’t mess with Ben Roethlisberger holding on to the ball too long.

Art Rooney II took note and opted not to welcome Arians back, and Mike Tomlin hired Todd Haley to make a change.

  • In the end, none of it mattered

David DeCastro got hurt in preseason, Marcus Gilbert fell early in the season followed by Mike Adams and, despite Haley’s success in allowing Ben to be Ben while protecting him better, Roethlisberger got hurt anyway.

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg:

As the 2013 off season begins, irony continues to haunt the 2012 Steelers. One of the lone bright spots on special teams was Chris Rainey, whom Steelers cut after an arrest for domestic violence.

Onward to 2013’s Tough Choices

Sometimes it was the Hand of Fate, other times wounds were self-inflicted, but no matter how you slice it, inconsistency, injury, and inopportunity relegated the 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers to an uneven 8-8.

One thing is certain — irony was never in short supply for the 2012 Steelers.

All that counts for little as an aging roster and looming salary cap crunch spell an off season of difficult choices for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Steelers Waive Chris Rainey — Are They Guilty of a Doublestandard?

Already reeling from a disappointing and decidedly mediocre 8-8 record, the Pittsburgh Steelers got another jolt in the form a Chris Rainey arrest for domestic violence.

Rainey was the Steelers fifth round pick in the 2012 NFL Draft, and he came to them with a checkered history. But Rainey had spent time in the home of Maurkice Pouncey, and Pouncey’s parents vouched for Rainey, and that was good enough for Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin.

  • Apparently the dynamic duo were far too trusting in this case.

The Steelers wasted little time in parting ways with Rainey, as Kevin Colbert stated on the team’s website:

Chris Rainey’s actions this morning were extremely disappointing. Under the circumstances and due to this conduct, Chris will no longer be a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It should also be noted that Rainey also got into trouble with the law after being cited for defiant trespass for entering the Meadows Racetrack and Casino outside Washington, Pennsylvania. The violation arose because Rainey had signed a self-exclusion letter, where he voluntarily barred the casino from allowing him to enter.

Rainey had been one of the few bright spots of the Steelers 2012 Draft class that saw its season marred by injury. Clearly this kind has issues, and the Steelers did the right thing in cutting him….

Do the Steelers Open Themselves to Charges of Double Standard?

…But in parting ways with Rainey, the Steelers also open themselves to charges of a double standard.

In October, Alameda Ta’amu, the Steelers 2012 4th round draft pick was charged with a host of crimes relating to a drunken rampage he engaged in while driving through the South Side. The Steelers did suspend Ta’amu, and eventually cut him, but brought him back via the practice squad.

Reaching farther back, the Steelers declineded to cut James Harrison when he was accused of domestic violence, but it cut wide receiver Cedrick Wilson after he was seen assaulting his girlfriend in a Pittsburgh restaurant.

The difference between Wilson’s and Harrison’s cases is that this was not Wilson’s first offense and his act appeared to be premeditated.

Still critics rightly noted that Wilson was a bit player where as Harrison an All Pro….

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Chargers Shock Steelers 34-24

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered NFL week 14 riding high. The Steelers weren’t “supposed” to beat Ravens, and that victory was to propel them into the playoffs – and dare Steelers Nation dream, beyond.

The San Diego Chargers, in contrast, began the day at 4-8 after a week where word leaked head coach Norv Turner was to get the ax.

The Steelers were playing at home, and Ben Roethlisberger was back. As Mr. Baker, my old 8th grade World Studies teacher would say, it was a gimmie.

And the Steelers blew it.

2012 Pittsburgh Steelers Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde Act, Coming to a City Near You

My, what a difference one week makes.

Against Baltimore, the Pittsburgh Steelers played hungry, focused, inspired football. They didn’t dominate, but they hung in against the odds, overcame adversity, and made the plays necessary to win in the fourth quarter.

They had the look of a team, in the words of Dale Lolley, that could be “dangerous in the playoffs.”

Coming into a hostile environment, one in which the franchise had never prevailed in 14 regular season attempts, the San Diego Chargers:

  • Dominated the line of scrimmage while on defense
  • Converted third downs
  • Protected Philip Rivers with a make-shift offensive line assembled at the last minute with street free agents
  • Got in Ben Roethlisberger’s face
  • Won the time of possession battle
  • Went 2-2 in the Red Zone
  • Executed a fake punt flawlessly just when Pittsburgh threatened to make a game of it
  • Forced turnovers and converted them into touchdowns
  • Neutralized the Steelers return game
  • Prevented the Steelers from converting third downs

And to the annoyance of Steelers Nation, all of this happened to a never ending serenade of praise from Charger’s Cheerleader-in-Chief Phil Simms.

Besides that, it was all Steelers…

Breaking Down the Chargers Victory Over the Steelers

…Seriously, there’s not a lot of deep X’s and O’s analysis to be made here. The Chargers dominated the Pittsburgh Steelers in all three phases of the game.

Don’t let the final score fool you. Antonio Brown’s touchdown pass was pure garbage time glory. Ditto Mike Wallace’s 11 yard touchdown. Forget the arguments about going for 2. Does anyone really think that mattered?

To the extent that a technical analysis does matter, here goes.

During the first half Roethlisberger and the rest of the Steelers offense was rusty. And while the Chargers were controlling the clock, the Steelers defense did a good job of containing them.

Being down at home 13 to 0 to a team that has lost 5 games in the second half is nothing to fear. And Mike Tomlin deserves credit coaching aggressively with the ball at the ten,  50 seconds to play and one time out remaining.

Ben Roethlisberger, Emmanuel Sanders, Mike Wallace, and Shuan Suisham vindicated The Steelers vindicated Tomlin.

Such a bold move surly indicated the Steelers were going to make second half adjustments and reclaim the victory that was theirs. Right?

  • But that was not to be.

The Chargers opened the second half cemented control of the game with a 17 play, 75 yard drive where they converted 5 third downs and consumed 9 minutes of clock.

The Steelers now needed to score 17 points in just over a quarter.

Chris Rainey answered with a 29 yard return…

The Chargers then put the cherry on top when Roethlisberger bounced a fumble off of David Paulson with San Diego recovering in the end zone.

  • Please, save the arguments about the call. It WAS a forward pass. So what?

If San Diego isn’t getting good penetration and/or Roethlsiberger is more on target, they have no good fortune to capitalize on.

All other analysis of the second half beyond that is academic. Yes, Pittsburgh did stab a couple of times at competing, but they either self destructed and/or San Diego diffused them all.

Still Searching for Identity or Are the Steelers Simply Inconsistent?

The 2012 Steelers were a team still finding itself, even though its early December… …Their seventh win [vs. the Ravens] gets them closer to a spot in the post-season, and how they handled the week leading up to this game then how they performed in it, revealed their identity. – Bob Labriola, editor, Steelers Digest, following the victory over the Ravens

How the San Diego beat Pittsburgh is far less important than what it means. The Pittsburgh Steelers are a better team than the Chargers.

  • And that’s the problem. 

Only two of the Steelers losses have come to playoff bound teams. In contrast, 5 of their 7 wins have come at the expense teams still vying for the post season.

  • Bill Cowher used to say that a team’s identity forms during the season’s first 4-6 weeks.

But let’s humor Labriola, who explained in between the ellipsis points that the Steelers identity forging process was delayed by the uncanny string of injuries they suffered. Fair enough.

Victory over Baltimore appeared to clarify the 2012 Steelers identity. Now San Diego muddled that identity. Again.

Three weeks remain in this NFL season. And if deep into December time remains for an NFL team to define itself, then the Pittsburgh Steelers had better settle on an identity fast.

Because right now they look like a team with a lot of talent that simply cannot find a way to execute consistently.

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