6 Improbable Steelers Backup Quarterback Upset Wins

Raise your hand if you’re Steelers fan excited to see Landry Jones start against the New England Patriots. OK. Didn’t think we’d get too many takers. Fair enough. With Ben Roethlisberger recovering from knee surgery and Cameron Heyward also the odds makers have been rather generous in installing the Patriots as 7 points favorites.

  • Still, should Steelers Nation abandon all hope?

Perhaps, but Steelers backup quarterbacks have a history of delivering some surprising results under duress. Here are six notable Steelers backup quarterback upset wins dating from 1988 to 2012 (no disrespect to Steelers 1976 rookie Mike Kruczek, just not old enough to remember him.)

Charlie Batch, Steelers upset Ravens 2012, Charlie Batch final game, Charlie Batch Ravens

Charlie Batch won his final start as 2012 Steelers upset Ravens on the road. Photo Credit: Chris Knight, The Patriot-News

1. 1988 – Todd Blackledge Leads Steelers to 39-21 win over Denver Broncos

It had been a bad week for Chuck Noll that began with a 34-14 drubbing in the Astrodome at the hands of arch nemesis Jerry Glanville. Noll cut short his weekly press conference when reporters asked him what it would take for him to step down. Terry Bradshaw called for Noll’s dismissal su

ggesting he was too old for the job. Bubby Brister was injured, and back up Todd Blackledge was struggling even to get snaps from Mike Webster.

In short, no one expected the explosion that was coming, led by Rodney Carter who took it 64 yards to the house on the game’s third play. Carter rushed for 105 yards, caught a touchdown and completed a pass, as Noll employed uncharacteristic trickery. Merril Hoge ran for another 94 yards, and Rod Woodson set up another score with a 29 yard interception and Gary Anderson kicked 6 field goals.

Todd Blackledge was only 9 of 17 for 129 yards on the day, but that was good enough to give Pittsburgh the win.

2. 1991 – Neil O’Donnell Authors 26-15 Upset of the Houston Oilers

1991 had been a tough year for Chuck Noll, and his Steelers had just been humiliated at home by the soon-to-be Super Bowl Champion Washington Redskins. Scalping dished out by the Redskins the week before at Three Rivers Stadium had given the Steelers a 4-7 record, and 4-8 seemed certain against the 9-2 Oilers.

It is also true that perhaps Neil O’Donnell should be considered a backup, having started since relieved Brister 5 weeks earlier against the Giants, but Noll had been coy about designating a “starter.”

The Steelers ability to shut down the “Run ‘N Shoot” offense is one of the reasons why that never “stuck” in the NFL, but that was far from apparent in 1991. Games like this began to change the tune, as Bryan Hinkle, Thomas Everett, and Shawn Vincent picked off Warren Moon 5 times.

Those turnovers set up 3 Gary Anderson field goals, a 43 yard pass from Neil O’Donnell to Dwight Stone, and a Warren Williams touchdown. For the record, Neil O’Donnell went 12 for 29 for 155 yards one touchdown and 1 interception.

3. 1994 – Mike Tomczak Out Guns Dan Marino, Steelers Beat Dolphins 16-13

Perhaps the lead up to this game would have been different in the age of social media, but news that Mike Tomczak got the starting nod over Neal O’Donnell came as a surprise when game day arrived.

  • Imagine getting to the sports bar to learn that Mike Tomczak would square off against Dan Marino.

But got toe-to-toe Tomczak did, and how! In 1994, 300 yard passing games were relatively rare in the NFL but both quarterbacks broke the 300 yard mark, with Tomczak topping Marino’s yardage total. But for all of that passing, the game represented more of a defensive chess match. Chad Brown, Jason Gildon and Joel Steed team to sack Marino 4 times, with Levon Kirkland intercepting him once.

  • The Steelers held the lead until the Dolphins tied it a 48 yard field goal as time expired.

The Steelers won the toss, but could not score. The Dolphins took over at their 40, but the vaunted Steelers 1994 Blitzburgh defense stopped him cold at Pittsburgh’s 47. Mike Tomzcak excelled in overtime, scrambling twice and completed passes of 27 yards to Barry Foster and 23 yards to John L. Williams to set up Gary Anderson’s game winner.

As this site has previously observed, Tomzack’s ’94 wins against the Dolphins and the Raiders marked the shift of the focal point of the Steelers passing attack away from Eric Green and to Yancey Thigpen, Ernie Mills, Andre Hastings and Charles Johnson.

4. 2002 – Kordell Stewart Rebounds to Lead Steelers over Bengals 29-13

Time to fess up. Just as Neil O’Donnell wasn’t really the “Steelers backup quarterback” in the 1991 Astrodome upset of the Oilers, the Steelers win over the 1-10 Bengals can hardly fall into the category of an “upset.”

But its author, Kordell Stewart, most certainly was a backup. Less than one year removed from winning the team MVP award, Kordell Stewart found himself on the bench in favor of Tommy Maddox. Raul Alegre of ESPNDeportes had revealed 5 weeks eailer during the Steelers Monday night game vs. the Colts, Bill Cowher had confided in him that he hadn’t wanted to bench Kordell, but felt he had to because Kordell had lost the confidence of the Steelers locker room.

  • Expectations don’t get much lower than that.

Nonetheless, Kordell Stewart fearlessly took the reigns after Tommy Maddox’s injury the week before in Tennessee. The Steelers raced to a 17 point lead on a Jerome Bettis touchdown run, a 64 yard bomb from Stewart to Hines Ward, and a Jeff Reed field goal. But the Bengals fought back, scoring 14 points in the second half. The Steelers tacked on another 3 in the third quarter, but midway through the 4th the Bengals took the lead.

  • Kordell Stewart rallied the Steelers, first bringing Reed into range to boot a field goal, and then rifling a 27 yarder to Hines Ward which set up a 24 yard rumble by Bettis.

Kordell Stewart was flawless that day, going 22 for 26, one touchdown and zero picks.

5. 2005 – Charlie Batch off Bench @ Lambeau as Steelers beat Packers 20-10

2005 was a rough year for Green Bay, who entered the game at 1-10. On the face of it, that might make it difficult to categorize this win as “an upset” but if you’re playing at Lambeau Field, who do you want to be your quarterback Brett Favre or Charlie Batch, a man who hadn’t thrown a non-mop up time pass since 2001.

  • And did we mention that Jerome Bettis was out and that injuries limited Willie Parker to 5 carries?

The Steelers struggled in this one, as did Batch, but he played well enough to win, as did Duce Staley who saw his last real NFL action, and helped the Steelers win with 76 yards rushing and a touchdown.

6. 2012 – Charlie Batch Wins Finals Start, Steelers Upset Ravens 23-20

This Steelers 2012 game against the Ravens at M&T Stadium was one for the ages. The Steeler were reeling, having suffered back-to-back divisional losses, including an 8 turnover game to the Cleveland Browns. Charlie Batch had quarterbacked that game, and committed 3 of the turnovers, all interceptions.

And here the Steelers were, traveling to the home of their arch rival, with their 3rd string quarterback, 3rd string wide out, 2nd string outside linebacker. During the game, they would also lose their starting guard.

  • This was as hard fought game as you get.

The lead changed 5 times. Twice in the second half, Steelers turnovers gave the Ravens a chance to put Pittsburgh away, and twice Pittsburgh clawed back. James Harrison led the Steelers final rally, with one of his patended strip-sacks which came shortly after the Steelers had turned over the ball. Charlie Batch fired a missle to Heath Miller, who then willed himself into the end zone.

  • The Steelers defense held on the next drive.

Charlie Batch then took over at Pittsburgh 15 and with 6:14 remaining, led the Steelers on 13 play drive where Batch completed 7 straight passes, as Pittsburgh reached the Ravens 24 yard line. Shaun Suisham booted in a 42 yard field goal, and the Steelers had won.

Is Landry the Steelers Next “Legendary” Back Up Quarterback?

So, could Landry Jones author a game worth of inclusion of on this list above? With Cameron Heyward, Markus Wheaton, Marcus Gilbert and DeAngelo Williams out the odds are against him. But the odds were also once against Todd Blackladge, Neil O’Donnell, Mike Tomzcak, Kordell Stewart and Charlie Batch and they proved everyone else wrong.

Let’s hope Landry Jones follows in their footsteps.

 

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

04 Steelers Defeat Redskins 16-7, Pittsburgh Gets 1st Win Over Joe Gibbs

[Editors Note:  Tony Defeo expands on Steelers history vs Washington Redskins ahead of Pittsburgh’s 2016 opener on Monday Night Football @ FedEx Field]

’04 Steelers defeat Redskins, Pittsburgh 16, Washington 7, November 28, 2004 @ Heinz Field 

Behind rookie quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers entered Week 12 of the 2004 season sporting a 9-1 record. Washington, on the other hand, came to down with a 3-7 mark and was a 10-point dog.

  • By all accounts, it should have been an easy day for Pittsburgh…but looks can be deceiving.

Despite having one of the worst offenses, the Redskins had a dominant defense in ’04, one that would go on to finish third in total yards and fifth in points (16.6 per game).

  • The Steelers defense was even superior to Washington’s, finishing first in total yards.
steelers vs redskins, jerome bettis redskins,

Jerome Bettis rumbles over Redskins in Steelers 2004 win over Washington. Photo Credit: Pittsburgh Post Gazette

With defense at the forefront, the game remained scoreless until kicker Jeff Reed connected on a 33-yard field goal late in the first quarter to give Pittsburgh a 3-0 advantage.

Early in the second quarter, receiver and return specialist Antwaan Randle El returned a punt 43 yards down to the Washington 39-yard line. Seven plays later, running back Jerome Bettis, filling in for an injured Duce Staley in one of the final starts of his career, plowed into the end zone for a four-yard touchdown to give the Steelers a 10-0 lead.

Reed kicked another field goal late in the second quarter to increase the lead to 13 points at halftime.

While it wasn’t the dominant performance many fans had probably expected, the lead felt secure, what with Pittsburgh’s defense harassing Redskins quarterback Patrick Ramsey all day and sacking him five days. Of course, Roethlisberger was under siege most of the game, as well, and was taken to the turf four times, as he completed just nine of 20 passes for 131 yards and no touchdowns.

But while the defense was doing its job, there was one hiccup late in the third quarter, when Ramsey found tight end Chris Cooley for a two-yard touchdown pass to pull the visitors to within six points.

  • The Redskins would score no more.

Pittsburgh regained its two-score advantage, when Reed connected on his third field goal with less than 10 minutes left to make it 16-7. And with under five minutes remaining, cornerback Deshea Townsend picked off a Ramsey pass to seal the deal.

  • For the day, the two teams combined for a less than robust 363 total yards, with Pittsburgh holding the Redskins to a mere 156.

But while the Steelers offense mostly struggled to move the ball,  Bettis, in the kind of slobberknocker affair that epitomized his Hall of Fame career, carried the ball 31 times for 100 yards.

The Steelers improved to 10-1 and would go on to become the first AFC team to win 15 regular season games. The ’04 Steelers defeat of the Redskins also gave Bill Cowher something Chuck Noll never had  – a win over Joe Gibbs.

 

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

4 Solutions for the Steelers 2016 Running Back Depth Deficiency

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 Draft Class added both quantity and, on paper at least, talent to the team’s most glaring weaknesses on the depth chart. Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin also added depth to several other key areas.

  • One area that Colbert and Tomlin failed to address was running back.

As things stand today, the Steelers 2016 running back depth promises to be dangerously thin. Here’s a look at how Colbert and Tomlin might address that need before the season.

How the Steelers Running Back Depth Got So Depleted

The Steelers 2016 Draft Needs Matrix pegged running back as the Steelers 4th most urgent area of need not because of talent issues, but because of the Steelers thin depth at running back.

Fitzgerald Toussaint has the look of a solid backup based on his playoff performances, his fumble not withstanding. After Toussaint, the Steelers have zip in terms of proven depth behind him. If Art Rooney II’s words offer any guide, the Steelers expect Le’Veon Bell to be back at full strength.

That’s fine, but in 2016 Bell will begin his fourth season on a league where the average running back’s career lasts just above three. And he’s coming off a complicated MCL, PCL injury. And he’s missed time due to injury in each of his first three seasons. running backs average less than 3. DeAngelo Williams will turn 33.

For a franchise that started its 4th string running back in 3 consecutive post-season appearances those factoids hardly encourage confidence.

  • Colbert and Tomlin know this and responded by trying to trade the 5th round.

The Steelers found no takers, at least at a reasonable asking price. So which running backs did the Steelers miss a chance to draft?

  • So which running back did the Steeler miss?

In the 5th round DeAndre Washington, Paul Perkins, Jordan Howard, Wendell Smallwood, Jonathan Williams and Alex Collins found homes with Oakland, New York, Chicago, Philadelphia, Buffalo, and Seattle. In the 6th round Denver, Tampa Bay, San Diego, San Francisco, and Dallas welcomed Andy Jaovich, Dan Vitale, Derek Watt, Kelvin Taylor and Darrius Jackson (although Janovich, Vitale, Watt are listed as fullbacks.)

Surprisingly, Colorado’s Christan Powell was the only running back in the Steelers 2016 undrafted rookie free agent class, and he got cut after rookie minicamp. In contrast, the Steelers drafted no offensive lineman in the 2015 NFL Draft, yet brought 5 offensive lineman to Pittsburgh with their 2015 undrafted rookie free agent class.

Steelers Could Sign a Free Agent Running Back

Yes, the best free agent running backs have long been off the market, but teams can and do make roster moves after the draft. The website Sporttrack lists 23 free agent running backs that remain unsigned, including Reggie Bush, LeGarrette Blount and Arian Foster.

If the Steelers really were interested in adding depth at running back via free agency, they likely would have done so in March instead of waiting until May. Nonetheless, on May 12 unsigned players officially become “Street Free Agents” meaning teams can sign them without impacting their compensatory picks.

The Steelers could take advantage of that to add a body, but if they do it will likely be the type of free agent who isn’t even assured a roster spot in September.

Steelers Could Trade for a Running Back

Trades are rare in the NFL and until recently the Steelers rarely trade for another player. Yet, that has changed lately. In August 2013, Kevin Colbert traded Adrian Robinson for Felix Jones. Later that season, he traded for Levi Brown. Last summer Steelers traded for Brandon Boykin….

  • …And you can see why the Steelers prefer to avoid acquiring layers via trade.

Arguably, Felix Jones was the most productive of the three, and that’s not saying much. Levi Brown got injured in warm ups and never played a down. Brandon Boykin spelled Antwon Blake late in the season and perhaps provided an upgrade, but the Steelers think more of untested Senquez Golson than they do Boykin.

In terms of trading to build depth at running back, the Steelers actually traded for Patrick Cobbs when Duce Staley couldn’t dispel their doubts at the end of the 2006 preseason. Cobbs never played a down in Pittsburgh, although he did carry 37 times over five years in Miami….

Don’t expect the Steelers to trade for a running back.

Colbert Could Grab a Running Back from the Waiver Wire

Kevin Colbert ranks among the best NFL General Managers when it comes to finding players who can help the Steelers after they’ve been discarded by other teams. 2013’s cut down day saw the Turk visit Fernando Velasco in Nashville and Cody Wallace in Tampa Bay, but both made multiple starts for the Steelers at center later that season.

In terms of running backs, the Steelers picked Najeh Davenport off of waivers early 2006, and Davenport was a solid contributor in for two seasons. The Steelers picked up DuJuan Harris in 2012 during training camp, and he went on to contribute to Green Bay. Jordan Todman and Fitzgerald Toussaint both got pink slips at the end of training camp and ended up starting for the Steelers in the playoffs.

  • One harsh reality of the modern NFL is that proven backups get cut simply because rookies offer teams more bang for their buck.

Colbert has kept many a gem from falling though the cracks of the NFL salary cap, and you’d better believe he will closely watch for running backs who reach the waiver wire all between now and September.

Steelers Stand Pat with Their Running Back Stable

Based on what we’ve seen since the 2016 NFL Draft, this appears to be the Steelers plan. Following rookie minicamp, two of the four Steelers roster moves involved replacing running backs.

While banking on undrafted rookie free agents to provide depth at running back is a roll of the dice, remember is the same franchise that saw a little known running back who hardly played in North Carolina named Fast Willie Parker go from training camp surprise in 2004 to a run from scrimmage record setter in Super Bowl XL in January of 2006.

Both Carey Davis and Gary Russell had some NFL experience prior to joining the Steelers in 2007, and while no one will ever confuse the tandem with Rocky Bleier and Franco Harris, both men helped win Super Bowl XLIII.

At the Steelers rookie minicamp, Mercyhurst’s Brandon Brown-Dukes impressed Jim Wexell, although Wexell did describe him as “diminutive.” Dale Lolley reports that Cameron Stingily, who was injured in last summer’s Hall of Fame game, is running well and looking leaner than in 2015.

  • The Steelers cut running backs Rajion Neal and Christian Powel to make room for Stingily and Brown-Dukes.

While these move come squarely at the bottom of the Steelers roster, they demonstrate that Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin are keenly aware Steelers running back depth needs to improve.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Will James Harrison Play in 2016? Silverback Confirms He Will If He Can….

Unlike 2015, Steelers linebacker James Harrison is not a free agent. However, just like last year, the big question of the 2016 off season is Will James Harrison play in 2016?

Earlier this week Steelers fans who wish to see James Harrison don the Black and Gold for one final season got potentially good news from to different sources, and some (slightly) less encourage news from another.

Speaking to Steelers beat reporters, Pittsburgh Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert clarified in no uncertain terms that the team wants him back. As reported by Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell, Colbert declared: “We’re anticipating he wants to continue playing and I wouldn’t see any reason we wouldn’t want to have James here.”

James Harrison’s agent Bill Praise offered similar sentiments: “I guess we will be there. This is not an announcement or anything like that, but we are under contract, and everything is going forward.”

  • Harrison himself, isn’t quite so sure, although he has clarified one thing: He wants to come back.
James Harrison, training, Jarvis Jones, Vince Williams, Sean Spence, Ryan Shazier

James Harrison mentoring Jarvis Jones, Sean Spence, Vince Williams, and Ryan Shazier

However, he told Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette that he will begin his off season training program in Arizona

I want to get back out there and get to at least six weeks of training and, by the end of that six weeks, feel good, not have any aches and pains. You’ll have the normal soreness, but not having aches and pains and be able to have movements will be the key. If I get to that point and I’m feeling good, there’s probably a good chance – no, not probably – I will play.

You can’t get any more clear than that. The next question is, should James Harrison come back?

The Case for James Harrison Returning to the Steelers in 2016

Really, this is a no brainer. At age 38, James Harrison led the Steelers outside linebackers in sacks. Yes, three of those did some in garbage time vs. the Colts, but if you look beyond the numbers, James Harrison showed an ability to make plays when it counted.

He’s also mentored the team’s cadre of younger linebackers which is something you simply can’t measure.

The Case Against James Harrison Returning to the Steelers in 2016

Just about the only logical argument against bringing James Harrison back in 2016 is that his presence on the field takes time away from the development of Jarvis Jones and theoretically Bud Dupree. While Jarvis Jones is far from being a “bust” at this point, his performance thus far has been disappointing.

  • But the question in the NFL is can you play now, not two years from now.

Yes, it would be spectacular if Jarvis Jones’ would give us a burst of development that was so strong that made he made it hard for Mike Tomlin, Kevin Butler, and Joey Porter to find a way to get Harrison on the field, in the same way that Willie Parker “marginalized” Jerome Bettis and Duce Staley in 2005. That would be a good problem to have.

But it wouldn’t be an argument against bringing Harrison back.

Will James Harrison Play in 2016?

Harrison has uttered the key words: He wants to come back. And when James Harrison wants something, he sets his mind to it, he focuses on it, and he gets it. Just as Kurt Warner and Todd Haley….

Unless Harrison injures himself or discovers some unknown injury Silverback will be back in the Black and Gold for a final season.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Jerome Bettis Enters Hall of Fame as Face of Steelers Franchise

21  Pittsburgh Steelers have entered the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but Jerome Bettis arrives in Canton carrying a special distinction. Number 36 aka “The Bus,” Jerome Bettis enters the Hall of Fame as one player who truly was “the face of the franchise” during his entire career.

  • Consider the company Bettis shares in Canton and let that sink in for a moment.

Jerome Bettis became the face of the franchise the moment he arrived in Pittsburgh and held that distinction until the Bus stopped in Detroit at Super Bowl XL, making him unique among Steelers Hall of Famers.

  • You can make the case that Joe Greene held and still holds “Face of the Franchise” status.

As Steel Curtain Rising has argued that Joe Greene defines the very essence of a Pittsburgh Steeler, you’ll find no rebuttals here. But while playing Greene shared “Face of the Franchise” status with Franco Harris early on, and with the likes of Jack Lambert, Lynn Swann and Terry Bradshaw later.

In contrast, Jerome Bettis held uncontested status as the “Face of the Franchise” status while wearing the Black and Gold.

Jerome Bettis, Hall of Fame, Decal, Steelers, Hall of Fame Game

The Jerome Bettis Hall of Fame Decal

1996-1997 Pittsburgh Hops on the Bus!

Jerome Bettis arrived in Pittsburgh via a draft day trade in in 1996, when the Steelers were reeling from their loss in Super Bowl XXX. History has not been kind to Super Bowl losers, note Mike Tomlin’s Steelers have yet to win a playoff game since losing Super Bowl XLV, and Pittsburgh had just lost starters Neil O’Donnell, Leon Searcy, Tom Newberry, and Bam Morris.

The Steelers won their division in 1996 and it took two Kordell Stewart goal line interceptions a last minute John Elway comeback in 1997 to keep them out of the Super Bowl.

At the time, commentators marveled at Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe’s continued winning despite suffering annual exodus of free agents. Cowher and Donahoe do deserve credit. But anyone seeking to understand the Steelers post-Super Bowl XXX resilience would do well to look at who arrived in Pittsburgh, rather than with left and no arrival was more important that of Jerome Bettis.

  • Fans forget, but Jerome Bettis didn’t start the first three games of the 1996 season.

But it’s a testament to how quickly Bettis bonded with the city, and the Steelers Nationwide legion of fans, that by the time Erric Pegram’s week 3 injury cleared the way for Bettis to claim the starting role, he’d already logged 2 100 yard games. More tellingly his nick name, “The Bus,” was already lingua franca in Steelers Nation.

The ’96 and ’97 Steelers success was certainly a team effort, but it’s almost impossible to find a key win during either season that did not feature a dominating performance by Jerome Bettis.

1998-1999 Steelers Struggle, But Bettis Shines

The Steelers disappointed in 1998 and 1999 just as deeply as they surprised in 1996 and 1997. A series of critical draft day errors prevented the Steelers from replacing key free agent departures, and the results showed on the field. Nearly every spot on the Steelers depth chart presented glaring liabilities, every spot that is except running back.

Jerome Bettis, while a worthy Hall of Famer, was still a mortal. His performance dropped off in both of those seasons, prompting some of the more ignorant fans and members of the press to call for Bettis replacement with his back up, Richard Huntley.

The truth is that during those dark days, Jerome Bettis was by far the most consistent player on the roster, and one who stubbornly refused to quit during not one but two late-season implosions. Forced to run behind make-shift offensive lines, Bettis still managed over 1,000 yards in both seasons.

2000-2001 The Bus Fuels Bill Cowher’s “Second Wind”

After the 1999 season the Cowher-Donahoe feud came to a head, and Dan Rooney sided with Bill Cowher and brought in Kevin Colbert to replace him.

Colbert retooled the Steelers offensive line in 2000, and Bettis bounced back. Jerome Bettis helped rally the Steelers from a 0-3 start with a gallant effort in a major upset over Jacksonville, followed by three straight 100 yard games. Later, Bettis helped fuel a critical Steelers victory over Oakland and Bettis took over the final game at Three Rivers Stadium, leading the Steelers to victory over the Redskins. (And boy did Myron Cope enjoy rubbing that one in on Daniel Snyder!)

Bettis was a free agent after the 2000 season, but the Bus, gave the Steelers every chance to resign him, and Bettis rewarded them by exploding in 2001. Bettis, and the rest of the 2001 Steelers took the NFL by storm. By early December Bettis broke the 1,000 yard rushing barrier and was en route to a 1,500 yard plus effort.

  • Unfortunately, and ironically, an injury derailed Bettis in early December and that ushered in an era when his hold on the “Face of the Franchise” status was most tenuous.

The Steelers made it to the playoffs, and won their first game vs. the defending Super Bowl champions Ravens with Bettis unable to play due to a pain killing shot that numbed his entire leg. He was ineffective in the Steelers first AFC Championship loss to New England.

2002-2003 The Bus Downshifts, but Still Rumbles

Bettis began the 2002 season as the starter, but the Steelers struggled early on, as Kordell Stewart gave way to Tommy Maddox, and the era of “Tommy Gun” was born. Still, Bettis 100 yard effort in week 6 sparked a 5 game winning streak that transformed the Steelers from a 2-3 team to a 5-3-1 team contending for the division title.

The success of Tommy Gun down the stretch in 2002 convinced Bill Cowher to flirt with a “pass-first” offense and accordingly he started Amos Zereoue, relegating Bettis to the bench. Six weeks into the season the Steelers record stood at 2-4, it was clear that Tommy Maddox couldn’t read Cover-2, and the Amos Zereoue experiment was a failure. Bill Cowher responded by doing one of the things he did best – he hopped on The Bus.

  • It would be poetic to write that Bettis’ return to the starting lineup sparked a turn around.

Alas, it did not. But Bettis brought attitude to the offense and, for whatever else you can say about the 6-10 2003 Steelers, those men contested every last blade of grass until the season’s final gun. Bettis only rushed two 100 yard games that season. Both came in December, vs. the Raiders and the Chargers. The fact that those were the Steelers final two wins that season is not at all coincidental.

2004-2005 Jerome Bettis Is Closer as The Bus Stops @ Super Bowl XL

Bill Cowher issued a mandate to Ken Whisenhunt in 2004: Re-establish the run.

That was music to the diehards in Steelers Nation, but perhaps not so much for Bettis. In the off season the Steelers had signed Duce Staley, while Bettis had to agree to a pay cut. Bettis appeared to be settling into his new role as Steelers elder statesman, and as Bill Cowher used him used him to score touchdowns at the goal line.

Jerome Bettis, Bus Stops, Super Bowl XL, Lombardi

Jerome Bettis, the Face of the Steelers Franchise

By week 7 Duce had wracked up 707 yards looked like he was building to a dominating performance, but fell injured in the Steelers victory over the Patriots. While a young man by the name of Willie Parker was on the Steelers roster, he’d yet to prove himself. And here the Steelers stood at 6-1 awaiting an undefeated Eagles team with a rookie quarterback named Ben Roethlisberger and an offense designed to run…. What to do?

  • Fortunately for the Bus was all too eager to show Pittsburgh just how much traction he had left on his tires.

Bettis started vs. Philadelphia and ran roughshod over the Eagles for 149 yards, the second performance best in his career. He then proceeded to rip off four straight 100 yard rushing performances, yielded the starting job back to Staley when he return, and then closed the season with two more performances that broke the century mark. (For the record Bettis finished the season 59 yards shy of 1,000, by which time Richard Huntley had been out of football for 2 years….)

During the playoffs Bettis and Staley teamed to bludgeon the New York Jets in an exhibition of Smash Mouth football excellence not seen in Pittsburgh since the days of Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. Although Bettis ran well the next week in the AFC Championship vs. the Patriots, Ben Roethlisberger began to play like a rookie and the Steelers came up short.

The moment moved Hines Ward to tears.

And he was crying because he feared the loss doomed Bettis chances of winning a Super Bowl. Bettis did consider retiring, but when the Steelers convened at St. Vincent’s, Bettis was there, handing out T-Shirts exclaiming, “Super Bowl XL, Detroit, The Bus Stops Here.”

The Steelers 2005 season was a topsy turvy affair. For a while it looked like the Steelers won’t even make the playoffs, let alone contend for the Super Bowl. The media anointed the Colt’s as the team of destiny.

Jerome Bettis, Brian Urlacher, Steelers vs. Bears, '05 Steelers

Jerome Bettis shows Brian Urlacher who is boss

But after a three game losing streak that left the Steelers at 7-5, Bill Cowher once again turned to the Bus as the Steelers hosted the 9-3 Chicago Bears and Bettis took over, stoning Brian Urlacher on the way to a 101 two touchdown performance.

With Bettis serving as inspiration for the entire team, the 2005 Steelers closed out the season with 8 straight wins, including three road games in the playoffs. The night before the AFC Championship vs. Denver, Bettis implored his teammates “Take me home.”

His teammates did take him home, doing him the honor of walking out during team introductions all by himself. The Pittsburgh Steelers of course triumphed in Super Bowl XL in a game where they made their own opportunities.

  • When it was all over, standing on the dais, Lombardi in his hand, Jerome Bettis announced that “the Bus stops here.”

It was a story book ending to career. But Bettis was wrong. The Bus still had one more stop, and that is Canton, Ohio’s Pro Football Hall of Fame, where Jerome Bettis enters as the face of the Steelers franchise.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

The Pittsburgh Steelers All Time Free Agent Offense

The Pittsburgh Steelers have never been big players in free agency.  “The Steelers Way” is to build with the draft and promote from within.

  • But that doesn’t mean that the Steelers have ignored free agency.

Whether it was Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher, or Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin calling the shots, the Steelers have deftly dipped into the free agent market to fill much-needed holes or reinforce key roster areas. Here is a look at the Steelers All Time free agent offense:

Steelers All Time Free Agent Quarterbacks

Tommy Maddox
Tommy Maddox
failed to realize the greatness he flashed in 2002. But Maddox saved that season, and gave Pittsburgh one of its most electrifying playoff wins in history.

  • Clearly, one of Kevin Colbert’s most astute free agent pick ups.

Charlie Batch
Detroit surprised the NFL in July 2002 by cutting Charlie Batch, but Kevin Colbert wasn’t caught napping, snapping him up instantly. Since then Batch has helped stabilize the Steelers depth chart at quarterback for a decade.

Honorable Mention:  Mike Tomczack

Steelers All Time Free Agent Running Backs

Erric Pegram
The name “Erric Pegram” likely elicits a response of “who?” It shouldn’t.

When Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe cast off the formidable but flaky Barry Foster they brought Pegram in from Atlanta as an insurance policy.

When Bam Morris became more interested in illegal activities than winning football games, Cowher and Donahoe’s investment handsome dividends to the tune of 831 yards in just 11 starts as Pegram saved the season.

Erric Pegram might not have earned a spot for himself alongside great Steelers running backs such as Hall of Famers Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis, but he role should not be overlooked.

Duce Staley
When Amos Zereoue decided he couldn’t share the backfield with Jerome Bettis, the Steelers brought in Duce Staley. Staley started the season like gang busters until injuries got the better of him.

Injuries aside, Staley teamed with Bettis to give the Steelers Nation a glorious afternoon of smash-mouth football vs. the Jets in the 2004 Divisional Playoffs.

Perhaps his biggest contribution came in 2005, when he came off the bench, along with Charlie Batch, to lead the Steelers to victory over the Packers – a victory that became crucial to the Steelers ability clinch a playoff spot and proceed to Super Bowl XL.

Honorable Mention:  Mewelde Moore

Steelers All Time Free Agent Fullbacks

Bill Cowher’s arrival signaled a sea-change in the Steelers rushing philosophy. Prior to 1992, both the fullback and the halfback carried the ball. Bill Cowher and Ron Erhardt changed that, much to Merril Hoge’s frustration.

John L. Williams
But the ball carrying fullback saw an Indian summer during 1994 and 1995 as John L. Williams took over the position. Williams ran the ball 69 times in 1994 – an astronomical number for a fullback in the post-Noll era.  Injuries dropped Williams numbers in 1995, but they didn’t prevent John L. Williams making several critical plays.

The 1995 Steelers mid-season rally began the Jacksonville Jaguars traveled to Three Rivers Stadium and ended in Super Bowl XXX. The Jacksonville game was also the day that John L. Williams rejoined the line up. Those two events are no coincidence.

Williams also make some critical catches in the AFC Championship game that the Steelers won by the skin of their teeth. Again, no coincidence.

Honorable Mention:  Tim Lester

Steelers All Time Free Agent Offensive Lineman

Offensive Tackle: Oliver Ross
Oliver Ross will never be considered a “world beater” and in fact struggled when injuries forced him into the starting line up in 2003. But Ross rebounded to start 16 games on the 2004 squad that won 16 straight games.

Offensive Tackle: Flozell Adams
When Willie Colon was injured in the 2010 off season, Flozell Adams was the best free agent on the market. The Steelers approached him. At first he said “no.” But Flozell wanted a shot at a Lombardi, and Mike Tomlin convinced him the Steelers could get him that. The Steelers signed Flozell Adams. They didn’t get him the championship, but together they got close.

Offensive Guard/Tackle:  Will Wolford
Will Wolford was in fact brought in to play guard following the departure of Leon Searcy and the retirement of Tom Newberry after Super Bowl XXX. Wilford played his best football at guard and was supposed to stay there when the Steelers let another offensive tackle, John Jackson, go via free agency the thought was that Jamain Stephens, Paul Wiggins, or Chris Conrad could take his place.

But by the middle of the 1998 preseason it was clear none of these men were up to the task, and Will Wolford stepped in at left tackle, providing the Steelers with some stability at this much-needed position.

Offensive Guard: Duval Love
Duval Love is the first of two the Steelers “Plan B Free Agents” to make this list. Signed following the 1991 season as a stop gap measure in light of Terry Long’s substance abuse problems, Love bolstered an offensive line on an upswing and blossomed into a Pro Bowler in 1994. A great, below the radar screen pick by Tom Donahoe.

Offensive Tackle: Rich Tylski
The departure of John Jackson, the injury to Justin Strzelczky and the total bust that was Jamain Stephens threw the Steelers offensive line into havoc in 1998 and 1999.

One of the moves that Kevin Colbert made to add some stability to the line was to sign guard Rich Tylski. Tylski only played for two years and only started for one full year, but the Steelers offensive line was markedly improved in 2000-2001 and Tylski helped make that happen.

Honorable Mentions:  Tom Newberry and Todd Kalis

Center:  Jeff Hartings
It is not easy to follow in the footsteps of Ray Mansfield, Mike Webster, and Dermonti Dawson, but Jeff Hartings came from Detroit, switched from guard to center, and not only lived up to the Steelers legacy there, but added to it winning Pro Bowl honors in 2004 and 2005.

Steelers All Time Free Agent Wide Receivers

Yancey Thigpen
Most people think Yancey Thigpen is a home grown Steeler, but Thigpen was actually drafted by and played for the San Diego Chargers in 1991. In 1992 Thigpen got cut in training camp, cleared waivers and was on the street when Tom Donahoe and Bill Cowher brought him in during the middle of the 1992 season.

Thigpen played on special teams in 1992 and it was only in 1993 that he got to play sparingly at wide reciever only catching 9 balls. Funny thing was, 3 of them were for touchdowns. Offensive coordinator Ron Erhardt and receivers coach Chain Gailey didn’t find that to be a coincidence

  • Thigpen ascended into rotation on the starting lineup in 1994 and became a full time starter before year’s end.

Thigpen had standout seasons in 1995 and 1997 although injuries marred his 1996 effort, as they did the rest of his career in Tennessee.

Courtney Hawkins
Courtney Hawkins. This is one player who drew his share of ire form the fans because he wasn’t a particularly good starting wide receiver. The rub is that he was never supposed to be a starter. Brought in 1997 from Tampa Bay to replace Andre Hastings, Hawkins performed admirably that year as third down receiver – the role he was brought into play.

In 1998, with Thigpen gone, Charles Johnson under achieving, and Will Blackwell failing to live up to his potential, Hawkins became the number one receiver. Hawkins contributed as a part-time starting in 1999 and took over when injuries ended Plaxico Burress rookie season in 2000.

Jerricho Cotchery
This selection is one of the Steelers most recent free agent selections, arriving during 2011 training camp. He hasn’t compiled a ton of eye catching statistics. He hasn’t started many games. But Jerricho Cotchery has responded when called upon, making tough catches and otherwise coming up with the ball when the team needs him.

Steelers All Time Free Agent Tight End

Steelers fans under 30 no doubt only remember Mike Mularkey from his “Inspector Gadget” tour as offensive coordinator from 2001 to 2003. However Mularkey was the Steelers first “Plan B Free Agent” signing in 1989, when Tom Donahoe brought him in from Minnesota. Mularkey only caught 22 passes in the Steelers storybook 1989 season, but that was 20 more than his predecessor had caught.

Mularkey played a strong number two tight end to rookie Eric Green in 1990, but his knees began to get the better of him, and he was out after 1991. Still, Mularkey was a great pick up on Donahoe’s part.

Honorable Mention:  Jonathan Hayes

Thanks for visiting. Visit the rest of Steel Curtain Rising.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Watch Tower: Steelers vs. Jets – Rex Ryan on the Couch

Rex Ryan demands attention. From his HBO reality show, to his off the field flamboyance, to his trash talking, Rex Ryan needs not seek the limelight, the limelight seeks him.

Prior to playing the Patriots, Ryan raised the trash talk volume to deafening levels, declaring his animosity for Billy B. and proclaiming that the AFC divisional playoff game was the “second most important game in Jet’s history.”

  • Initially, all of this figured to play into Pittsburgh’s hands.

Long time Washington, DC sports guru, Ken Beatrice, used to repeatedly caution against employing such nakedly emotional approaches. Citing Buddy Ryan and Jerry Glanville as evidence, Beatrice conceded that motivation via emotion could lead to tremendous surges in performance, but warned that it also resulted in dangerous drops.

As Yoda would say, “All the more interesting this makes Rex Ryan’s lovefest for the Steelers it does.”

And the media has taken notice.

Bragging Rights at Behind the Steel Curtain

Cudos for being ahead of the curve to Michael Bean of Behind the Steel Curtain. After praising Rex Ryan early in the week in his “Steelers Six Pack” Bean noted that:

Here’s another reason why I think Ryan is more genius than bafoon. He’s got the Jets quiet and focused this week…. Ryan knows the Steelers are more physical and battle tested than the Pats, and it’s wise that he and his team have changed gears as they get ready for Sunday’s AFC title game at Heinz Field.

A very astute observation.

A Head Dr.’s Attempt to Shrink It Down….

Bean in good company. By mid-week a psychologist felt that something was afoul and contacted Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette.

Bouchette thought enough of the head-doctor’s hypothesis that he printed it in PG Plus. Dr. Yagel argues:

He knows the Steelers are as tough as nails, he knows that if he gets us fired up it will work against his team. So the direct assault won’t work. You’re going to try and intimidate Hines Ward, you’re going to try and bully James Harrison? But what’s a scheming, New York, mad scientist of a coach to do? Kill them with kindness, throw them off their game by getting into their heads through the back door.

The good Dr. suggests that the solution is for the Steelers and Steelers Nation to respond with a full-volume roar in Heinz Field on Sunday. If the Ravens game is any indication, the Steelers Nation is up to the task.

Nonetheless, the fact that a seasoned, old-school beat writer like Ed Bouchette would print something like this just goes to show you how dramatically the media landscape has changed.

Mike Tomlin vs. ESPN

The public got another little peep behind the scenes of the workings of the professional football press.

Prior to the Ravens game, Bouchette reported that that ESPN reporter Bob Holtzman upset the Steelers by reporting that Pittsburgh had planned to field Antwan Randel El only to use another player in a trick play.

At issue was whether Holtzman had violated rules that prohibit members of the press from leaking what they see about a team’s game plans during practice. The problem was that Holtzman had not seen the Steelers practice, and he claimed that news item was fair game because it had supposedly come from two Steelers.

One has to wonder what really transpired. Regardless, Tomlin responded to Holtzman’s question about what he expected from the Jets, with “It depends on whether or not you give him my plays.”

Bouchette makes it clear that Tomlin wasn’t joking. Tomlin has had run ins with reporters before about this kind of stuff, attempting in vain to keep Anthony Smith’s “I Guarantee victory against the Patriots” comment out of the press.

Yes, the Roethlisberger Era Steelers Have Won a Playoff Game with the Running Game

We’ll round out this edition of the Watch Tower by picking (albeit) a very small bone with Gerry DuLac.

In his weekly chat, responding to a fan who suggests that the Steelers need to pound the ball to beat the Jets, Dulac rightly pointed out that the Steelers are paying Ben Roethlisberger 100 million dollars for a reason.

  • The then went on to claim that the Steelers had not won a playoff game because of their rushing since Ben joined the team.

Not true Gerry.

In fact, the Steelers beat the Jets at Heinz Field in 2004 behind the battering of Duce Stanley and Jerome Bettis….

….For the record I agree with Gerry’s essential point about this week’s game.

Thanks for visiting. To read more analysis of the media that cover the Steelers,
click here to read more from Steel Curtain Rising’s Watch Tower.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Steelers vs. Packers History – Tales from the NFL’s Two Most Storied Franchises

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers are the NFL’s two most storied franchises. The latter defined winning and excellence in the 1960’s; the former defined the term “Dynasty” for the NFL in the 1970’s. Both franchises were fortunate to hit their respective peaks as the NFL was coming of age.

Yet, due to the conference and division realignment which followed the NFL-AFL merger, these two teams have seldom faced off.

In fact, in the last 20 years, the teams have only met four times, but those meetings have contributed much to the lore of both franchises, including:

Bill Cowher Reveals Himself as a Head Coach
Steelers So Close, Yet So Far
Look What Happens When You Try to Get Smart
Never Under Estimate the Importance of Back Ups
Rookie Mike Wallace is a 60 Minute Man Too
Steelers Fall Short in Quest for 7

Below, you can find a recap of each of those encounters.

Bill Cowher Reveals His Identity as a Head Coach
9/17/92 @ Lambeau Field, Packers 17, Steelers 3
History will long remember this game as Brett Favre’s first NFL start. Conversely, it was also Rod Woodson’s career worst and Bill Cowher’s first loss.

Although the words “Hall of Fame” and “Rod Woodson” were already being collocated in 1992, Woodson fell flat in almost every conceivable way possible on this day.

If you have a strong stomach for memories you’d rather forget, you can watch the game summary from NFL Prime Time.

For Steelers fans the significance of this game is in what Bill Cowher revealed about himself.

Near the end of the game Cowher approached Woodson. Rod turned away fearing a tongue lashing. Instead, Cowher consoled him, saying that “You’ve had a bad day at he office. When that happens, you don’t quit the job, you analyze what went wrong and bounce back.”

Steelers fans loved Cowher for his fire, brimstone and in your face bravado, but…

  • …in his first loss as a head coach, The Chin showed that he was a head coach who was smart enough to know when to kick a player in the a_s, and when to pat him on the back.

Steelers So Close, Yet So Far
12/24/95, @ Lambeau Field, Packers 24, Steelers 19

The Steelers playoff position was set, while the Packers still had something to play for. Bill Cowher benched many starters – Fred McAfee and Steve Avery were the Steelers starting backfield.

Yet this was a hard-fought, knock down drag out game. Kevin Greene hit Brett Favre so hard that he appeared to be coughing up his brains at one point. Jim McMahon did come in for a few snaps, but Favre refused to stay out long.

The Steelers second string almost pulled it off, as Yancy Thigpen dropped a sure touchdown pass as time expired.

  • It was a metaphor for things to come as the Steelers took Dallas to the brink in Super Bowl XXX, until Neil O’Donnell threw it away…

Look What Happens When You Try to Get Smart…
11/9/98 @ Three Rivers Stadium, Steelers 27, Packers 20

Kordell Stewart and the entire Steelers offense had suffered and struggled under Ray Sherman’s offense all season. That seemed to change on Monday Night Football as Steelers amassed a 27-3 lead in the first three quarters.

As the fourth quarter began, Pittsburgh appeared poised to make it 34-3, until Sherman decided to get cute on the goal line. Sherman thought it would be smart to revive Slash, and sent Mike Tomzack under center with Kordell lining up as a receiver. All went well, until the snap….

A bobbled exchange leads to a fumble, which Keith McKenzie returns 88 yards for a touchdown. The Packers score 17 unanswered points, but Pittsburgh holds on.

  • The moral of the story there is that trick plays can give an already efficient offense a lethal edge, but they can be just as lethal for a struggling unit.

Never Under Estimate the Importance of Back Up
11/6/05 @ Lambeau Field, Steelers 20, Packers 10

Ben Roethlisberger is out, so is Jerome Bettis. Willie Parker suits up, but only lasts for 5 carries. But Bill Cowher a deep bull pen to fall back on. Charlie Batch starts, and while his numbers aren’t pretty, he avoids critical mistakes.

But the star of the day is Duce Staley, who gets his first carry of the year that day, and adds a total of 14 more for 76 yards and including a long run of 17 and a touchdown. He also catches to passes for nine yards.

  • As Bill Cowher said the day Pittsburgh released Stanley, “If we don’t have Duce, we don’t win that game. If we don’t win that game, we don’t make the playoffs, and never get to Super Bowl XL.”

The Steelers signed Duce Staley to a generous contract in 2004, and he only ended up playing 16 games over three season. But in the end, it was money well spent.

This Wallace is a 60 Minute Man Too
12/20/09 @ Heinz Field, Steelers 37, Packers 36

This installment of the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Packers had been billed as the battle of the defensive titans, as the two teams were leading the league in defense. To add an exclaimation point, it pitted Dick LeBeau vs. Dom Capers, the two architects of the Steelers defense of the 1990’s.

But it was anything but a defensive struggle.

The Steelers and Packers combined for 936 yards and the lead changed hands four times in the fourth quarter as Aaron Rodgers passed for 383 yards. Ben Roethlisberger did him better, however, passing for 503 yards and in doing so only becoming only the 10th NFL signal caller to break the half-century mark.

Hines Ward and Heath Miller both broke the 100 yard mark, but the star of the game was Steelers rookie of the year Mike Wallace. Wallace bookended his game with touchdown catches. Taking his first pass for 60 yards to the end zone, and he did it again with his last pass, hauling in a 19 yard grab with 0:03 seconds remaining.

Stairway to Seven Will Have to Wait

And that brings us to Super Bowl XVL and the Steelers ill-fated quest for Lombardi Number Seven.

The Steelers made some early mistakes and, as Mike Tomlin, ever the class act, insisted, the Packers made some tremendous plays that put the Steelers deep in a hole.

The men in Black and Gold fought back furiously and were alive until the game’s final minute. But, when the final gun sounded, the Packers simply showed themselves to be the better team and, to their credit, the Steelers acknowledged as much.

Thanks for visiting. Click here to check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising. Or, click here to follow this site on Twitter.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Watch Tower: Mike Prisuta Resigns from the Tribune-Review

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist-turned blogger Bob Smizik is reporting that Mike Prisuta has resigned from the Tribune-Review. Smizik informs that Mike Prisuta gave no reason for his resignation, but confirmed that Priusta will continue to cover the Steelers in his capacity as sports director for WDVE.

Leading Voice of Firm Opinion and Thorough Commentary

Mike Priusta has long been a leading “voice” at the Tribune-Review. For years and years he has offered in-depth commentary on the Steelers. In fact, when the Tribune-Review launched its paid subscription “Steelers Live” site a number of years ago yours truly ponied up for the sole purpose of reading Priusta.

  • Priusta pulled no punches and made no bones about taking unpopular positions.

When Kordell Stewart parted ways with the Steelers, Pruista plainly stated that Stewart’s best play as a Steeler had come in his 71 yard touchdown reception against the Cincinnati Bengals in during November 1995.

While his assessment of Kordell enjoys ample of company in Steelers Nation, Priusta also publicly began calling for the Steelers to jettison Jerome Bettis as early as 2003. Steel Curtain Rising did not yet exist or we certainly would have taken issue with him then, but we respect Priusta for standing his ground even as Bettis came within a hair of becoming a 1000 yard rusher in relief of Duce Staley in 2004.

“Voice” Less Frequently “Heard” by Readers Recently

Although Steel Curtain Rising has kept no numbers of any sort, in the last two years or it seems like Priusta has published fewer and fewer columns in the Tribune-Review.

If our perception is correct, he follows in the footsteps of other famed sports print-journalists who move on to broadcast or on-line media. The Washington Post columnist Michael Wilbon and former Washington Post columnist Tony Korenhieser provide two prominent examples.

Caught in the Newspaper Crunch?

Another possibility is that Pruista has been the latest journalist to be squeezed by the newspaper crunch. Even before the current recession newspapers in general were feeling the pinch as circulation declines and advertisers dollars flow on-line or elsewhere. Specifically Tribune-Review’s struggle for profitability has been well documented. It seems like the quantity, although not the quality, of coverage on their main Steelers news page has declined in this year.

Smizik’s reporting makes clear that Prusita is resigning, but a resignation could still be tied to financial troubles at the paper. Steel Curtain Rising has no inside information, so is only speculation.

Regardless of the reason for his departure, Steel Curtain Rising will miss Mike Pruista.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!

Steelers Cut Najeh Davenport – Backfield Winnowing Begins

Training camp remains 29 days away, but the process of thinning out the glut at back up running back has begun. The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review first reported that the Steelers have waived reserve running back Najeh Davenport, after unsuccessful attempts to trade the reserve running back.

The Steelers picked up Davenport in September 2006, after it became clear that Duce Staley was unable to serve as an effective complement to Willie Parker.

At 6-1, 245 pounds and arriving with a 4.9 yards per carry average, Najeh Davenport tantalized…. Although he did have an injury history, he appeared capable of filling big back void created by Jerome Bettis’ retirement and Stanley’s decline.

While Davenport’s did put in some solid performances and his overall numbers were respectable, he failed to deliver at key moments. The coaches opted not to use him in a goal-line situation against New England, and overall he was unable to help the team move the chains when the Steelers needed to kill the clock in crucial games.

It became clear after Willie Parker got hurt in St. Louis that Davenport would never grow beyond a role player. As a starter against Baltimore in the season finale and in the playoffs against Jacksonville, Davenport totaled 52 yards on 28 carries.

  • The signing of Mewelde Moore and the drafting of Rashard Mendenhall apparently made Davenport expendable.

Davenport was due to make one million dollars this year, and his departure gives the much needed Steelers salary cap room as they enter negotiations with their draft class.

This move also signals a vote of confidence in Gary Russell, an young back with tremendous potential. All major press reports indicated that the Steelers prefered to keep Russell over Davenport.

The Steelers also waived two other players, and must shed two more to reach the NFL’s 80 man roster limit prior to convening training camp in Latrobe on July 27th.

Like this? Share it with Steelers Nation!