Ben Roethlisberger shines as Steelers blow-out Colts

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger passed for 364 yards and four touchdowns, as the Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Colts, 45-10, in a dominate performance at Heinz Field before a national audience on Sunday Night Football.

Roethlisberger looked sharp most of the night and torched Indianapolis’ defense for the second time in two seasons (he passed for 522 yards and six touchdowns in a 51-34 victory over the Colts at Heinz Field on October 26, 2014), but the  rest of the offense shined as well.

Running back DeAngelo Williams rushed for 134 yards and averaged 5.2 yards per carry. Receiver Antonio Brown caught eight passes for 118 yards and two touchdowns, while fellow wide-outs Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton combined for seven receptions, 164 yards and two touchdowns–including 114 yards by Bryant, who went 68 yards for his score.

The offensive line, down one starter since Week 1 and down two starters since left-tackle Kelvin Beachum tore his ACL on October 18, looked about as cohesive as it has all season, as the Steelers rushed for 158 yards as a team, while Roethlisberger wasn’t sacked once despite attempting 39 passes.

  • However, as impressive as the offense looked, the defense may have been even more critical to such a sound and dominant victory.

It looked like it was going to be a long night, when Jacoby Jones, recently claimed off waivers, fumbled the opening kickoff, and the Colts’ recovered at the Pittsburgh 11-yard line. However, three plays later, outside linebacker Jarvis Jones intercepted a pass from quarterback Matt Hasselback at the one-yard line and thwarted the drive. But four plays after Jones rescued the defense, the offense put it back in peril, when Williams fumbled, and the Colts recovered at the Steelers 27. Pittsburgh’s defense held firm once again, and limited Indianapolis to eight yards on three plays, forcing a 35-yard field goal by veteran kicker Adam Vinatieri.

  • What could have been a 10-0 or even 14-0 deficit very early in the first quarter was merely three points, as the defense set the tone for the rest of the evening.

After the Steelers answered Vinatieri’s field goal with a 29-yarder by Chris Boswell, the defense came through again on Indianapolis’ next offensive possession. On third and 15, Hasselback’s pass was tipped by cornerback William Gay and intercepted by Brandon Boykin in a diving catch that was confirmed by replay and set Pittsburgh’s offense up at the Colts’ 38. The offense couldn’t fully take advantage and had to settle for another Boswell field goal–this one from 51-yards away–and a 6-3 lead.

The Colts took a 10-6 lead midway through the second quarter on a nine-yard touchdown pass from Hasselback to running back Frank Gore (who also gashed Pittsburgh’s defense on a few rushing plays in the first half).

But just when it looked like it would be a back-and-forth struggle between two AFC teams battling for playoff berths, the Steelers put the peddle to the metal, scoring 39 unanswered points–including  two touchdowns on their last two possessions of the first half and a touchdown on their first possession of the second half to take a 28-10 lead and effectively put the game on ice with over 27 minutes left to play.

After giving up five touchdown passes to Russell Wilson in the 39-30 loss at Seattle a week earlier, the Steelers defense held Indianapolis to just 240 yards of total offense, recorded five quarterback sacks–including three by veteran outside linebacker James Harrison–and forced three turnovers.

After Jones almost lost another fumble on a punt return in the second quarter, he was replaced by Brown, who would ultimately close out the scoring late in the fourth quarter with a 71-yard punt return that included a rather bizarre celebration, when he leaped crotch-first onto the goal post before falling to the end zone turf.

The impressive victory improved the Steelers record to 7-5 and moved them up to seventh place in the AFC behind both the Chiefs and Jets, who are also 7-5 but currently hold the two wild card spots based on tiebreakers.

Next up for the Steelers is a trip to Paul Brown Stadium to take on the 10-2 Bengals this Sunday afternoon at 1 p.m.

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Report Card for Steelers Week 8 Loss to Bengals at Heinz Field

Quarterback 

It’s not often a team loses after the defense comes up with interceptions on back-to-back drives in the fourth quarter of a four-point game. Yet, this is what happened to the Steelers on Sunday, thanks to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s ineffective play for most of the afternoon that included two interceptions on two straight passes late in the final period that set-up Cincinnati’s final 10 points in a 16-10 defeat. After going five of six for 43 yards on the game’s opening drive that resulted in a one-yard touchdown pass to receiver Antonio Brown, Roethlisberger was 23 of 39 for 219 yards the rest of the game. He threw three interceptions in total and made many poor decisions. Grade: Dsteelers, report card, grades, Bengals

Running Backs 

It’s obviously hard to accurately evaluate the performance of the running backs on Sunday, considering Le’Veon Bell left the game early with what was later determined to be a season-ending MCL tear. Before Bell left, he looked to be on his way to another stellar performance, as he picked up 45 yards on 10 carries and another 13 yards on two receptions. DeAngelo Williams, Bell’s replacement down-the-stretch, added 71 yards on on nine carries, but 55 of those came on one run. Grade: C+

Tight Ends 

Heath Miller had his best game of the season on Sunday, catching 10 passes for 105 yards. He was clearly the most effective target for Roethlisberger, as the wide receivers did very little most of the day. Miller was called for two penalties, including a holding penalty early in the fourth quarter on first and 10 from Cincinnati’s 25 that effectively knocked the Steelers out of field-goal range. Grade: B+

Wide Receivers 

It was basically a bad day for the Steelers receivers, going up against Cincinnati’s decent corps of defensive backs. While Miller posted 105 yards, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant and Markus Wheaton combined for 104 yards on 11 receptions. Not good. Furthermore, there were some key drops, including one in the end zone by Martavis Bryant. Grade: D

Offensive Line

Roethlisberger was sacked three times on 45 passing attempts but was harassed a good bit of the afternoon. However, the line did do a decent enough job opening holes for the running game, as the backs averaged 6.1 yards on 19 carries.

Unfortunately, penalties proved to be huge for the hogs up front. Pittsburgh totaled 91 penalty yards as a team on Sunday, and several of those were holding calls on the offense–including a critical one by guard Ramon Foster midway through the third quarter, on a play where Roethlisberger scrambled up the middle for 10 yards down to the Bengals eight yard-line on third and six. Instead of having a first and goal situation, the offense was pushed back to the 28 and ultimately had to settle for a Chris Boswell 32-yard field-goal. One will never know if that drive would have resulted in a touchdown, but in a close game, it certainly could have changed the outcome. Grade: C-

Defensive Line

Despite missing defensive end Stephon Tuitt for a second-straight game, the Steelers defensive line was a disruptive force. Steve McLendon, who normally plays nose tackle in the base defense, filled in for Tuitt at defensive end, while second-year man Daniel McCullers played nose tackle. The results were pretty stellar, as the front-seven pressured Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton all afternoon, sacking him three times–including one by McLendon. Cincinnati managed just 78 yards on the ground and averaged just 3.4 yards per carry. Grade: A-

Linebackers 

There was some fear that Tyler Eifert, the Bengals budding star of a tight end, would have a field-day against a Pittsburgh defense that normally struggles to defend high-pedigree tight ends. However, Eifert was held to just 39 yards on four catches. On the pass-rushing front, Ryan Shazier, Jarvis Jones and rookie Bud Dupree were credited with two of the defense’s three sacks. Grade: B

Secondary

Much like Cincinnati’s defensive backs, the Steelers secondary held the Bengals explosive receivers in-check most of the afternoon. A.J. Green did rack-up 118 yards on 11 catches and scored the game-winning touchdown, but his longest reception of the day was 38 yards (also the longest the defense allowed all afternoon) and averaged just 10.7 yards a catch. Aside from Green, Cincinnati’s other targets combined for just 113 yards on 12 receptions and averaged just 9.4 yards per catch. The interception that cornerback Antwon Blake came up with early in the fourth quarter, when he picked off a Dalton pass in the end zone on third and goal from the five and returned it to Pittsburgh’s 40 would be something fans and reporters would be talking about at great-length had the Steelers won the game. It was a great all-around effort by a unit that has rightly been criticized a lot in recent years. Grade: A-

Special Teams 

Kicker Chris Boswell was perfect again–converting an extra point and a field goal–and punter Jordan Berry placed three kicks inside the 20. Defensive end Cam Heyward blocked a field-goal late in the third quarter, when Cincinnati was trying to pull to-within a single point. On the return front, Dri Archer didn’t make it out to the 20 on his only two kickoff returns, and Antonio Brown was held in-check on punt returns, as the team wasn’t credited with a single return on the day. The coverage unit was decent enough, but Adam Jones did average 16.5 yards on two punt returns. Grade: C+

Coaching 

You have to give credit to defensive coordinator Keith Butler for calling a great game. His defense really did deserve better, after limiting the Bengals to just six points until late in the fourth quarter when Roethlisberger threw his back-to-back interceptions.

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley has been widely criticized (and rightfully so) for too many deep passes against a Bengals secondary that clearly had that play covered all afternoon. Again, while Miller was totalling 105 yards, many on underneath routes, the receivers could do very little downfield all afternoon.

For the second time in a month, head coach Mike Tomlin’s team had a division rival on the ropes late in a game at Heinz Field and let that rival off the hook, thanks to self-inflicted wounds. Now, instead of the Steelers being 2-0 in the AFC North, they’re 0-2 and three-and-a-half games back of first place.

And while it wasn’t necessarily Tomlin’s fault that Roethlisberger threw those two picks at the end of the game, you can question his decision to punt from the 35-yard line early in the fourth quarter, rather than send Boswell out to try a 52 yard field-goal. Sure, it was at the open-end of the stadium, and yes, a miss would have given the Bengals premium field-position in a close game, but Pittsburgh was up by four-points at the time. Considering Boswell’s range early in his Steelers career, it was worth the risk at that juncture. Grade: C- 

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Chris Boswell’s NCAA Kicking Stats Reveal Versatile Athlete

2015 has not been kind to kickers. The tendency is true league wide, and nowhere is it more true than in Pittsburgh. Shaun Suisham tearing an ACL during the Hall of Fame game was bad. Perhaps Jeff Reed getting ejected during the same game was an even worse omen.

  • In came Garrett Hartwell. Out went Garret Hartell.
  • The Steelers traded for Josh Scobee
  • Josh Scobee missed 5 of 17 kicks
  • Steelers cut Josh Scobee (who, if his agent is to be believed, is nursing a quad injury)

The Steelers have signed Chris Boswell who played his college ball at Rice University. One of the interesting things about Chris Boswell is that he knows how to nail an on sides kick:

That’s some fancy footwork.

Will it fool hardened NFL special teamers? Probably not, but it’s good to know he possesses that caliber of athletic talent. And lest ye forget, while Shaun Suisham’s absence is painfully felt in Pittsburgh this year, Suisham was 0-3 in kicking recoverable on-sides kicks in both 2013 and 2014.

  • But if things go well, the Steelers won’t need Boswell to attempt too many on-sides kicks.

Boswell’s job will be to put the ball in the end zone on kickoffs and split the uprights at all other times. Looking at Chris Boswell’s NCAA kicking stats from his time at Rice University, Boswell did pretty well.

steelers, Chris Boswell, NCAA, kicking stats, punter,

Chris Boswell’s NCAA Kicking Stats

  • And you’ll notice, place kicking isn’t all that Boswell does.

Chris Boswell also punts. In fact, he got his first tryout for the Houston Texans as a punter. In the 2014 preseason he punted 14 times for and totaled 619 yards for an average of 44.2 yards. Those aren’t Jordan Berry numbers (on a good day) but they’re not bad.

Boswell also kicked a field goal for the Texans in preseason but, more ominously, he also missed two extra points. As noted when the Steelers signed Boswell, he made 4 of 4 field goal attempts for the Giants in the 2015 preseason.

  • Like one of his predecessors, Jeff Reed, Boswell won the job by kicking at Heinz Field.

As a Texas native and an alum of Rice University, Boswell doesn’t have experience kicking in the cold and windy Northeast, experience that Mike Tomlin cited when the Steelers signed Sushiam in 2010. But when asked about his try out by Jim Wexell’s Steel City Insider, Boswell revealed:

Yes. It was good. It was an experience. It was pouring rain and windy, and all the elements you want. I hear it gets pretty bad up here so it was kind of a good test and good competition as well.

At the very least, Boswell has necessary attitude for kicking successfully at Heinz Field. Will that attiude translate in to success in pressure situations? Time will tell. For now all we can say is “Welcome to Steelers Nation Chris Boswell.”

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Steelers Trade 6th Round Pick for Josh Scobee

The Pittsburgh Steelers have not had much luck with place kickers during this 2015 preseason. First the Steelers lost veteran Shaun Suisham  to a torn ACL in the Hall of Fame Game. That led the team to sign Garrett Hartley, who looked pretty solid, but Hartley ended up injuring himself during the Steelers debacle vs. the Bills.

  • And there’s still 1 more preseason game to go….

That scenario saw the Steelers trade a 6th round draft pick to the Jacksonville Jaguars for place kicker Josh Scobee. This is the second trade the Steelers have made this off season, having given up a conditional pick to get Brandon Boykin from the Philadelphia Eagles.

Schobee has kicked in the NFL since 2004 but a training camp battle with rookie Jason Myers made him expendable. The trade was contingent on the Jacksonville Jaguars picking up part of Josh Schobee’s salary, which they agreed to do.

While not as accurate as Shaun Suisham, Schobee has proven himself to be an accurate kicker during his NFL career, and has a strong leg for kickoffs. What he does lack, however, is a proven ability to play in the elements, which can be a particular test at Heinz Field.

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Steelers Sign Garrett Hartley to Replace Shaun Suisham @ Place Kicker

The Pittsburgh Steelers signed Garrett Hartley today to replace Shaun Suisham. Suisham, who was one of the NFL’s most accurate kickers last season and has mastered the difficult art of kicking at Heinz Field, tore his ACL during the Hall of Fame Game while attempting to make a tackle on a kick return.

Garrett Hartley has kicked in the NFL since 2008 when he entered as the kicker for the New Orleans Saints. A brief glance at his history shows that he is a very strong kicker inside of 30 yards and does reasonably well inside of 40 yards. His overall career field goal kicking percentage is 81.7%

  • Garrett Hartley has never missed an extra point.

For comparison’s sake, Suisham’s field goal kicking percentage for the Steelers 2014 season was 90.7% and his career average in Pittsburgh is 87.9%. However, prior to coming to Pittsburgh Suisham’s averages with Washington and Dallas were less impressive, where he leveled out at 80.2% and 66.7%

In addition to his time in New Orleans with the Saints, Hartley kicked for the Cleveland Browns at the tail end of 2014, where he went 3-3 on field goal tries including two from over 30 yards and one from beyond 40.

Steelers Trends with Kickers

Tony Defeo, a fellow blogger and part-time contributor to this site, once quipped that Steelers kickers are like ex-girlfriends (that’s a must read if there ever was one.)

  • And he’s right. The Steelers tend to go all in with a kicker or not at all.

Roy Gerela kicked for Chuck Noll from 1969 to 1978. He was followed by Matt Bahr who kicked from 1979 and 1980, was spelled for a year by David Trout, who was followed by Gary Anderson who kicked from 1982 to 1994.

Gary Anderson left Pittsburgh in a contract dispute, but he was followed by Norm Johnson who kicked from 1995 to 1998. Johnson gave way to Kris Brown, who did well enough at Three Rivers Stadium but struggled at Heinz Field.

The Steelers thought they had Brown’s replacement in Todd Peterson, but Peterson too had difficulty kicking at Heinz Field so the Steelers brought in Jeff Reed, who kicked from mid-2002 until mid-2010.

That’s 9 kickers in 46 years for those of you at home taking notes.

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Is Mike Tomlin Hinting at Steelers 2 Point Conversion Plans for 2015?

Less than one week after the NFL condemned his PAT proposal with deafening silence, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin hints the 2015 Steelers may go for 2 early and often.

As the Pittsburgh Tribune Review’s Mark Kaboly recounts, when OTA’s began, the Steelers offense huddled at the 20 yard line – Mike Tomlin however ordered the team into a 2 point conversion drill. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger knew what was coming, but it was a surprise to the rest of the offense.

  • Tomlin explained his motive to the rest of the offense in simple terms: “We are not going to talk about it, we are just going to do it.”

By moving the extra point kick back to what will now be a 32 or 33 yard field goal, the extra point will still be almost automatic instead of being virtually automatic. In 2014 NFL kickers converted extra point kicks more than 99% of time, whereas 33 yard field goals were approximately 94% proposition.

Since Mike Tomlin joined the Steelers in 2007, the Steelers have converted 10 of 13 2 point conversion attempts or nearly 77% and they hold the best two point conversion record in the NFL since 2001, having converted 72.7%

The irony is that the most Steelers fans can probably name at least two of these failures without going to Google.

Both missed opportunities cost the Steelers dearly. The first severely set hurt the Steelers comeback efforts, and the second time it robbed them of a chance to tie the game, and allowed the Ravens to run out the clock.

As Ben Roethlisberger confided to Mark Kaboly, all 33 yard field goals are not created equally – kicking one in a dome or in a place like Tampa Bay isn’t quite the same as kicking a 33 yard field goal on a windy November evening at Heinz Field.

It will be interesting to see what strategy Tomlin employs regarding the two point conversion. At the very least Tomlin’s intent on establishing a “Be prepared to go for 2”mindset starting with the first set of Steelers OTA’s that includes both veterans and members of the Steelers 2015 draft class.

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15 Jerome Bettis Highlights that Prove The Bus Belongs in the HOF

15 Jerome Bettis highlights taken from throughout the legendary Steelers running back’s career show just why the Pro Football Hall of Fame Selection Committee was right to include the Bus in the 2015 Hall of Fame Class. That year 3 candidates with strong ties to the Pittsburgh Steelers were finalists and they are Kevin Greene, Tony Dungy and of course Jerome Bettis.

  • While most of Steelers Nation would be perfectly happy to see Dungy and Greene elected, Bettis is the one we cared about.

The committee gave Steelers Nation their wish, and these 15 Jerome Bettis highlights taken from throughout his career, that show just why Bettis is such a worthy Hall of Famer. Either click the links below or scroll down to relive 15 top highlights from Jerome Bettis’s career.

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

Jerome Bettis shows Brian Urlacher who is boss

I. Bettis Best Game Ever

12/12/93, Los Angeles Rams 23, New Orleans Saints 20
Sometimes we easily forget Jerome Bettis wasn’t always a Pittsburgh Steeler after so long as “The face of the franchise.” But it is true. The Los Angeles Rams selected Jerome Bettis with the 10th overall pick in the 1993 NFL Draft.

Bettis took the league by storm, rushing for 1,429 yards as a rookie, and his best game of the season came vs. New Orleans, when he banged out 212 yards on 28 carries, for one touchdown. That was his highest single game rushing total ever, and it included his longest run at 71.

Although Bettis would never have a better day statistically, he did have bigger games — all for the Black and Gold.

II. Bettis First 100 Yard Game for Steelers

9/8/96, Pittsburgh Steelers 31, Baltimore Ravens 17
Jerome Bettis’ first game for the Steelers didn’t go so well, as Pittsburgh suffered a disastrous defeat in Jacksonville at the hands of the Jaguars with injuries decimating the linebacking crops, with Bettis 57 yard effort an under story.

He made good in week 2 the first Steelers-Ravens match up ever. Bettis rushed for 116 yards and a touchdown on 21 carries – and he didn’t even start. Erric Pegram had that honor, who turned in a respectable 60 yard on 11 carry performance

III. Rams Rue Decision to Run Bettis Out of Town

11/3/96, Pittsburgh Steelers 42, St. Louis Rams 6
Jerome Bettis was the only positive for the 4-12 1993 Rams. Chuck Knox aka “ground Chuck” got the ax the team hired Rich Brooks and moved to St. Louis. For whatever reason Bettis and Brooks didn’t work well together. Bettis production dropped by 400 yards in 1994 and to 637 yards in 1995.

  • Dick Vermeil’s first decision was to pick Lawrence Philips in the 1996 draft.

That made Bettis expendable. St. Louis traded him to Pittsburgh for what was essentially a 2nd round pick.

By the time the Steelers played the Rams at mid-season, it was already clear that the trade might have been one of Tom Donahoe’s best ever personnel decisions. Bettis already had six 100 yard games and laid claim to the moniker, “The Bus.”

Bettis exploded vs. the Rams, scoring the first two touchdowns and racking up 100 yards before the half, as The Bus steamrolled the Rams to the tune of 129 yards rushing on 19 carries for a 6.8 yard average. For the record Lawrence Philips had six yards on 5 carries….

IV. Bettis Best Game with the Steelers

10/12/97, Pittsburgh Steelers 24, Indianapolis Colts 22
It was a strange night for the Steelers. Lindy Infante’s Colts arrived at Three Rivers Stadium nursing an 0-5 record and quickly took 10-0 lead before Norm Johnson got the Steelers on the board and then Bettis tied it up early in the second half.

Carnell Lake returned a fumble 83 yards for a touchdown, but the Colts would threaten the entire game, as the Steelers lost Kordell Stewart and Charles Johnson to injury. Things got so bad that reserve receiver Mike Adams had to play the entire second half on a torn ACL.

The Steelers did what they worked for them best in that day and age – they rode The Bus. Bettis racked up 164 yards, his highest total as a Steeler, on 30 carries including one touchdown.

V. Bettis Rides Over Broncos

12/7/97 Steelers 35, Denver Broncos 24
This late season show down would and should be remembered for many things.

But credit Jerome Bettis as the game’s unsung hero. The fireworks took place in the first half, which ended in a 21-21 tie. The second half started with the Broncos getting a field goal and the lead.

  • Then Bettis took over.

He pounded Denver into submission, including 24 yard run where he literally dragged defenders for a good 7 or 8 yards after contact. When all was said and done, The Bus had run for 24 yards on 125 carries.

VI. Bettis Leads By Example

12/28/98 Jacksonville Jaguars 21, Pittsburgh Steelers 3
The Pittsburgh Steelers started 1998 unevenly, played a few strong games in the middle, and then pathetically petered out down the stretch, losing their final five games as Kordell Stewart looked lost.

When the season finale vs. Jacksonville arrived, the Jaguars started their back up and the only thing at stake was Bill Cowher’s chance to avoid his first losing season. He didn’t.

  • The harsh reality is that many of Cowher’s players quit on him.

But one player shown out. He not only gave it his all, he played with power and he delivered results. That player was number 36, Jerome Bettis who ran for 139 yards and caught 4 balls for 24 yards – and he did it on a bum knee, having announced to ABC’s sideline reporter that he’d scheduled surgery for the following morning.

Stepping up in games like these were one reason why Bettis owned the Steelers locker room.

VII. The Bus Rides Well in the Snow

12/26/99 Pittsburgh Steelers 30, Carolina Panthers 20
The Steelers 1999 season ended much like the 1998 season did – with a season-ending melt down. With one exception.

George Seifert’s Carolina Panthers came to Three Rivers Stadium with a 7-7 record while the Pittsburgh Steelers were reeling on a six game losing streak.

  • The Steelers looked like easy pickings.

Early on the Steelers looked lackluster, but then it started to snow. Snow blanked the Astroturf at Three Rivers Stadium, and it left the Panthers flat footed. The Bus took off, rushing for 137 yards and inspiring the team to victory. The Panthers made a run late in the game as they fought to within 3 late in the third quarter. But Bettis did what he always did – iced the game away with a dominating 4th quarter that saw him barrel into the end zone with 3:47 remaining to put the game away.

VIII. Bettis Helps Set Steelers Tone for ‘00’s

10/1/00, Pittsburgh Steelers 24, Jaguars 13
The Steelers followed their 1999 meltdown by opening the 2000 season by going 0-3, including a heart breaker at the hand of Steve McNair, as the pundits pooled their money on predictions on when Dan Rooney would fire Bill Cowher.

Bill Cowher had other ideas. He didn’t care that he’d started 0-3. He didn’t care that the Jacksonville Jaguars were Super Bowl contenders. He didn’t care that Jacksonville had won 3 straight vs. Pittsburgh. He didn’t care that Kent Graham, his starting quarterback, had been injured late in practice on Friday.

  • He didn’t care because Bill Cowher preached that players should expect to win on Sunday.

In this game, names like Joey Porter, Aaron Smith and Desha Townsend announced their presence to Steelers Nation and as the Steelers defense dominated. But on a day where Kordell Stewart only managed 132 yards passing, Jerome Bettis carried the Steelers offense. He didn’t break 100 yards, but he did run for 97 and scored two touchdowns. The victory in Jacksonville set the tone for the Steelers for a decade and, once again, the Steelers rode the Bus.

IX. Bus Shines in Old Fashioned Steelers Raiders Showdown

12/3/00, Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Oakland Raiders 20
This probably gets left off of many other worthy Jerome Bettis Hall of Fame games lists, but it makes it here because this game simply doesn’t get its due. The twin Steelers-Cowboys Super Bowls defined pro football excellence in the 70’s, but had they not then the dozen epic matchups the Steelers and Raiders fought between 1970 to 1980 would have.

Due to scheduling irregularities, the Raiders would not play in Pittsburgh for 20 years. That changed in December 2000, and the matchup was worthy of the best of Steelers-Raiders lore. The Steelers had clawed their way out of an 0-3 start back to 6-6 while the Raiders boasted a 10-2 record.

Kordell Stewart, who’d reclaimed the starting quarterback role, was injured early in the game, and his replacement Kent Graham looked clueless, throwing a pick six and getting planted on the turf as the Raiders jumped to a 17-7 lead.

The Steelers comeback left Pittsburgh with some priceless memories:

  • Kordell Stewart’s miraculous recovery, including his 17 yard touchdown run
  • Mark Bruener marshaling pure will power to win a goal line dog fight to spark the Steelers rally
  • Jon Gruden pleading for a 5th down after the Steelers defense stopped him cold on 4th down with 7 seconds left.

But what many forget, is that amidst all the chaos Jerome Bettis “quietly” kept the offense moving for by rushing for 128 yards. That’s just what Hall of Famers do.

X. Bus Rolls Over Redskins in Three Rivers Stadium Finale

12/16/00, Pittsburgh Steelers 24, Redskins 3
In 2000 Daniel Snyder bought his first off season Lombardi. For many fans and press alike, Snyder’s signing of Deon Sanders in June made the delivery of the Redskins 4th Super Bowl trophy a mere formality. The schedule had been published by then, and few Redskins fans even gave a second thought to the fact that they’d have to play the Steelers in the final game a Three Rivers Stadium.

  • A far different off season narrative had been penned for Jerome Bettis.

Declining production in 1998 and 1999 led many, inside and outside Pittsburgh, to assume Bettis best days were behind him.

Jerome Bettis Highlights, Hall of Fame, Jerome Bettis, Franco Harris, Three Rivers Stadium, Steelers vs. Redskins, Steelers Super Bowl eras

Jerome Bettis & Franco Harris. Photo Credit: Matt Freed, Post-Gazette

Yet, when the Three Rivers Stadium finale arrived, it was Jerome Bettis, and not any of Daniel Snyder’s high-priced free agents, who dominated the game. Bettis charged up and down the middle of the Redskins defense for 104 yards on 25 carries, and added another grab for 25. Perhaps the biggest highlight came when Deon Sanders backed away rather than try to tackle Bettis.

Daniel Snyder grew so incensed that he tried to order Myron Cope to alter his color commentary, to which Cope retorted,

  • If that boy billionaire thinks he can shut me up, then he can take his head and stick it in a bucket of paint!

Suffice to say, all of Snyder’s money could neither silence the voice of Steelers Nation, nor change the fact that The Bus had plenty of tread left on his tires.

XI. Bettis Leads the Way as Steelers Inaugurate Heinz Field with a Win

10/7/01 Pittsburgh Steelers 16, Cincinnati Bengals 7
The Pittsburgh Steelers were supposed to open Heinz Field against the Cleveland Browns. But September 11th changed everything.

Jerome Bettis, Bengals, Heinz Field

Instead, the Steelers would open at home nearly a month later, and this time vs. the Cincinnati Bengals. Bettis again led the way for the Steelers offense, piling up 153 yards on 25 carries, and giving the Steelers their first win in their new home.

XII. Bus Comes Off Bench to Help Steelers Spoil Philly’s Perfect Record

11/7/04, Pittsburgh Steelers 27, Philadelphia Eagles 3
Thanks to their 6-10 2003 season, the Steelers entered 2004 as an after thought –which is exactly what made this generation of Pittsburgh Steelers dangerous. On the arm of a rookie quarterback named Ben Roethlisberger and the newly added Duce Staley, reached week 8 with a 6-1 record.

Staley had run well in the season’s first seven games, but got injured in the Steelers upset of the Patriots. Prior to the season, Jerome Bettis had accepted a pay cut and was seen by many as an insurance policy at best or a scholarship year at worst.

Bettis proved his critics wrong as he ran for 133 yards and helped the Steelers spoil the Eagles 7-0 record.

XIII. Bus, Staley Tag Team to Bludgeon Jets in Playoffs

1/15/05, Pittsburgh Steelers 20, New York Jets 20
Steel Curtain Rising has talked about this playoff victory vs. the Jets many times before and will again. If you’re looking for a “Three yards and a cloud of dust” example of post season Steelers smash mouth football then you’d be hard pressed to find one without looking to the 70’s.

Jerome Bettis started this game, but had to take himself out due to injury. Staley came in and continued to pound the Jets. Then he got hurt and Bettis had to return.

  • It was a sight to behold – two Steelers big backs alternating to pummel an opponent into submission.

The Steelers needed every bit of it, as Ben Roethlisberger began playing like a rookie, and the Jets mounted a stiff challenge. At the end of the day, Bettis the 32 year old war horse, ran for 101 yards and a touchdown.

XIV. Urlacher, Bears Get Hit by The Bus

12/11/05, Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Chicago Bears 9
Despite finishing the 2004 a hair under 1,000 yards, even veteran commentators such as Mike Prisuta declared that Bettis presence on the roster was more important to Bettis than the team itself.

  • Games like this one prove him wrong.

The Steelers were at 7-5 and coming off a 3 game losing streak. Bill Cowher took the unusual step of order a full pads practice. He told the team they were Christopher Columbus uncharted journey. And with the 9-3 Bears coming to town, he turned to his gamers.

The record will note that Willie Parker got 21 carries as opposed to Bettis 17, but the Bus carried the day for the Steelers rushing for 101 yards, including dominating Brian Urlacher in one incredible 1-1 open field confrontation.

The Chicago game marked Bettis final 100 yard effort. But The Bus made it count.

XV. Super Bowl XL – The Bus Stops Here

2/5/06, Pittsburgh Steelers 21, Seattle Seahawks 10
When the Steelers came up short in the 2004 AFC Championship vs. New England, Hine Ward was moved to tears because he thought it would deny Bettis his shot at a championship. Ben Roethlisberger promised him, “I’ll get you back next year.” Bettis returned in 2005 with a singular goal – parking The Bus in Super Bowl XL in a game played in his home town Detroit.

  • Bettis didn’t break 100 yards. He didn’t score a touchdown. He didn’t rip off a record breaking run.

Bettis finger print was all over the field, a fact made evident when Joey Porter pulled a surprise, and allowed Bettis to emerge as the lone Steeler during introductions.

Bettis leadership and inspiration is what drove the 2005 Pittsburgh Steelers on their improbable 8 game season-closing winning streak and ultimately to One for the Thumb.

15 MORE Reasons for Jerome Bettis to be in the Hall of Fame

The tough thing about writing an article like this, aside from finding the time, is limiting this list to 15 worthy Jerome Bettis Hall of Fame Games. Many other candidates scream for inclusion.

  • Forget about the numbers and statistics.

Hall of Fame worthiness comes from defining what it means to be excellent at your position. When you look at a sampling of his work, who can argue that Jerome Bettis failed to accomplish that? In 13 years as an NFL running back, from his rookie season to his final season, Bettis dominated games.

Jerome Bettis belongs in the Hall of Fame. Period.

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Ravens Defeat Steelers 30-17 at Heinz Field

The Baltimore Ravens arrived at Heinz Field Saturday night wearing an 0-3 playoff millstone around their neck, an embarrassing loss to the Houston Texans and an escape like win vs. the lowly Cleveland Browns. In contrast, the Steelers had closed their season with 4 straight wins looking as a team that had hit its stride.

Some faithful in Steelers Nation have looked to the statistics and see the Steelers coming out ahead in terms of yards, plays, and time of possession and scratched their heads asking “Why?”

In a game like this, numbers that measure fundamentals and not Fantasy Football stats are what really carry the day. And on that front the Ravens dominated where it really counted and in doing so they revealed limits of how far the 2014 Steelers could realistically aspire to.

Bubble Gum, Spit and Duct Tape Secondary Only Gets Steelers So Far

Throughout Steelers Nation, fans are fingering any number of the Steelers flaws to explain the Raven’s first playoff win at Heinz Field. Most of what’s being discussed is on point and will find its way into this article further on down. But there’s something most are missing:

  • The Steelers secondary may have been good enough to get it to the playoffs, but lacked the talent to carry them through the playoffs.

Just six days before, Cris Collinsworth – whom no one will ever accuse of favoring the Steelers – praised the job that the Steelers “spare parts” secondary had done. The secondary earned that praise, as they pushed the Steelers over the Bengals. The Tribune-Review’s Rob Rossi noted how the group had virtually eliminated the long-ball in the season’s final weeks.

  • But the playoff introduce an entirely new dynamic.

And in this new dynamic, the Steelers secondary was out of its depth. Brice McCain had a shot at an interception – very similar to the one he made in the regular season a week ago. Interceptions are harder to make in the playoffs.

Steve Smith Sr., Owen Daniels, and don’t call him “David” Crockett Gilmore all had catches for over 20 yards. But the numbers only tell part of the tale. The Joe Flacco may have passed for fewer yards than Ben Roethlisberger, but he connected with his receivers when he had to….

…And there’s a reason for that.

Ravens Dictate at the Line of Scrimmage

Like all good Steelers-Ravens match ups, this one was won and lost in the trenches. It would be wrong to say the Ravens controlled the line of scrimmage all night. Saying they dominated at the line of scrimmage when they needed to would be right.

  • The Steelers defensive line offers a perfect example.

Credit Dick LeBeau and Johnny Mitchell for adjusting to shut down Justin Forsett in the second half. As Behind the Steel Curtain’s editor Neal Coolong pointed out, Forsett had fewer yards at the end of the game than he began the 3rd quarter with. All of those “Tackles for loss” look pretty on Vince Williams, Lawrence Timmons, and Jason Worilds stat sheet.

But such appearances fail to mask the reality that the Ravens imposed their will by rushing the ball down the Steelers throat during the final 26 yards of their first touchdown drive.

More importantly, the Ravens offensive line kept Joe Flacco clean, giving him the time he needed to pick apart the Steelers secondary.

  • The story is similar on the other side of the ball.

The Steelers offensive line struggled in the first half, but improved somewhat in the second half. There were times when Ben Roethlisberger had all day to throw. But the Ravens didn’t simply sack Ben Roethlisberger 5 times, Baltimore collapsed Pittsburgh’s pass protection at the worst possible times:

  • Haloti Nagata knocked the Steelers out of field goal range on their first drive
  • Elivs Dumervil ended a 3rd and 11 with a sack on the Steelers next drive, forcing another field goal
  • Brandon Williams sacked Ben Roethlisberger with the Steelers at the Raven’s ten, scuttling the series and helping force another field goal
  • Elivs Dumervil ended the Steelers final drive of the 3rd quarter by sacking Roethlisberger for a 12 yard loss
  • Courtney Upshaw’s final sack of Roethlisberger didn’t end the drive, Bruce Gradkowski kept it alive

But when Roethlisberger returned to the game, he promptly threw an interception in the end zone….

Steelers Stumble, Ravens Rumble

…It was that kind of a game for the Steelers. However, if any one word describes the 2014 Steelers it is “resilient.” The Steelers defense not only kept the Ravens pinned down against Pittsburgh’s end zone, Shamarko Thomas blocked a punt, netting a safety.

Suddenly, the Steelers were within 13 points…

…And just as suddenly, the ever reliable Heath Miller was fumbling the ball back to the Ravens.

  • And so ended the Steelers 2014 season.

Credit the John Harbaugh and his Baltimore Ravens squad – they were the better team at Heinz Field Saturday night. They made the plays when they needed to, they deserve the victory.

Ravens Advance, Pittsburgh Picks Up Pieces

The 2014 Steelers have been an erratic bunch, and for whatever reason they reverted to their early season form in the playoffs. It is impossible to know why.

  • Credit the Steelers for refusing to use the absence of Le’Veon Bell as an excuse, but clearly not having Bell hurt the Steelers.

But Bell’s absence had nothing to do with the epidemic of penalties, including three bone-headed personal fouls. Playoff inexperience may have contributed in part. But that fails to explain the poor line play (Maurkuice Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert, and Ramon Foster all have post-season experience) or execution failure by the likes of Heath Miller.

Steelers Nation may resist swallowing such a bitter pill, but the Ravens remain the class of the AFC North, as they have been since their November 2011 win at Heinz.

  • Baltimore proved it by advancing to the divisional playoff round.

The truth is that the 2014 Pittsburgh Steelers probably went as far as their talent could take them, and for that, this team should hang its head high. For the first 3 quarters of the 2014 season, the Steelers slipped into “win a game, lose a game” mode, until late in the season when the team succeeded in stepping up its focus enough to string together four straight victories.

If this playoff loss can teach these players to apply the same lesson then next time they reach the post-season, then this loss will not be for naught.

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Steelers Make Right Call on Heinz Field Expansion

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2014 off season has been among the busiest on record. The team was uncharacteristically aggressive in free agency. Management also kept the faithful on their toes with a 2014 draft defined by size,speed and surprise.

The impact of the Steelers free agent wheeling and dealing won’t be known until September and the full measure of the Steelers 2014 draft can only be taken in 2016 or so. But there is one move Steelers management made this spring that is unequivocally the right one:

  • Agreeing to expand Heinz Field without leaving the Allegheny County taxpayers on the hook.

As Steel Curtain Rising has editorialized before, expanding Heinz Field is a good idea and one the Steelers should pay for. Expanding Heinz Field is a smart move simply because while the NFL’s revenue pie might be growing, there’s no guarantee that the Steelers piece of pie will grow in proportion.

  • Steelers Nation tends to think of Heinz Field as “new” but it is this will be its 14th year in operation, or as old as Three Rivers Stadium was in 1984.

And while Heinz Field is the newest facility in the AFC North, with the Ravens, Browns, and Bengals abodes having opened in 1998, 1999, and 2000, the Ravensrevenue bests the Steelers to the tune of 26 million dollars a year, and both Baltimore and Cincinnati are more profitable.

Why the Steelers Should Pay (Again)

But if the business case is plain to see for expanding Heinz Field, it is equally obvious that the people of Allegheny County shouldn’t pick up the bill.

  • The Rooneys are not like the Daniel Snyders or Jerry Joneses of the NFL. 

Their wealth is tied up in the Steelers, and they do not have the non-football income streams to finance a new stadium. That was the argument they made in getting Pennsylvania to build Heinz Field. It made sense then, but in Heinz Field gives the Steelers a platform for raising the revenues they need for stadium improvements.

  • For a while there, it seemed like the Steelers didn’t see it that way.

The Steelers of course went to court trying to force the public to finance the expansion, which was a sad spectacle. While Steel Curtain Rising has no proof of this, it’s interesting to note that the decision to take the case to court began while Dan Rooney was still serving as ambassador of Ireland, and the choice to settle outside the courts was made after his return.

  • Is this Dan Rooney’s influence at work? 

Steel Curtain Rising has no information to answer that question. If the answer is yes, then that speaks well of the Patriarch of Steelers Nation and offers cause for concern about the direction the team’s stewardship may take when Rooney moves on to his heavenly reward.

Technically speaking, the Steelers aren’t financing the expansion themselves, they’re passing the cost on to ticket buyers in the form of a 1 dollar surcharge. While that might not be the most fan friendly thing to do, the Steelers are hardly the first business to pass capital expansion costs off to the customer.

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Steelers Free Agent Focus: Jason Worilds Named Transition Player… Now What?

Of all the free agent moves and decisions the Pittsburgh Steelers have and will face in 2014, not is as tricky as that of Jason Worilds. In fact, Worild’s situation is complexity in its own right, but the concurrent situation with LaMarr Woodley transforms the complex into complicated.

  • Since the advent of free agency, the Steelers MO has been simple:  Resign their own players before they reach the open market.

While fans inside Pittsburgh and in Steelers Nation were howling over the Steelers refusals to enter into bidding wars for the likes of Reggie White, the Steelers were quietly locking down the likes of Greg Lloyd and Dermontti Dawson to extensions, thereby keeping them off the market.

The system of course wasn’t fool proof. The Steelers limited revenues from Three Rivers Stadium forced Dan Rooney, Bill Cowher, and Tom Donahoe to be far more choose than Cowher, Art Rooney II, Kevin Colbert, and Mike Tomlin have had to be thanks to Heinz Field.

  • But there’s a rub to the system.

Players need to develop fast enough for the Steelers to move proactively. Antonio Brown did, and the Steelers acted swiftly thereby securing a blue chip player while saving themselves tens of millions of dollars in the process (even if Brown’s first contract was a bit of a leap of faith.)

In contrast, Keenan Lewis didn’t blossom until his 4th year. There were signs of it in year 3, but nothing that would have justified a long-term commitment. By the time it was clear, Lewis’value and the Steelers salary cap struggles made deal impossible.

The Steelers were facing a similar situation with Jason Worlids, and in doing so they used one of the “weapons” at their disposal – they placed the transition tag on him, which guarantees Worlids 9 million in change and gives the Steelers the right of first refusal to any contract he signs.

The next questions is, now what?

Capsule Profile of Jason Worilds with the Steelers

The Steelers picked Jason Worilds in the 2nd round of the 2010 NFL Draft, passing on Sean Lee among others. And for much of the time since then, commentators have criticized them for the move.

Worlds first season was spent largely on special teams, although he did get into the Miami “fumble” game and recorded his first sack. Worlids first significant playing time came in 2012, when LaMarr Woodley injured his hamstring and James Harrison was recovering for an orbital fracture. Worlids did manage 3 sacks, but struggled against the run.

In 2012 Worilds was limited by a wrist injury, but despite that and despite only starting 3 games, he led the team in sacks with 5 after the first month or so. However, he failed to add to that total.

  • During 2013 Worilds had a breakout year. Or at least half of a breakout year.

After failing to beat out rookie Jarvis Jones during preseason, Worilds opened the season on the bench, but Jones’ faltering and chronic injuries to LaMarr Woodley thrust Worilds into the starting line up. There he recorded 8 sacks in 11 starts.

The Case for Resigning Jason Worilds

The use of the transition tag does not ensure that Worlids remains a Steeler. Transition players do get signed, and a team that really wants Worilds could easily design a deal that is hard for them to match.

  • But that’s not likely to happen.

Teams might make a run at Worilds and any deal that emerges is likely to be one the Steelers can match or not if they choose. The case for resigning Worlids were that to happen lies in the need to invigorate the Steelers defense with youth. Worilds is only 26, where as Woodley will be 30 by season’s end. And the Steelers need quality pass rushers and Worilds has shown he can do that.

The Case for Letting Worilds Walk

Jason Worilds is still free to negotiate with other NFL teams. That may not happen but given the scarcity of pass rushers on the free agent market, Worilds phone just may ring.
If that happens then the Steelers will have a decision to make.

Ultimately their decision will come down to how much they, and not some other team thinks that Worilds is worth. In this sense, they’ve given themselves some flexibility.

Curtain’s Call on the Jason Worilds

The Steelers have made their fist major decision in Free Agency. When it comes to Jason Worilds vs. LaMarr Woodley, they’re choosing Worilds.

  • Yet, they’re not quite willing to jump in the pool with both feet.

That suggests some disagreement within the Steelers organization. Something similar happened with Max Starks in 2008. Starks had fallen out of favor with some of the offensive coaches (most probably Bruce Arians and probably also Larry Zierlin) yet management saw enough in him to keep him around.

They made Starks their transition player and he started the season as the NFL’s highest paid non-starting tackle. While many mocked the move, Starks saved the season that ultimately ended at Super Bowl XLIII.

  • Its unlikely that Worilds will meet the same fate.

Should Worilds and Woodley both make the Steelers opening day roster, they’d both account for 18% of the team’s salary cap alone. That means that Woodley is likely to be cut, by June first if not before.

  • However, the Steelers have given themselves some room to play, and to some extend some leverage.

In offering Worilds the transition tender, the Steelers have set a baseline for how much money a team would have to offer Worilds up front. If someone wants to overpay, the Steelers can simply say “Thanks, but no thanks” (and then hope to hell Woodley stays healthy.)

If no offers come, then they can still sign Worilds to a long term, more cap friendly deal. They’d of course need to offer him 9 million and change in the form of a bonus and probably a little more, and Worilds might be more inclined to stay if he feels wanted.

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