Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 Coaching Report Card + Special Teams and Unsung Hero Award

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who wonders if Mike Tomlin might be entering a new phase of his coaching tenure here is the Pittsburgh Steelers 2015 Coaching and Special Teams Report Card.

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Grading the Steelers 2015 Special Teams

2015 brought a decidedly mixed bag for the Steelers special teams. On the positive side, Chris Boswell was an unqualified success and in many ways the rookie saved the Steelers season. Antonio Brown showed he could still do damage as a punt returner. Danny Smith’s special teams also created a number of fumbles on kick returns, which is much needed.

  • There’s a flip side to the Steelers 2015 special teams, and it isn’t nearly as attractive.

Outside of Antonio Brown, the Steelers have no one to return kicks, with Markus Wheaton Jacoby Jones and Dri Archer both proving to be abject failures (at least Wheaton was a failure as a punt returner – he was OK returning kickoffs.) And while the Steelers special teams spared themselves from glaring disasters, a couple of scary returns were brought back on penalties. Likewise, Josh Scoobe was a disaster as a place kicker, and contributed to two of the Steelers losses.

On balance the Steelers special teams were slightly above average in 2015 – given the injuries to the offense, the Steelers needed more from the unit. Grade: C+

Grading the Steelers Coaches for 2015

Any discussion of the Steelers coaches in 2015 must begin with the defense, where Keith Butler embarked on a new era, tasked with succeeding the legacy of Dick LeBeau – no easy feat. Butler proved to be more than up to the task. The Steelers 2015 defense might have given up more yards in 2015 than it did in 2014, but it gave up fewer points, improved in sacks and takeaways – all with only minor adjustments for talent.

  • A closer look is perhaps warranted at the role of Steelers secondary coach Carnell Lake.

The Steelers banked heavily on the development of Cortez Allen and Shamarko Thomas, and both men were disappointments. The responsibility for this doesn’t of course only lie on Lake’s shoulders, but he is their position coach, and by all accounts, Lake pushed hard for the Steelers to draft Thomas. He’s also spoken glowingly of Antwon Blake, who while he might get scapegoated far too often for the unit’s troubles, clearly was not the secondary’s strong link.

Moving over to offense, it is now clear with 20/20 hindsight that one of Art Rooney II’s best moves was to force Bruce Arians out. Mike Tomlin reacted by bringing in Todd Haley, and Ben Roethlisberger has grown and matured as a result of it. Yes, Roethlisberger’s late season “stupid interceptions” are a cause for concern, but that is something that can be corrected.

  • The naysayers might argue, “Ah, but Haley had all the weapons at his disposal.”

Yes, and any coach needs to have good players first – and having them is no guarantee of success. Don’t believe me? Look at the difference in performance between the Steelers 1991 and 1992 offenses. The 1991 was a muddling and bumbling at best under Joe Walton; under Ron Erhardt in 1992 the same talent performed much, much better.

  • Todd Haley started 3 quarterbacks, lost his all pro running back and center, lost wide receivers to injuries and suspensions and still fielded one of the NFL’s most lethal units.

And finally, there’s Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin. Art Rooney II showed his faith in Tomlin by extending his contract in training camp. Many in Steelers Nation questioned the move, clinging to the “He’s still only won with Bill Cowher’s players.” Yeah, whatever.

This is Tomlin’s team or Tomlin and Kevin Colbert’s team. And Mike Tomlin has done pretty damm good with the group of player’s he’s assembled. It is one thing to mouth the words, “The Standard is the Standard” and/or “Next Man Up.” It is another thing to believe it, and yet another to get your locker room to accept it.

Yes, Mike Tomlin teams might still have legitimate issues with “Trap Games” but he’s proven himself to be an excellent head coach. Tomlin himself will tell you that any season that doesn’t end in a Super Bowl Championship is a failure. Fair enough. But 2015 probably represented his best coaching job. Grade: A

Steelers Unsung Hero of 2015

Everyone knows that Ben Roethlisberger took a lot of punishment during the early part of Mike Tomiln’s tenure as head coach. Debates raged over how much of that was due to “Ben being Ben.” Some of it undoubtedly was. But the Steelers, for whatever reason, employed a “Plug and Patch” approach to offensive line building, and it showed.

Roethlisberger, Brown, Wheaton, Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant, Heath Miller, and DeAngelo Williams put together a lot of ESPN highlight material in 2015.

  • But none of their fireworks would have been possible without the quality offensive line play week in and week out.

Mike Munchak lost 40% of his offensive line, yet the unit improved from 2014 to 2015. One can only imagine how much more might have been accomplished had Maurkice Pouncey and Kelvin Beachum stayed healthy.

As it was, David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, Cody Wallace, Marcus Gilbert and Alejandro Villanueva acted as a rock of stability for the Steelers offense, and for that the Steelers offensive line wins the Unsung Hero award for the 2015 season.

Part I of the Steelers 2015 Report Card graded the offense.
Part II of the Steelers 2015 Report Card graded the defense.

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Los Steelers aplastaron a los Colts por 45 a 10 en el SNF

Un nuevo paso en el camino a la Postemporada

Los Pittsburgh Steelers iniciaron el partido contra los Colts sabiendo que perder no era una opción debido a que sus competidores por los dos lugares de comodines, Kansas City Chiefs y New York Jets, habían ganado y esperaban con sus respectivos 7-5.

De haber perdido, sobre todo teniendo en cuenta los rivales de las próximas dos semanas, el panorama se habría complicado aún más de lo que ya está.

  • Y el inicio del juego parece haber dejado entrever esa tensión, ese nerviosismo.

A los pocos pasos de comenzar, Jacoby Jones, (que realmente no parece estar a la altura del resto de sus compañeros y que fuera reemplazado por Antonio Brown luego de soltar el balón por segunda vez) sacudiendo el balón, titubeando al alcanzar a los dos primeros rivales, soltó el balón para entregarlo profundo en propio campo.

Ya temprano en el juego la defensiva se ponía a prueba, luego de haber sido foco de críticas durante la semana debido a su más que modesto desempeño la semana pasada en Seattle.
Matt Hasselbeck bajo presión lanzó su primera INT de la noche. El encargado de recibir el pase fue Jarvis Jones en la 1.

  • En la siguiente serie acerera, DeAngelo Williams soltó el ovoide resultado de lo cual indianapolis anotó sus primeros 3 puntos.
  • No habían transcurrido 3 minutos y ya se contaban tres turnovers y la mala noticia era que los Steelers habían entregado 2 veces el ovoide.
  • Sin embargo, en puntos, de 14 posibles, la defensiva había permitido sólo 3. Y el partido recién empezaba.

Big Ben, a su tiempo, arrasó el campo por aire, en particular con Jesse James quien se anotó con tres atrapadas, una de ellas de más de 20 yds.

Pero la defensiva aurinegra batiría nuevamente el parche cuando William Gay, defendiendo en zona, leyó de manera extraordinaria la jugada y desvió un pase que sería recuperado por el profundo Brandon Boykin. El resultado de esa acción fue un gol de campo del cada vez más confiable Chris Boswell de 51 yardas. Seis a 3 para los locales y ni siquiera había finalizando el primer cuarto: cuatro entregas de balón, 2 por equipo. No era el mejor comienzo para ninguno de los dos.

En el 2do cuarto, Matt Hasselbeck conectó 2 pases de veterano: el primero, largo y a la izquierda, para colocar a su ofensiva en la yarda 2 contraria y el segundo, por el centro, entre los LBs, para anotar 7 y pasar el frente por última vez en el partido.

La respuesta de Roethlisberger fue contundente: jugando sin reunión, con atrapadas claves de Martavis Bryant y Antonio Brown, conectó finalmente en la endzone con el receptor 84 para poner las cosas en su lugar.

  • Diez jugadas, 80 yardas, Ben 6/7 (71 yds), 1 TD. 2-pt convertion incluida
    10-14

Indianapolis despejó y Jacoby Jones volvió a soltar el ovoide, pero la situación fue salvada por Derrius Heyward Bey en propia yarda 40. La serie final de esta mitad, dentro de los 2 minutos finales, fue otra vez, totalmente aérea, teniendo que superar un 1er y 25 por una infracción infantil de Cody Wallace. Markus Wheaton hizo la atrapada clave en 2do y 10 ganando 27 yds y poniendo a la ofensiva en la 5. En 3er y goal, faltando 14” en el reloj Ben pasó al pilón derecho para que Wheaton estirara la diferencia a 11 puntos.

La primera mitad finalizó con Pittsburgh sumando 252 yds totales (33 por tierra y 219 por aire) mientras que los Colts sumaban apenas 114 (37-77).

  • Clara superioridad de los Pittsburgh Steelers.

Y esa superioridad se confirmaría en el inicio de la segunda mitad. Mientras la ofensiva de Indy era empujada fuera luego de 3 intentos, los Steelers convertirían otros 7 puntos a través de M. Bryant.

steelers en español, martavis bryant, steelers, colts
3 TD en las últimas 3 series. Veintidós puntos sin respuesta.
A partir de aquí se puede decir que el partido estaba decidido, más cuando el QB Hasselbeck dejó el campo por lesión.

Sin embargo se pueden destacar algunos puntos interesantes en los 2 cuartos restantes:

  • Debido a la ventaja obtenida en los 2 primeros cuartos pudo desarrollarse más ampliamente el juego terrestre: 125 de las 158 yds se avanzaron en la última media hora.
  • James Harrison produjo 3 capturas de mariscal con un fumble recuperado.
  • Antonio Brown devolvió una parada de despeje para TD demostrando la multidimensionalidad de este jugador.
  • Se limitó a 143 yds el número de yardas aéreas a la ofensiva visitante

Lo que queda del día

Hace 7 días las dudas sobre la defensiva se acumulaban en nuestras cabezas tanto que se puso en duda la posibilidad real de que los Steelers alcancen la postemporada. En realidad no es que esas dudas se hayan disipado, más bien quedó claro que si bien otro rendimiento es posible, esta defensiva es muy dependiente de la capacidad del QB rival. Matt Hasselbeck fue un rival de poco riesgo para esta defensiva.

  • Hay que destacar que los Colts apenas lograron convertir 3 de 14 terceros downs. Y de estos, se rechazaron 3 intentos de 2 yardas o menos, y 2 de 3 intentos de 4to down.

En la defensiva profunda coach Mike Tomlin tomó medidas correctivas: ingresó Brandon Boykin, quien participó en el 69% de los snaps, se anotó una INT y desvió 2 pases.

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El desplazado, Antwon Blake, de participar en todas las jugadas en los últimos partidos, bajó ahora al 55% su participación con 2 tackles, sin INT ni pases defendidos.

  • De los 7 pases defendidos, 5 correspondieron a jugadores de la secundaria.

La presión sobre Hasselbeck fue incesante. Se lo capturó en 5 ocasiones (en realidad 4 a Hasselbeck y 1 a Whitehurst), siendo James Harrison el principal verdugo de mariscales visitantes, y se lo golpeó en 7 oportunidades. Las cargas se lanzaron principalmente por fuera, obligando a Hasselbeck a lanzar de manera prematura e imprecisa. La presión sobre la ofensiva rival tuvo protagonistas sobresalientes: Bud Dupree, Ryan Shazier, como siempre Lawrence Timmons, Cameron Heyward y James Harrison que parece interminable.

La asombrosa ofensiva Steelers

Hace uns semanas decíamos que daba la impresión de que esta ofensiva aún no había mostrado todo su potencial. Durante las primeras 12 semanas de este año:

  • Ben Roethlisberger completó el 18% de sus pases de más de 20 yds desde la línea de golpeo (más alto para la NFL desde 2011)

La ofensiva Steeler:

  • Completó 17 pases de 40+ yardas (mayor para la NFL)
  • Produjo 13 acarreos de 20+ yardas (empata mayor para la NFL)
  • Promedia 6.4 yds por jugada (más alto de la NFL)

Hay que tener en cuenta que esta ofensiva ha sido diezmada por las lesiones. No están LeVeon Bell, Kelvin Beachum, Maurkice Pouncey, Mike Adams y ahora Heath Miller. El propio Ben comenzó y finalizó sólo 3 partidos durante este año.
Sin embargo, como suele decir Mike Tomlin “next man up” y los reemplazos están progresando partido a partido.

steelers en español, alejandro villanueva

Tal vez el caso más prominente es el del T Alejandro Villanueva, quien este domingo prevaleció en el duelo contra Robert Mathis y el de DeAngelo Williams quien es el N° 13 en la liga en cantidad de yardas acarreadas y 6° en promedio de yardas por acarreo (se debe poner en perspectiva el hecho de que en algunos de los partidos de este año, DeAngelo fue suplente de Bell).

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La línea ofensiva contribuyó de manera superlativa para que Williams acarreara el domingo para 134 yardas y que Ben no fuera capturado ni tan siquiera una vez y fuera puesto a correr en apenas un puñado de oportunidades.

El TE rookie Jesse James está viendo más acción debido a la lesión de Heath Miller y vaya que lo está aprovechando: atrapó 3 de 5 pases para totalizar 30 yardas.

El plantel de receptores, la contracara de Ben Roethlisberger, marca la diferencia. Identifican y le dan el sello distintivo a esta franquicia que antaño basara su ofensiva en corredores brutales, como Franco Harris y Jerome Bettis.

Antonio Brown atrapó el 72% de los envíos, con 2 TD aéreos y 1 devolviendo un punt (el que quedará en la historia por un festejo insólito). Martavis Bryant 4 recepciones, 114 yds, 1 TD. Markus Wheaton 3 recepciones, 50 yds y 1 TD.

Por último, en 3er down también se mostró una sensible mejoría convirtiendo 8 de 13 intentos (61%) cuando la semana anterior en Seattle tuvieron éxito en el 45% de las oportunidades.

Dos Fines de Semana sin Lugar para el Error por los Pittsburgh Steelers

Si bien los Pittsburgh Steelers aplastaron a los Colts por 45-10, Pittsburgh solo ocupan el 7° lugar en la Conferencia Americana, actualmente fuera de la postemporada pero aún en carrera.

  • El desafío es que los próximos fines de semana los Steelers chocaran contra el 1° y el 2° de la Conferencia. Los Bengals y los Broncos (ambos 10-2) ya tienen asegurado su lugar en enero.

Cincinnati se presenta como el primer escollo a sortear. Es de imaginar que volver a Heinz Field con una victoria podría cambiar y potenciar el espíritu de cara al match frente a los Broncos.
El TE Tyler Eifert, el mayor anotador de TDs de los Bengals durante esta temporada, al momento de escribir estas líneas, aún está en duda para el domingo.

Cincinnati permite sólo 337 yds netas a la ofensiva rival (10° en la liga), 240 yardas aéreas por partido (13°) y es el equipo que menos puntos permite por juego en toda la liga (16.3 puntos/partido)
Será fundamental para Pittsburgh, mostrar como el domingo pasado, un equipo equilibrado. Con la ofensiva en todo su poder y una defensiva confiable, explosiva y capaz de obtener turnovers, considerando que los Bengals difícilmente entregan el ovoide (sólo 1 vez por partido, promedio)

Será un gran desafío para el equipo. Un duelo singular, sin dudas el juego más importante de la semana.

Y para los Steelers el más importante del año
Hay que confiar.

 

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Steelers Report Card for Loss to Seattle Seahawks

Taken from the grade book of a teacher whose students have entered the “Pass-Fail” portion of the course and sadly, those students failed the first of six final units, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the loss to Seattle.

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Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger threw for record yards on the road in a venue that represents one of the toughest places to play. He, along with Landry Jones, also threw for just under 500 yards. That’s an impressive total, but the Steelers the most important number in all of those stats is 4 interceptions. OK, the final one by Jones may not have been a legit interception, and Ben’s two picks were simple slip ups rather than overt errors. But still, the quarterback needs to protect the ball, and Roethlisberger and Jones didn’t do that. Grade: C-

Running Backs
DeAngelo Williams ran only ran for 29 yards on 8 carries. In perfect 20/20 hindsight one might ask why he was not given enough carries to make a difference. However, Williams did make a difference in the air, making 7 catches for 88 yards as he made Seattle pay multiple times on simple check down plays. Roosevelt Nix had one catch for six yards. Grade: B

Wide Receivers 
Richard Sherman blanketed Antonio Brown for much of the game, and for the first time in a long time, Brown looked mortal, although he still made some solid catches. Nonetheless, he got tripped up on Roethlisberger’s second interception, and the Seahawks took full advantage. Seattle’s coverage of Brown opened opportunities for Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant. Markus Wheaton took full advantage and, with his 9 catch 201 yard performance, for the first time in a long time reminded people of why the Steelers saw Markus Wheaton as a replacement for Mike Wallace. Bryant made some impressive plays, but he’s better remembered for the catches he didn’t make. OK. Not all were perfectly thrown balls, but if Bryant makes a couple of three of those catches, this is a different ball game. Wheaton’s stellar game brings this grade up a bit. Grade: B-

Tight Ends
How might this game have evolved differently had Heath Miller stayed healthy the entire game? No one will ever know, but he published Seattle heavily in the middle in just one quarter of action. Jesse James had one catch in Millers absence, but he looked smart during the game. Matt Spaeth and Will Johnson also had catches. Grade: B

Offensive Line
One of the biggest changes in this game was how control at the line of scrimmage shifted from the first half to the second half. Ben Roethlisberger faced little or no pressure during the first half, but that changed for the worse in the second half. Alejandro Villanueva missed his block on a sack early in the 2nd half to set the tone for the entire unit. Seattle was credited with four QB hits and 2 sacks. These are hardly daunting numbers, but the Seahawks got pressure when they needed to. David DeCastro made two tackles on interception returns. Grade: D

Defensive Line
On the negative side, Seattle’s Thomas Rawls ran the ball efficiently, and while he hardly took over the game, the Steelers run defense couldn’t force Seattle to be one dimensional. On the positive side, Russell Wilson did not do much damage with his feet. The Steelers defensive line contributed one of two sacks on Wilson, and Stephon Tuitt put in a solid game and Steve McLendon defensed a pass. Grade: B-

Linebackers
Lawrence Timmons led the unit with 7 tackles and one tackle for a loss. He got flagged for uncessary roughness as Russell Wilson was going out of bounds, but that was a bogus call. Vince Williams was just behind Timmons in tackles with 7. Arthur Moats followed him with 4 tackles. Bud Dupree and Jarvis Jones had a tackle a piece, and Dupree got to Wilson once. The duo also teamed to force an intentional grounding call. James Harrison did not show up on ESPN’s stat sheet, but he did lose a sack on Wilson. While the linebackers didn’t appear to be a glaring weakness, Jimmy Graham had a strong day, the Steelers were vulnerable in the middle of the field for which the linebackers must take some responsibility, and the Steelers didn’t generate much of a pass rush. Grade: C-

Secondary
Five touchdowns through the air for the second time in a season. One passed defense, but a defensive lineman. Missed tackles. No turnovers. The Steelers secondary has had a “bend but don’t break” character through much of the season and has had an uncanny ability to produce turnovers in the Red Zone.

  • The Seattle Seahawks broke the Steelers secondary.

Russell Wilson and company simply made it look too easy. All of this does not fall on the Steelers secondary, but it most of it does. If the Steelers are to have any hopes of making the playoffs, let alone advancing there, Carnell Lake and Keith Butler are going to need to coax better play out of this until, or otherwise ensure they continue to produce turnovers. Grade: F

Special Teams
For the first time Jacoby Jones looked like he belonged, giving the Steelers respectable kick return and punt return games. Shamarko Thomas was flagged for making contacts on a fair catch in what amounted to a ticky-tacky penalty. Chris Boswell was 3-3. The Steelers kick return unit did give up a 54 yard return, while the Steelers defense forced a punt on that drive, that’s not the type of return you like to see. Grade: B-

Coaching
Lost in all of the sound and fury over Mike Tomlin’s decision the fake field goal and the real field goal is one salient fact. The Steelers committed one pre-snap penalty the entire game, and that was an intentional delay of game call. That’s an indication of solid preparation, especially considering the difficulty of playing in Seattle.

A word on the coaching decisions. If Landry Jones gets just a little more air on the ball, Alejandro Villanueva has a chance to catch it and Tomlin looks like a genius. Tomlin, having taken a risk once and been burned played it safe at the end of the game. Those risk-reward are dammed if you do, dammed if you don’t.

  • Beyond that, Mike Tomlin didn’t drop some of those catchable balls, nor did he miss some of those makeable tackles.

There are more worrisome are things to discuss. Why was Seattle able to mount an effective pass rush in the second half? And why was Russell Wilson increasingly effective as the game wore on? Given the later fact, why didn’t the Steelers attempt to rush the ball a little more to perhaps change the tempo? Perhaps Keith Butler should have rushed more aggressively and at the expense of containing Wilson, because in hindsight the Steelers secondary wasn’t up to stopping him via coverage.

We’ll never know the answer to this question, but these are questions people ask (or should ask) of the coaches when at team loses the way the Steelers lost. Grade: D

Unsung Hero
Chris Boswell’s final field goal made it a two point game. If the Steelers defense can hold on 3rd and 9 at Seattle’s 20 instead of giving up an 80 yard touchdown pass then Boswell probably has a shot at winning it in regulation.

The Steelers have one man to thank for that almost reality. This man blocked an extra point, and stopped Seattle’s two point conversion attempt cold. That’s a 3 points taken off the board by one defender. He also had 3 tackles and sacked Wilson once, and for that Cameron Heyward is the Unsung Hero of the Steelers loss to the Seahawks.

Thanks for visiting. Click here to read past Pittsburgh Steelers Report Cards.

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Watch Tower: Gerry Dulac on Dri Archer, Lolley on Shamarko Thomas, Coolong Returns to Steelers Wire & More

It has been a long time since the Watch Tower has shown its lights, but that is because of lack of time and certainly not a lack of material. Today’s edition focuses on some odds and sods from previous months, as well as more recent developments and changes from the Steelers press box.

Gerry Dulac (Almost) Right on Dri

The Pittsburgh Steelers ended the Dri Archer experiment two weeks ago when they cut their 2014 3rd round pick in favor of Jacoby Jones. The move was anticipated, at least in part, by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac, who indicated that the Steelers were trying to trade Dri Archer in order to create space for Le’Veon Bell.

The Steelers of course didn’t trade Dri Archer, but the fact that they cut him almost as soon as the trading deadline passed lends a lot credibility to Dulac’s report.

Lolley Gets the Scoop on Shamarko Plus Odds and Sods

One of the biggest disappointments of the Steelers 2015 season is the failure of Shamarko Thomas to emerge into anything but a solid special teams player. While it was clear that he was struggling in preseason, he still remained the starter. That changed once the Steelers began preparing for the Patriots, when they decided to bench Shamarko Thomas, and Dale Lolley beat the rest of his colleagues to the story.

  • The Watch Tower will also take this opportunity to recognize several other writers who beat their competition to the punch.

Ed Bouchette was the first writer, to suggest that the Steelers had prior knowledge of Martavis Bryant’s drug issues. That has since been confirmed, but Bouchette broke it so he gets Watch Tower kudos. The Watch Tower likewise gives a nod to Bouchette for being one of the first journalists to suggest that Steelers Nation would see more of Landry Jones in action shortly after Ben Roethlisberger went down, but before Michael Vick’s struggles became apparent under center.

Likewise, Neal Coolong, then writing for DKPittsburghSports, also had the first full-length feature story on the Steelers signing Michael Vick, although ESPN’s Adam Schefter Tweet came out moments before it was published (link unavailable.)

Coolong Leaves DKonPIttsburghSports, Kudos to Kovacevic for Transparency

Another major change in the Steelers press box occurred when Neal Coolong left DKPittsburghSports to expand his role at USA Today’s Steelers Wire. (Full disclosure, Coolong has asked yours truly to be an occasional contributed to Steelers Wire.)

The move comes as somewhat of a surprise considering Coolong only joined Dejan Kovacevic’s staff a few months ago prior to Steelers training camp. Kovacevic announced the move, expressed well-wishes for Coolong but did discuss it in greater detail. For his part, Coolong simply confirmed to the Watch Tower that his move is part of a plan by the Steelers Wire to aggressively expand the scope of the site.

  • What’s notable, and commendable, about the move is that Kovacevic announced it in the first place.

Kovacevic’s transparent attitude stands in stark contrast to the almost Stalinist-like disappearances of Alan Robinson from the Pittsburgh Tribune Review and Scott Brown from ESPN.com; in both instances, the writer’s byline simply disappeared from their respective sites without any explanation to readers.

Whether Kovacevic had these Steelers-specific examples in mind is unclear, but he did not that “Most media companies don’t share that much information about internal moves….” In contrast, Kovacevic chose to treat his readers as adults and update them on a change and for that he wins Watch Tower Kudos.

Lolley Takes From the NFL Sidelines to Observer-Reporter Site

[Note, an earlier version of this article reported that Lolley’s blog had been put behind a paywall, but that was incorrect. The Watch Tower apologizes for the mistake and thanks Mr. Lolley himself for pointing out the error.]

The Steelers on-line community saw another change in early October when veteran journalist Dale Lolley announced that the Observer-Reporter was moving his “NFL from the Sidelines” on to the paper’s site, and behind its pay wall.

While the move hardly comes as a surprise – paywalls are becoming the norm as newspapers struggle to survive as advertisers migrate to digital, pay-per-click properties – it is nonetheless a disappointment.

What made Lolley’s site distinct was its no-frills approach.

  • it used a basic blogger template, provided no images,
  • had no overt attempt at SEO or backlinking to previous articles,
  • had no advertising
  • he rarely even linked to his features published on the Observer-Reporter’s site.

But what Lolley lacked in frills, he made up with succinct but highly informative summaries of Steelers related news.

Indeed, a reader on the go who lacked time to browse through major sites could simply turn to Lolley’s NFL from the Sidelines, and get readily updated whatever important was going on with the Steelers. The other nice thing about NFL from the Sidelines is that it has a chronological index, making it very easy to research past stories.

In announcing the move, Lolley also shed light on one issue that has long perplexed the Watch Tower, namely why was a print publication that had its own website hosting a blog outside its platform.

  • Lolley confirmed in a comment that the Observer-Reporter lacked the capacity to handle the traffic.

He also made the shocking revelation that NFL from the Sidelines had over a million hits per year, and astonishing number consider its lack of an apparent SEO strategy (for example, the words “Shamarko Thomas” didn’t even appear in the title, let alone the URL of the story on his benching.)

Click here to visit the new home of Dale Lolley’s NFL from the Sidelines.

A Word about Paywalls

While Dale Lolley’s NFL from the Sidelines blog is not currently behind a paywall nor do page views counts appear to be monitored/limited the way they are on the rest of the site, had his publication decided to put the blog behind the paywall it hardly would have been a surprise. As implied above, the Watch Tower, which very much wishes to see the newspaper industry survive in some form or fashion, respects that paywalls are a fact of life.

Nonetheless, they do complicate the Watch Tower’s ability to do meaningful media analysis of Steelers press coverage. For one thing, paywalls, or even limits on free views, make it hard to verify and fact check stories. It also makes it harder to read and compare nuances behind different versions of the same story.

The Watch Tower is all about attempting to understand what makes the press that cover the Steelers tick, and Kovacevic’s story was perfect, and perhaps could have been the subject of an entire Watch Tower article.

Alas, the Watch Tower had no time to write about it when it was published, and since then Kovacevic has tightened his paywall and no longer allows any free views. Its probably a wise business decision on Kovacevic’s part, but its an example of how paywalls make it difficult for the Watch Tower to do its job.

Nonetheless, the Watch Tower plans to continue offer its analysis as best it can.

Click here to read more analysis of Steelers press coverage.

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Steelers Report Card for Win Over Browns @ Heinz Field

Taken from the Grade Book of a teacher who feels that the bye week couldn’t come at more of an opportune time for his injury wear students, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the win over the Cleveland Browns at Heinz Field.steelers, report card, grades, Browns, Heinz Field

Quarterback
7 plays. That’s all Landry Jones second start lasted as he gave way to “backup” quarterback Ben Roethlisberger who hadn’t practiced all week. Given Roethlisberger’s performance, Mike Tomlin might consider holding him out of practice as standard operating procedure. Truthfully, Roethlisberger’s performance wasn’t flawless as he did throw an interception which opened the door, if only by a crack, to a Browns comeback. But 22 of 33 for 2 TD’s and one pick is pretty darn good. Grade: A-

Running Backs
After having his way with the Oakland Raiders, DeAngelo Williams struggled against the Browns who held him to negative yardage for much of the afternoon. Was it Williams’s foot injury or was the line not up to snuff? It is hard to tell. While the stat sheet might not show it, the Steelers could and did rely on DeAngelo Williams when they needed to kill the clock late in the game. Jordan Todman had 8 yards on two late 4th quarter carries, and Roosevelt Nix had one catch for 10 yards, showing just how versatile he’s becoming. Grade: C

Tight Ends
Heath Miller caught four passes for 40 yards on 7 targets and was credited with 1 fumble recovery. As usual, Miller made his catches count. Reserve tight end Jesse James saw his second NFL game and made an additional catch for two yards. Grade: B

Wide Receivers
The Cleveland Browns prepared to face Landry Jones and, in the words of Cleveland coach Mike Pettine, didn’t “know that their game plan would have been that much different if it had been Landry Jones the whole game.” So therefore, they made no adjustments when Ben Roethlisberger came in, despite missing their top two defensive backs.

  • As the old SNL commercial goes: Bad Idea.

Ben Roethlisberger took advantage of mismatches in man coverage to connect with Martavis Bryant on receptions of 32, 44 and 64 yards. Antonio Brown continued “the Ben and Antoino” show making ten catches, a touchdown plus a 2 point conversion catch. Markus Wheaton had two catches on 2 targets, a modest performance but not bad from a receiver who has been shaky of late. Grade: A-

Offensive Line
It was a glass half full, half empty situation for the Steelers offensive line vs. the Browns. For the second straight week, Neal Coolong of USA Today Steelers Wire cited Cody Wallace for his poor technique. It is hard to say how much that contributed to the Steelers difficulties running the ball, but the offensive line must share blame anytime a running game is held to negative yards for three quarters. On the flip side, the Browns only sacked Ben Roethlisberger once and only added one additional hit. If ever there was a day when the Steelers could not afford to have Ben Roethlisberger beaten up, it was vs. the Browns. Grade: B-

Defensive Line
Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward played like a man on fire, and the Cleveland Browns were unable to stop him at any time during the day.

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GIF appears courtesy of DKonPittsburgh Sports

Heyward finished with a sack, two tackles for a loss and another hit on Johnny Manziel. Stephon Tuitt was not far behind, getting a sack, a tackle for a loss and a quarterback hit. Cam Thomas and Daniel McCullers each got a tackle. The Steelers held the Browns to 15 yards rushing, and that includes 17 yards rushing by Johnny Manziel. The defensive line was doing its job. Grade: A

Linebackers

Lawrence Timmons lead unit with ten tackles, sacked Johnny Manziel once, and dropped two Browns behind the line of scrimmage. Ryan Shazier was next, with a sack and a tackle for a loss. Sean Spence stopped Travis Benjamin seven yards behind the line of scrimmage on an end around, helping keep Cleveland’s rushing total in the negative column. Arthur Moats had half sack and recovered the fumble. Jarvis Jones was also credited with a half sack. Bud Dupree didn’t put a lot on the stat sheet, but played well. Grade: B+

Secondary
Fantasy football owners who started Johnny Manziel were likely happy cappers Saturday afternoon, as Manziel threw for 372 on a day when his team could not run the ball. Will Allen led the secondary and the team in tackles, and continues to offer stability to a unit that is sometimes erratic. Michael Mitchell gave the Steelers their third Red Zone interception in as many weeks. The Steelers secondary has a certain “bend but don’t break” quality to it. Its far from the team’s strength, but it against the Browns, it got the job done. Grade: C+

Special Teams
Why exactly did the Steelers waive Dri Archer and sign Jacoby Jones? In his first game Jones looked tentative, which was to be expected given he’d had no practice. Vs. the Browns, Jacoby Jones looked like he’d forgotten how to catch the ball, muffing one fair catch and fumbling a kick return. Cleveland’s kick return unit averaged 25 yards on four kicks. That’s hardly lethal, but it is hardly praise worthy.

Chris Boswell made three field goals which helped keep the game out of reach, but he also missed an extra point, his second miss at Heinz Field in two weeks. Jordan Berry punted once for 42 yards. Grade: C-

Coaching
Mike Tomlin is a coach who believes in playing players who practice, and he stuck true to his word in starting Landry Jones. Injuries forced his hand, and the Steelers answered the call.

The Steelers offense continues to evolve under Todd Haley and it is evolving for the better. The Steelers only needed to punt once, and while they did turnover on downs in the end zone, they struck right back to get score a touchdown with just over a minute in the second half. Haley has weapons at his disposal and he knows how to use them.

Under Keith Butler, the Steelers defense appears to be giving up more yards than it did under Dick LeBeau (although that would need to be verified), but for whatever Butler’s unit gives up in yards, it keeps finding ways to make it up with splash plays. And his unit seems to be play best in the Red Zone, as the Browns knocked on heaven’s door twice and were turned away with no points on both occasions. On another occasion, the Browns made it to the Steelers 5 but had to kick. Grade: B+

Unsung Hero Award
Martavis Bryant had just fumbled away a 64 yard gain that most certainly would have set up a Steelers score. The Browns were only down by three and such turnovers can be momentum changers.

Yet on their first play from scrimmage, Isaiah Crowell scampered off left tackle looking for daylight. Steve McLendon was there, dropping him for a 7 yard loss. The Browns would make it to midfield before punting, but Steve McLendon’s play set the tone for the drive and exemplified the aggressive force with which the Steelers front seven attacked the Browns.

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Pittsburgh’s Archer Experiment Ends: Steelers Cut Dri Archer, Claim Jacoby Jones Off Waivers

Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert have apparently seen enough. Pittsburgh’s Dri Archer experiment is apparently over as the Steelers cut Dri Archer and claim Jacoby Jones off of waivers.

The Pittsburgh Steelers turned heads during the 2014 NFL draft when they drafted Dri Archer in the third round.

EVERYONE KNEW the Steelers were looking for cornerbacks and wide receivers early in the 2014 NFL Draft. They broke from the script in the first round by drafting Ryan Shazier. They did it again in the second round by drafting Stephon Tuitt. There were good cornerbacks and wide receivers left on the board in the third round.

Instead they drafted Dri Archer, who was the fastest man at the 2014 NFL Combine. The appeal of Archer’s speed was obvious, but that speed came with a real downside, his size. Archer was not only the fastest man at the combine, he was also the smallest at 5’8” 173 pounds.

Stone Offered Template for Archer

Undaunted, the Steelers saw Archer as a potential scat or utility back, in the mold of Dave Meggett or Eric Metcalf. They even gave him number 13, indicating their plans to use him as a hybrid wide receiver running back. In that sense Archer’s arch could have followed another speedy player who earned himself a spot on the Steelers roster for 8 seasons from 1987 to 1994 Dwight Stone.

The Steelers used Stone as a kick returner throughout his career in Pittsburgh, and tried him at running back in 1988 before shifting him to wide receiver. Stone was never a star, but he was a legitimate role player during Chuck Noll’s final seasons as head coach, even if his nick name of “Hands of Stone” was well earned, (at times at least).

Stone’s held on to his starting role during much of Bill Cowher’s first two seasons, but it waned with the emergence of Yancey Thigpen and Ernie Mills. Like Archer, the Steelers hoped to use Stone as a utility back in 1994, but that role never emerged.

Dri Archer Failed to Follow Dwight Stone’s Arch

Unlike Dwight Stone, Archer could never make it work. As a rookie he had 10 rushes and 7 catches. While his averages were OK, that was hardly representative sample. The Steelers actions spoke volumes when Le’Veon Bell was injured in the 2014 season finale vs. Cincinnati, as they immediately signed Ben Tate and ran Tate with Josh Harris.

Archer began to get work as a kick returner in 2015, and while his average was decent, he chose to down a kick in the end zone vs. the Bengals instead of attempting to run the ball out of the end zone. A number of reporters commented on this, and one has to wonder if they weren’t echoing frustrations they’d heard off the record from Steelers coaches.

  • The timing of the Steelers decision to cut Archer is also curious.

Early in the season when the Steelers needed create roster room for Le’Veon Bell, Gerry Dulac reported that Archer was on the trading block. A trade never materialized as the Steelers made other roster moves. However, the NFL’s trading deadline came and went this week. One has to wonder if the Steelers tried and failed to trade Archer.

So apparently the Steelers cut Dri Archer having been unable to get anything for him.

Jones to Provide Relief for Brown?

Another telling fact about Dri Archer was that Mike Tomlin and Danny Smith never felt comfortable trying him out as a punt returner, as they instead continued to use Antonio Brown in that capacity, thereby exposing one of their best players to a greater injury risk.

Jacoby Jones best days are likely behind him, but his work as a kick returner in 2015 is still solid. His work as a punt returner isn’t quite as impressive, but he has had fewer opportunities there. The Steelers would nonetheless we wise to try him.

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