Speak Out Steelers Nation: Vote Steelers Game Ball Winners for Bills Game

Its that time again Steelers Nation. For the fourth straight week invite this corner of Steelers Nation to vote Steelers game ball winners for the Steelers 27-10 win over the Buffalo Bills.

Le'Veony Bell, Maurkicey Pouncey, Steelers vs. Bills, Steelers game ball winners Bills

Le’Veony Bell and Maurkicey Pouncey during the Steelers 27-10 win over the Bills

As the question suggests, there is little doubt that Le’Veon Bell earned a game ball for his historic performance against the Buffalo Bills, that saw him run for a franchise record 236 yards and add 62 yards through the air. For those of you at home, Le’Veon Bell fell just 2 yards shy of 300 yards from scrimmage.

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Antonio Brown had a modest day by his standards, but still led the Steelers in catches, with 5 catches for 78 yards. Ben Roethlisberger had a rough day completing below 55% of his passes and throwing 3 picks, each one seemingly uglier than the last. It might seems strange to include Roethlisberger’s name on the ballot, but Ben did make some nice plays at key moments.

  • If you don’t think he deserves a game ball however, by all means vote with your silence.

Rounding out the offensive ballot positions are Roosevelt Nix and the entire Steelers offensive line.

On the defense, Ryan Shazier earns a ballot slot, as Number 50 had a monster game all around and played a key role in containing LeSean McCoy. So did Sean Davis, who likewise has a ballot slot. Bud Dupree showed that he can make an impact, dropping Tyrod Taylor twice.

Stephon Tuitt gets a ballot slot thanks to his overall strong performanceand the half sack he shared with Sean Davis. Finally, Artie Burns gets a nod, thanks in large part to his interception which obliterated any momentum the Bills might have gained from intercepting Ben Roethlisberger in the Red Zone.

  • Chris Boswell also earns a ballot slot for going 2-2 on field goals, and 3-3 on PAT’s in less than optimal conditions.

Remember, as always, you are not limited to these ballot choices. Think that David Johnson, William Gay and/or Ross Cockrell deserve a game ball for their play vs. the Bills? Write their names in and, better yet, leave a comment stating your case.

Thanks in advance for voting and click here for our full analysis of the Steelers win over the Bills.

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LeSean McCoy and Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills Promise to Provide Litmus Test for Steelers Defense

Going into their match up with Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills, Steelers Nation is wondering if the Pittsburgh Steelers defense is either coming into its own, or it’s just on a hot-streak.

So, which is it? With three rookies now starting and playing at a high-for-rookies level, Keith Butler‘s crew has allowed just 30 points in the last three games (23 if you don’t count garbage time last week against the Giants).

And, what about all of those fourth down stops–including two fourth and goals stands against the Colts on Thanksgiving night and three fourth down stymies last week against Eli Manning and Co.?

  • I don’t know about you, but I’m feeling pretty darn good about the Steelers 2016 defense these days (not to mention, confident).
sean davis, ryan shazier, james harrison, william gay, mike mitchel, steelers 2016 defense

Steelers defense vs. the New York Giants. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

But, it is real or it just a byproduct of facing three compromised offenses over the past three weeks? (Even the Giants offense isn’t exactly a juggernaut these days, despite the presence of a franchise quarterback and an all-world receiver.)

If the 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers defense has arrived, I think we’ll find out this week against Buffalo. Why do I say that? Pittsburgh is going  back to the place where, as head coach Mike Tomlin put it following the all-important next-to-last preseason game of 2015 in-which Bills coach Rex Ryan kept the peddle to the mettle most of the afternoon, many of his youngsters were walking dead and yielded  542 total yards in a 43-19 loss at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

  • So, why is that preseason game relevant now?

After all, a lot of the zombies in question from that defense, such as cornerback Antwon Blake, aren’t with the Steelers any longer. Also, one of Mike Tomlin’s current starting corners–Ross Cockrell–was on Buffalo’s roster at that point, just days away from being cut and picked up by Pittsburgh.

It has a lot to to do with now. For starters, the Bills might be dead-last in passing, behind quarterback Tyrod Taylor (just 181.5 yards per game), but they’re number one in rushing, averaging a shade under 162 yards a week.

  • Running back LeSean (Shady) McCoy, a Pitt Panther football product, leads the way with 949 rushing yards, but Taylor (469 yards) is certainly a threat when using his legs as a weapon.

And, let’s not forget about Charles Clay, a tight end who isn’t exactly on the same level of a Rob Gronkowski (or even Travis Kelce), but who has given the Steelers trouble in the past, when he was a member of the Dolphins.

Speaking of the Dolphins, this Sunday’s game is kind of similar to Pittsburgh’s October 16 visit to Miami, which turned out to be a 30-15 loss. In that game, not only was defensive end Cameron Heyward out with a pulled hamstring, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger played the majority of the day with a torn meniscus.

  • It was a horrible day for  the Steelers defense, which yielded 222 rushing yards–including 204 by running back Jay Ajayi.
  • Many players–including youngster and first round pick Artie Burns–screwed up assignments in the running game.

But, after winning three games in a row, Pittsburgh’s defense is in a different place than it was, some seven weeks ago. For one thing, Artie Burns has earned the trust of the coaching staff enough to be a starting corner. The result: nine passes defensed and two interceptions, not to mention better attention to detail in the run department.

While third round pick defensive lineman Javon Hargrave is probably out this week with a concussion, the fact is, this Steelers defense appears to be in a different place than it was, even a few weeks ago, when the Cowboys registered 422 yards in a 35-30 loss at Heinz Field on November 13.

Will the end-result be similar to the past three weeks or to the Dallas game three weeks ago, or even the Buffalo preseason match-up of 2015? After all, the Eagles have had Pittsburgh’s number in the preseason in recent years (remember when Troy Polamalu had an emotional outburst during a game in the summer of 2014?) and kept that ball rolling in a 34-3 regular season beat-down in Week 3 of this current regular season.

The Bills seem to be built in a similar fashion to the Eagles, Dolphins and Cowboys, and  despite Buffalo’s  rather modest 6-6 record, Rex Ryan’s Bills certainly promise to put the Steelers defense to the test this Sunday.

  • Will Keith Butler’s crew ace this exam?

Steelers Nation will have its answer soon. If it does, the Steelers might be on their way to an epic playoff run.

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Steelers Report Card vs. Bills @ Heinz Field

Taken from the grade book of a teach who thinks he just saw his student take a very important first step – winning back some self respect, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the victory over Buffalo.

steelers-report-card-bills-heinz-field-2013

Quarterback
On a day when rumors flew about his plans to ask for a trade, Ben Roethlisberger had a so-so day. Given the play selection in the Red Zone, its hard to hang the Steelers 3 field goals on him. And the Steelers did go 8 for 17 on third downs. But Roethlisberger was careless with the ball at times, and Ben missed a good number of open receivers. Overall, a solid performance, but not one without its flaws. Grade:  B-

Running Backs
Numbers don’t lie but statistics mislead. Learning that Le’Veon Bell only averaged 2.5 yards a carry was a minor shock, because he ran well – when not hit behind the line of scrimmage. Bell’s 4 yard rush was a thing of beauty, and one of the season’s rare examples of the Steelers “Imposing their Will.” Jonathan Dwyer’s back to back 3rd and one conversions cut from the same cloth. Felix Jones did a respectable job with his four carries. Dwyer was effective in the passing game, and Bell showed for the second week in a row that he can make something out of a throw away play. Grade:  B+

Tight Ends
Heath Miller’s return bought a much needed boost to the entire offense, and the defense clearly has to account for him. But with each week his role continues to diminish. Perhaps he came back too soon from injury. Either way he was not a factor in this game. Michael Palmer caught one pass for eight yards, his first as a Steeler. Grade:  C

Wide Receivers
Word was early in the week that Mike Tomlin had benched Antonio Brown late in the week vs. the Patriots. If Tomin was trying to light a fire under Brown, he succeeded, as Brown had 6 catches for 104 yards with a Wallacesque 17 yard average. For the second straight week Jerricho Cotchery struck gold in the end zone. Emmanuel Sanders was less effective in the passing game, but took what looked to be a broken reverse 25 yards. Markus Wheaton didn’t have a catch, but showed a lot of heart and hustle in making the tackle on the interception. Grade:  A-

Offensive Line
The good news is that when the lineup when Beachum, Foster, Velasco, DeCastro, and Gilbert things went, well, although Kelvin Beachum did not have a good day. The bad news is that when Guy Whimper was in, be it at guard or tackle, the Steelers struggled. Still, the offensive line played well enough to win, and their blocking on the third and short conversions as well as the rushing touchdown was something to behold – Mike Adam’s play was particularly encouraging, as he pancaked his man. David DeCastro’s flash of a nasty streak was also encouraging.  Grade:  C+

Defensive Line
The Bills came into the game rushing the ball. The Steelers saw to it that they did not leave it that way. The Steelers shut down Buffalo’s rushing attack. Cameron Heyward was a man on fire, leading the group in tackles, sacking E.J. Manuel, recovering a fumble that erroneously got called back. Grade:  B

Linebackers
Lawrence Timmons KOed Manuel when he tried to take off and run. LaMarr Woodley was excellent in run support. Jason Worilds had a strip sack that was taken away form him in error. Jarvis Jones had his first NFL sack, one that helped end a drive. Beyond simply stopping the run, the defense added emphasis to each tackle, throwing the runners backwards. It might have been symbolic, but it was emblematic of the unit’s play. Grade:  A-

Secondary
Ryan Clark had his second interception and returned it deep into Bills territory. Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, and Cortez Allen all defended passes. Shamarko Thomas looked good until he got injured. The Bills were a woeful 3-14 on third down, and that only happens if the secondary is doing its job. Grade:  A-

Special Teams
Mat McBriar might want to consider renting in Pittsburgh, as he will not be there long if the 25 and 36 yard punts continue. Shaun Suisham was 3-3, given the Steelers a comfortable margin of victory. What’s more his kickoffs were deep, even if he did land one out of bounds. However, the real star of the show was Antonio Brown, who electrified with punt returns of 24 and 50 yards, both of which set up scores. A mixed bag from special teams, but the positives outweighed the negatives. Grade: B+

Coaching
Any discussion of coaching must begin with a nod to Mike Tomlin. The Steelers loss vs. the Patriots was embarrassing on multiple levels. Tomlin, to his credit, dove on a grenade for both his players and the front office during his weekly press conference. But a loss like that can send a already reeling team such as the Steelers into full fledged meltdown, making them easying pickings for fellow bottom feeders like the Bills. The Steelers instead were the ones doing the feeding, and that goes to Tomlin’s credit.

Dick LeBeau likewise gets credit for ensuring that his unit bounced back. YES, they were dominating a rookie quarterback on a team that is in perpetual rebuilding. But winning the ones you’re supposed to and doing it in dominating fashion represents and accomplishment when you’re 2-6. Todd Haley however must accept blame for the Steeler 3 field goals in 5 Red Zone attempts. Likewise, the decision to continue playing with 30 seconds remaining in the first half was a good one. The 5 and 6 yard play calls were not a good move. Overall, however, a solid effort from the coaches.  Grade:  B+

Unsung Hero Award
C.J. Spiller might have entered the game thinking he was going to have a good day. His first two runs went for 3 yards a piece, not bad but not too good either. His next two went for losses. The tackler on both was William Gay. Gay in fact led the Steelers in tackles, tackles for losses, and he also defended a pass. Others might have gotten the “Splash” plays, but it was Gay’s down in and down out consistency that characterized this defense’s dominate performance, and for this he wins the Unsung Hero Award.

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Bouncing Back! 2013 Steelers Bills 23-10, Rallying from Patriot’s Defeat

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the game vs. the Buffalo Bills with something on the line. Forget “Contender vs. Pretender” status. Ditto playoff considerations. This wasn’t even about relevancy. No, this was about something else.

The Pittsburgh Steelers started the season 0-4. After a two game respite, they lost to the Oakland Raiders – a feat that takes a tremendous effort. They followed that by helping Tom Brady rekindle is 2004 form. The Steelers, it seemed, had become the kind of team that other NFL franchises look to when in need of a rebound.

The Buffalo Bills came to town with an 2-6 record of their own. They run the ball well and sack the passer; the Steelers can neither defend the run nor protect their passer. Buffalo was also getting its quarterback back. The Steelers, it seemed, were just what the Dr. ordered.

In other words, the Steelers entered the Bills game fighting for nothing less than their self-respect.

Steelers vs. Bills, 2013 Steelers beat Bills, Le'Veon Bell

Le’Veon Bell advances the ball in the 2013 Steelers 23-10 win over the Buffalo Bills. Photo Credit: Getty Images, used on USA Today Billswire

SOS – Same Old Steelers in the First Quarter

Self respect would not come easy for the Pittsburgh Steelers, who began the game by moving the ball down the line in workman like fashion, until Ben Roethlisberger threw a horrible pass that Jarius Byrd picked off and return 57 yards to the Steelers 29. (Kudos the Markus Wheaton for the hustle he showed in making the stop.)

  • Yes, Steelers Nation, we have seen this movie before.
  • The Bills moved the ball swiftly to the 1 yard line, and for the first seven minutes Pittsburgh looked destined to be Buffalo’s punching bag.

But the Steelers defense dug in, and forced the Bills to settle for 3.

The script however changed little from there. Not only did the Steelers go 3 and out on their next two drives, these were bookended  by Mat McBriar punts of 27 and 36 yards. Yes, the Steelers defense held on each of them. But it was a familiar refrain, Steelers offense can’t move the ball, giving the opponent short fields and forcing the Steelers offense to work with longer ones.

If Style Points Only Counted…

The performance of the Steelers offense in the next quarter, and the rest of the game for that matter, can hardly be termed “dominant.”

  • Dominant offenses do not settle for 3 field goals in 5 trips to the Red Zone.

But if the Steelers didn’t win any points for artistic merit or technical execution, there was something present vs. the Bills that had been missing in previous weeks.

Both execution errors and simple talent deficiencies have plagued the Steelers in their six losses. Yet the Steelers woes have gone deeper. With each passing week, the Steelers appeared to find new ways to hand opportunities to their opponents while failing to take advantage of chances handed to them.

  • The Steelers offense, flawed as it was, managed to break from that rut vs. the Bills.

The Steelers converted 2 consecutive 3rd and 1 situations on their first drive of the second quarter. This is hardly monumental feat but such plays have been in short supply thus far. On the same drive, Emmanuel Sanders took what looked to be a broken reverse and ran 25 yards down the field. That drive netted the Steelers first field goal.

On the Steelers next drive, with Ben Roethlisberger about to be sacked from the Steelers 16 yard line, Le’Veon Bell took a broken play 34 yards right up the middle. That play, and a 24 yarder to Antonio Brown, set up Roethlisberger’s touchdown pass to Jerricho Cotchery.

  • The Steelers special teams also showed they could do their part.

Pittsburgh’s second drive of the 2nd half opened with a 24 yard punt return. Later, when things looked to stall, the Steelers field goal unit used a hard count to draw Buffalo off sides. Two plays later the Steelers rammed the ball down the throats of the Bills defenders to score the final touchdown of the afternoon.

Despite the flawed execution and sloppy style, the Steelers offense achieved something simple vs. the Bills – they managed to find ways to make plays in critical situations to set up the win.

Steelers Defense Defends Honor

Unlike its counterparts on offense, the Steelers defense not only turned in a strong performance, but it played with attitude that had been absent vs. the Patriots in what would be franchise’s defensive worst-performance.

Fortunately, each an every member of the defense took it personally. And that’s evident in both ways that do and don’t show up on the stat sheet.

  • William Gay, a cornerback led the team with in tackles, with two for losses
  • Nearly every running play, regardless if it gained yards, ended with the defender moving backwards
  • EJ Manuel looked dazed and confused, as the Steelers held him to 3-14 on third downs

And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The 4th quarter vs. the Patriots was a nightmare for the Steelers defense that Steelers Nation will never forget. Yet, vs. Bills the Steelers defense wrote a different tale, as this sequence suggests:

And for the record, Antonio Brown returned the ensuring punt for 50 yards.

Granted, they weren’t defending Tom Brady or Calvin Johnson, but the Steelers defense dominated, to the point of securing two turnovers on the Bills final drive only to lose both due to poor officiating.

Road From Here for the 2013 Steelers

In spite of all the positives, the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers are 3-6, and they “improved” to this mark at the expense of a 2-7 team. Their weaknesses still outweigh their strengths. They’ve mastered several lessons in the art of learning to lose and the burden of proof is on them to prove otherwise.

Defeating the Bills didn’t change any of that, but the victory did allow them to win back some self respect, a necessary step to winning anything else.

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Two Bills Starters Highlight Steelers Personal Mishaps

Ike Taylor left the Patriots game with a concussion. The Steelers, having doubts about his availability for today’s game vs. the Bills, did what they have done all year long:

  • They signed someone they’d cut previously and cut Isaiah Green

In this case that was DeMarcus Van Dyke. To be fair to management, unlike Stevenson Sylvester and Jonathan Dwyer, Van Dyke was waived-injured, so his is not a case of bi-polar disorder infecting Steelers personnel decisions.

But the fact that the Steelers are facing the Buffalo Bills adds irony to Pittsburgh’s latest spin of the personnel merry-go-round. And news that broke late Friday night – that offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams were listed as questionable for the game – only deepened the irony.

That’s because like Arizona before the, the Buffalo Bills have become sort of Pittsburgh Northeast. Look at the Bills roster and practice squad and you’ll see Steelers castoffs like Frank “The Tank”Summers, Corbin Bryant, and Dennis Dixon. But those men are just role players. The Bills have two men starter at a position area where the Steelers need the most help (from a health stand point):  Offensive line.

Urbik of course is not well known to Steelers fans, coming to Pittsburgh in 2009 Draft as one of the team’s 3rd round draft picks. Urbik didn’t play or dress in 2009. Urbik had and “under the radar” training camp in 2010 and seemingly had secured himself a roster spot, having rose above Justin Hartwig on the depth chart at center.

But then Byron Leftwich injured his leg in preseason, and the Steelers needed to carry Charlie Batch, in addition to Dixon, on their depth chart (’10 was the year of Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension.)

  • Someone had to go, and that was Urbik, whom the Steelers thought they could sneak on to the practice squad. Alas, Bills General Manager, Doug Whaley, snatched him up.

Legursky’s story with the Steelers is more well known, having established himself as one of Kevin Colbert’s undrafted rookie free agent steals.

Legursky went on to start 13 games at center or guard over three years, including Super Bowl XLV. He even did spot duty at fullback. Yet in spite of that versatility and despite no established depth at center (remember, Kelvin Beachum vs. Tennessee?), the Steelers let Legursky go to Buffalo with only a whimper (pun intended, Guy Whimper). Not only was Legursky lightly regarded by Steelers management, the Steelers press corps. didn’t even bother to note his departure.

To be fair, the Urbik and Legursky play guard, and tackle is the area where Pittsburgh needs help at this weekend and has needed help at all year long. But the fact is that more quality offensive lineman, especially versatile ones, give a team extra agility to manage injury situations.

  • The Steelers don’t have that now, in part because the Bills saw something in their personnel cast offs that Steelers management missed.

Remember that today as Mario Williams is tossing Roethlisberger around like a rag doll.

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Ray Anderson’s Blind Spot Obscures NFL Justice

Take a look at the sequence below:

Image courtesy of www.assets.sbnation.com

Do you see any problem with what happened? Good so do I.

Ray Anderson, however does not, and that is an issue.

This is no “Roger Goodell’s out to get the Steelers” piece. Yes, the Steelers have fallen on the short end of the NFL’s kangaroo justice system with startling frequency.

But Goodell stood foursquare behind Dan Rooney and Art Rooney II in 2008 when Tim, John, Pat and Art Rooney Jr. flirted with selling out to Stanley Druckenmiller. In stark terms, Goodell made clear that the NFL was intent on keeping team under Rooney control.

So save your “Goodell Hates the Steelers” speech. For whatever his faults are, Roger Goodell has no axe to grind with the Black and Gold.

  • Mounting evidence suggests something quite different about Ray Anderson.

Steelers Nation:  Meet Ray Anderson, NFL Discipline Czar

Is there any reason to like Ray Anderson? OK, hopefully he’s a fine man, nurturing father/husband and upstanding citizen, because his administration of justice in his role as NFL Executive Vice President of Football Operations is far from impartial.

In October 2008 Hines Ward delivered a devastating hit to Cincinnati linebacker Keith Rivers (video available as of 10/6/12).


At the time, Hines block was perfectly legal. But the incident nonetheless drew a visit from Ray Anderson.

After meeting privately with the Steelers Anderson proclaimed: “We are going to look at that, but under the current rules as written now, it was a clean hit. It was a legal hit.” The Post-Gazette counted the term “under the current rules” four times in Anderson’s press briefing.

At the time, Steelers Digest lambasted Anderson, honing in on Anderson decision to single Hines Ward out with a very public non-accusation accusation and asked, if the hit was legal, then why “look into it”?

  • That was the first time Steelers Nation heard the name “Ray Anderson.” Unfortunately, it was not the last.

A year later Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola praised, of all people, the Baltimore Ravens Ray Lewis. It issue was Lewis’ tirade denouncing a flag that had been thrown on Terrell Suggs after he’d barley touched Tom Brady. The worst part about it? The referee only threw a flag after Tom Brady’s request.

While Labriola made no bones about his disdain for the coddling the NFL was showering on Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, he took it as a hopeful sign that Ray Anderson declined to fine Ray Lewis and Jim Harbaugh for berating the officials. Perhaps a corner had been turned, the Steelers Digest editor suggested….

The NFL was turning a corner, unfortunately it wasn’t the one Labriola wanted it to turn.

2010 – Welcome to the National Fine League

Steelers Nation is well versed in this narrative. Suddenly, six weeks into the season, the NFL decides to get tough on helmet to helmet hits especially ones involving quarterbacks. Player safety is important, but uniform enforcement of the rules is an essential requirement to player protection.

Alas, Anderson and Goodell are anything but consistent:

See any sort of trend there?

Philip Wheeler Gets a Pass for Illegal Hit on Ben Roethlisberger

Image courtesy of www.assets.sbnation.com

As the GIF image above so clearly illustrates, Philip Wheeler hits Ben Roethlisberger:

  • After he releases the ball (illegal)
  • Below the knee (also illegal)
  • From behind (not illegal, but hardly justifiable given the points above)

Behind the Steel Curtain’s Neal Coolong analyzed this play right after it happened, and predicted that Wheeler would not be hit because he was blocked towards Roethlisberger by Kelven Beachum.

Wheeler could argue, reasoned Coolong, that his momentum carried him into Roethlisberger.

While Wheeler was clearly blocked towards Roethlisberger and I respect Coolong’s objectivity, there is no way momentum was responsible for that hit.

Wheeler tired to play it off, but he clearly kept himself moving, and with Roethlisberger’s lower leg in sights.

  • Clear to everyone it would seem, but Ray Anderson.

Justice is supposed to be blind.

  • But Ray Anderson simply as a blind spot when it comes to illegal hits suffered by Steelers.

In other words, can anyone imagine James Harrison or Ryan Clark escaping punishment had they taken out Carson Palmer the way Wheeler took out Roethlisberger?

I don’t think so either.

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James Harrison Should Just Punch the Quarterback

Ed Bouchette stole my thunder on PG Plus Wednesday.

With all that is going on, I had mind to let the La Toalla Terrible run wild with another post about how the NFL was encouraging Harrison to sucker punch quarterbacks.

But La Toalla Terrible already ranted about how the NFL had legalized holding of James Harrison and about how the NFL would only announce when the league was not fining Harrison. But La Toalla plays a comic relief role, and the James Harrison situation has ceased to be funny…..

No Conspiracy Theories Here But…

The NFL does not “have it in” for the Pittsburgh Steelers. Two years ago, the league bent over backwards to ensure that the Rooneys retained ownership of the Steelers. Had the league harbored any ill will, or even neutral will, toward the Steelers, they would have acted differently.
But that certainly does not make their actions toward James Harrison logical or just.

The Power of the Free Market

Free market principles dictate that the value of something is defined by the amount that someone is willing to pay.

Normally we think of this in terms of goods and services, but the same principle applies to fines. I can remember the “One Will Cost You a $100” signs when they first banned smoking in the Boston Subways.

With this mini economics lesson in mind, let’s consider the how severly the NFL values deviant. Let’s begin by conceding that infractions will occur, and that the more serious the infraction, the higher the cost.

In other words, pass interference draws an automatic first down and movement of the ball to the spot of the foul, while the cost of a false start is far lower by comparison.

Now watch for yourself:

Let’s dissect Richard Seymour’s transgression. This Oakland Raider:

  • Punched a player, something he is never supposed to do
  • And did it outside the normal course of play
  • Did so deliberately

His actions were illegal, intentional, and totally outside of a play. Taking all of that into consideration, the league fined him $25,000

Now, watch the latest play by James Harrison that drew a fine (you’ll get to see all of his fineable hits, the last one is at the end):

In contrast to Seymour, James Harrison’s sack of Ryan Fitzpatrick (and arguably the others):

  • Occurred as he was executing the responsibilities of his position
  • Occurred during the normal course of play
  • Was unintentional and within the rules

NFL rules prohibit helmet to helmet contact, and prohibit a defender from leading with the crown of his helmet.

While James Harrison’s helmet (the facemask perhaps) might have make contact – with Fitzpatrick’s chest, it is impossible to argue that he led with the helmet.

Taking all of this into consideration, the NFL fined James Harrison… $25,000.

NFL in “Transition” to… What?

Terry Long, Justin Strzelczyk, and Hall of Famer Mike Webster serve as reminders to Steelers Nation that the importance of protecting players for head trauma is paramount.

The NFL’s new “get tough” policy on hits that involve helmets goes beyond protecting players.

  • In effect, if not because of intent, it is an attempt to neuter defenders.

There is no other way to explain the fact that flagrantly violating the rules in an attempt to hurt someone carries the same price an unintentional hit that perhaps violates the letter of the law.

The Steelers as an organization might not be unfairly targeted in this endeavor, but James Harrison as an individual certainly is.

So the next time James Harrison gets blatantly held with no flag thrown, or he gets penalized for brushing up against a quarterback a second too soon, he might as well haul off and upper cut the quarterback.

It will not cost him any more than he is already paying for simply doing his job.

Oh yes, punching the quarterback would also get James Harrison thrown out of the game…

…But perhaps that’s just what the NFL wants to see happen.

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Steelers Report Card vs. the Bills

The Steelers reports cards of the last three weeks have taken an interesting journey. The Patriots game put them on academic probation. They rebounded against the Raiders to make the Dean’s list.

This week the erstwhile evaluator finds himself in the position of a teacher who sees his star pupil ace the first section of the test, only screw up badly on the second part because skipped a line on a bubble sheet, and only really took his chestnuts out of the fire because he had a killer eraser and because of time extra time gained due to an unexpected fire drill….

Here go the Steelers grade for the Bills game, along with the normal caveat that no other grades have been consulted prior to this posting.

Quarterback

Ben didn’t throw a touchdown and only put up 246 yards. But afforded little protection from his line, Ben did what he does best, make something out of nothing, taking off and gaining a key third down conversion in the 4th quarter. Grade: B+

Running Backs
Rashard Mendenhall ran for 152 yards, and had at least another 50 negated by penalties. Mendenhall ran hard, ran tough, and was the work horse the Steelers needed him to be. Isaac Redman also made his presence felt in short yardage situations. Mendenhall’s strip, however, was costly, knocking the running effort down a notch. Grade: B+

Receivers
Hines Ward was on fire in the first half, and it was a pleasant sight to see. Mike Wallace did not put up big numbers, but did make some key catches, as did Emmanuel Sanders and Health Miller. But on many occasions when Ben did have time, he was left standing there, with no one to throw to. Buffalo obviously had a good game plan, but the receivers need to get open, and Emmanuel Sanders must make the catch he dropped in the 4th. Grade: C

Offensive Line
Last week they protected Ben but failed to open lanes for the running game. This week they failed to protect Ben, but busted paths for the running backs, when they weren’t getting flagged for holding that is. Holding calls along negated 80 plus yards, in addition to putting the team in 1st and 20’s leading to 3rd and longs. This was almost the difference in the game. Injuries or not, the line must play more disciplined ball, and must play better. Grade: D+

Defensive Line
Another unit depleted even more by injury, the defensive line actually gave up signifgant yardage in the run game, and didn’t help enough in pressuring Ryan Fitzpatrick when his receivers finally started catching the ball. Again, injuries or no, this unit is going to need to play better against Baltimore. Grade: C

Linebackers
The James Boys, that is Farrior and Harrison both had key plays, and Lawrence Timmons led the team in tackles. Still Harrison’s penalty, questionable though it may be, hurt, LaMarr Woodley missed a tackle on Fred Jackson’s touchdown, and the Bills did have some success passing in short yardage, for which the linebackers must bear some blame. Grade: C

Secondary
The corners came up big with some key stops and Troy Polamalu’s interception, as well as some of his other hits in the 4th quarter are the stuff that Canton Highlight reels are made of. Keenan Lewis’ penalty was costly. Ryan Fitzpatrick had a little too much success in passing the ball in the second half, and that brings the secondary’s grade down (and let’s not even talk about the should have been touchdown in OT). Grade: B-

Special Teams
Can you really not give an “A” to a unit that features a kicker making his first four kicks for the franchise, all over 40, all under difficult circumstances. Can you really not give an “A” to a unit with a punter that booms a 55 yard punt in over time kicking from way, way back in his own endzone?

Yes, you can. Leodis McKelvin ran the OT kickoff 49 yards and should have scored! The kickoff following the Go Ahead field goal was likewise returned to the Bills 41. Either play could have sunk the Steelers. Grade: B

Coaching
Bruce Arians’ game plan was excellent, and his player executed it to perfection. On the flip side key difference between the performance of the Bills offense between the first and second halves was that Fitzpatrick’s receivers started catching the ball. Tomlin and LeBeau need to figure some way to stop teams from nickling and diming the Steelers. And the offensive line penalties have got to stop. Grade C

Unsung Hero
Punter Dan Sepulveda would be a good candidate, but this week’s unsung hero award goes to Isaac Redman. He only got 25 yards, but he banged them out in situations where the opposition knew the Steelers were going to run the ball. Another step forward for the pride of Bowie State Maryland (where my mom once worked) “RedZone” Redman.

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2010 Steelers, (Barely) Beat Bills 19-16 in OT with Shaun Suisham Field Goal

Momentum remains an elusive commodity in the NFL’s topsy-turvy world and the 2010 Steelers-Bills game serves as a testament to that reality.

  • The game saw the lead change 3 times in the 4th quarter.
  • It saw the Steelers assert their dominance and then seemingly verge on self-destruction.
  • It saw the Bills do what they have done all year long – refuse to succumb and then scare what the standings otherwise say is a “superior foe.”

Ultimately, the Steelers fortunes turned on an embrace of the franchise’s foundation, a pick in time, a gamble that paid off and, yes, pure luck.

All year long, I have watched the CBS scoreboard, watching the Bills keep defibrillator units on-standby in opposing cities. For weeks, they took brand-name teams to the wire. Each week the Bills got closer.

Two weeks ago the Bills started winning.

The question was, what will the Steelers do when they face the Bills?

Troy Polamalu, Troy Polamalu interception Bills, 2010 Steelers vs. Bills

Troy Polamalu’s 4th quarter interception helped save the 2010 Steelers win over the Bills. Photo Credit: Christopher Horner, Tribune Review

Arians Returns Steelers To Roots, For a Half

Bruce Arians had an answer.

Since the beginning of his tenure as offensive coordinator, segments of Steelers Nation, including Steel Curtain Rising sometimes, have longed for Arians to return to the Steelers Smash Mouth roots.

Against Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Buffalo Bills, Steelers Nation finally got its wish. Not since the days of Ron Erhardt and Barry Foster have the Steelers seen an offensive game plan so firmly based in the simple strategy of “feed the ball to the feature back.”

The offense executed to near perfection, keeping the Bills off of the field for most of the 1st half, entering half time with a 13-0 win.

Just Like Old Times, Bills Circle the Wagons

Fans of ESPN’s NFL PrimeTime will remember Chris Berman’s off repeated cliché from the 1990’s, “Nobody Circles the Wagons Like the Bills.” You could knock the Bills down, but never count them out.

  • And so it has been this season. And so it was Sunday.

The Bills began the game attempting to follow the template for beating the Steelers set down by Tom Brady and the New England Patriots – hit them underneath with short passes and nickel and dime your way down the field.

  • The only flaw to this strategy in the first half was that the Bills receivers neglected to catch the ball.

That changed in the second half, and so did the tempo of the game. No one is going to confuse Fitzpatrick with Tom Brady yet, but he did enough to get his team moving. And to the extent that the Bills execution lacked the Patriot’s perfection the Steelers helped them with….

…penalties.

Steelers Flagging to Near Self Destruction

Credit Chan Gailey and the Bills for hanging in there, and making a few key adjustments in the second half. Namely:

  • Stuffing the run effectively enough to force 3rd and longs
  • Neutralizing Mike Wallace as deep threat
  • Neutralizing Hines Ward in the second period after a monster first half
  • Covering Steelers receivers well enough to set up several coverage sacks

In this effort the Bills were aided and abetted by the Steelers in general and Chris Kemoatu in particular. According to Gerry Dulac of the Post-Gazette, penalties wiped 86 yards of offensive production away from the Steelers.

On the defensive side of the ball, James Harrison’s helmet-to-helmet hit set up the Bills only touchdown and Keenan Lewis’ pass interference play set up the Bill’s field goal.

Penalties are part of life in the NFL. But just as they did against Cincinnati, the Steelers committed enough penalties at key moments to let a lesser team get back into a game.

Mike Tomlin must address this. His teams have always been well coached. This type of undisciplined play needs to go back to being the exception, and not the rule.

Troy Polamalu, Playmaker

Much has been made of the Steelers 4th quarter woes in 2010. I make no attempt to offer an answer as to why a defense that is so stingy in the first three quarters only to open the flood gates in the fourth.

This happened late last season too. But while the Steelers gave up games in the 4th quarter last year, this year they’re simply giving up yards. Those looking to understand the difference, need only watch the video below (available as of 12/10/16):

Is there a player more valuable to the Steelers than number 43?

Mike Tomlin’s Gamble Pays Off 

Jeff Reed not only entered the 2010 season as one of the most accurate kickers in NFL history, he also was one of the NFL’s best pressure kickers.

He was in a serious slump this year. As noted here, slump or no, the Steelers took a serious risk in cutting Jeff Reed.

  • Shaun Suisham’s numbers were almost as good as Jeff Reed’s, but he had a history of choking with the game on the line.

Four times he was called upon today to make long kicks in tough situations, and four times he delivered.

Better to Be Lucky than Good?

The Steelers ultimately could not have won the game without some luck, namely Sonny Johnson’ss drop of a sure touchdown wide open in the end zone in overtime.

  • But such luck would not have mattered had the Steelers not been good.

Luck played no role in the Steelers going from 20 to 20 on their final drive, grinding out five first downs in the process.

The Steelers, of course, must be more disciplined, and must get better play out of their offensive line to have a chance of beating Baltimore.

But they did just enough to get the W against the Bills, and that is what counts.

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Steelers (Barely) Spook Gameday Superstition…

As regular readers know, yours truly is a long-time subscriber of the Steelers Digest. A life line in the pre-internet, pre-Sunday Ticket days, I still subscribe mainly to get access to the commentary of Bob Labriola, and some of the other publications.

At some point, I am not sure when, I settled into a ritual of reading Labriola’s column the day before the game.

I never bought too much into superstition, but I did not read his column until right before the kickoff of the Bears game last year. You know the result.

This year the same thing happened with the Baltimore game….

As fate would have it, I forgot to read the Digest yesterday….

….The Steelers spooked this superstition and came away with the win, but man, it was close!

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