Back in Block! 2018 Steelers Throwback Jersey is Perfect if Bittersweet Choice for Generation X

The 2018 Steelers throwback jersey choice to revive the 1978-1978 jersey with block numbers has electrified Steelers Nation. After all, who could argue?

Those two championships don’t simply mark milestones in franchise accomplishment, they represent milestones in football excellence.

2018 steelers throwback jerseys, JuJu Smith-Schuster, Franco Harris, John Banazack

JuJu Smith-Schuster donning Steelers throwback jersey. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Steelers.com

The 1978 Steelers win over the Dallas Cowboys made Pittsburgh the first team to win three Super Bowls, and gave the Black and Gold its SECOND win over a fellow multiple Super Bowl winner. Victory in Super Bowl XIV over the Los Angeles Rams made the Steelers the first team to win four Super Bowls and the only team to win four Championships in six years.

  • It took ten years for another franchise to tie the Steelers 4 Super Bowl mark, and no one, not even the Patriots have matched Pittsburgh’s record of winning four Super Bowls in 6 years.

The Steelers changed the block numbering after the 1996 season much to the chagrin of some fans. Honestly, I’m old enough to remember Jerome Bettis and Kordell Stewart modeling the rounded number jerseys and thinking, “That just doesn’t look right.” Some fans still argue that the franchise has never been the same since.

Still, conjuring images of Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, T.J. Watt and Cam Heyward decked out in block letters just as Terry Bradshaw, Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, Joe Greene, and Jack Lambert did before them is the perfect recipe for raising the hair on the back of your neck just a little.

And yet, the Steelers 2018 throwback jersey choice efficiently serves another, if less pleasant, purpose….

Why 2018 Steelers Throwback Jersey Choice is Bittersweet for Generation X

…The Steelers 2018 throwback uniforms are also the perfect remedy for making us Generation Xer’s feel old. Yep. If you’re a Fortysomething Steelers fan admit it, when you saw the announcement about going back to block letters, you probably thought, “Gee, that’s not much of a throwback.”

  • Well, yeah, it’s been 20 years since the Steelers last wore the block jerseys.

IT can really be that long can it, you demand? Yes, it can. The last time Pittsburgh wore the block jerseys was Fog Bowl II, the 1996 playoff loss to the Patriots, which was Rod Woodson’s final game as a Steeler.

Fans from Generation X have earned a special niche in Steelers history.

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Lynn Swann Super Bowl X catch. Credit: AP, via NY Daily News

Our first memories of the Black and Gold are wrapped in Super Bowl glory. The Immaculate Reception was  established history by the time we were able to fully grasp its spectacular nature. Those of us growing up outside of Pittsburgh enjoyed our grandparents sending down Steelers t-shirts, jackets, hats and gloves which drew envy from everyone else on the playground, because we were the champions!

  • Be honest fellow fortysomething fans. Raise your hand if as a kid you really thought that the Steelers had inspired Queen’s “We Are the Champions.”

Our parents had to explain to us, and it took a long time for us believe them, that the Steelers had been terrible when they were our age. Then, just as we were taking the Steelers excellence for granted, the 1980’s arrived, and with it came mediocrity.

Yet we remained faithful. Always feeling, often times feelings fueled by little more than naiveté, that Chuck Noll’s really wasn’t that far from making the Steel Curtain Rise again. The 1987 tease at a playoff run and late season surges in 1986 and even in 1988 seem to legitimatize our optimism.

  • And of course the 1989 Steelers improbable playoff run steeled our passion for the Black and Gold in a way that fans from both earlier and later generations struggle to understand.

Of course the 9-7 and 7-9 finishes of the 1990 and 1991 Steelers amounted bit of a buzz kill, yet Bill Cowher’s 1992 return to Pittsburgh awoke the sleeping giant we now call Steelers Nation. Steelers fans from Generation X had expected One for the Thumb to come before we got out of elementary school. Now Cowher Power promised to deliver in the 1990’s. Yet, after teasing in Super Bowl XXX (thanks Neil), it came up short.

  • Instead, we had to wait until our 30’s for Lombardi’s 5 and 6 to arrive in Pittsburgh.

And now, with the window closing on bringing home Lombardi Number Seven during the Roethlisberger era, we now hope that a return, albeit for one game, to the block letters, will be the talisman the turns the trick.

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Excellent Mike Tomlin Clock Management Skills (yep, just “went there”) Displayed in Steelers Win Over Titans

The Pittsburgh Steelers Thursday Night trashing of the Tennessee Titans offered Steelers Nation a lot to like and a lot of what the fan base has been waiting for. Among those highlights include:

  • Ben Roethlisberger in rhythm with his receivers
  • 5 sacks for the defensive line and linebacking corps
  • 4 interceptions from a secondary (albeit with a long TD given up)
  • A booming special teams field goal block
  • Another example of excellent Mike Tomlin clock management

Say what? Yep, now that you’ve had time to do your double take on the final bullet point, let’s get this out of the way, yes we went there.

Mike Tomlin, Mike Tomlin clock management

Mike Tomlin’s clock management is ALWAYS under fire from fans. But is the criticism justified? Photo Credit: AP, via Yahoo Sports

The “Poor Mike Tomlin clock management” mantra has become an article of a faith that it is so ingrained that it is so rote that even Tomlin defenders repeat it just as drivers in the Northeast must automatically condemn the conditions on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.

Is Mike Tomlin the NFL’s best clock manager? Probably not. Are there times when the Steelers inexplicably take time outs (see the two point conversion against the Colts) or perhaps fail to get plays off before the two minute warning? Yep.

But Mike Tomlin isn’t nearly as poor as a clock manager as his reputation would suggest, and the Titans game is a perfect example of it, which we discuss below along with other examples.

Tomlin Manages the Clock to Win

Coty Sensabaugh’s interception set up the Steelers with the ball at Tennessee’s 20 yard line with 3:11 left. Lost in the sound and fury of Pittsburgh’s 40 point explosion is that the Steelers were inept on this visit to the Red Zone, which included a series of incomplete Ben Roethlisberger passes to Le’Veon Bell, a sack, a penalty on David DeCastro and a 10 yard run that set up Chris Boswell’s field goal.

  • But Titans coach Mike Mularkey was playing to win, buruing his 2nd & 3rd time outs at the 1:48 and 1:39 marks.

After the field goal and ensuing kickoff the Titans got the ball back at their 25 with 1:32 left to go in the half. Mike Hilton dropped DeMarco Murray for a 5 yard loss on the Titan’s first play. The Titans had no timeouts left, and the safe money in that situation is to let the clock continue to tick and get into the locker room as fast as you can.

  • Mike Tomlin called a time out.

Tomlin in fact aggressively used the Steelers remaining time outs, so that when all was said and done, the Titans had only bleed 14 seconds off of the clock. 1:11 is not a lot of time to work with when you get the ball at your own 33, but passes to Jesse James and Antonio Brown (with an assist from Martavis Bryant) set up a 50 yard field goal, which while no gimmie at Heinz Field, was enough.

  • At the end of the night those 3 points were little more than the chocolate jimmies on the sundae, but that hasn’t always been the case.

Against the Colts, Mike Tomlin found himself in somewhat of a similar situation. Bud Dupree sacked Jacoby Brissett for a 13 yard loss, bringing up 3rd down with 1:48 left to play. Again, after an atrocious 1st half, it would have been easy to let the Colts bleed the clock, take a knee and head into the locker room.

Tomlin instead took a time out, and with 1:39 and 2 timeouts left, Ben Roethlisberger was able to connect with Vance McDonald, JuJu Smith-Schuster as well as Brown and Bryant to set up another end of first half field goal, this one coming in a game that was decided by 3.

Looking Further Back for Examples of Tomlin’s Aggressive Clock Management

Mike Tomiln’s aggressive clock management didn’t suddenly start in 2017. Think back to opening day 2014 when the Steelers hosted the Browns on Chuck Noll Day. When the Steelers got the ball at their 20 with 1:44 remaining, Pittsburgh was holding on to a 24-3 lead.

  • The only question at that point wasn’t whether Bruce Gradkowski would play in the 2nd half, but how soon he would enter the game.

Mike Tomlin declined to take a series of knees, and Ben Roethlisberger methodically moved the ball down to the 3 yard line, where Shaun Suisham kicked a field goal. The extra 3 points seemed academic, but the Browns roared back in the 2nd half, and the Steelers ultimately won the game with a field goal at the buzzer.

Le'Veon Bell, Le'Veon Bell touchdown, Steelers vs Falcons

Le’Veon Bell runs for 1 of 2 touchdowns in the Steelers 2014 win over the Falcons. Photo Credit: Scott Cunningham, Getty Images via NY Daily News

You could also argue that Mike Tomlin’s clock management at the end of both halves in the Steelers 2014 win over the Atlanta Falcons was nothing short of impeccable.

In the afterglow of Super Bowl XLIII, fans tend to forget just how many come from behind, 4th quarter and/or 2 minute comebacks the 2008 Steelers needed. Their December 7th 2008 win against the Cowboys provides a perfect example.

After trailing for much of the day, the Steelers finally pulled even with the Cowboys as Ben Roethlisberger connected with Heath Miller in the End Zone with just over 2 minutes left to play.

Dallas got the ball back, ran one play that James Farrior stuffed for a 2 yard gain. Again, the safe money says let the clock run and play for overtime.

  • Instead, Mike Tomlin called a time out.

By his own account, Tomlin’s aggressive posture rattled Tony Romo as he was heard saying heading back to the huddle, “What, they called a time out?” although given that they’d just played Renegade at Heinz Field, perhaps he should have known better. If your memory is fuzzy, here’s how things unfolded, starting with Renegade:

Notice, no one was complaining about Tomlin’s clock management after that game.

Which is part of the point. As Rebecca Rollett as pointed out on Going Deep with the Steelers, clock management is something that generally only comes up after a team loses. In fact, Rollett set up to find examples of good clock management, and while she came up with a few, most were hard to find.

So while Mike Tomlin does make clock management mistakes, he does a lot better than most fans give him credit for.

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Looking @ the Steelers Thanksgiving Record – Can Pittsburgh Break the Turkey Day Curse?

The NFL is “honoring” the Pittsburgh Steelers for the 8th time by putting them in the national spotlight on Thanksgiving Day. Given the Steelers Thanksgiving record, one can imagine Art Rooney II saying a heartfelt “Thanks but no thanks” the next time the NFL offers them a turkey day slot.

Here is a look at the Steelers Thanksgiving record that has made for many a memorable turkey day that most of Steelers Nation Wish they could forget.

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Le’Veon Bell loses his helmet in the Steelers 2013 Thanksgiving loss at Baltimore. Photo Credit: Matt Hafley, Post-Gazette

Pre-Noll Era Steelers Thanksgiving Record 1-2

The Steelers played the Philadelphia Eagles on Thanksgiving Day in 1939 and 1940. The Pittsburgh Pirates, as they were still known then, lost to the Eagles on Thanksgiving in 1939 17-14. In 1940 the newly renamed Steelers had no better luck, losing to the Eagles 7-0.

The Steelers would have to wait another ten years, including their World War II stint as the Steagles, before playing on Thanksgiving Day. However, the NFL matched the Steelers up with the Chicago Cardinals on Thanksgiving day in 1950 and Pittsburgh prevailed led by Joe Geri’s 101 rushing yards, two touchdowns and 3 extra points.

1983 – The Thanksgiving Day Massacre

November 24th, 1983 @ The Pontiac Silverdome
Detroit 45, Pittsburgh 3

The 1983 Steelers had played the entire season without Terry Bradshaw, but despite that Cliff Stoudt combined with a defense that looked to be Super Bowl caliber had given the Steelers a 9-3 record and command of the AFC Central Division heading into their Thanksgiving Day game against Detroit. Detroit for its part was only 6-6.

As defensive coordinator Woody Widenhoffer admitted later, the Steelers weren’t prepared. And then some:

  • At the time, it was the Steelers worst loss in 36 years.

Cliff Stoudt threw 4 interceptions Mark Malone threw 1, Franco Harris gained 16 yards on 5 carries as both Harris and Walter Abercrombie’s combined totals were less than Frank Pollard’s. Meanwhile, Bill Sims looked like genetic fusion between Jim Brown and Barry Sanders, and Eric Hipple looked like Johnny Unitas.

The Steelers would lose the following week in Cincinnati. The week after it would take the last throws left in Terry Bradshaw’s arm to left them over the Jets as the Steelers stumbled into the playoffs where the LA Raiders quickly eliminated them.

1991 – Joe Walton Fails the Steelers. Again.

November 28th, 1991 @ Texas Stadium
Dallas 20, Pittsburgh 10

Considering that Dallas went to the playoffs and won a game and followed the next season with a Super Bowl Championship, one might wonder why this game was close at all. But it was.

  • And in many ways it symbolized all that was wrong with the Joe Walton era of the Steelers offense.

The Steelers still had a talented defense that had finished number 1 overall in 1990, led by players such as Rod Woodson, Greg Lloyd and Carnell Lake. It still had the offensive core that had led the rallies that fueled the 1989 Steelers improbable run. But unfortunately, Chuck Noll’s last hire was his worst one, as he’d name Joe Walton his offensive coordinator and gave him total control.

The Steelers defense kept the Dallas Cowboys to 13 points until late into the third quarter, when Warren Williams narrowed the score to three.

  • Alas, Steve Beuerlein to Michael Irvin pass put the gave the Cowboys a 10 point lead.

And under Joe Walton’s offense, Neil O’Donnell couldn’t muster more than 167 yards, and no other skill player could break the 60 yard mark. In other words, in those days 10 points was far too much to overcome in a quarter.

1998 – The Phil Luckett Coin Flip Thanksgiving Day Fiasco

November 26th @ the Pontiac Silverdome
Detroit 19, Pittsburgh 16

For as bad as 1983’s Thanksgiving Day Massacre was, the Thanksgiving Day Coin Toss Disaster is standard by which every disappointment on the Steelers Thanksgiving record will be judged because it signified the end of an era.

The 1998 Steelers had had their ups and downs. Without a doubt, this Steelers team was missing something and Kordell Stewart clearly lacked the mojo he’d shown in the season before. But these 1998 Steelers had authored enough Tease Games – convincing wins over serious contenders – to give fans legitimate hope Bill Cowher’s boys could pull it together for a deep playoff run.

The scenario for the 1998 Steelers Thanksgiving Day game had all the trimmings for one of The Chin’s late season surges. The Steelers were fresh off a win at home over the division leading Jacksonville Jaguars and took a 7-4 record to Detroit. Jerome Bettis’ parents even had the entire team over for Thanksgiving dinner the night before.

  • It was not to be.

The Steelers played a sloppy game filled with blown coverages and easily catchable balls that receivers dropped. Nonetheless they opened a 13-3 lead in the third quarter, only to see the Lions kick a field goal, followed by a Charlie Batch to Herman Moore hook up that tied the score. Jacksonville added another 3 and the Steelers had to fight to get into position for a Norm Johnson field goal to tie the game.

  • Carnell Lake and Jerome Bettis approached midfield, called tails, the coin landed on tails but referee Phil Luckett awarded the ball to the Lions as Detroit’s captains struggled to suppress their laughter.
Jerome Bettis, Steelers Thanksgiving Record, steelers thanksgiving coin flip, phil luckett

Jerome Bettis clearly called tails, but Phil Luckett said he heard “heads” in the infamous Thanksgiving Day Coin Flip. Photo Credit: USA Today For the Win

The Lions got into scoring position thanks to another Herman Moore reception that came at Carnell Lake’s expense. A ticky tacky face mask penalty gave Detroit even more yards as they kicked the overtime field goal for the win.

The loss knocked the wind out of the 1998 Steelers sails, who would go on to lose their next 4 games. The Pittsburgh Steelers had been contenders since Bill Cowher and Tom Donahoe began in 1992, but that era ended on Thanksgiving Day 1998 in Detroit.

2013 – The Tomlin Two-Step and the Failed 2 Pointer

November 28th @ M&T Bank Stadium
Baltimore 22, Pittsburgh 20

Outside of Pittsburgh, everyone remembers this game because of Mike Tomlin’s sideline two-step, but inside Steelers Nation this one was a heart breaker – not because the Steelers played poorly, but because they played so well. The 2013 Steelers had of course started at 0-4 and the 2-6 yet had clawed their way back to 5-6. A win vs. the Ravens would have restored the Steelers record to .500 and put Pittsburgh within striking distance of the AFC North title.

  • Alas, it was not to be.

The Ravens scored a quick touchdown, but the Steelers defense held Baltimore to field goals for the rest of the night. The Steelers offense stalled during the first half, but in the second half Le’Veon Bell and Emmanuel Sanders scored touchdowns, as Ben Roethlisberger connected with Heath Miller 9 times.

With time expiring the Steelers moved into scoring position:

  • Ben Roethlisberger hit Heath Miller for 19 yards and an apparent touchdown. Overturned on replay.
    Le’Veon Bell rammed it in from the one. Overturned on replay because his helmet slipped off as he was being concussed.
  • Two plays later Roethlisberger hit Jerricho Cotchery in the end zone…
  • ….but the two point conversion failed.

The Steelers tried an on-sides kick, but failed and the Ravens ran out the clock. While this loss was disappointing, it was Steelers-Ravens slugfest in the truest sense of the word.

Can the Steelers  break their Thanksgiving Day curse vs. the Colts in 2016? Time will tell.

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As Cameron Heyward’s Season Ends – Steelers Nation Collectively Cries: “Game Over!”

The Pittsburgh Steelers are in the middle of what is already their 2nd worst losing streak of the Mike Tomlin era, and the news just got worse. Pro Bowl defensive end Cameron Heyward’s season ends thanks to a pectorial muscle injury he suffered in the loss to the Cowboys.

The Steelers haven’t announced the move yet, but Cameron Heyward made this posting via Twitter and Instagram:

One can only imagine that Mike Tomlin, Keith Butler and defensive line coach John Mitchell must be channeling their inner Bill Paxton:

In truth don’t expect anyone on the South Side to throw in the Towel, but the Pittsburgh Steelers are 0-4 when either Cameron Heyward or Stephon Tuitt has missed a game over the last two seasons. Cameron Heyward is easily both the Steelers best and most consistent player on the Steelers defense. He is also a leader both on and off the field. Losing Cam Heyward for the rest of 2016 would be akin to losing Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell or perhaps even Ben Roethlisberger.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reporter Ron Cook broke the news on Twitter this morning before Mike Tomlin’s press conference.

Heyward was still being evaluated when Mike Tomlin addressed reporters, so no update came, but the Steelers have confirmed the news.

Mathews and Hargrave Next Men Up

With Cam Heyward out for the rest of 2016, the Steelers will likely turn to Ricardo Mathews and or Javon Hargrave to take his space. Hargrave has been splitting time at nose tackle with Daniel McCullers, but he has gotten reps at defensive end. Mathews started with Heyward missed the Dolphins and Patriots game with a hamstring injury, and the Dolphins targeted him in route to their 200 yard rushing game.

  • The Steelers also have Johnny Maxey and Caushaud Lyons on their practice squad, either of whom could be activated.

The Steelers picked up Caushaud Lyons last year off waivers and kept him on the active roster through the end of September. The Steelers then cut Lyons and resigned him to the practice squad. Regardless of who the Steelers bring onto the roster, the man has extremely big shoes to fill.

Johnson Out Forte Back In

It never rains but it pours. Before losing Cameron Heyward the rest of 2016, the Steelers annouced that reserve inside linebacker Steven Johnson going on injured reserve. To replace him the Steelers will active L.J. Forte, whom they cut this weekend to make way for Ladarius Green.

 

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Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the Loss to the Dallas Cowboys

Taken from the gradebook of teacher who wonders just how far his once star student will slip, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

Ezekiel Elliot 85 yard touchdown reception Steelers, Mike Mitchell, Steelers 2016 defense implodes

Mike Mitchell is helpless to stop Ezekiel Elliot on his 85 yard touchdown catch as Cowboys beat the Steelers. Photo Credit: Pete Madia, Tribune-Review

Quarterback
Substandard quarterback play from Ben Roethlisberger was clearly at issue in 3 of the 4 losses the Steelers had coming into this game. That’s not so this week. Ben Roethlisberger hit 8 receivers, threw 3 touchdown passes and managed a patented 4th quarter comeback. Roethlisberger’s play wasn’t flawless, however, he was 0-4 on two point conversions, and went 0-3 from the 7 to start the third quarter. Pittsburgh needed a flawless performance from Roethlisberger. Instead it got “Very good.” Grade: B

Running Backs
Le’Veon Bell got the ball 17 times on the ground, but only managed 54 yards, although he did punch it in in the end zone. While that stat might look like a liability, the truth is on many of those runs Bell transformed an almost certain loss into some positive yardage. He also caught nine passes, including a touchdown. Bell was the only back to get a carry, although David Johnson and Roosevelt Nix did some time at fullback. Grade: Bsteelers, report card, steelers grades, steelers vs. cowboys, coaching, special teams, unsung heros

Tight Ends
Ladarius Green made his long awaited debut and caught 3 passes although his stretch the field speed was nowhere apparent. Xavier Grimble had on catch and another drop. David Johnson had one catch for two yards. Overall, a solid performance by the tight ends. Grade: B

Wide Receivers
Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger had to work at it, but they managed to get the ball to Antonio Brown to the tune of 14 catches for 154 yards. Part of the reason why they were successful is that Eli Rogers and Cobi Hamilton stepped up, both of whom made big catches, including Rogers with a difficult touchdown catch. No one, however stepped up on the 2 point conversions attempts. In past losses, the lack of a number two WR. That wasn’t the case vs. the Cowboys. Grade: B

Offensive Line
Ben Roethlisberger was only sacked once and only hit twice, so it must have been a pretty good day for the Steelers offensive line, right? No, this unit doesn’t get let off the hook so easily. First, the only Dallas sack came on 3rd and 3. A conversion there would have allow the Steelers a chance to establish a rhythm and get back in the tempo of the game.

  • But that was only one play.

The truth is that the run blocking of the offensive line was below the line. On too many occasions, Le’Veon Bell got hit as soon as he touched the ball. In fact, ESPN is crediting the Cowboys with 6.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Given that, it’s a miracle that Bell managed 3.4 yards a carry. Part of the Steelers game plan was to control the clock, which is hard to do when you running back is getting hit in the backfield. The Steelers need their offensive line to run block and pass block effectively – in the same game. This hasn’t happened in far too long. Grade: F

Defensive Line
On the positive side the Stephon Tuitt got to Dak Prescott in impressive fashion and he also logged a tackle behind the line of scrimmage and, with the two glaring exceptions, the Steelers defensive line did its part to contain Ezekiel Elliot. But any time a running back waltzs into the end zone not once, but twice untouched, the defensive line isn’t doing its job. Much less with the game on the line. Grade: F

Linebackers
Again, Anthony Chickillo started things off with a strip-sack and Ryan Shazier finished them. James Harrison should have been credited with a half sack, and looked good in run support. By all accounts Jarvis Jones whiffed his assignment on the Elliot’s final run. And aside from the two examples above, the Steelers pass rush was sparse. Grade: F

Secondary
Artie Burns continues to look like a rookie, failing to cover Dez Bryant on a critical Dallas touchdown pass. Once again, the secondary more or less watched as Ezekiel Elliot ran through them on his way to the end zone. 3 times. Sean Davis played a strong game overall, but his face mask penalty provided yet another example of the Steelers uncanny ability to self-destruct. Grade: F

Special Teams
Chris Boswell missed another 55 yarder. On the positive side, the Steelers saw signs of life from both their punt and kick return teams, as Antonio Brown and Fitzgerald Toussiant had some respectable returns. But on a critical series in the third quarter, after a Steelers drive had been stalled with a sack, Jordan Berry boomed one off, only to have it Lucky Whitehead return the it 39 yards.

  • Within 3 plays Dallas taking the lead.

These types of self destructive sequences are killing the Steelers. Grade: F

Coaching
Again, starting with the positive, Todd Haley came out with a petty strong game plan that the Steeler executed. It wasn’t quite enough to win and one cannot gloss over the fact that Mike Munchack’s offensive line cannot seem to play a complete game – a little road grading along side strong protection of the passer could have gone a long way in this game.

  • Keith Butler’s defense is a disaster.

Sure, the unit can string together a strong series or two, but it can’t be counted on to pressure the passer, and at this point it is failing to execute basic fundamentals, having gotten smoked by a running back who ran untouched for 3 touchdowns.

Clearly, some of the talent assessments that Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin and Butler made going into the season were wrong, but thus far Butler has failed to scheme or game plan enough to compensate for those deficiencies.

  • And then there comes Mike Tomlin.

Mike Tomlin found himself as the favorite whipping boy in Steelers Nation this morning, and not without reason. There are reports that Ben Roethlisberger met with Tomlin and expressed concern about how the team was practicing. Other players have chimed in. Then after the game, Ben Roethlisberger repeatedly insisted the Steelers needed more “Discipline and accountability.”

  • Is this the equivalent of Tom Donahoe saying “The Steelers are better than Cincinnati” and Bill Cowher saying “I can only win with the player they give me?” late in the 1999 season?

Time will tell. But the Steelers are in a slide not seen since the 5 game losing streak of 2009 and there’s no real sign that it will stop. Mike Tomlin needs to find a way to do that, quickly.

Unsung Hero
One of the biggest non-stories this season has been Ladarius Green’s absence. Ladarius Green made his debut on Sunday and looked OK, but he wasn’t the biggest most impactful tight end on the field. Ben Roethlisberger looked Jesse James way 4 times, and each time James came up with the ball, including once on an impressive 24 yard catch on what should have been the game winning drive, and for that Jesse James wins the Unsung Hero Award for the loss to the Cowboys.

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1 Lesson from Cowboys 35-30 Win over Steelers: The 2016 Steelers Simply Aren’t That Good

The Cowboys defeated the Steelers to the tune of 35-30 at Heinz Field, in a thrilling game that came down to the wire, but ultimately gave Pittsburgh its 4th straight loss. But the game revealed something about the Steelers that can’t quite be measured in numbers.

  • The Cowboys 35-30 win over the Steelers confirmed an unpleasant truth this team:

The 2016 Steelers simply are not that good and, worse yet, the process of finding out just how bad the are may not yet be over.

pittsburgh steelers, dallas cowboys, steelers vs. cowboys,

Cowboys sack Ben Roethlisbergers as Steelers self-destruct in 35-30 loss to Dallas at Heinz Field. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

Former Dynasties Heading in Opposite Directions

The history that the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys have authored together makes any matchup between these two NFL flagship franchises special. They are the only two Super Bowl dynasties to collide twice in contests that ended with a Lombardi Trophy presentation. A generation later, Dallas’ win in Super Bowl XXX conferred extra legitimacy to the Jerry Jones/Jimmy Johnson dynasty of the 90’s – no one could claim the Cowboys simply benefitted by beating a series of snake bitten Buffalo Bills teams.

  • The Steelers-Cowboys matchups of the 21st century haven’t been as definitive, but all of them have been revealing.

The Steelers 2004 win in Texas Stadium helped Ben Roethlisberger prove he was for real. The 2008 Steelers win showed just how resilient the eventual Super Bowl Champions were. And Pittsburgh’s 2012 loss at Jerry’s World unveiled a Steelers team in rebuilding mode, unable to summon the rebound magic of season’s past.

  • And so it is with the Dallas Cowboys win over the 2016 Steelers.

Mike Tomlin’s crew certainly made several impressive plays in all three phases of the game. But it was the plays they failed to make that defined the game and have defined the season as one where the Steelers are most certainly slipping. (The Dallas Cowboys for their part, are clearly on the rise.)

A Few Things that Went Right….

When the history books close on the 2016 Steelers season, larger events will likely relegate much of what comes in this section to footnotes. And so it should. No team ever won a Lombardi Trophy becaus of its “almosts” “could haves” or “would haves.” With that acknowledged, let’s highlight some of the things the Steelers did right on this occasion.

And there you have a flash of what the 2016 Steelers are capable of when they’re at their best. When things are clicking, the Steelers offense can play with any team in the league. But things didn’t click all of the time for the offense and, of course, there’s the matter of the defense….

For all intents and purposes, the Steelers lost this game in the third quarter. The Steelers seemed to be making a decisive statement by starting out the second half with a 36 yard strike to Cobi Hamilton. Three plays later, a pass interference penalty put the Steelers in the Red Zone, but Pittsburgh had to settle for a Chris Boswell field goal.

Up until that point, the Steelers had been winning the time of possession battle, but on the next series, the Cowboys turned the tables, burning 7:35 and converting multiple 3rd and 1’s along the way. Dallas had to settle for a field goal, but the Cowboys were now dictating the tempo of the game.

The Steelers looked pimed to get that back when two Le’Veon Bell runs gave Pittsburgh a 3rd and 3, but protection broke down, Ben Roethlisberger got sacked, and the Steelers went 3 and out. Then, as if on cue, things began to unravel, as they do for this Steelers team:

  • Jordan Berry boomed off a spectacular punt, only to have Lucky Whitehead return it 39 yards.

Although Dallas had a short field, the Steelers defense appeared to have the Cowboys on the ropes, when a penalty transformed 3rd and 1 to 3rd and 11. What happened next shows why Keith Butler’s defense has regressed so badly this season.

Keith Butler turned around the Steelers defense in 2015 by producing sacks and turnovers. This year both have been in short supply. Butler has as much as admitted that one reason he has blitzed less frequently is because his young secondary can’t be counted on to take care of business downfield.

The Steelers next possession began at the end of the third quarter, lasted 6 plays and just 3 minutes and ended as the 4th quarter began with a punt. The Steelers began the quarter nursing a 15 to 13 lead. They ended it trailing 23 to 18. That tells you (almost) everything you need to know about the game and the 2016 Steelers.

Ezekiel Elliott Exposes 2016 Steelers Defense

Hats off to Jerry Jones, Stephen Jones and/or Jason Garrett for drafting Ezekiel Elliott. Elliot is the type of blue-chip player that, if he remains healthy, could help revive the forgotten “Franchise Running back.” But the Pittsburgh Steelers defense once prided itself on shutting down players like this (see holding Emmitt Smith to under 50 yards, albeit in a loss, in the Super Bowl.)

  • Those days are over.

A lot of what is wrong with Steelers 2016 defense can be explained by the fact that Keith Butler is playing two rookies in the secondary before either is really ready. The Steelers were counting on Bud Dupree and Senquez Golson, neither of whom have played a snap. Outside of Chickillo’s strip-sack and the Stephon Tuitt James Harrison sack, the Steelers defense generated zero pass rush.

Fair enough. Pressure, tight coverage, sacks and turnovers go-hand-in-hand and the Steelers are missing many pieces they expected to have as recently as the run test in Latrobe.

  • But there’s something else amiss with this Steelers defense, as exhibited by Ezekiel Elliott.

Ezekiel Elliot logged 209 yards from scrimmage and he scored 3 touchdowns where nary a Steelers defender laid a hand on him with the last one coming when everyone knew the game was on the line.

I’ll leave it to the more educated eye to pick apart the film to finger what scheme and/or which players were at fault, but the bottom line is simple: A good defense doesn’t allow that to happen; an average defense doesn’t allow that to happy. Only bad defenses allow that to happen.

There’s no sugar coating things, the Steelers 2016 defense is bad. Very bad.

Steelers Spiral Continues, with No End in Sight.

Steel Curtain Rising opened the season arguing that the 2016 Steelers would only go as far as their defense could

take them. Nine games into the season, Steelers Nation can see this painful dynamic at work: Ben Roethlisberger getting the ball into Antonio Brown’s hands 14 times doesn’t cut it when your defense plays spectator to Ezekiel Elliott running though the secondary. That is bad enough, but right now something more insidious is at play:

  • The 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers are learning how to lose games.

The Steelers started down this path during the 0-4 start in 2013 and only truly broke out of it at the end of 2014. Now they’re a team headed so far in the wrong direction that even victory against the 0-9 Browns on the road is far from a sure thing.

Mike Tomlin can talk all he wants about “We own what we put on tape,” he can continue to “Accept responsibility for everything.” He needs to find a way to get his players to stop losing games, and he needs to do it fast.

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End of Tight End By Committee? Steelers Activate Ladarius Green, Cut L.J. Forte

When the Pittsburgh Steelers face off against the Dallas Cowboys at Heinz Field this afternoon, they’ll do so with a new face on the offensive huddle. The highly anticipated move saw the Steelers activate Ladarius Green while cutting L.J. Fort to create roster space.

Ladarius Green, steelers activate ladarius green, 2016 steelers tight ends,

Steelers activate Ladarius Green in time for Cowboys game. Photo Credit: AP, used in Pittsburgh Tribune Review

The Steelers of course signed Ladarius Green to replace Heath Miller when Heath Miller retired after the 2015 season. While it will be difficult for Ladarius Green to replace Heath Miller’s legendary dependability, Green does have strech the field speed.

In that respect, he could potentially provide relief for Antonio Brown who had been bracketed by double and triple coverages, as the Steelers have cycled through Eli Rogers, Darrius Heyward-Bey and Sammie Coates as number 2 receivers (Markus Wheaton has been injured, and it does not appear he will play this week.)

An End to the Steelers Tight End by Committee Approach?

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger described Green as a “brand-new Ferrari in the impound lot that I’m just looking through a fence at.” Ladarius Green of course has been on the PUP list, due to an ankle injury he had when the Steelers signed him in addition to lingering effect of a concussion he suffered at the end of 2015.

Ladarius Green has been practicing since the Steelers bye week, and with Mike Tomlin, Todd Haley and Green’s teammates have praised his performance in practice, some reports have been skeptical. In the his message board at Steel City Insider, Jim Wexell had openly expressed doubt as to whether Green would even be activated based on his performance in practice, and his more public comments on Twitter echo those sentiments:

Nonetheless, the Steelers decision to retain Johnson, Grimble and James amounts to a vote of confidence for their existing tight end trio, with both Jesse James and Xavier Grimble showing a lot of “upside” while David Johnson has provided stability, solid blocking and position flexibly.

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DeAngelo Williams Knee Surgery Could Keep RB Out 3 Weeks

Pittsburgh Steelers reserve running back DeAngelo Williams underwent knee surgery this week and will miss an undetermined amount of time, reports Mark Kaboly of DK on Pittsburgh Sports

As Kaboly’s tweet confirms that the surgery did not involve the meniscus as some reports had indicated. NFL.com’s Ian Rapport has confirmed the surgery, indicating that Williams could miss up to three weeks. The report, however, did generate an interesting exchange between DeAngelo Williams based on a David Todd tweet, that questioned whether or not the Williams had played his last down for the Steelers:

 

While Williams has been nursing a knee injury for the last several weeks, he did make one carry in the loss to the Ravens after missing the loss to the Patriots. DeAngelo Williams’ reaction to the news is hardly surprising. The Steelers have not officially announced the move, and while “running back” and “knee surgery” are two terms which you prefer not to collocate, surgery doesn’t automatically mean the end of the season for Williams.

DeAngelo Williams, DeAngelo Williams Knee Surgery

DeAngelo Williams knee surgery could keep him out 3 weeks. Photo credit: Steelers.com

Williams started off the year strong in the Steelers win over the Redskins, but struggled to gain yards against the Bengals and had a terrible game against the Eagles (like the rest of the team.) Williams saw his playing time decrease with Le’Veon Bell’s return, even though the stated plan was for the Steelers to use Williams more to keep him fresh.

DeAngelo Williams knee surgery will mean that Fitzgerald Toussaint will become the Steelers primary backup running back heading into the Cowboys game.

Green, Dupree Practice, DHB on Crutches, Pouency Promises to Play

Both Bud Durpree and Ladarius Green have been full participants at practice this week, and Ladarius Green is expected to be activated, possible in time for the Cowboys game this weekend at Heinz Field. Bud Dupree is also expected to return, but not as soon.

Darrius Heyward-Bey will not be resuming his role as Ben Roethlisberger‘s number 2 reciever opposite of Antonio Brown returning any time soon, as he was reported to be on crutches and in a walking boot at the Steelers facility on the South Side. Maurkice Pouncey has not practice, but has declared that he is 100% certain that he will play. Pouency dislocated the thumb on his snapping hand in the Steelers loss to the Ravens.

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The Dak Prescott-Tony Romo Decision Harks Back to Bill Cowher’s Choice on Tommy Maddox and Ben Roethlisberger

A fabled franchise flashes the greatness needed to recapture championship glory, only to fall short in the playoffs thanks to a frustratingly bad call….

The next season begins with high hopes, only to have injuries strike key starters as the franchise slides into double-digit losses….

Disaster strikes again the next season, robbing the franchise of its starting quarterback….

.…The call goes to a rookie, who struggles in his first outing, but rebounds to lead his team to 7 straight wins.

We’re of course telling the story of the Dallas Cowboys, Tony Romo and Dak Prescott. But this story isn’t exclusive to “America’s Team,” the Pittsburgh Steelers have lived through this too. As the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare to host the Dallas Cowboys at Heinz Field its interesting to reminisce about the situation the Steelers found themselves in 2004.

Ben Roethlisberger, Tommy Maddox, Tommy Maddox and Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger and Tommy Maddox in 2004. Photo Credit: Spokeo

Of Tommy Gun and Tony Romo….

The parallels between Tony Romo and Dak Prescott and Tommy Maddox and Ben Roethlisberger are not perfect. But the similarities are striking.

Tony Romo entered the 2014 season as the Cowboy’s established starter, with a big contract to prove it, whereas Tommy Maddox began the 2002 season as the backup to Kordell Stewart, who’d just won the Steelers MVP award the year before.

  • Few were expecting to see anything from the 2014 Cowboys; no one expected Tommy Maddox to do anything other than hold a clipboard in 2002.

A blowout during the Cowboys home opener in 2014 led one writer to speculate over whether Jerry Jones berated his son demanding: “You made me pass on Johnny Football for this….” Yet, led by Romo, the Cowboys bounced back winning 12 games. They then beat the Lions in the playoffs, and appeared to be in position to upset the Packers at Lambeau Field only to lose the game based on the “Catch-Non-catch call.”

In 2002, Tommy Maddox watched as Kordell Stewart (and to be fair, the Steelers defense) struggled during the first two games of the season. Late in their third game against Cleveland, Bill Cowher made the switch. The Steelers won the game, and Bill Cowher named Maddox his starter.

Tommy Maddox, aka “Tommy Gun” led the Steelers to 10 straight wins. While threw plenty of picks, as gunslingers are wont to do, commentators wondered aloud as to whether or not Maddox was throwing touchdowns to too quickly to Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress. In the playoffs, Maddox led a dramatic come from behind win over the Browns. The next week, however, the Steelers lost due to a bogus roughing the kicker call where Al Del Greco took a dive worthy of World Cup Soccer.

Unlike Romo in 2015, Maddox escaped the injury bug in 2003, but a good chunk of his offensive line did not, with Kendall Simmons struggling with diabetes and Marvel Smith getting hit with the neck injury that would ultimately end his career. Things got so bad that Bill Cowher had to move Alan Faneca from guard to tackle and back again depending on the down.

The 2015 Cowboys saw Romo, Dez Bryant and several other key players seasons ruined by injuries.

Of Young Dak Prescott and the Once Young Ben Roethlisberger

The parallels of the stories diverge a bit here, as the Cowboys didn’t pick Dak Prescott to be their franchise quarterback in the 4th round. Although the Steelers had done just that with Ben Roethilisberger, Big Ben wasn’t supposed to play as a rookie.

  • Like Dak Prescott, Ben Roethlisberger struggled in his first action, throwing a pick six vs. the Ravens.
  • But also like Dak Prescott, Ben Roethlisberger went on a tear.

And like Jason Garrett, Bill Cowher bided his time in naming Ben Roethlisberger as his starter, waiting until he won after his fifth start, the 2004 win over New England.

Will the Steelers Tempt Garrett?

Tony Romo is back to health, and team owner/general manager Jerry Jones admits the situation is muddled, and likely to remain so. Like Tom Landry and Jimmy Johnson before him, Garrett appears to content to go with the hot hand. And so he should.

During the entire 2004 regular season, Ben Roethlisberger never once gave Bill Cowher a reason to second guess his decision to back Roethlisberger. However, Ben appeared nervous in the playoffs against the Jets, and struggled against the Patriots in the AFC Championship.

  • After the game, Bill Cowher insisted he never considered pulling Rothlisberger in favor of Tommy Maddox.

But after so many AFC Championship frustrations, the thought had to have crossed his mind at some point. No one is comparing the Keith Butler’s 2016 defense to Dick LeBeau’s 2004 version. But with Cameron Heyward and Ryan Shazier back, the Butler’s boys are showing signs of life.

Will that be enough to temp Jason Garrett into making a switch? Probably not, but Steelers fans can always hope….

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…On Becoming a Pittsburgh Steelers Fan – Finding My Inner Black & Gold

It seems most Pittsburgh Steelers fans tell stories of that one definable moment when they fell in-love with their favorite football team.

For most who have been fans since childhood, that moment is usually tied-in with a parental figure, such as their father. Every year around Father’s Day, the Internet is filled with stories from writers, each recalling a time in their youth when their dad took them to their first game, and how this created a life-long love for a specific sports team and an everlasting bond with their father.

  • Alas, I have no such stories to share from my youth about becoming a Pittsburgh Steelers fan.
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Steelers fans take over Qualcomm Stadium in San Diego last fall; Photo credit: K.C. Alfred, San Diego Union Tribune

My father was never around, so I couldn’t develop any sort of bond with him–through sports or anything else.

My mom may have been a fan, but I don’t remember her donning Black and Gold or mentioning the Steelers in any way during the first six or seven years of my life.

Steelers Super Bowls of the 70’s a Formative Experience

I attended my first game back in 1988, at the age of 16, but by then, I was already a die-hard fan for almost a decade. And the person I attended the game with was my uncle, who is my age and more like a brother than any sort of parental figure.

  • Yet, despite a lack of direct family influence during my toddler and kindergarten years, I somehow became a huge Steelers.

One year, January of 1979, I  was six and watching an old rerun of Tarzan in the living room of my house in Bellevue (a suburb of Pittsburgh), while my mom watched Super Bowl XIII on the little black-and-white TV in the kitchen as she washed dishes, (video available as of 6/30/16):

I remember seeing Lynn Swann celebrate after Terry Bradshaw threw him the Steelers final touchdown in the fourth quarter of their 35-31 victory over the Cowboys, but at that very moment, I could have cared less.

But by the following year, January of 1980, I was seven and fully-invested, as I watched the Steelers take on the Rams in Super Bowl XIV. And, ironically enough, while my mom took in the action in the living room of our new residence in the Bloomfield section of Pittsburgh, I sat in the kitchen and watched Pittsburgh outlast Los Angeles, 31-19, on that same black-and-white TV that was tuned into Super Bowl XIII one year earlier.

  • But how did I go from one extreme to the other in just one year of my life?

Obviously, there had to be something there. I do recall watching football games when I was no more than two or three years old, so maybe I was cheering for the Steelers all along and just don’t remember.

At the end of the day, however, it doesn’t really matter how I got from point A to point B. I may not have developed parental bonds through sports as a youngster, but I certainly fostered many bonds in my teenage years and early-20s, when I took in many games with my grandparents, my uncles, and my siblings.

And, believe it or not, in my 30s and 40s, I developed a bit of a Steelers-bond with my mother, who started to become a bigger fan right around the time Ben Roethlisberger came on-board and the franchise was about to add another Super Bowl chapter to its already storied history.

Back to my youth, and those many years I watched games all by myself without anyone else around. I guess when they say that Pittsburgh ingrains allegiance to the Steelers into a person, I’m the perfect example of that.

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