Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 Schedule Released

The Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 regular season schedule was released on Thursday and includes four prime-time games as well as games on Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s Day.

Pittsburgh kicks off its 2016 campaign with a trip to FedEx Field in Week 1 to take on the Redskins on Monday Night Football at 7:10 p.m. ET.

Much like a year ago, the Steelers will begin their home schedule in Week 2, and this time around they will take on their now most heated rivals, when the Bengals visit sans Vontaze Burfict, who is suspended to begin the season.

Along with the remaining AFC North foes, Pittsburgh’s home schedule will also include a Week 4 clash with the Chiefs on Sunday Night Football, and 4:25 tilts against the Patriots (Week 7) and Cowboys (Week 10) and Giants (Week 13).

  • Pittsburgh’s bye week will be on October 30, or three weeks early than a year ago.

The Steelers third prime-time game will be on Thanksgiving night, when they travel to Indianapolis to take on the Colts as part of the third-leg of the NFL’s annual triple-header.

Burfict will get a chance to mix it up with the Steelers in Week 15, when Pittsburgh travels to Cincinnati for its fourth prime-time game, this time on Sunday Night Football.

The Steelers regular season schedule wraps up with consecutive home games on Christmas and New Year’s, as Baltimore comes to town in Week 16 and Cleveland visits Heinz Field in Week 17.

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Steelers Long Snapper Greg Warren Resigns as 2016 Free Agency Begins

The Pittsburgh Steelers only have a handful of remaining veterans who own rings from Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII, and speculation has mounted as to how many of those might be back for 2016. The team erased all doubt when it came to one of them, as the Steelers long snapper Greg Warren resigned with the team, inking a one year extension that keeps him in Pittsburgh for an 11th season.

  • This is the fourth year the Steelers have signed Greg Warren to a 1 year contract, per Chris Adamanski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.

The Steelers originally signed Greg Warren as an undrafted rookie free agent in the spring of 2005 where he replaced Mike Schneck who’d held down the long snapping duties since 1999. Only linebacker James Harrison has been with the Steelers longer than Greg Warren, and Warren’s tenure matches that of Ben Roethlisberger and is one year less than that of Heath Miller’s.

James Harrison has yet to decide if he will return for a final season, and the Steelers have not signaled whether they will welcome him back, although Jim Wexell of Steel City Insider has reported that the Steelers want to give priority developing Bud Dupree and Jarvis Jones. Heath Miller has also been rumored to be an impending cap casualty, but that is not likely to happen.

The Case Steelers Resigning Greg Warren

While it’s a done deal, the case against the Steelers resigning Greg Warren would flow like this: football is a young man’s game and at age 35, Greg Warren more than qualifies for NFL senior citizen status.

  • On top of that, the only thing that Greg Warren does for the Steelers is snap on punts and place kicks.

As injuries to Maurkice Pouncey, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Kelvin Beachum and DeAngelo Williams illustrates, winning in the modern NFL is as much a game of attrition as it is anything else. Locking up a roster spot to someone who is nothing more than a long snapper is a waste, and the slot should go to someone who offers greater position flexibility….

The Case for the Steelers Resigning Greg Warren

Chuck Noll in fact, doggedly held that same philosophy on long snapping, believing it was a waste of a roster spot. But in a muddy game at Cleveland Stadium during the Steelers disastrous 1988 season, Hall of Fame center Mike Webster once snapped the ball over Harry Newsome’s that ended up causing Pittsburgh a 50 yard loss.

Chuck Noll wised up, and relented to signing a long snapper.

The case for the Steelers resigning Greg Warren comes down to one very simple question:

  • When was the last time you saw a bad snap impact the outcome of a Steelers game?

The answer would probably be the time that James Harrison snapped the ball over Mitch Berger’s head in the 2008 Steelers loss to the Giants.

And Harrison was snapping because Greg Warren had torn his ACL in that game. Greg Warren has one job to do for the Pittsburgh Steelers. He does that job very well, and the Steelers are smart to keep him around for as long as he can keep doing it.

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Steelers Report Card vs. Giants @ Metlife Stadium

Taken from the grade book of a teachers who is re-learning the lesson that its far better to issue grades when performance is fresh in mind, here is the Pittsburgh Steelers report card for the victory over the Giants. As a caveat, even at this late date, no other Steelers report cards have been consulted.
Quarterback
For the first time in several games, Ben Roethlisbergerfaced real pressure and gave up four sacks. The fumble he got charged with looked to be bogus, but he also probably had another fumble incorrectly ruled down by contact. Roethlisberger did throw another dumb interception, but his execution on the Steelers scoring drives was excellent. Grade: B+
Running Backs
When Isaac Redman started the season averaging 2.something yards a carry much of Steelers Nation knew, he could do better. Against the Giants he proved it, barreling through the line for 147 yards including the go ahead touchdown and an impressive 28 yard burst to kill the clock. What those numbers do not reveal is that Redman consistently refused to be taken down on the first hit, and added yards and inflicted punishment with each extra effort. Neither Baron Batch, nor Chris Rainey, nor Will Johnson did much with their carries, but the team didn’t need them to. Grade:  A
Wide Receivers
Mike Wallace decisively demonstrated the value of a receiver who can take it to the house on any given play. Emmanuel Sanders only had two catches – but guess what? His first put the Steelers ahead by 7, and his second iced the game by converting on 3rd and 9 with the Steelers needing to kill the clock. Not bad. Jerricho Cotchery and Heath Miller claimed 4 balls, and Antonio Brown caught two before leaving injured. Grade:  A-
Offensive Line
There was good in bad for this group. Mike Adams appeared to struggle in pass protection and in general the line’s pass blocking was a notch below what it has been thus far this year. On the flip side, this unit’s run blocking is improving to the point where it is getting scary. Now that Willie Colon has settled into his spot a guard, the only question is why did Bruce Arians balk at moving him there? Grade:  B
Defensive Line
Brett Keisel led the unit with 4 tackles. Casey Hamptonhelped set the tone by making the Steelers first tackle of the 4thquarter for a loss. Ziggy Hood had one tackle. This unit did not wrack up a lot on the stat sheet but neither did anyone on the offense. And that’s the point, and it all starts up front. Grade:  B
Linebackers
Larry Foote led the unit with 7 tackles. James Harrison isn’t making a lot of “splash” plays, but he is winning his 1-1 match ups, which is making everyone else look a lot better. The Giant’s 4thquarter drives were bookended by Lawrence Timmons and LaMarr Woodley sacks. Grade:  B+
Secondary
Ryan Clark led the team in tackles including one for a loss that helped force a Giants field goal. Ike Taylor, Keenan Lewis, and CortezAllen all registered passes defensed while Ryan Mundy kept his name from being mentioned for the wrong reasons. New York went an abysmal was 2-11 on third downs, and that only happens if the Steelers secondary is doing a lot of things right. Grade:  A-
Special Teams
By the time the game was over, the Steelers were down to their third string return man, but Emmanuel Sanders delivered, with a 63 yard kickoff return and an 11 yard punt return. Chris Rainey also turned in returns of 51 and 30 yards. Although the coaches rather than the players deserve criticism for the botched fake field goal attempt, the kicking team nonetheless came up short, dropping the grade just a smidge.  Grade:  A-
Coaching
The Steelers were traveling on the same day of the game, playing against the Super Bowl Champions on the road, lost their number two receiver, and were playing again with only one of their starting caliber running backs. But The Standard Remained the Standard. Mike Tomlin had his team focused, and both of his coordinators deployed excellent game plans. Amos Jonesmanaged limit (most) of the penalties that have plagued his unit and in turn the return game delivered results. The fake field goal call was a mistake, however. Grade:  B+
Unsung Hero
His play hasn’t always been consistent this year, but against the Giants he was all over the field, dropping people in the backfield, getting in Eli Manning’s face, and getting to the quarterback when it counted and for that Lawrence Timmons is Steel Curtain Rising’s Unsung Hero for the victory over the Giants.

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Steelers Upset New York Giants 24-17 @ the Metlife Stadium

The Pittsburgh Steelers started 2012, in a word, slowly to the tune of letting three fourth  quarter leads slip away as Steelers Nation watched in anguish.

Rumblings began:
  • Have NFL offenses found the antidote to Dick LeBeau’sdefense?
  • Did father time finally catch up with that self-same defense?
  • Has Todd Haley robbed the Steelers of their ability to play physical football in the trenches?

Yes, Pittsburgh responded with strong victories vs. the Bengals and Redskins. But neither team has a winning record.

  • A victory over a contender still eluded the Steelers.

The Giants appeared to offer the perfect measuring stick, and the game in New York gave the team a chance to measure themselves against the defending Super Bowl Champions, as well as providing a different sort of test for the Steelers – one where they proved to be more than worthy to the task.

Ike Taylor, Ike Taylor interception, Steelers vs. Giants, Steelers vs. Giants 2012

Ike Taylor intercepts Eli Manning in the Steelers 2012 upset over the New York Giants. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

We focus on the things that we can control” – Mike Tomlin, on many occasions
NFL coaches prepare for any and every contingency.
  • Mike Tomlin studies film for hours, probing for weakness
  • Dick LeBeau and Todd Haley painstakingly lay ground work to defend or exploit a formation which they might see just once in a game
  • Position coaches like Scotty Montgomery or Carnell Lake drill players ad nauseam to capitalize on minuscule tendencies that will win them a crucial 1-1 match ups

All of this is necessary for victory, but it is not sufficient because factors outside the control of players and coaches influence outcomes in football. The question is never “if” those factors will come into play in a big game but “when” and more importantly, how will you react?

Starting Out Old School
The Steelers and the Giants are two of the NFL’s oldest and most tradition-steeped  franchises, so its fitting that the game started out as a slug fest, with both teams probing for weakness, but failing to land blows.
After that Isaac Redman powered the Steelers down into the Red Zone where Ben Roethlisberger connected with Emmanuel Sanders in the End Zone to put the Steelers ahead.
The Steelers defense had forced a turnover, and the offense converted it into money. Everything seemed to be going the Steelers way….
Beware Zebras Waving Yellow Flags…

But then the uncontrollables appeared:

  • Keenan Lewis got flagged for a tickky-tacky pass interference call
  • Ryan Clark leveled Victor Cruz and got flagged for helmet-to-helmet contact despite the fact that no part of Clark’s body touched Cruz’ head
  • Andre Brown scored a touchdown although even on replay it looked like he was down before crossing the goal line

That was just the warm up act. Three plays after New York’s touchdown, the officials struck again.

  • Had Ben Roethlisberger’s name been “Peyton Manning” or “Tom Brady,” then the stat sheet simply now simply read “incomplete pass.”
Credit Michael Boley for hustling. Several players on both sides also appeared to think the ball was incomplete rather than a fumble. But Boley played to the whistle, charging 70 yards for what was ultimately, and incorrectly ruled, a touchdown.
The Steelers had started the game against the World Champs by taking control, and they were suddenly down by 7, due to little fault of their own.
It happens. Welcome to the NFL. Now, what do you do about it?
Games like this don’t build character, they display it.” – Bill Cowher 11/5/95

Anyone who understands Steelers knows they were not about to wallow in self-pity.  Mike Tomlin teams do not do that.
  • But feeling sorry for oneself is one thing, staying focused is something else.

Focus at times has not been a team strength (see Oakland, see Tennessee).

  • The Steelers made it immediately clear that history would not repeat itself in New York.

The Giants threatened to close out the half with another score, this time on their own merits, but the Steelers defense held, aided by a missed field goal.

With 30 seconds and one time out, Ben Roethlisberger put the Steelers in field goal position to narrow the Giants half time lead to four. It would be poetic to say that the Steelers from this point on represented a model of composure and controlled the game from there on. But they didn’t.
Chris Rainey and Emmanuel Sanders made potentially game-changing returns, but the Steelers squandered them with a Roethlisberger interception and a failed faked field goal attempt.
While this was happening, however, the defense quietly delivered. Case in point, New Yorkreturned Roethlisberger’s interception to the 5, but the defense forced the Giants to settle for a measly three.
  • And so it was, the Steelers opened the fourth quarter, not defending a lead, but down by ten.

The offense awoke. The fact that they came back to defeat the defending Super Bowl Champions is good, but the way they did it offers even more hope. Since Ken Whisenhunt’s departure the debate over the proper Run-Pass balance that should define the Steelers offense has consumed Steelers Nation.

  • Such debate misses the point.

Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain observed last season, the Steelers need a dynamic offence, that can either run or pass when the situation warrants.

The Steelers fourth quarter performance reveals a dynamic offense par excellence.
  • Ben Roethlisberger first connected with Mike Wallace for a catch-and-run quick strike.
  • Pittsburgh then mixed passes and runs to four different ball carriers, with IsaacRedman  punching it in from the one
  • Finally, the Steelers iced the game on a clock killing drive that featured a 16 yard completion on third down and 28 yard scamper by Redman

And what of the defense?

  • The unit  was simply spectacular, forcing New Yorkto go 3 and out on all three of their final possessions.

Versus the Giants the Steelers had multiple opportunities to flinch. But they chose to focus instead, and in the process the played their best regular season game in over a year.

Not a bad place to be at the season’s half way mark.

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Watch Tower: Gene Collier Weighs in on Jeff Reed

Gene Collier, one of Pittsburgh’s best sports writers, if not simply the Steel City’s best sports writers has weighed in on the Jeff Reed incident.

With his usual flair for prose, he takes a different track than the one taken by here, namely that Jeff Reed and Santonio Holmes situations are sufficiently distinct to warrant different treatment by Tomlin.

While Collier’s column hasn’t compelled Steel Curtain Rising recant, he offers some excellent arguments.

The Danger of Double Standards

Collier doesn’t find a great deal of distinction between Reed and Holmes‘ respective infractions of the law. Fair enough.

He also goes at great pains to indicate that Holmes, whose case was ultimately dismissed on a legal technicality, was quite cooperative with the police. That’s important because cooperation with the police is at the very root of Reed’s legal troubles.

Collier is of a similar mind to Steel Curtain Rising as he too finds it difficult to believe Mike Tomlin’s explanation that Holmes was not suspended for disciplinary reasons.

Like most good writers, Collier saves his best punch for last. In concluding his article he offers:

No one’s in a better position to know when to deactivate a player in these situations than Tomlin and his superiors, so when I tell you Reed should stay home until after the Vikings game, it’s only because a lot of times, just the appearance of inconsistency can be its own locker room malignancy.

Excellent point, here’s why.

Double Standards and Locker Room Discord

Most people forget, but before he became a coaching genius in New England, Bill Belichick had a horrible run as head coach of the Cleveland Browns. Belichick’s record as coach of the Browns makes him look like a dunce’s dunce.

The one time I read about Belichick contrasting his experiences with both teams he shared that one of his mistakes in Cleveland was that he had not held all players to the same standard.

But one does not need to look outside of Pittsburgh for examples of havoc that double standards can wreak on a team.

In late 1999 I met a friend of Troy Sadowski, who told me that the back up tight end for the Steelers had confided in him that Bill Cowher lost much of the team when he took Kordell Stewart out and then put her back in on that dreadfully rainy day in Tampa.

This kind of third-hand information can be dangerous, especially when it comes to Kordell Stewart (how many different friends can we remember who insisted “well, my buddy’s the cop who….). But can you imagine any other player getting back into a Steelers uniform, let alone a game after getting in Cowher’s face?

What It All Boils Down To

If Collier’s got an interesting insight, one must also remember that the differences in which the Steelers organization treated James Harrison and Cedric Wilson dwarf any double standard between how Tomlin dealt with Holmes and Reed.

  • Curtain’s Call: Few accepted Tomlin’s pubic explanation over why he benched Holmes and why he’s playing Reed. At the end of the day, it comes down to whether or not the players bought whatever message Tomlin delivered behind closed doors in the locker room.

For Die Hards

Perhaps my eyes are deceiving me, because I could not find the reference on the web, but I do remember reading this week that Santonio Holmes was not fined or docked a week’s pay by the when they benched him for the Giant’s game last year. That may be the case, but I do remember and have found an article saying that the Steelers did fine him at the time.

That’s just something to mention here in the Watch Tower because the story seems to have changed, but no one seems to have picked up on it.

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Watch Tower: Cook Wrong on Holmes Apology

Steelers wide receiver Santonio Holmes apologized to the public and his teammates for being charged with marijuana possession, an incident which caused him to miss the Steelers losing effort against the New York Giants. Pittsburgh Post Gazette columnist Ron Cook’s opinion piece about Holmes apology undoubtedly drew praise throughout Steelers Nation, but his central contention is incorrect.

Cook is right in giving voice to the frustration of fans everywhere, and he joins a chorus of others in the Pittsburgh press corps in lambasting Holmes for such selfish and ignorant behavior. Keeping marijuana, let alone smoking, in one’s car defies common sense for anyone, but especially for someone who is in the public eye.

Cook imagines of what it must have been like for Holmes in his meetings with Mike Tomlin and his teammates. Continuing, Cook offers

It would have been nice if Holmes had chosen to apologize publicly. You know, in person…. But Holmes and the Steelers took the easy way out issuing a lame statement that was supposed to serve as his apology. The words – if they were indeed Holmes’ and not those of some staffer in the public relations office – don’t have the same impact on paper that they do coming from a man’s heart. Its just too hard to measure sincerity on paper.

A public Holmes apology would have been satisfying. A mea culpa before the cameras would have been cathartic for all of Steelers Nation. Not only would it have “made the papers” but it would have become an instant YouTube moment.

  • And that is precisely why Cook is wrong.

The Steelers just lost the biggest game [on paper] of the season. They also just ended a week filled with enough distraction to have made even Chuck Noll’s head to spin.

Coincidence?

Maybe. Maybe not.

The offense was out of sync save for two big plays. Sure, the Steelers offense has had serious issues with consistency all year, but the Giants game was the first time when they flat out shot themselves in the foot.

  • Cook imagines that Holmes must have castigated himself to the extreme in front of his teammates.

I am fine with that, but my imagination does not stop there.

I’d like to see Mike Tomlin wrapping up the apology session meeting by putting two words up on his white board:

Washington Redskins.

Followed by an admonition that would go something like this:

‘OK, now that that is past us, let me show you what the focus of team is for the entire week. Washington Redskins. Anytime anyone asks you anything, this is the answer you give them. Period. What to talk about fines? We’re focused on the Redskins. What to talk about drugs, sports, society and suspensions, we’re worried about the Redskins. They ask you about Aaron Smith, you got it, we’re talking about the Redskins.’

The Santonio Holmes story is not going away, but a public apology by Holmes would have all but guaranteed that the story dominated news coverage this week.

The press would have had a field day with a public apology, which almost certainly Cook’s motive in suggesting that Holmes should have offered one.

But a public mea culpa would have served the best interests of the team, and that is why Ron Cook is wrong on this one.

Misplaced Praise for the Steelers Offensive Line, Again

I almost hesitate to bring this up, lest new readers think that Watch Tower is a surrogate title for “Dump on Ron Cook.” Fortunately it is not, but he keeps providing good material.

After the Jacksonville game Cook wrote that the “offensive line had kept Ben clean,” to which Steel Curtain Rising took issue.

Now he’s at it again. In discussing the reasons for the Steelers loss Cook postulates: “…They also blamed the offensive line, which isn’t so fine. Those guys played a decent game, certainly good enough to win.”

Yeah, Right.

He’s correct when he says that Ben was having a very off game. He’s also right when he says that receivers were not getting open and making Ben the victim of coverage sacks.

  • But to claim that the line had a decent game?

While Ben might not have been the subject of some of the incredibly violent hits he took in Jacksonville or against the Baltimore Ravens, he was sacked five times and knocked down at least 13 times.

  • Indeed, when the team was trying to rally, the pocket seemed to collapse like a sand castle during high tide.

Ben’s style of play may lead to more sacks than another quarterback would otherwise suffer. Cook’s right that quality offensive line play was on display last Sunday, it was coming from the Giants.

Against the NFL’s number one pass rush the Giants front five protected their man. The Steelers did register some pressures, but did not record a single sack, and knock downs, if there were any, were few and far between.

Sure Eli certainly got rid of the ball quickly on a number of occasions, but for the most part he had time to do his thing. Ben did not.

And that is the difference between quality and poor offensive line play.

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Giants Defeat 2008 Steelers, New York Vanquishes Pittsburgh 21-14

When the history of the 2008 season is written, the summary of the Steelers-Giants might read something like this:

The Steelers hosted the New York Giants at Heinz Field in a see-saw defensive battle where Pittsburgh succeeded in going toe-to-toe with the defending Super Bowl Champions until a wild snap made by an emergency long-snapper during a punt play led to a freak safety that tied the game, and ultimately gave New York the momentum needed to win….

Ah, wouldn’t that give you a nice warm, fuzzy feeling…

No one should be fooled by the score as 21-14 does not begin to reveal the poor showing the Steelers made for themselves. The Steelers lost their first game against “PrimeTime” competition, and their performance revealed some troublesome issues which Mike Tomlin and company must address if the Steelers truly want to become contenders

Mewelede Moore, Steelers vs. Giants, Steelers vs. Giants 2008

Mewelde Moore rushed 19 times for 84 years vs. the Giants in 2008. Photo Credit: Matt Freed, Post Gazette

For three and half quarters the story of the game was the 12 points the Giants netted in five trips to the red zone. New York has a strong offense, and the Steelers defense deserve all of the accolades that come their way for holding the Giants to four field goals in five goal line situations. New York’s domination of the time of possession puts an exclamation point on the defenses’ accomplishments.

  • All of which begs the question, why did the defense keep finding find itself in those siutaitons?

At the outset of the game I was somewhat surprised to hear Tory Aikman talk about how the Steelers offense has struggled. After all, the team was 5-1 and, while they’d bogged down for a few quarters here and there, the Steelers got on the board when they needed to.

  • But Bruce Arians and Ben Roethlisberger not only seemed determined to justify Aikman’s criticism, but that determination grew stronger as the game wore on.

Aside from Mewelde Moore’s 32 yard run, and Ben’s long bomb to Nate Washington, the Steelers offense produced nothing all day. They could not protect their quarterback, receivers could not get open or hold on to the ball, they could not convert third downs, and they could not sustain drives.

  • Did anyone think the Steelers were going to mount a come back when they got the ball after the Giants scored the go-ahead touchdown?

It just wasn’t that kind of day.

Special teams was also once again a liability, as the return units gave up returns of 28 and 35 yards, giving the Steelers defense a short field to defend. While the long-snap fiasco really isn’t anyone’s “fault,” Steel Curtain Rising did point out back when the Steelers re-signed Greg Warren that the value of a long-snapper should not be underestimated (this is one of the times when you hate to be right.)

Bruce Arians and Ben Roethlisberger must bear the burnt of the blame for today’s loss. Ben’s his first and third picks were of the Kordell Stewart variety, even if his second interception wasn’t his fault, and maybe his last one can be written off as a desperation heave. Roethlisberger was simply out of sync, and most of the rest of the offense took its cue from him.

The Steelers third drive in the third quarter offers the perfect example. Pittsburgh started on its 23 and advanced to New York’s 38. They were in perfect position to put the Giants away.

Except that a 15 yard unnecessary roughness penalty pushed them back to the Giant’s 47. In the succeeding four plays included:

  • A nullified a 53 touchdown strike to Nate Washington (which pushed them back to their own 37)
  • A three yard scramble on a broken play (read, Ben escaped before he was about to get sacked. Again)
  • A poorly thrown deep third down pass dropped by Nate Washington

The Steelers ended up punting from their own 40, and lost Greg Warren in the process.

At this juncture in the season one has to seriously question the play calling of Bruce Arians. The Steelers seemed reluctant to rely on Medwlede Moore, but since then man who went into training camp as an afterthought at running back has shown that he can play.

  • Against the Giants Mewelde Moore averaged 4.4 yards per carry, he ripped off 32 yard touchdown, and showed that could both run between the tackles and make a team pay when he can turn the corner on the outside.

Why wasn’t he used more? He did get 19 carries, but he showed every indication of being willing and able to do more. To be certain Moore was held to 21 yards in the second half, but its not like he is the only option. If the offensive coaches were worried about putting too much on Moore shoulders, Gary Russell was there.

Russell has flashed at times at other moments he’s been a little flat. But against the Giants his only carry was good for eight yards. Putting Russell in for a series, if only to spell Moore, carried little risk with a might higher potential reward.

  • The issue of Bruce Arians will be discussed here later on in the week. Suffice to say, the passing offense was unable the execute their portion of his game plan. That was clear early on.

What remains unclear is why Bruce Arians showed no inclination to use the other weapons at his disposal. Thus far it has hard to avoid the sensation that Arians, perhaps because of the injury to Parker, (perhaps not) is not comitted to establishing the running game.

The Steelers are seven games into their season and they’re having difficulty sustaining drives and they cannot protect their quarterback. The Giants game revealed none of these warts, as each was on display in previous games. But the Steelers were able to compensate for them up until now. In fact, they compensated so well that one wondered if they were aberrations.

The Giants game revealed that the against a legitmate contender the Steelers would not be able simply make up for a several sloppy drives with a heroic comeback.

No, the Giants game demonstrated that the Steelers have some issues on offense, problems that they rectified soon as they play more legitimate contenders over the next several weeks.

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Steelers vs. Giants — Keys To the Game

The Super Bowl Champions come to town today, and the Steelers had better be ready.

When teams are playing the defending world champs they to elevate their level of play –at the end of the 2006 season Steelers Digest’s Bob Labriolia chronicled how many of the key stars of opposing clubs had their best games of the season against the Steelers.

If you mentioned that to Mike Tomlin, his retort would most certainly be “You know, all of that stuff is great for the fans, but the simple fact is that we should be excited to play simply because there is a football game being played.”

Fair enough. That’s exactly the attitude that you want to hear out of your coach.

But the Steelers need to bring their top game, because the Giants bring a plethora of weapons to the field on both sides of the ball, and the Steelers have had their share of off-the field distractions.

The Giants pass rush, pass protection, running game, and star quarterbacking of Eli Manning are well documented, and there is no need to recount that in great detail here.

It’s (Almost) All About the Pass Rush

Suffice the Giants have been terrorizing quarterbacks with only a four man rush, and protecting Ben has been an issue for the Steelers all year.

Ben has shown he can take a pounding and, it shudders me to say this, but sometimes it almost seems like he thrives on it. (Just think, Cincinnati barely touched him, but his trip the Queen city was hardly his best game.)

On the flip side, Eli Manning has not been sacked much all year. But, as Cleveland has shown, if you get to Eli, you give yourself a shot at winning the game.

The Giants offensive line deserves credit for keeping Eli clean, but they yet to face off against the tandem of James Harrison and LaMarr Woodely.

All things considered equal, this game will be probably decided by who can rush the passer more effectively.

Why probably? Well, last year the team’s rushing defense fell apart with the loss of Aaron Smith. Smith has not practiced all week due to a personal issue, and will likely not play.

If New York is able to run the ball effectively, it will be a long afternoon for the Steelers.

Distractions Yes, Disruptions….?

During the week it seemed like an article on disruptions was going to find its way onto Steel Curtain Rising…. And that was before Santonio Holmes got busted.

  • Prior to the Bengals game all of the talk focused on the numerous fines that the NFL has levied against the Steelers, many for hits that were not penalized.
  • Such talk only increased in the wake Hines Wards, legal, but literally jaw breaking hit in Cincinnati.
  • The NFL saw it necessary to dispatch a league executive to the Steelers South Side training complex to “explain” league policy.
  • …And then Terrell Suggs went on record saying that the Baltimore Ravens had put out bounties on Hines Ward and Rashard Mendenhall.

What Effect Did This Have?

Its impossible to say, but the fact that Hines Ward felt compelled to call a Pittsburgh radio station to defend himself reveals that this is something that players of focusing on.

And of course, the week’s events were topped off with Santonio Holmes being charged with marijuana possession, and his subsequently being listed inactive for the game.

Steelers Digest’s Bob Labriola began the week with his weekly column titled “Time To Find Out What the Steelers Have…”

  • He’s right, but he was only talking about the X’s and O’s.

Mike Tomlin has said that distractions come with success, and that the ability to deal with distractions separates the good teams from the great ones. In other words, distractions are unavoidable.

Tomlin is right.

Today’s game against the Giants will reveal how well Tomlin is able to keep distractions from becoming disruptions.

If he succeeds then the Steelers will have a chance at mastering the pass rush, on both sides of the ball, which gives them an excellent shot at defeating the defending Super Bowl Champions.

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Steelers Discipline Santonio Holmes – Wide Receiver to Sit Against New York

Faced with the most serious discipline crisis of his tenure as head coach, as Santonio Holmes was caught with misdemeanor marijuana possession on Thursday, Mike Tomlin acted quickly to discipline his errant wide receiver.

The Post-Gazette reported that Holmes was stopped by police in Hill District because his SUV had similar characteristics to one they believed to be carrying a large amount of narcotics. The officer stopping Holmes smelled marijuana, and asked Holmes if he had been smoking marijuana. Holmes admitted that he had done so the day before, and confessed to having a small amount of the drug in his possession.

  • Holmes was not arrested, and will be charged with a court summons.

This is not the first time a Steeler has found his way onto the police blotter during Tomlin’s time, as Najeh Davenport, James Harrison, and Cedric Wilson were all involved in domestic disputes during the past year. (Davenport was acquitted by a jury, Harrison saw the charges dropped against him, and Wilson was released from the team.)

But this incident comes on the heels of the Steelers biggest regular season match up, less than 72 hours before the reigning Super Bowl Champion New York Giants are sent to arrive at Heinz Field.

Tomlin Moves with a Firm Hand on Holmes

The importance of this match up cannot be understated. The New York Giants are 5-1, and although their play has not been flawless, they’ve played well enough to demonstrate that they are capable of making a repeat run at the Super Bowl.

While the Steelers are also 5-1, they’ve only played two teams that figure to have a serious shot at playing multiple games in January. Holmes importance to the team cannot be overstated. He has caught 22 passes this year, and while he only has one touchdown, his 16.4 yards per catch average shows just how much of a deep threat he is.

Given the urgency of the Giant’s game up, Tomlin deserves praise for taking a resolute stand. Not only did Holmes not practice today, not only will he not play against the Giants, but he has been banned from showing his face at Heinz Field on Sunday.

Afterpractice Mike Tomlin minced no words:

His situation has created somewhat of a distraction. We want to minimize that as much as we can and remain focused on the task at hand which is to compete and play against the New York Giants on Sunday…. I notified him of that and told him I would see him on Monday morning…. This is how I choose to address it and deal with it at this time. My approach and mentality in regards to the situation might be different next week. Right now I don’t have the time or patience to delve into it….

Strong, But Strong Enough?

Tomlin wasted no time in declaring Holmes inactive for the game against the Giants, and in doing so he delivered a strong message his players, but the question is, was it strong enough?

There is no mistaking Tomlin’s tone, but he stopped short of suspending Santonio Holmes.* Benching a player and banishing him from team facilities on the eve of a big game makes a clear statement, and will get the attention of the other players in the locker room.

But a suspension would have added some real sting and sent an unequivocal signal to the rest of the team.

*Yesterday, both the press reports and the Steelers website were on record as saying that Holmes had not been suspended. However, today the Post-Gazette is reporting that “He [Mike Tomlin] declined to say if Mr. Holmes had been suspended by the team or docked a game’s pay.”

Click here for Steel Curtain Rising’s speculation on how this latest incident could affect Santonio’s future with the Steelers.

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