Steelers Report Card for Win Over Rams – Who Got A’s, Who got D’s?

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is pleased as punch to see half of his class excelling to their potential while worried that the other half keeps losing points due to misspellings and other sloppy mistakes, here is the Steelers Report Card for the win over the Rams at Heinz Field.

Cam Heyward, Todd Gurley, Cameron Heyward, Steelers vs Rams

Cam Heyward stones Todd Gurley in the 3rd quarter of the Steelers win over the Rams. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive

Quarterbacks
Mason Rudolph passed for a career high 242 yards as he completed 22 of 38 attempts with no interceptions and one touchdown. Hardly numbers to impress a Fantasy Football owner. But what those numbers fail to demonstrate is the poise, control and command that Mason Rudolph displayed on the field. Ultimately, that proved to be a difference maker. Grade: BSteelers, Report Card, grades,

Running Backs
Jaylen Samuels got his 2nd consecutive start and was limited to 40 total yards from scrimmage as he was neither a threat to run nor as a pass catcher. Tony Brooks-James got 11 yards on 6 carries. Trey Edmunds got 1 yard on 4 carries, although he did convert a critical 4th down pass. It wasn’t all their fault, but the Steelers needed more from their running backs. They didn’t get it. Grade: D

Tight Ends
The Steelers used a lot of two tight end sets in hopes of helping the offensive line against the Rams stout front seven. The lack of running lanes for the running backs and the punishment Mason Rudolph faced speak for themselves. Vance McDonald caught 3 of 7 passes thrown his way for 11 yards. Nick Vannett caught 1 of 1 passes thrown his way. Grade: C-

Wide Receivers
James Washington took another stride forward in catching 6 passes for 90 yards, including a touchdown. Yet he coughed up the ball just as he was moving the Steelers into scoring position. Diontae Johnson caught 4 passes for 64 yards while JuJu Smith-Schuster, battling Jaylen Ramsey for most of the day, was limited to 3 catches for 44 yards. The Steelers wide outs must do better. Grade: C-

Offensive Line
The Steelers offensive line had its stiffest test, so stiff that Mike Tomlin reconfigured it by moving Matt Feiler to guard and Chukwuma Okorafor to right tackle. Things didn’t start well as a bad snap spotted the Rams 7 points. Mason Rudolph had good time to throw at times, but he did take more punishment than he has all season. As for the running game? The Rams recorded 12.5 tackles behind the line of scrimmage. Grade: D-

David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey, Chukwuma Okorafor, Steelers vs Rams

Steelers offensive line quite simply needs to step it up. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive

Defensive Line
Javon Hargrave led the Steelers defensive line in tackles, including a key strip sack, which although  probably a gift from the officials, turned the game for the Steelers. Cam Heyward registered one helacious sack, another tackle for a loss, 2 passes defensed and 3 quarterback hits. Tyson Alualu had a hand in a tackle behind scrimmage and 4 tackles. Grade: A-

Linebackers
We could have written this ahead of time:  T.J. Watt led the unit with 2 sacks including a strip sack. Bud Dupree had 4 tackles, Vince Williams and Devin Bush had 3 a piece while Mark Barron clocked in the most with 11 and 1 pass defensed. Strong play by the line backers, but cursory viewing replays suggest that the inside linebackers were largely responsible for the gaps that Todd Gurley and Malcom Brown exploited. Grade: B+

Secondary
Is Minkah Fitzpatrick for real? Or is Minkah Magic just a dream? Each week when the Steelers need a big play Minkah Fitzpatrick steps up on cue. The Rams game added to his lore, as his heads up fumble recovery for a touchdown and last minute interceptions were game changers. Mike Hilton played point man in shutting down Cooper Kupp, while Steven Nelson had a key tackle to force a third down with 11:44 left to play. Terrell Edmunds helped bat away a pass in the end zone, although he’s lucky he didn’t get called for pass interference. Grade: A

Steven Nelson, Gerald Everett, Steelers vs Rams

Steven Nelson makes key 3rd down stop on Gerald Everett. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive

Special Teams
As usual the Steelers coverage units gave up a longish punt and kick returns. Ryan Switzer got negative yards on the one punt return he tried to bring back. Diontae Johnson returned 3 punts including one for 14 yards, but he had a fumble.

  • Chris Boswell was 1-1 on his field goal and perfect on PATs.

The key play for Danny Smith’s special teams was Trey Edmunds interception to stop a fake punt attempt, which could have been a game changer. Grade: B

Coaching
Randy Fichtner’s taking a lot of heat. Some of it is justified, some not. Fichtner didn’t fumble those three balls nor did he drop those six passes. These types of execution errors are hobbling the offense. He’s also playing with a running game on life support.

However, winning and losing starts at the line of scrimmage, and the put plainly, Pittsburgh is consistently losing that battle when it comes to establishing the run.

  • In the 90’s, when Carnell Lake reported after ending a contract hold out, Dick LeBeau quipped to reporters, “I just became a better coach.”

The addition of players like Steven Nelson, Minkah Fitzpatrick, paired with the maturation of T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree seems to be making Keith Butler much, much a better coach too. Seriously. The Steelers defense is performing at levels not seen since at least 2010 if not 2008 and has scored as many touchdowns as the offense in the last two weeks.

The Steelers started the season at 1-4 and, while injuries contributed to that “September stench,” they’ve remained and issue since then. Today they’re 5-4 and “Playoffs” are a real possibility for Pittsburgh. Credit Mike Tomlin for keeping his team focused and finding ways to win. Grade: B

Unsung Hero Award
For the last two years he’s been the top dog in his unit. Steelers management agrees, so says the contract he signed before the season. Since then his spot in the pecking order has been displaced, but he’s but he’s not been deterred, as his five defensed passes led the team on Sunday, including a final one that set up the game sealing interception, and for that Joe Haden wins the Unsung Hero Award for the win over the Rams.

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Defense Dominates, Steelers Defeat Rams 17-12 as Mason Rudolph Matures, Under the Radar

The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated the Los Angeles Rams 17-12 at Heinz Field and improved their record to 5-4. While their margin was small, the men in Black and Gold very well may have gained something far bigger with this win.

  • Any NFL game where the winning team fails to break the 20 point mark is by definition a defensive game.

Add an exclamation point to that, when the game includes a safety, safety, two defensive touchdowns, follow by a strip sack and an interception on the final drive.

The Steelers defense was elite against the Rams and their play was certainly worthy of the block letter throwback uniforms they wore. And yet for all of the defensive fireworks, the most important development of the game may be the maturation of Mason Rudolph.

Mason Rudolph, Steelers vs Rams

Stats might not show it, but Mason Rudolph made strides against the Rams. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive

Scary Start Leads to Slugfest in the Trenches

When your center snaps that ball above your quarterback’s head on the third play from scrimmage, its not good. When an untouched defender scoops up the loose ball untouched and basically walk into the end zone, its really bad.

That’s how things started for the Steelers as Maurkice Pouncey hiked the ball over Mason Rudolph’s head and Dante Fowler got the Rams up 7-0 with less than 15 seconds elapsed. On the ensuring series, the Steelers offense managed just one yard as Jaylen Samuels ran for 3, Tony Brooks-James got stuffed for -2, and Rudolph failed to connect for with JuJu Smith-Schuster.

  • Normally a start like that foreshadows disaster; on this day in Pittsburgh, it simply signaled the Steelers defense to snap in to action.

The defending NFC Champion Los Angeles Rams brought the NFL’s 10th ranked offense into Heinz Field
They left Pittsburgh as a unit that was outscored by its defense

Rams slot receiver Cooper Kupp entered the game as the NFL’s number one receiver on third downs. Keith Butler’s boys focused on shutting him down. Mike Hilton had primary reponsiblity for that, but enjoyed help from Terrell Edmunds and/or dime safety Mark Barron.

  • Cooper Kupp left Heinz Field without a catch.

Mike Tomlin told the FOX commentator team that the Steelers game plan was to “Get to Jared Goff before they can get to Mason Rudolph.” The Steelers game plan worked.

Cam Heyward and Javon Hargrave helped end Rams drives with third down sacks. T.J. Watt set up another third and long with a sack, and helped rattle him at the end with a strip sack. Vince Williams, Jordan Dangerfield and Mike Hilton also joined the party by registering quarterback hits and, while they weren’t credited, Bub Dupree and Mark Barron met T.J. Watt at the quarterback at least once.

If ESPN’s stats are to be trusted, when the dust cleared:

  • The vaunted Rams defensive front had sacked Mason Rudolph 3 times and hit him 8 times
  • The Steelers defense sacked Jared Goff 4 times and hit him 8 times

Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler’s game plan worked.

Minkah the Man with Magnetic Hands

Steelers free safety Minkah Fitzpatrick earns his own section in this game breakdown. The unorthodox trade that brought Minkah Fitzpatrick to Pittsburgh was questioned by many, including this writer.

  • Yet, there’s been no doubt that Minkah Fitzpatrick has worked magic with the Steelers defense.

Javon Hargrave’s third down sack of Jared Goff in the first half popped ball loose and it landed just ahead the line of scrimmage. To the naked eye, it looked like an incomplete pass. Yet, the referees sounded no whistle.

Minkah Fitzpatrick scooped up the ball and returned it 43 yards for a touchdown giving the Steelers a 7 point lead with 1:56 left to play in the first half.

When the game was on the line with 30 seconds remaining, Minkah Fitzpatrick worked his magic again, as Joe Haden (who had a pick of his own) deflected a pass with Fitzpatrick intercepted again, sealing the win.

The Maturation of Mason Rudolph

The Pittsburgh Steelers defense earned all of the praise being showered on it following the win over the Rams. But Mason Rudolph’s stand up performance is flying just underneath the radar.

  • Yes, the Steelers offense had to punt 9 times
  • Yes, the Steelers had to settle for a Chris Boswell field goal after reaching the 7 with 2:49 left to play
  • Yes, the Steelers offense couldn’t kill the game with a first down with 1:25 remaining

And no, Mason Rudolph didn’t make any fantasy owners happy with his 22 of 38 for 242 and one touchdown passing day.

But make no mistake about it, Mason Rudolph made important strides against the Rams. He executed the drive that ended with a 3 yard pass to James Washington to perfection. After giving up his 2nd safety in as many weeks at the hands of the almighty Aaron Donald, he stood clam in the pocket and executed a 4th and 1 conversion by connecting with Trey Edmunds.

  • Those objective achievements are important but perhaps Mason Rudolph’s most important achievements came on the subjective side of the ledger.

Against the Rams, Mason Rudolph embraced his role as leader of the Steelers offense in a way he hadn’t done before. Repeatedly during the game, Rudolph stood at the line of scrimmage, surveyed the defense, and unhesitatingly changed protections or audibled to a new play.

The Los Angeles Rams might have gotten to Mason Rudolph just a little less frequently than the Steelers got to Jared Goff. But the Rams never got into Mason Rudolph’s head, and that was the difference in this victory for the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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Steelers Cornerback Mike Hilton – Simply Another Kevin Colbert Gem

You’ll have to excuse me if I seem a little out of sorts, following the Steelers 34-6 victory over the Texans on Christmas Day, a win that clinched at least a bye into the Divisional Round of the 2017/18 postseason.

  • I’m out of sorts because I don’t know if I watched a live NFL game, or a video game, namely Ninento’s old Tecmo Bowl.

You  remember Tecmo Bowl, don’t you? The football video game that emulated NFL teams and players from the 1990’s.

Like I’m sure most young Pittsburghers during that era, I often picked the Steelers as my team when going against the computer or, more enjoyably, my little brother.

As is common with most video games, you could choose a player to control on your own, and I often picked Hall of Fame cornerback Rod Woodson.

  • Why? Because, much like in real life, there was nothing you couldn’t do with that guy–including rush the opposing passer as often as you liked.

As I watched Steelers newly-minted slot corner sensation Mike Hilton rush Houston quarterbacks time-and-time again on Monday (eight times, to be exact) and record three sacks, I couldn’t help but think back to my youth as a bit of a gamer.

 

mike hilton, Steelers cornerback mike hilton, T.J. Watt, Stephon Tuitt, Taylor Heinicke, steelers vs texans

Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton after sacking Texans quarterback Taylor Heinicke. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla, Tribune-Review

But while Hilton became just the third Steelers defensive back to record three sacks in a game–tying safeties Troy Polamalu and Carnell Lake for the franchise mark–he did something in real life that no other cornerback in NFL history–including Woodson–has ever done outside of a video game.

That’s right, Hilton became the first cornerback in league history to post three sacks in a game since the NFL began recording it as an official statistic in 1982. Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert has long had a knack for finding gems as Undrafted Rookie Free Agents and street free agents.

  • And Steelers cornerback Mike Hilton is the latest example. Hilton, who, like 2015 second round pick Senquez Golson, played his college ball at Ole Miss.

However, unlike Golson, who never played a meaningful down for the Steelers due to battling various injuries, Hilton took advantage of the chance the Steelers gave him.

After signing with the Jaguars as an UDFA in 2016, Hilton soon found himself on the Patriots practice squad, before winding up on Pittsburgh’s by the end of the season.

Coming into the 2017 training camp, there was great buzz about Hilton and what he could possibly bring to the Steelers secondary.

But isn’t every training camp filled with young unknowns with low pedigree who excite fans that are forever in-love with the underdog?

  • Yet, that buzz never subsided, and even Hilton’s coaches and teammates couldn’t help gushing over him.

And it didn’t take long–about a quarter into the Steelers first preseason game, actually–before it became apparent that, not only was Hilton likely to land on his first NFL roster, the Steelers had huge plans for him to be their starting slot corner, a position once earmarked for his former college teammate, Golson.

Not only did Hilton earn that starting corner slot, through 15 games of his rookie season, he has excelled at the position, with a total of two interceptions, five passed defensed, a forced fumble, 39 tackles and a total of four quarterback sacks.

Nobody’s draft record is perfect–including Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert. And it’s clear he missed on Golson, if not in-terms of assessing his talent, then, perhaps, in assessing his durability.

  • But if you’re going to miss on a high draft pick, you better make up for it somewhere else.

After years of struggling to find the right pieces, the Steelers now appear to have a secondary that’s close to being complete.

The unit now includes a young and promising safety in Sean Davis, playing alongside veteran Mike Mitchell, a calculated free-agent signing in 2014. The corner position is comprised of young, aggressive and also promising Artie Burns, along with accomplished veteran Joe Haden, a gift of a free-agent acquisition who miraculously fell into Pittsburgh’s lap right before the start of the season.

And, to round it all out, the Steelers now appear to have Mike Hilton as their very promising slot corner, a formerly unknown UDFA who excited fans at the onset of training camp, and is still leaving them giddy, just weeks away from the start of the postseason.

I love it when a plan comes together.

 

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Steelers History vs Former Assistant Coaches Gives Context to Dick LeBeau vs. Todd Haley Matchup

Tonight the Tennessee Titans come to town for Thursday Night Football. The real story and stakes of the game are in the outcome itself – the Steelers at 7-2 need to keep pace in the AFC race and can ill afford to drop a game to the 6-3 Tennessee Titans who’re leading their own AFC South division.

  • But of course the subtext behind this game is Dick LeBeau’s return to Heinz Field.

No matter how you look at it, Dick LeBeau vs Todd Haley, Dick LeBeau vs. Mike Tomlin and Keith Butler add a lot of intrigue to this game. With that in mind, we thought we’d look back to the Steelers history vs former assistant coaches.

While this list isn’t meant to be inclusive, it does highlight the Steelers record vs some of the franchise’s notable alumni.

Dick LeBeau, Todd Haley, Steelers history vs former assistant coaches

Dick LeBeau and Todd Haley in 2012. Photo Credit: Matt Freed, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

1979 – Super Bowl XIV – Noll Knows How to Beat Bud

January 20th, 1980 @ Rose Bowl
Pittsburgh 31, Los Angeles 19

The record will reflect that the head coach of the Los Angeles Rams was Ray Malavasi. But no one remembers that, because the subtext to this game was the chess match between Chuck Noll and his former defensive coordinator Bud Carson who was with the Rams.

  • Noll, as Art Rooney Jr. reports in Ruanaidh, informed his wife that “I know how to beat Bud.”

For a little more than four quarters it appeared Noll had erred. Then, facing 3rd and long deep in Pittsburgh territory, Noll ordered Terry Bradshaw to “Go for the big one!” Bradshaw launched 60-Prevent-Slot-Hook-And-Go to John Stallworth and 73 yards later the Steelers were ahead for good.

After the game, Carson complained that “All we needed to do was to stop John Stallworth.” Yep, Chuck knew how to beat Bud.

1989 – Bud Carson Gets His Revenge

September 10th, 1989 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Cleveland 51, Pittsburgh 0

Ten years later Bud Carson would FINALLY secure the head coaching job he’d longed for when he left Pittsburgh over a decade earlier. And this time it was with the Cleveland Browns. Fate would have Bud open against his former mentor on the road at Three Rivers Stadium.

The Steelers fumbled on their first possession and the Browns returned it for a touchdown. Things went downhill after that, in an afternoon that saw Bubby Brister catch his own pass.

People took the game as a sign that Chuck Noll was done. It wouldn’t happen right away, but boy would the 1989 Steelers prove a lot of people wrong.

1992 – Dungy Triumphs in His Pittsburgh Home Coming

December 20th, 1992 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Minnesota 6, Pittsburgh 3

Tony Dungy of course played for Chuck Noll, and Chuck Noll not only gave him his first NFL coaching job, but made him the NFL’s first African American coordinator. Dungy was seen as heir apparent to Noll in many circles. But, after the 1988 Steelers disastrous defense Dungy resigned rather than accept a demotion.

Ironically, Dungy took a job as Bill Cowher’s secondary coach in Kansas City, but by 1992 he was back as a defensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings. While the Steelers managed to get Barry Foster his 100 yards, they couldn’t get it into the end zone and Dungy won his first game back at Three Rivers Stadium.

1996 – Dom Doesn’t Dominate, But Spoils Kordell’s Parade

December 22nd, 1996 @ Ericsson Stadium
Carolina 18, Pittsburgh 14

It only took Dom Capers three years as a defensive coordinator in Pittsburgh to land his first head coaching job. And he’d face his former mentor, Bill Cowher in the final game 1996.

The game was meaningless for Pittsburgh, as its playoff seeding was locked, but Bill Cowher tried it out in an attempt to test drive his secret weapon – putting Kordell Stewart under center as the full time quarterback.

Stewart didn’t start the game, but was inserted midway through, and while he threw over a dozen incomplete passes, he eventually started connecting with his wide out and burned the entire Panthers defense with an 80 yard touchdown scramble. Stewart would come with in a dropped touchdown pass as time expired of leading a comeback.

1998 – Dungy Dominates in the “Crying Game”

December 13th, 1998 @ Raymond James Stadium
Tampa Bay 16, Pittsburgh 3

By 1998 the Kordell Stewart roller coaster had soared to tremendous heights and was now locked in a serious decline. Save for a few games in the middle of the year, Kordell Stewart had struggled for the entire season, and after the Thanksgiving Day Coin Toss Disaster had led and inept offensive effort against New England.

This followed a rainy game in which Bill Cowher replaced an in effected Kordell Stewart with Mike Tomczak, followed by Kordell confronting his coach, only to be seen on the bench crying, and THEN reinserted into the game.

2005 – Steelers Backups Spoil Mularkey’s Starters Playoff Hopes

January 2nd, 2005 @ Ralph Wilson Stadium
Pittsburgh 29, Buffalo 24

The story of the 2004 season for the Pittsburgh Steelers was of course rookie Ben Roethlisberger. But Big Ben sat this one at as the 2004 Steelers already had home field advantage locked up.

  • Not so for former Steelers offensive coordinator Inspector Gadget, aka Mike Mularkey’s Buffalo Bills, who went into the game with their playoff hopes alive.

Alas, they were hoping in vain. Tommy Maddox would start for the Steelers, and together with Fast Willie Parker, the Steelers backups would defeat the Bills and keep them out of the playoffs.

2007 – Whisenhunt & Warner Get Better of Roethlisberger

September 30th, 2007 @ University of Phoenix Stadium
Arizona 21, Pittsburgh 14

When Bill Cowher resigned as Steelers head coach, the question most minds was whether the Rooneys would hire Ken Whisenhunt or Russ Grimm. Art II and Dan opted to do neither, and hired Mike Tomlin.

  • But that wasn’t the real story behind this matchup.

Ben Roethlisberger had made some seemingly disparaging comments about his former offensive coordinator, to the point where Mike Tomlin publicly admonished him that he should be excited “Simply because he’s playing a football game.”

Excited or not, Ken Whisenhunt platooned Kurt Warner and Matt Leinart to get the better of Roethlisberger in what would mark the first loss of the Mike Tomlin era.

2008 – Super Bowl XLIII – LeBeau Wins Chess Match with Whisenhunt

February 9th, 2009 @ Raymond James Stadium
Pittsburgh 27, Arizona 23

The two sides would get a rematch less than 18 months later in Super Bowl XLIII. And by that time, all eyes were on the chess match between Dick LeBeau’s dominating 2008 Steelers defense and Ken Whisenhunt’s explosive offense featuring Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald.

While its true that last minute heroics from Ben Roehtlisberger and Santoino Holmes were needed to secure victory, those heorics were possible in part by Dick LeBeau’s defense in the form of the 99 yard pick six authored by James Harrison.

Note, that represented at least a 10 if not 14 point swing in the Steelers favor in a game decided by 4. So yes, Dick LeBeau won the chess match vs. Ken Whisenhunt.

2009 — Roethlisberger and Wallace over Green Bay, by a Nose

December 20th 2009 @ Heinz Field
Pittsburgh 37, Packers 36

By this point in time Dom Capers had had two unsuccessful runs as a head coach, but was back in the booth as Green Bay’s defensive coordinator. But the Zone Blitz defensive model that Capers and pioneered with Dick LeBeau (and Marv Lewis) in the early 1990’s in Pittsburgh had gained traction throughout the league.

And the Steelers and Packers entered this game with two of the league’s top defenses which is ironic, because there was no defense to speak of in this game. The Steelers inability to stop the Packers aerial attack was such that Mike Tomlin ordered an on-sides kick late in the 4th quarter with the Steelers holding a two point lead, conceding that  the Steelers coudln’t stop them.

The Steelers couldn’t but got the ball back, as Ben Roethlisberger marched 86 yards in 2 minutes to make the game-winning throw to Mike Wallace with just 3 seconds remaining.

2015 – Bruce Arians Foiled by Landry and Martavis

October 18th, 2015 @ Heinz Field
Pittsburgh 25, Arizona 13

The story of Bruce Arians, Mike Tomlin and Art Rooney II is well known, perhaps too well known for its own good. Bruce Arians “retirement” can be measured in days, if not hours, and when he returned to Heinz Field to face his former team, he brought a 4-1 record, a stealer defense, and was viewed as a Super Bowl favorite.

  • The Steelers, in contrast, were quarterbacked by backup Mike Vick, where on their 4th place kicker and decided underdogs.

Things appeared to go from bad to worse in the second half, when a scrambling Michael Vick left the game with an injury. In came Landry Jones, and most fans felt this spelled doom. But, supported by Le’Veon Bell’s rushing, Landry Jones quickly led the Steelers to a touchdown when he connected with Martavis Bryant in the end zone.

Although the two point conversion pass to Antonio Brown would fail, the Steelers would tack on two more Chris Boswell field goals, and were clinging to an 18 to 15 point lead at the two minute warning, when on second and 8 Jones hit a short pass to Bryant over the middle. Here’s what happened next:

Bruce Arians expression says it all! The Steelers beat the Cardinals 25-13.

 

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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.
steelers fans, steelers nation, steelers vs. chargers, michael vick

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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Roethlisberger Injury, Cam Newton Comments Highlight NFL Referee Favoritism of Elite Quarterbacks

The football stars have aligned again. And this time the issue at the forefront is NFL referee favoritism of elite quarterbacks. The stars in question are an injury Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers and an angry Cam Newton of the Carolina Panthers.

Early in the third quarter of the Steelers 12-6 win over the St. Louis Rams Mark Barron hit Ben Roethlisberger. It was immediately obvious that Roethlisberger was down and hurting badly. In fact, one could argue that Roethlisberger in fact fumbled the ball but everyone forgot about that as concern about his injury mounted.

Few people questioned the legality of the hit at the time either. However, retired NFL officiating director Mike Pereira was not one of them.

In Pereira’s view, Barron’s hit on Roethlisberger was probably illegal, although no one from Ben Roethlisberger to, Mike Tomlin, to Ed Bouchette thinks it is dirty. Jim Wexell compared the hit to Kimo von Oelhoffen’s hit on Carlson Palmer in the 2005 AFC Divisional playoff game.

  • Neither man hit with malice and neither man was flagged.

The critical difference is that following the von Oelhoffen-Palmer injury the NFL changed the rules regarding low hits to quarterbacks. And to be fair to both the officials on the field and at NFL headquarters, it is certainly plausible that no one got a good enough look at the hit to make a call, and the NFL could possibly be issuing a fine to Barron based on video tape review at this very moment.

Either way, the Roethlisberger injury and the Barron hit that caused it would have been a simple unfortunate happenstance in what is certainly the most brutal spectator sport outside of Ultimate Fighting.

  • The operative phrase above is “Would have” because of what happened on the same day in Carolina.

Carolina Panther’s quarterback Cam Newton took what he felt was a late hit, and was not happy about it:

Referee Ed Hochuli has denied making the “You’re not old enough” comment, and insists that he explained to Newton that he was running outside of the pocket. NFL Vice President of officiating Dean Blandino has backed up Houchli’s version of events, and amateur lip readers seem to indicate that Hochuli appears to be saying what he claimes said.

  • And without further evidence the story would die there.
  • But those blessed with good memories are fortunate enough to say “Not so fast.”

While the unflagged Barron hit on Roethlisberger might not have been dirty, it was hardly the first time Ben Roethlisberger has taken a questionable hit and not gotten a flag. Most Steelers fans would prefer to forget the Steelers trips to Oakland’s black hole, one play from their 2012 loss to the Raiders stands out:

Philip Wheeler hit from behind of Ben Roethlisberger was both illegal and dirty. Don’t remember it? You can watch the play here:

Philip Wheeler, illegal hit, Ben Roethlisberger

Illegal Philip Wheeler hit on Ben Roethlisberger, courtesy of SB Nation Assets

Wheeler of course escaped the wrath of Roger Goodell and then NFL-discipline czar Ray Anderson for taking out Ben Roethlisberger from below and behind.

  • Let’s agree that enforcement of rules is never going to be uniform.

Let’s also agree that even well-meaning officials, without realizing it, might hesitate to throw a flag on a hit no a Ben Roethlisberger, a Cam Newton or a Michael Vick simply because Newton and Vick are known as mobile quarterbacks and Ben is well known for being a quarterback whose passing actually becomes more accurate after he takes a hit.

  • Fair enough.

But does anyone honestly doubt that flags would have been thrown and fines would have been levied had Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rodgers and/or Drew Brees suffered the hits shown here?
Didn’t think so.

The NFL can deny it all they want, but NFL referees favor elite quarterbacks.

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Steelers Report Card for Road Win Over Rams

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who saw his star pupil stricken with injury and who now prays that his investment in an understudy pays off, here is the Steelers Report Card for the win over the St. Louis Rams.

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger’€™s numbers prior to his MCL injury look good at 20 of 24 with one interception. Still, when Roethlisberger left the field the Steelers had only 9 points on the board in two trips to the Red Zone. The first responsibly of any back up quarterback coming off the bench in the middle of a game is to not lose it, and Michael Vick proved up to the task. Still, Vick’s five of six passing day is a little deceptive, as the Steelers offense was forced to punt on three of four possessions. Overall the Steelers quarterbacks performed well enough to win, but Roethlisberger’s interception was costly. Grade: B-steelers, report card, grade, Rams,

Running Backs
Le’Veon Bell made his return. How triumphant was it? He did lead the Steelers in total yards from scrimmage with a combined 132 yards. His 3.3 rushing average might not look like much, but he didn’t always have a lot of room to run. He did run with authority later in the game, which helped burn precious time off the clock. DeAngelo Williams ran once for two yards. Grade: B+

Tight Ends
Heath Miller caught two passes on three targets. Matt Spaeth did not have a target but broke a hand at some point and perhaps his absence impacted the Steelers run blocking. Grade: B-

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown continues to play at a Jerry Rice like level, with 11 catches for 108 yards on 13 targets. He did not however, catch a pass from Vick. The Steelers new signal caller and their star wide out must get on the same page. Darrius Heyward-Bey had catches on three targets and you can’t ask for more than that. Markus Wheaton had 2 catches on 3 targets. The recivers did what was asked of them on a day when the Steelers game plan was to focus on the short passing game. Grade: B

Offensive Line

In many parts the Steelers offensive line is winning accolades for its play vs. the Rams defensive line. To some degree, these are justified, as the Rams hardly dominated the game. But they did record five sacks, 8 tackles for losses and 4 QB hits, showing that Rams did get penetration enough times to make it count. The Steelers offensive line did well in in the early going, and again late in the game when the Steelers needed to close out a win. But this unit was tested. They were above the line but only that. Grade: C

Defensive Line
Stephon Tuitt was on a tear, recording another sack and stuffing runners behind the line of scrimmage. Neither Steve McLendon nor Cameron Heyward put up similar numbers on the stat sheet, but make no mistake the Steelers defensive line was a disruptive force as evidenced that the Rams running backs had NO WHERE to run. Grade: B+

Linebackers
With Ryan Shazier out, it fell to Lawrence Timmons to lead the unit, which he did, making 7 tackles. Timmons is widely given credit for helping force the late, game sealing interception. Sean Spence started in place of Shazier and his tackle total was second among linebackers, but his tackle behind the line of scrimmage was key on helping force the Rams to settle for 3 early on. Jarvis Jones only made two tackles, but he looked good in run support. Arthur Moats had the team’s other sack and helped ensure that the Ram’s first possession in the second half ended in a punt. James Harrison laid in a hellicous hit on Nick Foles, although he was beaten on a would-be touchdown pass that was dropped. The Rams were held to 6 points and that only happens if the linebackers make plays. Grade: B+

Secondary
The Steelers had a difficult decision to make in the off season over whether to keep Will Allen or Troy Polamalu. Polamalu retired and the Steelers signed Will Allen the next day. Against the Rams, Allen showed why the Steelers are lucky Polamalu made it easy for them, as he lead the team with 7 tackles and the game sealing interception. Outside of Will Allen, the individual numbers of the Steelers secondary don’t appear all that sexy.

But here’s a stat that is sexy. The St. Louis Rams were 2-10 on third down conversions and 0-1 on 4th down conversions, the later of which was helped along by a hard hit made by Antwon Blake. Grade: B+

Special Teams
Benjamin Cunningham returned two kicks on the Steelers and averaged 22 yards. While that’s far from alarming, that’s a little higher average than you’d like to see. Tavon Austin also had one 20 yard punt return which, while damaging is not something you like to see. The Steelers return game was neglible, and Jordan Berry continued to boom off punts with regularity. The most important special team statistic is Josh Scobee making a 41 yard insurance field goal that put Nick Foles behind the eight ball. Grade: B-

Coaching
It is tough to know how Todd Haley’€™s game plan would have played out had Ben Rothlisberger not been injured in the Steelers first series of the second half. As it stands, his intent appeared to be to spread the Rams defense and attack with quick, short passes. The approach netted the Steelers nine points in the first half.

The Rams 2015 offense is hardly the Rams offense of 1999, but just two weeks ago, Jeff Fishers team put up 34 points on the Seattle Seahawks defense. Keith Butler’€™s defense held that same offense to six points. And for the second straight week the Steelers were faced with a 1st and goal situation and the answered the challenge by forcing 3. No one is ready to elevate Keith Butler’€™s unit to 1976 proportions, but Steel Curtain Rising argued that the 2015 Steelers defense need not struggle, and thus far that argument appears to be well founded.

After a gritty win in which his team lost its franchise quarterback Mike Tomlin chose to emphasis the positive. And while the “€œFire everyone”€ crowd will find fault with this, the truth is that a year ago Mike Tomlin’s teams were finding ways to lose games like this. Vs. the Rams they found a way to win. That’€™s a positive. Grade: B+

Unsung Hero Award
The St. Louis Rams most explosive offensive play against the Steelers came when Pittsburgh could least afford it, let in the 4th quarter. Chris Givens ran a perfectly executed reverse, turned the corner and romped for 24 yards. But Givens was stopped short of a touchdown.

The same player who stopped Givens was behind stopping several other double digit gains that could have gone for more. They they didn’€™t. Keeping nice gains from transforming themselves into big plays is a critical part of winning a game like this, and Steelers safety Michael Mitchell made several crucial stops as his position dictates, and for that Mike Mitchell wins the Unsung Hero Award for the Steelers win over the Rams.

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Steelers Ganan Rams 12-6 con la defensiva acerera le bajó la cortina a unos limitados Rams

La tercera semana dejó a los Steelers sin Ben Roethlisberger

Más allá de la trabajosa victoria sobre los St. Louis Rams por un escueto 12 a 6, este partido dejará su huella en la temporada, debido a la lesión que sufriera el QB Ben Roethlisberger en su rodilla izquierda. La noticia de este incidente empalideció a aquella otra que ocupó los titulares durante toda esta semana: el retorno al campo del RB Le’Veon Bell.

Al momento de escribir esta crónica, desde el locker room solo llegaba hermetismo, acerca de la gravedad de la lesión del mariscal N° 7.
Se supo, sin embargo, de boca de Dejan Kovacevic, que esta noche, al arribar a Pittsburgh o a más tardar mañana, se realizará una RMN sobre la rodilla de Ben.

Comenzando el encuentro, las dos primeras series ofensivas de los Steelers  fueron luminosas. Con un Ben Roethlisberger casi perfecto. Acompañaban, igualmente brillantes Bell, Antonio Brown, Markus Wheaton, Heath Miller

Se anotaron 9 puntos pero por un dedo interpuesto en el camino del ovoide no fueron 14. O 16…

tempBrownA01_at_StLouis_09272015--nfl_mezz_1280_1024

Antonio Brown vs. St. Louis Rams

Pero la lesión de Big Ben comenzó a precipitarse en la tercera serie ofensiva Steeler, durante el segundo cuarto, cuando la batalla en la línea de golpeo pasó a ser dominada por la línea defensiva local:

  • Ya Le’Veon Bell no pudo acarrear
  • Aaron Donald se constituyó en un verdadero problema acosando al pasador (terminaría el encuentro con 1 captura) y takcleando a Bell detrás de la línea de golpeo
  • Kelvin Beachum comenzó a perder los bloqueos y a cometer faltas (la más costosa de ellas fue una mano en la cara que convirtió un 1er y 10 en campo rival en 1er y 20 en la propia yarda 38, dos jugadas antes de la INT lanzada por Roethlisberger)
  • Así la impetuosa ofensiva acerera del primero y parte del 2do cuarto, se fue diluyendo poco a poco, terminando la primera mitad del juego, permitiendo una captura y lanzando una intercepción.

El problema que azotó durante todo el partido a los Rams (esto es verse imposibilitado de terminar las series ofensivas -nótese que lograron convertir tan sólo el 20% de terceros intentos-), lentamente se fue trasladando a los Steelers, sobre todo con el ingreso de Michael Vick.

  • Pero lo más llamativo es que aún antes de la lesión de Ben esta dificultad se había hecho evidente.

Con el ingreso de Michael Vick, el Coach Todd Haley se vió obligado a simplificar los esquemas de ataque: donde, al inicio del partido, disponía 4 y hasta cinco receptores abiertos (que incluían a Bell y a DeAngelo Williams), ahora había sólo uno, tal vez dos y se volcó a entregar el balón a Bell. Pero para entonces ya era muy difícil acarrear.

La ofensiva, deslucida y parece que dedicada a aguantar el marcador, tal vez con la cabeza ya fuera del combate debido a la incertidumbre de no saber cuán grave había sido la lesión de su líder natural, se vió obligada a despejar el ovoide en 4 de las cinco series que siguieron al ingreso de Vick.

A esta defensiva, sólo respeto

El balón del encuentro le pertenece a la defensiva.

tempHarrison01_at_StLouis_09272015--nfl_mezz_1280_1024

James Harrison hits Nick Foles

En efecto, estos once jugadores debían ratificar el buen desempeño de siete días atrás.

Eso lo sabían.

Lo que desconocían que a ellos le iba a corresponder el crédito por la victoria.
La producción de la ofensiva de St. Louis se vió dramáticamente limitada.

Repasemos el resultado de todas sus series ofensivas:

  • Punt
  • Downs
  • Gol de campo
  • Punt
  • Punt
  • Punt
  • Gol de campo
  • Intercepción
  • Downs

Setenta y una yardas por tierra y 187 por aire. Lo ya mencionado: 20 % de conversión de terceros intentos y 0 de 2 en 4to down.
El día de hoy esta defensiva no permitió TDs.
En la única incursión a la zona roja los Rams se fueron con las manos vacías.
Y para cerrar el partido Will Allen se quedó con una intercepción.

La defensiva acerera le bajó la cortina a los St. Louis Rams.

El futuro inmediato con Michael Vick

Por definición es una incógnita, pero respecto de Vick lo es más.
Lo que sí es seguro que lo veremos al frente de la ofensiva por un tiempo. Para lo dispuesto por Coach Haley luego la salida obligada de Big Ben (un esquema ultraconservador) hubiese bastado con Landry Jones.

  • Pero hay un intangible. Algo intransferible. Y esto es su liderazgo. Su experiencia.

Ganará y perderá partidos.

Pero sus 13 temporadas como mariscal de campo (y hubo una época en que fue de los buenos de verdad) son el respaldo que esta ofensiva llena de talento necesita para desenvolverse y brillar.

Y ahora yo digo:

Enhorabuena que contrataron a Michael Vick

El Dr de Acero

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Vote Now Steelers Nation for Steelers Rams Game Ball Winners

Week 3 of the NFL’s 2015 season is now in the books as the Pittsburgh Steelers record improved to 2-1 on the strength of their 12-6 victory over the St. Louis Rams. Now, as we do every week, we turn things over to Steelers Nation to decide who should be awarded game balls. Take a moment to vote now for Steelers Rams game ball winners.

This week’s list is admittedly shorter than last week’s list and for good reason. Even before Ben Roethlisberger went down injured, victory looked to be far from certain. The Steelers offense got into a rhythm and the St. Louis Rams got the better of the Steelers offensive line in trenches.

Nonetheless, statistically speaking Ben Roethlisberger was having a good game prior to his injury, although his interception was costly. Antonio Brown likewise was turning in a solid effort. And while he certainly didn’t “dominate” Le’Veon Bell led the Steelers in yards from scrimmage. The first job of a backup quarterback is to not lose a game that he is forced to enter from the bench, and Michael Vick did just that and his statistics were solid, even if his performance was far from spectacular.

  • Those are the only four players from the Steelers offense to get a spot on the “official” ballot.

steelers, rams, game balls, roethlisberger, vick, injuryThe Steelers defense held the Rams out of the end zone, and produced a critical turnover late in the game. Will Allen’s nomination for a game ball is thus obvious. Lawrence Timmons is a little less so, but he was the team’s second leading tackler.

 

It would be flat out wrong to say that the Steelers mounted good pressure on Nick Foles all day, but the truth is that Stephon Tuitt and Arthur Moats‘ sack of Foles contributed to the success of the Steelers defense. Those are the only four Steelers defenders to make the official game ball ballot.

Place kicker Josh Scobee also earns a place on the game ball winner ballot for accounting for half of the Steelers six points, including a must have field goal with the two minute warning approaching.

Please, however, do not feel limited by these “official ballot choices.” You’re welcome to write in any other Steelers player, coach or unit you think is deserving of a game ball, although bogus entries will be deleted.

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Can Pittsburgh Break the Jeff Fisher Jinx? Steelers Record vs Jeff Fisher is Pretty Poor…

St. Louis Rams coach Jeff Fisher has been around the NFL a long time.

When Jeff Fisher got his first head coaching job, the Tennessee Titans were the Houston Oilers, the St. Louis Rams played in Los Angeles alongside the Raiders, Art Model’s Cleveland Browns were still in Cleveland while professional football fans in Baltimore rooted for the CFL’s Stallions.

  • A lot has changed since late November 1994 when Bud Adams fired Jack Pardee and Kevin Gilbride and named Jeff Fisher as head coach of the Houston Oilers.

For the record, by that time the 1994 Steelers had already beaten the Houston Oilers twice. Once in a Monday night blowout where Cody Carlson completed 3 of 7 passes before getting knocked out of the game, and another where Rod Woodson and Gary Anderson did a redux of their forced-fumble, game overtime winning field goal from the 1989 Steelers Astrodome playoff win. So it wasn’t until wasn’t until the 1995 season that Jeff Fisher first faced the Pittsburgh Steelers.

For 16 years Jeff Fisher coached the Houston Oilers, Tennessee Oilers, and Tennessee Titans. That’s a long time to be an NFL coach, and one of the benefits of such a long coaching tenure is that it gives you a deep pool of data to draw conclusions from.

Jeff Fisher’s record in Houston and Tennessee was 141-115 for a winning percentage of .551, and included a heart breaking loss in Super Bowl XXXIV. He also coached against the Steeler 21 times, including the playoffs.

During those same 16 years the Pittsburgh Steelers amassed a 160-95-1 record for a winning percentage of .625. They also won Super Bowl XL and Super Bowl XLIII and appeared in Super Bowl XXX and Super Bowl XLV.

  • Despite Pittsburgh’s superior performance over those sixteen years, the Steelers record vs Jeff Fisher is only 9-12.

In other words, the Steelers had a .625 winning percentage against the rest of the NFL, but only managed a measly .428 vs. Jeff Fisher. Interpreted literally, the Steelers were almost 20% worse against Jeff Fisher than the rest of the NFL.

Why is the Pittsburgh Steelers record vs Jeff Fisher so poor?

What’s going on here?

First, let’€s give Jeff Fisher his due. He is a disciple of Buddy Ryan, than man whom Bud Adams brought in to run Buddy Ryan’s defense after Buddy Ryan left to coach the Arizona Cardinals. Ron Erhardt was the Steelers offensive coordinator then, and his troubles vs. Buddy Ryan’€s defenses dated back to their battles in the NFC East during the 1980’€s, when Buddy Ryan’s Eagles routinely gave Bill Parcell’€s Giants fits.

While Chan Gailey, Kevin Gilbride, Mike Mularkey, and Ken Whisenhunt made modifications, Ron Erhardt served as the Steelers offensive base during that time.

  • While that’s an important factor, Pittsburgh’s poor record vs. Jeff Fisher is probably better explained by a Tomlinism.

“Players play, coaches coach.”€ At the end of the day, the best scheme in the world won’€t matter if the players on the field fail to execute it. And during the majority of his tenure in Houston and Tennessee, Jeff Fisher had one player who executed to near perfection: Steve McNair.

As Steel Curtain Rising noted on the day Steve McNair died, McNair’s record against the Steelers was 11-5.

  • To put that into context, the Steelers record in seasons where McNair started against them was .594.

Without McNair, the Jeff Fisher hasn’€t done quite so well against the Steelers. He does however, have another tendency going his way in this Sunday’s match up. The Pittsburgh Steelers are 1-11-1 vs. the Cleveland, Los Angeles and St. Louis Rams on the road.

  • However, the Steelers lone road win against the Rams came during Mike Tomlin’s rookie season in 2007.

It says here that the Steelers match up vs. the Rams will come down to how well the Steelers offensive line can stand up against Aaron Donald, Michael Brockers, and Chris Long to give Ben Roethlisberger time to throw and Le’Veon Bell room to run.

But Jeff Fisher is certainly one NFL coach who is no stranger to putting his players in position to succeed against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

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