Steelers Vote Le’Veon Bell MVP for 2014

Christmas came two days early on the South Side and in the end it was a mere formality as the Pittsburgh Steelers voted Le’Veon Bell as the MVP for 2014.

With one game to go, Bell has already broken the Steelers franchise record for total yards from scrimmage, which currently stands at 2,115. In games vs. the Titans, Bengals, and Saints, Bell racked up over 200 yards from scrimmage, a feat that only Walter Payton has accomplished.

  • While those numbers are impressive, they don’t tell the full story.

As Steel Curtain Rising observed on Thanksgiving, the Tennessee game marked Bell’s passage into the status of the elite. The Steelers were behind in the third quarter by two scores, and they turned the game over to Bell, and Bell delivered.

The Steelers team MVP is voted on by the players in the locker room. They don’t release vote totals, although Mark Kabloy got Michael Mitchell on the record saying that the choice was between Bell and Antonio Brown. Either would have been a good choice, as would have Ben Roethlisberger, the third member of the Steelers “Killer Bees” trio.

Bell is the first Steelers running back to win the team MVP award since Willie Parker won it in 2006. Jerome Bettis won the award in 2000, 1997, and 1996. Barry Foster won it in 1992, and Franco Harris won it in 1972.

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Watch Tower: Bleacher Report & Roethlisberger’s Non-Injured Wrist, Belichick’s Machinations in the Spotlight

The Steelers slip to 7-5 certainly did create a buzz, but it is the off the field issues which give the Watch Tower its material, highlighting the divide between the old and new press.

Roethlisberger’s Wrist

As any Pittsburgh resident can tell you, stories about Ben Roethlisberger’s generate attention. Traffic on the day of Roethlisberger’s motorcycle accident exceeded that of Super Bowl XL.

  • The slightest hint of a Roethlisberger injury is enough to prompt the local news to interrupt programing to preview a story about the signal callers issues with hang nails.

So the Bleacher Report made news with their sport medicine writer Will Carroll broke the story that Ben Roethlisberger had in fact broken an bone in his wrist in the loss to the Saints. The fact that he was held out of practice only seemed to add credence.

  • All of which provides a window into how press coverage of the Steelers works.

Yours truly learned of the news during a quick scan of Behind the Steel Curtain (full disclosure, I also write for BTSC on occasion.) Site editor Neal Coolong wrote a quick article referencing the story, and then publishing a tweet from Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola.

Publishing such an article makes sound business sense, even if, on this occasion, Coolong (who does have sources on the South Side) did not have any new information to add. Any report of a Roethlisberger injury is going to generate Google searches, and a big part of the SB Nation business model is to capture those.

  • Interestingly enough, the BTSC article was titled: Ben Roethlisberger injury: Steelers QB didn’t practice Wednesday but it wasn’t injury-related.

Leading with the key word “Roethlisberger injury” both in the title and the URL kind of reminds you of the Kevin Nealon Saturday Night Live character, “Mr. Subliminal,” but the Watch Tower can’t quite bring itself to criticize our esteemed colleague and friend, as both moves represented smart business decisions, even if journalism purists might demure.

The traditional press quickly attacked the report.

Bouchette’s tweet was backed by a story with quotes from Roethlisberger himself. Dale Lolley slammed the report too, comparing it to the Roethlisberger trade rumors of a year ago (something which the Watch Tower unfortunately never had a chance to cover….), and citing multiple sources in the organization which discredited it.

At the end of the day, it looked to be much to do about nothing. But it does show the power that one reporter with a national media outlet has to set the Steelers news cycle for least for a day.

Blount’s Departure Revisited

The previous edition of the Watch Tower discussed how coverage of LeGarrette Blount’s going AWOL at the end of the Titan’s game drew contrasting coverage from Steelers beat writers, with Ed Bouchette effectively signaling is departure.

  • The story thickened when Blount was quickly signed by the New England Patriots.

The quickness of the move raised eyebrows. Dale Lolley was one of the first in the Steelers press corps to address the issue sharing:

Some people within the Steelers organization feel that Blount made a calculated move by leaving the field prior to the end of regulation in the team’s 27-24 win over Tennessee Monday night because he wanted out of Pittsburgh.

Lolley also made it clear that he doesn’t buy into such reports. Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette also weighed in on the issue, issuing the following tweet:

The tweet was backed up by a story. Bouchette did not cite any indirect sources the way Lolley did, but he did explore the hypothetical ways in which Blount and the Patriots could have colluded to secure his release. (He also chided the Steelers for not doing more to punish Blount.)

From a media analysis stand point these stories tell us a number of things:

1. There are people in the Steelers organization who at least suspect that Bill Belichick under handed ways at work
2. This kind of thing is plausible

Bouchette made a point of telling his readers that contact between players and opposing teams happens all of the time. Agents do it all the time, and often times let reporters in on the story.

Assuming Le’Veon stays healthy for the balance of the season (God willing) this is a story that will die, but it’s interesting to discuss in the here and now.


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Steelers Sign Clifton Geathers to “Replace” Brett Keisel — And One Blogger HATES that He was Right

One of the joys of blogging is gloating when you predict something ahead of time and do it before the professional press or fellow bloggers.

  • Then there are times when you positively hate to be right.

This is one of them.

When the Steelers placed Brett Keisel on injured reserve, they also signed Clifton Geathers, a NFL street free agent who most recently was employed this season by the Washington Redskins.

The Cleveland Browns drafted Gathers in the 6th round of the 2010 NFL draft, but he never caught on at the Mistake by the Lake. He has seen time with Dallas, Miami, Indianapolis, and Philadelphia (where he made his only start) before playing six games for the Redskins this season.

To fill Keisel’s shoes the Steelers were forced to look to the NFL street free agent pool because their practice squad has been pillaged of young defensive line talent. Pittsburgh West, aka the Arizona Cardinals poached Josh Mauro in early November, and the Chiefs poached Nick Williams just last week.

When the news broke, Steel Curtain Rising observed that while the moves were unlikely to have immediate impact, they were depriving the Steelers of future defensive line depth.

  • The future has arrived about 7 months early on the South Side.

Instead of grooming a young lineman, the Steelers instead are turning to journeyman with 37 pro appearances, 1 start, 23 tackles and a single sack.

Meanwhile, Josh Mauro has only appeared in two games, but has 4 tackles credited to him and a pass defensed….

…Yeah, sometimes it bites to be right.

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Steelers Place Brett Keisel on Injured Reserve

The Steelers placed Brett Keisel on injured reserve today, ending his season and, quite possibly, his career. Although Steelers Nation expected the news, it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow.

  • Midway through the loss to the Saints, Keisel came racing to the sidelines in pain, grabbing his arm.

If reports are correct, he attempted to re-enter the action, but Mike Tomlin wouldn’t allow it. First word was his return was doubtful. Then the Steelers ruled his return out. Now he might simply be done.

The Steelers drafted Keisel in the 7th round of the 2002 NFL Draft. He served a 3 year apprenticeship in John Mitchell’s bull pen, but emerged as a starter after Super Bowl XL and has been a mainstay since.

  • In fact, one could almost argue that Keisel kept getting better as he got older.

Yes, his production was down in 2014, but he also entered the season without the benefit of training camp. His consistency was so good that one could argue he played well enough to keep the door open for a return in 2015, however doubtful the possibility might be.

For the record, Keisel only started in 4 games, but appeared in all 12 where he recorded 17 total tackles, 1 quarterback sack, 5 passes defensed, and one interception, which sparked the Steelers comeback win vs. Houston.

Clearly, Brett Keisel will be missed and regardless of whether they rally, the 2014 Steelers will be poorer for his absence.

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Keenan Lewis Returns to Pittsburgh; Should the Steelers Have Kept Him?

Keenan Lewis returns to Pittsburgh with the Saints this weekend, which begs the question – should the Steelers have kept him?

  • The answer doesn’t require a lot of football wisdom, nor does one need the proverbial “20/20 hindsight to answer it.”

The answer was crystal clear in during the Steelers 2013 off season – in a perfect world the Steelers should have and probably would have resigned Lewis.

The Steelers drafted Lewis in the 3rd round of the 2009 NFL draft, but his first year in Pittsburgh was lost to injury. Lewis struggled in his second year, but under the tutelage of Carnell Lake, Lewis showed signs of life in 2011, and had a breakout season in 2012.

Ike Taylor had played well in 2012, but was already pushing 33 in a position that is decidedly a young man’s game.

  • In pure football terms, bringing back Lewis would have been a no-brainer.

The problem was the Steelers only had 2 million dollars in salary cap space, the 4th worst in the NFL. To gain breathing room the Steelers needed to restructure multiple contracts, and cut James Harrison and cut Willie Colon.

  • This forced Kevin Colbert and Omar Khan to delve into the NFL’s variant of “Dollar Ball.”

They resigned William Gay and they placed their faith in the development Cortez Allen, who in just 3 starts accounted for six turnovers.

Personnel success in the salary cap isn’t about simple talent evaluation, its about getting the best bang for your salary cap buck. By signing Gay instead of even more painful salary cap cuts needed to make an offer to Lewis, Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomin gambled that they’d come out ahead.

As Keenan Lewis returns to Pittsburgh, its time to put that decision under the microscope

Keenan Lewis, Cortez Allen, Ike Taylor and William Gay Compared

keenan lewis, cortez allen, ike taylor, william gay, steelers, saints, pittsburgh, new oreleans

Lewis, Allen, Taylor and Gay Compared, 2012-2014

Keenan Lewis had a very strong year in 2013 for the Saints, coming down with four picks and 1 forced fumble. There’s an irony there, because the word was the Steelers brass favored Allen precisely because he was better at creating turnovers.

Allen, for his part has four picks between 2013 and 2014, and had an equal number of passes defensed in 2013. Still, those numbers do not indicate his struggles, particularly in this year where he’s been so bad he got benched.

  • However, judging by the numbers, here in 2014 Lewis play has dropped off. He’s got only 1 interception and as many passes defensed as Allen.

Ike Taylor struggled in 2013 in ways the numbers don’t show. Here in 2014 he played well vs. Baltimore and was strong vs. Carolina, but has been hurt since then. While its no indictment on him as a player, you don’t get much for your salary cap buck when your guys are in street clothes on the sideline.

  • William Gay presents the most interesting case of all four.

With a cap number of 1.6 million, Gay is easily the cheapest of the four and perhaps his production has been the most consistent. Gay’s had 2 pick sixes this year, another in 2013, and while his pass defense numbers don’t look good, he made a key stop vs. Cleveland in the opener.

So as Keenan Lewis returns to Pittsburgh, it is still fair to say the Steelers should have signed him, but its also fair to say that in salary cap terms they’ve managed well nonetheless – although that analysis could change in future years. It is an open question as to whether Allen rebounds from a bad 2014, but his salary cap number is headed up regardless.

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Steelers Defense “Band Back Together” vs. Saints – Is That a Good Thing…?

For the Steelers Defense, the “Band Is Back Together” vs. the Saints as, something will occur that has not happened since Pittsburgh’s 2012 road victory vs. BaltimoreIke Taylor, James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, William Gay, and Brett Keisel will play together once again.

It’s an interesting twist of fate for a franchise that worked diligently to shake the “Old, slow and done” moniker that followed the 2011 opening day Debacle in Baltimore.

  • Does it, however, mean that the Steelers youth movement on defense has in fact failed?

On the surface, that’s the easy conclusion. Ziggy Hood was drafted to replace Aaron Smith and fell short. They Steelers brought a lot of young defensive lineman to Latrobe, but ended up bringing Keisel back.

Brett Keisel, steelers, defense, veterans

At 36, Brett Keisel is Still Going Strong

Keenan Lewis was good enough to start at corner, but the Steelers lacked the salary cap space to sign him. They resigned William Gay instead, while Cortez Allen has been benched.

Troy Polamlau signed a multi-year extension the day before the Debacle in Baltimore, and rightly or wrongly many characterized Polamalu’s deal as a mistake.

James Harrison of course left Pittsburgh, played for Cincinnati, retired and unretired and he’s now tied for the team lead in sacks.

  • Again, at first glance, it doesn’t look good.

As usual however, things are not as simple as they seem.

On the defensive line, while Kesiel has played well enough to open the door for his return in 2015, the Steelers are working in Daniel McCullers and Stephon Tuitt into the line up – a rarity for rookies in Johnny Mitchell’s defensive line. Don’t count out youth yet.

There was always an injury risk factor in bringing back Polamalu, but Troy has played well. His heir apparent, Shamarko Thomas has been hurt, which while bad, isn’t something you can “blame” on Mike Tomlin or Kevin Colbert.

Jarvis Jones was playing well before he got hurt, and the paucity of depth at outside linebacker forced the Steelers to break the glass and bring back Harrison. There are questions about what the Steelers will do with Jason Worilds, but again its way too early to write Jones off as a bust.

The real sticking point is at corner. Where fate and faith both seem to have failed the Steelers, which Steel Curtain Rising will take up tomorrow….

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Ryan Shazier and Jarvis Jones Return Gives Steelers Good “Problem” to Have

Mike Tomlin teams are known to come out of bye weeks strong (lone loss coming in ’07 vs. Denver), and the Steelers are coming off of their their late November bye week at full health.

At his weekly press conference, Tomlin confirmed that Steve McLendon, Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, Shamarko Thomas, Ross Ventrone and Ryan Shaizer had returned to practice. Jarvis Jones also resumed practicing with the team, although he remains in injured reserve. The only injury the Steelers have is Cortez Allen, who is nursing a broken thumb.

  • Most NFL teams close out November by counting the fallen, instead of welcoming back the healthy.

2014 has been kind to the Steelers (knock on wood) on the injury front. Nonetheless, the defensive unit that opened the season against Cleveland has only played 10 quarters together all season. Clearly the defense will benefit from Polamalu and Taylor’s return. After that, things get interesting.

Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, health, return, steelers, defense

Polamalu & Taylor’s return should boost Steelers

Behind the Steel Curtain editor Neal Coolong has declared that the return of so many players means it is time for the Steelers investment in defense to show some dividends (full disclosure, I also write for BTSC). His sentiment is both logical and widely shared.

  • However, the reality is that things might not be so simple.

As Steel Curtain Rising has noted before, injuries the Thomas, Jones and Shazier have robbed these young players of precious developmental time. The coaches do need to find a way to work them onto the field in “some form or fashion” as Tomlin would likely say.

  • Just how much is enough is another question.

Tomlin himself illustrated the issue with respect to Shazier:

He is not in a similar circumstance like Troy and Ike. Troy and Ike have a decade of experience of playing in our defensive system. … We will watch not only Ryan’s level of participation but the quality of his execution. He has missed some time. He is a young guy. He has to prove to us that he can execute in great detail.

As important as it is to develop talent, Pittsburgh “dropped” in the AFC North without even playing a game. The Steelers need to play their best football now, because it’s possible that even a 10-6 finish won’t be enough to punch a playoff ticket in this year’s AFC.

  • That means the Steelers need to field and play the men who give them the best chance of winning.

Sean Spence and Vince Williams have been solid, but not spectacular in Shazier’s absence. Neither has his athletic pedigree, but both have far more game experience than Shazier.

The Steelers won’t likely make any decision on Jarvis Jones this week, but any move to activate him would also force a roster move, in addition to forcing the team to juggle between getting Jones the snaps he needs, and taking James Harrison off of the field.

Let’s be clear. Having too many guys health in late November in the NFL is a “luxury” that any NFL coach or GM would die to have. Trust me, Mike Tomlin would have been elated to have deal with such a “problem” in 2013, 2012 or even 2011.

But that still doesn’t mean that Mike Tomlin and Dick LeBeau don’t have some tough choices to make.

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Steelers Lose to Saints, 20-10; Game Not Shown in Buenos Aires (Again)

As all of Steelers Nation knows, the Steelers went on the road and dropped one to the Saints.

The game was not show (again) in Buenos Aires, due to the World Series (ESPN normally carries the Sunday and Monday night games in Latin America – the World Series takes precedence, I guess.)

Not being able to see the game, I cannot offer much in the way of analysis.

And perhaps that is for the best. Upon arriving home Sunday evening after a mini-5 day vacation in Uruguay I learned that the man I’d grown to love as my Argentine “uncle” had died suddenly while I was a way. One of those times when football simply takes a backseat.

What Went Wrong?

A day later my spirits are still low, but my curiosity has perked up, wondering what went wrong for the Steelers.

  • Did the Steelers penchant for giving up late touchdowns come back to burn them?
  • Did they simply self destruct?
  • Or is the offensive line simply a bigger liability than had once been hopped?

Reading the write ups on the Post-Gazette all seem like plasuable answers, but I am interested in knowing what your analysis is. Please take a moment to share your insights by leaving a comment.

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