The Steelers had planned to rotate Adams with Kelvin Beachum, but Beachum’s services were needed at guard, and could be needed at any of the other 4 positions on the line.
Hence, the Steelers dealt a conditional draft pick to Pittsburgh West, aka the Arizona Cardinals, for offensive tackle Levi Brown.
Brown was of course the man whom the Cardinals picked over Adrian Peterson in the 2007 draft, but has fallen woefully short of the expectations that came with his 5th overall pick status.
Nonetheless, he could and most certainly should represent an upgrade over Mike Adams, who has graded out as one of the worst tackles in the league (as if Steelers Nation needed statistical analysis to know that.)
Green Gone, Again
The good news about the move is that it is salary cap friendly. The Cardinals will pay the balance of his salary for the 2013 season, minus the veteran minimum. The move also signals that the Steelers really have decided to part ways with Max Starks. In the space of a month Starks has been cut by San Diego and St. Louis.
That will leave the Steelers with some salary cap space to work with, should they need to make additional moves.
The loser in this deal is Isaiah Green, who just rejoined the active roster last week. Green made the final roster cut, only to be released before the season. Presumptively the Steelers will add him to the practice squad, but that move has not happened yet.
I have great patience. We’ll continue to work and get better as long as I see belief and effort and continued improvement in detail because that’s what’s going to change the outcome of these games. Those who don’t, they won’t be a part of it, whoever it may be. It’s just that simple. – Mike Tomlin after the Vikings loss
Those are strong but hardly surprising words from an 0-4 NFL head coach.
While there are a number of players to whom this might apply, none seems more obvious than beleaguered left tackle Mike Adams. Adams has not played well all season, and looked hopelessly lost vs. Jared Allen. On the Steelers first goal line sack Adams almost appeared to get out of Allen’s way. That’s not what happened, but it looked that way.
But here’s the problem: Tomlin has an itchy trigger finger, a clear target… but does not have any ammunition.
Kelvin Beachum would be the obvious replacement. But there are two problems there. First, he’s the primary backup across the line. Second, he may need to continue to play for Ramon Foster, while Foster recovers from a sprained pectorial muscle injury he sustained in the loss to Chicago and worsened vs. the Vikings.
Guy Whimper? The Steelers tried to move heaven and earth to replace him during training camp and preseason. Joe Long? Are you really going to activate a guy from the practice squad and start him at left tackle?
The Steelers have been here before.
It happened in during the dark days of 1999. At right tackle Anthony Brown and Chris Conrad alternated starts in a quest to see who was worse.
Late in the season the Steelers secondary became a sieve. Bill Cowher promised change unless he saw improvement. The problem was that rookie Scott Shields was as bad if not worse than starter Travis Davis, who stunk.
Tomlin’s threat is seemingly made an empty one by the fact that you can’t just go out and find a starter-capable (or even back up capable) offensive tackle walking the streets.
Or can you?
Could Starks Return to Steelers for One Final Swan Song?
There is one out there, one who has even started and won Super Bowls at right and left tackle. What’s more the Steelers are familiar with him.
The “good” news for Foster and the Steelers is that he only suffered a sprained pectoral muscle whereas a clear tear would have ended his season.
Nonetheless, Foster’s injury further depletes offensive line depth which is already one of the thinnest areas on the team. Kelvin Beachum took over Foster’s spot at left guard.
And while having Beachum available to step in is good, unfortunately that prevented the Steelers from pulling beleaguered offensive tackle Mike Adams and replacing him with Beachum.
If the Steelers want to make a move at left tackle, coaches will need to be creative. One option might involve activating Joe Long from the practice squad – although don’t expect Long to go from the practice squad to the starting lineup. Another would involve starting Guy Whimper at guard and moving Beachum back out to tackle.
All moves involve the Steelers staff, coaches and most especially Ben Roethlisberger praying to be spared yet another offensive line injury….
Taken from the grade book of a teacher who has seen his students regress from underachievement into out right self destructive tendencies, this is the Steelers report card for the loss in London to the Vikings. As a caveat, no other grades have been consulted prior to this posting.
Quarterback What do you get when you put Jared Allen up against a struggling left tackle? A franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger stood tall, he evaded, and he made tough throws. In doing so he completed 36 passes to 8 different receivers for just under 400 yards, and was sharp on third downs. Still, Roethlisberger’s interception wasn’t made under duress and Minnesota turned that into 7, which brings his grade down: Grade: B- under duress.
Running Backs Le’Veon Bell got his first NFL start and with it the Steelers got their first two rushing touchdowns of the year. Bell showed good foot work and an ability to find holes – when they were there. Still, Bell was limited to 57 yards which is hardly a dominating performance. Jonathan Dwyer and Felix Jones clocked in at two carries, or combined they had a quarter of the opportunities that Bell had. No mystery there. Grade: B-
Wide Receivers If there is any unit that played “above the line” during the Steelers 0-4 stretch it has been the wide receivers. Jerricho Cotchery led the team with 105 yards catching on 5 carries. Antonio Brown also looked strong working the underneath routes. Emmanuel Sanders played well as did Markus Wheaton in his first significant action. Grade: B+
Tight Ends Heath Miller provides one reason why the wide outs have been so good these last two weeks. His ACL may be surgically repaired, but he has already shown that defenses must respect him as his six catches, including one over the middle, show. David Johnson also caught a pass. The tight ends contributions as blockers still seem less apparent. Grade: B-
Offensive Line Early in the game Ben seemed to face consistent pressure form the strong side, although it is not clear that Marcus Gilbert was to blame. That situation corrected itself, but the play on the left side was atrocious. The Steelers may been playing in London, but Mike Adams didn’t even look like he belonged in NFL Europa. On the first goal line sack of Roethlisberger, Adams almost appeared to get out of Allen’s way. The offensive line remains a glaring deficiency, and the Steelers could conceivably go 0-16 if this unit fails to improve. Grade: F
Defensive Line Steve McLendon led the unit in tackles and Cameron Heyward had a pass defensed. Other than that this was not a good outing for the defensive line. The unit got no pressure on Matt Cassel, allowed Viking rushers to get to the second level too often, and otherwise failed to influence the game for the Steelers. Grade: D
Linebackers LaMarr Woodley had the units only sack, for zero yards. Lawrence Timmons defended a pass. Vince Williams had 5 tackles. Jarvis Jones and Jason Worilds were both non-factors. This unit got no pressure on the quarterback and missed plenty of tackles and was out of place on Adrian Peterson’s 60 yard scamper. All very much below the line. Grade: D-
Secondary Cortez Allen had his first game back and looked thoroughly out of in all facets of his game, he missed tackling on Greg Jennings twice on his 70 run and then got burned on Jennings final touchdown. Ike Taylor let not one but two picks slip through his fingers. Ryan Clark uncharacteristically missed tackles. Troy Polamalu had the teams only tackle for a loss, but too often he overpersued in the back field. The Vikings had touchdowns of 70 yards in the air 60 yards on the ground plus another 51 yarder. All of them went through the secondary. Grade: F
Special Teams Some have labeled this unit as a bright spot. Alas, the record doesn’t support it. It seems like the bar is set so low on special teams for the Steelers that a non-major catastrophe counts as a good game. Zoltan Mesko was terrible, averaging 35.5 yards per punt. Felix Jones did a respectable job returning kicks. Brown’s punt returns were a non-factor. One return got pulled back by penalty, and the Vikings had a 42 yard kick return. Special teams certainly didn’t lose this game for Pittsburgh, but they didn’t do much to win it either. Grade: C-
Coaching Neither Mike Tomlin nor Todd Haley can wave a magic wand and make Mike Adams play better. Nor can they undo the of the personnel discussions, some made in the shadow of a narrow Super Bowl defeat, that left the Steelers with salary cap space that prevented them from incorporating depth into the offensive line. But the coaches could have done more to help Adams – that’s what Will Johnson is for.
On the defensive side of the ball, Dick LeBeau didn’t suddenly forget defense, nor did the league suddenly figure out the zone blitz. Still this team is giving up yards in large chunks, rushing touchdowns and being shut out in the sack and turnover category. Worse yet the Steelers are entering/have entered the category of learning to lose, which is very, dangerous. Already things are snowballing.
Mike Tomlin needs to stop the snowball’s downhill slide. Fast. Grade: D
Unsung Hero Award On a day when clean crisp tackling was in short supply the Steelers got a text book example from someone who not only wasn’t in football on opening day, he isn’t even a defender. This gentleman arrived amidst the carnage of the Titan’s game, and has played very well. But his tackle after Ben Roethlisberger’s interception show both a lot of heart and very clear focus on the action of the game, and for that Fernando Velasco wins the Unsung Hero Award for the Vikings game in London.
The Pittsburgh Steelers went to London destined to make history of one kind and desperate to avoid making another kind of history.
The former of course was preordained, the Steelers would play their first regular season game outside of the United States, marking a milestone for one of the NFL’s most storied franchises.
The other milestone that would damm the Steelers should they not dodge it was the franchise’s first 0-4 start since the days when Bill Austin called the shots.
As Steelers Nation is now so painfully aware, the Steelers now hold an 0-4 mark for the first time since before man set foot on the moon. 0-4 is bad enough, but the root cause of the Steelers record should disquiet anyone wearing Black and Gold.
1 of 5 Minnesota Vikings sacks of Ben Roethlisberger in London. Photo Credit: Matt Dunham, AP via NY Daily News
Steelers Nation Seeks its Fortune in the United Kingdom
The word on the Steelers heading into London was that, in spite of the 0-3 mark, this was a team that was sticking together. On top of that, things were supposed to be coming together.
Cortez Allen, the man supposedly capable of ending the Steelers turnover drought, was back
Le’Veon Bell, who drew comparisons to Franco Harris and Jerome Bettis in training camp, was set to make his debut
On top of that they were playing the Vikings, another 0-3 team but one that was playing without its starting quarterback.
One win in London would get the Steelers back on the right path going into the bye. If the Steelers could beat the Jets in their first game back, a successful show down at Heinz Field vs. the Ravens would give the franchise a shot at 3-3.
Alas, that was not to be.
Statistically Speaking the Steelers Played a Good Game, But….
Heath Miller looked good again and is showing few if any signs of the injury. Le’Veon Bell, while far from a show stopper, scored not once but twice and his first NFL game was certainly above the line. These were not isolated achievements either:
The Steelers dominated the Vikings in time of possession 36:27 to 23:33
Pittsburgh out performed Minnesota on third down by a wide margin
Ben Roethlisberger threw for 383 yards
Jerricho Cotchery played like a man ten years younger, and Antonio Brown had another strong game
But the Steelers got down early and were looking at 34-17 entering the fourth quarter.
Yet the Steelers fought back, coming to scoring twice in the fourth quarter and had reached the 6 when time expired.
But they failed to get it done. The question is why?
2 + 5 + 51 + 60 + 70 = (4 + 1 + 1/0) = 0
Certainly, a couple of members of the Pittsburgh Steelers did put up some impressive numbers. But all of it was for naught, as some other numbers illustrate.
The Vikings had 2 turnovers
Steelers had 4 passes defensed (read four lost interceptions) one sack for zero yards, and a forced fumble that served to advance the ball for the Vikings
Ben Roethlisberger got sacked 5 times
The Steelers defense gave up gains of 51, 60, and 70 yards
All of these numbers are bad. But what’s really worse is that they’re only symptoms of a far deeper problem.
Numbers Don’t Lie, But for the Steelers, They’re Merely Symptoms
An NFL team severely handicaps itself with a minus two turnover differential, but a good teams still find aways to overcome that.
Every coach prefers an interception to a pass defensed, but defensing a pass shows that something is going right. Recovering forced fumbles is important, but sometimes that comes down to the randomness of a bounce.
None of these numbers, even the sacks and the long gains, are necessarily damming.
But it is the way that these events are occurring which is dooming the Steelers. And to really understand that, one needs to call upon the words of former Washington-area WMAL/WTEM sports journalist Ken Beatrice:
“Very few teams ‘win’ games in the NFL. Far more often it is a case of the other team doing something to lose a game.”
This was one of Beatrice’s favorite trueisms, and it has applied to the Steelers for three straight weeks.
Going three weeks without a turnover and seeing four passes bounce off hands of defenders and a fumble take a wrong roll reveals a team that is actively losing games. Seeing your quarterback dumped twice in the Red Zone happens to teams that are actively losing. The myriad and multiple missed tackles that led to 3 50+ yard games are symptoms of a team that is actively losing.
Even when the ball bounced the Steelers way and the Steelers seemingly took advantage, they did it in the wrong way. Late in the fourth quarter the Vikings looked to ice the game with a 44 yard field goal. Blair Walsh had already made ones of 54 and 37 yards, so it seemed a sure thing. Walsh missed, leaving the margin at ten.
The Steelers took over on downs, got to the Minnesota 12, but after three plays they were forced to kick a field goal.
No big deal, the Steelers only needed 10, right…?
A touchdown there would have made all of the difference, it would have given momentum to the Steelers and greatly simplified the dynamics behind a second drive. Teams that ‘win’ game score touchdowns in those situations.
The Steelers defense got the ball back, but only after Minnesota burned 1:47 – and all of the Pittsburgh’s time outs – off the clock.
As it was, the Steelers got to the six where a time out would have made all the difference.
The Steelers didn’t have one, and their 2013 record stands 0-4. That’s disturbing.
But 0-4 isn’t nearly as disturbing as the reality that in each step it took to arrive there, the Pittsburgh Steelers mastered a new lesson in the art of learning to lose games.
When you’re the coach of an 0-3 team everything you open every decision up to question. Such it is that a decision Mike Tomlin made long before the specter of a Maurkice Pounceyless offensive line loomed will certainly come back to haunt him should the Steelers drop their game to the Vikings.
NFL teams playing in London typically leave early in the week to allow players a chance to adjust to the time zone.
Mike Tomlin is taking the early track, arriving a little over 48 hours before the game.
Its almost as if he’s following Chuck Noll’s philosophy for playing in the thin air of Denver – get in and get out as quickly as you can.
Traveling to London can be an ordeal. On my lone trip, I arrived early in the morning and could not stay awake, despite warnings not to let myself sleep.
Later that night I feel asleep without any difficulty, only to wake up at 3:00 am completely unable to fall back asleep. It took a full 3-4 days to adjust to reality.
The 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers haven’t exactly been a model of focus thus far, turning the ball over with startling generosity while declining opposing offense’s offers to reciprocate.
Perhaps going to London is just what the Steelers need. Perhaps going completely out of their comfort zone will do the team good. But if the Steelers return from London 0-4, you can bet the “They should have traveled sooner” complaints will start in earnest.
While the Pittsburgh Steelers remain firmly entrenched in the “L” column, they have gone two straight games without a major injury. If nothing else the law of averages appears to be working in their favor. For the moment.
Beyond that, what has Bell done to earn the starting role?
Bell was the talk of the early part of training camp. But his resume includes nothing other than 4 underwhelming carries in preseason. A decision to start bell could amount to an indictment of the current roster of running backs. Neither Jonathan Dwyer, nor Felix Jones, nor Isaac Redman have done anything to stake a claim to the starting role.
Playing Bell, assuming he’s healthy, is a wise move. But handing him the starting job, could send the wrong signal, and this worry is only reinforced by Ben Roethlisberger‘s decision to call the rookie’s preparation into question.
Sometimes the best posts are the ones you don’t write.
How’s that, you ask?
As the entire football world knows, last August Brett Favre again dominated the news coverage with his annual “retire, retire me not” soap opera only to show up at Vikings headquarters 2 weeks prior to training camp.
It made for good football copy, and I fully admit to interest in the outcome.
But the sheer skeptical of a player, with no formal ties or history with a franchise, holding an entire organization hostage bordered on the inane.
Work commitments prevented a “Never Would Happen in Pittsburgh” post from gracing his corner of cyberspace.
And just as well, as Brett Favre came out and did want no one expected him to do, putting together a phenomenal season worthy of a man half his age.
Before going on, let me make a few confessions about Brett Favre’s history with me. I was an early Brett basher. First because he was tremendously hyped even before his first game in Green Bay (I remember the headline “Sunday Could be the beginning of the Brett Favre era in Green Bay.)
I remained a Favre skeptic for a while, but waned while he started justify and then not only live up to but beyond the hype. He really earned my respect on Christmas even 1995, when Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd, among others, continually knocked the snot out of Favre, but Favre refused to relent.
And when the Steelers failed to make the playoffs, I was among those who wanted to see Favre end his career hoisting the Lombardi Trophy.
The thought that Favre’s career might end with an interception pained me.
That Was Then, This is Now
But perhaps not just as much as it pained Favre.
Favre knew he needed ankle surgery if he was to play again, yet he delayed it until late in the off season. He dithered again about whether or not to play, until his coach sent a posse down to Mississippi to get him to play.
Since then you’d think Ringling Brothers had set up shop in the Metrodome. Favre falters (gee Brett, maybe you’d play a little better if you’d taken some snaps in training camp, eh?) Brad Childress brings Favre a toy in the form of Randy Moss. Moss’ performance in Minnesota is Mundane.
Childress cuts Moss after Moss waxes about how much he misses New England and then humiliates the team caterer of all people.
Childress gets taken to the woodshed by Zygi Wilf for not checking with him before cutting Randy Moss. Word is the Wilf polled the locker room to gauge support of Childress….
Can you imagine a player, a quarterback, holding the Steelers hostage, keeping Steelers Nation hanging on a thread by his every word? Can you imainge Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher, or Mike Tomlin bringing in a Diva mid-season only to cut him, and then only to get into a very public spat with upper management over whether it was right or not?
No, you can’t.
In contrast, the Vikings are almost a picture of anarchy.
Dan Rooney would never have allowed such a spectacle to unfold. Neither would Art Rooney II.
Brett Favre dealt Bill Cowher his first coaching loss when he made his first start back on September 27, 1992. It was a wacky day, which set the tone for all future meetings between the Steelers and Favre. Consider:
In 1992, Hall of Famer Rod Woodson muffs a punt and a commits a mind-numbing coverage error, giving Green Bay two touchdowns in a 17-3 Packers win
In 1995, Steelers backups play flawlessly, but Yancy Thigpen drops a sure game-winning touchdown catch as time expires on Christmas Eve
In 1998, defending a 27-3 lead, the Steelers begin the 4th quarter by fumbling at the 12, Keith McKenzie returns it 88 yards for a touchdown. The Packers score 17 unanswered points, but Pittsburgh holds on.
In 2005, with Ben Roethlisberger, Jerome Bettis, and Willie Parker out, Charlie Batch throws for all of 65 yards and Duce Stanely runs for another 76. But the real offense is Troy Polamalu whose 77 yard fumble return keeps the Steelers ahead for good.
Favre of course, has started an NFL record 275 consecutive games since that first meeting in 1992. A lot has changed since then. Favre has even switched teams – twice – but one thing remains constant:
Expect the uncanny when Number Four faces off against the Steelers.*
Brent Keisel forces a Brett Favre fumble, setting up LaMarr Woodley’s 77-yard fumble return. Photo Credit: Keith Srakocic, AP via NY Times
The Tradition Continues
Sunday’s game at Heinz Field lived up to tradition.
At 6-0, Minnesota came to Pittsburgh as one of the NFL’s annual story book teams. Already armed with super-human Adrian Peterson at running back and an unforgiving defense, newly arrived 40 year old Brett Favre has shown that he still as enough late-game heroics left in him to transform the Vikings.
In spite of the Steelers 3 game winning streak they entered the game to a chorus of questions, the most pointed of which was: Can the Steelers defense close?
On Sunday the Steelers defense answered that question with a definitive “YES!”
A quick look at the stat sheet might lead one to think otherwise:
Favre threw 51 passes for 334 yards
Adrian Peterson had 129 all-purpose yards
The Vikings had 21 first downs to the Steelers 14
Minnesota dominated with a 13 minute edge in time of possession
But the Steelers defense had it where it counted and when it counted. They not only held Brett Favre’s high octane offense to 10 points, they also put up 14 of their own.
Those were the only two stats that mattered.
Steelers, Vikings, Came to Play Hard, Hit Hard
Credit Brad Childress, Adrian Peterson, and Brett Favre for having their troops fired up and ready to go.
Most experts expected a high-flying shoot out. Instead the Steelers and Vikings gave the fans every bit of their money’s worth in a hard hitting slug fest.
From the get go, this one had the feel a game that would come down to who wanted it the most. For that reason, while the Steelers two-touchdown plays will rightly make the highlight reels, the key defensive stand for the Steelers perhaps came on the Viking’s first possession in the third quarter.
Favre took his team 65 yards to the Steelers one, gaining the lion’s share of his yards on a 35 yard pass that Troy Polamalu, and only Troy Polamalum prevented from becoming a touchdown.
Give an offense with the NFL’s best rusher a legendary quarterback a 1st and goal at the one and what happens? Most people would assume that is an easy six. Privately, most defenses would have conceded as much.
Not the Steelers.
The Steel Curtain showed they were more than a match for two Adrian Peterson runs and two Favre throws from the one.
Steelers Offense Creates Opportunities
The other key series came at the end of the first half, when Ben Roethlisberger drove the Steelers 8 plays with a minute 39 remaining to land a touchdown with a 40 yard scoring strike.
On a day when balance and rhythm eluded Bruce Arian’s offense – Rashard Mendenhall averaged 6.9 yards a carry but only got the ball ten times. The Steelers offense created and then seized their own opportunities.
Woodley, Fox Steal the Show
Fan of course will rightly remember this game because LaMarr Woodley and Keyaron Fox put on a clinic on seizing on opportunities.
The Steelers had looked to be salting the game away when Rashard Mendenhall fumbled at the goal line. Brett Favre, started at his 3 and marched his team down to the Steelers 8 yard line, and the Vikings looked poised to take the lead. Brett Keisel had other ideas, strip sacking Favre, and LaMarr Woodley did the rest:
Never let it be said that Bob Ligashesky’s special teams are not generous. On Sunday they were kind enough to let the Vikings right back in the game (that’s 21 points off of special teams in 7 games) after Woodley’s touchdown.
With 3:21 remaining, Favre drove his team down the field again and it looked like he was about to pull out one of his patiented come from behind wins. A routine dump-off to Chester Taylor looked to bring them closer. But strange things happen when Favre shares the field with the Steelers and it was Keyaron Fox’s time to strike.
Steelers Looking Good Heading Into the Bye Week
The victory over the Vikings gives the Steelers a 5-2 record heading into the bye week.
The Steelers still “fall short of perfection” as Mike Tomlin will surely say. Nor did they turn in a complete enough performance to call it a “statement game.”
But on Sunday the Steelers proved they can defeat a contender.
*The uncanny streak followed me down to Buenos Aires. I was out watching a game of the Argentine American Football Association, and my wife realized that something funky was up with Direct TV Plus — she made sure the game got recorded — hence I have nominated her for a game ball.
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As everyone knows, Steelers kicker Jeff Reed was arrested during an altercation with police. If you’re thinking “have I seen this movie before?” you’re in good company as just under a year ago Steelers starting wide receiver Santonio Holmes was arrested for marijuana possession.
Once again the Steelers are set to take on their toughest NFC opponent, the Minnesota Vikings this week, but unlike last year, Mike Tomlin is not suspending Reed.
Double Standard? Perhaps, but if there is one it is not as readily apparent as it seems.
Mike Tomlin’s explanation, that Reed’s incident occurred on a Monday whereas Holmes occurred on a Thursday, thereby giving him more time to deal with Reed might be the truth in Tomlin’s eyes, but it certainly rings hollow in other circles.
But there is a basic difference between the two men’s situations. (Unlike the 2008 off season domestic violence incidents involving James Harrison and Cedric Wilson).
Santonio Holmes was caught with marijuana in his car by a police officer conducting a legal search. There are a lot of different opinions in society about whether marijuana should be illegal and if so how strictly any prohibition should be enforced. Reasonable people can differ over that issue, but one thing is beyond dispute: Holmes was had it, and it is against the law.
Reed’s case is different. The police argue that Reed was intoxicated and threatened officers.
Reed and his agent vigorously dispute that, contending the Reed merely got out of the car driven to plead with officers who were issuing a citation to Matt Spaeth for public urination.
Jeff Reed’s past history certainly weakens his case, but ample precedent exists of over zealous police officers going too far in situations like that.
Santonio Holmes situation was cut and dried. Reed’s situation is nebulous.
Given those differences, Tomlin’s decision to play Reed is understandable if not also justified, even if his explanations will understandably fail to satisfy some skeptics.
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