“It was a junior varsity performance,” concluded Mike Tomlin following the Steelers 34-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers which wrapped up Pittsburgh’s 2021 preseason campaign with a 3-1 mark.
Who can argue?
Going into the game Tomlin had several players for whom he “thought it would be a great platform for them to display varsity skill.”
Display those they did not.
Here are four quick takes on this preseason loss.
Dwyane Haskins had a rough night, to say the least. Photo Credit: AP via Tribune Review
1. Haskins Humiliated? Not Quite. Humbled? You Bet
By all accounts, Dwayne Haskins has authored a very strong summer from the moment training camp began in July. Prior to the Panther’s game, he did nothing but impress in preseason. In comparison to Mason Rudolph, Dwayne Haskins showed himself to be the far more dynamic player, and he exhibited more poise and comfort than Rudolph.
But of course, that’s that way it was supposed to be.
As a former 15th pick overall, Dwayne Haskins was sort of like the kid who gets held back in kindergarten and then is the best in his class the following year. So Haskins earned the right to start.
Haskins squandered it.
No, Haskins didn’t have a full complement of starters. Neither did he get a lot of help from his offensive line and from his running backs. But Haskins looked overwhelmed. Against the Cowboys, Eagles and Lions, the offense directed by Haskins has been a virtual touchdown scoring machine.
Against the Panthers the Steelers didn’t convert a 3rd down until late in the 3rd quarter.
Steel City Insider’sJim Wexell went as far as to suggest that Haskins performance caused “us to wonder whether it might be more prudent to cut him.”
Frankly, that’s going a bit too far. Haskins did not look good, but the Steelers shouldn’t abandon their reclamation project.
2. Nothing Sexy about Sexton
One of the benefits of the Steelers-Panthers preseason rivalry is that it provides excellent fodder for story lines. Eleven summers ago a small, CFL vet whose speed earned him the name “Joystick” caught the coaches eye’s with a return for a touchdown in preseason. So Mike Tomlin gave him another chance, and he delivered again.
Yet he was still on outside looking in going into the preseason finale again.
Matthew Sexton entered the game against the Panthers with a similar opportunity.
But he botched it, badly by muffing two punts. Not even 24 hours have elapsed since the game ended, and Sexton’s butter fingers have earned him a spot on the waiver wire and all but ensure that Ray-Ray McCloud, who had a respectable night receiving, will keep his spot as the Steelers 5th wide out and 1st return man.
3. Can’t Keep Up with the Joneses
Unlike the regular season, during training camp reporters are allow to report on basically everything they see. As camp progresses, you’ll often start hearing a new name mentioned again and again.
Jaimr Jones was that player this year.
You started hearing his name in practice. In the Hall of Fame game he had started making noise with a tackle for a loss and a few QB hits. Then he started adding on sacks in preseason games.
He continued the process against the Panthers, leading the team in tackles, getting a sack and logging a few more QB hits for good measure.
If there was any one player on the roster of figured to benefit for the departure of James Conner and the arrival of Najee Harris, it was Benny Snell. Mike Tomlin likes Benny Snell, and while Snell certainly didn’t give the Steelers any reason to second guess drafting a running back in the first round, he has shown himself to be at least a competent number 2 rusher.
Except Snell has been hurt for most of the summer.
And Kalen Ballage has gotten the carries and as recently as last week it looked like he could be pushing Snell off of the roster. Snell got his first work and while 8 carries for 28 yard is hardly gang busters, he didn’t have the best blocking to work with.
Snell certainly didn’t give the Steelers any reason to cut him.
The rookie Steelers linebacker offered incredible promise. He arrived at St. Vincents a first round pick having been taken 15th overall. Distinct from his outspoken peers, this young man remained set on speaking with his actions instead of his words.
Playing not one, but two positions, defensive end and inside linebacker, in his preseason debut, his stat line screamed:
Ola Adeniyi Steelers preseason debut. Photo Credit: Karl Rosner, Steelers.com
Several Steelers rookies stated their claim to permanent spots on Pittsburgh’s roster in the process. Receivers James Washington and Damoun Patterson made electrifying catches. Olasunkanmi Adeniyi came up with a strip-sack. Chukwuma Okorafor showed that he could perhaps serve as a legit swing tackle this season. Mason Rudolph looked poised and delivered the ball on target.
Such fast starts from rookies are you want to see this early in the summer.
But while starting strong is nice, sustaining a strong start remains essential.
Perhaps Huey Richardson’s experience can serve as a guide.
When the Steelers drafted Huey Richardson in the 1991 NFL Draft, the move drew praise. I remember a friend who wasn’t a Steelers fan and who knew far more about football than I did calling me telling me what a great pick he was.
Yet red flags arrived early and often with Richardson. He refused to talk with the press. The quote above which Ed Bouchette secured perhaps contains all only words Richardson ever uttered to the Pittsburgh press corps.
On the fields of St. Vincents things didn’t get much better. As Bouchette later recapped in Dawn of a New Steel Age, “Players made fun of the way he back-pedaled on pass coverage and how he ran stiffly.” In practice Richardson botched play after play.
Huey Richardson had even managed open training camp by breaking his nose in non-contact drills.
All of that, however, came before Richardson’s “breakout” preseason performance. But afterwards “It seemed like he was a force every once and a while” was the only praise that Ed Bouchette could muster out Dave Brazil, Richardson’s defensive coordinator.
The lesson it seems is that fans should first watch and then read between the lines when assessing a rookie’s preseason performances.
The only Steelers kick returners who’ve returned more than 10 kicks during Mike Tomlin’s tenure to remotely approach an average of 25 yards per return are Stephan Logan, Markus Wheaton, Chris Rainey, Emmanuel Sanders and Brown.
In just four seasons, Knile Daivs has already returned 73 kicks for a total of 1920 yards, for a 26.8 yard average for two touchdowns.
Given that a touchback now results in the ball being spotted at the 25 yard line, having a kick returner who can routinely better that marks a welcome addition to the return team. (For the record Stefan Logan and Chris Rainey were the only returners during the Tomlin era to average more than 25 yards.)
Now Knile Davis Impacts the Steelers Depth Chart @ Running Back
I feel like they are confident I can (complement Bell). I’ve had to fill in before. I’ve had 100-yard games in this league. I’ve done well in this league, and I’m prepared for whatever comes in the future.
That’s a little bold, but healthy nonetheless or the new arrival. However, if press reports are any indication, the Steelers primarily interest in Knile Davis is as a kick returner, not as a running back. Nonetheless, Fitzgerald Toussaint has been put on notice that he will need to defend his roster spot at St. Vincents next summer.
The Steelers tried to work Toussaint in at kick returner last year, but without much effect. And while Knile Davis’ 3.2 rushing average isn’t much to write home about it is better that Fitzgerald Toussaint’s career average of 2.9.
The Kansas City Chiefs drafted Knile Davis in the third round of the 2013 NFL Draft.
He played in Kansas City for three seasons until the Chiefs traded him to Green Bay for a seventh-round draft pick in October 2016. But Davis didn’t remain a Cheesehead for long, as the Packers cut him after two games. He spent one day on the New York Jets’ roster before re-signing with Kansas City.
Yet there are times when preseason offers Steelers fans false flags.
The Steelers preseason history offers plenty of false flags, times when the action on the field in preseason failed completely to foreshadow what was to come in the regular season. Scroll down or click below for 5 Steelers preseason false flags.
Jarvis Jones recovers a fumble as Marshall McFadden looks on in the Steelers 2013 preseason. Photo Credit: Charles LeClaire, USA Today
1. 2000 – Plaxico Burress Plays Lights Out in Preseason Debut
Burress made a smashing NFL debut, leading Steelers receivers with four catches for 60 yards, all in the first half.
He jump-started the Steelers’ offense with three big plays on their second series, one a leaping catch over the back of a 6-foot cornerback. He also caught a looping, ally-oop like touchdown pass from Kent Graham just before halftime, as the Steelers crushed the Dallas Cowboys 38-10 at Texas Stadium.
Burress wasn’t the only receiver to impress. Malcolm Johnson, the Steelers 6th round pick from the 1999 NFL Draft, started opposite Burress. One writer, (perhaps Mike Prisuta) whose article is lost to digital oblivion went so far as to argue that Burress and Johnson were fighting to which would be the alpha-male of the Steelers wide receiving corps.
There’s no doubt that both men played well, and the strong overall offensive performance gave hope after the dark days of 1998 and 1999.
However, Plaxico Burress most memorable rookie play was spiking the ball after making a catch, but before he’d been ruled down, which was an immediate turnover. Overall, Burres never aught more than 4 passes as a rookie, and his catch percentage was woeful 33.8%.
As for Malcolm Johnson? He didn’t even make the 2000 Steelers final roster team.
2. 2005 – Ben Roethlisberger Struggles Mightly in Preseason
If there was ever a quarterback who made an immediate impact as a rookie, that rookie was Ben Roethlisberger. But NFL history is littered with rookie one-year wonders (think Kendrell Bell).
And so it was that Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers first string offense failed to produce a touchdown in the first four preseason games. After it took Charlie Batch to rally the Steelers to victory in their final preseason game, Bill Cowher remarked: “I like this group of guys, but we’re no where near where we need to be.”
Ben Roethlisberger’s 2005 preseason statistics seemed to vindicate Bill Cowher’s pessimism.
Over four games, Roethlisberger completed just 16 of 36 passes, for no touchdowns, two interceptions, and a passer rating of 32.8. Ron Cook of the Post-Gazette quipped that the Steelers starters looked more like a team set to go 1-15 instead of the previous year’s 15-1. Indeed, it seemed like an inglorious preview to a team with Super Bowl hopes….
…That is, until the game started counting.
In the season opener, Ben Roethlisberger went 9-11 for 218 yards, throwing touchdowns to Antwaan Randle El and a rookie named Heath Miller. A week later he went 14 of 21 throwing a pair of TD’s to Hines Ward.
The Steelers victory in Super Bowl XL the next February proved that, if there was ever a exhibition effort that should have been written off with “Its only preseason” it was the Steelers 2005 preseason.
3. 2009 – Joystick Video Game Like Preseason Kick Return Statistics
For a defending Super Bowl Champion, the 2009 Steelers training camp and preseason would mid-wife future Steelers Nation house hold names like Isaac Redman, Ramon Foster and Doug Legursky (hey, Legursky started a Super Bowl so he counts).
But perhaps none captivated the imagination of Steelers fans the way Stefan Logan did.
It seems like the Steelers had their first legit return threat since Antwaan Randle El had departed following Super Bowl XL.
It would be both unfair incorrect to declare Stefan Logan return efforts in 2009 as a failure.
In 2009, Stefan Logan averaged 26.7 yards per kick return, and 9.3 yards per punt return. Stefan Logan had an 83 yard kick return in the ’09 Steelers ugly loss to Oakland, and he also managed returns of 56, 51, an 49 yards in other games.
But Stefan Logan neither took a kick return nor a punt return to the house, and he was never the type of weapon as a return man who could give the Steelers offense a jolt in a season where the team cried out for one. Mike Tomlin once chided Logan when he critiqued blocking of the Steelers return teams, and often times on deep punts Tomlin had deployed Mewelde Moore’s sure hands in favor of Logan.
It might seem hard to believe now, but in 2013, Jarvis Jones was the toast of the Steelers preseason. Dick LeBeau declared that Jones “Had ‘it,’” after Jones preseason debut where he recovered a fumble. Jones forced another fumble with a heads up behind the line of scrimmage play in the Steelers second game vs. the Redskins. He recorded an interception in the Steelers third preseason game vs. the Chiefs. Then Behind the Steel Curtain editor declared, “Jarvis Jones is simply making plays.”
The Jarvis Jones of preseason 2013 teased he might make Steelers Nation forget James Harrison.
Alas, that was not to be. Jones did get the opening day starting nod, but he would relinquish his starting role before midseason. The fact that Jones’ play turned heads in the Steelers win over New Orleans shows that Steelers fans are still wanting for Jones to realize his potential as a first round draft choice.
5. 2015 – Preseason Death of Steelers Defense Greatly Exaggerated
In the 2015 preseason the Pittsburgh Steelers did something they hadn’t done since Alonzo Jackson was a rookie – fielded a defense coordinated by someone other than Dick LeBeau. All eyes were on Keith Butler to see if the long-time understudy could reverse the downward trend of Steelers defense.
The early returns disheartened even faithful scribes like Steelers Digest’sBob Labriola.
During the 2015 preseason the Steelers defense gave up scores of 14, 23, and 24 points, before giving up an alarming 43 points to a no-name Buffalo Bills trio of quarterbacks, who completed 90% of their passes. Likewise, opposing teams yards-per-catch grew as the preseason wore on.
It’s true that the Steelers defense did show signs of getting more pressure on the quarterback, and eventual starters Mike Mitchell and Will Allen didn’t play much.
While no one would confuse the Steelers 2015 defense with the 2008 Steelers defense, the Blitzbrugh defenses of the ‘90’s, let alone the Steel Curtain of the 1970’s, Keith Butler did turn the unit around.
No one would have predicted that based on what they saw in preseason.
In depth coverage of individual NFL teams has long been the province of the big daily newspapers, a tendency that shows little trend of breaking as the internet reaches its second decade.
ESPN, however, has never been shy about its ambition to break that trend.
Over the last several years, ESPN has been launching its own mini-sites directed at individual cities. ESPN Chicago, ESPN New England, ESPN New York etc….
Back in 2009 or so ESPN made a run at the Gerry Dulac and Ed Bouchette of the Post Gazette. At the time Dulac alluded to this in an on-line chat, and later Ed Bouchette was quite explicit.
ESPN didn’t get Bouchette or Dulac, but they did get the Tribune Review’s Scott Brown.
Scott Brown joined the Tribune Review in 2006 and covered the Steelers as their main beat writer until 2012, when Allen Robinson took up those chores and Brown departed to cover Penn State – although the move was apparently one that Brown requested.
Either way, Brown now has a bigger stage to show his talents.
While Brown was the junior man on the Steelers beat, the Watch Tower noted several times when he out hustled Ed Bouchette. Two that quickly come to mind are:
Mewelde Moore, one of the unsung heroes of the Steelers 2008 season and Super Bowl XLIII
Frank Summers, aka Frank “The Tank” Summers, a perhaps the most ballyhooed fifth round draft pick in Steelers history
Carey Davis, nobody’s world beater, but someone the coaches liked enough to phase out legendary unrestricted rookie free agent Dan Kreider
Redman also had to contend with Stefan Logan, whose CFL exploits earned him the nick name “Joy Stick.”
Yes, he deck was stacked against Isaac Redman. But he succeeded.
Never Underestimate Those 4th Quarters of Preseason Games
Faithful Steel Curtain Rising readers know that yours truly misses preseason (they don’t show preseason games in Buenos Aires, Argentina). One reason is that during the much bemoaned 4th quarter of preseason games, you absolutely know that the guys on the field are playing giving ounce they have to give.
Playing well in preseason when you get your shot in the 4th quarter vs. jobbers is one thing. Doing it against hardened starters remains a different question.
Never one to let rookies dazzle him, Mike Tomlin had a bigger test for Redman in mind….
The Goal Line Drill
…NFL training camp isn’t what it used to be. In Tom Landry, Don Shula and Chuck Noll’s heyday two-a-days were standard operating procedure, full contact drills the norm and not the exception, and players were often forbidden to drink water between activities.
As salaries have risen, NFL owners and coaches have become gun shy about risking injuring their stars in training camp.
But at least one exception remains — the goal line drill.
Redman embraced the challenge with relish. Now such attitude is common place among unknown rookies – results are an entirely different thing (click here a priceless story a rookie who spent his 15 Minutes of Fame challenging Jack Lambert in the summer of ’78 at Latrobe.)
Redman delivered results scored in goal line drills.
However, he struggled in the Steelers next two preseason contests vs. Washington and the Bills, but came back to score a touchdown vs. the Panthers in the preseason finale.
Pundits in the press suggested that the fact that no other NFL team took Redman showed he was expendable. (Never mind that NFL personnel men had made the same mistake with James Harrison….)
From Cult Hero to Tireless Gamer
Redman earned a roster spot in 2010 and saw spot duty through out the year, the highlight of which included Redman’s willing himself into the end zone for the go ahead touchdown vs. Baltimore.
Isaac Redman’s took over the primary back up rolle in 2011 and while he lacked the speed or raw talent of a Rashard Mendenhall, Redman showed himself to be a bruiser, whose legs never stopped moving until the whistle.
By the end of 2011 Redman had clearly established he was a legitimate NFL running back.
Rougher sailing lay in wait for Redman in 2012, as injures hampered his effectiveness in the game first six weeks, but he exploded for 147 yards vs. the New York Giants.
He never returned to that level during the rest of the year, but he excelled in 3rd and 4th and short occasions and was easily the most consistent back of the year.
Steelers Need to Reup Redman
Isaac Redman is a restricted free agent, but because the he was undrafted, the Steelers only retain the right of first refusal if they offer him the lowest tender. Indications are that the Steelers may do just that due to salary cap restraints.
Regardless of how he does it, the Kevin Colbert needs to ensure that Isaac Redman is a Pittsburgh Steeler in 2013
It also says here that reports that the Steelers will give Redman a low-ball tender should be taken with a grain of salt, especially if they follow through on rumors not to tenderJonathan Dwyer at all.
Would the Steelers brass really commit themselves to matching any offer a team threw at Redman Doubtfully.
Rainey is a little undersized, standing at 5’8” and weighing in at 180 pounds, but he was successful at Florida and in the view of Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain, injects some athleticism into the backfield that the Steelers currently lack.
Future Hall of Famer Jerome Bettis started the 2000 season with Richard Huntley, Amos Zereoue, Chris Fuamatu-Ma’afala and Jon Witman backing him up. Never in franchise history, perhaps, have the Pittsburgh Steelers boasted a deeper backfield.
Things changed fast. First fullback Jon Witman fell to injury and then Fuamatu-Ma’afla followed.
Injuries are always inopportune, but Pittsburgh headed into a mid-season show down with the Baltimore Ravens having to activate a little-known rookie free agent from the University of New Hampshire, football power house that it is.
Dan Kreider buckled his chin strap and challenged Ray Lewis head on, the Steelers rushed for 100 yards, Pittsburgh dealt the Ravens their last loss of 2000 and Kevin Colbert now had one of his biggest calling cards – uncanny success with undrafted rookie free agents.
Those are the rushing totals that Jerome Bettis and Willie Parker accumulated with Dan Kreider paving the way. Kreider is Steelers Football type who delivered down in the trenches time in and time out when victory or defeat lay in the balance.
Ainsley Battles An unheralded member of this list, Ainsley Battles made it as a rookie free agent in 2000 and played in all 16 games, starting two of those.
When the history of Steelers safeties is written, Battles name will seldom noted or remembered. But he did record a sack and two fumble recoveries, and returned for spot duty with the Steelers in 2004 after two years as a part-time starter in Jacksonville.
Kevin Colbert’s 2001 Rookie Free Agent Class
Keydrick Vincent Kevin Colbert plucked Keydrick Vincent out of the rookie free agent pool in 2001 and Vincent went on to start 27 games while appearing in 38. He even made starts as a rookie and as a sophomore, and then saw his value to the team soar in 2003 when injuries ravaged the offensive line.
Yet his greatest moment was in 2004, when a training camp ACL tear to Kendall Simmons threatened to derail the season. Vincent stepped up, and started 16 games in a season that saw the Steelers finish 15-1. Not bad for a guy whose phone refused to ring on draft day.
Chris Hoke – the Perpetual Unsung Hero The record reflects that Chris Hoke joined the Steelers the same year as Casey Hampton, but with a lot less fan fare. If there is an unsung hero among Kevin Colbert’s rookie free agent signings, that man is Chris Hoke.
Hoke held a roster spot for much of his first three years, but only dressed twice, until dressing regularly in 2004. At mid-season the man who was less than an afterthought stepped in when Casey Hampton tore his ACL – and the Steelers did not miss a beat in route to a 15-1 season.
Hoke gets little press, but he’s arguably the most valuable back up the team has. 108 games played and a ‘mere’ 16 starts might seem pedestrian over 10 years, but Chris Hoke does what’s asked of him and delivers when his number has called.
Kevin Colbert’s 2002 Rookie Free Agent Coup — Silverback!
James Harrison – Silverback Attack James Harrison actually made the active roster in 2002. The stories of his dismissals, recalls, and stint with the Ravens are now legendary. Since then he’s played in 107 games and started in 71 of them, but my God, do those numbers fail to do him justice.
Images can only suffice.
Harrison hinted that he was something special as early as 2004, when he laid down the law with a drunken Browns fan:
Harrison chose the Steelers 75 Anniversary Game against the Baltimore Ravens for his coming out party, a day when he exploded for 3.5 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 recovered fumble, and an interception.
And, just in case Ed Reed had any illusions about who was the baddest defender on the field that night, James Harrison erased any doubts:
James Harrison’s biggest play as a Steelers is perhaps the most over looked, which is especially rare given that it’s the longest run in Super Bowl history. While Ben Roethlisberger’s game-ending drive rightly draws rave reviews, James Harrison’s pick six of Kurt Warner in Super Bowl XLIII amounted to a four point swing in a game that finished 27-24.
A true work horse, “Fast Willie” played in 79 games starting 60 of them, and rushed for 5,378 yards and 24 touchdowns. What’s all the more impressive is that Willie did this in 6 years earning him the number 3 spot on the Steelers All-Time rushing list, and his 4.3 yards per carry average career rushing average ties Barry Foster as the best for a Steelers running back.
Who knows which Steelers scout uncovered him, Dan Rooney Jr. lives near Fast Willlie’s stomping grounds in the Carolinas, but who ever it was deserves a medal.
Kevin Colbert’s 2005 Rookie Free Agent Protégée
Nate Washington Nate Washington cut his teeth as an unrestricted rookie free agent on the 2005 Super Bowl XL championship team. Washington’s best play as a rookie may have been the pass defense he made to save an interception in the AFC Championship game against Denver.
Darnell Stapleton Darnell Stapleton may not have had the staying power of some of the other offensive lineman on this list who made the team as undrafted rookie free agents, but he did step into the starting role when Kendall Simmons was injured against Baltimore in 2008.
And if his post-season performance and his knee injuries at Latrobe in 2009 made the coaches leery of bringing him back, Darnell Stapleton was good enough at right guard for 14 games on a Super Bowl championship team, which is nothing to sneeze at.
Kevin Colbert’s 2009 Rookie Free Agent Foursome
Who would think that four free agent rookies would make the roster of the defending Super Bowl Champions? It happened with Colbert’s 2009 free rookie agent class, and a year later three of those four would play a vital role in bringing the Steelers to the brink of capturing the team’s 7th Lombardi.
“Mr. Versatility” Doug Legursky Mike Tomlin has routinely praised “position flexibility” and perhaps no player has epitomized that more than Doug Legursky throughout is 24 games played and four starts. After making the practice squad in 2008, Legursky cracked the 53 man roster in 2009 seeing spot duty.
But in 2010 the team needed every bit of of Legusrsky’s versatility, and Legursky lined up at Center, Guard, fullback, and it would surprise me none to learn that he perhaps played a few snaps at tackle.
Ramon Foster Ramon Foster found no love on draft day 2009, but the Steelers had plenty of love for him in late 2009 when injuries thrust him into the starting line up. He began 2010 on the bench, but by mid-season Mike Tomlin sent Trai Essex to the pine and Foster again joined the starting line up all the way through Super Bowl XLV.
Normally undrafted rookie free agents fill out training camp rosters, play special teams, and perhaps grow into role players. If a rookie free agent holds his own in spot duty then he’s considered a success. Developing into a number one back up or unheralded starter is a decided plus.
Over the past decade Colbert, his scouts, and the Steelers coaches have developed just shy of one starting-caliber rookie free agent per season, and his two greatest finds, James Harrison and Willie Parker, authored the two of the most dramatic plays in history.
The Steelers success in staying competitive speaks for itself. Outsiders marvel at their record, asking “how do they do it?”
Those on lookers need do nothing more than browse the list above.
Kevin Colbert, Bill Cowher, and Mike Tomlin have drafted well, but their consistent success with rookie free agents has pushed Pittsburgh over the top. Lombardi’s number five and six offer proof.
The Steelers released 7 more players to get down to the NFL’s 53 man roster limit, and the cuts included a few surprises.
2008’s rookie of the year? Gone, as Patrick Bailey has hit the waiver wire.
Those young defensive lineman which the Steelers all but promised to develop? That development will either have to take place on the practice squad or with other players as the Steelers cut Sunny Harris and Doug Worthington, two late round picks from the 2009 and 2010 drafts.
What about the training camp sensation and feel-good story of 2009? Well, Stefan Logan might have been the NFL’s oldest rookie last year at age 28, but if he is to be the NFL’s oldest second year man then it will be somewhere else, as he too got his walking papers.
Some had thought that Tyler Grisham might be another feel-good story in 2010, but someone will need to get hurt for that to happen, as Grisham will not join the active roster, although the Steelers will almost certainly attempt to sign him to the practice squad.
The other big surprise is Joe Burnett, who was the team’s 5th round pick in 2009, and actually got some playing time. The Steelers would probably also like to bring Burnett back to the practice squad, but he might get picked up by another team.
The Steelers rounded out their cuts with safety Da’Mon Cromartie-Smith and defensive tackle Steve McLendon.
Check back for further analysis on the Steelers personnel moves.
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A week ago an injury-depleted Steelers squad came up short in Baltimore after a very gutsy performance. Steelers Nation generally responded by crediting the men for their effort, and arguing that Pittsburgh was headed in the right direction.
Steel Curtain Rising took exception, arguing that the loss to the Ravens revealed that the 2009 Steelers are doomed to be consistently inconsistent.
How good it would have felt to write “Steel Curtain Rising was wrong, the Steelers are back on their feet.”
Sadly, Steel Curtain Rising was right. About the only revelation to come out of the loss to Oakland is that the Steelers excel in discovering ways to self destruct.
Falling from 6-2 to 6-6
In four weeks the Steelers have fallen from 6-2 to 6-6. It is getting to the point where adjectives fail to describe the four-loss fall, but here’s a shot:
What about the loss to the Raiders? Right now there’s even money on “devastating” and “demoralizing.”
“Only the Raiders”
In two and three quarters seasons, Mike Tomlin has shown himself to be a top notch head coach. There’s no other way to describe a man who guides a team through the NFL’s toughest schedule in a generation and ends it by claiming a 6th Lombardi Trophy.
But during his third season, Mike Tomlin’s Achilles Heel has become horrendously apparent.
Mike Tomlin teams play down to the competition.
Coming into the game, Oakland was 1-5 on the road. It had the 31st ranked offense. The Raiders had scored 10 touchdowns in 11 games – that’s less than one per game.
The Steelers defense gave Oakland three touchdowns, in a single quarter.
Fully half of the Steelers losses (thus far) have come at the hands of teams jockeying for draft position. Injuries and freak mishaps are fine, but when a team consistently drops games to inferior talent, place the blame squarely on the coach’s shoulders. The Steelers Did Rectify Several Wrongs, Except…
Throughout the course of this 6-6 season, several deficiencies have ailed the Steelers.
Costly special teams breakdowns
Touchdowns dropped in the end zone
An inability to pressure the passer at key moments
A (perceived) lack of commitment to the run
Yet against the Raiders, none of those ills were apparent.
Kick coverage was good, and Stefan Logan finally broke a long one, and he had another very good run back
Ben’s receivers caught everything he threw at them
Pittsburgh’s defenders racked up 3 sacks, and pressure forced plenty of Oakland punts
The Steelers in fact found excellent balance on offense, passing 24 times and running 27 times
Since the losing streak started, the Steelers seemingly have righted a lot of wrongs, but in the end, that effort has not been sufficient.
…As It Was in the Beginning It Shall Be in the End
The key to the sentence above is “right a lot of wrongs,” because the two big wrongs, namely coming up empty in the Red Zone and folding in the fourth quarter, returned to haunt Pittsburgh with a vengeance.
Red Zone Failures In the first half, the Steelers got into the Red Zone three times.
Starting from the Oakland 15, the Steelers managed just three points
Advancing to the Oakland 5, they gave it up on downs
Driving from mid-field to the Oakland 15, Ben threw an interception in the end zone.
If the Steelers score as little as three more points on any of those Red Zone possessions, the Raiders do not finish regulation with the lead.
A touchdown on any one of them gives the Steelers an advantage.
Fortunately, the Steelers offense adjusted, and scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
An impressive turn around, almost tempting enough to let the offense off the hook, for it would have been enough, had there not been a total and complete defensive collapse in the fourth quarter.
Folding in the Fourth The Raiders first touchdown was hard to take, but the Steelers had given them the ball at midfield and Oakland simply drove 47 yards in workman-like fashion. Nothing to be proud of, but no cause for panic either.
But the next two drives were inexcusable.
The first saw the defense give up a 75 yard touchdown pass.
Then came the final drive where Gradkowski had completions of 17, 12, 19, 23, and 11 yards. As if five double-digit plays were not enough, the Steelers defense was kind enough to give them another 11 yards on an unnecessary roughness call.
To find a more shameful fourth quarter performance by a Steeler defense, you need to go back to the dark days of 1998 or 1999.
And that observation is more damming than any number or statistic.
Throughout this losing streak the question has been, “a rally is still possible, can Tomlin rally the troops?”
Now the question is simply, “Can Tomlin keep his team from quitting?”
Mike Tomlin himself seemed to concede as much. When asked about playoff possibilities a dejected Tomlin simply responded:
“I am just trying to win a game.”
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