Pittsburgh Steelers History vs Green Bay Packers – 25 Years of Two Storied Franchises Tussling

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers are the NFL’s two most storied franchises. The latter defined winning and excellence in the 1960’s; the former defined the term “NFL Dynasty” in the 1970’s. Both franchises were fortunate to hit their respective peaks as the NFL was coming of age.

  • Yet, due to the conference and division realignment which followed the NFL-AFL merger, these two teams have seldom faced off of late.

The Pittsburgh Steelers history vs the Green Bay Packers is pretty one-sided affair, with the Cheeseheads holding a 22-15 edge as of 2017, but much of that lopsidedness is due the the Steelers pre-Immaculate Reception Record.

In fact, in the last 25 years, the teams have only met seven times, but those meetings have contributed much to the lore of both franchises. Either scroll down to click on the links below to relive your favorite moment in Steelers-Packers history.

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Le’Veon Bell rushes for his 1st 100 yard game in the Steelers 2013 win over the Packers @ Lambeau Field. Photo Credit: Wesley Hitt, Getty Images via Zimbo

1992 – Bill Cowher Reveals His True Nature in 1st Loss

September 17th, 1992 @ Lambeau Field
Green Bay 17, Pittsburgh 3

History will long remember this as Brett Favre’s first NFL start. Conversely, it was also Rod Woodson’s career worst and Bill Cowher’s first loss.

If you have a strong stomach for memories you’d rather forget, you can watch the game summary from NFL Prime Time.

For Steelers fans the significance of this game is in what Bill Cowher revealed about himself.

Near the end of the game Cowher approached Woodson. Rod turned away fearing a tongue lashing. Instead, Cowher consoled him, saying that “You’ve had a bad day at he office. When that happens, you don’t quit the job, you analyze what went wrong and bounce back.”

Steelers fans loved Cowher for his fire, brimstone and in your face bravado, but…

  • …in his first loss as a head coach, The Chin showed that he was a head coach who was smart enough to know when to kick a player in the a_s, and when to pat him on the back.

1995 – Steelers So Close, Yet So Far….

December 24th, 1995 @ Lambeau Field
Green Bay 24, Pittsburgh 19

The Steelers playoff position was set, while the Packers still had something to play for. Bill Cowher benched many starters – Fred McAfee and Steve Avery were the Steelers starting backfield.

Yet this was a hard-fought, knock down drag out game. Kevin Greene hit Brett Favre so hard that he appeared to be coughing up his brains at one point. Jim McMahon did come in for a few snaps, but Favre refused to stay out long.

The Steelers second string almost pulled it off, as Yancey Thigpen dropped a sure touchdown pass as time expired.

1998 – Look What Happens When You Try to Get Too Cute….

November 9th, 1998 @ Three Rivers Stadium
Pittsburgh 27, Packers 20

Kordell Stewart and the entire Steelers offense had suffered and struggled under Ray Sherman’s offense all season. That seemed to change on Monday Night Football as Steelers amassed a 27-3 lead in the first three quarters.

Pittsburgh Steelers history vs Green Bay Packers, LeRoy Butler, Hines Ward,

Rookie Hines Ward on his 3rd NFL catch as LeRoy Butler closes in. Photo Credit: Rick Stewart, Getty Images via Bleacher Report

As the fourth quarter began, Pittsburgh appeared poised to make it 34-3, until Sherman decided to get cute on the goal line. Sherman thought it would be smart to revive Slash, and sent Mike Tomczak under center with Kordell lining up as a receiver. All went well, until the snap….

A bobbled exchange leads to a fumble, which Keith McKenzie returns 88 yards for a touchdown. The Packers score 17 unanswered points, but Pittsburgh holds on. Barley.

  • The moral of the story there is that trick plays can give an already efficient offense a lethal edge, but they can be just as lethal for a struggling unit.

2005 – Never Underestimate the Importance to Backups….

November 6th, 2005 @ Lambeau Field
Pittsburgh 20, Green Bay 10

Ben Roethlisberger is out, so is Jerome Bettis. Willie Parker suits up, but only lasts for 5 carries. But Bill Cowher a deep bull pen to fall back on. Charlie Batch starts, and while his numbers aren’t pretty, he avoids critical mistakes.

Pittsburgh Steelers History vs Green Bay Packers, Bryant McFadden, Brett Favre, Bryant McFadden sack Brett Favre

Bryant McFadden strip sacks Brett Favre, setting up a 77 yard Troy Polamalu touchdown return. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

But the star of the day is Duce Staley, who gets his first carry of the year that day, and adds a total of 14 more for 76 yards and including a long run of 17 and a touchdown. He also catches to passes for nine yards.

  • As Bill Cowher said the day Pittsburgh released Staley, “If we don’t have Duce, we don’t win that game. If we don’t win that game, we don’t make the playoffs, and never get to Super Bowl XL.”

The Steelers signed Duce Staley to a generous contract in 2004, and he only ended up playing 16 games over three season. But in the end, it was money well spent.

2009 – This Mike Wallace is a 60 Minute Man Too….

December 20th, 2009 @ Heinz Field
Pittsburgh 37, Green Bay 36

This installment of the Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Packers had been billed as the battle of the defensive titans, as the two teams were leading the league in defense. To add an exclamation point, it pitted Dick LeBeau vs. Dom Capers, the two architects of the Steelers defense of the 1990’s.

  • But it was anything but a defensive struggle.

The Steelers and Packers combined for 936 yards and the lead changed hands four times in the fourth quarter as Aaron Rodgers passed for 383 yards. Ben Roethlisberger did him better, however, passing for 503 yards and in doing so only becoming only the 10th NFL signal caller to break the half-century mark.

Hines Ward and Heath Miller both broke the 100 yard mark, but the star of the game was Steelers rookie of the year Mike Wallace. Wallace bookended his game with touchdown catches. Taking his first pass for 60 yards to the end zone, and he did it again with his last pass, hauling in a 19 yard grab with 0:03 seconds remaining.

2010 – Super Bowl XLV – Steelers Must Wait for Stairway to Seven…

February 6th, 2011 @ Cowboys Stadium (aka “Jerry’s World”)
Green Bay 31, Pittsburgh 25

And that brings us to Super Bowl XVL and the Steelers ill-fated quest for Lombardi Number Seven.

The Steelers made some early mistakes and, as Mike Tomlin, ever the class act, insisted, the Packers made some tremendous plays that put the Steelers deep in a hole.

The men in Black and Gold fought back furiously and were alive until the game’s final minute. But, when the final gun sounded, the Packers simply showed themselves to be the better team and, to their credit, the Steelers acknowledged as much.

2013 – Le’Veon Bell Finds His Rushing Feet in the Snows of Lambeau Field

December 22nd, 2013 @ Lambeau Field
Pittsburgh 38, Green Bay 31

Like so many of the other games in recent Steelers-Packers history, this one went down to the wire. Although it seems laughable now, going into the game Mike Tomlin and the Steelers were forced to defend their decision to draft Le’Veon Bell over Eddie Lacy.

Pittsburgh Steelers History vs Green Bay Packers, Le'Veon Bell, Lamari Lattimore, Steelers vs Packers

Le’Veon Bell rushes against Lamari Lattimore in the snows at Lambeau Field. Photo Credit: Jeffrey Phelps, AP via the Bleacher Report

Le’Veon Bell played as if he took it personally, ripping off runs for 11, 5, and 22 yards in his first four carries. By half time, Bell had 71 yards and was in route to his first 100 yard game. But Bell’s game was hardly blemish free.

  • The game also featured Bell’s first NFL fumble at Pittsburgh’s 2 yard line no less.

Eddie Lacy put Green Bay ahead, but Le’Veon Bell took his next carry and shot through the Packers defense for 25 yards. The fireworks were far from over at that point, as Cortez Allen intercepted Matt Flynn and took it to the house, only to see Green Bay return to tie the score after intercepting a failed Ben Roethlisberger pass to Heath Miller.

  • The Steelers however, regained the lead with 1:25 left to play on another Le’Veon Bell touchdown.

A monster return saw Green Bay return the ball all the way to the Pittsburgh’s 1, but penalties prevented the Packers from scoring as time ran out.

A hundred yard rusher, six changes in the lead, fumbles at the goal line and snow on Lambeau Field – as John Madden would say, “This is what the game of football is all about.”

 

 

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Colbert vs Donahoe – Why Do We Never Ask “Can Kevin Colbert win without Tom Donahoe’s players?”

The Super Bowl has arrived and, just as they have since 2010, the Pittsburgh Steelers are spectating with the NFL’s 30 also-ran teams. For a franchise that measures successful seasons in Lombardis and fan base with a “What have you done for me lately” mentality, 6 years without a trip to the Big Dance is a long drought.

And the lapse has gone on long enough, that even the most serious Steelers homer must acknowledge the elephant in the room, and the question we’ve strived to ignore has some legitimacy:

  • Will Kevin Colbert ever prove he can win a Super Bowl without Tom Donahoe’s players?
Kevin Colbert, Bill Cowher, Kevin Colbert and Bill Cowher

Kevin Colbert sits along side Bill Cowher during the press conference announcing his hiring. Photo Credit: Toledo Blade

What’s that? Have you gone crazy? Isn’t that the wrong question to ask (it is)? Doesn’t everyone know that Mike Tomlin is the man with the proverbial monkey on his back? Musn’t Mike Tomlin STILL need to prove he can win the big one without Bill Cowher’s players?

Well, yes, there still are large segments fans in Steelers Nation along with a cohort of the press (see Colin Cowherd, Jason Witlock and sadly Terry Bradshaw) that insist that Tomlin’s inability to win without Cowher’s players this remains Dan and Art Rooney II’s fatal blind spot.

  • This site has debunked those arguments before, and will do so again as needed.

But really, if you buy into the Tomlin only won on Cowher’s coattails nonsense, then your intellectual honesty demands you apply the same standard to Kevin Colbert with respect to his predecessor, Tom Donahoe. Let’s see what happens when you do just that….

Tom Donahoe’s Overlooked Role in Architecting Super Bowls XL and XLIII

Tom Donahoe was of course the man Dan Rooney tapped in 1992 to be the Pittsburgh Steelers first ever Director of Football Operations following Chuck Noll’s retirement and Dick Haley’s departure for the Jets. For much of the 90’s, Donahoe was the most powerful person in the Steelers organization not named Rooney, until the Rooneys sided with Cowher in a power struggle, and sent Donahoe packing.

Tom Donahoe, Kevin Colbert vs. Tom Donahoe

Tom Donahoe, Steelers Director of Football Operations, 1992-99. Photo Credit. Stillcurtain.com

  • Donahoe had full control of the Buffalo Bills from 2001 until 2005, but was unsuccessful. He now advises the Philadelphia Eagles.

While Tom Donahoe made his mistakes, particularly as friction between him and Cowher got worse, if you really want to see his impact on the Steelers, look no further than the Steelers Super Bowl XL roster. Take a good look and ask yourself, could the Steelers have won Super Bowl XL if they had:

Hum… Take away Hines Ward, Joey Porter, Aaron Smith, Deshea Townsend, and Alan Faneca – all Donahoe draftees, and Jerome Bettis whom Donahoe acquired via trade and it’s a lot harder to imagine “One for the Thumb” arriving in 2005, even if this alternate timeline still saw the Steelers drafting Ben Roethlisberger in 2004.

By the time Super Bowl XLIII rolled around, the Bus had been parked, Alan Faneca had moved on to New York and Joey Porter was in Miami. But I defy anyone subtract the contributions of Hines Ward, Aaron Smith, and Deshea Townsend and map out a route for the 2008 Steelers that ends in a 6th Lombardi Trophy.

And if you really want to get picky about it, had the Steelers pulled out a win in Super Bowl XLV, Hines Ward would have likely won his second Super Bowl MVP award. But that, as well as the rest of this, misses the point.

Time to Retire a Tired Argument Used on Mike Tomlin

The argument that Kevin Colbert’s achievements are somehow diminished by the fact that Tom Donahoe acquired several critical contributors to both of Colbert’s Super Bowl teams is idiotic. Part of being a good leader is being smart enough and secure enough NOT to clean house for the sake of cleaning house.

  • So why conduct this exercise?

There are two reasons:

First, to highlight the fact that while people always put Tomlin in Cowher’s shadow, no one ever follow suit with Kevin Colbert and his predecessor. Why shouldn’t the same standard apply to both men? The answer is that it shouldn’t apply to either man, which was the second and most important objective of this exercise.

Mike Tomlin, Bill Cowher, Mike Tomlin and Bill Cowher, Tomlin wins with Cowher's players

Rare photo of Mike Tomlin and Bill Cowher together, taken in 2010. Photo Credit: Peter Diana, Post-Gazette

The fact that Mike Tomlin enjoyed his greatest success (thus far) with a large number of men who’d previously played for Bill Cowher doesn’t taint his accomplishments in the slightest. And the pundits in the press as well as critics within Steelers Nation need to stop making that suggestion.

As Kevin Colbert himself observed after Super Bowl XLIII, the Six Lombardi equaled 6 Super Bowls for the Pittsburgh Steelers as a franchise, instead of four Chuck Noll and one for Bill Cowher.

  • So please, let’s bury the “Tomlin only won with Cowher’s players” argument for good.

Although, if at this point, you remain unconvinced, then by all means please hold Kevin Colbert to the same standard and do it with equal enthusiasm and frequency.

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Steelers Attitude Towards Patriots Entering AFC Championship Game Healthy, Balanced

By all accounts the Steelers attitude towards the Patriots going into the AFC Championship game is a healthy one, which Steelers fans with long memories know not to take for granted. When asked about the upcoming game Ben Roethlisberger proclaimed the New England Patriots as the NFL’s “Gold standard” and likened the trip to Gillette Stadium as “going up to the lion’s den, the dragon’s lair.”

  • There’s nothing objectively or even subjectively wrong with the Steelers standard bearer’s statements.

But, in Steel City Insider  scribe Jim Wexell’s estimation, “many of the younger Steelers just shrugged” at their leader’s estimation – and there’s nothing wrong with that reaction either. Those might seem to be contradictory positions, but they’re not.

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Steelers Antonio Brown at Gillette Stadium. Photo credit: Getty Images via Sportingnews.com

Steelers Struggle in Patriot’s Shadow

Steelers fans rightly protest national media’s reduction of 00’s to a “Brady battles Manning for NFL dominance” story. That narrative is sexy, but it gives the Steelers a short shift.

  • After all, Pittsburgh doubled Indy’s Lombardi count by the time the decade was done.

Yeah, doubling the Lombardi count…. Unfortunately the Patriots have done the same to the Steelers. And while Super Bowl titles serve as the debates the most important metric, the Patriots’ dominance over Pittsburgh drives far deeper than the Lombardi count.

That’s the simple truth. And this truth hurts. The Patriots began their Super Bowl run by upsetting the Steelers, fair and square at Heinz Field and have shredded the Steelers in all but 3 occasions since then. The tandem of The Chin and Ben Roethlisberger share something in common with Big Ben and the Tomlinator – they’ve both only beaten Tom Brady and Bill Belichick once.

  • And please, spare me the talk of Spygate.

Yes, what Bill Belichick and the Patriots did was wrong, but the Steelers only have themselves to blame for the blocked kicks in ’01. Ditto ’04. If you remember how much of a raw rookie Ben looked like in the ’04 AFC Championship, then you’ll know that Billy B’s illegal signal stealing had nothing to do with the Steelers loss.

Mike Tomlin Sets Tone for a New Generation

If Wexell’s reporting on the Steelers attitude is representative of the Steelers locker room at large, then the younger members of the Steelers are taking their cue from Mike Tomlin. A few weeks back, in responding to Terry Bradshaw, Mike Tomlin hailed Bill Belichick as one of the few coaches worthy of the “great” moniker, so the Steelers head coach is well aware of the Patriot’s perch in the pecking order.

Yet, when challenged that the Steelers have never had to beat the Patriots en route to Super Bowl XL, Super Bowl XLIII or Super Bowl XLV Tomlin defied: “They haven’t had to go through us either, since I’ve been here. So stay tuned.”

  • So, while showing respect to his opponent Mike Tomlin refuses to concede anything.
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Mike Tomlin addresses the media ahead of the AFC Championship game. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Neither are his players. Nor should they. The Patriot’s record against the Steelers demands respect from any odds maker, but the Patriots have never faced a Steelers team that fielded Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell together. Likewise, James Harrison has never started a playoff game against the Patriots, and New England has never seen Lawrence Timmons or Ryan Shazier on the field in the post-season.

Does that guarantee success? Hardly.

But, as David DeCastro confided in Jim Wexell:

Nothing scares me. We know we can beat ’em, but we have to play really well to do that. So, we have confidence. We know what it takes. It just takes a lot more this week.

You can’t help but think that this is a fundamentally healthy attitude for the Steelers to take into the AFC Championship game. They understand that they’re entering the game as underdogs, yet they retain the quiet confidence that they can win if they execute.

  • Win or lose Sunday evening, credit Mike Tomlin for getting his players to strike a healthy balance.

No one in the Steelers locker room is shuttling off to make a Super Bowl rap video, al la Eric Green 1994, but these Steelers are not heading up to Gillette Stadium in awe of the Patriots. Mentally, the Steelers are where they need to be.

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Celebrating the 8 Greatest Steelers Super Bowl Plays

Super Bowl 52 is almost here. Unfortunately the Pittsburgh Steelers are not playing Super Bowl 52, but  Steelers Nation can take pride because the Black and Gold still own more Lombardi Trophies than any other franchise.

With that in mind, Steel Curtain Rising gives you the 8 Greatest Steelers Super Bowl Plays.

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Lynn Swann’s belief-defying Super Bowl X catch over Dalllas Mark Washington. Photo Credit: AP, via NY Daily News

Super Bowl IX – Dwight White Spearheads Defensive Dominance

Sometimes plays symbolize an era, other times it is a player. When the two converge , something special happens. It is fitting then that the Pittsburgh Steelers defense would author the first score in their first Super Bowl.

  • That only tells half the story.

Steel Curtain lineman Dwight White got pneumonia the week before Super Bowl IX. He’d lost 18 pounds in the hospital. Chuck Noll and George Perless told Steve Furness to get ready to play. The morning of the Super Bowl, White called Ralph Berlin, the Steelers head trainer, and begged him to pick him up, as White was determined to be introduced.

After talking with Steelers Dr. John Best, they relented, and when they saw White struggling to even put on his jersey, they figured he’d pass out in warm ups and let him play.

White started, and the Minnesota Vikings attacked him immediately. They handed off to Dave Osborn on three straight plays, and Osborn ran directly to White. The results:

  • A loss, no gain, and a one-yard gain.

The game remained scoreless in the second quarter when the Vikings found themselves backed up against their own end zone. A bad snap left Fran Tarkenton scrambling for the ball. It rolled in the end zone. Tarkenton fell on it. Dwight White landed on him.

A safety might only be 2 points, but scoring one sends a message that a defense is imposing its will. The message of Dwight White’s safety in Super Bowl IX was loud and clear: The Steel Curtain had risen.

Super Bowl X – Lynn Swann Shines

Super Bowl X provides the perfect example of how numbers might not lie, but they often fail to paint an accurate picture. Compared to some of the receiving feats of the 1980’s, let alone to the numbers NFL wide receivers put up today, Lynn Swann’s receiving numbers appear rather pedestrian.

  • Lynn Swann never caught more than 60 passes in a season and retired with 336 catches to his name

For years, naysayers like Peter King used those statics to block his induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Super Bowl X reveals why the likes of King were so sorely mistaken. Lynn Swann’s stat line from Super Bowl X reads 4-161 and one TD. Not bad, but it suggests nothing spectacular. (Tweet w/ embedded video available as of 2/6/16):

But it was the quality of the catches that Swann made that earned him the Super Bowl MVP Award. His acrobatic catches were works of sheer beauty and displayed such grace that decades after he retired fans who weren’t even born when Swann was playing were still saying, “That was a Lynn Swann Catch.”

Super Bowl XIII – Rocky Bleier Overcomes the Odds

Wounded while serving his country, in Vietnam Rocky Bleier wasn’t even supposed to walk again, let alone play football. Yet Bleier defied the odds, not only making the game, but earning a starting spot.
Even then, Rocky was low man on the totem pole of a Super Bowl offense that featured no fewer than 5 Hall of Famers.

26 seconds remained in the first half with the score tied at 14. Franco Harris had given the Steelers a 3rd and 1 at the Dallas Cowboys 7. Terry Bradshaw dropped back to pass and this is what happened (available as of 2/5/16 – watch it now before Roger Goodell’s YouTube police have it taken down):

Rocky Bleier would not be denied the touchdown, and added 7 points to the Steelers tally in a game they would ultimately win by 4….

Super Bowl XIV – Bradshaw, Stallworth & 60-Prevent-Slot-Hook-And-Go

History tends to paint the Super Steelers as an unstoppable juggernaut that authored an unbroken string of super-human plays en route to four Super Bowls in six years. The Steelers of the 70’s were good, but what made them great wasn’t their ability to blow everyone out of the water, but rather their ability to make plays when the game was on the line.

  • No Super Bowl showcases that ability better than Super Bowl XIV vs. the LA Rams

The 4th quarter had begun, and the Steelers trailed the Los Angeles Rams 19-17. Lynn Swann was out of the game, as was Theo Bell, the Steelers 3rd receiver. Everyone on the Rams staff, most of all former Steelers defensive coordinator Bud Carson, knew Terry Bradshaw would try to get the ball to John Stallworth. And on third and 8 at the Pittsburgh 27, Chuck Noll ordered Bradshaw to do that.

The play was “60-Prevent-Slot-Hook-And-Go” and the Steelers had failed miserably executing the play in practice, and neither Bradshaw nor Stallworth thought the play would work. Chuck Noll knew better. (Available as of 2/4/16):

As Art Rooney Jr. observed in his book Ruanadh, this is the result when you when you pair a Hall of Fame quarterback, with a Hall of Fame Wide Receiver and a Hall of Fame Coach.

Super Bowl XXX – Steelers Surprise Onsides Kick

The Steelers opened the 4th quarter of Super Bowl XXX down 7-10. Nine plays into the game’s final period, a Norm Johnson field goal narrowed the Steelers deficit to 10. On the side lines, special teams coach Bobby April came up to Bill Cowher, next NFL Films captured Bill Cowher into his head set, “Chan? Chan, I’m going with the surprise on sides. I’m not leaving anything in the bag.”

  • Norm Johnson executed the surprise on-sides kick perfectly, and Deon Figures recovered.

Neil O’Donnell led the Steelers down the field, and a Bam Morris touchdown made it 17-20 with the momentum decidedly in the Steelers favor… Of course, Steelers Nation would like to forget what happened after the Steelers defense forced a punt, but alas that too is part of history.

But so is Bill Cowher’s decision to call the surprise on sides. In terms of X’s and O’s, it may not have been the best play call in Steelers Super Bowl history, but it was certainly the boldest.

Super Bowl XL – Ike Taylor’s Interception

If Steelers Nation rightly remembers Bill Cowher’s first Super Bowl for its missed opportunities, it also must honor his final Super Bowl as the occasion where Cowher’s Steelers seized their own opportunities. The two scoring plays – Willie Parker’s 75 yard run and Antwaan Randle El to Hines Ward stand out.

  • But those touchdowns bookended an even bigger play that ensured their relevance.

The Steelers were leading 14-3 in the middle of the third quarter when a Ben Roethlisberger interception gave the Seattle Seahawks new life. The Seahawks scored a touchdown. Seattle began the fourth quarter by marching down to the Steelers 19 where they threatened to take the lead. On 3rd and 18 Matt Hasselbeck got greedy and tried to hit Darrell Jackson deep.

The knock on Ike Taylor was that he couldn’t hold on to the interceptions. In his entire career, he picked off NFL quarterbacks 17 times. But three of those came in the post season, and none was more important than his interception of Matt Hasselbeck.

The play grounded the Seahawks rally, and set up the Steelers insurance touchdown that secured One for the Thumb with the Steelers win in Super Bowl XL.

Super Bowl XLIII – James Harrison’s Pick Six

Super Bowl XLIII will forever be remember for Ben Roethlisberger to Santonio Holmes, the drive that preceded it, and Larry Fitzgerald’s touchdown that made such heroics necessary. Fair enough. Both Fitzgerald and Holmes touchdowns could easily make “Top 10 Super Bowl Touchdown lists.”

But it says here that James Harrison authored an even bigger touchdown (available as of 2/4/16):

Why does Steel Curtain Rising rank James Harrison’s touchdown higher than Holmes?

  • Simply math settles the question.

Aside from James Harrison running the length of the field, the Cardinals were at least going to score 3 points on that drive. Looked at in that light, Harrison’s touchdown amounted to a 10 point swing in the Steelers favor in a game the Steelers won by four.

The play also revealed Silverback’s incredible discipline, instincts and sheer will power.

Super Bowl XLV – Alejandra’s Return to Health

Steel Curtain Rising missed Super Bowl XLV because it wasn’t shown in Porto Galinhas, Brazil. But by game time that was a secondary consideration. You can read the full story of the tremendous generosity of the staff at the Tabapitanga here, but in a nutshell, my wife suffered a herniated disc, experienced intense pain, and could barely walk. The trip back to Buenos Aires was a harrowing affair, and was followed by three trips to the ER and two hospitalizations.

  • Fortunately, Alejandra made a complete recovery – or at least as close to a complete recovery as one can make from back injuries, and is doing extremely well.

I even forgot to record the game, and never saw Super Bowl XLV. Some things are not meant to be.

Sure, the Steelers loss disappointed, but my wife’s injury and recovery serves as a reminder that the outcome of a football game pales in comparison to what is really important in life, which is why it makes this list of the greatest Steelers Super Bowl plays.

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Steelers Extend Kevin Colbert’s Contract as General Manager Through 2018

If you were an NFL coach or executive seeking a vote of confidence, a secure future or just plain validation for a job well-done, this was the week to be employed by the Pittsburgh Steelers.

After signing head coach Mike Tomlin to a two-year contract extension through the 2018 season on Thursday, the Steelers did the same for general manager Kevin Colbert on Saturday, as per their official team website. 

  • Colbert has been the team’s general manager for the past five years (the first in team history to officially be given that title) after serving as director of football operations from 2000-2010.

Colbert, a Pittsburgh native who graduated from Robert Morris University, came to the Steelers in 2000, after serving as the Lions Pro Scouting Director for 10-seasons.

Among Colbert’s most-notable moves in his first three seasons with the Steelers were the free-agent signings of center Jeff Hartings in 2001 and inside linebacker James Farrior in 2002. Hartings played on the Steelers Super Bowl XL team, and Farrior would go on to captain some of the best defenses in team history and start in Super Bowl XL, Super Bowl XLIII and Super Bowl XLV.

In-terms of memorable draft picks, safety Troy Polamalu (acquired during the 2003 NFL Draft in a rare trade in-which the Steelers moved 11-spots up in the first round); and quarterback Ben Roethilsberger (selected  11th overall in the 2004 NFL Draft) rank pretty high, as both players proved vital to the Super Bowl success the team would enjoy in the very near-future.

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The Colbert Record: Steelers Third Round Draft History Under Kevin Colbert

Steel Curtain Rising’s annual installment of the Colbert Record began this morning with our evaluation of Kevin Colbert’s performance in the the Steelers 2010 Draft.

Now that the Steelers have drafted Bud Dupree with their first pick, focus shifts to day two of the 2015 NFL Draft which brings us to the third round. Accordingly, Steel Curtain Rising shines a light on Kevin Colbert’s draft record with third round picks.

steelers, draft, grades, evaluations, bust, Kevin Colbert

True NFL Draft grades only come with years of hindsight

Tom Donahoe Leaves Kevin Colbert Tough Third Round Act to Follow

The NFL Draft’s third round is often called “the value round” as that is the spot in the draft where you still have a high probability of finding and impact player, yet the risk associated with missing on a third rounder is lower than the first and second rounds.

  • The NFL Draft’s third round was the Steelers money round during Tom Donahoe’s tenure.

Colbert’s predecessor simply excelled in the third round drafting Joey Porter, Hines Ward, Amos Zereoue, Mike Vrable, Jon Witman, Brenden Stai, Jason Gildon, Bam Morris, Andre Hastings, and.

Donahoe and Bill Cowher’s Steelers did draft a few busts in the third round – Kris Farris, Chris Conrad, Steven Conley and Paul Wiggins all come to mind, but looking look across the 8 Donahoe-Cowher drafts  and you’ll literally cannot find a year in which the third round was a total loss for the Steelers.

How well has Kevin Colbert done by comparison? Time to find out.

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Steelers 2000 3rd Round Draft Picks – Kendrick Clancy and Hank Poeat

Joel Steed remains an overlooked key to the 90’s Blitzburgh defenses, but his abrupt in January 2000 left newly arrived Kevin Colbert with a gaping hole to fill in the Steelers defense. First Colbert’s signed Kimo von Oelhoffen and second he drafted Kendrick Clancy in the third round of the 2000 NFL Draft.

Clancy played in nine games as a rookie. In 2001 he actually kept Casey Hampton on the bench – for three games, before yielding the starting spot. Clancy never started another game in Pittsburgh, but he played in 15 games in 2000 and 17 games in 2002 and 2003. The Steelers cut him in 2004, but brought him back after Hampton torn his ACL. Clancy went on to play – and start, for the Giants, Cardinals, and Saints, playing all the way until 2009.

It’s hard to call a guy a “bust” because he couldn’t beat out Casey Hampton and Kendrick Clancy certainly wasn’t a bad pick. But still you expect more from a third rounder. Grade: Serviceable Pickup

Kevin Colbert used his second third round pick in 2000 on Hank Poeat, a cornerback from Pitt. Yet Poeat’s primary contribution in Pittsburgh was as a kick returner, where he excelled as a rookie, returning a punt for a touchdown in the Steelers final game at Three Rivers Stadium.

But Poeat’s fortunes as a return man declined after 2000, and he never made an impact as a corner. The Steelers let him go after 2003, but Poteat played for Tampa Bay, New England, the New York Jets, and the Cleveland Browns until retiring in 2009. Grade: Disappointment

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Steelers 2001 3rd Round Draft Pick – Forfeited

When the Steelers signed Will Wolford to play guard in 1996 his contract contained a stipulating that Wolford got an extra $500,000 if he got switched to tackle. The page of paper that that clause was typed on (yes, typed) got lost, but Dan Rooney remembered it, and the Steelers honored their word to Wolford.

Unfortunately, paying that extra $500,000 resulted in a salary cap violation, which the Steelers turned themselves in for. As a result, they lost their third round pick in 2001.

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Steelers 2002 3rd Round Draft Pick – Chris Hope

The Steelers drafted Chris Hope in 2002 with an eye towards replacing Bret Alexander, who was turning 31. Hope neither started as a rookie nor as a sophomore, but earned a starting slot by his 3rd year, which was 2004 the year the Steelers went 15-1 and had the NFL’s number 1 defense.

Hope returned to start 16 regular season games in 2005 and started throughout the playoffs, playing his last game for the Steelers in Super Bowl XL. The Steelers never really felt that Hope was a long-term answer at safety – and Ryan Clark represented an upgrade there – but he did what a third round pick should do – develop into a reliable starter. Grade: Quality Value Pick

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Steelers 2003 3rd Round Draft Pick – Traded to Kansas City

The Steelers didn’t have a third round pick in the 2003 NFL Draft because Kevin Colbert traded it to Kansas City, as part of moving up to take Troy Polamalu….

…That was perhaps his wisest draft day decision.

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Steelers 2004 3rd Round Draft Pick – Max Starks

Kevin Colbert’s third round pick in the 2004 NFL Draft, Max Starks, has perhaps the most colorful history of any in the group.

Max Starks gets knocked around a lot. He even had doubters on both Bill Cowher’s final coaching staff in 2006, which carried over to Mike Tomlin’s initial staff in 2007. The Steelers front office disagreed, making Starks their transition player in 2008. The coaching staff was unmoved, starting the season with Starks on the bench in 2008, and even giving Trai Essex the initial nod when Marvel Smith went down in the critical Steelers 2008 road win over Jacksonville.

It says here that Max Starks saved the Steelers season in 2008. Arguably, he did it again in 2011 and one can shudder to think of what would have happened had the Steelers not brought him back in 2012. Max Starks started 2 in Super Bowl XL and again in Super Bowl XLIII. Can you really ask more of a third round pick? Grade: Quality Value Pick

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Steelers 2005 3rd Round Draft Pick – Trai Essex

Kevin Colbert again went the tackle round in the third round of the 2005 NFL Draft, this time picking Trai Essex.

 

Essex never developed into a full time starter at tackle, nor could he hold down the starting job at guard. But Trai Essex became a valuable 6th lineman who was able to back up at all five positions on the line. While that’s commendable, you do expect a third round pick to become a starter. Essex never quite fit that bill. Grade: Serviceable Pickup

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Steelers 2006 3rd Round Draft Picks — Anthony Smith, Willie Reid

Bill Cowher’s last draft left a lot to be desired particularly in the third round. First the Steelers drafted Anthony Smith. Smith was a hard hitter.

But he was an even bigger prima donna, showboating after a big play in 2006, and then moronically guaranteeing victory prior to the Steelers game vs. New England in 2007, only to have Tom Brady torch him with relish. He also injured a player in during the 2008 training camp, drawing Mike Tomlin’s ire. There’s a word for players like this. Grade: Bust

Willie Reid, the Steelers second 3rd round pick in the 2006 NFL Draft, didn’t generate the ink that Anthony Smith did, but he was just as disappointing. He appeared in 1 game as a rookie returning 1 kick and 1 punt in a loss vs. San Diego. He returned six more kicks in 2007 and caught 4 passes in that season then was done. Grade: Bust

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Steelers 2007 3rd Round Draft Pick – Matt Spaeth

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin surprised a lot of people when they picked Matt Spaeth in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft. And since that time it has become clear that the Steelers picked Matt Spaeth too early. That’s not a knock on Spaeth per se. It’s not his fault he was drafted so early. But he really never delivered value commensurate with his status as a third round pick.

Certainly, the Steelers have a quality second tight end in Matt Spaeth. His blocking has been a critical element to Le’Veon Bell’s success. And he’s far underutilized in the passing game. But third round picks should perform at a higher level. Grade: Serviceable Pickup

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Steelers 2008 3rd Round Draft Pick – Bruce Davis

During training camp 2008, Jim Wexell reported in Steelers Digest that Mike Tomlin would pit Tony Hills and Bruce Davis together in one-on-ones while yelling, “I’m going to make a player out of one of you, I just don’t know which one yet.” The infamous Steelers 2008 Draft Class will go down as Colbert’s worst, with perhaps Bruce Davis serving as the poster boy.

  • As it turns out, Tomlin failed to make a player out of either man.

The Steelers drafted Bruce Davis as an outside linebacker, but he only played in 5 games on special teams, and he couldn’t cut it there. The Steelers wasted little time in cutting him in training camp the next summer. Davis resurfaced with the Raiders in 2010 and 2011 were he recorded 4 tackles in 10 games, and then Cincinnati in 2012 although he never played for the Bengals. Grade: Bust

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Steelers 2009 3rd Round Draft Picks – Kraig Urbik, Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis

As a rookie Kraig Urbik didn’t play a down, but the Steelers had high hopes for him as they saw great progress in his second summer at St. Vincents. Word was that Urbik, a guard, skills as a back up center were part of what sent Justin Hartwig to the waiver wire. Alas, Byron Leftwich’s preseason injury forced the Steelers to keep Charlie Batch on the roster, and that meant Urbik had to go.

The Steelers wanted to sneak him onto the practice squad, but the Buffalo Bills had other ideas. Urbik has started 53 of 69 games for them since then…. Grade: Farm Team

The Steelers knew Hines Ward’s time was coming to an end by 2009, and drafted Mike Wallace with the second of their 3 third round picks. While the decision not to offer Mike Wallace a long-term deal was controversial at the time, the Steelers wisdom in choosing Antoinio Brown instead has been vindicated.

But that doesn’t alter the evaluation of Mike Wallace as a draft pick, because he it was an excellent pick. Wallace made an immediate impact as a rookie, posted in inhuman yards-per-catch average in his first season as starter, and was a legit home run threat on every play. The drop off in his play during his second two years does impact his overall grade, but clearly Colbert made the right pick here. Grade: Over Performer

With their final 3rd round pick in 2009 NFL Draft the Steelers picked Keenan Lewis. Lewis was a late bloomer, as injuries ruined and Joe Burnett kept him off the field. 2010 was little better, as Lewis disappointed. Carnell Lake personally oversaw his rehabilitation, and Lewis began to work himself into a quality corner in 2011 and established himself as the starter by 2012.

 

The Steelers did get some value out of Lewis before he left via free agency, but just a little short of what you’d expect and need as a third round pick. Had he stayed in Pittsburgh, his grade would be higher, but this draft evaluation only covers performance of players as Steelers. Grade: Serviceable Pickup

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Steelers 2010 3rd Round Draft Pick – Emmanuel Sanders

The third round pick in 2010 of Emmanuel Sanders got covered in our analysis of the Steelers 2010 NFL Draft. Emmanuel Sanders impressed coaches as a rookie, even keeping Antonio Brown on the bench early in the season, with Mike Tomlin invoking the “Two dogs one bone” metaphor. Sanders got hurt in Super Bowl XLV, and injury that Bruce Arians said hurt the team’s game plan.

Injuries limited Sanders in 2011 and then again in 2012, but he emerged as a full time starter in 2013 and made the most of his opportunity. The Steelers optned not to resign him, but Sanders was still a quality third round pickup. Grade: Quality Value Pick+

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Steelers 2011 3rd Round Draft Pick – Curtis Brown

Super Bowl XLV made it glaringly clear that the Steelers needed to improve at cornerback, and Kevin Colbert addressed the position in the third round of the 2011 NFL Draft by picking Curtis Brown….

…And he undoubtedly regrets the pick to this very day.

As a rookie, Brown forced a fumble during an ugly Steelers loss vs. Houston. He apparently played well on special teams, but it was Cortez Allen who saw action at corner. Brown never started a game, but saw a lot of action as a nickel back vs. San Diego in 2012, which was one of the most horrific performances by the Steelers of the Tomlin era. Brown only played in 7 games in 2013 and the Steelers gave up on him after that. Grade: Bust

Steelers 2012 3rd Round Draft Pick – Sean Spence

The Steelers had already parted ways with James Farrior and were looking to groom a replacement for Larry Foote by the time the 2012 NFL Draft arrived. Kevin Colbert picked Sean Spence out of Miami. Early in preseason, Spence looked like a stud in the making. Then disaster struck, costing Spence not only his rookie year, but also his sophomore year.

Nonetheless, Spence returned for his third season, and started nine games splitting time with Vince Williams after Ryan Shazier’s injury. Spence helped force a fumble in the Steelers 2nd quarter explosion vs. Houston, and recorded a sack vs. Cincinnati. Any formal grade on Spence will need to wait, but he looks like a solid pick up on Colbert’s part. Grade: Too Early To Tell

Steelers 2013 3rd Round Draft Pick – Markus Wheaton

Kevin Colbert drafted Markus Wheaton in the 2013 NFL Draft with an eye towards replacing Mike Wallace and the soon to depart Emmanuel Sanders. Wheaton did next to nothing as a rookie, but he did earn the starting nod in 2014 and turned in a solid season.

 

Wheaton might not have gotten the ink that Antonio Brown and Martavis Bryant get, but he made a lot of key catches. Again, one season as a starter is NOT enough to evaluate a player, but right now he has the look of a quality value pick, if not more. Grade: Too Early to Tell

Steelers 2014 3rd Round Draft Pick – Dri Archer

The Steelers traded their 2014 third round pick to get Shamarko Thomas in 2013, but got a compensatory pick for losing Mike Wallace. They used it on Dri Archer, who was the fastest man in the 2014 NFL Draft. The Steelers idea was to use Archer as a kick returner and utility back/wide receiver in the mold of Eric Metcalf (yes, I just dated myself!)….

It’s way, way too early to write off Dri Archer, but his rookie year can only be described as disappointing. Grade: Too Early to Tell

Conclusion – Kevin Colbert’s Checkered Third Round Record

The NFL Draft’s third round has not been as kind to Kevin Colbert as it was Tom Donahoe. Which is OK, as Colbert’s money round has been the first round of the NFL Draft.

Kevin Colbert, Mike Tomlin, Steelers draft

Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin discuss the Steelers Draft

Still, Colbert is charged with making the right pick in each round, and the record shows that he’s done it several times for the Steelers, most notably with Emmanuel Sanders, Chris Hope, Mike Wallace and Keenan Lewis.

However, Colbert has had his share of under performing third round picks, and he’s picked more than one outright bust with both Cowher and Tomlin (see Willie Reid Davis and Curtis Brown.)

While its too early to tell on some of his later picks, the arrow does appear to be trending up for Colbert’s third round record, but for now his grade must reflect a balance between his 3rd round successes and 3rd round failures. Grade: C+

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Ben Roethlisberger’s Performance Between Contracts

News that the Steelers resigned Ben Roethlisberger spread like wildfire on Friday the 13, as you’d expect it to. The next question that was on everyone’s lips was of course, “How much did the Steelers pay Ben.” Those numbers have slipped out, as it’s a 5 years 99 million dollar contract, with incentives that could take it to up to $108 million.

Thanks to Ed Bouchette’s reporting in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, we now know that Roethlisberger’s contract comes with a 31 million dollar signing bonus in addition to a 4.25 million dollar roster bonus, both of which he can pocket this year.

  • Roethlisberger only brings the Steelers about 1.5 million dollars in salary cap relief, although that’s because his number was high already from restructures.

The breakdown of Roethlisberger’s contract falls like this:

2015: $17,245,000
2016: $23,950,000
2017: $18,200,000
2018: $23,200,000
2019: $23,200,000

Dejan Kovacevic has said that the deal’s structure represents a new approach to managing the cap hit that all franchise quarterbacks carry. It remains to see how that will play out, although Kovacevic and others expect the first restructure to happen in 2016, when Roethlisberger’s cap value jumps to almost 24 million.

Roethlisberger, Between Contracts

This of course is Ben Roethlisberger’s second 100 million dollar contract. He signed the first one on March 4th 2008 and a lot has happened since then.

Here is a look at Ben Roethlisberger’s performance between contracts, by the numbers:

1 Super Bowl victory, which came less than a year after he signed is first extension, as the Steelers triumph in Super Bowl XLIII.

2 Super Bowl appearances, Super Bowl XLV in addition to Super Bowl XLIII
2 children born to Ben Roethlisberger and his wife, Ben Jr. and Baylee Marie
2 sexual assault accusations but 0 criminal complaints lodged against Roethlisberger (sorry, folks, but its very much part of Ben’s story.
2.8 – the average number of players to start at quarterback, per season, for the Cleveland Browns

3 quarterbacks not named “Roethlisberger” started games for the Steelers during this time, namely Charlie Batch, Dennis Dixon and Byron Leftwich

4 games were missed by Ben Roethlisberger due to suspension
4 games were missed by Ben Roethlisberger due to injury (so much for the “oft injured Roethlisberger” thesis)

5 The number of playoff victories quarterbacked by Ben Roethlisberger
6 Different Steelers caught playoff touchdown passes from Roethlisberger

7 rushing touchdowns were score by Ben Roethlisberger
12 separate players started at quarterback for the Cleveland Browns (yeah, let’s rub it in!)

19 post season interceptions
21 touchdown passes were thrown in the post-season by Roethlisberger

23 Different receivers caught touchdowns thrown to them by Roethlisberger
31 the length of his longest rush between contracts (vs. Oakland, in the game he got cold cocked in)

67-36 Roethlisberger’s record as a starter between contracts
167 touchdown passes

94.3 Ben Roethlisberger’s passer rating between contracts
273 number of times Ben was sacked between contracts

2,565 days passed between Ben Roethlisberger contract signings
3,518 completed passes

27,384 yards – Ben’s regular season passing yardage total between contracts

While all of these numbers are impressive (except for perhaps the suspension related ones and the sacks), the ultimate value of Ben Roethlisberger’s contract will be measured in Lombardis.

Let’s hope number 7 can help the Steelers climb the Stair Way to Seven.

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Dick LeBeau’s Legacy with Steelers: 15 Years of Unparalleled Excellence

The when news of Dick LeBeau’s “resignation” as Steelers defensive coordinator broke in 2015, Steelers Nation reacted with a flurry of emotions ranging from sadness, to outrage, and even to vindication on the part of fans anxious for a change. But one thing remains clear:

  • Dick LeBeau’s legacy with the Steelers will long remain unmatched

That’s not a small statement for an organization that has won 6 Super Bowls and seen at least 10 former assistants rise to the rank of head coach since Bill Cowher’s arrival in 1992.

Here we remember and honor Dick LeBeau’s legacy with the Steelers. Scroll down or click on the links below to learn more or relive the memories:

Dick Lebeau, Pittsburgh Steelers, Dick LeBeau Legacy, James Harrison

Dick LeBeau addresses the Steelers defense, early in the Tomlin era; Photo Credit: Sports Illustrated

LeBeau, with Capers and Lewis, Joins Cowher’s First Staff

Dick LeBeau arrived in Pittsburgh as part of Bill Cowher’s inaugural staff. The media speculated over how a group of assistants who’d never worked together would gel as a team.

  • Such speculation was idle, at least on the defensive side

Cowher named Dom Capers as his defensive coordinator, Marv Lewis as his linebackers coach, Steel Curtain veteran Steve Furness as his defensive line coach while he charged Dick LeBeau  with running his secondary. Yours truly had held out hope that Cowher would retain Dave Brazil, who’d led the Steelers to a number 1 overall ranking in 1990, and regarded LeBeau as suspect simply because he was an ex-Bengal.

  • Such ignorance of youth taught me to temper reactions moving into adulthood.

The 1992 Steelers improved from 22nd to 13th in yards allowed. The 1993 defense improved from 13th to 3rd in yards allowed. The 1994 defense improved from 3rd to 2nd in yards allowed.

“Special” would be only word used to describe 1994 defense, featuring Rod Woodson, Greg Lloyd, Kevin Greene and Carnell Lake in their primes, with Chad Brown, Joel Steed and Levon Kirkland hitting their stride as starters.

  • The defense was so good that Dom Capers was a slam dunk as a candidate to become the Carolina Panther’s first head coach.

Cowher needed someone to take over the Blitzburgh defense that was dominating as no other had in Pittsburgh since the 1970’s. Really, there was only one man he could turn to Dick LeBeau. As Steelers Digest commented, “LeBeau Can’t Say No.”

Crisis Management Defines LeBeau’s First Stint as Steelers Defensive Coordinator

I happened to be living in Cincinnati when Dick LeBeau returned to the Bengals after the 1996 season, and my reaction was, “I am not sure we’re really losing all  that much.” The reaction was based on the fact that the Steelers defense had slipped under LeBeau back down to 3rd in 1995 and while it returned to its number 2 ranking in 1996, the defense lacked the air of dominance of just 2 years before.

  • Again, such ignorance of youth paves the way for the wisdom of maturity

Certainly the Steelers defenses of 1995 and 1996 did lack the air of invincibility of the 1994 version (although as Alfred Pupunu showed, the 1994 defense had its weaknesses), but there was a reason for that.  Such was the fate of Dick LeBeau that he would lose his best defensive player on opening day in consecutive seasons:

  • in 1995 Rod Woodson planted as he attempted to tackle Barry Sanders, and tore his ACL
  • in 1996 a collision between Woodson and Greg Lloyd caused a season-ending and career altering knee injury for Lloyd

Lloyd was far from the only injury fate forced LeBeau to deal with on opening day 1996 – the Steelers had kept linebackers, but injuries to Jason Gildon, Steven Conley, and Eric Ravotti left Steelers coaches openly talking of shifting to a 4-3 for week 2 – even though Pittsburgh had 10 linebackers on its roster.

  • In both seasons LeBeau did what good coordinators do – he compensated

The big move in 1995 came with the decision to shift Carnell Lake from strong safety to corner during the middle of the season.

Outside of a few snaps during the 1991 preseason, Lake had never played corner. Myron Bell could capably take over his slot at safety, but Lake had a huge adjustment to make in transitioning from safety to corner.

  • Under LeBeau’s guidance Lake’s successful transition helped the Steelers reach Super Bowl XXX

In 1996 LeBeau compensated by moving Chad Brown to the outside, where he promptly registered 13 sacks. He also rotated in younger players such as Earl Holmes and Donta Jones as 20 separate players on the Steelers defense recorded a sack that season.

At the season’s end Dick LeBeau, whose family had remained in Cincinnati, got offered the defensive coordinator/assistant head coach job in Cincinnati. He took it and for years speculation followed that his departure signaled that Bill Cowher was an impossible task master to work for.

Cowher brought in Jim Haslett and then Tim Lewis to coach the Steelers defense, although both men were tasked with running the existing system rather than installing their own. The Steelers fielded some good defenses, although New England and Cincinnati would demonstrate the weakness of the Steelers vs. the spread offense in 2002.

  • The Steelers finished 6-10 in 2003 and while the defense ranked 9th, it didn’t scare anyone

Bill Cowher fired Tim Lewis and Dick LeBeau had just been let go in Buffalo…

2004 LeBeau’s Return Signals Steel Curtain’s Rise

Dick LeBeau’s return to Pittsburgh in 2004 was much ballyhooed. As well it should have been. Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, Deshea Townsend and Joey Porter were in their primes.  Troy Polamalu and Ike Taylor were hitting their stride as starters. Willie Williams was back.

  • LeBeau delivered immediate results

The Steelers 2004 defense ranked number 1 overall, and it helped carry the team on an unprecedented 15 game winning streak that didn’t end until the Steelers faced off against the Patriots in the AFC Championship game.

  • But 2004 was just the warm up

The Steelers 2005 defense dropped to 4th in yards allowed and 3rd in points allowed. But this was clearly a case where statistics don’t tell the true story.

The Steelers 2005 defense frustrated Peyton Manning in the AFC Divisional Playoffs, and exposed Jake Plummer as the pretender he was vs. Denver in the AFC Championship game.

  • And in Super Bowl XL, it was Dick LeBeau’s defense that delivered the game-changing interception

Along with the rest of the Steelers, LeBeau’s defense suffered a Super Bowl hangover in 2006. But as Cowher made his exit, LeBeau made it clear he wanted to stay.

Tomlin Retains LeBeau in 2008

The Rooneys agreed. As Mike Tomlin put it in his opening press conference, all of the Cowher’s assistants came recommended, Dick LeBeau came highly recommended. LeBeau remained.

  • For all parties involved, retaining LeBeau represented the right decision

The Steelers 2007 defense finished number one overall, even as it lost Ryan Clark and Aaron Smith during the season. Like 2004, 2007 was just the warm up act.

During 2008 the Steelers defense had as fine a season as any defensive until since the 1976 Steelers. This was a defense loaded with playmakers, featuring James Harrison, Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, James Farrior, Ryan Clark, and Casey Hampton in their primes, with LaMarr Woodley establishing himself as a starter.

  • Fans will rightly remember the 2008 season for its seemingly endless stream of Roethlisberger led comebacks.

And so it should. But what many forget, is that LeBeau’s defense either set up those comebacks,  cemented them after the Steelers had regained the lead or provided the go ahead points.

As it did in 2006, LeBeau’s defense along with the rest of the Steelers suffered a Super Bowl Hangover in 2009. But 2010 was a different story.

 

Playing without Ben Roethlisberger for the season’s first 4 games, the Steelers defense played a critical role in the team’s 3-1 start, which saw Pittsburgh play 4th string quarterback Charlie Batch. The Steelers 19-10 victory over Tennessee might have been the finest single game performance for a Steelers defense ever.

  • For the record, the Steelers 2010 defense finished 1st in points allowed and second in yards allowed

It is true that Aaron Rodgers did exploit weaknesses of the Steelers defense in Super Bowl XLV, but it was LeBeau’s defense which powered the Steelers comeback vs. the Ravens and held off a Jet’s rally in the AFC Championship.

The Dick LeBeau Coaching Tree

There’s one part of LeBeau’s legacy that is missed all too often. And that is that he has spawned his own coaching tree. You don’t normally associate coaching trees with assistant coaches, but the Dick LeBeau coaching tree is real.

Tim Krumrie, Ray Horton, Kevin Greene, Darren Perry, Rod Woodson, Carnell Lake, Greg Lloyd, Joey Porter and Jerry Olsavsky are all former LeBeau players who have gone on to spend time as NFL assistants.

  • Some have coached longer than others. Some have had more success than others

Perhaps it was because of his cerebral approach to the game, perhaps it was of the loyalty he inspired, but no other NFL assistant has seen so many of his players move into the assistant coaching ranks.

Lion in Winter: LeBeau 2011-2014

You can dress the numbers up however you like – yours truly pleads guilty as charged here – but the Steelers defense has been in decline since 2010. In 2011 the slip off first became evident in the absence of sacks and takeaways.

Nonetheless, LeBeau authored what was arguably his greatest game plan that saw the Steelers triumph over the Patriots.

  • Unfortunately, it’s been downhill since then.

The Steelers defense finished first in total yards in 2011 and did it again in 2012 but the takeaway dearth got worse. In 2013 the Steelers defense slipped to 13th in total yards and 29th in interceptions. In 2014, its ranking slipped to 18th, although takeaways did improve modestly.

The truth is that this decline has a lot more to do with the drop off in talent, than it does with LeBeau’s coaching ability. Steel Curtain Rising has already argued that the Steelers should have kept LeBeau and will not repeat the argument here.

  • Clearly Mike Tomlin and Art Rooney II see things differently

Fair enough. It is their team. The Steelers have a well earned-reputation for being a people-oriented organization, but they rarely let sentimentally temper their thinking when hard decisions must be made. (Just ask Franco Harris, Art Rooney Jr. or Rod Woodson.)

However unpleasant the decision to part ways with LeBeau might have been. Dick LeBeau leaves Pittsburgh as one of the Steelers’ greatest assistants ever, and that legacy remains intact.

And that is something all of Steelers Nation should be proud of.

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Whether Its Podlesh or Wing, Should Pittsburgh Pray for Its Punting to Stink?

Steelers Nation’s reaction to news that the Pittsburgh Steelers had signed punter Adam Podlesh ranged from ho-hum to derision as documented by Behind the Steel Curtain.* Some of this is logical, as Adam Podlesh’s punting averages were actually worse than both Mat McBriar and Zoltan Mesko.

  • But the more refined response is: Who cares?

Seriously. Assuming he can avoid blocked kicks, how much impact does a punter have anyway?

Sure, I am sure Pro Football Focus has some saber metric that reads like this:

  • “Analysis shows that pass defenses on teams with a favorable gross/net punting ratio enjoy a statistically significant “passing yards per attempt allowed” advantage.

Or something.

Maybe Pro Football Focus has no such stat. Even if they do, it says here that the Steelers have won more Super Bowls than anyone else, and it further says that in that respect, good punting doesn’t count for squat. Read on:

Steelers punting super bowl miller colquitt walden
Does good punting = grim harbinger for the Steelers? Hum…

Number don’t lie fellow citizen of Steelers Nation. Let’s take a closer look for those who remain unconvinced.

Bobby Walden handled the punting duties for the Steelers in Super Bowl IX and Super Bowl X. The Steelers ranked just above the middle of the pack and in fact were right about average in terms of punting.

  • Very little was average about those 1974 and 1975 teams laden with NFL Hall of Famers.

No offense, but the presence of players like Joe Greene, Franco Harris, and Jack Lambert explain a lot more about the 1st two Lombardi’s than does Walden.

Craig Colquitt took over the chores for Super Bowl XIII and Super Bowl XIV and the Steelers punting performance perked up just a tad. Now Pittsburgh’s defense was in decline by that point, and perhaps better punting put them over the edge.

The Steelers 6-10 ’86 season stands as an aberration. Harry Newsome had arrived, but the Steelers still ranked in the bottom quarter of the league in terms of punting. Newsome picked his performance by 1988, and the Steelers led the NFL in punting.

  • They also had their worst post-1971 finish.

Legend has it the Bubby Brister scrawled “Playoffs 1989” on the chalk board to open training camp that summer, but it’s doubtful that Pittsburgh’s punting advantage in Newsome inspired him to do so.

In 1995 Rohn Stark filled the gap between Mark Royals and Josh Miller and the Steelers were the third worst punting team in the league. Nonetheless, the Steelers came heart breakingly close to “One for the Thumb” vs. Dallas in Super Bowl XXX.

Josh Miller was a fine punter, and during the “My buddy’s the cop” phase of Kordell Stewart’s starting tenure he became somewhat of a cult hero and Baltimore’s legendary Purple Goose Saloon and yours truly was one of his prime promoters. Yet in 2003, Miller had the Steelers punting ranked above average, but they still had a 6-10 record.

  • The Steelers replaced Miller with Chris Gardocki, who punted on in Super Bowl XL, but One for the Thumb Came in spite of a 22nd ranking punting game.

And of course the Steelers attained further glory in Super Bowl XLIII despite the having the second worst punting game thanks to Mitch Berger and Paul  Ernster.

Rounding it out you have 2010 and the loss to Green Bay in Super Bowl XLV, a season in which the Steelers broached the top 25% in punting.  Could getting on the other side of that 25% mark have negated Ben Roethlisberger’s interceptions, Mike Wallace’s ghosting, or Mendy’s fumble? Count me a skeptic.

Prayer’s and Shout Outs

Of course this analysis only looks at punting average, and not inside 20 numbers or anything like that. And of course crappy punting can hurt you, just remember the Oakland game. But let’s repeat it:

  • Number don’t lie

In the “Post Immaculate Reception Era” there is no correlation between good punting and winning Super Bowls. In fact, if anything the data suggests something quite the opposite.

So whether Brad Wing or Adam Podlesh wins out, perhaps its best to pray for Pittsburgh’s punter to stink.

*Full disclosure. I also write for BTSC. And by complete happenstance (on my honor as a Life scout), it I saw that their Tony Defeo, a good friend and soul mate, had the same idea and beat me to the punch. Check his out here.

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Legrusky Gets No Love… In Pittsburgh at Least

Kevin Colbert might have an uncanny knack for uncovering previously overlooked gems in the form of undrafted rookie free agents. Chuck Noll, Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin likewise have an ironclad dedication to giving these guys a fair sake on the fields of St. Vincents.

  • But the Steelers can be downright unsentimental when it comes to showing these men the door.

Fast Willie Parker made Super Bowl XL the Steelers to lose. Willie Parker left Pittsburgh without a contract. James Harrison was asked to take less, and when he balked James Harrison found himself playing for far less money for the Cincinnati Bengals.

In that sense Doug Legursky finds himself in good company. Legursky cracked the Steelers roster in 2009 as an undrafted rookie free agent, and one year later he was starting for them in Super Bowl XLV.

  • He returned the following year to start 10 games as part of the continuing carousel on offense line.
  • He suited up and started 3 more in 2012, and was proving himself to be an excellent 4th interior lineman.

But that wasn’t enough for Tomlin and Colbert, as Legrusky has come to terms with with Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain is calling “Steelers Northeast” aka the Buffalo Bills, who also employ former Steelers cast offs Kraig Urbik, Chris Scott, Corbin Byrant, and Frank Summers aka Frank “The Tank” Summers.

Steel Curtain Rising will have more to say about the Legursky defection later, but for now we’ll simply say “Thanks Doug. You came through when we needed you. Best of luck to you in Buffalo, as long as it doesn’t come at Pittsburgh’s expense.”

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