Mike Tomlin’s Post Super Bowl XLIII Mantra “No Defend, No Repeat”

Less than 12 hours after becoming the youngest NFL head coach to ever win a Super Bowl, Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin is already focusing in his next one.

Literally.

Perhaps its fitting that Bruce Springsteen played during half time at Super Bowl XLIII as he’s the man who laid down 80´s track “No Surrender, No Retreat,” because Mike Tomlin’s new mantra is “No Defending, No Repeat.”

At his post-Super Bowl press conference, Mike Tomlin announced that he did not want to hear the word defend or repeat.

You won’t hear me say ‘repeat’ or ‘defending,’ because it’s brand new [from here]… The thing I’m going to sell to our football team, we’re not attempting to repeat…. There will be 53 new men in there. A lot of the faces will be the same, but nothing stays the same in this game. Those that remain, the roles will change….

I think repeating and defending Super Bowl championships in today’s NFL is something of a misnomer. When I walk down the hallway [at Steelers headquarters] and look at the championships of the Steelers from the’70s, it’s the same faces in the same positions on those photos, in terms of the Steel Curtain and so forth. That’s not the reality of today’s NFL, to be quite honest with you. We’ll start with a new group of men — hopefully a lot of them will be the same.

In the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette book Cowher Power, Gene Collier wrote that he attended the post Super Bowl XL conference for one reason: he wanted to see how victory affected Cowher. Collier claimed he observed a change in Cowher, and less than a year later Bill Cowher began a hiatus from coaching and continues to this day.

Not so with Tomlin. He’s a head coach who is hungry for more and is already doing his part to make sure his players share the feeling.

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Super Bowl XLIII – A Look to Questions Past Gives Clues to Sunday’s Answers

“This group understands the standard that comes with being a Pittsburgh Steeler, and we’ve got some work to do.”
— Mike Tomlin, on why his players did not celebrate more after defeating the Baltimore Ravens.

The Steelers have come a long way and accomplished a since the convened training camp in Latrobe last July. But, as Mike Tomlin would say, they’re still writing their story.

It will be against the Arizona Cardinals that the Steelers will write the definitive chapter of their 2008 season. While true conclusions remain elusive until the final gun in Tampa, a look at what we’ve already learned about Tomlin and his players offers some insight into how Super Bowl XLIII will transpire.

2007 was a good year for the Steelers. Ben Roethlisberger proved that 2006 was a fluke, an AFC North Crown was added, and the Rooneys showed that they’re pretty good evaluators of coaching talent.

As impressive as his rookie campaign was, Tomlin and his Steelers started at St. Vincent with some real questions to answer. 10-6 is a respectable record, but the Steelers finished 1-4, and lost two home games to the same opponent for the first time in conference history. Besides, Steelers Nation does not seek respectability, it demands excellence.

In two separate articles, Steel Curtain Rising probed the areas that would determine Tomlin’s ability to deliver excellence. On the eve of Super Bowl XLIII, this is what we have learned so far and what it means for Super Bowl XLIII.

Is Mike Tomlin Too Chummy With His Coaches?

We won’t spend too much time on this, as the next two questions closely relate to this larger question. The suspicion at the time was that Tomlin was more like Noll and his mentor Tony Dungy than his predecessor Bill Cowher. The former men bent over backwards not to fire assistant whom they liked; Bill Cowher cut his lieutenants loose without a second thought.

  • Honestly, we do not know this answer yet, and probably will not for a long, long time.

But it is interesting to note that stories about the Steelers are no longer chalked full of quotes about how “great it is to work for a head coach that grants a wide degree of autonomy.”

Also interesting was Phil Simms comment that Tomlin had put his own, person touches on the DB’s pass coverage techniques. None of this means that Tomlin has become overbearing, but it does suggest a slightly different approach.

  • Implications for Super Bowl XLIII: Really, not many. Tomlin’s job is to get the Steelers players and coaches functioning harmoniously and thus far he has shown he is up to the job.

Should Bob Ligashesky Have Been Fired?

What a difference two weeks makes…. At the end of the regular season, the answer to this question looked like a solid “no.” Certainly, the Steelers were not getting any help form their return game. But during the 2008 season the Steelers kick coverage went from being acceptable, to good, to excellent. This stood in stark contrast to 2007, the blood lettng on the coverage teams never seemed to stop.

Special teams performance as slipped in the playoffs. OK, one can argue that Santonio Holmes electrifying 65 yard punt against San Diego cancels the long return by the Chargers.

That’s a great argument on paper that is really bogus in reality. During the Baltimore game the Steelers had 21 yard punt and only a personal foul penalty saved the Steelers from a devastating punt return.

  • Implications for Super Bowl XLIII: The Arizona Cardinals handed Mike Tomlin his first regular season defeat in 2007, largely on the strength of special teams. Bob Ligasheky’s must make sure this pattern does not repeat itself in Super Bowl XLIII.

Do Tomlin and Bruce Arians Philosophies Clash?

Ooh, my. Has Bruce Arians been a lighting rod for criticism this year, and Steel Curtain Rising has contributed its fair share. The root of the issue is simple. When he was hired, and many times since then Mike Tomlin expressed a commitment to attrition football.

  • Nonetheless, one of the first acts of the man he hired to be his offensive coordinator, was to phase out the full back.

And there you have your disparity.

On the eve of Super Bowl XLIII, this answer remains nebulous. Arains commitment to the run has been suspect to say the least.

In all fairness to Airans, he’s really hasn’t had the personnel to put together a power running game, with four new starters on offensive line, and a rash of injuries at the running back slot.

Still, in a late season on line chat, the Post-Gazette’s Ed Bouchette indicated that he thought Tomlin might not be completely happy with Arians’ play calling and game planning. (To be objective, Bouchette was quick to add that this was his impression, and did not go into much detail beyond a vague comment.)

  • Implications for Super Bowl XLIII: Going up against Kurt Warner and Larry Fitzgerald, in addition to Arizona’s two other 1,000 yard receivers, it does not take a genius to figure out that ball control is going to figure prominently into the Steelers game plan.For the Steelers to succeed in Super Bowl XLIII, Tomlin and Arians must be on the same page.

Can the Steelers Protect Ben?

Early on, the answer to this question would have been “NO.” But the pass protection, and indeed the play of the entire offensive line has improved as the season progressed. Ben got the time he needed against San Diego, and while he did take four sacks against Baltimore, there are also plenty of snaps when he had time to pass.

The Steelers will only underestimate the Cardinals defense at their peril, but the fact is that while Arizona does field a good defensive team, these are not the Ravens.

  • Implications for Super Bowl XLIII: The line’s performance should have improved enough to give Ben the time he needs, if not it will be a long day.

Can the Steelers Close?

Man, what a difference a year, not to mention the return of Ryan Clark and Troy Polamalu, makes. One of the most disturbing scenes of the Steelers 2007 season was the sight of the Steelers losing close games late in the 4th quarter, in a way that they never, ever did under Bill Cowher.

18 games later, the image the Steelers painted a very different picture. In 2008 the Steelers have been a team that as won games in the final two minutes, time and time again.

And its been a team effort, with contributions on both sides of the ball, and mercifully, cross your fingers, they’ve avoided shooting themselves in the foot on special teams (see above.)

  • Implications for Super Bowl XLIII: Once again, this is going to be the ultimate test. Kurt Warner is one of the quarterbacks in the league that can strike downfield at any moment, and at any time during the game. How many times have we seem him stuffed for 58 minutes, only to draw blood in the last two minutes?And he clearly has the weapons to throw to. These Arizona receivers know how to get their hands on the ball if Warner puts it near them.There’s no formula for stopping this. James Harrison, LaMarr Woodley, James Farrior, Larry Foote and Lawrence Timmons company are simply going to need to get in Kurt Warner’s face up front. Aaron Smith, Casey Hampton, and Bret Keisel are going to need to stuff the run game and pressure the passer where they can.And Dick LeBeau is going to have to develop a plan that keeps Warner and Ken Whisenhunt guessing.

    The bottom line is that it comes down to execution. The Steelers simply need to do their thing, do it well and maintain focus for the full 60 minutes.

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Steelers Fans in Buenos Aires – Join the FAA for Super Bowl XLIII in downtown Buenos Aires

Greetings from Tandil, in la Provincia de Buenos Aires

Attention to all members of Steelers Nation who find themselves in Buenos Aires, Argentina for the Super Bowl XLIII.

Steelers fans ready to watch Super Bowl 43 with other devotees of the gridiron, now have a place to meet.

Bring your Terrible Towels, don your Steelers t-shirts and come down to the Run Bar in downtown Buenos Aires to watch our beloved Pittsburgh Steelers square off against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl 43.

The FAA (Federación de Futbol Americano Argentino) will be holding their annual Super Bowl Party there.

  • Event: The Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII
  • Location: Run Bar, San Martin 875 in downtown Buenos Aires
  • Time: 8:30 pm, local time
  • Cost: 40 pesos, which includes tenedor libre de pizza and two drinks. The bar will also be offering Happy Hour specials throughout the game.

If you’re interested in coming, please reserve your space with the FAA, at info@faarg.com.ar.

  • Please note, that as this is sponsored by the FAA, they will most likely be showing the Spanish language broadcast, and there will be Arizona Cardinal fans present at the event as well as fans from other NFL teams.

But if you’re a die hard of the Black and Gold, come out and show your spirit!

Not only will it be great chance to watch the game, but it will be an opportunity to meet the members of the FAA, Argentines who are true, hardcore fans of American Football.

The location is pretty easy to find, but por las dudas, here is a link from Google maps.

http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&source=s_q&hl=en&geocode=&q=875+San+Mart%C3%ADn,+Buenos+Aires,+Argentina&sll=-34.566938,-58.455591&sspn=0.051595,0.11158&g=arenales+495,+vicente+lopez&ie=UTF8&z=17&iwloc=addr

See you at Super Bowl XLIII.

Go Steelers!

KT,
President,
Pittsburgh Steelers Fan Club of Buenos Aires

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Watch Tower: 2008 AFC Championship Varium

Kudos to Gary Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post Gazette for keeping his head about him to point out one very obvious coaching blunder by the Steelers that got lost in the glow of victory. In his Two Minute Drill column, Dulac called out Bruce Arians for calling the pass play on third and 1 after a 7 yard run by Willie Parker.

In his weekly chat Ed Bouchette indicated that the play was designed for Hines Ward, and well, Nate Washington didn’t run it like Ward would have. Obviously they did not convert.

This play followed the Steelers 21 yard punt, which, with the help of Ike Taylor’s pass interference call, gave Baltimore 7. Give Gary Russell a shot at pounding out one yard and you can take couple of three minutes off of the clock…. Good pick up Gary.

Letting the Cat Out of the Bag, Sort of

In the same article, Dulac committed a minor faux pax.

One of the most interesting things about keeping an eye on the media is trying to figure out what they know by can’t or don’t say.

Members of the Pittsburgh media watch every team practice, but they’re barred by agreement from revealing what they see. Hence, you’ll never see, “you know, don’t expect much of so-and-so this week because he’s had a really crappy week of practice.”

Commenting on Limas Sweed’s drop of a sure touchdown at the end of the first half against the Ravens, Dulac said: “Practice-watchers will record just another daily drop for the rookie.” In his weekly chat, Ed Bouchette confirmed the observation.

Given that that was Sweed’s second drop in as many playoff games, it’s not as if they’re giving away a big secret. One can imagine that both men’s press credentials are still secure.

Don’t Look Now But…

Literally, this means you cannot look now because you won’t find it. But one of the PG’s early articles on the game was chalked full of errors.

Mike Tomlin was quoted with out any attribution, just the quote and no indication of who it was from. That was after the writer asserted that Tomlin was the first coach to take a team to the Super Bowl in his sophomore season….

…a distinction which of course belongs to Joe Gibbs, who accomplished the feat in the strike shortened season of 1982.

These mistakes, however, were corrected by mid-day.

Regular readers of this site know very well that Steel Curtain Rising has little room to criticize others for typos and other types of syntax mistakes, but then again, we’re not getting paid, nor do we have an editor. (Well, the women in my life sometimes point stuff out. Help for which I am grateful….)

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Steelers Fans Await Word on Hines Ward

Perhaps the only thing that dimmed the Steelers 26-14 victory over the Ravens in the AFC Championship was the prospect of seeing Hines Ward out of the lineup due to injury.

Ward ran around the edge of the stadium after the game, slapping hands of fans, and in the locker room he vowed that he would play in the Super Bowl.

During the first quarter of the game against the Ravens Hines Ward sustained what was described as a slight MCL sprain. It was announced that was was to have an MRI on Monday, however the Steelers did not release any news of the test.

Ward was seen walking through the Steelers complex without any difficult, and tight end Heath Miller told reporters he was sure Ward would be ready by Super Bowl XLIII.

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Steelers Defeat Ravens, Head to Super Bowl XLIII !

The Pittsburgh Steelers prevailed in one of the most hard hitting AFC Championship games to vanquish the division rival Baltimore Ravens by the score of 23 to 14.

This game was a war from start to finish, and Baltimore Ravens running back Willis McGahee has the thoughts an prayers of Steel Curtain Rising.

  • This was a back and forth battle from start to finish, but the outcome was sealed by Troy Poalamalu’s incredible interception and return for a touchdown.

Its 1:30 am in Buenos Aires, and work is awaiting tomorrow morning. Check back for a fully analysis tomorrow morning, as the Steelers prepare to face off against the Arizona Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII

Go Steelers!

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Steelers vs. Ravens for the AFC Championship: Who Will Be the Difference Makers?

The Pittsburgh Steelers vs. the Baltimore Ravens for the AFC Championship, a chance to play for all the marbles, a shot at the Super Bowl 43.

The story lines filling this game are enough to make a journalist’s mouth water.

Can you beat a team 3 times in one season? It’s happened 11 times out of 18 in NFL history, but those remaining seven leave plenty of room for doubt.

  • There are the Steelers, fighting through the league’s toughest schedule. They didn’t always look dominant; they simply played well enough to win.
  • There are the Ravens, coming out of nowhere to finish 11-5. They may have been a sixth seed, but they knocked off the number three and number two seeds and are aiming for number two… Just like the Steelers did in 2005.

But the Ravens aren’t merely trying to emulate Steelers history, they’re trying to recreate some of their own. No one, it seems, can avoid reading about the eerie similarities between the Ravens of 2008 and the Ravens of 2000, you know the Wild Card team that won with smart quarterback play, solid running, and dominating defense.

If the Raven’s are trying to emulate history, the Steelers, perhaps, are at least trying to rewrite some of their own. How many times have we heard it? The AFC Championship has been played in Pittsburgh 5 times in the last 14 years, and yet the Steelers only have a 1-4 record in those games.

To top it off, the one opponent which the Steelers vanquished at home during that span are the Colts.

These Colts were of course 13 years removed from the Mayflower trucks that performed the sacrilege of ripping the Colts away from Baltimore, but they did happened to be quarterbacked by a man named whose name was Harbaugh, and whose brother John will lead Baltimore’s new NFL standard bearer.

The Men Who Can Make a Difference

All of that makes for good copy, but when all is said and done this game will be decided, as all games are decided, by the men who play between the lines. Winning and losing is always a team effort, but in a game where teams are as evenly matched as these two are, you can look to certain players to be difference makers. And that’s what we’ll do here.

Ed Reed

Living down in Buenos Aires as I do, my exposure to Ed Reed has been somewhat limited. But if there’s a more dominate safety in the league than Tory Polamalu, its Ed Reed, and those who say that statement should be flipped have a lot of merit to their argument.

Ed Reed has 43 picks in 106 games and seven touchdowns. He had nine picks this year and added 2 more in the playoffs already and returned one for a touchdown.

  • Ed Reed didn’t have a pick against the Steelers in 2008. In fact, his last interception came in the Steelers 75th Anniversary game… Suffice to say, the Steelers are unlikely to re-live that game’s glory Ed Reed’s hands spend a lot of time in contact with the pig skin.

Ben Roethlisberger

Ben’s taken a lot of heat this year, but whenever he’s delivered down the clutch. The wrap on Ben is simple. He’s got to balance doing what he does, creating the time that allows him to make the incredible throws, and not trying do to much.

  • Ben Roethlisberger is a gamer. He needs to play smart and just be himself. It says here he will do that.

Ray Lewis

For so long Ray Lewis has set the tone for this defense, and that tone has not been a pleasant one for opposing offenses. Ray Lewis has been around long enough to have seen Kordell Stewart lead a 5 touchdown rally at Memorial Stadium, and then find himself as the team’s lone bright spot as they went down 37-0 at Three Rivers Stadium.

  • Some people think the Lewis is losing a step. Tell that to Rashard Mendenhall. Lewis is always going to be tough, the key to is to never be intimidated by him.

The Steelers Offensive Line

The Raven’s defense ran during the first half of the first match up in October. Ben Roethlisberger apparently called on them to step up and they did so in the second half. Maligned as the team’s Achilles heel for much of the year, the unit has taken it personally and really stepped up their preparation.

  • The Ravens are going to come after Ben, and come after him with a fury. It’s unlikely they can provide the kind of time they did against San Diego, but if the line can give Ben some decent protection, he will force Rex Ryan to respect the passing game.
  • The boys up front also need to show Ray Lewis and company that they are not afraid to be physical.

Ron McClain

McClain would be a hero in Steelers nation had he played for Pittsburgh. A brusing full back who can run the ball. McClain ran for 150 yards in two games against the Steelers, impressive numbers.

  • McClain is nursing an injury. But he’ll will play, and he will play hard. The Steelers must shut down McClain and the rest of the Raven’s running game.

Willie Parker

It’s been ages since the Steelers have had a 100 yard rusher against the Ravens, in fact Willie Parker has never done it. He missed the first game against the Ravens, and only managed 47 yards in the second meeting.

  • Parker will not duplicate the 150 yard performance he had against San Diego. But if he and Mewelde Moore can help the Steelers move the chains with some frequency it will go a long way to lowering the collective blood pressure of Steelers Nation.

The Flacco Factor

Derided by Steelers Digest’s Bob Labriola, as a “poor man’s Vinny Testerverde” when he was drafted early this year, Flacco has turned more than a few heads, in fact his rookie campaign has drawn comparisons between Ben Roethlisberger’s. While his rookie season’s numbers are below Ben’s, he’s accomplished something that Ben did not – he’s won two playoff games as a rookie.

  • The conventional wisdom is that at some point he’ll actually begin playing like a rookie, but so far he’s bucked the conventional wisdom. Flacco’s post-season numbers have been quite pedestrian, but did not give up a sack or throw an interception in either playoff appearance. He’s also looked cool under fire, particularly on the final drive against Tennessee.
  • Then again, Joe Flacco didn’t have James Harrison rushing him….

James Harrison the Hell Raiser

Of all the players that have the potential to impact this game, none stirs the imagination like James Harrison. The reining AFC Defensive Player of the year does not like the Ravens. He’s never forgiven them for shipping him off to the Rhine Fire and then cutting him without so much a thank you.

  • And James Harrison has made the Ravens pay.
  • The Ravens have faced James Harrison five times at Heinz Field. In those games Harrison has recorded 32 tackles, six sacks and forced five fumbles. He’s also defensed two passes and intercepted one more.

James Harrison is a dominant player, but he becomes more so against Baltimore. How much does he step it up? In those five games mentioned above James Harrison has made 10.5% of his tackles, dropped 21% of his quarterbacks, and forced 35% fumbles in games against Baltimore at Pittsburgh.

Oh, and only three of those games were starts…

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Watch Tower: Mysteries Shrowd 2008 Steelers Injuries

Steelers Nation held its collective breath when it was revealed that All Pro strong safety Troy Polamalu had “tweaked his calf” in pre-game warm-ups prior to victory over Chargers in the AFC Divisional Playoff game.

  • With such a revelation in hand, San Diego’s three touchdowns and Philip Rivers 300 yard passing game became slightly more palatable.

Fear not, the Steelers brain trust assured, both Troy Polamalu and Justin Hartwig, who was also injured in the San Diego game, will be back at full strength for the Ravens game.

It says here that you can probably take Tomlin’s word at face value because Polamalu practiced all week. But the fears of Steelers Nation would be far more assuaged had it not been for the Steelers recent lack of candor regarding injuries to their players.

Exhibit 1: Marvel Smith

Starting left tackle Marvel Smith missed much of 2007 with back issues which off season back surgery. Smith was pronounced fully fit to start the season, and played well enough until he reinjured his back against Jacksonville.

The word was that he had “cramps” and “spasms” and that he would be week to week. This line continued for the balance of the season, until Smith was finally placed on injured reserve on Christmas Eve. Shortly there after the Post-Gazette revealed that during the season Smith had gone under the knife yet again during the season.

The Steelers had kept the nature of his injury secret until after Smith went on IR.

Exhbit 2: Ben Roethlisberger

As the world knows, Ben Roethlisberger got knocked silly in the final regular season game against the Cleveland Browns. He later told of losing sensation in his arms and legs, and he had to be carted from the field on the backboard.

  • Later that day the word was that prognosis on Ben was good, and that he was expected to play against the Chargers. He did and the result was a happy one.

So well in fact that Gary Dulac’s article in Monday’s Post-Gazette asserting that Ben had actually suffered a spinal concussion against the Browns. The spinal concussion is the same injury that Tommy Maddox suffered against the Tennessee Titans in 2002, on the left him motionless on the field for several minutes.

  • Mike Tomlin was asked about this in his Tuesday press conference, and he denied the report.

Who to believe?

Hard to say. The Marvel Smith example would tend to lend credibility to the Post-Gazette’s version.

But Dulac’s article cited no sources whatsoever. He simply wrote “the Post-Gazette has learned….” So we don’t know if his source was someone from the Steelers, someone from the hospital, or a third party. One must surmise that they made some attempt to confirm the story, but if they did, they did not explicitly say so.

And What About the Game Plan?

Leading up to the Chargers game, Steelers coaches insisted that Ben was fine, and that his medical condition was not impacting their game planning at all.

Jim Wexell led his column in the Steelers Digest (yes, its subscription only) immediately following the Chargers game by saying “[Roethlisberger] may not have been razor sharp, but the scaled back game plan worked wonders for the team….”

  • This is interesting on two fronts. One, given the number of deep strikes the Steelers attempted, the game plan did not looked “scaled back” to me.

Nonetheless, Jim Wexell is probably the best full-time journalist who covers the Steelers. The man works his butt off and brings out details behind stories that nobody else finds.

So the question remains, where did the scaled back game plan come from?

Was it Wexell’s interpretation of the game plan as he saw it evolve on the field, or was he privy to inside information?

We’ll probably never find out but it would be interesting to know.

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NFL Legalizes Holding of James Harrison, Adds as Official Statistic

The sack only became officially recognized in pro football in 1982, but the NFL announced today that holds on James Harrison is now also an official statistic. The decision was made following the regular season and, although it was only made public today, will be retroactive to the Divisional Playoff round.

The NFL’s Senior Vice President of Public Relations, Craig Aiello, broke the news in a press release this afternoon. The text of the release follows:

As the season wore on, it became clearer and clearer to offensive lineman and their coaches that the only way to stop Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker James Harrison was to blatantly hold him. Steelers fans have been clamoring for the league to take action, and we have done so.

Starting with the Divisional playoff round, we will now begin tracking the number of times James Harrison is held without a flag being thrown, and this will be recorded in the league’s official records. We’re making this move because it’s the right thing to do, and we know the fans will appreciate that we have recognized their concerns.

After the briefing, Ailleo confirmed that they will work in conjunction with the Alias Sports Statistics Bureau to iron out any grey areas that might exist over what constitutes a hold, and what does not. He quickly added, “Really, we don’t expect much work on that front because the holds on James Harrison are always quite obvious.”

“We do want to make football a game for patsies…”

Given the highly charged nature of the issue in question, most NFL officials were reluctant to speak on the record. However, one senior league official in spite of his speaking anonymously makes some surprisingly frank revelations.

When asked about why the league had taken the extraordinary step of making this move in the middle of the season, the source responded in exasperation, “What choice did we have? Tory Polamalu is right, we do want to make football into a game for patsies, particularly when it comes to protecting the passer. We can’t say that publicly, but we just can’t have our fine feathered quarterbacks taking so many hits.”

He elaborated as to why the league was singling out Harrison, “You know, guys like him simply do not cooperate, they’re too aggressive by nature. We’d hoped it would blow over, but the AP really screwed us when they named James Harrison defensive player of the year. We had to do something.”

Controversy, but Not from Where You’d Expect

This move has not come without controversy, and from a surprising sources. The new statistic, dubbed “Harrison Holds” will only be kept cumulatively by offense. Offensive lineman will not be credited individually. San Diego’s Pro Bowl left tackle Neill McMarcus was furious when he learned the news.

“Man that’s bull [explicative]. Like any Norv Turner coached team, there’s a lot of finger pointing going on right now, and some of it is at me. But I mean come on, I didn’t just hold James Harrison, I clotheslined him and rode him down to the ground. Twice. I saved Philip Rivers at least two sacks. The least I deserve is some credit.”

Welcome folks to Steel Curtain Rising’s latest feature column, “La Toalla Terrible” (that’s Terrible Towel in Spanish for those of you at home keeping score.) In case you hadn’t guessed, its intent is to provide a tongue and cheek take on all things Steelers. If you’re new, take a moment to check out the rest of Steel Curtain Rising

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Dissed Unfairly by the Media, Ben Roethlisberger Still Deliver in 2008 Playoffs

Its amazing how little respect Ben Roethlisberger gets from the media some times.

Since entering the league in 2004 Ben:

  • Was the first rookie quarterback to win 15 straight games
  • Became the youngest quarterback to win a Super Bowl
  • Engineered 18 4th quarter comebacks
  • Won 50 games as a starter faster than anyone else
  • That apparently isn’t good enough for many of the pundits.

Prior to the 2007 season, ESPN put out a list of 100 surefire Hall of Famers. If memory serves, both Matt Leinart and Matt Schaub made the list.

  • Ben was left on the outside looking in, written off as a game manager.

During 2007 the “game manger” an all pro season which included throwing 32 touchdowns and only 11 picks.

Ben’s numbers for 2008 are not as good. He’s thrown fewer touchdowns and more interceptions. His also led his team to two more wins.

National Media Overlooks Roethlisberger

Don’t tell that to FOX Sports however.

They recently ranked the eight playoff quarterbacks, listing Roethlisberger at number six, behind Jake Delhomme, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers, Dovonan McNabb, and Kurt Warner.

Interesting pecking order, especially because Ben has a ring, something that three of the five people rated ahead of him cannot say.

Criticism of Ben Not Exclusively National

But the criticism of Ben is also home grown too.

Early last week Mike Prusita of the Tribune-Review wrote an article that concluded that Ben was the Steelers main question mark heading into the playoffs.

To be fair, Purstia’s article was balanced and reasonably objective.

While he does couch his words with some important qualification, Prustia ultimate conclusion is rather harsh:

Without question, his regression from the $100 million contract-earning franchise quarterback he was a year ago deserves an asterisk. The respective states of the offensive line and running game have contributed to his downfall.

“Downfall?” Regression from his franchise quarterback status?

Those are strong words. Too strong in fact, for a quarterback who lead 5 come from behind drives against blue-chip opponents.

Bottom Line: Ben Must Still Deliver

If the criticism of Roethlisberger is unjust, the pressure upon him is not.

About a year ago in one of our first posts, Steel Curtain Rising rose to Roethlisberger’s defense after the Jacksonville game.

The writer called into question Ben’s playoff ability.

True, Ben did not play well during his rookie season in the playoffs. Joe Flacco’s solid play against Miami and Tennessee notwithstanding, this is nothing to be shocked at.

His play in the 2005 playoff is the stuff of legend, although he did benefit from a few dropped interceptions.

He did not perform well in Super Bowl XL, but he did make a couple of key plays when he had to.

Last year against Jacksonville he threw three interceptions in the first half. Then he came back and established that held with less than a minute to go. It says here that if Tyronne Carter had been ready to swarm at the point of attack, instead of allowing David Gurrard to run for double digit yardage, he’d have a playoff comeback under his belt.

Very well.

The Pittsburgh Steelers playoff fortunes depend in Ben’s ability to come through. The running game might marginally improve, but there is no way this team is running over people they way it did in the 1990’s and even as recently as 2004.

Defense and kick coverage figure to be strengths this time around, but it only takes one big play to get seven on the board for the other team.

If that should happen, then it falls on Ben to right the ship.

Catch-22/Paradox about Ben’s Play

Call it a Catch-22 or a Paradox, but which ever term you choose it still describes something that Ben needs to work out.

  • Ben’s biggest weaknesses is that he sometimes holds on the ball too long… and that he sometimes gets impatient.

Ben Roethlisberger has proven himself to be the kind of quarterback you want handling the ball when the game is on the line.

Yet, there are also times when Ben tries to do too much by himself to win games or force the ball in difficult situations. That got him into trouble in the first half of last year’s Jacksonville game, and it got him into trouble at times this year, particularly against the Colts.

So Ben’s got to find a way to walk the tight rope.

  • Ben Roethlisberger, more than any one player has a responsibility for carry the team forward, yet at the same time he must not over reach.

How well he strikes that balance will determine the Steelers fortunes this January.

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