Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 Final Report Card: Offense

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who saw his student fall flat on his face in the first quarter of the season, pick himself up and charge ahead, only to stumble badly again, then finish things off with a very respectable head of steam, here is part I of the Pittsburgh Steelers final report card for the 2013 season. Note, these are overall grades, and not averages of the weekly report cards. And as always, no other Steelers report cards were consulted.

steelers report card grades 2013 final offense

Quarterbacks
Mike Tomlin finished the season saying that Ben Roethlisberger was playing the best football of his career. That’s probably not true. Roethlisberger was very sharp after the 0-4 start, and certainly played some of his most disciplined football of his career. He also accomplished a feat no other Steelers signal caller has pulled off in 61 years. However, during the last three games Roethlisberger reverted to throwing inane interceptions. And even if he was under duress, Roethlisberger caused 9 of the team’s 11 turnovers in the 0-4 start. Those two negatives must be weighed along with some very strong positives. Grade: B+

Running Backs
To get an idea of the kind of year it was for the Steelers running game, their opening day starter Isaac Redman was cut by mid-season, and their number two rusher wasn’t even on the team. Yet in spite of that, their were signs of hope. Le’Veon Bell provided an immediate boost to the offense, even if his yards per carry were low. He also proved to be such a receiving threat that he broke Franco Harris’ rookie yards from scrimmage record. Jonathan Dwyer ran each carry as if it were his last, and looked good doing it, converting numerous short-yardage situations. Felix Jones was respectable number 2-3 back. Will Johnson’s contributions were underrated but he was an asset. Grade:  B-

Wide Receivers
Antonio Brown vindicated the faith the Steelers showed in him after his sophomore season, and is budding into an elite receiver before our eyes. Emmanuel Sanders likewise showed why the Steelers coaches were fortunate to win the argument with the front office, although Sanders has probably plateaued as a player. As for Jerricho Cotchery? He only catches touchdowns. Derek Moye made to very good catches and dropped a few others, and Markus Wheaton never really emerged. This unit was solid, although it could have been a tad bit more consistent. Grade:  B

Tight Ends
Like the running game, this unit started with its number 3 and number 4 playing first string when the season began. And it showed. David Paulson was clearly in over his head, although he did show some receiving skills. David Johnson just looked to be hitting his stride when he was injured again. Heath Miller’s return transformed the offense, although Miller did struggle at times. Still, in spite of the injury, he finished third on the team in catches. Matt Spaeth returned late in the season, and gave the rushing game a boost. He only caught one pass – for a touchdown. Grade:  B

Offensive Line
The one thing the Steelers could not afford going into the season was an injury to the offensive line. They got it 8 plays into the season when Maurkice Pouncey was lost. Fernando Velasco filled in ably until he too got hurt. Mike Adams floundered terribly at left guard, but Kelvin Beachum stepped in and saved the season. Marcus Gilbert was better, but his play was still inconsistent. This unit was a horrendous liability early in the season, late in the season Roethlisberger had the best protection he’s ever enjoyed, and the run blocking improved. Grade:  C+

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In 2013, Ben Roethlisberger Broke a 61 Year Old Steelers Record…

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger made history for the franchise this year by breaking an important franchise record.

Roethlisberger of course broke Terry Bradshaw’s career touchdown record, but that’s not the record in question.

Ben Roethlisberger participated in every offensive snap this season. Kudos to my friend and colleague Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain for “breaking” this story.

  • He beat Steel Curtain Rising to the punch, fair and square. This bud’s for you Neal.

While Coolong gets credit for the insight and analyzing what it means in terms of the present, there are dots that remain unconnected regarding the historical significance of Roethlisberger’s achievement.

  • Roethlisberger’s every snap participation is a feat that only one other Steelers quarterback has accomplished.

Actually, that statement may be a tad bit inaccurate. The Pittsburgh Steelers were the final NFL team to abandon the single wing offense in 1952 when Joe Bach took over from John Michelosen, and that’s when any meaningful statistical comparison on quarterbacking must begin.

Thanks to the internet, records go back that far, but they only include statistics for plays a player did something, as opposed to snap counts. So perhaps the more accurate statistic is “Steelers quarterback to throw a pass.”

Who Was “The Other”Steelers Quarterback?

So who was the other quarterback? Well, Kordell Stewart got close in the Phoenix like resurrection phase of his career, but Tommy Maddox appeared in 3 games and threw 9 passes. Maddox too came close in 2003, but Charlie Batch saw some  time.

Mike Tomczak threw passes in each of his seasons from 1993 to 1999. Neil O’Donnell never started a full season worth of games. Bubby Brister got close in 1990, but Rick Strom threw 21 passes in 6 games that year for those taking notes at home.

Mark Malone of course split time with David Woodley in ’84 and ’85 and also got injured in ’86, and of course Steve Bono had his 15 minutes of fame as a Steelers quarterback in 1987.

Early in his career, Bradshaw of course split time with Terry Hanratty and Joe Gilliam, and Mike Kruczek slung the leather during each of his 4 seasons in Pittsburgh, as did Cliff Stoudt during his time in the ‘Burgh.

Leaf back into the 60’s, and you’ll see that Bobby Layne, Ed Brown, Kent Nix, Rudy Burkich, Bill Nelsen and Dick Shiner all shared snaps with understudies.

  • In the 1950’s the story is largely the same with Earl Morrall and Ted Marchibroda.

To find another season where only a single solitary quarterback on the Steelers roster threw a pass, you have to go back to 1952, when Jim Finks earned that distinction.

61 years later, Ben Roethlisberger followed in his footsteps. It could easily be another 61 years before it happens again.

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Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for Victory Over Browns @ Heinz Field

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is pleased with the student’s work on the final exam, even if they didn’t quite qualify for the next level, this is the Pittsburgh Steelers Report Card for the victory over the Browns at Heinz Field. As a caveat, no other Steelers Report Cards were consulted prior to this posting.

steelers-report-card-grades-browns-heinz-field

Quarterbacks
Mike Tomlin went into the game saying 2013 had been Ben Roethlisberger’s best year. It may have been. But the Browns game wasn’t his best game, it wasn’t even one of his better ones. Roethlisberger threw one touchdown pass after several tries, but Roethlisberger was off often on Sunday, and threw two very ugly interceptions. Late in the game he suffered from several drops. A winning effort, to be sure, but nothing special. Grade:  C

Running Backs
Perhaps the training camp comparisons with Franco Harris were fair after all. Le’Veon Bell did not have a hundred yard game, but he came close and he caught a pass, and in doing so he broke Franco’s rookie total yards from scrimmage record. Bell completely owned the Browns on the Steelers second touchdown drive; such as it was, it put Cleveland away. Jonathan Dwyer and Felix Jones did what they’ve done all year, run hard and make show that they’re excellent supporting cast for the feature back. Will Allen blocked well and caught a pass. Grade:  A

Wide Receivers
A mixed bag for the wideouts, Antoino Brown tied the single season record for games with 5 or more catches and generally did what was asked of him although he had a drop late. Much can be said for Jerricho Cotchery, who caught his 10th touchdown of the season. In what was probably his last game of the season, Emmanuel Sanders caught two passes for 26 yards. Grade:  B-

Tight Ends
Heath Miller only caught two passes, but one started the Steelers first touchdown drive and the second kept its first field goal drive going. Matt Spaeth was not targeted in the passing game, but he was a force as a blocker. Grade: B

Offensive Line
Marcus Gilbert gave up a sack on a play where there was a miscommunication. But that was the only sack of the game, as Ben Roethlisberger had plenty of time to throw, and the running backs had space to run. Grade:  A-

Defensive Line
Cameron Heyward continues to come on like a one man wrecking crew, disrupting everything in his path. Brett Keisel had a strip sack in what might be his final game as a Steeler. Al Woods batted down a pass. Ziggy Hood registered a tackle and Steve McLendon was in on 3 before getting hurt. Grade: B

Linebackers
Lawrence Timmons may have gotten a Pro Bowl snub, but Steelers Nation knows what it has in 94 as he intercepted a pass, recorded a sack, and otherwise disrupted the Browns backfield. Chris Carter got his second start and recovered a fumble. Stevenson Sylvester also got plenty of playing time, and probably got himself an invitation to Latrobe next summer as a result. All in all a solid day for the linebackers. Grade:  B+

Secondary
Troy Polamalu didn’t have any “splash plays” but was all over the field. Ryan Clark put in a solid game as did Will Allen. Cortez Allen defensed a pass and along with Ike Taylor, they helped contain Robert Gordon. Although this unit did have a good day, they must take some responsibility for the late Browns touchdown, where no one in the secondary was in position.  Grade:  B

Special Teams
After several weeks of sound and fury, it was a quiet day on special teams. Shaun Suisham was 2-2 and none of his kickoffs were returned. Brown was solid in punt returns. More importantly, the Steelers did not allow a long pick or punt return. Grade:  B+

Coaching
The Cleveland Browns amassed a lot of yards vs. the Steelers in the first outing. Granted, some of that was glorified garbage time, but not all of it. Either way, Dick LeBeau ensured that it did not happen again. Todd Haley’s offense only put 20 points on the board, but that would have been higher had it not been for drops. Such was the tempo of the game that the Steelers only held a slight advantage in time of possession – but the Steelers offense dictated the tempo of the game, and the defense ensured that it stayed turning back four Brown 4th down attempts.

Mike Tomlin kept his team focused. Watching the sideline he continued coaching until the very end and took nothing for granted. His team didn’t dominate, but it delivered. Grade:  B+

Unsung Hero Award
This young man entered the season facing a seemingly impossible situation. First round picks are expected to start as rookies. Rookies are not supposed to start in Dick LeBeau’s defense. This man was asked to do both, and when he lost his starting role it appeared that he might have made a step back. But this young player has learned and steadily, if not always visibly, gotten better during the season. Vs. the Browns he lead the team in tackles, defended a pass, got a tackle for a loss and and otherwise looked every bit like the rookie who’ll make the big second year jump. And for that Jarvis Jones wins the Unsung Hero Award for the victory over Cleveland.

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Steelers Defeat Browns, 20-7; Finish 8-8 But Out of Playoffs

For the second time in 364 days the Pittsburgh Steelers looked to close their season by reaching 8-8 with a win over the Cleveland Browns.

As it was last year, this looked to be Steelers Nation’s chance to say farewell to a number of Super Bowl veterans. While this symmetries make for a nice narrative, the true story lies in the differences between the Steelers situation now, and that of December 30th 2012.

  • First, unlike 2012, the Steelers had a thread-the-needle-on-a-roller coaster chance at making the playoffs.

A Steelers playoff appearance after the 0-4 start would have rivaled the comeback made by Steel Curtain Rising’s beloved 1989 Steelers. While that have would been nice, alas, it was not to be.

  • The real difference is in the direction the team is heading.

The 2012 Steelers started at 6-2 and finished 2-6. The 2013 Steelers have reversed that result. And perhaps more encouragingly, they’ve done so largely on the backs of emerging talent, which was evident in the win over the Browns.

Browns Offer Spirited Fight

Since returning to the NFL in 1999, the Cleveland Browns have largely been the NFL’s doormat, save for a burst of competiveness under Butch Davis in 2002 and a tease at in in 2007. But aside from that the Browns have been drafting well, and adding quality players to their roster.

  • The wise money in the AFC North has been that at some point the Browns would awaken.

That awakening did not occur in 2013, but that didn’t stop Cleveland from putting up a strong fight against the Steelers. While the Steelers offense might not have transformed itself into a juggernaut, the Browns held Pittsburgh to 20 points, and they did so on a day when their offense could do next to nothing.

The Steelers opened the game as Ben Roethlisberger directed a drive with machine line efficiency highlighted by a 24 yard pass to Antonio Brown and a 9 yard touchdown strike to Jerricho Cotchery in the end zone.

Cleveland appeared to be putting a similar drive together of its own, when Brett Keisel, in what is probably his final game as a Steeler, stripped Jason Campbell of the ball and Chris Carter recovered. The Steelers could not convert, as Roethlisberger threw an interception. The Browns however could not capitalize on the repossession, when their attempt on 4th and four failed.

The two teams traded three and outs, when the Steelers put together what was to be the definitive drive of the game, and one that perhaps previews what is to come in 2014.

  • Le’Veon Bell carried the ball 7 times and gained 41 yards as the Pittsburgh Steelers imposed their will on the Browns.

The drive consumed 8:17 off of the clock, and ended with a 5 yard touchdown run by Bell. Although Ben Roethlisberger hit Brown and Jonathan Dwyer on the drive with quick passes, the drive belonged to Bell, the young rookie who drew compraisons to Franco Harris before even touching the ball in preseason, ended up tying Franco’s total yards from scrimmage record before the day was over.

Saluting to the Past, Turning Towards the Future

CBS provided Steelers Nation with a great shot at the end of the game – Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel, and Ryan Clark all seated on the bench together. As mentioned earlier, all three could be gone by next year.

  • It is fitting then that those three combined to for 15 total tackles and one of the team’s three sacks.

Add in contributions from other veterans such as Will Allen and Ike Taylor, and the defense that was “Old and Slow” got it done….

  • …But they didn’t do it alone, which is the important factoid to take out of the game.

Jarvis Jones led the team in tackles, and added in one for a loss and a pass defense. In some ways, Jones play in this finale brought back memories of Polamalu’s play in ’03 finale when he was a rookie

Lawrence Timmons was right behind Jones, and was all over the field as he has been all year, getting drive ending sack, tackling people behind the line of scrimmage, and defending a pass.

Cameron Heyward was back to his wrecking crew routine, registering a sack, stopping people for losses, and getting to the quarterback two other times.

Cortez Allen, while not having a perfect day, defended two more passes and had a hand in keeping Josh Gordon below 100 yards.

Kelvin Beachum, Ramon Foster, Cody Wallace, David DeCastro, and Marcus Gilbert only allowed one sack – completing one of the all time in-season turnarounds in NFL history.

Steelers 2014 Offseason Now Begins

The Pittsburgh Steelers entered the day needing a win. They got it. They needed Baltimore and Miami to lose. Both lost.

But Kansas City’s back ups, with nothing to gain, came close to beating San Diego, but alas they came up short. (Sorry, I did NOT see the runner’s knee down before the ball popped out on the fake punt; his helmet apparently popped off before he crossed the line. Another NFL blunder.)

For the second consecutive year, the Steelers finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs, which is a disappointment in a city that measures success in Super Bowls.

  • But this group of Pittsburgh Steelers has ever reason to hang their heads high.

This is a team that started 0-4 and then 2-6. From those ashes a team that couldn’t protect its quarterback, hold on to the ball, pressure opposing quarterbacks or create turnovers transformed itself into a team that was playing playoff caliber football.

And for that, Pittsburgh, Steelers Nation, and every member of the Steelers organization should be proud.

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Steelers Prepare for Browns; Steelers Nation Prepares to Bid Farewell to Super Bowl Veterans

There’s something unique about high school sports – You know when someone’s playing time is done. My high school wrestling team had a tradition. During the final home match of the season, seniors would be called out to the mat, and recognized for wrestling one final time.

  • Sadly, the dynamic of personnel changes in the NFL rarely lends itself to such send offs.

This is unfortunate because as the Pittsburgh Steelers prepare to close their 2013 regular season vs. the Cleveland Browns, Steelers Nation is preparing to say farewell to several Steelers starters.

Fully 1/3 of the Steelers roster are unrestricted free agents. That figure includes some budding younger stars, in addition to several Super Bowl veterans.

New Meaning to “Young Money”

Ziggy Hood, Emmanuel Sanders, and Jason Worilds are just a few younger Steelers who will finish their time with the team, and look for their payday. NFL players do not reach free agency until after their fourth season. The average NFL career lasts fewer than four seasons. While that represents a harsh reality for younger players, it also means that second NFL contracts can leave a player set for life, if they manage their money properly.

The Steelers will look to retain some of those players, most notably Worilds, but salary cap realities dictate that they can’t retain everyone.

  • The three players mentioned have had interesting trajectories.

Ziggy Hood is the only first round draft pick and, although he’s flashed, his body of work is largely a disappointment, although Hood is far from an outright bust. Ironically, that fact might make it easy for the Steelers to retain him.

Emmanuel Sanders contributed early as a rookie, and Bruce Arians singled out his injury in Super Bowl XLV as a major complication in that losing effort. Yet Sanders has had injury issues, and has never quite reached a consistent level of play. With Markus Wheaton waiting in the wings, the Steelers are likely to let Sander walk.

Jason Worlids spent his first three NFL seasons fighting off injuries and comparisons to Dallas linebacker Sean Lee. Some of that is unfair, as he entered the league playing behind what, at the time, was the NFL’s best 1-2 outside linebacking duo in the form of LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison. Yet Worilds exploded this year to lead the team with 8 sacks. The Steelers would clearly like to keep him, but Woodley’s contract makes that complicated.

So Long to Super Bowl Veterans

Saying goodbye is always difficult, but some goodbyes are more difficult than others. And the game against the Browns figures to be the last for at least two – if not more, Super Bowl veterans.

During 2012 and 2011 Ryan Clark was probably the most underrated defensive back in the league. Clark was in on every play, laying in the wood on big hits, causing turnovers, and leading the defense. Yet Clark has slowed a step in 2013, and the Steelers invested their 2014 third round pick in trading up to get Shamarko Thomas.

  • Sunday’s game vs. the Browns will almost certainly be Clark’s last at Heinz Field.

Someday someone will probably make a movie about Brett Keisel. From 7th round pick to Super Bowl starter. Keisel joined the Steelers as part of Kevin Colbert’s best ever 2002 draft. He did his time on special teams, worked in spot duty, and assumed the starting role after Super Bowl XL. Keisel was once looked at as simply someone who could “hold his own” along side stars Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton. Yet by 2010 Keisel was the stud on the defensive line, and a leader off the field as well.

  • Like Clark, Steelers Nation will almost certainly say goodbye to Keisel on Sunday.

But the personnel upheavel may not be limited to free agents. And that’s where it really hurts….

Just like James Harrison last year, Troy Polamalu has one year remaining on his contract. Just like James Harrison he has injury history. Just like Harrison, Polamalu possess the unique On the Field Presence that allows him to make game changing plays. And just like Harrison, Polamalu represents a huge salary cap hit.

  • While the odds are probably greater than 50/50 that he’ll return, there’s still a very real possibility that Sunday’s game will be Polamalu’s final one in Pittsburgh.

And no, that does not exhaust the list. The emergence of Vince Williams and Terence Garvin coupled with the possibility of a Sean Spence return will likely make Larry Foote expendable. And Ike Taylor too could find himself a cap casualty, although Taylor will most likely be back.

Roster upheaval is always painful.  But Ben Roethlisberger will be 33 next year, the same age Joe Montana was when he won his last Super Bowl, making roster renewal a necessity.

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Steelers Post-Thanksgiving Experience Reveals Roger Goodell’s Hypocrisy, Endangerment of NFL’s Integrity

Thanksgiving marks a critical juncture in the NFL schedule.

The 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers began Thanksgiving weekend with a 6-4 record, not world beating but something to be built upon, and finished the season at 8-8. In contrast, the ’05 Steelers and ’08 brethern put the pedal to the metal between Thanksgiving and New Years.

While it remains to be seen if the Steelers can right their ship to 8-8 once again at Heinz Field vs. the Browns the Steelers post-Thanksgiving experience has made one thing abundantly clear:

  • The NFL’s hypocrisy and Kangroo Court nature of justice under Roger Goodell are plain for the world to see.

Before continuing, let’s make one thing clear. Steel Curtain Rising does not subscribe to the idea that Goodell has a vendetta vs. the Steelers. In 2008 Goodell made it abundantly clear to Tim, John, Pat and Art Rooney, Jr. that he would do everything in his power to ensure that Dan Rooney and not Stanley Druckenmiller, owned the Steelers.

  • But the Steelers, like the rest of the NFL, are victims of his mercurial whims and rules that defy logic.

Let’s review the evidence.

Helmet Gate

In front of a national TV audience Le’Veon Bell scored a touchdown vs. the Baltimore Ravens on Thanksgiving night. Four officials signaled it.

  • Except he didn’t score.

In the ensuring helmet-to-helmet collision, Bell’s helmet came off. He and the defender left the game concussed. Yet, because the helmet came off before he crossed the goal, the touchdown was void.

The officials were sticking to the letter of the law. Declaring a play over when a helmet comes off makes sense. To allow helmetless playing to continue would open players to serious injury.

  • But in this case it creates a perverse incentive.

Defenders in goal line situations now have an reason to try to remove a ball carrier’s helmet. Sure, that would involve a penalty, but similar to intentional use of the hands by a non-goalie in soccer (see Uruguay’s team in the 2010 World Cup) some players might decide its worth the risk.

This is a hard case to legislate, and wouldn’t be a “Big Deal” if it were the worst. But its not….

Tomlin Sideline Shuffle Squared

That same Thanksgiving game saw Mike Tomlin step out on the field illegally. No flag was thrown, but Tomlin was fined, as he should have.

  • But of course in Goodell’s NFL, justice neither fair nor or consistent.

But the NFL made it clear, well no it didn’t actually, that they weren’t going to stop at a fine. No, the Steelers might lose draft picks. Why? Well, that was nebulous. Reporters gathered from NFL sources that the loss of picks would be determined if the Raven’s playoff chances were impacted by the 4 points they potentially lost on Jacoby Jones return (Cortez Allen was going to get him anyway.)

  • At least that was the early word.

A week later, the reports indicated that the Steelers would in fact lose draft picks. Of course there was nothing official about this, all news came via leak. Steel Curtain Rising has already called Goodell out for the Kangaroo Court nature of this incident, but the NFL’s hypocrisy has gotten worse since then.

See for yourself:

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Darren Rizzi is illegally on the field vs. Steelers

That’s a Miami special teams coach Darren Rizzi clearly standing on the field of play during the Dolphin’s last second field goal attempt at the end of the first half. You know, the one where the Steelers almost scored on the return?

As the photo reveals, the official collided with Rizzi. Yet no flag was thrown. The NFL did announce a 10k fine.

  • So a head coach almost bumping into someone on the field is worth 100k, but a special teams coach actually bumping into an official is only worth 10k?

The difference in fines is defensible, but yhe worst part of this is that the NFL refuses to apply its own logic. Miami should have been penalized for the coach-official collision. It wasn’t. A half cannot end on a defensive penalty. So the Steelers should have gotten the ball on Miami’s 26 yard line with a free play.

  • That means the Steelers were denied a shot at a 43 field goal – not a gimmie in the snow, but makeable

Or Tomlin might have decided to let Ben Roethlisberger see if he could hook up in the end zone with Emmanuel Sanders, Jerricho Cotchery, or Heath Miller. Although Miami beat Pittsburgh by 6, 3 points could have changed the dynamic dramatically of the second half.

  • This doesn’t excuse the Steelers poor play which led the loss.

But given that Miami’s fine is less than the Steelers and they’re not losing draft picks, it does expose the horrendous hypocrisy behind Roger Goodell’s administration of NFL justice.

Charging Defenders Are Defenseless Players Too…

As everyone knows, the Steelers first return for a touchdown in eons, thanks to Antonio Brown, was made possible by an illegal hit by Terence Garvin on the Bengals punter. Garvin made contact with the helmet, but that wasn’t his only infraction.

  • Kickers and punters are considered to be defenseless players, and hence cannot be hit above the shoulders.

That’s  right. Even though Kevin Huber was trying to tackle Brown, even though Shaun Suisham has the same number of tackles as Curtis Brown, kickers are defenseless.

This is totally inane. There’s no way kick return teams can be expected to stop and check to see if a would-be tackler is a kicker or not. That’s not even good science fiction.

The rule defies logic. Don’t expect it to change soon. This is Goodell’s NFL.

What? Change of Possession Not Reviewable?

Then of course there was a blocked field goal vs. Green Bay. You know the sequence of events:

Steelers get hit with an illegal batting penalty – you’re not allowed to bat a loose ball to your own end zone. But wait, Clark had possession and was down by contact, Mike Tomlin protested.

  • No, argued the ref, possession on this play is not reviewable. What?

That’s right, you can review whether a quarterback’s arm moved a millimeter forward, you can challenge an inch or two on the spot of the ball, but you apparently can’t review change of possession on a blocked kick?

Sadly that’s the case.

Justice in Goodell’s NFL Not about Fairness

Justice should be blind and impartial. Yet, justice in Roger Goodell’s NFL, vision is selective and it is very partial, partial to Goodell’s whim of the moment.

There’s an ugly fact that NFL fans might we wise to accept:

  • Roger Goodell wants it that way

This observation was made by Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain who declared:

Goodell is not concerned with “fair.” He’s never said he doles out “fair” punishment. He doles out punishment intended to make headlines and deter players/teams from repeating similar behavior.

But as the above incidents highlight, Goodell’s not having that effect. These Steelers-centric examples of illogical rules, uneven punishment, and blown calls have plagued the rest of the NFL this entire season.

Goodell would do well to begin focusing on being fair, because his arbitrary administration of justice combined with illogical rules have reached a point where even the most avid NFL fans are questioning the integrity of the game.

Does Roger Goodell really want that as his legacy? Because right now this is the direction he is heading in.

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Steelers Pro Bowl Honors for Brown, Polamalu; Snubs for Roethlisberger and Worilds

A day after being named the Pittsburgh Steelers MVP for the second time in just four years, wide receiver Antonio Brown received another honor – he was voted to the Pro Bowl, also making this his second appearance.

Pro Bowl voters also honor Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, naming him to his eighth Pro Bowl appearance.

Pro Bowl Voters Snub Roethlisberger

One Pittsburgh Steelers who most certainly deserved Pro Bowl honors but was denied them was quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. As Neal Coolong of Behind the Steel Curtain indicated, Roethlisberger has a higher passer rating (93.7) than Cam Newton and Tom Brady and has more touchdown passes and passing yards than Russell Wilson, all three of whom made the cut.

What Other Steelers Got Snubbed?

Given that the Steelers enter their week 17 match up vs. the Browns and for the second consecutive year are looking for a victory over Cleveland to save them from a losing season, Pittsburgh did not figure to field many Pro Bowlers.

Still, Jason Worilds who has recorded 8 sacks in only 11 starts should have been given consideration. Another player who came on strong is Cameron Heyward who has four sacks, multiple pass defenses, and has been a one man wrecking crew on the defensive line.

Fellow linebacker Lawrence Timmons who has been a force in the middle and made plays consistently all year, despite having to make the defensive calls and help rookies like Vince Williams and Terence Garvin, should have gotten an invite as well.

Steelers guard David DeCastro, their 2012 first round draft pick who is starting his first full season, has established himself as a force to be reckoned with as an interior offensive lineman, also should have been considered.

Realistically, the only other Steelers player who might have had an outside chance at selection was tight end Heath Miller, but he missed four games, and did suffer some key drops, although his play has been strong all season and was one of the big factors fueling the Steelers rebound from the 0-4 start.

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Two Time Steelers MVP Antonio Brown Stands in Elite Company

Wide receiver Antonio Brown may only be in his fourth year in the NFL, but yesterday he equaled the accomplishments of John Stallworth, Louis Lipps, and Terry Bradshaw when his teammates selected him as the Pittsburgh Steelers Most Valuable Player for the second time in his career.

And Antonio Brown is having a fine season indeed.

  • Brown has had at least five catches in each of the 15 games he has played in
  • Brown is third in total receiving yards and catches, and 4th in catches of 20 yards plus
  • Brown is also third in the NFL in punt returns, where he has also scored a touchdown

Just two years ago, when Antonio Brown won his first Steelers MVP award, the franchise faced a decision. Would they opt to resign the budding second year player in Brown or would they lean towards Mike Wallace. Wallace’s drops and his hold out made the issue easy for the Steelers.

The Steelers took an unprecedented step in extending Brown’s contract as he was entering his third season. And while it would be a unfair to say that Brown played poorly in 2012, he was inconsistent along with the rest of “Young Money.” Some wondered if they Steelers had jumped the gun in offering the contract.

Today there is no need to debate the question.

Brown Now in Elite Company 

In his fourth season Brown has grown beyond being simply a bright young receiver, he’s now on the verge of establishing himself as one of the NFL’s elite players.

  • And that would be fitting with the honor just bestowed upon Brown by his teammates.

Since the Pittsburgh Steelers began recognizing Most Valuable Players in 1969, ten players have won the MVP Award more than once:

Jack Lambert, 2 (HOF)
Terry Bradshaw, 2 (HOF)
John Stallworth, 2 (HOF)
Louis Lipps, 2
Rod Woodson, 2 (HOF)
Greg Lloyd, 2
Jerome Bettis, 2
Levon Kirkland, 2
Hines Ward, 3
James Harrison, 2

As the list above indicate, good players don’t win Pittsburgh Steelers MVP awards. Great ones do.

Bell Named Rookie of the Year

Brown was not the only award winner this week at the South Side. Le’Veon Bell was named by the Pittsburgh Steelers Pro Football writers associate as the “Joe Greene Great Performance Award Winner” aka Rookie of the Year. Past award winners who remain with the Steelers include Ben Roethlisberger, Troy Polamalu, Maurkice Pouncey, Marcus Gilbert, and Mike Adams.

The same group awarded Ike Taylor the “Chief Award” given to the member of the Steelers who cooperates the best with the media.

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Steelers Defeat Green Bay Packers @ Lambeau 38-31, Stay Alive in AFC Playoff Race

The Pittsburgh Steelers and the Green Bay Packers. The NFL’s two most storied franchises. Two monuments to the Frost Belt’s indomitable, enduring spirit. Two franchises fighting for their playoff lives, playing on Lambeau Field the NFL’s most hallowed ground, playing in late December, playing in the snow.

  • As John Madden would have said, “This is what the game of football is all about.”

On top of that, recent Steelers history vs the Packers has shown that games between Green Bay and Pittsburgh played under these conditions go down to the wire.

  • In 1995, Yancey Thigpen’s last second drop in the end zone decided it for the Packers
  • In 1998, the Steelers built up a 27 point rally, only to find themselves fending off a furious Brett Favre rally
  • In 2009, it to a Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace hook up with 5 second remaining to break a 5 game Steelers losing streak
  • In 2011, there was of course Super Bowl XLV

This contest brought it all, big plays, smash mouth football, surprises, reversals, and drama.

Steelers vs Packers, Steelers vs Packers Lambeau Field 2013, Le'Veon Bell, Le'Veon Bell first 100 yard game, Heath Miller, Ben Roethlisberger, Morgan Burnett

Le’Veon Bell rushes for his first NFL 100 yard game at Lambeau Field in 2013 as Heath Miller blocks. Photo Credit: Wesley Hitt, Getty Images via CBS Local Pittsburgh

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin threw down a gauntlet of sorts mid week when he took a question asking if the Steelers would pick Le’Veon Bell over Eddie Lacy of the Packers. Tomlin didn’t flinch. The Steelers would draft Le’Veon Bell again no ifs ands or butts.

While you’d expect a head coach to pubiclly back his player, it was some statement given that Lacy has outrushed Bell, Bell had not posted a 100 yard game, and indeed in 5 of 11 games Bell’s rushing average failed to crack the 3.0 threshold.

Le’Veon Bell entered the game as a man with something to prove, and it was evident early on that he was going to prove it. Numbers don’t lie. To open the game:

  • Bell took his first carry for 11 yards
  • His second went for 5 yards
  • His fourth went for 22 yards and his fifth for another 7

By the end of the first half, Bell had 71 yards. Yet it was in the second half that he would prove his mettle.

NFL games are emotional affairs. Playing with emotion is fundamental, but emotion can be tricky. Allow emotion to fuel too much of your effort, and you’ll crush yourself in the highs and lows encountered in the course of a normal game.

Students of the game can find no better illustration of this than what transpired in the last 7 minutes of the third quarter. And Le’Veon Bell was a the center of it.

A picture perfect Green Bay punt left the Steelers with the ball at their 2. Bell coughed up the ball on the ensuing play, Green Bay got possession at Pittsburgh’s two. The Steelers defense amazingly held. Danny Smith’s Special Teams delivered a blocked field goal, thanks to Steve McLendon.

  • What followed was yet another exhibition in the utter incompetence of NFL officiating.

Ryan Clark clearly recovered the ball for the Steelers, yet the officials refused to review the play, letting penalty of Ziggy Hood stand, giving Green Bay the ball back at the Steelers two, where they scored a touchdown.

Did you have an angry football team after that blocked field goal?
Mike Tomlin: I am not going to speak for them. I was angry.

Bell is of course a rookie, and he chose the worst possible time, in the worst possible field position, to make his first NFL fumble. And it cost his team 7. How would he respond?

  • On his next carry, Bell shot through the Packer’s defense like a cannon for 25 yards.

Emotion, when managed correctly in the NFL, can be a powerful weapon, and 5 plays later, including a great 7 yard run followed by a 7 yard catch from Jonathan Dwyer, and Ben Rothlisberger was hooking up with Matt Spaeth to put the Steelers back ahead, 24-21.

And the Steelers were only getting started. On the next play from scrimmage, Cortez Allen read Matt Flynn perfectly, picked off his pass and speed 40 yards into the end zone for his first pick six.

  • In a span of less than 3 minutes, the Steelers had scored 2 touchdowns, and held a ten point lead

But it wasn’t over yet, not by a long shot.

Spirit of Lombardi Still Runs Strong in Green Bay

Teams that give up such scoring sprees rarely win games, and often times fold. But not these Green Bay Packers. The Packer’s next possession ended in a three and out. Perhaps they were, in fact folding.

Yet the Steelers next possession lasted one play, as Ben Roethlisberger, in trying to hit Heath Miller, threw a bad interception. Green Bay drove all the way to the Steelers 4 yard line, but the Steelers defense held, bringing the Packers within 7.

  • The Steelers next possession ended with a three and out.

It only took Green Bay five plays to move down the field, where John Kuhn ran it in for one yard, making Mike Tomlin regret that Bruce Arians talked him into cutting the kid back on ’07. The score was now tied at 31-31 with 7:14 left to play.

It Pays to Play to Win… And to Focus…

The Steelers couldn’t make anything of their next drive, and were forced to punt. It was time for the Steelers defense to deliver, and they did on a series that belonged to Brett Keisel. Keisel sacked Matt Flynn at the Packers 5. After a 5 yard pass, Flynn seeing no one open opted to run for it. Troy Polamalu stripped the ball, and Keisel recovered.

  • Gaining the ball, at the 17, the Steelers could only move to the 7 before Mike Tomlin was forced to send in the field goal unit, when iron struck.

When questioned about penalties, former Steelers coach Bill Cowher always made a distinction between pre-snap and post-snap penalties.

The latter did not worry him as much, because he said you never wanted to temper a players enthusiasm for the game. The former, however indicated a lack of focus. Given that Green Bay has 5 former Cowher assistants, players or draftees on their staff, they might have done well to internalize that bit of The Chin’s wisdom.

  • A Steelers field goal would have given them the lead, but would have given Green Bay the ball back with over a minute and a time out.

Green Bay was penalized on the field goal attempt, and they gave the Steelers a first down.

  • Mike Tomlin did not hesitate, he instead played to win, and Le’Veon Bell scored a touchdown.

Green Bay got a monster return, and drove to the Steelers 1. Overtime looked to be a certaintly when the Packer’s lack of focus struck again.

  • A false start penalty cost the Packers 5 yards and 10 seconds off of the clock.

All time had run off the clock by the time Matt Flynn tried to hit Jarrett Boykin in the end zone, but his pass was too high.

The Pittsburgh Steelers had just walked into one of the NFL’s most sacred playing fields in late December and won the game. And in doing so the team that started the year at 0-4 gave itself a shot at playing week 17 with a chance to make the playoffs.

As John Madden said, this is what the game of football is all about.

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Echoes of Pittsburghese, Cowher Power Heard in Green Bay Packers Coaching Staff

Steelers Nation may never excuse Bill Cowher for his rabid choosing for the Carolina Coyotes over the Pittsburgh Penguins, but they could perhaps forgive their former standard bearer if he showed more divided loyalties in the Steelers upcoming game vs. Green Bay.

Green Bay Packer’s head coach is a Pittsburgh native but, despite deep ties to Western Pennsylvania, he has no connection to the Black and Gold.

  • The same cannot be said for much of his staff.

Both coordinators are former Bill Cowher assistants. Green Bay’s defensive signals caller is none other than Dom Capers, who worked as Cowher’s first defensive coordinator from 1992 to 1994, until he took the head coaching job at Carolina and was replaced by Dick LeBeau.

Supporting Capers are none other than two branches on the Dick LeBeau Coaching Tree, Kevin Greene and Darren Perry, coaching the Packers linebackers and defensive backs, respectively.

Kevin Greene of course manned the outside linebacker slot opposite Greg Lloyd from 1993 until Super Bowl XXX in 1995. Derry served as Cowher and Caper’s free safety (who played so well as a rookie in training camp, he made Pro Bowler Thomas Everett expendable) until 1998, and returned to coach defensive backs for Cowher from 2003 to 2006.

  • But Cowher Power’s echo isn’t solely heard on Green Bay’s defense.

Tom Clements is the Green Bay Packers offensive coordinator. In 2001, Bill Cowher hired Clements to be the Steelers first quarterbacks coach since Bill Parilli held those duties in 1973. During that time Clements guided Kordell Stewart through the most productive phase of his career.

Further down the coaching roster is Alex Van Pelt. Former Pitt quarterback Van Pelt of course isn’t a former Steeler, technically, but the Steelers did draft him in 8th round of the 1993 draft. Van Pelt couldn’t beat out Rick Strom for the third string quarterbacking position, got cut, and eventually caught on with the Buffalo Bills, where he enjoyed 9 year career as a back up.

With Green Bay fighting for a playoff spot and Aaron Roger’s return pending, you can bet that the Packer’s coaching staff has forgotten any hometown team sentimentalities.

But win or lose, its not hard to imagine “Yinz looked pretty strong ought there” and “So did yinz” being exchanged during post game handshakes.

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