3 Steelers with Something to Prove in the Last 3 Weeks

The 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers have about a good of a chance of making the NFL playoffs as you or I do have landing a seat on the first manned mission to Mars….  Mike Tomlin has vowed to fight on nonetheless, which is a good decision.

  • But the decision does carry certain downsides for a couple of players….

Evaluating talent is one of the more difficult tasks that any NFL coach or General Manager must make. There are certain quantifiables, countables, and intangibles that must be taken into consideration, compared, and weighed against team needs.

An NFL coach or GM has to weigh all of these factors when looking at rookies which is hard enough.

  • Then they’ve got to take one more factor into consideration which gums up the works considerably:  Potential.

Potential makes this job all the more challenging, because it involves speculation. “Ok, this guy doesn’t have what it takes now, but I’m betting he will later.” The story of former Steelers and current Bengals Linebacker James Harrison is well known. Harrison was signed and released at least a half dozen times. Clearly Harrison didn’t have “it” in 2002 and 2003, yet he had enough potential for coaches to continue calling him back.

Potential is fine, but there comes a time in every young players career where coaches stop measuring potential and turn an eye towards production. As the Steelers head into the final three game stretch of 2013, there are 3 players who most certainly need to be about the business of transforming potential into production.

The Future is Now for these 3 Young Steelers

David Paulson
Paulson of course joined the Steelers as one of three tight ends taken in the 2012 NFL Draft. And although only a rookie, Paulson began working himself into the roster, and flashed “potential” as a competent pass catching NFL Tight End, finishing the season with 7 catches.

Injuries to Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth allowed Paulson to start the season as the team’s number two tight end. Paulson was clearly not up to the task. He did continue to show himself as a threat in the passing game, but had that critical fumble vs. Cincinnati.

  • And Paulson’s blocking ability has been woeful at best. 

Even before Matt Spaeth’s return, Paulson has been invisible in the Steelers offense. Suffice to say, during these last three games he needs to make the “P” stand for production.

Robert Golden
Beelieve it or not, deep in the bowels of the internet, there was talk that if the development of Robert Golden and Shamarko Thomas had been strong enough in Latrobe, that the Steelers would actually part ways with veteran safety Ryan Clark.

Clearly that did not happen. And that in and of itself is no net knock on Golden. Neither is the fact that Thomas has gotten preference over Golden. But the Steelers were big on Golden in 2012 and had high hopes for him in 2013. But this fact is more damming – The Steelers resigned Will Allen at their first opportunity, and have relied on him during Shamarko Thomas’ injury rather than depend on Golden.

With Ryan Clark probably won’t be back in 2014 and Troy Polamalu might not either. The Steelers will select a safety somewhere in the 2014 NFL Draft. Golden needs to setup it up now, lest management decide to make safety a premium pick.

Chris Carter
During training camp in 2011, Pittsburgh Post Gazette writer Gerry Dulac went out on a limb and said that Chris Carter could end up being a the steal of the 2011 NFL Draft.

That was 3 full seasons ago, and Steelers Nation is still waiting for Carter to develop. Carter got a shot at starting at outside linebacker in 2012 when Harrison and Jason Worilds were injured and he did not capitalize on the opportunity.

  • This year Carter has been more invisible, not only on defense, but also on special teams.

It may be too late for Carter to secure a future with the Pittsburgh Steelers, regardless of what he does in these last three games, and regardless of decisions management makes about LaMarr Woodley, Worilds, and Jarvis Jones.

But if Carter makes the field, he’ll be playing for an invitation to an NFL Training Camp some where.

The ironic thing is that each of these players has seen their role limited or reduced in 2013. They may get few if any chances in the final three weeks. But all of them need to take full advantage should those opportunities come.

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Steelers Report Card vs. Ravens @ Heinz Field

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is crossing his fingers in the hopes that he has just seen his pupils take a step beyond simply avoiding self destruction and one towards self fulfillment, here is the Steelers Report card for the victory over the Baltimore Ravens. As a Caveat, no other Steelers report cards were consulted prior to this posting.

steelers-report-card-ravens-victory

Quarterback
Ben Roethlisberger went his second game without an interception and without a turnover. He was sharp, on target, moved out of the pocket and ran for yards when necessary. Early in the game he executed the quick passing game extremely well. He moved the chains. Most importantly he was flawless with the game tied and 2 minutes left to play. Grade:  A

Running Backs
During training camp, the Steelers press corps tripped over themselves to find new ways to extol Le’Veon Bell. Vs. the Ravens the rest of Steelers Nation got to see what they were talking about. Bell ran with cunning, power and determination and came in just short of 100 yards. Felix Jones was did well in relief, and Jonathan Dwyer appears to be treating every carry as if it might be his last. With Isaac Redman gone, “its what you see is what you get” with this trio. If Bell stays healthy, there’s a lot to like. Grade:  B

Tight Ends
David Paulson caught a 17 yard pass that got the Steelers going to start the second half and did well in blocking near the goal line. Heath Miller had two catches for 17 yards, including a touchdown, but showed that he was mortal, fumbling the ball which essentially gave the Ravens three. He had a drop. Grade:  B-

Wide Receivers 
 Mike who? The comparisons between Mike Wallace and Antonio Brown must stop simply because Brown is quickly and clearly showing himself to be a far, far superior receiver. Brown simply made plays each time he touched the ball. Jerricho Cotchery also had two key catches to set up the Steelers first touchdown. Derek Moye came down with a phenoinally tough catches that begged  the question as to why he was not injured, although he did have a drop in the end zone. Emmanuel Sanders had one catch, but made his presence felt elsewhere. Grade:  A-

Offensive Line
From the day the Steelers signed him, Steelers Nation, from the press down to the fans, have quaked in fear at the prospect that Guy Whimper would have to actually play. Well, Marcus Gilbert went down and in came Whimper, and the more than held his own. As did Kelvin Beachum. Ramon Foster, Fernando Velasco and David DeCastro did a masterful job in opening up holes in the middle for the running game. Pass protection was good in the first half but slipped in the second. Grade:  B-

Defensive Line
This position area is a little bit of a misnomer, because for much of the game the Steelers played one down lineman, that being Cameron Heyward. Part of that was the Raven’s plan to keep Steve McLendon off the field, as McLendon imposed his will on the Ravens while in the game. The Ravens running game had been ineffective coming into Pittsburgh. It left that way too. Grade:  B

Linebackers
LaMarr Woodley had the unit’s only sack of the game, but he planted Joe Flacco at a critical time, knocking them out of field goal range. He also defensed a pass. Vince Williams didn’t get his name called much, but that was also a good thing. And then there was Lawrence Timmons, who was simply all over the field, leading the Steelers with 17 tackles. Jason Worilds got the start and failed to give the coaches a reason to keep him in upon Jarvis Jones return.  Grade:  B+

Secondary
The Steelers defensive backs were out in force, with Shamarko Thomas and Cortez Allen seeing plenty of action and delivering on the tackles. Troy Polamalu shifted from essentially playing middle linebacker to deep safety, and was wreaking havoc all over the field. Ryan Clark’s play was solid. William Gay pass defensed not, one but two touchdown passes in the end zone. This entire until played a huge role in keeping the Ravens out of the end zone for 58 minutes, although the late TD must also be reflected in their mark.  Grade:  B+_

Special Teams
Antonio Brown helped set up the Steelers first touchdown with an 18 yard punt return. Felix Jones did the same with another nice kick return. Emmanuel Sanders touchdown run might have been called back, but he logged 44 yard setting the Steelers up with excellent field position. More importantly, the Steelers carried his momentum into the 2 minute drill. Shaun Suisham was 4-4 and logged another game winner. The Ravens got a just a little more in their return game than you’d like, but this was special teams finest day of the season by a long shot.  Grade:  A-

Coaching
After serving (undeservedly) as the whipping boy of the for the first 4 games of the season, Todd Haley continues to innovate. Early on he found ways to get the ball out quickly and keep the defense off balance. Moreover, he’s using play action to the Steelers benefit and his attempts to improve pass protection via schemes and personnel are working. Dick LeBeau’s defense has had a little bit of the “break but don’t bend” element to it. But they neutralized the Raven’s in the Red Zone time after time, including after Millers fumble. Mike Tomlin would be the first to admit that the Steelers are still very deep down in the hole that they dug them. But he clearly has his team focused. Grade: B+

Unsung Hero Award
There are many many players who could stake claim to this award. The Steelers victory against the Ravens came down to the ability to adapt to the unexpected and transform disadvantage into advantage. After the Ravens scored their last field goal, John Harbaugh decided to get cute and call a surprise on sides. In years past the Steelers special teams have been caught asleep at the switch in such situations. But not this time. Stevenson Sylvester KOed his man giving Vince Williams a shot at the recovery, which he made, setting up the Steelers 3rd field goal, a score that would prove critical and for that they share the Unsung Hero Award.

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Steelers Report Card vs. Bengals @ Paul Brown Stadium

Taken from the grade book of a teacher who is trying to figure out which of his pupils is underachieving and which simply lacks what it takes, here is the Steelers Report Card for the loss to the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium. As a caveat, no other report cards were consulted prior to this posting.

Quarterback
How things change in a week. Last week Ben Roethlisberger stood as the lone bright spot for the Steelers offense. Vs. the Bengals he was a liability. Yes, he was under duress at times, but at other times his line gave him time and on far, far too many of those occasions Roethlisberger’s passes were either high and/or overthrown. His second half interception was a poorly thrown ball which essentially ended the game for the Steelers. Ben really hasn’t had a good game since the injury. Which is troubling…. Grade: D

steelers-report-card-bengals-2013-paul-brown-stadium

Running Back
Felix Jones managed to squeeze himself a dixie cup of lemonade out of some lemons. Isaac Redman increasingly looks like he is not suited for this zone blocking offense. Jonathan Dwyer gained 2 yards on one carry. Its not all “their fault” but the running backs are not getting it done. Grade: D

Tight Ends
David Johnson was invisible, and that’s not a very good thing, esp. when the run and pass blocking were suspect. David Paulson made what could have been the catch of the night, only to fumble it away. His pass blocking remains woeful. Yes, these are 3rd and 4th string tight ends playing. No one would mistake them for anything else.  Grade: D

Wide Receivers
For second straight week this group was the offense’s most consistent unit, although it is clear that collective they do not have enough talent to make up for Heath Miller‘s absence. Emmanuel Sanders led the team and set up the first score. Antonio Brown was close behind and looked to be his old self — getting open and making the catch. Jerricho Cotchery also looked good. Derrick Moye scored his first NFL touchdown on a perfectly executed fade. Grade: B

Offensive Line
This unit improved considerably from week 1. Which is not to say that they were good. Pass protection continued to be a serious problem despite sporadic moments of quality protection. However the run blocking was atrocious as running backs went nowhere. This unit is young and inexperienced and very much needs to prove that it has the talent that prompted the team to draft them. Grade: D

Defensive Line
Cameron Heyward, Ziggy Hood, and Steve McLendon are all getting high praise from Steelers commentators and sites like Pro Football Focus. Praise is nice, but the rock of the Steelers 3-4 defense is stopping the run, and teams are running on the Steelers. No one is dominating them, but chains are being moved. Dick LeBeau planned to use his ends to improve the pass rush, and they do seem to be playing closer to the quarterback. But the group is not getting sack, nor are they forcing fumbles. Grade: C-

Linebackers
The knock on Jarvis Jones coming out of college was that he would arrive a half step late to the quarterback, which is what he did in his first start. Still his first NFL start was not bad LaMarr Woodley however was little better. Both Kion Wilson and Vince Williams were all over the field, but both men must bear some of the responsibility for break down of the run defense. Lawrence Timmons made several tackles, but was not as visible on the field as he has been in the past. Jason Worilds, remained invisible the entire night. Grade C

Secondary
Ike Taylor blanketed AJ Green and while he “didn’t stop him, he did contain him.” William Gay handled his man well too. Troy Polamalu led the team in tackles but dropped a would-be pick six. Ryan Clark made his share of tackles, but was out of position a number of times, and let a couple of players slip out of his grasp. This unit bear part of the blame for Andy Dalton’s strong second half. Grade:  C

Special Teams
For the first time in recent memory there were no long returns and no idiotic penalties.  Grade:  B

Coaching
Coaches are hardly responsible for fumbles and interceptions, but that does not absolve them form answering some hard questions. Why was Jerricho Cotchery running a reverse? If he had the wrong people in, why was that? Why was Ben so out of sync with his receivers? Why did the Steelers run defense regress from week 1 to week 2. Why wasn’t the no huddle used more? Chuck Noll once said that when people ask these kinds of questions, they’re asking “Why don’t you win?” Well, these questions are certainly being asked. Grade:  F

Unsung Hero
Few things can ignite or extinguish a team like a big special teams play. That fact is well known. But the value of consistent special teams is under appreciated. Good field position can make a bad offense look mediocre. A well covered  deep punt can help an average defense look above average. The Steelers special teams weren’t spectacular vs. the Bengals, but they were solid, and that was one  reason why the score stayed so close, and for that they get the Unsung Hero Award.

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Heath Miller to Return vs. Bears? One Reporter Says “Yes”

At his weekly press conference Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin announced that injured tight end Heath Miller would return to a normal week of practice this week, albeit with a caution that no one should expect Miller to be Super Man.

While many have forecast Miller’s return for following the Steelers trip to London, veteran Oberver-Reporter journalist Dale Lolley reports that Heath Miller is expected to play when the Steelers host the 2-0 Chicago Bears at Heinz Field this week.

Millers return, should he be able to perform to past standards and should he not be jeopardizing his knee by coming back so quickly, could provide a real boost to the Steelers offense.

While Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Jerricho Cotchery have been solid this year so far, its painfully obvious that the trio cannot compensate for the absence of Miller.

Repaclement tight ends David Johnson has one catch and has been invisible in the offense, while David Paulson blocking ability is woeful. Paulson does have 3 catches on the year, but he fumbled his most important one away.

Steelers Change Graham for Green

The Steelers 2013 roster shuffling continues.

As it turns out, emergency place kicker Shayne Graham will not get a chance to live up to the fighting standard set up by long ago emergency punter Shayne Edge. The Steelers signed Graham as insurance for Shaun Suisham injured his hamstring vs. Tennessee. Suisham was able to kick vs. the Bengals, and the Steelers waived Graham.

To take Graham’s place on the roster, the Steelers activated cornerback Isaiah Green from the practice squad. Green primarily is on the team for his special teams ability, but could see time if Curtis Brown and/or Cortez Allen do not return to health.

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Why the Steelers Loss to the Bengals Stings So Much….

Steel Curtain Rising preluded season by talking about challenges that held both the promise and peril for the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers.

  • Against the Titans the Steelers abandoned any semblance of that black-shades of grey- white continuum, answering the many “ifs” confronting them with resounding “no’s.”

Vs. the Bengals however, the Steelers again wrestled with promise and peril, but unfortunately the results peril won the day fair and square.

Tale of Two Halves – The First Half Promise

The NFL preseason is meaningless, but one of the mysteries it left Steelers Nation this year also serves as a perfect metaphor for the Bengals game.

What to make of results in meaningless games where backups may have been wanting, but where a limited (read healthy) subset of the starters did “OK” when not beating themselves?

Pittsburgh Tribune Review writer Mark Kaboly summarized a similar puzzle that now faces the 0-2 Steelers:

Take away Redman and Paulson first-quarter fumbles past 2 weeks and replace with TD and I’d like to see how those games played out.
— Mark Kaboly (@MarkKaboly_Trib) September 17, 2013

The Steelers began the game with a statement of sorts, returning the opening kickoff 34 yards. That resulted in a three and out which the Steelers defense dutifully matched.

  • Antonio Brown responded again, returning a punt for 40 yards.

The Steelers sputtering offense of course gave up a sack, but a 14 yard Felix Jones scamper allowed Pittsburgh to bank the first three points of the night.

  • Clearly, the Steelers had no intention of feeling sorry for themselves after the Titans embarrassment.

It would be poetic to say that following that, the Steelers went out and played “hard nosed football that resulted in a 10-10 tie at the half,” but alas it did not happen that way.

The Steelers failed to convert a third down prior to the two minute warning. When Ben Roethlisberger’s passes weren’t high they landed well in front of the receivers. They failed to establish the run.

  • Yet the Steelers defense managed to confuse Andy Dalton, or else Dalton was misfiring on his own passes.

The Steelers verged on establishing something when Ben Roethlisberger hit David Paulson with a 34 yard pass that took him all the way to the Bengals 13 yard line, where, and you knew this was coming, Paulson fumbled away.

  • But even when the 2013 Steelers wound themselves in the foot, they still can’t shoot straight.

Paulson had been ruled down by contact, and the Steelers had – and miss – the chance to get another playoff before it could be reviewed.

It was that kind of half for the Steelers. Yet, in spite of it all the Steelers found themselves with the ball at the 4:13 mark, Roethlisberger went into no huddle and two passes to Emmanuel Sanders later the Steelers were at the on.

  • Another one to Derrick Moye and the Steelers had the game tied at 10-10.

To add the cherry on top, Cincinnati got the ball back with 1:54 remaining and all 3 time outs. Dalton put in a workman like performance, but the Steelers defense held with help from Ike Taylor’s pass defense of a Hail Mary.

And in one half held Pittsburgh’s implicit promise of 2013 – if the Steelers could only stop beating themselves, they’re a team that might go places.

Second Half – Steelers Embrace Their Peril

Story spinners might seek to wave a tale that revolves around the Steelers second half hopes disintegrating with a bogus tripping penalty called on Marcus Gilbert that nullified a 33 yard catch by Brown.

  • The penalty was bogus, but pay the apologists who use it as an excuse no mind.

The Cincinnati outplayed the Pittsburgh Steelers in the first half. No, Bengals hardly looked like a championship team themselves.

And that’s what makes this one sting so badly.

  • Ben Roethlisberger may have only been sacked twice, but he got hit six times
  • When not under duress, Roethlisberger continued with his erratic passing
  • Unlike the first half, the Steelers running game didn’t even feign an appearance

Worse yet was the defense. On paper, holding a offense loaded with weapons such as Cincinnati’s to 20 points on a night when your own offense only manages one non-garbage time 3rd down conversion might seem like a feat.

  • But Cincinnati nickled and dimed the Steelers defense.

They did it by being more physical up front in the running game, and by smartly working the short passing game.

Dick LeBeau has instructed Brett Keisel, Ziggy Hood, and Cameron Heyward to take a more active role in pressuring the quarterback.

And they have, somewhat successfully. Yet they haven’t come up with a sack, and the middle of the Steelers defense is suddenly vulnerable for the first time since Joel Steeds knees disintegrated in 1999.

  • This does not bode well, especially when the Steelers are 0-2 for the season and have recorded zero turnovers.

Tackling was also an issue, as multiple times during the night Bengal rushers and receivers extended plays and drives as single Steelers defenders failed to bring them down at first contact.

  • That in a nutshell is the story of the night.

When Cincinnati needed to throw for four yards, they completed passes for four or more; when Pittsburgh needed six Roethlisberger was as more likely to complete it behind the line of scrimmage than he was to throw it incomplete near the pylon.

Pittsburgh defense gang tackled the Bengals running backs just as Cincinnati’s defenders gang tackled Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer. The difference is that Bengals backs went down 3 or 4 yards past the line of scrimmage; Steelers backs were lucky if the got there.

All of this simply shows you that, while isn’t doing itself any favors with turnovers and penalties, even when those mental issues aren’t factors, the 2013 Pittsburgh Steelers simply have not shown they’re capable of playing good football.

  • Ryan Clark is right. The Pittsburgh Steelers cannot win the way they’re playing now.

That’s the truth. And the truth most definitely hurts sometimes.

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Steelers Roster Analysis, Offense: Tight Ends

Steel Curtain Rising continues its analysis of the Steelers 2013 roster with tight ends.

Starter:  David Johnson, Heath Miller (injured)
Back Ups:  David Paulson, Michael Palmer and Matt Spaeth (injured reserve)

Strengths: Heath Miller is one of the best tight ends in the league. When healthy. David Paulson had a great rookie year and is a good pass catcher.

Weaknesses:  The top two players in this until are not healthy. David Johnson is a solid blocker, but not much of a pass catcher. David Paulson is the opposite.

The Skinny:  Does Todd Haley have a plan for replacing Heath Miller’s 71 catches? Can the unit “get by” until Miller returns? And when he returns will he approach full strength? At tight end the Steelers need to answer a lot of question marks affirmatively, and doing so will only bring them to the “not a liability” threshold. Matt Spaeth is out until mid season, which gives the Steelers added insurance in the event of another injury.

Click here and scroll around to read analysis of other position areas on the Steelers 2013 Roster.

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The Life and Times of the Steelers David Johnson – From the PUP to Opening Day Starter?

Oh, to live the life and times of Steelers tight end-full-back-tight end David Johnson. Johnson:

And where is David Johnson now?

  • Well, David Johnson could very well end up as the Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 opening day starting tight end vs. the Tennessee Titans. 

Johnson, along with fellow tight end Heath Miller, open training camp on the physically unable to perform (PUP) list, but the Steelers have activated him from the PUP.

The Steelers find themselves in a precarious situation at tight end. Matt Spaeth, brought back in a surprise free agency reacquisition, has a lisfranc injury and will be out 8 to 10 weeks. Miller of course is rehabbing his own ACL tear.

David Paulson had what might have been the catch of the night, a 26 yarder from Ben Roethlisberger in the Steelers preseason loss to the Redskins, but his blocking has been suspect, and with a leaky offensive line that is an issue.

  • David Johnson is no season savior. 

He’s the type of player who lives year-by-year. But, like a great many late draft picks, Johnson gives it his all and has shown the ability step it up when called upon. He is a solid blocker and he should provide some valuable veteran depth at an area where the Steelers truly need it.

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Watch Tower: Right or Wrong, ESPN’s Chadiha Simply Fails to Understand the Steelers

ESPN’s Jeffri Chadiha recently weighed in on the Pittsburgh Steelers prospects for 2013, and Steelers Nation will not like his conclusions. In a nut shell Chadiha says that the Steelers are destined for a downswing on the level that epic franchises such as the Redskins, Cowboys, and 49ers experienced.

Chadiha projects the Steelers as a third in the AFC North with 8-8 likely their best possible outcome. Chadiha’s overall argument has some merit. He could in fact be right. But the Watch Tower is more interested in deconstructing how Chadiha builds his argument.

ESPN’s Chadiha on What Ails the Steelers – Offense

The base of Chadiha’s argument for the demise of the Steelers can be summed up in two sentences:

The offense has quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and a ton of questions. The defense is old and missing key performers from a unit that led the league in total yards allowed in 2012.

Right off the bat, the Watch Tower finds bones to pick with Chadiha’s methodology. Taken at face value, his breakdown of the offense appears to be correct, on defense, not so much.

  • So just what are those questions the Steelers face on offense in Chadiha’s eyes?

The first two specifics that Chadiha’s cites are these:

It has been years since Roethlisberger has taken snaps behind an offensive line that could be described as sturdy and it’s anybody’s guess as to how well he’ll coexist with offensive coordinator Todd Haley this season.

On the issue of the offensive line, Chadiha is right. The last time Ben Roethlisberger had a quality offensive line in front of him was 2007…

…And while Steel Curtain Rising has been beating the drum, the fact is that the Steelers have done quite well instead of offensive line deficiencies, particularly in Super Bowl XLIII.

  • This is the first instance of Chadiha being (potentially) right, but through no fault of his own.

Offensive line remains an issue. The issue however is more one of health and depth rather than quality. Chadiha fails make that argument, and ignores the fact that the Steelers have invested heavily in building a high quality offensive line in the form of Maurkice Pouncey, David DeCastro, Ramon Foster, Marcus Gilbert and Mike Adams.

Chadiha is on firmer ground when it comes to the Ben Rothlisberger-Todd Haley relationship but only slightly. As the Watch Tower pointed out, the press saw lots of smoke there in 2012, only to have Ben and Haley say all the right things, which worked fine until Bob Labriola of the Steelers Digest outed them after the season.

  • But Chadiha ignores what have to be at least a dozen stories detailing how Haley worked constructively with his coaches and players to open up the offense.

It would seem that any argument for the Steelers demise that’s based on the Roethlisberger-Haley relationship would have to take those developments into account. Chadiha doesn’t.

Chadiha also talks about the Steelers dismal 2012 running game and the loss of Mike Wallace and now Plaxico Burress.

  • Again, these are potential issues, but he also ignores potential remedies.

As Steel Curtain Rising has argued, the performance of the Steelers running game in 2012 was directly proportional to the health of the offensive line. In this respect Chadiha’s in good company – everyone else is also missing this.

Mike Wallace will be missed, but Chadiha ignores the fact that Wallace’s attitude has been at issue, and that he’s largely developed into a home run or bust type player.

Furthermore, there are other arguments Chadiha could use in his favor but fails to do so. The Steelers will open the season with David Paulson as their number 1 tight end. Emmanuel Sanders has a lot of potential, but his health has been suspect.

As for losing Plaxico Burress, Burress could have contributed, but he was projected to be a 4th or 5th receiver at best, and was no lock to make the team.

Deconstructing ESPN’s Chadiha on What Ails the Steelers – Defense

The bulk of Chadiha’s argument on the defensive side lies in the perceived age of the defense. Its as if Warren Saap’s “Old, slow and done” pronouncement has been recited enough to somehow take on an air of truth – facts be dammed.

In this respect, Chadiha focuses on the age of the Steelers secondary and ignores tendencies elsewhere. As Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune Review pointed out in may, the average age of the Steelers starting defense is projected to be at 29.3 years, almost two years younger than its 2011 predecessor.

Perhaps the biggest potential liability facing the Steelers defense is how they’re going to compensate for the absence of James Harrison’s run stopping ability is one that Chadiha leaves untouched.

Deconstructing Jeffri Chadiha ESPN — National Media’s Failure to Understand the Steelers

All of these flaw’s in Chadiha’s methodology lead to one larger, and more fatal, flaw in his overall approach. Chadiha just doesn’t get how the Steelers operate. After detailing the franchise’s legendary stability and success he goes on to observe:

That level of success is the major reason it’s so hard to envision their impending demise now. They’ve always beaten the odds. They’ve rarely stayed down for long. Just when it seems they’ve lost one too many key performers, another unheralded contributor steps up his game. This team seemingly can do no wrong at finding players to fit most pressing needs.

The Steelers have been so good in this department that they’ve never had to go on a spending spree in free agency. The coaches simply waited for their draft picks to grow up, step in and live up to expectations. But that formula will not be as reliable this coming fall. There are too many holes for the Steelers to fill. It’s hard to believe they can be that fortunate at every position requiring an upgrade.

This team actually needs to get back to its roots before it ever can become championship-caliber again… [Emphasis added.]

There are a couple of issues here.

Have the Steelers always beaten the odds? Well, they’ve been better than many, but what about 1980’s? Sure, they never quite hit bottom the way say the ’88-’89 Cowboys did, but the period doesn’t exactly serve as an example of Steelers excellence (Steel Curtain Rising’s beloved 1989 Steelers not with standing.)

Indeed, one of the issues weighing down the Steelers in ‘80’s was their unwillingness to part ways with aging veterans and an inability to keep drafting and scouting aligned.

  • Note, these Steelers have taken pains to avoid that.

Indeed, it wasn’t until Dan Rooney fired his brother Art Rooney Jr. that the Steelers drafting improved. (If you think that is a stretch, the firing occurred in late ’86 – Chuck Noll drafted Rod Woodson in 1987 and Dermontti Dawson in 1988 in addition to players like Hardy Nickerson, Merril Hoge, and Greg Lloyd.)

The other issue is Chadiha’s interpretation of the Steelers attitude towards free agency. He claims “[the Steelers] never had to go on a spending spree in free agency.”

Really? The Steelers had multiple times when they could have opted for wholesale rebuilding via free agency in the mid and late ‘90’s, the ‘00’s, and even in this decade.

  • They never have gone on a free agency spending binge because it goes against the philosophy of the franchise.

The fact that Chadiha simply misses or doesn’t get this really cuts into his credibility as a commentator on the team.

One final criticism of Chadiha. He ends his piece saying that the Steelers need to get back to their roots, implying that it is not something in the offing, when a large part of the Steelers offensive plan going into 2013 is to take advantage of the tendency to build defenses to protect against the pass by running on them.

  • Now the Steelers aren’t exactly announcing this strategic shift on their home page, but if a blogger in Buenos Aires with no direct access to sources can learn this, so should a reporter from a network with a billion dollar contract to cover the NFL.

In the final analysis, Chadiha’s predictions for gloom and doom in Pittsburgh in 2013 could turn out to be right. The Steelers have little to zero margin for injury on the offensive line and perhaps the secondary. A number of other things must work exactly as planned.

But Chadiha’s methodology and understanding of the franchise is so flawed that if he is right, the Watch Tower will say he is right be accident, and will award no bragging rights.

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Steelers Come Up Small in Preseason vs. Giants, Lose 18-13

Its only August football, but Mike Tomlin cannot like what he saw as the Pittsburgh Steelers looked pretty sloppy in their 18-13 preseason loss to the New York Giants.

Steel Curtain Rising’s Golden Rule of Preseason is that while results don’t mean much exhibition games do tend to revealing about individual units and provide a good look at individuals.

Steelers Struggles vs. Giants

In that respect, Danny Smith’s special teams debut left a lot to be desired, with one blocked punt, and two kick off fielding errors on the part of rookie J.D. Woods and David Gilreath.

Rookie quarterback and fourth round draft pick Landry Jones had a difficult night, botching a hand off to Baron Batch leading to a fumble. Batch himself entered the game as one Steeler who was fighting for his NFL life, and he did not help his cause rushing 5 times for 4 yards.

Bruce Gradkowski, while going 6/11 had trouble connecting with his receivers, and was described by Behind the Steel Curtain as possibly “attempting to thin out the wide receiving corps.”

Jason Worilds did make his presence known by registering a sack, but also got noticed the wrong way with two roughing the passer fouls in two minutes.

Steelers Success vs. Giants

The star of the offense was LaRod Stephens-Howling who led all rushers with 40 yards on seven carries. Rookie Marcus Wheaton also looked good, as did David Paulson, although Michael Palmer, signed just a few days ago, got the starting nod.

The real “stars” of the game were the Steelers linebackers, with first round draft pick Jarvis Jones recovering a fumble and defending a pass. Adrian Robinson, who was reportedly having a rough time at St. Vincents, scored the Steelers only touchdown on an botched snap. Rookies Vince Williams and Brian Rolle also looked good in Behind the Steel Curtain’s estimation.

  • Rounding out the Steelers success on defense was Al Woods, who lead the team with 9 takcles, 1 sack, 2 tackles for losses, and 1 QB hit.

The Steelers picked up Al Woods off of waivers from the Saints in 2010, after New Orleans cut their then rookie draft pick. Woods then bounced around between Tampa Bay, Seattle’s, and Pittsburgh’s active rosters and practice squads.

Performance like Woods’ put in vs. the Giants will earn him a permanent home.

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Matt Spaeth Injures Lisfranc; Possible Done for Year; Steelers Thin at Tight End

Pittsburgh Steelers tight end Matt Spaeth went down with an injury on Thursday August 8th. On Friday the Steelers added two more tight ends to their roster, in the form of Michael Palmer and Nathan Overbay.

  • The timing of those two events was in no way coincidental.

The Steelers had released little in the way of information on Matt Spaeth’s injury, other than to say it was to the foot. But later this afternoon Pittsburgh Tribune Review writer Dejan Kovacevic broke the news:

Ouch. Unconfirmed, but I’m hearing #Steelers TE Matt Spaeth will have lisfranc surgery that will end season. That’s middle of foot.
— Dejan Kovacevic (@Dejan_Kovacevic) August 9, 2013

Other reports are pegging the recovery time at 8-10 weeks, which would put the Steelers at mid-season.

  • Could Dejan’s prediction turn out to be too dire?

Perhaps, but most likely not. As Behind the Steel Curtain has pointed out, recent NFL history with Lisfranc injuries shows that they are normally season-enders, reminding us of how similar injures end the 2012 seasons of Santonio Holmes and Maurice Jones-Drew.

  • One way or another the Steelers must make a decision on Spaeth. There is no way they can carry him on the roster until mid season hoping that he returns to health. 

They could carry him through the preseason and put him on injured reserve and designate him as a player who can return, as they did with David DeCastro last year, but that is not likely.

With Spaeth out, the 2012 7th round pick David Paulson now must “grow up fast” as the starting role will fall to him until Heath Miller can return to health. In the meantime, Ben Roethlisberger is going to need target for passes in the middle of the field.

In addition, the Steelers have David Johnson who is on the PUP list, as well as Jaime McCoy and Peter Tuitupou….

…Where is Preston Gothard when you need him?

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