Pittsburgh Steelers' Success Starts With The Low-Profile Rooneys

  • Wednesday, January 26, 2011 1:46 AM
  • Written By: Jim Reich

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I am a day late as I was on the road to Sarasota since Saturday, having dropped off in Tallahassee for a visit to Steel City Joan's high school friend. But to their great credit, our hosts provided me with a beautiful 46 inch flat screen TV and they served dinner on Sunday night in the den right in front of the TV. So, I didn't miss anything.

Where do you start with this game? It was a tale of two halves. The first was almost all Steelers. Everything clicked on offense and defense as the Steelers built up a 24-0 lead before the Jets got a field goal at the end of the half. But the second half was a different story. The Steelers did not score, and the Jets were able to get 19 points, including the dreaded safety. But guys like Mendenhall, Gay, Taylor, and the offensive line and the whole defense held together.

The Jets were outplayed in the first half. Cowher said at halftime that having played Peyton Manning and Tom Brady on the road in the previous two weeks, they were a tired ballclub. Coming into Heinz Field for their third road game in as many weeks, with 68,000+ screaming fans waving Terrible Towels, was no joy either. And the bitter cold had to be a factor. Truly, they looked lousy in the first half. But if they were so fatigued going into the first half, after playing a tough first half in the cold, wouldn't you think they would have been even more pooped coming out for the second half? Well, you might have thought so. But something at halftime invigorated them and they came out like a house on fire for the second half.

I have to tip my hat to Rex Ryan and his coaching staff. First they devised a plan that soundly defeated the heavily favored Patriots in Foxborough the week before. Who would have thought this was possible? In Sunday's game hey never let their guys quit. They played until the end. I saw the HBO show about the Jets' training camp in the motel on Saturday night. While he can be pretty foul-mouthed, you can easily see that Rex Ryan is a man's man. His coaches and players like the guy. They will run through a wall for him. His personality, his knowledge of the game, and his ability to game plan make him one of the best coaches in the game. For two years running he has taken his team to the AFC championship game, and there's no reason to think that he won't be back again next year knocking on the door, as they say. Don't forget, Mark Sanchez will be a year older and much wiser next year, too.

The Steelers, on the other hand, were a team with attitude. For one thing, they were determined to get to the Super Bowl. For another, the Jets embarrassed them just a month earlier in their own ball yard, and they were just not gong to let that happen again. There is something intangible about this team. You can't break it down by comparing running backs to running backs, corner to corners, etc. Having been denied the playoffs in 2009, after winning the Super Bowl the previous season, they came to camp with a chip on their shoulders. The memory of the five-game losing streak in 2009 provided a sour taste in their mouths.

When their franchise quarterback was suspended for the first four games of 2010 and they were without their best wide receiver who had been dispatched to the Jets, they reached a pact among themselves that they would win without these guys. When two of their starting offensive linemen went down with season ending injuries, they rallied behind their replacements. They ended the first four games with a 3-1 record, and only a last minute pass by the Ravens on blown coverage prevented them from going 4-0. This set the tone for the rest of the season. Yes, they lost another 3 games, and they scraped by with a hair raising win in Miami and escaped with a win in Buffalo when Johnston dropped a perfect pass in the end zone that would have won the game for Buffalo. But they got the AFC North trophy and the bye, which helped to set them up...so far.

I think the whole story starts with the Rooneys who keep a low profile, but gently nudge the other executives and coaching staff. Art Rooney, Jr. opined that they could use rookies more effectively and three became standouts this season, Pouncey, Sanders, and Brown. Others, like Sylvester Stevenson contributed mightily on special teams. This also demonstrated a pretty good ability to identify youngsters and draft them. They also picked an outsanding person as a head coach in Mike Tomlin. At first there might have been some grumbling about him being an African American. But Mike is their man now, no question about it. They believe in him and they love to play for him, all 53 players. Tomlin was also smart enough to retain coachs like LeBeau and Arians, and despite his unfamiliarity with the 3-4, he was flexible enough to allow it to continue under LeBeau. The fact that LeBeau, at 72, has already announced that he will return in 2012 shows that he enjoys working with Tomlin.

Then, there are the players, a pretty good mix of veterans and youngsters. This is a team in which the youngsters look up the vets like Ward and Farrior. So, it's not as if the coaches do all the exhorting. The guys in the locker room do it, too.

Then, what can you say about Ben? He's certainly not the slickest of quarterbacks. He's not Manning, Brady or Brees. But his third and fourth quarter stats are amazing. He takes sacks, he underthrows (like when Reavis intercepted a pass when Wallace would have had a touchdown except that Wallace was about four steps beyond the ball), and he does all kinds of things that drives fans crazy. But he also plays against a header hunting team like the Ravens with a broken foot and a broken and bleeding nose. Do you think Cutler would have done that? He also takes off when he can't find a receiver and more times than not will not take a slide, but will charge in head first. Do you think Brady would do that? He plays ugly, but somehow he seems to win.

Now, does all that mean that the Steelers are guaranteed a win in the Super Bowl? Certainly not. The Packers are a fantastic team, both on offense and defense. They have weapons everywhere and they are healthy. But the Steelers wll be in there with their game plan and their grit and resolve and a bit more history in games like this, so we'll see what transpires. But win or lose, this has been a very satisfying season for the Pittsburgh faithful.

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Pittsburgh Steelers Outlast Ravens, Must Be Wary Of Jets

  • Monday, January 17, 2011 7:02 PM
  • Written By: Jim Reich

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... And now we're down to four. If the NFL isn't a true example of the survival of the fittest, I don't know what is. Sixteen regular-season games, plus at least one more of clawing and hitting and punching and yelling, and we're up to the championship games on Sunday. It's even a bruising experience for the fans.

Saturday's game was a clash of titans. There's no other way to put it. My hat is off to the Ravens. They are one tough bunch of hombres. Coming into the hostile environment of Heinz Field with 64,000 leather lungs waving Terrible Towels, it must be daunting. After taking the initial kickoff and being stifled, they saw the Steelers march to a touchdown on their first possession. But then the Ravens scored 21 unanswered points and went into the locker room with a 21-7 lead at halftime.

It looked bleak for the Steelers. In looking back, however, the 21 points were scored mainly by the Steelers shooting themselves in the foot through turnovers. Apparently, the Steelers quietly vowed to straighten out that situation in the second half. The third quarter told the tale. The Steelers held the Ravens to a net yards gained in that quarter to -4. Yes, minus-4 yards. That allowed the Steelers to claw their way back and make way for Ben's unbelievable connection with rookie Antonio Brown, which led to the winning touchdown. Houshmandzadeh and Boldin dropped some key passes, too. Those things happen ... and always at the wrong time.

I know there are some bitter feelings on the part of some Ravens fans about the officiating. But I can assure you it cut both ways. Harrison was held constantly but it was never called. Ben was roughed up on that abortive fumble that turned into an easy TD for the Ravens. But this was never called either. In fact, no one is ever charged with roughing up Ben. Even, as I have stated before, when Suggs broke Ben's nose and received a $35,000 fine from the league, no penalty was called. And to put the officiating thing to rest, let's look at a few stats:

Net Rushing Yards: Steelers 71, Ravens 35
Net Passing Yards: Steelers 192, Ravens 91
Total Net Yards: Steelers 263, Ravens 126
Time of Possession: Steelers 34:28, Ravens 25:32

I have to say one word about Suggs. His chest thumping and celebration after every play gets old (I think he's auditioning for Ray Lewis' rantings before games when Lewis finally hangs them up.). But he lived in the Steeler backfield all game. The guy is a force. He'll be back next year with a vengeance, as will all the Ravens, and the rivalry, which is almost a Backyard Brawl, will continue.

There wasn't anyone in Pittsburgh not rooting for the Jets on Sunday in Foxborough. Every Steeler fan knows that Belichick/Brady has the Steelers' number. Time after time, Belichick has drawn up game plans to exploit Steeler weaknesses. Brady and company have executed them well. Invariably, these have led to Patriot wins, including a 39-26 thumping in mid-November. The idea of having to go to Foxborough next Sunday to face B/B still again was hard to contemplate. With the Jets' win, the Steelers' fans fondest wish was fulfilled. Not only don't they have to play the Patriots in Foxborough, but they play the Jets in Pittsburgh. But one is cautioned to be wary of what one wishes for. The Jets undressed the Patriots after suffering an ignominious defeat earlier in the season by a 45-3 score. My hat is off to Ryan who certainly drew up a game plan that B/B couldn't answer. So, the question is: If Ryan could devise a game plan to roundly defeat the Patriots, might be also be capable of doing the same to the Steelers?

In looking forward to Sunday's game, the Steelers' obvious weakness is the offensive line. A makeshift unit all season, due to season-ending injuries to Willie Colon and Max Starks, it was really devastated on Saturday evening when Flozell Adams, he of the size 22 shoe, was so sick during halftime that he couldn't return. So, they moved guys around to fill the slot and made do. But Ryan will surely expose this on Sunday. It seems to me that the Steelers' defense will have to get after Sanchez early and late and not let him breathe. The Patriots didn't get to him once Sunday. The Steelers will have to find a way. These two teams played recently and the Jets won by five points. But with Heath Miller out, Ben had two shots from the 1-yard line to win the game. Both times the receivers dropped the ball. So, it was awfully close in December and we'll see what happens on Sunday.

By the way, I thought the Packers would defeat the Falcons. The Packers are tough, built in the mold of the Steelers and Ravens. The Pittsburgh kid, Mike McCarthy, has them purring. It wouldn't surprise me if they beat the Bears on Sunday. Appropos of nothing, McCarthy is from Greenfield (right down the road from where I am sitting) as was Greenfield Jimmy Smith. Smith was Billy Conn's father-in-law, and while Conn was lightweight champion of the world and almost beat Joe Louis in 1941, Greenfield Jimmy was known to have decked Conn. Tough dudes, those guys from Greenfield.
One final word: There were three highly sought after quarterbacks in the 2003 NFL draft, Eli Manning, Philip Rivers and Ben Roethlisberger. Manning was drafted first by the Chargers and the Giants took Rivers right after that. But Eli wanted to play in New York. So, the Giants and Chargers traded their draft picks. Ben was taken by the Steelers who were picking in the 11th slot. Win or lose next week, even with his off-season exploits (he seems to have straightened himself out since then), and his playing both with a broken nose and broken foot a good deal of the season, is there any doubt in anyone's mind as to which of the three is the real prize of the 2003 draft?

Big college basketball game in town tonight, Pitt-Syracuse. SCJ's motto ... never count Boeheim out. Never!

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Pittsburgh Steelers Need Bye And Return Of Troy Polamalu For Long Playoff Run

  • Monday, December 27, 2010 2:31 PM
  • Written By: Jim Reich

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Here we are, having completed Week 15, and from a Steelers' point of view, the playoffs are a reality, although where is still up in the air. If the Steelers win on Sunday in Cleveland, they will clinch first place in the AFC North and enjoy the second seed in the AFC. This will give them a bye week and at least one home game. If they lose in Cleveland and Baltimore wins its game, the Ravens will get the bye week and at least one home game.

The Steelers, the oldest team in the league, sorely (and I use the word "sorely" advisedly) need the bye week to rest their ailing bones. So, they have a great incentive to win at Cleveland. But it would make the Browns' season if they are able to knock the Steelers off their perch. It will be the old "Turnpike Rivalry" all over again, and the Steelers better be ready for it.

Of course, there is speculation around here as to how far the Steelers can go in the playoffs. Much will depend on the health of one Troy Polamalu. Polamalu makes things happen on defense. The rest of his teammates feed off him when he is in there. The dropoff to Ryan Mundy is palpable. So, with Polamalu ready and able to play, the Steelers can do all right. Without him, it can be a short playoffs.

Another factor is the possible return of Aaron Smith. When healthy, Smith makes a huge difference in the Steelers' defense. The guy is a force. But he's been out with a torn bicep since Oct. 24. They never put him on IR, hoping that he would be well enough for the playoffs. Lately, he has been lifting weights and is being fitted with a new shoulder brace. So, it looks like he could be on target to participate in the playoffs, and especially if the Steelers get the bye week. Some speculate on his effectiveness, however. They wonder how quickly he can adapt to the pace of playoff football after being out so long. But that's what they pay the coaches the big bucks ... to determine whether he is ready.

Having said all the above, it's academic that the Patriots are the odds-on favorites to win the AFC championship. They are simply playing on another level from the rest of, at least, the AFC. They kill any and all comers. It's a wonder that they lost two games this season. And the way they do it is stunning. They score two or three touchdowns before their opponents have even warmed up. Then, their defense stomps them and the game is virtually over before it begins. This pattern is evident week after week after week.

We are say that football is the ultimate team game. Obviously, all aspects of the game and all players have to be on one page to assure a win. Blockers have to block and protect, receivers must get open, etc. Some individual players are key, too. Polamalu is a good example. But when you check out the standings at or near the end of the season, one thing stands out ... those teams with a franchise quarterback are in the playoffs. You can have a franchise quarterback without a supporting cast who doesn't get in, i.e. Carson Palmer, but all teams in the playoffs have one. Here they are with the quarterback and Steel City Jim Rating:

New England: Brady A+
Baltimore: Flacco A (Couldn't crack Pitt's lineup, transferred to Delaware, and the rest is history.)
Pittsburgh: Roethlisberger A
Indianapolis P. Manning A+
Kansas City: Cassel A- (Here's that Belichick again, drafting Matt Leinart's college backup.)
Philadelphia Vick A
Atlanta: Ryan A
Chicago: Culter A-
St. Louis: Bradford B+ and coming
New Orleans: Brees A+

If you don't think franchise quarterbacks are key, just ask Ken Whisenhunt of the Cardinals.

By the way, the Lions and Browns have awakened from their long slumber, and each, with their respective franchise quarterbacks improving by the day, will make noise in 2011.

** They are playing an Ice Bowl hockey game at Heinz Field on Saturday. They actually construct an ice rink on the field and two major rivals, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Washington Capitals will square off. It's quite a spectacle that started in 2003 in Edmonton, but became a New Year's Day staple beginning with the 2008 game in Buffalo. Seats prices start at something like $145. StubHub has them for something like $450. And scalpers are getting north of $1,000! To me, that's a lot of money to spend to sit outside in January in Pittsburgh to see 1/60th of a hockey season that really doesn't start until the playoffs anyway. I'm glad to see that some people are crazy enough to pay those prices. It affords me, the armchair fan, the opportunity to see the game for nothing in the warmth of my house while the others are paying the bloated salaries that the players command and get.

** I was going to give baseball a break this week, but then The New York Times' Sunday magazine was devoted to important people who had died in 2010. One was George Steinbrenner. Now, I don't mean to demean the deceased, but this was the guy who stood at the door and refused to allow real revenue sharing of the TV take among all the teams. For me, it helped to ruin baseball, which caused my usual ending of "baseball sucks." It does, in large part thanks to George.

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Pittsburgh Steelers Defense Loses Its Edge Without Troy Polamalu

  • Monday, December 20, 2010 1:19 PM
  • Written By: Jim Reich

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It was a sobering day in the Burgh. The Steelers lost. They gave up a TD on the opening kickoff and suffered an unspeakable safety. That is nine points right there. With five points behind and one timeout Ben led them down the field at the very end. They had two plays from about the 10-yard line with time running out. Twice Ben threw into the end zone. Twice receivers came up empty ... thus, the loss.

One shouldn't say this. But when a team like the Steelers are missing Troy Polamalu and Heath Miller, these are not merely names or numbers. These guys are game breakers. Spaeth, Miller's replacement, is a good tight end. But he dropped some crucial passes that Miller surely would have tucked in. Polamalu makes the whole defense better. Having played some doubles tennis over the years, I find that when I have a superior partner, I can take some risks knowing that my partner will back me up. I think the demeanor of the Steeler defense plays with more recklessness and gusto knowing he is in there. When he's not there, it's just not the same.

Oh well, it's a game of attrition, and the Steelers are lucky that they have the record they have and will play out the last two games against Carolina and Cleveland. I'm not saying that these games will be easy. Yes, I am saying they will be easy. These two wins will assure a playoff berth, and maybe, just maybe, Miller and Polamalu will be back along with Aaron Smith. Yes, Smith just may be able to play in the playoffs.

I saw the Ravens had a tough game, but they pulled it out against a very strong Saints team. I also saw the end of the Eagles-Giants game. It might have decided Coughlin's fate in New York.

** Some of you have been talking to me about Cliff Lee going back to the Phillies. For once a player left a $150 million contract on the table to accept a measly $120 million. Does anyone know the difference between $120 million and $150 million? Be that as it may, he made his decision based on his gut instinct about where he would rather play rather than on the almighty dollar. I would guess that his agent probably had a heart attack over this as I really think that agents, looking out for their cut, almost always gide their charges towards the bigger dough.

But Lee prevailed this time and with him the Phillies will have an awesome starting pitching staff. The Yankees are now stuck with an aging shortstop who will make megabucks and no obviously stellar pitcher from free agency. Ain't it a shame? The Yankees, with an aging, fat, overpaid team might just not make it to the playoffs in 2011. On the other hand, the Bosox spent a fortune on their two acquisitions, which means that baseball still sucks, but just a little less this week because the mighty Yankees struck out with Cliff Lee.

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Pittsburgh Steelers Answer Bell, Ring Up Oakland Raiders

  • Monday, November 22, 2010 1:29 PM
  • Written By: Jim Reich

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No matter how one sliced it, Sunday's Steeler game, Week 11, was pivotal for this season. Coming off an embarrassing loss to the New England Patriots, still suffering injuries to quite a few key players, but sporting a 6-3 record, and remembering last year when, with a 6-2 record, they hit a five-game losing streak against so-so teams, the question was, "Could they bounce back against one of the teams, the Oakland Raiders, who defeated them at home during the five-game losing spell last year?" And one must also point out that the Raiders are currently leading their division and are an improving football team, certainly superior to last year's version. So, either the Steelers beat the Raiders and keep their quest alive for a playoff spot, or chalk up the season and plan for the 2011 draft.

The Steelers won the toss and elected to take the ball. A la last week, they went three and out and punted. The Raiders sliced and diced their way down the field and settled for a field goal. Oh boy! Here we go again! But little did we know that those three points would be the last the Raiders would score. Meanwhile the Steelers racked up a commanding 21-3 lead at halftime and went on to crush the Raiders 35-3.

What made the differences? For one thing, Jason Campbell is no Tom Brady. Campbell was so ineffective that they turned the quarterbacking over to Bruce Gradkowski, a Pittsburgh native who killed them last year, in the third quarter. But it wasn't going to happen Sunday. The Raiders' defense doesn't seem to believe in the blitz, either. So, Ben had quite a bit of time to find receivers, and on several occasions, saw daylight up the middle and even made a touchdown himself when not picking up first downs. He easily found receivers, and even the rookies, Brown and Sanders made nice catches.

Throw in some decent runs by Mendenhall and Moore, and you get the point that the offense was clicking on all cylinders. The defense wasn't so bad, either. Farrior had a big day as did Harrison. Polamalu came back from what seems to be a swoon over the past few games. He was all over the place and made a key interception.

But what a game it was for penalties. The Steelers broke an old record for infractions. It seemed like they were being flagged on every play. The Raiders reminded everyone of the Raiders of old. They were clawing and fighting the whole way. Richard Seymour was thrown out of the game for slugging Ben in front of a referee. The Raiders surely missed him, but the Steelers didn't. He's a force.

-- The Jets just pulled one out, didn't they? And the Colts-Pats went down to the wire with Manning all set to score to win the game with only seconds left. The only problem is that he threw a pick that iced the game for the Pats. Is Brett Favre through or what? Is Marvin Lewis finished as the Bengals' head coach? He just can't get them going. The Bears shut out the Dolphins? The Dolphins need a quarterback. And the Browns lost to Jacksonville? That shouldn't have happened.

-- Pitt won another Big East game versus South Florida. To say it was ugly is an understatement. But the Panthers are still atop the Big East. They will face a huge challenge on Friday when they play West Virginia. The Pitt basketball team won a tournament in New York. Maybe they are pretty good after all.

-- In closing, I see where the Yankees are going to give Derek Jeter $45 million for the next three years. The fact that they can throw $45 million to a guy who has definitely seen better days shows how flush they are with dough. If that doesn't convince you, then I don't know what will that baseball sucks.

Win In Miami Is Bittersweet For Steelers

  • Monday, October 25, 2010 11:49 AM
  • Written By: Jim Reich

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Sunday's win in Miami was bittersweet. Yes, the Steelers prevailed. It was ugly, but they squeaked it out with a one-point victory.

The game started with two consecutive Steeler turnovers that resulted in Miami field goals. The only good part of this was that the Steelers held Miami to those 3-pointers instead of giving up touchdowns. Touchdowns at that point would have put the Steelers in a huge hole.

The Steelers then made some good plays. Emmanuel Sanders returned kickoffs in the 40-yard range, something unheard of in Steeler Land in many a moon. (Does anyone remember Rod Woodson?) Ben Roethlisberger got some rhythm going in the passing game. His connections with Hines Ward were beautiful and his touchdown pass to Mike Wallace was magnificent.

But the running game, a big part of the Steelers' early season success, was almost totally lacking. From Miami's perspective, they moved the ball well. Chad Henne was completing passes, and their total yards was at least equal to the Steelers. So, you can say they came to play and they were quite physical.

The game came down to one play. Behind by two points, and less than two minutes left in the game, Roethlisberger led the Steelers to a third-and-goal at the Miami 3-yard line. Trying desperately to score a touchdown, Ben called his own number and ran over right tackle. He appeared to break the plane of the goal line. However, the ball popped out.

My initial reaction was "Fine, he broke the plane of the goal before the ball came out." But instant replay showed that the ball actually was fumbled before reaching the goal line. The ball squirted forward and there was a scrum in the end zone. From what I was able to determine, the Dolphins recovered the ball. But the ruling was that the refs couldn't determine who had recovered. Therefore, the ball still belonged to the Steelers, who kicked a field goal on fourth down to take a 23-22 lead. That's how it stood.

The Dolphins coach Tony Sparano went ballistic, as I would have had I been in his shoes. But the Steelers came away with the win, tainted as it was.

The sore point about the game is that defensive lineman Aaron Smith suffered what appears to be a tear of a bicep in his left arm. Smith is irreplaceable. When he is not in there, the Steelers cannot seem to stop other teams. It's apparent that Smith's weakness is his upper arm. This is the third time he has injured this area of his body, and it appears to be a season-ender. So, all is not joyful this evening in Mudville.

-- Every week brings more surprises in the NFL. How about Cleveland upsetting New Orleans? Kansas City keeps winning. Oakland was tremendous. Baltimore had a murderous time with lowly Buffalo, only prevailing in overtime. Washington looks like it is improving under Shanahan. The Broncos better change coaches. San Diego keeps shooting itself in the foot. Seattle played well.

-- Have to say a couple of things about baseball. The Rangers are in the World Series. Nolan Ryan gets all the ink about being the head of the Rangers, but there's a young man from Pittsburgh who runs the operations. His name is Chuck Greenberg. His mother, Barbara Friedland Greenberg, known to all as Biff, was a high school classmate of mine. She couldn't be any nicer. She married a man named David Greenberg, also a terrific guy. So, while I haven't met Chuck yet, he can't help but be a terrific individual, and my hat is off to him. If we could only keep the Lucchinos, Cubans, and Greenbergs in the "Burgh where they belong.

One last thing ... the overpaid, super rich Yankees lost to the Rangers. Since the Yankees will now go to their respective homes and watch the World Series on TV, at least for this session I cannot bring myself say that baseball sucks.

Gearing Up For Big Ben's Return

  • Monday, October 11, 2010 3:44 PM
  • Written By: Jim Reich

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So, what does a fan do on a Sunday when his team is in the bye week? This one went on a charity house tour in the Shadyside section of Pittsburgh. Certain homes are chosen to be on the tour that are interesting to visit. Most are 100-plus-year-old houses that have been gutted and rejuvenated. One was the mansion of a Mr. McCook, an attorney at the turn of the last century, who represented Henry Clay Frick. He was very instrumental in putting Frick and Carnegie together to form US Steel Corporation, a giant company that was a prime mover in the 20th century. This house is being turned into a bed and breakfast. It will be ready for occupancy sometime in January.

Between houses, I was able to listen to the radio. I caught the broadcast of the Giants-Texans game. But early on it was obvious that the Giants had this game in hand. Yesterday, again, there were games that surprised me. The Buccaneers beat the Bengals. What has happened to the Bengals? The Lions romped over the Rams. Even Stefan Logan returned a kickoff for a TD. He couldn't accomplished that with the Steelers in two years of returning kicks. Sam Bradford is supposed to be great. But he couldn't seem to do it against the lowly Lions yesterday.

The Chiefs pretty much showed yesterday what people have known all along. Their first three wins were fluky. Peyton destroyed their myth. Can you believe that the Redskins upset the Packers? The Packers are good. How did that happen? The Cardinals beat the Super Bowl champs without a recognizable quarterback. The Titans showed up the Cowboys again. How long will Jones put up with Wade Phillips? Finally, the Eagles prevailed over what most people think is a pretty good San Francisco team. But the latter can't seem to put it together. Not yet, at least.

So, with all the results from yesterday, you still bet on NFL games? You do? You must be goofy.

The Steelers resume play next week hosting the Browns. The Steelers should prevail. But remember the Browns upset the Steelers in Pittsburgh last December. It was ugly. That little critter, Cribbs, delights in running kicks back against the Steelers. Ben will be back. Everyone in Steeler Nation has been anxiously anticipating his return. We'll see how rusty he is. The biggest concern here at the moment is who will be designated as the No. 2 quarterback, Batch or Leftwich. That may be a problem for some people, including the coaching staff. But it is beyond my pay grade and I am not wasting an ounce of worry over it. I guess the easiest way out is to say that Leftwich is still recovering from his knee injury and insert Batch into the slot. But that's it for me.

It's obvious that the cream of the AFC North is the Ravens. They have it all together. Flacco, who seemed suspect in the first couple of games, has settled down and is very effective. The Ravens' defense, as always, is spectacular. So, the Ravens are the team to beat, and it will be difficult to do it.

In the meantime, the Pitt football team, which enjoyed a pre-season ranking of 15th in the nation, fell once again on Saturday. This time to Notre Dame. The fans around here are beginning to scream for Dave Wannstedt's scalp.

One of the Post-Gazette's pundits, Ron Cook, scorched Wannstedt in his Sunday column. He says he's a good recruiter and a nice guy, but he can't coach on game day. Some of his decisions were pathetic, and he's paying for them. One was an abortive fake punt. It's a shame. Wannstedt is a likeable guy, as stated above, but he's in his sixth year at the helm of Pitt football, and the team is dangerously close to not even getting a bowl bid. Maybe if you can't coach on the sidelines with two NFL teams, you can't do much better, if at all, at the college level.

Sad to see that the Yankees swept the Twins in the first divisional series. Baseball sucks.

Steelers Exceed Expectations Without Big Ben

  • Monday, October 4, 2010 2:22 PM
  • Written By: Jim Reich

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The first four games of the season are now history. What do we know?

1. While it would be more pleasant to write this following a win, the Steelers ended up the four-game Roethlisberger suspension 3-1. If anybody would have predicted this record at the beginning of the season, we would have summoned the truck to take him/her to the looney bin. But it is a reality.

2. There will be no quarterback controversy in Pittsburgh this morning. Fans and players alike will welcome back the newly contrite, humble Ben Roethlisberger as he returns to the practice facilities this morning.

Considering that the Steelers went with a quarterback, Charlie Batch, who was the fourth guy on the depth chart at the end of camp and, most felt, was slated to be cut altogether, they didn't do too badly at all in the first four games. Batch, the brittle 35-year-old was long on savvy and short on physicality. But he shined in Tampa Bay last week, having a career day. But he sputtered Sunday against a much stronger Ravens defense. Despite his shortcomings, Batch put the Steelers in a position to win. Reed missed two field goals and they were winning by four points with 2 minutes and 20 seconds left in regulations. But the defense failed to stop the Ravens from scoring a touchdown with about 23 seconds left that iced the game, 17-14.

Now, with Roethlisberger coming back in two weeks to lead the Steelers against the rejuvenated Browns, who edged out the Bengals, there is a glimmer of hope in the old steel town despite this bitter defeat. In fact, the loss to the Ravens just might be a blessing in disguise. If the Steeler players have the same sour taste in their mouths as their multitude of fans have, they will barrel into the Cleveland game in two weeks.

This leads me to say that some people feel that a Super Bowl victor loses some of its drive the following season. But the team(s) that loses has a motive to get back and win. All indications are that the Steelers were stunned when they failed to make the playoffs last year. Could this have been the spur that got them off to a 3-1 start in 2010 despite having secondary quarterbacks in these four games?

I think there is another factor in their excellent start in 2010. Thanks to some insights by Rev. Creager, it's obvious that not everybody in the Steeler locker room has been in love with Mr. Roethlisberger. People have a tendency to act the same toward people no matter who or where they are. If Ben was a boor toward waitresses and bartenders around town, as has been amply reported, you can bet that he wasn't the most loveable guy in the locker room either.

Hines Ward and James Harrison have made some disparaging remarks about Ben over the past several seasons. And, you might have noted that his teammates took Ben's captaincy away from him for 2010. So, it is quite possible that the guys got together, particularly the defense, and decided to take the first four games into their own hands. They succeeded pretty well. In so doing, they told Mr. Roethlisberger that while they would much rather play with him than without him, they CAN win without him. So, the message is, "Welcome back, Ben, but we're looking for more humility and comeradeship from you in the future." From all indications, Ben got this message from the league, the Rooneys and his teammates. He has been conducting himself in a more positive manner since the suspension. Now, we will see how this manifests itself for the rest of the year.

Looking over the NFL, I think one can observe that if the powers that be are looking for parity, I think they have achieved it in 2010. No one team seems to be able to dominate, at least so far. It's a work in progress.

Now, that we have a bye week in football, the NHL season starts. With our new arena, hope is high for the Penguins.

In Pittsburgh, we have kissed the 2010 baseball season goodbye, with good riddance, and it looks like the manager, John Russell, will be let go. One will never know how good a manager Russell is because even John McGraw of yore couldn't have coaxed very many wins out of this rag tag group. But my guess is that the Pirates' brass saw what Buck Showalter did with the Orioles and think that maybe, just maybe, a guy like him can shake them up.

But will they pay a proven manager what he would demand? I don't know but Ken Macha is available, and he's had some success and he's a local product. Would he be crazy enough to do it? Stay tuned. Yes, the Yankees are in the playoffs. Baseball sucks.

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Impressions From Steeler Camp

  • Monday, August 9, 2010 3:31 PM
  • Written By: Jim Reich

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Well, fans, football is in the air. It still may be stifling hot and terribly humid, but the boys, both college and pro, are in camp and preparing (and sweating) for the upcoming season. I visited Steeler camp last week and was treated to a variety of things, including the two-minute drill. It's the fifth year in which five friends and I make the trek to Latrobe and thoroughly enjoy ourselves.

With the start of the Steeler season just weeks away, here is ...

WHAT WE KNOW:
1. The Steelers fired the old special teams coach and hired a new one. This was no surprise after disastrous special teams play in 2009 in which, among other embarrassments, they led the league by allowing four touchdowns on kick returns.

2. With an obvious demise of the running game and the failure to protect the passer in 2009, they fired the old offensive line coach and hired a new one, a guy named Kugler. Kugler is a more smash-mouth in his approach. One of the goals is to run and protect better, but also to ...

3. ... improve the short-yardage running game both near the goal line and in the open field. The Steelers failed to punch the ball into the end zone too many times last year and had to settle for field goals. Beyond that, and very importantly, they failed on numerous occasions to attain a first down and keep a drive alive when, with less than five minutes left in the game and leading on the scoreboard, they couldn't pick up a yard or two on the ground. This led to turning the ball over and allowing the opposition to score winning points.

4. They brought back two former stalwarts on defense, Larry Foote and Bryant McFadden. These guys know the system and are expected to contribute immediately. They also have Polamalu and Smith back from injuries. The loss of these two really hurt the defense last year.

5. Roethlisberger will have a maximum suspension of six games. This could be reduced to four games if he turns his attitude around.

6. Santonio Holmes is gone. He was a tremendous contributor to this team on the field (off the field was another story). The Steelers brought in former 49ers receiver Arnaz Battle, got back Randle El, and drafted two speedsters, Sanders and Brown. They hope that at least one of the above can begin to fill Holmes' shoes. But that it is stretch considering how effective Homes had been over the past four or five years. Ward, the real go-to guy, is in his 13th year in the league and is obviously getting a little long in the tooth.

7. We know that the Ravenzzz have put together a veritable all-star team. They think this is their year. Many of the pundits around the country fully agree with them. Many are ceding the division to them. Another scary team is the Bengals who won every AFC North game last year. So, these are two teams that seem to be superior to the Steelers. Even the Browns have new life, and while they may not quite challenge for the division in 2010, given the competition, they are awakening from their long slumber and will be heard from, even in 2010.

WHAT WE DON'T KNOW
1. We don't know how effective the new special teams and offensive line coaches will be in achieving their assignments. Improvements in these two areas will represent a sea change over last year.

2. We don't know if Byron Leftwich or Dennis Dixon can fill in effectively during Ben's suspension. If they cannot, their season may well be over after the first four games, assuming that is the extent of the suspension.

3. We really don't know how long Ben's suspension will be. Roger Goodell stated that with "good behavior", Ben's absence could be limited to four games. But Ben, to everyone's surprise, seems to have made a 180-degree turn. He has turned into "Mr. Congeniality", smiling at the cameras and visiting hospitals, etc. When Goodell was at Steeler camp last week, he intimated that he was very impressed with Ben's new attitude. This sparked speculation that maybe Goodell would even reduce the suspension to maybe two games. But that is strictly speculation and we won't know anything for certain until about Labor Day.

4. Another unknown factor is the Tomlin effect. Many consider Tomlin to be a top notch coach. This season is arguably the most challenging of his young career. Much of the success or failure in 2010 will be laid at his doorstep.

-- JIM REICH
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Offers For Big Ben? Steelers Should At Least Investigate

  • Wednesday, April 14, 2010 1:52 PM
  • Written By: Jim Reich

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As you are well aware, I usually do not write two days in a row. But my juices are flowing, and I want to get another thought off my chest.

Last night I heard on TV that the Rams have offered the Steelers two first-round draft choices for Ben Roethlisberger, one in 2010 and the other in 2011. No, I haven't made this up nor did I dream it. I actually heard it.

Assuming the above is true, if I were in charge of the Steelers I would first check other teams who might possibly offer a better deal. But if no other teams came through, I would trade Ben in a heartbeat for the two No. 1s.

I am convinced that Ben is not only an embarrassment to the Steeler organization but also to the so-called Steeler nation. One endorser of Roethlisberger beef jerky has withdrawn his support. (What an apt name for the product and Ben, "jerky".) Beyond the Steeler brass and fans, I am becoming aware that Ben is a cancer in the Steelers locker room. Last year when he was sidelined with a supposed concussion, no less a player than Hines Ward publicly questioned the veracity of the injury.

Now we are hearing rumblings about how Ben is treated specially by the coaches and management. It isn't going down too well. It is particularly a problem with the African-American players who see a double standard. I am even wondering if the large number of sacks that Ben suffered last year wasn't some kind of subplot in this whole matter. Anyway, Ben is only as good as the people who block for him or run for him or catch his passes. If he has lost the confidence and respect of his teammates, his value has slipped precipitously. Therefore, it's time for Ben and the Steelers to part ways. As far as the money invested in him thus far, the old business school adage applies, it's a sunk cost. Get over it and go your separate ways.

Now, for the future. My thinking is that they should give that ball to Dennis Dixon in 2010. Give him a whole season to see what he can do. In the meantime, with the two No. 1 draft choices, pick up a much-needed center and cornerback. In about the third or fourth round, draft a quarterback like Pike or the kid from Central Michigan and see what either one of these guys can do in a pro setting. If one of these work out, the Steelers can concentrate on other positions in 2011. But if they still need a top pick quarterback in 2011, they can just about choose the best and start with him.

To me it's a win-win situation. With Ben and Santonio gone, you get rid of two major cancers in the locker room. You also have multiple high-level opportunities to restock. And, you send a message to one and all that as a team you won't tolerate self-destructive behavior on or off the field.

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Big Ben, Holmes Sagas Leave Steelers Crippled

  • Tuesday, April 13, 2010 7:01 PM
  • Written By: Jim Reich

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In the spring of 1963, I found myself at Ft. Sam Houston in San Antonio, Texas, completing my six-month military obligation. There was a guy in the unit who was huge, probably 6-foot-3 and about 250 pounds. He was quite a physical specimen, but he was always doing stupid things. I recall thinking that he was a 22-year-old with a 14-year-old mind. One night he went berserk and put a fist through a barracks wall. They summoned the MPs. The first twosome couldn't budge him. So, they sent for two other guys, each of whom was larger than the subject. I wasn't in that barracks, but I was told that these two literally picked him up by his elbows and escorted him out of the building and into custody. The next morning I saw him sitting forlornly on a prison bus. I never saw him again.

Somehow, Ben Roethlisberger reminds of this overgrown, but desperately immature guy at Ft. Sam Houston. Certainly, he is a talented football player, and when he puts on a Steeler uniform we Steeler fans root like crazy for him. But he has a couple of Achilles' heels off the field that is hurtful to himself and the team. As the DA in Georgia said, "Grow up, Ben." He couldn't have said it better. But from the motorcycle incident to the civil suit in Lake Tahoe and now the sexual assault allegation in Georgia, it's quite obvious that he has a lot of problems. One of which is that he doesn't seem to listen to solid advice from peers, coaches and friends. I understand that Art Rooney II, the president of the Steelers is "furious" with him. My guess is that if the league doesn't suspend him for some games, the Steelers will. And, if the slightest behavioral glitch occurs in the future, someone will be able to pick up Big Ben mighty cheaply.

Trying not to sound like a broken record, but Santonio Holmes is another superb athlete with a scattered mind. Shortly after the Steelers drafted him in 2006 everybody knew that he had fathered three kids, two in Florida and one in Ohio. This should have been a clue to his persona to those who were responsible for the 2006 draft. But I suppose they thought that with an NFL contract he would settle down and become a force in the NFL. As a fan I was willing to give him a pass (no pun intended) for past indiscretions. And I have to say that he did become a force in the league. But the off-field leopard never changed his spots, and with all that coin now in his pocket, one could argue that it got worse. What he did outside the locker room was pretty bad, but he wasn't at all respected in the locker room either. He was considered to be a "bad teammate." So, the Steelers did what they had to do and got rid of him. Now it is coming to light that this was in the plans all along. That's why they brought in two wide receivers, Arnaz Battle and Antwaan Randle El. Some people think they practically gave him away for a fifth-round draft pick. But the truth is that they were about to release him outright when the Jets offered "something." Goodbye, Santonio, and I hope things work out for you. But, given all the distraction possibilities in New York which dwarf Pittsburgh's, can you imagine what he'll encounter in New York?

Now the Steelers have to regroup. They will keep Ben. You just don't part ways with a franchise quarterback in which you have so much invested. But Ben will have an enormous task to regain the confidence of his teammates who are well aware of his frailties. He will also have to endure at least a one-game suspension and possibly more. In the meantime, Tomlin will have to operate with a crippled team, both mentally and physically (Holmes will be hard to replace on the field). They also have to adjust their draft plans ... must they draft a wide receiver or a quarterback? Neither were probably in their plans in their early planning.

The good thing about the Steelers is that they have what is arguably one of the best organizations in football. It may take some time and some more moves, but most Steeler fans are confident that they will come out ahead.

We live in interesting times in Steeler history.

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Pens In Playoffs, Ben In Trouble -- Again

  • Monday, March 29, 2010 2:23 PM
  • Written By: Jim Reich

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I'm back in the Burgh after a couple of months in the sunny, but very cool south. Being home gives me a much closer feel for the Pittsburgh sports scene, and some things have become clearer, or muddier, depending on your perspective.

In Pittsburgh, it's always football season. Well, almost. The Penguins clinched a playoff spot this week. But that was forgone. Sometimes, a baseball team might make a good showing in spring training, only to fall apart when the opening bell rings. But the Pirates have the worst spring training record in the National League and their play only indicates that it will be a long summer. Even the pitchers the Pirates were relying on to make a decent showing have been shelled of late. And, it's spring training, when the pitchers are supposed to be ahead of the batters.

Just when I thought I had a good handle on how the Steeler brass thinks, they turned the tables on me. In the past, they have been quite inactive in the free agency market. At most, they pick up a couple of guys late in the process at a cheap price to fill a gap here and there. But they had a different plan this year. For one thing, they realized that they had to shore up a woefully inadequate special teams situation. Last year teams returned kicks for more yardage that I can count. And that Cribbs shredded them for at least three touchdowns.

So, they went out and got a couple of special teams demons. With the new offensive line coach from Buffalo, they were able to identify and sign an offensive lineman who played at Buffalo. Then, they signed a wide receiver named Battles, probably because they have finally given up on Limus Sweed. But then they turned around and brought back Randle El who is also a wide receiver. Bye-bye, Limus. Finally, they brought back Larry Foote, a linebacker, who left last year for Detroit. One year there was enough to cure him. He rushed back to the waiting arms of Tomlin and company. My thinking is that all these signings allows them to focus on glaring needs at cornerback, defensive line, offensive line and linebackers in the draft. Not a bad plan.

But now the Roethlisberger episode rears its ugly head. I was pretty convinced that Ben's incident in Las Vegas was a matter of exaggeration. I know that women fall over athletes, and I chalked up that

matter to an overzealous woman who felt abandoned. In fact, evidence led me to confirm that. But now the second such situation in less than a year has me scratching my head about this guy. What has been reported hereabouts is that Ben went to a bar in rural Georgia with an entourage of buddies and proceeded to do some strong drinking. He then lured a young woman into a bathroom, locked the door and had three of his buddies guard the door. What occurred in the bathroom is anybody's guess, and the girl did have an alcohol content in her blood of over .2. So, she wasn't exactly an innocent bystander in all this herself. But what does it say about a 6-5, 250-pound football player, worth in excess of $100 million, locking himself in a bar bathroom with a 20-year old drunk female college student with three goons keeping watch on the outside?

So, now Ben doesn't report to OTAs this week at the Steeler training facility. This isn't a big deal because all they do is run around and lift weights anyway. And, it's voluntary. But all of a sudden we are hearing that while the Steelers, having signed Charlie Batch as a third QB, and grooming Dennis Dixon as the second QB, are now looking hard at some quarterback prospects in the draft. One is from Central Michigan, one from Ole Miss and one from Cincinnati. Maybe, just maybe, Ben won't be here in 2010. He could be suspended. He could be in jail. And it just could be that the Steelers, despite the vast amount of money they have invested in him, simply don't want him around anymore.

My guess is that with all the foregoing, Ben will trot out on opening day as the Steeler quarterback. As a football quarterback and a Steeler I will be rooting for him. But I'm not planning to have dinner with him anytime soon, and I'm surely not going to fix him up with a respectable young woman either.

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Boldin Deal Is Bad News In Pittsburgh

  • Saturday, March 6, 2010 1:28 PM
  • Written By: Jim Reich

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Talk about waking up to a nightmare ... I awoke this morning to hear that the Ravenzzz acquired Anquan Boldin and a fifth-round draft choice from Arizona for picks in the third and fourth rounds. This is not much to give for an established, star, physical wide receiver. The Steelers did something like this in about 1996 when they got Bettis. It set them up for a decade. This, coupled with the signing of Dante Stallworth earlier in the week, and combined with the ever present and ridiculous Steeler-killer, Todd Heap, and the Ravenzzz have a receiving corps second to none in the NFL.

To make matters worse, Joe Flacco is coming into his own, as if he hasn't been there already, and in Ray Rice, the Ravenzzz have one of the premier runners in the NFL. And, finally, to seal the deal, the Ravenzzz have't lost a thing in their vaunted defense, led by the ageless Ray Lewis. So, is it a stretch on March 6 to concede the AFC North to the Ravenzzz? I don't think so. And, I think it's appropriate to rename the Ravenzzz the Baltimore All-Stars.

Now, what did the Steelers do during the first days of free agency to help themselves? For one, they failed to re-sign Ryan Clark, arguably the best defensive back on the team. Now, they will probably have to rely on some untested two-year players back there. What a great prospect. To add insult to injury, Roethlisberger once again has been accused of sexual assault. This time it is in Georgia. Last year the accusation came from Nevada. You gotta say one thing ... he gets around! Oh, and you ask, whom did the Steelers sign this week to improve the team. The answer: Nobody.

-- I also think the Jets helped themselves by signing Antonio Cromartie. He will play cornerback opposite Darrelle Revis. That's a pretty powerful twosome.

-- Boy, the Bears really loosened he purse strings this week signing Julius Peppers, Chester Taylor and Brandon Manumaleuna. This is really uncharacteristic of the Bears. It's like they took a page from Daniel Snyder's book. Hopefully for the Bears, all these huge signings will net them more victories in 2010 than the four the Redskins earned in 2009.

-- We'll find out how good a head coach Ken Whisenhunt is now. As you know, he was the odds-on favorite to take over the Steelers when Cowher resigned. But when Tomlin blew the Steeler brass off their chairs in his interview, Whisenhunt signed with the Cardinals. He also lucked out with having Kurt Warner and the Cardinals went to the playoffs in Whis' first two years. Now, with Warner and Boldin gone, we'll see what kind of magic he can pull off.

Concerns Linger For Steeler Despite Huge Win Over Pack

  • Monday, December 21, 2009 12:42 PM
  • Written By: Jim Reich

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What a game! But I don't know whether to laugh or cry this morning. But more about this later.

There I was, ensconced in my favorite chair with the snow all around and watching the game, which took its usual course of the past six. The Steelers held as much as a 10-point lead, and then saw it slip away. In the fourth quarter the opposing team, in this case, the Packers, were able to go ahead by six points with but 2:03 to go. They kicked off to the Steelers who fumbled the kickoff and had to start the drive on their own 19-yard line.

So, I am not that excited. Where are they going with 2:03 left and on their own 19? Put it into the books as just another fourth-quarter meltdown. But then there was Ben filling the air with passes (the Steelers had long abandoned the running game). He completed a third-and-15 to Miller to keep a drive alive, and another to Holmes for a big chuck of yardage. The Steelers were aided and abetted by some key Packer penalties.

Then, with 13 seconds left and on the Packer 18-yard line, he danced around and finally threw an incompletion, but it took 10 seconds off the clock. Had he completed this pass, which was short of the end zone, the game would have ended because time would have run out. But the incomplete pass gave him one more chance ... and the ball had to be in the end zone. This time he threw a bullet to the left corner of the end zone where Mike Wallace had drawn one-on-one coverage, and wella, Wallace cradled the ball with both feet inbounds while falling out of bounds. Touchdown! Tie score. It was only left for the extra point which was successful. Final score, 37-36. (This is the only 37-36 final score in NFL history.)

I happened to be on the phone with grandson Alex during the final drive. When Wallace secured the ball for the winning TD, Alex keenly observed that it was just like Holmes' TD catch in the Super Bowl albeit on the opposite side of the field. He was right on.

So, what do we know about the Steelers and this game?

1. The Steelers, despite losing five in a row, maintain a winning attitude. Rumors that Tomlin had lost this team were highly exaggerated.

2. The offensive line needs much improvement.

3. The Steeler secondary is a mess. Teams know that they can complete 20-30 yard passes with impunity against the Steelers ... and more often than not, can tack on yardage after the catch as the Steelers fume and fuss and fall all over themselves trying in vain to bring the receiver down.

4. Ben is the real deal, which he proves time and time again. He has guts, almost to the point of putting himself in real physical jeopardy. But that's the way he is and he's not about to change. He also set a Steeler record for passing for 503 yards in this game.

5. The Steelers found a real gem in Mike Wallace. He should gain more and more confidence as his career progresses and will present a real 1-2 threat with Holmes. The Steelers haven't had a tandem like this since the Swann-Stallworth days.

6. Tomlin isn't afraid to take chances. He tried an abortive on-side kick that backfired and led to the go-ahead Packers' TD. But he said he didn't have faith that his guys could stop a Packer long drive (honest and realistic), and if the onside kick failed and the Packers score, Ben would have enough time to bring the Steelers back. Whether or not he had that all worked out in his mind, I don't know. But that's the way it came to pass, figuratively and literally.

OK, why do I want to cry about this game? Well, with the record of 7-7, it's a true longshot to think that the Steelers will make the playoffs. They still have two games left with very formidable teams, Baltimore and Miami.

So, having little chance for the playoffs, and thinking as a plotter and not a coach, I could have easily seen a loss yesterday that would have resulted in a higher draft position in April. The Steelers sorely need to reload in many areas, but particularly in the defensive secondary and offensive line, to say nothing of special teams. Drafting higher can not only give you better quality players in the first round, but in each ensuing round. Hey, the Steelers would not have drafted Ben at 11th overall in 2004 if it hadn't been for a poor season. So, while part of me exalted in yesterday's victory, the other part said that, except for the intangibles, it was worthless, and possibly detrimental to the future.

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Reversal Of Fortune Continues For Steelers

  • Friday, December 11, 2009 1:52 PM
  • Written By: Jim Reich

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When the Steeler schedule for the 2008 season came out, Steeler fans were stunned at its enormity. They cried foul when they saw the likes of Indianapolis, San Diego, Dallas, New York Giants and Jacksonville. Media pundits conceded that the Steelers would face the toughest schedule of any team in memory in 2008. Almost everyone agreed and that an 8-8 season was about all one could possibly hope for. So, what happened? The Steelers strapped on their helmets and went 12-4.

When the 2009 NFL schedule came out, everyone noticed the obvious softies on it and ordered playoff tickets. How could they lose to the likes of Kansas City, Oakland and Cleveland in the second half of the season? In their division it was conceded that Baltimore would be tough, but they would easily knock off Cincinnati and Cleveland twice. A yawner of a season was in the offing.

Well, so much for punditry. After 13 games the Steelers are 6-7 and playoff hopes vanished in the Cleveland freeze Thursday night. The puzzlement continues. To say the Steelers looked lousy Thursday night is a gross understatement. Cleveland's defense ranked 32nd out of 32 teams. Yet the Steelers couldn't muster a touchdown. Ben was sacked eight times. Eight times! And the running game was absent. Cleveland was signing people off the street to make up the balance of its team, and these sandlotters handled the reigning Super Bowl champs like they were a junior high second string.

There's not much to do now but ponder what will happen in the offseason and correct what went wrong. You might recall that after the Denver win (that was a long time ago), the Steelers were 6-2. Did Tomlin lose this team? After all those statements that he would be playing Burnett and Lewis at corner in Cleveland, Burnett played sparingly and Lewis didn't even dress. Is he inconsistent? Are Tomlin's assistant coaches letting him down? The special teams didn't allow a runback of a punt or kickoff for a touchdown. But Cribbs did run a punt back 55 yards, and but for a last-second tackle, would have scored.

Where's the vaunted defense? What about an offense that allows eight sacks? Is the problem more attitudinal than physical or the other way around? I can't evaluate these questions ... it's way above my pay grade. But Messrs. Tomlin and Colbert (Head of Football Operations) will have to concern themselves with them starting immediately.

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