Saturday, September 30, 2006

Steelers fans wrong to boo offense, Roethlisberger

In today's Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reporter Scott Brown floats the idea that QB Ben Roethlisberger may be suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder. Regardless, it was inconsiderate for Steelers fans to boo the offense's performance in the fourth quarter of last Sunday's game versus the Cincinnati Bengals. Yes, the offense is struggling and Roethlisberger has been making decidedly uncharacteristic mistakes, but under the circumstances it seems unfair to expect him to be the same quarterback he was nine or ten months ago. Big Ben looked like his old self in the pre-season, but it appears the apendectomy and subsequent illness broke the camel's back, so to speak. Steelers fans may need to be patient with Roethlisberger, and even if things continue to go poorly in the short-term (i.e., this season), the team's extended-term future is bright.

In addition to Roethlisberger's difficulties the Steelers have three significant issues at the present time:
1. Lack of RB depth beyond Willie Parker.
2. Lack of a capable punt returner.
3. Minimal contributions from this year's draft class: At least three Steelers' rookies (WR Santonio Holmes, FS Anthony Smith, RT Willie Colon) have promising futures, but all three are projects and none seems likely to make a major contribution this season. That doesn't bode well for the Steelers' playoff prospects; last year TE Heath Miller and CB Bryant McFadden played pivotal roles in Pittsburgh's Super Bowl run.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Bengals 28, Steelers 20

Today the Steelers fell to 1-2, losing to the undefeated Cincinnati Begals 28-20. Once again, QB Ben Roethlisberger did not look like, well, Ben Roethlisberger. For the first time in his career, Roethlisberger threw an interception inside the red zone; it came at the beginning of the second quarter, when the Steelers were threatening to take a commanding 14-0 lead.

But the most glaring gaffe came courtesy of CB Ricardo Colclough, who fumbled a fourth-quarter punt that Tony Stewart recovered at the Steelers' 9 yard line. One play later the Bengals scored a touchdown and took a 21-17 lead.

As any Steelers fan knows, Colclough has been a disaster waiting to happen, muffing several punts during the team's first two games. I'm surprised that Bill Cowher continued to allow Colclough to return punts; rookie WR Santonio Holmes may not be an effective returner, but he has shown the ability to reliably catch the ball.

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Bengals v. Steelers (what are the chances?)

In spite of the fact that the Steelers are favored in tomorrow's game, The Steelyard estimates that the Steelers have a 45 percent chance of defeating the Bengals tomorrow. With the exception of the Indianapolis Colts, no team in the NFL presents more problems for the Steelers' defense than the Bengals.

In fact, the Steelyard is willing to go on record as saying that the Bengals and Colts are the two teams most likely to be representing the AFC in this season's Super Bowl, with the Jaguars and Steelers the next most-likely candidates. The Steelyard views the Chargers, Ravens, and Patriots as three teams with an outside shot at the Super Bowl.

Steelers favored v. Bengals

At the Steelyard we are somewhat surprised that the Steelers are 2.5 point favorites versus the Bengals. Sure, Cincinnati has a handful of key injuries, but until Ben Roethlisberger demonstrates that he's healthy enough to keep up with Carson Palmer's production, it seems unlikely that Pittsburgh will be able to keep pace with the Bengals' high-powered offense. Plus, in recent years the visiting team has won most of the games in this series.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Porter barks; his dogs bite

Joey's bark is worse than his bite.

Too bad you can't say that for his dogs. According to Pennsylvania police, Porter's two dog's — a mastiff and a pit bull — attacked and killed a neighbor's miniature horse.

While Porter is likely to be fined, his dogs are being shipped off to California for safekeeping — no doubt to escape the long arm of the law.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Jaguars 9, Steelers 0

In the lowest-scoring game in Monday Night Football history the Jaguars defeated the Steelers, 9-0. The tone of the loss reminds me a little bit of the game at Indianapolis last November; I don't think Ben Roethlisberger was healthy enough to play in that game either. Recall that the Steelers followed up that November 2005 defeat at Indy with a loss at home against Cincinnati on December 4.

Pittsburgh's opponent next week? Cincinnati (at Heinz Field).

Sunday, September 17, 2006

Steelers v. Jaguars (what are the chances?)

The Steelyard estimates the Steelers have a 45 percent chance of defeating Jacksonville if Charlie Batch is the starting quarterback; 55 percent if Ben Roethlisberger plays the game.

Some relevant statistics to consider: The Steelers are 18-7 on Monday night under Bill Cowher (72% winning percentage). But the Jaguars have a 6-2 (75%) record on Monday Night Football, and a 2-0 Monday night record against Pittsburgh. The Steelers are 0-3 in September games at Jacksonville.

Friday, September 08, 2006

Steelers add Davenport; waive Cobbs

Pittsburgh added an experienced running back to its roster today, signing veteran Najeh Davenport, 27, to a one-year contract. Davenport (6-1, 247), a five-year veteran, spent his first four NFL seasons with the Green Bay Packers. Davenport missed most of last season after breaking his ankle on Oct. 9, 2005 against the New Orleans Saints.

Pittsburgh made room on its roster for Davenport by releasing rookie RB Patrick Cobbs.

The Lip Lock

What was that sideline smooch following Joey Porter's amazing interception return for a touchdown?

Was Joey just getting in touch with his sensitive side? Just showing the love? Insiders have it that it was "payback" on a bet between Coach Cowher and Joey, who has been getting some good-hearted razzing in the locker room thanks to his status as Sports Illustrated's latest cover boy.

It certainly was reminiscent of the time when Cowher kissed former QB Kordell Stewart on the cheek during a dramatic comeback win at Baltimore in 1997.

Thursday, September 07, 2006

Steelers 28, Dolphins 17

Tonight the Steelers survived a stiff challenge from the Miami Dolphins, sealing a 28-17 victory with two late interceptions -- one by FS Troy Polamalu and the other by OLB Joey Porter. Backup QB Charlie Batch played efficiently throughout, throwing three touchdown passes -- one each to Nate Washington, Hines Ward and Heath Miller.

The Bus on Today

The Bus was looking happy and healthy during this morning's Today show. He told weatherman Al Roker that it was the first time he's been back to Heinz Field since the Super Bowl win. When asked if the decision to retire was difficult, he said, "no," his body was "mush." Nervous and looking forward to his new life as an analyst, the Bus said he is not looking forward to the moment when his "guys" run onto the field without him.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

What are the Steelers' chances?

Today we introduce a new feature to The Steelyard. Instead of issuing a prediction prior to each game (as many fan sites/blogs do), each week we will estimate Pittsburgh's chances of winning its upcoming game (on a percentage basis). Essentially, we will be estimating the likelihood of a Steelers victory, as opposed to issuing an arbitrary prediction of the final score. As the season unfolds we may also provide analysis of the upcoming game/opponent and examine matchups that might be exploited.

For week one we'll take a minimalistic approach, however. Factoring in the absence of starting QB Ben Roethlisberger and a slight Heinz Field advantage we give the Steelers a 55 percent chance of defeating the Miami Dolphins.

Feel free to comment on this week's estimate, and be sure to return next week for our analysis of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Monday, September 04, 2006

QB St. Pierre signed to practice squad

Pittsburgh has signed four-year veteran QB Brian St. Pierre -- a fifth-round draft choice in 2003 -- to its practice squad. If at any point the Steelers are forced to turn to either St. Pierre or rookie Omar Jacobs it would be extremely difficult for the team to win games. In four seasons St. Pierre has played in one regular season contest.

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Taylor signs contract extension

The Steelers have signed starting LCB Ike Taylor to a new five-year deal. The contract is reportedly worth $22.5 million, including a $6.4 million signing bonus, the fifth-highest signing bonus in team history.

Roethlisberger undergoes emergency surgery; will miss opener

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger will miss Thursday's opener against the Miami Dolphins and is listed as week-to-week after undergoing an emergency laparoscopic appendectomy this morning. Charlie Batch -- the only other quarterback on the Steelers' 53-man roster -- will start the game. Look for Pittsburgh to sign a veteran QB off the street, (and possibly activate rookie fifth-round draft choice Omar Jacobs from the practice squad).

Practice Squad additions

Pittsburgh signed eight players to its practice squad this afternoon, giving the team a total of nine practice squad players. The signees are TE Jon Dekker, DE Orien Harris, RB Cedric Humes, QB Omar Jacobs, FB John Kuhn, CB Anthony Madison, DE Shaun Nua and OT Brandon Torrey. WR Marvin Allen, who is part of the NFL's International Player Development Program, will remain on the practice squad for the entire 2006 season.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Cuts, Trade

Pittsburgh released 20 players from its roster today, including its third- and fourth-string quarterbacks. The released players include P Mike Barr, QB Shane Boyd, OL Tim Brown, TE Charles Davis, TE Jon Dekker, DE Orien Harris, RB Cedric Humes, QB Omar Jacobs, FB Branden Joe, FB John Kuhn, S Mike Lorello, CB Anthony Madison, WR Lee Mays, DE Shaun Nua, DT Scott Paxson, LB Richard Seigler, LB Ron Stanley, OT Brandon Torrey, DE Lee Vickers and WR Walter Young.

The team also announced that OT Barrett Brooks was placed on the Reserve/Injured list after injuring his quadriceps in the team's preseason finale.

Meanwhile, the Steelers executed a trade with an unlikely trading partner, sending a conditional 2007 draft choice to the New England Patriots in exchange for rookie free-agent RB Patrick Cobbs (North Texas).