Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Woodley making a push for more playing time...?

That's the word according to Pro Football Weekly (PFW). Meanwhile, PFW still has the Steelers at #4 in its NFL Power Ranking (behind the Pats, Colts and Cowboys). And for the second consecutive week, Ben Roethlisberger and Willie Parker are sixth and seventh, respectively, on the magazine's MVP Meter. Regrettably, no Steelers' rookie even warrants a mention on PFW's Rookie Meter.

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Sunday, October 28, 2007

"Last Team Standing"

For those Steelers (and Eagles) fans interested in early NFL history, the book "Last Team Standing" (Da Capo), by Matthew Algeo, is now available in paperback. At The Steelyard we're not much interested in World War II-era football, but some fans certainly are, so we thought we'd throw it out there. According to the cover jacket the theme of the book is "How the Pittsburgh Steelers & Philadelphia Eagles--'The Steagles'--saved pro football during World War II." How's that for wartime heroism?

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Saturday, October 27, 2007

History Demonstrates That Patriots' Fans Should Root For a Loss

Next week the undefeated New England Patriots will play the undefeated Indianapolis Colts in one of the most anticipated regular season games in history. A lot of NFL fans and media act as if the Patriots are a shoo-in to win the Super Bowl, and some even believe Tom Brady & Co. will go undefeated.

While the Patriots are certainly the best team in football right now, it’s worth reminding folks that the best team doesn’t always reach the Super Bowl, much less win it.

One need look no further than recent history: Last year the Colts won the Super Bowl but the Chargers were clearly the class of the league. In 2005 the Colts were tops, yet the Steelers knocked them out in the divisional round en route to a Super Bowl title. In 2004, Pittsburgh posted a 15-1 regular season mark, but the Patriots walked away with the Super Bowl title.

This is a “tradition,” if you will, that goes back a long way. Many Steelers’ fans regard their 1976 team as the best in franchise history. That year Pittsburgh rolled into the playoffs on a nine-game winning streak in which the defense posted six shutouts and allowed an average of three--that’s right, three!--points per game. Yet, a third consecutive Super Bowl appearance proved to be elusive.

Of course, some will argue that this Patriots’ offense is so good that it makes New England unstoppable. Not so fast. Recall that the 1998 Minnesota Vikings (led by then-rookie Randy Moss) hold the record for most points (556) scored in a season, yet that team bowed out of the playoffs in its first playoff game. And it goes without saying that a major injury to Brady or several of New England’s key receivers could dramatically compromise the team’s effectiveness on offense.

While it might seem counterintuitive, New England’s chances of winning a Super Bowl would be greatly enhanced if it lost a game … and better sooner rather than later. (Preferably the loss shouldn't come against Indy, however, as that could have implications for home field advantage). Teams that are undefeated as late as December have to contend with additional scrutiny and media attention, neither of which is conducive to winning a championship. Plus, a loss would remind New England that it is not invincible.

Let’s assume for a second that the Patriots are 16-0 heading into the playoffs. What happens if New England falls behind early in its first playoff game? Will the team play “tight” knowing that an undefeated season could all be for naught? Will playoff opponents play like they have nothing to lose, since everyone will be expecting the Pats to romp?

That’s why the best thing that could happen to the Patriots is a loss. Recall that the 1984 San Francisco 49ers finished 18-1 en route to a Super Bowl title. One might argue that the key game was a Week 7 home loss to the Steelers, which took the undefeated season option off the table and enabled a much smoother ride to the Super Bowl.

The Patriots’ players can’t play to lose, but that shouldn’t stop New England fans from rooting for a single defeat.

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Friday, October 26, 2007

Bengals: What are the Chances...?

Last week Pittsburgh played in a city where it rarely wins a game. This week Pittsburgh visits a venue where it has been dominant. The Steelers have won six consecutive games in Cincinnati, the last four of those wins authored by Ben Roethlisberger, who is currently 8-0 in his home state of Ohio. Beyond recent history, there are other reasons to like the Steelers over the Bengals. Most importantly, the Bengals' defense has been injury-riddled (especially at linebacker), and as a result Cincy has been allowing points in bunches. Meanwhile, the Bengals' offense hasn't been quite the same without WR Chris Henry , who is currently serving a league-imposed eight-game suspension. Henry will be back in time for the re-match in Pittsburgh later this year, but we should be thankful he won't be between the white lines this Sunday, as the Steelers' D often struggles to contain him.

Having said all that, Steelers' fans still have at least two good reasons to be worried about this game. First, even without Henry the Bengals still have the kind of offensive firepower that is capable of gouging the Steelers' pass defense. An elite veteran QB like Carson Palmer can do a lot of damage with the receivers he has at his disposal, and with the exception of New England and Indianapolis no passing offense presents more matchup problems for the Steelers' "D" than that of the Bengals. Second, Pittsburgh will need to match the Bengals' intensity, as Cincy will be treating this contest as its biggest game of the season. If Pittsburgh is a little 'flat' (as was the case at Arizona and at Denver), the outcome is likely to be unfavorable.

Ultimately, The Steelyard believes the Steelers will emerge victorious, but we don't feel strongly about it. We give the Steelers a 55 percent chance of defeating the Bengals.

"What are the Chances ...?" is 5-1 this season and 18-4 all-time.

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Thursday, October 25, 2007

Mid-week Steelers' news from Pro Football Weekly

This week Pro Football Weekly (PFW) has the Steelers listed at #4 in its Week Eight Power Rankings (behind the Patriots, Colts and Cowboys). Meanwhile, QB Ben Roethlisberger and RB Willie Parker are #6 and #7, respectively, on the magazine's "MVP meter." No Steelers' rookies warrant a mention on the "Rookie of the Year meter."

Click here to read PFW's "The Way We Hear It" (AFC North); this week's Steelers' blurb features KR Allen Rossum.

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Click for Cans (reprise)

Campbell's is again sponsoring its annual "Click for Cans" contest, in which the NFL team with the most clicks recorded on its behalf (by midnight on 12.15.07) earns a donation of Chunky Soup to the team's food bank of choice. As of this moment, the Steelers are fourth among the 32 NFL teams, just a hair behind the third-place Oakland Raiders. Click here to record your vote for the Steelers ... and to play the strangely compelling "Kick for Clicks" interactive field-goal kicking game. By the way, the Green Bay Packers and Indianapolis Colts are in first and second place, respectively.

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Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Steelers Fans Should Know Better

All this week Steelers' fans and the Pittsburgh media have been criticizing Mike Tomlin and the rest of the coaching staff for utilizing a pass-first game plan in the 31-28 loss to the Denver Broncos. These Steelers' devotees claim that the team suddenly developed an identity crisis out in Colorado, and would have fared better if it had made a more concerted effort to run the ball against the Broncos' statistically-deficient run defense. I'm not so sure.

First, Pittsburgh did not change its identity this past Sunday. The Steelers' offense did what is does best nowadays, which is to move the ball through the air. While the unenlightened national media continues to portray the Steelers as a run-first team, Steelers' fans should know better. All season long the Steelers have been a pass-first team (and the same was true during the Super Bowl year). More often than not, the pass-oriented approach works; Pittsburgh builds a lead through the air and then switches to a run-oriented attack in the second half (thereby padding its rushing yardage totals). This approach didn't work particularly well versus Denver, but I didn't hear anyone complaining after Pittsburgh's opening drive, which was virtually run-free and ended in a touchdown. The fact is, Denver played with more passion and that's why it won the game. Let's not blame the Steelers' game plan.

If fans want something to worry about perhaps they should question why the team has failed to match its opponents' intensity in two straight road games. It's no surprise the team failed to match Arizona's intensity; for all intents and purposes that game was the Cardinals' Super Bowl. But the loss to Denver was a mild surprise, hence the first "loss" of the season for "What are the Chances...?" (5-1, 18-4 all-time).

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Saturday, October 20, 2007

Broncos: What are the Chances...?

This week the Steelers play the 2-3 Denver Broncos, a team that has struggled to stop the run, a potentially huge problem when matching up against Pittsburgh. The Broncos are also hampered by injuries to key players at a time when the Steelers are getting healthier on both sides of the ball. It sounds like the formula for a Pittsburgh victory, but The Steelyard's enthusiam for this prediction is tempered somewhat by the Steelers' history in Denver (4-8-1 all-time) and the success the Broncos have typically experienced following their bye week (10-2 at home). The Broncos also feature starting CB's who, if healthy, can limit the effectiveness of virtually any wide receiver tandem. It should be interesting to see if the Steelers use a more conservative-than-normal game plan, hoping to limit momentum-changing mistakes in the passing game and take advantage of Denver's porous run defense. Mike Tomlin has said Big Ben will be attacking Denver's CB's; Roethlisberger says he won't be doing much passing this week.

Bottom line: Denver possesses a significant home field advantage, but Pittsburgh is a more talented and healthier team and should emerge victorious unless it commits an inordinate number of penalties and turnovers. The Steelyard estimates' the Steelers' chance of success at 70 percent.

"What are the Chances...?" is 5-0 this season and 18-3 all-time.

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Sunday, October 14, 2007

Roethlisberger's composure praised

In the latest edition of Pro Football Weekly (PFW), an unnamed personnel man from another club praises Ben Roethlisberger's composure, noting that the 25-year-old QB looks as good this year as he did during Pittsburgh's Super Bowl season two years ago. Can't argue that, right? To read all that latest PFW "whispers" concerning the AFC North click here.

On a different note, today is the sixth anniversary of former New York Jets safety Damien Robinson's arrest for possession of an assault rifle in the parking lot of Giants Stadium prior to a game against the Miami Dolphins.

Click here to read more about that bizarre incident.


Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Big Ben moves up on MVP meter

This week Steelers' QB Ben Roethlisberger moves up to the #3 position on Pro Football Weekly's MVP meter, trailing only Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. Click here to see the current list.

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Scout's eye on the Steelers

Yesterday, the online edition of Pro Football Weekly (PFW) featured the Steelers in its "Scout's Eye" column ("Dominant 'D': Pittsburgh defense shines without stars"), an article that is right on target in its analysis (except for the notion that the Steelers will not be tested again until Week 14 versus the New England Patriots). That last part seems like wishful thinking to me. Click here to read the PFW piece.

Meanwhile, today is also the anniversary of the "still chopping wood" ax incident, which occured in the Jacksonville Jaguars' locker room four years ago today. Click here to read about the circumstances surrounding one of the strangest football injuries of all-time.

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Sunday, October 07, 2007

Pittsburgh 21, Seattle 0

The Steelers won in impressive fashion today, shutting out the Seahawks in spite of playing without the services of defenders Troy Polamalu (ribs), Casey Hampton (hamstring), and Bryant McFadden (ankle), not to mention starting wide receivers Hines Ward (knee) and Santonio Holmes (hamstring).

"What are the Chances ...?" is now 5-0 on the season and 18-3 all-time.

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Friday, October 05, 2007

Seahawks: What are the Chances...?

The Seahawks promise to be a tough matchup for the Steelers, especially since many of Pittsburgh’s impact players are sidelined (or likely to be sidelined) with injuries. It remains to be seen whether an injury-depleted Steelers' defense can keep the Seahawks' offense in check. It’s also a strong possibility that the Steelers’ offensive line will have trouble protecting Ben Roethlisberger, as Seattle has demonstrated an impressive pass rush this season. Another notable concern is that in a close game Mike Tomlin’s game management skills might become a factor. While Tomlin is an exceptionally promising head coach, some of his game decisions (or non-decisions) have been questionable. All indications are that sooner or later (probably sooner), Tomlin is going to make a mistake that costs the Steelers a game.

But even though there is good reason to like the Seahawks, one can’t forget that the Steelers still have Roethlisberger playing quarterback, and Big Ben figures to play considerably better than he did during Super Bowl XL, when his nerves--understandably--got the better of him. It’s also worth noting that historically, the home team has dominated this series, with the Steelers owning a 5-2 edge in games played in Pittsburgh.

The Steelyard wouldn’t be surprised if Sunday’s game is vaguely reminiscent of the ugly Super Bowl game, as many of the core players remain from those teams. And while we’re not entirely comfortable with this prediction, we think the Steelers will somehow find a way to prevail. That’s why we’re giving the Steelers a 55 percent chance of beating the 'Hawks.

* “What are the Chances…?” is 4-0 this season and 17-3 all-time.

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Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Click for Cans 2007

Campbell's is again sponsoring its annual "Click for Cans" contest, in which the NFL team with the most clicks recorded on its behalf (by midnight on 12.15.07) earns a donation of Chunky Soup to the team's food bank of choice. As of this moment, the Steelers are fifth among the 32 NFL teams, behind Indianapolis, Jacksonville, Arizona and last year's winner, the Green Bay Packers. Click here to record your vote for the Steelers.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Advance word on forthcoming Rooney book

Last week The Steelyard received an advance reading copy of Dan Rooney’s forthcoming book, “My 75 Years With the Pittsburgh Steelers and the NFL” (Da Capo), scheduled to hit stores on November 5. Longtime Steelers’ fans probably won’t glean a whole lot of new information, although there are certainly some interesting bits about past drafts and personnel changes. For instance, concerning the Bill Cowher-Tom Donahoe spat, Rooney writes, “Bill didn’t want Donahoe in the coaches’ meetings because he thought Tom was a spy. Tom thought Bill was finished as an NFL head coach.” Pretty strong words from both sides, don’t you think?

But to me the most interesting item concerns the 2004 draft. Rooney writes that with Eli Manning and Philip Rivers off the board early in the first round “our people seem to have focused on Shawn Andrews, a big offensive tackle from Arkansas as our likely number-one pick…. But when out turn came, I couldn’t bear the thought of passing on another great quarterback prospect the way we had passed on Dan Marino in 1983, so I steered the conversation around to [Ben] Roethlisberger. After some more talk, we came to a consensus and picked Roethlisberger.”

All I can say is, Way to go, Dan! It would have been foolish to take a right tackle over Big Ben, especially since the Steelers were badly in need of a long-term solution at the QB position. I’ve always believed that when a team has a chance to select a potential franchise quarterback it has to seize the opportunity--particularly a team like the Steelers, which rarely has a chance to select in the top 10 of the draft. In my opinion, the Steelers have been too quick to pass on quarterbacks over the years. For instance, back in 2000 the Steelers had the opportunity to trade the 8th overall pick (used to take Plaxico Burress) for two of the Jets’ first-round picks (one of which could have been used on Chad Pennington). Selecting Pennington would have been a worthwhile risk back in the Kordell Stewart era.

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