Sunday, August 31, 2008

Steelers Schedule Breakdown

So we've been hearing it all offseason. The Steelers have the hardest schedule in the league. The Browns are poised to take this division. The Steelers have too many questions on the offensive line. Well, here's our take on the upcoming season along with some predictions.

Week 1:
Ian's Prediction: The Steelers have a knack for coming out of the gate strong. They haven't lost a season opener since 2002 (at NE) and haven't lost a home opener since the same season (Oak). The Texans have a strong defensive front and will present a good challenge for the Steelers O-Line. However, the Steelers defense will be the deciding factor in this game, as they will more or less shut down Houston's offense. Steelers 24-10.

John's Prediction: This game, arguably the easiest on the Steelers' schedule, is worrying me more and more. The Texans have no running game, but the Steelers usually shut down the run anyway, so that facet of our opponent is not as important as some may think. Fortunately, due to injuries, Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson, the Texans' two biggest weapons, could not develop much chemistry last season. Houston has a great run defense, but horrible pass coverage, plain and simple, and the Steelers can beat you either way. Steelers 24-6.

Week 2:

Ian's Prediction: Our first away game and first prime time game of the season. If there was a knock against this team last year, it was that they didn't show up big in away games. The big question here is whether or not Derek Anderson will be back from his concussion yet. Cleveland opens against Dallas, which means an 0-2 start for the media darlings as the Steelers pull out a close one (if Anderson plays) and blow them out if Quinn plays. Steelers 35-24.

John's Prediction: This match-up is still one of the best rivalries in football, although you wouldn't be able to tell by looking at the Steelers' domination of late. The Browns will be dying to put the Steelers' streak to an end and prove last year was not a fluke. The Browns know they should have won in Pittsburgh last year, this game is in Cleveland, and the Steelers have lost the second game of the season 4 of the last 6 years. Browns 20 - 10

Week 3:
Ian's Prediction: Philly will move the ball against us, but the Steelers offense continues their hot streak, proving once again that we are Steee the best team in Pennsylvania. Steelers 28-13.

John's Prediction: I've long been a Donovan McNabb detractor, and that hasn't changed. What has changed is my new-found respect for Brian Westbrook, who I now consider one of the elite backs in the NFL. Defensively, the Eagles are the exact opposite of Houston - a below average run defense with a (on paper) stellar secondary. The Steelers' run game finally gets on track. Steelers 28-7

Week 4:
Ian's Prediction: Last season, we embarrassed the Ravens in Prime Time. Look for a similar result this year. No one knows who the Ravens quarterback will be by this time in the season, but look for a big game from Harrison and Woodley. Roethlisberger has a Pro Bowl worthy performance. Steelers 42-3.

John's Prediction: No proven QB + An injury-prone RB + No real WR corps + An inconsistent OL + An overrated, aging defense = Steelers 27-0

Week 5:
Ian's Prediction: We haven't beaten Jacksonville since 2004. However, all of the games have been close. I really want to say that the Steelers finally get over the hump this year, but the brutal early schedule catches up with them, especially on the short week after the Monday night game. Jacksonville wins another close one. Jaguars 24-20.

John's Prediction: "Remember the..." Not Alamo, but the end of last season. The Jaguars came into Pittsburgh not once, but twice, in four weeks, and defeated the Steelers via smash-mouth football (aka Steelers football). With that motivation in mind and the bye-week ahead, the Steelers will leave everything on the field. Steelers 23-13

Week 6: Bye Week!

Week 7:

Ian's Prediction: Coming off the bye week, we're going to be fresh and ready to go. Ben has never lost a game in the state of Ohio, and it isn't happening this time either. Ike shuts down Ocho Cinco once again. Woodley gives Carson Palmer a very ugly day. Steelers 27-9.

John's Prediction: First off, don't get me started on Chad Johnson- yes, his name is Johnson- one of the most overrated receivers in the league. Second, while Rudi Johnson is definitely not what he used to be, the Bengals are taking a huge risk by going with Kenny Watson and Chris Perry as their primary backs. Finally, while I like the young studs on the Bengals' D (Rivers, Joseph, Hall), they simply are not enough, especially in the run game. Closer than you think. Steelers 17-10

Week 8:
Ian's Prediction: The defending champs come to town. No-Catch-ico gets booed as Ike has another big game. Willie Parker has a huge game and the Steelers win again at home. Steelers 24-20.

John's Prediction: The Steelers will have trouble with Brandon Jacobs in the first half, but figure out how to contain him in the second half. Big Ben has his best game to date, in what amounts to the biggest offensive "shootout" of the year for the Steelers. Steelers 34-24

Week 9:
Ian's Prediction: Monday night in Washington the night before the Election. Get ready for a flurry of Obama and McCain ads. On the field, the Steelers defense shuts down the Redskins offense. The Steelers offense stalls a little as Jeff Reed is called upon to make some big kicks. Steelers 16-13.

John's Prediction: The run defense problems evident with Jacobs rise up again to a lesser extent against Clinton Portis. Washington's defense shuts down both phases of the Steelers' offense. This one is decided by special teams. Redskins 13-9

Week 10:
Ian's Prediction: The Steelers schedule heats up here as the Colts, Chargers and Bengals come to town. I would love to see the Steelers crush the Colts when they come to town. More than likely, some holes in our secondary will be exposed and the Colts get revenge for the 2005 playoffs. Colts 31-17.

John's Prediction: Does any team in the NFL have better talent on offense at every position than the Colts? Though he is improving, Peyton Manning's biggest weakness is rolling out of the pocket (i.e., mobility). The run defense finally solves its problems, and, if Lamarr Woodley hasn't already made a name for himself by this point, he will have a breakout game, creating havoc for Manning. The Steelers pound the Colts' D with the running game in an important tie-breaker contest. Steelers 28-10

Week 11:
Ian's Prediction: The Steelers have played the Chargers close over the last few seasons. Before their loss in 2006, the Steelers hadn't lost to San Diego since the Game We Shall Not Name. However, San Diego comes to town and does just enough to give the Steelers their second straight home loss. Chargers 27-24.

John's Prediction: After shaking off the early season and injury (from last year) rust, Phillip Rivers and LT come to town firing on all cylinders. The Colts and Chargers present a good chance to see Lawrence Timmons in pass coverage against two of the game's best tight ends. The Steelers will only be able to get one phase of the offense going against a very good defense. Not pretty in a second straight crucial tie-breaker game. Chargers 31-13

Week 12:
Ian's Prediction: After two tough games, the Steelers are beat up and frazzled. Cincy provides the perfect outlet. The Steelers try to blow the game in the waning moments, but the Defense stands tall and brings home the win. Steelers 17-14.

John's Prediction: I look for the "subs" to get a lot of action in this one in order to "rest" the starters for N.E. the following week. Mendenhall, Sweed, Spaeth, Timmons, and McFadden will lead the team in this one, with neither unit missing a beat. Steelers 28-14

Week 13:
Ian's Prediction: The Patriots have a faulty defense. However, our inability to play press coverage against their receivers gives Brady room for a huge passing day. This game is a shootout waiting to happen. The Steelers keep it close, but can't close the deal. Patriots 38-31.

John's Prediction: The Steelers' lack of pressure from the front 3 will rear its head in this one, as one of the more solid O-lines in the game will provide Tom Brady with plenty of time. The Steelers don't play poorly, just not well enough on the road. Patriots 21-20

Week 14:
Ian's Prediction: The Steelers need a huge bounce-back after the loss to New England. However, the secondary holes are still there. The Steelers do a good job against Terrell Owens but get burned by Patrick Crayton and Jason Witten. The game is close, but Nick Folk wins it with a late field goal. Cowboys 30-27.

John's Prediction: This is the time the Steelers have waited for all year - the home stretch. The team has a point to make after crumbling at this point last season. It starts with a very stern test, but at least it comes at home. I have no rhyme or reason for making this pick, but the Steelers somehow get it done for a great bounce-back victory. Steelers 20-13

Week 15:
Ian's Prediction: As bad as Baltimore is going to be, the Steelers haven't won in Baltimore since 2002. The Steelers are beat up after two tough opponents. The Ravens take this one...barely. Ravens 16-10.

John's Prediction: The Steelers hit their groove after the great win against Dallas. I'm sure Ray Lewis, Ed Reed, and Chris McAlister will be injured by now, so this game will be easier than it looks on paper. This is the week the Steelers clinch the division. Steelers 21-6

Week 16:
Ian's Prediction: With a 3-game losing streak, the media is calling for some changes. However, the Steelers step up and shut down Tennessee's running game. Vince Young can't handle the Steelers defense and the offense does just enough to pull out this game and clinch the division. Steelers 10-9.

John's Prediction: The Titans' running game worries me, but with games against similar backs (e.g., Giants and Cowboys) already under their belt, the defense should be fine. Scrambling QB's also scare me, but Vince Young has yet to prove anything with his arm in his short career. The ability to run without the ability to make plays with your arm is basically useless. A defensive, boring game, but the Steelers clinch, at worst, the #3 seed. Steelers 10-7

Week 17:
Ian's Prediction: The Steelers have things wrapped up and the JV team gets to play the last game of the season against the Browns. Much to the home fans' chagrin, Cleveland stomps on us as we head into the playoffs as division champion. Browns 31-13.

John's Prediction: The Steelers still have a shot at the #2 seed with some help, so the starters are in. As if a 1st-round bye wasn't enough motivation, just remember Week 2. Steelers win big, but they remain the #3 seed. Steelers 42-24

Final Record Prediction:

Ian: 9-7
In all honesty, I think the Steelers are good enough to go 12-4, but with the difficulty of the schedule and the lack of depth at some positions, particularly on the offensive line, this could be a struggle-filled season. The Steelers become the first team to win back-to-back AFC North titles.

John: 12-4
A stretch? Probably. But the Steelers have the offense to win shootouts and the defense to prevent them. They do get Dallas, Indy, and S.D. all at home in the second half of the season, meaning weather could benefit the Steelers. I see the boys in black and gold finishing no worse than 10-6 with a division championship at season's end.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

ESPN does something right

For the first time...ever.

Okay, maybe not ever. ESPN's annual Fan Satisfaction ratings are usually worthwhile as well.

But never the less....

Believe it.

ESPN published an article, a mere 2 years after the atrocity that Skip Bayliss wrote saying that Super Bowl XL was going to be the worst Super Bowl ever because there were "no storylines", saying that the Steelers have the best fans in the nation.


Cleveland came in at #3. I'm not sure about that one. In all honesty, they have a top 10 fanbase, and anyone who has been a Cleveland fan for longer than a year I have to give credit to for sticking with a bad team.

New England definitely got a boost from bandwagon-jumpers, as there is no way the New England fanbase is better than the Raiders.

Stuff to expect from us in the near future:

Steelers Defensive preview is in the works. It'll be up this weekend sometime.
Carolina game recap. Should be up sometime Saturday.
Game-by-game Schedule analysis. Sunday.

and on Monday, we start bashing the Texans.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Fox Trot: Steelers Win



The Steelers are 4-0 in coin tosses in the preseason. Harvey Dent can't believe it.

Touchback on the opening kickoff. Arians tries to come out with a typical run-run-pass. However, newly announced starter Justin Hartwig snaps the ball over Ben's head on 3rd down and the ball rolls back inside the 5. Ben falls on it just in time to avoid a turnover. Berger punts it back to around the 50.

John Fox decides his starters don't need to play, so he sends out his second string. LaBrandon Toefield gets 10 yards on 2 carries before Carolina goes to the air. Incomplete pass on first down. Matt Moore hits Travis Taylor for a big gain on second down to get the ball down to the Pittsburgh 22. Toefield carries 2 more times to get the ball to the 20. Carolina pulls a Steelers strategy and plays for 3, throwing a 5-yard pass on 3rd and 8. John Kasay hits a field goal.

3-0 Big Cats.

Willie Reid comes out with a decent return. Parker for 3. False start on Simmons. Carolina commits a penalty, giving us an automatic first down. Parker dashes for 26 yards to get near midfield. Apparently that was enough of The Flash for the night, and Tomlin decides he wants to see Carey Davis run. Davis for 4. Ben tries to go deep for Nasty Nate on his birthday, but the laundry flies. Pass Interference, Steelers ball on the 7. Davis for 1. The Carey Davis says enough with this playing-for-3 crap and plows his way in for the score.


Keyaron Fox (get used to hearing the name) comes up with the tackle on special teams. After a run, Moore goes to the air and hits Dwayne Jarrett for an 8-yard gain then hit a deep pass between the safeties for 21 yards. Carolina looked to be driving again, but two big stops on running plays brought up a crucial third down. Moore tried to look for Jarrett again but B-Mac stepped in the way and was off to the races the other way. Carolina finally pushed him out after a 31-yard return.

With a short field, Tomlin decided to bring in Byron. Mendenhall for 3. The Steelers come out again in their QB-Wide formation with Leftwich split out and running in motion. Mendenhall takes the snap and runs for 8 up the middle. Inside the 30, Leftwich connects on short passes to Davis and Dallas Baker, but can't hook up with Willie Reid on 3rd and 3. Field goal time.


Patrick Bailey, who might end up on the practice squad, was all over the place on special teams tonight. Run for nothing then Moore hits Jarrett for a 20-yard gain as the quarter expires.

Second Quarter

Toefield gets a short gain on first down. Short pass to get to 3rd and 3. Hoke and Keyaron Fox come up with the huge stop on 3rd down to keep Toefield just short. Punt city. Mewelde Moore in for the fair catch.

Mendenhall gets nowhere on first down, prompting Arians to go back to the QB-wide set, where Mendenhall runs for 4. Leftwich dumps one off to Moore who has some wide open field in front of him, runs through a weak arm tackle and finally gets taken out of bounds after a gain of 26. Mendenhall gets caught in the backfield and loses yards on first down. Leftwich takes a shot down the middle, but Dezmond is not his constant this time. On 3rd and long, Byron hooks up with Dallas Baker for a big gain of 33. Former Steeler Ricardo Colclough makes the tackle. Leftwich goes for the home run on the next play and Sweed makes a fantastic catch in the corner of the end zone and gets 1.99999 feet down, but apparently his butt hit out of bounds before his second foot landed in bounds. At least, that's what they said after review. Leftwich got smacked on the play, but he bounced up and continued playing. Mendenhall went nowhere on 2nd down and Leftwich couldn't hook up with Moore on 3rd down, bringing in Jeff Reed for a long kick.

49 yards? No biggie.

Moore hit Jarrett for a 9-yard gain and Carolina got a fresh set of downs on a 3rd and 1 run. Anthony Smith came up with a bone-jarring hit to knock the ball out on a deep pass down the sidelines. After an 8-yard run on 2nd down, Carolina spread the field on 3rd and 2, but Roy Lewis made his 5'10" frame about twice as big as he reached an arm out to deflect the pass. Punt.

Mendenhall for 2. Mendenhall bounces one to the outside, but gets caught (again) carrying the ball too far away from his body and it gets knocked out. Colclough falls on the fumble.

Carolina didn't seem too intent on taking advantage of the turnover, getting themselves into a 3rd and long. They came up just short with a 9-yard pass and elected to go for it on 4th and 1. Hoke and 3rd round pick Bruce Davis combine to make the HUUUUGE stop.

The Steelers go back to Mendenhall twice, but he gets essentially nowhere. Leftwich hits his constant on 3rd down, but Dezmond is well short of the sticks. Ernster makes a terrible kick that goes only 22 yards and out of bounds, giving Carolina good field position.

With 2:10 left on the clock and a short field, Carolina came out firing. Moore tried to go deep but there was no one there. A short run on second down took the clock to the 2 minute warning. On third down, Moore hit Jarrett for 9 and a first down. Moore fumbled the snap on first down, but it got kicked back into the backfield where Moore was able to safely fall on it. On second down, Anthony Smith gets called for illegal hands to the face, giving Carolina an automatic first down. Moore carves up the Steelers defense with passes of 9, 12 and 12 to get down to the Steelers 20. If we ran a Panthers blog, we'd tell you who made the catches. But we don't, so it doesn't matter.

After an incompletion on first down, Moore hit Jarrett for a short gain to bring up 3rd and 5. Moore tried a fade route to the corner of the end zone, but the receiver never had control of the ball (plus his second foot was out of bounds), and replay confirmed the incompletion. Kasay came on to add a field goal.


With 27 seconds left, the Steelers came out trying to drive for more points. I liked the aggressive play-calling here. Leftwich hit Russell with a dump-off that he took up to the 41. Carolina was offsides on the next play, giving us 5 free yards. Sweed was wide open on a pass down the sidelines and Byron threw a great ball that hit him in the hands and he dropped. Leftwich can't hook up with Dallas Baker on 2nd down and the receivers don't know how to line-up for a hail mary, forcing the Steelers to use their last time out. They finally get things set up and run the Hail Mary. Leftwich throws a good ball, though he had Sweed in single coverage on the other side of the field with no safety deep, which might have been a better option than the jump ball...but regardless, the ball gets tipped, and falls just out of Willie Reid's reach.

Third Quarter

Carolina runs the Steelers cliche offense and goes run-run-pass-punt.

The next drive was the Rashard Mendenhall show. Mendenhall carried 9 consecutive times for 4 first downs and 42 yards. He got helped out by a defensive offsides call along the way, but regardless, the coaches had seen enough and let him rest. Gary Russell came in and did nothing. Leftwich couldn't hook up with Sweed on 3rd down and Reed came in for another field goal.

If anyone cares, this was the score of the Steelers first Super Bowl victory in Super Bowl IX against Minnesota.

Moore connected on a short pass and Keyaron Fox pushes Fleming out after 14 yards. Moore looks for Jarrett on the next play, but Fox steps in front and picks the ball off. Carolina looked about ready to fold if we had cashed in on this drive.

Dennis the Menace came in and converted a 3rd and 8 through the air to get us into field goal range. Mendenhall went nowhere on 2 tries, then Sweed came up empty again, forcing another field goal attempt. Reed's leg craps on itself. Florida State and Miami alum have flashbacks. Wide Right.

The Steelers defense responds to the challenge. Woods sacks Moore on first down. Moore can't connect with Jarrett on second down. About this point, I wondered why Fox still had Matt Moore, his 2nd string quarterback, in the game. Right on cue, Anthony Smith blitzes from the safety spot and cracks Moore in the side. Moore walks off the field after laying on his back and getting his leg examined. Punt.

The Steelers are content to run out the 3rd quarter. Russell for nothing. Russell for 7. Russell comes up a yard short on 3rd down.

4th Quarter

With the ball around midfield, Coach elects to go for it. Russell is stopped. Turnover.

With Moore out, 3rd string QB Brett Basanez comes in to handle a short field. After an incomplete pass and a short run, Carolina gets called for a false start, putting them in a 3rd and long and giving us a chance to get out of the jam. But the defense gives up an 18-yard pass play and the drive stays alive. Not to outdo themselves, Carolina commits two penalties on the next third down to put themselves in 3rd and 19. A 12-yard completion doesn't save them, but it puts them in field goal range. Kasay is good.


The Steelers do nothing and have to punt.

Carolina comes back with a 20-yard running play followed by a 13-yard pass. At this point in the game, with around 9 minutes to play, you don't mind them taking a shot at a comeback. However, those 2 first downs would be all they could muster on this drive and go run-run-pass-punt to close it out.

The Gary Russell show is on as he goes for 4, 23 on a great run, 3, and 6 to set up a 3rd and 1 with 5:15 left on the clock. This is the situation in a normal game where you should run it up the middle. Maybe even a QB sneak. Arians decides to call a pitch to the weak side. Russell gets rocked for a loss of 5. Terrible, terrible play call. Punt.

Basanez comes out firing and hooks up for 2 17-yard gains to move the ball down inside the Steelers 30. As the clock nears 2 minutes, Basanez goes for the home run on 2nd and 6 and connects for the touchdown. Tunch and Wolf were livid about this series of events, and for good reason. In all honesty John Fox, your team has made it's way through 3.96 preseason games, and you're going for the home run ball to tie the game with 2 minutes left to play? And to cap it all off, rather than going for 2, as is custom in preseason as not to send the game to overtime, Fox kicks the extra point, tying the game and possibly extending the game.

Lucky for us, Dennis the Menace wasn't having any of the old man's crap. DTM hits Eddie Drummond twice for 5 yards each, moving the chains and keeping the drive alive. With the ball on the 38, DTM takes matters into his own feet and scrambles for 11 and gets out of bounds to stop the clock. Huge. Great play. 1:03 to go, ball on the 49. DTM hits Rucker on the next play for 10 more yards to move to the Carolina 41. DTM hits Allen, our foriegn exchange student from Europe for 12 yards to move the chains once again and more importantly get us into field goal range. Russell comes in to play some power ball and gets 2 carries to get the ball to the 25. Reed comes on and does his Michael Phelps impression. Pure gold.


Players of the Game:
Keyaron Fox (4 tackles, 4 assists, 1 INT)- I love the way this guy is playing, he has been doing good work with special teams too.
Jeff Reed (4/5 FG)- might be assuming the title of #1 clutch kicker in the league.
DTM- 4/4 on the last drive to lead the Steelers to victory.
Anthony Smith- did I just say that? Yes, I did. He's been playing a lot more composed lately and made some big hits to knock some balls loose and made an impact in run defense.

John Fox
Not only did Fox go for the home run pass with 2 minutes to go, he risked extending the game even longer by not trying a 2-point conversion.

On the whole, I think we had a great preseason and I'm very excited about our prospects for the regular season.

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Game Day 4

I'm not sure how possible it is to get pumped up for the fourth preseason game.

The starters will probably only play 1 series to try to avoid injury.

Look to see a lot of Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon tonight.

Mendenhall gets his shot at redemption to keep his hands on the ball.

This weekend, the Steelers have to cut their roster from 76 to 54. This would usually be 53, but they have a player from Italy that's part of the NFL exchange program who will be a designated practice-squad-er, so they don't have to cut him.

There are some big names on the bubble to make the team right now. William Gay has not played well all preseason. Anthony Smith has 1 year left on his rookie contract. Given his issues in training camp the last few years, the Steelers might cut the chord early. Willie Reid and Dallas Baker continue their battle for the #5 receiver spot.

With the signing of Orpheus Roye, Nick Eason, Ryan McBean and Scott Paxon might be on the bubble as well.

7:00 KDKA

This game will get boring just in time for Al Gore to start talking at the Democratic National Convention.

The game time was moved up so that it wouldn't interfere with Obama's speech tonight.

Sadly, Obama did not pick Jerome Bettis as his running mate. The guys over at Obama-Bettis '08 were stunned.

For one last bit of inspiration....

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Team Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers Defense


2007 Record: 10-6

Defensive Preview

Defensive Line


Pressure. While the defense has continued to be very successful over the years, it has done so without consistent pressure applied by the front three. Now, I know getting to the QB is not the primary responsibility of the linemen in a 3-4 scheme, but when nobody can get even the slightest push, it wears on the defense and makes life more difficult than it has to be. Unfortunately, the front office has failed to directly improve the line, and, therefore, the defense goes into 2008 with the same three starting down linemen.

Arguably one of the most important, if not the most crucial, player on the defense is end Aaron Smith. Like every member of the line, Smith does not put up flashy numbers. However, he is the definition of consistency, provides leadership, and, as evidenced last season, is pivotal in stopping the run game. In the four games without Smith after he suffered an arm injury against the Patriots, the Steelers defense allowed 630 yards, or an average of almost 160 yards a game. If you don't believe in the stats, the defense failed the "eye test" as well, looking as bad on the field as they did in the stat book. Smith is now healthy and looking to re-anchor the Steelers' line.

Tackle Casey Hampton has his own health problems. After coming to training camp extremely overweight, Hampton was held out of the first pre-season game. I understand playing nose tackle in the 3-4 is probably the most unglorified position of any defense, but to show up for the start of the season in the manner that Hampton did is inexcusable. Nevertheless, he appears to be in game shape now, but age may be catching up to both Hampton and Smith. While Hampton will always provide very good support in the running game, he is no longer the class of the position, and the Steelers need to decide when the time is right to begin grooming a replacement.

Brett Keisel holds down the fort on the other end. You either love this guy or hate him. I, for one, can't understand why he is a starter, but the Steelers are still enamored with him. Now, if he can post numbers similar to those he put up in '06 (55 tackles, 5.5 sacks), I'll be more than happy, and take back everything I've ever said about him. However, every time I watch him, I get the feeling he's going to get pancaked by the O-line right off the snap. He's not strong, he's not overly athletic, and he's not that fast. I just don't get it, but due to the recent failures of the front office in drafting (at worst) quality depth (e.g., Orien Harris, Ryan McBean), Keisel is stuck as an overpraised, lackluster defensive end.

Speaking of depth, that's pretty horrible as well. Travis Kirschke had his best year as a Steeler in '07 with 26 tackles and 2 sacks, but has been more or less unimpressive since arriving from San Fran in 2004. Actually, I don't see a difference between him and Keisel, the latter just gets more playing time. The Steelers had high hopes for Nick Eason last year, but the former Brownie was ineffective. However, Eason had a great training camp, and played very well during the pre-season. He showed a knack for batting balls down at the line, so look for him to get more snaps on third-down passing situations. The Steelers are also hoping a blast from the past will ignite more productive play out of the backups. Orpheus Roye returns after an eight-year stint with Cleveland, but at this point in his career, I don't know what the team really expects from him (although he did record 88 tackles during his last healthy season in 2005). Looking at Chris Hoke's numbers would give you a very wrong impression of his value. Not only did he save the Steelers' season in 2004 when Hampton got injured, but he is a solid contributor who knows his role, and could also probably start for a good number of teams. If/when Mike Tomlin switches to the 4-3, I expect Hoke to stick around and possibly start for a year or two. Overall, I'm expecting the always solid run-stuffing from this unit, and if they can record ten sacks, the Steelers will be in business.




The strength of the Steelers' D has long been the linebackers, and that fact won't change this season. The team relies on this unit to apply most of the pressure on the quarterback, and they usually do not disappoint. If there is one position that constantly provides consistent play week-after-week and year-after-year, it comes from the middle part of the defense.

This year's unit all starts with pro-bowler James Harrison. Harrison's much anticipated debut as a starter last year was far from a let down, as the once former super-sub burst onto NFL radars with numbers that more than doubled his previous career highs (98 tackles, 8.5 sacks). Harrison is probably the best ball hawk on the team outside of Troy Polamalu, and he shows his athleticism in both run and pass coverage. As an added bonus, Harrison has a good football IQ, rarely being caught out of position. It's just a shame he didn't see the field full-time until last year, as he is already 30 years old. However, this also implies that he has some upside remaining, a very scary concept for opposing offenses.

The middle of the linebacker corps has been shrouded in "debate," but that is not necessarily a bad thing. The Steelers have three players who could start for any team, and the arguments for which two should start and why are numerous. While some people wish otherwise (myself included), James Farrior is entrenched in one spot - at least for this year. The leader of the defense, Farrior has provided the team with more than they could have expected since he arrived from the Jets in 2002. In six years, Farrior has recorded no fewer than 82 tackles and set a career high with 6.5 sacks last season. While he certainly can still start, the 33-year old veteran has definitely lost a step, and with Lawrence Timmons waiting in the wings, I think the coaches should focus on phasing out Farrior (even though he just signed a 5 year extension) rather than phasing out Larry Foote.

Foote, who battled Timmons for the other starting job during the pre-season, had 81 tackles and 3 sacks last year. Those numbers were down from the previous year, but the team also still had Clark Haggans and were introducing rookies Timmons and LaMarr Woodley. While Foote may be somewhat of a liability in pass coverage, he is great in run support and brings valuable experience to the field. While I am all for getting Timmons on the field, I hate seeing the playing time come at Foote's expense, especially when Foote is five years younger than Farrior and has more of a future.

LaMarr "Big Stick" Woodley is an emerging star at the other outside position. Although he had only 14 tackles in limited action during the regular season, he still recorded 4 sacks, and added another pair of QB take downs in the playoff loss to Jacksonville. Arguably the most athletic player on the defense, Woodley has a great motor and a quick burst off the edge. He can hold his own against the run, but his specialty is getting into the backfield and bringing the ball carrier down behind the line of scrimmage. With Haggans gone, the job belongs solely to Woodley, and the Steelers need him to play with a "Big Stick" attitude for the team to reach its potential. Some people are worried about his "lack of production" during the pre-season, but I feel the coaches purposely kept him "under wraps" until the games really count.

Even with the recent loss of Arnold Harrison, the depth at linebacker is still very good, if underrated. OLB Andre Frazier returned last year after two campaigns with the Bengals. He won't see much time on defense, but he is an above average special teams player who can perform when given the opportunity. Rookie 3rd-round pick Bruce Davis is a hybrid linebacker/defensive end. While his name was not that prevalent during the pre-season, I look for the former UCLA sack-master to see time on third down passing situations replacing either Aaron Smith or Brett Keisel. Donovan Woods, an undrafted rookie and one of the last players to make the roster, may be a steal, especially as another special teams performer. He'll see virtually no time with the defense, but if the opportunity ever presents itself, look for Woods to make the most of it. I see Woods as another James Harrison in the future, biding his time and cashing in on his limited chances until he gets a bigger role. He's a great career sleeper to keep an eye on.

The middle backup spots are manned by the ultra-athletic Timmons and newcomer Keyaron Fox. Timmons was limited by injuries last year as a rookie, but has still progressed very well to the point where he is competing for a starting job. His pass coverage skills will help solidify the team's third down defense, a weakness in recent years, and his speed will make it difficult to keep him off the field. Fox was arguably the best player on either side of the ball during the pre-season, providing coaches with even more options. He, along with his other linebacker teammates will be a force on special teams, and, if he continues to play like he has, may even find the field with the defense. In the end, the linebackers will do their normal thing, getting to the quarterback and disrupting plays. If the line can get more of a push, it would make one of the best units in the league that much more dangerous.




When the defense falls upon hard times, the blame is usually directed toward the secondary. However, this blame is most often misappropriated. No defensive backfield in the league can cover opposing offenses without pressure provided from the D-line. As such, due to the team's troubles up front, the secondary has been criticized for its "poor" play. While there certainly are concerns in pass coverage, there are not nearly as many as most people think, and the talent exists for this unit to be one of the NFL's best.

Ike Taylor is one step - or I guess it's set of hands - away from joining the elite corners in the game. Taylor has always been plagued by his poor ability to reel in interceptions. While he may knock many balls away from their intended target, Taylor has yet to show the consistent ability to pick off passes. Coming off an 80 tackle and career high 3 INT season, Taylor focused on improving his glaring weakness during the off-season. If that training produces the intended results, we are looking at the next legitimate shut-down corner in the league.

The other corner spot belongs to Deshea Townsend. Surprisingly, since becoming a starter in 2002, Townsend has never reached sixty tackles. However, despite the popular notion that he has lost a step, the solid veteran recorded 52 tackles (third most in his career) and picked off two passes in 2007. Additionally, although he was held without a sack last season, the crafty corner is usually reliable for a couple of QB drops each year. In the end, however, Townsend should probably be a nickel back, but for the time being, he is a more than adequate starting corner.

Townsend's transition to the nickel, and potentially the dime package, may be further facilitated by two young playmakers yearning for a chance to play. Bryant McFadden is the heir apparent to Townsend. Although injuries and flat-out poor play saw McFadden produce a disappointing third NFL season after a stellar 2006 which saw him record 54 tackles, double his passes defensed, and pick off 3 passes, the former FSU star turned in a good pre-season effort and looks poised to return to his '06 form. On the other side, despite a horrendous pre-season, William Gay still possesses tremendous upside, and will get opportunities to showcase his talent in dime package situations. I'm actually higher on Gay than I am on McFadden, but I expect both to have above average careers in the league. Anthony Madison beat out some stiff competition for the right to be the fifth corner on the roster, a role usually destined solely for special teams play.

Most people will say Troy Polamalu is the most important player on the Steelers' defense. I, however, am not most people. Since the team's great super bowl run in 2005, Polamalu has been constantly riddled by injuries, and that trend continues into the start of 2008. While these injuries have forced him to miss games, I am also hoping they have greatly affected his performance when he has played. Why? During the last two years, I saw a former Defensive Player of the Year candidate devolve into a very poor tackler, and saw his pass coverage (already his weakest attribute) suffer even more. If Polamalu can get healthy and return to his '04 and '05 form, then the Steelers will be able to actually shut down the best offenses in the league, rather than simply contain them. However, at this point, the coaching staff needs to stop preparing their defensive game plan around a player who has been a question mark to play from week-to-week and is, quite frankly, a shell of his former self.

Health is not the only problem affecting the Steelers' "star" safety. In his two seasons with the club, free safety Ryan Clark has missed 13 games, or nearly half. Clark is nothing spectacular compared to others, but he is a steadying influence who knows where he is supposed to be. He might never make any game-changing plays, but he definitely won't lose any games with his play either. His return from a spleen injury is key for the defense.

The backups at safety are inconsistently great. Both Tyrone Carter and Anthony Smith had/have the ability to start for most teams. However, Carter's time might be past, and Smith might be losing his opportunity after last year's "meltdown." Filling in for the injured starters, Carter had his most tackles (56) in four years with the team last year. Unfortunately, at the age of 32, his career is winding down, and his inconsistent nature doesn't do him any favors. Carter's performance varies from game to game, but not necessarily from bad to good. On the contrary, one week Carter will stand out as a solid play maker, and the next, one will not hear his name called all game (this was, to me, even evident during the pre-season).

Anthony Smith, known for his huge hits, took some unwarranted criticisms toward the end of last year. Yes, he made a stupid guarantee against the league's best team. Yes, he played poorly that game. However, Smith did not play that badly. Everything was simply magnified after the New England game. If Smith was in the picture on a big play (for the offense), he immediately took the brunt of the blame, regardless of whose fault it actually was. The end of 2007 shook his confidence, and, at the beginning of the pre-season, it looked like that lack of confidence had carried over '08; but by the end of training camp, it appeared Smith had his swagger back, an important attribute to have not only as an individual, but also for the defense as a whole.


The secondary has the talent to support the rest of the defense whether people's perceptions result in other opinions. The real question should be whether the line is good enough not to drag down the rest of this talented unit. I think the answer is yes, but, in the end, there are other teams with better defenses who have just as potent an offense. The Steelers are a playoff team, and even a super bowl contender, but they are still one or two more athletic defensive players away from returning to glory.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Team Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers Offense

2007 Record: 10-6

Offensive Preview


Ben Roethlisberger put together one of the best seasons a Steelers quarterback has ever had last year. In spite of the fact that the team fell apart towards the end of the year and the offense looked very predictable, I think we can honestly say that Roethlisberger had a better season than anyone could have hoped for, especially after his struggles in 2006. Yes he had a dreadful first quarter in the playoff game against Jacksonville, but he responded with one of the best halves of football I've ever seen from a quarterback. Roethlisberger is the rock of the offense. He deserved the huge contract he got in the offseason. As Ben goes, so goes the rest of the team. He proved last season that he is among the top quarterbacks in the league, worthy of being placed in a category with Brady and Manning. With the weapons in this offense, Ben could be on the verge of having a record-breaking season, bringing him even closer to some of Bradshaw's marks.

If something were to happen to Ben, Byron Leftwich has proven to be a perfectly capable backup. With Homestead Charlie out at least until October, Leftwich will make the team and has proven in the preseason that he can make plays and run the offense. The Steelers released Mike Potts, meaning that Dennis the Menace Dixon will make the team as the #3 quarterback. Dixon showed enough talent and playmaking skill thus far that he'll be a capable #3, who will learn the offense and become a weapon in future years.

Running Backs

In a single moment in April, the Steelers running attack went from one that ranked 3rd in the league last season to a 2-headed monster that could challenge Minnesota and Jacksonville for the top spot. Fast Willie Parker, coupled with the bruising power of Rashard Mendenhall is going to prove formidable for any team to play against. Before breaking his leg in St Louis last season, Parker was on his way to the Pro Bowl and challenging Ladanian Tomlinson and Adrian Peterson for the league's rushing crown. Despite not playing the last game of the season and getting only 1 touch in Week 16, Parker still finished 4th in the league in rushing behind LT, AP and Brian Westbrook.

Mendenhall brings an almost perfect compliment to Parker to the team. He has great hands, which makes him a weapon out of the backfield. He also has good footwork, along the lines of Jerome Bettis, which will enable him to find his way through holes and make those "something out of nothing" runs that have been missing from the Steelers offense. Mendenhall also brings a bruising runner that can wear a team down between the tackles. But he also possesses the vision and extra gear to be able to bounce it to the outside and turn a 2-yard gain into a 15-yarder.

The rest of the Steelers backfield will feature Mewelde Moore, who the Steelers brought in from Minnesota, as a third down back. Moore has shown flashes of Verron Haynes-esque play, being able to take draw plays and short passes and turn them into the 7-yard gains needed on those third-and-medium situations. Gary Russell will likely make the team as a power back, but it is doubtful that he will be used in short-yardage situations once Mendenhall hits his stride. Carey Davis will also see use as a full back, but Bruce Arians has all but eliminated the full back, much to my dismay, from the Steelers offense this season. Billy Latsko, who has the build of Tim Lester and Dan Kreider, has an outside shot at making the team, but may end up on the practice squad. It would be great to keep Latsko around the team so that we have someone who could throw a big block out of a power-I on the goal line.

Wide Receivers

Two years removed from playing a game where Tunch Ilkin said the Steelers took the field with the worst receiving corps in NFL History, the Steelers might have one of the best top-to-bottom units in the AFC. In Tunch's defense, the Steelers top 2 receivers (Ward and Wilson) were out with injuries, leaving an unproven Nate Washington and an injury-hampered rookie Santonio Holmes to carry the team. Coming into this season, Holmes is set to have a break-out season as the deep threat in the Steelers offense. Hines Ward is as solid as ever, and will be the anchor of the offense once again. I haven't gotten my hands on a media guide yet this year, so I'm not sure if there are any receiving records for Hines to break. I know he needs 11 more games to pass John Stallworth for the most games played by a Steelers receiver. Regardless, Ward is an institution at receiver who can be counted upon in the biggest games at the biggest times.

Nate Washington has proven that he can make plays (see: Ravens game last year). However, Nate hasn't always been able to make the clutch catches, especially around the goal line, that a big time receiver like Ward has made. However, Washington provides a different dynamic that Arians has shown he can utilize Washington in his offensive plan. The addition of Limas Sweed, who towers over the other receivers in the unit, will be very helpful for the Steelers once Sweed is able to calm his nerves and not try to play outside himself.

Tight Ends

If the Steelers had an offensive coordinator who would actually throw to the tight end on a consistent basis, rather than just throwing them token passes at the beginning of games, Heath Miller would set receiving records for Steelers Tight Ends that might never be broken. I have no problem saying that Heath Miller is the best tight end to ever play for the Steelers. Yes, he's better than Eric Green. Miller arguably has the second best hands on the team, behind Hines Ward. He catches almost everything thrown his way. So why not throw to him more? That's a mystery to me. Ever since we drafted him, we've been wanting to see more of him, but no matter who the coordinator is, they never seem comfortable throwing to a tight end when the game is on the line. Using Heath more in the offense will add a new dynamic as he will force safeties to stay at home to guard him over the middle, freeing up Ward and Holmes from double-teams. Matt Spaeth is a good second tight end who provides a massive target in the red zone and has proven to be a solid blocker. Hopefully Miller and Spaeth see an increased role in the offense this year, making the Steelers even more dangerous.

Offensive Line

This is where it all begins and ends for this Steelers team. If Justin Hartwig is able to anchor the center spot that Sean Mahan played so poorly at and Chris Kemoeatu can come in and blow people up the same way A-Fan did, then this team is on it's way to great things. On the other hand, if the line falters, then there will be no cut-back lanes for the running backs and Ben will be under constant heat in the pocket. Marvel Smith and Willie Colon seem to be set in stone as the starting tackles, even though Max Starks is being paid a huge salary. Starks played excellent in reserve for Smith last season, and his attitude is phenomenal going into this season, saying he'll do whatever he can to help the team. Colon has shown some things at right tackle and his toughness and tenacity are definitely key for an offensive lineman. However, he lacks the reach that Starks possesses and has a tendency to get beat to the outside by quick pass rushers. At guard Kendall Simmons has remained a steady force on the line, surviving a challenge last year from Chris Kemoeatu to keep his starting job. This year, Simmons and Kemoeatu must couple with newcomer Justin Hartwig to recreate the magic of Alan Faneca and Jeff Hartings on the interior of the line. In the era of Faneca and Hartings, not only was there minimal pressure on the quarterback up the middle, but running backs also had cut-back lanes to spring through to turn short gains into longer pickups.

Trai Essex was moved to guard in the preseason where he has done some stellar work with the second team. If any of the interior linemen go down to injury, look to see Essex's name in the mix for a starting spot. Sean Mahan stays with the team and will likely be on the roster as a back-up center, but more than likely will be plugged in at guard if the need presents itself. The Steelers lack depth on the offensive line and the unit will likely see a complete overhaul after this season when Starks, Colon and Smith all become free agents. The unit needs to come together in the last week, as they'll have a tough task ahead of them in the opening week matchup against Houston.

All in all, the Steelers offense should be one of the best in the league this year, as long as the offensive line is able to keep defenses at bay, something they haven't done a great job of in the preseason. Due to the Steelers strength of schedule, expect them to be involved in a lot of close games, giving Roethlisberger plenty of opportunities to prove his merit in the league and continue his ascent to being the best quarterback in Steelers history.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Team Preview: Cleveland Browns

2007 Record: 10-6

We would be liars if we said we weren't impressed by the Browns last season. Derek Anderson put on a clinic on how to run a 3-step-drop-and-throw last year, enabling an offensive line with a few question marks to gain some experience and confidence without risking their quarterback's neck. Jamal Lewis was wildly inconsistent last season. He posted 5 100+ yard rushing games last season, including one of 216 against Cincinnati. On the other end, Lewis had 4 games of under 40 yards. However, Lewis is approaching 30, entering his 9th season in the league. Longstanding football theory states that there are only a certain number of hits a running back can take in a career, and Lewis may be approaching that tipping point.

While Lewis was originally seen as a 1-year solution, was signed in the off-season to a 3-year contract. The Browns also lack a proven backup to Lewis, so if he falters this team could lose their running game, turning into the Detroit Lions of the Mike Martz era.

On paper, the Browns offense is loaded with Braylon Edwards, Dante Stallworth, Kellen Winslow Jr, and Joe Jurevicius. However, Jurevicius has landed on the PUP list with a knee injury that will hold him out of at least the first six weeks of the season. This could mean an increased role in the offense for kick-returner extraordinaire Josh Cribbs. Anderson is also sidelined with a concussion and his return for week 1 is questionable. If Brady Quinn's performance against Detroit last week is any indication, Browns fans have to hope Anderson is able to play again soon. We Steelers fans know what it's like to have a quarterback who gets dinged in the noggin before the season starts. It doesn't exactly make for the greatest recipe for success and every sack brings your stomach to your mouth.

The Browns were very aggressive in free agency, with their biggest move being the re-signing of quarterback Derek Anderson, who single-handedly turned the Browns from the joke they were in Week 1, to the playoff contenders they were in December. The Browns also added wide receiver Dante Stallworth from New Engaland and defensive tackle Sean Rodgers from Detroit.

Will Rodgers be able to improve the Browns defense, which ranked 30th in the league in total defense and 27th in the league in run defense? He was part of a Lions defense which was marginally better (23rd in the league) against the run last season. The Browns defense was the weak link of their team last year. Time and time again, the Browns had an inability to stop teams when it counted, almost in resulting in a loss to St. Louis had it not been for some stellar catches by Kellen Winslow to allow them to come back.

In the secondary, Eric Wright enters his second year at corner and Brodney Pool is coming into his own as a free safety, giving the Browns an improvement in a secondary that had been absolutely torched in prior years.

The Browns are the darling of many media experts to win the AFC North this season. Do they have what it takes? The Browns haven't beaten the Steelers since 2003. The Steelers have won 9 consecutive games over Cleveland and 15 of the last 16. Even though no team has won the AFC North two consecutive years, Cleveland has not won a division title since 1989 when they lost in the AFC Championship game to Denver on what we all know as "the drive."

So the question remains? Can the Browns top the Steelers?

James Harrison says not on his watch.

The Browns, even though they have a stellar offense, are in place for a massive debacle. Last year they were powered by a weak schedule that got them near the top, and this year they must make their way through a strong schedule against the AFC South and NFC East. Granted the Steelers must play the same schedule, but Cleveland has some question marks, especially on defense. Offense wins games, defense wins championships.

Ian's 2008 Prediction: 7-9
John's 2008 Prediction: 8-8

Team Preview: Cincinnati Bengals

2007 Record: 7-9

Earlier this year, Marvin Lewis said that Chris Henry would never be a part of the Cincinnati Bengals organization again.

Oops. Marvin might be job-hunting come December. Better dust off the old resume Marvin. In all seriousness though, there's a difference between signing a player to try to improve your team and re-signing a convicted criminal who you cut from your team earlier this year for being, well...a convicted criminal. Since joining the Bengals in 2005, Henry has been arrested 5 times. Do you really mean to tell me that the Bengals didn't think there was another Wide Receiver out there on the market capable of playing the position that they had to re-sign Henry? To add some icing on the cake, Henry can't even play until week 5 because of a league-ordered 4-game suspension for violations of the conduct policy.

The Bengals are a team that looks great on paper. They should have one of the best offenses in the league with Rudy Johnson and the perfectly capable Kenny Watson at running back, coupled with TJ Houshmandzadeh and Chad Johnson at wide receiver. However, Johnson talks a big game and has been known to pull a disappearing act in big games. Housh had a Pro Bowl start to last season, but his shameless promotion of himself on Monday Night Football might have been what got him over the top and on to the Pro Bowl team. Through the first 7 games, Housh had 58 receptions, 629 yards, and 9 touchdowns. This sizzling pace cooled drastically with the weather. After November 1, Housh managed 54 catches, 514 yards and 3 scores. Housh surpassed the 100-yard mark three times in his first five games, and didn't break 90 again until Week 17 against Miami.

Chad Johnson is, at best, unreliable. He is prone to big games and then totally disappearing for many weeks in a row. Last season, after snagging 3 TD's in the first two weeks, Johnson didn't have another touchdown catch until November 25th, 10 weeks later, when he pulled in 3 against Tennessee. After that, Johnson went 4 games without a touchdown before catching two against Miami in the season finale.

Additionally Carson Palmer has the tools and the offensive weapons to be a great quarterback, but poor receiver play along with bad coaching decisions has hindered his success. On paper, Palmer looks like one of the top quarterbacks in the AFC. The Bengals had the second-fewest sacks allowed of any team last season, but turned the ball over 30 times, an average of just under twice a game.

The Cincinnati defense has been likened to a donut. They have a giant hole in the middle. The Bengals ranked 27th in total defense, 21st in run defense, 26th in pass defense, and 24th in scoring defense. The Bengals drafted linebacker Keith Rivers from USC to try and help the unit, but he won't have a huge impact on the defense the way Patrick Willis did in San Francisco. The Bengals defensive line is shaky, their linebackers lack confidence, and their secondary has been torched over the past few years, all in all making for a bad defensive situation. Johnathan Joseph and Michigan grad Leon Hall start at the corners with Deltha O'Neal serving as the nickel back. Hall will build upon his impressive rookie season where he nabbed five picks.

However, it simply won't be enough. The Bengals have far too many personnel issues and lack the team chemistry and solid defense necessary to make the playoffs. The Bengals may need to hold their training camp in the state pen next year if current trends continue.

Over-under on Bengals winning more games than Chris Henry's arrests? It's going to be close as Henry already has 5.

Ian's 2008 Prediction: 5-11
John's 2008 Prediction: 4-12

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Viking Kittens: Steelers Win


For those of you who don't get the reference in the post title, this link will change your life.


The Steelers started strong again, winning their 3rd coin toss of the year.

Mendenhall makes a solid return of the opening kickoff to get things rolling. Ben comes out looking for Heath, but the Steelers are forced to punt after missing on 3rd down. Ernster booms a 55-yarder to pin Minnesota inside the 20.

Minnesota craps all over themselves off the bat. A false start penalty followed by a sack by Aaron "Aero"Smith. The Diesel slams the door on Peterson, setting up third down. But first, it's the zebras again. Minnesota takes two more false start penalties before they even get the 3rd down play off, which ends up being a dump off pass to AP. Punt. Holmes returns for 10 yards, setting the Steelers up with decent field position.

Apparently this drive was slated as the Willie Parker show. Parker lines up in the shotgun with Ben split out as a wide receiver. Honestly, this formation will never be seen again. They just threw it in the game so that Houston would have to waste time this week trying to strategize for the formation. Parker for 5, short pass for 6, two more Parker runs for 3 yards. Hines over the middle for 6. Tomlin elects to go for it on 4th and short, but Ben can't pick it up on a sneak. Holmes picked up an illegal substitution penalty on the play anyways, so if he had made it the Vikes would have made us try from 4th and 6 anyways. Turnover.

Apparently the Vikings have confidence in no one besides Adrian Peterson as they went to him 3 times via run and pass and were forced to punt.

Ben hits Heath for the 2nd time in the first quarter for a big first down pickup. On the next 3rd down, Ben hits Willie Reid on a solid slant route, but Reid couldn't pick up the first down. Ernster punts for 40+ to stick Minnesota inside the 20 once again. He might just win this job.

Minnesota's first quarter game plan was apparently to do nothing. Chester Taylor gets 2 handoffs and goes nowhere, then Frerotte throws an incomplete pass. Punt. This kind of preseason bore is usually reserved for the end of the game when the reserves are in.

Mendenhall got his shot with the first string on the next drive. On his second run, he made a great move to bounce it to the outside but didn't cover the ball and it got jarred loose. Turnover.

Minnesota came out with great field position and decided it was time to try and move the ball through the air. On the second play, Larry Foote gets his ankle rolled on.

JD sets down his Appletini to tend to Foote.
My initial thought here was that this may be a blessing in disguise as it gives Lawrence Timmons his chance with the first string.

Minnesota comes out and goes right at Timmons with a pass to the tight end down the seam to get the ball down to the 3.

Second Quarter

Everyone knows it's going to Peterson. So does Tyrone Carter, who forces him out at the 6 for a loss of 3. A short pass gets the Vikes back down to the 1. AP goes up and over, spinning away from a mid-air collision with Timmons to get in for the score.

7-0 Kittens.

Ike picked up a penalty after the score, so the Vikes get to blast the kickoff out of the endzone.

Parker for 5. Heath pulls down a big grab for 13. And then, it all fell apart. Minnesota had been getting close to Ben, but the line had been steady enough to keep Ben on his feet. Not anymore.

If our O-line keeps playing like this, we'll be seeing this graphic a lot this season.

Ben gets sacked on two consecutive plays, then Arians decides to run a draw play on 3rd and 25. Great idea. NOT. Ernster punts.

When hope seemed to be fading, Ike Taylor says FACE ME to Gus and picks off a pass.

With great field position, we decide to play it safe and hand off to Willie. An illegal formation penalty sets us back, but Mewelde Moore does a great Verron Haynes impression and picks up a huge third down. The Steelers pick up a break on a facemask penalty, moving the ball down to the 11, but some terrible play calls result in 3 worthless plays. Jeff Reed comes in and puts it through.


Minnesota committed another penalty on the next drive to force themselves into a 3rd and long. However, the Steelers defense can't come up with a stop as Aundrae Allison, who seemed to be all over the field, caught a pass for the first down. The Diesel gets some pressure on the next play, but Gus gets across the line of scrimmage so it's not technically a sack. Taylor goes nowhere on the next play, and then the Pro Bowler makes his presence felt. Coming off the corner unabated to the quarterback, there's no better way to describe him than...

After the punt, Roethlisberger hits two passes to Nasty Nate Washington and Mewelde Moore then throws two incompletions, forcing a punt.

Minnesota comes out and picks up a first down on the second play, seemingly determined to try and stretch their lead before half time. The Vikings try to shoot themselves in the foot again with a penalty, but Frerotte and Allison bail them out with a big hookup on 3rd and 15. However, with 20 seconds left in the half and the ball on the Minnesota 40, LaMarr "Big Stick" Woodley does his best Teddy Roosevelt impression.

Speak softly and carry a Big Stick.
Half OVER.

Third Quarter

The Vikings first drive was dominated by Adrian Peterson getting the ball and Frerotte trying to pass to Allison. On the back of a pass interference penalty, Minnesota is able to move into field goal range and add 3.


Byron Leftwich comes in to replace Ben. Mendenhall makes some good looking runs, including busting a 21-yarder against the Vikes second string defense. Byron hits Desmond Sherrod to convert a huge third down.

Byron says, Desmond is my constant.

Byron takes a shot deep for Willie Reid, but he can't come down with the jump ball. It was a good pass, a little underthrown, but it was good to see them trying to stretch the field. Reid picks up an illegal formation penalty on the next play, then catches a pass to get the yards back on second down. Mendenhall catches a check-down pass but can't quite get to the sticks. Once again stuck in No Man's Land, the Steelers go for it, this time Byron hits Reid with a short pass to move the sticks. With the Steelers in field goal range, they bring in Gary Russell to do nothing. Reed puts it through again.


USC product John David Booty comes in and completes a pass on second down, but can't come through on 3rd down, forcing a punt.

Mendenhall was determined to own this next drive. A huge first down run for 18 yards gets the Steelers across their own 35. On the next set of downs he can't do much and the Steelers get a gift on third down by picking up a roughing the passer penalty. On the very next play the Vikes get whistled for encroachment, giving the Steelers a first and 5. They move the ball marginally over a few running plays after an incomplete pass, and are forced to go for it on 4th down...again. Leftwich dumps it off to the fullback Latsko who barely picks up the first down. I think even Coach was surprised by this one after the measurement. Mendenhall busts a strong run around the outside for 16 yards to get the ball down inside the 20. Russell comes in and gets 5. Then someone on the O-line forgets to block and Russell gets pummeled in the backfield. Byron hits his constant with a short pass, bringing up another field goal.

Reed barely squeezes it inside the post.

Booty converts a few passes, but then finds out the treasure chest is empty as Minnesota takes a false start penalty to force a third and long where Arnold Harrison joins the sack brigade, forcing a punt.

Leftwich, Mendenhall and Reid seem poised to take the game over as they team up for running plays, dump-offs and short passes to move the ball down the field. However, Mendenhall, after making another good move for more yards, gets the ball knocked out of his hands. Turnover.

With four minutes to go in the game, Minnesota tries to sit on their 1-point lead. Defensive linemen Roye, Paxson and Eason come up huge, forcing a punt with 2:25 left on the clock.

This was a big test for Byron. Could he execute the 2-minute drill and lead us to victory with no timeouts left? He starts off with an incomplete pass, but comes back strong by hitting Dallas Baker with a short pass to get to the 2-minute warning. On one of the biggest 3rd downs of the game, Byron hits Willie Reid for 12 yards, moving the chains and keeping the hope alive. A false start on Trai Essex sets us back, but Sweeeeeeed comes through for a 10-yard gain to get us back to near midfield. Byron and Sweed can't hook up on the next two plays, bringing up our fourth 4th down of the night. Showing the poise of a veteran who can be counted on, Byron goes back to Sweed again, who pulls it in on a simple out route to pick up the first down and get us down to the Vikings 42.

The Replay Assistant reviewed the play, and the call was upheld. First down. Like a broken record, Leftwich went to Sweed again, this time for 7 more yards to get the ball to the very edge of field goal range at the 35. After a spike, there is some miscommunication and the Steelers can't get the play off in time. Delay of Game, five yards, but no run-off. With 37 seconds left on 3rd and 8, Byron comes through yet again and hits Dallas Baker for 11 yards down to the 29. Even though the Steelers could have spiked the ball, they ran the kick team out and set up for a field goal. Minnesota was caught a little off guard and let 28 seconds tick off the clock before calling timeout with 9 seconds remaining.

Solid. Reed might be the #1 clutch kicker in the league.
The Steelers take their first lead of the game with 4 seconds to go.

Arnold Harrison is a beast on special teams. He makes the most important tackle of the game and ends it.

Players of the Game:
Byron Leftwich- he came in in the second half and played great. Solid execution of the two-minute drill to win the game. He will be a perfectly capable backup to Ben.
Rashard Mendenhall- I know he fumbled twice, but he ran hard and showed some flashes of brilliance. He's going to be great.
Willie Reid- came up huge for us in key situations, he may just make the team.
Paul Ernster- he made all 4 of the Steelers punts tonight, including a 55-yarder. He averaged 48 yards per punt and 3 of the 4 he stuck inside the 20. He's probably going to be our punter for the season.

Mr. Yuck Sticker of the Game
Dan Dierdorf and Greg Gumbel for their terrible job announcing the game. They specifically get this for saying "Ironically, Larry Foote injured his foot."

Final Analysis:

The Vikings really showed nothing on offense here tonight. They didn't try to stretch the field, only attempting 24 passes. The Steelers defense was stellar. They held the Vikings to 163 total yards, including an amazing 32 net rushing yards.
The Steelers tallied 102 total rushing yards as a team.
The Steelers had 8 penalties for 65 yards, the Vikings had 10 for 75. Both teams seemed prone to shooting themselves in the foot at inopportune times.

All in all, the Steelers played a solid game and proved they can do what it takes to win. They had a game like this last year in the preseason when they beat the Redskins 12-10. Ironically, that same weekend Brady Quinn made his NFL debut against the Lions. Quinn got rocked by the Lions tonight, as he played almost the whole game and did next to nothing.