Monday, September 30, 2013

The Roethlisberger Fall: Steelers Lose


The Vikings get the ball first and start picking apart the Steelers defense with short passes. They get a bonus facemask penalty that moves them into field goal range. Not much else. Blair Walsh has a big leg.


Markus Wheaton makes his first catch and moves the chains then gets wide open down the sideline on 3rd down but Ben throws it all the way to Buckingham Palace. A moment of excitement when the Vikings returner signals fair catch then takes off running with the ball. Luckily, the refs flag it.

On the third play, Cassel throws a short out to Jennings and he cuts inside Cortez and turns it up field, running through the Steelers defense and breaking hand tackles. Jennings cuts across the field and takes it all the way to the house. Shades of Larry Fitzgerald in Super Bowl 43.


CBS makes it to the Steelers second drive before busting out the Big Ben the Player vs Big Ben the clock discussion.

Ben slings one to Sanders down the sideline and he makes his first catch on a fly route this season. With the ball inside the red zone, the Steelers pick their way down inside the 10 with Ben hitting AB on a slant on 3rd down. Le'Veon Bell bounces one to the outside and gets a great seal block from Heath and dives into the end zone.

The Prescription


The defense locks it down on Peterson and the Steelers get good starting field position for the first time all season.

Unfortunately, the offense can't do much with it, aside from a screen pass to Bell that looks like an actual NFL team was running it and not a high school team.
Ben gets pressured and misses Heath on 3rd down and it's a quick 3-and-out.

The defense steps up again with Ike breaking up a 3rd down pass.

Second Quarter

A holding penalty sets things back then Haley craps on himself and calls a draw that goes nowhere on second down and a WR screen on 3rd and 17. AB almost picks it up with sheer athleticism alone, but comes up just short. 

You knew sooner or later AP was going to get into the secondary. It happened. He exploded through the line and through an arm tackle and outran Ryan Clark all the way to the end zone. 


Down by 10, Ben gets sacked when Jared Allen just abuses Mike Adams. Luckily, Antonio Brown is able to move the chains on a 3rd down slant. AB reels in another one across the middle to get us near midfield. Allen continues his abuse of the left side of the line and rings up another sack on a stunt. Ben steps away from pressure on 3rd and long and hits Heath down the seam. The refs actually throw a flag for a helmet to helmet hit and the Steelers get to move all the way down to the 15. Heath and AB get us to 3rd and 1 and The Prescription picks it up. The Steelers can't cash it in and Ben gets sacked by Allen again on 3rd down. Suisham.

Three sacks by Allen on that drive. Mike Adams had a Jonathan Scott-esque night.


Wheaton makes a touchdown-saving tackle on special teams and the Vikings are set up with good field position. The defense hold the Vikings to a 3rd down and Woodley comes through and knocks the ball out of Cassel's hand but the Steelers can't fall on it after 5 guys dive for it and the Vikings recover ahead of the first down line. Unbelievable. This team is snakebit. Cassel connects on a few passes and work their way into field goal range.


The Steelers take over with 40 seconds and 1 timeout and Haley calls a running play. Total give-up at the end of the first half. That's frustrating.


News breaks that LC Greenwood passed away. Sad news.

Rest in Peace, LC. 

Third Quarter

Ben gets things rolling with a pass to Sanders then Le'Veon makes a few nice jump-cuts to keep moving. Ben goes play-action and hits Cotchery down the seam then goes downtown for AB who gets mauled from behind in the end zone, giving us the ball on the 1. It takes two tries, but The Prescription punches it in.


Cassel hits Simpson across the middle on a dig route and he is able to cut through the middle of the defense for 50 yards to get down to the red zone. AP takes over and picks up a first down then is able to waltz 7 yards untouched for a touchdown. Way too easy for AP.


Markus Wheaton makes an appearance and picks up a first down. Ben gets flushed out and tries to force a throw and it goes right to a Vikings defender. Ugh.

As if giving the Vikings good field position wasn't enough, Woodley delivers a late hit out of bounds and gives the Vikings the ball in the red zone. Cassel goes play-action and hits Jennings in the end zone. Vom.


The Prescription makes some moves on a screen pass but that's all the Steelers can do. Ben gets sacked again on 3rd down. Remember that time we didn't re-sign Max Starks?

The defense holds the Vikings to a 3-and-out, but the damage has mostly been done at this point.

Ben starts working the no huddle and hits two passes over the middle to move us out to midfield.

Fourth Quarter

The first play out of the break is a WR screen that loses yards. Brilliant, Haley. The Steelers get the benefit of a 15-yard penalty to move them into Vikings territory. Ben hits Wheaton to move us down to the 15, threading the needle over a Vikings defender. Two plays later, Ben steps up away from pressure and zings one to Cotchery at the goal line for the score.


The Vikings keep moving the ball, picking their way down the field. The Steelers finally make a stop when the Vikings are in field goal range. Blair Walsh with a rare miss.

On the second play, Ben hits Cotch across the middle and he scampers out across midfield. The Prescription picks up 9 more then Ben hits Heath over the middle inside the 15. The Steelers stall out without even an attempt at the end zone. Suisham cuts it to a score.


Rather than trying an onside kick, Tomlin elects to trust the defense. The Vikings have no respect for the Steelers and come out throwing. AP converts a 3rd and 1. The defense is able to come up with a stop after the 2 minute warning and the Steelers get the ball back with 1:45 to play.

Ben hits Cotch on the numbers and he is able to get outside and pick up a block and get into Vikings territory. AB makes a catch over the middle and slips and falls at the 35. Heath and AB make catches to get us to the 20 with a minute to go. After a spike, AB makes a catch at the 13 then another juggling catch with a Hines Ward-esque tip to himself to move the sticks and get us to the 5. After a spike and a throwaway, Ben gets sacked and the ball gets knocked out. The Vikings recover and that's the game.



Don't look now, but Cleveland is in first in the division

Much-needed bye week. Bye bye.

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Gameday: Minnesota Vikings

1:00 EST
Wembley Stadium
Radio: WDVE and other affiliates

Recommended Vikings Blogs/Twitter:

What To Watch For

1. Big Ben References

The Steelers have a large quarterback named Benjamin. He has not been good this year. Part of that has to do with the offensive line in front of him giving him absolutely no time in the pocket. Part of that has to do with him holding the ball like it's a cup of coffee. Part of it has to do with poor ball placement. Through 3 games Ben has 4 TD passes, 4 interceptions and 4 fumbles. That's simply unsustainable for a quarterback. He has to be better with the football in order for the Steelers to get back to their winning ways. The Vikings secondary is banged up with CB Chris Cook and Safety Jamarca Sanford both out with injuries. The Steelers receivers have a clear advantage on the Vikings corners, and Ben has the opportunity for a big day. A big day for Ben means lots of references to the clock. If this is on your Steelers In London Drinking Game list, you're going to be hammered.

2. Storm the Cassel

In 3 games against the Steelers, Matt Cassel is 1-2 with 2 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. His lone win came in Kansas City in 2009 when the Chiefs beat the Steelers in overtime. Cassel will get the start for the Vikings with Christian Ponder ruled out with a rib injury. I'm honestly not sure whether this is an upgrade or downgrade for the Vikings. Ponder had been absolutely awful this season, throwing 5 picks and only 2 touchdowns. The Vikings have a good set of tackles in Matt Kalil and Phil Loadholt, but the interior of their line is not as good. The Steelers should be able to get pressure with their A-gap blitzes, and Cassel is not the most fleet-footed quarterback in the league. The most important thing the Steelers can do against the Vikings offense is to build an early lead and force Cassel, not Adrian Peterson, to win the game for Minnesota. Speaking of which...

3. All Day

Adrian Peterson had more yards on his first carry of the season than any Steelers back has through three games. He was the league MVP in a season where he came off an ACL surgery. That's unreal. Peterson has only broken triple-digits once this season, but he has faced 8 and 9-man fronts through the first 3 weeks because the Vikings passing game has been dreadful. Despite being 0-3, the Vikings have been in all of their games. Their biggest loss was by 10 on opening week and they have lost by 1 and 4 the past two weeks. No one has been able to build enough of a lead on them to take AP out of the game and force the Vikings to throw. The Vikings offense runs through Peterson who averages 23 carries per game and is second on the team in receptions with 11.

4. Returning to Health

For the first time this season, the available players on the team are entirely healthy. Obviously, Maurkice Pouncey and Larry Foote aren't walking back out onto the field any time soon, but Heath Miller, Cortez Allen and Le'Veon Bell are all slated to start. Heath was on a snap count against Chicago, but his return meant Ben started to look for tight ends again and David Johnson made some big catches. All we have heard from the beginning of training camp from the media folks around the team is how good Le'Veon Bell is and how he is the centerpiece of the Steelers offense. Finally recovered from his foot injury, we will get our first taste of Le'Veon Bell and can only hope he lives up to the hype. Cortez Allen missed two weeks and the Steelers were able to bridge the gap with William Gay stepping in on the outside and rookie safety Shamarko Thomas playing the nickel corner spot (which says more about the other corners on the roster than it does about Shamarko). Allen's return vastly improves the Steelers defensive outlook on 3rd downs as it puts Gay in the slot and keeps Thomas off the field.

5. The Hot Seats

For some bizarre and unknown reason, Mike Tomlin and the Steelers took a redeye flight from Pittsburgh to London on Thursday night. Some players complained about it because they basically lost a night's sleep. If the Steelers lose, this story is going to dominate the rationale behind why they looked sloppy and unprepared. The bigger looming story is that the Steelers have looked sloppy and unprepared in every game so far this season. The Steelers organization has never been one to make coaching changes during the season, but an 0-4 start with a bye week could prompt changes somewhere along the line. It's unlikely that change would be at the top (even though Mike Tomlin has made some dumbfounding decisions this season) but if the offense once again fails to produce, offensive coordinator Todd Haley could begin to feel some pressure internally that the fans are already feeling externally.

Oh, and for good measure, because it still exists on the internet...

Friday, September 27, 2013

WPIAL Week 5 Games of the Week

We are reaching the halfway point of the WPIAL season and the wheat is beginning to separate from the chaff. If the 2012 season was historic for its winning streaks, 2013 has been historic for breaking them. In the last two weeks, North Allegheny (who hadn't lost since 2010) lost to Seneca Valley and Clairton (who had the nation's longest winning streak at 66 games) lost to Monessen. The season has also been plagued with injuries to some of the top players, including Washington RB Shai McKenzie who is one of the top college recruits in Western Pennsylvania. Week 5 features a monster slate of games with undefeated teams facing off in each classification and potential playoff-clinching scenarios in the two biggest classifications.


Game of the Week
Seneca Valley (3-0, 4-0) at Central Catholic (3-0, 4-0)
Game at Highmark Stadium

After graduating most of their team that went to the semi-finals last season, people were not expecting much from Seneca Valley this season. However, after an upset of reigning Quad-A Champion North Allegheny, the Raiders are on everyone's radar. Dual-threat QB TJ Holl leads the team in both passing (634 yards) and rushing (235 yards). Central Catholic has a D1 recruit at quarterback in JJ Cosentino (Florida State) but has gotten such good play from RB Luigi Lista-Brinza (741 yards and 9 TDs) that they haven't had to rely on Cosentino to carry the team. Seneca Valley has faced tougher competition to date, but Central Catholic has more D1 recruits. The winner will have the clear inside track to the Northern Eight Conference title, though a win by Central could set up a 3-way tie scenario should North Allegheny top the Vikings in two weeks.

Honorable Mention: Hempfield (3-1, 3-1) at Gateway (4-0, 4-0)

Playoff Scenarios

Foothills Conference
- Gateway clinches a playoff berth with a win over Hempfield and a Norwin loss

Northern Eight Conference
- Central Catholic clinches a playoff berth with a win over Seneca Valley and a Butler loss


Game of the Week
Central Valley (4-0, 4-0) at West Allegheny (4-0, 4-0)

The top two teams in the Parkway Conference square off in a game that should decide the Conference Champion. Central Valley was the only team to defeat the Indians last year, who went on to win the WPIAL title. The biggest story of this game is Central Valley's head coach, who is suspended this week and next week by the school district for possibly recruiting a player to transfer. Both teams feature a multi-faceted running game. The Warriors have two players (Jordan Whitehead and JaQuan Pennington) with over 300 yards rushing while Chayse Dillon has paced West Allegheny with over 500 yards. Both teams have been stingy on defense and this game promises to be the best on the Parkway Conference slate this year.

Honorable Mention: Ringgold (3-1. 3-1) at West Mifflin (4-0, 4-0)

Playoff Scenarios

Big Nine Conference
- West Mifflin clinches a playoff berth with a win over Ringgold and a loss by either Trinity or Albert Gallatin

Parkway Conference
- Central Valley clinches a playoff berth with a win over West Allegheny and a Chartiers Valley loss


Game of the Week
Seton-La Salle (4-0, 4-0) at South Fayette (4-0, 4-0)

Thursday Night's game on ROOT Sports between Washington and Jeanette also got consideration, but in sticking with tradition this post is focused on the Friday Night slate. This game promises to be an aerial showcase with two of the top passing attacks in the WPIAL going head to head. Seton-La Salle is led by Tyler Perone (839 pass yards, 9 TDs) while South Fayette features Brett Brumbaugh (681 yards, 9 TDs). Both teams have been mercy-ruling their opponents and this might be the first time all season their starters play the whole game. Both defenses have averaged just 7 points per game against them while the offenses are averaging over 38 points per game. This will be a test of strength on strength and an important conference game with both teams still having to play undefeated Quaker Valley on the road.

Honorable Mentions: Quaker Valley (4-0, 4-0) at Steel Valley (2-2, 2-2), Mt Pleasant (4-0, 4-0) at Yough (2-2, 2-2)


Games of the Week

For the first time this year there will be co-Games of the Week because I really want to talk about both of these matchups

Clairton (3-1, 3-1) at Fort Cherry (4-0, 4-0)

Does it seem strange seeing a 1 in the loss column next to Clairton's name? Yeah, I think so too. Nevertheless, after turning the ball over a handful of times against Monessen, the Bears have a loss on their resume for the first time since 2009. Things don't get any easier this week for the young Bears team. They showed a lot of grit in battling from behing against Monessen but ultimately could not get a stop on defense and turned the ball over too many times on offense. This week, Clairton faces Fort Cherry who have been dominant on offense this season. The Rangers are led by QB Matt Heflin (613 yards, 15 TDs) and RB Koltan Kobrys (769 yards, 8 TDs). This will match up some of the best skill players in Single-A and will determine the sorting order at the top of the Black Hills Conference. Fort Cherry already has a win over Monessen under their belts and could take commanding control of the conference with a win over Clairton. If Clairton loses, they could be looking at a 3rd place finish which would put them on the bottom half of the Single-A bracket in the playoffs.

North Catholic (4-0, 4-0) at West Shamokin (3-1, 3-1)

Almost as strange as seeing a 1 in Clairton's loss column is seeing a 3 in West Shamokin's win column. The Wolves burst onto the scene in the Eastern Conference and could be in position to secure their first playoff berth in school history. After a 3-0 start to the season that included a win over traditional Eastern Conference powerhouse Springdale, the Wolves were mercy ruled by Avonworth. This is a measuring stick game for North Catholic, who has handled the loss of star RB PJ Fulmore. The Trojans are much more balanced than last season when they relied on Fulmore for their entire offense. This year, QB Adam Sharlow has thrown for 390 yards and 4 TDs and added 341 yards and 2 TDs rushing. Fulmore's replacement, fellow junior Jerome Turner, has rushed for 466 yards and 9 TDs. This is one of two heavyweight bouts atop the Eastern Conference this week with Avonworth taking on Apollo-Ridge. If the Trojans and Lopes both win this week, circle next Friday's showdown at Avonworth on your calendar as the game that will decide the Eastern Conference Champion.

Honorable Mention: Apollo-Ridge (2-1, 3-1) at Avonworth (3-0, 4-0)

The Trainwreck: Steelers Lose


Before the game started the folks I was tailgating with asked me what I thought about the game. After I gave my list of everything that made it look bleak for the Steelers (which were all in my game preview) they asked how my blood pressure was and gave me a shot. After that I summarized that if the Steelers didn't give up any touchdowns to Chicago's defense or special teams, they would have a chance to win. Well, two touchdowns from turnovers and an easy field goal resulting from another turnover were the difference in the game.

The Steelers won the toss and deferred to the second half.

The Bears came out determined not to let Cutler get sacked on the first drive and to give him easy throws. Everything they ran was a short pass, but they were able to pick their way down the field, mostly going to Alshon Jeffrey. Troy has finally seen enough and blows up a WR screen for a loss. The Bears don't recover and settle for 3.


The Steelers come out with two good plays - a run by Felix Jones for 11 yards which was probably their longest run of the season to that point - then a pass to Heath to get him involved. Things seemed to be looking good until Ben got hit by a blitzer coming up the middle and the ball squirted out and the Bears fell on it.

The defense seems to have things contained until they forget to cover Forte out of the backfield on third down and he gets the Bears down to the 5. On the next play, he gets to the corner and dives in, just ahead of Ryan Clark taking his head off.


Needing to muster a response with the defense having been on the field for 8 1/2 of the first 10 minutes of the game, the offense went 3-and-out. Two deep passes that weren't close on first and third down. Mesko makes a terrible kick and the Bears take over at their 40.

On the first play from scrimmage, Clark absolutely whiffs in the open field on Forte and he scampers down the sidelines. Gay tries to come from behind and punch the ball out but misses the tackle as well and Forte gets all the way down to the 5. An iffy Pass Interference call on Ike gives the Bears the ball at the 1 and somehow it takes them 4 tries to punch it in.


Before you can even blink

Things started to look up when Ben finally got the ball to AB to get us out near midfield, but a 2nd down sack made things look bleak.

Second Quarter

If you knew anything about Todd Haley, you knew this was either going to be a draw play or a fly route down the sidelines. With nothing to lose, it was the latter, and AB made a great catch in traffic along the sidelines to get the Steelers into the red zone. Unfortunately, after Felix got us inside the 10 someone (not sure if it was Haley or Ben) decided that a 2nd and 2 was a good time for a WR screen. It lost yardage and the Steelers had to settle for 3.


The defense comes out with a fire under their ass. Brett Keisel comes up with a sack and Shamarknado gets pressure on 3rd down to force a throw-away.

The Steelers had just put points on the board and got a stop from their defense. This was their chance to make a big swing in the momentum of the game. Unfortunately, Ben forced a pass into double-coverage on third down and Major Wright picked it off and took it back untouched.


The offense got another crack at it after the Pick-6 and continued Todd Haley's two-steps-forward-one-step-back approach when Dwyer lost yards on 2nd and 1 then an incompletion forced a punt. The Steelers got lucky and the Bears plowed over Zoltan Mesko and the roughing the kicker call gave the offense yet another chance. Ben goes right to work, hitting Sanders across the middle to move into Bears territory. Two plays later, Ben has more than a half second to throw and flings one downfield on a prayer. Antonio Brown gets separation behind Tim Jennings in the back of the end zone and makes a leaping catch, tapping his feet inside the back line for the score.


The defense almost forces their first turnover of the season when Will Gay punches the ball out of Jeffrey's hands but somehow it bounces right back to Jeffrey. The Bears go 3-and-out and give the Steelers a sparkle of hope.

Dwyer rips off a big run to get us out of our own end and across midfield, lowering his helmet on the safety and luckily not drawing a flag. With the ball on the Bears side of midfield and having just scored a bit passing touchdown, Haley goes with two more runs that go nowhere.
Ben throws a ball behind Wheaton on 3rd down that probably should have been caught. Another terrible kick by Zoltan gives the Bears the ball back with 2 minutes to play.

Without any timeouts, which is apparently a prerequisite for attempting a two-minute drill, the Bears opt to run the ball 3 times and take it into the half up 14.


I talk about how awesome Tyler Boyd is with everyone around me.

Third Quarter

The Steelers got the ball to start the third quarter and decided to continue running the ball since they're down by 14. On the second play, Emmanuel Sanders whiffs on a block on the outside and the defensive back spears Felix Jones, knocking the ball out.

The Bears are able to pick up a first down and move into the red zone, but Jarvis comes up huge on 3rd and short, stopping Michael Bush and forcing a field goal.


Haley finally lets Ben throw the ball again and Ben hits David Johnson down the seam for a big gain to get near midfield. Sanders reels in another one and a QB sneak moves the chains again. All of a sudden the offense is rolling. With the ball on the fringe of field goal range, Dwyer gets a carry and bounces one around the corner to get us solidly in scoring territory. Haley calls two more runs that result in nothing and Heath comes up short of the sticks on third and long. It was so deflating to see them moving the ball through the air then handing it off three straight times. Is there even a plan for this offense?


The defense seems to hold the Bears to a 3-and-out but a soft illegal contact flag gives the Bears new life. They don't do much with it, but AB gets called for a facemask on the punt return, setting the Steelers back.

Ben goes right back to work, hitting Heath down the middle then Cotchery on the fake-WR screen play which I absolutely love. The Steelers have put so much tape out there on the WR screen that teams know to expect it. They have run this play each week so far where Ben pump fakes the WR screen then hits Cotchery wide open down the sideline on a wheel route. Great play because it plays off the Steelers tendencies and what they have put on film. The next play, Ben takes a shot for the end zone and AB makes one of the best juggling catches you'll ever see, tipping the ball to himself and coming down with both feat in bounds.

All Antonio Brown does is make big plays.


The defense comes up with a huge stop and the Steelers have a huge opportunity with all the momentum heading into the fourth.

Fourth Quarter

Ben hits AB again in the deep middle of the field to get us into scoring territory. Two plays later, Ben almost fumbles the game away when he tries to scramble but is lucky enough to fall on the ball. 

Cotchery reels one in to move the chains but that's all the offense can do. Suisham connects from 44.


Bizarre move by Heinz Field not to play Renegade here.

The defense looked like they didn't need it, holding the Bears to a 3rd and long, but somehow Jay Cutler finds a gap in the defensive line and is able to scramble for 13 yards to move the chains. What?
The defense forces the Bears into another third and long and Cutler airs one out for Marshall down the sidelines who makes a fantastic back-shoulder catch over Ike, extending his arms away from his body. Maybe Ike makes that play if he turns his head around sooner, but it was a great catch. The defense holds on first and second down again then Cutler goes to the corner of the end zone.

The pass is initially called incomplete, but the Bears challenge.


What a picture. Props to this photographer. This was a split-second shot and the only one of Bennett with both feet on the ground.


Three long third down conversions on one drive when we needed a stop?

At this point, the offense was rolling and we had to be in full go mode. However, we have Todd Haley behind the wheel.
Down by 11 with under 6 minutes to play, Haley shows no desperation and goes to the run twice. The Steelers huddle up after both plays, draining even more time off the clock. On the third play of the drive, Ben gets hit by Lance Briggs and the ball finds its ways to the hands of Julius Peppers. Mike Adams tries to tackle him, but Peppers runs away from Adams and the rest of the Steelers offense down the sidelines for the touchdown.


Troy reminds us that he is still playing and blocks the extra point.

The Steelers finally go to their desperation offense, but it's too little too late. They are able to move the ball down the field but stall out at the Bears 25. Rather than trying a field goal to make it a 14-point game, Tomlin elects to go for it on 4th and 10. We needed 3 scores, not sure why you don't at least try the field goal there. The pocket collapses around Ben and he can't even get a pass close to AB.

Tomlin bizarrely uses his last two timeouts after the two minute warning rather than before, allowing even more time to come off the clock yet still prolonging the agony.

Ben's first pass is intercepted and Antonio Brown takes a penalty.

That's that.

Off to England to play the winless Vikings.