Category Archives: Steelers

Steelers in need of a Dusty finish

Don’t rest easy, Yinzer Nation. Your Steelers aren’t the Steelers you’re used to seeing, unless, of course, you followed them during lean times in the 1980s, pre-1970s and, gasp, parts of Bill Cowher’s tenure.

In other words, the Steelers stink.

But stinking has them at 3-3, well within playoff contention. Sure, they lost to Cleveland, but the Browns are better than Steelers fans, who took to social media to remind everyone about the six Super Bowls without nary a consideration Cleveland won eight NFL titles back in the day, want to believe.

The Browns are better, and the Steelers are reeling. Coming off Sunday’s blowout, the Steelers were criticized by Bill Cowher and Hines Ward. Naturally, their critical remarks were taken seriously by fans, who believe Cowher is 15 times the coach Tomlin ever will be (not true) and that Ward is the epitome of unselfish play (also not true). Cowher must forget he lost nearly every big game he coached. As for Ward? Well, he celebrated a reception for negative yards because it was his 1,000th. That, folks, was the single cheesiest moment of Steelers football the past decade.

There was talk of being “soft”, “elevator music” and “fire Tomlin and Haley.” It’s been a rough week in an increasingly trying season.

How did a franchise so accustomed to postseason play hit times harder than Dusty Rhodes having his leg broken at the hands of the Four Horsemen? (For the record, Rhodes goes down as the greatest face in the history of the business. Don’t believe me. Watch this clip and soak in its awesomeness.)

The Steelers could use a few good, hard-working men like Dusty Rhodes. But there’s only one Dusty. And there’s 50-some Steelers heading toward a third-consecutive nonplayoff season. Not exactly a Dusty finish (Google it.)

So what went wrong? Here’s a few things:

Draft decisions

Let’s look at the Steelers’ 2009 draft class (in order): Ziggy Hood, Kraig Urbik, Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis, Joe Burnett, Frank Summers, Ra’Shon Harris, A.Q. Shipley and David Johnson. How many are still in Pittsburgh? If you said, “none,” you’d be correct. Hood hung around but never looked like a first-rounder. Wallace and Lewis provided good value considering each were selected in Round 3, but neither were retained. Losing an entire draft class is difficult to overcome, particularly for a franchise that fancies itself more of a clearance rack shopper than a big spender in free agency. To compound matters, no player from the 2008 draft class remains. That’s two wasted draft classes.

Ryan Shazier – the 2014 No. 1 pick – hasn’t been healthy (preseason or regular season). Jarvis Jones – the top pick in 2013 – played poorly as a rookie and is now injured. Picks were wasted on players like Mike Adams and Landry Jones. Alameda Ta’amu and Chris Rainey made headlines for off-field issues. Cameron Heyward – the 2011 No. 1 pick – regressed this year after displaying potential late last year.

Bad drafts fall on Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin.

Scouting

Speaking of draft picks, the Steelers select an overwhelming number of players from Power 5 (ACC, Big Ten, SEC, Big 12, Pac-12) conferences.

Why?

Are they not interested in scouring smaller schools and Division II and III for talent, or just too lazy?

Then, there’s the issue of chartacter. Choir boys aren’t required in the NFL, but the Steelers are making practice of reaching for players with issues. How many of those reaches have panned out?

Loyalty

Troy Polamalu played well in 2013, but nowhere near his old form. He can’t cover slow, plodding tight ends. Running backs blow by him on pass plays and the defense regularly gives us chunk plays over the middle. The Steelers needed to release Polamalu two years ago.

Same goes for Brett Keisel.

Same goes for Ike Taylor, who, sadly, still ranks as Pittsburgh’s best cornerback as he stands injured on sidelines.

They held on to James Harrison and Hines Ward too long. With Harrison and Keisel back, how soon until Ward is signed to bolster receiver depth?

What I learned last week

Every September, the family drives to the Outer Banks. Not the over-populated areas of Kitty Hawk, Southern Shores, Nags Head, etc., but the off-road beaches north of Corolla. The area is called Swan Beach. Four-wheel drive is needed to traverse the 3.5 miles from the end of pavement to Idle Time, which is owned by the in-laws.

So, every year during high school football season, I work a Friday night shift, which always lasts longer this time of year. From there, it’s a 45-mile drive home, wake up the wife and child and get loaded into a sports-utility vehicle for the 9-hour drive from Western Pennsylvania to our destination. (It should be noted that after crossing the sound into the Outer Banks, we turn left toward Southern Shores and drive and drive and drive. Takes about an hour of retracking.)

It’s a brutal drive, even if I only last until 4 to 4:30 a.m. most years. It’s also a stark reminder that tired driving should be avoided.

I employ every trick in the book I can imagine to continue the trek.  I give myself 15-minute goals. Maybe a 30-minute goal. I’ll slap myself in the face. I sit up in the seat and perch over the steering wheel. It’s a test of endurance as taxing as the runs I put myself through on a near-daily basis.

In 2013, I made it one exit past Winchester, Va., on Interstate 81. This year, I made it all the way to Route 17, near Warrenton, Va. From there, my wife takes over driving duties until we stop for breakfast.

Next year, the family needs to plan better. No more tired driving.

  • The Outer Banks is a wonderful place, particularly during the early portions of the offseason, but the place sucks when it comes to pumpkin beer selection. The annual September trip to Swan Beach has sadly yielded little despite stops at multiple beer sources.
  • Pitt football taught us long ago not to get too involved, to avoid having hope. Yet, those of us who follow the program can’t help ourselves. That hope bubbled over the surface as the Panthers steamrolled to a 3-0 start, which included a thrashing of a Boston College team that beat USC. So, Pitt reminded us in an all-so-Pitt fashion with Saturday’s loss to Iowa. Pitt gained nearly 450 yards, held a 10-point lead and found a way to lose. Let’s remember people, Pitt is Pitt is Pitt.
  • Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount can smoke all the weed they want. It doesn’t change the fact the pair are the Steelers’ most dynamic running back duo in 20 years.
  • Playing a September for the ages, the Pirates (twice considered dead this season after an 18-26 start and a summer swoon where they dropped to two games above .500) have a tenuous hold on the top wild-card spot in the National League. What the Pirates are accomplishing this season ranks as more impressive than the magical 2013 campaign. Consider all the injuries (McCutchen, Cole, Walker), Pedro’s follies, the bullpen’s woes and the need to rely on Josh Harrison and Russell Martin. Amazing stuff. Clint Hurdle should be the NL Manager of the Year.
  • Some Penn State fans just don’t get it. After the NCAA lifted sanctions, which included reinstating bowl-eligibilty and lifting scholarship restrictions, it isn’t enough for some Nittany Lions followers. Oh no, it’s now time to restore all of Joe Paterno’s wins, put the statue back, have the man canonized for Sainthood and make sure everyone realizes Penn State football is better than anything else in the civilized world. So, congratulations to all the Penn State football fans who participated in the “Joe-Out” last Saturday at Beaver Stadium. You’re blatant disregard for what transpired in leading to the NCAA sanctions and Paterno’s firing added further proof to the belief that it’s all about football in Happy Valley.