Daily Archives: January 19, 2012

Championship Game Analysis Looks at Physical Giants Receivers and a Plan of Success for New England

Working off-schedule is kind of nice.

Without much of a news budget scheduled until march (draft madness, baby), we’re pretty much going to freehand most of the writing. I see that as a good thing. Being serious get old after a while.

I’m gonna stay off-schedule, and just give you some of my uncensored, random thoughts on the match-ups this weekend. I shared my feelings on the Brady v. Flacco match-up coming up, I’ll try to dig into the NFC game a bit too.

I have two older brothers, and I’ve often thought about what it would be like if both of us were (chuckle) head coaches in the NFL.

Everyone talked about the Harbaughs exchanging information in regards to upcoming opponents. I dismissed this as having anything of value because coaches do that all the time. Raheem Morris, the former Buccaneers coach, worked under Mike Tomlin on Jon Gruden’s staff in Tampa Bay in 2005. You think they don’t share information as well? Does the fact they aren’t blood relatives make that scenario any more or less likely?

If anything, when I think of either of my brothers being at that level with me, I think more of the times I had to be the center while one completed the Super Bowl-winning touchdown pass to the other, or the times they’d play goal line stand, where I had to get in the end zone from a yard out against both of them.

I may give them some of my honest opinion, but I’m going to throw a red herring or two in there as well.

“Nah, don’t worry about Ninkovich, run away from him, what happened against Denver was an aberration. And that bit with Hernandez in the backfield? Don’t worry about it, there’s no chance all they were doing was putting it on film so you think they’ll run out of that formation next week. Sell out for the run, Ray Lewis can cover him in the open field, no problem.”

It may not necessarily be with Hernandez, but look for the Patriots to stretch the Ravens defense out much like what Houston did. Granted, they don’t have Arian Foster, and they aren’t the greatest run-blocking team, but their linemen are quick and athletic, and setting up play-action off getting Baltimore’s linebackers moving horizontally will open up a lot of room down the seam.

Clearly, the story in this game is Baltimore’s defense vs. New England’s offense, so the other side on both teams needs to come up with a few plays. With the Ravens offensive line falling apart, and the Patriots defense playing above the sum of its parts (which still isn’t much), this will come down to Baltimore’s ability to keep Flacco upright long enough to eventually hit one of the deep passes they insist on throwing. Conventional wisdom would suggest the Ravens would simply pepper the Patriots with even doses of Ray Rice and TEs Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta, but I’m done trying to apply common sense to Baltimore’s offensive game plan.

Rest assured, though Tom Brady will not throw straight into tight high-low coverage multiple times the way T.J. Yates did. Remember that when you hear Ravens fans crying about the lack of coverage in their secondary. However, it may not matter, because if the Ravens defense is as good as everyone says it is, there’s no reason they cannot dial up the kind of pressure needed to stop Brady.

As for what Brother John is saying to Brother Jim about the Giants:

“Make Nicks beat you. It’s ok to cut him loose to eliminate Cruz. He’s really not that strong, and can’t really make big plays in traffic. He’ll fumble, too, if you hit him square in the chest, so emphasize stripping the ball over putting him on the ground. Whitner can play on his own in the deep secondary, so tell your corners to go for the pick.”

Donte Whitner nearly single-handedly cost San Francisco a win when they had no business losing. Yes, turnovers have been San Francisco’s bread-and-butter all season, but there comes a point you need to recognize when an offense simply has a physical advantage over you. Whitner’s lame attempt to go for the ball on the 7-foot-5 Jimmy Graham missed horribly, and Graham went for a 66-yard touchdown.

The Giants are going to try to run deep posts and digs on Whitner and take advantage of the good size and excellent strength of their receivers. I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the Giants are added to the “best receiving corps in the game” conversation before this season is over. Nicks and Cruz are easily the strongest pair of receivers in the league, and they’re emerging as the best playmakers as well.

Look for this to be a brutally physical match-up. San Francisco has the most aggressive defense of the remaining playoff teams, but as the Saints proved, over-aggression can be a problem in big games. Also, like the Saints proved, five turnovers means little, because, in the end, the team that goes the hardest for the longest is going to win. A true battle of attrition. And you know Mike Tomlin likes that.

Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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Steelers coordinator Arians might not return to team

Ben Roethlisberger isn’t going to be happy with a bit of breaking news in Pittsburgh. Two weeks after Big Ben gave the organization a pre-emptive warning about possibly changing offensive coordinators, there is a report that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians may not be back with the team. Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports that Arians’…

Source: ProFootballTalk » Pittsburgh Steelers

Patriots are getting ready to stop Ravens quarterback Flacco

Joe Flacco was just the 18th-ranked quarterback in the NFL this season, but he’s the only one since the NFL-AFL merger in 1970 to reach the playoffs in each of his first four seasons.

Source: Pittsburgh Tribune-Review

Birth Father of Steelers Coach Mike Tomlin Dies of Apparent Heart Attack

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The Steelers confirmed head coach Mike Tomlin’s father, Ed Tomlin, passed away at age 63, the victim of an apparent heart attack.

Several reports, including this one from the Post Gazette in July of 2007, indicated Mike Tomlin was raised by his mother, and barely knew his birth father at all. The article refers to Leslie Copeland, his step father, as the only dad he ever knew.

Ed Tomlin was the head of the Ocala, Fla., chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 2003-06. He resigned the position in 2006 citing health reasons.

Ed Tomlin played for what is now Hampton University and was drafted by the Baltimore Colts in 1968. He played eight games in the Canadian Football League that season.

No statement has been released from the Steelers on the issue, and no word has come from Mike Tomlin. If nothing else, we wish he and his family peace during this tough time.

Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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Kirby Wilson was in line to be next offensive coordinator

We told you last night that Bruce Arians may not return to the Steelers as offensive coordinator. Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette now writes it appears Arians is on his way out, one way or another. It raises the question: Who will replace him? Bouchette sadly reports that running backs coach Kirby Wilson was…

Source: ProFootballTalk » Pittsburgh Steelers

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Bruce Arians Might Not Return to Steelers

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The Steelers may be without an offensive coordinator here shortly.  Bruce Arians is rumored to not be returning next season.  No one knows whether it is retirement or if Arians is being let go just yet.  Most think it is the former.  Arians has talked about retiring before for health reasons.
I was always 50/50 on Arians.  I like his scheme and what we could do with this offense but it never completely gelled.  His play calling was my biggest issue.  Teams knew what was coming just by the way we lined up.  Even Phil Simms during the playoff game was calling out plays before the Steelers would run them.  We also struggled in the Red Zone.  That was always hard to deal with.
Arians did bring this team to a new level though.  He will be missed.  Especially by Ben Roethlisberger.  These two had a great relationship.  Ben had his best seasons under Arians.  They did a lot together.
As this was a surprise I will look through today and see what I can find for an offensive coordinator out t…

Source: Yardbarker: Pittsburgh Steelers

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Cotchery On Steelers, “I Would Love To Come Back”

PITTSBURGH (93-7 THE FAN) — Steelers’ free agent wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery joined the Fan Morning Show on Thursday to talk about his first season with the team.

Cotchery said that everything was positive about his first year as a Steeler, and the organization was everything he expected it to be. About his status as a free agent, Cotchery said that he would love to return to the black and gold next season.

The Post-Gazette reported on Wednesday that offensive coordinator Bruce Arians may not return next season. Cotchery said that he isn’t sure how that situation will play out, but he respects Arians as a coach, and will wait to see what happens.

We also get his thoughts on the loss to Denver, and the remaining teams in the playoffs.

Click the link below to listen to the full interview:

Filed under: Football, Heard on The Fan, NFL Playoffs, Sports, Steelers Tagged: Bruce Arians, Denver Broncos, Jerricho Cotchery, NFL, NFL Playoffs, Pittsburgh Steelers, The Fan Morning Show

Source: CBS Pittsburgh » Steelers

Mendenhall Has Surgery on ACL; Team to Sit Still on Contract Extension

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Running back Rashard Mendenhall has undergone surgery on his torn ACL in his right knee according to Ed Bouchette of the Post-Gazette.

Mendenhall was hurt during the regular season finale in Cleveland when he went down in a heap on a five-yard run to the right. Issac Redmen filled in and did an excellent job in the Cleveland game despite a pair of fumbles, and then in the Denver playoff game he went over 100 yards in the OT loss.

Scott Brown of the Tribune-Review reports that Mendenhall may not be offered a contract extension by the Steelers, as he will be entering the 4th year of a five-year deal that he inked back in 2008 as a rookie worth $ 12.5 million.

This past season Mendenhall ran for 928 yards and 9 touchdowns.

Source: Steelers Gab

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Arians Might Not Return Next Season

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PITTSBURGH (93-7 The FAN) — Pittsburgh Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians may not return in 2012, according to a report by the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette’s Gerry Dulac.

Arians, 57, considered retiring before last season. He is in the final year of his contract.

Arians is highly criticized by some fans for his play calling. Those cries have gotten louder since the Steelers early playoff exit, as many note the offense’s inability to put up points and score touchdowns in the redzone.

He has been the Steelers offensive coordinator since 2007, appearing in two Super Bowls and winning one of them.

Mike Tomlin said in his season-ending press conference that he expects Arians to return next season.

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Filed under: Football, Sports, Steelers Tagged: Bruce Arians, Mike Tomlin, Pittsburgh Steelers

Source: CBS Pittsburgh » Steelers

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Art Rooney Looking Back at 2011 and Forward to the Future

SAN FRANCISCO, CA - DECEMBER 19:  Pittsburgh Steelers President and co-owner Art Rooney II is seen before the game against the San Francisco 49ers at Candlestick Park on December 19, 2011 in San Francisco, California.  (Photo by Karl Walter/Getty Images)

Steelers President Art Rooney II recently discussed a wide variety of topics, and you can find accounts of it almost anywhere you look – Steelers.com, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, and Pittsburgh Tribune-Review (the Trib’s Scott Brown chose to spin two articles out of it – one and two).

Most all of them covered Rooney’s thoughts on the following topics in some shape or form:

Salary cap – The Steelers are about $ 25 million over the $ 124 million salary cap that is projected for next season, and have until March 13 to rectify the situation.

Quotes to note (I tried to take out most of the word-for-word overlap without butchering how they were written in the articles):

“I would say it’s probably as big an issue as we’ve had to face,” Rooney said. “There will be some tough decisions. There will probably have to be some contracts that get restructured and things like that. No question, there’s a lot of work to be done.”

“There are a lot of key pieces to the puzzle and young players on offense that I think will get better, the receivers being a particular bright spot. We have a couple good young offensive linemen. We have our franchise quarterback. So, I think the pieces are there to get better. We just have to do what we need to do to build on that.” (PPG)

“It’s not a situation where we’re looking to tear things apart and start over,” team president Art Rooney II said Tuesday in his first interview since the Steelers were upset in Denver on Jan. 8. “I think there are a lot of pieces in place. Getting younger on defense is a process that’s already started. Obviously, we have some decisions to make with certain players and their contracts.” (Trib)

We’ve all known and expected this to be coming, but what Rooney said in the Trib quote is especially interesting (to me). My interpretation is that he’s saying that the front office has not been ignoring the age and declining team speed on defense, and has certainly been drafting to try to account for it. Tough decisions have been a long time coming – with regards to guys like Hampton, Farrior, Foote, etc. – and it had been planned to address it sooner or later. The salary cap issue makes it very soon.

To echo one of Ivan’s sentiments from his State of the Steelers editorial – rebuilding on the fly while simultaneously remaining competitive is a tough balance and very difficult to pull off.

Hines’ Future – He’s a Steelers legend, but the $ 4 million he’s slated to make next year needs to be brought more in line with his declining role in the offense

“The overall story on Hines is that he’s one of the all-time great players we have had. Hopefully, he is a Hall of Famer. I sure think he is,” said Rooney. “We are just in the beginning stages of the process of evaluating what our roster will look like next year. We’ll be having some conversations with Hines as we go through the next few weeks about where he fits and how he fits and whether he fits. We have a lot of decisions to make. He had decisions to make. I don’t want to speculate on it because the minimum we owe him is to have private conversations about that.” (Steelers.com)

“All of those things, you want it to end the right way whenever it ends. But it’s a two-party decision. We’ll evaluate how we feel about it over the next few weeks, we’ll talk to Hines — I’ve already had one conversation with Hines, so the communications are already started. We will all get to our decision in due time.” (PPG)

However it works out, both sides need an amicable and agreeable resolution to this. It’d be a blot on Hines’ legacy if he went elsewhere to finish out his storied career, and it would reflect poorly on the Steelers if they mishandle a man who’s been a consummate Steeler for the past 14 years.

Big Ben and Sacks – The best way to keep Ben healthy and effective is to keep him and his loose extremities from getting consistently caught between a 265-300+ pound pass rusher and the ground.

“I don’t think we should want or expect a dramatic change in Ben. ‘A little bit’ is probably the key phrase,” said Rooney. “He has been pretty darn successful in a lot of what he does. He’s different from other quarterbacks. We don’t want or expect dramatic changes in Ben. We need him to be healthy. We need him to continue to be healthy. He is turning 30. Taking fewer sacks, fewer risks here and there is something he needs to think about. But not a dramatic change.” (Steelers.com)

“Roethlisberger was sacked 40 times this season. When asked if keeping him more upright in 2012 is tied to upgrading the offensive line, Rooney said, “For the most part, I would say we feel like we have the people in the building that can do the job. That’s not to say that we won’t try to get better as we prepare for the offseason, and the draft is always something that we look at as an opportunity to get better.” (Trib)

Whether you think it’s a big or a small change, Ben does need to learn to throw the ball away more often. I find the Trib quote to be particularly interesting again, since you could possibly interpret it in a few of ways:

1). The simplest – Rooney doesn’t want to publicly malign the personnel on the offensive line because that is not good team-building.

2). We had the personnel for it, but injuries and other factors out of our control kept the same five guys from playing together week-in and week-out and they never had the opportunity to form good chemistry.

3). There’s a difference between pass protecting for your average QB, who ideally gets rid of the ball when the play starts to break down and the heat is getting close, and pass protecting for Big Ben, who usually views the end of the designed play as just another opportunity to exercise his improvisational abilities.

I’m not throwing out the third possibility as an excuse for poor performances in pass protection – like getting lit up by Aldon and Justin Smith against the 49ers, for example. It also does not excuse substandard blocking for the running game. I just think there is a difference between developing offensive linemen to the point where they can pass protect for your typical pocket passer, and getting them to learn the nuances and idiosyncrasies of how to keep Ben alive when he decides he wants to run and touch both sidelines before throwing the ball.

Free agency – We need to get under the cap first.

“It’s unlikely that we’ll be a big player in the free-agent market, I think that’s fair to say. I think it will be similar to how we pursued it in the past. Our key interest will be to keep the players we have, to see if we can sign some of our younger players to longer-term contracts, that will be our key goal. If we have an opportunity to fit in a piece here and a piece there, we’ll look at it.” (PPG)

Again, we need to get under the cap first. Once we do, we have quite a few free agents in a variety of flavors that we would like to retain (see: Wallace, Burnell “Mike”). Once that is also resolved, there’s not going to be much of a slush fund to outbid anyone for an instant upgrade at most any position.

Free agency starts on March 13 at 4pm – same day as the salary cap deadline.

Heinz Field Expansion – 3,000 seats will be added for the 2013 season

“We made the decision that we weren’t going to go forward with the project once we got past a certain point last year, last summer,” said Rooney. “The uncertainty of the lockout is what really pushed us into next year, because we really had to pull the trigger on the project last June. We wound up in a situation where we had to put it off.” (Steelers.com)

The new seats will be located in the open end – South end zone – around where the temporary seating was constructed for the Winter Classic. Those seats will then be offered to people on the team’s season ticket waiting list.

Interesting tidbits (to me) that were not mentioned in all of the sources:

Senior Steeler Assistant retiring?

This was only mentioned in the PPG article, and expanded upon in a blog post by Bob Smizik. The root of it is the following that Rooney said (from the transcript linked within Smizik’s post):

“The coaching staff, I don’t expect any major turnover on this coaching staff. We think we have a good staff. That’s not to say there won’t be any turnover. We have guys on the coaching staff who have talked about retiring, are senior-type guys and I know Mike [Tomlin] is going through the process of having those conversations as we speak. But I’m not expecting wholesale changes on the staff.”

Expect the coordinators back?

“At this point, yeah.”

Smizik went on to speculate that it could be special teams coordinator Al Everest (in his early 60s), assistant head coach and defensive line coach John Mitchell (58), tight ends coach James Daniel (56), or maybe even Bruce Arians (gasp!) that have considered retiring (and the rumors that it is Arians are intensifying).

Quarterback coach Randy Fichtner has been bandied about as a possible in-house successor should Arians decide to retire. If Arians does retire but the Steelers want to bring in someone from outside the organization, Smizik thinks recently fired Colts head coach Jim Caldwell could be a candidate.

The way Rooney worded it, I can easily see the arguments for and against the mystery coach being Arians. The argument for it being Arians is that he is a senior-type guy in both age and rank on the coaching ladder. If Fichtner has been designated the successor at offensive coordinator, and intends to continue this evolution to a pass-centric attack that Arians started, you could argue that the change does not constitute a “wholesale change” or a “major turnover”. Rooney’s final response is undoubtedly truthful as of this moment, but far from set in stone. And Arians apparently took time to mull over this very same decision last year.

The argument against the mystery coach being Arians is changing offensive coordinators usually comes under the heading of a “major turnover”. Granted, there’s not likely to be “wholesale changes” given how entrenched Ben is and how this is his show, but I find it hard to believe that the change to a new coordinator would not be noticeable – especially if we went outside the organization for one.

Hopefully the rumors will either be substantiated or discredited and this will all be clarified soon.

Mendenhall in Long-term Plans

“Whether we sign him in advance of this season or not; I think Rashard has demonstrated that he can be a major contributor for us,” Rooney said, “So we’ll more than likely be trying to sign him to a contract at the appropriate time, whenever that is.” (Trib and within PPG’s transcript)

Mendy will be going into the final year of his contract, but the vote of confidence in him from Rooney right now is notable since Mendy just underwent surgery for his torn ACL. I’m sure the Steelers will undoubtedly wait to see how his recovery has progressed before starting to address a new contract though.

What do you think is most interesting from Art Rooney’s discussions? (Though I did neglect to discuss what he specifically had to say about the disappointing way the season ended)

Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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