View Full Version : Steelers weighing options on offensive line
09-28-2011, 03:09 AM
Steelers weighing options on offensive line
By Ralph N. Paulk, PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
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The Steelers, who gained next to nothing on the ground in a 23-20 win at Indianapolis on Sunday night, are looking to shore up an injury-riddled offensive line.
Coach Mike Tomlin acknowledged Tuesday during his weekly news conference that the Steelers will bring in a few players in an attempt to build depth on an offensive front that was battered and bruised at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Right tackle Marcus Gilbert suffered a left shoulder injury but returned to play left tackle after Jonathan Scott went down with a left ankle sprain. Right guard Doug Legursky has been listed as questionable with a left shoulder injury.
The Steelers are in an unenviable position of juggling an already troubled offensive line before they travel to play the Houston Texans on Sunday.
"We are open to bringing somebody in, but we haven't had any definitive plans to that regard," Tomlin said. "We'll let the participation of those men dictate what we'll do in that area."
If the Steelers are unable to find adequate replacements, guards Ramon Foster and Trai Essex could be inserted into the starting lineup against the Texans. It's a significant decision for Tomlin, considering the Steelers averaged 2.4 yards per carry against the Colts — including running back Rashard Mendenhall's 37 yards on 18 attempts.
Tomlin also is looking to fix an offensive line that has too often this season left quarterback Ben Roethlisberger exposed. Roethlisberger, who was sidelined for a couple of plays against Seattle, fumbled twice — including one that was returned 48 yards for a touchdown by Jamaal Anderson, tying the score, 10-10, in the second quarter — and was intercepted once.
Tomlin altered the Steelers' practice schedule in hopes of getting injured players time to recuperate.
"I'm swapping out padded practice this week," Tomlin said. "We'll just go helmets only on Wednesday, and we'll carry shoulder pads on Thursday. We believe that approach will help us deal with some of these injuries and be inclusive in terms of practice and gives some guys an opportunity to practice both Wednesday and Thursday."
The Steelers' injury list is a long one that also includes wide receiver Mike Wallace, who suffered a rib cartilage injury. Tomlin said Wallace will be evaluated to see what his availability will be at week's end "in terms of practice, but it shouldn't prohibit him from playing."
Also on the list is rookie linebacker Chris Carter (hamstring), who saw his first action at Indianapolis. Wide receivers Arnaz Battle (swollen knee) and Jericho Cotchery (hamstring) and defensive end Brett Keisel (PCL sprain) likely are to have limited practice, but Tomlin said Cotchery and cornerback Bryant McFadden (hamstring) could be ready to play this week.
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09-28-2011, 03:25 AM
The fuel light is on
Rashard Mendenhall and the Steelers rushing attack appear to be out of gas as the ground game has come to a screeching halt
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Above all else, the Steelers have been consistent in their proficiency in two general aspects of playing football through the years. They know how to play defense, and they can run on offense.
That is why their inability to generate much in their running game this season has come as a surprise. There was little sign that Rashard Mendenhall, who has run for 2,381 yards the past two seasons, would have such trouble through the first three games.
Consider what offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said about Mendenhall a few days before the Steelers opened the season in Baltimore.
"That's our lead dog," Arians said that Thursday after practice. "Everybody wants to talk about the wideouts and everybody else. Our lead dog is Rashard. We're going into the game with Rashard as the lead dog and everybody else feeds off of him."
Well, in the dog-eat-dog world of the NFL, they're having Mendenhall and the Steelers ground game for lunch.
It began in Baltimore when the Ravens held the Steelers to 66 yards rushing. That could be explained away by it being the Ravens defense and as it being just one of those days. They then ran for 124 yards against Seattle in a 24-0 victory that helped cloud over some of the red-flag deficiencies that day in the ground game, such as the inability to get into the end zone on two drives that featured first down at the Seattle 1 and first down at the Seattle 2.
And then Sunday night in Indianapolis, the Steelers were stopped cold. They ran 28 times for 67 yards, an average of 2.4 yards per carry. Mendenhall ran 18 times for 37 yards. Two of his carries over a three-play span in the third quarter went for 15 and 7. The other 16 times he ran the ball produced 15 yards, or the same number Ben Roethlisberger had on five carries.
Has Mendenhall jumped the shark after having a combined 412 touches, combining runs and receptions in the 2010 regular and postseasons? Or is the offensive line merely incapable at the moment of providing him with sufficient holes?
"We have to go back to the fundamentals," said tackle Trai Essex, who may get back to the starting lineup after two tackles and a guard left the game Sunday night with injuries. "We're not doing something right. It's disappointing as an offensive line that we did not get the run game going."
Essex, after the game Sunday, predicted a difficult Monday for the line when they were to meet with their coach, Sean Kugler.
"It's going to get scary in the film meeting with Coach Kugs," said Essex, who entered the game Sunday night at right tackle for injured Marcus Gilbert in the third quarter. "Even though we won, we didn't play up to our caliber. We have to get Rashard those holes. Rashard and Isaac, they run hard, we just have to give them more opportunities. We're one block off pretty much every time. We just have to get more chemistry up front."
Or, more physics.
Mendenhall has looked good at times, particularly in the second game against Seattle, running in the open field. But he has been stutter-stepping, spinning and changing direction before he hits the line of scrimmage, often away from where the hole is -- or was designed to be.
One source on the team said the run calls against the Colts looked nothing like the ones they practiced the week leading up to the game.
The Steelers did not use Isaac Redman to spot Mendenhall against the Colts as they did in their previous two games. He had his most significant playing time on the final drive, when the Steelers moved 60 yards for the winning 38-yard field goal. He ran for 3 yards on third-and-1 at the Colts 21.
Mewelde Moore and Redman handled all the duties at running back on that drive, often with both on the field. Moore sparked the drive with a 22-yard catch and run, and he put Shaun Suisham closer for his kick with two runs up the middle for 9 yards before Redman picked up the first down to enable them to run the clock down.
Mendenhall spent that series on the sideline, which coach Mike Tomlin explained as: "We were just in two-minute football. Of course we've got a great deal of comfort in what Mewelde is capable of doing and you saw what he's capable of doing."
They need to see more of Mendenhall actually doing it, too. Arians said before the first game that Mendenhall had "come back in fabulous condition."
"He has been everything we hoped he would be in the preseason and training camp. I thought he's as good as he's ever been right now in the running game and the preseason."
He and they need to add the regular season to that checklist.
No information was released Monday on the evaluations of the injured. Left tackle Jonathan Scott has a left ankle sprain. Right guard Doug Legursky has what seemed to be a minor shoulder injury. Gilbert has a right shoulder injury and went back into the game at left tackle when Scott left late in the final drive.
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09-28-2011, 03:26 AM
Steelers' Gilbert to practice; Scott and Legursky iffy
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers expect starting right tackle Marcus Gilbert to practice this week and be able to play on Sunday in Houston, coach Mike Tomlin said today.
However, Tomlin listed starting left tackle Jonathan Scott and starting right guard Doug Legursky as questionable this week. Scott has a sprained ankle and Gilbert and Legursky have shoulder injuries.
More details in tomorrow's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
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09-28-2011, 03:07 PM
Tomlin says Steelers will stick with what they have
Wednesday, September 28, 2011
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
Mike Tomlin has no magic wand to wave over his offensive line to make it better, and that includes signing tackle Flozell Adams.
The Steelers coach made that perfectly clear when he said he will go with what he has when they play Sunday in Houston.
"Make no mistake, we intend to prepare with the men that we have here," Tomlin said Tuesday. "Those will be the guys that will help us win this football game. Anyone we add will be simply for the purposes of practice or numbers."
And Adams, who started all 19 games for the Steelers at right tackle through the Super Bowl last season, will not be rejoining the Steelers merely for practice. They might sign no linemen to their 53-man roster. Tomlin said they merely will look into the possibility after the practice week progresses and he sees how his injured linemen perform.
He gave the green light on rookie Marcus Gilbert to return to play right tackle against the Texans. Gilbert left the Sunday night game at Indianapolis in the third quarter with a left shoulder injury. He returned to finish out the final few plays at left tackle after Jonathan Scott departed with a sprained left ankle.
Tomlin called Scott questionable for this week and said if he cannot play Trai Essex would start at left tackle. He also called Doug Legursky questionable with a left shoulder injury. Although he did not say it, Ramon Foster would replace Legursky if he cannot go.
Former Steelers starting tackles Adams and Max Starks remain free agents after the team cut them as training camp began, but the club has shown no interest in either. Starks reportedly was to work out for the Vikings this week, the same team that cut Bryant McKinnie, now the starting left tackle for the Baltimore Ravens. When the Steelers lost starting right tackle Willie Colon in the first game for the rest of the season, they looked at neither Starks nor Adams and signed Jamon Meredith, a third-year pro cut by the New York Giants.
Another line of attack
Partly because of the play of the offensive line and partly because of the play of the Colts' Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, Ben Roethlisberger was under siege Sunday. He was chased, hit, sacked three times, lost two more fumbles and threw an interception.
It will not get much easier for him or whatever line they run out there Sunday in Houston because outside linebacker Mario Williams and the Texans also know how to pressure the quarterback. The Texans have seven sacks, same as the Steelers, and Williams has two. His sacks have dipped since his 14 in 2007 to 8.5 last season, but he is a proven rusher who can line up over either Scott or Essex and pull a Dwight Freeney. Williams previously lined up at end before the Texans converted their 4-3 defense to a 3-4 under new coordinator Wade Phillips.
"Whether you call him an end or an outside linebacker, it doesn't matter," Tomlin said of Williams. "You better keep him out of your backfield. He's a dangerous man ... he's been to multiple Pro Bowls."
The Texans also use first-round pick J.J. Watt at right defensive end and a disruptive Antonio Smith at left end. That defense also includes inside linebacker Brian Cushing, the 2009 rookie defender of the year.
"Their first-round pick, J.J. Watt from Wisconsin, is an awesome addition," Tomlin said. "He appears to be playing extremely well. He's very aware. He utilizes his hands and his length very well. He was one of those 3-4 end guys that we evaluated. We held him in high regard.
"Brian Cushing is a sideline-to-sideline, chase-and-tackle football player."
Tomlin is concerned about both the Steelers turnovers and their inability to force turnovers. They have 10 of the former and one of the latter, although that one on James Harrison's sack/fumble and Troy Polamalu's 16-yard return of it for a touchdown helped them beat the Colts.
"This is why they concern me: We are not doing a good enough job of protecting the ball, and we are not doing a good enough job of getting it," Tomlin said. "Those two things together make you extremely uncomfortable. We are a blessed group to be sitting here 2-1 after being minus-nine after three games."
Roethlisberger has eight of the turnovers -- four interceptions, four fumbles.
Adjustment for injuries
The Steelers will not wear shoulder pads in practice until Thursday this week rather than Wednesday because Tomlin wants to go easy on his injured players who might practice.
"We believe that approach will help us deal with some of these injuries, and be inclusive in terms of practice and give some guys an opportunity to practice Wednesday and give them another day, 24 hours or so to participate on Thursday."
About injuries other than the offensive linemen, Tomlin said:
• Wide receiver Mike Wallace has a rib cartilage injury that might affect him in practice, but "it shouldn't prohibit him from playing."
• Defensive end Brett Keisel (sprained knee PCL) will be evaluated as the week goes after he missed the game in Indianapolis
• Wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery (hamstring) has not played yet but is a candidate to do so this week. So, too, is cornerback Bryant McFadden (hamstring).
• Linebacker Chris Carter (hamstring) played Sunday and experienced soreness but should be able to practice.
Sanders knew he erred
The coach gave receiver Emmanuel Sanders a pass for jumping over and not downing defensive back Joe Lefeged, who made a diving interception and returned it 25 yards to set up a Colts score.
"Really, there was no need to talk to him," Tomlin said. "He understood where he was wrong. Sometimes, coaching the obvious is silly. That's a mistake that was made and acknowledged immediately. It's probably more important that we moved on to things that were less obvious."
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