Tag Archives: 2011

In the Community – Dean’s Womens 202 2011

A group of female Steelers fans descended upon the South Side facility to take part in Dean’s Dairy Football 202. Special guests include Carnell Lake, Antonio Brown, and Greg Warren.

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In the Community – Heroes at Heinz Field 2011

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The Steelers and VA Healthcare VISN hosted Heroes at Heinz Field. 75 US military veterans took part and had the opportunity to throw, kick, and catch with some of their favorite Steelers players.

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In the Community – Bid For Hope 2011

The Steelers support of breast cancer awareness month continued when tight end Heath Miller and his wife Katie hosted Bid for Hope. The event benefits Glimmer of Hope, a foundation committed to raising funds for breast cancer research and finding a cure.

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In the Community – Children’s Hospital Visit 2011

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Steelers rookies took a visit to Children’s Hospital and took part in a fun-filled afternoon complete with games and arts and crafts.

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In the Community – 65 Roses Sports Auction 2011

Brett Keisel along with his wife Sarah served as honorary chairs for the Cystic Fibrosis 65 Roses Sports Auction.

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In the Community – Light The Night Walk 2011

Aaron Smith took part in the Light The Night Walk, an annual event for the Leukemia and Lymphoma society. Smith ,with some of his Steelers teammates, were part of Team Elijah in support of his son who was diagnosed with Leukemia.

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An Injury Comparison of the 2011 Steelers and the 2010 Packers, Part I: Offense


“The Standard is the Standard.” Mike Tomlin invokes this mantra on a regular basis, but never more than this season. He didn’t say it, but he implied it in his press conference after the Broncos game:

Question: “Mike, how much of today’s game was due to injuries?”

Tomlin: “You know better than that. We don’t live in that world-we don’t make excuses in regard to injury. The guys that we put on the field were capable of doing the job, and the reason we didn’t do the job is because we didn’t perform.”

Well, Mike Tomlin may not live in that world, and that is admirable as an outlook, but there is no doubt that injuries, both during the course of a season and during the course of a game, are going to have an effect. To say that they don’t is to be unrealistic about the differences between players. Not just the basic differences in their ability and experience, but the differences in preparation for a given game between players that practice with the first team and those that don’t. However much a backup studies the playbook, he is not able to play as instinctively as the starter(s) in a position.

There is no doubt that injuries played a part in the outcome of the Denver game. There were injuries that the coaching staff knew about beforehand and could game-plan for, such as Ben’s ankle and Doug Legursky’s separated shoulder. (However, no amount of game planning can change the fact that the player in question is unlikely to play as well as they would were they healthy.)

There were injuries that had decimated the depth at some positions, such as both the offensive and defensive line, and there’s nothing that can be done about that except to hope that no one else goes down.

And then there are the in-game injuries that can alter the whole picture. When not one but two of your remaining defensive linemen are forced to exit during the game, meaning that you only have three left, you have no choice but to play them all on every down, whether they’re playing well or poorly, whether they are cramped up or exhausted from cold and lack of oxygen, or what have you. They may have to play, but they are most likely going to play less and less well as the game goes on, with the greatest heart and the best will in the world. And although it is possible that under ideal conditions they would play as well as the starters they replace, it is highly unlikely. In the much less-than-ideal circumstances of that game it is inconceivable that they should do so. It’s mere hubris that would make anyone, coach or fan, assume that the backups on a given team are better than the starters they are playing against on the other team. They may be in isolated cases, but overall the advantage is in favor of the less-injured team.

“But what about the 2010 Packers?,” you may cry. People spoke feelingly about the many injuries that the Packers sustained through the 2010 season and the practically unprecedented numbers of players they had on IR. The Steelers were pretty beat up last season as well, or so I thought until I saw what ‘beat up’ really means, this year. I have already expressed the feeling that I was frankly relieved that they lost the first round of the playoffs, because it wasn’t entirely certain who they could play.

But the Packers did it last season, right? Well, it seemed to me that there were some substantial differences between the two situations. The first is that in an uncapped season the Packers had the ability to sign substitutes for the injured players from a somewhat more expensive selection. The second was that as I recalled the majority of their injuries came during the beginning and middle of the season, and that the players that started in the Super Bowl had actually been playing together for some number of games at that point. And although their most important player, Aaron Rodgers, was injured earlier in the season and missed a game, he was back and in top form for the postseason. But before I made such a declaration I decided that it behooved me to do some research, and here’s what I found.

The offense, as well as the kicking team for the Packers was as follows. Starters are in bold:

GB Roster,
Week 1
Lost to
Injury Status,Super Bowl/
Other Notes
GB Roster,
Super Bowl
QB Aaron Rodgers 1 QB Aaron Rodgers
QB Matt Flynn 0 QB Matt Flynn
LT Chad Clifton 0 LT Chad Clifton
LG Daryn Colledge 0 LG Daryn Colledge
C Scott Wells 0 C Scott Wells
RG Josh Sitton 0 RG Josh Sitton
RT Mark Tauscher 12 Placed on IR 11/12/10 N/A
T/G Brian Bulaga 0 T/G Brian Bulaga
G/C Jason Spitz 0 P/PLAYED G/C Jason Spitz
T/G T. J. Lang 0 T/G T. J. Lang
T/G Marshall Newhouse 0*

Placed on IR 12/31/10

RB Ryan Grant 15 Place on IR 9/14/10 N/A
13 2010 6th round pick, on PUP RB James Starks
RB John Kuhn 0 RB John Kuhn
RB Brandon Jackson 0 RB Brandon Jackson
FB Korey Hall 4 FB Korey Hall
TE Jermichael Finley 11 Placed on IR 10/18/10 N/A
TE Donald Lee 1 TE Donald Lee
TE Tom Crabtree 0 TE Tom Crabtree
TE Andrew Quarless 1 2010 5th round pick TE Andrew Quarless
TE Spencer Havner 5 Signed off waivers, 11/10; Injured in 1st game, IR’d TE Spencer Havner
WR Greg Jennings 0 P/PLAYED WR Greg Jennings
WR Jordy Nelson 0 WR Jordy Nelson
WR James Jones 0 WR James Jones
WR Donald Driver 0 WR Donald Driver
WR Brett Swain 0 WR Brett Swain

Offensive Players,

Total Games Missed


GB Roster,
Week 1
Kick Team
Lost to
Injury Status,Super Bowl/
Other Notes
GB Roster,
Super Bowl
Kick Team
K Mason Crosby 0 K Mason Crosby
P Tim Masthay 0 P Tim Masthay
LS Brett Goode 0 LS Brett Goode

Kick Team, Total Games Missed


Offensive Players, Total Games Missed


*He was inactive for every game

The 2010 Packers offense was much less affected by injuries than the defense. They lost an excellent TE, Jermichael Finley, who has had a great 2011 season. He played all 16 games, and picked up 767 yards on 55 receptions, with an average of 13.9, a long of 41, and 8 TDs. That was certainly a loss. For whatever reason the Packers chose to replace him on the depth chart with a WR, James Jones, which seems to have worked out alright for them.

Running back Ryan Grant was also a loss-he was having a great season, although he hasn’t impressed as much this season. Grant had 559 yards on 134 attempts in 2011, with an average of 4.2 Y/A. He had 2 rushing TDs and 1 receiving TD. His replacement, James Starks, was a rookie who struggled with a hamstring injury for much of the season. But by December he was healthy, and finished the postseason with a league-high 315 yards. He burned the #1 rushing defense in the league for 4.7 Y/C on 11 carries.

The only other offensive replacement due to injury was RT. Their starting RT, Mark Tauscher, was injured in early November, and their 1st round draft pick, Bryan Bulaga, replaced him. Apparently it was an upgrade, as Tauscher was released on July 29th, 2011, and no other team has signed him.

Only one offensive player other than RB Starks was on the Super Bowl roster that didn’t in Week 1-Andrew Quarless, the 2010 6th round draft pick. He was on the active roster for the majority of the 2010 season.

Presumably they signed various other people to their practice squad when they activated players from there, but there wasn’t a lot of high stakes wheeling and dealing.

So now let’s look at the 2011 Steelers offense and see what that looks like:

PIT Roster,
Week 1
Lost to
Injury Status,Wild Card Game/
Other Notes
PIT Roster,
Wild Card Game
QB Ben Roethlisberger 1 P/PLAYED QB Ben Roethlisberger
QB Byron Leftwich 16 Placed on IR 8/11/11 N/A
QB Charlie Batch 0 QB Charlie Batch
QB Dennis Dixon 0 QB Dennis Dixon
LT Jonathan Scott 0 Replaced Starks during game OT Jonathan Scott
LG Chris Kemoeatu 3 Started WC game because of OL injuries LG Chris Kemoeatu
C Maurkice Pouncey 2 Q/OUT N/A
RG Doug Legursky 5 P/PLAYED (had a separated shoulder, played with a harness) C Doug Legursky
RT Willie Colon 15 Placed on IR 9/17/11 N/A
0 Injured during WC game LT Max Starks
G Ramon Foster 0 RG Ramon Foster
OT Marcus Gilbert 1 (+1) 1 healthy scratch RT Marcus Gilbert
OG Trai Essex 0 OT/G/C Trai Essex
0 OT Jamon Meredith
OT Chris Scott 0 released to make space for Max Starks N/A
RB Rashard Mendenhall 1 Placed on IR 1/5/12 N/A
RB Isaac Redman 0 RB Isaac Redman
RB Mewelde Moore 5 OUT N/A
RB Jonathan Dwyer 5 Placed on IR 12/8/11 N/A
0 activated from PS 12/14/11 RB John Clay
0 activated from PS 1/5/12 RB Chad Spann
RB Baron Batch 16 Placed on IR 8/11/11 N/A
FB David Johnson 0 FB David Johnson
TE Heath Miller 0 TE Heath Miller
TE Weslye Saunders 0 TE Weslye Saunders
WR Mike Wallace 0 WR Mike Wallace
WR Hines Ward 1 WR Hines Ward
WR Antonio Brown 0 WR Antonio Brown
WR Emmanuel Sanders 5 P/PLAYED WR Emmanuel Sanders
3 WR Jerricho Cotchery
WR Arnaz Battle 6 WR Arnaz Battle
Total Offense Games Missed 85

PIT Roster,
Week 1
Kick Team
Lost to
Injury Status,Wild Card Game/
Other Notes
PIT Roster,
Wild Card Game
Kick Team
K Shaun Suisham 0 K Shaun Suisham
P Daniel Sepulveda 8 Placed on IR N/A
0 Signed after Sepulveda injury P Jeremy Kapinos
LS Greg Warren 0 LS Greg Warren
Total Kick Team Games Missed 8
Offense Players, Total Games Missed 93

The 2010 Packers were, according to the Football Outsiders ranking, #7 in offense; the 2011 Steelers were #6 on offense. (This is rather different than the NFL figures that put the Steelers’ offense on the wrong side of the middle of the league, at least in some important categories.) I would claim that, despite the many injuries that Green Bay sustained last year, they did less with more during the regular season than the 2011 Steelers did. Why do I say that? Well, let’s look at just who was missing those games.

Arguably the most important player on offense is the quarterback, unless, unlike the Steelers or Packers, you have an offense that is built primarily around the run. (Are there teams like that in the NFL anymore?) So the first player to look at is the QB.

At first blush, since both Aaron Rodgers and Ben Roethlisberger missed one game, that would seem to be a wash. But anybody that has followed football even a little bit this year has to be aware that Ben was playing from Week 5 on with at least one of several injuries. The first was a sprained foot, so it was back to the oversize shoe for the Titans game. This was the most benign of the injuries, in my opinion.

Next was the thumb fracture sustained in the Bengals game in mid-November. Ironically, two other QBs sustained similar injuries at that time and both of them were out for the rest of the season. Matt Cassel [KC] injured his hand in the same week as Roethlisberger and was IR’d; the week after Jay Cutler [CHI] sustained a thumb fracture that required surgery and was put on IR. Ben’s fracture was luckily at the tip of his thumb, and he was able to play with a splint and a glove.

The thumb injury would pale in relation to the high ankle sprain he sustained December 8th. Sam Bradford, STL, sustained a high ankle sprain the previous week and missed the remainder of the season. Ben only sat out one game, but many felt that the team would have been better served had he sat out at least two more. Certainly he never again played a consistently good game after the sprain, and who can feel surprised at that? The surprise is that he managed to be effective at all.

And it is worth mentioning at this juncture that Ben’s designated back-up QB was injured and IR’d at the end of the pre-season. Not to take anything away from Charlie Batch, but the team wouldn’t have bothered to sign Byron Leftwich if they had felt completely happy with Charlie as the back-up.

Aaron Rodgers’ injury in 2010 was, by comparison, mild, at least in the short term. He suffered a concussion in the Week 5 game but was able to return for Week 6. A second concussion in Week 14 kept him out of the Week 15 game. However, he was back, good as new, in Week 16. While everyone is rightly concerned about the long-range implications of concussions, it’s easy to see why players like James Harrison feel that a concussion is no big deal in comparison to blowing out somebody’s knee. It may be short-sighted, but it is understandable. At any rate, Rodgers was in top form going into the playoffs. Ben, conversely, was maybe at 50% by Week 18.

The next position to consider isn’t a single position but a unit, because it is arguably the second most import thing on offense, and if it isn’t functioning as a unit, it scarcely matters how good the individual pieces are. And if it isn’t functioning reasonably well it makes life really difficult for the rest of the offense, both the running game and the passing game. I speak, of course, about the offensive line.

The 2010 Packers were incredibly lucky there. There was a single offensive lineman that missed any game time at all, and that was RT Mark Tauscher. Fortunately, the Packers first-round pick in 2010 was T/G Brian Bulaga, and fortunately Tauscher’s injury occurred mid-season. As a result Bulaga was slotted into a fully-functioning unit and had half a season to learn the intricacies of his position at the NFL level. By the time the Packers reached the Super Bowl he was an accomplished lineman-so much so that the Packers released Tauscher during the off-season. Since he is currently a free agent, presumably his upside was on the way down in 2010. In fact, the only lineman to appear on the injury report just prior to the Super Bowl was LT Chad Clifton, and he played.

The Steelers’ offensive line in 2011, conversely, might have gelled into a pretty decent unit, as happened in 2010 by the playoffs, had it ever had the opportunity to gel. But it is pretty hard to gel when you have to start a new combination of linemen for 10 out of 16 games, and when in-game injuries are forcing shuffling of the line and lack of depth is causing injured linemen to re-enter or start games.

The first to go down was Willie Colon, the RT, who had just signed a big new contract after missing a year on IR. He was injured in Week 1. He was replaced by Marcus Gilbert, a rookie who had not had the luxury of OTAs before the season to help ease him into the NFL, as Bulaga did the year before. Gilbert missed only two games. (One of those was a benching for being late to a team meeting.) He was playing with a shoulder injury for part of the season. But rather than go through each lineman, perhaps it would be most instructive to look at the linemen on the injury report for each week and the starting lineup for each game, as that tells the tale about as well as anything. A starting lineup that is the same as the previous week will be in bold.

Week 1 Injury Report: Marcus Gilbert, concussion, Probable (he was on the roster but did not play.)
Week 1 Starting O-line: Scott, Kemoeatu, Pouncey, Legursky, Colon
Week 1 In-game replacements: Essex
Week 2 Injury Report: Chris Kemoeatu, knee, Questionable
Week 2 Starting O-line: Scott, Foster, Pouncey, Legursky, Gilbert
Week 2 In-game replacements: C. Scott
Week 3 Injury Report: Maurkice Pouncey, hamstring, Questionable
Week 3 Starting O-line: Scott, Kemoeatu, Pouncey, Legursky, Gilbert
Week 3 In-game replacements: Foster, Essex
Week 4 Injury Report: Doug Legursky, shoulder, Out; Jonathan Scott, Ankle, Out
Week 4 Starting O-line: Essex, Kemoeatu, Pouncey, Foster, Gilbert
Week 4 In-game replacements: C. Scott
Week 5 Injury Report: Chris Kemoeatu, knee, Out
Week 5 Starting O-line: Max Starks, Legursky, Pouncey, Foster, Gilbert
Week 5 In-game replacements: Meredith, J. Scott, Essex
Week 6 Injury Report: Chris Kemoeatu, knee, Out;  Marcus Gilbert, shoulder, Out
Week 6 Starting O-line: Starks, Legursky, Pouncey, Foster, J. Scott
Week 6 In-game replacements: Meredith, Essex
Week 7 Injury Report: Doug Legursky, toe, Out, Maurkice Pouncey, elbow, Probable
Week 7 Starting O-line: Starks, Kemoeatu, Pouncey, Foster, Gilbert
Week 7 In-game replacements: J. Meredith, J. Scott, Essex
Week 8 Injury Report: Doug Legursky, toe, Out
Week 8 Starting O-line: Starks, Kemoeatu, Pouncey, Foster, Gilbert
Week 8 In-game replacements: J. Meredith, J. Scott, Essex
Week 9 Injury Report: Doug Legursky, toe, Out, Jonathan Scott, Ankle, Probable
Week 9 Starting O-line: Starks, Kemoeatu, Pouncey, Foster, Gilbert
Week 9 In-game replacements: J. Scott, Essex
Week 10 Injury Report: Doug Legursky, toe, Probable
Week 10 Starting O-line: Starks, Kemoeatu, Pouncey, Foster, Gilbert
Week 10 In-game replacements: J. Scott, Essex

Bye Week

Week 12 Injury Report: No offensive linemen on report
Week 12 Starting O-line: Starks, Legursky, Pouncey, Foster, Gilbert
Week 12 In-game replacements: Kemoeatu, Essex
Week 13 Injury Report: Maurkice Pouncey, Illness, Probable (he started the game and had to come out almost immediately)
Week 13 Starting O-line: Starks, Legursky, Pouncey, Foster, Gilbert
Week 13 In-game replacements: Kemoeatu, J. Scott, Essex
Week 14 Injury Report: Ramon Foster, ankle, Probable, Maurkice Pouncey, ankle, Probable
Week 14 Starting O-line: Starks, Legursky, Pouncey, Foster, Gilbert
Week 14 In-game replacements: Kemoeatu, J. Scott, Essex
Week 15 Injury Report: Maurkice Pouncey, ankle, Out, Marcus Gilbert, Illness, Probable
Week 15 Starting O-line: Starks, Essex, Legursky, Foster, Gilbert
Week 15 In-game replacements: Kemoeatu
Week 16 Injury Report: Maurkice Pouncey, ankle, Probable
Week 16 Starting O-line: Starks, Essex, Legursky, Foster, Scott
Week 16 In-game replacements: Kemoeatu, Gilbert
Week 17 Injury Report: Doug Legursky, shoulder, Out, Maurkice Pouncey, ankle, Probable
Week 17 Starting O-line: Starks, Kemoeatu, Pouncey, Foster, Gilbert
Week 17 In-game replacements: Essex (had to come in for Pouncey and play center)

There were two line combinations that worked together more than one week at a time. The line of Starks, Kemoeatu, Pouncey, Foster, and Gilbert started every week from Week 7 – 10, and after the bye week Starks, Legursky, Pouncey, Foster, and Gilbert started Weeks 12, 13, and 14. But even this information doesn’t tell the whole story. In Week 13 Maurkice Pouncey started, although he had a bad case of stomach flu, and he had to be replaced after the first series. So even though it looks as if that was the same line combination, Legursky had to move over to center and Kemoeatu had to come back in. Kemo wasn’t the starter at that point for a reason, and the line was not improved by that move. Ben was sacked five times that game, hurried 13 times, and had his thumb fractured in the bargain.

There was only a single week during which at least one offensive lineman was not on the injury report, and that was at the end of the bye. That to me is an astonishing statistic, and not in a good way.

Now, on to the skill positions.

Running backs:

Both last year’s Packers and this year’s Steelers lost their top running back. However, the Packers lost their back during the Week 1 game. The bulk of the offensive games missed for GB was in the RB/FB position-32 total. (Yes, they actually have a FB, but not John Kuhn-he is listed as an RB. I noticed that their FB was active in the Super Bowl, but was not a starter.)

The Steelers lost Rashard Mendenhall in Week 17. The Steelers’ RBs missed almost as much time as the Packers’-27 games. The difference was that the Steelers lost them all at the end of the season, so that by the Wild Card game they were down to a single experienced RB, and were forced to activate two rookies off the practice squad. However, Redman had a career day in the Wild Card game. He certainly wasn’t the reason the Steelers lost.


Probably the biggest offensive loss to the Packers was TE Jermichael Finley. Although they had other TEs on the roster the coaches replaced Finley with a couple of WRs whose names the Steelers learned to their cost-James Jones and Jordy Nelson. (There were no TEs listed on the Super Bowl starting lineup, but there were three TEs on the active roster.) The Packers’ WRs missed a grand total of 0 games in 2010. That’s pretty good. The TEs made up for that-including Finley’s 11 games, the TEs missed a total of 18 games. (However, 5 of those were missed by a guy they picked up off waivers who was injured on ST in his first game.)

Conversely, the Steelers’ TEs missed no games, but the WRs missed quite a few. Because the Steelers had so much depth at the WR position in 2011 the injuries to special teams captain Arnaz Battle, 2011 signing Jerricho Cotchery, and promising 2nd year player Emmanuel Sanders were not as problematic as they otherwise might have been. The three men missed 14 games between them, and Hines missed one, making a total of 15 games missed.

Hines Ward took a helmet to the back of the head, courtesy of Ray Lewis, during the second BAL game, and never seemed to quite be the same. His best game after that was 5 receptions for 30 yards. Prior to the BAL game he had, in 7 games, 26 receptions for 258 yards. After the BAL game he had, in 7 games, 20 receptions for 123 yards. It’s possible that his “demotion” was due to nagging injuries as much as it was to age.

The 2011 Steelers had five offensive players on the active roster for the Wild Card game that weren’t active during Week 1. In fact, 4 of them weren’t on the roster at all during Week 1 (LT Max Starks, P Jeremy Kapinos, RB John Clay, RB Chad Spann.) Of those four, Starks and Kapinos were obviously established players by the end of the season, but Clay and Spann were new. How new?

Clay was waived at the end of training camp and then signed to the practice squad. He was signed to the active squad on December 23rd, and played in the December 24th game. Spann was a UFDA that was cut by both the Colts and Tampa Bay. The Steelers signed him to the practice squad on December 12th, and activated him on January 4th.

So far my hunch is half right. It doesn’t look as if the Packers did a lot of high-priced signing last season, but so far it looks to me like the people that were injured, and the timing of when they were injured, were on the whole much less problematic for the 2010 Packers than the 2011 Steelers.

That may sound fairly obvious, given that they won the Super Bowl last year and the Steelers exited the playoffs after the first round, but my point is that it wasn’t that the Packers had some extra-large component of heart, or much better coaching, or whatever, that took them all the way, and that the 2011 Steelers lacked. But the defensive side of the equation may tell another tale. To be continued…

Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

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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

My Favorite Part of the Steelers 2011 Season


I mentioned last week that the 2011 Steelers season just didn’t seem as magical as the 2010 campaign, and for good reason. The ’11 Steelers couldn’t duplicate what the ’10 version was doing a year ago at this time when they were in the middle of a memorable Super Bowl run.

Regardless of how any season ends, however, even the years with disappointing conclusions have memorable stretches.

For me, it was a four-game stretch in October when the Steelers showed the rest of the NFL that they were still a force to be reckoned with despite many cries to the contrary, and at least one person calling their defense “old, slow and done.”

The Steelers opened up the season with a 2-2 mark, and the way the team looked in losses to the Ravens (35-7) and Texans (17-10) as well as in their 23-20 victory over the Peyton Manning-less Colts on Sunday Night Football, even the most optimistic Steelers fan (yours truly) had to be at least a little concerned about the state of the team after the first quarter of the season.

When the Steelers lost to the Texans on October 2nd, not only did the team look completely over matched most of the game, but they suffered various injuries that threatened to diminish the team’s performance even further. Linebacker James Harrison suffered a fractured orbital bone that would cause him to miss several weeks of action, Rashard Mendenhall suffered a hamstring injury, Ben Roethlisberger a sprained foot, and to rub even more salt in the wounds (literally), Aaron Smith also injured his foot against the Texans, and in the course of having that injury examined, it was discovered that Smith would need neck surgery and have to go on IR for the fourth time in five seasons.

At that point, things could have snowballed much like they did during that five game losing streak towards the end of the ’09 season, but just when things looked their bleakest, the defending AFC Champions stood tall and proud, and over the next four games, the Steelers may have played their best football of the year.

Ben Roethlisberger played in the game against Tennessee the following week despite the foot injury and proceeded to throw five touchdown passes in the 38-17 victory, including two to legendary receiver Hines Ward, who showed Steelers fans that he still had a little left in the tank. During the week leading up to the Tennessee game, the Steelers resigned veteran Max Starks due to a deficiency along the offensive line, and not only did Starks play against the Titans, he started at left tackle and turned in an almost flawless performance. Mendenhall missed this game due to the hamstring injury he suffered in the Texans’ game, but Isaac Redman and Jonathon Dwyer filled in, and the team accumulated 176 yards on the ground, including 107 by Dwyer, who recorded the team’s longest run from scrimmage during the season with his 76 yard scamper helped along by picture-perfect blocking from Starks and the rest of the big guys up front.

The Steelers pass rush was pretty anemic during the first four games, and Lamarr Woodley, fresh off of signing a new $ 61 million contract in the off season, was barely even noticeable. With Harrison out for an extended period of time, calls for Woodley to be a difference maker were louder than ever. Number 56 more than answered the challenge. Starting in the Tennessee game, Woodley recorded 7.5 sacks over a four-game period. Unfortunately, he suffered a pretty severe hamstring injury in the game against the Patriots that hampered him the remainder of the season. But during those memorable four games in October, Woodley showed that, when healthy, he’s one of the premiere pass-rushers in the NFL.

Next up were the Jacksonville Jaguars, and during a conference call just days prior to the contest, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin hung up on a group of Jacksonville reporters who seemed to be more interested in talking about the Jaguars wild card playoff victory over the Steelers a few years prior than anything having to do with that week’s match-up.

Rashard Mendenhall was back in the lineup against the Jags and answered some of his “he dances around too much” critics by having his best day of the year. Mendenhall rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown as the Steelers jumped out to a 17-0 lead and held on for a 17-13 victory to improve to 4-2.

The Steelers even managed to perform well in their one road game during this four-game winning streak. In a rematch of Super Bowl XLIII (kind of), the Black and Gold traveled to the desert to take on Pittsburgh West, better known as the Arizona Cardinals. Just like in the Super Bowl clash, the Steelers led 17-7 at halftime. The Cardinals briefly made a game of it early in the 3rd quarter, thanks to a LaRod Stephens Howling 73-yard touchdown catch and run, but then the Steelers responded with a Roethlisberger touchdown pass followed immediately by a safety after Woodley forced Cardinals QB Kevin Kolb into an intentional grounding penalty from his own end zone. The game was never in doubt the rest of the way as Pittsburgh built an 18-point lead and went on to win, 32-20. Ben Roethlisberger threw for three more touchdown passes, including a team record 95-yard hook-up with Mike Wallace.

Now it was back to Heinz Field for a Devil’s Night match-up with Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Brady had his way with Dick Lebeau’s famous defense just a year earlier in a, 39-26, victory on Sunday Night Football. Lebeau’s philosophy had always been to have his corners play off in the hopes that this would eventually lead to a mistake by the opposing QB, but since Tom Brady is probably better than any quarterback at playing pitch-and-catch up and down the field, the Steelers defense looked helpless more often than not whenever they faced the three-time Super Bowl winner. However, on this day, Lebeau proved that even a Hall of Famer isn’t above changing as he had his defensive backs play a more aggressive style against Wes Welker and the rest of the Patriots pass catchers. Brady looked frazzled most of the day as he threw for just under 200 yards. He did throw for two touchdown passes, but one was set up by a turnover deep in Pittsburgh territory, and the other came about thanks to a pass interference call on 4th and goal. It was Ben Roethlisberger who won the battle of the elite quarterbacks on this day, utilizing the underneath pass to torture New England’s secondary. Big Ben was 36/50 for 365 yards and two touchdowns, as the Steelers won in very impressive fashion, 25-17, in a game that wasn’t nearly as close as the score would indicate.

The Steelers more than answered their critics during this four-game period where they improved to 6-2. The offense looked as good as it did the entire year, averaging just under 420 yards a game, Lamarr Woodley led a rejuvenated pass rush, and the much maligned secondary improved so dramatically, it became a team strength down the stretch.

What were your most memorable moments from the Steelers 2011 season?

Source: Behind the Steel Curtain

2 Steelers earn spots on Associated Press 2011 NFL All-Pro Team

NEW YORK — Calvin Johnson took one look at the voting and smiled broadly. “That’s sweet,” he said, as he studied The Associated Press 2011 NFL All-Pro Team. “That’s one of the best honors you can have other than being a Super Bowl champion. To be an All-Pro is a tremendous honor.”

Source: post-gazette.com – Steelers/NFL

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