Tag Archives: Mike Tomlin

My Way Too Early Speculation of Where Le’Veon Bell Will Land in 2019

Le’Veon Bell’s time in Pittsburgh is clearly coming to an end. But, where will the All-Pro, all-purpose back land in 2019?

It’s clear the Pittsburgh Steelers and All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell are headed for a divorce. At this point the relationship appears unsalvageable after his teammates, specifically the offensive line, recklessly spoke about his contract situation and reluctance to show up for their week one matchup against the Cleveland Browns. He’s even been removed from the depth chart for week two’s matchup with the Kansas City Chiefs.

Bell hasn’t signed his $14.5 million franchise tender, and will be docked $850 thousand for each game his misses. He wants a contract that will reset the market for top-flight running backs. Similar to what the LA Rams signed Todd Gurley to; 4 years, $60 million with $45 guaranteed. The 3-time All-Pro is two years older and unlikely to get that money from the Steelers, especially with the way his replacement, 2nd-year pro James Conner has performed so far in his absence in week one against the Cleveland Browns and training camp.

Bell’s not likely to get a long-term deal because of his age, but he’s a perfect match for teams that are in win now mode. Honestly, that’s the type of team he should be looking for, especially if he’s going to leave a franchise in Pittsburgh that’s always in the championship race.

So assuming it’s really over for Bell in the 412. Where could he land? Who needs him? Who could/is willing to pay him what he desires? Here is my way too early speculation of where he might land in 2019.

New York Jets. The Jets were in the hunt for quarterback Kirk Cousins and willing to pay him top dollar (I know QB money and RB money is different) before he chose the Minnesota Vikings and they drafted Sam Darnold with the third overall pick in the 2018 draft. They also were interested in acquiring Khalil Mack from the Oakland Raiders before he was eventually shipped off to the Chicago Bears. My point for bringing up those two players is to show that the Jets organization has the money and appears willing and desires to make a splash. Now that they appear to have a franchise QB in Darnold on a rookie contract, and their defense looks to be more than formidable, they’re only missing a top flight back. The three best friends for a young quarterback are an elite tackle to protect his blindside, a stout defense and a strong running game. Bell would help the team check the final box. Also, it’s New York. Bell likes the spotlight, and an offer anywhere near Gurley’s, even if it doesn’t top it, would likely pique his interest and make the Jets a strong contender in the AFC.

Indianapolis Colts. They’ve been trying to pair Andrew Luck with a running back since the day he was drafted to replace Peyton Manning. They’ve tried just about everything. Last season it was then 35-year old Frank Gore. In previous seasons they went as far as trading for Trent Richardson when he flamed out with the Cleveland Browns after being drafted two slots behind Luck in the 2012 draft. Nothing has worked. The Colts finally have invested in their offensive line to protect their wounded franchise QB. The other way to further that protection, get him an elite running back. Bell is worth the money if the Colts really think Luck is the championship caliber QB to lead them.

Green Bay Packers. The Pack desperately needs to get a running game to compliment Aaron Rodgers. Even though he is superhuman, at some point you put him at too much risk, being predictable by allowing him to drop back and sling it all over the field. They need balance. Green Bay was also interested in acquiring Khalil Mack before he was traded to the Bears. So they too are in win at all cost mode, NOW. Bell would give them a dimension they’ve NEVER had in A-A-Ron’s time under center in cheese country. A balanced attack would make the best QB in the game even scarier.

DARK HORSES

Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Who knows what Jameis Winston’s future is in west Florida, but if they keep him beyond his rookie contract that ends in 2019, and he improves on and off the field, their offense has everything but an elite running back. The combination of DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans at wide receiver positions and OJ Howard at tight end is lethal. With Bell they’d have better weapons than what he’s currently apart of in the Burgh. Tampa Bay’s defense led by Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and Brent Grimes is stout. Bell would make the Bucs the favorites in the best division in the NFL, the NFC South. A division that has been represented in the Super Bowl 2 of the last three seasons.

Seattle Seahawks. When Russell Wilson was at his best, he had “Beast Mode” Marshawn Lynch behind him. Even though he’s improved each season, their offense has been very predictable and Wilson playing sandlot ball. Now, they just spent their 2018 first round pick (27th overall) on Rashad Penny out of San Diego State who led FCS in rushing with 2,027 yards in 2017. So this is less likely than the other teams I have mentioned. However, Bell is a different animal, and if you can get him, YOU. GET. HIM.

Dawn of More Steelers Championships

The 2016 Steelers story could very well be the first chapter in a book filled with future championships. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Steelers Nation is reeling the disheartening and embarrassing 36-17 AFC Championship loss to the Evil Empire, also known as the New England Patriots. For the third time, Tom Brady and Bill Belichick prevented them from advancing to the Super Bowl, this time on their home turf in Foxborough.

But the 2016 season wasn’t and shouldn’t be a total disappointment for Pittsburgh fans. This playoff run and the second half of the regular season showed all the pieces necessary are in place for a potential Steelers dynasty.

It obviously starts with the franchise QB. Ben Roethlisberger is already the best quarterback in Pittsburgh Steelers history over Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw. He’s already won two Super Bowls and played in a third. He has every important quarterback statistic in franchise history. This should no longer be a debate.

Of the key significant players on the Steelers offense, he’s the oldest at 34 years old. Barring significant injury, which has been an issue through this career, Big Ben should be able to play at an elite, pro-bowl level for another four years or so. That is if Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Brett Favre, Warren Moon to name a few are the new norm. Roethlisberger will be protected by a top rated offensive line and have arguably the most talented and explosive collection of skill players in the NFL at his disposal, as well as a young emerging defense.

Look first at the guys who will protect #7. Everyone raves about the Dallas Cowboys’ offensive line, but the Steelers underrated line, which has two Pro Bowlers in David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey who have also been All-Pro’s, was the second ranked overall unit in the NFL. They only allowed 21 sacks, the second fewest in the league. They allowed the third fewest hits on the QB at 56. The starters average age is 28.2 with an average of 5.6 years of experience. They’ll hold down the trenches not only keep him clean, but also open up holes for Le’Veon Bell.

Speaking of Bell. As Roethlisberger ages, he will become the focal point of the offense and carry the load. Think of it how Kyrie Irving has now become the closer for the Cleveland Cavaliers, even though LeBron James is still their most important player. The Steelers were 9-0 this season when he rushed for 90+ yards.

Bell, the guy I call “the most lethal weapon in the NFL”, is only 24 years old. In the 12 games he played, “Juice” led the NFL in scrimmage yards per game at 157 (105.7 rushing; 51.3 receiving), and was the first back in history to average more than 100 rushing yards and 50 receiving yards per game. His yards per carry average of 4.9 ranked 2nd of those who qualified and his total 1,268 rushing yards was 5th best in the League. The guy many say is the best all-around back in the game is only going to get better.

At this point, we already know what to expect from Antonio Brown. Arguably the League’s best wide receiver, he once again finished in the top 5 in receptions (106; 2nd), receiving yards (1,284; 5th) and touchdown catches (12; tied for 2nd). The key was finding other guys to step up when opposing defenses doubled and bracketed AB. Eli Rogers and Jesse James became those guys and were third and fourth in receptions. James (39 catches, 338 yards & 3 TDs) played more than expected with all the injuries high-priced free agent tight end LeDarius Green suffered through all season long. The second-year tight end from Penn State showed he has the size and athleticism to fill the void in the middle of the field left by Heath Miller’s retirement.

Rogers (48 catches, 594 yards & 3 TDs) and Cobi Hamilton (17 catches, 234 yards & 2 TDs) appear to have passed up Sammie Coates and Markus Wheaton–who can’t stop dropping passes or stay off the injury list–on the depth chart in the wide receiver rotation and were a welcome surprise. The biggest addition will be, IF he can stay clean and IF he gets reinstated, getting a proven commodity in Martavis Bryant back to go with all this new firepower.

But the offense hasn’t been the concern in recent years, it was the defense. The kryptonite to the offenses Super Powers in recent seasons has been their aging defense, specifically in the secondary. Even with 38-year old James Harrison playing a significant role, and who knows what his future will hold, it’s still the 11th youngest unit in the NFL.

The secondary started two rookies in safety Sean Davis and cornerback Artie Burns. Second-year pro Ross Cockrell finished his first season as a full-time starter at corner. 23-year old outside linebacker Bud Dupree only played half of his sophomore season, and maybe it’s coincidence or not, the 9-game win streak began when he returned from a groin injury that kept him out the first 9 regular season games. 24-year old Ryan Shazier was first on the team in forced fumbles (3), interceptions (3) and second in tackles (87). Oh, and they’re getting back from injury, the guy who was the most consistent in the early part of the season in defensive end Cam Heyward. The guy who replaced him, rookie Javon Hargrave, got valuable experience in his absence registering 27 tackles, 2 sacks, and another one in the playoffs.

As the 2016 season carried on, Keith Butler’s group steadily improved in his second season calling the shots. They’re now almost as explosive as the Killer B’s in the way they get after the quarterback and create turnovers. Surely they’ll draft a linebacker in the first round, and hopefully draft another athletic, rangy defensive back to pair with what they have. But, it’s looking a lot better on that side of the ball than it did mid-season.

Some say the only difference between the teams that didn’t make the playoffs and the ones that did, is the extra weeks of practice time. Well then it was worth it. The young guns got thrown into the fire and gained valuable, much needed experience.

Remember when Big Ben was a young pup and Pittsburgh relied on a strong running game with Jerome Bettis and a stout defense with Troy Polamalu, Joey Porter, Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel and James Farrior to name a few, to win games? As he ages, they’ll revert back to that formula and increase his championship window. Only this time as the elite running back and defense ages, they’ll be entering their prime. Where as the roster Roethlisberger inherited was exiting their prime as he was entering his.

I no longer think it’s a question of if he’ll win another Super Bowl, in my opinion that’s a given. The question is will he catch Bradshaw’s four Super Bowl victories and pass him? The hope and possibility of that should enough to get Steeler Nation through the winter.

The Steelers showed promise that another Lombardi is close. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Third Time Wasn’t the Charm

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Mike Tomlin drops to 2-1 in AFC Championships after losing to the Patriots 36-17 in the ’16 AFC title game.

Steeler Nation has seen this horror film before. It’s a now a trilogy. And each one ends the same. Disappointing and embarrassing.

Tom Brady and the New England Patriots thwarted another Pittsburgh Steelers trip to the Super Bowl 36-17.

The 4-time Super Bowl Champion QB carved the Black and Yellow defense for a postseason career high and franchise record 384 yards with 3 touchdowns. Chris Hogan ran free in the Steelers secondary to score 2 touchdowns while setting a Patriots franchise postseason record 180 receiving yards on 9 receptions. Julian Edelman also got loose for 118 yards on 8 catches, one going for a touchdown. The 298 combined receiving yards is the most by a duo in conference championship history.

The Pittsburgh defense that led the way to victory in many games during the 10-game winning streak going back to week 11 was no match for Brady’s offense. Coming into the game New England averaged 386.2 total yards per game. They went for 431 in the AFC title game. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler went back to a game plan that he implored at the beginning of the season; Bend, but don’t break. Those type of calls get you burnt. All season I’ve said that an elite quarterback would slice and dice that plan. Sunday night was that night.

Critics of Mike Tomlin, ahem… Terry Bradshaw, will use this game as an example of him not being an elite or a great coach because the lack of adjustments made.

From my vantage point the only adjustment they could’ve made would’ve been to play ball control offense, and that option went out the window in the first quarter when Le’Veon Bell injured his groin after only 6 carries for 20 yards. Had Bell been available, and been able to do even half of what he did in the Wild Card and Divisional rounds, that could’ve done the trick. The Steelers were 9-0 this season when he ran for 90+ yards. That’s because he eats clock, while also wearing down defenses, but mostly because it would’ve kept Brady on the sideline. He was also missed in the passing game, as New England was able to double team Antonio Brown who had a quiet 7 catches for 77 yards.

Still, Bell doesn’t play defense and that’s where this team was exposed once again like they were during their mid-season 4-game losing streak from weeks 6 thru 10.

Offensively, Ben Roethlisberger came to play going 31 of 47 for 314 yards with a touchdown and interception. But not many others with him. At one point in the first half, he completed a career high 13 consecutive completions. This was his moment to get payback on #12 and “The hoody” for the loss he suffered as a rookie 12 seasons ago, and he looked poised to take advantage of it. With Brown double teamed, Eli Rodgers (7 catches for 66 yards) and Jesse James (5 catches for 48 yards) made plays to keep drives moving. But key drops by Sammie Coates and Cobi Hamilton sucked the life out of promising drives.

The key turning point was Pittsburgh’s last drive of the first half. The 19-yard touchdown catch by James that would’ve brought the score to 12-17 was reversed when replay showed he was down at the one yard line, was followed by three unsuccessful plays that yielded negative 4 yards before Chris Boswell came in on 4th down to make a 23-yard field goal to bring the score to 9-17.

Had they got the touchdown and headed into halftime 13-17 after the extra point or 14-17 if they went for a 2-point conversion, with them getting the ball first to start the second half it would’ve been a different game. Instead they went three-and-out on their first second half possession, then proceeded to give up 19 unanswered points, and it was pretty much a coronation for New England as they broke a tie with the Steelers for most AFC title championship in NFL history with 9.

I honestly didn’t expect this. I thought this was the one. The one win to wipe away the pain from losing in 2004 and 2001 at Heinz Field. This one will be tough to digest. The last 9 weeks gave Steelers fans a sense of hope the Lombardi number seven was within reach. Tonight showed this team is probably a year or two away. I’ll have more on that later this week, because my final takeaway from this season is, 2016 may have been the dawn of a new Steelers dynasty.

When you’re an organization playing for World titles it’s hard to accept a 13-6 finish. But when you look at where this team was in mid-October, if you told me this would be the final result, I would’ve taken it after I laughed at you.

Next up, the offseason.

EXTRA POINTS

  • Sunday was the 11-year anniversary of the Steelers 2005 AFC Championship victory over the Denver Broncos.
  • Ben Roethlisberger started his 20th career postseason game, passing Terry Bradshaw, Mel Blount and Franco Harris for the franchise record by an individual player. He also passed Bradshaw for most 300+ yard passing games in franchise postseason history.
  • On his third carry of the night, Le’Veon Bell passed Franco Harris (343) for most rushing yards in a postseason. He now has 357 yards in his first three playoff games.
  • This was the first playoff game since 2006 with no penalties in the first half.

Steelers Revenge Tour is on to New England

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Chris Boswell set an NFL record six made FGs in Pittsburgh’s 18-16 win at Kansas City. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

When it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers, all anybody wants to talk about is the Killer B’s of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. Go ahead and add another B, kicker Chris Boswell. Without his NFL postseason record 6 made field goals, Pittsburgh’s season is over.

He was the difference as the Steelers pulled out the win 18-16 without scoring a touchdown. The first team to do that since the 2006 Indianapolis Colts, who went on to win Super Bowl XLI. By the way, that team also played the New England Patriots in the AFC Championship game.

But back to the Steelers and Sunday night. Pittsburgh dominated Kansas City, especially the much maligned defensive unit. Who would’ve thought back in October, that the Steelers defensive would win them a gutsy playoff game?

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Ryan Shazier and Mike Mitchell led a dominate Steelers defensive performance. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

The 11th youngest unit in the NFL, held the Chiefs to 227 total yards (166, passing, 61 rushing). In the first half they allowed 7 first downs, and a total 106 yards (20 rushing, 86 passing). 55 of those yards came on the six play 3:29 minute drive that led to the first opening drive touchdown the Steelers have given up all season, regular or postseason. They were the only team in the NFL to not allow one.

The only time Keith Butler’s unit looked overmatched was on Kansas City’s first offensive possession. And that came after kicking short to avoid Tyreek Hill’s explosive return ability, and allowed Kansas City to return it to their own 45-yard line.

From that moment on, they were on fire, forcing two turnovers (interception, fumble), allowing only 4.6 yards per play and holding the Chiefs to 2-9 on 3rd down. Kansas City looked frustrated and discombobulated all night. Travis Kelce, who many are calling the second best tight end in the game, had 5 catches for 77 yards. Zero touchdowns. Tyreek Hill who has had a breakout rookie season only had 3 rushes for 18 yards and 4 catches for 27 yards. Zero touchdowns. They both scored in the 29-point blowout loss in week four.

The magic number for Pittsburgh is 20. They’re now 10-0 when not allowing teams to surpass that mark.

The offensive stats look similar to the 43-14 week four blowout in Heinz Field, except for the only numbers that count. The ones on the scoreboard. Bell followed up his record setting first playoff game by passing himself in the record books and set a new franchise postseason rushing record with 170 yards on 30 carries. Brown caught 6 passes for 108 yards, and Roethlisberger was 20 for 31 and 224 yards, but a huge pick in the red zone that could’ve changed the way the Chiefs had to play their final possession, had the Steelers turned that possession into any points. On the night they were 0-4 in the red zone.

My main issue in this game was the lack of running the ball in the red zone. Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley appeared to fall in love with the passing game too much. For example, after Roethlisberger hit Brown on a 52-yard pass play on their second possession, Bell didn’t touch the ball once inside the Kansas City 25-yard line. They had several opportunities like that in the half to possibly rip Kansas City’s heart out and save Steelers Nations hearts from the late game tension.

The defense is finally playing close to par with the offense. Defense and running games travel, regardless of the weather. If they can put it all together at the same time in the next sixty minutes, they’ll been on their way to Houston and one step closer to holding Lombardi number seven.

The revenge tour now moves on to Foxborough, Massachusetts to face the New England Patriots. The Roethlisberger-less Steelers loss to the Brady Bunch 27-16 back on October 23rd in Heinz Field. The Pats have also beaten the Steelers the last two times they’ve met up in the AFC Championship Game. Both of those games were in Pittsburgh. Time for payback. Kickoff is set for 6:40 next Sunday.

EXTRA POINTS 

  • With his only sack of the night, James Harrison tied Lamarr Woodley for the most sacks (11) in Steelers postseason history. It was also his 4th consecutive playoff game with a sack.
  • Le’Veon Bell is the first Steelers play to rush for 100 yards or more in the first half of a playoff game. He also now has the record for most rushing yards in his first two postseason games.
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Le’Veon Bell’s 337 rushing yards is the most in NFL postseason history for a player’s first two game. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

  • Antonio Brown earned his 4th consecutive 100+ yard receiving game in the playoffs tying him with Arizona Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald for the most in NFL history.

 

Wild Card Preview: Steelers Seek Revenge Against Dolphins

The Steelers were dominated by the Dolphins in October, 30-15. Their recent 7-game surge points to them returning the favor. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

One playoff win since 2011. A 30-15 loss in week six. 222 rushing yards. Those are some of the things the Pittsburgh Steelers will hear this week as they prepare for their rematch with the Miami Dolphins in their Wild Card round meeting.

They’ll also be told Miami has their number. The Steelers have lost the last two games to Dolphins, which includes a 34-28 loss the last time the ‘Phins visited the Steel City in December of 2013.

The AFC’s sixth seed in this year’s playoffs is the underdog coming into the matchup at Heinz Field. But, they’ll have plenty of confidence.  As they showed back on October 16th, they pose several problems for the Black and Yellow.

Even when the Steelers have struggled to stop the pass in recent years, they were still formidable in stuffing the run. Not that Sunday. The Steelers D gave up a total of 222 rushing yards, 204 to Jay Ajayi alone. That was the headline. But, they also made Ryan Tannehill look like an All-Pro. The 5-year Pro had a career day, throwing for 252 yards while completing 24 of his 32 pass attempts for a QBR of 97.4. More shocking, is that Miami didn’t punt once the entire game.

I’m sure Mike Tomlin and defensive coordinator Keith Butler have the highlights, or rather lowlights, from that embarrassing loss on a constant loop in the meeting rooms at the practice facility.

The worse part of the loss to me was watching how dismal the team played on offense with all three of the Killer B’s on the field. Ben Roethlisberger was sacked twice and threw two interceptions, one of which he was injured on trying to make a tackle to prevent it from being returned for a touchdown. He was 19 of 34 for 189 yards with one touchdown on the day for a QBR of 57.1.

Le’Veon Bell rushed for 53 yards on only 10 carries. The leading rusher for the Steelers was Darius Heyward-Bey with 60 yards, and that came on one play, a reverse that went for a touchdown. Antonio Brown was targeted 8 times and caught only 4 passes for 39 yards.

However, this will be the first time since Roethlisberger, Brown and Bell have been on the Steelers roster that all three will play in a playoff game together. Bell was injured and missed the last four playoff games (three Wild Cards and one Divisional game).

Do we really think the Dolphins can contain this Steelers offense like that again? Do we think they can put up another 30 points? and in possibly twenty degree weather? The recent trend says no.

This Steelers team has done a complete 180 from the one Miami beat to start their midseason four-game losing streak. Since week eleven, the start of this winning streak, Pittsburgh’s defense has sacked opposing QBs 25 times, while only allowing 96.6 yards per game and 197 passing yards per game, with a +5 turnover margin.

Offensively, they’ve only given up 7 sacks in the streak, 4 of those came Sunday against the Browns without Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey . On the season, the offensive line has only given up a total of 21 sacks, just missing the franchise record low of 20. The last seven games they’re gaining 375.9 total yards per game, 241 via the pass 134.9 on the ground. Miami is allowing 406.1 yards per game in their last seven-games, 250.7 passing and 155.4 rushing. What does that mean?

Bell will definitely carry the ball more than ten times, and with the expected forecast, it’s more likely to be around 25 times, plus at least 5 receptions which has been the norm during the win streak. The young core of receivers in Eli Rogers, Cobi Hamilton, Demarcus Ayers and tight end Jesse James have gained the confidence in themselves, and Roethlisberger, to make an impact if Miami decides to load up on Brown as they did in the first meeting. Oh, and tight LaDarius Green, who missed the October game, will likely be back from a concussion to give the offense another weapon.

I won’t be surprised if this game resembles the earlier season one, but in Pittsburgh’s favor this time. Kickoff is set for 1:05 Sunday.

Have the Steelers Peaked too Soon?

The 2016 Steelers finished the season as the hottest team in the NFL with a 7-game win streak. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

The Pittsburgh Steelers have concluded the 2016 regular season with an 11-5 record and on a seven-game win streak after a 27-24 overtime win over the now 1-15 Cleveland Browns. The win streak, which came after a four-game losing streak, helped them claim the AFC North title and a spot in the playoffs as the number three seed, where they’ll be seeking Lombardi trophy number seven.

I’m not going to even breakdown that game against the Browns because it might as well have been a preseason game. It wouldn’t have mattered if Mike Tomlin would’ve played his top guys. There was nothing to gain, only to lose.

Cobi Hamilton hauls in the 26-yard game winning touchdown pass from Landry Jones in overtime. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

There were some positives. After a slow start, and a 14-point deficit, Landry Jones finished well throwing for 277 yards and 3 touchdowns, including the game winning 26-yard touchdown pass in overtime to Cobi Hamilton. Eli Rogers continued to show he could make plays to take pressure off of Antonio Brown in the passing game, finishing the day with 6 receptions for 61 yards and converted key first downs. Defensively, Steelers team rookie of the year award winner, safety Sean Davis, continued to make huge strides with 8 tackles including his first career sack. There was also a Jarvis Jones sighting. He had 3 tackles, a sack, and forced a key fumble in the final seconds of regulation to keep Cleveland from attempting a game-winning field goal. But other than that, this game was dreadful to watch. Therefore I, like the Steelers, am on to the playoffs.

My biggest concern entering the postseason is, have they peak too soon?

Most will say you want to play your best ball at the end of the season. And they are. The defense has gone from a mid-twenties ranked total D to a top ten ranked unit. Le’Veon Bell is the hottest offensive player in the League averaging 157 scrimmage yards per game.

But usually teams playing their best football weren’t on win streaks this long. I hear you saying the ’05 Steelers, those Eli Manning led New York Giants and the 2010 Green Bay Packers that beat Pittsburgh in Super Bowl XLV. Even those teams weren’t riding streaks like the one Pittsburgh is on right now.

The 2005 Steelers won four in a row to end the regular season, then four playoff games on their way to winning Super Bowl XL. That eight game win streak begin after a three-game losing streak, that followed a four-game winning streak.

As great as the 2008 team was, finishing 12-4, their longest win streak was five games from weeks 11 through 15. If you include the three playoffs games to win Super Bowl XLIII, they won six of their last seven games with a four game win streak .

In the case of other teams that got hot late, that Aaron Rogers-led Packers that beat the Steelers in the Super Bowl won their last two regular season games, to end a two-game losing streak, then the four playoff games to win the Lombardi. That’s a six game win streak

The 2007 New York Giants finished their regular season slate 10-6, but were 3-3 in their last six games of the season before running off three straight playoff road wins and knocking off the New England Patriots who were riding an eighteen-game win streak into Super Bowl XLII. The Giants won five of their last six if you include the four consecutive in the playoffs. Their only loss was to the Patriots in the final game of the regular season.

The 2011 Giants finished the season 9-7 and on a two-game winning streak, before winning four straight in the playoffs culminating in another epic victory over the Patriots 21-17. That New England team rolled into Indianapolis on an overall ten-game win streak going back to week eight of the regular season. in total, New York finished with a six-game win streak.

My point, long win streaks like the one Pittsburgh is on, is very rare in the NFL. This isn’t college football.

If the Steelers win Super Bowl LI, that would mean they won eleven consecutive, the final four would be against the League’s best, starting with the Miami Dolphins, then possibly New England in the AFC Championship, and the Dallas Cowboys in Houston at the Super Bowl. All of which have already beaten them this season during their early four-game losing streak.

Hopefully, the resting of key players and the struggle against the Browns works in the favor of Pittsburgh to refocus and recharge for the most important chapter in the 2016 Steelers story.

Pittsburgh Uses 4th Quarter Explosion to Steel AFC North Title

Le’Veon Bell rushed for 122 yards a touchdown and caught a touchdown pass to help beat the Ravens 31-27. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

In a week when Pittsburgh Steelers legend and Pro Football Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw criticized Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin’s coaching ability and philosophy, even going as far to say “He’s a great cheerleader guy…”, Tomlin’s team came out and backed up their #1 cheerleader by winning their 5th AFC North division title in his 10 seasons as a head coach. Especially, the Killer B’s of Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell.

When it looked like Roethlisberger was going to throw away the division and possibly the playoffs with 2 second half interceptions that set the Baltimore Ravens up for 10 points, offensive coordinator Todd Haley turned to the guy I call “the most lethal offensive weapon in the NFL”, Le’Veon Bell.

The Steelers offense started the game ringing the Bell successfully. #26 converted 4 of the Steelers 6 first downs on their first drive of the game and rushed for 45 yards, which were more than the total he had the entire game against Baltimore in week 9 (32 yards). That 9 play, 87 yard drive ended with a 20-yard TD pass from Roethlisberger to Xavier Grimble to put the ‘Burgh up 7-0. We all know what happened from that moment through the beginning of the final 15 minutes. Pittsburgh was soundly out played and Bradshaw’s assessment of Tomlin looked pretty spot on.

But just like they’ve finished the second half of this season, they did so in this game. In the 4th quarter Pittsburgh scored 21 points on drives of 75, 90, and 75 yards. The longest was 2 minutes and 49 seconds. On the 90-yard touchdown drive to put them ahead 24-20, Brown and Bell gained EVERY yard. With the game on the line, #7 went to #84 with 9 seconds remaining and he fought his way into the end zone to bring the AFC North title home with the 31-27 win.

For the game, Le’Veon rushed for 122 yards on 20 carries and a touchdown, he also had 3 catches for 15 yards and a touchdown. Brown had 10 catches for 96 yards and a touchdown, 9 in the second half. Roethlisberger finished with 3 touchdown passes on 24 of 33 and 279 yards to go along with those 2 interceptions.

Defensively it wasn’t pretty, but they got it done when it counted. The Ravens won the time of possession battle 34:37 to 25:23. They were 9 of 17 on 3rd down conversions. Joe Flacco passed for 262 yards on 30 of 44 passing, while the offensive line bullied the Steelers D down the field for 122 rushing yards. Baltimore was beating the Steelers every which way you’d want. But Keith Butler’s unit forced Baltimore to settle for 4 field goals in the red zone, and a botched snap on another field goal attempt basically sealed their playoff fate.

Ryan Shazier’s interception as time expired sealed the AFC North title for Pittsburgh. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Flacco was sacked 2 times for -18 yards, and Ryan Shazier’s pick as time expired clinched the division. This is the first game in 2016 the Steelers have allowed 21+ points and won. All 5 losses this season came when the opponent score 21 or more points.

Who would’ve thought at week 10 when the Steelers were 4-5 and on a four game losing streak, they’d be 2016 AFC North Champions?  But here they are. With a 6-game win streak, surging into the playoffs as the 3-seed, instead of sneaking in like last season and looking like the team NOBODY wants to play in January.

Next up, the 1-14 Cleveland Browns in Heinz Field on New Year’s Day.

EXTRA POINTS

  • Roethlisberger’s 3 touchdown passes moved him to 301 and past John Elway, he’s idol growing up, for 9th on the NFL’s All-time pass touchdowns list.
  • Antonio Brown joined Marvin Harrison as the only players in NFL history to have 4 straight season of 100+ receptions, and his 1 TD reception was the 50th of his career.
  • With his 6th 100+ rushing yard game of the season, Le’Veon Bell passed Barry Foster, Dick Hoak, and Frank Pollard for 5th place on the Steelers all-time rushing list.
  • The Steelers are the only team in 2016 to not allow an opening drive touchdown to an opponent.

Steelers Sneak Away With 5th Consecutive “W”

Bell’s 131 total yards from scrimmage help the Steelers escape with a 24-20 win over Cincinnati. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Two teams from Pittsburgh got off the bus at Paul Brown Stadium in Cincinnati on Sunday. The first half was the team that lost 4 consecutive games in weeks 6 thru 10. The second half was the team that has now won their last 5 games, especially on the defensive side.

The first half version of the Steelers beat themselves offensively and defensively with key penalties that set the Bengals up for points and kept themselves from scoring touchdowns. Pittsburgh was flagged 4 times for 74 yards in the first half alone. They finished the game with 7 for 104 yards.

Three major penalties told the story of the first half. A face mask by Stephon Tuitt on a 3rd down sack on the first Bengals offensive drive, and a pass interference in the end zone against Artie Burns on the second drive that put the ball on the Steelers one-yard line, set Cincinnati up to score 10 quick and easy points.

The third against Le’Veon Bell for a chop block that erased what would’ve been Antonio Brown’s 50th career touchdown reception and a what would’ve have been a 17-10 deficit. Instead the Steelers had to settle for a Chris Boswell 49-yard field goal.

Speaking of Boswell, he gets the game ball. If it weren’t for his Steelers franchise record tying 6 made field goals, 5 of 40+ yards, and a touchdown saving tackle on a kickoff return, Pittsburgh would have been out of this game at halftime.

Defensively, Keith Butler’s group couldn’t stop the Bengals running or passing game.

Cincinnati gained 184 total yards (116 passing, 68 rushing), they never punted and didn’t allow a sack or have a turnover. Andy Dalton was 10 of 16 passing for 116 yards. Jeremy Hill ran for 44 yards on 14 carries and had a touchdown that put them up 17-3 with 9:02 remaining in the 2nd quarter.

The Bengals did what the Steelers had done masterfully over the last month, win the time of possession battle and keep opposing offenses as spectators, while not allowing the suspect defense to be exposed. The Bengals held the ball for 17:59 of the first 30 minutes.

Offensively, Pittsburgh could only muster 3 field goals in the time they crossed into enemy territory. Offensive coordinator Todd Haley got cute, and clearly over-thought his game plan. There’s no reason Le’Veon Bell should’ve had 7 carries and 3 receptions in an entire half, as he did on Sunday. It lead to 29 rushing yards for the League’s best back and a 20-9 halftime deficit.

Coach Mike Tomlin implied to CBS sideline reporter Evan Washburn that the Steelers were beating themselves and needed to be “cleaner” in the second half. Obviously the team got the message.

Harrison and the Steelers D held the Bengals scoreless and to 38 total yards in the second half. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Defensively, they cleaned up the penalties and held the Bengals scoreless, while only allowing 38 total yards. Hill rushed 6 times for -1 yard. Dalton went 6 of 11 for 41 yards, was sacked for an 11-yard loss, and threw an interception to Lawrence Timmons.

Meanwhile, the offense patiently and methodically took the lead. Ben Roethlisberger led them to 228 total yards in the second half. Le’Veon Bell rushed for 64 yards to finish with 93 on the day to go along with 5 catches for 38 yards. In total he touched the ball 28 times, and they them won the time of possession battle 32:32 to 27:28. LaDarius Green and Eli Rodgers stepped up and took the defensive attention off Antonio Brown that Roethlisberger has been begging for all season. Rodgers finished with 5 catches for 75 and the go ahead 24-yard touchdown pass. Green also had 5 catches 72 yards, 3 of which were converted for first downs.

The second half performance followed the formula this team has used to win 5 games in a row and take the AFC North lead going into next Sunday’s major matchup with the Baltimore Ravens. If they play like the second half team next week and not the first half version, they’ll be one step closer to the AFC North title and a spot in the tournament.

Kickoff is set for 4:30 pm at Heinz Field.

EXTRA POINTS 

  • Pittsburgh is now undefeated on the season when they allow 20 or fewer points (9-0).
  • The Steelers have now won 7 of their last 8 games at Cincinnati.
  • With his second catch of the day, Antonio Brown recorded the 470th of his career, setting an NFL record for most receptions in a 4-year span passing 2016 Pro Football Hall of Fame enshrine Marvin Harrison.

If Not Tomlin, Than Who?

In the midst of a four-game losing streak, many in Steeler Nation want the 10-year coach to be fired. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

I never thought I would say this about a fan base with so much tradition and knowledge of the game of football, but Pittsburgh Steelers fans have got to be some of the most delusional and irrational in the NFL. Many are calling for Mike Tomlin’s tenure in the “Steel City” to come to an end after the 35-30 loss to the Dallas Cowboys that extended the Steelers losing streak to 4-games.

The overwhelming venom spewed towards the 10-year head coach is nothing new. He always gets it no matter what type of season the team has or is having. He gets hell when they don’t win a Super Bowl, hell, even a playoff game. They can’t stand his cliché press conferences. Which by the way are no less informative than Bill Belichick’s. How’s that worked out for him and the New England Patriots?

If Steelers fans got their way—they won’t if you know anything about the Rooney family—and he was fired, Tomlin would have a job the next day. One presumable landing spot would be in the AFC North with the heated rival Cincinnati Bengals replacing the underachieving Marvin Lewis. Tomlin would haunt the Steelers like Belichick’s firing still haunts the Cleveland Browns organization. But, I bring up the Bengals head coach to make this point, that’s what a team that needs a coaching change looks like. 12-seasons no playoff wins, and us Steeler fans, I say us because I am a die hard fan of the Black and Yellow, need to look no farther than their collapse against Pittsburgh in the AFC Wild Card game this past January to know what dysfunction looks like. The Steelers are not dysfunctional, they’re struggling.

Bengals aside, an unemployed Tomlin would be pursued by 27 NFL owners immediately upon receiving a pink slip. The only teams that wouldn’t need to call would be the New England Patriots, Seattle Seahawks, Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys. And I only say Dallas because we all know Jason Garrett is just Jerry Jones’ puppet, he’s really the coach. Who is out there good enough to take over for Tomlin? I’ll wait. [sounds of crickets]

Tomlin detractors constantly bring up that in addition to the on-field struggles, off the field issues created by Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant would never have happened under his predecessor Bill Cower. Um, as a life long Steeler fan, who is 36 years old, I am old enough to remember and say “yes they did!” One example, remember running back Bam Morris? And there were others.

The “Tomlin haters” constantly say he inherited a Ferrari from Coach Cower. How easy they forget Cower didn’t exactly inherit an empty cupboard from the Hall of Fame legend, Coach Chuck Knoll. Do these names ring a bell; Greg Lloyd, Rod Woodson, Dermontti Dawson, Barry Foster, Carlton Haselrig, David Little? All those guys were on the roster when Coach Knoll retired  after the 1991 season and Cowher took over. Except for Little, they were all Pro-Bowlers in 1992, Little was the previous season. The roster also boasted a young Carnell Lake, Ernie Mills and Merrill Hodge. The cupboard wasn’t bare. That’s how that ’92 team was able to win a division title.

Since Tomlin’s haters love to say Cower was a better coach than him, let’s look at it. Tomlin now has a fair body of work to put up next to Cower. So let’s compare the two.

In Cowher’s first 9 seasons (1992-2000), Pittsburgh went 86-58 with 5 AFC Central titles and one second place finish. The team went 5-6 in the playoffs, lost 2 AFC Championship games at old Three Rivers Stadium, and lost Super Bowl XXX to the Dallas Cowboys. The Steelers missed the playoffs 3 consecutive seasons (1998-2000) which included two losing seasons (7-9 in 1998; 6-10 in 1999).

In Tomlin’s first 9 seasons, the Steelers went 92-52, won 4 AFC North titles (came in 2nd 3 other times that led to the playoffs). He’s currently 6-5 in the playoffs, won one Super Bowl XLIII, and lost another one Super Bowl XLV. He’s only missed the playoffs 3-times and never had a losing season. Still think Cowher had the better run through his first 9 seasons?

I agree changes need to be made in the organization, but head coach isn’t one of them. Defensive coordinator Keith Butler doesn’t appear to have been ready to take over for the Hall of Famer Dick LeBeau. If his unit doesn’t drastically improve over the next seven games, regardless if the team makes the playoffs or not, he’ll likely be sent packing. If so, this defense could use some Rex Ryan attention as the D-coordinator after the Buffalo Bills cut bait with him when they miss the playoffs. Tomlin has the personality and relationship with Rex, to manage having the boisterous coach on his staff.

The other change, is a shift in draft philosophy from General Manager Kevin Colbert. I’ve been clamouring for Colbert to use first and second round draft picks on defensive backs since Super Bowl XLIII, when Kurt Warner and Larry Firzgerald carved up that aging secondary. Before drafting rookie Artie Burns with the 25th pick in the 2016 draft, Pittsburgh hadn’t drafted a defensive back in the first round since Troy Polumalu in 2003. All we heard on draft day year after year was “linebacker or defense end from _____ university.” Now is the time to start a run of drafting defensive backs year after year, round after round until they get it right. Don’t allow this explosive offense to be wasted because the defense can’t stop a faucet.

I still believe in Mike Tomlin, and I think most knowledgable, reasonable Steelers fans do as well. Everyone can’t be Bill Belichick and win a watered down division every year. But who’d want to, we don’t need a “Deflategate” or “Spygate” cloud over the Three Rivers.

Anyway, with everything I laid out, if you still don’t like Tomlin, it’s not a football issue. I’m left to wonder what it is, but I think I already know the answer.

While I’m ranting about stuff Steelers fans should stop saying, stop chanting “HEEEEEEAAAAAAATH” every time Jesse James catches as pass. It makes you sound ignorant and foolish as to who’s on your team. For goodness sakes, James played at many of yours beloved Penn State! All tall, athletic white guys don’t look alike.

Bi-Polar Steelers Strike Again

Zeke Elliott rushed for 114 yards, had 95 receiving yards and 3 total touchdowns to defeat the Steelers 35-30. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

The Pittsburgh Steelers have to be the most bi-polar team in the NFL this season. When they are good, they are New England Patriots unstoppable good. When they are bad, they’re Cleveland Browns bad! The difference in how this team played in the first half versus the second half is a microcosm of this up and down season. Especially on the defensive end.

Everything started out so well when the defense kicked things off doing two things on its first drive they’ve struggle to do all season; sack the quarterback and force turnovers. The sack, and forced fumble by Anthony Chickillo, recovered by Ryan Shazier set the Steelers offense up at the Cowboys 38-yard line.

It was clear on that first drive, that Le’Veon Bell was on a mission to prove why many say he’s the best back in the League, even though Ezekiel Elliott may very well finish the season with the NFL rushing title and the rookie rushing record. I’ll get to Zeke in a moment.

The message was clear what offensive coordinator Todd Haley wanted to do. Bell gained 28 of the Steelers 38 yards on the scoring drive (3 carries for 14 yds and 2 catches for 14 yds and his first touchdown). In the first quarter he rushed for 37 yards on 7 carries. In the first half Bell earned 4 first downs (3 on the ground, 1 receiving), carrying the ball 12 times for 46 yards and caught 5 passes for 39 yards. For all of Ben Roethlisberger’s abilities and experience and Antonio Brown’s  skills, Bell is the best player on this unit and needs to be its driving force.

Roethlisberger carried the momentum from his near 4th quarter comeback at Baltimore into the game going 9 of 11 for 80 yards and 2 touchdowns in the 1st quarter. For the half he was 21 of 26 for 169 yards and 2 touchdowns. During the week he called on the young guys to step up and deliver with all the defenses attention and efforts going towards stopping Brown, and they did.

Eli Rogers had 4 catches for 42 yards and a touchdown. Jesse James had 4 catches for 59 yards and a huge catch and run that set up the Steelers last score that appeared to be the game winner. There effectiveness helped as it forced Dallas to readjust, and when they did Brown got loose finishing the evening with 14 catches for 154 yards and what appeared to be the game winning touchdown with 42 seconds remaining in the game. What appeared to be the game winner.

That’s the good, that the offense we know and love that can put up 30 points is still in those uniforms. Then there’s the bad.

Anthony Chickillo’s strip sack of Dak Prescott set the Steelers up for their first score of the day. Photo Credit: Steelers.com

Face it, Blitzburgh defense is dead! This Steelers defense can’t, and won’t win them a game. Especially if they are playing an offense that ranks in the top half of the league. It’s embarrassing to watch them play.

Aside from the 83 yard screen pass and run touchdown scored by Elliott, they held the Cowboys offense in check in the first 30 minutes. Dallas was 1-5 on 3rd downs in the first half and 0-1 in the red zone, and Elliott ran for only 34 yards on 7 carries. This allowed the Steelers offense to control the ball for 17:45 minutes of the 30 minutes in the first half.

As much as the first half was controlled by the Steelers, the second half was equally controlled and dominated by Dallas. Dak Prescott led the Cowboys offense to 6-7 on 3rd downs in the half, he finished 22 of 32 for 319 yards and 2 touchdowns. The Cowboys flipped the time of possession battle in their favor holding the ball for 17:36 minutes in the second half, and for the game won 30:24 to 29:36. Elliott ran for 80 of 114 yards rushing and 2 rushing touchdowns in the second half. This is the problem with this team, not the offense, not special teams, but the defense or lack their of. I wouldn’t be surprised if defensive coordinator Keith Butler doesn’t finish the season, and honestly if this teams is going to turn it around, a shake up of that magnitude may be necessary.

And I don’t want to hear fans in Steelers Nation bash Mike Tomlin and call for his job for going for 2-point conversions after every touchdown. When it’s working, you all say that you “love the aggressiveness” of the team. So don’t be upset when it doesn’t work 100% of the time as it did the first two times they did it this season, or have the high percentage of success they had last season. Either way, if they kick field goals and make them all, that is 4 points and they still lose the by one point. So get off it.

Even with the loss the Steelers still have a chance to win the AFC North and get into the playoffs. They have another meeting with division leader Baltimore in Pittsburgh, two games against the winless Cleveland Browns, and another in Cincinnati against the Bengals. Now is the time for a greater sense of urgency.

Next up, at the Cleveland Browns. Kickoff is at 1:00 pm. If they lose to the winless Browns, then panic.

OTHER NOTES

  • Roethlisberger passed the 45,000 passing yard mark. He’s the fifth fastest in league history to do so (179 games).