Category Archives: Pittsburgh Steelers

An interview for the ages

I don’t know how else to say this.

If you like things that are awesome, you’ll love this interview with Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor and Steelers chairman Dan Rooney.

The fist bump at the beginning is just the start.

Who doesn’t sometimes need a 90-minute nap in the boss’s office?

I don’t think it can be embedded, so here’s the link. Enjoy

Ike Taylor interviews Dan Rooney – from Steelers.com

James Harrison? And the Bengals?

James Harrison? And the Bengals?

Let me try again.

James Harrison. And the Bengals?

Maybe it will happen. Apparently, the sides met this week in Cincinnati.

Harrison needs a chance to extend his career after being released by the Steelers in a move that certainly was salary related but was performance related, too. He’ll be 35 next season and isn’t the pass rusher he used to be. The Bengals feel like they’re ready to take the next step, already have a veteran locker room and — most importantly — can afford Harrison.

Even at a well reduced rate from what he’s been making, Harrison is still looking to get paid. If a team thinks he can get his body ready each week to contribute and bring his brand of violence, leadership and playmaking, it will pay him.

That James Harrison? In Cincinnati?

This is the NFL. Stranger things have happened.

Harrison has had a remarkable career, going from prop 48 and paying his own way at Kent State to undrafted to cut multiple times to NFL Europe to 2008 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, multiple-time Pro Bowler and Super Bowl hero.

Especially because the market has probably dictated that Harrison won’t get a ton of money, this potential pairing makes sense on many levels — except that the Bengals play a 4-3 base defense. They need linebackers, though, as right now at outside linebacker they have Vontaze Burfict (who might be best as a middle linebacker) and a bunch of either backups or developmental-type players. Or maybe both.

But the Bengals believe in their core, and they believe in their locker room, and they believe in the abilities of defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer to be creative and get the most out of what he has. Zimmer has never been scared of taking on a guy on his last chance, and for Harrison this almost certainly is that.

Last December, Zimmer had the Bengals playing about as well as any defense in the league. He has some tinkering to do and some guys to replace, but he has players who know him and believe in what he’s doing, too. If he sees Harrison as a rusher or as a spot player or whatever, he’ll make it work if there’s any way to make it work. Based on what we know about his other job prospects, it’s probably in Harrison’s best interests to try to make it work.

Again, stranger things have happened.

Again, it’s ALWAYS about the money. So, we’ll see.

Maybe Harrison’s body is only cut out for a certain number of snaps from here on out. Or, maybe he’ll play special teams ’til he’s 50 because football is what he knows.

For the Bengals, finding out might be a chance worth taking. Where the Bengals want to go goes through Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and even if Harrison isn’t cut out for full-go over a full season, he’ll be more than ready for those games.

On free agency: The Browns, the Ravens and the money

This and that on NFL free agency …

–I know nothing certain on this, but there are many in the league who expect the next Cleveland Browns shoe to drop to be a trade of a defensive lineman, either Ahtyba Rubin or Phil Taylor. Desmond Bryant gives the team a lot of depth on the defensive front, which is always a good thing, but for some reason it feels like his addition might have a ripple effect.

–This is pure speculation, but is it possible said trade could be with New England for a certain quarterback? Guy by the name of Mallett, perhaps? Bill Belichick can use a defensive lineman, and Lombardi has been rumored to be interested in Ryan Mallett for some time. It has logic, but again there’s nothing certain about it.

–These Mallett rumors simply are just too similar to all the offseason rumors about Mike Lombardi. Everybody talked around them, hemmed and hawed and pretended they weren’t true. Lo and behold … look who’s the GM of the Browns. The Mallett talk seems too similar to be a charade.

–All this is dependent, of course, on the Patriots bringing Matt Cassell back to be Tom Brady’s backup.

–The one need left on the Browns defense after this glut of signings remains at cornerback. The good news is nobody has been taken off the market in the initial wave, so the guys who sign might come at a relative bargain. Pittsburgh’s Keenan Lewis is the obvious first choice. But if the Browns really want to improve and really want to add a player who would be a dynamic tandem with Joe Haden, why not Aqib Talib? Yes, there are issues with him, but that didn’t stop the Browns from adding Bryant. Talib can play. Probably won’t happen.

–The national buzz on the team’s signing of Paul Kruger was not near as positive as the local buzz in Cleveland. This is not surprising. Local folks always are more excited to add a guy. But Kruger’s signing does have questions. Among the comments is this from SI.com’s Don Banks: “I don’t think he’s that kind of lead-dog player, and the expectations shouldn’t be that he’ll necessarily match the nine sacks he got in the 2012 regular season, or the 4.5 he generated in the four-game playoff run.” And this from ESPN.com’s Jamison Hensley, a Baltimore resident who sees the Ravens a lot: “Kruger, 27, is a solid player. He isn’t a special one. You just have to temper your expectations for him or you’ll come away disappointed. It’s hard to do that when a team makes this type of financial commitment to a player.” And this from CBSports.com’s Clark Judge: “(The Browns) paid a lot of money for someone with one year of productivity. ‘He’s a very good player and very good in the locker room,’ one scout said, ‘but that’s too rich for me.’”

–The Ravens lost a ton of defensive production and talent — both safeties could be gone if Ed Reed signs elsewhere — but can we please hold off on burying Baltimore? They start with the quarterback, then they have Ozzie Newsome picking the players. Clearly Newsome has made the decision that a retooling on defense would coincide with the retirement of Ray Lewis. Baltimore will be younger on defense, and perhaps not as effective. But Baltimore has lost guys in the past and kept on keeping on. They remain the best team in the division.

–Pittsburgh, on the other hand, seems to be in some serious transition. While the Bengals keep the core of a good, young team, the Steelers are aging and against the salary cap. Cincinnati seems poised to pass them — three playoff appearances in four years — as the division’s second-best team.

–Green Bay was said to be bringing Peyton Hillis in for a visit. Evidently a guy just can’t wear out his welcome at enough teams before the league decides he’s not worth the trouble.

–Thirty million dollars in guaranteed money for Mike Wallace? Really?

–Ex-Ravens Kruger and Danell Ellerbe have started 20 games between them. They earned contracts worth $76 million on Tuesday. Timing really is everything when it comes to free agency.

–This kind of spending always reminds me of what Carmen Policy once said about free agent signings: Teams pay guys as if they are the best at their position rather than the best available at their position. Happens every year. And it will keep happening.

–The national buzz on Bryant was a lot different than the buzz on Kruger. Folks actually thought Bryant’s addition was a good one. Wrote Hensley: “At 27 years old, Bryant is one of those under-the-radar players who has the chance to be a game-changer on the Browns’ new 3-4 defense. He spent four seasons on an underachieving Oakland Raiders defense, but he always showed great tenacity and a high motor.” Any motor reference is always comforting.

–A wise coach once told me “stats are for losers,” so keep that in mind: ESPN’s stats group reports that Browns linebackers had 19.5 tackles for loss or sacks last season, last in the league.

 

From the NFL Combine: An interesting way to evaluate a player

Steelers GM Kevin Colbert said how a player handles the media is part of his assessment.

“ometimes if we haven’t spoken to a player, I will actually look for his information via the internet, maybe some interviews they have done during their college days,” he said.

The reason: How a player handles himself with the media can indicate how confident he is, and how he will handle himself with teammates.

Too, dealing with the media is part of a player’s job. It’s in the contract, and the league mandates a player be available and accessible — even though some teams don’t seem to believe it.

“It’s a good starting point if we haven’t seen or spoken to a player, which we haven’t to this point, except for a few at the Senior Bowl,” Colbert said. “So even after we visit with a player, we may want to further examine to know how he deals with the media, because that’s going to be a big part of how he’s going to be able to perform as a professional football player.”

Form the NFL Combine: On Ray Horton and mirroring the Steelers defense

Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton was praised by several folks who know him, including Cardinals coach Bruce Arians and Steelers General Manager Kevin Colbert. Smart, organized, driven … all words used to describe Horton.

Horton has said the Browns defense will be a mirror image of the Steelers.

There is one key difference: Dick LeBeau is in Pittsburgh.

Colbert was asked why some teams don’t have the same success with their three-four defenses as the Steelers.

“The difference is coach LeBeau and his knowledge,” Colbert said. “There are other teams who try to run the three-four, in the NFL and college, and a lot aren’t as successful as coach LeBeau. Through the years you have to give him credit, what he’s able to do year in and year out. The one difference is him. He’s been the one constant.”

Browns loss to Steelers included lots of throwback scuffling and skirmishing

The Browns did not go down in the season finale against Pittsburgh without a fight.

Literally.

The 24-10 loss brought back memories of Steelers games past.

It featured penalties, skirmishes, scuffling, the now traditional James Harrison roughing the passer penalty and a response from the Browns that got the Steelers blood boiling.

Because defensive tackle Phil Taylor gave guard Kelvin Beachum a blindside hit at the tail end of a running play a good 10 yards behind the play at the whistle.

Beachum went flying, and his head slammed on the frozen turf at Heinz Field.

The result: A concussion that sidelined Beachum the rest of the game.

Result part two: More scuffling and skirmishes as the Steelers tried to retaliate against Taylor.

“Had Phil Taylor not cheap-shotted Kelvin Beachum, we wouldn’t have had that problem,” Steelers tackle Max Starks said. “But he blatantly blindsided him, caused him a concussion and sent him out of the game, blatantly late after a play.

“That’s something we don’t put up with, we don’t tolerate. Those guys knew they were in for a war because you don’t piss off a grizzly bear.”

OK, the war reference is a bit much, but clearly the Steelers felt the hit was late. And cheap.

Taylor shrugged, said it was at the whistle and added the opposing team should have its head on a swivel.

The league may think otherwise.

Perhaps it was coincidence, but Taylor’s shot on Beachum came shortly after Harrison was flagged for roughing the passer on Thad Lewis after he threw a touchdown pass to Greg Little that tied the game at 10.

Harrison has become notorious and synonymous with knocking out Browns players — in the past his head shots sent Mohammed Massquoi, Josh Cribbs and Colt McCoy home with concussions.

Taylor’s hit came a few plays later.

“Boys will be boys,” Browns coach Pat Shurmur said.

The Browns complained that Steve Legursky should have been flagged earlier for trying to block linebacker Craig Robertson at the knees at the end of a running play. Robertson got up swinging, but was not caught.

“I was finishing a play,” Legursky said. “He didn’t like the way I did it. It all stemmed from there.”

“It is a rivalry for a reason,” Robertson said. “It did not start with one play. You’ve had years of this type of game.”

Legursky agreed the game was nasty.

“It was  pretty grimy game,” he said. “That’s the way we like it. At the end of the day, there are no hard feelings.”

Taylor’s hit led to some serious ugliness on Twitter, though, as several Steelers fans called him out.

One called him “a pretty huge scumbag,” another called him “gutless” and another used a racial epithet.

Taylor thanked the latter two, presumably sarcastically.

After several Browns fans wrote to support him, Taylor tweeted: “I love them haters.”

A fresh look at the Browns win over the Steelers

Given all the complaining about a rare Browns win over Pittsburgh, it seemed worth checking into some things.

Let’s start with the reality that the Steelers are a nasty physical bunch that led the league in total defense heading into Sunday’s game. Logically, that reality should mean the Steelers would make any offense struggle.

Brandon Weeden, for example, caught some grief for the way he played — after he had completed 17-of-26.

Weeden’s final passer rating in the Browns win was 78.7.

Which doesn’t sound great — until perspective is applied. In the previous five games before facing the Browns, the Steelers had played the Bengals, Redskins, Giants, Chiefs and Ravens — which means they faced Andy Dalton, Robert Griffin III, Eli Manning, Matt Cassell and Joe Flacco.

None had a rating higher than Weeden’s (as the chart above shows).

The closest was Flacco (75.5), followed by RG3 (72.8), Dalton (56.4), Cassell (46.0) and Manning (41.0).

The Browns scored 20 points, which matched the Giants total of 20. But New York got to 20 by returning a fumble for a touchdown. No offense matched the Browns total of 20 points on the Steelers defense.

Too, the Browns hadn’t scored 20 points on the Steelers since 2007, and they had gone three games in a row and all of 2011 against Pittsburgh without an offensive touchdown. The Browns hadn’t gotten two touchdowns on the Steelers since 2009.

Only Cincinnati matched the Browns two touchdowns. Baltimore beat the Steelers the week prior by getting seven points on a punt return. In the previous five games before facing the Browns, Pittsburgh had given up five touchdowns on defense. Cincinnati scored 17, Washington 12, the Giants 20, the Chiefs and Ravens 13 and the Browns 20.

The Browns had a rushing touchdown and a passing touchdown. Baltimore didn’t get any offensive touchdowns. The Giants and Chiefs had a rushing TD, the Redskins a passing score.

Then there are Trent Richardson’s 85 yards rushing. They came on 29 carries. No matter.

Only Jamaal Charles had more yards rushing against Pittsburgh than Richardson. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had 69, Alfred Morris 59, Ahmad Bradshaw (the guy who went for 200 on the Browns) 48 and Ray Rice 40. Richardson doubled the rushing output of Rice.

Yes, the Browns had short fields. Their scoring drives went 33 (FG), 10 (TD), 44 (FG) and 31 (TD) yards. But the short fields were not an accident.

The Browns forced an historic number of turnovers (eight) by standing up to the Steelers and playing a very physical game on defense.

Then they took advantage, which is pretty much what teams are supposed to do.

So of the past six games against some pretty good teams, a little perspective shows the Browns fared better against the Steelers than anyone.

Their quarterback’s rating was the best, they had more offensive points than anyone, as many touchdowns and ran the ball well.

And they won.

Taken together, perhaps it’s time to put the cynicism away for a few days.

Could Weeden’s concussion sideline him in Oakland?

There could be a Colt McCoy sighting in Oakland this Sunday.

That’s because Brandon Weeden left the Browns win over Pittsburgh (read that several times real fast) with a concussion. Weeden was hurt when Jason Worilds spun him around and threw him to the ground like a rag doll. As he landed, Weeden’s head hit the leg of Joe Thomas, who was blocking James Harrison.

Had Weeden hit Harrison’s leg, it could have been said that Harrison knocked another Brown out of the game, without even trying.

Alas we digress.

Weeden did not return to the game, and McCoy replaced him, but he did not throw a pass — a decision as much a result of the situation as anything. I think.

The Browns led, and were trying to run out the clock. So they ran six times — and Trent Richardson gained 10 yards and got away with a fumble because of a poor ruling by Ron Winters that his forward progress was stopped.

That fumble could have changed the result, but the ruling was not reviewable.

Weeden was hurt with just more than five minutes left.

“He’s being treated for a concussion,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “But we’ll see where that goes. Some guys come back quickly, some guys don’t. We’ll just have to see where that’s at. He was responsive.”

Given the Browns are flying cross-country later this week, it’s possible the Browns will leave Weeden in Cleveland if he’s not completely and fully recovered.

Because this much is certain: Given the hit involves the Steelers and a Browns quarterback, the Browns will be super-extra careful regarding Weeden.

Catching up on the “battles”

Pat Shurmur answered 14 questions after his opening remarks following the 20-14 win over Pittsburgh, and had four battle references.

Given it was a win over Pittsburgh, it seems appropriate to review them:

In his opening remarks: “I thought the players executed, fought and battled and went to the field knowing that we had the opportunity to be a good football team.”

On the run defense: “I thought our guys battled and did a good job of controlling so that the run game didn’t have a huge effect on the game.”

On the feeling at halftime, after the Browns had given up a ridiculous touchdown drive that ended with a pass interference penalty on Sheldon Brown in the end zone and Chris Rainey bouncing outside of a pile of would-be tacklers to score from one yard: “I felt like our guys had a feel for the game and again, we had battled all the way through.”

Finally, on all the holding penalties called in the game: “Those are some full grown men out there playing defense and they’re hard to block and our guys battled and I think that showed up and I’m proud of their effort.”

Overall, Shurmur represented well with his battle references. He was poised, polished and focused, and he stayed in the moment.

Clearly, it was a one-battle-at-a-time news conference.

A couple crews had miserable days during Browns-Steelers

It’s tough to say which crew had a tougher day Sunday in Cleveland Browns Stadium: The Steelers running backs or Ron Winter’s officiating crew.

The Steelers backs basically lose the game for Pittsburgh with their careless fumbles that led to them running with great hesitation to make sure they did not fumble.

But Winter’s officiating crew turned into a flag-happy group after halftime, to the point that they did not allow the game to get any flow. After calling four penalties the first half, Winter’s men called 15 the second half. Nine of the 15 calls were for holding, four on Pittsburgh and five on the Browns.

At one point, the Browns were called for four holding penalties on two possessions.

Not to be outdone, the Steelers contributed with two holding penalties on one possession.

Between Winter and umpire Carl Paganelli, the two teams had their hands in a lot of wrong places.

It was a game that made a person cry out for the replacement refs. Because even though some of the penalties were warranted, it’s tough to watch a game that never finds any kind of rhythm because the officials won’t get out of the way.

Memory seems to serve that the new officiating agreement included a crew in reserve to replace ones that struggle.

If the league looks at this tape, it might determine this crew needs a little time off.