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Wakeup Call: So long, Aaron, James and Hines

Some sporting thoughts before sunrise …

>> My Wednesday column calls on the Steelers to issue some painful goodbyes.

I promise you I don’t write stuff like this lightly, nor for a cheap attention-getting headline. Watched this team up close for several months, and it’s time for a change.

>> Went to the Penguins’ loss last night and, aside from a really poor period by Ben Lovejoy, there wasn’t a whole lot wrong with it. I know the 5-1 score doesn’t show that, and I’m not in the business of justifying lopsided losses. I just saw a little more to like than maybe some others did. A couple of glaring lapses aside, they skated more aggressively, created more offense and really took it to a pretty hot group of Senators.

We’ll see if that means anything on this trip to Washington and the two Florida teams that begins tonight, but I didn’t see it as the end of the world.

Judging from the crowd’s reaction, though, I’m guessing a few did.

>> Was told that James Neal is playing through no small amount of pain with that foot fracture, even if it isn’t at apparent risk of worsening.

But don’t forget, too, that Craig Adams looked like he blew out his knee Sunday at practice, then was right back out there last night.

They’re hockey players, eh?

>> So, Paul Maholm took a one-year, $4.75 million deal from the Cubs?

Was that really too much for the Pirates, or did they lose confidence in the strained left shoulder that ended his season in late August?

Never underestimate how much baseball management teams weigh future health into such equations. Maholm has an excellent history. The DL stint was the first of his career. But nobody knows the insides of a player’s body parts quite like the team employed him.

>> Pitt plays Rutgers tonight. Huge. Seriously.

The Scarlet Knights are 1-2 in the Big East — yeah, better than the Panthers’ 0-3 — and the bulk of the conference’s better teams come next on the schedule. If the tourniquet is ever going to get applied, it had better be in this one.

46 Comments

  1. DK, I was watching the Pens last night too. I’d like to see more crashing the crease for those dirty goals. Too many shots from the outside…still.

    I was ready to slap Gonchar for that shove to Geno…yikes.

    This team needs just ONE win to spike some confidence and get them jump started.

    You mentioned Craig Adams. He is one very underappreciated player (by most fans). He does so much that is under the radar.

  2. Dejan,

    The disappointment in the Pouncey situation is on par with the disappointment of the loss on Sunday. You usually hear nothing but good things about this guy, but then he carries himself like a real jerk over the course of the last few days. I’m not a doctor, but if he was rehabing his injury instead of posting onTwitter would it have helped his situation? Or could he have been helping his teammates better prepare (watching film, gameplan, etc.) ? The bandaid was put on the O-line this season and it somewhat held together, but sweeping changes will have to be made this offseason. It’s unfortunate that someone that was thought to be the anchor of the group cares so little about his team and so much about how to fit a “buy my t-shirt” pitch into 140 characters. Chalk it up to being young and immature, or is this who he really is?

    DK: It’s surprised me, Andrew. It goes against my first impression last year, for sure.

  3. The Steelers’ house cleaning needs to start this year. I would even be open to letting Harrison or Clark go. Yes they hit hard. But I wonder if they are in the top 15 in the league at their respective positions. Harrison, while missing a few games, had only 9 sacks this year and 6 came in 2 games. He was a non factor Sunday and often did not do his job in contain. He bit on every play fake. He will be 34 before camp starts.

    One other thing that has to change is I believe it is time for the Steelers’ front office to get some quality big name players on the O line. No one does a better job of acquiring low level free agents who perform very well. Well, it is time to get some O lineman thru free agency who can pass block. Your franchise QB can have 5 more successful seasons if you protect him. Maybe 2 if you get him sacked and hit as many times as he does.

  4. ‘Was that really too much for the Pirates’

    DK, if the Pirates would have offered the same deal to Maholm -or even just slightly more – do you think Maholm would have accepted it?

    DK: Don’t know. Might have depended on the timing.

  5. January 11

    38 days until Pirate Spring Training

  6. JAL may be traveling, but Good ol’ Groat2M2S is making his morning call :)

  7. DK,

    Must have been a tough column to write, but it was a good one.

    DK: Much appreciated.

  8. Good column. On point with respect to upcoming personnel issues. Certainly need more youth and speed on defense and some upgrades on OL. That was evident even when we won games.

    I’d love to hear some more commentary on the fact that Arians is coming back. It seems to me that the fans are ready to send him packing but Tomlin and the front office is more concerned with continuity than results (insert 2 super bowl rebuttal here). Frankly, the offense seems old and stale, similar to the argument DK makes regarding certain personnel.

    Looking forward to seeing the PBC in Bradenton next month….

  9. Was at the game as well and did not come out as hopeful as you – the Pens’ play was generally terrible and uninspired and Coach Dan has his biggest challenge yet – in addition to Lovejoy, the defense was constantly a step behind and left far too many Senators uncovered (it could have been 10-1 if not for Fleury) – Engelland had his worst game in a long time and Michalek constantly dropped to the ice only to have the puck passed or stick-handled around him – this defense is trained to do one thing – get the puck to the forwards as quickly as possible – if they are stuck in the defensive zone for any length of time, they are exposed as a mediocre unit.

    One other thing this game exposed was the importance of Fleury – Johnson was pathetic and equally important, the team’s play in front of him was awful – the Pens play and passion improved significantly when Johnson was pulled – it looks like the Pens waited one year too long to replace Johnson with a W-B goalie

    DK: Didn’t think they were uninspired. Kept skating even after down, 4-1.

  10. Ward wants to come back and is willing to take a paycut.

  11. Dejan,
    Excellent column this morning. I especially appreciated you saying that you weren’t making the call just for shock value or headlines.

    However, for your second straight column you make a reference to Baltimore moving a few older players for younger developing ones. You imply that the Steelers haven’t done that.

    Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heywood, Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown, Ike Redman, Wesleye Sanders, Markus Gilbert, William Gay, Keenan Lewis, Jason Worilds (somewhat), even Maurkice Pouncey and Mike Wallace———it seems like the Steelers had QUITE A FEW young, vital participants at the end of the season, even more than have contributed for Ravens. I disagree with your comparison. One of the reasons Hines Ward could get by while contributing so little was the collection of the “Young Monies” the Steelers planned ahead with.

    Mendenhall has only been in the league 4 years. Larry Foote was brought back to spell/replace Farrior, somewhat as you suggested. Cortez Allen, Curtis Brown, Stevenson Sylvester, and Steve McClendon all showed real promise in digesting the system and contributing to the team’s present as well as future. Ryan Mundy did a more than credible job replacing Ryan Clark.

    Time for some of the venerable ‘old guard’ to go——hard emotionally but no question performance-wise. The Baltimore Ravens prepared better than the Steelers to replace their stylish vets . . . . . . . NO WAY!! As they say on the playground: “Take it back, Dejan, or I’m telling your Mother!!!”

    Just get the Steelers some offensive linemen that aren’t off somebody’s scrap heap!!!!

  12. Did I read somewhere that the Steelers are 20 million over next years cap?

    There’s gotta be some cuts

  13. Jandy——the Altoona Curve——you put a lot of pressure on me when you put me in a league with JAL!

    He is the Potter——I am just the clay.

  14. Stewie,
    Hines Ward saying he is willing to take a pay cut to come back sounds like a guy promising his girl ANYTHING when he knows she is about to break up with him!

    I think Kevin Colbert will soon be having the “why don’t you take the high road and retire” talk with Hines. While Colbert has this talk with Hines, there will be a power point playing on the wall behind him of Franco in a Seahawk uni.

    DK: Right. Like I wrote, it’s probably going to have to be up to someone to say no.

  15. Regarding these guys not saying that they’ll retire, remember that there’s the strong possibility they need the money, or the health care coverage. For them it’s not about bringing something to the team, it’s about them sacrificing one more year for their family. Paychecks on the outside don’t compare, even to the league minimum.

  16. There is no way to judge the relative competency of the O-coordinator when over 50% of our successful pass plays are “broken” plays where Ben is flushed out of the pocket and makes something happen. Only in the New England game, where I felt that Ben did a nice job of throwing on rythmn could the relative merits of the offensive game plan be assessed.

    the question in my mind is: Given the proper protection, is Ben the type of quarterback who can throw on time, in rythmn with the proper reads, or has he never learned to really do that since he’s had to run for his life 80% of the time? I think he can, but until he is given the time, there is no sense debating the O-coordinator’s job, since the play that’s called often isn’t executed.

    Fix the o-line/protection issues and we’ll soon find out.

  17. I thought I posted this earlier this morning…but must have not hit ‘submit’

    ‘a one-year, $4.75 million deal from the Cubs? Was that really too much for the Pirates, ‘

    DK, do you feel if the Pirates have offered him the same deal, or even slightly more $, would Maholm have accepted it? I get the feeling that both sides knew it was time for Paul to move on and it was only going to take a good size raise from his salary of last year to get him to stay. What is your feeling about it?

  18. Jack-

    Ah, yes there is a way to judge….if 50% (or more IMO) is on broken plays, then the offense is NOT working. I am not talking about individual play calls, those are easily second guessed. i am refering to offensive philosophy. Arians’ offense has been mediocre, at best, now for 4 years. Somewhat successful between the 20′s (which means FG’s) and that’s about it.

    Probably the best signing the ravens made last year was Vonta Leach, ALL PRO FULLBACK, think that helped ray rice a little bit? How about flacco? Arians’ doesn’t have one, doesn’t want one…instead we got Johnson, who dropped two more on Sunday and does not block as well as Leach in the run game and is not even on the field for obvious pass plays.

    The indications that Arians is returning in 2012 has already tempered any expecations of winning the SB.

  19. Time for Paul to move on. Classy guy, but didn’t want him back. At BEST, he was mediocre.

    Foo

    ……

  20. Agree that there was good news to be found in last nights Pens game. Primarily the play of #18 who looked unaffected by the foot injury. If he can stay on the ice, the Pens have a chance. He really is an absolutely terrific hockey player. Impactful on every shift. Shero must find a way to get him signed.

    On the other hand, it was completely clear why Eric Tangradi cannot get a regular shift in the NHL. Despite some great plays in the offensive zone, he was caught costing on defense twice and it cost the Pens two goals. I think this guy has some potential, but right now, he’s more interested in being the “Big Dog” than he is in becoming a quality two way player. Guessing his time here is short.

    The other thing I found encouraging last night was the play of Matt Cooke, who had been MIA for a long stretch. His game clearly has been affected by the effort to be a clean, rather than “dirty”, player. He needs to find the balance in what he used to bring to the team and keeping his elbows down but still putting some sandpaper in that line-up.

  21. DK, I couldn’t agree more with your column. I love the “old guys” as much as anyone (Ward, Farrior, Smith), but it’s time to let them go. I don’t believe the same is true for Harrison, I continue to believe that he can be very productive for at least another season and I don’t believe that anyone is ready to step in and make up for his production.

    It won’t be long before they will have to look at replacing their safeties, as both are in the 30s and both play with reckless abandon, thus are more injury prone than other players.

    I do think it would be a mistake to fire Arians. The offense can be very productive when healthy and when they give Ben time. The “Fire Arians” crew should go back and look at the offensive line. How many of those guys were part of the starting line-up at the beginning of the season? How many played together as a unit throughout the season? How many of them are any good?

    Offensive line seems to be their biggest area of need. Not offensive coordinator.

  22. Groat ~ don’t be so humble, it becomes you ;)

    I’ve been to see the Curve, the ballpark is attractive. Wish they’d get some more talent…just like the Pirates!

  23. DK–

    “…Tomlin saying ‘no’….”

    Just as he should have said to his quarterback at San Francisco… and again at Cleveland.

    No. 1 thing for the Steelers this offseason: the coach needs to get total control of this team. Maybe you’re 100% correct in your assertion that this era is over and a new one needs to begin. This current era includes Tomlin treating his veterans like vets and allowing them to lead the team.

    Tomlin needs to assert more control on all aspects of this team. On offense: the qb needs to know that the head coach makes the decisions, not the other way around. On defense, it’s time to go younger and damn the “he’s only a third year player and it takes 15 years to master this defense” approach.

    The loss to Denver did not rest on the backs of those older players. A passive, lame defensive approach–an approach that runs completely counter to the fairly aggressive style this team has practiced and played all season and since Cowher has been here–is the primary reason for this loss. Along with younger players who stunk or were injured: Wallace, Johnson (dropped pass), Roethlisberger with another of those barely over 50% passing days, Woodley.

    Of the three you mentioned in your article, a 4th or 5th receiver role for Hines Ward wouldn’t hurt the team. Not when Wallace and Brown and still figuring out how to avoid being part-time knuckleheads. Regardless of their talent, the young receivers sure did have problems making plays and catching passes when the team needed them at Denver. And Wallace completely collapsed in the second half of the season.

  24. If you read this link, I hope you went to the second part of the article. The first is about Maholm thinking the Cubs cab win.
    Second part – “Baseball owners said Commissioner Bud Selig will be offered a contract extension at this week’s meetings in Phoenix.”
    NO. NO. NO. NO. NO.

    Read more: P Maholm believes Cubs are ready to win – Pittsburgh Tribune-Review http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/pirates/s_776013.html#ixzz1jALNiM89

  25. @tpbco

    My thought was that the broken plays were due to the line not giving the play time to develop, or is that Ben isn’t making quick enough reads? or that the plays designed are too slow developing? i don’t know, do you?

    I don’t claim to know the answer here, I’m just saying that until Ben is given more time and the offense gets into the 80% execution of the play call, can we really assess the effectiveness of the play call itself?

    Is your point that Arians needs to be designing plays that are more quick developing based on the effectiveness (or ineffectiveness) of the o-line? No argument here.

    Honestly, I’m more concerned about the lack of Defensive adjustments throughout the year (again, surprisingly, with the exception of the New England game)

    It seems to me a common thread in all sports is that the really good teams can and do win in a variety of ways. Offensively, the Steelers did that this year, reverting to a short passing game vs. NE, a run-dominated game vs. StL and Big plays early in the year. Defensively, save for the NE game, we seemed to have no ability to make adjustments, hence by the 4th quarter teams found success (KC, Balt)

  26. DK- “I promise you I don’t write stuff like this lightly, nor for a cheap attention-getting headline. Watched this team up close for several months, and it’s time for a change.”

    I don’t think anybody here would actually think that, to be honest. Most of us here, followed you over here because you do tell it like it is, so to speak.

    I agree that Hines, James, and Aaron need to move on. It sucks as a fan and I don’t think it could be that easy for the organization either.

  27. @Naje- ” 1 thing for the Steelers this offseason: the coach needs to get total control of this team.”

    100% agree. I’ve said from the outset about Tomlin is, he’s great for the quotes, but doesn’t seem to make command decisions. I like how he took charge of the Ryan Clark situation, but doesn’t with Ben? Even after playoff security??

  28. Maholm is going to get shelled at homerun-happy Wrigley Field. Ain’t gonna be pretty.

    DK: He’s actually fared quite well there in several starts.

  29. DK-What’s your take on Bruce Arians and Dick LeBeau staying? I personally, like it. Ben loves BA and the defensive players love DL, who doesn’t. Continiuity is key to success, now if they have the players to execute, makes it even better.

  30. diehard, Selig gets a contract again, it’s time for the Pirates fans to hang it up. That …. errr..man…is disgusting.

  31. Count me as one NOT excited to see Arians back. I know it’s terribly cliche to hate on the offensive coordinator, but when I look at the offenses of other elite teams in the league, ours simply looks pathetic. Don’t know if part of that is Arians’s fault, but it’s about time to bring in some new blood and find out.

  32. Pens have placed MacIntyre on waivers.

  33. @ Dave G ~ wonder who is next!

  34. @agle-I think most of the issues with the offense this year could be attributed to lack of execution and less to the game calling. Did you see the game plan for NE? Almost perfect.

    The injuries to the guys up front and of course to Ben’s ankle has a lot to do with it…IMHO.

    I have been a BA basher for a long time, but I like this offense and the fire it has had and could have, if someone knew how to block or get rid of the ball.

  35. Jack-
    I’ve never put a stop watch on any plays, but I think there is pretty strong evidence, as well as statements made that the the issue primarily a combo of BBR holding the ball too long AND slow developing plays and when combining THAT with our OLine, you end up with what we got. Not a stat nerd, but way too much of the offense is BBR adlibing on 3rd and long. that means (duh) 1st and 2nd didn’t work. Let’s guess…1st down pass – incomplete, 2nd down run – 2 yards and 3rd down – come on BBR make something happen! That’s an offensive strategy?

    Again from the philosophy standpoint, every time I see a empty backfield on 3rd and 2 (or less) I want to scream. With our OLine, anytime he calls for an empty backfield is NUTS.

    It’s not just this past season, the O’s stats for the last couple of years have been very mediocre – so either the talent really isn’t there or it’s the offense itself, can’t have it both ways.

    No issues with the a couple of this years game plans (NE in particular), but against Denver, Redman was AVERAGING 7 yds/carry and only got 17 carries. And the 1st qtr, we dominated….between the 20′s and got just 6 points. THAT’S when the red flags started waving.

    IMO on the defense, age and injuries were the cuplrits (even tho D was #1). The 2 OLB’s might have been on IR all year. The DLine was retooled due to age and injury and then at the end of the year the 2ndary went down. Even #43 struggled. He easily dropped 4 or 5 interceptions. Made a couple of splash plays, yes – but he also seemed to guess wrong (or was influenced away from the play) WAY too much.
    Even still, I lay most of the blame on “surrendering” leads on the O, not controlling the ball. That is the earmark of Arians offense when it DOES build a 1st half lead. He has no way to control the clock, other than to keep throwing and that working was the exception, not the rule.

    And that goes all the way back to a playoff game in Cleveland (don’t remember the year) when Arians was the OC and KELLY HOLCOMB lit up the D with 33 points and we came back and won, because the Arians offense couldn’t run it out. I’ve never forgotten that and will be anti Arians forever. Nothing personal…just plain don’t like his offense and there is little room to argue that it has been successful. Not with middle of the pack in scoring and other offensive stats Yes, the Steelers have won, IMO inspite of him, NOT because of him.

  36. Tobacco,
    You make a lot of good points.

    However, it’s hard to get your running back more than 17 carries when your team is down 2 SCORES from the middle of the 2nd Quarter to the very end of the game.

    Get Big Ben even an average offensive line, and he doesn’t have to scramble so much. Two of the 5 starters weren’t even on any of the 30 NFL teams’ rosters for the first few games of the season. And, the Pro Bowler center (just ask him) is replaced by a substitute for the game———NOT a good offensive line for passing OR running. That’s not Arians’ fault.

  37. Dbleplay-

    Not really disagreeing w/you because the injuries did have an impact, but I believe the bulk of Redman’s yards came in the second half, during the comeback from being two scores down. Also, that was the very same OLine in the second half when they did put up 17 points. Where was the offense in the first half?…diddling around between the 20′s, kicking FGs.

    In the last four years, the Steelers were not in the top 10 in points scored. It’s either lack of talent or marginal offensive philosophy. As I said, you can’t have it both ways.
    I chose to believe the talent is there. We expect that from the D and they HAVE been a top 5 defense all four years. Plus, I really expected BBR to come in and have a big year, this year, with all his personal BS behind him. He didn’t. Even before the injury, he was inconsistent and turned the ball over way too much. In other words, he regressed. I put that on Arians and his offense. If you want to put the whole load on BBR, then you live with it when he doesn’t do it, because he you have nothing to fall back on. In past years how many fans lived for the moment of having the game on the line and BBR had the ball? This year, in these scenarios – he stunk, whether it was the end of the half or end of the game. BBR or Arians offense?

    As always, Monday morning QB’s are the smartest guys in the room ;o}

  38. DK: How was the breeze on the days Maholm pitched in Wrigley?<> Blowing IN the wind?

  39. Insert bad pop culture pun reference to above.

  40. Tobacco,
    In this year’s playoffs, every team whose quarterback threw an interception lost.

    Also Ben was sacked 5 times, more than every other quarterback.

    That’s either an offensive line problem or a Ben problem.

    I think drafting a killer guard and a maneating tackle would make the Offensive Coordinator look a whole lot smarter.

    That being said, 3rd down and 2 empty set backfields make me crazy too!

  41. Hey JAL!

    Song choices for your links tomorrow:
    1/ “Won’t you come home, JAL, Won’t you come home”
    2/ “The JAL Train”

  42. I just got a chance to look at the blog. Forgot JAL was traveling today. Didn’t have time today, but my usual routine in the morning is to cruise JAL’s links under guise of doing actual work. He is my search engine for the search engines. Godspeed back, JAL.

  43. Patently sexist of me to assume JAL is a dude. Could be female. All I know is the moniker. Apologies.

  44. Dejan- You & I are from the same generation (share your 1966 birth year),and therefore,we can discuss the Steelers with very similiar,outlook… I agree with most of your comments,but I split from you,on the issue of bringing Hines back,for his final season… I am a huge fan of his,and was fortunate enough to watch him play his college ball @ UGA… He started three different positions (WR,RB & QB) in three consecutive weeks… I love his attitude,his dedication to this city & organization,and last,but far from least,his work ethic… To me, he is (along with J.Stallworth)one of the greatest WR’s in the Teams History… He is a lock,for the H.O.F. should be a first ballot nominee,but doubt it,due to the blatant bias against the Steelers playerswho are worhty of this epic honor… As for the other players mentioned in your comments,I agree with all of them… I would even add another name or two: James Harrison’s play has peaked,and he is on the downside of his career… I would see if there is any interest from other teams,for his services,and take whatever the best offer is… Along with his age,his main reason for his success,is the use of intimidation… The NFL’s new rules,(which I think suck,but for another debate),have rendered intimidation & a great defense,a thing of the past… It is a sad time for me,and all of us fans… The players,that know it is time to say goodbye,are far more important than just players who have past their primes,they are ALL leaders on this team,and highly respected by their peers & coaching staff… I hope for a seamless transition,from these players (Smith,Farrior,Hines,Hampton,etc.) to the “Next man up”,they preach as the standard,but I fear that the leadership quality provided by these great players,will be sorely missed… Possibly re-tooling for the next season,or two,may cause us to take a step back… I sincerely hope I am dead wrong, and will be watching,to confirm my mistaken scenario…….

  45. Now that I have “Broken the Ice”,with my initial post,I am ready to talk your ear-off… Back to the main issues,that concern me about the Steelers,and their aging DL & LB…
    Ziggy Hood & Cam. Heyward,appear to be filling in admirably,the 3 man front of the defense,will not set many records,but the true measure of their abilities,is reflected by the play of the LB’s… If the LB’s are getting free rushes at the backfield of their opponents,and consistently making big plays,then the DL is doing their jobs…
    All good things,must come to an end,and the Steelers (as presently constructed),are faced with the reality,that their veteran lineup,is in need of an infusion of youth…
    I stand firmly behind my comment about possibly trading LB-J.Harrison,his cap number for 2012,is pretty expensive… For this reason,and his decline in play,I would test the market,to see if there are any interested franchises for his services,I believe that someone would be willing to part with a 2nd,or 3rd round pick,he can still play very well…. therefore,we should get what we can for him, and start the retooling,we sooo apparently need… I cannot deny,what my eyes saw,this team is too old,too slow & in DIRE NEED of an infusion of youth,speed, & athleticism… Closing this out,while GM Colbert,CANNOT continue to miss on high draft picks like Limas Sweed,Tony Hills.etc. This organization,is famous for building winning teams,through the draft,and very selective FA signings… I see no reason,why this formula cannot continue to be sucessful…….

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