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Sunday column: The 2012 Steelers, fully exposed

By Dejan Kovacevic | Trib Total Media


LATROBEThe Sunday column calls the 2012 Steelers all kinds of names, all of which — as is clearer now than ever — are richly deserved.

How much of last season would you blame on conditioning?

Would love to hear your thoughts below, as this is always such a hard thing to gauge.

I asked Ramon Foster about that, as well as his recent promotional trip to London for the Vikings game, in this video yesterday outside Saint Vincent’s cafeteria …

Also in Sunday’s paper from our Steelers coverage team …

>> A one-on-one interview with Todd Haley by our Alan Robinson. I’ve noticed Haley looking a lot more comfortable this year than last in all settings. That can’t be a bad thing.

>> Josh Victorian tries to carve his own c0rner. Ralph Paulk reports.

>> Here’s the Steel Mill blog, which will be updated often.

>> The daily training camp photo gallery, by staff photog Chaz Palla.

Finally, a reminder that I’ll be part of the panel tonight on WPXI-TV’s ‘The Final Word,’ and we’ll be talking a lot of football with Richie Walsh, Bill Phillips and our Rob Biertempfel. The show airs at 11:35 p.m.

Author: Dejan Kovacevic

Dejan Kovacevic, a lifelong Pittsburgher, is an award-winning sports columnist for Trib Total Media covering the Steelers, Penguins, Pirates, Pitt and, recently, his fourth Olympics in Sochi, Russia. He also appears on WPXI-TV's 'Subway Final Word’ and hosts a weekly show on TribLIVE Radio. For 2011, he was named one of the country's top four columnists by the AP Sports Editors. For 2012, he was named one of the country's top three columnists by the National Headliners. For 2013, he was named the state's top columnist by the Keystone Press Awards and top columnist in Western Pennsylvania by the Golden Quills.


  1. Eric Bowser says:

    Not surprised by this Steelers lack of conditioning, they’ve had issues in the 4th quarter for a few years now. Also not surprising with the lack of burst from Redman and ‘tap out’ Dwyer. Or watching how Woodley would get hurt time and time again.

    Yet, Woodley said he was in pass coverage too much and that explained his reduced coverage.. yeah buddy, it had nothing to do with being Mr. Inactive among the LB’s.


    Pirates win…

    Liriano (2.02 ERA) is dominant right now, better than any Pirates pitcher that I’ve seen in a single year. Better than…
    2004 Oliver Perez 2.98 ERA
    1996 Denny Neagle 3.05 ERA before his trade to ATL
    1990 Doug Drabek 2.76 ERA

    Taking Perry (my son) to a game tomorrow, we’ll be sitting in the All-You-Can-Eat section chowing down whatever we can while enjoying the sites and sounds of competitive major league baseball for the first time. He’s pretty excited and doesn’t hurt to be getting the Pedro Alvarez jersey too. I suspect the scale won’t like me after tomorrow.


    At some point, the white courtesy phone will ring for Matt Niskanen…

  2. JohninOshkosh says:

    Very nice work by Mr. Palla.

    The photograph of Baron Batch was exceptional. Much kinetic energy captured with Steelers moving in all directions: the runner going one way, his pursuer coming from another, while still the stragglers in the background walk slowly in another.

    Really enjoy his work.

    DK: ‘Work’ is the key word when it comes to Mr. Palla. All hustle all the time.

  3. DJ says:

    When it is all said and done, Liriano for NL Cy Young.

  4. Eric Bowser says:

    He’s in the conversation but right now that’s Clayton Kershaw’s award to lose.

  5. Konstantin says:

    I fear the Steelers’ emphasis on conditioning plays into, and results from, a false narrative of what happened last season, namely that they were a good team that just couldn’t win close games. Tomlin and numerous players have identified this as the team’s major shortcoming.

    In reality, winning close games is not a “thing”. Statistical analysis shows that pulling out tight games isn’t something that transfers season-to-season, because it is primarily a function of luck. The truly good teams don’t play many close games to begin with.

    I do not believe the Steelers understand this, as evidenced by the yearly philosophy of playing to the scoreboard on both sides of the ball, but particularly on offense. How many times have we seen them have early success on offense, only to tighten up as the game wears on, then frantically hope the quarterback works his magic on the final drive? Or, its cousin, seen often against the Ravens: go into the game conceding that nobody will score more than 13 points, resulting in 3.5 quarters of “hey, a punt is a good thing” (fortunately the Ravens are just as fond of this strategy against us). Either version is headlined by the unique-in-the-sport, furiously perplexing insistence on waiting until :01 on the play clock to snap the ball almost regardless of circumstance.

    Roethlisberger spoke out explicitly against this mentality earlier in camp, saying it should be the offense’s goal to score as many points as possible. Also, the likely regression of the defense may force an abandonment of the keep-it-close stratagem. So maybe there’s hope. I’m not advocating installing Chip Kelly’s Oregon offense, or running the no huddle up 35. But the failure to be more proactive, philosophically, is what beat this team last year, not the inability to “dig down deep and gut it out” or whatever other cliche might capture such a faulty diagnosis.

    DK: You’re applying baseball thinking to football. Doesn’t work in this case. If you’re in close games in football, there’s a lot less luck involved. Fewer variables such as five different starting pitchers.

    I could see the defense regressing from No. 1, if that’s what you mean, but I felt all along that was a hollow number in light of the failure to generate turnovers. I’d trade a No. 10 ranking for about a dozen more turnovers.

  6. Konstantin says:

    I checked Baseball Reference tonight, and the Pirates have not had a pitcher receive any Cy Young Award vote since Drabek got one third-place nod in 1992. That’s staggering, and likely to end should Liriano stay relatively effective.

    I don’t think he can win it barring dual meltdowns by Kershaw (who is verging on an historic run of dominance which is likely to end in a $250 million contract) and Harvey, but that’s another streak to put to rest.

  7. Ghost says:

    “Statistical analysis shows that pulling out tight games isn’t something that transfers season-to-season.”

    Are you sure about that? I haven’t checked, but it seems that this is what the Steelers have done often in the Ben Roethlisburger era (except for last year and their other flop, ’09. Brady and the Pats, also seem to get more than their share of these come-from-behind close wins. The statistical analysis you refer to I think is from baseball and the ability to win one-run games year to year.

  8. Ghost says:

    The ultimate blame goes to the coaching staff if lack of conditioning cost us some games last year. But I think DK’s rhetorical question about leadership (“Did the locker room leadership falter without James Farrior, Aaron Smith and Hines Ward around?”) addresses a key part of the problem, too. Both times my family visited Latrobe, Hines stayed well after the players were dismissed to run wind sprints on his own (and then do marathon sessions signing autographs and giving time to anyone with press credentials). Hines was also the type of player who had no compunctions about riding a teammate if they were slipping up. There was bound to be a temporary void after this guy left.

    But hopefully Ben, Ike and others are assuming full leadership and the players themselves will do what they need to do to “shape up.”

  9. Ghost says:

    Yes, Liriano is in the conversation for the Cy Young. But more importantly, with no disrespect intended for A.J. (who is still the Bucs’ Top Dog and heart and soul), Liriano has only cemented himself as this team’s ace. All Liriano does is dominate. The guy has 12 wins and he wasn’t even around for the first six weeks of the season!

  10. Ghost says:

    When I refer to “the Ben Roethlisberger era,” I am by no means excluding games such as when we beat Dallas on Deshea Townsend’s pick six, or Cinci on Troy’s Superman dive over the pylon for that pick six. It’s just that this era WILL be known as the Big Ben era, mark my words. (Let the sparring begin — I won’t be around today!)

  11. Konstantin says:

    Among others, see link below, Bill Barnwell at Grantland has written often and at length about the inability to repeat winning records in games decided by a touchdown or less. A classic example is 2010 Super Bowl champ Packers, who statistically were one of the two best teams in the league that year, had Rodgers at QB, but lost 6 games by one score or less.

    Predicting regression of teams with particularly good close-game records the previous year is a hallmark of solid o/u win projection (odds are the Colts aren’t going 11-5 again):

    (Coincidentally, the same holds for teams recovering high numbers of fumbles, a “skill” which really isn’t one.)

  12. Konstantin says:

    Dejan, the same statistical principles re close games apply to the NFL. Here’s the most recent analysis I can find, a 2013 update to an earlier piece I linked to further down the thread:

    Here’s another–this one uses the last two Steelers seasons as an illustration:

  13. Ghost says:

    Interesting food for thought. Would have to pour over these arguments to see if they stand up to scrutiny. Not happening at this late hour… Others can have at it first, but just some quick questions that come to mind: Why the magical number of “six” 4Q or OT victories is used to trigger a study? Would the stats be any different if, say, “five” were the cutoff? Just because there are years when Tom Terrific isn’t engineering six 4Q Combacks over the course of every season doesn’t mean he’s still not pulling off rousing comebacks here and there, whenever he actully “needs” to do that.

    Also, some of those ‘cold, hard football “FACTS” which you site as reference derive what they call a “winning percentage” by simply tallying every ‘opportunity” a team had the ball in the 4Q or OT. Well of course lots of drives peter out and possession changes hands, temporarily adding to a list of failed opportunities. But all of that is irrelevant when all it takes is one lucky strike for either team to snatch victory by scoring what will be the deciding points.
    We’ve got a lot of unpacking of stats and analyzing this on our own to do here before we can deem these ‘Zine’ proffered arguments as accurate, unbiased analyses.

    For now, here are Tom Brady’s comeback wins over the years. Sometimes there are a lot, sometimes less. He basically just seems to engineer comebacks: the specific frequency is dictated by that year’s on-the-field demands. I doubt a good year percentage-wize is an indicator of a falling w/l outcome in an ensuing year.

    Somebody without sleep in his or her eyes and no ringing in the ears please see if any off this rubbish floating off my keyboard makes sense…

  14. John Lease says:

    Tabata returns, but grimaces on scoring on the squeeze.

    Just another day in the ballpark, 16 to go.

  15. JAL says:

    JAL’s August Day Song Morning Links


    1- MLB Transactions

    2-MLB Trade Rumors-Pirates

    3 Go Buccos- Pirate News (from external sources)

    4 Pittsburgh Pirates Stats

    5 2013 Pittsburgh Pirates Draft Pick Signing Tracker

    BLOGS and such

    6—Pirates Prospects

    First Pitch: Has Liriano Passed Burnett As the Staff Ace?

    Stopper Liriano Pitches Seven Scoreless in 5-2 Pirates Win

    Prospect Watch: Heredia Overcomes Control Issues, Dickerson Homers

    7 Bucs Dugout

    Francisco Liriano gives the Bucs the start they needed


    Game 110: Pirates 5 Rockies 2

    9 The Green Weenie

    Bucs Grind It Out Behind Liriano 5-2

    10 City of Champions

    Francisco Liriano puts Pirates back on winning track against Rockies

    11 Raise the Jolly Roger

    Pirates 5 Rockies 2

  16. JAL says:

    NEWSPAPERS and MAGAZINES and Other Media

    12 Denver Post

    Not much goes right for Rockies against Pirates lefty Liriano

    13 Columbus Dispatch

    MLB: Finding Pirates on TV is challenging

    14 Coshocton Tribune

    NL Central race will be photo finish

    15 Johnstown Tribune Democrat

    Current Bucs impress Hall of Fame speaker

    16 CBS Sports

    Rockies-Pirates Game Preview

    17 Beaver County Times

    Three Thoughts: Time Bucs take Lambo leap of faith

    18 PBC Site

    Lefty Liriano right on as Bucs topple Rockies

    Notebook: Hughes steps in right direction for Bucs ‘pen


    19 Sweetspot

    Reds’ righty bats need to start hitting

    20 Fangraphs

    Chris Johnson and Great Players

  17. JAL says:

    Bebel Gilberto – August Day Song 2000 Born in New York City and raised in New York and Rio her music has been in many movies and TV shows, including Eat Pray Love, Rio, Sex and the City, Six Feet Under, and Nip/Tuck.

  18. JoeyBats says:

    Hoka Hey everyone!
    Pirates win…Pirates win!!! ….LXVI wins down, …and XVI to go.
    Yes, GM Neal and Mgr. Clint ….82 wins DOES make a difference.
    Beat Em’ Bucs !
    PS: Liriano just AWESOME again. A very rare, JOGATA sighting….let’s hope he is not injured again (on his slide @ home)…….sigh…………….

  19. Naje says:

    Add to your piece Ghost…. Roethlisberger has lost to a lot of mediocre qb’s in his career. And the offense has indeed faltered many times in losses in the past five or six years. And the turnovers… whether it’s A. Brown losing a ball in the open field at Oakland or Roeth. throwing a pick-six, they’ve got to take their share of the blame in several of these opposing teams’ 4th quarter

  20. Drew71 says:

    Can we trade Thunder for just ONE more turnover?

    If the starters are in, I’d settle for a preseason game.

  21. Drew71 says:

    I grimace when I try to get out of bed in the morning.

    And then again when I look in the mirror.

    Remember what Neil Sedaka sang.

    Waking Up Is Hard To Do.

  22. Jim S. says:

    I believe DK correctly pointed out that this is a baseball thing. I think it has something to do with the amount of scoring. Games with lower scoring result in more upsets and more “lucky” outcomes.

  23. Jim S. says:

    I stand corrected, Konstantin. Maybe that factor does carry over to other sports. Thanks for the follow-up.

  24. Jim S. says:

    Very true. And sometimes the defense has completely fallen apart late in those and other games.

  25. Jim S. says:

    Workmanlike win last night. Nothing flashy. Just seized the game early and continued to add on, one at a time.

    It must be very frustrating being the Rockies GM or Manager. You don’t really know how good a bunch of your guys are. Everyone on their team seems to have such drastic splits in performance for home vs. road games. One of their hitters was batting last night, and the Bucs booth commented that he hits something like .330 at home and .219 on the road. But, that is how a lot of them are. Same with the pitchers. The last team you want to pitch for is Colorado.

    Liriano has a decision in every game this year. That shows at least 2 things: 1) He is pitching consistently well and getting late into games; and 2) He has had consistent run support from the Bucs. Run support is a huge factor in pitcher wins. But, he has been as good as probably any pitcher in the league not named Kershaw. At times last night, he was simply N-A-S-T-Y.

    Good to see Tabby hitting the ball with authority. I hope he isn’t injured from simply sliding on the suicide squeeze. There was nothing more to that play, but he seemed to be jogging to the dugout as though he had just run into Mike Scioscia’s shin guard.

    Tough luck for Tony Watson. What a bunch of crappy, dinky, pathetic hits he gave up. Tulo was the only one who hit the ball relatively well. Jordy deserved an error. But, the door was shut in time.

    I will be at the games on Tues/Wed with my son, as well as my brother and his son. He is coming to town from Connecticut, and I from Chicago. Cannot wait! Go Bucs!

  26. Ed says:

    So the Pirates are 110 games into the season and are 66-44. At the same point last season, the team was 63-47. This was when things started to go south and in a hurry. The team finished 16-36 in their final 52 games to clinch a 20th losing season.

    Having said that, Dejan, I’m about to say those famous words. Oh, you know………..

    The Pirates are an absolute lock to break the losing streak this season. They can’t possibly do any worse in the final 52 games this season. Even if they duplicate the 16-36, it still adds up to 82! I didn’t think it would happen last year. It definitely won’t happen again. Too good of a team.

    I’m definitely expecting bigger and better things. They are almost a lock to reach the postseason.

  27. Drew71 says:

    Enjoy the game.

    And at least you’ll have your brother to blame if the Pirates, well, you know

  28. JohninOshkosh says:

    Have fun at the games, Jim ! Does your brother do the blog ? Mine is a big Mets fan. We’ve argued baseball since I was six.

  29. Eric Bowser says:

    How does one want to become a Mets fan…

  30. JohninOshkosh says:


    You have amazing musical knowledge, JAL.

  31. JohninOshkosh says:

    Ha! Where we grew up, there were only three teams regularly on our cable TV: Braves (WTBS), Cubs (WGN) and Mets (WOR).

    He took to the Mets and never looked back….at least he’s not a Cubs fan.

  32. Arriba Wilver says:

    I heard that in the Fan this morning. I thought it was interesting.

  33. Arriba Wilver says:

    Not “in,” ” on.” On the Fan.

  34. Arriba Wilver says:

    At least they HAD cable TV when you were growing up. :-)

  35. No pitching injuries and I agree with you 100%, Ed.

    Take some of our stellar pitching out of the equation and we’re warmed-over Cubs.

    I know the Cubs don’t have Pedro and Cutch and none of our pitching, but pitching and defense have gotten us here for the most part.

    It’ll be exciting to see how it plays out.

  36. pattonbb says:

    Don’t tell Matt Harvey that.

  37. JRay3 says:

    Bucs lineup- Marte, Walker, Cutch, Alvarez, Martin, Jones, Tabata, Mercer, AJ

    Now let’s get Burnett some runs today.

  38. Jim S. says:

    I definitely don’t like dealing with the current vresion of the Marlins.

  39. Jim S. says:

    No he doesn’t, Osh. He’s also a bit more cautious about this Bucs season than I am, so he would fit in with the crowd here.

  40. Jim S. says:

    That’s funny, Arriba. I was pretty young, but I definitely remember no cable. I felt like the last section of town to get it.

  41. Ed says:

    I think, even with one major injury, any shot at winning the division would be gone, they wouldn’t totally collapse, at least not enough to make 82.

    When they can call a guy up like Brandon Cumpton to fill in and pitch seven shutout innings against one of the premier teams in baseball in the St. Louis Cardinals (granted, they were in a funk), it says a lot about the depth of the organization.

    Just look at how many pitching injuries they have already overcome this season. How many other teams would be chopped off at the knees if they lost their closer? Not the Pirates.

    I’d be much more concerned if something happened to Cutch, Pedro or even Martin, because of how valuable he is behind the plate. As long as a litany of injuries don’t happen, they’ll be fine.

  42. Jim S. says:

    For some reason, last year I was never comfortable. I just thought the Bucs were a house of cards all year, and that it was going to be nip and tuck. Unfortunately, the house fell.

    I just have not had that feeling this year. I figured the upgrades of Marte and Martin for a full season were huge, and it was obvious to me that the pitching staff was going to be both deeper and more talented. I figured Liriano was going to be a different pitcher in the NL, much like AJ was last year. I had no idea Locke would be anything more than about 10-10 with a 4.25 ERA. I expected Cole to be good in the 2nd half of the season. And I had no idea before the season that this team would excel at turning batted balls into outs so well. That was an organizational improvement, and it is paying off huge.

  43. theplanisworking says:

    Great win by the Bucs last night.
    Greater performance by Liriano. 12-4 this year. Great signing in the offseason, but absolutely no one could have ever dreamed this type of pitching could come from him. This is what makes baseball a funny game sometimes………….. sign one player, he stinks, sign another player, he’s great. Credit to neal for signing him, but even he couldnt have dreamed these results.

    Steelers “fat cats” huh? Typical of today’s athletes.
    I think lays year was a case of the Steelers thinking they could roll the football out there, and get the desired results. Hopefully these players can stay healthy this year.

    Oh, and the RiverPuppies are on a winning streak.
    Playoffs, here we come !!!!


  44. Arriba Wilver says:


  45. Jim S. says:

    I think the Cardinals are also vulnerable. If Edward Mujica suddenly remembers that he is Edward Mujica, they don’t have as many candidates to take over as we did. There are other potential pitfalls for them with their young starters. Lance Lynn had a great 1st half last year, then slipped. He has not pitched all that great of late, although he did shut down the Bucs. Shelby Miller has been up and down. They are no lock to keep pitching so well.

    Their hitting has been feast or famine of late. This is a tough roadtrip they are currently on for any team, and they have not performed. Sure, they had the two consecutive blowout wins, but they are 2-8 against the 3 best teams in the NL. Maybe they are not as good as everyone thinks they are.

  46. Ed says:

    Well said Jim.

  47. chethejet says:

    Steelers just don’t get out of the gate fast for quite awhile now. Just to many games that are close and bring one bad play into play to many times. Lack of turnovers and OL injuries and CB injuries hopefully are behind them. Yes the Steelers had a unique number of injuries, but the lack of urgency has been an issue for the last two years. With Roster turnover and attempting to develop needed depth, it will take more of a replenishment of talent to return to more players competing for positions.

  48. Jim S. says:

    You are right that there was no way anyone could have projected this for Liriano, plan. But, he was striking out a lot of batters in the 2nd half of last year and there were signs he could be getting back to his former self. The Pirates essentially were the only team on him, and I believe they had high hopes. He has exceeded those hopes, of course. But, they could have cut bait when he broke the arm. Many people wanted them to, and they stuck with him.

    Guys like Jonathan Sanchez were no more than a shot in the dark that a guy with a good arm would suddenly get it back. That one did not play out well.

  49. Jim S. says:

    ++ for “warmed over Cubs.”

  50. Arriba Wilver says:


  51. Jim S. says:

    I think AJ shuts this team down, and they get him some runs today. 6-2 win. Day-Dro returns and goes yard.

  52. Jim S. says:

    True, Eric. I didn’t think they had fans outside of Queens. Not many, anyway.

  53. theplanisworking says:


    I really dont think neal knew what he was getting, high hopes or not.
    A huge factor in the signing, and also a huge unknown, was the switch of leagues for Liriano. Yeah, he started to improve the 2nd half of last year, but would it sustain itself coming to a new league? Then the broken arm thing (thank God it was the non-throwing arm)………….

    I just think that most of neal’s offseason moves (except for Martin) are crapshoots, and if we are to give him credit for Liriano, then we have to assign blame for Sanchez. Or, we just acknowledge my original point, that we just dont know what we are getting, and see who pans out.

  54. theplanisworking says:

    Where I grew up, we had cable since the mid-60’s.
    I think we were one of the first towns to get it, if not the first, sort of like a guinea pig for testing the system.

    Funny, I can still recite the channels in order from back then.

    Sadly, I dont remember what I had for lunch yesterday.

  55. Jim S. says:

    Sanchez was definitely hoping to catch lightning in a bottle, or as you say a “crap shoot.” Nothing was expected there, plan. He was just depth, I think. They hoped for either him or Karstens to pan out, I believe. At least, they were able to get rid of Sanchez quickly and Jeanmar stepped in. He was another under the radar move that panned out pretty well – until the other night, of course. Hopefully, he’ll get it back together.

    I do think they were counting on Liriano. He got a legit contract, and they stayed with him after the broken arm. Now, did he turn out better than expected? Yes, there was a lot of good fortune involved with him. I would say good scouting as well. They invested a lot in Liriano, unlike Sanchez.

    I think NH has tended to go for volume of strong arms in the off-season out of necessity in the past. Sort of the “throw a bunch of you-know-what at the wall and hope some of it sticks. Hopefully, we’ll be past that after this season.

    I also believe it is fair to say his position player signings and trades have not fared nearly as well. Martin is one of the exceptions, but a lot of the intended upgrades just have not panned out well there. NH and staff seem to have a better eye for spotting pitching gems.

  56. Jim S. says:

    Funny, plan!

    I was a “rabbit ears” kid myself. My kids have no concept of that.

  57. Arriba Wilver says:

    No comparison between the Liriano and Sanchez signings. Liriano was initially signed for what, $13 mil for 2 years? To not acknowledge it belongs in Neal’s plus column, or at least the scouting’s plus column would be as inaccurate as saying Neal got a steal for $1 mil IMHO.

  58. Thundercrack says:

    I agree. Liriano was signed with a spot in the rotation guaranteed. Sanchez was signed as one of those “throw some stuff at the wall & hope it sticks / maybe our pitching coaches can turn him around” signings. If he stuck on the roster it would have been as the 5th starter or long man in the pen.

  59. cmat0829 says:

    if Liriano were in LA or NY, he’d be considered the favorite.

  60. cmat0829 says:

    I lived in Denver for 10 years and saw a lot of dominant pitching performances at Coors… Rockies management has just been poor, their ownership has been cheap (remind anyone of anywhere else?) and they have drafted poorly.

    When Leyland managed there, he correctly surmised that the issue with Coors isn’t that HRs fly out of there, it’s that the fences are so deep, the outfields are massive, and so if you play deep, the park yields a zillion singles that would be outs everywhere else. So he played his outfield in to take those away, surmising that if balls got up in the air and over their head, they were likely HRs a lot of time anyway.

    Put a top pitcher in Colorado, like Harvey or Fernandez or Cole, and watch them dominate.

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