TribLIVE
Blogs | Sports | News
The Steel Mill

« Font size »
Decrease | Reset |Increase

August 4, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


No comments yet - you should start the discussion!

Kaboly: Camp Tomlin has been physical, but smart … so far

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
-- Chaz Palla The Steelers' Maurkice Pouncey (53) and Hebron Fangupo (yellow) get into a fight during practice Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, at St. Vincent in Latrobe

— Chaz Palla
The Steelers’ Maurkice Pouncey (53) and Hebron Fangupo (yellow) get into a fight during practice Saturday, Aug. 2, 2014, at St. Vincent in Latrobe

Mike Tomlin has done this training camp thing a number of times already, so I am pretty sure he knows what he is doing.

Camp Tomlin No. 8 is nearly halfway over here at St. Vincent College and this one ranks up there as one of the most physical under his watch.

Well, as physical as it can be under the new CBA that limits a whole bunch of stuff, most notably two-a-days.

Still, this one has been intense. This one has been hard-hitting. This one has been chippy. Shoving, punching, hitting, fighting, jawing – you name it and it has/is going on.

Oh yeah, and physical.

There have been at least two live hitting drills – backs on backers, tight ends/outside linebackers, pass rushing/blocking, Oklahoma – and one competition team period during every practice.

That might not seem like much, but I would imagine that it would hard-pressed to find another team with that much live hitting in training camp.

All this hitting in camp and preseason seems like a disaster waiting to happen, right?

As previously mentioned, Tomlin knows what he is doing.

First of all, Troy Polamalu takes part in none of these live drills or periods, and rightfully so. The last thing you need is your All-Pro safety getting hurting in August.

During linemen drills, the first team on both sides of the ball go once – if they are lucky.

Ben Roethlisberger had a day off and so did Heath Miller.

Tomlin is taking care of the players who matter while pushing the younger guys to the brink to see how they react. He wants to see if there is legitimate player out there among the 40 or so he knows little about, and that’s good.

This camp is very unlike Tomlin’s first camp when he wore the down with double-digit two-a-days in August that surfaced near the end of the season and in the playoffs.

So, who is my camp phenom so far?

Will you believe Mike Tomlin?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

August 2, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


9 comments so far - add yours!

Kaboly: Detailed account of ‘Friday Night Fights’

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
-- Chaz Palla LeGarrette Blount dives on top of Vince Williams.

— Chaz Palla
LeGarrette Blount dives on top of Vince Williams.

Friday night under the lights quickly turned into Friday Night Fights at Latrobe Memorial Stadium.

And this one was brief, but a real doozy.

Midway through the much-anticipated and highly intense “backs on backers” drill, a melee broke out after linebacker Vince Williams and running back Le’Veon Bell refused to relent after the drill was clearly over.

Williams ended up on top of Bell in the back portion of the end zone, which apparently didn’t sit well with fellow running back LeGarrette Blount.

Blount, in street clothes and as a pure spectator, took such exception to Williams taking Bell to the ground and staying on top of him that he decided to do something about it.

Blount immediately tried to clear Williams off Bell with a diving forearm.

After that, it got interesting.

Players from the offense and defense gathered around pushing and shoving. Blount somehow found himself outside the mob, but that didn’t stop him.

Blount dove back in trying to get after Williams.

This is where things really got interesting.

Defensive assistant Joey Porter, who once got kicked out of a game in Cleveland for fighting running back William Green an hour before the game even started, turned into “Peacemaker Peezy.”

Porter grabbed Blount and yanked him off the pile. Porter then stood in front of Blount preventing him from going back after Williams. Blount had a couple words with Porter before finally walking away.

Williams had his helmet ripped off his head. His facemask was yanked so violently that it got pulled through the hard plastic clips that keep it secure to the helmet.

The fight was over, but there were some more fireworks after that.

Throughout the remainder of the drill, Blount and Williams were jawing at each other across the field. The one thing I heard was: “I’ll get you tomorrow.”

Afterwards, Mike Tomlin addressed what happened.

“It’s the ebb and flow associated with team development,” said Tomlin. “The tight ends kicked the linebackers butts the other day, and the linebackers came back today with a vengeance. It’s what team development is about. I would imagine the backs and tight ends come out here tomorrow with a get-back attitude. It is an emotional game, and they do lose that element of it sometimes. But those things are growth opportunities, and opportunities for us to teach. All of that is part of team development, even when it’s a little bit negative.

“It is emotional, and at times you’re going to feel like you’ve been wronged, but at the same time you have to keep your wits about you, because we step into stadiums with one goal in mind, and that’s to win. Obviously, 15-yard penalties don’t help us in that cause.”

Throughout the melee, Tomlin never moved a muscle. Although he did have a word with Blount a little after it all settled down.

The fight definitely was escalated by Blount’s actions, but how can’t you like a guy sticking up for his teammate and backfield partner like that?

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

August 1, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


3 comments so far - add yours!

Kaboly: NFL refs lay out new rules to Steelers players/coaches

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

More penalties and more passing.

And yeah, no more of that trash talking and goal post dunks.

NFL officials were on campus at St. Vincent College on Thursday and Friday detailing to coaches, players and media new rule changes and points of emphasis for the upcoming 2014 NFL season. (Here is the video that was shown to the media and players)

And, of course, it is centered around safer play and more points.

One of the “major” points emphasis this year is illegal contact by a defensive back within 5 yards of the line of scrimmage.

As you know, 5 yards is legal. Anything after that isn’t.

Veteran field judge Bob Waggoner said that the 5 yards legal zone has gradually expanded over the years.

“What has happened over the years is that it kind of stretched a little bit from a 5-yard belt that went to 6 yards that went to 6 ½ yards. It kind of stretched itself a little bit to a point where they wanted to bring it back,” Waggoner said. “It’s like a rubber band. It got stretched a little bit and not they want to bring back. That was kind of where we were at.”

While that may result in more offense, Waggoner said that offensive pass interference (pushing off at top of the route) is also a major point of emphasis.

“It’s a two-way street,” Waggoner said. “Offensive pass interference is also a big point of emphasis. When we talk offensive pass interference, we talk about bubble screens where guys are 3 or 4 yards down the field blocking. That’s a big point. They get one yard. It’s where the point of contact is. That is going to be called as strict as illegal contact.”

Here are some of the rule changes for 2014:

Zero tolerance on verbal abuse – Players will be flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct if they verbally abuse an opponent in any way, even in a joking manner. Specifically, the officials will be looking for any inappropriate racial or sexual-orientation comments.

“It needs to be directed specifically at a player or an official, particularly any derogatory, personal statements that are made toward players, those kinds of things,” Waggoner said. “We won’t have rabbit ears. If it is a in-your-face, one-on-one type of thing we are trying prevent.”

No cut blocks from the side – It’s still legal to cut a defensive linemen, but you better get your head in front of the legs and don’t roll after the block. It’s illegal to make a block to the side of a defender’s leg now.

Replay consultation with New York – The referee will still have final call on the play in review, but he will have help from vice president of officiating Dean Blandino and/or senior director of officiating Alberto Riveron during replay reviews. A recovery a fumble in the field of play is also now reviewable.

No dunking on goal posts – Call this the Jimmy Graham rule. The pylon, crossbar and uprights are off-limits in celebrations. A violation will result in a 15-yard penalty.

The game clock will remain running after a sack — In the past, the clock wouldn’t run until the ball was marked for play.

Here are the point of emphasis:

* Hand to face, neck and head, even if it is only for a brief moment, will be flagged within the interior line.

* Even the slightest non-football movement at the line of scrimmage may result in a false start penalty.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

July 31, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


2 comments so far - add yours!

Kaboly: Observations from Steelers training camp practice No. 4

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Practice No. 4 is in the books here at an unseasonably cool July day at St. Vincent College.

Here are some quick thoughts about what I saw/have been seeing.

* Daniel McCullers is a monster of a man, and he showed that he can play some football as well. McCullers was active all day on Wednesday whether it was pushing Cody Wallace into the backfield during linemen pass blocking drills or swallowing Dri Archer during the 11-on-11 live tackling period. Now, McCullers looks like he needs to get a little more sense of urgency with his play, but that will come. He is a quiet kid who is just trying to fit in during the early days of camp.

* Speaking of McCullers, William Gay gave TribLive Radio’s Ken Laird the soundbite of the year. “We call him ‘Big Dan’. He reminds me of the movie ‘The Longest Yard’, the big dude that was in there and he started crying and then destroyed everybody,” Gay told Laird. “Me and Troy were just talking, every time we’re going to just walk up and give him a hug. Nice guy. Won’t say too much to you. I told him, ‘Once you get six years in, people are going to be scared to talk to you.’  You’re going to say ‘Get out my face’. I told him, ‘You’re bigger than everybody. Just move people.'”

* Here is a quick list of people who you don’t know (maybe don’t want to know) but are flashing at times. S Jordan Dangerfield: He’s getting some respect with his hits, that’s for sure. CB Antwon Blake: He’s fast … very fast. DE Ethan Hemer: You just keep seeing No. 79 make a play. Oh yeah, it’s flashbacks to Aaron Smith. He looks like him, doesn’t play like him yet. RB Jordan Hall: He took a lick a time or two, but kept on trucking on Wednesday. He’s a tough kid. TE Eric Waters: We knew he could catch from the OTAs, but he can block as well. He is a legitimate player to unseat David Paulson and Michael Palmer.

* There was a sloppy portion of practice on Wednesday when Ben Roethlisberger was forced to huddle again then returned to the line just to have a bad exchange with the center that was recovered by Chris Carter. Landry Jones came in with the second team just to immediately trip over Paulson, who was crossing behind the line of scrimmage at the snap.

* I am seeing a lot more emphasis put on defenders trying to strip the ball. Now, this goes both ways. The offense has to be aware of ball security at all times.

* Matt Spaeth can sure block.

* No fights in four practices. There were two or three in the OTAs alone.

* The crowds here at St. Vincent have been quite large the past two practices. I guess 8-8 is good enough.

* Let’s hope that no Steelers offensive linemen get hurt, because through four practices, it’s obvious that there’s not much to speak of behind the top five or six. There’s some potential there, but nothing ready to jump in and play.

* Mike Adams, who I think has a chance to win the right tackle spot from Marcus Gilbert, got absolutely run over for the second consecutive practice. On Monday it was Shamarko Thomas. Wednesday it was McCullers. I know Adams said he slipped with the Thomas one. McCullers? Well, he is 350 pounds.

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

July 27, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


34 comments so far - add yours!

Kaboly: All the Ike Taylor criticism is misguided

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

IkeI call it a lazy narrative.

And that’s what it has become when it comes to talking about cornerback Ike Taylor.

Sure, the veteran didn’t have the best of seasons in 2013. He called it a so-so year when he showed up to organized team activities during the spring.

So-so doesn’t mean bad, and it surely doesn’t mean terrible.

When Taylor was allowed to stay on just the right side of the defense and not follow around the opponent’s best receiver for the final five games last year, he was a lot better than so-so. He was good.

But Pro Football Focus – a popular analytical website – ranked Taylor as the 13th worst cornerback in the NFL last year and that skews the thinking of a lot.

I’ll let you in on a secret: Pro Football Focus’ grading system is severely flawed.

Taylor received bad marks against Detroit and Baltimore when he “allowed” Torrey Smith and Calvin Johnson long touchdown receptions. Those long touchdowns passes ultimately turned out not to be Taylor’s fault.

In both instances, Taylor was expecting safety help inside when there wasn’t any.

Those are just two examples. Surely there are more.

According to the same website, Taylor had games of limiting receivers to 47, 39, 65, 14 and 71 yards to end the season, but we conveniently leave that out.

He can cover. He can tackle. He can run. He can’t catch, but he never could.

Taylor has also been durable over his career missing only four games due to injury. He played in all but 24 snaps last year coming off an ankle injury that caused him to miss the final month of 2012.

In all reality, Taylor played well last year and extremely well for a guy who was 33.

Sure, he was forced to take a pay cut to stay around, but that is more because of his age than his ability.

Don’t get me wrong, Taylor’s best days are behind him.

But he has a lot of good football left in him and getting him for a bargain basement price is beneficial to the organization, not an indication of his worth.

The narrative of Taylor being a big question mark for the Steelers this upcoming season is just misguided.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

July 26, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


8 comments so far - add yours!

Kaboly: Cortez Allen on possible extension

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

The Steelers made it clear the other day that they want to address some of their more immediate expiring contacts before focusing on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger’s deal.

Translation?

The team wants to sign cornerback Cortez Allen to an extension before their self-imposed deadline of the start of the season.

Allen is in the final year of his rookie contract, and with a unit void of any up-and-comers, Allen should be priority No. 1 for the Steelers.

The Steelers have approximately $6.5 million under the salary cap, which would be plenty to sign Allen to a long term deal.

If an extension is on Allen’s mind, he isn’t letting on.

“That’s not my concern right now. Football is my concern,” Allen said. “I am just trying to help the team win games. That stuff will take care of itself. I don’t focus on it too much.”

When asked if the team has approached him with any contract extension information yet, Allen said: “Not as far as I am concerned.”

The Steelers could also target linebacker Jason Worilds for a long term deal before the season that would actually alleviate them of some cap money. Worilds agreed to a transition tag in March that guarantees him nearly $10 million for this season.

However, the Steelers seem to be willing to wait to see when it comes to Worilds. With Allen, the Steelers likely  have learned a lesson two years ago when Keenan Lewis wasn’t offered a contract heading into his final season.

After a solid year in 2012, Lewis signed a lucrative contract with New Orleans last offseason.

Allen deflected the question of if he wanted to get a deal done before the start of the season.

“I am not 100 percent sure,” Allen said. “That’s an organization decision.”

My take? Allen will get an extension before the start of the season.

The Steelers really don’t have much of a choice.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

July 22, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


3 comments so far - add yours!

Kaboly: Outside zone makes return

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

FosterAll the talk a year ago was how the Steelers were going to incorporate the outside zone running scheme into their offense.

Injuries to running back Le’Veon Bell and center Maurkice Pouncey early in the season forced the Steelers to put the scheme on the back burner.

Even though it wasn’t used after the first week, it was never removed from the playbook.

“We had it in, that’s the thing,” guard Ramon Foster told me on my TribLive Radio Show on Monday. “The same amount we have in this year was the same amount we had in last year. It was a little more publicized last year.”

Pouncey’s back, Bell’s healthy and the Steelers brought in offensive line coach Mike Munchak putting everything in place for the return of the outside zone this year … well, at least in theory.

“We are going to do it and get outside and run but it is also going to help the inside run,” Foster said. “You have to keep the defense honest. If you try to pound down guys the entire game, they get in tune with that you are doing. The outside zone keeps them honest. Sometimes we catch defenses off guard, too. We have to perfect it and get the little things taken care of in perfecting the run but I think it will be a tool that we use.”

It could be a welcome and much-needed addition to the offense.

The Steelers — typically a power and inside zone running team — finished with their fewest rushing yards (1,383) in a full season since the NFL adopted the 16-game schedule in 1978. They haven’t been a top-10 rushing team since 2007.

Foster said this year will be different.

“No excuses anymore,” Foster said.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

July 1, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


3 comments so far - add yours!

Kaboly: Q&A with Todd Haley about his view on analytics in the NFL

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

NFL: Tennessee Titans at Pittsburgh SteelersIt pales in comparison to Major League Baseball’s gaggle of advanced stats available and it can’t even come close to the NHL’s Corsi rating.

But the NFL – the ultimate come-late-to-the-party entity – is starting to warm to the benefits that advanced stats and analytics can offer them.

There are a handful of teams that now employ full time analytics experts including Buffalo, Chicago and Baltimore. Even though a portion of their job is linked to marketing, they are involved in game day trends and the draft as well.

As for the Steelers, they dabble in it a little bit but accrue most of its information the old fashioned way – by watching film.

Todd Haley has always been interested in the analytics parts of the game and has tried to work some into his thinking as the Steelers’ offensive coordinator, especially when it comes to figuring out one of the game’s most vexing problems – when to kick a field goal versus going for it on fourth down.

I had a chance to sit down with Haley during the recently completed spring practices and asked him about his view on advanced stats and analytics when it comes to football.

 

Q: “Do you use or believe in any kind of football analytics?”

A: “I have always been in to that in some areas. I took a lot of heat in Kansas City for going for it on fourth down. That’s one of the biggest areas for me. As a play caller when I was in Arizona with (Ken Whisenhunt), he would tell me on third down to have a fourth down call ready and I would think ‘Boy, if I would’ve known that two calls ago it would’ve changed everything.’ We have messed with it here a little bit with four-down mode. It doesn’t happen in obvious places. It might be on your own 30 when you say we have four downs to get the first so to me it changes drastically because you can hand it off three times in a row knowing that you will have that extra down. Obviously, if you can average 3.3 yards … when we led the league in rushing (in Kansas City) I was taking a lot of heat for the times we went for it and didn’t get it in critical situations say in Indy where everybody was trying to steal a possession. Our number of handoffs went up dramatically. (Bill) Parcells always taught if you hand off the ball 25 or more times and for years and year and years, it’s like you are going to win eight out of 10 games. In the first half, I am always like how many runs, where are we at. A lot of that is skewed because you are winning the game and you hand it off in the fourth quarter. If you can get to that number early in the game, you are probably playing pretty good football. Turnovers can change everything. That four-down mode allowed me to call three runs in a row, four runs in a row and stay in four down mode and now you might’ve handed it off seven or eight times in a row and those add up.”

 

Q: “So you know there is a better chance of you converting a fourth down than making a 50-plus yard field goal?”

A: “You start to factor in some of those things. Like I said, I took some heat but didn’t realize how much we were in it and how much it helped us win 10 games with Matt Cassel at quarterback and led the league in rushing. You factor in the percentage of going for it rather than kicking a long field goal.”

 

Q: “So it really does change a lot to you if you know you are four-down mode before the drive starts?”

A: “I had a rule and I told Charlie that when I tell him we are in four-down mode, I want three handoffs in a row no matter what unless on first down we got 7 yards and second down we would get 2 and knowing that you had a fourth down to hand it off to get the first, that shot against a more predictable defense came into play. It’s third-and-1 and we are trying to get the ball down the field for a huge play knowing that we are probably going to get man-to-man. It drastically changed the thinking. That came to me when Kenny would say third down and have a fourth down call ready. I’d have a fourth-down call ready but if I knew that, I could’ve handed it off here and here and here.”

 

Q: “Mike (Tomlin) is good with letting you know it is four-down mode?”

A: “I went through the whole thing with him and we have done it some. You really have to have your whole team on board. I’d tell the defensive coordinator that we are in four-down mode so they would know. We might’ve been on our own 35 and we are taking a risk so our defense better be ready to come out and shut them down.”

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

June 18, 2014
by Mark Kaboly


22 comments so far - add yours!

Kaboly: Worilds not offered a contract by Steelers

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

WorildsWhen Jason Worilds quickly agreed to the rarely used transition tag in March that guaranteed him $9.745 million for the upcoming season, it was under the assumption that number wouldn’t stick by the time the Steelers’ season started.

The feeling at the time was that the Steelers would be highly motivated to sign Worilds to a long term deal to ease the near-$10 million cap hit for the then cap-strapped Steelers.

But with the cap unexpectedly jumping $10 million to $133 million and the extra money created by the release of LaMarr Woodley, the motivation to get a deal done quickly waned.

Now, it looks like Worilds will be playing under a one-year deal.

I was told that Worilds was not offered a contract by the Steelers and that there have been no talks between the two sides since Worilds agreed to the transition tag three months ago. It was recently reported that Worilds rejected a contract offer by the Steelers, which remains on the table.

It is not unusual for there to be two different stories during contract negotiations. In fact, it’s the norm, so take it for what is worth.

Worilds would not comment on his contract situation when I asked, and that’s about status quo for him. Worilds is a very quiet and guarded individual that would never talk about something as sensitive as his contract situation.

Worilds was drafted by the Steelers in the second round of the 2010 NFL Draft out of Virginia Tech. In his career, Worilds has started 21 regular-season games and registered 18 sacks and three forced fumbles. Last season, he set career highs in starts (11), tackles (54), sacks (eight) and forced fumbles (two).

Worst case scenario for Worilds is to play this season for nearly $10 million and do it all over again next year. The Steelers could transition tag him again or even franchise tag him.

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

June 18, 2014
by Alan Robinson


2 comments so far - add yours!

Robinson: 5 very important Chuck Noll wins as Steelers coach

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

 

chucknoll

When a coach has 193 career wins – and 209, counting the playoffs —  as Chuck Noll did, some games are certain to stand above the others. In Noll’s case, a lot of them do, because the Steelers won 14 playoff games just in the 1970s, in addition to experiencing seven seasons of 10 wins or more.

Narrowing down the list to the five best is difficult and, of course, is subjective – one man’s top win is another man’s No. 10.

But here is a list of five exceptional Noll-led wins – and not all of them were in the Super Bowl.

1-STEELERS 24, Raiders 13, at Oakland, AFC Championship Game, Dec. 29, 1974. Maybe the Steelers took the first step towards becoming the Team of the Decade with the Immaculate Reception and an 11-3 record two seasons before in 1972, but this is the game that started their playoff dominance. First, look at the date – nearly a month sooner than AFC title games are played today; the NFL played only a 14-game schedule, so the regular season was over by Dec. 15. There was no week off between the end of the season and the division playoffs, either, so there was little time for regrouping.The week before, the Steelers routed the Bills and O.J. Simpson, 32-14, in the divisional playoffs at Three Rivers Stadium (the following season, Simpson would rush for 227 yards and a TD as Buffalo came back to Pittsburgh and won, 30-21). The Raiders were favored after beating the two-time defending Super Bowl champion Dolphins the week before in a game that was billed as the “real” AFC title game. It wasn’t, as Joe Greene explains. 

“It was Monday (the day after the Bills game). He (Noll) made a comment about the Oakland-Miami, and how it was being called a championship game even though it was only a divisional game. And he said those people in Oakland said the championship game was played yesterday, that the best two teams in football had played.  He said, ‘I want you guys to know that the Super Bowl is played three weeks from now. And the best team in football is sitting right here in this room.’ That statement doesn’t mean a whole lot if he said something like that every week. Chuck never said anything like that prior to that or after that. Not in that way. That was a great impetus for us winning that football game. The Raiders up to that point had been a nemesis for us. At that point in time the Raiders, after Chuck talked to us, they had no chance of winning that ball game. I felt that feeling never changed throughout the course of our preparation and during the game.”

The Raiders had won in Pittsburgh, 17-0, earlier in the season. But the Steelers dominated the fourth quarter of the title game after trailing 10-3 after three quarters, getting three touchdowns – a pair of Franco Harris runs and a Terry Bradshaw to Lynn Swann TD pass play of 6 yards. The Raiders ran for only 29 yards on 21 carries – it was one of the first big days by the Steel Curtain – and Ken “the Snake” Stabler threw three interceptions on his home turf.

“They just weren’t going to win the game,” Greene said.

The Raiders didn’t the next season, either, losing, 16-10, despite seven Steelers turnovers in the AFC title game at icy Three Rivers Stadium.

2-STEELERS 35, Cowboys 31, Super Bowl, at Miami, Jan. 21, 1979. One of the best-played Super Bowl games – and most entertaining – even though the Steelers narrowly missed squandering an 18-point lead after they made it 35-17 in the fourth quarter. The Steelers won a third Super Bowl under Noll and denied Tom Landry a third with the Cowboys. The Steelers also bounced back after losing to the Raiders in the 1976 AFC title game and having a 9-5 record in 1977, the year of the Noll “criminal element” trial involving the Raiders’ George Atkinson. Last year, a nationwide panel of experts picked the 1978 Steelers as the greatest team in franchise history for the Trib.

This is the game that began to establish the Steelers as one of the great teams of all time. If they’d won on the 1974 and 1975 Super Bowls, they would have been viewed as a very good team – but winning a third made people realize this was a very special team. They followed it up by winning the 1979 season Super Bowl over the Los Angeles Rams in Pasadena, the first time that one of the participants was essentially a home team.

3-STEELERS 27, Oilers 13. AFC Championship Game, at Three Rivers Stadium, Jan. 6, 1980. This game would be the springboard for the Steelers’ fourth Super Bowl – and for the NFL adopting instant replay. The Steelers beat the Oilers in the AFC title game at rainy, icy Three Rivers the season before, and then manhandled them again 35-7 early in the 1979 season. But the Oilers prevailed, 20-17, in a Monday night game in Houston, and Oilers coach Bum Phillips had promised to “kick down the door” to allow the Oilers to get past the rival Steelers. After upsetting the favored Chargers the week before, the Oilers looked like they might do it when they opened a 7-0 lead. But after a pair of touchdown drives put the Steelers ahead 17-10, Dan Pastorini tossed what looked to be a tying, 6-yard touchdown pass to Mike Renfro in the back of the end zone in the third quarter. But Renfro was ruled to be out of bounds, even though it appeared he made the catch with inches to spare, and the Steelers – the momentum now on their side – went on to score the final 10 points. It took a few more years, but the Renfro play was cited frequently as a reason the NFL ultimately adopted instant replay.

4-STEELERS 21, Cowboys 17, Super Bowl, at Miami, Jan. 18, 1976. It almost seems unfair to list two Cowboys-Steelers games here, yet both were extremely pivotal to the Steelers becoming known as the Team of the Decade. First, the 1975 Steelers clearly were the best team in franchise history to that time; they went 12-2 during the season, and one of the losses was a meaningless, end-of-season Saturday loss at Los Angeles. The Steelers were 12-1 at the time. Second, both the AFC title game (the 16-10, glare-ice win over the Raiders at Three Rivers) and the Super Bowl were extremely competitive games that could have gone either way; lose either, and the Steelers probably aren’t remembered as arguably the best team of all time. They had only two regular-season losses in each of the two seasons they met the Cowboys in the Super Bowl, and those teams arguably were the two best of the Noll era (the 1978 team went 14-2).This was the game that featured two acrobatic and almost impossible-to-make catches by Lynn Swann; if he doesn’t make these catches, he might not be in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. The two Cowboys-Steelers Super Bowls are  often cited as being two of the best of all time because they featured the NFL’s two most popular teams at the time and two distinct styles, the Cowboys’ always-effective offense and the Steelers’ blanketing, Steel Curtain defense. Classic matchups, classic games. Want to know how those two Cowboys games resonate in Dallas to this day? When Noll died Friday, the Dallas Morning News headline the next day referred to him as the coach who beat the Cowboys in two 1970s-ers Super Bowls – not as the only coach to win four Super Bowls.

5-STEELERS 34, Raiders 28, at Three Rivers Stadium, Sept. 17, 1972. Surprised this game isn’t on the list? You shouldn’t be. This was the first big high-quality win for the Steelers under Noll after they went 12-30 in his first three seasons. It quickly established the 1972 Steelers weren’t the same old Steelers of the past four decades, and it helped give them the confidence and momentum to go on to a 11-3 record – easily the best in franchise history.There’s also this – for all of the Raiders’ complaining about how they were robbed in the Immaculate Reception AFC title game that would follow 3 ½ months later, they never cite the fact they lost to the Steelers TWICE that season – so much for the fluke element. The Steelers opened up leads of 17-0 and 34-14 as Terry Bradshaw RAN for two touchdowns, then held on despite two late Raiders touchdowns. This was Franco Harris’; first NFL game, and he would carry 10 times for only 28 yards and catch two passes. The next time he faced the Raiders, he was a much, much bigger factor. Oh, and after this game – for the first time in Steelers history – it became difficult to get tickets for regular season games. They began selling out every game starting that season, a streak that continues through today.

 

 

facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail
 
Other blogs
Sports: Rob Rossi | Steel Mill | Chipped Ice | Bucco Blog | iPreps | Pitt Locker Room | Penn State Sports
News: This Just In | Trib List | ICycle | Flow Back | Stories Behind Trib Stories  


» Top TribLIVE.com Sports
» Top TribLIVE.com News
» Top TribLIVE.com Breaking News