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November 22, 2013
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Gilbert: “I’m pretty sure he’s going to get his”

Kelvin Beachum took the high road.

 

Not once, but twice he dropped on me: “I’m not going to comment on it” when asked about the blindside and dirty hit Cleveland defensive lineman Phil Taylor put on him during the second half of last year’s season finale.

 

It was a hit that resulted in a concussion to Beachum and warranted a $7,875 fine by the league even though Taylor said the Steelers were the dirty team following the 24-10 Week 17 loss.

 

It was the second consecutive year that Taylor was fined for a hit on a Steeler. Taylor was docked $15,000 in 2011 due to a helmet hit to Ben Roethlisberger.

 

When pressed about Taylor’s hit on him last year, Beachum only had to offer: “We will handle it between the lines and that’s how it has to be done this week.”

 

Tackle Marcus Gilbert, who did not play in last year’s season finale against the Browns with an ankle injury, was a little more forthcoming with what appears to be the mindset of the offensive line heading into Sunday’s game.

 

“It is no motivation once he gets on the field,” Gilbert said, who had an incident with Taylor himself. “He knows what it is and it is business. It is smash mouth football and there’s no talking. It is what it is. We are aware of it, but football is football, and I am pretty sure he is going to get his. It was a dirty play and he put it on film. Once it is on film it is out there.”

 

The hit by Taylor on Beachum came a play after James Harrison was called for a 15-yard roughing the passer penalty on Cleveland quarterback Thad Lewis. It was reported that Taylor apologized to Beachum the next day.

 

Incidentally, when the two teams play Sunday, three of the five offensive linemen for the Steelers didn’t play in last year’s game – Doug Legursky, Maurkice Pouncey and Max Starks.

November 21, 2013
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: Haley says Browns defense might be best Steelers have faced

By Alan Robinson

Imagine this: it’s the Steelers who are praising the Browns’ defense, and not the other way around.

The Steelers are usually considered to be the crown jewel of AFC North defenses, but the Browns’ unit is higher ranked and performing better than Pittsburgh’s. The Browns are No. 5 overall, allowing 306.5 yards per game, while the Steelers (340.8 yards per game) are No. 14.

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley said Thursday this might be the best defense the Steelers (4-6) have faced all season. He said Joe Haden is the best cornerback, and defensive linemen Phil Taylor and Ahytya Rubin are better than the Lions’ more-publicized duo of Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley.

“I thought Detroit was real good, but this team’s better,” Haley said. “Statistically, they’re better. It starts inside with Taylor and Rubin. Last week I thought it was the best two interior guys; these guys, I think, top them. The front seven in general, I think, is the best front seven we’ve seen.

“They play a 3-4 and give you a lot of looks. And, week in and week out, they do a real good job of stopping the run.”

The Browns’ run defense is No. 8 overall, allowing 99 yards per game – a challenge to a Steelers running game that has yet to produce a 100-yard rusher this season. The Steelers are No. 30 in rushing at 76.5 yards per game.

The Browns built their defense largely on the draft, with five first- or second-round picks. Haden and Taylor are first-rounders and linebacker D’Qwell Jackson, Jabaal Sheard (of Pitt) and strong safety T.J. Ward are second rounders.

Outside linebacker Paul Kruger signed in the offseason after winning the Super Bowl with Baltimore.

The Browns have allowed only 24 points in two AFC North home games, beating Cincinnati, 17-6, and Baltimore, 24-18.

Asked about his matchup with Haden, Antonio Brown said he would welcome going head-to-head against him.

“I hope so, because 1-on-1 on better than 2-on-1,” Brown said. “If you can study game plans and prepare for one guy, it’s a lot easier than (preparing for) other guys or zone coverage — those type of things have an effect on your routes. It should be a great matchup.”

November 20, 2013
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: How well is Ben Roethlisberger playing? This well …

By Alan Robinson

How well is Ben Roethlisberger playing?

Here’s some evidence.

Roethlisberger was chosen Wednesday as the AFC offensive player of the week for the 10th time in his 10-season career.

Roethlisberger was 29 of 45 for 367 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions during a 37-27 comeback victory Sunday over the Detroit Lions. He also led the longest game-winning drive of his career, a 97-yard march in the fourth quarter that ended with his 1-yard touchdown pass to Will Johnson.

He threw two touchdown passes in the first quarter to put the Steelers up 14-0, then two more in the fourth quarter after the Lions had gone ahead 27-23.

The victory was the 29th of Roethlisberger’s career in which he led rallied his team after trailing or being tied in the fourth quarter. And he has 23 drives (three in the postseason) in which he has led the Steelers from behind to a victory in the fourth quarter.

“He’s a competitor like most of the guys that are really good at his position,” coach Mike Tomlin said. “They embrace those moments and they pride themselves in delivering in those moments.”

Roethlisberger has thrown for 2,901 yards, the most of his career through 10 games, and has completed 247 passes. He needs five touchdown passes – he currently has 208 — to surpass Hall of Famer Terry Bradshaw for the most in Steelers history. And Sunday marked the fourth time in his career he has thrown at least four touchdown passes and no interceptions.

Some more:

— He is 91-45 in his career as a starter (15-1 against the Browns, by the way, with the only loss coming in 2009 in Cleveland) and 36-11 against the AFC North.

— He already has thrown for 350 yards or more four times this season.

— He has thrown at least one touchdown pass in 24 consecutive games, counting the postseason.

Each of Roethlisberger’s 20 career regular season come-from behind, game-winning fourth quarter scoring drives:
Yards Time Opponent (Result) Date Final Score
97 8:03 Lions (TD) 11/17/13 37-27
92 2:53 Ravens (TD) 12/14/08 13-9
89 6:41 Bengals (TD) 10/3/04 28-17
86 2:06 Packers (TD) 12/20/09 37-36
80 4:40 Jaguars (TD) 10/5/08 26-21
78 8:01 Browns (TD) 11/11/07 31-28
78 1:33 Bengals (TD) 12/31/06 23-17
77 2:34 Browns (TD) 11/19/06 24-20
73 6:30 Chargers (FG) 11/16/08 11-10
67 3:18 Giants (TD) 12/18/04 33-30
64 6:33 Eagles (FG) 10/7/12 16-14
63 4:32 Titans (FG) 9/10/09 13-10
60 2:05 Colts (FG) 9/25/11 23-20
60 1:45 Ravens (FG) 10/31/05 20-19
56 1:37 Jaguars (FG) 12/5/04 17-16
51 4:53 Giants (TD) 11/4/12 24-20
47 2:51 Dolphins (FG) 10/24/10 23-22
40 4:36 Chargers (FG) 10/10/05 24-22
24 1:50 Cowboys (TD) 10/17/04 24-20
9 0:22 Ravens (TD) 12/5/10 13-10

November 20, 2013
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Nothing much did change in 2nd half

To a man, the Steelers said nothing changed defensively during the second half of Sunday’s 37-27 victory over Detroit from the debacle of a second quarter that saw the Lions put up 267 yards and 27 points.

 

They said the reason why they held Calvin Johnson without a catch and the Lions to 72 total yards over the final 30 minutes were, simply, that they played better.

 

Well, that was indeed the case.

 

Taking a very unscientific look at the schematics of the Steelers’ defense in the first half compared to the second half revealed that when it came to the number of safeties employed deep, it was indeed the same.

 

Now, the final numbers are skewed a little bit and especially in the fourth quarter because the Steelers took a two-score lead, but overall, it is a good indication that Dick LeBeau didn’t change up the defense drastically from one half to the other.

 

Now, a good part of the credit has to go to the Steelers’ offense for keeping the Lions off the field for the majority of the second half thus limiting opportunities, but the defense did play much better.

 

The Steelers mostly employed their quarter package, but where they aligned their safeties was telling. Here’s the All-22 breakdown of how the Steelers played their back half of their defense (when decipherable).

 

First quarter: 1 deep safety (13); 2 deep safeties (6)

 

Second quarter: 1 deep safety (10); 2 deep safeties (10)

 

Third quarter: 1 deep safety (8), 2 deep safeties (6)

 

Fourth quarter: 1 deep safety (1); 2 deep safeties (10)

 

Total: 1 deep safety (32); 2 deep safeties (32).

 

Incidentally, both of Matthew Stafford’s touchdown passes were when the Steelers had only one deep safety in the middle of the field.

 

November 6, 2013
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: Guess who made this All-AFC North midseason team?

By Alan Robinson

If nothing else, it illustrates how fast the Steelers’ once-elite defense has fallen.

Pro Football Focus came out Wednesday with its midseason all-AFC North team for the 2013 season, and four Steelers players made it.

One is a surprise.

None are from the Steelers defense.

The team isn’t based on the subjective opinion of various writers but, rather, is based on performance analysis of every play.

Making the team on offense were quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, right guard David DeCastro and wide receiver Antonio Brown (who, by the way, is joined by A.J. Green of Cincinnati and Torrey Smith of Baltimore).

No one was chosen off the defense that was the NFL’s No. 1 statistically three of the last four seasons.

The fourth Steelers player chosen was Robert Golden on special teams; according to Pro Football Focus, he has made six special teams tackles without missing one and grades out positively on both kickoff and punt coverage.

Pro Football Focus said DeCastro is the best offensive guard in the division this season and is playing at a Pro Bowl level.

Oh, and the linebackers? None other than Vontaze Burfict, the Bengals’ tackling machine and … Bengals teammate James Harrison.

James Harrison?

Despite being cast into a situational role in a 4-3 defense – far removed from his days as a 3-4 pass-rushing outside linebacker in Pittsburgh – Harrison has been “reborn in a new position and new specialty as a two-down run-stuffing thumper at strong side linebacker in the Bengals base defense,” according to Pro Football Focus. He grades out as a plus 7.4.

LaMarr Woodley of the Steelers was omitted from the team, but grades out at a plus 9.2. Lawrence Timmons, by the way, is a minus 1.2.

The Steelers defense is ranked 12th this week, based strictly on yardage. It is in the middle of the league with 208 points allowed.

November 5, 2013
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Haley holding Ben back in no huddle? Someone thinks so

You can easily say that Charlie Batch was responsible for the last important Steelers’ victory.

 

Batch went into Baltimore the first week of December last year and beat the Ravens to push the Steelers record to 7-5. Since then, the Steelers are 3-9 with wins over Cleveland last year when they were already eliminated for the playoffs and back-to-back victories over the Jets and Ravens after a 0-4 start this year.

 

Batch is out of football now, but is quickly making a name for himself as an up-and-coming NFL analyst and color commentator for high school football on both television and radio.

 

I caught up with Batch on Monday during my radio show on TribLive (you can listen to the entire show/interview here “The Mark Kaboly Show” and he had plenty to say and especially about Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger when it comes to running the no huddle offense.

 

Part of my film session article in today’s Trib was dedicated to the amount of time and the success Roethlisberger had with the no huddle offense in the 55-31 loss to the Patriots on Sunday.

 

Roethlisberger used the no huddle over the final nine series to great success.

 

Roethlisberger ran 33 plays out of the no huddle and went 16 of 27 for 217 yards with a pair of touchdowns and an interception. Roethlisberger also called four running plays that resulted in 43 yards. All 31 of the Steelers points were scored during drives that the no huddle was used

 

So the final stat line was: 260 yards and two touchdowns on 33 plays when Roethlisberger called the plays and 219 yards and two touchdowns on 40 plays when Haley called the plays.

 

With so much success, it makes you wonder why Roethlisberger doesn’t call the plays more.

 

Batch had a theory.

 

“If Ben is calling the plays and the plays are working, what is this position of the offensive coordinator?” Batch said. “He isn’t going to get any credit for it because he didn’t call those plays. There is always going to be a clash at the top of who is going to call the plays and when things are working you would love to be the offensive coordinator saying that I called every single play and we went for over 500 yards so my offense is working. I don’t think the rift between Todd and Ben is totally gone.”

 

Batch said that the playbook is virtually wide open when Roethlisberger goes to the no huddle.

 

“He would probably have at least 75 percent of the plays … and you can take the whole package and do what you want to do with it,” Batch said. “Ben is capable of flipping formations so that gives you more plays to call. That is something he is comfortable with and I know for a fact that he is comfortable with it. Todd sometimes holds him back because Todd doesn’t necessarily want to change the pace of the game at that point.”

 

Batch had plenty more insight on the Steelers and a very forthcoming and passionate feeling on the bullying that’s now made it’s way into the NFL.

October 30, 2013
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Woodley wasn’t at fault for Pryor’s TD run

Things aren’t always as they appear, and Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley has to be thrilled about that.

 

On Terrelle Pryor’s record-breaking 93-yard touchdown run on the first play of last week’s 21-18 loss to Oakland, it sure appeared that Woodley was one of the main, if not the main, culprit.

 

Turns out he wasn’t. In fact, he was just doing his job.

 

How the defense was called, Woodley’s responsibility on that particular play was to attack the running back regardless if he actually had the ball or not – a very common practice when defending the read option (Jason Worilds did the same thing in the second half).

 

Woodley acknowledged such during Wednesday’s open locker room.

 

“My responsibility on that play was to go down and take the running back,” Woodley said. “My focus on that play wasn’t even to look at the quarterback.”

 

If it wasn’t Woodley’s fault, then whose fault was it?

 

Well, Woodley wouldn’t say anything specific except “everybody has a responsibility.”

 

The blame lies with a handful of players – Troy Polamalu not getting off his block, even though he had outside contain, and Ryan Clark for biting so badly on the pulling right guard. But the main responsibility for the quarterback was linebacker Lawrence Timmons.

 

Timmons (as seen in the photo) jumped the run-action and is taken out of the play when he gets caught up in the scrum at the line of scrimmage and eventually falls to the ground.

 

“It was just a mistake and those things happen in games,” Woodley said. “It ended up happening and it cost us.”

October 24, 2013
by Mark Kaboly


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Kaboly: Spaeth is coming back … but when?

Mark Kaboly  |  Tribune-Review

 

The Steelers could be getting a boost to their running game shortly with the return of one of the better blocking tight ends in the league in Matt Spaeth … maybe.
Spaeth, who was put on injured reserve/designation to return at the beginning of the season because of a lisfranc foot injury, is eligible to be activated, but won’t tip his hand if that time is right around the corner or not.

 

“I am working hard every day and doing what I can do to get back,” Spaeth said.

 

Translation: Spaeth isn’t allowed to divulge to the media when he plans to return.

 

“Yeah, I can’t tell you,” Spaeth said with a grin.

 

All signs say that it could be soon. Spaeth has been without a boot on his foot for some time now indicating that his return is imminent.

 

The Steelers signed Spaeth in the offseason to help out a thin tight end unit that lacked any dominant blocking. Heath Miller and David Johnson were coming off knee injuries and David Paulson was still a work in progress.

 

Spaeth, who was originally drafted by the Steelers in 2007 before leaving for Chicago as a free agent, injured his foot during what he called a freak accident during training camp. Spaeth said what caused the injury was nothing out of the ordinary.

 

“I was blocking a guy,” Spaeth said. “I didn’t get landed on or stepped on. It was just one of those weird things.”

 

Spaeth can be activated from the short term injured reserve at any time during the rest of the season. Once activated, the Steelers have three weeks to put him on the 53-man roster.

 

The Steelers could use Spaeth’s services now. Johnson was lost for the season with an arm injury two weeks ago forcing the Steelers to use tackle Mike Adams at tight end at times.

 

“It has been really difficult because I have never missed a long period of time before,” Spaeth said. “What makes more difficult is being back here. I was excited to be back and help this team win.”

October 22, 2013
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: What Did We Learn During the Mike Tomlin News Conference?

By Alan Robinson

What did we learn from the Mike Tomlin news conference?

The head coach can be critical of players when he wants to be.

On Tuesday, Tomlin singled out cornerback Curtis Brown and punter Zoltan Mesko for what he might term as below the line play. He said Brown wasn’t given a helmet Sunday against the Ravens because his special teams play has slipped precipitously. Brown hasn’t been getting on the field much as a defender – one play all season — so special teams were keeping him active.

Tomlin said Mesko, who replaced Drew Butler at the start of the season, has had one “junior varsity” punt per game and needs more consistency. Mesko ranks next to last in the NFL with a 42.4 yards per punt average, and his net average of 37.2 is fifth from the bottom.

However, Tomlin emphasized that he singled out running back Le’Veon Bell for praise following a 34-yards-on-16 carries performance against the Jets because he wanted to keep his confidence up. Bell responded by running for 93 yards against the Ravens, the most by a Steelers running back in almost a year.

Tomlin said he didn’t want Bell listening to the “elevator music” – i.e. the background noise that might suggest he had a bad game against the Jets.

During his 20-minute media session, Tomlin also said he was “too (mad)” after Emmanuel Sanders’ apparent end zone-to-end zone kickoff return touchdown was erased to notice if the proper amount of time was put on the clock. Sanders was ruled to be out of bounds at the Steelers’ 34, erasing what would have been the longest kickoff return score in team history.

And all those offensive wrinkles the Steelers showed off, including Ben Roethlisberger flanked out wide in the wildcat, with Le’Veon Bell at quarterback?

Tomlin said those were designed specifically for the Ravens because it’s necessary to show different looks and alignments against division teams that are played twice per season and thus scout the Steelers more extensively than other opponents.

Roethlisberger said during his radio show that the wildcat made him “nervous” because there are more chances for mistakes – in other words, turnovers – when someone other than the quarterback is handling the snap from center.

Following his news conference, Tomlin made his weekly appearance on Sirius/XM NFL Radio and said his defense must be “disciplined” against the Raiders because of quarterback Terrelle Pryor’s ability to throw the deep ball and because of the former Jeannette High star’s “skill set.”

The Steelers have been upset three times by the Raiders in the last seven seasons – in 2006 and 2012 in Oakland and 2009 in Pittsburgh, where Bruce Gradkowski threw three touchdown passes in the final 8 ½ minutes to lead an Oakland rally.

The 2006 and 2012 losses might have ultimately cost the Steelers playoff appearances. They squandered a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter of last season’s 34-31 loss, decided by a Sebastian Janikowski field goal as the game ended.

Roethlisberger also said on his radio show his vision was blurred for a few plays after he was struck in the face, much like he was a couple of years ago when his nose was broken in Baltimore by a blow from nose tackle Haloti Ngata.

October 15, 2013
by Alan Robinson


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Robinson: What We Learned During the Mike Tomlin News Conference

By Alan Robinson

“You don’t have to worry about anybody in the black and gold doing it anymore.”

That was Steelers coach Mike Tomlin talking Tuesday about … no, it wasn’t scoring a touchdown, something his team did only once Sunday against the Jets.

Rather, he was referring to the end zone flips, dives and somersaults – like those performed by Emmanuel Sanders and Le’Veon Bell in the last two games. Tomlin doesn’t like them because they’re “silly” and create the risk of injury for a team that has already had an abundance of injuries this season.

Ben Roethlisberger also was concerned about Sanders’ flip, and he cautioned the wide receiver about it immediately after he scored, the quarterback said during his weekly 93.7 radio show.

What else was learned at Tomlin’s weekly news conference – which, incidentally, is usually Tomlin’s one scheduled media availability all week? NFL rules dictate that head coaches meet with the media four times a week, in addition to game day, and almost every other coach in the league holds a news conference the day after the game.

The Steelers circumvent that four-times-a-week rule by saying that Tomlin is available on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, days that he talks only rarely, if at all.

Tomlin said Ravens game week remains a big one, even though the two AFC North rivals lack a winning record between them.

“This is a great rivalry … and I will take the time to tell the younger players about it,” Tomlin said during his weekly SiriusXM NFL Radio appearance.

What else is new?

The Steelers have yet another tight end: Richard Gordon, a third-year player who was a sixth-round pick by Oakland in 2011 and has played in 27 games with the Raiders. They chose to add him rather than another offensive tackle, a sign they were pleased with Kelvin Beachum’s first start at left tackle.

The Steelers added Gordon even though tight end Matt Spaeth (foot), who was injured during training camp, is eligible to come off the designated-to-return injured reserve list in another two weeks.

Still, Tomlin said Gordon was added because the Steelers are looking down the road, not just at the short term.

Some Ravens-Steelers notes:

— The winning team has scored more than 23 points only twice in the last 12 games. Seven of the last nine games were decided by three points, including wins by each team on the other’s home field last season.

— The Ravens have won three of the last four, including both games at Heinz Field.

— The Steelers are trying to win successive games against the Ravens for the first time since they swept the 2008 season series, when they won the Super Bowl.

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