Monday, September 26, 2011

Week 3: Steelers 23, Colts 20

By Mike Batista

It's becoming a Sunday-night spectacle. Troy Polamalu rescues the Steelers late in the game with what coach Mike Tomlin calls a "splash" play on defense.

It was enough for the Steelers to beat the Ravens last December for the AFC North title. But somehow they needed more than Polamalu's heist to beat the Peyton Manning-less Colts Sunday night.

The warning signs of Super Bowl Hangover III seemed to be developing.

With 5:21 left in the game, the Steelers were tied 13-13 with the Colts. All of the Colts' points came off turnovers, including a fumble return for a touchdown. Hair-pulling reminders of 2006 and 2009.

Then James Harrison, who looked all night like his back is just fine, introduced himself to Colts' third-string quarterback Curtis Painter. The Steelers' first sack of the night turned into their first forced turnover of the season.

Not since 1938, when they were still the Pirates, have the Steelers forced just one turnover in the first three games of a season.

With loose balls now like golden eggs for the Steelers defense, Polamalu wasn't going to miss the chance to turn this fumble into points. He picked the ball up on a hop, almost like a basketball dribble, and ran 16 yards for a touchdown and a 20-13 Steelers lead.

Unlike last December in Baltimore, however, Polamalu's Superman moment was fleeting. It morphed into a role as one of the 11 Keystone Kops defenders who allowed Painter to drive 80 yards in three minutes to tie the game.

Polamalu was all over the place on that drive, and he damn near blew up Joseph Addai's 6-yard touchdown run before it started. But every Steeler on the field deserves a share of the blame for yielding a fourth-quarter comeback drive to a guy who came into the game with a career 9.8 passer rating. Yes, the decimal point is in the right place.

For the Steelers' defense, this is more of a red flag than a girl telling you on a first date that she's got 27 cats.

Painter was in the game because Kerry Collins, who would have been watching this game with his feet up in his living room were it not for Peyton Manning's injury, was being evaluated for a concussion stemming from a play in which he was leveled by James Farrior, a play that would have drawn a yellow hanky if it were No. 18 hitting the turf.

The Steelers barely played well enough in this game to beat a retread and a clipboard carrier. Imagine if Peyton Manning didn't have a pain in the neck?

Tomlin said after the game that they "just want to get out of stadiums with wins."

The Steelers (2-1) got out of Lorenzo's (I know, it's Lucas) Oil Stadium with a win, but they had to hide it under their coats, because they shoplifted this one.

Sure, there was Ben Roethlisberger's 81-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace that gave the Steelers a 10-0 lead (I got a feeling the Wallace faux-hawk will be part of a lot of Halloween costumes in Pittsburgh this year). As picturesque as that play was, the rest of the Steelers' performance was about as scenic as a landfill.

Both offensive tackles, Marcus Gilbert on the right and Jonathan Scott on the left, were directly responsible for strip sacks in the first half. One led to an Adam Vinatieri field goal and the other was returned 47 yards by Jamaal Anderson for a touchdown, tying the game 10-10 late in the first half.

Both Gilbert and Scott were hurt during the game, although Gilbert had to go back in during the fourth quarter when the Steelers were down to four offensive linemen. Doug Legursky also was hurt during the game. It might be time for Flozell Adams to put down the chips and dip.

The Steelers' Gem Puzzle offensive line also could not open holes against the Colts' traditionally porous run defense. Rashard Mendenhall gained just 37 yards on 18 carries. Isaac Redman, who probably should have seen the ball more, especially in the first half, had just six yards on three carries.

Then, just in a nick of time, the Steelers remembered that Mewelde Moore is still on the team.

After Painter brushed a couple of coats of Embarrassment Red on the Steelers' defense, the offense had 2 minutes and 9 seconds to get into field goal range. It was Moore who got the Steelers into Colts territory by catching a screen pass from Roethlisberger and taking it 22 yards to the Colts' 41.

After Roethlisberger got the Steelers into field goal range with an 11-yard scamper, Moore got them into Shaun Suisham field goal range with runs of five and four yards. 

Before the Steelers had Antonio Brown to return punts, Moore often was used as a punt returner deep in their own end because of his sure-handedness. That's why he was called upon Sunday once the Steelers were in field goal range. No way was Butterfingers Mendenhall getting the ball. Suisham's 38-yard field goal gave the Steelers the 23-20 win.

Since joining the Steelers as a third-down back in 2008, Moore has been like a Batman utility belt gadget for the Steelers. It seems there's been at least a half-dozen times in which Moore has taken the Steelers out of a tight spot with a long gain after a screen pass. He probably can't handle the load of every-down play, which is why we don't see more of him.

Moore did his job for the Steelers Sunday night. The answer to the Steelers' ailing running game isn't for him to get more carries. It's for Mendenhall to do more with his carries, and he could use some help from the offensive line.

And on defense, they have to force more turnovers and turn in a lot of bad-ass performances to make us forget about Painter's Drive.

Sure, this is the kind of win the Steelers get away with once or twice during their Super Bowl seasons, but it's not enough to convince me they are a good team.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

I still don't like Suisham. I don't like a lot of things about this team, but ... #Steelers win 23-20
Lightning does strike twice. Polamalu TD. 20-13 #Steelers
This is making me sick. #Steelers have to go to the wall to beat a Curtis Painter-led team?
I now hate Suisham a little bit less. 13-13. Go #Steelers
End of 3rd quarter. First turnover of year long overdue for #Steelers D.
I hate you, Suisham. You too, Saunders
Let's see if #Steelers can hang onto the ball this time.
Costas' halftime editorials are nauseating. Go #Steelers
Halftime: #Steelers lucky to be down only 13-10. Mendenhall's not doing shit. Where's Isaac Redman?
Fucking embarrassing Colts TD. Now both #Steelers tackles have been burned for strip sacks. 10-10
Believe it or not, it's actually rare to see Polamalu beat someone in man coverage like that. 10-3 #Steelers
Time to name a sandwich after Mike Wallace. 10-0 #Steelers
I'm waiting for Dungy to grab Rodney Harrison in the NBC studio and say "YOU DIRTY SON OF A BITCH!!! I NEVER LIKED YOU!"

Big moment in Steelers history

If you're a Steelers fan too young to remember the Immaculate Reception, you're probably at least old enough to remember the Steelers' 2005 playoff upset of the Colts.

Even though the stadium and the quarterback are different, the Steelers return to Indianapolis today for the first time since that game.

Just like the Immaculate Reception got the Steelers over the hump in terms of winning playoff games, that upset of the Colts catapulted the Steelers over the hurdle to the Super Bowl. After so many losses in the AFC title game, no way were the Steelers losing in Denver a week after stunning the mighty Colts.

With Ben Roethlisberger saving Jerome Bettis from infamy with his tackle of Nick Harper, and the "thank God" field goal miss by the Colts kicker, the 2005 playoff game packed enough unlikely events to be almost as memorable as the Immaculate Reception.

It was the franchise's most pivotal win in the post-Steel -Curtain Era. Since then, anything short of a Lombardi Trophy is considered a failure. For Steelers fans of this generation, it was our Immaculate Reception.

Greetings yinzers and non-yinzers alike. It's Game Day. What are we going to do with these 7 extra hours? Go #Steelers

Monday, September 19, 2011

Week 2: Steelers 24, Seahawks 0

And the Oscar goes to ...

By Mike Batista

Vivien Leigh had Scarlett O'Hara. Ben Kingsley had Ghandi. Adam West had Batman.

Now we have seen Ben Roethlisberger in his defining role as an actor.

Already critically acclaimed for his ability to make injuries seem more serious than they really are, Roethlisberger's epic performance hit the big screen during Sunday's 24-0 win over the Seahawks at Heinz Field.

The Steelers led 14-0 with just over two minutes left in the first half when Heath Miller caught his only ball of the day. The 16-yard completion put the ball on the Seahawks' 4-yard line.

The customary, "Heeeeaaath!" baritone chant thundered through Irish Exit, a Steelers bar in Manhattan. But it was quickly muted when it became apparent that Roethlisberger was on the ground writhing in pain.

Seattle's Raheem Brock plowed into Roethlisberger's knees after the play, and it looked like Roethlisberger had met his Bernard Pollard, the guy who wiped out Tom Brady's 2008 season.

Think NBC envisioned Charlie Batch vs. Kerry Collins when it scheduled next week's Sunday night game? It looked like that, as well as 75 percent off all Steelers merchandise, would be the case as Roethlisberger was on the ground surrounded by Steelers staff.

Such is the fragile nature of life in the NFL.

Then, slowly, Roethlisberger rose.

And he walked off the field. No stretcher needed.

Roethlisberger missed just two plays. Perhaps during that brief time on the sideline, the master thespian should have donned a velvet robe and taken a bow.

That wasn't funny, Ben.

Roethlisberger said after the game that he never felt anything pop. So when you know it's not season-ending, why scare everyone like that when all you have is an ouch-ie?

I guess this means everything is normal again in Pittsburgh. Big Ben is a baby and the Steelers are winning.

Taking his punishment like a man didn't seem to work for Roethlisberger last week when the Ravens (by the way, did anyone tell those guys they had 15 more games on their schedule?) sacked him four times. Strangely enough, Pollard, who now plays for the Ravens, was one of the few white shirts Roethlisberger managed to avoid last week.

Why is it that every time the Steelers defense pitches a shutout, it's overshadowed by a Roethlisberger scare? The last time the Steelers blanked an opponent was the 2008 regular-season finale, when they beat the Browns 31-0. Roethlisberger sustained a concussion in that game, but it looked a lot worse. He was immobilized and carted off the field. Guess he wasn't acting then.

This is the first time the Seahawks were shut out since the last time they came to Pittsburgh in 2007. The Steelers defense cooked up this bagel by allowing just 164 yards of offense (31 on the ground), sacking sad sack Tarvaris Jackson five times and getting off the field 10 of the 12 times the Seahawks faced third down.

It was enough to make Seahawks coach Pete Carroll wish he were back at USC banging 19-year-old coeds. I'm not saying Carroll actually banged 19-year-old coeds at USC. I'm just saying that's what I would do if I were the football coach at the University of Southern California, that's all.

The Steelers defense still hasn't forced a turnover this season. We were denied the first high-flying hair show of the autumn when Troy Polamalu dropped what would have been an easy pick-six late in the game.

The Steelers didn't need turnovers to beat the Seahawks as emphatically as they did. Facing such a woeful team, the Steelers needed a win every bit as emphatic as this one after last week's bitchslapping in Baltimore. Anything less, and the doubts planted last week would have grown.

You might say that bullying an NFL wimp like the Seahawks doesn't prove a thing. The Steelers still have to beat a good team to show that they're championship material. Well, according to the website Football Outsiders, routing bad teams might be more indicative of a team's championship mettle than beating good teams in close games.

Football Outsiders classifies as "stomps" wins of at least 14 points over a team that finishes the season below .500. The site classifies as "guts" wins of 1-8 points over a team that finishes the season with a winning record. According to the site, teams with more stomps than their opponents do better in conference championship games and Super Bowls than teams with more guts than their opponents

A stomp is just what the doctor ordered for the Steelers Sunday. And while it's not officially a stomp until the Seahawks lose their ninth game to guarantee a losing season, I think it's safe to go to Vegas and put money on that happening.

The Steelers have another likely stomp opportunity Sunday night in Indianapolis. The Colts fell to 0-2 Sunday after losing to the Browns at home and are toothless without Peyton Manning.

At least NBC gets one of the star quarterbacks it planned on when the schedule was made. It would be better for the blood pressure of Steelers fans everywhere if that star's performance continues to be more Canton-worthy than Hollywood-worthy.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Feel better now? #Steelers defense, Big Ben's acting are just as good as ever. 24-0 Final. Column later.
Oh I'm watching Manchester United-Chelsea instead of the late CBS game. C'mon FOX. Really?
Mike Wallace TD. Tick, tick, tick baby! 24-0 #Steelers
William Gay didn't actually just cover somebody, did he?
Ominous how Big Ben limped into locker room before half. Maybe he's not a master thespian after all. 17-0 #Steelers halftime
If this turns out to be nothing and Big Ben is being a baby, I will get on a stepladder and punch him in the grill. Go #Steelers
Anyone taking bets on when Tomlin's shades come off? I say mid-3rd quarter. Go #Steelers
Getting off the field on third down. What a pioneering idea. Still 7-0 #Steelers
Getting off the field on third down. What a pioneering idea. Still 7-0 #Steelers
#Steelers take the lead. What a radical fucking concept.
Good job, Mendenhall, no matter what I say about you. 7-0 #Steelers
Mendenhall was a wimp on goal line stand
What? No soccer net in the urinal at Irish Exit? What gives? Go #Steelers
Sapp should shut his Yapp. His Bucs never could beat the #Steelers
Greetings yinzers and non-yinzers alike. I had this horrible dream the #Steelers lost 35-7 to the Ravens last week. So glad the season starts today

Monday, September 12, 2011

Week 1, Ravens 35, Steelers 7

A 'WTF?' kind of day

By Mike Batista

The Steelers spent a ton of money during the offseason re-signing key players on defense.

Now they're stuck with those guys.

It looked like life couldn't get any better when the Steelers re-signed Troy Polamalu to a four-year contract a day before the season started, putting all their major contract concerns to rest.

The Steelers now have Polamalu, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons and Ike Taylor locked up long-term.

Maybe the Steelers should have let some players go into the final year of their contracts, because on Sunday they looked like a bunch of guys who had nothing to play for.

The Steelers defense forced no turnovers, while the Ravens forced seven in their 35-7 win.

Laid-back Camp Tomlin doesn't seem like such a great idea now, does it? Steelers coach Mike Tomlin takes it easy on his aging players during training camp, and this is what happens.

I hope Tomlin's a little tougher on the Steelers this week in practice. No shuffleboard. No drinks with little umbrellas. It's time to get to work because, in case the Steelers didn't know, the season has started.

No one needed to remind Ravens running back Ray Rice that the season has started. At the moment, Rice is the transcendent talent that controls which way the pendulum swings in this bitter rivalry, just like Polamalu was in 2008 and last season.

Without Polamalu's pick-six, the Ravens probably drive for a game-winning touchdown or field goal in the 2008 AFC championship game. Without Polamalu, the Ravens win last season's game in Baltimore, and the Steelers have to go the wild-card route to get to the Super Bowl.

Rice has the same uniqueness on offense that Polamalu does on defense. Defenders don't get a lot of practice tackling 5-foot-8 guys. In the last three years, only Rice has figured out how to gain 100 yards on the Steelers defense, and he's done it twice, including his 107 yards on 19 carries Sunday.

Rice is just as dangerous as a receiver. He caught four balls for 42 yards and hauled in a touchdown pass to go with his rushing TD.

Steelers fans who saw the game from the beginning knew what kind of day it would be right away when Rice picked up 36 yards on the first play from scrimmage.

I knew what kind of day it would be without even being aware of that play. This game, as well as few others, kicked off while names of those who died on Sept. 11 were still being read at Ground Zero in New York.

Having moved from New York to New Jersey last month, I found a Steelers bar where I could watch the game. When I walked in about 20 minutes before 1 p.m., CBS was showing the Sept. 11 memorial live. It went past 1 p.m., and since Steelers-Ravens was being televised locally in this area, DirecTV wouldn't play the game when the staff switched the channel.

If the Jets were playing at 1 p.m., I wonder if CBS would have switched to the game or stayed with the ceremony. It would have been a nice touch if the NFL could have waited for every name to be read before kicking off. Not every game started right at 1 p.m., so it looked like they waited a few minutes. Why couldn't they wait a few minutes longer?

So by the time the game came on at Danny's in Red Bank, the Steelers were down 7-0. Not long after that, Rice scored on a 1-yard run to make it 14-0.

Just like in their last game that mattered, the Steelers spotted their opponent 14 points. Unlike the Super Bowl, however, the Steelers responded with a touchdown instead of a wimpy field goal when Ben Roethlisberger threw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Emmanuel Sanders, making it look like this would be a game.

Still, Sanders managed to show just how clueless the Steelers were on this day. On the ensuing kickoff, the Ravens' Lardarius Webb caught the ball in the end zone for a touchback. Sanders said something to Webb. Whatever it was, it was enough for Webb to look at Sanders as he ran by and for an official to calm Webb down.

The Ravens still had scoreboard at that point. Sanders should have kept his mouth shut.

Taylor, one of those Steelers defenders who signed a comfy contract this summer, also had some behavioral problems on Sunday.

Late in the third quarter, with the Steelers down 32-7, they stopped Rice on a third-and-1 at the Ravens' 25. The Ravens were going to have to punt and maybe, just maybe, the Steelers could get something going.

But Taylor was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after the play, giving the Ravens a first down and allowing them to burn more time off the clock. The Ravens added a field goal in the fourth quarter to ensure that this would be the Steelers' biggest margin of defeat since the 1997 season opener, when they lost 37-7 at home to the Cowboys.

Sunday's loss was the Steelers' first in a season opener since 2002, when they got hammered 30-14 by the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. They entered Sunday's game with the NFL's longest active winning streak in season openers, which made it easy to forget just how bad they were in openers during the Bill Cowher era.

For some reason, it seemed losing openers at home to the Cowboys was part of a twisted formula to success in the 1990s. Despite that 30-point loss in 1997, they reached the AFC championship game. They also made it to the AFC title game in 1994 after losing 26-9 to the Cowboys in Week 1 that year.

In this day and age, however, reaching the AFC title game isn't enough for the Steelers. Anything short of a seventh Super Bowl victory this season will be a disappointment. While none of the Steelers' eight Super Bowl teams opened the season with a loss, a couple of Super Bowl champions in the past decade have started the season just as hideously as the Steelers did Sunday.

The 2003 Patriots opened with a 31-0 loss at Buffalo and went on to win Super Bowl XXXVIII. The 2007 Giants started 0-2, including a 35-13 loss to the Packers at home in Week 2. They ended up beating the Patriots in Super Bowl XLII.

So a season-opening loss, even one as humbling as the one suffered by the Steelers Sunday, doesn't necessarily doom a season.

Still, it's not the way you want to start.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Final: Ravens 35, #Steelers 7. Laid-back Camp Tomlin doesn't seem like such a great idea now, does it? Column coming later
At least Big Ben is taking all this punishment like a man. I liked it better when he exaggerated injuries and the #Steelers were winning
Mewelde Moore's always been a team player. He steps in here and sucks just like everybody else. Sixth turnover by #Steelers
Harrison hurt. Tell me again why he's even playing with that back? Go #Steelers
Aww, the sun came out. Isn't that sweet ... Fuck you, Ravens. (Go #Steelers)
When did Roethlisberger become color blind? Third pick of the day. 32-7 Ravens
Nice job, Ike. Idiot.
Ricky Williams now? Really #Steelers?
That's just how you want to start the second half :-p Can you say no-huddle? 29-7 Ravens
This ain't Pittsburgh. Won't be so easy for #Steelers to come back from 21-7 at halftime vs. Ravens like last yr
Very lucky Reed didn't pick that ball off. I thought Big Ben was done doing stupid things.
Looks like #Steelers are ok as long as they can keep their offense on the field. 14-7 Ravens
Hines Ward Fighting with the Stars. Go #Steelers
Gotta watch Suggs. Loss in this game could hurt #Steelers in terms of tiebreakers. 14-0 Ravens
But at least Goodell has added a rule banning O-Linemen from holding James Harrison. #Steelers
Goodell, you dropped the ball. The entire league should have waited until every 9/11 name was read. Go #Steelers
I hope Principle Goodell pushes back the sacred 1 p.m. kickoff time until they finish reading the names at Ground Zero

Ten Years Ago Today

By Mike Batista

I actually wasn't paying a whole lot of attention to the Steelers on Sept. 11, 2001. Two days earlier, they lost the season opener 21-3 at Jacksonville. After three very mediocre seasons, I figured here we go again.

On the morning of Sept. 11, I slept in. I woke up and turned on SportsCenter late in the morning. I remember seeing something about Michael Jordan coming back from retirement. Then I remember seeing on the crawl at the bottom of the screen that some Major League Baseball games were postponed because of "attacks in New York and Washington."

Since I still didn't know what was going on, I figured it was another Oklahoma City, still enough to give me a sinking feeling.

Then at the top of the hour, ABC News took over ESPN's airwaves, and that's how I found out.

Now, 10 years later, the Steelers and Ravens start a new season. These teams represent cities just about the same distance from Shanksville, Pennsylvania, where the heroes of Flight 93 saved another landmark in Washington from possible destruction.

Enjoy the football today, but let's remember the real heroes.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Game-by-game look at the Steelers' 2011 season

By Mike Batista

What's Wink Martindale doing these days?

How about Chuck Woolery?

Or Ben Stein?

Hell, I'd even settle for Rolf Benirschke. That's right, the intestinally challenged former Chargers kicker hosted Wheel of Fortune for a few months in 1989.

I need someone to host this year's version of everyone's favorite game show, the Win-Loss Game, where contestants look at their favorite team's schedule, and predict a win or a loss for each game.

It's like Wheel of Fortune with only "W"s and "L"s, and maybe an occasional "T" if you really got some balls.

The 2011 Steelers schedule is tied for the fourth-weakest in the NFL.

That scares me.

In 2009, the Steelers also were coming off a Super Bowl appearance and had a piece-of-cake schedule on their plate. We all know how that turned out.

And with the exception of the Bengals, it's not like any of those teams in 2009 were better than expected. During the five-game losing streak that blew their season to bits, the Steelers lost to the Chiefs, Raiders and Browns, all of whom were as shitty as advertised.

My head tells me the Steelers are a damn good team this year, even if they are the oldest team in the NFL. However, 2009 won't easily be forgotten. Nor will 2006, when they famously flopped after winning Super Bowl XL the year before. I can't help but have those two seasons in the back of my mind as I play the Win-Loss Game this season.*

And now, it's time to play.

Week 1, at Baltimore: This is like waking up to a slap in the face instead of a cup of coffee. This is the Steelers' most intense opener since 2002, when they opened on a Monday night in New England the year after the Patriots upset them in the 2001 AFC championship game. This will go a little bit better, as long as Rashard Mendenhall can avoid all the objects Ravens fans throw at him on the 10th anniversary of Sept. 11. W, 20-16

Week 2, Seattle:
Tarvaris Jackson is starting at quarterback for the Seahawks. Steelers defense, start your engines. W, 38-7

Week 3, at Indianapolis:
If Peyton Manning plays at all this season, it certainly won't be by Week 3. Still, let's not take this one too lightly. Kerry Collins is a capable backup, and hard-core Steelers fans will remember the name Cody Carlson. W, 20-13

Week 4, at Houston:
Manning possibly being out for the year might be what it takes for the ultimate "Wait 'Til Next Year" team to finally so something in the AFC South and make the playoffs. The Steelers never tempt perfection with long winning streaks to start the season, and I can't help but think that someone will sneak up on the Steelers during this yawn-inspiring Houston-Tennessee-Jacksonville leg of their schedule. Not exactly the most dynamic NFL cities. L, 19-13

Week 5, Tennessee:
Munchak and Hasselbeck. Sounds like some kind of cheesy, early 80s cop-show duo. W, 23-12

Week 6, Jacksonville:
According to ESPN, quarterback David Garrard was released hours after being introduced as the Jaguars' starting quarterback at a chamber of commerce luncheon. Maybe he can tour the country as a Seal impersonator and see if he can hook up with a model like Heidi Klum. W, 28-21

Week 7, at Arizona: Between not getting the Steelers head coaching job and losing to the Steelers in Super Bowl XLIII, Ken Whisenhunt will want to win this game so bad that he'll kick every single one of his players in the balls if they lose. L, 34-17

Week 8, New England:
Tom Brady comes to Heinz Field dressed in drag on Halloween Eve. Then we realize that's really his hair. We also realize that's not a mask Bill Belichick's wearing. That's really his face. Unlike last year's Patriots visit, this one will be a game. Unfortunately, the Patriots will win the shootout. Yeah, I know this is 76 points allowed in the past two games. But the Steelers defense will show its age with a mid-season swoon. L, 42-35

Week 9, Baltimore: Joe Fucko has never beaten the Steelers when Ben Roethlisberger plays. W, 14-6

Week 10, at Cincinnati:
Steelers finish up with the Ravens early and get two games each against the Bengals and Browns, and a bye, in the last eight weeks of the season. W, 37-13

Week 11, Bye

Week 12, at Kansas City: The NFL is just busting the Steelers' balls here. They also had a late-November game at Kansas City in 2009, in the midst of their infamous slide. Look for the Chiefs to plateau a bit this year after their rise last year. W, 31-20

Week 13, Cincinnati: Who knows if he'll still be the starter this late in the season, but Andy Dalton is the Bengals' first rookie quarterback to start a season opener since Greg Cook in 1969. I know. Who cares. W, 45-3

Week 14, Cleveland:
Aww, c'mon NFL. Really? A Thursday night game in early December against the Browns? That doesn't remind Steelers fans of anything, does it? At least this one's in Pittsburgh. W, 27-15

Week 15, at San Francisco: Chalk this up as a "haunted by 2009" pick. L, 20-17

Week 16, St. Louis:
Please don't flex this one to a night game, NFL. It's going to be tough enough planning Christmas Eve around a 1 p.m. game. W, 22-9

Week 17, at Cleveland:
I wouldn't be surprised if most of those votes Peyton Hillis got for the Madden cover were cast by Steelers fans so he'd get jinxed. The Browns have their quarterback in Colt McCoy. They'll be better this year, and I just don't see the Steelers going 12-4 again. L, 17-16

Now for the Bonus Round. Or in this case, playoffs.

Here's how I see the AFC playoff picture shaking out:

1. Patriots (13-3)
2. Chargers (12-4)
3. Steelers (11-5)
4. Texans (10-6)
5. Ravens (10-6)
6. Jets (10-6)

Wild-card: Steelers 25, Jets 17; Texans 13, Ravens 7
Divisional: Chargers 16, Steelers 13; Patriots 37, Texans 13
Championship: Patriots 21, Chargers 7

I think the Steelers start to show their age toward the end of the year and get beat in the playoffs by the Chargers. But no way Norv Turner is getting the Chargers into the Super Bowl. So, I regret to inform everyone that the Patriots get back to the Super Bowl.

Since the season's already started in the NFC, I can't really pick records or playoff seeds. Or maybe I'm just too damn lazy. I say the Packers get back to the Super Bowl, not based on Thursday night's game but based on the fact that they got to the Super Bowl last year despite all those injuries. You'd have to think they'll be healthier this year and maybe get a home playoff game or two.

Unlike last year, I'll actually be rooting for the Packers in the Super Bowl. Sure, the Packers were added to my NFL shit list after beating the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV, but the Patriots have earned my unconditional hatred. I'll be quite relieved when the Packers beat the Patriots in the Super Bowl.

Of course, my predictions are usually wrong, and I hope this year is no different.

*-When I was thinking of game-show hosts to mention, one of the names I wanted to use was former Remote Control host Ken Ober. Then I saw that he died at 52 on Nov. 15, 2009. You know what else happened that day? The Steelers lost to the Bengals at home, starting their infamous five-game losing streak. Spooky stuff, huh?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Mike Tomlin speaks of salt and sand

By Mike Batista

The Steelers begin the 2011 season in about 120 hours. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said in his press conference Tuesday that he expects the Ravens to be "quite salty." Damn. I've been trying to limit my sodium intake.

Tomlin also got some laughs when he said he thinks James Harrison, who is recovering from two back surgeries, has been "sandbagging" it. Charlie Babbitt made a joke. That's about as colorful as it gets during a Tomlin presser.

I'm working on my definitive prediction column for the season, then realized it was going to be too goddamn long, so I'm taking a piece of it and making a column out of that.

Think of this column as licking the mixer when Ma makes a cake. In this case, the cake is my prediction for the Steelers' 2011 season, which I'll have later in the week.

For now, let's take a quick look at the Steelers in the three main departments.

OFFENSE: Rashard Mendenhall is going to need a kick-ass, breakout season to make his infamous Twitter comments a distant memory. I think that's just what he'll do. I predict at least 1,500 rushing yards from Mendenhall this season. As far as their receivers go, I can't help but get giddy about the depth there. The Steelers shouldn't have any trouble scoring points this season.

DEFENSE: I hate dealing with the number 13 because I'm superstitious. But I have a feeling that's how many games we'll get out of Troy Polamalu this season. He actually only missed two games last season. It just seemed like more because he was still hampered during the postseason. Since Polamalu injuries pretty much come with the territory now, I'll take three games with Polamalu in street clothes if the Steelers can somehow win two of those games and if Polamalu's in peak condition for the playoffs. 

Speaking of injury-prone players, I think Aaron Smith's best days are behind him. He's 35. Fortunately, the Steelers seem to have drafted well on the defensive line recently. Cameron Heyward looked good in camp and might have to contribute as a rookie. This defense is getting old, and will need some of that new blood to start pumping pretty soon. Perhaps Jason Worilds might be pressed into duty if James Harrison really isn't sandbagging it. Can Keenan Lewis bury his boneheaded past and emerge as a factor in the secondary?

Don't be surprised if the Steelers have to use all that offensive firepower and win the occasional 42-38 game this season.

SPECIAL TEAMS: Triskaidekaphobia aside, it is Daniel Sepulveda, not No. 13 Jeremy Kapinos, who is bad luck for the Steelers. Nonetheless, Sepulveda won the punting job and Kapinos was waived. Sepulveda has had two of his four seasons cut short by injury. The Steelers have gone to the Super Bowl in both of those seasons, and they haven't gone to the Super Bowl in either of his full seasons. Hmm.