Sunday, November 20, 2011

Steelers Bye Week

Giving Thanks and Wanting Stuff

Since the NFL started instituting bye weeks in 1990, this is the latest the Steelers have had theirs.

This bye is so late that it runs through Thanksgiving, and by the time the Steelers play their next game Nov. 27 at Kansas City, the Christmas shopping season will be well under way. For that matter, who among us this week hasn't seen Christmas decorations on light posts or heard Christmas carols at WalMart?

So let's be grateful and greedy. Let's give thanks and then tell Steeler Claus what we want under our tree this year.

Six Things Steelers Fans Are Thankful For:

1. Ben Roethlisberger's Toughness:
As long as his head is attached to his shoulders, No. 7 will be calling signals. Good thing, too, because while the Steelers' offensive line seems to be getting better, there's still a lot of room for improvement. Now Roethlisberger's got a broken thumb, but says he won't miss any time. Seems to me throwing a football with a broken thumb is like driving a car without a steering wheel. No matter what happens to Roethlisberger's body, he always gets up and keeps playing. Let's not take that for granted. Throughout his career, Roethlisberger's never been called the "best" quarterback in the NFL. There's always been a Tom Brady or a Peyton Manning and now an Aaron Rodgers in front of him. But I challenge anyone to find a tougher, more durable quarterback.

2. 2009's History: It was a scary case of deja vu, a lot of spooky parallels to the Steel Market Crash of 2009. The 2011 Steelers started 6-2, then lost at home to a division opponent. In 2009 they started 6-2 then lost at home to the Bengals to start a five-game losing streak. In both 2009 and 2011, the Steelers had the Bengals and Chiefs back-to-back on their schedule. But the Steelers prevented a re-enactment of 2009 by beating the Bengals last week. That doesn't mean the Steelers still can't collapse this season. But at least there won't be any desperate talk of unleashing hell in December, especially if the Steelers can take care of business against the Tyler Palko-led Chiefs.

3. Antonio Brown's Rise:
It was third-and-19 when Brown went all David Tyree and pinned the ball against his helmet to set up the game-winning touchdown in last season's playoff game against the Ravens. It was third-and-19 from the Steelers' 15 last Sunday when Brown caught a 21-yard pass to keep a field goal drive going after the Bengals had narrowed the Steelers' lead to 14-10. Let's just call him Third Down Brown. He leads the AFC with 18 third-down catches and 282 third-down yards. You could argue he is the Steelers' best receiver. Mike Wallace catches the home run balls and has learned to catch passes in traffic, but Brown can make the circus catches. His Tyree-like catch last January was just the beginning.

4. Hines Ward's Maturity: Perhaps Ward was on to something when he dressed like a cheerleader on "Dancing with the Stars." With his drop to No. 4 on the Steelers' wide receiver depth chart, Ward said he'll be the Steelers' biggest cheerleader. How many other players, especially wide receivers, would say that? Ward always has stood apart from other divas at his position with his hard-nosed blocking. Now he's setting another example by putting the team ahead of himself. He needs 30 receiving yards to reach 12,000 for his career. He'll probably get that. But he needs 19 more catches to reach 1,000 for his career. He'd have to average more than three catches a game in the Steelers' six remaining games . That might not happen. Something tells me, however, that Ward's still got some key catches left in him, and if someone gets hurt, he'll be ready to step in.

5. Troy Polamalu's Health: Unlike Ben Roethlisberger, we never take Polamalu's health for granted. He's missed at least some time the last two seasons with injuries. So far, so good this year. Except for his fumble recovery and touchdown that helped the Steelers beat the Colts (how embarrassing would it be now if the Steelers had lost that game?), Polamalu hasn't made any "splash" plays on defense. That doesn't mean he's not playing well, however. He's got 62 tackles through 10 games this season. Last season, he had 63 tackles in 14 games. He made 73 tackles in 2008, the last time he played a 16-game season. So Polamalu is still making an impact. I'd love to see another 16-game season (and beyond) out of him.

6. Max Starks' Availability:
It's a damn good thing no one signed Starks. Tell me again why the Steelers didn't want to start the season with him? There are probably better left tackles in the NFL than Starks, but Jonathan Scott sure as hell isn't one of them. In the Steelers' first four games, Roethlisberger was sacked 14 times, putting him on pace to be sacked 56 times this season. Roethlisberger's been sacked 17 times in the six weeks since Starks returned. Now the Steelers have a shot at keeping Roethlisberger's sack total under 50 this season. Starks has helped stabilize the Steelers' offensive line. Mike Tomlin and Kevin Colbert really should be thankful that no one signed Starks. It helped them undo a major personnel blunder.

Six Things Steelers Fans Want for Christmas:

1. LaMarr Woodley Back: Move over, Reggie Jackson. Woodley was this year's Mr. October. He registered 7.5 of his nine sacks during the month before going down with a hamstring injury. Woodley's performance helped fuel the Steelers' four-game winning streak. Even without his sacks, the Steelers sacked up and beat the Bengals last Sunday. They also should be able to beat the Chiefs without Woodley if his hamstring needs another week. But there won't be a lot of January football this season if they don't get Mr. October back.

2. Antonio Brown Special Teams Touchdown:
We can't ask for much more from Brown this season, but there is one more thing Brown can do for us. At some point the Steelers might need a touchdown on special teams. Brown is tied for second in the NFL with five punt returns of 20-plus yards. The 49ers' Ted Ginn has seven. Brown is only averaging 11 yards per punt return, however, because of all his fair catches. In the first NFL game Brown suited up for, he returned the opening kickoff for a touchdown last season in Week 2 at Tennessee. He's due for another special teams touchdown.

3. Pro Bowl for Ike Taylor: Let's get Ike Taylor lei-ed. The Pro Bowl is back in Hawaii this year, and Ike Taylor deserves to be there. Of course, we don't want Taylor to actually go to the Pro Bowl, because that would mean the Steelers won't be playing in Super Bowl XLVI the following week. We just want him to be invited. Seeing the way Taylor's played this season, it's hard to believe he's never been to a Pro Bowl. It's because he doesn't get a lot of interceptions (just 11 in his nine-year career). Hopefully this year he can prove that you don't need "ball skills" to get lei-ed.

4. More Ravens Losses: With no Steelers game to watch this Sunday, let's all take an orange salad bowl, draw black stripes on it with a magic marker, put it on our head and pretend we're Bengals fans. The Steelers still can win the AFC North and maybe get a first-round bye in the playoffs, which has benefited them in their last two trips to the Super Bowl. The Steelers just need the Ravens to lose one more game than they do the rest of the way. That means if the Steelers run the table, they'll still need the Ravens to lose one more. If the Steelers go 5-1, they'll need the Ravens to lose two more. The Ravens have followed up both of their wins over the Steelers with losses, and there also was that loss to Jacksonville. At least when the Steelers lose, they lose to decent teams. Despite their three losses, the Steelers look like a team that can beat anyone. The Ravens have shown they can lose to anyone.

5. Faith in Shaun Suisham: Maybe I'm being too hard on Suisham. He's made nine of his last 10 field goals, including a key 39-yarder against a stiff wind in Cincinnati. He's 16 for 21 this season. But is Suisham the guy you want attempting, say, a 42-yard field goal with the Steelers down by three points with three seconds left in a playoff game? I didn't think so. Some clutch kicks from Suisham would be a nice Christmas gift.

6. Century Club Membership for Rashard Mendenhall:
We really can't complain about Mendenhall's performance in the last three games. He's not used much because the Steelers are a pass-first team. Against the Patriots and Ravens, he had a combined 112 yards on 26 carries. That's 4.3 yards per carry. He had just 44 yards on 16 carries against the Bengals, but showed a real nose for the goal line on his two touchdown runs. With the weather getting colder and maybe snowier, the Steelers might need a few 100-yard rushing games from Mendenhall, who can be a fun running back to watch when he's got it all together.

No comments:

Post a Comment