5 Smoldering Questions on the Pittsburgh Steelers: Season Finale Edition

Photo via USAToday.com

The Steelers have an opportunity to sweep the AFC North for the first time since 2008. There is a possible fringe benefit to winning next Sunday’s game against the woeful Browns as well. But just as the Steelers can’t be scoreboard watching during that game, we need to focus on these Smoldering Questions. And given the news about James Harrison, they are pretty smolder-y…

1. My original first question was about James Harrison, but current updates have rendered it pointless. So here was my second question about Harrison:

Does it worry you unduly that Harrison has signed with New England? Do you think the Steelers made a major miscalculation?

2. In recent seasons (and even not-so-recent ones) we have seen the Steelers struggle to put away what appear to be far inferior opponents, even losing to them at a much higher-than-expected clip. So ‘fess up—did you a) view the Houston game as a so-called “trap” game, or b) did you expect the afternoon to unfold much as it did?

3. If your answer to the above was a) please explain what you think the Steelers did differently in this game to avoid the trap. If it was b), what gave you that confidence?

4. Let’s revisit the “catch rule” one more time, since Al Riveron appears determined to keep it in the news. Mike Tomlin has said the Competition Committee will revisit this during the off-season. If you were able to give him a suggestion for how it might be fixed to take to that meeting, what would it be?

5. And finally we get to look ahead to Sunday’s game. For the moment, put on Mike Tomlin’s puffy jacket and decide which, if any, starters you will sit for the game, or for some portion of it. Do you have any criteria other than the score to determine when you pull people? And will part of that criteria involve checking the Pats/Jets score? Remember that, unlike a preseason game, you can only dress 46 players.


  • 2. I didn’t view it as a trap game for two reasons. First, because the Texans were playing with 3rd and 4th string QB’s. Second, because Ben has really been hitting his stride as has Bell. What I didn’t expect was for the defense to look like a sieve against Houston’s running game.

    4. Get rid of the “control to the ground” part of the rule. If the receiver shows he has control of the ball before falling to the ground, especially if a controlled move is made with the ball before going to the ground, then it should be a catch.

    5. I don’t sit any starters until the game is out of hand or the Patriots game is out of hand. Well, I guess if the Browns pretty much just lay down (which I don’t think they will do), I’d get Ben and Bell out of the game.


  • Woohoo! James Harrison Exit Speed!

    1. I checked Football Outsiders to see whether the Patriots’ defense had gotten a big bump upwards after signing Harrison, and since they are sitting at No. 32, I guess not. (Well, okay, these are ranked based on the previous games.) Do I think the Steelers made a miscalculation? I’m beginning to think the miscalculation was not cutting Harrison after training camp, if the player comments about his refusal to mentor young players, show up to team meetings or even games, and so on are true. Could he have helped someone else? I guess we’ll find that out. I don’t see Belichick keeping a player that can’t help him. Most fascinating comment from a player? Bud Dupree said the OLBs felt “called out” by Harrison’s workout video, because it made it look like they were slackers, but in fact the trainers wouldn’t allow them to work out the way Harrison did. Ultimate answer? In a drama-filled season, it may come out eventually that Harrison was the biggest distraction, because it couldn’t sit well with the others that he wasn’t being disciplined for infractions which would have resulted in fines or suspensions for them. Which isn’t to say Harrison can’t help the Patriots. We just have to hope not…

    2/3. I think the answer is mainly b), but with a slight fear of a) mixed in. But I felt this team was one who had learned some valuable lessons from their last-second wins, as well as their close losses, and they would be prepared to put them away quickly. I have to admit my confidence took a little hit after the opening field goal, but I was comfortable by the end of the half for sure…

    4. All reviews have to be in real time. The stadium is not allowed to show slow motion replays until the officials are already in their little reviewing tent. And anything that goes to New York also has to be real time views only. If it looks like a catch in real time, however you choose to define that, it is.

    5. In reverse order, probably a bad idea to be looking at the results of the Pats/Jets game. Just assume the Pats are winning. As for when to pull guys, I would think you give all the starters a few series, and then pull the ones you’ve decided to pull If it were me, I would pull Ben, Pouncey, Bell, Tuitt, Heyward. The others can fend for themselves…

    Liked by 1 person

    • If you’re pulling all those players you might as well pull Haden too. Save him for the playoff run and give Cam Sutton some more game experience.


  • 1. No “undue” heartburn on my part and no, I don’t think it was a miscalculation. I loved what Bud Dupree said about the likelihood that he has useful intel. To paraphrase, “hard to know plays and scheme when you don’t show up and participate in the practices and game prep”.

    My only concern before we heard about how selfish he had become was not about the X’s & O’s or the impact he might have as a player, it was about whether there would be an emotional advantage by having 92 on the sideline. After yesterday, I feel that if there is an emotional advantage, it probably sets with the Steelers who are really angry with the unfair criticism the organization was receiving on the release and the way he (Harrison) quit on them.

    2 & 3. “b”. They don’t give out trophies for starting fast but finishing strong, that’s another matter. To coin a coach-speak phrase, the NFL season leading to a Super Bowl appearance is a “process”. Since the loss to the Bears, this team has shown steady improvement in every appearance. They’ve overcome distractions going back to Bryant’s suspension, Ben’s retirement talk, Bell’s hold out, Brown’s temper tantrum, Ryan’s injury (much more than a “distraction”) and apparently a Steeler legend turning into a selfish whining sissy (I mean Patriot). They haven’t blinked and this team is ready for the playoffs. I haven’t been more confident in a team since 2005.

    4. Not sure his exact wording but an ex official this week pointed out that the replay was adopted into the NFL to correct clear and blatant errors so that an officials error could not determine the outcome of a game. They need to go back to that standard. If some guy in New York wearing his red, white & blue fuzzy slippers and Cheatriots PJ’s has to look at a replay in slow-mo for 2, 3 or 4 minutes in order to overturn the call on the field, guess what? Play stands.

    5. I play to win because I want to make the Cheatriots play to win. I don’t believe for a second that they won’t have someone watching our game somewhere (maybe that guy that lets the air out of the balls, he needs something to do). I don’t want to let them rest Tom Terrific or Gronkowski. That said, anyone nursing injury on our side or who gets dinged up during the game needs to sit.

    The other thing I would use this game for is to begin transitioning audible and no-huddle offensive terminology that negates any intel Harrison shares with his new friends.


  • 1. There were a lot of things that didn’t add up with the Harrison situation even before his release. I think if you check out the comments made by Maurkice Pouncey, then read between the lines with Mike Mitchell, Bud Dupree and Al Villanueva that this could be more positive than negative.

    The part that made no sense to me was why release Harrison? It wasn’t like Dan McCullers has been so indispensable that the Pats (or anyone else) would have picked him up and rode him to the Lombardi. Looking more like Deebo has stayed a year too long, and is having his Franco Harris moment (Harris finished his career in Seattle), and the organization is putting the best face on the matter. The Pats defense needs all the help it can get, and Riverton can only do so much. And there might be a favorable match up issue with the taller Villanueva that could be exploited. Make no mistake folks, one team is on the rise here and the other is using guile and treachery to hold on. You guess which is which.

    And if you are looking for an interesting twist, Harrison is just about the last Cowher player (Ben being the other). The leader of Tomlin’s players, Pouncey, called him out. Ben just revealed that he voted for Pouncey for team MVP. If you’re thinking legacy, it would be best for Deebo if anybody but the Pats knocked the Steelers out of the playoffs, otherwise he might be taking a seat behind Bradshaw for awhile in the Nation’s doghouse. Overall, advantage Steelers.

    2. I remain on record as believing that opponents play up to the Steelers, not the other way around. Houston’s injury situation was such that they simply lacked the capacity. Another factor is that those types of games are more likely to occur earlier in the season. That being said, my conditioning is such that I really didn’t begin to relax until later in the second quarter.

    3. The art and science of the game appears to be trying to calibrate a team’s development so they are playing their best ball at the best time. This is definitely the case with the offense and special teams. Injuries (Shazier and Haden in particular), and now we know a touch of dissension (Harrison) has distorted the defense somewhat. Shazier was and continues to be a big loss, but the return of Haden and the exit of Harrison, plus the ongoing maturation of a very young group overall may be enough.

    4. You can’t get human error out of the game. I would rather those errors occur on the field rather than from New York. Admit the catch rule as currently constituted is mistake and return to the old standard. If you want to level the playing field then give more latitude to the defensive players to combat catches, and train and grade the on field officials more stringently.

    5. I would not allow Le’Veon Bell to have on a uniform. Ben can be protected by scheme. We don’t know if AB will be 100 percent, though even if he weren’t, team MVP aside, we can call on other receivers to step into the gap. if we have the navigate the playoffs depending upon Ridley and Toussaint, need I say more? First and second year players would benefit from the additional work, and we burn incense in the hope that they remain healthy. Haden I definitely play because it is new territory and obviously highly enjoyable for him. A coin toss as to whether Vance McDonald needs more reps or more rest. Limit the work load of Cam Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Mike Mitchell.


  • 1. Hope he didn’t bring big chunks of the Steelers’ playbook with him to Foxboro. Chunks, that is, that Beeelichick doesn’t already have. Otherwise, I’m not too anxious to see Villy try to get leverage on James. Nothing would be better than to see the Pats lose their first playoff game, however.

    2. Never saw it as a trap game, but worried that – with the point spread of more than a TD – Houston might manage a back door cover.

    3. Houston was so completely banged up that there’s only so much you can do with duct tape and baling wire. The Steelers won this game because it was a bunch of All-Pros going up against a bunch of back-ups. It is also highly likely that Tom Brady is better than TJ Yates and Tyler Meinecke put together. All this game proved is that the Steeler D can look decent against indecently bad QB’s. But we already kinda knew that.

    4. Make Al Riberon disappear as completely and permanently as the Patriots spygate tapes.

    5. Don’t even let McDonald show up. He could get hurt stepping out of his car. No Ben. No Bell. Hey-diddle-diddle, spend Ridley up the middle….all day. Run the damned ball and run the clock. Show me lots of Eli and DHB. Let all the back-ups play.

    Happy New Year one and all!!!


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