Category Archives: Commentary

Fresh Eyes: Part II

Screen Shot 2019-08-19 at 9.27.16 AMSteven Nelson and Sean Davis: Karl Rosen photo, Steelers.com

by Ivan Cole

The Disclaimer. It has always been my standard practice when discussing the possibilities of any new season to caution that all is subject to change based upon the potential impact of an unavoidable factor in the NFL dynamic: Injuries. 

Usually I have spoken of this in the manner of those commercials where a narrator in rapid fire fashion attempts to slip past you the possibility that in addition to the wonders provided by the product they are selling, there is also a chance that it could kill you. In this segment there will be a deeper dive into the Disclaimer, providing a more specific set of arguments and information related to just how injuries might play out as anything from an annoyance to a derailment of the 2019 Steelers’ championship aspirations. 

Question # 2: Who do we not want to see on a long-term injury report? 

We begin with a basic assumption that informs all that follows: All injuries are not the same in terms of their impact on a team’s fortunes. For the past several years the Steelers have been very fortunate in the area of injuries. It is not a matter of having not suffered from any. No team in the league is that lucky, rather, they have avoided for the most part those losses that could severely affect the team’s ability to function at an acceptable level of competitiveness. There is a truth that must be acknowledged that all the sloganeering and mythmaking about the ‘next man up’ and ‘the standard is the standard’ cannot gloss over: Even in the rarified environment of a 53 man NFL roster there are players who are expendable and others who are not. Let’s make some distinctions. 

  • Some losses degrade the entertainment experience but have less of an impact on competitiveness. A great current example would be rookie linebacker Devin Bush. The quality of his contribution to the team’s success is completely unknown at this time, but we would be deeply disappointed if he were not available for play. Losing Joe Haden would be another matter altogether. 
  • Certain losses can be tolerated without any discernible degradation in play. Think Olasunkanmi Adeniyi (or just meditate on the pronunciation) and Cameron Sutton. While a too doctrinaire adherence to the standard is the standard is a bit much, it does not mean it is without truth or value. 
  • In some cases, though it may not be ideal, a reduction in effectiveness can be compensated for by others stepping up. Marcus Gilbert’s injury last season did not cause the offensive line to fall apart but provided the opportunity for Matt Feiler, Chuks Okorafor and others to step up. It could be argued that because of the supplemental personnel available it established Gilbert as expendable and could be part of the explanation of why he is no longer part of the team. 
  • Other factors include the type, timing and duration of an injury. A few weeks in dry dock early or in the middle of the season is one thing (Sutton, Haden) injured reserve for the year (Adeniyi, Jerald Hawkins) is something else. 
  • And Rebecca would add that some injuries resulting in long-term IR can be highly convenient—as was Ola Adeniyi’s injury last summer. It allows the team to stash away a promising player who isn’t ready to take a roster spot and who might well not make it through waivers. His injury last week was not quite so convenient…

What follows is my assessment of the twelve players likely to be part of the 53 who should deeply concern us, should they end up on a long-term injury list this season. They will be presented in relatively ascending order. Naturally, debate and discussion are both welcome and expected. 

Sean Davis. The first three selections may not seem as obvious because of the nature of their contributions to the team. Their presence may not be noticed because so much of the value of their play is in facilitating the efforts of those around them. When they are not in or ineffective, we notice something amiss but may not be able to identify what is wrong. When discussing the strengths of the Steelers’ secondary Davis’ name is rarely among the first players mentioned. To me, he is somewhat reminiscent of Ryan Clark, whose presence allowed Troy Polamalu (and before that the late Sean Taylor of Washington) the freedom to be great, in addition to making great plays in his own right. 

Stephon Tuitt. Not the top guy in his position group but besides being an incredibly disruptive force when he is playing at the top of his game is also a facilitator of the other linemen and linebackers that surround him and amplifies their effectiveness. 

Alejandro Villanueva. The importance of his position would be reason enough to appear on this list—something many casual fans may tend to overlook or not understand. Add to that him being at the top of the class league-wide in the quality of his play, and then factor in the intangibles of leadership and toughness. 

James Connor. You might wonder about the relatively low ranking that this Pro Bowl running back is being given. One of the unintended consequences of the antics and absences of Le’Veon Bell is that he inadvertently provided evidence in making the case for the reduced value of running backs in today’s NFL. Connor, and before him, DeAngelo Williams demonstrated that an adequate running attack could be had without having superstar caliber running talent. Similar trends are occurring with nose tackles and return specialists, which is why Javon Hargrave won’t be part of this list. Losing Connor would be something we would prefer not to see, but it would not be a bad bet that Jaylan Samuels, Roosevelt Nix, Bennie Snell Jr and Trey Edmunds could stand in the gap and deliver. 

Joe Haden. There are three things Haden brings which are difficult to replace. He has the talent to play competitively against the best receivers in the league. He brings strong veteran leadership, essential for a relatively young team, not just to the locker room but to the field of play. Most importantly, as demonstrated against the Patriots last season, he plays big in big games. A lot of players can throttle an opponent on a Dolphin team in October but come off as average at best on the largest stages. 

T.J. Watt. Watt is developing similar traits to Haden and is ranked higher because of his position. Those factors are more front and center throughout the course of the game. Less veteran leadership for now, but this is just a matter of time. There is no doubt concerning both his talent and the bigness of his play. 

Maurkice Pouncey. The distribution of virtues is a little different here relative to others. His leadership is what puts him off the charts. Under ordinary circumstances the team is fortunate to have a player of the caliber of a B. J. Finney who can technically execute the position. However, what Pouncey brings as leader of the position group, the offense and the team is irreplaceable. 

JuJu Smith-Schuster. Another player who, despite his playful, irreverent aura, displays that consistent ability to step up in big time situations (which is what made his fumble in the Saints game such a devastating moment—it was so out of character). In addition, he now must shoulder the responsibilities of being the #1 receiver. Moreover, the loss of Coach Drake and the potential cascading effect throughout that room easily makes the case 

Chris Boswell. Assuming he makes the team without incident, a midseason injury when there may be few, if any replacements available of similar ability would be difficult to overcome. What he provides is simply not easily replaceable. The case is easily made that the lack of productivity at his position was the difference between making the playoffs and not last season. (Which is a very kind way of putting it, Ivan…)

Cam Heyward. His value is most like that of Pouncey, and his productivity may be  even harder to replace given the system and the other talent available. 

Vance McDonald. This is a very straight forward issue. Tight end is the thinnest, most fragile position group on the team. If McDonald goes down, as of this writing, the whole unit, and with it, much of the offensive balance goes down the toilet. (Which is why so many of the local beat writers assume the Steelers are going to pick up a veteran at some point.)

Ben Roethlisberger. It makes for a nice diverting parlor game to discuss the relative merits of Dobbs vs Rudolph vs Hodges, but if we are doing anything in the coming weeks other than speaking in terms of any of them doing more than a little mop-up duty in the wake of a rout, Steeler Nation is screwed. It bears repeating as often as we must: Homer, Rebecca and I checked when we were in Latrobe.  There are no trees that grow franchise quarterbacks. (Western PA may be the cradle of quarterbacks, but they appear to be produced in the usual way.)

If Ben goes down, winning a championship will not be impossible. The ’68 Colts, ’72 Dolphins and the ’74 and ’76 Steelers got far with rather dicey situations at quarterback. But just because it is theoretically possible to drive a car with your feet while drunk, it is not something that sober folk would recommend. 

Next: The Receivers 

Note: As usual all italicized comments are editorial (in other words, by Rebecca) and Ivan cannot be blamed for them…

Fresh Eyes: Part 1

Screen Shot 2019-08-14 at 9.26.23 AMphoto: Rebecca Mehling/Steelers.com

by Ivan Cole

As Rebecca has already mentioned, life has slowed both of us down a bit but that should not be construed to mean that interest has been lost in the fortunes of the Steelers. For me it represents an opportunity to approach the upcoming season in a manner opposite from that which has been the case since I have been privileged to communicate with you concerning the fortunes of what I believe to be a model of what a first class organization, in sports or any endeavor is, as it strives to reach its goals. 

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Open Season?

Screen Shot 2019-08-05 at 8.53.40 PMKarl Rosen/Steelers.com

As many of you perhaps noticed, the flow of commentary from the pens (or keyboards, really) of Ivan and me slowed to a trickle last season and then dried up altogether. As I sort of explained in the comments section of the last published article, both of us have gone through somewhat of a wringer in the past year, mainly because of family health issues, and haven’t had the time and/or mental energy for posting about the Steelers.

But we haven’t lost interest, as you can see when I tell you that Homer J and Ivan drove in from D.C. to meet me in Latrobe last Friday, and we attended Friday Night Lights, the evening practice at the Latrobe Memorial Stadium.

But I suppose I shouldn’t have piqued your interest, because I’m not going to write about the experience, except to say that all of us feel very good about this team. The lack of drama is refreshing, and there is definitely the feeling that everyone is on board with a team-first attitude. Let the national writers talk about the Browns all they like—and I do think the Browns will be a force to be reckoned with—but barring catastrophic injuries, the Steelers really ought to take the division this year.

However, the main reason for this post is because of a request by MTSnot that I put up a post that will serve as sort of a placeholder for you all to visit and discuss things in the comments. So let’s consider this the place to discuss any pre-season thoughts, and we’ll see where it goes from there. I may feel led to put up an article from time to time (although I don’t make any promises) but I can certainly put up the occasional post to basically open a discussion forum, if nothing else. So let’s hear your thoughts! I’ll start by saying that from what we saw on Friday night, it was worth the cost to trade up and grab Devin Bush. How about y’all?

Rebecca

Random Thoughts on Steelers @ Jaguars

Sorry for the lateness. Once again I’m in the Land of Enchantment [this is a reason, if not an excuse.] Two points if you know, without Googling, which state that is. Five points if you can name the State Bird. 10 Points if you can name the State Cookie. (Yes, they have one.) 20 points if you can name the State Song, and 100 points if you can sing it. Answers may be given in the comments below, and you may post a video of yourself singing the state song if you want to go for the Big Kahuna. It will probably go viral. But back to business:

This article was supposed to be titled “Random Thoughts on the Steelers’ Major Collapse Epic Comeback,” but the title box doesn’t allow for strikethroughs. And perhaps it’s best to dwell on the positive. So let’s begin, and I will endeavor to do so. No promises, though…

I guess Stephon Tuitt was even more important than I thought. And Daniel McCullers was even less ready than anyone thought. (Which in many cases was already not much.)

James Conner’s haircut is, I gather, one of a class termed “business in the front, party in the back.” Perhaps it is time for Conner to be all business. [Low blow, I know, but stay with me…]

Good Ben is unbelievable. Bad Ben isn’t even “decent, at best.” If only Bad Ben could be completely exorcised.

Watching the “Mic’d Up” version of the Panthers game (you can find it on NFL.com—I’m in too much of a hurry to post a link) is wayyyy more fun than watching anything but the last five minutes or so of Sunday’s game. (Actually, it’s way more fun than an awful lot of things which are way more fun than most of Sunday’s game. It was MT and Ben who were mic’d up, and it’s definitely worth the trouble to find it.)

Er, I’m not doing a very good job at staying positive. Let me reset and try again.

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Pittsburgh Steelers 2018 Second Quarter Report

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By Ivan Cole

It’s hard to argue with 4-0, though we know that some will manage to overcome this challenge. As we pass through the first weekend in November and into the second half of the season the September stench has dissipated considerably. The landscape has changed dramatically in Pittsburgh, the AFC North and around the league. Indeed, when both football and non-football occurrences are considered, who could have predicted where we find ourselves as we enter the heart of the holiday season.

In the NFC the Rams are proving themselves the class of the conference, if not the whole league. As Philadelphia suffers a particularly harsh Super Bowl hangover, Washington emerges as the Beast of the East. Similarly, another team with high expectations, Atlanta, has yielded to more robust divisional rivals in New Orleans and Pittsburgh’s Thursday night opponent, Carolina. The Bears impress in the North.

In the AFC the Patriots appear to continue to have an unfair advantage in that they are spotted six victories due to their inept divisional rivals. Jacksonville show themselves to be paper Jaguars as the Texans surge. That loss to the Chiefs looks more forgivable with every passing week.

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An Entangled Meditation on Browns vs Steelers Part Two

By Ivan Cole

It would have been a difficult weekend, even for those of us with the lightest, most superficial ties to the city and its culture (not to mention that of humanity writ large). However, for me and several others of this little online family of Steelers fans, it cuts closer to the bone.

Although I did not live in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, I am an alum of Taylor Allderdice High School, and that community was a major player and influence in my adolescent coming of age. I need not go through the mental gymnastics of trying to imagine the physical layout of the place, its rhythms, the mysteries of the bonds of relationship that define Pittsburgh or that particular part of the city. I lived it.

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Some More Random Thoughts on Steelers v. Bengals

Photo via Steelers.com/Karl Rosen

By Ivan Cole

Unlike Rebecca I saw the game in real time. These are the things that impressed me about this performance:

Meanness.

Rebecca and some others might have not have understood my comments in a previous post about Pittsburgh lacking a certain quality of meanness. I think this is because we often conflate ‘mean’ with ‘dirty’. This is, I believe, the Bengal’s fatal flaw. Cincinnati, as usual, was the dirtier team. Pittsburgh was the meaner team. What the highlights did not adequately convey was, despite the closeness of the score, how thoroughly the Steelers beat the Bengals up. The difference could be most clearly seen when comparing the play and effectiveness of Vance McDonald, who connects with Ben Roethlisberger through Bible studies and cancer survivor James Connor with that of Vontaze Burfict. Burfict played dirty. McDonald and Connor played mean. The result was a parade of Bengal players forced to the sideline, the locker room, and concussion protocol without roughness or unsportsmanlike penalties, while, despite threats and Cincinnati’s best efforts, the Steelers came through relatively unscathed. Read more

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