Category Archives: Steelers Players and Coaches

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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It’s Official—Pittsburgh Steelers’ 2018 Season Over

I have a confession to make before we go any further here—I haven’t actually watched the game. And my son Adrian, who did, suggests that I might want to keep it that way. But not having actually watched the game certainly doesn’t prevent me from panicking. After all, the Steelers lost to the Browns!

Technically speaking, they didn’t exactly lose. A tie is what you make of it—half a win or half a loss. It’s one of those personality tests. But given all of the local pre-game commentary about how despite the depth and talent of the roster the Browns have managed to accumulate, they will find ways to lose, it surely counts as even more than half a loss.

And to once again speak technically, given that the Steelers were leading 21-7 in the fourth quarter, despite Ben being apparently determined to get all of his picks over with for the entire season in this game, perhaps this is more than half a loss. But even a cursory look at what actually happened in the game makes it pretty clear that the Browns’ defense, led by about 24 top-of-the-first-round picks, made life pretty miserable for the Steelers’ offense, or at least any member of the Steelers’ offense not named James Conner. At least up until a member of the Browns’ defense made Conner cough up the ball for the lone takeaway of the six not involving Ben. (To be fair, at least one of the five is definitely on Jesse James. Or so I gather.)

I will briefly pause to explain why I haven’t actually watched the game. I am in New Mexico visiting my aged mother. We were sitting in church when the game started, and I was shopping to stock her refrigerator, which was filled mainly with condiments when I arrived late Saturday night, while it was winding down to its painful conclusion. Thus virtue was its own reward, because I was spared yet another traumatic experience.

Will I ever watch the game? Let us draw a veil over this question, and return to our regularly scheduled program. After all, just because I don’t know what I’m talking about shouldn’t stop me from having firm, even hysterical, opinions on the matter.

So what have we learned? Here are some things:

    Chris Boswell is human after all.
    The Steeler defense looks better when they haven’t been on the field the entire game.
    And perhaps the Steeler defense looks better than anyone thought they would, even if, like Chris Boswell, they are human, and eventually get tired.
    Maybe Ben should play more in the preseason.
    Maybe part of Le’Veon Bell’s greatness can be attributed to Mike Munchak and his Merry Men.
    Sometimes stuff happens.

Now that I’ve tried to make a silk purse, perhaps we should stare the sow’s ear right in the face. A lot of people laughed when CBS Sports picked the Ravens to win the division this year. And maybe they shouldn’t have. It’s only one game, but 47-3 (Ravens/Bills) is a trifle alarming. Especially with Joe Flacco apparently looking like he’s remembered how to quarterback again. And it’s annoying that the Bengals won as well, thus having the Steelers begin the season in a hole. But from all accounts it is a hole they deserve to be in.

The thing about adversity is, it can get you down or it can provide a much-needed reality check (or kick in the pants, according to taste.) Let’s hope that reality check is the start of 15-0 from here on out. I’m scarcely counting on it, mind you. Even before today that would have been rather delusional. After today it’s delusional, period.

More to the point, as far as I’m concerned, perhaps it will cause the team to focus on the actual matter at hand and drop all the dramatics. As fascinating as the past few seasons have been, perhaps some plain old blue collar workmanlike attitude emanating from more of the locker room than Cameron Heyward would be welcome. Give it a try, guys. It surely has to work out better than the current plan.

If you’re wondering why there’s no picture, I think it’s better that way. Let’s push the reset button, and Go, Steelers.

The Case for the 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers

Karl Rosen photo/ Steelers.com

By Ivan Cole

I begin with my usual disclaimer that I focus on potentialities rather than predictions. Many things can and will happen between now and February that impact outcomes. I will address some of these shortly. That being said, it’s not going out on a limb to assert that the 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers are legitimate Super Bowl Champion contenders as measured by the accumulated talent, organizational leadership and support. Unfortunately, there is more involved. What follows are the four horsemen of the Apocalypse that alone or in tandem can undermine a season.

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Training Camp for Steelers Fans, 2018

Karl Rosen photo, Steelers.com

By Ivan Cole

Two words.

Landry Jones.

Fully digested, this is all you will need to prepare yourself for the upcoming season. At this exciting time of the year care must be taken to inoculate ourselves against several reoccurring narratives that seduce us as the NFL regular season prepares to commence. The surprise conclusion (to this point) of the Steelers’ quarterback competition has exposed the foundation of sand upon which we base our so called ‘common wisdom’ concerning how things unfold with this game.

It is the right and privilege of fans to speculate about what is, can and should be about the game, but with the understanding that we are amateurs speculating from afar. What has been poisoning the well for years now is a media establishment whose purpose is to push that same level of questionable expertise from powerful platforms as ‘expert analysis’ or ‘Truth’.

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The Pittsburgh Steelers Play Real Football—Sort Of

Photo via Steelers.com

I suppose my title is not quite accurate. The players were playing real football, but a good many of them were very likely (hopefully?) not the guys that will be suiting up for the regular season. This is, presumably, part of why so many people hate the preseason. Me? I love it. The games are almost worry-free (other than the injury issues) as the end result doesn’t actually matter very much. And it is exciting to see how the youngsters perform in game action.

As for the players, as David DeCastro said, they enjoy the chance to hit other people. I laughed when Tunch Ilkin said the same thing the other day in a post-practice report, but I can see that especially for the veterans it would be a relief. When you’re hitting your own guys you don’t want to be the one that injures someone. While presumably you don’t want to injure other people’s players either—after all, the guy you obliterate could end up being a teammate later on—it surely doesn’t have the same impact as possibly taking out someone you know and whom your team might need down the road.

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Pittsburgh Steelers Training Camp: Throwing Down the Gauntlet.

07C99D9E-F5C4-4B76-AB97-D7DFCA8B0F8F.jpegPhoto via Steelers.com

Saturday’s practice was a big upgrade in terms of what we could actually see. [“We” being Ivan, Homer J., Greg, and me.] We snagged seats in the shade, fortunately, as it was plenty hot that day. (However, by the MT Hotness Index, it wasn’t really hot, as MT was only wearing a grey long-sleeved shirt over his long black sweat pants. If it had been really hot the shirt would have been black.)

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