Rebecca Mehling photo, Steelers.com
by Ivan Cole
Question # 4: Why isn’t Roger Goodell and the NFL smart enough to utilize Alejandro Villanueva to help with its image problems?
When you first heard of it you couldn’t help but smile. I know because that was how Rebecca and Homer first reacted when they heard. ICYMI, early in the first week it was announced that the camp had experienced its first fight. The combatants? Any number of hotheads and bad actors might scroll through your head. Your first guess probably wouldn’t be defensive lineman Cameron Heyward and offensive tackle Alejandro Villanueva.
Then the mind goes giddy as it absorbs the concept: The son of Iron Head in single combat with a 6’9” army ranger. Both men are as affable and likeable as you could want, but it is entirely possible that, unlike other encounters of this sort, someone could end up dead. Now admit it. You might not drop a nickel to attend a practice, but you’d pay good money to see that fight. Wouldn’t you love to have a license to promote a rematch? How did it come to this? Villanueva’s explanation after the fact was precious: They had a disagreement over the ending of The Game of Thrones. (Question from Rebecca—how soon can this man be persuaded to run for public office?) Read more
Photo via Steelers.com
By Ivan Cole
Last season the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens provided Steelers Nation, and the rest of the football loving world, a high-stakes, high drama matchup for Christmas, capped by Antonio Brown’s Immaculate Extension, a division title and a playoff berth. For that positive bit of holiday entertainment, the scheduling gods at the NFL decided that it would be good for business if the Steelers worked on Christmas Day for the second consecutive year. One wonders if somewhere someone is mulling the perverse notion that Christmas for Pittsburgh could be what Thanksgiving is for Detroit and Dallas. Let’s hope not.
The Steelers delivered again, only this time the gift was for their fans alone. What they gave them, appropriate for the occasion, was peace.
Pittsburgh has been enjoying one of its most successful seasons, but it has been a mostly unrelenting, high stress affair. The endings have been mostly happy and satisfying. Steelers fans have gotten the wins that we crave, an early seat into the playoffs, and a tie for best record in the conference. The football watching public has gotten a consistent diet of high drama and last second heroics.
While Steelers Nation can appreciate this kind of play as disinterested observers, they neither need or want this kind of thing when it involves their own team. So, while the game was almost certainly a boring, disappointing blowout to most fans, for followers of the Steelers it was just what the doctor ordered—a dominating performance that did not disturb the good feeling of not just the day, but with a Bye secured, pushed back any feelings of anxiety for a fortnight, which is the most likely time anything of significance will occur.
Photo via SI.com
This is the first of a series of stories we hope will culminate in JuJu being the Super Bowl 52 MVP. But for this adventure, young JuJu has to deal with the DMV. Thanks to Homer J., who inspired the series:
JuJu was having a bad day. It all started the night before when his mom locked him out of his apartment. She said it was an accident. He had to leave his precious bicycle outside. Of course he locked it up. JuJu is a responsible boy. But sometimes just a lock isn’t enough.
Peter Diana, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
As you can probably ascertain, I’m inaugurating a new series in which we** examine what we believe to be key elements in the team’s hope of playing next year in February. I’ve chosen Mike Munchak to start for various reasons, but mainly because it seems pretty clear that a healthy Ben Roethlisberger is going to be one of the primary components in making it to Minneapolis. And an awesome offensive line is one of the primary components of a healthy Ben Roethlisberger.
I have already written about Mike Munchak, but it has been almost two years. And that article, although it did go into the improvement in the o-line during Munchak’s tenure, was really more a comparison of his and Keith Butler’s coaching styles. This time I’m going to focus on Munchak. Read more
2016 team photo: via Steelers.com
By Ivan Cole
The Steelers met the basic criteria for regular season success. In ascending order of importance, they achieved a winning record, earned a playoff berth and won a division championship. A higher seeding would be nice, but arguably, finishing strong and hot may be at least, if not more crucial to reaching the ultimate goal of a world championship.
It would be hard to imagine that, projecting forward from the summer, fans would be unhappy with an 11-5 overall record, and a division record that included an Ohio sweep and a split with Baltimore. At the time, the four-game losing streak seemed more troubling than it appears in retrospect. Though ugly on any level, the loss to Miami, at first glance a choke to an outfit of bottom feeders, turns out to have been the coming out party for a playoff caliber team on the rise. New England and Dallas are top seeds in their respective conferences, and Pittsburgh had to take on the Pats without Ben Roethlisberger. What was frustrating is that they were still winnable games.
via Steelers Wire/USA Today Sports
by Ivan Cole
In Part 1 Ivan gave a general overview of the team to this point. Here are specifics about each unit.
To be honest, until the fourth game I have found the offense to be something of a disappointment. Considered the strong aspect of the team, the one which was supposed to carry a fragile and still developing defense, too often the opposite appeared to be the case. Citing the Cincinnati game as an example, time and again the offense was handed favorable field position by the defense and special teams but could not seal the deal until late, allowing the Bengals and Washington to hang around longer than should have been the case.
Today’s post was inspired by the following exchange on yesterday’s Asked and Answered, Bob Labriola’s Q and A column on Steelers.com:
QUESTION: Do you see Justin Gilbert getting a start against the Chiefs, and do you also see Mike Tomlin making any changes to the secondary?
ANSWER: Justin Gilbert starting against the Chiefs? No. But there could be some personnel changes to the secondary, and those changes could be dictated by injuries. Yesterday, Robert Golden (hamstring) and Sean Davis (back) both missed practice, and both of those guys have significant roles either in the starting lineup, in sub-package alignments, or both. As a rookie, Davis is going to have to show Mike Tomlin that he can practice, because knowing what to do is a big part of it. I cannot predict how the Steelers might react if either or both of those guys cannot play, but if changes have to be made, and those changes produce positive results, then my experience is that’s how changes can become permanent.
by Ivan Cole
Losers and bad news
We start with the easy part. I’m sure others will search high and low to find things to stress about, but the truth is that this is a pretty short list.
*Injuries. Only one blemish here, but we don’t know how significant it is yet. Ryan Shazier suffered some sort of setback. Stayed tuned.
USA Today Sports
Some of the position battles are fairly clear. Appropriately, there is just a scrum in the halfbacks room. The almost-certain-to-be-suspended Le’Veon Bell is the clear No. 1, DeAngelo Williams is the clear No. 2, and Fitzgerald Toussaint would seem to be the the heir apparent to the No. 3 spot. Behind him you have a couple of guys who weren’t even UDFAs, rookie mini-camp invitee Brandon Brown-Dukes and last week’s signing, Christian Powell. They are competing with Cameron Stingily and Daryl Richardson, both veterans of a sort.
Stingily hails from Romeoville, Illinois, which seems promising, and was signed as a UDFA after the 2015 draft. He impressed the coaching staff last year enough to get a contract, and then was yet another victim of the Hall of Fame turf. He blew out his knee and was waived/injured. After spending the last year working out as much as he could while working at a warehouse and in a landscaping business to support himself and his daughter, the Steelers invited him to rookie minicamp again this year.
He feels he came in with a much better understanding of what was expected, and in better shape. He lost about 20 pounds and is now about 6-1, 230. He also felt he has been able to react more quickly, as he understands more of the playbook and has a feel for what the pace is like. He’s a guy you want to root for.
As is Brandon Brown-Dukes, the minuscule back from Mercyhurst. Tomlin likes what he’s seen enough to stop calling him “Mercyhurst” and use his name. BD, as the linked article suggests he should be called (that just too much of a mouthful) has been impressing at camp, and tomorrow night gives us the first chance to see whether this can, in any way, carry over into live game action.