Can’t Believe This Team Is 7-4: Steelers-Titans Instant Reaction

Holy fuck.  How is this team 7-4?!  I know how they got here, and I’m exhausted just thinking about it.

Le’Veon Bell was a vision with stats that were otherworldly–33 carries for 204 yards.

The defense looks like a defense full of backups (which they are), but they made stops when it counted.

Markus Wheaton made the return look better tonight than it has all year.  It’s still not great, but better than it’s been.

Ben had a dreadful first half, but came up with a big touchdown to AB on an absolutely beautiful play-action fake.

Mike Mitchell is terrible.  William Gay started out great with a pick-six on Mettenberger’s first pass, but didn’t play well the rest of the game.  It sure would be nice if Troy, Ike, Shazier, and McLendon could get healthy.  Luckily, the Steelers have 13 days off before their next game.  All hail the Bye Week!  Couldn’t come at a better time to get some of the defense some extra time to rest.  Ben and Bell also both took some hard hits near the end of the game that I imagine they’ll be feeling tomorrow.

Nice to see the team rebound and buckle down in the 4th quarter.  Totally different from last week against the Jets.

Titans suck.  Jack White remains the greatest thing in Nashville.  (Completely irrelevant, but true.)

Glad there’s a week off so the city of Pittsburgh can have a mental health break from this bipolar team.  But 7-4 sure looks a whole hell of a lot better than 6-5.  I’ll take it.

Thank God Next Week Is the Bye Week: Steelers-Titans Preview

So this last week has been fun, hasn’t it?  I’m not sure what I’ve enjoyed more–reading countless news stories about the effect Justin Bieber had on the Steelers; calls for Tomlin’s head after a bad loss that followed three great wins; or the general childishness and unprofessionalism of (most of) the local Pittsburgh media when talking about the loss to the Jets.  Hell, I enjoyed all of these things equally!  And by “enjoyed” I mean I thought to myself repeatedly, “I’d rather be dressing a patient’s gangrenous wounds than be a Steelers fan anymore, because we are the goddamn worst!  Worse than gangrene!” (I want to clarify that I think Steelers fans are worse than both gangrene AND Gang Green, the ridiculous name the Jets fanbase chooses to call themselves.)

I didn’t lose my mind after the loss to the Jets, unlike many Steelers fans.  I think the 3 previous wins had led some to believe this is much better team than it actually is.  This is still a team who is regularly starting 5-6 guys on defense who would be backups on any other team.  This is still a team who has great potential and talent on offense, but who’s been inconsistent for the majority of the season.  This is still a team who still has a terrible average starting field position.  There are big weaknesses in all three phases of the game.  But with three big wins, it was easy to ignore those weaknesses.  Expectations got higher with each subsequent win, but the Steelers and their fans came crashing back to earth in MetLife Stadium last Sunday.

The loss to the Jets didn’t worry me.  It had all the makings of a trap game, and that’s what it wound up being.  However, I’ll start worrying if the Steelers lose to the Titans.  It’s not a “must-win” game–it’s still too early to be using phrases like that (Side note: I always love in the local media where they call early season games “must-win” pretty much if the Steelers lose one of their first three games of the season. I believe I heard that phrase a few times before the Carolina game this year).  But back-to-back losses to bad teams would suck. (Though imagine the great content I’d have to choose from for the “Insane Shit I Heard On The Radio This Week” post!)  It’d be disconcerting to see the Steelers lose to a team that has much less talent than the Steelers do.  Say what you want about the Jets, but they have some talent on their roster.  The Steelers still should have beat them, but there’s talent on that team (and I don’t think their record would be as bad if they had began starting Vick earlier in the season, but I digress).  However, the Titans will be starting 6th round rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger against the Steelers.  He’ll be making just his third NFL start.

This is Zach Mettenberger.  I'm not convinced this isn't Ashton Kutcher wearing a bad wig, doing some bizarre James Franco-esque performance art.

This is Zach Mettenberger. I’m not convinced this isn’t Ashton Kutcher wearing a bad wig, doing some bizarre James Franco-esque performance art.

Mettenberger has moved ahead of the other two QBs on the roster to win the starting job, so you might think he’d be good, but then you realize the other two QBs are Jake Locker and Charlie Whitehurst.

I honestly don’t know a whole lot about the Titans.  Nate Washington still plays for them.  There’s some familiar faces on the coaching staff in Ken Whisenhunt, Mike Mularkey, Ray Horton, and Nick Eason.  I know the Titans are bad enough that questions about them tanking the season have recently surfaced.  Which means the Steelers should put this game away early, but I think we can all agree that probably won’t happen.  A game where Steelers fans can chillax and enjoy a beatdown? Blasphemy!  Plus, if the Steelers put this game away early, that won’t allow for callers to The Fan to say,  “durrr the Steelers should’ve hired Whisenhunt over Tomlin, they would’ve totally won like six more Super Bowls with Whiz” (and mentioning who was the losing coach in SBXLIII or Whisenhunt’s record as a head coach won’t deter the caller).

I think Steelers fans just like Whisenhunt because if they squint, he kind of looks like Bill Cowher.

I think Steelers fans just like Whisenhunt because if they squint, he kind of looks like Bill Cowher.

The Titans defense is statistically close to the Steelers in points per game allowed.  Both teams are at a -2 turnover differential.  I think turnovers could very well play a role in this game.  This season especially, the Steelers have had a much easier time winning when they’ve had a positive turnover differential (which can be said anytime, but the numbers this year particularly stand out).  If the defense can force a turnover or two, this will be a much easier game to win.

The offenses of these two teams are very different.  The Steelers are scoring 10 more points per game than the Titans are, which makes sense because the Steelers have Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Martavis Bryant, and Le’Veon Bell and the Titans have blond Ashton Kutcher Zach Mettenberger, Nate Washington, Shonn Greene and someone named Bishop Sankey (who might actually be good in the future).  The Titans offense stinks.  But they’re going against the Steelers defense (who will again be without Troy Polamalu and Ryan Shazier), so they could damn well be All-Pro by the end of tomorrow night.

I like the Steelers to win, but I don’t think it’ll be a dominant win.  I think they get their shit together for this one.  It’s hard to make predictions other than that.  I know the stats about rookie QBs going against Dick LeBeau’s defenses, but this isn’t a typical Dick LeBeau defense.  Mettenberger could have his best or worst game against the Steelers.  Like I said in an earlier post, nothing the Steelers could do this season would shock me, including them losing out or winning the Super Bowl.  It’s just been that kind of season.

Ben doesn’t throw an INT.  Defense forces a late turnover to seal it.

Steelers 27, Titans 21

Sit The Fuck Down: AJ Burnett is Back

Scrolling through Twitter around 3:30 this afternoon, I started seeing a bunch of tweets about AJ Burnett. I had to do a triple take to grasp what I was reading: Burnett was again a Pittsburgh Pirate.

My initial reaction went something like this in real-time: “Huh? No, that can’t be right. Wait. What?! Really? Why? Oh fuck, they must’ve given him like $14 million if he came here over Philly! He didn’t pitch that great last year. Why do the Pirates ruin hopes and dreams?!?”

Then I actually thought about it and quickly came around to liking the move, for several reasons.

1. The Pirates didn’t give him $14 million, they gave him $8.5 million for one year. He left $4.25 million on the table in Philadelphia because he wanted to come to a winning team. So he came to the Pirates (that is the most surreal paragraph I’ve ever typed. Who would’ve thunk at the end of 2010 that we’d be here?!)

2. The starting rotation right now is basically Gerrit Cole, Vance Worley, Jeff Locke, Brandon Cumpton, and ??? There’s no word of any movement between the Bucs and Edinson Volquez or Francisco Liriano. My guess is that both are gone. So I’d prayers for a magic healing balm for Charlie Morton and Jameson Taillon are in order, since it seems neither will be ready for the start of the season. Burnett is no longer an ace, but he can be a decent #3 starter. The rotation looks better now than it did this morning.

3. AJ didn’t have great numbers last year. But he pitched with a hernia for most of the season, which had to affect his performance. He also played for the Phillies last year and they were absolutely dreadful. The Phillies also don’t employ the defensive shifts that the Pirates do, nor is their ballpark as pitcher-friendly as PNC Park.

4. Burnett doesn’t need to be an ace to be valuable to this team. He can eat innings and maybe occasionally have a great outing, and that’s all he really needs to do. If he can get the team through six innings each time out, he’ll be an asset to the team.

5. I think it’s a safe assumption to say that Russell Martin will not be a Pirate next year. Like Martin, Burnett brings a tough guy attitude that people love. I certainly wouldn’t have signed Burnett for that sole reason, but it’s nice to have a guy like that in the clubhouse and I’m sure the Pirates’ players are excited to have him back.

All in all, I think this is a pretty decent deal for the Bucs. If it doesn’t pan out, it’s only for a year. Not a terribly risky move. And if he outperforms expectations? Well, then the Pirates just got a whole hell of a lot better.

Welcome back, AJ. See you in April.

The Most Ridiculous Things Heard on Pittsburgh Sports Radio This Week

I’ve decided to start posting the most ridiculous things I hear while listening to Pittsburgh sports radio. This includes The Fan (of course), but also any pre- or post-game shows I happen to be listening to. The main focus is the callers, but sometimes media members say completely absurd shit, so they’ll be included too.

This week’s focus is on the Steelers losing to the Jets on Sunday!

Caller to The Fan:
“The Steelers lost this game because they deferred the kickoff! Why would Tomlin ever let the Jets offense get the ball first?! WHY?!?!”
Yeah man, I forgot how prolific the Jets offense is. It’s almost like they’re the Broncos, Colts or Patriots! Except they’re not. And no, the Steelers didn’t lose because they deferred the opening kickoff. They lost because their two best players turned the ball over four times.

Another caller to The Fan:
“You know who I wish the Steelers were more like? The Rams. They have a good team and a good coach in Jeff Fisher. At least he knows what he’s doing, unlike Tomlin.”
This is the height of insanity and Tomlin hatred right here. You want a 6-4 team to be more like a 3-6 team? I agree Fisher is a good coach, but he hasn’t done anything since he’s been in St. Louis, hasn’t even had a team finish with a winning record there. He’s had the pleasure of watching fellow NFC West coaches Jim Harbaugh and Pete Carroll take their teams to the Super Bowl. He didn’t even have very good teams towards the end of his tenure with the Titans, as they had losing records 5 of his last 7 seasons in Tennessee. Tomlin hasn’t had a losing season yet, and has coached a Super Bowl winning team, and Fisher has not. But yeah, the Steelers should totally be like the Rams. Does this guy also wish for Sam Bradford and his ACLs over Ben Roethlisberger? He probably does, because he’s INSANE.

Rob Rossi:
“I would say Justin Bieber absolutely shows the lack of focus the Steelers had before this game.”
Fucking seriously, Rossi? GTFO. I know we all joked about the “Bieber Curse” on Twitter, but this is an actual journalist giving credence to this idea. Fairly certain part of this guy’s job description is “professional troll/stooge.” And to think, I always wondered why Pens fans hated on him so much when he was on the Pens’ beat…

If you hear anything ridiculous on any Pittsburgh sports radio, let me know! Tweet me @PghGurl or email me pghgurlblog@gmail.com

Cowher & Tomlin

I’m just going to leave this here….

Bill Cowher’s record after 122 regular season games: 74-48

Mike Tomlin’s record after 122 regular season games: 77-45

Cowher’s postseason record through 7 full seasons: 5-6, 1 Super Bowl appearance, 0 Super Bowl wins

Tomlin’s postseason record through 7 full seasons: 5-3, 2 Super Bowl appearances, 1 win.

Bill Cowher–OMG the greatest coach EVER!!! The chin! The anger! And he’s from the ‘Burgh! Really coached STILLERS FOOTBALL!!! Wonderful person, totally upbeat in press conferences and never terse or angry! He never lost to bad teams (minus those times he lost to some REALLY bad teams). He won like eleventy billion Super Bowls!!!

Mike Tomlin–Terrible coach/person, all-around natural disaster, totally just won with Cowher’s awesome players (DUH), doesn’t care about his job, every loss is automatically the new “worst loss under Tomlin”; he’s an arrogant meanie to the media and he was hired because of the Rooney Rule!

Steelers fans: the best bunch of revisionist historians, spoiled fans, and casual racists I’ve ever seen.

But It’s The Jets… Steelers-Jets Instant Recap

This was just not the Steelers day.  A cliché, yes, but what else can you say when you turn the ball over four times; clearly recover a fumble from Vick that isn’t called on the field, and isn’t overturned on replay; and your kicker kicks the longest field goal of his career, then misses a 20-yarder.

 In a win, you can give credit to everyone.  In a loss, everyone shoulders some of the blame.  

The main story of this game was the turnovers the Steelers committed.  You can’t turn the ball over four times and expect to win.  Martavis Bryant, who has been spectacular thus far, made a rookie mistake at the goal line which led to Ben’s first interception in weeks.  Ben followed that up with a soul-crushing INT on the first drive of the second half, when the Steelers offense finally seemed to be clicking.  Antonio Brown, the best receiver in the league, fumbled twice, once on a reception and once on a muffed punt.  

The defense kept the team in the game, but they didn’t force turnovers.  They gave up the biggest play they’ve allowed all year on a Michael Vick 67-yard touchdown pass.  They couldn’t get off the field on third downs at crucial moments.

But turnovers killed the Steelers.  Not going to win many games being -4 on turnovers.  The Jets didn’t get many points off of those turnovers, but they turned the ball over in the red zone and in Jets territory.  Those mistakes are killer.

The Steelers were playing catch up the whole game, and as good as he is in come-from-behind games, Ben just didn’t have it today.  After the interception on the opening drive of the first half, the defense came up with a stop.  The Steelers got the ball back, Ben threw three consecutive long passes, all incomplete.  It looked like he was trying to force it, and when he does that, the results are never good.

Though you have to give major props to the Jets, the Steelers beat themselves.  The Jets did a good job of not making many mistakes.  If they had been playing a better team, the Steelers would’ve probably lost 50-0.

And let me just say, that Jason Babin can get fucked for that cheap shot he took on Ben after the whistle had blown in the first half.  He went after Ben’s knees and he should (and better) get some mail from the Commissioner’s office this week.

Full recap to come tomorrow.

Just Win, Baby! Steelers-Jets Gameday Preview

These past few weeks have been a fun time to be a Steelers fan.  A three-game homestand has yielded 3 wins, a defense that has new life, and a legitimate MVP candidate in Ben Roethlisberger.  This weekend the Steelers will travel to New Jersey to play the New York Jets.

The Jets are, by all measures, awful.  They haven’t won a game since Week One.  Their fans have raised money to have “Fire John Idzik” billboards put up outside the stadium.  Someone even hired a plane to fly a “Fire John Idzik” banner over Jets’ practice this week.  Some people (including myself) can’t believe Rex Ryan still has a job.  Their secondary is dreadful.  Geno Smith was swearing at fans earlier this season before being benched for Michael Vick. Things are bleak for Gang Green right now.  (I have never, ever understood would a fanbase would choose to name themselves after necrotizing tissue, but maybe that’s just me.)

This will probably be a confusing game to watch on TV, because this could be pretty close to a home game for the Steelers, so the cheering that occurs will probably be for the black and gold.  I know a lot of fans from Pittsburgh will make the short trek to New Jersey and Jets fans are clearly irate at the state of this team, so I can imagine a lot of them will stay home.  A Twitter friend and Jets fan confirmed this, saying he expects about 68,000 in black and gold at MetLife.

The Steelers look like the polar opposite of the Jets right now.  The defense is still giving up a decent amount of yardage and points, but they’re creating turnovers and getting pressure on quarterbacks again.  The defense making big plays has completely changed the complexion of this team.  There’s not much I can say about the offense that hasn’t been said.  They’ve become one of the AFC’s NFL’s top offenses.  People are talking about Ben Roethlisberger being a candidate for NFL MVP and Antonio Brown being the best wide receiver in the league (ahem, something I’ve been saying for awhile).  And Heinz Field was full last Sunday night!  The media can calm down about what low attendance means for the Steelers! 

Beyond the Jets just being bad and the Steelers being pretty good, this is a good matchup for the Steelers offensively.  The Jets front seven aren’t bad, but their corners are and the defense as a whole is the second-worst in the league in terms of points allowed.  With Ben doing his thing, it seems like he could surgically dismantle the defense pretty easily.

The defensive matchup makes me worry a little more.  Not because the Jets have a terrific offense (they don’t, they’re ranked 30th in the league in points scored), but because the Steelers are without Troy Polamalu and Ryan Shazier today.  I could see Vick making some noise by running, and he’ll be harder to defend with those two guys out.  The Jets rushing game is pretty good as well, so the Steelers will most likely be playing a little more 3-4 defense than they have the past few week.  And they’ll be doing so without Steve McLendon.  Let’s hope Daniel McCullers puts his giant body to good use today.

The biggest reason I’m worried about today’s game, besides the defensive injuries:  Percy Harvin.  Percy Harvin scares me.  He can be an extremely explosive player both on offense and in the return game.  The Steelers special teams hasn’t been terrific on returns.  They just had return touchdown scored on them last week by Jacoby Jones, which really pissed Mike Tomlin off (insert joke “because he couldn’t trip him” har har har).  I’d bet good money that they emphasized that in practice this week and hopefully will have tightened up a bit.

I don’t think the Steelers run away with this game.  I’m not even sure they win this game because it has T-R-A-P G-A-M-E written all over it.  Some may say I’m just being a pessimist, but I’d say I’m being a realist.  I was at the Tampa game this year.  A game the Steelers had no business losing and it remains the only game Tampa has won all season.  The Steelers have a history of playing down to their competition (can anyone remember the last time they won in Oakland?  Because I can’t, but I know Ben hasn’t won out there in his 11 year career.)  Beyond that, think of how huge of a win this would be for the Jets.  You think Ryan hasn’t drilled it into their heads all week what a huge deal it would be to beat the hottest team in the NFL?  Because I guarantee he has.

Despite that last paragraph, I can’t pick against this offense right now.  I don’t think the Jets defense can handle AB, Martavis Bryant, Heath Miller, Markus Wheaton, Lance Moore, Le’Veon Bell catching passes out of the backfield, and LaGarette Blount steamrolling people and always getting a few more yards than  he probably should.  And I really don’t think the Jets defense can handle Ben Roethlisberger.  He won’t throw six touchdowns today, but he’ll throw a few.

I still think it’ll be too close for comfort for much of the game.  But the Steelers just need to win, it doesn’t matter how they do it.  In the words of head coach, sound-bite machine, and my cat’s namesake, Mike Tomlin:  “Style points don’t matter.”  In the words of the the insufferable Al Davis: “Just win, baby!”  In the words of me, a Pittsburgh sports bitch:  “Just don’t fuck this one up, k?”

Predictions:

  • Ben throws 3 touchdowns (2 to Bryant, one to AB).
  • AB has 112 yards
  • James Harrison gets two sacks
  • The Steelers have more injuries and no remaining safeties on the active roster.  Luckily, defensive assistant and former OLB Joey Porter learned how to play safety at practice this week and makes a surprise return to the field.  Has two sacks and a forced fumble.

Steelers 28, Jets 20

P.S. Never forget: