Monthly Archives: December 2017

Browns @ Steelers: The Factory of Sadness Outdoes Itself

Just suppose that a few weeks ago I had told you that the Browns’ defense will have given up the fewest points per game in the NFL this season. And then I told you the Steelers’ offense would play those same Browns without Ben, Le’Veon Bell, Antonio Brown, Maurkice Pouncey, and David DeCastro. And then I had told you that center B.J. Finney would be injured partway through the game and would be replaced by Chris Hubbard, who would give clear and frequent demonstrations as to why he isn’t the backup center. And then I told you that the Browns’ defense would force a fumble and recover it, and that they would pick off Landry Jones early in the game. And then I told you the Browns’ offense would manage to score 24 points. How confident would you feel that the Steelers had pulled out a win?

Probably not very confident. And with excellent cause. But in fact that’s what happened. To do so they got a little help from the refs, who overturned a fumble call on Ridley (and rightly so, as his arm was clearly down before the ball moved) and called a rather ticky-tacky roughing the passer call on Myles Garrett. They also got help from a couple of receivers—JuJu Smith-Schuster not only had a heck of a game on offense but took a kickoff 98 yards for the Steelers’ first kick return touchdown since Antonio Brown did it in 2010. They also received help from a player who has been more than generous in that way throughout this season—Browns’ receiver Cory Coleman, who dropped what would have been a huge fourth-down conversion in the last few minutes of the fourth quarter, thus more or less giving the game to the Steelers, who hung on to a tenuous 4-point lead for the last 25 minutes of the game or so.

Given that the only starter on the defense to not play was Cameron Heyward, it’s hard to feel very good about a Steelers’ defense who gave up 24 points to the worst offense in the league. Or so I assume, and checking with the NFL offensive stats,

The Steelers’ Christmas Gift to their Nation

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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.

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5 Smoldering Questions on the Pittsburgh Steelers: Season Finale Edition

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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.

On Second Thought: Homer J’s Game Notes and Grades

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By Homer J.

In Pittsburgh, Monday night games throw everything off. Even the trash collection is delayed a day this week. Therefore the 5 Smoldering Questions will appear tomorrow, which, last time I checked, will be Thursday. And as usual my comments will be in italics..Ed.

Are you ready for some football?  Not looking for a Christmas miracle. Just a win over a badly depleted opponent. And keeping everyone healthy. That, and a Red Ryder B-B gun. Is it too much to ask for?

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Steelers @ Texans: Taking Care of Business

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The recurring theme of the coverage of this game is “business-like.” The Steelers were supposedly reeling from a last-minute, emotional loss to the Patriots. Furthermore, this is a team who under Mike Tomlin has proven, at least in recent years, that they are capable of losing to anyone. The Texans’ roster was banged up almost to the point of being unrecognizable, and the Steelers, by contrast, got back a couple of important players, Marcus Gilbert and Joe Haden. But the general feeling prior to the game was that while the Steelers should easily handle the Texans, despite the absence of Antonio Brown, the big question was, would they?

The answer was a resounding “yes.” Let’s look at some of the details, and see whether it seemed like “business as usual” for the players.

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Steelers @ Texans: Merry Christmas to All and to All a Good Night

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I have a confession to make. I haven’t actually watched this game. Nor am I going to try and write it up, even though I did watch the highlights, twice. (We had friends over for Christmas dinner, and they couldn’t come until early evening, as they were driving in from a considerable distance.)

I’ve recorded the game and will watch it tomorrow, but it’s just too late tonight. And besides, it’s Christmas. I will make just one small observation, gleaned from the highlight reel, which makes me think there wasn’t a lot of suspense in the game—the vast majority of the “highlights” when the Texans’ offense was on the field were the numerous sacks by the Steelers’ defense. That has to hurt. Almost as much as the fact that the crowd at the stadium appeared to be 90% Steeler fans.

So we can all rest easy, safe in the assurance that the Steelers have a first-round bye clinched. Since the Patriots still appear to have the replay ref firmly in their pocket, there’s probably no need to risk Ben, Bell and so on next week in the Browns game on the off-chance the Pats lose next Sunday. Although I note the Pats play the Jets next week, also at 1 p.m., and Tomlin might have pause for thought should the Jets actually be allowed to score a touchdown or two against the Pats while keeping Brady in check. I have a suggestion to Josh McCown—you might want to throw the ball to someone besides Austin Seferian-Jenkins, just in case…

Steelers’ Opponent Preview: The Houston Texans

Photo via This is from the session in which the Steelers recorded their annual Christmas carol video. You can watch it here if your stomach is strong enough. Strangely, the kicking unit was better at singing (if you can call it that) than any of the others. Which isn’t saying much. And Robert Golden should never, ever be put front and center again. That was a crime against nature.

The Texans seemed to be one of those Cinderella stories earlier this season. After years of trying they had finally found a franchise quarterback at the top of the draft in Deshaun Watson. And then he got injured. The face of their defense, J.J. Watt, big brother to rookie T.J. Watt—you may have heard of him—is also injured. There are many more reasons than those two for the Texans’ 4-10 record, but those make a pretty good start.

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5 Smoldering Questions on the Pittsburgh Steelers, Week 15

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The questions are going to be even more smolder-y than usual, because Hombre de Acero has a crazy week and only sent me three questions, and I’m still mad. So here goes. How could anything else be the subject of this edition? Yes, I’m going there, and we will be examining various aspects of The Catch That Suddenly Wasn’t. Feel free to use this as a cathartic experience…

1. After reading a Post-Gazette article in which writer Ed Bouchette fanned the flames pretty thoroughly, I did some research on my own. More on that in a moment. In his article, Bouchette says he isn’t accusing NFL Senior VP for Officiating Alberto Riveron of bias toward the Patriots, exactly, but he does present some interesting facts. Here are the salient points:

In three games this season the Patriots benefitted by the review of a called touchdown on the field.

Two of these rulings overturned the touchdown called on the field. The one which was not overturned was a pass to Brandin Cooks:

New England’s Brandin Cooks caught a 25-yard touchdown pass with 23 seconds left to beat Houston 36-33 on Sept. 24. He caught the ball with both feet in the end zone but lost control as he hit the ground out of bounds. It was ruled a touchdown, and Riveron did not overturn it upon review.

The Jesse James touchdown reversal is probably pretty fresh in your mind. The third touchdown was also reversed. It was to Austin Seferian-Jenkins, and here’s how describes it:

This was a huge moment in Sunday’s game. The Jets were down 24-14 with 8:24 left in the fourth quarter. So the touchdown would’ve cut New England’s lead to 24-21. Instead, the Patriots got the ball back, and the Jets couldn’t pull off the upset.

Though Riveron defended his call Monday, two former NFL head of officials — Fox Sports analysts Mike Pereira and Dean Blandino — disagreed with the overturn decision.

(Both felt it should have stood as called.) The final score was Patriots 24, Jets 17. (They did manage a field goal on their final series.)

It’s interesting to ponder that, had the two earlier calls been adjudicated differently, the Patriots might actually have been 8-5 when they travelled to Heinz Field. Or had Riveron been consistent, they might have been 9-4. In either case the outcome of last Sunday’s game would be much less momentous for the Steelers. How does this make you feel?

2. Back to that research I mentioned. There have been other touchdown catches reversed this season. Most of them have had what seems like a direct effect on who won the game. Here are all the reversed rulings I could find:

Austin Sefarian-Jenkens had another fourth-quarter touchdown catch reversed upon replay, in the November 26th game against the Panthers, and the Jets lost by a score of 35-27. Correct me if I’m wrong, but aren’t the Jets in the same division as the Patriots? Just checking.

In the waning seconds of their September 24th match versus the Falcons, the Lions thought they had won the game with a last-second touchdown pass to Golden Tate. But because Tate was ruled as having fumbled when the ball moved slightly as he went to the ground, and because there were only 8 seconds left on the clock, the mandatory 10-second runoff of the clock ended the game. The Lions lost, 30-26.

Also on September 24th, which was a busy day for Riveron, Sterling Shepard of the Giants had a touchdown pass reversed as the ball came slightly loose when he hit the ground. Earlier in the game, a catch by TE Zach Ertz of the Eagles was declared good despite him losing control of the ball when he hit the ground. The Giants lost, 27-24.

Zach Miller (Bears) dislocated his knee during what looked like an incredible touchdown catch that he somehow or other held onto as he collapsed onto the field. Riveron reversed it. Blandino disagreed. The Bears lost 20-12.

And finally, in a 31-24 loss to the Panthers, Vikings receiver Adam Thielen caught a touchdown. Quite conclusively, or so one would think. If one weren’t Senior VP of Officiating, at any rate.

Here’s how the Daily Norseman described the problem with the Thielen catch, which looked like a catch to pretty much everyone in the NFL-watching world:

This is the NFL. In order for it to be called a catch, you must catch it, get no fewer than four limbs and five internal organs in bounds, seal the ball in Lucite, get your cleats notarized, and recite the alphabet backwards.

So my question is, is the New York office unduly influencing the course of games, regardless of whether you believe there is a particular bias involved?

3. In looking at the above information, would you find it interesting to look very, very closely at Al Riveron’s financial picture?(Told you I was mad…)

Now to return to our regularly scheduled programming, and to Hombre de Acero:

4. The interesting thing about Jesse James’ non-touchdown is that there is no shortage of Steelers/Pittsburgh commentators who are saying, “Yeah it sucks but the ruling was correct” and no shortage of neutral observers saying, “This is INANE. THAT IS A TOUCHDOWN.” Based on your understanding of the rule, regardless of whether you agree with it or it, do you think it was correct?

5. Were the Steelers right to go for it at the end instead of kicking and playing in overtime?

And a bonus question for the holidays:

6. After the game, Jim Wexell’s instant reaction was, “I’m not sure the Steelers can overcome this.” However yesterday, he wrote a long column arguing that the game showed that the Patriots can be beaten. Which side do you come down on?

The NFL’s Problem

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By Ivan Cole

In my recent piece I wrote this about what I discerned is a problem with the league, as follows:

Inconsistencies on everything from what qualifies as a pass reception to the circumstances surrounding the cause, length and amounts of suspensions and fines has us traveling an axis that ranges from suspicion of incompetence to corruption. Contrast the treatment of Burfict with the constant ‘random’ drug tests that James Harrison must endure. Currently, compare the differing treatment of JuJu Smith-Schuster, Rob Gronkowski and George Iloka. The disparities among the crimes committed and the punishments meted out are stunning. This has led, among other things, to conspiracy theories that there is a New England bias, and that Gronk’s punishment was calibrated to insure his presence for the big game with the Steelers. Steelers Nation has been living by the credo of just because you’re paranoid doesn’t mean that someone isn’t out to get you as it relates to the league for years. The idea that there might exist biases (let’s break up the Steelers/promote the Cowboys or Pats) where the league places a thumb on the scale for selected franchises or players are incredibly corrosive, and don’t have to be true to be extremely damaging.

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Acme Fake Spike Kit Fails Steelers, Who Fall to Screwjob in Dusty Finish

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By Homer J.

Pregame remarks:

All right. Cue the music. It’s Cliff Friend’s 1937 classic “The Merry Go Round Broke Down.” When the Steelers face the Patriots, it’s Looney Tunes, and too often the Steelers are Wile E. Coyote and the Tom Brady is the Road Runner. So cue the Looney Tunes music….Gotta wonder what Coach Tomlin has purchased from the Acme Corporation this time around, and whether it’s gonna work.

Either that or we’re the Washington Generals and the Patriots are the Globetrotters. But, as Krusty always says, “the Generals are due.” Rooting for the Steelers is the triumph of hope over experience, but hope, talent, and home field advantage can go a long way.

Why the hell are they running commercials locally when the game is getting underway? We missed the first entire minute of the game while they ran commercials…

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