Monday, October 27, 2008

Without Holmes, offense stalled

Monday, October 27, 2008
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/steelers/

PITTSBURGH - OCTOBER 26: Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers throws a pass with pressure from Jay Alford #93 of the New York Giants on October 26, 2008 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Giants won 21-14. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

A small but still alarming portion of yesterday's bitter postgame rehash in and near the Steelers locker room was devoted to complimenting a Mr. Limas Lee Sweed, who caught three whole passes in a 21-14 loss to the defending Super Bowl champion New York Giants, two of which resulted in first downs.

Yes, hooray.

"There is no question that there was some improvement," Mike Tomlin said of his second round draft choice who finally made it onto a professional stage last week in Cincinnati, "but he is in the process of writing that story."

Thankfully, having some experience in that area, I think this portion of the story should be written in letter form:

Dear Santonio,

Until I better understand everything that's required of a wideout in the National Football League and particularly within the wonderfully complex Bruce Arians offense, do you think you could manage to drive home in the middle of the week without getting arrested?

I appreciate the opportunity to get off the sideline and hold up your end of the passing game against the best football team in the world while you're cleaning any allegedly illegal substances out of your SUV, but this kind of disruption in the game plan probably couldn't have come at a worse time.

Respectfully,Your friend,
LL Sweed Jr.
Wideout trainee.

No one wants to blame what was only Pittsburgh's second loss in seven games on young Limas, and no one wants to stash it in Santonio Holmes' police-inspected SUV either, but you can't help but notice that when Holmes is part of Ben Roethlisberger's starting offense, it generally does better on third down than 1 for 10.

New York Giants safety Kenny Phillips (21) intercepts a pass intended for Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Limas Sweed during the fourth quarter of an NFL football game Sunday, Oct. 26, 2008, in Pittsburgh. New York won 21-14.(AP)

Yesterday's 1-for-10 (and a combined 1 for 14 on third- and fourth-down conversion attempts) went a long way toward defining the first home loss to an NFC team around here since the St. Louis Rams beat Tommy Maddox and company, 33-21, five years ago yesterday. In between, the Steelers had beaten eight consecutive NFC teams at Heinz Field by an average of 16 points.

"Obviously you miss what Santonio brings," said Roethlisberger, who brought four interceptions into a stew that ran cold with the worst third-down offense since the Steelers went 0 for 8 at Green Bay on Nov. 6, 2005. "I want to give a lot of credit to Limas Sweed."

You'd suppose we should have seen this miserable offensive performance approaching like a suspicious vehicle all week. Holmes' ridiculous arrest was only part of it, as Hines Ward probably spent too much time re-interpreting remarks by NFL jurisprudence veep Ray Anderson regarding his season-ending wallop on Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers.

Ward wasn't exactly the picture of concentration yesterday either, false starting on one series and lining up incorrectly to draw an illegal formation flag on another. Throw in offensive penalties against Chris Kemoeatu and Willie Colon, whose calf-roping of New York's Justin Tuck nullified a second third-quarter touchdown by Nate Washington.

"I started to run down the field and I saw that flag coming out of the corner of my eye," Roethlisberger remembered. "But I'm not going to talk about the officials; we didn't play well enough today. They played great defense on third down and they did a great job on what in my opinion is the best tight end in the game."

Heath Miller caught as many passes as Sweed for 52 yards, including what would have been the longest completion of the day had Roethlisberger not found Washington behind a secondary for the third consecutive week on the second possession of the second half. Washington caught Ben's 65-yard touchdown pass at the Giants' 15, and somehow got an end zone escort from New York safety James Butler, who turned and ran with Nate rather than attempt anything very logical, such as a tackle.

Perhaps it was that spectacular play, which gave his team a 14-9 lead, that led Tomlin to largely exonerate Roethlisberger on the occasion of his worst passer rating of the year, 38.5. Tomlin thought the Giants merely made great plays on two first-half interceptions ("flashing into windows" was how the head coach put it). In the quarterback's defense, he was under heavy pressure, particularly in the second half. The Giants sacked him five times and hurried him at least as often.

PITTSBURGH - OCTOBER 26: Mattias Kiwanuka #97 of the New York Giants pressures Ben Roethlisberger #7 of the Pittsburgh Steelers into throwing an incompletion on October 26, 2008 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Giants won 21-14. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)


"It's not like I'm talking to you guys for the last time this year," Roethlisberger said. "We already knew we weren't going undefeated. It's a loss. We never like to lose, but we move on. We stay together. OK?

"Be safe driving home."

Ya hear that, Santonio?

Gene Collier can be reached at gcollier@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1283. More articles by this author
First published on October 27, 2008 at 12:00 am


Smith's play teaches valuable lesson

Monday, October 27, 2008
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette


Brett Keisel and Aaron Smith (Aug. 2007)

Big, tough Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel nearly was in tears. It wasn't because of the hurtful 21-14 loss to the New York Giants last night. That disappointed Keisel and ticked him off more than it made him want to cry.

No, the emotions came pouring out when he was asked what it meant to see teammate Aaron Smith line up with him on the defensive line after a serious personal crisis forced Smith to miss all of practice last week.

"I love the guy so much," Keisel said, his voice quivering just a bit. "He's the best. If I could be like him and live my life like he lives his, I'd die a happy man. I'm just so thankful he's in my life."

Smith declined interview requests after the game and asked for privacy, which he surely will get here this morning. But he did say it wasn't a hard decision to show up for the game even though he had been excused by coach Mike Tomlin and the Rooneys.

"This was the best part of my week -- by far -- even though we lost," Smith said. "This was where I needed to be for a few hours. There's nowhere I'd rather be than right here. These guys are family to me. I'm closer to them than I am to my own brothers."

Smith's difficult situation added greatly to an almost unbelievable week of distractions for the Steelers. First, there was the aftermath of wide receiver Hines Ward's season-ending hit on Cincinnati rookie linebacker Keith Rivers last Sunday. Then, there was the meeting Wednesday with a couple of NFL czars, who came to town to explain to Ward and others on the team just how and why the league goes about its business of fining players for their transgressions. Finally, there was wide receiver Santonio Holmes' arrest Thursday for possession of a small amount of marijuana, an issue that so incensed Tomlin that he deactivated Holmes for the game and told him to stay away from the team until today.

All things considered, a Steelers win against the defending Super Bowl champions probably was too much to ask, especially after long snapper Greg Warren (knee) and valuable safety Ryan Clark (shoulder) were injured during the game. You don't think about a snapper until he's gone.

Well, you thought about the position last night after Warren went down late in the third quarter and the emergency backup -- linebacker James Harrison -- snapped the ball over punter Mitch Berger's head for a safety.

"I've never been through a week like this," safety Troy Polamalu said after it finally was over and he prepared to head off into the night. "I truly believe if we had somehow won this game, after everything that had happened, we would have really set ourselves up as a special, special team."

The Steelers didn't win, but it wasn't because they didn't leave everything on the field. That's why Tomlin made it a point to greet each player on his way into the locker room after the game, shake his hand and say, "I appreciate your effort." When Smith passed by, the two shared a long hug.

Smith isn't just one of the team's top players and a respected leader in the locker room and on the field. He's one of the more popular teammates.
"Unbelievable," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said of Smith's decision to play.

"An emotional day for him and for us," nose tackle Chris Hoke said. "Every single one of us wanted to win the game for him."

"If he wouldn't have been out here, no one would have cared," Roethlisberger added. "He's got a bigger battle to fight."

It's tough for any player to miss a week's practice and still play at a high level, even a 10-year veteran. But Smith was on the field for all but a handful of plays. It was a good thing for the Steelers, who almost certainly would have lost by a much bigger margin without their best run-stopper.

We saw how much less the Steelers were as a team last season when Smith missed the stretch run and playoff loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars because of a torn biceps. The Giants came in as the NFL's top rushing team, yet managed only 83 yards on 35 carries, a paltry 2.4-yard average.

"It's hard to miss practice like that, but, if anyone can do it, it's Aaron," Polamalu said. "You know what you're going to get from him every play. He's such a smart player and his technique is so flawless."

Keisel has been studying Smith's game for years. "From the second I landed here, I've had my eyes on 91, just watching how he practices and how he gets himself ready to play."

Now, Smith is teaching Keisel and his other teammates something much more important.

He's teaching them how to deal with one of those tough breaks that life throws at all of us from time to time.

"The man's strength amazes me," Keisel said, tearing up again.

On and off the field.

Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com. More articles by this author
First published on October 27, 2008 at 12:00 am

Steelers' defense remains stout in defeat

By Mike Prisuta
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/
Monday, October 27, 2008

PITTSBURGH - OCTOBER 26: Derrick Ward #34 of the New York Giants is tackled by Troy Polamalu #43 of the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 26, 2008 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Giants won 21-14. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

It's still October, but this one felt like the postseason.

The Steelers' defense responded with a playoff-worthy performance, legitimizing its No. 1 overall ranking against the NFL's No. 2 offense and No. 1 rushing attack.

The one touchdown the Steelers allowed turned out to be one too many in a 21-14 loss to the defending-champion New York Giants at Heinz Field.

That one TD the Steelers surrendered occurred on the visitor's sixth trip inside the Steelers' red zone.

In the first half, Giants possessions achieved first downs at the Steelers' 9-, 2-, 19- and 15-yard lines.

The Giants came away with all of nine points.

The highlight for the Steelers was a fourth-and-inches stuffing of monster back Brandon Jacobs early in the second quarter. It was a play that was necessitated by a replay challenge from coach Mike Tomlin that overturned a touchdown call on third down, and one that wasn't confirmed until a challenge from Giants coach Tom Coughlin upheld the fourth-down call on the field.

That's how competitive it gets when teams with 5-1 records meet.

Jacobs, all 6-foot-4, 264 pounds of him, followed fullback Madison Hedgecock and tight end Michael Matthews, who had motioned into the middle, up the gut from a formation that included third offensive tackle/tight end Kevin Boothe.

Jacobs went nowhere.

PITTSBURGH - OCTOBER 26: Brandon Jacobs #27 of the New York Giants is tackled by LaMarr Woodley #56 of the Pittsburgh Steelers on October 26, 2008 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Rick Stewart/Getty Images)

Safety Ryan Clark was the first to arrive, and defensive ends Aaron Smith and Brett Keisel each received credit for half a tackle at the bottom of a mass of humanity that somehow held the line.

The Giants remained behind, 7-3.

In the fourth quarter, now trailing 14-9, the Giants secured another first-and-goal, this time from the Steelers' 4.

After Keisel stopped running back Derrick Ward for a loss of 2 yards on first down, the Giants gave up on running it in entirely.

Two incomplete passes later, they kicked their fourth field goal.

The Giants' final trip inside the 20 finally reached the end zone when quarterback Eli Manning found open tight end Kevin Boss on second-and-goal from the Steelers' 2 with 3:11 remaining.

The big play in advance of that was a 25-yard hookup from Manning to wide receiver Steve Smith that put the ball on the Steelers' 25.

The Giants exploited cornerback Deshea Townsend on the play, as they had attempted to do throughout the game with periodic success.

So the Steelers' defense isn't perfect. But in holding Jacobs to 2.6 yards per attempt on 18 carries and the Giants to 2.4 yards per carry on 35 rushes overall, the Steelers' defense legitimized its No. 1 ranking.

Had the Steelers' No. 25 offense managed more first downs in the fourth quarter -- one would have been an improvement over what they accomplished in that department in the final 15 minutes -- a Giants loss might have been celebrated.

As it was, the Steelers emerged believing the outcome could have easily turned out differently.

"They weren't better than us; I'll say it to their face," offensive tackle Willie Colon said.

Actually, they were, but the Steelers' defense is more than good enough.

Should they fix the rest, beginning with protection issues that once again had quarterback Ben Roethlisberger under siege, they'll have the chance to write a different script against teams of the Giants' caliber in January.

Mike Prisuta is a columnist for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at mprisuta@tribweb.com or 412-320-7923.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Ward's blocks polarizing, pulverizing

By Scott Brown
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/
Sunday, October 26, 2008

The Steelers use more than traditional statistics such as yards, receptions and touchdowns to measure the play of their wide receivers. They keep track of different blocks as well as missed ones because of lack of effort - and those include water-bucket blocks and knockdown blocks.


Steelers receiver Hines ward has a reputation for delivering bone-crunching blocks to opponents.
Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review


Water-bucket blocks are when a receiver pushes a defender all the way to the sideline. Knockdown blocks need no explanation. Nor is an answer required to the question of which wideout leads the Steelers in that category.

"Who else?" wide receiver Nate Washington said last week with a smile. "(No.) 86, definitely."

In a surprise along the lines of the sun rising every morning, Ward has the most knockdown blocks among the Steelers wideouts. They have become his signature, have made him a YouTube sensation and, it appears, the subject of a bounty.

They also make him the most polarizing Steeler, but he doesn't apologize for the aggressive blocking style that borders on viciousness.

He made that clear last week when he sent a text message to Chad Johnson asking the Bengals wide receiver to relay something to linebacker Keith Rivers, who is out for the rest of the season with a broken jaw. Ward did not apologize for the block he laid on Rivers last Sunday but said he was sorry about what had resulted from it.

The hit on Rivers, which the NFL ruled legal, provided another example of why Ward is frequently lauded for playing the game the way it is supposed to be played. Yet, it was violent enough that it also gave more ammunition to those that claim Ward crosses the line.

"People are going to call me dirty. People are going to call me clean," said Ward, a four-time Pro Bowler who holds most of the Steelers' major receiving records. "I don't worry about what other people say - only how my teammates feel."

The evolution of Ward as a blocker can be traced as far back as the 1998 NFL draft. The Steelers took him with the last pick in the third round - after forgettable wide receivers such as Brian Simmons, Brian Alford and Jammi German had been drafted - and Ward arrived at his first training camp with the mindset that he had to fight his way onto the team.

"Hines is not dirty," former Steelers running back Jerome Bettis recalled. "Hines was not the kind of guy in practice who beat up on his own teammates. He waited until game day, and you saw something totally different out of him."

A decade later, his teammates are still seeing that transformation.

"A lot of guys look to Hines to sometimes jumpstart this team," said Washington, who will start at the wide receiver spot opposite Ward today. "(But)Hines is going to show up every time. If he doesn't, it's one of those jaw-dropping 'Wows!' "

Ward's desire is not the only reason why he consistently delivers blocks that are literally jaw dropping.

At 6-feet and 205 pounds, he is more powerfully built than prototypical wide receivers such as the long and lean Plaxico Burress, who returns to Heinz Field today for the first time since he left the Steelers and signed with the Giants.

Combine that with the technique he has honed for more than a decade, and it's not hard to see why Ward is widely considered the best blocking wide receiver in the NFL.

"He always explodes from his hips," Steelers wide receivers coach Randy Fichtner said. "He sees what he hits, and the biggest part is he's not afraid to hit what he sees."

That trait has not endeared him to opponents, and Ward said last week that the Ravens have had a bounty on him for the past five or six years.

"It's unfortunate, the bad rap he gets," Steelers offensive tackle Willie Colon said. "We consider Hines one of us from the standpoint of he's not afraid to knock somebody out."


Scott Brown can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Steelers to persevere in wake of arrest

By John Harris
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/
Saturday, October 25, 2008

Calling Thursday's arrest of one of his starting receivers a "distraction,'' Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Santonio Holmes will be inactive for Sunday's big game against the New York Giants at Heinz Field.


Santonio Holmes

"His situation has created somewhat of a distraction. We want to minimize that as much as we can, remain focused on the task at hand, which is to compete and play against the New York Giants on Sunday,'' Tomlin said Friday following the team's final practice of the week.

Holmes, second on the Steelers with 22 receptions for 360 yards and a touchdown, will not attend Sunday's game.

Nate Washington, who has two touchdown catches in the past two games, will start for the first time this season as Holmes' replacement.

"I met with Santonio (yesterday) morning, notified him, told him I'd see him Monday morning,'' Tomlin said.

Pittsburgh police said Holmes, 24, will be charged with possession of marijuana after three blunts were found inside his vehicle Thursday afternoon in Uptown.

Holmes was stopped about 4 p.m. near the intersection of Centre Avenue and Mario Lemieux Place by officers searching for a vehicle with a similar description.

When officers approached Holmes' vehicle, they smelled an odor of burning marijuana, police said.

Holmes, who was not carrying his driver's license, admitted to having a small amount of marijuana and pointed out the blunts -- a cigar filled with marijuana -- to officers.

Holmes, the Steelers' No. 1 draft pick in 2006 from Ohio State, will be sent a summons charging him with possession of marijuana.

Police said they stopped Holmes because they had been looking for a black sport utility vehicle with out-of-state plates believed to be carrying a large amount of narcotics. Police said Holmes was driving a black SUV with out-of-state plates, but it was not the vehicle they were seeking.

Given Holmes' recent off-field history, Tomlin was asked if he was upset with the receiver.

Holmes was arrested in June 2006 on charges of domestic violence in Columbus, Ohio. He was charged with assaulting LaShae Boone, the mother of one of his three children. The charges were dropped when Boone chose not to go forward with the case.

Holmes also was arrested for disorderly conduct in Miami in May 2006. Those charges were later dropped by the Miami Police Department.

"Right now, this is the first incident that's happened with Santonio since I've been here,'' said Tomlin, who told reporters he didn't have enough information aboout Holmes' case to reach any conclusions. "I base my judgment on people off of our direct interaction. This is how I choose to address it and deal with it at this time. My approach or mentality regarding the situation may be different next week. Right now, I don't have the time or the patience really to delve into it.''

According to the NFL's substance-abuse policy, if Holmes is convicted of possession or admits to it, he is subject to discipline from the league and could be suspended for up to four games. However, the maximum penalty seems unlikely since this would be Holmes' first drug- or alcohol-related offense.

Recently, Jacksonville receiver Matt Jones was suspended three games for violation of the league's substance-abuse policy. It was the first offense for Jones, who told reporters he's being tested for drugs by the league.

Jones was arrested and charged with one count of cocaine possession in July, when an Arkansas police officer saw him inside a parked car allegedly cutting up cocaine with a credit card. Jones, who pleaded not guilty, was accepted into a drug-treatment program that could erase the felony cocaine charge against him.

Hines Ward said the Steelers will survive Holmes' absence with Washington as a starter, along with Dallas Baker and rookie Limas Sweed sharing the No. 3 receiver spot.

"Not really a distraction. Just (unfortunate) that the situation happened like that,'' Ward said. "We've got to go with the guys we've got. It's no different than us losing (running back) Willie Parker. The next man's got to fill in, and we can't lose a beat.''

Washington is the man on the spot. Two games ago against Jacksonville, he caught a career-high six passes for 94 yards and a 48-yard touchdown. Last week against Cincinnati, Washington had a 50-yard touchdown grab.

"It's unfortunate the way it came, but I'm seizing the opportunity,'' Washington said.


John Harris can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Big Ben, Eli in a class of their own

Friday, October 24, 2008
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/


John Marshall Mantel/Associated Press

Eli Manning, left, and Ben Roethlisberger were two of the top quarterbacks taken in the 2004 NFL draft.


In a league whose greatest stars, historically, have been quarterbacks, Ben Roethlisberger and Eli Manning will form a rare combination when they meet Sunday at Heinz Field. And it's not because their division-leading teams have identical 5-1 records.

They are one of only three sets of quarterbacks in NFL history to be drafted in the same year and win Super Bowls. And they are the only pair to be drafted in the first round.

Roethlisberger was the 11th overall pick in the 2004 draft and had instant success, going 13-0 as a starter his rookie season and winning the Super Bowl in 2005. Manning was the first overall pick in 2004 and, after some early struggles, led the Giants to the Super Bowl title last season, winning the Most Valuable Player Award in the process.

"We both have come a long way," Roethlisberger said. "We both have won Super Bowls. It's fun watching him grow and get better as a fellow quarterback and guy from the same draft class."

The only other quarterbacks from the same draft class to win a Super Bowl were Jim Plunkett and Joe Theismann (1971) and Phil Simms and Joe Montana (1979). Plunkett and Simms were first-round choices; Montana was a third-round pick and Theismann was drafted in the fourth round.

But, this is the first time two first-round picks who won Super Bowl rings will meet in a regular-season game.

"I think that that bodes well for two young quarterbacks who had an opportunity to play as young guys and experienced a lot going through the first couple of years," said Giants coach Tom Coughlin.

"They stood tall and accepted whatever challenge was thrown in their way. They have each, in their own right, made outstanding contributions to the game and to their franchises."

Based on the way each team is playing, nobody would be surprised if this was just the first of two meetings this season between the marquee quarterbacks. The other one could be in Super Bowl XLIII in Tampa, Fla.

This could be the start of the chase.

"There is always that little thing inside you that wants to be the best," Roethlisberger said. "I do want to win another Super Bowl before he does."

Roethlisberger and Manning have met once before -- in 2004 when each were rookies and each were headed in opposite directions.

The Steelers beat the Giants, 33-30, Dec. 18 in East Rutherford, N.J., a game in which Roethlisberger threw for more than 300 yards for the first time (316) in his career. It was the 11th victory for Roethlisberger in a season when he became the only NFL quarterback to go 13-0 in a regular season.

But it was something of a breakout game for Manning, too. Despite going 1-6 as a starter as a rookie, Manning threw for 182 yards and two touchdowns and had a season-high passer rating of 103.8 against the Steelers.

"I remember that game because I was coming off of an awful game at Baltimore; it was early in my career and I was going through some struggles," Manning said. "We came to play Pittsburgh, a team that had won a bunch of games in a row and was hot; they were playing great football; their defense was one of the best in the league at the time.

"We came out and we played well. I finally played decent for the first time and managed the game pretty well and made some big plays. At the time it was important for me and for my confidence and the confidence of my teammates that I could go out there and compete, and put us in the situation to possibly win the game."

Manning was the first overall pick in the 2004 draft, but he was chosen by the San Diego Chargers. The Giants actually drafted Philip Rivers with the fourth overall selection and then swapped quarterbacks with the Chargers.

Rivers could become the third quarterback from that draft class to win a Super Bowl. The Chargers made it to the AFC championship game last season and are considered one of the top teams in the AFC, despite their 3-4 start. No draft class in NFL history has produced three Super Bowl-winning quarterbacks.

Manning and Roethlisberger each said there is no rivalry among the three, just because they were each drafted the same year

"No, there really isn't," Manning said. "As a quarterback, you try to get your team prepared. Early on you are just trying to learn as much as you can to become a better player each game, each week and each season. All you can really do in this league is try to improve your own ability and help out your own team to win games for your own organization."

So far, they have each done that with great success.


Gerry Dulac can be reached at gdulac@post-gazette.com.
First published on October 24, 2008 at 12:00 am

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Linebackers inflate Steelers' sack total

By Scott Brown
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/
Tuesday, October 21, 2008


Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley is part of one of the best sack tandems in the NFL this season with teammate James Harrison.
Chaz Palla/Tribune-Review


When LaMarr Woodley sacks a quarterback, it is not uncommon for him to seek out James Harrison and hold his hands a couple of inches apart. After Harrison has recorded a sack, he will turn to find Woodley and hold his hands considerably farther apart.

"Widening the gap," Woodley said with a knowing smile when asked about the Harrison gesture.

The Steelers' outside linebackers are staging a competition that is anything but friendly for quarterbacks. Opposing signal-callers find themselves caught in the middle of a "Can you top this?" game.

The Steelers already have 25 sacks and are on pace to drop the quarterback 67 times this season. That number is considerably higher than the team-record 55 sacks the Steelers recorded in 1994 and 2001. It is also almost double the number of sacks (36) the Steelers had last season.

That the Steelers are sacking quarterbacks at an unprecedented rate starts with Harrison and Woodley trying to outdo each other.

"The biggest competition is in your backyard, and that's how they approach it," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "They drive each other, and that's awesome."

They probably drive opposing offensive coordinators batty. Harrison and Woodley rush from opposite sides of the field, and double-teaming one is tantamount to unleashing the other, if their production through six games is any indication.

Harrison is tied for first in the AFC with 8.5 sacks, and Woodley is right behind with 7.5. Both are on track to break the Steelers' single-season sack record of 15, set by Mike Merriweather in 1984.

"I don't think I've really seen anyone block them yet," Steelers linebacker and defensive captain James Farrior said.

How dominant have the bookend pass rushers been? Woodley sacked quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick twice in the Steelers' 38-10 win over the Bengals Sunday and did nothing to close the gap on Harrison.

Harrison spent much of the afternoon in Fitzpatrick's face,. Bengals left tackle Levi Jones, a former first-round draft pick, proved to be no match for Harrison, who made the NFL as an undrafted free agent.


Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is sacked by Steelers linebacker James Harrison in the first half of their game Sunday, Oct. 19, 2008, in Cincinnati. Pittsburgh won the game, 38-10.
AP photo


Jones may have fared better trying to wrestle a bear than in holding off Harrison, which would make him a member of a club that is growing by the week. Powerful and relentless, Harrison has the kind of drive that reflects the circuitous route the 6-foot, 242-pounder took to one of the glamour positions on the Steelers' defense.

If Harrison, who was cut three times before sticking with the Steelers, is a handful, Woodley is no bargain on the left side of the defense.

Woodley recorded six sacks last season despite limited action as a rookie, and the 6-2, 265-pounder is proving that he can get to the quarterback with the same alarming efficiency as an every-down player.

"I'm feeding off Woodley, Woodley's feeding off me," said Harrison, who took over at right outside linebacker for Joey Porter last season and made the Pro Bowl. "It's a little bit of a competition there to see who can get the most sacks."

A welcome by-product for the Steelers: Harrison and Woodley are creating opportunities for other players.

Lawrence Timmons joined Harrison and Woodley in notching a pair of sacks in Cincinnati, and Farrior had one. The two inside linebackers were able to come up the middle to sack Fitzpatrick, in part, because the Bengals were so conscious of the havoc Harrison and Woodley were creating on the flanks.

"There's times I sit there and just shake my head," quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said of the Steelers' pass rush.

Indeed, the sign Woodley and Harrison make to one another after a sack also could serve as a warning to opposing quarterbacks. The one who didn't get to the quarterback is coming that much harder on the next play and the ones that follow.

"The more (sacks) James gets, the more I try to stay close to him," Woodley said. "Who knows? At the end of the season it may be a lot."

It already is.


Scott Brown can be reached at sbrown@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.

Nothing dirty about Ward's rugged play

Tuesday, October 21, 2008
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/


Hines Ward goes in for his second touchdown of the game after catching a pass behind Houston Texans safety Will Demps (47) in the second half of an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Sept. 7, 2008. The Steelers won 38-17.(AP)

So the Cincinnati Bengals want a piece of Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward when the teams play again Nov. 20?

Please.

They had better get in line.

It is a very long line.

Baltimore Ravens safety Rod Woodson threatened to get even with Ward after his nose was bloodied by a Ward block in 2001. Ravens linebacker Bart Scott threatened to kill Ward after he was flattened by a Ward hit in '07. Cleveland Browns cornerback Daven Holly called the Ward block that left him with a concussion last season "a heinous act." Ravens cornerback Chris McAllister used a vulgar term to describe Ward in '04 for no other reason than, well, Ward is Ward.

Now, along come the Bengals after Ward's hard-but-clean block knocked rookie linebacker Keith Rivers out for the season with a broken jaw Sunday.

"Too bad he can't hit someone face up," Bengals safety Chinedum Ndukwe said. "It's the type of guy he is. He's a blind-side guy. That's all right. We play them again."

That didn't bother Ward in the slightest. "They all hate me in the division," he said yesterday. "I don't worry about someone trying to take me out. I don't even think about it. I know they're going to try to hit me hard any chance they get. That's why I always try to hit them hard first."

But this bothered Ward greatly: "I hate that they're saying I'm a dirty player when I didn't do anything wrong. How can it be a dirty play when I don't get penalized? How can it be a dirty play when all I'm doing is playing football and trying to help my teammate get extra yards?"

Those are good questions.

There are a lot of ways to describe Ward. I like Steelers coach Mike Tomlin's version: "Hines plays the game the way it's supposed to be played. ... He's a football player first and a wide receiver second." Ward prefers former Ravens coach Brian Billick's description: " 'I hate the S.O.B., but I'd love to have him on my team.' "

But Ward a dirty player?

Sorry, I just don't see it.

Of all of Ward's many vicious blocks, the only one I can remember coming late and drawing a penalty was his hit on the Browns' Holly last season. Just about everything he does -- though unusually violent for a receiver -- is within the rules.

Of course, that didn't stop the NFL from fining Ward for "unnecessary roughness" on plays that weren't penalized in games against Jacksonville and Baltimore earlier this season. He doesn't think he'll be fined for the hit on Rivers, but who knows? If the league does fine him, it will stink of hypocrisy. That block is the type of brutal hit that makes the NFL game so popular. Rivers was sent flying; his feet must have been 10 feet off the turf. It's the type of play the league surely will market and sell on its 2008 Greatest Hits video.

"It was shoulder to shoulder," Ward said. "If I was a dirty player, I would have gone low on him. I easily could have taken out his leg. But my intentions weren't to hurt him. I just wanted to block him. I can't help that he broke his jaw when he hit the ground. I feel sorry that it was broken, but I don't feel sorry for what I did.

"No one ever sent me an apology note when I was hurt. Two years ago against Cleveland, Sean Jones hurt my knee with what I thought was a bad hit. Last year, [San Francisco's] Patrick Willis hit me directly on my knee. No one felt sorry for me ...

"I'm a 200-pound wide receiver. [Rivers] is a first-round linebacker out of USC. If I were him, I wouldn't want people talking about me being blocked like that. I'd be embarrassed about it."

Lost in the controversy surrounding Ward's big hit and fines is the fact he's having another superb season. He caught his fifth touchdown pass in the 38-10 victory against the Bengals, taking a cheap hit from safety Dexter Jackson long after he scored. Ward bounced up and grinned in Jackson's face as the officials called Jackson for a personal foul. "I knew that hit was coming," Ward said, shrugging.

Ward didn't take it personally.

"I hardly ever allow it to become personal," he said. "I can only think of one or two times in my career when I lost my cool and allowed it to be personal. I caught a touchdown pass in Seattle and spiked the ball in front of [Ken] Lucas. He had been grabbing me and talking all game. That was personal. After I hit [Earl] Little in Cleveland [in 2001], I stood over him because he called me a 'Chinaman [bleep]' a few plays earlier. I said to him, 'How do you like that from a Chinaman [bleep]?' I know I shouldn't have done it and I deserved that fine.

"But these fines this year? I didn't do anything wrong. I just played football."

And if the opponents disagree?

"If I'm in their head and they're worried about me, I figure I've won already," Ward said.

In the game against the Ravens last season when Ward drilled Scott, he also sent All-Pro safety Ed Reed flying with a block. "The next few plays, all he cared about was getting back at me," Ward said. "He didn't care about his responsibilities. That's not helping his team. That's helping my team."

I'm thinking Ward will be ready for the Giants' best shots Sunday and the Washington Redskins' the next week and the Bengals', Ravens' and Browns' down the road.

Certainly, they had better be ready for his best.

"I'm not going to allow this silly [stuff] to change the way I play," Ward said.

Nor should he.

Tomlin's point is worth repeating one more time:

Hines plays the game the way it's supposed to be played ...

Ron Cook can be reached at rcook@post-gazette.com.
First published on October 21, 2008 at 12:00 am

Moore still attractive as Parker returns

Tuesday, October 21, 2008
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/


CINCINNATI - OCTOBER 19: Mewelde Moore #21 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on October 19, 2008 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Rookie Rashard Mendenhall joined Willie Parker in the backfield this year to supposedly give the Steelers the best one-two punch at running back they've had in years.

They were to be No. 1 and 1-A. Coordinator Bruce Arians even talked about teaming them to form a "pony" backfield on occasion.

Everyone, even the coaching staff, forgot about the exercise pony, or their three-four punch, Mewelde Moore.

Moore was signed as an unrestricted free agent from the Minnesota Vikings two days after free agency began to take over as the Steelers' third-down back. He seemed perfect for the job, better than they have had in the past because he not only could block, he was a threat to run and catch passes as well.

"He has things that are potentially attractive to us," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said on the day they signed him to a three-year contract for $4.95 million that included a $1.35 million signing bonus.

Then the season began, and Moore became a forgotten man. They hardly used him, other than as a returner. He had one carry in the first four games and no receptions.

The Steelers then took a one-two-three punch to their backfield. First, Parker left with a sprained left MCL Sept. 21 in Philadelphia. Baltimore's Ray Lewis knocked Mendenhall out of the season for good Sept. 29 with a fractured shoulder. Fullback/halfback Carey Davis, who was getting more third-down action than Moore, followed that game against the Ravens with a sprained ankle and has yet to return.

The Steelers coaches, with little choice, turned to Moore and he helped them win not one, not two, but three games. His latest came in spectacular fashion when he ran 20 times for 120 yards, caught five passes and scored three touchdowns in a 38-10 victory at Cincinnati Sunday.

To put it in perspective, Parker scored two touchdowns the entire 2007 season and it took him 47 starts before he scored three in one game, in the opener this season.

Let there be no doubt, when Parker fully heals he will return to start, perhaps Sunday against the Super Bowl champion New York Giants. But Moore has added one big punch to the Steelers' offense and has guaranteed himself a prominent spot even when Parker returns.

"He's become the locker-room favorite and we make no bones about why we feel the way we do about each other," Tomlin said after presenting Moore with a game ball Sunday. "It's based on deeds. This guy is delivering time and time again with his legs, with his hands. He's just doing a nice job. He's a pro; he prepares himself. He's doing a nice job for us."

The Steelers likely would have lost at least two of their past three games without him. Moore caught three passes against Baltimore -- one for 24 yards on third down to keep the Steelers' winning drive going, and a little later another on third down for 7 yards to put Jeff Reed in position to kick a 46-yard field goal for a 23-20 victory.

Moore made his first start for them and ran 17 times for 99 yards in a 26-21 victory in Jacksonville. Sunday, he virtually played every down as the starting halfback and third-down back until Gary Russell mopped up late with the game well in hand.

Moore has 238 yards rushing and a 5.2-yard average with 11 receptions, all but one carry for 6 yards over the past three games.

"In this league, it is one of those things that is tremendous to be able to run the football, pass the football, have halfbacks catching the ball out of the backfield and also have wide receivers with the ball in their hands on reverses and screens," Moore said. "What it boils down to is having a lot of guys on your team that can make plays and are hungry to make plays and want the ball in their hands."

That describes him perfectly, and it's not as if he never performed. At 5 feet 11, 209 pounds, Moore, 26, weighs the same as Parker and stands an inch taller. He topped 100 yards rushing four times with the Vikings, who drafted him in the fourth round in 2004, after he became only the second player in NCAA history to rush for 4,000 yards and have 2,000 yards receiving, at Tulane.

"Willie Parker goes down, Mendenhall is out for the year, and he steps in and does everything we asked him to do," Hines Ward said. "He's run the ball well, and that's all you can ask of the guy. When guys go down, other guys need to step up, and that's exactly what he's done for us."

Ed Bouchette can be reached at ebouchette@post-gazette.com.
First published on October 21, 2008 at 12:00 am

Monday, October 20, 2008

Steelers lucky they were playing Bengals

It was hardly a stellar performance

Monday, October 20, 2008
By Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/


Peter Diana / Post-Gazette

James Harrison sacks Bengals quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the first half.

CINCINNATI -- Watching the fitful operation of Bruce Arians' offense across three quarters of shaggy football yesterday, you wouldn't have suspected the Steelers under the direction of Ben Roethlisberger had any aptitude for something as precise as, you know, timing or anything.

But the reality is that this fifth Steelers win of 2008 was essentially an indecorous little monument to that very thing.

There is no better illustration of good timing than putting the three worst quarters of conceptual offense this season on stage against the perfectly awful backdrop that is the Cincinnati Bengals. Winless and virtually skill-less, the Bengals still kept the Steelers well within range all the way into the fourth quarter, making the thousands and thousands of Steelers fans in Paul Brown Stadium wonder what might have happened to Mike Tomlin's fellas had they been matched against a pro team.

"It's not what professional football is all about," was the way Bengals coach Marvin Lewis chose to characterize this mismatch.

No, what this was about was the Steelers dickering for two and half hours over how to take the Bengals apart, then hitting on a couple of big plays and a turnover in the fourth quarter to gallop off, 38-10.

"We killed ourselves in the first half; I called a bad game," said Roethlisberger, who pitched a bad game as well until very late. "I told [offensive coordinator] Bruce [Arians], now I know what it feels like to do that. He told me I did. I should have just stuck to what I saw a lot of times rather than trying to force things. I really felt that we could have had 28, 30 points at halftime."

That's only because they should have.


CINCINNATI - OCTOBER 19: Mewelde Moore runs with the ball during the NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on October 19, 2008 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Instead they ran three consecutive pass plays on first-and-goal from the 3 (settling for a field goal), threw a swing pass to Mewelde Moore on third-and-2 from the Bengals' 44 that Moore fumbled out of bounds well short of the sticks, and pretty much seemed intent on not allowing Moore to take over the game for them until it was almost too late.

"We left a few scoring opportunities out there in the first half, we messed up a third-and-1, we just barely moved ourselves out of field-goal range with a few penalties," Tomlin noted without apparent alarm. "I think any judging at this point is putting a mental ceiling on what we're capable of."

Funny, for most of this winning afternoon, his offense was a lot closer to the floor than the old mental ceiling. It's immensely evident as the most difficult stretch of schedule begins that the Steelers' injuries are precluding the total development of any clear offensive profile.

"We haven't developed our full personality," said center Justin Hartwig, whose linemates managed to keep Roethlisberger vertical all day.
"Sometimes we sputter. It's my first year at center and I've got a lot of responsibility, and there are going to be some errors here or there. But we're getting into the hard part of the schedule so we need to start peaking."

Fortunately for the Steelers, while the offense was shooting itself in the foot, as Tomlin described the first half, the Bengals were shooting themselves in the head. The NFL's worst offense started with five three-and-outs, one of which ended in a punt that went virtually straight up, not even reaching the first down marker.

The Steelers refused to capitalize, settling for a 10-7 halftime lead and a flimsy 17-10 cushion entering the fourth quarter, by which point it appeared the Steelers were content just to bore them to death.

Pittsburgh Steelers fans celebrate after the Steelers defeated the Cincinnati Bengals 38-10 in an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 19, 2008, in Cincinnati.(AP)

Had it not been for the first of Lawrence Timmons' two sacks -- this one coming with the Bengals facing third-and-10 from their 37 with 12 minutes remaining, Cincinnati might even have used a semblance of momentum to launch a tying drive.

"When you're in the football game and you've got the football across midfield down by a touchdown, you've got an opportunity there," Lewis said. "We didn't get the thing done. I'm angry. It's not good."

Instead, five plays later, Roethlisberger found Nate Washington streaking behind emergency roster addition Geoffrey Pope for 50 yards and a touchdown.

"I thought, 'He can't be that open,'" Roethlisberger said. "Willie Colon pushed the defensive end right by me and I just let it go."

Timmons' second sack aborted Cincinnati's next possession, and Roethlisberger went deep again immediately, this time to Hines Ward, who was interfered with by beaten corner Jonathan Joseph at the 14. Moore scored from 2 yards out three plays later to make the swelling arithmetic look more appealing than it was.

Though it was as plain as the black and gold facepaint throughout the stands yesterday that the Steelers will need to be a world more focused and accomplished on offense to deal with the defending Super Bowl Giants Sunday, Arians said it's not a matter of fully developing their offensive personality.

"This is the personality, that whoever we put in there is a starter, no matter that we're without [Willie] Parker, without Marvel Smith, everybody's a starter and everybody is finding their roles," said the OC. "The quarterback missed a couple of throws he usually doesn't in the first half, but I'll tell you, there wasn't a blink at halftime. You knew 7 was going to do it. It's obviously we're going to sink or swim with him, and we're going to swim."

They swam well enough yesterday, but it was good the Bengals were around to show 'em that doggy paddle.

Gene Collier can be reached at gcollier@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1283. More articles by this author
First published on October 20, 2008 at 12:00 am

JV season ends for the Steelers

Monday, October 20, 2008
By Bob Smizik, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/


Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

Steelers running back Mewelde Moore scores on a two-yard touchdown pass against the Bengals in the first half yesterday in Cincinnati.


CINCINNATI -- The Steelers completed the junior varsity portion of their schedule yesterday with a flexing of their defensive and offensive muscles that led to a walloping of the woebegone Cincinnati Bengals.

After a 38-10 win, they walked out of Paul Brown Stadium with a 5-1 record, a two-game lead in the AFC North Division and are ready to begin the serious portion of the season.

Other than a brief lack of focus in the first half when they allowed the Bengals to get where they never should have been -- back in the game -- the Steelers have shown they are the masters of the downtrodden.

They have done exactly what good teams are supposed to do: beat up on the weaklings. The five teams the Steelers have defeated -- Cleveland, Houston, Baltimore, Jacksonville and the Bengals -- were a combined 8-19 going into yesterday's games and none has a winning record.

Beginning Sunday at Heinz Field, against the Super Bowl champion New York Giants, comes the hard part. That's when the Steelers will have to start doing what the really good teams do and beat other really good teams.

The schedule that many believed would do in the Steelers this season is hard upon them. In some cases, New England, Indianapolis and San Diego, it's not as difficult as expected. In others, the Giants and Tennessee Titans, it's more difficult. In any event, it will present a significantly better set of opponents than they have been playing.

CINCINNATI - OCTOBER 19: Lawrence Timmons #94 of the Pittsburgh Steelers sacks Ryan Fitzpatrick #11 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the NFL game at Paul Brown Stadium on October 19, 2008 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

The seven opponents the Steelers will face for the first time, along with repeats of the Browns, Ravens and Bengals, in the final 10 games were 26-12 before yesterday. It's a meat grinder with no weeks off, although the repeat with the hapless Bengals (0-7) serves almost as a second open date.

Immediately ahead are the Giants, Washington Redskins and Colts. If the Steelers came away with three losses in those games, some people might be surprised, but no one would be astonished.

There actually were some critical moments yesterday. "A play here, a play there and that game could have gone the other way," said Hines Ward, who caught four passes for 60 yards and a touchdown. That might have been a bit of an exaggeration, but two sacks of Cincinnati quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick -- one by James Harrison for 14 yards on the first possession of the second half and one of 6 yards by Lawrence Timmons early in the fourth quarter with the Steelers ahead by only 10 -- were highly pivotal.

So was a massive brain cramp by offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who went pass-happy early in the game against a Cincinnati defense that invites the run. On a first-and-goal from the 3 with the Steelers leading, 7-0, Arians called three consecutive passes, all of which fell incomplete. The Steelers had to settle for a field goal and a temporary loss of momentum. That pause allowed the Bengals -- after five consecutive three and outs -- to get some rhythm and score a touchdown that produced a 10-7 halftime score.

It was 17-10 late in the third quarter before the Steelers scored the final 21 points of the game.

Based on how they played for most of the game, the Steelers are ready for the upper-crust opposition, although coach Mike Tomlin looks no further than the Giants.

"We'll see everybody," he said, "but we'll only see them one at a time once a week. That's the way we approach it."

It's a healthy way -- the only way -- although the players can't help but notice that change in caliber of the opposition.

"We swept the first part of our division [3-0]," Ward said. "That's what it's all about. The season is still long, though. It's great to be 5-1 because we've got a tough stretch of games coming up and it's going to tell a lot about our team."


Pittsburgh Steelers receiver Nate Washington celebrates after scoring on a 50-yard pass reception in the second half of an NFL football game against the Cincinnati Bengals, Sunday, Oct. 19, 2008, in Cincinnati. Pittsburgh won the game 38-10.(AP)

It will tell everything about the Steelers, who faltered down the stretch last season against good competition, losing three of their final four.

Their good start will hold the Steelers in good stead. Even if they only play .500 the remainder of the way, that would leave them 10-6 and the almost certain division winner.

The 5-1 start has been achieved despite significant injuries. There were three offensive starters -- Willie Parker, Marvel Smith and Carey Davis -- and one defensive starter -- Casey Hampton -- out of the lineup yesterday.
They also played part of the game without cornerback Bryant McFadden, who's having a strong season after replacing Deshea Townsend. McFadden injured his arm.

At full strength the Steelers could be something special. Against the caliber of upcoming opponents that's what they'll have to be.

Bob Smizik can be reached at bsmizik@post-gazette.com. More articles by this author
First published on October 20, 2008 at 12:00 am

Steelers brush aside inferior opponent

By John Harris
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/steelers/
Monday, October 20, 2008


CINCINNATI - OCTOBER 19: Mewelde Moore runs with the ball during the NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on October 19, 2008 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Oh, it would have been so easy for the Steelers to mail this one in.

So simple to offers alibis for injuries to starters Willie Parker, Marvel Smith, Kendall Simmons and Casey Hampton.

So understandable to overlook the Cincinnati Bengals.

Questions, questions.

Are the Bengals really that bad? Did the poor caliber of Sunday's opponent threaten to distract the Steelers?

No, the Bengals aren't as bad as their 0-7 record would indicate following a 38-10 whipping administered by the Steelers on a beautiful afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium. They're far worse. This team could go 0-16.

Thankfully, the 5-1 Steelers didn't sink to the Bengals' level, although you probably couldn't blame the players for at least entertaining the thought.

"We know in the NFL you have these type of games -- when a team is going good and a team is doing bad -- sometimes it's a trap," said Steelers inside linebacker James Farrior, who produced a game-high 11 tackles and a sack. "But we have a lot of veteran guys around this locker room that know how to not let stuff like that set in. Any team can beat you any game, so you definitely always have to pay attention."


CINCINNATI - OCTOBER 19: James Harrison #92 of the Pittsburgh Steelers sacks Ryan Fitzpatrick #11 of the Cincinnati Bengals during the NFL game at Paul Brown Stadium on October 19, 2008 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Of course, Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis probably didn't help matters when he deferred the opening kickoff and gave the ball to the Steelers. If Lewis didn't trust his offense in the hands of backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, why should the Steelers respect, much less fear, the winless, hapless Bengals?

Good for the Steelers. They maintained their focus and beat the stuffing out of what used to be a pretty good football team.

"The game was typical for us coming out of the bye (week) with the quality of execution early on," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "The positive thing was we played hard and we played fast, just not with the quality of execution. We also had a little rust. The guys didn't blink, and they continued."

The Bengals are a bad football team. So what? What would you be saying today if the Steelers had stunk it up against the Bengals? Lousy bums wouldn't be the half of it.

The 28-point shellacking on the road against an AFC North opponent was another testament to what has made the Steelers so good for so long.

A week-to-week commitment to excellence is what drives this team.

With Parker sidelined by a knee injury, Mewelde Moore stepped up with a 120-yard, three-touchdown performance yesterday.


CINCINNATI - OCTOBER 19: Ben Roethlisberger throws a pass during the NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on October 19, 2008 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

"We just gave him a game ball," Tomlin of Moore, who rushed for 99 yards in his first start in Parker's absence against Jacksonville two weeks ago. "This guy is delivering time and time again with his legs, with his hands."

With Smith sitting out because of back spasams, Max Starks made his first start of the season and the offensive line doesn't allow a sack for the first time in 2008.

"Max Starks stepped in at left tackle and, based on how we moved the ball and protected, I can say he did a good job," Tomlin said.

Moving right along, the less said about yesterday's big Steelers win, the better.

What's done is done.

It was great while it lasted, but the Steelers can't permit their latest performance to linger.

There are bigger tests ahead, starting next Sunday against the Super Bowl champion New York Giants at Heinz Field. Make no mistake, the Bengals were the warm-up act for the Giants.

John Harris is a sports writer for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at jharris@tribweb.com or 412-481-5432.

Ward proves he'll pay the price

By Mike Prisuta
PITTSBURGH TRIBUNE-REVIEW
http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/sports/
Monday, October 20, 2008


CINCINNATI - OCTOBER 19: Hines Ward celebrates after scoring a touchdown during the NFL game against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on October 19, 2008 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

Hines Ward was defiant after establishing beyond the shadow of a doubt that he's still Hines Ward.

"I didn't do anything illegal," Ward said repeatedly after the Steelers' 38-10 trouncing of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Ward was referring to the block that broke linebacker Keith Rivers' jaw. It occurred on the fourth offensive snap of the game and it absolutely rocked Paul Brown Stadium, as well as Rivers.
Ward lined up his target and delivered the type of block for which he has become infamous, this time in support of tight end Matt Spaeth.

Rivers left the game and "will probably be lost for the year," Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said.

Ward celebrated the play with his trademark gusto, knowing full well that his effort might result in another letter from the NFL fining him for unnecessary roughness.

He was docked $5,000 after the Steelers' Sept. 29 victory over the Baltimore Ravens and $10,000 after the Steelers' Oct. 5 victory over Jacksonville.

He wasn't penalized for unnecessary roughness in either of those games and wasn't for his hit on Rivers.

Still, Ward felt compelled to deliver what amounted to an opening statement for the defense after his latest kill shot.

"I didn't do anything illegal," Ward said. "After I hit him, I just kept running down the sideline. It's no different than somebody getting a sack and putting their hand up and being excited because they hit somebody. If they fine me, I don't now. I didn't get a flag on that one, either. The way things have been going, I might get another fine, I don't know.

"I'm just going to continue playing. I'm not doing anything illegal. It was a clean hit on the guy. I wasn't taunting him. I just got excited and ran down our sideline. If that's a fine, you can fine everybody in this league after they make a great play."

Perhaps the Steelers can arrange some sort of slush fund to cover the cost of Ward doing business.

It was unlikely that Ward would have been deterred from playing his game by the NFL's disapproval of such physicality.

Still, it had to be reassuring to Steelers fans -- and there were thousands first-hand witnesses Sunday afternoon -- to see Ward and his teammates undaunted and still at their relentless best.

The Bengals weren't happy about it.

"Too bad he can't hit someone face up," safety Chinedum Ndukwe said. "It's too bad he has to wait until he's not looking to get him.

"It's unfortunate that's the type of guy he is."

Ward didn't much care about that, either.

"The defense kept saying, 'We're going to hit you,'" Ward said. "Well, I know you guys are going to hit me. I'm not going to wait around until you hit me. I'd be stupid to wait around for one of those guys. I was just playing hard. He had a helmet on. It was a clean hit. I didn't get penalized for it.

"I'm not going to change the way I play this game. The way I play this game, it brings an attitude to our team, it gets us going. I'm not going to change my style of play."

Any questions?

Mike Prisuta is a columnist for the Tribune-Review. He can be reached at mprisuta@tribweb.com or 412-320-7923.

Terrible Towels, losses

Steelers, their fans show Bengals how it can be

By Paul Daugherty
Cincinnati Enquirer
http://news.cincinnati.com/
October 20, 2008


The Enquirer/Jeff Swinger

Bengals fans could only show their disappointment as the Steelers fans celebrated a fourth-quarter touchdown.


Nobody wearing a POLAMALU jersey had to worry about getting his face smashed in. The black-and-gold-clad visiting home crowd twirled its Terrible Towels for three hours, shooting a figurative middle finger at the Bengals fans, as they have the last eight times their team has played at Paul Brown Stadium, all Pittsburgh wins. It's disgusting, really, but what else is new?

The Steelers beat Mike Brown's Cincinnati Bengals 38-10. The game was more competitive than that, if it matters. Right now, good teams can beat the Bengals by applying themselves for a couple quarters. In the Steelers' case, it was the first and last.

"For whatever reason, we just seemed to dissolve,'' said Marvin Lewis, describing an Alka Seltzer tablet, if not a football team. The Bengals coach, bless him, continues to shovel the motivational coal and chop the wood of positive reinforcement. He seems at the end of his rope. "I'm angry,'' said the coach, whose team now has lost 19 of its last 26, with no end in sight.

Who could blame him?

Ohhhhhhh-and-seven is here. If the Cincinnati Bengals can't create a win in Houston next week, oh-and-15 isn't an impossibility. They'll play the Kansas City Chiefs here, three days after Christmas. Ho-ho-hum.

With Carson Palmer, the Bengals were marginally competitive. Without him, they're a hiker waiting on an avalanche. And yet, with about eight minutes left Sunday, they trailed just 17-10. Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was having an off day. Cincinnati backup Ryan Fitzpatrick had authored one beautiful drive: 92 yards, 14 plays, 9-for-10 passing, Bengals down just 10-7 at halftime.

Yet there is something in a losing team's DNA that makes seven points behind seem like 700. Early in the fourth quarter, Fitzpatrick took a sack on third-and-10 from Pittsburgh's 37. Lewis saw that as a melting point. "We take the sack there and we never recover,'' he said.


The Enquirer/Jeff Swinger

Bengals quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is rushed by the Steelers linebacker Lawrence Timmons.


As much as the defense has been praised, it has never been stout when stout was mandatory: At the New York Giants, against Cleveland, at Dallas, at the New York Jets and again Sunday.

After the sack, Roethlisberger threw 50 yards to Nate Washington, who was three steps behind cornerback Geoffrey Pope, an undrafted kid just signed off the practice squad. That made it 24-10. You could see the quasi-home team's shoulders sink, collectively.

Lewis has done a good job keeping his team's heart in the season. He has done a good job convincing young players of their worth. Playing hard means nothing in the NFL. That said, unselfishness is the first casualty when a team is sinking like this one.

But Lewis can't be inside every player's head, every play. He's a coach, not a therapist. The Bengals lose so much, they think losing is what they should do. It's self-perpetuating.

Plus, they don't have a lot of good players.

The dead horse has been flogged until its bones are ready for the soup pot. Needed: One general manager, four or five scouts. No coach is so good he can overcome a lack of players, week after month after year. Chances of that happening: Same as Mike Brown wearing nylons and doing a turn as a Rockette.

God only knows what inspires a man to hold a town and a franchise hostage to his leather-helmet way of doing things. But, knock, knock, Redeemer: It doesn't work.


The Enquirer/Amanda Davidson

Steelers running back Mewelde Moore (21) scores his third touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter.


The Steelers and their fans show the Bengals and theirs how it can be, when enough smart people are hired and allowed to do good work. When ownership simply owns, coaches and personnel people have a chance at enduring success. That's how it works in Pittsburgh. In Cincinnati, everyone ends up staring into the middle distance and saying, as Marvin Lewis did Sunday, "It's not what professional football is all about.''

Pittsburgh fans have enjoyed winning football for 30 years. They know what it's like to have their passion rewarded. That's why the black and gold hordes are here every year, buying Bengal Fan's tickets. It's almost always worth the trip.

E-mail pdaugherty@enquirer.com

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Crosby reaches 3 milestones in 4-1 victory against Toronto

Sunday, October 19, 2008
By Dave Molinari, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/


Matt Freed/Post-Gazette

Sidney Crosby, left, is congratulated by teammate Evgeni Malkin after scoring his 100th career goal in the third period last night at Mellon Arena.


Sidney Crosby had four points in the Penguins' first five games.

Nice pace for your average mortal in the National Hockey League.

Nowhere near what the guy many regard as the finest player in the world expects from himself.

Crosby, though, went a long way toward making up his offensive shortfall last night, scoring one goal -- his first of the season and 100th in the NHL -- and setting up three others in the Penguins' 4-1 victory against Toronto at Mellon Arena.

"I don't expect four-point nights, but I definitely wanted to score [in previous games]," Crosby said. "I thought I was doing some good things, and the puck just wasn't going in."

It did last night on his only shot of the game, and Crosby helped to make three other goals possible. Evgeni Malkin, his new/old linemate, matched Crosby's point total by assisting on all four goals.

Throw in the goal linemate Pascal Dupuis contributed, and the reconfigured No. 1 line accounted for nine points, enough to qualify coach Michel Therrien's personnel moves a day earlier as an unabashed success.

"They had a great game, that line," Therrien said. "They responded exactly the way I was expecting."

In addition to his 100th goal, Crosby recorded his 200th assist and 300th point. Coincidentally enough, Malkin's assist on Crosby's goal was his 200th point.

And while it's unlikely that they'll still be linemates when the next batch of milestones comes along, Crosby and Malkin, along with Dupuis, certainly satisfied the mandate Therrien gave them Friday.

"Mike said, 'Score. I need wins. Score,'" Malkin said.

The victory was the first in regulation this season for the Penguins (3-2-1), and completed a 2-1-1 homestand. They will play in Boston tomorrow and are on the road for five of their next six games.

Fox Chapel native Bill Thomas played his first game at Mellon Arena as a member of the Penguins.

He work on the fourth line and logged four minutes, 53 seconds of ice time, 2:06 of it killing penalties.

"It was incredible," he said.


Matt Freed/Post-Gazette

Evgeni Malkin's hard work paid off in the form of four assists last night in the Penguins' 4-1 victory against Toronto.


The one snag: Thomas didn't find out he was in the lineup until he was ready to go out for the pregame warmup, and thus didn't have a chance to notify friends and family that he was playing. Tough break, considering that his parents, who had come to the previous three games, gave their tickets to friends last night.

"But I know they watched," Thomas said.

If so, his parents saw Nik Antropov give the Maple Leafs a 1-0 lead with a power-play goal at 14:25 of the opening period as he rapped a rebound past goalie Marc-Andre Fleury. It proved to be the only one of 27 Toronto shots that eluded Fleury.

"Fleury was sharp," Therrien said.

Dupuis countered Antropov's goal at 15:16, when a Crosby centering pass caromed to him in front of the net, and he threw a backhander behind Toronto goalie Curtis Joseph.

The Penguins moved in front to stay a few minutes later, as Miroslav Satan, stationed near the front edge of the crease, steered in a Crosby feed from the right side during a power play at 7:55.

It was his third of the season and second in the past two games, another encouraging sign for the Penguins' offense.

"He's always in a good position to score goals," Therrien said.

Crosby's assist on Satan's goal was his 300th point, and he hit another milestone at 12:15 of the third when, from behind the goal line, he banked a backhand centering pass off Toronto's Mikhail Grabovski, who was sliding into the Maple Leafs' net when the puck caromed off him.

"Sometimes, you need a lucky one like that," Crosby said. "It was definitely welcome."

So was Petr Sykora's first of the season at 13:36, as he steered a Crosby pass by Joseph to close out the scoring and help Crosby to double his point total for the season in a single night.

"I told [Crosby] when he got his fourth point, 'Hey, what a slump there, buddy,' " Dupuis said.

If Crosby was, in fact, in one, it's over. So is the disturbing run of games in which the Penguins were unable to protect a lead.

"We know it's going to be a process," Therrien said. "And we know that we're going to get better."

First published on October 19, 2008 at 12:00 am

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Linebacker duo could set Steelers record for sacks

Saturday, October 18, 2008
By Gerry Dulac, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/sports/


Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

LaMarr Woodley picks up fumble from a sack and scores against the Ravens at Heinz Field in September.


The Steelers already have the top sack tandem in the National Football League with outside linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.

It might not be too long before they boast the top linebacker sack tandem in their history -- especially if the sacks keep piling up at the current pace.

And that, on a franchise that can tout some of the top linebackers in league history, is saying plenty.

"When you have two of 'em like that, you've got to make a decision, you've got to decide which one you want to block," said inside linebacker James Farrior. "Then, when they pick, that's where you've got 'em."

"They can't game-plan one guy because we have good backers on each side," defensive end Brett Keisel said.

Harrison, second in the NFL with 61/2, and Woodley (51/2) have combined for 12 sacks in five games, making them the No. 1 duo in the league, regardless of position. The closest tandems are outside linebacker DeMarcus Ware and nose tackle Jay Ratliff of the Dallas Cowboys (9) and defensive tackle Kevin Williams and defensive end Jared Allen of the Minnesota Vikings (9).

It's the main reason the Steelers, who had 36 sacks last season, are tied for first in the AFC, second in the NFL, with 18 sacks -- already halfway to their 2007 total.

But Harrison and Woodley also are setting another heady pace.

They are already halfway to the franchise record for sacks in a season by a linebacker duo (24) -- set by Kevin Greene and Greg Lloyd in 1994 and tied by Jason Gildon and Joey Porter in 2000.

"I look at both of them and they're both doing the same things right now," Farrior said.

Exactly.

If they're not sacking the quarterback, then Harrison and Woodley are, at the very least, performing their other function: pressuring the quarterback.

Woodley is tied for the team lead with defensive end Aaron Smith with eight quarterback hurries. Harrison is second with 6.

What's more, Woodley is coming off his best all-around game with the Steelers, getting two sacks and playing solid against the run and pass in the 26-21 victory in Jacksonville.

"If he continues to work hard and put his foot on the pedal, the sky's the limit for that kid," right tackle Willie Colon said. "You'll have two All-Pro linebackers."

The Cincinnati Bengals (0-6), whom the Steelers (4-1) visit tomorrow in Paul Brown Stadium, have a pair of solid offensive tackles in Levi Brown and Stacy Andrews. They will need them to contain the league's most productive linebacker duo.

"If you can get those guys one-on-one with a tight end or running back, we expect them to win that battle every time," Keisel said. "If Aaron and I can create pressure inside, or the other guys, where they have to check down two guys on us, it makes it that much easier for [Harrison and Woodley] to get one-on-one pressure."

So far, none of this is surprising.

Harrison was voted to the Pro Bowl in his first year as a starter after registering 81/2 sacks in 2007. Woodley, a No. 2 pick last year, played sparingly as a rookie, but he had four sacks in 80 snaps during the regular season and two more in a playoff defeat to the Jaguars.

As he plays more, his comfort level grows. So does his sack total.

"We still have to understand it's only his second year," said inside linebacker Larry Foote. "But he's on the right road."

More sacks could be coming against the Bengals, who have allowed 19 in six games, second most in the AFC with the Steelers.

"Once I started getting a lot of reps, some of the things became easy, became natural," said Woodley, a defensive end at Michigan who won the Lombardi Award as the nation's top lineman in 2007.

"At defensive end [in college], I didn't have a chance to rush [like an] outside linebacker or drop into coverage. Once I started getting reps, it became a lot smoother."

First published on October 18, 2008 at 12:07 am

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Once upon a time in Forbes Field, a ball cleared a wall

That story repeats each fall

Tuesday, October 14, 2008
By Brian O'Neill, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
http://www.post-gazette.com/


Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette

Best seat in the house: Eleanor Taylor (right) was 8 months pregnant with her daughter Tracey (left) on that great baseball day, Oct. 13, 1960. They were among the many who gathered yesterday in Oakland to commemorate Mazeroski's World Series-winning home run.


It happened yesterday afternoon, as it does every Oct. 13 at almost exactly the same time. Bill Mazeroski led off the ninth inning with a home run and a raucous crowd of Pirates die-hards erupted rapturously.

There are no turnstiles at the remnants of Forbes Field's brick center field wall, and so no accurate crowd count. Call it 300 or 400 fans. They came to listen to every pitch of the deciding seventh game of the 1960 World Series because they wanted to relive a 48-year-old memory some were too young to have even had.

Saul Finkelstein began this tradition in 1985, "just a man who decided to eat his lunch one day at the wall" and listen to his favorite game once more. Herb Soltman, a member of the Game 7 Gang, was telling that story, remembering how he heard about the tradition on Doug Hoerth's radio program in October 1992 or '93, and popped a U-ey on Freeport Road around Fox Chapel to speed down and join the dozens who brought lawn chairs and beer coolers for this cherished rite of autumn.

A handful of former Pirates -- Dick Groat, Elroy Face, Bob Friend, Nellie King, Frank Thomas and Dave Giusti -- were there, and old baseball stories were told well. But this was a day for fans, not players, and youthful stories passed back and forth on a day as perfectly sunny as the one back when.



Eleanor Taylor was 19 and eight months pregnant with her first child in October 1960, parking cars in her mother-in-law's backyard on Parkview Avenue. That was practically Forbes Field's backyard, too. You could squeeze in as many as five cars if you did it right, and with World Series fans paying something like $3 or $5 per car, it was a nice little payday.

The baby girl born about six weeks later, now Tracey Taylor Perles, brought her mom and dad, Ron, back to the wall yesterday. For Ms. Perles and her dad, this was their second "Wall Day," but her mom had never been and they were all joking that Mom had cried only three or four times before the first replayed pitch was thrown.

Mrs. Taylor is a retired teacher, having put in 23 years at Brookline Elementary. She's also a grandmother of five.

But, for a few hours, she could be a teenager again, remembering the thrill of her father-in-law driving her and her husband Downtown for a celebration that Pittsburgh still hasn't topped.



Dick Jones of Ross was a ninth-grade student at North Catholic and, the night before the game, he practiced a kind of espionage. He hid a transistor radio under his shirt and threaded an earpiece through his sleeve, hiding it by holding his head up with his palm against that ear.

"It looked beautiful in the mirror," he said.

All went well until Latin class when he was startled to have classmates muttering that he was being called to the blackboard. As he stood before the board, his plan literally fell apart. Brother Verbasey asked him what was hanging from his sleeve.

When told it was a radio, Brother Verbasey ordered him to put in on the desk. "Turn it up so we all can hear," he said.

Michael Henninger/Post-Gazette

Baseball fans cheer while listening to a replay of Bill Mazeroski's ninth-inning, game-winning home run during the annual celebration of the Pirates' 1960 World Series victory over the New York Yankees yesterday along Roberto Clemente Drive in Oakland.




Nick DeMao of New Kensington had lugged over what he claimed had been first base in the big game. If you didn't believe the well-worn canvas was genuine, he also had a framed front page from the New Kensington Daily Dispatch in October 1960 detailing how his dad, Alex DeMao, had grabbed the base and carried it off in the post-game celebration. So there.



The Pirates have lost for 16 consecutive seasons, and the man hired last year to right the ship, team President Frank Coonelly, was walking among the crowd, thinking not of what was, but of what might be.

"It reaffirms for me the passion this town has for the Pirates and the passion that is waiting to be tapped again."

The Pirates of the 1950s were woeful, losing for nine consecutive seasons starting in 1949, but "they started to show life in 1958," Mr. Coonelly said. Two years later they won the Series.



The Pirates won two Series in the 1970s. So why is this one held in such esteem? Maybe it's because the Pirates beat the Yankees, or because they'd gone 35 years between Series championships, because the ending was so memorable, or the celebrations so innocent and instantaneous, or because Pittsburgh was still a big city then.

Whatever. Nita Cullison of Scott was thinking out loud that a statue of Maz hitting the homer should be erected in time for the 50-year celebration in 2010. Not at PNC Park, but right there.

"It just sort of seems like it would fit out here, don't you think?"


Brian O'Neill can be reached at boneill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1947.
First published on October 14, 2008 at 12:00 am