Sunday, October 31, 2010

Even Polamalu worries he'll be injured

Sunday, October 31, 2010
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Can we agree on a few things this morning? Steelers safety Troy Polamalu is more athletic than you. He makes more money than you. He has more fame than you. He has better hair than you.

I know, the truth hurts.


But there is one thing you and Polamalu have in common.

"Of course, I worry about getting hurt -- every day and every game," he said.

You worry about him getting hurt, too.

That fear seems especially palpable as the 5-1 Steelers get ready to take on the New Orleans Saints tonight in what should be a throbbing Louisiana Superdome. That's because star defensive end Aaron Smith went down and out with a torn left triceps muscle in the win against the Miami Dolphins last Sunday and could be lost for the season. Injuries to Smith and Polamalu last season sabotaged the team's defense, its 6-2 start and its Super Bowl plans. The same thing can't happen again, right?

I mean, really?

Steelers safety Ryan Clark was the wrong guy to ask about that. He didn't even want to entertain that horrible thought. He was a free agent after last season and almost signed with the Dolphins. The biggest reason he came back to the Steelers was to do his part to make things right with a defense that blew five fourth-quarter leads last season. His No. 2 reason was to play again with Polamalu, his best friend on the team.

Clark hasn't been disappointed in any way. The Steelers' defense has allowed the fewest points in the NFL and is best against the run. As for Polamalu, who has 41 tackles and two interceptions ...

"I told him after the game last week that I couldn't imagine sitting on the Miami sideline, watching him play. That would have really stunk," Clark said.

"He's been playing great. Awesome. He's doing what he always does on the field. He's playing like Troy. But he's become much more of a leader. He's become more vocal. It's good for him and good for us."

The always humble Polamalu didn't use the words "great" and "awesome" to describe his play, saying only, "I'm playing 5-1 football." But he readily agreed about the best part of his season: He has stayed healthy, other than taking a nasty hit late in the Cleveland game Oct. 17 from Browns running back Peyton Hillis. His left knee -- everybody knock on wood -- is fine. "I don't think he's even missed a practice," Clark said.

It wasn't like that last season. Polamalu's knee was injured in the opening game against the Tennessee Titans, then re-injured against the Cincinnati Bengals Nov.15, forcing him to sit out the final seven games. It's hard to say whom the defense missed more -- Polamalu or Smith, who was lost for the season in the fifth game against the Detroit Lions because of a torn right rotator cuff. Without both, the defense was mediocre and the team missed the playoffs.

It's no surprise the Steelers' run defense this season was better with Smith, who's been described as "unblockable" by teammate Brett Keisel. It's realistic to expect a drop-off without him despite coach Mike Tomlin's "The standard is the standard" preaching.

The pass defense also has been better with Polamalu even if it doesn't show in the NFL statistics. The Steelers rank 24th in the league, an unflattering position that's a bit deceiving. For one thing, teams had to throw against them in the first six games because they couldn't run. For another, as Polamalu noted, "We've given up some pass plays late in games when we've been ahead." The defense blew a late 14-10 lead in the loss to Baltimore Oct. 3 when the Ravens scored the winning touchdown on a short field, but was stout in overtime in the win against the Atlanta Falcons and on the final drives of close wins against the Titans and Dolphins.

"We just can't give up big plays," Polamalu said. "And we have to play great red-zone defense. Every team is going to drive the ball on you. Every team has so much talent."

The Saints certainly have their share. You might have heard they won the Super Bowl last season, a championship that was supposed to be the Steelers' before Smith and Polamalu were hurt. Polamalu expects the Saints' best shot tonight after they were beaten at home by the Browns, 30-17, last Sunday. Quarterback Drew Brees threw four interceptions in the loss and has thrown eight in the past three games.

"You just can't wait to get back on the field," Brees said.

Polamalu will be there waiting, apprehensions and all.

"It's such a tough game on your body," he said. "But you can't really think about that. I just keep going out there because my passion to play for my teammates and sacrifice for them outweighs my fear of getting injured."

It's nice to know Polamalu has found something that works for him. But you? You're still going to have to watch him play and hold your breath.

Good luck with that.

Ron Cook: Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7

Read more:

Saturday, October 30, 2010

James Harrison blames NFL for "my least productive game"

Posted by Michael David Smith on October 28, 2010 11:36 AM ET

Steelers linebacker James Harrison drew praise from the league office this week for not committing any illegal hits in Sunday's game against the Dolphins. But Harrison says he had to sacrifice his performance to play the game the NFL wants him to play.

"That was my least productive game this year," Harrison told Josina Anderson on Inside the NFL. "We can still play the game, but it's not the same."

Inside the NFL showed multiple plays from the Steelers-Dolphins game when Harrison appeared to slow down and avoid contact, rather than accelerate and explode into a Dolphins player. Harrison said he was thinking about a suspension on those plays.

"If I shot in there I would have probably hit helmet to helmet, and I've already got one offense," Harrison said. "So I could probably be looking at a possible suspension."

But while Harrison seems to think that's a bad thing, the folks in the league office would say that Harrison is proving their point, and the increased emphasis on illegal hits has resulted in a repeat offender changing his playing style.

Harrison, who on Wednesday was credited with an interception that the official statistician had failed to record on Sunday, says he isn't worried about the long-term health implications of having so many head-first collisions on the field.

"To be honest with you, I'm not too concerned about it," Harrison said. "If that happens it's gonna suck, but hopefully I'll have made enough money and put in enough time that my kids don't have to worry about it. And if I've got to go through a little bit of hell so they don't have to, I'm fine with that."

That so many NFL players are unconcerned about their health after the game is exactly why the league says it has to protect players from each other, and from themselves.

Opportunity knocks for Steelers' Hood

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive ends Aaron Smith and Ziggy Hood celebrate a sack against the Cleveland Browns in the third quarter of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2010 in Pittsburgh. The Steelers won 28-10. (AP)

Veteran defensive end Aaron Smith once gave teammate Ziggy Hood some advice that should be helpful now that Hood will likely replace Smith in the starting lineup.

"Patience pays off," Hood said Wednesday, recalling Smith's words. "You study, you do everything you can. When your opportunity comes, take it."

Hood is expected to replace Smith at left end. Smith had surgery Monday to repair a partially torn tricep muscle in his left arm that he suffered during Sunday's 23-22 win at Miami. Smith will be out indefinitely but wasn't placed on injured reserve in hopes he will be available later this season.

Coach Mike Tomlin was evasive at his weekly news conference Tuesday when he indicated he will choose between Hood and Nick Eason, who started at right defensive end for Brett Keisel against the Dolphins. However, even if Keisel returns from a hamstring injury and plays against the New Orleans Saints in the Superdome on Halloween night, Hood said he will receive the nod over Eason as Smith's repalcement.

"If Brett goes down, Nick's starting. If Aaron goes down, I'm starting. That's just how it is, no matter what they say," Hood said before yesterday's practice.

"I really haven't practiced too much at right (end)," Hood said. "I wouldn't want to put myself in that situation where I'm not comfortable. I'd rather stay at left (end)."

Hood said he's finally recovered from a high ankle sprain he suffered against Tampa Bay in the third game of the season. The injury limited his first step off the ball.

"I was feeling a whole lot better in Miami," Hood said. "Your feet and hands make you your money."

Smith, one of the best defensive ends in football, has maintained a high level of play for years. Hood will likely step into the starting lineup as the Steelers' first defensive lineman drafted in the first round since Casey Hampton in 2001.

This season, Hood has two tackles, three quarterback pressures and one pass defended.

"I played a whole lot more than last year, got a lot more snaps," said Hood, who appeared in all 16 games as a rookie. "I feel a lot more comfortable. I've got to grow up and be a better player. Aaron's done it for years. While he's down, I've got to fill in. I won't be able to do the same job because that's Aaron Smith -- he's a great player. But if I can do at least half of what he does, I'll feel like I've done my job."

Hood said that he's excited he may have the chance to make his first NFL start.

"You dream about the chance," he said.

Keisel, who became a starter in his fifth season, said Hood will get his chance much sooner than previous Steelers defensive linemen.

"Ziggy's made a lot of strides," Keisel said. "People say your third year around here is when you really step into that next level. Ziggy has to do it in his second year. With the situation we were dealt last year (Hood receiving unexpected playing time due to Smith missing 11 games because of injury), that's only going to build his confidence."

Hood said he's more confident because he understands his role and how to prepare as a starter.

"Sometimes you sit in the meetings, you're not really focusing. Now you start (focusing) on every little thing," Hood said. "Aaron Smith hardly smiles in meetings. He goes in there focused all the time. Coaches say certain things, Aaron picks it up. That's what I'm trying to live up to. I'm trying to learn all the different calls he's got in his mind.

"I may not get any tackles or pressure, but it (doesn't) matter. As long as you do your job, hold your gap and at least try to force them to throw a bad ball, you've done your job."

Friday, October 29, 2010

Steelers' Foote finds his greener pastures

Friday, October 29, 2010
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Matt Freed/Post-Gazette
Steelers linebacker Larry Foote.

It was, Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau said this week, "one of the best and happiest days of my life." Aug. 7? Absolutely. That was the night he was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. May 21, 2009? Of course. The Steelers visited the White House and President Barack Obama singled him out by name. Feb. 1, 2009? You bet. The Steelers survived the Arizona Cardinals to win Super Bowl XLIII. Feb. 5, 2006? Sure. The Steelers beat the Seattle Seahawks to become Super Bowl XL champions.

All were huge days for LeBeau in his magical football career. But he was talking about another day -- March 15. That was the day the Steelers re-signed inside linebacker Larry Foote.

"He's a plus -- on and off the field," LeBeau said. "He's special -- on and off the field."

LeBeau's respect for Foote is understandable; Foote had a starring role in the two Super Bowl wins. It is especially understandable this week; Foote carried the load for injured linebacker LaMarr Woodley against the Miami Dolphins Sunday, making one of the game's big plays when he stopped running back Ronnie Brown for no gain on a third-and-1 play from midfield early in the fourth quarter.

"Larry Foote did what Larry Foote does," LeBeau said.

It was the biggest of Foote's six tackles in the game. He took over at inside linebacker in the base defense after Woodley's hamstring injury in the second quarter, bumping Lawrence Timmons to Woodley's outside spot. He also had their only sack when he got to quarterback Chad Henne in the third quarter.

"He's been waiting for his chance to show that he's still got it," inside linebacker James Farrior said.

Point proved.

That's why the Steelers brought Foote back after he spent a season with the Detroit Lions, signing him to a three-year, $9.3 million contract, including a $1.8 million bonus. It's not just that he's one of their more respected veterans, an emotional leader along the lines of former linebacker Joey Porter. He still can play and knows LeBeau's complicated defense inside out.

That knowledge enabled Foote to make that third-and-1 play even though he busted the technique. He took a gamble and sliced behind pulling guard Richie Incognito to tackle Brown because he knew where his gap control help was.

"The coaches hate it when he does that," Farrior said, grinning. "If you take that risk, you had better make the tackle. [Foote] always does."

Expect more of the same from Foote Sunday night against the New Orleans Saints if Woodley (hamstring) isn't full-go. Foote was glad to see Woodley practice Thursday, but he would welcome the playing time and the challenge if Woodley is limited. "It's been a long time since I was a backup," he said.

Foote started every game for the Steelers from 2004-08. He asked to be traded or released after the second Super Bowl season because he realized Timmons was an emerging star. The Steelers obliged, enabling Foote to sign with his hometown Lions. He was the starter on a 2-14 team.

"The grass isn't always greener on the other side," he said.

Foote jumped at the chance to come back to the Steelers, accepting, if reluctantly, his place behind Timmons and Farrior. "He's too much of a professional to ever say anything about it," Farrior said. "But I know, as a competitor, he wants to be on the field every play."

It helps that Timmons has grown into one of the NFL's top linebackers and, I believe, the Steelers' MVP in their 5-1 start. "I've never seen a guy since I've been here with his versatility," Foote said. "He plays inside and can go outside. No one else can do that. It's a whole different skill set and a whole different mentality."

It also helps that Farrior, 35, is Foote's best friend. "He can still do it," Foote said. "It's a mental thing with him. I hear a lot of older players say they wake up one morning and they just don't want to do it anymore. Their body can't take it. He hasn't reached that point. He still loves it."

Foote, 30, still loves it, too. LeBeau has made it a point to get him more snaps. "Larry knows we look at him as a starter," he said. Even if Woodley plays every play against the Saints, Foote will give Farrior a break for a couple of series.

"I'm glad I'm here," Foote said. "From a competitor's standpoint, it's tough. But as far as being where I want to be -- on and off the field -- this is where I want to be. I'm comfortable here."

There's a lesson there.

That's right, Foote already conveyed it.

The grass isn't always greener ...

Ron Cook: Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan

Read more:

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Giants' Sanchez fulfills wish

Thursday, October 28, 2010
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 27: Freddy Sanchez #21 of the San Francisco Giants hits an RBI double in the third inning against the Texas Rangers in Game One of the 2010 MLB World Series at AT&T Park on October 27, 2010 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Fewer than 90 minutes before Game 1 of the World Series Wednesday night, San Francisco Giants second baseman Freddy Sanchez was on the telephone with a message for Pittsburgh and its long-suffering baseball fans:

"It's worth the wait. Believe me. It's definitely worth the wait."

This was between Giants batting practice and another trip to the trainer's room for treatment for Sanchez. Soon, he would be introduced to a national television audience tuned in for the Series opener against the Texas Rangers, not to mention the adoring fans at San Francisco's AT&T Park. A bit after that, he would be right smack in the middle of the sacred place he always dreamed of being, a World Series ball field under the brightest of his sport's lights, on this night behind Giants ace Tim Lincecum. Then, he'd be in the batter's box as the Giants' No. 2 hitter, taking his hacks against the Rangers' great Cliff Lee.

If only Sanchez had a few more minutes ...

If only he had a bit more time, he certainly would have delivered the message those long-suffering Pittsburgh baseball fans really need to hear:

"Miracles happen. Look at me. I made it. Miracles really do happen."It's an amazing story, an uplifting story. This World Series might not have the New York Yankees and the Philadelphia Phillies, but it's worth watching just to see how it turns out for Sanchez. You want to root for someone? Root for him. He has beaten incredible odds.

That goes all the way back to when Sanchez was born with a club right foot and doctors told his mother he might never walk normally. Faith, surgery and hard work can do wondrous things. Sanchez didn't just grow up and walk normally. He became a ballplayer. A big-league ballplayer!

The Pirates gave Sanchez his first really big break, and he repaid them in riches. He was a three-time All-Star between 2004-09 and won the National League batting title with a .344 average in 2006. He loved the city and the city loved him, not just because of the great things he did on the field, but because of the type of person he was off it. His charity of choice was the Miracle Field for disabled kids in Cranberry Township. Man, could he relate to those children. He donated $50,000 toward the field's construction and visited it when the Giants played in Pittsburgh in June.

SAN FRANCISCO - OCTOBER 27: Freddy Sanchez throws to first against the Texas Rangers in Game One of the 2010 MLB World Series at AT&T Park on October 27, 2010 in San Francisco, California. (Photo by Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

There was just one problem while Sanchez was here. The Pirates' clubhouse was a place of a purgatory and still is after 18 consecutive losing seasons. "That's the one regret I have, that we didn't get it done for those fans," Sanchez said from a much different Giants clubhouse. "Pirates fans are so great, and they stand behind their team. They deserve a winner there."

That's why Sanchez wasn't thrilled when the Pirates traded him to the Giants in July 2009 for minor league pitcher Tim Alderson. At the time, he didn't know that was the best thing that ever happened to him in baseball. I'm guessing he fully realized it Wednesday night when Lincecum threw the first pitch to Rangers leadoff man Elvis Andrus and the camera flashes lit up the gorgeous ballpark on San Francisco Bay or, if you prefer, McCovey Cove.

That isn't to say it hasn't been a struggle at times for Sanchez in San Francisco. He had left knee surgery in September 2009, then had left shoulder surgery in January that kept him out of the lineup until May 19. Then, in September, he had a right rotator cuff strain that hurt so badly he hardly could throw the ball to first base. He was questionable for the postseason.

But the big games that the Giants played kept Sanchez going. "As a player, you live to be in those situations," he said. "You want to be up with everything on the line. You don't always come through, but all you can ask for is the chance." Sanchez hit .292 this season -- .330 from Aug. 1 on -- as the Giants clinched the National League West Division by beating the San Diego Padres on the final day of the regular season. He hit. .360 as they beat the Phillies in six games to win the National League Championship Series. He has also played solid defense "just trying to make all the plays" behind Lincecum and the rest of a terrific pitching staff.

"I'm hanging in there the best I can," Sanchez said of his shoulder and knee problems. "I'm giving it all I've got. I just thank God that He's held me up this far. There are only a few games to go."

The San Francisco fans appreciate Sanchez's effort. They've taken to him just as Pirates fans did. What? You can't possibly be surprised.

"It's been crazy out here, just so much fun," Sanchez said. "There's so much energy in the city. I never thought it would be like this. It's better than I imagined."

You might guess the last thing Sanchez said before he clicked off his cell phone and took his screaming body into the trainer's room for one last bit of treatment before he took center stage for the biggest baseball game of his life.

"I just hope Pittsburgh gets to experience this one day."

Ron Cook: Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m.-2 p.m. on 93.7

Post script: Freddy Sanchez became the first player in history to double in his first three World Series at-bats in last night's 11-7 Game One win over Cliff Lee and the Texas Rangers in San Francisco. Sanchez finished 4-5 with 3 RBIs and 2 runs scored.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Steelers must re-sign Ike Taylor

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Six games into their season, the Steelers know what they must do.

They have to take care of cornerback Ike Taylor. They have to lock up Taylor for at least the next three years while he's in his prime.

The Steelers can't pay everyone, but they have to pay Taylor, who becomes an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season.

Taylor is a young 30. He didn't take a beating in college, where he played running back for one season and moved to cornerback as a senior. He's probably the Steelers' best conditioned athlete who trains year-round and works with speed and conditioning guru Tom Shaw in the offseason.

A team player, he hasn't complained about his contract status. He didn't criticize the front office the way linebacker LaMarr Woodley and kicker Jeff Reed did. Instead, he kept his thoughts private and is playing the best football of his career.

"I don't want to play anywhere else, just knowing what we could be. Pittsburgh feels like home," said Taylor, a fourth-round draft pick in 2003. "I'm playing for a Hall of Fame defensive coordinator (Dick LeBeau). I don't want to go anywhere else, but it's all on them."

Taylor's ability to play man-to-man on the right side, sometimes with little or no help, makes him almost indispensable. He's a leader in the locker room and a mentor to young cornerbacks such as William Gay and Keenan Lewis.

Taylor has his detractors. He doesn't intercept passes like Darrelle Revis of the New York Jets, but Revis hasn't won two Super Bowls, much less started in them. Taylor isn't flashy like Nnamdi Asomugha of the Oakland Raiders, but Asomugha doesn't force the run like Taylor does.

"The only thing I've been lacking is catching balls, as far as not having recognition," said Taylor, who has 10 career interceptions in eight seasons. "I feel like it's about that time. I've been making statements, but not what the people want to see and probably not what I want."

In Sunday's 23-22 win at Miami, Taylor followed star receiver Brandon Marshall out of the locker room, in the Dolphins' huddle and defended Marshall's routes like his shadow.

Marshall was targeted nine times and had five receptions for 57 yards. Taylor didn't cover Marshall on every play, just the most important ones.

On third down from the Steelers 4-yard-line in the second quarter, Taylor disrupted Marshall's timing just enough that quarterback Chad Henne's pass fell incomplete. Instead of Marshall scoring a touchdown in the red zone where he excels and giving Miami a 13-10 lead, the Dolphins settled for a field goal.

The Steelers have been a force throughout this decade. They played in two AFC Championship games before Taylor became a starter in 2005, but they didn't win a Super Bowl until he cracked the lineup.

Make no mistake, the Steelers are capable of winning without Taylor. They'll have no choice if they don't re-sign him. But can they win a Super Bowl without him? Hopefully, the Steelers won't have to find out.

What makes the Steelers special is the front office's ability to plan for the future. Director of football operations Kevin Colbert is excellent at targeting players who fit the system, and he's really, really good at locating players who can take over when the starters leave.

Except in this case, the Steelers don't have another corner on their roster who can follow the likes of Marshall from sideline-to-sideline. True, Taylor had help Sunday. But not every play.

Bryant McFadden isn't the answer if the Steelers don't bring back Taylor. Otherwise, McFadden would play press coverage on the left side the way Taylor does on the right side.

Lewis, a second-year corner, and rookie Crezdon Butler aren't answers, either. Lewis, of whom coach Mike Tomlin said was competing against McFadden in preseason, has dressed in only two of the first six games. Butler isn't close to being ready. Should the coaching staff expect Lewis or Butler to start in Taylor's place next season?

Another cornerback, William Gay, has found a home at nickel back. He was out of his element last season as the starting left corner.

Of course, the ideal situation is to have two lockdown corners like Taylor. Still, one lockdown corner is better than none. If the Steelers let Taylor walk, they won't have any. The choice is theirs.

Roethlisberger must carry heavier load

Tuesday, October 26, 2010
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

You think the Steelers were lucky to beat the Miami Dolphins Sunday because of a controversial call by the officials? You have no idea. They didn't just almost lose a fumble and the game. They almost lost the quarterback.

"I thought he broke my arm. He hit me so hard," Ben Roethlisberger said.

You might say the man was relieved.

Relieved because his fumble in the final 2 1/2 minutes didn't cost the Steelers the game.

Relieved more that he survived a hit from Dolphins safety Chris Clemons to play another game Sunday night against the New Orleans Saints.

The other fellows in the Steelers' locker room were mighty relieved, too, after their 23-22 win.

"He's starting to come around," wide receiver Hines Ward said of Roethlisberger. "He's getting back to his old self. He's close. We're going to need that."

Now more than ever.

Peter Diana/Post-Gazette

Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw for 302 yards and two touchdowns against the Dolphins Sunday.

The Steelers lost defensive end Aaron Smith Sunday because of a torn left triceps muscle, almost certainly for the rest of the season. Their defense leads the NFL in points allowed and is No. 1 against the run, but it will be significantly weaker without Smith. "Aaron is the guy who makes it all happen," linebacker/defensive captain James Farrior said.

That's where Roethlisberger comes in. The defense carried the team when he missed the first four games because of his NFL-mandated suspension and is mostly responsible for the team's 5-1 start. Now, it's time for Roethlisberger and the offense to carry more of the load. Everybody knows the quarterback needs his throwing arm for that.

It would have been a crying shame if Clemons had broken Roethlisberger's right arm. His first game back from the suspension went well, three touchdown passes and a 112.7 passer rating in a 28-10 win Oct. 17 against the Cleveland Browns. Sunday went even better; he threw for 302 yards and two touchdowns and had a 132.0 passer rating.


In each game, Roethlisberger shrugged off an early mistake. Against the Browns, it was an interception when he "got a little antsy" trying to get the ball to running back Mewelde Moore. Sunday, it was a lost fumble when he was hit by safety Yeremiah Bell as he tried to shovel a pass to running back Isaac Redman. "That was me just being a little crazy," Roethlisberger said.

Did I mention the man shrugged it off?

"I thought he played a tremendous game," Ward said Sunday. "He's making all the throws. He understands the offense better than he did last year. He's making his first, second and third reads and getting the ball there. It's amazing."

A lot of those reads took Roethlisberger to Ward, who had seven catches for 131 yards and a touchdown. Roethlisberger also threw a 53-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Mike Wallace, who flat ran by Dolphins cornerback Jason Allen.

Ward, Wallace and I were impressed, Roethlisberger not so much.

"I felt better," he allowed, grudgingly. "We got our first dose of the no-huddle and I thought we did really well and we went right down the field [for a field goal]. I still left quite a few things out there. I'm disappointed with myself, but, with that being said, a win is a win."

It wasn't secured until the Steelers got a break from the officials on Roethlisberger's late fumble. He ran a quarterback draw on third-and-goal from the Miami 2 with the Steelers trailing, 22-20. Just as he dived for the goal line, he was clubbed from his right by Clemons. The officials ruled touchdown, but, after further review, they decided Roethlisberger had fumbled into the end zone. What they couldn't determine was who recovered the ball. They had to give the Steelers the ball back at the 1, which enabled kicker Jeff Reed to make the winning 18-yard field goal.

"You hate to win it that way, but you'll take the win," Roethlisberger said.

Did I mention the man was relieved?

Things could have been worse.

A lot worse, actually.

"I've got to hold on to the ball," Roethlisberger said. "I just need to hold on and get in."

I have to tell you that was nice to see.

Not Roethlisberger beating himself up.

That he had two good arms to do it.

Ron Cook: Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

Read more:

Monday, October 25, 2010

Miami Dolphins should blame themselves, not the officiating, for bitter defeat

By Dave George
Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
Updated: 9:30 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010

Hines Ward stretches for the goal line as he dives past teammate Emmanual Sanders and Miami Dolphins Jason Allen for a touchdown during the first half of an NFL football game in Miami, Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010. (AP)

MIAMI GARDENS — The refs blew the call, on the ground and up in the box and wherever else zebras meet to mumble and flip coins, but let's be clear about this.

The Miami Dolphins are the ones who blew Sunday's game, a 23-22 loss to Pittsburgh that stings plenty now but will hurt even more at the end of the season, when one win is the difference between making the playoffs and missing out on a tie-breaking technicality.

Credit Tony Sparano with admitting as much, and with laying the hard truth on a locker room filled with players who felt victimized by cruel fate and clumsy officiating.

The game tapes will replay reality to the Dolphins on Monday, and in the end that's the only replay that matters.

Miami is 3-3, a mediocre team by definition. The Steelers are 5-1, even though little was done Sunday to demonstrate their clear superiority over the Dolphins, who were just as stubborn as Pittsburgh on run defense, more successful on the pass rush and a virtual match on both first downs and time of possession.

Them's the facts, like it or not, and here's another.

Even if the Dolphins had been granted a fumble recovery and a touchback on Ben Roethlisberger's disputed goal-line turnover, the game was still far from over. Miami's lead was 22-20 at the time, and there's no guarantee the Dolphins would have been able to kill the final 2:30 or prevent the Steelers from driving for another late, winning field goal.

Fumble or not, Big Ben moved the ball 47 yards in eight plays on the possession that the Steelers needed to get the winning score. In that same situation, the Dolphins moved 4 yards in four plays after getting the ball on their own 29-yard line with 2:19 to play.

All they needed was a field goal for a comeback win of their own, and all Dan Carpenter had been doing all day was kick field goals. Five of them, to be exact. Five consolation kicks to go with one Chad Henne-to-Davone Bess touchdown pass.

"It was a big play in the game," Sparano said of the lazy and illogical officiating compromise call that gave Big Ben's fumbled ball back to the Steelers, "but it shouldn't have come down to that. We had plenty of opportunities to win the football game and we didn't."

Larry Foote sacks Miami Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne during the second half of an NFL football game in Miami, Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010. (AP)

Let's run quickly through a few of those opportunities.

A third-and-1 Ronnie Brown dive at midfield that went nowhere, emblematic of Miami's sickly 25 percent success rate on third-down conversions.

A special-teams breakdown allowing Pittsburgh's Emmanuel Sanders to bring a kickoff all the way out to the Dolphins 48. That set up the winning drive.

A disaster of a Miami two-minute drill, featuring a 2-yard run on first down, a 2-yard pass to the fullback and two short incompletions. That cemented the final score.

Here's the kicker. All of those stinkers came in the fourth quarter alone.

There are three more periods to pick over, including the minimal yield of two field goals on a pair of Steeler fumbles that came before the game was even two minutes old.

"You know what, I'm going to say it like my grandma used to say it to me when something bad happened," Dolphins linebacker Cameron Wake said. "If you weren't there, or if you were doing what you were supposed to do, it wouldn't have happened anyway.

"So if we would have stopped them on the 50-yard line (on Pittsburgh's winning drive), like we were supposed to, it wouldn't have been a call. If you were home when you were supposed to be, you wouldn't have gotten in trouble."

Linebacker Karlos Dansby commanded a larger crowd at a nearby locker, declaring loudly that the Dolphins were robbed. It's easier to say it that way, and to think it, too, but it doesn't help a thing.

What would help is knowing that the Dolphins have been taught for the last time this season the difference between wanting and getting. There are games like this one splashed across every NFL Sunday, even games between even teams and all there is to separate them is one play or one coaching decision or one wacky bounce of the ball.

MIAMI - OCTOBER 24: Receiver Brian Hartline #82 fumbles after being hit by cornerback Bryant Mcfadden #20 of the Pittsburgh Steelers at Sun Life Stadium on October 24, 2010 in Miami, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)

Forget, then, that Miami's had it rough on the home schedule, with the Jets, Patriots and Steelers for opponents. Don't start looking ahead, either, to the end of the season, with lesser teams like the Raiders, Browns, Bills and Lions offered up as gifts on a late rush to the post-season.

Cleveland crushed the defending Super Bowl champions Sunday, in case you didn't notice, and Oakland blasted Denver, etc., etc.

There are no easy wins in this league, unless somebody hands one over over by playing sloppy or stupid or soft.

That's the NFL, as tight as a tick. Getting to 10-6, which probably is what it will take to make the playoffs, is going to take a long series of four-quarter efforts cleaner and tougher than this one.

Any chance Wake's grandma could join the Dolphins in Cincinnati next Sunday as a pre-game speaker?

Steelers pay dearly for victory

Monday, October 25, 2010
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. -- It's hard to think the Steelers didn't lose more than they won here Sunday. They went home with a terrific 23-22 win against the Miami Dolphins and kept first place in the AFC North Division. But they lost star defensive end Aaron Smith for the game, almost certainly for the season and maybe forever because of a torn left triceps muscle.

"I don't want to see his career end," wide receiver Hines Ward said.

"Not like this."

Smith, 34, in his 12th NFL season, was injured on the third play of the third quarter when he tackled Dolphins fullback Lousaka Polite for a 2-yard gain. His loss can't be overestimated to a Steelers' defense that has been mostly responsible for the team's 5-1 start. It won't be nearly as good without him. It just can't be.

"The heart and soul of our defense," linebacker James Harrison called Smith.

"Anytime he's not in there, it kills us," nose tackle Casey Hampton said.

"I'm sick," linebacker James Farrior said.

This is the third time in four seasons that Smith has had a season-ending arm injury. In 2007, his right biceps muscle was torn in December. The team went 1-2 down the stretch and lost its wild-card playoff game to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Last season, his right rotator cuff was torn in October. The team went 6-5 without him and missed the playoffs.

This is not a good trend.

By the way, the Steelers won the Super Bowl in '08 when Smith stayed healthy and played in every game.

"We're going to find out if we can win without him," Ward said. "Everybody talks about Troy [Polamalu] and worries about him getting hurt, but Aaron makes it all go for our defense. The problem is you can replace him with five or 10 guys and they can't do what he does."

Not surprisingly, Smith's teammates were more concerned about him than themselves and the team. He might be the most respected player on the squad because ...

Here's backup defensive end Nick Eason, who, suddenly, becomes much more valuable to the team:

"Aaron's a great player, a great role model, a great friend, a great teammate, a great family guy ... "

That about covers it.

The players also know Smith is at the age where it's not so easy to come back from a major injury. He talked about that at training camp in August.

"You do this long enough, something is going to start to wear out. How many people tear their rotator cuff and have a biceps tear? That's probably from reaching to make tackles all those years."

Now, you can add a torn triceps.

"I don't even know what to say to him," Harrison said.

"I know it's killing him inside," Farrior said.

The pall left by Smith's injury ruined what should have been a nice celebration in the Steelers' locker room. South Florida buzzed Sunday night and is buzzing again this morning because the Dolphins were robbed by the officials, who botched the call on a late fumble by Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and gave kicker Jeff Reed a chance to make the winning field goal. But that doesn't change the fact the Steelers played a strong road game, not just without Smith, but without defensive end Brett Keisel (hamstring), who didn't dress, and outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (hamstring) and offensive tackle Flozell Adams (ankle), who were injured early.

"We say it all the time: 'The standard is the standard,' " Farrior said. "We're always telling the young guys, 'You've got to keep working while you wait. You're always just one play away. Be ready.' "

Eason, Ziggy Hood and Chris Hoke rotated to pick up the slack left by Keisel and Smith. They helped limit the Dolphins to 64 rushing yards.

Veteran Larry Foote and rookie Jason Worilds filled in for Woodley. Foote, who played inside and bumped linebacker Lawrence Timmons to Woodley's outside spot in the Steelers' base defense, had a sack and tackled running back Ronnie Brown for no gain on a third-and-1 play early in the fourth quarter. Worilds, who subbed for Woodley in passing situations, hit Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne and forced an imcompletion on Miami's final offensive play.

Tackle Jonathan Scott took over after Adams left early in the second quarter. The Steelers struggled to run the ball, but Roethlisberger had enough time to throw for 302 yards and two touchdowns.

You've heard of a team win?

This was a classic.

"I told the guys, 'The best thing we can do for Aaron is to win this game,' " Eason said. Asked what he said to Smith specifically, Eason said, "Just that I love him and that we had his back."

Smith was appreciative. "That's what's so great about this team. Someone goes down and someone else comes in and the team doesn't miss a beat."

For one game, maybe.

But for the rest of the season?

How do you replace a guy who's nearly irreplaceable?

"Absolutely these guys can do it," Smith said. "Look at the talent in here."

So I did.

I took a good, long look around the room.

I saw a lot of great players.

But I didn't see another Aaron Smith.

The Steelers definitely lost more than they won on this bittersweet October day.

Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

Read more:

Steelers veterans refuse to buckle

Monday, October 25, 2010

Aaron Smith injured his triceps during Sunday's game against the Dolphins, a 23-22 Steelers victory.
Chaz Palla Tribune-Review

MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — The Dolphins were spotted a 6-0 lead with less than two minutes elapsed on Sunday, courtesy of back-to-back Steelers fumbles to open the game.

A lesser team would have been on the verge of collapse at that point: on the road, costly early turnovers, playing without starting defensive end Brett Keisel.

To beat the Steelers, you have to stomp and kick them when they're down.

Miami let the Steelers off the hook.

Instead of breaking down, the Steelers knuckled down. Their defense held Miami to a pair of field goals despite the Dolphins taking over at the Steelers' 22 and 13, respectively. The Steelers then reeled off 10 consecutive points, and 17 of the next 20, in building a 17-9 lead.

The 23-22 final score at Sun Life Stadium was a formality for the likes of Hines Ward, James Farrior, Casey Hampton and Aaron Smith (injured tricep and all), who have won so many games over the last decade, they've probably lost count.

"We've got a group of guys that have been doing it the Steeler way, the Rooney way, for a long time," said Farrior, the defensive captain, whose unit helped the Steelers improve to a 5-1 record this year and who improved his regular-season record with the Steelers to 86-47-1. "That's what's been getting us over the hump. That's what's getting us through these tough games. We've got a lot of confidence and a lot of resiliency."

This is Farrior's ninth season with the Steelers. He has started all but four regular season games during that span. Since joining the Steelers, Farrior, 35, has won two Super Bowls, appeared in three AFC championship games and advanced to the playoffs five times.

It's Year No. 10 for Hampton with the Steelers. Smith's in his 12th season.

For Ward, it's lucky No. 13.

Along with Keisel, who sat out with a hamstring injury, Farrior, Ward, Smith and Hampton are the longest-tenured players on the roster.

Ben Roethlisberger congratulates Hines Ward on his second-quarter touchdown reception Sunday in Miami. Ward caught seven passes for 131 yards in the Steelers' 23-22 win.
Chaz Palla Tribune-Review

"It's a matter of the veteran guys leading by example. We've been there before," Ward said. "The Steelers have always used that combination. That's the reason why they continue to have success over the years. No panicking and blowing up the whole thing and getting rid of all the veterans. But keeping the veterans that are still productive, regardless of what people may say."

Ward was targeted a game-high 10 times. He had seven receptions for a season-high 131 yards and a nifty 21-yard touchdown catch from Ben Roethlisberger that made it 10-6 in the second quarter.

Not bad for a 34-year old wideout who was supposed to be over the hill.

"I was supposed to fall off three or four years ago, and I'm still being productive," said Ward, the longest-tenured wide receiver in the league with the same team. "The Steelers signing me to an extension, it's great the way they do it — keeping the nucleus of veterans and mix in rising stars like LT (Lawrence Timmons), (LaMarr) Woodley, and now add in youth with Mike Wallace, Rashard Mendenhall and Emmanuel Sanders.

"Myself, Potsie (Farrior), Aaron Smith, Hampton, Keisel. It's great to see guys in their 30s still being productive and helping this team win."

Hampton, who turned 33 last month, said he isn't ready to think about the Steelers' remarkable run since he joined the team in 2001. Looking back, he said, prevents him from looking toward a winning future.

"We know we've been good for a while, and we take pride in that," said Hampton, who anchored a defensive line that, despite not having Keisel before the game and losing Smith during the contest, held Miami to 64 yards rushing. "But that's for people to look at when we're done and say, 'Yeah, they were really good.' Right now, we're out there still trying to get it."


The Steeler way.

Drama, anger at the goal line for the Miami Dolphins

The Miami Herald
October 25, 2010

Ben Roethlisberger fumbles the ball in the fourth quarter of the game against the Miami Dolphins in Miami, Sunday, Oct. 24, 2010. The Steelers won 23-22. (AP)

The Dolphins weren't short of ways to lose a football game Sunday afternoon. They were beaten by Ben Roethlisberger, beaten by themselves, and beaten by a guy in a white ball cap named Gene Steratore.

Roethlisberger, you know. He's the guy whose 302 yards passing and two touchdowns led the Pittsburgh Steelers' 23-22 defeat of Miami here.

Steratore? He's the referee who led the officiating crew that blew the most important call of the day and gave the Steelers a second chance at what proved the winning points late in the game.

The ref owns a Washington, Pa., company called Steratore Sanitary Supplies, by the way. That's appropriate.

Unfortunately, nothing can clean up the mess he made of this game.

"They took it from us, man,'' charged linebacker Karlos Dansby.

I am not prone to blame officiating or make it about the striped shirts. "We wuz robbed!'' is in all ways, including literally, the lament of losers. Indeed, in this case, there were plenty of other reasons we'll get to shortly why Miami's NFL season stands a blasé 3-3 today after yet another home loss.

But the bizarre, calamitous sequence of that one play bears examination. All it meant was just about everything.

Miami led 22-20, with Pittsburgh driving. It was 3rd-and-goal at the Miami 2 and Roethlisberger bulled in for what was ruled a touchdown with 2:30 left, even though the ball appeared jarred loose as it reached the goal line.

The ball squirted into the end zone, where it was fallen on by Miami's Ikaika Alama-Francis.

Dolphin coach Tony Sparano tossed the challenge flag. A review would determine that A) the ball had crossed the goal before being fumbled and thus was a Steelers touchdown, or B) it had not, was a fumble, and therefore a game-saving touchback for the Dolphins.


Well . . .

Sparano won the challenge. The play was ruled a fumble. "It was probably out before it crossed the goal line,'' admitted Roethlisberger. But -- get this -- Steratore announced his crew could not determine who had recovered, and so Pittsburgh was awarded possession at the 1-yard line. The winning short field goal quickly resulted.

The officials were egregiously negligent in failing to determine possession prior to the review -- possession that clearly was Miami's.

"The ball was out. I felt like we recovered it,'' Sparano said carefully.

Players weren't so politically correct.

"It's terrible,'' said linebacker Channing Crowder. "Seventy-thousand saw that Ike had the ball.''

Said Alama-Francis: "I got it. It was mine, no doubt. It's either a touchdown or a touchback. Having all this come down to that [decision], it's heartbreaking.''

Several Dolphins said officials told them they had recovered. But Steratore told a pool reporter afterward, "It's a pile of bodies in there and you don't have a clear recovery.''

Huh? Picking through that pile until you find the man at the bottom clutching the football -- isn't that sort of what officials do for a living?

Roethlisberger claimed he had a piece of the ball but let it go after he heard people shouting "touchdown,'' "because I didn't want my arm broken.''

The point is officials need to answer: Who has the ball? What a lame explanation by a referee who deserves a public upbraiding by the league office for malfeasance that very likely cost the Dolphins a victory.

Even Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, asked if he felt his team "stole'' a win, said, "That's what the scoreboard says. We will take it and exit stage left.''

Nevertheless, Miami, of course, must bear its considerable role in the defeat.

Five times the team settled for Dan Carpenter field goals, despite sequentially having first downs at the Pittsburgh 22, 13, 5, 27 and 28. That's a lot of fizzling in or near the red zone. A lot of settling.

"In this league you need touchdowns,'' Sparano put it right.

It was more than the offense settling for field goals.

The defense was youth serum for Steelers receiver Hines Ward, who caught seven passes for 131 yards, and Jason Allen was burned by Mike Wallace for a 53-yard TD.

On the Steelers possession embroiled in the controversial call, Miami's still too-shoddy special teams allowed a 48-yard kickoff return, then on a 3rd-and-5 from the Miami 43, the a defense allowed a 29-yard completion to Mewelde Moore.

The Dolphins also had a last possession that might have ended in a winning score, in storybook heroics by quarterback Chad Henne, but instead the series was: 2-yard Ronnie Brown run, incomplete pass, 2-yard pass to Lousaka Polite, incompletion.

After which the sight and sound in the emptying stadium was hundreds of Terrible Towels whipping in the wind, and Steelers fans crowing.

(Quick aside in the grand tradition of the Monday morning second-guess: With time expiring, your do-or-die third-down play is -- a pass to Lousaka Polite!?)

Something else Miami cannot pin on referee Gene Steratore's Sunday spasm of buffoonery:

The Dolphins' home-field advantage: Whatever happened to it?

Miami is now 0-3 at home this season -- and five consecutive home losses now dating to late last season.

Previous times in their 45-year history the Dolphins have lost five straight at home: Once. Not even the '60s expansion team did that. It only happened during the abysmal 1-15 aberration that was 2007.

Miami, in fact, has only a 26-33 home record since 2003. That's a lot of sustained mediocrity where the home advantage is supposed to be. The latest home game gone to L leaves fans to wonder if they should resort to the hollow moral victory of having lost by one point to a very good opponent.

The Dolphins continue good enough to sustain hope, but born to frustrate.

Last word to Channing Crowder on the reality that is 3-3:

"We're a regular old team right here in the middle of the pack.''

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Analysis: Time for Pens to unite Crosby, Malkin

Saturday, October 23, 2010

At their best, Sidney Crosby (left) and Evgeni Malkin are arguably two of the three best offensive players in the world. Witness their 17 combined points in the past five games and the Penguins' 4-0-1 mark in those contests.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review file photo

ST. LOUIS — Evgeni Malkin is understandably tired of explaining himself.

"I'm a winger," he said again Friday. "That is where I play."

Agreed, except that Malkin wasn't specific enough. He should play with center Sidney Crosby on the Penguins' top line — all the time.

The Penguins shouldn't overthink this. They should simply watch the video from the overtime victory at Nashville on Thursday night.

The footage won't lie.

"(Malkin) had one shift in overtime where it looked like he was tired. We were in our end for about 40 seconds — and then the next thing I'm looking at on the bench is them on a rush, (Malkin) stripping the puck and setting up a couple of more chances for Sid," Penguins left wing Chris Kunitz said, shaking his head in disbelief.

At their best, Crosby and Malkin are arguably two of the three best offensive players in the world. Witness their 17 combined points in the past five games and the Penguins' 4-0-1 mark in those contests.

Each would benefit from playing with an elite winger, but neither will if both stay at center because the Penguins are strapped by the salary cap. They have committed $21.4 million annually to Crosby, Malkin and center Jordan Staal; $5 million to goalie Marc-Andre Fleury; and more than $18 million to five defensemen.

The Penguins are good enough to win the Stanley Cup as constructed — especially at full health, which they aren't. They'll be a better Cup bet with Crosby and Malkin on the same line, and they're blessed that Malkin possesses the wiliness and tools to transform into the franchise's best winger since Jaromir Jagr won five scoring titles between 1995 and 2001.

The bullish strength with which Malkin performed at Nashville, shielding the puck offensively and taking it away defensively, was Jagr-esque. Bylsma said the significant time Crosby and Malkin played together in the game was the result of a strategy "to get quality players on the ice (together) more often."

Great plan — he should try it again tonight by skating Crosby and Malkin with Kunitz against the St. Louis Blues at Scottrade Center. When Staal returns, his former third-line wingers, Matt Cooke and Tyler Kennedy, can join him on the second line.

If that line doesn't strike fear into the heart of opponents — well, so what? The top line should leave defensive pairs weak in the knees.

"We used to try different things — a shadow to one side, basically not allowing them to have the puck. A lot of it was designed to not let them get speed," defenseman Paul Martin said of the strategy his former team, New Jersey, used when Crosby and Malkin were on the ice together. "Part of it is tough, though. It's just accepting that, when they're together, they're going to get chances. You're giving up this but giving them that. There is no real way to stop them from getting opportunities when they're together on the same line."

The only way to stop Crosby and Malkin is for the Penguins to keep them apart.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Dolphins vs. Steelers: A football game, a fight

By Armando Salgeuro
The Miami Herald
October 21, 2010

Peter Diana/Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Dolphins quarterback Pat White takes a crushing hit from Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor and falls out out bounds. White suffered a concussion on the play.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are a tough team. They are physical. They are eager to use that asset. And they have a well-deserved reputation for being the baddest dudes on the block going back to the days of the Steel Curtain.

The Dolphins, in case you have not heard, also fancy themselves a physical team. And so when these two lovers of violent football get together ...

"I think anytime you play against the Steelers you know it’s going to be a physical contest," coach Tony Sparano said. "They make no bones about it. I think that from our end we feel like we’re a physical football team, so it’s going to be a physical game.”

Believe it or not, that is the politically correct way to portray it. Running back Ronnie Brown has another way. He sees the Steelers as a bully. And he thinks there's only one way to deal with bullies.

"When you have bully on the school yard, he thinks he's the baddest," Brown said. "Therefore he's going to carry himself like he's the baddest. He feels that way, so therefore he's going to act like he's the baddest. That's how it is with the Pittsburgh defense. They think that way, they act that way. That's how it is until someone proves them differently. That's how it is."

And just because Brown plays running back and it is part of his job description to take blows, that doesn't mean Brown intends to let Pittsburgh bully him.

"You have to accept that challenge," he said. "As an offensive player, I come in with a defensive mentality. Just because I'm a running back doesn't mean I can't be an aggressor with the football.

"Until you stand up to the bully he's going to keep picking on you and if he feels he's found a weak spot, you're going to have to deal with that every day. If you show up and show him you're not scared, then it goes away. But until you do that, you're going to get the same result. So why not attack it full head on?"

Rashard Mendenhall runs in last year's season finale. (Reuters)

The last time these two teams played -- in the 2009 regular-season finale -- the Dolphins didn't stand up to well against the bully. Quarterback Chad Henne had to leave the game with vision problems. Backup quarterback Pat White came in and lasted less than one quarter before he literally got knocked out.

"Last year you know it took us three quarterbacks to get through the game and hopefully that won’t happen this game," Henne said. "But, we’re going to have to protect, we’re going to have to keep it balanced, we’re going to have to run the football, and protect me in the passing game.”

Like Brown, Henne says he's not afraid, concerned, or sweating the physical nature of the Steelers, particularly on defense.

“No, I mean I’m just going to go out there and play my game and I’m not going to let anything affect me," he said. "I’m not going to stare at the rush a little bit more. I’m just going to go through my progressions, know what I’m doing what I’m doing back there and you know if I get hit I get hit. That’s part of the game.”

Talking to several Dolphins players, one gets the idea the Dolphins have a little to prove to the Steelers. One gets the idea they intend on standing toe-to-toe with their Pittsburgh counterparts.

"They're going to keep grinding and you have to match that intensity," Brown said. "Coming into the game week, your whole mental process has to be ready for that. That's the good part of this game. they're going to present challenges. And you have to take advantage of that. You have to take each blow when they get their chance. And when you get your chance your have to take your shot.

"I'm not going to say they go out and try to hurt people. But they do try to strike some kind of fear. And if you buy into that, it is what it is. But if you don't and you go out and fight, that's what it's going to be. It'll be a fight."

'That's football' says Steelers' Ward

Friday, October 22, 2010
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Generally speaking, there are two reactions among players to the NFL's new, get-tough policy on hits to the head. Offensive players -- especially wide receivers and running backs -- are in favor of it and welcome the extra protection. Defensive players -- especially linebackers and defensive backs -- think it's ridiculous and worry that the pro game will be ruined.

Then, there is Hines Ward. He is a linebacker trapped in a wide receiver's body. You might think he is conflicted. But he's not. Not even a little bit.

"It's ridiculous," Ward said Thursday. "You can't take the roughness out of football."

The NFL is trying. It fined three players, including Steelers linebacker James Harrison, for hits Sunday that it considered too violent. It has promised to suspend even first-time offenders for vicious hits, beginning with the games Sunday.

"Thing is, they came to training camp this summer and talked to us and said there would be a warning, then a fine, then a suspension," Ward said. "Now they want to skip the first two steps and go right to the suspension. It's wrong."

By now, everybody has seen the hits Sunday. They've been replayed endlessly on television. Harrison knocked Cleveland Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi out of the game and was fined $75,000 even though he wasn't penalized on the play and Steelers coach Mike Tomlin called it a legal, non-fineable hit. Atlanta Falcons cornerback Dunta Robinson led with his shoulder and had a violent collision with Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson, leaving both with head injuries that ended their day. New England Patriots safety Brandon Meriweather leaped head-first at Baltimore Ravens tight end Todd Heap's head and left Heap temporarily dazed. Robinson and Meriweather were fined $50,000 each. Harrison's fine was more because he was fined earlier in the season for trying to corkscrew Tennessee Titans quarterback Vince Young into the ground with a body slam. That was a much more dangerous play than his hit on Massaquoi.

Ward agreed with many longtime NFL observers that Meriweather's hit was the worst of the bunch. "It was an illegal hit. He jumped into him and led with the crown of his helmet."

But the others?

"That's football," Ward said. "It's a tough game. It has to be the toughest sport out there aside from maybe mixed-martial arts."

Ward knows it from all angles. During his 13-year career, he has taken his share of big hits and has said he has played with concussion-like symptoms. He also has delivered a number of infamous blocks on defenders, among them Rod Woodson, Ed Reed and Bart Scott. In the 2008 season, he broke the jaw of Cincinnati Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers. After the season, the NFL banned that sort of blindside hit. It's known as the Hines Ward rule.

"It's a tough game," Ward said again. "When we sign that contract, we know the risks. You don't have to play if you think it's too rough. We have guys quit in training camp every year because they can't take it. It's not for everybody. But those who play the game know the risks and are willing to take them."

Ward said a lot of the violent hits on pass plays across the middle could be eliminated if receivers played smarter. Harrison was able to deliver his blow to Massaquoi because the receiver came into his zone.

"You can't just run through zone coverage," Ward said. "If you run by one guy and then another guy, you have to know there's still going to be a third guy there waiting for you.

"That's why you always see me sitting down [stopping] when I see zone coverage. You're not supposed to run through zone coverage. You're supposed to find the opening and sit down."

Ward said quarterbacks -- especially young quarterbacks -- also need to have more regard for their receivers' safety. Browns rookie Colt McCoy filled in for injured veterans Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace against the Steelers and made his NFL debut.

"It's funny, I was talking to Massaquoi about quarterbacks pregame," Ward said. "I told him it's rough playing with three different quarterbacks. It's especially tough playing with a rookie. If he considers you his go-to guy, he's going to watch you run your route the whole way. That's what happened on that play when [Massaquoi] was hit. [McCoy] followed him with his eyes the whole way. James saw that and knew that pass was coming."

Robinson's hit on Jackson couldn't be so easily avoided, Ward said.

"His quarterback [Kevin Kolb] didn't see the cornerback there and led him right into him. What was [Robinson] supposed to do? He led with his shoulder. That's a good football play. If he tackles him low, he blows out his knees and ends his career. Is that what the league's trying to tell us it wants?"

Like many NFL players, Ward is troubled by what he calls the league's "hypocrisy." Pictures of Harrison's hit on Massaquoi were available for purchase through the NFL website until KDKA-TV reported on it and embarrassed league officials into pulling the photos. "They said it was a mistake, but they know what's on their website," Ward said.

The Steelers are just as guilty of the hypocrisy. At least once in each home game at Heinz Field, they play Styx's song "Renegade" with an accompanying scoreboard video that highlights many of the hits by Steelers players that the NFL now is saying are illegal. Ward's block of Rivers is on it. So are safety Ryan Clark's hits on the Patriots' Wes Welker and the Ravens' Willis McGahee. The crowd loves it. The Steelers' defenders get geeked. But does that make it any less hypocritical?

And don't even get Ward started on the NFL's plan to go to an 18-game schedule.

"They say they care about the players' safety and they want to add two games?" he asked. "If they really cared about us, they should give us health care for life. But you know that's not going to happen."

Still, Ward plans on showing up Sunday in Miami to play the Dolphins. As he said, the game isn't for everybody. But, clearly, it's for him, violence, warts and all.

Ron Cook: Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan.

Read more:

Harrison returns to practice, files appeal

Friday, October 22, 2010
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette

Steelers linebacker James Farrior tries to get linebacker James Harrison to smile at the cameras photographing the team's drills at practice Thursday.

James Harrison, who returned to the Steelers Thursday after a one-day absence, has filed an appeal of his $75,000 fine.

One day after the NFL fined Harrison for what it termed an illegal hit of Cleveland wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi, agent Bill Parise filed the appeal Wednesday with NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, who will rule on it.

Besides getting support in the appeal from Steelers president Art Rooney, who Thursday called the hit a legal one, Parise said he has been told it was the largest fine the NFL ever issued for a hit.

Harrison on Tuesday threatened to retire over the fine but withdrew that idea and returned to the Steelers after coach Mike Tomlin gave him the day off Wednesday.

Harrison, who did not talk to the media Thursday, did issue a statement after practice through the Steelers. In it, he maintains his hit was legal and that he was fined for something he said afterward.

Here is his full statement:

"After having some time to think about the situation, talk to my family, friends and the Steelers organization, I have come to the decision that I cannot and will not let the league office stop me from playing the game that I love.

"I am all for player safety and I agree that some of the rule changes that have been made are good for the game. As far as my situation, I believe the hit against Massaquoi for which I was fined was legal and well within the scope of the rules. I feel the real reason for the fine was the statement I made after the game wherein I said that I try to hurt people, not injure them. In the same sentence I attempted to clarify my meaning. But I understand that my comments leave a lot open to interpretation. The statement was not well-thought out and I did not adequately convey my meaning.

"I apologize for making that statement and I want it to be known that I have never and would never intentionally try to injure any player. I believe that my statements, along with the hits that happened in other games this past Sunday and the subsequent media storm, are the reasons I was fined on what I know was a clean hit.

"I will not retire from the NFL. I will continue to play the game with the same passion, intensity and focus with which I have always played and let the chips fall where they may. I have never given up, quit or walked away from anything in my life and I am not about to start now. I will not let down my family, friends or the Steelers Nation."

For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette On the Steelers at Ed Bouchette:

Read more:

Steelers' Rooney backs Harrison

Friday, October 22, 2010
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Bob Donaldson/Post-Gazette

Steelers linebacker James Harrison, left, works against Sylvester Stevenson during drills at the team's afternoon practice Thursday.

Not only does Steelers president Art Rooney disagree with the NFL's ruling on James Harrison's hit, but he also signaled a cautionary warning to the league that continuing to be so heavy-handed could have consequences.

Mr. Rooney, in an interview with the Post-Gazette Thursday, said the team would back Mr. Harrison in his appeal of a $75,000 fine the league issued to him Tuesday for what it claimed was an illegal high hit on Cleveland wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi.

"We've told James that if he decides to appeal, he has our support," Mr. Rooney said. Mr. Harrison's agent, Bill Parise, said he filed an appeal Wednesday.

"I think the play was a legal hit," Mr. Rooney said. "It's on the borderline, though."

Borderline is not flagrant, and Mr. Rooney said he was more concerned about how the league moves forward on such hits, and cautioned that suspensions, as threatened by the league, should not be doled out willy-nilly.

"The thing I'm concerned about going forward is the level of discipline and how far we're going with that," Mr. Rooney said. "And I hope that the league office is going to draw a distinction between a flagrant hit, an egregious hit -- whatever these words are that are getting thrown around -- versus something that is a violation but is not flagrant."

Mr. Rooney joined coach Mike Tomlin and Mr. Harrison himself in declaring the hit on Mr. Massaquoi a clean one.

"James' play, I think, was a football play," Mr. Rooney said. "I understand the part about not launching yourself. I think that's the part that was on the borderline. I mean, did he lunge at the guy to make the tackle or did he launch himself?"

Mr. Harrison's fine was the largest of three the league issued to players for what it termed illegal hits during games on Sunday. New England's Brandon Meriweather and Atlanta's Dunta Robinson each were fined $50,000 for their hits.

While not saying the word, it was obvious Mr. Rooney believed that the NFL overreacted to at least two of those plays. He says the only one that should have drawn such a fine was Mr. Meriweather's helmet-to-helmet hit on Baltimore tight end Todd Heap.

"If you look at the plays last weekend, there was only one play ... that was flagrant; and yet when the fine comes out, our guy gets the biggest fine.

"My concern going forward is how is this discipline going to be handled, and are they going to try to draw a distinction as far as suspensions between something that is flagrant and something that's just a fine. I hope that is the direction we're going in, but I don't know."

Mr. Rooney said he was speaking out of concern for the sport and not merely because one of his players was fined.

"Look, we have to be concerned with player safety. I'm in agreement, I think we're all in agreement that the helmet-to-helmet hits are something we have to find ways to take out of the game as much as we can. The other side of it is, it's still football, and guys are out there trying to make tackles. There's going to be helmet-to-helmet contact on occasion.

"I don't think that you can say every time there's one of those hits and a guy gets knocked out that a guy should be suspended for it. I just don't think we can be that black and white."

NFL owners such as Mr. Rooney voted for the safety rules, including a more stringent one added in March in which a receiver must be able to have a split second to put himself in position to protect himself before he gets nailed. However, the owners are not the ones issuing the fines and/or suspensions. That job belongs to Ray Anderson, the NFL vice president of football operations.

"I'm supportive in general trying to take the hits out of the game if we can," Mr. Rooney said. "But I'd hope we don't overreact and we try to draw distinctions between what's flagrant and what isn't flagrant."

Mr. Rooney also believes that criticism of officials for not calling penalties on borderline plays -- none was called Sunday on Mr. Harrison's hit on Mr. Massaquoi -- could prompt officials to throw flags more often and hurt the game's quality.

"It's not a play that stuck out as, boom, there's one that should be flagged," Mr. Rooney said. "I think that's another concern: Are we now going to see flags on any kind of close call like this? The stuff that's happened on the field, a lot of times it's, as we say, a bang-bang play, it happens so fast that the officials are going to miss a call. Fine, let that be reviewed by the league office, let it be handled that way.

"If we're now going to see flags all over the place every time somebody hits somebody, I'm concerned about where that's going in terms of the quality of the game."

Mr. Rooney said he had spoken to NFL commissioner Roger Goodell but had received no promises of how the league would react to such future hits.

"I don't know that we're going to know where this is going until we see the discipline as the weeks go on," Mr. Rooney said. "I think right now this is kind of a new phase, and so we're going to have to see how they're going to deal with it. I have not been given any assurance that there is going to be a distinction made between the flagrant and the nonflagrant hits. But I hope that's the way it's going to be handled as far as suspensions. ... It's really a question of how far is it going to go? And when we bring suspensions into it, I don think suspensions should be a routine discipline that we have every time something like this happens."

Read the blog Ed Bouchette On the Steelers at Ed Bouchette:

Read more:

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Safety Troy Polamalu a danger to Pittsburgh's opponents

The Steelers game-changer — and USC product — is causing havoc anew after an injury-marred 2009. Experts weigh in on his special gifts.

By Sam Farmer
The Los Angeles Times
9:27 PM PDT, October 20, 2010

There goes Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, using his uncanny instincts to leap, Superman style, and sack the quarterback an instant after the ball is snapped.

And there's Polamalu again, reaching back to snare an impossible one-handed interception, the ball stuck like Velcro in his grasp.

Polamalu, among the NFL's best defensive players, is everywhere on the field — and the Steelers (4-1) are back in a familiar spot, atop the AFC North as one of the league's three one-loss teams.

The man with the cartoonish large pouf of jet-black hair cascading across his shoulders conjures a different type of cartoon for wary opponents.

"He's like 'Where's Waldo?'" Tampa Bay Coach Raheem Morris said recently. "You've got to know where he is on the field."

Miami will certainly be keeping tabs. The Dolphins play host to Pittsburgh on Sunday and will be especially aware of playing keep-away from Polamalu as they try to get the ball into the hands of star receiver Brandon Marshall.

How much of a game-changer is the former USC safety? Consider that the Steelers won three of their first four games this season without the services of suspended quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, yet were completely lost last season when Polamalu was sidelined with a knee injury. He makes that kind of impact.

The 16th overall pick in the 2003 draft, Polamalu is on a collision course with Canton and is among an elite collection of All-Pro NFL players to emerge from Los Angeles schools in the past two-plus decades — a group that includes USC's Junior Seau and Tony Boselli, and UCLA's Troy Aikman.

So what separates Polamalu from other safeties? A few experts on the position make their case.


NBC's Rodney Harrison, another two-time All-Pro safety, calls Polamalu "the defensive Randy Moss" for his ability to pull down any pass in his area code.

"I've never seen a guy make so many one-handed interceptions," Harrison said. "Every time that ball hits his hands. I don't care if it's one-handed, if it's behind him, if it's on the sideline, he's going to catch it and he's going to make sure he taps his feet."

Steelers fans won't soon forget the leaning, left-handed pick Polamalu made against Tennessee in last year's opener, a candidate for the most spectacular defensive play of the year.


One of the reasons the Steelers can get so creative with Polamalu, nudging him close to the line of scrimmage or deep in the defensive backfield, is his ability to cover ground so quickly.

"He's got feet like a running back," said NBC's Tony Dungy, a Super Bowl-winning coach and a former Pittsburgh defensive back. "He's not off balance very much, he can change directions quickly, and he's hard to knock off his feet when you're trying to block him.

"His feet allow him to stay in position and not miss many tackles."


Harrison says the Steelers safety has such a good feel for what's about to happen, it's as if he has "football ESP." Hall of Fame safety Rod Woodson, also a former Pittsburgh star, said those instincts allow Polamalu to bend the rules a bit in defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's system.

"I remember when I was with Coach LeBeau in Pittsburgh, and he would always tell us not to turn our back to the ball," said Woodson, an NFL Network analyst. "Well, heck, Troy always turns his back to the ball. I asked Coach, 'Why do you let him do it?' And Coach said, 'Because he can.'

"I think that's an indication of how good he is as an athlete, knowing where he wants to go, and over the years becoming a student of the game. When we first saw Troy come into the league, he was kind of just a kamikaze guy. He was all over the place but wasn't making a whole bunch of plays, he'd miss some tackles. But what he's done the last three years, he's taken his game to the next level."


As wild as he is on the field, Polamalu is remarkably humble and soft-spoken away from it.

"I don't think football comes naturally to me," he said. "I'm not like [Baltimore linebacker] Ray Lewis that can go out there and say, 'I'm the beast of the field. I own this field.' I'm more or less fighting out of fear."

That has inspired Polamalu to go to extremes when training in the off-season, including going on long runs in the middle of the night "to get my body used to things it doesn't want to do."

He and his wife are devout Eastern Orthodox Christians, and he weaves his spirituality into every facet of his life. That includes what he calls "spiritual workouts," or pushing himself to the point of total fatigue — then beyond.

For example, he has tested himself at a gym near his La Jolla home by turning a treadmill up to maximum speed, then sprinting on it as long as he possibly can until collapsing off it in a heap.

"You're pushing yourself beyond a limit where it stops working on you physically, and it starts working on your spirit," he said.

"As an athlete, if you're able to push yourself to those limits, it can give you a certain confidence. That doesn't come out of pride or ego, it comes out of humility.

"I know this guy's pushing himself hard. I know he works out eight hours a day. So I have to do something more than him in order to compete."

Copyright © 2010, Los Angeles Times

Photo credits: AP

Harrison considers retirement

Thursday, October 21, 2010
By Ed Bouchette, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Larry Roberts/Post-Gazette

The NFL fined Steelers linebacker James Harrison $75,000.

Coach Mike Tomlin still insisted Wednesday that James Harrison's hit on Cleveland wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi was a legal one, yet maintained that his players should not be confused about how to tackle after the NFL came down hard on the Steelers' linebacker.

"There's no confusion," Tomlin declared. "There really isn't. It's a very emotional thing, but there's no confusion."

Confusion, though, dominated the Steelers' locker room, a place that did not include Harrison. The three-time Pro Bowl linebacker was absent from work, and he and his agent said he was contemplating retirement after the league fined him $75,000 Tuesday for the high hit on Massaquoi. Tomlin, however, said that after meeting with Harrison early Wednesday morning, he gave him the day off.

"A very productive conversation," Tomlin described it. "I thought it was beneficial to him and us if I give him a little time to cool off and give him the day. I excused him at that time.

"I'm sure he'll be back in the building and ready to play football tomorrow.

"Needless to say, this is a very emotional thing for James. He's a very disciplined and regimented guy. He's passionate about the game of football. It bothers him that he may be perceived as a dirty player. He doesn't desire to be. Simply wants to play the game and play it well."

While Harrison suffered the consequences of his hit, he is not the only defender wondering how to tackle after the NFL lowered the boom on three defensive players for what it ruled illegal hits Sunday. New England's Brandon Meriweather and Atlanta's Dunta Robinson each were fined $50,000 for their hits, all to the head area.

Many Steelers declined to talk about Harrison's fine or render an opinion on his hits -- including union player rep Charlie Batch -- because Tomlin told them not to. It did not stop them from raising the issue of how to play their game on defense.

"We all have the same concerns about what's legal and what's not legal," said linebacker James Farrior, the defensive captain. "I don't think it's defined right now, so it's a question mark for us. We don't want to get into trouble every time we hit somebody, so it's definitely a concern."

LaMarr Woodley, Harrison's counterpart on the left side, said they're all confused.

"It's just hard to kind of figure out how you're going to hit a guy. When you're out there playing football, sometimes people who have the ball try to avoid the contact; they're going low and you aim at their chest and sometimes you happen to have a helmet-to-helmet collision on that."

NFL commissioner Roger Goodell notified teams in a memo and accompanying video Wednesday that more significant discipline, including suspensions, will be imposed on players who strike an opponent in the head or neck area in violation of the rules.

AP FILE - In this Oct. 17, 2010 file photo, James Harrison hits Cleveland Browns wide receiver Mohamed Massaquoi during the second quarter of a an NFL football game in Pittsburgh. Harrison was fined $75,000 on Tuesday, Oct. 19, 2010, for his hit against Massaquoi.

Another helmet-to-helmet collision occurred in the second half Sunday at Heinz Field when Cleveland running back Peyton Hillis lowered his head into the face of Steelers safety Troy Polamalu. The hit knocked Polamalu from the game, although he said Wednesday there is nothing wrong with him and he has not been on their injury list.

Did Polamalu see anything wrong with that hit?

"No, because I don't think the defense should be illegal. It should go both ways. I just think that no matter what it's not right."

Farrior bemoaned the one-sided fine system the NFL seems to have.

"I want to see defensive players protected. We're always getting fined as defensive players with hits on offensive guys. What's protecting us?"

Several Steelers said that knees will be more at risk for ballcarriers because defenders will avoid going high on them.

"Guys are going to fear getting a big fine," said Woodley, "and they're going to start going for guys' knees, and that's going to be a serious problem once guys start getting their knees blown out and mess up the way they walk the rest of their lives."

Even quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said that while he prefers to not be injured, he'd take a concussion over a knee injury.

Safety Ryan Clark, the target of criticism at times in the past for hits that turned out to be legal, said one thing came through perfectly clear from the NFL this week:

"We can't go around hitting guys in the head. They made that point. We understand that. Obviously, they wanted to make it a big issue."

Objective met.

"You just got to play by the rules," Clark said. "That's all I can say. You got to do what they say. The commissioner has made his decision, and this is how the game is going to be officiated, this is how the game is going to be ruled. You just go about and try to win football games the best way you can."

Early in the day, James Harrison went on Sirius XM radio and said he may retire rather than play within the rules as determined by league officials. He was not penalized for the hit Sunday.

"How can I continue to play this game the way that I've been taught to play this game since I was 10 years old?" Harrison said. "And now you're telling me that everything that they've taught me from that time on, for the last 20-plus years, is not the way you're supposed to play the game anymore. If that's the case, I can't play by those rules. You're handicapping me."

Bill Parise, Harrison's agent, confirmed that the linebacker was contemplating retirement.

"He's in the process of contemplating is it possible to play football under these new rules ... 'if I go to work and tackle somebody and get a fine.' "

Parise said there is "no fighting, no arguing," just discussions. He said Harrison has been talking with his coaches, the Steelers, his mother and the agent. His teammates and coach were not confused about one thing. They believe Harrison will return to work today.

"He just needed some time to get his thoughts together," Farrior said. "He'll be back."

Lawrence Timmons intercepts a pass above Cleveland Browns Peyton Hills in the fourth quarter of their NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, October 17, 2010.(Reuters)

Quick hits

Linebacker Lawrence Timmons, who leads the Steelers with 67 tackles (26 more than Farrior at No. 2), was named AFC defensive player of the week. He had 14 tackles, two sacks and an interception against the Browns. ... Harrison and Woodley were each given half a sack on a pass play by Joshua Cribbs that previously had been ruled a run. That was also the play in which Harrison knocked out Cribbs with a hit to the helmet. Harrison now leads the team with five sacks. Woodley has 3.5. ... Running back Rashard Mendenhall (bruised shoulder) went through a full practice. Offensive guard Trai Essex (ankle) was limited.

For more on the Steelers, read the blog, Ed Bouchette On the Steelers at Ed Bouchette can be reached at

Read more: