Tuesday, December 12, 2017

The Steelers miss Ryan Shazier in many ways

December 11, 2017
Image result for nix shazier steelers ravens
(Getty Images)
Little has been said about what Ryan Shazier’s absence means for Pittsburgh on the field. And rightfully so; football is so trivial when juxtaposed with Shazier’s current reality that even writing this sort of analytical article feels uncomfortable.
And yet, there’s still a season to play. And the Steelers are still contenders. And Shazier, even if it’s lower on his priority list now than at this time last week, still cares how the Steelers finish. After Sunday night’s shootout victory over Baltimore, the 25-year-old linebacker joined his teammates’ revelry via FaceTime.
That revelry won’t repeat often if tweaks aren’t made. The hard truth: Pittsburgh’s defense is gargantuanly weaker without Shazier, a potential first-team All-Pro linebacker. Last Monday night, the Steelers gave up 130 rushing yards to a bad Bengals ground attack that was mostly minus its best component, running back Joe Mixon. Cincy simply spread out and ran inside zone again and again. Sunday night, the Ravens rushed for 152 yards against Pittsburgh, as running back Alex Collins bounced outside and turned the corner again and again. Normally, Shazier rocketing around that corner.
Shazier is the most explosive, dynamic stack linebacker in football. Sometimes his aggression creates big plays for the offense, but usually it just makes them for the defense. The Steelers still have a D-line, but telling Javon Hargrave, Stephon Tuitt and Cameron Heyward to step up, or T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree to elevate their play on the edges, isn’t enough. Those guys are already playing great. Someone still must make the plays behind them. So far, no one has.
It will take two men to replace Shazier, and that’s not referring to rotating Sean Spence and Arthur Moats, subpar fill-ins who are splitting duties alongside stalwart starter Vince Williams. You need two men as in Spence or Moats and an extra body in the box. Most likely, that’d be versatile second-year safety Sean Davis.
This past summer, Steelers defensive coordinator Keith Butler talked about the importance of playing more man coverage. “We can’t always play zone, especially against people like the Patriots”, Butler said on Pittsburgh’s 93.7 The Fan. “You look at the people who have beaten the Patriots in the past and a lot of them played man-to-man. I think the last time we beat them [in 2011] we were playing a lot of man-to-man coverage.”
In last year’s AFC title game, the Patriots spread out and picked apart the Steelers’ widened zones with receivers Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan inside. That was with Shazier on the field. You can bet that prepping for the crucial Week 15 showdown, the Patriots are giddy to spread out and match receivers against Spence and Moats (or, if it’s an obvious passing situation, linebacker L.J. Fort).
Now is the time for Butler—who has done a great job calling matchup zones this season including on blitzes - to follow through on the man coverage plans. To stop New England's multifaceted ground game (which is a much bigger part of that offense than people realize), the Steelers must bring an extra defender into the box. The downside is this leaves more space outside. More space means wider zones, which was the problem in last year’s AFC championship. A defense’s counter is to press.
Of course, this is easier said than done. In man coverage, your players still have to win against their man. To be ready for this moment, the Steelers signed Joe Haden in late summer. But Haden has been out since fracturing his leg on November 12. If he doesn’t return this Sunday, Pittsburgh has a problem. Second-year corner Artie Burns has had a stellar season on the right side, but on the left, Coty Sensabaugh has been erratic, and the team knows little about the man who has taken some of Sensabaugh’s snaps, third-round rookie Cameron Sutton (Sunday against Baltimore was Sutton’s second NFL game). All it takes to fell man coverage is one weak link.
The alternative, though, is zone, where a weak link in the middle of your defense can result in failure like what we’ve seen. It doesn’t have to be lockdown man coverage, just physical man coverage. Beat New England’s receivers at the snap and Tom Brady must hold the ball. That gets precarious against a Steelers five-man rush that’s much stronger than when these teams met a year ago.
That five-man rush is much weaker than it was a month ago now that it’s best interior blitzer is gone. And so is the man coverage overall, for that matter, given that the super blitzer was also the only defender with enough athleticism to cover detached running backs like James White and Rex Burkhead. And when Shazier wasn’t bogging down in a man matchup, he served as a terrifying middle-field patroller.
Maybe Pittsburgh’s plan needs to just be what it wound up being against Baltimore: Give the ball to Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell and hope to score around 40 points. Because the more you think about Shazier’s on-field impact, the more ominous his absence appears. Of course, the more you think about Shazier’s off-field world, the less you the on-field stuff seems to matter.

Monday, December 11, 2017

Steelers become Shalievers

By Kevin Gorman
December 11,2017


Something that started as a simple hashtag — #Shalieve, Ryan Shazier's synergy of his surname and believe — has become a rally cry for the Steelers.
When their first game since Shazier suffered a spinal injury cried for a rally, the Steelers summoned their source of inspiration.
After a 14-point, first-half lead had slipped to an 11-point, second-half deficit, they did the very definition of synergy: produced a total effect that is greater than the sum of the individual elements.
The Steelers found a last-minute synergy in their offense, special teams and defense to beat the Baltimore Ravens, 39-38, Sunday night at Heinz Field and clinch the AFC North division title for the second consecutive year.
“It's not a joke,” Steelers free safety Mike Mitchell said. “It was 100 percent that. We Shalieve.”
Mitchell laughed last week, figuring he would be the last player to use that phrase. Long before Shazier was injured last Monday night making a tackle against the Cincinnati Bengals, Mitchell had teased his teammate about how silly it sounded.
“It was something I kind of joked around with Ryan — like, what are you talking about?” Mitchell said. “But seeing my brother go down when he put it all on the line for us, I think that's what motivated us to come out and play in the second half and especially the fourth quarter, to come back and get this win. We Shalieve it.”
The Steelers saluted Shazier before the game, whether it was James Harrison going shirtless like Shazier in warm-ups or wearing T-shirts with his No. 50 on the front or 15 players wearing custom cleats with his image and synergetic saying.
Bud Dupree and Cam Heyward carried Shazier's No. 50 jersey to the sideline, in a show that he was with the Steelers in spirit on Sunday night, even if he couldn't be there in person.
Afterward, the Steelers shared a video message from Shazier on their team Twitter account: “You guys scared me, but we know how to pull it out, baby.
“Here we go Steelers.”
But it was bittersweet, as Shazier's absence was felt on the field. The fourth-year inside linebacker was an every-down player who called signals for the defense and led the team in tackles.
The Ravens attacked the soft spots, taking advantage of missed tackles and penalties for a 25-point swing. Baltimore held a 38-29 lead with 6:44 remaining.
Then Shazier was shown on the Jumbotron during the playing of the pump-up song, “Renegade,” and the Steelers suddenly came alive.
They scored 19 points in the fourth quarter, including the first career touchdown for fullback Roosevelt Nix, and took the lead on Boswell's 46-yarder with 42 seconds remaining. When they needed a stop, rookie outside linebacker T.J. Watt came up with a strip sack of Joe Flacco to end the game.

Afterward, the Steelers called Shazier on Face Time, giving him the game ball and promising to bring an AFC North championship hat and shirt to his hospital room — even though visiting hours were long over.
“We just told him that we got that crown for him,” Heyward said. “He was happy about it. I know a lot of guys were emotional about it. Sucks that he couldn't be out there, but we just wanted to make him proud and get that ‘W' for him.”
Not just for Shazier.
“We were playing for something much greater for ourselves: We were playing for Ryan. We were playing for Mr. Rooney,” Mitchell said, referring to the late Steelers chairman Dan Rooney, who died in April. “Both of those two needed this win and we were happy to give it to ‘em.”
For a team that has dealt with such loss, the Steelers sure find ways to win. This was their eighth consecutive victory, their fourth in five games on a last-minute field goal by Boswell.
“Championship teams find ways to win,” said Roethlisberger, who visited Shazier after practice Thursday and then passed for a season-high 506 yards against the Ravens. “In the past, you felt like we just couldn't quite get over that hump, for whatever reason.”
Which brings us to the game circled all season on the schedule: The Patriots visit on Sunday, another hump the Steelers couldn't quite get over.
We know the reason: Tom Brady. He has shredded the Steelers' defense, especially in the AFC championship game last year, and you can only imagine what he will do to a struggling secondary and a middle no longer manned by Shazier.
The Steelers-Patriots winner likely will earn the top seed and home-field advantage for the AFC playoffs.
“This is the game. Now we can talk about it,” Mitchell said. “This is the game everyone has been waiting to see. ... I've been thinking about this game since we lost it last year. I'm very much looking forward to playing them.
“For us to be the champ, we have to beat the champ. I feel we can beat every team in the NFL but the Patriots. That's what it's been. Now we need to knock them off, prove to ourselves that we can do it, and do it.”
To Mitchell, that's not a joke, but the 100-percent truth. What once sounded silly has become the Super Bowl rally cry for a team that just finds ways to win.
The Steelers Shalieve.
Do you?
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at kgorman@tribweb.com or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.

Steelers ride last-minute Chris Boswell kick to win over Ravens, division title 

Steelers lock up AFC North with win over Ravens

By Will Graves
December 11, 2017
Chris Boswell kicks a 46-yard field goal with 42 seconds left to give the Steelers a 39-38 lead in Sunday night's game. (http://www.steelers.com/photos/)
PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ben Roethlisberger’s record-setting day finished with a carry just as valuable as any of the franchise-record 66 passes he threw.
As the Pittsburgh Steelers poured onto the Heinz Field turf to celebrate a frantic 39-38 victory over Baltimore that wrapped up their third AFC North title in four years, Roethlisberger grabbed the familiar No. 50 jersey of injured linebacker Ryan Shazier and joined in the party
An emotionally draining week for the Steelers ended with Shazier recovering from spinal surgery in a nearby hospital but still very much in the middle of things. Just like always.
“We love our brother,” Roethlisberger said. “We wanted to get this one for him, and I’m glad we did.”
The Steelers (11-2) blew an early 14-point lead and found themselves trailing by 11 going into the fourth before exploding for 19 points over the final 15 minutes, the last three coming on Chris Boswell’s 46-yard field goal with 42 seconds left.
“I think championship teams find ways to win,” Roethlisberger said.
Having an offense that is starting to peak after a sleepy start certainly helps. Roethlisberger threw for 506 yards and two scores to become the first player in NFL history to go over 500 yards passing three times in his career. Antonio Brown caught 11 passes for 213 yards to fuel an MVP candidacy that no longer feels so far-fetched, including gains of 57 and 34 yards in the fourth to spark Pittsburgh’s comeback and running back Le’Veon Bell finished with 125 total yards and three scores.
“It’s an amazing feeling, especially for Ryan Shazier,” Brown said. “One of our brothers couldn’t be out here today. Obviously, he is watching.”
Shazier suffered his injury in the first quarter of a victory over Cincinnati last Monday. He underwent surgery on Wednesday and Roethlisberger visited him on Thursday.
“When you walk in and see him and see the smile and give him a hug, it really has taken that weight off and let us breathe a little easier,” Roethlisberger said.
The Steelers have done their best to let Shazier know is very much a part of their run. Linebacker James Harrison borrowed a page from Shazier’s pregame routine and warmed up shirtless even with the temperature hovering around freezing. Shazier’s helmet and jersey spent the game on the bench and several Steelers wore cleats with a special design featuring Shazier’s face and the popular #Shalieve hashtag.
“It was very emotional,” linebacker Arthur Moats said. “Any time you can bring something to him that brings him some type of joy, some type of happiness, that’s good. At the end of the day we’re just trying to make sure he’s good.”
Baltimore (7-6) meanwhile, saw its surge back to contention blunted after its defense spent the fourth quarter fruitlessly chasing Brown from one side of the field to the other.
“This is going to sting for a while,” Ravens safety Eric Weddle said. “Especially the guys on defense because we care so much and we hold ourselves to a high standard.”
The Ravens certainly didn’t meet it after giving up 545 yards to the Steelers. Pittsburgh scored on its last four possessions. It’s not like the Steelers were taking advantage of a short field. All eight of their scoring drives went at least 50 yards, including two of 80 or more.
“I think in the fourth quarter the defense dropped the ball tonight,” linebacker Terrell Suggs said. “That’s kind of been our thing all year, consistency.”
The win sets up the AFC game of the year next Sunday when Tom Brady and the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots visit. New England beat the Steelers twice last season, including a lopsided 36-17 blowout in the AFC title game.
“We’re going to give respect where respect is due now,” Pittsburgh center Maurkice Pouncey said. “But they’re not Superman. They lost this season, right?”
Brown, Bell and Roethlisberger hardly did it alone. Boswell has hit four game-winning field goals in the final minute in four of Pittsburgh’s past five games. Tight ends Jessie James and Vance McDonald combined for 14 receptions for 149 yards. Even fullback Roosevelt Nix got in on the act, scoring his first career touchdown on a 1-yard reception in which he basically pulled the ball off Baltimore safety Tony Jefferson’s chest as they tussled in the end zone.
“AB is gonna do what he do, I’m going to do what I do, Ben’s gonna do what he do,” Bell said. “But it’s the guys who don’t get the credit always that are the ones making the plays.”
Baltimore: Needs to win out if it wants to reach the postseason. The good news? Their final three opponents are a combined 8-34, including the 0-13 Cleveland Browns, who the Ravens visit next Sunday.
Pittsburgh: The Steelers have beaten Brady at Heinz Field just once in his career, a victory in the 2011 regular season.

Ravens still can't stop the elite quarterbacks in the AFC

By Mike Preston 
December 11, 2017

Ben Roethlisberger threw for 506 yards in Sunday night's 39-38 win over the Ravens. (http://www.steelers.com/photos/)

The Pittsburgh Steelers are like sharks. Once they see a weakness, they go after it.

When Ravens defensive tackle Brandon Williams was out of the lineup earlier this year with an ankle injury, the Steelers pounded the ball at the Ravens. Then on Sunday night, with cornerback Jimmy Smith sidelined, the Steelers and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger threw 66 times, completing 44 for 506 yards and two touchdowns.
During the offseason the Ravens worked hard to rectify the problems of finding players who could cover and getting pressure on the quarterback, but it apparently didn't work. Well, not against a great quarterback like Roethlisberger and it wouldn’t against New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, either.
The NFL is full of average teams and the Ravens have shown they are one, if not the top average team in the AFC, but they aren't in the top tier yet with the Steelers or Patriots. The Ravens’ Joe Flacco can't match the talent level of those quarterbacks and the Ravens can't stop them, not with Smith out of the lineup.

Opposing teams are going to watch the film of the Ravens’ loss Sunday night to Pittsburgh. We thought opponents might zero in on rookie cornerback Marlon Humphrey, but they will continue to attack cornerback Brandon Carr.
I am confident the Ravens will win their remaining three games and get into the postseason, but I'm not sure they can beat New England, Pittsburgh or the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Ravens can't stop Brady or Roethlisberger and the Jaguars have too good of a defense. On Sunday night, the Ravens gave up 545 yards of total offense to Pittsburgh and the Steelers were 12 of 18  on third-down conversions. They found the Ravens weakness and then bled them to death

Sunday, December 10, 2017

Sid Bream pulls a Michael Keaton at PiratesFest

By Tim Benz
December 9, 2017
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Once my eye stopped twitching after flashing back to Francisco Cabrera's hit, I could appreciate the scene.
Former Pirate Sid Bream was at PNC Park Saturday afternoon. Yes, in Pirates jersey. Not a Braves one like the one he wore sliding across home plate to end Game 7 of the 1992 NLCS.
He was on stage with four Pirates players he helped eliminate that fateful October night: Bob Walk, Doug Drabek, Mike LaValliere and John Wehner.
The men were holding court for a question-and-answer session with fans at Pirate Fest.
Bream, who maintained roots in Pittsburgh and seemingly identified as a Pirate despite the ominous footnote he holds, choked up at one point.
“I always wished I could've won (a championship) with these guys, because they meant so much to me,” said Bream.
He slightly turned his head away from Drabek and LaValliere, almost as if he didn't feel comfortable looking at them while talking about his slide, knowing how that play prevented his former teammates from going on to the World Series.
I admit I got choked up, too. Maybe it was Bream's reaction. Or maybe it was the ghost pain I still feel in my right hand whenever the topic of “When Sid slid” comes up.
See, while Bream was celebrating at home plate, I was at Syracuse punching a steel door in my dorm common room.
Bream and Cabrera broke my heart. That door broke my middle knuckle.
A fan asked the players if they thought the remaining core of the Pirates that has carried over from the 2013-2015 playoff years was good enough to make another playoff run.
The parallels are obvious. Those Pirates went through three consecutive empty postseason trips in 1990, '91 and '92. Their window closed after Sid slid. Twenty consecutive losing seasons ensued.
These Pirates missed the playoffs in 2016 after three qualifications in a row. Then 2017 got even worse. So are the Pirates headed for another two decades of losing?
With Bream's love for the franchise he once vanquished already on display, it made his answer ring loudly.
“This might be a little cruel, but I think ownership in some ways has a huge part in determining what a team is going to be like,” Bream paused as applause filled the room. “I think that there have been opportunities over the years here with the more modern day teams to bring in somebody that would tell the team ‘We want to win.' Take in point, the Houston Astros. They don't go out and get a rookie. They go out and get (Justin) Verlander. That tells the team ‘We want to win.' ”
Bream wasn't done.
“The first year that they were going to get over .500 (2012), they were 16 games over .500 in August. And they had an opportunity to go out and get Hunter Pence. But instead, they got someone else who wasn't established in the game. And you just saw the team go (downhill).”
The 2012 Pirates finished with 79 wins. Presumably Bream meant Travis Snyder, who had never played more than 82 games in a season at that point.
Ironically, Bream was sitting in exactly the same spot Michael Keaton was when he openly questioned the willingness of Pirates management to spend money for talent by saying “Write the check” moments before he went on the field to throw out the ceremonial first pitch in April 2006.
Bream's barb was pretty close to that level, as he preached at the team's biggest fan function of the year.
It's tough to debate Bream, especially when general manager Neal Huntington had this to say on that same stage minutes later in his own Q&A:
“There are a lot of those teams that put everything they have into this year's club. And their fans are thrilled. Until they don't win. Then, they start to lose 95 games. And they've got to rebuild. Because they've mortgaged their future for their present. It happened in Kansas City.”
Yeah, Neal. It happened in Kansas City. Exactly. Similar to those early 90s Pirates, the Royals had four straight years at .500 or better after a decade of losing baseball. But they actually won it all in 2015.
Do you think those five ex-Pirates who were on that stage before you would've taken that? How about guys from the more recent era?
Do you think the fans and alumni would be less inclined to hurl such pointed criticisms at you if those things had happened?
I say: “Yes.” “Absolutely.” And “no doubt”
So what's the message, Mr. Huntington? Don't ever “go for broke” because you might actually wind up broke?
Ok, I get it. But you haven't. And I don't feel like the Pirates are living on Major League Baseball's Park Avenue as a result.
Are you serious with this: “The fans are thrilled until the team doesn't win” bologna? Well, what if the team actually does, you know … win?
Ok, I better calm down. My twitching eye and throbbing Cabrera-knuckle injury are starting to flare up again.
Tim Benz hosts the Steelers pregame show on WDVE and ESPN Pittsburgh. He is a regular host/contributor on KDKA-TV and 105.9 FM.

Friday, December 08, 2017

Steelers might look vulnerable, but Ravens need to raise their game again to win

By Peter Schmuck
December 8, 2017
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Oct 1, 2017: Pittsburgh Steelers running back LeVeon Bell (26) runs for a gain against the Baltimore Ravens at M&T Bank Stadium.  Mitch Stringer-USA TODAY Sports

Ravens receiver Mike Wallace apparently doesn’t own a rearview mirror, because he completely dismissed the notion that last weekend’s resounding victory over the Detroit Lions will have a carryover effect in Sunday night’s game against the Pittsburgh Steelers.
“Every week is different,’’ he said. “I don’t think we can worry about momentum. I just think it’s about what we’re going to do Sunday night. I don’t believe in that stuff. I believe in you line up on Sunday and you make plays that day. Last week is not going to help us. Three weeks ago is not going to help us. I don’t know about other guys, but I don’t believe in momentum.”
That’s too bad, because the Ravens will need to have everything going for them when they arrive at Heinz Field to face a team that is all but a lock to win the AFC North title and will be motivated to put a dent in the Ravens’ wild-card hopes.
The Steelers have looked vulnerable at times, but they are tied for the NFL’s best record (10-2), and it is no fluke. They were down 17-3 going into the second half of Monday night’s game against theCincinnati Bengals, but found a way to win. They had to rally to beat the wounded Green Bay Packers the week before and nearly lost to the Indianapolis Colts two weeks before that, but in each case, they were the team high-fiving at the end.
It’s tempting the look at the past four weeks and conclude that the Ravens have played better overall. They certainly played better this past weekend, but the NFL — especially this season — is all about the here and now.
The Ravens are obviously capable of playing the way they played last Sunday, but the Steelers are not the Detroit Lions. The Steelers have proven all season that they play 60 minutes, even if the first 45 or 50 haven’t always been pretty. That doesn’t figure to change Sunday night against their greatest rival in front of a national television audience.
Of course, it’s always a big game when the Ravens play the Steelers, but this one probably is more about the rivalry than it is about the playoffs, since it is entirely possible that a Ravens win or loss will have little impact on their postseason position.
If the Steelers had not come back to win Monday night, there would still have been a decent chance for the Ravens to win the division title by winning out, since they would only be two games back and Pittsburgh plays the New England Patriots next week. But there is little chance of that happening now.
The Ravens could solidify their hold on the sixth AFC playoff berth with a victory and still have an outside chance of moving into the No. 5 seed, but they would have to gain two games on either the Jacksonville Jaguars or the Tennessee Titans, who are each one game ahead of them and hold the head-to-head tiebreaker.
There also is value in the Ravens holding off the teams behind them, but along with their one-game lead over the surging Los Angeles Chargers and sagging Buffalo Bills, they own the conference tiebreaker over both teams.
Still, this game, like so many others between the Ravens and Steelers, will be a steel cage match in which none of that matters, which is essentially what Wallace was saying.
And he ought to know.
Read more from columnist Peter Schmuck on his blog, "The Schmuck Stops Here," at baltimoresun.com/schmuckblog.

Thursday, December 07, 2017

NFL drops the ball on discipline again

By Mark Madden
December 6, 2017
Image result for steelers bengals december 4 2017
George Iloka (43) hits Antonio Brown (84) after Brown's game-tying touchdown catch in the fourth quarter of Monday night's game. (Mandatory Credit: Aaron Doster/USA Today Sports)
JuJu Smith-Schuster got suspended. Cincinnati’s George Iloka didn’t.
Yinzer Nation is tumescent with outrage, but here’s why Smith-Schuster got banned for one game and Iloka didn’t. It involves logic.
The NFL’s brand of logic, that is.
• Smith-Schuster stood over Cincinnati’s Vontaze Burfict and taunted him after flattening him with a block that seemed marginally illegal. (A little high, and a little from the blind side.) The NFL likely holds that Smith-Schuster’s behavior after the hit revealed malicious intent before the hit.
Iloka’s helmet-to-helmet shot on Antonio Brown was much more clearly illegal. But Iloka didn’t taunt Brown. It can thus be more easily argued that Iloka’s hit was just a “football play” gone bad.
NFL VP Troy Vincent said that “taunting was never considered” in Smith-Schuster’s suspension. But in a letter to Smith-Schuster that notified him of the ban, NFL VP Jon Runyan wrote, “Your conduct following the hit fell far below the high standards of sportsmanship expected of an NFL player.”
Typical NFL: The left hand doesn’t know what the right hand is doing.
• Brown got up and walked away from Iloka’s hit. He kept playing. Burfict was carted off after Smith-Schuster’s block and did not return. If Brown had stayed down and writhed in agony for a few minutes, maybe Iloka gets suspended.
The NFL gave more weight to the damage done than the acts that inflicted the damage.
Flimsy, right? But lawyers have won acquittals with a lot less.
Those who wallowed in the glory of Smith-Schuster’s block because it hurt football’s dirtiest player can’t be blamed. (I’m guilty.)
But the NFL couldn’t take that into account when deciding on discipline for Smith-Schuster. There are no deserving victims in the eyes of justice. Smith-Schuster’s block was not self-defense.
Burfict has ended the seasons of Brown and Le’Veon Bell, gratuitously celebrating after he injured Bell’s knee in 2015. Burfict kicked Roosevelt Nix in the head when the Steelers hosted the Bengals on Oct. 22.
Steelers fans can use all that to rationalize Smith-Schuster’s block. (Brown did: “Karma is karma. Karma is life. You do the wrong things, you get the wrong things out of it.”) The NFL can’t, and didn’t.
When Ben Roethlisberger was asked to assess the damage following Monday night’s game, he was succinct: “AFC North football.”
That didn’t satisfy those given to perpetual self-righteous indignity, but it was good enough for me.
Monday night was a rough and physical game, played within the parameters football used for so many years before we went soft and started believing no one should ever know an unpleasant moment.
The players should be protected, but not at the expense of what makes football popular. No one forces the athletes to play.
The NFL is terrible at discipline, as witnessed by Rob Gronkowski’s felony getting the same punishment as Smith-Schuster’s block while Iloka gets off with a fine. Sanctions are applied haphazardly. No clear standard is set.
If flags, ejections, fines and suspensions bring football into line with how the NFL wants it, that’s OK. It’s their league.
But Monday night’s game was not a national nightmare, as too many say.
On ESPN, Bob Ley and ex-NFL player Louis Riddick acted like the Steelers and Bengals had firebombed an orphanage. After Smith-Schuster’s block, ESPN play-by-play announcer Sean McDonough said, “Shame on him.” McDonough will make a good grandmother someday.
Was Monday night a bad look for the NFL, or was it entertaining?
There’s no finite description beyond calling it “AFC North football.”
Not long ago, the hits perpetrated by Smith-Schuster and Iloka would have been put on a videotape and marketed by the NFL. Or featured on ESPN’s “Jacked Up” segment, which was not hosted by Ley, Riddick or McDonough.
Have we evolved, or gone limp?
Depends on who yells the loudest.
Mark Madden hosts a radio show 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WXDX-FM (105.9).

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

Replacing 'unbelievable teammate' Ryan Shazier tough task for Steelers

By Jeremy Fowler
December 5, 2017
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Ryan Shazier is carted off the field after being injured in the first quarter of Monday night's game in Cincinnati. (Frank Victores/AP)
CINCINNATI -- The Pittsburgh Steelers remain encouraged on Ryan Shazier's back injury, but in the short term, the team expects to be without one of its best playmakers and a likable locker room guy.
The numbers tell the story. Shazier is the only player in the league who leads his team in tackles (89), interceptions (three) and forced fumbles (two). Couple those numbers with a four-game streak of interceptions late last season and into the playoffs, and Shazier has become quite the pass defender.

"When we need a big play, he's one of the guys we look to," linebacker Vince Williams said."He's the middle linebacker and our signal-caller. It's going to be tough."
With Tyler Matakevich also hurt, the Steelers face many questions about their interior defense without Shazier flying around the field. Shazier's unique, rangy playmaking from sideline to sideline gives the Steelers more flexibility in mixing zone and man coverages. They might have to simplify with him out.

Steelers’ violent win a stark reminder of what football actually is

By Chris Mueller
December 5, 2017
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L.J. Fort #54 and Artie Burns #25 of the Pittsburgh Steelers tackle A.J. Green (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
The scariest thing about the scariest play of the game was that it wasn’t outwardly, well, scary. The play that put Ryan Shazier in the hospital, the play that has people wondering whether he’ll ever walk easily again, let alone play football, was innocuous, by the standards of the NFL.
Shazier led with his helmet — a tactic far from unique with him or most of his fellow NFL defenders — in an effort to bring down Bengals receiver Josh Malone. You know what happened next. Shazier immediately clutched his back, managed to roll himself onto his back, and then was taken off the field on a backboard. Aside from a few updates, at best cautiously optimistic in nature, no one knows much about how he’s doing.
It wasn’t a blowup shot, or a blindside block, or a safety attempting to prevent a catch by trying to take a wide receiver’s head off of his shoulders. The play that may dramatically alter Shazier’s career and life wasn’t about a gratuitously violent collision; it was about risky tackling form causing a freak injury.
This is what football is.
The hits that followed, the ones that garnered suspensions for JuJu Smith-Schuster and George Iloka, were similar to what one would see in every game every week. They were vicious and illegal, yes, but nothing out of the ordinary. Only Shazier’s freak injury, and the Steelers’ and Bengals’ penchant for having extremely physical battles made them stand out.
The reaction to the game was curious. For the national media and many outside observers, it seemed to signify some sort of tipping point, a level of wanton violence that required action from the league, lest it represent some point of no return.
Unsurprisingly, the NFL took action, slapping Smith-Schuster and Iloka with one-game bans. This was, of course, a terrible decision by the league. Both men were banned for attempting to make football plays. Were the plays worthy of penalty flags and fines? Sure. Suspensions? No way, not unless one of the men had been a serial offender.
Incredibly, New England’s Rob Gronkowski received the same length of suspension despite doing something that was exponentially worse. Gronkowski’s pro-wrestling style cheap shot on Buffalo’s Tre’Davious White came after the whistle, was done to an unsuspecting player, and caused a concussion. If the league really wanted to send a clear message, they’d have banned Gronkowski for three games.
What’s more, in explaining Smith-Schuster’s suspension, NFL czar of discipline Jon Runyan (once cited as one of the league’s dirtiest players) specifically made mention of Smith-Schuster’s taunting as one of the contributing factors to the decision. That part made it clear that this was all about optics, and about making sure that huge hits during a prime-time game, ones that were criticized at length by Jon Gruden and Sean McDonough on the broadcast, were punished. It was about a league that has been consumed by concussion concerns wanting to appear serious about the issue in full view of the public.
Apparently the last thing that the NFL wants is people thinking that violence in football will be tolerated. News flash: Football is violent. Always has been, always will be. The participants, especially those who have come of age in the last 10 years or so, know the risks better than any players who have come before them. Injuries are guaranteed, and serious injuries an unavoidable, unfortunate cost of doing business.
This is not to suggest that the players don’t deserve sympathy and compassion when they are injured. Quite the opposite. Many are putting their bodies — their lives and their livelihoods — on the line for the entertainment of the masses. Compassion should be a prerequisite.
Still, the idea that this game was somehow beyond the pale is off-base. There is no great reckoning needed for NFL fans that watched what transpired. Football is violence. You cannot have the former without the latter. The hits may have been violent, and Shazier’s injury unsettling, but the idea that this game was unique is wrong.
Monday night’s game? That wasn’t a debacle, or an outlier. That was football, for better or worse.
Chris Mueller is the co-host of the ‘Starkey & Mueller Show’ from 2-6 p.m. weekdays on 93.7 The Fan.