Ask Ed: Steelers Losses Bring Them Out

By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about 16 hours ago

Good morning,

Losses always elicit more questions than victories and that would be the case again this week with the Steelers. So we start with a bunch of them in Ask Ed. Chat today at 1:30:

YOU: Ed, I'm seeing a lot of people angry about the decision to kick the FG with 3 minutes left. I had no problem with the FG call. If you don't convert that 4th down into a touchdown and they go down and get FG you need a touchdown plus a 2 point conversion to tie it. If they go and score a TD then it's a 2 score game vs if you kick the FG and your defense stops them, then a FG wins it or if you hold them to a FG you can win it with just a TD. Obviously they scored a TD and it became a 2 score game regardless but you have more options kicking the FG and seeing what your defense can do. The most common arguement I see against it is that the defense wasn't stopping them but if that's the case what difference does it make if you kick the FG or go for it and turn the ball over anyways? Also even if we scored a TD the argument is we cant stop them so theyd go down and score one of their own taking back the lead again so what difference does it make if the whole argument is we cant stop them? You take the FG and if you can either get the stop or hold them to a FG, then you get the ball back with your two timeouts left and have a chance to win it with little to no time left on the clock.

ED: Chuck Noll would have kicked in that situation, as would many other coaches. If the Steelers defense had stopped them on that third down and the offense came back to kick a field goal, it would have looked like a brilliant situation. But then, that’s why they call it Monday Morning Quarterbacking.

--- YOU: Hi Ed, I've been one of the few supporters of Blake this season, but good god, he struggled last night. I've never been a huge fan of Will Allen and he was just as bad. Might the staff look at changing starters at those two positions? Really, how much worse could Boykin and Golden do?

ED: The problem with the secondary is that nearly everything the Steelers have done recently to bolster it has failed, including the draft, trades and free agent signings. The one exception is Mike Mitchell. I agree with you that how bad could those other be? But then, the coaches see these guys in practice all the time and their desire to win is greater than yours, believe it or not, and you have to believe they play the ones they believe give them the best chance to do that.

--- YOU: Possibly the biggest and most obvious weakness the Steelers have had over the last five years, has been and continues to be the secondary. A good suggestion might be to bring in Mel Blount and Rod Woodson, in the spring after the draft and have then work with the DB's. Teach them to:

a. play man to man

b. look back to the ball to break up passes/intercept

c. wrap up receivers and strip the ball

d. tackle aggressively

e. don't play off receivers by 10 yards, gives them too much open space

These two hall of famers know the techniques and could also assist evaluating collegiate DB's. Cant hurt and unless Steelers upgrade the secondary, this team is not going to be competitive in the new NFL, which is pass oriented.

ED: Great players sometimes do not make for great coaches and great coaches may not be able to  turn below-average players even into average ones. There has to be some talent involved. They have one of the best defensive backs in their history coaching them now, Carnell Lake. Rod Woodson, by the way, is a secondary coach for the Oakland Raiders, who have the fourth-worst pass defense in the league – right behind No. 3, the Steelers.

--- YOU: Why do you guys continue to use quotes from Anton Blake? This is the most inept so-called football player that I have ever seen in my 80 years.

ED: Last week, some readers were upset that I interviewed Mike Vick. Now you want me to stop talking to Antwon Blake. Maybe I should just ask for a list from the readers of which players I am permitted to interview. If we talked to only those who were playing well, it would be no fun and if that also were the case, there are a few years in which I covered the team that I may not have been able to talk to any player.

--- YOU: Have you ever had one of those reoccurring dreams that always seems to end badly? Every time I seem to watch a Steeler game, I find myself having one of those instances. And, the villain in this particular dream always does something so extraordinarily bad when I awake I find myself trying to rationalize it to be not all that bad.

Ed, I believe you do much the same when you see Tomlin consistently make a football stupid decision like he had when he made his team fake a field-goal which would eventually put it in motion a series of plays that would cause him and his team to lose.

And, like all bad recurring dreams I find myself saying please stop please stop. But, since I do not know as much as a professional football coach or for that matter A professional sports writer or writers I place myself at the mercy of falling asleep and once more experiencing my reoccurring dream hoping somewhere down the road everything will once again be predictable as Steeler football had been in years past. Oh how delusional I must be.

ED: This belongs more in a Tell Ed than an Ask Ed blog. Nevertheless, here you go: You don’t live in your fears, you live in your nightmares.

--- YOU: 1. In the first half, instead of kicking a field goal, he "goes for it" with his backup QB with fake. 2. In the 3rd quarter, it's 4th and 1 on the two, and he doesn't go for it. He tries to draw Seattle off sides, takes a 5 yard penalty and kicks a field goal. 3. In the 4th quarter, he doesn't go for it at the 3 yard line.

I know he's coached us to one Super Bowl victory, another appearance and multiple playoff appearances, but he makes some highly questionable game day decisions. The only one I agreed with wad the last one. What do you think?

ED: “He,” of course, is Mike Tomln. I did not like the fake field goal, even before it failed. I didn’t like the fake punt that worked earlier. As for the other decisions, coaches have made those both ways since football was invented. They are the right choices when they work and they win and, like Sunday night, not so right when they lose.

--- YOU: Believe The Pittsburgh Steelers defeated The Pittsburgh Steelers! Tomlin said he does not live in fear but in hope! How about living in reality?The fake field goal defies logic the way the offense was moving the ball. If you do not want to kick a long field goal. let Ben try for the first down. Believe you have to go for the touchdown late rather than kicking the field goal. If you do not make the TD. Seattle does not have good field position. A hold there should give the Steelers good field position for another try. And to top it off, Ben may have a concussion!

ED: A hold there might have given the Steelers good field position for another try to win it with a touchdown but a defensive hold on third-and-10 at the 20 also would have given them another try to win it with just a field goal. And we know how that turned out. Either way, the defense would have had to hold the Seahawks and they did very little of that all game on Sunday.

--- YOU: I am writing to you concerning the blog that follows your Steelers post game report/story – especially this week’s edition. I am all for freedom of speech and freedom of the press but with that comes some level of responsibility and maturity. Fans voicing criticism is a great thing – when done in a responsible, civilized way and with “class”. And the Steelers deserve it


There is a certain cowardly poster that hides behind the name of Richie Rich who has gone way over the line and because of his racist and slanderous comments, I am filing a formal complaint with this email.

Please take a look at his comments. Is this the type of “rhetoric” that the PG wants associated with its paper? I don’t think so.

This poster had been lurking on Pitt and Penguins post game blogs as well earlier this year but has vanished – hopefully he has been banned as a result of my letter writing and/or just good common sense on the PG’s part.

We can criticize without personal attacks and keep the site as professional as possible.

ED: Thank you!

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This one's on Tomlin

Ray Fittipaldo 1 day ago

The Steelers have now lost three fourth-quarter leads this season. Seattle became the latest to overcome a deficit in the final period to beat the Steelers, following Cincinnati and Baltimore.

Josh Scobee lost the Baltimore game single-handedly. Ben Roethlisberger lost the Cincinnati game with his untimely and uncharacteristic fourth-quarter interceptions. The 39-30 loss to the Seahawks is squarely on the shoulders of head coach Mike Tomlin.

There is no defending his fake field goal attempt in the first half when the Steelers led by three or his decision to kick a field goal with three minutes remaining when his team trailed by five.

The Steelers are on the outside looking in of the playoff picture in the AFC, and we’ll be able to point to any one of those losses if the Steelers don’t make the playoffs.

What made the fake field goal such a bad call was its timing. The Steelers led, 3-0, and were in complete control of the game. Landry Jones came on as the holder and under-threw 6-foot-9, 340-pound left tackle Alejandro Villanueva, who had pulled from the other side of the line and tried to sneak down the opposite sideline. Jeremy Lane picked it off and set up the Seahawks’ first touchdown.

It was a 10-point swing in a game where neither defense could stop the offense.

Even if you want to blame it on Jones for not calling a timeout if he didn’t get the right look, the brunt of the blame belongs on Tomlin. It’s on him and special teams coach Danny Smith to make sure his players know when to execute a fake and when to cut your losses and call a timeout.

The decision with three minutes remaining is clouded by the fact that Ben Roethlisberger appeared to play third down with a head injury. He did not return to the game after the Steelers got the ball back after Seattle made it 39-30.

But even if Roethlisberger was not able to take the snap on fourth down it remains a very questionable call because he knew his defense could not stop Seattle. Russell Wilson completed a simple crossing route to Doug Baldwin on third-and-9 for the game-sealing 80-yard touchdown.

It was Wilson’s fifth touchdown pass the 80-yarder capped a 345-yard passing day.

I’m taking my chances with Roethlisberger, or Jones for that matter, on fourth-and-goal from the 3 rather than handing it over to a defense that was having its worst day of the season.

It was the third time as many games the Steelers allowed the opposing quarterback to throw for 300 yards or more. Derek Carr threw for 301 yards and four touchdowns with one interception. Johnny Manziel threw for 379 yards with one touchdown and one interception.

That’s 1,025 passing yards, 10 touchdowns and only two interceptions over a three-game span. The Steelers are lucky they won two of those games.

The secondary couldn’t communicate, cover or tackle on Sunday. It was reminiscent of the season opener at New England when the Patriots had players running free through the secondary all night.

The Steelers have to be asking themselves this morning if Robert Golden and Brandon Boykin would be upgrades over Will Allen and Antwon Blake.

Golden was solid when he had to step in and start three games for Allen earlier this season when Allen had an ankle injury. There should not be any hesitation to go back to him if the coaches determine Allen can’t hack it as a starter any longer. Allen’s tackling has been suspect all season and he was badly beaten for a touchdown.

Blake is the most-targeted corner in the NFL. He couldn’t keep up with Seattle’s receivers and he couldn’t tackle, which is supposed to be one of his strong suits and reason why he plays ahead of Boykin. Tomlin has been on record saying he likes Blake’s physicality and tackling ability.

But if Blake is hindered by a fractured thumb it might be time to turn to Boykin. The Steelers traded a fifth-round pick for him in July and he’s barely played. Even if Boykin is flawed, in this instance change for the sake of change might not be a bad idea.

Playoff possibilities

The Steelers are 6-5 and remain in contention for a playoff berth, but their chances took a hit with the loss. They might be able to afford one more loss and make it as a wild-card, but even that seems up in the air now.

The Kansas City Chiefs, Houston Texans and New York Jets own the tiebreakers over the Steelers, who are currently the No. 8 seed in the AFC. The Chiefs and Texans are currently in, and they have very manageable schedules.

The Chiefs play at Oakland, play host to San Diego, travel to Baltimore and then play host to the Browns and Raiders in the final two weeks.

The Texans travel to Buffalo, play host to New England, travel to Indianapolis and Tennessee and then play host to Jacksonville in the regular-season finale.

The Jets have the most difficult schedule of the three contenders with 6-5 records. They are at the Giants, at home to Tennessee, at the Cowboys, at home to the Patriots and at Buffalo.

I was convinced 10-6 would get the Steelers in the playoffs a month ago, but that was before the Chiefs and Texans went on their winning streaks. It’s not difficult to imagine both going 4-1 over their final five games.

The Steelers would have to go 5-0 to avoid losing on a tiebreaker in that scenario. This team isn’t good enough on offense or defense to do that. Their best hope is to beat Indianapolis and hope the Texans win the AFC South. The head-to-head victory over the Colts would help the Steelers in a tiebreaker and it’d be another conference victory.

If there was one saving grace about the Seattle loss it was that it came out of conference. If there was one game the Steelers could afford to lose the rest of the way it was that one.

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A Connection & A Prediction

By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 2 days ago

Good afternoon from Seattle, where it is morning,

James Harrison is back after missing one game with a knee injury. That’s important for the Steelers defense today and not so much because of his pass-rushing ability, but the way he sets the edge of the defense against the run. He does it well and with a quarterback like Russell Wilson and a back like rookie Thomas Rawls, it is vital.

Rawls is an amazing case. One of the best high school players in Michigan, he signed on with the University of Michigan and after a promising start, played less and less and finally transferred to Central Michigan University for his senior season in 2014.

He played in only seven games as a senior but topped 1,000 yards rushing, yet he went undrafted this year. Part of the reason may have been the fact pled to a deal after he was charged with stealing a woman’s purse at a casino in 2014, which prompted a two-game suspension that season.

Nevertheless, he looks to be the kind of bargain fellow CMU product Antonio Brown was as a sixth-round choice. Rawls has 604 yards rushing an an average of 6.0 per carry. It was a godsend for Seattle after the Seahawks lost Marshawn Lynch with an abdominal injury. Rawls ran all over the 49ers last week here with 209 yards on 30 carries. He caught three passes for another 46 yards. He scored two touchdowns.

So the Steelers not having to face Lynch does not look to be much of a break for them because of the 5-9, 220-pound Rawls who was nicknamed The Train in high school.

Onto some other Stuff before today’s game:

--- Rawls played behind a more senior back for three seasons at Michigan – Fitzgerald Toussaint, who was signed to the Steelers’ 53-man roster Friday after spending the season on their practice squad since Sept. 7.

Toussaint signed with Baltimore in 2014 after he went undrafted and spent last season with the Ravens. The Steelers signed him two days after the Ravens released him Sept. 5.

The Steelers list him as 5-9, 204. Like his former teammate Rawls, Toussaint also got into some legal trouble when he was convicted of DUI in 2012.

--- The Seahawks allow nearly 70 yards fewer than the Steelers do yet Seattle has given up one more point than them after 10 games.

 --- That Legion of Boom defense has been a bust when it comes to picking off passes. They have just four. The Steelers have nine. Richards Sherman has no interceptions.

 --- Gerry Dulac came up with this gem: The Seahawks’ famed 12th Man was copyrighted by Texas A&M, which had it at least 50 years before the Seahawks were born in 1976. The Seahawks purchased the rights to use it in 2006 and those rights are up next year. Buffalo also has an agreement with A&M to use the 12th Man. Former Pitt coach Jackie Sherrill took it a step further when he left the Panthers to coach Texas A&M in 1982. He held tryouts for students to form the Aggies’ kickoff team, 11 truly 12th Men.

 --- Seattle was enveloped in a fog this morning but it is clearing up. This is an open-air stadium. The high temperature will be in the 40s today but it’s supposed to be dry.

 --- Day 24 of the Dri Archer Watch and still he remains unsigned since the Steelers released him Nov. 5. He reportedly turned down offers from 10 teams to join their practice squads, including the Steelers. That’s three weeks of lost pay at nearly $20,000. And, of course, the opportunity to be in a team’s system in case someone gets hurt or he impresses them enough in practice to join the 53-man roster.

 --- Today’s Prediction: The chance of the Steelers winning the AFC North is so remote it’s not worth talking about. They do lead the run for the first wildcard berth in the AFC though. There are so many others in the running that it’s important they keep winning.

 However, it says here they will not do that today, that they will fall to 6-5.

Seattle 24, Steelers 17.

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Big week for Steelers linebacker

Ray Fittipaldo 4 days ago

The Steelers have been rotating their outside linebackers all season with an almost 50-50 split. Jarvis Jones and James Harrison split time on the right side and rookie Bud Dupree and Arthur Moats split time on the left side.

Look for Dupree and Jones to play a little bit more than usual against the Seahawks. The Steelers are going to want to use their best athletes to keep contain and chase down mobile quarterback Russell Wilson. And Dupree and Jones are best-equipped to carry out that assignment.

I asked defensive coordinator Keith Butler if he wanted his best athletes on the field because of Wilson’s running and scrambling prowess.

“Sure you do,” Butler said. “A lot of that has to do with keeping him corralled. Some of it has to do with how many people you rush. He is dangerous out of the pocket. He’s also dangerous running the football. He was probably more dangerous when he was making $660,000 as opposed to $60 million. The owner doesn’t want to pay someone if he can’t play when he’s hurt. If you look at the guys who are mobile that works against them as the years go on. He looks like when he gets in a crowd he gets on the ground, which is a smart thing to do, but he’s still very dangerous in the open field.”

Butler went off on a tangent there about Wilson, but he did answer the question initially. All four will play, but this might not be an ideal game for Harrison to play a lot.

As for the aside on Wilson and his running, don’t be fooled. Wilson still can and does run. He’s rushing for 38.5 yards per game, which is on pace for his second-most rushing yards in a season. He ran for a career-best 53.1 yards per game last season.

Wilson gets his yards and then gets down before absorbing a big blow. He’s being more careful about getting extra yards, but he still has no qualms about escaping the pocket and getting rushing yards. The Steelers must keep him hemmed in the pocket and be aware of their rush lanes at all four rush positions on the defensive line.

It’s also a big week for the inside linebackers. Ryan Shazier had one of his best games against Colin Kaepernick in Week 2. Shazier has the speed to spy Wilson if the Steelers choose to implement that tactic. However, Shazier missed practice with a knee injury on Thursday. We’ll know more later today about his status for Sunday. If he can’t play that will be a big blow for the defense because Sean Spence and Vince Williams, while solid players, don’t possess Shazier’s speed or athleticism.

*When Butler watches Wilson and rookie running back Thomas Rawls he can see the influence of a couple of his former teammates. Butler played linebacker for the Seahawks for 10 years and played alongside Seahawks running backs coach Sherman Smith. Kippy Brown was Wilson’s quarterbacks coach in Seattle before retiring after last season.

“[Sherman] was a hard, tough runner and was very physical,” Butler said. “They kind of mimic their coaches. Russell’s coach, Kippy Brown, was the quarterback at Memphis when I played at Memphis. How about that? [Wilson] mimics Kippy when he was a player. When I watch those guys I see the influence of those guys. Both of them are good football players.”

*Pete Carroll has one of the biggest coaching staffs in the NFL. He has 25 assistants working under him. By contrast, Mike Tomlin has 17 assistant coaches.

What do they all do?

Carroll has two assistant offensive line coaches in addition to a tight ends coach. He also has two assistant secondary coaches, one to coach the cornerbacks and another to coach the safeties.

Many universities have nepotism rules, but the NFL does not seem to have the same standards for hiring family members. Perhaps that is one of the reasons the Seahawks have a bloated coaching staff. Two of Carroll’s sons are assistants.

Nate Carroll is an assistant receivers coach. He has no college football playing or coaching experience. Following graduation from USC, he was immediately hired to Seattle’s scouting department. He has been an assistant coach since 2011.

Brennan Carroll is an assistant offensive line coach. At least he has college playing and coaching experience. He was a tight end at Delaware and Pitt. Out of Pitt, he worked under his dad for eight years at USC before Pete became Seattle’s head coach. He worked at the University of Miami from 2011-13 before joining Seattle’s staff this season.

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Happy Thanksgiving

Ray Fittipaldo 5 days ago

I wrote a story today about the shooting of St. Louis Rams receiver Stedman Bailey and how some of his friends on the Steelers reacted to it.

Bailey’s unfortunate circumstance got me to thinking about another athlete who suffered a bullet wound to the head and how he returned to sports and excelled.

Football is the least of Bailey’s worries for the moment, but if he’s looking for some inspiration as he recovers all he has to do is look north to Tampa and the head coach at the University of South Florida.

Orlando Antigua was wounded in a random shooting in 1987 when he was 16. After healing he went on to earn a basketball scholarship to Pitt. I wrote this story in 2006 when Antigua reached out to Duquesne basketball player Sam Ashalou after he was shot in the head at an on-campus party.

Happy Thanksgiving to all.

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