A Connection & A Prediction

By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette about 12 hours 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 2 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 3 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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Vick Story Prompts a Reaction

By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 4 days ago

Good morning,

The story I wrote about Michael Vick in Tuesday’s Post-Gazette has struck a nerve. If you have not read it, here it is.

In the story, I quote Vick as saying he’d like to play one more year. Nowhere in the story did I ever suggest he should play one more year, that the Steelers should bring him back nor that I believe he played well this season. I let Vick do the talking.

However, as you can see by these emails I received (others were worded too strongly or too ignorantly to print) some readers did not comprehend the story as I wrote it:

--- YOU: I think it is disgraceful that you think Vick should play with the Steelers another year! Not only is he a washed up football player he is a horrible human! And no he has NOT served his time! I suppose you are as uncompassionate as he is! I have been a Steelers fan all my life and I have not watched a game since they signed that POS! The Steelers sold out and for what.... A washed up piece of garbage! Peace out!

ED: Yes, but did you donate your Terrible Towel to a worthy cause?

--- YOU: Ed is it true you think Vick can play one more year with the Steelers? If this is true, seriously, quit drinking the Rooney Kool-Aid. His dog history aside he is washed up and needs to move on.

ED: I prefer cranberry juice, by the way.

--- YOU: I respectfully disagree with you Ed on signing Michael Vick for another year with the Steelers. He is one that gives football a bad name he's a vicious person and should not be entitled to play pro football. You should read his federal indictment, I couldn't even get past the first paragraph. I'm sorry I believe in forgiveness but he went way beyond he tortured these dogs in the third year of his multimillion dollar contract he's no good ! P.s. He stunk with the Eagles and he stinks with the Steelers ! Yuk.

--- YOU: I abhor your devotion to a man who tortured animals.

--- ED: Vick plays for the Steelers, and I cover them – the good, the bad, the ugly. And I save my devotion for family and friends.

--- YOU: I cannot imagine why you think the Steelers should keep Michael Vick for one more minute, let alone another year, when he is costing the team its image and much of its fan base.

ED: Judging by attendance at home and away and the TV ratings, the fan base hasn’t gone anywhere, never mind “much” of it.

--- YOU: You really are a poor excuse for a journalist! Shame on you for supporting an evil, unremorseful monster named Mikey Vick!!!

ED: My job is not to ignore a certain segment of the Steelers roster just because you don’t agree with whom they have on it.

--- YOU: While Vick is a monster, you're pathetic. It's evident you can't be trusted to tell the truth. Leave Pittsburgh and take Vick and Tomlin with you! We don't want your kind here.

ED: And what is that kind?

--- YOU: I am not sure why you feel the need to be a voice for the propaganda machine- but please stop. Can you just report the facts and not be on the payroll for the Vick PR team?

ED: And those facts would be, what? That he does not play for the Steelers? That they did not win two of the three games he started? That he has not slipped from backup to No. 3? That he is not imitating Russell Wilson in practice this week? What?

I’m sure some of you would like us to always write about his past every time we write something about Vick, but that was done when he arrived and now we write about football. I detest what he did too, and he went to jail for it, but the Steelers signed him, he is a member of the team who contributed this year and continues to do so. None of us who cover them can ignore that and I certainly won’t stop writing about what he does on the field because of it.

Thank you all for your feedback.

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How the Steelers Can Make the Playoffs

By Ed Bouchette Pittsburgh Post-Gazette 5 days ago

Good morning,

Overcoming the Cincinnati Bengals to win the AFC North Division title is a long-shot for the Steelers, but there remains a sliver of hope, thanks to the NFL’s tiebreaking system.

Cincinnati’s second straight defeat raised hopes by Steelers fans that their team might overtake the Bengals and win their second straight division crown. At 6-4, the Steelers are two games behind the first-place Bengals, who are 8-2 and they can gain one of those by winning in Cincinnati Dec. 13. If the Bengals lost another and the Steelers won out, they would be tied.

A tie would not do it for the Steelers unless the Bengals also lost to either Cleveland or Baltimore because the first tiebreaker is record within the division. Cincinnati is 3-0 in the division and the Steelers 1-2. The Bengals would have to finish with two division losses and be tied with the Steelers for it to go to the next tiebreaker.

And if it does, that’s where the Steelers have a chance. The next tiebreaker is not, as many believe, the two teams’ records in the AFC. If it were, the Bengals again would have a big edge because they are 7-1 and the Steelers are 3-4. So the Bengals would have to lose three games for the Steelers to even tie in that category.

However, the NFL procedure for breaking ties within the division starts with head-to-head, then goes to best record within the division. The third tiebreaker is best record in common games for the two teams. There, the Bengals still lead with a 5-1 record to the Steelers’ 4-2. However, there is plenty of football to be played in that category as well. Cincinnati has a game Sunday against St. Louis and another at San Francisco Dec. 20. The Steelers beat both teams. Both the Steelers and Bengals then have games left against Cleveland, Denver and Baltimore.

It remains a long shot for the Steelers to overcome the Bengals and win the AFC North. They would have put themselves in great position had they been able to pull out that game against Cincinnati Nov. 1 at Heinz Field; then, they would be tied at 7-3 and perhaps could have determined the division winner at Cincinnati Dec. 13.

But the Bengals prevailed in that one 16-10.

The most logical path to the playoffs for the Steelers remains the wildcard route, and while they are clearly No. 1 with the best record among those not leading the division, four AFC teams are 5-5. They are Buffalo (after losing last night to New England 20-13), the New York Jets, Houston and Kansas City.

There, the tiebreakers are not kind to the Steelers. First is head to head, so Kansas City would beat them out if those two tie. They will have played no other 5-5 AFC teams so the next tiebreaker would be record within the conference, as it would be to break tied with three or more teams. This is where it gets confusing because the next step to break a tie within the division – the Steelers and Bengals, for example – are those common games. But once you get into breaking ties for the wildcard berth outside the division, it is reversed – record within the AFC first and then common games.

Again, the Steelers 3-4 conference record might hurt them. Kansas City has only two losses and Houston three. Buffalo is 5-4 in the AFC and the Jets 4-4.

As some Steelers players said on Monday, they now are in control of whether they make the playoffs or not. The one thing we do know is that if they sweep their final six games, they are in. If they go 5-1, it’s unlikely two other 5-5 teams will sweep their final six, so that should do it also. Go 4-2 and a 10-6 record also should make it.

According to FiveThirtyEight, the Steelers are the ninth strongest team in the NFL and fifth in the AFC. They have a 62 percent chance of making the playoffs, an 11 percent chance of winning the division, a 4 percent chance of earning a first-round bye and a 2 percent chance of winning the Super Bowl.

The New York Times has a playoff simulator and there, the Times gives the Steelers a 56 percent chance to make the playoffs based on 19,400 simulations.

So there you have it. The Steelers have a better chance of making the playoffs than not making them. Their chance of winning the division is a long-shot but not out of the question.

Now all they have to do is play.

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