Is the Steeler Season Over?

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The question comes not just from the fact that the Steelers lost to Cleveland Browns with it’s ugly violence filled finish.  The question comes from the fact, more than anything else to the fact that what should be the strength of the Steelers is falling down on the job.  The offense line has not been playing well.  When you add to that the three game suspension loss of Mike Pouncey, the future doesn’t look bright.

When dealing with a young quarterback there are two things that really help him be successful.  The first is a good running attack, the second is keeping the quarterback from getting sacked.  Both of those things very much are dependent upon the offensive line playing as a cohesive group, and playing well.  Take your best running back out of the picture with Conner’s injury, add to that a line not playing well and then remove a highly mobile pro-bowl center and that young quarterback is going to suffer.  There’s a small hope Benny Snell can return and infuse some energy into a lackluster running attack.

The Steelers upcoming schedule puts them in a favorable position to go 4-1, and come to the last week of the season at 9-6 and playing the Ravens.  A win in that game would then likely determine a playoff spot for the Steelers.  But given the current status of the line and running attack, it doesn’t look good for the Steelers going forward.  It’s a shame in a year when the defense is playing so incredibly well.  Here we go.

The Dangerous Dolphins

minkah fitzpatrick steelers

Yes, you read that correctly, the dangerous Dolphins.  There may be nothing more dangerous in the NFL than a winless team.  You see they go through the stages of death.  First, they are in denial about how bad they are.  Then, they get angry about the way things are going.  Then they get depressed about the state of affairs.  Finally they come to acceptance and hope.  That hope is the dangerous bit.  You see if they find themselves hanging around in the late third, or early fourth quarter of the game they start to believe, this could be the one.

The reason this makes me nervous is that our Steelers have had a tendency over the last few years to not dominate the teams they should.  And Miami is a team they definitely should dominate.  But if the Steeler offense doesn’t produce touchdowns instead of field goals and we let Miami hang around, this could get ugly.  And if it does, given the Ravens beat the Seahawks last week, well, this season is likely over for the Steelers.

Let’s hope they come out and Conner and company run all over the Dolphins, Mason starts to let loose a bit and the defense considers it’s improvement.  Here we go!

Game 5 – One more fumble

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So one more game likely in the bag, one more fumble, one more game down the tubes.  Two fumbles, two more wins and the Steelers would be 3-2 and in first place in the AFC North.  Woulda, shoulda, coulda – no point in crying over what could have been.

The Steelers played the Ravens well, they climbed out of an early hole after an idiotic call and bad interception by Jaylen Samuels.  The defense was playing well, getting sacks and generating turnovers.  The game was close, of course, it was the Ravens.  The Ravens clawed back at the end of regulation to tie it up, overtime.

The Steelers won the toss and deferred, everyone hated the decision, I liked it.  A three and out with a new quarterback, your third string quarterback and with the Ravens kicker things are over.  So Tomlin did something I thought was brilliant, he deferred and his last words to the defense were, “you want to be great, this is how you make it happen.”  The defense got the stop, the offense took over.  The young kid, the duck, is leading them down the field, he fires a perfect pass, Juju in stride and boom the ball is out, the kick is good and the Steelers are 1-4.  Thank god the AFC North is so pathetic this year, it’s the only reason the season isn’t over.

A last note about the Ravens game, glad Mason Rudolph isn’t seriously hurt, that was a scary couple of minutes.  Devlin “Duck” Hodges, a new legend was nearly born in Pittsburgh.  Shockingly as I’m watching the Browns play like the Browns in San Francisco, the Steelers aren’t completely dead yet this season.  Here we go.

The Steelers’ Season is on the Line!

 

Pittsburgh Steelers v Baltimore Ravens

If I could start my life all over again I’d be a professional football player, and you damn well better believe I’d be a Pittsburgh Steeler. ~ Jack Lambert

Ok, on paper there really is no reason why the Steelers should win this game.  Although I expected a drop off from Baltimore’s defense this season, they’ve been playing very well.  Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore offense started the first two games of the season looking like the next great NFL offense.  Of course they were playing teams that still haven’t won a game, the Miami Dolphins and the Arizona Cardinals.

They then played the Chiefs tough and the Chiefs are one of the top two teams in the AFC.  A loss to Cleveland may have been an aberration, Cleveland is a team with a ton of talent but looks inconsistent this year.  So some Sundays Cleveland is going to stink and some Sundays that depth of talent is going to click and they will be dominant.

So this Sunday a Ravens team with a very good offense and a more solid than expected defense shows up in Pittsburgh.  The real question is, what Steeler team shows up?

The Steelers last week improved on offense.  I attribute it simple to two things.  First, a much better game plan by the Steelers’ coaching staff.  Second,  Mason Rudolph maturing into his role as he gains experience.  Hopefully this week the coaching staff continues to hold up their end to give Rudolph a chance to live up to his.  One reason for hope is that in the preseason, Rudolph came out a little tight, but over the preseason he loosened up and began to cut it loose.  He even talked about the need to let it fly and take risks as being the difference between last year and this year.  It’s one thing to do that in the pre-season against guys not in shape yet and backups.  On Sundays that count it’s a bigger ask.  However, if Rudolph can make that jump, big things could be on the horizon.

The thing is, that if the 2019 Pittsburgh Steelers are going to get their season back, it will be on the defense.  There are no more excuses.  You’ve got a top 10 caliber free-safety, a top 10 inside linebacker.  You’ve got a super talented front five and solid corners.  Last week the defense looked dominant, especially up front, but yeah, it was the Bungles.  The hope is for this season that the defense builds off that last performance and starts to control games.  This week is the huge test and the season is on the line.  Historically, good running quarterbacks have hurt the Steelers, that can’t happen this week.  it’s time for the Pittsburgh Steelers to be the Steelers of old, nasty defense, nasty o-line, run the ball and play dominant defense.  Here we go!

 

Ben is out for the season

steelers roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger, Steeler Quarterback is out for the season.

Well the news broke today, Ben Roethlisberger is out for the season. His wrist injury will require season ending surgery. This is terrible news for the Steelers, anytime you lose a future hall of fame quarterback it’s a bad day.

Roethlisberger is NOT retiring

Steeler fans got a bit carried away during the day though and started talking about Ben retiring.  So much so, that Ben had to release a statement saying he’s not retiring and planning on playing out his three year contract.

mason rudolph steelers

It’s Mason Rudolph’s time to shine

Throughout the preseason there was a heck of a camp battle going on between Josh Dobbs and Mason Rudolph.  Rudolph won the battle and Dobbs was traded for a fifth round pick. I made no secret that I was pulling for Dobbs and he played a good game in the loss to the Seahawks.  This week he’ll have a full week to prepare, he’ll have a week of not only knowing he’s starting this week, but suddenly, he’s the guy in Pittsburgh.  The Steelers drafted him in the third round and reported that they had a first round grade on him.  The silver lining in all of this for me is that we get to see what Mason Rudolph is made of, if he can perform on the big stage and take charge of the offense.  This season we find out if Mason Rudolph is the heir to Ben Roethlisberger’s job.

James Conner expects to play

According to ESPN, James Conner is confident he will be play against the 49ers on Sunday.  That’s some good news when there really hasn’t been a lot this week.

 

Steeler NFL Preseason Game 2

Steeler NFL Preseason Game 2

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How lucky I was to play for the Pittsburgh Steeler fans.  A proud, hard working people, who love their football, and their players. ~ Jack Lambert

The Night of the Diontaes

So it was an hour delay because of lightning, but instead of a sloppy field we got a lot of sloppy play against the Kansas City Chiefs.  Back to back interceptions, fumbles, penalties yup, it’s preseason football.  And then without telling us until they finished their half-time show, the NFL Network left the game for another.  Lousy move NFL Network, could have told us before the end of half-time.

In general there really wasn’t anything super exciting to talk about from this game.  But there were definitely some encouraging positives, I think the two biggest were the play of the Diontaes.

Diontae Johnson

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In the third round the Steelers picked Diontae Johnson, in my draft analysis, I talked about his route running ability and it was definitely on display in this game.  The other thing he highlighted was his ability to spot the ball in the air.  On both of his touchdowns, (the first was erased for an imaginary offensive pass interference call), he did a great job of locating the ball.  The first, a pass from Joshua Dobbs, was a bit behind him and he adjusted, made the catch and powered through a defender into the endzone.  The second, a beautiful early throw by Devlin Hodges while under pressure, was off to his right and he located it for a great catch.  This is definitely what the Steelers were hoping for when they drafted him.

 

Diontae Spencer

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Diontae Spencer was a return specialist star in the CFL, well he showed off those abilities last night.  He had a really nice kick-off return and a spectacular move on a punt return that sprung him free for a nice gain.  Don’t know if he makes the roster, the receiving core is looking pretty deep, but if he does the Steelers might have their first consistent decent return man in awhile.  Antonio Brown was a monster punt returner but his overall value kept him out of that role for the most part.

 

Rudolph vs Dobbs

I wrote earlier this week about how important this game was for Mason Rudolph.  He started out shaky but calmed down and played a solid game.  Nothing spectacular, but played steady and led the Steelers on a long drive that resulted in a Samuel’s touchdown stroll.  He didn’t do a lot to increase his position in a tight battle for the number two quarterback position but he also didn’t hurt himself.

Dobbs came in and didn’t help himself, he throws a nice deep ball and he really effectively uses his legs.  He did throw a nice touchdown pass to Diontae Johnson that was called back due to an imaginary offensive pass interference call.  But what hurt Dobbs tonight was throwing a bad interception in the red zone, overthrew his receiver in the endzone and right into the arms of a defender.  Kudos to Dobbs for making a great tackle on the interception.  Not a horrible night but that interception hurts and gives Rudolph a slight leg up in this battle.

 

Sacks are the home run of NFL defense

A lot of Steeler fans have been down on Bud Dupree, I’m not one of them.  I think he’s been a good player, although he has to improve on finishing plays, I think he’s been disruptive and has contributed to budding superstar TJ Watts’ success.  This year Dupree, on a fifth year contract of $9 million, has to produce.  He might have shown tonight that this year is going to be very exciting.  He had two really nice saks and was frequently in the backfield.  My personal hope is that the Steelers will sign both Dupree and Hargrave to extensions before the season.

Generally the team looked good, Justin Layne got over his first game jitters and looked a little better.  Benny Snell was ok, Samuels ran well, happily Connor looked like Connor.  The starting offensive line looked good.  Unfortunately Okorafor didn’t look good, Marcus Allen was missing tackles and is making a case for being cut.  Skipper continues to look good in garbage time and I continue to love Devlin Hodges.  If Rudolph stays steady I say trade Dobbs and make Hodges the number three.

Next up, the Tennessee Titans!

 

 

 

 

The Most Important Game of Mason Rudolph’s Life

The Most Important Game of Mason Rudolph’s Life

mason rudolph

Give me a 6 pack, half-hour of rest and lets go play them again – We can beat them.                     ~ Jack Lambert

So tomorrow night the NFL preseason continues and the Pittsburgh Steelers will be playing the Kansas City Chiefs.  Now that camp has ended, the battle for the backup quarterback position for the Steelers fires off in earnest.  All reports from camp have been that Josh Dobbs and Mason Rudolph have both been having a good camp.  Rudolph perhaps has had a slight edge and looked like a better passer last week.  However Dobbs has an extra dimension, he showed that with his legs last week, and so even after the first preseason game there isn’t a ton of separation between the two.  That’s why tomorrow night is so important for both of them.

Game 3 of the preseason will be the test run for the starters, so there will be limited time for Dobbs and Rudolph.  Game 4 will be the Hodge’s show, with the surprising number four quarterback getting to audition for the rest of the league with a bunch of guys doing the same, guys desperate for a special teams roster spot or just plain ending their NFL fantasy.  So that leaves tomorrow night’s game and the practice field and game play weighs a lot more in the coaching staff’s decision.

I predict that if Mason Rudolph has a great game tomorrow night he will be the backup for the Steelers this season.  I think it also means that Josh Dobbs becomes trade bait and gives Hodges a shot at being the number three quarterback for the Steelers.  However, if Rudolph doesn’t have a great game, or if he and Dobbs look to be on the same level, I believe Rudolph will once again be the number three quarterback and that’s really bad for his career.  Potentially leading to being a career backup with no hopes of becoming a starter, anywhere.

So while there will be a lot to watch for tomorrow night, particularly at outside linebacker, tight end and receiver, the real battle tomorrow night will be Rudolph and Dobbs.  I’ve made no secret that I think Rudolph is the better choice.  In my piece about the Tennessee Volunteer to the Steeler connection, I talk about how inconsistent Dobbs was at Tennessee, one series looking brilliant and the next three completely lost.  We’ve seen that a bit at the NFL level as well, which makes me think he doesn’t have what it takes to be a long-term (4 games or more) solution if Big Ben gets hurt during the season.  But it’s up to Mason Rudolph tomorrow night, he has to show he’s got the goods.

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