Thursday Night Football features the season’s second match-up between the Cleveland Browns and the Pittsburgh Steelers. Cleveland is easily the worst team of 2009. First year coach Eric Mangini was fleeced in two trades with the Jets, which led to his puppet G.M. getting canned mid-season. Their defense is on pace to surrender more yardage than any team this decade. The starting QB spot has ping-ponged from Brady Quinn to Derek Anderson back to Quinn with neither player getting the job done. In fact, if you subtract Quinn’s four TD outburst against the equally sad Detroit Lions, the Browns have scored less than a dozen touchdowns ALL SEASON.
What I’m trying to say is the Browns are the type of team the Steelers should pound into a fine paste. Which is exactly what I said when we played Kansas City and Oakland. Yet, we all know how those games turned out. No game is a gimme for the Steelers because the Steelers refuse to let it be. That’s why the enemy this week isn’t really the Cleveland Browns.
The Steelers enemy is themselves.
Here’s a perfect example. Hines Ward tweaked his hamstring on the second to last play of last week’s loss. Working on an extremely short week, it appears that Hines will not play. Hines practiced a little but the signing of an extra WR off the practice squad indicates the team isn’t optimistic. Now, anybody with a brain in their head knows Ward is one of the toughest Steelers EVER. He was Super Bowl MVP despite playing with a separated shoulder while in last year’s game he attempted to play on a partially torn MCL. The man is a warrior who will do anything to help his team win.
So what does Ben Roethlisberger say when asked about the possibility of Hines not playing this week?
“Hines will do what’s best for Hines, I’m sure.”
This was the perfect opportunity to take the high road and work toward unifying the locker room. Especially now that the team’s backs are up against the wall. Instead, Ben decided it was better to get a little payback by making a petty self-serving comment. Way to show your “leadership” skills, Ben. No wonder 50% of the locker room thinks you’re a dick.
This sort of nonsense is exactly what I’m talking about. Bill Cowher took fifteen years to win a championship but his teams ALWAYS put forth maximum effort. I don’t see that this year. The players don’t seem to care. Veteran leadership is totally lacking. And the coaches, particularly Mike Tomlin, like to talk a big game but seem incapable of motivating anybody while repeatedly putting players in position to fail.
The irony in the whole Team Hines vs. Team Ben debate is they both need each other. Hines lives to win and Ben is most definitely a winner. Without him, he wouldn’t have those two shiny rings on his fingers. Likewise, Ben is a mediocre passer who relies on his receivers to make big plays for him. He’ll learn to appreciate Hines when he hits Limas Sweed (our #3 WR this week) in the hands only to watch the ball slip through his greasy mitts.
Of course, the big news this week was Tomlin calling out his secondary, particularly CBs Ike Taylor and Will.i.am Gay. I’ve stated many times I think Ike is an extremely talented cover corner but he does have a tendency to get lazy. Which is why Cowher had to bench him for five games back in 2006 after he did a fantastic job in the playoff run of 2005. No word on whether Tomlin is going to go that far although I’d like to see a message sent.
Gay has sucked all season which Tomlin is evidently just getting around to noticing. It appeared the Steelers had an easy out this week with Gay suffering a concussion at the hands of Ryan Mundy last week. However, William practiced normally all week which means he’d have to be benched as well. My medical expertise is limited to playing doctor with Tina DiCapula in the fourth grade but I can almost guarantee he knows if somebody starts in his place and plays better than him (impossible not to), his starting spot is gone. It’s amazing how minor side affects like excercise induced headaches don’t matter when you’re not in a position to be a whiny primadonna.
Regardless of who starts, expect rookie corners Keenan Lewis and Joe Burnett to get long looks. With the playoffs a long shot, the rest of this season should be about the future. And nothing is more important than figuring out our secondary mess for next year. Lewis is a tall, rangy athlete with excellent leaping ability. The concern on him is his speed, which led some to think his best position would be to put on weight and move to safety. I was very impressed with Burnett during the preseason. He’s small but fast and has a nose for the ball. We saw a little of that last week when he had the game sealing INT all but handed to him. In college he was a ballhawk so I’m hoping it was rookie jitters because I think he could be a keeper.
There may be other players seeing more action than usual. Ryan Clark has totally degenerated to the point I think the coaching staff wants to take a look at Mundy. I have no idea why since all he seems to know how to do is cheapshot people. Also, Keyaron Fox, who has played fantastic when given the opportunity (maybe because he’s HUNGRY?), may split time with Lawrence Timmons. To be honest, James Farrior is the weaksauce of the LB corps but he can’t be taken out because he’s the captain in charge of setting the defense and calling all the signals/audibles.
Oh, and of course, Troy Polamalu is out.
Which probably means Brady Quinn will throw three TD passes then go home and celebrate by being a human pommel horse for his girlfriend, Alicia Sacramone. Not that I want that to happen, mind you. At this point, I’d rather adjust my expectations downward so I’m not so crushingly disappointed. Yes, the 2009 season has come to that.
And the Steelers have nobody to blame but themselves.
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