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Tag:Hines Ward
Posted on: September 14, 2011 7:27 pm
 

Sapp says Steelers are 'old, slow and itís over'

Posted by Will Brinson

Tonight at 9 p.m. ET on Showtime -- one of the many wonderful properties owned by the mothership -- "Inside the NFL" will, as usual, go inside the world of professional football.

And Warren Sapp, as usual, will have a spin on things that's going to offend a few folks. In this instance, I'll go out on a limb and say the Steelers won't be loving what he has to say, as he basically leaves the Pittsburgh football dynasty for dead.

"The Pittsburgh Steelers. I have three things: old, slow and it’s over," Sapp says. "It’s just that simple. James Harrison told us that he was 70-to-75 percent. It looked more like 40 percent to me if you are looking at the ballgame I was looking at. And Hines Ward, Mercedes Sapp can cover Hines Ward right now. You have to be kidding me ... Mercedes is my 13-year-old daughter. She will cover Hines Ward in a heartbeat.

"And Troy Polamalu, Ed Dixon runs this crossing route. Troy Polamalu is trying to grab him to have a pass interference and he can’t even get close enough to grab him. [It] looked like he was dragging a wagon behind him. Touchdown Baltimore. Pittsburgh Steelers done."

Them, as we say in the South, is fightin' words. And while Sapp has a point about the problems that plauged the Steelers in Week 1 against Baltimore, I'd probably lean more towards Phil Simms' take on things.

"That’s a tremendous over-reaction to Week One," Simms says.

Look, the Steelers looked downright dreadful as Baltimore was beating them up and down the field in every aspect of the game. But lots of teams have looked bad in the first week of the season and then circulated right back around to have good seasons.

This is especially true of teams that turn the ball over seven times in the first week of the season. That's not on Harrison, that's not on Polamalu, and I'm not even sure it's really on Ward.

Most importantly, though, is the fact that just last year, this was an AFC Championship-winning team. They are most certainly older, but they are not dead just yet. In fact, if anything they're a motivated giant that might not be sleeping anymore.

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Posted on: September 12, 2011 11:50 am
Edited on: September 12, 2011 11:53 am
 

Ward on Ravens game: 'We'll remember everything'

Posted by Will Brinson

In today's edition of Sorting the Sunday Pile, we noted that Baltimore was highly motivated by last year's playoff lost to the Steelers. So motivated, in fact, that Jim Harbaugh and the Ravens decided to rub things in a bit, scoring on a fake extra point/two-point conversion, despite being up three touchdowns.

They also kept chunking the ball around with less than two minutes to go and up a lot of points. Predictably, this did not sit well with the Steelers, who plan to remember the Ravens actions, according to Hines Ward.

"It leaves a taste in your mouth," Ward said, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "The 2-point conversion [when the Ravens led, 27-7]. The passing at the end ...

"We'll remember everything."

Look, as Ryan and I said on the podcast, if you don't want someone to score on you, stop them. This is true in every game, but especially so in a rivalry game where there's so much hatred between the two sides.

And I'm with colleague Clark Judge (and, as you'll see below, Jim Nantz and Phil Simms) on the fact that the biggest storyline of this game is actually the emergence of the inexplicably hated-in-Baltimore Joe Flacco.

And it kind of stinks for the Ravens to have the rivalry storyline outweigh the importance of his first win in a head-to-head matchup with Ben Roethlisberger.

But what puzzles me the most is that the Ravens would waste an absolute lock of a two-point conversion on the home opener when they're up a ton of points. That's the sort of play that wins you a game later in the year if executed correctly.

Maybe the Ravens had designs on using it all along on Sunday, and maybe they wouldn't try to pull it off in a close game (why not?) and maybe Jim Harbaugh just wanted to kick the Steelers in the ribs while they were already lying unconscious on the turf at M&T Bank Stadium.

Any one of those is fine, and I have no problem with the sportsmanship issue. I just think it's stupid to get in a fistfight with a bear, knock said bear to the ground, and then stand there poking it with a stick for a few hours.


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Posted on: September 10, 2011 10:38 am
 

7-Point Preview: Steelers vs. Ravens



Posted by Ryan Wilson


1. Pittsburgh Steelers (0-0) vs. Baltimore Ravens (0-0)
The Ravens will begin the 2011 season the same way they ended 2010: facing the Steelers. Not only are they AFC North rivals, but there's a good argument that this matchup is annually the NFL's fiercest. At least in terms of physicality; as for the results, Pittsburgh has the edge, especially when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is under center. In fact, Big Ben is undefeated against the Ravens in his last seven starts, something that leaves defensive end Terrell Suggs a little queasy.

"They spoiled our Super Bowl dreams for the last two out of three years," Suggs said. "We have to switch that, you know? It's sickening. It ends our season every year we lose to our division rival. I'm sick of it. I'm disgusted. I'm tired of having a sick feeling in my stomach for a whole year."

But the Ravens have their own franchise quarterback in Joe Flacco, who has helped his team to the postseason his first three years in the league, and has yet to miss a start during that time. Still, the playoff wins on the road against the Patriots in '09, or the '08 AFC Championship Game appearance don't mean much unless the conversation ends with "and the Ravens won the Super Bowl." Exacerbating matters: Flacco is 2-6 against the Steelers in his career and he has yet to beat Roethlisberger. (The two wins came against a Roethlisberger-less Pittsburgh team -- Dennis Dixon started late in the '09 season, and Charlie Batch was under center during Week 4 of the 2010 campaign.)

The Rivalry

2. What the Degenerate Gamblers and Eggheads Are Saying:
"You can throw the records out the window" is a cliche, yes, but in this case it's also fitting. While the Steelers hold the win-loss edge, these matchup are invariably close, usually coming down to a huge fourth-quarter play. That, their similarly bruising styles, and the game being in Baltimore means the Steelers are just one-point favorites, according to Bodog.com.

As for the pocket-protector set, our good friends at Football Outsiders have the Steelers atop their preseason rankings (2nd in defense, 5th in offense, 5th in special teams), and the Ravens are sixth (9th in defense, 8th in offense, 3rd in special teams).

The CBSSports.com experts are split: three like the Steelers, two favor the Ravens.

3. Key Matchup to Watch
For the first time in his career, Flacco finally has a legitimate deep threat. The Ravens traded for wide receiver Lee Evans after rookie Torrey Smith's unimpressive showing during the first week of the preseason. (To be fair, Smith didn't have a chance; the second-round pick out of Maryland missed OTAs and minicamp because of the lockout, and had just a few weeks to transition to NFL.)

Evans will play opposite Anquan Boldin, but Flacco's two go-to targets -- Derrick Mason and Todd Heap -- are no longer with the team. Mason signed with the Jets and Baltimore released Heap, who is now in Arizona. Second-year players Ed Dickson and Dennis Pitta will replace Heap although it may take time for Flacco to develop a rapport with them that he shared with Heap.

The Steelers will try to stop the Ravens' passing attack with what many experts consider its weakest link: the cornerbacks. Ike Taylor broke a finger during the preseason but will be on the field Sunday. And, frankly, the cast he'll be wearing won't have much bearing on his performance. He's a solid cover cornerback who's been known to drop an interception or 12. As long as his legs work, he'll be fine. The other corner, Bryant McFadden, is another story. He's battled a hamstring injury for all of training camp and if 2011 is anything like 2010, offenses will target him all day.

Safety Troy Polamalu, the 2010 Defensive Player of the Year, can mitigate many of the secondary's shortcomings, particularly when he's at full strength. And to hear him tell it, his Achilles injury, which bothered him late last season all the way through the Super Bowl, is healed and he feels as good as ever.

The Steelers' defensive backs might have more critics but the Ravens' secondary is young and inexperienced, the two things you absolutely don't want to be when facing the likes of Mike Wallace, Hines Ward, Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown and Heath Miller, and with Roethlisberger throwing them the ball.

Rookie first-rounder, cornerback Jimmy Smith, will start, as will Cary Williams, who spent much of his NFL career on the practice squad. But future Hall of Famer Ed Reed will be on the field, too, which means that a turnover is always just a play away. Still, Reed understands what his guys are up against.

“We have to do our job, and that job is to slow those guys down, keep them out of the end zone, and cover them," he said, according to the Baltimore Sun. We’ve got fast guys around here, too. The only disadvantage for the defense is, for the secondary guys, we’re moving backwards at the start. But it’s part of the game. We knew that. We signed up for it. And we’re definitely ready for the mission.”

Whether Baltimore's offensive line, currently held together by duct tape, feels the same way is another story. Recent free-agent additions Bryant McKinnie and Andre Gurode join a group that has been reshuffled due to injuries and inconsistencies. It's one thing to make these changes months before the season; it's something else entirely to try to pull it off in just a few weeks after a lockout against a front seven that led the NFL in sacks a season ago.

And this is where the most important cog in Baltimore's offense comes in. Ray Rice is one of the most dangerous players in the league, a sure-handed running back who is both powerful and elusive and also serves as a genuine pass-catching threat. If he's running the ball effectively, Flacco's job is made markedly easier. The problem, of course, is that the Steelers stop the run better than any defense in the league.

4. Potentially Relevant YouTube
Apparently, these two teams play a physical brand of football.


5. The Steelers win if…
The defensive front seven creates confusion for the Ravens offensive line and forces Flacco into mistakes. If Big Ben and his stable of big-play pass-catchers take advantage of a young Baltimore secondary, the game might not be close.

6. The Ravens win if…
The offensive line holds up and gives Flacco an opportunity to exploit McFadden (particularly if he's covering Evans), which should also allow Rice more room to make plays. Defensively, Haloti Ngata, Ray Lewis and Suggs will have to help their young secondary by getting consistent pressure on Roethlisberger.

7. Prediction: Steelers 24 Ravens 20

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Posted on: September 6, 2011 4:26 pm
 

Tomlin on PIT-BAL matchup '2 trains on a track'

The Ravens and Steelers meet in Week 1. Apparently, they do not like each other.  (Getty Images)

Posted by Ryan Wilson


There are eight division matchups in Week 1 but the biggest could be Sunday's Steelers-Ravens get-together. Both teams went 12-4 last season, made the playoffs, and the Steelers got to the Super Bowl before losing to the Packers.

Seven months later, Pittsburgh and Baltimore remain two of the AFC's best teams. And by Sunday night, we should should know the early favorite to win the AFC North (apologies to whoever wins the Bengals-Browns tilt).

But both teams enter the season with issues; the Ravens lack depth at wide receiver, quarterback and the offensive line, and the Steelers are one of the oldest clubs in the league. Over the weekend, we documented the Ravens' potential problems in great detail, but in the days since, head coach John Harbaugh announced that Jimmy Smith and Cary Williams will be the starting cornerbacks. Smith was the team's first-round pick in April; Williams has just one start in his four-year career. And they'll be facing possibly the best group of pass-catchers in the league. As a unit, the Ravens secondary will be tasked with stopping Mike Wallace, who had 10 touchdowns and averaged 21 yards per catch last season, Hines Ward, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown.

"I think we are younger, more athletic and faster than we've been the last two years," Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome, according to the Baltimore Sun. "I think this team will be a better team in October and November than they will be in September. Then you may go, 'What are you saying?' I'm saying we've got some young guys that are going to get better…"

The Rivalry

Baltimore also has plenty of veterans, although some are new faces around the locker room. The team signed center Andre Gurode over the weekend in case Matt Birk isn't fully recovered from back spasms, left tackle Bryant McKinnie was inked last month after Oniel Cousins flopped at right tackle (Michael Oher has since been moved to RT and McKinnie is penciled to play LT), and the Ravens traded for Lee Evans after it was clear rookie wideout Torrey Smith wasn't yet ready for the No. 2 job.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was asked repeatedly about the age of his team during his Tuesday press conference and, slightly agitated, he finally said “You’re making my job easy,” presumably because it would motivate aforementioned old-timers to play harder. That includes linebacker James Harrison, 33, who admits to being less than 100 percent after two offseason back surgeries.

Tomlin, however, remains unconcerned about the 2008 Defensive Player of the Year. “I expect James to be James.” We suspect Joe Flacco feels similarly; in the past eight meetings between the two teams, Harrison and LaMarr Woodley have sacked the Ravens quarterback 12 times.



Pittsburgh nose tackle Casey Hampton put the rivalry in perspective: "They talk a whole lot," Hampton said, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. "They don't like us. I think they don't like us a lot more than we don't like them. I think they have to talk themselves into it, kind of, know what I mean? Since I've been here, we've beat them a lot more than they beat us. They have to talk about it a whole lot."

For the record, since Hampton's arrival in 2001, the Steelers are 14-9 against the Ravens (including the playoffs).

Tomlin says the pregame gum-flapping doesn't mean much. “Who’s angry, who’s not, what’s said, what’s not said ... that’s going to be irrelevant. We have two ... teams with the same intentions: to put themselves in position to chase the Lombardi. That’s why we will always have issues with those guys. Two trains on a track. See you Sunday."

We'll be there.

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Posted on: August 28, 2011 5:39 pm
 

Big Ben, Steelers' O more dangerous than ever



Posted by Ryan Wilson

The Steelers may have annual issues along its offensive line, but the passing game has been among the NFL's best during the Ben Roethlisberger era. Since drafting him 11th overall in 2004, Pittsburgh has ranked no worse than ninth in passing efficiency in six of seven seasons (as determined by the friendly eggheads at FootballOusiders.com).

But the outfit historically known for the three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust approach to matriculating the ball down the field has been a mediocre running team over that time (their average rushing efficiency rank since '04: 14th in the NFL). If the first three weeks of the preseason is any indication, there's a great chance both units will improve in 2011, which is scary news for the rest of the AFC.

Roethlisberger has been near-flawless in three games that have no bearing on the standings but provide a glimpse of what's to come once the final scores count. He's 21 of 31 (67.7%) for 361 yards and four touchdowns, hasn't come close to throwing an interception, and his passer rating is an otherworldly 146.6. And while Ben's accustomed to showing well in the preseason, and having it carry over to the regular season (notable exceptions: offseasons involving near-death motorcycle accidents and league-sanctioned four-game suspensions), 2011 could be the year he unanimously joins the conversation as one of the NFL's best quarterbacks.


PITTSBURGH, PA - AUGUST 27: Antonio Brown #84 of the Pittsburgh Steelers celebrates his touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons during a pre-season game on August 27, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)

Part of it will be because he's healthier than he was a year ago when the Steelers went 12-4 and lost to the Packers in the Super Bowl. But he also seems to be making better reads, throwing more accurately and playing with more poise. Oh, and not only is this the best group of pass-catchers Roethlisberger's ever seen in Pittsburgh, but arguably the most complete wide receivers corps in the league. (In regards to the former, the bar isn't particularly high -- this is a man whose three best wideouts during the 2005 Super Bowl season included Hines Ward, Cedrick Wilson and Antwaan Randle El. The latter claim requires some justification, however, and that's what we aim to do.)

Roethlisberger still has Ward, but there's also the most explosive deep threat in the game, Mike Wallace; two young players who came out of nowhere to add depth as rookies last season in Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown; and recently signed Jerricho Cotchery.

A year ago, Wallace had 60 catches for 1,275 yards (a mind-blowing 21.0-yards-per-catch average) and 10 touchdowns. And while defenses would love to double- and triple-team him this season, they'll do so at their own risk because Brown has emerged as Wallace 2.0, but possibly more dynamic. He showed glimpses of talent during the second half of 2010, no play more memorable than his catch during the AFC Divisional Game against the Ravens, a 58-yarder on third and forever that sealed Baltimore's fate and Pittsburgh's place in the conference finals.

Heading into last offseason, Sanders was ahead of Brown on the depth chart. For the season, Sanders had 28 catches for 376 yards and two touchdowns, and played well enough to take the No. 3 WR job from Randle El. But a broken foot suffered during the Super Bowl, and a stress fracture in his other foot that required surgery earlier this month, has kept Sanders on the sidelines while Brown has played like a Pro Bowler -- he has nine receptions for 230 yards (a 25.6 YPC average) and three touchdowns in the preseason, and he also ripped off a 51-yard kickoff return to start Saturday's game against the Falcons. Brown finished the evening with four catches for 137 yards, including a pair of touchdown grabs, one for 77 yards, the other for 44 yards.

More Steelers News

Three years ago, shortly after the Steelers used their first two draft picks on running back Rashard Mendenhall and wide receiver Limas Sweed, head coach Mike Tomlin was asked why the team chose not to bolster the offensive line to protect Roethlisberger. At the time, his response might've sounded flippant, but in retrospect, the man knew what he was talking about.

“There are two schools of thought to protect a quarterback,” Tomlin said at the time. ”You can get linemen or you can get him weapons — people that people have to account for. Obviously with [the Mendenhall] pick, we’ve gotten a weapon. So what he is able to do on a football field will help our quarterback and our football team.”

The Steelers have drafted offensive linemen in early rounds since -- center Maurkice Pouncey made the Pro Bowl as a rookie last year, and because of injuries, rookie tackle Marcus Gilbert has seen time with the first team this preseason.

But Tomlin's larger point remains: defenses can choose to blitz Roethlisberger silly because of Pittsburgh's unexceptional offensive line, but it'll come at a cost in the form of big plays. On the other hand, defenses can choose to crowd the line of scrimmage in the hopes that the Steelers run, something they did with alarming frequency on first downs during the first half of 2010 (some of that can be attributed to a Roethlisberger-less offense during the first month of the season). But the Steelers now have the weapons to do something other than run Mendenhall into an eight-man wall.

But the running game, which has lagged behind the passing game in recent years, could also be effective this season. Part of the reason is that Mendenhall and Isaac Redman continue to get better. But it's also because defenses can't just load up the box to stop the run, and double-team Wallace because Ward and Randle El couldn't beat a linebacker in a foot race.

The emergence of Brown and Sanders, to go along with zone-busters Ward and Cotchery, create the sort of mismatches that lead to a lot of big plays and a ton of points. It will also open up running lanes for Mendenhall and Redman.

Teams will continue to blitz Roethlisberger, at least early in the season, just because he welcomes contact and the line continues to be the offense's weakest link. But at some point in the coming months, defenses might have to rethink that strategy. Eight-man fronts and constant pressure could be a thing of the past, which is what happens when, as Tomlin pointed out back in 2008, you surround your quarterback with a bunch of weapons.

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Posted on: August 8, 2011 10:30 pm
 

VIDEO: Steelers on set of next Batman movie

Posted by Josh Katzowitz

Taking a break from sweating in the hot sun in western Pennsylvania while at training camp, about 12 Steelers spent last Saturday morning at Heinz Field spending time under the hot lights of Hollywood and pretending to play football.

As the Pittsburgh Tribune Review writes, Ben Roethlisberger, S Troy Polamalu, WR Hines Ward, LB James Farrior, C Maurkice Pouncey, TE Heath Miller, DE Brett Keisel* and S Ryan Clark all participated in the shooting for “The Dark Knight Rises,” the new Batman movie scheduled to drop next summer.

*Yes, but what about Keisel’s beard?

“You put the uniform on, you sit around a long time, guys with the cameras come and get you and you go on the field and do our little part," said defensive end Aaron Smith, who, with his teammates, played for a club called the Gotham Rogues. "Batman was not on site when I was there. Saw a bunch of football guys."

It’s unfortunate that Batman was not at Heinz Field that day (perhaps, Christian Bale was indulging in some Primanti Bros.?), but to ease that pain, there is video of part of the day’s events (though if you can tell what’s going on in the shot, you’re a better person than me).

So, why did producers set up Pittsburgh for the shot and, specifically, use the Steelers as the Rogues? According to the AP, the executive producer, Thomas Tull, is a member of the team’s ownership group. See? It's always about who you know.


H/T to Yahoo! Sports’ Shutdown Corner.

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Posted on: July 30, 2011 10:37 am
 

Ward will stay on sidelines a little longer

WardPosted by Josh Katzowitz

Despite dancing his way into the hearts of America and then apparently drinking his way into a DUI arrest, Steelers WR Hines Ward, he of the very interesting offseason, might have to stay on the Physically Unable to Perform list for a little longer.

Ward had offseason thumb surgery, and for now, it’s keeping him on the sidelines while his Pittsburgh teammates have opened camp.

“The proper time of recovering from a thumb injury, I think I am a week or two away from that," Ward said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune Review.

Ward had thumb surgery June 1 to repair an injury that occurred last season. Apparently, the recovery time from a surgery like that is about two months. Until he's off the PUP list, Ward can't practice.

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Posted on: July 24, 2011 8:23 pm
Edited on: July 24, 2011 8:52 pm
 

Hot Routes 7.24.11: Cutler calls off engagement



Posted by Josh Katzowitz

  • A day after Ben Roethlisberger got married, Bears QB Jay Cutler will not be doing the same. According to People, Cutler called off his engagement with reality TV star Kristin Cavallari. "She got dumped," says a magazine source. "She's absolutely devastated. She can't believe this is happening."

  • What will the Jets’ plans for free agency say about QB Mark Sanchez? Do they feel he needs big-time players around him in order for him to succeed?
  • NFL.com’s Gil Brandt isn’t completely impressed by this class of undrafted free agents’ ability to make an immediate impact.
  • It sounds like 49ers LB Manny Lawson is preparing himself to move on from San Francisco. One reason why? San Francisco’s first-round pick, Aldon Smith, is described by at least one person as very similar to Lawson. Except, you know, Smith is younger.

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The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or CBSSports.com