Tag:Ben Roethlisberger
Posted on: December 19, 2011 8:46 am
 

Roethlisberger expected to start vs. 49ers

Baltimore's loss to San Diego means Pittsburgh could end up with the No. 1 seed in the AFC. (Getty Images)

By Ryan Wilson

It is, as they say, go time. For the Steelers, that means quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is set to start Monday night versus the 49ers even though he suffered a high-ankle sprain against the Browns 11 days ago. Several teammates suggested as much to CBSSports.com Rapid Reporter Dale Grdnic Saturday, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette'd Gerry Dulac tweeted similar news Sunday evening.


There was some speculation leading up to the game that Big Ben might sit this week, get healthy, and prepare for the playoffs. Pittsburgh clinched a spot in the postseason with Tennessee's loss to Indianapolis Sunday, and since the Steelers trailed the Ravens in the division, it appeared that their road back to the Super Bowl would have to come on the road as a wild-card team.

But that all changed Sunday night after the Chargers dismantled the Ravens on national television, and in the process changed the balance of power in the AFC North. As of Monday morning, the Steelers were atop the division, and if they beat the 49ers and win their remaining regular-season games against the Rams and Browns, they would also be the AFC's No. 1 seed. That's how good the top of the conference has been this season; a win or a loss could be the difference between a No. 5 seed and a No. 1 seed (and the difference between a first-round bye and facing the Broncos in a wild-card matchup).


The Pittsburgh Steelers will travel to Candlestick Park to take on the San Francisco 49ers on Monday night. Join James Brown, Dan Marino, Bill Cowher, Shannon Sharpe and Boomer Esiason as they break down this upcoming matchup.

Baltimore has beaten Pittsburgh twice this season but their inexplicable road collapses against lesser opponents have been their demise. The Ravens' four losses have come courtesy of the Titans, Jaguars, Seahawks and Chargers -- teams that are a combined 25-31 (and none have a winning record).

Roethlisberger was injured during the second quarter of the Steelers' Week 14 game against the Browns. At the time, he thought his "leg was broken," and spent most of the next week and a half in a walking boot. But Big Ben is known for his resiliency; his eight-year career has been highlighted by amazing plays unparalleled toughness. From a Haloti Ngata paw to the face to what he managed to do a week and a half ago on one good wheel, Roethlisberger's tolerance for pain exceeds that of a normal human.

So it's not surprising that he'll be on the field against San Francisco. Just how effective he will be, however, could determine if the Ravens' fall from grace is a 24-hour thing or if it means, in the words of linebacker Terrell Suggs, "We still can get our first-round bye and play at home but we need a little help now. We have to go the long way. Yeah, it's a reality check. We got our ass kicked, and now it's back to the drawing board."

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Posted on: December 19, 2011 1:47 am
Edited on: December 19, 2011 10:33 am
 

Sorting the Sunday Pile, Week 15: Good losses?

Posted by Will Brinson


Sorting the Sunday Pile takes all of Sunday's NFL action, figures out the winners and losers and asks the big questions. New format! Same old sorting! Send your complaints, questions and comments to Will Brinson on Twitter. Make sure and listen to our Week 15 podcast review below as well and feel free to subscribe via iTunes.

Are Good Losses Good?

You're not ever going to hear Aaron Rodgers or Tim Tebow admit this, but losing isn't always a bad thing. In the case of each, a loss on Sunday actually means significantly less pressure in the public eye over the next few weeks.

For Rodgers, there's no more chatter about whether or not the Packers can run the table. Granted, that was a side story to Tebow for most of the past few weeks but if Green Bay had beat Kansas City, the heat was about to be turned up with questions about resting players, playing stars, Mercury Morris' plethora of media appearances and much more.

The loss stinks, clearly. But now the week will be filled with questions like "Are the Packers in trouble?" and "Are the Saints the best team in the NFC?" (See: below). So a team that hadn't lost in nearly a year is suddenly going to get a free chip put on its shoulder? That seems smart for the rest of everyone.

As for Tebow, we all needed this. I love Tim Tebow's story. I love that my cousins' neighbors have a dog named Tebow. I love that my grandfather sends me newspaper clippings about Tebow's awesomeness. But my, um, God, that last week leading up to the Patriots game was just too much, you guys. We had media wars, Tebrews, preachers recanting TMZ quotes on Twitter and just generally all the other things you'd associate with the Apocalypse.

But now the Broncos lost and the Tebowagon gets a chance to tap the brakes, all while not giving up any ground on the playoffs (except to the Chargers who propped their playoff window open a little wider).

We (me, you, Tim) just need some time apart from Tebowmania. Hopefully we get at least a week.

Winners

It's a good thing Romeo Crennel didn't wear the traditional white shirt on Sunday. (US Presswire)

Romeo Crennel: We've been giving Crennel credit for his defensive schemes for a few weeks now, but Sunday's performance by the Chiefs -- a stunning 19-14 win over previously unbeaten Green Bay -- was absolutely worthy of the Gatorade bath he got after his first game as interim coach in Kansas City. The Chiefs shut down the Packers high-powered offense and Crennel parlayed the "you'd think it's obvious!" decision to bench Tyler Palko for Kyle Orton into a serious résumé builder for the offseason.

Reggie Bush: Look, I've ripped Reggie Bush left and right, especially considering his lack of success as an actual running back over the course of his career. But the dude is going HAMbone down in South Beach and Sunday's 203-yard effort makes him just the 40th running back since 1970 to rush for more than 200 yards on 25 or less carries. If you said you predicted Chiefs over Packers I might give it to you. If you predicted Bush rolling for 200 yards? You're a liar.

Skittles: Marshawn Lynch might've only averaged 2.1 yards per carry against the Bears, but he found the end zone twice and crossed the 1,000 yard mark for the season. The game was in Chicago which means it didn't rain rainbows all over Beast Mode when he dashed in the end zone. But has a candy ever gotten a bigger accidental brand boost from an athlete than what Lynch is giving those little sugar bombs during Seattle's sneaky playoff run?

Kyle Orton: Or, as I like to call him, "Senor Spoiler." Orton ripped the heart out of the Packers chance at an undefeated season and over the next two weeks, he's going to get a pair of shots to ruin some seasons. First there's Oakland in Week 16; a win in KC then and the Raiders are likely done. And then the ultimate revenge game against the Broncos, in Denver, on the final week of the season, against the guy, Tim Tebow, that de-seated him. There might be some major egg on John Elway's face if Orton pulls that "W" out.

Norv Turner: It seems impossible that Turner could save his gig, but that's mainly because the Chargers are dead-man walking when it comes to the playoffs ... or are they? After pummeling the Ravens on Sunday night, they've won their last three games and with losses by the Jets, Broncos, Titans, and Raiders they're suddenly one game back of a playoff spot.

Losers

Tom Coughlin: Just a week removed from taking over the NFC East with an impressive performance against the Cowboys, the target's back on Coughlin's back and it's bigger than ever. You can't watch Dallas dominate the Bucs on Saturday night and then lay a freaking ostrich egg at home against a division rival with four wins. Not if you want to make the playoffs anyway.

Our Souls: Bad news, you guys, because Tim Tebow lost. Naturally, that means that salvation will escape even the most penitent man (or woman). Or, alternately, it's a reflection of the fact that when the Broncos turn the ball over a bunch and hand Tom Brady short fields, the Patriots are really tough to beat. I'm going with the latter.

Santonio Holmes: Really Santonio? You're going to catch a touchdown pass, put the ball on the ground, stand on it and then do a dance mocking the Eagles who are in the middle of pantsing you right out of the playoffs? Really? It's kind of ironic that Charley Casserly compared Eagles wideout DeSean Jackson to Holmes on Sunday morning, considering they've both picked up embarrassing unsportsmanlike penalties now.

Oakland Raiders
: Take a look at the playoff picture. (Now back to me.) You realize that the Raiders, who choked to the Lions with a 99-yard drive to close things out, would be tied with the Broncos and Jets at 8-6 if they'd held off Detroit? Because they would be, and they hold the tiebreaker against the Jets and they're just one game back of the Broncos in conference record (5-5 to 6-4). Just close baby.

Ben Roethlisberger's Ankle
: No one's tougher than Roethlisberger, but did you see what happened to him against Cleveland? He probably doesn't have any business stepping on a football field for another week or so, especially without starting center Maurkice Pouncey. But with the Ravens getting paddled on Sunday, the Steelers are in the hunt for the top seed in the AFC and a division title, so Ben almost has to play. Poor ankle.

These Questions Go To 11

Who's protecting Aaron Rodgers? Excellent question.(Getty Images)

1. Should the Packers be worried?
Yes -- but not in the sense about caring over an undefeated season. They should be worried because even though they're still going to get the No. 1 seed in the NFC and homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, there's concern about how the offense performed without Greg Jennings and bigger concern about the performance of the offensive line and defense. A bad game from Aaron Rodgers and they can be sent home by anyone.

2. Is Johnny Knox OK?
That's the word on the street. The Bears wide receiver was taken to the hospital after a backbending hit that required him to be carted off the field. Fortunately, he's expected to have surgery to stabilize his vertebrae and according to reports his prognosis is good for a solid recovery.

3. Can the Eagles really still make the playoffs?
Somehow, yes. A lot of things need to happen, but it's not that crazy. 1) Philly wins out (duh), beating. 2) Dallas loses out, against Philly and at the Giants. The Giants go 1-1, losing to the Jets and beating Dallas. If those things happen, the Eagles, Cowboys and Giants will all finish 8-8 and Philly will win the NFC East through tiebreakers. *cues up Gary Wright*

4. What about the Chargers?
YES, THEM TOO. And they have two options -- either the Chargers can win out and the Broncos can lose out and the Bolts win the division. That's the "easy" way. Alternately, if the Jets lose out (against the Giants and Dolphins) and the Bengals can go 1-1 (losing to the Ravens) and the Chargers win out, they can make the playoffs as a wild card. Hope springs eternal in December and whatnot.

5. Should the Bears have called someone?
Yeah, and I'll go so far as to say Brett Favre could've been that guy. Marc Bulger might've made more sense from a perspective of knowing Mike Martz offense, but maybe he wasn't interested. Whatever, Caleb Hanie isn't getting it done.

6. Are the Texans cool with T.J. Yates?
Cool's a relative word, because there's really no excuse for a grizzled veteran of a rookie like Yates to get baffled by a Panthers defense that's running on fumes. Carolina's D showed up big time in Houston, but Yates made some pretty critical mistakes in the 28-13 loss and if Yates ends up with more passing attempts than Arian Foster and Ben Tate have rushing attempts combined, Houston probably lost the game.

7. Why did the Raiders use single coverage on Calvin Johnson?
Honestly, I have no idea. Johnson's the best wide receiver in the NFL and he walked out of a 28-27 win with 214 receiving yards a pair of teeters. It's one thing to trust your cornerback in coverage late in the game. It's another thing entirely to just throw caution to the wind and give the Lions an easy opportunity at going 98 yards for the win, which is what Oakland did Sunday. On the other hand, Darrius Heyward-Bey is starting to look like he could actually be a No. 1 receiver at times. That doesn't help the defensive scheming but it's something, right?

8. Should the Ravens be worried about their road record?
Hell yes they should. Baltimore's been unstoppable at home, rolling to a 7-0 record. On the road they've rolled over for lesser teams like the Jaguars, Seahawks and Titans. And now the Chargers. If Pittsburgh wins on Monday night, it's going to be really tough for the Ravens to land anywhere other than the fifth seed in the AFC, which means they're going on the road throughout the playoffs. And that probably means that the Ravens will be sitting at home in February.

9. Did Jim Caldwell save his job on Sunday?
I know Bill Polian reportedly said all Caldwell had to do was win one game, and the Colts did that by beating Tennessee 27-13 for their first victory on the season. But come on -- this team's going to draft their new franchise quarterback in April in Andrew Luck and Caldwell's not the guy that's going to train him to be Peyton Manning 2.0. Polian can pay lip service all he wants but having Manning/Luck on your roster is like sitting on pocket aces in the hold 'em game of finding a coach who wants to work somewhere with a franchise quarterback.

10. Are the Saints the best team in the NFC now?
If Greg Jennings is guaranteed to be out, if Aaron Rodgers offensive line is completely shredded, and if the game's in a dome ... then maybe, yeah. Drew Brees is as hot as it gets right now (and it's the right time to be hot) and he's going to crush Dan Marino's record for passing yards in a season -- he needs just 305 to break it. And that's in two games, so it's broken. But if (when?) the Saints have to go to Lambeau for the NFC Championship Game, it's a whole different ballgame and the Packers will have a couple weeks to get healthy too. If the Niners can stay afloat, the Saints don't have those luxuries.

11. Should you jump off the Tebow bandwagon?
No you shouldn't have. As mentioned above, the Broncos made some critical mistakes that put the Patriots in a good position to win. The hype was so out of control that it was easy to freak out when New England started rolling. This is a game that Denver should've been more competitive in, but turnovers and a strong defensive performance from the Pats doomed them. They won't see the same sort of challenges against a tepid Bills team that gave up 200 rushing yards to Bush Sunday.

Worth 1,000 Words


GIF O' THE WEEK

This contest was over as of about 6:00 p.m. ET when dog-riding monkeys started herding sheep in Denver.


Award Watch Worth Watching

I'm tempted to open up the MVP race here, but let's get real: it's still Rodgers, despite Brees going ape smell. But how about Offensive Player of the Year instead? Typically speaking, this awards goes to "the most productive person on the team without the best record" or something like that, but I think Brees, if he breaks Marino's record -- and holds it -- is starting to lock it down. But you could make a great case for Calvin Johnson (gobs of touchdowns), Tom Brady and Rodgers too.

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Posted on: December 17, 2011 6:46 pm
 

Pouncey out, Ben questionable for MNF at 49ers

Big Ben limps down the steps to the locker room after Pittsburgh beat Cleveland last Thursday. (AP)

By Will Brinson

The Steelers wrapped up Saturday's practice and there's some good news/bad news for Pittsburgh relating to Monday's game agianst the 49ers. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was limited in practice and is questionable to play Monday in San Francisco. However, center Maurkice Pouncey, dealing with an ankle injury, has been ruled out.

Week 15 Preview

Roethlisberger suffered a high ankle injury last Thursday in a 14-3 win over Cleveland but eventually returned to lead the Steelers to a victory over the Browns.

Much of the talk about whether or not Ben should play revolves around not Monday and/or how he's feeling then, but rather Sunday night.

That's when the Ravens and Chargers play, and if San Diego can win, it sure seems like Roethlisberger becomes more likely to play. After all, a Baltimore loss plus a Pittsburgh win on Monday means the Steelers are tracking for the top seed in the AFC.

A Baltimore win, though, and it's going to ridiculously tough for the Steelers to top the Ravens in the standings.

Of course, Roethlisberger's not exactly known for not playing hurt -- a lot of teammates believe that he plays better when he's injured, and we're not inclined to disagree.

So if you see him suit up on Monday, don't be shocked despite reports that his ankle hurts worse now than it did when he returned to the game against the Browns.



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Posted on: December 15, 2011 9:00 am
Edited on: December 15, 2011 2:06 pm
 

Browns Taylor fined $15K for hit on Big Ben

"Man!! ... After while the NFL will be 2 hand touch," Taylor tweeted Wednesday. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Ryan Wilson

James Harrison and Colt McCoy were the storylines from last Thursday's Browns-Steelers game. The Steelers linebacker blasted the Browns quarterback; the former was eventually suspended while the latter was immediately concussed. But Harrison wasn't the only player to be fined in that game. Browns rookie defensive tackle Phil Taylor is now $15,000 lighter in the wallet for his hit to Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

The penalty took place late in the first quarter with the Steelers leading the Browns, 7-3, and facing a 3rd and 9 from their own 11-yard line. Taylor drove Pittsburgh left guard Doug Legursky into the backfield and just as Roethlisberger released the ball, Taylor hit him in the helmet with his left arm.

Clearly, Taylor was trying to bat down the pass, and clearly, Taylor missed. The blow to Roethlisberger's head knocked him to the ground, and referee Ed Hochuli promptly flagged Taylor for roughing the passer.

"Really no question on that one," NFL Network color commentator Mike Mayock said at the time.

"That one might be a paycheck," play-by-play man Brad Nessler added.

And that's exactly what happened. According to the Cleveland Plain-Dealer's Mary Kay Cabot, Taylor, who will appeal, said he "only put [his] hands up," and that he "doesn't deserve [the] fine."

In general, we think that the NFL has embraced the "throw the flag first, ask questions later" enforcement strategy and it's led to some bad officiating. And the league's fining schedule appears to be written in pencil. But it's hard to argue that Taylor clubbing Roethlisberger in his head wasn't a) a personal foul and b) fine-worthy.

It's hard to argue that Taylor didn't deserve to be flagged and a fined.

This was the second time Taylor had been fined this season. He was docked $7,500 for a hit on Dolphins quarterback Chad Henne back in Week 3. On Wednesday, Taylor tweeted, "Man!! All these fines is crazy! After while the NFL will be 2 hand touch."

Colt McCoy sure wishes that was the case.

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Posted on: December 14, 2011 1:06 pm
 

Film Room: 49ers vs. Steelers preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


At 10-3, the San Francisco 49ers are fighting for the No. 2 seed in the NFC. With two losses in their last three outings, questions are starting to lurk. Are the Niners indeed a top-tier club with a powerhouse defense and limited-but-fundamentally sound offense? Or are they, like the ’08 Dolphins or 08 Titans, just another middle-tier team that happened to rack up a lot of wins thanks to the good fortunes of turnover differential? (The Niners are currently first in the league at +21).

San Fran’s recent two losses have been to quality 3-4 defenses (Baltimore and Arizona). The Monday night matchup against Pittsburgh could provide the “moment of truth” for Jim Harbaugh’s club.


1. Niners’ protection woes
The Cardinals defense, led by former Steelers assistant Ray Horton, came after Alex Smith & Co. with fervidity and dimension. Horton’s panoply of blitzes brought rushers from all four linebacking spots and, on a few occasions, the secondary. San Francisco’s offensive line, particularly inside with LG Mike Iupati, C Jonathan Goodwin and RG Adam Snyder, floundered in their identification and reaction speed. Two weeks before, those three linemen, along with backup guard Chilo Rachal, were physically manhandled by Haloti Ngata and the tough Ravens front three.

The Niners spend most of their time in base offensive personnel, which has them line up against base defensive personnel. The Steelers are less aggressive than the Cardinals when it comes to blitzing out of base personnel (most of Dick LeBeau’s blitzes come from nickel and dime packages). And, physically, the Steelers defensive front three is not as powerful as the Ravens’.

That said, the trenches mismatch will still be glaring and hard for the Niners to avoid (see items 2 and 3).

2. Niners run game
Jim Harbaugh’s is a run-oriented offense in the purist form. On first and second downs, the 49ers align almost exclusively in 21 or 22 personnel (i.e. two backs and one or two tight ends). The Steelers, at times, even in their base defense with vociferous nose tackle Casey Hampton, have uncharacteristically struggled in run defense this season. But those struggles have come against zone-blocking teams like the Texans, Ravens or Bengals.

The 49ers are a power-blocking team. Their ground game is predicated on size and force, double-teams and interior pulls (Iupati is very mobile; Snyder is often ineffective off movement but can at least physically execute the plays). Power-blocking is not a good formula when facing the Steelers. Their defensive line cannot be consistently driven, and inside linebackers Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior play too fast for slow developing pull blocks to work.

3. Niners pass game
If the Niners do try to stick with their power ground game, they’ll inevitably face a handful of third-and-long situations. That will compel Harbaugh to spread into three-receiver sets. That’s when LeBeau will take advantage of San Francisco’s interior pass protection issues.

One of the hallmark blitzes in LeBeau’s portfolio is the Fire-X, which is when both inside linebackers crisscross and attack the A-gaps. The Steelers execute Fire-X’s better than any team in football. James Farrior is brilliant in timing his blitzes and setting up pass-rushing lanes for teammates. Lawrence Timmons is more explosive than Acetone Peroxide when firing downhill.

What’s more, Troy Polamalu’s versatility becomes more pronounced in passing situations. That’s problematic given how much trouble Adrian Wilson (a poor man’s Polamalu) gave the Niners last week.

Because rushing yards could be tough to come by, it’s very likely that the Niners will throw on early downs out of base personnel (they had success with this formula against the Giants a few weeks ago). To help Alex Smith thrive in these scenarios, Harbaugh has implemented several changes this season – such as using play-action and specific route designs that allow for one-read throws, eliminating sight adjustment routes to ensure that the receivers and quarterback are always on the same page and being very judicious in calling “shot plays” downfield.

But in most games, there are points when a quarterback and his receivers simply have to make things happen. Smith doesn’t have the dynamic tools to consistently do that against a D like Pittsburgh’s. His primary wide receivers don’t have the speed and quickness to regularly separate outside (especially against a star cornerback like Ike Taylor). And, most concerning, his offensive tackles, particularly lackluster second-year pro Anthony Davis, are not formidable enough in pass protection to stave off LaMarr Woodley or even Jason Worilds.

4. Niners defensive line vs. Steelers O-line
The good news for Harbaugh is his defense is capable of posing nearly just as many problems for the Steelers offense. Obviously, Ben Roethlisberger’s health will have a significant impact on this game. You already know the advantages Big Ben gives the Steelers.

Almost as important is the health of center Maurkice Pouncey. Like Roethlisberger, he’s battling a Grade 1 high ankle sprain. Pouncey could not finish the game against Cleveland but says he’ll play Monday night. That’s huge. Without Pouncey, the Steelers would have to slide Doug Legursky from left guard to center, which poses a substantial drop-off in mobility and strength (even if Legursky has been somewhat of an overachiever the last year).

What’s more, Chris Kemoeatu would be forced back into the lineup at left guard. Kemoeatu has been a top ten player at his position the past few years. But for whatever reason, he’s fallen flat on his face this season – mainly in pass protection, where he’s shown poor lateral agility and a proclivity for holding.

Even at full strength, the Steelers offensive line is average and, thus, incapable of completely neutralizing the 49ers front line over four quarters. Left end Justin Smith is as good as they get. Nose tackle Isaac Sopoaga has blossomed into a plugger who’s mobile enough to make plays anywhere in the box.

Right end Ray McDonald is healthy again and flashing uncommon initial quickness. And on passing downs, Ahmad Brooks and Aldon Smith are lightning fast, supple edge-rushers with versatile short-area explosiveness. It’s highly doubtful the Steeler tackles can contain them one-on-one.

5. San Francisco’s defensive back seven
Even if Patrick Willis’ hamstring keeps him out a third-straight game, the Niners have enough speed and burst with NaVorro Bowman and strong safety Donte Whitner to answer Pittsburgh’s methodical rushing attack. The key will be whether San Francisco can hold up in pass defense. The Niners like to play zone in base D and man in nickel or dime.

Without Willis, San Francisco’s zones become somewhat vulnerable inside (we saw this on Early Doucet’s 60-yard touchdown last week). In man, Carlos Rogers, Tarell Brown and Chris Culliver are all capable of hanging with Antonio Brown, Emmanuel Sanders and Mike Wallace, but not if Roethlisberger is able to extend the play (Brown is simply too good at making late adjustments to his route, Sanders is similar and Wallace obviously has lethal speed if he can get downfield).

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all Week 15 games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: December 10, 2011 9:44 pm
Edited on: December 17, 2011 4:09 pm
 

Should Steelers sit Big Ben for next few games?

Big Ben limps down the steps to the locker room after Pittsburgh beat Cleveland last Thursday. (AP)

By Ryan Wilson

The Steelers became the first AFC team to 10 wins when they defeated the Browns Thursday night. But it came at a price: quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and center Maurkice Pouncey suffered high-ankle sprains, and it's unclear if either will play nine days from now when Pittsburgh plays San Francisco on Monday Night Football.

For now, the win moves the Steelers to the top of the AFC North, a half-game ahead of Baltimore, at least until Sunday afternoon when the Ravens faces the winless Colts. And it's the remaining schedules for both teams that could determine how Pittsburgh proceeds with Roethlisberger.

Assuming Baltimore beats Indy (yes, we know, the Raven's three losses are against the likes of the Titans, Jaguars and Seahawks but we're giving them the benefit of the doubt against the 0-12 Colts), they will be 10-3, the No. 1 team in the division and the No. 2 team in the AFC. The Steelers, meanwhile, will be the No. 5 team, and at 10-3, they're pretty much locked into that position. (The 7-5 Bengals are currently the sixth seed, but the Titans, Raiders and Jets are also 7-5 and vying for the last wild-card spot.)


With games remaining against the 49ers, Rams and Browns, the Steelers' schedule ranks as the second-easiest in the league. The easiest? That honor goes to the Ravens, who face the Colts, Chargers, Browns and Bengals.

If Thursday night's game was any indication, Roethlisberger will try to play against San Francisco. But whether he takes the field could be determined by what the Ravens do the day before. If they beat the Colts (and they should), the Steelers could choose to give backup Charlie Batch the start and let Big Ben have another five days to rehab.

Batch has a long, successful history of replacing Roethlisberger in the lineup. Big Ben had knee surgery in 2005 and Batch went 2-0 in his absence. He also won the 2006 opener against the Dolphins while Roethlisberger recovered from an emergency appendectomy. Batch lost to the Ravens during a meaningless Week 17 game in 2007, and was 1-1 in 2010 while Roethlisberger served a four-game suspension to start the season.

If the Chargers somehow find a way to beat the Ravens, then we should expect to see Big Ben take the field in San Francisco. Because a victory there, followed by wins against the Rams and Browns, would mean that the Steelers would be no worse than the No. 2 seed in the AFC and get a much-needed bye week during the first round of the playoffs. But again, we can't envision a scenario where Indy pulls off the upset.

A bigger concern for Pittsburgh: Pouncey's health. If there's a silver lining to his latest high-ankle sprain it's this, via the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Gerry Dulac: "Doctors always have maintained that players who have a second high-ankle sprain heal faster and return quicker than players who have suffered one for the first time."

The dark cloud, again via Dulac: "The Steelers think it might be harder for Pouncey to play against the 49ers because he needs his ankle for leverage in run-blocking and pass protection. Pouncey injured his left ankle against the Browns, and it is the same one he injured in the AFC championship game that kept him out of Super Bowl XLV. Pouncey said after the game Thursday night that he will play in San Francisco. Of course, he said much the same thing before the Super Bowl, too, even though the Steelers knew all along he wasn't going to play."

Doug Legursky filled in capably for Pouncey in the Super Bowl and again Thursday. The problem, however, is that he's the starting left guard. Which means that when he moves to center, Chris Kemoeatu comes into the game. Kemoeatu, who has 52 career starts with the team, lost his job in recent weeks for, as Mike Tomlin likes to say, playing below the line.

In two quarters against the Browns Thursday, Kemoeatu had three penalties, two of which came on third downs that the Steelers had converted. He has played so poorly this season that he'll likely be replaced by career backup Trai Essex going forward.

The upheaval along the o-line is another reason not to rush Big Ben back in the lineup; why let him play, risk further injury, and jeopardize the rest of the season? 

In one sense, Roethlisberger's high-ankle sprain could be a blessing. It will allow him a few weeks off, and some much-need time to get healthy. That said, after watching his peg-legged performance against the Browns Thursday, we suspect he thinks getting healthy is overrated.

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Posted on: December 10, 2011 4:34 pm
 

For the gambler in you, Week 14

Tebow

By Josh Katzowitz


Each Saturday, we’ll take the best -- and most clever -- odds collected by bodog.com for the upcoming week and give our take. This is important stuff, perhaps the most important post you’ll read all week. Because if you can’t lose money while watching a game in which you have absolutely no effect, what’s the point of watching sports at all?

Will the Denver Broncos trail at any point in the fourth quarter and still beat the Chicago Bears?

Yes 7/2

No 1/5

I’m going no, because I don’t think the Broncos will be trailing the Bears in the second half at all. Ah, the power of Tim Tebow (and the deficiency of starting Caleb Hanie).

Who will finish second in NFL MVP voting?     

Tom Brady (NE) QB 2/3       

Drew Brees (NO) QB 3/2       

Ben Roethlisberger (PIT) QB 5/1       

Tim Tebow (DEN) QB 10/1     

As much as I want to say Tebow -- even if it’s just for some good old fashioned CBSSports.com unity with colleague Gregg Doyel -- I’ll go with Brady to finish behind Aaron Rodgers in the MVP race. Brady is too easy a selection after Rodgers not to pick him.

Will Tony Sparano be the head coach of the Dolphins for Game 1 of the 2012 regular season?   
    
   
Yes -150    

No +110 

Ha, no. But I think Sparano and his team have done the city proud with the way the Dolphins are playing. You have to think Sparano is impressing somebody, even if that somebody is not Miami owner Stephen Ross.

Will Donovan McNabb sign with an NFL team during the 2011 regular season?      
 
Yes 2/1       

No 1/3

If the Bears, who are in desperate, desperate need of a legit starting quarterback, passes on claiming McNabb, you have to think nobody else will be interested. The more interesting question: is McNabb’s career over? For that, I’d say yes.

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Posted on: December 9, 2011 5:56 pm
 

Big Ben, Pouncey have troubling ankle sprains

Roethlisberger

By Josh Katzowitz

You already know that Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlsiberger thought he broke his leg in the first half of Thursday’s win against the Browns, only to return in the second half and power his way through what was later thought to be a high ankle sprain.

Was he tough to the max Thursday? Indeed. Can he play next week? Maybe not.

According to the Pittsburgh Post Gazette Roethlisberger underwent an MRI that confirmed the high ankle sprain, and apparently, the injury has been described as “not good.”

Making matters worse, according to the paper, is that center Maurkice Pouncey also suffered a high ankle sprain and it’s in the same condition as Roethlisberger’s ankle (ie. Less than good).

The Steelers don’t play again until Dec. 19, and getting 10 days of rest will be helpful to the duo. But they also have to play the high-flying 49ers who have one of the top defenses in the league.

You could live with Charlie Batch as Roethlisberger’s backup, but without Pouncey -- who said after Thursday’s game that he would play next week -- as the starter in the middle of the offensive line, that could create a major problem for the Steelers.

Roethlisberger-ankle_medium


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