Tag:Denver Broncos
Posted on: January 6, 2012 11:20 am
Edited on: January 6, 2012 11:34 am
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Steelers RB coach Kirby Wilson burned in fire

By Will Brinson

On eve of the wild-card weekend, there's some horrible news out of Pittsburgh, as Steelers running backs coach Kirby Wilson was 'badly burned in a house fire' according to WPXI news.

The Steelers released a statement earlier Friday confirming that Wilson was at least involved in a bad accident.

"First and foremost, our thoughts and prayers are with Kirby and his entire family," Steelers President Art Rooney said in a statement. "We are saddened to hear about this unfortunate situation but we know that he has the best medical care in the country treating him. The entire organization is praying for Kirby to have a full recovery and we will be by his side through this difficult time."

According to WXPI, the fire occurred in Seven Fields, Butler County at around 3 a.m. ET.

"About 2:45 a.m., I was awoken by a number of pounding on doors," said neighbor David Sebesta, according to WXPI. "[I] looked out my window, and there was policemen, about five or six, going down this row of houses, waking people up. I could smell burning. Fire trucks came and pulled a man out, looked like he was pretty badly burned, and carted him off to a hospital."

Wilson was reportedly flown to a Pittsburgh-area hospital and as of right now, his condition is unknown.

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Posted on: January 6, 2012 9:32 am
 

Film Room: Broncos vs. Steelers wild-card preview

Posted by Eye on Football Analyst Andy Benoit


It hardly seems fair that a 12-win team has to go on the road to face an eight-win team, but the NFL’s playoff seeding system is designed to reward division champions. That includes the rare division champion that enters the postseason on a three-game losing streak.

Here’s a breakdown of what many expect to be a massacre.


1. Broncos offense has no prayer
We covered everything there is to know about the Broncos’ offense last week in preparation for their Week 17 bout with the Chiefs. Nothing has changed. It’s clear that press-man coverage can overwhelm Denver’s passing attack, as the receivers don’t have the quickness to separate and Tim Tebow doesn’t have the mechanics, timing or confidence to fit balls into tight windows.

It’s rare to see the zone-based Steelers play press-man coverage, though they did so with great success against the Patriots in Week 8. Usually, shutdown corner Ike Taylor (yes, SHUTDOWN corner) plays press coverage against the opposing team’s top wideout (in this case, Demaryius Thomas), while William Gay, Keenan Lewis and/or Bryant McFadden play a variation of zone on the other side.

If Dick LeBeau wants to bait Tebow into interceptions, the Steelers may still stick with their traditional approach:

This shot from Super Bowl XLV illustrates the Steelers’ traditional approach to coverage: Ike Taylor playing press-man against the opposing team’s top receiver (Greg Jennings) on one side, with the rest of the secondary playing zone on the other (you can tell it’s zone by how cornerback Bryant McFadden is lined up off the line and with his body open slightly towards the inside).

The Broncos don’t have a threatening tight end, so Tebow would be throwing into heavy zones against athletic corners. If LeBeau wants to pressure Tebow with James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley and bait him into the usual slew of incompletions, he can play man-to-man. Whatever LeBeau chooses will work; we’re talking about the league’s top-ranked pass defense against the league’s most inept passing quarterback.

Lately, Denver’s read-option run game has still produced yardage, though only because of the high volume of carries. If the Broncos couldn’t muster more than three points by running against Kansas City’s 3-4, they can’t be expected to muster ANY points running against Pittsburgh’s.

A key to Denver’s run game is getting offensive linemen clean to inside linebackers. No three-man defensive line does a better job at protecting its inside linebackers than Pittsburgh’s. That’s why Lawrence Timmons and James Farrior are able to play with their ears pinned back.

2. A roll of the dice
Because it feels a little too simplistic to declare the Broncos’ chances at moving the ball to be zero (even if they are), we’ll use this section to present creative ideas for how the Broncos might – MIGHT – manage to muster a semblance of offense on Sunday.

The first idea is to just throw deep and hope luck tilts your way (a cornerback falls down, a ref calls pass interference, two Steelers collide while going after the same easy interception, etc.). Don’t count on Denver doing this, though. It goes against everything John Fox has stood for since turning to Tebow, and it also requires that, you know, Tebow actually throw downfield accurately.

Another idea is to draw up trick plays. Lots of trick plays. Problem is, a defense as experienced and disciplined as Pittsburgh’s is not going to bite. You might make chance-taker Troy Polamalu pay for a gamble once or twice, but more likely he’ll make YOU pay even more for YOUR gamble.

A third (and stronger) idea is to run the ball outside. In the past, outside running was guaranteed to fail against the Steelers. This season, however, Timmons and Farrior have not been as sharp in lateral run defense. That’s why Pittsburgh has struggled a bit against zone teams. The Broncos no longer have a zone run game (it left shortly after Shanahan departed), but it might not be crazy to hastily install one given that their usual approach will not work anyway.

Denver’s lack of running back speed is an issue here, but again: their usual approach will not work anyway!

3. Pittsburgh’s passing attack
As lopsided as this matchup seems, the final score could be tight given that Pittsburgh’s offense might have trouble against John Fox’s and Dennis Allen’s defense. Don’t be surprised if the Steelers come out throwing in an effort to build a quick lead that forces the Broncos to go to the air early.
 
Against the Browns last week, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians chose to spread the field with 3 x 2 empty backfield sets on passing downs. This may have been to get the ball out quickly so that Ben Roethlisberger would not have to make plays on his bum ankle. Though Roethlisberger has gotten much better in his presnap reads and sudden decision making, his natural inclination is still to extend the play. Thus, Big Ben still held the ball plenty long last week.

He won’t be able to do that this week, though – not under the same gameplan, anyway. Offensive tackles Max Starks and Marcus Gilbert may have been be able to handle Browns defensive ends Jayme Mitchell and Jabaal Sheard on an island (Sheard just barely, actually), but they won’t have a snowball’s chance against Elvis Dumervil and Von Miller.

If Roethlisberger is to buy time for his receivers downfield, his offensive tackles will need running backs and tight ends to chip-block, if not stay in completely and double-team. Something else to keep in mind: Miller, D.J. Williams and Brian Dawkins all excel as inside blitzers. Blitz pickup is an area in which the Steelers interior line, particularly left guard Chris Kemoeatu, struggles.

Brown's emerged as one of Pittsburgh's best receiving options. (Getty Images)

4. The passing matchups
Even though protection could be a problem, it’s possible the Steelers will still spread the field and let Roethlisberger run around and make plays. We’ve seen them before give up piles of sacks this way but make up for it with big plays.

The Broncos have a good secondary now that undrafted rookie Chris Harris has blossomed at nickel corner, but they’re thin and inexperienced at safety and vulnerable with Jonathan Wilhite at dime corner.

If the Broncos decide to eliminate Antonio Brown (Pittsburgh’s new No. 1 receiver) with Champ Bailey, there will be big-play opportunities for Mike Wallace against the limited-ranged safeties. If Bailey defends Wallace, Andre Goodman can spar with Brown but probably not for as long as Roethlisberger can extend the play. Chris Harris will be tested by Emmanuel Sanders’ speed, and Wilhite will have fits trying to defend Jerricho Cotchery underneath.

As much as the Broncos might like their secondary, they can’t expect it to be the league’s first unit that sustains coverage against the Steelers’ prolonged improvisational plays. Thus, when the Broncos do blitz, don’t be surprised if they bring the kitchen sink to ensure that Roethlisberger goes down or throws hot.

5. Steelers run game
Rashard Mendenhall will be missed, but the Steelers can tread water with Isaac Redman. The third-year running back doesn’t have Mendenhall’s corner-turning speed and acceleration, but in confined areas he shows looser hips than you’d guess. Where Pittsburgh’s backfield woes will really show up is in the pass game. Mewelde Moore’s absence (foot injury) leaves them without a prominent openfield dumpoff receiver.

But this is a relatively minor issue. The primary job of the Steelers’ backfield is to pound the rock when called upon, which Redman and straight-line back John Clay are capable of doing. Also, Pittsburgh’s offensive line, especially with the superb pull-blocking skills of Kemoeatu, is capable of moving the pile down the stretch.

So who will win? Check our NFL expert picks for all the wild-card games

Follow @Andy_Benoit on Twitter or contact him at Andy.Benoit-at-NFLTouchdown.com.
Posted on: January 5, 2012 7:25 pm
 

Expect a lot of Steelers fans in Denver Sunday

Pittsburgh's Terrible-towel-waving faithful will be well represented this weekend in Denver. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Ryan Wilson

When it comes to fans infiltrating an opposing team's stadium, no one packs them in like Steelers' faithful. Depending on your allegiances, the Terrible-Towel waving black and gold spectacle is either a testament to just how important football is to the region or reminiscent of the pervasive nature of the cockroach.

(It's not completely accurate to say Steelers fans travel well. That's partly true, but they're also everywhere. Many of them have roots in western Pennsylvania but their families left the area in the '70s and '80s after the steel mills closed and unemployment rose. Either way, if there's a football game, they're showing up.)

So come Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET, expect Sports Authority Field to be littered with Steelers fans and Terrible Towels. Never mind that this is the Broncos' first postseason appearance since 2005 (the Steelers knocked them out of the AFC Championship game that year), or that Tebowmania is still alive. As of Thursday morning, there were 3,900 seats available on StubHub and 5,700 ready for purchase on Ticketexchange. Even if those tickets remain unsold, history suggests that it's fair to expect Steelers fans to number in the tens of thousands.


Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers will go up against Tim Tebow and the Broncos on Sunday in this AFC wild-card matchup. Join NFL.com's Pat Kirwan and Jason Horowitz as they preview this upcoming game. Watch the game on CBS at 4:30 PM ET.

"I'm amazed at how many season ticket holders got tickets and don't want to go," ticket broker Candy Lewis told Tammy Vigil of Colorado's KWGN 2.

In fact, according to Lewis, a lot of season ticket-holders are selling their seats. Which means they could end up in the hands of eager Steelers fans. That's exactly what happened during that AFC Championship game following the 2005 season.

"It was terrible in a way because we lost. But mainly because more than half the stadium were Steelers fans," Lewis said.

In a speech Cincinnati head coach Marvin Lewis annually delievered to Bengals fans, Denver head coach John Fox is imploring season ticket holders to show up Sunday.

"I would encourage all fans to keep their seats, so to speak, and not sell to Pittsburgh fan, so our stadium remains as active and loud as its been and more blue and orange, rather than yellow and gold," Fox said Monday.

For hobbled Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, the sight never gets old.

“I think it kind of blows most people away,” he said. “When you’re on the road and you have guys on other teams that aren’t used to seeing that, and all of a sudden they see the Steeler fans come in and their like, ‘Holy cow, what’s going on?’ It’s a pretty neat feeling.”

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin added: “I’m continually surprised and awed by that, particularly when we’re out west. We’ve got world championship-caliber fans, and that’s why we work so hard to produce results on the field for them.”

Part of the problem? Maybe Tebowmania isn't quite so much alive as on life support. After winning six in a row and getting the Broncos to 8-5, Denver backed into the playoffs after three uninspiring losses. The last, a 7-3 effort against the Chiefs that saw the Broncos punt three times for each point they scored, was the last straw for some fans.

“That game was one step above watching paint dry,” said longtime season holder Todd Tenenbaum (via the Associated Press). “To watch the running back and quarterback bump into each other to see who can get up the middle first is just boring. I’d rather stay home and watch ‘Wizards of Waverly Place’ with my kids.”

And that, folks, is how you end up with a stadium filled with Steelers fans. (In related news: we're guessing this won't help.)

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Posted on: January 4, 2012 4:04 pm
 

Ben Roethlisberger 'tweaked' ankle against Browns

Roethlisberger "tweaked" his ankle on Sunday. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

The Steelers took a gamble on Sunday against the Browns when they ran Ben Roethlisberger out to play on a high-ankle sprain, hoping the Ravens would lose and Pittsburgh would win the AFC North.

The Ravens did not lose. And in worse news, according to our Steelers Rapid Reporter Chuck Finder, Roethlisberger "tweaked" his ankle in the win over Cleveland and suffered a "setback" in advance of Pittsburgh's wild-card game in Denver on Sunday.

"I felt pretty good going in and moved around pretty good," Roethlisberger said. "[But] we got set back about a week. I don't know if I hit the ground wrong or got hit. We'll be all right."

Now, this is Ben Roethlisberger, so injuries don't mean as much as they would with any other player. I'm sorry, but the dude just plays hurt (and sometimes better when he's injured).

But this gets back to the point of risking him on the field: the Steelers, over the final three weeks, didn't play things conservatively enough at all. Putting him on the field against San Francisco was worth the risk, but not leaving him out there. Sitting him against the Rams was smart. And leaving him on the bench against the Browns would've been the wise move too, even if the Bengals had a shot at unseating the Ravens. Charlie Batch couldn't have gone 23 for 40 for 221 yards? He probably could have.

Whatever, his ankle's worse off now for playing. That means, without their top running back, the Steelers have to figure out how to protect Roethlisberger against a ferocious Broncos pass rush.

Denver recorded 41 sacks in 2011 (10th in the league; just nine behind the Vikings and Eagles) and the best example of what could happen against a good defense who can rush the passer is the loss to the 49ers.

In that game, Roethlisberger wasn't mobile, was constantly under attack and the Steelers struggled to move the ball. Granted, the 49ers are just a flat-out sick defense, but the Broncos are pretty good too.

For Pittsburgh to avoid a shocking upset at Mile High on Sunday, they'll need to make sure their gameplan doesn't involve Von Miller putting Ben on his back. Or worse, on his ankle.

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Posted on: January 4, 2012 10:23 am
Edited on: January 4, 2012 1:47 pm
 

2012 NFL Postseason Awards

Brees and Rodgers could square off three times this year, if you count awards. (Getty Images)
By Will Brinson

We won't bore you by listing our preseason predictions (you can read those here), but suffice to say, all of mine were correct. Take a peak at the midseason hardware if you want too, but right now we're interested in dishing out the awards for the full season.


Speaking of which, I've already ranted on Drew Brees vs. Aaron Rodgers for the MVP, but I find it fascinating that at midseason, no one even picked Brees for Offensive Player of the Year, much less MVP. I'm not here to knock Brees, I'm just saying the award's for an entire season's worth of work.

Anyway, below are our full season picks. (You can also read Pete's full season picks here and Clark's full season picks here.)

Most are obvious but "BFA" is "Best Free Agent Addition," "WFA" is "Worst Free Agent Addition," and "DOH!" is "Pick I'd Like to Have Back." (Haha, yes I did pick the guy who eventually iced his own kicker to win "Coach of the Year." At least I was driving the Camwagon though.)

Dive in below and leave your gripes and complaints in the comments.

Award Brinson
Wilson
Katzowitz
Prisco
Judge
MVP
Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers
OPOY
Drew Brees Aaron Rodgers Aaron Rodgers Drew Brees Drew Brees
DPOY
Jared Allen Terrell Suggs Jared Allen Jason Pierre-Paul Jared Allen
OROY
Cam Newton Cam Newton Cam Newton Cam Newton Cam Newton
DROY
Von Miller Aldon Smith Aldon Smith Von Miller Von Miller
COY
Marvin Lewis Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh Jim Harbaugh
ASST
Rob Chudzinski Rob Chudzinski Wade Phillips Wade Phillips Wade Phillips
BFA
Darren Sproles Darren Sproles Darren Sproles Darren Sproles Darren Sproles
WFA
Sidney Rice Braylon Edwards Santonio Holmes Ray Edwards Ray Edwards
Comeback
Steve Smith D'Qwell Jackson Aaron Maybin Matthew Stafford Matthew Stafford
Most Improved
Matthew Stafford Antonio Brown Victor Cruz Rob Gronkowski Rob Gronkowski
Surprise
Bengals Broncos Broncos Bengals 49ers
Disappoint
Eagles Jets Eagles Eagles Eagles
Executive
Rick Smith Rick Smith Rick Smith Martin Mayhew Mike Brown
DOH!
Garrett for COY Rivers for MVP Rivers for MVP Fins in/Lions out Rams in NFCW

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Posted on: January 3, 2012 9:08 pm
Edited on: January 3, 2012 9:11 pm
 

Eye on Football NFL Awards: Week 17

Posted by Will Brinson

Every week, our NFL experts will hand out the Eye on Football hardware to the best of the best from the NFL week that was.

Week 17 NFL Awards
Expert Offense Defense STeams Coach
Freeman  Cruz Broncos  Akers McCarthy
Judge  Flynn  Allen  Akers Coughlin
Prisco  Flynn  Allen Carpenter Coughlin
Brinson  Flynn  Allen Carpenter  Coughlin
Katzowitz  Flynn  Allen  Akers Harbaugh
Wilson  Flynn  Suggs Carpenter  Turner
The NFL's regular season is over. It seems kind of crazy, right? Somehow the lockout was just a few months ago and now we're headed for the playoffs. Whatever, that doesn't stop us from handing out our final regular season Eye on Football Awards of the year.

Matt Flynn wasn't completely a consensus pick for the Eye on Offense Award, but with his performance there's no question he's making some coin in 2012.

Jared Allen can't love his ex-teammate Brett Favre, since he'd have the NFL single-season sack record if Favre hadn't flopped for Michael Strahan. Somehow I doubt the Week 17 Eye on Defense Award will make up for that.

Usually I give tiebreakers to the guy I picked ... and I'm doing it again this week. Dan Carpenter's 58-yarder nudges him past David Akers, despite a touchdown pass, for the Eye on Special Teams Award.

And Tom Coughlin closes out the season with the Eye on Coaching Awards similar to how he closed out his real season: by winning two straight headed into the playoffs.

Leave your votes in the comments below or scream angrily at us on Twitter @EyeOnNFL.

Eye on Offense Award
Mike Freeman Clark Judge
Victor Cruz Victor Cruz, WR, Giants
Big play after big play when the defense knows Eli Manning is going to him. He still produces. He obliterated the Cowboys as he has almost every team he's gone against within the latter part of the year. It's been incredible to watch him become the next great receiving star.
Matt FlynnMatt Flynn, QB, Packers
He's the backup for Green Bay, and he doesn't play much because ... well, because that's what happens when you sit behind Aaron Rodgers. So , when he does get his chance all he does is throw for six touchdowns and set a franchise record with 480 yards passing.
Pete Prisco Will Brinson
Matt Flynn Matt Flynn, QB, Packers
Flynn makes his first start of 2011 and throws for 480 yards and six touchdowns in place of Aaron Rodgers, who the Packers were resting. Wow. He made himself a lot of money.
Matt FlynnMatt Flynn, QB, Packers
Credit the Packers for finding hidden talent (even if Flynn won a BCS title). Flynn's not hidden anymore -- 480 yards and six teeters Sunday against the Lions means Flynn's the head of the class in terms of free-agent QBs heading into the 2012.
Josh Katzowitz Ryan Wilson
Matt FlynnMatt Flynn, QB, Packers
It’s unfortunate for Matthew Stafford that he came up against Flynn, who set Packers club records in passing yards (480) and touchdown passes (six). Flynn was incredible, leading Green Bay to a victory and making himself a ton of money in the process. By playing him this week, GB assured themselves that they’ll lose him in the offseason.
Matt Flynn Matt Flynn, QB, Packers
If nothing else, Flynn's performance on Sunday (480 passing yards and six touchdowns in a win against the Lions) proves that Aaron Rodgers is a system quarterback. So does that mean Flynn deserves to be in the MVP conversation, too?
Eye on Defense Award
Freeman Judge
Von MillerDenver Broncos, DST
This is a team award presented to one of the best and most underrated defenses in football, saddled with a terrible quarterback. The Broncos defense held the KC Chiefs to a touchdown and still lost, 7-3. Denver's defense has actually been one of the great surprises of the season.
Jared Allen Jared Allen, DE, Vikings
He produces 3.5 sacks to finish the season with a league-leading 22, just a half-sack short of Michael Strahan's single-season record. What I love about Allen is his motor. The Vikings won three games, but this guy never let up and never quit.
Prisco Brinson
Jared AllenJared Allen, DE, Vikings
Allen had 3 1/2 sacks against the Bears, but feel one short of Mike Strahan's single-season record for sacks in a season with 21.5.
Jared AllenJared Allen, DE, Vikings
Allen got his Ginsu on against Chicago's line and nearly broke Michael Strahan's record for 22.5 sacks in a season. His 3.5 on Sunday left him just short but considering Brett Favre's flop and how horrible this Vikings team is, he really deserves it more.
Katzowitz Wilson
Jared AllenJared Allen, DE, Vikings
He was a man possessed as he went for the NFL season sack record, and though he fell a half-sack and a Brett Favre dive short of Michael Strahan’s record, Allen put the exclamation point on the best year of his career, recording 3 ½ sacks against Bears.
Terrell Suggs Terrell Suggs, OLB, Ravens
He had a sack and a forced fumble in a game that a lot of people thought the Ravens would lose. Now they're perfectly positioned for a Super Bowl run and Suggs could be the defensive MVP
Eye on Special Teams Award
Freeman Judge
David AkersDavid Akers, K, 49ers
Lined up for a field goal but it was a fake. Excellent throw by Akers who tossed a touchdown throw to Michael Crabtree. The most amazing thing about Crabtree's throw? He had better form than Tebow.
David Akers David Akers, K, Eagles
He sets the single-season record for field goals one week, then throws a touchdown pass the next -- a touchdown that, oh, by the way, is the difference in the 49ers' game-ending victory. The more I see of Akers the more I wonder Philadelphia gave up on him.
Prisco Brinson
Dan CarpenterDan Carpenter, K, Dolphins
Carpenter made four field goals, one from 58 yards, as the Dolphins beat the Jets to end their playoff chances. Carpenter's 58-yarder was into the wind.
Dan CarpenterDan Carpenter, K, Dolphins
If not for Carpenter, the Dolphins don't send Jason Taylor out the right way and end Rex Ryan's hopes. Carpenter converted field goals after three turnovers (4/4 on the day) including banging home a 58-yarder that was good from 73.
Katzowitz Wilson
David Akers David Akers, K, 49ers
He established the new league record for field goals byfinishing the season with 44, and he threw an awesome TD pass on a fake field goal that helped the 49ers beat the pesky Rams. For his career, Akers is now 2 for 2 passing for 25 yards and a score. With a passer rating of 158.3.
Dan Carpenter Dan Carpenter, K, Dolphins
Carpenter was 4 for 4 on Sunday against the Jets, including a 58-yarder. With his perfect performance, he helped the Dolphins seal the Rex Ryan's fate and finish the season with a 6-10 record (after an 0-7 start).
Eye on Coaching Award
Freeman Judge
Bill BelichickMike McCarthy, HC, Packers
McCarthy lost one game all season. He beat Detroit with Matt Flynn at quarterback. He might have the best offensive system going in football right now. He's the offensive Bill Belichick.
Mike Munchak Tom Coughlin, HC, Giants
For the second straight week he pulls off a huge victory -- this time winning the NFC East with a decisive defeat of Dallas. For weeks, Coughlin was subjected to questions about his job status and the Giants' second-half collapse. Then he produced the season's two most important wins, and, just like that, the questions ended.
Prisco Brinson
Tom CoughlinTom Coughlin, Giants
It was win or go home and he had Coughlin team ready to play against the Cowboys for the NFC East title. Coughlin is good in big games, which bodes well for the playoffs.
Tom CoughlinTom Coughlin, HC, Giants
At this point, I'm rooting for the Giants to run the table, win the Super Bowl (again!) and have Coughlin set his pants on fire at trophy ceremony, just to make the fans happy that his seat is finally hot enough. Great job getting his team ready down the stretch.
Katzowitz Wilson
Jim Schwartz John Harbaugh, HC, Ravens
His brother received so much credit this season, but look at what John pulled off Sunday. He beat the Bengals in Cincy and earned a playoff bye and homefield advantage in the second round. Given how mediocre Baltimore is on the road, that’s one heck of an accomplishment.
Hue Jackson Norv Turner, HC, Chargers
Did he really save his job? Turner and the Chargers beat a Raiders team with everything to play for -- in Oakland, no less. If Turner does return, imagine how good San Diego will be if they ever put together an entire season mistake-free football.

Posted on: January 3, 2012 12:59 pm
Edited on: January 3, 2012 1:05 pm
 

Tomlin: Ryan Clark won't play in Denver

Pittsburgh will be short-handed in the secondary when they face Denver Sunday. (US PRESSWIRE)

By Ryan Wilson

The Steelers will face the Broncos in the wild-card round Sunday at 4:30 p.m. ET and they'll do it without two of their best players. Running back Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL against the Browns in Week 17 and his season is over. Safety Ryan Clark is healthy, at least as sea level, but a sickle-cell trait that is triggered at high altitudes will keep him on the bench in Denver (elevation 5,280 feet).

According to CBSSports.com Rapid Reporter Chuck Finder, head coach Mike Tomlin said during his Tuesday press conference that playing Clark wasn’t worth the risk, especially since Clark lost a spleen and gall bladder after playing in Denver in 2007.

Pittsburgh's coach called it an "easy decision," adding “I met with Ryan Clark yesterday and informed him I’m not going to let him play for obvious reasons. It is a big game for us, but it is a game. We’ll keep it in perspective.”

Clark tweeted Tuesday: "Well I guess we all know now. I will not be playing. Glad that it's out now. So no more questions to ask. Thanks for your concern!"

Ryan Mundy, the team's 2008 sixth-round pick out of West Virginia, is expected to fill in for Clark. Mundy has two career starts, both coming in 2010 filling in for an injured Troy Polamalu. He has one career interception, which came in Week 12 against the Chiefs, as well as a 33-yard reception on a fake punt earlier this season against the Titans.

The Steelers traveled to Denver for a 2010 preseason game and Clark didn't play then, either. He worked out on the field before kickoff without incident but the fear of damage to his brain and/or heart clearly wasn't worth the potential consequences.

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Posted on: January 3, 2012 10:58 am
Edited on: January 9, 2012 12:22 pm
 

Coach Killers, Week 17: Say no to team captains

Coach Killers is your weekly look around the league at those performances, decisions and "Wait, what did he just do?!" moments that put the guy in charge squarely on the ol' hot seat.

By Ryan Wilson

With the regular season in the books, the coaching axe has fallen on several unfortunate souls around the league. Raheem Morris and Steve Spagnuolo joined Todd Haley, Tony Sparano and Jack Del Rio among the ranks of former head coaches now looking for jobs. We won't address them here. Instead, we'll look at those performances from the final week of the regular season that could cost still-employed coaches their gigs at some point in the future.

Santonio Holmes - Jets

Your New York Jets team captain, everybody!
A brief history: the Steelers traded Holmes to the Jets just before the 2010 NFL Draft for a fifth-round pick. At the time, Pittsburgh fans were apoplectic because Holmes had been a first-rounder in 2006, and oh, right, he was the Super Bowl MVP in February 2009.

To send him packing for what amounted to a draft-day afterthought was, well, insane. Turns out, Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert is a lot smarter than any of us, just in case we needed reminding. Not only did he unload his problem on the Jets, that fifth-round pick he got in return? Colbert sent that to the Cardinals for cornerback Bryant McFadden and a sixth-round pick, which Pittsburgh used to take -- wait for it -- Antonio Brown. So, yes, things worked out just fine for the Steelers.

The Jets, meanwhile, are an unmitigated disaster. Head coach Rex Ryan named Holmes team captain in August, which might have been his most egregious coaching decision all year. (We don't say that lightly, though Ryan admitted at Monday's press conference that naming team captains was a mistake.) Everything came to a head Sunday in Miami, when Holmes was benched.

"Let's just say there were guys in the huddle that were unhappy with Tone's demeanor," veteran running back LaDainian Tomlinson said of Holmes after the game. "When you have a group that's fighting their butts off, and one guy, for whatever reason, their demeanor's not with them, you're going to get some guys to say something to him and tell them how they feel. That's what you got today."

Again: that's the Jets team captain. There's more (of course there is). On Monday, after Holmes refused to talk to the media, there were reports that he and Mark Sanchez "feuded" in a team meeting in the days leading up to the Dolphins game.

"He went back and forth with Mark at the meeting," the source told Gary Myers of the New York Daily News. "He was saying stuff like, "What am I even here for?" Then he blew off Mark by not even showing up the next day."

Another player called Holmes "a cancer" adding that "it's like dealing with a 10-year-old." And then, on Sunday, Holmes got into a shouting match with Sanchez in the huddle on two consecutive plays which prompted one player to tell him to "Go home, go to the sidelines."

As CBSSports.com's Pete Prisco pointed out Sunday, this is all Mike Tannebaum and Rex Ryan's doing. It's all fun and games until a grown man cries in an end-of-year team meeting. Then reality sets in. The Jets are a mess.

There is a bright spot to all this, however: Holmes' antics have temporarily taken the white-hot interrogation lamp off Sanchez.

Terence Newman - Cowboys

Head-coaching material? Jason Garrett thinks so.
The Ryan family had quite a day Sunday. Rex's Jets team self-destructed and Rob, the defensive coordinator in Dallas, did his part to make sure the Cowboys missed the playoffs. Cornerback Terence Newman wasn't the only issue against a Giants offense that moved the ball at will all night, but his performance was indicative of a larger problem facing this defense: it's not much of a defense at all.

Newman has probably played his last game in Dallas, something that almost happened during training camp. ESPN.com's Tim MacMahon recounts the weirdness:
It was quite a surreal scene: a giddy Jerry Jones handing defensive coordinator Rob Ryan his cellphone on the Alamodome sideline during practice, hoping Ryan could close the Cowboys' recruiting campaign on All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, a conversation that happened about 10 yards away from where Newman and the other defensive backs ran drills.
That worked out.

Now it's fair to ask if Ryan will be back, too. Like his brother, Rob is never at a loss for words. The difference: Rex has been to two AFC Championship games in the last three seasons. It's easier to tolerate the gum-flapping when the team is winning. Rob's claim to fame, as best we can tell, is that his dad is Buddy and that he once was a position coach under Bill Belichick.

Rob's career as a defensive coordinator includes stints with the Raiders (2004-2008), Browns (2009-2010) and Cowboys (2011). The results, according to Football Outsiders' metrics:

2004: 26th-ranked defense
2005: 20th
2006: 8th
2007: 22nd
2008: 19th
2009: 30th
2010: 17th
2011: 17th

Not the type of numbers that should lead to a lot of bluster. Yet Rob still talks. And he very well may have talked himself out of not only head-coaching opportunities in 2012, but maybe even another defensive coordinator's gig should the Cowboys decide to move on.

Steve Johnson - Bills

Oh, Stevie Johnson. You seem like such a well-meaning dude. It's just that you can't stay out of your own way. Johnson wasn't the reason the Bills blew a 21-point lead against the Patriots Sunday, but his inability to avoid silly end zone-celebration penalties defy common sense.

Johnson found his name on this list back in Week 12, when his Plaxico Burress "I just shot myself" interpretive touchdown dance was predictably flagged. It got worse: later in that game against the Jets, Johnson dropped what could've been the go-ahead touchdown. Here's what we wrote at the time: "Johnson's TD dance: hilarious. Getting a 15-yard penalty: not hilarious. Dropping a perfect pass from Fitzpatrick on the Bills' last drive, one that would've given the Bills the lead: unacceptable, especially if you're going to mock the opposition."

Gailey says he still wants Johnson back.
And here's what Johnson said at the time: "I was just having fun, and part of having fun ended up being a penalty and a touchdown for the Jets," he said. "It was a stupid decision by myself." Lesson learned, right? Uh, no. Johnson scored in the first quarter Sunday and pulled up his jersey to reveal the words "Happy New Year 2012!!!" scribbled on his t-shirt. About as benign a "celebration" we can think of but it's still a penalty.

On Sunday, Bills coach Chan Gailey benched Johnson for the rest of the game and Buffalo went on to lose, 49-21.

Here's Johnson afterwards:

"I didn’t know it was going to draw a penalty. At the end of the day, what I did was what I did, and I am going to try and bring in the New Year. Ultimately, it hurt my teammates and that is the thing that is hurting me the most. The fact is that it hurt my team.

"The coach told me I was out of the game. He said for the rest of the game and I have to respect his decision. He made it and that is what it is. I can’t complain about it or whine or pout. He made his decision and I am going with it. It really doesn’t matter why or how it happened at the end of the day, what I did hurt my teammates and I have to take that and I will."

Gailey pointed out that Johnson had relayed a message via t-shirt last year without incident, which makes the NFL rules on the matter unclear (shocking, we know).

"I am disappointed," Gaily said. "What happens is, it happened last year, he put a message on his shirt, showed his shirt and didn’t get a flag. And he does it this year, and he gets a flag. Which one is it, you know? It puts me in a bind because I make the statement and if I say it, I’m going to [punish players who hurt our team]. So, I could not argue the gray area of that. So, yeah, I’m disappointed and if it hurts the team, then I’ve got to do what I’ve got to do."

Defense - Raiders

Raiders head coach Hue Jackson is responsible for giving up a first- and second-round pick to land Carson Palmer and it blew up in his face. Yes, you can argue that the Raiders have Palmer going forward, but that wasn't a "looking to the future" transaction. The plan was for Oakland to make their playoff run now.

It didn't happen for any number of reasons, Palmer's play and an inconsistent defense among them. After Sunday's loss to the Chargers that eliminated the Raiders from the playoffs, Jackson told the media that he was "pissed at my team." (He should also be pissed at himself; now Oakland doesn't have a first-round pick in April.)

“I’m going to take a stronger hand in this whole team, in this whole organization,” Jackson said. “There ain’t no way that I’m going to feel like I feel today a year from now. I promise you that."

Duly noted, Hue. He wasn't done.

“There’s no question. Defensively, offensively and special teams. I ain’t feeling like this no more. This is a joke. To have a chance at home to beat a football team that is reeling after being beaten by Detroit, is one of your rivals, and come in and beat us like that . . . yeah, I’m going to take a hand in everything that goes on here.”

But it's the defense that appears to be the true focus of his ire.

"I think (defensive coordinator) Chuck (Bresnahan) knows how I feel,'' Jackson said while not commenting directly on Bresnahan's status for next season. "I'm disappointed over there. I have been. It's not like we haven't had conversations. Chuck knows what I feel, and it's not good enough.''

The Oakland Tribune's Jerry McDonald writes that the Raiders "ended the season allowing 433 points, the second most in franchise history, an average of 27.1 points per game. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers' three touchdown passes brought the total to 31 against the Raiders this season, the most in club history."

Too bad the Raiders can't address their defensive needs in the first round of the 2012 draft.

Tim Tebow - Broncos

Tebow makes back-to-back appearances in Coach Killers after taking an 11-week break while the Broncos went from 1-4 to 8-5. Last week we wrote "the big issue is if defenses have figured out how to stop Denver's option attack and whether the offense has an answer to it."

Yes, it appears so. Tebow was just 6 of 22 for 60 yards (0 TDs, 1 INT) but head coach John Fox says the passing woes don't fall solely on the quarterback. (No idea if Fox actually believes this.)

Has Tebow performed his last miracle?
"There's a lot of moving parts to the pass game," Fox told reporters Monday. "You've got protection, route, timing. You have to throw the ball sometimes to tight windows. We've had had our moments this season. We'll just continue to try to improve. It's not just the quarterback."

Fox continued: "He's trying to do the best he can to help us win. He had a little bit of a struggle yesterday throwing the ball. That happens sometimes. You have to give credit to the Kansas City Chiefs. They've got a pretty good defense. They made a pretty good Green Bay Packer offense have some struggles. We're onto next week and trying to get better."

And the Broncos will need to get better because they're facing one of the league's best defenses when the Steelers come to town.

Last week, Broncos executive vice president John Elway said that Tebow would be the team's quarterback in 2012.

"Tim Tebow's not going anywhere," Elway told the Associated Press. "I mean, he's going to be a Bronco and we're going to do everything we can and hopefully he's that guy."

That proclamation may have been written in pencil, however. On Monday, CBSSports.com's Mike Freeman had this: "While I'm sure Elway wasn't lying I'm told by several league and team officials that Elway continues to have significant concerns about whether or not Tebow can be a franchise quarterback despite Elway's public protestations to the contrary."

If the Broncos lose to the Steelers to drop their fourth game in a row we should expect those rumors to intensify.

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