Wilson: Looking back before looking ahead

Blogger Ryan Wilson takes one more look back at the Monday Night Train Wreck and then looks ahead to a must-win Week 3 matchup with the division rival Bengals. No, it's not really a must-win game, but try telling Steelers fans that if Pittsburgh is 1-2 on Sunday night.

… I think DJ Gallo might be one of the funniest people on the planet. He writes a weekly NFL column for ESPN.com's Page 2, and here are a few observations about the Pittsburgh Steelers' AFC North rivals:
… Cincinnati receiver Chris Henry caught five passes for 113 yards just five days after pleading guilty to a gun charge. If Henry plays this well every time he makes a plea in a criminal case, the Bengals have a surefire future Hall of Famer on their hands.

… The Ravens staff has to be really excited about Steve McNair's performance on Sunday. In Baltimore's opening-week win he completed 63 percent of his passes, didn't turn the ball over once and had a 94.8 quarterback rating -- which is fine, I suppose. But Sunday he stepped up and connected on 48 percent of his passes, threw an interception and posted a quarterback rating of 58.0 -- which is much, much better because it proves he's really starting to get the hang of Brian Billick's system.

… Ravens veteran defensive tackle Kelly Gregg had a chance to score the first touchdown of his career Sunday when he scooped up a Raiders fumble late in the third quarter and started running toward the end zone. He managed to lug his 300-plus-pound frame more than 50 yards, but right as he was about to go in for a touchdown, Ray Lewis -- who has scored numerous touchdowns in his career -- ripped the ball out from behind Gregg without any warning and tried to take it in himself. I was shocked Lewis would do that to a teammate trying to score a touchdown. It's just not like Ray Lewis to stab a guy in the back like that.

If you're not familiar with Gallo's work, he started SportsPickle.com, a sports satire site, and makes a habit of accusing Ray Lewis of murder at least once a month. If nothing else, you have to love him for that.

… At the other end of the humor spectrum is Don Banks, who I might just start calling Kevorkian, since you feel like you want to kill yourself after sifting through his latest work. Here's what he wrote following the train wreck that was Monday Night Football:

Philip Rivers and J.P. Losman aren't the third-year quarterbacks people should be concerned about. Ben Roethlisberger (zero touchdowns, two interceptions, 38.7 passer rating) is.
Isn't this the same J.P. Losman who took a safety late in the Week 1 game against the Patriots that eventually proved to be the difference? And Philip Rivers? Let's see: he faced the mighty Oakland Raiders in the season opener and threw the ball a whopping 11 times. Last week, the Chargers pulled out a squeaker – to the tune of 40-7 – against the Tennessee Titans, a team that's a virtual lock to make the Super Bowl with Kerry Collins under center. Yeah, he's the missing piece to that puzzle.

Be careful Mr. Banks, this kind of jackassery will get you a job in the Lions' front office. If that's what you're going for then by all means, keep it up; but otherwise, you might want to put down the crack pipe before writing a column. Just a thought.

… The only thing more idiotic than post-game report cards are post-draft report cards. But not by much. In Tuesday's Post-Gazette Gerry Dulac passes out his weekly grades and here's one that caught my eye:

Running Back: Willie Parker had just 9 yards in eight carries in the first half and his longest run was 4 yards. He finished with 20 yards on 11 attempts. Verron Haynes did a good job catching several check-down passes from Roethlisberger and was the team's leading receiver with five catches. GRADE: F

Offensive line: The Steelers had little room to run in the first half, gaining just 15 yards on 10 carries and finishing with 26 yards on 14 carries. The longest run was 4 yards. Roethlisberger was not sacked in the first half, but was under some pressure. RG Kendall Simmons was beaten for a sack by DE Bobby McCray in the fourth quarter. GRADE: C-

How does the running game earn an "F" but the offensive line manages a "C-"? Isn't there some correlation between the two? I suppose one could argue that the o-line pass protected so well that it made up for some of shortcomings in the run game, but that line of reasoning is about as well thought out as the "Hey, let's put Colclough back there and see if a ball hits him in the helmet" punt return philosophy.

Here's an idea: instead of dopey draft grades, tell me something I didn't know from just watching the game. You know, some actual reporting.

… I can understand why most coaches don't like dealing with the media; the job's long hours coupled with answering silly questions or having every decision second-guessed can make a person a little grumpy. That said, given that Bill Cowher is the Steelers' head coach and he's not, say, a sandwich artist or a bank teller, he should be held accountable for the team's performance. And part of that accountability should include which players are active on game days (can you see where I'm going with this?).

To set this up, here's possibly the unintentionally funniest quote from Cowher's Tuesday press conference:

Asked if he would have preferred Holmes take a touchback on the kickoff, Cowher said, "Given where it ended up, yes."
Of course, Cowher then went on to say that he didn't expect to dress Willie Reid this week against the Bengals so it doesn't look like much will change in the return game.

I've been pretty vocal in my displeasure regarding a few special teams-related personnel decisions: Chidi Iwuoma getting released, Ricardo Colclough returning punts, and Willie Reid inactive on game days. Instead of repeating myself without saying anything new, I took a look at last year's active game-day roster to get some insight into why, exactly, Chidi is still unemployed and Pittsburgh's punt return game is currently in shambles.

Last season – just like this season – the Steelers activated nine defensive backs on game days (five cornerbacks, four safeties). For example, during the December 4 game against Cincinnati, Ike Taylor, Deshea Townsend, Bryant McFadden, Colclough and Iwuoma were the active cornerbacks and Troy Polamalu, Chris Hope, Tyrone Carter and Mike Logan were the active safeties. For both games this season, Pittsburgh has activated nine defensive backs: four cornerbacks and five safeties.

This year, Iwuoma was a numbers casualty with rookie Anthony Smith now in the mix. But this leads me to wonder – and I don't do this carelessly because I could be in mortal danger by merely making the suggestion – if the Steelers would be better served by releasing either Carter or Logan in favor of Iwuoma. Personally, I'm leaning towards Carter because frankly, he looks a lot more like the 2002 version of Hank Poteat than he does the 2005 version of himself.

Contemplating such a move raises two questions: First, can the Steelers go with just four safeties on the active roster when one of the backups is a rookie and the other gives new meaning to the phrase "injury prone"? Second, does special teams gain more from Iwuoma than it loses with Carter? Both players have different special teams roles, so it's not like they're interchangeable. If you get rid of Carter, you now have to find someone to do his job.

As a fan, I love Chidi. He's the definition of "throwback." But if I'm Kevin Colbert, it's a much tougher decision because re-signing Iwuoma doesn't magically fix the special teams problems. In fact, the coverage unit was fine against the Jaguars; it's the return unit that really needs some attention. Which leads me to my next point …

Leaving the Chidi situation aside for the moment, would it make sense to use Willie Reid instead of Tyrone Carter on the active roster? Again, this solves one problem while creating another: the punt return job is filled, but Carter's special-team responsibilities will need to be addressed. (I'll be honest, I have absolutely no idea what Carter does on special teams; all I know is that he's always out there. Maybe replacing him is as easy as Kevin Spencer drawing a name out of a hat.)

Ideally, Pittsburgh would find a way to bring Chidi back while also activating Reid. But after looking at the game day roster, I understand Cowher's dilemma: he can't address one problem without creating another one as a consequence. I'm still not excusing the Let's-see-how-many-muffs-Colclough-can-rack-up-in-two-games experiment, but I appreciate the problem.

… In yesterday's column I actually wrote that Ben Roethlisberger had a 104-degree temperature before the game because my television told me as much and my television has never been wrong. (Luckily, the SCI editors stepped in. Thanks.) So I'm just as guilty as all the other numbnuts who ran with the story. But my stupidity doesn't excuse Michelle Tafoya, one of two MNF sideline reporters who perpetuated the fairy-tale before the game. (By the way, do we really need TWO sideline reporters!?! If there's anything Eric Dickerson and Lisa Guerrero taught us it's that one sideline reporter is one too many and two is how you break Gitmo detainees with "non-torturous" torture techniques.)

Here's what Tafoya said when asked about the mix up:

"I spoke with Ben directly, 90 minutes before the game … I said, 'What's your temperature?' He said it was 104 at 2 o'clock. When he said that, I thought, 'I can't believe he's out here.' If he said 100.4 to me, I would have said, 'That's not very high, unless it's a toddler.' I never would have gone with anything I didn't believe he had said."
I don't doubt Tafoya's account, but here's my thing: She had a baby less than a year ago so you would think she'd have some idea about what it means when a human (adult, or otherwise) has a 104-degree temperature.

… Looking ahead to Sunday's game, here are some Bengals-related links:

  • Who's in and who's out:Mark Curnette of the Cincinnati Enquirer reports that the Bengals will be without center Rich Braham, safety Dexter Jackson, wideout Tab Perry and linebacker AJ Nicholson. No specifics as to why, but you have to assume Nicholson got hurt trying to lift some stereo equipment from the Bengals locker room. Cincinnati will also be without starting linebackers David Pollack and Odell Thurman. Pollack broke his neck last week (prayers to him and his family) and Thurman is halfway through a four-game suspension for impersonating Bob Marley.
  • Who-Dey? We-Dey:Marvin Lewis is pulling out all the stops. He showed his team clips of Bill Cowher leading the Steelers in a "We-Dey" chant after last year's wild-card win over the Bengals. If TJ Houshmandzadeh shining his shoes with the Terrible Towel was a 10 on the Disrespect-O-Meter, Cowher's little cheerleading session was a negative zillion. Just watch and tell me that Cowher stumbling at the end of it wasn't embarrassing. When my wife saw it for the first time the other day, she commented that he seemed a little "out of sorts." That's teacher-speak for "Yep, that kid wears a helmet and rides the short bus to school." She didn't come out and say it because she's a lot nicer than I am, but I'm pretty sure that's what she meant. And I don't disagree. But hey, if this is what the Bengals need to get themselves sufficiently pumped to get their collective asses kicked up and down Heinz Field then, by all means.

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