Thursday, November 20, 2014

Blount to Patriots and other notes

LeGarrette Blount cleared waivers and was signed by the New England Patriots on Thursday, two days after his release by the Steelers.

It brings up an interesting question. Some people within the Steelers organization feel that Blount made a calculated move by leaving the field prior to the end of regulation in the team's 27-24 win over Tennessee Monday night because he wanted out of Pittsburgh.

Blount was unhappy with his role with the team, which had gotten increasingly less in recent weeks - remember, he was introduced as a starter early in the season, even though he was only getting a handful of carries each week.

And the Steelers' plan going into the game against the Titans was to run Le'Veon Bell almost exclusively, which turned into exclusively given the damage he was doing against the Titans.

Could Blount have contacted the Patriots, who were short at running back after a season-ending injury to Steven Ridley, secretly to gauge an interest?

Perhaps. But I don't think so.

It's easy to come to those kind of conclusions when the Patriots are involved. After all, they have been known to push the rules.

But I really believe Blount's reaction was more spontaneous. He celebrated a touchdown with Bell early in the fourth quarter and likely thought he might get some carries down the stretch as the Steelers ran out the clock at the end of the game.

But when Bell got 12 fourth quarter carries, I'm sure that didn't sit well.

@ Ike Taylor said he has an appointment Monday with Dr. Jim Bradley to see if he's cleared to return to contact.

If he is cleared, he should be ready to return to the lineup. Taylor has been practicing for nearly a month.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Steelers cut ties with Blount

Mike Tomlin sent a strong message through his locker room today. You're either with us or against us.

Cutting LeGarrette Blount had to be a difficult decision for Tomlin.

On one hand, you had a player who had been something of a problem. First was the incident in August when he and Le'Veon Bell were pulled over on their way to the airport for a preseason game and charged with possession of marijuana.

And during the practices with the Buffalo Bills, Blount had to be pulled away a couple of times from going after Buffalo players when minor fights broke out.

Monday night was the final straw, as Blount left the field early in the closing moments of the Steelers' 27-24 victory at Tennessee. Not only did he do that, he left the locker room early, before Tomlin had spoken to the team, and had to be ordered back into the room by assistant coach Joey Porter - with whom Blount had also nearly fought during a backs on backers drill in Latrobe.

But the Steelers also are very thin at running back now without Blount on the roster.

Their only experience at the position behind Le'Veon Bell now consists of Dri Archer's eight career carries. Josh Harris, the player promoted from the practice squad to replace Blount on the roster, was an undrafted rookie who wasn't signed by the Steelers until they had other injuries at the position in training camp.

Tomlin had to weigh those things when he made the decision to give Blount his walking papers.

Bell was on the field for 71 of the Steelers' 74 offensive plays against the Titans. Blount was in for just one play.

Bell is an every-down back to be sure, but the Steelers are going to need more out of Archer for sure while also figuring out ways to incorporate Harris into things. They now cannot afford an injury to Bell.

Post-Titans thoughts

Stylistically, there won't be many points given out for the Steelers' 27-24 win over the Titans Monday night.

Then again, maybe there will be.

After all, Le'Veon Bell's 204-yard performance was just the fifth 200-yard game by a Steelers running back.

Willie Parker had two and Frenchy Fuqua and John Henry Johnson had one each. Period.

For a team that for a long time prided itself on being a hard-nosed run-oriented offense, that's hard to believe.

@ The Titans really worked hard to protect rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger from the numerous blitzes that defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau sent at him.

But in the second half, even though the Steelers didn't get any sacks, they did get in the rookie's wheelhouse a couple of times to force bad throws.

Don't think for a second that Titans head coach Ken Whisenhunt didn't pick defensive coordinator Ray Horton's brain about what LeBeau liked to run and when he liked to run it.

Both are former Steelers assistant coaches and know LeBeau well.

@ LeGarrette Blount reportedly left the field in the closing minutes of the game after being told Bell was going to finish things off.

Blount wasn't in the locker room following the game.

Though he saw some snaps, Blount didn't get any carries in the game as Bell carried the entire load, getting 33 of the team's 36 rushing attempts. Roethlisberger had the other three, two on kneel downs at the end of the game.

If Blount did, indeed, leave before the game was completed, that was not a good, or smart, move by him.

I'm sure head coach Mike Tomlin will have some kind of punishment for him, even if it's not made public.

@ The offensive line set a goal of getting Bell, who had just 21 carries in the previous two games, 150 yards rushing in this game.

@ It appears that Markus Wheaton has found a home as the team's kick returner.

@ The Steelers need to figure out why it's taking Roethlisberger three quarters to get going in road games this season.

Pittsburgh has scored one or fewer offensive touchdown in four of its six road games this season - though it had two in this game.

It also has failed to score an offensive touchdown in the first three quarters of four of its six road games, including Monday night's contest.

@ The Steelers ran 21 plays in the fourth quarter to just seven for the Titans.

@ The bye comes at a much-needed time for the Steelers. They were without six starters from their opening day lineup on defense.

They should get at least a four of those guys - Ike Taylor, Ryan Shazier, Troy Polamalu and Steve McLendon - back coming out of the bye.

Jarvis Jones also will start practicing soon. The other starter, cornerback Cortez Allen, was benched due to his play.

Monday, November 17, 2014

Steelers-Titans game day thread

It's a chilly night here at LP Field in Nashville, a perfect night for the Steelers to come out and re-establish their running game with Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount.

The Steelers (6-4) need a win in this one to move ahead of Cleveland and Baltimore, who are both 6-4, in the AFC North standings, though with Pittsburgh on a bye next week, that could again turn into a three-way tie for second or last in the division, depending on how you want to look at it.

As we already know, Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor, Steve McLendon, Ryan Shazier and Shamarko Thomas will be out today for the Steelers.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Who I like, Titans version

The Steelers travel to Nashville needing a win over the Titans Monday night to keep pace in the AFC North.

And really, it seems like it should be something they will do with some relative ease - unless road issues plague them again.

The Steelers are averaging 17 points per game on the road this season compared to 35 at home. And that includes the 37 points they scored at Carolina.

They've just had issues on the road.

But that Carolina defense was mighty similar to what the Titans will bring at the Steelers. Neither can stop the run.

If you remember, in that game against Carolina, the Steelers had both Le'Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount run for more than 100 yards.

While that might not happen again, the Titans are 29th in the league stopping the run. That will take some pressure off of Ben Roethlisberger to do everything.

Likewise, the Titans will be have Zach Mettenberger making just his third NFL start. The Steelers are 18-2 since 2004 against rookie quarterbacks and unbeaten with Roethlisberger at quarterback.

Again, they don't lose to rookie quarterbacks when Roethlisberger plays.

The Steelers are 6-point favorites in this game and I like them to win, 31-16.

Friday, November 14, 2014

Friday news, notes

The Arizona Cardinals have signed defensive end Josh Mauro off of the Steelers practice squad.

Ironically, it was the Cardinals attempting to sign Brett Keisel at the end of training camp that probably cost Mauro a spot on the 53-man roster in August.

Keisel called the Steelers at that time and said he wanted to play. They decided to bring him back and it was Keisel who made the final roster, likely over Mauro, an undrafted rookie from Stanford who had two sacks in the preseason.

@ Steve McLendon (shoulder), Troy Polamalu (knee) and Ryan Shazier (ankle) did not practice Friday for the Steelers.

Cortez Allen (thumb), Ike Taylor (forearm) and Shamarko Thomas (hamstring) were limited.

Safety Ross Ventrone (hamstring) made it through his second consecutive day of practice and appears to be in line to return this week.

For the Titans, tight end Delanie Walker still has not passed his concussion tests.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

McCullers will start

The Steelers plan on starting rookie Daniel McCullers at nose tackle if Steve McLendon doesn't play - which is likely.

Defensive line coach John Mitchell confirmed to Steelers Nation Radio that McCullers would get the nod Monday night at Tennessee, though Cam Thomas will see some time there as well.

McCullers has been active for just three games this season, but saw action in 11 snaps last week when he was active due to injuries at a number of other positions.

Things are going to get interesting for the Steelers coming out of the bye week if McCullers plays well.

McLendon should be back and has played pretty well this season.

But the Steelers are also set to get linebacker Jarvis Jones and cornerback Ike Taylor back from lengthy injuries as well.

Could Thomas wind up being inactive, or worse, released?

I don't think he'll be released and he's still - at least technically - starting ahead of Brett Keisel. But Keisel is logging more plays and rookie Stephon Tuitt also is seeing action in a handful of plays each week.

Thomas has played better in recent weeks. Then again, he couldn't have played much worse than he had in the preseason and first month or so of the season.

Some of that is because he's not a true defensive end. He's been better when asked to play the nose.

But that definitely looks like a bad free agent signing.

@ McLendon, who is dealing with a nagging shoulder injury, did not practice on Thursday.

Ross Ventrone, who missed last week's game with a hamstring injury, was back on the field Thursday. Taylor and Shamarko Thomas, who is also dealing with a hamstring issue, were limited.

Brett Keisel and Arthur Moats were given the day off, while Troy Polamalu an Ryan Shazier, who have already been declared out, did not practice.

Taylor has also been declared out.

For Tennessee, tight end Delanie Walker, who left last week's loss at Baltimore with a concussion, did not practice.

If he doesn't make it back, that's a huge loss for Tennessee. Walker is the Titans' top red zone threat and second-leading receiver.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Some midweek news, notes

Jarvis Jones is no longer in a cast and said he's getting closer to making a return.

He won't begin practicing  until after the bye week because he's not quite ready to make his return. He needs to rebuild his strength and flexibility in his injured right wrist, which looks markedly smaller than his left.

Once he starts practicing, the clock starts ticking on him and the Steelers will have 21 days to either activate him or place him on season-ending injured reserve.

James Harrison and Arthur Moats have been fine filling in for Jones, but wouldn't a Harrison/Jones rotation look better?

@ The NFL has released its results from early Pro Bowl voting by fans and Le'Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are both among the top 10.

Bell has the second-most votes among running backs behind DeMarco Murray with just over 210,000. That ranks him sixth in the overall voting.

Brown leads all wide receivers with just over 200,000 votes and is seventh among all players.

@ I had a long talk with Bell today and asked him what he thinks he'd be doing if he weren't playing football.

Bell didn't hesitate. He said he'd be playing in the NBA.

If you think that's crazy, consider that Michigan State didn't offer Bell a scholarship to play football until seeing him on the basketball court.

Bell said he scored 31 that night.

He also high-jumped 6-8 in track that year.

To that point, Bell had been getting offers from a number of MAC schools to play running back. Some bigger schools wanted him but only as a safety or linebacker, likely a nod to the fact he's a legit 6-1, a height many don't consider ideal for a running back.

Bell wanted to be a running back or nothing. But after seeing his explosiveness and athleticism in that basketball game, Michigan State offered.