All posts by Chris Halicke

Christ believer, blessed husband and father, sports enthusiast and worship leader.

Week 8 Recap: Steelers 20, Lions 15

The Steelers played for the second time at Ford Field in Detroit since their victory in Super Bowl XL in 2006, and it was a game with plenty of excitement. As the Steelers looked to continue their winning ways, Detroit was fresh off of a bye week, trying to recover after losing two straight. Here are the good, the bad, and the ugly from Sunday night in Detroit

The Good

  • The defense’s performance in the red zone. The defense allowed the Lions to get into the red zone five times (more on that in just a bit), but the stingy defense denied Matthew Stafford and company entry into the end zone, including two stops on fourth down inside the ten yard line. The Lions were tied for fifth in the NFL in red zone touchdown efficiency, scoring 60% of the time they get inside the 20, but the defense did their job with their backs up against the wall and made the Lions go for it or settle for field goals.
  • JuJu Smith-Schuster. He had a career night, catching seven passes for 193 yards, including a 97-yard touchdown on third down-and-nine. JuJu showed elusive speed, getting behind the coverage, while Ben Roethlisberger read the safety’s coverage pre-snap, the rookie receiver and veteran quarterback connected for the play of the game. JuJu had an almost flawless night (one crucial drop on a third down), but his performance was much needed Sunday night, as the offense struggled most of the night.
  • The Steelers’ third down efficiency was vastly better Sunday night, converting 7-of-14 third downs, a much higher percentage than their season percentage going in, which was 36%. Ben looked sharp on third downs, making smart throws and not forcing much on crucial third downs. This is one area of the Steelers’ offense that has mightily struggled all year, and they elevated their game in this crucial scenario.

The Bad

  • While the offense was much better on third down, they struggled in just about every other in some form or fashion Sunday night. Eli Rogers dropped a sure touchdown on the opening drive of the game, forcing the offense to settle for a field goal, leaving four points off the board. Big Ben sailed a pass to Antonio Brown into triple coverage, which was intercepted, and killed a promising drive moving down the field. Sure-handed Le’Veon Bell fumbled on a 3rd-and-1 on another promising drive near the end of the first half, which gave the ball to Detroit, who went down the field and got three points before the end of the half. The offensive line struggled to establish the running game, granted, against a stout Detroit run defense that was ranked 7th in the league going into the game. The lack of a running game forced the offense to throw a bit more than they wanted. Overall, there was too much lack of execution, which put the Steelers in bad predicaments constantly throughout the game.
  • The Steelers, for the most part, struggled to pressure Stafford and make him uncomfortable. They did register two sacks, but this was against an offensive line that has struggled protecting their expensive quarterback most of the year. The lack of pressure on Stafford definitely attributed to the amount of “chunk plays” as head coach Mike Tomlin referred to at halftime, which will be addressed shortly.
  • Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t too sharp tonight. Some people on social media were really hard on him, and he definitely missed some passes, but he wasn’t awful. He sailed at least three passes, one of which was intercepted, and had a couple other forced throws picked off. He made a couple nice throws, but overall, his performance wasn’t great, which the Steelers need him to be better. That’s why he ends up with “The Bad.”

The Ugly

  • There’s really only one thing ugly about the Steelers Sunday night, and man, it was a stinker. Going into the game, the Steelers were the highest-ranked pass defense, allowing only 147 passing yards against per game. Matthew Stafford threw all up and down the field against the Steelers’ secondary, racking up 423 yards the air. They were getting beat in man coverage, and then getting eaten up in zone coverage later on in the game. Detroit virtually had zero issues moving the ball down the field, where as stated before, the defense tightened up and didn’t allow the Lions to get in the end zone. It was still an alarming performance. A team like New England, who is the team the Steelers are trying to get over the hump against, will not settle for field goals every time. While the pass rush struggled, the secondary struggled at keeping receivers close to them. There were a few nice plays made, but most of them were in the red zone. This should be a wake up call for a secondary that has had a great first half of the season up until Sunday night. Overall, it looked like lack of execution more than anything. And unfortunately when that happens, especially when playing man coverage, it forces defensive coordinator Keith Butler to draw up more soft zone coverage, which quarterbacks like Stafford (and Tom Brady) will devour and pick apart all night, and that’s exactly what happened.

Final Thoughts

While a win is a win and you take as many as you can, especially when you’re trying to keep ahead of the Patriots, the Steelers still have much to work on, especially on the offensive side. The third down efficiency was a positive, but the lack of execution, especially in the red zone, is still staggering. This is an uber-talented offense, and with the way they’ve performed this season, calling them overrated isn’t a hot take. They’ve got to work out the issues they’re having to finish off drives and get the ball in the end zone.

The secondary should get a pass for being lit up like a Christmas tree in Times Square. They’ve been solid all year and it took eight games to have a bad performance. However, this is an eye opener if the front seven can’t pressure the quarterback. Guys like Burns and Haden need to be able to lock down man coverage so the defense doesn’t have to revert to the soft zone coverage that teams like New England pick apart.

What’s Next

The Steelers are now 6-2, and sit atop the AFC North, and via tie-breakers, the entire AFC. The Steelers have their bye week in week nine, but then travel to Indianapolis to face the Colts in week 10 on November 12th. It is a 1:00 P.M. ET kickoff.


COLUMN: A Letter To Martavis Bryant

Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver-slash-enigma Martavis Bryant was told by coach Mike Tomlin on Wednesday that he will not be playing Sunday in Detroit. Bryant’s multiple remarks on social media and to the media have made it perfectly clear that Bryant isn’t happy with his current role in Pittsburgh. 

Now that the news reporting is out of the way, here’s the commentary I want to give on the matter, or rather, a message straight to Bryant himself.

Dear Martavis, shut up. You’ve lost all credibility with at least most of the fans that whole-heartedly support the Pittsburgh Steelers, the ones that claim to bleed black and gold. Now, obviously, you’re a professional football player, and for most professional athletes, those colors you wear on gamedays don’t quite permeate your very being like they do for fans. 

I get it. I understand your frustration. You are one of the most gifted receivers I’ve seen on the last 10 years. Your size and talent combination is lethal. Your role this season has been limited after being out an entire season. I’m sure you were itching to get back to it. I can’t imagine what you went through. 

Here’s what I don’t get and you will never be able to explain it to me: why, oh why, stoop to the level you have? Your anger and frustration of the situation does not permiss you bashing a fellow teammate who has had a great rookie year so far. JuJu deserves praise for what he’s done in his short career so far. Yeah, he’s not going to to hall-of-fame yet, but he’s done exactly what he’s been asked to do and executed to the best of his ability. That deserves respect.

And for you Martavis, what exactly have you accomplished in your career to think you can demand this kind of respect from your coaches, teammates, and fans? You shown several flashes of just how talented you are. Some of the plays you’ve made have left us all with our jaws on the floor. But what did you do for your encore? You’ve violated the substance policy twice. While I understand how badly you wanted to get back after that year, I have no sympathy for you. You’re the only reason you got suspended. 

Now what about Le’Veon Bell? He’s been suspended twice. Yeah, but look what he’s done since coming back. He’s 2nd in the league in rushing and has been an All-Pro running back. Yeah, he touches the ball way more than you or even Antonio Brown do, but what are you doing with your targets and touches? Last game, you had only one less target than JuJu, yet his impact on the game was way bigger than yours. He even made plays down the field when he wasn’t touching the ball. You should know receivers don’t have to touch the ball to make an impact. Just ask Hines Ward

You might want to learn a little something about what it is to be a teammate. You don’t have to look too far away. As a matter of fact, all you have to do is go downtown to PPG Paints Arena. Remember Marc-Andre Fleury? Pittsburgh sure does. They revere him and honor and praise him, despite the fact that he’s stopping pucks for another team now. You know, he had his job taken by a rookie. Twice. During a playoff run no-less. Did he go to social media and whine and complain about how much better he was than Matt Murray? Did he tear down his fellow teammate? Did he sulk and whine about not being between the pipes at the most crucial points of the season? Nope. He took him under his wing and mentored him. He swallowed his pride and did what was best for the team. And look what it helped produce for the Penguins: back-to-back Stanley Cups.

Do you want to win Super Bowls, Martavis? Do you want to be part of a great team? Because this team is on the verge of being great, and instead of trying to be a piece of a 53-man team, you’re trying to only get yours. 

Grow up.

 Every receiver wants the ball more than they get it, but you have to believe that the Steelers aren’t done with you. After everything you’ve done to be a distraction or detriment, they still say they’ve invested too much in you to just dump you. Remember, this is an organization that traded away a Super Bowl MVP in Santonio Holmes because of off-the-field issues. If after everything you’ve done and the Steelers still don’t want to trade you, it shows you they believe in you. So please for our sake and your own, just shut up. 

Do you want to know why there’s so much outrage against you right now? It’s not because fans always need something to whine about or media needs something to write about, but because you acting like this is a waste of so much God-given ability. We want you to succeed and make the big catches for the Steelers in big games. Not everybody likes the hand their dealt, but you live with it and continue to work hard until your dealt your next hand. We care too much to see you act like a man-child. 

No amount of talent is worth having a cancer on your team. If you can’t change your attitude, we don’t want you here. Good riddance. 

Three Takeaways: Steelers Top Bengals 29-14

The Steelers had one of their worst games in recent memory against Jacksonville two weeks ago at Heinz Field. Since then, they have bounced back significantly with a stout performance in Kansas City beating the then-undefeated Chiefs. The question going into Sunday’s game hosting the rival Bengals was if they could follow up a solid performance with another one. 

They sure did. The Steelers won convincingly 29-14, going a perfect 3-0 in division play so far this season. It wasn’t a perfect performance, but convincing enough. Here’s three things that stood out from the game Sunday:

The Defense

It’s not the Steel Curtain, the Blitzburgh defenses from the 90’s, or the 2008 defense, but this unit is playing some strong ball. They are getting after the quarterback this year, and registered four more sacks Sunday, and are tied for second most in the NFL. 

Remember when the main concern for this defense was the secondary? Well, can you guess who’s first in pass defense? Yep, the Steelers are. You can give whatever reason you want for it. You could say it’s because of the pass rush or any other anomaly, but the fact is that this defense is atop the league right now in passing yards against. 

If anything, the concern for the defense is against the run. They’re 15th in the league right now, so they’re right in the middle of the pack, but more often than not, they allow big runs at bad times. They’ve also had two games this year allowing over 200 yards. They held the Bengals to 71 yards on the ground Sunday, but rookie Joe Mixon had seven carries for 48 yards, averaging almost seven yards per carry. They’ll need to clamp down on that going forward.

They allowed Cincinnati to move the ball pretty well in the first half, but they shut down the Bengals in the second half. The Bengals only had 19 offensive yards in the second half. That’s outstanding. This group has been impressive, and will give the Steelers great opportunities to win with play like this.

Ring The Bell

If there was any doubt Le’Veon Bell was back, there shouldn’t be now, and the coaching staff seem to have all the trust in the world with him again. He’s carried the ball more than 30 times two weeks in a row now, and is becoming more active in the passing game. While Bell wasn’t the most efficient on the ground yesterday, only averaging 3.8 yards per carry, he made more than enough positive plays, moving the chains for the offense. He also ripped off two large receptions after Ben Roethlisberger dumped it off to him, on play so memorable we’ll remember this stiff arm for a while.

The offensive line is playing great in front of him, but Bell is making everyone forget about his holdout and slow start in September with his play now. With him in top form again, the Steelers offense has become much more lethal.

Ben’s Still Got It

Remember the five picks against Jacksonville? Ben doesn’t look like the same guy from two weeks ago. He’s looking a lot more like the future Hall-of-Famer that he is. Now granted, he only had to throw 24 times yesterday, but he made them count. His first touchdown was a very impressive throw in a tight window to Antonio Brown. He didn’t force a lot of throws into tight coverage, which has always been a risk Ben is willing to take, trusting his receivers to make plays. His play over the last two weeks against stout defenses has given reason to trust him going forward. If the Steelers win anything this year, it will have to be with Ben. They aren’t winning without him. 

Three Causes For Concern

Martavis Bryant was non-existent, getting only two targets, one of which he had a bit of separation on a deep ball, but couldn’t locate the ball in the air. He later took to Instagram and replied to a comment saying that fellow receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster is better and his reply was questionable at best.

-3rd down efficiency was poor, especially on 3rd and short situations. The Steelers finished 2-for-11 on 3rd down, something that will need to be addressed this week in practice. The offense didn’t have much of a problem moving the ball and getting into or close to field goal range, but then would stall and be unable to convert 3rd downs. They will have to get better at that to keep pace with the elite of the AFC.

-Red zone efficiency continued to be an issue, going 1-for-6 in touchdown efficiency inside the 20. Chris Boswell bailed out the offense, making five field goals on the day. Again, this needs to be an area of improvement going forward. When playing teams like New England, putting three points on the board for every red zone trip usually doesn’t cut it.

Final Thoughts

This was a very good win for the Steelers. They needed to follow up a good performance with another good one. Showing some consistency like this shows signs that debacles like games against Chicago and Jacksonville are behind them. 

The defense has been great the past two weeks. They regrouped at half time after a mediocre first half and were flat out dominant in the 2nd half. This is a great sign for this young group and it may be coming together faster than expected. 

Steelers Trade Coates to Browns

The Steelers have quite the conundrum at receiver, but they just made their choices a bit easier. 

The Steelers traded Sammie Coates to the Cleveland Browns for the Browns 6th round pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Coates, a 3rd round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, had quite a bit of an inconsistent career with the Steelers. He was given ample opportunity last season with Martavis Bryant sitting the entire season under suspension. Coates showed some signs of strong play early on, but Coates dealt with multiple fractured fingers throughout the year. 

On the surface, it looks like the Steelers see potential in other receivers on the roster, as they’re trying to cut their roster down to 53 men, which they have until 4:00 pm on Saturday to do so. Coates will get a fresh start in Cleveland, being part of a receiver group not nearly as deep or talented. 

Steelers Extend GM Kevin Colbert

In the wake of two significant moves that have upgraded areas of need, the Steelers have given General Manager Kevin Colbert a contract extension through the 2020 NFL Draft. Colbert is entering his 18th season as the Steelers GM. He indicated he didn’t want to go anywhere, and now he’s locked up to be the team’s main architect for at least two decades. 

Colbert deserves praise, keeping the Steelers competitive year in, year out for his entire tenure. The one losing season he’s had led to the Steelers having a good draft pick the following year, in which they took Ben Roethlisberger. Well worth it. 

In recent years, he’s had to rebuild the defense, and has managed to keep the team competitive in the process. And now, the defense is on the verge of being very good again.

The Steelers are the best positioned for a Super Bowl run than they have been since 2010. He’s built a high-octane offense, rebuilt the defense, and recently, has made moves to sure up the secondary. He’s even made moves that go outside the Steelers’ norm, like paying significant money for Joe Haden

All in all, good move for the Steelers here. Colbert’s been one of the more outstanding GM’s of his time. An extension for him isn’t a surprise, it’s quite the status quo. 

Steelers Sign Haden; Get Excited, Don’t Expect a Savior

The Steelers have signed former Cleveland first round pick Joe Haden to a 3-year contract worth $27 million, $7 million guaranteed in 2017. There’s been a lot of hype around Haden since trade rumors swirled when the Browns were trying to get something in return for the Pro Bowl corner, and the Steelers have been in the mix since then. Now with him added to the secondary, it might look on the surface that the Steelers’ secondary issues might be fixed. 

Take a look again. 

Understand that the Browns straight up cut Haden. This is a guy who was once known as one of the premier cornerbacks in the league. The Browns have made many bad moves over the years, but no one is that stupid. There’s a reason they were first trying to trade him, then when no offers would suffice, they cut him. They’re eating $4 million. There’s a reason, if not a few reasons, Haden was cut.

Haden’s had a number of health issues over the past two seasons, including tearing both groin muscles last season. With his health being a constant issue, the Browns were having over $11 million of their team not playing consistently. They have younger guys they want to have a crack at playing time that they believe in, and Haden’s eating a lot of their payroll without being on the field more times than not. 

Haden’s production, and overall play for that matter, has fallen off a cliff. After being a back to back Pro Bowl corner in 2013-2014, his play has suffered significantly. Here’s a look at how Pro Football Focus has ranked him over the years:

Haden’s value couldn’t be any lower. He’s dropped off at an alarming rate and it isn’t a wonder why offers didn’t come pouring in when the Browns put him on the trade block.

So, why take the risk? Why pay him almost $30 million when he’s been so bad recently? Haven’t the Steelers already tried the Browns leftovers with Justin Gilbert?

First, to compare Haden to Gilbert is an insult. Gilbert has never been elite. Haden has. Second, he’s shown what he can do when healthy. He’s a premier corner. Now, most likely, his best days are behind him. The explosiveness isn’t there like it was and he’s never been a blazing fast guy. The Steelers don’t need Haden to be who he was. If the Steelers believe in Artie Burns, he should still be number one on the depth chart. Haden can slot in nicely across from him as the number two corner. When healthy, Haden is better than Ross Cockrell or Coty Sensabaugh. The Steelers’ zone coverage schemes might also benefit Haden more, since he won’t be asked to do as much man-to-man press coverage. It might keep him healthy, make him more durable and more productive. And who knows, maybe he could find a shade of his former self and give the Steelers at least one year of quasi-elite cornerback play.

There’s reason to be excited about Haden coming to Pittsburgh. He can contribute nicely and definitely gives the secondary more depth, which they drastically needed. He’s not a savior, though. Don’t expect him to be. Haden is a nice fit and should definitely contribute to the secondary’s success.