Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 Preview: Defense

Hello, all. Last week, I gave you my preview of the 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers offense. Today, it's the defense. I didn't do a good job of making this clear in my first preview, so I'll do a better job here. The starting 11 that I project for the Steelers is not necessarily the same guys that you will see on the first play of the first series in Washington week 1. It's just who I think should be starting, and how they would do if they did start, combined with the Steelers depth chart listen on the team website.  Let's get into it

Defensive Tackle

Daniel McCullers

I can't give you a real opinion on McCullers because I don't have one yet. After losing Steve McClendon to free agency, McCullers is presumed as the Steelers #1 defensive tackle. I have not seen much from the 3rd year hoss from Tennessee, and I admit that I did not watch much of the preseason opener against Detroit, or the second game against Philadelphia. Hopefully, McCullers does an adequate job of replacing McClendon, assuming he will be that man.

Position Status: I don't know

The other guys

The only real intriguing guy aside from McCullers to watch at nose tackle is Javon Hargrave. A 3rd round pick this past April, Hargrave is a complete beast at 300+ pounds, and is the definition of the word disruption. Despite all the promise, I don't expect Hargrave to be the starter right away. He may very well work to be a starter soon, but I think the fact that other teams passed him over 88 times in the draft is evidence that he has some work to do

I don't know what to think. I haven't seen enough of McCullers, and Hargrave is a rookie who I have not had time to watch. Hopefully, the nose tackle position does not hold back the defensive line, and the loss of Steve McLendon does not prove to be too costly.

Overall thoughts: Minimal

Defensive End
Left Sideeeee!!!!
Cameron Heyward
Photo creds to www.postgazette.com

Class personified. Heyward is the heart and soul of the Steelers defense, and one of the better defensive lineman in the NFL. Unlike many of his buffoonish teammates, Heyward is as fine of a person off the field as he is a player on it, and that's why he was the Steelers nominee of the Walter Payton Leadership Award in 2015. Heyward is proof that you don't need Antonio Browns showboating or DeAngelo Willimas "look at me I'm cool" social media attitude to be a boss on the field. Cam shows up, does his job, does it well, and moves on. That may cost him some notoriety among the great unwashed, but it is beneficial to the Steelers. Oh, and Heyward knows how the respect legends on important days in their lives, which a particular backup running back can learn something from.

Position Status: Dependable
Strong Sideeeee!
Stephon Tuitt
Photo creds to www.steelers.com

In my first preview, I deemed Sammy Coates as the biggest breakout candidate for the Steeler offense. I'm giving the 3rd year player from Notre Dame that honor on the other side of the ball. At 6'6, 303 lbs, Tuitt is an athletic freak, and while  the 2014 second round pick hasn't been a bust in his short time in Pittsburgh, he hasn't turned heads the way he is capable of doing either. I think Tuitt will excel this season playing opposite Cam Heyward. He has a excellent blend of size and speed that I forsee to be on full display in 2016. Don't be surprised if you see this kid in the Pro Bowl. He is that good.

Position Status: Just you wait

The other guys

No famous names to report here and the Steelers don't need them. Heyward and Tuitt will be just fine, but if one of them goes down for a few games, Ricardo Mathews has a good chance to fill their spot. Mathews has size and experience but let's hope the Steelers don't need him in the starting lineup.

Heyward and Tuitt could become one of the better pass-rushing tandems in the NFL. Heyward is an established gem, while Tuitt has tremendous upside. Overall, defensive end is the area where the Steelers have the least amount of unanswered questions on defense, and fans should be excited for what these guys can bring.

Overall Status: Stable

Ryan Shazier
Photo creds to www.profootballtalk.nbcsports.com

The case of Shazier is a curious one. The 2014 first round pick out of Ohio State might be the most unique linebacker in the NFL, and this is because he is faster than any other linebacker in the NFL. But until Shazier proves that he can stay healthy for a full season, I refuse to jump on the bandwagon.

Whoever came up with the phrase "size doesn't matter" wasn't a football fan. In the NFL, size does matter, especially for a linebacker. I believe that Shazier's size (6 ft 1, 235 lbs) will cause durability problems for the rest of his career as an inside linebacker. When healthy, Shazier will be a force. Hopefully, Shazier can be a strength for a full season.

Position Status: Hit or Miss

Lawrence Timmons

Timmons style of play is similar to Cam Heyward's; he isn't flashy, but he gets the job done. Outside of James Harrison, Timmons has spent the longest time as a starter on the Steeler defense, and although he isn't completely satisfied with his current contract, I'm confident that that will be taken care of. We have come to expect solid play from the 10th year man out of Florida State, and provided he is healthy, 2016 will be no different

Position Status: Rock solid

James Harrison/Jarvis Jones
I'm writing about these two as a package because I expect Keith Butler to rotate these two at right outside linebacker. James Harrison is probably a better player than Jarvis Jones right now, but his age will not allow him to dominate on every down. What about Jarvis? 2016 is, in my opinion, a make-or-break season for the 2013 first rounder out of Georgia. To put it bluntly, Jones has been a bust. He showed nothing in his first two seasons and made baby strides at best last year. If Jones doesn't show some serious improvement, that will be a problem.

Position Status: Torch passing (hopefully)

Bud Dupree

I was contemplating on picking Dupree over Tuitt as my breakout player on the Steelers defense, but I went with Tuitt because I feel that, as he was a second round pick, fans expect less of him than they do out of Dupree, the Steelers first-rounder in 2015. Dupree played sporadically  last season, but he showed enough promise that this year, the outside linebacker job should be his to lose. The Steelers linebacking corp is built on speed, and Dupree has it. When the Steelers drafted Dupree 22nd overall in 2015, many experts said they got a steal. Let's hope Bud proves us right.

Position Status: Promising

The Other Guys

Arthur Moats is the only non-starter that is likely to play a prominent role in the Steelers defense, but a name I want you readers to think about is Tyler Matakevich. The Steelers last pick in this year's draft is not your average late round pick, as the former Temple Owl took home two of College Football's most prestigious awards in 2015 (Bronco Nagurski, Chuck Bednarik) and was a consensus All-American. The reason for all of Matakevich's success in 2015 was not due to his athletic ability, but due to his effort and his football IQ. If you want to see what this kid is about, watch his highlights from Temple's loss to Notre Dame last October. It was so obvious that he was a coach on the field, as it seemed as if he always knew where the ball was going. Matkevich does not fit the mold as an athletic beast of a linebacker. He doesn't have the lightning speed or freakish strength, but, pardon my cliche; he is all heart. He is unlikely to see a lot of playing time this season on defense, but look for him to grind it out on special teams at the very least. Matkevich could be somebody worth following very soon.

The Steelers corp of linebackers have a lot of talent, but little of a track record. Aside from Lawerence Timmons, there are just so many things to question. Is James Harrison too old? Will Jarvis Jones take a significant step forward? Will Ryan Shazier's durability lead to his downfall? Will Bud Dupree prove to be a bust? The Steelers linebacking corp could be great, but it could also be terribly underwhelming. Like so many great things in sports, we will just have to wait and see.

Overall Status: Boom or Bust

Overall, the Steelers front seven is promising. Every probable starter has Either established himself as a quality performer or has the potential to be one. Unfourtanly,  the reason the Steelers are a suspect defensive football team is because of the boys in the back. Let's talk about those guys.

Artie Burns
Will the rookie from Miami prove to be an ''excellent'' first-round draft choice?

The Steelers first round draft pick should be starting at corner from day one. Although Burns is better than Antwon Blake (the fact that he is an able bodied, breathing human being proves this), I do not think he will justify the Steelers drafting him at #23 overall. Burns has prototypical size for his position, but he is too flat footed for my liking, and I did not like the way he looked when his Miami team played against tough opponents (I.e he got schooled by Clemson's Artavis Scott.) Could Burns become a good player for the Steelers? Sure. But I don't envision ever feeling good about the Black and Gold passing on Clemson's Mackenzie Alexandre for Artie Burns. If the Steelers don't start Burns right away, that will be a sign that the made a mistake. Coming into this years draft, they needed to take a corner or safety that would be a starter by the time the ink dried on his rookie contract. Hopefully, they did that with Artie Burns, but I have my doubts.

Position Status: An improvement, at least

William Gay/Ross Cockrell
One of these guys should be playing opposite Artie Burns, and I would prefer it if it were to be Cockrell. Willy Gay has made his share of huge plays in his time with the Black and Gold, but I just don't see him as a starting cornerback. Gay is good at covering slot receivers, and he would make a solid Nickleback, but I like Cockrell over him because he has more room to improve. I've heard that when two players are close regarding ability, the tie always goes to the veteran. I disagree with that. I think that the young guy should get the nod in that type of circumstance because he has more learning and a higher ceiling to go for. Sure, Cockrell's tackling ability is fit for an 8th-grade squad, but he can get better at that. There's a lot about Ross Cockrell that I like; his tenacity and football IQ are robust. I think that Cockrell has potential, and hopefully, the Steelers can help develop him into a solid NFL player. Nonetheless, I do not believe that either Gay or Cockrell are great options to have in your starting 11.

Position Status: Meh.

The other guys

The Steelers starting cornerbacks are hard enough to rave about, so why on earth would the backups be a cause for excitement? Sure, Kennen Lewis is back, but he is not the same player he was when he left the Steelers in 2012 and is not a good bet to stay healthy, and therefore, I do not expect him to start. I will say, Al-Hajj Shabazz has one of the better names in the NFL.

Antwan Blake plays for the Titans, so the Steelers cornerbacks are better just based on that. However, having a good secondary has never been more important. While I feel that Artie Burns and Ross Cockrell/William Gay will be an improvement over whatever the Steeler threw out there last season, I still don't feel comfortable thinking of Tom Brady, Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton or even Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing on this secondary.

Overall Status: Baby steps

Mike Mitchell
photo creds to www.behindthesteelcurtian.com

The fact that at this point, Mike Mitchell is the best player in the Steelers secondary,  is not sufficient. While Mitchell expressed a renaissance last season, he is still prone to dumb mistakes, mainly because it seems delivering a big hit is all that he cares about. Mitchell is a decent football player and is a guy who knows how to get his teammates fired up. But is he somebody who you'd want as the crowned jewel of your secondary in today's NFL? The answer is no. Hopefully, some of Mitchell's mates in the Defensive Backfield pick up the slack. If not, it could be a long year.

Position Status: Static

Does anybody know who the Steelers will trot out at strong safety? The team's depth chart currently says its Robert Golden. I think Golden has potential, but like Willie Gay, I just don't see him as an ideal starter in an NFL secondary. Sharmako Thomas is in the mix, but if he couldn't cut it on special teams last season, how would he do it as a starting Saftey? Shanquez Golson will be out for a good chunk of the year. Jordan Dangerfield, Jacob Hagan, and Ray Vinopal are the others listed on the depth chart, and there's nothing to jump up and down about there. In short, I think not-resigning Will Allen is going to prove to be a mistake

Position Status: Not good

Overall thoughts
Mike Mitchell is who he is, so take him or leave him. It will be interesting to see who the Steelers trot out on the strong side, but odds are, whoever it is won't haunt the dreams of AFC wide receivers. In short, the Steelers safety's will be adequate at best, wrong at worst.

Overall Status: Meh

Wrapping it up
The Steelers defense will be improved from last season, as I see more players likely to improve than the other way around. With the Steelers offense being the well-oiled machine that it has established itself to be, the defense will be the ones who ultimately decide how far this team goes. Expect to see your fair share of 28-24 type games. So in other words, a lot of offense from both sides, so a lot of fun from both sides. Buckle up.

Overall Status: Improved, but is it good enough?

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Pittsburgh Steelers 2016 Preview: Offense

Photo creds to espn.go.com
Hello, all. The 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers season is almost here, and I know you're all wondering what Joseph Arthur Smeltzer thinks of this squad. Well, I'll give you a win-loss prediction eventually, but for now, let's do a position-by-position preview, starting with the offense


Ben Roethlisberger
Photo creds to bussinessesinsavannah.com

The Steelers don't exactly have a QB controversy brewing in training camp, and won't for a few more years. That is if Ben Roethlisberger can stay healthy. We all know how special of a player Big Ben is, but at 34, he is an old dog, and missing a few games is not out of the question for the big fellow. If #7 were to go down; Landry Jones is likely next in line to take his place. Let's all pray Ben stays healthy.

Position Status: Super 


Lev'eon Bell
Photo creds to sportingnews.com

So good, but such a ?. That's a fair description for the 4th year back from Michigan State. As we
know, Bell is facing a hearing  to see whether or not he will face a 4-game suspension
for a missed drug test. On the field, Bell is the best all-around running back in the game when healthy, but as the past two years have shown, Bell isn't always able to avoid the injury bug. If Bell can play a full season or at least 12 games, with his combination of running and receiving, he could be the Steelers greatest asset.

Player Status: Uncertain 

DeAngelo Williams 

Photo creds to www.sbnation.com

If Bell gets suspended, the Steelers will still be in good hands with DeAngelo Williams. Regardless of what an attention seeker he is off the field, Williams is as dependable as any backup running back in the league. Williams is a veteran, and he knows how to get the job done, although, at 33, he probably doesn't have another season like 2015 in him. Nontheless, Williams will play a key role on this squad, weather the Bell is ringing or not.

Player Status: Dependable 

The Other Guys

We all should remember Fitzgerald Toussiant from last season. Hopefully, he will not be needed, although he isn't a bad guy to have as a 3rd stringer. Daryl Richardson and Cameron Stingley are Ham N' Eggers who are very unlikely to make an impact on this roster.
In spite of Bell's potential suspension, the Steelers have the best 1-2 backfield punch in the NFL by a considerable margin. Although running the ball isn't as important as it was in the days of Franco and Rocky, a good running game is still a nice thing to have. The Steelers have that. Let's just hope they will be healthy enough to show it on a consistent basis.

Wide Receiver 

Antonio Brown 
Photo creds to www.espn.com

A boss. Brown is the best receiver in the NFL, and he will only get better. Brown has stated that his goal for 2016 is the break the NFL single-season receptions record, and given all that he has accomplished in his career, especially over the past two years, who the hell would doubt him? Of course, it would be a huge + if Ben Roethlisberger is throwing him the ball for all 16 games.

Player Status: Super Dependable 

Markus Wheaton
Photo creds to www.behindthesteelcurtain.com

Thanks to Martavius Bryant's love of pot, Wheaton is now the Steelers #2 receiver. That's not the worst thing in the world. Wheaton is very quick, and the Steelers are likely to use him as their #1 deep ball target. If and when the opposing defense keys on AB, Wheaton knows how to take advantage of it, case in point, last year in Seattle. While Richard Sherman was locking down Brown, Wheaton turned in a banner performance, catching 9 balls for 201 yards and a touchdown. That's what Wheaton is capable of doing. While I don't necessarily expect Wheaton to make fans forget about Bryant entirely, I expect him to have the best year of his career, now that he has more of an opening in Todd Haley's system. Hell, if Wheaton lives up to his full potential, the Steelers might not miss Bryant at all. Just don't let him return punts ever again.

Position Status: Manageable 

Sammy Coates

Coates is, in my opinion, the most intriguing of all the Steelers receiving options. The second-year player from Auburn didn't get a lot of chances last season, but when he did, he did ok. His banner performance came in the divisional playoffs at Denver, when he picked up a respectable 61 yards receiving. The best thing that could happen as a result of Bryant's season-long suspension is the emergence of Sammy Coates. Coats is quick; he has good hands and a high football IQ. When the Steelers need to convert, say, a 3rd and 6, Coates is a solid guy to go to along with AB.              

That's why he is my pick for Steelers breakout star of 2016.

Player Status: Just you wait. 

The Other Guys

The only other receivers that I can see making an impact for the Black and Glad are Demarcus Ayres and Darius Heyward-Bay. Heyward-Bay is who he is, which is a disappointing draft choice who is a decent backup and can do the job if somebody is on the shelf. The case of Ayres is more intriguing. The seventh-round pick from the University of Houston is a speedster who some say can challenge Coates for the #3 receiver spot. I don't buy that. Yes, Ayres can contribute to this team right away on special teams, but there's a reason he was passed over 228 times in the draft before the Steelers caught him with their final pick. The fact that the Steelers got Ayers so late does not mean he will never work to be a starting wideout in this league (see Brown, Antonio), but it probably means that he won't see significant pt as a rookie.

Any receiving corp that has Antonio Brown in it automatically a good one, but in spite of the loss of Bryant, the Steelers still have a talented and exciting group to accommodate AB. Wheaton and Coates make solid #2 and #3 options, and I think there is a decent chance that Sammy Coates could leapfrog Markus Wheaton on the Big Ben target food chain. There will be no Martavius, but there will be plenty of long bombs, flash, and scoring. I mean, it's the 21st century NFL. There has never been a better time to be a wide receiver.

Tight End

Laderius Green
Photo creds to bleacherreport.com
Believe it or not, Heath Miller made the Steelers a better team by retiring. Not to belittle Heath's accomplishments (he's the greatest in team history at his position) but because of #83's decision to hang em up, the Steelers signed former Charger Laderius Green. Although he was always second fiddle to the great Antonio Gates while in San Diego, Green performed well when given the chance, and he is a considerable upgrade over Miller as far as pass catching goes. While Miller's blocking ability is irreplaceable, Green is more of a play-making tight end. It is true that Green is still recovering from something (apparently it has nothing to do with his offseason ankle surgery.... but he says he should be ready for Week 1 in Washington, and hopefully, his recurring headaches won't be as big of an issue by then. The singing of Green adds a whole new element to the Steelers offense, and barring injury, Green should play a big part in the Steelers season, and not just because it's Le'Veon Bell's favorite color.Wait a second, are you telling me that Green might never play again due to head trauma, thus making everything I wrote here irrelevant? Well, let's just be optimistic here and pretend that what I wrote mattered. Jesse James is still the #2 tight end, and all is right with the world. 

Player Status: Fresh

Jesse James
Steeler fans, get ready to love this guy. I've been watching James since he was a Freshman at Penn State back in 2012, and he is what a tight end should be; tough. James is a large man at 6'7, 261, so he can hold his own in blocking an NFL defensive lineman. The problem is, James wasn't always as aggressive as he could have been while at Penn State. However, this is the NFL, and since James doesn't have the greatest set of hands in the world, he will need to become a quality run-blocker to stay in this league.  What Laderius Green may lack in blocking, James will make up. Most of Big Ben's passes to the tight end position will be directed at Green, while James will be used primarily to block. But just because James is more of a traditional tight end doesn't mean he isn't capable of catching his fair share of balls, as we saw last year when he stepped up for an injured Heath Miller. If Todd Haley is smart, he will use two tight end sets more often than he has in the past. James is a player, and his style of play is one that will grow to fit the old ''Steeler Smashmouth Football'' concept. Fans will love him; at least more than they did Matt Speath

Player Status: Fresh

The Other Guys

If and when Green is healthy again, the Steelers #1 Fullback, David Johnson, is also listed on the teams depth chart as the #3 tight end Aside from James, Green, and Johnson, there are no notable Steeler tight ends to speak.
The Steelers have two solid tight ends for the first time in a while, and I'm excited to see them bring a whole new element to the passing game. Jesse James is a personal favorite of mine due to his time in State College, and here's hoping the South Allegheny graduate can become Pittsburgh's latest hometown hero.

Offensive Line
Photo creds to www.steelers.com

Center- Maurkice Pouncey 
Or so we hope. Like Le'Veon Bell, Pouncey is one of the best at his position when healthy, but he just hasn't been healthy nearly enough over his six seasons in Pittsburgh. If Pouncey were to get hurt again, Cody Wallace is the man to fill his shoes, just like what took place in 2015. While Wallace isn't a bad worst case scenario, all of Steeler nation would love to have Pouncey healthy for a full 16 games. To be blunt, I would not bet on the best case scenario taking place.

Status: The hell if we know 

Alejandro Villanueva  
What a story. This guy nearly lost his life as a soldier fighting for our freedom. Oh, and he's a pretty good football player. Villanueva's first few weeks filling in for Kelvin Beachum as the Steelers starting Left Tackle were rough. But he overcame that, and just got better as the season went on. I expect nothing but more improvement from Villanueva in season number 2. When you fight in combat, working to be a better football player is nothing.

Position Status: Strong

Marcus Gilbert 
This is easily the most underappreciated player on the Steelers O-line, and maybe on the whole damn team. Gilbert played extremely well at Right Tackle in 2015, as evidenced by the fact that he didn't allow a sack until Week 13. In my opinion, Gilbert was the Steelers best O-lineman last year, and I see no reason why he would lose a step this year.

Position Status: Secure

David DeCastro
Marcus Gilbert should have gone to the Pro Bowl in 2015, and David DeCastro did go to the Pro Bowl in 2015. DeCastro was more than deserving of that honor. Like Gilbert, he is consistent in doing the dirty work to make the Steeler offense go, and I see no reason, barring injury, why that should change this fall.

Position Status: Secure

Ramon Foster
Assuming Pouncey is healthy, Foster is, in my opinion, the weakest link of the O-Line. But that's not a bad thing. Foster has proven himself to be reliable over his seven seasons in the Steel City, and he is also a great teammate and locker room leader. His performance on the field, as well as his veteran presence off of it, is essential for this team.

Status: Savy

The Other Guys
Cody Wallace is also a candidate to return to his traditional position of guard should something happen to DeCastro or Foster. Aside from Wallace, the Steeler backup brigade includes Chris Hubbard, Brian Mihalik and B.J. Finney. Legendary names right there.

The O-Line is solid. All 5 assumed starters have proven themselves to be reliable, and with Big Ben getting up there in age, he needs some insurance that his remaining years behind center are as pain-free as possible. He has a good group of big boys to put his faith in, even if his starting center gets injured again. The Steelers offense is known league wide for their skill players, but don't overlook the strength of the boys up front.

Offense: Overall
Even without Martavis Bryant, and even if Le'Veon Bell is suspended, the Steelers offense is a machine. Every starter at every position has the potential to significantly help this team win. The numbers don't lie. The Steelers have never had this much going for them on the offensive side of the ball. If you watch this team enough, you know what to expect by now. Next, I will talk about the defense, and spoiler alert, I am not as optimistic about them. Stay classy, Pittsburgh.

Monday, July 25, 2016

Stupid Steelers

The ''S'' stands for something other than ''Super''. (Photo creds to www.moncityapparel.com)
I'm going to go against the beliefs of the rest of our city and take this time to thank Le'veon Bell. First, I want to thank Le'veon because he has given me something to write about in late July, which is a dull time for sports (especially with a boring baseball season in progress). Second, I'd like to thank Mr. Bell for allowing me to redeem myself for a missed opportunity. When the NFL suspended Martavis Bryant for the entire 2016 season in March, I wanted to do a post on how the so-called "Steeler Way" died along with Chuck Noll. But, because of the NCAA tournament, I just couldn't find time in my life to do such a post. But now, four months later;  Bell has given me that opportunity again, and I am going to cash in.

As we all should know, Bell is currently facing a 4-game suspension to start out the upcoming season. The reason for this is that he missed a drug test. Bell served a 2-gamer last season for the McNight Road incident in August of 2014, so one would think he would be cautious of his love of the greens. But he wasn't (at least presumably), and he is paying the price (at least presumably). But the purpose of this article is less about Bell in general and more about how the so-called "Steeler Way" is dead.

If you live in the Steel City, you know that the Steelers are religion. Not only have they developed a reputation as being arguably the most successful franchise of the Super Bowl era, but they also are perceived to conduct themselves in a manner that puts the lesser organizations to shame off the field. The first part is still accurate. The second part no longer is.

From a football standpoint, this hurts the Steelers, but it won't be fatal. DeAngleo Williams is a fantastic backup option to have, and he should hold down the fort well. Williams isn't as good as Bell, who is the best all-around running back in the league, but he is good enough. The Steelers first four games (at Washington, vs. Cincy, at Philly, and vs. Kansas City) aren't cake, but they are winnable. I see 3-1 as likely, 2-2 as a worst case scenario.

So what is the "Steeler Way" as far as noble behavior goes? Is it Bell and Martavis Bryant getting stoned at every chance and missing games because of it?

Could it be promising special teams player Chirs Rainey beating his woman, and his subsequent dismissal from the team?

Is it Vince Williams threatening somebody over Twitter? 

Speaking of Twitter, maybe the "Steeler Way" is creating drama through social media with the rival Cincinnati Bengals. I'm sure Chuck Noll would be so proud to see Marcus Gilbert running his mouth through a keyboard like a pissed off teenager. 

Maybe the Steeler way is DeAngleo Williams, a "good" running back with a superstar attitude.Remember when Williams insulted Peyton Manning through Twitter on the day of his retirement for no apparent reason. How about when he stirred the pot with Cincinnati's Vontez Burfict, instead of being the bigger man and ignoring Burfict's ill- advised Twitter jab? Williams is a great success story on the field, but an attention whore off of it, and for that, he is my personal least favorite Steeler.

How about Joey Porter? Can somebody tell this guy that he is an assistant coach who doesn't play the game anymore? As dumb as Pacman Jones was in that January fiasco at Paul Brown Stadium, a linebackers coach has no place antagonizing an opposing player. I don't believe Porter is malicious, but I do think he is immature and is living ten years in the past. Speaking of Porter, does anybody know if his dogs are still murdering other animals?

The greatest example of what it means to be a Pittsburgh Steeler in 2016 is Free Saftey Mike Mitchell. Like Williams, Mitchell is a success story on the field. But he is nothing short of a punk and has shown signs of that off the field as well. Witness him knock Cincy's receiver Marvin Jones unconscious and then celebrate like he just won "Survivor". How about the time he celebrated in a game against the Raiders after forcing a fumble...... while the ball was still on the ground. Worst of all, witness a fan who dared to criticize his poor play after a game in 2014 that he should "kill himself", and then justify his actions. Mitchell is the most immature veteran on the planet, and his attitude on the field is unbecoming of the Steelers eagle scout perception.

All of this brings me back to the Mike Vick signing. You all know that there was plenty of outrage from fans about bringing in a man with such a dubious record. But you might not take into account what many said they were pissed off about. They didn't say it was that Vick was out of prison. It didn't bother them that he was still in the NFL. No, what got them was that he was paying for our perfect team. Playing in our perfect city. Because the wonderful Steelers are far too classy to bring in such a vile criminal. We aren't like the rest of the NFL. We are Pittsburgh. We do things the right way.

Well, I got news for you readers who still might have your head in the sand on what the Steelers are. The Steelers are like the rest of the NFL as far as conducting themselves goes. They have their good guys, such as defensive end Cameron Heyward. But they have their questionable characters, such as Vince Williams and Mike Mitchell. The Steelers are no different than the rest of the league as far as behavior goes. That's not the worst thing in the world, but it's also something that the arrogance of many fans will never wrap their heads around.

I watched all 16 games last season. The Steelers are a reality show, filled with zany celebrations and not a lot of the act-like-you've-been-there-before mentality. I don't have a problem with the Steelers showboating, in fact, I find it entertaining as hell. But it is just another example of how the Steeler standard of excellence established by Chuck Noll ain't what it once was. Maybe ''the Steeler way'' was always a myth. Maybe bad behavior from players is just magnified now. Whatever the case may be, the Steelers have no more or less class than what is the NFL status quo.

The Steelers may be an elite organization regarding wins and losses. But as far as how they conduct themselves on and off the field, they are just another team that falls in the line of the circus that is the National Football League. I still love the Pittsburgh Steelers, and you should too. But you, the reader, also should take in the account that the Steelers are not Eagle Scouts anymore. Welcome to 2016. The Pittsburgh Steelers are just blending with the times.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Euro 2016: Breakdown/prediction for the final.

The bad news: In less than 24 hours, Euro 2016 will be over. And we will have to wait another four years to see it again. The good news: we still got one more game, baby. Let's get into who Joseph Arthur Smeltzer thinks has the edge between Portugal and France.

Back Line
Patrice Evra

Portugal has Pepe on defense, but they have had their struggles (see: 3 goals allowed against Hungary). France, meanwhile, has a solid back line led by Patrice Evra and featuring Laurent Koscielny, Bacary Sagna and holding midfielder Blaise Matuidi. Combine this defense with the goaltending brilliance of Hugo Lloris, and it's no contest.

Edge: France. 


Paul Pobga

You got the best midfielder in the world in Paul Pogba. You've got one of the best free-kick takers in the world in Dimitri Payet. You've got the most dominant player of the whole tournament in Antione Griezmann (assuming manager Didier Deschamps sticks with the 4-2-3-1 formation).

With all due respect to Nani, France has the edge in the midfield.

Edge: France 

Front Line

It's hard to break this down since France will likely play with one player in the front while Portugal will probably play with 2. Portugal has Christiano Ronaldo, so they have the edge here

Edge: Porto

Lloris is a winner. (Photo creds to www.express.co.uk

If you've watched France this summer, and if you follow Tottmahm Hotspur every other month of the year, you know that Hugo Lloris is special. He is world class, and best of all, he makes the big save when he is needed most. Rui has done well at times for the other side, but Loris is a superstar.

Edge: France


I'd like to tell you that this will be a great game and will be what soccer is all about and all that jazz, but in this case, I cannot. France is a better team than Portugal. They have better players, a better manager and are playing as the host nation. The fact that Portugal is in the final at all exposes a problem with the tournament format, that problem being that most of the top teams are on one side of the bracket. That's no knock on the Portuguese side; you can't control your hand,  but beating Croatia, Poland and Wales (two of those in extra time) should not make you one of the top 2 teams in Europe.

The France-Germany semifinal meeting should have been the final. That matched dripped of intensity, and I highly doubt that today's final tops that. Maybe I'm wrong. Maybe France will be reckless and take their foot off the pedal. Maybe Ronaldo will score more than once (he's done it plenty before). These things could happen, but I don't think they will. France is too good and too motivated. They don't want to let the home fans down. One thing is a guarantee: whatever happens, there will be riots in the streets of Paris.

France 3, Portugal 1

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

No need to look down on Durant

Photo creds to www.sportingnews.com
Is this article biased? Maybe a little bit. But I am going to try my best to put the Kevin Durant situation into perspective.

I'll start by saying that I feel for the basketball fans of Oklahoma City. It's never fun losing a local hero, and the Thunder fan base has a right to be disappointed. That said, the hate that Durant has been receiving (Burning jerseys, shoes, etc.) is out of bounds. Not only is it uncalled for but it is also hypocritical.

In case you have been living under a rock, Kevin Durant will play basketball for the Golden State Warriors next season. On our countries birthday, KD signed a 2-year, $54.3 million contract with Curry and the boys. It was a shock to most people, as Durant's friends assured the public that their buddy boy was ''about 90% likely'' to come back to OKC. But that's not what happened. Durant is with the Warriors and not the team that blew a 3-1 series lead against them in the Western Conference Finals.

Now, let's talk about what it means for both the Thunder and Warriors. For the Warriors, a great team got better. Yes, Andrew Bogut, Festus Ezili, and Harrison Barnes are all gone, but if getting rid of those role players means bringing aboard one of the 5 best players in the world, you take that every time. As for the Thunder, there is still hope. This is not like the Cleveland Cavaliers when Lebron James left for South Beach in 2010. OKC still has a talented group of players led by point guard Russel Westbrook, who is my early pick to win league MVP next season. It's Westbrooks team now, so let's see what he can do.

Although the Thunder still have a solid team, the Warriors are better than them, as well as everybody else in the league. Games are not played on paper, but if they were, the Warriors would be champs again. Time will tell how this plays out, but for now, Golden State fans should be stoked.

The two major issues, aside from possible injury, that I see for the Warriors are;
1. Durant won't fit into the Warriors system
2. Chemistry and what not

It is hard to say whether or not Durant will fit into the Warriors style of play. However, I feel that a player of KD's caliber will excel no matter what. As for the chemistry issue, I do not see Kevin Durant being a cancer. He is not Dwight Howard. Durant is a good teammate, and all he wants to do is get a ring. Nothing will get in his way.

Has KD taken a bit of a shortcut to winning an NBA Championship? You could argue. But I think it was time to move on. Durant gave everything he had to the Oklahoma City Thunder for nine seasons, and it's time for him to try something else. Durant owes Oklahoma City nothing, as he gave them everything, and considering that he did not leave Oklahoma on any disrespectful terms, there should be no animosity. The hate of Durant is hypocritical. As sports fans, we often complain about athletes putting money ahead of glory and winning. Durant is doing the opposite of that here, which means that the hate that he is getting is a contradiction. To make things real simple, Durant went to where he feels he has the best chance to win a ring that has eluded him for so long. What's wrong with that?

Friday, July 1, 2016

Summit not only ruled the sport; she built it

In sports, plenty of players and coaches have played significant roles in the history of their game. Many dominate. Some transcend their athletic field. But few come into their field in its infancy and manage to play the central part in  lifting it off the ground. On Tuesday, we lost a woman who did all of that and then some.

In 1974, sports were just two years removed from Title IX, so women still had a long way to climb in their athletic endeavors. The fact that the University of Tennessee put their faith in a woman who was just 22 years young shows how little the interest was in woman's sports. But thank god that UT gave that job to said 22-year-old, or else who knows where her sport would be today. Pat Summit was her name.

Born Patrica Head, Summit grew up a tough, athletic farm girl in the state of Tennessee. She played basketball at the University of Tennessee-Martin, and two years after beginning her legendary career at UT was a member of the first U.S. Woman's basketball team to compete in the Olympics. Pat did what she always did, which was win, and the Stars and Stripes earned a gold medal. But her legend was just growing

Over the next 38 years, Summit's Vols became the class of Woman's colligate sports. The numbers speak for themselves; 8 national titles, 16 SEC championships (32 if you combine regular season and tournament) and 1,098 victories. But to me, the most impressive thing about Summit's coaching was not what she won, but rather her style. She commanded respect, and could get to her players just by staring at them. I believe that had Summit wanted to challenge herself further, she could have not
only held her own coaching in the Men's game; she would have excelled.

It's easy to be skeptical of wheather or not Annika Sorenstam would have won the Masters, if Serena
Williams could beat Roger Federer, or if Lisa Leslie could have won an NBA Scoring Title. But if you followed Pat Summit even sporadically throughout her career, you know that she could motivate anybody. Combine that with her knowledge of the game of basketball, and there's no telling what she would have brought to the men's game. It's hard to explain, but Summit had that "it" that all coaches strive for, regardless of sex.

Summit's greatest achievement in her storied career was that she was part of women's basketball from almost literally its inception, and was the central figure in putting the sport on the map. Pro baseball was popular before Babe Ruth came along , neither did pro football with Jim Brown, hockey with Wayne Gretzky or basketball with Michael Jordan (get over it, MJ blowhards). What Summit did for women's  basketball is more comparable to what Red Grange did for football.

Before "The Galloping Ghost", pro football wasn't on the map. But the iconic Chicago Bears owner, George Halas, brought the Illinois hero to the professional game by signing him for the Bears. Crowds got bigger and so did the money. Grange was far from the greatest running back in history, but he was the pioneer of pioneers as far as pro football goes. The difference between Pat Summit and Red Grange is that Grange's statistics and accomplishments grow less and less impressive as the year's go by. Pat Summit will not have that happen to her.

Sure, her eight national title wins have been eclipsed by Uconn's Geno Auriemma. But it could be quite a while before any other women's coach gets to 8. Geno might eventually eclipse Pat's win total, but again, nobody else will. In short, the top 3 women's basketball coaches of all time ever shall be

Geno Auriemma
 Pat Summit
Somebody else.

Now some people reading this could feel that I'm overstating the popularity of woman's basketball. All I can say in return is that you should have been at the women's  NCAA Tournament at the Petersen Events Center in 2007 (naturally, they won the title that year; Summit's 7th). I was there, and so was Tennessee. Believe me, the Lady Vols are a big deal. There was orange everywhere, and they were loud. I don't know how the fans of the Lady Vols are in Knoxville nowadays, as Summit is gone and, for now, so are the championships. But at least when UT was at its peak, it's fair to say that, next to Phil Fulmer's football team, the Lady Vols were the biggest thing there was.

Sure, women's basketball may not have near the popularity of the major male college sports, but it is a hell of a lot better than it would be had Pat Summit never coached a game. Summit was the one figure in women's basketball that every sports fan knew of. She transcended her sport, and that is something special. But as much as she did on the court and for her players off the court, she still had something greater yet to show; courage.

I know first hand how horrible Alzheimer's disease is. My grandmother passed away after a 5 year battle with the disease in December of 2012. So, when Summit decided to keep on coaching after being diagnosed with Alzheimer's in August of 2011, it was nothing less than astonishing. Summit soon retired, but she had nothing left to prove. Because of her, a little more exposure has been added to a horrible condition, and that means more than winning basketball games.

As tough as it is for the Summit family that the legend is gone, I'm sure they are relieved to see the dementia die along with Pat. If you have ever had to deal in any way with Alzheimers, you know how it feels. If you haven't... consider yourself lucky. It is a monster that needs to be taken down, and hopefully Pat Summit's battle will help conquer the beast around the world.

Rest easy Pat. The nightmares of dementia are behind you. You are in heaven what you were on earth; a winner.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Euro 2016: The best and worst of the group stages

Hello, friends. Well, the group stages of Euro 2016 are history, and they did not disappoint. There was plenty of drama, agony, pleasure, and triumph. Here are some of the best, and worst things that have transpired over the past two weeks in France.

The best
Player: Gareth Bale

If going 58 years without playing in an international tournament is any indication, Wales is not a football power, which makes their unexpected rise to the top of group B ever so inspiring. At the heart of this is Gareth Bale. Not only has Bale had a great individual tournament (3 goals in 3 group games) he has raised his teammates level of play to the point where the fighting Welshmen are a dangerous side going forward. Players like Joe Allen and Aaron Ramsey are also in fantastic form, but the captain deserves the lion's share of the credit for this feel good story.

The Worst
Underperformer: Christiano Ronaldo

As overwhelming as Wales have been this summer, that's how underwhelming Portugal has been. Much like Gareth Bale deserves the most credit for Wales's performance, Christiano Ronald deserves the blame for Portugal's. Sure, Ronaldo has had a respectable performance by an ordinary man's standards, and his two goals against Hungary saved his country from elimination. But Ronaldo is not a regular player. He regards himself as the best in the world, and many share his opinion, which is why his inability to lead his country to a single win in the group stages is terribly frustrating. A quiet game against Iceland, followed by a missed penalty from Ronaldo against Austria put the overwhelming favorites in Group F on the brink of elimination. Luckily, Portugal was able to salvage a 3-3 draw against Hungary in the final group game. Nonetheless, when you think of how talented the Portuguese are compared to the other Group F nations and combine that with the fact that, if not for the expanded tournament field from 16 to 24 teams, Ronaldo's troops would be out of the tournament entirely, there is no question who the biggest flops in France have been so far.

At 29, Ronaldo is not a young athlete anymore, and it's time to wonder if he will ever have a signature summer on the international stage. If things keep going at this rate, CR7 will have to wait another two years.

The Best 
Team: Nobody 
One thing that has made the first two weeks of tournament competition fun is that we still have no idea who is going to win the competition. Plenty of teams have played well, but none has marked their territory as the top dog. France, Belgium, Germany, and Spain were all looked at as possible favorites coming in, but of those four, only France and Germany managed to top their group, neither of which looked particularly impressive doing it. There have been pleasant surprises (Wales, Italy, Iceland), and there have been disappointments (Portugal, England, Belgium), but no dominant team has emerged for Euro 2016.

The Worst
Most Underwhelming: Portugal  

As much as we here in America will hear about the underachieving of the English national team, no country was more underwhelming in the group stages than Portugal. At least England won a game. All the Portuguese could manage were three draws against sides that they were considerably better then. Portugal should have shown themselves to be men among boys in Group F. Instead they finished 3rd. Yes, they managed to qualify for the round of 16, but that does little to excuse the mediocrity. Hopefully, CR7 can lead his troops to a decent run in the knockout stages. If not, this will just be another summer of underachieving, which Portugal's fans have become accustomed to over the past decade.

The Best 
Most surprising side: Italy

There were a lot of teams that have a case for being the tournament's biggest surprise, and I was quite tempted to give this honor to an underdog like Wales or Iceland. But neither one of those countries had as much pressure on them coming into the Euros as the Italian side. One of world football's most historic and successful teams, Italy is not what they used to be. In fact, coming in, some Italian fans and journalists had blessed this club as the worst in Italy's long and storied history. But so far, Italy is putting the doubters to shame. It was apparent from their 2-0 victory over Belgium in the Group E opener that the Italians had come to play, and the beat went on in their next outing, a 1-0 triumph over Sweden. Sure, Italy experienced a bit of a let down in the group finale, losing 1-0 to Ireland, but that was largely a product of head man Victor Conte resting most of his starters for the next round, as his men had already secured the top spot in their group.

It's one thing for a ''rah-rah, let's show em who we are'' country with nothing to lose making a run, but it does my heart good to see a nation that has a lot to live up to come through under scrutiny. Take notes, England.

The Worst 
Fans: Hooligans 

It's what a lot of misguided Americans think about when they think of football. Russia, England, and Croatia fans all behaved outrageously at some point during this tournament. As a result, Russia and England were both threatened expulsion from the tournament should this behavior keep up. It's a shame. Just a shame.

The best
Fans: Iceland

I have to talk about Iceland in this post. Just couldn't leave them out. They play football with such energy and have somehow made their way to the knockout stage in their first ever tournament. As for the Iceland fans? 8% of the country is in France. Nuff said. With all due respect to the great fans of Ireland and Northern Ireland; Iceland takes the cake.

The Best 
Game: Hungary 3, Portugal 3

As good as the games in France have been this summer, there hasn't been a whole lot of scoring, which made Wednesday's group D finale so refreshing to the casual fan. Football can be beautiful regardless of the scoreline, but as fans, we like goals. Goals are fun. Goals are cool. The more goals, the better. Add all the goals to the drama of group favorites Portugal almost being knocked out of the tournament, and you had one hell of a game.

The Worst
Game: Anything involving Russia
They sucked.

Euro 2016 has been great, and here's hoping the best is yet to come.