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Morning Cuts: August 31 2011

August 31, 2011 Leave a comment

Pirates

  • The only way this series could be going worse is if it was at home. As it is the Bucs are in Houston and the Steelers start playing meaningful games in a week, the Pitt Panthers open their season this weekend, and high school football starts tomorrow. As far as sports reports are concerned you’ll typically get a Steeler injury update, a quick preview of Saturday’s Pitt game, and one of those, “Aaaaand the Pirates lost to Houston last night 8-2OKAY SO HOW MUCH DO YOU HATE RAY LEWIS?” This is for the better.
  • The Pirates traded John Bowker to the Phillies for “future considerations.” Come oooooon Jimmy Rolins!
  • Joe “Jugs” Beimel is taking his talents to his garden.
  • Dejan Kovacevic gives us eleven (good?) reasons to still watch Pirate baseball.
Steelers
Penguins
  • The Pensblog has excerpts from an interview with Jaromir Jagr (via Broad Street Hockey) in which Jagr claims to have zero understanding as to why Pens fans could ever be upset with him.
  • Mark Madden brings his particular brand of Pittsburgh homerism to Puck Daddy.
TODAY
  • Pirates attempt to stop the bleeding in Houston as they send J-MAC up against J.A. Happ (8:05)
****
The NFL and the NFLPA are donating $1mm to a few 9/11 memorials and charities. This certainly a kind act and the NFL and NFLPA is not in any way required to donate anything to anyone ever. But on the heels of a collective bargaining agreement valued in the several billions it seems a little tone deaf of these organizations to believe that this could be considered particularly generous.
****
The Pirates are raising ticket prices next year. The average price for a seat in America’s greatest ballpark will increase from $15.30 to $16.11. Eighty-one cents. The majority of this increase will be in the lower-level seating areas, which will see an increase of around $3. It is likely that the seats the vast majority of us sit in will be unaffected by this increase.
I heard several people on the radio this morning whining about this. The general complaint is that the Pirates are woeful once again and how dare Coonelley ask us to pay more for such an inferior product. There is no sense of history or perspective. Read the paragraph above once again. This is the first increase in ticket prices in a decade and the seats that will see the increases will be the seats that already cost $60 and above to begin with. If you can afford to spend $60 you can afford to spend $63.
Categories: Uncategorized

Morning Cuts: August 30, 2011

August 30, 2011 Leave a comment

Pirates:

  • The Bucs stuck out a staggering 16 times last night in a 7-4 loss to the woeful Houston Astros. When I looked at the lineup the Astros put on the field last night I figured if Ross Ohlendorf could get through the fifth inning with a lead the Bucs would be able to rely on the bullpen to shut down the Astros. As it turned out Ohlendorf did make it through five but Grilli and Veras combined for a truly staggering meltdown that culminated with Carlos Lee doing the only thing Carlos Lee is good for anymore — barely — hitting a home run into the left field seats. It is sad that five weeks ago we were talking about a possible trip to the playoffs, but ultimately the Pirates took a roundabout way to getting where they always end up anyway.
  • Jeff Karstens, jealous of Kevin Correia’s strained oblique, will miss his next start.
Steelers:
  • The Steelers have cut their roster to the league-mandated 80 men.
  • It looks like Doug Legursky will start at right guard Thursday night, and it seems as though Charlie Batch is the frontrunner to be the Steelers #2 quarterback.
  • The Steelers have a little more than $2.2mm in cap space.
  • Charlie Batch gets all up in Goodell’s face about his suspension of Terrelle Pryor citing that Pryor will serve an NFL suspension for something he did while he wasn’t, you know, employed in any way by the NFL. But we all know Roger has never been one to let facts get in the way of a good suspension.
****
I know Joe Namath is a legendary NFL player. I know he is from Beaver Falls. But really, all anyone under the age of 30 actually knows about Joe Willie is that he likes to get tossed on Schlitz and hit on sideline reporters. Oh, and he loves wet cheerleaders. That’s why I find it a little troubling that his alma mater is going to honor him Friday night during their home football opener. I don’t wish to take anything away from his professional career but the dude is kind of off his rocker these days and it seems like an irresponsible decision to let him loose around a few hundred high schoolers. The great news for those of us who can’t be in attendance is that this appearance is going to be filmed as part of an HBO documentary on the life and times of Broadway Joe. I can only hope at some point we get to see him chasing around cheerleaders with a bucket full of water. “WHERE YOU GOIN’ GIRLS I GOT A PARTY BALL IN THE VAN!”
****
If you don’t read Joe Posnanski, it sucks to be you.
Categories: Morning Cuts

Morning Cuts: August 29 2011

August 29, 2011 Leave a comment

Steelers:

  • In the wake of the Steelers 34-16 victory over the Falcons in Saturday’s preseason exhibition nobody cares the only thing that matters is the injuries game, there are a bunch of injuries.
    • Byron Leftwich’s forearm snapped like a composite hockey stick early in the second half. The Steelers have yet to place him on IR, although that seems likely.
      • Thus ends the third-string quarterback controversy in Pittsburgh. Batch and Dixon will be two/three on the depth chart in an order to be determined when Ben hits his head later this year.
    • Keenan Lewis fell on his knee in the first half and did not return. I can’t find any updates on his condition this morning, but after the game Mike Tomlin seemed to believe that he would be okay.
      • In any event, Crezdon Butler took over for Lewis and proceeded to rack up nine tackles and 95-yard pick six. The defensive backfield is in serious flux. The final preseason game against the Panthers will go a long way to determining who starts across from Ike Taylor in week one.
    • Casey Hampton hurt his arm, put an ice pack on it during the second half, and remained on the sidelines. No update on him this morning either.
      • Big Snack will be 34 in a few days, and the Steelers didn’t draft Ziggy Hood with their first pick in 2009 so he could stand on the sidelines and sign autographs “BIG ZIG” or whatever. There is no indication this morning that Hampton’s injury is serious. That said I wouldn’t expect him to play in the final preseason game against Carolina. BIG ZIG may get the start at NT in that one.
    • Miguel Chavis tore his pectoral muscle and was subsequently cut by the team today.
    • Mike Tomlin strained his Latissimus Dorsi reaching for the challenge flag in the first quarter. Dick LeBeau called him a pussy. Tomlin is expected to recover before the season opener.
  • Despite the fact that Maurkice Pouncey’s ankle injury has been classified by everyone within the Steelers organization as “minor,” human Valium Ron Cook devoted 715 words to freaking out about it.
  • Kevin Colbert showed up to work today to find a new title on the name plate on his office door. He was named General Manager by the team today: the first in team history.

Pirates:

  • The Bucs dropped another one to the Cards yesterday, 7-4. The Pirates lost three of four games in this series against the Cardinals despite leading every game at some point. (box)
  • Jeff Karstens was pretty lousy in the loss, lasting only 3 2/3 innings and allowing five runs on nine hits. It is no secret that Karstens has pitched poorly his last few starts. Clint Hurdle recognizes that, “He fatigued much quicker, for whatever reason. He wasn’t as sharp as he has been.” Karstens said after the game, “I felt a little something in my shoulder the last game, but it was a non-issue. It’s one of those things, you’ve got to grind through it.”
  • Contract talks with Andrew McCutchen have come to a standstill. Neal Huntington has done far more good than bad as General Manager of this team, and I feel confident that he will come to his senses and realize that Cutch is a franchise player. I realize the Pirates do not like to dole out huge contracts but there is no excuse for letting this player leave the Pirates. He is the poster boy for Huntington’s rebuilding plan.
  • The Bucs will have to decide if Ronny Ceneno’s glove is worth $3mm or $200k.
TODAY:
  • Pirates (Ohlendorf) at Houston (Rodriguez): Ohlendorf really struggled in his last start, lasting only five innings and allowing seven runs. Although, those seven runs were all allowed in one inning and he looked respectable after that. We’ll see if he fares any better against the light-hitting Astros.
Categories: Morning Cuts

Quick Cuts: It’s Antonio Brown’s World.

August 27, 2011 1 comment

Some quick cuts from the Steelers victory over the Falcons Saturday night.

DEFENSE:

  • To say the Steelers secondary needs work would be the understatement of the decade. It really seemed like they were getting exploited a ton. Ryan was able to complete passes underneath the coverage at will.
  • These underneath passes are the ideal way to neutralize the Steelers defense. LeBeau’s style, in a nutshell, revolves around the linebackers terrorizing the opposing quarterback and forcing him into lousy throws before his receivers can complete their routes. As a result the cornerbacks often play 10+ yards off their men. The Falcons exploited this by employing the three-step-drop and throwing quick outs. 5 yards here, 8 yards there, just chipping away at the defense, keeping them on the field for long periods of time. The Falcons dominated the time of possession in the first half (19-11). That is not Steeler football.
  • Michael Turner is a really, really good running back. The Falcons have a pretty solid offensive line. In spite of this, Matt Ryan threw the ball 42 times… in the first half . Turner recorded only seven first half carries. The leading rusher for the Falcons was Matt Ryan, who scrambled away from a couple of blitzes to pick up 22 yards.
  • Woodley and Timmons were absolutely all over the field. Woodley put tons of pressure on Ryan and blew up a few Michael Turner runs. Timmons pass coverage against Tony Gonzalez was incredible and his interception showed great concentration and soft hands. Great night for those two.
  • Crezdon Butler will probably make this team. He made a few nice tackles (one great open-field tackle on Julio Jones to prevent a first down), defensed a pass, and returned an interception 95 yards for a score. He’s fast as hell and he’ll be a beast of a cover man if he can learn the defense.
For as long as I can remember the Steeler defense has been all about “bend don’t break.” Allow the field goal but never give up the end zone. The defense was on the field a ton in that first half with the Steeler offense scoring on several quick strike opportunities. Ryan and company were having good success through the air. It seemed like a perfect storm for some big plays for the Falcons. But through it all the Steelers allowed only one touchdown and three field goals. Certainly 16 points in one half is more than they want to give up on a consistent basis, but it was great to see them keep a potent offense out of the end zone.
OFFENSE
  • Antonio Brown. Antonio Brown. Antonio Brown! Antonio Brown. He was absolutely unreal in this game. He caught just about everything that was thrown at him, seemed to get open at will, and was terrific on special teams. Wallace, Brown, Ward, and Sanders is a receiving corps I can live with.
  • But what are the receivers without their quarterback? Roethlisberger put on a clinic in the first half, completing 11 of 16 for 214 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. His throws had terrific velocity and accuracy. He averaged a ridiculous 13.4 yards per attempt. His only kind of bad throw was an off-balance number to a wide-open Hines Ward on their fourth possession. He took only two sacks (one of which on a play that was blown dead after Ben lost his helmet after spinning out of a tackle). All around great night for him.
  • Rashard Mendehnall was mostly invisible after he scored on his first touch of the game. He ran for only 8 yards on 7 carries. Arians seemed to forget about Mendenhall on occasion last year. The problem here is that Mendenhall is, you know, really good. Perhaps this was simply to keep him fresh and give the young receiving corps the chance to get better synchronized with Ben. Or maybe Arians is still mad at Rashard for his insensitive tweets. Who knows.
  • David Johnson looked solid on the first possession catching two passes. He is the logical option for fullback, but we didn’t get a good idea of how that would work in this offense with the lack of ground attack. Legursky checked in at fullback a couple of times in goal-line situations which confused me as it really seemed like a good opportunity for Johnson to get a chance to clear a path for Mendenhall.
  • Jonathan Dwyer showed some good vision and quicks in the second half. Seems like he’s developing nicely but I’m just not sure where he will fit in.
  • Marcus Gilbert had some struggles at left guard, but overall he was pretty good. He gave up a sack early in the first half and looked a bit slow to the outside. When the defense rushed directly at him, though, he was solid.
  • Maurkice Pouncey re-aggravated the ankle injury that kept him out of the Super Bowl last year. Tomlin said he should be okay. That said, I would sincerely doubt we’ll see him again before September 11.
The Steelers’ biggest problem over the years has been scoring touchdowns. They have come away from far too many solid drives with only three points. In two first-half red zone trips they scored 10 points. Clearly things will be much easier on them if they can continue to score with this quick-strike offense.
Misc:
  • Swayze Waters has an absolute Howitzer. If he can straighten out his accuracy he’ll be a stud.
  • Speaking Howitzers, Daniel Sepulveda should be this team’s punter, no questions asked. If he can stay healthy, HE will be a stud, too.
  • There Steelers suffered an unrealistic amount of injuries in this game. Leftwich’s arm exploded, Hampton sprained his forearm fat, Keenan Lewis hurt his knee somehow, Carter pulled his hamstring, and Pouncey re-sprained his ankle. Any questions about the Steelers playing their starters in the fourth preseason game have been answered as they no longer have any starters who are healthy. Anyway, it looks like both Batch and Dixon will be on this team going forward, because that elbow of Byron Leftwich’s was not elbowing properly.
Categories: Uncategorized

Morning Cuts: August 27, 2011

August 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Pirates:

  • Jose Veras summed up his simultaneously brilliant and exasperating season over the course of three batters last night. Veras took the mound in the bottom of the 8th facing the Pujols-Holliday-Berkman triumvirate that every time I see makes me wonder how on earth the Cardinals are not in first place. Veras struck out Pujols. He then fell behind Holliday 3-0, got it back to 3-2, but ultimately walked him. Lance Berkman then proceeded to hit the first pitch of his at bat deep into the St. Louis night. The Pirates went down feebly in the top of the 9th, and it was over. (box)
  • Kevin Mort went 5 1/3 innings in a 19-inning loss last night for single-A West Virginia. Also, Kevin Mort is a second baseman.
Penguins:
  • Hockey Canada is stepping up its efforts to protect players from the QMJHL on down. It seems as though something positive may come from Sidney Crosby’s miserable situation.
  • Also, Sidney Crosby is NOT a pussy.
TODAY: The schedule of events for Pittsburgh fans sets up nicely so that we don’t have any reason to leave our couches from 4:10 on.
  • Falcons at Steelers (7:30). Preseason game three; the mediocrity continues
  • Pirates (Lincoln) at Cardinals (Carpenter) — 4:10.
  • Hurricane Irene is here to ruin your shit.
Categories: Morning Cuts

Morning Cuts: August 26, 2011

August 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Pirates:

  • Electric Charlie got smacked around in St. Louis last night, allowing five runs and nine hits in 4 1/3 innings as the Pirates were clobbered by the Cardinals 8-4. The Bucs fell behind 3-0 after two innings, but took advantage of Edwin Jackson’s erratic nature to draw some walks, get into favorable counts, and string together a few hits to jump out to a 4-3 lead after the 4th. Morton gave back the lead in the 5th allowing a single to and a stolen base to Craig, walks to Pujols and Berkman, and ultimately a single to Freese that plated two and put the Redbirds up for good. Matt Holliday, apparently sick of seeing people walk Pujols to get to him, smacked a three-run shot in the bottom of the 8th to smack the final nail into the coffin.
  • The good news is that Chris Leroux looked tremendous in 2 2/3 innings of relief (one hit, one walk, three strikeouts), Alex Presley recorded a hit, an RBI, and a run in his first game back from the DL, and Chase D’arnaud stole a base. So, there’s that.
  • Pedro Alvarez should be playing winter ball this year.
  • Also in that article linked above, Biertempfel mentions the Pirates may opt to add Matt Hague to the club when rosters expand September 1. Would love to see what he can do against major league talent because he’s been crushing in Indy.
Steelers:
  • Mike Tomlin held a press conference yesterday (video) and provided a good rundown of what to expect Saturday night against the Falcons. In short, Ike Taylor is definitely out (broken hand) and the starters will play the entire first half and at least the first possession of the second half.
  • The Steelers have been happy with what they’ve seen out of Rookie offensive lineman Marcus Gilbert. The problem is they haven’t been able to see too much. Gilbert has been banged up for most of training camp, suffering hamstring and knee injuries. But he is healthy now, and will get the start in place of the injured Jonathan Scott Saturday night.
  • Please, PLEASE bring back the no-huddle.
TODAY:
  • Pirates (McDonald) at Cardinals (Westbrook). Tony Watson threw one behind Lance Berkman last night so it’s safe to assume that LaRussa will kinda sorta suggest to Westbrook that he buzz a Pirates’ tower. WHYGAVS has Neil Walker as the early favorite.
Categories: Morning Cuts

The Polamalu Situation

August 25, 2011 Leave a comment

The Steelers have spent quite a bit of cash this summer. Ike Taylor was re-signed, Lawrence Timmons and Llamar Woodley were both made very rich men, and a handful of other smaller contracts were handed out to guys like Chris Hoke, Greg Warren, and Daniel Sepulveda. One payer who has yet to get his cash is Troy Polamalu.

Polamalu is in the final year of a four-year, $30.19mm contract, and the iconic veteran has yet to be offered an extension. When asked how he feels about being the odd man out this summer, he is typical Troy, “All comments about the contract stay between the Steelers and my agent. Sorry.”

By all accounts the Steelers hope to keep Polamalu in a Steeler uniform for the rest of his career. He was the defensive player of the year last season and is generally regarded as one of the top two safeties in the game (Ed Reed being the other).

Much of what Dick LeBeau likes to do in his 3-4 defensive setup is made possible by Polamalu’s extreme quickness, speed, and versatility. In addition to being able to close space better than most anyone in the league, he is tremendous at playing the run and is an effective blitzer. LeBeau uses Troy in all these scenarios, moving him all over the field to make opposing offensive coordinator’s heads explode.

So why is it taking the Steelers so long to lock him up?

As much as it may seem like the Steelers are making a huge mistake, they simply cannot afford to do anything with Polamalu’s contract this summer. It is likely Polamalu will be franchised at the end of this season, meaning he will earn right around the $9mm cap hit he is on the books for this year. This is significantly less than they would have had to pay Timmons or Woodley had either of them been franchised. This buys the Steelers another year to make a decision on Polamalu, which is great because 1) the salary cap should increase significantly as ESPN’s TV deal kicks in bringing in another billion or so of revenue to the league, 2) players like Aaron Smith ($6.1mm cap hit), James Farrior ($3.1mm) and possibly even Hines Ward ($3.6mm) may very well be gone, freeing up a ton more cash and 3) they will have a better understanding of how healthy he is.

Since 2004, when Polamalu became an everyday starter, the Steelers are 75-29 with him in the lineup and 12-9 without him. Obviously the organization wants him to remain a Steeler. If this were baseball, Troy would have had a deal done weeks ago. But in the salary capped NFL, the Steelers simply cannot afford to do anything at this point. Even if they wanted to tie up most of the contract money in an up-front bonus, the team doesn’t have the liquid on hand to do it; The Rooneys aren’t struggling to pay the bills, but they don’t have Robert Kraft money.

Steeler Nation seems frustrated with the organization and upset at the prospect of considering Troy Polamalu in another team’s uniform. At this point, though, it is not financially feasible, nor is it a wise decision to offer big money to a player whose reckless style of play and aging body is beginning to show signs of wear and tear (Troy has played in only 19 of the last 32 regular-season games).

There is no way I can envision a scenario where Colbert lets a healthy Polamalu hit the free agent market without an offer in place, but that’s not going to happen in 2011.

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