Weekend Checkdown: the top stories of the week

Grant Halverson

The Steelers have a perfect preseason record as they head into the 2013 campaign.

Oh, that's not the kind of perfect you would liked to have seen? Well, things are a little different this year. Losing all the preseason games is less than wonderful, I'm not going to lie to you. But what does it actually mean going forward? I'm sure the gloom and doomers have more than enough ammunition to be in agreement with Don Banks of SI.com

Injuries, age and underachievement will combine to produce Pittsburgh's worst season since the Steelers plummeted to 6-10 in 2003. A last-place finish in the AFC North is my forecast for Mike Tomlin's team, and it'll mark the first consecutive non-playoff seasons in Pittsburgh since Bill Cowher's guys missed three years running from 1998-2000.

Now I wouldn't be shocked if this prediction turned out to be true, but for a variety of reasons ranging from a fair and sober reading of this teams strengths and shortcomings, to the real historical pitfalls in trying to accurately predict how a season will play out before Labor Day, to the culture shock of adjusting to the age of parity in the NFL that Bob Labriola points out in his preseason assessment

What is at issue is whether they have enough other components to overcome their deficiencies in order to be better than whatever similarly flawed bunch they may be playing on a particular weekend.

That’s what the NFL has become. It is either a glorious example of the kind of parity that gives all of its teams and all of their fans cause for hope every Labor Day. Or it’s a giant pool of mediocrity where luck can be the difference between coaches getting fired or victory parades through the downtown streets.

the wisest answer to how this season will unfold is we don't know. But it will be fun to speculate.

The final word on the 2013 off season

As the final seconds clicked off the clock in Charlotte we reached the point where we can render judgment on how the Steelers responded to the challenges presented them in 2012. As with the rest of the planet, their world did not come to an end in December. You can even say that beyond the uninspiring results of the preseason games (and what value do they have from this point forward anyway) a lot of good and hopeful things transpired.

Injuries

A funny way, you may think, to start a discourse on the good and hopeful, but putting things in an NFL context it really is a whole lot better than it might have been, a whole lot better than it has been for other teams. While Steelers Nation has been understandably obsessed with our own injury issues some of us may have not seen the statements that are acknowledging that the injury situation league wide is out of control. The statutes put in place in the new CBA did not have the desired effect of reducing injuries and as such the idea of an injury free circumstance for any team is not realistic. The best that can be hoped for is proper management and luck.

The only casualty of the Carolina game was a hamstring injury to Will Johnson of unknown (at this writing) severity. There have been a lot of nagging injuries, there has been surgery, there has even been a stabbing. But the bottom line is that it is theoretically possible that when the team takes the field in Baltimore on Thanksgiving Night it could be with a full complement of players, including Matt Spaeth and even Sean Spence. Of course, this all goes in the toilet after kickoff on September 8th. The types of injuries; season ending and even career threatening that have afflicted the likes of Spence, Willie Colon, David DeCastro have been avoided through this phase.

But, you say, what about all these nicks that have kept players sidelined during the preseason? Obviously I can't say for certain, but if I'm the Steelers I would seize every opportunity to use an injury of whatever type to keep a player out of harm's way, even a contusion of the birth certificate. You may respond that by doing so it degrades the entertainment value of the team during the preseason. Yes, and your point is what? Take Le'Veon Bell and Isaac Redman. Being a rookie Bell had no choice than to soldier on in spite of being nicked up a bit, and look where that got him. Redman, a known quantity and, in spite of speculation to the contrary, had secured a spot on the team and could be held out. He's had time to heal more completely and he will be available when the bell rings on the 8th. By contrast, Cortez Allen, though assured his starting position also needed the work, otherwise I suspect we wouldn't have seen him flying around with the JVs in Charlotte.

The bottom line is that the effort to do something about reducing injuries was at least a partial success which is, perhaps, the best you can hope for in today's NFL. And, unfortunately, is an essential prerequisite for the Steelers to have any chance to make a playoff run. It lacks the depth that fans have been accustomed to enjoying  over the past decade.

The draft

The rule of thumb is that we can't really evaluate a draft until several years down the line. But looking at this year's draft as a work in progress with four drafted rookies guaranteed to play big roles for the team this season that the early returns would indicate that Kevin Colbert's reputation remains secure for the time being. Jarvis Jones and Le'Veon Bell may both be starters before all is said and done for this season. Markus Wheaton and Shamarko Thomas will probably be starters within a couple of years and will play large roles until then. Many thought that Vince Williams would be a disappointment or have a long development curve.  He's doing just fine. Jones and Bell are slowed by injuries at the moment, but this will likely to be behind them by Columbus Day at the latest.

The team also appears to have hit a home run in free agent acquisition LaRod Stephens-Hollings perhaps equaling or exceeding the value it got from Mewelde Moore. And while not perfect (Whimper, enough said) the veteran and first year free agent activity brought in lots of quality supplemental talent to choose from. And they weren't done yet.

Felix Jones

A trade that appeared puzzling at first blush now appears to be a huge win for Pittsburgh. Not only does it seem that Jones, in his brief time with the team appears to have fit in and may become a significant contributor, Adrian Robinson, the promising young talent that was believed to be sacrificed in order to shore up a position group weakened by injury, was just cut by the Eagles (along with former Steeler reserve quarterback Dennis Dixon). The traffic jam at a position once thought to be anemic is rather remarkable. Even camp darling Alan Baxter is not assured a spot on the roster at the moment.

The first round of roster cuts

What Rebecca Rollett has characterized as the "Cruelest Season" began this week and will conclude at 6 pm Saturday. This is the time that dreams die. For some they are stopped at the threshold of fulfillment while for others it is a matter of their time on this stage being up. This is also a good time to discern who the fans are and who are the consumers. Cuts are unavoidably cruel, and though necessary are the hateful part of the job of being a coach. Many fans, I would think most, root not just for the player, but cannot help to be rooting also for the person, It is hard not to feel for the least competent of released players and it is heart wrenching when a true fan favorite such as Baron Batch is let go. The consumer for the most part could care less. Players aren't really fully human, their only value is their utility in advancing the consumer's entertainment needs.

Kansas City

Two games were played since the last Checkdown. On Saturday the Steelers were dominant early at Heinz Field but then managed enough mistakes to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. There was a bit of a scare when Jarvis Jones, who seems to be getting noticeably better by the week suffered a chest injury and had to be briefly hospitalized. But it appears he'll be ready to go for the regular season. Ben Roethlisberger was named Steelers Digest Player of the Game as we learned, among other things that the passing game in Haley's offense will be just fine.

Carolina

After a promising beginning things went south for quarterback Landry Jones as the team accumulated enough turnovers and other miscues to sink an aircraft carrier (if that analogy makes any sense whatsoever). It will probably be clearer by the time you read this as to who harmed themselves fatally with their performance, but there were also some clear winners. Felix Jones, Derek Moye and Chris Carter who was name the Digest Player of the Game.

Beachum and Paulson

You're probably tired of seeing me write this, but what a difference a year makes. Kelvin Beachum has established himself as Essex 3.0 as he added tight end (Kansas City) and center (Carolina) to his inventory of skills. He has now demonstrated that he can play six different positions. How valuable is that? Rumor has it that he'll be selling tickets and leading the drumline next Sunday. Paulson may frustrate as a blocker, but there is nothing wrong with his skills as a receiver.

Heath Miller

Miller appears to be on the verge of activation. He may even be in uniform for the season opener. How long it will take for him to return to form is another matter. His is the latest step in reducing the near hysteria associated with this position during the summer. With David Johnson also returning from major injury and Kelvin Beachum showing that he can stand in the gap in terms of the blocking responsibilities the position requires. The suggestion that the waiver wire be thoroughly searched or a trade facilitated seems like so much overkill now.

Ryan Clark

The NFL would appear to possess a clumsy gene. By threatening defensive backs with fines, and presumably, suspensions for taking shots at the heads of receivers, the defenders responded by lowering their aim. Now the league is threatening disciplinary action if the receivers suffer leg injuries. This dilemma for the D-backs has driven the outspoken Clark to vent his frustrations.

Head injuries

Player safety and concussions found their way back into the headlines with two significant events. The NFL got its underwear in a bunch over a documentary television program that Espn was producing in conjunction with Frontline. Because of the league's concerns the World Leader withdrew its support for the project.

The league and its alumni reached a settlement over compensation for the head injuries suffered by players who are no longer in the game.

Ramon Foster

Prior to this year Foster played the role of the overachieving reserve lineman, filling in where needed when more high profile players went down. Today he is a front line player and considered essential to the O line's success.

Heyward and Arnfelt

The situation is a bit different with the defensive line. Like the offense there are some high quality young starters, but unlike the offense there is a lot of quality talent throughout the depth chart. Heyward received special mention for his play against the Chiefs while Arnfelt made a particularly strong case for himself with his performance on the goal line against Carolina.

Wide receivers

The receivers, like the defensive line and linebackers have more players with promise than they have slots to accommodate them. What has evolved as the headliner of the competition is between former Penn Staters Justin Brown and Derek Moye. It is unclear whether either will make the 53 man roster, and a mystery as to whether both players could be retained in some capacity such as on the practice squad.

Running backs

The quality of the analysis at BTSC has been greatly enhanced by the technical breakdowns by Steel34D. This week he did pieces on running backs Jonathan Dwyer, here and Isaac Redman, here. The football IQ on this site elevated significantly.

London

What are the chances of the NFL planting a franchise in this European metropolis? A question worth pondering as we approach the Steelers foray across the pond to play the Vikings later this season.

ESPN ups its game

At least as it relates to its coverage of the Steelers. Former Tribune Review writer Scott Brown will now be providing AFC North updates of the Steelers.

Kickoff Luncheon

Before flying to their final preseason game the team participated in the annual event held in a downtown Pittsburgh hotel.

Steelers 1st in social media equity

To find out what that means read this piece.

Good news for gamers

The Steelers in Madden 25 is out.

Have a great holiday weekend. The regular season is finally upon us.

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