On The Black Side
A Steelers blog honoring the black left side of the Steelers' helmet - By Neal Coolong
Sunday, November 2
My time is up
I'm officially done with On The Black Side...it was a great ride while it lasted.

Not really, but no worries.

I have recently joined the kick-ass staff at Behind The Steel Curtain, which is the best Steelers blog on the web. I will continue posting there, so you should check it out to read the other, better, writers they have. I may contribute something worthwhile here and there.

I'm also still writing news blurbs on the AFC North for Real Football 365, so you should check that out, too.

Thanks for reading! I look forward to hearing from you on these other sites. GO STEELERS!
Kudos to the Steelers' offense for implementing and creating an effective game-plan to pull out a huge 26-21 victory at Jacksonville, and beating a team they've lost to four consecutive times. But it was the defense that once again dominated the line of scrimmage.

I had a brief email exchange with Cotter at One For The Other Thumb prior to Sunday night's 26-21 win over Jacksonville.

In my ramblings, I mentioned to him that Steelers offensive coordinator Bruce Arians was going to make our darkest moment his finest hour.

Just to make sure all the Arians haters know this...that's exactly what he did.

Yes, execution is the ultimate judge, but Arians took Mewelde Moore, Najeh Davenport and a sore throwing shoulder of Roethlisberger's and turned it into the finest first half offensive performance the team has had against a team not based in Texas all season. After Jacksonville adjusted, he got enough from his brutalized offensive line (that added left tackle Marvel Smith to its Wounded List) for a dramatic 11 play drive that resulted in a touchdown pass from Roethlisberger to Jacksonville's most hated opponent, Hines Ward.

After a completely bogus review of the play, and an embarrassing display of incompetance regarding the seemingly simple act of starting the clock at the correct time, the Steelers missed a two-point conversion. Fortunately, new front-runner-to-lose-Defensive-Player-of-the-Year-honors-to-Albert-Haynesworth candidate James Harrison took over, picking up a sack and a boatload of pressure, shutting down the overrated David Garrard.

(speaking of Harrison and Haynesworth...as long as the league stops feeding us the utter BS that self-promotion and celebrations aimed to garner the attention of the network doesn't gain anything and isn't tolerated, then I'll accept whatever award they choose. Fact is, Harrison gets little to no publicity because the league doesn't talk about him because he doesn't dance after his big plays. Don't tell me he has less of an impact on his defense than Haynesworth does. I shouldn't be worried about such things, what, with each passing week proving again that 2008 is the worst officiated year on record and all, but I will anyway.)

So what about Hampton and Keisel?

You're never going to hear a whole lot of negative commentary about Casey Hampton, but back-up NT Chris Hoke has a way of getting the job done in his absence. Sunday night's victory moves the Steelers to 12-1 in his career when Hoke starts. He did a great job against Jacksonville's zone blocking running scheme, and shut down a running back tandem who ran all over Pittsburgh in two games last year.

Hoke highlighted a fine performance from several Steelers back-ups forced into the lineup in a hostile stadium against a physical opponent. Right guard Darnell Stapleton ended up getting the start over Trai Essex, and he'll grade out well upon review of the film. Travis Kirschke played well in the absence of Keisel and DE Nick Eason.

None played better than the Steelers' top free agent acquisition.

That's ME-welde Moore

He made sure the Minneapolis media knew his name was pronounced ME-welde, so the radio people around here sort of made fun of that by overstating the "ME" part of his name. His 99 yards were easily the biggest 99 rushing yards of this season, considering the team's aim was to throw the ball, and he had to take his opportunities in spots.

He made the most of it. Again, credit to Arians to apply the perfect mix of Moore to compliment Roethlisberger's hot hand. Execution was not flawless, but the plan put them in position to win. Moore was a big part of that.

Bye Week fun

The Steelers get their usual early October bye, and rest up to go to rival Cincinnati in Week 7. Sandwiched between games against the Bengals in Week 7 and Week 12 is a brutal stretch of games against the Giants, Washington, Indianapolis and San Diego.

Knowing that, 4-and-1 is a pretty good place to be. With a 2-and-a-half game lead over the Ravens for the AFC North championship, they're in a good spot.


Tuesday, September 30
It was a big Pittsburgh win, but losing Mendenhall and Simmons for the year, and two key special teams players, indicates Baltimore may end up being more able to out-last the Steelers over the season. Either way, the Ravens' defense is what got all the pre-game publicity, but it was the playmaking ability of the Steelers' D that won the game.

The Steelers got the better of rival Baltimore Monday night, sealing their seventh straight relevant win in the AFC North when Jeff Reed nailed a 49-yard field goal off Pittsburgh's first overtime possession.

Baltimore probably put themselves more in position to win the war, though.

Steelers players were dropping likes flies throughout the game, further depleting the team. Already without NT Casey Hampton, RB Willie Parker and DE Brett Keisel, the Steelers lost LB/special teams ace Andre Frazier, starting RG Kendall Simmons, RB Rashard Mendenhall, RB Carey Davis and special teamer Keyaron Fox.

Frazier was hit on the first kick of the game, and was taken off the field on a stretcher. If there is any justice in the NFL, Haruki Nakamura will be issued a fine for the helmet-to-helmet hit, which left Frazier with a spinal cord injury, according to the team.

Simmons suffered an Achilles' heel injury, and will be placed on the IR, ending his season. The rookie Mendenhall, making the first start of his career, fractured his shoulder, and will also be out for the rest of the season.

At least the Ravens can have comfort in losing, but physically disassembling the Steelers enough to severely damper their chances of continuing their dominance of the AFC North. Pittsburgh was 5-1 in the division last season, only losing at Baltimore when the division champions rested most of their starters in a meaningless game. They are 2-0 inside the division now, with wins over the hapless Browns and the Ravens.

Tomlin back to Minnesota roots in run game

The loss of Mendenhall for the year and possibly Davis for an extended period of time would put little depth behind (injured) starter Willie Parker. At the end of the game, Mewelde Moore - a big reason the Steelers were able to hang on for the win - was the only active running back available. Will the loss of Mendenhall bring with it a promotion of Gary Russell from the practice squad? Russell was cut not even two weeks ago for the sake of bringing in special teams depth.

Ironically, the Steelers will need that, and Russell, too, assuming Frazier's spinal cord injury will keep him out of action for a while.

Russell, a University of Minnesota product, joins Moore, a Minnesota Viking when Tomlin was the defensive coordinator, in the thinnest Steelers backfield in years.

Who had the better defense?

If one was go follow the 90 minute gush-fest about the Ravens defense, it would appear to have been pretty obvious.

Anyone who watches and understands the game in a capacity that does not include a need to increase TV ratings will be able to tell you it was the Steelers' defense - and not the highly touted Ravens - who controlled the second-half.

At the very least, it's fair to say the Ravens provided the tough-nosed stability and roughness, but it was the Steelers who provided the big plays and ultimately won the game.

If that is at all doubted, let's always remember who won the coin toss, who failed to move the ball, who punted, and who gave up 35 yards to Mewelde Moore to set up the game-winning field goal.

Harrison will pick up his second Defensive Player of the Week award

Lost in the hypnotizing and empty rhetoric of veteran, exhalted General Ray Lewis was the more impressive play of Steelers linebacker James Harrison. Interestingly enough, the broadcasting team barely touched on the fact that Harrison, in two games against Baltimore at home, now has 5.5 sacks and four forced fumbles. It's much more entertaining to watch Lewis wax moronical about finding balances and his best game instead of watching Harrison abuse the Ravens offensive line, and the most over-credited game-manager in football, Joe Flacco (that's FLACK-o, Mr. Jaworski, not FLOCK-o).

It's a good thing Harrison cares very little about getting his face on TV. He may be upset if he had Lewis's "team-first-as-long-as-the-team-is-about-me" attitude.

Giving credit where it's due, Lewis played a great game, and is clearly back from whatever was nagging him last year (ego bruise). The rest of the defense played very well, and first-year coach John Harbaugh clearly has them on the right track. The fact is, though, Harrison and OLB LaMarr Woodley were more impressive than any Ravens player, but got very little fanfare.

It's likely not a coincidence that while Harrison is second in the NFL with 5.5 sacks, the only headlines he'll get over the self-promotional genius Lewis is the one that reads "Steelers Repeat as Division Champs."

Has Lewis ever earned that one? Nope.


The key to the Steelers success tonight is Mendenhall the Wrecking Ball, but not just his yards per carry. Mendenhall has to bring his A-blocking game to help provide protection to a battered Ben Roethlisberger so the Steelers can exploit the Ravens' depleted secondary.

One of the more overlooked aspects of a young running back's game is what he provides in pass protection. When Mike Tomlin evaluated his first overall pick in the 2008 draft, he mentioned his size (5-foot-10, 225 pounds), his speed (4.45 40-yard at the Combine) and the part that jumped out the most, he mentioned his ability and willingness to stand in and block.

Rookie running backs are usually not three-down players. It's not just the adjustment to the speed of the NFL game, and it's not just a lack of pass-catching skills. A lot of the time, it's a back's lack of ability to step into a blitzer and knock him flat on his butt.

Mendenhall was drafted by the Steelers because he's ready to do that right now. Any coach is going to be nervous putting a back in on a passing down if he can't handle the responsibility of being the last line of defense between a successful pass and a hit that brings in a back-up quarterback. It's even more true against a blitz-happy Baltimore team, bringing punishment with each snap.

Ravens' RB Willis McGahee was dogged early in his career for a lack of willingness to block. Since then, he's developed into one of the more physical blockers out of that position in the game. It's a guy Mendenhall could emulate.

Mendenhall had already been the team's third-down back in many situations through three games. RB Mewelde Moore is not the greatest blocker in the league, either, so it looks as if Mendenhall will go all three downs in tonight's game. He can expect the Ravens to come after he and Roethlisberger through land, air and sea all night.

This isn't a bold statement. The two games between the Ravens and Steelers each year mostly have a lack of ground success in common. Don't expect any back in this game to have many outstanding rushes, but the one key advantage the Steelers have is that Ravens CB Samari Rolle and S Dawan Landry are out with injuries. If Roethlisberger has the time to throw, and WRs Santonio Holmes, Nate Washington - Pittsburgh's bes two deep threats - and Hines Ward are able to get more than two seconds to get open (unlike Week 3), the Steelers could put up a nice number on the scoreboard.

If not, or if Mendenhall is not able to step up and stone a few guys cold, this could turn into a 10-10 gridlock match that does not favor the Steelers. And right about now is when people are really starting to wonder if Roethlisberger is even going to last to the bye week.

Mendenhall isn't going to rush for 150 yards in his career debut, but he'll become a favored player in Pittsburgh if he can help keep Roethlisberger's jersey mostly clean - especially on third downs, where the Ravens are holding teams to a microscopic 19 percent conversion percentage.


It's 14 hours from kickoff, and the spotlight shifts from the rest of the NFL to Baltimore at Pittsburgh.

Clubber Lang says it the best:

Ravens Locker predicts a 9-7 Steelers win, but notes the Ravens are going to blitz Ben Roethlisberger back to the stone age. A fair assessment.

Five of the seven Baltimore Sun writers picked the Steelers. 'Course, all seven of them picked the Broncos to beat the Chiefs, too, but who didn't?

Dale Lolley points the finger at the only constant the Steelers have had in their passing game...Roethlisberger. An astute observation. Ben looks a little slow. The Ravens are going to look to come after him on every passing down, and maybe even when he's on the sideline during punts.

Behind the Steel Curtain poses an interesting question: considering how the Steelers developed Brett Keisel on special teams due to his athleticism, how are they supposed to develop a guy like Darnell Stapleton?

James Pete at Steel Tradition discusses the Hines Ward vs. Bart Scott "feud" that apparently exists. It was given life by the fact Ward cleaned Scott's clock last season, and Scott threatened to kill him. Pete says Scott allegedly tackled Ward after the game. I hadn't heard that, but I wouldn't put it past him, either.

Ryan Wilson gives Post-Gazette columnist Gene Collier a big "whatev" in response to a column he wrote. I certainly won't pretend I don't get frustrated at times with columnists of the local fishwraps covering the Steelers, but after reading Collier, I am usually reminded that he and I probably make the same amount of money, and there's a good reason for it. Neither of us really bring anything anyone cares about in the workplace.

It seems Wilson want to go knuckles with him, judging by his column on Steel City Insider. Ye gads! Someone gimme odds on Collier making a back-handed comment about "internet writers" in his next column. That's the classic grisled veterain journalist response to criticism nowadays.

Watch Cotter and Tecmo's pre-game show...the main points seem to be Flacco's a young QB, McFadden's getting a pick (second that) and Cleveland Rocks. I gave it a seven, mostly cuz eight wasn't an option.
I've got the Mighty Os Holes in Fantasy this week. I'm not fooled at all by their 0-3 start. I've got a feeling J.T. O'Sullivan's gonna go off on New Orleans, and my squad, Blowcho Cinco, may be in trouble.

But what got me really fired up wasn't his vanilla comments, like, "we're not very good," or "I want my money back," or "there's not a chance I'm playing next year."

He told me he's sitting Ben Roethlisberger. That got me fired up.

See, Fantasy Football is a sacred thing between guys, and competitors step up to play when they're properly motivated. I had no reason to want to play until Os started talking trash.

Now I've got my bulletin board material. I wouldn't be able to get up for the game without out.

Sound ridiculous?

Steelers rookie running back Rashard Mendenhall allegedly sent a few text messages to friend and Ravens running back Ray Rice, apparently, suggesting Mendenhall was going to have a big game Monday night.

Allegedly, Rice beelined it straight over to the Ravens defensive players, and showed them the texts. That fired up the outspoken Bart Scott, who ESPN's James Walker quoted as saying:
"He said later that he was just joking, but it's too late. Thanks for the bulletin-board material, rookie.
What a pussy.

Bart, I took you for a real competitor. My mistake. The media give us the impression this is a really big game for both teams. I would think playing on Monday Night for the lead of the AFC North against your biggest rival would be enough in itself.

Apparently, you need text messages coming from rookie running backs to motivate you to play. That's gutsy, man.

The same way Os fired me up is going to motivate you to play better. All Steelers players are going to remember to steer clear of your verbal tirade when you or one of your Ravens buddies over-exaggerate a tackle, or celebrate a six-yard gain because you know you're on TV.

Here's some more bulletin board material for you:

Your defense consists of a bunch of pile-jumping, stats-before-team prima donnas.

Jason Whitlock once wrote: "Call me when the Ravens win a playoff game."

That was sometime around 2004. His phone's been silent since. Perhaps that's because you need a wireless device communicae between friends to get ready to play.


Thursday, September 25
Ravens linebacker Bart Scott hasn't done much of anything since his Pro Bowl season of 2006. The division's short-but-explosive-linebacker-with-a-ginormous-chip-on-his-shoulder award has been transferred to Steelers' linebacker James Harrison. Is that the exact motivation Scott needs to make an impact in this game again?

On a crisp and clear Christmas Eve morning of 2006 in Baltimore, the Ravens gave the Steelers an early present - they ended their season one year after winning the Super Bowl. They returned the favor from the 2001 season, after the Steelers lambasted the defending champion Ravens 27-10 in the Divisional round of the AFC Playoffs.

That was the last year that saw a Ravens playoff win (shhh...they don't like it when you remind them of that), and it was the last year they did not have Scott on their roster. Scott, the bad-ass-and-attitude linebacker from Southern Illinois is a tough dude, and he loves telling people how tough he is. He even refers to himself as The Madbacker.

To his credit, Scott walked the self-imposed walk on that Christmas Eve in 2006. Blitzing free from his outside (mad)linebacker position, he gave Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger the biggest smackdown of his career en route to a huge Ravens victory.

Roethlisberger got even with a five-touchdown performance last year on Monday Night, the same night the Steelers honored their 75th Anniversary team. It was the same night the eerily similar Harrison had quite possibly the best individual defensive performance in team history.

Harrison finished with 10 tackles, 3.5 sacks, an interception, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery, officially passing Scott as the resident badass of the AFC North.

The ever-loquacious Ravens take exception to that, though. They are back among the defensive leaders of the NFL. Any team worth its salt would be, considering they've only played Cincinnati and Cleveland - a combined 0-6 - but with the Steelers obvious protection problems last week at Philadelphia, there's no doubt Scott, LB Terrell Suggs and the rest of the Ravens pass rush is licking their chops at the chance to provide a Scottish smack on Roethlisberger again.

One issue of concern with Scott is the fact he's had one sack in his past 18 games. He creates disruption, and plays with serious intensity, but his talk hasn't matched his play over the past season and change.

Either way, grudge matches in the NFL like Baltimore v. Pittsburgh comes down to attitude. While each team has been on the winning side of blowouts the past two seasons, the games are usually competitive, defensive affairs in which the run game is a non-factor on either side.

With Steelers RB Willie Parker out, and Ravens RB Willis McGahee suffering a corneal abrasion in last week's win over Cleveland, the younger backs of each team (Rashard Mendenhall for Pittsburgh, Le'Ron McClain and Ray Rice for the Ravens) will be more in the spotlight. Neither of these teams have had a 100-yard rusher against each other in the last eight games. Scott will be instrumental in continuing that streak, and will look to regain his Resident Badass title.

Assuming Harrison doesn't wig out and have another career performance like he did last year.


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