Pittsburgh Steelers (4-1) at Miami Dolphins (3-2)
The Steelers look like the class of the AFC, especially after Ben Roethlisberger’s stellar season debut. The Dolphins look great one week and then iffy the next. Which team shows up Sunday?
Where: Sun Life Stadium, Miami, Fl., 1 p.m.
Trends: The over is 21-10-1 in the Steelers last 32 games vs. the AFC; Miami is 15-41-1 against the spread in their last 57 home games; The under is 6-2 in Miami’s last 8 games as an underdog.
Key Injuries: Pittsburgh: Out – T Willie Colon; Questionable – G Trai Essex, LB James Harrison; Probable – RB Rashard Mendenhall. Miami: Out – DT Jared Odrick, CB Will Allen; Questionable – LB Karlos Dansby, G John Jerry.
What To Look For: Pittsbugh QB Ben Roethlisberger makes his return to the road this weekend and he does it in a stadium where he threw for three touchdown passes in a 30-24 Steeler victory in January. This time he will find a Miami team looking to snap a four-game home losing streak.
The Steelers look like LB James Harrison will be back on the field, despite his timeout during the week while he contemplated the NFL’s new rules regarding hard hits. If so, the Dolphins will be facing one of the most dynamic defenders in the league. Even if he might have to tone down his hits. That will be bad news for Dolphins QB Chad Henne, who has been tantalizingly good at times and just as bad at others this season. Less time in the pocket will not help him find his No. 1 receiver, Brandon Marshall (37 rec. 467 yds, 1 TD).
Pittsburgh managed to hold itself together in Roethlisberger’s absence, rolling to a 3-1 record and using every quarterback on the roster.
The Steelers are 4-0 in Miami since 1998.
NFL Week 1: Falcons at Steelers
Both the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Atlanta Falcons closed 2009 with three straight wins, providing heightened expectations heading into the offseason despite the disappointment of failing to make the playoffs. It didn’t take long for the Steelers’ momentum to disappear.
Off-field indiscretions led to the trade of a Super Bowl MVP wideout and Ben Roethlisberger’s four-game suspension, leaving 1.5-point WagerWeb.com underdog Pittsburgh to hand the offensive reins to Dennis Dixon for Sunday’s season opener against the visiting Falcons.
The Steelers blew any chance to defend their Super Bowl XLIII title with a midseason five-game losing streak, which proved too much to overcome despite a late surge to finish 9-7.
Shortly after the NFL season ended, the two stars that combined for the winning touchdown in Pittsburgh’s sixth championship were back in the news. Roethlisberger was accused of sexually assaulting a woman at a Milledgeville, Ga., bar on March 5, the second such allegation brought against him in eight months.
Charges were never filed, but commissioner Roger Goodell suspended Roethlisberger — who threw for a career-high 4,238 yards in 2009 — six games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy. It was reduced to four at the conclusion of the preseason.
On March 24, a lawsuit was filed against receiver Santonio Holmes alleging he threw a glass at a woman in a nightclub. Less than three weeks later, Holmes was shipped to the New York Jets for a fifth-round draft pick.
Without their signal caller for a quarter of the season and Holmes now gone for good, the Steelers face a long road in an attempt to avoid their first consecutive non-playoff seasons since 1998-2000.
Speedy second-year receiver Mike Wallace replaces Holmes across from Ward, and those two will be counted on to make Dixon’s job easier. The mobile third-year quarterback battled veterans Byron Leftwich and Charlie Batch for the job in training camp, but coach Mike Tomlin’s decision was made less complicated when Leftwich sprained his MCL in the preseason finale.
Dixon’s lone NFL start came Nov. 29 at Baltimore, when he went 12 for 26 for 145 yards with a TD and an interception while Roethlisberger recovered from a concussion.
The Falcons, meanwhile, have a third-year starter with considerably more experience. Yet after completing 61.1 percent of his passes and being named the Offensive Rookie of the Year while leading the Falcons to the playoffs in 2008, Matt Ryan was less accurate (58.3) and took a small step backward in Atlanta’s 9-7 season.
After missing two games with a toe injury, though, Ryan came back to throw six touchdowns in leading the Falcons to their final three victories.
Roethlisberger to play Saturday, Eli Manning won’t
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will make his 2010 debut on Saturday night against the New York Giants after sitting out the Steelers’ preseason opener, but it’s not clear if Big Ben will start. In fact, Coach Mike Tomlin wouldn’t say who would start among Big Ben, Byron Leftwich or Dennis Dixon – Dixon was stellar in the opening win against the Lions and has closed the gap on Leftwich as the No. 1 during Roethlisberger’s suspension to start the season.
“Some of those decisions and things are made last minute in the preseason,” Tomlin said. “That’s just how it goes.”
Roethlisberger Leftwich, who started last week, could each get time with the first-team offense. When asked if Dennis Dixon may get some snaps with the starters, Tomlin said, “We’ll see. We haven’t come to those decisions yet here in the preseason.”
While the Steelers have a glut of quarterbacks, the Giants don’t have any. Starter Eli Manning will sit after suffering a three-inch gash on his forehead during Monday’s preseason victory over the Jets. Manning’s regular season is in no jeopardy and he will in fact play in the team’s next preseason game.
Meanwhile, Giants backup QB Jim Sorgi, who was stellar against the Jets, will miss two to three weeks with a tear in the capsule of his throwing shoulder after a hit he in the game. The injury is not related to the partly torn labrum that forced Sorgi onto injured reserve last season with the Indianapolis Colts. Sorgi sustained the injury on a big hit from Jets linebacker Lance Laury moments after he delivered his second touchdown pass to Victor Cruz in the Giants’ 31-16 win.
Thus first-year pro Rhett Bomar will start and could actually play the entire way. Thus the Giants are the biggest dogs on the WagerWeb.com board in this week’s preseason game as 4-point home dogs.
Ben Roethlisberger should start this week for Steelers
Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin has an interesting problem on his hands. He knows he won’t have starting quarterback Ben Roethlisberger for as many as six games but probably four to start the regular season. So does Tomlin still play Roethlisberger normal minutes with the first team in the preseason or does he give all the snaps to backups Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon, who are still battling to be the interim starter?
Tomlin didn’t play Big Ben in Pittsburgh’s exhibition opener, a 23-7 win over Detroit. But it appears Roethlisberger will play Saturday against the Giants at New Meadowlands Stadium – bet on the game with WagerWeb.com’s betting odds. Offensive coordinator Bruce Arians said Roethlisberger would play, but did not reveal when or for how long but it’s likely Big Ben does start.
“I hope I get in,” Roethlisberger said. “I’m not sure when. I’ll take any time.”
The Steelers might have a mini-QB controversy on their hands. Leftwich is assumed to be the starter with Big Ben out during the season, but he was totally outplayed by Dixon against the Lions. Dixon was 6 of 7 for 128 yards and led scoring drives of 75, 79 and 68 yards with reserves playing. Leftwich, playing a large portion with the starters, was 6-for-10 for 43 yards and led the first-team offense to just 16 yards in 12 plays.
Coach Mike Tomlin still says he expects to use both Leftwich and Dixon during the time Roethsliberger is out, but did at least acknowledge that Dixon could overtake Leftwich as the No. 1: “He’s got to take the job if he’s going to take it.”
Apparently at worst Dixon has earned some snaps with the first-team offense during practice this week, something that Big Ben and Leftwich have been sharing. And Tomlin says the team is coming up with packages for Dixon so that he does get on the field even if Leftwich is the starter.
Steelers suffer big blow with Colon injury
It has been a rough offseason so far with the Pittsburgh Steelers, as they have had to deal with the sexual assault charges and suspension of QB Ben Roethlisberger, traded top receiver Santonio Holmes (because of his own off-field issues) to the New York Jets and lost WR Limas Sweed, who was an expected contributor especially with Holmes gone.
Yet Pittsburgh’s biggest blow might be a season-ending injury to offensive tackle Willie Colon, the team’s top offensive lineman. It appears he has torn his Achilles’ tendon and will need surgery, this ending his season before it starts.
The 27-year-old, 315-pounder hasn’t missed a game in three years. He’ll get tests Tuesday to determine the severity of the injury. Colon’s agent said the worst fear is that the tendon is actually torn. Colon was injured during an agility drill on Monday. NFL.com reported that Colon has a torn Achilles and is expected to miss the entire 2010 season; he will have surgery on Wednesday.
The Steelers could move former tackle Trai Essex, their starting right guard, to right tackle and use any one of three players, including No. 1 pick Maurkice Pouncey at right guard. The other candidates are Ramon Foster, a rookie free agent in 2009 who saw some playing time last season; and Kraig Urbik, last year’s No. 3 draft choice who was inactive for all 16 games. Urbik played right tackle his first two seasons at Wisconsin.
But, more than likely, the Steelers will replace Colon with free-agent pickup Jonathan Scott, who was signed to a one-year contract in the offseason after starting eight games for the Buffalo Bills last season.
Even with a healthy Colon, Pittsburgh has had trouble keeping Roethlisberger upright, and the running game was very inconsistent last year – in reality the Steelers became a passing team. On top of that, the Steelers revealed that their fifth-round pick in this year’s draft, tackle Chris Scott, broke his foot last week.
Needless to say, the Steelers might not get off to a great start with Big Ben out at least the first four games and a journeyman or rookie tackle protecting either Byron Leftwich or Dennis Dixon.
Bet on Steelers futures at WagerWeb.com
Steelers lose Big Ben for likely 4 games – can you say 1-3?
The news that much of the NFL has been waiting for finally was handed down on Wednesday as the NFL suspended Pittsburgh Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger for six games – but in reality probably four – for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy.
Roethlisberger also was ordered to undergo a comprehensive behavioral evaluation. Commissioner Roger Goodell will evaluate Roethlisberger’s progress before the season and might consider reducing the suspension to four games. However, a failure to comply with the NFL’s ruling might lead to a longer suspension.
Roethlisberger is barred from attending any Steelers offseason activity after Wednesday until he completes the evaluation. He can participate in training camp and preseason games this summer as long as he is cleared by the evaluators and Goodell.
OK, so what does this mean for those Steelers futures odds on WagerWeb.com? Pittsburgh’s first four games are these: vs. Atlanta, at Tennessee, at Tampa Bay, vs. Baltimore. Pittsburgh is 5-5 in games not started by Big Ben since he came into the league in 2004. The QBs who have started are Charlie Batch (3-1), Tommy Maddox (2-3) and Dennis Dixon (0-1).
Batch and Dixon are still on the Steeler roster, and the team acquired former Roethlisberger backup Byron Leftwich from the Bucs for a seventh-round pick. But Batch and Dixon will be the main competition to start. Dixon obviously has much more all-around athletic ability, as he was a dual-threat star and Heisman candidate at Oregon before he tore up his knee as a senior. This will be his third NFL season, and he should have a pretty good grasp of the system by now.
Dixon started in Week 12 last year against a terrific Ravens’ defense and the results were about what you would expect: 12-for-26, 145 yards passing, one TD, one pick and a rating of 60.6. The Steelers lost 20-17 in overtime, thanks to a Dixon interception by the Ravens. Dixon started because Roethlisberger was sidelined with a concussion and Batch had a broken left wrist. Dixon had thrown only one pass in two seasons before this game.
Still, it wouldn’t be shocking if Pittsburgh started the season 0-3 – the only lock win would seem to be at Tampa Bay, but the Bucs could even pull the upset in the Florida heat that early in the season. After Week 4, the Steelers have a bye week, which probably will help Roethlisberger get back into the flow of things.
Big Ben says he didn’t have sex with accuser
Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger has admitted he had some contact with his female sexual assault accuser in Georgia, but Big Ben says they never did the dirty deed, if you get my drift.
The two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback admitted “contact” with the 20-year-old Georgia College and State University sophomore that “was not consummated,” and afterward, she slipped and bumped her head.
“The facts will show that Ben Roethlisberger is completely innocent of any crime,” Roethlisberger attorney Ed Garland said. He would not discuss whether Roethlisberger would agree to a second interview with Milledgeville Police.
This week, the lawyer for one of two off-duty Pennsylvania law enforcement officers who accompanied Roethlisberger the night of the incident came forward and said they did not see anything inappropriate occur.
The Georgia Bureau of Investigation has begun its review of videos from the Milledgeville nightclubs that Roethlisberger visited the night of the alleged incident. Investigators have obtained video from the club, but none of the cameras was trained on the VIP room where Roethlisberger was socializing with friends. Cameras were instead trained on the front entrance and the main bar area.
Investigators requested a DNA sample from Roethlisberger, although they did not say what kind of evidence they collected to which it could be compared. Roethlisberger’s attorney said no DNA would be given, although prosecutors obviously could get a court order.
Police are also determining whether the accuser was drinking, how much she drank and how long she drank. They will gather cash register and service records and interview friends who accompanied her. The accuser was in a local hospital emergency room shortly after she says she was attacked. As soon as she told her story of what happened, the nurses and doctors on duty went into the procedures that are required after an allegation of sexual assault.
Capital City, the nightclub that was the site of this incident, has hired a lawyer to handle requests and prepare for the possibility of being sued over the incident.
One has to wonder if the Steelers have to think about signing a veteran quarterback or at least drafting one for the remote possibility that Big Ben either sees jail time or is suspended by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell.
Andrea McNulty’s emails prove Big Ben’s innocence
Ben Roethlisberger’s lawyer released emails and instant messages today from the 31-year-old woman who has accused the Steelers quarterback of sexual assault, claiming they exonerate his client, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reports.
In one email time-stamped the day after the alleged assault took place, Andrea McNulty writes that she is going to go to dinner with Roethlisberger and others, and is “really excited” for a concert afterward.
In another email dated five months after the assault, McNulty claims she “would date” Ben Roethlisberger. The tone and substance of the emails, lawyer David Cornwell said, “prove she was not raped by Ben Roethlisberger.” He added, “sexual assault cases often hinge on ‘she said, he said,’” and the emails “directly refute the scurrilous allegations made in her complaint.”