AFC North: Dallas Cowboys

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. -- In stark contrast to Ray Rice's awkward news conference in May, the Baltimore Ravens running back showed Thursday that he finally understood the weight of his actions from the alleged altercation with his then-fiancée in February.

He delivered the correct message, one the NFL failed to do last week with the two-game suspension, by not only apologizing to his wife, Janay Palmer, but also expressing a desire to become an advocate for domestic-violence causes.

Rice was compelling in his contrition, calling it the biggest mistake of his life. He stood in front of the microphone alone, without his wife standing by his side, and took full responsibility for the incident. Perhaps more importantly, Rice actually said the words "domestic violence," which weren't heard in his statement two months ago.

"My actions were inexcusable," Rice said. "That's something I have to live with the rest of my life."

Before anyone pats Rice on the back, this is what he should have said the first time when he broke his silence in May. Instead, Rice nervously fumbled through notes on his phone and apologized to team officials and his sponsors. That debacle of a news conference came across as damage control to his image.

His 17-minute news conference Thursday hit the right tones. He apologized to all women affected by domestic violence. He accepted the blame for losing the respect of fans. Rice came across as genuinely sorry.

"I let my wife down, I let my daughter down, I let my wife's parents down, I let the whole Baltimore community down," Rice said.

Rice's biggest misstep was not talking about what happened in the elevator. He was asked twice about it and declined to answer both times. His stance against domestic violence would have resonated stronger if he had explained his transgressions.

"I'll be honest: Like I said, I own my actions," Rice said. "I just don't want to keep reliving the incident. It doesn't bring any good to me. I'm just trying to move forward from it. I don't condone it. I take full responsibility for my actions. What happened that night is something that I'm going to pay for the rest of my life."

The only way Rice can move forward from this incident and show he's truly sincere is through his actions. It's not by his words. It's not by a hefty donation, which is merely a gesture. It's by proving this will remain a "one-time incident" and by supporting domestic-violence causes.

Thursday represented a small step forward for Rice. But it was an important one.
Adam Jones' first words at this month's rookie symposium should be: Do as I say, not as I do. In fact, do the opposite.

The Bengals' cornerback is scheduled to address the league's newest players in 11 days, and the NFL couldn't have gotten a better speaker to talk about the wrong way to start a professional career. It's up to the rookies to follow his advice and not his path.

In five seasons in the NFL, Jones has been arrested seven times (but never convicted), has had at least a dozen run-ins with the police and has been suspended by the league for 22 games. He tried to ditch the nickname "Pacman" four years ago, but his bad-boy reputation will remain with him for the rest of his career. You only need to Google "Make it rain" and "Pacman" to see how actions can ruin an image. If you need a refresher on his troubled past, a good read on Jones is a 2009 piece by ESPN's John Barr.

He's lucky to still be in the league, although his mistakes forced a cameo appearance in the CFL, and he has to use this opportunity to educate rookies.

"What you do on the field, what you do off the field, it's all a reflection of you," Jones told the Bengals' official website.

Jones' latest legal trouble came in January when he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of disorderly conduct. A second misdemeanor charge of resisting arrest was dismissed in a plea agreement with prosecutors.

But, by all accounts, Jones has been the consummate teammate. Defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer repeatedly said last year how Jones has bought "all-in" to what the team is trying to do. Special teams coach Darrin Simmons said last year that Jones is "a focused guy right now. He wants to do it for everybody else. He doesn't want to do it for himself."

Jones' talk to the rookies is another step in that direction.
There's a feeling the AFC North doesn't get the respect it deserves, and I am among those who believe that at times. Well, not this time. Someone from the Big D is putting the division on the Cowboys' radar for this season.

ESPNDallas.com's Calvin Watkins put together a list of five troublemakers for Dallas this season while excluding the obvious stars like Ben Roethlisberger and Ray Lewis. Of those five players to watch, two come from the AFC North: Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton and Ravens linebacker Courtney Upshaw. As a matter of full disclosure, I worked with Watkins at the Baltimore Sun, so he has a familiarity with the division.

Here's what Watkins had to say about Dalton, who was the best rookie quarterback in the AFC in 2011 and would've been the top one in the NFL if not for that quarterback named Cam. A second-round pick in 2011, Dalton became the only rookie in NFL history to throw for 20 or more touchdowns passes while winning eight or more games as a starting quarterback.
The former TCU standout proved last year he can play in this league. When the Cowboys visit Cincinnati on Dec. 9, they will take on the second-year quarterback who compiled a 78.1 quarterback rating but threw eight touchdowns and six interceptions in home games in 2011. NFL teams aren't waiting on quarterbacks to develop, they're playing them now and getting results. Dalton is another example of this.

The other player who could cause some problems for the Cowboys is Upshaw. A second-round pick this year, Upshaw is expected to replace Jarret Johnson and is is eager to prove himself after watching four Alabama teammates get selected in the first round. He has a high motor and should make an impact as a pass rusher (15.5 sacks the past two seasons in college). This is Watkins' take on Upshaw:
Terrell Suggs' Achilles injury might keep him out for the Oct. 14 matchup between Baltimore and Dallas. If he's not available -- and it appears he won't be -- the rookie from Alabama will show the Cowboys what he can do. Jason Garrett saw him at Alabama's Pro Day. There's a thought that Upshaw is no different than Anthony Spencer in terms of skill set from the outside linebacker position. Early in the draft process, the Cowboys were linked to Upshaw as a mid-first round pick. But Upshaw dropped to the second round. We'll see what he can do against Dallas.

The AFC North has had moderate success against the Cowboys. Since becoming the AFC North in 2002, the division has gone 5-3 against Dallas (including a combined 4-0 by the Steelers and Ravens).

Walker's weekend mailbag

June, 4, 2011
6/04/11
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Let's see what in our AFC North inbox this week.

Steven Velte from Baltimore writes: JW, why does Joe Flacco get so little respect around the league and Matt Ryan gets much more praise?

Walker: Steven, I don't have a clear answer. But I do have a "face of the franchise" theory involving these two quarterbacks. Both players are very close at this stage of their careers, but the difference is Flacco is not the face of the Ravens. Ray Lewis is. After that there's Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, etc. For the Falcons, Ryan is the face of the franchise. So I think he gets much more publicity and credit for his team's success, despite their statistics being almost identical the past three seasons.


Will from Sykesville, MD, wants to know what the chances are of Flacco beating Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers this year.

Walker: We opened that question up to our community this week, Will, and most believe it's not going to happen in 2011. I'm not ready to make any firm predictions, but I was a little surprised by the results. Flacco has been close in the past, Super Bowl runners-up usually struggle the following year and Baltimore's roster is stacked even before free agency. Injuries aside, I expect the Ravens and Steelers to compete for the AFC North title again. Flacco and the Ravens have their best shot to catch Pittsburgh at home in Week 1.


Rye Dalton from Encinitas, CA, wants to know if the Cleveland Browns would have any interest in the supplemental draft for Ohio State players.

Walker: Good question, Rye. The Browns have additional draft picks to spare in 2012 and need all the help they can get this year. So I would list the Browns as a potential candidate for the supplemental draft. The two players of interest for the Browns could be offensive tackle Mike Adams and tailback Dan Herron, because they both play positions where Cleveland lacks depth.


JMo from Bed Stuy wants to know if safety Darren Sharper could be a target for the Browns.

Walker: I don't see this as a good match, JMo. If Sharper plays next season, he's in the twilight of his career and probably wants to play for a contender. The Browns, in my opinion, are at least. ... OK I'm not going to say it this week. I don't want to upset those Browns fans who think their team will be Super Bowl contenders this year.


Michael Ricke from Kristiansand, Norway, wants to know why Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer would want out now.

Walker: Until Palmer speaks publicly, we won't have the full details. But reading the signs, Palmer is tired of the losing and has lost confidence in the Bengals' ability to field a championship-caliber team. Palmer, 31, gave Cincinnati his prime years and only has a few good seasons left. Palmer believes he has a better chance of winning a Super Bowl elsewhere. And after watching Cincinnati for the past 20 years, I don't think anyone can argue with Palmer's line of reasoning.


Christian from Phoenix wants to know what kind of offseason activities have Bengals players organized.

Walker: The Bengals have held a few gatherings, Christian, and the team will have organized practices for the next two weeks. The Bengals are a young, rebuilding team and need to get the work in.


Derrick from Rochester, NY, wants to know where Steelers safety Troy Polamalu ranks with some of the all-time great defenders.

Walker: Polamalu is definitely unique, and I think when his career is over, he will be a Hall of Famer. But it's hard to compare him with other all-time great defensive players like Lawrence Taylor, for example, until Polamalu's career is over.


Complaint department

Here are recent comments and complaints from our community.

Dustin from Pittsburgh writes: It's hard not to agree with Brett Kostoff's response. If you were in an abusive relationship for 20 years, would you stick around for another 20? Probably not. At some point you have to say enough is enough, cut your losses and move on. And we all know the Bengals have a lot of losses to cut.

Brandon Crawford from Sykesville, Md, writes: Sounds like Kostoff is making a lot of excuses. If you are a true fan you stick with your team through black and blue. Bottom line. This guy is a disgrace to all TRUE fans of the game.

Nick Diligente from Cleveland writes: I've been a fan for 30 years. After reading Brett Kostoff's response and listening to him compare it to the cable bill, I am starting to doubt my loyalty to the Browns. He really put it into a perspective the Browns fans should look at. Do you think the Ravens fans would let me move to Baltimore as Art Modell did?

Walker: Whether you agree or disagree with Kostoff auctioning his fandom, I think he makes a compelling case. Being a fan is an individual thing. One person's tolerance may be higher or lower than the next person. In Kostoff's case, he put a lot of time, money and energy into the Bengals and 20 years without a playoff win was enough. He didn't believe he was getting enough from his team in return. For other fans, the tolerance may be higher.


Andy from Clarion, PA, writes: James, it's obvious that the Steelers would love to have Ike Taylor back and Ike would love to come back. The only problem is that the Steelers seem unlikely to pay top dollar for him. If we would have another uncapped year, why would the Steelers not just pay him what he wants for that year and try to work out a longer deal later on or work on developing younger players in the meantime.

Walker: Andy, there are some holes in your reasoning. First, the Steelers don't know if there will be another uncapped year, and even so, Pittsburgh approached 2010 as if there was a cap. Second, Taylor is 31 and wants a long-term deal. This is probably Taylor's last chance to cash in big for his career and he won't sign a one-year contract. I would assume Taylor wants at least three years.


Jordan M. from Belle Vernon, Pa., writes: I'll occasionally read the comments on some of your posts, and the Nnamdi Asomugha to the Steelers posts are as aggravating as they are ridiculous. I can just imagine how frustrated you are by it, because I'm sure you get deluged daily w/that nonsense.. So I think you should start every post with "Nnamdi to Steelers-Never" until FA starts. It might deter the endless questions you receive.

Walker: It was frustrating at first, Jordan. But I have a way of finding humor in things, so eventually it became a running joke in the AFC North blog. He might be the most popular football player in Pittsburgh never play for the Steelers.


Kovacs from Santa Monica, CA, writes: Not AFCN related, but I can't take it anymore. Tony Romo is not good. He's not a winner. He has decent stats because he has arguably the best offensive arsenal in the game: Witten, Austin, Dez, Jones/Barber/Choice. Tony Romo is good at two things: looking good and playing golf. Rant over.

Walker: I've never been big on Romo, either, Kovacs. He's a good quarterback. But Romo is not a proven winner and gets too much hype due to the team he plays for.


Mike from Ashtabula, Ohio writes: Hey, glad you got a good laugh from my comments the other day. Well, it’s the truth. The Browns will win the division this year, Mr. Walker, and I hope you cover the team like you did with the Steelers and Ravens last year. The Browns will win 12 games this year and [Colt] McCoy will throw for 3,500 yards. TAKE THAT TO THE BANK.

Walker: I will remember you said that, Mike. By the way, are you sure McCoy will throw for 3,500 yards with those receivers?

AFC North "Homer of the Week"

Here is the biggest homer in the AFC North this week. Enjoy.

Justin Isett from Baltimore writes: I hate to say this, because this has homer written all over it, but the Ravens or the Steelers going undefeated isn't entirely impossible. Apart from each other they only have maybe three tough matches in which they would probably be favored. Pittsburgh has a Week 11 bye then Kansas city and a lot of rebuilding teams. So I don't think a 16-0 or 15-1 record for Baltimore or Pittsburg is unrealistic.

Walker: Justin, you knew you were going to be our "Homer of the Week" for this one. Neither Pittsburgh nor Baltimore will go 16-0 or 15-1 next season. As Mike from Ashtabula said, TAKE THAT TO THE BANK.

If you have any future questions, complaints, or homerific comments, feel free to send them to our AFC North inbox.
Here are the most interesting stories Friday in the AFC North:
  • Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger still has legal issues resulting from a civil suit filed two years ago in Nevada.
Morning take: It's been more than a year since Roethlisberger had off-the-field issues, which almost makes you forget the first sexual assault allegation from 2009. Roethlisberger would like this to be resolved as quickly as possible, but that hasn't been the case.
  • Baltimore Ravens safety and pending free agent Dawan Landry could be targeted by the Dallas Cowboys.
Morning take: It doesn't appear Landry is returning to the Ravens. Baltimore looks comfortable with safety Tom Zbikowski, who stepped up and played well when inserted into the starting lineup, making Landry expandable.
  • Here is more on whether franchise quarterback Carson Palmer should return to the Cincinnati Bengals.
Morning take: I agree with Cedric Benson and the article that it's time for both parties to move on. Palmer doesn't want to be there, there should be good trade value available, and the Bengals drafted rookie quarterback Andy Dalton. Why not cut ties?
Morning take: These unofficial minicamps should only help the second-year quarterback. McCoy will need to know Cleveland's new West Coast offense better than anyone on the team, which is why it's vital for him to hit the ground running.
ESPN.com revealed its most high-profile and perhaps controversial Power Rankings to date on Tuesday. This week we ranked the glamour position of quarterback, which always makes for a heated debate.

[+] EnlargeJoe Flacco
Brett Davis/US PresswireBaltimore quarterback Joe Flacco threw 25 touchdown passes and 10 interceptions last season.
Two AFC North quarterbacks made the top 10. Ben Roethlisberger of the Pittsburgh Steelers was a no-brainer. He's played in three Super Bowls, winning two. Roethlisberger finished No. 5 in the rankings behind Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers. I voted Roethlisberger fourth and Rodgers fifth, but you can make a strong case for both quarterbacks, who are at the top of their game.

But what is debatable is whether Baltimore Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco deserves to be on this list.

Is Flacco a top-10 quarterback? He was tied for the final spot with Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys to make the cut. I've watched more Flacco games in person than anyone on the panel and he didn't make my top 10. I had Flacco rated No. 12 on my ballot behind Romo (No. 10) and Matt Schaub (No. 11) of the Houston Texans.

In three seasons, Flacco has yet to beat the Steelers when Roethlisberger is at quarterback and needs to perform better in the postseason. Therefore, I cannot consider him elite. Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome recently echoed these sentiments.

But I've liked Flacco's skills from Day 1, and I believe he's ready for a breakthrough season in his fourth year. He has a lot of natural ability, and once he combines that with more consistency and big-game performances, he will be dangerous.

Flacco also is showing more edge and leadership in the past year, which I think is needed for any starting quarterback. Flacco has the tools. He just needs to put it all together in 2011.

ESPN.com's Quarterback Power Rankings

1. Tom Brady, Patriots

2. Peyton Manning, Colts

3. Drew Brees, Saints

4. Aaron Rodgers, Packers

5. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers

6. Philip Rivers, Chargers

7 (tie). Michael Vick, Eagles

7 (tie). Matt Ryan, Falcons

9. Eli Manning, Giants

10. (tie) Joe Flacco, Ravens

10. (tie) Tony Romo, Cowboys

Walker's Quarterback Power Rankings

1. Tom Brady, Patriots

2. Peyton Manning, Colts

3. Drew Brees, Saints

4. Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers

5. Aaron Rodgers, Packers

6. Philip Rivers, Chargers

7. Michael Vick, Eagles

8. Eli Manning, Giants

9. Matt Ryan, Falcons

10. Tony Romo, Cowboys
Count Cleveland Browns quarterback Colt McCoy among the growing list of players independently training with their wide receivers during the NFL lockout.

The second-year veteran has rallied several Cleveland receivers -- including Mohamed Massaquoi and Josh Cribbs -- to work out with him in Austin, Texas. Massquoi confirmed the plans on his Twitter account.

In a pre-draft meeting with the media on Thursday, Browns general manager Tom Heckert said he didn't know his players were organizing workouts until his public relations staff informed him Thursday morning. During the lockout, players cannot be in contact with their teams.

But Heckert said he's happy players are taking the initiative.

"I think it's great. ... I think it's probably more publicized now than in past seasons," Heckert said. "If they do it, great. But if they don't, I don’t think it's a big deal. We will be ready when they come back."

McCoy isn't the first quarterback to do this. Reportedly Tony Romo of the Dallas Cowboys and Jordan Palmer of the Cincinnati Bengals have also organized workouts with teammates.
University of Florida's Mike Pouncey is the top-rated interior lineman in this year's NFL draft. He's also one of the hottest names during this pre-draft period following solid workouts and the success of his twin brother -- Maurkice Pouncey of the Pittsburgh Steelers.


But Mike Pouncey has a hunch that he will not join his twin in Pittsburgh next season. After making the rounds and meeting with teams, Pouncey tweeted this week that he believes he will play for the Dallas Cowboys.

"Headed back to Pittsburgh ... would be shocked if i wasn't in a dallas uniform nxt year! The draft is april 28th so we will see ... To all the steelers fans i would love to be playing for the steelers and if i had a choice i would but it isnt my choice," Mike Pouncey tweeted.

Both teams need youth and depth on the offensive line. But the biggest difference is the Cowboys own the No. 9 overall pick, which is a spot Mike Pouncey should be available. Barring a draft-day trade, he's probably out of reach for Pittsburgh at No. 31.

An educated guess is Mike Pouncey doesn't land with either team. There is a lot for the Cowboys to like, but No. 9 seems a bit high for a center/guard. I also expect Mike Pouncey to be off the board by the end of the first round.

Final Word: Super Bowl XLV

February, 5, 2011
2/05/11
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» Super Bowl XLV Final Word: Steelers | Packers

Five nuggets of knowledge about Super Bowl XLV:

[+] EnlargeRashard Mendenhall
Al Bello/Getty ImagesRashard Mendenhall has been a potent weapon for the Steelers, rushing for 167 yards in two playoff games.
Big stage for Mendenhall: The play of Pittsburgh Steelers tailback Rashard Mendenhall has been under the radar throughout the playoffs. But Mendenhall's performance will be very important for Pittsburgh to beat the Packers. Mendenhall has rushed for 167 yards and three touchdowns in Pittsburgh's two playoff games. Playing in his first Super Bowl, Mendenhall has the ability to keep the chains moving and keep Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers off the field. The Packers' run defense has struggled at times, ranking just No. 18 in the NFL this season.

Win one for Flozell: Nearly all the veteran players on the Steelers own at least one Super Bowl ring. But one veteran who doesn't own any jewelry is starting right tackle Flozell Adams. He played a dozen years for the Dallas Cowboys and signed with the Steelers before training camp. With Adams returning to his old stomping grounds, Pittsburgh is taking the approach to "Win one for Flozell." Offensive linemen all wore throwback Michigan State jerseys of Adams on the flight to Dallas on Monday as a show of solidarity.

Keeping the streak: One of the safest bets in sports has been the Steelers in Super Bowls. Pittsburgh is 6-1 all time in the big game, with the only loss coming to the Dallas Cowboys following the 1995 season. (Credit Neil O'Donnell.) Pittsburgh's current group of veterans such as receiver Hines Ward, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, safety Troy Polamalu and linebacker James Farrior are looking to go 3-0 in Super Bowls. Experience definitely favors Pittsburgh and may play a factor in this game.

Taking shots: Steelers receiver Mike Wallace hasn't made many big plays in the postseason, as defenses have been geared to stop him. But Super Bowl XLV could be an opportunity for Wallace to get back to making those game-changing plays. Packers defensive coordinators Dom Capers blitzes often, and that will present chances for Wallace to go over the top of the defense against single coverage. Much has been said about Green Bay's speed advantage indoors. But Wallace will undoubtedly be the fastest player in this game.

The big Legursky: It was questionable if Doug Legursky would make Pittsburgh's roster out of training camp last summer. Now he's replacing Maurkice Pouncey as the Steelers' starting center in the Super Bowl. It has been a wild ride this season for Legursky, who made the team once veteran center and former starter Justin Hartwig was cut. Legursky filled in at various positions this season. He feels center is his best position, and the Steelers hope he's correct when he faces the Packers on the biggest stage.
Terry BradshawAP PhotoWill the current Pittsburgh team join the Steelers of the 1970s as an NFL dynasty?
FORT WORTH, Texas -- In his 50 years of experience with scouting, personnel and eventually media, Gil Brandt has seen all the football dynasties come and go in the NFL.

In Brandt's eyes, this current group of Pittsburgh Steelers can put its name into that elite category with a third championship in six seasons.

"You have to, yes," the former Dallas Cowboys player personnel executive said of considering Pittsburgh a dynasty. "We have some teams that have been in the NFL 45 years and haven't won a Super Bowl."

The Steelers have a lot on the line Sunday in Super Bowl XLV against the Green Bay Packers. Not only is Pittsburgh playing for another Lombardi Trophy, but the franchise can make a strong case to be the NFL's latest dynasty -- a term that applies only to teams winning multiple titles in a concentrated period of time.

Pittsburgh has all the ingredients for sustained success: good coaching, stellar defense, a franchise quarterback and future Hall of Famers. These are many of the same attributes of past dynasties, such as the old Steelers of the 1970s, the San Francisco 49ers of the 1980s, the Cowboys of the 1990s and, most recently, the New England Patriots of the past decade.

So where would Pittsburgh potentially fit?

"I think if we win this [Super Bowl], you have to put this organization down as being one of the dynasties of the 2000s,” said Steelers 13-year receiver Hines Ward. "We know what's at stake. For us, it's another opportunity to win another Super Bowl. We're 2-0 in Super Bowls and we don't want to experience the other side."

What exactly counts as a dynasty in today's NFL, and how much has the definition changed?

Here is some food for thought: Since free agency began in the spring of 1993, only two teams (the Denver Broncos and Patriots) have won back-to-back Super Bowls. The Cowboys' Super Bowl titles bridged the start of modern free agency. They won Super Bowl XXVII to mark the end of the 1992 season. After the era began with Reggie White's departure from the Philadelphia Eagles to join the Packers in April 1993, the Cowboys still managed to win the Lombardi Trophy that season. Although the 49ers claimed the 1994 season's title, Dallas would later cement its dynasty status by winning a third championship in the modern free-agency era during the 1995 season.

The NFL landscape has changed dramatically in the past 15 or so years where players rarely play for one team. That makes it much harder to consistently stay on top.

"I think if you can get three in a decade, those teams are up for dynasties," Steelers safety Ryan Clark said. "So I think if you get three titles in six years, you have to be considered."

Even if Pittsburgh wins Sunday, the biggest knock on the Steelers would be this current group has never won back-to-back Super Bowls. But this is a league where parity rules. Eight different teams have represented the NFC in the Super Bowl in the past eight seasons.

"Back-to-back titles is obviously huge, because that to me is the hardest thing to do," said former tailback and Super Bowl champion Ricky Watters with the Niners. "But to stay up there is hard, too. We see teams that get there and then they’re gone. Then they may get back up there, and they’re gone again. So I think the staying power is important."

The Steelers have never won back-to-back titles the past six seasons, but they also never had a losing season. Including playoffs, Pittsburgh holds a 71-35 record over that span.

"Well, I don’t know if it's necessary because it's really hard to win back-to-back," Brandt explained. "The reason it's hard to win is because the competitive balance in this league is so good."

Now more than ever, the NFL has become a coaching and quarterback league. This is a major reason Pittsburgh has been able to sustain its success.

[+] EnlargeMike Tomlin
Andrew Weber/US PresswireMike Tomlin can win a second championship in just his fourth season as a head coach.
Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger doesn't put up gaudy numbers but is arguably the most clutch quarterback in the NFL. He is 10-2 in the playoffs and has a chance to improve to 3-0 in Super Bowls this Sunday. Earlier this week, the AFC North blog examined whether a third championship cements his status as a future Hall of Famer.

Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin has a chance to win his second Super Bowl in just his fourth season. Tomlin could surpass his predecessor, Bill Cowher, who won one championship in Pittsburgh in 15 seasons.

Both are young for their respective positions. Roethlisberger, 28, and Tomlin, 38, will be stalwarts in Pittsburgh for a long time with a chance to win multiple championships together.

"We have a great relationship. He's a player's coach and I like playing for him," Roethlisberger said this week of Tomlin. "He's one of the reasons we want to win football games. We are blessed to have him as our coach."

The Steelers don't have to look far for motivation. Perhaps the greatest dynasty of all time was the dominant 1970s Pittsburgh teams that won four Super Bowls in a six-season span. That Steeler dynasty also had two back-to-back title runs.

This week several Pittsburgh veterans say they’re trying to live up to that standard. On their way to meetings at Pittsburgh's complex, Steelers players and coaches must walk by their NFL-high six Lombardi Trophies, including those four won by Terry Bradshaw, Jack Lambert, Lynn Swann and Co.

"We have what you can't buy, which is legacy," Tomlin said. "[It's] an unbelievable standard and expectation and all those great things."

No dynasty lasts forever. That is why it's important for this proud, veteran group of Steelers to seize this moment.

There are aging veterans older than 30 such as Ward, James Farrior, Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel going for their third ring, and there are no guarantees any of these Steelers will get another chance to win another Super Bowl.

"We're not worrying about what happens afterwards. It's a whole bigger issue than us after this game,” Ward said of potentially making history. "So is this the last run? Why would it be the last run? We have a huge opportunity to win our third Super Bowl, and we're trying to come down here and make the most of it and see if we can bring our seventh Super Bowl back to Pittsburgh."

When it comes to attaining dynasty status, consider Super Bowl XLV a "swing game" for the Steelers.

Beat the favored Packers at Cowboys Stadium and this Steelers group will forever be in the dynasty discussion. But lose to Green Bay, and that conversation abruptly ends.

PITTSBURGH -- By the end of last Sunday's AFC Championship Game, the Steelers were attempting to punch a ticket to Super Bowl XLV with four offensive linemen who were backups at the beginning of the season.

Trai Essex, Ramon Foster, Jonathan Scott and Doug Legursky all entered training camp without much fanfare or high expectations. But as offensive linemen continued to go down at different points of the season, this foursome was key to leading Pittsburgh to a 24-19 victory over the New York Jets.

On Sunday, the backups joined starting guard Chris Kemoeatu, who stayed healthy virtually from start to finish and started in 17 of Pittsburgh's 18 games, including the postseason. This patchwork group will be key against the Green Bay Packers' tough defense, which ranked No. 5 in the NFL this season.

[+] EnlargeDoug Legursky
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireIf Maurkice Pouncey is unable to play, Doug Legursky (64) will start at center for Pittsburgh.
Blocking Packers defenders such as Clay Matthews and B.J. Raji will not be an easy task. But despite various injuries, the Steelers feel they are up for the challenge.

"I have all the faith in the world in those guys," said Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who has always been supportive of his offensive line. "The last time we were in Tampa [for Super Bowl XLIII] we had a 'makeshift line' and guys filled in. The standard, as coach [Mike Tomlin] says, doesn’t change. Guys know that."

Pittsburgh's MASH unit has battled through injuries well this season. Here is a breakdown:

  • The Steelers suffered their first big loss on the offensive line in the spring when starting right tackle Willie Colon went down with a season-ending Achilles injury while working out. That led to the team signing 13-year veteran Flozell Adams, who will be playing in his first Super Bowl in the home stadium of his former team: the Dallas Cowboys.
  • Pittsburgh starting left tackle Max Starks suffered a season-ending neck injury in Week 9 against the Cincinnati Bengals and was put on injured reserve. He was replaced by Scott at left tackle for the past nine games.
  • And the most recent injury was to Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey, who suffered a high ankle sprain on the opening drive against the Jets. Legursky did a solid job filling in for almost the entire game and helped pave the way for tailback Rashard Mendenhall to rush for 121 yards and a touchdown against New York. Pouncey’s status for the Super Bowl is in question, as players who suffer high ankle sprains typically sit out four to six weeks.

Legursky could play a key role for the Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. Despite being a rookie, Pouncey is Pittsburgh's best offensive lineman. If he cannot play, it would be a big loss in the middle of the offensive line.

Legursky would have the tough assignment blocking Raji, who is becoming one of the NFL's fastest rising stars and is having a breakout run through the playoffs.

"He's a playmaker. You've seen that through the playoffs alone," Legursky said of Raji. “He's a big, old guy, stout there in the middle and we’re going to have our hands full."

If Legursky doesn't start, he will remain one of the first subs off the bench. As Pittsburgh's most versatile lineman, Legursky has the ability to play center, guard, tackle and has played tight end this season in goal-line situations.

Legursky's blue-collar work ethic earned him a spot with the Steelers. Already cut once by Pittsburgh, Legursky entered training camp as a long shot behind Pouncey, a first-round draft pick, and last year's starter, Justin Hartwig.

But Pouncey's rapid development made Hartwig expendable and he was released, while Pittsburgh preferred Legursky's ability to play various positions. The AFC North blog asked Legursky this week if someone told him a few months ago he could start in a Super Bowl, what would be his reaction?

"I would have said you were crazy," Legursky responded.

Legursky isn't the only versatile player. Both Essex and Foster have the capability of playing both guard and tackle positions. Pouncey, when healthy, is a Pro Bowl center but also is a very good guard, as well. There have been times this season, due to injury, where players have been shifted around during games and it's hard to keep up with who's playing where.

"Looking at this group, to see what they've done with the multitude of positions and guys' versatility, I think it's one of the deepest in the NFL," said Starks, who will watch his teammates from the sideline this year.

Offensive skill players such as Roethlisberger, Mendenhall and receivers Mike Wallace and Hines Ward will get most of the acclaim leading up to the game. But the play of a versatile and battle-tested offensive line helped get Pittsburgh this far, and the Steelers need another solid effort for this group in Arlington, Texas, to win an NFL-best seventh Super Bowl title.

Flozell Adams: 'I'm a Steeler'

January, 26, 2011
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PITTSBURGH -- Offensive tackle Flozell Adams spent the majority of his career with the Dallas Cowboys. But that was the last team he cared to talk about on Wednesday.

"I'm a Steeler," Adams said, dodging any questions in the locker room about Dallas. "So that's how we roll."

[+] EnlargeAdams
Icon SMIFlozell Adams will be returning to Cowboys Stadium, but this time with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
After a dozen years with the Cowboys, Adams will return to the place where it all started. This time Adams will be the starting right tackle for the AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers, who will play the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium.

It's yet another twist of irony between the Steelers and Cowboys, who are two of the NFL's winningest franchises, combining for 11 Super Bowl championships. Adams never had the chance to win a title with the Cowboys. But he gets his first shot at a ring on the Cowboys' home turf in his first season with the Steelers (14-4).

"It would mean just as much, if not more, for me to win it for Flozell," Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said. "To go back to Dallas and he's never had a chance to go to a Super Bowl. To get to play in one, and it's in Dallas, I want to win one for him as much as I do myself."

Adams, 35, was released by the Cowboys this past offseason. Pittsburgh signed him as a replacement for the injured Willie Colon, who tore his Achilles and was out for the season.

Adams had to switch from left tackle to right tackle with the Steelers but got better as the season went on. His run blocking, in particular, has been solid. Adams helped pave the way for tailback Rashard Mendenhall (1,273 yards, 13 touchdowns) to have a career season.

"It was a challenge," Adams said of the position switch. "I had some trouble adjusting with it and learning the scheme in the beginning. But I just stuck with it."

Less than a year after being released, the sight of Adams potentially holding up the Lombardi Trophy at Cowboys Stadium may not sit well with many Dallas fans. But don't ask Adams to reflect on his days as a Cowboy. He's not interested in talking about his former organization this week.

"It's been a while; I don't remember," Adams said, laughing. "I'm just talking about the Steelers and what we're doing for this Super Bowl right now, that's all."
No NFL team has a more accomplished resume in Super Bowls than the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Here are some interesting playoff and Super Bowl notes, courtesy of the Steelers:
  • Pittsburgh will play in its eighth Super Bowl on Feb. 6 against the Green Bay Packers. Pittsburgh is tied with the Dallas Cowboys (eight) for the most appearances but own one more Super Bowl win than the Cowboys (five).
  • The Steelers are tied with the Cowboys for the most all-time postseason victories with 33.
  • Pittsburgh's 20 home playoff victories is the most in NFL history. The Steelers' win over the New York Jets last weekend surpassed Dallas (19) and the Oakland Raiders (19).
  • The Steelers are 5-1 in the postseason under head coach Mike Tomlin.
  • Tomlin joins Hall of Famer Joe Gibbs as the only head coaches to reach two Super Bowls in their first four seasons.
  • Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is 10-2 in the playoffs and 2-0 in Super Bowls.

Seven-step drop: Underdog Steelers?

January, 24, 2011
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Here are seven notes and observations in the AFC North:

  • Early projections have the Green Bay Packers favored by approximately a field goal over the Pittsburgh Steelers in Super Bowl XLV. Expect this to be motivation over the next two weeks for Pittsburgh, which traditionally thrives in the underdog role. I'm a little surprised Pittsburgh will head to Arlington, Texas, as the underdog despite being No. 2 seed. The Packers are playing well as a No. 6 seed, but I think these are two evenly-matched teams. Pittsburgh (14-4) also has been more consistent than Green Bay (13-6) over the course of the season.
  • [+] EnlargePittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau
    Jason Bridge/US PresswirePittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau isn't under contract next season, fueling retirement rumors.
  • On Sunday ESPN's Chris Mortensen and Adam Schefter reported Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's contract expires after the season. This may present a scenario where the Hall of Famer coaches his last game in the Super Bowl. LeBeau, 73, said three seasons ago after turning 70 that he's coaching on a year-to-year basis. There was speculation he could retire after Pittsburgh's previous Super Bowl win following the 2008 season. That likely will start up again next week in Arlington. Expect this call to be totally up to LeBeau, who has been the NFL's top defensive coordinator for a long time and may take some time in the offseason to make his decision. LeBeau loves coaching his current group, and Pittsburgh will re-sign him to an extension in a heartbeat if LeBeau wants to continue coaching. Also, don't believe the hype linking LeBeau to Arizona. That's a pipe dream, at best.
  • Here is an interesting note: The Dallas Morning News reports Cowboys legend Roger Staubach will present the Lombardi Trophy to the winning team following Super Bowl XLV. It's well-documented that the Hall of Fame quarterback had heated rivalries with Pittsburgh in the 1970s, including two Super Bowl losses in '76 and '79. It's already gut-wrenching enough that Pittsburgh, which owns one more Super Bowl title (six) than Dallas (five), can extend that lead on the Cowboys' home turf with a win over the Packers. But for Staubach to potentially hand over another championship to a team he loathed in his playing days would make for another awkward moment for the Cowboys organization.
  • In non-Super Bowl news, quarterback Carson Palmer made big headlines by requesting a trade from the Cincinnati Bengals. Team owner Mike Brown responded by saying he's not going to trade Palmer, which creates an interesting offseason standoff. But you also have to wonder how badly things really are behind the scenes in Cincinnati if Palmer wants out. Palmer is one of the nicest, most honest and optimistic players I've been around in seven seasons covering the NFL. Even when the Bengals have awful years, Palmer is the one player who remains positive that things will get better. But every player has a breaking point and it appears Palmer, 31, has reached his. Cincinnati has yet to make any significant changes that were thought to be in the works after a 4-12 season, and you wonder if Palmer sees where things are heading.
  • But ... let's say Bengals ownership caves in to Palmer's demands. Let's look ahead to what type of trade value Palmer would have on the open market. For starters, he’s not the same Pro Bowl quarterback he once was, but Palmer remains a better option than a lot of players. The contract could be an issue, as Palmer is slated to be one of the NFL's highest-paid players at $11.5 million next season. I also think it hurts Cincinnati's leverage that it’s now public that Palmer is unhappy and wants out. All things considered, I think the Bengals may be able land a second-round pick and perhaps another late-round pick for Palmer.
  • The Cleveland Browns are still suffering for their poor draft in 2009. That's one key reason the team remains in rebuilding mode. Last week I talked to an NFL scout about Cleveland's three second-round picks. The scout said they had a late-round grade on linebacker David Veikune, who was released by the Browns this season, and Brian Robiskie was described as a receiver who can't separate and has a low ceiling. The scout did believe Mohamed Massaquoi could be productive in the right situation and the right system. But Cleveland's lack of offensive identity isn't helping Massaquoi develop.
  • The Baltimore Ravens' quick work to get kicker Billy Cundiff signed to a five-year extension is a good sign. The Ravens have several big free agents, including defensive lineman Haloti Ngata and punter Sam Koch, and they aren't waiting for a new collective bargaining agreement to get started. Cundiff's contract as a kicker was easier than most. So don't expect a much larger deal like Ngata's to be completed any time soon. But the Ravens potentially could get some lesser free agents signed in the next few weeks.

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