NFL Nation: Flozell Adams

Cowboys done with OL rebuild

May, 14, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Pam Martin asked her son to do some research on the Dallas Cowboys' offensive line, so the team’s first-round pick dutifully did what his mother told him.

Zack Martin quickly realized he was older than Tyron Smith and Travis Frederick, the other two first-round picks Martin will join on the line in 2014. Smith, the 2011 first rounder, was born Dec. 12, 1990. Frederick, the 2013 first rounder, was born march 18, 1991.

Martin was born Nov. 20, 1990.

[+] EnlargeZack Martin
Joe Camporeale/USA TODAY SportsNotre Dame's Zack Martin is the latest first-round pick Dallas has added to its young offensive line.
“That’s a little weird,” Martin said.

Weird and potentially terrific for the Cowboys. Before Smith, Jerry Jones never used a first-round pick on an offensive lineman. Tom Landry, Tex Schramm and Gil Brandt also kept their distance from the offensive line. Before Smith, Howard Richards was the most recent first-round offensive lineman, coming in 1981 with the 26th overall pick.

Now the Cowboys are like the San Francisco 49ers with three first-round starters on the offensive line. In 2007, the Niners took Joe Staley. In 2010, they added Mike Iupati and Anthony Davis.

“We believe games in the National Football League are won up front,” coach Jason Garrett said. “If you look at the best teams in the league now and for a lot of years, they are able to control the line of scrimmage on the offensive side of the ball. We did that for years here when we won championships here in the ‘90s. You need to build the infrastructure of your team.”

San Francisco went 6-10 in 2010, but has gone 36-11-1 in the past three seasons. They have played in three straight NFC Championship Games, making it to the Super Bowl in 2012.

“We’ve been pretty lucky getting (Andre) Gurode, getting the Flozell Adamses and Larry Allens (in the second round), but those days are over apparently,” Jones said. “So we want to get some of that quality in the future offensive line. These guys are long-term players that are good, and all of that is about franchise.”

The Cowboys have an offensive line that can grow together.

Smith made his first Pro Bowl last season and is the best young tackle in the NFL. Frederick started every game as a rookie and cemented the interior of the Cowboys’ line. Martin will be a Day 1 starter and was considered the safest pick in the draft.

Right tackle Doug Free is the oldest up front and is just 30. Ronald Leary recently turned 25. Mackenzy Bernadeau, who could still compete for a starting job, is just 28.

Having Smith, Frederick and Martin grow together should make everyone associated with the Cowboys’ offense happier, from Garrett to passing game coordinator Scott Linehan to assistant head coach Bill Callahan to quarterback Tony Romo and running back DeMarco Murray.

The selection of Martin ends the rebuilding of an offensive line that started in 2011 when the Cowboys parted ways with Gurode, Leonard Davis and Marc Colombo. A year later they said goodbye to Kyle Kosier.

It took time.

In 2011, the Cowboys started a seventh-round pick, Bill Nagy, at left guard and a second-year undrafted center in Phil Costa. When Nagy got hurt, they looked to journeymen Montrae Holland and Derrick Dockery.

Smith played as a rookie at right tackle and needed 2012 to be seasoned as a left tackle. Nate Livings was signed as a free agent in 2012, but injuries led the team away from him last season. Bernadeau’s play improved last year after he re-took the right guard spot following Brian Waters' season-ending triceps’ injury.

“We are going to be a better offensive line, a better offense, and we will probably play better defense the better we play on the offensive line,” Garrett said. “We will be able to run the ball better and control the football a little more.”
IRVING, Texas -- Last April, the Cowboys traded down in the first round and selected center Travis Frederick.

He took over the starting job in his rookie season and gave the Cowboys confidence that he will maintain in that spot for several seasons.

Martin
On Thursday night, the Cowboys made not only what was a considered a safe pick, but drafted someone whom Jason Garrett called, "a damn good football player" in tackle/guard Zack Martin.

So now Martin will compete at one of the two interior offensive line positions and try to do what Frederick did: earn a starting job.

"I'm looking to come in here and compete and I want to come in there and compete from day one," Martin said. "So obviously, I want to come in there and be on the field and help the team win, so yeah, that's my goal."

It's a realistic goal for Martin because the Cowboys need youth and talented players for the offensive line.

Garrett said Martin brings a versatility to the offensive line where he can play all five positions but in 2014 he will be asked to play guard. Garrett didn't say which guard spot Martin will play. It's assumed he can pair up with Doug Free on the right side. Martin played left tackle in college, but in the pros learning from a veteran such as Free could be important to his development.

"He played inside at the Senior Bowl," Garrett said of Martin. "He did a very good job there. People believe he can play center. A lot of people argue he can play all five spots on the offensive line, so initially we're giving him the chance to work inside as an offensive guard and see how he holds up there. Very favorable from the Senior Bowl in working inside. He does have position flex, a lot of experience playing outside and we can see he can play across the board on the offensive line."

This team is trying to get younger along the offensive line and expects draft picks to contribute quickly.

It's not depending on finding gems such as Andre Gurode (second round, 2002) or Flozell Adams (second round, 1998) in the draft to emerge into starters.

Finding solid players in free agency such as Leonard Davis and Kyle Kosier is not guaranteed every season.

So now the Cowboys are hoping draft picks such as Tyron Smith (first-rounder in 2011), Frederick and now Martin will be strong players to protect a 34-year-old quarterback in Tony Romo.

"One of my biggest strengths, I think, is my versatility," Martin said. "Like I told them, I am willing to play anything they need me to do to help the team."

Tyron Smith will cash in big time

February, 26, 2014
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IRVING, Texas -- Jason Peters already had the highest average-per-year salary for left tackles before signing a four-year extension with the Philadelphia Eagles on Wednesday.

Smith
Entering the final year of his deal, Peters will now earn $51.3 million over the next five years with $19.55 million guaranteed, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter.

What does it mean for Dallas Cowboys left tackle Tyron Smith?

Not as much as you would think, in my opinion.

Smith's deal should be much bigger than this whenever the Cowboys decide to sign their Pro Bowl left tackle to an extension. The Cowboys hold a fifth-year option on Smith's contract, which they must exercise by this spring.

The option is new to the collective bargaining agreement and will bring a whole slew of questions for teams and agents as they attempt to work out new deals.

The contract that Smith might be closer to matching is the seven-year, $84 million deal Joe Thomas received from the Cleveland Browns in 2011. That deal included $44 million in guaranteed money. Thomas, who many consider the best tackle in football, was 26 when he signed.

Smith does not turn 24 until Dec. 12. He is coming off his first Pro Bowl appearance. He had his best season. He has fully acclimated to the left tackle spot after playing right tackle as a rookie in 2011. It is rare to find a player of Smith's age and ability who is closing in on free agency. He was 20 when the Cowboys picked him ninth overall.

Smith could be so good that he cashes in twice. Peters is 32 and received an extension that averages $10.26 million. Depending on the length of the deal Smith signs with the Cowboys, he could receive a second bite at the free-agent apple in his early 30s. Tackles can play well into their 30s. Flozell Adams was making Pro Bowls in his 30s while with the Cowboys.

Upon further review: Steelers

September, 26, 2011
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Revisiting the Pittsburgh Steelers' 23-20 win at the Indianapolis Colts:

The Steelers' struggling offensive line is beginning to break down just three weeks into the season.

Three starters -- left tackle Jonathan Scott, right guard Doug Legursky and right tackle Marcus Gilbert -- left the game with injuries, and their availability is uncertain for Sunday's game at Houston. The injury to Scott, who was beaten repeatedly by Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney, looks to be the most serious.

Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin didn't provide an update after the game and wouldn't specify the injury to Scott. "I don't know what it is," he said. "I am not going to speculate."

It appeared as if Scott sprained his ankle. Gilbert hurt his shoulder, and Legursky separated his shoulder. Because the Steelers only suited up seven offensive linemen, Gilbert had to return to the game when Scott had to be helped off the field.

If Gilbert and Legursky are sidelined, the Steelers would start Ramon Foster at right guard and Trai Essex at right tackle.

To address left tackle, the Steelers might have to reach out to Flozell Adams or Max Starks, both of whom were released by the team at the end of July. Adams, a left tackle who switched to the right side for Pittsburgh last season, would seem to be the preferable option to the team because the Steelers have remained in contact with him.

STAT THAT STICKS: 27 -- Game-winning drives in the fourth quarter that Ben Roethlisberger has delivered (which includes playoffs) in eight NFL seasons.

OVERHEARD: "We walked out of here with a win. Did we play well? No, we know we didn't play well. Do we got to get better? Yes, and we will get better." Steelers wide receiver Hines Ward on the tougher-than-expected win at Indianapolis.

LOOKING AHEAD: The Steelers (2-1) play at the Texans (2-1), who are coming off their first loss of the season (a 40-33 defeat at New Orleans).
LATROBE, Pa. -- Distractions and controversy? What distractions and controversy?

The opening of training camp was business as usual for the reigning AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers. Despite offseason incidents that ranged from Hines Ward's arrest to Rashard Mendenhall's misuse of Twitter to James Harrison ripping commissioner Roger Goodell and teammates, players quickly deflected any issues and seemed genuinely happy to get back to work.

The Steelers believe their off-the-field problems are a thing of the past, and the team is ready to move forward and attempt to make another title run in 2011.

"Any time we come to training camp, our goal is the Super Bowl," Ward said. "Anything less than the Super Bowl is a down year for us. Having experienced and tasted a loss in the Super Bowl is not a good feeling. So, hopefully we can get back there and come out on the winning side."

The Steelers have a lot of work to do before the start of the regular season. Here are some early questions:

THREE HOT ISSUES

1. How will the Steelers get under the cap?

According to the new collective bargaining agreement, the Steelers have until Thursday to get under the $120 million salary cap. Despite a flurry of roster moves last week, Pittsburgh remains about $7 million to $10 million over, which is where the team started this summer.

The Steelers made several key salary cuts, including veteran receiver Antwaan Randle El and offensive tackles Max Starks and Flozell Adams. But the re-signings of in-house free agents such as cornerback Ike Taylor have basically nullified those moves.

Expect more tough decisions to be made this week.

"We have to find ways to get under [the cap] and in compliance," Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert said. "We're going to look at every and all possibilities."

There is some good news for the Steelers.

The new CBA allows teams to use three $1 million exceptions in 2011, and Colbert says he will use them all. Teams have this onetime flexibility to add an extra $3 million to the cap, which essentially brings the Steelers' number up to $123 million. This could allow Pittsburgh to retain some veterans it otherwise would lose.

[+] EnlargeIke Taylor
Jared Wickerham/Getty ImagesIke Taylor has 11 interceptions in eight NFL seasons.
2. Has Pittsburgh fixed its pass defense?

The last memory Steelers fans have of their defense is Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers carving up the secondary for 304 yards and three touchdowns in Super Bowl XLV. Since then, Pittsburgh hasn't made any significant additions to the secondary, leaving many to wonder whether this problem is fixed.

Because Pittsburgh is fielding the same players in the secondary, it's difficult to imagine the pass defense being better than it was last season. The Steelers re-signed veteran corners Taylor and William Gay and drafted rookies Curtis Brown and Cortez Allen.

"You can't worry about what people think outside the locker room, because we've been so successful on the field," Taylor said of the criticism. "So it really doesn’t matter. Everybody has their own opinion. It comes with the territory."

Expect many teams to spread the Steelers out this season by using three- and four-receiver sets. That will force backups such as Gay or some of the young corners to play important roles on the defense.

3. How thin is Pittsburgh's offensive line?

Pittsburgh's offensive line could be the thinnest group in the league.

Outside of second-year center Maurkice Pouncey, who is a stud, the rest of the line is littered with questions. Jonathan Scott plays the important role of left tackle and was inconsistent last year. Guards Ramon Foster and Chris Kemoeatu are decent run-blockers but struggle in pass protection. And right tackle Willie Colon is coming off an Achilles injury that forced him to miss the entire 2010 season.

Cutting Starks and Adams severely hurt the talent and depth of this group. Those were two of the most experienced linemen Pittsburgh had. Cap issues make it unlikely the team will sign another starting offensive lineman in free agency.

"You can't go into it and expect to have veteran depth at every position," Colbert admitted. "It just doesn't work out financially. You have to trust some of your young guys."

[+] EnlargeMaurkice Pouncey
Geoff Burke/Getty ImagesMaurkice Pouncey is the rock of the Pittsburgh offensive line.
BIGGEST SURPRISE

It's only the first weekend of camp, but backup cornerback Keenan Lewis has been a pleasant surprise. Lewis is gaining valuable experience working with the first-team defense. Taylor signed a four-year contract in free agency and isn't allowed to practice with the team until later this week.

Despite a rocky two years in Pittsburgh, Lewis is a good athlete. He has good size and quickness and is making fewer mental mistakes, which is key. The competition for the important nickel role in the secondary will be intense this summer, and Lewis could have the inside track.

BIGGEST DISAPPOINTMENT

With the lengthy NFL lockout, someone was bound to show up out of shape. Backup running back Jonathan Dwyer was that person for the Steelers.

I expected to see more from Dwyer, a sixth-round pick in 2009. But he struggled mightily during the conditioning evaluations and hasn't done much in the practices. The Steelers' running back corps is deep, and Dwyer is definitely on the roster bubble.

OBSERVATION DECK

  • I like the swagger this year of Pittsburgh's "Young Money" crew of receivers. Last year, Mike Wallace was going into his first year as a starter, and Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown were rookies just trying to fit in. But you can see that last year's success, particularly in the second half of the season and the playoffs, has helped this group and improved confidence. Instead of getting yelled at by Ward, Wallace is on top of everything so far in practice and is even helping Ward tutor other receivers. Sanders and Brown look much more comfortable in their roles and are displaying the same quickness and competitiveness they showed last year.
  • Pouncey already looks scary-good in his second season. In my seven years covering the NFL, I've never seen a center who moves as well and fluidly as Pouncey. Last week, longtime NFL writer Damon Hack of Sports Illustrated and I were sitting next to each other watching Pittsburgh's conditioning evaluation. We were amazed with how easily Pouncey, who is listed at 304 pounds, was running 100-yard sprints, while the rest of the linemen were lagging far behind. Pound for pound, Pouncey is easily one of the top athletes on the Steelers.
  • Linebacker Lawrence Timmons appears to have added considerable muscle in his upper body. Timmons, who is in a contract year, said he trained mostly in Florida this summer. Timmons also is one of the best pure athletes on the team. The key will be for him to maintain his quickness and acceleration while also adding strength.
  • The fact that the Steelers tried hard to recruit big receiver Plaxico Burress says a lot about the status of Limas Sweed. The former second-round pick enters this training camp on thin ice and is down to his last shot. Sweed is coming off a season-ending Achilles injury and had issues with drops before that. Pittsburgh is taking the approach that anything it gets from Sweed is considered a bonus. He is currently the No. 5 receiver.
  • Keep an eye on rookie seventh-round pick Baron Batch. The running back has showed good explosiveness through the hole and the ability to pass-protect, which is very valuable. He has been a pleasant surprise in camp so far.
  • Overall, Pittsburgh's situation at running back is getting crowded. Mendenhall, Isaac Redman and Batch were all impressive during the first weekend of training camp. The Steelers also re-signed veteran backup Mewelde Moore. There were rumors about Tiki Barber being interested in the Steelers, but I don't see it. Pittsburgh has considerable depth at that position.
  • Finally, another sleeper who is actually having a good camp is backup tight end and de facto fullback David Johnson. What the third-year veteran lacks in athleticism he makes up in effort. Although not his specialty, he's made several nice receptions in practice and remains one of the best run-blockers on the team. The Steelers are still in the market for a No. 2 tight end after the departure of Matt Spaeth to the Chicago Bears.
Business has been harsh to the reigning AFC champion Pittsburgh Steelers, who began the week about $10 million over the cap. The latest cap casualty is offensive tackle Flozell Adams, who reportedly refused to take a pay cut from his $5 million salary.

Adams
Pittsburgh needed cap relief and was expected to release or renegotiate with Adams, who signed a two-year deal last season. Adams played admirably last year and became a locker-room favorite. The Steelers even made it a point during Super Bowl week in Dallas to "win one for Flozell," who played most of his career with the Cowboys.

But the team simply couldn't afford the 36-year-old at his current salary. Now the Steelers have gaping holes on the offensive line.

The signing of Willie Colon should help. He could play one of the tackle spots. But spots for the other tackle and for one guard are wide open in Pittsburgh. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin dodged questions Thursday about which linemen would suit up with the first team in training camp.

Pittsburgh will hold its first practice of camp this afternoon, and we will have more of an indication of what the offensive line will look like. But right now, it's a thin unit.

How the Packers minimized a mismatch

February, 14, 2011
2/14/11
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Anyone catch the "Sound FX" segment featuring Super Bowl XLV, currently airing on the NFL Network? Using microphones embedded around the field at Cowboys Stadium, the piece provided -- among other things -- some interesting insight into one of our pregame XLV posts.

As you might recall, we discussed the possible mismatch when the Pittsburgh Steelers ran behind right tackle Flozell Adams. From that post:
According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Steelers averaged 5.9 yards per carry during the regular season when they ran behind right tackle Flozell Adams, the second-highest total in the NFL. And for reasons that will be hard to pinpoint, the Packers' otherwise strong run defense allowed 5.2 yards per carry in that same direction during the season. That number placed them No. 26 overall among NFL teams in that category.

It wasn't entirely clear why the Packers' defense was weak in that direction, but "Sound FX" made clear the Steelers' assessment. At one point, running backs coach Kirby Wilson points to linebacker Clay Matthews' position on a grease board. Wilson tells backup running back Isaac Redman that the Steelers would target Matthews for the entire game.

[+] EnlargeClay Matthews and Rashard Mendenhall
AP Photo/Kathy WillensRashard Mendenhall fumbled on his last carry of Super Bowl XLV.
"He doesn't want to take on the run," Wilson said. "He's a pass-rush specialist. He wants to pass rush Mike Vick. He wants to pass rush Matthew Stafford. ... We're going to keep pounding and make this guy quit."

We then see Matthews manning the right side of the Steelers offense, recognizing a formation that suggests the Steelers were planning to run in his direction.

"Watch the power! Watch the power!" Matthews says.

At the snap, Steelers guard Chris Kemoeatu pulls toward Matthews and flattens him. Running back Rashard Mendenhall scoots by on his way to a 19-yard run.

Next, Matthews is on the bench shaking his head about the play, noting that he recognized what was coming but lamenting that Kemoeatu is " just a big boy."

Kemoeatu is listed at 344 pounds, or 89 pounds more than Matthews.

Mendenhall finished the game with 14 carries. He gained 66 yards on runs that went to the right of center, based on a review of the official play-by-play. Mendenhall ran twice to the left, netting zero yards, and lost three yards on his only run up the middle.

It's not uncommon for power offenses to run toward elite pass-rushers, hoping either to guide them around the hole or capitalize on weight mismatches. Ultimately, the Packers minimized this mismatch in two ways.

First, their early 14-0 lead limited the Steelers' opportunities to run. Second, Matthews forced Mendenhall to fumble on the first play of the fourth quarter to end a Steelers' drive at the Packers' 33-yard line. Turnovers are the great equalizer, and this one recaptured momentum for the Packers. Instead of potentially giving up a 21-17 lead, their offense capitalized with an 8-yard touchdown pass to receiver Greg Jennings to give the Packers an 11-point lead.

The play was Mendenhall's last carry of the game.

What's next for the Steelers?

February, 12, 2011
2/12/11
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SteelersNelson Chenault/US PresswirePittsburgh will need to improve its secondary and offensive line if it wants another shot at the title.
As the confetti fell at the conclusion of Super Bowl XLV at Cowboys Stadium, a look of despair and disappointment immediately came over the faces of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

The newly crowned Green Bay Packers were in full celebration mode, while Pittsburgh felt the sting of falling short of its seventh championship.

History weighs heavily against the Steelers -- seven of the past 10 Super Bowl runners-up have failed to make the playoffs the next year.

How do the Steelers avoid becoming another statistic? It will take some smart moves and solid upgrades in the offseason.

"Our goal is to try to get into [the Super Bowl] again, and just don't be on this side again," Steelers receiver Mike Wallace said. "Just get back in the lab and work harder. That's all."

Here is a preview of what's next for the Steelers:

Where are Pittsburgh’s biggest needs?

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
Al Bello/Getty ImagesAaron Rodgers took advantage of Pittsburgh's secondary -- completing 24-of-39 for 304 yards and a 111.5 passer rating.
Coming off a Super Bowl appearance, the Steelers are in better shape than most teams. But they are by no means perfect.

Three losses this season -- to the Packers, New England Patriots and New Orleans Saints -- have provided a blueprint of how to beat the Steelers. It takes a top-flight quarterback and a precise, short and intermediate passing game to put enough points on the board against Pittsburgh's vaunted No. 2 ranked defense.

Forcing the Steelers' offense to play from behind makes the team one-dimensional and susceptible to the pass rush. Pittsburgh's offensive line is one of the weakest areas of the team. Those three losses to Green Bay, New England and New Orleans all played out in similar fashion.

To counter these tough matchups, the Steelers need to improve their roster in several areas.

Pittsburgh's two biggest needs are at cornerback and offensive line. Upgrades to both positions would help the Steelers combat opponents like New England and Green Bay. The Packers and quarterback Aaron Rodgers (304 yards, three touchdowns) beat Pittsburgh's defense by running a lot of three- and four-receiver sets, which exposed the Steelers' lack of depth in the secondary.

Pittsburgh starting cornerback Ike Taylor is solid, but he will be an unrestricted free agent (we will get to that later). After Taylor there is a dropoff to Bryant McFadden and backups William Gay and Anthony Madison. High-powered passing offenses will continue to give Pittsburgh fits unless it addresses this issue. I wouldn't be surprised if the Steelers draft a cornerback in the first two rounds.

The Steelers need to improve at guard and tackle on the offensive line. Starting left tackle Max Starks is solid and returning from a season-ending neck injury. He will replace the inconsistent Jonathan Scott. Right tackle Flozell Adams, 35, is under contract for one more year with Pittsburgh and is uncertain about his future. Guard Chris Kemoeatu and center Maurkice Pouncey are set, but the Steelers could use another starting-caliber guard.

The Steelers traditionally are not big players in free agency, so don't expect a lot of turnover. Most of their needs will be addressed in April's NFL draft.

"I think we still have a core group of players that we can build around and hopefully make another run at it," Steelers president Art Rooney II said after the Super Bowl loss. "I don't think we'll be sitting there saying we're going to make a lot of changes. We'll prepare for the draft and add some players here and there, and be ready to go."

Who are the Steelers' key free agents?

[+] EnlargeLaMarr Woodley
Andrew Weber/US PresswireRetaining LaMarr Woodley is one of Pittsburgh's top priorities.
Where Pittsburgh does spend its money is retaining its key free agents. The Steelers have two big ones this year in Taylor and outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley.

Pittsburgh has every intention of retaining Woodley, who was one of the NFL's best bargains after making just $550,000 in the final year of his rookie contract. Including playoffs, Woodley recorded 60 tackles, 13 sacks, two interceptions and got stronger as the season went on.

The Steelers are expected to use their franchise tag on Woodley, 26, while trying to negotiate a long-term deal. The deadline to tag Woodley is Feb. 24. But it will be challenging for Pittsburgh to work out a large extension until a new collective bargaining agreement is reached. Under the current CBA, the 30-percent rule is a major holdup in working out an extension with Woodley, who is a former second-round pick.

Taylor's situation is more fluid. The unrestricted free agent will be 31 in May and has spent his entire career with Pittsburgh. Returning will be Taylor's first preference, but he will certainly garner interest from other teams. Pittsburgh has to determine what is the right price to try to keep its No. 1 cornerback.

Other free agents of note for Pittsburgh include backup quarterback Dennis Dixon, tailback Mewelde Moore, kicker Shaun Suisham and offensive linemen Willie Colon and Trai Essex.

Can Pittsburgh remain a contender?

As we mentioned earlier, history is not kind to Super Bowl runners-up. Pittsburgh also will have to overcome its own negative history The last two times the current Steelers made the Super Bowl -- both victories -- they missed the playoffs in the following seasons, 2006 and 2009.

The Steelers are usually at their best as underdogs. That was the case this season; most experts wrote off Pittsburgh because of franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's four-game suspension at the beginning of the season. But the Steelers showed they could overcome setbacks and made it to Super Bowl XLV.

Expectations will be high for Pittsburgh next season, because a lot of talent and veteran leadership remain. But is it enough to get to Super Bowl XVLI in Indianapolis?

"I love this group; I think it is a heck of a group," said Steelers linebacker and captain James Farrior. "There is a lot more football left in us. We just have to stay together. Hopefully, everything works out in the offseason and we get back here next season."

Steelers-Packers halftime notes

February, 6, 2011
2/06/11
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ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Green Bay Packers lead the Pittsburgh Steelers 21-10 at intermission of Super Bowl XLV.

Here are some notes at halftime:
  • Pittsburgh's passing game, for the most part, looks out of sync. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger got hot late but for most of the first half he missed throws he usually makes. He underthrew a pass that was intercepted by Packers safety Nick Collins and returned for a touchdown in the first quarter. Green Bay's Jarrett Bush also jumped a route for a second interception. Roethlisberger threw for 143 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions in the first half
  • The Packers have done a good job of attacking Pittsburgh's second and third cornerbacks. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers is testing Pittsburgh's Bryant McFadden and William Gay and is finding success. Green Bay's first touchdown pass was a 29-yard strike to Jordy Nelson over Gay.
  • Pittsburgh struggled with injuries and penalties in the first half. Offensive tackle Flozell Adams (shoulder) and McFadden both suffered injuries but returned. Receiver Emmanuel Sanders also was hurt in the second quarter. The Steelers also committed four penalties that negated several good plays.
  • This might be the biggest test all season for Pittsburgh. This is the second biggest deficit for the Steelers in the postseason. The Baltimore Ravens led 21-7 at intermission in the divisional round.
ARLINGTON, Texas -- The Pittsburgh Steelers are one of the NFL's most-experienced teams. That is a major reason they are participating in Super Bowl XLV Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.

But here is a breakdown of several key Steelers who will see their first action on the NFL's biggest stage:

WRs Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown

Analysis: Known in Pittsburgh as the "Young Money Crew," Wallace, Sanders and Brown have stepped up huge for the Steelers. Wallace is an elite deep threat and has carried the Steelers' passing game this year. Sanders has come on as a legit No. 3 receiver, while Brown has made his mark in the playoffs with back-to-back big catches to end games. This trio needs to step up for Pittsburgh to win its seventh championship.

RBs Rashard Mendenhall and Isaac Redman

Analysis: Both running backs are playing in their first Super Bowl but under different circumstances. Mendenhall was on the roster in 2008 but broke his shoulder as a rookie early and missed the playoff run. Now Mendenhall is playing well in his first postseason. Redman has earned his way on the active roster this season after impressing the coaching staff while on the practice squad.

C Doug Legursky

Analysis: It was questionable if Legursky would make the team out of training camp. Now the backup center is starting in the biggest game of the season. Pro Bowl center Maurkice Pouncey suffered a high ankle sprain in the AFC title game against the New York Jets. Legursky filled in admirably for more than three quarters and also had two full weeks to prepare.

DE Ziggy Hood

Analysis: Hood is another injury replacement. He filled in for Aaron Smith (triceps) most of this season and played well. Pittsburgh still led the NFL in run defense and the Steelers finished second in total defense, despite Smith's injury. Hood also is playing his best football in the playoffs.

OT Flozell Adams

Analysis: Although one of Pittsburgh's oldest players, Adams, 35, has zero Super Bowl experience as a longtime member of the Dallas Cowboys. The Steelers have taken the approach all week to "win one for Flozell." Not only does Adams have a chance to win his first ring, but he can do it in the same city he played most of his career.

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.

XLV: Packers won't face Pouncey

February, 4, 2011
2/04/11
4:13
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FORT WORTH, Texas -- The most significant injury story of Super Bowl XLV has reached its expected conclusion: The Pittsburgh Steelers have ruled out center Maurkice Pouncey from the game. Backup Doug Legursky will make his fifth NFL start -- but first at center -- on Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.

Pouncey
Pouncey
(Peter King of Sports Illustrated, the Pro Football Writers Association pool reporter this week for the Steelers, reports the Steelers have also ruled out defensive end Aaron Smith as well.)

There never seemed much doubt about Pouncey's status, but the Steelers delayed their final decision until Pouncey missed his third consecutive practice Friday. Legursky will be left to face Packers nose tackle B.J. Raji, a seeming mismatch, but our friends at Football Outsiders wrote extensively this week about other ways the Packers might attack the situation. Make special note of linebacker Clay Matthews' potential for a delayed blitz between the center and right guard.

"We're preparing for their offense," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Friday. "I don't think their protection schemes or their run concepts are going to change very much based on who's playing center, because Ben Roethlisberger is going to make that offense go. It will not change our approach defensively based on who's playing center."

Earlier this week, we discussed the likelihood that the Pouncey-Legursky discussion would overshadow another potential mismatch that could prove more important to the outcome of the game. Feel free to revisit our discussion on the Steelers' effectiveness when they run behind right tackle Flozell Adams.

Draft hindsight: Big Ben and beyond

January, 31, 2011
1/31/11
5:21
PM ET
SteelersUS PresswirePittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, Hines Ward and LaMarr Woodley are all playing in Super Bowl XLV, but could they have ended up in the NFC West coming out of college?
FORT WORTH, Texas -- The Pittsburgh Steelers appeared loose and comfortable during their first Super Bowl 45 media session.

They've been in big games before, and frequently, thanks largely to shrewd drafting.

This is the Steelers' third Super Bowl appearance in the last six seasons.

The team made available James Farrior, Flozell Adams, Hines Ward, Brett Keisel, Ben Roethlisberger and LaMarr Woodley during its initial media session Monday -- just the opportunity I needed to produce an item corresponding to the one titled, "Draft hindsight: Aaron Rodgers and beyond".

The idea: to examine a Super Bowl team's featured players -- in this case, the ones made available Monday -- with an emphasis on draft status and the decisions NFC West teams made in the same rounds. Not every team held a choice in every featured round.

The Arizona Cardinals had a shot at Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, but they came out OK.

Here goes ...

1997 Draft: James Farrior, LB, Virginia

Round: First (eighth overall, by the New York Jets)

NFC West spin: Farrior is a two-time Pro Bowl choice, but the NFC West offers no apologies for passing over him. Orlando Pace and Walter Jones became perennial Pro Bowl tackles. Jones became the best player in Seahawks history, in my view. Shawn Springs made one Pro Bowl trip and picked off 33 passes during a 13-year career. The Cardinals had no shot at Farrior. They chose Tommy Knight one pick later. He started 54 games in six NFL seasons. Rumor says the 49ers selected a quarterback in the first round of this draft.

First-round selections in the division:

  • Rams (first overall): Pace, T, Ohio State
  • Seahawks (third overall): Springs, CB, Ohio State
  • Seahawks (sixth overall): Jones, T, Florida State
  • Cardinals (ninth overall): Knight, CB, Iowa
  • 49ers (26th overall): Jim Druckenmiller, QB, Virginia Tech
1998 Draft: Flozell Adams, T, Michigan State

Round: Second (38th overall, by Dallas)

NFC West spin: Adams became a five-time Pro Bowl choice with Dallas. His career appeared finished, or close to it, until injuries led the Steelers to call on him this season. Arizona passed on Adams twice. Safety Corey Chavous, chosen five spots before Adams, went to a Pro Bowl with Minnesota. He was a productive player for roughly a decade. Tackle Anthony Clement, chosen two spots before Adams, started more than 100 games for three teams.

Second-round selections in the division:

  • Cardinals (33rd overall): Corey Chavous, SS, Vanderbilt
  • Cardinals (36th overall): Anthony Clement, T, Louisiana-Lafayette
  • Rams (37th overall): Robert Holcombe, FB, Illinois
  • Seahawks (47th overall): Todd Weiner, T, Kansas State
  • 49ers (58th overall): Jeremy Newberry, C, California
1998 Draft: Hines Ward, WR, Georgia

Round: Third (92nd overall, by Pittsburgh)

NFC West spin: The Rams and Seahawks found Pro Bowl-caliber players when they passed over Ward in the third round. Seattle gave up on Ahman Green prematurely, however, after coach Mike Holmgren grew weary of early fumble problems. The 49ers missed on tackle Chris Ruhman three choices before Ward went to Pittsburgh. Ruhman played in six games with the 49ers, starting none. He played in 11 NFL games with two starts overall. The 49ers passed on Ward even though Jerry Rice had suffered a devastating knee injury in the 1997 opener.

Third-round selections in the division:

  • Rams (65th overall): Leonard Little, DE, Tennessee
  • Seahawks (76th overall): Ahman Green, RB, Nebraska
  • 49ers (89th overall): Chris Ruhman, T, Texas A&M
2002 Draft: Brett Keisel, DE, BYU

Round: Seventh (242nd overall, by Pittsburgh)

NFC West spin: The 49ers drafted longtime starting guard and center Eric Heitmann three spots before the Steelers found Keisel. Pittsburgh could use Heitmann this week after the Steelers' starting center, Maurkice Pouncey, suffered a severely sprained ankle during the AFC Championship Game. Keisel became a Pro Bowl choice for the first time this season, distinguishing him from 2002 NFC West seventh-rounders. The Rams found their mainstay snapper in this draft. Keisel was gone when the 49ers found guard Kyle Kosier, who started 29 games for them and remains a starter with Dallas.

Seventh-round selections in the division:

  • Cardinals (223rd overall): Mike Banks, TE, Iowa State
  • Seahawks (232nd overall): Jeff Kelly, QB, Southern Mississippi
  • 49ers (239th overall): Heitmann, C, Stanford
  • Rams (243rd overall): Chris Massey, LS, Marshall
  • 49ers (248th overall): Kyle Kosier, G, Arizona State
  • 49ers (256th overall): Teddy Gaines, DB, Tennessee
2004 Draft: Ben Roethlisberger, QB, Miami of Ohio

Round: First (11th overall, by Pittsburgh)

NFC West spin: The Cardinals passed over Roethlisberger and came away with a potential Hall of Fame receiver. No complaints there, even though quarterbacks are more valuable than receivers. None of the other NFC West teams had a shot at Roethlisberger. Seattle and St. Louis were set at quarterback, anyway.

First-round selections in the division: 2007 Draft: LaMarr Woodley, OLB, Michigan

Round: Second (46th overall, by Pittsburgh)

NFC West spin: The Cardinals could certainly use Woodley now, and badly, but they had already invested millions in the position heading into the 2007 draft. Free-agent additions Chike Okeafor and Bertrand Berry had combined for 14.5 sacks during the 2006 season. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they haven't gotten enough from their second-round investment in Alan Branch.

Second-round selections in the division:

  • Cardinals (33rd overall): Branch, DL, Michigan
  • Rams (52nd overall): Brian Leonard, FB, Rutgers
  • Seahawks (55th overall): Josh Wilson, CB, Maryland

OK, all done, and just in time. ESPN.com teammates Mike Reiss, Kevin Seifert and I are heading out to the Packers' media session next. Seifert is driving and he doesn't wait for anyone. Gotta jam.

Ben Roethlisberger soaking it all in

January, 31, 2011
1/31/11
5:20
PM ET
FORT WORTH, Texas -- From the moment Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger walked off the team plane Monday afternoon, his pocket camera hasn't left his side.

[+] EnlargePittsburgh Steelers' Ben Roethlisberger
AP Photo/David J. PhillipPittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger soaks up the atmosphere after landing at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport on Monday.
Roethlisberger is capturing the moments with his teammates, coaches, media, and even briefly put the camera on a certain AFC North blogger Monday while on his way to the podium for interviews.

"How's it going?" Roethlisberger asked.

"Hey, what's up?" I replied, while rushing to change the batteries in my voice recorder.

Roethlisberger is soaking in every moment this week. Despite this being his third trip to the Super Bowl, Pittsburgh's quarterback has the enthusiasm of someone going through this experience for the first time.

This is a year no one expected Pittsburgh to return to the Super Bowl. Roethlisberger was suspended for the first four games for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, but the Steelers went 3-1 to start the season. Even when the playoffs began, most predicted the New England Patriots to come out of the AFC as the heavy favorites.

But instead, the Steelers beat the Baltimore Ravens and New York Jets for the chance to compete in their third Super Bowl in six seasons, this time against the Green Bay Packers. Roethlisberger is 2-0 in title games and is looking to join Patriots quarterback Tom Brady with three rings.

It's been a long year for Roethlisberger in many ways, but he seemed genuinely happy to get his team back to the Super Bowl for the third time.

"You just don't take this for granted, because you never know," Roethlisberger said. "This could be your last one."

Here are some other notes on the Steelers:

  • As a show of respect, every member of Pittsburgh's offensive line wore throwback Flozell Adams jerseys from his college days at Michigan State on Monday. Adams, who spent 12 seasons with Dallas, will be playing in his first Super Bowl, at Cowboys Stadium.
  • Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin didn't rule out center Maurkice Pouncey, who is dealing with a high ankle sprain. Tomlin said the Steelers are aggressively rehabbing to see if he can return. ESPN's Adam Schefter reports that Pouncey will not play and has a broken bone in his ankle.
  • Schefter also reports that Steelers defensive end Aaron Smith will have an MRI on his surgically repaired triceps on Wednesday. Smith was listed as questionable for the Super Bowl on last week's injury report.
  • Roethlisberger and Tomlin addressed a Sports Illustrated report that NFL commissioner Roger Goodell said no teammates came to Roethlisberger's defense during interviews this summer at training camp. "Well, I know for a fact that the commissioner came to training camp to talk about it," Roethlisberger said. "I'm not sure. I wasn't there and I'm not exactly sure what was said." It's no secret that Roethlisberger wasn't the most popular player in the Steelers' locker room, and the quarterback has spoken several times about working on being a better teammate this season. "Ben is a highly respected member of our football team, not only because of what he's done this year, but his line of work in previous years," Tomlin said. "We all fall short of perfection. We all make mistakes. His are well-documented, and he's doing as best he can in terms of moving forward with it."

The Steelers have officially arrived

January, 31, 2011
1/31/11
1:02
PM ET
FORT WORTH, Texas -- The Pittsburgh Steelers have officially touched down in the Lone Star State. And they are not heading home until the conclusion of Super Bowl XLV on Feb. 6 against the Green Bay Packers.

Pittsburgh's team plane arrived at the Dallas/Fort Worth airport at approximately 12:30 p.m. ET Monday. The Steelers then loaded several buses, along with a police motorcade, on their way to their headquarters in Fort Worth.

Pittsburgh head coach Mike Tomlin and several players, including quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, receiver Hines Ward and offensive tackle Flozell Adams, will meet with the media this afternoon. The AFC North blog will have some early reaction from the Steelers to kick off Super Bowl week.

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