Sluggish finish makes Steelers less daunting

574858.jpg

Sluggish finish makes Steelers less daunting

FOXBORO - News for the Pittsburgh Steelers has not been good over the past month.

Ben Roethlisberger mangled his ankle December 8 against Cleveland, the Steelers lost the following week at San Francisco, blowing the No. 1 seed. The Steelers offense went in the tank (31 points in the last three games Roethlisberger started). Leading rusher Rashad Mendenhall tore his ACL last week ending his season. The Steelers and their 12-4 record have to go on the road to face the 8-8 Broncos in the Wild Card round and their free safety, Ryan Clark, won't be playing for health reasons.

On Wednesday, Roethlisberger said he aggravated his high ankle sprain in the season finale last week and his ankle is a "5" out of 10.

The last taste many the Patriots got from Pittsburgh wasn't a pleasant one - a 25-17 loss in Pittsburgh in which Roethlisberger threw a career-high 50 times on New England's beleaguered secondary.

But that game has been the exception for the Steelers this season rather than the rule.
Since beating the Patriots on October 30, these are their results.

Ravens 23, Steelers 20

Steelers 24, Bengals 17

Steelers 13, Chiefs 9

Steelers 35, Bengals 7

Steelers 14, Browns 3

49ers 20, Steelers 3

Steelers 27, Rams 0 (Charlie Batch at QB)

Steelers 13, Browns 9

On the year, Roethlisberger took 40 sacks and threw 21 touchdowns and 14 picks. Since beating the Patriots, he's thrown seven touchdowns and seven picks. Their leading outside receiver Mike Wallace hasn't had a 100-yard game since October 23 (he had four in the first seven weeks). Pittsburgh's usually demonic pass rush has been relatively quiet this year (35 sacks).

Fact is, despite leading the NFL in points allowed (227), Pittsburgh isn't scary. They - like the Patriots - faced a fleet of punchless offenses.

And while they will face another one this Sunday in Denver, the Broncos defense and the altitude could be real equalizers. Now, Denver is no juggernaut. But they can play enough defense against a limping Steelers offense to stay within striking distance all game.

Of the three possible opponents the Patriots could see January 14 - Denver, Pittsburgh or Houston - the Steelers are the most daunting because of experience and ability. But they are no team to fear regardless of what happened on Halloween Eve.

Julien sidesteps job security question with "shock journalism" comment

Julien sidesteps job security question with "shock journalism" comment

BOSTON -- With three crushing losses in a row at a time when results are really all that matters, the Boston Bruins are reeling at the wrong time during the regular season. The B’s tried their best to win a game 0-0 with strong defense against a sleepy Chicago Blackhawks bunch on Friday night, but ultimately coughed up a Marian Hossa goal in the final minutes for a 1-0 regulation loss at TD Garden.

The defeat continued a swirl downward for the Black and Gold over the last week, and was a second straight shutout loss on home ice for the first time in almost 15 years. The losing stretch has also kicked up the chatter that Claude Julien is in trouble as head coach of the Bruins, and the hockey club’s underperformance up and down the lineup is ultimately going to cost the NHL’s longest tenured bench boss his job.

The Ottawa Senators have passed the Bruins in the Atlantic Division, and it’s only a matter of time before the Toronto Maple Leafs move by them as well with both Toronto and Ottawa holding six games in hand on Boston. Combine all of this with the B’s having missed the playoffs in each of the previous two seasons leading into this one, and it shouldn’t be at all surprising that Julien is squarely on the coaching hot seat.

The B’s bench boss was asked about his job security after the Chicago loss, and clearly didn’t appreciate the tough, but appropriate question.

“Well, I’m not into shock-journalism,” said Julien in a prideful tone. “So I’ll stay away from that question if you don’t mind.”

The Bruins posted their Saturday schedule shortly after Julien and the B’s players had addressed the media following the loss, and sure enough the embattled coach is scheduled to address the media post-practice as part of the regular practice day routine. So it doesn’t seem that a move with Julien is imminent this weekend despite another loss, but both the coach and the players know something is going to happen to shake things up with this team if they continue to struggle.

“Right now it’s a results based situation, so if you’re going to keep losing games then probably something’s going to happen,” said Torey Krug. “But right now we’re just pretty down emotionally after this game, so I don’t want to look at the big picture. I just [want to] focus on what’s going on in this room, and hopefully we can come back with a good effort the next game.”

A good effort might help Julien’s standing with the Bruins in the short term, but it’s impossible to imagine the B’s bench boss making it through the rest of the Bruins regular season given all of things working against him right now.