PITT: THE REAL DEBATE

You’ve heard all the names.

Schiano. Narduzzi. Bradley. Tomsula. Rudolph. Holliday. The list goes on.

But when it comes to the Pitt coaching hire, the real debate isn’t WHO you want. It’s WHAT you want.

Do you want a coach who’s going to leave again after three years?

Or do you want a coach who’s going to stay long-term?

I want the latter. When a coach gets hired under the assumption that he’s a short-term hire, there is no guarantee what that short term will produce. Instability kills recruiting, too.

Look at Paul Chryst. He went 19-19, 10-13 in conference play. Mediocre.

Chryst didn’t use Pitt as a stepping stone. Wisconsin merely stashed Chryst at Pitt until Wisconsin needed him. Pitt was Chryst’s head-coaching internship.

Chryst didn’t help Pitt make progress. He helped himself.

I don’t care if it’s a local guy. But I do want him to coach Pitt for more than three years. If local roots make that more of a possibility, that should be considered.

THEN, AND NOW

Steelers G David DeCastro had a great game yesterday. DeCastro and the tight ends were pulling, moving and hitting. They were so good, you didn’t need game film to know for sure. It was obvious.

Then, of course, came the tweets: YOU WERE WRONG, FATASS! DECASTRO IS GREAT! YOU’RE FAT!

Or, words to that effect.

I wasn’t wrong. Up until yesterday, DeCastro was having a putrid season, and I said so. Yesterday, he was terrific. I was right THEN. I’m also right NOW.

It’s the same with Evgeni Malkin fans. Right now, Malkin is playing awesome hockey. Seven goals in eight games. I just wish Malkin was inspired more often.

Judging an athlete isn’t permanent. Performance level changes.

The offensive line had its best game. The Steelers averaged 6.2 yards per rush. QB Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t sacked and didn’t have to deal with a lot of pressure. DeCastro was perhaps the biggest part of that.

THE MYTH OF MUNCHAK

I did a monologue last week about the state of the Steelers’ offensive line. Lots of football people told me I was right on the money, including Joe Butler of Metro Index Scouting.

To recap:

*LT Kelvin Beachum: Average. Overachieving for his pedigree.

*LG Ramon Foster: Average. Perhaps a bit better.

*C Maurkice Pouncey: Good, but wildly overrated.

*RG David DeCastro: Just rotten. Absolutely terrible.

*RT Marcus Gilbert: Awful at season’s start. Much better since.

The Pouncey myth is firmly in place. It’s a phenomenon in sports. It’s not how well you play, it’s what people say. People say Pouncey is the best center in football. He’s not. But you believe it.

DeCastro stinks. GARBAGE. That might be the Steelers’ best-kept secret.

The prevailing opinion is that offensive line coach Mike Munchak has done a great job. If that’s true, why has QB Ben Roethlisberger been sacked 30 times? Ben is on pace to be sacked more than last year.

But Munchak is a genius. That’s the narrative. Deposed O-line coach Jack Bicknell Jr. was the villain last season, so Munchak has to be the hero now.

But the offensive line is no better than last year, except marginally on run blocking.

NO BRIGHT SIDE, NO UPSIDE

Replacing Bruce Arians with Todd Haley as offensive coordinator in 2012 is one of the worst moves in Steelers history, right there with cutting Johnny Unitas in 1955.

Prevailing wisdom holds that Haley was hired to prolong Ben Roethlisberger’s career.

How? By making sure Roethlisberger never plays in another playoff game? The post-season CAN be dangerous.

Everyone wants Roethlisberger to be hit less. I get it. But Roethlisberger has been sacked 25 times this season. That’s fifth-most in the NFL.

So, Ben is still getting hit. Haley hasn’t helped in that regard.

Why wasn’t Arians asked to figure out a way to keep Ben clean and vertical? Arians is no dummy. As witnessed by his work after he “retired” here in Pittsburgh.

In 2012, Arians birthed QB Andrew Luck’s greatness in Indianapolis. He won AP Coach of the Year honors as interim boss, going 9-3 while Chuck Pagano battled cancer. He’s 8-1 this year as Arizona’s head coach, 18-7 since taking over last season.

Roethlisberger has posted great numbers under Haley.

But I don’t care about his stats. Roethlisberger doesn’t care about his stats.

Regardless of Roethlisberger’s “career years,” the notion of three straight non-playoff years is unacceptable. Nothing good can be gained via three straight non-playoff years.

The Steelers were 55-25 with Arians as offensive coordinator. One Super Bowl win, another Super Bowl appearance. They’re 22-20 with Haley. No playoff games.

Go ahead: Find a bright side. Or an upside. You can’t.

TAKEAWAYS > NASTY

I’m not sure I buy the narrative about the Steelers defense being better because it’s mean and nasty again. That’s getting put out there to make LB James Harrison seem more important than just one good game, which he definitely had vs. Baltimore.

Mean and nasty is overrated in football’s current era. The Steelers defense is putting pressure on the QB and getting takeaways.

No need to romanticize about something that doesn’t matter. The facts are good enough.

When LB Jarvis Jones returns from injury, the Steelers will be hard-pressed to not keep playing Harrison. But I’d still put Jones back in. This is Harrison’s last gasp, not a new beginning.

As for Sunday’s opponent, the biggest problem with the New York Jets is trying to make them seem like a credible foe. They’re coached by a circus clown and quarterbacked by a convicted felon. Their secondary has allowed 24 touchdown passes while collecting just one interception. Could Big Ben go for 6-6-6?

The Steelers are favored by 5. I can’t imagine the Steelers not covering.

522 THE ORGANIC WAY

Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger needed just 33 more yards yesterday to break Norm Van Brocklin’s NFL single-game record for passing yards. That mark got set, incredibly, in 1951. No face mask for Van Brocklin.

But Roethlisberger isn’t an attention junkie. Let Van Brocklin have his 554. Ben is fine with 522.

Roethlisberger’s numbers yesterday were organic. They were NEEDED. No matter how many points the Steelers scored, it always felt like it might not be enough.

When the Steelers led 42-34 in the fourth quarter and RB LeGarrette Blount fumbled at the Indianapolis 5, were you petrified? You should have been. It was lucky that Colts QB Andrew Luck tripped and gave the Steelers a safety.

Roethlisberger is the first NFL quarterback to have two 500-yard passing games. Yesterday’s win was his 100th, in 150 starts. Ben got victory No. 100 quicker than any QB except Tom Brady, Terry Bradshaw and Joe Montana. Fast company, but Roethlisberger belongs.

My lone complaint: Why did Ben play the Steelers’ last offensive series, thus taking a big hit from Colts LB Jonathan Newsome? It should be Bruce Gradkowski’s job to take that shot.

Let Ben be big. That’s the Steelers’ best hope moving forward.

NEAL FOR HORNQVIST = GOOD TRADE

So far, anyway.

I’m a James Neal guy. He’s a great talent. A pure goal-scorer. An excellent RW for C Evgeni Malkin.

But trading Neal to Nashville for RW Patric Hornqvist and LW/C Nick Spaling has changed the Penguins’ dynamic in drastic fashion, especially on the power play.

Last season, the Pens had one guy legitimately work down low and invade the blue paint on the man-advantage: Chris Kunitz. This year, it’s Kunitz and Hornqvist. The result is evident.

When a team works the perimeter on the power play, it can be defended. No matter how much talent is there, a decent PK can figure it out.

But when a PP has talent, moves the puck AND keeps going to the net, the PK is always scrambling. Responsibilities change in the wink of an eye, and they keep changing.

The Penguins’ PP is a red-hot 6/13. Credit assistant coach Rick Tocchet. He’s in charge.

Last year, the power play looked for the perfect shot. This year, the power play is looking for the second shot – the rebound, the loose puck – and those are often better shots because the opposition PK is caught out of position.

TOO MUCH LIKE THE SAME THING

Based on the morning skate, here’s the Penguins’ top PP: Crosby, Hornqvist, Kunitz, Letang and Malkin.

I don’t like it. It makes me wonder who’s in charge.

Ehrhoff needs to be up top, with Malkin in the right circle and Letang in the left, and Crosby and Kunitz underneath.

With the personnel being utilized, Malkin will be up top. Crosby will be in the right circle and Letang in the left. Kunitz and Hornqvist will be underneath.

I’m not questioning Hornqvist’s PP credentials. He plays well down low and is a master at deflections.

But Malkin is not a pure, crisp distributor of the puck up top. He’s a shooter. Up top is a bad shooting spot. Malkin should be in the right circle.

Is new coach Mike Johnston acquiescing to what certain players want? Specifically, Crosby’s desire to play the right circle?

If Johnston is, they should have just kept the old guy. That’s what he did. Comfort zones shouldn’t matter after five straight playoff disappointments. Crosby is good in the right circle. But it’s a better power play if Malkin plays there.

The Penguins’ PP finished first in the NHL last year with a conversion percentage of 23.4. But it went 1-20 in the second round against the Rangers.

The last thing they should do on the PP is the same thing. This looks too much like the same thing.

SUCKAS GOTS TA KNOW

Evgeni Malkin hasn’t practiced or skated since Penguins training camp started.

What’s wrong? Nobody’s saying.

Since the truth remains unknown, rumors abound:

*Malkin got hurt in a golf-cart accident at the Penguins’ preseason golf outing.

*Malkin doesn’t want to play for new coach Mike Johnston.

*Malkin is unhappy because ex-linemate James Neal got traded.

There is no truth to any of these rumors. Nothing tangible to back them, anyway.

But SUCKAS GOTS TA KNOW. If fact isn’t available, innuendo does just fine.

I see no value in concealing Malkin’s injury. None.

It’s part of the idiotic NHL “code.” The NFL publishes a list of injuries weekly. The NHL conceals every player’s slightest hurt like it’s a nuclear secret. To what end?

I love hockey. I love the Penguins. But both entities are starting to BORE THE HELL OUT OF ME.

DTA: DON’T TRUST ANYBODY

I watched Baltimore owner Steve Bisciotti plead his case on ESPN. ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” exposed the Ravens’ cover-up of the Ray Rice travesty. Bisciotti says ESPN “manufactured” the story.

Anytime someone from the NFL talks – owner, commissioner, executive, coach, player – I’m going to assume they’re lying. Anytime the media says or writes anything about the NFL, I’m going to assume they’re lying. Unless it directly contradicts what the NFL says. Then, I will believe it unconditionally.

DTA: Don’t trust anybody. It’s time to be right, or wrong. To choose up sides.

What Watergate broke and Richard Nixon got caught, you could trust the media. With the NFL, you don’t know who’s in cahoots and who isn’t. ESPN, in particular, has blurred the line that much.

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