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Dejan Kovacevic chat transcript

| Thursday, Nov. 17, 2011

Dejan Kovacevic: And a happy Light-Up Night eve to all. Away we go ...

Mark G: I know the ultimate goal is the superbowl but if the Steelers can find a way to hang on to the division title, would this one carry less weight due to the two losses to the Ravens• I know that when the Steelers went to NE and thumped the Pats in 2008 without Brady, it just didn't feel the same, a win none the less. Your thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: Less weight or more, Mark• You'd think the Steelers would have to go 12-4 to take the division with Baltimore owning head-to-head. But then, the Ravens only seem to be interested in beating the Steelers, so who knows what they'll do the rest of the way.

The rest of the AFC shouldn't blow anyone away. Baltimore is beatable. The Patriots already have been beaten. And Houston has had some awful injury losses, with Matt Schaub now on the list.

MPM: Was the loss last night to Long Beach State all that shocking• LBSU won their conference`s regular season title, could have easily been an at-large NCAA tournament selection last year, start four seniors and a junior, and have a fine coach in Dan Monson. If you couple that with Pitt`s problems on defense and the front court, this isn`t all that shocking to me. Pitt should have won, but it`s not like they lost to a horrible team.

Dejan Kovacevic: I was at the Pete Monday when Jamie Dixon tried to warn against this. He called Long Beach State a team he expects to see in the NCAA tournament. And as we saw last night, they looked very poised, in sync and seriously fast. Agreed on that count.

That said, Pitt's defense was just abominable. Really, 25 fastbreak points• Not a single stop once they cut the lead to six?

Dixon has work to do.

AL: How would you rate Kris Letang as a power play quarterback and do you feel this is still a team weakness• Sergei Gonchar seemed to me to be in a class by himself in this respect so maybe it's not fair to compare him to Gonchar?

Dejan Kovacevic: They're not remotely similar players, Al, other than position. Letang wouldn't rate as a power-play quarterback because he isn't one. The Penguins still really don't have one. What's made the power play move -- and that's the operative term -- has been the presence of Steve Sullivan at left point. He brings it up, and he distributes, quickly and smartly.

That's not a true QB, but you'll take the results.

John in York: Hi Dejan: What is your best case scenario for 1st, Short and 3rd in order for the Pirates to compete in 2012?

Dejan Kovacevic: You mean realistically?

I'd still bring back Ronny Cedeno for short. Don't like the other options out there (well, except Jose Reyes). I'd camp out on Derrek Lee's doorstop and plead daily for him to return. And I'd push one more time to get Pedro Alvarez to play winter ball. If Alvarez isn't the third baseman, the Pirates are in a world of trouble.

Pete Venkman: DK - loyal reader who followed you from the PG, and a sad PSU alum. Do you agree that for some writers this week PSU stories are a race to be most outraged (specifically, Charles P. Pierce's Grantland article?) Does it serve the victims to dismantle the genuine caring and efforts of the PSU community on their behalf?

Dejan Kovacevic: First, I appreciate the sentiment and gesture, Pete. Hope you have a chance to check out all of the talented writers we have on staff and their coverage of the city's sports teams.

Second, I'd be lying if I said I've read a lot of commentary on the Penn State situation. There's been so much news, so many updates. Speaking just for myself, I can promise you my outrage wasn't remotely manufactured. Wish it was. Would have made last week a little easier to digest.

This, by the way, was my fire-them-all piece -- and you'll see I go out of my way at the end to separate the Penn State community.

CW: Is it me or is this area turning from a football dominated scene to an emerging hockey town• My love for the steelers has waned somewhat with the penguins becoming more successful and dynamic. Does it have to do with the "aging" steelers vs. the 'young' penguins?

Dejan Kovacevic: Emerging• Seriously• Pittsburgh ranks No. 1 in TV ratings. That's actual households, not percentages. Pittsburgh has sold out every game for half a decade. Pittsburgh has a demographic attached to the Penguins that's the envy of pretty much any professional sports team.

That's not emerging. That's arrival.

And I really can't see what the Steelers have to do with this argument. This notion that there's an either/or factor around here isn't supported by fact. Pittsburgh is one of the smallest cities in the U.S. with three or more teams, but two of the three have phenomenal support, and the Pirates showed they'll draw when they do well. That's not because fans are picking and choosing their team.

I've said this before: All three of our teams have the same first name and, unlike any other city, all wear the same colors. (Well, except when the Penguins wear those awful blue not-really-throwback sweaters.)

rekjr: Dejan, no doubt this Pitt team's ability on the defensive end of the court is different than teams past; but I am curious about their offensive philosophy as well. Obviously they are dependent on the outside shooting but I'm curious why the ball never enters the low post from the wing• Multiple articles recently on Taylor's development yet there seems to be little effort in dumping it low unless it comes from the PF from the high post. Thoughts?

Dejan Kovacevic: The only inside game so far has been from Nasir Robinson. Dante Taylor remains a non-entity, and Khem Birch is averaging a bucket per game. Lamar Patterson hasn't exactly lit it up yet, either.

All of that will have to change, and Ashton Gibbs is going to have to put the ball on the floor more often, as well.

Ian: Dejan, Love the chats, thanks. As I watched the Steelers last weekend I was struck by how bad Kemo can play for a few snaps EVERY game. Now that Legursky is healthy will the Steelers work him back to starting at left guard?

Dejan Kovacevic: Chris Kemoeatu had a lousy game Sunday in Cincinnati, and I'm pretty sure I recall the specific stretch you're citing. Can't remember the quarter, just that the Steelers were headed to my right and far too many Bengals were headed to his right AND left.

I haven't heard about Doug Legursky making it back into the starting lineup. I'd be very surprised if Ramon Foster was bumped, so left guard is his best chance.

Dave Povenski: Hey, DK. I read your column about the "Sunshine Law" and I think I have a simple solution. When you get the situation that Philly & TB were in with no one forcing the play, call a 2 minute minor on both teams and play 4 on 4. I'm pretty sure that will end the neutral zone trap in a hurry. Comments?

Dejan Kovacevic: Sorry, but I wouldn't punish the Flyers for that. Besides, a four-on-four really doesn't send a message of any kind.

As I wrote yesterday, I'm all in favor of some form of illegal-defense rule, but it's not easy to define. Matt Cooke's idea in there was the best I've heard.

Ed H from Howell: Has Jerrico Cotchery permanently moved ahead of Hines on the depth chart• Or was the Cincy game a result of match-up and leftover concussion • Wallace, Brown & Sanders are clearly 1, 2 & 3 - but still think Hines can be vaulable when a tough catch is needed in "money time" - not to mention blocking.

Dejan Kovacevic: Nothing in life is permanent, Ed, but Cotchery is above Ward on the depth chart, yes. And so is Emmanuel Sanders once he returns.

That doesn't mean Ward will never play, though. The Steelers have different packages and different needs. When facing a team that's soft over the middle for example, they could use Ward or even multiple slot guys. When getting into the red zone, they might look for Ward, given his experience. And you correctly note his impact on the running game. He's still their best blocking receiver.

He'll still be out there.

SterlingCooperDraperPrice: Papelbon signed an enormous contract for a closer, should the Pirates seriously consider trading Joel Hanrahan now?

Dejan Kovacevic: Sounds awful to say, but I don't see how they couldn't. Every reasonable bit of evidence in baseball shows that the closer is overvalued, and the great closer is obscenely overvalued. If a team is willing to overpay for that ...

Andrew T. from Long Island: Are you looking forward in watching the "trap" tonight, and if you are the Penguins, what is the best way to beat that system?

Dejan Kovacevic: Check the column linked above, Andrew. The Penguins' methods for beating the 1-3-1 are detailed near the end.

No, I'm not looking forward to it. Tampa's fun to watch once it gets the puck, and that might be even more true tonight with our Josh Yohe reporting from down there that Steven Stamkos, Vinny Lecavalier and Marty St. Louis are on the same line. But their play without the puck is an awful thing.

Bsteel: DK: Slow week• Q: If the Steelers and Packers played this weekend on a neutral field, what would your line be, and why?

Dejan Kovacevic: Packers by 21. Over pretty much anyone. They're unreal. Aaron Rodgers is unreal, specifically. The man is on the road to maybe the best individual any QB has ever seen.

Jerome Lane: Pitt b-ball - very lackluster the last 2 games to say the least! Struggled to beat Rider. Lost to Long Beach, though LB is pretty decent. Is this a down year• The lack of a quality inside presence and rebounding killed tham last night, and they rarely get beat lke that on the boards.

Dejan Kovacevic: Well, look, everyone wanted to see the Panthers go younger, right• Here you are with six freshmen. Everyone wanted to see them land the big recruits• Here you are with Khem Birch and now Steven Adams and James Robinson.

Those teams don't look great in November. Remember how UConn looked early last season, then how they looked late?

My Friday column, by the way, will be about Pitt's great recruiting class for next year. Hope you have a chance to check it out.

Rob: Do you have any insight into Paul Martin's sub par play• If it doesn't improve do you see GM Shero try to move him and his salary?

Dejan Kovacevic: Ah, the neverending myth that teams can trade players with bad contracts just because they want to. Part B of that myth is that such a player can be packaged with someone else to make a trade possible. That also never happens. A bad contract is a bad contract. No one wants it.

Not picking on you, Rob. I get where you're coming from.

But no, that won't happen. Martin is due too much money, has been prone to long bouts with confidence, and I'm convinced he no longer can shoot the puck with authority -- maybe because of a past shoulder issue -- which is why he dishes off so often.

Fed: Troy Polamalu is taking a lot of heat for not breaking up the TD pass to AJ Green. Is he less of a threat in coverage (playing centerfield) than he is playing around the line of scrimmage?

Dejan Kovacevic: Are you including my reference in the Monday column to Polamalu and Ryan Clark looking like the guards at Buckingham Palace on that play?

Polamalu has not been good in coverage, and his target/reception stats will back that up.

Tom: Does it concern you that Antonio Brown catches on 50% of balls targeted to him• He make spectacular catches but wouldn't the team be better served to have a more dependable Ward on the field.

Dejan Kovacevic: He made five catches Sunday and was targeted six times, so no, not at the moment.

Brown is young and needs to get more comfortable. The game in Cincinnati really was the first one where he was making plays downfield, the way we saw in the preseason. Give him time.

Hypocycloid: Why all the drama over an NHL realignment?.. Just have Nashville and Winnipeg swap divisions and be done with it...

Dejan Kovacevic: It's partially because the current alignment is so silly, at least in terms of how playoff teams are picked. Any set of standings that requires two versions to understand them, that's flawed.

I'll say it again: Go to pure conference standings, 15 teams in each, top eight make it. The Jets will be where they belong, in the West, and that's that.

Shoeless Joe: Any update on Pirate Charlie Morton with his hip surgery. Do you think the Pirate's will focus on adding more offense at the expense of starting pitching this offseason?

Dejan Kovacevic: Morton is doing fine. Heard from him just this past weekend. The target for his return is right around spring training, so the Pirates probably will have a much better feel for all this in February and March.

At least one starting pitcher is needed, and I can't imagine -- given all the buyouts that reduced payroll commitment -- why that would have to come at the expense of offense.

Tim G: It's not just Tampa that still traps: Montreal and New Jersey to an extent still do. That's why since Bylsma has been coach, we've lost to those teams on a consistent basis.

Dejan Kovacevic: The 1-3-1 and the trap aren't the same thing. As Matt Cooke stated very nicely in our discussion on this the other day, "The Devils are at least going to send one guy."

He's right.

Dee-Fense: I think Polamalu and Wallace are both free-agents after this year. Any one else of note• Do you see them franchising Wallace and signing Troy to a long-term (and probably his last) deal?

Dejan Kovacevic: Polamalu signed a long-term contract just before the season started. Wallace is the top franchise-tag guy for next year.

TXSteelerFan: I think Gay is better than Taylor was at the same point in his career. They are slightly different types of backs, but Gay has shown stretches of really solid play over the past couple of years. Ike had some rough early seasons too, but showed an upside that was eventually developed...what do you think about Gay's upside?

Dejan Kovacevic: He's surprised quite a few people already this season, and man, I'll sure say he won over all the people he lost the previous week.

Not ready to compare him to Taylor. He made two great -- not good, but great -- plays Sunday.

Guest: As the dust has settled a little on the Penn St issue, what are your thoughts on whether Paterno, Bradley, etc. knew about Sandusky prior to the 1998 or 2002 reports/charges?

Dejan Kovacevic: I'm staying open-minded on that. My calls for the firings of Spanier, Paterno and McQueary had to do specifically with the 2002 incident -- which none of them disputes -- and the damage being done to the university.

As for as broader issues, again, I'll wait for more evidence.

SteelCity: What's your take on David Johnson• I liked how tough he looked in his one reception against the Bengals, but he just doesn't seem to catch the ball consistently. As a blocker, he does well -- most of the time. I hear some fans clamoring for him to be used as a fullback more, but he's not impressing me there, either. Do you see him maturing in either of these areas in the near future?

Dejan Kovacevic: If you don't like Johnson's blocking, I'll suggest you take another look.

Between Johnson, Heath Miller and a better-than-you-think Weslye Saunders, it's a good group of tight ends. It's not New England's, but it's good.

One more today ...

Bleed Black n Gold: Hey, thx for the chance to chat. Other than Aarom Smith of course, when the Steelers play KC will ALL the defensive starters finally be playing??

Dejan Kovacevic: We'll see. LaMarr Woodley isn't a lock yet.

What else• We can't end with an injury update!

Brett: If the Pirates trade Hanrahan this offseason, will they target major-league players, prospects and at which position?

Dejan Kovacevic: Neal Huntington said last year the Pirates were at the stage where they have to be adding major-league talent. I can't conceive of trading someone like Hanrahan for a bag of prospects, for all kinds of reasons.

Hypocycloid: Who's your Mt. Rushmore of Pittsburgh sports?

Dejan Kovacevic: OK, now THIS is an ending ...

Lemieux, Clemente, Greene, Wagner (Honus, not Mike)

My columns run Monday, Wednesday and Friday. The blog marches on, and the chat will be back next week.

Thanks to all for participating!

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