I'll take the good with the bad; Well, when the Steelers win the game, that is. The game was as nailbitten as any season opener can be, and the defensive fistfight between the Titans and Steelers seemed almost inevitable. The game was really sloppy, and no team had a perfect drive, but I think we all can agree that we saw two very talented teams on the field. Be afraid AFC, be very afraid. Here are my thoughts on the main storylines of the night. The Good.
Ben: BBR was very much himself. The clutch QB looked sloppy at times, but when he got things rolling, he was essentially impossible to stop. Yes fellow Steeler Fans, I know it feels odd to have so much trust in our passing game. But when one has an elite QB hooking up with two Super Bowl MVP wide recievers, one can't really complain. It's becoming a trademark of Ben's to convert 3rd down passing plays like he's eating peach rings-and in the 4th quarter nonetheless. I'm also getting to the point where I'd rather see the ball in Ben's hands in shotgun on 3rd down and 2, rather than put the conversion into the hands of our offensive line's run blocking capabilities.
WR's: Mike Wallace made a clutch play, and a great move to get open. Hines Ward was incredibly clutch-yes, even with that fumble. And I have a strange feeling that Hines is going to spend the rest of the season making up for that drop-even though we won the game. Oh, and Santonio Holmes was ALWAYS THERE. I don't think i've ever been this excited for our wide recieving corps.
D: The run defense had a shaky start, but they really clamped down after the first half. Keyaron Fox looked right at home, and looks like a very solid backup. He had a fumble recovery after James Harrison's destructive tackle of Bo Scaife. The pass rush didn't get to Kerry Collins enough, but Farrior had a crucial sack to take away field goal range, and KC was rushed often into making some bad throws. BIG SNACK was absolutley tearing it up out there. The secondary was hurting out there, and I'll get to TP a little later, but they pulled it together to stop some crucial drives late in the game.
Special Teams: Isn't it nice to have some talent in our special teams? Stefan Logan looked like he could break out into a TD run at any point in the game. Jeff Reed made the clutch kicks. Sepulveda BOOMED the ball, and Aaron Smith blocked a field goal that proved to be the difference of the game. What more can I say?
Troy:Most guys would put Troy's injury in the ugly, but we're talking about the Steelers. Injuries aren't excuses, they're opportunities for other guys to step up. Troy will be out 3-6 weeks, but he'll be resting and possibly fully energized to take on the post-season if it comes to that. Also, Tyron Carter is one of the best back-ups on the team. He has incredible energy, veteran smarts, and makes big plays. I may be overthinking this, but I think teams underestimate the defense when Troy is out. That gives the Steelers a leg up to catch their opponents sleeping. There are still great playmakers. But boy, the way Troy was playing in the first quarter, I cannot wait for him to get back.
Running Game: There is no way I'm blaming Fast Willie for this running attack. As i've said from the end of last season, the run blocking is the worst element of this Steeler Team. I don't know what the coaches can do, but they need to take some action. The line needs to make opportunities for Willie to run; it was utterly embarrassing to see WP caught in the backfield repeatedly. That being said, Willie needs to break the first tackle. There were times when a little hole was there, but his ankle got caught and boom, there goes that run. The one shining light was Mewelde Moore's runs in the 4th quarter; he can be a real slimy dude when he wants a first down. With that on the table, let's remember that the Titan D-Line is one of the best, even without Hayneworth.
Overall, I wasn't dissapointed with the team in the least. There is definitley room to improve, but they just got one of their toughest foes knocked off the schedule, and got away with a mark in the win column. Although the Bears are a tough team, the matchups really benefit the Steelers. Baltimore will be the next game that could be as tough as this one. Let's all hope that Troy will be back and in great shape for that one.
Here's to the start of another great Steeler season.
This year's season opener is already proving to be a goodie, and kickoff is still more than a day away. Just thinking about it give me the tingles, and there are some great story lines that are bound to play out.
Unfinished Towel Business:Ever since Lendale White and company laid their dirty, blasphemous cleats on the towel of glory, Steeler fans and players have been itching for some payback. Thinking back to TJ Shoebomber's stomp o' the towel in 05, the B n G got their payback soon after-defeating them in the AFC wild card game, and eventually winning the Super Bowl (insignificant tidbit). But the Steelers didn't get a stab at the Titans in last year's playoffs. they got beat before we got to them. we wont the biggie. ouch.
So now's our chance. The time to say "hey, that towel is our glory rag, and you really need to eat crow." By crow I mean losing the 1st game of the season-never a great start to a team that has already lost its best player, has a deteriorating quarterback and a suicidal backup, and a depleted recieving corp in which Nate Washington can rise to the very top in a matter of weeks. just sayin. Lendale White wants to stomp on it again. Let's just see to it that he leaving the stadium with a white towel over his head, and a check in the loss column.
O-Line Everyone is making nonsensebuzz over Darnell Stapleton being out. Given, he was decent last year, and has great potential, he's not the core of the O-line. It will be interesting to see how the line operates, though. Big Ben certainly looks himself, so hopefully they can hold back the Defense just long enough.
Joystick Stefan Logan, nicknamed "Joystick," could start for kick and punt returns this week. We all saw what he could do in the preseason against first, second, and third team special teams. If he lights it up in any similar form, the Titans better watch out. The steelers did a great job at finding and picking this kid up. A dangerous return man is just what every other team is fretting-pretty much the only thing that can instantly improve this Steeler team.
Foxy Keyaron Fox is starting in place of Lawrence Timmons at inside LB. He's been great in special teams and second team defense since he put on a Steeler uniform, and I expect no less from him this week. This is his chance to prove that he deserves to be the go-to-guy in terms of LB reserves. ie. what tyrone carter has done year in and year out for the secondary.
Washington Nate Washington may not play in his game due to a hamstring injury, but if he does, i'll be excited to see what he can do. He's never been the number one or two reciever, and given the oportunity, he could become a dependable guy. He's always had the speed, but never the talent to rise up in the Steeler system. The Titans really like him, and I hope he gets an applause if he starts. He played some solid years with some clutch catches for Pittsburgh.
There are so many other story lines-the Pittsburgh running game, Kerry Collins, Titans D Line, Chris Johnson. But the aformentioned are my favorites.
Dick Lebeau has finally been nominated for the Hall of Fame. He's now being taken into consideration for a seniors' spot in the class of 2010. His role, however unique, deserves a spot in the Hall.
No man has had such an impressive a playing career-7th all time in interceptions and possibly the most consecutive starts for a cornerback-and gone on to change the game as a coordinator. Come on people, he invented the zone-blitz.
Although this nomination is long overdue, it was also easily foreseen. Peter King and Rod Woodson, leading media and player push respectively, are two of the many NFL observers that were shocked by his absence in the Hall.
As Steeler Fans, we've watched his amazing schemes confuse quarterbacks and coaches alike. We've seen him scold and praise players and turn boys into bodysmashing, runstopping, route detecting, o-line rupturing machines. He made the defense a bonded unit that, with ease, touted the league's top achievements for years.
Now his placement in Canton is only a summer's wait away- he's belonged there for quite some time.
Ben was out for this preseason game, and the Steelers got a better look at some of the younger guys-especially against the Redskins' first team. Some guys made a great impression, and some did their job, but no one really made a bad impression this game.
Here's some quick thoughts from yours truly.
*Daniel Sepulveda continues to boom, so I may start calling him "thunder." His consistency will make him a key component to the 2009 team.
*Although Fast Willie ran well, Rashard was definitely more impressive. Mendenhall got several carries against the Redskins first team defense, and he made the most of them. After 2 or 3 carries, he got into a great rythm. More importantly, he was making some great cuts between the tackles.
*Run Blocking, for the second game in a row, was not impressive. Runners are getting the getting the ball only to face a brick wall. We can't expect them to make great cuts every time. They need holes to find if the Steelers want to move out of their embarrasing 23rd rushing offense.
*Mike Wallace continues to impress for two reasons. First-his speed is always lingering as a danger for coverage. He hasn't been covered well downfield in a game yet. Second-he's making great short catches to keep the coverage guessing. He made a great sliding catch and ran decent slants when he was in there. More importantly, he was running routes against first team coverage. No one really expected this guy to come into the league with this much polish. If he had Sweed's height, he'd be the number 3 reciever without question. This WR competition is shaping up to be interesting-->it can only help the team. I'm still giving the 3rd spot to Sweed for now; Wallace will get his chances though.
*Tony Hills needs to get his snap count together. He continued to jump the ball, line up in the wront position, etc. Other than that he protected fairly well.
*Stefan Logan was by far the most impressive player this week. His kickoff and punt returns were the most promising and consistent i've seen since Randel El-->and he wasn't even that great. His cuts and speed make him the danger that we've needed at that position. Although I don't think he'll start at the position, he should make the team if he continues his magic in practice/future games.
*The First Team Defense is full of weapons just waiting to explode. There is so much talent at every position, and all of the guys look like they're in the best shape of their lives. It's really a treat to watch these guys perform for just one quarter. I can't wait until the real deal.
Brandon Marshall has been asking out of Denver for a few weeks now but the Broncos have not shown much interest in moving their premier receiver. Their relationship is rocky to say the least at this point.
The Jets, seeing an opportunity, have begun to entertain conversations with Denver to see about maybe acquiring a big time target for Mark Sanchez. Marshall has caught over 100 balls and 1,000 yards the last two seasons and has been refereed to as a "defensive lineman playing wide receiver." He is known as a strong physical receiver which could really add some swagger to the Jets who have seemed to lack some character the last few years.
The Jets are also talking with Kansas City about Dwayne Bowe who followed up a strong rookie season with a breakout sophomore year. He hauled in 86 passes for 1,022 yards and 7 TDs.
At this point the talks are not particularly concrete and we are not sure what pieces the Jets are willing to give up but the talks are promising. Beyond Jerricho Cotchery the Jets do not have a whole lot of talent at the wide receiver position. With the Jets grooming Sanchez to be a superstar having a wide receiver like Marshall or Bowe can make that growth period a lot less tumultuous.
Even if they do not get the deal done as a Jets fan it is nice to see them being more aggressive when it comes to building their team. They are not just sitting back and hoping but going out and getting quality talent to run out there every week.
Daniel Sepulveda could be that extra boom the steelers need-->no pun(t) intended.
But seriously, has the return of a punter ever been so celebrated? Now, let's not forget that his first trot onto Heinz Field turf was in front of many drunk and giddy fans, waiting for something to cheer about during a preseason game; but nevertheless, Sepulveda's first boomer was quite the stomach release for a Steeler Faithful. He could be that extra peptobismol dose the team needs to get over the feared super bowl hangover. Let's face it, no one wants to live through a repeat of 2006.
Sepulveda's punting was greatly missed in 2008, as Steeler Fans were enlightened as to how important punting and field position can be in a close game. Mitch Berger's punting in several games cost us either a comfortable win, and in some cases a tally in the loss column. I'm thinking of the week 8 loss to the Giants, specifically. Although the Offensive Line was labeled as the worst unit in Black and Gold, punting is certainly the worst, and most overlooked part of the team. Berger's punting was wretched and put the defense into horrible holes that, usually, they could somehow escape from. But with Sepulveda launching the pigskin deep into enemy territory, the defense will have a lot more room to play with, and alot more freedom to blitz as they please.
The only caveaut I might add is that the Defense seemed to perform at their best when they were under great pressure. When the opposition was at midfield, or approaching field goal territory, the secondary would clamp down, and black and gold sack machines would turn to extreme mode. So, although other teams will be starting much further back than in 2008 with our new addition, the Defense has got to keep that pressure mentality up to perform as well as last year. This is a small worry of mine, because the the additions and improvements in the defense can only make it a better unit this year. And having more breathing room certainly has more benefits than downsides.
Playing the Ravens 2-3 times in a year, a matchup in which field position can decide games single-handedly, I'm certainly relieved to see Sepulveda booming away in the backfield.
Those of you that read Sports Illustrated, you know that after flipping through the occasional jibber jabber and ad scatter, there is a high quality-well written article that will turn up once in a while. And although I usually appreciate SI more for their online coverage and large printed pictures in their magazine preface, I really enjoy reading the feature articles that SI digs up.
This week's SI Issue had such a great article, that it was a no brainer for Pittsburgh Sports Article of the Week. The article, titled "A Gift from Africa," tells the heartwarming story of a South African Pirates' prospect that goes by "Gift"(his middle name and translated first name). The article follows him as he arrives in Bradenton, Florida and goes back to his struggles as a young child. Gift is still a Pirate Prospect and he's got some great potential to hit a major league field one day.
It's just an amazing story. And to boot, Gary Smith does a great job with writing it. I'm not sure i've read a more high-quality sports article in any magazine of sort. The piece is long, but the story doesn't get boring and the writing flows like koolaid in an ice pitcher. Smith is a veteran SI writer, and he's got some other great stuff in his article bank.
Grew up in the shadow of NYC and has loved everything about New York sports. Named after the notorious 1927 Yankees lineup that included greats like Ruth and Gehrig. More specifically, he is a Mets and Jets fan, however. Yes life would have been easier to be a Yankee and Giants fan. Yes it sucks.
As knowledgeable of a Pittsburgh sports maniac as you will find Hot Steel will waste no time telling you Pittsburgh is truly the city of champions. You know how much he loves the 'Burgh? He watches every Pirate game.