Don’t get excited.
Yesterday’s 11-10 (or was it 17-10?) victory over the San Diego Chargers was the very definition of a bad win. I’m sure some diehard members of Steeler Nation as well as the team’s fawning apologists in the Pittsburgh sports media will declare things are back on track. They’ll laud yet another stellar effort from the Blitzburgh defense. They’ll talk of a rejuvenated offense which featured a 300 yard passer, 100 yard rusher, and 100 yard receiver for the first time this year.
And they’d be missing the point.
The Steelers failed to score an offensive touchdown for the third time this season. QB Ben Roethlisberger’s stat line looks pretty (31-41 for 308 yards) but most of that was climate aided. Due to the frozen tundra of Heinz Field, the Charger defenders tried to combat the poor footing by playing well off the receivers trying to keep things in front of them. This allowed Ben to dink and dunk 5-8 yards passes all day long. Most of the passing yardage happened on runs after the catch. TE Matt Spaeth caught 6 balls for 55 yards while WR Hines Ward hauled in 11 for 124.
To his credit, Ben did avoid the game-altering mistakes which have plagued him in recent weeks. He made a couple dangerous throws but neither the INT bug nor his habit of holding on to the ball too long seemed to crop up. Of course, the weather dictated short passing game was an important factor. If we could run this offense every week, I could understand some optimism. Since this was a one time thing under very specific circumstances, you can’t expect them to be able to replicate it every week.
While Ben avoided mistakes, the rest of the team was full of them. Now I know what it feels like to live in Oakland because this was like watching a Raiders game minus the crazy senile owner. I’ve never seen a Steelers team take so many penalties. The final tally was 13 for 115 yards, many of the drive killing variety. It’s fun to bitch about the refs but perhaps it backfired as Hines Ward (who got nabbed twice for holding) seems like he’s being singled out by the zebras.
One of the penalties, a ridiculous holding call on CB Ike Taylor, set up a SD touchdown. The receiver cut left as Ike was arm jousting with him while QB Philip Rivers threw the ball 10 yards in the opposite direction. The other penalties were a smorgasbord of holding calls, mostly against the offensive line, although one was on a kickoff return which negated a nice run back by RB Gary Russell. Russell, by the way, seems to finally be the solution to the team’s never-ending search for a capable return man.
The line, which to their credit only surrendered 4 sacks on 41 pass plays, had an up and down afternoon. Penalties killed them, particularly on a nice drive that reached the red zone only to see two consecutive holding calls saddle them with a 2nd and 30. RG Darnell Stapleton was carted off the field and replaced by Trai Essex which by my count means Tony Hills is our last backup left. Pray to whatever god you believe in he never has to take the field. The run blocking was mostly good as Fast Willie Parker returned with a 115 yard performance. He looked completely healthy as the burst was back and seemed to have no problems with either his shoulder or balky knee.
The team did have problems once again on short yardage situations. Mewelde Moore was stonewalled once again on a goal line stand. Parker fared no better on a third and short later in the game. Exasperated, head coach Mike Tomlin gave Russell a try and he promptly converted two of ‘em. So that’s two valuable roles he seems to fill. Good thing we used our #1 pick on a RB last year, huh?
Of course, we’d all be talking about how the Steeler ship has finally hit the iceberg if not for the defense, particularly the work of one James Harrison. The Silverback accounted for roughly half of the Steelers points. Swatting the ball out of Rivers’ mitts in the endzone scored us a safety while his INT return set us up for a Skippy Reed FG. Harrison’s partner-in-destruction, LaMarr Woodley, also returned to play well, particularly on a third and long play where he prevented a big first down by knocking down the ball in coverage(!). Speaking of coverage, despite 2/3 of the Three Amigos being injured, their backups did a pretty decent job. Unfortunately named William Gay was picked on all day and mostly rose to the challenge. Anthony Madison performed capably. The only blight was recently signed Fernando Bryant, who got all kinds of turned around on the handful of plays I saw him for. Luckily, his miscues didn’t cost us. Oh, and speaking of secondary play, the INT by S Troy Polamalu will deservedly take a place amongst the best plays of the season by anybody anywhere.
Since we’re talking about Troy, I guess we need to discuss what happened on the final play. It’s enormously frustrating that players get fined for things that aren’t called weeks after the fact while refs blow calls, sometimes even affecting the outcome of the game, and nothing is ever done. It’s also frustrating that the people in charge of enforcing the rules don’t seem to know them. I tried to read the various explanations but there’s less bullshit at Phipps Conservatory. The main point seems to be the initial pass was ruled an illegal forward pass, thus ending the play there. Except the initial pass was Rivers throwing the ball to a receiver which has been legal in the NFL since about 1938. The WR then lateraled to another player who tried a third lateral only to have Troy jump the play and knock the ball toward the end zone where he picked it up and scored. Somewhere along the line, the refs forgot you’re allowed one forward pass per play. What’s worse, they took 5 minutes to review the play and still blew it. Who was he talking to under the hood, his bookie? Either that or maybe he went to the Dave Hebner School of Refereeing.
In any event, until Herr Roger Goodell decides to reach down with his god-like hand and wipe away the mistakes made by the zebras, it goes down as an ugly 11-10 victory for the good guys. The G-Men returned the favor from the gift we gave them a few weeks back by beating the Ravens so we now have a two game cushion in the division. There will be no rest for the wicked as it’s a short week with the Bengals on tap for Thursday night on the Channel Nobody Gets. The Bengals managed to tie (Tie? A freakin’ tie?) the same Philly team which crushed us and have been playing like an actual professional football team as of late. We’ll have to wait and see if the Steelers can say the same.
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