Week 2 Recap: Who Needs A Quarterback?

Quarterback?  We don’t need no stinkin’ quarterback!

The Pittsburgh Steelers put on a magnificent defensive performance, humiliating the Tennessee Titans in front of their home crowd.   The final score of 19-11 does not indicate how one-sided a beating it truly was.   If not for a garbage time touchdown and a tricky on-side kick, Tennessee’s output would’ve been limited to a lone field goal.  In fact, the Titans did not drive into Steelers territory until their final two possessions of the game.

How complete was the domination?   They held the best running back in football, Chris Johnson, to a pitiful 34 yards, thus ruining many fantasy football weekends in the process.   They had four sacks and forced six turnovers with a seventh coming on special teams.  By the beginning of the fourth quarter, Titans coach Jeff Fisher had seen enough ineptitude from starting quarterback Vince Young and pulled him in favor of ancient relic Kerry Collins.

The only reason the game wasn’t a total blowout was the Steelers had major quarterback issues of their own.  Two full games plus an overtime have yielded ONE offensive touchdown.  Seven turnovers produced a grand total of four field goals yesterday.  The passing game was almost non-existent.   And without any sort of aerial threat, the Titans stacked the box which held Rashard Mendenhall to only 69 yards on 23 carries.

Before kickoff, the Steelers placed Byron Leftwich on waivers so they could activate practice squad NT Steve McClendon.  The inhumane conditions in godforsaken Tennessee, where field temperature soared to near 100 degrees, necessitated two sets of D-linemen which were alternated all game long.  This left starter Dennis Dixon, backup Charlie Batch, and emergency quarterback Antwaan Randle El.  No problem, right?

Wrong.  The Steelers struck on the opening kickoff as new special teams coach Al Everest introduced a nice bit of razzle dazzle.  Mewelde Moore took the kick, then handed it off to rookie Antonio Brown on a reverse.   Brown raced down the sideline for an 89 yard TD.  The ensuing kickoff was fumbled by Tennessee, setting the Steelers up at their 46.  Rookie LB Stevenson Sylvester, who was a terror on special teams, made the hit and recovered the ball.

On Dixon’s second pass attempt, he was wiped out on a blindside hit from Wil Witherspoon.  Dix fumbled the ball and the Titans recovered which set up their lone FG.  This pattern of blindside pressure was repeated throughout the game as alternating LTs Jonathan Scott and Tony Hills were absolutely atrocious.  For those of you who enjoy criticizing Max Starks, I hope we all remember this game the next time somebody claims the Steelers don’t need him.  If Max can’t play next week, they should seriously consider moving Flozell Adams back to his original position because those two were a disaster on the left side.

A three and out by the Steelers led to a 38 yard punt return by the Titans.  VY drove the team to the Steelers 16.   Troy Polamalu, who was everywhere, slammed the door on that drive by picking off a Young pass in the end zone.  On the subsequent drive, Dix began to show why he’ll someday be VY except fifty times better.   A 10 yard run by Mendy was followed by a 20 yard rumble.  DD scrambled out of danger, turning a busted play into a 21 yard gain.  His nifty moves evidently turned a light bulb on over Bruce Arians‘ fool head.   After a muffed snap and a sack, he called a designed scramble that only netted 7 yards.   The Steelers had to settle for a FG.

Somewhere in that sequence, Dixon injured his knee.  While Batch quickly warmed up, Dix was carted off the field for x-rays.  Although the diagnoses was a sprain, he would not return and his availability for next week is questionable.  Anybody have Tyler Palko‘s number?

Batch was positively dreadful in his first real action of 2010.  Over three full quarters, he attempted 11 passes, completing only 5 for 25 yards.  For all the talk about the team protecting Dixon by calling safe plays, they protected Batch even more.  Some of it was probably due to not wanting to put your lone remaining QB in danger.  But if you’re not going to try and win the game, why is he even there?   It got so ridiculous that Tennessee didn’t even pretend to honor the passing game, playing with four linemen AND four linebackers all at the line of scrimmage.

And how could you blame them?   One sequence in the third quarter went like this:  1st and 20. Run up the middle.  2nd and 17.  Run up the middle.  3rd and 15.  Let’s try a run up the middle!  I realize he’s a fourth string QB who hasn’t ran the Steelers’ offense in three years but you’d think they’d have SOME confidence in the veteran.   Batch did make a couple nice throws, particularly a sweet 16 yard TD to Mike Wallace which was negated by a penalty, but it mostly dump-offs and screens which were no more difficult than what Dixon was being asked to complete.

While suffering through a Steelers offense which was positively Tomzak-ian in nature, the Titans were suffering in a different way.  The Steelers defense was doling out punishment left and right.  It was a thing of beauty to see our linebackers flying all over the field, swarming to the ball carrier like a pack of wolves.   Johnson will be seeing Lawrence Timmons in his dreams tonight.  Timmons had another fantastic game in run defense.  Meanwhile, James Harrison was hunting quarterbacks all afternoon, collecting two sacks for his efforts.  Troy was used on run blitzes and nabbed CJ three times for a loss.

LaMarr Woodley baited Young by faking a blitz before dropping into coverage where he  jumped the route for an INT.  Mister Woodley would later smash Collins with the fumble rolling to the safe nurturing arms of Chris Hoke.  Johnson stupidly ran into a pack of rabid Steelers and got the ball knocked free by Timmons.  Silverback sent the ball flying on one of his sacks of VY and it was recovered by the rookie McClendon.  Finally, a Collins pass was picked off by Bryant McFadden when Nate Washington decided to loaf on a route.

Of course, the highlight was the play above where the Steelers pulled off the ultra-rare three man German suplex on a hapless Vince Young.

The cycle of Steelers FGs and Titans miscues lasted until the final five minutes.  Dick LeBeau called off the dogs which gave Collins a chance to engineer a seventeen play 86 yard TD drive with the Steelers basically playing prevent.  A two point conversion narrowed the game to eight points.   A bizarre on-side kick saw Rob Bironis run left, do the hokey pokey, and then boot it right to Wil Allen (He’s on the HANDS TEAM?) who muffed it.  Collins hit Washington in the end zone with B-Mac getting badly beaten and if not for Ryan Clark running over to rip the ball away before he could secure the catch, this game would’ve been way way too close for comfort.

Still, a win is a win.   And all things considered, a mighty impressive win at that.  I kinda scoffed at people like Peter King who tabbed the Steelers as a possible Super Bowl team.  After watching yesterday’s game, I can say this is definitely a championship caliber defense.   Now all we need is to get our real QB back so our offense can say the same thing.

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