Week 14 Recap: (H)Air Polamalu

Despite not scoring a single offensive touchdown, the Pittsburgh Steelers cruised to an easy 23-7 victory over the hapless Cincinnati Bengals yesterday.  It was far from a pretty, at least offensively speaking, but this Steeler team has clearly learned from last year’s mistakes.  They find a way to win the games they should win instead of playing to level of their competition.

Although when it comes to the Bungles, it’s almost impossible to play that low.

Cincy scored on their opening drive which would be their one and only fleeting moment of competence.  And even that was tainted by massive assistance from a clearly biased officiating crew.  Had they not been gifted 20 yards and a spot on the 1 yard line thanks to a ridiculous pass interference penalty against Ike Taylor, the Bungles wouldn’t have crossed mid-field until late in the fourth quarter.  The only question was how long the Steelers sputtering offense would allow them to hang around before putting the game away.

Ben Roethlisberger is made of iron.  Or steel.  Or adamantium.  Whatever your super-strong metal of choice.  I don’t think even Ivan Drago could break him.

Big Ben took the kind of beating usually reserved for pinatas or Tom Cable’s ex-wives.  Cincy’s four sacks don’t begin to convey the number of hits this man absorbed, most of which were so very very late I could time them with an hourglass.  The amount of filthy and illegal shenanigans the Bengals got away with was absolutely disgraceful.  The Steelers got so fed up a mini-battle royal erupted after the game.  Although nobody was victimized more than Big Ben.  Following one sack, a cowardly Bengal attempted to knee his broken nose.  Later, another sacker fell on his broken-sprained ankle.  On just a single play, Ben was smacked upside the helmet (again), then horsecollared (again) when he escaped to discover not a single flag from the refs (again).

To prove they did indeed have yellow hankies in their pockets, the officials threw them quite often on the Steelers offensive line.  LT Jonathan Scott is now the 2nd most penalized linemen in the NFL.  Unfortunately, most of these flags are justified.  Even though I did appreciate Steeler Nation greeting the officials with a “Refs, You Suck!” chant.  That began shortly after two consecutive holding penalties turned a 1st and 10 at midfield into a 1st and 30 deep in our own end.

Naturally, the Bungles are who we thought they were and a leaping 29 yard snag by Hines Ward got us off the hook.  Hines had a fantastic game, catching 8 balls for 115 yards.  Guess local windbag Mark Madden will have to postpone his next “Hines is nearing the end!” rant for a couple weeks.  Mike Wallace (5/78) also made a nice catch later in the game although the highlight reel play was Antwaan Randle-El’s brilliant one-handed stab to set up the Steelers first FG.

Rashard Mendenhall redeemed himself for last week’s cowardly performance.  Although he finished with only 66 yards, they were tough yards.  As with Ben, the O-line did him no favors.  Instead of finding a hole, he just had to put his head down and plow forward.  Isaac Redman only had 1 carry which is kinda ridiculous since I don’t care how young or in shape Mendy is, he’s going to be a beaten-up shell unless they start splitting some of his workload.

Ben and Rashard combined on one of the best screen passes you’ll ever see.  It started as a flea-flicker, which was quickly blown up by a Bengal in the backfield.  Ben somehow managed to shot-put the ball back to Mendy, who took it 9 yards.  I understand trying to manufacture offense but as usual B.A. does it in the dumbest way possible.  He actually called a Dennis Dixon play with Banged-up Ben under center.

Seriously, who the hell calls a QB Draw with a guy who has a broken-sprained foot and surgically reconstructed snoot?   Bruce Arians, that’s who.

One coach who had a good day was Dick LeBeau.  Games like yesterday’s are exactly why I have little tolerance for armchair coaches who criticize him for “not making adjustments” or claim “the game has passed him by” or whatever nonsense.  LeBeau is the not only the best defensive mind in football, he may very well be the best D-coordinator ever.  If there is a breakdown, it’s because the players either aren’t talented enough or screw up an assignment.  With Arians or Mike Tomlin, it is fair to question their decisions.

In LeBeau We Trust.

The defense played absolutely lights-out, forcing three turnovers while holding Cincy under 200 yards of total offense.  As I predicted in Know Thy Enemy, they switched Ike to T.O. which allowed Ochocinco to have his best game against the Steelers in forever.  However, neither Tweedledumb nor Tweedledumber were much of threat with a complete lack of running game (34 total yards!) and inept QB play holding them back.  Oh, Carson Palmer, how far you have fallen.

Funny thing was, Troy Polamalu narrowly missed an interception by jumping a route early in the game.  So on THE VERY NEXT DRIVE they run the exact same play and this time Troy gets the Pick-Six.  Soaring into the end zone on a wing and a prayer wasn’t exactly the best move for Troy’s gimpy ankle but given our lousy offense, I don’t blame him.  Early in the fourth quarter, LaMarr Woodley also jumped a route for an almost identical looking Pick-Six.  Then to close out the game, Troy picked off his former USC roommate one last time as a farewell present.

On the attempted run-back, or in this case limp-back, Troy looked around for somebody to lateral to.  He spotted Bryant McFadden by himself about half way across the field and launched a silly pass to him which B-Mac was luckily able to fall on before disaster ensued.  Despite being up 16 with the game sealed, LeBeau, channeling Clint Eastwood in “Gran Torino,” grabbed Troy by the shoulder pads and gave him an earful.  Again, how many coaches would chew out any player, let alone the team’s biggest star, after they basically win the game for you?   That’s Dick LeBeau and that’s why the players call him Coach Dad (He did give him a hug a few moments later.  Troy is a sensitive young man.).

Shaun Suisham continued to be the Anti-Skippy, steady and dependable with 85% less peroxide.  Good thing since he has been our most consistent weapon as the Steelers have now scored two offensive TDs in three games.  Don’t buy any of this stupidity about the Bengwads D playing a good game.  The line is a complete mess with Ben getting harassed and/or smashed every time he drops back and precious little running room for Mendy.  And now the Jets come to town!

Buckle up your chin strap, Big Ben.  It’s going to be another looooong afternoon.

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  • mark

    Good analysis Chris, I enjoy reading your blog. I was telling my daughter (who’s a HUGE Steeler fan too) they should take Ben out once we had a decent lead in the 2nd half. That little razzle dazzle play with Randle-El pitching to Wallace was nice too. They also had a nice quick out to Wallace that gained some yards. Until our offense gets more solid, Arians better diagram up some more of these plays.
    Oh yeah, I agree 100% with the refs non-calls against Ben, if it was Prince Brady, the refs would have one hand planted on their flag the entire game.

    • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

      Thanks, Mark. Yeah, I lost my train of thought when moaning about the QB draw with Ben and meant to bring up the CORRECT way to run that play was done later with Randle El behind center. It was actually the Steelers version of the Wildcat (Wild Steel? Iron Cat?) which I hadn’t seen before but looked promising.

  • BossSteelerChick

    I freaking LOVE you!

    • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

      Thanks, Boss. Told you we had nothing to worry about! :)

  • Bill

    At this point it is blatantly obvious to anyone with a third grade education that the officials are LETTING Ben get beat up. I can understand a hand that grazes the back of a helmet in the midst of a tackly. But to wrap an arm all the way across the quaterbacks head to try for a sack. Give me a break. It has gone beyond a missed call here or there. It’s like I try to instill in my kids, one of two things is happening. Either the officals are too stupid to understand the rules regarding contact of the quarterback or they are doing it intentionally. Four straight games of this is not an accident that that rules out option three. So which is it? On purpose? If so they need to be punnished. Too stupid? They need fired.

    • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

      The problem is, Bill, we have different officials every week. If you fine/fire the guys for missing these blatant calls against Ben, half the refs in the league would be out of work by now. As I said before, I’ve always tried not to indulge in Pittsburgh Paranoia but something is up. The only reasonable conclusion seems to be there is a clear vendetta against the Steelers in general and Ben (and Harrison) in particular.

      • Bill

        Granted but if I performed that way in my job I would be reprimanded and or fired. The fact that neither is happening to me serves your point that it may be a vendetta. Clearly something is up.

  • littleben

    Dick LeBeau is great, but I’d save the “best DC of all time” talk until he figures out a way to stop Tom Brady and the Patriots.

    It’s great to see the overhyped “Dynamic Duo”‘s season end in utter failure and embarrassment. I really hope Carson Palmer winds up on another team next year and just starts tearing it up as a big “FU” to T.O., C.O. and everyone else in that dysfunctional organization. Hopefully they deal him to a team in the NFC West where he can shine while the Bungles start the rebuilding process by drafting the next JaMarcus Russell.

    • http://nicepickcowher.com chris

      Buddy Ryan was a great DC, too, and he always had trouble with Joe Montana. Hey, even Superman has his kryptonite.

      I hope Palmer goes to the 49ers or Vikings, myself. Even though we own him, it’ll be good to see the Bungles starting a rookie. And besides, being imprisoned in that hell known as the Bungles “organization” is not a fate I’d wish on my worst enemy. Maybe a few exes…