When the NFL released its schedule for the 2011 season and he saw New England coming up on the docket in Week 8, Mike Tomlin really had only two options: A) play solid September football, follow that up with three weeks of sound October football, welcome the Patriots to Heinz Field for a clash between the two best teams in the AFC, watch as Tom Brady spreads the field against the Steelers suddenly suspect defense, grimace as Wes Welker and Aaron Hernandez catch a combined 28 passes for 332 yards and 6 touchdowns, shudder as the Pats manage to eat the clock in the 4th quarter by handing the ball to a running back you've never even heard of even though you play in a 16 team fantasy league, then get ready for Baltimore; or B) start the year with a total debacle of a performance against the arch-rival Ravens, take another loss to a playoff team (Houston) that isn't nearly as close as the final score suggests, and string together 5 wins against non-playoff teams that are so uninspired that the Steelers end up home underdogs against New England (-2.5). He chose "B."
Here's the thing. The Steelers could be a top flight but underachieving team that overcomes a spate of early season injuries to again emerge as the class of the AFC. We could beat the Patriots. We just have no expectation whatsoever that that will actually happen. So kudos to Coach Tomlin. Brilliant strategy.
- The most promising thing we took from Sunday's game in Arizona is that it never felt for a moment like the Steelers could lose it. We can't say the same thing about the wins against Jacksonville and Indianapolis. Really, you can't have enough games where you have absolutely no fear that the Steelers will completely relax in the 4th quarter and allow a miracle comeback; i.e., you can't have enough games against Kevin Kolb. The Steelers obvious weaknesses through the early part of the season - the woeful pass protection, the deplorable run blocking, and James Farrior - all were present against the Cardinals. It's just that bad teams can't consistently take advantage of them.
- Ben Roethlisberger, on the other hand, can take advantage of bad teams. He was brilliant in sticking the dagger in the Cards when they managed to pull within 3 in the second half. Perhaps the best example of Ben's preternatural pocket awareness was the play where he sensed pressure from no fewer than three rushers and managed to find Ike Redman for a little dump off and first down. He even brought back the patented, Oscar-worthy elbow flex/arm roll combination that's brought him so much critical acclaim over the years. When one day someone makes a documentary about Ben's heroism, Dan Dierdorf will lobby to narrate it.
- Much has been made of Mike Wallace's impact on the offense, and that's well-deserved. If you don't realize how great Mike Wallace is, consider he is once again averaging more than 20 yards-per-catch (20.3) after averaging 21 ypc last season and 19.4 ypc as a rookie in 2009. Randy Moss never averaged 20 ypc in a season. We've been watching the beginning of a career that could be historically great. But don't lose sight of the fact that Roethlisberger has been consistently targeting Antonio Brown. On Sunday, we saw that focus on getting Brown the ball start to pay off, as Brown hauled in 7 passes for 102 yards and made one spectacular catch on 3-and-5 during a game-sealing 3rd quarter drive. If the Steelers can arrange to use New England's offensive line next week, this is a passing attack that could really explode against the Patriots.
- Note to Rashard Mendenhall: you suck, and you're in danger of losing your starting job to Mewelde Moore. There. Now we can look forward to Rashard Mendenhall running for 100 yards next week.
- So pleased Lamarr Woodley decided to join us this season. Here's GTOG co-founder Finesse, stuck today on jury duty: "Woodley grabs people like a grizzly bear scooping a 50 pound salmon out of the water in Alaska."
- We don't even recognize the Steelers defensive line anymore, although one of those guys does look like Ironhead Heyward, and that McClendon person seems inspired by the Steelers dedication of the remainder of the season to all-time great Steelers d-lineman Aaron Smith. Finesse is unsentimental. "There is no doubt that Aaron Smith has been a great player for the Steelers, but that time has come to an end," he said. "That is, his time as a Steeler needs to come to an end. I'm sure that if Smith was healthy, he could still be a very solid contributor, but the chances of that happening are lower than the chances of Big Ben not wincing on camera during a game. He's been knocked out with season-ending injuries in something like 4 of the last 5 years; as tough as it will be to see him go, it's unfair to ask the Steelers to continue paying a guy to play 4 games and then tear a muscle somewhere in his upper body." Besides, we can still count on Willie Colon for that.
|Tearing tendons and collecting paychecks since 2010|