Pregame Zone Blitz: Silverback To The Action

MIAMI - OCTOBER 4: Dolphins OLB Cameron Wake was not fined for this hit on Patriots QB Tom Brady (Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images)

Mike Tomlin didn't lead into his press conference by saying he and the Steelers were taking their talents to South Beach. He should have.

That is where they're heading, and James Harrison is $75,000 poorer (we see him). While his Dolphins counterpart Cameron Wake doesn't face the same scrutiny (and wasn't allegedly mulling retirement this week like Harrison), he's almost as much of a beast as Silverback.

You may not have really heard of Wake yet, and there's not much buzz about the Dolphins, which is exactly how they're designed; low-profile (except Channing Crowder), workmanlike and productive. It's arguably the easiest and most dangerous game to overlook on the Steelers' impending three-game road trip, but PZB isn't missing it.

Opponent Web Sites/Forums

Dolphins football VP Bill Czar-cells cleaned out his office, according to Adam Schefter.

But it was the return of LB Channing Crowder in Week 6 that had Matty I of The Phinsider excited.

Not all "Dol-Fans" are excited though, despite their efforts. Here's this week's token plea article to not sell tickets to Steelers fans.

Crowder, though, isn't excited over all the helmet-to-helmet controversy, and suggests the league all wear pink, and not for support of breast cancer awareness.

Last Game

As SteelerBro and I cheered the final nail going into Colt McCoy's impressive coffin (the Fairness In Savagery Act requires me to give credit where credit is due, considering I Tweeted a copy of McCoy's obituary before the game, I respectfully withdraw any negative statement I made on the topic), I said to him, "and ya know what? Ben didn't even play all that great of a game."

Ben even said it after the game, when he told SI's Peter King that he left a few plays on the field. Obviously the pick, where he overthrew Ward on a pass he hits in his sleep when he's in a rhythm. He missed Ward a few other times as well.

Maybe this is too much for this space (readers know PZB doesn't ever pontificate...ahem), but the feeling I had was that I know Ben is humbled. Why I know that? Because he could have played much better.

Think about it. If all of this did not affect him, he would have gone out and thrown for 400 yards and five touchdowns. The fact that it affected him shows at least a level of remorse over the whole ordeal. It wasn't just lip service; he really was nervous. When is the Big Ben we know ever anything but cocky, confident, fearless and bold? He only seemed partially confident, not cocky at all, bold in the sense that he made some not-so-smart throws into coverage...but that fearlessness was there. He held out the play as long as he could, shaking off a very tough Browns pass rush in that classic Ben fashion. You know, where everyone is screaming at him to get rid of the ball, but he's waiting on the receiver to break with him. Buys some more time...then some more...now, it's just ridiculous and there's no way he's not getting sacked...and...BOOM! He finally gets rid of it while taking a shot to the chops, and the ugliest pass he's ever thrown lands softly into a running back's hands, or is drilled into the chest of a receiver, for a first down. Crowd goes nuts, broadcasters gush with praise, you can feel the animosity from the opponent. That's the Ben we all know. Hopefully the persona of Big Ben is gone, because the Steelers can win a lot of games with Gentle Ben.

Harrison Holds: 1 Called - Incomplete*

The weekly tally of holds on All-World OLB James Harrison, both called and uncalled

The fine people at Charter were able to fix PZB's internet connection, but the results originally published from the first half of the Week 4 game didn't change. It didn't seem Harrison was held, outside of the one that was called. After four games, the tally is:

Week 1 - 3 uncalled, 1 called

Week 2 - 1 uncalled, 0 called

Week 3 - 1 uncalled, 1 called

Week 4 - 0 uncalled, 1 called

TOTAL - 5 Uncalled, 2 Called

Moving on...Week 6 showed Cleveland struggling quite a bit to contain Harrison, particularly against the run. While Lawrence Timmons had a Defensive Player of the Week performance, much of that was predicated on the pressure Harrison forced on the outside.

Not Called:

  • 1. 3:00 remaining in 2nd quarter, Harrison gets to Thomas's inside, and seeing the running back cut outside, Harrison spins back to the outside, exposing Long's grip on the insides of his shoulder pads. They're never going to call holding if the lineman is grabbing the pass rusher and they're face-to-face, but he must disengage if the rusher changes direction.
  • 2. 5:40 remaining in 4th quarter, Thomas stands Harrison up on a bull rush, Harrison breaks off to pursue the ball carrier, Thomas is clearly pulling him back away from the ball.

Called: None

Season Tally

Week 1 - 3 uncalled, 1 called

Week 2 - 1 uncalled, 0 called

Week 3 - 1 uncalled, 1 called

Week 4 - 0 uncalled, 1 called

Week 6 - 2 uncalled, 0 called

TOTAL - 7 Uncalled, 3 Called

Opponent Spotlight: DE Cameron Wake

Yes, PZB saw the chump suit WR Brandon Marshall put on the Packers secondary in Week 6.  Marshall is the exception to the Dolphins rule of "bland as possible."

This team consistently positions itself as a faceless, starless group of selfless players. It must kill their marketing group, but no one in the league is doing a better job of getting it done off the radar. In fact, they're one nightmarish special teams performance from a 4-1 mark, sitting one half game behind division foe New York.

They've been the following act in four of the five games they've played; the Patriots and Packers are always the featured team against just about everyone in the league. They had Minnesota in the Vikings home opener, which I'm obligated to remind you was a game that included BRETT FAVRE. Then of course there's the travelling road show known as the New York Jets. Outside of the Bills, they're never the story of any game they play.

They won't be in this one either, and because of that, no one seems to know who Cameron Wake is. PZB didn't until he batted a BRETT FAVRE pass down at the line of scrimmage in Week 2. It was one of those eye-popping plays you notice even when you're in a crowded bar and just casually watching highlights. His sack of BRETT FAVRE and subsequent fumble ended up giving the Dolphins the edge in a gritty 14-10 win.

His battery mates stopped Adrian Peterson on fourth-and-goal to seal the win. Not to be cliché, but it's a no-name defense, with the exception of CB Vonta Davis and Wake. Both should receive Pro Bowl consideration this season.

But Wake changed his name. Maybe NFL teams didn't know who he was. A Penn State alum, the DE/OLB a.k.a. Derek Wake wasn't drafted in 2005 despite playing and performing at a major college program, weighing 250 pounds and running a 4.55 40-yard dash. Makes absolutely no sense, but he played in Canada, destroying competition there and being named to their All Decade Team. His six NFL sacks put him at fourth in the league, and Steelers LT Max Starks is going to have his hands full.

Steelers Spotlight:  NT Casey Hampton

In what will prove to be a violent, possession-control game, Snacks stands out as the most impactful player the Steelers will have. Miami looks to maintain possession, pounding between the tackles with two big and strong running backs. Those tackles, Jake Long and Vernon Carey, are two of the best in the game in terms of both pass pro and run blocking.

Any invasion over the line of scrimmage the Steelers wish to achieve is going to have to come up the middle. The triumvirate of middle protection for the Dolphins, Gs Paul McQuistan and Richie Incognito and C Joe Berger, are far inferior to Long and Carey, and the Steelers will likely attack the middle.

That starts and ends with Hampton.

A quiet leader, he isn't typically the most noticeable figure on the game's best defensive unit. But when he is, it's usually in a big way. PZB will live forever contending Hampton's sack of Patriots QB Matt Cassell in 2008 is the play where the Steelers leapt from good to Super Bowl contender. He was called for a holding penalty, rarely ever called on the defensive line, the prior play, and went ballistic on the official. He then destroyed Pats C Dan Koppen, sacking Cassell and forcing a fumble. Harrison took over the rest of the way and the Steelers decimated the defending AFC champions 33-10. Hampton's ability to crush the double-team he'll likely see from Berger, Incognito and McQuistan, and control the line of scrimmage will help pull the line inward, giving Pittsburgh a chance to bring pressure around the end.

QB Chad Henne isn't one of the best in the league. He's not likely to put the team on his shoulders and march at will, but he's solid enough to make throws in pressure, but the more he throws, the less likely the Dolphins are to win. He's 2-5 in his career when he attempts 35 or more passes, which is probably in line for most young QBs in the league, but Hampton will play a big factor in forcing the Dolphins to throw.

I See You

I see you, James Harrison. We're rallying around you, despite the National Football League of Lawyers calling for your execution after you laid former college teammate Josh Cribbs to bed, and fining you 75 large because Mohamed Massaquoi ducked his head into you.

Please don't consider retirement, James. You know every other defensive player in the league thinks this is ridiculous, especially since, as Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk reported Wednesday, the league is selling pictures of the hit (as if we need more evidence that this has gone too far, what kind of dysfunctional organization levies a fine for something, then sells images of it?). There's a reason there will be a work stoppage next year.

It's unfortunate that blowholes like Goodell have to use you to send a message, especially considering he doesn't have the wherewithal to apply enough institutional control that would prevent such a hypocritical statement being sent to fans and players.

We care about the safety of the players, but we will sell images of their injuries.

He's even got Peter King of Sports Illustrated drinking the Kool-Aid. From his typically excellent Monday Morning Quarterback column, King writes:

"...and it's incredible to me no official flagged what could be the textbook definition of hitting a defenseless receiver" next to a picture of the hit, which shows Massaquoi bobbling the ball.

PZB wasn't aware the ball somehow protects a player. In Pittsburgh, we're used to the opposing team's ball carrier about a second away from being annihilated.

In support of you, James, and your all-out approach to old-school defense, we're getting t-shirts made: "That Ended The Wildcat."

I see you because you're honest about the approach every defender who wishes to stay employed in the NFL should have. You don't wish harm on them, but you do see the wisdom in hurting the opposition so they aren't as effective. Winning is the bottom line here, and for the weak-stomached individuals who don't like that, there's always figure skating.

You certainly don't need any encouragement to play hard, and PZB salutes you for that. If Ben Watson doesn't like it, he can score a meaningless touchdown when his team's down three possessions.

Key Stats

  • Lawrence Timmons was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for the first time in his career
  • RB Rashard Mendenhall scored a touchdown in his sixth consecutive home game
  • Pittsburgh's defense is allowing 12 points a game - 32 of the total 60 points scored against them have come in the fourth quarter
  • Through five games, Pittsburgh's defense has allowed one touchdown pass produced by an opponent's regular starting quarterback (Joe Flacco). The other three were generated by Kerry Collins, Josh Johnson and Colt McCoy, and all of them came against the second team defense.

Quick-Hitters

Get Over It: Chuck Finder of the Post-Gazette wrote in his post-game notebook Sunday that Cleveland players didn't find James Harrison's hits on Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi dirty. He even went as far as to point out Browns FS T.J. Ward's helmet-to-helmet hit on Rashard Mendenhall. Guess what? No Steeler is complaining about that, either. Why? Because it's football. Earn your yards, don't whine to the officials asking them to move the ball down for you (like that pussy Tony Grossi of the Cleveland Plain-Dealer did in his write-up. Finder got a beauty of a quote from Browns G Eric Steinbach: "I don't know if [the Cribbs hit] was head to head, head to shoulder. They didn't call it. ... Of course, look what the game is making us go out there and do. You're supposed to be playing physical and have all this emotion and testosterone built up out there. But the second a guy retaliates, he gets the flag." That's exactly why guys go out and play hard. If that gets them flagged, then so be it, but can the cheap shot talk, it's making my head hurt.

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