Good to see Buddha have the time to do some writing for us. Good stuff. -Michael B. -
It’s easy to smile and celebrate after the great game the Steelers played on Sunday. With the victory in hand, we are once more hopeful about the present and the future. It seems the Steelers are back where they belong. They are not cracking any top 5 lists – leave that too the Patriots and the Packers and the hot team of the moment (I am looking at you Detroit), but they are in the hunt.
During the first drive of the game, however, none of this was immediately apparent. Steelers fans were still reeling from the frustration of watching the defense give up nearly 200 yards rushing against the Texans – many of them on a serious butt-whuppin of an opening drive that reminded many of what a text book Steelers drive used to be about – except it wasn’t the guys in Black and Gold giving the demonstration. The team did not look good, and the nation... well the nation was not happy.
When the Titans took the first play for scrimmage for 21 yards on the very same stretch play Arians Foster converted into a 42 yard TD last week, the nation cringed and expected the worst. A couple of nice Titans plays and some Pittsburgh mistakes later the Titans found themselves in the red zone where a James Farrior penalty turned an uncatchable 3rd and long pass into a 1st and goal on the 7.
If you were optimistic at that point, consider yourself a better fan than me. I was frustrated, and I think by the looks of it, so were the Steelers. Even Big Ben was caught shaking his head and frowning on the sideline. It seemed that Tomlin’s gamble to kick the ball away in the first half and trust in his defense (something coach Cohwer used to do all the time) would not going to pay off and Pittsburgh would surrender yet another long TD drive to open a game.
Not so fast. The next 3 plays changed the tone of the game. They were not perfect, but a defense that’s been just a step slow picked up their level of play and changed the feel of the game.
First and Goal on the 7.
Hasselback drops back and gets excellent protection. Nate Washington makes a nice move to break free of Polamalu in the end zone. Washington finds the soft spot between Troy and Ike Taylor. and Hasselback spots him immediately. Hasselback’s throw is high but Washington makes a nice grab. Only as he’s coming down do Taylor and Polamalu initiate contact.
Watching the replay it looks a bit strange. Usually in these situations you see the DBs lay a lick on the guy hoping the the ball comes out - but not here. As Washington is coming down he simply stands there an punches at the ball from below. It does not look pretty but it does the trick.
On second and goal the Titans again drop back to pass. Lamar Woodley comes hard off the left side. He is met only by Tennessee fullback Ahmed Hall. Several people pointed out that exacerbating Woodley’s struggles during the Houston game was the fact that he was effectively blocked by a TE for a good portion of the game. But Woodley who must have been hearing the whispers after a slow start to the season, was not to be denied on this play. He drives the 241lb Hall right into Hasselback. For a moment it seems that Hasselback will be able to escape with Hall still sandwiched between him and Woodley. But Lamar would have none of it. He reaches around and over Hall and grabs Hasselback by the shirt – picking him up and flinging him to the ground like a pit-bull playing with a rag doll. It’s a huge play and it fires up the home crowd and the rest of the Steelers D.
But the real great individual effort comes on the next play.
Facing 3rd and goal from the 12, the Titans draw up a very nice looking screen play, attacking Woodley’s side. The play develops with three linemen forming a beautiful wedge for Chris Johnson, the fastest running back in the NFL. They have a nice number of blockers out in front of the wedge as well, with most guys engaged on a man.
When Johnson catches the ball, only one Steelers defender stands within 10 yards of him downfield. He has 4 Titan blockers infront of him. The only problem for the Titans is that defender happens to be Troy Polamalu.
You have to watch the full video of the play to realize just how absurdly fast Troy does what he does, but the stills give you some sense of the havoc that he wrecks for an otherwise beautifully designed play.
How good of a move? Take a look at Cook’s body language as Troy flies past him untouched and not in the least bit slowed down. Cook is completely turned around. Instead of engaging the next man up he turns around to chase Troy.
Troy is already moving ahead to the next blocker, RG Jake Scott. The move Troy puts on him is a thing of beauty. It’s a little dance step that probably would have gotten him kicked off dancing with the stars. But it’s as effective as a Barry Sanders jump cut. Look at Troy’s body in this shot. His entire momentum is going towards the sideline, but he somehow manages to freeze in space and reverse course.
Troy simply goes right around Scott.
Troy meanwhile finishes his little dance through traffic with an outstanding open filed tackle on the fastest running back in football. Having dispatched of two blockers in one second he simply wraps up Johnson’s feet and drags him down.
The Titans go on to kick a field goal, but the goal line stand sucks the wind out of their sails. The Steelers reel of 28 unanswered points before the Titans can score again.
Watching this play, of what a treat it is to watch Troy play during the prime of his career. In 1998 - I got invited to see the Bulls play the Jazz in the NBA finals. Our seats were near the top of the arena, but I remember clearly how easy it was to spot Michael Jordan. You just looked for the guy who looked like he was effortlessly moving twice as fast as everyone else. Watching Troy on this play reminded me of that.