DENVER, CO - SEPTEMBER 09: Running back Jonathan Dwyer #27 of the Pittsburgh Steelers rishes with the ball and fends off defensive back Mike Adams #20 of the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on September 9, 2012 in Denver, Colorado. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
One week down and 16 (including the bye) more to go for the regular season. Obviously, it wasn't the beginning that Steeler Nation would have wished for, but, hopefully with a bit of detachment as the Denver game recedes in the rearview mirror we can agree that 1) it was not the end of the world, 2) nor wasn't it the end of the season, and 3) it certainly was not in the same area code as that butt whippin' we took at the hands of the Ravens to begin last season.
Next up is the home opener and a visit from the New York Jets and old friends Tim Tebow, Rex Ryan, Santonio Holmes plus others. The news of the week was dominated by post mortems of the first week's contests and projections of this weekend's round of games. Because it was the first week of the season we are still absorbing some of the shock from some of the unanticipated results and, if we are thoughtful, wondering if they represent patterns that will define the season or temporary anomalies that may be forgotten by Halloween. The relevant questions for readers of this site being how good are the Jets, how bad are the Steelers?
Before getting into the nitty gritty of it all, a word from a broader perspective from Ike (Ivan) Taylor, starting cornerback and an emerging scholar of Swag in his weekly column in the Tribune-Review. He spent the entire article talking about work ethic. Its the kind of piece that you would want to pass on to kids concerning one of the keys to success in all endeavors.
It's never good news when the big story going into a game is the injury situation, but that is the case for this game. First the bad news. OLB James Harrison and safety Troy Polamalu are probably out for this Sunday's game with a knee and calf problem respectively. If it is any consolation, and it is probably not, cornerback Darrelle Revis, formly with the University of Pittsburgh and arguably the Jets best player will also miss the game because of concussion symptoms.
The news is much better on the offensive side of the ball as right tackle Marcus Gilbert and right guard Ramon Foster are slated to return after both were forced out of Sunday's game with a hyperextended knee and an optical migraine respectively. In addition, there continues to be a lot of positive noise concerning the progress of Rashard Mendenhall. I'm not sure we'll see him in uniform or on the field on Sunday but the talk is that it may be plausible.
Quietly, careful observers noticed that Jason Worilds (who has bulked up to the point that he could have been mistaken for former Steeler Nick Eason-same number) acquitted himself well in limited action on Sunday. Is it possible that he would be a better option than Chris Carter at filling in for Harrison?
Todd Haley and Dick LeBeau
The Steelers offensive and defensive coordinators were in the news this week of course. In sadly predictable fashion, in the wake of a disappointing loss, Halloween came about two months early as the lunatic fringe of Steeler Nation went on the rampage terrorizing the blogosphere and the airwaves demanding retribution for the team's sins. Unfortunately, Bruce Arians is no longer around and in a massive failure of imagination no one could conjure a reason to blame him for the Steelers' opening night misfortune. So LeBeau drew the short straw. Now, granted the performance of the defense was a bit below the line, especially in the second half, but a number of fans rose to the challenge and still managed to take things over the top. Instead of celebrating a brilliant Hall Of Fame career as both a player and a coach on the occasion of his 75th birthday, some are insisting that the old fart has got to go.
The barbecuing of LeBeau though disappointing was somewhat predictable (in fact I think I predicted it myself). Perhaps a bit more concerning is that an admittedly tiny minority are beginning to suggest the disturbing possibility that after all of one regular season game that the honeymoon with new offensive coordinator Todd Haley may already be over in some quarters. Normally I would be rooting hard for a Steelers victory this weekend in any case, but I am praying, burning incense and contemplating sacrificing small innocent animals in the hope that these pathological musings will go back into remission because frankly, its a little bit scary.
Dwyer's stock is rising rapidly among fans, the local and now, national media as he followed a positive preseason with a strong performance on Sunday. Considering what the consensus was on him a few short months ago his redemption demonstrates once again that patience can be an important virtue when you are a team that must select players from a consistently disadvantageous posture (e.g. low draft position). Originally pegged as a potential high draft choice, Dwyers stock fell as questions arose about his weight and work habits. The concerns were legitimate, but it appears, at least for now, that at the relatively young age of 23 Dwyer has matured and the upside is beginning to emerge. I freely admit counting myself among those who were lobbying for him to be out of here. Today the sentiment is that he get more touches and be featured more prominently in the offense (Isaac Who? Amazing isn't it)
This time last week concern was expressed about both of these players. Miller because he was essentially omitted in the preseason from the new Haley offense and Wallace because the potential of injury, conditioning and timing issues. In fact, each player contributed in an outstanding manner in Denver, scoring a touchdown a piece along with a number of other significant receptions. In general, the disappointment of the loss obscured the fact that Miller and the young Money Crew performed as advertised and hoped for. As significant as the losses of Harrison and Polamalu will be this week, the most impactful may well be that of Revis whose absence may stress the Jets' secondary beyond the breaking point in trying to account for the Pittsburgh receiving corps.
There has been a lot of debate and discussion centering on injury and performance concerns with the offensive line in the BTSC community. Two issues took center stage. First is the seemingly unrelenting string of injuries that afflict the O line and whether that reflects simple bad luck or some sort of flaw in the training and condition methods of the team, and specifically line coach Sean Kugler. The second issue was the team's decision to only dress seven lineman. If another lineman had gone down on Sunday night, Heath Miller may have had to pull duty as a tackle. And with the decision to bring in Van Dyke in place of the roster spot vacated by the temporary IR status of David DeCastro the team has lost the opportunity to bring back Trai Essex who has signed with the Colts. As I have said elsewhere, I am not particularly concerned about the eventual effectiveness of a unit that is just learning to play together in a new configuration. That will come with time. Nor am I buying into the training issues argument in this particular instance. How does being poked in the eye rise to the level of a lack of preparedness, or a joint injury? But the ability to keep a the same people on the field will probably be a factor in how far this team goes this year.
The team's starting free safety makes his season debut a week late, and given the injury to Polamalu, not a moment too soon. His absence may have had the greatest impact on the performance of the defense in that it clearly restricted the flexibility of Troy, a problem that Peyton Manning clearly captialized upon.
Another piece of good news buried in the wreckage of Sunday night was the fine performance of Special Teams. Amos Jones' unit acquited itself admirably with Suisham and Butler performing well above the line, and Jones surprising us by inserting Antonio Brown back into punt returning duties when most of us were expecting either rookie Chris Rainey or Emmanuel Sanders in that role. One of the unknowns heading into the season given the fact of a new coach and punter, and a kicker with a reputation for inconsistency, so far we have a little less to worry about in this phase of the game.
Are the Jets for real?
Bill Barnwell of Grantland.com took this issue head on in trying to reconcile why there was such a dramatic jump in the competence of the Jets offense from preseason to first week and whether it would be sustainable moving forward. I chose to highlight this piece because I have less faith in the judgment of the Pittsburgh and New York media or the more mainstream national outlets all of whom seem to be more influenced by the drama surrounding these teams rather than what may actually going on in a purer football sense.
Also on Grantland is an interesting piece analyzing RG3's performance against the Saints. The value to Steelers fans or any fan of the game is that it speaks to the increasingly sophisticated cat and mouse games being conducted between offenses and defenses. Specifically it spoke to how the plays available to RG3 had built in options that he could utilize to offset calls and adjustments by the defense on the fly.
And finally on Grantland was a non football piece that spoke to the maturing status of women's sports. Something any serious sports fan may find intriguing.
Baltimore started out strong and Ohio is in trouble again. What else is new. Fortunately, Ohio goes head to head this weekend so someone will benefit unless they finagle a tie. Joe Flacco got off to a good start on what is for him a contract year. Are the Browns, besides quarterback, better than had been anticipated or are Eagles just off to a slow start (or worse than expected). It would be tempting to write off the Bengals, but I just spent much of the week trying to make the case to not write teams off after one game.