Yesterday, I broke down five keys to the game for the Steelers. Let's take a look back at them:
1)The Offensive Line : I thought our guys up front did an excellent job giving Batch time. More importantly, they opened up some running lanes for Fast Willie Parker to explode through. Batch was sacked three times, but two of those were the consequence of him holding onto the ball too long. Faneca was in on the Batch fumble inside the Miami redzone, but I don't think that was his fault. We're going to be an even better team than last year if we can keep our line intact and injury-free. Grade: 8.5/10
2)Strong Safetys : Before the game, I was interested in seeing how Clark, Carter, and Smith would be rotated and how each would perform individually. All three looked good, if not spectacular. Clark made a nice hit on a Dolphin receiver to break up a pass, and all three did a good job of not letting any Dolphins receivers get behind them in the secondary. It was Troy however, who made the big play when we needed it most, picking off Culpepper shortly after Batch's nearly catastrophic fumble inside the Dolphin 5 yard line. I have more to say about our secondary (I thought it could have been better, especially the play of the cornerbacks near the line of scrimmage), but I'll save that for another post. Grade: 7.5/10
3) My third key to the game was Willie Parker. Wow, I really love watching him run. We all know he's fast, but I was also impressed by how tough he was last night; and by how quickly he seemed to bounce up after taking some big hits. Parker finished the night with 115 yards on 29 carries. Very workmanlike. So much for Verron Haynes being a bigger part of the running game I guess. He finished with just 1 carry for 3 yards. Grade: 9.5/10
4)Pass Rush: I felt we really needed to get to Culpepper to win last night. There were times when Culpepper had plenty of time to throw, especially in the first half. As the game progressed though, Dick LeBeau & Co. introduced new blitz schemes that were more effective at disrupting the Dolphins' rhythm. Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel and Casey Hampton all did a fantastic job in the running game, allowing Ronnie Brown only 30 yards on 15 carries. Most of the blitzing came from LBs (Porter had two sacks) and CBs, but regardless, the defensive line deserves A LOT of the credit for what we were able to accomplish defensively last night. Grade: 9/10
5)Field Position : Here's an area where we most certainly got outplayed; and it could have cost us the game. Who the hell is Wes Welker? The speedy WR and KR from Texas Tech had an absolute field day, racking up a lusty 26.3 yards per punt return. He had one punt return of 47 yards that led to a Miami touchdown, and his opening kick return gave Miami a short field to work with right off the bat. Gardocki actually had a good day punting the ball (numbers wise at least), with an average of 46.6 yards on five punts. I thought Gardocki's punts didn't have enough hang time though, they were often line drives that did not allow our coverage enough time to get in the right position. We better shore this up before next week's showdown at Jacksonville.
Btw, what was up with Jeff Reed's FG attempt late in the 4th quarter?? That was uggggly! Much to be desired in the special teams department. Grade: 5.5/10.
More analysis from last night's game to come.