New plan for my initial post-game thoughts. In an attempt to avoid writing an excessive amount before hearing what you guys have to say, I'm going to limit my initial thoughts to some random thoughts, open it to the floor, and then perhaps address some of the most persistent themes/complaints/concerns coming from you guys. Like I said, no real rhyme or reason here, so bare with me. Let's get to it:
- Settle down, we'll get to the ridiculous second half turnovers in a minute. First, CONGRATULATIONS HINES WARD ON BECOMING THE NEW ALL-TIME TD RECEPTION LEADER FOR THIS PROUD, STORIED FRANCHISE! . Guys, this isn't like a collegiate QB at Oregon or Texas Tech breaking a school passing record in the era of the spread offense. We're talking about the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of THE preeminent franchises in all of North American professional sports. Hines Ward surpassed John Stallworth's career TD mark of 63 with two TD receptions tonight. His first matched the Hall of Famer's mark; the second put Hines all alone atop the record books.
Stallworth, Lynn, step aside. Mr. Ward re-writes history at Heinz tonight
I know there are many fans and contributors to the site who are far more experienced and knowledgable historians of this franchise's past, but I'd be remiss if I didn't suggest we all take just a passing moment to think about what Ward has accomplished and meant to this organization and city since being drafted by the Steelers in the third round of the 1998 NFL draft. He's a special, special talent and one of the very select athletes, in any sport, that one could legitimately feel confident going to war with, no matter the opponent, no matter the circumstance, no matter the odds. That edge he brings is why none of us were that surprised when we made our run in 2005, and personally, that mental toughness he infuses in our team is why I wholeheartedly expect us to make a game of it next weekend in New England.
- Hines, there's more love coming your way, but let's be real, our defense won this game for us. Raise your hand if you were either A)pacing nervously B)cursing uncontrollably or C)ready to write-off the season after the Bengals proceeded to march 75 yards on 12 plays for a TD on their opening drive. I wish I could say 'you should know better' but I gotta admit I was one of those who was concerned after that impressive drive that Palmer orchestrated.
- The Bengals amassed 75 yards on the 1st drive. Their next seven drives? Fewer than 85 yards...total.Can you believe we only sacked Carson Palmer once tonight? Would you have believed me if I told you before the game that we'd hold Palmer to 17/44 for 183 yards yet only sack him once? Didn't think so. It's not easy making Palmer look like JP Lohsman yet we found a way, despite handing the Bengals golden field position throughout the night. Seriously, appreciate that defensive effort. Carson Palmer is, and will be for many more years, one of the very best QBs in the league. We made him look like a rookie tonight, and that's really not easy to do.
- Here's a small microcosm of why you should rarely, if ever doubt the Rooneys: don't forget Steelers Nation that we were playing without our top two safetys. Our two reserves, Tyrone Carter and Anthony Smith, have been playing lights out all year. We really haven't missed a beat, and although it's a silly argument to make, one could at least attempt to argue with some sense of credibility, that our defense has been superior with the two of them in there in place of the starters. Carter and Smith both play with a swagger that's undeniably contagious. Many of us have had high hopes for Smith. The play of Carter though has been down right surprising. That's not to say we thought he wasn't any good. He's been playing much, much better than acceptable back-up quality football though. Neither have allowed a huge, game-changing play, and both continue to lay the wood week after week on any and all who dare to come over the middle. I love the Bengals' Housh as a player. I'll admit it, I do. He's usually nails under pressure and as reliable as can be. We made him, as well as Palmer and C. Johnson, look terrible all night. Moral of the story is this team has depth in several critical departments. There's work to be done this offseason, but the Rooneys have yet again put together a collection of individuals that A) has the depth to compete when injuries surface and B) not complain and cause problems when it's not their turn to step up.
- Ben's first half TD scramble was a perfect example of why he has the skill set to be one of the top 1-5 QBs in this league for the next 7-10 years. This probably deserves a post of its own, but I was thinking that there's really no difference between Big Ben and Vince Young in their scrambling capabilities. Both are strong, both are great at making the first guy miss, and both are able to fall forward for the extra tough yard or two when it's really needed. Now, the biggest difference of course is that Young is capable of breaking off the long 30-50 yard run, but really, in the short and intermediate scrambling, they're very comparable. Yet, nobody really speaks of Ben as an elite mobile, running QB. Thank God for this actually, because most defenses designate a full-time spy on Vince Young, whereas defensive coordinators would never dare do that with Ben, even if they do hammer home the point to their defense that Roethlisberger is more than capable of breaking contain and making a play with his arm or feet outside of the pocket. Bottom line is this: the Steelers' offense is far more dangerous when Ben's willing to tuck it and run. The more he scrambles, the more LBs will cheat up on him, leaving the middle of the field more vacant for Heath and Hines.
- Quick break from the offense to give a shout out to the coverage units on special teams. We've bitched and moaned for a long while now about our ST play. For a night at least, there was nothing to complain about. 28 yards was the longest KR we surrendered; 12 yards was the longest punt return allowed. This was big actually, because our defense did yield some yardage before buckling down when it had to. Our offense compromised our defense on several occasions. Our special teams did not. I did notice seeing L. Timmons, Ike Taylor, and James Harrison in on special teams at the same time. Love to Anthony Madison as well for forcing that fumble on the kick return. Guys, Tomlin has had his ups and downs with game management this year, but he's brought in Rossum and Madison for special teams purposes, and both have left their mark on football games this year. He's not just standing there hoping Arians and LeBeau will get it done. He's got his hand in the pot in many more ways than might be apparent on the television, the main one being....
- The play of D-Mac, Ike, and Deshea. See above about Carter and A. Smith. Same applies here. All of these guys are over-achieving. This defense had the ability to stop the run and shut down inferior opponents the past several years, but it was just as likely to have a big number hung on it through the air. Not this year. Remember what the Saints, Falcons, and many others did to us last year? They lit us up. Tonight, despite turning the ball over 4 times, our D limited the Bengals to 10 points, and only 3 over the final 54 minutes or so. When you're playing this well on defense, should your offensive philosophy be to tighten up and stay out of the defense's way?
- I for one, don't think so, but the reality is this offense needs to find a way to not get in the way of the team's success when the D has it going on. When you have a HOF WR in Hines Ward, a burgeoning Pro-Bowl deep threat in Santonio, one of the most most underrated TEs in the game, and a QB who is proving capable of learning from past mistakes, why would you ever consider shutting down the offense and instead relying on a defense to win games? You wouldn't obviously. At this point in the season, there's too much evidence that suggests this Steelers defense is as good as there is in the National Football League. The trick is going to be finding the right balance of agression and patient, mistake-free intelligence on offense. If we can find a way to limit Wes Welker next week, I think we'll show the world that even the mighty juggornaut that is the Patriots offense can be contained by the right combination of scheme and athleticism on the defensive side of the ball. Even if they do get torched, I'm damn proud of this defense, and happy knowing they'll probably give us a chance to at least compete for victories come playoff time.
- Lawrence Timmons is finally becoming the head-hunter we wanted to see out of him on special teams. Thought I'd throw that in there real quick.
- Can somebody please tell Kendall Simmons that you can't just slap at somebody's helemt as a guard and hope to eliminate them from the play? That may work as a tackle if you're trying to push a pass rusher just upfield enough to give your QB time to step-up in the pocket, but at the guard position, you gotta lock-up and stay-locked up. Slapping and pushing don't work in the middle, and on that safety of Big Ben that was oh-so-fortunately negated by a suspect defensive pass-interference call, Simmons just gave his guy a quick slap and push to the upper region without considering that might not be enough to deter a 275+ pass rusher who was coming straight up the gut at Big Ben.
Now, for the most part, this line played pretty damn well. Despite being sacked on several...oh wait, scratch that, Big Ben wasn't sacked all night. Max Starks is probably playing in a Steelers uniform for only several more months, but I'm quite pleased that he has filled in so adequately for Marvel Smtih the past two weeks. His competition the past two weeks? Jason Taylor and Justin Smith. Sacks allowed? 1. Not bad my friends, not bad. Is it too late in the season to throw him in at guard for Simmons when M. Smith returns?
- Guess we have no choice but to adress the picks by Ben and the fumbles by Willie. The first throw by Ben that was picked off was a bad throw, no two ways about it. Ball sailed on him and Hines couldn't bring it down. That was precisely the kind of situation where Ben needs to at least part of the time, tuck it and run. He was throwing on the run (moving forward actaully), and while it wasn't a forced throw, he could have taken a few yards had he run it, and no doubt, opposing teams would be more reluctant to drop that extra guy in coverage on passing situations if they knew Roeth was willing and looking to run. On the second pick, hard to say what happened. Honestly, it could have been Hines' fault. Possibly Cedrick's, but I guess we'll never know. There haven't been many mis-communications all year, so let's chalk it up to no big deal for now, and hope they put in a few extra reps this week to make sure it doesn't happen during a more critical, tighter game.
- Parker and the fumbles? Well, had this happend two months ago, I might have been concerned and willing to discuss any decision that shifted carries away from Parker. But the fact of the matter is, Parker hasn't fumbled since Week 4 against Arizona. Perhaps Madden was right in his assesment of the negative effects of those rubber sleeves Parker was wearing. Maybe it was the rain? Maybe it was just great ball-hawking by the Begals. Not sure, but I hope we see another two month-stretch where Parker doesn't put the rock on the ground. His defense bailed him out tonight. That won't stand against NE, or against Jacksonville, or our playoff opponents. Hope that's out of your system FWP.
What else guys. 50 fans' opinions are better than one guy's opinions. Let me know what you saw. Again, plenty to be desired from tonight, but I'll say it again: you're only as good as your record, and this team has the 5th best record in the National Football League. Two of our most glaring weaknesses - the offensive line and coverage in special teams - delivered for us tonight. In my mind, that's just further evidence that we have all the ingredients to compete with, and beat, the best of the best if we could just find a way to piece it all together for 60 minutes. Tonight, despite the obvious second-half shortcomings in the turnover department, was a solid step in the right direction.
And once again, don't let the disappointing turnovers stand in the way of you enjoying the night that Hines Ward, one of the true all-time great Steelers, cemented his status as an immortal in Steelers lore.
After a week in which we were reminded that this is a game played by real people, take time to appreciate this team for what it is: a special collection of individuals that may disappoint from time to time on the gridiron, but never in character, never in heart, and never in effort.