A few more thoughts about our impressive W over the Jaguars and Coach Mike Tomlin and what he's brought to this particular group of players.
* Who loves Mewelde Moore? Raise your hand or wave your towel if so. What a warrior. Going up against a Jaguars defense that maybe isn't as good as in years past, but was still eager to compete and hit, Moore managed to squeeze out 99 tough yards on 17 carries, punctuated by a 27 yard scamper on our game-winning TD march. Nobody loved seeing Moore succeed more than Fast Willie Parker, who jubilatnly applauded Moore's big plays in street clothes from the sideline. Moore didn't find much success running up the gut, but who does on our team? Nevertheless, except for one catch, where Moore misread would-be tacklers and failed to dive forward for first down yardage, he played fantastically. The most impressive stat of the night, at least for me, was the zero fumbles by Moore. He had the ball in his hands throughout the game and protected it consistently, despite being the smallest guy on the field for much of the contest. Don't forget Steelers Nation, this was a Mike Tomlin 'recruit'. He knew what Moore could do based on what he saw in Minnesota. Very wise to get that kind of gamer on your team. Congratulations to Moore, and let the debate begin on how to keep him involved with the game plan each week when FWP returns after the BYE.
* A quick word about the officiating. We don't talk much about such things here, but last night was certainly interesting in this department. Here's why I bring it up now though: those penalties last night had the ability to derail our focus and we didn't let them. The phantom pass interference call against Ryan Clark on Matt Jones was egregious in my opinion, and so was the roughing the passer call. For that matter, I thought the Nate Washington unsportsmanlike call was a bit ticky-tack as well, but Nate's got to learn not to even give the ref the opportunity there. Hines Ward may be able to get away with that. Not Nate, sorry. Anyway, this team is resilient and we didn't let a couple of bad breaks get us off track. Again, I think that's a testament to what Mike Tomlin brings to the table as this coach. It may sound cliched to some, but Tomlin simply preaches relentless competititveness. It's a damn good message to preach when you have the horses on defense, which we definitely do, to just wear teams down by simply putting our head down and attacking. And when you're worried about nothing but being relentless, you don't have time for distractions on the field. Now, if we could only carry that consistency over to our offense.
Oh two more things. I thought we got a shady call ourselves on that defensive holding call on 3rd down. These things even out, for sure, but I was still disappointed in the excessive role the refs had in the game. And finally, I may be calm and rational now, but we sure were rambunctious during the game in our open threads. Again, credit to Tomlin & Co for keeping their cool when it would have been so easy to lose composure. We certainly did from the stands.
* I've noticed some concerns and negativity about Hines Ward and his drops the past couple of weeks. A bit unusual for Hines? Yes, but not alamring, at least not to me. When it counted most, Hines got separation on his man on the fade route, and made a beautiful finger-tip grab to score the game-winner. Ward finished with 7 catches for 90 yards, and a TD, his 4th of the season. If he can stay healthy, he'll be well on his way to a 80+ catch season, for ~1000 yards and 10 TDs. What's there to complain about? Even without the numbers, Hines Ward is worth every penny that we pay him for his leadership and work ethic. Guys like Nate Washington, who had a huge game himself by the way, and Santonio Holmes have no choice but to match Ward's toughness, practice habits and mental toughness. That's a good thing.
* Wow, is our D Line playing out of their minds or what? For the second straight week without Casey Hampton and Brett Keisel, our front 3 managed to stifle the running game and even force a bit of pressure. Orpheus Roye made his presence felt, Travis Kirschke played well, and Chris Hoke is just a beast in the middle. Oh, and that Aaron Smith guy's pretty good too. It's ridiculous if he isn't considered for a Pro Bowl this year. He's held down the fort in a huge way this past three weeks, and I think we can confidently say that he's easily the most integral player along our D Line.
* We'll talk more about this, but you again have to give credit to Tomlin for getting up in Bruce Arians' ear about doing a better job. He sure did, particularly in the first half, where I would give him an A+ mark for his play calling. More on this later, but I think Arians deserves a hearty kudos for his adjustments, even if they weren't evident for the entire 60 minutes.
* Don't let the scoreboard fool you. We owned this game. The interception for a TD counts of course, but when you take that out of the equation, the game becomes decidedly more one-sided. Total yardage comparison? 415 to 213! That's domination my friends. We still have work to do in the red zone, protecting the QB, finding ways to run the ball consistently, etc, etc. But this team sure deserves a lot of credit and praise for being as resilient and tough as any in the NFL. It's been a few years since we've had a defense that was this nasty. We're as good as it gets in this league on D this year and there's just no reason to think they're not going to continue putting us in position to win close games. And since we have this guy named Ben Roethlisberger, who leads all NFL QBs with 15 4th quarter and OT come from behind wins since 2004, to lean on in the clutch, I think we should all be pretty excited about watching this team as the year progresses.
Mediocre teams don't take down Baltimore and Jacksonville, two of our biggest rivals, after being humiliated the week before. Especially not with all the injurys we've had to deal with. This team looks like it could be the real deal if we continue to evolve like we have the past two weeks. And if nothing else, we can all rest easy that we have a coach that will have us ready to compete each and every week. It took a year for Tomlin to truly take control of this team. He has now and the results are starting to show.
4-1 baby! 1st place in the AFC North.
Rest up fellas.