After a nice dinner in Laguna Beach, I was excited to watch the rest of the game I had to put aside at the end of the first quarter on tape. Now that I have, albeit somewhat rapidly, a few thoughts from me that hopefully some of you will jump in on. If you have some good thoughts, and have never left a comment, jump aboard. This is going to be on helluva fun season.
"I thought that the finish to that game was a great experience fro some young men to be in somewhat of a pressure situation and have to deliver," Tomlin said.
*True that. Great point by Mr. Tomlin. Competitors, which is what we want on our football team, not just athletes, want to win regardless of the stakes or situation. It's been said that Michael Jordan would cheat against your grandmother in a game of cards in the name of winning at all costs.
This was but just a small, inconsequential test for some of our younger guys, and we more or less responded in a positive manner. As we have all seen over the course of our football following lives, there's always a time, some time, during a season when you need somebody unheralded and unexpected to step up and deliver in someone else's absence.
* I've come to the conclusion in the past 24 hours - basically since the start of preseason games in earnest for 2008 - that the first couple of series in the first quarter of these games are actually really entertaining. I was thinking that, perhaps coordinators and offensive play callers aren't really interested in 'establishing the run' and what not early in these games, and are instead interested in giving their starters a chance to get some significant work in, with a sense of urgency almost. They are, after all, coming out very soon.
The opening drives of both teams tonight certainly fits my hypothesis. Both the Steelers and the Eagles had very impressive opening sequences on offense.
* Speaking of that first drive...Wow. You know that cliche we've been using all offseason since the draft: 'Big Ben has so many weapons at his disposal now'? Well, that opening sequence was exactly what we've been envisioning. The fact that we got a glimpse of it on our first series had to have gotten every last Steelers fan pumped up about the future of this organization, both in the immediate and the shorter/intermediate term (read 1-3 years).
* I love Hines Ward. Do I need to say anything else? Didn't think so, but I can't help it. He's my favorite Steeler and maybe my favorite athlete ever, in any sport.
I'm glad he caught the first pass of the night. He doesn't need to have 80+ catches and 1,000 yards to have a gigantic impact on our team and season. More often than not, his catches mean more than just the yards they cover. Tonight, it was a momentum setting first down reception, bringing Heinz Field to its first high-decible frenzy of 2008. I'm not sure there's another guy on the team that can get the Heinz faithful as pumped up and ready to believe in their team as Hines. That means something, and you can count on many of the whatever number of catches he has this year, meaning something significant to the tone and trajectory of the game and even season.
From leadership to tough catches in traffic in big situations when Big Ben seems to look to him most often, Hines still has it in him to play at the highest of levels. Baller Supreme.
* Stat of the night, at least for me. The Eagles were 28 of 48 throwing the ball, for a respectable 58% and 239 yards. Not a great yards per attempt, but still, that's a lot of pass attempts. I found it very, very impressive that the Steelers defense limited the Eagles to just 10 points. Sure, the Eagles offense had to deal with two quarterback changes, but Donovan McNabb and AJ Fealy both have playoff experience, and Kevin Kolb is supposedly waiting in the wings to take over Donovan's job when the time's right. Those are good QBs and 48 pass attempts only led to two scoring opportunities. And, it's not like the Iggles turned the ball over a ton either, fumbling just once. At times, it appeared the defense looked underwhelming, but I think the reality is that this is going to be a very stingy defense, that may bend at times, but rarely will break, at least not consistently. Particularly if the offense doesn't handicap them with bad situations, but that's a subject for a different post that I'm working on.
* Mendenhall's got some learning to do, and some jitters to overcome (I think he probably needs to think a bit less out there and trust himself and what he's been taught as a runner). Regardless, all the skills were on display tonight, and I don't think there's a soul out there who doesn't think his star's bright in Pittsburgh. Also, I liked him returning kicks.
* One thing I was disappointed with. After Dixon's pass to Willie Reid to the Eagles 5, we ran the ball unsuccessfully with Gary Russel then settled for a FG at the 2 yard line. Sure, now's the time to work on executing the basics, but might also have been a good way to get your new #2 QB some confidence with a little roll out play there on 2nd down, when the defense was looking run most likely. I know, I know, these games aren't strictly played for winning, but given some of our execution problems in the red zone late in the year, I'm still on alert about that issue as we inch closer to the regular season.
* As I said to our friendly Eagles blogger, Jeremy Bloom is not cut out to be a professional football player. Sorry. Party's over for him.
* Staying with the return man theme, I'm curious to see Travis Williams does next week, if he does in fact get a shot to return some kicks, as Dale Lolley recently suggested. He made a rookie mistake in pass coverage, but clearly he's got a bundle of speed, and some fairly solid instincts in pass coverage as well.
* Eddie Drummond going to be allright?
* Have I gotten this far without mentioning the offensive line? All looked solid, Sean Mahan included, in the opening drive. We'll get another glimpse of the line, with a different set of combinations working with the first and second teams, next week when we travel to Toronto. I will say that there were instances that suggested that we may have some similar problems picking up tough yards between the tackles when it counts, but you never know, stranger things have happened. We'll just have to wait and see how this particular line jels. Also, (fingers crossed) even one injury to a starter can change the entire dynamic of an offensive line. For better or for worse. It's marathon, not a sprint, and there will undoubtedly be many twists and turns in this particular subplot before the days shorten and winter eventually falls upon us.
It's far too small a sample size to make any sort rationale conclusions, but, let's just all be pleased (for now) that we weren't reminded in a big way of the problems that plagued us for so much of last season.
* Unfortunate news about Charlie Batch. We'll see how long he's out, but you better believe, he'll be working hand-in-hand with Dixon on being prepared to play in the event of an injury to Roethlisberger. Let that sink in for a second. One missed assignment on the offensive line, or one twisted knee at the bottom of a pile, and Dennis Dixon is quarterbacking your 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers. That would obviously be cause for serious concern, but I think he showed enough tonight that were the unthinkable to happen, we might be able to survive with our defense, running game, and Dixon's ability to make a guy miss and dump the ball off in the flat while on the run. Fingers crossed and best of luck to Charlie getting healthy!
* You can probably just dismiss that diatribe actually, as the Steelers will more than likely find some old dude off the street to fill in for Batch. Throw a name out there as to who it might be. I personally though would rather go with Dixon, especially if whatever old-timer that was brought in, failed to lead us to victory in his first and/or second attempt. My best bet is one of the 35 QBs stashed away on Jon Gruden's Tampa Bay roster.
* Ryan McBean is playing like a guy who wants to make this team. Just a little consistency now and he can feel good about his chances. Clearly he'd add a nice 'motor' and set of fresh legs to the line.
* Larence Timmons = heat seeking missle. Count on him being on ESPN's lamely executed but entertaining segment, 'Jacked Up' in the near future.
* Mewelde Moore wasn't given much opportunity on offense, but both he and Keyaron Fox in particular, are going to be great. Brilliant pickups for freaking pennies on the dollar by our front office. I won't link here, but if you'e interested and hadn't read before, you can search for my thoughts on the signings when they occurred. Fox just looks like a player, who's going to be ready and capable when called upon. And you better believe he won't leave his gap assignments on special teams. Good stuff.
* I suppose I shouldn't let Moore off the hook so easily. It was his missed assignment on a handoff called for him that led to Charlie Batch's injury. Veterans shouldn't be making that mistake, though we don't know for certain if Batch had any role in the miscommunication. Regardless, I'm sure no-one feels worse than Mewelde, if the mishap was entirely on his shoulders.
* Tony Hills needs work. That's ok. We knew that.
* Preseason or regular season, it's good to see Jeff Reed continue to be money. A 50 yarder is impressive, though I think we should remember the ball carries a smidge better in early August than it does in late fall and winter in Pittsburgh. Great stuff though from Spikey. Isn't it nice not having to bite our nails nervously each time our kicker lines it up?
* Kudos to new P Paul Ernster. Nothing to write home about, but a solid first outing. I'd say he most certainly has a job for a couple more weeks, at the bare minimum.
I'm going to leave it at that for now. There's more worht mentioning, but many of you have done so in the Open Game Day Thread. Many thanks to syrsteelerfan, BlueGrassSteelerFan, old steady schnifin, acrollet, and a few others for the good time in the comments section.
Allow me to point you to one comment made by schnifin real quick. Basically said the new platform made the live threads so much more fun. I'm hoping more and more of us who aren't able to go to the games, will jump in at times for some fun. Cheers to y'all who provided all the great insights in the thread and if you're looking for some more info on what happened, comb through the comments and there's plenty to be had.
Fill in the blanks for me guys. Or, instead, just mention your reaction or how you felt when we marched on that 8 play, 80 yard TD drive to get things started. I think my reaction, upstairs alone mind you, looked something like this:
HERE WE GO STEELERS, HERE WE GO.