We'll delve into the particulars throughout the week, but let's begin the post-victory celebration with one simple word: WOW.
I don't think we could have scripted a more picture perfect opening game to our season. That phrase is thrown around plenty in sports, but I think it is appropriate here. 3 TDs for Willie Parker, a near perfect game for Big Ben, 2 TDs from a rejuvenated Hines Ward, Troy Polamalu's 1st INT in nearly two years, a reminder delivered straight from the hands of LaMarr Woodley that he's not to be forgotten about amongst all the Lawrence Timmons hype, and perhaps most importantly, a dominant showing by the 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line. Are you serious?
Some thoughts first about the...
* Let's start with the man of the hour Willie Parker. 25 carries, 138 yards, 3 TDs. How's that for a statement that his leg is just fine. Several things jumped out at me while watching FWP run. For starters, he's got that quick burst back that allows him to beat a LB or DE on the edge, then sprint into the secondary for a big gain. Granted, he had that for most of last year, and I'll be watching closely to see how his stamina and strength holds up throughout the course of the year, but again Parker hushed his critics and reminded folks why he's got the 2nd most rushing yards in the NFL since 2006. He's relentless out there. 1 yard gain, 3 yard gain, 4 yard gain. Then, all of a sudden. 8 yards, 32 yards, 11 yards. Next thing you know, he's posted his 22nd career 100-yard game. Congratulations to him on a magnificent start to the 2008 year.
Oh, and his 3 TDs surpassed last year's total of just 2 scores. BTW, props to Jim Wexell for accurately pointing out in my most recent interview with him, that Parker would be the man along the goal line.
* Moving on to recently annointed captain and mega-millionaire QB Ben Roethlisberger. So much for any concern about a post-payday hangover from Big Ben. All he did was go 13/14 for 137 yards and 2 TDs. Big Ben was pin-point accurate on all his throws all game. Be it the impressive TD strikes to Hines Ward, or the dumpoffs to Heath or Spaeth, Roethlisberger was on today, and I'd expect to see much of the same throughout the year. He's really starting to -get it- with his decision making, and there's simply no questioning his arm strength, mobility, accuracy, or any other important physical attribute. I won't sound the alarm bells just yet over his fumble on the 1st Mario Willaims sack in the second quarter that led to Houston's only points of the first half, but we all know how those types of plays turn ballgames more often than not.
One quick thought: remember that 17 yard scramble by Big Ben on the Steelers' opening drive? The one that put them inside the Houston 30? Well, though I hope we don't have to rely on such plays too often this year, it was still a beautiful reminder that Roethlisberger can still play that card when necessary. So impressive for a man his size.
* How about that offensive line? Was it perfect? No, not exactly. Mario Williams registered two sacks, there were clogged running lanes at times, etc. But, for a unit that was so maligned all offseason, you have to give the big eaters up front one GIANT tip of the cap for their opening performance. We'll get into this more throughout the week, but if we can stay near that level of play, particularly in respect to our short yardage run-blocking, I'll feel confident in our chances to win the requisite number of close games to be a more complete and competitive team than we were a year ago. As I said, more to come on this subject, including thoughts on individual players.
* Ah, Hines Ward. What a competitor. All the talk all offseason is about Santonio Holmes being poised to emerge as a bonafide star. That may still be the case, but for now, there's still plenty of reason to heap praise on Ward, who I think can help cement his Hall of Fame status with a few more statistically great years (hence my question to Wexell in that linked interview above). He's still got the speed to get things done, he doesn't drop passes, and most importantly, Big Ben still gravitates to him quite frequently. With Ward & Co. heading to Cleveland next week to take on a suspect Browns secondary, I'm salivating at the prospect of Ward having two multiple TD games to start this year.
* Heath and Spaeth make up on heckuva TE combo. I hope they both stay healthy all year, because the two of them give Bruce Arians lots of options, and both have to be accounted for in the passing game by opposing defenses.
* Rahsard Delicious Mendenhall will be important this year. His time will come and we'll need to lean on him at some point. He still could hit the hole a smidge quicker. But, generally speaking, I'm not concerned. In fact, I was quite impressed with his back-to-back carries in the 3rd quarter, for 6 and 9 yards, that made the score 35-7 and all but put the game out of reach. Above all else for now, I'm pleased he's getting a taste of what it means to be nasty out there while watching Willie Parker.
* One final thought before moving on to the defense. As pleased as I was that Big Ben got to sit out the 4th quarter with the game in hand, part of me dislikes breaking our momentum in such a big way. Absolutely everything was going right as the 3rd quarter came to an end. Then, things stagnated. Our offense stalled, and the lack of urgency and sharpness carried over to the defense. Each day is a new day, so it's impossible to say this will matter one lick next week. Just saying. Momentum's a crazy thing.
Defense coming soon.