Yesterday, I touched on the offense. On to the defense and what was a most impressive display by the unit against Houston on Sunday.
* Let's start with Mr. Big Snack Casey Hampton. Why don't we see what he had to say about all the hand wringing regarding his playing weight this offseason:
"My play has always spoken for itself. I always did my thing on the field. It hasn't been questioned in the past. I don't see why it would start now," said Hampton, who received hearty words of congratulations from Steelers chairman Dan Rooney and director of football operations Kevin Colbert for his outstanding performance.
Indeed it has. If Hampton can play anywhere near 90% healthy all year, we'll be in great shape. Towards the end of last year, I'd say he was closer to 60-70%. He just opens up everything for the guys behind him, and this year, it appears we have some absolute studs to clean up Snack's dirty work.
* Jumping around here. A hearty congratulations to S Ryan Clark for returning to the National Football League one year removed from losing his spleen. I wasn't quite set up this week to re-watch Clark's play, but upon first glance, I thought he did a great job being where he was supposed to be, tackling soundly, and acting as a vocal leader out there. I also remember one really nice play he made in run support in the 2nd half. That guy's always in position in the running game, and he sure takes great angles to the ball. The one ding on his play would be the pass interference call against him in the 2nd half when he was clearly beat. However, it almost turned out to be a very heads-up play. The Texans got the ball on the goal line after the penalty, then were backed up on first and second down before finding the endzone on 3rd. Anyway, just a small example of the intelligence he brings to our secondary, even on the plays where he made an initial mistake.
* Troy Polamalu in the house! The Texans offense was fairly lousy Sunday, so Polamalu didn't need to do anyhing spectacular this week. But it was just a treat to see him out there causing havoc, looking lively, etc. His first INT in eons topped off his solid return alongside Clark, and as is the case with Hampton, Aaron Smith, as well, our chances at being consistently competitive against the league's better teams are substantially higher when Polamalu's close to full strength. I'm expecting Cleveland to put up a better fight than Houston did, particularly in the passing game. That should equate to ample opportunity for P to make plays and prove his offseason workout regiment in southern California will pay dividends.
* More props to Jim Wexell for pointing out that rookie T Duane Brown would be abused by James Deebo Harrison when he lined up against him on Sunday. Boy did he get a rude indoctrination to the NFL by Harrison. I imagine Deebo had some very amicable things to say to Brown after dusting him.
* Unlike last year, when teams were able to spend less capital accounting for Clark Haggans, and instead focusing on shutting down Harrison towards the end of the year, opposing offenses are going to have to pick their poison this year. Double team Harrison and leave Woodley in single coverage? Risky. Particularly if you're also only leaving one guy on Casey Hampton. Farrior may just shoot up the middle if that's the case. Or Polamalu. The possibilities are endless of Dick LeBeau. I love it, and I'm sure he does too.
* It should be stated again though: we saw a similar start last year in September, before stumbling to the finish line. Part of that was our own flaws. Part was bad luck injury wise. I sure was glad to see Tomlin and LeBeau rotate in guys like Eason and Kirschke liberally. The extra rest for the Aaron Smiths, Casey Hamptons, etc. may prove to be invaluable later in the year.
* 131 of Houston's 234 total yards came in the 4th quarter when the score was already 35-3. Houston was also only converted 1/8 3rd downs to start the game, before converting on their final two to finish 3/10 Wow. That's a beatdown extraordinaire by LeBeau's gang.
* It's not at all inconceivable that we send five or maybe even 6 defenders to the Pro Bowl. Likely? No, not really. But think about it. If Hampton stays healthy and plays well, he'll be in contention, as he usually is. Troy Polamalu likely will - hopefully for his stellar play, not just his superstar status around the country. That's two. Then there's James Harrison, who can't be ignored if he has 12-15 sacks. Same with Woodley. Now, granted, he's got a long way to go and lots to learn. But an INT, a fumble recovery and two sacks sure isn't a bad way to start the year. That's potentially four, and then of course there's Ike Taylor and Aaron Smith, both of whom should be considered at their positions. Smith's been great for a long time. Taylor's really hitting the prime of his career. Who really cares about Pro Bowls? Not me necessarily, but I mention that to emphasize just how potentially special and dominant a group we will be witnessing this year.
You excited yet?!?
Bring on the Brownies.