Ladies and Gentlemen!
I am proud to present to you today - your weekly How'd They Do post! After a few weeks of living in the fanposts section, your post recapping how the teams that matter to our Steelers did debuts right here, on the front page! Exciting for me, exciting for everybody!
But there's more news. Since Steeler_ also contributes a great weekly write-up about the teams in our division (which, by the way, also made it to the front page this week. Congratulations my international friend!), I want to stop the redundancy. So from here on out, this post will not be about the AFC North anymore. Instead, I will take a look at how our last three as well as our next three opponents did, giving you an overview of their results. The upset of the week will keep its own summary, because my lucky number is 7. Keep in mind though that this upset has to be outside the division - once again, I want to avoid redundancy. Sounds confusing? It's not! Dive in and see for yourself.
Pittsburgh's Next Three Opponents
The Name: Cleveland Browns
When will we play them? next week (Week 6)
The Game: 10-20 at home against the Atlanta Falcons
The Standout: Seneca Wallace - 11/15, 73% completions, 1 TD, 124.0 passer rating in one half
Promising: Third down efficiency - 7/15, 46%
Look the other way: Who else? Jake Delhomme - 13/23, 57% completions, 0 TD, 2 INT (one pick 6), 30.5 passer rating
What happened: Oh Cleveland, how we love you. Every time you have a good game, you turn right back around and suck it up. Even though it started well. Eric Mangini has to have some tomatoes on his eyes (random German saying thrown in) if he still thinks Delhomme should be his quarterback. No sir, no way. Also, whatever happened to Jerome Harrison? Peyton Hillis was not at full strength, so help was dearly needed. Must be nice to have a quality back like Jerome on the back burner, ready to show that his nothing short of great showings to end last season were no fluke. Right? Wrong. With a measly 6 carries for 6 yards, Harrison almost looked like he tried to prove the opposite. That's not how you fight for your job. Atlanta won this game with a balanced offense and by taking advantage of Delhommes mistakes, but Cleveland better hope that Hillis and Wallace get better quickly. At this point, they are Cleveland's offense. In what is perhaps most important for our match up next week, Wallace's injury all but ensured that the Steelers will face rookie Colt McCoy on Sunday. Yay!
Team Temperature: As quickly as it came, it went - seems like Cleveland suffered a hot flash last week and now is back to shivering.
Highlight Reel: Falcons vs. Browns
Next Week's opponent: Away in the Ketchup hell! Welcome to Heinz Field, folks
What to look for: Oh geez. Has any game ever spelled doom in bigger-font letters than this one? Cleveland's two best offensive players out and not at 100%, Pittsburgh with an extra week to prepare, and with a chip on its shoulder from last week. Plus the franchise QB coming back, eager to show the world what he learned. Similarly to the Browns-Ravens game earlier this season: This should be a blow-out. Let's show these Browns who the real class of the division is.
The Name: Miami Dolphins
When will we play them? In two weeks (Week 7)
The Game: Bye week
Next Week's opponent: Away at the Green Bay Packers
What to look for: Will QB Aaron Rodgers be able to make it? Head coach Mike McCarthy just said today that he is 'questionable at best'. Truth be told, without Rodgers and RB Ryan Grant out for the season, this could very well be a good old-fashioned arse-wipping. As I have mentioned before, I like the makeup of this years' version of the Dolphins. Seems like they have a solid running and passing team, combined with an up-and-coming defense. No Rodgers would make them the favorite. But watch out for the Green Bay Defense led by play maker Clay Matthews (leading the league with 8.5 sacks) and a Defensive Coordinator that is not afraid to confuse the heck out of opposing offenses. This duo could make the game interesting.
The Name: New Orleans Saints
When will we play them? In three weeks (Week 8)
The Game: 20-30 away against the Arizona Cardinals
The Standout: Marques Colston - 7 receptions, 97 yards, 13.9 avg.
Promising: Ladell Betts and Chris Ivory - combined for 20 attempts, 83 yards, 4.2 y/c
Look the other way: ball security and returns: 3 interceptions (1 returned for TD), 2 fumbles (1 returned for TD)
What happened: Holy crap! I wanted to pick this as my upset of the week, because it was just unbelievable. New Orleans dominates every statistical category but interceptions and fumbles take care of a huge upset. Drew Brees continues to stumble as he tries to defend his title, can you say Madden Curse? 3 interceptions, one returned for a TD while attempting a desperate comeback. No, New Orleans, Pittsburgh Fans know all too well: this is not how you defend a title. Give credit to Pittsburgh West though, who started an undrafted rookie and didn't have a running game whatsoever, yet still managed to pull out a win. That's what I call role players stepping up to make plays. The score was tied until the start of the fourth quarter, when Arizona started to fly away, scoring 17 points to end the game. New Orleans has to be disappointed about this one - they fall into 3rd place in the division, and despite encouraging performances by the replacements of Reggie Bush and Pierre Thomas, they don't have a good running game to rely on anymore. Let's hope they don't start to get pissed more and more until they play us.
Team Temperature: Refraining from inappropriate Katrina jokes, this is uncharacteristically cold for the Louisiana climate.
Highlight Reel: Saints vs. Cardinals
Next Week's opponent: Away at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers
What to look for: Oh boy. How many of you thought before this game that this game would be a laughter? I sure did. But as we speak, the Buccaneers are actually ahead of the Saints in the NFC South, and only a half game behind Atlanta for the divisional lead. Who'd 'a thunk? I sure didn't. A minor disappointment against a major surprise so far. Add to that the fact that New Orleans is so desperate at running back they just signed Julius Jones off the Seahawks, and this could get intriguing. Let's see if Josh Freeman can continue his impressive performance, and if the defense can make the same type of plays against New Orleans that they did against Cincinnati.
Pittsburgh's Last Three Opponents
When did we play them and how did we do? Last week (Week 4); lost 17-14
The Game: 31-17 at home against the Denver Broncos
The Standout: Ray Rice - 27 Rushes, 133 Yards, 4.9 y/c, 2 TD
Promising: Billy Cundiff (Kicker): 1/1 on field goals, 4/4 on XP, 6 kick offs, 5 in the endzone, 4 touch backs
Look the other way: Pass Rush - just 1 sack and 3 QB hits on 39 attempts
What happened: I hate to say it, but these Ravens are picking up steam. After going up 17-0 quickly in the first half, the Broncos thought they could make it a game by narrowing the margin to 7 - only to watch Ray Rice have his breakout game of the year. I was on the forefront of people scratching their heads about the way he has been used this season, but oh boy, not anymore. That's the entire running game of the Ravens though, at least in this game. 47 rushes for 233 yards and 4 TD? Those are college stats, right there. No wonder that the Ravens controlled the ball almost 13 minutes more than the Broncos, and ended up winning quite handily. Flacco didn't have his finest night, but that's because he didn't have to. He didn't make any major mistakes, and that was all they needed from him this game. Just one little piece worrisome for Ravens fans (Steelers fans, we can cling to this): For the first time this season, the passing defense has looked vulnerable. Kyle Orton looks like the real deal, but he had been 4th in the league for sacks allowed before this game with 12. The Ravens got to him only once, which definitely needs to be improved. Once again though, I grudgingly have to admit they played well.
Team Temperature: Like a steam engine - difficult to heat up, but once it's going, you know it's gonna keep going
Highlight Reel: Ravens vs. Broncos
Next Week's opponent: Away at the New England Patriots
What to look for: Given a first glimpse at what could be a shaky pass defense, this match up could have been difficult for our feathered enemies. But Moss has been traded, and even though Ed Reed has to sit out one more game, the Ravens suddenly look to be the favorites. Don't look for girly-haired Tom Brady to agree though. He will come out firing, and ensure that this game won't be a blow-out in favor of the Ravens. I expect the Ravens to stick to this week's game plan - run the ball down the Patriots' throat and keep the ball away from Brady as much as possible.
When did we play them and how did we do? Two weeks ago (Week 3); won 38-13
The Game: 24-21 away at the Cincinnati Bengals
The Standout: Josh Freeman - 20/33, 61% completions, 280 Yards, 1 TD, 1 INT, some huge throws to win the game
Promising: Mike Williams (Rookie WR) - 7 receptions, 99 yards, 14.1 avg., 1 TD, 1 fumble lost
Look the other way: fumbles - 4, two of which were lost (Freeman 2, Spurlock 1, M. Williams 1)
What happened: The Bengals happened. After being in the lead or at least competitive for most of the game, these kitties got de-clawed fast in the last minutes of the game. Carson Palmer, far from being a tiger, decided that trying to put the game away would be the perfect game to screw it all up. Two interceptions in the last 2:30 minutes, I mean really? Looks like he has learned a thing or 3 from Jake Delhomme, proud interception king of the Cleveland Browns. But back to the game. The weird thing was that Cedrick Benson was finally getting going, yet they still managed to lose the game. Credit Tampa Bay, who played a QB that actually seemed to know what he was doing. Freeman had his mistakes but he looked nothing short of stellar when the game was on the line and stood tall in and outside of the pocket, something that seems eerily similar to Pittsburgh fans. Additionally, Mike Williams looks to be an up-and-coming receiver in this league. So while the Bengals flat-out sucked, the Bucs showed that they might just be more than a fluke and here to stay. What Coach Morris has done with these guys is impressive, especially the discipline he has managed to install - just 3 penalties for 25 yards speak for themselves.
Team Temperature: Getting pretty wARRRRm in here!
Highlight Reel: Tampa Bay vs. Cincinnati
Next Week's opponent: At home against the New Orleans Saints
What to look for: See above
When did we play them and how did we do? Three weeks ago (Week 2); won 15-9
The Game: 20-10 away at the Cleveland Browns
The Standout: Michael Turner - 19 carries, 140 yards, 7.3 y/c, and this bruising run
Promising: John Abraham - 5 tackles (7 in 4 games before that), 2 sacks (2 in 4 games before that)
Look the other way: Red Zone TD efficiency - 0/3, 0/1 with goal to go
What happened: Another former opponent that couldn't match up against us, yet turned around and beat on a divisional rival. Weeeee! As was the case so often in this young season, Cleveland looked competitive early, and Seneca Wallace looked as comfortable as ever - ensuring a 7-6 halftime lead by completing 11 of 15 passes for 139 yards and a TD, good for a 124 passer rating. Not bad at all! Only thing is, he got hurt, and Jake Delhomme got into the game. You know what comes next. Delhomme showed he is well worth the 7 million he gets from the Browns this year - as a jester. Two horrible picks (one returned for a TD) later, the Browns fell to an Atlanta team that now has the pundits talking. All they have is the best record in the NFC despite already playing Pittsburgh and New Orleans, and perhaps even more importantly: as displayed in this game, they can beat you running and passing. Anyways, after Delhomme got in the game, Atlanta took over. Doesn't it feel even nicer now that we beat them without our franchise quarterback?
Team Temperature: These Georgia summers can get pretty warm, I've been told. Let's see if they can keep up the heat when the temperature drops.
Highlight Reel: Falcons vs. Browns
Next Week's opponent: Away at the Philadelphia Eagles
What to look for: Lookie here, our in-state rivals get a shot against the high-flying Falcons. I could go with all kinds of bird analogies here, but I will spare you guys and girls the agony. Too bad that Mike Vick isn't playing, huh? That would have been even more hyped up than the return of McNabb last week. So Kevin Colb it is, despite two potent passing offenses, this is all about the run for me. And after a quick look at the numbers, I say the Falcons take this. They are the second best rushing offense right now, matching up against a surprisingly low Eagle defense that is only 24th against the run. Additionally, Philadelphia has no backup to Shady McCoy right now. Mike Bell, designated backup, only averages 1.8 y/c for the season. Not enough to beat Atlanta.
Upset of the Week
The Name: Oakland Raiders
The Game: 35-27 at home against the San Diego Chargers
The Standout: Special Teams: 2 blocked punts (one for Safety, one for TD), 2/2 on FG (longest: 50 yards), four punts with 47.8 average (longest: 63 yards), 1 punt return for 46 yards, 7 kickoffs (5 in endzone, 3 touch backs)
Promising: Michael Huff (Safety) - 11 tackles, 1 sack, 1 forced fumble and Michael Bush - 26 attempts, 104 yards, 1 TD
Look the other way: penalties - 12 for 85 yards
What happened: So if I have San Diego lose to my upset of the week for the third time in five weeks, is it still an upset? For now, I think so, but it might not be for long anymore. Still, nobody expected Oakland to pull out a win here, and did they ever. I have to admit that I did not get to watch this game and go off only highlights and box scores for this one, but from what I saw, it was completely nuts. Oakland scored in all three fashions (safety, field goal, and TD) in the first quarter alone, but San Diego and Philip Rivers did not give up. Once again, a huge passing night from Rivers that ended up in vein. Goes to show how important an efficient running game can really be. The special teams for Oakland this game were absolutely HUGE, as evidenced by all the statistics above. Additionally, Michael Bush showed that he is more than a simple backup to McFadden, and once both are healthy, look out. Nice win for Oakland, who might just be turning an era of being terrible around right now. I'll reserve judgment on that for now, but they certainly look better than in years past.
Team Temperature: You know that weather when you can't decide whether to pull up your sleeves or not? Yeah, that one.
Highlight Reel: Raiders vs. Chargers
Next Week's opponent: Away at the San Francisco 49ers
What to look for: Yet another game that was looked at completely differently this off season. Be honest, if you would have looked at this before the season, who would you have thought to be the winless team? The 49ers are under serious pressure. Oakland seems to be the perfect opponent to get out of a season-long slump, but they have proven to be resilient this season. Match up of the day for me is Alex Smith vs. the Raiders secondary and pass rush. The guy showed in the Eagle's game that he has potential, but also horrific decision making at times. At the same time, the Raiders pass defense, a surprisingly strong 10th in the league so far, showed its vulnerabilities against the Chargers. Let's see which one prevails.
And of course, as always, your German word of the day: Aufschneider (say: auf-shni-derr) - pretender