I usually don't have anything to say about a game until later in the week, but given that this is a short week (Tennessee on Thursday) a few quick initial observations about a close, yet satisfying Steelers win.
Who played above the line
Rashard Mendenhall. Yes, (in anticipation of any rebuttals) it was just one game. But I think the Mendenhall haters have a bit of a credibility problem now. Mendy has returned strong and was the key factor in a running attack that was robust today after being anemic over the course of the first three games. He was strong inside, rarely going down with the first hit, and elusive outside. Credit the new Haley offensive scheme in getting him into some screen situations where he was able to play to his strengths. It was also clear that his presence and the fire in his play had an energizing effect on the rest of the offense who, with the possible exception of Heath Miller, played somewhat unevenly today. There was one ball security glitch, but if there was any doubts, and there have been some in the fan community, as to who the feature back is on this team today's performance should end that discussion. Isaac Redman had a solid day as the number two guy, but that's exactly what he is; the number two guy.
Lawrence Timmons. He had been drawing some criticism of late as it has seemed that he had disappeared from the defense in the Oakland game at least. Not today. We saw the Timmons that we had been expecting and hoping for make a dominating appearance today, making tackles from sideline to sideline, causing turnovers and generally terrorizing Michael Vick.
Ryan Clark. This may change after James Harrison works his way completely back but for now Clark is the intimidating presence of this defense, the key leader of the group. Forcing a Vick fumble near the Steeler goal line in the first quarter was huge, and is arguably the play that turned the game. He also delivered some huge shots during the course of the game and will likely be fined for one of those hits by the league office.
Health Miller. He continues a great early start. Big kudos to Todd Haley for getting and keeping him involved and, finally, having him playing at the level of his potential as both a blocker and a receiver.
Jason Worilds. Did a good job filling in for the injured LaMarr Woodley in all phases (run coverage, pass rush and pass coverage). Another player who appears to be rounding into shape after returning from injury.
Shaun Suisham and Drew Butler. The contribution is obvious with Suisham, but it should be noted that the kicking game generally was solid, and we shouldn't take that for granted.
Who played below the line
Mike Wallace. Not necessarily a terrible game, but two dropped passes that should have been caught, one of which would have been certain touchdown. This was one of the reasons why this game was a nail biter as opposed to a solid win.
Who gave with one hand and took away with the other
Willie Colon. He had some irritating holding penalties, but he also showed what he is capable of as a run blocker. Let's remember that he is still learning the position.
Antonio Brown. Certainly the positive far outweighed the negative, but he did have two drops, one of which, like Wallace, cost the team a certain touchdown.
Ben Roethlisberger. Again, like Brown the good outweighed the bad, but he had some issues with handling snaps in the shotgun in the first half that could have been big trouble and made some questionable decisions and throws as well.
Chris Rainey. A nice kickoff return that offset a bad decision to bring out a deep kick that resulted in the team being pinned back deep early in the third quarter.
Jerricho Cotchery. Caught the one pass thrown to him and then tripped over his own feet preventing what was likely a certain touchdown.
General concerns and observations
Injuries. Obviously the Steelers can't stand prosperity in this regard. The groans of discouragement are still ringing in my ears when folks saw Troy Polamalu hopping off the field after reinjuring his calf. But probably of greater concern is that Woodley is once again having hamstring difficulties. Don't expect to see either in Memphis this Thursday.
Ryan and Ryan. Both Steelers safeties are liable to be fined this week by the league. I think Mundy in particular is getting a raw deal. Generally it is discouraging that players are being punished for a style of football that historically defined Steeler football.
Harrison. It may be my imagination, or perhaps just a consequence of rust, but it seemed to me that the campaign against Deebo is getting into his head a little bit. He seemed to show just a bit of hesitation on a couple of his pass rushes.
The defense. I know some are concerned about the Eagles fourth quarter scoring drive, but I liked what I saw with the defense. Give Philadelphia credit for making some plays. And if you had been told before the game that LeBeau's unit only gave up fourteen points I think you would been pleased to take that. It should be pointed out that the defensive line seemed to reappear after being missing in action for some time. Even Steve McLendon made an appearance after evaporating since the conclusion of the preseason. One thing I did notice, and this is no knock on Larry Foote who once again had a solid game, but for the first time I missed the presence of James Farrior. I'm looking forward to the day when we get to see Harrison, Woodley and Timmons all on the field at the same time and in peak form.
Haley's offense. In spite of the complaints about Colon's play, the absence of DeCastro and whatever other misgivings fans may have, if you had been told that Ben would come through this game as clean as he did (no sacks and few hits) I think you would take that too. It was generally assumed in the game predictions that win or lose Ben was likely to take a beating. That did not materialize. The O line not only kept the Eagles pass rush at bay but also was able to move the ball on the ground. I also noticed some nice play calling that punished the Philadelphia defense's aggressiveness. With the running game starting to come together as well as the short to medium pass game featuring Miller and Mendenhall, and the threat of the deep game available, this will be a very difficult group to stop as the unit continues to mature.
The schedule. We were so focused upon this game it is worth noting that with this win and a very winnable game coming up against the Titans on Thursday, the team has the opportunity to put two quick wins in the books and then have the equivalent of another bye weekend and time to get healthy again. This potentially could be a pretty good week.
It may not have been an overly impressive performance, but today sure beats the sour taste in our mouths that we have had to deal with for the past two weeks. The important thing about this time of the year is to do enough to remain part of the discussion when things really begin to count later on in the year. In that regard it was mission accomplished today. And life will be good at least until Thursday.