Sunday, October 09, 2011

That's more like it.

"We weren't going to leave any bullets in the gun."
-- Mike Tomlin, following the Steelers' win over the Tennessee Titans

Pre-season is over, finally.
Finally, the Steelers looked more like the team we've gotten used to seeing the past 200 years.
On a beautiful Indian Summer Sunday afternoon at Heinz Field, the Steelers reasserted their identity as a hard-nosed, sure-tackling, run-stuffing, tough-running football team. Most of the day, the Steelers dominated the Tennessee Titans, who entered the game with a 3-1 record.

Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer -- Both ran tough all day, broke tackles and racked up a total of 174 yards rushing. Highlight of the day was Dwyer's 76-yard run, his first carry of the season. Redman had 49 yards on 15 runs, but it seemed like he had more yards and more carries. Steelers radio announcer Tunch Ilkin correctly observed, "Redman will not go down today," and Ilkin's sidekick Craig Wolfley rang in with "He keeps those hamhocks churning!" 

Bruce Arians -- Will fans give the oft-criticized offensive coordinator any credit for a successful game plan? Probably not. That's how it goes for offensive coordinators. Total yardage on the day: 431, including 174 on the ground. The Steelers stuck to a rhythm passing game featuring short throws that helped the offensive line protect Ben Roethlisberger. For all we know, Arians goes with this game plan every week, but Roethlisberger does his own thing, which brings us to ...

Hines Ward (photo by Matt Freed, Post-Gazette)
Ben Roethlisberger -- His performance seemed unspectacular until the announcers said he'd thrown five touchdowns and had a passer rating of 116. Hobbled by his injured foot, Ben seemed intent to get rid of the ball quickly, so there was little freelancing, highjinks and improvisational wizardry. For the most part, the Steelers engineered a controlled passing game with short routes and crossing patterns, as Ben connected with eight receivers throughout the day. He took just one sack, threw one interception and didn't lose any fumbles, which have plagued him this season.

The Offensive Line -- Just what the doctor ordered. Max Starks, Doug Legursky, Maurkice Pouncey, Ramon Foster, Marcus Gilbert, Trai Essex and Jonathan Scott all played extremely well against a solid front seven. With just three practices under his belt, Starks stepped right in and protected Roethlisberger's blind side without incident or fanfare. Essex took over for Legursky when he moved over to center after Pouncey came off the field at one point with an unspecified injury, and the injured Scott stepped in for Gilbert after he got hurt -- but the line didn't miss a beat. The tight ends and running backs did a good job blocking, too.

Ike Taylor -- Arguably the Steelers' steadiest performer this season, Taylor had another strong outing and pretty much shut down anybody he had to cover.

Chris Hoke -- The backup nose tackle stepped in for starter Case Hampton and helped to stuff the Titans' running game. Hoke appeared much more mobile and disruptive than Hampton has been most of this season. He dominated. When Hoke starts a game in the regular season, by the way, the Steelers are 16-1.

Lamarr Woodley -- Seemingly absent all season, Woodley was in on two sacks and intercepted a pass batted in the air by Brett Keisel. Fellow linebacker James Farrior led the team with 13 tackles and knocked down a pass.

Antonio Brown -- After the Titans kicked a field goal on their opening drive, Brown returned the ensuing kickoff 52 yards to get the crowd right back in the game. Brown looked lively on returns and in the passing game all day.

Hines Ward -- Having said earlier in the week that he's been open but hasn't had the ball thrown to him, Ward caught seven passes for 54 yards and two touchdowns.

Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward -- The two young defensive linemen flashed why the Steelers drafted them in the first round (Hood in 2010, Heyward in 2011). Heyward forced a fumble (recovered by Tennessee) and had a sack in the second half when the Titans were trying to mount a comeback.

Troy Polamalu -- He was all over the field, in on nine tackles, and had three passes defensed.

Coming Up
Jacksonville here, a road trip to Arizona, then New England and Baltimore here, then a game at Cincinnatti before the bye week.

Should be an interesting game today

Okay, let's say it all together: To win today, the Steelers must stop the run. 

Again: To win today, the Steelers must STOP THE RUN.  


Oh, and a reminder for the defense: You're allowed to intercept a pass.

Offensive line: It's okay to knock people over. And try to keep Ben from getting maimed.
Ben: Since you can't run, you can't hide. Get rid of the ball.
And, guys, just one more thing: "There's a fine line between drinking wine and squashing grapes."
Go, Steelers!