Saturday, January 07, 2012

On the Road Again

Finally, some real football (no offense, Pitt), and the Steelers are right where they should be: The Playoffs.

Road games?  No problem.  Everybody in Denver knows Steeler fans will be out in force today, and even coach John Fox talked about it earlier in the week.

Whatever. This game looks winnable, even with the Steelers diminished by injury and adversity, including the awful situation of assistant coach Kirby Wison.

Could the Broncos win?  Absolutely.  The Broncos should use the same formula they rode on their six-game winning streak: Keep the game close, run the ball effectively, create turnovers, boom some punts and long field goals, and -- last, of course, let Tim Tebow do his magic in Tebow Time (Tebow Time!)  For some reason, we have a strange foreboding the Broncos' Eddie Royal may have a long punt return today.

If all that happens, the Steelers deserve to lose, and we will have a long, cold off-season to second-guess all kinds of things -- especially the decision to allow Big Ben to play after he got injured in the first Cleveland game.  Still, this is a game the Steelers should win.

Somehow, the Steelers ended up with the NFL's top-rated defense again.  Statistics can be misleading, though, and the Broncos should stick to what they do best -- run the ball.  It's their best hope.  As magical as Tim Tebow was earlier this season, he has not seen a defense like the one Dick LeBeau and the Steelers will present to him today.

This should be a fun game to watch. Then, hopefully, it's on to New England.

Quote of the Week:

“I met with Ryan Clark and I informed him I am not going to allow him to play in this game for obvious reasons,” said Coach Mike Tomlin.  “It’s a big game for us, but it is a game."

Puts Things in Perspective

Steelers' running backs coach Kirby Wilson is one of those guys who labors in relative obscurity. We fans never think much about him, just as we never gave much thought to his predecessor, Dick Hoak, who spent 34 years as the team's running backs coach.

Wilson, who's been with the Steelers for the past five years, joined the Steelers' extended family after Hoak retired in 2007. Wilson never played in the NFL, yet he has two Super Bowl rings earned as a running backs coach with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2001) and with the Steelers (2008).

Having played in the Canadian Football League (CFL) for two years, Wilson's been a career football coach since 1985.  He's labored at colleges small (Pasadena City College and Southwest Los Angeles Community College), and large (Southern Illinois, Wyoming, Iowa State), and really big-time (Southern California). He joined the NFL coaching ranks in 1997 and has been with four teams (New England, Washington, Tampa Bay, Pittsburgh).

Kirby Wilson is one of those dedicated guys who shows up early; stays late; seems content to stay in the background; and coaches up his guys, the running backs, through good times and bad, through injuries (Rashard Mendenhall and Mewelde Moore), fumbles (Isaac Redman) and new beginnings (Chad Spann and John Clay).

That was just this past week, by the way. And then the fire that put Wilson in a medically induced coma.

Think about what Wilson has had to deal with the past few days, beginning Sunday, New Year's Day:
  • Rashard Mendenhall, the starting running back, goes down with a knee injury that puts him on injured reserve and ends his season. Wilson would have had to deal with that, and all it entails.
  • Isaac Redman, his replacement, fumbles twice in the game against Cleveland. Redman's fumbles are uncharacteristic for him and, despite playing well otherwise, the fumbles draw unwanted attention in the media and raise concerns that they might become a pattern, especially now that Redman becomes the starter and primary ball carrier for the first time in his young NFL career.  Wilson would have had to deal with that, and all it entails.
  • The status of backup Mewelde Moore, who has been struggling with injuries, remains uncertain. Wilson would have had to deal with that.
  • With just two healthy running backs (Redman and Clay, a rookie activated off the practice squad just a few weeks ago), the Steelers activate newcomer Chad Spann, a 23-year-old rookie out of Northern Illinois whose head must be spinning. The Steelers were Spann's third NFL practice squad since September. Wilson would have had to deal with helping Clay and Spann prepare for the game in Denver.
All that was just this past week. And then the house fire that burned half his body and put him in a medically induced coma.  Kind of puts things in perspective. Our Thoughts and Prayers Are With Kirby Wilson, his five children and the rest of his family.