Sunday, September 16, 2012

The Home Opener: A Good Win

The Official Team Photo of Your 2012-13 Pittsburgh Jailbreak Honeydrippers Steelers
What a wonderful, spectacular September Sunday afternoon -- unless you're a fan of the New York Jets, who now are 1-9 at Heinz Field.

For Steelers fans, it was a beautiful day: The Steelers won their home opener vs. the overly-hyped Jets.  Both the Baltimore Ravens and New England Patriots lost.

Todd Haley's offense was balanced.  Ben Roethlisberger completed passes to 10 different receivers.  Ten!  The Steelers controlled time-of-possession when it mattered.  A 10-minute touchdown drive sealed the deal in the fourth quarter.  As the game went on, the offensive line seemed to solidify.  The line nullified the New York front seven and opened running lanes for Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, who ran tough all day. 

Lamarr Woodley gives Mark Sanchez a hug.
Aside from a few glitches, the Steelers engineered a convincing win.  The Jets never did click.  And the Steelers played generally good solid football and made enough splash plays on offense to secure the win, which never seemed in doubt throughout the second half.  A passing grade all around.

Not Much Tebow Time
We're just guessing here, but we suspect the New York sports media is about to explode with second-guessing and clamoring for more playing time for Tim Tebow.  And, true enough, Tebow sparked the Jets immediately upon entering the game with a 22-yard run on his first play with about eight minutes left in the third quarter.   Boisterous blustering blowhard Rex Ryan apparently knew better, however, and withheld Tebow the rest of the way, despite the fact that no Jets wide receiver caught a pass after the first quarter until the very end when the game was out of hand.

The Baltimore Ravens lost an ugly game at Philadelphia, despite four turnovers by the Eagles. And the New England Patriots lost at home vs. Arizona when Patriots' kicker Stephen Gostkowski missed a 42-yard field goal attempt in the final seconds.  He'd made four field goals earlier in the game, but the only one anyone will remember is the one he missed.
Idle Thoughts
  • With Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer running so hard, how does Rashard Mendenhall fit into the mix when he gets healthy?
  • Thank goodness for Heath Miller.   
  • It's very good to have Ryan Clark back.  He was the player of the game.
  • Baron Batch appears to be pretty smart/solid at picking up blitzers in pass protection. 
  • Drew Butler has a knack for nailing backspin punts inside the 10-yard line.
  • A first-quarter pass-catch-and-run to fullback Will Johnson?  How long has it been since we've seen a fullback play much of any kind of a role in the Steelers' offense? 
  • Jets linebacker Bart Scott looks old.  We're surprised the Jets haven't found some young legs to replace him.
  • The replacement refs were a little shaky, including one notably glaring mistake on the phantom "pass interference" call against -- who? Ike Taylor? -- in the fourth quarter. 
  • Ike Taylor played very well.  The Jets' receivers did next to nothing.  Stephen Hill, the Jet's rookie wide receiver out of Georgia Tech, had drawn comparisons to fellow Georgia Tech product Demaryius Thomas, the Denver wideout who tortured Taylor last week and especially in January's playoff loss.  Taylor would have nothing of it.  Yesterday, Taylor was the definition of "shutdown corner." 
Week: At Oakland.  That's it, Fort Pitt.

A team of PIttsburgh's caliber?

It's too early in the NFL season for "measuring stick" games.

It's just a bit surprising that talk out of the New York locker room indicates some of the Jets' players see today's game in Pittsburgh as a measuring stick  -- an opportunity to validate the quality of their team.

Then again, nothing the Jets say or do should surprise anyone.  It's been a circus there for years, especially since the arrival of head coach Rex Ryan, GQ cover boy Mark Sanzhez, hyperkinetic former Steeler Santonio Holmes, and especially exponentially more so since the arrival of quarterback Tim Tebow as celebrity-sensation-lightning-rod for media blather, social media speculation and talking-head froth.

Amid the non-stop, frenzied speculation about whether Sanchez or Tebow should be the starting quarterback, the Jets produced exactly one touchdown during the four preseason games -- and that was engineered by the third-string QB, Mark somebody-or-other.  In the aftermath of the Jets' 48-24 demolition of the Buffalo Bills last week in the season opener, some of the New York players themselves sound unsure what kind of team the Jets have.

"That's why we're so excited to come out and play a team of Pittsburgh's caliber," said Marcus Dixon, defensive tackle to Mark Cannizzaro of The New York Post.  "So we can show everybody that, 'Yeah, the Jets are ready this year,' and we ain't your show pony and we ain't your circus.'"

Okay.  Whatever.  When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way.

Inherent in Dixon's statement, however, is the assumption that "a team of Pittsburgh 's caliber" implies the Steelers are a good team this year.  Do we really know?

The Steelers sure looked very ordinary at Denver.  They didn't make the big plays they needed to make, and they allowed Denver to make the big plays they needed to make.  That's a bad formula.  If they do the same today, they'll lose.  Simple as that.  An 0-2 record with a loss in the home opener is no way to start a football season.

It's too early in the NFL season for a "measuring stick" game.  For the Steelers, however, it's not too soon for a must-win game.  Yeah, we're saying it:  Must-win.  The Steelers lose today, and it won't be long before we're looking at playoff tie-breaker formulas and all that crap.

Today, when the Jets bring their circus to town, we will see some measure of just "what caliber" team the Steelers have.  Will the Steelers make Gang Green their show pony?  We shall see.

One thing we do know:  After today, the season will be 12.5 percent over.  If the Steelers are sleepwalking, it's not too soon to yell, "Wake up!"

Out of the Fire: Kirby Wilson, Fighting Back

Kirby Wilson

If the Steelers do need a wake-up call and an inspiration, they need look no further than their own sideline. 

Welcome back, Kirby Wilson, the Steelers' running backs coach who returns to the Heinz field sidelines today after nearly dying in a house fire last January.

Wilson suffered severe burns over half his body in a fire at his home in Cranberry Township just a few days before the Steelers lost to Denver in the AFC playoffs.

Following the fire, doctors put Wilson into an induced coma.  At the time, one doctor said he thought Wilson would lose at least parts of both his feet and might have to undergo an amputation below the knee.  Since then, Wilson has had to undergo grueling, excruciating physical therapy and burn recovery.  He's had to learn how to make a fist.  He's had to learn how to walk.

ESPN TV did a nice feature today on Wilson, and his return is right there as an inspiration to anybody who needs a reminder that every second is a gift.

Weclome back, Mr. Wilson, and a salute to you.  Joey Porter's Pit Bulls wish you all the best for continued success in recovery and healing.