Well, Mike, the wheels have officially come off. Off Fast Willie Parker and most likely off the Steelers’ chances to make do anything significant in this year’s playoffs.
For the roughly 90% of you who don’t have access to the NFL Network, thanks to either the selfish cable companies or the arrogant football league (whichever greedy corporate entity you prefer), last night’s 41-24 win over the St. Louis Rams saw Parker’s season end with a broken fibula on his very first carry. For all the bitching there’s been about the soddy tundra of Heinz Field, we forget that at least it doesn’t carry anywhere near the same level of injury risk as that damn artificial turf.
The loss of Parker, the NFL’s leading rusher going into the game, is catastrophic. Yes, the Steelers haven’t been their typical grind it out/ball control/power running team this year. And yes, we have opened up the passing game and thrown the ball more frequently than in previous seasons. But if history has taught us anything, it’s taught us to win in January, you need to have a high-powered running attack. More importantly, it’s also taught us for the Steelers to compete with the AFC Elite, like the Colts and Patriots, their only hope would be to play a ball control/grind it out type game. There’s simply no way we win a shootout against either of those teams.
Not to be a Bitter Betty but I wouldn’t get too excited about anything that happened last night against the Rams. Scoring 41 points sounds impressive except when you consider we scored them against what is quite possibly the most inept defense I’ve seen in the past two or three seasons. Seriously, they’re beyond terrible. And we play the Browns and Bengals every year so think about the territory that statement covers. I can’t believe D-coordinator Jim Haslett is associated with Pittsburgh in any way. He must have some Cleveland ancestry in him somewhere. It’s the only possible explanation.
Consider QB Ben Roethlisberger was 16 of 20 for 261 yards, with 3 touchdown passes, no interceptions, and a perfect score on the quarterback SATs. Hell, even Daniel Sepulveda, our punter, was throwing on these guys. The fat guy in the Jerome Bettis jersey wearing the black and gold beer helmet I see at every home game could probably lead an Elway-esque Drive against the Rams. I’d feel sorry for St. Louis except they won the World Series a couple years ago while we have the most abominable disgrace of a baseball franchise in recent major league history so I guess everything evens out.
Najeh Davenport ran for 123 yards on 24 carries and scored two touchdowns in relief of Willie Parker. Again, don’t get too excited about the Dump Truck because this was against a defense that would be improving if it reached a subpar-level. WR Nate Washington had two TDs, including one real nice deep ball. And Santonio Holmes played an outstanding game, especially blowing by the secondary for an 83 yard catch on the first play of the game. If nothing else, it looks like his ankle is better and he should be near 100% for the playoffs.
However, beyond the Parker injury, there were other ominous signs in this game. Both our offensive and defensive lines are still playing way below what is acceptable. The O-line gave up 4 sacks and Ben was eating the turf all day which means inserting Max Starks into the line up didn’t provide the anchor we desperately need. And defensively, we were once again getting gashed by a running back, Stephen Jackson. The only reason he didn’t have a huge game is because Marc Bulger was completing passes at will and their imbecilic head coach inexplicably decided to emulate the Pass 24/7 Patriots, except the Patriots, they ain’t. Actually, our secondary having a terrible game actually helped in a way because the Rams would score so quickly, our offense could go right back out there and pick on their hapless defense. If St. Louis would’ve slowed things down and played more of a possession game to keep their D hidden away like that embarassing brother who lives in the basement, things might’ve gone better for them. The Steelers secondary did improve somewhat over the past couple weeks by not allowing any deep bombs (most likely because S Anthony “There isn’t a play fake I won’t bite on” Smith was replaced by Tyrone Carter) but they were giving way too much cushion which lead to a lot of easy completions, especially by slot receiver Drew Bennett. They did play a bit better in the second half but it was a 10 point game in the fourth quarter and only then, after the game had started to slip away, did the D begin to look like the D of old.
At least the Steelers have 10 days to rest and get things together for the season finale against the equally inept Baltimore Ravens. At this point in the season, to lose a crucial cog like DE Aaron Smith is one blow. To then lose your All-Pro stud running back, that’s just beyond devastating. I don’t know if Mike Tomlin walked under any ladders or broke any mirrors recently but it sure seems like if wasn’t for bad luck, he wouldn’t have any luck at all.