Let’s not get too excited.
Yes, the Pittsburgh Steelers absolute destruction of the supposedly up-and-coming Houston Texans was the perfect way to begin a season. Yes, the game wasn’t even as close as the 38-17 final score indicates as the defense held them to about 3 points and about 150 yards of total offense through three quarters until bringing in the B team to allow two garbage time TD drives (meaningful only to people with the Steeler D on their fantasy team *grumble*). And yes, this wasn’t one of those wins where the things you do well simply overwhelm the things you do poorly.
Everything looked good yesterday. Special teams? Kickoff coverage was excellent as Keyaron Fox and William Gay looked like the kamikaze-style gunners the team didn’t have last year. Rashard Mendenhall was serviceable on returns and Mitch Berger didn’t stink which is all you really want from your punter.
Offensive line? C Justin Hartwig had a nice game, especially running pull outs and downfield blocking on runs and screens. LG Chris Kemoeatu played like the Tongan Bulldozer he is, showing good mobility and was stout at the point of attack. LT Marvel Smith played like a man without a contract extension possessed. He was all over the place throwing blocks and taking people out. Okay, he got beat twice for sacks by DT Mario Williams but, hey, Mario Williams isn’t exactly some scrub fresh out of the Arena League.
Still, we have to be realistic about how the line looked yesterday. We knew they could run block so Willie Parker‘s 140 yard day shouldn’t surprise anybody. The main reason they only gave up a measly 2 sacks against a supposedly good pass rush was those ever tricky Steelers ran a quick-release passing game. QB Ben Roethlisberger spent less time in the pocket than Bret Favre did in retirement. Instead of dropping back, setting his feet, looking over the field, then getting knocked on his ass throwing the ball, Big Ben was letting it fly almost the second his back foot hit the ground on his drop back. This prevented the Texans from getting to him but also kept the passing game fairly short. You can win with this sort of passing game but the jury’s still out if this line can block for Ben when he’s going deep.
What didn’t appear to have any weakness yesterday was the defense. What an absolutely dominating performance. Last year they also stifled offenses in terms of yards and points allowed but couldn’t get any turnovers or sacks. Not a problem yesterday as S Troy Polamalu got his first INT since I wore underoos (or so it seems) while the D racked up 5 sacks, including 3 by punishing LB James Harrison. Coach Mike Tomlin and D-coordinator Dick Lebeau also did something smart by rotating DT Nick Eason and Travis Kirschke in with the starters. Eason in particular had an outstanding game which makes me think maybe his mediocre play last year was a case of him not understanding Lebeau’s complex system, which happens a lot and is why rookies usually don’t start on this team. Oh and Tomlin’s favorite fatass, NT Casey Hampton, also played with a chip on his shoulder, on one play actually THROWING THE LINEMAN into the running back to stuff the play.
But let’s give it up for Mister LaMarr Woodley. I’ve told everybody who’ll listen and even a few who wouldn’t that he will be the Steelers breakout player in 2008. In his first NFL start, he was all over the field. He played the run, he rushed the QB, he even covered TEs in the flat. The nicest catch of the game was Woodley’s one-handed stab INT in the 2nd quarter. Throw in a sack and a fumble recovery among other assorted mayhem and you have yourself one helluva debut for Mr. Woodley.
One down, fifteen to go. If only they could all be this easy…