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Every week my game previews make note of which key players are injured. I’m sure many of you check to see if Fatboy Hampton has made weight or if Willie Parker had an unfortunate run in with some crab grass and is out for the week. I’m also pretty sure if I mentioned Greg Warren very few of you would care. In fact, I bet only the most diehard members of Steeler Nation even knew we had a Greg Warren on our team.
Looks like Greg’s a lot more important than we thought.
The injury to long-snapper Greg Warren set in motion a series of tragic events which turned a narrow victory for the Pittsburgh Steelers into a crushing 21-14 defeat at the hands of the New York Football Giants. It was a bruising game filled with hard hits and numerous injuries on each side. Both teams were 5-1 but needed to prove themselves against top flight competition. Now that it’s over both teams might be left with more questions than answers.
Thanks to a superior defensive effort and two big plays on offense, the Steelers clung to a 14-12 edge until late in the 4th quarter. Forced to punt from their own 8, LB James Harrison stood under center replacing Warren, who had been carted off the field with a season ending ACL tear earlier in the half. The Mighty Silverback launched the pigskin between his legs, whistling the ball over the head of P Mitch Berger and anybody else who isn’t named Yao Ming. It sailed out the back of the endzone for a safety, tying the score. The ensuing free kick set the Giants up at mid-field where they took advantage of a tired Steeler defense to score their first TD of the day with 3:00 left on the clock. A few minutes of brutally bad offensive football later, Pittsburgh had their second defeat of the season.
The defense didn’t create any turnovers and the G-Men took the Blitz out of Blitzburgh by holding the top pass rush in the NFL to zero sacks. However, the Steelers did a great job of bending but not breaking as they limited the damage to field goals. RB Brandon Jacobs knocked over puny S Ryan Clark like a bowling pin several times early on but at the end of the day none of the NY backs broke 40 yards. DE Brett Keisel had his best game as a Steeler in coming up big as an effective run stuffer.
WR Plaxico Burress didn’t start the game, thus proving a new multimillion dollar contract and Super Bowl winning TD catch is not the cure for being a moron. Head coach Tom Coughlin held him back until the 2nd quarter when he evidently decided winning the game was more important than disciplining his players. Not that it mattered much as CB Ike Taylor rendered Burress a non-factor. Other than a clutch catch by Amani Toomer on the final game winning drive, none of the receivers made any impact.
Honestly, the only reason the Giants managed to put any points up on our defense was because they were stuck in a hole pretty much all day long. For one, every single NY scoring drive started at mid-field or in Steelers territory. Even the most mediocre offense can usually get into field goal range when they begin on the opponent’s 45 yard line. The other major problem was the D seemingly spent the entire game out on the field. When our offense scored, they scored quickly. Every other time they were 3 and out. There was no rest for the weary warriors in the Black and Gold.
And definitely no help from our offense. The Steelers have fallen into this disturbing trend where things are feast or famine. We either rip off huge chunks of yardage in big play fashion or we bumble and stumble through three poorly designed and poorly executed plays then punt. The first TD was on a 32 dash by RB Mewelde Moore. The second was a 65 yard bomb to WR Nate Washington. Everything else was one or two series and out. There were no long time-consuming drives. No sustained offense. They were 1 for 10 on 3rd down conversions. Feast or famine.
The O-Line is going to take more heat because they gave up 5 sacks and allowed about 18 QB knockdowns in only 30 pass attempts. Max Starks and Chris Kemoeatu had especially poor games. That right side of the line was like a leaky dam allowing Big Blue defenders to pour in on almost every pass play. I especially enjoyed Starks clever technique of pushing the on-rushing defender like a little girl on a swing hoping the gentle nudge would be enough to derail the 320 freight train steaming toward our quarterback. $7 million well spent. But, to be fair, I don’t think they were what cost us this game.
I place the blame squarely on the sore shoulders of QB Ben Roethlisberger. He had by far his worst game of the season and other than the first few post-motorcycle & spleenectomy games in 2006, possibly his worst game as a pro. He threw 4 interceptions. 2 of them were Favre-ian “toss it up and hope your guy comes down with it” prayers, one was thrown with no Steeler within 5 yards, and one was not his fault (hit Nate in the hands but the defender knocked it loose and it caromed into a LB’s big paws). He repeatedly missed wide open receivers. Washington was open on that deep pattern on at least two other plays, one was negated due to a penalty but Ben missed him on the other chance by throwing the ball late which allowed the CB to break up the play.
In fact, that was Ben’s biggest problem all day. Holding the ball. I can’t get upset about a lot of those sacks/knockdowns because at least HALF of them were caused by Big Ben himself. He took “waiting too long” to a whole new level. One-two-three-THROW. How hard is that to understand? You can’t sit back there and survey the field for 10 seconds and expect not to get hit. The line would hold the fort for a good 3-4 seconds but he’d start dancing around as soon as he took his drop. Every play it was hike, step up, shuffle left, skitter right, cock his arm… Then eat grass. You can’t do that in the NFL on a regular basis and expect to succeed. Or survive without injury for that matter. Memo to Roethlisberger: You’re not Kordell Stewart.
In the midst of the terrible offense, noble defense, and crushing defeat came a whole slew of injuries. Despite the dire predictions by the Post-Gazette, most of our starters did return for the game, including Fatboy Hampton, Aaron Smith, and Troy Polamalu. However, in addition to Warren’s game-altering injury, we also lost S Ryan Clark to what appeared to be a dislocated shoulder. Ike Taylor and Nate Washington were both banged up although both manned up enough to return to the game. Speaking of which, Mitch Berger proved that punters are indeed men as he looked to have either torn a hammy or a groin in his non-punting leg because he was hopping around in obvious pain after every kick. He might need replaced as a one-legged punter is roughly as useful as a one-legged man in an ass-kicking contest.
Many of the so-called experts called this game a preview of Super Bowl XLIII. If the Steelers hope to make these predictions come true, there needs to be a whole lot of improvement on the offensive side of the ball over the next nine weeks.