The Black-Eyed Peas took center stage at Point State Park to begin a fantastic 2009 Kickoff Concert. Unfortunately, I was busy hosting a dozen freeloaders friends at my home so I could not attend the festivities. By the way, if anybody went and managed to take some good shots of Fergie, feel free to post a link. After the singing was done, the Pittsburgh Steelers began the NFL season with a fantastic 13-10 overtime defeat of the Tennesee Titans.
Last season ended with the stalwart Steeler defense rising up to stonewall their opponent and give Ben Roethlisberger the chance to engineer a thrilling last second victory. How’d this season start? With the stalwart Steeler defense rising up to stonewall their opponent and give Ben Roethlisberger the chance to engineer a thrilling last second victory.
Wash rinse repeat.
The first half of the game saw the Steeler offense do a great impression of the Detroit Lions. After the 1st quarter, they had TWO yards of total offense. Ben contributed to the misery with one horrendous INT and two sacks where he lost a billion yards because he clutches on to the football like it’s a girl in a cowboy hat. With less than five minutes until halftime, the grand total had risen to a paltry 34 yards. At about the two minute warning, Big Ben finally woke up in time to lead the team down the field, connecting with Santonio Holmes to cap a 79 yard touchdown drive.
Up until that point the only things keeping the Steelers in the game were luck and Troy Polamalu. Allow me to recap the first half defensive effort by the Steelers. Polamalu with a tackle. Polamalu with another tackle. Polamalu with a personal foul. Polamalu with a pass defense. Polamalu with a tackle. Sensing a pattern?
Troy was a one man wrecking crew. He had his nose in almost every play the Titans ran, highlighted by a spectacular one-handed interception which prevented a FG and possibly a TD. Despite Troy’s heroics, the Titans blew two golden opportunities by badly shanking one FG and having another blocked by Aaron Smith. It was on that play where Polamalu had his knee bent at an ugly angle, sending him to the locker room with what appears to be a serious injury.
The Titans answered the Steelers TD with one of their own less than a minute later. QB Kerry Collins led them the length of the field on three lousy plays. I’d like to blame the D but it looked like Troy’s injury sent the Steelers secondary into mass confusion. Ryan Clark and Face Me Ike were each caught way out of position and beaten badly on consecutive plays. Will.i.am Gay, who gets his nickname from the fella pictured above wearing the ginormous hat as my tribute to his performance at the Super Bowl Victory Parade, had a solid effort in his first game as a full-time starter.
The second half was a puntfest as neither offense managed to accomplish much. The Steelers were particularly bad when it came to running the ball. They finished the game with 23 carries for 36 yards. That’s a 1.6 average. ONE AND A HALF FREAKIN’ YARDS PER CARRY!?!? Jerome Bettis could do better than that and he’s been eating donuts, lobbying politicians to support shady casino barons, and flirting with Tiki Barber for the last three years!
In this case, failure has many fathers. The offensive line performed shockingly well at pass protection, surrendering 4 sacks, two of which were Ben’s fault and one which was the result of a jailbreak blitz. However, they can’t run block to save their lives. I’ve seen bigger holes on I-79. Fast Willie Parker (13 carries for 19 yards) clearly has no confidence in them because instead of making cutbacks, he just dives forward as soon as he spots a glimmer of space. Rashard Mendenhall (4 for 6) showed absolutely nothing. Frank The Tank Summers, our shiny new FB, totally whiffed on almost every block he was supposed to make. He played positively CAREYDAVISESQUE! Our longest run was 8 freakin’ yards and the short yardage situation was so bad that after failing 3 out of 4 times to make a 1st down, they resorted to using the shotgun to pick it up.
Look, do the Steelers have the offensive weapons to be a passing oriented offense? Yes. Holmes (9 catches 131 yards) and Hines Ward (8 for 103) each had a huge game while TE Heath Miller and rookie Mike Wallace chipped in with some big catches. Shaun McDonald didn’t take the field and Limas Sweed wasn’t thrown at but both are more than capable of being valuable contributors as well. This team can absolutely throw the ball with any team in the league. But no team, NO TEAM, is going to be a legitimate Super Bowl contender if they only rush for 35 yards per game or fail to pick up 3rd and shorts on a regular basis.
Titans K Rob Bironas finally managed to boot a 45 yard FG late in the 4th quarter. The Steelers answered with a nice drive which stalled when Mewelde Moore got stuffed twice trying to convert a 3rd and 1. Yes, they were so desperate they turned to Double M as their short yardage specialist. *Deepbreath* The resulting Skippy Reed boot tied the score at 10-10.
Reverting to classic form, the mighty Steelers D got the ball back to set the stage for yet another of Ben’s thrilling last second comebacks. However, Hines committed one of the most boneheaded blunders in years when he caught a 30 yard strike over the middle and instead of going down in chip-shot FG range, he decided to zig-zag through an army of Titans all pawing at the football like it was a bachelor party at Club Erotica. Sure enough, the ball popped loose and Who? Stephen Tulloch pounced on it. Hines spent the remainder of the game looking like a fat kid that was told he couldn’t have ice cream for dessert.
Thankfully, fate was on the Steelers side as they won the coin toss. Against a clearly exhausted Titan defense, Ben once again led the team deep into Titan territory. This time the rookie Wallace made the key catch to put them into position for a game-winning Skippy FG. Ben finished 33-43 for 363 yards (1 TD 2 INT), making a lot of fantasy owners really sorry they didn’t start him this week. (DAMN!) I know we expect a lot of Big Ben and we’re all getting spoiled by his comebacks but isn’t asking for two in the same game just a little bit greedy?
The Pittsburgher in me likes to see the glass as half full. I guess that’s why I can’t shake the feeling that what we saw last night were some ominous warning signs about the rocky road ahead. The good news is, we’re 1-0 with 15 weeks left to straighten out any issues with our defending Super Bowl champs. The bad news is, by all rights, we should be 0-1.