In the opening moments at Heinz Field, the Pittsburgh Steelers were giving their Black and Gold laden followers reason for nervousness. The Jets led 7-3, a number of Steelers players seemed out of sorts, and the entire team seemed to be playing on a sloped surface, slanted toward failure!
Yet, in a game of perseverance by the Men of Steel, early controversy was tempered by a hardened determination, and a roster that appeared to be full of Sunday duds revealed an abundance of studs in a convincing 27-10 victory.
Winning is the perfect tonic to alleviate the "failure fever," and though a couple of Steelers left something to be desired on the field of play, September 16, 2012 should mostly be remembered for a fine effort by a slew of key players.
DUD: ISAAC REDMAN
I realize Redman's rushing statistics were comparable to Jonathan Dwyer's end of game totals, and I certainly understand the positive elements that Redman can bring to the offense. To date, however, the first two games of 2012 have been a struggle for the hesitant Redman.
Part of the issue is play-calling, as Haley and crew's penchant for inane runs around the tackle, which require speed to the corner and able blocking across the line, have failed Redman. He has been unable to get around the edge, consistently falling short of the line of scrimmage on such calls.
Yet, both on toss runs and efforts up the middle, Redman's hesitation in the backfield, whether or not caused by clogged rushing lanes due to bad blocking, have resulted in offensive stagnation. The passing play moved the ball past midfield in spite of the runner, but then failed at least in part due to his ineffectiveness at gaining yardage afterward.
In the first quarter, playing behind the sticks, the Steelers offense only overcame an inept running effort with Redman by virtue of outstanding receiver play. In fact, Redman carried for negative yardage on four-of-six carries to start his day, which equated to minus-13 yards. On those six attempts, he had one positive gain of 13 yards, bringing his six-carry total to zero.
Jonathan Dwyer entered the contest, and though his effort wasn't Herculean, his consistent positive gains (he wasn't caught in the backfield until the second half) kept the downs at reasonable distance, helping to move the chains.
Late in the game, Redman ran decently over a worn-out defensive front, including a late touchdown. Yet, it would be naive to think Dwyer doesn't expect more of himself in coming games.
STUDS: WALLACE, BROWN, SANDERS... and COTCHERY
The receiving corps was fantastic again, converting third downs, dominating the bulk of offensive statistics, and allowing the defense a chance to regenerate in the second and third quarters following a rough start.
Mike Wallace, who I've openly criticized as a limited deep threat (albeit a dynamic one at that!), has demonstrated a breadth to his game to go along with his depth. And depth, we all know, translates to the deep pass. With superb route-running and clutch catching, the reliable No. 17 clearly either benefited from having his playbook at home or he didn't need those extra summer repetitions. His touchdown catch in the third quarter of a wobbly, but accurate, deep bomb by Big Ben was a great individual win, and he dominated Antonio Cromartie.
While Wallace is earning a future contract, Brown is earning his current payday. In fact, Brown got off to a fast start early, catching the first pass of the game before securing a first down on 3rd-and-8 following a Redman eight-yard loss on the opening drive.
In addition to the dynamic duo, Emmanuel Sanders was again clutch in the slot, his three catches coming at opportune times. Also, Jericho Cotchery, though he made only one catch, stood out for being "tougher than woodpecker lips," an adage once reserved for tough-as-nails slot guy Hines Ward. Cotchery made a key catch to set up first-and-goal before taking a glancing blow and holding onto the pigskin!
ONE DUD PLAY: LAWRENCE TIMMONS
Many fans feel that the Steelers have been harmed more than any other team by recent rules changes and safety focuses that seemingly neuter a physical brand of play in the NFL. Sometimes, the ticky-tacky nature of calls, particularly by a hypersensitive officiating crew working for today's legalistically paranoid league, angers fans. Remember the Raiders game in 2010?
Nevertheless, there's still a means to be smart about the new rules, and the helmet to helmet collision by Lawrence Timmons on Mark Sanchez was the type of foolhardy play that nobody should complain about. The issue isn't the timing of the hit, which would draw an unnecessary flag from time to time, but the nature of the contact.
Timmons led with the crown of his helmet, extending a New York drive at an incredibly perilous time in the game momentum-wise. If you're going to hit the opposing field general (scoff! Did I just label Sanchez as a field general?!), you can't make helmet to helmet contact.
Though he had an otherwise decent game, that one play—especially had the contest been closer, and even though it wasn't—was silly.
BORDERING ON THE STUDLY: DEFENSIVE PRESSURE
Though it wasn't a one-man effort, the combined pressure resulting from the defensive front, whose performance steadily improved over the course of 60 minutes, clearly rattled Mark Sanchez. Sanchez was hearing footsteps late in the game.
It was refreshing to see Lamarr Woodley's boot rocking Heinz Field in the home opener! His absence last season was enormous. Hopefully, with a fully healthy defense, the pressure on opposing passers only increases in the weeks to come.
Has a fourth-week bye ever seemed more ideal?
STUDS: SHAUN SUISHAM AND DREW BUTLER
With so much focus on offense and defense, let's not forget two standout special teams efforts from a pair of right legs.
Shaun Suisham connected on two first quarter field goals in a quarter that saw the Steelers offense stagnate in Jets territory. The pair of kicks were both greater than 40 yards, a feat at the perilous kicking ground that is Heinz Field.
Additionally, Drew Butler's punts kept the Jets offense backed up, particularly in backing New York up near their own goal line on perfectly placed efforts in the second half. Bad special teams always makes huge headlines, but fine efforts from kickers don't get the notoriety they should as damage control!
FROM SEEMING DUDS TO ABSOLUTE STUDS: RYAN CLARK, KEENAN LEWIS, CORTEZ ALLEN, IKE TAYLOR
The secondary showed perseverance after a slow start, particularly Keenan Lewis and Ike Taylor. By the fourth quarter, it was clear the physical secondary was domineering the Big Apple's best. (Well, at least their best clad in green.)
Santonio Holmes' slant for a touchdown in the first quarter, when it seemed as though Mark Sanchez was carving up the secondary, beat Ike. Taylor was the victim of a trio of penalties, two of those quite questionable and one of the borderline calls coming in the first quarter.
Keenan Lewis, maligned for his missed tackles last week, was burnt by Jeremy Kerley for a 45-yard gainer early. Then, Clyde Gates took advantage of a huge cushion by Lewis on 2nd-and-12 for a first down.
Holmes, along with Kerley, Gates and Butler, got shut down after their fast start. Cushions became hard hits, great catches became suffocation in the secondary, and the Steelers defensive backfield became an acre of anemia for New York receivers.
In the second half, Ike Taylor and Santonio exchanged words, but Taylor got the best of the real war, waged not by words—but by production. Holmes finished with three catches for 28 yards.
Ryan Clark was arguably the team's best defender, and he made the play of the early game preventing a deep touchdown on a fine throw by Mark Sanchez after a receiver route adjustment toward the right pylon.
STUD: HEATH MILLER
The game's most underrated tight end secured what should have been his third touchdown (it was his second) of the season to give Pittsburgh the lead before halftime.
On a time-consuming 10-minute drive to effectively end the contest, Miller's body position and soft hands resulted in a stud catch along the right sideline, the essential tight end grab in today's game. Miller has the ability to put up big numbers, but he knows his role on the team is much bigger than mere pass reception stats.
Humility at its finest...
STUD: BEN ROETHLISBERGER
Having struggled against the Jets in the past, Ben Roethlisberger was that "elusive oak tree" once again, as defenders slid off of his huge frame, threw their hands up in frustration as he evaded pressure, and watched as his big arm connected with the cornucopia of great Pittsburgh receivers.
In my preview of the game, I noted that Big Ben's presence alone gives Pittsburgh a key edge at the most important position in 80 percent of their games; as such, it was important for No. 7 to showcase that edge against the likes of Mark Sanchez.
Altogether, whereas Sanchez struggles to complete a third of his passes, Big Ben was outstanding. He connected on 24-of-31 attempts, throwing for 275 yards and two touchdowns without a turnover.