The Pittsburgh Steelers (1-0) certainly looked impressive in Cleveland Sunday afternoon, handily defeating the home town Browns 34-7.
After all, one look at the box score will tell anyone just how dominant the men from the Steel City actually performed. Dominant, that is, until one looks closer and realizes that, were it not for the superb defensive play calling and execution by Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau and his players, the Steelers' offense was practically gift-wrapped continual opportunities to look like a squad of pro-bowlers. So while the score may reflect just that, the reality of the situation was much different.
In the first half, the Steelers started in their own half of the field four times (5 times in Cleveland territory) and amassed a total of 17 plays on those drives, including three 3-and-outs (the other 8-play drive gained only 17 total yards). Even though Pittsburgh scored on their first three drives of the second half, the game was essentially over by halftime - the Browns had already replaced starting QB Charlie Frye (who by the way was just traded to Seattle today) with Derek Anderson, while Cleveland fans constantly chanted for rookie third-string QB Brady Quinn; in addition, both the offensive and defensive personnel looked dejected on the field and on the sideline.
However, what if the Steelers had been playing a playoff team such as the Colts, Patriots, or Chargers? The missed opportunities to finish the Browns off in the first half (4 Steelers drives started at the Pittsburgh 43-yard line or better and resulted in a punt or turnover) would have almost certainly cost them in the second half against teams of a more equal nature after they had time to regroup. Some may say it was the first game, but I say that's what the pre-season is for - developing a killer instinct, something the Steelers obviously lack.
Not all was bad for the Steelers' offense, however. Running back Willie Parker ran for over 100 yards despite mediocre run-blocking by the offense line, while QB Ben Roethlisberger threw a career high 4 touchdowns (and, more importantly, no interceptions) despite not posting gaudy yardage numbers due to at least four dropped passes. However, these two weren't the only stars of the NFL's kickoff weekend. Let's take a closer look at some other key games and top performers:
First off, my thoughts and prayers go out to Bills' TE Kevin Everett and his family. I wish him the best and fastest recovery possible.
5. Colts' RB Joseph Addai ran for 118 yards (a 5.1 yard average) and a touchdown in his first NFL start as the lone, primary ball carrier in Indianapolis's 41-10 victory over N.O.
2. Chargers' TE Antonio Gates blitzed the Chicago Bears' defense for 107 receiving yards and a touchdown as S.D. won a possible superbowl preview 14-3.
My player of the week award goes to Titans' RB Chris Brown who picked up the slack for a struggling Vince Young against a supposedly superb Jacksonville run defense. Brown ran for 175 yards (a 9.2 yard average) in Tennessee's 13-10 victory. (Honorable Mention: QB Tony Romo - 345 yards, 4TDs, 1INT)
Look for my Week 2 NFL preview later this week; until then...