After watching the 2009 NFL Season Opener, I am still exasperated. What a game, and what a way for the NFL to welcome its fans back to football season. There were several things that both coaches will be happy with coming away from this game, as well as several things that they will be screaming about and trying to fix moving forward.
Welcome back to football as the defending Super Bowl Champion Pittsburgh Steelers defeat the Tennessee Titans 13-10 in OT.
As usual, I will focus on the Steelers and will be back Monday night to analyze the play of the rest of the AFC North. Also, due to requests from friends, coworkers, and family, I will begin reporting on the NFC North as well starting soon (which also works out as the inter-conference battle takes place this year).
Shameless plug out of the way, let's get to some football!
Obviously, the major highlight for the Steelers was the play of Ben Roethlisberger. Big Ben was 33 of 43 for 363 yards. This is significant for several reasons. The first is that Roethlisberger has clearly shown that off-field drama (lawsuit claiming sexual misconduct, for anyone who has been living under a rock) has not been a distraction for him and that his is ready to go.
Another reason that factors in is that Big Ben has demonstrated that he can carry the weight of the team on his shoulders even when the running game cannot get going (an issue to be addressed later on).
Also, while less important or relevant to the season, Roethlisberger has, as of tonight, passed Kordell Stewart and moved into second all-time passing yards for the Steelers franchise (10 guesses who No. 1 is...). While all this may seem trivial, it is a huge step in the right direction for a team trying to defend its Super Bowl title.
The Steelers may have had faith in Roethlisberger before, but he came out and justified that faith Thursday night. This means that the Steeler team can keep its head in the game, even through adversity in the run game which can be devastating to morale.
A few observations about the Steelers notables:
Stefan Logan looked pretty sharp tonight against a Titans team who is well known for great Special Teams plays (also read—who doesn't allow opponents to have good ST play). The offensive line got off to a rough start and never seemed to find a groove for opening up the run game. They did find their niche in the second half for pass protection though.
Coach Mike Tomlin has to be happy about that, even if he is miffed about the former becoming a problem like it was last season.
Rookie production for a fairly deep team (in most areas, as no team has the depth they wish they had in all areas) has got to be making offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and Coach Tomlin very happy—specifically the playmaking ability shown by rookie WR Mike Wallace, whose quick thinking turned a potential throw away/sack into a 22-yard completion to set up the winning field goal.
Additionally, the defense played very well, if a bit rusty. The defense gave up only three points in the second half, and also had a blocked field goal attempt.
Speaking of which, let's hit some of the low points for the evening. Pittsburgh has got to be holding its breath and saying some silent prayers for the quick recovery of Pro Bowl Safety Troy Polamalu, who suffered a MCL sprain in his left knee on the field goal block.
Coach Tomlin reported that this type of injury usually sidelines a player for three to six weeks, but would not speculate on the specific prognosis of Polamalu. Obviously, his absence will be felt by the Steelers' defense.
Also, as mentioned earlier, the offensive line seemed to be non-existent in opening up the run game. The Steelers managed to accrue a massive 28 yards rushing on the night. While credit is due to the Titans' defense in stuffing the run, the Steelers O-line needs to take responsibility for this and work hard on making tonight seem more like a fluke and less like a trend.
In a rare, almost rookie-like mistake, Pro-Bowl WR Hines Ward made a spectacular catch over the middle at the Tennessee 30, and after being hit at the four, tried to plow ahead for more yardage. This caused a fumble near the end of regulation that could have spelled disaster, yet with little time remaining on the clock, Tennessee ran the time out and took their chances in Overtime. They lost the coin toss and never saw the ball again.
Overall, the Steelers put on an impressive performance Thursday night against a very good Titans team. The Steelers have shown the league that no matter the adversity that they face, they are defending Super Bowl Champions for a reason and do not intend to back down.
While they have their work cut out for them, confidence should be riding high in Pittsburgh tonight, and will carry on as they prepare to head to Chicago next week.