The Pittsburgh Steelers opened the 2009 regular season with a hard hitting 13-10 overtime win over the Tennessee Titans. It was a physical game with a lot of yards but not many points. The defending champions extended their opening game win streak to seven, going back to the 2002 season. However, I have not seen more worrying after a win than last night's game. Here is what I learned and concluded:
1. The Bruce Arians Problem: The Steelers offense struggled mightily when offensive coordinator Bruce Arians called the plays. QB Ben Roethlisberger looked lackadaisical early in the game, missing receivers and throwing interceptions (one of them a Hail Mary to end the half). Even worse, Arians's play calling is so predictable that I can't even make jokes about it anymore, mostly because it is a joke in itself.
However, when the Steelers ran the no-huddle and Roethlisberger called the plays, the Steelers looked sharp and scored a touchdown to Santonio Holmes. In the second half, the Steelers also ran the no-huddle on the game tying series only to go back to Arians calling the plays, which led to a field goal, not a touchdown.
If anyone saw the Steelers play last season, they would know how effective Roethlisberger was running the no-huddle. Now what I conclude is not something as drastic as Big Ben and the offense run the no-huddle full time a la Peyton Manning and the Colts but something else.
The Steelers should not have let the shine of the Lombardi Trophy blind them from the truth. Bruce Arians should not have been retained after last season. The Steelers won the title in spite of many things, one of those being the offensive play calling.
Arians should be let go before he costs the team some games like he did last season. Ken Anderson, who also has a strong relationship with Roethlisberger, should be the offensive coordinator.
I don't know how Anderson, the former underrated QB for the Bengals, would be as the play-caller but for the last several seasons, Arians has not done anything to convince me that he is worthy of being the play-caller.
2. The Running Game is AWOL: In the past, the Steelers would have lost badly whenever Willie Parker and the running game was as putrid as it was last night. However, Roethlisberger and the receiving corps kept the Steelers in the game and eventually won it in overtime.
Parker, who is in a contract season, looked like he was the undrafted free agent that he was, not the Pro Bowl runner he was in 2007 and 2006. As for Rashard Mendenhall, he did not impress either. With each carry, he looked more and more like a draft bust instead of the stud he was at Illinois.
The best running back last night was Mewelde Moore, who was the unsung hero of the Steelers offense for much of last season and played the role again last night. Parker and Mendenhall got benched for much of the second half and Moore got majority of the snaps.
What I conclude is this. Tomlin made the right move in going with the hot guy, which was Moore last night. However, if Parker can't get going any time soon, he will not get that big money deal that he so desperately wants. As for Mendenhall, he could be the worst Steelers first round pick since Jamain Stephens. I hope both Parker and Mendenhall prove me wrong real soon.
3. The Offensive Line is Not As Bad As It Looked: The Steelers offensive line gave up four sacks last night but only one I could say was given up by the offensive line. On two occasions Roethlisberger held the ball too long and scrambled into a sack and on another occasion, Roethlisberger did not see Jevon Kearse coming in untouched, thus did not make the hot read.
Now I am not going to anoint the offensive line as the best thing ever, but they did OK and was not horrible, especially in the second half. The run blocking could be much better and I think it will get better. After all, the Titans do have a good defensive line even without Albert Haynesworth and they showed it last night.
While I have advocated for right tackle Willie Colon and right guard Trai Essex to switch positions, they held their own in the second half and overtime. I hope that the line gels as a unit and gets much better before Roethlisberger gets seriously injured. Speaking of Big Ben.....
4. Until Tom Brady Proves His Knee is Good to Go for the Entire 2009 Season, Roethlisberger is the Best QB in the League Right Now: That's right, as of this moment, matter of fact since last season's playoff run, Roethlisberger has done nothing but win games with his arm.
Yes, he holds on to the ball too long. Yes, he takes too many sacks. Yes, he does not look smooth as Brady and Peyton Manning in the pocket. Yes, he does not look like a classic QB. So what? All Roethlisberger did last night was throw for 363 yards and win the game in overtime.
Remember all the dissenters who kept saying that whenever Roethlisberger throws the ball more than 30 times a game that the Steelers would lose? I don't think so. Big Ben has not been a "game manager" for a long time.
This is his team and he showed last night that he can fight the obstacles and win games once again. Last night was his 18th game winning drive in the 4th quarter or overtime in his career.
Since he came into the league in 2004, no QB has led his team to more game winning drives than Roethlisberger. Given that he has two rings and has won over 50 games in just five plus seasons, it is time to put Roethlisberger in the same pedestal as Brady.
5. Santonio Holmes=Superstar: Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes showed that he was more than just deep speed last night. He essentially became Roethlisberger's number one target when the stakes got higher.
Potential Hall of Fame receiver Hines Ward put up excellent numbers last night, going over 100 yards again, but Holmes is slowly becoming the main man in PIttsburgh. Now entering his fourth season and only 25 years old, Holmes is primed to enter the world that only Larry Fitzgerald, Andre Johnson, Calvin Johnson, and Anquan Boldin live in, the world of young superstar receivers.
6. Troy Polamalu's MCL: As of this morning, the diagnosis of MCL sprain to Troy Polamalu's knee is still holding. This means that Polamalu will likely miss 3 to 6 weeks. MCL sprain of course is the same injury that Hines Ward played with in last season's Super Bowl.
Polamalu looked like the NFL defensive player of the year just in the first half. That interception with rookie Kenny Britt pushing off on him was just amazing but not surprising considering who pulled it off. The tackle for loss on Chris Johnson was so typical Polamalu that no one should be surprised.
I hope that Tyrone Carter and Ryan Mundy can hold the fort for the next month or so before Polamalu comes back healthy. I hope that the Steelers play this injury very carefully. I have seen Polamalu come back too early from injury and look like a lesser player, not the same old Polamalu (see 2006 season, especially against the Ravens that season).
7. There will be no Super Bowl hangover with this team: In the 2006 season, the Steelers began the year horribly 2-6 before scrambling for a disappointing 8-8 season. That 2006 team was just happy to have won the Super Bowl and they played like it.
They quit against the Jaguars in week two, gave the game away thanks to Ricardo Colclough against the Bengals in week three, and so on. Mike Tomlin will not allow this team to rest on their laurels because Tomlin still coaches like he has something to prove.
This is no knock on Bill Cowher in his final season in Pittsburgh; after all, he did finally win one after years of coming up short. I would be relieved too if I was Cowher. However, this team is much different than the 2006 team in many ways. I only hope that the offense finally smartens up, the offensive line gels, and no one else misses too many games.
Next game: Sept. 20 at Chicago.
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