Steelers-Broncos: Random Thoughts on Pittsburgh's Slaying of Denver
They have now beaten two legitimate Super Bowl contenders and likely division winners in back to back games, including a lopsided affair in one of the tougher places to play.
This was the murderer’s row portion of their schedule and they are passing the test with flying colors.
Here are a few of my thoughts on the game:
One of my favorite plays was a quick sideline pass to Hines Ward that went for all of a few yards and had no impact on the game. Why that play?
Because Hines Ward was Hines Ward. Instead of falling down or heading to the sideline, he tried to run over Ty Law. Alas, Law was smart enough to get down before getting clobbered. Hines Ward may get voted dirties player in the league.
But that play epitomizes why players don’t always like him. Wide receivers are supposed to be prima donnas who avoid contact. Ward is unique as a wide receiver, a one of a kind. I’m not sure any other receiver in the history of the league has relished contact as much as Ward.
We will never see another Hines Ward play for the Steelers, the assassin with a million dollar smile, so I’m going to enjoy watching him while it lasts. He is what the Joker, of Batman fame, aspired to be but fell short. This guy has to be in the Hall of Fame some day. If he isn't, it will be a real travesty.
I am now a believer in the Steelers' offensive line. These guys are head and shoulders better than they were last year. The biggest improvement has been to Max Starks who has been veritable wall.
He has been absolutely superb at one of the NFL’s toughest positions while matching up against some of the league’s best quarterback killers. It is always great to see nice guys finish first. And Starks is a prince of a guy.
I remember meeting him when he visited troops as part of a USO tour following his first Super Bowl. More than any of the other players with him, most of whom were more well known than him, he really seemed to relish the opportunity to meet with troops with the smile never fading from his face.
I now officially feel guilty for questioning the Steelers for throwing so much money at Starks, who is earning every penny and then some.
While Rashard Mendenhall put in a superb effort running the ball, I was also impressed with his play in the passing game. He was quick at recognizing blitzes and more than ably held up against some of Denver’s best blitzers.
I had written Mendenhall off just a couple months ago. I’m not sure I’ve ever been so glad to have been wrong, except perhaps about the offensive line. Now, if only I prove to be wrong about Limas Sweed.
Mendenhall is not Hines Ward. By that I mean that he is quite content running out of bounds after breaking off a long run as opposed to turning inside and initiating contact. Ward wouldn’t do that. That’s why he is Superman.
There was a two-play defensive sequence that really highlighted what makes Troy Polamalu such a special player. On first down, he blitzed into the backfield and hammered the running back behind the line. On second down, he drops into coverage and makes a superb interception that was anything but routine that set up the back breaker touchdown.
It was reminiscent of the theft he made that sent the Ravens packing in the playoffs last year. The Tasmanian Devil might be the most appropriate nickname of any player in the National Football League.
It was nice to see Evander Hood make a key play. He came through and nearly knocked Kyle Orton into tomorrow, forcing the first interception that was returned for a touchdown. That is hopefully a sign of good things to come from Ziggy.
Speaking of rushing the quarterback, Orton looked shell shocked by game’s end. Every time he dropped back, he looked like he wanted to find somewhere to hide.
The media made a predictably big fuss this week about the Phillip Rivers versus Eli Manning matchup. But, in terms of the 2004 quarterback class, those two guys are playing for second place.
Neither can hold a candle to Ben Roethlisberger. The guy is just a player. When he makes a mistake, he is itching to get back on the field and atone for it, which he almost always does.
The classic Ben play was when he escaped a heavy rush to find Mike Wallace breaking free into the end zone.
Speaking of Mike Wallace, I see a very special relationship on the horizon between Big Ben and the young speedster. Those two look like they have been playing together for years. Considering that he is already armed with two Super Bowl MVPs, the chemistry that has developed between Ben and the rookie has been one of the biggest, and best, surprises of 2009.
I was absolutely thrilled to see Mitch Berger punting...for the Broncos. Go Mitch! Now, if only the Bengals would hurry up and sign him before next week’s game.
I thought that the loss of Aaron Smith was potentially devastating, a season killer. But a group of no-name defensive ends have really stepped up and picked up the slack. First Travis Kirshke and then Nick Eason.
Maybe the Steelers knew what they were doing when they cut defensive end Ryan McBean, who now starts for the Broncos, although he missed the game to injury.
I was really glad that Ryan Clark didn’t play in this game and would have been even happier if he was watching the game from his family room in Pittsburgh. I would have been just as happy with his decision if the Steelers lost due to bad free safety play.
Clark seems like a first-rate guy, whom I hope to see back in black and gold next year. It was nice to see him rush over to congratulate Tyrone Carter after his interceptions.
Speaking of Carter...and Eason...and Andre Frazier...and Keyaron Fox...these Steelers have some real depth on defense. Some of that is attributable to Dick LeBeau’s coordinating prowess.
But it is nice to see a team that can take several key injuries on defense and still keep plugging away at such a high level.
Last year, the Steelers’ running game occasionally, and by that I mean very occasionally, looked good, but only when matched against the league’s most putrid rush defenses. This year’s squad is running successfully against the best rush defenses.
That is a huge change and speaks to the noticeable development of the offensive line and the emergence of Mendenhall.
This Steelers’ offense now has the potential to be as good as any offense in the league, matching the defense. That is a scary thought if you aren’t a Steelers’ fan.
This served as a great prelude to the most important game of the year to date, when the Steelers host the surprising Bengals next week. Who would have thought that this midseason game would have such significance?
That will be three straight games that will have a playoff atmosphere. If the Steelers want to win the division, they really need to win that one. With the Bengals sweeping the Baltimore Ravens, the Steelers have no room for error. Of course, the last time the Bengals won the division, the Steelers won the Super Bowl.
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