Steelers vs. Eagles: Post-Game Thoughts and Observations from the Keystone Clash
Pittsburgh Steelers fans want nothing more than to create a sea of yellow around their beloved team as it hoists the Lombardi Trophy this February. In a recent article, I warned fans not to overreact to the preseason. Moreover, it is important to keep all of the events that transpire in perspective- even the winning ones.
After all, exhibition losses are so often not as bad as they appear, getting back to game speed and defining the roster being a better and more primary concern for fans and team alike.
Conversely, while a positive attitude after wins is a necessity (if you can't celebrate a win, when can you celebrate?), that optimism should not blind anybody into thinking the team is invincible.
With all of this in mind, the Black and Gold made like true Men of Steel last night, flying higher and faster than the Eagles in an exhibition matchup that- if we did not know better- would have appeared to quantify Pittsburgh as an obvious and true contender.
Naturally, there are still hurdles to overcome, and the Eagles will use this game tape like Pittsburgh used their film from Washington to focus on getting better. We're only halfway through the fake stuff, so it's important not to lock in any judgments too prematurely.
In any case, last night’s Keystone clash saw the Steelers win outright, 24-14, in a contest that was not even that close. Here are a few observations and thoughts stemming from last night’s affair that left the Steelers looking golden and the Eagles looking….well, green.
Will the Steelers Be "Kicking Themselves?"
Before Super Bowl V, a game won by the Baltimore Colts after a Jim O’Brien field goal, the Colts kicker felt unconfident. During the champion’s “America’s Game” installment, interviews cite that O’Brien mentioned his concern for the kicking game, hoping that the game didn’t come down to a field goal as he was not used to kicking on turf.
As it turns out, Steelers kickers may not want to be kicking under pressure!
A team wants confidence from its kicker, hoping that when the coach turns with a glance that says, “You ready to win this for us?” that his nod back will reply, “Damn straight!”
After a block and missed chip shot, Swayze Waters is not the guy that anyone would feel confident with in the crunch. While it’s unlikely that he’d make the roster anyway, "starting kicker" Sean Suisham certainly doesn’t inspire an overabundance of calmness amongst Steelers Nation either.
While it may seem unfair, his Super Bowl gaffe from long distance wasn’t even close, and at least with Jeff Reed there was no doubt about his capability to drive it through- even when he didn’t!
If the Steelers don’t address their kicking needs, they will have to hope that their games don’t come down to a clutch kick.
In the NFL? Bad idea.
Walls of Jericho Cotchery
While there were a mix of enthusiasts and critics regarding the acquisition of the former Jets receiver, his playing history shows he was a wonderful addition. Dating back to his early seasons, the underrated wideout has always displayed great hands, rarely dropping the football.
In fact, during the “Brett the Jet-t” campaign, the aging and displaced quarterback had only glowing remarks about Cotchery. With an injury to Laveranues Coles, Cotchery stepped up his game, and Favre recognized him as an ideal target, especially citing his strong ability to gain yards after the catch.
Against the Eagles, Jericho showed Steelers Nation that he was a wonderful addition to the receiving corp. Aside from Hines getting older, the only knock on the unit was youth.
With Cotchery, the Steelers receiving corp balance youth and experience, as well as savvy and speed. The former Jet had a magnificent catch in the second quarter before snagging a laser from Byron Leftwich for a touchdown.
As it turns out, the walls of Jericho may just be the finishing touch needed to fully build up the Pittsburgh offense.
Kickoff Rule Change: Why Not Forego Formality and Just Line Up at the 20?
One element of the game that will be missed by all NFL fan bases is the kick return. The potential for excitement at the start of a contest will be mostly gone in 2011. The percentage of touchbacks will directly coincide with the proportion of games with a lackluster start. Who wants to see that? Who will rush to their seats to see what should now be called the “opening touchback?”
Players like Josh Cribbs (pictured above) in Cleveland will be rendered obsolete in the return game, whether or not the league admits it, and in spite of the odd notion that somehow the percentages will tilt toward returns as the season progresses.
Are we replacing legs?!
As for last night- another week down, another game with absolutely no action following the kickoffs.
Safety has been cited as a major reason for the change in kickoff location to the 35-yard line. Yet, the execution of a return begins well before the ball ever lands in the hand of the return specialist, whether or not in the endzone. Are players really going to forfeit the setup of their return based on kick trajectory, eliminating modern blocking methods that have been deemed as dangerous?
Or, is this change truly about violent collisions? If so, football is designed around violence. Injuries have always and will always happen. Those five yards are not going to slow down players’ acceleration; in fact, the players on coverage units reach top speed well before entering the opponents’ side of the field.
If the compromise for safety is boredom, then taking away one of the most exciting elements of an NFL contest is a horrible decision. Why not place flags on the quarterback only and define a sack as the seizing of one of these flags, thus outlawing any physical contact with quarterbacks? Seriously, where do we draw the line?
No kick returns? I’m sure the Chargers are appreciative! Truthfully, the Steelers have been burned by kickoffs in the past, but they’re a great element of the game. Move back the kicking tee!
O-NO O-LINE! (A.K.A. NOT AGAIN!)
If you put your ear to the bottom of a drinking glass and raised it upward to the Pittsburgh sky, you may have heard a collective, “Here we go again!”
Jonathan Scott and Marcus Gilbert both left their positions at left tackle last night after knee injuries. After a 2010 season that could have easily been titled “How to Win Patchwork Style,” these events conjure horrible visions of last season’s seemingly weekly offensive line carousel.
In a manner of speaking, the Steelers have wisely gathered a plethora of linemen who are able to adapt between two or more positions on the line. As an example, Gilbert, the team’s second round draft selection, has experience playing at both tackle and guard. Last year’s top pick, Pouncey, can play both guard and center. Therefore, there is flexibility.
Nevertheless, I think any Steelers fan can confidently say that after the decimation we had to overcome during last year’s conference championship journey, football fate owes us the opportunity (and time!) to develop an offensive line with chemistry.
On the day that our linemen are allowed to gel, Big Ben and Rashard Mendenhall are going to set this league on fire!
Vick-tim of His Own Hype?
After a scintillating stretch in 2011, expectations are as enormous as ever for Vick and the Eagles. As such, if the quarterback comebacker is simply "good"...well, that might not be good enough. With such high hopes in Philly, Vick may find that such hype puts on too much pressure, especially in the City of Brotherly Bashing.
Minus his breakout months last year, Vick will be left answering questions. For a quarterback who has historically struggled with his passing, the "Super Bowl or bust" mentality requires progress.
While I warn fans not to place too much stock in preseason performances, last night’s contest was as alarming for Eagles fans as it was satisfying for Steelers Nation.
Ben Roethlisberger did what he does- bought time in the pocket, made spontaneous decisions that kept drives alive, used his mobility to make big plays down the field, and put together an efficient and surgeon-like night behind center. It was great progress!
Michael Vick had a surge in the middle of 2010 that is to be admired and commended. He was in the talks for league MVP, and rightfully so at the start of December. By the end of the Eagles’ season, his sizzle fizzled, and a final interception late in their Wild Card playoff was a microcosm of his career before those ten weeks of glory. Fans in Philadelphia are hoping for a “Phab Phinish” to compliment what promises to be another exciting season for the athletic signal caller.
Nonetheless, Vick played into the hands of critics who have faulted him during a long career, years of evidence that provide more than enough demonstration of his shortcomings: forcing throws, struggling with accuracy, and having trouble with fast fronts that contain his running threat.
Truthfully, Michael Vick was horrendous, and it wasn’t for a lack of offensive ingenuity. He made poor decisions!
It was a lone exhibition, but it was also an illustration of the body of work both men have displayed to-date.
The champion deserves to be placed ahead of his speedy peer in the ranking of all those who are being honest Ben continues to be the franchise quarterback that Vick will strive to become in 2011. Nobody doubts Vick has the physical gifts to succeed, but will he? Stay tuned!
Dream Talent, Dream Team, or Both?
Not all dreams are pleasant, and Washington’s spending spree of the past decade is proof that free agent bliss can translate into seasonal nightmares!
There’s no doubt that Philadelphia is a team to be reckoned with, and as they get better, they will be among the favorites to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl in February. There’s still a lot of work to be done, evident in last night’s thrashing, and the collection of great talent is not necessarily the culmination of great performance. It all has to come together.
Last night would be a foolish final litmus test for one’s perceptions. While Philadelphia surely aspired to more success, they played against a quarterback that fares better than any other against pressure. Likewise, they certainly held back schematically, eliminating complexities which are the winning edge for teams like the Eagles, Steelers, Patriots, and other NFL success staples.
Overreacting is one thing, but it is obvious that there is work to be done out east. Feathers are ruffled, and these birds need to learn to fly together before talks of a Super Bowl nest egg can be chirped with any seriousness.
According to NFL radio a few mornings ago, the Colts are 4-23 in their last 27 preseason games, and they've been just fine come regular season. The Eagles talent is playoff caliber, and Andy Reid almost always fields a winner. Again....
No need to overreact.
This winner, however, comes with ritz, and the NFL hype machine is hard at work!
No pressure, Nnamdi! Or, should I say, Asante? Last night did prove one thing: with the focus on his side of the field, Asante Samuel had better be ready.
Is there any defense as stifling as the Steelers when Troy Polamalu is healthy? What a banshee, and that is meant with every positive notion of the word. Opposed to reckless abandon, Troy performs with strategic chaos in mind, disrupting various element of opposing offenses with his intuition and speed.
Nailing running backs, such as Chris Johnson in the 2009 opener, behind the line of scrimmage when he meets them like a torpedo in the backfield.
Stuffing quarterback sneaks, his cleats three feet off the ground before the snap of the ball, and his arms around the lumbering field general milliseconds after the snap without being offsides.
Magnetism for the football, demonstrated again with a timely interception of Michael Vick, the quarterback’s third pick of the game.
Steelers Nation crosses its fingers for a healthy season for Troy. If their wishes are met, the Steelers will be playing nasty (in a good way!) defense well into January.
Odds are that Mendenhall will be carrying a bulk of the load and Isaac Redman will be largely utilized during short down and distance/third down scenarios. Mewelde Moore provides the perfect contrast to the power running of the aforementioned duo in a role that he is accustomed to executing with great reliability.
I wouldn’t be surprised to find the Steelers utilizing a back by committee approach with these two backs. Both are running with a lot of “pop” to their step, and either is capable of executing a gamebreaking play.
If both continue at their pace, continuing to play hard, the hard running and versatility of the group could mean Pittsburgh has the best set (if not trio) of backs in the NFL.