In an afternoon that started with promise, another shutout at Heinz Field assured that there will be just as many tears as rain drops in the state of Washington tonight.
In a mirror image of the 2007 contest between the Super Bowl XL contestants, the Steelers shut out the Seahawks, lifting spirits in the Steel City.
The score could have been worse, as Pittsburgh's dominance was apparent from opening kickoff to the final quarterback kneel. While Terrible Towels twirled in the stands, it was Tarvaris Jackson's head that was spinning and cornerback Brandon Browner getting whipped by Mike Wallace.
As the Men of Steel rebounded in all phases of the game, fans saw the type of performance that they have become accustomed to in this era of rampant success.
Despite the improvements, what else can be worked on heading toward what could be labelled as a "trap game" in Indianapolis?
And, for their superb effort this afternoon, who made the largest contributions?
Essentially, what did we see and learn during the win?
Statistics have been compiled, broken down and analyzed at great length to determine key factors that enable teams to win and lose in the NFL; moreover, those same numbers are examined even further if there is any correlation to championships.
So, what are these key statistics that make a difference?
The biggest indicator is—and always will be—turnovers. Passer rating differential (the gap between your quarterback and the opposing signal caller's performance) also serves as a superb barometer for future success.
Yards per attempt. The big Y.P.A., an acronym for those with high averages that translates to mean "You're Pretty Awesome!"
Three of the highest passers in history (in terms of this measurement) have won seven championships.
Just below these historically supreme yardage gainers is Ben Roethlisberger, whose three Super Bowl appearances and two championships also support the importance of getting the ball down field.
Today's game was a perfect illustration of not just winning Super Bowls, but the magnitude of the statistic on the field.
In a game with no turnovers, both quarterbacks were almost equally efficient in their completion percentage, with neither throwing multiple touchdowns.
Big Ben completed 22 of 30 passes, while Tarvaris Jackson hit on 20 of 29 attempts.
133 yards vs. 297 yards.
Roethlisberger averaged 9.6 yards per attempt, while his counterpart gained less than five yards per throw.
To view Jackson's day as efficient is simply a Seattle Sea-crock. Like Alex Smith in San Francisco, a team cannot win if the quarterback's role is to simply complete check downs without being trusted to press the play downfield.
Barring other critical stats, such as turnovers, the reality is simple.
Without sufficient Y.P.A., you will P.A.Y.
Before my persecution for such a bold proclamation, let me announce that I realize the notion of breaking the single season receiving yardage record is a stretch. One bad game can take a player completely off track, forcing a herculean performance in subsequent weeks to approach the milestone.
Yes, two games is only two games.
In 1995, Jerry Rice compiled 1,848 receiving yards.
Heading into 2011, Mike Wallace of the Steelers announced his intention to achieve 2,000 yards receiving.
He isn't on pace for his goal, but he is receiving at a rate that would surpass Rice's mark. It would be easy to ignore, except for the fact that I don't believe Mike Wallace has played his best football yet this season. His biggest games are ahead of him.
Wallace caught the only touchdown of the day, and his catch deep down the middle of the field of a ball heading toward the grass was a marvelous snag.
The receiver has amassed 100 yard totals in the first two games, and the offense still hasn't completely found its rhythm.
Naturally, naysayers will note that a single drop (such as the aforementioned grab down the deep middle) would completely negate his high total. Yet, it could be equally valid to state that big plays have been left out on the field for Wallace, and he is a mere catch away from even higher numbers.
As it stands, the receiver compiled 107 yards during the decimation in Baltimore before reaching 126 yards today.
After one-eighth of the year, his total is 233 yards.
Taking that total and multiplying it out gives the receiver 1,864 yards.
A sheer fantasy? Sure. Jumping the gun? Probably.
Premature? Hell yes.
But, just saying....
After a phenomenal preseason, I expected Antonio Brown to eclipse Emmanuel Sanders this season with regard to their production. With Sanders unfortunate injury costing him time, Brown was awe-inspiring, especially in a sublime performance against the Philadelphia Eagles.
Get ready for it...
I was wrong.
I can see why the team has rewarded Sanders with their faith. His timely catches early in games showcase the reason many secondaries will be frustrated against Pittsburgh this season. Rarely is a third or fourth option at receiver as aware or dangerous as Emmanuel.
After catching the lone touchdown against the Ravens last week, Sanders got the Pittsburgh offense rolling with a critical reception early in the game. He weaved his way through the Seattle secondary in a display of speed and agility before finally being chased out of bounds.
Sanders' contributions truly illustrate the Steelers' depth at receiver.
That said, Antonio Brown is not absent in these efforts, and his talent promises important contributions and exciting plays as well.
With such an abundance of riches, Ben Roethlisberger should see a number of tremendous games, and I still expect this to be his finest season despite a slow start.
In my recent pregame article, one of the things I asked fans to mind during this game was Seattle's road woes.
In their last 18 games away from their beloved "12th Man," the Seahawks had been out to sea and completely lost, compiling a 3-15 record against the spread.
Make that 3-16 in the last 19 games.
To make matters worse, the franchise was shutout for the second time at Heinz Field, a pure house of horrors for the squad that certainly must lust for vengeance after a Super Bowl defeat in 2005 that turned their fanbase into conspiracy theorists.
In fact, since their first game of the 2000's (a 23-0 loss at Miami), Seattle has only been shut out on those two occasions.
Honestly, the Seahawks looked completely disengaged after falling behind, and their offense was putrid
The Steelers waited until late in the game to bring substantial pressure, yet Jackson and the offense couldn't have taken advantage if they wanted to. Simply, they appeared helpless, having as many punts as first downs with eight of each.
While being down 24-0 is tough, avoiding a shutout is a matter of pride. At times, Seattle looked utterly apathetic to this matter, albeit the result of being dominated or circumstantial complacency.
Ben Roethlisberger. A tough guy. But not unable to fall.
Remember the image above? Against the Chargers in 2005, Ben Roethlisberger sustained a knee injury that caused him to miss games.
Injuries in that campaign resulted in the Tommy Maddox flub job (a dropped football and overtime interception) against Jacksonville and an eventual midseason skid during his absence and subsequent return.
Fact: To win the Super Bowl, the Steelers cannot lose Ben. (Duh.)
A sudden hush fell on the crowd at Heinz Field as the quarterback was laying on the ground after a hit to his knee, a low hit that drew a penalty flag.
As Roethlisberger rose, the fans exalted, but any Steelers fan was immediately curious about the status of their quarterback.
Big Ben's knee contains the most important ligaments in Pittsburgh.
Despite the doomsayers after Week 1, Roethlisberger is an elite quarterback, and he returned to form in this effort, an efficient 22-for-30 passing day that saw him gain nearly 10 yards per pass attempt.
That type of offensive efficiency is the model of champions, and Ben is just that.
Later in the game, Ben took a similar hit to the contact that could have ended his season. The drama was decreased, but the impact was the same.
Fortune smiled on the Steelers today, and if anybody is taking the quarterbacking prowess of Ben Roethlisberger for granted, they need to only look at today's quarterback matchup to understand the difference between a capable signal caller and a great one.
Today, Antonio Brown had one fine return on special teams, though his impact was not as damaging for Seattle as I'd predicted. Nevertheless, another special teams observation from today's game causes me to scratch my head.
With the new rules regarding the placement of the kickoff now implemented, perhaps the league should release a new publication called "Kickoffs for Dummies."
It seems that the moved tee isn't impacting returns as much as anticipated. Conversely, it is inspiring stupidity.
While a great 108 yard return makes headlines, I can't remember such a frequency of returns originating from the endzone.
In today's contest, Seattle attempted to return a kickoff in the third quarter, and the returner was tackled at approximately the 11-yard line. With such a putrid offense, perhaps their only option was a special teams return for a score.
Nevertheless, there was clearly no chance for a return on the play, and this trend is showing itself in far more competitive affairs as well.
We're not talking about the difference of six feet. We're talking about 11 yards when the desired minimum game is twice that.
I can understand coming up a few yards short for the sake of being aggressive, but is it not the role of a returner to assess the field and determine if the option of a return is beneficial?
In other games, I'm seeing the same phenomenon. Returners are willing to bring the ball out of the endzone, but the resulting field position is far too often short of the 20-yard line.
It is time for the league's return men to begin considering when and, more importantly, when not to bring the ball out.
Sometimes, taking a knee is the only thing left to do, especially with the new rules.
Against Seattle and ahead by 24 points, running out the final five minutes of the football game is not a win or lose proposition.
That luxury will not last, and if the Steelers want to catapult themselves into clear front-runner status, the running game absolutely must be more efficient.
Excuses may range from the fact that the team has won in spite of the line for years or that Seattle isn't that bad against the run. Whatever the story, save it!
Unless you concur that the line needs to improve—especially at run blocking—you are fooling yourself. Mendenhall and Redman have looked fine, but the blocking hasn't helped them much.
The line will progressively get better, and many coaches and analysts indicate that no unit improves more over the course of an NFL season that a team's offensive line.
The group had a markedly improved game from their outing in Maryland, and their protection was fairly solid today in spite of a few scary hits on Big Ben (both fouls, but only one flagged). Nevertheless, Redman and Mendenhall have been making lemonades from lemons in the first two weeks, and even their efforts haven't yielded a running attack that is sufficient in game-clinching circumstances.
Early in the game, a first and goal at the 1-yard line yielded zero points.
With minutes remaining and a huge lead, the offense-clearly concentrating on running out the clock- had to punt twice. On the first two downs, the unit was not successful enough, setting up third and long.
Good enough was...well, good enough today. In the coming weeks, with the Patriots coming to town and a trip to Houston on the docket, leading by a few points and possessing the ball with little time left will mean nothing if the team cannot run effectively in the latter stages.
Raise your hand if you want to punt the ball back to Tom Brady.
In the NFL, age matters. The course of a couple of seasons can make legendary units become pedestrian.
However, to announce the decimation of the Steelers defense due to age and wearing eight months after a trip to the Super Bowl is decidedly premature.
Was it a full return to form? No. Shutting out an NFL opponent is a feat. The "D" dominated, and it was a welcome sight.
If you see Warren Sapp, who proclaimed the Steelers defense was done as recently as last week, understand that he was not craving Italian food and that those are not spaghetti noodles hanging from his lips.
They're shoe laces. Open mouth. Insert.
The next step for our defense is to obtain a turnover.(Just one, pleeeease!)
Oh well. One week at a time. It wasn't all perfect. The unit didn't get much pressure on Seattle's quarterback until late, but it was certainly better.
At the end of the day, it was a shutout. Plain and simple.
Seattle couldn't move the ball, and that is really the only point worth mentioning. For this week, it all worked.
In a rebound game for the proud unit, the run defense swallowed up Seattle, who only attempted 13 rushes, and kept Tarvaris Jackson completely contained for an entire 60 minutes.
It was a full one hour effort, and the defense—whose secondary was efficient and whose front stuffed the run and got immense pressure late in the contestallowed only eight first downs.
While the opponent was among the league's worst teams, the Seahawks didn't manage a snap in Pittsburgh territory until late in the game.
In two weeks, against a solid Texans offense, the true litmus test will occur. For now, fans can take solace in the momentum gained from a fine performance, knowing that the team isn't preparing severance packages for this "aged group of impending retirees."
He is known as a Pittsburgh guy and the best blocking wide receiver in NFL history. For all of these reasons, Hines' retirement in the coming season(s) will be a sad day for Steelers fans.
As much as I'll miss his production in the red zone (especially from the slot) and physicality, fans in the Steel City will easily miss his snag-ability.
What is snag-ability? It's the ability to catch a ball that you have no business catching.
The Steelers have come a long way from the days of Courtney Hawkins and Charles Johnson, and from Santonio Holmes' grab in Super Bowl XLIII to a few of today's efforts, Pittsburgh receivers now have the gift of grab.
Today, Wallace and Ward both made unbelievable catches.
As Ben Roethlisberger scrambled toward the left sideline in today's game, he was running out of real estate and options.
He threw to Hines Ward, who came up with a football thrown out of bounds, his body fully extended and toes in-bounds.
On another pass, Mike Wallace caught the football by it's uppermost point, drawing it back into his body in a display of hands that cannot be served justice by words.
In fact, both catches left fans speechless. And, writers wordless.
In other words, just see the video at 1:45.
This is not to be overlooked. Watching contests where receivers are dropping balls with frequency (such as St. Louis wideouts against the Eagles in Week 1) allows for further appreciation of our "retrievers at receiver" here in Pittsburgh!
"I told you so!" To elaborate, this isn't my voice telling any of you about having been told.
This is the voice of rational fans, who dealt with the doomsayers and cynics all week, those who marked the end of the Steelers, the destruction of their elderly defense, and their clear inferiority to the Baltimore Ravens based on one game.
Forgive Steelers fans if they will not relinquish the AFC North just yet.
Today, the Steelers got back to basics. And the Ravens? Today's "Purple People Eaters" got eaten!
Like last week, it was just one game for both squads. Interestingly, Week 2 saw opposite results from week 1 for every AFC North team.
Against an inferior opponent, Pittsburgh dominated. Yet, it wasn't as simple as playing a weaker team.
The Steelers protected the football and improved in all facets of the game. A great deal of success in football comes with self-discipline, not shooting yourself in the foot. In this game, the Steelers did not turn the ball over (though there were close calls), thus preventing Seattle from staying in a contest they didn't deserve to win.
Meanwhile, Cleveland took care of business in Manning-less Indiana, 27-19 victors in a contest they could not afford to lose.
The biggest shock came in Tennessee, where Joe Flacco proved very flappable and Baltimore lost 26-13. The Ravens committed three more turnovers than the Titans, who compiled nearly double the offensive yardage of their allegedly superior opponent.
What does this prove? Exactly nothing, which is the point! It is simply too early to come to any broad, sweeping assessments about any team.
Well, maybe the Chiefs....
We still have a lot to learn in this NFL season, and neither last week's loss or this week's win define the future for the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers.