Steelers Report Card/Week 1: Smash-mouth? Big Ben Wings It

Paul LadewskiCorrespondent IISeptember 11, 2009

PITTSBURGH - SEPTEMBER 10:  Running back Willie Parker #39 of the Pittsburgh Steelers carries the ball in the second quarter of the NFL season opener against the Tennessee Titans at Heinz Field on September 10, 2009 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

Here’s what I got out of the Steelers’ 13-10 overtime victory in the regular-season opener:

1. So there it was, the first quarter of the first game, and I couldn’t help but wonder what the Steelers personnel people were thinkin’ when they decided not to address the o-line problems after last season. I mean, this hadn’t been a problem for a couple or three months. It had been a problem for a couple or three years.

The o-line should be commended for the way it protected quarterback Ben Roethlisberger in the second half and overtime periods. Otherwise, the Five Blocks of Putty looked no better than it did last season, when the team averaged an anorexic 3.7 yards per carry, its lowest number in five seasons.

Yeah, I know, the Tennessee Titans have one of the better d-lines in the league. But, remember, they didn’t have monster load Albert Haynesworth, who departed as a free agent after last season, either.

2. Clearly, the Steelers are most effective in the no-huddle offense. Actually, it has been that way for awhile now. So why not use it for the brunt of the game?

If the switch means that Willie Parker and Rashard Mendenhall spend a couple or three quarters on the bench, then so be it. If the features backs can do no better than 25 yards in 17 carries, they’re liabilities on the field, anyway.

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Enough of this The-Steelers-have-a-reputation-as-a-smash-mouth-run-first offense stuff already. Those days are gone, people. It’s time to spread 'em out with four wide receivers, put the ball in the hands of Roethlisberger and pray that he stays in one piece. 

3. Say what one will about the o-line, but Parker didn’t look like Fast Willie to me. More like Tentative Willie. He was late to hit whatever small crack was available, and when he had a chance to burst to the outside, he either couldn’t or wouldn’t do it.

Here’s what I think: Parker still has a hamstring problem that won’t allow him to kick into the next gear yet. At least Steelers World better hope it’s only a hamstring problem.

4. I feel bad for the ‘skinheads who have Parker in their fantasy drafts.

OK, I don’t feel bad for them. You draft an o-line as much as the guy who runs behind it. Clip ‘n’ save.

5. Are you as tired as I am about the incessant talk about how Roethlisberger holds onto the ball too long?

Here’s my rule proposal: A broadcaster can mention that Roethlisberger holds onto the ball too long only if he points out that Roethlisberger also prevents numerous sacks because of his strength and agility. Otherwise, said broadcaster is muted for the rest of the series.

6. Really, how many time are the Steelers gonna get stuffed on third-and-short plays?

Memo to o-coordinator Bruce Arians and staff: Just once I’d like you call a play-action pass in that situation.

It’s time to watch game tapes of the 1960’s Green Bays Packers, who did it as well as any team ever. I can’t tell you how many times Bart Starr faked a hand-off into the line, dropped back and hit a lonesome Carroll Dale or Boyd Dowler or Marv Fleming for big plays.

C’mon, coach, just once. Puh-leeeze?

7. Roethlisberger said that the Hines Hines fumble in the fourth quarter was as rare as the Jerome Bettis one in the 2005 AFC playoffs. Maybe so, but the two plays weren’t one and the same.

Bettis failed to secure the ball even though he was about to run smack into a defender near the goal line. Ward was blind-sided by safety Michael Griffin with open in front of him. I won’t hand out a Bus pass, but Ward gets one here.

8. I like what I see of rookie wide receiver Mike Wallace more every game.

Wallace made a veteran adjustment on a crucial 22-yard pass reception in overtime. And if Roethlisberger hadn’t underthrown him on a deep ball early in the game, the tone could have been much different.

9. I knew Troy Polamalu was in trouble from the second that his image appeared on the cover of the Madden NFL 10 video game months ago. The Madden Jinx has been uncanny for years now. Of all teams, shouldn’t the Steelers know better than to trust a former Oakland Raiders head coach?

Sure enough, in the first half of the first game, Polamalu goes down with a sprained knee ligament that will keep him out of action for as many as six weeks, maybe more.

Smile, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald! You're face is on it, too!  

10. If Polamalu didn’t play the best first quarter by a safety in NFL history, then it’s in the top 10 for sure.

Polamalu pulled down an interception with one hand, took down a ball-carrier in the backfield with a textbook tackle, pretty much did everything except assist old ladies to their seats. He also was flagged for borderline late hit and a bogus pass interference penalty, but that didn’t take away from his maniacal impact on the game.

Check that. Put it in the top five.

The grades:

Offense regulars

WR Hines Ward: B

LT Max Starks: C

LG Chris Komoeatu: D

C Justin Hartwig: F

RG Trai Essex: C

RT Willie Colon: D

TE Heath Miller: B

WR Santonio Holmes: A

QB Ben Roethlisberger: A

RB Willie Parker: D

RB Mewelde Moore: B

Defense regulars


LE Aaron Smith: A

NT Casey Hampton: B

RE Brett Keisel: A

LOLB Lamarr Woodley: D

LILB James Farrior: B

RILB Keyaron Fox: B

ROLB James Harrison: A

LCB William Gay: C

RCB Ike Taylor: C

SS Troy Polamalu: A

FS Ryan Clark: B


Special teams regulars


PK Jeff Reed: B

P Daniel Sepulveda: A

KR Stefan Logan: B

PR Stefan Logan: C



HC Mike Tomlin: B

OC Bruce Arians: C

DC Dick LeBeau: B