That was awesome.
Yes, the Steelers were without Casey Hampton and Max Starks, and they lost Dennis Dixon and Trai Essex during the game, but it didn’t matter. Not even Charlie Batch’s fragile condition, or Flozell Adams’ predilection for silly pre-snap penalties could get in the way of a Steelers defense that went to town on Vince Young, Chris Johnson, and later Kerry Collins.
Maybe I’m too emotionally invested — and four beers deep (that’s wasted when you’re in your mid-30s) — but I feel comfortable saying that this was Pittsburgh’s most satisfying win since, what, the Pats beatdown during the 2008 regular season? Whatever, you don’t get points for feel-good wins, and to borrow a Tomlinism, you don’t get style points for winning. So now the Steelers are 2-0, they managed to get there after winning in Nashville where they were previously 1-8, and, oh yeah, they did it with their fourth-string quarterback. There’s plenty to worry about going forward, but for now, the Steelers are undefeated.
Other random stuff:
* Rashard Mendenhall ended the day with 23 rushes for 69 yards. That doesn’t even come close to telling the story. Three yards a carry, in general, is a bad day (alternatively, it’s 0.9 yards-per-carry better than 16 for 34). But with Breakable Charlie under center for most of the game (and only Antwaan Randle El behind him), the Steelers were in no position to call a bunch long-developing pass plays. They were running and everybody knew it. But that’s not the point. This is: despite facing eight-man fronts all day, Mendenhall gained tough yards, was mostly able to avoid negative plays, and most importantly: keep the clock moving.
* Even though the Steelers cut Byron Leftwich to make room for Steve McLendon, I was all set to accept the the fact that the team would re-sign him and promptly install him as the starter next week against the Bucs. And then Dixon got hurt, Chaz came in and played, well, like you expected him too. And now I can’t think of a good reason why Batch shouldn’t be on the field when they travel to Tampa Bay. He played well all day, avoided turnovers, and was unlucky twice (once to Mike Wallace in the middle of the field, and later to Wallace on the TD that came back after a holding penalty).
For as much as I supported Dixon the last couple months, he’s had trouble — whether it’s a mental thing or game-planned — matriculating the ball down the field. Yes, Batch didn’t exactly light up the scoreboard, either, but that had more to do with the run, run, run, punt/field goal strategy for most of the second half. These are things we will be talking about in the coming days.
* Kevin Harlan and Solomon Wilcots worked the game for CBS, and, relatively speaking, did a fine job. That said, Harlan wasn’t afraid to point out on a few occasions that Pittsburgh’s offensive line was having trouble. Well, no shit. But here’s the thing: they were without Starks, and later Essex, and more than that, they were rotating Jonathan Scott, Flozell Adams and Tony Hills because of the 90-something-degree temperatures, not to mention that Doug Legursky played the fourth quarter with Essex on the bench.
Was it an ugly o-line performance? Hell yeah. But remember: style points don’t matter. And perhaps a better measuring stick: Batch took a couple sacks and didn’t end up on the turf in pieces.
* Something that concerns me for next week: the Steelers spent three hours kicking the crap out of the Titans in ridiculously hot conditions, and they ended up losing a couple players in the process. That’s to be expected. Fine. But who the hell thought it would be a good idea to send Pittsburgh to Tampa seven days after they had to play in Nashville? In September? More than being Big Ben-less, we may look back on these two weeks — and the players who subsequently lost the war of attrition — as the reason the team didn’t reach expectations. But like penalties that aren’t called, it is what it is. Suck it up and deal with it. Moving on…
* During the Steelers-Titans preview podcast, I was interested in watching two things: how Juan Timmons played against Chris Johnson, and what Daniel Sepulveda was able to do in terms of changing field position. Both guys came up huge. Timmons spent the afternoon knocking CJ silly, and just like last week, Sepulveda bailed out a one-dimensional Pittsburgh offense. Just a reminder: both guys were a part of Tomlin’s first draft, and both guys, when they were taken, weren’t particularly popular picks (although I was clearly on the ROBO-PUNTER bandwagon from the very beginning). Which, again, is why nobody solicits our advice on personnel decisions.
* A word about the Steelers defense: dominating. Another word: suffocating. The Titans scored a touchdown late, but I’m not even counting that as a legit score. Pittsburgh rushed four the entire drive and was more concerned with taking time off the clock. Mission accomplished. Coulda done without the no-hands approach on the ensuing onside kick, but you sorta knew things would end like that.
I’ll be honest: Johnson scared the shit out of me coming into this game, and I’m not going to say that I knew the defense would bottle him up, but about halfway into the third quarter it became apparent that Johnson was tired of getting hit. And “hit” undersells it. He was getting punished every time he touched the ball. Two weeks in, and this defense looks a lot better than the 2008 version. This is something I thought I’d never write.
A prayer seems appropriate: Dear Lord, please keep these guys healthy, because this unit is really, really special. Also: thank you for Troy Polamalu. Amen.
Enjoy the win, peeps. And remember to check back later tonight for a Steelers Lounge podcast recap.