View from the Sideline

Steelers Radio Network sideline reporter Craig Wolfley checks in with his observations on Sunday night's game against the Saints.

As I stood on the sidelines of the Superdome watching the carnival atmosphere unfold around me, complete with celebrity sightings of everybody from Elvis to Rush Limbaugh, I couldn't help but chuckle at maybe the kookiest collection of fans to ever gather under one roof. Showtime was rapidly approaching and the party had already begun in earnest.

* It was a beautiful climate controlled 72 degrees with the air conditioning blowing left to right on the radio dial that brought welcome relief after hot games in Tennessee, Tampa Bay, and Miami.

* I spent some time talking to some of New Orleans finest officers of the law. They were "under siege" from the Halloween party crowd that invaded the nearby French Quarter and many were pulling back-to-back 12-14 hour shifts with little in the way of sleep. And from the looks of the crowd, it was going to be a long night.

* Warm-ups were of the high voltage kind reserved for the playoffs. Bump became thump as teammates put a little extra juice into the shake-out-the-butterflies routine of game prep. The testosterone was in the air, and guys were strutting their stuff. You couldn't get more electricity into the building if you hooked up to the Hoover Dam.

* Seconds before the opening kickoff, Hines Ward paced up and down the sidelines with the 1,000-yard stare I've seen so often in my nearly 22 years of NFL participation as player/broadcaster. And it never fails to get me all riled up with flashbacks until I realize I need to chill a little bit before I go postal. With a pre-fight feel to it, the intensity makes you want to jump out of your skin. And if an old warhorse like me is feeling it, imagine what the players are going through.

* In the first quarter on the opening series, the Steelers ran a pitch to the right with Rashard Mendenhall. Big Flozell Adams pulled from his RT position to clear the down block of the TE and turned up on the second level. Big Flo chucked more bodies than a woodchuck can chuck wood as Rashard picked up yardage.

Adams was intense, and tense, as was Trai Essex a series later after Ben Roethlisberger got gobbled up on a sack complete with losing his lid that resembled something I've seen on "Shark Week." The two linemen growled at each other over, I'm assuming, a missed call. So hot were the two that Mewelde Moore took his life into his own hands and stepped between them as they exited the playing field.

*The tension didn't ease up on the bench either. Willie Colon took it upon himself to sit between them. This is not as unusual as it sounds. In a super-charged atmosphere, tough competitors (which both Trai and Flozell are) occasionally will have disagreements. I've had them, Tunch Ilkin has had them, Tunch and I have had heated disagreements with each other. It's the nature of the beast.

* Speaking of missed calls, the noise level at the dome was the equivalent of sitting front row at Lollapalooza while 747's take off overhead. Incredibly loud, the silent count was in vogue. Silent counts solve the problem of coming out of the gate if you can hold your water (it's kinda like trying to hold back on a sneeze), but the other part of the equation is not being able to hear the line calls of the guy next to you. So then hand signs from one lineman to the other are needed. But if the defense stems late, like the Saints defense, you can't move for fear of being in motion. Now we're on to mental telepathy, an extremely difficult esoteric way to make line calls. Fans tell me that the players have played together so long they should be able to read each other's mind. I always come back with, "How long have you been married and can you tell what your wife is thinking?" Call me when you've mastered that one.

* After Antwaan Randle El's TD catch was reversed, Mike Tomlin came over by his hogs on the sideline and said, "Run the dang ball into the end zone! I want the line of scrimmage!" Mike was absolutely right in his thinking, because this was a game that begged them to run the ball.

* Execution is another thing altogether when you have a goal line defense that puts low-lying groundhogs submarining into all gaps in the interior. Adams couldn't execute the "Cut" call on the backside (driving down to the man inside him, the man over Essex) when Essex pulled, and penetration blew up Isaac Redman's carry at the 1-foot line.

* In the second quarter, LaMarr Woodley showed real game brains when Drew Brees rolled to his right and LaMarr, instead of rushing, played off RT Jon Stinchcomb to blast Cory Ivory on a screen pass.

* Ike Taylor's INT of Brees in the second quarter was a tremendous effort that Woodley used to even the score with Saints G Jahari Evans. Woodley "put the wood" to Evans, knocking him off his feet, and then laughed at him as Evans, barely able to restrain himself, barked at the "Lumberjack."

* The blitz that the Steelers had such trouble with was evident throughout the game. Saints DC Gregg Williams posted three guys outside one of the tackles, then ran a twist stunt that was crippling the Steelers' passing attack. The Steelers have to do a better job of protecting their gaps to the side of the twist.

* Williams did a masterful job of mixing up blitz and coverage. Realizing he couldn't win the physical match-ups he went to schematic superiority. Seemingly every time Williams rushed four, the Steelers did well. But when Williams went to seven, and even once I believe an eight-man blitz, they got home or put some heat in the kitchen.

* During a great goal-line stand that featured a Chris Hoke tackle-for-loss on Ivory, Tomlin came down the sideline and screamed at the Linesman "Watch the pick!" He didn't have to as Lawrence Timmons made a great stop on Ladell Betts with a classic stuff the G, disengage and accelerate to the tackle play.

* I gotta believe that Emmanuel Sanders goofed on his route when Roethlisberger threw incomplete on a fourth-and- 4. Sanders not only got in the way, but he brought his coverage man into the equation.

* I couldn't tell if Troy Polamalu was being Troy and going on instinct, or if there was a communications breakdown between Polamalu and Taylor on Robert Meachem's 50-yard backbreaker. Troy had a split end and slot man to his side. Normally Troy would position himself to split the receivers pre-snap 10-15 yards deep so as to give himself a two-way go. Troy edged towards the inside man and either guessed wrong or Ike and Troy weren't on the same page with Ike being in underneath coverage and no Troy over the top.

* A loss is a loss. Better a loss this week than next though. The bear got poked a week ago when Cleveland came to town. But as Steelers Digest editor Bob Labriola said, "Orange helmets can sneak into town. Black ones can't."


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