Though it wasn't as cold at the Mistake on the Lake as it was last year, it was nippy nonetheless. The Cleveland fans seemed to be late getting to their orange seats or it was deer hunter appreciation day at Cleveland Browns Stadium.
* I really believed that Troy Polamalu would not play. With Ryan Mundy's stock going up, and the stock of Colt McCoy going down, there wasn't an urgency to get the long-haired one back on the field. But there was Troy sitting in zone coverage at the start of the game waiting to chomp on a Ben Watson bobble from McCoy that Troy immediately scooped up. He's a ball magnet, and he's in a zone right now. His mojo is high and the Steelers need to keep it high.
* This is what I love about Bruce Arians: He goes for the jugular after a turnover, that's his MO. But this was different. After Troy's INT, Bruce normally wants to drive a stake through the heart of the opponent by going for the end zone. And he calls bombs away to Mike Wallace, but I believe he had it called before the INT. How do I know? Immediately after Wallace Brave-hearted the Browns with a thunderous strike off the arm of Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers line boss Sean Kugler met Arians near the 50 and they had themselves a fist bump. The two coaches didn't participate in the wild jubilation of a big scoring strike after a turnover where momentum swings in your favor; no the looks on their faces were all about the cat that ate the canary. This baby had been in the works all week long.
* Roethlisberger made a great audible when the Browns confronted him in the red zone with a weird defense made up, I believe, haven't seen the replays though, of all linebackers and defensive backs. So what to do when you see a fast defense, but one lacking in run stoppers? Call your own number on a QB draw! Roethlisberger did and picked up the first down. With a front 7 of light-in-the-seat LBs and DBs, let the big boys graze on some fat-free munchies.
* Dick LeBeau seemed like he was in Eric Mangini's head. When Mohamed Massaquoi ran a reverse, LeBeau dialed up a blitz which had both defensive ends playing to the outside shoulders of the offensive tackles and the inside backers running through. Massaquoi didn't have a chance and was dropped like a bad habit. Timely play-calling by LeBeau, and a wrinkle from the Steelers defense I haven't seen in a while.
* Not sure when this went down, but Ziggy Hood made a meal out of "Pork Chop" Womack on a pass rush. Ziggy threw a helicopter, or spin move, on Womack that left the Pork Chop looking at stadium dirt. The spin works best on a "head heavy" offensive lineman who doesn't punch and tries to head-butt. When the spinner gets an OL leaning with his shoulders out past his knees, he'll get past you faster than you can say Dwight Freeney.
* Hood has been on a tear of late, and has made great strides in pushing the pocket and his cancellation-of-an-attempted-pass-by-an-opposing-quarterback-due-to-a-dirt-nap pass rush skills. If Ziggy can continue on this upward curve, he'll join in the company of other breakouts such as Lawrence Timmons and Rashard Mendenhall, who have climbed the ladder to become standard bearers.
* Maurkice Pouncey had another excellent game. As did his fellow brethren of the trenches. Late in the game Pouncey was dinged up and sitting with the doctors for awhile. After a period of time, Maurkice went over and resumed his spot on the bench where he sits in the middle, with the other linemen on each side as they line up in the game. Doug Legursky, sitting in for Maurkice, got off the bench and gave up the center spot. A sincere conversation then began taking place between Maurkice and Kugler. Sean was telling Pouncey he was done for the day, and Pouncey was shaking his head, telling Sean he was good to go. Even after Sean talked for a while, Maurkice was adamant that he wanted to return to the lineup. Sean once more patiently explained to the young man that it was a done deal, and that the Bronco would finish out. All the while I could see Kugs smiling behind the semi-frown he was giving Maurkice. Sean is a tough guy, and he appreciates tenacity and toughness when he sees it. Kugler couldn't help himself but smile at what he was looking at.
* I love seeing the competitive fire coming from the young man that is Maurkice Pouncey. When you start something, if you are a player with some salt, you want to finish, especially if you are an offensive lineman. You want to finish with the boys. It's one thing if you get a seat because you're steamrolling the opponent and the coach is saving you. It's another altogether when you get dinged. It's all about pride. That's part of how your peers judge you, by finishing and finishing well.
* When I saw Browns tough guy linebacker Matt Roth get dusted on a crackback block, I automatically assumed it was Hines Ward doing the delivering on the big hit. But after the dust had settled, lo and behold, it was Manny Sanders who jogged towards the sidelines after the play was over, grinning and nodding his head at the coaching staff as if to say, "Yeah I got him."
* Speaking of crackback blocks, Massaquoi tried to deliver a big hit on James Harrison. But Massaquoi got called for illegal motion when he mistimed his approach as he was trying to get a blindside hit on James. Massaquoi went in motion and my eyes trailed over his shoulder, as he appeared ready to pounce like a tiger while heading towards Harrison. Just maybe, payback was in his mind. Heartbeats before the snap of the ball and the arrival of a killer blindside hit, Harrison, like a Jedi-Knight sensing danger, turned towards the Steelers sidelines and locked onto the approaching Massaquoi. That's when the tiger turned to kitten. Massaquoi melted in conviction and went with a little less gusto into James than expected as Massaquoi realized he had "ghosted" himself. I couldn't help but chuckle on the sidelines.
* Ward sat in the corner of the end zone waving wildly for Antwaan Randle El's pass. As the play unfolded, after El slipped on the turf, I could see Hines jumping up and down doing tuck jumps, so open was he. What I liked about Antwaan is the fact that he didn't panic after the turf gave way. El popped up and sighted-in Ward, who still was open after all the shenanigans of the fake reverse. It seemed that play took forever to complete, but it was worth the wait. Antwaan is very popular among his teammates. And they showered El with good cheer on the sidelines, in the spirit of the season.