I got down to the sidelines with the anticipation level of a kid at Christmas ready to do major damage to beautifully wrapped gifts sitting underneath a brightly lit Christmas tree. The upcoming clash of a Steelers-Ravens head banger ball is a yearly highlight for the kid in me, and I wanted to make sure I took it all in.
* Because it was "Alumni weekend" there were a bevy of Steelers greats in-house and I had a chance to catch up with a number of the guys. From Bill Priatko, an outside linebacker on the Steelers' 1957 team, to the legendary Joe Greene, and finishing up with Hines Ward, war stories were passed around, embellished and laughed at with delight.
* Just before kickoff, two former teammates of mine and Hall of Fame wide receivers led the stadium in a Terrible Towel Wave preceding kickoff. John Stallworth and Lynn Swann stood side by side and ramped up the crowd with their towels swirling. Swann took the early lead before having to give way to the closing Stallworth's towel speed, and finally after slowing, had to switch arms while Stallworth powered on through before tiring down the stretch. It's harder than it looks folks.
* On the second Steelers play from scrimmage, newly activated wide receiver David Gilreath, playing in his second game of the season, went into motion, then came back to take a handoff from Byron Leftwich on a reverse. I was stunned, as were the Ravens as Gilreath went for seven yards. I was surprised last week when Gilreath went back for punts, given his inexperience, and even more surprised when Todd Haley gave the rock so early on to this young man. But he proved worthy, made possible by Mike Adams pass setting, then sucking in Terrell Suggs to the inside and then clubbing him with his outside hand to knock Suggs way inside to shorten the corner for Gilreath.
* When "Crazy Legs" Leftwich turned the corner on the Ravens and headed up field, I was sure he would simply walk out of bounds when danger approached. Suddenly Ravens safety Bernie Pollard came flying up only to whiff on B-Lef and the footrace was on. The Ravens were in tight man coverage, so they were all running with their backs to the QB which gave Byron the advantage. Pittsburgh's own version of Tim Tebow and the wildcat came crashing to a not so funny end in the end zone when ol' Crazy Legs boned himself while attempting to stick the dismount. I've never seen so many shocked faces across the board staring in disbelief on the sidelines while Leftwich made his way to paydirt.
* James Harrison's knee is getting better. Last week the Chiefs blocked Harrison on the backside of a Jamaal Charles stretch away and James wasn't getting down the backside. Ravens TE Ed Dickson tried to cut off "Deebo" while Ray Rice ran the stretch at LaMarr Woodley. James shredded Dickson's attempted block like he was warding off an overeager autograph seeker while flying down the backside to drill Rice and hold him to a 2-yard gain.
* I was deep into some serious Jolly Ranchers and, naturally, minding my own business, when Drew Butler punted away to Jacoby Jones. I just happened to be at a perfect angle to watch a "Wall left" return open up and part like Moses and the Red Sea. David Paulson got doinked to the outside (with a very iffy block) and Ryan Mundy got blocked to the inside which then fast-tracked Jones back to the center of the field and down the opposite sideline after busting through the wall. When you're semi-contain (Mundy), and the man greeting you at the numbers is positioning himself to block you inside, you know the wall is on and you have to get leverage on that man by playing over the top and not getting locked in a position where you look like Fred Flintstone banging on the door yelling for Wilma to let you in. Nor can you let yourself get kicked to the outside like Paulson. I'm an old semi-contain man myself, and yes I have had this same experience as Ryan and David. I'm too embarrassed to tell you who blocked me though. (It wasn't Barney, but close).
* Poor David Paulson, after catching a check-down pass for a few yards, the "H-E-A-T-H" chant rumbled down from the Heinz Field stands. If I'm Paulson, then I'm thinking good, maybe they thought Heath was on that punt return coverage team, too.
* The speed of the game at groundhog level is almost frightening. In the second quarter, on a third-and-15 from the Steelers' 24-yard line, the Steelers showed a 6-man blitz front with Larry Foote on the outside shoulder of Woodley and Lawrence Timmons sugaring up (disguising a blitz) on the other side. In the backfield lined up on each side of Flacco were Dickson and Rice. Law Dawg (Timmons) tried to get the Ravens to block his way and leave LaMarr to a one-on-one battle with the tackle. Dickson went out to the flat and Timmons, from his inside backer position, followed in trail. Flacco threw to Dickson who caught the ball but was splatted immediately by Law Dawg, who grinded Dickson into the Heinz Field turf after a measly 2-yard gain. It was an impressive display of power and speed by Timmons.
* Every now and then Leftwich showed discomfort in his torso. I couldn't get a fix on what was going on because the docs seem to be leaving him alone other than a cursory conversation here and there.
* Still third-quarter action and on a pass attempt that was picked by Corey Graham, the wall protection (everybody from the center to the guard and tackle have outside shoulder responsibilities) was going to young buck Mike Adams and the ever-terrorizing Paul Kruger. Mike is skittish and spooked by all the trouble he's been having with Kruger and he's was getting his hands and feet all messed up. It happens. I am no stranger to having a nightmare night myself and it's part of the learning process of a young offensive lineman. Anyone who tells you they've never had a butt-kicking in the NFL is either lying to you or he never played much. It happens. Mike just has to keep working and good things will come.
* Again I saw Byron having some pain and Charlie Batch throwing in the bullpen. Nothing came of it though.
* The Steelers have the ball on a second-and-10 from the Ravens' 12-yard line. The "Big Ragu," Ramon Foster, pulls from the RG position down the line and traps "T Sizzle," who now is playing more like Terrell Suggs. It's a gong-er by Ragu, who displays a nice under and up (getting low and climbing the man after contact) Chuck Noll staple of trap blocking to make Suggs look like he was doing the boot-strap boogie on a nice 8-yard J Dwyer run.
* In the fourth quarter there were mounting signs of frustration by the defense getting a little riled at the offense. Brett Keisel came by the offense and unloaded on them. It was healthy. The defense had been bailing the offense out all night and it was time for the offense to give a little payback to the defense with a good drive and hopefully points.
* Twice the Steelers have fired up the Renegade video, and both times the Ravens responded with at least a first down. I think the new rules on hitting in the league and subsequently the hard hits having to be taken out of the video have de-powered the power of the Renegade video.
* Byron's last gasp throw to David Gilreath fell short as did the hopes of Steelers fans in the stadium. Gilreath was wide open having back-doored the safety, who got sucked up when Leftwich rolled out of the pocket. When I saw Byron unable to get the ball to Gilreath, it just confirmed to me what we all now knew, that Byron was playing hurt. I have seen Byron effortlessly throw it 70 yards fooling around.