Big Boy Pads

Matt Steel applauds the defense and gets specific about it. He also liked the playcalling against the Chiefs, but for a few nits. And Matt has some pointed words about the officiating, and announcing.

If I have to start where this win began, I'm starting with James Harrison, who played like a man possessed on Sunday.

James was everywhere. Besides the one-and-a-half sacks, I counted three blatant holding penalties that went uncalled in what appeared to be another poorly officiated game. James Harrison was the ringleader out there.

But if Harrison was the ringleader, Cameron Heyward was the enforcer. It was as if Harrison was letting the young players know that "this is how you play in big games," and the young Heyward made sure the message was understood.

Hopefully, Heyward isn't the next Steeler in a line of defensive Pro Bowl snubs. I say that as I think of Lawrence Timmons.

The "Law Dawg," like he has most of the year, had his big boy pads on Sunday. Timmons joins Aaron Smith, Brett Keisel, and Ike Taylor as players who over the course of their careers had several great seasons but yet could barely get a Pro Bowl sniff.

Big rookie seasons seem to get many players free passes for the rest of their careers. If you don't strike it big in your first couple of seasons in the league, you're forgotten. It's one of the negative effects of developing in Dick LeBeau's complex system.

Though, Stephon Tuitt might just have entered the starting lineup soon enough to become a Pro Bowl regular.

Tuitt's impact since he entered the starting lineup has been immense. Jason Worilds reaped the rewards on Sunday that guys like Joey Porter, Clark Haggans, Harrison, and LaMarr Woodley had from in playing next to a stud defensive end for most of their careers. Tuitt is SPECIAL. The motor both he and Heyward play with is exciting to watch. The effort Tuitt made to fight out of traffic, hustle down the line and force a fumble was a play only uniquely talented players make. After seeing the lackadaisical and unprofessional attitude and effort of Rashede Hageman on Hard Knocks this season, we should count our lucky stars the Falcons drafted him over Tuitt.

When Tuitt hits someone, it's just different, man. It looks like someone is getting hit by concrete. There's just no give to it for the recipient. It almost looks like the opponent is getting tackled and taser-gunned at the same time.

While I'm on the topic of young players, I may as well repeat myself when I say I love me some Vince "Fletch" Williams. The future and present of the Buck ILB position is bright.

Sean Spence has improved on what seems to be a weekly basis. Brian Urlacher was on the radio recently talking about how he was horrible at shedding blocks. Yet, I watched the undersized Spence stack, shed, and make two very nice tackles to go along with blanket coverage on a pass in the end zone deep down the middle of the field to a Chiefs tight end.

The weak link on the defensive side of the ball now resides strictly in the secondary. But not with Brice McCain. I could be wrong, but I haven't seen a ball thrown in his direction while in man coverage in at least two weeks. (I can't think of one thrown at him against Cincinnati, either.)

The scrappy Antwon Blake was the Chiefs' primary target Sunday. Large cushions seemed to allow the Chiefs to set up big plays off bubble screens (similar to the chunks the Falcons got a week prior). Blake's soft cushions also allowed the Chiefs to convert some third downs beyond 5 yards. Blake was burned while using poor technique on a deep post that likely would've resulted in a Chiefs touchdown if not for the shot Worilds laid on Alex Smith.

Blake is a gamer, though. His pass break-up in the end zone covering Dwayne Bowe might have been a game-saving play. Blake plays hard. He's not afraid to hit hard, which fits in with a defense that from top to bottom looks to tackle the opponent with violence.

The defense held the No. 2-ranked red-zone offense to 0 for 4 for the day. It would've been 0 for 5 if stops before and after the fake field goal are counted. That showed tremendous resiliency to bounce back and get a stop after initially believing the job had been completed.

Mike Tomlin is at the tail end of his eighth season as Steelers head coach. Yet, I don't think there's anyone who can say his players don't play hard under his leadership. I don't think that can be said for some coaches, including one currently in the league that has a contract offer for over $8 million a season. There's no burnout, nor a need for a new voice in Pittsburgh.

Speaking of coaching, Martavis Bryant's pass break-up of a possible Sean Smith interception was more impressive to me then his 44-yard reception. Some fans questioned his effort in fighting for the ball during the preseason, but some credit has to go to Richard Mann. Bryant is already light years better at fighting for balls than Mike Wallace ever was. I still fume when I think about Wallace trotting down the sideline while watching an underthrown pass in Super Bowl XLV that allowed Nick Collins an easy interception and touchdown. I wish Mann had been the receivers coach during that 2010 season.

I have been opposed to the use of shotgun on first and second down. But not so much when I see some of the brilliant calls I saw yesterday out of the formation. The fake pitch and pass to Heath Miller, followed by a shovel pass to Heath, were brilliant back-to-back calls. Those types of calls keep a defense honest and help hold a formidable pass rush to one sack.

My beef of the week: If you have second-and-1 in the red zone, or a yard to go from the goal line, don't screw around with low percentage fade passes. Give the ball to your superstar who always manages to find at least a yard even when there isn't one. The pass interference call on Bryant was a fortunate penalty on a sequence of poor play calls.

Ben Roethlisberger seems to grow in some form or fashion every season. The sacks he's taking have diminished. He has protected the ball better. The last stage of his development should be his red-zone ability. Since the days of Bruce Arians, Ben has always quarterbacked teams that have ranked higher in yardage than scoring. Those rankings need to even out if he wants to go toe-to-toe with Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, and Aaron Rodgers.

I'm also wondering if it was the same official who inexplicably called a taunting penalty on a William Gay and spotted the ball behind the 5-yard line to make it and third-and-2 instead of third-and-1 on the Steelers' opening drive. That wasn't the only dicey spot of the day on what I thought was a poorly officiated game, to say the least.

I do, however, think the back to back replay calls were correct. Travis Kelce took four steps. At what point do you not call a catch a catch? That rule, I will never understand though. Kelce's was a catch, but Santonio Holmes securing the ball, than reaching for and crossing the goal line in the 2008 AFC title game wasn't??

Announcer Greg Gumble must have been on the same payroll as the referee who penalized Gay. The guy seemed to agree with every illogical call that went the Chiefs' way while disagreeing with every logical call that favored the Steelers. It was an obvious Jamaal Charles fumble to me. Only Charles' arm being in the way prevented the confirmed visual evidence that Charles lost the ball before his knee touched the turf. Greg wanted no part of that logic.

And last but not least, it would be irresponsible not to mention the special teams, specifically the kick coverage. I don't think I can ever remember the kick coverage being better during the Cowher/Tomlin eras than it is right now. Short fields lead to touchdowns, long fields often leads to field goals.

And one final note: Great team win.


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