The beauty of the sunny day didn’t belie the intensity of the soon-to-be mayhem. While I watched the Steelers defense go through its warmups before the kickoff with the San Francisco 49ers, I ran mentally through one of my pre-game keys: Lawrence Timmons needed to be LT. Not the guy who notched three tackles in Gillette Stadium, but the fierce linebacker who drops double-digit tackles on opponents routinely.
Timmons had missed most of preseason and hadn’t practiced much before the New England Patriots game. My old offensive line coach, the “Big Kahuna,” Ron Blackledge, used to say “One day off is followed by two off days.”
* The pride of West Virginia, that being the Mountaineer Marching Band, featured two young baton twirlers who slung their whirling batons back and forth to each other from about 30 yards apart. I’d hate to have to try to catch one of those things. It’s all fun and games until somebody loses an eye. Or some teeth.
* Yes, even old linemen have their irrational fears.
* The “Turk Up In The Booth,” Tunch Ilkin, noted before the game that the defense had 10 days to stew and chew on the Patriots loss while hearing how the defense didn’t get the job done. That much time between games can make a defense rather ill-humored for the next foray. Normally, the players and coaches abide by the 24 Hour rule during which they mull the aftermath of a game over, be it good or bad, for a day or so. Then you let it go. I got the chance to chit-chat pre-game with DC Keith Butler. I got the impression the over/under for Keith on the 24-hour rule after the Patriots game was definitely an over.
* Antonio Brown is getting to be almost absurd in what he can do with a football. He made a catch in the first quarter that was challenged by SF Coach Jim Tomsula. AB was hit while catching the ball yet managed to not only accomplish the John Madden “One knee equals two feet” maxim, but threw in an extra elbow touch to boot. AB could be great in a four-feet-completes-a-pass league.
* Antwon Blake is a player I thought needed a little payback after the Patriots game. One thing Blake does well is tackle. He didn’t in Foxboro, but after watching him cut down Carlos Hyde on a cutback in the open field for a 3-yard loss in the first quarter, I knew he was on his A game.
* Mike Tomlin sees everything. It was the same way with Coach Noll. They have eyes everywhere, like ninja vision or something. Heath Miller hooked it up over the middle right in front of San Fran linebacker extraordinaire NaVorro Bowman. Though the pass was incomplete, Tomlin pointed toward Miller and Bowman without saying anything to an inattentive official, who was too far away to hear anyhow but was already in the process of throwing his flag for a holding call on Bowman. I was looking in the same area as Tomlin and didn’t see it. But then again, I’ve always been a little loose with the interpretation of a holding call.
* William Gay has a sixth sense for the ball. Torrey Smith set up for a bubble screen on a first-and-20 from the plus 20-yard line in second-quarter action. Colin Kaepernick threw, and Anquan “The Horse” Boldin – so nicknamed by my brother Ron, who is the Tunch of the Arizona Cardinals – tried to block Gay as he was reading the screen like it had smoke signals. Gay evaded the block and creamed Smith for a three-yard loss. I snuck a look over at the Steelers secondary coach, and a former teammate of mine and Tunch’s, Carnell Lake, who didn’t even crack a smile. All business, just like when he was a player. I wouldn’t want to play poker with Carnell.
* Cameron Heyward is becoming a force to be reckoned with. All right, he was already a force so maybe now he’s a more forceful force, but this I know: San Francisco 49er LG Alex Boone had more than he could handle on a first-half pass rush. Cam overpowered the guy who’s arguably San Fran’s best offensive lineman. He did it so violently that even though Cam went on to get the sack, a ref threw a flag on Boone for holding. Then the ref picked the flag up and announced that there was no holding. The only thing that I could surmise after all that was Boone had TRIED to hold Cam, LOOKED like he had held Cam, but had done such a POOR JOB of holding Cam, who had blown by him so fast, that there simply couldn’t have been holding. Sounds pretty forceful to me.
* Another pretty forceful guy on the climb is Ryan Shazier. In the first 49ers offensive series of the second half, Shazier made three tackles in the first seven plays from scrimmage, two of them for losses. I figured there was a lotta shouting going on in the 49ers’ O-line meeting room Monday while they reviewed the game film. Second-level run-throughs such as those kick a running game right in the teeth, and Shazier was running through the Frisco Hogs like he was the Invisible Man.
* At one point in the second half, Ben Roethlisberger and the offense went three-and-out after back-to-back-to-back screen attempts. But this is what I like: After the Hogs were sitting on the bench talking with Coach Munch, Ben walked over and said “Don’t worry about it.” When you’re in the heat of battle, while everybody might be getting a little uptight, you need a “Cool Hand Luke,” like Ben, to just let the fellas know you’re on top of it. It’s like feeding sugar cubes to horses. Good stuff.
* One of Shazier’s areas I believed he needed to improve was his ability to get off blocks, to disengage and make a tackle going downhill. Often times it’s a matter of a defender reaching out after a stalemate and tackling a runner while falling backwards. Getting off a block and delivering a slobberknocker of a hit going forward and driving the runner backward is something altogether different. It’s tough to do. There are more liberal rules for holding, as well as bigger bodies in the trenches these days than back in the “Days of yore.” But Shazier came off a lockdown attempt by San Fran standout LT Joe Staley to make a play. Ryan stuffed Staley, then ragdolled him and caused a fumble. That was a big-time stuff, far as I’m concerned.
* In the second half I walked behind the end zone and watched as the Steelers were coming out from their own 2-yard line after a great goal-line stand. It’s a perfect viewing angle from which to watch because you can see the entirety of the play coming together in a monster mash of mayhem with all the bodies crashing about. It also gave me a terrific viewing angle to watch a real pro run and protect the ball at the same time. DeAngelo Williams did a great job with no real estate to be had. But I could see all the reaching and tearing at the ball that the 49ers were doing, and how Williams protected the ball and yet was trying to gain yardage by slithering through any crack he could find. It gave me a new appreciation for skillsets I took for granted for years.
* I think the addition of seats in the South end zone is great. The increased noise level is noticeable there, and all you had to do was watch San Fran RT Erik Pears get off the snap count late while trying to block Bud Dupree to realize that was all about the noise. Bud beat him off the snap count like Pears was a, uh, dare I say it, a fruit tree? You know, a Pear(s) tree? (Tunch always says I go after the low hanging fruit). Two sacks in two games. I’m just saying.
Ho Hum, just another Roethlisberger to Brown hook-up for 56 yards. These guys make magic like Penn and Teller in their prime.