There are few joys in life that beat having your younger brother -- that being my younger brother, Ron Wolfley -- in the booth for a little tete-a-tete pregame chitchat, along with Pittsburgh Steelers Radio Network pregame host Mike Prisuta. Yet here I was, with my brother before the game, engaging in a little verbal jousting.
Ron, after a 10-year, 4-time Pro Bowl career with primarily the Arizona Cardinals, took a position as the “Tunch of Arizona,” and is the color man for the Cardinals as well as a co-host of a daily sports talk show in Phoenix. If Tunch had been there as well it would have been like re-creating a scene with the Hanson brothers from the movie “Slapshot.”
* Bruce Arians is an aggressive coach. How aggressive? Piranhas and a leg of lamb come to mind. B.A. is known for wanting to go longball and step on the gas from the get-go of any game he’s coaching. I have a tremendous amount of respect for him. After Carson Palmer won the coin toss and then told the ref the Cardinals wanted to receive the ball, it was readily apparent B.A. was in attack mode. Visiting coaches in that situation might prefer to put their defense on the field first, but I got a sudden picture of Matthew McConaughey in my head at the Indianapolis 500: “Alright, alright, alright. Gentleman ... start ... your ... ENGINES!!!”
* The picture in my head vanished, but the sound effects did not when on the first play from scrimmage Palmer launched to speedy Cardinals WR John Brown for an engines-roaring 45-yard go route that Ross Cockrell very nearly made a play on. If any one play served up a warning shot of Arians' intentions in this game, this was it.
* After the Cardinals jumped out in front 7-0, making it look far too easy in the doing, Palmer attempted to slide one in to TE Jermaine Gresham. Vince Williams got a hand on the ball in tight coverage and it popped into the air. Meanwhile, minding his own business and in tight hook-zone coverage himself, “Law Dawg” Lawrence Timmons showed Bruce Lee-like reflexes and reached a hand out to pull in the pop-up while falling backwards. It was so sudden, so bang-bang, I think even Lawrence, judging from his body language as he came off the field, was surprised to be able to come up with that ball. I’ll bet you that if you asked him though, he’d say “I had it all the way.”
* On a big second-quarter third-and-5 from the PIT 29-yard line, “Big Play” Will Gay picked the pocket of Larry Fitzgerald in a sweet reach around deflection of a Palmer pass and proceeded to do a run-by of the nearby Arizona sidelines. I have no idea what he was saying or what point he was making but I am sure that Arians wasn’t real pleased with it.
* Le'Veon Bell ripped off an 11-yard run in the second quarter that cost Cardinals LBer Kevin Minter 15 yards for swatting at Cody Wallace. Cody will block to the “echo of the whistle the next valley over,” and some guys take umbrage with that. Cody is an agitator, one who will give extra effort and stay on his block as long as it is physically possible. What he might lack in quicks or agility he more than makes up for with his aggressive ask-no-quarter/give-no-quarter personality. He’s a throwback to the '80s and if he had a leisure suit he would have fit right in with the rest of us.
* On the same play 6-8, 340-pound Al Villanueva, subbing for the injured Kelvin Beachum, re-enacted a scene from Jurassic Park with the 6-8, 300-plus pounds of dinosauric Cardinals fury named Calais Campbell. If there was ever a battle of helmeted, jersey-wearing T-Rexes this was it. If I had a lounge chair and popcorn I could watch this all day. Villanueva buckled the knees of Campbell on the drive block, only to have Campbell get off his knees and regain his footing before Big Al could apply the “Coup de gras.”
* Chris Boswell kicked off after knocking down a 47-yarder to the Cards dangerous return man David Johnson. Johnson lit up the Chicago Bears kickoff unit with a 108-yard touchdown return some weeks ago. Will Johnson of the Steelers raced full speed down the field and beat his man like a drum on the kickoff and made the hit. It was a picture perfect wrap up tackle of Johnson by Johnson. It takes more than a little bit of courage to fly full speed, collect information on the return as you go, not slow down, defeat a blocker while not leaving your assigned lane and then smoke a 6-1, 224 pound 4.4 40-yard speedster coming the other way. My brother Ron, a 4-time pro bowl special teamer, calls it “Falling from the sky without a parachute.”
* Mike Vick scrambled out of bounds near me on the sidelines in the third quarter just as I was unwrapping a Jolly Rancher. My athletic instincts took over and I scrambled quickly out of the way and found some people to get behind. Hey, its survival of the fittest or fastest on the sidelines. Lost my Jolly Rancher in the process, though.
* After retrieving the erstwhile Rancher, I noticed Vick holding his hamstring as he made his way from the sidelines to the bench area where Steelers coaches were gathering after a timeout. Steelers head trainer John Norwig got right next to Mike and I was sure Mike’s day was about to end. Landry Jones was clipping his chinstrap and looking an awful lot like a guy about to enter the fray of NFL play. But Vick is a tough guy (you don’t last 15 years in this league if you aren’t), and he stayed in for another play.
* Cardinals edge rusher Markus Golden looked like the Pens goalie Marc Andre-Fleury making a kick save when Bell roared by on a run. Golden, tangled up with a blocker that was driving him back, stuck out his right leg, I think actually kicking or making contact with Bell, appearing to cause Lev to slightly stumble, then regain his balance and race on for a short gain. I started to say something to a fellow compadre on the sidelines when I had a flashback or three of me doing the same thing to a pass-rusher coming around the horn on a twist stunt that had me a face full of a pass rusher and only a leg of mine, with a seeming mind of its own, that just came out of nowhere to trip the free-racing pass rusher as he tried to run by me. Funny how your leg just takes it upon itself to do something that dastardly.
* Robert Golden found himself matched up and playing butt ball with 6-6, 270 pound TE Troy Niklas. Niklas posted up against Golden and using his size boxed Golden out of the catch. And Robert was in great coverage position too, the only thing he could have done more was to bring a stepladder to his coverage.
* In the fourth quarter, the screen goes dark, the crowd begins to rise to its feet and you know "Renegade" is being fired up on the Jumbotron. The “Turk Up In The Booth” starts talking about how it should be the version of "Renegade" that starts with Palmer being splatted by a Steelers defender. Well the Turk got his wish because in living color, there it was, Carson lying on his back after being freight-trained. Carson stood in the huddle, back to the Jumbotron, and never looked up at the big board. Apparently his wristband was infinitely more interesting than anything behind him.
* The Cardinals LT, Jared Veldheer, standing 6-8, was called for holding James Harrison. Even at 37 years old, James is ever-evolving in his pass-rush technique. The Veldheer, in an effort to keep James from sinking his patented no-dip/just-rip uppercut, was extending his arms fully and not really punching but trying to steer James around the corner. James started slapping downward with his right hand on Veldheer’s upfield shoulder/arm and attempted to rip or uppercut with his left. Wrestlers will also use this technique to work a takedown. They call it an “arm drag.” Who says you can’t teach an old dog new tricks?
* Grit. That’s the word that floated among the players walking up the tunnel toward the locker room after the game. Having some grit, determined to win this game, by whatever means necessary. Coach Noll used to say, “Whatever it takes.” Down to your fourth-string QB, and fourth-string kicker, backup safety, backup inside linebacker, backup LT, backup C, backup DE, this was a true testament to the “Next man up” mantra that Mike Tomlin preaches to his troops. Yeah, I think they got the message.