Sunday night football tends to bring out the Hall of Famers, and that was especially true in the Pittsburgh Steelers' game against the Indianapolis Colts the other night. There was Mel Blount, Lynn Swann, John Stallworth, Dermontti Dawson, Franco Harris and the great Joe Greene. Quite a wrecking crew of performers. It was great to see them ringside.
* Speaking of Stallworth, I remember years ago practicing at Three Rivers Stadium on a hot September afternoon. Whoever my backup was, I don’t remember, but they were taking the day off, which essentially left me with running every play of individual, team offense, team defense and all points in between. After about an hour and a half of constant action, I stood in the huddle boiling out, sucking in air and liquids. John came up to me with a big smile on his face and said, “You don’t look like you’re having any fun.” And then he laughed himself silly. Love that guy. John was a Hall of Fame teammate as well as player.
* Last week I wrote about James Harrison taking on the wham block of Seattle’s TE Luke Wilson, and how Deebo crunched him. On the first play from scrimmage, the Colts ran a trap with the TE trying to wham Jarvis Jones, with Frank Gore carrying the ball. The wham was more of whim as Jones sat down hard to take on the block. He could help himself a little by watching Harrison and closing the trap a little more, along with getting his pads a little lower, but Gore managed only a yard. Attacking the trapper and getting more downhill in anticipation of taking on the block will help Jarvis in the future.
* Jarvis muddled about in third-down football, moving in and out of the “A” gap, giving Matt Hasselbeck something to worry about while he was getting his pre-read on. At the snap of the ball Jarvis bailed out into the hook zone, reading the staredown of Hasselbeck toward his intended receiver on a hot read over the middle. The Steelers showed a 6-man box, dropped three, and brought three which bamboozled the Colts' front five. Cam Heyward split the RG and C block to get a hand and a hurry in the face of Hasselbeck. Jones was Jarvis-on-the-spot for a nice INT.
* Jesse James is a guy who has stepped up in practices over the last couple of months. He makes noticeable plays in practice. And when he gets in the Wednesday one-on-one blocking drills at the end of practice with the defensive line and linebackers, he’s grown from being a mulchee into a mover, with the upside of becoming a mulch-or given time. Growth, that’s what it’s all about for young bucks. So when he caught a couple passes early in the game, it was no surprise. He’s coming on as a viable receiver for Ben Roethlisberger. Watching him finish off blocks on the backside of a DeAngelo Williams run and driving his man into the dirt weren't surprises, either. He’s gotten better, but he’s also learning to be a finisher. Detail work.
* People have been screaming for CB Brandon Boykin to be inserted into the Steelers' lineup. Well, Boykin got his chance and the Steelers were rewarded with an INT after Will Gay tipped the ball up into the air. Boykin dove for the pick and was mobbed on the sideline by his teammates. They were to a man excited for their teammate’s success.
* Things got pretty physical early on. Jones and Colts TE Dwayne Allen (6-3, 265) became tangled up on a blocking play that quickly got personal. As they moved downfield, struggling to slam each other, Jones executed a nearly perfect “Tai Otoshi” judo throw on the bigger Allen and forcefully slammed him to the ground. I like it. It was an “Ask no quarter, give no quarter” attitude. It’s always important to finish well. Establish that Alpha male thing.
* On a third-and-1, Gore carried but stumbled after making a cut and was dropped by Vince Williams for no gain. Vince timed the snap, got his pre-read right and delivered the goods to snuff out a first down. Gore, on the other hand, suddenly looked tired, very tired, as he made his way off the turf. It was like watching a player aging before your eyes. Gore has somewhere north of 3,000 touches rushing/receiving in his rearview mirror. There is a tremendous amount of punishment to be associated with those number of totes, and you have to respect the complete body of work by Frank Gore.
* After Antonio Brown's touchdown in the second quarter and before the ensuing kickoff, I was standing on the sideline near the defense. They were congregating near the 35-yard line. As I was standing there, Bud Dupree began to do a warm-up of hip circles and such that you’d find in a Zumba class. Hey, whatever it takes to get ready, right?
* How about that? On the sideline in coaching gear was former Steelers linebacker Earl Holmes. Drafted by the Steelers in the 4th round in 1996, Earl played 10 solid seasons, leaving a lot of beat up people on the field of play in his wake. Earl was a real thumper and it was good to see him. Until recently he was the head coach at Florida A&M.
* In the second quarter, an unsportsmanlike penalty was called on Big Al Villanueva. Al protested immediately and convincingly. It was about that time I noticed Cody Wallace trying to get small on the field and get everybody back into the huddle. I was starting to suspect -- and, yes, there's the change in the number of the assailant on the field. "Number 73," the referee announced. Hmmm. I could see Ramon Foster being a culprit, since he’s a highly aggressive guy prone to playing in the borderlands of the snap-whistle time continuum. But to be truthful I didn’t see anything on the field that should have drawn Ramon a flag. So he started to protest, too, and that’s when I heard Tunch Ilkin say over the radio, “Cody did it.” He saw a replay in the booth upstairs and began to chuckle. The ref left the blame on Big Ragu, but full disclosure necessitates that Ramon be exonerated and Wallace step up for the penalty.
* BTW, it was only a goring. Wallace threw the man down and then drilled him on the ground. Apparently the NFL now considers that part of the game as too violent. Sheesh, goring somebody after throwing him down was practically a victory lap around the meeting room back in the day while you watched the game film as a group. But now you can’t rejoice over applying the “Coup de gras.” Shameful.
* When Ben launched the 68-yard bomb against the Colts in the second half, I, like seemingly everyone else on the sideline, started yelling while the ball was in the air in anticipation of Martavis Bryant doing what Martavis does best: going long ball. And boy did he ever. Watching as the safety made his appearance on the scene late in his over-the-top coverage responsibility, I couldn’t decide if it was a simple matter of him being late or Martavis is that fast. Martavis blew by the already too-slim-a-chase angle that the safety had taken and it was officially a no-contest with about 20 yards to go.
* Stephon Tuitt is another 2014 draft choice who has made the jump. And he continues to grow. In the third quarter Tuitt got on the QB hunt. He was rushing Hasselbeck, who threw seven yards down the field to RB Zurlon Tipton. Tuitt, after rushing Hasselbeck, turned and sprinted downfield to tackle Tipton. And on the next play, a fourth-and-1, he was right back in the grille of Hasselbeck, flushing him out of the pocket and chasing him all the way to the sideline before Matt lofted an incomplete pass into the end zone. Those were outstanding back-to-back plays by Stephon.
* An RB’s best friend can be a hustling lineman. In this case it was the Big Ragu getting downfield in chase mode, after Williams rolled on a carry in the third quarter. Colts FS Mike Adams dug the ball out of Williams’ hands and Foster not only got there in time to push the ball into D Will’s hands under him, but Foster then covered Williams with his body to protect from any pile pilfering. Extra effort, that’s coaching film material for the rest of the group.
* You can never say the Steelers' team doctors don’t watch over their patients. In the fourth quarter, Big Ben decided to hoof it for the first down. He ran and dove headfirst to make it. Doc Bradley, standing near me, bolted along the sideline parallel to Ben and watched his every move. Doc only pulled up when Ben hit the deck, and he seemed to breathe a sigh of relief when Ben got up.
* Shortly after “Renegade” was fired up on the Jumbotron, former 2008 Defensive Player of the Year Harrison flashed his skill set that at one time made him a household boogeyman in the closet of every opposing QB. James got his patented “No dip-just rip” powerhouse uppercut sunk on RT-turned-LT Joe Reitz. James spun Reitz like A.B. spins a football after a TD. It was a short corner, a sack/lost ball and a great Renegade to-be moment for a future generation.
* When A.B. sizzled but didn’t stick his Heinz Field velcro-fly post-TD punt-return celebration, the Turk up in the booth referenced one of our whitewater rafting trips from years gone by. While listening to pre-rafting instructions on safety, our guide ominously noted that if you are thrown into the water from the rapids, while being whisked sans raft through the rocky areas, make sure you “Keep your feet up and together. You don’t want to romance the stone.” The same might be said for a high velocity encounter with a goal post. Words to live by A.B.