It’s funny how normal things can be when there’s nobody getting coco loco during pre-game warmups, as in no Vontaze Burfict walking through the Pittsburgh Steelers' end of the field while they’re warming up today.
Nobody even approached the 50-yard line, though the officials stood there dutifully throughout the warmups. Pacman Jones even appeared to be statelier in his demeanor as a freshly appointed defensive captain of the Cincinnati Bengals rather than as an agitator and playoff pugilist.
Warmups, on the whole, went smoothly and I anticipated what I thought would be another hard fought Steelers-Bengals AFC North matchup.
* I was hanging out on the bench area and got to talk with Jordan Berry. Normally we talk vegemite, all things Aussie and what’s happening in the land down under, but Jordan‘s improvement since last year piqued my curiosity. I asked him about his obvious improvement and Jordan credited a greater comfort and ease with his surroundings, as well as the hard work he put in over the off-season getting control of his “drops.”
* Hmmm … go figure dropping the ball a foot or so would be such a big part of punting. I was expecting something along the lines of him squatting barbells loaded with manhole covers, or chasing kangaroos, wrestling gators in the outback, stuff like that.
* DeAngelo Williams looked very “Le'Veon-like” when he jump-cut and accelerated north and south for his first carry from scrimmage for eight yards. It featured a nice David Johnson wham block, which is nothing more than a 2-trap from the good ol' days. Trapping is fun. Except when they see you coming.
* When the Bengals got to running their first play from scrimmage I got a good gander on NT Javon Hargrave. Javon was playing front side on Bengals C Russell Bodine. Using his great first step, which is powered by some impressive ham-hocks, the rookie NT flattened out and then penetrated into the backfield turning Jeremy Hill and the 14-straight, as we used to call it, to a cutback into the waiting arms of safety Robert Golden for no gain.
* It didn’t take long to see how the Steelers intended to cover A.J. Green. In the first quarter Green ran a deep route and Ross Cockrell was stride for stride with Green with rookie safety Sean Davis rolling coverage that way. I think I felt the breeze from all the coaches on the sidelines collectively exhaling on that play.
* Talk about a battle of T-Rexes! Cincy’s DE Margus Hunt, all 6-8 of him, squared off against Big Al Villanueva and Al punched Hunt squarely in the chest to stuff a bull rush on a Big Ben-to-AB 16-yard pass. With Margus virtually the same height as Al, I think Al found it easier to get a good punch in when he didn’t have to punch down. Staring eyeball to eyeball with a guy must be an abnormal moment for Al.
* When Ben Roethlisberger-to-Antonio Brown was picked by Adam Jones, I found my way to the bench to see who was in the wrong on the INT. Ben kept looking at the tablet showing the replay on the sideline and AB came up and began to express what he thought the coverage was, doing an excellent Marcel Marceau and why he ran the route he did. Somebody was on the wrong page. I never did get a read on who was at fault but it surely was a miscommunication.
* In the second quarter, Williams put on his cutback skills and blew by Bengals great Geno Atkins. I mean Geno blew past Marcus Gilbert and was nearly face-to- face with Williams, but couldn’t even lay a hand on him. DeAngelo ghosted Geno the way he did when he split two defenders in Washington on the touchdown run to seal the game last week. Williams seems to have mastered the art of “stealth.” I’m thinking he’s got some serious Ninja in him.
* Mike Mitchell, who’s got to be one of the hardest hitting safeties left from a bygone era of hard hitting safeties, drew a bead on, and then tried to pull off of a hit on Bengals TE C.J. Uzomah. The ball sailed on Andy Dalton, went high over Uzomah’s extended arms and I thought sure a flag was going to fly. Apparently so did Mike, because he was immediately looking around as he was walking towards the official looking as if he was pleading a case that wasn’t going to be heard. Kind of like when you get pulled over by a policeman for speeding and he’s only going to give you a warning but you’re blabbering every excuse you can think of.
* On a third-and-1 in the second quarter from the Cincinnati 18-yard line, The “Red Rifle" rolled to his right toward the edge of the pocket. Out of nowhere flashed Ryan Shazier with such impressive closing speed that Dalton couldn't set his feet to throw even a short pass to Hill. It was incomplete, the Bengals punted and I found myself thinking about the movie “Risky Business,” when Tom Cruise is driving a Porsche, outrunning a bad guy. After escaping, Cruise then utters the phrase, “Porsche, there is no substitute.” The same could be said of, and about, Ryan.
* Still in the second quarter, Will Gay dropped Giovani Bernard for a 1-yard gain with a tackle that mimicked a car accident. Even from the safety of my sideline perch I could feel the hit from Gay and felt a slight shudder roll down my spine at the recollection of being in collisions like that. I immediately thought of Rocky Balboa when his trainer Mick said to him, “The woist thing that can happen to a fighter, you got civilized.” Indeed. I even wear lobster bibs at home when slurping soup. Pitiful.
* Thus began a series of hits that had Bill Hillgrove saying over the radio that Gay “brought the lumber today.” Big hit number two came later in the second quarter with another whopper of a hit on Brandon LaFell. Big hit number three came in the third quarter, completing a trifecta of big hits when Gay dropped his apparently favorite target LaFell on a short pass over the middle.
* LaFell may want to change that last name to “LaSplat.”
* Sometime in the third quarter Artie Burns got called for pass interference. Artie jogged over to Carnell Lake, who was waiting for him on the sidelines. I figured Artie would protest his innocence and try to paint a picture of the refs being a little too flag-happy, as we all did back in the day to ease the anticipated tongue-lashing from our position coach or Chuck Noll, as may be the case. Artie leaned forward, talking to Carnell, then adeptly motioned with his right hand the infamous “seat belt” technique of pulling on a guy around his waist to gain inside position and maybe slingshot yourself forward. It’s like drafting in NASCAR. But I took Artie’s demo as an admission of guilt. Rookie mistake.
* Never admit guilt, kid. Wait for the pictures.
* Both quarterbacks had issues with getting a secure grip on the ball. With the rain sometimes spritzing, then drizzling, only to pour and then stop and recycle, it made ball security -- throwing or catching -- a challenge.
* Cockrell, having a banner day covering Green, undercut an out route to the sideline. The ball got away from Dalton, and Green, looking slightly bemused, had an expression of “What do you want me to do with that?” on his face as he walked past me on the sideline.
* Ben may not have had his best day, but the beauty of franchise quarterbacks in general is that no matter how the day may be going they have the capacity to pull it together at any time and dig deep for a win. Such was this day for Ben. When he hooked up with Sammie Coates on a go-ball for 53-yards, it was the third or fourth time Ben had tried the deep ball to Sammie after a first-quarter completion. One throw earlier was intercepted by Dre Kirkpatrick, one was an overthrow by Ben, though it looked like Sammie had missed a gearshift when he opened up his stride on the go-part of the go-route. But great quarterbacks have the ability to lift those around him into doing great things. And Ben kept throwing to Sammie almost as if he needed Sammie to get this done for Sammie’s own personal growth. That’s part of Seven's magic. A rising tide floats all boats. Ben can be a one-man rising tide.
* For two games in a row, "Deebo" has closed the show. James Harrison laid out in the end zone at FedExField last week when he intercepted a Kirk Cousins pass, and then Sunday he drilled Tyler Boyd who coughed up the ball as Golden recovered and giddy-yupped his way down the field a bit.
* Last week they didn’t review Harrison’s INT, as I said, maybe because no official wanted to be the one to tell James it was incomplete. This time they reviewed the play, but maybe no ref wanted to tell James he had to go back on the field.
* I’m not saying ... I’m just saying …