Dangerous? Yes!    Stupid? Of Course!

Catch the The Morning After every Monday.">
Dangerous? Yes!    Stupid? Of Course!

Catch the The Morning After every Monday.">

Morning After

<b>The Morning After --</b> Every week, uncut, honest thoughts first thing Monday morning, win or lose, before there's time for "the coach" inside to begin thinking rationally. <br><br> Dangerous? Yes!&nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp; Stupid? Of Course! <br><br> Catch the <b> The Morning After</b> every Monday.

Following Week 3, Dolphins - Steelers:
That first cup of coffee is going down a lot easier this week, and not because the Steelers played so well, but because they won a game on the road against a tough defense in difficult weather with a rookie quarterback.

Ben Roethlisberger receives my first game star for the way he handled the football without turning it over (after the first possession) in a monsoon. He was poised, moved around well and delivered in the clutch. Now, he had some slack since Miami was virtually no threat to score, so Roethlisberger could take a conservative approach. That won't make the grade in a month or so, but for now it's certainly something positive upon which to build.

The second star goes to Hines Ward, who got lost (at least with the media outlet I worked for last night) in the stunning wake of Plaxico Burress making a couple of catches and drifting right, as any first-year player would've done, to help out a right-rolling Roethlisberger on one of the game's key third downs. But I did not come to rip the overrated Burress again. Instead, I'm praising Ward, who flirted with a third consecutive 100-yard game, provided the best offensive highlight with his hurdle of a would-be tackler, and made the two best catches of the game, one for the only touchdown.

The third star goes to special teams coach Kevin Spencer, only because we're not allowed (Morning After rules) to give a star to an entire unit. The penalties that killed every return last week disappeared last night. Also, punter Chris Gardocki had a great game, much improved over last week. Jeff Reed missed a couple of long kicks, but nailed a 51-yarder and made another 40-plus kick in adverse conditions. James Harrison also rocked Miami's rookie return man, who became tentative after the hit. Don't forget about Ike Taylor's blocked punt. It didn't turn into points, but may help Ike crawl out of Cowher's dog house.

Since there are only three stars to hand out, that leaves a hard-hitting defensive unit to find its own scraps. Chris Hope played the best game of his career and finally rocked somebody. That had become a concern after Hope injured his shoulder tackling Jerome Bettis at a training-camp goal-line drill, but this time it was the tackled, Lamar Gordon, who had to leave the field after running into the Steelers' free safety. Welcome back, Chris. James Farrior also had some ferocious hits, although he dropped an easy interception. I also thought Aaron Smith and Casey Hampton played very well, as did Joey Porter and of course team sacks leader Deshea Townsend.

I was also pleased with the conservative offensive play calling with the rookie QB in the stormy weather. There was no need to become greedy with Miami's awful offense being held at bay. The decision to run mud puppy Verron Haynes a little more also paid off. It was a nice in-game read by the coaching staff. Now, heaving the ball on the first play of the game was bone-headed but the play-calling improved exponentially as the game went on.

Let's not forget about the job Marvel Smith did on Jason Taylor. Sometimes when you don't notice an offensive tackle you tend to overlook the performance, but when you don't hear from Taylor most of the game you know someone's doing a great job. Keydrick Vincent and Oliver Ross also played well.

On the down side, Chad Scott was picked on by A.J. Feeley. You may have to read that sentence again. Scott gave up way too much ground on several passes, and I'm not thinking about the cushions he wisely gave away late in the game. Larry Foote was also pushed around a little bit, but this is just nitpicking. As for Burress, please try to run after a catch. And Antwaan Randle El chickened out on a high pass. He would've been crushed by the waiting safety, who missed his chance for the ball, too, by worrying about the tackle. Perhaps Randy's discretion may turn out to be the right decision in the long run, but it was a chance for him to make a serious play and begin the process of replacing Burress and giving the Steelers true playmaking threats on both sides of the field.

Now, the Steelers won't be able to play this conservatively against anyone else on their schedule, and it appears as if Miami will go 0-16 this season, but it was a good win for the Steelers and particularly the rookie quarterback.

Following Week 2, Ravens - Steelers:
Yes, the Steelers were whipped physically and had their hearts ripped from them by a team that wanted it more, but that's an easy way of making a general statement that absolves too many of blame. Remember the fine line? Yes, even in this ugly loss a couple of plays turned the tide, so I'm lashing out here at whomever put that game plan together, particularly offensively. It's easy to cast aspersions upon new coordinator Ken Whisenhunt, and perhaps he's to blame, but I'm going after the head coach today. He should've known better than -- in the biggest game of the first half of the season -- to come into a game wanting to give the ball more to Plaxico Burress and Verron Haynes. It was obvious the Steelers wanted to get Plax involved early, and he promptly dropped the first pass. He later -- although everyone in town is supporting him in his pass interference excuse -- missed a bomb. He cannot run under and catch deep passes. Most of his big plays in the past have occurred when he's come back on underthrown balls. I don't remember him doing otherwise unless it's a perfect pass. But the Get-Plax-Involved plan evolved from last week when he caught only one pass. Guess what? He's not that good of a receiver. It's not through QB indifference that he had only one catch. He's just not that good. But they came into this game -- unlike the Ravens, who used third corner Deion Sanders on Plax on passing downs -- thinking Plax would be the key and Hines Ward would make big plays off of that. Wrong. Disgustingly so since Burress left the team in the off-season and wanted to play Lone Wolf with everyone else's season. Well, maybe rookie QB Ben Roethlisberger will do better with the jagged shards of glass that are Plaxico Burress' hands, but I put this one on Bill Cowher and his No Child Left Behind program. He just couldn't move on without making sure Plax is happy. ... As for Haynes, what in the world has he done to deserve so much attention in such a huge game? Is it so important that he carve out a niche? At the expense of Duce Staley, who can catch and block very well and deserves to be on the field all three downs? This is another coaching tactic. Cowher wants everyone involved; everyone with a niche; everyone happy. But Haynes missed several blocks that shut down too many third-down plays. He's also too slow for someone that small. Good utility back, but not the guy you want to lean on during the most important plays of what might have possibly been the last big game of the year. Overcoaching. That's what it was. ... On the defensive side of the ball, the nickel defense is still killing them. While it's difficult to criticize the Steelers for keeping that part of their package in, since it's early and they did win their first game, but the Steelers must make adjustments to that pass-downs defense. The Ravens' conversion of first-and-31 falls right into the nickel's lap. And Chester Taylor's huge day? Again, the nickel. It didn't work last year; not working this year. Blame Timmy Lewis if you must. Blame the players who are continually burnt without any pressure being put on the quarterback. But today, with the coaching staff on the losing end of my new Scorched Earth Policy, we blame the game plan. ... Special teams stunk, too, and for obvious reasons that I don't care to list now. I mention it only because I didn't want to leave them out of this rip job. ... Sure, the players deserve plenty of blame for this awful performance. But when you go into a game with the idea of getting the ball to Burress and Haynes, instead of the reason I was so excited -- Staley vs. Ray Lewis; Ward vs. the cackling Ravens secondary -- to watch the game, I'm going to get a little peeved. ... Cowher will continue to raise hopes around here, and he's just good enough to put a team in contention, but he's not going to win a title. It's never been done with a coach who's been in one place so long without doing so. It's obvious to him and his players that the coach has mucho stability. Cowher can try to ignore the psychological reasons why history has proven this phenomenon to be true, and he can try to break free from the complacency that is bound to set in, but recognizing the problem won't stop it. And remember, this is the best job in all of football. Please, please, please don't tell me a new coach will be too hard to find. Not in this organization, with the track record of the owners' patience here, with the great facilities, with a fine personnel department trying hard to work with the coach. It's a coach's dream organization. That means so much. It means there will be a long line of quality prospects available when this nonsense about an impassioned coach spitting all over everyone with such GREAT enthusiasm finally comes to an end. A breath of fresh air is needed here, but it won't happen for another five years minimum. That's why some day this team will enter a 40th season without a championship and everyone will wonder how in the heck it happened -- again. ... There will be brighter days ahead. The opportunity for Roethlisberger I'm sure will be good for the long run of the organization. But my gut tells me that until Cowher's gone, it will only mean small steps without reaching the ultimate goal.

Following Week 1, Raiders - Steelers:
Excuse me for saying this, or for peeing in your Wheaties, or for whatever bad start this makes for your day but I couldn't help but thinking I was watching two very mediocre teams playing yesterday. Now, I realize quarterback Tommy Maddox will have much better days, and that Ted Washington was a key factor in making the Steelers' running game appear so halting and uneven, and that the secondary will come around, by then I have the right to change my mind, but the Steelers looked like a middle-of-the-road team Sunday. ... The secondary is taking a beating right now from the experts. Most of them are calling the mistakes "communication problems," but fact is both Troy Polamalu and Deshea Townsend were beaten physically. Doug Gabriel made a terrific move on the late first-half touchdown to beat Polamalu and Alvis Whitted made a great catch on a perfect throw late in the game to beat Townsend. I expect both players to improve and perhaps join the rejuvenated Chad Scott to form an effective secondary down the road. I also expect Ricardo Colclough to improve as well. Chris Hope played a fine game, but both young safeties seem easily blocked. ... Kendall Simmons left the locker room yesterday without a cast, cane or walking stick. He looked to be in perfect health as opposed to someone who just had surgery to repair a torn ACL. He didn't even have his knee in a wrap. Word is Simmons is upset about having to go on injured reserve and says he can do everything he needs to do during a game. But the Steelers insisted on the surgery because the ligament was torn. ... Speaking of linemen, left tackle Marvel Smith says his neck doesn't bother him in the least. ... Duce Staley has a gigantic heart, but I'm getting the feeling he's not a championship running back. He just isn't a breakaway threat. Neither are Jerome Bettis or Verron Haynes. The position will be a high priority next draft. ... Coming into the game, the Steelers felt the right side of the Raiders' offensive line was weak, and Clark Haggans and Aaron Smith proved the advance scouts right with outstanding performances. Look for Robert Gallery, who played some left guard and right tackle Sunday, to become the entrenched right tackle for the Raiders very soon. ... Just another clutch day at the ballyard for Hines Ward. His leaping catch of yet another bad Maddox pass on the final drive may have been the key play of the game. On the other side, One-Catch Plax was being shut down in single coverage by Denard Walker. Ol' One-Catch, I suspect, will also undergo some post-game going-over-the-middle trauma for awhile after taking a full load of Danny Clark in the head on one incompletion. ... The instant replay system failed in that the flow of the game was seriously compromised. If the natural process had been followed, the bad call on Rich Gannon's pass/fumble would've been matched by the bad call on the punt off the Raider's leg. The bad calls would've evened out and the game would've been much more aesthetically pleasing. ... Yeah, I know, a little grumpy after a win, but hopefully the players and coaches are looking at it in a similar way. This is certainly no time to be pleased with yourself, not with an upcoming chance to go two games up on the Baltimore Ravens. Have a great week.

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