... When I lived in Pittsburgh Edmund Nelson didn't seem quite so annoying. (This 2002 Post-Gazette article confirms as much.) Well, he made up for lost time Sunday afternoon. It was like Nelson was trying to break his own personal record for the most ridiculous comments made in one half of football. (Mercifully, the NFL Network uses the home team's announcing crew during the first half, and the visiting team's crew during the second half.) I don't have the paperwork in front of me, but I'm pretty sure he shattered his previous record.
Nelson started the telecast by making some weird comments about Joey Porter and his contract issues heading into training camp (more on this in my next column). During pregame, Nelson opined that maybe it's "not the time or place to make such comments, especially when he is such a viable factor; he is the heart and the soul of this Steelers defense." Just out of curiosity, when is the time or place to make such comments? And in the grand scheme of things, this was the meekest attempt at a holdout I've ever almost seen. And Edmund, you keep using that word, viable. I do not think it means what you think it means.
... The funniest thing about the first Steelers drive? Ben Roethlisberger pretending to block on the Nate Washington end around. As I watched in horror as Ben ran downfield, all I could think to yell was, "Go down! Go down, you fool!" My wife says they can't hear me through the television. Then how do you explain Big Ben making a quick left turn out of bounds? Hmm?
... I shudder to even type this, but Pittsburgh looked a lot like the New England Patriots offense during that first drive. With the statue of liberty play, Ben throwing a quick strike to Cedrick Wilson, and the hurry-up offense, I was constantly reminded of a precise, Tom Brady-led Patriots team. And this is a good thing.
... The defense looked pretty stout on the first series, and save an Ike Taylor late hit on a 2nd down play behind the line of scrimmage and a 3rd down missed tackle by Ryan Clark, the second series wasn't bad either. It's good to see Chester Taylor continuing his inexplicably solid play against Pittsburgh's defense.
... I know Taylor made a bone-headed late hit, but it's hard to fault the guy for wanting to smack somebody. If nothing else, he's an infinitely better tackler than he was just two years ago. I have vivid memories of a 2004 preseason game against the Eagles when he must've missed 4 or 5 tackles on one play. And I'm only slightly exaggerating. Now, he's one of the best tacklers on the team.
... You know, the Steelers were really unlucky on that first Vikings touchdown. James Farrior actually deflected a crappy Brad Johnson pass and somehow Jermaine Wiggins made the snag and rumbled into the end zone. If Farrior hadn't gotten his hand on the ball, there's a good chance Troy Polamalu returns it the other way. But hey, those are the breaks. Unfortunately, Edmond Nelson couldn't understand that Polamalu looked out of position on the play because the ball was redirected. He spent the next five minutes babbling about how Troy overplayed the pass. Even after numerous replays clearly showed Farrior got a piece of the ball, Nelson continued along this inane line of reasoning. Hmmm, I wonder why he only works preseason games?
... (I'll file this next observation under things you shouldn't say out loud but just can't help it.) Boy, Jermaine Wiggins is fat. I wonder how long it takes him to jam his head into that helmet. I'm guessing he either puts his helmet on the floor and jumps off the top bunk into it, or after a few failed attempts, he just paints it on.
... Glad to see Ricardo Colclough still catches kick-offs over his head. And as seems to be the case more often the not, he gets laid out on the return. Colclough might be listed near the top of the depth chart at kick returner, but I'm pretty sure his name is in pencil. That said, I think his play in the secondary continues to improve.
... Despite the Vikings' first-team offense moving the ball, the Steelers' defense looks to be just a beat off. A missed tackle, a just-missed sack, a silly penalty after a great play, or just plain bad luck, all conspired to make this unit seem average. Yeah, I know, that won't mean much when the games start counting, but for now, I'm fine with Dick LeBeau's first unit.
... To paraphrase Allen Iverson, "we're talkin' about practice." And that's basically what the Steelers are doing -- even when they call it a "game" and charge fans regular season rates just to sit in the stands and watch. The Santonio Holmes - Charlie Batch miscommunication on the interception is a case in point. Hey, better Holmes makes the mistake now, learn from it and moves on, than have it happen during the regular season. No biggie.
On a related note -- and this is bad -- but after Darren Sharper snagged the interception, I could've sworn Casey Hampton knocked him out of bounds. Yeah, I know, Casey doesn't play on offense, so he would have no reason to be on the field. After rewinding the TiVo, I realized it was Duce Staley. Yikes.
(Late in the second half, the Minnesota crew interviewed Darren Sharper, the beneficiary of the Batch pick, and he said it was a bad ball. I don't know if that is because Holmes's route made the pass look really bad, or if Batch missed his target. I've got nothin' -- just putting that out there.)
Even though it was overturned, it was good to see Holmes come back and make a nice catch on a deflected Batch pass down the sidelines. I know it didn't count, but it's worth noting that he was able to quickly put the route running mishap behind him and remain focused. Meanwhile, Nelson reminds us all to secure the ball and tuck it away to avoid having pass plays overturned via instant replay. Thanks, Captain Obvious.
Despite the camera adding what must've been 50 pounds, I'm still not convinced Duce is done. I'm well aware of the consensus among Steelers fans – Duce has a better chance of winning Nathan's next July 4 weekend than he does of gaining 300 yards this season – but I've got faith in the big guy. Duce's numbers Saturday were pretty crappy, but to be fair, he didn't have a whole lot to work with. Below, I've detailed his five carry, 11-yard performance:
First series, carry No. 1 (first-and-10): Handoff between the tackles, first contact by unblocked DE/OLB at the line of scrimmage (PIT 21), ball down at PIT 22.... Mike Logan, is making a real case for the final 53. He's laying people out like, well, it's his job. First on special teams, and then on a third-and-1 Tony Richardson running play. And when Logan's not hitting people, Anthony Madison is. He laid the wood to Tavaris Jackson, on a big third down play near the end of the first half. Madison also had a much better game at cornerback, even if most of it was against the fourth-stringers (and I'm being kind to Mike McMahon by assuming he's a fourth-stringer).
Second series, carry No. 2 (first-and-10): Handoff between the tackles, first contact by DE (beat Marvel Smith on inside move) at PIT 22 (three yards behind LOS), ball down at PIT 26.
Carry No. 3 (second-and-9): Handoff left side (outside tackle), first contact by DE at line of scrimmage (PIT 26), ball down at PIT 29.
Carry No. 4 (first-and-10): Handoff right, hole between G and T is filled, Staley bounces outside, cuts at the line of scrimmage (MIN 28), slips, and gains two yards. Could've been a five-plus yard gainer if he had laid off the last doughnut right before coming out of the locker room. Seriously, it was the first time all day Staley wasn't hit at or behind the line of scrimmage.
Third series, carry No. 5 (first-and-10): Line of scrimmage at the PIT 22. Handoff up the middle, hole between RG and RT, first contact by LB at PIT 23, ball down at the PIT 25.
... Near the end of the first half, Batch is sacked, fumbles and the Vikings recover. I love how Edmund Nelson placed the blame squarely on Batch even though Verron Haynes was single-handedly responsible for Batch getting nailed when he whiffed on his block. Nelson's on fire.
... At the start of the third quarter, the Minny announcing crew said Omar Jacobs is expected to make the 53-man roster. How do they know that? Seemingly trying to prove them wrong, Jacobs promptly throws an awful incompletion to Willie Reid that should've probably been intercepted ... and then Jacobs has to call a timeout in the huddle on the very next play. As the rookie QB slinks over to the sidelines, Cowher looks like he just found out somebody took a dump in his office chair. Just to make things interesting, Marvin Philip false starts after the timeout. Not surprisingly, the worst series in the history of organized football that doesn't involve Kyle Boller, ends in Jacobs getting sacked.
... Omar continues to struggle in his second series. Honestly, I didn't think he could play any worse than he did a series ago. But I stand corrected. He does complete a nice third down pass to Willie Reid, and then calms down enough to run a nice little bootleg to rookie free agent TE Jon Dekker. Thank God he caught it. After that drop last week in Arizona, there was a 50/50 chance Dekker was going to kill himself by head butting the water cooler. On the third-and-5, Jacobs again shows great touch on a pass in the end zone. Just to prove that this wasn't Jacobs' night, Lee Mays dropped said pass. Mays did have a nice catch on the next-to-last play of the game, but he will most assuredly be featured on "Jacked Up!" courtesy of Greg Blue knocking him silly to end the play.
... While Goo Wallace was returning a Mike McMahon pick in the second half, Anthony Smith could be seen running behind him begging for the lateral. I half-expected Cowher to come onto the field Woody Hayes style and deck Smith for this, but apparently it wasn't meant to be. I was glad to see Wallace fake the lateral -- like he was running the option or something -- before getting tackled. McMahon, your new Delta House nickname is "Tommy Maddox."
... I think Duce and John Kuhn should have a 40-yard dash; the winner makes the team. To make it fair, Duce gets a 10-yard head start. Okay, 20 yards.
... Cedric Humes runs too upright. Yes, I know I'm not original in saying this, but God, does it bare repeating. And he can't catch either. PS: Shane Boyd still stinks, although if someone invents a game where passes batted down at the line of scrimmage is a good thing, he'll be a first ballot hall of famer.
Thankfully, the NFL Network replay cuts out halftime and the game ends in less than three hours. If I had to watch one more Shane Boyd-to-Lee Mays incompletion fest, I might've thrown up on my television. Honestly, I thought the first units looked pretty good, and given how dire things seemed a year ago at this time, I'm quite happy with the state of the team. Sure, there are still questions about depth at running back, and how the rest of the roster will shake out, but we've got one more game before the first big round of cuts.