Wilson: Ramblings of a madman, Week 1

Blogger Ryan Wilson has been waiting for the start of the 2006 season since, well, the end of the 2005 season and the opening game couldn't have gone better, and he has the maniacal rantings to prove it.

Sure, the Steelers were without Big Ben, but the defense looked to be in midseason form, Willie Parker ran like a man possessed, and some dude named Charlie Batch did more than hold his own against a pretty tough Miami team.

What better way to kick off another season than to increase the bobblehead idiocy factor (BIF, for those of you keeping score at home) tenfold. The NFL Network had a three-hour pregame show – THREE HOURS!?! – and it's good to see that Deion Sanders, other than his wardrobe providing a few laughs, is still pretty much worthless. But hey, at least he's loud, which according to the Skip Bayless School of Broadcast Journamalism charter is the next best thing to actually having something informative to add to the discussion. So whoopee for that.

It's also worth adding that every year I promise to tune out all the crackpot analysis, but that's kinda like putting Duce Staley behind the counter at Dunkin' Donuts and saying, "You can sniff all the Boston Kreme's you want, but just don't eat them." Yeah, right. So as I wade through the morass that now passes for sports news, I have to constantly remind myself that the ever-evolving NFL landscape is, more and more, catering to the lowest common denominator. (Pink? Come on. Why doesn't the NFL just bring back N'Sync and call it a day?) A larger fan base means more money, and more money means everybody's happy … at least theoretically. Except people like me who watch football for the ... well, football. Yeah, I know, novel idea.

Despite all the pregame silliness, the Pittsburgh Steelers were playing on opening night and that alone more than made up for all the ancillary inanities. Well that, and seeing Jerome Bettis come rumbling out of a real live bus while grabbing his crotch as he made his way over to the NBC set.

With all of that out of the way, here are some random thoughts from the game:

  • This Charlie Batch character might turn out to be a player. When I made the "Do you want the good news or bad news first?" obligatory phone call to my buddy Andy minutes after the news broke that Ben Roethlisberger would miss the opener because of his pesky appendix, I ended the conversation by pointing out that Batch would be fine in the starting role, but I wouldn't be surprised if Steelers Nation went into full-blown Chicken Little mode. That was an understatement. By the way, the "good news" part of the aforementioned phone call was the Ike Taylor re-singing news.

    Well, no need to fear Chicken Littles, Chaz acquitted himself quite nicely, and if not for that Tommy-impersonating-Kordell-impersonating-Tommy moment on the goal line, his performance would've been Player of the Game worthy. Not bad for a dude who was the third-string quarterback behind Tommy Maddox for three and a half seasons.

    And don't forget, there was some speculation that Batch might get the axe in favor of Brian St. Pierre before the start of the 2005 season. I'm fairly sure the Steelers go 7-9 with the Maddox-St. Pierre backup tandem, and I'm being generous.

    The fumble aside, Batch's only poor decisions were the almost-interception in the end zone and opting not to slide during his first scramble. Hey Charlie, the Brian Jackson imposter is the backup. FOR THE LOVE OF GOD, SLIDE!

  • Do you think every time the Steelers play, UNC head coach John Bunting sticks his head in an oven? How do you explain to rational people that Willie Parker wasn't good enough to play for a crappy ACC school? Whatever. Chapel's loss is Pittsburgh's gain.

    In addition to looking like he's packed on some muscle, Parker also seems a lot shiftier than I remember. Last season, his first inclination was to try and turn the corner on running plays, but now he seems a lot more patient, let's the play develop, and then hits the hole in a hurry. I know he had 29 carries Thursday and there are some workload concerns, but don't forget, experience-wise, this is basically Parker's senior season in college. Compare his meager (and I mean meager) college numbers to someone like Cedric Benson, who had something like 20,000 carries at Texas. Parker would have to carry the ball on every offensive snap for the rest of the season just to match Benson's output during the first month of his senior season.

    I don't expect Parker to average anywhere near 29 carries this season because once Roethlisberger returns, the offense should flow through him. (By the way, anybody notice that the Steelers didn't use the no-huddle at all against the Dolphins? Don't know what it means, just an observation.)

  • Nate Washington looked a little nervous early in the game and that's certainly understandable when you consider Tiffin University's football stadium (if you can call it that) holds a whopping 4,500 people. I'm guessing on most Saturdays some large percentage of the Tiffin crowd is dressed up as seats. Call it a hunch.

    Even with the jitters, Washington, who dropped the first pass he saw, was able to make a spectacular grab at the goal line and fall into the end zone for his first touchdown – and regular season catch – of his career. For all the talk about lack of depth at the wide receiver position, I'm much happier with this year's roster than with the 2005 version. To me, an inexperienced Washington, Santonio Holmes and Willie Reid have a ton more upside than Antwaan Randle El and Quincy Morgan. And I like Morgan. Sure, the young guys will make some mistakes, but their collective ceiling is comparatively high; with Randle El and Morgan, it was WYSIWYG.

    And now that Washington has the first-game nerves out of his system, I only expect him to get better.

  • Memo to whoever thought it was a good idea to deactive Willie Reid: Ricardo Colclough can't return punts. Inexplicably, he can manage to return kickoffs, but hang a spiral in his direction and there's a better chance of Neil Rackers nailing the goal posts on five straight attempts.

    Unfortunately, Colclough's best kickoff return was called back because of a James Harrison hold. I'm almost sure Harrison is the only guy on the team who can get away with something like this. I can see it now: Cowher going through his usual post-hanky-on-the-field gyrations, storming up and down the sidelines imploring the side judge to answer the inevitable "WHO IS IT … WHO'S THE FLAG ON?" query so the head coach know exactly where to direct his vitriol. And after the official informs him it's No. 92, I imagine Cowher then magically morphing into the Dali Lama as he decides that confronting Harrison might not be the best use of his time. I'm fine with Holmes and Colclough returning kicks, but under no circumstance should Colclough ever be allowed to attempt to field a punt. Ever. I'd rather see Jeff Reed – mouthpiece and all – back there.

  • Ike Taylor played about as well as you can play in the first half … if you're Jim Abbott (although I'd wager that Abbott would've made that catch in the end zone). I'd suggest Taylor start playing with boxing gloves; that way he can just punch himself in the face after a dropped interception without having to run over to the sidelines and having coach Cowher do it for him.

    Seriously, I love the way Taylor plays. He keeps on getting better – except that whole catching thing – and even though he missed a few tackles Thursday, I chalk that up to rust more than anything else. I'm predicting Taylor ends the season with six interceptions and somewhere in the neighborhood of 25 drops.

  • Hey, did you know Hines Ward is really tough? I heard John Madden mention it a time or two during the game. If you need proof that Ward was the gutsiest player on the field against Miami consider this: he made one big third down conversion after the next, he caught a touchdown pass in the back of the end zone before getting popped, and he hit defenders all night like he was the best blocking wideout in the NFL. And he accomplished all this with a very tender hammy. How do I know? Well, I didn't pick up on it immediately, but my better half did. The conversation went something like this:

    My wife: What's wrong with Hines?

    Me: Nothing. His hamstring was hurting him during the preseason, but I think he's okay now.

    My wife:Well, he's not okay because he's not smiling. If he's not smiling, something must be wrong.

    Me:Oh. Um, yeah. Well, I'll have to talk to my sources and get back to you.

    I should also mention that my wife saw all of two snaps before making her assessment and generally doesn't pay attention to games other than to watch Troy say a little prayer after every play, and talk in generalities about what a dreamboat he is.

    Either way, you heard it here first: Hines' hammy is still a little balky.

  • Do you think Chris Gardocki has a bonus clause in his contract for number of special teams tackles he makes in a season? If not, he might want to think about re-working his deal. Or, I don't know, encourage the Steelers to re-sign Chidi Iwuoma. It's amazing what a difference a 5'9", 170 pound player can make on special teams, but this only reaffirms that Chidi is very, very good at what he does.
  • It's always hard to tell what the hell goes on in the secondary, but I thought Ryan Clark played well. He kept everything in front of him, laid the wood to would-be pass catchers running across the middle, and looked comfortable with his new team. I know he missed a few tackles, but see Taylor, Ike above for my thoughts on that. Watching Tyrone Carter, I'm convinced that he's best utilized coming off the bench in situations that allow him to concentrate all his focus on knocking the crap out of people and not worry about any pass coverage responsibilities.

    But like I predicted after the first preseason game, I suspect the Anthony Smith for Starting Free Safety calls will only get louder as the season progresses, no matter how well Clark plays. Relax, people. Relax.

  • Okay, raise your hand if you thought Heath Miller was going to pass out around the Steelers 30-yard line. I'm still not convinced Miller is all that fast. If anything, I'm more convinced than ever that the Dolphins secondary is really, really slow. And dreadful in coverage.
  • If there were any questions about Brett Keisel replacing Kimo von Oelhoffen, I think he answered them Thursday. He was wreaking havoc most of the night and on Joey Porter's interception return he chucked Daunte Fumblepepper (I stole that hilarious nickname from the Football Outsiders message board) to the ground for good measure. I'll go ahead and mark that off of my "Things I'm worried about for the 2006 season" list.

    So the storylines heading into next Monday night's Jacksonville game are Big Ben, Big Ben and … Big Ben. The good news is that Chaz showed he's capable of handling the job, so there's no need to rush things. Hopefully, Chidi will rejoin the team and solve all the special teams woes. Now all we need is for the officials to continue giving Pittsburgh all the calls and Super Bowl No. 6 is a done deal. (end sarcasm)

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