My thoughts, for what they're worth ...

SCI's Ian Whetstone takes a final look at the Monday night loss in Jacksonville, some contract happenings, plus a gander at the Steelers' game this Sunday, at home, versus the mighty, mighty Bengals.

- Well, if you'd told me beforehand that it was going to be a field position, field goal game in which Chris Gardocki punted well and the coverage teams covered well, I'd have pretty confidently predicted a Steelers win. That they didn't says a lot about how incredibly well Jacksonville's defense played against a struggling Pittsburgh offense.

- Marcus Stroud, John Henderson, Mike Peterson, Rashean Mathis, and Donovan Darius form as potent a defensive core as you'll find in the league.

- Way to represent, Steeler Nation. Despite heavy efforts by Jacksonville to turn Monday night into "Teal Night," Steelers fans found ways to get tickets and support their team in numbers. They saw a tough loss, but at least they saw it in person.

- After two plays from scrimmage, two Pittsburgh tight ends had caught two passes for two first downs. "This could be a terrific game plan," thought I. "Use some early passes over the middle to set up the running game and some deep shots down the sidelines. Heath Miller is a real weapon, and should be able to deal with the physicality of Jacksonville's defense."

Neither tight end caught another pass.

- Every game, Nate Washington looks less like an undrafted free agent with potential and more like an NFL receiver. He may never start, but he looks like a guy who will have an actual career.

- Here's a potential scoop that I have curiously yet to see announced anywhere else for you Steelers fans who have absolutely no reason to care: NFLPA data shows that Jacksonville looks to have extended the contract of TE George Wrighster through 2011. It looks like he's getting an effective salary increase of $1.5 million over his RFA tender of $721,600 in 2006, probably in lieu of a signing bonus. Between this move and the drafting of Marcedes Lewis, I'm guessing that Kyle Brady will find himself on the open market and/or submitting retirement papers once his current deal expires after this season.

- Wrighster earned his money on Monday night keeping Joey Porter at bay.

- And here's some quiet contract news about which Steelers fans may have reason to care: it looks like the team performed simple restructures of the contracts of linebacker Larry Foote and Aaron Smith in recent weeks. The moves combined to create $2,192,500 in salary cap space for 2006 by pushing bonus money into future cap years. For Smith, it bumps his 2007 cap hit to a team-high $6,860,666, and may hint that they feel that he's a strong candidate for an extension next off-season.

- He'll never be a superstar, but any defense on which Foote is the "weak link" is in pretty good shape.

- Internet rumor has it that Jacksonville will look to extend Byron Leftwich's contract if he performs well this season. If so, that deal could set the floor for what it will cost Pittsburgh to extend Ben Roethlisberger.

- Hines Ward still isn't smiling. For the Steelers to beat tough opponents, that will have to change.

- Verron Haynes: runner of draws, catcher of screen passes, tackler of Rashean Mathis after interceptions.

- Class move by Jack Del Rio to kneel on the ball at the two yard line at the end of the game. Yeah, it was the only sensible move, since kneeling guaranteed a victory while scoring and giving the ball back would have offered Pittsburgh some infinitesimal measure of hope; but on Monday Night Football with a pumped crowd against the world champs and an offense with little to show for its efforts to that point, it had to have been tempting to put an exclamation point on the win.

- Teams still aren't going to beat the Steelers offensively with quick hitches and receiver slipscreens, and at a whopping nine points scored that wasn't how Jacksonville beat them, either. Opponents would stop running them altogether if the defensive backs tackled better than they have the first two games, or if Troy Polamalu had a healthy-enough arm to make them pay with a pick-six.

- Pittsburgh's best defensive back on Monday night might have been Ryan Clark. He took good angles and showed some speed tracking down Reggie Williams after a long catch-and-run in the fourth quarter, and he tackled well on a night when the other members of the secondary didn't.

- I'm not bothered that Ike Taylor is playing off of the receiver; he did so often last season quite effectively. I am bothered that he's missing tackles, which has not been typical in his short time as a starter. Last season, he tackled as well as any cornerback in football. He'll have an opportunity to get back in the good graces of Pittsburgh fans this weekend by again doing what grabbed our attention in the first place: shutting down Chad Johnson.

- Johnson has never liked to play against defenses that get physical with him, which is among the reasons why Taylor has been so effective in coverage against the Pro Bowl receiver. Pittsburgh may want to test him early in the game as to whether he's still feeling any physical or psychological effects from Brian Russell ringing his bell.

- Polamalu referred this week to Cincinnati as a physical offense. That is truly the difference between Cincy and a high-powered offense like Indianapolis: they have a receiver in T.J. Houshmandzadeh who can fight for yards in traffic, a big back in Rudi Johnson who can bowl over defenders, and an offensive line full of big, strong power blockers. They can be physical when they need to be physical (and when Marvin Lewis remembers to do so).

- If Polamalu can't play, or isn't any healthier than he was against Jacksonville, that puts the Steelers down the one interception that he gets pretty much automatically against the Bengals.

- No game in week three is a "must win," but this game against Cincy is pretty important. With Baltimore a heavy favorite against Cleveland, a two-game deficit to two division opponents would put the Steelers behind the eight ball early.


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