- It bugs me that so many television analysts have referred to what a great game that was in Atlanta. Sure, it was a dramatic game with all of the lead changes and turnovers and big strikes, but it was also a sloppy and inconsistent game from both teams. Pete Prisco probably loved it, though.
- Two factors bit the Steelers just as much as the three turnovers: poor kick coverage and no pass rush. Do Calamity James Harrison and Joey Porter make that big a difference, respectively? The kick coverage has been spotty all season, but the pass rush—though never better than just okay—looked a lot more effective in the four games with Porter than in the two games without, both of which came against teams that have struggled some in pass protection. It's hard to pinpoint what exactly has been the problem without Porter, as Arnold Harrison has filled in reasonably well, but there's little denying the lesser performance of the unit overall.
- It's a very good thing that Clark Haggans was able to come back into the game, and doesn't appear to have sustained a serious injury.
- I held my breath every time Pittsburgh punted or kicked off… not just because the coverage teams were struggling, but because those Atlanta return guys can burn. The Falcons might have four of the ten fastest players in the league.
- I confess, I like watching Hines Ward mimic other teams' celebrations. And any time he goes for three touchdowns and a ton of yards and blocks his butt off as usual, he can do the Electric Slide in a circle for fifteen minutes for all I care.
- Good work by Alan Faneca playing defensive back to prevent a second early turnover and an even uglier start to the game for Pittsburgh.
- What's the deal with the defense falling apart after mishaps? It's one thing for the offense or special teams to put them in tight spots, and another thing altogether for them to surrender a touchdown with such frequency after every turnover, long return, or (apparently) on-side kick. When did the Pittsburgh defense switch from allowing yards but not points to points but not yards? If they'd held Atlanta to a field goal just once in three chances after a turnover, Pittsburgh probably would have won that game.
- Atlanta enjoyed a decided field position advantage all game. Turnovers certainly played a big role in that, but so did Michael Koenen averaging 50 yards on five punts and Pittsburgh averaging zero yards and 0.2 fumbles per return.
- Ben Roethlisberger played as well as he ever has. For that matter, he hit routes 20-30 yards downfield from a conventional drop-back better than I've ever seen before. The difference in his play in his first three games back from surgeries and his last two really defies description. In two weeks, his passer rating has climbed almost 33 points. I'd be curious to know whether any other quarterback has ever averaged better than a 150 passer rating over a two-game span.
- Along with Roethlisberger's success passing, the receiving corps had far and away its best game of the still-young season. Ward looked like Ward again; Santonio Holmes shows improvement in leaps and bounds each week; Nate Washington has really learned how to use his body to screen out defenders; and is it any wonder that when the young guys stepped up, Cedrick Wilson also turned in his best game? Competition at a position can do that.
- Willie Parker is already running hard much further into the season than he did last year, and he's added vision and a nice stiff-arm to his repertoire. Now he just needs to take the Tiki Barber course in ball security to really round out his game.
- Two-armed Troy Polamalu is playing the best football in the league at the safety position, hands down.
- Michael Vick is still no great passer, but that howitzer attached to his left shoulder allows him to make some throws that few others could.
- Where Pittsburgh's running game started well but petered out in the second half, Atlanta's grew stronger as the game wore on. Parker saw 20 carries—about the right number for him—but why didn't Najeh Davenport and Verron Haynes see a little more action? In a game that Atlanta never led by more than seven, why get away from running the ball? Yes, they were having a lot of success throwing, but the defense ran out of steam at the end and I can't help but think that committing to the run a little more might have shortened the game and preserved those guys a little better. Sticking with it made a big difference for Atlanta in the end, after all.
- At 180 pounds, Warrick Dunn always managed to fall forward for an extra yard or two.
- Did any Pittsburgh player have a great game unmarred by a bad play? Roethlisberger played maybe the best passing game of his career, but twice had trouble with the snap leading to a crucial turnover; Ward lit up the scoreboard, but put a rare fumble on the ground and cost the team a fifteen yard celebration penalty when he joined in with Washington; Polamalu turned a broken coverage into an interception and generally terrorized Atlanta's offense, but overran Vick on a crucial third down in overtime; Holmes played his best pro game as a receiver by far, but coughed up another fumble on a punt return; Washington likewise had his best pro game, but his false start killed a chance for Jeff Reed at a long field goal to win in regulation.
- Okay, one Steeler who did have a great game unmarred by mistakes was Ike Taylor. I don't believe that Atlanta completed a single pass against him in coverage; for that matter, so far as I can recall, they may not have even attempted any passes to his man. He did trail Alge Crumpler on the last of his three touchdown receptions, but I believe—though it's tough to tell from the television angles—that Taylor was attempting to pick up a blown coverage from elsewhere on the field, and he almost batted that ball down.
- It's even more dumbfounding, the success that teams are having passing against Pittsburgh, considering that three out of the four starters in the secondary are playing so well. The starting corner opposite Taylor has been a problem, though, with Deshea Townsend overcoming physical limitations and Bryant McFadden looking like he has regressed since his strong rookie play. They'd certainly have an easier time of it if the pass rush were getting better pressure.
- I believe I saw Anthony Smith get some playing time in the dime defense on Atlanta's first drive. That should please Steelers fans.
- Bear with me, this could be a long one. Game like that, I'm going to have a lot of thoughts.
- Atlanta handed Pittsburgh good field position to open the second half by kicking off out of bounds. Squandering that rare field position with a three-and-out including two sacks was a big missed opportunity.
- Charlie Batch also played an exceptional game coming off the bench. I doubt that any team in the league feels better with its backup quarterback situation than does Pittsburgh right now. It's a good relationship between Batch and Roethlisberger, too, by all appearances, with the veteran understanding his role on the team and the kid his biggest supporter from the sideline.
- How many great cornerbacks are their in the league? One less than DeAngelo Hall thinks. Okay, so I cribbed that line from Sue Paterno, and it's not entirely fair since all cornerbacks will give up plays from time to time, but Pittsburgh really did make more than their share against maybe the league's greatest player in his own mind. Wilson and Washington both made big catches against him on Pittsburgh's first drive, Washington later boxed him out for his touchdown grab, Parker stiff-armed him out of an early tackle, and Ward—not exactly the fastest receiver around—made him look pretty silly running away from him for a 70-yard score. Pittsburgh mostly stayed away from Hall, much like Atlanta stayed away from Taylor, but when they picked their spots they had success.
- Hall did look pretty good at cheap-shotting Heath Miller with his back turned after a play, though. Ward got Miller some payback in short order, at least, blocking Hall to the ground on a decent Parker run. And he did it face to face during, y'know, and actual play.
- Miller might be the league's most alert player after turnovers in terms of recovering fumbles and tackling interceptors. (I really, really wish I wasn't so aware of that.) On the other hand, he dropped a catchable ball, which completely turns my understanding of the world upside down.
- Chad Brown leaned a shoulder into a moving Vick and drew a fifteen yard penalty; Roethlisberger took a three-way helmet-to-helmet in the pocket and got a concussion for his troubles. Is it just me, or do some quarterbacks get more protection from the referees than others?
- I don't want to accuse the refs of make-up calls, but they hit Atlanta with a non-existant defensive hold one play after the no-call on the Roethlisberger knockout, and followed up granting Bill Cowher a late timeout that pulled three points off the board with a running into the kicker flag on an acting job that made Britney Spears look like Meryl Streep. What if a kicker just kept running forward into the line of scrimmage after every kick? Maybe that should be running into the kicker, too.
- Pittsburgh picked on Jason Webster in coverage quite a bit. He led Atlanta with eight tackles, and it wasn't because he was doing a stellar job in run support. Wilson shoved him aside after one completion along the sideline for an extra bunch of yards, and he's not exactly the most physical receiver in the world.
- Michael Boley played a really strong game at linebacker for Atlanta. He didn't make any huge plays, but he always seemed to be around the ball.
- Uh-oh… Sean Morey actually caught a ball. That's how we really know that the receivers turned in a good game. And as much as some fans like to rag on Morey's role on special teams, he did make three tackles against Atlanta including two huge stops on Atlanta's final two drives to give them a long field.
- I'm not quick to second-guess football coaches who know a hell of a lot more than I do, but the last time anybody successfully iced Morten Andersen, it cooled the planet and killed the dinosaurs. With thirty seconds left and a good chance at a short field, that timeout seemed to hold a lot more potential value after the kick than before it … as ultimately proved to have been the case, given the ten second runoff that ended regulation.
- Is there any doubt whatsoever how much Casey Hampton means to the defense, seeing how they performed without him at the end of the game? Yes, they fared extremely well with Chris Hoke for most of the 2004 season, but that was when James Farrior was the best defensive player in football (no matter what Ed Reed thinks). Farrior is still a good player, but he's not that guy from 2004 anymore.
- The season is far from over, and consequently far from lost … but it's time for the defense to draw a line in the sand, 1976-style. No more giving up 10-point leads, as they now have in two of the last three games. No more folding up after bad turns. No more unforced errors from the offense and special teams. The defense needs to support the offense, and vice versa, rather than constantly torpedoing each other's efforts. These are the Pittsburgh Steelers, the defending Super Bowl champions, and they're a lot better than they've played through six games. Time to show it.
My thoughts, for what they're worth ...
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