Strolling through the parking lot and stopping off at some tailgate parties revealed a more subdued atmosphere than usual. All the SWAT team guys and their canines made for a different kind of game being played. And here's what I saw:
Loose and confident was how the Broncos came into Heinz Field on Sunday. The Linebackers and DEs came out to the field early to do a little Tiger Woods golf-punt game. They would punt the ball to see how close to a yard marker they could get, like hitting wedges to a green.
Speaking of teeing it up, on the first 3rd down pass rush, Max Starks stepped slightly inside, used his left arm to punch the DT over Kendall Simmons, then tried to get to the corner. Bad idea, Elvis Dumervil beat him to the corner and sacked Ben. I know what Max was thinking; they could run a twist and he's got to protect his inside hip. But that's Kendall's job. Trust your wingman.
There were quite a few scuffles on the field and in the pile-ups. Frustration by both teams, I suppose. Denver's from last year, the Pittsburgh Steelers from this year. Clark Haggans found himself at the bottom of a pile that had Bronco TE Stephen Alexander applying a forearm to the throat of Haggans. Gerard Warren rammed Simmons head into the ground and then held it there until Kendall came up swinging. Potsie lost his cool on Nalen with a little kick, and Chad Brown tangoed with LB Keith Burns.
Offensive linemen can help a team drowning in turnovers by running to the ball. There hasn't been enough of it. Alan Faneca is pretty much it on a consistent basis when it comes to policing the pile-ups on the field. A hog needs to get around the ball carrier and scrape guys off the pile so they can't stand a guy up and strip the ball. Marvel Smith was "Johnny on the spot" in the second quarter when Parker lost one and Smith made like a groundhog while digging it out.
When the QB throws one down the field, hoof it and cover in case it's a come-backer. As in come right back at ya. Tunch Ilkin and I used to have dinner bets on which one of us could make the most tackles after an INT over the course of a season. Some years were busier than others.
That was one of the most finely tuned Chinese fire drills I've ever seen at the end of the first half when Jeff Reed banged one home from 46 yards out.
I got to thinking the mojo was feeling pretty good over halftime. Goo Wallace covers on the kickoff, and Joey Porter slams Bell down for a two yard gain. That had to be one of the top ten singular exhale-ations of a crowd in Heinz Field history on Javon Walker's 72-yard run.
Marvel Smith, who I think has been playing pretty steady, gave up a sack in the third quarter. I had a perfect view. He had a great punch on Kenard Lang. Stuffed him dead in his tracks. Then on the reload after a second punch, Lang clubs Smith who had let his shoulders come forward beyond his knees while locking out on the second punch. In a heartbeat, Marvel is out of position.
Over-extension on the punch can be just as deadly as not punching at all. It's a fine line a Hog has to walk in the heat of battle.
I'm glad to see the NFL cracking down on defensive holding by the DT's. Al Wilson smoked through the line in the third quarter and planted Willie Parker. Gerard Warren gets called for holding. There's a reason Wilson came through so clean. Holding in the trenches works both ways. Parker scores on the next play. Cheaters proof.
A cape-less Superman dive by Hines Ward and fumble is proof enough that this isn't the Steelers' year. Matter of fact, I think it's very symbolic: great effort, bad results.