My thoughts, for what they're worth

SCI's Ian Whetstone weighs in with his thoughts -- for what they're worth -- LIVE from Cleveland Browns Stadium.

- Despite the appearance of the Steelers pummeling what appeared to be their own scout team, the pro football season is (finally!) upon us. Now, I love football, but the wife cannot even say the word without an intonation of profound loathing. On the other hand, she loves weekend trips. Because I'm exceedingly stupid, only now in our fourth year of marriage did it dawn on me to wrap a weekend trip around an away game: the season opener against the long-time rival Browns in a city to which neither of us had ever been. A little football for me, a little shopping for her.

- The Cleveland Browns may have disappointed, but their fans sure didn't. One fellow in our section chose as the primary object of his heckling the wife of Steelers long-snapper Greg Warren; I know that she was indeed Mrs. Warren, because A) she said so, B) I can't imagine how anyone else would even obtain an authentic Greg Warren jersey, size small, and C) I can't imagine that anyone would pretend to be the wife of a player so low in the pecking order that Brian Jackson never even thought to impersonate him.

Anyway, Mrs. Warren handled this particular heckler with impressive grace as he questioned her basic hygiene practices; she simply smiled, patting him on the back as she passed back and forth on numerous beer runs. Her composure never faltered, even when he descended into promises of outright sexual deviance. Mr. Heckle was himself so impressed by this that after smoking a joint right there in his seat—I couldn't make this stuff up—he proclaimed to Mrs. Warren, "I love you. You're hot."

Rebuffed in his advances, he retired from the stadium before halftime.

- Okay, yes, there was indeed a football game being played, too… and it offered a similar level of comedy. If there's a sorrier way for a perennially-bad team to begin a season than getting flagged for four penalties on a shanked punt, I can't imagine how. I've seen Benny Hill skits with less slapstick.

- Two years ago, Kevin Shaffer enjoyed as good a season as any offensive lineman not named Walter Jones, but he showed little of that ability getting brutally bull-rushed by Aaron Smith on his way to the first of Pittsburgh's six sacks.

- Fourth-and-inches at midfield in the second quarter, up by 17, Mike Tomlin goes for it. I like it. Wish more coaches would do it.

- Cedrick Wilson had no opportunity to petition any refs for flags, but Allen Rossum picked up the slack.

- Five solo tackles, a sack, and an interception made a fine day's work for Ike Taylor. Some corners get tackles because they get picked on in coverage; when Taylor is on his game, he gets his in run support and flying into other defenders' zones to clean up after catches. I counted just two passes completed against Taylor all game, and only one of any consequence.

- I'm really not a fan of the TE screen pass. Heath Miller is terrific out in the secondary breaking tackles after the catch, but I prefer a position with more athletic burst following blockers on a screen.

- If San Antonio had an NFL team, and Santonio Holmes played for it, would Kevin Harlan's head explode? I'm going to continue insisting, by the way, that Holmes isn't really a deep threat, in hopes that he'll continue to prove me wrong.

- Nate Washington blocked well downfield, one holding call aside. I'm not sure that his big special teams play to pin the Browns deep wasn't a bad call, though; none of the home television angles showed it very well, but it looked pretty clear on the JumboTron at the stadium that he stepped on the end zone line before touching the ball.

- My wife may not profess to enjoy football, but she sure likes to watch Troy Polamalu work. The fact that his stat line lists only one tackle only goes to show how poorly defensive stats from a single game may really paint the picture of an individual performance, because Polamalu made his impact felt all over the field, as usual.

- Polamalu made a great play to tackle Josh Cribbs short of the sticks on one second-quarter third down, but Cribbs made a better play to extend for the first, anyway. That was one of the few plays in the game to remind me what good football looks like, with guys on both teams making plays in an effort to win.

- Speaking of elite safeties in the AFC North, Sean Jones followed up last year's bid for inclusion among their ranks with a pretty lackluster showing on Sunday. He did force Willie Parker's fumble, and he may not have been responsible for the blown coverage on Holmes' score, but he blew a huge opportunity by knocking Holmes' fumble out of bounds and didn't even try to tackle Miller on his touchdown jaunt.

- Oh, and Fast Willie… stop fumbling. I beg you. Not much else stands between you and greatness.

- Though, Parker's biggest obstacle may be the play of the offensive line. It's not that they played badly… just inconsistently, and the offense as a whole really ebbed and flowed according to their lead.

- A case of clangy-hands provided the other factor in the offensive sputter throughout the second quarter. Ben Roethlisberger went 0-8 on passes in that frame, but four of them looked very catchable to my eye. It didn't matter much on a day in which he otherwise played close to perfection, but that can't happen against better teams.

- I'd be down on Najeh Davenport in the third-down role for dropping a couple of those catchable balls if not for his later embarrassment of four would-be tacklers on a Verron Haynes-esque display of unlikely third-down conversion.

- Did Jeff Reed trade legs with rookie Daniel Sepulveda? Of his seven kickoffs, five made it to the end zone—three for touchbacks. Sepulveda did very well spotting his short punts inside the twenty- and ten-yard lines, but he didn't kick the boomers of which we know he's capable on the rare occasion that he had the chance to really show off his leg.

- Lawrence Vickers looked pretty strong in terms of his own offensive production, though it's hard to say that his lead blocking looked all that effective. Yes, that's about the best I can say about Cleveland's performance: their fullback looked pretty good, except for his lead blocking.

- That's not entirely true; I do like their linebackers. Kamerion Wimbley looks to be a stud for them for years to come, and the other guys stay productive even working behind a lackluster line. They've got some talent in the secondary, too—most notably in Jones and Leigh Bodden—but not much depth. They've got some core ingredients in place, though.

- Wow, does Charlie Frye stink. He gift-wrapped most of Pittsburgh's sacks by holding onto the ball waaaaay too long, or else by flat-out running into an oncoming defender. The fan sitting next to us claimed to live just a stone's throw from the house in which Frye grew up, and I believed him because A) he said so, B) I can't imagine why anyone would feign attachment to Charlie Frye after that first quarter, and C) he seemed genuinely upset to call for the benching of a local kid. It made it a little easier to understand how fans of that team let themselves get so drawn into the promise of a marginal third-round hometown talent as a starting prospect at the game's most important position.

- For those keeping tally, that's one forced fumble for Ryan Clark, one forced fumble for Anthony Smith. Captain Hyperbole says: "Best problem to have, ever."

- I know that many fans expect James Farrior to break down sooner than later, but for now he has most certainly still got it. He's the team's best non-lineman, non-OLB blitzer, and with Joey Porter gone he's certainly their best linebacker in coverage. He mans those underneath zones really well, flows to the ball, and made a nice move to strip Jamal Lewis. Barring injury or really steep, sudden decline, the team looks to be in a good spot to let Lawrence Timmons develop into that role, if that is indeed to be his future position on the team.

- With his height, it seemed to me that Matt Spaeth would likely make his most immediate impact as a red zone target, and that's exactly what he provided in his first NFL game. When the offense can't stretch the field vertically up against the goal line, it's nice to be able to stretch it, uhhh, altitudinally.

- Shortly after the wife and I found our seats, none other than Eleanor Starks, mother of now-backup tackle Max Starks and Steelers Team Mom of chunky soup fame, walked past us to her own seat. I found myself a little star-struck… or maybe more so dumbfounded when faced with the reality that such a normal-looking human gave birth to the man-mountain that is Max Starks. In my imagination, all NFL linemen are born of Grendel's mother in Beowulf.

- Browns fans want Romeo Crennel fired in the worst way—at least, according to every radio show to which I listened on the drive back to Pittsburgh—but I'm not sure what he's supposed to do until more than half of that roster gets up to NFL standards. So, it's unfortunate that even with the Steelers looking like world-beaters in week one, we won't have a better idea of where they really stand until they face an actual pro-caliber offense. Until then, we can at least say that they can only play the opponent on the schedule, and they beat a bad one soundly. Oh, and if you haven't made the trip to Cleveland for this rivalry, I wholeheartedly recommend it. You'll be in force with your fellow black and gold, and it's not nearly as bad a city as it is a football team.

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