I feel like James Harrison just ran through me. But in a good way. After what happened last year, this was nice way to spend a quiet Monday evening. A house full of Pittsburgh Steelers greats, a mouthy Ray-Ray and that ridiculous pregame routine that invariably prompts my wife to call him a cartoon character, and the steely gaze of Mike Tomlin that has an odd way of calming me down before such big get togethers. And if it can ease my concerns through the teevee, imagine the effect it has in person.
And there, on the other side of the field, is the suddenly hapless Brian Billick, looking like a kid lost in the mall, praying that somebody -- anybody -- will help him find his way. We know Ray Lewis won't be that guy, not after spending the bye week calling out his coach as an offensive know-nothing, incapable, apparently, of even giving the ball to his best weapon, Willis McGahee.
Yes, it has all the makings of an Afterschool Special, but here's the swell thing about football: fortunes change weekly. Just remember back to where the Steelers' season was headed after the Sunday night debacle in Denver. And I imagine there will be some gnashing of teeth if -- and I can't believe I'm about to type this -- the Cleveland Browns show up next Sunday. For now, though, I'm soaking it all in. I don't have a 24-hour rule which is why I'll be watching the encore presentation of this one -- synched to the Ravens radio broadcast -- about two minutes after I finish off this column.
There are plenty of things to be excited about after that mauling -- Harrison going Apocalypto on anything in purple, Ben Roethlisberger continuing to make a case for one of the league's top-5 quarterbacks, Troy Polamalu playing like he did before his tummy strain, Ed Reed taking more shots than a college frat guy celebrating his 21st birthday, Juan Timmons recovering a football covered with Reeds' innards, and Santonio Holmes giving the Steelers their first deep threat since Sean Morey was with the team.
(Quick aside: I'm awful with nicknames, but I think I'm onto something for Holmes. I've grown to detest those players who signal first down every time they move the sticks -- and No. 10 is occasionally guilty of this -- but I absolutely love when Holmes points to his name on the back of his jersey after he makes a big play. Now that that's a regular occurrence, I've taken to just busting out a "SHHHHHHHH!" whenever it happens. You know, because it quiets the defense … and his initials are S. H. Get it? Santonio Holmes = S. H. Genius, I know. My wife doesn't find the humor in me shushing the television at max volume, but I wouldn't expect her to.)
If I had to name my favorite play from the festivities it would take two pages. But I will point out this: on Roethlisberger's second first-half touchdown to "SHHHHHHHH!" -- the 35-yard pass down the right side -- he looked left to move Ed Reed out of position, then as soon as Ben's back foot hit the ground, his head swiveled right, and in one motion threw a perfect ball in the corner of the end zone. Of course, Ravens "cornerback" David Martin didn't help himself by trying to break up the pass about the time the extra-point team was lining up, but he wasn't exactly put in a position to succeed on Monday night.
I've noticed on several of Ben's touchdowns -- often near the red zone -- he has a habit of looking defenders off his intended target before delivering a strike, usually in stride. He did this on the Heath Miller touchdown against the Seahawks, which I distinctly remember because Fox showed several replays of Roethlisberger's eyes; his helmet faced left, but his eyes stayed glued to Miller on the right. Pretty nifty, that. Big Ben's all growed up.
You think Harrison is the Defensive Player of the Week? If I'm the NFL, I'd give him the offensive and special teams awards too, just to keep him from killing somebody. It was a ridiculous performance, something you might see in Madden, or in a Browns game back when Charlie Frye was the franchise quarterback. Although, there's a case to be made that one-time Steelers-basher Steve McNair is the AFC North's new Frye. Or as I've taken to calling him: McBoller. For all of Brett Favre's fountain-of-youth-defying ability, McBoller is about eight games too late on the retirement announcement. That's painfully evident when his longest pass of the night goes for nine yards, and the announcers are calling for Kyle Boller by halftime.
Despite all the back-slappin' and high-fivin', there were a few issues. Unsurprisingly, Willie Parker couldn't get going. Kudos to the Ravens front seven for that. They may have been without their starting cornerbacks, but that didn't slow up their run-stuffin' ability. Pittsburgh's offensive line didn't do a lot to help Parker, either. It's barely November, but I think I know the Steelers' draft strategy for rounds 1-7: offensive linemen. Seven of them. I was talking to NFL FanHouse's J.J. Cooper about Kendall Simmons and his descent into awfulness, and Cooper made an interesting point: assuming Alan Faneca's done after the season, he thinks Simmons might be better at left guard. Simmons is known for his athleticism, his ability to work in space, but has always struggled at the point of attack. Presumably, he'll get more opportunities to get out in front of people on the left side, and maybe get close to where he was back in 2002-2003. If not, well, just refer to the draft strategy above. Pleasant surprise of the evening: for as much as Fast Willie struggled, it was good to see Najeh Davenport and Carey Davis running through tackles and getting the tough yards.
This is less of a concern, particularly given the outcome, but I would really appreciate it if Ike Taylor would stop dropping interceptions. After he missed out on another gift last night, I had visions of The Emperor, Bill Belichick, sitting with Tom Brady game-planning the Steelers: "Look, Tom, just throw it at No. 24 all day. He won't catch it. Not a chance. If the worst thing that happens on a pass play is an incompletion, we won't even need Estrella this week." That said, Taylor had one of the most athletic picks I've ever seen in that '04 Pats spanking. I'd just like a little more consistency.
Finally, I'd ask Big Ben to quit getting hurt. It's a tad selfish, if you ask me, and you don't see Peyton Manning and Brady going down. There is the little issue of pass protection, but, hey, excuses are for losers. Right, Ray Lewis?
Excuses are for losers
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Steel City Insider07/15/2017