You know my first thought after Phil Dawson came up this short on the 53-yard field goal that would've sent the game to overtime? "I'm glad we don't have to face these guys again." It's kind of like admitting you collect Cabbage Patch Kids, or attend Star Wars conventions dressed as a Stormtrooper, but this ain't the same Charlie Frye-led Cleveland Browns team we saw in Week 1.
Of course, there's still a chance Cleveland makes a return trip to Heinz Field in the playoffs, and I fully expect it to be 2002 all over again. Maybe Tommy Maddox can take part in the ceremonial coin flip, and just to be safe, I'd suggest the Pittsburgh Steelers sign Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala for those end-of-game goal-line situations.
And as long as I'm bearing my soul, I'll offer this: I was mad at Ben Roethlisberger in the first half. For being 6'5, 240-something, he sure does get injured a lot. Some of that probably has to do with not drinking enough milk as a kid, but mostly, I think it's his style of play. That said, I'm still trying to figure out how he got hurt on the T-Fizzle shove last week. It looked like that same bum hip was giving him some trouble in the first half against the Browns. Nothing obvious -- Ben wasn't favoring it -- but subconsciously, maybe. Early in the game, Roethlisberger had that look on his face -- you know, he's got that look -- that quietly screamed: "I'm battered, but I'll battle through it … even if I'm not sure I can."
Mind you, this is all based on a conversation I'm having with myself after yelling for what seemed like the 15th time: "GET RID OF THE BALL", and then watching, jaw agape, that medicine-ball-turned-pick to Brodney Pool deep in Steelers' territory. It was all very 2006.
The second half didn't do much for my confidence either. The first series, Big Ben underthrew a wide-open Santonio Holmes by, oh, 40 yards, and one possession later, Roethlisberger was sacked, and fumbled for good measure. Thankfully, Health Miller recovered. Probably the play of the game to that point.
And then something clicked. Or, more specifically, ripped. As in, James Harrison ripped the ball out of Jam-Jam Lewis' arms, Ike Taylor recovered, and it was game on. (By the way, Taylor is having a great season for a guy who has two left feet for hands. He bobbled the Lewis fumble before finally securing it, and then, when he pulled himself off the pile to hand the ball to the official, he muffed that too. Classic.)
First Play of the Game: Heath Miller fumble recovery. Second Play of the Game: James Harrison imposing his will on Jamal Lewis, forcing a fumble. This was enough to snap Roethlisberger out of his slump -- at least as I perceived it, anyway -- and he was back in 2007. I was glad to see him. Every Other Play of the Game: Big Ben.
I've come to accept that Roethlisberger is different than any other NFL quarterback. Not different in a Tom Brady, or Peyton Manning way -- they are both drop-back passers with quick releases, which is pretty common -- but in an otherworldly sense. Following the Monday night whuppin' put on the Ravens, I wondered if Big Ben would even be able to operate in a New England or Indianapolis offense. Obviously, Bill Belichick and Tony Dungy would be smart enough to tailor the scheme to fit Roethlisberger's skills, but I mean more generally. For example, have you seen Big Ben stand in the pocket for more than two seconds without a) getting a blinding case of "happy feet", or b) looking to scramble?
In the 2004 AFC Championship, Belichick's game plan was to take away Hines Ward and keep Roethlisberger in the pocket. I'd say it worked pretty well. My point: Ben's a special talent, who, as Tomlin is fond of saying, defies a particular scheme. I love to bash the offensive line, but I wonder if Roethlisberger is just as responsible for the pass-blocking issues as, say, Kendall Simmons? Big Ben's most comfortable on the move. He could be behind five Pro Bowlers, and if the ball isn't out of his hands in three seconds, there's a good chance a defender will break free. That part of his game is what makes him so dangerous, but it also makes him susceptible to sacks -- and worse, injuries.
I don't know if this should make us all feel better about the current state of the offensive line, or if it just reinforces the fact that the 2008 draft should be the Year of the Lineman as far as Kevin Colbert is concerned. I'll go with the latter, but offer this caveat: Roethlisberger's knack for extending a play complicates the o-line's job, and his sack totals, unlike most other quarterbacks, is more a reflection Big Ben than the pass-blocking.
In general, though, the offense is only a play away from getting right back in the game. Special teams, on the other hand, are usually a play away from losing it. It's mind-boggling how inept this bunch is. I suppose it could be worse; I could be a Rams fan, where every play has the potential for disaster, or I could be Brian Billick. That said, how can a group that dominated the morning practices during training camp, worked with all kinds of fancy "game-improvement tools", and hired a special teams coach who sports a crew cut and wears his visor backwards to prove how serious he is about the whole thing, not be any better than they were last year? Or the year before that? Or this century?
Well, maybe it's not the coaching that's the problem. As was pointed out, maybe it's the personnel. I used to mock the Patriots for using starters on special teams, particularly when Eugene Wilson broke his arm, and Teddy Bruschi missed time, but you know what? It's the exact right way to approach it. Ideally, the Steelers would've been able to cultivate some of those second-day draft busts into competent teamers, and that finally might be the case this season with William Gay. But take a look back at the last four drafts, and it turned up zip on special teams. But that horse has been beaten to death. Now what?
James Harrison, Brett Keisel, Troy Polamalu, Anthony Smith, all report to the ball-on-a-stick station for some work. I think Harrison is making a legit push for Pro Bowl consideration, and I know he mentioned that fewer snaps on the coverage team had a lot to do with his Monday night performance, but Bob Ligashesky's in a pickle here. Thankfully, Silverback volunteered for duty in the second half of the Browns game, and post-game, Keisel talked like he would pull a one-man Rambo on special teams if needed, so it's good to know guys are willing to help get this thing fixed.
Another thing to consider: is Joshua Cribbs that good, or is Pittsburgh's coverage team that bad? After watching the Colts' special teams last night, I joked that if Indy and Pittsburgh were to play this year, the score would be 450-443, with every touchdown scored via a kick return. The team with the ball last, wins. To the question, though: I think it's a little of both. Cribbs is probably second to Devin Hester in terms of escapability, and is just as fast. I was so sick of the Steelers' coverage unit in the second half -- even before Cribbs' ridiculous 100-yard return for six -- that I was begging them to just kick the ball out of bounds. If not for field position's sake, to save Jeff Reed's life.
If Pittsburgh isn't sold on the idea that starters need to show up on special teams, there's always this: CHIDI IWUOMA. Maybe an overreaction, but remember, Chidi came back midseason last year, and the Steelers finished 6-2. Coincidence? I think not.
Because as we've been told countless times, Ben Roethlisberger certainly can't do it. He's a game manager. A game manager who just happens to be 13-4 in his last 17 games. Maybe Big Ben should play on special teams too.
Big Ben is a different kind of special
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