It reminded me of my old teammate at Syracuse, Neil Barton, when he shaved his head prior to training camp. Lotta bumps, lumps, scars and angles on that nutcracker. Some of the Bengals who took the field for warm-ups had the same reaction to the field as Neil's wife Lillian when she saw her husband's bare nougat. Eeek! Still, all things considered, a considerable bump up from the week before. Then came the rain.
Carson Palmer looked every bit the champ on that first drive. This guy has the technical precision of a Mohel performing a Brit Mila ritual. The end result of that drive was just as painful for the Steelers. Rudi Johnson caps the drive from one yard out.
One of the things that was working well for Palmer and friends was the "run game alternative" NOW call. That is the quick throw to a wide receiver on the line of scrimmage whose cover guy is in off coverage. Whenever you see the O-line firing off the ball and the back looking like he should get the ball but the QB is throwing it out to a WR, it's a now call. I don't know what their signal was, but it hits for yardage with Chad Johnson in the first half.
Throughout the first half the Bengals are countering the two tight end sets of the Steelers with a 4-4 look. The Bengals bring in an extra linebacker to compensate and they are funneling every thing back into the middle. Defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan obviously has told his end-of-the line people to make sure they don't get hooked.
It's one whale of a battle going on out there between Steelers left tackle Max Starks and Cincy defensive end Justin Smith. Smith is made to order, grief-wise, for Max. Justin is a high-motor guy who excels at fighting for inside hand position while maintaining good leverage, something that Max has historically had problems with.
Max is countering with the one weakness in his game that has always jumped out to me. The light bulb has come on for Max. He's punching. With his long arms, he can set and take away the edge by snapping off the punch. Those "jumper cables," (what his teammates call Max's long arms) are taking the bite out of Smith before he can do major damage on the inside. Way to go Max!
Nobody, and I mean nobody runs the fire-x like James Farrior and Larry Foote. To counter Palmer's penchant to throw the 10-15 yard out pattern, Dick LeBeau is "buzzing the flat" with Clark Haggans and James Harrison. This means at the snap of the ball, Haggans or Harrison turn and sprint to the outside quarter of the field towards the sideline. Carson then has to throw the ball over Haggans or Harrison, but in front of the corners. A tough throw, even for the Palmer. But doing this takes away the outside hot rushers for the Steelers.
So the Steelers run a fire-x which sends Farrior blitzing to the inside shoulder of Bengals guard Bobbie Williams, and then Foote is a heartbeat behind him crossing to the outside shoulder of Williams. What you're looking for is a screw-up in man blocking, or penetration in a zone scheme.
The Steelers went after Palmer while they were backed up in their own end, so I got a chance to observe the line play from behind the end zone, just a great view to see the inner workings. Foote just bedazzled the guard Williams as the trail blitzer on that fire-x. He looks like the Rottweiler from "The Omen" horror flick. That is one frenzied dude. Oh yeah, Carson ate some Heinz field muck on that play. During the rush I swore I heard Foote screaming "VonOelHoffen!" Just kidding.
At this point, I believe Hines Ward could catch a Tiger Woods driven golf ball while standing under Niagara Falls. How else do you explain his ability to catch the ball in rain? Aqua Man couldn't run a slant pattern as well as Hines. If there ever was a true "mudder" in the world of NFL wide outs, this cat is it!
I have to take a moment also to applaud Hines on that hit he took from Madieu Williams. In full stride Hines catches the ball. In full stride Williams attempts to occupy the same exact place on Heinz field that Ward is on. Ward got crunched between two Bengals. Just like in "The Highlander," one of my favorite movies, "There can be only one!" And it's Ward, who jumps up from a classic case of de-celeration trauma to hit a double bicep shot for the crowd, with a smile, of course.
FYI, that appears to be Madieu Williams over there behind the Bengals bench, yakking his guts out. I would surmise he overdosed on a Hines Ward sandwich.
Okay, this one is for Wex. I know how our publisher likes to talk with Troy -- the whole monk thing; you know what I mean. So here comes Troy, wearing a rain jacket and the hood pulled up over his head. At first glance, I swear it looks like it's not raining on him. He looks dry as a bone. I mean it. So I had to look closer. Yep, even the monkish one is getting rained on. No favorites here in Mudville.
I'm told that Willie Parker switched from synthetic gloves to real leather ones after the last of his fumbles. C'mon Willie, what's a sharp dressed man like you doing wearing "Pleather?" Remember, leather is forever.