My thoughts, for what they're worth

Whatever my thoughts are worth most weeks, this week they're running at about 70% value (yeah, yeah, you can only divide pennies so many ways), since my dish dropped the local channels 'round about the end of the third quarter. Which means that I missed just about the only good parts.

- I plainly didn't give Jacksonville enough credit, going into this game. I knew that they were winning games, that they had a pretty good offensive line, and that David Garrard was having himself a fine season. I didn't know how complete an offense they can run without much to speak of at the receiver positions.

- While I can appreciate the consternation in Jacksonville over Fred Taylor never having made a Pro Bowl, I expected him to be left out again this year. Not, though, in favor of Joseph Addai, a good player having a good season, but with fewer yards at almost a full yard less per carry in an offense that keeps the eighth man almost always out of the box. Taylor has never looked better than he did against what is almost always a very stout run defense in Pittsburgh. He and Maurice Jones-Drew get my nod for the best running back tandem in the league, hands down.

- That offensive line deserves more attention than it gets, too, especially Vince Manuwai and the other interior guys. It's not very often that I see the Mighty Casey Hampton pushed back off the ball.

- It has seemed to me that mixing in more outside runs has gone a long way to getting Willie Parker back on track the last couple of weeks. Please, refrain from deafening me with your "duhs."

- Oh, how I love watching Cedrick Wilson on a gadget play rifle a ball that never gets more than five feet off the ground. Shane Boyd-style, we call that.

- Ben Roethlisberger can do a little rifling of his own. That touchdown laser to Hines Ward wasn't just a case of fitting a ball into a tight window between defenders on the field, it was fitting a ball into tight window on the player's body where it wasn't draped by a linebacker. Those throws may be a little dangerous, but on the other hand, I can imagine that defensive players who don't work with the quarterback in practice would have trouble hanging on to an 800 MPH Howitzer shell coming right at them.

- It's a short list of quarterbacks in the league—or players in general, for that matter—who can match Roethlisberger's will to win. It's not always enough, but it's always obvious. Pointing out the magic of his dump-off to Parker for a 27-yard gallop in crunch time seems like old hat, at this point.

- The lollipop to Anthony Smith, on the other hand… now, there's a ball tailor-made for a pick.

- I'd hope to hear no more questions about what kind of impact a healthy Troy Polamalu really has on the field. Oh, I know I will… but a man can dream.

- Pittsburgh's secondary covered like gangbusters all the way up to December, and then seemed to fall apart. The pass rush also fell off significantly, but your guess is as good as mine as to which precipitated which.

- Really nice grab in not the easiest position by Nate Washington in a big spot for the tying score. The play is a perfect illustration of his value to the team; I have trouble picturing any of the other wideouts on the roster making that particular catch.

- Earlier in the season, Roethlisberger and Santonio Holmes connect on that deep ball in the first half. They've looked out of sync since Holmes hurt his ankle, and whether or not they can rediscover their mojo could go a long way towards determining the rest of the season (and post-season). Holmes doesn't particularly look slowed by the injury, so it's hard to nail down the issue. It may just be a matter of luck—those deep balls are not high-percentage passes for any tandem—but Roethlisberger hasn't looked as sharp on those passes of late, either.

- Going for it on fourth down when you don't have to… I love it. No, wait, it was the Jaguars doing it, so I hate it. But ideologically, I love it, and so must Jacksonville's playoff aspirations.

- Anthony Smith has made about a season's worth of young-player mistakes in the last month or so, but he is still a young player, and there's absolutely no reason to give up on expectations for his future. He's got all the potential in the world, if he can get his mental game right.

- So, ehhhh… what's the deal? Is the team tired? Are they no longer built for cold weather games? Have the injuries at safety and to Aaron Smith really been so devastating? Or is all of that just secondary to lackluster play from the offensive line for most of the season? Yeah, I'm leaning toward the last option, though I'm not sure whether it makes me feel better or worse in either the short or long term.

- All told, there's still time to ramp up for a playoff run. Obviously, expectations for the likely success of that run have been tempered by the last month or so of play, but the remaining schedule offers the Steelers a real opportunity to find their road legs against two very beatable opponents. I'd feel confident in their ability to beat any of the three likely opponents in the first round of the playoffs—even Jacksonville—if they pull things together and look good against the Rams and Ravens. The short week adds a troubling element for a beat-up team, but on the flip side, the extra time off won't hurt in preparing for a physical division matchup against an opponent with nothing to lose to close out the season.

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