Just in from Ice Station Zebra ...

Craig Wolfley, the Steeler Radio Network's sideline reporter, thawed out last night and wrote down his observations from Thursday night's chiller. The Wolfman breaks down the Pittsburgh Steelers' win over the Cincinnati Bengals.

While I took up my post at "Ice Station Zebra" prior to kickoff Thursday night on the sidelines of Heinz Field, I observed a special moment that really gave me the warm fuzzies despite the wind chill that took the pre-game temp to 19 degrees. And it was a real temperature that I was feeling; not the rest of the crew in the heated booth. But the Steelers and the NFL honored Dick LeBeau for his 50 years of playing and coaching. I watched as his defensive unit took a post on the sideline and paid homage to the man they call "Coach Dad." Pretty cool stuff.

If this game was a horse race, then somebody laid a wire across the track. This looked like a Thursday game after a Sunday. Both teams sputtered some in the beginning like a snow blower getting it's first crack at winter after a long layoff. Thursday night games should be outlawed by the NFL. They are tough on the body, especially so for the double-digit years of service guys. And the cold didn't help the Steelers heat up any faster.

It's obvious from the get-go that Bengals offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski got in Ryan Fitzpatrick's ear and whispered "When we pass, get rid of the ball as fast as you can." With two newbies taking up the left side of the line, sporting a grand total of 6 NFL game snaps, and facing the Silverback and Diesel Keisel, it looked to be a long night for the Fitzpatrick. I'm thinking Coach Dad is going to come after those two, showing so many multiple looks and movement that their head will spin like they were understudies in "The Exorcist." No such deal appeared in the first half as the two six-snappers added to their total without any gaffes. Fitzpatrick took longer taking the snap than he did holding the ball while passing, and he did a good job of hard counting. The humorous (they are only funny after a win is safely tucked away) was Chris Hoke jumping off-sides. Just at the moment of the hard bark from Fitzpatrick, Larry Foote slapped the rump of Hoke to let him know which way to go on a slant. Hokie was not pokey in a hair trigger start that he couldn't pull off. Ingest a little less caffeine before the game, Hokie.

Speaking of Foote, whom Coach Dad refers to as an instinctive player, he was impressive. He shot through gaps and disrupted the Cincy run game all night long. I love watching his instant acceleration when he reads his keys and attacks the line of scrimmage. He plays the game with an unbridled enthusiasm to assault anything in an opposite color jersey.

Troy Polamalu spent most of his first quarter first downs lining up on the end of the line of scrimmage. On the opening drive, Troy shot down the line and tackled Cedric Benson for no gain. Second down he was in the box and fired into the line to saw a pulling guard in half and play his gap so the tackle was made by the next man in line, James Farrior. Third down and he dropped into coverage. Gadzooks, what can't this man do? In the second quarter he started from off, then blitz. Watching the interplay of the chess match between Bratkowski and LeBeau was great fun.

At the halfway point in the game, I was glad I double-dipped on the sweet potatoes with the walnut crunch in pre-game. They stuck to my innards all night long.

Read it and weep all you O Line haters. The sack line for the Bengals read a big fat zero. Yeah, I know all about the fact that the lead sacker Robert Geathers and his monster two and a half sack total checked out during the game with an ankle injury, but I'll quote the "Turk in the Booth" who says if you can't lump up the stiffs, then you can't play in this league. The stiffs got lumped.

Which made the running game, or lack of success in that area, all the more confusing. The seal blocking (two linemen working in a double team fashion on a down man and a ‘backer) on the backside alternated between good, very good, and very poor all night long. At times, Cincy just guessed right and had more people than the Steelers could account for. At other times, it was just bad technique where there wasn't enough emphasis on moving the down man back to the second level and catching that guy up in the wash. But I really dug Bruce Arians using Sean McHugh as the fullback in the second half. He drilled guys from the backfield. Maybe the running start agrees with him.

Gary Russell's first NFL touchdown was beautiful. He held the ball high and tight into the end zone, and all the way back to the bench. There wasn't even a second thought about spiking the ball. That ball will be on Gary's fireplace mantle in time for Thanksgiving.

Aaron Smith served up a hefty dose of butt-whupping. Even with all he's dealing with, he's just a monster of a man, and he delivered a monster of a performance. "True Grit" should be the title of Aaron's autobiography. He knocked down more Fitzpatrick passes than Tunch "Spilkin" knocks over coffee cups. Trust me, that's a lot.

The Ben-to-Santonio-to evisceration by Chris Crocker on a 6-yard slant in the second half brought out the most hostile John Norwig I've seen yet. John is the best trainer in the NFL, and he loves his guys. While Santonio was doing the John Wayne walk off the field with John holding Holmes up, he lit up Ref Ron Winter with an earful. By the by, that's a pretty good last name for the ref last night, wouldn't you say?

Reporting from "Ice Station Zebra," this is sideline bureau Chief Craig Wolfley, s-s-signing off.


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