Hail to the beef! All season long the Steelers played with the big stick of the league's most ferocious defense making like Congress and bailing out the offense. But Sunday's game against the Chargers showcased an offensive line wielding a club that made everybody sit up like a prairie dog testing the wind and take notice. This was a day that belonged to the hogs up front!
In honor of head hog Larry Zierlein and the rest of the crew, I'm going to direct my comments to them.
Justin Hartwig seems to be morphing into a facsimile of Jeff Hartings, Dirt Dawson, and Mike Webster. For a franchise that is dominated with a history of great linebackers, the lineage of great centers is often overlooked. Justin has the capability of extending that line.
In the first match-up, Justin drew several mano-y-mano assignments with Jamal Williams. Sunday was no different. I felt like the paleontologist in Jurassic Park when he first got a gander at a Brontosaurus, or one of those dinosaur critters: I had a front-row viewing of a classic Jurassic-era meateater match-up, a T-Rex throwing down with a T-Rex. The T-Rex named Justin downed the T-Rex named Jamal and, despite Justin coming off the field early with the doctor right before halftime, Justin cowboy'd up and answered the bell in the second half.
This is not to over look the play of Big Juicy (Chris Kemoeatu) and Darnell Stapleton. It was critical. Williams is so strong and has such good lateral movement, he can beat double teams if you don't get him giving ground. They put Jamal on his heels, and moving backward. Inside linebackers for the Chargers, Steve Cooper and Tim Dobbins, weren't nearly as effective when the three-axe handle sumo-size keester of Williams repeatedly ended up in their laps.
The three technique was a problem the first time around on plays requiring a double-team block between the guards and tackles. That's the guy parked on the outside of the shoulder of the guard when the Chargers went four-man fronts. Chargers DT's are taught to "Fireman Bill" it and stop, drop and roll into the double team like the seats of their pants were en flambé. This time around the post-man (the guards) got the 3-tech to stand up and the drive man (the tackles) did the monster mash on the hip of the defensive tackle. The difference is like night and day. This game was a primo example of what Chuck Noll preached about "Re-establishing the line of scrimmage on the other side of the ball."
The Steelers gave up one sack and that was early in the game. Eric Wedell, the San Diegan safety, lined up on the end of the line and Mewelde Moore had to come from the opposite side of the field to pick him up. Sack. Someone got his signals crossed. Either Ben didn't reposition MeMo, the hot read wasn't looking for the ball, or Ben simply didn't see him. That was the only snaggletooth in the passing game all day long. The Steelers flawlessly executed man, area, and wall protections.
Willie Colon owned Shaun Phillips. I would like to have heard the conversation between the two combatants when Phillips complained about Willie giving Phillips a "face wash" on an outer edge rush by Phillips. Willie also gets props for handing out a healthy dose of de-celeration trauma on a hit on linebacker Tim Dobbins. Willie needs one of those old bumper stickers on his butt that says, "Keep on trucking."
In the second half, Steve Cooper wackerated Willie Parker after a 4-yard gain. Then Cooper got up and gave an Arnold Schwarzenegger pose to the crowd. Down by 18 points and allowing a 4-yard run on first down (which is a win for any offense) may have been a big deal at that point for the Chargers defense. But you know, Coop, there are an awful lot of unemployed linebackers capable of making tackles 4, 5, or even 6 yards deep in the secondary.
I took up position behind the North end zone when the Steelers went for it on 4th and 1on the failed Carey Davis plunge. I was so close I could hear the calls by the defense. "A" gap penetration killed the play and the guards gotta know it, and I'm guessing most likely the backside cutoff. Deep into goal line on the backside, you have a path, or gap, that you're responsible for. Trust the path. You can't divert due to heavy hoofers lining up on your noggin. They might be ghosts, lining up inside but slanting out. Anticipate the count, hold your breath just before the hair trigger get-off, and explode like a cannonball shot out of a cannon…on your path! It's easy to talk about; much harder to do.
Willie Parker's 16-yard touchdown gallop came off the heels of a great double-team between Stapleton and Colon. Yep, that was Cooper making like a department store Santa Claus taking Christmas requests with Jacque Cesaire sitting in his lap. Funny, I didn't see any muscle poses after that run from Mr. Schwarzencooper.
The fact of the matter is with four new starters, an injured Parker for most of the season, and a quarterback with an injured shoulder for the entire season, the line has had a lot of pressure on it for a long time. But you know what happens to carbon under pressure for a long time: diamonds, baby, diamonds.