Willie Parker rushes for nearly 100-yards, Big Ben comes out of the gate like a thoroughbred at the Kentucky Derby, rookie wide receiver Mike Wallace compiles more than 100 receiving yards, Ike Taylor defenses four passes, Ochocinco looks like a possession receiver before becoming "Ocho-no-show" in the end zone again, Cedric Benson injures no one, Carson Palmer's passer rating looks more like my test scores in math class, and the "Esca-loser" was primed to escort all the broken-hearted Cincinnati fans out of Paul Brown stadium after yet another dominating performance by the Pittsburgh Steelers. So, what happened?
* On the fourth play of scrimmage for Parker looked like Fast Willie of yester-seasons. Taking the handoff, Willie hit crazy legs gear as he swept around the corner for a 24-yard gain. No dancing, no hesitation, nothing but acceleration and good blocking. Today's the day, I thought. Fast Willie's back in town.
* David Johnson, the big rookie TE from Arkansas, was inserted into the lineup to provide a little more bang for the running game. He did just that on a couple of runs in the first half. This young man can block anybody that I've seen thus far. He's a natural flat-backer who rolls over his front foot and leads with his helmet just about chin level at a stand up linebacker. And he moves people.
* On the second drive, Ben Roethlisberger again shows why he's the best at making chicken salad out of doo. From the Bengals' 27, Ben drops back and gets late pressure from a fast-closing Robert Geathers. Ben's warning beepers go off in his head and he sprints toward the line of scrimmage. Geathers has him in his gun sights. At the last possible second, Ben breaks left like an F-16 fighter pilot in an evasive maneuver with a hot unfriendly on his tail. Geathers goes airborne and gets nothing but air as Ben pulls up and drops a sweet pass off to check-down Willie, who lights the afterburners for a 27-yard touchdown run. I've watched and played a lot of football, and that move by Ben made me choke down three Peanut M&M's without crunching.
* It's now 4th-and-4 for the Steelers from the Bengals' 35. It's too close to punt and too far for a swirling, gusty, field-goal attempt. On one hand, the Steelers have been having their way with the Bengals defense, and the Steelers D has put it to Carson and company the entire first half. I'm thinking, ‘Yeah, roll the dice.' The Steelers go for it and the Bengals begin their rally.
* I also apparently jinxed Max Starks. Antwan Odom got the corner and threw the uppercut on Max, drawing a flag from the ref. If Max had just taken one more step with his punch on the corner widening the man, he wouldn't have had to hold Odom. Be as it may, he who has never held can cast the first stone. Silence from this end.
* The second half screw-up that resulted in a pick six for the Bengals was a slant route that had Santonio Holmes running a go route. Sight adjustment, hand signs, whatever, that was a killer. Obviously, no one is pointing fingers, but the result is the Bengals fans came alive. And so did the Bengals.
* I feel for Limas Sweed. I have never caught (or dropped) a touchdown pass, but I've been guilty of costing the Steelers a victory by other nefarious means. The real question is: Can he overcome a play like that? In my own case, when I had a bad outing, I knew I had to get better or face unemployment. I chose to get better. I also had the opportunity to get a second chance, and worked as hard as I could. With the development of Mike Wallace, I don't know if Limas gets the second chance, barring injury, particularly with a veteran such as Shaun MacDonald waiting in the wings. Sweed is a good guy. He works very hard in practice; he's disciplined in his work ethic throughout the week. But this is a results league. And as a former coach of mine used to say, "The train may only come around once."
* Let me play Master of the Obvious and say the truth of the matter is that the Steelers aren't the same defense without Troy Polamalu. Troy can bring more disruption to a game than sugar snacks at a 10-year old's sleepover party. Whereas before Troy always had to be accounted for by the opposing QB in his pre-snap, and Troy was always so good disguising his intentions, the cat-and-mouse game was fun to watch and it was far more disturbing for the QB. With Troy having been a former roommate of Carson's at USC, I think it helped that Troy could pull Jedi-knight mind melds on Carson in the past. There's no truth to the rumor that Carson was wearing tin foil on his head under his helmet to keep Troy from ESP-ing him.
* The Bengals are using more max-protection (keeping backs in and tight ends to help pass protect), and Palmer is checking it down to unload the ball quicker. Though I didn't have much respect for the Bengals' O-line coming into the game, I have to say they are doing a pretty good job of keeping Palmer clean.
* The running game slowed down in the second half. Ramon Foster went into the game at tight end in place of David Johnson, who geeked up his ankle. Playing on the backside of the run, Foster couldn't cut-off the backside rusher. Foster needs to be conscious of gaining ground with his inside foot on takeoff. All he did was pick the foot up and set it down in the same place, gaining no ground which gave the defender a 2-step advantage as he beat Foster to the inside gap. And that was a major reason the running game went to pot in the second half. You won't cut anybody off in this league if you continue to do that. The further out from center, the more ground you have to gain on that first step.
* Benson got lucky. That 23-yard touchdown was the right call at the right time. The Steelers were in a sub-package that had run-stopper Big Snack on the sidelines. Potsie Farrior was outside of James Harrison play side, and the Bengals had a stretch play called. Potsie had to play the contain block, the Silverback had a ram call that sent him inside and had Brett Keisel coming behind him in a twist stunt. LaMar Woodley was playing MLB and all the Bengals had to do was reach block and wall off the outside. The perfect call against that largely stand-up, morphing defense. LaMar was caught in the wash and it was 23-skidoo all the way to the end zone.
* What a shame to have dropped a game that was essentially all Steelers until the second half. And I was so looking forward to watching the Esca-loser do its thing, too.