Under Further Review

The ongoing drama between the Pittsburgh Steelers and the CleveBrownies resumed for the 115th time at Heinz Field on Sunday. The Steelers have won 12 in a row and enjoy a 60 to 55 advantage. Here are my notes:

Themes of Steelers Angst Redux:

*Do You Live in a Barn?: The Steelers left the door flapping in the wind all afternoon, seemingly unwilling to close it, lock it, secure it. They led by 14 in the second quarter, then surrendered a kick return for a touchdown. They led by 10 in the third quarter, then committed three consecutive turnovers, two directly following Steelers' pass-rushers strip-sacking Derek Anderson deep in Cleveland territory. Not until Ryan Clark intercepted the hapless Anderson was victory secured.

*Pick & Kick 6's: For the fourth consecutive game, the Steelers gave up a return for a touchdown. The elusive Joshua Cribbs took back a kickoff, his third against the Steelers over the past four seasons.

*Who's Carrying the Rock?: Is Mewelde Moore now the Steelers' closer? Since when is the 3rd down back called upon to eat the clock? Since Willie Parker has butterfingers and Rashard Mendenhall seems to be apprenticing for Stagno's Bakery; that's when.

*Skippy's Cited: For the second time this year, Jeff Reed's been cited for his behavior whilst inebriated. At least this time, he was within staggering distance of the venue where he converted both of his field goal attempts a few hours previous. In all seriousness, though, either Skippy's a dullard, or this is yet another example of an otherwise intelligent person doing dumb things. Even the imbeciles among us know that physically posturing toward a police officer is an invite to getting your butt kicked. Particularly in light of the tragedy that has been visited upon the Pittsburgh Police Department this year, let's please not suggest that this matter is about anything but Jeff Reed's stupidity, arrogance, and yes, alcoholism. That said, had Skippy made those two kicks in Chicago, public opinion may have still been on his side. As is, the Rooneys will not take kindly to this embarrassment of their organization. As much as Reed is unparalleled as a Heinz Field kicker, the combination of these episodes plus his refusal of their contract offer in the days prior to the opener may well grease the exit out of Pittsburgh for Mr. Jeff Reed after the '09 campaign.

The positives:

*Is 4th Quarter Meltdown cured?: The defense turned in a solid effort, allowing one touchdown on the afternoon, and no 4th quarter points. Lest we get overly excited, let's remember-it was the Browns.

*Air Pittsburgh: The Steelers' passing game came up huge. The ageless Hines Ward and Super Bowl hero Santonio Holmes each eclipsed the century mark in receiving yards, the peerless Heath Miller caught 5 balls, one for a touchdown, and rookie speedster Mike Wallace covered the gridiron both receiving and running.

*No Sweed Flu Drops: Of course, Limas Sweed was inactive for the game, not awarded a hat by Coach Tomlin.

Inside the numbers, and other notes:

* The Steelers continue to run at least 3 wide receivers on approximately half of all offensive plays. On the first half drives that produced consecutive touchdowns, the Steelers ran out of these multi-wide sets exclusively, and continued to do so on their final drive of the half, yielding 19 consecutive plays with 3 or more wides. The set selection validated Bruce Arians fullback philosophy, running a 2-back set on only five plays. The Steelers lined up a trio of tight ends on 13 plays, a full dozen of these in the second half, six on their final possession.

* "Further review" is in order on first down from the Steelers 27, less than 3 minutes remaining. Directly after having completed a 3rd down pass to Holmes from the shadow of the goalposts, one would have thought it time to keep the ball on the ground and move the clock. The Steelers came out in a double tight-end set, with the added oomph of a fullback-and proceeded to throw downfield to Miller for 19 yards. Arians has been criticized heretofore for "turtling" with the lead, and while the play did work, I still opt for running the ball in this spot.

* There's some alarm as the Steelers' Oktoberfest continues with three straight victories, that the Steelers seemingly "play down" to the level of their opponent, not winning by scores of 59-0 as was the case in Foxboro yesterday. These wins, however, still yield an addition of "1" to the W column, no more, no less, and are reminiscent of a number of Steelers victories during the glory years of the '70s. Yes, there were no shortage of errors, and the lesser opponent hung around some, but in the end, the Black & Gold came out on top. Steeler Nation, this time around, is still suffering Post-Traumatic Stress symptoms from the September that brought this squad a pair of losses in games that were seemingly in hand.

Steelers at the 3/8 Pole - looking ahead:

* After the debacle in Paul Brown Stadium three weeks ago, the Steelers found themselves a full two games behind the undefeated Baltimore Ravens, and trailing the Bengals by a game as well. The Ravens suffered a 3rd consecutive heartbreaking loss yesterday, again replete with a "Goat of the Week" as kicker Steve Hauschka failed his teammates, pulling a 44-yard field goal at the final gun. After six games, the Steelers now lead the Ravens by a game, and are tied with the Bengals, losers as well on Sunday, atop the AFC North.

* Is this Steelers offense the most prolific in club history? At least their Offensive Coordinator though, understands that the stats are dubious when not translating into points scored, and last we checked the Steelers offense, despite their statistical prowess, did not score enough points to win two of their six outings to date (winning another while scoring only 13 points), and when needing to protect an 11-point lead in Cincinnati, managed but one cumulative first down on a pair of 4th quarter possessions.

* The undefeated MinnieVikes (another Copeism) come to town Sunday, and while a Steelers win places yet another marker in the "W" column, the more vital challenges come once the month of October is in the rear-view mirror. Should the Steelers prevail this weekend, Steeler Nation faces a Hobson's choice per SBI (Steelers Best Interest) in the Baltimore-Denver contest on Halloween. Is SBI best served by a Ravens loss, helping to secure the Division? Or does SBI dictate a Denver loss, as the undefeated Broncos are now a challenger for a first-round bye, even if they eventually lose to the Steelers?

* On that topic, the NFL schedule-maker does his best to do in the Pittsburgh Steelers following their bye. The Steelers travel to Denver for a Rocky Mountain Monday Nighter, then back to Pittsburgh for perhaps the season's biggest game, a rematch with the Cincinnati Bengals. In both '05 and '06, the Steelers played Monday nighters on the road, followed by a home match with the Bengals. The Steelers lost all four games. The old adage about ignoring history; keep it in mind going forward. The Steelers close the month with a Sunday Nighter in Baltimore.

For more by Dave Villiotti, check out We're From the Town with the Great Football Team: A Pittsburgh Steelers Manifestoas well as We Cheer the Pittsburgh Steelers: The ‘70s, available at both www.amazon.com and www.lulu.com

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