View From The Sideline

After Craig Wolfley finished walking the sidelines for the Steelers Radio Network, he penned these observations for SteelCityInsider.com:

To quote the best blues guitarist of all time, "The house is a rocking," and indeed Stevie Ray Vaughn had it right until Bernard Scott took the air out of Heinz Field with another kickoff return for a touchdown. After that, the crackling pre-game intensity that I was feeling from groundhog level never felt quite the same. But here's what I saw:

* When Jeff Reed boots the ball it's a madman's sprint down the field. Lane assignments and collecting information as you sprint are the two biggies that dive bombers have to understand. One has to have little regard for one's own personal safety, or for anybody else's. But going kamikaze alone won't get the job done.

As one, the forward attackers must "squeeze" to the ball while maintaining their gaps with speed, reading the blockers, and executing their techniques. It might be high speed-oriented, where the ball is to the other side of the field and they can use their speed to get around the opposing blocker and avoid engaging the enemy while maintaining their lane. Or it might be crash-oriented, where you run over the man, but that's a risky affair and it depends on where the ball carrier is and how close you are to the impact zone. But it can never be a "one-for-one" body exchange. That's a win for the return team. Engage, disengage and squeeze to the ball, all at a high rate of speed. It appears the Steelers had too many engagers and not enough disengagers. Chuck Noll had a saying for those who couldn't get off blocks. "Don't be held" were his very terse words, and in some cases they were followed up by a benching or worse.

* My heart sank a bit when I saw Doc Bradley motion for Troy Polamalu to follow him into the locker room. Troy picked up his helmet and took it with him, which always tells you the player doesn't expect to return. Bad mojo.

* Trai Essex has to keep his inside leg forward and not step back as he did on a twist stunt with the two inside tackles. When a guard steps back with the inside foot, he completely exposes the hip of his center, which means that the center gets picked. The penetrator can now get upfield and sack-erate, and the man coming around generally has the green light to pillage in the backfield. Fundamental basics are the same game after game.

Defensive lineman Jonathan Fanene won the Pacific Rim Player of the Game Award in my book. Last year, Fanene looked like a stud who didn't know what was going on during the game, but this year he looked like a powerhouse who knew exactly what to do with that athleticism: two sacks, two tackles for loss, and a constant pain in the butt for the O-line.

* Nick Eason has done a solid job holding down the defensive end position in the absences of Travis Kirschke and Aaron Smith. On one Cincinnati run in the 4th quarter, a 3rd and three, Eason stuffed the tackle, extended his arms, disengaged from the tackle and slid down the line of scrimmage on the backside to make the hit on the ball carrier – textbook Dick LeBeau 3-4 end play.

* Bengal's linebacker Brandon Johnson was another guy who had a great game. In the second half, Ben Roethlisberger snuck over center for a first down and Johnson began pulling Ben's leg. I was glad to see Chris Kemoeatu give Johnson a whack, which dropped him to the ground. You've got to take care of your own, and Chris' whack was all the more satisfying when one hears of the complete lack of class exhibited by Johnson after the game in the Bengals' locker room with the press walking around.

* Lamar Woodley's bull rush on Bengals offensive tackle Dennis Roland, when the Bengals were backed up in their own end, was spectacular. I'd positioned myself under the goal posts and had a close-up view of the brutal high-powered bull rush that ended with a Carson Palmer sack at the two-yard line. But Lamar would be wise to add some moves to his game rather than using just raw power. He should break out some old Kimo von Oelhoffen tapes and learn the club. Woodley finished off the sack with a Bruce Lee sidekick that lacked full extension, as I told him in the locker room after the game. Lamar sheepishly pointed out that he didn't want to pull a groin muscle. He's wising up.

* I know Silverback shouldn't have done it, I know that I always espouse the Chuck Noll maintain-your-cool and "beat them on the scoreboard" mantra, but after seeing all the chippiness, and the last shove in the back by Bengals offensive tackle Andrew Whitworth on that last drive, it felt good to see James Harrison smack Whitworth in the grill one time. I know I'm wrong, but I'm being truthful. I never liked the Bengals anyhow.


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