The national buzz was overwhelming for Pittsburgh winning, and winning big,
in Denver this weekend.
Have people watched the Broncos over the last 10 years? Do you realize the genius of Mike Shanahan? Do you know he's won five straight after a bye week? This is a good, strong-willed football team that got into a rut. If you thought the Broncos were going to curl into a ball after getting shellacked by the Chargers at home, you don't understand history or the make-up of this team.
You really should've seen this coming under Shanahan.
Or as Dré Bly told us yesterday, "We lost three straight games. We lost a few in a row at home. We needed that win. We had to have that win."
Bly helped changed the game with an early interception on Ben Roethlisberger. The veteran cornerback saw the win and productivity develop during practice, with Shanahan and Jim Bates making changes during the bye week.
"I think we improved stopping the run," Bly said. "I think we trust each other more and we are getting guys disciplined in their gaps. That's what we did against Pittsburgh. We flew around. We were much more aggressive. And that's being aggressive in stopping the run and the pass. When you blitz and force the quarterback to make bad decisions, that's when plays are made. That's why I feel like we were successful the first couple of weeks. You cannot sit back and let teams do what they want to do. We applied the pressure and set the tone Sunday night."
Elvis Dumervil burst through a double-team to sack and strip Roethlisberger in the first half. Tim Crowder recovered and waltzed into the end zone to make it 21-7. That sequence typified the Denver effort.
One thing that truly played into Denver's hands was Pittsburgh's backwards game plan. The Broncos have been awful stopping the run this season. Willie Parker is a great player. So what does Pittsburgh do? Bruce Arians and Mike Tomlin start chucking it around.
"We were every surprised how they came out and threw like they did," Bly said. "The Steelers are a hard-nosed football team. They have one of the best backs in the game and a great offensive line. We were expecting them guys to run."
With Travis Henry in check thanks to the Steelers' stout run defense, Shanahan needed Jay Cutler to play well. The second-year quarterback was great and most especially clutch, throwing three touchdowns and making key throws to set up Elam's game-winner. And what was impressive was how he bounced back after floating an interception to Larry Foote. Cutler showed great poise on the ensuing drive, finding Brandon Marshall and Brandon Stokley, checking down to Selvin Young on a key 3rd-and-14 screen leading to drilling Tony Scheffler in the end zone for a score.
Shanahan told the Denver media Monday that Cutler, "took two steps forward."
"Jay is going to be one of the best quarterbacks in the game," Bly said. "He has all the tools. He has a cannon for an arm. He can scramble. He can run. Jay came up big for us last night."
The AFC West is fascinating this season. We've seen the signs of San Diego living up to its talent and potential and going on a run. Then there are the coaching questions. The Chiefs are a tough nut to crack. They have major holes but they have four wins behind a stout defense with a different hero every week and a coach who can motivate. It's not easy playing the Raiders, vastly improved under Lane Kiffin. They won't make the playoffs, but they aren't a cupcake anymore.
And then there's Denver, not devoid of issues itself. Brandon Marshall was arrested on suspicion of DUI (when he dedicates himself, he's going to be great, but Marshall needs to grow up on the practice field and off the field). Walker, the team's best receiver, is out for the foreseeable future. Henry could be facing a year-long suspension. Bly told us he separated his shoulder. Bailey is hurt. And the defense has to "bring it" every week.
But Denver can beat Green Bay on Monday night in what should be a great game. This team is strong enough and most especially resourceful enough thanks to great coaching to march to the playoffs.
Schein's nine nuggets
1.) The Colts lost all three division road games last season. After the win last night, the unblemished Colts have now swept through the division on the road in 2007 ahead of three rematches in Indy. What Tony Dungy and company are doing is ridiculously impressive. Center Jeff Saturday told me he agreed with my take that the Colts are more well-rounded than at any point during the Super Bowl run last year.
What was Jack Del Rio doing running Maurice Jones-Drew wide on fourth-and-1 at midfield with a few minutes to go in the half? I loved going for it, but run up the gut. And when Quinn Gray replaces an injured Dave Garrard, how about running the ball with Drew and Fred Taylor? Speaking of odd ...
2.) I love Ken Whisenhunt, but I don't remotely understand his logic of playing Anquan Boldin at quarterback late in the fourth quarter on a two-point conversion to tie the game in Washington. Kurt Warner just drove the ball down the field brilliantly. The Washington defense and run game was wretched in the fourth quarter. The Skins were worn out. Arizona had all the momentum. And you have Boldin in the shotgun to execute on a run/pass option? Come on! LaRon Landry got his paws on the pass. Warner simply had to throw that ball. Let Boldin do what he does best, run pass patterns. Speaking of weird ...
3.) Even more strange was Brian Billick's decision to throw with Kyle Boller three consecutive times from midfield beginning with second-and-1 on Baltimore's final drive in Buffalo. And this in a game Willis McGahee dominated. It was illogical.
But then again, Baltimore seemed to be lost all day with 11 penalites.
4.) Dewayne White played in Tampa to start his career. He never really got a chance to be a full-time starter. Now, the defensive end is thriving in Motown for the suddenly 4-2 Lions.
As a free agent, he joined his old position coach Rod Marinelli, who left a year before White to head up the Detroit Lions. Now White is having a really strong campaign.
Marinelli and White stuck it to their former employers this weekend. Marinelli's defense, forcing key turnovers when Tampa was knocking on the door, changed the game. White had three sacks and Jon Kitna asked him to present Marinelli with the game ball in the locker room.
"Whatever Coach Marinelli says, he believes in it and he is going to follow through with it," White said. "And you cannot help but follow the truth. When he says something, it works. You buy into everything he says. And that's what motivates you. You know he helps you win. He told us this week that if we have a good game as a front four, we'll win. Sure enough, we did, we won.
5.) Tom Brady is playing at a different level than every other NFL player. That first half at Miami was just perfect. And that one-handed touchdown catch by Randy Moss, while double-teamed, was beautiful.
And don't wonder aloud why Bill Belichick pulled Matt Cassell after a fourth-quarter pick and put Brady back in. He's trying to win a game. Did you see what happened in Houston? On that note ...
6.) If you think there is a quarterback controversy with the Texans, you aren't paying attention. Give Sage Rosenfel all the credit for the comeback from 32-7 that ultimately fell short. That's his job, to play when Matt Schaub gets hurt. Tennessee was in a lot of prevent and Rosenfels took advantage. It was a great effort but let's not make it more than it was.
7.) The Giants are red hot, winners of five straight. They were dominant in the trenches on both sides once again, stuffing San Francisco.
Sam Madison broke down the difference for us Monday.
"Not having Strahan in camp hurt us a little bit," he said. "He is such a good player and we missed his leadership. But once he got himself in shape, and he and Osi got on a role together, it has changed everything for us. It has truly helped everybody in the defensive backfield, especially me and Aaron Ross."
8.) I'd get a short list ready for a new head coach in St. Louis. I'd get that list ready right now.
9). Al Davis better check the deed. Chiefs safety Jarrod Page owns the Raiders. The Kansas City defensive back, and Oakland native, picked off Daunte Culpepper at midfield on a potential game-winning drive to seal the Chiefs' big win in the Black Hole.
Page, who has had a knack for enormous plays against his hometown club, gave Herman Edwards a lot of credit for motivating the club to its surprising 4-3 start.
And Page was thrilled that Priest Holmes got back in an NFL game.
"Anytime you see a guy work as hard as does, and to see him get out there and have it pay off and do something big to contribute to the win, that's huge," Page said. "We were all excited to see him get out there. We've been seeing the work he has done since training camp."
Interesting nugget: Page was drafted by major-league baseball teams three times. He was a fifth-round pick by the Brewers out of high school, and was then selected by the Rockies (who he is rooting for in the World Series) and the Angels. When pressed, he hasn't ruled out baseball again at some point. But Page loves playing football for the Chiefs. Could the Royals call?
Adam Schein hosts the Afternoon Blitz on Sirius NFL Radio with Solomon Wilcots and Jim Miller from 3-7 ET. His Scheintology columns appear daily and his video NFL picks reports appear every Friday during the season on FOXSports.com.