As with Kellen Clemens earlier this year, the Steelers gave Troy Smith his first victory in his second career start and surrendered 180 yards on the ground to a offense absent its feature back in a lackadaisical 27-21 loss to the Ravens in M&T Bank Stadium.
With little riding on the game other than possibly determining who they might play this weekend and going perfect in the AFC North, the Steelers looked like they lacked purpose from the get-go, having Willie Reid put the opening kickoff on the ground, then allowing the Ravens offense go the remaining 35 yards for the first score. The defense, despite playing most of the starting unit for a good portion of the game, couldn't generate much in the way of pass rush and couldn't contain the ground game once again.
Many have been clamoring for Reid to get his chance and he did made us forget the one true saving grace of Allen Rossum: that he can, for the most part, hang onto the ball. Having said that, how the officials can initially rule that Reid's second overturned fumble was out before he was down was galactically stupid. I understand officials feel like they can be bailed out of bad rulings by replay, but there was no reason the Steelers should have been forced to waste a challenge on a play when Reid was lying on the turf with both knees down.
The running game didn't inspire much confidence in advance of the Jaguars slugfest that awaits Saturday night, with Najeh going only 27 yards on 12 carries. The lone offensive bright spot was Santonio Holmes, who didn't really have any business being in the game, but put up 98 yards on catches with a touch.
With Ben, Troy and Hines sitting to avoid injury, the team still couldn't avoid tweaks to key players, with Max Starks and Silverback having to leave early and their status unknown going into a short week.
The injury news isn't getting any better for the Steelers, but at least the team is reducing the chances that it'll get worse on Sunday by starting Charlie Batch in lieu of Ben Roethlisberger and his sprained ankle on Sunday in Baltimore.
Batch has only attempted five passes this season, seeing the most action in mop up time in the first game against the Ravens. Ben's MVP-type numbers have decisively quashed the "start Batch" murmurs but it's good to see Batch, who's been pretty quiet through the whole ordeal and has won all three games he's started the two previous years, get some deserved PT. He could probably get a starting job with a horrendous team, like, say, Baltimore, but he chooses to remain in his home town.
Troy Polamalu and Silverback likely won't play either, saddled as they are by nagging injuries themselves. Marvel Smith had surgery and by most accounts seems to be done for the year, so the MASH unit will be out in force against the Ravens.
Though the schedule won't be released until the spring, we know the ten opponents the Steelers will have in the '08 season outside of the division: Colts, Pats, Cowboys, Giants, Jiggywires, Chargers, Redskins (at the inaccessible shithole that is FedEx Field), Titans, Eagles and Texans. Yowzaa, that looks fun. So, the Steelers have anywhere between seven and nine games next year against playoff teams.
Nice symmetry, huh?
Ogden is a D.C. native and seems like one of the few less than completely contemptible players on the Ravens, for whatever that's worth. Once voted to 11 straight Pro Bowls, he's been stifled by a hyperextended toe on his left foot and was absolutely abused by Silverback in the first meeting between the Steelers and Ravens in Pittsburgh.
He'll be blocking for Musa Smith, who'll be getting his first career start in place of baby factory Willis McGahee, whose out with broken ribs and a depleted semen count. Kyle Boller and Ray-Ray didn't practice yesterday, but Bart Scott is saying, however sardonically, that he wants to send a box of chocolates to Hines Ward.
Don't fall for that Hines. Those felons are used to hiding shit in desserts. How do you think they sprung Jamal Lewis?
Starters Willie Parker, Aaron Smith, Ryan Clark and Dan Kreider have all gone down on injured reserve, as well as valuable reserve Jerame Tuman. Marvel Smith now may effectively be done for the year. Troy Polamalu's knee has been showing intermittent problems. Both starting receivers have missed extended periods of time. Altogether, they haven't been the healthiest squad this year and yet the division is secured with a week left to go in the season.
I'm not really sure what argument there is to play Troy and Ben Roethlisberger, hampered by a sprained ankle, for any extended period of time Sunday against Baltimore, especially in what are likely to be rainy conditions. I'm not even sure how wise it would be to give Ben more than a drive in the game, given the Ravens' penchant for taking cheap shots at him over his career, as was evident in the first matchup.
And considering that the team is likely in for another bruising game against Jacksonville the week after that, any amount of reprieve now would benefit them for that, as the Jaguars will likely rest starters this week with nothing to play for in Week 17.
One of the 18 or so vice presidents of D.C. Steeler Nation, Neena, has an update on the club field trip to Bawlmer Sunday, where the Steelers' reserves hope to extend the Ravens' losing streak to a franchise record 10 games.
Well, that was unexpected, but should it really have been? This is Cleveland, after all.
I hope this satisfies all those tardly folks who thought Derek Anderson got robbed by not getting the Pro Bowl nod in favor of Ben Roethlisberger. A
On a down note, this Ravens game the D.C. club is going to now looks to be a meaningless showdown between Charlie Batch and Troy Smith. Whatevs. I'll take it.
Willie Parker entered the game tops in the league in carries but it only took him one against the Rams to sideline him for the season.
Parker's fractured fibula marred what was otherwise a stellar game for the offense, in which Ben Roethlisberger put up his NFL record-tying third perfect passer rating of his career and Najeh Davenport put up 123 yards on a career-high 24 carries. Davenport and Carey Davis will likely be joined by Gary Russell as the only backs remaining on the roster going forward. Najeh ground it out well today, even doing what Willie had struggled to do: score touchdowns.
Santonio Holmes was a huge catalyst for Ben's big day, hauling in four catches for 133 yards, including an 83-yard catch on the Steelers' first offensive play. Nate Washington somehow put together his second multiple TD game of the season, scoring his second and third TDs in the last two games.
The defense still looked overmatched against the running game, giving up 85 yards on 12 carries to Steven Jackson. Meanwhile, Marc Bulger was only sacked once and under little pressure under the Steelers had amassed a two-score lead late in the game, all against a patchwork Rams' line. Deshea Washington, though getting beat for the Rams' last touchdown, played well down the stretch, applying a critical pressure on Bulger and breaking up several passes before Ike Taylor took a pick to the house.
Pittsburgh's blockers gave up another four sacks, having Ben be one of the many Steelers looking banged up by the end of the game. At one point, he, Najeh and Silverback were being attended to on the sideline. The durability issues have to be a concern for Davenport, with 24 carries being a career high and already seemingly wearing him down.
With the defense still reeling from the loss of Aaron Smith, now the offense must retool its own approach with Willie going down. The Steelers are now only a win over the Ravens away from taking the division, but find themselves with critical gaps on both sides of the ball.
Two of the prime offenders for the defense's meltdown Sunday, Travis Kirschke and Anthony Smith, are gone from the starting line-up, replaced by fellow reserves Nick Eason and Tyrone Carter who have turned in more stable play in their opportunities this year.
Usually stout Marvel Smith is scratched from the lineup with the back problems that have plagued him most of the second half of the season and caused him to be the most victimized blocker last week (giving Sean Mahan and Kendall Simmons a welcome reprieve). Max Starks, who shocked many with his adequate play filling in for Smith in bad weather games last month, gets to show his mettle on the dome turf against speed rushers. Fun fun fun.
Speaking of, Ben Roethlisberger is pulling the old quarterback cliche and taking all his lineman with him to Honolulu for the Pro Bowl, despite being the second most sacked quarterback in the league. Be sure to lose Mahan in a volcano or something while you're there, Ben.
All-around fuckhead Peter King is picking the Rams to upset the Steelers tonight. Hey, the Steelers lost to two playoffs teams now anybody can lick 'em. Fuck you.
First, naturally comes anger, most of it homicidal. Just look at the twisted visage of Scrappy there. I'll admit I'm a tad vocal (read: screaming myself hoarse) during games, but even that creeps me out. And few things do anymore. I've been to Baltimore, after all.
Then there's the more quixotic make obscene gestures stage of losing. Hey, it's grief. It's hard to cope with. Leave us alone.
Then, curiously, comes theft. Seen here is one of the few remaining 75th anniversary Steelers glasses the Pour House has left. We've even had to resort to using Redskins glasses, which makes beer taste 300 percent more douchey. Is there a direct correlation between the Steelers late season struggles and the vanishing glasses? You have blood on your hands, you thieves!
Anyway, here's the lone bright spot of the day. It's hard to make out, but the girl on the left is rocking a Jeff Reed jersey, which is the first I've seen this season at the Pour House, surprisingly. This makes her a hero to millions. No doubt that's the phone Jeff sends her pics of his dong.
Ben Roethlisberger might finally definitively shed his "game manager" rap with getting his first Pro Bowl nod today. Unsurprisingly, he's joined on the offense by the NFL's leading rusher, Willie Parker, and the only competent lineman we have for the time being, Alan Faneca.
Meanwhile, Silverback is a starting outside backer on the squad, signaling the league has quickly acknowledged his accent to complete badassery. And, Troy, as much as we all love him, got in on reputation. But if he continues to play like he did Sunday down the stretch, he'll have more than earned it in my eyes.
Anyway, yeah, personal accolades are great. Now lets win a goddamn game, mmmmmkay?
If there were any aspects of the Steelers game that I wouldn't have expected to be wringing my hands about this season, it would be the run defense. Now after being pummeled for 200-plus yards on the ground at home to Fred Taylor and MJD, they face fantasy bust Steven Jackson who is finally getting his legs, having peeled off 143 yards and a touchdown in a loss against Green Bay on Sunday.
If the D was vulnerable without the suddenly acclaimed Aaron Smith (seriously, more praise was heaped upon Smith in his absence by Greg Gumbel and Dan Dierdorf than I've ever heard when he's actually been in a game), that entire side of the front seven is looking spread thin with his replacement Travis Kirschke and backer Clark Haggans out this week.
Haggans replacement, LaMarr Woodley, may help to contribute to another element of the defense that has been sorely missed the last month: the pass rush. The defense as a whole seems to be playing back on its heels, eschewing an attacking style that was present the first half of the season.
With the last complete game having been the Monday night game against the Ravens, the Steelers are at a point where if they're going to do anything beyond backing into the playoffs, something at least approaching a commanding performance needs to be on display.
And, yeah, I know this is the old version of the Nike ad that has some Steelers player with a number 4 (presumably a practice squad punter) playing goal line defense. And what's with 93 and 41? We still have Joel Steed and Lethon Flowers? You would think Michael Mann would have been more circumspect with the details.
The defense missed a plethora of tackles and minus Troy Polamalu being the only one making plays, probably wouldn't have been able to come up with any stops against the Jags' punishing offense. The streak of games in which the Steelers have failed to sack the opposing quarterback, meanwhile, has been extended to three games.
Bruce Arians' stubborn refusal to run the ball when the game was in reach, despite Willie Parker gaining 100 yards on only 14 carries, coupled with a handful of drops by the receivers at critical moments - the most glaring of which was Hines Ward's wide open drop on the Steelers' penultimate drive of the first half - allowed the Jaguars to completely dictate the time of possession and tire out a defense that wasn't doing itself any favors.
The Steelers now much win out with two games on the road, the next of which in four days in St. Louis, to beat out the Browns for the tiebreaker in the division. With each passing week, it seems more questions than answers arise and the answers that do come aren't positive ones.
Starkey doesn't say it, but the clear culprit, unsurprisingly, is the offensive line.
A perfect example of a big-play breakdown occurred in the loss to New England, when the Steelers lined up on their 48, on the second play of the second half, trailing, 17-13.
"Oh, don't bring up that play," Arians said with a pained laugh.
Parker had just run for 18 yards. It was the ideal time to go deep. Arians called for a bomb to Hines Ward, set up by a fake screen and fake draw.
It went perfectly, except that Patriots tackle Vince Wilfork spun off a double team by Alan Faneca and Sean Mahan, shot up the middle and sacked Roethlisberger before he could unleash.
Ward was wide open for what might have been a 52-yard touchdown.
"Nobody was even around me, but Ben couldn't get the ball down to me," said Ward, whose longest reception this season is just 25 yards. "If we get that block there, the outcome of that game is probably different."
Arians said bad luck caused the sack.
"We had a problem with a protector stepping on another protector's foot. He lost his balance and got beat," Arians said.
Hard luck, huh? I have a pretty secure feeling that if Jeff Hartings were still at center, that play goes for seven. That Willie Parker's longest run of the year is 32 yards and that he only has two touchdowns falls on him as well as the line, but the same holes just aren't there.
Then there's the 38 sacks that Roethlisberger has taken, most in the AFC, that are causing him to miss Wednesday's and Thursday's practice, that have people worried whether he'll start Sunday.
Pitted against the Jiggywires defense this week, the big play paucity isn't likely to get snapped, but they might need it to.
It's essentially the same deal as with the preseason game with the Redskins, except you're on your own for wearing bulletproof vests. The reservations for the bus are full but about half the payments are still due to Neena by this Sunday.
- The bus will leave from the Pour House at 11 AM on Sunday, 12/30. The game is scheduled for 1 PM, but might be moved to 4 PM (we won't know that until the week prior).
- Some people have their own seats to the game, some are planning to scalp when we arrive, and a (growing) group of DCSN folks will go to a bar in Baltimore to watch the game. If you are planning to be a part of the bar group, please shoot me a quick e-mail so we have a sense of how many to accommodate.
- Payment for the bus MUST be received by Sunday, December 16th. About half of you have paid me - thank you! I will be at the Pour House to watch the Steelers/Jags game. Feel free to bring me your payment on Sunday. You may also pay via PayPal ( neenapkumar@
DCSN Vice President
The 2005 loss was a virtual sabotage by Tommy Maddox, who turned the ball over four times, including an overtime pick-six to Rashean Mathis to close it out. Last year, it was Ben, rushed back and unprepared, crumbling under a stout defense on the road.
Yesterday's announcement of Aaron Smith being lost for the season with a torn bicep rankled what seemed a favorable matchup for the defense. David Garrard has been better than any other starting QB in minimizing mistakes, but the Jags are a team that bases its attack on its running tandem of Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew. The loss of one of the league's unheralded top run-stuffing ends complicates the task for the NFL's 2nd ranked run defense against the 2nd ranked rush attack.
Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley are scheduled to return to practice today, but their status remains questionable for Sunday. A playmaker in the seconday and a pass rush specialit would have been just the thing for last week but getting these guys back into playing rhythm before the playoff comes around in going to be vital to the defense.
Though Jackonville is ranked 17th in total defense, they're 5th against the run and tied for 6th in points allowed. As was shown in Week 2 last year, they can be suffocating when allowed to crowd the line. Since New Orleans put 41 on them in a loss in Week 9, the Jags are 4-1, dropping only a hard-fought game on the road in Indy.
To me, this is the season's most important game, with the Steelers coming off their most lopsided loss of the season, hoping to maintain the lead in the division against a likely playoff team. A loss would not only presumably drop them into a tie with the Browns, but stoke the talk that the Steelers "haven't really beaten anybody."
Blogging chum Lt. Winslow was in attendance at Sunday's game in Gillette Stadium and sent over this pic of a Steelers fan in a pink Brady jersey surrounded by a festering horde of slavering Massholes. You get humor, bravery and douchenozzle toleration points all in one fell swoop, intrepid Steelers fan. I'm not entirely sure you're not Brett Keisel's father either.
The site, McFadden's in Foggy Bottom, is, unbeknownst to me, a Bills bar. Hey, fine, cool, neutral site, makes sense. About 20 or so Steelers fans arrived at the appointed hour, while there were only about three or four Patriots fans. After about half an hour of waiting, the count stood at about 30 Steelers fans and about seven Patriots fans. The Pats fans held fast to the bar and seemed a little reluctant to step up to the challenge they so forcefully laid down. Meanwhile, the Steelers fans were holding a few inter-fanbase games of beer pong and flipcup in anticipation of the Pats fans' testicles dropping.
Finally, with considerable coaxing, the Pats fans finally ventured into the back room to get the games going. A good many of us came adorned in our club shirts. Not me, however, because I'm woefully disorganized. But the rest came correct AND in full effect, son. They's versatile like that.
From there, it was a total washout. Four games of flipcup, four Steelers fan victories. None of them even remotely close.
The last of which resulted in us lapping the Pats fans, after which they retired to the bar from which they never returned after their brief but humiliating beating. We attempted to draw them back to the tabletop of competition but they bitterly claimed, "We just wanted to come here and drink." Ah, what spirit.
See, that's a game face right there. Pats fans are all well and good at jumping bandwagons, but when it comes to the core principles of fandom, those that involve drinking people under the table, they are utter failures. It's as though they're all really baseball fans with nothing better to do during the winter.
For the game on Sunday, the Pour House was expectedly mobbed. We were joined by the guy who does Blog N Gold for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, who was putting together a little featurette on our fan club for the paper's site. I'm sure he'll have to edited out a lot of creative swearing during the second half of the game.
Jobie looks a little disappointed as he packs away his Joe Greene pillow after the game, no doubt plotting to suffocate a few Patriots fans in their sleep with it. It's all right, Jobie, no jury would convict you.
It wasn't the usual demons that plagued the Steelers in their 34-13 blowout at the hands of the Patriots. Instead of the offensive line and special teams, which played adequately if unspectacularly, it was the heralded defense getting little to no pressure on Tom Brady in the second half and blowing coverage on deep pass plays.
A few days ago, I was forgiving of Anthony Smith's misguided guarantee. That forgiveness was predicated on his ability to not bite on every play action pass and get ridiculously out of position on the same play the Steelers pulled on the Bengals in the 2005 playoffs. The fact that it wasn't run cleanly - Moss bobbled the catch then threw a wobbly ball back to Brady - made Smith's inability to catch up with Jabar Gaffney all the more maddening.
Taking away a lot of the big plays, which were only, y'know, the difference in the game and all, the Steelers did a decent job in executing their gameplan on offense, moving the ball well on the ground with Willie Parker's 124 yards and long clock eating drives with precise passing.
Not that it can make a huge difference in a three touchdown game, but the officials weren't doing the Steelers any favors. Mike Vrabel jumped offsides at least two or three times on critical plays, including the last third down on the Steelers' opening drive, drawing nary a flag. Rodney Harrison practically got away with mugging Nate Washington on Pittsburgh's final drive into the red zone.
To take a more hopeful tack, the game resembled the Steelers first contest against the Colts in 2005, when Ike Taylor got burned by Marvin Harrison for a deep TD and Ben was still rusty coming back from injury. In this case, Polamalu was out and Santonio Holmes clearly wasn't 100 percent, missing large stretches of the game. If the Steelers get another chance at the Patriots, they can most assuredly put up a better fight.
Whether that rematch comes about is going to take some doing, including what will be at least one road playoff win. This was the first game this year the Steelers looked genuinely outclassed and lost by more than one score. Coming as it did in a game when the Steelers didn't commit a ton of turnovers or look entirely flat make be even harder to take. It wasn't their best shot they gave New England, but it was a good one, and it was nowhere near good enough.
Among those picking Pittsburgh:
Bill Simmons. Really? He's annoyed me lately with, among other things, his railing at announcers referring to Ben Roethlisberger as simply "Ben." Because nobody had fawning nicknames for Tom Brady. And I'm sure it has nothing to do with Roethlisberger having four syllables, which might slow down some commentary to have to say on each reference.
The world's biggest homer is suddenly backing down on his claims of only a month ago that it's worth jeopardizing players health if it means the Patriots have a shot at a perfect season.
Steelers (+10.5) over PATRIOTS
Adam from Indy writes, "Congrats! You and the rest of New England are rooting for the '04 and '05 Colts: record-breaking offense, iffy defense and no running game. The Colts, on the other hand, have had some tough losses, a great running game, a physical defense and they're completely out of the spotlight. Sound familiar?"
(Um ... yes ... yes, it does ...)
Peter King. Ah, ol' PK. Certainly the most nauseating of the picks. 4. Hines Ward's will to win. The dude leads the league in it. So, Romo leads the league in smiles and Hines leads the league in the will to win. I wonder what other unquantifiable categories King is tallying up in his head?
King Kaufman. Here's a writer I normally like and one who I don't feel like gets enough credit for his thoughtful commentary. Now he had to go and make me extra anxious about Sunday's game. Continue toiling in obscurity, King.
Dave Fleming. He writes a Page 2 feature offering 33 reasons why the Steelers will beat the Patriots. Number six is that they used to have Dermontti Dawson at center, which is only slightly less retarded than saying they're going to win because they currently have Sean Mahan at center.
Matt Ufford. Yes, my fellow blogmate at KSK is trying to jokingly jinx my beloved and his detested Steelers. Where's the esprit de corps, jarhead?
Tom Jackson. This one I don't have a huge problem with, as he seems like the smartest member of ESPN's pregame show, not that that's saying anything. And, look, he was the only one to call the Bears-Redskins game correctly. I feel much better.
Carter has played well in Polamalu's absence. It's hard to dislike the 10 points the defense has allowed in the three games without him. And, hard as it is to admit, this has been a pretty down year for Troy. That being said, his presence in the game creates an element of confusion that they're going to need to generate to have any hope of slowing Brady.
Last I checked though, Deshea Townsend will still be starting. He, course, had a nice pick-six in the Steelers last victory over New England in 2004.
Given the choice, I'd rather have a healthy Santonio for this game than Polamalu. As the video shows, a big threat receiver like Plaxico (notice how well he plays when it's not a playoff game?) is key to stretching their defense to open a running game that's been less than dominating the last month. In the Steelers last meeting with the Pats in 2005, Parker was held to 55 yards on 17 carries. People are making a fuss that he'll get a chance to run on dry FieldTurf again. The dry turf in the Meadowlands didn't do him a shitload of good. Fewer assurances of less fumbling and slipping and more output from FWP is going to go far in determining how far this team goes.
Thanks to FanHouse for the YouTubage.
An added wrinkle to the generic "Are the Pats gonna stay undefeated?" storyline for Sunday's game has come with a guaranteed victory pledged by receiver-mauling safety Anthony Smith.
As you might expect, ESPN has run wild with this, speculating about how it makes the Pats better. Because everything that happens makes the Pats better. Have to come back against shitty teams two weeks in a row? That just makes them better focused, 'course.
Naturally, the HGH-taking, twice voted league's dirtiest player, Rodney Harrison, has responded by saying he doesn't know who Anthony Smith is and who gotta earn your chops by making dirty hits for a decade before you start talking. Harrison may very well not know who Smith is, but I'm sure the Patriots receivers, if they've watch any tape, have an inkling and possibly a desire to avoid Anthony Smith. And if Hines Ward happens to light up Harrison the way he did to Ed Reed, that'd be cool, too.
The received wisdom coming into this game, or any game, is that any opponent of the Patriots has to catch them flat or not taking a game seriously to have any semblance of a chance. It's hard to believe they've been sleepwalking through three of their last four games, in which they're had to rally from 4th quarter deficits.
Certainly, it doesn't help to give any team added motivation, not that Belichick wasn't already likely feeding his team the usual no-respect bullshit the Pats delude themselves with to great effect, but I'm one of the few who doesn't think Smith's guarantee is an incredibly terrible thing. Emotion seems to be one element that's been largely missing from this Steelers team, what with vocal team leaders having departed in recent years. Smith has been one of the few to visibly show emotion this season, and even if it sometimes manifests itself in stupid penalties, is something they're going to need to get up against formidable opponents on the road.
Even with Sunday's late game against New England bound to be televised, I'd imagine people will be hard pressed to get seats, no less a solid purchase on standing room.
To gear up for Sunday, there's been a drinking challenge done thrown down between the D.C. chapters of Steelers and Patriots fans. It's 3-7 p.m. this Saturday at McFadden's in Foggy Bottom. Here are the details from D.C. Steeler Nation president Sterling Stone:
$10 for a wrist band. That band will get you all the draft beer you want (Yeungling, Miller, and Bud). Also, with said band, you will get $2 cocktails for the duration of our event. I don't think you can beat a $10 open beer bar!It's on like Donkey Kong.
The stipulation: you MUST take care of the bartender. I know this is common sense, but having been a bartender who worked many an open bar event, let me tell you... tipping seems to slip a lot of minds when the beer is free. So please, when you get a beer, throw them a buck or two. Knowing the staff like I do, the nicer you are, the nicer THEY are. Not to mention, I do work there, so they are hooking us up!
As it stands, depending on the crowd, we will have flip cup. We may also have a little NFL trivia.
Are the Steelers up to the task, even if it means likely without Santonio Holmes, Troy Polamalu and Marvel Smith starting or in top form? The answer, of course, is yes, with a lot of clauses. The first and most important would be not repeating the turnover-laden performance put in by the offense Sunday against the Bengals. The critical late turnover allowed the Pats to elude the upset from the Eagles and the Ravens. Four turnovers could make the game a laugher.
From there, it's the usual rundown of emphasis on pass protection and eliminating big plays on special teams. The Steelers secondary did an excellent job containing the Bengals' big three of Chad Johnson, T.J. Houshmandzadeh and Chris Henry last week and will most definitely need a reprise against Randy Moss, Donte Stallworth and Wes Welker.
In my opinion, Welker may be the most important threat to eliminate. With a lot of attention bound to be paid to Moss and Stallworth, Welker presents the quick slant routes that have hurt Pittsburgh all year, especially against the Broncos. The Steelers had a lot of trouble containing the then-unknown Welker in last year's season opener against the Dolphins. Welker led the Dolphins in receiving with 67 yards and contributed a 47-yard punt return to set up Miami's first score.
Even with the secondary's fine play against Cincinnati, there were throws there that Carson Palmer simply didn't make. The Steelers can't count on Tom Brady being that inaccurate with as little pressure that they applied on Palmer. LeBeau's "Amoeba defense" gives the quarterback a lot of confusing looks, but the Eagles and Ravens have clearly demonstrated that the key to stifling the Patriots attack is to hit Brady often.
The Bengals had ample opportunities to put the Steelers in a deep hole early on. After taking their opening drive for a score, the best the Bengals could muster with several short fields in the first quarter was a missed Shayne Graham field goal. From there, Hines Ward - now the Steelers all-time TD catch leader, four of which have come against Cincy this year- came up with a barrage of huge catches, even though Ben was hanging him out to dry with high throws all night.
The defense stood strong on the majority of the third and longs that they forced Cincinnati into. With little pressure being exerted on Carson Palmer, much of the secondary deserves credit for containing Ocho Cinco, T.J. Douchemandzadeh and skilled felon Chris Henry.
Of greatest note, and most encouraging, was the marked improvement in pass protection. For the exception of a sack for a safety that was negated by a defensive holding penalty, the line gave Roethlisberger plenty of time, which he used to overthrow open receivers and dangerously miss covered ones. I can't even get into Willie Parker's fumbleganza. Lose the sleeves or perhaps don't extend your arm out two in front of you on every carry. Something, please, Tiki Jr.
Certainly a more positive sign than the two previous weeks, the Steelers must play much more error-free football next Sunday if they hope to have a shot of beating New England. The Bengals had every chance to win convincingly and took none of them. For now, the Steelers can celebrate passing the win total of last year, jumping another critical game over second place Believeland and getting blockers to block, even if it is the Bungles.