Monday, November 15, 2004

The Wheels on the Bus get Rims

If I had to guess, I'd put my money on William Green not wanting to play in this game. In the 2002 playoff game he got thrown around like a rag doll, and in every game since, Joey Porter has been in his grill talking smack, and coincidence or not, Green hasn't done much. And while I'd certainly prefer it if Porter were eligible to play in this one, it's good to know that guys like James Harrison can step up in his absence.

In case you were vacationing on Mars and missed it, the pregame festivities were almost more exciting than the actual game (at least for Browns fans; the score was still 0-0 after the pregame fight). Here's how the Post-Gazette tells it:
Cowher did not say much about the pregame fight -- Green tried to head-butt Porter, who then slugged Green in the mouth -- but he defended his linebacker.

"I don't know the circumstances, but I support Joey," Cowher said.
Cowher was also less than pleased with Gerard Warren's comments earlier in the week that he wanted to hit Roethlisberger in the head to rattle the young QB.
"We do our speaking on the field," said Steelers coach Bill Cowher, who ran off the field waving his arms and his hat toward a group of Steelers fans bunched in the stands near his team's exit.

"That's a reflection on their coach," receiver Hines Ward said of Cleveland's Butch Davis, whose record against the Steelers dropped to 1-8. "If their coach is going to allow players to sit there and threaten other guys, then there's a problem with that."
Is it bad when a player (Ward) has more class than a coach (Davis)? To hear Cowher offer unwavering support for Porter must drive guys like Jeff Garcia crazy. During the first drubbing the Steelers gave the Browns, Davis described his QB as "skittish" and "playing scared." Of course that had everything to do with the crappy offensive line, but Davis failed to mention them during the press conference. Is that a guy you want to play for? And here's another question, why does Davis still have a job? By the way, the Steelers won 24-10.

During the game it was good to know that the Bus is still able-bodied and capable of running for back-to-back 100-yard games. And as long as I'm speaking of guys stepping up, Willie "Hot Boy" Parker rushed for 44 yards on 8 carries and Russell Stuvaints had a fumble return for a TD. And let's not forget that Chris Hoke got his first career sack (which would have happened last week if McNabb didn't throw the pick to Farrior).

I must admit that going into this game I was wary of a letdown (a word that has been so overused this week that I hope to never use it again -- at least until next week, anyway), but thanks to idiots like Gerard Warren and William Green, by the time kickoff rolled around there was no fear of that. I was half-expecting Cowher to haul off and clothesline Butch Davis during pregame, but it never materialized.

And I think it says a lot about how this Steelers team is maturing when Richard Alston returns the opening kickoff deep into Pittsburgh territory and they hold the Browns to a field goal (of course Alston is the same guy who pulled a Benny Hill and toe-balled the kickoff out of bounds at the Browns two yard line in the second half, but the game was pretty much decided by then). And then, on the following drive, Roethlisberger throws an interception only to have the Pittsburgh defense force the Browns to punt. If this was 2003, I'm pretty sure it'd be 14-0 Cleveland, but in 12 months, apparently a lot can change.

For starters, the offensive line has done a complete 180 from a year ago. And while most of that was due to injuries, the fact that guys like Keydrick Vincent and Oliver Ross are playing so well is icing -- particularly when the end of the world was predicted when Kendall Simmons went down in training camp. Couple that with the fact that every week Plax seems to get better (when's the last time that guy dropped a pass), Roethlisberger seems to gain experience in dog years, and the defense inexplicably performs better than the game before, and that's how you start the season 8-1.

If Butch Davis wasn't such an egomaniac (and if he wasn't going to be out of a job soon), he'd probably have trouble sleeping at night knowing that he passed on Roethlisberger (in fact, he traded up on spot and lost a second rounder to get Kellen Winslow II) while he was still on the board. And that's not an indictment against Jeff Garcia, who's probably the toughest guy on that team, but for a Browns team that has clearly gotten a lot worse since their playoff appearance in 2002, getting an all-world tight end without having someone to get them the ball doesn't seem like the best use of draft picks.

But enough about that. In addition to LeBeau pressuring Garcia all day, Whisenhunt did a good job of utilizing the guys he had available. I like the idea of toss sweeps to Willie Parker a lot better than to the Bus, and Parker had a few good runs (now if he could learn to catch the ball coming out the backfield...). And maybe the plays of the game on offense were the run-blocking by the wide receivers. Plax had a big block on the Roethlisberger bootleg, and on another Big Ben scramble, Hines came back to the ball and put a ferocious block on Orpheus Roye (using the butt-first blocking method).

Defensively, Farrior got his requisite "at least one jarring hit" when he laid out Lee Suggs and forced a fumble. Deshea recovered the ball, but for the second week in a row, that was the only time I've heard his name. I'm not sure if teams are game-planning away from him, or that's just how the game unfolds, but I figure if I don't hear his name he's doing his job. Aaron Smith also had a big day: one sack, one forced fumble, and one "I had the fumble but I lost it." Of course the lost fumble turned out OK because on the next play, Smith knocked the ball out of Garcia's hand and Stuvaints ran it back for a TD (a quick aside: I remember thinking in 2003, that defensive turnovers seemed impossible to come by. In 2004, there so frequent guys like Stuvaints are getting touchdowns. To that I say, "good"). And the NFL defensive player of the week (in my very biased opinion) had two game-changing interceptions. Troy Polamalu caught an errant Jeff Garcia pass late in the first in the Steelers end zone and then picked off a Kelly Holcomb pass late in the fourth quarter to seal the win (the win wasn't really in doubt when he made the last pick, but it sounds more impressive).

By the way, what the hell was Kelly Holcomb doing in there? I can't wait to see Davis' press conference and hear him blame this loss on Garcia. If Davis thinks that Garcia is the only thing wrong with this offense, he should be fired this week -- maybe even today. Of course, he could have been trying to protect the dimunitive QB who has seemingly taken more sacks this year than David Carr took his first season with the Texans.

One last thought. While the offense and defense are clicking, special teams has a long way to go. And while it really doesn't matter in blowouts, there's going to come a time when the Steelers are going to need Jeff Reed to nail a field goal (and to be fair, he's done it before against the Dolphins in the hurricane bowl). Last week, Reed shanked a 33-yarder and yesterday Gardocki muffed the snap and Reed missed a chipshot. But as it stands, this team is 8-1, and I'd rather them have to work on the center/holder exchange on field goal tries than worry about how to find an offensive line that can block effectively.

Anyway, the Steelers got a big win in a hostile stadium (even though there looked to be a lot of Steelers fans at the game), and now have to play a Bengals team that's won two in a row. Hopefully Duce and Kreider will be back, but if not, I hope the Bus has at least one more game in him.

Oh yeah, some fat guy named Gerard Warren had a banner day against the Steelers. His line: 1 tackle. Stay hot.