Monday, November 29, 2004

Winning Ugly, game 2

"As bad as Washington looks on television, they look even worse in person." That's how my buddy Andy described watching the Steelers win their 9th straight game at the expense of the Redskins. I also had tickets to the game, but for reasons that are too embarrassing to mention here, I'll only say that I was "unable to go."

Anyway, even though the final score was 16-7, the game wasn't really that close. And despite my absence from Heinz field, Washington looked as bad on television as they usually do -- only this time no one can blame Mark Brunell (I don't think).

...OK, I'm casting my vote for team MVP early this year, and I'm giving it to Jerome Bettis. Remember way back in the spring (and summer) when some people were suggesting that the Bus should be cut because he's washed up, is a mediocre short-yardage back, and is a self-promoting egomaniac? Now try to imagine where the Steelers would be without the Bus. With Duce out and Verron missing a few games, the running game would have had to relied on Willie Parker and Dante Brown (until they cut him) for at least a game; and when Verron was healthy, he would have been the feature back while Duce was inactive. Maybe it wouldn't have mattered behind this offensive line, but I'm guessing some of the tough yards Jerome gained in Duce's absence would have been left at the line of scrimmage by the Amos Zereoue clones.

...Pittsburgh did a little better protecting Roethlisberger although it looked like it was going to be another long day after the second play of the game resulted in a sack. Ben was sacked two more times in the first half and only once was he at fault. The first sack resulted from Kreider missing a block; the second sack was Ben's fault; and the third sack was due to questionable play-calling. But other than those three plays, the offensive line looked stout against one of the best defenses in the NFL.

...And speaking of offensive lines, how easily did the Steelers defensive front seven manhandle the Redskins on those goal line stands in the third quarter? Of course they eventually scored, but the two run-stuffs set the tone and forced Washington to resort to the pass. But hey, like Ray Lewis said, "Anybody can score from one yard out."

...Speaking of Ray Lewis. Does anyone disagree that not only is he entering the downside of a great career, but James Farrior should be the defensive MVP this season? The only person standing in his way is safety Ed Reed (and if he won it, he'd be just as deserving; of course, he should also be nominated for offensive MVP because he has just as many scoring TDs as anyone else on that team). Farrior wore out Patrick Ramsey and laid out Chris Cooley. I usually don't like it when defensive guys celebrate knocking the crap out of someone when it goes for a first down, but Farrior knocked Cooley senseless and getting to watch it was worth the 10 yards.

...Speaking of getting the crap knocked out of you, I'm guessing there's a 100% chance we'll see Willie Parker on "Jacked Up" tonight on NFL Countdown, after Sean Taylor laid him out. For someone who has great hands, Parker is 0 for 2 on pass receptions. It was actually a nice play by Ben to find him while rolling to his right, but unfortunately for Parker, Taylor leveled him. Speaking of Taylor, he might be the best athlete in the 2004 draft class, but he's got to be near the bottom of the class in common sense. For every bone-jarring hit he makes, he also does something stupid that costs his team field position (see for example, Sunday's game).

...It looks like every move Cowher makes is the right one. He decided to hold Duce out of this game because of the muddy field conditions, and it'll probably pay off in the long run. It also looks like Plax will be back next week and the team will be as close to full strength as they've been since week 7 (after losing Casey Hampton and Chad Scott).

...Which reminds me. Does anybody think Chad Scott should get his job back from Willie Williams when he returns? I'd leave Williams where he is and work Scott as a nickel and dime back. And speaking of Casey Hampton, how psyched was he to hear Fox announcer Kevin Maas refer to him as Kendrick Clancy; of course he also called James Farrior (pronounced as "warrior," so maybe it's not that big a deal; and to be fair, Maas did spend most of the telecast comparing Ben to a combination of Culpepper, Favre and Manning).

...Antwaan Randle El didn't do himself any favors by returning punts all over the place and then having to stay on the field for the next offensive series, but that's a sacrifice I'm betting he's willing to make. Seriously though, Randle El was very good bordering on great, and a couple of Redskin special-teamers described him as "the best we've seen back there" and "one of the toughest guys to tackle." And that looked to be exactly the case yesterday. The fact that Tom Tupa's punts averaged a little under one second probably didn't help matters; but then the only thing more embarrassing than having a kick returner make you look silly as a punter is having a punter tackle you as a kick returner -- which is what happened to Randle El on his second big return.

And speaking of special special-teamers, James Harrison is unbelievable. Jason Gildon should be proud to have him wearing his old jersey. Harrison made seemingly every tackle on kickoff/punt coverage (he had six total) and he did all of that with a bad shoulder. And even though Sean Morey didn't have his usual glowing special team performance (he was called for a block in the back), he did get his first reception of the season on a 3rd down pass from Roethlisberger. He's now the unofficial best Ivy Leaguer in the NFL (ahead of Marcellus Wiley and Jay Fiedler; OK, maybe he's not better than Wiley, but he might actually be a better quarterback than Fiedler).

...Is it just me or is Jeff Reed only effective when the weather (and the field) is horrible? Reed won his job in the middle of the 2002 season (when Heinz field was 100% grass -- or by that point mud) and proceeded to hit clutch kick after clutch kick. This season Reed hit two FGs against the Dolphins in the hurricane bowl (one from 50 yards) and yesterday in pretty dicey conditions he was 3 for 3. Then I saw the Pats/Ravens game and it made Pittsburgh's surface look like astroturf. Despite those conditions, Adam Vinateiri was 3 for 3 (including a 47-yarder). He's easily the best kicker in the NFL (Jeff Reed's a close second). Speaking of the Pats/Ravens...

...(In my best Rod Roddy voice) Kyle Boller, welcome back from your two-week vacation! The Ravens beat up on two hapless defenses the last two weeks and Boller is touted as the next coming of Joe Montana. Play one of the best defenses in the league and Boller throws for 95 yards, with an INT and a fumble returned for a TD. Solid work.

While I was hoping the Pats would beat the Ravens, in the long run it might have been better for the Steelers if they hadn't. Looking at New England's remaining schedule and it's pretty clear that they should go 15-1 (and rather easily). Which of course means that the Steelers have to also go 15-1 to keep home-field advantage. And while the Steelers could conceivably do it, it'll be much more difficult. But all is not lost because the Ravens still have two more division games (one in Heinz field) and a meeting with the Colts in the RCA Dome and if all goes according to plan they'll miss the playoffs.