Tuesday, August 16, 2005

Christmas in August

Hey, what did I tell you? Chris Mortensen was right again! Hines Ward is back at work and should be ready to practice Wednesday. Just like I said yesterday:
Chris Mortensen reported last week that Ward has no problem holding out until week six, the last possible game he can miss without losing his free agent status at the end of the 2005 season. First of all, Mortensen is a dope. His style of reporting is much better suited for the likes of CNN or Fox News because most of what he says is based on anonymous sources, which by itself isn't really a big deal. But you have to wonder how reliable these sources are (or maybe more importantly, who they are) when most of what he tells you ends up being wrong.
Well, Mortensen was only off by 10 weeks. Not bad. Of course during the Steelers - Eagles pre-game last night, Mortensen probably had a half dozen reports (I'm guessing five were about T.O. and one concerned Hines) and not once did he mention that once again his sources made him out to look like a complete buffoon. Instead, he reported Ward's return to Pittsburgh like it was the most natural thing in the world to do after making a statement 48 hours ago that couldn't have been more wrong. ESPN: bringing you craptacular coverage 24 hours a day. Solid. And by the way, Jim Wexall had this story two days ago.

Oh yeah, there was a game too. I've only seen the first half, but I still plan to watch the entire game, if for no other reason than to say that I got to see John Kuhn play before he gets cut. The first quarter went about as well as a football game can go if (a) you're a Steelers fan and, (b) you don't want to see the offense on the field. By the time the second team hit the field, the Steelers had racked up 21 points, but the Pittsburgh offense had the ball for less than six minutes and for only nine plays. The first play of the game was a Willie Williams interception return for a TD.

...Thanks to the insightful-as-always commentary of the three stooges (Theismann, Patrick, McGuire), the first comment following the Williams TD was something to the effect of, "Boy, maybe the Eagles might want to keep T.O. after all." Here's a thought. Maybe it's the first preseason game of the year for both teams and a receiver ran the wrong route.

...The Eagles also did their best 2001 Steelers special teams impression when they gave up both a punt return (Ricardo Colclough) and a kickoff return (Ike Taylor) for touchdowns by the time the second quarter rolled around.

...Offensively, there wasn't much to see with the Steelers first team. They were on the field for one series, and for the most part it was uneventful. Cedrick Wilson caught a quick pass on first down, the Bus had a few runs, mix in a few Roethlisberger overthrows and a Gardocki punt, and that was it. And that's fine by me because it means that no one got hurt, which at this stage of the proceedings is pretty important.

...Defensively, the first team looked pretty much like they did for most of the 2004 season. Very physical, a lot of blitzing, and a lot of pressuring the quarterback. After the first series ended in a Williams INT, McNabb calmed down and ended up throwing for 130+ yards. Also after the first few series, Pittsburgh opted not to blitz on every play and the results were mixed. McNabb completed several passes down the field, primarily because the Steelers were in a lot of zone coverages coupled with the fact that they had trouble pressuring the QB. James Harrison -- filling in for Joey Porter -- had a sack, and it was also good to see Casey Hampton back out on the field.

...The knock on Heath Miller coming into camp was that he wasn't an established blocker. Well, he looked pretty solid last night. He also had a couple of nice catches. But here's my question: with Chris Doering now back with the Steelers, how can Miller not give him back his #83? Just kidding.

...Speaking of blocking, Max Starks looked pretty good. On one play he inexplicably forgot to block Javon Kearse (which of course resulted in loss of yards), but other than that, I thought he did a serviceable job for a preseason game. What's amazing about Starks is that when you see him standing next to other offensive lineman, he still looks humongous. Put him next to Casey Hampton and you've got Before & After.

...Just like Halley's Comet, Tommy Maddox threw an interception. To be fair, it wasn't his fault. Rookie Fred Gibson was a little late in turning to look for the ball, and when he did it was past him. Gibson did make up for it during the next series when he caught a slant, spun, and gained 10 yards. Hmmm. Tall receiver makes the reception and gets yards after catch. There's an idea. Gibson also laid out a Philly defensive back on a pass play downfield to Nate Washington. Pretty good for a guy who was considered soft coming out of college.

One preseason game down with no injuries to starters, and three to go. Right now, that's the concern. Although, if Cowher wants to send a message to the rest of the NFL, he could pull a Steve Spurrier -- play the starters for all four quarters during preseason, set the tone by blowing out your opponents, and watch them fold like a house of cards when the regular season rolls around. Oh right, that backfired. Anyway, Hines Ward is Free!