Monday, December 19, 2005

Two Down, Two to Go

You know, it's a shame the Steelers don't play in the NFC North. They beat the Packers without Roethlisberger, they dominated the Bears on both sides of the ball, and Pittsburgh's defense made Brad Johnson look like, well, Brad Johnson prior to the Vikings recent six-game winning streak.

(By the way, my "Where the hell did that come from?" Play of the Day goes to Mr. Johnson and his two-handed, step-and-throw basketball pass in the red zone that bounced off of Koren Robinson and landed in the hands of Joey Porter. Of course, a few plays before, CBS threw up a graphic that said Robinson had something like 180 drops in the last four seasons with the Seahawks, but none so far this year with the Vikes. Yeah, that streak's over now too.)

Alright, random stuff from the game:

... Other than the fact that this game may go a long way in deciding the Steelers' playoff chances, it was a pretty boring affair. Not much offense on either side, a three-yard TD run from Big Ben, and Skippy Reed doing his thing to the tune of 3 for 3 on field goals. Boring or not, I got a lot of enjoyment out of watching the Pittsburgh defense completely own Minnesota. The Vikings ran 49 plays, threw for only 143 yards on a 16 of 30 effort (with two picks), and only mustered 54 rushing yards. And oh yeah, they only had the ball for 23 minutes. And if it wasn't for one boneheaded Randle El decision (or maybe "nondecision" is a better word) on a punt return, this game might have very well been a shutout.

... Despite the one little hiccup, I thought Randle El played pretty well. I guess a 72-yard punt return midway through the second quarter helps make up for the earlier head butt. That play aside, Antwaan caught two passes for 58 yards, and one was a nifty screen pass where every yard gained was solely a result of Randle El making Vikings miss.

... It was hard to tell if Roethlisberger was having trouble with his thumb or not. At times he looked off, and a play later he'd throw a laser (well, not really one play later; maybe two runnning plays later, but you know what I mean). He also, for the first time I can remember, pulled a Kordell: botched a snap in the red zone. Did any player in the history of professional football ever have more trouble with the center-QB exchange than Kordell Stewart any time the Steelers were inside their opponents' 5-yard line? Anyway, that could've been due to the thumb, or maybe Ben was just due for one. (Interestingly, in Saturday's Tampa Bay-New England game, they showed Chris Simms taking snaps cross-handed because he jammed the thumb on his throwing hand. Don't know if Ben's at that point, but it's still worth noting.) Whatever the thumb status, I really like the 1983-Michael-Jackson-performing-Billie-Jean-at-the-Emmys look he was going for with just wearing one glove. I'm not sure, but I think that Ben's jersey was actually leather and had zippers on both the front and the back. Despite the silliness -- and the thumb drama -- Ben played well. He took a few shots and was sacked a couple of times, but he seemed to do a good job of protecting his hand.

... Pittsburgh had 11 penalties, and I think 4 or 5 were of the false start variety. And two of those were courtesy of Kendall "I false start even though I'm right next to Jeff Hartings and STARING at the football" Simmons. I was watching the game at the local watering hole, so I have no idea how loud the Homer Dome was, but I really can't complain about how the offensive line played. They were pretty effective run-blocking, and when Roethlisberger didn't hold onto the ball too long, they weren't bad on passing downs either. Trai Essex continues to improve -- or at least I think he does, because I haven't heard his name or seen him flagged for any penalties recently.

... Hey, remember when I wrote this about Larry Foote? Well, that dude was all over the place Sunday. He was the first guy in on the tackle on the third-and-goal during the Vikings first scoring opportunity (via the Randle El head-punt muff), and also made several other big stops behind the line of scrimmage. Although the biggest stop behind the line of scrimmage was the safety. And Casey Hampton should actually get two points all by himself for blowing up the center and basically making a one-armed tackle in the end zone.

The Funniest Play on Defense Because They Won was watching Kimo lose his balance, fall offsides, and then watch Clark Haggans strip Brad Johnson followed by Aaron Smith recovering the ball near the Vikings goal line. That play's not quite so funny if the Steelers lose. But like my buddy Andy said at the time, it's hard to get mad at Kimo given how consistent that guy plays every week.

... It was good to see Deshea Townsend back on the field after his neck injury last week. He had a nice interception at the end of the first half too. Bryant McFadden gets better every week. He made a nice open-field tackle to stop the Vikes on third down, and also did well in coverage. It's amazing what three years and good draft picks can do for a secondary. (Random related observation: did anybody see the Giants game? When did Brent Alexander start laying people out? The guy had two or three big hits in that game, which means that's four or five more than he had during his time in Pittsburgh.) And the elder statesmen of the three-year turnaround is Ike Taylor, who also gets better weekly. He made a nice play on the almost-TD pass early in the first half and should've had a TD on a late-game Brad Johnson gift-wrapped pass. The Steelers number one priority this offseason should be signing this guy to a long-term deal. I know he'll be a restricted free agent, but his price is only going to go up after 2006.

... DJ Any Reason left this comment after the game:
"Anyone else notice Mike Tice throw up a 'sieg heil!' salute after the refs overturned their fair catch interference call?

We know Ben PFJ's, but who knew the Vikings PFH?"
The funny thing is, I noticed Tice acting like a meat head and really didn't think much of it. Of course, the Steelers have now been screwed twice this season on dopey fair catch kickoff/punt rulings, and after the officials finally decided to give Minnesota the ball, Tice gave the ol' First Down sign. Hochuli then throws another flag, which prompted me to say, "I think they just threw a flag on Tice for being a jackass."

... Well, two games down and two to go. I suspect the Browns game will not be easy. I actually would be fine with Cowher dressing all four running backs, and handing the ball off 50 times. Especially if the weather is anything like it was during the Chicago game. If Pittsburgh can win in Cleveland, then only Detroit remains. And like I told my buddy Andy yesterday, if the Steelers lose to the Lions with a playoff spot on the line, they should be banished from the NFL forever.