Monday, January 16, 2006

The Ball Never Lies

OK, raise your hand if this game reminded you of that one episode on Firefox ... Just kidding. First, I think a few words from Ludacris are appropriate:
"I came, I saw,
I hit 'em right dead in the jaw..."
(For the first time in modern history, somebody references Firefly, and in their next breath, cites Ludacris lyrics. Yep, a lot of ground-breaking stuff going on here.)

Honestly, did anybody else besides me pick the Steelers to win this game (of course, to be fair, I would've picked the 2003 Steelers against the 1985 Bears, but whatever)? For all the questions all the doubters had last week after Carson Palmer went down, just as many (and maybe more) were answered after Sunday's game. Against the Colts. In Indy.

Hey, where's Trent Walker when you need him? Because Benny's all growned up. This ain't exactly insightful, but this was Roethlisberger's best game in two years ... by a long shot. All week, every time you turned around, all you heard was how the Colts were going to demolish the Steelers. And honestly, that wasn't really all that surprising (I mean, come on, you can't very well pick Pittsburgh to have much of a chance ... at least with a straight face). The whole time however, in the back of my mind, I kept wondering if everybody was just dismissing the Chargers game because, well, I don't have a really good reason why people would discount it. Guess what? Dick LeBeau didn't. And it looked like he basically ripped off Wade Phillips's game plan, and ran it as about as well as San Diego did.

A lot of credit should go to Ken Whisenhunt too. Pittsburgh did exactly what they had to -- and exactly the opposite of what everybody expected them to -- which means they threw the ball on first down, threw the ball on second down, and threw the ball on third down. And not only did they throw it, they were very successful doing it. I remember hearing somewhere last week that the Chargers were success on offense, in part, because they threw the ball down the field. And on the second play of the game, Roethlisberger hit Heath Miller running down the field, right by safety Mike Doss. By the way, is it just me, or does Miller not look particularly fast? My opinion changed pretty quickly after the play I mentioned above. Not only did Miller outrun Doss, but cornerback (and first round pick) Marlin Jackson was in pursuit and looked like he was running in quick sand. Interestingly, Bob Sanders was nowhere to be seen, and I'm guessing a lot of that has to do with the Colts bringing everybody and their brother to the line of scrimmage to stop the run. Once again, great job by Ken "The Whizzantor (Latin version)" Whisenhunt.

Okey doke, I haven't watched the game again, but here are some random thoughts from the first showing:

... Opening kickoff ... and Ike Taylor fakes the reverse. Huh. Not really upset by it, just found it really curious. Especially since Taylor was tackled at the 16-yard line.

... First play of the game: play-action pass to Randle El. Result: Randle El drops a pass that hit him right in the chest. That immediately led to this conversation between me and my buddy Andy:
Andy: God, he drops a lot of passes.

Me: Yeah, and he has the best hands on the team. Just imagine if he couldn't catch.
Not exactly how you want to start the game if you're Pittsburgh, but to be fair, other than that play, Randle El had a really good game. (His touchdown catch was pretty friggin' sweet. It was very similar to Hines's TD catch last week, except that Ben through the ball a little behind Randle El, and he had to adjust to make the play. It's also worth noting that the coverage on the play was nothing short of deplorable. Nothing like giving up the underneath, and playing zone in the back two yards of the end zone. If that was actually their plan, it worked perfectly.)

... If anyone has any details leading to the arrest of the person responsible for kidnapping Peyton Manning, and giving him a Eli Manning lobotomy, please contact your local authorities.

Honestly, how out of sorts did Peyton look? Kimo Von Oelhoffen bounced back nicely from a tough game last week (and when I say "tough", yeah, I know, he didn't tear his ACL, but he did, my most reasonable accounts, injure Palmer accidentally, and he's had to deal with all the notoriety -- mostly negative -- all week). And both Aaron Smith and the Hampburglar were in Manning's face most of the day. And when they weren't, Farrior, Troy and Porter were. I was also glad to see Hampton on the field a lot more than he was during the last matchup. His presence did a lot to force the Colts to run the ball outside, something they weren't really successful doing until midway through the second half. And one more thing. Bob Sanders who? I got two words for you: Tyrone Carter. Yeah, we got our own midget safety that likes to knock the crap out of people. In fact, I think he's shorter than Sanders. So take that.

My vote for "funniest play that was also a pretty big play" was in the second half when the Colts had the ball deep in their territory and as Manning dropped back to pass, Hampton blew up Colts center, Jeff Saturday, and then proceeded to chase Manning toward the sideline. Here's what I wrote after the Browns game during the 2004 season (and you'll realize why I'm pointing this out in just a second):
"And although the defensive line gets very little ink, they are the anchor of this unit. I love how Casey Hampton was dropping into zone coverages and making a lot of downfield tackles. In fact, on one play down the field, I actually saw sparks flying from between his legs because of all the friction (Honestly, the Steelers might want to look into getting him a pair of fire-retardant pants to avoid future potential hazards -- but that's just a suggestion)."
Yeah, I know, I'm hilarious. But this is the first thing I thought of when I saw Hampton in hot pursuit. He looked like the fat kid in middle school looking to grab anybody in meat-hook range after he finds out his lunch is missing. Classic.

... OK, I guess I have to mention the officiating, but I don't want to make a big deal out of it. I'll just say this: the Steelers were jobbed. The no-call PI on Randle El in the first half was bad. Blowing Troy's first potential interception dead (thus meaning it was an incompletion and not reviewable) was worse. Having four Colts defensive linemen run across the line of scrimmage only to have referee Pete Morelli announce there wasn't a penalty (even though replays showed that Faneca squeezed his butt cheeks just enough to be called for a false start) was laughable. And then the reversal on Troy's later interception was mind-numbingly awful. Slow motion train wreck awful. But hey, other than that, the game was impeccably officiated. OK. That's all I've got on that.

... Even after Morelli inexplicably overturned Troy's pick, and the Colts marched right down the field and scored a touchdown, I still felt very confident in the Steelers and their chances. Dick LeBeau got these guys ready to play (well, either that, or Joey Porter running his yap did) and they seemed to be giving Manning fits all day. I'll be interested to hear what all the Cowher-haters will have to talk about after the last two games. Twice -- on the same drive -- the Steelers went for it on fourth down. And converted it. The first one was thanks to the Bus running over people. The second was thanks to the Bus running over Ben (it was a QB sneak) and getting him the extra yard the hard way.

And late in the 4th, when Pittsburgh sacked Manning on 4th and 16 I, like everybody else on the planet, thought the game was over. Honestly, you couldn't dream up a scenario that involved the Steelers getting the ball at the Colts' 2-yard line, with just over a minute to go, and end up with Indy getting the ball at their 40-yard line. And it was because the Bus fumbled at the 1. No way. Just doesn't happen. Except, well, that it did. I have a couple of game balls to give out, but one of them have to go to Roethlisberger. How he made that tackle on Nick Harper I'll never know. When the ball was first fumbled and Harper picked it up, Ben was so far back, he was out of the screen. I just figured he's fallen down. Nope. He was just waiting -- Todd Sauerbrun style -- to make a play. Just unbelievable. In fact, he might want to give Chris Hope some pointers on how to wrap up on tackles. (And by the way, that play makes up for his non-tackle in last year's AFCC against Rodney Harrison after he threw that pick that ended up going back for six.)

... There were a lot of funny "hey, look at that" moments during this game, but one of my favorites was during the third quarter. With about eight minutes to go, the Steelers made a big play (I can't remember the specifics, but once I take another look at the game, you can bet your ass I'll document it for posterity), I specifically remember seeing Cowher with a big grin on his face. That's not all that surprising, but what did catch my eye was the fact that he didn't even have a head set on. And it wasn't like he had just slung it over his shoulder, or handed it to his assistant, either. It was more like, "hey Bill, just hold this play sheet, stand over there, wave your arms around, but don't get in the way while we try and coach 'em up" type stuff.

So just more proof that all the Cowher-haters don't know what they're talking about. Cowher doesn't actually coach the games, fellas. He's like Dr. Phil or Tony Robbins: just there for moral support.

... Alright, that's all I got for now. There will be an encore (and an encore, encore) presentation of this game at my house, well, now, and I'm sure I'll have plenty more stuff to talk about after these viewings. But until that time, I think I have to agree, at least in part, with Stan Savran, who gave his game ball to Danielle Harper, Nick Harper's wife. I mean, if she didn't stab her husband in the knee, who knows, he might've taken that fumble back to the house. And instead of talking about how well the Steelers played as a team, we'd probably be talking about how Jerome Bettis and Bill Buckner were going to spend their remaining days on Exile Island. Thanks Danielle! And oh yeah, Mike Vanderjagt -- couldn't have happened to a nicer jerk.

OK, one more thing -- I just remembered that I forgot to give one of my game balls to Bryant McFadden. Two great plays at the end of the game while covering Reggie Wayne. He got introduced to the NFL during the first Colts game, but he played out of his ass during the final drive. Good stuff.

P.S. And props to Rowdy for the call on the final score.