"the standard is the standard," quips coach tomlin quite frequently, making clear that his expectations don't drop off when backup players have to step up into important roles, like foote, carter, sylvester, lewis, butler, and others had to do this week.
far be it from me to ignore this BIG win by the pittsburgh steelers on sunday. now don't get me wrong, a win is a win, whether we win in overtime by the skin of our teeth, with ben running for his life and limping to the finish line, or we dominate on the scoreboard and on the field. either way, it looks the same in the standings. and while i agree with the football adage that "we are who our record says we are," i think there is an added emotional element to the game that the standings can't communicate. if you just barely beat the pats, because they make some crucial mistakes or get the short end of the bad-officiating stick, you take the win but it doesn't feel the same as what happened on sunday evening.
heath miller was critical in this game, as new england seemed determined to take away mike wallace and the deep passing game, leaving some holes in the zones in the middle of the field, which heath took advantage of, making the most of every opportunity.
not to say that what happened here was complete domination, but it was far closer to it than what the scoreboard or the standings will show. the standing just show a higher number in the win column over an afc opponent. and the scoreboard says 25-17. but the game itself will leave both teams with a much different reality moving forward. for the steelers, this win proved not only that they really can overcome great odds from an injury standpoint, but also that they have what it takes to play with the "big boys." they can match new england's offensive dominance, and they can adapt on defense to confuse the almighty brady. the standings won't show that, but, i can assure you, the steelers (and the patriots) won't soon forget it.
warren sapp helped provide the steelers with some motivating criticism early in the season, indicating that they were washed up. not only have many of the older players returned to form (woodley, taylor, hoke), but many of the young players, like keenan lewis, above, have proven that the steelers have youth to back up the experience.
both sides of the ball were equally impressive to me. on offense, the steelers beat the cheatriots (sorry, have to include that anytime i'm talking about a patriots team coached by bill bellicheck) by playing their own game: ball control through the passing game. traditionally, the steelers have been known as old-school, smashmouth, three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust running dominance. the steelers liked to get a lead, then milk the clock with the running game. the patriots, though, came into this game with a formidable run defense, and an awful - AWFUL - pass defense. not only that, but this particular version of the steelers is more suited to a dominant passing attack than previous versions, so the steelers took a page from the patriots book, and used the pass to own the time of possession (two to one in favor of the steelers). ben was (almost always) on the mark with his passes, making good decisions, and keeping the pats defense guessing. let's not forget the play of the offensive line who gave ben plenty of time to find open receivers, and the receivers themselves who both caught and blocked when necessary. great offensive effort all around, minus that terrible interception thrown by ben.
our young receivers, emmanuel sanders (above), mike wallace (below), and antonio brown, have stepped up this year, under the tutelage of hines ward, and are all making important contributions to the steelers offense, making life difficult for opposing defensive coordinators.
lamar woodley has registered multiple sacks in 4 consecutive games, the first time that has EVER been done by a steelers linebacker. after a slow start to the season, woodley has really elevated his game, and all of steeler nation hopes that hamstring heals quickly.
on the defensive side of the ball, the steelers, who are famous for playing dick lebeau's complex and effective zone defense, made some important adjustments against the great tom brady, who normally has eaten them and their zones alive. instead of trying to do the same thing and hoping for different results (insanity), the steelers went to more of a man-to-man and press coverage, forcing receivers to beat coverage rather than find soft spots in zones. this puts a great deal of pressure on defensive backs, but ike taylor stifled wes welker all day, and the other guys (lewis, gay, butler, clark, and others) did a great job of not getting beat. the omniscient brady was clearly befuddled and frustrated, and had a day in which he not only looked human, he looked pretty average. credit dick lebeau for taking a risk, and credit the players on the field for making the adjustment. great job of coaching and execution.
the result is that the steelers maintain their half game lead in the division, and move forward with some new confidence about their ability to control the ball on offense, stop offenses with a variety of schemes on defense, and win even with many starters on the bench.
they will need this confidence, and everything else they can come up with, to beat the reeling ravens this coming sunday night. oh yes. it's raven's week. bring it.