Monday, September 08, 2014

a tale of two teams

"it was the best of times, it was the worst of times."  so wrote charles dickens.

he could have written the same thing if he was a beat reporter for the pittsburgh steelers after their by-the-skin-of-their-teeth win over the browns yesterday.

indeed there were great expectations for the steelers heading into this game, against a browns team that looked to be missing several key ingredients to be a real contender in the afc north.  and the best of times, that is, the first half, revealed that to be the case.  the steelers moved the ball almost at will.  leveon bell was superb in every aspect, while antonio brown looked every bit the superstar wide receiver/punt returner that he is, even with his kick to the face of the poor brownies punter.  it looked to me like he was trying to jump over him, and when he realized that he wasn't going to get over him, he tried to push off of him.  whatever his intent, he kicked him in the face, and probably earned himself a sore wrist for all of those zeroes he's going to be writing on that check to roger goodell.  there is some sort of symmetry in this, given that this game occurred only two days after james harrison officially retired as a steeler.

other than substantial fines, the only thing the steelers were racking up in the first half were points and yards.  they led 27-3 at halftime, and the brownies looked lost.

and then it was the worst of times.

the browns came out in the second half and looked like a completely different team.  they went no-huddle, and they came with a fury.  they ran to the right almost every time, a glaring pattern that the steelers are going to have to address, because they had so much success on that side of the line, that the play action passes were almost too easy, as the whole defense was over-compensating for the left side of the line.  something has to be done about that, and soon.

but the problem wasn't only the defense.  the offense looked like it gave up in the second half.  and i don't just mean bell and brown.  i mean the offensive line.  and the play callers.  it looked like they had already decided the game was over.  except it wasn't.  the browns came all the way back and tied it.

and i was a nervous wreck.  i was gasping and pacing and convulsing on the floor.  okay, okay, i wasn't really gasping.  but i couldn't believe how this was slipping away.

finally, in the end, the steelers got enough big plays to squeak by with a win.  there were 4 big heroes who get some credit for the squeaking.

1)  william gay.  on a defense that looked like no one could do anything (except maybe cam heyward), big play willie gay finally stepped up and delivered with some fire and passion.  made some huge stops which changed up field position and put the other players on this list in a good position to succeed.

2) ben roethlisberger.  as usual, ben is unflappable, and when the game is on the line, there is nobody i'd rather have engineering a drive than big ben.  he just doesn't get panicky, and he has a knack for the clutch play.  he demonstrated it again yesterday.
3) markus wheaton.  a second year reciever who had a disappointing rookie year (partly due to a broken pinky), surpassed his totals from last year in this one game yesterday.  but more than that, he came up with a huge play at the end of the game.  with only seconds left, and the steelers desperately trying to get into field goal range, the steelers lined up at the line of scrimmage.  ben didn't like the play call he had with the particular coverage that the browns appeared to be in, so he audibled to a different play, with the play clock almost down to zero, essentially changing wheaton's route.  wheaton was locked in, understood the change, and  ran the correct route to the middle of the field.  ben threw the pass before wheaton was even out of his route, so when wheaton turned his head to look back towards ben, the ball was already nearly upon him, and he made a great catch, and then got down quick so the steelers could get down and spike the ball with only 4 or 5 seconds left in the game.  great job by markus wheaton, since the defense was really focused on antonio brown in that situation.  he needed to come up big, and he did.  which set up the last guy.

4)  shawn suisham.  looked to me like he kicked a bit of a knuckleball through there, but it went through the uprights, which is all that matters, and the steelers walked off the field with great joy, holding a 1-0 record like bob cratchett holding a christmas turkey.

for now, at least, it is the best of times.  but it is a short chapter because now it is ravens week, and kick-off is only about 84 hours away.  here we go steelers!

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