Sunday, December 28, 2008

It's Steelers Football, Not Tiddlywinks

Possible inspiration for Mike Tomlin?

Steeler Nation was in an uproar Sunday afternoon when Willie McGinest drove his shoulder through Ben Roethlisberger's face mask and his head nearly below the new turf at Heinz Field. What was Mike Tomlin thinking, why was Ben still in there?

In fact, not only was Ben in there, so was Hines Ward, Willie Parker and most of the other starters. Mike Tomlin had stated earlier in the week that he was taking this game seriously and had every intention of winning it. He wasn't kidding.

The Steelers manhandled a pathetic Browns team 31-0 that featured a Pittsburgh boy, Bruce Gradkowski, who had just played in the WPIAL playoffs at Heinz Field what seemed like a few weeks ago. Fortunately for him he escaped the game without suffering a life-threatening injury. That was the only thing he accomplished. Gradkowski, facing the league's toughest defense with about two weeks under his belt with the Browns was like a lamb being led to the meat market. He finished with a quarterback rating of "1" with that number being one better than a "zero". It was a generous rating indeed.

Apparently Mike Tomlin wanted his team to get the message that "we take no prisoners here" and that nothing short of the complete annihilation of the Browns was going to suffice on this day. Players such as Polamalu, Smith, Ward and Parker were playing well into the fourth quarter and despite the earlier injury to Big Ben, Tomlin continued with his Alred E. Newmann "What, Me Worry?" approach to coaching around injuries. As far as Tomlin is concerned, if you're healthy enough to dress, you should be healthy enough to play. Trying to play not to get injured is the perfect recipe to have just that happen to you. Football is a game of aggression and those waiting to be hit rather than doing the hitting are much more likely to get injured.

I attended Sunday's game and truthfully I've seen Ben get hit much harder and bounce right up. It's ironic that he survived the many tough defenses that he faced and left the field via a stretcher against the Browns. To his credit, Ben gave a "thumb's up" as he left the field to an accompanying roar of the 63,533 in attendance on an otherwise beautiful December day. I was among the many wondering aloud what Mike Tomlin was thinking right after the injury to the "large one", but now I understand. I can imagine Tomlin saying something to his players like, "We're the Pittsburgh Steelers. We're the most physical team in the league. Sometimes you get hurt playing the way we do, but that's Steeler football."

It might not always be the smartest way to avoid injuries, but it helps to avoid the ups and downs that so many teams have in the NFL where the difference in winning and losing is the degree of intensity you bring to the game (just ask Ken Whisenhunt how things are going in Arizona these days). The Steelers, meanwhile, are 12-4 and Mike Tomlin has won 22 games of his first 32 (.687%). His way seems to be most effective and the players have apparently bought into it. So I move that we all shut up and let the man run the team his way. It works.

GAME NOTES: Big Ben was diagnosed with a concussion. He may possibly be able to play by their first playoff game in two weeks....The Steelers had two other scores nullified by the zebras, a pass to Nate Washington and a Gradkowski fumble that was returned for a touchdown....Willie Parker passed Rocky Bleier on the all-time Steeler rushing list and is now in eighth place overall...Hines Ward had a busy day going over 1,000 yards for the fifth time in his career (the first time in three years that he reached the 1,000 yard mark) and also recorded his 800th catch, most ever by any Steeler receiver. Ironically enough, Ward caught that pass from rookie qb Dennis Dixon on his first completion ever in the regular season....The Browns were so unable to move the ball that they only managed to cross the 50 just once, getting as far as the 35 yard line. They then tried a 52 yard field goal that was wide left. The Browns managed only 121 yards in total offense which should ensure that the Steelers will finish first in rush defense, first in pass defense and first in fewest points allowed..... The game more than likely was the last for Browns head coach, Romeo Crennel who was calling off tackle runs for the better part of the day....The Steelers have won their last 11 in a row against the Browns. Crennel never has defeated the Steelers, the first Browns coach to have failed to do so if Crennel is indeed fired.