Sunday, September 19, 2010


The Pittsburgh Steelers are an offensively-challenged team right now. Their franchise qb has been banished to his Lazy Boy recliner for four weeks; Their offensive line is a patchwork of players who lack cohesion and in some instances, possibly are even being overmatched; Their backup quarterbacks keep taking turns getting hurt. But today, it didn't matter. Their defense put up a gem of a performance, literally painted a masterpiece that will be talked about for a long, long, time.

This game, an organized streetfight of a 19-11 victory by the Black & Gold, was played in sweltering Memphis. The players were dropping like flies on both sides of the ball. It was such a contradiction in terms, that a million dollar word like, "dichotomy", simply does not do it justice.

Above: Heat-seeking missile, Lawrence Timmons, relaxes in the stands after making seemingly 900 tackles against Titans. He actually was in on 15 assaults on this day.

So suffocating was the Steelers defense that it caused six turnovers (there was also a fumble recovery of Houston's first kickoff return). So in all, the Steelers wrangled seven turnovers from the Titans. However, the Titans came to play, at least defensively, and for the Steelers...well there's also that little offensive problem.

In this bizarre game, the Steelers offense would only score twelve points on four Skippy Reid field goals and manage just 54 yards passing! That was it despite having the ball handed to them by their defense the entire game. If the Steelers hadn't scored on an 89 yard reverse on the opening kickoff by rookie sixth round pick Antonio Brown, I think it's pretty safe to say that this game could have had a different outcome.

The awesome Steelers defense played with an especial vengence on this day with linebackers James Harrison and Lawrence Timmons in particular delivering crushing blows to Tennessee's highlight-reel running back, Chris Johnson and quarterback Vince Young. Johnson, who reportedly doesn't like taking big hits, took plenty of them while managing a paltry 34 yards on 16 carries. He had one long TD run called back on a holding call.

Young, on the other hand, had that, "Deer in the headlights" look all game long and became totally lacking in confidence after interceptions by Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley and also after falling victim to the famous "Harrison slam". Much as he did in Cleveland with a fan who ran out on the field, Harrison, with some help, managed to slam the much larger Vince Young in one of the more fearsome plays you'll ever see. You can enjoy it here:

Young's multitude of fumbles didn't help his cause either. In the third quarter, Tennessee's frustrated coach, Jeff Fischer, also fearing for his starting quarterback's life, had seen enough. He brought in backup Kerry Collins who to his credit rallied his team to a touchdown and two point conversion. But by this time, even the dreaded "prevent" defense couldn't prevent this win. After a few scary moments at the end, highlighted by a fumbled on-sides kick by Wil Allen, the Steelers left the field with an improbable and almost magical 2-0 record despite having an offense that is currently on virtual life support. The Steelers' offense has scored one touchdown in two games, yet the team is 2-0. How do you do that?

Defense my friend and even more defense.

In a town that routinely has chanted "Deefense, Deefense" since the 1970's, that's actually considered a very good thing.

Charlie Batch had to come in to replace injured quarterback Dennis Dixon who, it turns out, tore the meniscus cartilage in his left knee after a designed run early in the first half. Batch managed to not lose the game, but because of a lackluster game on the part of several receivers, his performance was made to look much worse than what it actually was. Batch actually also managed to walk off the field upright and not be in need of the "meat wagon" after the game.

Much as Dixon had done last week, Batch was a game manager, but more importantly, not a game loser. He allowed his defense to continue teeing off on Young and company while getting far enough into Tennessee territory (with a large dose of help from turnovers) on four separate occasions for Reid to continue to pad their lead. But a game like this makes you uncomfortable when you see so few points (9) being scored as a result of so many turnovers (7). You hate to see so many great opportunities squandered.

Dixon did not have a good showing during his early limited action, and with his needing knee surgery and Byron Leftwich being on the quick mend, we will more than likely see our third different quarterback in as many games when the Steelers take on the surprising 2-0 Tampa Bay Buccaneers in sweltering Tampa this week.

But make no mistake about it: Football is a game where the winner is always the more agressive team that makes fewer mistakes, and even though their offense is clearly well out of sync, they've already managed to win two of the four games that they have to play "sans Big Ben". Most people expected them to go at best 2-2 or 1-3 during this time. So for the next two weeks, before they will have a bye week prior to Big Ben's return, they will be playing the "bonus rounds" of the Roethlisberger suspension. This could have been a complete disaster, but now, it will be no worse than a .500 start without the "Large One". It just goes to show what can happen when an NFL team becomes galvanized and literally on a mission: To show that they are more, much more in fact, than a one man team. Sure, they'll be even light years better when Roethlisberger returns, but the message should be coming loud and clear: "It ain't pretty, but we can win without you Ben. Get your act together or plan on playing somewhere else. We'll welcome you back, but knock off the prima donna routine."

One thing though is for certain: The Steelers once again have returned to their comfortable, familiar old perch on top of all of the league's defensive categories. They are a formidable and fearsome unit that is enough to strike fear into any offense in the league. In a sport where game films are studied ad nauseum, I'm sure that this past Sunday's game will cause many sleepless nights around the NFL. God help anyone who has to face this bunch.