The late Sports Illustrated writer Ralph Wiley ,later of ESPN fame, once poetically summarized the entire NFL season a single paragraph.
Memory fails to do justice to Wiley’s prose, but his point was hope springs eternal during the NFL off season; opening day brings euphoria and despair in 50/50 proportions; week two either confirms or refutes week one’s sentiment and it isn’t until week 3 that fans begin to get a handle on what they have.
The Debacle in Baltimore wrought despair in Steelers Nation only to be partially countered by the hope that only a shut out can sough. Uneven week 1-week 2 results have long been a staple in the NFL, and the Steelers Sunday Night match vs. the Colts promised to reveal some substance as to the true nature of the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers.
The show down at Lucas Oil Stadium revealed that the Pittsburgh Steelers have some serious questions to answer before anyone labels them contenders.
Accentua... Ur, Um, Tip The Hat to The Positive
A cursory survey of the Steelers-Colts coverage shows that professional media outlets opted to see the glass empty while fan-based sites chose to see it half full.
Michael Bean of Behind the Steel Curtain led the optimists arguing that:
- The Steelers dominated statistically gaining 408 yards to 241
- Troy Polamalu and James Harrison put the NFL on notice that “they’re back”
- Mike Wallace is breaking into super stardom
- Antonio Brown is only a step behind
I greatly respect Michael Bean (full disclose, I write periodically for BTSC) and (almost) nothing argued here negates his points. But none of positives he cites were serious areas of doubt going as far back as the lockout, save for the play of Polamalu and Harrison.
In contrast, however, the “victory” of the Colts game instead reinforced the questions that the Steelers have been struggling with, which we now turn out attention to.
Can Kugler Stem a Surge with a Sieve?
Sieve is the correct word here, because the term offensive line implies that the players manning it will do something to slow, if not stop the defense men rushing in to kill their quarterback.
As you can see, Jonathan Scott doesn’t even get a chance to attempt to either stop or slow Dwight Freeney. Newly anointed starter Marcus Gilbert faired no better on the right. Robert Mathis literally ran circles around him en route to Roethlisberger.
Yes, their were other times when Ben had ample time to throw. And yes these were the Indy defense’s best to plays of the night. But you can't have your tackles giving up "splash" plays that open the door to a team at the exact moment that you should be pulling away from them.
Last month I wrote about the Steelers offensive line building strategy, or lack thereof. At the time I entertained the thought that the Steelers success in spite of their lack of line stability suggested that perhaps the game has changed sufficiently to reduce the importance of a good line.
No one in Steelers Nation should harbor such notions today. Forget the talk about “Roethlisberger holds the ball too long.” Sometimes that’s true, but Ben Roethlisberger’s getting rid of the ball much faster this season, but still getting sacked.
Worse yet, the Steelers offensive line has failed to open holes for the running backs.
After the Baltimore game I jumped the gun and suggested that the Steelers needed to call Max Starks and/or Flozell Adams. The Steelers opted against patchwork for “promoting from within.”
Steel Curtain Rising has been calling for consistency on the line since its inception, and such sentiments are admirable. But perhaps the Tribune-Review’s Dejan Kovacevic is on to something when he says its time for Kevin Colbert to scour the waiver wire and practice squads, because the current crew isn’t getting the job done.
Can Opponents Now Run on the Steelers?
Ray Rice is a dynamic back, and one of the better rushers in the game. While his success against the Steelers was no given, it was neither cause for immediate alarm.
The picture is murkier this morning. Joseph Addai is no slouch. To claim that he “imposed his will” on the Steelers run defense would be in err.
But the Colts did run the ball when they needed to, which in some ways is worse. In the fourth quarter alone, with Curtis Painter in at quarterback, he had two runs of 8 yards, one for 7, another for 11, and a 6 yard scamper for the tying touchdown.
The Colts, like their successors in Baltimore, used the semi-legal cut blocks at times, and that appears to be SOP for running against the Steelers. The NFL rarely makes enforcement changes in mid-season (unless they involve fining James Harrison), so the Steelers had better find some way to adjust.
Live By Polamalu, Die By Polamalu?
With 6:03 left to play, the commentators from ESPN America Latina suggested that based on what they’d seen against the Colts, the “true” Steelers squad was more of the one that played in Baltimore as opposed to the one against Seattle.
Then James Harrison and Troy Polamalu struck.
And there I had my lead. “Steelers Defensive Stalwarts Save Game.” I even felt sorry for Painter, having to go back out there in shame after costing his team the game.
Then a funny thing happened.
Painter led the Colts on an 80 yard touchdown drive. Granted, he had help from Joseph Addai, but he also completed 4 of 5 passes – all of them against Keenan Lewis.
But should Keenan Lewis serve as the scapegoat here? Troy Polamalu got into the back field and was on the verge of another big play at least once if not twice on that drive. If he reaches Painter a neutrino faster Addai never gets his touchdown run.
But Polamalu is only one player. Where were the other 10 on that play? Ditto for the passes completed over Keenan Lewis.
Maybe getting humiliated like that lit a fire under Curtis Painter that drove him to find something no one, including himself, knew he had.
Maybe Keenan Lewis will prove the trade that 3rd round picks have either “made it” by their third year or are busts.
But echoes of 2009’s late game let downs resonated loudly as Painter was driving those last 80 yards in Lucas Oil Stadium. If focus from start to finish is going to be a problem then 2011 will be a long season….
The Road From Here…
But unlike 2009, the Steelers did come back, and they did win this game. Securing a win, on the road, against another AFC team is important.
But this win should not obscure the fact that the Steelers have questions they must answer, and answer fast if there are to be many more such wins in 2011.
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