The Pittsburgh Steelers squeaked by the Philadelphia Eagles 16-14 thanks to a walk off field goal by Stonecold Shaun Suisham. The good news is the victory evens the Steelers record at 2-2. How crucial was this win? Only 15% of the teams who start the year 1-3 end up making the playoffs.
The bad news is the Steelers have yet more injuries to deal with, starting with All-Pro safety Troy Polamalu. Troy played a couple series then hobbled off to the sidelines never to be seen again. Last week, I faced the wrath of my buddy Hennessy for suggesting James Harrison‘s days may be numbered. I may have just picked the wrong Steeler. I love Troy but he’s quickly turning into another Bob Sanders.
And since Harrison is back and the Football Gods have mandated the Steelers cannot have both Deebo and LaMarr Woodley on the field at the same time lest they cause too much destruction to opposing quarterbacks, Woodley left the game early with what appears to be a re-occurrence of the hamstring problem which plagued him last season.
Even without Woodley and Troy, the Steelers turned in by far their finest defensive effort of the season. I’d prefer to have them both but forced to make a choice, I’d definitely trade Woodley for Harrison every single time. For whatever reason, the D plays much better when Deebo is there. They generated more pressure on Vick than in the first three games combined. And their run defense improved vastly, holding Shady McCoy to only 53 tough yards.
If you didn’t see the game, allow me to repeat some of Joe Buck’s first half play-by-play. “Timmons, Timmons, Timmons, Timmons, Timmons…” Lawrence Timmons was in absolute beast mode. He led the team in tackles, dropped into coverage, recovered a fumble, forced a fumble, and chased Michael Vick like a dog chasing a bone (sorry, I had to). It’s these rare moments of brilliance where you look at him and think, “Why can’t he do this all the time?” When he’s on like he was yesterday, he’s basically the linebacker version of Troy Polamalu.
The Steelers held the high-powered Eagles offense to only 250 total yards, 80 of which came on a grinding third quarter TD drive which took two fourth down conversions and eight minutes off the clock. It would’ve been nice for the Steelers to get off the the field on one of those fourths, and I’m sure human troll Mark Madden will go on about how they suck because they couldn’t (Timmons shot the gap on the first one but Shady made a nice move and then escaped Keenan Lewis’s decidedly Deion Sanders-esque tackling attempt), but if you’re going to let the other team score, at least make them earn it. It’s big play/quick scores which kill you.
Other than that drive, the Eagles did a whole bunch of nothing. They had two other scoring opportunities although neither one was earned. Early in the game, Philly had first and goal from the Steelers 3 which ended with Ryan Clark, the Steelers Defensive MVP thus far in 2012, forcing a Vick fumble which LT recovered in the end zone. That drive went 49 yards but 31 of them were on a bogus pass interference call on Ike Taylor. The second drive, which did end in a touchdown, covered 80 yards although this time they were gifted 30 yards in penalties thanks to two personal fouls, only one of which was legit.
Which brings me to the referees. Man, I’m begging some intrepid fan to track down their Facebook pages to see if they have pics wearing Iggles gear or chowing down on diarrhea inducing cheesesteaks or something. The zebras called this game like they bet the mortgage on Philly. It was unbearable. At one point, even Steeler haters Buck and Aikman noted there was a flag on every play. EVERY PLAY. The Steelers finished the game with 9 penalties for 106 yards.
A HUNDRED AND SIX YARDS IN PENALTIES?!?!?!
Bring back the Lingerie Football refs.
Worse of all, the atrocious calls did not go both ways. This is not Pittsburgh Paranoia talking, either. I seldom blame the refs because I think yinzers get too worked up over every perceived slight but yesterday was truly an exception. Mike Wallace was getting molested like an altar boy on practically every play yet not a single flag was thrown. Meanwhile, ten yellow hankies went flying when a Steeler so much as breathed heavy.
Not that I am excusing Wallace for only catching two passes. Yes, he was getting grabbed, held, shoved, and sodomized on every play. So what? Elite receivers find a way to get open. One of the things I don’t like about Wallace is he doesn’t work. He doesn’t get dirty. Wallace runs his pattern and if he gets bumped he just throws up his hands and begs for a flag. The Steelers are paying you $3 million to catch footballs, not whine to zebras.
Nor am I excusing the offense for their poor play. Ben Roethlisberger was decidedly off yesterday. His numbers aren’t horrible and he made some clutch plays, particularly a 20 yarder to Antonio Brown (who does the dirty work to get open and works hard on every single play) on the game winning drive, but he also missed a lot of throws. He overshot Heath Miller, who was wide open for a TD, on a drive early in the 4th that would’ve effectively put the game away. Ben’s receivers also did him no favors, what with Wallace not getting open and both he and Manny Sanders dropping passes they ordinarily catch. Then there was some plain bad luck such as when Jerricho Cotchery caught a short slant at the 5 with time running out in the half but tripped and fell two yards shy of the end zone.
The offensive star was undoubtedly Rashard Mendenhall. It’s pretty clear the Steelers piss-poor running game the first few weeks was because of inept backs and not lack of running lanes. Mendy only had 81 yards but he averaged an excellent 5.8 YPC. He showed the burst through the hole and cutback ability which makes him the big play threat the other guys simply aren’t. Todd Haley smartly used iRed in short yardage, the one thing he’s good at, but Mendenhall was clearly the featured back with none of the other clowns even getting off the bench. The final drive to set up Suisham’s game winner was a thing of beauty, with Mendy and Redman alternating carries and chewing up both yards and time.
Despite having to overcome two opponents, one in green, one in black and white, the Steelers managed to pull out what was almost a must-win. It wasn’t pretty but they got the job done. With a short turnaround to the Tennessee Titans on Thursday Night Football, that’s really all that matters.