A couple weeks ago, I attended the Pitt Panthers’ “victory” over the vaunted Black Bears of Maine. Oh, I’m not an alumni but when you’ve spent your collegiate years getting hyped for the annual Nerd Bowl between my beloved alma mater, Carnegie Mellon, and their hated rivals from Case Western, you learn to take what you can get. Besides, I like to visit Heinz Field at least once a year and since Steelers tickets are impossible to get, Pitt games are a reasonable alternative. Hearing the fans in attendance shout “High Octane!” as Pitt and their brand new redneck carpetbagger head coach did everything in their power to lose to a Division I-AA school gave new meaning to “losing by winning.”
That is until Sunday.
Truth be told, I struggled writing my recap of the [intlink id=”21″ type=”category”]Pittsburgh Steelers[/intlink] decimation of the Seattle Seahawks this past weekend. Which is odd not only because it was a rousing victory, but, as my friends and family will tell gladly tell you with with eyes rolling, I’m never at a loss for words when it comes to talking Stillers. But listening to talk radio today where the topic du jour seemed to be Pitt’s impending defection to the ACC (Pittsburgh moved to the Atlantic coast? Clearly the conference commissioners did not attend CMU) rather than the Steelers game, I realized I was not alone. It’s almost as if Sunday’s game was being treated like a meaningless preseason exhibition rather than a legitimate NFL game.
I think some of the apathy can be attributed to the fact this was as uninspiring a win as a 24-0 ass-whuppin’ can be. Watching the game live, I grew increasingly annoyed at the unholy tandem of Moose Johnston and Tony Siragusa on commentary. No joke, if you watched the game on one of those old fashioned square tvs and didn’t have the benefit of the Fox Box, you might have thought the Steelers were losing from all the negativity they directed at the Black and Gold. Initially, I figured it’s a Cowboy and a Raven, one’s likely a borderline illiterate while the other should be auditioning for the cast of Jersey Shore, pay them no mind.
However, when I rewatched portions of the game on TIVO last night, I actually think they may have made some valid points. To go back to the Black Bears reference in my opening, rewatching the game hit home why my excitement was tempered. It wasn’t a bad performance by the Steelers but there were so many seemingly little mistakes that I think the highly educated fan base which comprises Steeler Nation realizes that against a halfway decent team this game would’ve been a lot more competitive.
Let’s look at some of the the more troubling occurrences. Last season, this team had a terrible time in short yardage, particularly in the red zone. On Sunday, the Steelers settled for 3 points from a pair of first-and-ones from the one-yard line. The main culprit? Poor run blocking along the offensive line. With seven plays from the one, four running plays (five if you count the designed scramble out of the shotgun by Big Ben), couldn’t punch it home. The other two resulted in an incompletion and a sack. Watching the Giants shred the Rams on the ground last night, primarily thanks to the lead blocking of former Pitt fullback Henry Hynoski, reminded me of what the Steelers had just a few short seasons ago. While some may point to the Bus’s retirement as the beginning of the short yardage issues, I tend to think replacing a blood-and-guts red meat eating fullback like Dan Kreider with a hybrid like David Johnson (who misses a block for every one he makes) may have even more to do with it.
Then we have the defense. Thanks to [intlink id=”57″ type=”category”]Troy Polamalu[/intlink] letting a gift-wrapped Pick Six slip through his fingers, Dick LeBeau’s crew is still looking for their first turnover. This from a defense that forced 14 fumbles and snagged 21 interceptions last year. Those totals were even more impressive when you consider the secondary didn’t pick off a single pass until week 15. Clearly, the majority of those turnovers were generated by the team’s superior linebacking corps. The fact we’re still looking for our first one in week three either means that linebacking corps isn’t what it was last year or they’ve just been unlucky. I tend to believe teams make their own luck.
The cherry on top of this Sundae of Woe was Shawn Suisham shanking a 41 yard field goal. Yeah, every kicker misses from time to time. And it wasn’t exactly a high leverage situation. However, there is a reason Suisham has been passed around like a bong at Burning Man. Is he the fairly solid kicker we saw last year or is he about to revert to form? Nobody wants to relive last season’s shenanigans with Skippy.
Perhaps I’m worrying too much. After all, I kept expecting the other shoe to drop last year and it didn’t until one evening in Dallas. But maybe, just maybe, some of these little problems will mushroom into full blown Achilles heels over the course of the season. I guess only time (and a few games against actual competition) will tell.