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Week 7 Recap: Streaks of Yellow

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The [intlink id=”21″ type=”category”]Pittsburgh Steelers[/intlink] defeated a game but over-matched Arizona Cardinals 32-20. It was allegedly a home game for the Cards but whenever CBS cut to a crowd shot, all you saw was a sea of Black and Gold. A bunch of Cardinal fans had pathetic little flags which I assume the locals handed out to counteract the Terrible Towel although it was to no avail. I’m used to Steeler Nation taking over opposing stadiums, to the point I hardly ever mention it in my recaps, but yesterday may have been the largest hostile takeover since Gordon Gekko tried to take over Bluestar Airlines.

The game started off tremendously for the Steelers. Lawrence Timmons batted a Kevin Kolb pass that was intercepted by [intlink id=”60″ type=”category”]Ryan Clark[/intlink]’s mouth. If only we could stuff it with a football. That’s our second interception of the season, by the way. [intlink id=”57″ type=”category”]Troy Polamalu[/intlink] just missed our third on the Cardinal’s next possession when he dropped a ball that hit him between the 4 and the 3. [intlink id=”14″ type=”category”]Ben Roethlisberger[/intlink] capped the drive by hitting Heath Miller for a 12 yard score and when Arizona went three and out on their next drive it seemed the route was on.

Big Ben marched the team into Arizona territory before [intlink id=”85″ type=”category”]Chris Kemoeatu[/intlink] lumbered ten yards down the field like a charging rhinoceros and decided to spear somebody about ten seconds after the play had ended. The personal foul ruined the drive and the Steelers were forced to punt. The Cardinals still couldn’t get anything going and the teams exchanged punts until Ben finally said “Screw it. Go deep!” and hit a streak of yellow aka [intlink id=”82″ type=”category”]Mike Wallace[/intlink] for a 95 yard touchdown bomb.

Then everything fell apart.

The bumbling Arizona offense was gifted a drive by some of the most atrocious refereeing ever. At this point, the field was streaked with yellow as flag after flag rained from the zebras’ pockets. To be fair, they also nabbed Arizona for a number of dubious calls so it balanced out but was it ever aggravating to watch. Made even more so by that old blowhard Dan Dierdorf who would rant and rave whenever [intlink id=”101″ type=”category”]Ike Taylor[/intlink] so much as sniffed Larry Fitz’s jheri curl yet would indignantly wonder why a penalty was called after replays showed Wallace getting banged around like he was in a mosh pit.

Back to Arizona’s first touchdown drive. Face Me Ike was flagged for pass interference twice on third down, both times for doing nothing worse than the typical jostling for position every corner does on every play. It was a shame, too, because he really did a fantastic job in holding Fitz to only 4 catches for 78 yards (most of which came on a 31 yarder where Ike had perfect coverage and was simply beaten by an unbelievable catch). After the Cardinals got on the scoreboard by plunging in from the 1, the zebras proved to be equal-opportunity offenders by flagging Arizona for no less than three pass interferences on a single drive. If all games were officiated the way this first half was called, we’d have Madden-style scores in every game because secondaries would have to give everybody a five yard cushion. It’s absolutely ridiculous.

Anyway, some curious clock management (a hurry up and spike to kill the clock so you can set up a HAND OFF UP THE MIDDLE? This is why you aren’t allowed to call plays, Ben) left the Steelers with only a field goal to close out the half. The second half began with Arizona scoring a 73 yard touchdown on their first possession when former Pitt Panther LaRod Stephens-Howling caught a short six yard screen and cut across the field, blowing by James Farrior, Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark on his way to the end zone. Troy tripped while Clark was too busy telling the media how much they sucked to take the proper angle. Farrior just looked pathetic. He was about three feet away from Stephens-Howling when he turned on the jets and it literally reminded me of The Fast & The Furious when the one car would hit the Nox and leave the others staring at his tail lights.

The Steelers responded with a touchdown of their own. Ben spread the ball around all game with this drive being the ultimate example of how deep and talented this receiving corps actually is. Ben hit Heeeath for 21 and 17 yards, [intlink id=”97″ type=”category”]Antonio Brown[/intlink] caught a 13 yarder on third down, then Manny Sanders chipped in with a 20 yarder before finishing things off with a 4 yard TD grab. The score sheet shows Ben was only sacked twice but he had to run around a lot yesterday, taking a number of big hits in order to make plays. The right side of the line, particularly Marcus Gilbert, had a tough time with former Steeler Clark Haggans which doesn’t bode well for when they face a decent linebacker.

The game turned on Arizona’s next series when [intlink id=”70″ type=”category”]LaMarr Woodley[/intlink] scared Kolb into throwing the ball into the dirt like a big sissy. I would  still consider Face Me Ike the team’s MVP for his sustained excellence but Mister Woodley is certainly coming on strong in recent weeks. He had his third straight dominating game yesterday. Six tackles, two quarterback knockdowns, four hurries and two sacks which should have been three sacks and a safety if the pee running down Kolb’s leg hadn’t made him elusive enough to ground the ball before getting taken down in the end zone. The Steelers still got credit for the safety but unfortunately that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. Since Aaron Smith was replaced in the line-up by Ziggy Hood, Woodley has been a one-man wrecking crew and was undoubtedly the star in what was a solid if unspectacular defensive effort yesterday.

The Steelers managed a field goal after the free kick and never looked back. Arizona put up a garbage time touchdown late in the fourth when Dick LeBeau called off the dogs. Ben would finish 26/39 for 361 yards and 3 TDs, hitting seven different receivers in the process. Antonio Brown took over for an injured [intlink id=”34″ type=”category”]Hines Ward[/intlink] and made it extremely clear he should be the team’s #2 receiver by catching 7 passes for 102 yards. He still finished behind the Flash, who caught only 3 balls but for 118 yards.

It was fortunate the Flying Circus was firing on all cylinders since [intlink id=”88″ type=”category”]Rashard Mendenhall[/intlink] ran like he had a yellow streak down his back, managing a feeble 32 yards on 13 carries. Mike Tomlin had clearly seen enough tap-dancing as Mendy basically disappeared in the second half in favor of Mewelde Moore and Isaac Redman. Part of the reason Ben got the bejeezus beat out of him yesterday was the Cards began teeing off when they realized they didn’t have to respect the run. I wonder how much longer the stubborn Tomlin and the clueless Colbert will insist on rolling Mendy out there before they acknowledge he can’t get the job done.

But that’s a discussion for another day. The Steelers are exactly where they want to be as we approach the mid-point of the 2011 season. They come off an injury ravaged yet eminently winnable front end of the schedule with a 5-2 record. Hell Comes To Pittsburgh the next two weeks with games against New England and Baltimore, then the team travels out to face a much-improved Cincinnati Bengals before finally getting a week off. They’re going into the toughest part of their schedule with some question marks but perfectly positioned to make a late season playoff run no matter how those games go.