The Pittsburgh Steelers rebounded in convincing fashion in Week 2 of 2011 with a 24-0 victory over the Seattle Seahawks in the Heinz Field opener.
Some observations from the game and from the Steelers post-game locker-room session:
Thirty-something linebackers James Farrior and Larry Foote met reporters with sarcastic cries of "hold on, let me get my cane… let me get my wheelchair," references to the Steelers' defense being called 'old' and 'slow' by various NFL fans and analysts (headlined by Warren Sapp on Showtime's Inside the NFL) this week. The Pittsburgh defense looked plenty relevant against the Tavaris Jackson offense, holding the 'Hawks scoreless and to 31-yards rushing. It was the Steelers first shutout since December of 2008, a 31-0 win over Cleveland in the season finale that year.
CB Ike Taylor phrased it this way: "Since I've been here, in 9 years, I ain't never really get a beat-down like that in Baltimore [last week]. It doesn't happen often, but it does happen. The best thing you can do is to bounce back, and we bounced back pretty good this week."
Dick Lebeau's defensive scheme this week one of more mouse than cat, electing more times than not (particularly early in the game) to drop into coverage rather than to blitz multiple players. The theory was that Seattle's young offensive line would have been preparing to face the Pittsburgh onslaught all week, and that forcing Jackson to throw into tight windows was a winning formula. The scheme resulted in Seattle converting on just 2 of 12 3rd-down opportunities, with their longest pass completion of 17-yards.
Later in the game, the Steelers dialed up a few more rushes resulting in sacks from Foote, a LaMarr Woodley / Steve McLendon combo, James Harrison, and from James Farrior in the fourth quarter. Troy Polamalu also had a 3rd quarter sack, giving the team five for the day and six for the season.
Rookie RT Marcus Gilbert made his NFL debut, and by all accounts at least held his own. Gilbert was the last team member to come off the field, prompting an awaiting head coach Mike Tomlin to chide him for being late in the tunnel outside the locker-room, saying "you didn't make enough plays to earn being that last one in."
Later, Gilbert said of his performance: "The next step is just to get better. I don't want to be too satisfied in what I did. I didn't want to let anybody down in this organization and these teammates, because everybody was counting on me." Ben Roethlisberger said of Gilbert, "What a job he did. [I'm] really proud of the way he stepped up. I don't think the game was too big for him." Of course, if Raheem Brock's hit on Ben's knee had been more serious, Roethlisberger might not have been so effusive in his praise.
Speaking of the helmet-on-knee hit, a spin move from Brock past Gilbert which took Ben out of the game for two plays late in the first half, Roethlisberger said at the time of the hit "structurally it felt fine, I didn't feel anything pop. I'll be fine, we'll get through it. [But] it was definitely scary. I'll be alright." Ben finished 22 of 30 for 298 yards, with 1 TD, 0 INT, and a QB rating of 115.7
The main criticism of the Steelers offense is sure to be the red-zone and goal-line attack, which failed to convert on three plays from the 1-yard line on the game's opening series and again on three cracks inside the 2-yard line late in the first half. As Gilbert said, "We're pretty upset about that. We've got to put [the team] on our back [there]. But we can't make any excuses, they got us. We're going to look at it." Roethlisberger echoed that, saying "we take pride in short yardage and goal line, and we felt like we could've scored a lot more points than we did."
Would a change of RB be of any help? I asked Issac Redman, who did get one of the four running plays in question, if he wanted to get a few more goal-line touches and he predictably said "If it has to do with getting me the ball, I'm all for it. It's up to the coaches."
Ramon Foster started at LG in place of the injured Chris Kemoeatu. Foster said he pretty much knew all week he'd get the nod, his 13th start with the team in 3 seasons. Ramon had the signature block on Issac Redman's 20-yard TD run to make the score 14-0 Pittsburgh, as Foster pulled from left to right on a sidecar-shotgun handoff in a three WR set. Ramon said, "It felt good. The front side dug and Gilbert set up those blocks front side, it was wide open. [Seattle] had the safety come down and it was inside-out on the blocks and "Red" cut right off them. It was pretty. I knew Doug [Legursky] and Marcus would get a lot of movement over there and I saw the 'backer I was singled up on. It was exactly how I pictured it."
Redman was loving the 20-yard TD result as well, saying, "[I was] one-on-one with the safety, and I just beat him. I was pretty shocked by the call myself, we haven't really repped that all week so it was a good mix-up for them."
More of the early parts of the game for the Steelers offense was spent with multiple tight end sets, however, as the multiple WR looks of Week 1 were reduced. By my count on the first three drives, on plays not inside the 20-yard line, 11 featured multiple TEs while only 7 were 3 WR looks.
Roethlisberger also admitted to being more patient, saying "I think I hit more check-downs today than I have in a long time." Ben also said he felt he got rid of the ball a little faster, too, but that it wasn't something the team had worked on in practice.
All told eight different receivers caught passes, with Mike Wallace again leading the way for 8 grabs, 126 yards. It was the second straight 100-yard receiving game for Wallace, and fifth straight regular season game with 100+ for Wallace dating back to last year. Wallace said his chemistry with Ben is "at an all time-high. This is my third year with him. We've been building a bond since I first got here. He knows what I like to do, we look in each other's eyes, we have that bond that we're supposed to have. Deep balls have never been a problem for us, we're trying to work on everything else, the intermediate and the short game. Trying to show people we're not a one-trick [pony]."
Wallace also was smiling ear-to-ear describing his two most memorable catches in the game:
On his 53-yard fingertip catch: "I just wanted to show coach Tomlin I have the best hands on the team. The DB [covering me] was so tall, I turned around I couldn't [see] Ben. I just saw the ball in the air and tried to make the catch. I didn't even get to the front of it, I kind of caught the tip of it. It all counts. I was trying to make Sportscenter, I'm not going to lie."
On his 2-yard fade-pass TD to make the score 24-0: "I've been telling the coaches for a long time, I had a 40 inch vertical at the combine. Even though I didn't have to use it today, I was trying to tell them I'm a red zone beast. They gave me a chance and I made it, hopefully I'll get more."