Sunday, October 23, 2011

Steelers Game 7 Recap - Steelers 32, Cardinals 20

Well if the Steelers didn’t win the game good enough against the Jacsonville Jaguars then they sure won it good enough today as they put together the best road game of the season, and one of the most complete games, in beating the Arizona Cardinals 32-20. If anyone was worried about the offense then they probably felt pretty good today as the Steelers racked up 445 yards of total offense and Ben Roethlisberger made it rain on the Arizona secondary.

Speaking of Roethlisberger how good is this guy the week after a subpar performance? All Ben did today was complete 26-of-39 passes for 361 yards and three touchdowns. Oh yea, he didn’t turn the football over at all. Not too shabby, eh? Ben did an excellent job of moving around in the pocket and finding the open receivers while taking care of the football. After throwing five interceptions and fumbling the football four times in the first four games he has gone 62-of-96 for 789 yards, nine touchdowns and only one interception. That is how you step up after a slow start. Today I thought Ben was exceptionally good at throwing the deep ball. As you know I am pretty hard on Large Benjamin about not being very accurate on balls down the field but he was pretty on point today. He was no more perfect than on the 95 yard bomb to Mike Wallace. You missed it?

That throw and catch set a new Steelers record for the longest pass play in franchise history. Ben was also going downtown a few more times that were incomplete but this time it wasn’t because they were bad throws. They were right on the money and the receivers just couldn’t come up with them. It was really fun to watch.

Talking about Mike Wallace a little bit and I have no idea how you don’t at least bracket cover this guy with a safety when he is on the field. It was funny because Dejan Kovacevic said in a tweet that Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt said he knew that was coming. DK really ask a good question in the tweet when he asked if that meant single covering Wallace. There has been a lot of talk about who the best receiver in the NFL is and more than a few national pundits are giving the answer that it could be Mike Wallace. How do you single cover one of the best receivers in the league, and fastest, with just a corner is asking to get beat. They did. While Mike Wallace used to be a one trick pony when he first came to the league he is starting to become one of the most complete receivers. While he only had three receptions today he is now able to more effectively work the middle of the field and pick up first downs when he isn’t catches passes of 40 yards or more.

I thought, for the most part, the offensive line did a pretty nice job. Of course I was watching on a grainy online feed but Ben was *only* sacked twice and for the most part the offensive line did a decent job of giving him time to get the ball down the field and the ability to step into the throws. The line wasn’t as good in the run game where the Steelers only managed 91 yards on 28 attempts and really couldn’t get anything going. It also didn’t help when Chris Kemoeatu continues to make the same bonehead penalties that are unnecessary but overall I didn’t mind the offensive line today. Ben was hit six times total today and took some real shots but I don’t think that was indicative of how the line played overall. As I said Ben had time to throw and later in the game the Steelers were able to move some bodies and run the ball a little bit so it could have been a ton worse.

LaMarr Woodley has been on an unreal streak recently. Ever since some fans and media had sort of called him out for not performing he has taken it upon himself to be a force. He led the team today with seven tackles (six solo) and a pair of sacks. The two sacks today were huge but it could have been three if not for Arizona quarterback Kevin Kolb intentionally grounding the football when Woodley had him gripped up. Oh yea, the intentional grounding happened in the end zone which resulted in two points for the Steelers.

Not only was Woodley good in the pass rush but he was excellent defending the run which for me is just as important as him rushing the passer. In the past three games Woodley has registered 5.5 sacks and has an interception. He is taking advantage of being single blocked. Oh yea, all of this is without the services of James Harrison. Great game for LaMarr.

It was a great day for the young receivers that the Steelers employ. I talked about Mike Wallace who caught three passes for 118 yards and a score but maybe more impressive was Antonio Brown who caught seven passes for 102 yards. Brown was targeted a team-high nine times and made big catch after big catch. Emmanuel Sanders had five catches for 46 yards, a touchdown and was tied with Mike Wallace with seven targets. Having the three young guns getting the most targets on the day says a lot of what Ben Roethlisberger thinks of them and how much he truly does trust them. I know I am a little hard on Brown and Sanders because they can’t seem to get on the same page as Ben but today they both looked a ton better in that aspect and it showed. If you didn’t notice Hines Ward missed a huge chunk of the game with a foot injury but you might not have realized that because the likes of Brown and Sanders were able to step up and play good football. Also Brown is great on punt returns. Almost broke one to the house if he didn’t trip over Ryan Mundy and averaged 23.5 yards a return on two punt returns. Good stuff on the special teams front.

Another receiver that was huge today was Heath Miller. Dude is really one of the complete tight ends in the game in an age where tight ends are more like big wide receivers and can’t block. Ben is starting to go to ole reliable and Miller is not disappointing. Miller caught all four of his targets for 59 yards and just does what he always does. Miller caught his second touchdown of the season to open up the scoring and that is what he brings. He is a complete player so the defense has to respect him staying in to run block so when he releases late they are caught with their proverbial pants down and he can sneak in to the end zone. Heath Miller is as underrated as it gets. He isn’t going to make any Pro Bowls because he doesn’t put up huge offensive numbers but he truly is one of the best in the game. People better recognize.

One of the best matchups to watch today was Ike Taylor and Larry Fitzgerald. Fitz is one of the best receivers in the league and Taylor is one of the best corners that nobody knows about. Both players are big and physical and if you enjoy watching good matchups this was going to be one of the best ones you see all season. Fitzgerlad always has given Taylor problems in the few times they had played and today he gave him some fits but it wasn’t because Taylor played bad but more that Fitz is just that good. On one particular play Taylor has perfect position and Fitz just goes up and out jumps him for a ball. Taylor was also called for a couple of illegal hands penalties early that really led to the Cardinals first touchdown but he was just trying to man up with him and show that he wasn’t going to be pushed around. After that initial series Taylor was great. Fitz was targeted 10 times in the game and only ended up with four catches for 78 yards. His biggest catch was for 31 yards and that was the catch I talked about where Taylor had near perfect coverage. Overall I loved what Taylor did and even thought Fitz made some noise he was generally quiet.

I also thought that Lawrence Timmons had a pretty good game. With all the injures he has been forced to move to the outside where he is not so good, or hasn’t been in the past, but this was his best game since moving to the position. He was very effective at getting to the passer and was much, much, better against the run today. He made three tackles and had a QB hit but I think that he was much more effective than that.

One thing that can be looked as a negative is the penalty situation today. The Steelers were flagged nine times for 69 yards. I talked about getting flagged with Ike Taylor and I didn’t think those were horrible but they still did keep drives going, twice happening on third downs when the Cardinals didn’t convert. Against the Patriots and Ravens the Steelers cannot afford to get penalized nine times for almost a football field worth of yards. That will just not work. I don’t think this will be a huge problem because the Steelers average only 5.3 penalties per game, which is good for eighth lowest in the NFL, and for a total of 50 yards per game. Hopefully this is something that will not happen every week.

Something else that worries me is the Steelers punt team. I don’t mean Daniel Sepulveda because he has been nothing less than outstanding this season, but I mean the actual punt team. Today Sepulveda only punted three times but again he almost had a punt blocked. He had one blocked a few weeks ago and this is something that I don’t want to see happen again this year. All it is going to take is one time for a team to sell out and block a punt and return it for a touchdown in a close game. I know most people don’t think about it, but I do. It almost happened today and this needs to be taken care of.

I guess I should touch on the running backs but I am not sure what to say. None of them played great but I don’t think any of them were bad either. A lot of people were being hard on Rashard Mendenhall today because he “dances” too much but I didn’t hear any of that last week. I still stand by the fact that he is the best back on the team, by far, there just wasn’t much going on the ground today overall. Isaac Redman always runs hard and he picked up a few first downs and he had a pretty good day overall but just doesn’t bring what Rashard does to the table. They are different backs and I thought he held his role perfectly today. I am talking a lot about underrated players in the recap but I am going to talk about another. Mewelde Moore is the third down back. He isn’t the fastest or the shiftiest or the most powerful but he just gives you that sense of calmness on the football field. When he gets the ball in his hands, either on a run or a reception, you know you are going to get a good, smart, read and he isn’t going make the wrong cut or try and do too much. He has made so many big plays for this team since he has been here and in a late game situation you will probably see him on the field. I love having him on the team and he is that guy that splits the skills that Mendenhall and Redman have and really brings a lot.

My last thoughts for tonight are about the fans. Going into the game a lot of people like to call the Cardinals “Pittsburgh West” and this mostly comes from the former Steelers players and coaches that are on the team but today it was a full on takeover in Arizona. It was truly like a home game in Arizona and every time that Heath Miller caught a pass it was a loud “Heeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeath” chant like you were at Heinz Field. Let’s please also not act like everyone there flew from Pittsburgh for the game. There are a lot of displaced fans and it just so happens we have them all over the United States, and the world. It is just always really cool to see an away game on TV and know that your city, and team, are well represented.

The Steelers are 5-2. Remember when they were 2-2 and people thought the season was over? Far from it. The meat of the schedules starts next week with New England. You know how I feel about the Patriots. Get your minds right.

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