Pittsburgh vs. Pittsburgh West. Three years ago these two teams met in The Big Dance, but few hyped this game as some sort of Super Bowl rematch.
No, the question wasn’t whether the Steelers could replicate their past success against Arizona, but rather whether they could avoid a repeat of a movie that has already been played too many times only seven games into the 2011 season.
Starting Out as Scripted
When the Steelers haven’t been falling flat on their faces, as they did in the Debacle in Baltimore or the Thrashing in Texas their script has been as simple as it has been maddening:
- Start fast and build up a solid lead vs. an inferior opponent
- Allow the said inferior opponent into the game penalties, errors, turnovers and inopportune sacks
- Hold on for dear life as the clock ticks towards zero
Against the Cardinals the Steelers began in familiar form, albeit with the wrinkle that they, gasp, secured a turnover which the offense promptly turned into 7 points.
The Steelers defense held up its end of the bargain forcing three straight punts.
Midway through the second quarter, Steelers Nation was treated to another familiar sight: Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace.
If Ben Roethlisberger to Mike Wallace deep for 6 is a familiar, and pleasant, sight what came next was equally familiar but all too unpleasant.
Arizona got the ball back and almost on cue the Steelers defense started to commit penalties that helped the Cardinals get into scoring range, and ultimately score inside the two minute warning.
Sure Steelers managed to make some lemonade out of lemons with their last minute field goal, but that fact that those points were more due to Arizona’s own penalties than the Steelers own efforts lent to the feeling that the Steelers had only set themselves up for a second half stumble.
Arizona Shines in Act II
Both Pittsburgh’s and Arizona’s first possessions in the second half only lasted 6 plays – and that was a problem. After converting a third down the Steelers were forced to punt.
Arizona looked much sharper, rebounding from a LaMarr Woodley sack by catching the Steelers defense flat footed for a screen pass that they converted into 73 yard touchdown.
Suddenly, what was once a two-touchdown lead was now a meager three points. Once again it seemed, the Steelers were letting an inferior team guided by an inexperienced quarterback threaten to upset them.
Classic Greek drama has the protagonist finish Act I on a high note, find himself in dire straights in Act II, only to rebound to triumph in Act III.
If there is an appropriate word to describe the Steelers in Act III this season, “survival” is far more fitting than “triumph.”
However, against the Cardinals, the Steelers broke the template by answering Arizona’s score in decisive fashion.
On the ensuring drive, Ben Roethlisberger hit Health Miller, Emmanuel Sanders, and Antonio Brown for gains of 21, 17, 13, and 20 yards to bring the team to the goal line, where Roethlisberger fired a bullet to Emmanuel Sanders to lengthen the lead to 10.
- LaMarr Woodley took over from there, forcing an intentional grounding call on Kevin Klob, tacking on two more points to the lead.
The Steelers still refused to lift their foot from the gas pedal. Up to that point the men in Black and Gold had been unable to run the ball, but Mewelde Moore and Rashard Mendenhall led a drive 55 yard drive the ended in a field goal and more importantly, burned 7:12 off of the clock.
After a three and out by Arizona they did it again, running the score up to 32 to 14.
Arizona did bounce back to mount a respectable 71 yard drive that theoretically gave them a chance to get back into the game. Ken Whisenhunt gambled that his defense would get him the ball back.
- Ben Roethlisberger made his old mentor pay.
Credit Isaac Redman and Mewelde Moore for some impressive runs on the Steelers final drives, but on three obvious running situations Ben Roethlisberger threw the ball converting each of those for first downs. The Steelers executed perfectly on that drive, allowing them to finish by taking a knee.
The Steelers Varsity Schedule Begins
Steel Curtain Rising took a cautionary tone following the Steelers victory over the Jaguars, but concluded that what troubled the Steelers was a set of loose ends to be tied up rather than a set of fundamental flaws.
The Steelers were far from perfect against Arizona where they:
- struggled to run the ball consistently,
- gave up too many sacks,
- were sloppy in the secondary
But they looked sharper in the passing game, didn’t suffer a special teams snafu and, most importantly, they put their opponent away.
The Pittsburgh Steelers must consolidate those gains quickly, because next week brings Tom Brady and the New England Patriots to Heinz Field. If the Pittsburgh Steelers history against the Patriots suggests anything, it is that the men in Black and Gold will need every edge they can muster.
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