I'm getting used to consoling myself after an ugly win. This time, it was an 11-10 squeaker over San Diego. The team was held without a TD (sadly I'm getting used to this as well), but the defense played well again and Ben Roethlisberger made up for his poor game last week by executing an impressive drive to win the game. With Baltimore losing to the Giants, the win gave the Steelers a one game lead in the division with a should win game coming up against the one win, one non-loss Bengals.
Despite the ugly score, the Steelers have to be encouraged by a number of things about the game on Sunday.
- Willie Parker returned and made a big difference in the running game. He had 115 yards on 25 carries. In order to get this offense on track, the running game is of supreme importance. The return of Parker seemed to give the offensive line some added confidence as they opened big running lanes that haven't been there all season.
- Big Ben's final drive. After going down 10-8 with 6:41 left to play. Big Ben methodically led the team down the field to the win. In addition to scoring the winning points, the drive lasted 6 minutes and 30 seconds, meaning the Chargers had no time to answer. Big Ben made some great throws, including an extremely tight throw to Hines Ward on 3rd and 6 from the Chargers 40. Hopefully, this means the early season Ben Roethlisberger is back.
- Big Ben's day. 31-41. 308 yards. No turnovers.
- Have the Steelers found a new offensive identity? It featured lots of short passes. A couple shots downfield. An involved running game. No, the team didn't score many points, but it was effective moving the ball and controlled the clock, which is all we need with our incredible defense.
- The Steel curtain defense. Another incredible performance by this unit. Considering Anthony Madison and Fernando Bryant had significant playing time, it might be the best performance of the year. Troy, Silverback, Aaron Smith, Big Snack, and Woodley are playing at an incredible level. Once again, the defense carried us to victory. The only TD occurred because of a questionable pass interference call. I'm throwing it out there, James Harrison for MVP. Not defensive player of the year. MVP of the league. It won't happen because the award never goes to defensive players and Harrison isn't a household name, but, he is playing that well.
- We found the next person we can label the next Jerome Bettis. Gary Russell. All the short yardage problems are gone.
- Troy's INT. Unbelievable.
Despite the win, the Steelers have to be discouraged by a number of things about the game on Sunday.
- The offense didn't score a TD against one of the worst defenses in the league.
- Despite dominating the turnover battle, 2-0, and the yardage margin, 410-213, the Steelers needed a late game drive to win the game.
- Allowing another 4 sacks.
- 13 penalties, 115 yards.
- Special teams concerns. The punting game is poor. The return games are really poor. When you win mainly with defense, field position is extremely important. We continue to lose the field position game. The free punt after the safety was especially poor. I expected to get the ball back on the 40, with momentum on our side. We got the ball at our own 6 yard line. Unacceptable.
- Stuffed on the goal line for the third consecutive time. Stuffed again on third and one. Maybe that's what we should nickname this offensive line. Stuffed.
- Poor coaching decision to kick a 51 yard field goal in bad conditions. Skippy is great, but asking for the longest field goal in Heinz field history in poor conditions is a little much. Play the field position game and punt or go for it on 4th and 4 from the 33.
- This is just a personal rant, but does anyone else get sick of seeing a 5 wide formation with no one in the backfield? I mean, our offensive line can't block and our 4th and 5th Wide Receivers are named Limas Sweed and Matt Spaeth. Maybe Bruce Arians and the staff found a weakness in the SD defense and wanted to exploit it. But it certainly made more sense to me to run it from the SD 4 yard line on second down than to line up 5 wide and get sacked. And while I'm ranting, I also hate being in shotgun formation on 3rd and short. Then again, we can't convert running the ball...
This was a big win and, after last week's crushing loss, it feels good to get the W. The Steelers are in good position to win the division and make a run for a first round bye. But this team is still flawed on the offensive side of the ball, and until it starts doing the little things right, it doesn't have a shot of making a deep run in the playoffs. I'm holding out hope that the best football is still in front us.