One day not long ago, I was accompanying a dear friend to a wake being held for another dear friend. Prior to reaching the destination we happened to come across, not one, not two, but eight dead raccoons littering the road. My friend asked; “how can ‘coons’ be so dumb, just to run out there smack dab in the middle of the road needlessly sacrificing their lives?”
Well boys and girls, last Sunday night the Steelers took the fast track to Denver to face the “new” Peyton Manning led Broncos and did not quite reach the destination of victory because in spite of their valiant effort, in the final minutes the squad from the steel city appeared as if they were “Bambi mesmerized by the headlights” or should I say spotlights.
There was all sorts of rhetoric being spewed forth regarding Manning being the new leader in a new offense, on a new team, in a new city and a new state, blah, blah, blah. As far as I could tell, Mr. Manning could have been instructing his new corps of wide receivers “to do a button hook when you reach the red chevy.” Why? Because Manning running the Broncos offense or any other offense for that matter just seems so natural.
Yeah, ‘Big’ Ben Roethlisberger threw what amounted to a game killing pick, but the Steelers defense must bear the brunt of the blame for this loss because the Steelers offensive line dominated time of possession even though their personnel grouping up front may only be described as “patchwork” at best. This reconfigured unit gave up 5 sacks for resulting in 36 yards lost, wow! Does this seem like a replay of a few years past? Remember opposing teams could be guaranteed to pad their sack statistics when the facing the Steelers disheveled offensive line compounded with “Big” Ben seeming at times having stick-um on his throwing hand.
Answer this question? Why is there such unbalanced scheduling done when it comes to the Steelers having to travel to Denver to compete? The league has to know that the Steelers are at a huge disadvantage. One of the Steelers best defensive backs Ryan Clarke is prohibited from playing simply because to do so presents health and possibly life threatening issues for him. Second, why not even the playing field by scheduling the Steelers and Broncos as a home and home series so Mr. Clarke will have an opportunity to compete? As far as the defensive line is concerned, Casey Hampton is arguably the Steelers best nose tackle over the past few decades and is extremely hard to move. However, even under the best of circumstances it may be a bit difficult for “big snack” Hampton to breathe the pollution thickened Pittsburgh air. So what makes one think that his pulmonary function would increase as result of his lungs attempting to glean adequate oxygen from the thinned out air supply in Denver; while at the same time being faced with defending the Peyton Manning no-huddle, no rest for the weary offense?
Offensively, the Steelers could not take advantage of what appeared to be a very, very weary Broncos defense. As far as the “fatal” interception by “Big” Ben, after all these years he has still not learned to “throw the ball away and live for another play.” Chris Collinsworth and the NBC crew had a timer on “Big Ben” on certain plays when he dropped back to pass. He had his most success when got rid of the ball in 2-2.5 seconds. That makes perfect sense because the defensive line has less time to pressure or sack him and the defensive secondary has less time to complete their coverage on the wide receivers.
With the Jets coming up and their starting QB (at least for the moment) Mark Sanchez seeming to have found himself, that game is going to be pivotal in regards to the Steelers finding themselves and righting the ship rather quickly.
The Steelers have put a lot of eggs in “Big” Ben’s basket. They have no back up QB’s that equal his talent and strength. What can and will they do if a major injury happens to Roethlisberger? Well, judging by the severely depleted “swiss cheese” offensive line that is charged to protect him something bruised or broken might not be too farfetched.
As far as the AFC North, 2012 promises to again be; ‘Armageddon the sequel’. The few “gimmes” on the schedule might be playing at Tennessee in October and at home and away against Cleveland and their rookie 28-year-old QB Brandon Weeden. Other than that the Steelers have a rough and rugged schedule and it will take a whole lot of juggling for them to finish at 10-6 or 9-7. The Black and Gold are going to have to “Rhumba in the Junga” in order to make the postseason. Well ladies and gents, all is not lost. At least they won’t have to play Manning again, well unless they reach the playoffs.
(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 412-583-6741. Bruce can also be heard on the “Odd Couple Sports Show” where he is the AFC North and NFL analyst. The show is hosted by Adam Ragle streaming live on the WCWA Fox Sports Toledo 1230AM Wednesdays at 10 a.m. during the regular season.)