October 7, 2007

Sunday, Sunday, Sunday, It's Go Time In The Steel City!

You might call it Super Sunday, a rematch of the game that netted us One For The Thumb. You might call it a rebound game, after a tough loss to our old friends Ken Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm. And you might just call it Week 5. Call it what you will, today's game against the Seattle Seahawks is just yet another test of what we have in the tank this season.

Some big questions - how will the team respond after last week's disparaging performance? Will Willie Parker break a 75 yarder? Will Santonio Holmes catch 3 TDs? Will the Defense hold Shaun Alexander to under 100 yards? Under 50 yards? And most of all, will Big Ben be wearing a helmet? (ah, it never gets old)

So, in preparation for today's battle at Heinz Field, here are some points to look for as you're watching the action:


  • On Defense: The Blitz-Master Dick LeBeau will deploy multiple zone blitzes and maintain the physical play that has marked Steeler football for just about as long as we all can remember. The main key will be to keep pressure on Matt Hasslebeck to make the quick throws and throws he will not want to make. If we can generate an effective pass rush, it will frustrate the Seahawks passing attack, which hopefully by the 2nd Quarter or at least the 2nd half, they will have to rely on (to their detriment -- abandoning Shaun Alexander).

    Also, Bryant McFadden is out. So at 3rd corner we will see rookie William Gay. I'll bet Seattle is chomping at the bit to try and pick on Gay, but if they watched any of the preseason (yes I know it's just preseason), they ought to know that Gay won't be any more forgiving than McFadden would be. Gay just needs to maintain his confidence and focus. Don't be intimidated by the Seattle passing attack. If you stick to them, they will get frustrated and that will make your job infinitely easier. Look for Gay to do a good job filling in, though he may get thrown on a couple more times than he might like.

    Worse, Troy Polamalu and Casey Hampton are listed as Questionable, and from what I'm reading, are NOT expected to play. Troy's nursing some torn cartilage in his rib cage, which sounds like a beast of an injury, and Big Snack has a Hammy injury. Still, if they do play, don't expect them to be anything less than 98% because I don't think either of them would put themselves on the field if they didn't think they could get the job done. Here's hoping they do play...'cause let's face it, they are two of the biggest reasons our Defense can be so nasty.

  • On Offense: There will be many keys on Offense today, but most importantly - give Willie Parker the ball. Fast Willie had a tough time last week in Arizona, but don't expect that to be the case against Seattle. For starters, we're at home, where Willie has made just about everyone his bitch. Plus, despite what seems like a superb front 7 on paper, the Seachickens are giving up an average of 104 yards a game and recently allowed the Cards' Edgerrin James a 128 yard game.

    Also important on Offense today will be Big Ben making efficient use of his arm. Provided Willie Parker is getting his job done, Big Ben should be afforded more time and confidence to make his reads and find an open man (instead of throwing into triple coverage). With Hines Ward out, it will be up to our man Santonio (or is it San Antonio, Dan Dierdorf?) Holmes to get open and make plays like he did last week. I personally think this is more of a probability than a possibility. But the Seahawks have a pretty good, fast, secondary that could be tougher to beat than you might think. Beyond Santonio, we will need at least two other receivers/tight ends to step up and deliver when their number is called. We hoped that would be Nate Washington last week...and well, you know how that went. This is not to say that Washington couldn't be today's hero, but just that Ben will need more support from someone. Maybe that is Mammoth Tight End Matt Spaeth near the goal line, maybe it's Heath Miller in the flat, maybe it's Cedric Wilson or Willie Reid on a deep cross. I don't know, but they will need to be ready for the ball when it comes.

  • On Special Teams: Uh, we should probably not, like give up punt return touchdowns or something. Yeah, so this has been a problem for us - kick coverage. Hopefully after being embarrased last week, and with the addition of Andre Frazier to the unit this week, we won't have quite such a problem. Nonetheless, we will have to see.

    On the flipside, Allen Rossum has been a HUGE plus returning kicks. That 98 yarder for a score a couple weeks ago was something no one expected. I mean, hey, I'd have settled for him just catching the ball and holding on to it, let alone running back kicks 98 yards. So hopefully we'll see a lot more good work out of Rossum and it will be one more thing we throw at Seattle for them to have to worry about. The more the better.

  • On Defense: Don't listen to anything I say if it seems like Seattle's D does not scare me. As I may have mentioned, their front 7 is pretty solid and includes names like Lofa Tatupu, Julian Peterson, Patrick Kerney, Rocky Bernard, and Chuck Darby. With these guys and safeties Deon Grant and Brian Russel, the Seahawks are going to try and load up the box to frustrate Fast Willie and put pressure on Ben to look like the QB he looked like last week (not to mention the better part of 2006).

    Also, Nate Washington, who apparently will start for Hines, may or may not be matched up against Marcus Trufant, a pretty damn good Cornerback for those of you who might have forgotten. So wherever Trufant is marked up, we may have to look elsewhere, just further reinforcing the importance of some of our other guys stepping up to make plays.

  • On Offense: The Seahawks have a pro bowl running back in Shaun Alexander, who likes to run behind LT Walter Jones. He's been carrying the ball an average of about 23 times per game, despite the fact that the 'hawks run a west coast style offense. So don't expect this to change much today. We'll see enough of Shaun Alexander for him to be dangerous. This is big because if Casey Hampton can't go, Seattle will be looking at Chris Hoke in the middle, who is still a formidable foe, but no Big Snack by most standards.

    Beyond the run, the Seattle west coast offense will include a lot of short passes, with QB Matt Hasslebeck (no slouch himself) effectively delivering the ball to guys like Deion Branch (the Pacific Northwest version of Hines Ward), Nate Burleson, Bobby Engram and Marcus Pollard. That's a lot of guys to cover. The answer to all this of course is, if Hasslebeck doesn't have time to find an open man, their passing strength is moot.

And overall, just play disciplined football like you want to win. We have to minimize turnovers on Offense while trying to create them on Defense, and just be efficient. This is not rocket science. It's football. He who controlleth the ball, dictateth the game. Let's hope the Steelers work as hard as they can for a win today, because 4-1 going into a bye week next week would be a hell of a lot better than 3-2. With that, let's get it on. I'll be at the bar, thanks.

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