The Steelers defeated the Miami Dolphins tonite in their home opener. Coming off a winless preseason and a loss-less postseason, the Steelers are hoping to become that rare defending Super Bowl champion that makes the playoffs the following year. The evening began with a commemoration of the five Super Bowls won by the franchise. Banners were unfurled and old legends trotted out onto the field to represent. Franco Harris, Lynn Swann, Mel Blount and LC Greenwood represented the first four Super Bowls won by the Black and Gold in the 1970’s. When the banner for the 2005 season was brought out, the 2006 edition of the Steelers came on the field. The spectacle was just beginning. The banners of the 1970’s teams were flipped over to form one large Terrible Towel…and the fans went crazy.
Moments later, a huge yellow bus rolled out of the tunnel onto the sideline of Heinz Field. Detroit’s own, Jerome Bettis, emerged from the bus and trotted out onto the field. The place was rocking then.
Highlights and things to watch for:
1) Willie Parker could be the real deal. Last year, Bettis told him to make sure he stayed inside on inside runs…to aggressively take cutback opportunities to the inside…to run hard and take plays that only yielded 2 or 3 or 4 yards…and to be patient. Parker has followed that recipe to a tee. He carried 29 times against a stout Miami Dolphin defense and gained 115 yards. Most of his runs were powerful runs on the inside. He popped a couple of runs outside, but he “earned his paycheck tonite,” according to John Madden. I was very impressed. If Parker runs like this, defenses will have to play him straight up…in other words, they won’t be able to cheat to the outside. He is so fast, though, that if he can get to the outside with a power move, a juke, a spin, a stutter step or something else, the play will effectively be over. He almost broke a couple of plays tonite.
2) Heath Miller is going to have a big year. He had an 87-yard touchdown (he did step out of bounds, though). Miller can run and the Steelers throw so much at a defense that Miller is going to get some serious opportunities to produce.
3) Troy Polamalu will be the Defensive MVP unless teams begin to avoid him. He had a pick tonite, a couple of tackles behind and around the line of scrimmage. He is simply faster than everyone else on the field of play. His awareness (partly attributable to the schemes of the defense) is acute. He is a player that teams should not give an opportunity to beat them. He’ll do it.
4) Ike Taylor can cover just about any wideout in the league. I’ve seen him put the blanket on Chad Johnson, Marvin Harrison and Chris Chambers. He has a weakness, though. He has to catch the ball. Miami should’ve have only scored 10 points in the game. Taylor has to catch the ball when he has an opportunity to make a big play. He dropped a pass in the endzone and Miami scored a TD on the very next play.
5) Aaron Smith is a monster. Smith, Hampton and Keisel are going to be very good this year. It’s not clear that Keisel will be as physically dominant as Kimo Von Oelhoffen was at times. Last year in Denver, Kimo tossed around offensive lineman like children’s toys. Keisel doesn’t appear to have that kind of strength, but he plays with leverage, plays through the whistle, and plays with speed. Each of the conditions should keep him in the lineup.
6) This Steeler teams plays like they know what it takes to win a championship. Exhibit A. Brett Keisel’s downfield block for Joey Porter on a 4th Quarter pick that made the score 28-17 Pittsburgh. Keisel ran hard to endzone ahead of Porter and looked up Daunte for a nice endzone blast. Exhibit B: Charlie Batch absolutely ballin’ for life. Batch is an underrated performer. When I lived in Michigan, I recall him being the only decent QB the Lions could keep in uniform. Batch was a playmaker, but he always played within himself and seldom made mistakes that cost the team games. The overall infectiveness of his Lion squads could not be attributed to his shortcomings as a passer or leader. Quite the contrary. Batch made Detroit competitive in ways that city could not have imagined.
That’s it for now. Big Sunday is right around the corner.