Taking a look back at the Steelers-Titans game on my DVR.
* Max Starks deserves a lot of credit for coming in off the street, practicing three times and be able to play some 60 offensive snaps in his first action of any kind in 11 months.
Just right there is impressive.
However, let’s not make more out of it than what it is. Starks isn’t quite the messiah of the offensive line yet.
Facts are facts and stats are stats, and both can be misleading at times.
The fact is that Starks represented himself well. The stats say that he didn’t allow a single hit or hurry to Ben Roethlisberger while the running game broke off some nice runs to his side (a side the Steelers rarely run to because they aren’t successful).
The misleading part is that Starks wasn’t really challenged much, and probably won’t be challenged until next month when Terrelle Suggs and the Baltimore Ravens come to town.
First of all, Tennessee’s defensive line isn’t very athletic and really never challenged Starks in any way by throwing different looks at him.
Second, Dave Ball isn’t going to putting much pressure on any left tackle in the league with his speed, which made it a perfect recipe for success for Starks.
Starks has always been good for knowing what to do and not making mistakes. Once he gets his hands on you, it’s over, and that didn’t change Sunday.
But Starks did show that he wasn’t very quick on his feet, which we all knew. I am sure that will improve some as the weeks go along, but how much so?
A guy who can get to the edge quick has, and always will, give Starks fits, and those are the guys who can create havoc and change outcomes of games. Ball isn’t one of those guys.
Sure, Starks did better than Trai Essex, but it wasn’t a significant upgrade that automatically made the Steelers win a game by three touchdowns.
Starks deserves credit. But a difference-maker … ?
* Most of the credit for Sunday’s win has to go to two people – Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger.
Tomlin put together a game plan that put the offensive line in position to be successful (including Starks), and Roethlisberger followed through with it to perfection.
That game plan? Quick throws with a lot coming from the shotgun to protect Ben’s foot.
Only six times in 35 drop backs did Roethlisberger take a 7-step drop. The one time he was sacked? Yup, a 7-step drop.
Fifteen of his 22 first-half throws came out of the shotgun as well with the majority of them being 3-step drops almost making it impossible for the Titans to put pressure on him.
The Steelers have done that plenty in the past against Indianapolis and Houston, but Roethlisberger was very conscious in throwing the ball quickly.
Not once did he scramble to try to make a play. Sure, some had to do with the bum foot, but plenty had to do with sticking to the game plan as well.
* I know Bruce Arians is a hated man amongst the fans, but this guy needs to have some credit thrown his way.
A week after running the ball 13 out of 14 plays during the second half against the Texans, he followed that up by calling 28 more running plays Sunday and, wait for it … used a fullback a heck of a lot – try 15 times.
Now, David Johnson isn’t going to be mistaken for Dan Kreider anytime soon, but he was very good lead blocking against the Titans, and Arians took advantage of it.
With Johnson in a traditional off-I fullback formation, the Steelers ran for 59 yards, or nearly 4 yards per carry.
* It was kind of curious to see the Titans’ offensive linemen rarely use the backside-cut technique on the Steelers’ defensive linemen after it worked so well against them over the past month, and especially after the Titans gained 21 yards on the first play of the game because of it.
After Chris Johnson’s initial gain, they tried it just two other times – a 4-yard gain by CJ late in the first half and minus yard run in the third.
* Speaking of the defensive line, a lot of credit has to go to Chris Hoke.
Let’s be honest, Hoke had been awful through the first quarter of the season. But filling in for Casey Hampton, Hoke wasn’t only standing toe-to-toe with Tennessee center Eugene Amano, but he was extremely disruptive.
I didn’t think he had it in him anymore, but I was sure wrong.
* After the game, the Titans were pointing toward penalties down around their goalline on the opening driving costing them a chance at a touchdown.
To a point, that’s true. But the biggest issue is why, after you march right down the field on the Steelers, throw a play-action pass to a reserve offensive lineman on first down?
The Titans deserved what they got after that.
* My goodness is Troy Polamalu playing well.
Dare I say he is playing the best ball of his career?
Forget the play-after-play he made (punching the ball out of Nate Washington’s hand in the end zone; fight through two blocks to make a play on a screen; cut underneath Lavell Hawkins to knock away a pass), Polamalu made Matt Hasselbeck’s life a living mess.
Polamalu has been freelancing more than ever the past few games which makes the quarterback constantly worrying where he is even more than usual.
Sure, Polamalu still guesses at times, and guessed a couple times wrong against the Titans, but I’ll take it if he keeps playing like that.
* Talk about playing well, how about Ike Taylor?
Taylor is having an All-Pro season and continued that against the Titans.
Taylor allowed catches of 8, 7 and 4 yards all while playing off-coverage. Taylor has yet to give a catch longer than 11 yards this year.
Taylor has never made the Pro Bowl, but is playing better than any other corner in the AFC through five games and that includes the Jets’ Darrelle Revis.
Here’s the breakdown so far through five games of Taylor’s play:
Andre Johnson, Houston 3-23 yards
Nate Washington, Tennessee 2-11 yards
Mike Williams, Seattle 1-9 yards
Reggie Wayne, Indianapolis 1-11 yards
Damian Williams, Tennessee 1-8 yards
Pierre Garcon, Indianapolis 1-(-2) yards
* Isaac Redman runs hard, there’s no denying that.
But to suggest that he should start instead of Rashard Mendenhall is totally ludicrous.
* LaMarr Woodley showed up in a big way against the Titans with his 1.5 sacks, two quarterback hits and interception.
A week after getting beat up by Houston tight ends, Woodley responded by playing physical against one of the best tackles in the league – David Stewart.
Only four times in his 59 defensive snaps was he blocked by a tight end/fullback and was still able to be disruptive.
That’s what a $60 million linebacker should be doing every game.
Makes me wonder what the heck happened last week?
* Those special teams need cleaned up fast.
You can’t have a field goal and punt blocked in consecutive weeks and think that won’t come back to bite you sooner or later.
Grading the Starters
Ben Roethlisberger – A (Was close to perfect)
Isaac Redman – B (Ran hard)
David Johnson – A (Nice FB blocking, plus he caught a TD)
Mike Wallace – A (Makes a play every game)
Hines Ward – A (Still has some left)
Antonio Brown – C (Needs to be more consistent)
Heath Miller – B (Can do it all)
Doug Legursky – B (Is a tough guy)
Max Starks – B+ (Can’t ask for anything more)
Ramon Foster – B- (Gave up a sack)
Maurkice Pouncey – A (Was tremendous)
Marcus Gilbert – C (Needs to stay healthy)
Chris Hoke – A (Best game of his career)
Ziggy Hood – B (More comfortable on left side)
Brett Keisel – A (Was very disruptive)
LaMarr Woodley – A (Seemed interested)
James Farrior – A (Led team in tackles)
Lawrence Timmons – B- (Didn’t seem comfortable)
Larry Foote – C (Nothing spectacular, nothing bad)
Ike Taylor – A (Shutting everybody down)
William Gay – B (May have found his niche)
Keenan Lewis – B (Showing confidence)
Troy Polamalu – A (Amazing)
Ryan Clark – B- (Had better games)
By Mark Kaboly