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After further review …

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

Author: Mark Kaboly

Mark Kaboly covers the Pittburgh Steelers for the Tribune-Review. Mark has covered more than 250 NFL football games in all 32 NFL cities as well as three Super Bowls -- XL in Detroit, XLIII in Tampa and XLV in Dallas. A Belle Vernon Area graduate, Mark earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in English with a specialization in journalism from California University of Pennsylvania. Mark lives in Port Vue with his wife, Jennifer, and boys Rocco and Bugsley Pug

Comments

  1. Chuck H. says:

    I disagree about not starting Isaac Redman in place of Mendenhall. Redman seems to be able to find the holes much quicker. where Mendenhall runs up to the line and stops, looking for a hole, which gives the defense a shot at him. I would always use Redman
    on short yardage situations, and wasn’t Dwyer terrific while in there??

  2. Paul M. says:

    @Chuck H.
    I agree with your thoughts on Redman, he played absolutely fantastic, regardless of the stat-line. But I think Dwyer didn’t play as well as the stats indicated. Sure he ran for over 100 yards, but most of those came on a play where the three faster backs in the offense could have ran for a touchdown, He believe he played well, just not superb.

  3. Carl says:

    This was my first game I was at this year, and I have to agree with the grades. Can’t catch everything from the stands, but aside from the first defensive series, literally everything went our way. Was an outstanding game. I have been as critical of Woodley as anybody this year, and he had an outstanding game. Lets hope they can build on it! A big winning streak going into the second half, with the schedule we have, could put us in the drivers seat for the North title.

  4. Wildwood says:

    Rashard deserves to start and should be the featured back as BA stated. However his production is down and while the reason can be as the result of the oline issues we also saw that two other backs found a way to get productive carries. Rashard is not without some blame, his constant hesitation and dancing is not helping either. Let’s see how he responds this week. Regardless redman deserves more carries and his running style is refreshing to see and needed.

  5. Paulie Raspa says:

    Steelers should keep the same Personell on the field this week. With the exception of Gilbert (T) who is nursing a shoulder if you look at the play of the O-Line they stood their ground and kept Ben UPRIGHT. If you look at the block of Legursky on the Dwyer run he hit the hole about 2 yds in front of Dwyer and BOOM 70+YDS !!! Komeatu has been the man at that position but maybe his knee and weight might be slowing him down.
    Also, I told Mike Wallace the morning of the game that he should be running crossing & post patterns all over the field. Reason — Nobody can stay with him and it opens up patterns underneath … But most importantly the Secondary will tire before Wallace and company will……Lots of weapons on O — BUT THE KEY HERE IS TO KEEP BEN FROM GETTING HIT!!!!!
    Bring on the JAGS AND LET’S PUT THEM DOWN!!!!!!
    HERE WE GO STEELERS HERE WE GO!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  6. Steelers4Life says:

    Bottom line for me on Redman vs. Mendenhall is this. Starters become starters for any one of many reasons or combinations. Starters remain starters because they earn it through performance on the field in actual games. AT THIS TIME, Mendenhall is not performing like a starter. It is not a matter of loss in talent; it is a matter of his on field choices with the ball in his hands. He has stopped taking what the play offers, making the most of what is there and has started looking for what is not there. When a running back loses focus on the basics, he loses his ability to serve the purpose that put him on the field ahead of anyone else to begin with.

    Hopefully, watching from the sidelines last week was a wake-up call for him and we will see a different runner when he returns. When Mendenhall stops blaming the lack of blocking and starts hitting the holes that are there with authority, running as hard as Redman and making tacklers earn the right to bring him to the ground, then I will say he should start over Redman. Until then, in my eyes he has not earned the right to remain the starter. Redman demonstrates the greatest quality a running back can have, decisiveness, heart, courage and determination not to be tackled. He may have less talent than Mendenhall, but right now he is using every ounce that he has, while Mendenhall is wasting his.

  7. EF says:

    Max Starks is no all pro but he is a solid player. T. Essex does not belong on an NFL roster and for the Steelers to believe he is capable of a back up role is just plain dumb and J. Scott is a back up at best. The Steelers actually believed W. Colon was their best lineman ? Wow, we have an obvious problem evaluating talent or are really cheap or both. They tie up all this money in Colon who may be an average guard in the league but certainly not a tackle who is responsible for keeping our franchise QB upright !! Starks at the very least brings some hope of shoring up the O-line which is the key for this team to succeed. HELLO, give one of the top 5 QB’s in the league a chance and the Steelers will have an opportunity to win it all !!!

  8. sjb says:

    Correction: Ludicrous is losing a game or games because you felt it imperative to go with your favorite “Ace” RB, instead of the one who’s actually getting the job done. Ludicrous…Really Mark?

    So, if Rashard fails to gain more than 3 ypc this Sunday, do they give him another shot next week and so on…? At what point does it become “ludicrous” not to start Redman over Mendenhall? What’s totally ludicrous is giving a starter more chances than he deserves especially when another player, or players on the team have proven they are more capable of getting the job done. Putting players on pedestals based on where they were drafted, what they have done in the past, or how much a fan just may like them is silly and has no place in professional football. Seasons have been ruined with that emotional, illogical thinking.

    At this point, if there is any logic to the decision process at all, Redman starts. So far he’s been the better back this season and deserves it and if he starts spinning his wheels, then you go back to Mendenhall. If these first 5 games were preseason and they have no names or numbers on their backs, guess who makes the cut and starts opening day? I’ll tell you it wouldn’t be Mendenhall. What irks me is comments from Tomlin that belittles Redman and Dwyer’s efforts like they’re some kind of adopted sons and will never be a real part of the team.

  9. David says:

    @shh. Um totally with you. Redman is a solid positive runner. The other guy goes backwards way too much to be playing at this level. I’d go with what worked last week.

  10. Mr. Cynical says:

    I know Dwyer didn’t start for the Steelers but he gets an A+. First carry of the season 76 yards! The blocking was awesome on the right side on that play and it had to be. Also, I can’t believe it took an injury to Roethlisberger to finally adjust the game plan with some quick passes. I mean come on BA and Tomlin! We should have had a similar game plan against Houston—therefore, Ben wouldn’t have gotten injured. The Steelers need to get Ben comfortable early and often in games.

    I do not agree with Mark; I think Redman should start for at least the first half of games. Redman doesn’t lose yardage like Mendenfumble; therefore, our offense isn’t put into third and long situations—defenses pin their ears back and crush Ben when that happens. Mendenfumble needs to be traded. If Trent Richardson, RB for Alabama, enters the NFL draft next year he’s our guy.

  11. Carl says:

    We do have short memories. Mendenhall ran for nearly 1300 yards and 13 TDs last year. He is a solid NFL running back. Yes, Redman has been better this year, most definately. With our line seemingly revamped a bit, Mendenhall should return to form. If not, then Redman is right there. Redman’s nice game should also put a little heat on Mendy, that can only be positive.

  12. Mr. Cynical says:

    I just know that Mendenhall never starts games well but he does finish them well (he’s a solid fourth quarter RB). That’s why my suggestion is to play him in the second half after Redman pounds the ball in the first half.

  13. Pete says:

    @Steelers4Life, I couldn’t have said it any better. I agree wholeheartedly with your comment. I think that is what we all have loved about Redman from the beginning. His heart and determination while lugging the ball. You are so right. Mendenhall is the better talented back but he is not being decisive when running. If you look at the replays of the games, the holes are there for Mendenhall but they close quickly. If he trusts the play and hits the holes quickly he’ll gain some yardage. Right now, Redman is running harder and with more heart.

    This is not a great run blocking line but what is important is that they can gain 3 yds here, 4 yds there, to keep the defense honest and have the option of play action.

  14. Rick says:

    The difference between Mendenhall and Redman is that Mendenhall doesn’t seem to hit the holes as hard consistently, too much dancing and not enough looking to swing it outside even if the gain would be a couple (better than a loss). Not certain if he is as strong as Redman.
    Starks played well, and Mark, he was good enough on our Super Bowl teams. I’d take him at LT before Scott. He at least, despite not having “fast feet”, hits the defender.
    The one sack was not a total breakdown, unfortunately it was one of those “it happened” plays. But 1 vs what Ben was getting in the previous 4 games, I’d take that any day.
    And to complain about Timmons, playing outside for the first time in a while, ridiculous. Stay tuned, more fun to come.
    We owed the Titans, now to deal with Jacksonville.

  15. Wildwood says:

    Let’s be honest for as big as RM is he does not run hard which is why he looks to avoid and spin at the point of contact most of the time. In my opinion he’s always Been a little flaky at times and his commitment is at times questionable. Please don’t tell me how we quickly forget what be has done in terms of production I know the stats. I also know he is not running with authority like redman and Dwyer showed last week. RM is a better back then those guys but he’s not showing production RIGHT NOW. He should share the workload with the other two if needed.

  16. Trevin says:

    I’d like to see more 2 back sets with Rashard & Redman back there together. It was run a few times last year and seemed to work well. Either of them can fill the role of a fullback on occasion, and block for the other, although I believe Redman has turned in to a superior blocker, and I also feel he does a far better job at picking up blitzers.

    As for starting, going with Redman first should send a message for Mendy, but I think for the next two weeks they should split carries. That will provide an opportunity for either (or both) to show that they deserve to be the starter the rest of the way.

    Dwyer had one great run, but otherwise was only average. Perhaps he can fill in for Moore’s role the next couple weeks while Mewelde gets healthy for the remainder of the season.

    Regarding Hoke… think back to the year he started 10 games (I think it was 10?) when Casey was injured… he was great this past Sunday, but I don’t think this game was the best of his career, as effective as he was.

  17. David says:

    How in the world can the majority speak highly of redman and then say EM ” is the better back ” if there were a stat kept for fumbles, really I have yet to see Redman fumble the ball At All . Rashard Fumbleitus loses the ball as much as he consistently loses yards. Tomlin, do this season a favor and stay with Redman/Dwyer

  18. David says:

    Rashard Is Not the better back, he is a skirmish runner and he gets most of his yards in overtime,

  19. David says:

    Rashard and Dixon will be traded or released after the drain.

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