NO ONE picked this team....the AFC triumvirate pre-season was New England, San Diego, Indy.
Then....Brady went down, thanks to L'il Wayne (remember...Kevin Faulk, who would have been blocking Bernard Pollard was out due to a weed arrest at a L'il Wayne show), SD & Indy both sucked early, and the AFC was there for the taking.
BIG questions going in for the Steelers were the two lines, and the '08 draft drew the ire of many Steeler fans by ignoring these glaring needs.
The O-line was expected to suck, and did early on, then was re-shuffled as well. By the season's fifth game, 2 of five starters were lost, Kendoll Simmons to IR, Marvel Smith with a bad back that was "status quo" every week, until finally being placed on IR in late December. And wither Max Starks?? The $8mil tackle who never saw the field, even against Jax when Smith came out. Well....Coach Tomlin explained that Trai Essex gave us a better look against the Jax edge rushers late, but Starks would start at LT after the by week. He did....and never came back out. After damn near getting Big Ben killed vs. Philly & Baltimore, the O-line seemed to solidify it's protection of The Franchise during the Jax game, where the Steelers often spread the field, with great success!! For the remainder of the season, even though the sack totals were high, the O-line protected acceptably. All the way 'til the very end though, this group struggled with getting push at the goal line, coming up short against....Colts, Chargers, Patriots, Cowboys, Titans, Chargers again, Cardinals.
The worries on the D-line were of depth, given how this unit was gashed on the ground after Aaron Smith went down in '07. There were problems from the beginning with Fat Casey's penchant for Fat****edness, resulting in his being banished to the Training Camp Fat Farm. Then he had this groin thing early on, Keisel had a knee thing early AND late. But guess what? Our backups stepped up!! We knew Chris Hoke had it in him....but Travis Kirschke? Nick Eason? WE thought both of these guys sucked, but they were solid throughout.
The linebackers. What a crew. We were the beneficiaries of solid inside play throughout...the reports of Larry Foote's demise continue to be premature, but L.Timmons, now introed with the starters for good reason, but.....the outside boys!! Harrison & Woodley bring so much more than did Porter & Haggens before them. As good a pass rusher as was Peezy, he was always neutralized by the big tackles. The pair we have now are beasts.....plowing right through the big boys. Whenever I see an interview with Woodley, in street clothes, I'm shocked by how huge this guy is in the chest & arms. It looks like someone stuck his head on a fake body. And Harrison's low center of gravity. Their ability to bring constant pressure, in my unqualified opinion, resulted in lockdown pass coverage, as we rarely had to bring any DBs on the blitz. One more thing about Harrison, prophetic.....in the pre-SB interview with Deion Sanders, he complained about the game plan that would have him back in coverage, and that he would need to "pick one or two, take one to the house....I'm short, maybe they won't see me." And then, listening to Cardinal QB Kurt Warner describe...that's EXACTLY what happened. He didn't SEE Deebo. Amazing that this guy has been a starter for only two years, and when Peezy was cut, there was alot of doubt as to whether Harrison could be the guy. Not only does he bring the pressure, he's stout against the run, and covers the pass as well....AND....obviously knows what to do with the ball when he gets his hands on it. We KNEW this though, starting back in '05 when he hurtled LT after a pick against San Diego.
DBs....can never have enough good cover guys. We lost Deshea early, BMac stepped in and exceeded Deshea's play. Then BMac broke his arm. No prob....Willie Gay!! Gay stepped in so well, that he now basically alternates with BMac in our base D....and Deshea is in the nickel. And THEN....our safeties. Troy had his best year ever....one of the rare defenders that an OC need to gameplan around. Ryan Clark!! Damn....he brings the wood. And think about it.....we weren't sure he'd even come back from his organ removal...AND...never knew he was this good. Lays people the ****.....OUT!!
Rest of the offense.....
Hines was Hines, aging, not fast....still solid as hell. Can count on Hines for the big catches...game-winning drives vs. San Diego, vs. Baltimore...Hines comes up big. Still DESTROYS people with his blocking (ask Keith Rivers), and toughed it out with a significantly damanged knee in the SB....made 2 VERY BIG catches. Most people would be out a month with that knee, but there was Hines, giving a Willis Reed like performance early with his 38-yarder on the game's 2nd play. Unlike Willis though, who left game 7 of the 1970 NBA Finals way early, Hines was there throughout......was running his pattern, drawing coverage, on the game-winning play, then held hands with Ben on the sideline when the D sealed the victory.
Santonio....still say that his this kid grew up after his mid-year weed incident, when Mike Tomlin sent him the **** home, then welcomed him back with "Don't be THAT guy." How did Santonio respond?
*Made the catch to put us in winning FG range vs. SD
*Caught a 20 yard TD, our first of the game, vs. NE
*Awoke the moribund offense with a 43 yard catch on 3rd & 16 vs. Dallas, then took a punt back to set up a FG mid-4Q
*Game winner vs. Balt on a play where he couldn't afford a hint of a bobble
*Stretched waaaay out for a TD vs. Tennessee
*Took the punt to the House vs. SD in the Div. Playoffs
*Long TD, robbed of another, and a good punt return in AFCCG vs. Baltimore
*SB: a performance for the ages, 9 catches, 131 yards....schooled that rook....and then a catch, greatest TD catch in NFL history to win the ****in' Super Bowl
Nate....big this year....made plays....long ****in' plays. He can climb the ladder...that's for sure. This kid has always, always, always been under-estimated. Hope we can keep him.....afraid we won't.
Limas Sweed....I booed him, too, after the drop in the AFCCG. When he made a catch with his hands, early 4Q, for a first down, I was saying, "I LOVE this guy." Didn't do much this year.....he'll be alright.....he'll be a big contributor next year...a starter when Hines finally hangs 'em up.
Tight Ends....all year long, we heard about how they couldn't block...couldn't seal the edge...went along with the rest of the OL. Both these boys could catch the ball though. Heath Miller's a ****in' threat....love Heath Miller. And the Spaeth kid stepped in nicely in the short game when Miller went out. The McHugh kid's alright with me, too....placed as a FB.
Running backs....First FWP goes out with a knee after the 3rd game, then #1 draft pick Rashard Mendenhall breaks his ****in' shoulder next game. Up steps Mewelde Moore, who upon his signing, we all wondered..."Why the **** do we need him?" and was absolutely ****in' HUGE....making plays late in the passing game that signficantly contributed to wins against Baltimore, against Jax, found the end zone 3x versus Cinci....and when his PT was drastically reduced after FWP returned, continued to make big, albeit unheralded plays. Final drive last week....3rd & 6, the Francisco kid blitzing....Mewelde jacks him the **** UP!! The, he sells the flat well enough from the AZ 46, that Rodger-Cromartie comes up, leaving Santonio open for the 40 yarder. Glad he was on the field for the entire winning drive.
FWP had his injuries to deal with, but gave us a solid enough year. His return against San Diego after we had dropped 2 of 3, two home games in a row, was big. Ran very tough inside, broke plays outside that had been missing. Did the same thing against SD in the Divisional Playoffs.
Then, there's the QB....the ****in' Magician. SIX times, in this year that brought the SIXTH Lombardi trophy, Big Ben brought his team down the field to tie or win the game on its final possessin. SIX wins, out of 15 were of this variety. And don't forget, the first Cleveland game, up by 4 with 3 minutes left, Ben hits Heath on 2nd down to keep the clock moving, not giving it back to the Brownies until 20 tics remained. Something about Ben...when AZ went ahead in the SB, first shot is of Brenda Warner (she must've prayed about her hair), the next one is of Ben...grabbing his helmet. He had that Ben look, where you just KNEW something good was about to happen. As Chris Berman says....John ****in' Wayne (well, he doesn't exactly say it like that!). As the guy that writes for the New England Patriots Weekly said, much to the chagrin of his colleagues, following the Jax game....Ben could be the MVP 'cause he does things for his team, that Brady & Manning, even when healthy, can't do...extend the play, extend the play, extend the play....make something happen. Ben has his foibles, ain't always pretty, was seeing ghosts mid-season, suffering from the QB's version of PTSD...was seeing no ghosts in all those game-winners though, almost all of them marked by an impossible play or two....
*the toss in the flat to Mewelde in OT against Balt on 3rd down with a defender in his face, giving us FG range
*the 3rd & 8, 18 yarder to Hines in Jax with a defender hanging on him, when nobody knew that Skippy was hurting, couldn't have made a FG of that length...
*the 3rd down toss to Hines for the first down against SD, after facing 1st & 20...
*the sneak for the first down on 4th down against Dallas
*the winning TD to Santonio in Baltimore, after scrambling left, then right, about to throw it away
*the perfect pass to Santonio, his 3rd option, to win the SB
Oh....Ben still blocks & tackles, too. Do NOT underestimate the value of his helping break up a ball that was batted on 2nd & goal at the 2, 3Q last week. Cardinal safety Rolle's eyes got REAL big.....saw a TD in front of him, was gonna be a reversal of the Deebo pick.....Ben was there....broke up the ****in' thing.
Ben...the Best. Guess we didnt' need to worry about that little concussion vs. Cleveland in the finale.
Props to Lefty....stepped in against Washington on a night when Steeler Nation took over the Skins building on Election Eve. Showed this team would be in capable hands if he was called upon.
Fullbacks....get off Carey Davis' case. We don't have him to handle the ball.
Skippy....guy's money....don't give a **** what he does carousing on the SaSide. Missed a couple kicks, uncharacteristically, in December, vs. NE & TN, but so what? Had one money kick to make in the playoffs, 45 or 47 yarder into the open end, 3Q agaisnt Balt. in the AFCCG to make it a 2-score game...****in' drilled it!! Snuck one through from long-range to beat Balt. in OT in September in a game that had HUGE implications. Skippy's the guy I want with the game on the line.
Mitch Berger....won't be back next year, but thank you, Mitch Berger. You took alot of heat, you kinda sucked in the AFCCG, but you held well, you stuck your ****in' nose in, you toughed it out with the hammy.....you're okay with me.
Retofsky, Retosky....whatever your hunky name is....thank you as well. Not sure if we see you again, but you never ****ed up.....was one of my greatest fears when you came in, mid-season.
Statistical oddity: Of the 23 Steelers (including IRs) that were around in both '05 & '08, 5 came to the Steelers as undrafted rookie free agents (FWP, Harrison, Nate, Skippy, Warren). THREE of these (FWP, Skippy, Warren) are from the same school...UNC! Chances of that??
Oh...forgot about the coaches...
Positon coaches: Who the **** knows? Answer: Nobody
Special Teams: Kudos on the coverage....what a world of difference form past years....
DC: LeBeau....what else can you say. I am going to hypothesize that Tomlin's work with DBs added alot to this D
OC: I think the criticism of Arians is overblown. Ordinarily, I'm not one to focus too too much on individual play calls. If it works, guys' a genius....if it doesn't , he's a dope. Plus, I don't know that any of us know how much is the OC, and how much is his marching orders. Goal line offense? What the **** was the guy supposed to do? He runs it...we kill 'im. He passes it...we kill 'im. Fact is, nothing worked down there, resulting in what appeared to be, and what undoubtedly was, a ****in' grab-bag down close.
I was critical though of the wasting of first downs in the AFCCG. Ten of 13 first down runs netted 0,1, or 2 yards. The tattered Raven secondary could have been had with play action on first down. There was no need for the game to be 16-14, Ravens with the ball and a chance to win with a field goal with under 7 minutes left. The defenders of The Great First Down Giveaway say that "3rd & 8>3rd &13" and that did I want "#20 (Ed Reed) to waltz away with a pick-six?"
Y'know what?? **** #20.....he's never done **** against the Pittsburgh Steelers, other than get knocked the **** out by Hines Ward, and Ben burned his *** with a pass to Hines on the very first possession. Is aiming for 3rd & 8 any way to play football. "Hey Willie, gain 1 yard on 1st down, 1 yard on 2nd, guarantee we win." What the ****!! Most pissed I've been at Arians all year. Might as well have taken a ****in' knee.
The Head Coach: This is where I'll focus my efforts. I was plenty pissed at Mike Tomlin throughout the off-season because of 3rd & 6 in last year's Jax playoff. I still think this was a dumb-assed call, and as the head man, he needs to take the responsibility. A timeout directly preceeded this play, so he had plenty of time to weight in, and damn well should have. Tomlin hedged his bets on this call, ****ed with his priorities. Rather than focus solely on moving the sticks, ending the ****in' game, Tomlin tried to mitigate risk while doing so....and got ****ed in the process.
This ****er learns though, and I said so after the Cleveland game, 2 games into the season, when after the Dumb**** Romeo Crennel kicks a FG, down 7 points, 3 minutes left, Tomlin has Ben through on 2nd down (you can see it was Arians....to me, the HC is ultimatley responsibl) 'cause he KNOWS he has to get a first down, exhaust the clock.
The other ****-up, which I beat the proverbial dead horse on, not subscribing to the "all's well that ends well" school that's so prevalent on some other sites, was the spike against Baltimore in December. Fifty-three seconds left, a timeout in our pocket, essentially 3 bullets in our gun to win the game in regulation....you DO NOT waste one of the bullets in order to preserve the timeout, or to not rush. We were the beneficiary of the reversal of reversals on 3rd down (yes, I think Santonio scored....but i was SHOCKED that the call on the field was reversed). Fourth down, inches away, our GL offense, who the **** knows what happens. AFCCG might've been in Baltimore, not Pittsburgh.
Anyway, at the time, I said that if this should happen in the playoffs, I sure as hell hoped that we wouldn't see a spike again. Presto....in the drive for #6, SAME ****IN' THING did happen. This time.....we take the timeout, preserving all 3 shots at the EZ, and scored on the second one. Like I said, the ****er learns.
Lastly on Tomlin, I've stated a number of times that he was hired cause he has an exceedingly well-developed line of bullshit, postulated that he earned a degree in Rhetoric (i.e. Bullshit) from William & Mary. I still kinda think this is so, but one should not be dismissive of the value of a good line of bullshit. For MikeTomlin, it makes him what Ken Whisenhunt is not....an incredible leader. Hell....Tomlin could publish a quote book....
*Miles to go before we sleep; miles to go before we sleep
*It's not what you're capable of; it's what you're willing to do
*Humble, grounded, selfless
Hell...he has his player repeating his bullshit.
Last year, when the Steelers lost at AZ, and it appeared that Whiz had outcoached Tomlin, I wrote that one should expect this. Whiz was probably more ready, due to experience as a coordinator, his grasp of offensive x's & o's, to be a head coach AT THAT TIME. I also wrote that Tomlin had more upside.
Tomlin has the greatness.....seriously, the Lombardi, Noll type greatness, that Whiz will never see. A great line of bullshit is a gift, not a skill that one develops. Tomlin's got it.
So there you have it, YOUR 2008 Picksburgh Steelers.....not one, not three, not Four, not even Five, but Six...SIX....Super Bowl Championships!!