Steelers respond, but questions remain
September, 18, 2011
By Jamison Hensley | ESPN.com
Jason Bridge/US PresswireSteelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and coach Mike Tomlin bounced back from a Week 1 loss with a big win over the Seahawks.PITTSBURGH -- The Steelers were right when they warned people not to bury them after their season-opening flop. But no one should jump to the other extreme after watching Pittsburgh slam the Seattle Seahawks, 24-0, at Heinz Field on Sunday.
It's hard to gauge how much the Steelers have improved when they're playing the Seahawks, a team that looks more ready to apply for membership in the Pac-12 than compete in the NFL.
This isn't a slap at Pittsburgh's performance. The Steelers were as dominant as a team could be in the NFL, scoring at will at times and keeping Seattle from even getting a sniff of the end zone. Pittsburgh didn't allow the Seahawks to step in their territory until there was 10 minutes left, and the Steelers didn't punt until the second half.
Most expected a rout, and the Steelers would have taken heat if they didn't deliver a convincing victory. It was an authoritative first step after getting humbled a week ago.
Yet it was hardly a test. Seattle coach Pete Carroll was without his best weapon on offense (wide receiver Sidney Rice was inactive with a shoulder injury) and he's had better quarterbacks at USC than Tarvaris Jackson. The Seahawks looked like a team that had just taken the red-eye across the country.
The only conclusion that can be drawn is that the Steelers remain motivated in establishing themselves as one of the best teams in the league.
"It’s not going to take one performance to take that stench off," Pittsburgh coach Mike Tomlin said in his usual stone-faced manner. "We respect that."
After getting criticized all week for being old, Pittsburgh did look old -- that is, the Steelers of old.
Ben Roethlisberger was slinging balls deep downfield. The defense was back forcing punt after punt, recording its first shutout since blanking the Browns in December 2008. The Steelers were even using the same gadget plays when wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders threw a 15-yard pass to Hines Ward.
Still, have the Steelers fixed all of their problems, or could the Seahawks not expose them like the Ravens? Are the Steelers the same team that went to the Super Bowl seven months ago, or are the Seahawks simply one of the worst teams in the NFL?
"We made improvements," Roethlisberger said, "but there's still a long way to go for us."
No one can truly answer those questions Sunday. And the answers probably won't come next Sunday against the Peyton Manning-less Colts, who fell to 0-2 after losing to the Browns at home.
The measuring stick will come Oct. 2 at Houston. That seems fine to the Steelers, who know they won't shut up the critics by shutting out Seattle.
"For us as players and coaches, we feel like this is going to be a long process of getting that taste out of our mouth and erasing that film from being who the 2011 Pittsburgh Steelers are," Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark said. "This is step one. We’re not satisfied or happy with this."
The only time the Steelers had to sweat Sunday was late in the first half, when Roethlisberger was hit and rolled on the field in pain. A diving Raheem Brock hit the side of Roethlisberger's right knee.
Roethlisberger missed two plays before returning and playing the rest of the game. He took some hits in the second half behind a reworked offensive line and got up every time.
No one would know Roethlisberger took such a nasty jolt to the knee by watching him in the second half. He was an efficient 22-for-30 passing for 298 yards, even though he should have been picked off by Aaron Curry on the first play of the second quarter.
"It was scary," Roethlisberger said of taking that first-half hit. "Knees are nothing to play around with. Structurally, it felt fine. I didn't feel anything pop, so that was a good thing about it. Then it was just a matter of playing through the pain."
The Steelers said all week that they weren't going to push the panic button after one game, and those statements were tested on the opening series. After marching down the field, Pittsburgh's Rashard Mendenhall was stopped on fourth down-and-one at the goal line.
Unlike last week, the Steelers didn't let the adversity to snowball. Pittsburgh answered that goal-line stand by scoring on three straight possessions. The Steelers reached the end zone on drives of 60 and 53 yards and added a field goal late in the second quarter. Instead of trailing by 14 points at halftime like last Sunday, the Steelers held a commanding 17-point lead.
"We came in better prepared, and that’s on me," Tomlin said. "Ultimately, we performed better than we did a week ago, and that’s on the guys that play."
Tomlin didn't need to motivate his players after Warren Sapp's stinging criticism last week. Sapp called out the Steelers for being "old" and "slow," directing most of shots at a Pittsburgh defense that starts eight players in their 30s.
Pittsburgh responded with five sacks (all of which came in the second half when the Steelers were teeing off on Jackson) and eight forced punts. The Steelers didn't allow Seattle to get within 25 yards of the end zone.
It will probably take more than a one-sided win over the outclassed Seahawks to make a statement. But this will stop the questions of what's wrong with the Steelers. At least for a week.
"That makes us laugh," defensive end Brett Keisel said of the criticism. "Eventually, they’re going to be right. Eventually, we are going to be too old. But not right now."