Monday, September 26, 2011

Week 3: Steelers 23, Colts 20

By Mike Batista

It's becoming a Sunday-night spectacle. Troy Polamalu rescues the Steelers late in the game with what coach Mike Tomlin calls a "splash" play on defense.

It was enough for the Steelers to beat the Ravens last December for the AFC North title. But somehow they needed more than Polamalu's heist to beat the Peyton Manning-less Colts Sunday night.

The warning signs of Super Bowl Hangover III seemed to be developing.

With 5:21 left in the game, the Steelers were tied 13-13 with the Colts. All of the Colts' points came off turnovers, including a fumble return for a touchdown. Hair-pulling reminders of 2006 and 2009.

Then James Harrison, who looked all night like his back is just fine, introduced himself to Colts' third-string quarterback Curtis Painter. The Steelers' first sack of the night turned into their first forced turnover of the season.

Not since 1938, when they were still the Pirates, have the Steelers forced just one turnover in the first three games of a season.

With loose balls now like golden eggs for the Steelers defense, Polamalu wasn't going to miss the chance to turn this fumble into points. He picked the ball up on a hop, almost like a basketball dribble, and ran 16 yards for a touchdown and a 20-13 Steelers lead.

Unlike last December in Baltimore, however, Polamalu's Superman moment was fleeting. It morphed into a role as one of the 11 Keystone Kops defenders who allowed Painter to drive 80 yards in three minutes to tie the game.

Polamalu was all over the place on that drive, and he damn near blew up Joseph Addai's 6-yard touchdown run before it started. But every Steeler on the field deserves a share of the blame for yielding a fourth-quarter comeback drive to a guy who came into the game with a career 9.8 passer rating. Yes, the decimal point is in the right place.

For the Steelers' defense, this is more of a red flag than a girl telling you on a first date that she's got 27 cats.

Painter was in the game because Kerry Collins, who would have been watching this game with his feet up in his living room were it not for Peyton Manning's injury, was being evaluated for a concussion stemming from a play in which he was leveled by James Farrior, a play that would have drawn a yellow hanky if it were No. 18 hitting the turf.

The Steelers barely played well enough in this game to beat a retread and a clipboard carrier. Imagine if Peyton Manning didn't have a pain in the neck?

Tomlin said after the game that they "just want to get out of stadiums with wins."

The Steelers (2-1) got out of Lorenzo's (I know, it's Lucas) Oil Stadium with a win, but they had to hide it under their coats, because they shoplifted this one.

Sure, there was Ben Roethlisberger's 81-yard touchdown pass to Mike Wallace that gave the Steelers a 10-0 lead (I got a feeling the Wallace faux-hawk will be part of a lot of Halloween costumes in Pittsburgh this year). As picturesque as that play was, the rest of the Steelers' performance was about as scenic as a landfill.

Both offensive tackles, Marcus Gilbert on the right and Jonathan Scott on the left, were directly responsible for strip sacks in the first half. One led to an Adam Vinatieri field goal and the other was returned 47 yards by Jamaal Anderson for a touchdown, tying the game 10-10 late in the first half.

Both Gilbert and Scott were hurt during the game, although Gilbert had to go back in during the fourth quarter when the Steelers were down to four offensive linemen. Doug Legursky also was hurt during the game. It might be time for Flozell Adams to put down the chips and dip.

The Steelers' Gem Puzzle offensive line also could not open holes against the Colts' traditionally porous run defense. Rashard Mendenhall gained just 37 yards on 18 carries. Isaac Redman, who probably should have seen the ball more, especially in the first half, had just six yards on three carries.

Then, just in a nick of time, the Steelers remembered that Mewelde Moore is still on the team.

After Painter brushed a couple of coats of Embarrassment Red on the Steelers' defense, the offense had 2 minutes and 9 seconds to get into field goal range. It was Moore who got the Steelers into Colts territory by catching a screen pass from Roethlisberger and taking it 22 yards to the Colts' 41.

After Roethlisberger got the Steelers into field goal range with an 11-yard scamper, Moore got them into Shaun Suisham field goal range with runs of five and four yards. 

Before the Steelers had Antonio Brown to return punts, Moore often was used as a punt returner deep in their own end because of his sure-handedness. That's why he was called upon Sunday once the Steelers were in field goal range. No way was Butterfingers Mendenhall getting the ball. Suisham's 38-yard field goal gave the Steelers the 23-20 win.

Since joining the Steelers as a third-down back in 2008, Moore has been like a Batman utility belt gadget for the Steelers. It seems there's been at least a half-dozen times in which Moore has taken the Steelers out of a tight spot with a long gain after a screen pass. He probably can't handle the load of every-down play, which is why we don't see more of him.

Moore did his job for the Steelers Sunday night. The answer to the Steelers' ailing running game isn't for him to get more carries. It's for Mendenhall to do more with his carries, and he could use some help from the offensive line.

And on defense, they have to force more turnovers and turn in a lot of bad-ass performances to make us forget about Painter's Drive.

Sure, this is the kind of win the Steelers get away with once or twice during their Super Bowl seasons, but it's not enough to convince me they are a good team.

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