Monday, December 12, 2011

Vintage Steel

The Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line worked the trenches like ash-faced miners in week 14. They barged and bumped, parried and pushed, drilled and drove, until the Browns defenders resembled spinning tops, unable to hold position.

With Big Ben Roethlisberger on a lame ankle, courageously lumbering toward his tailbacks and painfully heaving balls downfield, it was the offensive line that punched holes and carved out gaps for the attack. Sometimes they pulled, creating spaces for Rashard Mendenhall to catapult into. Other times they shifted down, pounding rushers into the soil to allow Ben enough time to throw.

It was a mighty performance from this routinely maligned group, who are sometimes small, but bulky, and more importantly, rougher than street hoods. Nobody wanted a piece of them on Thursday, not even the growling Brown dawgs, who scrapped all night to keep it close. Fill-in center Doug Legursky was tremendous on run plays, using his power and nimble feet to unravel defenders.

Ben's performance, of course, is hard to overlook. But the resilience of a depleted line and the hunger of the backs was really the story of this one. Mendenhall ran with authority, totalling 76 yards on 18 carries. Redman added 35 yards on just six carries. While the averages were very good, it was more the force of their charges - the sheer will of carrying into the fray of orange helmets. And with barely a second to change direction, they made cuts that hobbled the Browns for good.

In applying the hammer, the Steelers harked back to the Seventies version of the club that simply beat down opponents on both sides of the ball. The Black and Yellow bruised the Browns into submission, and while it was a weaker opponent than many, you can't help but feel this Pittsburgh outfit could dislodge the insides of most foes - be it the Ravens, Giants or Packers. What a contest that would be: Rodgers and his unblemished jersey, with his band of sure-handed receivers, rematching the ferocious Steelers defense and its relentless offense.

It's not easy to beat a team like Pittsburgh, make no mistake. No matter how many points you accrue, they will wear you down by controlling possession at key moments. And with the weather cooling, the Steeler resolve will only deepen. Throw in its backfield horses - of which Green Bay has none - and you wonder if they might just be able to topple the champs, given the opportunity.

Article first published as The Gritty Steelers Should be Feared on Technorati.

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