Steelers 15, Falcons 9 (OT): Ben WHO? Oh, The Really Good QB Who Could’ve Helped Today. Never Mind.

Thoughts on the Steelers’ 15-9 Week One win over the Falcons:

– It’d be instinctual to declare that Dennis Dixon played “well enough not to lose,” but in reality, despite his respectable 18-26, 236 yds, 1 Int statline, he didn’t play all that great. Granted, no one was expecting him to will the team to victory singlehandedly, but he did throw two other balls that should’ve easily been intercepted by the Falcons, in addition to at least three balls in the first half thrown right into the ground towards open receivers that would’ve gone for first downs.

Looking at the result, obviously, we have to say that Dixon played well enough for the Steelers to win, because they did. But if Atlanta hangs on to one of those INTs, we’re very likely looking at a flip-flopped score and saying the exact opposite about Dixon’s performance. He played ok, and will need to play a lot better against Tennessee next week.

– Did anyone have any confidence that the Steelers would pull this one off after Jeff Reed missed that 40-yard field goal? First off, I never entertained the possibility he’d miss from 40 yards in that situation — I tried to pretend I was nervous, like how I try to convince myself I’m nervous on planes, not because I’m scared but just because I don’t want to be a smug, overconfident D-bag then have something actually go wrong — but then sure enough, there went the kick wide right.

So how’d the team pull off the W after going 60 touchdown-less minutes and missing a deflating game-ending field goal? At least for today, the Steelers’ D reverted from the Polamalu-and-Smith-less “play well at times” defense of ’09 back to the “who cares what the O and special teams do, we’re just gonna win this” D of yesteryear. The defense gave up some yards, as all defenses will against competent NFL offenses, but they shut down the Falcons’ run game, they allowed no big plays, they dominated when the Falcons crossed the 50, and they pulled out a turnover at the absolute most opportune time. As frustrating as it was to watch successful quick-outs to Roddy White landing in rapid succession, the Steelers’ D played about as well as we could’ve expected a defense to play under today’s circumstances.

– It’s not even worth pointing out any more that James Harrison gets held on every play. Typing that is no more informative than just copying and pasting facts about the sport of football. James Harrison gets held constantly. A regulation football field is 100 yards long. Fortunately, the Steelers get one “Actually Call Holding On The Guy Holding Harrison” Card per game, and they used it at the perfect time. The picture on the card is the Monopoly guy with his arm wrapped around James Harrison’s neck.

– I’ll come out and say it: The Steelers are better when Troy Polamalu is playing. Yeah, you heard me. I don’t care, I’m not afraid to speak my mind, no matter how crazy or unpopular the opinions are. If this blog were a comedy special, because I’m so edgy with my opinions, the poster would be me with like $%&#*@! over my mouth cause they’d be like “watch out this guy has crazy offensive opinions and doesn’t care who hears ’em!!!!”

Butseriously…obviously it’s nice to have Polamalu back, and not even as much on a play-to-play basis (though he’s a massive upgrade in that area from the alternatives we witnessed in ’09), but more for the 1-3 guaranteed game-changing plays he unleashes every single game. Today, he was dormant the entire afternoon — he finished with 5 tackles, decent but nothing spectacular — then pulled out the potential game-saving (and should’ve been game-winning) interception when the Steelers’ D needed it the most. If Polamalu makes one or two game-changing plays per week, which is a conservative estimate, it’s the difference between the Steelers being so-so (2009) and playoff-bound in 2010.

– Do the Steelers plan on using Larry Foote at some point in the season? They signed him to a three-year deal worth $3 mil a year, and unless he’s sidelined with an injury that I’m not aware of, chose not to use him at all, and he finished the game without a tackle. Second-round draft pick Jason Worilds made three tackles today in his first professional game — Worilds plays outside and Foote plays inside, and the Falcons were certainly passing a lot more than running, but if the Steelers trusted a rookie who’s never played a professional game over the veteran they just signed for $3 mil, why even sign the guy in the first place? He was an emotional leader on the last team, but why pay a backup ILB that much money when it’s already your deepest position? People raised these questions back when Foote was signed, but I assumed the Steelers would rotate him in in a way that made sense, and that didn’t happen today. Are they just banking on a bad injury?

Matt Ryan played alright but didn’t really take many shots down the field, connecting on no passes for longer than 23 yards. Roddy White was ridiculous, catching 13 balls including some when he was completely acceptably covered, but no other Falcon caught more than 4 passes, and that was Eric Weems, who I’m pretty sure (along with J. Peelle) is a Roald Dahl character.

Bruce Arians seemed to use Heath Miller primarily as an extra blocker today, hanging him back in blitz pickup to help out Dixon much as he did in Dixon’s first game at Baltimore a year ago. This was smart, though it’s kind of amusing to imagine that Arians has watched Roethlisberger getting repeatedly suplexed by defensive ends for three years and never thought to himself “That dude needs some more help back there.”

Hines Ward is good at getting open. Controversial opinions, people.

– The Steelers are on the road next week against the 1-0 Titans, who tuned up the Raiders in Week One. I’m not as afraid of Chris Johnson as I probably should be, given the Steelers’ traditional weaknesses against quick-passing teams rather than marquee running backs, but the offense is gonna have to play a whole lot better next Sunday for them to have a chance, and I’m not sure I see that happening. I suppose a road loss wouldn’t be the worst thing in the world, just as long as they don’t give up a touchdown to Nate Washington on a fade that actually works.

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