Senin, 10 Oktober 2011

Circumstances produce big victory

Monday, October 10, 2011

PITTSBURGH, PA - OCTOBER 09: Lawrence Timmons(notes) #94 and Chris Hoke(notes) #76 of the Pittsburgh Steelers tackle Chris Johnson #28 of the Tennessee Titans during the game on October 9, 2011 at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Jared Wickerham/Getty Images)

They call the lead character on MTV's moronic Jersey Shore "The Situation," which probably isn't as depressing in and of itself as much as the fact that I am somehow aware of it.

There is no Situation in the Steelers locker room, thankfully, but there are "The Circumstances."

"We weren't perfect by any stretch," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said Sunday after a ridiculously easy 38-17 dismantling of the Tennessee Titans, "but under the circumstances, you had to like what you saw."

In the winning locker room, The Circumstances gathered in a loose assembly along the far wall. You know them as Ramon Foster, Jonathan Scott, Doug Legursky and the biggest and newest total-desperation plug for an offensive line that has been leaking all season -- Max Starks.

Deemed unemployable by the Steelers only this summer, unable to get on an NFL roster even with winless Minnesota in the past couple of weeks, Starks stood near his old locker and magnetized the media like a starting quarterback.

Had there been an available graphic, it would have read:

Steelers without Max Starks, 2-2, 16 points per game, 3.5 sacks allowed.

Steelers with Max Starks: unbeaten, 38 points per game, one sack allowed.

"I don't want to say I was the reason we ran the ball," Starks smiled after the Steelers gouged out 174 ground yards at a rate of 6.2 per carry. "It was just great being out there with the rest of the guys again, blocking for Ben [Roethlisberger]. I was just trying to make sure I did my job, you know, in the meeting room, displaying some leadership, that kind of thing."

Starks started startlingly at left tackle, four days after signing for the veteran minimum, and four games into an injury-shredded autumn that has forced the Steelers to deploy three left tackles, three left guards, two centers, two right guards and three right tackles.

So how does an offense using more line combinations than the Penguins blow a hole big enough for Jonathan Dwyer to run 76 yards through on the first play of its third possession?

"That was designed to go to the right," said Foster, the Steelers' right guard. "I got a block on 94 [defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks], and Legursky came from the other side and we really took care of that first level."

Dwyer burst into what too often gets called the second level of the defense from his 10 and chugged all the way to the Tennessee 14, which I guess would be about the 14th level of the defense.

"I think we just paid more attention to detail when it came to our techniques," said Scott, who played left tackle until he hurt his ankle two weeks ago but wound up at right tackle Sunday in relief of Marcus Gilbert, who re-injured his shoulder two plays after Dwyer's run. "When you're doing that, it helps the backs to make their reads better and the running game works. I don't know why offensive lines get away from it, but there are so many different factors -- the schematics of the defense, the huge sense of urgency to certain plays -- they make you take a wrong angle, too big, too tight, it's complicated."

You know what else is complicated? A team using its fifth different offensive line in five games suddenly producing a 100-yard rusher and the best protection for Roethlisberger yet, an 80 percent reduction in sacks from the previous game.

Dwyer's 107 yards were the first 100-plus rushing performance by a running back this season and only the third in the past 21 games, including playoffs. The Steelers had 114 ground yards at the half on just 12 carries, the first 100-yard rushing half around here in five years.

Good thing the Titans have dispensed with hand signaling their defense and gone straight to giant yellow cue cards. "ACE," "POSSE," "ROCKET" read three of the cards flashed from the visiting sideline in the first half. By the time it was 31-10, I was waiting for "RUN," "HIDE" and "HELP."

When the opponent's punter is completing 33-yard passes down the middle, it's probably not your day.

"I commend them; they're smart," Titans coach Mike Munchak said. "We were put in a lot of high-pressure situations. We didn't get the lead that we wanted to, and they were able to dictate what they wanted to do. We never put them in position other teams had, where they struggled with protection because they had to throw the ball and became one-dimensional."

No, they were somehow fully dimensional along the offensive front, even though only one of the five starters -- Foster -- played the entire game at the same position. Starks has played one game in 11 months. Chris Kemoeatu is hurt. Maurkice Pouncey left the Sunday game with an injury but returned. Gilbert is hurting. Scott is hurting.

And yet the Steelers are 3-2, under The Circumstances.

Gene Collier: More articles by this author

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