Sunday, January 2, 2011

Polamalu Sets Tone, Ziggy Delivers and the Steelers Cruise to No. 2 Playoff Seed

See what happens when the best defensive player in the league is on the field? The guy is magic. Of course, Sarah Silverman says Jesus is magic.

So if Troy is magic.

And Jesus is magic.

Then Troy is Jesus. (In cleats, instead of sandals, naturally.)

As to the rest of the team, they seemed to remember that despite last year's Horror Show by the Lake (Browns 13, Steelers 6), they are, in fact, the Pittsburgh Steelers and that they were playing the Cleveland Browns, a team which finished the last two seasons at 5-11 and last posted a winning recording 2007 (10-6), although somehow, it feels more distant, the notion of a winning Browns team.

Pig Ben looked as sharp as I've seen him look all year, putting the ball in perfect spots, finding open receivers, getting rid of the ball with alacrity and running from time to time. He was the beneficiary of the best performance by his offensive line all season and though I have been critical of Bruce Arians in the past, he called a great game, but really only needed to do so for two quarters with his team leading 31-3 at the half.

A word about Evander Ziggy Hood. The original draft report on Hood at CBS Sports, contains the following tidbits of information:
Positives: More than the sum of his parts. … Legitimate NFL size. … Plays with a passionate, physical style. … Locates the ball quickly and pursues well down the line. ...

Negatives: Lacks the elite explosiveness or strength usually associated with highly rated defensive tackles. … Only moderate initial quickness. … Flashes the lateral quickness to elude and collapse the pocket, but is too inconsistent in that area. … Often plays too high and loses leverage, negating his own strength and size.

I often think scouting is crazy bananas; guys flame out as often as they deliver and how a guy looks standing around in his underpants at the scouting combine bears little relation to how he will actually perform at the highest level of competition, but this report is dead on for Ziggy. He does pursue well down the line and he plays contain very well. The coaches love his passion and dedication. Still, until very recently, he didn't get much of a push and lacked explosiveness at the point of attack. I've been bumming about that. Actually, I've been kinda carping about it.

Did I expect too much? Probably. I often do that with first round picks. Solid is just not good enough for a first round pick in my mind.

I'm sure I unwittingly expected Ziggy to contribute immediately in the mold of Heath Miller and Pig Ben, but I should try to be more mindful of the Lesson of Troy Polamalu. There were times during Troy's rookie year that he looked completely and utterly lost out there, leading many of us to question Bill Cowher and Kevin Colbert's decision to move up in the draft to get him. Silly. He has turned out to be nothing less than the best defensive player in the league and one of the greatest Steelers of all time. Heady company.

In yesterday's 41-9 romp over the Browns, Ziggy was credited with two tackles for losses, one sack, four solo tackles, and one other QB hit, none of which begins to accurately describe his overall performance. Perhaps the loss of the great Aaron Smith is what Ziggy needed. Maybe he needed to get on the field more, get in the mix more; maybe he learns best by doing. However it happened, clearly Ziggy has turned a corner. Will he turn into the next Mean Joe? Or L.C.? Probably not, but he is really coming on down the stretch which is a very good sign for the Steelers defense heading into the post-season.

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