IN HONOR OF CHUCK NOLL DAY
As the result of a joint resolution by Pennsylvania’s two United States Senators – Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.) – Sunday, Sept. 7 was designated Chuck Noll Day to honor his coaching career. According to the resolution, Chuck Noll Day is to honor the life and career of a man who remains the only coach in NFL history to win four Super Bowl championships, and as Steelers Chairman Dan Rooney said on the occasion of Noll’s death on June 13, “the way he did it was with dignity.”
That the Steelers’ opponent on Chuck Noll Day Noll’s final win of his coaching career is the Cleveland Browns has some significance. The last of Noll’s coaching wins with the Steelers came on Dec. 22, 1991, and it was against the Browns, 17-10. Noll was the first coach in franchise history to post a winning record in the annual home-and-home series against the Browns. Pittsburgh was 25-19 against Cleveland under Noll.
Coach Mike Tomlin understands that a fast start will be important to the Steelers’ chances to win this game, but he was particular interested in a specific fast start.
“We have to start fast, but people say that all the time, and so I explained what that means to our team,” said Tomlin on the Friday before the game. “We have to do a great job in situational football during the early stages of the game. We have to get off the field on third downs on defense; we have to convert third downs on offense. We have to execute in the red area. If they get in the red area with their offense, we have to make them kick field goals, and obviously if we get in the red area with our offense we have to score touchdowns. Starting fast is a big component within the game, but starting fast within situational football is really important.”
Looking at how the Steelers did based on what Tomlin was seeking from them, the offense was 1-for-3 in the red zone and the defense allowed the Browns to go 3-for-5 in the red zone, including 2-for-2 in goal-to-go situations. On third downs, the Browns converted 2-for-11, while the Steelers were at 4-for-12, but they were 0-for-6 on third downs in the second half.
A ROOKIE STARTING FOR LeBEAU
When Ryan Shazier lined up next to Lawrence Timmons for Cleveland’s opening offensive play, he became the first rookie ever to start for a Steelers defense coordinated by Dick LeBeau (1995-96, 2004-present). But as a secondary coach in 1992, LeBeau was involved in a rookie starting for his unit when free safety Darren Perry was in the lineup for the 1992 opener in Houston against the Oilers.
Halftime. It wasn’t that there was anything the Penn-Trafford High School band did during its performance, but something had to happen during those 12 minutes to change the course of this game so dramatically.
During the first half, the seven Steelers’ offensive possessions ended: field goal, touchdown, interception, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, punt, field goal; while Cleveland’s six first-half possessions ended: field goal, punt, punt, punt, punt, punt.
In the second half, the switch was flipped. Pittsburgh’s six offensive possessions ended: punt, punt, punt, punt, punt, field goal; while the Browns went: touchdown, touchdown, field goal, touchdown, punt, punt.
STAT THAT STANDS OUT
During the first half, Ben Roethlisberger completed 16-of-22 for 278 yards, with one touchdown, and one interception. In the second half, in the five possessions before the game-winning field goal, he was 4-for-8 for 54 yards.
MORE PROBLEMS FOR THE RUN DEFENSE
During the preseason, the negatives were that 73-yard touchdown run by the Giants’ Rashad Jennings in the opener, and then the 182 yards on a 5.2 average posted by the Eagles in the third of the four games. The Browns had similar success, even if it was only for a half.
After rushing for 62 yards in the first half, the Browns came on to roll up 121 in the second half to finish with 183 total and a 6.1 average to go along with two touchdowns. And this was accomplished even though starting running back Ben Tate didn’t play in the second half due to a knee injury.
Terrence West, a rookie third-round pick from Towson, had 100 yards on 16 carries, and Isaiah Crowell, an undrafted rookie from Alabama State added 32 yards on five carries ands scored two touchdowns.
“We got on our heels a little bit. We got a little complacent in the second half, but we got the ‘W’,” said Cam Heyward. “We just didn’t play as a unit. We have to execute better, do our assignments better and just become a better team. And we need to learn from our mistakes, because Baltimore is going to do the exact same thing.”
ALL’S WELL THAT ENDS WELL?
An assortment of quotes on that issue:
Ben Roethlisberger: “We can’t apologize for the way we win. We just have to win games. It was frustrating at times because we felt that we couldn’t get on the field (in the second half), and when we were we couldn’t sustain drives. It’s frustrating, but there was never panic there was never worry on my behalf. I looked at the guys when we got in the huddle, especially on that last drive and everyone was amped up and excited and that’s the way that it needs to be.”
Cam Heyward: “A win is a win in this league. We have 15 more games. Right now, we are 1-0. You have to win the ugly ones. We came out hot early, but it’s three plays that can change a game. You can see on the board that they put 21 [points] up quick. We just have to continue to get better. It’s the first game, but there’s some things we can work on. It will humble us and keep us grounded.”
Le’Veon Bell: “It’s not really about style points. At first, when we were up, 27-3, we were like, man, we have to just keep pushing it, keep pushing it. Once they started coming back, we were like, we just have to get out of here with a win. We can’t let them come back and get the win. I’m just glad to get out of here with the win. I’m excited.”