Anthony Smith, centers, Keisel
by Jim Wexell
From the notebook of a sportswriter who’ll do his best to stay away from sweeping generalizations:
• It’s the bane of our civilization and the core of racism, not to mention media-ism, as in “all the media came down too hard on Anthony Smith for hitting media darling Hines Ward.” There are two mistakes, in fact, in that one sentence alone. Maybe even three or four.
• But I do realize the word “thug” has been angering up the blood of football players since September 1995. It was the reason one player was ejected for kicking another in the head. “When people call me a thug,” reasoned the ejected Bill Romanowski, “it bothers me.”
• Can we all just use another word? “Knucklehead” worked for me before, during and after Anthony Smith’s late practice hit.
• At least Smith is working at strong safety, a position that seems an obvious fit for him. He worked there in the spring, even when Ryan Clark was sidelined.
• I will generalize here and say that all undrafted rookie receivers who drop game-winning Hail Mary passes, when both hands are around the ball, have trouble sleeping at night.
• Is Dennis Dixon the secondbest QB on this team? Works for me.
• If not this year for Dixon, then next, making moot the imagined Byron Leftwich-Charlie Batch duel this season.
• Mike Tomlin’s halftime quote on the telecast from Toronto about his defense having “the same issues we faced last week” works on another level. He could have been
talking about the team “having the same issues it faced last year.”
• For example, Ben Roethlisberger fell back into the old scramble-and-heave scheme on every other pass attempt. Strike I.
• The defense allowed big pass plays on first downs and big run plays on pass downs. Strike II.
• Special teams, while playing well at times, gave up another touchdown return that ruined a comeback. Strike III.
• Now, for the excuses. The offense was rolling along just fine until the third-and-1 holding call on Justin Hartwig. The penalty wasn’t perceptible to the TV audience,
even on super slow-mo TiVo, so perhaps Hartwig will get away with that more often than not.
• Last year, when Casey Hampton was asked to name the better center, Sean Mahan or Chukky Okobi, he said “Mahan holds better.” So it’s obviously a key at the position. Hartwig just got caught this time.
• The center position is indeed being “hotly contested.” Tomlin said it would, and Mahan played well with the first team against the Eagles.
• The run defense wasn’t as bad as the numbers might indicate. Or, make that, the base defense wasn’t as bad as the numbers might indicate. The Bills’ first-team offense passed seven times against the base defense and hit several big plays. The Bills ran four times for 11 yards against the Steelers’ first-team base.
• Conversely, the Bills’ most productive run plays came against the Steelers’ pass-downs packages, including the killer scramble on thirdand-12.
• Both touchdown passes went to the tight end in between Larry Foote and a safety. But just when you think the explosive Lawrence Timmons would solve that problem,
he leaves his gap and the Bills run through it to convert a thirdand-2.
• Timmons just needs more experience, because he has all the speed the first team needs. And if he doesn’t, Troy Polamalu does.
• The change to two inside linebackers in the sub packages didn’t help stop the run all that much last Thursday night in Toronto.
• Rashard Mendenhall had worse statistics against the Bills than he did the Eagles, but he looked much better. He ran with more authority and lowered his shoulder this time around. He just didn’t have as much running room.
• Interesting that James Harrison pressured a quarterback up into the waiting arms of Brett “Big Daddy” Keisel, who completed the sack. Keisel was the guy doing the forcing for others last year, so perhaps his luck is changing.
• Willie Reid showed more on returns this week, while Dallas Baker caught a couple of clutch passes over the middle while taking the hard hit. The battle for the No. 5 WR spot drags on.
• Just to touch all bases of my vast media empire: I was wrong about Timmons on draft day 2007. There, now I feel better watching him blow stuff up.