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Ben's Happy Feet and Other Thoughts
Sorry I missed the game thread last night and I don't know whether any of this was mentioned or not, but I thought I'd subject you all to my observations.
It's hard to blame Ben, because he was under duress most of the evening, but it was the first time (other than 2006) that I've seen him rattled at all. On the rare occasions he was given time to throw, he seemed to be expecting the rush and either hurried his throws or didn't bother looking downfield because he didn't believe he'd have time. There were a few throws in particular (to Washington on the goal line, the low ball to Hines, and I forget the third) where the ball fluttered out of his hand and was way off the mark. I also noticed that his movement in the pocket was more akin to survival mode than it was evading the rush and looking down field for the play, which is something I'm not used to seeing from him (the lone exception was when he stepped up in the pocket and those three defenders all collided...great throw and Miller dropped the ball).
To that end, our greatest fear heading into the season was the most glaring eye-sore last night, which was our line. They did a horrible job of pass protection and opened few holes in the running game. Sure we won't face that quality of a defensive line too often, but they should all be embarrassed by the performance. It's very evident to me that we are going to have to run quite a bit of no-huddle this season and mix in a good dose of screens, draws, and three-step drops to help this line out.
I thought Willie ran very hard despite the low production (although he was flattened trying to pass protect on that bum rush in the second quarter) and Mendenhall, despite the two fumbles, looked very good cutting and running people over. If our line can get these guys just a little daylight it'll do wonders for our pass protection as well.
Hard to evaluate any of the receivers last night but I thought Miller did a great job of getting open and giving Ben a target, although he dropped that potential first down.
The defense looked as impressive as I've seen them in a long time. Now there were a few breakdowns in coverage when the rush didn't immediately get to Frerotte, but we were in that guy's face most of the evening and did an unbelievable job against their vaunted running game. Aaron Smith was a friggin' beast to open that game up, Woodley got some serious heat on a few occasions (and simply ran over their RT like he was a small child on his sack) and Timmons was all over the place. I gotta say that I'm becoming more and more impressed with Timmons every time he steps on the field. I saw Casey Hampton actually get off the ball, split a double team, and make a play in the backfield...haven't seen that in a long time. To top things off, Brett Kiesel was also very active last night and played one of his best games in awhile.
All in all, we played lights-out on defense last night and that was a great relief, especially considering there was no Troy Polamalu.
As far as special teams...great coverage, Reed was money, but Holmes didn't sell me that he's the answer in the punt return game (granted only two attempts). None of our returners stood out and I'm surprised we didn't get a longer look at Drummond last night...I guess his fate has been decided.
While I think the piss-poor pass protection is symptomatic of what we'll see most of the year, I don't think Ben's reaction to it will be as bad as what we saw last night, and like I said...there are ways that Bruce Arians can help that group out. I'm looking for the best pass rush this team has seen since we put up 55 sacks back in '01 or '02 and hopefully it'll be the catalyst to a season of dominance.
I think we are ready to take on the league's toughest schedule and reclaim the AFC North title