The Steelers opener against the Houston Texans helped to answer a few questions that were on the minds of Steelers fans. The first question that fans wanted to have answered was “is Willie Parker fully recovered from the injury that ended his season last year”? Parker’s 138 yard, 3 touchdown performance answered that question with an emphatic “yes”! Parker looked fast, strong, and explosive. He ran successfully around the edge and between the tackles. Willie Parker’s 138 yard was the NFL’s 2nd best rushing performance on opening Sunday. This shows that Parker is back, and ready to pick up where he left off before he went down with the injury last season.
The second question that Steelers fans wanted to have answered was whether the offensive line would be better than the unit that gave up 53 sacks last year? The unit had lost arguably it’s best player in Alan Faneca. Moreover, Marvel Smith was recovering from back problems, Chris Kemoeatu was a first time starter, and Justin Hartwig was a new addition to the team. Willie Parker’s rushing performance was at least partially attributable to the offensive line. But even more telling was the fact that the Steelers seemed to manhandle the Texans on both sides of the ball. This was especially impressive since the Texans’ defense boasts Mario Williams, one of the best sack artists in the NFL, DeMeco Ryans, and Amobi Okoye. Williams did manage two sacks, but Ben Roethlisberger wasn’t running for his life on every play like he appeared to do last year.
The third question that fans got their answer to was whether the teams top two picks from a year ago, Lawrence Timmons and Lamar Woodley, would begin making a meaningful contribution to the Steelers’ defense. The answer to that question appears to be another affirmative. Woodley had an interception, a fumble recovery, and a sack in his first NFL start. In fact, I would have sworn that I saw him get two sacks, but the official box score only credits him with one, so I guess I saw it wrong. As for Timmons, while he didn’t start, he got lots of playing time and accounted for 4 solo tackles.
It was hard to find anything wrong with the Steelers’ performance Sunday. However, there was one thing that concerned me. At the end of the first half, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger appeared to injury his knee/leg. He hobble off the field with the Steelers enjoying a comfortable lead. As the 3rd quarter began, I expected backup quarterback Byron Leftwich to replace Roethlisberger. Instead, Roethlisberger started the 3rd quarter, and played for most of it until he was finally replaced by Leftwich as the 3rd quarter drew to a close. In light of the season ending injury that Tom Brady suffered during the New England Patriot’s season opener, it concerned me that Coach Tomlin kept our $100 million dollar quarterback in a game that was obviously a blowout. Here’s a hint coach; when your team is up by over 20 points in the 2nd half and is obviously having their way with their opponent, take your star quarterback out of the game. That’s one of the luxuries of having a quality backup like Byron Leftwich. He provides a dependable veteran quarterback to finish games while preserving the team’s franchise player.
Sunday’s win over the Texans, in combination with the Cleveland Browns’ trouncing at the hands of the Dallas Cowboys, sends the Steelers into next weeks AFC matchup with the much needed momentum advantage. The Browns are a dangerous young team that tied the Steelers last year for best record in the AFC North. Next week’s intra-division contest will be sure to send a message about who is likely to emerge as “king of the mountain” in the AFC North. If I were a betting man, my money would be on the Steelers.