Steelers Open Season with Home Victory
Pittsburgh Steelers remembered those lost on September 11, 2001 and
their families with a fitting pre-game tribute in which members of the
army parachute division fell from the sky onto Heinz Field giving the
Steelers and Oakland Raiders something to remember them by.
brilliantly sunny, 85 degree day in Pittsburgh, the Steelers of today
looked like the Steelers of old, when a blitz-burgh type defense and a
crushing running game ruled the play. The crowd of 61,000 plus arrived
early and partied hard, on a day in which soaring temperatures reminded
those Raider fans in attendance of back home. This year’s Steelers team
looks very similar, at least in personnel, to last year’s team which
finished 6-10. However, Steeler Nation has reason to hope.
Steelers welcomed back former defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to his
previous position. His aggressive defenses in the mid-1990’s were famous
for blitzing and putting pressure on the quarterback and thus the team
became known as the ‘Blitz-burgh Steelers.’ Coach LeBeau promised a
rebirth in this system and his new Steelers defense did not disappoint.
The Steelers pressured Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon all day despite
his 305 yards passing, most of which came on two long pass plays. The
Steelers defense recorded 3 sacks (two by Clark Haggans, one by Aaron
Smith), intercepted two Gannon passes (James Farrior and Deshea
Townsend), and forced 5 Raider fumbles, two of which were recovered by
the Steelers. The defensive secondary, which was shaky on its best days
in the 2003 season, played solid as well giving up only two long pass
plays to Doug Gabriel and Alvis Whitted.
other side of the ball, the Steelers welcomed another new face not named
Ben Roethlisberger (who will be backing up Tommy Maddox for the 2004
season) in Duce Staley. Duce, a dependable back who played his previous
seven seasons with the Philadelphia Eagles, was signed in the off-season
with hopes that he could remedy the anemic running game which had
plagued the offense last year.
New offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt promised a return to the run,
with Duce as the featured back. The early results gave Steeler fans to
experience ’Duce’s Wild’ in Pittsburgh. From the initial carry it was
evident that Duce will be a force to be reckoned with this year. Duce
grinded out 91 tough yards on 24 carries, and even more significant, he
already won over the hearts of the Steeler faithful who began early and
often with chants of “DUUUUUUUUUUCE!”
addition to Duce, Maddox played reasonably well completing 13 of 22 pass
attempts for 142 yards. Hines Ward led all receivers with 7 receptions
for 99 yards. Jerome Bettis, relegated to the backup running back role,
ran the ball 5 times for 1 yard and had 3 touchdowns, seemingly
finishing Duce’s job. The Steelers only won by the slim margin of 24-21,
but the game was entirely controlled by them.
Reed kicked a 42 yard field goal with 7 seconds left to give the
Steelers an opening day victory over the Raiders, a team whose rivalry
dates back to the Steelers dynasty of the 1970s.
LeBeau is back. “Blitz-burgh” appears to be back. The running game,
thanks to Duce Staley, is back on its feet as well. Though early, the
Steelers of old appear to be back to their old and familiar winning
ways. This is bad news for the AFC North (which by the way both
Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals lost) but good news for the
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