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Six Points… on the win over the Seahawks

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Mike Wallace is much more than a one-trick pony. He is quickly evolving from one of the league’s best deep threats to one of its top receivers. His deep speed, the attribute that used to be his one trick, is now setting him up for routes all over the field.

Opposing defenders respect his speed and, as such, either try to jam him at the line or provide him with a large cushion so that he doesn’t run by them. Instead of running by them, Wallace is running under them, catching underneath passes and moving the chains. Of course, he can still turn on the jets for a deep pattern, as we saw on a 53-yard snatch against the Seahawks.

After two weeks, Wallace leads all receivers with 16 catches (only Mike Tolbert, a running back, has more). He’s fifth in the NFL in yards with 233 and leads the league in first downs with 14. Best of all? All told, he’s caught 76% of the passes thrown to him this season.

William Gay is quietly becoming a solid corner again. Gay is always a favorite whipping boy for Steelers Nation, and rightly so. The fifth-rounder developed into a stud during Pittsburgh’s Super Bowl run in 2008, only to implode as a regular starter in 2009. Even though he was forced back into a nickelback role last year by the return of Bryant McFadden, Gay struggled to reclaim his former glory.

In two games this season, Gay’s performance has greatly improved. The corner was barely targeted in the week one loss to Baltimore, as the Ravens offense chose to exploit McFadden and the linebacking group. Pressed into a starting role for week two, Gay was solid, defending a few passes and giving up short gains on the throws he did allow. With McFadden questionable for week three (and struggling in general since his return to Pittsburgh last year), Gay needs to continue his level of play if the Steelers hope to make a run.

Allowing zero points is nice, but another goose egg is awfully troubling. For the second week in a row, the defense failed to record a turnover. Troy Polamalu nearly had himself an interception that would’ve been a pick-six, but it fell to the turf before he could secure it.

In the Seahawks game, the lack of turnovers wasn’t much of an issue, as the defense dominated when it came to yards (and points) allowed and the offense kept the ball safe throughout the four quarters of action. But what happens if Ben Roethlisberger tosses a pick or two? Or what happens if Rashard Mendenhall or Isaac Redman cough the ball up? If those turnovers aren’t matched (or exceeded) by the Steelers defense, Pittsburgh will have one hell of a time beating teams better than the Seahawks.

Biggest victim of the continually-shuffled offensive line? It may not be Ben Roethlisberger (directly) or the sluggish running attack. Look no further than Heath Miller, who has all of four catches in two games this season. One of the NFL’s best blocking tight ends, Miller has stayed in to help block with an offensive line that has already fielded seven different starters in two weeks, including a rookie making his first career start in Marcus Gilbert.

Aside from his blocking talents, Miller is also a talented receiver that managed to catch 76 passes just two seasons ago. With the tight end taking on more of a blocking role, the offense loses a weapon in the passing game, Ben Roethlisberger loses a valuable safety valve, and Steeler Nation loses the always-popular “Heeeeeeeeaaath” chant.

Antonio Brown brings a fresh look to a return game that had become very stale. An interesting stat that went unnoticed on Sunday: Brown’s 41-yard punt return was the longest such play by a Steeler in the regular season since a 49-yarder by Allen Rossum back in 2007. Of course, Santonio Holmes had a semi-recent punt return TD during the 2008 postseason run.

All the same, the lack of big-play returns is astonishing. The Steelers haven’t scored a touchdown on a punt return in the regular season since Antwaan Randle El did it near the end of the 2006 season. Let’s hope, for the Steelers sake, that Brown ends that drought in 2011.

I’m still not sure what this team is yet. The Steelers were dominated by the Ravens in week one. Pittsburgh turns around and shuts out Seattle, while Baltimore is handled easily by Tennessee. While Pittsburgh’s true self isn’t likely to be either of the extremes they’ve shown thus far, it will be interesting to see which side they lean towards as the season goes on.

PSR Radio: The Steelers Channel
Click the link above to listen to Mike Tomlin talk about Colts quarterback Kerry Collins, the Indianapolis offense,
the Steelers offensive line,
and the performances of receiver Mike Wallace and cornerback Ike Taylor.

Steelers Gameday Live Chat
Chat LIVE with Ellis Cannon from Heinz Field vs the Tennessee Titans during the game on October 9, 2011 at 1 P.M.! Exclusive real time insight and fan participation!

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