By Dale Grdnic
PITTSBURGH — The scene is all too familiar to the Pittsburgh Steelers and their followers, as quarterback Peyton Manning breaks the huddle he begins pointing and shouting commands to his teammates.
Some fans might believe that nonsense infuriates the Steelers, but those veterans interviewed this past week said they barely pay attention to Manning’s antics at the line of scrimmage.
“Honestly, I don’t pay any attention to him,” Steelers free safety Ryan Clark said. “You just have to do your thing, but unless it’s something you can pick up on film … a trend from something he does, if you’re watching Peyton Manning you’re not focusing on what you have to do.
“You can’t make adjustments every time he does something or says something. Sure, there’s something in there when he communicates with his receivers and his line, but most of it is just bull. I really believe a lot of it doesn’t mean anything at all.”
When the Steelers line up on defense, strong safety Troy Polamalu basically does his Manning imitation, jamming the line of scrimmage and jumping back and forth in an attempt to disguise a possible blitz. Polamalu was asked about facing Manning.
“To be honest, I don’t know the difference,” Polamalu said when asked about Manning’s antics at the line. “And for the most part, I couldn’t care less about all that stuff. Whatever play they run, we have to try to defend it.
“I know he tries to disguise what he’s going to do, so it’s somewhat of a chess match. But I’m probably not the guy to ask about doing stuff at the line.”
For the most part, though, Polamalu likes playing against veterans like Manning.
“Sure, it adds something to our preparation, but that’s because it’s easier,” Polamalu said. “I don’t mean it’s easier to play somebody like that, but it’s easier because you know what you’re going to get for them.
“They’re going to make plays, so you have to go into those games knowing that you can’t gamble and can’t make mistakes. There’s really no room for error, so you really have to be disciplined.”
One player on the Steelers’ defense who has gambled with his play at least a bit more than most is outside linebacker James Harrison. Known as one of the hardest hitters in the NFL, Harrison hasn’t been afraid to pop a ballcarrier, whether he’s a receiver, running back or quarterback.
Harrison said he won’t hesitate to hit Manning, either, even though the veteran quarterback missed last season after neck surgery.
“It’s no concern, because he’s healthy,” Harrison said when asked if he things about putting him out of action for good. “He’s fine.”
Since this is a marquee matchup, Steelers nose tackle Casey Hampton believed it can set the tone for the club’s defense, depending on its performance.
“I think we have a chance to be really good, but we have to go out there and do what we’re capable of doing,” Hampton said. “But I definitely think, with the guys that we have here, we have a chance to be really good on defense. We’re preparing for anything that they can do out there, but at the end of the day Peyton is going to be Peyton. It looks like he’s going to be ready to go.
“So, we have to be ready for anything. And I don’t think it’ll be any different from previous times that we’ve played him. He looks as good as ever. I don’t see any effects from the surgery or anything, and it really doesn’t matter who he has at receiver. All he needs is a real small window, and if you give him that he’ll put the ball in there. So, it really doesn’t matter who he throws to.”
Steelers inside linebacker Larry Foote believed the Broncos were an automatic contender in the AFC with Manning at quarterback.
“They made the playoffs last year, and if Manning can stay healthy they could be the team to beat in their division,” Foote said. “They should be better than the teams he had in Indy lately, because I don’t believe he’s had a running back like McGahee since Edgerrin was in Indy.
“He might take a while to get used to these guys, but his O-line, the wideouts, tight ends, backs, the talent is there. It’s going to be a big challenge for us to play out there on a Sunday night, but we like these types of matchups. And we’re more worried about playing our game than what they’re going to do.”
Note: Hampton said that depending on the personnel for Denver, he might stay on the field, even if the Steelers go to their nickel defense. He added that it was a misnomer to believe he always comes out in passing situations.