Cook: Willie Colon worked through deficiencies


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Guard Willie Colon knows who would have been blamed if the Steelers hadn't come back to beat the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday at Heinz Field.

Willie Colon, of course.

"Oh, yeah. No doubt," Colon was saying Monday after an afternoon workout at Steelers headquarters. "It would have been all on me."

Colon lived an offensive lineman's second-worst nightmare against the Eagles. The worst is getting beat for a sack and seeing your quarterback knocked into next week. The second worst is hearing your number called four times for holding.

"It's not something I'm proud of, but it happened," Colon said. "You know everybody is looking at you. The biggest thing you can do is shake it off and move on."

Colon did a nice job of that Sunday. It's hard to say a player had a good game after four penalties, but Colon and his pals on the offensive line did. They were especially effective on the final, winning drive after Colon's fourth holding call put them in a first-and-20 hole at the 10 with little more than six minutes left and the Eagles leading, 14-13.

People still are talking about quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's 20-yard pass to wide receiver Antonio Brown on third-and-12. "I'm a Yankees fan and, to me, Ben is our Mariano Rivera," Colon said. "He comes in and closes out games. That's why they pay him $100 million. That's what I call him, our $100 million man."

They're also talking about how running back Rashard Mendenhall ran hard on the winning drive, gaining 16 yards on four carries and catching a 15-yard pass. "He was source of energy for that group," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said. "That's what great players do. They inspire those around them."

But the biggest reason the Steelers were able to keep the ball for the final 6:33 and win, 16-14, on Shaun Suisham's 34-yard field goal is the offensive line. Colon and Co. would not be denied. "I'm just so proud of that group, as always," Roethlisberger said.

It's hard to say what was more encouraging -- the line's ability to open holes for Mendenhall or its ability to keep Roethlisberger clean. Mendenhall, playing for the first time this season, ran for 81 of the Steelers' 136 rushing yards and averaged 5.8 yards per carry. Roethlisberger wasn't sacked and was hurried just three times by a defense that's known for its ferocious pursuit of quarterbacks. Star defensive ends Trent Cole and Jason Babin were shut out. Defensive end Brandon Graham was credited with one of the hurries and ended up with an angry Roethlisberger in his face.

"Yeah, Ben was mad. He thought they were going after his head," Colon said. "They were cheap-shot artists all day. They were hitting us in the back. I know I lost my cool once or twice. It is what it is. You have to play through it."

That the Steelers were able to run the ball pleased Colon. Here's guessing it pleased Tomlin and offensive line coach Sean Kugler, as well. It was Kugler, who had something of a rant when the linemen reported to work Wednesday to start preparation for the game.

"He said he was embarrassed that we were ranked No. 32 in rushing in the league and that we should be embarrassed, too," Colon said. "We're talking about the Steelers, not the Saints. We're supposed to be able to run the ball. We were responsible for that ranking, we had to own up to it and we had to do something about it.

"I like to think we did."

All would have been good for the linemen if not for those holding calls. Roethlisberger rushed to Colon's defense, saying, "I think Willie's just flat-out pancaking people. He's putting them on their backs and defensive linemen are kind of throwing their hands up [begging for a holding call] because there's nothing else they can do." Of course, Roethlisberger is biased. Colon looked at the calls a little more objectively. "I'll say two were legit. I'll give 'em two because I got beat to the inside. But the other two ...

"It would be easy for me to say the refs suck. But I know it's on me to get better. The holding calls are hurting my team. I've got to clean things up. I have to get back to the lab and do a better job with my technique."

Tomlin blamed part of Colon's problem on "overaggression." But he was quick to add, "I would rather say, 'Whoa!' to him than 'Sic 'em.' " Colon considered that assessment from the boss and said, "I think he's talking about my style of play. If I concentrate a little more on my mechanics rather than just trying to kill a guy, I could be more successful. I'm usually in an attack mode out there."

It's hard to blame Colon for a little excess exuberance. He missed all but one game last season because of a triceps injury and all of the 2010 season because of an Achilles tendon injury. He loves being on the field.

This much is certain:

Tomlin never is going to have to tell Colon, "Sic 'em."

"Never," the big man said, grinning.

roncook

Ron Cook: rcook@post-gazette.com. Ron Cook can be heard on the "Vinnie and Cook" show weekdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on 93.7 The Fan. First Published October 9, 2012 4:00 AM


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