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Tuesday, November 06, 2007

What we learned: Baltimore

While all the hype this weekend in the NFL surrounded the Colts and Patriots, there was an important game being played in Pittsburgh Monday night.

The Pittsburgh Steelers needed Monday night’s victory over the Baltimore Ravens to prove that they could slay the dragon.

The dragon, in this case, was a Baltimore team that dominated the Steelers 58-7 last season, whipping them in every facet of the game.

There will be bigger games for this team down the road. A game at New England and one against a Jacksonville team that physically manhandled the Steelers last season come to mind. And then there’s the playoffs – that’s right, I said it.

But consider Monday night’s 38-7 domination of the Ravens a big hurdle that has been crossed.

© If there is a quarterback in the NFL playing better than Ben Roethlisberger right now, I don’t know who it is.

There, I said it – I guess I’m into making statements tonight at 2:44 a.m.

That includes Tom Brady and Peyton Manning.

If you gave Roethlisberger Brady weapons or offensive game plans, he’d be putting up crazy numbers right now too. Think Randy Moss could get open with Roethlisberger scrambling around, buying extra time?

Roethlisberger could have thrown 10 touchdown passes against the Ravens Monday. He could have piled up 400 yards passing.

But because the Steelers have some class, he didn’t. And it’s been that way for much of this season.

© Roethlisberger is OK, by the way. He banged his hip and shoulder in the third quarter on a hit from Terrell Suggs, but is fine after the initial shock.

Roethlisberger, if you haven’t figured it out yet, is a bit of a hypochondriac. You never really know if he’s near death or ready to come back into the game.

© OK, now we can get to James Harrison.

That was one of the most dominant games I’ve seen a defensive player have in 15 seasons of covering the NFL, bar none.

Harrison was unblockable, unstoppable and unflappable.

All right, he was flapped a little by the media throng that waited by his locker after the game.

Harrison, you see, is not a guy who particularly likes to talk to the media. In fact, he likes to try to intimidate those who are easily intimidated by a guy who’s built like a brick wall and owns a stare that could stop traffic.

But really, Harrison’s a pretty shy guy. He can also be funny when he wants to be.

He also happens to be a pretty good NFL linebacker, one who likely earned himself a spot in the Pro Bowl Monday night.

© Part of the reason Harrison felt he was so effective was that the coaching staff took him off of two of the three special teams coverage units.

He claimed to be fresher. Of course he was still out there covering punts as we saw when he body slammed Ed Reed, forcing a fumble.

No, he didn’t recover that one.

© Were there any Ravens that Hines Ward didn’t put on their behinds?

Just asking.

© It would do the Steelers well to play with that same swagger and ferocity when they play the Patriots later this season.

We saw a little bit of that from the Colts against the Patriots and they didn’t necessarily handle that physical style of play very well.

Heck, even Jeff Reed was going after people Monday night.

© Of the teams in the AFC North, the Ravens might be in the most trouble.

The Steelers, Browns and Bengals all have a quarterback they can build around. Baltimore, on the other hand, does not.

And the defense is getting old, as is left tackle Jonathan Ogden. In fact, Ogden isn’t getting old. He is old.

The Ravens should have let him stay in retirement and started the rebuilding process this season rather than prolonging the process another year.

© The resurgent Browns are up next. Considering the Steelers have won all four of their home games by at least 20 points, there’s no reason to believe the Steelers won’t dominate them at Heinz Field as well.

Derek Anderson may be a nice story in the NFL right now. And sure, he’s playing well, as are Braylon Edwards and Kellen Winslow. But how are the Browns going to run the football? How are they going to stop the run? How are they going to slow down Roethlisberger?

They aren’t.


adamg said...

Dale, don't you think Billick regrets letting Derek Anderson get away? The kid is big, strong and can throw. I found myself a little sad looking at McNair on the sideline in the second half. There's no doubt he's been a great qb and competitor over his career and is tough as nails, but injuries and age have sapped his skills. He should retire.

I agree about Harrison, although no one could dominate a game like Joe Greene in his prime.

I think you're right about NE not liking physical play. Before Indy, Cleveland gave them their toughest game and that's because the Browns
play the kind of physical football you must to compete in the AFC North. Further, I suspect Brett Kiesel will run up, down, over and around Matt Light while putting the heat on Brady, who has a habit of just chucking the ball away to avoid a hit when he's rushed.

Anonymous said...

In reading John Steigerwald's column on Sunday, I was struck by the over-simplicity of it, and how off-base he was. He alleged it's okay to run up a score on an opponent (just because they don't quit and walk away.) Pro players, college and high school all the way down to Pee-Wee are trined to compete to the end. But, HOW do they copmpete? Those who are down work hard, and so do the ones on top- but HOW?

The issue here is class. When a team "takes a knee" toward the end of a game to avoid "one more needless score" that's class.

When a team like the Steelers Monday night run all the second half into a defense that knows they will run, that's class. The Ravens had 7, 8, 9 men in the box. But, the Steelers ran. Why? to burn clock and not run up the score needlessly, while still playing hard.

He says (humiliating the opposition) by running up the score is entertainment for the fans- that's what they paid to see. But fans appreciate the class displayed by taking the knee, for example. They "get it."

How many points could the Steelers have scored by passing on first down in the second half, loosening up the run defense and tossing touchdown passes? It would even have benefited Parker and Najeh to have them back the linebackers and safeties up. (Willie still might have gotten his 100 with the run defense backed up, thinking pass.) But they didn't. After 5 TD's in the first two quarters, Ben and his receivers might have gotten 3 or 4 more. They could have amassed 400 yards. Brady numbers. But they didn't.

They continually ran into a run defense on first and second downs and they burned clock, hastening the end of the game. They played hard to the end, but they still burned clock. That's class. The Steelers (and many other teams) have it. The Patriots don't; or at least Bellichick doesn't this season.

The Patriots humiliate opponents. How? by not running the ball, a team says two things: "We want more scores and stats" (beat you more decisively) and "We don't respect you enough to end the game sooner. We don't think you are capable of coming back."

The Patriots are wrong in running up the score, and Steigerwald is off-base in defending them. Period.

Dale Lolley said...

I don't disagree. Steigy is on point a lot of times. In this case, he was not.