Despite loss, Steelers best in division
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
By Ron Cook, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette
The Steelers are going to win the AFC North Division. Let's get that straight right at the top. As badly as they played in Philadelphia Sunday, they still are better than Baltimore, Cleveland and Cincinnati. They will prove that again Monday night when they smack down the Ravens at Heinz Field.
I'm thinking something along the lines of 35-10.
Hold the e-mails. I know how awful the Steelers' offense was in the 15-6 loss to the Eagles. They couldn't protect Ben Roethlisberger, who was brutalized by eight of Philadelphia's nine sacks. Willie Parker didn't get nearly enough carries and had nowhere to tote the pig when they did hand it to him. Mike Tomlin and his offensive coaches have never had a worse day. They seemed surprised by the Eagles' relentless blitzing and had no answers to counter it.
But, sorry, I don't buy that the season is doomed. I tend to agree with Roethlisberger's main point after the Philadelphia fiasco: "[The other guys] get paid, too." Stuff happens. In the NFL, games like this are going to happen.
Miami 38, New England 13.
The players understand. That's why it was business as usual at Steelers headquarters yesterday after the team gathered to relive their Sunday nightmare. They took their scolding from Tomlin -- if there were any justice in the world, Dan Rooney would have called the coach into his office and yelled at him -- and moved on. They always get over the ugly losses a lot quicker than the fans do.
The players would be idiots to take any other approach.
It's not as if this was the first time the Steelers took a physical beating. It wasn't even two years ago that they went to Baltimore and were spanked, 27-0, on a day when Roethlisberger was sacked nine times, once so hard by linebacker Bart Scott that Scott bragged afterward about feeling the air rush out of Big Ben's body.
You said the same things the Monday after that game that you are saying this week.
Roethlisberger won't survive the season ...
The offense won't score again ...
The Steelers won't win another game ...
The Steelers followed that '06 debacle in Baltimore by averaging 28 points in consecutive wins against Tampa Bay, Cleveland and Carolina. They lost to Baltimore again the next week and missed the playoffs, but that was more because they started 2-6 when Roethlisberger struggled to get going after his motorcycle accident and his emergency appendectomy.
The Ravens were better than the Steelers that season.
They are not better now.
The Ravens, at 2-0, are in first place in the division after beating Cincinnati and Cleveland at home, but that's not going to last. They'll play their first road game at Heinz Field. More significantly, rookie quarterback Joe Flacco -- a former Pitt kid -- will play his first road game against a tough, sophisticated, well-coached defense.
Good luck with that.
The Steelers' defense is playing very well, although Casey Hampton's groin injury, on top of Brett Keisel's calf injury, is troubling. Still, that defense held an Eagles offense that had been averaging 429.5 yards and 37.5 points to 260 yards and one legitimate scoring drive. Safety Troy Polamalu has answered the one big question about the defense coming into the season. He's healthy again and all the way back to his All-Pro form.
Assuming Tomlin and his offensive coaches are able to do this week what they couldn't do Sunday -- figure out how to beat a blitz -- Flacco is going to have a much rougher Monday night than Roethlisberger.
As for the rest of the division ...
Let's be real.
There is no rest of the division.
The Browns and Bengals are 0-3. The Browns have major quarterback issues with Derek Anderson and have scored just two touchdowns. The Bengals -- never known for their heart in the rare good times that their Pirates-like franchise has known -- figure to fold after taking their best shot against the New York Giants Sunday and still losing in overtime.
The bottom line with the AFC North?
The Steelers' problems -- though significant -- are nothing compared to the Ravens', Browns' and the Bengals' troubles.
Ron Cook can be reached at email@example.com.
First published on September 23, 2008 at 12:00 am