The Pittsburgh Steelers are feeling deja vu this weekend as they square off with the Baltimore Ravens for the second time in only three weeks. The first game ended in a 13-10 loss for the Steelers, and while the defense remained in control for the majority of the game, the offense, led by backup quarterback Byron Leftwich sputtered and stalled and could only muster three points after a fluky long TD run by Leftwich a minute into the game.
So, moving forward to this week’s game, can Steelers fans expect to see anything different? Let’s think about it a little.
The quarterback situation has changed but not necessarily for the better. Out is Leftwich, who suffered broken ribs in the previous game, and in is veteran quarterback Charlie Batch. Batch didn’t wow anyone last week in a loss against the Cleveland Browns, but I have to think that with a second full week of practice, he will look better. As the third-string quarterback, I am sure there were plenty of weeks when it was assumed he wouldn’t be active and he saw very little of the offense. Now he’s been the focus of it for two weeks, so that should allow the Steelers to open up the playbook a little more and, with that, become more dynmaic.
The running game seems to have stabilized. Running back Jonathan Dwyer has finally been named the starting running back and assuming he can hold onto the football will carry the bulk of the load. But regardless, this is not a Steelers team that can simply line up and run the football when they want to. Without quartback Ben Roethlisberger under center and the threat to throw the Ravens are going to stack the box, so running the ball is going to be tough sledding. The Steelers are going to have to be smart with their run plays. The interior of the offensive line is the strength, so the inside zone and trap plays will be a key. This will be their chance to win on first down and give Batch and the passing game reasonable down and distance to convert for first down.
The passing game is of course the big question mark. In their last matchup the passing game was held under 200 yards and the deep threat that this team uses so well was never there. I do expect that this weekend now that Batch will have had another week of practice with the first team to be much more effective. But he’s simply not Roethlisberger. Very few quarterbacks in the NFL can do what he does, so if this passing offense is going to be effective it will still look very different than what most fans expect. There’s been all this debate about the potential benching of wide receiver Mike Wallace, but the reality is if Batch can be effective, Wallace will be effective. The offensive line has to protect, keep Batch upright and give him time to make plays. Batch can’t extend the play on his own, so quick throws, safe throws, and guys like tight end Heath Miller and new wide receiver Plaxico Burress has to help him out.
Overall, I am hopeful that the offense is going to look much better this weekend. The Steelers are still a week away from the return of Roethlisberger and while they cling to the final wild card sport, a loss here would be huge but not season ending. This team hasn’t done a very good job treading water during this three-game stretch, so a win against the Ravens would do so much to right the ship.
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