Pregame Zone Blitz: Return of the Pass

The quarter pole the Steelers passed in Week 4, standing with a 3-1 record, harkens PZB back to his high school English class days. It brings up thoughts of "Lord of the Flies."

A group of kids are isolated on an island and without rules. After wreaking havoc and embracing the bizarre anti- societal traits of a tribe standing alone, the group flips back to what is familiar with as soon as a recognizable figure appears.

Before the Ravens game, like the group of kids deserted on the island, they were doing things at first seemed unlikely. Winning games without their quarterback, and winning in dominating fashion at times.  But make no mistake, the Conch is shattered each time those teams play. Order is thrown out, and with it, reason and logic. Only after the pig's head is stuck on a stick was order restored.

So the loss, in a way, was our sobering reminder the Steelers weren't even supposed to be 3-1, let alone blowing a chance to be 4-0. They've been running around, defying conventional thought, gutting out victories without their quarterback.

The Steelers haven't been 4-0 ever in my lifetime. SteelerBro mentioned before the Ravens game that he didn't want to see the Steelers at the top of anyone's power rankings. Staying out of the burning hot and ultimately useless spotlight of the NFL is key. And after a crushing defeat in which the Steelers committed 11 penalties and missed two field goals (yet Baltimore still gets credit despite needing every extra yard Pittsburgh gave them), they're well off the top of anyone's list.

With Ben Roethlisberger's return (a naval officer finds the island, and order is restored), the balance shifts back to what we expected in the pre-Marietta days. And right in time to face a Cleveland Browns team that cannot defend the pass to save their season.

Opponent Web Sites/Forums

Dawgs By Nature said fans were "surprised" when Seneca Wallace got the start over a healthy Jake Delhomme in Week 5. Really? Really?? Wallace's passer rating: 88.5. Delhomme's: 48.5.

Speaking of Delhomme, he said he was "limited," but he's not making any excuses for his miserable performance against Atlanta in Week 5.

Browns LT Joe Thomas wasn't offering any passive-aggressive excuses like his quarterback, but DE John Abraham gave him the whipping of his outstanding career.

For the Browns' sake, Thomas better have gotten the bad game out of his way, because neither rookie QB Colt McCoy nor practice squad hero Brett Ratliff have ever thrown a pass in a regular season game.

And if it is McCoy, which it seems it will be, he'll only have one running back who's played with the team this season after the Browns shipped Jerome Harrison to Philly for RB Mike Bell.

Last Game

PZB is forced to channel some inner-Denny Green.

The Ravens are who we thought they were.

That clip is a YouTube sensation, and rightly so. It's hilarious. But there is a lot of wisdom behind that statement. Loosely translated, there are plenty of reasons to suggest Baltimore would have won that game going into it, but they didn't dominate. They didn't own the Steelers. The Steelers owned themselves.

I disagree heartily with our Fearless Leader who quipped "they won just as much as the Steelers lost." The Steelers played as sloppy a game as possible, and the fact they threw two more penalties on top of a miserable scrap-heap of yellow flags when they needed to gut out 10 more yards to ice the game confirms it.

"They are who we thought they were. And we let ‘em off the hook!"

Wisdom from Denny Green...there was no drug use during the making of PZB.

Harrison Holds: 1 Called - Incomplete*

The weekly tally of holds on All-World OLB James Harrison, both called and uncalled

Technical difficulties prevented PZB from analyzing the second half, so we're going to have to go back at a later time with the results of the final two quarters - when LT Michael Oher was starting to wear down and seemed to be moving before the snap frequently.

Not Called: Incomplete

Called:

  • 1. 0:19 remaining in second quarter, Harrison blows past a slow-footed Michael Oher. A smart move on Oher's part (maybe Sandra Bullock taught it to him), Harrison would have run the immobile Flacco down like a criminal and punished him accordingly.

Of Note:

Ed Hochuli and his crew did a decent job keeping it clean from a holding perspective, but it appeared Oher had several false starts that went uncalled, none more blatant than the one that occurred with six seconds left in the second quarter - incidentally, two plays after the most obvious holding call of the season. Was someone tired at the end of the half? Let's keep this sequence in mind the next time these two teams play, methinks they're going to bulrush Oher and the end of halves. His conditioning must be poor.

Harrison set back the Harrison Holds movement by picking up a holding penalty of his own with 1:15 left in the second quarter. No doubt, he learned the moving body hug from most offensive linemen he encounters, but they'll rightly call that every time.

The Ravens like using their unbalanced formation, lining two tackles up side-by-side, oftentimes on Harrison's right defensive side. Overall, he didn't have much in terms of impact, but he stood his ground well. Games like this typically have another defender have a big game, but credit to Baltimore's offensive scheme, they were well-prepared for the Steelers.

Season Tally

Week 1 - 3 uncalled, 1 called

Week 2 - 1 uncalled, 0 called

Week 3 - 1 uncalled, 1 called

Week 4 - Incomplete

TOTAL - 5 Uncalled, 2 Called

 

Opponent Spotlight: CB Eric Wright

This is shaping up to be one of the more intriguing games of the week. Evidence of that, to PZB, is the fact five or six Browns players could be placed rightly into this spot. The Steelers ability to either play with, or destroy, the Browns has typically rested with the team's ability to slow down NT Shaun Rogers. Hillis has been running like a man possessed, and will pose a challenge against even this defense. The fact Colt McCoy looks to start this game, which gives PZB the chance to use the "two quarterbacks starting their first games of the season, which one would you rather have?" joke. That also means traditional Steelers Killer Josh Cribbs is likely to take a healthy chunk of snaps under center in the Browns "Wildcat" formation.  I'd strongly suggest you keep an eye on OLB Matt Roth, too, an excellent player no one's heard of.

In keeping with the Return of the Passing Game theme, Wright truly has more of a focus. As an individual player, it's safe to say he's had problems this season. The passer rating against him is the highest among defensive backs who have taken more than 300 snaps this season (136.9), and he's giving up 15.8 yards per catch.

Part of that is attributed to the fact the Browns inexplicably leave him without safety help fairly often, and while rookie T.J. Ward (more on him in a minute) gets accolades, and even Defensive Rookie of the Year notoriety, Wright is stuck without deep help.

It's not likely the Steelers, in a deep passing funk, will mind if they abuse Wright's psyche for one more game. To his credit, he does play well against the run, and will be in bump-and-run coverage to take advantage of his strength. Any time Roethlisberger sees Ward sneaking in the box, he's going to be thinking of chucking it deep.

Steelers Spotlight:  QB Ben Roethlisberger

Bet you didn't see that coming.

It's easy to say no one will be more amped up to be on the field than Roethlisberger. This is a guy who's been on the field in some way, whether it be at quarterback, or wide receiver when he was in high school, or cheering on the sideline, basically every weekend since he was a kid (or was having his appendix removed). Having to sit out and not even be with his team has to be difficult for a competitor like Roethlisberger.

All signs point to a cathartic performance out of No. 7, returning to the field against a team he's shredded since he came into the league (except once last year). A score to settle with a team that pulled off the most painful upset of a painfully upsetting 2009 campaign. A weak Browns secondary, the home advantage of Heinz Field, a tight end (Heath Miller) and wide receiver (Hines Ward) dying to get back into production mode; all of these weigh heavily in Roethlisberger's preparation.

Ben loves him some spotlight.

Cleveland did a great job last season's win over the Steelers in mixing up pressure, bringing a multitude of defenders and confusing Pittsburgh's overwhelmed offensive line. With nothing but redemption on his mind, this will be one of those games where Roethlisberger will refuse to go down, making the backyard cliché plays he's known for, and put up an impressive performance against an underrated Browns team.

Keep in mind, facing some genuinely mean defenders like Rogers and Matt Roth, he's going to get knocked around a bit. And there's always "The Headhunter" Ward to worry about. You don't have to be good to goon a guy.

 

I See You

I see you, Isaac Redman. Why BTSC hasn't locked up an interview with you yet is beyond me. You were even drafted in our site's Fantasy Football League. In, like, the sixth round!

I see you because you provided Charlie Batch with some serious protection in Pittsburgh's Week 4 loss to Baltimore. You stood in against a blitzing Ray Lewis on more than one occasion, stonewalling the future Hall of Fame linebacker, allowing Batch to make one more precious completion.

I see you, because you're accepting your short-yardage role, and playing physical football. We've all seen Lewis blow up the running back standing in his way en route to destroying the play, but we have an advantage in that arena now. Cleveland hasn't allowed a rushing touchdown - pretty impressive through five games.

We'll see them again, and hopefully, we see you again, crushing any Browns defender with your shoulder with the ball in your hand, crossing the goal line. As for now, we'll settle for the same kind of effort against the Browns.

Key Stats

  • The Browns have not surrendered a rushing touchdown this season.
  • The last Browns rookie QB to start at Pittsburgh was Charlie Frye in 2005. Pittsburgh won 41-0, and sacked Frye eight times.
  • In games after bye weeks under Mike Tomlin, the Steelers have outscored their opponents 94-51 (2-1).
  • The combined record of the teams the Browns have lost to is 14-4 (Ravens, Buccaneers, Falcons and Chiefs).

Quick-Hitters

Lights out, Merriman: There have been fewer players in the league I've disliked more than the soon-to-be-former Chargers LB Shawne Merriman. A combination of his ridiculously stupid sack celebration dance and his general meatheadedness bothers me to no end. I'm not sure how anyone can root for the guy, but the fact he had two big seasons, got busted for PEDs, then spent the next three years somewhere between ineffective and injured seems like justification to me. He'll have to wait to find out who his new employer is.

Extended Season: Hines Ward, like dozens of other players, recently spoke out against an extended season, which NFL owners and commissioner Roger Goodell are pushing. Someone needs to explain to me the virtues of this. On one hand, I could see a season like last year being a good time for the Steelers to have played 18 games. They were getting on track right at the end, and could have had a shot at the playoffs. But that's really about it. Let's be honest, unless our team is winning and has a legitimate shot at a championship, we're at least kind of tired of football come February. If not, then I'd ask you to look at the quality of play toward the end if, all of a sudden, two more games are added in. The public was completely outraged by the Colts decision to take a breather and not bother trying to go undefeated. You couldn't possibly fault them for doing that now. We're talking about adding two more entire games, which would make the Super Bowl champion and conference champions play 21 or 22 games a year, which is twice as many as a college player would endure. You'd have scrub nobodies being asked to step into starting roles on a week-to-week basis. How boring does that sound?

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