When was the last time there was this level of excitement and expectation over
Steelers football in September? I, like a lot of you, tend to be deeply superstitious about making claims concerning team success so early in the season. Normally, I would be appalled at the level of attention and extravagant claims about this group. But these are extraordinary times. Developments in a small college town in Georgia and the New York City headquarters of the NFL caused most fans, the punditry and even some of the most stalwart and loyal of Steeler Nation to write the Steelers off in the spring. With Ben being suspended for up to six games and many of us brainwashed into believing that championship play is exclusively a star driven (read: quarterback driven) enterprise, It seemed likely that the 2010 edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers would be hopelessly crippled long before the season even began.
3-0 is nothing to sneeze at under the best of circumstances. To be 3-0 when the expectation was for the opposite; and to achieve that record in fairly dominant fashion is worthy of the excitement that has been generated. It is precisely because the consensus on this team is that its best days are ahead of it that it becomes almost impossible to not be bullish on what is to come in October and beyond. Obviously, there are absolutely no guarantees except for one; that if this team can avoid major injury issues it should be frighteningly competitive every time it takes the field for the remainder of the season. And when you get down to it as a fan, that’s all you can ask for.
The marketing narrative for the league has been nauseatingly familiar; the phantom dominance of a Cowboys team that has won one playoff game in a decade and a half, the heroics of an geriatric superstar who has won one championship in a decade and a half, the emergence of a new juggernaut in New Orleans, and the audacity of the Jets. The storyline for the Steelers this year was supposed to be the collapse of the team and the Rooney brand in a cesspool of disgust and scandal surrounding our alleged pervert quarterback. You can just about hear the editorials now; ‘This once proud and storied franchise, etc., etc.’ Well, these narratives, unsustainable for even one month, are teetering at the edge of collapse at this early stage of the season. Attention has turned to Pittsburgh in part because the national media has no other real choice. Chicago and KC are also undefeated, but hey, lets get real. To suggest that they represent the class of the league at this point is even more absurd than what they have been shoveling down our throats thus far. To understand how much fun potentially lies ahead, consider James Harrison’s pitch perfect response to the idea of folks getting on the Steelers bandwagon; "We don’t want you."
Ravens week. They should find a permanent site to play this game. The field will be located in a low lying area, say beside a railroad trestle, surrounded by aging and abandoned factories or a shipyard. The field itself will have more broken glass than grass. The field and the grandstands lit by low wattage lights (the game should always be played at night) and shrouded by fog. The only children present would be those whose parents are either so irresponsible or inattentive to prevent them from being there. Fans attending singly or in small groups have to be on alert coming and going in order to not be set upon and beaten by larger groups of opposing fans. Periodically through the night an ambulance, lights flashing will take off into the darkness carrying players and/or fans to the ER. Steelers/Ravens, the faint of heart attend at your own risk.
The interesting thing about this game is that the expectations have completely flipped. When looking forward in the spring and summer we hoped that a win or two could be scratched out before we reached this point, and then we reassured ourselves that we would overcome the inevitable defeat at a later time. Guess what? This has become very close to a must win game for Baltimore. A loss places them at 1-2 in the division and unable to claim the division title without help, significant help, from one or both of the Ohio teams. With the stakes relatively high I am in agreement with Ed Bouchette who feels that Ray Rice will get a dose of It-Don’t-Hurt-No-More, and will play on Sunday. Of course, given the fact that the defense has yet to surrender 100 yards rushing combined…they might as well dope up Jim Brown and throw him out there. I like Pittsburgh in this game for three reasons. The idea that this is a team that is demoralized, confused or barely competent because of the absence of Ben has been thoroughly discredited. The notion that this team is uncompetitive in Ben’s absence is viewed, by those within the organization, and increasingly by those in Steeler Nation, correctly, as an insult. Sure we’d rather have him, but to say that we are lost, particularly for any single game without him is both inaccurate and an affront. Mike Tomlin has clearly hammered that point home to this team and they are looking forward to this weekend’s collision with the Ravens, fully expect to prevail and make a statement to the AFC North and to the league. Whether that swagger is grounded in reality remains to be seen, but there is no doubt it is there. Second, the Ravens defense while still formidable is wounded. They don’t have Ed Reed among others. It could be tough sledding for the Steelers run game, but there may a number of opportunities for moving the ball through the air. Third, Baltimore has made significant additions to their offense, but until now it just hasn’t seemed to come together yet. What are the chances that things will come together this week, against this defense? Not good.
4-0 going into the Bye, a very real possibility.
A message to Charlie’s fair weather friends. Yeah, we all love him now. From this point forward he’ll be known to me as Charlie "Lazarus" Batch. Lazarus as in back from the dead. Very little quarterback controversy these days. No problem with giving the old man another bite of the apple. In fact, I’m certain that if Sunday is another winning effort a knucklehead or two might suggest that he should just keep the job until there is some evidence that Ben could do things better. The majority opinion concerning Batch, held by his coach and the majority of Steeler Nation (at least as represented on this site) has been, if not forgotten, neatly swept under the proverbial rug. What matters is that things ended well, and all’s well that ends well right?
This would be a much more pleasant post if I just let the matter go, but I can’t. As Steelers fans we like to think of ourselves as more sophisticated than the average fan. And at BTSC we like to think that we’re a bit more level headed than many Steelers fans. So there is a learning, growing opportunity here that I will attempt to seize.
Let us be clear, it is Providence that Charlie is preparing to start against the Ravens this week instead of either watching the game from his sofa on Sunday like most of the rest of us, or standing in a support role for the final time before getting his inevitable pink slip. A little over a month ago I was fortunate to find myself at the vanguard of a minority of fans, journalists and other commentators who began to wonder aloud if Batch had received a fair shake in the quarterback derby to determine who would play in place of Ben during the first four games. I suspect that the outcry started at that time because the competition was clearly winding down yet Charlie had been given virtually no opportunity to showcase his abilities. Now, don’t get me wrong, the main criticisms of Batch were pretty much on the money. He had proven to be fragile to a frightening extent. He is pretty old in football years (That was a great run he made with his walker on Sunday, wasn’t it?). And yes he didn’t have as strong an arm as Leftwich, and yes, he isn’t as mobile and exciting as Dixon, etc. All these things were and are true.
However, all Charlie wanted and what he certainly deserved given his years of service was a chance to be carried out on his shield rather than receiving a pat on the head and a gold watch as they shoved him out the door. Remember, when Ben was suspended Charlie was the number 2 quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers. He was #2 in part because Dixon was unable to displace him from that ranking. A year ago much of that competition occurred behind closed doors, so to speak, so it was left to our imaginations as to why that was so. Today the reason is as clear as crystal(and I say this though I rooted for Dixon during the qb derby), at this stage in their respective careers, Batch is the better quarterback. Concerning Leftwich, they have never competed directly against each other. Leftwich joined the team after Batch was placed on IR in ’08. This year Byron was pretty much give the keys to the franchise when he arrived. Their pedigrees are similar; MAC quarterbacks who began their careers as starters. Batch was displaced at by the Lions when the shrewd personnel people in Detroit decided he needed to go so they could usher in the Joey Harrington Era. Now, granted, Byron’s teams made the playoffs more often, but we are talking Detroit here. Now given enough time and opportunity I am sure that Dennis will catch and pass Charlie. And who knows, maybe Byron is better right now. But all the available evidence now points to one unavoidable fact; right now Charlie Batch is the #2 quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers for a reason. And, yes, as far as we know he is still as fragile as ever and could be broken in two by Ray-Ray on the first play from scrimmage. But if you want to have an honest discussion about player fragility I have two words for you: Dennis Dixon.
Show of hands; who wants to vote Lazarus off the island now?