Steelers absorb punishment for now and why Vikes shouldn't panic
Five observations from a fairly compelling Monday night affair:
1. Joe Flacco is better than I thought. He's not high-strung or tight at all back there, which I'd assume a Division I-AA quarterback would be starting from the jump in the NFL. He's got the kind of laser arm that will serve him well in a long NFL career. I thought the Ravens made a mistake going with Flacco at 18 in the draft instead of Chad Henne at, say, 35, but through three games, I like Flacco's arm and his presence.
2. The Ravens, who play five consecutive teams with losing records after hosting the Titans Sunday, will be in the race as long as they stay healthy on defense. Ray Lewis is playing great football (witness his submarine late-game tackle of Mewelde Moore last night), and he's got 10 teammates who hit like they've got anvils in their shoulder pads.
3. Most Valuable Player in the game last night: Ben Roethlisberger. To go 14-of-24 for 191 yards with a touchdown and a pick (only one pick, despite constant pressure) is not a good day against the Ravens. It's a great day. The last play from scrimmage illustrates that.
Pittsburgh, needing a field goal to win in overtime, had a third-and-14 from the Baltimore 35. This would have been a 52-yard attempt if the Steelers got nothing on this play. Problematic, seeing that there's never been a field goal of 50 or more yards at Heinz Field. The Steelers needed four, maybe five yards to feel comfortable about Jeff Reed making a field goal.
Roethlisberger took a shotgun snap, and immediately three Ravens blitzed up the exposed middle, and just before Roethlisberger got nailed by Terrell Suggs, he flipped a pass to his left. Somehow it was complete to Moore for a gain of seven. Reed hit on the winning field goal, a few inches inside the upright. Without Roethlisberger's awareness and quick throw, the field goal would have been much, much tougher.
4. I worry about the Steelers' offensive line. Amazing that Pittsburgh put up nine points on the Ravens. (Seven came courtesy of LaMarr Woodley's defensive score.) Roethlisberger didn't have any time, and the running game was stymied by a great Baltimore front seven. Now that Kendall Simmons, the best player on the line, leaves a yawning gap at guard by going on injured reserve, the Steelers are going to have to do what they practiced tons at training camp this year -- the short passing game. Because defenses will blitz Roethlisberger all season now.
5. The Steelers are in good shape at 3-1, obviously. But that might be a deceptive 3-1. They've been wounded by how their schedule fell, playing two of the four or five most physical teams in football (Philly, Baltimore) in Week 3 and 4, and now, on a short week, they travel to Jacksonville, which is in the same brutish class. And remember the schedule down the line. Pittsburgh finishes thusly: at New England, Dallas, at Baltimore, at Tennessee, Cleveland. If the Steelers make the playoffs, I wonder how many bodies will be laying by the side of the road come January.
By the way, stay tuned for the Steelers making a deal today, or picking up a stray running back somewhere with the news that Rashard Mendenhall is out for the year. I'm sure they'll do what Green Bay did last year with Ryan Grant, which is to call the Giants. New York would part with Danny Ware or Reuben Droughns and still survive nicely. If I were Mike Tomlin, I'd want Ware, even though he had an alcohol-related arrest over the weekend. [Not in a vehicle, but a public-drunkenness charge.] Ware's a tough runner who, like Grant, can make people miss and is deceptively fast.
Now, onto your mail...
VERY GOOD POINT. From Paul, of New York City: "Peter, my friends and I have a running joke about how many weeks into the season your 'good guy' award goes to a white man. Four for four thus far. More than 50 percent of the players in the league are black, as you know.''
Thanks for keeping me on my toes.