Posted: Monday September 27, 2010 4:00PM ; Updated: Monday September 27, 2010 7:31PM
Jerome Bettis
Jerome Bettis>INSIDE THE NFL

If the Steelers get to 4-0 just before Big Ben's return, watch out

Story Highlights

With Troy Polamalu back, Pittsburgh's defense is hitting on all cylinders

Bill Cowher is missing football, but I don't see him joining Dallas

Donovan McNabb's return to Philly makes Week 4 must-see theater

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Troy Polamalu
With Troy Polamalu healthy, the Steelers boast a Super Bowl-caliber defense.
Cliff Welch/Icon SMI

Throughout the 2010 NFL season, SI.com's Nick Zaccardi will work with Jerome Bettis to get the six-time Pro Bowl running back's observations about the latest happenings in the league. Bettis retired from the NFL in 2006 after a 13-year career.

• The Steelers are a Super Bowl contender. If you had predicted in August that the Steelers would be 3-0 and on their fourth quarterback going into Week 4, even I would have laughed. But here they are. The defense stepped up and put that team on its back. Troy Polamalu and Co. understood from the start that they needed to carry the load without their starting quarterback.

It takes me back to Week 1 of 2009, when Pittsburgh lost Polamalu to an MCL injury. At the time I said the defense was merely "good" without him. I was right. You see now what kind of defense they are with him. Two touchdowns allowed in three games. Ten turnovers forced. They're devastating.

Forget about Ben Roethlisberger's nearing a return and that offense for a moment. What makes the Steelers a great team is the defense. A Super Bowl contender is not a team that scores 40 point per game -- though that helps -- but a team marked by a dominating defense. I'm not definitively saying they're going to the Super Bowl, but you can ask anybody and they'll say the Steelers have a championship-caliber defense. (Side note: I enjoyed watching former teammate Brett Keisel take an interception back for a touchdown Sunday. I always knew he had those shifty moves, I just wasn't sure if he had enough gas in the tank to make it to the end zone.)

The Steelers have two hurdles to clear the next couple weeks. First, an important division game at home vs. Baltimore in Week 4. It's going to be tough, make no mistake about it. It's a similar situation to when the teams played in Week 12 of 2009. Roethlisberger was out, and Dennis Dixon nearly pulled off the upset. Given that, Charlie Batch can definitely go out there and provide enough offense to win. He just has to be careful with the football and make sure to create big plays for his offense and not the Ravens defense.

After Baltimore, Roethlisberger comes back with a bye in Week 5 and Cleveland in Week 6. Fitting him back into the puzzle won't be a problem. This has always been his offense. Nothing has changed in that regard. If the Steelers can beat the Ravens and get their quarterback at 4-0, watch out.

• I expect Bill Cowher to be coaching again very soon. I can tell Coach Cowher misses the game. He did the right thing leaving three years ago to spend time with his family and should be commended for it. The situation is right for him to come back. He's a Hall of Fame coach, just 53, and could have a number of openings to choose from.

Could he enter a rebuilding situation? Yes, but with prerequisites. He needs a proven quarterback, and because of that I look at Eli Manning and the Giants. If that team keeps heading in its current direction, a coaching change is going to be imminent. Some people point to Dallas as a possibility for Cowher, but I'm not so sure. Coach Cowher is very used to a certain type of ownership. The Rooney family provided him leeway in Pittsburgh and let him handle football decisions. I don't see Coach Cowher and Jerry Jones being on the same page.

• Braylon Edwards' punishment was more than fair. NFL history shows that a first-time DUI offender usually gets fined rather than suspended. Is the standard right? Probably not, but that's the way it is. To me, it felt like Edwards received more scrutiny because he's a high-profile guy who's had other types of problems in the past.

Drinking and driving is a very serious issue to players. Coaches always preach that nothing good happens after 2 a.m., yet the majority of players have been in a situation similar to Braylon. He drives to an event, he's been drinking, and he's got to make a tough decision on what to do. Though I'm not perfect, I always tried to give the car keys to somebody else. I would dare say most players think, "I'm fine, I'm not drunk." I'm not excusing Edwards, but a problem lies in that exceeding the legal limit doesn't necessarily mean you're wobbling around and can't see straight.

• My most anticipated game of the regular season is in Week 4. I singled it out before the season, and the stakes have only risen since for Washington at Philadelphia. Michael Vick makes his home starting debut in his first real test, while Donovan McNabb makes his return. I expect to see fireworks.

The Eagles were recharged upon Vick's appointment, and you can see the excitement on the sidelines with his teammates. Vick may not be the captain, but he is the leader of that football team. Everybody to a man is not only following him, but also raising the level of play.

Of course, the McNabb factor is going to be there as well. Donovan is going to want to go out there and put on a show. The Redskins offense is saying, "We've got to do this for Donovan." Everybody's going to be stepping up. How often do you get this type of atmosphere, playoff-like, in Week 4?

Prediction: The Eagles win at home, and there could be major fallout. If Vick plays well, it cements him as the starter, and Kevin Kolb hits the trading block.

• A few more quick thoughts ...

-- It's been a tough early season for kickers; David Buehler, Garrett Hartley and Sebastian Janikowski to name a few. People don't understand how serious pressure gets, and how something as simple as a chip-shot field goal can divide a locker room. In a situation like Hartley's miss in New Orleans, some teammates will pat the kicker on the back and move on, but others won't be so kind. "We pay him to kick!" "He's a bum!" I've heard it before. The situation in New Orleans, where they've already turned to auditions, is sure to be intense.

-- Did anybody notice the slick move by the Jets on Sunday night? You may have missed it, but the Jets started LaDainian Tomlinson over Shonn Greene. They did it cleverly by lining up Tomlinson split out as a wide receiver on the first play. It seems to me that they did it that way to try to not make it a big issue.

-- Even though they're 2-0, the Bears are about a quarter away from imploding. It falls on their quarterback. Jay Cutler takes too many risks, is reckless with the football and may very well cost Lovie Smith his job.

-- The pressure is on Alex Smith after the 49ers fired offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye. We had similar situations in Pittsburgh where Coach Cowher would take over play-calling duties late in the season. We all knew that meant trouble. Coaching staff changes are always the first step. We knew we were playing for our jobs. If problems persist in San Francisco, the next shake-up will come at quarterback.

-- The Cowboys are back, and so is Roy Williams. Being able to find another receiver outside of Miles Austin makes Dallas especially dangerous. Up until the last game, Williams was an afterthought. With the performance he had against the Texans (five catches, 117 yards), he totally changed that offense. Teams aren't defending Williams as a No. 1 receiver anymore, allowing the opportunity for his resurgence.

 
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