9.24.2010

Charlie Batch Starts His First Meaningful Game Since The Merger

Because wins against the Bucs from 10 years ago still count for something, right?

Among the 2-0 teams entering Week 3, the Buccaneers and the Chiefs are pretty much neck and neck for the most derided or easily dismissed. Not that there isn't justification for that. Tampa almost certainly isn't a playoff team, though an upset win over the Steelers would make their path considerably easier. That and their two wins came at home against Cleveland and over a mediocre Panthers team whose play is made even more horrendous by the Delhomme-esque bumblings of the already benched Matt Moore.

For the most part, Tampa has been winning a lot like the Steelers have, by getting just enough points to ride a stingy defense to victory. While the Bucs have allowed quite a bit more yardage than the Steelers, they have only given up one more point through two weeks. It helps when you play a team like the Browns that is willing to fumble the ball repeatedly in the red zone, but again, the result is still the same, and it's not as though the Steelers didn't get the benefit of a few of those against the Titans.

While Tampa's offense came into the season looking to be a huge joke with Kellen Winslow as its only option in the passing game, it's been, well, slightly less of a joke than anticipated. Josh Freeman has the 10th best passer rating in the league through two weeks, putting him one space ahead of Aaron Rodgers. I know the Steelers have shown an aptitude for correcting that kind of statistical mistake, the way they did last week with Vince Young, who entered Week 2 as the NFL's top rated passer.

What worries me about this game is the need for a big splash play early on. Pittsburgh struck paydirt with the Antonio Brown return on the opening kick off last week and never looked back. Of course, they never another touchdown the rest of a game, though a Mike Wallace TD catch was overturned by a holding penalty. I imagine both teams will come out with an array of gadget attempts early on in hopes of gaining that initial full score advantage. One thing thankfully the Steelers have not had to do so far this season is come back from a deficit. The most the Steelers have trailed by all season is three points, hardly a daunting figure to overcome.

As far as the torrid debate between starting Byron Leftwich or Charlie Batch... eh, I guess I prefer that Batch is the one going. Not that there's an incredible difference between the two at this point, but at least I know Batch is fully healthy, which means it might take multiple hits for the other team to put him on IR for the season. Kidding aside, Batch looked okay despite his numbers last week. There were two or three throws that could have been completions if the receivers had made better plays on the ball. With a full week of practice with the first team, rather than abruptly being thrown into the game in the second half, Batch should perform better. And who knows, maybe the Steelers might even get a passing touchdown sometime before Roethlisberger returns. It would be kind of hilarious if it came on a trick play for Randle El.

Tampa safety Tanard Jackson this week was suspended for the season for the second violation of the league's substance abuse policy, meaning that Russ Grimm's son, Cody, gets his first career start. Cody was a seventh round pick who played exclusively on special teams the first two weeks of the season, so it's pretty safe to assume the Steelers will be targeting whoever he'll be covering on more than a few plays.

The Tampa running game is off to a laughably bad start. If the Steelers put the reins on Chris Johnson last week only to let Cadillac Williams (so far averaging 2.6 yards per carry) run wild, then they more than deserve any letdown that would come with a loss. Of course, it's the letdown scare after a pair of crucial wins that concerns me. The Bucs are far from a great team, but the Steelers are walking a tight rope by asking the defense to hold the opposition to about 10 points a week to win. Yes, the Bucs offense, especially the running game, is nothing spectacular, but freak plays happen and one getting through shouldn't be enough to beat your football team, with or without its starting quarterback.

The one advantage Leftwich brings that Batch doesn't is that Lefty at least throws a decent deep ball, while Batch maxes his throws out at about 15-20 yards. The worst the Tampa defense has to worry about is mid-range throws to Mike Wallace, which means they will be able to play up the way Tennessee's was late last week. Unfortunately, this means the Steelers scoring drives will have to be of the 10-play variety. That is, unless the defense feels the need to score the points necessary to win. Not expected, but I certainly wouldn't put it past them, either.

1 comment:

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The Steelers might be the best team in the NFL right now, even without their starting quarterback. The defense has shut down their opponents and been dominant. It will be interesting to see if the team can continue to play like this when Ben comes back.