When the NFL schedule came out last spring, I gave it a quick once-over, doing what every fan does: going from one game to the next and making a mental note of wins and losses. At the time, I penciled Pittsburgh in for a W against their Week 3 opponent, Tampa Bay.
That initial hunch didn’t change after Big Ben’s punishment became official days before the start of the season, or now that the team is on quarterback No. 4. Of course, I’m a homer; I think the Steelers are going 16-0 every year. Whatever, so far so good. Pittsburgh’s 2-0 despite their offense, and barring an injury between now and Sunday at 1 PM, Charlie Batch will be under center.
I wrote earlier today that despite going 5 of 11 for 25 yards against the Titans last week, Batch could just as easily have been 9 of 11 with a touchdown pass. (That said, even with nine completions Charlie would’ve still struggled to hit triple digits in passing yards.) He gets another shot Sunday and, according to Football Outsiders’ team efficiency rankings, he’ll do it against the league’s fourth-best defense. (You get one guess at who’s No. 1. If you guessed Ravens, please punch yourself in the face. Twice.)
A couple things:
First, the Steelers’ first two opponents, the Falcons and the Titans, have the seventh- and second-ranked defenses, respectively, so it’s not like Pittsburgh’s offense hasn’t been challenged yet. (By the way, not sure you can use the word “challenged” to describe a unit that has mustered one touchdown — in OT, no less — in eight-plus quarters.)
Second, starting free safety Tanard Jackson has been suspended for 16 games because he likes failing league-sanctioned drug tests. Which means that the Bucs will start Cody Grimm in Jackson’s place.
In case you didn’t know (and you almost certainly didn’t), some background on the new Bucs’ safety: Grimm is Russ’s son, he was a walk-on at Virginia Tech, and a last-minute addition to the NFL Combine last February. He’s a rookie listed at 6-1, 203 pounds, which means he’s really 5-10, 190, and he ran the 40 in 4.63 seconds. Those numbers, coupled with his pedigree, inevitably leads to coachspeak hyperbole to make up for his physical shortcomings. Like, say, this scouting report from the spring:
“Tough kid who plays bigger than his measurables. Reads fast and has a nose for the ball. Takes good pursuit angles and is a technically sound tackler. Reads quarterback’s eyes dropping in zone coverage and can jump underneath routes. Athletic enough to stick with tight ends in man coverage.”
Those were the positives. These were the negatives: “Lacks adequate height and bulk and does not have the top end speed to make plays all over the field. Struggles to disengage from blockers and can be blown out of the play. Does not locate balls in the air well and will not make picks. A bit stiff in the hips and will be exposed by wide receivers at the next level in man coverage.”
So, right, about what you’d expect out of a rookie with little chance of making the roster. And it also explains Bucs Nation’s measured take on Grimm shortly after he was drafted (pay special attention to the job they do cutting through the bullshit).
What does this mean for the Steelers offense? Well, I guess it depends on what Bruce Arians is willing to do. And more than that, what the personnel will allow him to do. Left tackle Max Starks is apparently on track to return, although Doug Legursky might replace Trai Essex at right guard. Then there’s the heat, which could mean another day of musical chairs along the o-line. This could mitigate Jackson’s loss, especially if the Bucs are able to generate a pass rush with their front four.
Then again, a few “throw it as far as you can and see what happens” from Batch to Wallace can’t hurt, either. In fact, I’m all for it, starting with the first series. What’s the worst that can happen? An interception? (Also acceptable: “Charlie might break into a million tiny pieces,” although that sorta craps all over my point.) That’s a risk I’m willing to take with this defense vs. an inexperienced Josh Freeman and a one-dimensional Bucs offense.
Plus, remember when a subset of Steelers Nation was clamoring for Anthony Smith to start over Ryan Clark? (I’ve been on the wrong side of plenty of arguments, which is why I’d like to point out that I’ve always been pro-Clark in Pittsburgh). One of the issues brought up time and again was that a rookie has no business playing free safety in the Steelers defense. It’s too complicated, there’s too much going on, and as literally the last line of defense, you’re guaranteed at least one large f-up a game.
An even better example: Troy Polamalu. I’m not sure how he could have looked more confused his rookie season and he was a strong safety. He was so out of sorts that he couldn’t beat out Mike Logan. Think about that for a second. (Coulda been worse; Chris Hope couldn’t beat out Brent Alexander.)
Now that I’ve established what everybody pretty much took as given, what’s the point in all this? I don’t have one, really. Just that you have to think the Steelers will be attacking Grimm all day, both through the air and on the ground. You know, similar to how Pittsburgh’s 2009 opponents exploited William Gay so often that I was willing to have Dick LeBeau play with just 10 guys.
Put another way: this is what a scouting report looks like when it’s not written by somebody who actually pays attention to details (like, say, JJ or Ted). Hey, you get what you pay for.
(Then again, don’t underestimate Cody’s need to prove all the doubters wrong. He’s probably got a HUGE chip on his shoulder because he’s a coach’s son who has been told his entire career that he was too small or too slow to play football. Oh, and his old man is still pissed about getting hosed out the Steelers job — Cody’s also playing to right that wrong. Then again, if Grimm had gotten the gig, Pittsburgh might be a completely different team right now.)
In case it’s not obvious, that last paragraph was a joke.