Bill Parcells used to say that you are what your record says you are. The Steelers are 3-1. That there only loss came against the Ravens in Heinz Field isn’t particularly comforting, but there are a lot of positives to take away from the first month of the season without Big Ben, Sunday’s game included.
* The offensive line has played out of its mind. Charlie Batch had more time to throw against the Ravens than Roethlisberger had for the entire 2009 season. There’s something to be said for a historically beleaguered bunch finally getting it. Down two starters and they managed to keep Batch mostly clean — and more than that, have played a big part in the new, assertive Rashard Mendenhall. This isn’t a top-flight unit and we all know that; but they’re a seasoned group, and thanks to hot-as-hell early-game rotations in Tennessee and Tampa, they’re also a pretty experienced bunch.
* Mendenhall is about to bust out. Hardly revolutionary, I know, but after a tentative start to his career that included a shoulder injury courtesy of Ray Lewis and a Mike Tomlin-ordered deactivation-to-prove-a-point against the Bengals, Rashard has been a much more confident, versatile runner. He beats defenders to the corner, rarely has negative plays, trucks people for tough yards, and can one-cut-and-go for huge chunks. Put differently: one more weapon for Ben when he returns.
* I know Bryant McFadden got beat on the decisive touchdown pitch-and-catch between Joe Flacco and T.J. Houshmandzadeh, but it was single coverage, a double move, and Flacco had time. Shit happens. That play aside, the defense — and the defensive backs — hung tough. And no one more so than William Gay. The same dude who exemplified all that was wrong with the secondary last year, has proven that he’s a valuable cog through four games. Gay’s back in the nickel role and that has magically improved his tackling and, apparently, his coverage skills. He was singlehandedly responsible for stopping Derrick Mason and Anquan Boldin on Baltimore’s penultimate drive from the Steelers’ 2-yard line. We shouldn’t lose sight of that despite the loss. And by “we” I mean “me” because I was ready for the Steelers to cut ties with Gay this summer. So, again: my bad, Willie.
Looking for an upside? Here ya go: Pittsburgh has the league’s best defense, a running back on the brink of a huge season, a much better o-line, fantastic specials teams (can’t believe I just wrote that), a crapload of offensive weapons, and, oh yeah, a top-5 NFL quarterback returning to the team to take advantage of all that.
Losing to the Ravens sucks. This isn’t news. But I’m not sweating this one as much as other games. (Like, say, the whuppin’ the Ravens put on the Steelers in Baltimore back in 2006. I’d like to have that permanently erased from my memory.) They beat a 35-year-old nine-year backup and needed 60 minutes to do it. And that’s not to take anything away from Charlie Batch — the guy has been solid in 10 quarters of work — but he’s not Big Ben. That’s great if you’re at a college bar full of drunk coeds, less so when you’re an NFL quarterback.
More silver linings:
- This will quash the 16-0 talk. The mainstream media would have beat it into the ground starting … well, now because Roethlisberger’s back and the team was undefeated without him. We’d hear about it until the Steelers lost, and then we’d have to put up with the subsequent “IS THIS TEAM OVERRATED!?!” gum-flapping to bring the moronic storyline full circle.
- Batch was admirable in fill-in duty, but now that the Steelers are 3-1, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review can take it down a notch with all the crazy talk.
- Ike had a pick. I half-expected an asteroid to hit the Ravens sideline seconds later.
Alright, it’s the bye week, Pittsburgh’s 3-1, and this team isn’t nearly as good as it’s going to be. If it helps distract you from Sunday’s outcome, think about that.