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Thursday, November 03, 2005

Game Preview: Pittsburgh Steelers (5-2) at the Green Bay Packers (1-6)

by Thomas Pyc

Is blood pressure down yet? It would probably be easier to digest this season as a Packer fan if the games were completely lopsided but so far that has not been the case. As long as Brett Favre is running the offense and the defense plays solid the Packers can keep it close but Packer nation does not accept close games as satisfactory and there’s not a football fan in the world that can blame them. Maybe you have gotten to the point where you are numb to losses and expecting every good play to be penalized. That’s where I am. The games are not nearly as anticipated as they once were and skepticism is found in every comment out of my mouth.

This week the Super Bowl contending Steelers will step onto Lambeau field without any fear for the mystique of Lambeau or the opposition. But they will do so without their quarterback and top-rated passer (112.6) in the NFL, Ben Roethlisberger. Charlie Batch, former Detroit Lion, will conduct the offensive attack for Pittsburgh. The Steelers main focus, with or without Big Ben, is running the ball. Their offensive line is arguably the best in the league and several of their opponents would not argue that label. Batch will get his first start this season by default due to the miserable performance that previously second string quarterback Tommy Maddox put on when he replaced Roethlisberger against Jacksonville.

The Steelers also have a crew of running backs to go along with that stellar offensive line. Jerome Bettis is listed as questionable on the injury report but Willie Parker has been leading the charge this season. Vernon Haynes is there third down back and if that’s not enough to muster a rushing attack old-pro Duce Staley is waiting in the wings. The Steelers also have a rookie of the year candidate at tight end with Heath Miller who already has 6 touchdown receptions this year. In addition to Miller the Steelers have a legitimate group of receivers with Hines Ward, Antwaan Randle El (both former college quarterbacks) and Quincy Morgan. The Packers’ defense will have their hands full with or without Ben Roethlisberger on the field.

The Jim Bates lead group of defenders has definitely raised some eyebrows this year but that might be more because they have went from a horrendous defense to a mediocre group (15th in yards and 19th in points allowed in the NFL). The bright spot this season, if you need one, would have to be the defense’s performance. The best part of the group is not necessarily their ability to keep things close but the overall age of the group. Old pros Al Harris and Grady Jackson have made their contributions but the younger players have come to play as well. Joey Thomas, a second-year corner, was released this week after some dismal showing but the players who are replacing him are full of potential and can hardly do worse. The two Packer defenders that seem to be benefiting the most from Jim Bates’ scheme is probably defensive end Aaron Kampman and middle linebacker Nick Barnett. But it is going to take a group effort to keep the Steeler offense from running up the score.

If you are in search of seeing a good defense this game will definitely have one to offer but they will be wearing the black and yellow Steeler uniform. Pittsburgh runs the 3-4 attack but depending on the down and distance can turn it into a 3-5 attack by bringing Troy Polamalu closer to the line of scrimmage. Considering the Packers offense is down to Favre, Donald Driver and a good group of tight ends it is hard to imagine Green Bay running up the score or even breaking 20 points for that matter. The Steelers will most likely keep Driver in double coverage and pay little attention to the Packers running game. Blitzing early and dropping into mixed coverages later will keep Brett guessing and struggling while he tries to get the pedestrian offensive threats around him to perform. Fortunately for Favre the offensive line appears to be coming together and should help him continue his Hall of Fame career unscathed (knock on wood).

Overall, this game could play out much like the 6 losses that Green Bay has endured. If things are going to turn around someone is going to have to step up huge in the running game. That might be undrafted rookie Samkon Gado from Nigeria (via Liberty University). He flashed briefly with a toss play against the Bengals but appears to have the size and speed to build on. Outside of the young Gado it will most likely take another meltdown from the backup quarterback in Pittsburgh but even then Green Bay has to find a way to score.

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