Saturday, we will see two teams who have come to the same point over vastly different routes. Both are 7-7; both took savage beatings last week in embarrassing, lop-sided defeats. The Steelers are 2-4 in the second half; they must have this game, and the finale in SD, if they are to avoid a third consecutive tumble in the stretch run.
The Skins, with their $100M payroll studded by future Hall of Famers, are 1-5 in the second half. Two weeks ago, they were whipped by the NYG. They fired their coach, replacing Norv Turner with Terry "Biscuit" Robiskie. Purportedly, Biscuit is a tough guy graduate of the Raiders School of Hard Knocks. Not an X's and O's man, Biz is regarded as a fiery leader. The Skins ownership must have hoped that this move would spur their squad towards the finish. Instead, last week they lay down against the Coke Boys much as Micheal Irvin's female admirers once spread it out in that team's infamous House of Fun.
The Steeler defense will be facing a unit crippled by injury. The Skin O-line reminds me of Jessica Alba's work as the lead in FOX's blockbuster, Dark Angel. Ms. Alba portrays a leather-clad, curvaceous killing machine whose soft center is suggested by an attachment to some chair-bound do-gooder. Just so, the Skin O-line is tough on the outside but yielding in the interior.
LOT Chris Samuels has rewarded his selection with the third pick overall in last year's draft. ROT Jon Jansen (2/99) is a player whom the Steelers coveted. When the Skins selected him, Pitts. turned, one round later, to the immortal Kris Farris. On the other hand, Mark Fischer replaces OC Cory Raymer who has been lost all season. One Skin site describes Fish as "befuddled by even the simplest blitz packages." Pro Bowl ROG Tre Johnson went down in the 6th game; his replacement, Jay Leeuwenburg, is in the twilight of a very average career. Last week, LOG Keith Sims tore his Achilles. The Skins went on to yield 5 sacks; this from a unit which had given 22 in the previous 13 games.
The Skin running game has come to a halt. Stephen Davis is a fine back but,like the Bus, Davis needs help. Against the Giants, Steve was 12/29. He had 57 yards on 16 trips vs. the Boys. Dallas is dead last against the run. When you think Davis, think of the Bus packing it behind Conrad, Brown and Stai. The backup RBs, Hicks and Murrell, both have some cutback ability. However, in this game, these men will be most dangerous as receivers should they simply follow the trail laid down by Stanley Pritchett some weeks ago.
The Skins remain a threat through the air. George is the best pure passer in the game. Thrash and Connell can get deep though Connell has been benched in favor of the antique Rev. Fryar. The Steelers DB play so far off that Maurice Greene couldn't get behind them. However, this strategy does leave them susceptible to shorter routes run by WR, TE or RB. TE Stephen Alexander may make some plays. The same is true for receiving FB Larry Centers.
After the Steelers skulked out of Jersey, the NY Times reported that their home town heroes had schemed to take advantage of the Steeler LB. Apparently, the Giants staff noticed that our Fab Four turn their backs to the LOS as they drop into coverage. Known as a "spot drop", this technique leaves them vulnerable to WR drags, dinks to RB and the like. I'll be watching to see if this pattern repeats.
Outlook: Since their defense was gashed by Taylor and, then by Dillon, the Steelers have sold out to stop the run. As a result, neither the Raider nor Giants RB tandems did much. However, facing no pressure, Gannon and Collins combined for about 610 passing yards.
Saturday, the Skin run game will not factor. The Steelers will stuff that interior OL. However, should they employ their recent zero-pressure strategy, then Jeff George may surpass, in one game, what Kerry and Rich accomplished in sum. I'd like to see Aaron Smith make some plays against this patched up front. I don't expect a push from Henry or Kimo but, if there is any contest where the Steelers D-line can make some big plays, this is that game.
Kordell will lead the offense against a unit featuring 7 former #1 picks. Two were Skin selections, the others are high ticket FA acquired over the past three years. The strategy here is pretty simple:
1. Run the ball: The Skin yielded 242 yards rushing to the Boys. Last week, jumbo DT Dana Stubblefield had the flu. His replacement was Nolan "Hot Tub" Harrison. It is hard to believe that all 242 yards went over this former Steeler great. Keep George off the field; run the damn ball.
2. Abuse the Skin Safeties and LB: We may see 3 future Hall of Fame CB in this game but none will suit up for the Steelers. While their CB trio is great, Washington's S are more than suspect. Neither Shade nor Carrier have any speed. None. As to the LB: Barber and Smith do not play well in reverse; Lavar is a rookie. Given the chance, Huntley could do some damage against these men. Look for Troy, or Shaw, on drags.
3. Last week, Arrington put Aikman out of the game, probably for keeps. Dallas countered with Anthony Wright who handed off 37 times, knelt or rushed 5 times for 36" and completed 3/5 for 73 yards. It may be fun to compare any success AW enjoys with Kordell's rate of progress.
Game Summary: If the 2000 Steelers honor their heritage with an all-out highly aggressive defense yoked to a brutally efficient ball control running game then they will exit 3RS in triumph. If not, George will carve them like a Christmas goose.
The Steel Phantom