New Castle News
NEW CASTLE —
This is what we know for sure 41.2 percent of the way into this NFL season.
It’s a tip drill, anyone can go up and grab it.
(Unless your team name rhymes with “Schmleveland Clowns” of course.)
Seven weeks in and we have no clear front-runner, nobody even close. Every team has significant liabilities.
Atlanta is the lone undefeated team in the league, but the Falcons’ frequent postseason flame-outs make them a giant question mark until January. With one of the league’s worst defenses, Baltimore is relying on Joe Flacco to carry them, and that excites only Joe Flacco. Green Bay’s defense is also suspect. New England nearly lost at home to the Jets yesterday and nearly dropped to 3-4. Houston has to prove it over the long haul and lost its defensive captain (Brian Cushing) for the season.
The AFC is particularly mediocre, what with just two teams entering play yesterday with winning records.
Which brings us to the Pittsburgh Steelers ... right back in the thick of it.
Last night's 24-17 victory in Cincinnati was much more impressive than the final score, as they rolled up a 431-185 advantage in total offense. This one was two Ben Roethlisberger turnovers and three Mike Wallace drops away from being a 35-10 rout.
Jonathan “Bus Jr.” Dwyer resembled Jerome Bettis for more than just that little head waggle after a big gainer, he also piled up 122 yards by running straight through the middle of the line. Imagine that!
Antonio Brown continues to gallop around the field Gangnam Style, gathering in seven receptions for 96 yards and always appears to be one slick move away from breaking away.
Heath Miller is playing the best ball of his career, which is saying something, because he has been money since his rookie season. Especially when they actually throw to him.
And the “cramp play” by Emmanuel Sanders? Oscar-worthy.
The defense? Well, remember that “significant liabilities” thing? The Steelers got virtually no pressure on Andy Dalton, who never had to pick his Spock-like eyebrows up off the turf.
James Harrison looked old. He got a whiff on the stat sheet — no sacks, no tackles, no nuthin’. Other than his gift interception, LaMarr Woodley was a nonfactor. At least Ike Taylor played better.
There were a few other concerns, such as why can’t this team play smarter?
There was no reason for Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis to be able to challenge Wallace’s first-down catch late in the game, Roethlisberger should have quick-snapped the ball the moment everyone got set. Tom Brady would have run two plays in the time it took for Roethlisberger to drag his feet, giving Lewis the chance to throw the red flag.
And what’s with the frequent penalties on returns? The Steelers often look as if they are Angry Birds on special teams, running around and hitting everything indiscriminately, hoping for something to fall. Keep it up and Brown or Chris Rainey are going to get a touchdown return wiped out in a big moment.
But in today’s NFL (Nothing’s Foreseeable League), that amounts to nit-picking.
Go ahead and review the Black-and-Gold’s long list of deficiencies, and then compare them to every other team in the conference. Playing a three-quarters complete game like the Steelers did last night might be enough to challenge for the AFC’s berth in the Super Bowl.
Indeed, if the running game can sustain anything near that kind of production (especially if Maurkice Pouncey comes back and stays healthy), if Troy Polamalu comes back and stays healthy, if Wallace can start playing like a guy who is playing for a big contract and if the Ravens continue to self-destruct, it is not hard to imagine the Steelers playing in Houston for the Lamar Hunt Trophy on Jan. 20, 2013.
Or, after RGIII comes in and lights up Heinz Field on Sunday, you can simply resume looking at mock drafts again.
(Steve Treu covers the Steelers for The News.)