Trust in the Steelers' defense
Last Sunday night, a die hard Giants fan in New Jersey who is a longtime buddy of mine, called me on the cell. "Dude, I can't believe how good the Steelers defense is! I thought for sure we were going to lose when Brandon Jacobs couldn't get any yardage."
To his delight, the Giants won. As the Steelers visit D.C. tonight hoping the third time is the charm against the NFC East, it is their defense that should have you hopeful, not only tonight, but for the rest of the year. Before yesterday's games, they led the league in allowing the fewest yards per game. They were third in the most important defensive stat, points allowed per game. Even in the two games they have lost, the Steelers have allowed only 36 total points. It wouldn't be a shock if the Steelers lose Monday. But it will surprise me if running back Clinton Portis has a big night. And Jersey Jim would agree.
- If you want an early indication of how things are going to go tonight, watch what the Steelers do on third down. In their five wins, they convert on third down at better than 42 percent. In their two losses, they are only converting at 13 percent.
- Nate Washington has come on in recent weeks and has a touchdown catch of 40 or more yards three straight games. Impressed• You should be. The only other player in Steelers history to do that was Jimmy Orr in 1958 when he had a touchdown catch of 40 or more yards in four straight games.
- With all the talk about fines in the NFL recently, especially those related to Pittsburgh Steelers players, it should be made clear that it is not a good defense that no penalty was called on a play when a player is fined. Before this past weekend, there were more fines levied against players on plays where there was not a penalty than on plays where a penalty was actually called. An infraction is an infraction even if it's only caught later on tape. It just makes you wonder what the officials are watching that so many are missed.
- As the Penguins muck and grind their way through the early portion of the season, I keep hearing how they started slowly the past two years as well. That they didn't really start playing until Thanksgiving last year. And while that is true, expecting it to happen again is a mistake. There is no guarantee they will be able to turn around what has been a very mediocre start.
- I'm convinced the Pirates made a mistake when they twice failed to hire Ken Macha to be their manager. Their loss is now the Milwaukee Brewers gain. Macha will take over the Brew Crew with the second best winning percentage (.568) among major league managers since 2000. The only guy better• Joe Torre. Actually it's a good thing for Macha he didn't get that Bucco job. Or that winning percentage surely would have dropped.
- While it was tough to justify why Upper St. Clair got such a tough opening draw in the WPIAL football playoffs, few seemed to realize that made it unfair for their opponent as well. McKeesport was the third seed and probably deserved an easier first round opponent. But the result was the most exciting Quad-A game of the opening round.
But with all the theories about what has troubled them to date, none is as pertinent as the roster changes since June. Of the players who dressed for game six when the Red Wings closed out the Stanley Cup finals, six are gone and two others are out with long term injuries. And three guys who didn't dress for that game are no longer on the Pens current roster. That's 11 out of the 24 players gone who were in-and-out of uniform last June fourth. That's a lot of upheaval. It's possible things will click again. Just don't expect it because it happened that way in the past.