Beware The Clemens Show

Charlie Batch will start for the Steelers on Saturday as 13-point favorites to beat the lowly St. Louis Rams. But the Steelers have seen this show once before, so they should be wary.

PITTSBURGH – It was during the second half of the 2007 season when the 7-2 Steelers went to New York to play the 1-8 Jets.

It would be a slam dunk, proclaimed the media and the fans, and I no doubt dunked a few times myself on the pitiful Jets.

Back then, the Steelers started Ben Roethlisberger. This time they're starting Charlie Batch and no one seems to mind. In fact, those fans and media are supporting it.

They may as well have four years ago because the Jets were playing their backup quarterback that day. And you could run on the Jets. They would finish 29th against the run that year.

Well, that replacement quarterback pulled off the upset. Yep, Kellen Clemens completed 14 of 31 for 162 yards with a touchdown pass in the opening quarter.

Clemens wasn't great, but when a game manager can team up with Thomas Jones's 117 yards rushing, and a defense that sacked Roethlisberger seven times, and held Willie Parker to 52 yards on 21 carries, it can beat the Steelers 19-16 in overtime.

It's an eerily similar situation today as the 2-12 St. Louis Rams come to Heinz Field to face the 10-4 Steelers.

Could they sack the Steelers' quarterback seven times?

Everyone in the league has that kind of potential.

Could they hold Rashard Mendenhall to less than 2.5 yards per carry?

See the answer to the first question.

Could they churn out a 100-yard rusher?

Steven Jackson, like Jones in 2007, is an established eighth-year pro who needs 34 yards rushing for a history-making seventh consecutive 1,000-yard season. He'll match a group of six Hall of Famers and soon-to-be Hall of Famers who share that record.

And Jackson is into it. He was just quoted in the St. Louis Dispatch about how excited he is to be playing at Heinz Field for the first time, and he told the paper about the last time the Rams visited and a back named Arlen Harris scored three touchdowns in a 2003 Rams win.

Jackson, it was noted by the author, is a football historian, someone with great enthusiasm and respect for the game. Draft historians, of course, remember that Jackson wanted to be picked by the Steelers coming out in 2004 because his dad was a lifelong fan.

Anyone nervous yet?

Well, if not, there's Clemens, who four years ago already answered any questions about beating the Steelers.

Waived by the Houston Texans earlier this month – the QB-ravaged Houston Texans!? – Clemens practiced five days with the Rams before starting last week at Cincinnati. He completed 25 of 36 for 209 in a seven-point loss to the Bengals.

It was Clemens' eighth start since coming into the league in 2006 (Batch has made six starts since joining the Steelers in 2002) and Clemens is 4-6 in those starts, with the first win coming that November day in 2007 when he filled in for Chad Pennington.

"I remember it very well," said former Jets and current Steelers receiver Jerricho Cotchery. "Not much was going well for us at that point in time in the season. We were coming off a bye week and we felt very prepared coming into the game. It was a big victory for us, just to say we beat the Steelers. I think everybody was very excited about that game."

Certainly, the Rams will be excited, too.

Cotchery said his current teammates should be aware of Clemens' mental and physical abilities.

"He's a smart guy, a very smart guy," Cotchery said. "He can make a bunch of throws. He doesn't get a lot of credit for his arm strength but the thing is he understands situations in the game. He understands what he has to do in order to help his team win. The times he was able to start and play in New York I think he did very well. Obviously they had to move in another direction, but I think the best thing about him is he understands the situation. He understands what he has to do as a player. He can throw the ball. He's a very smart guy."

Clemens' weapons are Jackson, wide receiver Brandon Lloyd (1,448 yards receiving last year with the Denver Broncos) and second-round pick Lance Kendricks, an H-back the Steelers liked coming out of Wisconsin last draft.

The Rams' main offensive problem is a line that has three of its opening-day starters on injured reserve, and the remaining two are playing new positions. Even the backups have gotten hurt. The Rams are down to their third man at each tackle spot.

On defense, the Rams allow 4.8 yards per carry, but it's the secondary that's so very inviting.

The Rams have only four active cornerbacks, and three of those have spent time on the practice squad this year. The only veteran is Rod Hood, who's playing for his sixth team in the last nine years.

The Steelers have been known to lose their focus against soft defenses by getting greedy for big chunks, and this one's setting up that way, too.

Unlike the many outside the team who are chalking this one up already, the Steelers need to keep their focus. If not, they'll see a repeat of the Kellen Clemens Show.


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