Week 11 Preview: Pittsburgh at San Francisco

The breakout game must be coming. It can be felt in the air. Plaxico Burress will at some point this season break out for a massive Randy-Moss-chest-pumping performance that will electrify the fans, national media and the team. The question is not "will it come?" but "when will it come?"

Two years ago, Plaxico Burress, in front of a national television audience, made the Tennessee Titan secondary his personal whipping boys and a star was born. We'll call this Plaxico PB-version 2.0.

But it took 20+ games for the Burress to reach that point of self-confidence and ability. In the 30+ games since, Burress has seen his game reach a plateau at Pro Bowl quality, only to fall back down to his former self, the Plaxico pre-Tennessee circa 2001, which we call PB-version 1.0.

What has caused this recent reversion? Stats. Sure stats tell many things, but perhaps it's something deeper than stats (I know I'm going to get slammed by Jman for this). Perhaps it's the inconsistent routes, complaining to the referees, the improper catching techniques and the poor jumping ability that have caught up with PB 1.0's natural god-given talent.

It's quite obvious that cornerbacks don't respect PB 1.0's route running abilities. That's why PB1.0 more often than not thinks he's open when in fact Tommy Maddox can tell that the cornerback is ready to jump on the pass. Hines Ward gets the respect, and that's why Ward, even when double-teamed, consistently gets open.

It's also obvious that the single way for a defender to beat PB 1.0 on the fade ball is to turn his head, jump and put his hands up. PB 1.0 is not going to out-jump the defender, so all the defender needs to do is turn his head so as to not have flag thrown.

What was the difference between PB 2.0 and PB 1.0? PB 2.0 caught the ball with his hands, once in a while he would revert to old form, but he trusted his hands. PB 2.0 also out-muscled the defender on the deep ball and fade pass. And finally, PB 2.0 made a conscious effort to run precise routes. They may not have been perfect, but they were a whole lot better than PB 1.0's attempts.

The Steelers offense has been hurt equally by the lack of running game and disappearance of PB 2.0. While the running game isn't an easy fix, getting PB 2.0 back on the field could be an easy thing, if PB 1.0 is willing to give it a chance.

OFFENSE

Pittsburgh: Ranked 22nd (Passing 12th, Rushing 29th) – The Steelers offense still struggles to open running lanes, although Jerome Bettis had his best first half of the season last week. As of Friday he was back to practicing, after missing some practices with a shoulder injury. His ability to hold onto the ball will be a concern.

San Francisco: Ranked 8th (Passing 15th, Rushing 4th) – The Niners live by the run and Terrell Owens. Owens' production has dropped off significantly since last season. They are also without the services of Jeff Garcia. Garcia is mobile, Tim Rattay, his backup, is not.

Advantage: The teams are even in my book.

DEFENSE

Pittsburgh: Ranked 4th (Passing 12th, Rushing 6th) – The Steelers run defense once again excels however their secondary is starting to lose its depth (whatever quality). Chad Scott is banged up and Dewayne Washington's starting days are over. The key matchup is containing Terrell Owens.

San Francisco: Ranked 7th (Passing 17th, Rushing 5th) – The Niners won't let the Steelers run at all, so the secondary will be called upon to contain Hines Ward. Ward will get his catches, but they'll need to watch out for a Plaxico Burress breakout game.

Advantage: Pittsburgh's defense should be able to contain the Niner running game quite easily. Now they just need to jam the receivers at the line.

QUARTERBACKS

Tommy Maddox: Tommy Maddox's performance level is starting to get more consistent. His performances against Denver, St. Louis and Arizona make 3 above-average games in the last 4.

Tim Rattay: Rattay will look for the short gain every pass. He's not mobile and his arm is less than spectacular.

Advantage: Maddox has the advantage.

OUTLOOK: I never bet against the Steelers all year (not literally you Vegas-geeks), but I'm thinking Pittsburgh by a field goal.


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