Answer Man

JW: It's not quite the halfway point of the season, but I want to beat the rush and get a little mid-season report. As always, the most important question concerns their weaknesses. Is there a weakness that's bugging you?

AM: The one thing that bamboozles me is so many teams have come out and run on them early. It's kind of puzzling. At this point it makes you start wondering if their watches are set wrong. What are they eating for pre-game? I don't know. One of the stats is the backs are averaging around 45 yards in the first quarter and they're not even getting that in the next three. The first quarter has been a puzzle.

JW: Do you do anything about it? Do you ignore it and hope it goes away?

AM: That's the problem. I'm not sure what you do about it. If it were a once-in-a-while thing, you'd think it was just a hiccup that happens now and then. But it seems that it takes them a while to rev the engines. Other than making them aware of it and accountable early enough, I'm not sure there's a solution. For whatever reason they're missing tackles and are not gap sound early on.

JW: What about all the receiving yardage they're giving up to backs?

AM: That's another area that bothers me. The checkdowns, the crossing patterns underneath you saw with Chester Taylor, Kevin Faulk and LaDainian Tomlinson, that's an area of weakness and it makes you wonder. Then you consider that last week Clint Kriewaldt checked in for awhile. It makes me wonder if Larry Foote's having some problems in that area.

JW: What about the pass rush?

AM: To me, against the max pro, they've got to win more one-on-one battles. They're getting close. Anytime you keep a back and a tight end or two backs in, you have to win those individual battles. They've got to bring closure to it. They're close, but they just seem to be a step behind. Clark Haggans was doing pretty well with that, but he's been out and I'm not convinced he's ready.

JW: Is the offensive line doing alright?

AM: I think the line's playing pretty darn well. Yeah, I think they're doing pretty well. I think they're capable of more, on a regular basis, but I think they're doing pretty well. I know that sometimes the six cylinders are firing on four or five, and that kind of mystifies me, but I also thought there were some holes that were not taken advantage of Monday night by the backs. I thought Willie (Parker) missed on a couple.

JW: So what do you think about the Packers?

AM: A lot of guys were talking about a trap game with the Ravens, which I never saw because there's just too much good old-fashioned hate involved with those teams. If anything this is a game that's dangerous because of that proud Packer tradition and a guy coming off a five-interception loss. Anytime a guy like Brett Favre plays like that, he's looking to rebound quickly. That's the thing about great quarterbacks: They have a tendency to come back real, real strong. This is the game that, as a player, would make me sit back and say whoa. They've got a pretty good defensive line. This Cullen Jenkins seems to be their most complete defensive lineman. They have a pretty good defensive line.

JW: Is that why teams have trouble running on them?

AM: Between that and the fact they have three very good linebackers. They look like three guys in concert. This kid Paris Lenon surprised me. He's got some great athleticism. They're not quite as fast as Jacksonville's linebackers but they're very consistent. They don't get stupid and try to make plays that they can't. They play their angles well and it's very hard to fool them.

JW: So do you pass on this team?

AM: You've got to run. You've got to run. You're going to be at hostile Lambeau Field with a new guy quarterbacking for you. You've got to run.

JW: So you don't like motivational advantage the Packers have, or the physical match-up?

AM: Well, you're running into their strength, but I do like the individual match-ups. I like the match-ups along the front line. I think the Steelers can win the greater number of those match-ups. For instance, Aaron Kampman against Max (Starks); Kampman will bull rush him and that's perfect for Max. Kampman is a straight-ahead arrow guy. He couldn't make a hard 90-degree turn inside if his life depended on it. And KGB has kind of gone the way of the cold war. He (Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila) is a sophisticated pass rusher, but look at his stats (2.5 sacks). I can tell he's a good athlete and has good techniques, but I didn't see him make much progress toward the QB.

JW: Isn't their secondary supposed to be bad?

AM: They're having problems. Al Harris is good, but they suffer elsewhere. Still, I really believe that between Charlie Batch and a hostile Lambeau Field, you've got to establish that run game. No way do you put the ball in Charlie's hands and say go win for us. Now, once you get into the second quarter, go after their secondary off some play-action, but the onus is on the boys up front to get things going.

JW: How hostile can Lambeau be at 1-6? Is there even interest in the club?

AM: No question. This is a community that's entirely wound up on the Packers. People stop by the players' houses after the games. I heard the story about Ken Ruettgers sitting down to Thanksgiving Dinner; his neighbor stopped over and asked if Ken could help him hang his Christmas lights. The community really lives, breathes and dies Packers. The best way to put it is Steeler fans have a life, and I'll leave it at that.

JW: Is Brett Favre better than the confused old man he appears to be?

AM: To me he looked like a beaten guy, tired and worn down mentally and emotionally, which is very understandable based on what's going on in his personal life. You take that and the loss of Ahman Green, Javon Walker and you have a guy who's trying to shoulder the team and is stumbling. Now, the thing about it is they have a decent offensive line; not great, but OK. You can go after Adrian Klemm. He doesn't sink anchor on the bull rush and ends up in Brett's lap too many times for my taste. Chad Clifton and Mike Flanagan are the players.

JW: Do they have any skill people left?

AM: William Henderson is a good lead blocker and Tony Fisher is OK. He's a good NFL back who could have some success … particularly in the first quarter.

JW: Good one.

AM: And watch for their screens. If I had to slip a note to Dick LeBeau I'd say watch the screens. As for their receivers, Donald Driver still goes hard over the middle, but the whole thing is kind of misfiring.

JW: So what's your gut telling you?

AM: It hinges on the running game for the Steelers. I think they match up well defensively. I think they can give Brett some trouble. I don't think he's completely out of his funk. But when you've got a new guy yourself, it all comes down to this: Can you keep it away from the Packers and grind it out? This game says run all over it.

JW: With the Duce?

AM: Well, I'm very interested. We'll find out. You see him on the practice field and he makes nice cuts, accelerates, but you never really know until guys are trying to take you out. But I'm not too big on the theory that guys struggle when they haven't been hit in awhile. That may be a worry for a young guy like Parker, but not for a veteran like Duce.

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