Tuesday Blitz

It's truly amazing what a difference one guy can make. When Saints running back Deuce McAllister sprinted past a hopelessly diving Lee Flowers en route to a 52-yard scoring jaunt, you've got to think Kendrell Bell would have been there. When Chad Scott was shook off his feet by Jerome Pathon, and helplessly watched as the pedestrian one, Brent Alexander was left in pursuit; you've got to think of what might have been.

:: Absent from this formerly top-ranked defense -- for the third straight game, no less -- was 2001's Defensive Rookie of the Year . Instead, we get Larry Foote, the three-shades-darker version of the small, slow, white special teams-playing linebacker that Cowher supposedly loves; and after blindly jumping the play flow on the aforementioned McAllister TD run, he was replaced by 2001's small, slow, white special teams-playing linebacker, none other than John Fiala himself. Fiala played the rest of the game, and made zero impact. Which begs the question -- why? Foote will be here next year, Fiala will not. Let the rookie learn, for crying out loud.

:: Also absent, through no fault of his own mind you, was Baltimore's 2002 first-rounder Ed Reed. And therein lies the problem. Reed has been impressive through the first quarter of this season. This despite playing the ever-complicated 3-4 defensive scheme. Consider too, that this is the Ravens' first season running the 3-4, and so Reed is certainly surrounded by fellow defenders with as many assignment questions as he has. The Steelers needed Ed Reed, and it has been no more apparent than in recent weeks while watching Brent Alexander futilely attempt to play centerfield. Just as apparent, however, is that Ed Reed does not need the Steelers.

:: Perhaps the Steelers chose not to pursue Ed Reed for good reason. Reed is athletic, has great range, exceptional ball skills, and is a big play waiting to happen. Looking at the current crop of Steelers safeties, he would have certainly not fit their prototype.

:: Oh, and it is well-documented that Reed is a weight room warrior, and a leader. But, this defense does not need any more leaders, now do they? Not when they have Lethon Flowers and Jason Gildon. Gildon's idea of leadership is to dance after a routine tackle -- usually his first of the game. And Lee, well what can you say there? Flowers, along with every other guy in the locker room, knows he is gone next year. He is a lame duck. And he is playing like one.

:: Since we are on safeties, let me let you in on a little observation. The Steelers defense has been getting exposed this year, and it has been ugly. It is not the 3-4 defense that is the problem because the Steelers don't play the 3-4. With the current personnel it has become quite obvious that the team is fielding a 5-4-2. Yep, the safeties are that slow; might as well be counted among the linebackers, although that would be a slap in the faces of Joey Porter and Kendrell Bell. This is the same run-stopping defense that my eight-year-old's Pee Wee football team runs with mixed results. How this alignment is expected to produce results -- especially at this level, and when teams spread them out -- is beyond me.

:: Ohio State safety Mike Doss makes a difference in 2003. And the Steelers are almost certain to have a shot at him. Question is…would he be a value in the middle of the first round?

:: That is where most 9-7 teams can expect to draft, right?

:: I haven't thrown in the Terrible Towel on this team just yet. But, it would be a given if the Steelers don't roll into Cincy and dismantle that poor excuse for a football team. Struggle all you want former AFC Superbowl favorites, but you had still better beat the weak sisters on the schedule.

:: Maybe it is me, but it would appear that Antwaan Randle El has the same dancing disease on returns that plagued Hank Poteat a year ago. I'd like nothing more than to see him just take the ball upfield and then make a move. Of course, what would I know?

:: Seems a lot of Kordell Stewart supporters threw around some stat last week about Tommy Maddox throwing an interception every 11 attempts or so. Maddox even supported that argument by throwing a pick in OT vs. the Browns, giving him one INT in 13 attempts. Well, here's one to gnaw on: Maddox has thrown for a TD once every 8 pass attempts. Compare that with Stewart's 1:19 TD-to-pass attempt ratio, and, well…we'll just leave it at that.

:: Like I've said before, Maddox is no star. That is a given. He is, however, and has been, more productive than Stewart. The offense as a whole has run more efficiently in the last five-and-a-half quarters when he has been behind center. Maddox will take chances where Stewart will not, and there will be consequences for that -- case in point being the 4th quarter interception against the Saints. However, those turnovers still came when Stewart was not taking chances. Think about that one.

:: Last week I took Russ Grimm and the offensive line to task, and there was Jerome Bettis rumbling away on Sunday. Now, I am not about to suggest that Grimm reads this column (though he may read the AFC North Report), or that if he did he'd give a damn about what I had to say, but merely I was stating that I was at least lukewarm when it came to what ailed the Steelers ground game. LT Wayne Gandy had by far his best game this season, and the bloodied Alan Faneca was just awesome. For that reason, I will continue to believe.

:: This Steelers team will be imposing its will on opponents once again come January. In fact, they may even be the most dangerous team in the playoffs at that time. This early season stumble may be just what the doctor ordered. After all, the last thing you want to see in the playoffs is a distracted, over-confident Bill Cowher; maybe he can maintain his focus playing three playoff games on the road.

:: Of course, he must first right this defense, or just get the hell out of Tim Lewis' way. Otherwise, we'll be rooting for a middle-of-the-road, one-and-out, champions-of-the-sorriest-division-in-football, team of underachievers.

:: And Joey Porter will be hocking "Big Nasty Sieve" t-shirts.

-- Blitzburgh

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