The Blitz

How entrenched is Tommy Maddox as the Steelers starting quarterback? One need only consider how quickly he was thrust back out onto the field after being carted off with an ankle injury. Maddox returned to a suddenly competitive game with his ankle heavily taped, missing just two offensive series. Which begs the question…why the urgency? After all, do we not have a Pro Bowler on our bench? <p>

:: That only proves that Maddox is the quarterback of the present, though. This is no Kurt Warner story, just a good guy with good talent making for a good story. 

:: One thing is certain: The offense is much faster with Amos Zereoue in the backfield. And the offense has changed from a run-over, to a run-away personality. One of the more physical plays Sunday was the stiff-arm WR Plaxico Burress applied to Edgerton Hartwell's mug, snapping the Ravens LB's head back on Plax's second TD reception. Burress is rarely mistaken for a hard-nosed player, but that is what the Steelers have become. 

:: After running up a 28-3 halftime lead -- a margin that could have been even bigger, in fact -- the Steelers came out in the second half and mailed it in. Were they serving latte in the locker room? What's disturbing is that this is the same team that threw their collective hats on the field in September expecting to win, and instead opened the season 0-2, and then 1-3; the one victory coming in overtime against an inferior Browns team. This Steelers team continues to rest on its laurels, as it did coming into the season, and as it did in the second half against the Ravens. 

:: Still, the way they came out of the gate with guns ablaze was impressive -- unless, of course, you are a smug Brian Billick-coached, Ray Lewis-led Ravens team. The Ravens had few kind words for the Steelers, and even less respect. Hard to respect a team that goes soft with 30 minutes to play. 

:: I am still dumb-founded how Ravens tight end Todd Heap totaled just 51 yards on 6 receptions. It appeared as if every time Baltimore needed a play, it was Heap who was rising up to make it. That's not to say he was left unchecked. Heap was stuffed on a reverse after great penetration by DE Kimo von Oelhoffen. ILB James Farrior and Lee Flowers teamed up to thwart a Jeff Blake-to-Heap pass attempt in the endzone with the Ravens in a no-back spread look against the Steelers base. But the Steelers caught some breaks, as well. A beautiful over-the-shoulder catch by Heap was negated by a holding call; ILB Kendrell Bell had been beaten on the play for 23 yards. 

:: Don't be alarmed by the 298 yards the Steelers defense surrendered to the NFL's 31st-ranked passing offense. After all, the leader of that vaunted attack -- first-year starter Chris Redman -- sat out the game with back spasms. It has been painfully obvious that the Ravens best QB is indeed the veteran Jeff Blake. Credit the Ravens, however, for having an eye on the future and developing the young Redman. The Steelers will have that same opportunity when they select a young signal-caller in the 2003 college draft. Cast my vote for Ole Miss QB Eli Manning, Cal Bear Kyle Boller, and Louisville's Dave Ragone, in that order…at least for now, anyways. 

:: That said, defensive back must absolutely be this team's focus in the first round. Unless, of course, they can steal Tennessee's Julian Battle in the second. Battle has been compared to Patriots safety Lawyer Milloy, and continues to make play after play after play for the Volunteers. Heck, a corner wouldn't hurt either, but I doubt an arm like Boller's will last till the third. 

:: The Steelers special teams continue to make plays -- good ones even -- forcing two fumbles and recovering one on consecutive kickoffs in the first quarter. I still can't figure out Lee Mays, though. Where Antwaan Randle El has looked special, Mays has proven very ordinary. 

:: Might we see a full four quarters of Tommy Maddox and the Steelers no-huddle spread-it-out offense on Sunday in Cleveland? Maddox, if you remember, orchestrated a flawless two-minute drill against the Browns in Pittsburgh, tying the score and forcing overtime. He, as well as the Steelers offense, has never looked back. With running backs Jerome Bettis and Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala on the shelf, the Steelers have just Zereoue and rookie fullback - turned - halfback - at - least - for - this - game Verron Haynes to carry the rushing load. That, and a banged-up Cleveland secondary beg for the pass, both early and often. 

:: Lastly, Zereoue and Haynes in the same backfield may well be a look into the future of the Steelers ground game. One thing you cannot take away from this tandem…they sure are short. 

-- Blitzburgh




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