:: That talent broke many a Steelers fans heart, and one owner's wallet. Yes, I am indeed referring to the enigma that is Kordell Stewart. During the week Stewart got to play Michael Vick , portraying the young phenom as the scout team's quarterback. Cynics will say that there too Stewart will fail. Stewart, after all, runs a 4.5 40, while Vick runs an unconscious 4.2. And of course, when the Steelers line-up to play the real Michael Vick, Stewart will be but a spectator.
:: Which leads me to my next question…whose heart gets broken next? Will we see the Vick of weeks 1-8, the player that terrorized defenses with his arm and legs, including consecutive games of 91 rushing yards against Carolina and New Orleans? Or will we see the Vick of week 9 that was stymied by a young, inexperienced Baltimore 3-4 defense? Sans Ray Lewis, no less.
:: In the latter instance, certainly the hearts of the 5-3 Falcons and their success-starved fans would be dashed. However, that is no given, not by a longshot. The truth is, great players have gouged the Steelers this season. A quick glance at the top 5 statistical leader board at NFL.com bears that sobering observation. Deuce McAllister is the league's third-leading rusher with 837 yards -- he got 123 of them against the Steelers D.
:: Take a look at the quarterbacks, and the same is readily apparent. Rich Gannon? 403 yards. Tom Brady? 294 yards. Even Peyton Manning, who was beaten and confused by the Steelers defense, had his first 300-yard game and completed two-thirds of his passes against the Steelers.
:: Receivers Marvin Harrison, Jerry Rice, and Joe Horn each had solid showings, as well. What all this proves is unclear, but it would appear to suggest that the Steelers have had a difficult time shutting down the better players that they've faced to date, and in most cases, have lost as a result. The Patriots (Brady), Raiders (Gannon-Rice), and Saints (McAllister-Horn) each hung 30+ points on this defense.
:: Better teams, you say? Not necessarily so. The Pats and Raiders are both just .500 ballclubs. The 6-2 Saints have just a one-game advantage over the Steelers, by way of their 32-29 victory over Pittsburgh back in October.
:: And now here comes the 5-3 Atlanta Falcons. By record, the Steelers are equal. Talent-wise, however, is a different story altogether. Atlanta runs the ball (5th in rushing) and controls the clock well enough (4th in TOP) though, to stay in most games, winning 2 of 4 games decided by a field goal or less. They've blown-out Cincinnati and Carolina by a combined 60-3, and been beaten soundly by Tampa Bay 20-6 -- none of which matters, by the way, in today's NFL.
:: No, what matters is Vick. Sunday he will face the 3-4 defense for just the second time ever, and certainly the Steelers serve up a flavor all their own with that scheme. They are also more talented defensively, at least along the front seven, than anything Baltimore could offer a week ago. But, again…how good is he?
:: Is Michael Vick great? Or is he just as fast as all hell? And is speed enough against the league's fastest linebacking corps?
:: You've got to think that the league's slowest secondary hopes not. Otherwise, they get beat.