Steel City Sports Pre-Game

<b>Pittsburgh vs. Atlanta</b><p> When Tommy Maddox entered the league as a rash, young prodigy, he immediately got caught up in the hurricane that was John Elway vs. Dan Reeves. The Broncos at that point had been blown out of two consecutive Super Bowls and had watched the Buffalo Bills overtake them as the cream of the AFC crop.<p>

Maddox was caught in the middle of an escalating battle of egos. Elway was apparently not ready, nor willing, to mentor a youngster who would be his successor. And Reeves was apparently holding Maddox over the franchise's head to put the pressure on Elway.

Maddox didn't last long in the situation. He hadn't matured enough in his two years of college (albeit he was no Ryan Leaf) to withstand the label of first-round bust. He was cut by the Broncos, but Dan Reeves wouldn't let Maddox fall too far. After accepting the coaching position in Atlanta in 1997, Reeves brought Maddox in for a tryout in Atlanta. It was not to be, as we all know by now.

Now Reeves and Maddox reunite once again, Maddox as an older prodigy, an NFL veteran only in technicality; and Reeves still the wise, calm coach. However, a new young talent joins Reeves and his Falcons. This talent is no bust and won't need a decade to show any brilliance. His name is Michael Vick.

Don't let the game fool you though. This Sunday, all eyes will be on how Maddox performs in front of his old coach. If they aren't, then the eyes are missing the true story.

Defense: Watch the play of the two pass defenses. Pittsburgh ranks 26th, allowing 237.5 yards a game, and continues to struggle up the rankings. Pittsburgh needs to stick with their strength and force Vick to pass like a maniac. Watch for the Steelers to place the faster linebackers on Vick as spies. If I had to pick, I'd use Porter (the best tackler) or Farrior (the quickest and smartest). Atlanta, 6th in overall defense, allows only 182.5 yards per game. Pittsburgh will need to stop the run and force Vick to pass like a maniac. The Steelers have the second-best run defense in the league, averaging 81 yards per game. Atlanta allows 122. Watch for the Steelers to place the faster linebackers on Vick as spies. If I had to pick, I'd use Porter (the best tackler) or Farrior (the quickest and smartest).

Advantage: I like the Steelers this week. The Steelers have never been strong against scrambling quarterbacks, but do you really think Warrick Dunn will run well against them?

Offense: Okay so Bettis will probably split time with Famous Amos. That's good because the Steelers will need every yard of rushing the can get from the backs. Add in the gratuitous Randle-El run and the typical Hines Ward reverse and we've got the makings of another 150-yard day. The Steelers will, as always, emphasize ball control to keep Michael Vick off the field. Vick, on the other hand, needs to be careful with the ball. Sometimes that first interception can open up the Pandora's Box.

Advantage: I give the Steeler offense the advantage. Especially since they will be able to run the ball effectively.

Quarterbacks: Touchdown Tommy Maddox needs to stop with the interceptions during the final two minutes of the first half. He'll get some resistance from the Falcons passing defense. Get him in rhythm though and he'll be unstoppable.

Michael Vick will attempt to run early and often. He'll run all day if he has too. The biggest priority for him is to complete passes early on and keep the Steeler defense on their heels. He should have the deep stuff all day, as the Steelers will probably make the traffic underneath heavy.

Advantage: I'm giving Vick the nod today. Although I think both quarterbacks will have solid performances.

Outlook: The Steelers, if they are smart, will watch the film of Baltimore's spy network against Vick. Steelers by 7.

--The Steel Apple

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