Answer Man XI

Alright, Answer Man, finally a game we can sink our teeth into. I have some Bowl questions for you but since this is such an interesting match-up this week, we'll save the Bowl bits till next week.<br> <b><i>Answer Man:</i></b> Since the division'll be clinched by then, sure, that sounds like a plan. <p>

Me: Clinched! Whoa! That's some unbridled optimism. Is Tampa overrated?
AM: No. They're a solid team. Their defense is built on speed. They have good special teams, which are also built on speed, and an offense that doesn't make mistakes. In this league, in this season, if you're 11-3 there's nothing phony about you. You're a pretty good team.

Me: OK, so how should the Steelers attack this great defense?
AM: I'd run right at them. Running away from them means you're running right into their strong suit, their speed; so the key, I think, is to run right at them and stay away from mistakes. Play it like it's a good ol' AFC North game, three yards and a cloud of dust.

Me: Sounds good in theory, but Jerome Bettis has a bad knee; Amos Zereoue hasn't practiced with a bad thumb; Chris Fuamatu-Ma'afala's been injured since he fell out of the womb; even Verron Haynes is injured. Will they go one-back with Dan Kreider?
AM: Jimmy, that's what modern medicine is for.

Me: Let's break it down. Their offensive line's the weakness, isn't it?
AM: I'd have to say so. Roman Oben, their left tackle, should be at right tackle, which is good for Joey (Porter).

Me: I thought their other tackle, Kenyatta Walker, was good for Joey. Last year Porter had four sacks against him and then they moved Walker.
AM: That's what happened. Walker's athletic but not strong. He can pass block a little bit but he can't run block. Typical Florida lineman. Oben doesn't have the feet, but he's a vet. If he gets out he can lock on to you.

Me: What about their interior? Jeff Christy is about done, isn't he?
AM: Yeah, I remember Jeff at Freeport High. He was a terrific tailback, but you're right. It looks like his career is winding down. He's not playing well at all. Their left guard, Kerry Jenkins, is average, and their right guard, Cosey Coleman, is overrated in my opinion. He's usually overmatched. He has no base under him whatsoever and he never finishes.

Me: Answer Man, if I were to save all of these stories I've done with you, I'd have a pretty good idea of who the Steelers might and might not be looking at in free agency.
AM: Yeah, but nobody believes any of this, do they? I mean, you don't quote me directly do you?

Me: Umm.
AM: Do you?

Me: Well, you're right about nobody taking this stuff seriously. That's the key here. So let's move on to their quarterback. Will Brad Johnson even play?
AM: Well, they're fighting for home field in the playoffs. You have to find the line between risking him for the playoffs or getting home field after all the bad experiences you've had playing away games in the playoffs. My guess is they brought him in to win and to win you need the home field in the playoffs. I'd play him.

Me: What about their running game?
AM: Same old (Mike) Alstott. He's not a blocking fullback, but he's a got a fullback's body and a runner's mentality. He's a horse. Those highlight runs you see aren't flukes. I like the other guy out of the backfield, too. Michael Pittman should be a concern. He has speed and hands. The other guys in their passing game, of course, are Keyshawn Johnson and Keenan McCardell. McCardell's still pretty good. He's not the deep threat he used to be, but he can get open. Keyshawn has been dropping a lot of balls lately in traffic and that used to be his forte. But, really, they don't have the kind of speed that scares you. (Ken) Dilger's a pretty good tight end. Ricky Dudley has speed but he's not consistent catching the rock.

Me: Ah, the rock. You can be hip sometimes Answer Man. Maybe there's a radio show out there with your name on it. Anyway, my big question for you is will they spread the Steelers' defense out?
AM: With their two tight ends out there on run downs, yeah, they can do it. And since (Jon) Gruden's buddies with the Oakland coach, you could draw that connection. But I don't know if you want to leave Brad Johnson and his bad back by himself in the backfield with a healthy Kendrell Bell ready to fire.

Me: Alright, man, let's roll right into their defense.
AM: They have very good DBs. (Brian) Kelly and (Ronde) Barber and (John) Lynch and Dexter Jackson are very good. Physical safeties and corners that can cover. The linebackers are built for speed. (Derrick) Brooks is having a pretty good year. They're not physical, step-up-in-the-hole guys but they have the speed to make plays. Their defense is good, but it's all built on speed. They're a little undersized. The nose tackle replacing (Booger) McFarland is only 270 pounds. And their ends aren't big. Simeon Rice is 268 and Greg Spires is 265. They're a little undersized but with the speed to make up for it.

Me: Warren Sapp's not small.
AM: Waren Sapp is Warren Sapp. When he wants to play, he's one of the best, and you have to figure he'll want to play Monday night.

Me: Rice is having a great year.
AM: Yeah, but I'd like to see Mark Bruener over there run-blocking him for about a quarter and a half. Even without Bruener, Rice will have his hands full with this running game. It'll be interesting to see how his motor's running in the second half.

Me: Alright, let's wrap this up. What are the keys for the Steelers?
AM: One, good special teams. Two, no turnovers. And three, watch Pittman out of the backfield. That scares me since we haven't had great success with guys out of the backfield.

Me: Answer Man, since I won't see you until next week, have a great Christmas.
AM: Try to think about Jesus every now and then. Peace.

--Jim Wexell

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