F. Dale Lolley's Sports Column
Steelers calm despite the storm
The Steelers seem to be in an REM kind of mood.
You know, “It’s the End of the World As We Know it (And I Feel Fine).”
No Ben Roethlisberger? No Troy Polamalu? No Antonio Brown?
Apparently, the Steelers don’t believe it’s a major problem – at least not that they are letting on.
What do they know that others don’t?
Perhaps they’ve watched the Ravens on video.
While the Steelers have their issues, so, too, do the Ravens
Linebacker Ray Lewis, the team’s heart and soul, is out for the season. So is top cornerback Lardarius Webb. Last week, Jimmy Smith, last year’s top draft pick who replaced Webb in the starting lineup, was lost to a sports hernia.
Reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Terrell Suggs is back for Baltimore after tearing his Achilles’ tendon in the offseason but looks a lot like a player coming back from a major injury, like Steelers linebacker James Harrison.
And that no-huddle offense that we heard so much about in the preseason? It’s been MIA when the Ravens have played on the road.
While quarterback Joe Flacco’s overall numbers – 2,331 passing yards, 13 touchdowns, seven interceptions and a 88.3 passer rating – don’t look bad, the difference between Flacco at home and on the road is startling. In five home games, Flacco has passed for 1,612 yards, 10 touchdowns and three interceptions with a passer rating of 108.3. On the road, those numbers fall to 719, three touchdowns, four interceptions and a rating of 62.7.
Then there is this: Baltimore is allowing 390.2 yards per game, 27th in the NFL. The Ravens are ranked 26th in the league against both the run (132.0) and pass (258.2).
Only the red zone defense, which is holding opponents to touchdowns only 36.1 percent of the time – tops in the NFL – has been up to snuff.
So how is Baltimore 7-2?
As usual, the Ravens are protecting the football. A plus-9 turnover ratio and four touchdowns on returns have helped mask a bad defense.
The Steelers opened as 3 1/2-point favorites Monday, but since Roethlisberger’s injury the number has moved to Baltimore by 4.
Many have questioned whether Byron Leftwich can adequately replace Roethlisberger. The thinking is that Leftwich, with his pronounced windup in his throwing motion, won’t be able to run offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s short passing game.
But Haley is smart. When he had Kurt Warner at quaterback in Arizona, he spread the field. When he had Matt Cassel as his quarterback in Kansas City, he put together a bruising running game.
Haley will tailor his calls to do what Leftwich does best.
And that will be enough to beat the Ravens, who are just 2-2 on the road, having beaten only Cleveland and Kansas City.
Without Roethlisberger running the show, this game will be closer than it would have been with him, but take the Steelers, 17-16
The Chargers might finally get coach Norv Turner fired.
Take Denver, 30-20
That’s a big spread for the Patriots, who are simply awful on defense.
Take Indianapolis to cover in a 34-27 loss
The Packers are rested coming out of their bye.
Take Green Bay, 31-24
Coming off their first loss, the Falcons will be angry at home.
Take Atlanta, 27-10
Tampa Bay’s running game will be too much for the Panthers.
Take Tampa Bay, 23-17
Cowboys took advantage of a rookie QB last week and will do so again this time.
Take Dallas, 31-17
The Jets are a complete mess.
Take St. Louis, 20-10
Sure, it’s a lot of points for a division game, but Jacksonville is that bad.
Take Houston, 38-6
When the Chiefs don’t turn the ball over, they can be tough. But they’ll turn it over.
Take Cincinnati, 24-16
Washington has been terrible against the pass, but not here against Philadelphia rookie quarterback Nick Foles.
Take Washington, 27-13
Letdown game for the Saints after beating Atlanta? Maybe.
Take Oakland to cover in a 31-27 loss
This looked like a great game until last Sunday. Chicago’s Jason Campbell and San Francisco’s concussed Alex Smith vs. two great defenses? Not so much.
Take Chicago to cover in a 17-13 loss
Last Week: 8-5 ATS; 8-5 Straight up
Overall: 62-67-5 ATS; 79-55 Straight up
F. Dale Lolley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.