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Old 11-03-2011, 08:17 AM   #1
A Son of Martha

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Default Days of diversions, distractions, duplicities

Days of diversions, distractions, duplicities
Thursday, November 03, 2011
Gene Collier, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Whether it opens the season or merely opens the season's second half, whether it falls in December to determine the political fate of the AFC North or arises in January to change the course of football history, an imminent Steelers-Ravens collision condemns the head coaches to a hyper-intense concentration.

In this place, they will serve the media just about anything just to end that obligation and get back to preparation.

Mike Tomlin started the week threatening defensive multiplicity in the face of a depleted talent pool at linebacker, of all places, suggesting the Steelers could momentarily scrap the iconic 3-4 and use four down linemen and/or six defensive backs. Hey why not use both and give the solo to Lawrence Timmons, who appears to be the lone healthy starter available for linebacking duty Sunday night?

All very interesting, if you can ignore the distinct smell of eyewash.

Meanwhile in Maryland, Ravens boss John Harbaugh not only doesn't want to think about any of that, he doesn't care to believe that anyone other than Timmons, James Farrior, James Harrison, and LaMarr Woodley will turn up wearing those black throwbacks in prime time. Which is totally his prerogative, but he couldn't leave well enough alone.

"They'll play the same defense," Harbaugh said somewhat dismissively Wednesday. "If they're not in there, they'll put other guys in there. They'll be playing the same positions, they'll just have different numbers. We'll have to block 'em just as well. They'll be very good players, and, if it's [the starters] wearing those numbers, we'll have to block those guys. That's really how you look at."

Which is, obviously, not how he looks at it all. Unless I'm supposed to assume for my purposes that the Ravens would be no more worried about blocking Harrison, a former NFL defensive player of the year, than they are about blocking Stevenson Sylvester, the former defensive MVP of the Poinsettia Bowl.

That's not a knock on Sylvester, and certainly not on the Poinsettia Bowl, which gave us so many thrills over the years, such as ... yeah, I got nothin'.

Sylvester started for James Farrior against the New England Patriots last week on a defense that was, you might have heard, fairly successful. He was still talking about it yesterday.

"It feels great beating the Patriots in my first start; I didn't find out that James Farrior wasn't going to play until Saturday," said Sylvester, the second-year man out of Utah. "Of course, this week is even bigger. This is for divisional supremacy."

There remains plenty to be said about a defense that affixed a Halloween costume of scary numbers to Tom Brady's crew. Instead of an offense that averages 31 points, 475 yards, and 351 passing yards, the Patriots got dressed down to 17, 213, and 170.

All of that will be worth nothing once the ball is in the air against the Ravens, particularly if you add Woodley to Dick LeBeau's list of vanishing linebackers.

"I try to learn all four [linebacking] positions, so my preparation every week is the same," said Sylvester. "I could have been a lot better. I made a lot of mistakes, but I had some good feedback."

It turned out that Sylvester didn't play all that many snaps, partly because it seemed New England's offense was on the field in real time less than the Ohio University Marching Band, and partly because Tomlin used six defensive backs fairly commonly, bringing Sylvester to the sideline.

But against an accomplished Ravens offensive line that generated 107 Ray Rice rushing yards and a 35-7 spanking on Sept. 11, Tomlin and LeBeau have to be more concerned with stopping the run. If you couldn't do that with Harrison and Woodley and Farrior on the field, how do you feel about your chances with all three watching in hoodies?

"It's definitely exciting," said Chris Carter, the rookie LeBeau plugged in when Woodley went to the sideline hamstrung Sunday. "I'll get a lot of support from guys who've been playing this defense for a long time. I'm ready mentally, and I've gotten some constructive criticism from the coaches, but what we say around here is, 'the standard is the standard.' "

Carter managed a couple of tackles against the Patriots, or a couple more than Sylvester, emblematic of general callowness more than physical readiness. In a Steelers-Ravens history so thoroughly defined by its honor roll of great linebackers, Harrison and Terrell Suggs, Woodley and Ray Lewis, Farrior and Jarret Johnson, Jameel McClain, Larry Foote, Joe Porter, Paul Kruger, et al., the Steelers might have to endure this one with two starters who don't totally know how to play yet.

It's pretty much up to the balance of the roster to make sure that is not decisive.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/pg/11307...#ixzz1cdzB8oq5
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