By Andrew Folkes
Sun, Sep 17, 2006
What’s it going to take for the defending Super Bowl champs to get some respect?
The books have had it in for the Pittsburgh Steelers from the beginning, listing them as meager 1-point favorites in the season opener against a rebuilding Miami team. Sure, the Steelers were without Ben Roethlisberger, but Charlie Batch had no problems getting them to the ticket window in that 28-17 spanking of the Fins.
I suppose oddsmakers had to factor in the history book here, which shows three consecutive Jacksonville paydays. But the first of those came four years ago; the second was during Ben Roethlisberger’s rookie year; and the third had terrible Tommy Maddox under center.
It’s a brand new season and although Big Ben is questionable, Batch has proven he can bring home the bacon. I could go on all day, but here are my top five reasons the Black and Gold will score the green tonight.
5) Jags start slow, Steelers kill the clock
The Jags found themselves down 10-0 after the first quarter of last week’s tilt against Dallas, marking the fourth time in the last six regular-season games their opponents have drawn first blood.
Jacksonville rallied for a 24-17 win over the Cowboys, but an early game deficit to the Steelers could be a death sentence. With its rock solid O-line and power running game, no team can pound the clock like Pittsburgh.
The Steelers ran the ball 38 times in last week’s win over Miami and held the pigskin for nearly 36 minutes.
4) Batch of value with Steelers backup
Charlie Batch can hand the ball off to Pittsburgh’s rushers just as well as Big Ben can. And after throwing for 209 yards and three majors in last week’s payday over Miami, it looks like he’s got a decent touch with the pigskin too.
In fact, the only thing the Steelers really seem to lose when Batch is under center is the betting public’s respect. So maybe that’s why they’ve never failed to cover when Batch has taken the reigns from Roethlisberger.
“I always tell myself, `When you go in there, don`t be the guy who takes a step back, keep things going offensively without changing the game plan,` ” Batch told reporters after the win over Miami. “And I think I was able to do that.”
There’s a chance Roethlisberger will play tonight, but coach Bill Cowher says he won’t make the announcement until game time. Books have set the line with Batch in mind, meaning Steelers supporters stand to get Big Ben with a backup’s odds.
3) Parker shifting into overdrive
Jacksonville owns what you’d call a mediocre rushing defense, which finished No. 13 in the league last season.
Unfortunately for Jags backers, Steelers running back Willie Parker is anything but mediocre. Parker shredded Miami for 115 yards on 29 carries last week in Pittsburgh’s season opening victory.
He managed just 55 in Pittsburgh’s last tilt with Jacksonville, but now faces a Jags team with just three healthy defensive tackles – two of which (Tony McDaniel and Montavious Stanley) are rookies.
Parker might also have a little help in the backfield too. Cowher told reporters that Najeh Davenport, acquired from Green Bay, could get some carries tonight. The 245-pound rusher has a career average of 4.9 yards per carry.
2) False home-field advantage for Jags
Oddsmakers will tell you that playing at home is worth three points on the spread, which is why the Jags are getting 2 ½-points against the defending Super Bowl champs.
However, a Florida-based throng of the Steelers faithful will be at Alltel Stadium tonight to help level the playing field. They’re known as the Jacksonville Black and Gold Club and according to Steelers cornerback Ike Taylor, they aren’t exactly the quiet type.
“Oh, man, the last time we played them, there was a whole lot of Steelers fans,” he told the Florida Times-Union. "No question they were loud. Everywhere we go, we got fans there."
1) Tough sked puts pressure on Pittsburgh
With all due respect to Jacksonville, the Steelers have two tougher opponents on the horizon. Following the Monday night tilt with the Jags, they host Cincinnati, and then travel to San Diego. Both teams are undefeated both straight up and against the number.
That ratchets up the pressure to get a win in this contest and no team responds to pressure better than Pittsburgh. After suffering a three-game skid last season, the Steelers needed to go undefeated through the rest of their schedule in order to make the playoffs. They did just that, covering in three of those four victories.
The Steelers then won three consecutive playoff games on the road en route to their fifth NFL championship.