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Pats-Steelers pregame stretch...

November 13, 2010 - Ray Eckenrode

What makes a great NFL quarterback?

A great arm? An absolute must. Terrific vision? Check. Superior intelligence and the ability to process information quickly? Definitely. Great instincts? Without doubt. (If this sounds familiar, it’s supposed to.)

But there’s something else involved, something intangible and unmeasurable, an “it” factor that separates quarterbacks who have success from those who don’t.

And Pittsburgh’s Ben Roethlisberger has always had “it.” How else can you explain someone going 9-for-21 for 123 yards and two picks and WINNING a Super Bowl? Conversely, how do we explain then that the Steelers have looked like an average (or slightly better) team since Roethlisberger’s return from NFL suspension?

Yes, they went 3-1 without him and 3-1 with him, but few would argue that the Steelers’ team of the last four games (close game with Browns until fourth quarter, win over Dolphins in game they should have lost, spanking by Saints, uninspired performance vs. Bengals) barely resembles the fearsome squad of the first four games that featured, ahem, Dennis Dixon and CBatch at quarterback.

Sure, there was a natural human tendency for the rest of the team to let down a little when #7 returned, but we’re going to throw a wilder theory out there and we’ll see how it plays out. What if the Steelers are struggling with their star quarterback under center because he’s not their star quarterback anymore? He’s a changed man. Right? Everyone says so. He’s trying to leave the Big Ben persona behind. That’s probably a good thing in all other facets of Roethlisberger’s life. But what if that smug, condescending, cocky, ice water-in-his-veins jerk was exactly who the Steelers needed under center? And yes, this theory is a close relative to our what-if-bedding-all-those-floozies-is-what-made-Tiger-Tiger postulate.

Who’s on first?

It's become apparent from reading various message boards (we know, we know,) that many people don't understand how an NFL roster (or ross-i-ter, as Felix Catalano would say) works. Now, we're sure the readers of this blog are much smarter than your average message board troll, but just in case:

> An NFL team's roster is comprised of 53 players.

> Of those 53 players, 45 can be declared active for each particular game. The other eight are declared inactive. The list of who is active and who is inactive can change each week and a final decision is made a few hours before kickoff. Inactive players may be on the sidelines, but can't dress in uniform except for the emergency/third quarterback. Although technically on the inactive list, he can dress for the game (meaning 46 players dress each week) and enter at any point. However, if he enters the game in the first three quarters, the team's first two quarterbacks cannot re-enter at all. If the emergency quarterback doesn't enter in the first three quarters, he can enter in the fourth quarter without any restrictions on the other two QBs.

> Each team also has a practice squad of up to eight players (actually, a ninth is allowed if he's not a U.S. citizen). As indicated, these players can practice with the team during the week, but cannot dress for Sunday games. Practice squad players make $5,200 per week and are technically free agents. They can be signed at any time by any team without any compensation requirement. Practice squad players must be signed to a 53-man roster before they are eligible to participate in games (meaning someone else must be released from that roster or placed on injured reserve).

There are a number of complicated rules about how long players can qualify for practice-squad status, but most players only spend one season on a team's practice squad.

Simple, right?

Kickoff woes

Jeff Reed’s missed field goals are only part of his (and the Steelers) problems. His short kickoffs are also a huge issue, compounded by the fact that those kickoffs get shorter as the game goes on, meaning the shortest of kicks are coming at the most critical of times.

Cases in point:

+ Against the Ravens, here are Reed’s kickoff distances: 75, 69, 50. The 50-yard kickoff came after the Steelers scored in the fourth quarter to go up 14-10 and set the Ravens up in excellent field position, leading eventually to their late score.

+ Against the Bengals, here are Reed’s kickoff distances: 63, 68, 61, 59, 55, 56. The final kickoff came after the Steelers had apparently put away the game with their gimmick-play touchdown. You could make the case that if the next kickoff had pinned the Bengals at their 20 or inside their 20 it would have been the final nail in the coffin. Instead, Cincinnati started near their own 40, where much more of the playbook is available to the offense, and quickly scored, turning a laugher into an eventual nailbiter.

The Steelers experimented in the preseason with Daniel Sepulveda on kickoffs but haven’t gone to him yet in the regular season. Here’s hoping that changes soon.

The pick

The usual disclaimer here: We have no feel for this year’s Steelers, go to Vegas and do the opposite, blah, blah, blah. So, unfortunately, we think the Steelers are going to win this game. The Patriots defense can be had, Rashard Mendinghall (we’re going with the Solomon Wilcotts phonetic spelling the rest of the year) is coming into his prime and, after two sub-200 efforts, it’s about time for Ben Roethlisberger to record a 300-yard game against a young Pats’ secondary. Conversely, you can’t run on the Steelers and Tom Brady doesn’t have enough weapons to throw all over them and Wes Welker just isn’t the same without Randy Moss (don’t get us wrong, we expect Brady to have success, just not crazy success). That leaves a special teams debacco (Altoona Mirror terminology for a situation worse than a debacle) as the most likely way Pittsburgh could lose this one. We think/hope those days are behind us … Steelers (-4.5) 35, Patriots 24.

Prediction record

Last week: Cincinnati +5 INCORRECT (Our score prediction of Bengals 28-27 was haunting us as Cincy drove down the field in the waning moments.)

Season straight up: 3-5, .375

Against the spread: 2-6, .250

Note: As this blog was being posted, new broke that James Harrison might miss the game with back spasms. Don't sweat it. The Steelers will mix in some Larry Foote inside/Lawrence Timmons outside on rushing downs and Timmons back inside/Jason Worilds outside on passing downs and they'll be just fine.

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