Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Charlie Gun

Now that's the Charlie Batch I've grown accustomed to watching steamroll third stringers and future CFL/Arena Leaguers during preseason games the last few years. The only difference during the Browns game was that his number one target wasn't Sean Morey, but instead Hines Ward. But as soon as he started to get on a roll, he broke a bone in the pinky finger of this throwing hand, and didn't return after the first half. There's still no official word who'll be the starter Sunday in Baltimore, but there's plenty of time for speculation (see below). In the meantime, here are some random observations from the game:

... I spent the weekend in North Carolina with some of my high school peeps, and Saturday night I watched the N.C. State - B.C. game with a buddy who actually had the great misfortune of attending N.C. State. Because their starting QB was battling a severe bout of suckiness, the backup, sophmore Marcus Stone, got the nod. The word on Stone is that he starts extremely slow, and doesn't really get into the flow of the game until the second half. Somebody suggested that the Wolfpack would be wise to run Stone through about a half's worth of plays in the parking lot, and then by game time he'd be ready to go.

I mention this painfully long-winded story to make the following point: maybe Dick LeBeau should run the Steelers' defense through their paces in the parking lot between Heinz Field and PNC Park before the game, since it seems like it takes two or three series for this unit to wake up and actually, you know, start playing defense.

After getting punched in the mouth during the first drive, and -- surprise! -- giving up several third down conversions, the defense settled in and played well.

... Even though he didn't do much after the first half, Reuben Droughns proved to me that it's not the system in Denver that made him look good, it's Reuben Droughns that makes Reuben Droughns look good. Geez, this guy is a beast, and Chris Hope has the cleat marks across his chest to prove it. I heard several people wonder why Hope kept getting steamrolled by Droughns. I have an answer: Droughns often had a full head of steam, he must weigh 240 (there's no way in hell he's 215), and he's really, really strong. And look, if you're depending on your free safety to stuff an opposing teams imposing running back on a regular basis, you first might want to ask why the hell the front seven are getting so manhandled that the free safetey has to make the play in the first place.

Despite having some trouble with Droughns, I thought Hope played really well. Yes, he dropped that easy touchdown, but he also knocked the crap (and the ball) out of Antonio Bryant in the second half on a play that most assuredly should have ended up on "Jacked Up" but didn't (one more reason to hate ESPN). And you want to hear something really wacky? Paul Zimmerman, in the Troy-covered SI actually thinks Hope might be an All-Pro, moving past Brian Dawkins. Yeah, I'm a homer and all, but I'm not quite sure even I'm willing to make that leap. Don't get me wrong, I think Hope is one of the underrated players on this team, and I think the Steelers would be foolish not to re-sign him, but I'm also not yet ready to say he's better than Dawkins. He could be, but just not yet.

... Oh yeah, that other guy in the defensive backfield ain't bad either. (For the record, I did buy the issue -- two copies -- one to read, and the other to frame. And yes, I'm certifiably insane. But I'll be the craziest person with the sweetest collection of meaningless Heels, Sox and, ahem, Steelers memorabilia in my basement Sports Palace, when I get around to building it.)

Polamalu was all over the field Sunday night, but my favorite play -- easily -- was when Troy torpedoed himself into Trent Dilfer as the QB tried to run for a first down. To his credit, Dilfer took the hit, but oddly, he got up, chased down Polamalu, and tried to yell at him about the hit. Troy seemed oblivious, and was making his way back to the huddle, but Dilfer looked visibly upset, although I'm not quite sure why. Either way, it was funny, so thanks for the laugh Trent.

Of course, by the end of the evening, even I was tired of hearing the Sunday night crew slurp Polamalu. Troy could've taken a dump at midfield and Theismann, McGuire and Patrick would've billed it as "halftime entertainment."

... Charlie Batch looked pretty damn good. I don't know if he was 'less' rusty, more comfortable playing at home, more comfortable playing a woeful Browns' pass defense, or some combination of the above. Whatever, he looked sharp. Ironically, Charlie ended up breaking his hand on the same play Hines Ward broke John Stallworth's reception record. I watched the first half again last night, and here's the thing: Ward's completion took place with 4:18 left in the half. Batch took three more snaps on that series (one from the shotgun), and nine more snaps (three from the shotgun) a few seconds later after Joey Porter intercepted a Dilfer pass. And on all 12 plays Batch looked good, and didn't seem to be favoring his hand (although, when he scored on the QB dive with six seconds in the half, it was clear -- at least if you knew to look for it -- that he preferred to give high fives left handed; of course, he could be like Big Ben, who throws right but punts left; or he could have a broken hand -- either one).

Whether Batch looked good or not those last two drives didn't change the fact that he didn't play another down. And I'm guessing I wasn't the only person watching ESPN thinking that the Browns' chances of winning just improved 200 percent when Tommy Maddox took the field to start the third quarter. I can honestly say I've never had less confidence in someone than I had in Maddox Sunday night. And I really want this guy to at least be slightly below average (let's be honest, there's really no chance he'll be great, or even good, so 'slightly below average' is actually a compliment). And not just because I'm a Steelers fan, but because I don't want this to turn into another Billy Buckner situation. There's nothing worse than having to listen to fans complain about one player, play, call, non-call, whatever, ruined their team's chances of ever winning anything meaningful ever again.

It's bad enough that Maddox and his agent Vann McElroy (who apparently insists on using his porn name when representing his sports clients) made up the whole story about angry fans throwing garbage in his yard, but can you imagine what these two brainiacs would come up with if he laid another egg? (By the way, nice work by McGuire and Theismann on perpetuating this myth during Sunday's game. McGuire stated it as fact, even though it isn't.) Alien abduction? Broken toes?

Seriously, it's worth asking: What the hell happened to Maddox in the span of 12 months? Did this guy age in double-dog years? He certainly could be rusty -- he hasn't played since Week 2 of the 2004 season. He could also still not be fully recovered from that arm injury he suffered during the Week 2 game that opened the door for the Roethlisberger era. I really have no idea what the problem is, but it's hard to believe that he's lost all his arm strength in a year simply from inactivity. At this rate, he won't be able to lift a football over his head in four months. (It could also be the case that Maddox is really left-handed -- something I've wondered aloud at several points this season -- but he just doesn't know it yet.)

If Maddox does end up playing, here's to hoping he can pull himself together. I honestly don't see how Pittsburgh can win if he plays like he has thus far this season -- in fact, I could see the over/under in the game being something like 8 -- but I'd settle for just an average performance from Touchdown Tommy at this point.

... Alternatively, Cowher could also turn to either Batch or Roethlisberger, even if neither is 100% healthy. After seeing Ben hobble around the sidelines in his designer jeans, I'd have to cast my vote as "hell no" on putting him back there. And if Batch can't take a snap, I don't think Pittsburgh could run every play out of the shotgun (I guess they could run the triple option by lining up Randle El and Ward on either side of Batch on every snap). And despite what my buddy Andy thinks, I'm not yet ready to re-sign Kordell and give him the starting job. Not yet.

Although I'm not totally averse to Randle El taking over if neither Ben or Charlie can go, and if Maddox struggles. Wilbon asked Jaws as much on PTI, and he dismissed it as pretty silly. Well, it can't be any sillier than three picks and a fumble.

... Okey doke, we'll know more as the week progresses, and I'm sure I'll have some more misguided thoughts then. So you have that to look forward to.