Steelers should tee off on Smith-led Ravens

By Hugo Guzman  |   Tuesday, December 25, 2007  |  Comments( 0 )

Pittsburgh Steelers
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Pittsburgh will likely face Baltimore Ravens rookie quarterback Troy Smith in the second start of his career this Sunday. The Steelers have precedent for passers in their second career starts under center.

They battled Miami Dolphins rookie quarterback John Beck in Week 12 and squeaked out a 3-0 victory in Pittsburgh's horrible weather conditions. Beck ended the game a lukewarm 14 of 32 for 132 yards, adding neither a touchdown nor an interception.

Over the last two years, nine quarterbacks have made their second career starts, including Beck. Bad news for Baltimore: None of the nine QBs won in start No. 2.

John Beck, Miami - 14 of 32, 132 yards (at Pittsburgh in Week 12);
Trent Edwards, Buffalo - 23 of 31,176 yards, one INT (vs. Dallas in Week 5);
Vince Young, Tennessee - 7 of 20, 106 yards, one TD, (at San Diego in Week 2, 2006);
Matt Leinart, Arizona - 22 of 35, 253 yards, two TDs, one INT (vs. KC in Week 5, 2006);
Jay Cutler, Denver - 17 of 30, 188 yards, two TDs (at San Diego in Week 14, 2006);
Cleo Lemon, Miami - 11 of 16, 104 yards, one TD (vs. the Jets in Week 16, 2006);
Brodie Croyle, Kansas City - 17 of 30, 162 yards, one TD (vs. Indianapolis in Week 11);
Tarvaris Jackson, Minnesota - 10 of 20, 50 yards, one INT (at Green Bay in Week 16, 2006);
Kellen Clemens, New York Jets - 23 of 42, 226 yards, one TD (vs. Washington in Week 9).

Recent history obviously doesn't indicate anything special for Smith, who is replacing the concussed Kyle Boller.

It's hard enough on the Ravens with such inexperience going up against one of the league's best defenses, but it's going to be especially tough on Smith with running back Willis McGahee unavailable. He broke two ribs in last week's 27-6 loss at Seattle, and his season is over. Even backup Mike Anderson is listed as questionable with a quadriceps injury. Veteran Musa Smith could get the start in lieu of McGahee and Anderson.

While Smith will be playing in the friendly confines of M&T Bank Stadium, the Ravens aren't deriving motivation from anything other than beating their arch-rivals. The Steelers have to get a win and a San Diego loss to capture the critical No. 3 seed in the AFC playoffs. It doesn't help the Steelers that 2007 No. 1 overall pick JaMarcus Russell, of Oakland, will make his first career start when the Raiders host San Diego in Week 17.

A Chargers win clinches the No. 3 seed in the AFC, and with that, San Diego would host either Cleveland or Tennessee; additionally, the Steelers -- if they finish fourth -- will have to face red-hot Jacksonville, which knocked off Pittsburgh in Week 15.

If Smith and Baltimore want to accomplish anything in a disastrous season, taking one off the Steelers is their only hope.

The Steelers are coming off a 41-24 blowout of St. Louis in Week 16, but they lost the NFL's rushing leader at the time, Willie Parker, during that game. Najeh Davenport had 123 yards in place of Parker, who has never had a 100-yard game against the Ravens.

The Steelers signed their ex-reserve back Verron Haynes Monday. Incidentally, Haynes has never had a 100-yard rushing game against the Ravens, either.

Baltimore doesn't have much of a problem stopping the run. Stymieing the pass is another story, though. Steelers QB Ben Roethlisberger shredded the Ravens in Pittsburgh's 38-7 win in Week 9, finishing 13 of 16 for 204 yards and a franchise-high five touchdowns. It was the Ravens' second defeat in what is now a team-worst nine-game losing streak.

It's fair to assume that, while the Steelers lead the NFL in rushing attempts, Roethlisberger will go after inexperienced corners Corey Ivy and Willie Gaston this week. That tandem replaces veterans Samari Rolle and Chris McAlister - both of whom are out. Gaston, an undrafted rookie from Houston, was on the Ravens' practice squad through Dec. 13.

If the Steelers can manage to beat the injury-decimated Ravens (Baltimore is likely to be without seven starters and four backups Sunday), they will become the second AFC North team (the other was Pittsburgh's '02 club) to go undefeated in the division.

With Smith starting the second game of his career, the absence of McGahee, arguably the worst pair of starting corners in the NFL and the weight of a nine-game losing streak, it could be Pittsburgh's easiest division win in that same span of time, too.

Neal Coolong is the author of Die Hard Steel for the Sports Cartel Network, and is a contributor to Steel City Insider.
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About Hugo Guzman

Trying to bring an objective approach to NFL analysis.
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