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Commentary: Steelers Class of AFC?

The first Sunday of the NFL season is in the books and boy did the AFC favorites have a bad day. Except for the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Steelers dominated in all facets of the game and made it look easy in beating the Texans. Ben Roethlisberger picked apart the Texans secondary by throwing quick hitters to Santonio Holmes and Hines Ward. But the Steelers don’t throw to the tight end? Um, they do now. Heath Miller has become a weapon that is utilized to keep the safeties honest and to chew up yardage eight to twelve yards at a time. The beauty of this game was that Big¬†Ben had to throw the ball¬†14 times¬†and most were in somewhat obvious passing downs. Still the Texans were unable to stop them.¬†The running game was at times stuffed as evidence of 15 carries for¬†two yards or less but the Steelers kept pounding. In the first two drives of the second half, the Steelers gained¬†five or more yards on¬†seven of fifteen carries.

The defense was very impressive. They constantly pressured Matt Schaub which led to two interceptions and a few other errant passes. Ahman Green and Steve Slaton were nonfactors as the Texans gained only 75 yards on the ground and 40 of those yards occurred after the score was 35-3.
The other favorites in the AFC did not have such an easy day. The New England Patriots might have lost Tom¬†Brady to an¬†ACL injury. Can Matt¬†Cassel take Tom Terrific’s place? Something to think about: Cassel has not started since high school.
Indianapolis was beaten by the Chicago Bears, handily. The Bears are not even supposed to contend for a playoff spot let alone beat a top ranked team. Peyton Manning will have to work hard to get his timing back and the offensive line is not what it was two years ago. The Colts defense was run over by an unhearalded rookie running back.
Jacksonville, the Steelers nemesis from last year,¬†is having a hard time putting a healthy offensive line on the field. After the tragic shooting of Richard Collier, the Jags lost guard Maurice Williams to a torn bicep that occured in warm-ups. Starting left guard Vince Manuwai was¬†on crutches after the game with at best an MCL injury but maybe even an ACL injury. When you lose two starters and a key back-up your team’s performance will suffer. The proof is 33 yards rushing, seven sacks and¬†a quarterback that was running for his life.
San Diego is the class of the AFC West but they were beaten by a team without their number one receiving threat and a quarterback returning from Tommy John surgery. Although it took a Dwight Clark-type play as time expired for Carolina to pull this game out, superior teams don’t get in that situation in their home opener. Shawne Merriman played on two torn knee ligaments but will it hold up the whole year? Five doctors said that it would not and surgery was advised. The one stat that worries the Chargers has to be giving up almost 400 yards to a team without star wide receiver Steve Smith.
Tennessee’s defense is very, very good but how far can they go without a consistent quarterback.
Now on to a lot of people’s en vogue pick, Cleveland. The Browns came out on their first drive and matched Dallas’ touchdown but that was it. Cleveland was never in this game as Dallas scored a touchdown on four of their first six drives and were poised to score on the seventh but Tony Romo was intercepted in the end zone. Dallas controlled the ball for 37:29 and held the ball for the last 10:13 of the game. Cleveland was held to 205 total yards and gave up 487 yards while allowing Tony Romo all day to pick apart the Cleveland secondary.
Buffalo is the darkhorse team to watch after their decimation of the Seattle Seahawks. They have a solid running game; a physical, fast defense and dynamic special teams. If they get any production from the quarterback position, they can unseat New England in the AFC East.
Are the Steelers the best team in the AFC? That question will be answered in four months. It is only one game but the Steelers seem to have far less problems than any other contender in the AFC.
Photo Courtsey of Inside Pittsburgh Sports

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