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Madden: Steelers' offense needs to shut up

Saturday, August 10, 2002

This column is strictly an exhibition. It does not count in the standings. If it stinks, it's merely part of the learning process. If it's great, here's hoping that momentum builds and carries over into next month, when the columns really start to matter. This column is composed of refreshing sports notes. Keep in mind that my writing style is strictly vanilla, because I don't want to give too much away this early.

The Steelers' offense was certainly stylin' and profilin' after dominating the Steelers' defense in goal-line drills at training camp. I wonder what their demeanor was after the New York Jets stuffed them on three consecutive goal-line plays Thursday? Memo to offense: Shut up until the end of January.

The Steelers' offensive playbook is a fairly thick publication. But when they get close to the goal line, it seems to shrink to a page or two. Where was that play-action pass to the fullback Thursday? Condensing the playbook when you're deep in the red zone strikes me as predictable and stupid.

If the Steelers retired the numbers of all the players who deserve to be so honored, some of the current team would have to don triple digits. But still, there's something funny about seeing Antwaan Randle El wearing No. 82 and Terence Mathis No. 88. Stallworth and Swann, they ain't. But who is?

It's too soon to crucify new special teams coach Kevin Spencer for the errors Thursday. But, if the Steelers continue to mangle special teams, Bill Cowher should get personally involved sooner, not later.

Getting a punt blocked is human error. It happens. Grabbing a facemask while covering a kickoff is bad judgment in the heat of battle. It happens. But having 12 men on the field when the opposition is punting is inexcusable. Even an idiot knows how to count to 11. Well, maybe not.

When I saw Randle El on the field for the first time, I thought, "Holy cow, the Steelers put my paper boy in uniform." The first time he touched the ball, I thought, "And he can play!"

Charlie Batch has started a lot of games in the NFL. But he did so for the awful Detroit Lions, so does that really count? The No. 2 quarterback job should belong to Tommy Maddox until he clearly loses it. Maddox certainly didn't hurt his cause by going 12 for 16 for 147 yards Thursday.

Everyone assumes that left tackle Wayne Gandy will leave via free agency after this season. Everyone also assumes that Oliver Ross will take his place. I agree with the former. But as for Gandy's replacement, don't be surprised if Matthias Nkwenti ultimately figures into the mix. Nkwenti looked super on Thursday and is improving by leaps and bounds in just his second season.

You've got to love sideline interviews on TV. Where else would we get to see a smiling Jerome Bettis tell Suzy Kolber that his groin is 100 percent?

If Jets Coach Herman Edwards got a little collagen shot into his jaw, he'd be the black Bill Cowher. OK, a lot of collagen.

It would be silly for the Steelers to keep six receivers. It would be even sillier to keep Lee Mays, a sixth-round pick who fumbled away his first NFL catch Thursday. But every so often, the Steelers seem to take a special interest in a late-round pick and illogically keep him around much longer than they should. Mays is the current model. Tee Martin is the old, soon-to-be-obsolete model.

ABC is crowing because the debut of John Madden on Monday Night Football showed an 11 percent ratings increase over the MNF exhibition premiere last year. But, considering the hype surrounding Madden's first game, an 11 percent increase is negligible. At season's end, look for the addition of Madden to be a ratings wash. An expensive ratings wash punctuated by a dumbed-down telecast.

I didn't watch MNF -- and won't now that Dennis Miller is no longer part of the show -- but reviews say Al Michaels gave Madden a lot more room and a lot more verbal setups to work with than he ever gave Miller and the also-departed Dan Fouts. A color commentator is quite often only as good as the play-by-play man allows him to be.

Whenever baseball agrees on a new collective bargaining agreement, it won't correct the sport's competitive and financial imbalances nearly enough. So baseball should expand the number of playoff qualifiers to eight per league. If eight teams made the playoffs in each league, the Pirates would have been just six games out of a playoff spot going into games last night. Artificially stimulated balance is better than no balance, especially if it results in better attendance and increased interest.

The baseball players union has agreed to steroid testing, which has me breathlessly anticipating the start of next season, whenever that is. I can't wait to see Sammy Sosa deflate in every way possible: Physically, statistically and psychologically. I wonder if he'll apologize to Rick Reilly?

As if the Penguins hadn't suffered enough disaster this summer, it's just been revealed that Milan Kraft is expected to be healthy for the start of the season.

Mark Madden is the host of a sports talk show from 3 to 7 p.m. weekdays on WEAE-AM (1250).

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