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Savran: Steelers' theory doesn't pass muster

Saturday, October 13, 2001

Question: If Tom Cruise can bounce out of one bed with Nicole Kidman, then hop directly into another with Penelope Cruz, why can't I?

Answer: Because you're not Tom Cruise.

Question: If the Baltimore Ravens could win a Super Bowl with the worst offense this side of Detroit, and a quarterback who couldn't complete a pass to save his job, why shouldn't the Steelers be able to do the same?

There's a prevailing theory -- even proffered in selected corners of the cavernous home-team locker room at Heinz Field -- that the Ravens' Super Bowl formula, applied to the 2001 edition of the Steelers, should provide the same results.

It sounds good when you say it fast, but the apparent logic is grossly flawed.

That Ravens' defense last year wasn't just good. In fact, it wasn't just great. It was arguably the best defense the league has seen in 25 years.

Some have compared it (mistakenly, in my opinion) to the magnificent Steelers' defense of 1976, which allowed 28 points in nine games, including five shutouts.

Whether Baltimore's was as good is grist for another debate. Suffice to say that last year's Ravens "D" was as dominating a group as any since that '76 Steel Curtain. They tossed four shutouts and, including the postseason, allowed more than 10 points only five times in 20 games.

In four playoff victories, that defense, amazingly, allowed only one touchdown!

But it was more than just statistical excellence.

Ravens defenders imposed a chorus line offense on opponents: "One-two-three-kick. One-two-three-kick."

They continually forced offenses into three-and-outs which created positive field position for their challenged offense.

And when that wasn't enough, they gave their offense slam dunk field position by forcing a whopping 61 turnovers -- more than three per game.

Perhaps even more importantly, the Ravens' turnover ratio was a tremendous plus-35.

And when setting the table still wasn't enough for their offense, the defense cooked the meal, ate it, and washed the dishes afterward by scoring seven touchdowns by returning turnovers.

By comparison, while the Steelers' defense has been good thus far, and the Steelers have scored a touchdown on defense, they have forced only three turnovers in three games.

And the team has a giveaway-takeaway ratio of a minus three.

Furthermore, the offenses of Buffalo and Cincinnati won't be compared to St. Louis' any time soon.

In fact, Jacksonville, the one challenging offense confronting the Steelers, scorched them for 198 yards passing and three touchdowns.

This isn't to suggest the Steelers' defense isn't good. It is. It's faster, quicker to the football and has produced an unexpectedly good pass rush.

But, although it should improve as the season progresses, it isn't as punishing physically as Baltimore's was, hasn't been as dominating as Baltimore's, and that's what a team must have if the defense is forced to carry the offense.

Also factor in how much assistance the offense needs. It was common to deride the pitiable Baltimore passing game a year ago.

While the football community snickered at the laughable Ravens quarterback team of Tony Banks and Trent Dilfer, take note that the Ravens threw 23 touchdown passes.

Certainly not a great accomplishment, not many more than Kurt Warner might have thrown had he played the entire game against the Lions the other night.

But when you compare that total to the Steelers' passing game, it's downright Air Coryellian.

Last year, the tandem of Kordell Stewart and Kent Graham threw 12 touchdown passes. Twelve in 16 games. They didn't get one until the fifth game of the season, and three of the 12 came in one game against hapless Cincinnati.

How many touchdown passes have the Steelers produced this season? That would be zero. Who should be laughing at whom?

It's fair to say that the Steelers have a better running game than Baltimore did a year ago. And their special teams play, an essential crutch for an infirmed passing game, should be at least as good as the Super Bowl Ravens.

But for fans, media, and especially players and coaches to believe the Baltimore blueprint for success will work as well for the Steelers is simply misguided. This Steelers' defense is good, but not good enough to do its job and that of the offense as well.

It's a reasonably handsome group, but to compensate for this ugly a passing attack, you need Tom Cruise.


Stan Savran is the co-host of "SportsBeat," weeknights at 6:30 on Fox Sports Pittsburgh

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