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Week 1 Judgements: Steelers defense beginning to look its age

by | CBSSports.com Senior NFL Columnist

1. I know it's one game, but Pittsburgh looks old and slow on defense. OK, so the Steelers are old, with eight starters 30 or older, but I never expected this. Pittsburgh surrendered scores on four of Baltimore's seven possessions, including three touchdown drives that took no more than 1:32 each. Plus, three drives were 66 yards or longer. The Steelers were beaten on the line. They were beaten in the secondary. And they were beaten to the end zone. Sound familiar? In their last three games, including two playoff starts, opposing quarterbacks picked the Steelers apart -- completing 61 percent of their passes for 761 yards, eight touchdowns and no interceptions. In Pittsburgh's last two games it surrendered 66 points -- and this from the league's stingiest defense in 2010. "They were the more physical team," Pittsburgh safety Ryan Clark said of the Ravens. "The more aggressive team. They were the team more technically sound. They were the better football team. They played the game the way they talked about it. They talked about how important it was to them. They talked about being tired of what's been going on, and they came out and played that way, and we didn't. And they whipped our butts ... We had no answers. We had no solutions."

2. Somehow, I don't think the happiest guy in Arizona was on the winning team. That's because the happiest guy had to be Carolina GM Marty Hurney, who can exhale now that Cam Newton threw for a rookie-record 422 yards. Hurney insisted Newton was the right draft choice; others, including me, insisted he wasn't. So far, so good, but patience, people. Ryan Leaf won his first two rookie starts. Plus, look at Carolina's next opponent. It's Green Bay. Uh-oh.

3. OK, so there were three kickoffs returned for touchdowns. But there were also a zillion touchbacks, too, and the envelope, please. Including the Green Bay game last Thursday, there were 70 kickoffs that were returned and 68 touchbacks. That means 49.3 percent of all kickoffs were touchbacks, and I'll tell you why: Because there is no penalty. The ball simply is spotted at the 20, and that must change next year.

4. Make that Mike Brown 1, Carson Palmer zilch.

5. Somebody tell Seattle it's OK to launch kickoffs through the end zone. The Seahawks didn't, taking their chances four times with Ted Ginn Jr. ... and they paid for it. Ginn averaged 44 yards a return, including a 102-yard TD late in the fourth quarter.

6. Tom Coughlin called the Giants' offense "atrocious" on third downs, and I'd say that just about sums it up. It was 1-for-10. Atrocious.

7. This is all you need to know about how valuable Ray Rice is: Pittsburgh allowed only two 100-yard rushers in its last 51 starts, and both times that running back was Rice. He had 102 Sunday and 141 in 2009.

8. He who laughs last ... yeah, well, you know the drill. I guarantee you Buffalo coach Chan Gailey does, too. He's the former offensive coordinator Todd Haley fired just before the 2009 season, and he's the guy who just fired back.

9. Memo to Peyton Manning: Don't hurry back. In fact, sit out the entire season. If Sunday was an indication of what's in store, the Colts could make a serious push as the league doormat, and if you're going to stink this is the year to do it. Reason: Stanford's Andrew Luck is the prize for finishing last.

10. And that, folks, is why Detroit should be taken seriously. Dating back to last season, the Lions won their last five -- including two at Tampa Bay. Matt Stafford is terrific, and so is that defense. But I still worry about the running game without Mikel Leshoure.

11. Once I wondered how Sunday's Rams-Eagles game might have been different if Sam Bradford's passes to Lance Kendrick and Brandon Gibson were caught. They should've been, and both would have been touchdowns. But now I just wonder about Bradford. The Rams better hope his finger isn't seriously damaged. Without him they're toast.

12. Now that's what you want from Jay Cutler and the Bears, Chicago, but, trust me, it's not safe to exhale. They play in New Orleans next weekend, then return home to meet Green Bay.

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13. Let's hear it for Jim Harbaugh. He was the only rookie head coach to win, and the second Harbaugh to do it Sunday. First-year coaches were 1-5, with two more teeing it up Monday night.

14. The addition of free-agent left tackle Bryant McKinnie was supposed to be a sign of how desperate Baltimore's offensive line is, but tell that to James Harrison. He couldn't figure the guy out and was a non-factor most of the afternoon. "We knew when we got Bryant McKinnie that we had someone special," offensive coordinator Cam Cameron said. They might be right. Joe Flacco was sacked only once, but don't blame McKinnie. Flacco just held the ball too long. "I was really untouched," he said.

15. Relax, Eagles' fans, you're about to get a better barometer of your football team. It goes next to Atlanta where Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan is 20-2 in regular-season play.

Five Things I Like

1. The NFL's tribute to 9/11. It was perfect, from the playing of Taps to Robert DeNiro to Amazing Grace on bagpipes to the 9/11 cleats worn by players. Heck, I loved seeing the FDNY caps worn by Coughlin during the day and the Jets at night.

2. San Francisco's special teams. Not only did Ginn score on a 102-yard kickoff return, he also had a 55-yard punt return for a touchdown. But why stop there? David Akers was 4-for-4 on field goals, and punter Andy Lee averaged 59.6 yards per kick. Who said special teams don't matter?

3. Joe Flacco at home. Dating back to November, 2009 he's 11-1 in 12 starts at M&T Bank Stadium, with 22 touchdowns and two interceptions. "He's comfortable," wide receiver Anquan Boldin said. "He's comfortable with making checks at the line, he's comfortable with throwing the ball to receivers, he's comfortable with reading the defenses." In short, he's a load.

4. Cam Cameron's game plan. I'm not sure who had a better afternoon, Cam or his quarterback. All I know is that all those people who called out Cameron for his game plan vs. Pittsburgh last December -- or was that January? -- just ducked for cover.

5. Rex Grossman in Kyle Shanahan's offense. In four starts he has three 300-yard passing performances, including two against the Giants. He's also 2-2, and while that's not extraordinary it's better than what we're used to from anyone in Washington.

Five Things I Don't

1. San Diego and special teams. What is it about these guys? It's bad enough that the Chargers' first kickoff is returned for a touchdown; but then they lose Nate Kaeding -- the NFL's most accurate kicker -- on the play. The Bolts change coaches, but they just can't seem to change their luck.

2. Anything about Pittsburgh's offense in the second half. The Steelers punctuated six of their first seven possessions with turnovers and finished with seven for the afternoon. They had three in the third quarter and two on successive plays. Guess they won't be doing plugs for All-State this fall. In case you're interested, Pittsburgh had 18 turnovers all last season.

3. That Troy Polamalu contract. First of all, the guy gets hurt a lot. Second, have you seen him lately? He didn't make a play in Super Bowl XLV, and he didn't make a play Sunday. Yeah, I know the Steelers are a different team when he's OK, but he hasn't been right in awhile. Yet Pittsburgh just extended his deal another four years. Any chance someone there wishes he could rewrite the check?

4. What's going on ... or not going on ... in Kansas City? The Chiefs struggled on offense in the preseason, and they struggled again Sunday. But here's what's most disturbing: Kansas City ranked first in rushing last year, and Sunday's opponent, Buffalo, ranked dead last. So what happened? The Chiefs ran for 108 yards, with Jamaal Charles held to 56. I know that's why Buffalo drafted defensive lineman Marcel Dareus, but are you going to tell me he makes that much of a difference? I don't think so. It's more like the Chiefs are in trouble.

5. Jason Garrett's play-calling after Dallas drove to the Jets' 1-yard line midway through the fourth quarter. The Cowboys threw on second down, then tried to throw on third -- with Tony Romo scrambling before he was hit -- and losing the ball on a fumble. But why throw at all? It was a risk not worth taking. They were at the 1. Just hand the ball off to Felix Jones until he scores. Or take the field goal. They were up by seven and could've been up by 10. Sorry, I don't get it.

Five Guys Who Have Some 'Splaining To Do

1. Indianapolis DE Robert Mathis -- Asked about the Colts' chances sans Peyton, Mathis last week said, "Our resume speaks for itself. We're not a team that's just going to lay down for anybody." Yep, only Houston.

2. Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson -- On Dan Patrick's syndicated radio show last week he said he would run for over 200 yards vs. San Diego. "Lock me in," he said. "And a W." Wrong and wrong.

3. Pittsburgh linebacker LaMarr Woodley -- He's the guy who this summer said that Baltimore and its quarterback, Joe Flacco, wouldn't go to the Super Bowl "in this lifetime." Maybe, but I like his chances today more than Woodley's.

4. Pittsburgh defensive tackle Casey Hampton -- He said the Ravens "talk a whole lot. They don't like us. I think they don't like us a lot more than we don't like them. I think they have to talk themselves into it, know what I mean? Since I've been here we've beat them a lot more than they beat us." Remember what Jerry Glanville once said about the NFL, Casey. It stands for Not For Long.

5. Seattle special-teams coordinator Brian Schneider -- His coverage units surrender a kickoff return for a touchdown and a punt return for a touchdown -- and both by the same guy. What's going on here? "We just had some breakdowns," Schneider said. I'll say. But Seattle is the team that let placekicker Olindo Mare walk in the offseason, signing Steven Hauschka to replace him ... and so far, no good. Mare had 20 touchbacks last year kicking off from the 30; Hauschka had none Sunday kicking off from the 35.

Monday Morning QBs

There are new quarterbacks everywhere, but I'm interested in key veterans who changed addresses this season. Here's how they did:


Donovan McNabb, Minnesota/15/7/39/1/1/0-1

Matt Hasselbeck, Tennessee/34/21/263/2/1/0-1

Kevin Kolb, Arizona/27/18/309/2/0/1-0

Tarvaris Jackson, Seattle/37/21/197/2/1/0-1

Kerry Collins, Indianapolis/31/16/197/1/0/0-1

Just Asking ...

  How concerned should Pittsburgh be?

  Where does San Diego go for its next kicker?

  Why throw that pass, Tony Romo?

  Is Houston that good or Indianapolis that bad?

  Who had the biggest win -- Buffalo, Washington or Detroit?


3 -- Third-quarter Pittsburgh turnovers

3 -- Consecutive road wins for Detroit

24 -- Yards rushing for Tennessee's Chris Johnson

26 -- Straight games without Baltimore allowing a touchdown in the third quarter

39 -- Donovan McNabb yards passing

100 -- Norv Turner career victories

4-0 -- Rex Ryan vs. brother Rob

My Top Five

1. Green Bay
2. Baltimore
3. New England
4. Philadelphia
5. Chicago

My Bottom Five

32. Indianapolis
31. Kansas City
30. Tennessee
29. Seattle
28. Cleveland

Next Weekend's Three Best Games

Chicago at New Orleans ... Saints smarting from Green Bay loss.

San Diego at New England ... Sooner or later, Bolts must get past these guys.

Philadelphia at Atlanta ... You can go home again, Michael Vick.


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