The League

Leonard Shapiro
Columnist

Leonard Shapiro

Washington Post sports reporter, editor and columnist who has served on the NFL HOF Selection Committee.

All is well in the Steel City

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The Pittsburgh Steelers are 3-0 without suspended quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, and teammate James Harrison articulated the main reason why the other day.

"The next guy in line is the starter in waiting," the Pro Bowl linebacker said. "And that's how we look at everybody."

The Steelers are currently tied for 31st in pass offense in the NFL with reserve quarterbacks Charlie Batch and Dennis Dixon. And yet, there was the brittle Batch, a 13-year veteran with a long history of injuries, throwing three touchdown passes in a 38-13 rout of Tampa Bay on Sunday.

The Steelers have managed to go undefeated mainly because of a revitalized running game and huge contributions from the defense and special teams, the two units primarily responsible for producing victories in the first two games. In those two contests, the offense managed only one touchdown, running back Rashard Mendenhall's 50-yard game winning run in overtime to beat Atlanta.

Meanwhile, the defense is playing at the same level that produced a Super Bowl victory in 2008, ranked sixth overall in the NFL, third against the rush, as they prepare to face the Baltimore Ravens in Pittsburgh Sunday. No matter what happens Sunday, the Steelers will either be leading or sharing first place in the AFC North, a scenario few could have foreseen with Roethlisberger suspended for the first four games of the season for his inexcusable offseason behavior.

Pittsburgh's defense has only allowed one running back to gain over 100 yards in the last 37 games. That back was the Ravens' Ray Rice, who piled up 141 yards in a 23-20 loss to the Steelers last December. But Rice likely will not play against the Steelers Sunday because of a deep contusion to his knee.

The Steelers have a bit more good fortune coming their way in the next few weeks. They have a perfectly timed bye week following the Ravens game before playing woefully winless Cleveland. That will allow Big Ben two full weeks of preparation to shuck the rust off, and a veritable exhibition game against the bumbling Browns to get back into game condition.

"The league does not want us to be 4-0 with a mad Ben coming back, I'll tell you that," receiver Hines Ward said this week. "We're playing with a lot of confidence as a team, offensively, defensively and special teams."

And with Roethlisberger back in the lineup, it can only get better.

By Leonard Shapiro  |  September 28, 2010; 11:21 AM ET  | Category:  Ben Roethlisberger , Leonard Shapiro , Pittsburgh Steelers , Quarterbacks Save & Share:  Send E-mail   Facebook   Twitter   Digg   Yahoo Buzz   Del.icio.us   StumbleUpon   Technorati  
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