There are a couple of stories out there that deserve a little more attention. All of these concern the various injuries effecting the Jaguars and the Steelers. Some of this is speculation, some of this is a thought project, but all of it deserves some consideration.
Ben Roethlisberger: Injured and out?
I don't do a whole lot of abject speculation here at Big Cat Country. I don't like to be a rumor-mill when it comes to things like Injuries, simply because there's no way to ever know what exactly is going on with this sort of thing. No coach tells the truth about their injuries, the reports are basically worthless, and no team is going to admit straight up that one of their key players is struggling because of an injury.
That said, I re-watched the Steelers and New England game on NFL Replay. You might notice that late in the game the Steelers play calling changed. From that point on, the Steelers give up on the passing game and focus almost exclusively on the running game, despite having a significant score deficit. You'll also notice that after they ran very well to Patriots Red Zone, Ben threw an "out route" to Wide Receiver Nate Washington that can only be described as a wounded duck. Now, I'm going to give credit where credit is due, what I saw didn't really click until I listened to Jaguars This Week which explained what was happening a little better.
Jaguars.com's Vic Ketchman noted that in the 4th quarter, Ben Roethlisberger was spending time with team doctor Jim Bradley. At this point, the passing game was largely eliminated, the Steelers basically gave up to the Patriots, and when Ben did pass, it was terrible.
Here's where the Speculation on the part of Jaguars This Week gets interesting, and I'll shamelessly continue to spread it here. Ben Roethlisberger is soon to be signed to a long term deal by the Steelers. They're gonna do the right thing and lock up a top ten NFL quarterback long before he even sniffs free agency. This is entirely reasonable to expect and not too out on a limb. Ben is going to get a deal in line with Tony Romo and Marc Bulger, with the premium of him being a Super Bowl winner. I'd say something like 70 million dollars.
Now we take a logical leap. The Steelers are about to make a huge investment at quarterback, he's had a noticeable injury of some sort to his shoulder and did not practice on wednesday. The Steelers can still win their division with a loss to the Jaguars. Why would they risk their starting quarterback in what amounts to a meaningless game in regards to their divisional race when he's got plenty of time to get healthy and ready for the playoffs and has what could be a huge financial investment coming his way?
Again, this is entirely speculation. If Ben is hurt, you'd have to at least consider the larger picture before rushing to conclude that he's going to play no matter what. It's not a matter of toughness in December, it's a matter of what's best for the team.
We'll know in a few hours if this story has any real legs to it. If the injury report comes out and Ben was held out of practice again, I'd say we've got something legitimate here. If he's limited, it'll be unclear, and if he's normal, then I'm just a foolish blogger throwing stuff out there to see what sticks.
Marcus Stroud: Completely Replaceable?
We all heard the news that Marcus Stroud was placed on injured reserve. I know this is the third major defensive player to be rendered out of action this season. Mike Peterson and Reggie Hayward are out for this week as well. But I've got an important message for the Media, the Fans, and Steeler Nation:
Rumors of Jacksonville's Defensive Demise have been Greatly Exaggerated
Jacksonville will do just fine against the Steelers offense. Call it a hunch, but I'd be willing to bet that running up the middle on the absolutely massive Grady Jackson is as hard or harder than running on a weakened Marcus Stroud. Let's be frank, Stroud has been playing like he's recovering from major surgery all season. That's because he IS recovering from major surgery. Marcus has not played like his pro-bowl season because his ankle is still not at 100%. In fact, it might not be 60% of what he can do.
What I'm saying here is that we're completely used to playing without Marcus Stroud. In fact, we won three out of four games during his absence. In fact, in Stroud's absence, Jacksonville allowed 3.4 yards per carry and 74.5 yards per game on the ground. Now, of course, one of those games had a very anemic Bills running game, but we're including the Titans and the Chargers, two teams who've proved they can run the ball.
There's no reason to run around like a chicken with your head cut off. The weather will be rough, it'll be a run the ball, stop the run game, and we'll do just fine. Mike Peterson is replaceable with Daryl Smith. Justin Durant has had a few games to get up to speed, and he's playing very well. Even the secondary is coming together a bit, and the confidence boost of a great game against Carolina, as well as knowing that it's very hard to throw the ball in the weather means that the Secondary could have two good games in a row.
Folks like KC Joyner forget the most important stat in judging a teams defense. That's points allowed. Jacksonville is 4th in the AFC by points allowed, only 17.6 points per game. That said, Pittsburgh is 1st in the AFC with 14.5 ppg. I did an experiment to see how important the Monday Night game against Miami is to the stats, and if you eliminate the rain game the Steelers average only changes to 15.7 ppg, still good enough to lead the AFC.
Etcetera, Eratta, and Misc:
Don't forget to visit our good friends over at Behind the Steel Curtain for everything you need to know about the Steelers.
Also, Don't forget, if the Jaguars don't win this week against the Steelers, we have to hope for a Titans loss at some point, otherwise we could face a very critical late season game AT Houston that could have the playoffs on the line. I, quite frankly, don't want to see the Battle Red with the Playoffs on the line.
I could care less about the Mitchell Report. Baseball is terrible. I think that despite the NFL's problems with steroids, at least it appears like they're trying to do something about it. Baseball looks stupid, disgraced, and continues to be completely unwatchable as far as I'm concerned. I'd rather watch the 7th round of the draft and the Scouting Combine than a world series game. I'd rather watch Bowling on ESPN2 than watch The Sox and the Yankees. That's all I have to say about that.