At 6 feet 5 and 242 pounds, Big Ben Roethlisberger, who looks even bigger, is an unbeaten rookie from Miami (Ohio) whose next test, in Dallas Sunday against tricky coach Bill Parcells, will be his toughest yet. Moving with the agility of a 200-pound quarterback, the rookie only had to close out Cleveland to win his third straight, 34-23.
That made the 4-1 Steelers first in the AFC North, surprising even their veteran coach, Bill Cowher.
In his Pittsburgh career going back to 1992, Cowher, a 126-85 winner, has rarely been a fast starter. Nor has he won any Super Bowls. Principally, all this time, he's been looking for a quarterback. For as one of the league's fine defensive coaches, Cowher always has a running game, and in recent years he has also embraced passing as the way to go. But he's never had a champion passer. This year, finally, he might be grooming one.
The One-Dimensional Vikings Roll On
THE MINNESOTA VIKINGS, on their three-game October tour of the South, will be in New Orleans Sunday to show the Saints how to be a commanding winner in the NFL after losing all your veteran running backs to injury. You simply throw the ball on two of every three plays, as the Vikings did last Sunday to finally beat back Houston's young quarterback Carr in overtime, 34-28.
Altogether, as the one-dimension Vikings struck for more than 500 yards in Houston, quarterback Daunte Culpepper gained 418 yards on passes and scrambles by comparison with the 92 net produced by the Minnesota running game.
Carr, starting his third year at Houston out of Fresno State, showed the passing and running skills of the good NFL veterans — particularly the toughness to get up from sacks and throw strikes — even though, in the fifth quarter, the veteran Culpepper was too much for him
According to an NFL rule of thumb, it takes a well-balanced, two-dimensional team to succeed, and it's true that running teams lacking a passing game have in recent years had serious troubles (the Miami Dolphins come first to mind.) Yet the rule of thumb has never been challenged by a good one-dimension passing team, and that's what Minnesota is with Culpepper and two of the NFL's great wide receivers, Randy Moss and Marcus Robinson. To win, Minnesota scored five touchdowns — all on pass plays. In football, a one-dimension passing team can succeed even though a one-dimension running team can't.
Turnovers Overrated to Coaches Who Understand Football
THE ST. LOUIS RAMS had lost the first half in Seattle, 24-7, as quarterback Marc Bulger threw two interceptions and was sacked twice. And at halftime, in bars and during gabfests all over the land, the old-timers who don't like the Rams' pass-minded coach, Mike Martz, were pounding the table and sarcastically shouting: "Keep passing, Mike. Keep passing! Keep passing!"
That was last Sunday, and it drew a big laugh from everyone. Martz, though, didn't hear it, and anyhow he doesn't often take advice. In the last five minutes of the game, he simply kept passing to catch the Seahawks — who in the fourth quarter had stepped out to a 27-10 lead — and in overtime he kept passing to win, 33-27.
Here's the point: An interception or a sack is nothing but a nuisance to a passing team — along with dropped passes and other bothersome problems like offside penalties in noisy visiting stadiums where unsporting homers try to upset the visitors' offense. Turnovers are, in fact, inevitable for teams that throw numerous passes. Inevitable but not disruptive. To a passing team, a turnover merely annoys, it doesn't destroy. A passing team simply absorbs the shock of a turnover and keeps passing to overcome the turnover.
As I've said for years, turnovers are overrated. Of all the adverse things that happen to good football teams, turnovers are the most overrated. Fear of turnovers is a relic of the days when Martz's old critics were active young men playing the football of their era — running-game, field-position football — and trying their mightiest to make no mistakes. That was admirable, then, perhaps, although to focus heavily on the avoidance of mistakes is to miss a lot of touchdowns and a lot of fun.
Then and now, turnovers have been disastrous to teams playing running-game, field-position football — which was Chuck Noll's football in the years when Terry Bradshaw was his quarterback and the Steelers were winning Super Bowls with probably the best talent ever banded together.
In today's passing game, field position is itself greatly overrated. Every NFL week, passers move their teams up and down the field at will, as, most recently, Tennessee moved Monday night. You're stuck on your own 10-yard line? No problem. Just throw the ball.
Note to Martz Critics: He Did Try to Run
THE RAMS made two unacceptable mistakes at Seattle. First, coach Martz demonstrated that at times, between games, he does listen to his critics, both the sarcastic ones and the sincere, all of whom tell him repeatedly that he should start running the ball. Second, perhaps trying to heed his critics in the first half at Seattle, he ran it with running backs Marshall Faulk and rookie Steven Jackson — two of the NFL's best — at all the wrong times.