Saturday, September 8, 2012

Peyton Manning or James Harrison: Which Player Impacts A Steelers Win More?

"When you get Peyton Manning, you get a package. You dont get a QB; Peyton Manning's not a cookie-cutter QB...You get the whole thing."

Those words were spoken on Thursday by Pittsburgh Steelers free safety Ryan Clark who won't be able to take part in the game in Denver Sunday because of the sickle-cell trait he carries that prevents him from playing in the high altitude there. His absence will be felt.

His isn't the only, though.

Stevenson Sylvester will also miss the game as well as the next two there after because of a knee injury. David DeCastro was placed on the Injured Reserve/Return list and won't be back for at least eight weeks.

Other players on the injury report were running back Baron Batch (groin) who is listed as questionable. Running back Isaac Redman (ankle/hip), defensive end Brett Keisel (ankle), linebacker Larry Foote (ankle), and linebacker Jason Worilds (knee/wrist) were all full participants in Friday's practice and are listed as probable.

Rashard Mendenhall (knee) is listed as doubtful, though former Steelers lineman and current Steelers analyst Tunch Ilkin said on Steelers Live @ 4 that Mendy looks great as he continues to work his way back from his ACL injury. He told CBS Sports he's physically able to play but won't say if he is on Sunday.

"Stability is fine. I continue to grow in strength. The running and cutting and everything is fine, so just gonna take it day to day."

He has been practicing, but I maintain that he won't play until after the bye week.

More important than any of those, though, is right outside linebacker James Harrison (knee) who didn't practice at all Friday and is listed as questionable on the Friday injury report. The Silverback told the media that he was a gametime decision, but logic dictates that he does not play Sunday night. Second year Fresno State product Chris Carter will start in place of Harrison if he indeed cannot go.

Harrison even admitted when asked that "if the game was today, I couldn't play." Harrison said the knee "didn't feel too good" and that it needed rest. Seems highly unlikely Harrison will play. -

As we've written before, it isn't just Harrison's pass rushing ability that the Steelers would be missing Sunday. His run stopping ability is immensely important. Carter is a speed rusher who can get to the quarterback. But the QB in question, the one praised at the outset of this article by Clark, knows how to exploit weaknesses.

Without question, Peyton Manning is a very, very smart signal caller who gets the ball out of his hands quickly. He's a surgeon in cleats and has dissected many a defense. And it's those same smarts that cause him know to utilize his running game.

Manning is not afraid to run the ball out of a passing formation, like in 3-wide receiver sets. Specifically, also, he knows to run the ball at an unproven right outside linebacker. It wouldn't be surprising to see Denver try to run to beat the Steelers.

Manning, with all the attributes we know him to have, is a quarterback who can be rattled and made to throw the ball sooner than he wants to, when the defense is able to confuse him AND hit him. Plus, it's well known that Manning has trouble with 3-4 defenses using disguising schemes.

Manning's troubles with 3-4 defenses makes the loss of a fully healthy Harrison loom larger. It also means that not only Carter, but Worilds and LaMarr Woodley must pick up the slack.

Worilds, who sustained a wrist injury in a game early last season that required offseason surgery, says he's glad to be healed and is ready to throw his hand in the pile (no pun intended): "I've broken something before and I'd rather have something breaking. I'm definitely relieved, absolutely relieved. It's been a long journey, but I'm just [happy] to get back on the field...with my teammates again."

Worilds isn't Harrison either, though. Nor is Adrian Robinson. All good players, but none are Deebo.

From recognizing formations to breaking down cover schemes in order to stymy the run or force a strip-sack to being wreaking havoc in coverage, few are the force of nature that wears the ultimate game face. This guy scares everyone and his absence will more profoundly affect the Steelers chances of winning than will Manning's presence.

Make no mistake, despite what the Steelers offense does, the defense truly should have the more vocal say in who wins this game.

A complete corps of linebackers means a shutting down of the run game. Lawrence Timmons, Foote and Carter need to have big games against the run considering we've already said we fully expect the Broncos to utilize the run. Shutting down the run means you're forcing a rusty QB coming off of four neck surgeries to pass more.

Point blank: a healthy Harrison or DeMarcus Ware or Aldon Smith or even a Woodley could break Michael Strahan's sack record this year. Every team is passing more - it's very much a passing league. More pass attempts mean more opportunities for sacks. It's simple numbers: more drop backs begets more sacks.

BOTTOM LINE: In our humble opinion, a healthy and angry Deebo would have meant an easier victory. If he truly is out for Sunday, look instead for the Steelers to squeak out 20-17 victory.


Whether it's an extra secondary body just to throw at Manning and then discarded or a bona fide addition to the roster, the Steelers signed for Oakland Raiders cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke.

Without getting any deeper into roster implications, we referred to the raw CB in a previous blog as "a project." Van Dyke is a curly hair short of 6'1" and weighs 187 pounds soaking wet, carrying a brick and with extra change in his pockets.

Bob Labriola of Steelers Digest posted this on him on Friday after the official announcement of his signing: "Scouting rept. on Van Dyke: Fast (4.3), athletic, developmental CB, good gunner on punts, tall (6-1), slight but added 10 lbs since '11."

So, while he probably won't see the field defensively, he should see special teams as a gunner.

If you follow us on Facebook you may converse with us on occasion in a Steelers group or two. One such conversation with Paul Ventura provided a bit of knowledge about Van Dyke. He hipped me specifically to what former Steelers cornerback and Hall of Famer Rod Woodson, who was the Raiders defensive backs coach when they drafted Van Dyke, said last year about him in their training camp.

"He has great hips. He reminds me of a player that I played with in Baltimore, Duane Starks. When he got drafted coming out of The U (Miami), and we were in Baltimore, he had great hips, great feet. DVD reminds me of him. He's a little bit taller. His range, I don't think too many receivers are outrunning him," Woodson said.

"So, he has to learn to break down, move his body weight and transition when he's playing in space," Woodson continued. "If he does that, he can be a pretty good. It's the little things that he has to work on."

"He has to learn how to finish, Woodson concluded. "He's still learning the little things about playing corner in this league - playing the different coverages, when to do certain things, when not to do certain things. But if he keeps progressing in the positive manner like he has in the first week or so, he'll be a decent player."

If Carnell Lake can have the influence on him that he had on Keenan Lewis, maybe Van Dyke sticks around for a while.