Bad News For The Steelers – By John Smathers
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|Just when you thought you might have seen the last of QB Steve McNair, he’ll be facing the Black-and-Gold defense again twice this year and possibly a third time in the playoffs.
McNair last played against the Steelers as a member of the Tennessee Titans in Week 1 last season, and played well in a losing cause. The oft-injured McNair, 33, was unlikely to see the Steelers until possibly 2007 or 2009 when the Steelers will see action against at least one AFC South opponent. But that was if McNair remained a Titan.
After the Titans refused to allow McNair to work out at their facilities until they agreed to re-work his contract (this was later overruled by an arbitrator), he was traded into the AFC North via the Baltimore Ravens last week. He figures to be the starting quarterback when the teams meet for the first time Nov. 26 in Baltimore.
For a guy with a history of injuries, that’s a long way off. There’s one school of thought that sees that as a good thing. The wishful theory goes, McNair pulls up lame sometime just before the Steelers’ Thanksgiving weekend date with the Ravens, putting pressure on Kyle Boller to shake the rust and perform. Boller’s development has been arrested already and standing on the sidelines watching McNair for several weeks won’t make him any better.
Actually, I feel much more sorry for backup quarterback and former Steeler Brian St. Pierre than Boller. St. Pierre was the Ravens’ No. 2 signal caller before McNair’s arrival. I really wanted to see him start, even if it was for the Ravens. Barring an unlikely move with Boller, St. Pierre is probably back to No. 3, and rookie free agent Drew Olson from UCLA would like to take that job away from him, too.
McNair’s arrival in Baltimore will not bode well for the Steelers either. First of all, he’s a hands-down upgrade over Boller – iffy quarterback play from he and Alexander Wright was a large reason the Ravens finished 6-10 last season. Add that to an improving Cleveland team and a rehabbed, refocused and determined Carson Palmer in Cincinnati, the Steelers have their hands full in the North.
McNair plays lights-out against the Steelers, as a starter and off the bench. As for the theory that puts McNair on the sidelines and Boller back in the crosshairs of Joey Porter and Co., remember that McNair came off the bench in 2000 and blindsided the Steelers by completing 3-of-3 passes for 58 yards and a game-winning touchdown in the final minutes.
In fact, McNair has beat the Steelers 10 of the 13 times the Titans and the Steelers have clashed dating back to 1997, the year McNair took over as Tennessee’s starter. In last season’s meeting, McNair completed 18-of-26 passes for 219 yards and rating of 91.7. In 2003, McNair took the Steelers down hard, completing 15-of-16 passes for 161 yards and three touchdowns – a 148.2 rating – in a 30-13 Titans win.
Except for Tom Brady, there may be no bigger Steelers killer in the league.
McNair will make better use of his main weapons in Baltimore than Boller ever did. Favorite McNair target Derrick Mason, who left Tennessee after 2004, is probably feeling a lot better about the upcoming season now. Without Mason in Tennessee, McNair still managed to complete 61 percent of his passes and average 226 passing yards per game. He threw 16 touchdown passes in 14 games and had a 82.4 quarterback rating.
Mason had three touchdown catches last season – his lowest output since he caught five touchdowns in 2002.
Yes, McNair is past his prime and injury-prone. Yes, the Ravens have other problems with their defense and running game is in decline. But if I had my druthers, I’d rather face Boller.
McNair has something to prove now. He gives the Ravens what the Steelers and Bengals have – a quarterback that can take them to the playoffs, or at least put the Ravens back in contention. What’s worse, with the Steelers playing the Ravens twice in the last six weeks, McNair could ruin Christmas and do what no quarterback could do in the last four weeks last season – keep the Steelers out of the post season.