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Big Ben injury puts Ravens firmly in AFC North driver's seat; mail

In the wake of the Week 10 news:

The Steelers have made the MVP case for Ben Roethlisberger by playing without him. Bad news for the Steelers, waiting to hear today the extent of the damage to Roethlisberger's throwing shoulder after he was injured Monday night against Kansas City. Since drafting Roethlisberger in the first round in 2004, Pittsburgh has faced Baltimore 18 times -- 16 times in the regular season, twice in the playoffs. The two teams have split those 18 games. The alarming thing for Pittsburgh: When Roethlisberger hasn't played -- either because of injury or suspension -- the Steelers are 0-4 against Baltimore. (Charlie Batch has lost two, Tommy Maddox one and Dennis Dixon one.)

It's clear the Ravens' rush has had much to do with it, as the Steelers completed just 52 percent of their throws in those games. The Steelers are one game back of the Ravens in the AFC North after 10 weeks, but the advantage in the series will clearly shift to Baltimore without Roethlisberger -- and with Terrell Suggs having returned to the Ravens lineup after his offseason Achilles injury threatened to scuttle his season. The Steelers and Ravens meet twice in the next 19 days, including Sunday at Heinz Field.

Atlanta got robbed by Ray Edwards. The Falcons cut disappointing defensive end Ray Edwards Monday night, and lest you think they acted hastily, consider that the best pass rusher in free agency in 2011 gave them 3.5 sacks in 25 games ... and got paid $9 million over 2011 and '12 for his work. Or, look at Edwards' production this way: He played 944 snaps at defensive end for Atlanta since the start of the 2011 season, and produced 3.5 sacks in those 944 plays -- none in the last 318 plays.

With John Abraham providing good pressure and Kroy Biermann adequate pressure, the Falcons clearly tired of putting Edwards on the field and getting nothing in return. Edwards reported to the Falcons in late July 2011, after having knee surgery during the lockout, and never was the player he'd been for the Vikings. On Sunday in New Orleans, he played on but seven passing downs. I got quite a few tweets from fans last night hungrily begging for their team to pursue Edwards. For what, exactly?

Careful Houston: Denver can play D now too. If Denver makes a deep run in the playoffs, it won't be solely on the strength of Peyton Manning's right arm. Have you seen the Broncos play defense? Von Miller in particular? Miller was a one-man wrecking crew at Carolina Sunday from his strongside outside linebacker spot, sacking Cam Newton once, tackling three other Panthers for loss and dragging Newton down while he ill-advisedly tried to complete a pass; it was intercepted by Tony Carter and returned 40 yards for a touchdown.

In all, Denver held Carolina conversion-less on 12 third-down tries. "Von Miller is just playing out of his mind,'' coach John Fox told me. "If he hadn't gotten hurt last year, he definitely would have shattered the rookie sack record, and he's playing even better this year.'' He has 21.5 sacks in his first 24 pro games.

Miller's had help; Denver's allowed just 289 yards, on average, in beating the Saints, Bengals and Panthers in the last three weeks. With the news that fellow pass rusher Elvis Dumervil (seven sacks, five forced fumbles) has a strained shoulder but not serious damage -- he hurt it Sunday in Charlotte -- Denver should be in good shape down the stretch to pressure the quarterback.

Now for your email:

IT WAS ONLY ABOUT PRODUCTION. "Not fair on your comparison of Jennings/Nelson and Jones/Cobb. No doubt Jones and Cobb are emerging this year as dangerous receivers, but Jennings/Nelson have a combined 11 games played, and Jones/Cobb have 18. Also, a lot of those receptions and TDs have come only because Jennings and Nelson have been hurt. Your stat made it seem like Jennings/Nelson were not producing, when the real story is how deep the Packers are at receiver."-- From Nick Bremer, of Marshfield, Wis.

That was exactly my point -- not to judge who is better, but simply to say, "No matter who they put in there, Aaron Rodgers is going to make it work."

I HAVE NO IDEA, BUT I DOUBT IT AFFECTS THEM AT ALL. "I am not a NY Giant apologist. When they stink, as they have the last three weeks, I usually don't look for excuses. In this case, however, I'd like to know your thoughts on how Hurricane Sandy could have affected the Giants (and Jets). Through the media I know that Eli Manning and others had to evacuate their homes, to say nothing of the disrupted lives all around them. I cannot help but think football is not uppermost in their minds.''-- From Michael Karel, of Bethesda, Md.

Maybe, but I doubt it. The Giants were struggling on offense before Sandy. In the three previous games, Manning was a 58 percent passer with two touchdowns and three picks, and since, his protection has been poor; he was sacked a season-high four times against Cincinnati and pressured an additional nine times. If you're looking for the Giants' problem, I would suggest it starts with the porous line in front of Manning, and then I would look at how Hakeem Nicks seems to be slowed by the Week 2 leg injury he suffered against Tampa Bay.

GOOD POINTS ON COWHER, SORT OF. "In comparing Bill Cowher and Mike Tomlin, you didn't mention that Cowher took over a Steeler team in decline and quickly turned it around. Tomlin took over a winning team with a set roster of high caliber players and rode the wave. Cowher built his own staff, Tomlin's was set and he wasn't allowed to change it. One guy earned his record, the second guy should have gotten to 60 much quicker.''-- From Dave, of Overland Park, Kans.

So, if I told you that, in his first 89 games as coach, Tomlin would be 61-28, winning 69 percent of his games as a first-time head coach, and I told you he'd get the Steelers to two Super Bowls in his first four seasons, you'd tell me the record isn't good enough? Man. Tough crowd.

VERY GOOD QUESTION. "I read the column every week and don't recall much commentary on what impact a full year of Thursday night games is having on the league. Everyone knows that the slate of games on Thursdays has been awful and the actual games have been just as bad. Snoozer games will always be inevitable, but never before have they been so abundant on national prime time television. They used to be hiding amongst a dozen or so other 1 p.m. Sunday games so no one paid much attention, and the night games on Sunday and Monday were typically reserved for the best teams. I know that growing the game involves maximizing prime time scheduling, but isn't it possible that by highlighting some of its worst matchups, the NFL is damaging its brand in the long term?''-- From Scott White, of Montreal

Good point. There have been a few good ones -- Chicago-Green Bay, Seattle-San Francisco, with New Orleans-Atlanta and Peyton Manning in the Black Hole coming up. But I agree with you. The NFL is trying to capitalize on a nation's love of pro football by putting mostly mediocre matchups on national TV on Thursday. Scott, it will all tell with the ratings. If people don't watch and advertisers don't pay for spots, the NFL will scale back. I also think a factor in the next couple of years will be whether another network or cable channel will bid for a Thursday night package of games, taking it away from NFL Network.

SAINTS VS CHARGERS. "It is amazing how different a record of 4-5 can look depending on the city -- for example, New Orleans vs. San Diego. Love your column.''-- From Jim Bolender, of Poway, Cal.

Doesn't matter what city it is, Jim. I judge my rankings on this question: If two teams were to play on a neutral field in Wichita today, which would win? And right now, with the Saints winning four of five, and coming off a win over the league's only unbeaten team, I thought they should be somewhere around 11. Thanks for the kind words.

YOU ARE RIGHT, ROB. "In watching the Rams/49ers game, I had one observation that was seemingly lost on Chris Myers and Tim Ryan. Late in the fourth quarter, with the Rams trailing 21-17, St. Louis secured a first down on the 49ers eight-yard line with 1:13 remaining when Jeff Fisher hastily called a timeout. What was the hurry on the timeout? Why not let the clock run off 20 seconds or so first. Jeff Fisher should be seasoned enough to NOT make that mistake, right?''-- From Rob Ticktin, of Needham, Mass.

Yes, with a couple of asterisks. First: The first down was at the San Francisco 2, not the 8. And Fisher should have let the clock run down, to be sure. But I think it was smart to take the timeout there, just not when he took it. I'm sure, in retrospect, Fisher wishes he'd have let some time run off the clock before taking that timeout.

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