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September 24, 2013

WALK TALK: Steelers’ defense to blame for 0-3 start

1 You know something’s wrong in Pittsburgh when the Steelers’ offense nearly erases a 24-3 deficit only for the defense to allow a nine-play, 74-yard touchdown drive in the fourth quarter at home. Steelers fans need to stop placing all the blame for the 0-3 start on offensive coordinator Todd Haley’s play calling, Ben Roethlisberger’s giveaways and a poor rushing attack. Blame the defense, which has yet to force a turnover and is tied for worst in the NFL with three sacks. Those are nowhere near Steel Curtain-like numbers.

2 With their third-string quarterback, after trading away their best offensive player and receiving 7 points on the road by oddsmakers, the Browns were supposed to get trounced on Sunday against Adrian Peterson and the Vikings, who made the playoffs last year. Yet, Cleveland won 31-27 — and in late, comeback fashion. A lot of credit must be given to Rob Chudzinski and his staff — and also the players — for not giving up after so many of their fans did. The Browns have no reason to take new QB Brian Hoyer out of the starting lineup. Maybe all the talk of doom and gloom in Cleveland was premature.

3 At 3-0, the Kansas City Chiefs already have more wins than last year. A huge reason why are the differences between new quarterback Alex Smith and 2012 QB Matt Cassel. Smith doesn’t ever force the ball into coverage and risk a turnover — he instead runs the ball for a few yards here and there. The 2013 Chiefs have a turnover ratio of plus-9 after a league-worst negative-24 last season. KC is legit if it continues to take care of the ball.

4 NFL quick hits: Tampa Bay’s Greg Schiano will be one of if not the first NFL head coach to be fired this year. ... When the Chiefs and Saints met in Week 3 last year, both teams were 0-2. Both have started 3-0 this season. ... It’s too soon to say that defenses have figured out 49ers QB Colin Kaepernick after two subpar outings. But things certainly aren’t looking good in San Francisco considering the team’s high expectations. ... My NFL top 5: 1. Seattle (3-0), 2. Denver (3-0), 3. New Orleans (3-0), 4. Miami (3-0), 5. New England (3-0). ... And the bottom 5: 32. Jacksonville (0-3), 31. Tampa Bay (0-3), 30. New York Giants (0-3), 29. Minnesota (0-3), 28. Pittsburgh (0-3).

5 Whether you call me a realist or pessimist, I honestly didn’t believe the Cleveland Indians had a chance of making the playoffs about a month ago. Not when the offense stalled and closer Chris Perez was shakier than ever. But here we are: With six games remaining, the Indians are in line to be one of two AL wild card teams. I attended my first Indians game of the season Sunday and after a rough start, they broke through with a 9-2 victory. And with that, Cleveland accomplished something that no team has done since 1961: a sixth four-game sweep in one season.

6 In fear of jinxing them, I’m not making any predictions on whether Cleveland will reach the postseason. The Indians are certainly in a great position, though, with two games versus the White Sox and four at Minnesota up next. Tampa, however, appears to be in. Its pitching staff is figuring things out just in time for a late push. It’ll also be interesting to see how the NL wild card race plays out, with the Reds and Pirates vying for the coveted home game. Entering Monday, the two teams were tied at 89-67. They complete the season with a three-game series in Cincinnati before what I expect to be a wild card game in Cincinnati on Oct. 1.

7 The 2013 NL MVP is an award that’s believed to be up in the air. No player is breaking records statistically, while expected division winners don’t have one player who stands above the rest. Clayton Kershaw has been remarkable for the Dodgers with his sub-2.00 ERA, but I’ve always been a supporter of giving the best everyday player the MVP award. And Arizona first baseman Paul Goldschmidt has been outstanding, leading the league in home runs (35) and RBIs (123), among other categories. But my pick for NL MVP is Pittsburgh center fielder Andrew McCutchen. Without him, the Pirates wouldn’t be a playoff team. He’s also hitting .319 with a 20-20 season after recently notching his 20th homer.

8 The Dodgers have had an up and down 2013. After a number of big-name signings and trades leading into the season, the team was sitting at 30-42 through June 21. L.A. has since woken up, tallying a 60-22 record since then to win the NL West. But that’s no excuse to hold a classless celebration on Thursday by jumping into the Arizona Diamondbacks’ swimming pool beyond the outfield wall. It’s as disrespectful as a Lambeau Leap by a visitor. Dodgers acted as if winning the division was their only goal this season.

9 Give me a second ... I’m still catching my breath from Saturday’s fight of the year between Jon Jones and Alexander Gustafsson. Jones won 48-47, 48-47, 49-46 on the judges’ scorecards but the decision really could have gone either way. Gustafsson put on a valiant display but ran out of gas, while Jones eked out the victory before being helped out of the cage and taken to the hospital right after the fight. Jones vs. Gustafsson is a perfect example of why I watch mixed martial arts. Two warriors left it all in the octagon — and we, the fans, received a memorable show.

10 Jones has been rumored to move to heavyweight for more than a year now, as some are saying he has cleaned out the light heavyweight division. Saturday’s fight proves he still has much to accomplish at 205. Jones-Gustafsson 2 needs to happen before Jones fights anyone else. And Glover Teixeira and Daniel Cormier are waiting for their title shots, too. Jones should remain at 205 for at least three more fights — and there’s no guarantee he’ll win any of them.

The preceding was The Walk Talk 10, which runs in the Tribune's sports section every Tuesday. Assistant news editor Dan Walk can be reached at 724-6370 or by email at dwalk@meadvilletribune.com.

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