The next team up on our Gridiron Blitz is the Pittsburgh Steelers
Music to listen to: Fighter by Christina Aguilera
I was torn between making my musical selection between Aguilera and Bret Michaels. As much as I’ve enjoyed his Rock of Love show on VH1 over the years, the stench of Poison is too much to ignore. Plus, Aguilera may be annoying at times, she can sing her butt off and therefore gets this honor.
Current State: When you think of the Pittsburgh Steelers, several ideas and theories come to mind. Well-respected organization, especially at ownership. Top rushing attack led by a rugged offensive line. Elite defense. Hard-nosed players who give maximum effort and are good representatives of their team and the city. If you encompass all of those things together and had to label it with one word, a most likely one would be stable. However, after last sesaon and this past off-season, that may not be the case anymore.
However, despite of all of the issues that will be listed below, the Steelers may be looked at by some, including this writer, as a potential Super Bowl candidate.
Biggest Change: The biggest issue this season is the handling of the Ben Roethlisberger situation. He was involved in some off the field incidents this offseason resulting in a four-game suspension from the NFL.
Off the field issues caused the Steelers to trade arguably its best receiver and Super Bowl MVP Santonio Holmes to the New York Jets this offseason. Why wasn’t Roethlisberger given the boot from the Steelers.
While you can most likely find a replacement at wide receiver, its tough to find another quarterback in his late 20’s who has won two Super Bowls and has proven to be a major asset for your organization. The Steelers are willing to keep Roethlisberger around even though it may cost them this entire season.
Uniform Grade: They‘ve had the same color scheme and uniforms for decades. The consistency makes the unis one of the best in the NFL and maybe all of professional sports. While I would have tinkered with a gold jersey, black pants or even white pants, the Steelers have decided to keep the same look outside of a throwback game once in a while. Grade: B+
Best Player: The team has several elite talents but many of them lie on the defense. You have maybe the best nose tackle in football with Casey Hampton. The team also has arguably two of the top five outside linebackers in James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley. Furthermore, the unit operates a 3-4 defense behind the top defensive coordinator in the NFL, Dick LeBeau.
However, the top talent on the entire team is Troy Polamalu. He is the essential cog for the Steelers offense to operate at its most efficient rate. Polamalu not only is the top free safety in the NFL when it comes to serving as a centerfielder for the pass defense, his role as a run stopper prevents opposing offenses from taking advantage. His knee injury in the first week of last season hampered his entire campaign. If Polamalu can come back healthy this season, then Pittsburgh may have the best defense in the league.
Most Important Player: Some may make the case of it being backup quarterback Byron Leftwich because he will start the first four games for Pittsburgh, but this title still goes to Polamalu as mentioned earlier.
That’s too easy. I’ll give you something else.
We all know about Polamalu but if the Steelers want to return to the Super Bowl, the offensive line must improve its work of the past few years, especially on passing plays. Pittsburgh will probably have a good rushing attack, especially with rising star, running back Rashard Mendenhall, but without a good passing system, defenses will be able to figure out its offense.
Best Case: The suspension to Roethlisberger doesn’t hurt the Steelers as much. The offensive line plays better than last year. The entire defensive unit stays healthy. Wins the AFC North over Baltimore. Gets a first-round bye and wins the AFC Championship.
Worst Case: The suspension ruins offensive continuity. Offensive line regresses even more from last year. Injuries cripple the defense. Finish second in the AFC North and misses the playoffs.
Coaching: Its tough to get a read on Mike Tomlin. Is he a dynamic leader who has been able to balance the high expectations of a proud and traditional organization and stay modern enough to adjust to the realities of the modern game? Has his success been based on having one of the top organizations behind him instead of coaching somewhere like Oakland or Cincinnati? I think he’s an excellent head coach who has allowed excellent assistants and coordinators to operate the team while he serves as the supervisor. That’s not a knock but a compliment to his management style.
First Memory of Team: When I started following football on a high level in the early 1990’s, the Steelers were in a transition period. The end of the Chuck Noll era was at the end and Bill Cowher has just started his tenure in Pittsburgh.
I knew about the then-four championships in the 1970’s and didn’t understand why people in Pittsburgh just didn’t move on from that era. It was the 90’s and those days were over. However, while using the same formula of a solid running attack combined with an elite defense, the Steelers found a way to be one of the most competitive franchises of that decade and even made a Super Bowl game.
At that point, I began to appreciate that style of play.
One thing that I didn’t like were all of the fans of the Steelers around the country. Those front runners needed to calm down. You can’t be a fan of a team if you haven’t at least either lived in the host city or been to five or more games in person. I would find Steeler fans who couldn’t point out Pittsburgh but liked them because they were known for winning.
They aren’t as bad as Cowboys fans but darn close.
Schedule: They have to deal with Baltimore, Cleveland and Cincinnati in the division.
As far as home games, they get Atlanta, New England, Oakland, New York Jets and Carolina. That’s about an average home slate. The road games will be at Tennessee, Tampa, Miami, New Orleans and Buffalo. All of those games are winnable accept maybe New Orleans.
City Nicknames: Steel City works for everybody.
Fantasy Focus: Definitely take the defense if you have the chance and Mendenhall will be a nice second running back on your team.
Overall Outlook: This will probably be a typical Pittsburgh team. Slow start without Roethlisberger, possibly a 2-2 or maybe 1-3 start. Team starts to get its act together midseason. A possible loss to a team it shouldn’t have like Buffalo. Wins its final three or four games and no one wants to face them in the playoffs. That sounds about right to me.
Final Record: 10-6
New England Patriots
New York Jets