Pittsburgh Steelers 2012: preseason snapshot.
Here in the dog days of NFL preseason, it may be refreshing to indulge in a preview of one of the colder divisions: the AFC North. While Green Bay may hold the title of “frozen tundra,” it’s doubtful that (2007 NFC Championship aside) Pittsburgh is much toastier come December.
As long as there are six Lombardis in the lobby, Pittsburgh will remain atop this division—even with Baltimore as the defending AFC North champs (which they may not be had Ben Roethlisberger been able to walk in the last month of the 2011 season).
- The Steelers might as well rent a billboard that reads, “We are now a passing team.” Roethlisberger, in several 2011 interviews, stated that the passing game is going to win Super Bowls henceforward. This is doubtless one of the reasons that Pittsburgh hired Todd Haley. Haley has the best QB he’s seen since Kurt Warner and Big Ben has a passing innovator at the helm. See passing stats in Arizona’s Super Bowl season. If Mike Wallace ever reports for work, the team will have three terrific young WRs.
- Success through the air depends as always upon the offensive line. Ben may be an elephant who extends plays to the breaking point, but he didn’t hurt his ankle playing poker. Maurkice Pouncey may be a legitimate ProBowl center, but he has twice been injured down the stretch. Those injuries were instrumental in the fact that there aren’t seven (or eight) trophies in the case.
- Hines Ward retired in case you’ve been on the North Pole.
- Pittsburgh did address the offensive line in a dramatic way with rookies David DeCastro and Mike Adams. Currently, both are backups and Mike Adams had a dismal showing in the first preseason game. Generally, the entire O-line did nothing to raise the spirits of Steelers fans—or Mrs. Roethlisberger.
- Big Ben has let it be known that he has “a little tear” in his rotator cuff. Excuse me? Why didn’t he get it repaired in the offseason, why is he telling people about it and why not just sprinkle catnip in front of every passrusher in the AFC?
- The running game will be a function of both the O-line and personnel at RB. Rashard Mendenhall tore his ACL late in what was a poor season anyway. Will the team promote Isaac Redman, Jonathan Dwyer or will rookie Chris Rainey be the hoped-for Darren Sproles clone while the team just slings it around to the WRs? Based on one preseason game, Mr. Rainey is a keeper.
It’s so funny when teams call some new player “the next _____.” The next Sproles. The next Wes Welker. The next Darrelle Revis. Honestly. If any of these stars were part of a series, they wouldn’t be these guys.
- How will strong-willed Ben and fiery new offensive coordinator Todd Haley get along? Probably not well. However, it will not matter if Haley and Ben enjoy the same success as Haley and Kurt Warner. Everybody is best buddies in the “W” column.
- Exactly how old is that defense? As old as they play. Last year they were first in almost every category—except takeaways. Jury should be in by October.
- Will the “new” Big Ben continue his reformed, mature behavior? As a woman, it is difficult for me to like this man. However, he got married, reportedly got religion and has been widely reported (including rather famously by Cris Collinsworth on Inside the NFL) to be a different and suddenly-decent guy. For the past year he has been pretty much a model citizen and now he’s a father-to-be. I gave the marriage two years. It’s one and counting. On the field, Roethlisberger has now officially become an under-rated quarterback and the undisputed leader of the offense. He’s either all grown up—or faking it pretty convincingly. Color me skeptical for another season.