A new NFL season is a upon us and every single fan has nothing but optimism about the up coming season. Some fans have Superbowl hopes, some fans have playoff aspirations and others just want this year to be better than last year. As a proud member of Steeler Nation its always Superbowl or bust. Considering that as an organization they have more rings(six) than any other franchise, the Pittsburgh Steelers enter every season with high expectations. Some critics say the Steeler fans should dim their expectations just a little bit this year. We’re ( yes I said we) in a division with the reigning Superbowl champion and young up start team in Cincinnati. I’ve heard a lot of “experts” predict us to finish 3rd in the division and not even making the playoffs. They say that we are old and our window of opportunity may have closed, but I think that our demise is greatly over exaggerated and we will not only make the playoffs but we will win the division and play in the franchise’s 9th Superbowl. Please let me explain why.
First off, our success depends heavily on the health of Big Ben Roethlisberger. Ben doesn’t get the credit he deserves as a top qb in the game but his record speaks for itself. He has a career win/loss record of 87/39 (69%). There is only three quarterbacks of note with a higher win percentage; Tom Brady, Joe Montana, and Roger Staubach. He has played in three Superbowls and has won two. There is only 11 qbs in history with more than one ring and only 4 with more than two. To say the least Ben is a winner and an elite qb so when Jaws ranked Qbs like Matt Ryan and Joe Flacco ahead of Ben I lost all respect for Jaws and refuse to listen to anything else he has to say. I could be walking across the street and he could yell out “A bus is about to hit you” and I wouldn’t even listen because anything that comes out his mouth has no credibility to me. So, Ben was having another great year, one of his best, when all of a sudden he went down with an injury. He missed a few games then rushed to get back but we lost 3 in a row down the stretch because he clearly was not healthy. We ended up 8-8 just missing out on the playoffs. This won’t be the case this year. Ben had surgery on his knee this off season and his already back at it looking healthier than ever. He has also lost a noticeable amount of weight that should take some pressure of the knee and also him to be more free out there.
We also have a much improved offensive line that should protect Ben a lot better which we keep him healthy all year. Mike Adams and Marcus Gilbert are two young tackles who have a couple of years under their belts and give us our most talented pair of tackles we’ve had in a while. Maurkice Pouncey is already a pro bowl center who follows in the foot steps of other great Steeler centers of the past and if healthy could be the best center in the league. Next to Pouncey and protecting Ben’s blind side is last season first round pick at guard David Decastro. He missed the whole season last year, he returns and is expected to be a future all pro at guard. We now have Ben protected so who does he have as weapons?
I hear so much about what we lost in Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall but I don’t consider either a loss. Wallace held out last year and when it was time to play he didn’t produce at the level he was expected to. Over the past two seasons Antonio Brown has stepped up and been our most consistent receiver. I feel very comfortable in Brown being our number 1 receiver. Emanuel Sanders was a high pick receiver a few years ago who was just waiting for opportunity. This year he will get the chance as our number two receiver. We also two reliable veterans in Jerricho Cotchery and Plaxico Burress. Markus Wheaton is a rookie from Oregon State with a lot of talent and high expectations. Could be the next Hines Ward. Our only concern is with the health of tight end Heath Miller who is now on the PUP list but I feel confident in him returning early in the season and picking up where he left off last year with probably his best season. Goodbye Rashard Mendenhall and hello La’veon Bell. Runinng back is a position that you can step right in from college and produce and Bell was one of the best in college. If Bell is not ready early then Jonathan Dwyer returns coming off of his breakout season and Isaac Redman is back as well. I’m looking forward to this offense to really take off in year two of Tod Haley’s system.
What about the defense you ask? They’re pretty old you say. Well not so much. We let James Harrison go and even though he was a fan favorite, it was time for him to go. Lamarr Woodley is one of the best pass rushers in the league and he is only 28. I expect for him to have a big bounce back season and return to the top of the sack leader list. Jason Worilds is the other rush linebacker and has played behind Harrison the past two seasons but will have his opportunity to step up as a starter. If Worilds can’t get it done the Rookie Jarvis Jones could be ready to step in and contribute. Jones had 28 sacks in two seasons at Georgia and he fits the mold of a Pittsburgh linebacker. Lawrence Timmons is probably one of the most underrated middle linebackers in the league but has been one of Pittsburgh’s most consistent performers. Always one of the leaders in tackles and interceptions, Timmons should have a great upcoming season. Larry Foote is our only regular linebacker over twenty eight and he still a great contributor and leader. Brett Keisel is only our 2nd defender over 28 and he still plays at a high level. He has a lot of young talent around him on the line to take the pressure off. Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward are to up and coming 3-4 defensive ends that will have break out years.
Our age is shown a little bit in our defensive back field, where we have three starters over thirty. Even though they’re over thirty they still are some of the best at their positions. It all starts with Troy Polamalu, who like Ben on offense, our success hinges on Troy’s health. Three seasons ago he was defensive player of the year and has had trouble staying healthy since. I heard he is healthy, ready to go and be the playmaker he’s known to be. Next to him is a Underated strong safety in Ryan Clark. In the mist of all Troy’s injuries Clark has step up, been a leader and a playmaker. He and Troy are still one of the top safety tandems in the league. We you speak of the top cornerbacks in the league, Ike Taylor’s name never comes up but he might be the best corner no one knows. For years he’s been left on an Island while we search to find a 2nd corner and he’s constantly held his side down against the best receivers in the league. It will probably be a mother carousel of young corners to contend for that 2nd corner spot and I’m just hoping one steps up.
Call me bias but it looks like the makings of another great season in Pittsburgh. We still have coach Tomlin, Dick Lebeau and since 2001 we’ve followed a certain pattern where we go to the playoffs two years in a row miss a year and return to the playoffs where the cycle continues. We missed last year, soooooooo………..