As fans, we tend to skew our perceptions with a slant that favors players on our favorite teams. Right or wrong, Pittsburgh Steelers fans are included on the long list of the sports-crazed who tend to view most of their own athletes as underrated.
With a desire to do well each season (as well as optimism and the need to dissect the positives), it is only natural for a fan to view their favorite roster in this manner.
Likewise, it's equally difficult to give a completely honest assessment of a player's shortcomings, especially when living vicariously from week to week on the shoulders of such heroes, wishing and waiting for that moment when they take over the football game.
Considering their wave of recent success, the Steelers roster is clearly loaded with sublime talent, a cornucopia of great (if not Hall of Fame-bound) NFL players brought together for the single goal of making the Black and Gold be "Back and Bold" in 2012-13.
Yet, even the greatest of players can be viewed with rose-colored glasses, a sort of self-camouflage that the fanatic mind naturally creates to hide even the tiniest deficiencies. When the praise is too potent or their shortcomings are shooed aside, even the absolute best of the best can become overrated.
In fact, being overrated almost requires greatness. How else can a player garner the type of acclaim that puts them in such a category?
Ask yourself: Is there any player on the Steelers roster that you view as infallible, or who you would argue is the best at their position without having the slightest amount of open-mindedness about room for improvement?
Many players fit that bill with the majority of fans, and if that's the case, they're in the "overrated" red zone—which just happens to be an area of the field in which the Steelers offense couldn't have possibly been overrated last year by anybody!
The players on this list range from untested to iconic, and the pedigree of more than a couple of names listed on this countdown cannot be questioned.
However, instead of viewing overrated as a negative, one has to recall that the terms "overrated" and "bad" or "poor" are not synonymous.
In that regard, as we count down the four most overrated Steelers of 2012, keep in mind that greatness does not exempt a member of the Black and Gold from making the cut.
Wait...how is the franchise quarterback that has led the Pittsburgh Steelers to two Super Bowl wins on this list?
And, how exactly does he qualify for this countdown, considering he was recently ranked among the team's most underrated players?
To answer the first question, being overrated is not an indication of a lack of importance. The most key cog on any team can be overrated. In fact, this can often be a prerequisite, as there are two categories of overrated players:
1) Those whose reputations do not match the on-field product or production.
2) Those whose end results are so great that fans immediately either rank them above comparable peers or refuse to see their faults.
As for the second question—how can Big Ben show on both lists?—one has to remember that Roethlisberger is one of the most polarizing figures in sports right now.
He's either loved or hated. And, correlating with those opinions, fans either argue his greatness to the death or insist he is only carried by the team and not among the league's finest quarterbacks.
On the countdown of underrated Steelers, I stated about Ben, "Quite possibly, no player in the NFL divides legions of fans so deeply as Ben Roethlisberger."
Whereas most players a bit more below the radar are regarded with a general consistency amongst the public, Ben is both overrated and underrated all at once, depending on your point of view.
This slide is for those folks who:
A) Insist he is a top three quarterback in the game, despite the passing pedigree, field awareness, ability to break down defenses, skill to adjust plays pre-snap to avoid pressure, superb ball protection and quick decision-making, and overall presence in the pocket that (at least) Tom Brady, Drew Brees, and Aaron Rodgers possess over Ben.
B) Admit the previous point, but insist that because that is the by-product of his style of play—and because that style has led to championships—that people should just take the good with the bad and lay off. These are the fans who will simply cite "two rings," stating nothing more, the same sort of flawed logic that could then be used to say that Trent Dilfer was better than Dan Marino.
Right, and "Batman & Robin" was a better movie than "The Dark Knight," too...heh.
Roethlisberger is a great quarterback for all of the reasons I have mentioned over and over again. In fact, I would choose no other signal-caller to line up under center for the Steelers; he is the perfect style and fit for the Pittsburgh franchise. Likewise, I am eternally annoyed by a national media that insinuates Philip Rivers and Michael Vick are better quarterbacks than the accomplished Roethlisberger.
Still, there are those categories A and B folks out there, and for those "Ben can do no wrong" advocates, be aware that there absolutely is room for improvement. If Roethlisberger wants to play into his mid-thirties, as well as do everything in his power to escape the Brett Favre non-1996 playoff-ending fate that eventually waits nearly all gunslingers, the time for change is now.
There are times that he takes unnecessary punishment, occasionally with great offensive line blocking or the opportunity to cut his losses and throw the ball away, because of his insistence to make huge plays on each down. While this mostly works in the Steelers' favor, it can certainly backfire.
As a case in point, one can look at his fateful ankle injury last year. With the opportunity to fight another down, Ben's insistence on a "never say die" attitude lacked the long-term wisdom that could have kept him healthy.
It is that same gunslinger's bravado that also leads to the occasional unnecessary turnover.
Art Rooney himself has called for Big Ben to "tweak" his game...*
*To take time to make his adjustments pre-snap...
*To throw the ball away when necessary, or at least learn to keep his internal clock ticking just a beat faster outside the pocket...
*To cut down on his touchdown to interception ratio, a proportion that hasn't always been glowing on Ben's stat line, particularly in 2006, 2008, and 2011 respectively (23, 15, and 14 interceptions)...
*To improve his reads in the pocket (which are better than some naysayers indicate, but could still use work)...
As mentioned, for every thing Ben can improve upon, there are approximately ten things he should keep exactly the same. He's certainly the franchise quarterback that marks the difference between the playoff failures at the turn of the century and the Super Bowl wins of today.
Certainly, I am now 2-for-2 with slides that make most Steelers fans moan and respond, "Give me a break."
Once again, I feel compelled to emphatically state that OVERRATED does not equate to BAD. In fact, it does not even equate to MEDIOCRE. And, it does not negate a player from being GREAT.
Overrated simply means that the hype and product do not coincide. And, right now, the amount of media attention placed on Harrison is not because of his quality of play as much as his quotability.
A healthy Harrison doesn't make the overrated list, but his late blossoming into such a tremendous talent coupled with recent health issues surely suggests a high risk of recurring injuries for the remainder of his quality playing days.
Likewise, his physical style of play is conducive to injury. Sure, he can't be asked to play it any other way except by Roger Goodell, but a decline in production last season leaves a question to be asked:
Is Harrison the imposing, feared force that he was three years ago?
His is certainly an age where decline is common for the position, and the drop-off needed to fall from elite to great to very, very good isn't as extreme as one may think. A split second here, a half-pound of pressure per square inch less there, and suddenly, you could be discussing the next in a great historical line of FORMER great linebackers in the Steel City.
Beyond health, the amazing linebacker also needs to be conscientious of rules changes. Certainly, he will receive his share of penalty flags in a watered-down National Football League, and the team and fans already accept this compromise.
Nevertheless, the blatant helmet to helmet contact that has created so much hot water around his play in the past has to be avoided at all costs.
When the yellow hanky flies, the referee needs to be called upon to find, detect, and react to an infraction. It can't be made obvious. Harrison can still make plays without creating direct contact with the opposition's head; it's a matter of technique and conscientiousness.
Amazing center? Pretty close.
A much better offensive lineman than his peers in recent campaigns? By heads and shoulders!
The second coming of Mike Webster? No. At least, not yet—though the potential is there for Pouncey to be a true phenom.
In other words, Pittsburgh fans, get out the cotton swabs, because your eyes are about to bleed: Pouncey is not yet the end-all, be-all center he is made out to be, though he is easily the best player so far (and by far) to be playing on our offensive line.
Many in the Steel City, likely influenced by the general public notion and media analysis, see Pouncey as a top-five center in the game. However, it could just as easily be argued that he stands among the middle of the pack.
Hell, he may quite possibly be the third best center.... in his own division, behind Alex Mack (Cleveland) and Matt Birk (Baltimore), considering their slight edge in pass blocking in a pass-happy league.
Maurkice Pouncey is great at getting to the second-level, an astute and dominant run blocker who certainly has yet to be afforded much equivalent support from either offensive guard. Hopefully, that will change in 2012.
However, despite his strength and overall soundness, his pass-blocking skills need some work. While he can sustain the power rushes and mostly keeps his ground, the more astute pass rushers, complete with their variety show of moves to get to the passer, sometimes give Pouncey trouble, particularly with the swim move.
Likewise, reviewing game tapes from the past season, I discovered that Pouncey does have occasional issues with picking up inside blitzes, particularly after defensive line shifts. Thankfully, a full offseason to mature and work with improved talent could help him to reach his full potential, something many fans curiously seem believe he has already achieved.
The above may be nit-picking, but that is the difference between players who are rated accurately versus those who are overrated.
The biggest factor in Pouncey's ranking on the list is health. While play in the trenches is a tough job, Pouncey has yet to prove he is one of the iron men who can sustain the physical turmoil associated with the line of scrimmage.
In each of his first two seasons, injuries have kept him from key playoff time. The postseason is when key players are needed the most.
If Pouncey is to be considered the center that most Steelers fans herald him to be, he must be available during the 2013 playoffs. Period.
The Steelers would be wise to re-sign Mike Wallace if the price is right. After all, he is an explosive receiver who can give a team a full drive's worth of production on any given throw.
Despite this fear-inducing asset, the team had better not break the bank to keep him!
2011 was a Jekyll-and-Hyde proposition for the speedster. An explosive start gave way to an anemic ending. While Ben Roethlisberger's injury didn't help, affecting his accuracy and timely delivery downfield, Wallace's drop-off started well before "Anklegate" in Pittsburgh.
Meanwhile, Jerricho Cotchery slowly began contributing, albeit mildly, the the offense, while Antonio Brown blossomed as a superb all-around receiver, continuing to produce even after the roster became a hospital waiting list.
Wallace is a deadly threat, phenomenal talent, and absolute burner at wideout. However, for the type of money that is being insinuated as "in his price range," is he really the type of all-around receiver that the team cannot continue without?
While his most notable peer produces on special teams, gets his nose dirty over the middle like a prize fighter, produces in traffic, moves the chains with consistency and often against all odds and is likewise capable of the occasional deep play, it seems that Wallace... well...
It seems that he often gets open deep downfield or he doesn't.
Before my assessment comes off as too scathing (too late?), I would be remiss not to add that Mike Wallace's game doesn't literally start and stop with the deep pass. He has shown flashes of ALMOST being the "Larry Fitzgerald" receiver that he and/or his agent are advertising.
He has shown steady improvements in route running and the desire to develop into a better NFL receiver. Yet, compared to other receivers, who will themselves be free agents that the team will have to address, Wallace could still easily be considered the "long ball" guy.
Sure, home runs excite the crowd. Still, every team needs an RBI guy. And, with offensive talent like the Steelers—which, frankly, is the equivalent of having men on base most of the time—batting average is just as important.
From November and beyond, Antonio Brown was all over the field. One would think his increased production would have made it easier for No. 17, considering Hines Ward (who started across from Wallace early in the season) was not commanding the same respect that he once warranted from NFL secondaries prior to Brown's emergence.
Like any other rational Steelers fan, I prefer that the Black and Gold keep Wallace around. However, unlike most, it seems clear that keeping him should only be done on team terms...and nothing more. At least, that should be the case until Wallace compliments his deep threat with a few "singles and doubles."