Pittsburgh Steelers, Not New York Jets, Are the Team That Must Shut Up and Win
The Pittsburgh Steelers seem like a rather confident bunch heading into their Week 2 tilt with the New York Jets, especially after losing the season opener to a guy who hadn’t played competitive football in more than 20 months.
You might be this year, LaMarr. Seriously, you might. The Jets looked good in all three facets of the game in their Week 1 drubbing of the Buffalo Bills, putting up the most points in the league (48) with touchdowns on offense, defense and special teams.
With all the disarray and hysteria surrounding the Jets in the preseason, they seem to be the team coming into Week 2 with far less uncertainty and chaos, yet it's the Steelers, not the habitually-loudmouthed Jets, who seem a bit too talkative as the game draws near.
Heading into the season, the Steelers had to think they would waltz into their early bye week at 3-0, but after losing on the road to Denver and facing a surprisingly high-powered Jets team this weekend, nerves and doubt could be creeping into the minds of the Steelers players.
If that's the case, they certainly aren't showing it.
When asked about having to go from facing future Hall of Famer Champ Bailey and the Denver secondary to Darrelle Revis—recognized as the best defensive back in the NFL—Steelers wide receiver Mike Wallace told reporters on Wednesday that, "we aren't scared of anybody."
“We always look forward to someone getting in our face,” Wallace said. “It’s just you against him. It’s an opportunity to show what you can do, to show your skill set.
“It doesn’t matter to me (if it’s Revis or Antonio Cromartie). I like to see anybody who lines up in my face. I don’t care. Whoever it is, it is. I feel we have good guys all over the field, too.”
Wallace may not get his chance to line up with Revis in his face, as the All-Pro defensive back may be sidelined with post-concussion symptoms after being injured in the Jets' opening-week win over the Bills.
Still, the Jets have a deeper secondary than just one man on an island. Antonio Cromartie has proven to be no slouch on the other side of the field for New York, and he will likely draw the matchup with Wallace for much of the game if Revis is unable to play.
No matter who he faces, Wallace is certainly straddling the line between confidence and overconfidence. And look, none of this is serious bulletin-board material, really. Woodley has publicly guaranteed a victory over the Jets, but hundreds of players around the league do that kind of thing every week.
In most cases, statements like that just become absorbed in a wall of pregame noise—a quotable brand of background music for the weekday locker-room sessions. Of course, Woodley thinks his team is going to win—nobody would come out and say and otherwise. Furthermore, as good as the Jets looked on Sunday against a team many thought might contend for the Super Bowl, the Steelers should think they're the better team this weekend, because they probably are.
Even Wallace, who had a good but not great debut against Denver, didn't say anything a young confident receiver on any team wouldn't say. I'm not trying to make too much out of what's essentially nothing.
However (come on, you knew a "however" was coming)…
Pittsburgh looks far less dominant than some (read: I) expected. The defense is getting older and is already dealing with significant injuries to several key players. Ryan Clark missed the season opener for the Steelers and Peyton Manning certainly took advantage. While Clark is scheduled to play in Week 2, the Steelers have to anticipate a little rust until he gets up to game speed.
Clark will most likely line up next to Polamalu on Sunday. Polamalu is 31 years old, in his 10th season in the league, and is already nursing a calf injury that had him miss multiple practices this week. Polamalu is undoubtedly one of the best defenders of his generation, but at some point soon the guy will lose a step or two he can't get back; this lingering calf strain or another nagging injury may cause more trouble for the veteran safety than in years past.
Then there's James Harrison, who missed the season opener after surgery in August and told reporters as late as Thursday he was definitely going to play in Week 2 before admitting, "I've been known to lie."
It looks like Harrison was lying, or being overly optimistic, because the guy didn't even run during Thursday's practice session. Until he returns, the Steelers pass rush won't be the same, which puts pressure on the rest of the defense. That pressure, or a lackluster Week 1 performance, hasn't quelled the confidence from them, either:
"As a defense, we're always confident," Harrison's replacement Chris Carter told reporters this week. "I never get concerned about that. I practice with these guys every day so I see how they prepare, so I never really get concerned about confidence."
Confident or not, the thinner the defense gets, the more pressure that puts on the offense, including a talented, but very young, receiving corps. Talk all they want, both the offense and the defense for the Steelers have to be concerned with the way the season is starting.
Baltimore looks as good or better than they did last year. Denver, who beat Pittsburgh in the playoffs last season with the Jets' current backup quarterback playing the hero, certainly looks better than last year, and the Patriots and Texans, so far, look like they are both as good or better than we saw in 2011. What looks like a relatively easy schedule right now for Pittsburgh could get a lot more difficult if NFC East teams like Dallas and Washington play the way they did in Week 1 the whole year.
It feels a bit ridiculous to call a team's home opener "must-win," but for Pittsburgh to keep pace with the AFC elite this season, their first game in Heinz Field might fall into the "can't lose" category.
Until they win this weekend—which most people, even those outside the Pittsburgh locker room, think they will have no trouble doing—the Steelers would best be served to stop telling everyone how confident they are and make sure they play that way on Sunday.
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