The last six months for Pittsburgh Steelers fans have been a roller coaster ride, to say the least. Between the Ben Roethlisberger issues, then suspension, the Santonio Holmes issues, suspension, and subsequent trade to the New York Jets, the rumored Bruce Arians firing, then not firing, Art Rooney stating that the Steelers would be committed to successfully running the ball, the addition of many older players, including trading for TWO, that left via free agency only a year earlier.
This has been an offseason that is nothing like what Steelers fans are used to (does anyone else remember the days when we would hear nothing about the Steelers from the end of the last game until the training camp started?).
With all the chaos that has happened, Steelers fans were anxious to see what was going to happen once the players put the pads on and started playing teams that were wearing different colors than Black and Gold.
In the opening week of the pre-season, the Steelers hosted the Detroit Lions. The real questions here were not who is going to win the game, but more along the lines of who is going to step up while Ben Roethlisberger is serving his suspension?
The answer to that question was "we aren't sure." Byron Leftwich played a decent game, but Dennis Dixon played better against the back-ups, and people started calling for Dixon to at least have a chance to work with the first team.
In Week Two of the pre-season, Steelers fans wanted to see Ben Roethlisberger get some playing time. I believe that Mike Tomlin was convinced that Byron Leftwich would be the starter come Week One, so Big Ben got the start in New York against the Giants.
What did we learn? We learned that Ben Roethlisberger is still one of the best QB's in the league. We learned that Ike Taylor still has passion for the game, and we learned that the NFL has the right idea: to shorten the preseason to two games.
Week Three of the NFL Pre-Season is the "show me" game for many teams. It is what is considered the "dress rehersal" for the regular season. It is when teams play their starters more than any other game of the pre-season.
What did we learn from the game against the Broncos? Lets talk instead about what we didn't learn.
Correct me if I am wrong, but is there anyone reading this that does not believe that Dick LeBeau is one of the greatest minds in the NFL? Do you think he knows what he is doing?
Does anyone else think that, if the Steelers are going to be successful during Ben Roethlisberger's suspension, it is going to have to be lead by the defense?
Can you please then, answer this question for me: why would a genius like Dick LeBeau show the Falcons/Titans/Bucs/Ravens what he has in store for them?
OH, he wouldn't. He would run a vanilla defense, with very little blitzes and stunts.
But, what about Troy Polamalu? He didn't look like his old self?
No kidding? What happened last year when Polamalu was injured? The Steelers defense suffered. Why would Tomlin and LeBeau risk further injury to Troy? The only reason Troy was in the game was to get up to speed with the players.
Do you really think LeBeau spent countless hours and late nights preparing for a game against the Broncos that didn't count? No, don't be silly. The team probably didn't watch any film. There was no game plan.
But, Keenan Lewis got beat? No kidding. With no blitzes and the corners not playing the elaborate zones they will in the regular season, he was basically playing man-to-man in a scheme that left him alone on the island. What worries most people about the Keenan Lewis situation has me more encouraged than upset.
Did you see the fire in his eyes when he got beat? That is a sign of a player that is ready to play.
First off, I find it important to start this way. Ben Roethlisberger is the man. He is one of the top five QB's in the NFL. There is no replacing him. While Roethlisberger serves his suspension, the Steelers are not going to be as good a team without him.
Who is going to take Roethlisberger's place? No one. No one can. As Alan Shimel stated, if it is not Ben Roethlisberger, the person that is there is not going to lead the Steelers like Ben does. And, honestly, how can we expect him to?
Dennis Dixon is in his third year. Sure, at one point, he was believed to be a first round talent. But, unless the Steelers start really giving him first team reps at practice, he is never going to blossom into a starting caliber NFL QB.
Byron Leftwich? He is a serviceable option, but nowhere near the talent of Big Ben. Sure, he has a great arm, but he has no mobility. If Leftwich was so great, would Jacksonville, Atlanta, and Tampa Bay all have been willing to just let him go? I don't think so. He is a great back up, but that is all he will ever be.
Regardless of who gets the start, please don't expect him to be close to what Ben is.
One of my favorite comments on the articles is, "the offensive line sucks."
No kidding—when hasn't it? The last time the Steelers had a dominant offensive line was Marvell Smith, Alan Faneca, Jeff Hartings, Kendall Simmons, and Max Starks (yes, that same Max Starks so many of you can't stand).
What did I learn from the Steelers offensive line in the Broncos game? I learned that first round pick, Maurkice Pouncey is the real deal. Not because he did a good job at blocking, but because he understood the game and how to make the calls at the Center position. That is the only thing I got out of the game.
We know—and knew before the game—Hines Ward, Mike Wallace, and Heath Miller are going to be the main weapons for whomever is under center at the beginning of the season, and we are going to have to rely on them for offensive productions during the first quarter of the season.
I am not going to sit here for one second and act like special teams is not an area of concern for me. Over the last six months, I have woken up in the middle of the night numerous time, watching Josh Cribbs return kicks for 742 miles. Yes, I am concerned about special teams.
What did I learn about special teams against the Broncos? Simple. In the Denver air, the kick-offs should have all sailed into the end zone. Neither Jeff Reed or Dan Sepulveda were able to do so. That means our kick-team coverage is going to have their work cut out for them this year.
My solution? Let Sepulveda kick off. He may not get it into the end zone, but at least he is not afraid to make a tackle.
All of you that are concerned about the coverage units, save your time. Most of the players you saw on the coverage units are not even going to be on the team this time next week.
Well, why would they have them in there instead of the players that will be doing it in the game? Simple, they don't want the people that are going to make the team to get hurt in the pre-season covering kicks.
Fear not, Steelers Nation. The sky is not falling. The regular season starts a week from Sunday, when the Atlanta Falcons travel to Pittsburgh.
I cannot promise you the Steelers are going to crush the Falcons. I cannot promise you the defense will keep the Falcons out of the end zone. I cannot promise you Ben Roethlisberger's replacement will throw three scores, or even not get sacked. And I cannot promise you our special teams will be perfect.
What I can promise you is, once the regular season starts, the Steelers will be more focused, and they will look a lot more like the Steelers than the team that played the Broncos on Sunday night.