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The 2010 NFL Season is FINALLY here.
It is exciting, because at this point, there is optimism in every city across the NFL. All of the teams are in first place. It's 0-0 across the board.
Some teams come into the 2010 season with lofty expectations, with anything less than the Playoffs unacceptable.
Other teams, the perennial doormats, are hoping for respectability. They look to make a push to the playoffs, and shock the world.
Then there are the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Normally, anything short of a playoff appearance is unacceptable for Steelers Nation. ESPECIALLY after missing the playoffs the year before. ESPECIALLY after winning the Super Bowl the year before that.
Without the suspension to Ben Roethlisberger, the Steelers would probably be favored to win the AFC North, or at least compete for a Wild Card birth. Due to the fact that Roethlisberger will be missing for the first four games, many people are counting the Steelers out.
Regardless, there are four games the Steelers are going to have without Roethlisberger. Here are the 10 things for Steelers fans to look for against the Atlanta Falcons.
Since the suspension of Ben Roethlisberger, and subsequent trade for Byron Leftwich, the biggest talk in Pittsburgh is, who would be the starter come Week 1?
The debate raged on through preseason, with Mike Tomlin having the question answered for him, when Byron Leftwich sprained his MCL, and lost for 2-4 weeks during the fourth preseason game.
Dixon will get the start, much to the delight of most of Steelers Nation. Steelers fans have wanted to see exactly how good Dixon would be able to be, once he had the chance to showcase his skills.
The 2009 Steelers running game in short yardage situations was unacceptable. There were many games that the Steelers lost as a result of it.
It was so bad that even Art Rooney II, stated that the Steelers will be recommitted to making the running game work.
The real question now is, the Falcons know this, and they are to be certain to put 8-9 men in the box, to force the Steelers to pass? Probably.
What are the Steelers going to do, to counter? It will be something to watch for.
After spending a year on the Steelers practice squad, Isaac "Red Zone" Redman is going to be the short yardage back the Steelers have been looking for since the retirement of Jerome Bettis.
Mike Tomlin stated on post-gazette.com, that Redman has a specific role with the Steelers, and that will be short yardage.
Will Red Zone fill the shoes that Jerome Bettis once left?
IF the Steelers are forced to put the ball in the air, how good are the Steelers receivers going to be?
There is little question that Hines Ward is one of the best in the NFL, but at age 34, he is not the young man he once was. He is getting up in age, and the younger guys are going to have to step up.
Will Mike Wallace be able to fill the shoes of Santonio Holmes? He has done a respectable job in the preseason, and looks like he is nearing the level Holmes was already.
The real question is, will either Emmanuel Sanders or Antonio Brown step up to fill the shoes Mike Wallace had last year?
Almost half of the Steelers offensive line has been replaced since last season. This is not necessarily a bad thing, when most people believe that the offensive line is the biggest weakness of the team.
There are two players that were starting for the Steelers, that will not be a part of the teams success in 2010.
In the first instance, first round draft choice, Maurkice Pouncey will take over for Justin Hartwig. Hartwig was not able to save his job, and hold off the rookie.
Flozell Adams will replace Willie Colon, which could go a way toward an improved running game. Adams is better than Colon at the running game, and if he adapts well enough to the right side, which he seems to be doing, will make it worth the money they are paying him.
One of the biggest questions for the Steelers against the Falcons, how will Bruce Arians call the game?
Unlike most games, when you are starting a player for the first (or second) time, you are going to have to play to his strengths. Arians is going to have to allow Dennis Dixon to play the way that he can play the best, but at the same time, he has to mix the game plan up enough to keep the Falcons from knowing what is happening.
Will Arians be able to make the adjustments?
In the Steelers opening game of 2009, during the first half, Troy Polamalu looked like he could be the best player in the NFL. Breaking up passes, making tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and interception that was one of the best plays of the year.
And he did it all in less than one half.
When Polamalu was lost for the season, the Steelers defense suffered more than anyone had expected. They were ranked 16th against the pass, after being the top defense against the pass the year before.
If Polamalu can return to form, you can expect big things out of the Steelers defense in 2010.
One of the most important things we will learn out of the Falcons game is, the health of Troy Polamalu.
When the Steelers drafted Ziggy Hood in the first round of the 2009 NFL Draft, he was not expected to contribute right away. Much to the surprise of many, as the season went on, Hood earned some playing time, and played well.
Hood had a great training camp, but a slow preseason. Some people think Hood is not ready to step up as and earn his time on the line, while others believe it was the basic game plan that kept Hood from playing great.
Either way, first round draft picks are expected to play well in their second season, and this is the time for Ziggy Hood to shine.
Will he be able to?
It became clear during the 2009 season, that James Farrior was no longer playing at an elite level. Maybe it was because of the injury to Aaron Smith in front of him, or possibly the injury to Troy Polamalu behind hi.
Either way, James Farrior showed that even though he is still an animal on running plays, he is now a liability in pass coverage. Lawrence Timmons is going to be the obvious choice on third downs, but what about second?
Against the Falcons, and Michael Turner, we will see if James Farrior is capable of covering running backs out of the back field anymore?
After dominating the passing game in 2008, the Steelers secondary fell to the middle of the road in 2009. The result was the Super Bowl Victory in 2008 as opposed to missing the playoffs in 2009.
Maybe it was because Bryant McFadden had left for the Arizona Cardinals. Maybe it was because Troy Polamalu was out most of the year with a knee injury.
Either way, both of those issues have been resolved, and the Steelers will receive their first test against Matt Ryan of the Falcons.
Can the Steelers shut down the passing attack of the Falcons?
The 2008 Pittsburgh Steelers special teams were anything but special. Jeff Reed was Franchised, paying him the average of the top five kickers in the NFL, and is not happy. How someone could be paid in the top five in the league at his position, and can not be happy is beyond me.
The kick off units MUST be better than they were in the past. The punt return units have to be better.
Stefan Logan, who was supposed to be a return specialist showed that he was not capable of breaking a big run in any game, ending the season with as many scores ad I had, 0.
The Steelers drafted many players that would be able to come in and contribute on Special teams, including Jason Worilds, Thaddeus Gibson, and Stevensen Sylvester. All three, who will some day be active members of the defense, will need to step up, and make the Steelers special teams better.
Can the rookie class improve the Steelers special teams?
OK, that was 11. The last one was extra credit I guess.
Take this challenge, answer the questions, and check back on Monday for the recap of how the Steelers answered these questions against the Atlanta Falcons.
If you want credit for being right, you have to answer in the comments.
Who ever gets the most right, wins a free year on Bleacher,