10 Reasons The Pittsburgh Steelers Could Go 4-0 Without Big Ben
Coming into the 2010 NFL season, the Pittsburgh Steelers had some questions to answer, and what the team would do in the absence of Big Ben Roethlisberger was on the top of that list.
After a second straight offseason full of off-the-field turmoil courtesy of their “franchise quarterback,” the Steelers found themselves with more on-the-field controversy to go with it.
After a drawn-out quarterback battle that seemed to be decided before it started, the Steelers lost presumed starter Byron Leftwich prior to Week 1.
The injury gave Dennis Dixon the job by default. With a young, inexperienced quarterback under center, a rookie center at that, the Steelers could afford little room for error.
The room for error shrinks even more in Week 2 with the key losses of nose tackle Casey Hampton and starting left tackle Max Starks.
But for everything the Steelers have lost or had taken from them early on, there are still reasons to believe they could run the table in the absence of their franchise quarterback.
Here are 10 reasons could end up 4-0 when Roethlisberger returns in Week 6 of the NFL Season…
1. Team Unity
The Steelers biggest problem last season was not the lack of running game, the weak offensive line, or the loss of Pro Bowl-caliber players like Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith on the defensive side of the ball.
It was the cracks in the foundation of the team.
The foundation of a team, any team, is their unity. When your foundation has cracks in it, eventually the structure falls apart, and the cracks in team unity in Pittsburgh last season caused them to fall apart.
Division breeds contempt and apathy within a team, and it spreads like cancer in a locker room, looming heavily in the atmosphere.
It’s nice to unleash hell, or say you are going to, but in order for that threat to become reality your troops had better be on the same page and willing to lay it all on the line for the same cause.
Last season, the Steelers locker issues between a so-called leader like Roethlisberger and Hines Ward drove a wedge in the team that became evident in their overall attitude and play on the field.
This season seems to have brought a new sense of team, and the absence of the team’s starting quarterback has brought an “us against the world mentality” that has been present in both of Pittsburgh’s recent Super Bowl teams.
This new sense of unity could prove to be the intangible key to the Steelers' early success.
2. True Leadership
There is a difference between “team leaders” and true leadership.
One can be little more than a title and ceremonial garbage. A “team leader” can often be a player or coach who is deemed a leader because of past reputation, playing ability, or even their playing position.
True leadership, on the other hand, has little to do with calling heads or tails at the 50-yard line, and everything to do with instilling an unwavering determination that never says die.
A player or coach that leads with not only his words, but also his actions on and off the field, and expects everyone else around him to come up to that level.
The Steelers seem to be finally getting the type of leadership they have been lacking since guys like Joey Porter and Jerome Bettis left town.
You can argue till you’re blue in the face, but the Steelers made a positive decision choosing not to elect Ben Roethlisberger as their captain this season.
While he is going to come back, and will most likely play as well as he ever has, the team is beginning to take personal leadership into their own hands.
A guy who puts himself over the team and its well-being,is going to lose the team. I'm not saying Roethlisberger has lost his team, but they have made it clear; if you're not going to be here to lead us for a whole season, you're not going to lead us.
Teams that come together with this type of resolve are tough to beat. Whether they are short handed personnel-wise or not, teams that come together with a new sense of character and determination usually find a way to win despite the circumstances surrounding them.
3. Commitment to Offensive Balance
The Steelers have fallen away from offensive balance in recent years.
Now before you go thinking that this is going to be a diatribe on the way Bruce Arians calls plays, and how he has transformed the Steelers’ offense into some variation of the Indianapolis Colts’ throw-first, run-later aerial attack on the NFL, hold your horses (no pun intended).
While the Steelers have become a pass-first offense for the most part, they tend to try to take the air out of the ball once they get into the red zone.
The Steelers have been great at moving the ball between the 20’s through the air, but quite unsuccessful at trying to run the ball in close quarters.
The complete change of offense tempo and rhythm has often caused stalled drives and resulting field goals.
With Roethlisberger out of the lineup, the Steelers are going to have to concentrate on involving the running game on a much larger level in order to help Dennis Dixon in his progression as a quarterback.
The commitment to offensive balance in Roethlisberger’s absence will allow the Steelers to have a similar rhythm inside the red zone as they do coming down the field.
The consistency and balance of the offense should take away the stalling effect that has been a recurring theme in recent seasons, and force opposing defenses to at least respect the possibility of a run at any time.
4. Team Defense
If there was ever a more blatant reason the Steelers have a chance to go 4-0 without Roethlisberger, it is undoubtedly their defense.
Even with Casey Hampton out of the lineup for at least this week vs. Tennessee, the Steelers defense is capable of shutting down the best of running games.
They will have to prove it in Week 2 against the Titans, but so long as key people are able to stay healthy, the Steelers offense should rarely need more than 17 points to win a game.
5. Skill Position Strength
Even with the departure of wide receiver Santonio Holmes, the Pittsburgh Steelers are still quite strong at the skill positions.
Tight end Heath Miller is a matchup problem for just about everyone. Whether he is blocking or acting as a receiver, his height, size, and strength make him a valuable asset for a young quarterback like Dennis Dixon.
The wide receiving corps, while missing last season’s leading receiver, is still one of the better groups in the league.
With the undoubted offensive leader in Roethlisberger’s absence being Hines Ward, second-year receiver Mike Wallace is fast becoming one of the best young receiver in the NFL.
With the great mix of grit (Ward) and unparalleled speed (Wallace) in the starting lineup, and the additions of wily veterans like Antwaan Randle El and Arnaz Battle, and rookies Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, the Steelers are capable of stretching the field.
While the Steelers are not as deep as many would like at running back, Rashard Mendenhall is starting to show why the Steelers passed on Chris Johnson and went with him two years ago in the first round of the draft.
Count the emergence of Isaac Redman as a capable short yardage back, and Mewelde Moore as a solid contributor in third-down situations, and it becomes easier to see why the Steelers still have the possibility of running the table during Big Ben’s suspension.
6. Depth at Quarterback
Have no fear, Steelers fans, releasing Byron Leftwich was a roster move to enable the Steelers to add an extra active player to the roster because of injuries.
Leftwich was not going to play this week no matter what. Removing him from the roster sweetened the financial pot for him when they resign him after Sunday’s game, and his injury assures that no other team will claim his rights in the meantime.
The fearless nature of the Steelers in making such a roster move shows just how much faith they have in their depth at the position.
Charlie Batch is the No. 2 guy under Dixon as he was last week. Batch would and could be the same on just about any team in the NFL.
The simple fact that the Steelers have three quarterbacks capable of stepping in and leading the first-team offense emboldens them to do things most teams would not without their starting quarterback in uniform.
7. Added Focus
Losing a vital member of your team tends to heighten the awareness and strengthen the focus of remaining players.
A well-coached team will take what could be added pressure to make up for the loss with sharper play. The Steelers for the most part seem to have found that focus in Big Ben’s absence.
The hostile environment will force the makeshift group of offensive linemen and their young, inexperienced quarterback to focus harder on the fundamentals of the game in order to successfully navigate the noise.
If Dixon and the offensive line can sustain what they did last week and raise the level of play beyond it, the Steelers have an excellent chance of going into Nashville and leaving with a win.
8. Dennis Dixon’s Mobility
While he showed little to none of it in Week 1 against the Atlanta Falcons, Dennis Dixon is one of the more mobile quarterbacks in the NFL.
His ability move outside the pocket and make plays with his feet enable the Steelers’ offense yet another weapon to make use of in Roethlisberger’s absence.
Byron Leftwich’s injury may have been a blessing in disguise for the Steelers offense.
While Dixon did little by way of moving around or overall rushing yards in Week 1, he did create time and keep drives alive at least twice in situations Leftwich would not have been able to.
As he is getting more comfortable running the offense, look to see Dixon’s mobility become more of a factor.
That type of mobility behind an offensive line that is becoming increasingly depleted by injuries that will enable the Steelers to win football games against teams like Tennessee and Baltimore that love to bring pressure.
9. Better Ball and Clock Control
We’ve already mentioned the recommitment to offensive balance and Dixon’s mobility, what has yet to be mentioned is the inevitable results of the successful execution of these areas.
If the Steelers offense is able to employ their ground game in the ways necessary for them to survive without Roethlisberger, better ball and clock control is inevitably sure to follow.
While the Steelers high-powered passing attack has been effective in recent years they have often lost games due to their inability to control the ball for long lengths of time.
Under Dixon, the Steelers are being forced to establish the run game. The early establishment of the ground attack will enable the black and gold to control the tempo and clock early and often.
Keeping the opposing offense off the field will not only strengthen the defense, it will also shorten the game significantly.
10. Daniel Sepulveda
Think it’s unusual to see a punter on a list of reasons why a team can win?
Well you really shouldn’t be surprised.
Sepulveda very well could be the deciding factor in close games like the ones the Steelers seem to be destined to play against over the next few weeks.
There is definitely something to be said for having a big-legged punter that can not only get the ball downfield an extra 10 yards, but can also be accurate enough to pin a team deep in their own end of the field several times a game.
There is no secret that the offense is going to sputter at times with a young quarterback feeling his way through his first few consecutive starts.
Having a punter who invokes complete confidence in his abilities on every fourth and punting situation enables you to take a few more chances in play calling than you would with a lesser talent at the position.
Sepulveda’s big, accurate leg very well could be the deciding factor in one of the next few games, and from what he has shown in the last year, it is hard to bet against the prior results.
The Wrap Up
While the Steelers are far from being guaranteed a 4-0 record without their starting quarterback, there are certainly reasons to believe that they could at least make a legitimate go of it.
At this point you have to like the place the Steelers are in in terms of mentality of play and from a leadership standpoint.
If they are able to stay sharp in terms of the mental and fundamental aspects of the game, there is no reason the Steelers can’t put themselves in position to be at the top of their division when Roethlisberger returns in Week 6.