Lots of questions arose this offseason about the Pittsburgh Steelers. Will the offensive line protect Ben? How do you replace Alan Faneca? Is Willie Parker back to form? Can the defense return to top perform with injuries to Troy Polamalu, Aaron Smith, and Ryan Clark? How can the Steelers perform against the toughest schedule in the NFL?
The answer to all those questions are: yes. The Pittsburgh Steelers came out and dominated the Houston Texans today.
Big Ben made the plays he is supposed to make as the leader of the Steelers. He threw two touchdowns and made plays look easy.
The offensive line deserves credit too. The only two sacks of the day came on heavy blitzes. Hope remains that the offensive line can manage and protect Ben all the way to the Super Bowl.
The answer to Alan Faneca? Chris Kemoeatu. He came in a flat out dominated in the run game against Mario Williams, Anthony Weaver, and both Houston defensive tackles. He has some issues in pass protection, but so did Alan Faneca.
Willie Parker truly showed that he is special in the steel city. He continued his legacy of having great opening days: today he ran for 138 yards with 3 touchdowns, already breaking his touchdown mark of last year. Further more, Rashard Mendenhall looked like the 1st round pick the Steelers envisioned. He managed 28 yards on 10 carries. Not a pretty yards per average, but he gave Parker rest, one of the rookie's most important jobs this season. The Steelers have a special backfield.
It is pretty safe to say that this defense is back to top form. The defensive line, compromised of Casey Hampton, Aaron Smith, and Brett Keisel shut down the run game with help from the two best outside line backers the Steelers have had in a while. Both former Probowler James Harrison and new starter Lamarr Woodley just dominated their men. Harrison ended the day with 8 tackles(6 solo, 2 assisted), 3 sacks, and a forced fumble. Woodley had a great day managing 3 tackles(all solo), a sack, an interception, and a fumble recovery. The other linebackers, James Farrior, Lawrence Timmons and Larry Foote, also shut down the running game and held the Texans to only 139 yards through three quarters*. This linebacker corp along with this stout defensive line can really cause pressure the Steelers have not seen since the mid 90's. The secondary also held the Texans passing attack to under 150 yards in the first three quarters*. This defense looked dominate during the time the starters were in the game.
There is no doubt that the Steelers play some of the toughest teams. However, the schedule, as difficult as it may be, is just a schedule. The Steelers travel to Cleveland next week, who got torched on the defensive side of the ball. Also, their explosive offense was limited to only 10 points. Dallas dominated them. In the same fashion, the Steelers should also do the same. Parker and Ben should eat their defense alive. My belief is that they will do this twice this season.
They also face the other divisional foes, the Bengals and the Ravens. The Bengals were absolutely terrible today. Carson Palmer was held to only 75 passing yards without a touchdown. No Bengal had a good day and they were held to only 65 yards rushing. Meanwhile, the Raven offense struggled often, only getting touchdowns off Joe Flacco's escape from pressure and a triple reverse to wide receiver Mark Clayton. Pittsburgh's defense should be able to limit these offenses to similar stats.
Pittsburgh's schedule also got easier now that they will not face Tom Brady come Week 13. Rumor has it that Brady is out for the year. Well, that takes the risk out of the New England Patriots, even with elite wide receivers Randy Moss and Wes Welker.
The other teams consist of the Philadelphia Eagles, Jacksonville Jaguars, Indianapolis Colts, San Diego Chargers, Dallas Cowboys, Washington Redskins, and the defending Super Bowl champions New York Giants. The Redskins struggled mightily against a strong defense. The Jaguars running game was shut down by the Titans. The Titans ran hard, but might be without Vince Young, not to mention the lack of receivers that team has. The Steelers can duplicate these games with their strong defense and the offense they demonstrated today. One more thing: the Steelers always do better as underdogs.
Expect big things this year from an under looked franchise. Hope burns bright in the steel city tonight.