Let me preface this article by saying that I am die-hard Steelers fan. Most of my articles praise Pittsburgh teams, with the exception of the Pirates, because there is little to praise. However, to this point in the season, I have been skeptical of this Steeler team.
But, the Steelers are 4-1, with a relative stranglehold on their division and many opportunities in what has become a wide-open AFC. They are also heading into a bye week with this record and are pretty banged up.
Here’s where the renewed respect comes in. While I am never a fair weather fan, I do notice little nuances and problems with the team’s progression. I lost a lot of faith at the end of last season when the Steelers lost to the Jaguars at the end of the regular season, and worse, lost at home to the same Jags team in the playoffs. That was a particularly huge blunder.
After that mess, I instantly circled this game as the defining moment for the Steelers 08/09 season. Note: I did this at the end of last year, when Philadelphia was still terrible, the Jaguars were the up-and-comers in the AFC, and Faneca was still a Steeler. Even with all those changes, including the Steelers loss to a quality Eagles team, this game against Jacksonville has to be a boost for this team.
There are 3 good reasons why the Steelers should feel good about this game:
1. Big Ben is coming into his own.
The Steelers sensation, bothered by a sore shoulder and a porous offensive line, still managed his highest passing total since 2006. He did it against an above average Jaguars secondary with a lot of help from Hines Ward, Nate Washington, and Heath Miller. He also proved he could win without a strong running game.
2. They got into their bye week, unscathed.
Roethlisberger, Parker, and Marvel Smith, among others, all need time to heal. The Steelers made it to their bye week with only one blemish. They still own their division and should come out of the gates roaring in Week 7.
With the three top teams from last year struggling to even top their respective divisions, the Steelers have the opportunity to become the elite in the AFC. They have to best the Titans at some point, but they still have games against members of their division, which they should not lose.
The Steelers are going through a bit of a transition period right now. Although they are still a strong team, it is going to be tough to contend with the NFC powerhouses in the Super Bowl. However, I suspect they will evolve and play better each week. And, personally, I would rather have them fighting for a playoff spot at the end so they don’t rest their players. That has done them in before, and I would hate to see it happen again.