Are You Ready for Some Football Steelers' Fans? 11 Things We're Ready for in '11
After a lockout that made everyone sick, frenzied free agency and a tumultuous offseason for the tightest ship run in the NFL, the Pittsburgh Steelers are ready to open 2011 with their first preseason game on Friday.
Admittedly, this is a different year. The Steelers are in that awkward category of "teams who still look great on paper but lost the Super Bowl" that in recent memory has led to disappointment for a vast majority of the club. But this year features a talented young corps of receivers for the newly married Ben Roethlisberger to throw to.
The defense may be old, but its AARP membership is still on old while Baltimore looks as if theirs is in the mail. The AFC North looks weak with the Bumbling Bungles, a lost Cleveland team that more than likely shipped its defensive success away with Bob Ryan to Dallas, and a Baltimore team that decided it will trust their offense to T.J. Wheres-My-Hands-menzada and Boldin rather than proven veteran Todd Heap.
I already made my incredibly optimistic predictions for the Steelers when the schedule was released, and I see no reason to change it. However, success in an NFL season requires as much luck as skill.
There are, however, things that will never change, and looking at 2011, here are the 11 things that are guaranteed about Steelers football that fans cannot wait to do any longer.
1) Hines' Hits
Fresh off his win on "Dancing With the Stars," Hines was feeling pretty good. He had successfully proven Steelers fans love him and that, as always, the Steelers will always beat the Bengals (ahem, Ochocinco).
Then came the DUI arrest. I cannot say nor will I comment on this because frankly, a DUI seems tame nowadays, especially if no one was injured. Hines says he is not guilty, and if that is good enough for the Rooneys, it's good enough for me.
Regardless, that has to have left Hines just a little bit ticked. All the better, because that will only make his hits more enjoyable.
The fact that Ward hits like a linebacker is amazing and watching him do the tango just wasn't as fulfilling. The Steelers open against the Baltimore Ravens, a game sure to bring out the worst of all players.
I can't wait to see which Raven decides to make the first joke about Hines' dancing or DUI because I will give you 3-1 odds he ends up like Keith Rivers.
2) Troy's Jaw-Dropping Plays
The Bus plowing over Urlacher. Lambert pile-driving Cliff Harris. Every Hall-of-Famer has at least one clip that defines their career in five seconds. Troy Polamalu does this every time he is on the field.
Troy's sheer presence is proven in the wins and losses the Steelers rack up with and without No. 43, and last season, he did enough when healthy to win Defensive MVP honors in the NFL. Rumors and reports say he is still not quite 100 percent, but he has until Sept. 11 to heal.
When he is recovered, expect the unexpected. With the exposed weakness in the secondary, expect teams to throw more against the Steelers. Also expect more INT's from a healthy Troy. He is a playmaker and watching him in coverage is a thing of beauty.
As the clip shows, he is a freak when it comes to playing in the box as well.
Every season, the world is treated to the sheer brilliance and athleticism of the Tasmanian Devil. It's now time to just sit back and let our jaws drop.
3) Ben's Escape Acts
Love him or hate him, he's a two-time Super Bowl Champion who wins for the Black and Gold.
Ben Roethlisberger may end up as an even more controversial figure than Terry Bradshaw. Big Ben has said he wants the same number of rings, so why not possess the same amount of drama?
Regardless, watching Ben play is like watching that game of backyard football: Nothing looks planned, no one can tackle the biggest kid and he loves to chuck it deep. While Ben may be the most sacked quarterback since David Carr, he makes it work with his improvisational skills and blatant disregard for his own well being.
The offensive line surprised people last year, anchored in large part by rookie sensation Maurkice Pouncey. The Steelers did nothing to improve the line readily, ultimately releasing Max Starks and Flozell Adams, meaning Steeler nation is all praying lightning strikes twice.
All that means is Ben will be on his back again this year, but he also will be doing his best Houdini impression and bringing school-yard football back in style.
4) Booing Bruce
Maybe it's just me. Maybe I am the only one who cries out in fear, disgust and complete confusion when the Steelers come out in a four wide set on 3rd-and-1. Maybe I am the only one who doesn't understand the strategy of running a single-back spread formation on the goal line.
See when these things happen, as they always will during the season, I know to direct my boos not at Mike Tomlin, but rather Bruce Arians, the offensive coordinator trying to move the Steelers to the spread or West Coast system.
I get that it works. I get that can win games. I get that Ben wants to throw the ball to Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown as far as he can. It's just not Steelers football.
The only reason I look forward to this weekly dose of bewilderment is because it generally leads to Ben breaking down the play and doing something different anyways. Rashard Mendenhall can run the ball far better than he can tweet and has another 1,000 yard season in him.
So will the Steelers run on 3rd-and-goal? Probably not. And I'll get to unleash my pent up frustration on my favorite scapegoat once more.
5) Bowing Down to LeBeau
The mastermind. The Hall-of-Famer. A Pittsburgh Steeler legend. Dick LeBeau is one of those Steelers who will always be remembered and revered, even if he never wore the Black and Gold.
Last season, the defensive players especially responded well to his induction into Canton and many, like myself, thought it would be poetic justice to see LeBeau triumph over a former assistant in the Super Bowl. Alas, this did not happen, but LeBeau surprised some skeptics and returned for yet another year as coach.
Privately, I hope LeBeau becomes like JoePa, eternally bound to the sidelines regardless of age or injury. Because the Zone Blitz needs him now more than ever. The Steelers defense is getting older and cannot simply dominate on talent alone.
Enter LeBeau's zone blitz schemes and game-planning mastery. The Steelers defense will continue to be dominant, and week after week, it will be this man who is responsible for masterminding defensive win after win.
6) "It Is What It Is"
It's easy to tell Mike Tomlin graduated from a school like the College of William and Mary. He speaks just as much football as he does diplomat, and always seems to be able to say nothing yet appease the media frenzy that surrounds Pittsburgh football.
Just about every post-game and Tuesday press conference will feature Tomlin's patented "It is what it is" line, surrounding everything from wins to injuries. Ask what he thought of the officiating? "It is what it is." What about Ben's performance? "It is what it is." What did you think of your pre-game meal? "It is was it is."
Tomlin is a great coach. The players respect him, the management respect him, and after his second Super Bowl appearance, it's safe to say his peers respect him. He's the perfect mix of Cowher's fire and fury and Noll's strategy and psychological warfare.
He is who he is, and that's just fine with me.
7) Harrison's Fines
Over/under is now set at $150,000 for James Harrison this season. Seriously. He did everything he could not to win the congeniality award in the NFL, from ripping his own teammates to Court Marshal Goodell.
Harrison plays physical and he won't change for anyone. Mike Tomlin admitted he won't try to change it either. His style is simple: bull rush and simply overpower the offensive line with superior strength and angles and pummel the quarterback upon arrival.
It is an effective method, leading to superb numbers the past few years and a Defensive MVP award. It also means he gets held a good portion of the time. In an understandable, yet frustrating method to maintain competitive balance, referees let linemen hold Harrison unless it is a "too obvious not to call" penalty.
Not good simply because it ticks Harrison more than life itself. He just plays harder, meaning more hits, more flags, more anger, etc.
With this past offseason hopefully in the rear view mirror, there is a more than likely chance Harrison is targeted again by Goodell and the infractions committee and who's to say Harrison just kills every quarterback with a nothing to lose mentality?
Alright so that is a bit extreme, but Steeler fans know James plays hard and works harder to get stronger and better as a player, something that is scaring zebras and quarterbacks everywhere.
This is a tradition I hope the Steelers keep for a long long time. The first time I went to a Steelers game and witnessed the magic, the hype, the crowd, I got chills. I still do every time I see these videos.
Steelers players say they have it on their iPods. Styx is now a Pittsburgh favorite. The Steelers made a montage of their all-time defense to this song. If you don't know the lore of this song, here is a quick refresher.
You can tell when they've played this song when you watch on TV. Just wait until you return from a TV timeout and Heinz Field just got about 10 times louder and the Terrible Towels are waving like a playoff game. From Dallas to San Diego, no one has survived the magic this song works on the Steel Curtain.
9) Limas Sweed
Why am I looking forward to seeing a player with hands built of stone whose only major contribution was a Hines Ward style block on Todd Heap? Because Limas Sweed is like the kid you optimistically hope can do well even if he time and time proves he can't.
Sweed has major potential. He came out of Texas with rave reviews and a suspect wrist. Turns out they must have glued his gloves in college because Limas can't catch a cold from Ben, Batch or Leftwich. Twice in the playoffs, he streaked wide open down the sidelines with his speed, only to drop a what would have been two game-sealing touchdowns.
This season is Limas' last shot. The Steelers, specifically Ben, would love to have a tall receiver to target in the end zone and throw jump balls to when in need of a spark. Sweed has shown he can get open easily in games and can catch in the preseason. He just needs to mentally ready himself for that big moment.
I honestly feel if he makes just one big catch in a meaningful NFL game for a score, a sleeping giant will have been awoken and the Steelers Air Raid may be one of the most dangerous in NFL with the maturation of Mike Wallace. Sweed just needs to hold on to the bleeping ball.
10) Winning the Defensive MVP Award
Already in this slideshow, I have mentioned two NFL Defensive MVP's within the Steelers. In the four seasons Mike Tomlin has coached, two players have been named the recipient of this award seemingly made for a Steeler player.
Even if a Steeler did not win the award, he was in consideration. James Harrison has always put up the numbers to be in the conversation, same with Troy Polamalu when healthy. Last year, an inspired second half to the season threw LaMarr Woodley into the mix.
The question is simply: Who will be the Steeler in contention this year?
Obviously Troy and James will be candidates. My pick is with LaMarr Woodley, the second highest paid player in franchise history. He definitely shows the potential to improve and become even better, a scary thought for a player who has had just as many sacks and more interceptions than his infamous counterpart at the position.
11) Beating Cleveland
The Cleveland Tourist Video says it all.
Cleveland is like the Pittsburgh Pirates of football: Years of bad decisions have left the organization grasping at the concept of a winner, let alone assembling one. Mike Holmgren and his new regime are attempting to end this tradition, but the season outlook looks bleak for the Brownies.
Their defense was by far their strength, and so they ship their coordinator Bob Ryan down to Dallas. They hire an offensive-minded coach who wants to instill a new offense the year the lockout hits. Peyton Hillis will be hit by the Madden Curse. Colt McCoy shows promise, if only he had someone to throw to. Joshua Cribbs is a playmaker trapped in a system with 10 other play killers.
This rivalry has really lost meaning unless Cleveland wins, and then it is the equivalent of a Super Bowl win for the Browns. Otherwise, Pittsburgh fans love the game because it is almost a guaranteed win, an exhibition of defensive dominance and an Air Attack led by the spurned quarterback who wanted to play for his home state team.
Under Mike Tomlin, the Steelers are 7-1, outscoring Cleveland 215-80. Bring on the fresh meat, Blitzburgh and the rest of Steeler Nation is ready to feast.