Steelers' 2009 Season: Opponents Hard To Judge without Tested QBs

Mimi McCannCorrespondent IJune 16, 2009

TAMPA, FL - JANUARY 31: Matt Cassel (L) and  Brady Quinn listen to ID Coach inventor Isaac Daniel at the launch of the Isaac Daniel, ID Coach at the Sheraton Riverwalk on January 31, 2009 in Tampa, Florida. The ID Coach system allows coaches to communicate plays to players without using hand signals or audio transmitters. Play calls are transmitted using a military grade encrypted wireless link from the coaches Personal Remote Terminal (PRT) to the assigned player on the field who recieves the play on the ID Coach wristband.  (Photo by Chris McGrath/Getty Images for EAG Sports Management)

Last season watching the Steelers, I frequently took solace in the progress of the 1974 Steelers and their dubious journey toward their first Lombardi. The fledgling team had been reinforced by a draft that history would prove to be legendary. Pittsburgh's defense meanwhile was gaining a reputation for being among the nastiest in the league.

Yet as criticism mounted against the offense of the 2008 Steelers, I would remind myself that in 1974, the Steelers had no quarterback.  

Following training camp, Terry Bradshaw was named the No. 2 quarterback behind Joe Gilliam. This quarterback controversy continued throughout the season with both Gilliam and Terry Hanratty starting after Bradshaw regained the starting job only to find himself on the bench once again.

Bradshaw was eventually handed the keys to the offense and he did not relinquish them until after he had brought four Lombardi trophies to Pittsburgh.

Bradshaw's stammering crawl toward greatness starkly contrasted Ben Roethlisberger's decorated rookie season with yet both quarterbacks hoisted Lombardis and are heroes in Pittsburgh.

The list could be expended to include more Steeler quarterbacks. We have a much longer lists of names we would care to forget. Most of them were overestimated, precious few were undervalued.

In a few short months, we will have real football to watch and analyze.  

The Steelers have been given the distinction of statistically having one of the easiest schedules in the league.

Looking through the teams slated to play the champs, I see a large group of teams that have one thing in common. They all have the job of assessing the level of their talent at quarterback. Some have not decided on a starting QB, some have a new QB, and among a few of the solid starters, there is the annual tension swarming around their leader.

I counted four opponents with a quarterback that should start for the first season in their system: The Bears, The Vikings, The Broncos, and the The Chiefs.

Not all of those teams are automatically weak, some of these squads like the Bears and the Chiefs are approaching the season with a new optimism and should not be disregarded by any team.

I don't like feigned respect for teams like the consideration shown by the undefeated Patriots to the win less Dolphins in 2007, but some of the Steeler's 2009 opponents have a legitimate unknown under center.

Add to the list the quarterback battles that will be determined in camp. Cleveland, Minnesota, Detroit, and Oakland will see guys duke it out to grab the coveted role of starting quarterback.

Finally, there are units with a solid starter that may have to battle some peripheral issues that could send a discordant echo throughout the locker room.

The yearly spectacle that unfolds in Cincinnati between Carson Palmer and Chad Ochocinco may get even more bizarre once Oucho moves in, and lives with with Palmer and a "Perfect Strangers," Balki-like buddy hilarity ensues. The Brett Favre melodrama reverberations live on in Week 15 opponent, Green Bay (not to mention week seven's Minnesota). Even Vince Young murmurings pop up from time to time about how he should be a starting QB either for week one opponent Tennessee or someone else who deserves his talent.

The Ravens and the Dolphins look pretty solid at the quarterback position, though I myself am not quite sold on Chad Pennington. Many people are also putting Joe Flacco on the hot seat calling his rookie year a possible fluke, though I suspect that he may have some substance.

That leaves Philip Rivers with the Chargers. Rivers has proven that he can win at QB and provided he's healthy, he can get the job done.

A few months before camp, and we have a big pile of unknowns. Teams can be a bit like Rubik's cubes; a few twists here, and turns there, and you have stumbled upon solutions that have proved to be elusive.

The Steelers look to be a pretty tough team next year. I am however happy to see the advise that Coach Tomlin left for his team: Focus on your physical conditioning. Once the squad is fighting fit, unknown variables are less of an issue.

No matter who is quarterbacking these other teams this autumn, the Steelers have Roethlisberger, and he's won more Super Bowls than all 16 guys combined. 


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