Pittsburgh Steelers Preseason: The Offensive Line and 4 Things We Know so Far
The Pittsburgh Steelers are entering a strange season in their franchise's history after losing the Super Bowl for just the second time in eight opportunities.
Pittsburgh is noted for coming up short in Super Bowl defense seasons, especially in the Ben Roethlisberger/Troy Polamalu era. Whenever they are overlooked, however, they seem to perform best.
This will be a season in the middle, as they are neither overlooked nor defending a championship.
Here are five things we think we know entering 2011.
The Steelers Are Hungry
The Pittsburgh Steelers have come up empty in two Super Bowl defense seasons in the Ben Roethlisberger/Troy Polamalu era, missing the playoffs both times. Thus, there has been some question as to which Steelers team would come out in 2011.
Will it be the one content to read its own press and overlook inferior opponents (like the 2009 team that fell to the Cleveland Browns and Oakland Raiders) or the one determined to beat down any other Super Bowl favorite in its path?
After hearing about a slew of veterans entering camp in the preseason in the best shape of their lives and seeing that talk backed up by the destruction of the Philadelphia Eagles, it looks like it will be the latter.
Admittedly, the Steelers laid a dud in the preseason opener against the Washington Redskins. Then Ben Roethlisberger put an end to that and lit up the Eagles and their "Dream Team" secondary, going 8-for-12 with 125 yards and two touchdowns.
Rashard Mendenhall looked ready for the regular season as well, as he contributed 45 total yards on eight touches. Isaac Redman and the rejuvenated (see: whipped into shape for fear of being cut) Jonathan Dwyer produced as power runners as well.
And the defense? Yeah, they forced five turnovers against the explosive, Michael Vick-led offense.
Speaking of that pesky D...
The Defense Will Be the Best in the League, Again
Roethlisberger was not the only one to have his say as the Pittsburgh Steelers' top-ranked defense looked in Super Bowl form in spite of missing starting cornerbacks Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden. Troy Polamalu and the rest of the D forced Vick and the Eagles into four interceptions and five total turnovers.
Even if it was only a preseason game, the Steelers are unlikely to face an offense with more playmakers than the Eagles' Vick, DeSean Jackson, LeSean McCoy and Ronnie Brown.
The defense handled that unit easily.
Even more enticing to Steelers fans is that the much-maligned secondary. Again, without its starting duo, the defensive backfield helped combine for seven pass defenses to go with those five turnovers.
Third-year third-round pick Keenan Lewis had an interception, broke up another pass attempt and came up strong in run defense with eight tackles. Finally, it looks like one of the youngsters is ready to wrestle the nickel spot away from the incumbent veteran, William Gay.
Expect a Big Season from Big Ben
Ben Roethlisberger had 3,200 yards passing in just 12 games in 2010. Project that over a full season and he eclipses 4,000 yards for the second time in his career.
Roethlisberger will be playing with the most complete receiving corps of his eight-year career. Mike Wallace seems destined for stardom while Hines Ward is still one of the game's great route-runners and has some of the league's softest hands.
The second-year duo of Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown impressed last season and seem poised to build on their rookie years. The team also added Jerricho Cotchery, who led the team in receiving yards and added a touchdown in his first action away from the New York Jets.
Add those elements together and we could be looking at a 4,000-yard, 30-touchdown season from Roethlisberger.
Mike Wallace Will Have a Breakout Year
For the second straight season, Pittsburgh Steelers game-breaking receiver Mike Wallace was one of the game's premier deep threats. In 2010, Wallace’s blinding speed translated to an average of 21 yards per catch with 10 touchdowns.
Wallace has made route-running the focus of his offseason, and he could not have a better mentor than Hines Ward. If you combine the savvy Ward’s ability to find the cracks in a defense with Wallace’s ability, maybe his goal of 2,000 receiving yards is not quite as crazy as it sounds.
"its official I'm following the best wideout in the game mike Wallace"
The Steelers Offensive Line Is the Achilles Heel
For a team with some of the NFL’s most explosive playmakers on both sides of the ball, the Pittsburgh Steelers are leaving a lot up to chance with the offensive line.
After two weeks of leaving Steelers fans (and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger) in excruciating pain, management seems to finally have come to grips with the situation.
The team brought back veteran guard/tackle Trai Essex on Monday night. Essex was the Steelers’ starting right guard in 2009 and opened 2010 there before losing the job due to an ankle injury in Week 2. Ramon Foster started the majority of the season from there.
Pittsburgh has huge question marks at right guard and left tackle, so it is unclear at this point where the team sees Essex playing.
For the record, it was left tackle Jonathan Scott’s knee injury that triggered the signing of Essex.
The re-signing of Essex, a borderline starter, is not going to be enough to fix a Steelers offensive line that has seen Roethlisberger get hit eight times in 17 pass plays and sacked twice in two preseason games. Neither the Redskins nor the Eagles are noted in their ability to get to the quarterback.
Mercifully, the team seems ready to explore the notion of bringing back 36-year-old tackle Flozell Adams, according to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The team took a flyer on Adams in the preseason last summer, and he performed admirably at right tackle all the way through the Super Bowl.
With Willie Colon, noted as the team’s best linemen, set to return after a ruptured Achilles ended his 2010 campaign before it started, the Steelers could depend on Adams to move over and protect Roethlisberger’s blind side.
“The Hotel” played left tackle his entire career in Dallas before joining the Steelers. He has played all 16 games in every regular season but one.
The team also released last season's starting left tackle, Max Starks, but there has been no evidence as of yet to support any idea of the team bringing him back.
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