Baseball season isn't over in Pittsburgh, an odd thing for the Pirates in August over the past 20 years. They are still in the thick of things, and the playoffs are within their reach. Their great play has overshadowed for the first time in recent memory the start of the Steelers season. Football never takes a backseat to baseball in Pittsburgh, so with the start of the season, focus will undoubtedly shift over to the Steelers, at least on Sundays. With that, I read a great preview of the Steelers 2013 season over at Sean's Ramblings, a blog I read regularly and enjoy. Check it out!
There are a lot of young guys on the Steelers team this year who could make an impact. Jarvis Jones, the first round draft pick linebacker, had all of the makings of a big play defender, much like the guy he is likely replacing, James Harrison. He seems to be in the middle of the increase in turnovers in the preseason. Troy Polomalu is looking like the Troy of old, and will make last year's #1 defense just as strong. The secondary has been a strength for this team, especially at safety. Ryan Clark has played well, as has CB Ike Taylor. If Cortez Allen can lock down the other corner, the Steelers will be hard to pass against. The defensive line is going to have to be the difference maker, though, with Casey Hampton, the Nose Tackle for most of the past decade, now gone. Hood and Heyward need to play better, and Woods and Ta'Amu need to clog the middle. Pressure on the QB is the key on passing downs. I expect the run defense to be solid. Outside linebacker LaMar Woodley could make all the difference if he plays like he's capable and gets to the QB. Jason Worilds, too, will have to get pressure on the QB, or he could be out of a job. Timmons and Foots will be solid in the middle.
The offense has a lot of question marks, particularly on the offensive line. It is very young and not very deep, but keeping Ben upright is a task they need to succeed at. The passing game looks solid so far in the preseason, as Antonio Brown looks like the guy that was so impressive two seasons ago, and Sanders has to be up to being the #2 guy. Cotchery, the veteran, is solid, but could be replaced by rookie Markus Wheaton, who has looked really good. Derek Moye looks good, too, though he has played mainly against backups and rookies. Tight End is going to be important, more for the the running game than the passing game. Heath Miller is a question mark on returning from the devastating injury from last season, though it's hopeful he'll be back sooner than later. TE David Paulson has looked good as a receiver, but he's not the blocker that Miller is. TE David Johnson will be back, and that's a huge positive. The running backs are battling injuries, and that makes the Steeler's offense look questionable. Rookie Le'Veon Bell was expected to take over as the starter, but a foot injury has kept him from playing more than a few snaps this preseason, and LaRod Stephens-Howling, who looked so good in the first preseason game, is also injured. There may be a running-back-by-committee for awhile, with Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer, along with recently acquired Felix Jones, leading the way. The Steelers should again have solid Quarterback play from Ben Roethlisberger, who is hitting his prime and looks to be healthy after being injured much of the past two seasons. He looked very comfortable in the new Todd Haley offense for much of last year, and will likely be improved for this year. But it's the health of the team that will either push them back into the playoffs or derail their season again. Let's hope for the former.
As for my own prediction on the Steelers, I'm torn between reality and hopefulness. I expect the Steelers to be competitive every year, but they have so many question marks leading into this season that it's hard for me to be too hopeful. Reality is probably 9-7 and perhaps a playoff berth. Hopefulness is more like 11-5, and maybe a division win. A lot depends on their health and, really, just how good the Ravens and Bengals aim to be. If either struggles, and I can see the Ravens having a Super Bowl hangover that seems to haunt many teams after winning the Big Game, that may open the door for the Steelers.
Wins and losses don't mean anything in the preseason, but the Steelers, at 0-3, do not look like they have played very well, and that's a concern. It would be a bad omen if they're out of it before the Pirates finish playing, but Pittsburgh might be satisfied with that. A winning baseball season is big news. I'm guessing football is still king, though, and the fans will be expecting good things out of the Steelers. I'm one of them.
Have a great evening, everyone!