Clearly, this season has been disappointing for Steeler fans. Here in Boston, the only consolation is that the Patriots aren't playing well. It's hard for Pats fans to rub things in when they're barely hanging on themselves. Although it's easy to focus on the negatives, I'm going to try to come up with ten reasons to be hopeful as we end this year and look forward to the next.
1. Rashard Mendenhall has run well and should be the answer to the running game woes that have plagued us in recent years. Mendenhall hasn't fumbled in weeks, and he runs with purpose. I do wish he'd stop spinning in circles all the time, but I think he will have a huge year next season.
2. Lamarr Woodley continues to improve. Last week, despite the horrendous play in general, Woodley stood out, particularly on one series where he made all three plays in a three and out.
3. Ben's skills continue to develop. I know this one can be debated, but Ben is doing things this year that he didn't do in years past. He looks off defenders well, goes through progressions, and has one of the best pump fakes in the league. Yes, he drives me crazy sometimes too, but I refuse to throw him under the bus. The guy is and always has been a winner.
4. Mike Wallace is for real. We've had many wide receiver draft picks not work out in the past. Does anyone remember Troy Edwards? And of course, we've all seen the disaster that is Limas Sweed, but Mike Wallace is more than just a fast guy. He "gets it." He runs good routes and can change the game. Can you imagine how good that receiving corp can be?
5. Heath Miller is becoming an elite tight end. Yes, I remember the recent drops, including the interception that bounced off his chest, but Miller is having a good year. He plays hard, blocks well, and is a weapon in the passing game.
6. The offensive line has gelled better this year. In the draft, we're going to need to address this area further, but despite the Steelers' woes and the horrendous game against the Browns, overall, the line has played better this year. It's easy to idealize the 08 season, but honestly, last year these guys couldn't open a hole to save their lives. Kemeoatu could be close to a pro bowl appearance. In fact, at midseason, Peter King of SI thought Kemeoatu should be voted to the All Pro team.
7. Daniel Sepulvada is much better than the punters that drove us all crazy last year. I know he's a punter, but I still don't think he's 100% after the knee injury last year. Next year, I expect him to be even better.
8. Dennis Dixon is ready to move up to number two. I'm a Big Ben fan, but I have to say, the Steelers played better against the Ravens than they have the last two weeks. Maybe it's time for a Dixon Wildcat package.
9. As long as Dick LeBeau is the Defensive Coordinator, the Steelers will be strong on that side of the ball. The guy is the best. He better get into the Hall of Fame this year.
10. This might be "doublethink," but it's a testimony to how great this franchise is that 6-7 is an utter disaster. There are franchises that dream of being 6-7 this time of year. For the Steelers, a year like this is a catastrophe because this organization is the best in sports. We need to remember that before we start screaming for Tomlin's resignation or demanding massive changes. Six of the seven losses have been in very close games. A bounce here or a break there, and this team is exactly where it was last year. This is not a bad team. It's a team that has not been playing to expectations, but I don't believe the doomsday screamers. We're going to have a good off season, a better chance to get playmakers in the draft, and then we're going to come back hungry and ready next season.