*Was anyone really surprised that Ben didn't play in the first preseason game at Heinz field but did play at New York last week? I wasn't. In-fact, I'm going to predict that he will play a little in Denver this week and we won't see Big Ben again until his suspension is over. No way will he see the field on September 2nd against the Panthers. Why would the Steelers waste such a big story on a preseason game? I know the team is all about winning, but the build up of "how will the fans react to Ben" the week leading up to Roethlisberger's projected first game back against the Browns at Heinz field is just way too good to pass up. You put him in there for a few plays in the preseason and it won't have the same impact when it officially happens on October 17th. Think about it. The local people will all want their interviews. I can see Sally Wiggin getting another compelling exclusive with number 7. All the national types like Clayton and Boomer will want to have a sit-down with him. It will be great theater. And I think it's a pretty safe bet to save Ben for the regular season. He seems to have built up enough good will since April that they pretty much know how people will react. I'm sure there will be some boos, but it will mostly be positive.*It's a real shame that Ben will miss so much time because, boy, does he look sharp. I heard people rave about how well he looked in camp, and if his play against the Giants was any indication, he's in mid-season form. I know he threw that interception, but overall, he looked like the elite quarterback that he is.
*Speaking of quarterbacks, has there ever been a fan-base that has devalued the quarterback position as much as Steeler fans? Ever since I was a young kid, fans have always wanted the back up. I know this is the case in most towns, but Pittsburghers seem to go out of their way to heap a ton of praise on running backs and defense, and not give enough credit to the most important position in sports. When we had guys like Cliff Stoudt and Mark Malone under center, I could see this, but the fans even do it with Roethlisberger. I know so many people that were salivating at the prospect of getting rid of Ben for a 1st round draft pick or two. They couldn't wait to get him out of town. And even today, there is at least a small minority of people out there who would rather see Dennis Dixon lead this team. You know where Dixon would lead this team? Head on into the same playoff ceiling that every other Steelers quarterback not named Bradshaw or Roethlisberger ran into. Some fans don't even want to give him credit for Super Bowl XL because he didn't play very well. Well, guess what, Bradshaw did very little in Super Bowl IX. You might say that Terry made that big touchdown throw to seal the game, and you'd be correct, but Ben converted on 3rd and 28 to jump start the team and they never really looked back. Anyway, we waited over twenty years between Bradshaw and Ben, and whether you want to believe it or not, after Ben retires, we'll have to wait another generation or two to find someone else that special. He's an elite quarterback who deserves to be in the same class as Manning and Brady. So please, let's appreciate him while we can.
*That brings me to the running game. Steelers fans might devalue the quarterback slot, but they put WAY too much importance on the running game. I'm not saying running the ball isn't important. Yes, the Steelers really need to improve on their short yardage running game. Their failure to convert on 3rd or 4th and short has come back to bite them way too many times over the last few years. However, the way teams win in today's NFL isn't with ball-control offenses and grinding down the clock. It's by passing. The running game is important, but not like it was 20 years ago. You don't win championships with powerful running games and strong defenses anymore. You win by having a better quarterback than the other team. Plain and simple. Some teams have committed to the run and did it well enough to win and even get into the postseason, but in recent years, those teams eventually ran into opponents with better passing attacks and they fell short. That's what happened with the Ravens and Jets last year and that's what's been happening to teams since 2000 when the Ravens were essentially the last team to win a championship the "old fashioned" way. This is Ben's team and if we're going to see more parades around here in the near future, it's going to be, mainly, on his right arm.
*If the team is to improve its running attack, the degree of success will rest solely on how well the offensive line plays. This is no mystery, I know, but you'd be surprised how many people think the fullback is the answer. A fullback can help, but it's hard to even find a good one any more because the position is slowly being phased out. No, there haven't been many huge running lanes the last few years but that's because the offensive linemen aren't beating the people across from them. Is it any real coincidence that the running game started to suffer after guys like Faneca, Smith and Hartings left the team? It's all about talent and the Steelers haven't had a stud lineman since Faneca. I was watching a replay of Super Bowl XLIII recently and I was surprised at how much the Cardinals front 7 dominated the Steelers linemen. I mean, we're not talking about the '76 Steelers defense, it was the Arizona Cardinals. There weren't many running lanes and Ben was under siege way too much, that is, until the last 2 minutes of the game. You know why? Because the 2-minute drill is so hard to stop no matter how good any defense is, and it's almost impossible when it's led by an elite quarterback.
*Maybe Maurkice Pouncey can be that stud lineman the team has been missing. I've concentrated on watching his performances the first two games and, from what I could gather, he seems to not only be holding his own, but in a lot of cases, dominating his opponent. I've always said that every unit needs a stud and if Pouncey is that stud the team can plug into their line, it will make the entire unit better.
*Another thing I've noticed about my fellow Steelers fans is their willingness to excuse the defense way too much. If the unit blows a lead, often times, people cite poor field position after a crucial turnover or big returns on special teams as reasons why. I've even heard people blame the team's new emphasis on passing the ball as a reason why the defense struggled in '09. They were on the field too much and over-exposed because the offense wasn't taking enough time off the clock. Now, I'll grant you, the offense made way too many CRITICAL turnovers at key moments last year that really crippled the team, and the special teams play was just awful, but they blew 4th quarter leads in 5 of their 7 losses last year and that falls on the defense. An elite defense makes plays in critical moments. If you want to use key injuries to Troy and Aaron Smith as reasons, well, I'll give you that. But to blame the offense for the failures of a defense that was legendary in '08 is just ridiculous.
Ok, that's enough ranting for one day. I'm just glad that football is back!