Justin K. Aller
Last week this time we were wondering whether a football team and a hurricane were for real. The answer was in the affirmative; fortunately in the case of the Steelers, also true, unfortunately concerning Sandy.
This week with a huge national election coming up and a big game with the world champions there is a good chance that by the next edition of the Checkdown we'll have a much better idea about the direction of both the country and the 2012 season.
This is shaping up to be a big game for all the right and wrong reasons. From a purely football perspective this will be one of, if not the biggest game of the week in the NFL. Two quality old line franchises with plenty of mutual respect, two franchise caliber quarterbacks drafted the same year and both with two Super Bowl rings to their credit, the defending world champion and a perennial playoff power, both playing well. What's not to like about this? On the other hand they are playing right in the midst of a situation that rivals and in many ways exceeds that of the aftermath of 9/11. Untold thousands of residents are likely to still be without power, gasoline, clean water, public transit links and perhaps most importantly, heat under late fall weather conditions. While I am sure that the preferred scenario will be to project an air of normalcy, if for no other reason as a morale boost for the region and maybe by extension the country, it is unlikely that New York Metro will be anything close to normal for quite some time. And in some respects things are likely to get worse on a lot of fronts before they get better. It is relevant to point this out on this venue because we should not be surprised if the context of this game impacts the contest itself.
The change in the travel pattern could have an effect on the Steelers, but the more likely concern would be that the Giants end up being distracted, inspired or some combination of both by the circumstances. Though less directly disruptive than Katrina was to the New Orleans Saints, the psyche of the community and by extension the team is being stressed. No matter how hard they try to block it out, both teams are likely to be reminded by the media, if no one else, the peculiar nature of the situation. Looking a bit further down the road the legacy of Sandy in combination with the upcoming election may very well be as big a game changer in terms of how climate change and other economic factors could disrupt patterns of life that we have taken for granted to this point (think of all the sports franchises that operate in coastal areas), and a serious rethinking of how resources are prioritized and distributed that might result in the sports entertainment industry falling far down the list.
As for the game itself, the Steeler line is that this is a challenge and an opportunity for a team in transition to test itself and possibly take a big step forward. A loss here would be disappointing of course but hardly fatal either competitively or psychologically to the team or even to the fragile disposition of Steeler Nation. A win could propel Pittsburgh into serious consideration for a playoff run, something that is being discussed in some quarters already.
The carousel continues to turn, though the rate of injuries has slowed. Nonetheless, Jonathan Dwyer is listed as doubtful for Sunday and may likely join Rashard Mendenhall in street clothes on the sidelines. Next up is Isaac Redman who is returning and will be joining Baron Batch and Chris Rainey as the available bodies for this game. It turns out that the team has needed every one of a running back corps that was thought to be overstocked by some when the team roster was set two months ago. And the group has been performing well. Continuing in the good news/bad news vein, Ryan Clark will be available but the safety position remains thin as Troy Polamalu is again ruled out for play. Also on the defensive side, LaMarr Woodley will participate this week. The offensive line is playing well. That is good news because no help would be forthcoming as Marcus Glibert is out and the anticipated return of first round draft pick David DeCastro looks to be delayed. With linebacker Stevenson Sylvester also out five players will be sidelined for this Sunday's game.
Getting into their heads
There are signs that the Steelers are beginning to forge a psychological advantage over some of their opponents. The interesting thing about this is that, if true, it is spearheaded by the offensive unit. Washington Redskin defensive back DeAngelo Hall experienced quite the meltdown during Sunday's game at Heinz Field. He has accused Steeler wide receiver Manny Sanders being a mean and dirty guy. It has been a big week for Sanders who is also under investigation for bad acting in the Steelers' victory over the Bengals the previous week. I am always amused when defensive players complain about being brutalized by wide receivers; an accusation that is pretty much unique to Pittsburgh and shows that the spirit of Hines Ward is still with us. In related news coming from a couple of hundred miles north on I-95, New York Giants defensive lineman Justin Tuck is expressing concern about the tactics of the Steelers offensive line. Think he might be a little unnerved by Willie Colon's mating rituals?
Alameda Ta'amu has returned after serving his team initiated suspension. In spite of pending legal issues and possible additional action taken by the league as well as much in the way of speculation and advice from members of the media and many fans, Ta'amu was neither released or traded. Damon Cromartie-Smith drew the short straw and was released to make room on the roster for the fourth round draft pick's return. No other moves were made by the team as the trade deadline came and went this Thursday. This should not be viewed as a surprise given that the Steelers rarely take this route to address their personnel needs. That fact continues to be ignored by some in the fan base who time and again harbor fantasies of some quick fix or stockpiling of draft choices for a player they deem expendable. They continue to be indifferent to the team culture.