What an interesting trip this season has become. Just when you think you've got a handle on where things are trending it seems to go to the opposite extreme. Playing the Giants in New York post Sandy, not good. They win solidly. KC at home, we got this. Barely win in overtime. Cleveland, piece of cake. Disaster. Ravens in Baltimore, well let's see if we can just preserve our dignity. Big win. Chargers? No problem. Big problem. Dallas. What next? Before we start to scrutinize the mysteries of the 2012 season, let's begin with I think all would agree to be some good news.
Dan Rooney returns
After four years serving as the United States Ambassador to Ireland, chairman emeritus Dan Rooney resigned and is returning to the Pittsburgh. This move has been anticipated for quite some time with Steelers President Art Rooney II indicating this past spring that his father would be returning to the team in some capacity sometime this year. With another owner in a different context an ambassadorship would have seemed an unserious thing to do, a ceremonial perk of some kind. By all accounts Rooney brought and garnered the same level of respect for which he has been known as a leader in the NFL and the Pittsburgh community. Mr. Rooney wrote a farewell opinion piece in the Irish Times. It is currently unclear in what capacity that Dan Rooney will serve with the team as he returns, can anyone doubt that the effect will be welcome and stabilizing. There is also some speculation as to what role he might play on a league wide basis. His wisdom and leadership would certainly constitute a significant upgrade at that level as well. Regardless, it will be great to have him back.
Two of the most successful (in the Super Bowl era) and popular franchises in all of sports renew acquaintances this weekend as the Steelers travel to Dallas to take on the Cowboys in the last regularly scheduled away game of the season. Some have argued, reasonably, that this is a rivalry that has lost its luster due a lack of match ups in recent years as well as the nearly two decades span of competitive irrelevance by the Cowboys. On the other hand the two teams enjoy the largest and arguably the most passionate fan bases in the NFL. The historical record is significant and impressive. They account for 16 Super Bowl appearances, nearly a third of the total, with three of those appearances being matched against each other. Together they have 11 Lombardis, close to a quarter of all championships. Each has been declared the dominant team of a decade (Pittsburgh, the 70s; Dallas, the 90s). With both teams still in playoff contention in combination with their standing popularity, CBS stands to make out quite well with the broadcast of this game. Given the uneven play of both teams and significant injury issues on both sides what is likely to actually transpire on the field seems to be something of a mystery.
On one level it really isn't relevant who the opponent is this week for the Steelers. They still control their playoff destiny, but to continue to do so requires that they think in terms of winning out. And while there is enough inherent drama with cares of the current season to make this an interesting and intriguing match up, your enjoyment may well be enhanced with a historical perspective. Our own Hombre de Acero has a fine, comprehensive piece on the Dallas/Pittsburgh rivalry, complete with a Renagade video at his Steel Curtain Rising blog.
Of course, what preview of a Steelers game in the 2012 season be complete without a nauseatingly comprehensive injury report. This week we add Willie Colon and Cortez Allen to the ranks of the afflicted, joining Mike Adams and Ike Taylor. LaMarr Woodley, David DeCastro and Byron Leftwich are slated to return. For how long, who knows? The injury situation with the Cowboys is no better, perhaps even worse. But I am frankly beyond the point where I would feel sorry for any other teams injury status.
I guess I could have included Mendenhall among the injured, as in had his feelings hurt. The running back will be serving a one game suspension for conduct detrimental to the team. That would be, specifically, not showing up for last Sunday's game against the Chargers. This was a move that fails the how to win friends and influence people test, and it is given his impending contract situation it is difficult to imagine a scenario where he would be returning to the team next year. Jonathan Dwyer and Isaac Redman continue to hold down the primary responsibilities at running back, while Baron Batch is the immediate beneficiary of the suspension, earning a helmet for Sunday's game.
Roster moves and other issues
David Gilreath returned to the practice squad, as did Derek Moye as the roster shuffling continues in response to injuries and suspensions. Byron Leftwich returns to the lineup but his position on the depth chart has changed as Charlie Batch remains in the number two position. Though it is late in the season for everyone else, 1st round draft pick David DeCastro is understandably excited about getting his first extended game action after recovering from an injury suffered in the preseason.
Ben and Brett
Ben Roethllisberger and Brett Keisel were named team captains this season and both were vocal during the week concerning the disappointing performance against San Diego. Keisel's comment were considered the more controversial since many chose to interpret them as a criticism of the coaching staff as he implied that the team was not ready to play. Tomlin surprised some by agreeing with the critique. Ben called out his offensive teammates both during the Chargers game and in prepartion for this week's game with Dallas. Reports mentioned that in previous years Ben would have deferred to older veterans such as HInes Ward or Jerome Bettis to be vocal leaders. The two captains along with other veterans such as Larry Foote and Ryan Clark will have their work cut out for them as they attempt to shepard this team through what is certainly now the most crucial part of their season.