The season kicked off the with the sound of ruptured and torn ligaments accompanied by the nose diving confidence and good will of the faithful. One who was briefly and surprisingly banished returns to the fold. Pittsburgh travels down to that other stadium along the Ohio River for a nationally televised match up. For the first time in perhaps a very long time no one really knows what to expect.
Wow. It looked so promising just a week ago. The Steelers weren't 100 percent healthy, no one in this league is, but it was certainly trending better than it had in several years. It couldn't be as bad as it was last year. No, now it looks to be worse Yes, the team lost, but that wasn't the really bad news. Three key contributors were lost for the season. The only good news being that the injuries happened early enough that there is a good chance they will be available for the season opener next year.
Center Maurkice Pouncey damaged multiple knee ligaments as, in some weird act of karma, David DeCastro channeled Marcus Gilbert and took out Pouncey much as Gilbert had taken him out a year earlier. If the pattern continues we can expect Pouncey to take out Ramon Foster next year. Maybe what the offensive line needs is an exorcist.
LaRod Stephens-Howlings also succumbed to a knee injury and is also lost for the year. Besides being deprived of his promise as a running back and a returner, I never had the opportunity to be able to make multiple referrals to him as LASH.
The normally resilient Larry Foote was lost to a ruptured bicep.
In the less daunting but still-we-don't-need-any-more-of-this-crap department, Cortez Allen suffered a sprained ankle that could keep him out of Monday's game, and kicker Shaun Suisham (the damn kicker!) suffered a hamstring injury of sufficient severity that the team was compelled to bring in some insurance from off the waiver wire.
Any help coming? The
return debut of running back Le'Veon Bell continues to recede toward some distant horizon, like October, as does the return of Heath Miller. Plaxico Burress was musing this week as to whether he will ever play again. None of this would be good news during the best of times, but for a team this young and this thin... Could someone find that Browns fan (Purple or Orange) with the voodoo doll and tell them to cut it out. Its all very sad.
And did I mention that the Steelers lost the game?
One man's misfortune...
If you're into those uplifting human interest type stories of underdogs getting opportunities and second chances then welcome to Pittsburgh. One thing is certain about Monday night; you will see names and faces of guys playing prominent roles for the Steelers that you never heard of, or at least wouldn't associate with the Steelers, as recently as three, even two weeks ago. Fernando Velasco, Shayne Graham, Zoltan Mesko, Felix Jones. Kion Wilson will be starting at inside linebacker and helping to run the defense. Slash Beachum is likely to be logging in a lot of time at tight end. At some point the tragic yields to the absurd. We may not have reached that point yet, but we appear to be traveling in that direction at high speed. Personally, I'm beginning to see how this may be strangely liberating. It seems unfair and a little crazy to place the expectations of winning a seventh Lombardi Trophy on the inexperienced shoulders of Kion Wilson (though some of sickos in Steelers Nation will do just that). Yet for all that has happened the team has lost no ground in the division. Neither excessive hope or despair is appropriate at the moment.
In the meantime we are entertained by Velasco, who had never seen a Lombardi in person being confronted by six when he first arrived at team headquarters, or Mesko growing up wearing Steelers gear in Browns territory, or Wilson working as an insurance adjuster in the wake of Hurricane Sandy. This is going to be different. What an interesting ride this could turn out to be.
And the good news
Lost in the debris of the weekend were some encouraging developments. Easily the football high point of the weekend for me was when Jarvis Jones exploded and nailed Chris Johnson in the backfield. Jones' day was good enough that he has been elevated to starter for the game against the Bengals. A very close second in the football high department was the play of Troy Polamalu who demonstrated in no uncertain terms that the news of his decline is decidedly premature. William Gay managed to frustrate his legion of critics by playing well, thereby blunting, for a week at least, the movement to have him summarily executed. Shamarko Thomas was reportedly a little discombobulated when he found himself thrown into the fire so soon, but according to Dick LeBeau, acquitted himself well.
In examining LeBeau's general comments about the defense you may notice a not so subtle shift in expectation and perspective. When speaking of Thomas and Kion Wilson the idea of gradual development has given way to idea that all must be prepared to function as starters at any time. Steadily developing your craft and waiting your turn, both a necessity and luxury when the Steelers were a deep, veteran championship squad has been subordinated to a 'the future is now' orientation.
Another piece of good news is that the Steelers weren't the only AFC North team to lay an egg on the first week. Looking at the big picture this all amounts to not so much a loss of ground, but an opportunity lost. The question we will need to follow going forward is whether or not some or all of the division regains their mojo over the coming weeks, or will the decline of the AFC North be one of the surprise stories of the season.
Unfortunately, coming as no surprise to anyone familiar with psyche of many in Steelers Nation, the search for the guilty and the indiscriminate persecution of the many is off to an early start this season. Of course there is no shortage of targets in this exercise. Everything from the intestinal fortitude of the players to discernment of the front office has been fair game. But the trophy for chief scapegoat would have to go to offensive coordinator Todd Haley whose alleged crimes are so heinous that some apparently have been driven back into the arms of Bruce Arians.
The defense didn't play poorly enough to revive conversation about putting LeBeau out to pasture...yet. The groundwork was being laid with references to giving up too many yards on the ground and a lack of turnovers. This is important work because if the offense turns around at any moment this will force the critics into a corner where they run the risk of finding themselves with little to condemn, a nightmare scenario. The ability to seamlessly pivot from offense to defense is essential to applying consistent pressure over the course of a long sixteen game season.
Things wouldn't be complete without the head coach being part of the mix. Lack of preparation/anticipation seems to be the main theme here. A strange accusation to level at a man who allegedly nailed his interview precisely because of his anticipation and attention to detail as it related to preparation. Can these two views be reconciled?
What you can anticipate and what you can actually prepare for are two different things. Given the limitations imposed by everything from roster size to financial considerations an organization will be forced to choose what scenarios they will prepare for and those that they are left to hope won't develop. Take for example the revival of the Legursky controversy. Given current events the argument is why did the team let Legursky walk and then keep the likes of Whimper. Well, Whimper can play tackle, no matter how imperfectly, while Legs really can't do that at all. Whimper is probably no worse than Legs at playing guard. Hombre and others are right in saying that Legursky is better suited for the current scenario than any of the current roster's backups. But its perhaps the only scenario where that would be the case. Leg's utility is directly related to the relative health of Pouncey and pretty much no one else. The argument that Pouncey has been injured in the past fails on two counts. The general notion that the past equals the future is something considerably less than ironclad, and Pouncey's previous injuries weren't this severe. Given the injury history of this unit, the limited number or reserves that could be selected for a 53 man roster and all the possible permutations is it hard not to see where the team's management might come to view Legursky as a luxury they could not afford?
As for me, I explore whether our focus on the problems of the Steelers diverts from some league wide issues that have manifestations in Pittsburgh, but are not unique to the Steelers.
But for the most heart felt and level headed response to week one we yield to resident sage Homer J.
The big question here is what will be the effect of the abandonment and rapid reconciliation of Dwyer on his performance, work habits and general outlook throughout the rest of the year. We should know quickly what Dwyer's capabilities and limitations as effect by character are, and whether he would be worth it as a future investment.
Hall of Fame
The nominations are out for this year's class and several with Steelers ties are featured here.
Have a good weekend. Keep the blood pressure medicine and the anti depressants nearby just in case.
More from Behind the Steel Curtain:
- Steelers vs. Bengals Week 2: Everything we know
- Wilson to start, expect another roster move Sunday
- Steelers Injury Report: Allen, Miller out vs. Bengals
- Jarvis Jones is mentally prepared for his first start
- James Harrison sacked Ben Roethlisberger four times in college
- Steve Young says Ben is stuck in the middle of the Steelers' transition
- 5 Questions with Cincy Jungle in advance of the Steelers at Bengals game in Week 2
- Report: Fernando Velasco will start at center for Steelers in Week 2
- What worries you the most about the Steelers Week 2 game against the Cincinnati Bengals?