There aren't too many teams who have struggled as much as the Pittsburgh Steelers in 2006. Tampa Bay is one of them though. The Bucs were optimistic about their football team heading into this season after last year's playoff berth. QB Chris Simms led his team to the playoffs with solid play down the stretch, then performed at a high level in the playoffs. Had his receivers caught some critical passes that hit their hands, the Bucs would have beaten the Washington Redskins and advanced deeper.
Chris Simms wasn't exactly lighting up the scoreboard before he got injured this year. He was struggling, Cadillac Williams wasn't nearly as productive as he was a year before, and the defense could only do so much to keep the team in games.
After Simms ruptured his spleen, rookie QB Bruce Gradkowski was forced into action long before he was ready. Gradkowski is actually a Pittsburgh product, and like Roethlisberger, enjoyed a successful career at Toledo in the MAC conference. Gradkowski hasn't been terrible for Jon Gruden: he's thrown 3 more TDs than INTs and is 3-5 as a starter. Not terrible for a rookie, but not good either. It's not all his fault though. The Tampa Bay running game has been awful this year.
The defense has been mediocre at best this year. They're allowing 22.9 pts a game in 2006, just a fraction fewer than the Steelers are at 23.1 points per game.
I think we're going to see one of two things happen tomorrow, and for that matter, the rest of the season: A) We're either going to play inspired, loose, relaxed football and finally play like the defending Super Bowl Champions, or B) We're going to feel sorry for ourselves and self-destruct.
Option B is very much a possibility, especially if Coach Cowher doesn't find a way to coach on the sidelines with his usual intensity. Is it just me, or have there been far too few "Let's Goooooooo!" with the jaw quivering from Bill this year.
I'm going with Option A however. I think our season-long SB hangover is finally going to come to end. Nobody's paying attention to us now. We're all but out of the playoffs, and I'm hoping we can find a way to play for pride and have something positive to build on for next year. There's one big problem though: we're pretty beat up . Hines Ward and Troy Polamalu will both miss this week's game, and most likely next week's contest as well. Our linebacking corps is battered and bruised as well. Joe Porter, Clark Haggans and James Harrison are all listed as probable. Also listed as probable are our center Jeff Hartings, our special teams specialist Sean Morey, and Big Ben.
Should Cowher start Roethlisberger after the beating he took last week in Baltimore? I think so, but this may be his last game of the season if he gets hammered again this week. I think we should give him every opportunity possible to get his confidence back mentally and mechanically. 4 or 5 wins to finish the season hopefully would carry over to 2007. That said, we don't want to jeopardize Ben's, and the team's, long-term future. Hopefully it will be a non-issue because the offensive line will improve dramatically and keep Big Ben off the ground. Our OL must have been embarassed by last week's performance. 9 sacks allowed by a line that sent three players to Honolulu last year? Are you kidding me? It's time for them to play for pride and get back to dominating the line of scrimmage.
If we're able to keep Big Ben protected, tackle Cadillac Williams well, and not give up any big plays on specail teams, we should win this one. We 'should' have won many more games this year though, so we'll see. At this point, it's pretty hard to predict how this team is going to play each week.
Here's hoping the Steelers give their faithful fans something to cheer about this weekend, and we get one step closer to getting back to .500
Steelers 24 Tampa Bay 13