Let's finalize our pregame coverage of tonight's opener against the Dolphins with what I see as the five big keys to the game>
1)Above all else, I want to see if our offensive line's mediocre play in the preseason will carry over into the regular season. I know that it was the second-team that had the most problems, but there was some shoddy play as well amongst the first stringers. We're going to have to dominate up front to keep their potentially dangerous offense off the field, to take some pressure off Batch with the running game, and to give Batch enough time to make some routine throws.
2)How will our trio of strong safetys (Ryan Clark, Tyrone Carter, and Anthony Smith) do tonight? All three will see the field, and I'm guessing Mularky will avoid throwing to Polamalu's side too much. We're going to need force a turnover or two to win this one, maybe one of these guys will make a play.
3)Life without Jerome Bettis begins tonight. I don't think there are leadership issues on this team, but let's see who, besides Joey Porter, will show some swagger tonight. Also, Willie Parker now has a whole season as 'the man' to help ease the sting of no longer having future HOF running back Jerome Bettis. I'm entirely confident he's going to be special this year.
4)Our pass rush this preseason was terrible. Can we find a way to get to Culpepper? Can we make him take a few hits, force him out of the pocket on that un-tested and surgically repaired knee? Can we keep their offense out of sync and force Daunte to make ill-advises throws into traffic? Dick LeBeau's zone-blitz schemes are a thing of beauty, and I have no doubt we'll find a way to get to Culpepper.
5)It wouldn't hurt if we won the special teams battle tonight. Chris Gardocki won the punting duties; time for him to prove why tonight. I hate to preach field position, but tonight without Ben and a healthy Hines, it's going to be a factor. Who's going to make a play on kick and punt coverage? Anthony Smith? Wedge-buster Lee Vickers?
Is it game time yet? Damn, I'm getting antsy.