The one theme that kept resurfacing in my mind while wondering how the Steelers' 2007 schedule fall was: I sure hope we get off to a good start.
I thought our poor start caused us, and Big Ben in particular, to press a bit last year. We too often got away from the running game, as if that would somehow get us back on track more quickly. It didn't, and Roeth (he has now admitted so himself) pressed even more.
Now, of course, we start 2007 with a new set of questions and uncertainties, not to mention a new coaching staff. Can we run the ball more consistenly than we did in 2006, despite Willie Parker busting out for several monster games last year? Will Chukky Okobi and Sean Mahan fill the void left by Hartings' retirement? What about Troy Polamalu and the rest of the secondary? Will he be healthy and ready to be dominant again this year?
As important as these questions are, the biggest of course is whether Big Ben can return to form and not make the mistakes he did in 2006? Remember, Roethlisberger rarely had monster games statistically in our 15-1 and Super Bowl seasons. Take our 34-7 win over the Titans in Week 1 of 2005 for example. Ben threw the ball only 11 times that day, completing 9 of his attempts for over 200 yards and 2 TDs. How about during the 23-20 loss to NE a few weeks later? He did throw the ball 28 times that day, a decent number of attempts, but nevertheless far fewer than Brady's 41 attempts. Parker got 17 carries that day, even though there was clearly not going to be much room to run that day against the Pats D. Considering we were struggling to run the bal that day, the 28 seems reasonable. Too often in 2006 Ben would have 30+ or 35+ attempts in games where we couldn't run the ball effectively. I think the point is that our solid start engrained quickly in our heads what our strenghts and what our limitations were early on in the season. And for the most part, we stuck with that gameplan throughout the course of the 2005 season, until the playoffs, when we confused defenses with our pass-first mentality.
A 4-1 or 5-0 start would go a long ways towards helping this team find and commit to an identity on both offense and defense. There's no time for tinkering in the middle, and especially the later parts of our schedule; it's just too tough.