As former Pittsburgh Steelers offensive lineman Tunch Ilkin said during an interview with maryrose here on BTSC, the NFL changes every four weeks. What he means, in my estimation at least, is that circumstances change so dynamically in this league that it's next to impossible to forecast too far out into the future. Injuries, the building/erosion of chemistry, changes in the weather, players returning from suspension(!) - these are just a few of the variables that can alter the trajectory of a team's season.
Last year, we saw the Steelers get off to a nice start, then self-destruct in the middle of the year, only to bounce back and finish strongly. What's in store for the next three-quarters of the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2010 season? Well, there's reasons to be optimistic that the team has yet to hit its stride, but who knows, perhaps the defense has already turned in its best performances of the season and will struggle for X, Y, or Z reason. We'll just have to wait and see. Can't wait.
Since we still have over a week before Ben Roethlisberger makes his season debut against the Cleveland Browns, let's look back at the first quarter of the season. Perfect timing really.
I will do a comprehensive team overview at some point, but let's begin with a bang and hand out our entirely unofficial and unimportant Quarter Pole Team MVP award:
Rashard Mendenhall - 89 carries, 411 yards, 4.6 yards/carry, 4 TDs.
Brett Keisel - 7 tackles, 1 sack, 1 INT (TD), 1 fumble recovery
Maurkice Pouncey - one of two offensive lineman (C. Kemoeatu) to start all four games.
Lawrence Timmons - 32 tackles (most on team), 1 sack, 1 forced fumble, 1 fumble recovery
James Harrison - 20 tackles, 3 sacks, 3 forced fumbles, 1 fumble recovery.
There's a case to be made for each of these four guys. While putting together the list, I wanted to make sure that there was at least one defensive lineman on the list, as the work of Brett Keisel/Aaron Smith/Casey Hampton is what allows the linebackers to rack up the stats and the glory. Aaron Smith has played great football, but because Keisel has the big 'splash' play during the win over Tennessee two Sundays ago, he gets the nod. I doubt Pouncey would receive too many votes after struggling for the first time in his career last Sunday against H. Ngata. But the Steelers offensive line has looked better collectively this season, and he's clearly a big reason why.
Really the race comes down to Mendy, Deebo and Timmons (do we not have a nickname for this guy?). All have played a huge role in the Steelers' solid start to the y ear. Mendenhall is on pace for a monster year; Timmons has been absolutely everywhere; and Harrison will find himself with a second Defensive Player of the Year award if he continues playing as he has to start the year.
For my money, I'm going with James Harrison. The guy is the most vicious , explosive and terrifyingly violent player in the National Football League (within the boundaries of what's allowed, mind you). I think he's also my favorite player not named Hines Ward wearing the black and gold. Harrison's ability to get underneath the pads of tackles as he tries to beat them around the edge is truly remarkable to watch. Gravity defying, really. How can someone so big and powerful also have a lightning-quick first step, top-shelf closing speed, and a motor that absolutely never slows down even for a play. Most weeks I catch myself saying to myself 'oh my god, I'm pretty sure James Harrison could literally end my life if I were targeted by him on a football field.'
Incredible production from Harrison through four games. He'll likely not keep the same pace in categories like forced fumbles, but he has finished each of the past three seasons with at least 5 forced fumbles. Remarkable. As for the sacks, I think Deebo picks up the pace in that department. He's been held repeatedly, come close to getting to the quarterback countless others, and later in the year, I can see him feasting against tired, banged-up down offensive tackles. That's perhaps more likely if rookies Jason Worilds and Stevenson Sylvester are rotated in a bit more at outside linebacker if at all possible in the forthcoming weeks and months.
Why am I talking about December and January? The NFL changes every four games. At the quarter pole, nobody in my opinion has played better football for the six-time Super Bowl champs than James Harrison.