In every journey of personal growth and self improvement there lies the danger of forgetting everything one does well by concentrating all our efforts on the one or two areas we are striving to improve on. Nothing wrong with wanting better if you truly value what you already have. In other words, stop trying to fix what isn't broken.
If the Steelers are going to end their current two year playoff drought, and become honest to goodness contenders once again, they are going to have to remember who and what made them special in the first place. No need to reinvent the wheel, just make sure it is rolling in the right direction.
Sometimes the right answer is the most obvious one.
Comment boards are filled everyday with well meaning suggestions from the Steelers multitude of faithful followers. We all have the Steelers’ best interest at heart, because of our love for the franchise. But in the end, all that matters is the truth, and it's up to the Steelers themselves to know what that is. The Steelers have to be honest with themselves about who they really are.
Contrary to popular belief, the Steelers don't have to run the ball more frequently. They just have to run it more efficiently and effectively when they do. This year’s roster doesn't have the personnel to suddenly become a power running team. The whole ‘run the ball to set up the pass’ suggestions look great on paper, but they are not practical if you don't have the players to pull it off.
Run the ball, dominate the time of possession, and let your rapidly improving defense put you in favorable field positions regularly sounds great in theory, but you have to get first downs to make that plan achievable. The Steelers have a solid, but in no way spectacular, stable of running backs. The offensive line, as currently constructed, is a finesse line, better suited for pass blocking than imposing their will in the running game. This offensive line was built with their future Hall of Fame quarterback in mind.
This year’s fourth round selection of powerhouse guard Kevin Dotson leads me to believe the Steelers are looking to improve their power across the line in the near future, but that will be down the road and the Steelers have to live in the here and now. It would be great if the Steelers could effectively run the football right off the bat this season, and take some of the pressure off Ben Roethlisberger as he attempts to get back in the swing of things, but that could prove easier said than done.
Roethlisberger, like most prolific quarterbacks, likes to throw the ball early in games to develop a rhythm and get his timing down. Early in Roethlisberger’s career, the Steelers were a dominate running team that controlled the time of possession behind the rugged running game of Jerome Bettis and company, but often struggled to put points on the scoreboard because they repeatedly stalled out in the red zone. Roethlisberger rarely threw the ball early in many games due to the coaches sticking with the running game, thus never getting into a rhythm, and the Steelers played far too many close games with lesser opponents as a result.
Maybe the mere presence of No. 7 under center will illicit enough respect from opposing defenses to prevent the stacked boxes witnessed last season that made running the ball a nearly impossible endeavor. That would be nice, but I fear that won't automatically be the case right out of the gate. The more probable scenario is that opposing defensive coordinators will want to see what Roethlisberger has left in the tank and therefore test his resolve. See how he reacts to some overload blitzes and getting knocked on his behind a few times, penalties be damned. Trust me, if you don't think the Baltimore Ravens plan to do just that, you don't know the Ravens.
This is where the Steelers have to know who they are, and not try to outsmart themselves. The Steelers fortunes begin and end with Roethlisberger, and they must game plan accordingly. Based on their actions during free agency and the draft, I believe they are fully aware of this reality.
Ben Roethlisberger and an impressive group of receiving targets are the Steelers’ bread and butter, their meal ticket to another championship opportunity. Kevin Colbert has added multiple weapons to the Steelers’ arsenal with that reality in mind. It will be up to Randy Fichtner, and to a lesser degree Matt Canada, to work with their future Hall of Fame quarterback and company to formulate the best plan of attack moving forward.
Honesty is always the best policy. That would be a good place to start.