It's been too long
They hit a buzzsaw in Week 1 at Baltimore. They had to take on the return of Peyton Manning in primetime in 2012. Last year, The Injury Bowl loss to Tennessee. It has simply been too long since the Steelers blended health and talent in a game they're favored to win in the season-opener. Before 2011, it had been nine years since this team lost its season-opening game. Throw out the rhetoric about how all 16 games matter. As true as that may be, this team has seen what can happen after a Week 1 loss - especially since the league decided to send them to Baltimore for the second-straight year on a short week (which is absolute garbage). There can be no mistakes in this game. As Le'Veon Bell said, it really is a must-win and that level of intensity should be expected.
Ben at his best
Look back and find a year when Ben Roethlisberger had equal amounts of experience within the offense, continuity along its offensive line, talent in the backfield and on the edges and the level of blocking ability from the tight end positions. You won't find one. Ben has the keys to his own contract extension, and if he really is upset over the extensions given this offseason to Colin Kaepernick and Andy Dalton (not saying he is), he can take it out on any opponent he faces, starting today with the Cleveland Browns.
Speaking of that offensive line
One under-reported aspect of this preseason was the surprisingly few amount of negative carries from Bell when he was behind the first unit. The line, especially in terms of run-blocking, looks vastly improved from where it was last year - a truly remarkable job done by offensive line coach Mike Munchak. Cleveland presents a formidable challenge up front, and it will be a battle, but the combined fluidity of the blocking and the surging talent of Bell makes this feel like a strong ground game. Give Ben that kind of support and watch him thrive.
Watch what happens with explosive athletic ability
The Steelers defense appeared to take a step back in preseason action, particularly in a tough loss against Philadelphia, but clearly a more motivated group stepped onto the field against Carolina the following week. It's not about the level of competition, it's simply about execution. Much was made (by us included) over the revamped level of athleticism among the Steelers' defense, but the return of Brett Keisel and his technical supremacy saw immediate dividends in the form of the most productive game ever from Jarvis Jones (yes, it was in preseason). When the Steelers' defenders have the chance to flow to the ball, they make plays. Now, getting the real athletes of this defense - Troy Polamalu, Ryan Shazier, Lawrence Timmons, Mike Mitchell and Cameron Heyward - into the right places becomes a little easier. When they are, they're going to be a tough unit to stop.