In a recent phone call to the reclusive seer and mystic, Nostradamus, incredibly, stuck to his pre-season prognostication of the Steelers going 14-2 this season, that despite the fact that the Black & Gold have already lost two games! That would mean that the boys would simply have to finish the season's final ten games at 10-0. What a daunting task!
Nostradamus pointed out to me that the Steelers' final ten opponents currently have a combined won/lost record of 31-27. Of course, that's barely above .500. In addition, only four of those teams currently have a winning record: They would be this week's challenge, Minnesota, the Broncos, Bengals and Packers. The Steelers, according to Nostradamus, need not fear any football team as they are continually improving each week of the season.
Having just breathed a massive sigh of relief, and even knowing the outcome of this week's game already, we still decided to analyze this Steelers team and see where Nostradamus is getting his opinions.
The Steelers offense, right now, is functioning in a manner that can best be described as "breathtaking". Ben Roethlisberger continues to elevate his game each season to a point where it now appears that he is merely toying with the opposition. With the advent of yet two more potent weapons, Mike Wallace and Rashard Mendenhall, I think it is safe to say that the offense representing the Steelers today is every bit as good, if not better, than the dynastic offenses of the 70s.
Even though Terry Bradshaw was my favorite Steeler of all time, I have to give Big Ben his due. He is a better quarterback than "The Blonde Bomber". For one thing, Ben doesn't force the ball nearly as much as Brad did. Terry's arm was so strong that he often thought he could beat any defensive back in any situation. While his confidence level was admirable, his decision-making often left fans aggravated during games. Big Ben, on the other hand, got off to a faster start in his career than Bradshaw and except for his vehicular and other off-the-field hijinks, has been most most impressive when lined up behind the center.
What is most impressive though is his complete grasp of the offense. Ben knows where every receiver is during each segment of every play and has the impeccable ability to extend that play and find his guys wide open. I have never seen any other quarterback with the ability to consistently do this. Ben is also so big and strong and relishes the physical aspects of the game so much, that he has managed to stay upright on the field, for the most part, during his career.
On defense, the team, though playing well, is not playing suffocatingly great. They've had lapses that have been costly, but they've also played most of the year without their most dynamic player, Troy Polamalu. Polamalu's injury will take time to be fully recovered from, because it's tough to get healthy during the season when your body is taking such a continual beating. If Polamalu can get through the Minnesota game without suffering a setback, he'll then have a bye week to completely rest his knee. The Steelers chances will increase exponentially if this occurs.
ABOVE: Aaron Smith is a quiet unassuming man who has always been a rock on the defensive line. His humble disposition makes him a favorite among Steeler fans. Smith was a casualty of the NFL's annual "War of Attrition" that occurs each year between September and February.
The loss of Aaron Smith is huge, make no mistake about it. However, the Steelers proved to the league a couple seasons ago that an All Pro caliber player such as Casey Hampton could go down and the team would not show a perceptible difference in continuity. This is because the Steelers have quality depth and they routinely rotate their players so as to keep fresh bodies on the field. This pays gigantic dividends when a starter gets hurt. A real test of how well backups Brett Keisel, Nick Eason and first rounder Ziggy Hood will perform will take place this week when Adrian Peterson comes to town. Peterson's nickname is "A.D." as in "All Day." That is what his teammates say he can do all game long, bring a brutally-fast and relentless running attack right at you. He could be in for a rare long day, especially if the Steelers jump ahead by a couple scores.
The special teams have been a mixed bag so far. Stefan Logan has been great on kickoff returns, but looked "dazed and confused", as the song goes, on punts. Putting Mewelde Moore back there was a good move that should pay off big. Daniel Sepulveda has been tremendous in the punting game, but kicker Jeff Reed is having some non-football-related problems...again. Sad to say, this mostly-reliable kicker is right now in the process of getting himself kicked right off the Steelers. Oh, they won't make a change during the season, but the Reed baggage is something that the Steelers will not tolerate. Don't expect Reed to score a jackpot contract this offseason unless he kicks five field goals and is named SuperBowl XLIV MVP.
ABOVE: If party animal supreme Jeff Reed gets into any more trouble, I'm sure we'll all be referring to him as "Former" Steeler kicker, Jeff Reed.
The Steelers have some tough games coming up which is good. This team always performs better and is more focused against quality opponents. Look for a big win this week against the undefeated Vikings in what should be a thoroughly enjoyable beat-down of Brett Favre. Then the bye week will kick in at a most opportune time so that the guys can catch their breath in preparation for the long stretch run.