Rotty Gets My Flu Shot, MVP - By Neal Coolong
Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial
|Definition of the 2003 season: I prayed for the speed of Pittsburgh's bye week.
Definition of the 2004 season: I am nearly upset it has to come now. If we needed one defining reason this year is so much better, it is that statement. One can argue the record is inflated due to clashes with the hapless Bengals and Browns and the worst team in the history of organized sports, the Dolphins. But no Steeler fan can argue that s/he is not at least a little frustrated that a bye would come in the middle of the hottest part of their season in three years.
Last year, marred by a mangled offensive line and an ineffective secondary, the Steelers limped their way into the week seven bye, looking at a 2-4 record.
The week off didn't help. The Rams smacked the taste out of their collective mouths in the Steelers' 1000th game of their franchise. Well, that sucks.
This year is different in the sense that Steelers fans have optimism. And considering they are facing the two best teams in the NFL in the two weeks after the bye, that says a lot about the feeling for the team.
There's good reason to be excited. Rookie Ben Roethlisberger (who will be referred to as "Rotty" from now one, partially because I heard Ward call him that in the locker room, partially because these damn columns are long enough already and I am developing carpal tunnel in my right wrist.) is 4th in the NFL with a rating of 100.7 (in other words, he's getting vote for Rookie of the Year, my vote for president and my flu shot).
Duce Staley was six yards from going over the century mark for the fourth straight week. Their defense threw Vinny Testaverde around like a sack of potatoes (or spaghetti, as it were...) and they came up with the huge turnover that seperates the dominant from the Dolphins.
A restful break is always needed during the season, but the Games of Seperation begin soon after they get back on the field. Competing against New England and Philadelphia will seperate Pittsburgh either from the elite or the average.
I'm writing this before the Pats/Jets clash Oct. 24, so I really don't care about any streak anyone may have. I don't care about last season. I don't care about 2001. But they are damn good.
Just looking at four of their three games, one characteristic comes out; Their opposition (Colts, Bills, Seahawks) each had the chance to either win or tie in the final minutes, but huge defensive stops gave the Pats the win. The sack of Manning that knocked them back 12 yards the first week of the season; the hit on Bledsoe that resulted in a defensive touchdown against Buffalo and the 10-yard stand against the Seahawks, up 10, with three minutes to go.
While these plays are very similar to the Testeverde fumble that Kimo "Jellylegs" Van Oelhoffen returned to set up the win, the Patriots have done this in bunches. Pittsburgh has not.
As for the Iggles, Donovan McNabb and Terrell Owens have left treadmarks on every team they have played. Despite losing Corell Buckhalter (Duce Staley's replacement), Philadelphia has yet to be challenged, led by McNabb's MVP-like season.
To get back to the grounded, realistic (pessimistic) columnist that I am, the loss of Casey Hampton will prevent Pittsburgh from achieving major success (read: AFC championship game or better). Chad Scott was playing lame-duck cornerback this season, as there was little to no way he wasn't going to be released anyway, so whatever injury he has and for however long is nothing more than the inevitable happening early.
But Aaron Smith's great start will be greatly affected without Hampton's presence in the middle.
Basically, unless Rotty goes crazy over the bye week and makes The Leap much earlier than anticipated, the defense will be allowing more points than they are able to score.
A favorable schedule does help. 10-6 isn't out of the question, but before I start talking about Pittsburgh being the most underrated team in football, they have to prove they aren't the most overrated.