Bye Week Thoughts And Opinions - By Tim Bodamer

Steelers Fever Exclusive Editorial

As the Pittsburgh Steelers enter the bye week at 5-1, nobody in the football universe would have envisioned the success that the black and gold have experienced over the first six weeks.

Here's my take on the Steelers 2004 season so far:

 Ben Roethlisberger is the real deal. With a 100-plus quarterback rating, winning his first four starts as a rookie, and helping the Steelers forget about the injury to Tommy Maddox, Pittsburgh has found the first stud at quarterback in the last quarter century.

 What doesn't kill you makes you stronger. The Steelers have been hit by the injury bug throughout training camp, the preseason, and now the regular season. Tommy Maddox, Kendrell Bell, Charlie Batch, Casey Hampton, Mike Logan, Kendall Simmons, and Chad Scott are all out at press time. What do the injuries equate to? Five wins and a first place showing by the Steelers in the AFC North Division. The success can be attributed to backups Roethlisberger, Larry Foote, Keydrick Vincent, Ricardo Colclough, and Willie Williams. The bottom line in the NFL is that there is a fine line between talent levels. Injuries are part of the game, and the Steelers, like all teams must overcome it. They have done it so far, and have avoided the injury bug at the key positions, allowing them success early on.

 Back to the basics. Duce Staley might be the best offseason acquisition the Steelers have had since, err, Jerome Bettis. He is fourth in the NFL in rushing (582 yards), averaging 4.6 yards per carry. Bettis' seven touchdowns are keeping Duce from being an early season candidate for MVP.

 Coaching carousel? Not in Pittsburgh. According to media speculation, Bill Cowher's job was in jeopardy following last season's dismal 6-10 year. So how did the Rooneys, the loyal ownership group who've loved Cowher enough to get rid of former general manager Tom Donahoe, react? By giving him a contract extension. Cowher is winning without Bell, a former rookie of the year, who was a stalwart in the middle of the defense, and with a rookie QB at the helm. There's a reason why he's the longest tenure out there. And until Bill Parcells, Bill Belichick, Andy Reid, or Mike Shanahan become available, he's the best coach out there.

 Red zone rampage. When Pittsburgh was peaking under Cowher in the mid to late '90s, they had the ability to get the ball in the end zone after entering the opponent's red zone. Well, statistically speaking the Steelers are tops in red zone scoring and sixth in red zone defense; Equation: Those who score, win.

 The turnover battle. The Steelers are finding a way to create turnovers. Troy Polamalu's interception return for a TD against Cincinnati sealed the victory, Kimo von Oelhoffen's fumble return against the Cowboys set up a winning score. Get the theme. If Pittsburgh's defense can turn the tide of momentum by creating turnovers, they will continue winning.

Bottom line, this team is still young. Roethlisberger will struggle at times, as all rookie QBs do. The defense needs to step up the pass rush, while the Steelers need to learn how to close out opponents. Plus, New England and Philadelphia will be the two toughest opponents the Steelers face all year. But there is hope, and with a remaining schedule that is a mixed bag of good and bad teams, Pittsburgh can wind up 10-6. A record that most Steeler fans wouldn't have expected back in August.