The last two times the [intlink id="20" type="category"]Pittsburgh Steelers[/intlink] have gone to the Super Bowl, they failed to make the playoffs the following year. I’m inclined to give Bill Cowher a pass for 2006 considering his franchise quarterback nearly died during the off-season and was a mere shadow of his former self during the regular season. There is absolutely no excuse for what happened to [intlink id="45" type="category"]Mike Tomlin[/intlink]‘s squad in 2009, however. The defending Super Bowl champions featured a nucleus near or in their prime while boasting a roster with no significant changes from the year before.
The most frustrating aspect of the 2009 season wasn’t that the team kept losing, it was who they lost to. Every week we’d look at the schedule, see an opponent who record-wise and talent-wise didn’t nearly match up with the Steelers, then watch in horror as they’d go out on Sunday and seemingly find a way to lose. The five game death spiral which tanked the season featured losses to two teams that would go 5-11 and one that would finish 4-12.
Which brings us to this week’s opponent, the Seattle Seahawks. Yes, technically the Seahawks were a playoff team last year although it’s hard to take that credential seriously when you win your division with a record of 7-9. They did acquit themselves well in the playoffs, highlighted by Marshawn Lynch going into BEAST MODE against the defending champion Saints. Regardless, Seattle is clearly not in the Steelers’ league. If the Black and Gold want to quiet all talk of a “Super Bowl Hangover,” they can start by winning a game they should win.
STEELERS DEFENSE vs. SEAHAWKS OFFENSE
Seattle retooled their offense quite a bit over the off-season. Gone is the heart and soul of the team, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. In his place is Bret Favre’s ex-gofer, Tarvaris Jackson. Despite being surrounded by a wealth of talent, T-Jack was a miserable washout in Minnesota. One would assume things do not bode well for him working with quite a bit less in Seattle.
The team tried to help him out by adding a couple targets to the passing game. TE Zach Miller, an underrated receiver with the Raiders, and fellow ex-Viking Sidney Rice were signed in hopes of adding an aerial dimension to an offense which boasts a terrific ground tandem in Justin Forsett and Marshawn Lynch. Unfortunately, Rice has been struggling with injury and despite practicing this week, it appears he’ll sit out on Sunday. Which leaves Miller and ex-Trojan turned legendary draft bust Mike Williams as the only threats Ike Taylor and the Steelers secondary must contend with.
Perhaps more importantly for the Steelers fortunes, the Seahawks spent the off-season rebuilding their offensive line. The net result was last week you had three starters making their first NFL start. Veteran (and fellow legendary draft bust) Robert Gallery will return this week so he should inject some experience if not talent into the unit. The bottom line is last week they surrendered five sacks and eight QB knockdowns, which to a defensive coordinator like Dick LeBeau is the equivalent of dangling a slab of beef in front of a lion.
The Steelers D cannot possibly do worse than their one sack, zero turnovers effort against the Ravens. Cornerback [intlink id="96" type="category"]Bryant McFadden[/intlink], who is continuing to battle a balky hamstring, is the only significant injury although he’ll be in the starting line-up come game time. If he struggles against this passing attack, it may be time to give serious consideration to Kennan Lewis. Other than that, this is a highly favorable match-up for Blitzburgh in just about every area.
STEELERS OFFENSE vs. SEAHAWKS DEFENSE
Like the D, quarterback [intlink id="14" type="category"]Ben Roethlisberger[/intlink] has nowhere to go but up after last week’s putrid performance. When you toss three boneheaded interceptions and fumble the ball two more times for good measure, it’d be nearly impossible to do worse. To his credit, Ben isn’t looking to simply take baby steps, he expects a leap forward in production, possibly by utilizing more no-huddle. For whatever reason — *cough*Arians isn’t calling plays*cough* — the team seems to click when they go up-tempo. One thing is for sure, if an offense which many thought could perhaps be the most explosive ever to wear the Black and Gold is to get on track, a strong effort against a secondary ranked 27th in the NFL last season is a good place to begin.
Of course, the big news this week is the upheaval of the Steelers much maligned offensive line. With [intlink id="85" type="category"]Willie Colon[/intlink] gone for the year, rookie Marcus Gilbert will slide into his spot at right tackle. Also of note, rumors have been flying that if the Big Legursky struggles at RG, the team will not hesitate to insert Trai Essex in his place. While a line in disarray is usually a big flashing neon green DANGER sign, the good news is they will be facing a very sub-par defensive unit. Last week against the 49ers, Seattle had no sacks and managed to knock down Alex Smith only once over the course of watching him complete 15/20 passes.
Beginning this week with Seattle and continuing next week against a gutted Indianapolis team bereft of talent without Peyton Manning, the Steelers have a two week stretch wherein they face inferior competition. While it’s a mistake to ever take a regular season game for granted, these games should afford them an opportunity to get their house in order before entering a three week stretch against playoff caliber opponents around mid-season. The last two post-Super Bowl years, these are exactly the type of games where they failed to seize that opportunity. Let’s hope history does not repeat itself yet again.