Craig Gottschalk, Editor of Nice Pick Cowher (the Steelers blog on Fansided) swapped emails with me and gave us some insight to a team reeling off a Super Bowl loss that finds itself at 2-2 and in a must-win game vs the Titans on Sunday.
"1. How does the fanbase view QB Ben Roethlisberger right now? Has anything changed since he came back from his suspension last season?"
He really seems to be split down the middle on this. Fans love him as a football player and are indifferent to him as a person. I don’t think there are many out there who completely dismiss his actions over the past few years. He is the franchise quarterback and they (and I) put a lot of faith in this guy because he has shown time and time again he can win games. He’s married now and has stayed quiet for an offseason, which seems to be helping off the field opinions about him. Time heals all and he was technically never prosecuted for a crime. Doesn’t mean I condone what he did – no means no.
"2. There have been a lot of reports stating that the Steelers’ defense is on the downswing, that they’re getting old. What are your thoughts?"
Downswing? Perhaps. Old? No. This is the same defense that was #1 in the league last year. I don’t think 7-8 months ages a players in a way that makes them play the way they are now. A shortened camp, lack of preparation and (something presented today) new rules with practice restrictions are all contributing to poor execution. I think this ship will be righted soon. Hopefully without any more losses to accomodate the ‘growing pains.’
"3. What does the Steelers wide receiver corps look like after Hines Ward and Mike Wallace and how effective are they?"
Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders are young and upcoming receivers. They contributed late in the season last year in very big ways. They are continuing that trend this season. Brown is second on the team with 22 catches. Sanders is in the mix as well. They seem to be favorite targets for Ben on third down. The hype during the offseason was that the Steelers receiving core would be huge with those four plus the addition of Jerricho Cotchery from the Jets. Cotchery has yet to play a snap this regular season due to injury. I think this is a core that will just continue to get better as the season goes…. that is as long as Ben gets enough time to pass.
"4. How bad is the Steelers offensive line?"
The fact that those four receivers don’t have bigger numbers should tell you how bad they are. They are just a bunch of mediocre players who really aren’t meant to be starters in the NFL. How or why the front office allowed something like this to happen, especially with a $100 million quater back like Roethlisberger to protect is on the verge of insanity. But there it is. They can’t run block enough for ‘twinkle toes’ Mendenhall to find a big enough hole and can’t pass block long enough for some deep pass routes. Not sure when this will get corrected. Max Starks returns to the team since there’s been quite a few injuries over the past few weeks. Hopefully that will help. The Steelers aren’t known to make moves during the season, so we likely won’t see any relief (if any) until the offseason.
Update: I would like to amend my offensive line answer with giving a nod to Maurkice Pouncey – he’s the best one out there and is truly a pro bowl caliber player.
"5. Do the Steelers have any dynamic special teams players?"
Antonio Brown. Dude is fast (but not as fast as Wallace), has good vision and has some great cut moves. He’s averaging almost 30 yards per kick return and 15 yards per punt return. He can be dangerous if not tackled quickly.
"Bonus: Who do you think will win and why?"
I think the Titans win 24-14. Chris Johnson will have a very decent day. The Steelers defense has yet to prove that it can be the shut down defense from last year, and until they do, I believe that many if not all teams will be able to run 60/70/80 + yards every week. Injuries to James Harrison and Aaron Smith complicate things even further, and I see the defense having a rough day. Unless Max Starks makes a big impact this Sunday, the Steelers o-line woes continue, and we’ll probably see a few more sacks with a few more turnovers.