There was a point earlier in the week where I was certain that the end of this week, and thus the countdown until the Bills traveled to Pittsburgh, would never come. But Kevin Everett's amazing progress has allowed us to return to a more normal pace, and thus this Friday we'll be returning our focus to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Coming off of a 34-7 Opening Day win in Cleveland, the Steelers, to say the least, present a formidable opponent for the Bills this Sunday. It is easy for us to pick apart the Steelers, but how do Steelers fans view their own team? Blitzburgh from Behind the Steel Curtain is here to give us his views on his Steelers, the game this weekend and the season in general (my questions in bold):
Ben Roethlisberger played very well in Week One, but Cleveland had some luck getting a little pressure on him. How has Pittsburgh's pass protection looked and do you see it as the key to fielding an explosive offense this season?
BTSC: It's definitely been the biggest question mark heading into this season for the Steelers. Most of us believed last year was an anomaly for Big Ben, and he sure did his part to prove us right in Week 1. Instead, we were concerned whether he'd have time to throw the football in 2007. The loss of C Jeff Hartings to retirement was a scary prospect. And after last year, we were worried that perhaps G Alan Faneca was losing a step. Heck, if the Rooney family wasn't willing to pay him, didn't that mean that he must be on the decline? Well, if Week 1 was any indication, Faneca still has plenty left in the tank. He constantly drove his man off the line of scrimmage and proved that he still may be the best Guard in all of professional football. It's the other guys who are the bigger concern however. Yet, through Week 1, there are no major complaints. Our new C Sean Mahan had his way with the monstrous Ted Washginton all day, while Kendall Simmons, Marvel Smith, and Willie Colon did just fine.
You raise a good point when you hint that the Steelers' chances rest with the play of their offensive line - but when you think about it, which team's fate doesn't rest there? It's certainly not the best unit the Steelers have fielded in the past 5-10 years, but it will hopefully hold up and jel over the course of the season. I will say that Bruce Arians' offense can be a quick-hitting offense in the passing game.. In other words, perhaps Ben will be asked to do a myriad of 3-step drops this year, minimizing the impact of the opposing defenses' blitz packages.
Buffalo has a great deep threat in Lee Evans, but Pittsburgh has a pretty good one themselves in Santonio Holmes. How big a role does the deep pass, and specifically Holmes, play in Bruce Arians' offense?
BTSC: We'll see how accurate a sample size the preseason and the first game are, but the deep pass has to this point been a big-time factor in our new offensive coordinator's passing attack. Us Steeler fans have been giddy about Holmes' development since the middle of last season, and it looks like the rest of the league is starting to take notice. Not sure yet how monster a season Holmes will have, but even if his numbers aren't Pro Bowl-worthy, he'll certainly open up additional opportunities for Hines Ward. Ward must be craving some single coverage - he was doubled up frequently last year when Holmes still had training wheels on - and I bet he'll start getting more and more of it as the season progresses.
The Steelers lost Joey Porter in the off-season, but the front seven of Dick LeBeau's defense still looks superb. Do you like the Steelers' blitzing schemes, or do you feel like it leaves the secondary in a compromised situation?
BTSC: Obviously I'd prefer our defense to get after the quarterback, rather then sit in a conservative zone, but the blitz packages have to be timely and imaginative. Not too many offensive coordinators and line coaches are going to let their team get burned by the same look--excluding the Texans and the Raiders. Last year Coach Cowher apparently limited some of the strategic freedom of Dick LeBeau. This year, we're already getting looks us Steeler fans have never seen before, even out of the wily and unpredictable LeBeau. From my site earlier in the week:
Buffalo has a very young football team, but we also have some big-play potential on offense and especially special teams. How important will a strong special teams effort from the Steelers be in sealing up a win this weekend?
BTSC: We can't stop talking about it over at Behind the Steel Curtain. Last year we were putrid on special teams. There were turnovers, horrible field position was surrendered, our punter could barely kick the ball 40 yards, etc. New head coach Mike Tomlin said from Day 1 that they would not just pay lip service to special teams. And for one game at least, it's shown. One interesting tidbit a reader pointed out was that our kicker, Jeff Reed, nearly equaled his total number of touchbacks from a year ago (4) last Sunday when he put 3 out of the endzone.
Some may have questioned our decision to draft a punter in the 4th round, but have you seen this guy punt and even make tackles? We got great production from Daniel Sepulveda, our rookie out of Baylor, in Week 1. He averaged less than 40 yards per punt, but not one of his punts was returned. He's got great accuracy, a booming leg when need be, and is certainly not afraid to make a play if necessary as the last line of defense.
We're still trying to get it going in the return game, but I'm very pleased with how we're taking care of the field position battle during preseason and through Week 1. Check out our special teams DVOA rank and projections on Football Outsiders for further proof that the Steelers intend to make this a more integral part of their winning formula in 2007.
Alright, it's prediction time. Pittsburgh has a huge advantage in this one, but Buffalo is a team you can never count out. What's the final score of this one?
BTSC: I like what Buffalo's been doing the past couple years. Granted, they're not my first priority when I scroll through my viewing options on Sunday Ticket, but I'm no fool. I know they have some talent on both sides of the ball, and I know they are not all that far away from being a Wild Card contender in the AFC. Still, going into Heinz Field and stealing a victory while one of your players is in the hospital with a serious medical condition is a tall order. Perhaps the Bills play inspired football and keep this close, but even if they do, I can't see the Steelers dropping this one.
That said, I think the Bills cover the +10 point spread, but lose by 8, 24-16.
Again, a big thanks goes out to Blitzburgh for stopping by to give his take on the Pittsburgh Steelers. Leave your comments about his... comments... here, and we'll be back with more later on tonight.