Sports

It's the Steelers' year to go all the way

It should go without saying, but now is a good time to be a Steelers fan in Pittsburgh. Just in case outspoken football fanatics like me have let you forget, Ben Roethlisberger is 18?1 during the regular season as a starter and 19?2 overall. The only team he?s lost to ? the world-champion New England Patriots ? is in fast decline. So what does it all add up to? Well, although there is quite a bit of fierce competition around the league ?
especially in Indianapolis ? there are serious reasons to think that this might be Pittsburgh?s year to go all the way (and win) for the first time since 1979.
Last year, our remarkable
15?1 season began and ended with a then-rookie Roethlisberger, who jump-started the team when starting quarterback Tommy Maddox went down, but who also threw three interceptions during the heartbreaking defeat at the AFC Championship game. With a year?s experience under his belt and a much better understanding of the playbook, he?s only thrown two picks so far this season and has developed into one of the sturdiest quarterbacks in the league.
Furthermore, Roethlisberger has become a serious threat when he rolls out of the pocket. Other star quarterbacks like Atlanta?s Michael Vick make their highlights by taking off when they are flushed outside. But while Roethlisberger possesses that option, he makes himself far more dangerous by keeping his head up and looking to throw deep, keeping the defense off-balance.
It is not just Big Ben, though, who will make this the Steelers? year. The second-year quarterback is surrounded by the league?s deepest supporting cast of players. Much like the vaunted Hydra of Greek mythology, it seems that every time a key Steeler is injured there is another equally dangerous teammate ready to step up and take his place.
Just look at the current situation at running back: Jerome Bettis is a future member of the Hall of Fame, Duce Staley is the premier runner Philadelphia is probably wishing they had back, Willie Parker has the speed to burn defenses for big gains, and third-down back Verron Haynes is one of the league?s best blockers out of the backfield. It is hard enough for defenses to prepare to stop one good running back, and should all four be healthy at the same time, a dominating ground game is almost a
guarantee.
Even with most of those guys out this year with injuries, though, the Steelers? running game has been one of the best in the league, and has helped to set up Big Ben and the passing attack. The success of the play-action has given the team real ?big play? potential, allowing star wide receiver Hines Ward to break former Steeler and Hall of Fame member John Stallworth?s reception record. In addition, first-round draft pick Heath Miller is having a tremendous first season as the starting tight end. He is currently tied with Hines Ward at six touchdown catches, and he has been especially reliable on short third-down throws.
But while the offense may be making progress, this is Pittsburgh, and it is the defense that really gets the city fired up. Running out of Cowher?s old-school 3?4 set, the vaunted Steel Curtain defense of the ?70s has returned, forcing opponents to pay for every inch of yardage in blood, or at least grass-stains. Up front, the line has dominated opposing runners, and is ranked third in the league in rushing, having given up just 82 yards per game. The improved secondary, meanwhile, led by newcomers Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden, has become steadier against the big play and has really learned to clamp down in third-down situations.
Certainly much has changed since our last successful Super Bowl season, but one thing has very much stayed the same. In football, if you can?t score, you can?t win. And lately, when teams have been coming to Pittsburgh they have not been able to do much of either. That is why come January, it will be the Steelers playing in Detroit for the championship.