Here we go Steelers, here we go! Your Pittsburgh Steelers kickoff their 2015 campaign on Thursday Night Football as they battle Tom Brady and the New England Patriots. Mrs. Black-N-Gold gets you geared up for the gridiron action with her season preview. She looks at offense, defense, special teams and coaching to see how are Steelers stack up against the rest of the NFL.
Whether you love him or you hate him, 2-time Super Bowl-wining QB Ben Roethlisberger gives this team the best chance to win. Last season he led the Steelers to the AFC North title with an 11-5 record, surprising many pundits but not many fans of the Black-N-Gold. The record setting offense was led by not only Big Ben but WR Antonio Brown and RB Le'Veon Bell. The offensive line paved the way for all as no major injuries were suffered by the guys in the trenches.
The offense will begin the season in a deep hole. C Maurkice Pouncey has been placed on the Injured Return IR. The earliest he can return will be against Oakland on November 8. Suspensions will also keep 2 key players out of the lineup for a period of time. Bell will miss the first 2 games of the season due to his marijuana/DUI charge last year. Also missing time will be WR Martavis Bryant with a 4-game marijuana suspension. RB De'Angelo Williams and WR Darrius Heyward-Bey are expected to replace Bell and Bryant in the lineup.
This limits what Ben can do and perhaps the amount of time in which he has to do it. Of course he still has the uber-talented Brown at wide receiver. Hopefully, AB will enter the season as a happy Steeler. He recently had has contract re-structured to free up more cap room and give him more money.
With Bryant not in for a quarter of the games, Brown can expect double and, maybe even, triple-teams. Will this frustrate Brown, causing him to lose his concentration? Will the oft-injured Williams be able to remain on the field until Bell's return? Speaking of injuries, will the o-line be able to keep Ben upright for the entire season? If not, the Steelers will turn to recently-signed, 35-year-old Michael Vick at QB.
As long as Ben is under center and healthy, the Steelers are in any game. Once Bell and Bryant are back, the sky is the limit for this high-flying offense.
There was a time throughout the annals of Steelers history, that the defense was the strength of this team. This isn't one of those times. For the past several years, the Steelers have tried to transition from trusted veteran defensive players to younger, faster defenders. The transformation has not been smooth, to say the least. The number of turnovers and sacks go down while the number of big plays made against the D escalates.
In order to prove that, like Bob Dylan said, "The times they are a'changin'", the Steelers cut ties with long time DC Dick LeBeau and promoted LB Coach Keith Butler. They have also been working from the 4-3 alignment and the Cover 2 scheme that Head Coach Mike Tomlin was raised on as a defensive assistant. The results have proven to be mixed at best.
While the Steelers have been working different schemes and plays into their defensive repertoire, they've tried to integrate more of the younger players into their rotations since they've cut ties with the likes of Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor and Brett Keisel. Unfortunately, injuries and inconsistency continue to haunt the youngsters.
Don't get Mrs. Black-N-Gold wrong. There are still some fine building blocks on the defensive side of the ball such as DL Cam Heyward and LB Lawrence Timmons. It just seems that for all the high draft picks the Steelers have used the past few years on defense, there would be a better foundation for this D.
Unless this unit gets their act together, and soon, it could be another long season for the former vaunted Steelers D.
Bang! Right off the bat, the Steelers lost K Shaun Suisham to a season-ending knee injury in the Hall of Fame game. And just like that, Suisham's replacement, Garret Hartley, was lost for the year due to injury. Before the coin has been tossed in the first game of the season, the Steelers are on their 3rd kicker, Josh Scobee, late of the Jags. There was also a turnover at punter. Brad Wing was traded to the Giants and Jordan Berry became the Steelers punter.
Considering how the Steelers have a bad habit of bogging down in the red zone, the kicker and punter positions are an important cog in the Steelers machine. With these newbies and the fact that so many of the youngsters will be asked to work the special teams, the pressure is on for this unit. Especially when you consider that the defense may have a hard time pulling their weight. The Steelers are going to need all the field position they can muster.
Fans need not worry about Coach Tomlin leaving the fold any time soon as he was signed to an extension in the offseason. Whether or not that is a good thing, remains to be seen. Tomlin already put the season in jeopardy but failing to employ a time-honored tradition during training camp by bringing in an extra kicker to do the dirty work during the preseason. The Steelers are no on their 3rd kicker. Also, with the parting-of-the-ways with LeBeau, Tomlin seems determined to put his stamp on the defense. It's resulted in the same-old, same-old thus far.
OC Todd Haley has the most impressive squad on the team. The record-breaking numbers of the offense last season helped quell the cries of "Fire Haley". For now. If the offense isn't flying as high as last season, fans could be calling for Haley's head. He's got his work cut out for him thanks to the injury to Pouncey and the suspensions of Bell and Bryant.
DC Keith Butler takes over the defense after many years as a trusted defensive assistant. Will the song remain the same? Not entirely as coach promises to have the defensive lineman rush the passer as well as eat up blockers. There's also been some 4-3 and Cover 2 added to the cookbook this season. Will theses changes help create more turnovers and sacks for a team that desperately needs them? Only time will tell. If not, the fans may start a "Fire Butler" campaign, too.
So what is Mrs. Black-N-Gold's prediction for our 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers? Look, it's no surprise that Mrs. Black-N-Gold views the world through Black-N-Gold-colored glasses. However, she is also a realist. When she first looked at the schedule this year, "9-7" came to mind. Then, as training camp progressed she heard and read glowing reports out of Latrobe. Ok, maybe, 10-6 or 11-5. As she watched what unfolded in the preseason, her optimism waned. She just doesn't feel that the defense is there yet and the offense will not be able to carry the team the entire year. Sorry, Black-N-Gold fans, it's back to 9-7 for the Steelers. Mrs. Black-N-Gold hopes she is wrong and we'll all be celebrating our 7th Super Bowl come February. Let's Go Steelers!!!!!!