15 September 2012
Sorry for the delay, all. Here's our Q & A with The Blitzburgh Blog and its guy Bam Morris.
(NOTE: This was done before Revis, Keller, Thomas, Polamalu and Harrison were all ruled out. It's certainly advantage Steelers because the best player on either roster is not playing, but no Polamalu is HUGE for the Jets (DEEP analysis here). Sanchez is totally mind fucked by No. 43, so that's a big plus.)
Q: How much do you take out of last week's loss in Denver? Is the offensive line that bad? Is the Steelers pass D that poor? Or was it just a bad matchup in a tough stadium and key guys were missing?
A: The offensive line isn't really any worse than usual. The past several years, the line hasn't been strong and with 1st-round pick David DeCastro on IR, that trend doesn't look to be changing this year. It's worth remembering that a patchwork line led the Steelers to a Super Bowl title in '08, so having a weakened line isn't the death knell it's perceived to be by some people. It certainly doesn't help that Denver's front 7 is exceptional across the board. When you have the kind of talent up front that they do and an underrated football mind in Jack Del Rio running the show on defense, you're going to make some plays.
The pass defense, however, is a legitimate concern. The Steelers have never put a premium on super-talented cornerbacks, as they rely on the pressure from the linebackers to really serve as their pass defense. With James Harrison out, and with a generally poor showing by LaMarr Woodley, the DBs were exposed. Then again, factor in the idea that the opposing QB is probably the best of all time, and you can see where some things might have gone wrong for the black and gold. Having Ryan Clark out especially hurt, because he covers so much of Polamalu's daredevil play. Troy couldn't make the plays he's known for in large part because his partner and safety net can't play in the Denver altitude.
Q: What's your running back situation? It seemed like Redman was the guy in the preseason, then Dwyer after Week One, but now Mendenhall is practicing? Who do you expect to get the majority of carries on Sunday?
A: Well let's keep one thing in mind: Rashard Mendenhall is THE GUY. He's still rehabbing ACL surgery, however, so that's why the Steelers are relying on their lesser-known backs for the moment. Redman has established himself as a good #2, but he was just totally shut down against the Broncos. Jon Dwyer made some plays, and the coaches appear to simply be favoring the hot hand. Sounds to me like Dwyer will see a bigger load than he has before, but the Steelers have long been loath to really change things up as far as the running game goes.
Q: I've heard mixed expectations on the Steelers prospects this season. All of my Yinzer brethren from Penn State still expect to make the playoffs, but a lot of the national media sees a .500 (or worse, see: Bill Simmons) team. Where do you stand?
A: As a current Pitt student, I an inclined to disagree with your Penn State brethren, but in this case they're right. I have no idea why someone would pick the Steelers to have an awful season (oh no, they lost to one of the most complete teams in the NFL in a close game opening weekend! The sky is surely falling!) but would you really want to bet on a perennial division champion/contender to finish with a losing record? I wouldn't.
I'm actually kind of surprised anyone in the national media stopped talking about Tim Tebow long enough to make a prediction for another NFL team in the first place. (Editor's Note: Ouch, bro.)
Q: I could be totally wrong and completely jinxing the Jets, but has Troy Polamalu lost a step? He's in his 10th year now and his body has taken a massive beating. (Editor's Note: I'm clairvoyant!) Is he on the decline or is he still an elite playmaker in your mind?
A: Can he be both? Troy is no spring chicken; it's true. But he's still the most talented player on the defense. As I mentioned, he was invisible against Denver because 1) Ryan Clark didn't play and 2) Peyton Manning was the opposing quarterback. But his age and durability are a legitimate concern, as is the lack of depth at his position. If he and Clark are both healthy, you can expect Troy to keep making big plays. And with all due respect, in regards to Sunday, Mark Sanchez is no Peyton Manning. I expect him to get fooled more than once by the defense.
Q: As for Sunday, the Steelers' greatest strength and weakness on defense is...
A: Their strength is hard to judge after one week, because the front 7 had trouble staying fresh in Denver, which made everyone look bad. But in recent summers, the Steelers have loaded up with youth in that group, especially with two first-round picks on the defensive line in Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward. At home, with the crowd behind them, and with James Harrison apparently back in the fold (Editor's Note: JINX!), the Jets' offense is going to be facing heavy pressure early and often.
The weakness has to be the defensive backs though, specifically at corner. Ike Taylor is a supremely underrated cover corner (having spatulas for hands makes it tough to get interceptions, and by extension, name recognition), but he's on the back nine of his career. The opposite CB hasn't even really been settled yet, as there are a number of young guys fighting for the position. That's both good and bad, because they have depth, but none of that depth has emerged as a go-to guy, leaving a weakness in the secondary.
Q: On offense...
A: Strength: The tight end position; Heath Miller is awesome. Seriously though, we're still trying to figure out what we have in Todd Haley's new offense. The impression we gathered Sunday night from fans on Twitter is that everyone hates Todd Haley's offense and he sucks and he's going to ruin the team. This is, of course, extremely reactionary, and the jury is still out. What we know we have is a franchise quarterback who is going to win games for us. We're going to ride or die with Ben Roethlisberger.
As for a weakness, the running game is questionable right now. With the injury bug hanging around the position and the Week 1 match-up against an extremely tough run defense, no one is really sure what to expect. One of the reasons Todd Haley was brought in was to advance the Steelers' run game, so that we could rely on our backs to convert 3rd & 2. We have yet to really see any changes take place, but in time those will surely come.
Q: Final score and why?
A: 21-17 Steelers. I'm sure it was exciting to watch the Jets hang up 48 on Buffalo last week, but I am far from sold on the Jets' offense. Pittsburgh needs a bounce-back and New York is primed for a let-down. I think the Steelers get it done at home and avoid an 0-2 start to the year.
RS Prediction: Jets 19, Steelers 17
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