Well, that was…interesting. That’s really the only word I can safely use to describe the roller-coaster ride that was the Steelers’ preseason. What else can you say about an August that included the signing of Michael Vick, injuries to the starting center, backup quarterback and two – TWO! – placekickers, a trade involving a punter and the suspension of a starting wideout?
I guess there is a lot more to say (that’s kind of what we do here isn’t it?), but instead of looking back, let’s roll things forward to Thursday’s regular-season opener against New England. By now, everyone knows Tom Brady will be back under center for the Patriots. And, quite frankly, I’m glad he’s playing on Thursday. A Steelers’ victory with Jimmy Garoppolo at the helm would count just as much as any other conference win in the standings, but it would ring hollow in the minds of the sports radio blowhards and TV talking heads that fuel barroom debates and drive public perception with their countless hours of inane blathering.
The Steelers need to make a statement on Thursday night. If this is a team to be reckoned with – one that’s going to be in the playoff hunt for the next four months – Thursday’s game has to be more than this incarnation of the black and gold putting up a lot of points or making a couple of highlight-worthy plays on a night where the national spotlight will be on the Patriots and the celebration of their Super Bowl win back in February.
I’ll admit, I didn’t watch a ton of preseason action. Subjecting oneself to prolonged exposure to preseason football seems more punitive than productive. Pretty sure it’s all the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay get to watch between interrogations. I don’t know about you, but most of my time “watching” a preseason game is spent either scanning the roster to figure out who the heck I’m looking at, running to the fridge or trying not to fall asleep in the middle of the third quarter.
As Thursday’s kickoff approaches, the thing I’m most concerned about is the effectiveness of the new Cover-2 defensive system. And it’s not because I’m a diehard 3-4 guy. It’s because I haven’t seen the Steelers execute the Cover-2 consistently for any length of time so far. Sure, the quarterback pressure has been there at times, but when the guys up front don’t get into the backfield and disrupt the timing of the passing game, receivers are running free or sitting down in holes in the zone and collecting first downs.
I’d be able to forgive the inconsistent nature of the pass rush or the loose coverage on the back end if the run defense is stout, but I haven’t seen much proof of that so far either. Every running back on the Panthers’ roster gashed the Steelers for a big run last week. One of them was so good, the Steelers went out and signed him. Hello, Jordan Todman!
I’ve already resigned myself to the fact that the Steelers are going to give up a lot of points on Thursday night. I’ve seen too many long cutback runs and too much lackluster coverage to have confidence that the defense can hold New England’s offense down for any length of time. The burden for this game rests squarely on the offense and its ability to light up the scoreboard at Gillette Stadium more than the Patriots do.
But no matter what happens, let’s take the time to appreciate the fact that honest-to-goodness, regular-season NFL football is back. To me, that’s much more than just interesting.
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