PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – As the Steelers get set to begin the season on Monday night in Washington, there is no question they need to be mentioned among the best teams in the AFC.
This is a club, even with their suspension problems and current bit of health problems, that would yield a safe money bet on playing deep into the playoffs.
Here are five reasons I truly feel that the Steelers just might be a team that gets to the Super Bowl this season:
1. Ben Roethlisberger
It was quite nice of Big Ben the other day to mention Tom Brady as the best quarterback in the game. If that is truly the case — cheating notwithstanding — Roethlisberger isn’t far behind. Now 34 and getting a bit later on in his career, Roethlisberger seems to have found a comfort in not elongating plays as much as he previously did and has learned how maybe a few extra yards or seconds in the pocket just aren’t worth the risk. This is why I love the new “live for tomorrow” Big Ben and why it seems to suit this club best. He’s become wiser with age and has found a way to stay upright as he understands his great worth. So while Brady is undoubtedly great and Roethlisberger’s game-winning drive stats have dwindled some from where they were earlier in his career, with the Steelers down 5 and a few minutes left, I still think Big Ben is going to get things done with regularity. He is the main reason this Steelers team is a Super Bowl type club.
2. Antonio Brown
He is the best receiver in the game. There is no question. Over the past two seasons, it seems to me Brown — in catching 265 passes and 23 touchdowns — has distanced himself from everyone else. And it isn’t just the volume, but the ability to make catches both outside the hashes and those combat catches that makes Brown so good. On top of that, he smells the end zone; he loves the end zone. The man just lives for the end zone. So even as defenses will employ safety help and double team Brown for just about all of the season, his ability to find a way to get open is mind-boggling. Brown is a perfect example of “you know what’s coming and still can’t stop it” and, barring any health issues, he along with Roethlisberger will be the main cogs in pushing this team deep into the playoffs.
3. The defense isn’t as bad as people think
Sure, that’s a pretty vague statement, but I really don’t think this Steelers defense isn’t as dreadful as some are making it out to be. Is the secondary weak? Certainly. But I think the addition of Justin Gilbert will make a positive difference. I also think that, before too long, rookie first-round pick Artie Burns will be contributing nicely in the back end. On top of that, Will Gay is rock solid and Mike Mitchell gets way too much heat — he’s actually extremely dependable when healthy. The linebackers will be paced by Ryan Shazier and I think Vince Williams will see considerable time and play very, very well along with James Harrison. And along the front, Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt have the chance to dominate games. So when you go through the list of individual talents, is this defense really as bad as people are making it out to be? I say no.
4. A rested Bell
Suspensions are never good. But there is that silver lining in the case of the three-game suspension for Le’Veon Bell. Again, I’m not advocating people miss drug tests to get suspended, but in the case of a guy like Bell — who gets about 6,253,627 touches per season — the three weeks off might allow him to keep some mileage down. When people first started to bring this up as news of his suspension broke, I sort of chuckled. But as you really start to think about it, with DeAngelo Williams as good as he is, this team can truly get by the first three weeks and have success as Bell takes a bit of a breather.
5. Mike Tomlin
I know I am harsher on Mike Tomlin than most media guys. And, maybe at times, a bit over the top. I think I have my fair points. But the reality is that the guy wins. And he wins a whole lot. Tomlin goes into the season with a 98-57 career mark, which is very good. He is, however, just 6-5 in the playoffs. I do sense that the tide will turn with Mike Tomlin and in a way he is due for a big playoff run. It isn’t anything that is quantifiable or something that you can pin down to one stat, it just feels like as Tomlin has now surrounded himself with a coach such as Mike Munchak and Keith Butler has taken command of the defense for the second season, this team is more insulated from communication errors. Even as Joey Porter might be prone to pick a fight with an opposing player or dance with a Steeler who just grabbed an interception, it feels like Tomlin has struck the perfect balance with a staff that can be buddy-buddy but also carry out their job in a professional manner. This staff that Tomlin has (and I know how great Dick LeBeau was) feels settled and confident and one that can match wits with any.
Colin Dunlap is a featured columnist at CBSPittsburgh.com. He can also be heard weekdays from 5:40 a.m. to 10 a.m. on Sports Radio 93-7 “The Fan.” You can e-mail him at email@example.com. Check out his bio here.