(KDKA)- Coming off a dominant win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday afternoon, the Steelers are 9-0, their best start in the organization’s storied history. As expected, the return of Ben Roethlisberger has galvanized the offense going from 27th in the league in scoring last season all the way up to fourth (30.1 PPG) this year. That improvement hasn’t come at the expense of the defense either, that unit still rates in the Top 5 in scoring defense.
All in all, things look very good for the Steelers as the team heads into the stretch run. NFL on CBS analyst Rich Gannon says the team has the “look of something special” this season.
“You have to start with the healthy quarterback. At times last year, they had a tough time making a first down without Ben on the field. Now, he’s back on the field, he’s the CEO. He makes great decisions, he’s a gamer and I think the players respond to his experience and leadership. They have a talented roster. Chase Claypool has emerged as a dominant player at that position. You have JuJu out there. You have a really good, veteran group up front on the offensive line that can move people off the ball and do a good job protecting,” said Gannon. “Then they have one of the best defenses in football. They create a lot of negative plays, they take the ball away. They rush the passer, they’re physical, they stop the run. You have some guys on that side of ball in T.J. Watt, Stefon Tuitt, Cameron Heyward and Bud Dupree that can just take over a game. And, they have always been well coached in the kicking game. They’re going to be tough to beat. They have the look of something special when you look at that Pittsburgh roster.”
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A big part of that special look is the play of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. His 66.8 completion percentage is among the highest of his career and his 1.2 interception percentage is the lowest of his career. Gannon says it’s the decision making and more willingness to check things down when plays aren’t there that has allowed him to be so successful in his return.
“He’s still got an aggressive mindset, but he’s playing smarter. He’s got some swagger to him. He’s so strong in the pocket. He can still slide and move around and still make some plays and extend plays. He sees the field so well,” said Gannon. “There’s something to be said for experience at that position. You look at guys like Brady, Brees, Rodgers and Roethlisberger, these guys have seen it all. There’s nothing you’re going to do from a defensive standpoint that’s going to surprise these guys on Sunday afternoon.”
With a matchup on deck against the 1-8 Jacksonville Jaguars, it would appear the Steelers are on their way to 10-0. They currently sit atop the AFC one game ahead of Kansas City for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs. The Chiefs remain the Super Bowl favorites (+350) but the Steelers are now number two on that list (+550).
The reigning Super Bowl champs are still in top form and though the two don’t play each other in the regular season, Gannon says he would love to see them meet in the AFC title game.
“I would say the Steelers have the better defense. The Chiefs have the more explosive offense with better team speed. I don’t think anyone is as good as Mahomes right now in our game. The Steelers have really good wide receivers but the tight end in Kansas City is the best in the game,” said Gannon. “The other thing I would say is, Andy Reid doesn’t get enough credit for being not only a great head coach but a great play caller. I think that would be an incredible AFC Championship Game. I’d love to see it, in fact I would pay to see it. The Steelers and Chiefs would be a great one.”
There is still a long way between now and conference championship weekend on January 24, 2021. But, with a 9-0 record heading into the second half, it’s easy to start thinking about scenarios of just how far this team could go.