I happened to run into Ben Roethlisberger at the Worldwide Headquarters of the Pittsburgh Steelers on the southside yesterday after doing “In the Locker Room with Tunch and Wolf” and kibitzed for a brief moment yesterday. Ben appeared fit and trim, ready to go, and anxious to kick-start his season.
From every personal encounter with Ben, to everything I’ve heard, I thought, I’m looking at a changed man. In going through difficult times, you tend to re-evaluate your life. You tend to look outside yourself, and the bubble you live in and take a gander from a different perspective. You learn about yourself. And then you do something about it.
The same thing has happened to the Steelers. They have learned about themselves as well. Whereas in the past, they might have tended to lean a little too heavily on #7, I think this team has learned they are more than a one-Ben pony. When you have a franchise QB, and he’s got that “Something-something” with a little magic like Ben does, it’s easy to drop a few mental intensity notches in the gourd and always believe in the power of 7 to pull your fannies out of the fire. The Steelers have learned to depend on each unit to pull their weight, and further, each individual. And they value each other. James Harrison said it best after the Tampa game. They are a team, and they have the capacity for greatness within them.
Some other things they’ve learned about themselves;
#1 They can run the ball. Rashard Mendenhall has proven that he’s more than capable of ground and pounding, or hitting the retro-rockets and making the jump into warp-speed to settle matters in the won-loss department. Life lessons are life lessons whether you’ve had to sit out four weeks like Ben, or a game like Rashard, there is value in tuning in to what is truly important and leaving behind that which drags you down. Rashard has shown consistent improvement and looks to be on the rise for a good long time.
The passing game will only get better. A balanced attack is job one, and with Ben back in the saddle the scales of offensive play no longer hang heavily towards running the ball. Balance gives you options and guessing defenses.
#2 The defense is back. Aaron Smith and Troy Polamalu have made their presence felt. Despite the Ravens result in the fleeting seconds of the fourth quarter, I believe this to be a year closer to ’08 than ’09 performance wise. The Steelers had three turnovers at this same point in time last year. They have 12 now. When the ball bounces the right way for you, good things happen. They are hungry unit, and they will go into the Cleveland game healthy. With a honked off disposition too, might I add, considering how they played in the mistake on the lake last year.
#3 The special teams, especially the cover units are coming on like gang busters. Last year’s kickoff cover team had more “parachutes” popping once they crossed the fifty-yard line than the Golden Knights Army Skydiving team dropping in at the air-show in Robinson Township this summer. The art of “Free-falling without a ‘chute” as my brother Ron, a four-time Pro Bowl Special Teams player and captain used to call it, takes more want-to than how-to. There’s a lot more want-to’s lining up at the thirty than last year.