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The Steelers Wind Down The Pre-Season, Defeat Bills In a Shutout.

By Joshua M. Patton

As the pre-season comes to a close, the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in a much better place than when they defended the title in the waning months of 2006. Ben Roethlisberger is no fluke and it shows in the small details of his behavior on the field. This was evidenced most specifically when Ben, perhaps taking a page from hockey, attempted to draw Buffalo off-sides at the end of second quarter. However, it is not just Roethlisberger’s skill that drives this offense. Hines Ward and Heath Miller have proven again to be dependable targets for Ben when he finds himself in trouble. Limas Sweed, however, is exponentially better than he was at the close of last season. He has come a long way from the night he dropped a perfect pass with no coverage as if he had never seen a football before and perhaps thought it was some strange animal. All right, maybe I have been too hard on him; he has proven to be exactly what Ben was looking for when he was wishing for a tall receiver. The other rookie that has performed below expectation up this point is Rashard Mendenhall. Before his injury last year, I had been underwhelmed by our first-round pick and fumbling the ball seemed to be his main problem. Against the Bills, he had a very impressive showing, save for one fumble that could have changed the entire scope of the game had it happened while facing a more capable team. It is easy to dismiss the importance of this mistake because our defense is stronger, meaner, and more difficult to manage than ever before. The defense is a well-oiled machine with Dick LeBeau madly pulling levers and driving up the liquor bills of offensive coaches across the league. Any problems we may face, as per usual with the Steelers, lie with the offense.
The Offensive Line has faced a lot of scrutiny and despite the many criticisms thrown their way, it could be argued successfully that they are as good enough as they need to be. Yet, Max Starks hurt Ben Roethlisberger and was more responsible for a sack on Saturday than not. Chris Kemoeatu was as much to blame for the first quarter fumble as Mendenhall. Also there have been a seemingly excessive number of penalties, specifically false starts coming from the line. In the red zone, the line still struggles, especially during the running plays. Mendenhall was able to run for a touchdown, but the Bills’ defense seemed to wear down considering they were on the field much more than the Bills’ offense. Overall, though, I have to say that the overall performance of the offense was outstanding. Despite these are small adjustments to an already efficient group. There remains room for improvement and it is not impossible that more serious problems may develop.

Daniel Sepulveda is in top form and his ability will give the Steelers an edge in the special teams’ side of things that they did not have last season. Also, there is some much needed skill in the return position coming from number 41 Stefan Logan. We have not had someone with his ability on the team since Antwaan Randle El. On the other side of special teams, I noticed that the Steelers are doing a much better job of quickly closing in on the return man for the opposing team. They are disciplined and excellence in this area gives the Steelers the chance to dominate games much in the way that the Patriots have when Tom Brady is healthy and on point. The second half was only remarkable because of the showcased abilities of Charlie Batch. He is quite possibly the most poised and knowledgeable back-up quarterbacks in the game. To say that he manages the game is an understatement. He is hungry and keeps his offense aggressive, but at the same time he is able to burn precious seconds off the clock. There were no specific players of note in the second half. Vincent had an impressive run and Desmond Sherrod proved to be his own worst enemy when he tripped and downed himself. Rookie Joe Burnett showed almost superhuman athletic prowess and successfully blocked a field goal to preserve the shut-out. With no apparent problems and an overflow of talent, the Steelers and Mike Tomlin seem to be in an enviable position. Yet no matter how good the Steelers are, they always somehow find a way to be the underdogs and they operate well from that position. The true test of this season is if the Steelers are going to be able to be comfortable from a position of dominance instead of falling into a hole and clawing their way back to the top.

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