Sunday, December 28, 2008

Steelers Win, Lose All At Once

As we all knew they would, the Steelers more than took care of business against the unbelievably bad Browns, more than embarassing their division "rivals." Yet right now, it's very difficult to feel even the least bit positive about what took place on the North Side earlier today, thanks entirely to the loss of our franchise quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger, to an apparent head injury that is being reported as a concussion. I mean, just look at that photo above without throwing up a little bit. I dare you.

The hot topic all week long in the Burgh was Mike Tomlin's decision to play his starters for the early portion of this game even though the Steelers had nothing to play for, and be quite certain the hot topic this coming week will be the results of this decision. Seeing Big Ben being carted off the field on a freakin' stretcher surely had many a Yinzer cursing Mike Tomlin's name, but hindsight is always 20/20. Personally, I am of the belief that Roethlisberger should have been taken out of the game after 2 or 3 drives, just enough to keep him fresh, but I have trouble faulting Tomlin too much for this decision. Yes it sucks, especially if the Steelers lose Roethlisberger for the playoffs, but the Steelers couldn't afford to not play Ben and the other starters at all, as that has backfired far too many times in the past several years on teams who behaved similarly.
If you want to yell at Tomlin and the Steelers coaching staff, do so because they have failed to make any progress whatsoever with this O-Line this season, leading to an almost inevitable Roethlisberger injury. I mean, Max Starks, who wasn't even a starter at season's beginning, is far and away the best lineman on the team right now, and I would only give him about a B- for his work. (In case you're wondering, my other grades are: D- for Willie Colon, D for Darnell Stapleton, C+ for Justin Hartwig, C for Chris Kemoeatu, and an I (incomplete) for Marvel Smith)
If it comes out in the next two weeks that Roethlisberger is out for the team's second round playoff game, the Steelers chances are diminished to just about zilch. Look, I think Byron Leftwich is a very nice backup QB, but if he has to play the Dolphins or the Colts or the Patriots or the Ravens, I'd expect Bruce Gradkowski type numbers out of him. He's just not a playoff-caliber starter, especially for a team he's sparingly played for this season. So, while it may no longer be Christmas, I think Steeler fans everywhere need to make a belated Christmas wish to Santa Claus, that Ben Roethlisberger is healthy and ready to roll when the Steelers take the field in two weeks at Heinz Field.
As far as the game goes, I really don't think there's a ton that we can take from the results of this game. Yes, it was good to see Willie Parker actually show he still has a pulse, and I was happy for Hines to get not only another 1000 yard receiving season but also his 800th career catch, and I was definitely pleased to see the D baring their teeth again after a disappointing performance last week against Tennessee, but everything needs to be taken with a grain of salt. After all, this was the Browns we were playing, and they barely qualify as an NFL team anymore, especially when about 40 of their players have quite obviously quit on the team, as happened today.
The bottom line is that the Steelers chances, like they always have, will rest on a combination of their matchups, the level of excellence the D reaches, and the play of their QB. Only now, that final factor has a little bit of a twist throw into it.

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