The day is almost here.
You know what day….September 10, 2009 – otherwise known as NFL Kickoff Day!
That day we have been anxiously awaiting since February. Â Sure, there have been glimmers of fun since Super Bowl Sunday…tweeting the draft and meeting @NFLPRGuy (aka Brian McCarthy) as the NFL finally caught up with the rest of us and joined in on the twitter fun.
Then there were OTAs and later, the first days of training camp. Â Pre-season games are just a tease to the start of the long-awaited season. Â Now, with final cuts behind us, practice squads formed…
It. Is. Finally. Here. 2009 NFL Kickoff.
Starting Thursday, Steelers fans can’t claim “Super Bowl Champions” – it’s a new season, a new day. Â And, as Coach Tomlin likes to say:
“We don’t look in our rearview mirror at things that were done a year ago.”
The theme here is focus on the present – or even BE PRESENT. Â I’m not going to reiterate how much I admire and love Coach Tomlin’s commitment and passion, I’ve said it, you know it. Â But I will state, for the record, once again how I think that commitment and passion translates into motivation for the Steelers.
Well, that and the fact that the Kickoff game is also against the Tennessee Titans and their towel-stomping crew of LenDale White, Bo Scaife and Keith Bulluck. Â I think there was also a little towel disrespect from Jevon Kearse as well. The players might not admit it, but I am sure there is some retribution coming for the towel desecration. Â Watch out, I have seen Hines mad…and don’t forget, there is a rule named after him.
Unfortunately for the Titans, this is the first time the Steelers have played them since December. Â While they had a 13-3 record for the season, the Ravens beat them 13-10 at home during play-offs sending them to their couches to watch the AFC Championship and, ultimately, the Super Bowl – that alone is retribution.
This is a new year, a new season and a new game.
Much of it seems the same as last year, but it’s not. Â Both Tennessee and Pittsburgh’s starting line up looks like much of the same. Â The biggest loss to the Titans is Albert Haynesworth. Â However, their defense is still good. Â They stopped nearly every team’s running game last year and while Haynesworth will be missed, they will likely play the same hard defense.
That being said, Ben, you need to warm up that arm. We’ll need it. Â The Steelers weakest link still remains the weakest link – the O-line. Â It’s somewhat improved from last year, but still not going to provide Ben an hour to throw the ball. Therefore, expect an offense also with more of the same: nail-biting moments with Ben scrambling out of the pocket. Â Good thing there are targets like Hines, Santonio and Heath to hit – along with Limas who seems to actually be able to hold onto the ball and speedy fast rookie, Mike Wallace along with veteran, Shaun McDonald.
One of the toughest off-season losses to the Steelers line-up was WR Nate Washington. Â Though not a starter, he was a threat and the Titans saw his talent and scooped him up. Â I’m sure he was looking forward to playing his former team, but rumor has it a hamstring injury will keep him off the field on Thursday. (I will still miss Nate)
The Steelers might be known for the run game, but I am actually more excited to see the WR’s (and a TE) in action. Â Plus, while FWP has been doing pilates in the off-season and Mendenhall has been dancing to get into shape, I still am not all that impressed with the run game (Parker up the middle for no gain – Mendenhall up the middle for no gain – sound familiar??). In my opinion, Mewelde Moore was the breath of fresh air in the run game last year and I whole heartedly believe Isaac Redman (practice squad) was the key to the pre-season run game success.
The Titans O-line is completely opposite of the Steelers. Â They give their QB all day to throw and he was only sacked 8 times last season – compared to Ben’s half a million times (I jest, kind of). The problem is Collins’ accuracy-sorry Kerry even a PSU alum like myself has to state truth. Â Collins throws nearly as many interceptions as he does touchdowns…that’s the sweet spot for a #1 defense like the Steelers. Â I expect Troy to have a decent game and at least one pick six defensive touchdown.
Speaking of defense, the Steelers only losses to starting line-up came with Bryant McFadden to the Cardinals and Larry Foote to the Lions. Â While excellent players, we have Will Gay stepping up to the slot opposite Ike Taylor in the secondary and Lawrence Timmons taking Foote’s spot-both of whom saw a lot of playing time last year. Â Unfortunately, doesn’t look like Timmons will play Thursday due to an injury, but Keyaron Fox had a pretty outstanding pre-season and should fill the role okay, for now.
This matchup should also prove to be penalty heavy (Willie Colon). Â The Titans also suffered from major penalties last year. Â Physical mistakes happen, but mental mistakes, in my opinion, are just unacceptable (Willie Colon).
I’m most excited to see if Stefan Logan can continue his outstanding return streak in regular season. Â He averaged 39.3 yards on kick returns and 13.9 yards on punt returns. Special teams might actually prove special this year. Plus, Sepulveda is back. Â Only thing better would be Sepulvada back without a shirt..oh wait, I was channeling PittGirl for a moment. I digress.
Seriously though, the Steelers are only better than last year (O-line minimally). With focus from week to week, they are absolutely contenders for back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. And that’s not just me drinking the three rivers kool-aid. Â It can happen.
The Titans are just one obstacle to reaching that goal. Â It will be a good, tough game…but I expect a Steelers win at the end of the day (or night).
Go Steelers. Â Stairway to Seven!