The Steelers have played 8 games now in the 2007 season. Carrying a 6-2 record at the half point is pretty darn good if you ask me. Some fans will say the team is right they thought they'd be while others thought we'd struggle mightily and be at the bottom of the division. We all hoped that we would be 8-0 right now but the reality is that with a new Head Coach and a lot of new faces on staff that 6-2 going into the toughest part of the schedule gives us the ability to control our own destiny and really that's all we can ask for right now.
Some of my thoughts at the mid way point of 2007:
Big Ben: Worlds ahead of where he was last year at this time and most importantly he is healthy and able to continually work in practice to get better. He is making smarter decisions, his interceptions are a fraction of what they were last year at this time and he has all the confidence in the world. His uncanny ability to sense and escape pressure in the pocket is nothing short of "Favre or Elway-esque" if you ask me. He is just as much if not more dangerous outside the pocket then he is inside. Another big reason for his success is the weapons he has at this disposal now which we'll get to in a minute but suffice it to say that Ben is the real deal and last year was an apparition that no Steeler fan would want to see ever again. Ben is our franchise Quarterback and right now there is no better fit for our team. Roethlisberger is a gun slinger, he is going to take chances that sometimes make us scratch our heads and want to smash another remote control but with those chances he takes he is finally proving that more often than not he is capable of making the play. If there is one downside to his play this year, it's how he holds the ball when he's about to get sacked. It's one thing to always be looking to make the play and get some positive yards but you also have to be smart about how you hold onto the ball with pressure around you.
Willie Parker: 187 attempts for 768 yds. which equates to an average of 4.1 yards per carry. He's right on track and doing everything we ask of him. Despite the offensive line not being one of the best units we've seen in past seasons Willie is able to constantly churn out the yards and produce for us. The big question mark for me this year was how well is he going to hold up between the tackles getting those tough yards when we really need them. He has come through in a big way for the team and Tomlin is using him in multiple roles this year and asking him to be the workhorse for this team. He has the label of a speed back but despite his size he has deceptively good power to break tackles and he's definitely not afraid to take it straight up the middle and pick up 2 yds. Willie will always be that threat that can take it to the endzone at any time but I'm equally impressed with his tough play this year.
Offensive Line: This is an area that I really hoped would be more consistent this year but so far they have been up and down in this fans opinion. Ben constantly having to avoid pressure and Willie getting caught in the back field is something that we need to avoid. All too often the defenders are in the backfield before the play starts and if it wasn't for Ben's escapability or Willies speed to avoid the rush we'd be in big trouble. This is an area that must be addressed in the upcoming offseason. All the backups from the Cowher era have proved nothing when they had an open tryout this past camp for the starting spots so we need some fresh blood injected into this group. Faneca is most likely gone so I look for us to address the OL on day 1 of the 2008 draft with atleast 2 big hogs. A good bit of the pressure comes from right up the middle and that is the one thing that will always kill a play. We must sure up the line because the defenses are bringing more and more pressure against us and stacking the box to stop the run.
Wide Receivers & Tight ends: Ward and Holmes are as good a tandem as any in the league and both of them are playing at a high level right now and really giving Ben solid targets to throw too. Santonio is the next great WR and you can see how much he's grown in the short time he's been in the league. He's faster than Ward but so far this year he's just as tough, watching him lay out receivers in typical Hines fashion is just a great sight to behold. Heath Miller and Matt Spaeth are the perfect Tight End duo and both have made significant contributions to the offense. We finally begin to use them in the passing game and low and behold, they are effective weapons ! Who knew??!! Heath is money every time he touches the ball and he has really grown into Ben's safety valve and big play target. Matt Spaeth is only a rookie and already has a great nose for the end zone. I look forward to continued great things from both of them.
Defense: What can you say, Blitzburgh is back and better than ever. The latest stat I heard was that we blitz one out of every 3 snaps on average. That is just amazing and a credit to the master mind himself, Dick Lebeau. The group this year has been stoudt and tough just like always but they definitely seem to be having even more fun out there than we're used to seeing. They are getting off the field on 3rd down, stopping the run like always, and the big key is the pass rush is getting to the Quarterback finally. This unit is #1 in the NFL in total defense, #1 in Pass defense and #4 in Rush defense; stats like that are what we as fans love to see. Every player on the defense is contributing each week and it really is a total team effort. Names like Farrior, Polamalu, and Hampton may be the leaders on this defense but every single player is out there on a mission and on any given play you will see someone different stepping up. Play like that is what it will take to get us into the postseason and we all look forward to seeing what Tomlin and Lebeau can come up with next.
Overall this team controls it's own destiny and as we head into the 2nd half of the season it doesn't get any easier so it's imperative that the Steelers seize every opportunity in every game to distance themselves from their competition because in the AFC the opponents coming up will be bringing their "A" game against us each and every week; even 1 slip up on any given Sunday can be costly.