Here in the land where men wear yellow panties things are pretty steamy. The populous is scrambling for tickets to the big show and all other teams are inferior. The regular season is a formality on the way down the yellow-brick road to the Bowl that is Super. All the Steeler players are choking back the chuckles as they try to say the right things about the upcoming season. It's going to be a wonderful collapse to watch from here behind enemy lines.
The ultimate problem for us as Browns fans is this: The Steelers are a talented team. What is even worse is that the bulk of their talent is young and locked up through 2004 and beyond. It's been a busy offseason for this team despite the fact that not much has changed concerning the personnel Bill Cowher (Marty Schottenheimer Jr.) will field this year. Browns fans will be afforded the luxury of fine tuning their hatred for particular players, because the core should remain in place for a few years.
Examination of the new enemy formations should spotlight the changes at middle linebacker, placekicker, and in the receiving corps. Browns fans are familiar with the change at middle linebacker. Earl Holmes left town with a scalpel sticking out of both his knees. James Farrior was brought in to allegedly fill the whole thus created. (Not the ones in Earl's knees) That's not exactly accurate. The Steelers have a stable of young linebackers for us to learn to hate, led by Kendrell Bell and Joey Porter. These guys deserve playing time and now they'll get it. The loss of Earl Holmes will not degrade this unit, except in the respect that the addition of Holmes should help the Browns. Todd Peterson shouldn't do any worse than that beautiful clutch shanker Chris Brown did. Let's hope he does anyway. Finally is the shakeup in the third and fourth receiver positions. This unit is where Orange and Brown fans will start to see the tools the Steelers will use to bring about their own demise.
Employing the strategy of retaining a decent team in tact through re-signings will also mean retaining some of the same old flaws. The passing game in Pittsburgh still has the full potential to prevent this team from being able to overcome a deficit late in games. The Steelers and their fans believe the top two, Hines Ward and Plaxico Burress, will improve. The truth is that it is just as possible they will regress. It is not a good sign for a wide receiver to list blocking as his best quality. It's even worse when that guy is your number one. Burress may have imposing size but sometimes he makes you wonder why they even issue this kid a helmet. He does not have the mental make-up to be great yet. Will somebody please keep Gerard Warren away. The addition of Terance Mathis and second round reach Antwaan Randle El should balance out the loss of Bobby Shaw in the slot. It won't be enough. When the ship starts sinking this group can't do enough bring it back, especially not when the noose of pressure cuts the number of catchable balls Kordell throws in half.
How does a team that struggles throwing the ball win so many games? They run the ball, play field position, and bring a stifling defense so they just don't have to score that many points to win. Let's get this bad news out of the way right now, the Steelers could win twelve or thirteen games again this year. Their schedule is light, especially down the stretch and at home. But just as his mentor taught him to do, Marty Schottenheimer Jr. will find a way to lose in the playoffs. The defensive front can't hide the secondary forever. Those days of reaping the benefits of being the only team running a 3-4 defense are over. Defensive lines are getting stacked to prevent the run in this division and Jerome Bettis' health is a huge question. In the end it just doesn't pay to be satisfied while the teams around you are improving. (This of course does not apply to the cement shoe wearing Ravens.)
If this team struggles it's going to get really ugly, really fast. How could that happen? I'm glad you asked. They are already answering questions about the Super Bowl. The pressure is on. The quarterback does not handle pressure situations well. The nauseatingly giddy fans around here are notorious for turning on this team before the Iron City hits the ground. It's arguable that being the favorite in today's NFL is the surest way not to win it all. Add all of this to the fact that Bill Cowher's teams have a history of choking. This team could quickly find itself in a pressure cooker. Don't look now but the Cleveland Browns have assembled a dangerous team. Overconfidence will not be tolerated.
If you believe the AFC North is a two horse race, and you should until the Ravens rebuild or the Bungles somehow find a quarterback, reserve your judgment as to who is the best until that deciding third game in January. I hope that game is in Cleveland and not here behind enemy lines.