Behind Enemy Lines- Part I

Charlie Bernstein posed five in-depth questions to Steel City Insider publisher Jim Wexell to find out more about this week's opponent, the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Charlie Bernstein: The Steelers have redesigned their offense and their set of "triplets" (Ben, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell) is one of the most exciting in the NFL. How much success on offense do you attribute to offensive coordinator Todd Haley?

Jim Wexell: Um, I want to see more decisiveness. It's all a bit too helter-skelter for me. I guess that's what people mean when they say there's no identity. But, Mike Tomlin likes to be "thoughtfully non-rhythmic" and they are that. There are a lot of weapons, and with the line coming together this offense could really take off at any time. I credit Haley for keeping Roethlisberger upright, or, not asking him to take 5 or 7-step drops to throw deep so often behind a putrid O-line. That was my main complaint with the previous coordinator.

CB: Troy Polamalu has been a fixture in the secondary for over a decade. Father time catches up to everyone, how good of a football player is he at this point in his career?

JW:Troy's coming off his best game of the season. You know, the last three years or so I''ve watched him in practice and he has looked even older than me. He just can't get those legs moving during the week. So on game day I'm always surprised that he can run as well as he does. But I'm in the minority here. I told someone that I thought he played a great game last week and the guy said, "That's not the storyline," meaning people aren't really looking closely at the tape, just bitching on bad talk shows and in terrible columns about how old and slow he's become. I just don't see it that way. He's still every effective in my opinion. But this is probably his final year. He has a very interesting player waiting in the wings behind him in Shamarko Thomas.

CB: The Steelers offensive line has been much maligned for years and the team has addressed it by spending early draft picks there. It appears that as long as they stay healthy they're going to live up to expectations. How good has the offensive line been opening up holes for Le'Veon Bell?

JW:The holes are really opening up for Bell and LeGarrette Blount. If you read Matt Steel's story today, you'll read his criticisms of why they're not running the ball more often. That hasn't been heard around here for a while, because most media have gotten caught up in the passing frenzy that's overtaken the NFL. David DeCastro and Maurkice Pouncey have been outstanding up front. LG Ramon Foster is due back from his injury this week. The tackle play has been OK, but both can be bulldozed by superior size and talented pass-rushers. Mike Munchak appears to be a great help, and the backs are more talented than any they've had in a while.

CB: With the exception of last week, opposing tight ends have gashed the Jaguars. Do you expect Heath Miller to be involved heavily in Sunday's game plan?

JW: Heath is coming off the best statistical game of his career, and in fact I'm doing a story today on what he might be able to accomplish against the Jaguars, and, since he's a class leader with unquestioned character, what he thought of the so-called "undisciplined" performance of his team last week in that penalty-fest.

CB: Mike Tomlin seems like a coach who "tells it how it is" and he's loved by many in the media. He had the early success with the Super Bowl title in 2008, and that's worth a certain amount of equity. What are his strengths and weaknesses as a head coach and how do you feel he measures up to his predecessor, Bill Cowher?

JW: Tomlin is a great communicator not only because of his verbal skills but because of his intelligence and understanding of people. Cowher on the other hand was disliked throughout his own building whereas Tomlin is just about worshipped. He cares about every person he comes across. While Cowher doesn't have the high IQ, he was singularly focused. He did not care about being loved. He was a tyrant in the building, and it worked. He epitomized the NFL head coach. Tomlin is more cerebral, but that doesn't necessarily make him better because his offense kind of reflects that lack of singular focus. It seems to try to do too much. Balance is one thing, but Cowher was driven and focused on having a physical, run-oriented, run-stopping football team. It's why he drafted a nose tackle (Casey Hampton) instead of a quarterback (Drew Brees) one year, and had to be talked into drafting a quarterback (Ben Roethlisberger) instead of a guard (Shawn Andrews) another year. Regardless of style, the record of each is almost exactly the same at the same point in their careers. Tomlin is being accused by the many fans who dislike him of winning with Cowher's players. But Cowher had won with Chuck Noll's players. As those players departed, Cowher went through a three-year drought before turning it around. This is the third of Tomlin's drought and there are signs that real talent is ready to take him into a similar career rebound. The offense appears set. The defense has some interesting building blocks either on the field already or in the pipeline.

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