Behind Enemy Lines: Pittsburgh Steelers

Charlie goes behind enemy lines and asks the tough questions of Jim Wexell,

1. Troy Polamalu is one of the very best strong safeties in the league. How much have the Steelers missed him in the last three games, and what is his status for this week?

    The Steelers missed him as an alternate deep cover man and as a quick blitzer against Tom Brady. Their depth had carried them in previous games without him, but against such a precise QB he was greatly missed.

2. Speaking of injuries, defensive end Aaron Smith just went down for the season. Exactly how big of a loss is that, and who will the Steelers have filling in?

    That's a huge loss for their run defense. They won't be too bad off in the short run with the combination of journeymen Nick Eason and Travis Kirshcke, and if they do meet the Pats again ... well, they don't run the ball. So that's the degree at this point.

3. It was reported on Sirius NFL Radio that when the Jets upset the Steelers a few weeks back, Coach Eric Mangini implemented a game plan that took away quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's tendency (and comfort zone) to throw to the right side of the field. When he had to throw to the left side and got pressure from the right side, he was not as accurate with the football. What's your take on that, and do you notice any tendencies like that in most games with Big Ben?

    I keep reading that people have success and this and that, but it was just a poorly designed scheme -- 7step drops and play-action -- for a line that can't hold its blocks. They've since eliminated most of those slow-developing plays, particularly since their run game isn't scaring anyone. Remember Ben rolling left and throwing a pass to Hines Ward at the goal line on third-and-30 in the Super Bowl? He throws well on the run to either side and is also outstanding in the pocket. He just needs time and the better coordinated offense that's playing right now.

4. Hines Ward is one of the best receivers in the game that nobody talks about when mentioning the best receivers in the game. His statistics in the postseason dwarf those of Marvin Harrison, who many feel to be a lock for the hall of fame when his playing days are over. What does Wards presence mean to the Steelers, and what are his chances of getting an ugly yellow jacket when hes done playing?

    His chances are improving. The thought of it is growing on people with every year he's effective. I think people like those guys who kind of revolutionize the game as long as they have the stats. No one I ever remember knocks out linebackers on blocks with such frequency.

5. The Steelers offensive line has come under fire lately, with the poor showing against the Jets. Was that just a bad game, or is there problems up front?

    They've rebounded since. Part of the reason they've always struggled against the Jags is because of their big defensive tackles. Jeff Hartings (and now Sean Mahan) and Kendall Simmons are more mobile pullers than they are plow-men in the run game. I tell people this every week: The Steelers can't run up the middle. They didn't even try -- finally -- against the Pats and were effective. They shouldn't even try against the Jags. The myth that the Steelers are a power running team is dying hard.

6. It's obvious that tight end Heath Miller is among the very best at his position in the NFL, especially at getting open and catching the ball in the red zone. How is he as a blocker?

    The blocking of the tight ends is also hurting the run game and the quarterback. Miller is one tough son of a gun but he's no Kyle Brady.

7. The Jaguars-Steelers rivalry seems to always produce great, hard-hitting, close ball-games in which both teams have to load up on the Tylenol on the Monday morning after. It appears as if the Jaguars have modeled their team to resemble the Steelers, and many Jaguars fans look up to the Steelers franchise as one of the model franchises in the league. Do you believe that the Steelers still see Jacksonville as a rival, even though they aren't in the same division anymore?

    They don't consider them a rival but they have immense respect for their style of play.

Charlie Bernstein is the Editor-in-Chief of, and a regular syndicated contributor to, Sirius NFL Radio, MySpace Sports and Charlie is also a member of the Pro Football Writers Association, and is a columnist for the New Smyrna Observer. Feel free to contact him -HERE- with questions or comments.

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