End of Run? Not by a Long Shot

The experts seem to have one reason or another why the Steelers will flatten out this season, but Jim Wexell says the end of the line is far from here.

Since the turn of the century only the New England Patriots have a better winning percentage than the Pittsburgh Steelers.

It's been a millennium of excellence, but of course all great millenniums have to end sometime.

Don't they?

Well, 12 years of .664 football is just about as good as it gets. The Super Steelers of the Seventies had about a dozen great years before it all began falling apart. From 1972 through 1983 those Steelers had a regular-season winning percentage of .675, just two wins and a tie better than these current Steelers.

Of course, these current Steelers are due to break up soon for a variety of reasons, given the following proclamations by the experts. But I'm not buying any of it, and here are my reasonable rebuttals.

* Ryan Clark, Pittsburgh Steelers: "We're going to be old and slow and we're going to try to figure out if we can make some plays."

Clark said that to columnist Joe Starkey, who noted that Clark's tongue was in cheek. Clark and so many of the Steelers use this line when talking about their defense because they're trying to mock the general consensus.

But this Sunday night the Steelers will open with seven new players, out of 12 starters (counting the nickel back), from last year's opener. And the ages of those seven players add up to 41 years to the younger.

There are some asterisks. James Harrison won't play this week, and that's certainly not a plus, but in Chris Carter, Jason Worilds, Brandon Johnson and Adrian Robinson in reserve it's likely the Steelers won't have to waste any more of Lawrence Timmons's career by moving him outside.

And of course Clark must sit out this one game, which is not preferred. And Casey Hampton might actually start at nose tackle, even though I used the age of Steve McLendon because he'll end up playing more than Hampton in this game.

But the key point that the experts seem to be missing is that the Steelers have some impressive young players in their starting lineup now in Ziggy Hood, McLendon, Keenan Lewis and Cortez Allen, and that last year Aaron Smith and James Farrior were shells of their former selves.

* Fox Sports' Most Overrated Players (anonymous): "Polamalu's not the player he once was. His 2011 was average at best. ... He looked a few steps slower and a lot less intimidating. ... Simply not the same guy who was leaping over the line of scrimmage."

Well, yes, he was. I recall at least two plays in which Troy Polamalu leaped over the line to stop plays in the backfield.

In what was a recovery year for him and a problematic Achilles' tendon, Polamalu was named first-team AP All-Pro over Ed Reed, preserving the tradition that the All-Pro team is not a popularity contest.

Polamalu might be slowing down a bit but he's hardly overrated, and he'll easily provide the effective leadership in the deep patrol that Rod Woodson (thought overrated for the last seven years or so of his career) did in reaching two Super Bowls after he left the Steelers.

* Jerome Bettis, former Pittsburgh Steelers RB: "With a speed guy like Wallace, who hasn't had any camp, the odds of him pulling a hamstring are really great."

Hey, maybe Bettis knows better, but Mike Wallace told reporters the day he ended his holdout: "You guys know I don't have hamstrings."

It's a joke, but I'm riding with it today. Besides, there's some good depth if he does go down.

* Columnist Joe Starkey: "An offensive line that was supposed to be significantly upgraded really wasn't."

* Columnist Peter King: "I have three words for Ben Roethlisberger ... Duck, Ben, duck."

These two accomplished columnists, of course, are writing about the offensive line. Starkey wrote after the loss of David DeCastro. King wrote after second-round pick Mike Adams was beaten for two sacks in his first preseason game as the starting left tackle.

Did most people think two rookies were going to matter that much? Both of them?

Well, they weren't. Ask Maurkice Pouncey, who had a hard time holding his tongue when his favored RG, Ramon Foster, lost his job, for the time, to DeCastro. And Adams was never considered the starting left tackle by those who knew Starks was waiting in the wings.

Yes, the rookies will need to mend and grow, but the Steelers have still upgraded with Willie Colon starting this opener at left guard instead of the still-available Chris Kemoeatu, and Starks opening the season at left tackle instead of since-released Jonathan Scott. The Steelers' line – with Marcus Gilbert in his second season and Pouncey healthy – will most certainly be improved.

* Adam Schein, Sirius Radio: "The Pittsburgh Steelers have major question marks. First of all, I'm not convinced the marriage of Todd Haley and Ben Roethlisberger will work."

This is another oft-repeated criticism, and one I have never understood. First of all, both Haley and Roethlisberger are big-hearted competitors, not finger-pointing losers. And even if they didn't like each other – and there's absolutely no evidence of that – they would find a way to make it work to win ball games.

* Schein (cont.): "… and furthermore, Rashard Mendenhall is hurt. Do you trust Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer?"

Yes. Yes I do trust them. Steelers fans who've watched Redman the last couple of years have been waiting for him to get his chance. And those same Steelers fans watched Dwyer put it all together this preseason. Besides, Mendenhall will be back at the end of the month at the latest. Nothing to see here.

The Steelers are certainly not a perfect team, but they're not close to the end of the line, either. Not with a 30-year-old quarterback. Not with a defense that's been infused by at least three new studly starters. Not a skill-position group that's been fortified by quality reserves. And not an offensive line that's finally getting some attention from the personnel department and will be the rock of the next era.

The Steelers may have run out of gas in the past under both Chuck Noll and Bill Cowher, but there's a reason they're the NFL's winningest franchise since the merger:

The stability of management leads to patient player and unit development. And there's not an expert to be found who would criticize that tried and true phenomenon.

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