Either the San Diego Chargers are the best team in football, which they might be, or the Steelers are a shell of the team that won the Super Bowl last year, which they might be. It's likely the two concepts are intersecting and it doesn't look like the Steelers will beat the Chargers anytime soon.
As Philip Rivers blossoms, that could be the case. So what do the Steelers do?
Here's a list of radical suggestions, and it could just be a case of a writer in full panic mode. But in attempting to grasp the symbolism of the way the two halves played out Sunday night, my gut tells me one team is on the rise and another on the decline in the AFC:
1.) Look for a new quarterback. I'm not talking about changing quarterbacks right now. Ben Roethlisberger certainly deserves more time to get his game back. But the difference in him between this year and last year is obvious. He's a physical and mental shell of his old self. Philip Rivers looked like the old Roethlisberger last night. Rivers was the big, strong, clear-thinking quarterback out there last night, the guy Ben used to be. Did you see the shot of Rivers's wide eyes in the huddle right before he threw the go-ahead touchdown pass? He's a coach's son, the film rat, the team leader everyone hopes their quarterback to be. Roethlisberger is different. He gives, or at least gave, us the Johnny Unitas persona, the guy who told the coach what he could do with his play call, the winner who did it his way. But Roethlisberger's nowhere near being that gunslinger now. He's indecisive, and worse he's a hypochondriac. Yes, it looks like that elbow's bothering him, so I'm not calling him a phony, but it's just one injury after another with this guy. Is he really the tough guy we all thought he was? Anyway, the personnel department can't be blowing off the position this fall. There are too many outstanding draft-eligible quarterbacks in college football to think they've got their man for the next 10 years. If that motorcycle accident has made him gun-shy, bring someone else in. If it's just a case of a lousy receiving corps, that upgrading process has already begun.
2.) Change the criteria for grading O-linemen. I watch the line prospects in college football and immediately discard most of the interior prospects because they're not Steelers material. They can't move well enough to consistently get to the second level or to get out in front of screen passes. A guy like Kyle Young, the 6-5, 335-pounder from Fresno State, might be a first-rounder to some teams but he's a sixth-rounder to the Steelers because he can't move. But guess what? He'll have a better chance against Jamal Williams than Jeff Hartings ever would. Not that I'm down on Hartings, because he does most of what they ask him to do very well. But it might be foolish to look for exceptional second-level play when you're getting yourself pushed backwards against a serious defensive tackle on every play. Did anyone see Kendall Simmons out in front of the Najeh Davenport screen? He looked like a gazelle. He was something to behold. No big man should be able to run like that. And then he whiffed on his block. Maybe it's time to start looking at phone-booth guys. Maybe it's time to move Chris Kemoeatu to guard and Simmons to center. Maybe it's time to stop looking for the next Dermontti Dawson. There was only one of those anyway.
3.) For the love of all that is sacred, listen to Dick Hoak! Of course, not that Hoak knows anything. He's only been with the team since 1961! Last week a source told me Hoak loved Michael Turner coming out of college and after last night we understand why. Turner is Bus Junior, except he's a bit taller and of course a lot younger. Good thing the Chargers have LaDainian Tomlinson or else Bus Junior would've stomped all over the Steelers last night. But Hoak loved him coming out, and word is that the RB coach is so used to being ignored (after they make him evaluate college talent on film) that he went through different channels to get his Turner agenda approved. Instead, the Steelers traded a fourth-round pick to move up for Colclough and then, because of zero linebacking depth, were forced to reach for Nathaniel Adibi in the fifth round. Turner, the guy the Steelers' RB coach saw as the team's next big back, was taken nine picks later.
Draft a real linebacker. Not that the current starting group is bad or below average by any means. In fact, it was a shining light last night. But when will Bill Cowher draft a Shawne Merriman? For all the emphasis the Steelers place on linebackers, they haven't drafted one in the first round since Huey Richardson in 1991. Yeah, I know that'll make anyone leery; particularly since the great Chuck Noll was fired after that season. The second-round pick of Alonzo Jackson in 2003 didn't help an evaluator's confidence either, but a true OLB-DE pass-rushing threat is needed, particularly with a possible Joey Porter contract tussle further on up the road. As is, Porter couldn't beat a rookie left tackle last night. And with the injury to James Harrison, depth becomes a problem. It already showed when Turner took that second-half kickoff straight up the middle, past the Sean Moreys and Tyrone Carters of the coverage unit. There was no Silverback roaring up the middle to body slam Bus Junior and set the second-half tone. Instead, Bus Junior set the tone.
Get a new special teams coach? This is a question because I don't really believe the coach is the problem here. But after coming off a season in which the Steelers ranked 26th in net punting, 13th in covering kickoffs, 21st in kickoff returns and 3rd in punt returns, they went into the San Diego game ranked 26th, 15th, 24th and 31st in the respective categories. And that fake punt was a real knee-slapper, wasn't it? Since I like Kevin Spencer, and believe in his coaching techniques, I have to wonder where that high-school play came from. The top? Either way, the special teams coach deserves scrutiny here because each unit has regressed.
So that's the vent. Fire everybody about sums it up. Certainly a Super Bowl hangover was expected, but that doesn't make it any easier to watch.