No disrespect intended towards the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, but the Cincinnati Bengals would have trounced the Steelers. If anything is shocking it is that the Pats almost gave the game away in the first half. A few suspect calls may have saved them and certainly demoralized a Steeler team that just rolled over and died in the third quarter.
SteelCity Insider Dale Lolley thinks that Camp Cowher is closer to Club Med than bootcamp, at least for the veterans. Therefore, game 1 becomes the real tune-up. Nothing wrong with the rookies in the opener, but boy did the veterans look flat. There is an ongoing experiment at right guard and Cowher plugs in Larry Foote for Kendrell Bell instead of veterans John Fiala or James Farrior. Isn't Cowher supposed to be rookie-phobic?
We are likely to see three rookies with substantial playing time at key positions in the Oakland game: Larry Foote, Kendall Simmons, and Antwaan Randle El. Looking at the Steelers that way it would seem that Cowher is playing for later in the season, not winning now. The veterans are not so smug anymore and the locker room has been characterized as very "tight." This is now a team looking for leadership. This is now a team looking for direction. Everyone is questioning himself and Cowher is only fanning the flames of anxiety.
And don't forget the fledgling Kendrell Bell/Joey Porter experiment, not to mention Deshea Townsend moving to the outside in the dime. That's an awful lot of tinkering for a team that was essentially a few special teams lapses from the Super Bowl.
We all just witnessed a team that went 13-3 last season and returning most of its starters failing in every facet of the game for the 2002 opener. The play was uncharacteristic to say the least and that even includes the much-maligned QB Kordell Stewart. This is a team groping for some identity and Cowher prefers to see that develop on the field and in games that count… battle tested and Cowher approved.
For all the ineptitude the Steelers displayed, they could have run the ball against the Patriots, as there were flashes of that. The Steelers could have thrown the ball into the end zone save for the fact that a certain receiver's feet are too big. Certainly they could have pressured Brady more. Yes, that was defensive end Kimo Von Oelhoffen with two sacks, a defensive end in a 3-4 scheme. And how many times have you seen Josh Miller shank one (you can use your toes if you want)? The entire team was learning to play all over again.
I hardly expect a miraculous turn around against the Raiders. The Steelers will take a few more weeks before they are firing on all cylinders. But if even just one or two parts of the Steeler game do come together, the Raiders will be in for a dogfight. Oakland played the best football of any AFC team during week 1 (yes, including the New England Patriots and their resident genius). If the Steelers beat them, Monday night might as well have been last January. No sense crying over a preseason game.