Year of atonement

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Even though the Steelers, Colts game Sunday at Heinz Field was billed as “just another meaningless preseason game” ha, ha, ha. It was a tale of almost two halves but it made the argument wide receiver Mike Wallace presents to get more loot for his services a bit stronger, after “Big” Ben Roethlisberger threw an ill-advised pass that was easily picked off. Oh by the way, after that gift the Colts went absolutely nowhere and when the Steelers “D” stopped them cold, Antonio Brown caught a pass that was little more than an extended hand off from Ben Roethlisberger and took the ball “all the way to the house.”

AubreyBruceBox

As a team the Steelers must take this season all the way to the house in order to begin to make their mark. No one fears the guy that played in your spot last year; it is the guy in the first chair this year that concerns them. Forget about “mystique.” If you do not perform in the NFL, otherwise known as the Not-For-Long league, instead of being part of a collective mystique you might end up being a “mystery” player or the answer to a trivia question that no one knows the answer to. The Steelers have to get rid of the stigma of being beaten by Tim Tebow. More importantly, they must get beyond the stigma of beating themselves.

The Steelers can no longer live on past tradition. “Mean” Joe Greene can no longer terrorize opposing quarterbacks. John Stallworth can no longer turn a simple five yard swing pass into a 80 yard touchdown. The scowl of Chuck Noll has been replaced with the sneer of Mike Tomlin.

The Steelers had better start seriously rebuilding their defense, just as the Colts are rebuilding their offense. Even though Andrew Luck, the first overall pick of the 2012 draft class threw a pair of picks, he still for the most part showed great poise.

Everyone seems a bit too concerned about if and when Mike Wallace will again don the Black and Gold. Well Mr. Wallace had better soon make up his mind because the clock is ticking. If Antonio Brown keeps on taking the ball to the house, Wallace might have to do a few back flips and somersaults just to get the bank teller to cash his unemployment check.

This was the first victory for the Steelers. Pre-season or not, a win is a win is a win. However, as far as I am concerned the jury is still out on both the offense and defense. Neither side of the ball was exemplary. As a matter-of-fact there still seems to be a lack of experience on the starting left corner side as well as with the safety position.

Andrew Luck passed for 175 yards and that is not a good sign being as the Steelers have to face the Buffalo Bills and Carolina Panthers as warm up acts before venturing out to the oxygen deprived city of Denver minus their second best safety Ryan Clark, who by the way will not be playing because he is afflicted with sickle cell disease.

What member of the defensive backfield is Peyton Manning going to carve up when the Steelers face Mr. Manning in their first regular season game?

The Steelers are a team in search of an identity. They have tried a myriad of offenses and defenses but everything that they attempt has to be based on the personalities and personnel groupings that are available to them. They cannot react and be like the pass happy Colts or the soon to be pass happy Broncos. The Steelers have almost always been throughout their history been trend setters, not trend followers.

When Hall of Fame cornerback Mel Blount first came into the NFL, it was perfectly legal for a defensive back to maintain contact with a receiver until the pass was thrown. Blount was a master of the “bump and run. He regularly stymied Oakland’s ace receivers, Cliff Branch and Fred Biletnikoff, held off Cincinnati’s Isaac Curtis so long his quarterback had to eat the ball and broke the ribs of the Cowboys’ Golden Richards.

So the the NFL’s competition committee simply changed the rules, outlawing Mel’s most efficient pass coverage technique. The league soon after outlawed any contact more than five yards beyond the scrimmage line.

The rules-makers insisted they were only trying to increase overall scoring all around the league but Steelers coach Chuck Noll disagreed: “They ganged up on us and are trying to win the championship through legislation. But whatever the rules, you have to adjust to them and play with them.”

Nobody adjusted more quickly or effectively than Blount. No longer able to usher receivers downfield on his terms, Mel merely played behind them, appearing to be beaten, before swooping in like a starved vulture to deflect the pass or gobble up an interception. When you are the Pittsburgh Steelers they may stack the deck but they can’t play your hand.

(Aubrey Bruce can be reached at: abruce@newpittsburghcourier.com or 412-583-6741.)

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