Thursday, September 6, 2012

Truths, Myths And Realities: The Steelers And James Harrison

Some weeks ago, Adam Schein of wrote an article addressing what he considered to be the debunking of myths and establishing of truths. Regarding the Steelers he addressed specifically what he felt were the reasons they would be nothing more than a third-place team.

While on the surface he seemed to have covered all the main bullet points, his reasonings were so much pure speculation and conjecture that I thought I was reading satire, something akin to "The Colbert Report" rather than actual journalism. Add to that, he missed a very salient matter that was in question even a month ago.

Let's simply look at his points and see what really are truths and myths. We're also providing the link to the article so there can't be a claim that anything was taken out of context. -

"The Myth: Pittsburgh is Pittsburgh, and will be a top-tier contender. 

The Truth: The Steelers have issues and look like a third-place team."

After extending his respects to head coach Mike Tomlin, he said "I'm not convinced the shotgun marriage between new offensive coordinator Todd Haley and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger will work....Have you studied the combustible Haley and Roethlisberger through the years?"

Schein so far is exemplifying synthetic thinking by regurgitating the same rhetoric as much of the rest of the media assuming Haley's and Roethlisberger's first names are Devil Anse and Ole Ran'l. There hasn't been any actual indication, though, of a Hatfields and McCoys disagreement. Maybe they didn't have communication immediately upon Haley's arrival, but there is no rule they had to do so. 

There is, though, an NFL rule saying that the team and coaches couldn't have any football contact/connections at that time. So, the lack of contact between the two, which again was media generated, was much ado about nothing. Besides, as long as they agree that the mutual goal is to win a Super Bowl, it doesn't matter if they don't exactly get along. It's well known that former Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Chuck Noll and quarterback Terry Bradshaw didn't exactly get along, bickering all the way to four Super Bowl wins. 

Next, Schein addresses another aspect of the offense. "Meanwhile, receiver Mike Wallace....wants Larry Fitzgerald -type money. The Steelers (wisely) won't give it to him. This situation can't be spun with the argument that Wallace knows the Steelers' system and won't be hurt by missing time -- Haley is implementing a new offense, after all."

First thing to say on that is, as we've written before, please provide that quote where Wallace said he absolutely wanted Fitzgerald money. At the same time, we know he wants to get paid. Who doesn't? Very briefly, then, let's tackle the contract aspect of this.

We've been saying for some time now that the money is there to sign Wallace. That hasn't changed. The problem is with how Wallace may be looking at the money he'd be receiving. Never overlook the all-important paragraph five in NFL contracts.

Wallace has the possibility of making, if indeed the $50 million that Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review alleges was offered to Wallace is accurate and still on the table, $20 million over two years initially and basically $50 million over five.

It's hard not to see him taking it, but Wallace may be looking at an $11 million average if his push for $55 million is also accurate. That wouldn't be smart because the back ends of the contracts is hardly ever paid. So, why look at an average when it's the signing bonus and the first two years are what matter most? Like I mentioned earlier, always consider the paragraph five money (i.e. signing bonus + 1st year/option bonus + 2nd year = 2 years, $20 mill or more).

More importantly and impactfully is what Wallace can do on the field in Haley's new offense. The beauty of what Wallace brings is that, if all else fails, Wallace can just use his speed and go long, be used as a decoy, and/or hit and exploit simple slant routes or bubble screens. Big Ben and Wallace, with a simple look or nod, can also just recreate the train station scene from the movie The Untouchables. Big Ben/Elliot Ness: "You got him?"
Wallace/George Stone: "Yeah, I got him."
Ben/Ness: "Take him!" (The GREATEST SCENE IN MOVIE MAKING HISTORY. But, I digress...)

We acknowledge that Rashard Mendenhall is still hurt and that his inability to play Sunday can affect what the Steelers can do. Don't expect the Steelers to rush him back, though they might throw a smoke screen Denver's way. -

We tie that into Schein's next point, which was, "Do you trust Isaac Redman and Jonathan Dwyer? 

In a word, yes. Redman is a straight forward plodder who likes to attack, and Dwyer is pounding runner with skip and pop when given that hole. Between the two of them, and with the variables that Baron Batch and Chris Rainey behind them bring, they can collectively provide the running game the Steelers need. 

I choose to skip the comments on the offensive linemen drafted because one is gone for at least eight weeks and the other won't start in that time frame anyway. But his next point may be the most head-scratching of all he wrote.

"Receiver Hines Ward is on TV. Linebacker James Farrior has left the building. Safety Troy Polamalu is older."

Response: Hines barely played as youth was served. Potsie was off the field more than you remember. Yeah? So is everyone else. Polamalu is one who keeps himself in great shape, is known for his conditioning. Whether 26 or 31, he will be ready to play. 

Schein then addressed the entire by saying that the "Baltimore Ravens are the team to beat in the AFC North. Baltimore has a more imposing defense (even with the injury to Terrell Suggs) and a better running attack than its arch rivals in Pittsburgh."

Really? Even without Fall So Hard? Check the NFL stats again from last season, the Steelers were atop the list. While the No. 2 defense was a Harbaugh-led unit, it was the one in Garnett and Gold. Not to mention the fact that the Ravens lost key defensive players in defensive end Cory Redding, nose tackle Brandon McKinney, outside linebacker Jarret Johnson, cornerback Chris Carr and safeties Tom Zbikowski and Haruki Nakamura. 

The running attack point is arguable, but the fact is that neither team historically runs well against the other. So, that's generally a wash. In all honesty, though, both are potential 10-6 teams.

"The Cincinnati Bengals are legit....Quarterback Andy Dalton and receiver A.J. Green will continue to blossom in Year 2. Right now, on Aug. 1, the Steelers have more issues than the Bengals."

The first point with which we completely agree. The Bengals will only improve on last year's success and will be a team to be reckoned with this season. Dalton is a QB on the rise and Green has scary potential. The Steelers and Ravens both with have to account for the Bengals. 

The way Schein ended that last point was that "the Steelers have more issues than the Bengals." Yes, they do. One of the biggest of the issues is how much can be expected from outside linebacker James Harrison. His presence of absence is a very mighty swing of the pendulum.

We at If It Ain't Steel have questioned just how much we all may see him in the season-opening Broncos game, as well as over this year entire year. We also surmised that this could be his last full season with the Steelers. If so, his loss would be immediately felt. He has only participated in a limited capacity the last two days of practice, so this is of real concern.

As good as Chris Carter has been in the preseason at rushing the passer and causing disruptions, he isn't the clogging run stopper that is Harrison. When the Silverback wants the running back to stop, he stops. Deebo's strength, especially his lower body strength may be unmatched in the NFL right now. When he is healthy and is able to get low, basically too low for the offensive tackles to counter, the wide side of the field for the running back is simply cut off. When healthy, he is pure intimidation. Scary. He's like the NFL's version of Candyman--offensive coordinators don't even say his name five times when going over game plans the night before games. -

Whenever Harrison does hang up the cleats, the Steelers will miss his run support as much as, if not more than, his pass rushing prowess. Just as he has been explosive and terrorizing force at times, at other times he has been an immovable block of granite. "Dominant" is not ever an exaggeration when describing Harrison's play over the years. Even if he is limited, therefore, in Denver Sunday night, the reality is that his 75%-80% is better than 100% from some others.

Adam Schein tried to prognosticate doom and gloom for the Steelers, and, to be precise, there are some issues that may take all season to be completely resolved. The truth, though, is that much of what he opined and that the media writes to gain website hits is speculation. They themselves are more myth than anything else. The actual reality is that the Steelers will struggle with in the early part of the season schedule. But, as they coalesce as a solid unit, this team could find enough of an identity to make a playoff run.