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mesaSteeler
01-26-2011, 06:21 AM
The Steelers' final answers
http://www.timesonline.com/sports/sports_details/article/1501/2011/january/25/the-steelers-final-answers.html
By: Mike Bires
Beaver County Times

Tuesday January 25, 2011 11:54 PM

When the Steelers reported to training camp, they brought with them the same goal they have every year — to win the Super Bowl. However, on July 30 as they checked into their dormitory rooms at St. Vincent College, there was an air of concern, too. The Steelers had some serious question marks, including a very serious one involving their franchise quarterback. But six months later, the Steelers have obviously found answers to their preseason issues. They have made it to the Super Bowl. How did they do it? Steelers beat writer Mike Bires revisits his most pressing preseason issues to see how they were resolved:

WHAT WILL HAPPEN AT QUARTERBACK?

Never before did a Steelers starting quarterback begin the season on a four-game suspension. And this wasn’t just any QB. This was Ben Roethlisberger, who already owns two Super Bowl rings.

As it turns out, quarterback was never a problem ... even though it got crazy when Byron Leftwich sprained his knee in the final preseason game and Dennis Dixon suffered a season-ending knee injury in the second game of the season.

With Dixon and Batch getting two starts each, the Steelers went 3-1 without Roethlisberger. And since his return they’ve gone 11-3. Roethlisberger said 2010 was his best year. Of course, it can get a little better if the Steelers win Feb. 6 in Dallas.

CAN AGING STARS STILL SHINE?

Yes they can.

Inside linebacker James Farrior, who’s 35, is having a terrific year.

At 34, Hines Ward may not be the wide receiver he used to be. But he’s still had a solid year with four 100-yard receiving games. And he's still the spiritual leader of the wideouts, a corps that includes a second-year pro and two rookies.

Nose tackle Casey Hampton, who’s 33, is an absolute brute at the center of a defensive attack that led the NFL in rushing defense.

And don’t forget about the graybeard the Steelers added right before camp. Right tackle Flozell Adams, 35 and a former Cowboys All-Pro, made the absence of injured Willie Colon a non-issue.

The only old-timer who hasn’t been a factor is 34-year old defensive end Aaron Smith, who’s been out since Oct. 24 with a triceps tear. But the silver lining in Smith’s injury has been the play of Ziggy Hood, the Steelers’ first-round draft pick in 2009.

HAS POLAMALU FULLY RECOVERED?

Yes, Troy Polamalu has recovered from the two knee injuries he had last year. Unfortunately, he’s still bothered by a nagging leg injury that’s was first diagnosed as a strained Achilles’ tendon two months ago.

But before the Achilles’ tendon issue and even after, Polamalu has been brilliant at strong safety. The team leader with seven interceptions, he made big play after big play. The best of them was a sack of Joe Flacco on Dec. 5 in Baltimore that forced a fumble and set up the game-winning touchdown.

Last year when Polamalu missed most of the season, the Steelers went 5-6 without him. This year, they're 13-3 in game’s he’s played. And when it came time for the Steelers to cast their votes for team MVP, Polamalu was a near-unanimous winner.

WHAT WILL BE THE OFFENSIVE IDENTITY?

For the past two seasons, offensive coordinator Bruce Arians prided himself on conjuring up game plans based on Roethlisberger's passing skills. But this year, there was much more balance.

For starters, team president Art Rooney demanded that the Steelers commit more to the running game. Second, the Steelers didn’t have Roethlisberger for the first four games. Third, Rashard Mendenhall is proving to be an excellent running back. He played well Sunday with 121 rushing yards in the AFC Championship Game.

With a first-round draft pick at quarterback and running back, it only makes sense to utilize both of them.

CAN THE OFFENSIVE LINE HOLD ITS OWN?

Considering all the chaos on the O-line all season, this unit has been nothing short of amazing.

Colon was done for the year with an off-season injury in July. Left tackle Max Starks went on I.R. in early November. Three different players — Trai Essex, Doug Legursky and Ramon Foster — each have at least four starts at right guard.

Maurkice Pouncey, the Steelers’ first-round pick this year, has lived up to his billing. But really, when the season started with a rookie at center, no one was sure how the offensive line would hold up.

But as the hogs up front have proven, they’ve held up just fine. The Steelers wouldn't be in the Super Bowl without them.