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Old 11-12-2009, 10:32 PM   #1
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Default Bires: Midseason report

Bires: Midseason report
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By: Mike Bires
Beaver County Times
Thursday November 12, 2009 09:44 AM

Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger cheers as he leaves the field after beating the Denver Broncos 28-10 during an NFL football game at Invesco Field at Mile High, Monday in Denver.

PITTSBURGH - Defensive end Brett Keisel says the best thing about the Steelers’ 6-2 start is that “we’ve put ourselves in position to do great things.”

At the halfway point of their season, the Steelers indeed remain one of the elite teams in the AFC. They’ve hit a few bumps along the road, but for the most part, it’s been a productive and exciting ride.

Here’s a mid-season review of their many highlights and a few lowlights:

TOP STORYLINE: Steelers avoid a Super Bowl hangover.

Unlike 2006 when they didn’t even make the playoffs, this Super Bowl defense hasn’t lost its focus.

“The last time we won it (in 2005), we soaked it in too long,” linebacker James Harrison said.

The ’09 Steelers won’t repeat that fatal mistake. At least they haven’t so far. When they reported to training camp, they promised not to take last year’s Super Bowl success for granted, and they haven’t.

MOST OVERHYPED STORYLINE: Ben Roethlisberger sued for sexual assault.

Yes, the franchise quarterback dealing with a rape charge is serious stuff. But it has not been a distraction on the football field for Roethlisberger or his teammates. It's been a non-issue. In fact, Roethlisberger and his offense may have drawn closer because of it.

“Big Ben” is off to one of the best starts in his career. He’s also developed into a true team leader. Football, be it in practice or in games, has been Roethlisberger's safe haven from his legal issues.


Harrison, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, is still playing at an all-star level. But his two-year run as team MVP will end if Roethlisberger keeps up the torrid pace he’s on. Roethlisberger is fourth in the NFL with a 104.1 passer rating. The only QBs ahead of him are Drew Brees, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning. That's good company.

With 2,295 passing yards, Roethlisberger is on pace to shatter the Steelers’ single-season record of 3,724 set by Terry Bradshaw in 1979.

MOST PLEASANT SURPRISE: Rookie wide receiver Mike Wallace.

The speedster out of Ole Miss is definitely befitting from the Steelers’ transition from a running offense to a passing team. With the ball being thrown so much and Roethlisberger spreading it around, Wallace has managed to catch 25 passes for 437 yards and three TDs.
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Most impressive about Wallace is that he’s not making rookie mistakes. He knows his playbook. He’s not dropping the ball. He’s already developed a chemistry and trust with Roethlisberger.

MOST DISAPPOINTING PLAYER: Second-year wide receiver Limas Sweed.

After such a promising off-season, Sweed seemed poised to put his lackluster rookie year behind him. But because he’s struggling to hang on to passes _ that’s the kiss of death for any wide receiver _ he’s only dressed for four games so far this year. And he only has one catch for 5 yards.

A second-round pick in last year’s draft, Sweed is most associated with the would-be 50-yard TD pass he dropped in last year’s AFC Championship Game and the would-be 34-yard TD pass he dropped in the Sept. 27 loss at Cincinnati.

TOP OFFENSIVE PLAY: Wallace’s 40-yard TD catch against the Vikings.

This was a play that demonstrated Roethlisberger’s faith in the rookie. There were just 31 seconds left in the first half, and the Steelers were trailing 7-3. But it was Wallace on the receiving end of the TD pass that gave the Steelers the lead for good against the Vikings, who were 6-0 at the time.

Wallace then capped off the score by somersaulting into the end zone.

TOP DEFENSIVE PLAYS: Woodley and Fox take it to the house.

The Steelers were leading the Vikings 13-10 midway in the fourth quarter but Favre had the Minnesota offense on the move. Then on a third-and-goal call from the Steelers’ 8-yard line, Keisel knocked the ball out of Favre’s had with a sack

Outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley scooped up the ball and ran 77 yards for a touchdown.

On the Vikings’ next possession, inside linebacker Keyaron Fox put the win on ice by returning an interception 82 yards for a TD.

In that 27-17 win, the Steelers’ defense outscored both offenses.

Mike Bires can be reached online at mbires@timesonline.com
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