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09-23-2008, 12:17 AM
Eric Knopsnyder | Steelers should be feeling the heat
By ERIC KNOPSNYDER
The Tribune-Democrat
http://www.tribune-democrat.com/sports/ ... 35346.html (http://www.tribune-democrat.com/sports/local_story_266235346.html)

The Pittsburgh Steelers are under immense pressure. Itís not the kind of pressure that Ben Roethlisberger faced in Sundayís 15-6 loss at Philadelphia, but the kind that comes with having a glaring weakness exposed for the entire NFL to see.

Thatís what coach Mike Tomlin, along with offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and offensive line coach Larry Zierlein, have to deal with this week.

The Baltimore Ravens defense isnít as fearsome as it was a few years ago, but Ray Lewis & Co. must be licking their collective chops as they watch film of the Steelers giving up nine sacks to the Eagles, who had allowed 41 points to Dallas less than a week earlier.

The Steelers host the Ravens on Monday night, and they will undoubtedly try to apply the same kind of pressure that Philadelphia did.

ď(In the) National Football League, when you put a display like that out there, you are going to see it again and again and again until you make that problem disappear,Ē Tomlin said in his postgame press conference. ďItís a problem that we have, itís obvious. Weíll do that.Ē

They had better. Nothing less than the future of the franchise is at stake.

That might sound like hyperbole, but itís the truth. Roethlisberger isnít just the key to what the Steelers do this year, but to what they do for the foreseeable future. They guaranteed that when they signed him to an eight-year contract that could be worth $102 million.

Unfortunately, they did little to protect that investment Ė literally or figuratively. Adding Justin Hartwig to a bad offensive line that had already lost Alan Faneca wasnít enough.

For years, the Steelersí skill position players have gotten the credit while itís been the linemen that have made the franchise one of the NFLís best. Theyíre they guys who have made Barry Foster, Erric Pegram and Willie Parker look good.

Tomlin and Director of Football Operations Kevin Colbert know that. But they havenít done a good enough job of bringing in good, young linemen to replace aging stars like Faneca and Jeff Hartings before him.

Those failures will take their toll on Roethlisberger. Itís impossible to tell what the cumulative effect will be on him, but two things are clear:

1. It certainly wonít extend his career or his effectiveness.

2. The Steelers had better find some answers quickly or it could have a long-lasting impact.

For now, everyone associated with the offense needs to help make up for the lineís deficiencies. That includes the coaching staff, the running backs and, yes, even the quarterback.

ďIím disappointed that we did not handle their pressure packages,Ē Tomlin said. ďNotice that I said we. Iíve said all along that the protection of our quarterback is an 11-man job.Ē

If the Steelers donít start doing a better job of it soon, theyíll be looking for another quarterback.



Eric Knopsnyder is the sports editor of The Tribune-Democrat.
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