Ed Bouchette on the Steelers:
Sunday, June 08, 2008
Yes, the Steelers have the toughest schedule in the NFL, based on their opponents' records from last season. And the way they finished by losing three of their final four games, including a playoff at home, matching that 10-6 record in Mike Tomlin's first season as their coach will be difficult.
But some team has to win the AFC North Division, and with it goes at least one home playoff game. Cleveland, which matched the Steelers' 10-6 record but lost both games to them and did not make the playoffs, is next season's pick by many to be the new force in the AFC North. Defense, though, will continue to be a problem for the Browns, who allowed 382 points last season. Plus, quarterback Derek Anderson must still prove he's not a one-year wonder.
If the Steelers can improve their play in their offensive line, they can play with anyone in the league this side of New England, which has their number, not to mention their defensive signals. The backfield might be unmatched in the NFL next season, including new third-down back Mewelde Moore, and they have a good and potentially dangerous group of receivers. Their defense allowed fewer points than all but the Indianapolis Colts last season.
And they can't get any worse in their special teams play.
Open and shut cases
The Steelers always have kept their practices open to the local and national media, which means they cannot blatantly violate rules such as practicing players who are on injured reserve. Former New England offensive lineman Ross Tucker accused the Patriots, who close practices to the media, of using players on injured reserve.
The NFL, under newer rules, now makes teams open their practices to local media, but only for the first 30 minutes -- basically while they stretch. Having practices open for their duration long has been a Steelers policy. To help prevent the kind of violations Tucker said went on in New England, the NFL should make all practices fully open to the media.
Bill Cowher once tested the Steelers policy by arbitrarily barring reporters from one practice because he did not want them to see that safety Carnell Lake was practicing at cornerback. Two things happened: Reporters found out and printed the information anyway, and Dan Rooney reminded his coach of the long-standing tradition of the open-practice policy. He also could have mentioned that Chuck Noll won four Super Bowls while keeping practices fully open.
But even Noll drew the line after Shouldergate in 1977, when then-Pittsburgh Press reporter John Clayton wrote that the Steelers wore shoulder pads in their spring minicamp, a practice then and now against NFL rules. NFL commissioner Pete Rozelle docked the Steelers a third-round draft choice in 1978 and Noll closed minicamp practices for years thereafter. But then, in those days, that one-week minicamp was the only time the Steelers practiced between the end of one season and the start of the next summer training camp.