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Five questions: Pittsburgh Steelers

Ben Getty Images

The sporadic, inconsistent “Five Questions” series continues with a team that has been sporadic and inconsistent in recent years.  Since losing Super Bowl XLV, the Steelers have fallen victim to Tebowmania in the 2011 playoffs and then missed the postseason for two straight years.

A habit of reloading has ventured toward rebuilding, but the Steelers showed toughness in 2013.  After an abysmal start to the season, Pittsburgh narrowly missed a playoff berth, thanks to a horrendous call in a game involving the Chiefs and Chargers.

This year, the Steelers can get back to the playoffs.  And they can have plenty of success when they get there.  And they can match the physicality of the best the NFC has to offer, if the Steelers can manage make it back to the game they’ve played in eight prior times.

That’s all premature.  For now, here are five questions that could go a long way toward determining how far they go, in 2014 and beyond.

1.  How much does Ben Roethlisberger have left?

The Steelers’ only franchise quarterback since Terry Bradshaw turned 32 this year.  But Big Ben is an old 32, with plenty of wear and tear on bones and joints weighed down by a large body and a decade of even larger poundings.   In lieu of giving him another big contract, the Steelers have opted to wait.  By the end of the season, the Steelers will have a much better feel for how well — and for how long — Roethlisberger can keep going as he approaches 35.

It would be a shock if he doesn’t finish his career in Pittsburgh.  The more important question is how much longer does he have until he’s finished.

2.  Is this the end for Troy Polamalu?

Many expected the Steelers to move on from Polamalu after the 2013 season.  Instead, a contract extension aimed at creating cap space puts Polamalu on the team for at least one more year.

To his credit, Polamalu has taken heir apparent Shamarko Thomas under the veteran’s wing, making the second-year strong safety the first NFL teammate to work out with the reclusive and unconventional Polamalu in the offseason.  At a deeper level, Polamalu’s gesture could be interpreted as a sign that he’s in the process of passing the baton.

If that’s the case, Polamalu will want to go out with a bang.  Even as his body betrays him, Polamalu seems to be the kind of guy who can will himself to recapture his prime and make one last run at what would be his third NFL title.

3.  Who will emerge at the top tailback?

Coach Mike Tomlin has said that the regular-season touches at running back will be determined via competition in training camp and the preseason.  For now, Le’Veon Bell shows up as the starter, followed by LeGarrette Blount and likely third-down option Dri Archer.

Bell is poised to become the lead dog, but Blount showed remarkable ability late last year for the Patriots.  In the end, the Steelers will have to choose between revolving-door approach and the use of whoever has the hot hand.

4.  Are these the best linebackers in the NFL?

In their glory days of four decades ago, the Steelers boasted Jack Lambert and Jack Ham at linebacker.  Since then, the franchise has seen plenty of great players at the position.  It’s possible that, currently, the Steelers have the best linebacking unit in the league.

The four starters includes three first-rounders (Lawrence Timmons, Jarvis Jones, Ryan Shazier) and a guy deemed good enough to get the eight-figure transition tag (Jason Worilds).  Sean Spence sits on the verge of one of the great comebacks from a knee injury in recent memory, and at least for now Howard Jones has made Steelers fans forget about outdated orange motor lodges and/or puffy-haired synth-pop singers.

While the 3-4 defense needs a stout defensive line to allow the linebackers to do their thing, these linebackers could be good enough to do their thing without a lot of help from the nose tackle and defensive ends.

5.  Who will step up and catch passes?

The good news for the Steelers is that they’ve done a great job finding receivers in the lower rounds of the draft.  The bad news is that those guys eventually want to get paid.  Antonio Brown, a sixth-round pick and two-time team MVP, became the one the Steelers rewarded.  Mike Wallace and Emmanuel Sanders became the ones who walked away.

Now, the Steelers need to hope that Markus Wheaton and Martavis Bryant become good enough that someone else will want to pay them more money than the Steelers will.

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63 Responses to “Five questions: Pittsburgh Steelers”
  1. djstat says: Aug 10, 2014 2:31 PM

    The best LB in the league? Really? What did Jones do last year? On paper maybe or potential.

  2. thevikesarebest says: Aug 10, 2014 2:35 PM

    The purple people eaters> the steel curtain.SKOL

  3. steelcurtainn says: Aug 10, 2014 2:39 PM

    “Thanks to a horrendous call in the chiefs and chargers game.” Yep, the steelers got hosed out of a playoff appearance last year because of the refs and that blatant call they apologized for. This year they’ll make sure that doesn’t happen and stampede their way in the playoffs. Much of the questions will then be answered.

  4. heisthejuan says: Aug 10, 2014 2:45 PM

    “Polamalu seems to be the kind of guy who can will himself to recapture his prime and make one last run at what would be his third NFL title.”

    Keep dreaming. Even average QBs now expose Troy the way that Brady always has.

  5. bonniebengal says: Aug 10, 2014 2:54 PM

    Refs are cracking down on the cheap shots this year, so the Steelers might finish last in the division.

  6. mysterytonite says: Aug 10, 2014 3:01 PM

    Best lb’s in the league? Up until last season, Worilds was a underachiever, Jarvis Jones was decent but not great. Timmons is solid but not an all-pro and Shaizer hasn’t been even played in a game. But yeah on paper, through the roof Florio. We all know you are writing this one with your Black and Yellow beer goggles on.

  7. handsofsteelhartofstone says: Aug 10, 2014 3:01 PM

    Steelers vs bears in the super bowl. You heard it here 1st.

    steelers by 10. Ben is mvp. Ravens fans keep crying. Bengals Don’t finish above .500

  8. afcdomination says: Aug 10, 2014 3:03 PM

    do you mean one of the younger talented groups in football?

    the BEST lb group?

    Willis, Bowman…etc
    Hali, Houston, Derrick Johnson, Dee Ford????
    Von Miller, D.Ware,

    lot of lb groups I take over the steelers

  9. steelers58 says: Aug 10, 2014 3:04 PM

    anybody who blames the ress for the steelers not making the playoffs, IS AN IDIOT losing 4 straight games to start the year did it, and when will tomlin learn how to beat the crappiest teams in the league?

  10. 6ball says: Aug 10, 2014 3:13 PM

    .
    It’s hard to include Shazier and Jones on any best list. They have one season between them.

    The Steelers biggest question mark is the secondary, especially CB.
    .

  11. djstat says: Aug 10, 2014 3:17 PM

    Blaming the refs for not making the playoffs…8-8 is 8-8. Don’t start 0-4

  12. shakespeare22 says: Aug 10, 2014 3:22 PM

    Best linebackers in the league? What a joke.

  13. jlpats says: Aug 10, 2014 3:26 PM

    It’s too bad we don’t play the steelers this year so we can put up another 55 points on them

  14. jmblosser82 says: Aug 10, 2014 3:36 PM

    Starting 0-4 and finishing 8-8 didn’t help but the Steelers were still alive until the refs blew the calls and the chargers won. Don’t get me wrong, the needed to start better but the blown calls were the final nail in the coffin.

  15. ncphinsfan says: Aug 10, 2014 3:39 PM

    Answers as follows:

    1. Ben has plenty left in the tank but will struggle this year for lack of a superior OLine

    2. Yes, this is it for Polamalu, but he will have a very good Broadcasting future. Very respected and liked.

    3. L. Bell

    4. Certainly not the best LB Corp, but in the top 3. Shazier needs to get healthy. His potential is off the charts, but his knock in College was injured all the time, but never missed playing time. Imagine what could be when healthy!?

    5. Wheaton, no doubt

  16. Nofoolnodrool says: Aug 10, 2014 3:40 PM

    It’s too bad we don’t play the steelers this year so we can put up another 55 points on them

    0 1
    Report comment. It’s too bad you cant spy anymore then maybe you could win a Super Bowl.

  17. dirtdawg54 says: Aug 10, 2014 3:46 PM

    Who is going to be the main back so not a question – it’s Bell. The bigger questions are who will step up in the secondary and who will step up on the D-line.

    And even as a Steeler fan, I can’t anoint our linebackers as the best in the business. Just a few months ago most were fretting the lack of depth and now we are one of the best groups? Sorry, I’m not buying that. I see the potential in this group, buts that all it is. Potential.

  18. jasjbb says: Aug 10, 2014 3:49 PM

    PUNCTUATION, PEOPLE!

    “…since Terry Bradshaw turned 32 this year.”

    How about “…since Terry Bradshaw, turned 32 this year.”

  19. jlpats says: Aug 10, 2014 3:53 PM

    All I know is we put 55 points on them

  20. crownofthehelmet says: Aug 10, 2014 4:00 PM

    Oh how the mighty have fallen – hanging 55 on the steelers is NE’s Super Bowl these days.

  21. Nofoolnodrool says: Aug 10, 2014 4:03 PM

    All I know is we put 55 points on them

    1 0
    Report comment. So what position did you play? All I know is since you had to stop spying you have zip Lombardis …sssshh.

    Florio is being very kind to the Steelersbecause to many unproven players have to produce for the Steelers to even get to the playoffs. I hope he is correct, but I have my doubts.

  22. jmblosser82 says: Aug 10, 2014 4:06 PM

    jlpats, congrats, the Pats put up 55 points on a rebuilding/retooling team. When Brady retires, which is more likely, the Pats go back to being a loser or a yearly playoff team?

  23. jlpats says: Aug 10, 2014 4:07 PM

    Go better than 8-8 as the steelers have done the last two yrs and then you can start to compare the steelers to the pats

  24. Nofoolnodrool says: Aug 10, 2014 4:20 PM

    Go better than 8-8 as the steelers have done the last two yrs and then you can start to compare the steelers to the pats

    0 0
    Report comment. Like Peyton the Pats are great in the regular season , but fold in the playoffs without help from spying. Let’s compare who has the most recent Lombardi …… Are you old enough to know? Time to troll another thread.

  25. jlpats says: Aug 10, 2014 4:21 PM

    Let’s not compare the steelers to the pats…a better comparison for the steelers is the mediocre teams now like the cowboys, raiders, etc..we’ll maybe not the raiders after all did they not lose to the raiders last year??

  26. nopepper123 says: Aug 10, 2014 4:29 PM

    Best Lb’s in the league and one of them isn’t named Vontaze Burfict?? They don’t have the best linebacking crew in the division no less the whole NFL.

  27. phlockar says: Aug 10, 2014 4:30 PM

    Good team but not great. Should be able to compete for a title in a tough division.. Or at least get a wildcard

  28. mbull83 says: Aug 10, 2014 4:34 PM

    Def potential to have the best lbs in the league for sure.

    To the guy who said Timmons isnt all pro…please go back and watch him…Timmons is one of the most underrated linebackers in the league…has it all.

    Jarvis Jones has to pick it up, nice to see him get a sack yesterday…COACH PEEZY may have lit a fire under him.

    Worilds is coming into his own and will have to prove it again on his 1 year contract.

    Shazier should be a tackling machine…super fast athetlic freak.

    Also Moats and Spence returning from horrific knee injury two years ago…he looked really solid

    HERE WE GO STEELERS HERE WE GO

  29. dontbugmeonsundays says: Aug 10, 2014 4:36 PM

    Patrick Willis & Navarro Bowman.

  30. citizenstrange says: Aug 10, 2014 4:37 PM

    As long as Roethlisberger is the quarterback the Steeler offense will be 13 points and a cloud of sacks.

  31. cwifyou says: Aug 10, 2014 4:47 PM

    The hate is fear.

    And I laugh at Bengals fans the mostest.

  32. shakespeare22 says: Aug 10, 2014 4:51 PM

    The Dolphins have scored more than 30 points once in the past two years. Guess who it was against? That’s right…the Stinkers. In the snow no less last December. The Steelers have some lean years ahead.

  33. holeinone09 says: Aug 10, 2014 4:56 PM

    Ben could have his best season ever with his growing maturity, if the OL is not injury plagued, and a good running game complimented by the speedy Archer.

    The young newer defensive players will hold the key to success this season. The offense will score many more points, they will be more productive IMHO.

  34. cmich2006 says: Aug 10, 2014 5:03 PM

    Blaming the refs is such a raven thing to do… So much so that the league was thinking of putting in an additional column in the standings called ” ref loss”

  35. holeinone09 says: Aug 10, 2014 5:04 PM

    It didnt take long for citizenstrange to blame Ben for the Steelers loss in a preseason game. Hilarious.

  36. southsidesteve86 says: Aug 10, 2014 5:04 PM

    Best LB’s in the nfl??? Besides Lawrence Timons who are the Steelers LB’s????

    What a homer

  37. mackie66 says: Aug 10, 2014 5:55 PM

    Lets call them the best three linebackers after 3 SB wins.

  38. melikefootball says: Aug 10, 2014 5:56 PM

    With all the negative comments sounds like many fans don’t want their team playing the Steelers.

  39. coachbeck says: Aug 10, 2014 6:15 PM

    Best lb group lol c’mon man not even best in the AFCN

  40. bubbybrisket says: Aug 10, 2014 6:20 PM

    7-9 at best

  41. jmblosser82 says: Aug 10, 2014 6:44 PM

    jlpats, until Brady the patriots were a sub.500 franchise, your rebuilding is soon and will hurt. Let me guess, you didn’t even realize that the patriots existed until 2001?

  42. jmblosser82 says: Aug 10, 2014 6:46 PM

    Cstrange, yea the 6 snaps Ben played was why Ben and the Steelers lost. It has nothing to do with how horrible Gradkowski is.

  43. jmblosser82 says: Aug 10, 2014 6:50 PM

    Everyone naming teams with 2-3 top LB combos, it’s the whole corps of LB not just the starters(still don’t think they have the best but they could).

  44. stoogy says: Aug 10, 2014 7:04 PM

    Stealers are garbage

  45. 6ball says: Aug 10, 2014 7:27 PM

    .
    I’m not sure the Patriots would trade Jerod Mayo, Chandler Jones, Donate Hightower and Jaime Collins for the Steelers quartet.
    .

  46. grogansheroes says: Aug 10, 2014 7:46 PM

    jmblosser82 says:
    Aug 10, 2014 6:44 PM
    jlpats, until Brady the patriots were a sub.500 franchise, your rebuilding is soon and will hurt. Let me guess, you didn’t even realize that the patriots existed until 2001?
    ===================
    Well I can remember before Bradshaw the Steelers had never won a playoff game. Before Brady the Pats went to two Super Bowls.

  47. jmblosser82 says: Aug 10, 2014 8:31 PM

    grogansheroes, still 0-2 in pre-Brady, pre-spygate Super Bowls. Steelers sucked for 40 years but that game was different than post merger. The game today is nothing like it was 40 years ago either. The teams that won most of their titles pre-merger have won less post merger.

  48. ncphinsfan says: Aug 10, 2014 8:31 PM

    @groganshereos

    Yes, the Pats went to 2 Super Bowls and got crushed before Brady. I wouldn’t be proud of that. It wasn’t until the Cheating started that you could actual win the big one. At least the Steelers win when they go to the SB. Oh and my crappy Dolphins are the ONLY perfect team and guess what… We beat both of you last year. Not bad for 31st ranked losers.

  49. jmblosser82 says: Aug 10, 2014 8:42 PM

    ncphinsfan, and the steelers and patriots are 4-3 in the SB since the dolphins last won a playoff game.

  50. pftisfulloftrolls says: Aug 10, 2014 9:05 PM

    A phins fan has no right to hate on the Steelers and Patriots. The Dolphins haven’t won a Super Bowl in 40 years and that wait time is likelier to go up. The Dolphins haven’t had a quality QB since 1999. The Dolphins haven’t had a playoff win for about 10 years and the wait time for that will probably go up. And the last time the Dolphins made it to the playoffs or won the division was when Tom Brady got Bernard Pollarded in 2008. But yeah keep fawning over your perfect team.

  51. tinytoolalldrool says: Aug 10, 2014 10:42 PM

    After watching the Giants game I have no faith in any member of our team.

  52. steelcurtainn says: Aug 10, 2014 10:43 PM

    Steelers last superbowl win 2009 Pats last superbowl win 2004. Steelers 6 superbowl titles Pats-3. Carry on Pat troll.

  53. bleedblackngold96 says: Aug 11, 2014 1:31 AM

    Can everyone just cool it? IT’s PRE-FRICKIN-SEASON

  54. jrob23 says: Aug 11, 2014 2:29 AM

    My wish for them to get a real coach probably won’t happen as they’ve got maybe the easiest schedule in the league. But this is Tomlin so where any other coach could get them 12 wins they will lose some they aren’t supposed to and barely make the playoffs. If Tomlin can get out of his own way they could really surprise this season.

  55. thebirdsareback says: Aug 11, 2014 5:29 AM

    So basically steelers fans are hopeless pathetic dreamers with no chance at beating the Ravens and Bengals

  56. jmblosser82 says: Aug 11, 2014 7:47 AM

    thebirdsareback, 4-2 in the AFCN and the got better. Ravens got older and the Bengals just locked up Andy “Not Prime Time” Dalton and will have more hard choices with a lot of the monster defense coming off rookie deals.

  57. tommyribs says: Aug 11, 2014 10:07 AM

    Markus Wheaton looked great against my GIANTS.

    He may be a Fantasy Sleeper for me this year.

    I think the Steelers bounce back and make the playoffs this year.

    Big Ben, Good defense, Good Receivers, Good RBs.

    If their O-Line plays slightly above average, then I think they make noise.

    I hope the GIANTS follow the same Blueprint this year.

  58. bobzilla1001 says: Aug 11, 2014 11:24 AM

    The definition of “preseason football” in Pittsburgh: If the Steelers look bad, “it’s just preseason.” But if they look good, “Steelers are playoff-bound.”

    BTW: The Steelers’ last Super Bowl win was in 2010, not 2009.

    The Steelers’ preseason performance against the Giants indicated there’s no quality depth on the O-line, their defense is still weak up the middle, and that Dri Archer is an exciting player who will probably be overused until his “wheels fall off,” ala Willie Parker.

  59. jtbsteeler says: Aug 11, 2014 11:50 AM

    The long run was a missed assignment by Heyward. I trust he will come back from that. Also there was one LB sitting back. It was a bad play call as well.

    The starters that played looked more than solid other than that one play. We didn’t even run the hurry up, so get a grip. I look at our schedule and the road to a SB is clear…

  60. steelcurtainn says: Aug 11, 2014 12:02 PM

    BTW: The Steelers’ last Super Bowl win was in 2010, not 2009.

    You really need to brush up on your steelers memory bzilla. The last superbowl win for the steelers was Feb 1st, 2009. But hopefully that will change this year. Here we go Steelers!

  61. jmblosser82 says: Aug 11, 2014 12:15 PM

    Bobzilla, it’s just the first preseason game against a team playing its second. Other than the 2 RBs that won’t make the roster the run game looked much improved, one blown defensive play for a long TD, and poor back up QB play.

    Before the preseason started I felt it was going to be a 10 win season but the team is not worthy if a SB run, a lot needs to be improved for that to happen. Unless Ben goes down I still feel 10 wins is attainable.

  62. bobzilla1001 says: Aug 11, 2014 12:58 PM

    My mistake, curtainn.

    A 10-win season is certainly possible, jm. But if there are injuries to the O-line, that possibility becomes highly improbable. Remember: Velasco is no longer available.
    That blown defensive play looked a whole lot like the ones from last season. Straight Up the middle.
    I’d like to see Gradkowski get some preseason playing time with the first-team offense. He hasn’t played in a full calendar year. Might be a little rusty.

  63. maurile says: Aug 11, 2014 3:38 PM

    Terry Bradshaw looks great for having just turned 32.

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