As I look back to the early days of August and the outpouring of attention during Ravens Training Camp, I can recall the high expectations from anyone wearing a hint of purple.
Nearly every fan and local media observer predicted BIG things for “John Harbaugh & Company” as the preseason, and eventual regular season approached. And, our optimistic forecasts may very well come true.
After all, the Ravens have only played two games and we still await the first snap on the home turf. An enormous amount of football is lying ahead, and the remainder of the season will undoubtedly present a collection of peaks and pitfalls along the way.
Some teams start hot and others start cold. That’s the nature of competition in the National Football League. Nobody really believes in the quick starts by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Chicago Bears, right? I’ll also assume we’re not ready to bury the Dallas Cowboys or Minnesota Vikings, either.
As I look back just one season, I can distinctly recall an undefeated Denver Broncos squad rolling into M&T Bank Stadium, for a Week #8 matchup against the Ravens.
The Broncos didn’t return to Denver with that previously unblemished record.
In fact, they missed the playoffs.
That’s a prime example of how fortunes can change throughout the course of 17 weeks.
Falling into a blanketed belief in the home team’s preseason hype is an easy trap for all us whom merit a stake connected to the franchise. And, when nationally syndicated media jump on board, the temptations are even stronger.
At the same time, many of us predicted doom and gloom for the hated Pittsburgh Steelers. I’ll admit to it. And, if you’re being honest, you probably did the very same thing.
We reasoned a decent opportunity of the Steelers losing most, if not all of their games during Ben Roethlisberger’s suspension. After all, Roethlisberger defines the riches of the Steelers, right? He’s a winner; he’s a Super Bowl conquering quarterback.
Of course, we piled up the dissent on a competitive Steelers season with mitigating factors, like the tumultuous exit of the Raven killer, Santonio Holmes and a season ending injury to Willie Colon.
But, I think we might’ve really overlooked or discounted the return of one very important player …..
As much as haters wanna chalk up the Steelers successes over the last few years to Ben Roethlisberger, an argument exists to suggest Troy Polamalu is every bit as important to that team.
What did the Steelers do without him, last year? They lost.
In 2009, Troy Polamalu played in 5 games. During that stretch, the Steelers were 4-1, while surrendering an average of 13.5 points, per game. In the 11 games without him, they were 5-6, while yielding an average of 23 points, per game.
Veteran defensive end, Aaron Smith, figures into the downfall of the 2009 Steelers season, as well. He missed much of the same action as Polamalu. And, Pittsburgh’s defense is much more dynamic with him in the lineup.
But, he’s not the heartbeat of the Steelers defense.
That unit revolves around Troy Polamalu. In some very distinct ways, Polamalu parallels the importance of Ray Lewis to the Ravens defense. While their personalities and mannerisms are quite different, they each command the team’s respective side of the ball.
Ray Lewis makes players better. So does Troy Polamalu.
The Steelers are 2-0, due to a dominant defensive effort. They haven’t scored an offensive touchdown in 8 regulation quarters to start the season. But, they’re winning and that’s all that really matters.
They’re headed to Tampa for a Sunday showdown with the undefeated Bucs. Yes, this is the point where you start chuckling at that game. Barring an upset of phenomenal proportions, the Steelers will carry an undefeated record into their final week of Roethlisberger’s suspension – and a divisional contest against the Ravens.
I’m not looking beyond this week’s home opener against the Cleveland Browns, but the Ravens must beat the Steelers without Ben Roethlisberger on the field, next week. No excuses, they must do it.
That said, I’m suspecting Joe Flacco, Ray Rice, Anquan Boldin and the remainder of the offense will be mindful of a reality many fans and media overlooked back in August …..
Troy Polamalu is every bit as important as Ben Roethlisberger.
After the Steelers’ surprising 2-0 start, I think it’s fair to say everybody forgot about the reality of Polamalu’s presence. Umm …. make that everybody, except Peter King. He was on it (prediction). He didn’t fall for the “Wicked Witch Is Dead” euphoria that many of us celebrated when considering the suspension of Ben Roethlisberger and overall prospects of the 2010 Pittsburgh Steelers.
Peter King wasn’t sleeping on them. And, I hope everyone else falls in line. The Pittsburgh Steelers remain ENEMY #1. And, Troy Polamalu is the primary reason we forgot about it. Then again, he’s made a career off quarterbacks forgetting about him.
How fitting, huh?