Is Ben enough to lift Steelers?

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There is a school of thought, widely held, that states while the outcome of NFL exhibition games are unimportant, the performance of the individual players are vitally important.

I'm here to tell you this: Don't believe it.

For example, right before our eyes Monday night we saw Le'Veon Bell, the great hope, average 2.25 yards on four early carries. There was no running room. Except when Bell was injured, Jonathan Dwyer came on and ran for 12 yards on his first carry. Bell finished with 9 yards on four carries, Dwyer with 68 yards on 14 carries.

Everyone who thinks Dwyer is better than Bell, raise your hand.

One exhibition game, two exhibition games are no barometer of playing talent, particularly to the untrained eye, and I'm including all of us in that. In fact, one of two games in the regular season is not necessarily a true indicator of player performance.

For example, in consecutive games last year, Dwyer ran for 122 and 107 yards. A week later Isaac Redman ran for 147. Pretty good, right?

Then explain to me why the Steelers used a second-round pick on Bell when they had two such studs in the backfield? Because they didn't. Because even a two-game snapshot in the regular season is not a fully accurate measure of talent.

The most important thing you need to know about the Steelers is this: Ben Roethlisberger is their quarterback. His nine-year career is a clear indication he is one of the best in the NFL and possibly on a Hall-of-Fame trajectory. As long as the Steelers have a franchise quarterback, they are capable of winning any game. That's why they're called franchise quarterbacks.

But that doesn't mean they can win every game. Roethlisberger gives the Steelers a chance. But he also must have the right supporting cast on offense and defense. That's where the Steelers run into trouble -- those pesky "other starters."

There is a talent void on this team and it has been caused by a lackluster record in recent drafts. It was bound to happen. There's an element of luck in drafting and developing football players that not even the most brilliant general manager can overcome.

That's not to excuse Kevin Colbert, the architect of two Super Bowl champions and a string of highly successful teams. Some snickered when the Rooneys hired Colbert, noting his primary qualification for the job was his North Catholic High School diploma. Colbert has proven them completely wrong. But, truth be known, his work has suffered a bit in recent years.

It's not so much to whom Roethlisberger will throw. He's good enough to make even an ordinary wide receiver look good. The question is: Do they have a wide receiver with the ability to make an ordinary quarterback look good? The Steelers don't have that.

They have such a tight end in Heath Miller, but he is injured, not expected to start the season and if not out of his prime, close to that status.

At running back, maybe Bell is the guy. But is he a difference maker? Is he a Bettis?

The offensive line looked ridiculously inept Monday against Washington, which is another example of the meaningless of exhibition games. These guys are going to be OK. Whether they are going to mold into a Super Bowl-winning line -- at any point in their careers -- remains to be determined.

On defense, an aging secondary -- Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark and Ike Taylor have been around for a combined 34 seasons -- and a questionable front three don't bode well. Maybe the linebackers can pick them up. Maybe Polamalu has another great season left in him.

With Roethlisberger around, the Steelers always will have a chance. Their chances this year would be better with a better supporting cast.

bobsmiziksports


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