The year was 2009. The place was Soldier Field. Droves of Steelers fans came out to watch the Chicago Bears, with newly acquired quarterback Jay Cutler, take on their beloved Pittsburgh Steelers.
We don’t have all day here, so let’s just skip to the end. The field was bad, Reed missed a field goal, Cutler was who he was supposed to be. Bears won with a final score of 17 to 14.
This year the Bears face the Steelers in a week 3 Sunday night showdown in Pittsburgh. To preview the season match up we asked our usual 5 Questions to Steelers fan site Nice Pick, Cowher.
1. Did you feel the Steelers lost their most important piece of their receiving core when Mike Wallace left in free agency?
The loss of Wallace is definitely a blow to the Steelers “vertical” passing game. Wallace has some of the best, if not the best, deep speed in the league and he was the main field-stretcher for Pittsburgh over the last four years. The selection of Markus Wheaton in the 3rd round will definitely help offset the loss of Wallace, and it also does not hurt that the former Oregon State star runs solid routes and can stretch the field vertically and horizontally.
Unfortunately, Wallace had some issues with Todd Haley’s insistence on the controlled and shorter passing game. Moreover, his production dipped once he was no longer a focal point of the offense. The break-up between Wallace and the Steelers will likely be tough, but I know that many of us have confidence that Antonio Brown can continue to play well, Emmanuel Sanders will do a solid job during his upcoming contract year, Wheaton can make strides in his first year and either Plaxico Burress or Jerricho Cotchery can chip in when their numbers are called.
2. I am so glad that Brian Urlacher retired instead of signing with another team. Will it be weird seeing James Harrison wearing a Bengals uniform this year?
I won’t lie, I’ll do some double takes when “Deebo” is wearing Halloween colors this fall (he looks almost identical to “Deebo” from the “Friday” movies). Harrison is beloved by many in Pittsburgh because of his tenacity and how hard he worked to get where he is. A former UDFA in 2002, he was cut by the Steelers multiple times (and the Ravens as well) before he made the roster in 2004 after Clark Haggans sustained a finger injury. After three years on special teams, Harrison stepped into a starting role for the next six seasons and deserved the 2008 league MVP (he only won the DPOY that year) for his incredible performance that year.
I for one wish him nothing but the best, and I and many alike wish that some other linebackers on the roster who had more physical talent than him cough*LaMarr Woodley*cough) would “nut up” and play with 1/10th of the heart and anger “Deebo” did while he was here.
3. What did you like and/or dislike about what the Steelers did in free agency and the draft?
As far as free agency goes, I’m not a huge fan of bringing back retreads like Matt Spaeth and William Gay. However, the team needed depth and experienced depth at the positions (especially with Heath Miller’s health in question) so I can understand it. I liked the pickup of Bruce Gradkowski and the re-signing of Ramon Foster though. Gradkowski is a local-guy and should be an adequate backup to Big Ben and mentor to rookie Landry Jones. Foster is projected to be the team’s starting left guard this year and has quietly emerged as the best offensive lineman on the team not named “Pouncey” over the last couple seasons.
In terms of the Draft, I really liked how the team went after defensive players who are hard-hitting and have noses for the football like Jarvis Jones, Shamarko Thomas and Vince Williams. In addition, I live out in Pac-12 country so I’ve seen what Wheaton can do and I believe he will add at least some of the speed they lost with Wallace. I’m still on the fence about the Le’Veon Bell and Landry Jones picks though. Bell is projected to be the #1 back this fall, and I question whether or not he will be fast enough to transition to the pro game. Jones looked skittish when the pocket broke down in college, and the Steelers’ offensive line has been less than stellar over the last half decade.
4. What is going on with the relationship between Big Ben and Todd Haley this year?
As of now it seems like Big Ben and “Boss Todd” are patching things up. Yet last year all did not go swimmingly. Roethlisberger was definitely displeased that the front office had dismissed his former offensive coordinator/friend Bruce Arians, and him and Haley did not necessarily see eye-to-eye over the play-calling last year. In fact, it seemed like every week Big Ben bitched and moaned over something to do with the play-calling.
If the hatchet is buried between the two, then both parties could definitely benefit. Roethlisberger has weapons at his disposal and he was on his way to a career year (statistically) last fall until he sustained his shoulder injury at mid-season. I just hope that both can act professional and do their best to put as many points on the board as humanly possibly while leaving their egos at the door.
5. Soldier Field might as well have a bunch of loose sod on concrete as their playing surface, yet I hear that Heinz Field is deemed worst surface in the NFL. Do you find that gives the Steelers and advantage or disadvantage for home games?
When the weather is nice, the turf is fine at Heinz Field. But after any sort of precipitation, especially later in the year, it’s a bog which both teams must suffer through. I’m not sure why the Steelers don’t switch to field-turf when the Pitt Panthers play their home games there. Heck, even high school playoff games take place at “The Big Ketchup Bottle.” Having a sloppy home-field is not really an advantage though. To me it’s more of a detriment to both teams and is embarrassing to watch as a fan. If you want a first-hand look at what I’m talking about try to find footage of the Steelers’ Monday Night Football matchup against the Dolphins from 2007.
What gives the Steelers an advantage at home is not their garbage turf though. It is one of the best, if not the best and most vocal fanbase in the entire league. And when “Renegade” by Styx hits the loud-speakers for the defense, the place is a madhouse.
Bonus Question 1: Who would win in an arm wrestling match, Staley Da Bear or Steely McBeam?
I’d probably give it to Staley simply due to my absolute disdain (and the disdain of our entire fanbase) of “Steely McBeam.” Why the Steelers need a mascot who looks like a love-child spawned from Bert from Sesame Street and Joe Flacco and dresses like the Construction Worker from the “Village People” puzzled me back in 2007 and puzzles me and many in the fanbase today.
But seriously, I’d give it to Staley.
I want to thank Dominic Di Tolla for answering our questions about the match up. Please make sure to check out Nice Pick, Cowher for all of your Steelers news and info. You can follow Dominic on twitter at @DominicDiTolla.