Know Your Enemy: Pittsburgh Steelers Week 1 2013 Edition

It’s back! One of the more popular series on the site (since I have two, it’s not a stretch) has returned for 2013. The Titans are a new team with a shaken, not stirred coaching staff. Last season, the Titans defeated the Steelers on Thursday Night Football and no towels were harmed in the process. It’s a game both fan bases have forgotten, on the Titans’ side due to a full 16 games of trauma and on the Steelers’ side because they’ve never remembered a loss save that one time Neil O’Donnell threw the Super Bowl. Hey, it’s just what I’ve heard. I invited Andy Miley, the Ricks of Fantasy Asylum and Ryan Hester of Football Guys and Football and Brackets to join. I’ll add new content as it comes in.

So far I have responses from Andy, Rick Briggs, and Ryan Hester. Check out my answers to Briggs’s questions about the Titans.

What direction are the Steelers heading? They had to shed some big salaries this offseason and appear to be in “rebuilding with hope” mode.

(Andy) Treading water with no heir apparent for Ben.

(Briggs) This is the year we find out if all those draft picks to protect Big Ben were worth it. The talent is there on paper regarding the offensive line, but they must stay healthy and prove themselves. Injuries will devastate this line. It is the thinnest I’ve seen in years. No Starks, Colon or Legursky to fall back on. The Dwyer cut surprised me in lieu of all the Running Back injuries, but if Bell can come back and do what is promised, it should help out. What direction are they going? I guess we will find out. Defensively, I am not as concerned; they are healthier this year and were still good last year. If Hood and Heyward can deliver on the Defensive line, then the rest will fall into place. Pressure on the QB is key.

(Ryan) I think the way you described it there is pretty much the best description I’ve heard all offseason. For all the Steeler-haters out there who dislike the “proud organization” narrative used by the media, I’m sorry to use it here. But this organization isn’t one where re-building is something that to which the fans will take kindly. However, with rookies playing prominent roles this season, it’s definitely an odd feeling.

Typically, rookies sit out their first year to learn the system from established veteran talent in front of them. Heck, even Troy Polamalu barely played any defensive snaps his rookie season. But this year, Jarvis Jones will take over as starter at outside linebacker sooner than later, and the offense will get contributions from Le’Veon Bell and Markus Wheaton. If this team doesn’t fall between 7 and 9 wins, I’ll be very surprised (but even more surprised if it’s 10 or more than if it’s six or fewer).

With Mike Wallace elsewhere and Heath Miller injured, who’s getting targets on Sunday besides Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders?

(Andy) Wheaton and LaRod Stephens-Howling. [Zach note: Get thee to trading for Wheaton in your dynasty leagues. He may not have Wallace’s speed, but he’s a Wallace plus otherwise.)

(Briggs) Cotchery will certainly get some looks, and hopefully Ben will be patient enough to dump it off to whichever RB is in there and TE Paulsen when the time is right. Keeping the defensive off balance instead of looking for the huge strike downfield too much is what Ben needs to concentrate on. Wheaton has shown some real promise this pre-season and I look for him to grow into a favorite target. The kid has the “look” of a big time WR.

(Ryan) Throughout the preseason, Jerricho Cotchery was the team’s third wideout, and I think that will continue early in the season. Wheaton will see his fair share of snaps and perhaps receive a handful of targets in this game as well. I would also look for LaRod Stephens-Howling to make a big play or two out of the backfield. Other than that, Brown and Sanders will have to do the heavy lifting with tight end David Paulsen (who was the third stringer behind Miller and the also injured Matt Spaeth) having a few targets sprinkled in.

Is the offensive line significantly improved from last year with Decastro back and Mike Adams at left tackle?

(Andy) The o-line is gelling, they will be better than last year.

(Briggs) It should be; I’ll say that. Adams has had some real growing pains and has been beaten a lot and that is a huge concern. The entire line has let the QB be under duress during the pre-season and that could be from the new zone blocking schemes, or maybe they aren’t as good as advertised. I’m counting on the former and not the latter. Pouncey needs to return to his All-Pro form and take charge of this line. DeCastro should be ok. Right now, I like the O-line from Center to Guard, and concerned at the Tackle position.

(Ryan) What will improve the offensive line more than the changes is the health of the unit. David DeCastro isn’t your typical “plow through the defender” blocker, but his technique has drawn rave reviews. He’s going to make a difference — especially on plays where he pulls and can use his athleticism. Adams is still struggling, something that might continue.

Will the defense regain their swagger? Who’s a leader besides Polamalu?

(Andy) Dick Lebeau will cobble together a top 10 defense once again. Lawrence Timmons is ready to step up as a defensive leader.

(Briggs) A lot of people have dismissed their defense as declining. They were horrible against 3rd and 4th downs last year, hardly any turnovers, and couldn’t rush the passer. But two key facts are this: Injuries in the secondary forced them to alternate players at different positions, and they were still the #1 rated defense in the NFL. I think you will see a swagger back in that defense and we will see an emerging Jarvis Jones as the leader. He has it all and will supplant Woirlds sooner than later.

(Ryan) Ike Taylor seems to step up a little more each year as a leader, particularly within the cornerback group. His mentoring of new starter Cortez Allen has shown in Allen’s physical style. Taylor has been beaten and made to look silly at times throughout his career, but one area in which he always excels is tackling. Allen had some fantastic hits and form tackles in the team’s third preseason game against Kansas City. [Zach note: I recall from last year’s Thursday night semi-debacle that the Steeler fans were none too pleased with the play of Taylor.]

Do you believe in the curse of the Terrible Towel? (Follow up if yes: how old are you?)

(Andy) No curse, I’m Troy’s number though

(Briggs) Of course the Curse of Cope is real. For you youngsters out there, the Terrible Towel was created by Myron Cope; the legendary Pittsburgh broadcaster who covered the Steelers for about a million years. I am 55, so I remember when it was first introduced and all the supporting evidence throughout history of what happens when the Towel is desecrated. [Zach note: Somebody’s drinking the Iron City flavored Kool Aid.]

If you mean the curse that basically says, “desecrate the Towel while playing for another team and then watch the Steelers rise up to bigger and better things,” then yes, I do believe in it. I’m only 29, but I can cite two very recent examples of the Curse. As a Titans fan, I’ll save you the trouble of telling this story, Zach, and do it myself instead.

In 2008, the Titans beat Pittsburgh in Week 16 on their way to a 13-3 record and the AFC’s top seed. After the game, LenDale White tauntingly waved the towel around and stomped on it. Pittsburgh would go on to win the Super Bowl. In 2005, T.J. Houshmandzadeh cleaned his muddy spikes in a Heinz Field tunnel after Cincinnati beat Pittsburgh. The loss made the Steelers 7-5 and basically eliminated from playoff contention. After four straight wins to close out the season, Pittsburgh snuck into the 6th seed and ran the table to a Super Bowl victory.

Don’t touch the towel, folks. Actually, as a Steelers fan, I implore an opponent to taunt the team with the towel. [Zach note: Times the Towel was powerless: The last time the Steelers were in the Super Bowl, the entire decade of the 80s, and against the Raiders last year.]

What’s your bottom line on the game result this Sunday?

(Andy) 24-14 Pitt

(Briggs) I think these two teams have a great history together and they always play each other tough. The Steelers should come out on top 27 – 17.

Where will you watch the game and what will you drink during it (please say Iron City Light Mango)?

(Andy) My man cave and I will be drinking a Kick Start (Mt. Dew Energy Drink)

(Briggs) I will be watching the game in the cozy Bunker Studio drinking Yuengling Porter or Lager. I haven’t had time to make any homebrew in months, so I am lacking in that department.

(Ryan) As strange as this sounds, if you’re not from Pittsburgh, you’re not going to enjoy anything with IC Light in it. It’s a darn-near-awful-tasting beer, and I think it’s only purchased due to city pride. As for cocktails, I’ll be enjoying my go-to Old Fashioned from the comfort of my couch. For those unaware, the Old Fashioned is a great drink but it’s easy to mess up. Don’t order this one at TGI Friday’s or Buffalo Wild Wings. And no matter where you are, ask the bartender if he/she muddles the fruit. If the answer is yes, change courses. The only acceptable fruit is an orange peel — not an orange slice.

(Ryan) Pittsburgh wins, something like 24-14.

Hit me with some plugs.

Andy will have a DLF premium rookie breakdown on Wednesdays (sign up for DLF premium, costs less than half of a Polamalu jersey) and he’ll have “2nd/3rd year reports” on Saturdays. Follow him on Twitter.

Briggs didn’t confirm any upcoming guests for the Asylum Fantasy podcast. The Ricks are doing the “Asylum Inside Slant” (link is for all Asylum podcasts) on Sunday mornings from 10:00 to 11:30 during the season.

Ryan: I’ll be co-writing a weekly piece with Jeff Haseley on how to build the most optimal FanDuel team. FanDuel is a partner of FBG, and we support the relationship with multiple advice pieces on how to dominate the salary cap weekly games. I’ll be using projections from David Dodds (recently named FantasyPros Most Accurate Expert from 2010-2012) and Sigmund Bloom to find the players who will allow you to spend the fewest dollars per projected fantasy point.

Zach Answers Questions (from Briggs so far)

I am high on Chris Johnson this year. Many are writing him off as fading quickly because he didn’t pull away from everybody on his 58 yd. TD run. They didn’t catch him either. How do you see CJ’s year progressing?

The offensive line looks strong. Hopefully that will help with the consistency, as I remember CJFUk’s 41 rushing yards three weeks into 2012. He does still have the long speed which is nice, and he appears to have cut down on the dancing.

Does Shonn Greene figure much into CJ’s carries?

The Titans figure to be one of the more run-heavy offenses in the league. Think the 2012 San Francisco 49ers without the 49ers defense or Vernon Davis. I’m not sure if the Titans will push 500 carries like the 9ers did last year, but if they get 450, Greene should get at least 100 of them. The Titans are last in the NFL in goal-line carries the past three years and that number should go up this year.

What do you think will be the biggest surprise (Good or Bad) on Tennessee this year?

I think the national media will be surprised by Locker. I’m looking for a season from him like early career Steve McNair. 3500ish yards passing, 20-25 total touchdowns and a few hundred rushing yards to boot. On defense, Jurrell Casey looks like the guy ready to make “the leap”. Bernard Pollard’s going to rack up a lot of fines.

Are they good enough to compete for the division title this year?

Doubtful, but the division isn’t exactly the NFC West. The Texans aren’t much better than they were last year and could be near the end of their short run. The Colts were a lot worse than their record but seem to be quite improved. The Sparkle Kittes (Jags) may not be good but they always beat the Titans once. I’m thinking the Titans pull a Jeff Fisher (8-8).

Kenny Britt is a great talent but has had behavioral and injury problems. Any consensus on Britt this year coming out of camp?

No news is good news? No arrests and no apparent injury issues, although the team’s going to rest him once a week so he’s an “old” 24. The Titans will use him a ton this year and he’ll get a giant contract elsewhere. Or he’ll be Kenny, a few good games followed by a few good hamstring injuries.

What is your bottom line on the game versus Pittsburgh?

I want to say Titans, but the defense is still a work in progress and the offense is new to the system. Suisham makes the late-game kick this time, 20-17 Steelers.

What will you be drinking? Please DON’T say IC Light Mango.

When it comes to fantasy football and beer, do not sit your studs in week one. I’ll have a Corsendonk Brown Ale and whatever my local growler joint has left on Sunday morning.

Want to support the site or just like reading about fantasy football experts? Then buy my book There Still Is No Off Season: Interviews 51-100 of the Ask Your Fantasy Football Expert Series. If you want to know more about the experts I interviewed, and what they’re up to lately, check out the experts page.

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