By Jeremy Hritz
Ed Bouchette has been covering the Pittsburgh Steelers for quite a while, and his insight into the team, much of the time, is prophetic. His coverage of the Steelers is objective, though he does have a tendency to see the glass as half empty. Every year, prior to the first game of the regular season, he publishes his prediction for the Steelers. While he is not a psychic guru whose word should be taken as Steelers gospel, his perspectives and opinions do carry much credibility, and when Bouchette took an early swing at forecasting the 2013 season, he got my attention.
This Saturday in the PG Plus, Bouchette surprisingly evaluated the prospects of this year’s team, and his answer speaks to the ambiguity that has surrounded the Steelers since the conclusion of the 2012 season. He writes, “They look… okay. They look as though they could go 8-8, or 10-6, or 6-10.”
There are several descriptors that you can use to describe a football team with the capability of winning a championship, but “okay” is definitely not one of them. If the Steelers are to return to the playoffs, their level of play will have to exceed “okay.”
Bouchette continues with an exercise of “should” vs. “but.”
Le’Veon Bell looks “good,” but has to stay healthy.
The offensive line can be “decent,” but they must stay healthy.
Markus Wheaton will compensate for Mike Wallace’s departure, but gone will be the “touchdown passes over 40 yards.”
Troy Polamalu and LaMarr Woodley look healthy, but must stay that way.
He also asserts that the Steelers will not miss the “James Harrison of 2012,” that Steve McLendon will be an improvement over Casey Hampton, and that Cortez Allen will be equal to or better than Keenan Lewis from a season ago.
While Bouchette isn’t necessarily breaking new ground with his analysis, you would think that if he were convinced by what he has seen in camp thus far that he would have been a bit more optimistic than “okay.”
In the first preseason contest, outside of a few decent individual performances by David DeCastro, Al Woods, and even Justin Brown, the overall level of play was below that of “okay,” though it may have been a result of the physical nature of the practices in this year’s camp. However, it would be foolish to base the expectations for an entire season on one preseason game.
Regardless, the Steelers cannot afford another 8-8 season, and a 6-10 one would be considered a major failure. If Bouchette’s evaluation of “okay” is accurate, either of those finishes are very real possibilities.
With games against the Ravens and Bengals twice, the Patriots, and the Packers, and with traveling obstacles to Oakland and to London, 10-6 would be an excellent finish that should be enough to get the Steelers back into the playoffs, and maybe in the mix for the AFC North title.
Three more preseason games to go, and plenty of opportunities to move beyond “okay.”