Each week we pick the brain of our opponents by sitting down with our sister sites. This week, we put on our hard hats and joined Behind the Steel Curtain’s Jeff Hartman to discuss a team that many have projected to win it all.
Windy City Gridiron: I predicted the Steelers would win the Super Bowl coming in to the year and I imagine that expectations for Steelers Nation are as high as they've ever been. Is this the best team in the NFL? If so, state your case.
Behind the Steel Curtain: I am not sure if they are the best team in the NFL, but their weaknesses, which used to be glaring, are far less obvious than a year ago. Their secondary is much improved with the addition of Joe Haden, and the offense, once they get going, should be one of the best in the NFL. Ultimately, as it is with every team, it all comes down to health. If Ben Roethlisberger were to get injured, the chances this team makes any noise is slim-to-none. If the big key playmakers stay healthy, then the sky is the limit.
WCG: The Steelers did the Bears a favor at the draft by selecting TJ Watt, blocking the prodigal son from wearing Green and Mustard for a decade. How has he looked so far and, if healthy, what kind of impact will he have this weekend and beyond for this defense?
BtSC: T.J. Watt has exceeded my expectations as a rookie, and that is a good thing. I knew Watt would play, and I knew he would hustle his butt off on every single play, it is in his DNA. But he is much more polished than I expected, and his work ethic, which has been applauded by teammates and coaches alike, is evident as he improves every time he steps on the field. If he plays this Sunday, those groin injuries can be tricky to deal with, he will absolutely impact the game both in rushing the passer as well as stopping the run. He is a very dynamic, and versatile player, and has been a pleasant surprise for Steelers fans this year.
WCG: This defense was expected to take a step forward this year. I imagine that was tough to gauge playing DeShone Kizer and and Case Keenum to start the year. What are your expectations for this unit and who should Bears fans watch for on Sunday?
BtSC: This defense may have played two inexperienced quarterbacks in the first two weeks, but that doesn't take away the fact they have 9 sacks and are flying around. This defense is fast, young and athletic. A great combination for success in the NFL. Anchored by Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt up front, the biggest difference in the 2016 unit and 2017 is they are able to get pressure on the opposing quarterback without blitzing a ton. When they blitz, which they still do, you leave yourself vulnerable on the back end. They are getting pressure with 4 pass rushers, which has aided their secondary tremendously. Expect some unique blitzes, but a tenacious pass rush to try and get the "statuesque" Mike Glennon off his spot.
WCG: Le'Veon Bell is scheduled to be a Free Agent at the end of the season, looking to set the market at running back. Are the Steelers going to resign him or will they let him walk? Is James Conner a viable replacement back if Bell signs elsewhere?
BtSC: Although I think James Conner does have a very good NFL career ahead of him, he is no Le'Veon Bell. The Steelers can still franchise Bell again if they don't come to terms on a long-term contract, but the idea has to be for Bell to stay in Pittsburgh for the foreseeable future. You just don't get players like Bell every year in the draft, and although he is off to a slow start, he is worth the price of admission. I expect the Steelers either get a deal done, or franchise tag him again for the 2018 season.
WCG: Big Ben said he was considering retirement in the off season. With two Super Bowl victories and a third appearance under his belt already, does this feel like the last ride of Big Ben and his Immortals? If so, what's his legacy in the pantheon of Steelers history and in the NFL as a whole?
BtSC: I don't get the feeling this is Ben's last ride, but you never know. I think the Steelers realize he is nearing the end of his rope, and they are all in to win now. With that said, Roethlisberger is by far the most prolific passer in Steelers history, breaking every franchise record, except Super Bowl wins held by Terry Bradshaw. Not only is he the best quarterback in Steelers' history, I feel he is a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame when he does hang it up. Roethlisberger is starting to climb some of the all-time NFL quarterback rankings, and combine that with his two SB wins and 3 appearances (which could change after this year if things go as planned), he is a Hall of Famer for sure, in my opnion.
Thanks to Jeff Hartman and Behind the Steel Curtain!