AFC North: Steeler Nation

Brett Kostoff is one of the more popular (infamous?) people in our AFC North community. Kostoff was a longtime Cincinnati Bengals fan who recently auctioned his fandom on eBay and wound up a card-carrying member of Steeler Nation.

Occasionally, we will check in with Kostoff to see how he's doing with his newfound fandom. With the lockout over, here is Kostoff's latest update:
"As far as being a Steelers fan, it's like nothing I've experienced in sports. Steeler fans are intelligent and know the game. They would rather tell you how great their best players are instead of bashing their best players (Bengals). The Steelers are the most well-respected organization in football today (Ravens, Cowboys, Bengals fans save it, you envy the Steelers. Got six?). Steeler Nation is the best fan base in the NFL. They live, die everything Steelers. For fans to have as much passion and love for a team in April and May as they do in September and January is unreal! Everything the organization does really can't be questioned by fans. They have made moves in previous seasons that have been questioned - letting go Plaxico Burress, Santonio Holmes, Joey Porter, Alan Faneca to name a few and the end result remains the same. A steady winner and replacements that continue to fill those shoes and make fans forget about such impact players. The biggest difference to me is the expectations - anything less than a Super Bowl is unacceptable in Pittsburgh. In Cincinnati to not have a top-10 draft pick the following year is considered a successful year. I've meet so many great Steeler fans through my website that I would defend them against anyone. I've been nothing but engulfed in everything Pittsburgh Steelers."

Kostoff seems to be fine with the transition. He has yet to root for Pittsburgh in a game. But that will come next week in the Steelers' preseason debut against the Washington Redskins on Aug. 12.
We have an interesting development coming out of Pittsburgh, right before the Steelers get set to open training camp on Friday.

ESPN's Chris Mortensen reports the Steelers are in pursuit of controversial free-agent receiver Plaxico Burress, who was released from prison earlier this summer. Mortensen reports Steelers coach Mike Tomlin will meet with Burress later this week.

In our latest SportsNation poll, we ask Steeler Nation: Is this a good idea? Does Pittsburgh need Burress, who is a 34-year-old receiver who hasn't played since 2008?

Or would Burress help take Pittsburgh's offense to the next level? He had a decent start to his career with the Steelers and a good rapport with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. This would allow Burress to come full circle for his career.

Cast your vote on whether or not Burress and Pittsburgh are a good fit. You can also share your thoughts in the comment section below.

Walker's weekend mailbag

June, 4, 2011
6/04/11
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Let's see what in our AFC North inbox this week.

Steven Velte from Baltimore writes: JW, why does Joe Flacco get so little respect around the league and Matt Ryan gets much more praise?

Walker: Steven, I don't have a clear answer. But I do have a "face of the franchise" theory involving these two quarterbacks. Both players are very close at this stage of their careers, but the difference is Flacco is not the face of the Ravens. Ray Lewis is. After that there's Ed Reed, Terrell Suggs, Haloti Ngata, etc. For the Falcons, Ryan is the face of the franchise. So I think he gets much more publicity and credit for his team's success, despite their statistics being almost identical the past three seasons.


Will from Sykesville, MD, wants to know what the chances are of Flacco beating Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers this year.

Walker: We opened that question up to our community this week, Will, and most believe it's not going to happen in 2011. I'm not ready to make any firm predictions, but I was a little surprised by the results. Flacco has been close in the past, Super Bowl runners-up usually struggle the following year and Baltimore's roster is stacked even before free agency. Injuries aside, I expect the Ravens and Steelers to compete for the AFC North title again. Flacco and the Ravens have their best shot to catch Pittsburgh at home in Week 1.


Rye Dalton from Encinitas, CA, wants to know if the Cleveland Browns would have any interest in the supplemental draft for Ohio State players.

Walker: Good question, Rye. The Browns have additional draft picks to spare in 2012 and need all the help they can get this year. So I would list the Browns as a potential candidate for the supplemental draft. The two players of interest for the Browns could be offensive tackle Mike Adams and tailback Dan Herron, because they both play positions where Cleveland lacks depth.


JMo from Bed Stuy wants to know if safety Darren Sharper could be a target for the Browns.

Walker: I don't see this as a good match, JMo. If Sharper plays next season, he's in the twilight of his career and probably wants to play for a contender. The Browns, in my opinion, are at least. ... OK I'm not going to say it this week. I don't want to upset those Browns fans who think their team will be Super Bowl contenders this year.


Michael Ricke from Kristiansand, Norway, wants to know why Bengals quarterback Carson Palmer would want out now.

Walker: Until Palmer speaks publicly, we won't have the full details. But reading the signs, Palmer is tired of the losing and has lost confidence in the Bengals' ability to field a championship-caliber team. Palmer, 31, gave Cincinnati his prime years and only has a few good seasons left. Palmer believes he has a better chance of winning a Super Bowl elsewhere. And after watching Cincinnati for the past 20 years, I don't think anyone can argue with Palmer's line of reasoning.


Christian from Phoenix wants to know what kind of offseason activities have Bengals players organized.

Walker: The Bengals have held a few gatherings, Christian, and the team will have organized practices for the next two weeks. The Bengals are a young, rebuilding team and need to get the work in.


Derrick from Rochester, NY, wants to know where Steelers safety Troy Polamalu ranks with some of the all-time great defenders.

Walker: Polamalu is definitely unique, and I think when his career is over, he will be a Hall of Famer. But it's hard to compare him with other all-time great defensive players like Lawrence Taylor, for example, until Polamalu's career is over.


Complaint department

Here are recent comments and complaints from our community.

Dustin from Pittsburgh writes: It's hard not to agree with Brett Kostoff's response. If you were in an abusive relationship for 20 years, would you stick around for another 20? Probably not. At some point you have to say enough is enough, cut your losses and move on. And we all know the Bengals have a lot of losses to cut.

Brandon Crawford from Sykesville, Md, writes: Sounds like Kostoff is making a lot of excuses. If you are a true fan you stick with your team through black and blue. Bottom line. This guy is a disgrace to all TRUE fans of the game.

Nick Diligente from Cleveland writes: I've been a fan for 30 years. After reading Brett Kostoff's response and listening to him compare it to the cable bill, I am starting to doubt my loyalty to the Browns. He really put it into a perspective the Browns fans should look at. Do you think the Ravens fans would let me move to Baltimore as Art Modell did?

Walker: Whether you agree or disagree with Kostoff auctioning his fandom, I think he makes a compelling case. Being a fan is an individual thing. One person's tolerance may be higher or lower than the next person. In Kostoff's case, he put a lot of time, money and energy into the Bengals and 20 years without a playoff win was enough. He didn't believe he was getting enough from his team in return. For other fans, the tolerance may be higher.


Andy from Clarion, PA, writes: James, it's obvious that the Steelers would love to have Ike Taylor back and Ike would love to come back. The only problem is that the Steelers seem unlikely to pay top dollar for him. If we would have another uncapped year, why would the Steelers not just pay him what he wants for that year and try to work out a longer deal later on or work on developing younger players in the meantime.

Walker: Andy, there are some holes in your reasoning. First, the Steelers don't know if there will be another uncapped year, and even so, Pittsburgh approached 2010 as if there was a cap. Second, Taylor is 31 and wants a long-term deal. This is probably Taylor's last chance to cash in big for his career and he won't sign a one-year contract. I would assume Taylor wants at least three years.


Jordan M. from Belle Vernon, Pa., writes: I'll occasionally read the comments on some of your posts, and the Nnamdi Asomugha to the Steelers posts are as aggravating as they are ridiculous. I can just imagine how frustrated you are by it, because I'm sure you get deluged daily w/that nonsense.. So I think you should start every post with "Nnamdi to Steelers-Never" until FA starts. It might deter the endless questions you receive.

Walker: It was frustrating at first, Jordan. But I have a way of finding humor in things, so eventually it became a running joke in the AFC North blog. He might be the most popular football player in Pittsburgh never play for the Steelers.


Kovacs from Santa Monica, CA, writes: Not AFCN related, but I can't take it anymore. Tony Romo is not good. He's not a winner. He has decent stats because he has arguably the best offensive arsenal in the game: Witten, Austin, Dez, Jones/Barber/Choice. Tony Romo is good at two things: looking good and playing golf. Rant over.

Walker: I've never been big on Romo, either, Kovacs. He's a good quarterback. But Romo is not a proven winner and gets too much hype due to the team he plays for.


Mike from Ashtabula, Ohio writes: Hey, glad you got a good laugh from my comments the other day. Well, it’s the truth. The Browns will win the division this year, Mr. Walker, and I hope you cover the team like you did with the Steelers and Ravens last year. The Browns will win 12 games this year and [Colt] McCoy will throw for 3,500 yards. TAKE THAT TO THE BANK.

Walker: I will remember you said that, Mike. By the way, are you sure McCoy will throw for 3,500 yards with those receivers?

AFC North "Homer of the Week"

Here is the biggest homer in the AFC North this week. Enjoy.

Justin Isett from Baltimore writes: I hate to say this, because this has homer written all over it, but the Ravens or the Steelers going undefeated isn't entirely impossible. Apart from each other they only have maybe three tough matches in which they would probably be favored. Pittsburgh has a Week 11 bye then Kansas city and a lot of rebuilding teams. So I don't think a 16-0 or 15-1 record for Baltimore or Pittsburg is unrealistic.

Walker: Justin, you knew you were going to be our "Homer of the Week" for this one. Neither Pittsburgh nor Baltimore will go 16-0 or 15-1 next season. As Mike from Ashtabula said, TAKE THAT TO THE BANK.

If you have any future questions, complaints, or homerific comments, feel free to send them to our AFC North inbox.

Walker's weekend mailbag

November, 6, 2010
11/06/10
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Let's dig into the weekend mailbag.

Mike from Severn, Md., writes: I am a huge Pittsburgh Steelers fan living among all these Baltimore Ravens fans. But why do you think the Steelers didn't run the no-huddle offense to try to disrupt the New Orleans Saints' blitz?

James Walker: The Steelers are one of several teams that can run the no-huddle offense well, but we haven't seen it this year. In recent seasons, Pittsburgh had some success with it, and it has helped when the offense has sputtered. But I think quarterback Ben Roethlisberger's four-game suspension means Pittsburgh isn't trying to get too exotic right away. The Steelers need to focus more on getting in sync with the basics now that their entire offense is intact.


Nakaz from Honolulu writes: How much of a concern is the Steelers' pass defense? Should Steeler Nation be worried?

Walker: I wouldn't go overboard yet because Pittsburgh is still No. 5 in total defense. Recent opponents have learned to stop banging their heads against the wall trying to establish the run against the Steelers, when short and intermediate passes are more effective. Now that opponents have adjusted, it's up to Pittsburgh defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau to re-adjust those tendencies. We will see if the Steelers' defense can, starting Monday against the Cincinnati Bengals.


JC13 from New Lexington, Ohio, writes: Why do you think it's taking so long for the Bengals to fire Marvin Lewis and see if Mike Zimmer has what it takes to be a head coach?

Walker: We are getting this question a lot and it's really moot. Lewis is not getting fired by the Bengals. The Bengals will let Lewis finish out the season and his contract, and from there, it will be up to both parties to determine if they will work out an extension or go their separate ways.


Alex Zorniger from Dayton, Ohio, writes: Did the Bengals draft a bust offensive lineman in Andre Smith?

Walker: I have a pretty stern rule that I refuse to call any NFL player a bust after one year. I've seen too many rookies -- Troy Polamalu being a perfect example in the division -- look confused early but go on to be Pro Bowl players. But as we are halfway through Smith’s second season, he's closer to "bust" than "boom" in my opinion. Smith has made a few strides in his second year, but certainly not enough to warrant the No. 6 overall pick and a $42 million contract. Cincinnati missing on this pick didn't hurt the team last year. But I think it's coming back to really bite the Bengals during their struggles this season.


Farhaan Khalik from Baltimore wants to know the MVP so far for the Baltimore Ravens.

Walker: I'd give the nod to Pro Bowl defensive lineman Haloti Ngata. He's been dominant in several games this season and surprisingly leads the Ravens with four sacks. But also don't overlook the contributions from quarterback Joe Flacco season and kicker Billy Cundiff .


Joseph J from Pittsburgh writes: I was just wondering, why did the Browns trade Jerome Harrison to the Philadelphia Eagles? I remember watching him at the end of last season and thinking he would be their RB of the future. What happened?

Walker: Browns president Mike Holmgren confirmed this week that Harrison grew unhappy with his role in Cleveland. He expected to have a big season and be the full-time starter. But that wasn't the case and he ended up in the doghouse and with few opportunities. Instead of keeping an unhappy player, the Browns made a trade.

Comment and complaint department

Here are some comments and complaints from our AFC North community.

Matt from Chester, Va., writes: I know that I have all of Steeler Nation backing me up when I say that on every down linebackers James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley are held. If you don't believe me, watch the Saints' drive capped off with a pass to Lance Moore. Literally every down there is a major hold right in front of the umpire.

NN from Cleveland writes: Will Ben Roethlisberger ever have the option of just throwing the ball away when he's about to be sacked for a loss? Even as he's about to land on the ground, he is looking for a receiver and is down for a loss of yards.

Walker: Matt, we get this complaint a lot in the AFC North blog. For the most part, we ignore it for a few reasons. First, we typically stay away from officiating issues because refs miss calls throughout the year with every team, and to some degree it balances out. We could probably discuss a couple of bad calls every week in the blog, and I don't want to go down that road. Second, the Steelers get different officiating crews every game and those holding calls Pittsburgh fans have complained about for years aren't flagged. So according to the majority of officials, most of those blocks are not considered holds. NN, that's just Roethlisberger's style. He's always looking to make a big play and more often than not he pulls it off.


Mike from Columbus, Ohio, writes: James, I know this might not be the popular thing to say, but I believe they should keep the QB depth chart the way it was at the beginning of the season. Jake Delhomme No. 1, Seneca Wallace being the backup and Colt McCoy the third QB. Jake has only played one half this year healthy and you signed him to a large deal. He is a proven veteran and he deserves a chance to be the starter. Seneca is and should always be a No. 2. The Browns should go back to letting McCoy sit for this year unless needed again.

Walker: Mike, I was surprised by the number of people this week who felt Delhomme deserved another chance. It wasn't a large group, but I didn't think any Browns fans felt this way. But I disagree. There are valid points to play Wallace and McCoy, but I see no point in playing Delhomme again this year. He doesn't help your future and there's no evidence that he gives the Browns the best chance to win in the present. McCoy will get his third consecutive start Sunday against the New England Patriots. My second choice would be Wallace, because he played decently in four starts.


Martin Stanberry from USA writes: Almost everyone seems to have an opinion about Carson Palmer's play. Whenever he has big games people say "He only threw so many touchdowns and for so many yards because they were playing catch-up all game." There is some truth to this. His biggest games have come when they are down big, but the better question is why is this the case?

Walker: It's true that Palmer's best halves this year came against the Patriots and Atlanta Falcons when Cincinnati was trailing big. I have a couple theories. The pacing was more up-tempo in both cases, and Cincinnati took more shots downfield. More opportunities equaled more big plays. Also, the defenses bring less pressure when opponents have big leads and play more "prevent" not to allow big plays. Cincinnati's pass protection has been inconsistent picking up blitzes, and the Bengals face less pressure when they're down by two or more touchdowns.

AFC North Homer of the Week

For the first time, we have a back-to-back winner for AFC North Homer of the Week.

Enjoy.

John W. from Denver writes: Ok, so my Bengals lost to Miami. I was wrong. I still believe they are the best team in football. I don't count them out yet. Look at what the Titans did last year. I'm feeling a hot streak coming on for the Bengals. They will go to the Super Bowl and prove all the haters wrong!

Walker: Keep hope alive, John. You should go for a record three straight Homer of the Week awards next week.

Final Word: AFC North

October, 22, 2010
10/22/10
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» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 7:

Ben Roethlisberger
Jason Bridge/US PresswireSteelers QB Ben Roethlisberger will get his first exposure to a road crowd this season in Miami.
Ben Roethlisberger hits the road: The Pittsburgh Steelers' franchise quarterback, coming off a four-game suspension for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, made his 2010 debut in Week 6 in the comfort of his home stadium. Roethlisberger described the ovation he received from Steeler Nation at Heinz Field as "amazing." But he will get the opposite treatment on the road, starting Sunday against the Miami Dolphins. Will Roethlisberger get heckled and, if so, how will he handle it? Will it affect his play? Roethlisberger has to hear the criticism for an extended period, because the Steelers will be away from home the next three weeks and don't return to Heinz Field until Nov. 14 against the New England Patriots.

Upset linebacker: Steelers Pro Bowl linebacker James Harrison was so disgruntled by his $75,000 fine this week that he was excused from practice Wednesday and briefly contemplated retirement. Now he's back and vows not to change his aggressive playing style despite increased scrutiny by the NFL on big hits. We will see how much or how little Harrison adjusts Sunday against Miami. Any big hit the league deems illegal could cost him a lot of money, as the NFL already set the bar for Harrison this week at $75,000. Or he could be suspended. The Week 6 big hits by Harrison gave Cleveland Browns receivers Josh Cribbs and Mohamed Massaquoi concussions.

Bye-week blues: For many teams, the bye week is an opportunity to regroup and then play their best football. But that hasn't been the case recently for the Cincinnati Bengals. During the Marvin Lewis era, Cincinnati is only 2-4-1 in games following the bye. The Bengals have several issues that need to be addressed heading into Sunday's important game against the Atlanta Falcons. Cincinnati cannot afford to fall to 2-4 in a deep AFC.

Quarterback dilemma: Browns rookie quarterback Colt McCoy will get his second career start Sunday, against the New Orleans Saints. Coming off a relatively good debut against Pittsburgh, McCoy could make it tough on Browns coach Eric Mangini with another good performance. The plan was not to play the third-round pick at all this season. But a pair of severe ankle sprains to Jake Delhomme and Seneca Wallace forced McCoy into action last week. If McCoy pulls off the major upset and beats the Saints, the job is his. Otherwise, the Browns will have to evaluate their quarterback situation during the bye.

Finish strong: The Baltimore Ravens are disappointed in their overtime loss to the New England Patriots. But the Ravens have a golden opportunity to head into the bye week 5-2 with a win Sunday against the lowly Buffalo Bills (0-5). There is some pressure at home on Baltimore, as it cannot have a letdown against arguably the NFL's worst team. There is already conversation this week of whether the Bills could beat an UFL team, which is embarrassing, but also could inspire Buffalo to bring its best effort at M&T Bank Stadium.
Ben RoethlisbergerRon Chenoy/US PresswirePittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger is eager to get on the field again after returning from suspension.
After a one-month hiatus, Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger returned to work this week. Roethlisberger, who was suspended four games for violating the NFL's personal conduct policy, will make his 2010 debut Oct. 17 against the Cleveland Browns.

But plenty of issues remain for the two-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback. In anticipation of Roethlisberger's return, here are seven questions and answers before he takes the field:

1. How long will it take Roethlisberger to get in sync with the offense?

Analysis: Not long. This offense was built for and around Roethlisberger by offensive coordinator Bruce Arians. Roethlisberger simply has to step back into the driver's seat and run the machine. The Steelers have several factors going for them. They were wise to give Roethlisberger plenty of first-team reps in training camp and work with the starters in the preseason. Roethlisberger also will benefit from the bye week, which gives the Steelers two weeks to shake the rust and work on timing. Roethlisberger has been working out at a Pittsburgh-area high school and says he's thrown more footballs per day than he would in practice. Early reports have been good in practice. If Roethlisberger had his choice, he wouldn't have to wait until Oct. 17.

"I want to play this week. That's the hard part; I want to be out there right away," Roethlisberger said at his news conference this week. "But it's a good thing to have two weeks of practice. But my arm is ready. I'm not worried about my arm."

2. What kind of changes will the offense make?

Analysis: The first and biggest change is Pittsburgh will be less conservative. There was only one way the Steelers could win consistently without Roethlisberger, and that was to play it safe on offense and be lights out on defense. Pittsburgh executed its plan to near perfection and got off to a 3-1 start. Now Arians can take more chances and open his entire playbook. Roethlisberger said Monday that he doesn't want to throw it "60 times." But throwing it 30 to 35 times is a good number for Pittsburgh. The Steelers are 31st in passing offense through four games. Look for that ranking to improve dramatically with Roethlisberger under center.

3. Will Roethlisberger be accepted by his teammates?

Analysis: Everything looks good so far. Roethlisberger received a warm greeting from teammates when he arrived this week. It's no secret Roethlisberger wasn't Pittsburgh's most popular player in the past. His irresponsibility this offseason also resulted in his captain status being stripped this year. But absence can make the heart grow fonder, and Roethlisberger's effort to improve as a person is being well-received by the team. Everyone knows Roethlisberger is a gamer, and he has always earned his teammates' respect in the locker room with his toughness and football ability. Now he has to work on the personal side and being more responsible, and it appears he's taking steps in the right direction.

"Every single one of the guys I've seen gave me a big hug," Roethlisberger said. "I was just so happy to see that and they were so happy to see me as well."

4. What about the fans?

Analysis: This is the X factor. Roethlisberger was asked about this during a news conference Monday and he said he wasn't sure. Many in Steeler Nation were upset by Roethlisberger's actions. Most stuck with him during the first sexual assault allegation and were turned off that he would put himself in a precarious position twice in less than a year. Getting suspended four games also put the team in jeopardy of having a slow start. But the offseason ire has seemingly worn off. The Steelers are off to a great start and there are good vibes in Pittsburgh about the chances of this year’s team, especially now that Roethlisberger is back. Winning will help, and Roethlisberger knows that. That is why he has worked extremely hard in the interim to stay sharp.

5. Who benefits most from Roethlisberger's return?

Analysis: There are plenty of beneficiaries when a team gets its best offensive player back. But if I had to pick two players who it impacts the most, it would be starting receiver Hines Ward and tight end Heath Miller. Both players sacrificed production and were forced to take reduced roles in the offense. Miller is averaging 2.5 receptions a game and Ward is averaging 3.0 catches. Their biggest contributions so far have been in the running game, as Ward and Miller are among the best blockers at their positions. Their specialty is making tough catches in coverage over the middle, but neither Dennis Dixon nor Charlie Batch took those kinds of risks. Meanwhile, Roethlisberger trusts his arm and will have more freedom to throw over the middle to Ward and Miller and give his playmakers a chance.

6. How much pressure is on Roethlisberger after Pittsburgh's fast start?

Analysis: This is a tricky question because the answer has two sides. In some ways, Roethlisberger's teammates did a great job of taking the pressure off him by not digging an early hole. If the Steelers were 1-3 instead of 3-1, most of the blame would have been put on Roethlisberger's absence, and it would have put immense pressure on him to come in and try to save Pittsburgh's season. Instead, the Steelers are in a great position and Roethlisberger can simply keep the team rolling in the right direction. But with a fast start also come increased expectations. Many prognosticators thought this was an eight- or nine-win team that barely had a chance to make the playoffs. Now the bar is much higher for this season, and it's up to Roethlisberger to help the Steelers meet those increased expectations.

"I think there's a lot of great chemistry on this team right now," Roethlisberger said. "They are playing great football on offense, defense and special teams from what I've been able to watch of the games. I'm not coming to try to be anything more than what I am. I'm just trying to be helpful and do whatever I can to help this team win football games."

7. Are the Steelers really Super Bowl contenders?

Analysis: Yes. The AFC is deep, but Roethlisberger is one of the NFL's top five quarterbacks and one of the few with two Super Bowl rings. He knows how to get it done, and it doesn't hurt that he has a large chip on his shoulder and a lot of making up to do with his teammates and the city. I covered the Steelers during their last Super Bowl run in 2008, and you could sense the chemistry and talent were there to make a run. Barring any significant injuries -- which are always possible -- I'm getting the same feeling about this year's team early on. The Steelers are good enough to make another playoff run as long as Roethlisberger holds up his end.
» NFC High Energy: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

A look at a player who gave his team a significant boost in Week 2:

Watching Pittsburgh Steelers safety Troy Polamalu leap over the Tennessee Titans' offensive line to tackle quarterback Kerry Collins makes this week's High Energy Player an easy choice.

[+] EnlargePolamalu
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesTroy Polamalu had six tackles, an interception and three tackles for loss against the Titans.
Polamalu is back to being the NFL's version of the Energizer bunny -- and that is a welcome sight for Steeler Nation. He recorded six tackles, an interception and three tackles for loss in Pittsburgh's 19-11 victory over Tennessee.

In the past two weeks, Polamalu has proved that he's unquestionably Pittsburgh's most important player. When Polamalu was sidelined last year with a knee injury, the Steelers were inconsistent. With Polamalu back this season the Steelers are off to a surprising 2-0 start, despite playing without suspended franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

Polamalu is the ultimate chess piece for Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau. Polamalu is great in run support, can blitz the quarterback, cover receivers and tight ends and play the deep zone all with equal effectiveness.

"I couldn't find a weakness in Troy, and that's a true blessing from a defensive coordinator's standpoint," LeBeau said recently. "He just kind of opens the playbook to anything you want to do. It's just a matter of how far off the diving board you want to go."

Polamalu has proved he's willing to jump off the diving board too, if it means making a big play. Just ask Collins.

AFC North weekend mailbag

August, 21, 2010
8/21/10
1:00
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Let's see what's in the AFC North weekend mailbag.

Becky from Galloway, Ohio, wants to know how the Cincinnati Bengals can improve if they continue to have a problem with penalties.

James Walker: This was a problem last season, and it's something the Bengals have been unable to solve early in the preseason. Coaches typically can live with physical or "effort" penalties, but it's the mental errors that will drive Bengals head coach Marvin Lewis crazy. It sounds simple, but the Bengals must play smarter and pay more attention to detail. Based on last season and from what I'm seeing so far, this could be an ongoing problem.


Brooks from Lubbock, Texas, writes: I was interested to know if you believe Quan Cosby might be able to make the Bengals as a return guy and backup receiver.

Walker: There is a good chance Cosby will fall victim to the numbers game in Cincinnati. Cosby is a decent player, but the Bengals are too deep at that position this year. The team appears comfortable letting Adam Jones and Jordan Shipley field punts and Bernard Scott handle kickoff returns. So that could make Cosby expendable. But he's certainly good enough to help another team if he gets cut.


Anther214 from Caracas, Venezuela, writes: If the call were on your hands, would you start Dennis Dixon over Byron Leftwich?

Walker: It's too early to make a decision, but I would make sure Dixon gets an equal opportunity to compete with the Pittsburgh Steelers. I believe that's the biggest issue Steeler Nation has with the way things are being handled, and it's a legitimate gripe. If it's an "open" competition, allow Dixon to share some first-team reps in minicamp, organized team activities, training camp and the preseason. If it's not an open competition, name Byron Leftwich the starter and move forward. The Steelers are not doing either right now, which is confusing.


Derek from Virginia writes: Even if Lardarius Webb and Fabian Washington were to come back healthy by the season's start, would it really make as big a difference as a lot of people speculate? Without Ed Reed, this unit is average at best.

Walker: That's a fair point, Derek. Baltimore's secondary without Reed patrolling the back end is not as dangerous. But the strength of this defense is in the front seven. So any additional help Baltimore gets in the secondary with Webb, Washington or both will make a difference.


Joel Metzger from Bowling Green, Ohio, writes: Hey, James, do you notice any similarities between the 2010 Cleveland Browns and the 2008 Miami Dolphins?

Walker: If you're suggesting the Browns will go from worst to first in the AFC North, I don't see it. The division is too competitive, and this will be a gradual building process for new Browns president Mike Holmgren. They don't have enough talent right now to win the division.


Complaint department

Here are comments and complaints from our AFC North community this week:

RJ from Virginia Beach, Va., writes: I don't get why the Steelers are so hesitant to use Dennis Dixon. It's like they bought an action figure and they don't want to take it out of the package. He's not going to learn any more by watching from the bench. If you're too afraid to use him, then you might as well trade him for someone you will use.

Jimmy T. from Williamsville, N.Y., writes: I went to Steelers training camp for two days, and I must say that Dennis Dixon looked better and more sharp than Leftwich! I also think that mobile quarterbacks are more useful than pocket quarterbacks!

Dustin from Pittsburgh writes: I'm sick of all these yinzers in the Burgh going nuts over Dennis Dixon. Yes, he's athletic and, yes, he has an NFL arm. But he's just like Kordell Stewart -- if his first read's covered, he's going to take off and run. He had open receivers on plays when he decided to tuck it and run against Detroit. I've never been able to understand for the life of me, James, why does Steeler Nation have a knee-jerk reaction to every little thing when the franchise is the exact opposite?

Henley from Richmond, Va., writes: Alright guys, I think we all need to stop freaking out about Baltimore's secondary. Even John Clayton used it as grounds to no longer have the Ravens as his pick for the top of the AFC North this season. Yes, it is very poor right now. However, both Lardarius Webb and Fabian Washington will likely play in or immediately after the season opener. John Harbaugh didn't even rule out the possibility of Webb playing in the preseason. Ed Reed will likely miss a few games, but Tom Zbikowski is a decent player. With two good cornerbacks playing, the secondary will likely be above average, but not elite until Reed returns.

Ryan Campbell from Cincinnati writes: I just read your article regarding Shayne Graham. I especially liked his comment when asked how he would feel if the game came down to kicking a field goal down by two. His comment of "that would be nice." As a Bengals fan, I couldn't agree more. That would be very nice. After watching him choke in big-game situations, it will be nice to watch him blow it for a division rival instead of us. Oh, and Ravens, I hope you enjoy very short kickoffs, too. That is another Shayne specialty.

Gary from Savannah, Ga., writes: I think J.T. O'Sullivan and Jordan Palmer will be great backups in Cincinnati this season as long as they are only expected to hand the football to a running back. Otherwise, dump them both and try again.

Jake from Youngstown, Ohio, writes: I think if this season is a complete disaster, then everyone will hate Jake Delhomme. But they won't look at the other reasons like turnovers (as in fumbles), injuries, defense! Some people need to open their eyes and pay attention. But I think he will do good with a good running game and a decent defense. All he needs to do is relax and have fun and he will do fine. Stick to the short throws and the wildcat, and we will be a real threat to the other teams. I think we will go 7-9.

Crail from Akron, Ohio, writes: As big of a Browns fan as I am, this is still hard to watch. Our history has been horrible on quarterback decisions. I want to hope so bad, but somehow in my heart I know I will be let down. If Jake does well, who is gonna jump out in the wide receiving core in Cleveland? Too many what if and hopes. I hate to say it, but another losing year. Sorry, Brownies, I hope I am wrong.

AFC North Homer of the Week

Treezus from Cincinnati writes: All my life it's been the Pittsburgh Steelers’ division to lose. The Bengals have a gun-shy quarterback, the Browns are the Browns, and the always contending Ravens are always contending. BUT it’s about the world multi-ring champions. The Steelers are the true pride of the AFC North.
This has been a sore topic for Steeler Nation in recent years -- and now it's coming to the surface once again.

NFL referee Bill Leavy publicly admits that he made bad calls that contributed to the Pittsburgh Steelers' 21-10 victory against the Seattle Seahawks in Super Bowl XL.

"It was a tough thing for me," Leavy said. "I kicked two calls in the fourth quarter and I impacted the game, and as an official you never want to do that."

Leavy never explained which two calls he blew in the Super Bowl. But the chatter over the years often point out several controversial plays in the game, including a holding call that negated a long reception by Seattle tight end Jerramy Stevens, and an illegal blocking call against Seattle quarterback Matt Hasselbeck. There are also questions of whether Pittsburgh quarterback Ben Roethlisberger got in on his 1-yard touchdown run in the first half, but we won't go too deep into the particulars.

Either way, it's an interesting development from Leavy despite the fact that it comes several years later. I covered that game in Detroit and felt at the time it was poorly officiated, especially for a Super Bowl.

What's your take?

Thought of the Day finale

July, 30, 2010
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LATROBE, Pa.--We had another interesting topic in this week's "Thought of the Day" in the AFC North. The question is, should quarterback Ben Roethlisberger remain a team captain for the Pittsburgh Steelers?

With the Steelers reporting to training camp Thursday, players will have to vote on this issue soon. Roethlisberger was voted as one of the team's six captains last year. But recent off-the-field behavior has caused a conditional six-game suspension this season, which put the team’s playoff hopes in jeopardy.

Here are responses from our division inbox and AFC North Twitter:

Ben's not a captain!

Bill from Arlington, Va., writes: Absolutely not. A team captain needs to be a leader on and off the field. Ben has obviously failed off the field, and you can not be a leader on the field when you are suspended for the first six games.

Bill Deeds from Orange, Va., writes: Six captains on a team means 47 other players are not captains. If Ben is one of the six, that means a person who can't even play is a leader of a team that can. Why can't I be captain? My behavior is much better. I can't have direct contact with my team and neither can Ben. I guess the only qualification a person needs to be a team captain is filling a roster spot.

Johnie Johnson from San Antonio writes: Life-long Steeler fan deep in the heart of Texas. Ben should remove his name from consideration as a captain until he regains the trust of Steeler Nation, coaches and the general public.

Dustan Horst from Ephrata, Pa., writes: Ben, like any other person or player, must earn the title of captain. Leaders are always held to a higher standard than others, and therefore, he does not yet deserve the title. He must first prove that change has occurred in his own life off the field, before he is worthy of being labeled a leader of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Rob D from Vienna, Va., writes: Even if the team voted "Big Ben" as a captain, he would be smart to decline it. Roethlisberger would show some class if he put the team before himself. He should earn the captaincy by showing dedication and teamwork, rather than having it handed to him.

Make Ben captain!

Kovacs from Santa Monica, Calif. writes: If Mike Tomlin were choosing, "Big Ben" shouldn't be a captain. If the players elect him, I think that's different. Players choose which guys they want to follow, and if they team wants to follow Ben that's all that matters.

Steelers36 from Lake Charles, La., writes: I feel that he should still be a captain. It will pick his self esteem back up, and hopefully we'll make the playoffs with him in charge--and a seventh ring.

Sdpaladin via Twitter writes: Yes, he should be a captain. The team knows he needs their support and their votes will show they have his back.

Mtidmore via Twitter writes: It's about on-the-field leadership. It would give Ben confidence to be honored by his teammates. Silly way to punish him.

Mike from Ewa Beach, Hawaii, writes: For Ben's continued growth and image rehab I think he should remain a captain. From all that I've read from his teammates' quotes I think he'll get voted in again.

AFC North final say

James Walker: It's entirely on the team to decide who leads them this year. It's an internal issue that can only be determined by Pittsburgh's players in the locker room. So I'm staying out of this one.

If you have any future “Thought of the Day” topics, send them to our AFC North inbox.

AFC North training camp preview

July, 28, 2010
7/28/10
12:00
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You would be hard-pressed to find a division with more offseason intrigue and drama this year than the AFC North.

Whether it was the suspension of a star quarterback in Pittsburgh, controversial signings in Cincinnati, new leadership in Cleveland, or Super Bowl hype in Baltimore, this division remained in the headlines.

Three AFC North teams finished with winning records last year and enter 2010 with even bigger aspirations. Now it's time get on the football field and get the pads cracking in training camp, as each team has issues to address.

FOUR BIG QUESTIONS

Baltimore Ravens: Will the secondary get healthy this summer?

[+] EnlargeReed
Jerry Lai/US PresswireThe Ravens hope Ed Reed will be available to play in Week 1.
Pro Bowl safety Ed Reed and cornerbacks Lardarius Webb and Fabian Washington all have significant health concerns and began training camp on the physically unable to perform list.

Reed is coming off major hip surgery and is unsure if he will start the regular season on the PUP list, which would require him to miss the first six games. Webb and Washington are rehabbing knee injuries and also are possible PUP candidates for the regular season. Baltimore's secondary is one of the team's few questionable areas, and the Ravens would benefit greatly if any of these players are ready by Week 1.

Cincinnati Bengals: Can T.O. and the passing game jell?

The Bengals' downfall at the end of last season was due to their inability to pass effectively. Cincinnati became predictable and relied heavily on tailback Cedric Benson to move the offense. As a result, Cincinnati placed a huge emphasis on improving its passing game this offseason.

The Bengals paid receiver Antonio Bryant $28 million and most recently added receiver Terrell Owens with a one-year, $2 million deal. They also spent three draft picks on first-round tight end Jermaine Gresham and receivers Jordan Shipley and Dezmon Briscoe. With so many new faces, can everyone coexist and quickly find their roles? Training camp and the preseason will be key for Cincinnati to put it all together.

Cleveland Browns: Will QB Jake Delhomme erase concerns?

Whether you're Browns president Mike Holmgren, the coaching staff or a fan of the team, no one is exactly sure what Cleveland will get out of Delhomme this year.

[+] EnlargeDelhomme
Bob Donnan/US PresswireJake Delhomme had a forgettable final season with the Carolina Panthers.
The Browns started over at quarterback and invested $7 million in a veteran coming off the worst season of his career. Delhomme threw only eight touchdowns and 18 interceptions in 2009 before being benched by the Carolina Panthers.

The Browns are quietly confident that last year was an aberration. But a strong performance in training camp and the preseason would go a long way to ease concerns. If Delhomme, 35, doesn't have anything left, backup quarterback Seneca Wallace and rookie Colt McCoy are waiting for their opportunity.

Pittsburgh Steelers: How will coach Mike Tomlin divide quarterback reps?

Should suspended quarterback Ben Roethlisberger get more first-team reps this summer than Byron Leftwich and Dennis Dixon?

This is an interesting issue facing Pittsburgh's coaching staff. The Steelers need to find the best quarterback option between Leftwich and Dixon because Roethlisberger will not be available for the first four to six games of the regular season. Yet, training camp and the preseason are the only times "Big Ben" can get practice reps and playing time, because he will be banned from the facility during his suspension. How do the Steelers properly balance short- and long-term preparation at quarterback simultaneously?

HOTTEST SEATS

Ravens: Terrell Suggs. The three-time Pro Bowler raised the stakes for himself this offseason by saying his sub-par performance in 2009 will "never happen again." The Ravens certainly hope so, because Suggs did not live up to standards (he had a career-low 4.5 sacks) in the first season of his new contract. Baltimore needs more of a pass rush this year, and Suggs is the most capable to help in that area.

[+] EnlargePalmer
Frank Victores/US PresswireCarson Palmer threw for 3,094 yards and 21 touchdowns last season.
Bengals: Carson Palmer. Cincinnati's aforementioned struggles passing the football have raised questions about its franchise quarterback. Is Palmer, 30, past his prime? Have knee and elbow injuries caught up to him? Can Palmer get back to his 4,000-yard form of 2006-07? This is a very important year for Palmer. It's the deepest team he's had in Cincinnati, and added weapons in the passing game leave no excuses for not performing well.

Browns: Eric Mangini. Perhaps no person in the entire AFC North is on a hotter seat than Mangini. He must be successful this year to keep his job, and it's not going to be an easy task getting Cleveland out of the basement in the division. As a former head coach, Browns president Mike Holmgren believed Mangini deserved more than one year to implement his program. Cleveland won five games last season under Mangini and will have to do better in 2010 to impress "The Big Show."

Steelers: Bruce Arians. Pittsburgh's offensive coordinator was on the hot seat even before Roethlisberger's suspension. Now Arians really has to be on top of his game for the Steelers to be successful early in the season. Arians has been a lightning rod with Steeler Nation. Despite Pittsburgh having a 4,000-yard quarterback, a 1,000-yard tailback and two 1,000-yard receivers last year, Arians still has a lot of detractors. He can prove many of his critics wrong by helping lead Pittsburgh to victories without the team's best offensive player.

SECRET WEAPON

[+] EnlargeWallace
Steve Mitchell/US PresswireThe Steelers have high expectations for Mike Wallace as the team's No. 2 receiver.
Steelers WR Mike Wallace: Pittsburgh is showing a tremendous amount of confidence that Wallace, a second-year receiver, can step up for the departed Santonio Holmes. The No. 2 receiver opposite starter Hines Ward is an important position in Pittsburgh’s offense. It's reserved for the receiver who consistently makes big plays, which Wallace is certainly capable of with his speed.

Wallace had 39 receptions for 756 yards and six touchdowns last season. He averaged an impressive 19.4 yards per catch, quickly gaining the trust of Roethlisberger by making plays when his number was called. Now in the starting lineup, expect Wallace's number to be called more this year and for him to post better numbers, especially in the second half of the season once Roethlisberger is back in the groove.

FEARLESS CAMP PREDICTIONS

Ravens: Expect a closer kicking competition than expected between free agent Shayne Graham and Billy Cundiff. Graham will eventually win the job, but Cundiff was solid for Baltimore last year and won't go away without a fight.

Bengals: Adam Jones will win the third cornerback spot in training camp. After sitting out an entire year, he's had enough time to get his football legs back and his natural athleticism will help keep him ahead of the competition.

Browns: Rookie receiver Carlton Mitchell will be a pleasant surprise this summer for Cleveland. Mitchell, a sixth-round pick, comes to the Browns with few expectations. However, he has a nice combination of speed and size and will get plenty of opportunities at a thin position for the Browns.

Steelers: Look for second-year cornerback Keenan Lewis to raise some eyebrows in this training camp. Ike Taylor and Bryant McFadden are the starters, but Lewis' size, athleticism and second year in the defense will earn him a role with the team in sub packages.

Take your pick recap

April, 18, 2010
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Several days ago we asked Pittsburgh Steelers fans to compare two of the top quarterbacks in franchise history: Ben Roethlisberger and Terry Bradshaw.

This question was sparked after Bradshaw had some interesting comments after Roethlisberger's latest off-the-field misconduct.

Here are responses from our AFC North inbox and a final say on the matter:

Mike from Pittsburgh writes: This one isn't even close. Terry Bradshaw is a much better quarterback than Roethlisberger. Bradshaw’s Super Bowl performances were much better than Ben's, and I believe he will still have more rings than Ben when Ben is done. As far as character goes, it's not even close. Bradshaw is a better person, more loved, and he always will be. Case closed. The Blonde Bomber will always be superior to Big Ben in the eyes of a true Pittsburgher.

Dan Finnegan from Bremerton, WA, writes: There was a time after the SB XLIII win when I seriously believed Ben had a shot to dethrone Terry as the all-time best QB in Pittsburgh. But that time has come and gone with the revelations of his alleged off-the-field behaviors. Terry never had those kind of issues and even worse, took more heat from Steelers fans about his performance on the field in the early years of his career than Ben could even dream of. And Terry wound up being an instrumental part of four Super Bowl victories. I'm not sure Ben will still be around to be part of a third Super Bowl opportunity, let alone a victory.

Mike from St Cloud, Fla., writes: I'd take Terry Bradshaw any day. I have always felt he was under rated and under appreciated by the national media. He went through so much more adversity (not self inflicted) early in his career than Ben has. Many quarterbacks have wilted under less pressure and scrutiny than Terry experienced. I don't know how he kept persevering to become the great quarterback most remember later in his career.

Dave from Miami writes: Terry couldn't hold Ben's jockstrap. Terry heaved the ball deep, and had a two HOF receivers running under it and making catches that dominate NFL Films receiving tapes to this very day. If Terry were good, you wouldn't see Lynn Swann having to make the most amazing catches you've ever seen over and over and over. Terry never made a throw like the one you saw Ben make in SB XLIII, or the one Ben made to beat Green Bay last season (which was even better). And let's be honest here, the talent in the league and the parity have gone way up. No team dominates anymore like the Steelers did then. The league has gone to great lengths to ensure that. Terry is out there. He's bitter and more than half crazy.

(Read full post)

As we continue to have any many voices from Steeler Nation heard as possible, here is the AFC North blog's second installment this weekend of thoughts and opinions on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger:

Jon from Cleveland, OH, writes: As a lifelong Steelers fan I'm not real happy with Ben. My daughter (now 4) could say "Roethlisberger" when she was 2. She's outgrown her Ben jersey, and I'll have to explain why we are not getting another one--we'll get Hines Ward's or Troy Polamalu's--to a 4 year old. Ben's leash is more than short...His attitude and behavior have to change. A great season, even title No. 7, will not be enough.

Coreen from Davis, CA, writes: I am incredibly frustrated with the NFL right now. I don't understand why they continuously think that they are "above the law." I realize that they think they are making their players good role models for children, by showing them that there are consequences for their actions. But children should also understand that people are innocent until proven guilty, and that people shouldn't take law and punishment into their own hands. I think that players should only be punished by the NFL if they break rules directly affecting the game. For example, steroid use. For other infractions I think it should be in the law's hands. It is absurd to me that The Steelers' ORGANIZATION is getting fined because a case was opened and dismissed. Get over yourself NFL!

TMC from Virginia writes: All I have to say about this stuff with Ben is this: You've had other star players make various mistakes off the field and they did not stay. They either were traded or released. The same needs to happen with Ben. Let's take our chances with Charlie Batch or Dennis Dixon, who showed a lot of promise with his start against the Baltimore Ravens last season. And the other positive is he's young and can grow into hopefully a good, if not great, QB. Also bring in another player as the third QB.

Bruv from St. Vincent College writes: I think people are being overly critical of Ben. Of course he put himself in a poor position, but is there a clause in his contract where he must be a good role model for children? If so, then he should be suspended. But if there isn't, then he should not be suspended by the Steelers or the NFL. He was not charged with a crime, and his morals should not have anything to do with his job. He can still do a great job, regardless of how he conducts himself outside of football. If it is not in his contract from the Steelers or NFL, then he should not be suspended for his "questionable behavior."

Fasi from Chicago writes: I have been a Steeler fan all of my life, and there is no team in all of sports that I love more than the Steelers. Being the father of a young girl I feel like I have been personally affected by Ben's latest indiscretion. For the first time in my life I am wondering if it's worth it being a Steeler fan when the organization is no longer the model organization which I have loved. I don't know if he did it, but his history of behavior is starting make me feel like Ben may be a scumbag.

Pedro from São Paulo, Brazil, writes: Ben has been accused but not charged with any crimes. The slate is clean. He's a top five NFL QB who has brought the Steelers two Lombardi trophies in six years. If he was a backup lineman, he would be on a short leash. But he is not. That's how it works in the NFL.

(Read full post)

More thoughts from Steeler Nation

April, 17, 2010
4/17/10
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On Thursday we ran a feature on how Ben Roethlisberger's second sexual assault allegation in less than a year has divided Steeler Nation.

Unfortunately, I cannot print everyone's thoughts from the hundreds and hundreds of responses we received in our AFC North inbox. So this weekend I decided to print more opinions from Pittsburgh Steelers fans on Roethlisberger, which represent various sides of this polarizing issue:

Brian from Holly Springs, N.C., writes: The slate's not clean by any stretch of the imagination. Ben is clearly having off-field issues and continues to put himself into situations where his character can be called into question. Is he a great QB? Yes. But is he a great person? That's clearly in doubt at this point. My 12-year-old son recently decided to ask for a Troy Polamalu jersey because he said "I don't want to wear No. 7 now." The Steelers have always prided themselves on having great players both on and off the field. Ben is putting that at risk with his off-field issues.

Gregg B from Pittsburgh writes: Ben is a wonderful NFL QB. Unfortunately, either he has a dark side to his personality or he lacks the judgment required to succeed in the world outside of football. As good as he is, Pittsburgh must begin to develop a post-Ben solution. The franchise can't rely on Ben -- he's proven that too many times.

J. Scott from West Point, N.Y., writes: I am very disappointed in Big Ben. I know all things are not black and white (or gold in this case), but he seems to be spending all his time in gray areas. When I was a company commander in the army, I always told my soldiers that nothing good ever happened after midnight. Maybe he should rethink the company he keeps.

Darren from Pittsburgh writes: Am I missing something about the Steelers this offseason? Did I miss reading that Big Ben was convicted? This is AMERICA for crying out loud. This guy didn't get convicted of a crime but is being hung out to dry by the Steelers' organization. High-profile athletes get extorted all the time and accused of outrageous things just for money. This seems to be a crime all on its own if Big Ben gets suspended for doing nothing wrong. I will no longer be a Steelers fan if they trade him away.

Hung Phan writes: I'll support Roethlisberger now more than I would if he was standing trial and not playing football. If he's not playing, he really doesn't mean anything to me.

Josh from Ashland, Ohio, writes: The only thing that matters is winning. If we go and win another Lombardi trophy this year, most will be forgotten. Although he must stop putting himself in situations that can affect the franchise. What I don’t understand is why cant he focus on football for like 5-6 more years, become more of a legend, then go out and party? He's an elite quarterback right now. If he becomes legendary, there would be no limit to the 'fun' he could have. Someone needs to tell him this.

Craig from Avon, Ohio, writes: I'm born and raised in the City of Champions and a lifelong Steeler fan living in enemy territory. Ben is our quarterback. He is not a role model, never has been and will never be regardless of the outcome of these allegations. We cheer him on Sunday's that's it. People who look to athletes (or entertainers or politicians) to be role models are missing an important fact of life: Most of these guys have NOTHING in common with us. They live a different life in almost everything they do versus the great majority of the rest of us. Why we hold them up as who or what we aspire to be baffles me. I am Steeler fan always and a Ben fan on Sundays, but only until our next great quarterback comes along then I'll be a Steeler fan and a fan of his. This is sports, not life.

Anne from Midland, Texas, writes: I've been a Steeler fan since I was 14 (longer than Ben has been alive). So that's not likely to change because of the actions of one...um, or two or three players. As a fan of the game, I absolutely love watching Ben play. As a Steeler fan, it won't be his play that wins back my support, it will be his future behavior as the "face" of the team I've loved for so long.

Marcus from Miami writes: Big Ben is not off the hook just because no charges will be filed, nor with me or Roger Goodell. He is on thin ice. However, he plays for the Steelers. So it is only logical that I support him this season. If he has the same numbers he did last season, and he leads us to the playoffs or possibly a Super Bowl, I will completely forget his three incidents.

Harvey "Mr. Steeler" Aronson from Jacksonville, Fla., writes: Ben Roethlisberger, if he doesn't learn from this latest incident he may never just get it. He needs to improve his maturity level off the field and begin to act like a team leader during the off-season. He has every right to have a social life but he must do it wisely. I also think he needs to work on his reputation around Steeler Nation as a person off the field as many right now see him as a big jerk. He needs to be as personable as possible when seeing, meeting, and greeting fans. His on the field abilities speak for itself. If he continues to act recklessly off the field his career in Black and Gold will not have much time left.

This is the first of two parts Saturday. More thoughts from Steeler Nation on Roethlisberger is coming up next.

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