Labriola on 2011 Steelers

It's a team game, and those who truly love the sport are convinced it's the ultimate team game. Yet to win championships, it always comes down to individuals.

The Pittsburgh Steelers are about to embark on a journey through a regular season that under normal circumstances  always contains more detours and roadblocks than a summer drive anywhere in Western Pennsylvania. But the 2011 NFL regular season will begin under anything but normal circumstances.
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Yes, football is a team sport, and in the NFL there are many mechanisms in place to keep the playing field as level as possible. Things such as the salary cap and the reverse order of the annual draft give means and hope for the dregs to raise themselves up to become perennial contenders and even champions, as happened recently with the New Orleans Saints.

But as the Saints would attest, the difference comes down to the difference-makers. Several pages deeper into this issue, ESPN NFL analyst Merril Hoge makes the case that the Steelers have seven difference-makers, and his choices have to do with guys who make the kinds of plays at critical moments that win games and championships. Here's another way to look at it.

Three of the most important components to every legitimate championship chase are leadership, coaching and quarterback play. To put names to those words: James Farrior, Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger.
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James Farrior, Mike Tomlin and Ben Roethlisberger. Of all the things the 2011 Steelers have in their favor at the start of a regular season that will test them as a team over the coming 17 weeks, none are more important to their success than these three individuals.
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Read the rest of this column in its entirety, as well as a detailed preview of the Steelers heading into the 2011 regular season in the current issue of Steelers Digest. To subscribe, call 1-800-334-4005, or visit:

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