Labriola On

Labriola on finding ways, fine lines, HOF

Ready or not, here it comes:

  • It might have changed from preseason football to regular season football, but what stayed the same during the opening weekend was the talent siphoned off rosters by injuries all over the league. Terrell Suggs, DeSean Jackson, Luke Kuechly, Dez Bryant. Jackson and Bryant are expected to miss a month, maybe more. Suggs is out for the rest of the season. Kuechly is in the concussion protocol.
  • All of these guys are significant players for their respective teams – multiple Pro Bowls, leaders, dynamic playmakers – and rosters generally aren't equipped to replace players of this stature. The best that teams can do in this era of a salary cap is to try to build rosters equipped to compensate for the loss of players of this stature.
  • The distinction between replacing and compensating can come down to a mind-set, where a playmaking pass rusher's injury is compensated for by a playmaking kick returner, whose specialty could account for more points directly or could set up the offense to do more to help the team find a way to win.
  • That's what this stage of an NFL season is all about anyway. Finding ways to win. All teams have holes in their roster that lead to deficiencies in their overall game, but the idea each September is to find ways to win some games while working to shore up those deficiencies, because just about every team is going to put together a winning streak at some point. And when the streak comes, say three in a row, it's better to be 4-3 at the start of it than 2-5. It will end up meaning more.
  • And don't think there's a lot of difference between 4-3 and 2-5, because there's not.
  • Go back to the 2014 season. The Steelers were 4-3 after seven games, and if not for a last-second field goal against the Browns in the opener and a 21-point explosion during a 73-second span of the game against the Texans, they would have been 2-5. If they were 2-5 instead of 4-3 at that point and then went 7-2 over their last nine games – which they did – the final record is 9-7 instead of 11-5.
  • That's what Bill Cowher meant when he talked about "a fine line."
  • One element of their game the Steelers might use to compensate for early-season deficiencies is their run offense. Not in the sense of returning to close-to-the-vest ball control, but in the sense of keeping time of possession in mind as the offense continues on its quest to score 30 points per game.

The Steelers prepare for the home opener against the 49ers.

  • When Le'Veon Bell returns next weekend following his two-game suspension, keeping time of possession in mind doesn't mean splitting carries between him and DeAngelo Williams. It means getting Bell the touches his status as a first-team All-Pro running back deserves, while also figuring out a way to get the ball into the hands of Williams as long as he's playing the way he did against the Patriots.
  • Speaking of the game against the Patriots, the performance was roundly panned by Steelers fans, but the Pittsburgh at New England game delivered boffo ratings on Thursday, Sept. 10. NBC averaged 27.4 million viewers for the game, and it therefore was television's most-watched show since the NCAA Men's Basketball Championship drew 28.3 million viewers on April 6.
  • This data was released by The Nielsen Company, which also listed Boston and Pittsburgh at the Nos. 1 and 2 metered local markets for the telecast. Boston posted a 39.5 local rating and a 62 share, while Pittsburgh checked in with a 34.5 rating and a 51 share.
  • That means in Pittsburgh, 34.5 percent of all households with a television watched the football game, while among those watching television at the time, 51 percent were tuned to the football game.
  • Those are very good ratings for the NFL opener, and in fact the only one of these NFL Kickoff games to do better than Steelers-Patriots was the 2010 version between the defending champion Saints vs. the Brett Favre-led Vikings that was a rematch of the previous season's NFC Championship Game.
  • It's a good thing NBC managed to avoid "an electrical issue made worse by the inclement weather" to keep its broadcast on the air. If it hadn't, a lot of people would have been very disappointed to miss, say, a quarter of the game. That would've been a shame.
  • Maybe the NFL could send someone from their offices at 345 Park Ave. in New York City over to NBC, which is located just about a 10-minute cab ride away, at 30 Rockefeller Plaza, to learn how it's actually possible to configure equipment so that it can still work when it rains.
  • The Pro Football Hall of Fame released its list of 108 nominees under consideration for election as part of the Class of 2016, and the list contains 93 players and 15 coaches. That list gets trimmed to 25 in November and then to 15 finalists in January, with the election held in San Francisco the day before Super Bowl 50.
  • Among the 108 are these guys with significant ties to the Steelers: Alan Faneca, Kevin Greene, Levon Kirkland, Gary Anderson, and Bill Cowher.
  • I'm always reluctant to include Greene in the "significant ties to the Steelers" category since he played only three of his 15 career NFL seasons in Pittsburgh (20 percent) and recorded 35.5 of his 160 career sacks (22.2 percent) during that time. But Greene did resurrect his career because of his time with the Steelers, and he then went on to post 51.5 more sacks with Carolina and San Francisco after not being re-signed here following the 1995 season.
  • Faneca is a first-year eligible, and his career spanned 13 seasons during which he was voted to nine Pro Bowls, was first-team All-Pro six times, and was a part of the Steelers team that won Super Bowl XL. In fact, the block Faneca threw to spring Willie Parker on that 75-yard touchdown run against Seattle early in the second half of that Super Bowl figures to be a clip showed often in support of his candidacy.
  • With Faneca, I believe it's going to be an issue of "when" not "if" he's elected, and the "when" is going to be a reflection of the position he played instead of how well he played it. As decorated as he was during his career, Faneca played guard, and guards are not elected easily into the Hall of Fame.
  • There are 42 modern-era offensive linemen enshrined in Canton, and only nine of those 42 played guard exclusively.
  • Which brings me to the conclusion that the next Steelers player into the Hall of Fame will be Troy Polamalu.
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