Kevin Gorman: For soap-opera Steelers, it’s Super Bowl or bust
Ben Roethlisberger saw the Cleveland Browns’ video parody of The Office , which ends with a bespectacled Myles Garrett feeding a glossy photo of the Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback through a paper shredder.
Upon becoming the 2017 No. 1 overall pick, the 6-foot-5, 274-pound defensive end said he was coming for Big Ben first, “to chop him down.” But they have yet to meet on the football field, as Garrett missed the season opener and Roethlisberger sat out the season finale.
Roethlisberger hopes to avoid an impromptu introduction in the Steelers’ season opener against the Browns on Sunday at FirstEnergy Stadium, knowing full well Garrett had seven sacks in 10 games as a rookie and has his sights set on making No. 7 his eighth.
“I don’t want to take anything away from anybody, but it starts at our left side, their right in Myles,” Roethlisberger said. “What an animal, a guy that just gets after the quarterback. We’re going to have to keep an eye on him — two eyes.”
When told Garrett wants to spend time with him in the backfield, Roethlisberger responded, “He’s been talking about that for a while now. Hopefully, Al does a good job.”
Steelers left tackle Alejandro Villanueva draws the difficult assignment of blocking Garrett. That’s a task that takes on greater importance in the absence of Le’Veon Bell, the All-Pro running back who served as Roethlisberger’s safety blanket out of the backfield but became the distraction du jour by refusing to sign his franchise-tag tender.
The Steelers start another Super Bowl-
or-bust season with no shortage of soap-opera storylines, from Roethlisberger second-guessing the strategy of drafting a quarterback who could be his successor to social-media superstar Antonio Brown complaining about media pressure to Bell skipping the offseason for the second straight season to several offensive linemen sounding off when Bell didn’t report this week.
“I’m not worried about Le’Veon,” Villanueva told Aditi Kinkhabwala of NFL Network this week, focusing on Garrett. “I have enough to worry about with the Browns’ No. 95. Have you seen the Browns’ No. 95?”
No Steelers storyline is as important as protecting Big Ben’s blind side and keeping the 36-year-old healthy now that they opted to cut veteran quarterback Landry Jones in favor of Joshua Dobbs and rookie Mason Rudolph, neither of whom has played an NFL regular-season snap.
The Steelers have so much going for them. They have a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Roethlisberger, the game’s premier receiver in Brown and an offensive line that returns intact, in spite of the scare when left guard Ramon Foster injured his right knee in training camp.
The Steelers banked on Bell but believe in backup James Conner. They traded the mercurial Martavis Bryant but drafted a deep threat in James Washington. They have Pro Bowl performers at fullback in Roosevelt Nix and kicker in Chris Boswell. The only question marks appear to be at tight end, where only Jesse James is healthy, and how new offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner will fare calling NFL plays for the first time.
The greater concerns are on defense, especially in replacing Ryan Shazier at inside linebacker with Jon Bostic, who is playing for his fifth team. Even so, the Steelers have ends Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt healthy at the same time for the first time in a long time. They return both starters at outside linebacker, even though T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree switched sides, and at cornerback in Joe Haden and Artie Burns.
In the secondary, they parted ways with Mike Mitchell and Robert Golden but signed free agents Morgan Burnett and Nat Berhe and shifted Sean Davis from strong to free safety — only to see first-round pick Terrell Edmunds shine on his way to earning a starting job.
After a 13-3 season with eight single-digit victories, including five in the final minute, and ended with a home loss to Jacksonville in an AFC divisional playoff, you have to wonder whether these Steelers will ever fulfill their potential and win a seventh Super Bowl or continue to be one that can’t escape the drama or disappointment.
Are the Steelers are on the Stairway to Seven or the Highway to Hell?
This appears to be Bell’s last season with the Steelers, and no one knows when he will show. That makes this the Killer B’s last season together, and any argument about them being the best at their position in team history begins and ends with them winning a Super Bowl.
Big Ben has two rings, but they were before Bell and Brown. This is their final shot to win one together and leave a legacy as Super Bowl champions or a trio that proved to be a bust.
Anything less and this will be just another day at the office for the Steelers, a season for the shredder.
Kevin Gorman is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Kevin at [email protected] or via Twitter @KGorman_Trib.