TitansOnline.com Senior Writer and Editor Jim Wyatt gives an inside look at the Pittsburgh Steelers with Ed Bouchette, who covers the Steelers for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. The Titans face the Steelers on Thursday night at Heinz Field.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The Titans face the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night at Heinz Field.The Titans are coming off a 24-20 win over the Bengals, and currently have a 6-3 record.
The Steelers are coming off a 20-17 win over the Colts, and they’re now 7-2.
This week, I caught up with Ed Bouchette, who covers the Steelers for the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. Bouchette has covered the Steelers for the Post-Gazette since 1985. He can also be heard on 93.7 FM, KDKA-AM, KDKA-TV in Pittsburgh. You can follow Ed on Twitter @EdBouchette, and join over 71,000 others.
Here’s how our conversation went …
Wyatt: Hi Ed. I appreciate you taking the time on a short week. Well, the Steelers have won four in a row, and their 7-2 record is tied with the Patriots for the best in the AFC. The Steelers are ranked in the top 10 on both sides of the football. So, how good is this Steelers team?
Bouchette: They actually haven’t played as well as expected on offense. The defense has been pretty good, and the defense is the one that had the most to prove because they had to transition from all those great defenses they had with Troy Polamalu and all those guys. It is a pretty good defense. But the offense, I think they are one of five in the league that has yet to score 30 points, and that was their goal for every game – 30 points. They hit 30 points seven times last year, and seven times the year before. But nothing this year, and a lot of the teams they’ve played have not had great defenses, like the Colts on Sunday. There’s a lot of theories, but I don’t know that anybody has it right as far as what’s gone on with the offense.Wyatt: Looking at the numbers, I see the Steelers are ranked only 18th in scoring despite the 10th ranking in total yards. So with a quarterback like Ben Roethlisberger, and weapons like running back Le’Veon Bell and receivers Antonio Brown and Juju Smith-Schuster, what’s not gone right in your mind? Those guys have put up some good numbers.
Bouchette: They’ve been so inconsistent, and I don’t mean just from game to game, but in games. They have a good veteran line that was supposed to be one of the best in the league, and they have this rookie in Smith-Schuster, their second round pick, who has been fantastic. But they have been dysfunctional. Guys will be open and Ben will miss them. On other plays Ben will throw it to guys open deep, and they’ve either drop it or not catch it. On Sunday in Indy, Antonio Brown dropped a ball at the 10 and he was wide open. He just dropped it. It’s just been uncanny.Wyatt: So how has Roethlisberger played so far? His numbers don’t look bad – 2,298 yards and 12 touchdowns, with 10 interceptions. He’s had a heck of a career, but I know he’s also talked about retirement of late. Is he nearing the end there in Pittsburgh?
Bouchette: Well, he is definitely nearing the end, because he is 35 years. But when the end is going to come, I’m not sure. Now I was surprised when he said that last year, and he elaborated to me in camp – his wife would like for him to retire, he is concerned about all the CTE studies. But he is committed, and I think he is playing well. A lot of people are criticizing him because his numbers don’t look all that good, but again, this offense has just been, for whatever reason, just dysfunctional. And I am not putting all of the blame on Ben. He accepts some of it, and he does knows he’s missed some guys open, but he’s still a good quarterback.Wyatt: Dick LeBeau returns to Pittsburgh for the first time since his days as defensive coordinator with the Steelers. I don’t have to tell you what a gem coach LeBeau is. What is your best memory of coach LeBeau, and how much is he still loved in Pittsburgh?
Bouchette: He is revered here — by players, by fans, by the media. He’s a special person, and coach. My memories of him, we would talk about his playing days and he would always remind you of all the interceptions he had as a player in Detroit. And I am sure he does it down there too, but he gets up before the team and does “Twas the Night Before Christmas.’ He doesn’t read it – he recites it by heart right around Christmas time. He is a very proud guy, too. He was always a good story teller. But he never raised his voice as a coach, and he still had the respect of all those players.
Wyatt: You’ve covered the Steelers so long, you covered Mike Mularkey as a player, and an assistant coach there. What do you remember about him during his playing days with the Steelers from 1989-1991?
Bouchette: As a player, he was a good tight end. He was one of those tight ends the Steelers liked – he could catch and he could block. It is rare they try and get a guy who could just catch. They always want guys who can do both and Mike could do both. He came to the Steelers from Minnesota, and the biggest thing I remember about Mike was Bubby Brister was the quarterback, and Chuck Noll hired Joe Walton to be the offensive coordinator in 1990, and Joe came in and ripped up the old offense under Tom Moore, which was a pretty simple offense, and he put his own in. It was tough at first for the guys to understand it, especially the long, drawn out play call he would have for each play. And Bubby Brister just openly rebelled against it, and he was the quarterback. If you don’t have the quarterback on your side it is going to be tough. One day Mike was sitting at his locker, and I went up to them and said, “Mike, is this offense really that tough?’ And he said: ‘Not if you study your playbook.’ That was Mike.
Wyatt: OK Ed, good stuff. Last thing: Steelers cornerback Coty Sensabaugh is a guy a lot of Titans fans remember from his playing days in Tennessee. Following Joe Haden’s injury, Sensabaugh was the next man up against the Colts, and he figures to play a big role on Thursday night against the Titans. How has he been?Bouchette: Well, he hasn’t played a whole lot. He initially was going to be the starter. They brought him in as a free agent to compete, and before the season following a competition … they hand Sensabaugh the job. And then they signed Joe Haden just before the season, so he took that job and Sensabaugh has been playing dime stuff when they go to the dime. And that is basically what he has done. So he’ll start now. But I can’t tell you really how well he has done, because he hasn’t played that much, so this is a big opportunity for him.