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NFL isn't always what it seems

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Sunday, Oct. 7, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Former Cardinals coach Dennis Green experienced one of the NFL's signature meltdowns, almost self-immolating as anger swept through him following a troubling loss to the Bears. That emotion created a memorable and oft-replayed sound bite: “The Bears are what we thought they were!”

However, the NFL isn't always so easy to read.

A team isn't always what it is thought to be. It might touch greatness one week but flirt with futility the next.

A month ago the Steelers (1-2) had concluded training camp and were ready to take on a supposedly rusty Peyton Manning in the season opener. Only what we thought the Steelers were then isn't what they are now.

Then: The schedule sets up for a strong start, especially if the Steelers get by the Broncos. After that, it's the Jets and Eagles at home and the laughable Raiders on the road.

Now: The Steelers could trail the Ravens and/or Bengals by 2 12 games if they lose to the Eagles on Sunday. It's not easy playing catch-up when the schedule is only 16 games.

Then: Mike Wallace is a worry. He missed all of training camp, wants a new contract, might not be focused, might not be in shape. And where's his head?

Now: Wallace tries Sunday for a fourth consecutive game with a touchdown catch. Neither his head nor his hands are a concern.

Then: Rashard Mendenhall is hurt, and who knows when he'll play, but the running game is in great shape. “Red Zone” Redman can't be stopped near the goal line, and an in-shape Jonathan Dwyer had a promising preseason. And aren't the Steelers going to re-emphasize the run?

Now: Remember when the Steelers ran the single-wing offense more than 60 years ago? Didn't think so. That's when their running game was this bad.

Then: Lawrence Timmons is poised yet again for a breakout season. He never looked stronger or more prepared than he did in camp.

Now: Timmons is one more average season away from being considered a rare first-round misfire by Kevin Colbert. (Paul Posluszny went 19 picks later.) Timmons' stats are fine, but first-round picks are supposed to be stars, not guys who stand out once a game.

Then: Defensive end Aaron Smith is gone, but he didn't play much the past three seasons, and Brett Keisel can easily replace him as an on-field leader. Ziggy Hood and Cam Heyward are in great physical shape, and it's their time.

Now: Troy Polamalu is still talking about the leadership that's missing with Smith and James Farrior gone. As for Hood, more is expected out of a first-rounder. A lot more. (See above reference to Timmons.)

Then: Shaun Suisham lacks that rocket-launcher leg that many of the NFL's better young kickers have, and he misses some makeable field goals.

Now: Suisham is perfect (5 for 5). No other Steelers player can say that.

Then: Chris Rainey is ready to be the next Darren Sproles. Sprinter-fast, he can turn a 5-yard safety valve pass into a 20-yarder, and the Steelers finally have that big-play kickoff returner they never seem to have. The only worry is he might get overexposed and overworked.

Now: Rainey is touching the ball less than long snapper Greg Warren.

Then: An injured James Harrison isn't ready yet, but Chris Carter was dynamite during camp, and isn't the 3-4 defense designed to channel all the action his way?

Now: Now that Harrison is back, he's going to play, as Mike Tomlin might say, until his wheels come off.

Then: Ben Roethlisberger doesn't have the relationship with Todd Haley that he had with Bruce Arians. This isn't his offense, and he hates dinking and dunking. This could be trouble. Big trouble.

Now: When Roethlisberger goes into the Pro Football Hall of Fame, he'll have a tough call choosing between Arians and Haley as the man to induct him.

Alan Robinson is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at

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