Steelers Beat Writer

Dale Lolley is a contributor to the Observer-Reporter and has been covering the Pittsburgh Steelers since 1993.

Art Rooney II said what should have been obvious to everyone when he spoke last week about the Steelers’ offense in 2019.

It was hard to get a handle on anything, good or bad.

“It was probably one of the craziest seasons I’ve been around in over 50 years of being around football,” Rooney said. “When you wind up having three different starting quarterbacks over the course of the year, and particularly one who earned his way on the roster starting out as a tryout in rookie tryout camp, it’s an unusual season. We had some other key injuries throughout the year. I was proud of the way our guys kept fighting through all of the adversity.”

Hard to argue with that because it’s all true.

That’s why the continuous calls for offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner’s head this season from a small – but very vocal – portion of the fan base were so far off.

“I think that any offensive coordinator in the league that winds up with three different starting quarterbacks over the course of the season is going to tell you that it’s going to be a challenge,” Rooney said. “It is difficult to evaluate. I mean, look, I’m sure that Randy, like everybody else would say, there are things that we want to improve on, there are things that we can do better, there are things we learned from this season, and hopefully all those things can help us prepare better for next season.”

The thing the Steelers learned was something Rooney has said in the past. The Steelers have to run the ball more effectively.

The Steelers averaged only 90.4 yards rushing per game last season, with James Conner playing just seven quarters over the final eight games. Neither is good enough.

“We have talked about it before. I would like to see us be a team that can be more consistent running the football,” Rooney said. “I think that has to be a part of the game. You try to improve everywhere every year and we have plenty of places to try and improve that.

“It’s an important component in terms of being able to play at the level we want to play at in a place like Pittsburgh. I think running the ball is a factor – it should be.”

That’s why you can expect one of the Steelers’ top two picks in this year’s draft – they’ll have a second-round pick and are expected to get a compensatory selection at the end of the third round for the loss of Le’Veon Bell – will be a running back.

  • The Houston Astros’ cheating scandal is more far-reaching than any of us know. And it’s probably more far-reaching than we’ll ever know.

This is probably even worse than anything the Patriots did, mostly because it happened more often and involved more people than what New England did in any of its cheating scandals.

And it’s highly unlikely the Astros were the first team to think of stealing the catcher’s signs. It’s been rumored around a lot of ballparks around the league for quite some time.

  • Rooney said this week he expects the Steelers to be tapped to play in the Hall of Fame Game in August after both Bill Cowher and Donnie Shell were announced as part of the Pro Football Hall of Fame’s Centennial Class. And with both Alan Faneca and Troy Polamalu up for the regular election and at least one likely to get in, that seems fair.

But the Steelers are lobbying to be in the Hall of Fame Game for their own reasons. No team has ever played in the Hall of Fame Game and also been featured on HBO’s “Hard Knocks.”

The Steelers are one of the handful of teams eligible to appear on the show this year. And they absolutely, positively do not want to do so.

But if the league tells them they’re on it, then they’re on it.

So, the lobbying to play a fifth preseason game makes a lot of sense for the team.

  • Polamalu is considered a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame, but it is Faneca who might have the stronger case.

There have been 46 players in league history who have been voted first-team All-Pro at least six times, including Faneca. Of those, Faneca, who is a finalist for the fifth time, is the only one who is eligible but not yet in.

Peyton Manning, Joe Thomas and Shane Lechler also were six-time first-team All-Pros but are not yet eligible.

This week’s picks

Kansas City (minus 7) over Tennessee: Yes, the Titans beat the Chiefs in Tennessee earlier this season, but that was when Patrick Mahomes was coming back after being off for a month with a knee injury. He’s healthy now, and if his 300-yard, five-touchdown game last week shows anything it’s that he’s still the best player in football. The Titans’ only hope is to keep this close and run Derrick Henry a lot. The Chiefs are just too explosive, otherwise. Take the Chiefs, 34-21

San Francisco (minus 7 ½) over Green Bay: This is another rematch, though the 49ers blew the Packers out in the previous meeting in San Francisco, holding Aaron Rodgers to 104 passing yards. The 49ers defense is healthy again now after spending most of December banged up. This one looks like it won’t be close, either. Take the 49ers, 31-17

Last Week: 1-1, Overall: 46-41-1

Dale Lolley covers the Steelers for and writes a Sunday column for the Observer-Reporter.

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