sistaff
Thursday September 15th, 2011

The Steelers aren't in trouble yet, but James Harrison's health is definitely something to watch. (CSM/Landov)

The Steelers were given such a thorough beatdown by Baltimore in Week 1 that it immediately sparked discussions about their future -- is the Pittsburgh dynasty dead?

Warren Sapp, for one, says yes.

On Showtime's "Inside the NFL" Wednesday, Sapp  said this about the Steelers' prospects: "The Pittsburgh Steelers, I have three things: old, slow and it's over. It's that simple." He wasn't done, adding:

James Harrison told us that he was 70-to-75 percent. It looked more like 40 percent to me, if you are looking at the ballgame I was looking at. And Hines Ward, Mercedes Sapp can cover Hines Ward right now. You have to be kidding me … Mercedes is my 13-year-old daughter. She will cover Hines Ward in a heartbeat. And Troy Polamalu, Ed Dixon runs this crossing route. Troy Polamalu is trying to grab him to have a pass interference and he can't even get close enough to grab him. (It) looked like he was dragging a wagon behind him. Touchdown Baltimore. Pittsburgh Steelers done.

Look, Week 1 was an embarrassing, ugly performance for the Steelers. But are we really already writing off the defending AFC champions, a team that was a Rashard Mendenhall fumble away from winning it all last year? Doesn't seem wise.

Sapp hit on a number of issues in that little rant (Ward had five catches for 67 yards, for what it's worth), but the biggest one is Harrison's health, because that's definitely an issue that could derail the Steelers. Harrison is 33 and coming off two offseason back surgeries, then limped off the field Sunday with a knee contusion.

Harrison is one of the driving forces of Pittsburgh's aggressive 3-4 defense from his right outside linebacker spot. The reason he's playing at an admitted 70 percent is because, even at that level of health, he's the best option for the Steelers. When everything is clicking on the Pittsburgh defense, Harrison and Woodley coming off the ends are nearly impossible to block.

Truth be told, he did look unsteady Sunday against the Ravens and was mostly negated by new Baltimore tackle Bryant McKinnie. Harrison still finished with nine tackles, but he didn't have nearly the impact on the game that he would like.

With Harrison effectively neutralized, Baltimore wound up hanging 35 points and nearly 400 yards on Pittsburgh.

A couple of things worth pointing out, though:

First and foremost, Baltimore had a plan to go right at Harrison from the get-go. That's something the Ravens are capable of accomplishing, but a lesser team with a worse offensive line, fullback and running back could not.

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The Pittsburgh defense also had to deal with its offense turning the ball over seven times, including six times in the second half and four times in Steelers territory. Even on a great defensive day, those are numbers that would be hard to deal with.

Sunday was a total team collapse, but you know what? It happens. The Patriots lost last season by 20 in Cleveland, for crying out loud. No one put that franchise on life support.

Are guys like Harrison and Polamalu slowing down some? Sure. They're both in their 30s and have played a ton of games in past years -- getting deep into the playoffs just about every season means extra mileage on the tires. Instead of declaring this team dead for 2011, though, let's at least give it another week or two. The Steelers lost to a really, really good Ravens team on the road in Week 1. There is plenty of time to come back from that.

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