By Michael K. Reynolds
Even had the Pittsburgh Steelers managed to secure victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers they would have to be honestly appraised as an underwhelming 3-1 team.
As it turns out, they are 2-2 following another devastating loss against a poor team, which is becoming a Mike Tomlin trademark. When considering how the Baltimore Ravens handled the Carolina Panthers this week, the Steelers recent dominating victory against the Panthers isn’t as impressive as it was just a few days ago.
But no need to fall into deep depression there is a little sugar in your rapid fire conclusions:
Steelers Skilled…Just Not At Winning
The good news is the Steelers boast an offense that is packed with talent and will only get better as the year progresses (as long as Ben Roethlisberger remains upright). The defense is serviceable with some young players who will continue to benefit from live action. But…learning their position is just part of the story. The Steelers are a team that flat out struggles with winning. The great teams know how to avoid slow starts and are able to code blue their opponents when given a chance. This current version of the Steelers is not to be trusted with a narrow lead. Over the past couple of years they have lost too many games in the last minute. Until they develop this team skill of champions they will be average at best.
Big Ben Missed His Opportunity
Whether it can be blamed on play calling or on his teammates letting him down, Roethlisberger missed an opportunity to close out the game. With less than two minutes left to go, all he and his offense had to do was to get one first down. If you’re a quarterback with Hall of Fame potential, this one is on you.
Disappointment Overshadows Heath Miller’s Big Game
Steelers tight end Heath Miller had all but wrapped up the game ball…if his team could have managed to pull this one out. Although he did drop a tipped ball early in the game, he came back with a fury of courageous and critical catches and finished with 10 receptions and a touchdown. He doesn’t have the burst he once had in the open field, but if the Steelers can get that kind of performance out of Heath consistently their offense will be explosive.
Todd Haley…Almost…Called a Great Game
The pitchforks and torches will be out for the draw play called on the Steelers failed attempt to get a late first down. But if Le’Veon Bell, the running back many consider one of the top in the game, was able to squeeze out a few yards Todd Haley would have been put a bow on one of his best called games. The fourth down conversion was big. The third and two run play call was big. The flea flicker throw was perfectly timed and would have been good for a game closing touchdown…if Antonio Brown could have made the catch. The fake screen to Dri Archer would have gone for big yards to Markus Wheaton…if Big Ben would have been on target. Even with these miscues, other drops, penalties galore and a costly turnover, the offense still netted almost 400 yards. Is Haley ultimately responsible for his offense’s overall performance? Yes. But the play calling was not to blame.
The Hankie Horror Show Continues
Is Mike Tomlin losing his football team? When he goes on record that he will be putting his foot down on flags and then has his squad chalk up 13 penalties for a whopping 125 yards you begin to wonder if the inmates have hijacked the team bus. Particularly unnerving is the fact that many of these penalties were called on veteran players and several of them were of the complete bonehead variety.
Antonio Brown is proving his breakout season last year was no fluke. In fact, considering he reached twenty straight games of at least five receptions it’s time to start believing he has a chance to become one of the greatest receivers in Steelers history. But perhaps with such a weighty opportunity he might consider channeling more Heath Miller than Chad Johnson when it comes to touchdown celebrations. His 15-yard excessive celebration penalty was an unwelcome blemish on another fabulous performance by perhaps the team’s most gifted player.
Some Big Concerns
Cortez Allen may lose his starting position before too long. He’s been chasing too many tails this season, especially now that he is a hefty priced cornerback. Have teams figured out Kelvin Beachum? The undersized left tackle with the big heart has been a liability in pass blocking the past couple of games. So much so, fans have forgotten to pick on Marcus Gilbert. Hopefully he can turn things around quickly.
One Quarter Down – What Do We Know?
With the first quarter of the 2014 season in the books fans can take some solace that it’s not 2013 where the team began 0-4. But you can also argue this is not the same team that finished 6-2 last season raising expectations of a return to glory. So what can we conclude? First that the offseason and pre-season preparation for the team was poor at best. This is an undisciplined, mistake-prone team that is lacking in confidence and appearing lost at several positions. But this is also a team flashing great potential. The offense, if they can fully click, can be prolific. The defense, although still sputtering smoke, are beginning to find themselves. The question now becomes, can the Steelers get it together, before their playoff opportunities fade away? With the AFC on the rise, and the Cincinnati Bengals and Baltimore Ravens going strong, forget about crashing the party this year at 8-8. If the Steelers miss out on the playoffs again this year? Then pitchforks and flaming torches might be in order.