By Michael K. Reynolds
After an underwhelming victory against the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars the Pittsburgh Steelers can now rest in the knowledge they are not the worst team in the NFL. In fact, at a healthy record of 3-2, albeit against some of the league’s patsies, the team is sitting in a pretty good spot.
Even better, although it cost Steelers fans the ultimate indignity of cheering for Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, it was a good day overall for the Black and Gold with losses suffered by the Baltimore Ravens and division leading Cincinnati Bengals.
So with all of this in mind, here are your Rapid Fire Conclusions:
Steelers Nation Still Championship Grade
Considering the fact the Steelers have been average for years, and they just experienced a hugely disappointing loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Steelers Nation proved to remain in All-Pro shape. The Jaguars stadium was overflowing with Terrible Towel waving faithful and the chants of “Heath” were in home field form.
Steelers Play Tampa 2
Was this déjà vu all over again? The Tampa Bay game revisited? The fact the Steelers were up only by the score of 10-9 after three quarters of play is a real disappointment. When Ben Roethlisberger coughed up the football with a little more than twelve minutes left in the fourth quarter there was understandable concern. The hope was this team would learn to get fast starts against weak teams but it didn’t happen on Sunday.
Defense Learning To Work The Clutch
Big Ben and the offense had a chance to wrap up the game in the fourth quarter with what started as an impressive drive. But a sack fumble allowed that to slip away. Fortunately, the defense, proved clutch with a pick six to give the Black and Gold a 17-9 lead. Then they held strong in the Jaguars ensuing possession, forcing a punt. Unfortunately, the Steelers offense sputtered again in close out mode and it needed to rely on the defense to get one final chance at the end. The third time proved a charm, allowing Big Ben to finish in Victory Formation. But it may indicate the defense is working its way back to being trustworthy during tight finishes which is a promising sign.
Blount A Big-Time Number Two
With Le’Veon Bell performing at Pro Bowl level it might be easy to say he is one of the most indispensable players on the team. But hat’s off to the Steelers front office with the acquisition of LeGarrette Blount. He is not just a lug offering a change of pace to Bell. Blount continues to display unusually nifty feet for a big man and the ability to make good lane choices. He’s a number one running back for probably fifteen other teams in the league.
It’s Fourth and One: Where’s The Big Guy?
The Steelers defense failed on another 4th and 1 against the Jaguars soft offensive line. So far they’ve lost three out of four of those, not to mention the several times they’ve offered little resistance during goal line stands. It’s a common refrain by those in the know to say you’d have to be an idiot to give nose tackle Daniel McCullers a helmet on game day. But stopping a team on 4th and 1 is the equivalent of getting a fumble. And who wants to give up short yardage touchdowns? Realizing there are only 46 helmets to pass out on any given Sunday, it’s still baffling they couldn’t give McCullers a few rotations in the line while allowing him to earn his keep on special teams and short yardage situations. Maybe Cam Thomas could use a breather next game which would serve the dual purpose of giving Stephon Tuitt more snaps as well.
The Return of John Hannah
Quite a bit was said about how poorly C/G Cody Wallace played the past couple of games in relief of injured Ramon Foster. So much so you would expect a huge improvement in the offensive line with Foster’s return to the lineup against the Jaguars. No? You didn’t see that either? In fact, on the three games that Foster has started the Steelers on average have gained 133 yards rushing and given up 3 sacks. With Wallace? Again on average for the two games he played, the team gained 175 yards and gave up 3 sacks against arguably tougher defensive fronts. Foster had a strong game against the Jaguars, but is it premature to give up on seeing what Wallace can add to the mix?
Deebomania or Deebolusional?
If you look at the statistics, there isn’t much linebacker James Harrison has done that is all that impressive. But…and this may be Deebolusional…it seems the team has responded well to his return to the defense. For all of the fear there was about having Harrison in coverage, he has yet to stumble. And teams no longer are as confident about running to his side. As long as he remains healthy, the former NFL Defensive Player of the Year will only get stronger, and his infusion of toughness and confidence seems to already be having a positive impact on the young defense.
Pass Defense Improving?
William Gay has performed as an upgrade over Ike Taylor and the emergence of Brice McCain could prove to be a huge positive for the future of the defensive backfield. Pressure has been put on Cortez Allen to improve and although he’s still experiencing set-backs, he’s beginning to settle in and make big plays. Sean Spence has not been an impact player by any means, but we’re not seeing tight ends run wild and free. The sacks aren’t rolling in, but the pressure on the passer seems to be increasing.
On McCain’s interception and touchdown return, the Steelers pressed at the edges and challenged the Jaguar’s offense. Hopefully, this will give both players and coaches more confidence in attacking teams rather than just laying back and waving the white flag.
Beware The Browns
This is not your father’s Cleveland Browns. Although many fans have already penciled the Steelers upcoming game against their hated rivals as a win, this will prove to be one of the biggest tests of the season thus far. The Browns are a much improved and highly resilient team. The Steelers must take it to Cleveland early on and keep the accelerator pressed until the game ends as there will be no quit in their opponent.