By Michael K. Reynolds
What is worse for the Pittsburgh Steelers? The pelting of dog biscuits they received from the Dawg Pound or the dog house they have found themselves in with their own fan base?
After Sunday’s 31-10 mauling by the Cleveland Browns, Coach Mike Tomlin’s post-game conference seemed like just another bad soap opera rerun.
Now, with the Steelers being one of the most demoralized 3-3 squads in recent team history, here are your Rapid Fire Conclusions:
Great News! Antonio Brown’s Record is Intact
Considering it was important enough for the Steelers to risk a victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars in order to keep Antonio Brown’s pass-catching record alive they must have been well pleased with their performance this week. Brown was able to extend his streak of having at least five catches and fifty yards now to 22 games. Hats off Steelers. Mission accomplished.
Embarrassing Losses Now a Tomlin Legacy
Was this the worst loss for the Steelers in years? Or was it the game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers? Or perhaps the early season drubbing by the Baltimore Ravens? Then, of course, there are the beauties of years past against the Oakland Raiders, Miami Dolphins and Houston Texans. With so many great options it’s hard to choose, but one thing is sure; Tomlin has put so many embarrassing losses on tape it will be permanently associated with his coaching record.
Was Emmanuel Sanders Right?
There was huge backlash earlier this year when former Steelers receiver Emmanuel Sanders said his new quarterback Peyton Manning was a better leader than Ben Roethlisberger. Sanders insisted his new Denver Broncos buddy was superior because of all of the extra time he put in with his receivers. People complained he threw Big Ben under the bus but maybe Sanders had a good point. While Sanders instantly flourished with Manning in Denver, Roethlisberger isn’t on the same page with any receiver other than Antonio Brown. And even with 84, there are one or two times each game when the two can be seen arguing over route decisions. The number of errant passes and miscommunications between the quarterback and his receivers has been troubling and perhaps the prime reason the offense is failing to score.
Red Zone Problems: Players or Play Calling?
The Steelers are just shy of incompetent when it comes to the Red Zone, but where does the chief blame lie? Todd Haley will bear the brunt of fan bashing but what about the players? When the team is 1st and goal on the six yard line and can’t score after three successive runs, isn’t that due to a lack of will? Considering the offensive line features two All Pro potential players and the team boasts great running backs, can’t they be expected to punch it in? And Kelvin Beachum. He’s personally flushed down two goal line opportunities this year with dumb penalties. Isn’t he supposed to be one of the smartest players on the team? Not to mention, if your team truly boasts a top five quarterback, shouldn’t it be on him to close out the deal?
Pass Defense Suffering From a Major Leak
Cortez Allen played so poorly against the Browns it was hard not to feel sorry for the young man (until we remember the size of the checks he is cashing). It was as if someone posted a note on his back saying, “Pass Here.” When you have a cornerback that can’t keep up with tight ends it’s time to look for another solution. William Gay continues to shine and Brice McCain might be a revelation. But Allen is a multimillion dollar liability that can no longer be ignored. Wait until we play good quarterbacks.
Standing Room Only
Why are fans outraged when nose tackle Daniel McCullers doesn’t get a helmet and is inactive on game day? Because they don’t see anyone else getting the job done. Nose tackle Steve McLendon wasn’t exactly weaving curtains of steel against the Browns, but when he went down to injury it left only Cam Thomas to anchor the line. Deep sigh. They should have stopped the game there. Swap a few jerseys and get on the bus. If you watch the game closely you’ll notice a remarkable phenomenon: The number of times Thomas can be seen standing and watching at the end of plays while his teammates make tackles. This is no easy task for a nose tackle to avoid contact while his team is getting completely overrun by the offensive line. If they are somehow convinced McCullers can’t help until 2017, they better find someone who can now.
The Steelers front office famously told their fan base a few years back that the team doesn’t “rebuild” it “reloads”. But with these “reloading” efforts resulting in a 19-19 record over the past three seasons is it time to admit the weakness in that approach? Will we be talking about a 38-38 record in a few years? 76-76 anyone? The big danger now is that coaches might shift to job security mode and start making decisions that mortgage the future for the hope of winning the next game. The Rooneys ought to consider calling a meeting and letting everyone know the priority is to rebuild a champion, not merely to sustain mediocrity. It will change their approach from “what they’ve always done” to “what they should be doing now”. It will change who they start. It will adjust who they sit. But it will also get them off of this broken record and on a surer path toward a brighter long term plan.
On Second Thought…Fire Everyone!
Fire Todd Haley for calling plays the players won’t execute. Fire Dick LeBeau for being too old. Fire Mike Tomlin for excessive use of the word “obviously”. Fire all of the Steelers-affiliated announcers who have received the front office memo commanding them to convince us the “team is just catching its stride”. Fire the Rooneys for allowing too much complacency in head coaches by refusing to fire any. And most of all…fire the fans for believing this would be a Super Bowl year. Now. That felt good. What time is the next game?