Following a 1-4 preseason that was much worse than the record would indicate, the Pittsburgh Steelers head into New England this Thursday appropriately as the league intended: As the Washington Generals to this last year’s Super Bowl champs.
The most Pollyannic of Steelers fans would argue that Coach Mike Tomlin has the team right where he needs them, but even Tom Brady’s attorneys would have a hard time arguing that case.
With the 2015 preseason in the books (and hopefully being given the Fahrenheit 451 treatment) here are your 2015 Season Preview Rapid Fire Conclusions:
In Tomlin We Trust
Lest this papyrus be affirmed as the penmanship of Eeyore the donkey, let’s start with the blue sky spa treatment. Coach Tomlin is the Steelers head coach and as long as that is the case, the team will never have to utter, “I coulda been a contender.” The Steelers may stumble out of the gates but they won’t be scratched from the NFL Derby any time soon. One way or the other, Tomlin will have the team heading into the playoffs with momentum. At the end of the day, Tomlin’s tape speaks for itself. His ability to turn around last season’s early quackery into an 11-5 record is yet just another confirmation of his unique ability at the wheel.
The Blame Game
But that being said…the crowd with the pitchforks and flaming torches need to blame someone for such a monstrosity of a preseason and it has to start with the one wearing the big whistle. Coach Tomlin was quick to fault a lack of fire in the belly of the low draft picks and undrafted free agents, but who made those additions in the first place? There ought to be some team scouts working on freshening up their resumes. For a team that “doesn’t rebuild” but instead “merely reloads” this was a clunker of an offseason for adding new ammunition and it may have a negative impact on more than just this season.
But give General Manager Kevin Colbert some credit for rapidly admitting to the deficiencies of the team’s offseason efforts. He was humble enough to realize “reloading the team” meant it had to be accomplished by using the superior picks of other general managers as the bottom of the team roster and the practice squad now features a long list of players fresh off the boat. It’s like when you’re playing Scrabble and you have to ask the question, “Is Oaataie a word?” No? Hats off to Colbert and the team for throwing in their tiles and shaking up the talent mix.
Plan B Secondary
If you recall, the drafting strategy in 2015 was centered around building a secondary that could catch and give you game changing turnovers. Kind of the…Anti-Ike strategy. Well…scratch that brilliant idea. All three collegiate ball-hawking players who were expected to deliver on this promise weren’t able to make the catch. Second round draft pick Senquez Golson wasn’t healthy enough to even practice, fourth rounder Doran Grant didn’t make the 53 and seventh round selection Gerod Holliman didn’t make a tackle. Enter Plan B. The team will now be content if their corners can just cover someone.
Perhaps the happiest of solutions will come from the two players in the “Mystery Bag”. Can Brandon Boykin rise up to be a starting corner for the team? Will Ross Cockrell get Colbert back on the “All’s Well That Ends Well” list? That bag is yet to be opened and at least holds some remaining hope for this year’s annual cornerback conundrum.
The Big Man
After denting the Steelers bank with a hefty contract extension star defense lineman Cameron Heyward had a rather inauspicious preseason. No. It wasn’t a bad performance overall, but it was much quieter than you would hope from the team’s top dog on defense. Last season, Heyward started off slowly and then powered his way to an impressive finish. If the arrow is going to point up on this year’s defense it will need Heyward to channel at least a little of Steel Curtain glory.
One For The Whack Jobs
One of the craziest suggestions in response to the lack of depth on the offensive line was to move camp phenom Alejandro Villanueva out to left tackle and to have Kelvin Beachum move to center. That’s nuts! Beachum is a top five tackle the normal people say. Yes…you are right. And pay the man his salary as he is due. But do keep in mind that he is capable of playing all five positions and if anyone could handle the switch without a hitch it would be Beachum. If the Steelers get hit with another injury at center or guard, this option shouldn’t be summarily dismissed as Villaneuva is already one of the five best healthy linemen on the squad.
Point Of No Return
With few bright spots to highlight during this preseason there is one area of significant improvement for the Steelers. That is their upgrade to the kicking game in punter Jordan Berry and kicker Josh Scobee. Yes…it’s wonderful to stack your Special Teams with capable gunners and body slinging backers. But the best strategy is punt with the hangtime to force fair catches and to kick off the ball clear into the cheap seats. For the first time in years, the Steelers have strong-footed players who can make that happen.
The biggest surprise on the Steelers 53 was the addition of Roosevelt Nix. Yet after seeing the move he made to block a punt against the Panthers perhaps the team should consider giving the former defensive end from Kent State a few blows at rushing a passer? After all…isn’t there another legendary player from Kent State on the Steelers roster who was deemed too small to get sacks?
It’s disheartening to see two of the Steelers best offensive weapons in Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant on the “Suspended By Commissioner” list as the team heads to face New England for a game that could very well have playoff seeding implications. Let’s hope that lessons have been learned and the only herbs the rest of the team enjoys are oregano and basil.
Those Broad Shoulders
At the beginning of the Carolina Panthers game a tall man in shorts wearing a baggy t-shirt came out for the opening toss. He looked like any guy you might split an order of chicken wings with at the local sports bar. But he happens to be the one player most likely to take this 2015 Steelers team on the path to greatness. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has a top notch offensive line, an arsenal of powerful offensive weapons and a collaborative relationship with one of the best coordinators in the league in Todd Haley. Forget about worrying about the defense. If the Steelers are going to have a chance of raising another Lombardi Trophy it will be Ben or bust.
The 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers “Living In My Fears” Regular Season Prediction: 10-6