The 2015 edition of the Pittsburgh Steelers are off and running like a herd of turtles as the opening season match against the integrity-challenged New England Patriots provided as predictable an outcome as it was disappointing.
Even the casual follower of their 1-4 preseason would know the Black and Gold were entering this game with their shirts backward and shoelaces untied.
Yet, even with the loss mostly predestined there were many creatively frustrating ways in how the feat was accomplished.
In fact, this was so much the case that many Steelers fans were witnessed attempting to return their new big screen televisions this weekend claiming, “No…seriously, the brick was in there when it came out of the box.”
There is much to commiserate. So without further delay here are your Rapid Fire Conclusions:
There will be many among the brethren and sistren of Steelers Nation who will be able to chock up the 28-21 loss to the Patriots as a “jolly good try fellas”. However; the reality is the Patriots were as right for a picking as they will be any time this year. It was a blown opportunity for the Steelers to get a significant inside track on the NFL playoffs against a rival they will most likely face again in the post-season…unfortunately with the odds indicating it will be in Foxboro. Everyone wants to talk about it taking the Steelers some time to get their young defense in line, but what about the Patriots? They lost their all-world cornerback duo and their franchise-grade run stuffer as part of six departing starters. They had to play without their starting center and had three rookies on their offensive line. Though they might publically deny the impact, they were in fact tossed and turned by Deflategate and had one of their running backs on suspension as well. No…this was a squandered chance for the Steelers to post a significantly positive start to the season. The depth of the regret will be determined at the end of the season.
Exposing The Rooks
Speaking of getting the opportunity to face three rookies on the offensive line, why isn’t there more blame being placed at the sizable feet of the Steelers starting defensive line? If the combination of Cameron Heyward, Steve McLendon and Stephon Tuitt is as formidable as it is being touted they should have destroyed the three rookies and wiped the smile off of Tom Terrific’s face. Isn’t this the year when the leashes are being taking off the interior linemen as part of a shift in defensive design? When you have a quick-release quarterback like Brady, the defensive pressure must come up the middle and the inexperienced Patriots line should have been collapsed and breached repeatedly. All of the finger-pointing has been focused on a lack of pressure from the Steelers outside linebackers and the inability of the secondary to cover, but isn’t it time to expect a lot more from the starting defensive line which is considered to be one of the key strengths of the defense?
NBC’s color commentator Cris Collinsworth was charitable to the Steelers struggling defense by saying it was to be expected since they have such a young, developing secondary. But do they? The starting squad included the likes of an age 30 William Gay, 33-year-old Will Allen and Mike Mitchell who is 28. Even Antwon Blake is now in his fourth season. Even with all of that “earned wisdom” the defense looked more Keystone Cops than being a key to the future. Coach Mike Tomlin…what are you waiting for? Could the new kids have played worse?
In A Sentimental Mood
At least there were some heart-wrenching moments in the performance. In a surprise and touching move, the Steelers defense started off with an impromptu tribute to former legendary defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau by allowing Tom Brady to have three of the easiest 10-and-outs of his career. Then safety Will Allen added to the commemorative occasion by saluting former teammate Ike Taylor by allowing a sure-fire interception to slip through his hands.
Whatever Happened to Gilbert Gronk?
The rest of the evening was spent playing the “Where’s Rob Gronkowski?” game. “You got him?” “Nah…I don’t want him. He’s too tall. Hey…I got it. Let’s nobody cover him and see if Tom notices.” Ninety-four yards and three easy steasy touchdowns later Gronk reportedly had James Daniel so envious the Steelers tight end coach allegedly went all UFC on the Patriots crowd at halftime.
Speaking of rumors, apparently General Manager Kevin Colbert was noticed scrambling in his pockets after newly acquired placekicker Josh Scobee missed the second of his first two attempts as a Pittsburgh Steeler. Someone reportedly overheard Colbert saying, “Oh…darnnit…did I keep that receipt?”
Antwaan Randle El Sighting
Had the Steelers changed one play call, Scobee probably wouldn’t have had the chance to miss his first field goal attempt. How different might the game have been if offensive coordinator Todd Haley hadn’t called the double pass play to Antonio Brown that stalled an otherwise impressive opening drive? Some say it’s easy to criticize trick plays. If it would have worked, we would have called Haley a genius, right? Actually. No. If the ill-fated play was successful it would have taken the heat off of the Patriots as it would have given them the “trickery” excuse for getting scored on. Up to that point the Steelers had humiliated the Patriot defense by straight line-em-up football. Why not finish the job in that fashion and set a tone that might have lasted the rest of the game?
It’s Just Not The Same
Cris Collinsworth (who is a top notch announcer) had another slip-up in his commentary. In support of the running performance of free agent DeAngelo Williams he said something to the tune of, “The Steelers are not missing Le’Veon Bell at all.” Well…that wasn’t true. Although DeAngelo was outstanding in running the ball and in pass protection he was a non-factor in the passing game. Bell would have had a field day running pass patterns against the Patriots slow linebackers and would have given Ben Roethlisberger a much needed outlet. Expect that to be a significant part of the game plan if the Steelers meet the Patriots again this year.
Bagging on Bey
It seems the sport du-jour is to give grief to Darrius Heyward-Bey. Let’s be clear, the dude doesn’t have the hands or catching confidence of Freddie Biletnikoff (a bone for the greybeards) and probably never will. Yet, he was only a few inches away from having an outstanding game had he managed to stay inbounds on his touchdown opportunity. Even with that sizable guffaw, four catches for 58 yards is a quality contribution from a player who many have written off. This is even more commendable as the Steelers inexplicably gave Bey very little on-field time with Roethlisberger during the preseason games. If the Steelers knew of Martavis Bryant’s issues all the way back in Spring why wouldn’t the team give their opening season starters more time together? Baffling.
The Rush Doctor
Steelers fans should not be surprised by the team’s ability to rush effectively. Just as was the case when back-up center Cody Wallace filled in a couple of years ago for injured Maurkice Pouncey, the second-stringer’s relentless style provides a lift to the energy and effectiveness of the running game. Although he will struggle at times in pass protection and is not balletic in open space, expect his lunch-pail approach to assist the team in successfully running the ball.
One of the significant bright spots of the Steelers loss was the performance of Antonio Brown. The diminutive All-Pro has performed magnificently the past few seasons while drawing strength from the chip on his shoulder of being a sixth round draft pick. But how will he perform with the NFL spotlight squarely on his shoulders as he’s spoken of as the best in the game? Brown’s 9 receptions adding up to 133 yards and one touchdown answered that question significantly when considered it happened without Martavis Bryant on the field and with all of the cerebral powers of Bill Belichick conspiring against it.
Don’t believe in trap games? Well…you better at least fear the upcoming home opener against the San Francisco 49ers as winning against weaker competition has been a Tomlin Achilles Heel. Many fans are considering this a “better-not-lose game” but this sentiment should not be confused with a “sure-win”. The Steelers will need to somehow apply a tourniquet on its defense this week and facing an unorthodox offense lead by Colin Kaepernick will provide a major challenge.