With a quarter of the NFL year in the books and with their quarterback limited to Terrible Towel waiving, the Pittsburgh Steelers grade at a C- through the first four games of the 2015 season.
After sending Josh Scobee off to foreign pastures with a sack of Pittsburgh cash and a receipt for a blown sixth round draft pick in hand, the team hopes that Shaggy-bearded kicker Chris Boswell will be able to restore the team to more traditional Steelers play.
The team has a long break between their Thursday night 23-20 loss to the Baltimore Ravens and their upcoming Monday Night bout versus the San Diego Chargers which means there is opportunity for great improvement.
So with all of this in mind, here are your Rapid Fire Conclusions.
Nevermore is Nevermore
Only last week, the End Was Near for the Ravens. At 0-3, their worst start in franchise history, it would have taken the Steelers only a few more spoonfuls of dirt to bury the Baltimore season. Instead, the Ravens are 1-3 with a priceless away victory against the Steelers. There is some argument to the point that they are now in a better position at 1-3 with a divisional win than the Steelers are with a 2-2 record with wins against NFC opponents. Make no mistake about it, with critical losses against the New England Patriots and the Ravens, the Steelers are already making a mess out of their playoff picture.
The Biggest of Chokes
There is nothing easier than pointing the finger at former kicker Josh Scobee for his obvious misfires. But the field goal misses were not exactly chip shots, one was 49 yards and the other was 41 yards and he did score eight points for the team. It’s also simple to point out Mike Vick’s shortcomings, certainly on the misfire to Antonio Brown in overtime. And yes…Coach Mike Tomlin lived in his fears, fearing his kicker, his quarterback and his defense with some of his calls. But overlooked in all of this is that the Steelers offense has eleven players, ten of them not named Vick. The defense came through on several occasions to get the ball back into the offense’s hands. There were numerous occasions where a first down here or there would have wrapped up the game. Back in the Bill Cowher years, when he didn’t have Ben Roethlisberger, the offensive line lead by Alan Faneca would close out games all on their own. They would wear out the defense by the fourth quarter and grind out the clock by getting first downs the old fashioned way. On a day when Jerome Bettis was being honored for his Hall of Fame berth, what a better way for this team to celebrate him than with a classic offensive line closeout. Yes…it’s true, they helped LeVeon Bell throughout the game in gaining 129 yards, but when the team needed them most to get first downs, their efforts drifted as far off as Scobee’s. What we saw against the Ravens was a solid, relatively error-free Michael Vick game. For the team to win in the next few games, the other ten players are going to have to be clutch.
The Season of the Calvary
First it was the anticipated wait for suspended LeVeon Bell to join the team. Now the Steelers welcome back Martavis Bryant after his extended timeout. With word coming out that Ben Roethlisberger may only miss two more games, the Calvary may indeed be on the horizon. Don’t forget, that Maurkice Pouncey’s return is forthcoming as well. How amazing it will be when the team has its full offense on the field? But will it be too late?
Start the Starters
Despite the loss, Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler had probably his best game in terms of scheme and play calling. When the team needed big plays to get the Ravens off of the field toward the end of the game, they were able to do so. But it was during this time that Butler showed his cards as well. When the game was on the line, he shut down the outside linebacker rotation and kept James Harrison and Bud Dupree on the field. Shouldn’t he do that for the rest of the season? Arthur Moats ended the game with only one tackle and one assist, and his play included an embarrassing touchdown allowing whiff on Michael Campanaro. His fellow bookend Jarvis Jones finished the game with only one assist, which would have been bearable if this was hockey. Meanwhile Harrison had five tackles, three assists and a sack and applied steady pressure. While Dupree didn’t have a statistically impressive game, he is certainly flashing talent as a rookie. Haven’t we seen enough of the rotational experiment Coach Butler? How about putting in your starters for the full game?
The Other Knee
With all of the talk of Ben Roethlisberger’s injury, there was little discussion regarding the absence of Daniel McCullers which ended up having a large impact on the game. Not so much that Big Dan is ready for the Pro Bowl, but that Cam Thomas should not be playing nose tackle. Thomas has proved adequate in rotating in at the end position, but you cannot operate a 3-4 defense with your nose tackle being pushed back six and seven yards. Let’s hope the Steelers leave the middle of the defensive line to the Big Macs—Steve McLendon and McCullers—for the rest of the season.
Do The Hustle
Once again, Cameron Heyward had a monster game with seven tackles, a sack and a forced fumble on Joe Flacco. What is perhaps most impressive about the team’s star defensive lineman is how many plays he makes out of pure hustle. The Flacco play was yet another great example of him chasing a runner from behind when several of his fellow linemen had already stopped running. When your most talented players are also your hardest working, it bodes well for the direction of the team.
Bad Career Advice
Those who read this column know I am a Dri Archer proponent. Perhaps…his only remaining friend. But the young man seems to be heeding some poor career advice. Either he is lacking confidence in returning kickoffs, or someone has given him strict orders only return those balls five yards deep or less in the end zone. If I am Dri, I am going to nod my head at coach while silently affirming, “You better believe I am taking out each and every one of those kickoffs I can get a half a finger on.” Archer had his best impact moment of the year with a key 31-yard return, but if he wants an NFL career he’s got to seize every slim opportunity to impress.
Big Ben’s Best Game?
Not too many years ago, Ben Roethlisberger had the reputation of being a hero on the football field, but a goat in the locker room. What an amazing transition it has been for the Steelers great quarterback. After seeing him getting carted off the field just one week prior, what an inspiration it was to see him helping the team during warm-ups and time-outs as well as serving as continual support to Vick. He even lifted up the home crowd toward the end of the game. As disappointing as the start to the season has been, there is great hope in the knowledge that Roethlisberger will be returning…and with a vengeance. Can one player carry a team to the Super Bowl? Yes…and that player is Big Ben.