It was a movie made for Hollywood. Against all odds. The cowboy with the white hat trots on the field of play as discernible groans echo across Heinz Field and throughout all of Steelers Nation.
A quick draw here. A flash of the pistol there. And suddenly Pittsburgh Steelers third-string quarterback Landry Jones enjoys a full on smackdown against all of those doubters, haters and wicked, evil self-serving Blog columnists like myself.
And more importantly, as a result of this triumphant story, the Steelers earn an improbable victory against the high flying Arizona Cardinals in a 25-13 win that provided a plethora of drama and intrigue.
For, it wasn’t too many years ago when the Rooney Family, general manager Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin all put on their Trump toupees, leaned across the desk and said, “You’re fired!” to then offensive coordinator Bruce Arians.
The storyline very well could have been written with the title of The Revenge of Arians, but there were other heroes to emerge. So with that said, here are your Rapid Fire Conclusions:
Apparently, all of those years of interceptions and three-hop passes in practice and preseason games were one big ruse for Landry Jones. The college great was saving it all up for one surprise NFL debut. Well played young Landry. Well played.
Keeping It Real
But…in fairness to the NFL’s latest sensation, we should keep all of this a bit on the down low. After all, we are talking about only ten passes thrown, two of them that were far from target. Another one was a nine yard slant that Martavis Bryant turned into an 88-yard sensational play. This upcoming game against the Kansas City Chiefs, who are much better than their record would indicate, will be the true revelation of the Landry Jones story. Jones had the benefit of walking on the field and playing against a defense still in Mike Vick mode. With a whole week to game plan against Jones, and with a tempestuous pass rush, we’ll learn much more. Can Jones be a bonafide back-up quarterback in the NFL? Let’s hope he continues to punch the pundits in the nose.
Merely A Flesh Wound
Certainly one of the dourest moments of the Steelers victory against the Cardinals was seeing Kelvin Beachum on the ground in pain following what was later determined to be an ACL tear. But if ever there was a player who could spring back quickly from that kind of injury, it would be Beachum. One of the hardest working, most intelligent, best team player and…yes…gifted individual on the team, you can expect the Steelers will be wise enough to make sure Kelvin is a member of the Pittsburgh Steelers for a long time with a bright, shiny, offseason contract. The question will be…for what position? He could be great at all five.
This will not be a flawless season for Alejandro Villanueva as he essentially begins the equivalent of a rookie season in replacing Kelvin Beachum as the team’s starting left tackle. But you can mark these words down…Big Al will end his career as one of the all-time Steelers greats at the position. The number one role of a left tackle is pass protection and watching him even in the early stages of his newfound craft you can see defenders literally surrender into his powerful arms. It’s like a sleeper hold as he puts them to rest. When you have a 6’9 340 pound player who is also a wide receiver you know you have something special. He may get schooled a bit this weekend going up against the likes of the Kansas City Chiefs talented defensive ends but his first official NFL start Sunday will be the launch of greatness.
No one hates Cody Wallace more than the defensive linemen he plays against…and perhaps player evaluation sites like Pro Football Focus. Defenders can’t stand him because Wallace always plays to the whistle…plus a wee bit more. PFF is going to mark him down for his stumbling, bumbling play. But the bottom line is, Wallace adds an ingredient to the offensive they don’t get in the ultra-talented Maurkice Pouncey. Let’s hope Pouncey is taking some notes, otherwise Wallace’s intensity will be missed when his starting time is through.
Let’s face it. Every opposing team now has a play in their arsenal called, “When in doubt, look for 41.” Antwon Blake’s time as a starting cornerback for the Steelers has confirmed his raw speed and violent tackling ability. Unfortunately, it’s also uncovered his lack of lateral agility in staying with shifty receivers. Perhaps it’s time to look at Blake as a safety rather than a corner? His speed and crushing tackles will serve him well at the strong safety position and would remove the big red target he currently has on his back at corner.
Ain’t Half Bad
The Steelers defense has already played three of the NFL’s top five offenses (in terms of yardage gained) in San Diego, New England and Arizona. Yet, the Steelers defense has survived and is the fifth ranked defense in the NFL in terms of giving up points with an average allowed of only 18 points a game. Yet, after giving up more than 421 yards of passing to Carson Palmer and similar amounts to preceding quarterbacks, the Steelers defense certainly remains a work in progress. There is an overall lack of quality in play but one element is certainly emerging…character. Lead by players with attitude such as James Harrison and Cameron Heyward, the defense is establishing itself as one with great resilience and toughness. The quality part may not be far behind.
Speaking of Harrison, was that not the greatest block of the season on John Brown following Mike Mitchell’s interception? How that ended up being anything but a great football play is baffling. Although it cost the team a personal foul it will remain one of the trademark plays of the season. The next time the Steelers get an interception you can be sure there will be eleven offensive players with their heads on a swivel.
Any last hopes the band would all be back together someday this season were put to rest with the Beachum knee injury. What a bizarre season it’s been in terms of what was projected to be the Steelers most prolific offense. You have the Pouncey injury in the preseason. The two game suspension of LeVeon Bell. The five games missed by Martavis Bryant. The injury to Ben Roethlisberger. There was some hope there would be a full offensive team reunion with the future return of Roethlisberger and Pouncey to the lineup, but with Beachum’s departure a complete season of duct tape and bailing wire is confirmed. Oh well…we’ll never know how statistically great this season could have been offensively. Yet, with a 4-2 record in tote, it’s encouraging to know the best days lay ahead. In the end, the only statistic that matters is the number of trophies in the case.