It’s the halfway point of the Pittsburgh Steelers season and the team finds itself wallowing in pools of mediocrity.
I don’t know about you but lately it occurs to me what a long strange trip it’s been…already.
Has Pittsburgh become just a typical city involved in a typical NFL daydream? Should we hang up Super Bowl expectations and just see what tomorrow brings?
Last weekend’s 16-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals all but surrendered hopes of a division championship this year. For most of the game it looked like the Steelers were going to put the Bungal back in the Bengals. But in the end it was Andy Dalton up to the task in earning the game-winning drive while the Bungaling was left to Ben Roethlisberger with two terribly ill-timed interceptions in the fourth quarter.
So with the Steelers at 4-4 and with playoff life support systems now turned on the Wildcard setting here are your Rapid Fire Conclusions:
Return Of The King
Who would have thought at the beginning of the season the key positive storyline to the Steelers at mid-season would be the rise of the team’s defense? All expectations were the team would brandish an explosive offense. Instead, it’s been an offensive implosion with Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant enjoying only 16 snaps together this season due to injuries and suspensions. The most exciting aspect of the team has been the playmaking ability of the defense and the rising talents of players like Cameron Heyward, Ryan Shazier and Stephon Tuitt. Even the secondary has been pleasantly surprising at times with the resurgence of Mike Mitchell as an impact player and the intriguing play of Robert Golden and Ross Cockrell. Is the offense still the most dynamic aspect of the team? Certainly. At least potentially. But if the defense continues to trend upward, they may restore their historically proper position as the driving force of the Steelers.
Even in terribly disappointing games dreams can come true. Like the raising up of the Scottish Brigade featuring Daniel McCullers, Steve McLendon and…Cameron McHeyward. It was kilts afire and bagpipes blazing as the trio performed admirably enough to blunt the impact of Stephon Tuitt sitting out another game due to injury. It was a dream fulfilled for McCullers fans as their ambition has never been to see Steve McLendon get less playing time, but for both of the Big Macs to be on the field at the same time. The result was an encouraging performance by McLendon at defensive end and a rock solid performance by Big Dan in crushing the interior. The Steelers would be wise to give the rather limited reps of nose tackle to McCullers and keep McLendon in an active rotation with Heyward and Tuitt from here on out. This isn’t a criticism of McLendon, but rather the right play to ensure your best four defensive linemen are on the field…and your…well, liabilities are watching from the sideline.
Wings Of An Angel
If there are going to be any miracles left in this 2015 Pittsburgh Steelers season it will most likely ride on the wings of DeAngelo Williams…one of the best offseason acquisitions the front office has made in years. As great as Le’Veon Bell is a player, Williams has been equally impressive when given the starting nod. He has already proven there are many miles left in his engine and now that there is no Bell sized shadow lurking over his shoulder he should settle into his position motivated to flash greatness once again.
Engaging The Clutch
It could be argued the Steelers have had an exceptional season thus far considering the preponderance of critical injuries they have sustained. They’ve provided the stiffest tests this season to two of the top teams in the New England Patriots and the Bengals. Through the process they’ve stifled the attacks of some of the top offenses in the league including the Arizona Cardinals. So what gives? Why don’t they have a better record? The answer is they are not winning when they need to win. The defense has played well, but has cracked too often against their opponents’ last drives. Early on in the season there were missed field goals at critical points. The offense has failed on game-winning drive opportunities on multiple occasions…even with Big Ben at the driving wheel. Too often there has been questionable clock management and play calling decisions by coaches when the heat was on. In a nutshell, the team hasn’t been clutch in the fourth quarter. With a few key plays here and there this team would be 6-2 if not 8-0. For them to have a chance of being the NFL’s dark horse competitor down the stretch, they’ll have to either start blowing out teams…or find a way to perform better under pressure in tight games.
Clash Of Nations
You’ve got to give Oakland Raiders fans a nod. As horrific as the team has performed the last decade they still have an active, mouth foaming posse. Now that they have a team flashing a spark of hope you can expect them to be more than fired up for the opportunity to play the Pittsburgh Steelers in a game with big playoff implications. The Steelers are far from out of this, but with all of the AFC losses they have tallied they can’t afford to lose another. Especially to the Raiders. Game on Steelers Nation. The playoffs have already begun.