As the Pittsburgh Steelers head into their game against the Cleveland Browns this weekend they’ll be accompanied by the windmilling power chords of Pete Townsend and the soaring lyrics of Roger Daltrey:
Who are you? Who…who?
Are you a team that will barely miss the postseason or limp your way into the playoffs only to get knocked off in the first round? Or have you been riding a rattling rollercoaster to the top during a first half of the season of injuries and misfortune and are now ready to hurtle down with enough momentum to go all of the way?
With Ben Roethlisberger most likely watching from the sidelines and with recently removed from the fan doghouse Landry Jones at the helm, this answer may not be succinctly provided against the likes of Josh McCown or Johhny Football.
Yet, there is no question this roller coaster ride is getting to the point where time is running out for the Steelers to establish themselves as a true contender. With New England, Cincinnati and Denver taillights fading in the foreground, the Steelers will be desperate to dispatch the Browns. Going into the Bye week with a 5-5 record will doom them to second tier.
So as we crank up the Marshall amps, here are your Rapid Fire Conclusions:
Missing The Snake
For those of us old timer Steelers fans there was something lacking in last weekend’s game. Sure it was a thrilling with all kinds of lead changes back and forth. But something…was missing. When the visiting team came out of the tunnel there were many of us wistfully hoping through the fog would emerge the likes of Kenny “The Snake” Stabler, Dave Casper, Freddie Biletnikoff, Cliff Branch, Art Shell, Gene Upshaw, Jack Tatum and John Madden. As legendary as the Steel Curtain was, the Oakland Raiders brought their own prolific story to the table. The history behind the Steelers and Raiders rivalry is one of legend and lore in the 70’s and 80’s. With the passing of Stabler this year, it was a reminder of how vacuous this once magnificent rivalry between the Raiders and Steelers has become. With this version of the Raiders, which has been woeful for years, it was…just another game.
Speaking of heated rivalries…who are the Steelers rivals? Where are the Raiders and Dallas Cowboys of the 70’s? Or the Houston Oilers of the 80’s? Or even the Baltimore Ravens of the past decade? Rivals now? Not the Ravens who are Nevermore. The Browns? Come…on. The Bengals? We probably won’t see Peezy rushing to challenge Andy Dalton on the team bus after a game. The Patriots? Do you think Tom Brady watches film of our secondary and goes, “Oh no…the Steelers are coming to town”? The fact of the matter is you have to be a great team to be part of a great rivalry and the Steelers haven’t been able to describe themselves in that fashion for years. Let’s hope a rivalry emerges again soon.
Yeah…It Was The Blocking
At kickoff time during the Raiders game there were probably more than a few Steelers fans who might have uttered in between sips of adult beverages, “Who stretched out Dri Archer?” No…that wasn’t a taller version of the diminutive one wearing number 13 but it was San Diego Chargers discard Jacoby Jones…his replacement. The results? Yeah…maybe blocking is an issue and perhaps fans should focus their ire on special teams coach Danny Smith who hasn’t been able to weave together a quality kickoff return team since he’s been here. Was it a disappointment that Archer was released? Absolutely. He was making good progress at returns and he’s not much older than a rookie. Was it surprising? No. Poor Dri has been reviled by a large population of the Steelers fan base since he was drafted…as if it was his fault he wasn’t a cornerback. What is surprising is that some of these same fans who celebrated his release like an ecstasy-induced rave at a graveyard were shocked when Dri refused the Steelers subsequent offer to join their practice squad. Are you kidding? Do you really think this young man wants to play here again? I love the Steelers, but here’s one lone voice that Archer gets another shot with another coaching staff and fans who will welcome him and utilize him properly. Will he fall short? Perhaps his college game won’t translate to the pros. But at least he deserves a fair shot at proving he belongs…in another city.
Where’s The Beef?
What’s a nickel worth? Not a lot when it comes to the Steelers run defense in the Nickle. The team was…once again…gashed up the middle with large runs, a problem that has not been corrected since it reared its ugly head in the preseason (and was prevalent last year as well). As talented as Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt are as defensive ends it’s become increasingly obvious this is a major vulnerability for the squad. The Raiders won’t be the only team forcing the Steelers to have Steve McLendon and Daniel McCullers watching mostly from the sidelines. The team’s response will be that the four receiver sets of the Raiders forced their hands. But where is it written that a defense should allow the opponents to dictate what they do? It may take some creative formations, such as shifting Heyward and Tuitt out wider on occasions, but the Steelers have proven to be a much better team when they are pressuring the center. The absence of a push up the middle not only hurt them on the run, but it made their edge rushers toothless as well. Butler needs to creatively get McLendon and McCullers more central in the team’s defense or Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons will continue to look like bowling pins.
The Brain Trust
What was the difference between the secondary’s play versus the Bengals and their poor performance just one week later against the Raiders? Besides the lack of pass rush it was the return to the starting lineup of Will Allen in replacing Robert Golden. Mike Tomlin has gone on record on as giving Allen the job because of his beautiful mind, but doesn’t Golden’s superior athleticism deserve more consideration? It makes you wonder if Coach Tomlin’s stubborn focus on mind over matter hasn’t also resulted in Shamarko Thomas never getting a fair shake.
Speaking of safeties, when Mike Mitchell first arrived to the Steelers as a free agent acquisition he made a splash in preseason for big hits…and for over-celebrating. Then last year, it got much worse. His poor on field play didn’t give him anything to celebrate. So fast forward to 2015 and Mitchell has become the player the team hoped for when they acquired him…and the mad celebrations have returned much to the ire of Steelers fans. Maybe we should back off a little Steelers Nation…and just be glad somebody is making plays on the defense.
With the Steelers pretty much relegated to Wild Card participation in the playoffs (if they can squeeze in) it will mean they will face the number one seed in the second round of the playoffs if they manage to advance. Anyone want to go to Foxborough and face Brady’s “Yes Kids…Cheating Does Pay” Tour? No. At this point, the Steelers will be better off if the road to the Super Bowl leads through Cincinnati. So as strange as this sounds…Go Bungals!