And…around the stretch they go.
With a 6-4 record entering their bye week, the Pittsburgh Steelers will have time to heal and hone as they head toward the final turn of a 2015 horse race that has been full of thrills and spills.
Doping. Dopey calls. Stumbling at the gate. Scratches. Scattered with moments of brilliance.
The Racing Form on Coach Mike Tomlin will tell you his horses are typically fast closers at the end of the season and if this holds true this year you can expect the Steelers to find themselves in the thick of playoff contention with a legitimate eye for making it to the Winners Circle.
What will it be? Secretariat or Mr. Ed?
What they accomplish during their off week will go far in determining whether their season will end up smelling like roses. So with a crack of the whip here are your Rapid Fire Conclusions.
What’s In These Brownies?
The Steelers 30-9 win against the Cleveland Browns was the dominant victory their fans had been hoping for all season. There was an offensive explosion with an inspiring performance by their backup quarterback…Ben Roethlisberger. Martavis Bryant dabbled again with his Randy Moss impersonations and the Antonio Brown show was flipping amazing. Still…the Steelers defense managed to make Johnny Football look like Johnny Unitas and we are talking about the 2-8 Browns, a franchise where their Front Office has only temporary seating. The Seattle Seahawks game will give the Steelers a genuine opportunity to state their case as being one of this year’s major contenders. The contest will be one of the highlights of the season.
Jacoby Jones for Dri Archer? Those of us who are Dri-mers are still suffering from painful withdrawals. There are only a handful of players in the NFL who have a sixth gear, and although the kid never got out of fourth on the field, there was that joyful anticipation every time he touched the ball. Will the #BringBackDri Twitter campaign prove enough to get Coach Mike Tomlin to give the little speedster another chance? No. Not after the Steelers Depot hidden microphone recorded this recent lunch conversation:
Jacoby: Coach…you mind if I join you?
Tomlin: (Nods and points to the empty chair.)
Jacoby: Hey…you know…I was just wondering.
Tomlin: (Shakes his head.) You’re not going to go there, are you Jacoby?
Jacoby: (Laughs) C’mon, you know that question was coming. Besides. You don’t see any purple on me now. I’m all Black and Gold.
Tomlin: By my reckoning the debt’s already paid in full.
Jacoby: Yeah. I appreciate you picking me up and all. We good. But you know. There is that…you know…that thing that kills the cat.
Tomlin: (Pushes his plate away.) So you want to know why a man with the best ticket in the stadium would prefer to watch a live a kick return on a television?
Jacoby: Those are your words. But they work for me.
Tomlin: I’ll tell you want. I’ll make you an offer. Next time you pass me on the sidelines. Say, next week against the Hawks. You’ll get your answer.
Jacoby: Smiles. Deal.
Out Of The Ashes
The Cincinnati Bengals loss to the Houston Texans on Monday Night Football was an unexpected surprise. Perhaps one of the most important games for the Steelers this year is the one they’ll get to watch from their couches Sunday evening. If the Arizona Cardinals can win their home game versus the Bengals the AFC North Division title becomes a possibility once again for the Steelers. Because of Pittsburgh’s losses in the AFC it will still be a longshot…at best…but then again…these are the Bungals.
Barbarians At The Gate
In truth, the Steelers greatest obstacle in making the playoffs are not the Bengals before them but those hoofs throwing up turf behind them. The Buffalo Bills (5-4), Indianapolis Colts (4-5), New York Jets (5-4), Kansas City Chiefs (4-5), Oakland Raiders (4-5), Miami Dolphins (4-5), Houston Texas (4-5) and Jacksonville Jaguars (4-6) are all imminent threats. One more big stumble by the Steelers and they will be trampled with regret over some of their early losses.
Besides getting healthy, the Steelers would do well in focusing all of their efforts in improving in one area of significant weakness…that is playing against a stretch offense. The Cleveland Browns were kind enough to allow the Steelers to line up in base with a fair amount of frequency last week. The real contenders in the league won’t be so kind. When the Steelers play the Indianapolis Colts, the Bengals, the Denver Broncos and the Baltimore Ravens in the upcoming weeks they can expect a heavy dose of four receiver sets. If the Steelers get an opportunity to play in Foxborough in the post season? Forgetaboutit. Bill Belichick will figure out how to bend the rules to get eight receivers out in patterns.
The Steelers upcoming game versus the Seahawks is a huge one and should prove to be a difficult challenge. But it will be an equally grueling assignment for Steelers fans as CenturyLink Field, home of the Seahawks, is one of the toughest and loudest stadiums to invade. The game should be so tightly contested as both teams will be desperate for the victory in order to keep their playoff hopes afire. So it may come down to the difference of fan support. It’s the 12th Man versus Steelers Nation. You’ll know if the Nation was successful the first time Health Miller touches the ball. The “Heaaathhh Factor” may just be the tell sign of success.
Bye, Bye Love
Although most of the players love the bye week, it’s a dreary time for many Steelers fans as it’s a reminder the End is Near. Having a week where most other fans’ teams are playing while yours is not is similar to that nausea you experience when your team is eliminated in the playoffs. Here’s to hoping we don’t need to feel sick again this season.