Marcus Gilbert tried to give the politically correct answer.
“It’s just another week for us,” he started out, talking to reporters about how he’s approaching Sunday’s AFC North contest with the Cincinnati Bengals.
And then he changed his tune.
“We have a chip on our shoulder, especially because we’re playing the Cincinnati Bengals.”
That’s more like it. And why wouldn’t they? They lost the first game, 16-10. They lost their star running back for the season. They believe Vontaze Burfict disrespected Le’Veon Bell – and by extension the Pittsburgh Steelers – for celebrating after Bell’s injury. They’re in second place, well behind the 10-2 Bengals.
If there’s a time to have a chip, this is it.
“We’re going to wear it on our sleeves this week,” Gilbert said.
But chips only get you so far in the NFL. Emotion and energy alone isn’t winning anyone football games. This isn’t a movie where Keanu Reeves can make an impassioned speech in the huddle and lead the Generals to the playoffs.
Gilbert also believes the team is having some of their best practices of the season this week.
“The way we prepared today was the best I’ve seen us. We’ve been working our tails off.”
The Steelers know that virtually every game the rest of the season is in a sense, a playoff game. The margin of error is razor thin. Lose one game and you’re looking for some help to get in.
Well, let’s just say our draft coverage will be starting a lot sooner on here.
The focus is obviously broad, a team-wide perspective. But it was unfortunate to not hear any questions about Gilbert’s personal play asked. He’s been stellar allowing just one sack all season long. And his play will be integral to the team’s success Sunday. He’ll be seeing a lot of Carlos Dunlap, who has a team-lead 9.5 sacks and offers rare length for the position. Controlling him as a pass rusher and a run defender is going to be one of those hidden matchups you better be paying attention to Sunday.