Steelers Rapid Fire Conclusions: 2015 Week Fourteen

Win against the Denver Broncos? It is your destiny Pittsburgh Steelers.

Or as Yoda would say, “Do or do not. There is no try.”

Just use the Force Coach Mike Tomlin. Or in this case your powerful offense led by playing-at-his-prime Ben Roethlisberger supported by his galactic weaponry.

Following up a monstrous drubbing of the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers take on the Broncos with heavy playoff implications and AFC superiority on the line.

And now featured this week in IMAX, here are your Rapid Fire Conclusions:

Above The Line

Yes…the matchup between the Steelers wide receivers and the Broncos impressive secondary will be receiving the limelight. But the real determinant of failure or success will be in the trenches. That is, the Steelers impressively-duct-taped offensive line against the NFL’s best pass rush. This is not only this Sunday’s biggest story line, but it’s the Steelers most significant narrative this year. With a starting line-up employing journeyman Cody Wallace and virtual rookie Alejandro Villanueva the unit has performed remarkably well. Offensive Line Coach Mike Munchak’s squad has given up an average of only about 2 sacks per game despite facing some of the league’s best pass rushing defenses in the New England Patriots (42 sacks), Kansas City Chiefs (39 sacks), St Louis Rams (36 sacks), Cincinnati Bengals (34 sacks) and the Oakland Raiders (34 sacks). The Steelers receivers will get open and Ben will be Ben. But the victory will be decided by the Steelers 300 pounders. If they can hold their own against Denver’s unit, then taped together or not, you can talk about the Steelers O-Line as among the league’s best.

Dominant Front

The easiest way to grow a team’s talent is to retain those players on the rise. The Steelers offensive line has an extraordinary opportunity to strengthen itself with the return of Maurkice Pouncey and Kelvin Beachum next season. Don’t buy into the theory that Beachum’s role is left tackle or bust. He is an undersized lineman with a gimpy knee. His market value will be diminished when he returns, except in the eyes of the Pittsburgh Steelers who properly revere his versatility, intelligence and ability to contribute in all five positions on the line. Beachum would provide the role of the ultimate swingman in 2016 and will be worth his discounted free agent price. Having three top tier tackles in fast-growing Villanueva, Marcus Gilbert and Kelvin Beachum is more necessity than luxury when you consider the team falls or rises on the arm of Big Ben. And yes…Beachum will be able to plug any holes due to injuries in the interior line. The Steelers have no higher priority next year, then to draft a developmental interior lineman and to retain or extend all of the core linemen currently on their roster, including Beachum, David DeCastro and Ramon Foster.

The Egg Is Doing Fine

Everyone will agree the Steelers have struggled in pass defense. But the age old Chicken or Egg question is it a lack of coverage or a scarcity of pressure up front? Many have pointed to the weakness of the edge rushers in generating pressure as evidence the Egg is cracked. But in truth, the rush is doing fairly well. There were scant few times this season when opposing quarterbacks were able to triple pump the football and go to fourth reads. Most of the passes are coming out quick because receivers are so open. The pressure from the Steelers front seven has been steady, if not spectacular. The Steelers are ranked fifth in the league in terms of sacks with 38. Yes…this number can be attributed to more production by the interior lineman and the middle linebackers this year more than most. But that’s by design. Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler shook up the defensive scheme this year, letting his lineman run loose rather than surrendering their bodies to the glory of the outside linebackers. No the egg is just fine. It’s the chicken that needs to get fixed.

Busted Fin?

One of the biggest fan disappointments of the season has been the lack of contribution to the defense by safety Shamarko Thomas. When Steelers great Troy Polamalu was forcibly retired by the team last year most everyone expected this would be Thomas’s chance to shine. However; he hasn’t even made it into the defensive lineup. Does that make him a bust? Absolutely not. That makes him a coach’s decision. Until a player gets on the field of play and clearly demonstrates that he can’t play at this level, it’s unfair for fans to make that determination. There has never been evidence in preseason play that Thomas hasn’t at least deserved a chance. Tomlin is known for head scratching personnel decisions and perhaps his worst was publicly outing his young safety as struggling “above the neck”. What a brand to put on a player! Maybe Thomas can’t play. Perhaps he can’t handle the complexities of an NFL defense. But until that theory is proven on the field, Thomas should be given the benefit of a doubt.

All That Glitters

When the bell sounds for the 2016 NFL Draft will the Steelers select a safety, corner or defensive lineman with their number one pick? What will be the best decision? The answer to that question should be decided in the next few games and it’s up to Tomlin to make it happen. Can Robert Golden be a starter for the Steelers for the next few years? Can Doran Grant compete at this level? Only the field knows and it’s worth the gamble to find out. It’s not like getting those players significant playing time is risking breaking a museum work of art. If Golden can play. If Grant can contribute. And realizing Senquez Golson may be the real deal. It would change everything in terms of need. Considering how poorly the secondary has played there is no downside to gathering this critical intelligence.

The Tell All

Want to find out if the Steelers can legitimately win a Super Bowl this year? Just watch this game against the Broncos. If Pittsburgh can prove that a great offense trumps a great defense, then the Force will be with them far, far into the playoffs.

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