Following the loss to the Philadelphia Eagles, the 2016 Pittsburgh Steelers are owners of a 0-2 preseason record having been collectively outscored 17-47.
So…Coach Mike Tomlin. Your team has four turnovers in the first half, two of your best offensive players are facing drug suspensions, your back-up quarterback has his back up against the wall and three of your four most recent first round draft picks are injured and watching the game from the sidelines. What are you going to do?
I’m going to Disneyland!
Most of us remain huge Tomlin fans, and for good reason, but watching his mannerisms during these preseason games is somewhat surreal. As his team is disappointing a home crowd that collectively spent millions of their hard-earned dollars to witness the debacle, he can be seen on camera goofing with referees and high-fiving players. His few glances at the camera seem to say, “Can you believe they are still paying me for this?”
No one is asking him to chuck chairs, flip Gatorade jugs or smash headsets…but perhaps publically sharing some genuine interest and concern for what happens on the field would convince us he’s watching the same game.
The reality is, since 2013, Coach Tomlin’s preseason record is 2-12 with his team being outscored 182-313. Obviously…these games don’t matter much to him.
So…if he isn’t going to take the preseason seriously, you’ll have to forgive me for following his lead with this week’s Spin:
I promise. This column was originally going to be Landry Jones-free. After all, when a four-year veteran, who is already on a fraying rope bridge of fan opinion, somehow manages to accumulate FOUR interceptions in a half, no additional words are usually required. The performance screams for itself.
It’s the kind of misfortune that should only reasonably be followed with an awkward silence—the kind where everyone uncomfortably avoids making eye contact with each other.
Sadly, the Jones incident was exacerbated when Tomlin, as well as several of my most beloved analysts, tried to wipe away the tears of embarrassment by arguing that the interceptions weren’t…that bad.
Hello! We’re talking about a quarterback who was on pace to have zero touchdowns and eight…count ‘em…interceptions in a full game. The precise math escapes me but I’m pretty sure his quarterback rating would have looked something like the error message you get on your calculator when you try to divide by zero.
I mean…even those British guys who watch replays of American football in order to come up with seemingly random metrics could have figured this one out.
William: Charles, old boy…will you take a look at this? This Jones fellow is having a rough go at it. He just threw that pointy ball to the lads in the white jerseys four times.
Charles: I’ll say William. Jolly good eyes there. Write that one up and we’ll fetch some fish and chips.
The Reynolds Index
We’ve got this analysis of quarterbacks all wrong. Arm strength? 40-yard dash times? Ability to do triple reads? Quarterback rating? None of that matters. Here are the only plays that do:
The Fist Pump
This occurs immediately after a quarterback leads his team down the field to a touchdown. He can accomplish this in a variety of ways: short pass, deep pass, handoff to the fullback, hopping on one foot into the end zone. Doesn’t matter. It’s the Fist Pump play that does. The greatest quarterbacks fist pump often and are able to do so even during the most clutch of situations.
The Head Shake
This play occurs after a quarterback drives his team all of the way down the field but stumbles in the red zone, needing to settle for a field goal. Disappointing, but not disabling.
The Shoulder Slump
This unfortunate play is witnessed after a quarterback goes three-and-out more than a few times in a game. The Shoulder Slump instantly occurs following an interception…or worse yet, a Pick Six. This play, when performed frequently, causes teams to lose and seasons to be lost.
Scouting for players under the Reynolds Index is simple. Find, develop and retain the quarterbacks who spend most of their time fist pumping.
There’s No Shame
The thing to remember is even the most habitual NFL Shoulder Slumpers were big time Fist Pumpers in college. That means they’ve already feasted on glory for several years. They got a free university education, unlimited dates with cheerleaders, chemistry professors who gave them “A’s” for successfully throwing a crumpled piece of paper in the trash can and a booster named “Tex” driving a Cadillac adorned with horns who sold them brand new automobiles for a couple hundred bucks. There’s no shame in not being a Fist Pumper in the NFL.
But, Seriously Folks
There was excellent news in that the Steelers first string defense performed admirably against the Eagles, who kept their most of their starting offense, lead by quarterback Sam Bradford, in for the first half. There were noticeable and promising highlights in the Steelers play at all three levels: defensive line, linebackers and the secondary.
Silence Is Golden
Robert Golden has been waiting for years for his chance to be a starting safety for the Steelers. One of the great unknowns this season was if Golden would be able to handle the job after Tomlin finally said goodbye to his aging BFF Will Allen. So far, so good for Golden. Although he has yet to make significant splash plays he’s been rock solid. This could be a big year for Golden and one he has patiently earned.
Able To Leap Tall Buildings
Props are due to rookie S Sean Davis who made a noticeable improvement from his game one performance. He went from being Lost In Space to becoming the Invisible Man which is not a bad trait for players in the secondary. If he’s able to continue his rapid improvement in the slot, the Steelers defense could benefit greatly.
The Big Legit
It’s time for the many Daniel McCullers doubters to acknowledge he is legit at the position of nose tackle for the Steelers. Defensive line coach John Mitchell has done a fine job in teaching McCullers the craft over the past few years and he is noticeably better with keeping on his feet and using his hands to fend off blockers. His demeanor may preclude him from being the next Mean Dan Greene, but he CAN play at this level and his unique ability to collapse the offensive line will be an asset to the team for years to come.
The Heart of Steel
There should always be space on the 53-man roster for players like LB Vince Williams and rookie LB Tyler Matakevich. It should be like reserved parking. As exciting as this offensive run has been the past few years with players like QB Ben Roethlisberger and WR Antonio Brown, the Steelers at their core will always be measured by the toughness of their linebackers. Even in tough times, as long as the team has a few guys who can bury a hair-sprayed, pedicured quarterback two feet into the turf, Steelers fans will be content.
Most Obvious Lesson Learned This Preseason?
Offense – 7 – 84 – 26 = Boring
Speaking of 26, the long anticipated resolution of Le’Veon Bell’s suspension appeal was announced along with an apology from the extremely talented and equally frustrating player. His appeal reduced his original four game suspension down to three. What was most celebrated, as a result of his appeal, was that if he stumbles again, he’ll only face another four game suspension. Huh? That was the focus of the negotiation? Why not instruct his lawyers to make a deal to wipe out the suspension entirely in exchange for a harsh punishment if he fails again? Wouldn’t that have been a better apology to fans by putting their interests first while at the same time ensuring he has the proper incentive to respect his NFL career?
Clearly, Tomlin is reluctant to give Roethlisberger some reps this preseason and there is a strong need for his backups to dramatically up their game. Because of this, don’t blink in the upcoming game against the New Orleans Saints, as the first quarter may be your only glimpse at the state of the Steelers 2016 offense.