The Pittsburgh Steelers head into their much anticipated Sunday showdown with the Cincinnati Bengals with full, sparking, molten metal following their 38-16 season opening smackdown of the Washington Redskins.
Not only was the victory over Washington impressive, it reversed a disturbing pattern of slow season starts for Coach Mike Tomlin’s team.
No, the Steelers were hardly flawless, and the offense took a full quarter to shake off their preseason slumbers, but the end result was the kind of dominant play you would expect from a Super Bowl contender.
This performance already has West Pennsylvania elevators streaming pan flute versions of “I’ve got a feeling…Pittsburgh’s going to the Super Bowl”. But clouds of doom will swiftly return to the streets and alleys of the Steel City if the home team gets clawed by the Bengals on Sunday.
So with deliberate sensitivity to the manic-depressive nature of Steelers fans worldwide, here is your hand-spun Spin:
Steelers Nation is already in primetime form as demonstrated by their invasion of FedEx Field. The endless flapping wings of Terrible Towels surely haunted the Redskins public relations department with every camera cut of the attending crowd. As the drumbeat continues to foretell a Super season for the Steelers you can expect the bandwagon to be overflowing to the point where Pittsburgh won’t have a single away game this season.
Boy Scout Convention
The Steelers Bengals matchup is being hyped as an all out brawlfest. But for those of you who are hoping a UFC match will break out, you’re going to be sorely disappointed. Bengals Head Coach Marvin Lewis had his coaching manhood challenged by his team’s historic meltdown at their shocking Wildcard loss against the Steelers last season. He will be ultra-motivated to show the world he can keep a leash on his foaming-at-the-mouth players. As for Coach Tomlin, he is too smart to allow his team to lose their focus on the prize. Look at this to be a well played, hard fought game. But there will only be scuffles at the end of the match if it turns out to be a blowout.
Coach Tomlin knows the best way to beat down his opponents is via the scoreboard. Still, you can expect one Steeler in particular to come into this game with powerful vengeance in mind. WR Antonio Brown was kept out of the Denver Broncos playoff game last season due to what many consider to be a cheap shot blow to his head by Bengals LB Vontaze Burfict. Brown may not be twerking again this season, but you can expect him to want to have plenty of reason to dance.
Next In Line
Now that Steelers fans lost their punching bag CB Antwon Blake to a free agency fleeing, it seems they are anxious to declare their next goat in the secondary. Will CB Ross Cockrell please stand up? Don’t be so quick to point fingers at Cockrell. He is still a young buck and has more than demonstrated his ability to flash brilliance and consistency. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say he may end up being the next William Gay on the team. That is, a player that sheds off early criticism to be a productive Steeler for a long time.
Battle Of The Bulge
One of the highlights of the Washington Redskins game was the continued high level play of the Steelers defensive line. DE Cameron Heyward shook off an ankle injury that would have sidelined mere mortals to provide continual offensive line breaches. Both he and his partner DE Stephon Tuitt had numerous occasions where they catapulted through gaps. Rookie Javon Hargrave, in his few on-field appearances, continued to show he will have no problem transitioning his second tier college dominance to big time play against the big boys. NT Daniel McCullers enjoyed his best game as a pro, appearing to be truly Joe Greene mean in response to his recent demotion to second teamer. He only had ten snaps but he made the most of them by crushing the line and drawing double and triple teams. He was key to the pressure that influenced LB Ryan Shazier’s pick and run. He is almost single-handedly responsible for the game ending LB James Harrison interception. In prototypical McCullers fashion, he bull rushed a triple team, delivering head slaps and wedgies as he shoved Larry, Curley and Moe into QB Kirk Cousins. Then Big Dan tipped the pass for good measure. He shot the duck. Harrison got the easy bagging of the bird. McCullers proved again his value on both pass and run situations and declared poignantly he can be teamed with Tuitt and Heyward to provide an effective three man rush.
The McLendon Syndrome
If you didn’t notice, DT Steve McLendon racked up two sacks in his debut with the New York Jets. This is no surprise to those of us who thought it ridiculous the Steelers typecast him as a nosetackle only and refused to give him reps at defensive end last season. Let’s hope the Steelers don’t make the same terrible decision with the talented Hargrave by force feeding him Big Macs and Whoppers until he’s full figured. Perhaps early on it may be easier for him to acclimate to a single position. But long term, there is no reason he shouldn’t be rotated through all three positions on the defensive line.
The End Game
So much has been said about the anemic pressure the Steelers outside linebackers have offered to the team’s pass rush. However; it much be said, this isn’t your father’s Steelers defense. Only a few years ago, the defensive line, with players like DE Aaron Smith, NT Casey Hampton and DE Brett Keisel were tasked with filling gaps and eating up blocks so the outside linebackers could be stars and earn the big contracts. When the switch was made a couple years ago to let the interior of the line run loose, it reduced the impact of the outside linebackers. Will the Steelers have an effective pass rush this season? To be fair, you’ll need to answer that by evaluating the collective front seven as a complete unit.
In what measure of any reasonable sports justice would RB DeAngelo Williams be at risk of losing his starting role when RB Le’Veon Bell returns from suspension? Why? Because he’s too old? Because Bell is the future? You can defend Bell’s actions until you’re blue in the face, but the bottom line was he blew it once again, letting his team and fans down. All Williams has done since becoming a Steeler is put his team first, and perform at an elite level. Forget about “keeping Bell’s chair warm”. Williams should be the starting running back for the Steelers until his wheels fall off or his play falters.
Nobody wants to touch this subject with a 10-foot pole, and I’m hesitant to do so as well. But may I just say, it was thrilling to see the Steelers players all stand for our National Anthem at the season opener. This was at least in part in deference to Bronze Star awarded Army Ranger LT Alejandro Villanueva. Tomlin’s stand as a coach was admirable. As the son of a 20-year active duty Marine Corps officer, this was important for me. There are very serious issues with our nation and the world, and legitimate complaints, but what I love about football is that for a few precious hours each week, we can all come together and take a break from reality and pretend that touchdowns and tackles really matter. I followed the career of QB Colin Kapaernick very closely as he attended college in my hometown here at the University of Nevada, Reno. The entire city supported him in his journey from skinny freshman to superrich NFL star and he was pampered and treated with respect and favor all along the way. I’m suspecting he won’t be invited to any more local Rotary events in the future. I completely support his right to voice his viewpoints. That is the American privilege. We all have our deep grievances with what we feel is right or wrong with our country. I have one that brings tears to my eyes. Are we all going to take a knee from here on out in continual protest? Should we just cancel the pregame ceremony? Goodness Kap, we’re so drowning in political vomit as it is. While you’re busy spending your millions, can’t you leave the little people alone to enjoy our short-lived sanctuary of football each week? It’s one of the few times we all come together as sports, football and team fans. Let’s just say, Pittsburgh’s collective response to the controversy is just another one of the many reasons I’m proud to be part of Steelers Nation.
Okay…Okay…Off Of The Soapbox…Back To The Bungles
Make no doubt about it. Cincinnati has had competitive teams for years now. However; the fact it’s been over a quarter of a century since the Bengals have won a post season game is confirmation they still remain the Bungles in Steelers eyes until proven otherwise. This Sunday’s game is not only critical for the division race, but it also allows the Steelers to affirm their familiar role of stealing the Bengals lunch money. This is Pittsburgh’s game to win, and if they stumble it will frustrate them at the end of the season as the one that got away.
And The Survey Says…
A revenge-minded Cincinnati Bengals team will come to the Steel City ready to play. After a gutsy performance last week by Andy Dalton, who shook off seven sacks to lead his team to victory, the Bengals will be coming into Heinz Field with belief in their eyes. But the Spin says the Steelers, buffeted by the home crowd, will continue to roll, legitimizing their place among the top AFC contenders. Steelers 31 Bengals 20