The first quarter of the NFL regular season is about to close for the Pittsburgh Steelers and today’s Sunday Night special against the Kansas City Chiefs will either bring back the Super Bowl drumbeat for the Black and Gold or will drift expectations in the direction of mediocrity.
The Chiefs represent the separated-from-birth twin of the Philadelphia Eagles in offensive…and to some degree…defensive stylings which allows the Steelers to get some rapid redemption from their abysmal performance last week against the birds of prey.
With a win against the Chiefs, the Steelers prove they can beat a team with a patient, short passing game. Consequently, it will also confirm they had no excuses for being blown away last week.
Much worse, of course, if they lose to the Chiefs, it will perfect the Kryptonite formula against a Pittsburgh defense that looked more like Men of Steel in the first two victories of the season. More problematic for Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler is a loss will reveal that the new house he’s been building the past couple of years has a cracked foundation that won’t be easily repaired.
Traditionally, Coach Mike Tomlin’s teams do well under the bright lights of nationally televised games, and although infamously falling short of “unleashing hell” they do tend to bounce back well from adversity.
It’s traditionally ill advised to put too much weight on a game this early in the season. But, the Steelers can’t afford to suffer AFC losses and the Chiefs will likely be competing for the same playoff spots at the end of the season.
With the New England Patriots off to a shocking Brady-less bright start and with the Baltimore Ravens a rising villain, the Steelers will need this win if they want the road to the Super Bowl to come through Pittsburgh this year.
So, admittedly, with this author still toweling off the doom and gloom of last week’s debacle, here is your Spin:
There are few things more embarrassing than suiting up in your Steelers regalia, prancing into a sports bar and then having every ounce of your happiness drain from you as your supposedly Super Bowl caliber team gets routed by a team with a quarterback who still has to stand on a table in his underwear while singing his alma mater at lunchtime. It makes the indigestion and the 6,000 calories from those nachos, potato skins and chicken wings unbearable. The only thing worse is showing up at an away game…in say, Philadelphia…and having to fold up your Terrible Towel and cover your head in a “Made In Cleveland” paper bag. It’s commonly believed that no one feels worse about a loss like that than the coaches and players themselves. However; as many of them are climbing aboard the team bus it’s hard to believe they are not enjoying some consolation with the fact they just earned $500,000 for that clunker of a performance. For a Steelers fan in foreign territory, it’s a long, painful walk to the parking lot as you wonder why you just dropped a grand taking your family to a stadium where they are accosted by tens of thousands of gloating, cheesesteak-breathed, drunken hecklers.
Tomlin’s Achilles Heel
Sadly, the 3-34 disaster against the Eagles is just one of many humiliating upset special losses by Tomlin during his otherwise storied tenure. But, through all of these major disappointments, there is one key player who has gotten a pass on all of this…despite poor passing. QB Ben Roethlisberger has been the chief contributor in many of these flops and the game against Philadelphia was no exception. With the nuclear arsenal he has at his disposal, it’s inexcusable for him to lead his team to one solitary field goal. In his Super Bowl seasons of the past, Big Ben has had a powerful defense to clean up his messes. Not so this year. If the team has any legitimate hope of earning a Lombardi Trophy this season it will be carried in on his broad shoulders. He HAS to show up every week.
Butler’s Kitty Kat Formation
There has been a mounting cry from the media and fans this week for the team to play James Harrison more significantly. For those who have suffered through this column over the past years (bless your Steely hearts) you know the Spin has been spinning this record for years. Butler’s poorest business decision this season has been designing a rotation where Harrison doesn’t even enter the field of battle until the third defensive series. Deebo is clearly the teeth of the tiger for the defense, and let’s be honest, this squad is a bit overly domesticated as it is. If you’re going to place James on the sideline, it’s the same as putting the team’s dentures in a glass on grandma’s bathroom sink. No, Harrison is not going to get twenty sacks this year. But he clamps down the run, lifts DE Cameron Heyward’s level of play and puts more pressure on the quarterback than any other linebacker on the team’s roster. Give the man the start and let him tell you when he needs a break.
Preseason Results Don’t Matter?
The Steelers defense were not only getting gashed for yardage last week, they were bleeding starters as well. Literally, as in the case of LB Lawrence Timmons. Many argued in the summer that the Steelers poor performance during the preseason didn’t matter as it was “only backups getting beat”. Well. The backups are in. It certainly matters now.
D-Line Tired Rotations
On a day last week when the Steelers were dented by the run and battered by a lack of pass rush it was surprising the team didn’t rotate the defensive line much to keep them fresh…and perhaps even just to try something different. DT Javon Hargrave, DT Daniel McCullers and DE Ricardo Mathews only had 35 snaps collectively while DE Stephon Tuitt remained on the field for 95% of the defensive plays and DE Cameron Heyward for 88% of the snaps. No one is arguing that Tuitt and Heyward are not the two best defensive linemen the Steelers have…by far. But, the team has enough quality players to ensure its starters are performing at their peak every play.
Knight In Shining Armor
The stars are in alignment for RB Le’Veon Bell to make his triumphant return to active duty for the Steelers this week. The timing of his appearance couldn’t have been better following a miserable performance by the offense including an unusually slow game from uber-backup RB DeAngelo Williams. It won’t take more than a few successful screen plays to induce amnesia in Steelers Nation about Bell’s transgressions. But let’s hope the young man has truly and finally learned the respect for the game and its fans that comes with being an NFL superstar.
In The Line Of Duty
Perhaps the biggest disappointment last week was the play of the offensive line. Even with the loss of G Ramon Foster there is no reason this talented…and highly compensated…squad shouldn’t be able to impose their will on any defensive line. Quarterbacks will get in a funk and receivers can drop a ball here or there, but the offensive line must always be above the line in a championship-minded offense. Let’s hope the worst is behind for what should be one of the league’s best units.
So What Say You?
There is nothing that taints the already shaky reputation of a soothsaying, tea-leaf reading blowhard than an inconsistent, underachieving team. The only hope for a confident prognostication is to throw out last week’s performance as an outlier. And an ugly one at that. Still, the injuries the Steelers will have to battle through tonight are significant and defending TE Travis Kelce without LB Ryan Shazier on the field will be a rarified challenge. Yet, the addition of Le’Veon Bell should be enough to smack the ear hole of the Steelers offense sufficiently to get it back on track. The Spin says the Steelers will get out to an early lead with Kansas closing late. Steelers 31, Chiefs 24.