Last week, the Pittsburgh Steelers marched into Miami with their Super Bowl script in hand, only to have the game play out as a Shakespearean tragedy with a miserable 15-30 loss against the, then, 1-4 Dolphins.
In truth, it was yet again a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury. Signifying nothing positive to take away.
Now, with the New England Patriots coming to town, the Steelers will most likely tragically learn if their Super Bowl aspirations are to be or not to be.
Sound overly dramatic?
Well…beware the Ides of October. The bottom line is that if the Steelers are unable to defeat the Tom Brady Bunch in Pittsburgh without QB Ben Roethlisberger, they will be equally unlikely to beat them in the playoffs, even with Big Ben, in New England.
The reality check for those of you who believe Roethlisberger is the answer to all questions is that Ben has played below the line in half of the team’s first six games, and now we get the news he’ll play the rest of his games this season with a limp in his step. That is not a winning recipe for Lombardi soup.
Which means, the remaining roster MUST carry more weight if this year has any hope of being Super. This certainly now includes QB Landry Jones.
These are such stuff as dreams, or nightmares, are made on and with that in mind, here is your Spin:
The Steelers 2016 season of dreams is already taking on water. Barring some sort of miracle the team will go into the bye week at 4-3, with two of those losses being of the miserable category. With QB Ben Roethlisberger out with a bum knee, and with him being historically sluggish when returning from injury, the team has a challenging journey from here on out. This would have been…oh so different…if they hadn’t dropped two very winnable games against the Philadelphia Eagles and the Dolphins. The frustration is visceral and merited. Easily blowing off the team’s failures against the Eagles and the Dolphins doesn’t make you a “real fan”, it makes you a potted plant. Unfortunately, and sadly, the season has scars already. The words “coulda” and “shoulda” are already in play.
Good But Not Great
There are no words more hazardous to a Steelers columnist than those casting any hint of dispersion of Coach Mike Tomlin’s career. If you splash the faintest drop of criticism into your analysis you are instantly categorized as a “fire Tomlin moron conspiracist”. So with my dunce cap already firmly in place, here it goes:
Somewhere, in some dimly lit gathering, sitting around a circle with others, a cup of bad coffee in his hand, Tomlin needs to stand up and say, “My name is Mike, and I can’t win against bad teams.” Until this decade-long denial is met with resolute change to his game preparation processes, he will continue to struggle in this area.
Until he can win these games consistently and confidently, Tomlin will be a very good coach…but not a great coach.
A Truly Motivational Speaker
In the category of confidence, here is one example of an approach he may want to alter moving forward. Listen to the pregame motivational speech he gave to the Dolphins during his weekly press conference. Who couldn’t be inspired to greatness?
THE OFFENSIVE LINE: It’s a very talented group. When you look at it, it’s littered with first round talent.
C MIKE POUNCEY: He’s a high energy guy. A great communicator. A hub of communication and stability in the group.
WR JAVON LANDRY: A Pro Bowl caliber guy. A tough guy mentally and physically. A guy capable of working the interior part of the field. A guy that is tough after the catch. A guy that is a tough blocker. I got a lot of respect for his talents.
QB TANNEHILL: His long ball ability is an issue. He’s a guy that…quite frankly…has created big problems for us in the past in terms of his escapability and mobility.
Oh…and why not pump up the defense while you’re at it:
DEFENSE: They have a dominant front littered with top pedigree talent. They have top flight cover guys.
I mean…what exactly is the strategy behind this proliferation of superlatives for a team that is on the verge of collapse and deep depression? Why serve them a cup of cool water?
Maybe next time…in the spirit of trying something different…because obviously, something ain’t working…just say, “The Dolphins are 1-4 and we’re 4-1. Next question.”
I Am Somebody
Speaking of the power of positive thinking, no one has been showered with more questions about his confidence this week than the much-maligned number two quarterback of the Steelers, Landry Jones.
When all we hear is story after story promoting “how confident Jones is” it forces us to question our confidence in these stories. Let’s be honest, if Jones actually does enter the stadium on Sunday with full confidence in himself, he will be the only one among tens of thousands carrying that opinion.
The good news for Jones is the bar is set so low on his performance expectations that if he manages to enter the field with his shoes properly tied his proponents will be able to trumpet victory.
The very truth of the matter is Jones will be playing the game of his career. If he fails this time around, his immediate future will be hitchhiking on a lonely, dusty highway of free agency.
If you’re wondering if it’s only Steelers fans who have this kind of opinion about their backup quarterback here is what the staff writers for NFL.com had to say this week about Jones:
No way you’re starting Jones in fantasy football. No freaking way.
Yet, despite all of this, to thine own self Jones will need to be true, and the opportunity is wide open for him to be carried on the shoulders of Steelers Nation once again.
After all, some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them.
One Big Complaint
With the team’s best defender Cameron Heyward healing up from injury the rapidly dwindling membership of Big Daniel McCuller’s Fan Club were anxious to see their hero get some real playing time. Unfortunately, defensive line coach John Mitchell has it out for the big fella, meaning McCullers only got a few snaps against the Dolphins…this despite the run defense getting gashed for over two hundred yards by an injured offensive line blocking for a journeyman running back. Still, in just a few snaps, Shade Tree was able to block a field goal (something he’s come close to on several other occasions, by the way), push Mike Pouncey back to the quarterback like he was a leaf blowing in the wind, and submerge a ball carrier six feet deep into the turf. Despite this, the only postgame dialog was bashing McCullers for not finishing a sack (he errantly thought the ball was already thrown). Rookie NT Javon Hargrave has a bright future, and has quickness that McCullers will never have…and obviously has the favor of his coaches. But it’s a flat out crime that Big Dan isn’t getting a fair chance to prove his case this year. Nobody can do well with a dozen snaps a game unless you’re a punter or kicker. It’s becoming clear that the McCullers’ experiment is coming to a disappointing conclusion, and not, it is being said here, due to logic or football acumen.
The Amazing Slice-O-Matic
Much has been said about the Steelers inability to defend against the short passing game. Death by a hundred slices. With quarterbacks of the limited experience of Carson Wentz and Ryan Tannehill making chop suey out of Pittsburgh’s pass defense there is reasonable fear and loathing of this match-up against the Patriots. After all, QB Tom Brady and Coach Bill Belichick are the patent holders of this short pass strategy and with the anemic pressure the Steelers have been putting on opposing quarterbacks, the perfect storm is approaching. TE Rob Gronkowski will be a major threat, and RB LeGarrette Blount will be seeking out a “Redemption Sunday” of his own against his former team. But the player to look for is RB James White. The Steelers have struggled with backs running patterns and White will be one of the most formidable they’ll face this year.
So…Ebay Your Tickets?
There is no question, this game will either be a pivotal story in a Steelers Super Bowl run…or most likely…be one of the most miserable games to watch this year. Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown and the New England Patriots are in the unenviable position of being the consensus favorite against a Coach Tomlin team. The Steelers typically have a game or two each season where they put on their “He Hate Me” jerseys and shock the world by poking their finger in the eyes of fickle fans…and two-timing hack columnists. The Steelers will need to pull this rabbit out of their hats against the Patriots or their tenuous position as Super Bowl favorites may permanently exit stage left. So what says you? Unfortunately, though all of Heinz Field will be a stage, the Steelers are merely players…and after a surprisingly game effort, will get throttled by the Patriots in the second half. Steelers 17. Patriots 28.