There is a warming, beckoning light ahead in the fog. Never before has a city so downtrodden, so hard on its luck, so defeated—been able to look ahead to a Sunday with grander hope and expectation.
That city, of course, is Cleveland…and yes the Browns have a chance to turn their season around…or at least get tossed a biscuit of joy…as they face the Pittsburgh Steelers this Sunday.
Because nobody heals ailing teams better than the Steelers. Nobody. They are the quintessential bum whisperers. Nobody can coach a team down like Coach Mike Tomlin and his crew.
There’s no question this 2016 version of the Browns are real dogs. But fear not Fidos. An 0-10 record? No problem? A rookie quarterback? Don’t worry about it. This is the perfect time for Brownies to be baking in the oven.
Or is it?
At 4-5, the Steelers find themselves in the low-rent district of the NFL. They are shockingly—based on all informed preseason prognostications—a solidly less than mediocre team.
Mired in the dregs of a four-game losing streak, and having lost his best defender for the season in DE Cameron Heyward, Tomlin will be required shake his underperforming squad out of the doldrums in what may be the greatest coaching challenge of his career.
Can he do it? Will the salvaging of a Super Bowl season begin this weekend…or will there be more unrest in a growingly restless Steelers Nation?
There’s much on the line this Sunday. There is much to discuss…amidst much disgust. So, let’s take her for a Spin:
State Of The Union
There isn’t a resident of Steelers Nation who isn’t experiencing profound disappointment in how underwhelming the team has performed this season. An unstoppable offense? A rapidly maturing defense? None of this has proven true in 2016 and if things aren’t turned around quickly, it may point to cracks in the team architecture that could haunt for years to come. Another rebuilding phase anyone? Make no mistake about it. The Steelers are a few losses away from having a total franchise implosion.
Better Luck Next Year
All that being said, it’s too early for fans to tear up and toss their losing tickets in the air and start pointing to the 2017 NFL Draft. There are too many games left in the year, the Steelers remaining schedule is too soft, and the AFC North division is too weak for all hope to be lost. In fact, despite the resident gloom, there is some reason for hope. It’s time for the Nation to fan up and give this team its full support.
But how does one do that? Isn’t it, in fact, time to hit the panic button? Yes…absolutely…as long as the button you’re referring to is the reset button. It’s time to throw away all of the misguided expectations of this season and realize that with a 4-5 record, what realistically remains is an opportunity to squeak into the playoffs. There will be no triumphant march to home field advantage. There will be no undefeated, record-breaking season. And the “I got a feelings” about the Super Bowl are mostly pixie dust at this point. So…just do it. Hit the reset button, and enjoy the rest of the season as it is.
Eating The Elephant
How do you eat a full blown turkey of a season? One bite at a time. For the Steelers, this will be the only way they’ll be able to take on the mammoth task before them. The new season starts in Cleveland, and the redemption tour will continue one play, one quarter, one opponent at a time.
Ravens In The Radar
Forget about the Steelers being a Wildcard team this year. With their losses in the conference and the fact the AFC West has several dominant teams, the road to the playoffs for the Black and Gold will require an AFC North championship berth. Many are expecting the Ravens to collapse but not the Spin. The Ravens have a solid defense, and as painful as it is to admit, a good coach. This means the Christmas Day rematch in Pittsburgh may be for that Daisy Red Rider Air Rifle. And that’s only if the Steelers get back on Santa’s list.
Apparently the Steelers coaches have come to a startling realization: LB James Harrison is a better player than LB Jarvis Jones. Harrison will be getting the start over Jones this week, and hopefully will play a larger majority of the snaps. This comes after Harrison inexcusably was on the bench for the last couple of series against the Dallas Cowboys when the Steelers were desperate for defensive stops. Maybe this is a sign that Tomlin is coachable after all.
Rotating The Tires
The news that Heyward’s season is over is devastating, but sadly not surprising. The overuse of Heyward and DE Stephon Tuitt in the defensive line rotation has been a recurring source of criticism by Steelers fans. Unfortunately, the players that will need to step up now, are ones who have received little field time. With high winds expected for Sunday, you can plan on the Browns kicking the new tires with a heavy dose of running.
In Defense Of The Defense
Statistically, the Steelers have one of the worst defenses in the NFL, and this is not a revelation to fans who have watched opponents march up and down the field. That being said, this defense is more of a bright spot for the team than its offense. With an aging quarterback and with superstars heading toward difficult contract situations, this year may be the peak of the team’s offensive potential. The defense, on the other hand, is full of promising young talent. Even without Heyward, look for the defense to trend up the remainder of the year.
The “Fire Tomlin” choruses have been echoing out louder and in tighter harmony than they have since the gifted wordsmith arrived in Pittsburgh a decade ago. Backed up by the Rooney tradition of avoiding the annual placement of classified ads, Tomlin’s position is more stable than it would be at 31 other organizations. At the same time, it’s ridiculous to describe Tomlin’s position as “untouchable”. The argument that he would be “fought over by a dozen other teams” if he was let go is irrelevant. If he’s not getting it done in Pittsburgh, where winning conditions are close to perfect, he’ll struggle equally elsewhere. The reality is that this season is supposed to be the grand result of a five-year “reloading” program. If the Steelers miss the playoffs this season, the Rooneys would be rightfully questioned if they didn’t seriously consider a new direction moving forward.
Building The Wall
The Pittsburgh Steelers have their backs against the wall…and this is clearly a wall hand built by Tomlin and General Manager Kevin Colbert. If the Steelers lose to the Browns, it will be the beginning of an end of an era. There is truly that much at stake. The anticipated high wind conditions are problematic for the Steelers passing game and this factor will level the playing field in an uncomfortable fashion. But then again…these are the Browns. And since we hit the reset button, we don’t need a blowout. We’re happy just to win. Steelers 24, Browns 17.