Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses. Yes…an apt descriptor of the fading lantern drawing Steelers Nation as their beloved team limps home following a dismal trifecta of losses to the Miami Dolphins, New England Patriots and…most regrettably…the Baltimore Ravens last Sunday.
This is not your father’s Pittsburgh Steelers team. In fact, it’s not grandpa’s, or sonny boy’s either. The question is…what the heck is going on around here?
In what is currently the most below-the-line coaching campaign of Coach Mike Tomlin’s decade of primarily excellence, the Steelers are desperate for a turnaround as the balloon of their lofty aspirations continues to rapidly leak hot air.
What better time than for a cowboy to ride in from the sunset? The Dallas Cowboys, that is, a team that once was one of the greatest Steelers rivals, will now be counted on this weekend for a Steelers revival.
Will the Steelers prevail? How can we know the future if we have forgotten the past? It’s time to break out the history books for this week’s Spin:
Mamas Don’t Let Your Boys Grow Up To Be…
There are some of us old enough to have the yellowing cracked film reels rattling in our minds of Tom Landry looking erudite and dapper in his fedora, US Navy midshipman QB Roger Staubach contorting and dodging before lofting 70 yard passes to WR Drew Pearson. Then there was the gracefully, daggering RB Tony Dorsett and the tree-stump thighed FB Robert Newhouse.
And ah…the defense. DE Ed “Too Tall” Jones, S Charlie Waters, DT Randy White, DE Harvey Martin and CB Everson Walls. Who could forget the spelling lessons LB Thomas “Hollywood” Henderson gave to Terry Bradshaw?
Oh…those Glory Days of yesteryear, when the Steelers lost rarely…and only to the quality teams.
How ‘Bout Them Cowboys
Many younger Steelers fans will be more familiar with the second generation of Cowboy excellence in the 1990’s, one of the NFL’s greatest dynasties.
The team was a veritable All-Star squad with a potent offense lead by QB Troy Aiken, WR Michael Irvin, RB Emmitt Smith…all anchored by one of the greatest offensive lines ever assembled, lead by the ginormous OG Larry Allen.
And, long before there was the miracle ACL recovery of Adrian Peterson, it was Steelers CB Rod Woodson who made history by being the first NFL player to return back to play in the same season he tore his knee. Who could forget Woodson pointing to his knee in triumph, after breaking up a pass to Irvin in Super Bowl XXX?
Fortunately, forgetting is something Steelers fans can do, as there was somebody playing quarterback at the time (ol’ what’s his name) who decided to throw the game away.
The Modern Day Cowpokes
So…who cares about the old fogeys and remembrances of things past other than Marcel Proust? (Cue phonograph needle scratching across record.) What about Sunday?
Well…apparently…even though the Cowboys have won seven in a row, the wise guys in Vegas somehow have them as the underdog in this match.
Whaz a matter? You looking at me?
With a high powered offensive line, the rookie running back sensation known as Ezekiel Elliott and a defense that has kept their opponents hovering around the 20 points or less mark, it’s hard to fathom the Cowboys falling to the Steelers who have displayed profound innovation in their ability to lose. Most notably…a hootin’, tootin’, dosey do by their kicker to close out the Ravens loss in full national humiliation.
Locker Room Talk
So…what gives the Steelers a fighting chance? It’s the locker room. For all of Tomlin’s deficiencies (and yes…many have been on full display this year) he is gifted at keeping the locker room tight. They keep their towel snaps behind closed doors. If the Steelers continue to disappoint, it won’t be from rebellion within the organization. Tomlin will have them on them on message, and playing as one. Even, if it means playing poorly together.
So much for the premature enshrinement of QB Ben Roethlisberger to the Hall of Fame. If this was his election season, he would be far down in the polls. One of the downsides of having a franchise quarterback…is the whole franchise rises and falls on his performance and unfortunately it’s been more Grand Canyon than Mount Whitney. Big Ben can turn things around, as he’s done in the past, but if he can’t find a patch for his inconsistency bug ASAP then it may reveal a serious glitch in his legacy.
Receivers In Receivership
When WR Antonio Brown starts asking for help, even at the cost of sharing the rock, then you know there is something seriously wrong in Pittsburgh. Didn’t it seem like just yesterday when the Steelers had quality receivers overflowing the Confluence? With WR Markus Wheaton brittle, WR Darrius Heyward-Bey broken, WR Martavis Bryant out for smokin’ and WR Sammie Coates choking…the team is desperate for somebody to step up and be a quality number two receiver. Could the return of TE Ladarius Green offer some helping hands? That’s a lot to put on a guy who is just a headache away from being done for the season and maybe his career. There is enough talent in Coates and WR Eli Rogers to elevate the receiving unit to elite this season, but the clock is ticking and the opportunity is slipping for 2016.
Best running back in the game? After some disappointing play, there’s no better time for RB Le’Veon Bell to restate his case than a matchup against Elliott. Both teams have powerful enough offensive lines to make this a Battle of the Backs. The winner of this mano a mano showdown will most likely end up being on the winning team.
Speaking Of Rigged
BREAKING NEWS in exclusive coverage you will ONLY find on the Spin: NT Daniel McCullers had 2 tackles in 5 defensive snaps against the Ravens. NT Javon Hargrave had 1 tackle in 27 defensive snaps. You do the math. Why can’t Butler? That is, Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler. Still baffled why they won’t ever give the big kid a chance. Give him a start.
Drop The Mic
How many years does LB James Harrison have to hear the “he’s done” chatter from the unfaithful? Even though his age needs to be measured by carbon testing, Harrison continues to be one of the team’s best defenders and his two-sack and continual pressure performance last week was another exclamation point to that point. Every moment he is standing on the sideline while mediocre edge rushing teammates are playing ahead of him is another clue of how clueless Butler can be. WHEN Harrison gets his franchise record-breaking sack…perhaps this Sunday…he should walk off the field, toss the keys to Butler and say, “Your kids can have ‘em, coach.”
Just Kidding Around
That being said, there is some real merit to the youth movement happening on the Steelers defense. CB Artie Burns has been in the burn unit more than a few times this season, but he’s displayed exceptional athleticism and he’s a brawler. Underrated rising talent CB Ross Cockrell displayed speed and determinism in his effort to chase down WR Mike Wallace last week. S Sean Davis is getting better by the week and players like LB Ryan Shazier, DE Stephon Tuitt and even DE Cameron Heyward have many years of youth and vibrancy ahead of them. Even LB Bud Dupree may still be able to contribute to the cause this season. The arrow is definitely pointing up for the defense.
Stepping In Cow Patties
4-4? Really? 4-4? How could this be so? This means that even if the Steelers go on a two-game winning streak they’ll be 6-4. Yawn.
Meanwhile, the revived Ravens are busy reinforcing their…get this…AFC North lead in the division. This season for the Steelers is already a warm mess. If they step in it against the Cowboys it’s going to be a hot and steamy one and for the first time in his career, Tomlin will be feeling a little heat in his seat.
This is a gotta win, home game for the Steelers. Vegas says Yes. So does the Spin. Steelers 24, Cowboys 21.