Four games in the Pittsburgh Steelers 2017 campaign and already what a long strange trip it’s been. After demolishing the dreaded Ravens in Baltimore by a crab cracking score of 26-9, the team returns back home where they can patch their bones before taking on the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Steelers are 3-1 largely because of the performance of…get this…their defense. Who would have thought the team would have the number two defense in the league mostly because of their second place ranking in both passing defense and number of sacks?
No cornerbacks? No blitzing linebackers. Apparently, that is no problem.
And the Steelers offense? Expecting them to average 30 points a game? How about averaging only 22.5 points per game while having the…gasp…21st ranked offense?
Before you get too excited about this season’s start, you must recall the Steelers started last season 4-1 before dropping four games in a row.
This week, with rookie sensation RB Leonard Fournette coming to town and with the Jaguars boasting the league’s number two rushing attack, the Steelers could be set up like a bowling pin. Knocked down, it could get to wearing thin like it did against the Chicago Bears.
But still, this team has a decidedly different feel than last year. Even at 3-1 it does seem this team can take its play to a whole other level. That’s exciting.
Who can be sure? That’s the quandary of an opinion piecer. Sometimes the lights all shining on me. Other times I can barely see. Regardless…it’s time to serve up some fresh Spin:
Lately It Occurs To Me
I’m sorry. Did I get off the wrong floor on this elevator? The new power houses in the NFC of the 2017 NFL Season are the Los Angeles Rams (3-1), the Philadelphia Eagles (3-1) and the Detroit Lions (3-1)? Say what? The AFC is being taken over by quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor, Trevor Siemian, Blake Bortles and Deshaun Watson? Who?
Just about everybody thought the Steelers defense would be improved this year, but is it actually possible they are beginning to look more formidable…and certainly more reliable…than the team’s rock star offense? Outside of WR Antonio Brown (temper tantrum aside) has there been a brighter shining star than LB Ryan Shazier?
Well…maybe, DE Cameron Heyward is playing the best ball of his career. And LB T.J. Watt? Who can’t be excited about that rookie? Then there is DT Javon Hargrave and DE Stephon Tuitt. Don’t look now, but Joe Haden and Artie Burns are bringing pride back into the corners of the defense.
Getting His Bell Rung
Many are pointing to Le’Veon Bell’s performance against the Ravens as proof that he is 100% back and that any of his detractors should be ashamed of ever doubting him. This may be true, but at what cost? Bell needed 39 touches into a purple wall of Ravens to get his yards last week. It used to be the Steelers would just run running backs until their wheels fall off. This year it seems offensive coordinator Todd Haley won’t stop until Bell’s entire body falls apart.
Unfortunately, we’ve seen this movie before. It’s great to get Bell his swings, but his injury pattern might prove this to be a short sighted approach to a championship run.
The Ferrari’s Missing Part
How many years have we been waiting for the Steelers offensive Ferrari to hit the road? With healthy and suspension-free players like QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown, WR Martavis Bryant and Bell finally sharing the field together with protection and plowing by one of the league’s finest offensive lines it’s not unreasonable to have unreasonable expectations.
So why isn’t this offense fully hitting its stride?
The problem is this Ferrari is lacking a clutch. It’s able to look impressive in spits and spurts, but when those key third down completions are needed to keep a drive going, or when the team needs to score to put its opponents away early in the game, it just can’t seem to get itself fully in gear. A high pass. A dropped ball. A false start. An untimely hold. When is the last time you’ve had full, fingernail-biting-free confidence in Big Ben with the clock ticking down and the team five points short of victory?
That confidence doesn’t rise to the same level of fear you’d experience when going against Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers in a similar situation. The right answer is that it’s been quite some time since you’ve felt the offense is completely clutch. The reason why is baffling. In Ben’s early years he had an uncanny way of making the tough plays whenever needed. You want this to be a Super Bowl season? Then the Steelers offense needs to find its clutch.
The New Parts
The good news is the answer may lie in an unlikely source. Recent Steelers history has demonstrated how tough it is for a rookie wide receiver to make an impact in his first year. JuJu Smith-Schuster might be proving to be the exception. It’s still too early to get too excited, but it’s not difficult to see some flashes of Hines Ward in JuJu.
There is the toughness and blocking ability. But it’s also the clutch, difficult catches that were the most valuable part of Hines’ game. If Big Ben can get another option on critical third downs other than forcing a throw into triple coverage to Brown, then JuJu might end up proving to be this year’s best improvement in the offense.
Why I Write For Steelers Depot
It may shock my legions of detractors, but I actually do write for a living. Just not for Steelers Depot. I write here for pure love. Love of the Steelers. And for a chance to connect with my extended family…Steelers Nation. As to why I scribe for Steelers Depot it’s because, for me, it’s the independent voice of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
A few years back, I was frustrated with some of the decisions the Steelers front office and coaches were making, and just couldn’t get any satisfaction from hearing puff-piece explanations by the team’s paid announcers. Then I found Steelers Depot and was blessed to get an opportunity for my own voice to be heard (which admittedly was a dark day for many).
I think most who read my articles know I have a tendency to…well…share opinions that go somewhat against the grain of those of other Depot writers, including at times the site’s publisher, Dave Bryan. What you don’t know is that other than a spelling error here or there Dave has never edited a single word of mine based on content. Even the opinions he sharply disagreed with. I know people love Steelers Depot for many reasons. Some, mainly for the uber-talented insights of Alex Kozora, or for the prolific and poignant postings of Matthew Marczi.
Maybe, like me, you enjoy the somewhat heated family conversations between writers and commenters. What I wanted you to know, is it’s Dave’s integrity and commitment to bringing unfiltered truth to Depot readers, that is what truly makes this little gathering so special. I’m proud to be part of the Steelers Depot team.
Now let’s go beat them Jaguars.