If I have my finger on the pulse of the fan base as well as I think I do—and I probably don’t—then the hottest topic of the day will not be that the Pittsburgh Steelers are 7-2, their best record this deep into the season in a decade. It probably won’t even be the Joe Haden injury.
It will be the fact that the Steelers came out and barely beat a pretty bad Colts team as they came off their bye week. And the unfortunate truth is that it’s not an improper, or unfair, discussion to have. After all, the team lost their three most recent games coming out of the bye, albeit with extenuating circumstances.
But there were none yesterday. In fact, the Steelers were the healthiest they’ve been literally in years, the first time that they started a game with all 22 intended starters on both offense and defense since the second week of the 2014 season.
Yet in spite of the fact that they had an extra week of rest—which helped allow them to get Marcus Gilbert, Stephon Tuitt, Vance McDonald, and Mike Mitchell back—and in spite of the fact that they had an extra week of preparation, they still barely beat a team that had only previously beaten three bad and injury-riddled teams.
That can’t be ignored. You can qualify it in as many ways as you would like, but at the end of the day, there is no reason that the Steelers should have required a time-expiring field goal to beat this year’s Colts, and that was with an even turnover margin.
So why did the team struggle so much to put away the Colts? There were two bad plays on the defense that cost them critically, 60-plus-yard touchdown passes on busted coverages, but the offense really struggled throughout the first half.
Players weren’t happy with it, and they shouldn’t be. Ryan Shazier told Jeremy Fowler, “before the game some people even told me it almost didn’t feel like a game day”, implying that that many of his teammates were experiencing something of a post-bye hangover.
That is not exactly encouraging for a team with real ambitions to secure a first-round bye week, and especially one that is now just barely 1-3 in their past four games following a week off over the course of the past four years.
There will always be blame to go around when it comes to things like this, an inability to properly mentally prepare yourself for the moment, but it ultimately falls to the individual. Many players talked during the bye week about the timeliness of the week off and of how they can’t take their foot off the gas.
Bye-week malaise or not, this is still a team that is putting down too many bad plays in all phases of the game to not have some level of worry about their ability to see this season through to the Super Bowl.