When it comes to Team Turmoil, there doesn’t seem to be a real consensus about just how much the Pittsburgh Steelers’ ample dramas from last season really affected their on-field product. David DeCastro, for example, thinks it’s been way blown out of proportion. Ramon Foster said that everything is forgotten on the field.
Yet Marcus Gilbert seems to believe that the distractions did hold them back during the 2017 season, forcing many games to be close that should not have been, and perhaps even being responsible for the Steelers’ early postseason exit.
Let’s make this pretty clear: you are going to read into these comments what you want to read. If you think the distractions were a football problem, you’re going to believe Gilbert. If you think they were annoying but didn’t really make a difference between the white lines, then you might be more inclined to listen to the others.
“We know if we eliminated those” distractions, he told Ed Bouchette of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette during OTAs, “a lot of those games wouldn’t be as close. We had a lot of close games. Talent only gets you so far, if you eliminate those distractions we can take it as far as we want”.
The Steelers saw a lot of their games decided by just a possession. They won four games in quick succession with a last-minute field goal to open the second half of the season. Even their losses, barring a freaky five-interception game, were close, including one that was decided in overtime.
Gilbert told Bouchette that Head Coach Mike Tomlin “addressed it in the first meeting, but if he has to keep repeating it, you’re not going to be a very good team with issues that distract you from playing football”. Still, he added that they “try not to dwell on it”.
On the other hand, DeCastro feels the series of distractions “wasn’t as big a deal as it was made out to be”, saying, “for the most part, we were pretty locked in”. Foster concurred separately telling Bouchette that “we as a team decide we’re here to play a game”.
One concession was allowed, however, for the first loss of the season to the Chicaco Bears. That was the game prior to which the President made comments directly at football players and criticized them, even suggesting that owners should fire players who kneeled.
“The Chicago week was a distraction”, DeCastro admitted. “I wasn’t ready to go that week and I don’t think anyone was and we played like it”. The team, advised by Tomlin, held a player meeting to decide how to respond the following Sunday because the team wanted them to display unity regardless of what they decided.
That one was certainly a distraction, and one that was initiated from the outside, though they exacerbated the issue for themselves. Other than that, however, I’m inclined to believe that any other shortcomings they had was simply football.