The first day of the National Football League is when the irrationally delusional are forced to face their true destiny. As Clint would say, “A man’s gotta know his limitations” and teams soon will as well.
“This is the year!” shout the fans of the thirty-two teams as the inaugural whistle sounds, yet there is only one group among them who will actually be speaking the truth.
At some point in the season, the rest will have to tuck their collective tails under their sorry carcasses, and do the walk of shame out of their man or woman cave, stadium or favorite sports bar.
For years, this brightly reddened face has been one for Steelers Nation to endure, mostly while cursing Tom Brady under…and in many cases…over their breath.
Buy, this year…could…they…go all…the way?
That’s the question, dear Steelers fans. Let’s explore it in this special season-hatching edition of the Spin.
You Missed The Bus, Gus
On Saturday, the Pittsburgh Steelers left the team bus station without Le’Veon Bell, easily one of their most talented players. His vacant seat on the bus all but officially confirms that it was never a money issue at all with Bell in regard to his ongoing contract disputes. It was 100% ego. His failure to show up meant he surrendered the opportunity to earn $855,000 of Rooney bitcoin by merely sitting on the team bus and gazing at the passing Cleveland landscape. He may be on the pathway to forfeit millions this season, but his biggest loss is the backing of his teammates, all of whom he threw under this same bus.
Shame On Me Times Three
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.
We get that. But, what if the guy has fooled the front office and the coaching staff time after time after time again? It must be acknowledged that it speaks to a blatant level of incompetence…or at least to a tremendous and extraordinarily costly miscalculation by the team’s experts.
Long-term Bell apologists can be found roaming the streets of Pittsburgh with their hands covering their mouths in disbelief saying, “Who would have ever known?”
Well…about several million of us who were calling for Bell to be shipped off when he was hit with his second suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.
You don’t fix selfish. I hope the Steelers have learned this lesson for the last time. And regardless of whether Bell returns or not, if they treat him any differently in strategy or playing time than a fourth string running back on the team…then they will irreparably embarrass the organization and its fans.
Who Cares? Really.
What would you rather have? A prima donna running back with a line that resents him…or a top tier offensive line that is determined to show they could make a 2,000-yarder out of even Rich Eisen this season? I’m giving the ball to the Steelers O-Line, all of them with a massive chip on their shoulder.
James Conner…a talented and personable young man who fought back from cancer? I think we’ll block for him. I’d love to see what Jaylen Samuels can do with the rock in his hands and Stevan Ridley has impressed as well. Move along…move along with the past lies and disappointment. There is nothing more to see here.
The Fountain Of Youth
There has been some discussion as to whether or not former Steelers quarterback Landry Jones should have been treated better by the team’s fans. Many…the same folks who have been arguing that Jones is a top flight NFL backup…are still claiming the veteran’s release was a big mistake. Even Ben Roethlisberger was not only lobbying on behalf of Jones, but claimed he was shocked upon his former wingman’s release.
But two facts remain. One, if Jones was the top backup that so many writers claimed, would he not have been swept up by say…thirty one other teams the moment he hit waivers? And two, how effective was Jones at providing Big Ben with the level of competition that would keep him on edge?
Uh…this was no Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo saga, where Tom Perfect went sobbing into Bill Belichick’s office saying, “Why do you love him more than me?” Jones was never a threat to Big Ben, which is why Roethlisberger was able to talk so openly about retirement prior to the 2017 season, and why his offseason regimen consisted entirely of rolling tape on the Casey Hampton Workout Video Series.
The drafting of Mason Rudolph proved to be the Fountain of Youth for Roethlisberger. The old warrior has come in fit, primed for battle, and talking about contract extensions this summer. Even Josh Dobbs has showed there are two Young Guns, ready and willing for hire which means for the first time in years, there is live ammunition ricocheting around the quarterback stable.
Jones was never drafted to spend five years being groomed as a backup NFL quarterback. He came in as a potential heir apparent, and early on, despite a prolific college career, it was clear he wasn’t up to the task. There is no shame in that, because he enjoyed (at least) several years of having one of the best jobs on the planet. He’s bright and one of the highest character people to come through the Steelers. He’ll excel greatly moving forward. No one needs to feel sorry for him.
But for the first time in many years, there is enthusiasm and buzz about the quarterbacks on the Steelers, from top to bottom. Personally, I hope we see Big Ben be our starter for another five Hall of Fame years. But, I don’t think he’ll come to camp out of shape and riding in a golf cart again, at least if he wants to continue as the team’s unquestioned Number One.
The Arrow Is Pointing Up
The defense for the Steelers is clearly on the rise. But that’s only because the expectations for them by their fans is so low. Many in the outside herd of pundits are looking to the Steelers to potentially be a top defense this year in the NFL, but that’s only because they have been fooled by the statistics.
Yes, Pittsburgh got a boatload of sacks last year, but did they really look as impressive as the team’s past great defenses in getting to the quarterback? No. They didn’t.
And tight ends? Is there a single player on the Steelers roster that can actually cover one? If I was an opposing offensive coordinator I think I would line up every time in a four tight end set.
Then there is the run stopping. Oh my. Will somebody please tackle?
Finally, is this a truly “clutch” defense that can make the critical stop when necessary? There hasn’t been any evidence of this to date.
All of that being said, the Pittsburgh Steelers defense is young, and rebuilt and has many players that could raise their game to a whole new level. It would really only take two or three of the players to breakout to allow this team to…finally…re-establish its identity on defense.
T.J. Watt? Artie Burns? Sean Davis? Bud Dupree? Terrell Edmunds? Javon Hargrave? Mike Hilton? Stephon Tuitt? Who among you is ready to be among the league’s best?
So…What Does This All Mean Grasshopper?
Don’t let the preceding ranting and raving above discourage you at all Steelers Nation. The 2018 Pittsburgh Steelers are locked and loaded for another run deep into the post-season. The challenge for all of us faithful followers is we’ve been in this same stage of belief…and delusion…for the past four years.
The Steelers have been just like an overly self-conscious teenage camel looking at themselves in the mirror. They just can’t get over the hump.
The answer this year is simple. Stop hoping that Le’veon Bell and Martavis Bryant would make better decisions and move forward with a team over player mentality that has always been…and always will be the secret ingredient to winning championships.
Big Ben, this powerful and incentivized offensive line, and an incredibly entertaining pool of receivers are plenty sufficient to raise the ultimate prize.
The Lombardi cherry and whip cream on top? A defense that pleasantly surprises…and Run Conner Run.