Here we are, one game into the barely hatched 2018 NFL season and the Pittsburgh Steelers already have chief concerns…primarily that the terribly offensive Kansas City Chiefs are coming into town.
Secondarily, the team is coming off an…uh um…tie with the woeful Cleveland Browns. C’mon…the Browns? I mean, you’ve got be a team that has been really knocked around to be featured on Hard Knocks.
The 21-21 tie with Cleveland—a team writing paychecks to offensive coordinator and Steelers Nation castaway Todd Haley—has a distinctively familiar bad taste to it. It’s one of those…je ne sais quoi…blemish-on-the-record type of games that will certainly haunt at playoff seeding time in just a few months.
One truism that is not debatable at this point in Coach Mike Tomlin’s career: he struggles mightily in securing wins against prolific losers and probably always will.
Probably the most painful part of the tie is that the Steelers actually played a fairly strong game…until they didn’t.
But, let’s not waste our steely gaze in depressing rear view mirrors. If we don’t keep both hands on the wheel, and eyes on the road ahead, we’re likely to get scalped by the Chiefs, who have arguably the most dynamic offense in the league.
So…let’s get this vinyl spinning…
In Our Face
Yes..it was just the Cleveland Browns. But this is a much upgraded version of their offense. So, the strong effort by the Steelers defense should not be easily brushed aside. The cornerbacks covered and the linebackers tackled. Obviously T.J. Watt had an electrifying performance, but it was also arguably Vince Williams’ best game as a Steeler. Jon Bostic also added some positive sparks and even Bud Dupree put in a solid performance.
Although they were unable to shut the Browns down when it mattered most, the defense mostly did a great job at overcoming the many turnovers suffered by their offense. The Steelers opening salvo by their defense is a shot across the bow of those who have doubted this could be a breakout season for the team’s lesser unit.
Running Is A Team Sport
James Conner will be the prime benefactor of Le’Veon Bell’s lack of negotiating skills, and this opportunity for him to establish himself as an NFL starter will be significantly enhanced by the rise of his impressive supporting cast. It was amazing to observe how fired up the offensive line was in the running game and the result were gaping holes throughout the match. Conner demonstrated he knew what to do with a little wiggle room and the team has yet to tear off the promising wrapping paper of Stevan Ridley and Jaylen Samuels who no doubt are anxious to put their shoulder into this impressive team effort. Win without Bell? Conner and the offensive line answered that question succinctly last week.
The running game will be just fine, thank you very much, without their disgruntled, no-call, no-show employee.
The Preservation Society
I really don’t know why the Steelers continue to believe they can put their key offensive players in a plastic bubble during the preseason without suffering a slow start at the beginning of the season. Ben Roethlisberger once again proved he is a WD-40 quarterback. It clearly takes him a while and a lot of oil in the joints to shake off the offseason rust.
There is no other way to say it…this team isn’t built to overcome poor performances by its most important player.
With a stronger and rapidly developing quarterback bullpen, Pittsburgh can afford to take more risks with giving Big Ben the reps he needs to be ready for primetime.
Mr. Rodgers Neighborhood
Roethlisberger could learn something important by rolling tape on Aaron Rodgers’ impressive fourth quarter comeback victory last week for the Green Bay Packers. After going down in the first half of the game with what looked like a potentially season-ending knee injury, Rodgers returned to the field and moved his team up and down the field on basically one hopping leg. How did he do it? By shortening his release and getting the ball off to his receivers on time. Roethlisberger was both inaccurate and indecisive against the Browns and needs to find a groove where he is trusting the play calls as well as his receivers.
The Steelers offense could use a Mariano Rivera, Trevor Hoffman, Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith or Goose Gossage on the team. Tomlin teams have consistently been challenged with closing out games. To be a championship team they need to be able to close with confidence. Instead, it’s always more of a coin flip and that is not a winning percentage if their intention is to be champs this year. It’s really not a talent issue, but one of mentality. The offense should never be throttled down when the Steelers have a lead, but this is a lesson that Tomlin seems unable or unwilling to learn.
Until the Steelers offense is allowed to step on the pedal, rather than the brake, when they have a lead, Pittsburgh will continue to be vulnerable to mind blowing blown leads.
Pass The Breath Mints
As consistently poor as Tomlin has been in avoiding bad performances against bad teams, he is equally adapt at having impressive bounceback games against quality teams. The arrival of a tough Chiefs team reeks of poor timing because the Steelers don’t look ready to face top teams. At the same token, a win against the Chiefs could be exactly what Steelers Nation needs to get rid of the bad taste in their mouths. More importantly, Pittsburgh would be able to position themselves ahead of a Kansas City team that appears to be playoff grade. The Steelers should have won last week.
Championship teams win early and often.
Yes…this Chiefs game matters.