Steelers Spin: Redemption Road

Steelers win 41-17!

It is barely one game removed from a disastrous start to the Pittsburgh Steelers season and immediately there is a call for the heads…of those who called for the heads of the team’s coaching staff.

But wait. Let’s keep this real.

The Steelers just defeated a team in the Atlanta Falcons with a record now standing at 1-4. And in beating the dirty birds, Pittsburgh still allowed Matt Ryan to have a quarterback rating of 99.1.

Yet, one thing is for sure, the Steelers win over the Falcons was huge because it kept them in the game.

At least for one week. This week.

For the Steelers you can reasonably argue they must win this early season divisional showdown in order to keep their chances of making the playoffs to at least a healthy simmer.

It the Bengals prevail, it would give them a record of 5-1 with five wins against AFC teams and with critical wins in the bag against both the Steelers and the Baltimore Ravens.

It would leave the Steelers critically wounded with a dismal 2-3-1 record, with three losses and a tie already against AFC opponents and two losses against Cincinnati and Baltimore in the challenging AFC North.

Would it be over? No… but there would be smoke billowing out of the team bus.

With a win, Pittsburgh would earn an important tiebreaker edge over Cincinnati, and they would be back on track with a respectable 3-2-1 record.

As in…3…2…1…blast off!

So will the Steelers have a successful pit stop in Ohio this weekend, and find themselves accelerating on Redemption Road? Let’s Spin it to learn more.

Colbert’s Coup

There certainly were many players to credit for last weekend’s critical victory over the Falcons, but the most important component was Joe Haden.

His shadow dancing of Julio Jones all over the field last week was reminiscent of the glory days of Ike Taylor when the Steelers could count on the erasure of one super star on opposing offenses.

Since his acquisition on the team a year ago, a brilliant move by General Manager Kevin Colbert, Haden has been the most consistently positive performer on the team’s defense.

Will having him cover the opposing team’s best receiver be the template for the remainder of the season? Should it?

Absolutely. The defense should be built around Joe Haden. Not because he’s necessarily performing at an All Pro level. But, he’s the best we’ve got in the secondary.

Let’s Talk About The Player

James Conner has a point. It’s grating on me as well. Yes…his story is an impressive one of grit and determination in his battle against cancer. And this is a particularly important story for the many people who are fighting the disease. James’s story is a true inspiration.

But he’s a football player first. And a really good one.

He didn’t fight as hard as he did so he could be merely thought of as the “guy who had cancer”. He fought because he wanted to play football again and at a high level.

He’s earned the right to be in the discussion as one of the breakout players in his position in the league. In what can be considered his first full season in the league, his stats show he is a Top Ten performer ahead of players like Melvin Gordon, Alvin Kamara, David Johnson and Jordan Howard in total rush yards.

Let’s first give him respect as a rising star in the NFL. Then, it will make his recovery story all the more remarkable.

Don’t Look Now, But…

Who is leading the NFL in sacks? It’s more like What’s leading the NFL…or at least Watt’s leading. Both T.J. Watt and his more famous older brother J.J. Watt are tied with Geno Atkins with six quarterback takedowns.

And on the other end of the Black and Gold defense is Bud Dupree who has a respectable three sacks already at this point of the year. Is it possible that the Steelers have re-found their Mojo with blitzing edge linebackers?

Now…if we could only get consistent pressure up the middle.

Under Fire

There has been an irrational grumbling about the service of Alejandro Villanueva to his quarterback and team this season. For some reason, he has been the target of much criticism from at least a vocal contingent of Steelers Nation.

How so?

Villanueva is playing one of the most technically challenging positions in the National Football League and is providing left tackle services at a bargain, cap-friendly price.

You can tell how much confidence the team has in him based on the number of times he is left on the island one-on-one with some of the league’s fiercest rushers.

The criticism would be warranted if the team required much-needed resources to double team on the left with a tight end or a chipping running back.

Villanueva remains one of the primary reasons the Steelers boast an elite offensive line and continues to grow in the position every game. Give the man his proper due.

Force It, Please

When Ben Roethlisberger was asked why Antonio Brown wasn’t getting as many opportunities as he was last year, he responded that he was spreading the ball around more and not trying to force it into number 84 as much.

Bad idea.

Force it, brother, force it.

Antonio has been tripled covered, frequently mugged and often abused for years and years now. And he’s still managed to lead the league yards year over year.

Why mess with a good thing? You…have…to…get the ball in Antonio’s hands. That’s when the team’s magic happens.

The game against the Falcons was yet another reminder of how important Antonio remains in regards to the overall explosiveness of the offense. If he is double teamed, he is still not covered.

If the Steelers want to recover their dynamic offense again on a consistent basis then Yoda has the clear answer.

Ben. May the Force be with you.

Earning Their Stripes

There will be an unprecedented level of energy in Cincinnati when the team hosts their hated rivals, the Pittsburgh Steelers. They smell blood in the jungle, and know they have an opportunity to give Pittsburgh a near mortal blow with a victory.

Don’t expect a return of the Bungles. Cincinnati will be up to the challenge for this divisional matchup.

The Steelers are not yet good enough to win games without having a great performance on both sides of the ball. They need to rise to the challenge at all costs.

The Road to Redemption is upon us.

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