Rolling in on the wave of their Jekyll and Hyde victory over the woebegone Miami Dolphins by a score of 27-14, the Pittsburgh Steelers find themselves in the unlikely position of having the opportunity to rise to mediocrity against the surprisingly surging Indianapolis Colts.
If they’re fortunate as the horseshoes on the side of the Colts’ helmets, the Black and Gold can position themselves as a 4-4 contender at the midway point of a rapidly passing season. This would give them a three game winning streak with the wind at their backs heading into the second half of the season.
Yet, if they end up falling on hand grenades against this year’s Andrew Luck-less version of the Colts, the Steelers might end up mortally wounding this year’s playoff hopes.
Didn’t we say that last week? And the week before?
Such is the life of teams that begin their season with a 1-4 record. It’s the doggie paddle for them through the rest of this year’s swim.
Unfortunately for Pittsburgh, the Colts will prove to be a tough out as they are on a Cinderella ride of their own on the shoulders of Jacoby Brissett. They’ll enter Heinz Field boasting a three game winning streak highlighted by victories against both the Houston Texans and the Kansas City Chiefs.
The Steelers believe they are a much improved team than the one that stumbled out of the gate at the top of the season, and they are ready now to jockey themselves into contention.
Two horses. One bone. This Colts game is shaping up to being their greatest challenge of the year.
So…let’s give it a Spin.
Dysfunctional Family Reunion?
Just like chum for the sharks, the Spin is helplessly drawn to Steelers drama and intrigue, so we can’t help but begin by discussing Le’Veon Bell’s proclamation this week that the Steelers were one of several teams interested in a trade for the New York-based rapper.
Should we doubt him? Should we be shocked? No. This has been a long, strange trip of a year for the Steelers front office. And, with whatever they’re smoking, a move like that would seem to perfectly fill the chill.
With the trade deadline passed and the carriage turned back into a pumpkin, this speculation will have to move to the offseason, but don’t dismiss it as Fake News.
Both Bell and Antonio Brown went All In on Mo Money and they both busted out. If Bell is already trade bait for the New York Jets with only a few games played this season, you can be sure his Speed Dating with Gotham City is about to come to an end.
Where will he go? He has two choices. The life of a journeyman. Or Redemption Road back through Pittsburgh. With Brown’s career nearly totally off the rails, he could use that dusty, dirt road even more than Bell.
You may say both stories are completely over in Pittsburgh. There is not a chance that one or both of them would ever wear a Steelers uniform again.
Me? I’m not so sure. Stranger things…are happening in Pittsburgh lately.
I think it’s fair to say, and not overly unkind, that sophomore wide receiver James Washington has yet to endear Steelers fans with his regular season catch making prowess. Doesn’t matter. What Steelers Nation really cares about is that their receivers will flatten defensive backs and linebackers. Washington’s pancake block to clear out the last human obstacle to Diontae Johnson’s end-of-the-half scintillating touchdown run will be in his highlight reel for years to come. Welcome to the Pittsburgh Steelers, young man.
Speaking Of Hines
Speaking of receivers who flatten defenders, JuJu Smith-Schuster is looking more like Hines Ward than Antonio Brown and there is nothing wrong with that. Smith-Schuster was quoted this week as saying that if he’s being covered one-on-one, consider him open, even if it doesn’t look that way. It’s true. He’s a big time battler and his “give me the darn ball” over the shoulder catch against the Dolphins was more than impressive. The flip side to this is that he’s not getting much separation in his role as the team’s top receiver. This is even when he’s being single covered. To remedy this, his coaches might consider giving him the Hines Ward treatment. Ward was not blessed with great speed, but he was able to use motions, teammate picks and inside slotting to be able to manufacture separation and to experience tremendous success. It may be time to start getting creative in this way with Smith-Schuster as well.
Who’s Number One?
Teams might be settling in on only investing a single cornerback in the coverage of Smith-Schuster until he makes them regret it. Actually, the receiver on the Steelers who might be demanding double coverage before too long is Diontae Johnson. Considering he is still just a raw rookie, he’s starting to show flashes of being the most dynamic player on the offense. Don’t be surprised if both Mason Rudolph and opposing defenses start giving him more attention as the season progresses.
Can We Average It Out?
There is no denying that Bud Dupree is enjoying his finest year as a Pittsburgh Steeler. And, wouldn’t you know, it’s just in time for the end of his rookie contract. It’s a lot easier to be okay with a player like Smith-Schuster to get a big payout, because he’s been earning since the day he first stepped on the field. But, with a very late bloomer like Dupree, it’s more difficult to see the team inking a big contract. Wouldn’t it be great if these players would base their contract negotiations on the average of their entire five years production? If Dupree would do that, he could probably end up with a healthy, long-term career as a Pittsburgh Steeler as it looks like he’s hitting his prime.
The Stars Are Aligning
Don’t look now, but the Steelers defense is beginning to look like a team full of rising, young stars. T.J. Watt, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Steven Nelson, Devin Bush and you can put Dupree in there as well. Don’t forget what Stephon Tuitt was doing before he went down and you’ve still got a fair amount of tread on the tires of Cameron Heyward and Joe Haden. Add to this, the rising fortunes of Javon Hargrave, Mike Hilton and Sutton and all of the sudden you’re looking at least a decade of REAL Steelers football ahead. Exciting.
The Kid’s Got Bounce
I’m one of the biggest Mason Rudolph fans out there. But, after his dismal start in the must-win game against the Dolphins even I was eyeing the Bullpen to see if Devlin Hodges was loosening up his arm last Monday. Yet, me of little faith, I did hang in there with Mason and I was warmly rewarded. The kid’s got bounce. This is not the first time where he has faced sharp adversity, and has not cracked. Once again, he dusted himself off, and finished the game with poise and promise. He’s winning the franchise…each and every game.
Steelers Nation Speaks
Who was the MVP of the Dolphins game? It might very well have been those sitting in the seats at Heinz Field. The Steelers came out so flat and uninspired against the awful Dolphins that toward the end of the second quarter, Steelers Nation let them have it with a robust round of boos. I was booing through my television, weren’t you? The good news is that it worked. If the coaches weren’t going to give the team a firm helmet slap, then we were going to take care of it ourselves. Sometimes, they just gotta hear the cold, hard truth from those love them the most. As it turns out, the Steelers played close to flawless from that moment forward. You’re welcome.
We Don’t Know Jack
Who is this 2019 version of the Pittsburgh Steelers? Who knows? We’ve lost to good teams and we’ve beaten bad teams. This game against the surging Colts will clearly separate the wheat and chaff.
Are we on the rise? Can we get good enough to squeeze into the playoffs? And, once there, can we do more than make a brief appearance?
We don’t know jack. But, we will much better informed after this game.
Horseshoes or hand grenades? We’re about to find out.