The Pittsburgh Steelers put the finishing touches on the disappointing season of the Cleveland Browns with a critical 20-13 victory in front of their exultant home crowd.
Oh…how sweet the revenge was in Helmetgate 2.0, and it came as a result of dominant line play from both the Steelers offense and defense.
Emerging through the clouds of victory as an unlikely hero was one Devlin “Duck” Hodges, who was assisted greatly by the rising star power of wide receiver James Washington, who is reaffirming the front office’s reputation of drafting quality catchers.
And heck…somehow this year, even the defense is catching the ball, one key interception after another, as the ghost of Ike Taylor has finally been exorcised in the Steelers secondary.
Well, sorry to go all Eeyore on you Steelers fans, but only the facts ma’am are served up in the Spin.
Hindsight Is 2020…Or…7-5
Is this the greatest turnaround story in Steelers history, or is this just another season following a predictable script?
The Steelers looked truly abysmal the beginning of the year, and that was before their franchise quarterback Ben Roethlisberger starting rubbing his elbow on the field while displaying an unsettled expression.
Pittsburgh was 1-4 to start the season and the future was so bleak, everyone was wearing shades.
But then, according to local folklore, Head Coach Mike Tomlin decided to unleash hell starting in mid-October and turned this team around.
Yet, is that what really happened?
As it turns out, the teams Pittsburgh suffered their first four losses to in New England, Seattle, San Francisco and Baltimore are each now boasting 10-2 records. The only win the Steelers got in the beginning was against the Cincinnati Bengals who are now 1-11.
What does that mean? The Steelers weren’t THAT bad in the beginning of the year. It wasn’t a matter of being “turned around” as much as it was they needed to play weaker competition.
And, that’s what happened when Pittsburgh got on “a roll” by winning six out of their next seven games. The combined records of their fallen foes during that period now stand a combined shamefest of 26-46.
What does this mean?
That Tomlin didn’t deserve as much grief as he got when the team stumbled out of the gate at 1-4.
And, it also means that he isn’t a sure fire, can’t miss, coach of the year candidate because of an amazing team turnaround.
The team record is 7-5, and I think it’s safe to grade the overall coaching of the Steelers in the same measure, with Tomlin helping his squad out a fair deal on the curve. As a group, they currently rank above average. About 7-5.
Is this team ascending toward greatness? Is this Tomlin’s greatest performance in a Steelers jacket yet? Maybe.
Unfortunately, we probably won’t know that answer until the playoffs begin. That’s because we play the Cardinals next who are 3-8. The Bills present a difficult challenge with a record of 9-3, but they are certainly in the second tier of top AFC opponents.
Then there are the New York Jets who are 4-8 (hope you are enjoying the money Le’Veon). Finally, the team faces potentially a season defining game against the Ravens. But…that’s only if Baltimore isn’t sitting out half of their squad because they’ve already clinched home field throughout.
What is undeniable at this point is something we already long knew about Tomlin. He keeps his locker room together through all storms. He excels in this area like few other coaches.
But beyond this, the season is pretty much going according to what should have been expected. This is not a dominant Steelers team, mainly because the offense is transitioning. Predictably they’ve been beaten by the great teams, and have bested the weaker ones.
How good is this team, really? TBD.
One Minor Point
Okay…people love to say, “Tomlin is doing all of this with a third string quarterback.” Others have called Devlin Hodges a fourth string quarterback referring to the exodus of Josh Dobbs who is now with the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Neither of those references is true. Dobbs is not on the team, and Mason Rudolph is not the number two quarterback anymore. He is currently the number three quarterback and is on the bench because of performance issues, not because he’s injured and had to be replaced.
Which means…Hodges is simply the backup quarterback. He’s number two on the team. And, when your number one quarterback is 37 years old, any organization should expect to play their backup at some point in the season.
The coaching staff isn’t performing miracles with a fourth string quarterback. They are simply doing what should have been expected of them.
I know. Irritating, aren’t I? Just keeping things in proper perspective.
While I’m At It
Since I’m down to the last few friends I have now, I might as well talk about another quote this week that really got me. It was from one of my favorite players, Cam Heyward, who is clearly one of the most important guys on this generation of Steelers.
Cam said, “I love that at the beginning of the year, everybody was counting us out. Everybody was ready to throw in the towel. Not a lot of teams come back from 0-3.”
Now, while I understand that sentiment is “true” at times coming from the perspective of players, it’s absolute nonsense when speaking of Steelers Nation.
When the team shows up to a game at Heinz Field and EVERY seat is empty and not a single Terrible Towel is being spun, and when Black and Gold fans stop hijacking opponent’s stadiums and when the Christmas wish lists of kids young and old, and even very old, cease to include reams of Steelers paraphernalia, much of it widely excessive and unnecessary…then and only then can you make any references to “everybody was ready to throw in the towel.”
Please Cam. A little respect for Steelers Nation. Yes. We get understandably grumpy when the team starts off at 0-3, but we NEVER throw in the towel…we only spin it.
Troy Vs. Ed
C’mon. Are people still debating that Ed Reed was a better player than Troy Polamalu? Apparently so this week, as it was Reed in and Polamalu out when it came to the NFL 100 All-Time Team.
First of all…Reed was a great, great, ball hawking safety. No doubt about it.
But, if you are a general manager in need of a safety and you’ve got both of those players in their prime, there ain’t no way you’re going to leave Polamalu on the draft board.
Polamalu was like none other. He played safety, linebacker and cornerback for you…all at the same time. And he ball hawked…like Reed.
This is like the “producers pick” in shows such as American Idol when they are in the backroom arguing, “The guy can’t hold a note, but people love that crazy haircut.”
The ONLY reason Ed made the list instead of Troy was because there were already too many Steelers and too few Ravens. Which is the way…it should be if the system wasn’t rigged.
And why we’re on that subject. Somebody give Donnie Shell a yellow jacket, please.
And Now…Some Sunshine
Before the hate mail starts filling my in-box, you all should know that I am thrilled with the job Mike Tomlin has done with the team this year. In particular, I love that the prima donnas are gone and it’s back to good ol’ Stillers football again.
I’m firmly convinced this defense has turned a corner, and because of the preponderance of youthful exuberance, they should be dominant for another decade now. And, if it’s not for another five decades, I’ll be very disappointed with the front office.
As far as the offense? Ah…who cares, really? Just keep blocking for us, big boys. We like it when you run over the opposing defense and our guys get to dance through Sherman tank sized holes.
This is easily one of my favorite seasons of the past ten. How about you?
Birds Of Another Feather
Have the Steelers reached a pocket in their schedule in this game against the Arizona Cardinals where they can take a deep breath and relax a bit?
After all, the Cardinals are 3-8 on the season and are on a bad streak of five losses in a row. Their offense is erratic and their defense is both bending and breaking.
So…can the Steelers go down to Winslow, Arizona and just Take It Easy?
Hold onto those horses, folks. This is going to be another burr in the saddle of the Steelers season.
Rookie quarterback Kyle Murray is on the brink of getting this whole NFL quarterback thing figured out, and Pittsburgh has never done well gathering frequent flyer miles on long flights to the West.
Will the Duck keep things flying for the Steelers? Or will hopes for a playoff run start migrating south?
Don’t miss this one, Stelelers Nation. It will be more entertaining than it should be.