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Steelers Spin: Band Of Brothers

The Pittsburgh Steelers escaped from what would have been a difficult-to-explain-away loss to the Denver Broncos last Sunday squeaking out a 26-21 victory.

It’s wasn’t by any means a “crushing of the orange” as it should have been, but Steelers Nation should revel in the fact the home team is now 2-0 and clearly boasting one of the most impressive defenses in the league.

Now, here comes the struggling Houston Texans to Heinz Field which means the combined records of teams the Steelers will have faced so far is 0-6.

But, this doesn’t mean this will be a walker by any means, because the Texans record is as much of a reflection of having to play the Kansas City Chiefs and the Baltimore Ravens in their first two games as anything else.

With two conference losses suffered by Houston already, this will be a critical game for them, and expect them to come in with full wattage.

Actually, the Big Watt, as in 31-year-old J.J., comes into town to face his two Steelers brothers in Derek, 27 as well as some little guy named T.J., who is 25.

You’ve got to credit John and Connie Watt for having some mean genes in raising such prolific National Football League talent. It seems an unnecessary cruelty that they can’t watch their boys in person from the stands.

The on-the-field reunion of the brothers makes for a delightful side story, but the real plot here is the Band Of Brothers known as the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers.

They’ve been far from perfect on the field in their first couple of games, but it does certainly seem like this is as close to a true brotherhood of players the team has had in many years.

So, let’s explore what to expect in this star-studded family affair. Let’s give it a Spin.

First…An Important Disclaimer

Before you start pulling out your Steelers pom-poms, and place your black and gold sweatered poodle in your lap as you read this, we have to warn you that the Spin tells it like it is. That’s because our expectations are high. When you’ve got a Hall of Fame quarterback leading your offense, paired with a defense that potentially could rank with some of the franchise’s best ever…then that bar must be high.

I know. I know. They didn’t have a preseason. But…neither did any of the other teams.

And, I get it, poor Big Ben Roethlisberger has been off for a year because of his injury. This is true. But, did you know he’ll get paid roughly about $70,000 per PASS ATTEMPT this season? Yes. That would make him a professional…with a highly competent agent.

Point is. Time for the big boy pants.

Which means…I just got to tell you. That was a pretty anemic win last Sunday against the Broncs.

When the backup quarterback comes in and slaps your highly prized defense around, it saps a lot of joy out of the win.

Jeff Driskel relieved Drew Luck early in the game, shook off an early interception and ended up getting 256 yards and two touchdowns. This is the same Driskel who entered the league in 2016 and is already playing for his fourth team. When he trotted onto the field, he came in “boasting” a 1-7 career record as a starter in the NFL.

The Steelers had a 17-3 lead at the half and got possession at the top of the third quarter. They promptly threw an interception.

Yeah. This should have been a blowout. The Steelers should have earned the opportunity to give QB Mason Rudolph some PT in the fourth quarter.

Thems just the facts. Now…don’t hit me with those pom-poms.

Cause For Pause

There is some cause to be concerned about the team’s pass defense. There has been two games in a row now when CB Joe Hayden has needed binoculars to see the rear license plate of a receiver he was supposed to have been covering.

We’re also still waiting for S Minkah Fitzpatrick to be…well Minkah. Unfortunately, S Terrell Edmunds isn’t experiencing his career breakout year yet, either.

And, these concerns are emerging despite tremendous pass rushing pressure and the fact the Steelers have now faced three quarterbacks with a combined six years of NFL experience.

It’s going to have to get a lot better. And, that improvement will be tested right away against NFL superstar Deshaun Watson this weekend.

It’s time to learn what we really have when it comes to pass defense.

Pressure Cooker

But…all that being said…how about that quarterback pressuring! The Steelers are blitzing heavy and it’s being rewarded with a QB pressure half of the times they send extra forces in.

And even those times when Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler isn’t rolling the dice on a blitz, the team is still leading the league in quarterback freak-outs. That’s big.

What’s probably most impressive is there isn’t a single member of that front line who is disappointing. The level of play is consistently brilliant across jerseys, including those players rotating in, like LB Alex Highsmith, who is already flashing a bright future.

Counterpunch

And, even with the questioning of the pass defense, against mediocre quarterback play, there is something there…there…with this Steelers unit.

In both games already, there have been times when a player has missed an assignment, or the squad gets outfoxed.

Yet, Pittsburgh’s defense is showing a strong counterpunch, and making big plays in response when they take a hit.

Examples of this already are Cam Heyward’s goal line interception against the New York Giants, and the defense’s clutch four down stop on the Broncos last drive. Thereby, once again, ending the game on their own terms.

That’s what we like our defenses in Pittsburgh to do.

Pain Is Gain

You gotta hats off, masks off, towels down and deep bow to RB James Conner for bouncing back from an ankle injury to run as hard as his did against the Broncos. He ended up gaining 106 yards and earning a touchdown on his 16 carries.

How many of us thought he would even get a helmet this game after he went down against the Giants? Once again, he’s living out the title of his book, Fear Is Just A Choice.

Fumble and all, I’d still like to see RB Benny Snell carrying some more weight, but Conner is emerging as this generation’s Rocky Bleier.

Gem In The Rough

WR Diontae Johnson continues to rise in stardom on the Steelers offense. Getting to witness his rapid growth is like watching one of Michelangelo’s marble statues come to life from a block of marble. More and more, he reminds of a young Antonio Brown.

Yet, Diontae is still quite rough around the edges, which is once again a reminder of how incredible a talent Brown was at his peak with the team. Not only did he have all of the fast twitch talents of Johnson, but he was so incredibly polished with all of his movements and clutch catches. Brown really did check all of the boxes. It’s a darn shame. A darn shame.

Get Out Your Six Shooters

The end of the preseason for the Steelers was last week against the Broncos. Big brother J.J. can take all of the smarmy photos with his bros during the week, but he will be all business on Sunday. This Texans team is talented, and there is no way they are going to leave town with an 0-3 record without depleting all of their ammo.

As Fred would say, many years ago, “This is the big one, Elizabeth.” At least, the biggest one thus far, and by far.

It’s going to take a real Band Of Brothers approach by the Steelers to keep this roll rolling.

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