The Pittsburgh Steelers are the last of the unbeatens, the only team with a goose egg in the loss column through the first seven weeks of the season. Pittsburgh, Tennessee, and Seattle were the final three heading into this week. The Steelers held on to beat the Titans while the Seahawks fell in a classic, wacky overtime game to the Arizona Cardinals.
With that mark, the Steelers are making some franchise history. They are the first Pittsburgh Steelers team to enter a new week as the only undefeated team in the NFL.
I word that sentence carefully. In 1978 and 2010, the Steelers were among the final unbeaten teams but lost in the same week as the others. In ’78, they and the Los Angeles Rams both went down in Week 8. Technically, the Steelers were the last unbeaten team, losing on Monday night after the Rams fell the day before. In 2010, the Steelers, Bears, and Chiefs all lost in Week Four.
But this is the first time Pittsburgh’s starting a new week of the NFL season as the only team without a blemish. The last two unbeaten teams of the last two seasons, the 2018 Rams and 2019 49ers, each went to the Super Bowl. Just saying – early morning stats of the weird for yinz guys.
So how did they get here? A physical, attacking defense. One that gets after the quarterback, 26 sacks through the first six weeks. Tops in the NFL. One that takes the football away. Nine of them so far, well on their way to that magic number of 25 for the season. A group that sells out to stop the run, makes teams one-dimension, and keeps in check some of football’s top rushing attacks. Cleveland did no damage against Pittsburgh two weeks ago. Derrick Henry had his moments but largely subdued yesterday.
The Steelers’ offense is thriving again under Ben Roethlisberger. Not without its issues, mind you, and the second half of yesterday was undeniably ugly. But there’s weapons galore, Roethlisberger is still playing really well – don’t let the last half hour of yesterday tell you otherwise – with James Conner running hard and the offensive line getting the job done.
Special teams have been solid too. More than that at times, honestly. Ray-Ray McCloud has been a gem in the return game, kicks and punts, and the blocking has been night and day better than last year (or the year before, or the year before that…). Chris Boswell has been rock steady and don’t worry, I won’t retell the stat that will get me yelled at for jinxing him. Jordan Berry…can’t be worse than Dustin Colquitt, right?
And overall, this team has played mistake and penalty free. Again, not far from perfect, they’re not league leaders in either category, especially after yesterday’s performance, but any issues that have popped up were quickly corrected. Terrible third down defense against the Eagles? Fixed a week later to blow out the Browns.
Next men have stepped up. Whether those are emerging rookies like Chase Claypool or Kevin Dotson. Robert Spillane playing like Chad Brown yesterday. Youngsters like Terrell Edmunds turning the corner, Cam Sutton putting in a really productive season, Chukwuma Okorafor from the bench to bonafide starting material. The team-first mentality of the skill players. JuJu Smith-Schuster being an awesome teammate. Eric Ebron equal sources of levity and big plays downfield.
Coaching has played a role too. Keith Butler legitimately improving the team’s scheme, not trapping itself into matchup and personnel nightmares, and letting his athletes play like the vultures they are. Randy Fichtner leaving his ego at the door to incorporate Matt Canada’s ideas. An offense buying into motion as a constant three years too late but hey, better late than never. Mike Tomlin leading it all, hopefully now getting the national attention and respect that’s long overdue.
Pittsburgh will lose a game this year. And if they don’t, I will gladly be the first to tell you how wrong I was. After that loss, we’ll come back and stomp our feet about Fichtner, Tomlin, whatever player was the loser of the week. That’s just baked into the cake of an NFL season, a roller coaster ride of emotions and high blood pressure.
Bring this article back up when the time comes. Fight against being a prisoner of the moment. This is a good team. A really good team. I don’t know if they’ll win it all, a playoff circuit of potential dates with the Ravens, Chiefs, rematch against the Titans, is daunting. But this team has a shot to bring home #7. Right now, they’re on top of the football world. Enjoy it.