Just a few weeks before what is frightfully shaping up to be another hanging chad of a presidential election, Pennsylvania will have another contest (albeit a slightly less significant one) in determining the State’s finest football team as the Pittsburgh Steelers face the Philadelphia Eagles.
For the first time this year during a Steelers game, there will be non-cardboard cutout fans attending in Heinz Field, although their numbers will be more than a full zero shy of normal body density. As in only 5,500 lottery winners.
That’s right, the stadium will be less than ten percent of its full capacity (68,400) so each fortunate fan will have to be at least ten times as loud as normal. And, who’s complaining? After all, the Spin is a Heinz ketchup bottle half full type of guy.
So…cheer up Steelers Nation. They’re letting some of us in…and those who do breach the walls? Make sure you open the back door for the rest of us to slip in.
Rejoice! Renegade will be rattling the stadium speakers once again. And, with this year? Boy, do we need to cheer and sing. So, let’s give this a Spin.
Good Job Taking Out The Trash
As we head into the quarter turn of the regular season, it’s the Spin’s duty and honor as always to temper the enthusiasm of all of you unrepentant homers.
I do hate to be the wet Terrible Towel around here, but including the team they are about to face in the Philadelphia Eagles, the Steelers opponents thus far have a combined record of 2-13-1.
In other words, the National Football League schedulers clearly stuffed the ballot box in favor of the Black and Gold. Now granted, beating the league’s dregs has never been Coach Mike Tomlin’s forte, and he and his coaching staff should be applauded for finally clearing these low bars without tripping.
We all know he much prefers to unleash Hell against more formative opponents, but perhaps the way the Steelers have consistently and uncharacteristically been beating down the downtrodden is truly a sign this might be a special year.
Still, there is no playing hodgey, dodgey with the facts. The Harlem Globetrotters have had more difficult schedules than the one the Steelers are enjoying thus far.
Are We Being Overly Defensive?
Many NFL pundits and somewhere close to the absolute entirety of Steelers Nation are crowning Pittsburgh already as the top defensive unit in the league. But, are we maybe getting a little ahead of ourselves?
The teams the Steelers have faced are offensively ranked as being…well, very rank. When you look at the offensive rankings of the Houston Texans (26th), Denver Broncos (29th) and the New York Giants (31st), it’s clear that Pittsburgh hasn’t exactly been taking on the Greatest Show On Turf, Air Coryell…or even this year’s Kansas City Chiefs for that matter.
Even if you take out the games these woeful opponents have played against the Steelers defense, these teams are averaging less than 17 points on offense each game.
Do the Steelers have the best defense in the NFL? Sorry, Steelers fans. This is yet to be determined, and it won’t be conclusively decided in this game against struggling Carson Wentz and his fellow Eagles.
Those Darn Cliches
But…let us be reminded. For a change, the Steelers are winning the games they SHOULD win. We should be grateful…very grateful…that we haven’t been tortured by the most hackneyed cop-out cliches coaches throw at us like t-shirts up to the stadium seats at halftime. Statements like, “On any given Sunday.” And…“They get a paycheck too.”
This does seem to be a different team. And, a different year. Obviously.
Nine Yards Deep
The most exciting new offensive player on the Steelers roster? It might just be kick returner Ray-Ray McCloud. He’s looked absolutely explosive with the ball in his hands, and I’m personally green lighting him to take them out, even if he catches them nine yards deep in the endzone.
Maybe he should be getting more reps as a punt returner as well. His young NFL career thus far has revealed a bad case of the dropsies when it comes to punt returns, but maybe he’s put that shadowy past behind him and can make a career out of being a two-way special teams returner.
Diontae Johnson has shown flashes of brilliance as well in that role, but he gets plenty of opportunities on offense. Sharing is a beautiful thing.
Finally, it looks like Tomlin has gotten over his baffling affection for returners who are more suited for producing five yards and a cloud of dust. Hopefully, it’s now a McCloud of gold dust that will bring excitement back to Steelers kickoff returns.
Bringing It Home
What was most impressive during the Steelers 28-21 victory over the Houston Texans? (Which does seem like a couple of months ago, actually.) Well…there are quite a few things to choose from, including the Steelers defense coming out of the halftime locker room and shutting the lights off of the Texans offense.
But, my favorite moment of the game was when Pittsburgh’s offense closed the game out with nearly five minutes worth of stampeding the ball over Houston’s cowboy hats.
It was a memorable last impression by the offensive line and is exactly the way you want to win games, and championships. Especially, down the road, when it could be players like Patrick Mahomes, Russell Wilson, Aaron Rodgers and Lamar Jackson having to watch with helplessness from the sidelines.
Playoff Bound Riverhounds
For all well-rounded Pittsburgh sports fans, we should note there is another football team in town operating in impressive fashion. It’s the fútbol version of football as the Pittsburgh Riverhounds play their first game today in this year’s USL Championship Playoffs.
As luck would have it, their first playoffs battle is against Louisville City, and this early round match might well feature the two top teams in the entire league.
If you haven’t been following them, you should jump on the riverboat as they have a good chance to bring another trophy to the Steel City, with an exciting team lead by Pittsburgh native Robbie Mertz.
He’s joined by a roster overflowing with talent including the USL’s all-time assist leader in Kenardo Forbes and a Steel Curtain worthy defense manned by Thomas Vancaeyezeele (who clearly bought too many vowels), Ryan James and Danny Vitiello, who won the league’s top goalie honors.
My personal fan favorite is young midfielder Anthony Velarde, who as team photographer I got to shoot all through his dynamic tenure at Fresno Pacific University.
The Battleground State
Are the Philadelphia Eagles better than their 1-2-1 record would lead you to believe?
Ummm…not really. They managed to lose to the generic brand Washington Football Team and also tied the eternally rebuilding franchise known well to us as the Cincinnati Bengals. They also got rammed by the Los Angeles Rams.
They are, however, on a one game winning streak, pulling off a victory against the Super Bowl runner-ups San Francisco 49ers. But, that game was won against a 49ers team who in desperation ended up throwing two quarterbacks up against them, and none of them were named Jimmy Garoppolo.
So, win the Steelers should. And, win the Steelers must.
This hopefully impending victory would make Pittsburgh’s first quarter of the 2020 season shiny and in mint condition. It’s been a long time, since the Steelers have been this perfect at the beginning of their schedule.
And for the 5,500 chosen ones who get to watch in person? Make us proud.