Winter is coming.
Perhaps, it was the appearance of a dire wolf that tipped this off. Or maybe the displacement of the Wildlings. But, that’s all fantasy, because the real reason is clear.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are playing the Baltimore Ravens. Can you feel the chill of the wintry breezes all around you?
It’s the bold and exciting, face of the future in Prince Lamar, taking on the old grizzled veteran of a swordsman in Lord Roethlisberger.
Yes, we’ve heard stories of the young Bengalian, his days are surely yet to come. And, then there is the faint glimmer of hope that Sir Mayfield will somehow rally his soldiers from the seemingly eternal ranks of disappointment.
But, the North remembers. It always has, and it probably always will.
Ravens versus Steelers. This is what matters. Because NFL Football, is the ultimate game of thrones.
So, let’s give this tale a Spin.
Filed somewhere in the “Who Really Cares?” folder are the style points amassed during the Steelers 27-23 squeaker of a win over the Tennessee Titans. This was one of those seasonal encounters where you channel your inner Al Davis and say, “Just win, Baby.” That’s because getting out of Nashville with your guitar, your heart and your undefeated record intact is as good as you need it to be.
That being said, Pittsburgh did blow an opportunity to experience back-to-back blowouts, after dispatching of the woebegone Brownies in dynamic fashion the week prior.
The Steelers had their foot on the Titans jugular at the end of the second half with a 24-7 lead and with the ball on the Tennessee 32. Had they been able to get a touchdown, or at least a field goal, it would have effectively erased the powerful Derrick Henry from the Titans second half game plan.
Instead, Ben Roethlisberger threw his first of three…count ‘em…interceptions in the game, and this was followed up with a second half of anemic offensive production that only added three more points to the Steelers column.
This allowed the Titans to continue to give Henry an active and poundingly effective role in the comeback, and eventually resulted in the game coming down to a Stephen Gostkowski miss of a 45-yard field goal attempt.
Wipe the brow. Let out a sigh. And, move on.
After all, this was a big win against the Titans. And it was just fine to earn it…anyway…anyhow.
Are They Really That Bad?
With a 6-0 perfect record in tote, does it really seem like Big Ben is leading only the 21st ranked offensive squad in the NFL? Well…as they used to say on Dragnet, thems just the facts, Ma’am. Are they really that bad? If you’re looking at what is holding them back from performing more admirably, you can see it’s clearly the lack of a strong passing game (ranked 23rd).
This would seem to make sense based on their patchy throwing game thus far, although it’s also promising news. After all, there is a high ceiling for the Steelers in this area. There have been moments of individual brilliance by each of their top receivers: Juju Smith-Schuster, Diontae Johnson, James Washington and Chase Claypool.
I think collectively, one would agree they all have significant talent, and at least in the case of Johnson and Claypool, their abilities are nowhere near being fully expressed. If Juju’s game against the Titans is the beginning of his breakout from an early season slump…then look out.
This group of receivers is just getting into its groove and the best is yet to come this season.
And although Ben had a poor second half against the Titans, most of his play this season has been remarkable since he’s still in shake-off-the dust mode following his year away from the field of play.
If you think about it, those four receivers offer a perfect complement to one another. None of them are the same. Each of them offers something remarkably unique.
The passing game is that large package yet to be opened under the Steelers Christmas tree. Yes…they may hit some speed bumps against a talented Ravens secondary.
But, don’t take your eyes off of the greening of what is yet to become one of the team’s major strengths.
S’Mores By A Crackling Fire
There is no question, Baltimore is going to be a tough cracker to crack. A real Graham Cracker. Both this Sunday, and again four weeks later.
But, between these two games are some real marshmallows. You go to face the Dallas Cowboys (2-5) where they are so desperate for inspired play at quarterback they are trying to un-retire Roger Staubach.
Then it’s back home to face the Cincinnati Bengals (1-5-1), who despite the promising flashes of quarterback Joe Burrow are once again more Kitty than Tiger.
Next up are the Jacksonville Jaguars (1-6), in a state where, who knows, they may still be counting hanging chads to decide who’s going to be our next president.
Which leads back to the point, that if the Steelers can beat the Ravens this Sunday, they may very well be 10-0 when Baltimore makes a return visit to Heinz Field.
That might mean they would have a reasonable chance of being able to clinch the AFC North during that game, which would only be the Steelers eleventh game of the year.
But…of course, we get ahead of ourselves. It’s storytelling. Because, that’s what you do when you’ve got marshmallows to roast around a crackling fire.
With the Steelers offense, there are actually plenty of stars on the team, and you can begin by highlighting the offensive line that has only yielded eight sacks thus far, and who have been consistently opening running lanes.
Yet, perhaps the brightest offensive star has been James Conner, who was very close to starting off his year in disappointing fashion when he hurt his ankle in the first game of the season.
How many uttered, “Oh no, not this again,” when he fell to injury so early in the year? Count me as one of the guilty.
But, James showed us all, by gritting out a return to the field the following week. No doubt, it didn’t happen without enduring quite a bit of pain, and not without a significant amount of risk. Had he injured it further that game, it could have easily ended up with him spending at least part of the season on Injured Reserve.
Yet, instead, the gamble paid off, his courage won over, and Conner is enjoying a level of balanced play as strong as any other running back in the league.
Anybody remember a guy by the name of Josh Cribbs? If you do…my condolences. He was an undrafted free agent kick returner for the Cleveland Browns who was an absolute Steelers killer. When we kicked to him, all you could do was shut your eyes, and say to your friends, “Let me know when it’s over.”
But these days? We don’t worry about returns. Our special teams have been rock solid in bringing returners down. And, the fact that we aren’t talking about them is the very reason why we should be talking about them.
And speaking of returners, hats off again to Ray-Ray McCloud. His 57-yard punt return against the Titans is another reminder of how much of a precordial thump he’s provided to the Steelers return game.
Steelers Nation was up in arms about two interceptions by Big Ben that nearly cost his team the game against Tennessee. One was his forced throw into the endzone at the end of the first half. And the second was once again in the endzone toward the waning moments of the game.
Were those bad decisions by Roethlisberger? Yes…they were tossed into heavy coverage.
But, were they bad play calls? I don’t believe so.
For the past few years, the Steelers played scared with a lead. If it wasn’t their offense going three and out at the worst time, then it was their defense folding under fourth quarter pressure.
This Steelers team is different this year. You actually get the sense that BOTH the offense and defense want to get credit for closing out games. And, both of them have accomplished this during this season in admirable ways.
So…I see those calls as Big Ben in particular and the offense in general wanting to be holding the shovel when the last dirt hits their opponents’ graves.
That’s a championship mindset. It’s one that should be mastered, and not discouraged.
When Devin Bush went down with a season ending ACL injury, there was a collective gasp of dismay among the Steelers faithful. Not just in compassion for the young star’s pain and plight, but because of the impact it would have on the league’s number one ranked defense.
Yet, on the scene arrives Robert Spillane. We call him Mickey Spillane around here, because when he’s on the field…it’s Hammer time.
Did you see the goal line collision between him and Derrick Henry? Of course, you did.
I just have one last suggestion from Mr. Spillane. When you get a historic-level, all-time type of tackle like that in the future…you’ve got to stay on the field for at least the next play.
Jack Lambert would have never come off the field afterwards holding his shoulder, even if it was dangling by a thread.
Next time, young man. Next time.
The North Remembers
So here we are. It’s the place we’ve always wanted to be. Facing our greatest rival, those draped in purple. And as you know, a Lannister always pays his debts.
If you think you know how it will turn out, well then you know nothing, Jon Snow.
Two quarterbacks, one bone. Two defenses, one throne.
The Raven is flying. There are whispers among the Night Watch.
Steelers Nation says there is only one thing we say to defeat: Not today!
Winter is coming. And, it’s about time.