Stumbling. Bumbling. Here’s comes your Pittsburgh Steelers to face yet another contestant hoping to derail the pursuit of perfection.
Last Wednesday’s frustratingly and frequently delayed matchup against the Baltimore Ravens was hardly one for the ages. Just about as engaging as a geriatric heavyweight fight featuring Mike Tyson and Roy Jones Jr.
What crazy times we’re living in.
In fact, rather than the rout of a game the Steelers should have enjoyed against what amounted to half a Ravens team, it painfully came down to a game of inches.
Actually, less than an inch. Was that really a first down for the Steelers in that final pivotal series of the game?
It was almost like Referee Rick Patterson heard a whisper in his ear from NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell saying, “Close enough, let’s go home.”
This week…it’s the Washington Whatevers arriving at Heinz Field on Monday to try to knock the kings off their steely mountain of National Football League immortality.
At this point of the year, you would have thought the Steelers and their Hall Of Fame bound quarterback Ben Roethlisberger would have already clinched respect all around the NFL with their unbelievable 11-0 record.
But…instead? What do they hear? Crickets. And other creepy crawlies.
How should we respond to this level of disrespect?
With a, “Whatever”.
As in, whatever it takes to keep this dream alive. An unparalleled run in Steelers history. A defeat of all opposition. A triumphant raising of the next Lombardi Trophy.
Speaking of whatever. Let’s give it a Spin.
What Steelers fans used to love about Coach Bill Cowher was that he would get madder than we ever could imagine getting at our beloved team.
When Pittsburgh would play poorly, when receivers would drop balls, and punt returners would cough up game-threatening fumbles, we wouldn’t have to throw bricks at our solid state, deep bodied televisions.
We’d just look at our friend Bill and say, “You got this, right?”
Cowher would spit at everyone within a twenty foot radius, angrily stuff photographs in the pockets of referees and would jut his jaw out a solid ten inches ahead of his forehead.
Which is why there was profound joy experienced in seeing Coach Mike Tomlin really dig into his team’s performance following their slim and disappointing 19-14 victory over the Ravens.
Usually Tomlin is Dr. Robert Bruce Banner in his press conferences and only unleashes the Hulk in the privacy of the team locker room.
We know this because of the…uh umm…Antonio Brown live streaming incident.
This time, Tomlin didn’t hold back when it came to publicly deriding his team. Imagine if we could have seen the Antonio Cam when he addressed the lads in the locker room.
So why was Coach Mike so upset this time around? With all of the schedule delays, the Covid-19 fears, and with Steelers players unavailable for the game, you would have thought he would give his guys more of a pass.
Why didn’t he?
I don’t think Tomlin is a big John Harbaugh fan. I don’t believe he was entertained by Harbaugh’s manipulation of the league to get the game postponed. Tomlin also remembers the times when Harbaugh ran the score up against him with some of those dominating defenses.
I believe Tomlin was angry and vocal about this game because he was genuinely disappointed that his team didn’t win this one 56-7.
Good on you, Coach. We felt the same way.
Who’s Carrying Who?
Just in case there was any question this season of who is doing the heavy lifting on this team during its championship run, the last few weeks have put the dispute to rest.
This Pittsburgh defense is carrying the offense. Big time.
Even in the games where the offense has been able to get points on the board, it’s because the defense is racking up the pins and placing the bowling balls in their hands.
With rare exception, the Steelers defense has been consistently awesome. They are to be discussed already as being one of the best Pittsburgh squads ever. They deserve the vast majority of the credit for the team’s success this season.
Ahhh. So frustrating. They have the talent to be humming like a Ferrari. They just can’t seem to get all 12 of their cylinders firing.
We’d settle for 8.
Genius Or Major Liability?
But, don’t blame Big Ben for the offensive struggles against the Ravens, or even most of the issues the team has had this season with the ball in their hands.
He was rock solid against Baltimore. He was calm, composed and delivered the ball on time and mostly on target to his receivers. He was doing his job and giving them all a chance to make a play.
However, there is a troubling issue with his style of play this year.
Yes…Ben has been applauded for his ability to get rid of the ball quickly, and because of this (along with excellent blocking, it must be said) he’s had very little pressure.
But, why is there such a lack of completed pass plays on deep crosses? On post patterns? Are they even trying?
All the offense is producing in the passing game are short slants and quick released sideline flies.
These are typically the kind of plays an offensive coordinator is limited to if they have a weak armed quarterback.
Without at least a decent supply of completed deep seam passes and posts to keep them honest, safeties can cheat up and choke down the running lanes.
You want to see what deep passing capability over the middle can do for an offense in terms of making it less predictable and more dynamic? Watch Patrick Mahomes or Aaron Rodgers play.
So…it begs the question. Is Steelers Offensive Coordinator Randy Fichtner designing his offense in this way because of a quarterback with more surgically reconstructed elbow limitations than anyone is letting on?
If so…credit him as a genius for creating an offense that allows for such quick decisions and short passing success.
But, if Ben’s arm is not a concern, then this offense is structurally deficient, making Fichter the architect at fault.
Catch The Ball!
What’s the only thing worse than a receiver who can’t get open and can’t catch?
Well…it’s a receiver that always gets open…and can’t catch.
With Big Ben using barely two seconds to receive the snap and release the ball, he doesn’t have time to see WHO the receiver is. He only has enough time to notice that someone in his same uniform is open.
Diontae Johnson is one of the most gifted receivers in the league at getting open. But, if he continues to have balls bouncing off him on critical third downs and scoring opportunities, he’s going to end up being removed from Big Ben’s radar.
And Chase Claypool? The guy can flat out beat cornerbacks one-on-one going deep. But, his success rate with competing for and completing pass attempts needs to improve or he’ll continue to contribute to stalled drives.
And speaking of big plays, when did Juju Smith-Schuster lose his splash play ability? Wasn’t this the same guy who was making 95-yard pass plays not too long ago.
Then there is James Washington, who had his biggest play of the year by making a key completion among four Raven defenders. But, he also needs to get more separation in his routes, so the team can be confident in keeping him on the field more often.
I can’t ever remember a time when a Steelers offensive line has provided a cleaner, longer-lasting pocket for a quarterback than the ones they are creating now.
Big Ben is making high level, rapid fire decisions, and is delivering the ball with precision and great timing.
These young receivers are what’s holding this offense back. They have to get it together and move things up to the next level. And, the good news is…once they do…lookout!
The Steelers will be indefensible.
This Bud’s For You
The cost of this win against the Ravens was huge. Losing edge rusher Bud Dupree to a season-ending knee injury is crippling to the defense.
As talented and as promising of a player rookie linebacker Alex Highsmith is, it’s unfair to expect him to instantly fill a Bud-sized hole.
Sadly, Dupree’s injury happened before Steelers Nation truly gave him his due respect. Early on in his career he had to struggle as he tried, somewhat unsuccessfully, to fill the shoes of his great predecessor, James Harrison.
Then, over the past couple of years, just when he was reaching his stride, and proving us all wrong, he found himself again in the shadow of megastar T.J. Watt.
Now, on the last year of his franchise tag, and with recovery from a serious knee injury ahead, who knows what his future with the Steelers will be.
Regardless of the outcome, it should be clearly stated. Bud Dupree ended up being a brilliant first round draft pick by the team and an excellent Steeler.
Hopefully, we haven’t enjoyed his last game in Black and Gold.
And Now…Let’s Party
Eleven wins already! Are you kidding me?
Did you think the Steelers would end up with a record of 11-5 or better? I wouldn’t have bet on it. Not with all of the uncertainty of Ben’s return and with the expected dominance of the Ravens and the rise of teams with impressive young quarterbacks like the Cleveland Browns and Cincinnati Bengals.
We may not be racking up picture perfect wins, but the winning results are perfect nonetheless.
This has been a season full of pure revelry for Steelers Nation.
One win after another win after another win.
We might as well party…because it may be decades before another Steelers team goes 11-0. For some of us graying folks, that means we might not witness this again.
So. Who we playing this week? The Washington Whatevers?
Bring them on. Let’s keep this party rolling.