Well. Now that we got that out of the way.
A perfect season by the Pittsburgh Steelers? Unfortunately, that opportunity left in the sunset on a horse with no name. That unworthy steed being the Washington Football Team as they trotted over Pittsburgh’s previously unblemished record by beating them by the score of 23-17.
Just last week, the Steelers players were demanding more respect with Eric Ebron insisting that when they go to the Super Bowl they get the “biggest plane” and the “best hotel”.
Now, following that loss against lowly Washington, with the whooshing sound coming out of the Steelers lofty balloon, it means Pittsburgh’s players are back to staying at the Motel 6.
Don’t worry, though. Tom Bodett will leave a light on for you.
Wait. Didn’t I say a “lowly” Washington team?
Yes, folks. Prior to playing the Steelers they were 4-7 with those wins coming against the even lowlier Dallas Cowboys, Philadelphia Eagles and Cincinnati Bengals.
This was a bad loss. There is no disputing or sugar coating this. Even on any given day…it shouldn’t have happened.
But, could this loss result in a grander outcome when it comes to the team’s ultimate goal of winning a Super Bowl this year? Is it just what the doctor ordered?
Well…maybe if it’s Dr. Seuss. Because, for that type of Green Eggs and Ham type of answer, we’re going to have to give it a good Spin.
Clinging Of Champagne Glasses
What was that sound? That was the remaining surviving players on the 1972 Miami Dolphins celebrating their continued reign as the only National Football League team to ever go undefeated on their way to winning a Super Bowl.
It’s the Crown Jewel, the Royal Flush of NFL honors and it’s why it matters still nearly 50 years later.
This was the Steelers opportunity to do something the great teams of the Steel Curtain age never could accomplish. It was a big deal. A really big deal.
Pittsburgh’s players made much ado about having to play three games in a 12 day period because of another team’s lax approach to Covid-19 protocols, and they had a point.
But…not a point sharp enough to erase the disappointment of ending their historic run against such an inferior opponent.
If there is a silver lining to the dark, dark cloud, it was that it snuffed out the tremendously annoying and incessant “nobody is giving us respect” posts on social media by the players and a major preponderance of Steelers Nation.
I mean, seriously. Who cares what Colin Cowherd was saying about the Steelers being a deficient team when compared against undefeated teams of the past or even other teams competing this season?
What’s that have to do with focusing all of your efforts on the field and getting better each week on offense, defense and special teams?
Don’t waste time shuffling to the back of the book to find the answer. I’ll give it to you straight.
It’s means nothing.
So…cut out the rabbit ears Steelers Nation. Stop over-listening to what the rest of the league and of all its blow-hard cronies are saying about your team.
Keep your eye on the prize…and perhaps the ball as it’s in flight too…and we won’t drop this special opportunity to win it all.
If It Ain’t Broke…
The Steelers offense has been enjoying moderate success through its prior eleven game winning streak. Never dominant, but good enough to win by relying extensively on an empty set offense with a quick release by Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
It was working. In fact, many would have said, “If it ain’t broke…why fix it?”
However, that’s exactly the opposite of what a high-end offensive coordinator should be doing in his pursuit of excellence. In fact, the very moment a team finds success with their offense, such as the Steelers did, they should have been putting all of their brain power into answering this question, “How are they going to break this?”
Because in the NFL, in the age of endless reels of high definition footage and rocket scientist defensive coordinators, it’s just a matter of time before the pipes start to leak…and then burst.
Which is why it’s so disconcerting that the Steelers had no Plan B to the predictable adjustment to their offensive success.
Teams pay $100 million dollars to employ edge rushers that can cut a quarterback’s time to throw from three to two seconds. So, when the quarterback obliges the defense by shortening that time himself…every snap…there is no reason to send in your blue chip talent.
Just have them hang back and play volleyball at the net, or drop them back into short coverage with all of their other friends.
How was the play of Washington’s defense a surprise? Why wasn’t there a powerful, pre-planned and choreographed counter punch?
Last Man Standing
When Devin Bush went down at the beginning of the year, it truly spelt doom for the Steelers defense. How would you be able to replace his speed and his ability to cover tight ends and running backs out of the backfield?
Surprisingly, a yet unknown player from Western Michigan stepped into the spotlight and admirably filled the sizable gap left by Bush’s unfortunate season-ending injury.
Spillane was, it must be said, amazing. The defense didn’t miss a beat. He displayed speed, explosiveness and a willingness to create contact, playing as big a role on the defense as just about any other player on the roster.
That was…until he grasped his knee in the middle of the Washington game.
Pretty much from that moment on, the Steelers sorely missed both Bush and Spillane. The defense devolved into its former self which couldn’t cover tight ends or running backs.
The usually clever Steelers general manager Kevin Colbert made an odd acquisition by picking up Avery Williamson of the New York Jets in response to Bush’s injury. Williamson is definitely an NFL caliber talent, and a fine player, but he’s not particularly well known for his coverage skills.
And, as we all know…Vince Williams is at his best when he’s got a dance partner with those kinds of moves.
Spillane’s return to the lineup may be critical for the Steelers to continue their dominance. Let’s hope it’s a speedy recovery.
Born To Run
The offensive line is being dragged through the press and clubbed by the fanbase for being incapable…and worse…unwilling to run block.
But, this is the same team that experienced running success at the beginning of the season with essentially the same personnel.
This isn’t a player issue, this is a scheme issue. When you go empty set over and over again with Ben Roethlisberger taking the snap…as opposed to Kyler Murray, say…then you might as well be flashing a flickering neon sign saying, “We Are About To Pass.”
Then, when the running back joins Roethlisberger in the backfield, especially on second and long…well everyone knows what’s coming.
You don’t need to steal signs from second base to tip off the hitters. This is an incredibly predictable offense, and this puts a huge burden on the offensive line to enjoy any element of surprise with their blocking schemes.
The 70’s Want Their Offense Back
And, for those of you who believe the proper response to Offensive Coordinator Randy Fichtner being Peter Principled in his role is to just “let Ben make the calls” you’re going to need to turn in your polyester disco jacket, your bell bottoms and your pet rock.
This is not 1978 when Terry Bradshaw (and many NFL quarterbacks) could just “wing” the play calling on the field.
The modern NFL offense requires brilliant strategists, electronic communication systems, and a team of statisticians and analysts with eyes at all levels of the stadium.
Even Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach Andy Reid has a whole team of sous chefs assisting him as he cooks up his magical recipes during the games.
To just have Ben handle the offense is a Cro-Magnon approach to the offensive play-calling problem. You’re giving him a club in his hand, to take on modern weaponry.
Sure…let him call some audibles in key moments. But, Coach Mike Tomlin needs to find a more sophisticated response if he wants his team to make it past the first playoff game this year.
This uni-dimensional offense has fallen…and can’t get up.
Paying The Bills
If it seems like this has been a lot of unsolicited and overly negative feedback to throw at a team that has won eleven out of its twelve games this season, you’re probably right.
No doubt. The Pittsburgh Steelers are a formidable team, with a Hall of Fame quarterback, some young offensive stars, and a defense that should dominate for years to come.
But, they have certainly reached a pivotal point in their seasonal pursuit of greatness.
The Cleveland Browns are on the hunt, there are several teams with running games better suited for wintry conditions, and the Steelers do have…some issues.
This game against the Buffalo Bills is a big one. Win, and you’re back on top of the mountain. Lose, and the concerns and doubts will heighten.
It’s Sunday Night Football at its finest. And, it’s time for the Steelers to pay the bills.