You can imagine the Pittsburgh Steelers locker room after their super deflating loss to the Buffalo Bills by the score of 26-15.
The once brightly ascending Steelers lost under the big lights in front of a Sunday night national audience, were marginalized by Cris Collinsworth’s pontifications, shattered expectations of their fanbase, their quarterback’s arm was questioned, their lack of running physicality was confirmed, their invincible defense was hacked, and their once perfect season Lamborghini had its windshield covered with seagull splat.
Bruised, battered, with shoulders slumped, and with no answers to so many difficult questions they tried to console one another, but their minds were as blank as their coaches’ second half adjustment whiteboards.
Until their mighty warrior, the tattered but not vanquished Ben Roethlisberger rose up slowly and said, “I got it.”
They all looked up to the man whose broad shoulders they’ve hung many of their lofty expectations on through the years and they leaned in and listened with anticipation.
He panned the room, meeting all of their eyes with intensity and said firmly and with even a trace of joy, “Let’s go to Ohio.”
First there were head nods, then fist bumps, and then socially distanced air high fives, towel snaps and shouts of approval.
The big man was right. There is no better way for the Pittsburgh Steelers to go through a desperately needed rehabilitation stint than by taking a bus ride to Cincinnati, Ohio.
Ben owns Ohio. He’s the Godfather of Ohio. He colleged there with great success and he’s pro’ed there with even higher accolades. Why the Ohio National Guard even allows him to cross their borders is beyond understanding.
Cheer up Steelers Nation. Hope is on the horizon and its wearing glorious stripes. So…let’s give it a Spin.
The Man With The Golden Arm
“We can rebuild his body.” Those words were first spoken by the scientists behind the Six Million Dollar Man (remember when six million dollars was a lot of bread?) but also by Big Ben’s elbow surgeons just last year.
There is no question the Steelers passing game rebounded immediately when Roethlisberger returned under center at the beginning of this year. Well…technically, we can’t say “under center”, but you get what I mean.
The impact of his replacing the bankrupt Law Offices of Mason & Hodges was immediate and profound. This is not to be questioned.
Yet, there is some debate raging about the strength of the rubber bands that Ben’s surgeons inserted into his elbow last year.
Anyone with a clear memory of rookie Big Ben knows that the frozen ropes of his glorious past are no longer in his arsenal. There are more like red licorice ropes these days. Yes, he is attempting plenty of deep balls, of the rainbow variety down the sidelines, but he has not flashed the Golden Arm he once so proudly possessed.
Defensive coordinators around the league are clearly responding accordingly.
Still, this is a much more savvy, way more polished version of Ben Roethlisberger this year than we’ve ever seen. In other words, the team can certainly win with this version of the Hundred Million Dollar Man. He’s not the problem.
Let’s focus on fixing those.
The Team With The Plastic Legs
But…this running game. Sigh. This running game.
Oh…what we would do to enjoy a little Jerome Bettis version of the classic Steelers running game. Heck…we don’t even need the Bus…we’d settle for a minivan at this point.
Yet, what we have is a unit that has all but given up the Ghost when it comes to carrying the rock. There seems to be an offensive-wide lack of belief when a run play has been called.
It’s 2 a.m., cigar smoke filled poker room time.
We need to go ALL IN on getting this fixed. Even if it means shuffling personnel, introducing late season scheme shifts and paying Mike Munchak for side work through dark channels in Bitcoin.
Yes…even if it means sacrificing wins the rest of the regular season.
Everyone In The Pool
The Steelers deep passing game has devolved to a game of “Three Flies Up”. The ball is snapped, the pass is lofted high, and then a Steelers receiver is being asked to leap up among three defenders in the hope of making a catch or drawing a pass interference call.
Defenses aren’t being stretched. And, believe us, the running game is in desperate need of this stretching to occur.
Which is why it’s baffling that Chase Claypool isn’t on the field every snap. Why has he been watching so much from the sideline?
He’s really the team’s only clear deep threat at this point. James Washington is a fine player, with big leaps and a willingness to high point the ball, but he’s not going to blow by secondaries with consistent separation.
The systematic problem with this offense is that Ben will make a statement like, “Washington should be playing more” and the next week he actually is, with Claypool riding the pine.
This is the same Claypool who had four receiving touchdowns for the Steelers…in one game.
They need that player back in their Number One receiver position. Even if it means telling the team’s Franchise Player, “No…you’re not the boss of me.”
Fire The Influencer
It’s time for the Chief Executive Officer of JuJu Smith-Schuster Enterprises to call a meeting. At one end of the table will be the Chief Financial Officer and at the other end will be the Vice President of Social Media.
They’ll all be summoned to review whether there should be a continuation of Smith-Schuster’s new viral blockbuster titled, “Dancing On The Logo”.
The VP of SM starts off the meeting by beaming, “They love it! It’s such a big hit. Tik Tok…Tik Tok. It’s just JuJu being JuJu.”
Then the CEO turns to the CFO, whose face is clearly soured as he ruffles through the spread sheets.
“That’s not what my analysis has determined,” the CFO mumbles. “I estimate the new show has cost us about ten million dollars in contract negotiations with Pittsburgh.
“Hmmm,” responds the CEO. “No upside?
“Well,” the CFO says. “It might help with the Giants or the Jets. You know, big media and all.”
Chalk This One Up
Truthfully. JuJu. You were doing so well this year. Blocking hard, making the tough catches, being a true team player and doing truly positive things for the Pittsburgh community.
This Logo Dance routine? Yeah…bag it, man. Erase the pencil mark before it becomes permanent marker and it ends up scribbled all over your face.
This Dancing Logo saga has Dancing Hippo written all over it.
Just look at the tapes, friend. Jack Lambert slamming Cliff Harris. James Harrison taking out a Browns fan.
We’re the ones who snuff out show boaters here in Pittsburgh. It’s time to sack your social media adviser. (Maybe James is available to help out.)
The Second Preseason
You would think after thirteen games and an impressive 11-2 record, the Pittsburgh Steelers would have it all figured out by now.
But, forget the once perfect season, the last time the Steelers have played anywhere close to perfection was over a month ago when they were stealing the lunch money from the likes of the Jacksonville Jaguars and…yes…the Cincinnati Bengals.
Since that game? A frustrating win against half a Baltimore Ravens team and two losses in a row.
Still, regardless of the critical injuries it’s suffered, Pittsburgh remains a team with a dominant defense with the capability to shut down, or at least greatly impede, any opposing offense.
This includes the offense boasted by the Kansas City Chiefs.
Many Super Bowl winners of the past have been able to find success with elite defenses and fair to midlands offenses.
The Steelers really don’t have that many tweaks to make in order to get this train back on the tracks. But, tweak they must.
The offense that performed against the Baltimore Ravens, the Washington Football Team and the Buffalo Bills isn’t going to get it done in the playoffs.
They don’t need to be a top-tier offense for the Steelers to win it all, but they need to be at least competent in the running game and able to impose their will on third and ones. (Or first and ones on the goal line, for that matter.)
The Second Preseason
When you look at the Steelers last three upcoming games of the regular season, you’d be hard pressed to find a better line-up to prep them for the playoffs.
It’s the perfect opportunity for the Steelers to treat this as a second preseason.
You have the Cincinnati Bengals, which outside of the New York Jets, is as close to playing against crash test dummies as there is in the NFL.
So…test the brakes. Fix the airbags. Change the head gasket, if you must.
The following week is a home game against the Indianapolis Colts, with a defense that will test any of these repairs to make sure we’re Road To The Super Bowl ready.
Finally, a rematch against the Cleveland Browns and “Man Of The Year” Myles Garrett to close out the season will have significance and intensity even if it has no playoff implications.
It’s back to Latrobe we go for the last three weeks.
Yes…being the number one seed and having a playoff bye would be great. But, outside of that, does homefield advantage matter that much in the time of Covid-19?
Now that the Steelers have clinched a playoff spot, and their perfect season hopes are gone, wins and losses don’t matter as much as rebuilding the tanks, ships and planes.
What’s At Stake?
Not a lot, really.
A win against the Cincinnati Bengals would be the minimal viable product that should be produced by the Steelers during Monday Night Football. A trouncing is what is to be expected.
Can Pittsburgh win this game, clinch the division and work on regaining the number one seed in the AFC?
Yes…all that is good and matters.
But, what is really at stake with this game against the Bengals is that Steelers Nation is grumpy. We want a win, and not one of those stinking, “it was ugly, but” wins.
We’ve all sent our letters to Santa. You know what’s required to spread Christmas cheer among your faithful. Forget the official Red Ryder, carbine action, 200-shot, range model air rifle, with a compass in the stock and this thing that tells time…type of gift.
Please…guys…give us something good under the tree.