Steelers Spin: Reindeer Games

In the Pittsburgh Steelers scintillating defeat of the Indianapolis Colts by the score of 28-24 there was something in it for all of Steelers Nation.

If you believe that Offensive Coordinator Randy Fichtner should be perp walked out of the Steelers facility and that Ben Roethlisberger is on the last of his legs…and arms, then we give you Exhibit “A”, also known as the first debacle half of the game.

Pittsburgh managed only 28 total yards of offense in the first two quarters, and the only player on either side of the ball rightfully earning his wages was punter Jordan Berry.

Following one painful three-and-out after another, the kickin’ Australian trotted out to the field in the first half on 5 occasions, which was a number greater than the amount of rushing yards the Steelers managed during this same time period. For those of you counting on one hand, you know that number was 4.

Fire them all.

However, if you’re a True Believer who feels Coach Mike Tomlin should be signed to a lifetime contract and that Big Ben should get extended by…I don’t know…at least ten years, then we give you Exhibit “B”, or the dramatic second half of the game.

It was one of the most exciting comebacks of Ben Roethlisberger’s long and treasured career, and it may be one of the most significant in Tomlin’s as well, as it all but pulled the season out from the dumpster fire of an otherwise dismal December.

And now, with the hopes of Steelers Nation escalating irrationally back to the upper stratosphere, Tomlin will have the luxury of sitting most of his star players in what is a much less important match-up. This is especially true since the Cleveland Browns did a Browns thing and lost to the woeful New York Jets last week.

The Steelers Public Relations department is working overtime to fabricate some meaning into this game now, but all that remains is one storyline.

Just when you thought they wouldn’t let Rudolph play in any more silly Reindeer Games, well…he’s back again for another shot at the Browns.

Who would have thunk?

Yes…it’s Steelers clipboard hoisting quarterback Mason Rudolph against his bestie Myles Garrett.

That’s all I got, Baby. So…let’s give it a Spin.

Spy Games

The big scandalous controversy of the week was whether the problem with the Steelers anemic offense in the first half against the Colts was a result of Fichtner’s play calling predictability.

In fact, as legend would have it, his script was so readable, the Colts defensive players were calling out the plays before Big Ben could even start his snap and release protocol.

Well…let’s just dispel of those rumors here in the Spin once and for all.

You don’t need to extract your super decoder spy ring out of your Cap’N Crunch with Crunch Berries to be able figure out Fictner’s play calling.

You just need to observe him for a few minutes on the sideline trying to figure out which hole in the playbook the stars, squares, circles and triangles go in to know this isn’t quantum physics we’re witnessing.

One thing you can believe is that Big Ben’s halftime whispered words to Coach Randy were indeed, “Son…I’ll take it from here.”

Whereupon, the aging gunslinger went on to prove in the second half once again:

Ben Roethlisberger > Philip Rivers

It’s not ideal to have such a Junior Varsity offensive scheme at this point in the season, but it is what it is. The standard is the standard.

What really matters here is to always remember to save the Crunch Berries for last.

Two Minute Offense

I think it’s safe to say, the Steelers have what amounts to an effective two-minute offense. Forget about balance. Don’t worry yourself about mixing up the pass and run game like a chef salad.

It’s down to a bring it and sling it approach from here on out. Love it or hate it, the Steelers running game almost entirely exists in the form of five yard slants and wide receiver screens.

The reason they call it a “Two Minute Offense” rather than…say, “Sixty Minute Offense” is that it’s not designed to be sustainable beyond, you know, two minutes or so.

But at this point in the season, why not? Be who you are. Just like Juju.

It’s clear the Steelers need as many throws at the dartboard as possible to get points, so let’s not waste any more first quarters, or first halves pretending we have a real NFL offense.

Old Reruns

This Sunday, there actually will be few things less annoying than the media drums banging up some tired beats regarding the past confrontation between Myles Garrett and Mason Rudolph.

That news is so…2019. And, it’s 2021 (thank goodness). Let’s find a new plotline, please.

To set the record straight, Garrett has established himself as one of the elite defensive players in the league. Whether you like him or not, put that in your pipe and smoke it.

Rudolph on the other hand, needs to put all of his energy and focus this game into proving he should be continuing to warm up an NFL bench.

Champions Again

For those of us accustomed (okay…spoiled) to the Steelers winning the AFC North title year in and year out, it’s no small mention to note the Colts victory meant Pittsburgh rose to the divisional throne again for the first time since 2017.

Although, there are many young, exciting players rising to the forefront of the Steelers offensive future, it’s also obvious there is a sun setting on what was to be one of the greatest offenses in Steelers history.

When you look at the “Young Money Crew” years of Michael Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown, and then Brown again with his 3B’s partners Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant, there was so most lost potential in terms of winning it all.

In the 2000’s and for decades before, the Steelers dominance of the AFC North (and the AFC Central before this) was always on the shoulders of the defense.

This is a lesson that shouldn’t be lost. There seems to be a much more stable, humble and drama-free infrastructure when the Steelers invest in their defense.

This team is now in the capable hands of the Pittsburgh defense once again, and due to recent signings and quality young players, there is reason to believe they’ll be at the franchise’s driving wheel for quite some time.

When it comes to deciding who to keep and who to let go with the massive free agency exodus the front office is facing at the end of this season, defense should rule, just as it does in the AFC North.

Selective Memory

For you to be extraordinarily positive about the Steelers chances heading into the playoffs you would need to suffer from a fair amount of amnesia when it comes to their near collapse at the end of the season, and yes, this includes the first half of the Colts game.

Winning in the playoffs is all about heading onto the playoffs onramp with steam and fury and any hopes of that for Pittsburgh fizzled when Tomlin decided to sit most of his starters for this game again Cleveland.

Even if the Steelers do manage to have a strong game, it won’t be reflective of those key players watching from the sideline.

So…when it comes to momentum leading into the playoffs, all the team has will need to come from the second half of the Indianapolis game.

That’s not such a bad thing, actually.

The Steelers will have the strong belief they have an offense that can overcome any deficit, and if recent NFL history is any lesson, this is a huge asset in the playoffs.

They also have a defense with the big play capability to turn a game around on a dime.

Which means the Steelers will enter the playoffs with more question marks than the Riddler, but they will also be a team that no other city will want to face.

Following the Colts victory, Tomlin reached into Coach Bill Cowher’s “fine line” quote bag, but of course, buffed it up to Shakespearean grace.

“It’s a fine line between drinking wine and squashing grapes and sometimes it was very subtle,” Tomlin said.

Champagne or sour grapes for the Steelers this year? Who knows? Do you?

At Least There’s This

At least there is no hugely dominant team in the National Football League this year.

There is no “Greatest Show On Turf” or Randy Moss Patriots or even…last year’s Kansas City Chiefs.

Sure, the Chiefs have more offensive weapons than a team legally ought to and they also have someone who knows how to design and call plays. But, they’ve had to pull a lot of their victories this year out of the stink basket on their way to earning their admittedly impressive record.

And the Buffalo Bills? Did we lose to them or ourselves?

What you do have this year is a large assemblage of “On Any Given Sunday” teams entering the playoffs. This will be one of the most evenly matched AFC showdowns in recent NFL history.

The Chiefs and Bills. The Tennessee Titans. The Miami Dolphins. The Baltimore Ravens. The Indianapolis Colts. And, yes, even the Cleveland Browns if they win tomorrow as they should.

If the Steelers have proved anything this season it’s that they are equally capable of beating…or losing to any of these teams on “Any Given Sunday.”

I wish it wasn’t true. But, it really will come down to a coin flip and some Covid-19 luck.

Which means, since the Steelers surrendered their Pole Position and first round bye in the playoffs standings weeks ago, they’ll have to win three of those flips in a row to make it to the Super Bowl.

That means, they’ll have a 12.5% chance of making it to Tampa Bay.

Those aren’t the odds you’d want for a team that started off 11-0, but thems what we got.

Who will they meet in Tampa if the heads and tails go their way?

The Green Bay Packers. They’ve got an MVP quarterback who has the skill and will to make that happen.

Which means…this entire season for Ben Roethlisberger in his waning years will come down to a long-odds opportunity to replay his last Super Bowl loss against Aaron Rodgers.

But Isn’t There A Game This Sunday?

Oh yeah. The Steelers versus the Browns.

This matters a great deal for the city of Cleveland. And, potentially for the future of Baker Mayfield in Ohio. The word is they are getting a little short on patience with the most recent occupant of the Cleveland quarterback rotisserie.

As far as the Steelers?

Nah. Nothing to see here. As soon as Tomlin chose team health over momentum this turned into a near meaningless exhibition match.

Is there anything on the line? Well…the fact they are letting Mason Rudolph play silly Reindeer Games, means there is something there…there.

Does he have a glimmer of a chance of being the next Steelers quarterback? Or is he at best going to be the next Landry Jones?

Tune in. That question will be answered Sunday. He’s had enough time in the system and in the apprentice role to be evaluated fairly on the big stage.

And, he is the Steelers only hope (gasp) in the playoffs if Big Ben gets injured.

Forget about the Myles Garrett storyline. Or Baker Mayfield. Or even for a week…the Pittsburgh defense.

For Steelers fans, this one is all about Rudolph.

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