Many a permanent marker had long ago been used on calendars across Steelers Nation to circle the date of Sunday’s big game at Heinz Field. The Pittsburgh Steelers will be taking on the Oakland…uh…Los Angeles…no, Oakland…wait, Las Vegas Raiders.
That’s right, the Raiders serve as the NFL’s most wandering tribe as they now play their cards on a new green felt home table in Sin City.
Seems appropriate, doesn’t it?
We all know what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. But, what happens away from Vegas?
What happens is the Rayyyy…Ders will be far from their Black Hole and will be encountering a Steelers team fresh off an early autumn glow. This, as a result of their revelation of a performance against the Buffalo Bills, winning by the score of 23-16.
Although it took a few cranks on the engine to get Pittsburgh’s 2021 version of its offense in motion last week, the second half of the game provided splendor and delight to a fanbase in need of an infusion of joy.
Already, the ashes of last year’s poor finish are blowing away in the wind, like Dylan’s answers, and the hope and anticipation of a run for glory is once again upon our dreaming hearts.
And, that Steelers defense! This was no ordinary offense they were facing with the Josh Allen-led Bills. Holding a dynamic team of Buffalonians to only 16 points on their own home turf is a shot heard around the rest of the league.
Despite Buffalo’s pre-game claims, there was no question who had the best defense on the field, and it’s already looking like there will soon be no doubt which city boasts the best defense in the league.
Burghball is back Steelers Nation. Running. Defense. Put on your seatbelts, we’re going for a ride this year, and hopefully one that will be greeted by a checkered flag.
And, whether they reside now in the land of Elvis impersonators or not, these will always be the Oakland Raiders, one of Pittsburgh’s most notorious arch villains.
Ken Stabler. Marcus Allen. Dave Casper. Tim Brown. Art Shell. Gene Upshaw. Howie Long. Ted Hendricks. Charles Woodson. Lester Hayes. Jack Tatum. Ray Guy.
You get the picture? Then let’s give this a Spin, shall we?
Rapid Return On Your Investment
After the Rooneys had to mortgage all of their hotels on Boardwalk and Park Place, and the property cards too to pay his new salary, T.J. Watt responded by landing on Free Parking and he’s already making the newest highest paid defensive player in the history of the National Football League…seem to be a bargain. If anyone was worried about his game fitness or willingness to earn his pay after the contract was inked…be still your heart. Already with plenty of pressure and two sacks, including one of the fumble variety, T.J. Watt is paying his installments just fine.
Lights. Action. Cameron.
For those concerned whether cornerback Cameron Sutton would be able to step into a larger role on the defense this season, you too may rest easy. Sutton may have been the best player on the field last weekend, and he had to chase down many fine receivers along the way to claiming this prize. Is there a secret to his success? Yes, this secret goes by the name of Minkah Fitzpatrick. When you have a safety that talented, and that clever, every other boat of the secondary rises in greatness. Fitzpatrick is also the reason Joe Haden continues to thrive. When your back is covered that well…you receive an extraordinary freedom to express yourself. Every good play you see on defense, Fitzpatrick will have played a role, even if it’s somewhere in the shadows.
The Line Of Defense
Who are you NOT going to block? Tackle Cameron Heyward who is the improving each year like wine player of the team? No. You’ll need two big fellas assigned for him. How about this T.J. kid? Better swing two, maybe three in his direction. Alex Highsmith? Melvin Ingram III? Gonna need some help there as well. And, don’t sleep on Tyson Alualu either or he’ll make your dreams full of regrets. Have you noticed? We haven’t even mentioned the name of Stephon Tuitt yet. But, we will. Soon enough that cavalry will arrive with a bugle horn echoing from the hills. If you’re wondering where the strength of this year’s team is, you’ll find it in these trenches.
The Push Is Back
Flipping to the other side of the ball, the early signs of the offensive line’s capability is already encouraging. They may not look like an Olympic gold medal winning synchronized swimming team yet. This is true. But every play, these guys are seeking out someone to hit like trains on the rails. It’s another affirmation of what went wrong last year. We had once great players, but they were too broken to be effectively violent. Bring on the kids and now the push is back on the offensive line. And, we might be witnessing the beginning of a dynamic duo of nasty in the combination of center Kendrick Green and guard Kevin Dotson. There might be something special brewing in this newly formed lay down the Law Firm of Dotson and Green.
No Cape Required
According to National Football League scholars and Fantasy Football gurus of the highest order, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger had a very bad day. Like Ferris Bueller’s Bad Day type of bad day. To be honest, the Spin didn’t notice so much poverty of play. Sure, there were a few obvious bad passes, but I’m of the oldest school belief that if any ball touches a skin molecule of any receiver’s hand, they ought to catch the darn thing. After all, that’s their full time job. Plus, there were plenty of beautiful passes and clever behind the receiver tosses by Roethlisberger to add some highlights in his game reel.
Yet, the biggest point here is that it didn’t matter. And, it didn’t matter in either of those Super Bowl wins when Big Ben didn’t play all that extraordinary either. (Don’t get mad at me, watch the tapes.)
You see, there was a time not too long ago when the entire team rested on Number 7’s shoulders. All of the team’s coffers were invested in his Golden Arm and his Hollywood assortment of offensive star power. Back then he HAD to play exceptional for this team to win.
Now? Not so much. The running game is reviving and the defense will continue to rise. Ben doesn’t need to be Superman anymore for this team to win. He just needs to avoid the big mistakes and to make the right passes at the right moments.
In 2021? No cape required.
The Achilles Heel
This defense continues to be on the ascension with its best days ahead. Yet, year after year, since the early days of suffering from Acute Gronkation, the Steelers have not been able to do well against teams with a high caliber quarterback/tight end combination.
If this team is going to be able to pull down the current King of the Mountain in the American Football Conference, they are going to need to exercise these demons. You simply cannot slow down the Kansas City Chiefs offense without solving Travis Kelce.
The Steelers won’t be facing Kelce this weekend, but they may get a chance to witness the heir apparent in the player of Darren Waller. Since his opening day parade in HBO’s Hard Knocks series in 2019, Waller has been exceeding those initial expectations described in the show by former television announcer and now head coach Jon Gruden, AKA, “Chucky”.
This matchup with Waller will be an excellent test of Keith Butler’s 2021 Anti-Tight End System software that he installed this year. Hopefully, it works better than prior versions.
If not, Waller might play a lot of jazz in the secondary weekend. It’s something that sadly would be fitting, as he is the real life great grandson of Fats Waller.
A Test Of Two Nations
Raiders Nation? Steelers Nation?
Which one carries more power and prestige in the National Football League throughout the world?
I’ll share with you the answer that’s at the back of the book. It’s the same response when someone asks who is REALLY America’s team? Hint: It’s not the ones with the blue star decal, regardless of the amount they spend on that publicity.
Of course, the finest football fans in the world wear Black and Gold to games. Let’s hope there is a team they are cheering on this year that can also regain its title as the world champions.
The journey continues this Sunday with one of the greatest rivalries in sports.
Steelers. Raiders. Let’s get this game started.