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Steelers Spin: Before We Say Good Bye

Any good sports journalist will have two headlines ready to go to print prior to any significant matchup. For the Pittsburgh Steelers there will be two divergent headlining options following their upcoming evening foray against the Seattle Seahawks.

The first contender to be inked, and the one hand-wringingly wished for by all of Steelers Nation is this:

“Steelers Head Into The Bye Week With Momentum And Mounting Hope”

Or the one that will cause tear-soaked Terrible Towels:

“Pittsburgh Drags Its Sorry Carcass Into The Shop For A Complete Makeover”

The Steelers face a Seahawks team with their wings severely clipped with both Russell Wilson and Chris Carson on injured reserve and D.K. Metcalf dealing with a foot injury.

Perhaps, just as important is that the northwesters left their 12th Man in Seattle as the Seahawks out of their home nest are a completely different foe.

In addition, the Steelers are facing essentially a “quarterback named Smith”, with the nearly forgotten Geno Smith as generic of a throwing opponent as Pittsburgh’s defensive coordinator Keith Butler could have hoped for.

In other words, this isn’t positioned as a traditional “must win” in that the season is over and all is lost if the Black and Gold…gasp…manage to lose to these wounded birds. But, it’s as close to a “surely…surely…you MUST win this one, fellas” as they come.

So, without any more squawking, let’s give this a Spin.

What Exactly Do We Have Here?

The critical home win against the Denver Broncos by a score of 27-19 last weekend will be remembered down the road as either some type of turning point in the season, or just another dreary blip on a year we can only hope to forget.

For those of us in dreamy, dreamy land, we can envision this win against Denver as an impressive victory against an ascendant 3-1 conference opponent while Pittsburgh’s collective’s backs were clearly against the wall.

Yet, on the other side of my split personality, where I align with my fellow curmudgeonly brethren and sistren, the unavoidable truth is that Denver’s three prior wins came against teams with collective 2-13 records, and that they arrived to Pittsburgh as a giant candy-stuffed horse shaped piñata.

Yet, if we’re going to play the “records of my opponents game” then we must keep in mind the Steelers have their meager 2-3 record after facing five foes with a combined record of 17-8.

Yes…the NFL schedule makers have been Voodoo doll cruel to Pittsburgh, and they have had to face some pin-pricking formidable opposition thus far. Maybe the Steelers are better than their tape would claim.

Ah…but again, this Pittsburgh team only beat the Broncos by the skin of their chinny, chin, chin. And, this was after a riotous pregame speech by The Chin.

It took an endzone interception on virtually the last play of the game to seal the deal against the Burros, and this was following a complete Black and Gold defensive meltdown in the fourth quarter.

Pittsburgh’s defense, the clear strength of the team, came oh so close to choking away this game.

Then again…as my fragile mind flips between hope and despair…we can’t forget our first win of the year, a 23-16 victory of the Buffalo Bills in the land of wings. Since then, the Bills have obliterated their opponents by a collective score of 156-41, including a tomahawking of the Kansas City Chiefs last weekend.

So what exactly do we have with this 2021 version of the Pittsburgh Steelers?

I don’t know. Do you? Really?

One thing is for sure. This Seattle Seahawks matchup Sunday night will be extraordinarily informing.

Can I Have The Keys Please?

Ben Roethlisberger gave everyone exactly what they wanted with his performance against the Broncos.

For those in the “Ben is eternally valuable…it’s the offensive line’s fault if he shall ever falter” Glee Club, you would be able to say, “See what happens when you finally give Big Ben some time, you ingrateful, miserable fake fans?”

And, for those in the “Ben is clearly washed out” camp, you would have witnessed plenty of times when Ben had plenty of time and still missed receivers who were so open and willing to score touchdowns they were shooting flares.

One thing that can begin to be dispelled is the notion that the Steelers offensive line is “rostered with bums” and that the Pittsburgh front office will need to invest its next three first round picks on offensive tackles”.

As has been prescribed here by Dr. Spin, this is a young, ambitious and powerful run-blocking line that will require time to learn how choreograph their intricate dances together.

They showed clear signs of this with their performance against the Broncos.

Although they are still having to read a map to find the locker room at Heinz Field, there is plenty of talent among these youthful exuberants.

Are they still maybe a Blue Chipper away from becoming a top tier offensive line in the future? Probably. Maybe even two. But, we can take solace in the fact the offensive line no longer arrives to the games using walkers with tennis balls on them as was the case last year.

Put these upwardly mobile newbies together with rookie sensation Najee Harris and more and more they will be rolling their eyes when passing plays are signaled into the huddle.

They’ll look to the old man who after all of these years still has to glance at his wrist to know which plays are being called, and they’ll say, “How about you give us the keys to this car?”

With Big Ben now 1 for 5 in terms of having passable passing games, it’s time to stop looking at this offense as the revisioning of “Young Money” and the second coming of the “Duck and Chuck” offense.

In Pittsburgh, we love defense. Great defenses? They are made even greater by a committed running game.

Maybe, just maybe, it’s time to let the kids drive.

The Running Back’s Receiver

With this newly forming version of the Steelers into a road grading offense, who is the best wide receiver the team has to support this transition?

Why, it’s JuJu Smith-Schuster, of course.

No one has come closer to being the next Hines Ward than JuJu, and we all know we would LOVE adding a young Hines back on the field of battle.

JuJu is big, powerful, and surprisingly elusive for a man of his size. And, he’s young. Can you believe he’s still only 24 years old despite all of the thrills he’s already provided for Steelers Nation?

Every season there is an unfortunate injury (or two or three or ten) on the Steelers roster and this year it was Smith-Schuster’s turn to draw that unfortunate straw with his shoulder mishap.

But, that doesn’t take away anything from his extraordinarily bright future. He’s talented, passionate and out-of-the-box fun and he’s willing to do all of the difficult work in the running game like clearing out linebackers and safeties from the slot position.

There are few players more Pittsburgh Steeler-ish than JuJu.

Realizing the team has its stated policy of not negotiating deals during the season, it’s time to breach this tradition and sign the kid to a five-year extension…like today.

He demonstrated his devotion to Steelers Nation with this year’s one year contract and he shouldn’t be punished with the charade of free agency uncertainty and non-sense.

For those of you obsessing about his TikTok antics? Get over it.

Sure, he crossed the line when he was filming himself dancing on opposing team’s logos prior to games. But, other than that, he’s just building an audience, which is both entertaining to him, and shrewd from a business perspective.

JuJu has nothing else to prove to us or anyone. Let’s do the right thing following his unfortunate injury and make him a Steeler for life.

Defending This Defense

We’re five games into this season already and we need to be honest: this defense is falling woefully short of our expectations.

Please stop with the “we’ve been devastated with injuries” mantra. Just look at the Seahawks’ offensive injury report and say that with a straight face.

We ALL expected the defense to be even stronger this year than last and we had strong evidence for this to be the case.

With T.J. Watt’s contract negotiations settled and Minkah Fitzpatrick playing for his own personal Dragon-worthy pile of gold this season we anticipated both leading this defense to unparalleled glory.

Watt suffered a groin injury, yes, but with him making a business decision to sit out the pre-season, that was essentially a setback of his own choosing.

We’ve seen a solid Fitzpatrick this season, but we have yet to see the “Great And Powerful Minkah” that would be on the level of Rod Woodson and Troy Polamalu that we were hoping to witness.

This defense needs turnovers. It needs playmaking. And right now…and clear through the rest of the season.

The lights have yet to turn on for the defense this year, and perhaps it will be under the big lights on Sunday that the lumens will start to burn as they should.

If the Steelers are going to have any chance of making this season anything more than “let’s preserve Mike Tomlin’s tract of non-losing seasons” it needs to start with the defense beginning its climb back the top of the NFL ranks.

No Flexing Here

If Steelers Nation has something truly be thankful for this weekend it’s that this game against the Seahawks didn’t get “flexed” off of the Sunday Night Football schedule.

If we’re being honest, there are MANY more interesting games for neutrals than watching a Russell Wilson-less 2-3 Seahawks team against a rapidly aging Big Ben lead team, also at 2-3.

For the Steelers to remain a prime time attraction, they are going to have to get it going with Cris Collinsworth droning in the background.

What shouldn’t be forgotten is the lofty pre-season expectations of all Seahawks fans are much the same as ours. They anticipated playing deep into the playoffs this year and with a loss, they would be 2-4 in one of the best divisions in the NFL.

Sound familiar? Two desperate dogs. One gnarly bone.

This will be a much more important game than it should be. That’s what happens when you start a season poorly and slow.

Fortunately, there is enough youth in this year for a whole new story to be told. Critical, character defining pages will be written on Sunday.

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