Last year, there were two versions of the Pittsburgh Steelers presented on a silver platter to their world class fans. The first of these models gloriously launched the season with a record of 11-0 and they were well on their way to re-establishing Black and Gold as the official colors of the Super Bowl.
Like a bad movie, the second version of the Steelers unveiled a terribly disappointing ending, with the team losing five of their last six games including two miserable season closing performances to the…cough…cough…Cleveland Brownies.
So, the biggest question heading into the 2021 season was, “Will the real Steelers please stand up?”
Well…stand up they have. As in stand-up comedy thus far.
Sadly, with two back-to-back embarrassing home losses to first the Las Vegas Raiders and then the Cincinnati Bengals, the Steelers are looking much more basement than ceiling, and the overall mood of global Pittsburgh is heavily doused in doom and gloom.
There, of course, is an elephant that is not only in the room, but that is sucking all of the oxygen out with its trunk. Even with a pay cut this year, Ben Roethlisberger is responsible for a more than $22 million dollar salary cap hit for the team, while playing at a level that would get him ranked in the Top 20 at his position only if he was receiving some serious bonus points for seniority.
In this league of parity, your big, expensive players have to play big in order to win.
There are so many questions. So many tossed beers at television screens.
Is Big Ben washed out? Are the Steelers going to be the worst team in their division?
Or will the start of a wonderful Steelers winning streak begin with widescale Whining And Cheese in Wisconsin?
Enough with the appetizers, why don’t we just give this a Spin?
The Once And Future King?
Will this be Ben Roethlisberger’s last year as a Pittsburgh Steeler? This year’s restructuring of his contract would lead one to think so. And, as soft as the Pittsburgh organization can be on underperforming coaches, the Rooneys have a long history of being hardcore when it comes to casting away aging heroes.
Just ask Troy Polamalu whose idea it was for him to retire.
So, with this upcoming game, will we be saying farewell to one Pittsburgh King while welcoming a future one?
By most accounts, Aaron Rodgers is treating the 2021 season as a long audition for him to play next year in any town but Green Bay, Wisconsin.
Many NFL intelligentsia are predicting his new home will be similarly snowy in December, but more about ketchup than cheese.
That’s right, many are projecting Aaron Rodgers to be Pittsburgh’s quarterback next year, a new home for him to finish out his NFL days prior to arriving in his final destination of Canton, Ohio.
Would that be a good thing? After all, he’s only two years younger than Big Ben.
What say the Spin? Absolutely!
Although, it would be hard to defend the Steelers defense over their past performance the last couple of games, this remains one of the league’s finest units.
Although he’s only two years younger than Ben, Aaron’s body and arm is a good five to seven years younger. Because he understudied on the bench for Brett Favre early on in his career, and because he’s always been a quick release quarterback, he hasn’t taken anywhere near the beating that Big Ben has over the course of his career.
Rodgers may not have another five years in him, but he has a strong two or three.
That would be sufficient time for the Steelers to finally do the right thing, and that’s to draft and develop the team’s next franchise quarterback.
Rodgers may not have a winning personality, but he’s got a winning way. He’s still one of the NFL’s best at his position and is one of the league’s most lethal with a ball in his hand with the game on the line.
And, on Sunday, it’s possible he might look across the field and eye young Najee Harris and think to himself, “That’s my next Aaron Jones.”
I know. I know.
Such disrespectful talk when we have a legendary quarterback still gainfully employed and playing his heart out on our behalf.
But, you can be sure that Ben has long been planning his life without us. We have to be seriously planning our lives without Ben.
Then again? Maybe this is the game where Roethlisberger declares to all, “Not so fast, my fickle friends!”
Regardless, this matchup makes for some wonderful palace intrigue this weekend, don’t you think?
With an offense as inept as the one the Steelers have been rolling…or stumbling…out onto the field, there is plenty of blame to go around. Big Ben is taking all kinds of incoming. And, in the proud tradition of Steelers Nation, anyone bearing the title of Offensive Coordinator is considered the Usual Suspect, so Matt Canada understandably is a fellow pin cushion.
Yet, it’s the offensive line that is being fingered as the main Colonel Mustard in the Conservatory.
Is there a talent deficiency? Are we three draft years away from getting this problem resolved?
Not so fast, ye of such little faith. Offensive lines in the National Football League are uniquely a sum of their parts. You can’t throw a gifted fat man in there and call it good.
It only takes one member of the dance team to fall out of step for all of the jumbo ballerinas to fall like dominoes.
In this case, these dominoes take out a quarterback and create an impregnable wall for rookie running backs, even extraordinarily talented ones.
There are so many new parts and pieces in this Steelers offensive line that it will take at least half a season to evaluate what is actually there.
Let’s hope the quarterback and running back can survive this lengthy laboratory experiment.
Three Alligators Defense
What’s wrong with this defense? Why are Derek Carr and Joe Burrow already getting sized for yellow jackets after their last games against the Steelers?
It’s simple. Despite having one of the league’s finest safeties in Minkah Fitzpatrick, the remainder of the team’s secondary is in desperate need of an essential item.
That’s a pass rush.
Actually, the collective unit of Joe Haden, Cameron Sutton, James Pierre, Justin Layne and Arthur Maulet are more than solid. Working together, they are an effective secondary.
It’s just that there isn’t a shutdown corner among them. There is no, “Just put me on an island” guy in the group.
Which means, this secondary can’t allow it’s front seven to be counting out multiple alligators.
One alligator. Two alligator. You’re fine.
But, if this team allows any quarterback in the NFL three alligators, this zone defense is unlocked with a mere bobby pin.
Why did Pittsburgh pay a Spanish galleon worth of sunken treasure to secure T.J. Watt?
Because, this is a less than three alligators defense.
Moments Of Greatness
Blame NFL Films for creating this problem. So many people believe that football greatness is discovered on the “frozen tundras of playoff glories”. Those plays frozen in time and field where the biggest players step up in the biggest moments.
Yes, those plays are priceless, and will keep you in the fond memories of fans. But, that’s not where you discover the true NFL greats.
Where you find them is in the fourth quarters of games like the Steelers played against the Cincinnati Bengals.
Here’s what Steelers Nation’s new most valuable villain Tyler Boyd of the Bengals had to say about the fourth quarter performance of many of Pittsburgh’s players.
“The last plays for them, they gave up. You could see it. They had three drops in a row and for a team to see that is giving us more power,” Boyd said. “For a team to just lay down like that before the game is over.”
He wasn’t finished.
“They portrayed it to the whole nation on TV with what they were about and how they gave up, so we just gotta take advantage.”
Will that be bulletin board material for the Steelers when they return to Cincinnati on November 28? Probably. Should it be?
No. A team should never depend on their opponents in order to rise to their maximum levels of high performance.
Which brings us back to genuine NFL greatness. That is, players with the biggest hearts. The greatest passion for the game. Who always play at their maximum levels of high performance.
Case in point. Cameron Heyward.
There is never a millisecond in an NFL game when you will witness Heyward on the field not maxxing out while the clock still has breath.
Doesn’t matter if it’s first quarter, fourth quarter, Steelers up by 20 or down by 50.
You ever find yourself wanting to give up on the Steelers. Just watch the Captain. Captain Cameron Heyward.
Not only is he the Captain of the players. He is the real Captain of Steelers Nation.
It’s time for all of us to stop saying, “We need to win another for Ben.” Rather it’s overtime for us to be hollering, “We need to win one for Cameron.”
In leadership, heart and in uncompromisingly unrelenting effort, he continues to make his claim as the greatest Steeler of this era.
Duct Tape And Baling Wire
Speaking of those who give up in the first quarter…let alone the fourth, don’t be so fainthearted Steelers fans.
There is no coach in the National Football League more skilled at using duct tape and baling wire than Coach Mike Tomlin.
While it would be unwise to bet the farm on him winning the blue ribbon at the NFL fair at the end of year, you can be certain he’ll bring respectability back to this team.
Although they’ve appeared abysmal at times, he’s patched together much worse patients.
Unless you want to look foolish in a few weeks, I would discourage you from spending too much time scouting for next year’s NFL Draft already.
Coach Tomlin will get this sorry show back on the road and performing a much better tune. That you can count on.
Don’t Look Now
For those who have already jumped out of the bandwagon, here’s some encouraging news as you walk alone on the dusty roads of unfaithfulness.
It’s actually okay if the Steelers don’t win the Super Bowl this year. It’s even fine if they don’t make the playoffs.
Yes, it would be far less than what we had hoped for. It would be well below the bar.
Yet, don’t look now, but secretly the Steelers have been rebuilding this team.
Remove the aged Ben off of the roster and this is a very young team with a bright and promising future. Put Ben back on the roster, and you have a grizzled warrior who will do his best to escort the Next Generation Steelers into the upcoming era with all of the glory he can muster to pass on during his final games.
We are not reloading. We are rebuilding. This team of the next decade is being built on a steel foundation of defense and running.
Give some credit to the Steelers front office that we haven’t really noticed the construction signs and tape. But we are…under construction.
Who Stole My Cheese?
The Green Back Packers and Aaron Rodgers proved they can play terrible. Just replay their game one loss to the Houston Texans by the score of 7-26.
Certainly, the Steelers have demonstrated an ability to underperform as well.
With the Steelers Chosen One in T.J. Watt scheduled to return to the field of battle, it should mean that Rodgers will have at least one less alligator of time to throw the ball.
Will that be enough to get the Steelers defense back in form?
And, will the Once King of the Steelers prove he’s got some Future King left in him?
No matter how you slice this cheese, there is much drama to unfold this weekend.