The Pittsburgh Steelers will be under the national spotlight with a Monday Night Football matchup against the Chicago Bears. This pivotal game will require a “bear necessity” of a win for the home team Steelers in order to keep their playoff hopes shining brightly.
This isn’t because they are failing at the half way point of the season, or that they are currently terribly behind. Au contraire, they’ve wrestled themselves back into solid contention with their three-game winning streak, including a fan frenzied victory over the Cleveland Browns last weekend by a score of 15-10.
The Steelers can’t be faulted for this otherwise mundane Bears game to mean so much. Pittsburgh thus far has fought bravely and as a result boast a respectable record.
It’s just that they are in the “narrow eye of the storm” of their schedule, with a wonderfully winnable game against the Bears (3-4) and then an ensuing powderpuff contest against the Detroit Lions (0-7) who are this year’s version of the Bad News Bears.
After this doable duo? Unfortunately, it’s meat grinder time for the Black and Gold.
Away matches against the Los Angeles Chargers and then the high-powered Cincinnati Bengals before a black and blue affair against the dreaded Baltimore Ravens. There won’t be much rest as they’ll face a difficult away match against the Minnesota Vikings, who are better than their record would suggest.
The final quarter of the year comes down like a sledge hammer, beginning with the Tennessee Titans, who could potentially feature a just-returned-to-battle Derrick Henry. Then the Steelers face the Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.
Don’t fool yourself, the rematch against the vengeance-minded Cleveland Browns will be difficult and vitriol-laced, and to top it off, Pittsburgh ends the regular season with an away confrontation with the Ravens.
That’s not a final quarter of the season. That’s a Christmas sleigh ride down Murderer’s Row.
Don’t get mad. We’re not trying to depress anyone. Just keeping it real.
Yet, don’t worry. After beating Cleveland in Cleveland, celebration is in the air. So let’s give it a Spin.
The Steelers Difference
If people question if the “Steelers Way” is still relevant and competitive in today’s National Football League, then you can provide this win against the Browns as Exhibit “A” in Pittsburgh’s favor.
This critical victory demonstrated succinctly that the Steelers organization from top to bottom still know how to develop premium grade team culture. This win also showcases the best of Coach Mike Tomlin.
Yes, it’s true. The Cleveland Browns were far from being healthy. In fact, most of their offense was playing injured or ailing from the sidelines. Yet, talent wise, opportunity wise, and crowd wise, they should have won this game.
Their franchise desperately needed this win. But, again they fell to Pittsburgh. Why? It’s because of a clear difference.
Pittsburgh is a team and Cleveland has a roster of talented players.
The post-game implosion by Odell Beckham, Jr. and a host of other Browns players was more than proof of what still separates the two squads.
Sure…the Steelers locker isn’t without its own imperfections, most notable being the case of a disgruntled Melvin Ingram being forcefully traded to the Kansas City Chiefs this week.
Still, there remains no comparison between the two organizations when it comes to leadership and team unity, and despite their many shortcomings, it continues to be what gives Steelers Nation hope their beloved franchise can outperform expectations.
Hold Them Horses
Yet, speaking of expectations. The league’s intelligentsia were quick to declare the Pittsburgh Steelers null and void a few weeks back when the team was branding itself with a disappointing 1-3 record.
But, almost just as rapidly, these so-called league experts are now seemingly overanxious to atone for their wicked ways by declaring the Black and Gold to be one of the biggest sleepers in the league.
“You can never count out those Pittsburgh Steelers,” just about all of them said.
Well…as much as we would like to absorb that enthusiasm and channel it into unbridled celebratory parades in the streets, in full honesty, we need to temper these opinions with some well-placed sanity.
Those of us who have been watching, cheering, jeering and shouting at each and every play of this team this season (and countless before) know this year’s Pittsburgh is like a baby giraffe trying to take its first steps.
There is some bright possibilities, but it’s been all wobbly legs thus far. There hasn’t been a single win out of the four this season where you could soberly suggest the Steelers have been dominant in any way.
Instead, you just have to admire this team’s ability thus far to make so much out of so little. Four wins? How did you do that?
Faithful In Little Things
One of the biggest clues to solving this mystery is to examine the recent play of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.
When the team had reached its nadir at the end of the season’s first quarter, Big Ben found himself being showered with unaffectionate terms like “Washed Out”. Fortunately, he responded as a professional and embraced an alternative style of play.
The old dog learned some new tricks including the idea of being faithful with little things.
In other words, he avoided the temptation to fight the criticisms with an inflated ego. Rather, he took the humble approach of handing the ball off more frequently and making completions when necessary.
Since that time, Roethlisberger’s record is 3-0, with 748 passing yards, four passing touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Now, that might be the equivalent of single game statistics you would expect from Kyler Murray this season, but that’s the point. Big Ben stopped worrying about quarterback comparisons and preserving his legacy at all costs, and instead focused on doing what’s necessary to give this team the best chance to win.
It’s in these areas where the emperor has found his groove again, and it’s a groove that could take this team far.
One of the most exciting revelations of the Cleveland Browns game was a glimpse into the future of your Return-To-Glory Pittsburgh Steelers.
Not too long ago, the Steelers offensive line was a team of Dancing Bears. Sure, if you wanted some Pass Pro, they were your guys, tip toeing like Baryshnikov’s performing the Black Swan, creating pockets and passing dreams.
But, if you were to ask them to move the pile a few inches on a third and goal so the team could get the ball in for a touchdown…well, forgetaboutit!
In many ways, it was an embarrassment to all that is recited in Pittsburgh Steelers lore. We wanted a return to those days when you had a third and five and you’d be confident in sending in Alan Faneca to brush away some 350-pounders so Jerome Bettis could do a big-man celebration in the end zone.
I mean. That’s Steelers football.
The good news is that meat’s back on the menu, boys, as the grinding persona of the Pittsburgh Steelers is finding its way back home.
This was a highly capable Cleveland Browns run defense that the young bulls on the Steelers line were rolling over like tumbles on a weed.
With rookie sensation Najee Harris being all that was hoped for and more in the running game, the true victory of 2021 thus far is that the Pittsburgh may be able to impose its will in the offensive trenches once again.
Wouldn’t that be something?
Pathway To Domination
As has been previously stated, the Steelers have pretty much eked their way to this 4-3 record. In between the cheers and somewhat surprising victories, have been some shockingly poor plays and play-calling like having this year’s league best kicker Chris Boswell exchange his kicking boots for his best Fran Tarkington impression.
I mean, really. You get your kicker knocked out of a game without even having a clue that your punter never kicked field goals…not even in high school?
The Steelers were so strategically crippled after this woebegone fake field goal, that it truly was quasi-miraculous they were able to steal this bone out of the Dawg Pound.
Yet, take the bone they did. And, it will remain as one of the most satisfying victories of the year.
But, that being said, how do the Steelers start exchanging these “barely wins” with dominant performances?
The answer lies in the Steelers secondary. So far, the team only has two interceptions in seven games, and this explains the greatest difference between their 2020 defense and the one taking the field this year.
In fact, despite T.J. Watt’s heroics and the career ascending performances by Cam Heyward, the Pittsburgh defense only has six total turnovers to date.
This is the light that needs to come on. And, if Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler can somehow get his team to flip that switch, Steelers Nation might start being treated to the smackdowns they have desperately been craving.
Believe It While We Still Can
Look. Let’s not get carried away here. This Pittsburgh Steelers team is far from extraordinary at this point of the season.
Yet, as a team and organization, they are extraordinarily likeable. This is an exceptionally easy team to cheer for and the fact they are making a comeback from such a rough start makes the cheering all that more deserved.
No one is mortgaging their homes yet for Super Bowl tickets this year, but there are…gasp…renewed hopes and dreams.
If the ground keeps rumbling with an emerging run game and the defense can turn around its turnover capabilities, this just might be a season to remember.
But, this all requires the bear necessities being taken care of against the Chicago Bears.
With 19 consecutive home game victories on Monday Night Football, the Steelers have got to like their chances.
Let’s hope for the good of the cause that this game is not only won, but for the first time this season, not bearly won.