The state of Pennsylvania will be experiencing seismic reverberations as East meets West with the Pittsburgh Steelers taking on the high-flying Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday.
Speaking of states…the state of the Steelers. Sigh. Not so steely as the team sunk to a rapidly rusting record of 2-5 after losing 10-16 in a hard fought, but still disappointing, game last week against the Miami Dolphins.
Now the team takes on the Eagles who come in with a perfect record of 6-0 and with their raptor eyes squarely on the Super Bowl prize.
By most mathematical calculations the Steelers are set up to be bird food this weekend, but what good was math in high school anyway?
With the feisty young Kenny Pickett at the helm, much talent in his arsenal and a Steelers defense beginning to regain their footing, there is hope. There is always hope.
So…let’s give it a Spin.
There is much enthusiasm over the prospects of the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year returning to the field of conflict this weekend. When T.J. Watt went down at the beginning of the season with the dreaded pectoral muscle injury it was believed he would be done for the year and flags were hung at half-mast all throughout Pittsburgh.
But alas! Our hero is not out, he was just a little down. So, with all accounts saying Watt is ready to go, should Coach Mike Tomlin put him in the game?
For this answer, we will reference the eternal words of Dirty Harry, played by Clint Eastwood, in the movie Magnum Force:
“A man’s got to know his limitations.”
Yo, Coach Tomlin, your team is 2-5 and your future is much brighter than your present. With a Bye Week coming up on the schedule, this is one of the most no-brainer decisions of the year.
Sit the man.
We’re One Of Them Now
Not too long ago we were bemoaning how poorly Mike Tomlin’s teams would fare against the has-beens and never-weres of the National Football League.
Contrary to Steelers Nation fables, Tomlin didn’t lose every game to 1-10 teams. That would be fiction. It was only 99% of them.
Well… look at us now sports fans. We’re one of them now. That limping antelope with the herd of potential champions far in front of us and the warm, panting breath of the lion approaching rapidly from behind.
Don’t glance back. It only makes it worse.
This 2022 Pittsburgh Steelers season is close to being a carcass on the smoldering desert sands. The team needs to have the self-awareness of understanding when it’s time to cash in their chips and walk away from the table.
Yes, there is a ton of fun left in this season as Pickett to Pickens is still full of pleasant surprises and the Steelers defense is once again on the rise, but sometimes championships are just not in the cards.
Right now, is when next year’s champions can be made. If there are teams out their desperate to make enhancements to their Super Bowl odds, the Steelers ought to be willing to profit from their desperation.
How much improved could this team be next year if they had a couple of first round picks? Or a few second and third rounders? That offensive line could become suddenly formidable.
If the Steelers front office is still whispering away in Ganja smoke filled rooms with the mantra of “We don’t rebuild, we reload” then we could be on this “standard is the standard” of mediocrity for another decade.
Hopefully, the Carpe Diem plans are to throw out bait while the fishing is good.
One For The Gipper
How did the Pittsburgh Steelers get themselves in such a Heinz pickle? Blame it on the last five years of trying to wring one last championship out of the Hall of Fame career of Ben Roethlisberger.
If the Steelers weren’t overflowing with sentimentality, they would have taken Big Ben’s elbow injury in 2019 as the last call for drinks for what was a storied career for the great one.
His injury resulted in tears of three of the five flexor tendons in his elbow and he was never one to have the strongest offseason workout regimens. Gambling that would improve was too big of a gamble to go all in on winning more Super Bowls and the radical reshaping of the team should have been started back then.
Instead, they extended the massive economic anchor to a sinking ship, and they converted the offense seemingly irrevocably to one designed for an endless series of four-yard pass attempts.
Even if there wasn’t an NFL premium quarterback available via trade or draft, there should have been a preparation in place for the proper launch of a rookie quarterback’s career.
A Kenny Pickett-type should have been on the roster years ago and a massive focus on building an offensive line that could give him time to throw, and grow, should have been the highest priority.
Those who say a strong defense is a quarterback’s best friend never asked the quarterback. He’ll take five immovable objects over a strong defense any day.
If it required making radical adjustments in Roethlisberger’s compensation package to make this happen, it should have been done.
The soft decisions when it came to Big Ben was coupled with a head-in-the-sand idea that they already had their quarterback in Mason Rudolph. We knew. Everyone else knew. Why didn’t the Steelers know?
Kenny Pickett’s interception at the end of the game against the Miami Dolphins was unfortunate. The fact that he has only two touchdowns and seven interceptions so far this season is dismal.
But that’s the growing pains of a rookie quarterback. The real rookie mistake is how long the Steelers spent living in the past.
Got To Admit
It’s getting better. A little better all of the time.
At least that’s the sense you get watching this year’s version of the Steelers. There is some type of relief in rooting for a team that is young, restless and slowly improving.
The past few years have been ones where most of the games you shook your head realizing the team was on a strong downslide.
This year is different. Even though the end results have been largely unattractive there are consistently moments of brilliance and bright hopes for the future.
I’ve always enjoyed the preseason because it’s usually only there where you get to see the younger players shine and now those moments are almost always fully on display with this year’s version of the Steelers.
Will Najee Harris be able to break out of his sophomore slump? Will Pat Freiermuth continue to climb the ranks toward being considered one of the best tight ends in the league? Will George Pickens make another one of those catches? Can Connor Heyward play at this level? What about Jaylen Warren? Is he potentially a real deal in the NFL? Diontae Johnson is only in his fourth season.
On the defense, does Alex Highsmith have the ability to be, dare we say it, another T.J. Watt? Is Montravius Adams about to break out? Isaiahh Loudermilk? DeMarvin Leal flashed before his injury.
The Steelers two best players are young as well. Minkah Fitzpatrick is only 25 and T.J. Watt is in his prime at 28. Most of the team’s secondary have only been in the league a few years.
No. This Steelers team isn’t a winning team thus far this year. But they certainly are exciting to watch and easy to support.
With the bar lowered, every great play is a bonus rather than an expectation. This might be one of my favorite seasons in years.
If the Steelers play their cards right with trades, drafts and free agency, this might be the first of many favorite seasons in a row.
Oh yeah, the game on Sunday. Against the Philadelphia Eagles.
This may surprise you, but the Eagles lead this intrastate matchup by a combined record of 48-29-3. At home they are 26-8-2 against the Steelers.
During the Super Bowl era the Eagles are 9-0 at home in this contest.
Pittsburgh is showing up in Philly with an interception-prone Pickett going against the league leaders in takeaways at 14.
Philadelphia’s quarterback Jalen Hurts has 12 touchdowns this year, six of which he earned with his own legs. He’s rapidly ascending to top tier respectability in the NFL.
In other words, didn’t we say it was so much fun to watch our young players grow?
Make sure you move the bricks far away from the recliners in the living room. This might be as tough to watch as the Buffalo Bills game was for Steelers Nation.
Then again, the Steelers kids may just surprise us. That’s what kids do.