Following their total dismantling by the Buffalo Bills last week by a score of 3-38, the Pittsburgh Steelers look to the foggy waters outside their stadium to see the ghostlike shapes of pirate ships heading towards them lead by their most knavish of villains, one Captain Tom Brady.
A loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers this weekend and it will all but surely sink the ship of the Steelers 2022 playoffs hopes deep into the storied confluence of the Allegheny and Monongahela rivers.
If Pittsburgh ends up with a 1-5 record following this weekend with the Miami Dolphins and the Philadelphia Eagles next in line to feast on the feeble Steelers, their only competitive ambitions the remainder of the season will be to avoid being the laughing stocks of the league.
How did this come to be?
Not too long ago our biggest complaint was that Coach Mike Tomlin would lose to the NFL’s 1-16 teams. Now it looks like we’re on a path to become one ourselves.
What will happen this weekend? Will the Steelers pull off the upset against the Buccaneers and save their city from the pillaging of their NFL playoffs dreams?
Or will they be left to walk the planks?
Let’s unfurl the treasure map. Let’s give it a Spin.
The Fastest Defeat
Few of us were expecting the Steelers to be capable of shocking the Buffalo Bills with a dominating performance. Heck, if we’re being honest, we didn’t even expect them to eke out a surprise win. But no one anticipated the game being decided in the first minute of the contest.
When star quarterback Josh Allen tossed a 98-yard pass to Gabe Davis just past the sixty second mark the game was effectively over. To be that caught off guard by one of the strongest armed players in the game throwing to one of the Bills biggest playmaking receivers is just par for the course for this year’s Steelers.
They continue to seem to be woefully unprepared. They keep tripping over toys in the dark as if the game’s lights aren’t on for them.
A Decade Of Decay
The state of the Steelers should not be a surprise to the team’s fanbase. This has been a mediocrely coached team in Pittsburgh for years. In the past ten years, the collective coaching team hasn’t been embarrassingly poor. But it’s been barely above the line of average, if we’re being honest, and we already established that we are.
One only needs to look to Tomlin’s coaching tree, which looks more like a withered vine. How many of his past assistant coaches (with the exception of those forced into “early retirement”) have gone on to be elite head coaches in the league?
We’ll wait a few minutes if you need some time to ponder this.
This is not a team devoid of talent. There are many players on this roster who other teams would sweep up in a moment’s notice if they had a chance. Yet, how many of the players on Pittsburgh’s roster can you say took a major step forward this season compared to where they were in their careers last year?
Who is really getting coached up?
Regardless, the Pittsburgh Steelers still have one of the most talented leaders in the National Football League in Coach Mike Tomlin. From a Chief Executive Officer perspective, there isn’t another coach in the league who excels more at human resources.
Tomlin runs a tight ship, even when his ships are heading for the rocks as this year’s version most certainly is.
However, the way Tomlin has been doing Tomlin over the past decade just won’t cut it if this team has aspirations above and beyond barely sneaking into the playoffs each year. It hasn’t been championship grade for quite some time. That’s just facts.
The idea you can run a comfy organization that experiences incremental improvements year over year is the recipe for stability and healthy win-loss records, but it’s not the way to win it all.
The good news is Tomlin still is young. It’s not too late for him to reinvent himself as a coach willing to trash a season in order to experience profound transformation throughout his team, which is what is required now.
Forget about the reverence to the veterans. If a younger player has a brighter future, get the old guy out of the water and throw the kid in the pool.
If an assistant coach isn’t performing well and has lost the confidence of the team, then don’t wait until the end of the season to carefully contemplate his future. Take his name off of his office door, get him a carboard box for his desk items and call security for an escort.
Most of all, take a full evaluation of yourself. What areas do you excel at as a head coach? What part of the game should you be trusting and transitioning to other hands?
Make those decisions. Take action. Be radical.
Shake things up. Shake things down.
This season may be close to being baked for the Steelers, but Tomlin is still in the prime of his career. Is he willing to really do what it takes to redefine it?
With Tomlin having this job locked for at least the next five years, this is the most important change the team can hope to experience.
Reloading is so “yesterday” for this team. Rebuilding is what Steelers Nation wants these days.
With Kenny Pickett at the helm, rebuilding has never been so much fun. Let’s reinvent the team at all positions. Let’s focus on player development. Let’s toss out predictability and replace it with flash and whim.
With Ben Roethlisberger throwing the passes it was always about, “Let’s squeeze one last championship season out of his storied career.” We couldn’t just let loose and take chances.
Now with Kenny and a young suite of talented offensive players, we’ve got plenty of time on our hands once again. Let’s do what it takes to totally redesign this offense.
This process might need to start with a new offensive designer.
Riding The Bus
There are quite a few parallels to this young team and that of the Steelers of twenty years ago. Back then after several frustrating seasons and feeling as if Coach Bill Cowher had peaked in his ability to inspire players through spittle there was a big question:
Will Jerome Bettis experience a championship season worthy of his greatness?
His last few years were tainted with extraordinary pain from the many seasons of battering his body and disappointment from falling short in team expectations.
His eventual lifting of the Lombardi Trophy among cheers and tears in his hometown of Detroit in February of 2006 was the stuff of storybook endings.
The same holds true with the career of the great Cam Heyward, another player who will go down as one of Pittsburgh’s all-time leaders and legends.
Will the Pittsburgh Steelers be able to turn around their fortunes in time for a teary-eyed Heyward to raise his own championship trophy?
There is no question that if the Steelers make it to the playoffs within the next few years they will be doing so accompanied with shouts of, “Let’s win this for Cam.”
Take heart Steelers Nation. It may not look like it, but your Pittsburgh Steelers are a team on the incline. This happens anytime you discover your future franchise quarterback.
Is Kenny Pickett a sure thing? Of course not.
Yet, he’s already shown enough to inspire hope for a much brighter future for Pittsburgh than we’ve experienced in several years.
The hardest and most important objective in today’s National Football League is to discover your next franchise quarterback. We might have found him which already puts us ahead of most teams.
There are enough weapons gathered around Pickett to allow him to mold like clay a formidable offense he can lead for the months and hopefully many years ahead.
This Steelers defense will need a healthy Minkah Fitzpatrick and T.J. Watt to be able to mount a defense, but this will become reality soon.
Yes, there are pirates approaching in the bay. It’s possible they could leave this season in flames after this weekend.
Yet, even if this is the case, don’t be fooled by the smoke. It’s a time of incline for the Pittsburgh Steelers, as gradual as that climb might appear.