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Steelers Spin: When The Saints Come Marching In

What will the New Orleans Saints see when they come marching in this Sunday to take on their downtrodden hosts, the Pittsburgh Steelers, who have earned every part of their 2-6 record?

Will they see a Pittsburgh squad rejuvenated with hope and new direction following their Bye week or instead will it be a team vulnerable to collapse with the first signs of challenge?

Mike Tomlin has been made to pull a few rabbits out of his hat during his storied tenure here as the Steelers head coach, but this will be one of his greatest magical tricks of all.

It would be difficult to lock gaze with another pair of eyes in the locker room who would still believe his exhortation of, “We’re still in this”.

So with that hackneyed line realistically absent from his renowned thesaurus full of word dances, what will be the new company line?

And how will the home crowd respond to another slow start to a game? Will it be with fresh new reverberations of “Benny…Benny…Benny” or instead will they behave appropriately and support the major renovations going underway with this 2022 version of the Steelers?

Many fans are having to go through training exercises themselves. How do we deal with being 2-6 in the first half of the season anyway? So many of us have been forced to call our friends in Cleveland and Cincinnati for advice.

How exactly do you fashion those brown paper bags?

So many questions. And so many miracles and much divine intervention required as the Saints come marching in.

What will this all look like? Let’s give it a Spin.

Pickett Off

Those of us who bellowed from the rafters for Kenny Pickett to become the Crown Prince of Steelers quarterbacks cannot now ethically disassociate ourselves from our firm endorsements issued prior in shouts and rants

For the team to go back to the dismal past and say, “We told you he wasn’t ready” and to reinsert Mitch Trubisky back into the starting role at this point would be the final coffin nail in what has been an utterly disappointing coaching year for Tomlin and his staff.

At that point, it would be clear they have surrendered the idea of building a future dynasty and instead are overly focused on their LinkedIn profiles.

No. We got what we asked for in Pickett.

So far he’s carrying a Scarlett Letter type of a stat sheet with a quarterback rating of 66.8 which is lower than most of us put our home thermostats on during wintertime.

Additionally, he’s only mustered two touchdowns, both of which he attained with his legs a long time ago. He’s already tallied eight interceptions through the course of his young career, although many of these can be attributed to his teammates letting him down on their receivership duties.

Let’s face it, Steelers Nation. There is no glass slipper in this story yet. Will there be before Pittsburgh’s season turns full pumpkin?

If we’re being honest (and that’s all we do in the Spin) there hasn’t been too many bright shiny sparks or rays of sunshine in Kenny’s play.

But, if you squint your eyes really, really tightly, there are a few occasions where you can squarely say, “There’s something about this kid.”

The best news of all is by the end of the season we’ll know with a fair amount of certainty whether we’ll be able to use our high draft pick on a monster of an offensive tackle…or the top quarterback available.

Kenny? You want a line that can protect you in next year’s draft? Show us what you got. And quick like.

Najee? Is That You?

The best thing you can say about the Steelers offense is that it’s like a box of chocolates you get during the Holidays.

It literally could be on the cusp of greatness and for many years to come.

Or, it could be an awful disappointment, like when you bite into that chocolate hoping it’s coconut cream inside only to discover you’re chomping on some fig gin clove mush and you have to spit it out in the trash bin without letting Aunt Madelyn catching you.

Diontae Johnson? No one can cover the guy when he wants to get open and catch the ball. Could he be the next Antonio Brown for this offense (minus his…uh…ummm…public relations shortcomings)?

Pat Freiermuth? Could he be the next Heath Miller? He’s a good enough guy and he’s flashed brilliance when he can stay healthy and on the field.

George Pickens? Does this rookie have enough Randy Moss in him to make him impossible to defend?

Kenny Pickett? Could he be at least almost as good as the guy whose college records he broke?

But lastly, the biggest question of all of these is, “Najee, is that you?”

There were two consolation prizes in what was otherwise another less than mesmerizing season in 2021. One was the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year rightly going to T.J. Watt. The other was the rise of then rookie Najee Harris to being considered one of the top running backs in the league.

We thought we had our next Franco Harris. Our next Jerome Bettis. We were set.

Najee? Is that you?

There is no question that Jaylen Warren has earned all of the suggestions this year that he might be the team’s top running back. In a fair world, he would be trotting out with the first team offense when Pittsburgh takes the field.

He’s been running that much harder. He’s been playing that much better

Yet, for this to be a box of chocolates worthy of future Super Bowl dreams Najee needs to find his way back to running back prominence in the NFL.

After all, there was a time when the Tennessee Titans Derrick Henry was in a running back timeshare with some guy named Dion Lewis.

Warren deserves to tote the rock. But finding Najee is one of the most important remaining tasks of the 2022 season.

Watt Are We Going To Do Without Him?

Steelers Nation is hanging their collective hopes on the return of T.J. Watt to the field as bringing much needed resuscitation to the team’s flatlined defense.

This Pittsburgh defense was expected to be one of the top five this year? What happened with that?

You can talk about offensive coordinators being over their heads, and rookie quarterbacks playing below what was hoped, but the biggest downer of the 2022 season thus far is undoubtedly the defense.

How can we continue to get mowed over like a John Deere convention? Why are these receivers running past our secondary like they’re marble statuary?

It’s very possible the return of Watt to the lineup might just be what the doctor ordered. All of the attention he’ll receive will take double team pressure off of Cam Heyward and Alex Highsmith and their game will rise accordingly.

And just that half of a second difference in the quarterback pressures might be enough to make our cornerback and safeties look better.

This is all true. But there remains one problem.

With T.J. back on the field, this defense won’t be able to learn how to play respectfully without him. No defense in the NFL can live and die on the shoulders of one player.

That’s…indefensible.

All That Jazz

As the Saints do come marching into Pittsburgh will they be playing the Steelers swan song?

They come in at 3-6 in a weak division that still offers them hope and they are dealing with their own quarterback confusion. It’s possible they might switch out their slingers midway through the game if things don’t go well from the start.

For the Steelers, there is a huge difference between ending the day with a 3-6 record after the Bye week, or carrying a 2-7 scar. That’s in “Turn out the lights…the party is over” territory for sure.

As much as the drama will unfold on the field the veritable plotline will be on the sidelines and it will be displayed all over the faces of the Steelers coaching staff.

There are enough tools in their kit to build a formidable win against New Orleans and they’ve had two weeks to construct something new for the back half of this season.

Will they? Can they? That’s the true story developing in Pittsburgh.

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