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Steelers Spin: The New Standard

Few teams in the National Football League have the opportunity the Pittsburgh Steelers have facing them.

Following a win Monday night against the hapless Indianapolis Colts by the tally of 24-17 the Steelers improved their record to 4-7.

Does this mean they can get back into the NFL playoffs hunt?

C’mon people. I mean really, c’mon.

Yet, there is something to play for and Pittsburgh has one of the most unique situations to be able to do so.

Where else could you have a team in the deep depths of the league caldrons lead by a highly experienced head coach with absolutely zero chance of losing his job?

It’s rare moment in NFL history. It really is.

Most other team owners would be having secret lobster dinners with top level college coaches about this time.

Not in Pittsburgh. Which is why it makes this situation so unique. Coach Mike Tomlin has the chance to turn the rest of the season into a full-on football laboratory.

I mean, does anyone really care that much at this point whether the team wins or loses? Well…yes…we want to be winners. We don’t want that fool Cincinnati Bengals fan at the office to continue poking fun of us.

But it’s not like normal times where we would be SO angry if the team lost. The pressure is off. And this is uniquely coupled with the fact there is no pressure in terms of job security for Tomlin.

Which means…it’s lab time. It’s the longest preseason training session a coach could ever have. There are literally six more games for the storied franchise to simply figure things out.

In fact, there is plenty of time to establish exactly what will be the “New Standard” in Pittsburgh. It’s not a throw out the baby with the bathwater type of “New Standard”. It’s more of just a Steelers Standard 2.0.

What about the old version of the “Standard is the Standard”? Well…for the last decade it didn’t equal Super Bowl Championships. This we know.

So why not experiment with the rest of the season? Why not really discover what the new standard is all about? In fact, why not give it a Spin?

Prima Donna-Less?

If you haven’t noticed, one of the areas where Tomlin and the front office did make a major adjustment to the “Standard” in recent seasons is they decided against hiring Prima Donnas.

You may not have been overly thrilled with the draft selections and the free agents they acquired the past five years ago, but you’ll see a pattern in all who they have added to the squad. They are mostly, fine people and drama free.

This is following the years of Antonio Brown, Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant where there were larger headlines off the field many times than on it. Despite having one of the most talented offenses ever assembled, Pittsburgh decided it wasn’t worth the hassle of paying Public Relations firms to put out fires.

Considering the life of Antonio Brown pre-Tomlin and post-Tomlin, Coach Mike certainly demonstrated himself capable of managing Prima Donnic talent, but at some point the team decided enough is enough.

Can the team be championship grade without a high percentage of high dramatists? That jury is still out.

As for myself, I like this adjustment to “the Standard” and I hope it remains in the new release. I may be naïve, but I believe you can win with a team of nice guys.

Contrary to the myth, they don’t always end up last.

Next Man Up?

What happens if Kenny Pickett ends up being the real deal? What if he turns out to be one of the brightest stars in the National Football League?

Do you give him every last penny his agent demands and for the next 15 years? Or instead, do you decide to focus on engineering a steady conveyor belt of talent, so you’re never required to be held hostage by outsized contracts?

It always drives Ben Roethlisberger groupies nuts when this is mentioned, but there is no question his mammoth sized contract renewals impacted the Steelers ability to have a deep squad the last five years.

It’s a nice thing to say, “Next man up” when there is an injury on the team, but it’s another thing to have a man capable of saying “Here I am”.

When Roethlisberger was still functioning at an elite level on his rookie contract, the Steelers were exceptionally deep, especially on defense. You could lose a lineman or two and another hugely capable individual would be ready to shine in the light.

Yes. It was “Next man up”. Back in the day.

By the time the team was renewing Big Ben’s contracts for megabucks while his performance and body, understandably, was in decline, there was a degradation of roster depth that was clearly noticeable.

It was no surprise that once he retired last year, Pittsburgh all the sudden had casino chips to invest in the free markets.

Look what happened when T.J. Watt got injured this year. It was an entirely different defense no matter how many press conferences tried to tell the story otherwise.

This is a problem faced by all NFL franchises, but there is a decision point in how this will be approached in the future and now is as good of a time to determine it as ever.

Is Pittsburgh going to be a team of a few mega-stars, with a thin roster, or will the new Standard be to focus on development and renewal of young talent?

This is certainly the “draft a new cheap one” choice the team has made through the years with wide receivers. Should this be the same direction for all positions?

Think it over. These are big decisions.

Reloading?

It’s a long-circulated and frequently mocked saying of the Steelers front office that claimed, “We don’t rebuild, we reload.”

For years, this seemed to be an absolute truth when it came to Pittsburgh and one that outside commentators seemed to admire. They would note the Steelers never really had down years and it was often accredited (rightly) to Coach Mike Tomlin’s winning ways.

Yet, as we look back in the team’s post-season performances over the past decade, is reloading the best option?

Maybe it’s better to plant the sticks of dynamite on occasion and start more from scratch.

If you look at the new dominant teams in the NFL, like the Buffalo Bills, Kansas City Chiefs, Cincinnati Bengals, Miami Dolphins and the Minnesota Vikings…these were teams that were completely awful not too long ago and turned things around with new leadership and totally new approaches.

Almost all of them had high-level draft picks or a willingness to gamble big in free agency to get the talent that made a difference.

There was a time when the Steelers were a team known for being able to develop players better than any other franchise, and by a long shot. Is this really the case anymore?

If you’re answer is “Yes”, then please point out what part of the team is growing at an impressive rate.

The Steelers are a team where the Standard is holding onto players…probably too long…and not trading them away for boatloads of draft picks as other teams have.

They also, with perhaps the exception of this year, have avoided being heavily active in free agency and instead adding only mid-level talents.

They are fierce about keeping their own.

Is it time to rethink this strategy?

No answers here. Just points to ponder.

Change Phobic

How many times have the Steelers been on a national broadcast when the announcers go on and on again about how stable the team is in regards to the lack of a changing of the guard?

We’ve seen the graphic so many times of how the team has had only three head coaches since 1969.

Avoiding the conversation of whether Tomlin should remain here another ten years or not (as he’s been excellent and earned his longevity to this point) what about the next head coach that is hired somewhere down the line?

Is it best to basically say, “You’ve got ten years, minimum…good luck”?

The challenge with this approach is that it has a trickle-down effect throughout all the coaching ranks. If the head coach is on the receiving end of the act of kindness of being able to stay as long as he wants, shouldn’t he extend that courtesy to all of the assistant coaches as well?

The domino effect is having coaches that are overstaying their welcome.

Again, not having answers, just posing questions.

Is it better to make stability at all costs a key part of the Standard 2.0 or should the team shift towards a more “What have you done lately” approach? Or at least when it comes to assistant coaches?

Enough Philosophy

Getting back to the real world, the here and now…the Steelers have a matchup against the Atlanta Falcons on Sunday.

After finding the Colts to be more at their level of play, they’ll look forward to competing against a similar type of team in the Falcons.

This is a strange team they are facing. One with a kick returner serving as their running back. Also, it’s a team with one of the most exciting rookie talents in Drake London although sadly, for him, he has no one capable of throwing the ball in his direction.

I know this. He’s on one of my Fantasy Football teams.

It must be said, that if the Steelers win this game, and the Baltimore Ravens and Cincinnati Bengals both lose theirs, Pittsburgh loonies will start saying they’ll be playoffs contenders again.

But let’s be real.

These are all preseason games for the rest of the year. Let’s make the most of them.

That will happen by continuing to develop an exciting young quarterback in Kenny Pickett and getting him acclimated with the host of talent assembled around him in the skill positions.

The offensive line is…dare we say it?…starting to come together and might be the team’s greatest area of growth this season.

The defense really should be better than it’s performing. There are significant stars in the lineup and add Alex Highsmith to that list as he’s been lights out all season.

Why aren’t they better? Do we use our highest draft pick next year for an offensive lineman or a shutdown corner?

The next few games of this extended preseason will provide these answers. Including, which of our coaching staff is doing a fine job with developing talent…and which need to seek employment elsewhere.

All of these solutions will be revealed if we watch closely enough. And the biggest reveal of all is this is…drumroll…

What should be the new Standard in Pittsburgh now and well into the future?

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