The Pittsburgh Steelers continued their winning ways by dispatching of the flightless Atlanta Falcons by a score of 19 to 16.
The Steelers roll along their journey on a season that was regretfully firmly neutered several weeks ago by their loss to the division ascending and last year’s Super Bowl runner up Cincinnati Bengals.
This leave’s Steelers Nation somewhat Comfortably Numb as the remaining schedule of games include matchups that only kind of, sort of matter and are lacking much of the adrenaline rush normally experienced.
Still, the team is on a pathway of Upward and Onward with back-to-back victories, admittedly against other also rans in the National Football League.
Yet, this week the Baltimore Ravens are coming to roost in Pittsburgh and any week draped in purple is one to get fired up about.
It’s leaning toward this being a Lamar Jackson-less game, for which the Steelers, who are not prideful this year, would be overly grateful.
What’s the significance of this game? Let’s give it a Spin.
Midway Through Midlands
The plain truth is the Steelers have been only a slightly above average team for several years now. Worse, they’ve been a so-so squad and a trending one down at that.
This is what makes this season so much more encouraging. Yes, they have demonstrated by the win-loss record to be a below average team this year. Yet clearly they are a team on the rise.
None is this is more evident than in the play of quarterback Kenny Pickett. Four games without an interception is the number to keep in mind as ultimately giving the ball away is what gets young throwers an appointment with the bench.
There is nothing in Pickett’s game yet that should get anyone believing he is the next coming of anything, but he is trending in a way where this talent-needy team will be able to focus on draft picks and free agency moves in positions other than quarterback.
Just ask the New York Jets. That’s a big deal.
Although this is a major area of moving upward and onward on the team there are other signs as well of improvement.
The offensive line isn’t going to get anyone to forget of any of Steelers past great road grading crews but it would be wrong to not notice the improvement that’s been made since game one of this season.
Early in the year you wouldn’t have been thought stark raving mad if you believed the team needed an Etch A Sketch approach which meant a firm shake and start all over.
There are clearly building blocks here and a few strategic upgrades with a young Blue Chipper or two could be all that is required to get this squad scoring A grades.
The running game is also improving nicely, and there is all of the core talent necessary to race through the increasingly larger holes that are being opened.
As for the defense, there is a good balance between young rising players and prime-of-their-life performers to make this a formidable unit for years.
Again, they are merely a high-level performer or two away from being the elite squad we expected.
All in all, this is a promising foundation to build upon.
Yes, there are plenty of ashes all around. But there is some promising rising above them happening.
Never Gonna Let You Down
The best performance of the Steelers-Falcons game came when the gates opened and Steelers Nation walked past ticket counters wearing Black and Gold.
This invasion of enemy stadiums by Steelers fans has been a trademark since the 70’s when the franchise’s faithful began rebranding what it really meant to be “America’s Team” despite all the efforts by the Dallas Cowboys public relations department.
If you’ve been reading the Spin long enough you know how much I abhor when the announcers say, “Steelers fans sure do travel well”. It creates this erroneous image as if the entire city of Pittsburgh empties on Saturdays to make flights all over the country.
I’ve been to airports after these away game stadium overrides and no…there are not thirty thousand Pittsburgh locals waiting to climb onboard a Southwest flight.
Steelers fans don’t travel well. They are.
As in they are EVERYWHERE.
This is why the coaches and players should always be held to the highest levels of accountability when it comes to winning games and championships.
Pittsburgh is the only team in the league that doesn’t have away games. There is never a time when players can look to the stands and with a tear in their eyes say, “No one came out to see us play.”
Imagine the psychological effect there is on the alleged “Home team” when they look up to their own stands and see all those Terrible Towels spinning? How many points is that worth each game?
Steelers Nation is undefeated when it comes to being the greatest fans in the NFL, year in and year out. They proved it once again in Atlanta while their team was coming in with a record of 4-7.
Steelers fans don’t rebuild. They don’t reload.
They just win, Baby.
We expect our team to do the same.
We can all agree the current Pittsburgh Steelers are a few cards short of a full deck. Maybe more than a few.
This is why next year’s draft and free agency period may be among the most important we’ve had in years. Especially since the upcoming draft picks will be higher than were used to receiving.
Yet as important as acquiring new royalty cards is, the team absolutely can not afford to lose any of the Jacks, Kings and Aces that we already have.
Highest on that list is Alex Highsmith. At age 25, he is heading into the greatest years of his life in terms of his NFL career and the team needs to do whatever it takes to ensure he and T.J. Watt are dancing partners for the remainder of their playing time.
If you look at the great Steelers defenses of all time, they had talented bookends, not just one dominant performer.
So much is said about how much T.J.’s game raises the level of Alex’s play, but the obverse is true as well.
Although Highsmith isn’t technically up for free agency, this offseason is the right time to make him a Steeler for life.
Another key keeper for the Steelers is Cam Sutton. He’s been lights out for most of the year and trending upward for a while.
This doesn’t mean the Steelers don’t still need a shutdown corner to bring in through the draft. But losing players like Sutton would only mean the team is maintaining levels rather than bringing their game to the next level.
Much has been made about George Pickens sideline bursts during the Atlanta game. Much more will be made right now, I’m sorry to say for the worn out and weathered on the topic.
It seemed George was displeased with the play calling of Offensive Coordinator Matt Canada. Don’t worry George, we all are. Most of your team is as well.
However, they don’t express their displeasure in a way that is disrespectful of their fellow teammates including your rookie quarterback and your fellow receivers.
Truthfully, I didn’t really care that much about it the first time around. I loved that team captain Cam Heyward came over and gave him a one-on-one counseling session on the topic.
The problem was it didn’t stop after that. Look, if a guy who has the same level of respect in the locker room as Joe Greene once did takes the time to share wisdom, you best be listening.
I wasn’t superbly thrilled with Coach Mike Tomlin’s response either. He pulled out his once glorious and now oldy moldy line of “I’d rather tell him ‘Woah’ than ‘Giddyup’” and basically told us all, “There is nothing here, move along.”
Give Tomlin a couple of wins in his belt and he’s Tomlin again when it comes to telling the fans, “You know nothing Jon Snow”.
But, Houston, we’ve got a problem.
I love that Pickens has the kind of potential to be the next Randy Moss. But he hasn’t done anything yet.
What will he be like when he has?
It’s great the Steelers are excellent at drafting wide receivers. But the last thing we need with so many other needs, is to need to.
It’s rather remarkable that a 5-7 Steelers team would be favored to beat the 8-4 Baltimore Ravens, but this seems to be the case.
Although the Ravens are at the top of the AFC North in tiebreakers it’s really the Cincinnati Bengals who are the class of the division this year and who are boasting the momentum.
The Steelers needed to Carpe Diem their opportunity against the Bengals a few weeks back and they didn’t.
So as enticing as it is to get excited about this matchup, it’s just another game on a lost season.
Fortunately, it is the Baltimore Ravens, so that adds some juice and with it some additional incentive to show that we are a team on the rise.
Are we? Tune in as this is weekend we really find out.