Steelers Spin: Divisional Playoffs Rants And Ramblings

Playoffs? You kidding me? I just hope we win a game.

These were the immortal words of then Indianapolis Colts coach Jim Mora at a press conference years ago. And although he was deflecting questions following a disappointing regular season loss for his team, his words should be the mantra of every playoff team.

I just hope we win a game.

Anyway, anyhow. There is no art. No style points. No fancy, dancy. Just get to the next gate.

Unfortunately, despite their impressive Wildcard win against the Miami Dolphins by a score of 30-12, the Pittsburgh Steelers have a tremendous challenge ahead as the well-rested Kansas City Chiefs await as do their boisterous fan base.

Is this where the story of the 2016 Steelers comes to a sad ending? Or is this merely the next chapter in the unfolding saga of one of the greatest mid-season turnarounds in team history?

The suspense shouldn’t be allowed to kill anyone. The answer is herein…here in the Spin:

Breeching The Fortress

Steelers fans will have their work cut out for them in trying to secure away seats at Arrowhead Stadium. By most accounts it’s one of the loudest stadiums in the NFL and every swinging Terrible Towel will have been hard earned. An early pan of the audience will speak volumes of how hostile an environment the Steelers will be facing.

Let’s Go Surfing

Speaking of fan support…a few weeks ago the Oakland Raiders had a home game against the San Diego Chargers as black and silver decorated fans filled practically every seat of the stadium. The problem? The game was in San Diego. Having grown up in San Diego, there were many times when I would watch my Pittsburgh Steelers play at…then…Jack Murphy Stadium amongst tens of thousands of my brethren and sistren. Charger fans are notoriously among the most fair-weather in the league. If the team is winning? No problem. You’ll see everyone with their Charger shirts and lightning bolt bumper stickers. If the team is struggling? Yeah…we’re off to the beach. Having grown up in San Diego, the reason why Chargers fans aren’t anything like…say…Green Bay Packers fans is simple. The weather is perpetually 80 degrees, the surf is up and there are girls in bikinis who need help putting sunscreen on their backs. Despite San Diego being a wealthy city of three million plus, it’s no surprise the team is leaving for Tinsel Town. San Diego is just not a football town. But that doesn’t mean the “San-Dee-A-Go-Supa-Chargers…Pow, Pow, Pow” didn’t have great teams. Air Coryell? One of the greatest offenses to ever play in the league. I had a few walks of shame to the stadium parking lot in my Steelers jersey after having QB Dan Fouts, TE Kellen Winslow and WR John Jefferson shred our faltering 1980’s defense. Still, my heart goes out to those…few…real Chargers fans.

Ice, Ice Baby

The pregame headline for this divisional game was the surprising news the game will be moved to 8:30 ET because of an impending, fierce, ice storm. How will this affect the game? Despite Pittsburgh being no stranger to cold weather games it remains advantage Chiefs. Kansas City doesn’t have anything close to the deep passing game the Steelers have where QB Alex Smith is all about ten yards and a cloud of dust. QB Ben Roethlisberger often struggles in stadiums where the crowd noise is against him. If the top is taken off of Pittsburgh’s passing game it will be up to the Steelers defense to win this game.

Honey, Who Shrunk The Game?

Kansas City has the ability to burn clock and to compress the game to just a handful of key moments. They are the boa constrictor of the NFL. A slow, somewhat tedious and…yes…boring death for their foes and fans. The Steelers will have fewer opportunities to express themselves on offense so those first few drives in the game are going to be critical if they are hoping to build a comfortable cushion. It seems as if the only cushion at this game will be of the seat variety.

Tyreek Gives A Peek

The biggest X-factor in Sunday’s game is Kansas City Chiefs Rookie WR Tyreek Hill. When Hill was drafted this year the skinny on him by the draftniks was he was a dangerous kick returner with world class speed, yet it was questionable whether he would be able to contribute much at wide receiver or running in the pros. Hmmm…the Steelers had a player just like this last year who had the fastest 40-yard time in the combine in 2014 at 4.28. I can’t mention his name, because the trolls would come out and go apoplectic at the mere mention of it. Okay…I’m going to do it anyway. Dri Archer. Since he was let go early last year while his kickoff return average was in the top five in the NFL, please name a single good return the team has had since? Still waiting? Could Archer have done worse? Was there a chance, just as Kansas City did with Hill, that Todd Haley could have figured to convert his speed into a significant NFL weapon? I say yes.

Train Wreck

LB Bud Dupree’s hit on QB Matt Moore in last week’s game was a few inches away from being legal, and certainly wasn’t a cheap shot. But it is a highlight reel that will roll in the heads of every quarterback who plays against him for the remainder of his young career. NFL Draft guru Mike Mayock had this to say about LB Bud Dupree when he was drafted by the Steelers. “Dupree is a big, strong, fast, freakish athlete. He’s a height-weight-speed guy. He’s explosive, big, strong and fits what Pittsburgh does defensively.” Yeah…it took awhile for these words to come true…but that sounds just about right.

The Backup

Although Dupree is now the undisputed starter as is the great LB James Harrison, LB Jarvis Jones has quietly been playing well as a backup. It’s hard for a former number one draft pick to become a career support player for a team, but Jones is making a good argument that at a reasonable price, he would provide quality depth for the Steelers at the position for several years to come. Sometimes a guy’s got to be out of the spotlight to rise up from the shadows.

Inside Job

Yes…RB Le’Veon Bell got all of the press from his dominance performance over the Dolphins, and deservedly so. But the members of the Steelers offensive line were the true stars of the game. It seems as if their level of play rises from week to week as they become a more and more tightly stitched unit. All of the hope and promise of a healthy C Maurkice Pouncey is coming to fruition as he’s enjoying his best year as a pro and the entire line is flourishing because of it.

Remember The Days…

When the left tackle position was a fright show? Big Ben does. And remember the days when people were questioning whether T Alejandro Villanueva was too tall to be a viable offensive lineman? The Spin said a couple years ago that he would end up being one of the greatest offensive tackles in Steelers history by the time he’s finished up his career in Pittsburgh. Does that sound so crazy now?

Didn’t I See You Twerking?

Anybody else hold your breath following WR Antonio Brown’s touchdown celebration against Miami Dolphins? Didn’t that look like the thrusty wusty that got him a 15 yard yellow hanky earlier this year? At this point, who cares? When it comes to playoffs, there are players who get tight, and those who get it right. There are times in the year when those spotlight seeking type of players can be an annoyance…but playoffs are the time when you want your stars to shine. Dance, Antonio, dance.

Where’s Gilbert Grape?

Coach Mike Tomlin may be a MUCH greater coach than Terry Bradshaw gives him credit for being, but some of his decisions remain a huge mystery. Like the fact that CB Justin Gilbert isn’t being used in kickoff returns despite being one of the best in the NFL at that role. Rumor has it he’ll be toting the rock against the Chiefs on Sunday. Here’s a farfetched prognosis for your amusement: Gilbert will out-return Tyreek Hill.

Point Of No Returns

If Gilbert doesn’t get the opportunity…or if he does and he doesn’t make a difference…the Steelers may be reaching the point of no returns. As in: no returns…and Special Teams Coach Danny Smith won’t be returning. Yeah…go Gilbert go.

LT

Not too long ago, the Steelers had the future of their defensive invested in the likes of DT Cam Thomas and DE Clifton Geathers. That wasn’t long following the fizzled career of former first round draft pick DT Ziggy Hood. When both DE Cameron Heyward and DE Stephon Tuitt went down this season it really threatened to throw the Steelers back in the dark ages up front. But the opposite happened…the backups really stepped up and DE L.T. Walton is one of those very deserving of praise. Has he been a standout? No…but when you’re filling the shoes of Heyward, being fairly unnoticeable in replacing him is a notable achievement.

Breaking Bad

When the Steelers were 4-5 this year, the Coach Mike Tomlin fan club was having a difficult time recruiting new members. Eight wins in a row later, it still is premature to prepare a spot for him in Canton, OH. If the streak goes to eleven wins…well, then maybe that discussion becomes relevant. But, what if the Steelers season ends on Sunday at Arrowhead? Has Tomlin taking them far enough to be acknowledged for doing an excellent job this year? Uh…it’s getting close, but this is the game that will decide the vote. If Tomlin can at least take him team to Foxborough, the year can be considered a success…and everything else is Lombardi flavored gravy.

I Hate Fantasy Football – The Sequel

The Miami Dolphins game was, by far, my most enjoyable Steelers game of the year. Not only because it was a playoff win. Not only because it was a blowout. But because I wasn’t checking my ESPN fantasy football app every two minutes during the game! Even worse…and here is a terrible confession…I wasn’t rooting against Big Ben because my opponent had him on their team. I never actually…ever…rooted for Roethlisberger to fail. I just might have…kind of encouraged him to hand off the ball for a touchdown rather than passing it. Yeah…I hate fantasy football. Well…I guess I kind of did just win the first ever Steelers Depot contributors fantasy football league. I didn’t want to share this because I’m such a humble guy. I didn’t want to mention that those bums had the guy who had never played fantasy football before get the last pick of the draft. I didn’t even want to share that I started 1-3 and roared back to the great prize. That would be boasting. Instead, of flaunting my trophy in public, I just stayed at home, put Queen’s “We Are The Champions” on auto-loop and moonwalked on the kitchen table. When you win…win classy. That’s the lesson here. Okay…when it comes to fantasy football…maybe it’s not “hate”. Maybe it’s simply one of those “it’s complicated” types of relationships. When’s the draft next year?

Survey Says…

Enough chasing butterflies…what about the game! All right…I wish I could make it easy for all of you, but this will be one of those miserable, dogfight type of games where you chew your nails down to the cuticle. Unfortunately, one of those skinny, little kicker guys with funny accents are either going to be hoisted on massive shoulders…or they will be sulking off of the field in shame. But…the Bos comes through. Steelers 24, Chiefs 21. Oh…and then Big Ben, after running off the field, will come to the postgame press conference being wheeled in a hospital gurney draped with IV bottles. No fears, Steelers Nation. He’ll be fine to take on Tom Brady.

About the Author

Michael K. Reynolds

Longtime Pittsburgh Steelers fanatic and author of the acclaimed Heirs of
Ireland series. MichaelKReynolds.com

  • Phil Brenneman II

    I have a point of disagreement and agreement concerning players who aren’t well thought of. Agreement first.

    1. I agree that Jarvis Jones would be a good signing as a backup for a very cheap price if you can do it. In limited time he has actually made some big plays. Makes you wonder where that has been for the last 3 years. For my part, I wouldn’t hate the signing but it would definitely have to be a good deal. I don’t think he is worth any more than a Moats for example.

    2. There is no way Todd Haley was going to make anything of Dri Archer. I will admit that he didn’t get the best blocking on KR, but in order to be successful you have to have some kind of skill set and Archer never displayed any. Truthfully, he didn’t even seem to have a ton of game speed. I would bet there are at least 4 guys on the roster who play faster than he did despite his 40 time. He had no vision, no agility, no ability to break tackles, and was quite possibly the easiest player to tackle in NFL history.

  • Jaybird

    Great stuff Michael. Everything except the part about Dri archer. The fact that the Bills claimed him and he never showed up to report speaks volumes. I would have given my left nut to have been physically gifted to play this game at the pro level. Unfortunately I was born with the straight line speed of a three legged snapping turtle. I just can’t get on board with the whole ” not finding a way to use the guy” spiel. He just quite on the NFL dream .

  • Dri was a fabulous college player. His one main crime to Steelers fans was that he was a third round pick and he could never let that down. The team quit on him in his second year. Then he went through two teams. I guess he was burned out. Or maybe he hates Buffalo wings. I hope he comes back on the radar next year and gives himself another chance. One thing you can’t argue with: The Steelers have done diddly squat with returns since dropping him. I think fans…and the team buckling to fans quit on him WAY too early. He was actually doing well returning kicks at the time. But…I am among only three or four people in Steelers Nation so your voice is the majority.

  • Disagree. Totally. But you and many, many others share your opinion. As I mentioned above…I hope the kid gets another chance. Oh…but I agree with you on item one…although you’d pay Jarvis more than I would.

  • John Pennington

    If Green cant play and help the team he should not be able to travel with the team at all waste of a spot and ticket and hotel room put him on IR and be done with his sorry ass once and for all.

  • Phil Brenneman II

    Well, one point I will concede is that our KR unit hasn’t noticeably improved since he left but he did nothing that should lead you to believe he was ever going to amount to anything. Like I said, never displayed any agility, any vision, and his game speed wasn’t 4.3. Shazier, Bryant, DHB, AB, etc all play faster. The thing about the NFL is that it mostly neutralizes speed. So if you offer nothing else…Well, see the Dri Archer story.

  • Sam Clonch

    You’d be wrong about it being hard to get tickets. They were as cheap as $35 as recently as Wednesday. I got front row seats for less than I’ve paid for nose bleeds in Heinz field during the regular season! Chiefs fans are weak, just not used to having to play this late in the year, lol!

  • Sam Clonch

    Tickets on stubhub strarting at $50 right now! Chiefs “kingdom” is a joke!

  • Jaybird

    I can’t argue that we have done squat in the return game since he has left . But I think your giving him too much credit. Our special teams have been all around horrible and that’s not because we miss him. There are so many different problems with our special teams -like you mentioned in your article. Maybe it’s time for Danny boy to move move on. I didn’t hate him because he was a third round pick . I hated that fact that he went down as soon as he was touched by a defender.
    He never caught on with another team , so I just don’t see how you can say the steelers gave up on him.

  • Sam Clonch

    He has PS eligibility still, right? I’d give him a chance. Nothing to lose.

  • Jaybird

    Correct me if I’m wrong but didn’t we try to sign him to the practice squad

  • Sam Clonch

    Believe you’re right. He declined.

  • Chad Sanborn

    He had the speed. But not the downfield vision. And there was never much room to run. We haven’t ever had stellar ST play. So blocking is his enemy. And he doesn’t have Hesters ability to find holes. But I give him a shot in the preseason

  • RickM

    The problem with Archer. other than the minor gusts of wind that knocked him to the ground, was that his “fabulous’ college career was compiled against the likes of the mighty Towson Tigers, the dynamic Akron Zip, the brilliant Bowling Green, etc. Tyreek Hill came out of Oklahoma State. The level of competition difference is day and night apart.

    But I admire you for standing up for what you believe in, and I agree that he may be better on kickoff returns than what we have. There was something wrong though about his lack of desire. I remember one play for around 15 yards where he simply ran out of bounds and didn’t even fight for extra yardage. And of course he didn’t show up in Buffalo.

  • Jaybird

    Yep

  • Jaybird

    Represent us well Sam!!!!! Make some noise Brother ! Go Steelers and enjoy the game ! I’m jealous.

  • Lambert58

    “I just stayed at home, put Queen’s “We Are The Champions” on auto-loop and moonwalked on the kitchen table. When you win…win classy.” lol thanks for the tour of the funhouse, Michael.

  • Kevin Schwartz

    Regarding “Breaking Bad” – I would say if we lost to the Dolphins it would be a disappointing season, if we lose to the Chiefs it’ll be an okay season, if we get to the Conference Championship it’ll be a good season, and a Super Bowl appearance will be a great season.

  • I thought we quit on him early as well. That TD that got called back vs Baltimore showcased his ability in the open field. All we needed was to open up some lanes for the guy on returns. Even today, taking a kick out of the end zone for Pittsburgh is like running through a gauntlet. But the experiment is over with now and I’ve given up on it until the next time Todd Haley manages to draft a gadget player

  • Hypo Cycloid

    Without the pads maybe. He ran slow in the pros.

  • blackandgoldBullion

    Michael. Nice work. I agree about this game having an excellent chance to be a nail biter . I just hope the field is decent, although I was actually hoping for the afternoon ice game. Boy, that would have been hilarious to watch.

    Air Coryell live? You saw that? I am jealous. Absolutely loved watching their games. Is Don Coryell still waiting for the HOF? He was a genius and they still use his concepts today. Absolute no brainer.

    I am just praying they can get some semblance of a,passing game going, even if it is mostly play action and dump offs mostly.

  • Hypo Cycloid

    I like your posts and usually agree, but you are WAY off on Dri. His game speed was slow. His only asset was speed, but he didn’t use it in the NFL. Tiny, no strength to break tackles, poor vision, and then to not even run fast! Come on!

  • steelcityrepub

    Woooow Brock Osweiler is garbage…

  • Nunya

    I am actually more encouraged watching this Pats game. Pitt can score on them. It all matters if we bring out A game tomorrow and then next week.

  • francesco

    Just a pathetic quarterback.
    Just awful. Texans need to cut him now and get Tony Romo instead.

  • Applebite

    This Ice Storm that’s supposed to hit K.C….it’s lurking just south of the city, maybe 20 miles or so off target. And it’s sitting. Like it’s ready to pounce at any minute now….waiting…Like “hand me a juice box while I sit here waiting to strike…”waiting. This same system hit South Central KS and managed to cause a 20 car pile up in Downtown Wichita late last night. It’s no joke. So I hope the City takes care of the roads up that way, driving at night in this stuff is like jumping on a bed with silky sheets…

    So…Brady doesn’t like to be touched. And water is wet. News @ 11:00. Seeing him fight Clowney off him, as if Jadeveon was a brigade of fire ants, was amusing. It’s not like you’re about to be raped, Tom. it’s football after all. The most he’ll do in that situation is pat you on the booty.

    Apparently, LilTerRio is doing all the dancing for Antonio as of late…

  • Reader783

    I quit Fantasy Football 5 years ago when I found myself needing to root for Wes Welker if I wanted to win. I benched him, lost the game and rooted for the Pats to gain 0 yards of offense.

  • Rusted Out

    Wow… I’ll never understand the Dritard mentality. That midget was awful, and a complete waste of a 3rd rounder. What is with this fanfare empathy for underachieving players? Archer was a joke, and he’s right where he always belonged… not in the NFL. Spending a 3rd round pick on a microscopic kick returner is one of the biggest bonehead draft picks in the Tomlin era.

    Jarvis Jones is a bust. Plain and simple. His number one job is to rush the passer, and he’s pathetically deficient in that area. I don’t care about the other things that he does mildly well. Gimme a break. The Silverback should be the one back next year to backup a young stud first round pick. It’s beyond time for the Steelers to cut their losses with Jarvis.

    With all this hate I’m spewing, I’d like to end on a positive note. I too feel bad for the San Diego Charger faithful, all six of them. Never have a seen a bigger bunch of wishy washy, flip-flop clad, non-committal, band-wagoneers. The bottom lines to franchise success are winning and fan revenue. That’s it! If you don’t care enough to put ur butts in the seats at the stadium, then you shouldn’t mind too much that your franchise took their ball and went home to L.A.. You got what you deserved SD, enjoy your traffic and sunshine.

  • Reader783

    Ya I find myself going half and half on the Dri Archer debate. Was he a good returner? Sure, he’s better than what we have now and was much better than his immediate replacement. Do returners in the NFL matter? Not anymore. They’re usually more detrimental than helpful in the NFL nowadays. From the day, well honestly the minute, he was drafted I thought it was a reach at best. So while the pick itself was bad, I do have to agree that the Steelers probably quit on him too soon. He would have added more value than, say, Justin Gilbert or (sadly at this point) Sammie Coates or Jacoby Jones last year. Nevertheless, a failed experiment.

  • Rusted Out

    As far as kick returners go these days, yea, I guess he fielded the ball cleanly. That is about the best compliment I am willing to give him. The truth of the matter is that Archer did nothing other than return kickoffs (not punts). Almost all of the other guys you mentioned brought value in some other area of the game. If you going to have a guy eating up a roster spot for the sole purpose of returning kicks, he had better be a threat to take every one to the house. The Steelers gave up on him too late for my taste.

  • Reader783

    Who knows, maybe he coulda been a good gunner or something. We never saw him do anything else. Normally I assume that means he couldn’t do anything else in the coaches’ eyes, but I’m just playing devil’s advocate here.

  • steelcityrepub

    too much money invested hahahah

  • Rusted Out

    What about him getting dropped at the slightest touch of finger tip contact makes u think he could be a good gunner? The devil is giggling right now.

    I had the same reaction you did when he was drafted. “WTF!?”. The difference between you and I is that I never backed away from that. The way I saw it then, and the way I see it now is that 3rd round picks are very valuable, and that gambling on a kick returner/skat back type player should be reserved for the 5th or later rounds. There were many good players taken in that round by other teams if you look around the league. Nothing Dri Archer did, or will ever do has changed my mind about that. The arguments for Dri are all arbitrary stats and what if’s. If Archer were takenas early as the 5th (I’m 100% positive he would’ve been available there), then I would have zero issues with him. A missed 5th round pick on a kick returner? Big deal.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Still over 3000 tickets available starting at $57. Afraid Chiefs fans will be there in force now that game changed to 820

  • Rusted Out

    You’re always afraid. Be brave my friend.

  • Sam…I hope you’re onto something. I’d love to see Terrible Towels spinning and here an occasional “Heathhhh” in this game. I think it will make a significant difference to the outcome.

  • Some of these I put in just for you, my friend.

  • Jefferson was a joy to watch…and you’re absolutely right. Traces of Don Coryell’s brilliance live in every NFL playbook.

  • Did you just rebuke me with All Caps?

  • There’s poetry in this one.

  • That was your positive note?

    Angelos in Oceanside. A large brown bag of o-rings so crispy and greasy.

    Many, many late nights hitting up Juanita’s in Leucadia. The new bomb? The Taco Stand in Encinitas. Venetian’s Pizza in Point Loma. Yeah…obviously time to visit family.

  • Steelers Nation…buy…buy…buy

  • ND_Steel

    Agree, he was a bust. He had straight line speed, wasn’t shifty or explosive in any way. That said, he was still the best returner we had…still…

  • ND_Steel

    At this point yes, though I think they should have had the #2 seed and we’d be talking SB or bust. Bal, Cin and Cle were all down this year.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    We’ll see; noticed a lot of Chiefs fans at breakfast.

  • NortonSmitty

    I too lived in San Diego for five years in the 70’s. It’s just a terrible sports town period. I could walk to Jack Murphy Stadium. The Padres were at #1 in their division and they would draw 10k fans. Unless the Star Randy Jones was pitching, then 40k. They don’t call them fair weather fans for nothing.

  • Rusted Out

    See? You should have been brave.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    We had ’em all the way.

  • Sam Clonch

    It was pretty loud still, but a Lot of to towells out there!