Steelers Spin: Off And Running Like A Herd Of Turtles

The 2017 version of the Pittsburgh Steelers unleashed their offensive juggernaut to the world against the woeful Cleveland Browns and within minutes of the opening whistle a preseason game broke out.

Ben Roethlisberger looked like a quarterback who hadn’t thrown more than nine passes in a game since last season ended and the team’s 12 million dollar and apparently grossly underpaid running back Le’Veon Bell proved that you can’t prepare for an NFL season with workouts in yoga pants.

What does he care? He still made $750,000 for gaining his combined 47 yards against the Browns. That can buy a lot of yoga pants.

Unfortunately, his public relations problem with Steelers Nation has expanded to Fantasy Football Nation where many pocket protector wearing fans were horrified to see the lack of production from their number one overall pick.

But should we worry? Not according to ESPN, whose NFL Power Rankings slotted the Steelers in the post position. Remember when the Steelers were last ranked first in their poll? No? Me neither.

Obviously, all of those layoffs at the Bristol, Connecticut have meant the ESPN staff can’t actually watch the games of the teams they are ranking.

Maybe we’re just being harsh and unappreciative as Steelers Nation. After all…the Steelers WON…the Steelers WON. Albeit in an unimpressive fashion of 21-18 to the Brownies.

Is there something to be joyful about as the team takes on the Minnesota Vikings? Well…let’s find out in the Spin…after a wee bit more ranting.

Ugly Is In The Eyes Of The Beholder

How many more times do we have to hear, “Well it was ugly…but it was a win”? Teams that have a legitimately Top 3 offense should never been okay with “winning ugly”. This Cinderella of an offense has been underperforming for a while and it’s time for the glass slipper to finally fit. Cowher Power has been shut off for years. When you had a dominant Number One defense year over year, winning ugly was actually a compliment in the Bill Cowher days. No more. Ugly is failure. Time for the beautiful game to be the clear expectation.

Offensive Coordinator Don Ho?

What the heck is the game plan for the offense? Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley threw so many tiny bubbles screens to start off the game it looked like a Don Ho song. “Tiny bubbles…tiny bubbles everywhere.” Why this team wasn’t able to stretch the field early and often with the team speed they have is a deep mystery. You can’t count on WR Antonio Brown bailing out the Steelers every week.

All The Right Moves

Yet, with equal emotion, it’s time to give Coach Mike Tomlin and the front office some heavy applause. This has been one of the more positive preseasons in terms of team preparedness and personnel decision making in years. The final 53 roster was based almost exclusively on merit of play. There were some big surprises and they were all well deserved. When the roster needed a boost, the front office made quick decisions. The Steelers really do have a different look to them early on in the season.

Don’t underestimate the value of the 3-1 preseason performance as it was earned by a strong group of number twos and threes. The team is deep in many positions.  Yes…there were quite a few penalties in game one against the Browns, but Tomlin’s team seems several games ahead of where they usually are this time of the year.

Pump And Go

Much of the front office’s success this year will rise or fail with the acquisition of CB Joe Haden. Either the Steelers are right and the team just solved its decade-long search for a shut-down cornerback or the Browns are correct and Haden is a player on a sharp decline.

Reports from Cleveland are that the player once regarded as an NFL superstar began to lose his bearing following the 2015 season where a concussion caused him to miss 10 games. This coupled with other injuries were blamed for a subpar 2016 year where he was no longer feared by opposing quarterbacks. The word is that Haden has lost a step and this is for a player that only ran a 4.52 and a slow shuttle time at the NFL combine in the year he was drafted in 2010.

The Browns weren’t shy about testing out their perceived vulnerability of Haden as he was the recipient of several pump fakes by rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer in last week’s game. So what says the Spin? Actually, this was a no-brainer gamble by the Steelers front office. Haden is a class act, and was a major positive influence in the Cleveland community. This is a high quality individual, with Pro Bowl talent, with a sizable chip on his shoulder. Now with up-and-coming CB Artie Burns on the other side, the Steelers have a significant opportunity to become one of the finer secondaries in the NFL. That’s something to get pumped up about.

The Heat Is On

We should be careful in getting too excited about the young Steelers defense. After all, that was Kizer completing passes against the team and not Aaron Rodgers. The Steelers are definitely a major work in progress.

But oh the clay!

If all early indications continue to hold true, T.J. Watt may end up being the Steelers best first round pick since some guy named Ben was selected. Watt is already in contention for Defensive Rookie of the Year. When you consider how well LB Anthony Chickillo has been playing and the strong belief that LB Bud Dupree is the real deal, it seems as if the “lack of pressure” issue is about to be a shadow in the past. Throw in the fact that the Steelers defensive line is as formidable as it’s been in quite some time and it’s reasonable to believe the Steelers could rank among the top this year in sacks. Wait…did that just get written?

The Golden Arm

When you heard the news that DE Stephon Tuitt had left the game because of an “arm injury” did you not also fear the worst? Usually when a player, especially on the defensive line, leaves because of an arm injury, it’s the biceps, triceps or Triceratops. The bottom line is it’s usually season ending. And ONE DAY after signing his big contract! What great news it was to learn that Tuitt injury is only week to week. The Spin says, tape him up and sit him down until that Golden Arm is perfect. Missing three weeks is much better than a full season. Few things could have hurt the rise of the defense more than that news.

Rise And Fall

Speaking of rising…and falling, is this the year the Steelers defense becomes more exciting to watch than the offense? Maybe not. After all, there is this guy named Antonio Brown. And we’ve yet to see the best of Le’Veon Bell, Martavis Bryant, and Big Ben. And the offensive line is really…really…really good. But with Big Ben working on his golf game, Bell double-downing on his salary requests by rap and Bryant not exactly a safe bet, there seems to be more distraction in this offense than focus.

Can they turn this around, and get this offense tuned up to perfection? Hopefully, and hopefully soon. Steelers Nation has literally been waiting for years for this offense to truly hit on all cylinders. But the good news is that there is a new “Killer B” to add to the Steelers. That’s “Balance”. The defense is on the rise. Of course, the Minnesota Vikings will have much to say about all of this.

The Vikes are a team in ascent, and they could do some heavy pillaging to the Steelers hopes. Getting a win Sunday would be a big win for building momentum. Let’s hope…yes let’s even start to expect…that it’s a beautiful win.

About the Author

Michael K. Reynolds

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

  • WL- Minneapolis

    Seems more than premature to talk about the Steelers having one of the finer secondaries in the league. Joe Haden may be a fine person, but that doesn’t make him a fine NFL football player. There is every indication over the past two seasons- and last week- that he lost a step and that’s why he was cut by the Browns as a liability in coverage. Artie Burns is still a work in progress and only time with tell what his ceiling will be. He’s average at the moment with potential to improve as it’s only the start of his second season. Hilton/Gay in the slot look about average as well, but that may also be the ceiling there.

    Beyond CB, there is also the safeties. Sean Davis is a liability in coverage, and questions remain about the health of both JJ Wilcox and Mike Mitchell. Mitchell can be good when healthy, Wilcox average.

    Overall that looks like a middle-off-the-pack to low-20s ranking secondary that will hold up against mediocre or worse passing teams, but subject to exposure against better passing teams.

  • Jaybird

    What did Joe Hayden do last week that leads you to believe he is a liability in coverage?

  • I agree with you WL. That’s why I said they have a “significant opportunity to become”. That’s a far cry from saying “they are”. If…and I agree it’s a big if…Haden is able to spring back to 2014 and 2015 form then we would be looking much better than we have been. I am a believer in Artie Burns…although I agree with you he’s a “work in progress”. The other term for that is second year player. I like Sean Davis more than you and I like Mike Hilton as well. Probably the MOST important thing for the improvement in the secondary is an increased pass rush…which it looks like we’re trending toward. So yes…it’s premature to anoint them something they’re not…but it’s not premature to be excited about where they are trending.

  • Micheal, it’s SUCH a pleasure and relief to read an article here that doesn’t sugarcoat Bell’s performance and its roots with B.S. [although B.S. in nature is rarely sweet]. I almost choked on my coffee happily when I read your comments re “yoga pants.” Thank you for saying what needed said and for saying it so well!

  • NCSteel

    Could Joe Haden also have been a victim of ” geez, we’re behind AGAIN” Could the culture of losing have an effect on a pro athlete. I’m gonna say it’s possible because they’re people and sub consciousness can probably come into play somewhat.
    Here’s hoping a culture of winning gives Joe Haden that “step” back that he “lost”.
    Best of luck Joe.

  • Jeff McNeill

    The other articles did not sugar coat the Bell performance, this article feeds on the overwhelming fan sentiment. If his not being in camp is the reason for his bad game what is the reason for other bad games he has had during his career?

  • Absolutely a great point NC. I was encouraged by the fact that he felt let down to be released in Cleveland. He was a part of the community. This isn’t an “I’m going to get the heck out of here” type of mentality you see so much in the NFL. You take a guy like that…put him in a healthy, winning environment, and anything is possible. Thanks for your comments.

  • LHW

    Man the talent assembled on this offense has never gelled consistently. The unit is consistently touted by the fans, the media, and the talking heads but the expectation is never fully realized. Based on experience, money, and expectations – sure the Browns lost, but they outperformed the Steelers based on potential. There just not seem to be any synergy: If Ben plays well, the run sucks. Antonio Brown goes 11 for 11 and makes impossible circus catches and nobody else catches a thing. Bell gets himself 150, only 125 yards through the air. It is as if they put all their eggs in one basket for each game. Me thinks the “Kille B’s” sound much cooler than it actually is! Prove me wrong Steelers – please!

  • Rob H

    Another well written piece, with some good humor mixed in, it always grates on me when people take things (and themselves) too seriously.
    I actually had no problem with coming out throwing screen passes against a “play the run on the way to the quarterback” team that looks to get in the backfield on every snap. The problem is that everyone needs to be in sync for those kind of plays to work properly, and they were slow to adjust when it became clear that they were not even close to being in sync. Not going deep to loosen up the coverage is also a valid complaint, but they were playing to take that away, as Wolf put it on SNR radio, Peppers was drifting all the way back to Toledo on practically every play.
    I was one of the ones telling people to pump the brakes when it came to all the hand wringing over a game we won, with a lot of players that hadn’t played much more than a handful of snaps together since last season, but there is no doubt that the offense needs to start showing what the kind of talent they have is capable of, if we are going to get one of the top two seeds this year. At the very least, they have to hold up their end of things, and play like a championship caliber offense, if not an all time one. That happening all starts with Haley AND Ben, they both need to cut down on the WTF moments, and Ben needs to find a way around these road issues of his, and at least be efficient and reliable away from Heinz field.

  • HiVul

    The fan base and this author must have totally ignored what was happening in the trenches. Pure laziness imo

  • RickM

    Well he said something that Tomlin, Colbert and several players already advised of, i.e. any player needs some practice and game action to get his sharpness back. I don’t care what sport it is, no professional athlete can be away from his sport for 7 months and simply come back a week before the season starts and be immediately sharp.

    I have no idea why this would even be debateable. Common sense tells us that some pre-season action is needed. And of course you have the confirmation from Tomlin and other players, guys who would know.

  • Rusted Out

    Holy triceratops Freckles! I mentioned Tomlin teams being lethargic out if the gate recently as well and was pounced upon by the homer faithful. Upon further research, I discovered that the Steelers are 16-16 through the first quarter of the season in the last eight years under Mike. Now 17-16 with a win over the Skidmarks that was sloppier than a Primanti’s sammich.

    Yes, a W is a W, and we’re all happy with that, but I can not be more tired of being let down by this star studded offense. The grounds keeper at Paul Brown should have been cleaning up and apndaeimbsa

  • Good to hear from you again! I do sense there is something different with the team this year. Contrary to past seasons I think the sluggish offensive start is on the stars and not the coaches. I just would love this offense to “BE ALL IT CAN BE” before their time together is done.

  • Craig M

    I agree on Burns and Davis potential- they were thrown into service as rookies and their upside could be very appeasing.

  • Craig M

    I believe that Haley’s Off. strategy is like a governor on a car engine restricting it’s acceleration and I hope he proves me wrong.

  • Craig M

    Really enjoyable and interesting article. “offensive juggernaut”, “Don Ho”, “several games ahead of where they usually are”, “shadow of the past”— Priceless! Looking forward to more articles.

  • Rusted Out

    My hope is that they clean up the penalties, and have a little more continuity on offense with the 1’s playing a full game. This team is loaded at every offensive position minus tight end. Barring injury, there should be no excuses as to why the scoreboard isn’t lighting up. “Show me the money!”

  • Craig M

    Harrison should have you author his autobiography, call it “Tis a Wonder What the Good Lord Can Do With a Wee Bit of Clay”. 🙂

  • HiVul

    Tomlin and company also talked about needing some push up front and not getting behind on down and distance due to penalties. Come on man.

  • RickM

    Look here’s the deal. Did the O-line play well, no. But there’s no way Bell had his timing down, eapecially on pass plays. I don’t believe for one second that you really believe than an athlete can take 7 months off, show up at the last minute and have his normal timing, football conditioning, etc.

  • Steeler Nation!

    Uhhh, could it possibly have something to do with the fact that the so called Killer Bs have so rarely been together? Bryant had been suspended for 20 of the past 32 games prior to last Sunday. And Bell’s injuries and suspensions have taken away a lot of firepower over the last 3 years. Then he skips ALL of camp. When are they supposed to get their crap together? In camp. Maybe it’ll pick up soon. But guys that are dogging Haley need to realize that we made the AFCCG last year with AB and and a bunch of culls at WR. The year before we led the SB champs in the 4th Q at their place with our 3rd RB as the starter. And had he not fumbled in a critical spot, we probably would’ve beaten them.

  • ND_Steel

    Fun read…good rants…spot on!

  • Dr. DG

    Nice article Mr. Reynolds. I like your optimism and positive spin on where the Steelers are at. Like you, I think the potential is there for this to be a great season, but players have to play more up to their potential, and we need our OC to get out of Hawaii and dial up a more exotic mix of plays than “tiny bubbles”!
    Look forward to more of your articles.

  • Phil Brenneman II

    Spot on as always MKR. I think Dave and Dave need to get you onto some podcasts once in awhile to add some spice to it.

  • WL- Minneapolis

    He allowed a 106 passer rating into his coverage- and the QB in question was Deshone Kizer, playing his first NFL game.

  • Gregg

    Talented writer….great humor….keen analysis….thanks again Michael!

  • HiVul

    Nope. I don’t think LB took 7 months off and I don’t think that a couple of preseason games would have mattered when he wouldn’t have participated anyway.

  • Jaybird

    Sometimes stats like a QB passer rating against a corner can be
    Misleading and not tell the whole story. If Haden had 6 passes thrown at him , and they were all completed for 8 yrds apiece on 3rd and 10 , I’d call that a huge victory for Haden even thow every pass was completed against him. That QB rating also doesn’t take into account blown coverages, like if Haden was expecting safety or linebacker help on the inside of a route, but never got it . It shows up as a completed pass against Haden but it was a blown coverage.
    You gotta give the guy a little slack , it’s his first game in a new defense with less than two weeks of practice under his belt. I think he’s going to be a big upgrade WL-Minni.

  • Appreciate that…

  • Thanks Gregg…

  • Get that petition started…

  • Much obliged…

  • Thank you Doc…

  • Joseph Shaw

    Don Ho. Nice.

  • Alan Tman

    I love this article. Lol. Great stuff!!!

  • MP

    This article is music to my ears. The pre-season is so much more important than the no-injury crowd thinks. A successful pre-season indicates a deep bench, but also a team with an ethos of WINNING that is ready to compete from WEEK 0.

  • Brenton deed

    The word from practice was that he was matching up well against the fast receivers with no obvious “loss of step”.
    I’m betting the injuries played a major role last year … he may well have lost some speed but not as much as some people ( who seem to be glass half empty types) want to believe.

  • LHW

    It could be. But they are considered superstars supposedly at the top of their game. Their limited playing time is just as much an excuse as a legitimate factor. Guys come off the street and/or with very limited experience and perform. Do you remember recently when Ryan Mallet had that spectacular game against the Steelers? These guys are not rookies – and their positions do not really rely on one another for each of them be successful. Ben is the common denominator, they have all played with him enough to be able to elevate their game. And regardless of the amount of time spent practicing or not, I fell they have under-performed. I can’t even remember a game when everything clicked. Yes, the Steelers made the AFCCG in the past, and Brown had a spectacular year, but that has nothing to do with Bell and Bryant. Brown has been known to totally disappear for games. I would just like to see Brown, Bryant, Bell, and Ben all have one game where they all contribute and earn their moniker. I am not saying it can’t happen, I just want to see it as a fan! Critical and cynical I know, but hey, I am getting old, and that tends to make me overly critical!

  • Denny

    I was certainly all for the Haden acquisition, but as Alex pointed out, most fans are going to cut Haden some slack where they wouldn’t do the same for Cockrell. I am going to guess that teams will be targeting Haden as the weakest link in our secondary based on his performance over the last two years, similar to how teams targeted Blake and Cockrell in recent years. He certainly seems likehe should be an upgrade over those guys even if teams continue to go after him. That would also mean that Burns is doing his job well.