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. MichaelKReynolds.com