Steelers Spin: Already A Long Strange Trip

Four games in the Pittsburgh Steelers 2017 campaign and already what a long strange trip it’s been. After demolishing the dreaded Ravens in Baltimore by a crab cracking score of 26-9, the team returns back home where they can patch their bones before taking on the Jacksonville Jaguars.

The Steelers are 3-1 largely because of the performance of…get this…their defense. Who would have thought the team would have the number two defense in the league mostly because of their second place ranking in both passing defense and number of sacks?

No cornerbacks? No blitzing linebackers. Apparently, that is no problem.

And the Steelers offense? Expecting them to average 30 points a game? How about averaging only 22.5 points per game while having the…gasp…21st ranked offense?

Before you get too excited about this season’s start, you must recall the Steelers started last season 4-1 before dropping four games in a row.

This week, with rookie sensation RB Leonard Fournette coming to town and with the Jaguars boasting the league’s number two rushing attack, the Steelers could be set up like a bowling pin. Knocked down, it could get to wearing thin like it did against the Chicago Bears.

But still, this team has a decidedly different feel than last year. Even at 3-1 it does seem this team can take its play to a whole other level. That’s exciting.

Who can be sure? That’s the quandary of an opinion piecer. Sometimes the lights all shining on me. Other times I can barely see. Regardless…it’s time to serve up some fresh Spin:

Lately It Occurs To Me

I’m sorry. Did I get off the wrong floor on this elevator? The new power houses in the NFC of the 2017 NFL Season are the Los Angeles Rams (3-1), the Philadelphia Eagles (3-1) and the Detroit Lions (3-1)? Say what? The AFC is being taken over by quarterbacks Tyrod Taylor, Trevor Siemian, Blake Bortles and Deshaun Watson? Who?

More Psychedelics

Just about everybody thought the Steelers defense would be improved this year, but is it actually possible they are beginning to look more formidable…and certainly more reliable…than the team’s rock star offense? Outside of WR Antonio Brown (temper tantrum aside) has there been a brighter shining star than LB Ryan Shazier?

Well…maybe, DE Cameron Heyward is playing the best ball of his career. And LB T.J. Watt? Who can’t be excited about that rookie? Then there is DT Javon Hargrave and DE Stephon Tuitt. Don’t look now, but Joe Haden and Artie Burns are bringing pride back into the corners of the defense.

Getting His Bell Rung

Many are pointing to Le’Veon Bell’s performance against the Ravens as proof that he is 100% back and that any of his detractors should be ashamed of ever doubting him. This may be true, but at what cost? Bell needed 39 touches into a purple wall of Ravens to get his yards last week. It used to be the Steelers would just run running backs until their wheels fall off. This year it seems offensive coordinator Todd Haley won’t stop until Bell’s entire body falls apart.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen this movie before. It’s great to get Bell his swings, but his injury pattern might prove this to be a short sighted approach to a championship run.

The Ferrari’s Missing Part

How many years have we been waiting for the Steelers offensive Ferrari to hit the road? With healthy and suspension-free players like QB Ben Roethlisberger, WR Antonio Brown, WR Martavis Bryant and Bell finally sharing the field together with protection and plowing by one of the league’s finest offensive lines it’s not unreasonable to have unreasonable expectations.

So why isn’t this offense fully hitting its stride?

The problem is this Ferrari is lacking a clutch. It’s able to look impressive in spits and spurts, but when those key third down completions are needed to keep a drive going, or when the team needs to score to put its opponents away early in the game, it just can’t seem to get itself fully in gear. A high pass. A dropped ball. A false start. An untimely hold. When is the last time you’ve had full, fingernail-biting-free confidence in Big Ben with the clock ticking down and the team five points short of victory?

That confidence doesn’t rise to the same level of fear you’d experience when going against Tom Brady, Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers in a similar situation. The right answer is that it’s been quite some time since you’ve felt the offense is completely clutch. The reason why is baffling. In Ben’s early years he had an uncanny way of making the tough plays whenever needed. You want this to be a Super Bowl season? Then the Steelers offense needs to find its clutch.

The New Parts

The good news is the answer may lie in an unlikely source. Recent Steelers history has demonstrated how tough it is for a rookie wide receiver to make an impact in his first year. JuJu Smith-Schuster might be proving to be the exception. It’s still too early to get too excited, but it’s not difficult to see some flashes of Hines Ward in JuJu.

There is the toughness and blocking ability. But it’s also the clutch, difficult catches that were the most valuable part of Hines’ game. If Big Ben can get another option on critical third downs other than forcing a throw into triple coverage to Brown, then JuJu might end up proving to be this year’s best improvement in the offense.

Why I Write For Steelers Depot

It may shock my legions of detractors, but I actually do write for a living. Just not for Steelers Depot. I write here for pure love. Love of the Steelers. And for a chance to connect with my extended family…Steelers Nation. As to why I scribe for Steelers Depot it’s because, for me, it’s the independent voice of the Pittsburgh Steelers.

A few years back, I was frustrated with some of the decisions the Steelers front office and coaches were making, and just couldn’t get any satisfaction from hearing puff-piece explanations by the team’s paid announcers. Then I found Steelers Depot and was blessed to get an opportunity for my own voice to be heard (which admittedly was a dark day for many).

I think most who read my articles know I have a tendency to…well…share opinions that go somewhat against the grain of those of other Depot writers, including at times the site’s publisher, Dave Bryan. What you don’t know is that other than a spelling error here or there Dave has never edited a single word of mine based on content. Even the opinions he sharply disagreed with. I know people love Steelers Depot for many reasons. Some, mainly for the uber-talented insights of Alex Kozora, or for the prolific and poignant postings of Matthew Marczi.

Maybe, like me, you enjoy the somewhat heated family conversations between writers and commenters. What I wanted you to know, is it’s Dave’s integrity and commitment to bringing unfiltered truth to Depot readers, that is what truly makes this little gathering so special. I’m proud to be part of the Steelers Depot team.

Now let’s go beat them Jaguars.

About the Author

Michael K. Reynolds

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

  • Mike OReilly

    As usual, good article Alex! If Dave isn’t paying you, he should.

  • John Hinton

    Excellent post with the perfect closing statement.

  • Talyn Scarbrough

    Let me speak on behalf of most of us (I would say all but I’m sure some disagree). We appreciate everything that you all do. Steelers Depot created by fans for fans.

  • Talyn Scarbrough

    This was written by Mike Reynolds.

  • greeny

    Love the GD references. Great article Michael. Variety is the spice of life.

  • Alex Kozora

    Sorry, had my name on there for two seconds. Written by Micheal Reynolds. Brilliant, as it always is.

  • John

    Can we lay off Ben a little? The last time we knew he would do it at the end of the game was against the Ravens when he needed to do it to make the playoffs last year and he did. And we knew he would. We were lucky because we allowed the Ravens to score early and made the playoffs when otherwise we don’t. From what I see, we are playing to the defense. And our offensive talent is a work in progress. We got Bryant back but he is playing like someone that didn’t play for a year. Our TEs are ok at best. We waited weeks for Bell to finally look like Bell. But we have no breakaway threat in the backfield. Our third WR was Rogers who is a train wreck. We have a rookie, a guy in DHB who no one wanted, a guy in Hunter that was cut twice. We have AB with his positives and negatives. We have had mother Hubbard playing tackle twice which would put the fear of injury into anyone. And we have a head coach who believes the first few games of the regular season are experimental and building blocks for the rest of the year and wants to be playing like a real team later not now. Hopefully they will get it going soon although Bryant seems to be sick so maybe not. Let’s hope and not moan about being 3-1. BTW we also played some teams with decent defenses early.

  • Steel Realist PAul

    “Don’t go changin'”.. MKR

  • Lambert58

    Michael, you certainly are a unique voice out of Steelers Nation and for that, we appreciate you.

    Didn’t realize our defense was considered #2. Whole heartedly agree that this team has another level it can reach. Let’s hope they find it soon.

  • MP

    Love this column. And I always agree with you on the importance of a good pre-season. Wouldn’t mind seeing some SD statistics probing the relationship between pre-season record and post-season record.

  • Jaybird

    Just throwing it out there- the browns were 4-0 this preseason.

  • SoCal Steeler

    Another great article, Michael! I’m glad Dave allows you to post on the site. I enjoy reading your sometimes very opinionated articles and I even usually agree with you.
    With Dave, Alex, the likewise opinionated Matt and the occasional articles by you and Josh I feel like the site is being run very professionally and get my daily Steeler fix right here.
    Thank all of you guys very much for your time and the great work.

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Michael: keep doing what you do.

  • Denny

    I think he’s suggesting the Jags could have their run game Truckin’, but hopefully the Steelers just won’t let that be.

  • greeny

    At least you got the reference.

  • Phil Brenneman II

    Scandalous news! Alex is ghost writing for MKR. Will we ever get to just talk football again?????

  • Phil Brenneman II

    Good stuff MKR. I typcially come around to hype you up and heap praise on you so to keep things fresh I just want to voice one minor disagreement. You said outside of AB has there been a brighter star than Shazier. I say, yes. At least up until last game. That was really the only game Shazier has really jumped off of the screen at us. The real star of the defense has been Cam Heyward having a fantastic season up front. You did mention his name and give appropriate kudos but it seemed to come almost as a slight second to Shazier.

    If Tuitt fully gets past and stays past this injury…..look out world. I thought this would be the season Tuitt surpassed Heyward and I think Heyward took offense to that. The first 2 plays of the season Tuitt was on his way to proving me right but than the bicep got him. Can’t wait to watch these 2 work all season.

  • DoctorNoah

    Sometimes the cards ain’t worth a dime if you don’t lay them down.

  • Awesome piece, much respect for all the writers here, and commenters who have good insight

  • pittfan

    Excellent piece Michael. And kudos for the shout out for the great team at SD!

  • MP

    Cherry-picker 😉