Steelers’ Spin: Into The Lions’ Den

The Pittsburgh Steelers declawed the Cincinnati Bengals by a score of 29-14 last week and now seek to make kitty cats out of the Detroit Lions in a Sunday Night showdown.

Although boasting a 5-2 record as they approach the halfway point of the 2017 season, the big question is whether the Steelers are “all that” or if they are merely one of many in a crowded AFC race.

Make no mistake about it; the win over the Bengals was a big one for the Black and Gold. Plays were made when they needed to be and a divisional victory is always something to cheer about.

Still, the Steelers didn’t score a touchdown in the game after the first two minutes of the second quarter, and Cincinnati had the opportunity to get back into the contest well into the fourth quarter.

In other words, the Steelers continue to win games, but haven’t yet been able to consistently prove their preeminence over the rest of the league. Should they be dominating? When you consider they now have a top defense to go with their constellation of offensive stars the answer is a definitive “Yes”.

Will the Lions game give Pittsburgh the opportunity to fully unleash the force within? Let’s discuss this and more in this week’s Spin.

Troll Warfare

Martavis Bryant made the quintessential NFL player error this week when it comes to social media. Was it that he picked on a young guy that still has to ride his bike to work each day? No. That was bad. But, his big mistake was engaging in Troll Warfare while using his actual social media profile. C’mon Martavis, you need to create some fake profiles like, “HeHateMe17” or “BenBeRobbinMe” or, you know, something like “BikeBoyBites.”

I mean, check the profiles of the comment makers on these Spin columns. At least half are the Steelers players or their girlfriends or moms.

Power Of The Pocket

When it comes to Bryant’s antics, he has major-failed with his communication approaches, but he’s spot on with his point. There are two significant problems with the Steelers offense. One of them is they haven’t incorporated Bryant in the offense. No offense to JuJu Smith-Schuster, but Bryant is the only receiver on the Steelers roster (not named Antonio Brown) that has the potential of being an NFL number one receiver. Did we already forget all of that “Bryant was going to be the next Randy Moss” talk?

There is nothing showing that Bryant has lost speed or talent. What he has lost is opportunity. If the Steelers want to take their offense to the next level, they need to throw to Bryant until he and Ben Roethlisberger can get things solved. It’s a tweak, not an overhaul. Just please don’t try to throw those deep balls when its 3rd and inches.

The Boneyard

The other major issue with the Steelers offense? It’s that the Red Zone has become the place where Pittsburgh offensive drives come to die. The last five scores by the Steelers in the Bengals game were field goals. Not that we don’t love kicker Chris Boswell, but we prefer him trotting out there for point after touchdowns. Had the Steelers offense converted those five field goal opportunities to touchdowns we would have been talking about the team winning by a score of 49-14. Then again, with Coach Mike Tomlin’s love of 2-point conversions, it might have even been 54-14. The lack of touchdown conversions is what is holding this team back.

So what’s the problem? Is it the receivers are too short? Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley’s calls are too dense? No…it’s simpler than that. Elite quarterbacks can make tough passes, into tight coverage, while under pressure. Especially, when they get at least three downs to do so. Big Ben played his best game of the season against the Bengals. But if this team wants to be Super this year, he’s got to convert those chances at a much higher rate.

Then Again…More Field Goals Please

Although, most of the Steelers players come to the Spin to troll under assumed names, it’s clear none of them actually listen to what I say. Last week I opined about my absolute hatred of the dismally dreadful poor theater being passed off as touchdown celebrations. And then, less than 24 hours later…there was the most awful, most contrived, celebration of all time. The Hide and Seek! C’mon fellas. We really don’t want to see those nachos projected across the room.

But, I must admit, while I was on the verge of completely losing my lunch, I looked over to the young man who was sharing the table with me and with a big smile, he said, “I love those celebrations.” It was at that moment, I suddenly realized, the game has passed me by. Then again, I was sipping a soft drink, while he was wiping the foam off of his lip, after quaffing his third ginormous flask of beer. Maybe I’m too darn old…or just way too sober.

The Secondary Is Primary

It seems as if Steelers fans have been complaining for so many years about the team’s pass defense that it is now ingrained in their system and they lash out on auto-pilot. They are going after CB Artie Burns. They are attacking S Sean Davis. And, of course, there are the time tested verbal assaults on S Mike Mitchell. Hello! Steelers Nation. The team is ranked number one overall…by a long shot on pass defense.

We’re half of the way through the season now, so it’s safe to start celebrating and enjoying the emerging greatness of the team’s secondary (along with the pass rush).

Band Wagging

Speaking of Steelers fans. They are so funny. Last week, Big Ben had a solid, but not spectacular game. But, that was enough for the Roethlisberger fanboys to start attacking everyone and anyone who has ever whispered a disparaging word against the team’s quarterback. The columns or comments always seem to start with something like, “For all of you who had said Ben was washed up,” or “Don’t you dare hop back aboard the Roethlisberger bandwagon.”

For the record, the term “bandwagon” came to be in the mid-19th century when P.T. Barnum would load up his circus performers in a wagon and parade them around town as a promotional stunt. This worked so well that politicians at the time replicated the process and encouraged their supporters to “get on the bandwagon” with them. So essentially…all of that bandwagon talk is for clowns and carpetbaggers. If you note that Big Ben isn’t playing particularly well for a prospective Hall of Famer (which overall this season he hasn’t been), it doesn’t mean you’re surrendering your identity as a “true fan”. It just means you’d like to see him complete more passes.

Picture Perfect

As a result of Kansas City’s stumble against the Oakland Raiders last week, coupled with the Steelers victory, Pittsburgh moved into sole ownership of the number one seed in the AFC. Oh, if only the playoffs would start today! First off, the Steelers need to take care of business in the Motor City. But, following this game against the Lions is when the real party begins.

In the second half of the season, seven of the Steelers last eight opponents are in the AFC, including a monster game against the surging New England Patriots on December 17th. Tomlin likes to talk about getting his team to peak toward the end of the season. That philosophy will matter more than ever this year. But, you can’t hide those Lion eyes. With the injury to Green Bay’s all-world quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, Detroit will be believing they can win their division and will fight the Steelers tooth and claw.

Pittsburgh will need to be Prime Time during prime time if they want to keep that…bandwagon rolling.

About the Author

Michael K. Reynolds

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

  • Alan Tman

    MB10 was awesome in the Red zone in 2014. He’s had probably one opportunity in 2017. He’s not even on the field which suggests a intentional phase out. End around on Seattle, high in the back of the end zone against Cardinals, and the crazy catch against the Bengals are some 2014 red zone TD’s that come to mind. Juju is being given all the easy TD’s ( shuttle pass and good play design against the Bengals that Bryant’s position previously ran ) .

  • Beaver Falls Hosiery

    Great piece. I enjoy your writing.

  • WilliamSekinger

    I do enjoy your articles Michael. Well done again!

  • Lil Smitty

    Are the Steelers a finished product? No, or I hope they aren’t. They are neither world beaters or bums. I am hoping they show steady improvement and versatility each week. If they do that then they will be building a stairway to seven.
    The Lions scare me like the Bengals did last week. Both teams are looking at a critical game in their season. If they lose, they are unlikely to make the playoffs. Their season is on the line. The Steelers will need to match their intensity and level of desperation.

  • Phil Brenneman II

    I don’t think you are too old MKR. I didn’t understand the hype behind the JuJu celebration either. I love his youthful energy and I certainly don’t mind players having fun but the whole thing just looked silly to me. So it wasn’t so much “hey don’t celebrate” as it was “can’t you come up with something better?”.

    That being said, Barry Sanders is one of my favorite players of all time and a big part of that was that he acted like he had been there before. Nothing says greatness to me like being so sure of your greatness that you don’t need to celebrate because you know it is going to be a frequent occurrence.

  • Ed Smith

    Ditto on the remarks about the article and Michael’s writing – great stuff. I’m a Ben fan (wear a #7 game jersey on Sundays) however agree completely with your assessment Michael on his play this year. It just simply has not been elite. Hopefully he’ll return to that level as year goes on. Dead on with analysis of Bryant. The lack of creating opportunities for him, that’s on Haley. Alex K’s piece was excellent showing it is the way/where they are playing Bryant – and that’s on HALEY!

    Phil B – completely agree. When you get in the end zone:
    1. Act like you’ve been there before
    2.Act like you assume you will be there again

    And yes, loved Barry Sanders for that, just flip the balll to the ref and go back about your business (and see you again soon…)

  • Orlysteel

    It would be a shame for the offense not to come through, cause this defense is for real, I could see a Super Bowl on the horizon if they get their ship together.

  • Michael James

    Martavis speaking there?

  • Alan Tman

    Money Mayweather reading there?

  • Michael James

    You seriously couldn’t come up with anything better? 😀

  • HiVul

    That’s a shame that you’re feeling too old to enjoy a TD celebration. I totally agreed with Tony Romo that it was creative and funny.

  • Thank you Phil and Ed. It’s the lack of spontaneity on those TD celebrations that gets me the most. Sigh.

  • Appreciate that William.

  • And yours as well, friend.