The Pittsburgh Steelers boarded their plane back home after a 30-15 loss to the Miami Dolphins and those of us that watched the game know that the score didn’t reflect the performance. If the Dolphins had more success in the red zone the score could have easily been 49-8. A sobering question faced the Steelers. How could an offense that has so much talent on the roster only score eight points?
An American Indian Tribe called the Zuni Indians had a saying that roughly translates to “bodies can handle hot coals, but cannot survive without their souls”. They were wise beyond their years. The Zuni had come to understand that their bodies could take the “hot coals,” or wear and tear of battle, if their souls were in the conflict. In contrast, an enemy who had lost its soul or will to fight was an easy foe to conquer. After the Steelers’ performance at Miami, we can only wonder if this is what’s happening with the team and if so, why? And most importantly, how does it get fixed?
Analysts point to a myriad of reasons as to why the Steelers seem to play soullessly on some Sundays. It’s impossible to touch on every issue but to name a few: The offensive game plan, turnovers, the pass protection, the defenses pass rush, tackling consistency, and the Steelers inability to create turnovers have all been points of debate. Now let’s be fair, if everything were corrected, the Steelers would be performing pretty much perfectly. But there is a common denominator: The Steelers play without soul on occasion, and this is the result of a problem, not the problem itself.
On the outside looking in, it’s impossible to say what the problem truly is. My guess would be that the offense has a lot of talent and no identity, while the defense is suffering from a mixture of developing talent and mediocre play-calling. The defense has skated by. Even with the poor performances in Philadelphia and Miami they still rank 12th best in points allowed. They have essentially gotten results as a whole that their parts don’t add up to. The offense gets hot and can put up points with the best of them. But the team needs to have a soul to effectively overcome adversity and truly become a Super Bowl contender. Just look at the last three seasons.
Last year the Denver Broncos had to prove they could win a Super Bowl with Peyton Manning in the twilight of his career. In Super Bowl XLIX the New England Patriots had to prove they could overcome the vaunted Seattle Seahawks defense and the year before that the Seahawks had to prove that they had a stout defense; ironically against Manning. Each Super Bowl winner was not only able to take the physical pain of the “coals,” but had the soul to overcome their perceived downfall.
When the 2016 Steelers make the necessary changes, it will be easy for all to see. They won’t rest on their laurels. Instead they’ll play with their souls, like a team that wants to prove every week that they’re superior to every opponent that stands in their way. The Steelers are talented, there’s no doubt about that, but the difference between being just another talented roster and a Super Bowl contender is the development of a team soul that cannot be broken, no matter how many hot coals they must face.