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No team wants to start the season 1-3. No one plans for that. Especially not with the overwhelming number of appalling issues that plagued the Pittsburgh Steelers through their first handful of games. Yet somehow, going into their bye week, the team managed to secure a 3-3 record – issues be damned.
In a perfect world, the guys are taking the week off to rest, reflect on those six stress-riddled wins and losses, and figure out how in the world to become a better, more consistent football team – maybe even a good one. The potential is there. With names like T.J. Watt, Cam Heyward, Minkah Fitzpatrick, Najee Harris, Diontae Johnson and so many others, there should be no ceiling for this team. But here in Pittsburgh, we know perfect worlds don’t exist. Jesse James didn’t get the catch, Joe Haden was declared offsides, and there is no telling what we should expect when the boys come back to take on the Cleveland Browns at First Energy Stadium next Sunday.
Their issues run deeper than inconsistent effort, missed tackle, momentum swings, and even the offensive line. And they’re even, dare I say, slightly more specific than the age-old Yinzer diatribe calling for “better coaching.” So as we coast on through a week without Steelers’ football, here are three things I’m looking (and hopeful) for the team to address moving forward:
There’s a reason every single time this team sets foot on the field, people’s Apple Watches go wild detecting abnormal activity triggering heart attack warnings. Yes, football is dramatic and gripping and frustrating and exhilarating. But why then do Steelers’ wins so often feel like losses? And why do the losses feel so deflating?
Their plan appears to be to let the other team dictate the pace and to respond accordingly. When was the last time we saw them emerge from the tunnel and grab the game by the reins, never to let go? It’s impossible to think of an example. From stale play-calling on offense to an eventually uninspired display from a gassed unit on defense, it all just seems so high-school. If fans can sense what’s coming, then certainly the professional coaches can too.
They’re so confident in their approach (whatever the hell it even is), they stick with it. Even if it kills them. Teams know the Steeler Way, and they use it to slowly and methodically dismantle the black and gold game in and game out. This league is far from static. It’s dynamic and complex and a matchup against even the worst team is a challenge.
They need to prepare. Know their limits. Know their possibilities.
Get creative. Get bold, even.
Otherwise they’re going to keep getting mauled.
These guys, from coaches to players to trainers, need to shift that mentality simply from words they speak to the media but actions that translate in practice, and then on the field.
Speaking of practice…
After a 2020 season wrought with drops and snags, Diontae Johnson simplified his game by hitting the jugs machine. Day after day, he went back to the basics of his position. He learned in painful fashion you can’t make the flashy plays if you can’t even catch the ball on routine plays.
His teammates could stand to learn that lesson, and learn it fast.
With how elite the defense can be, they sure do fail to do a lot of really simple things like, say, tackling. Seattle absolutely gashed and gutted the Steelers’ defense, and most of that abuse came on the ground as a result of guys refusing to complete tackles.
And not just anyone.
More than once, Minkah Fitzpatrick rammed his body into Alex Collins, just to have the back bounce right off. Melvin Ingram tried that little trick, too. It didn’t work. Sometimes when you’re that good, you forget the foundation you had to build to get there.
There is a lot of talent on this team, but talent alone doesn’t carry teams to championships. There needs to be a unified understanding and execution of the fundamentals. Instead of getting ahead of themselves, ahead of the tackle, ahead of the catch, they need to stick with each moment and execute to the play on its basest form. If they keep trying to be too flashy, they’ll keep leaving the door wide open for late-game collapses.
The Steelers can never quite seem to play a complete game. And that, more than anything else, can be attributed to their inability to hold onto momentum.
It’s late in the game, they have the ball. They’re driving, the offense is hot, they’re up by 7, down by 3, fill in the Mad Lib with the situation of your choice. But they reach a critical 4th and short. (CAN WE USE A MORE SPECIFIC EXAMPLE?) Instead of riding the hot hand and potentially running away with the game, Coach Tomlin elects to send the special teams unit on the field. The opposing team seizes the opportunity to sneak back into the game — or run away with it themselves.
If they want a real shot at contending late in the season, they’re going to have to at least keep up with teams like the Bills, the Ravens, the Titans, and the Chiefs. And if they want to keep up with them, they’re going to have to start dictating the pace of the games from the first kickoff. They’re going to have to study up and double down on all of the most basic elements of the game. They’re going to have to learn how to take momentum and never give it back. If they can do these simple things — easier said than done, but simple nonetheless — they may just have a chance to turn this individual talent into a damn good football team.