A few weeks ago I wondered if we’d ever see the “real” Pittsburgh Steelers this season. In my years of watching our boys play ball, I’ve come to know one thing: Somehow the Steelers win, but for some reason they like to make it close. That especially holds true for this bunch since while behind center, Big Ben has won so many games in the final 2 minutes I can’t even keep track of them all. What I really meant when I asked that question was, “where is the magic?” Where are those splash plays we’re used to seeing on defense? Where are the wins against teams with positive wins in the win column? Where are the flashes of domination we’re used to seeing from our offense?
Well, with a big win against the 6-1 Patriots, the Steelers answered a lot of those questions, and seem to be back in the form that I’m used to seeing. They have now won four straight games, and with a win this Sunday they could make it a very respectable 5 straight wins going in to the Bungles game, and then the bye. Right now though, I’m ready to admit that the Steelers have now developed in to a playoff, even a Super Bowl caliber team. I’m not saying we’re Super Bowl bound, but I am saying it looks like more of a possibility.
So, what the hell did the Steelers do to handle the Patriots so convincingly? How did they develop into a team that can seriously dominate a great offense in Tom Brady and the Patriots without batting an eye? Five weeks ago this team was “Old, Slow, and Done,” so what changed?
Well, the easy answer is that nothing changed. The Steelers were never old and slow. There are old players, there are some guys who are not as fast as they were, but the sky isn’t falling the way everyone in the world thought it was (present company included, at times). The real key to this mystery is the depth of the Steelers. You can have old starters, but when you’ve got young guys like Heward, Hood, McLendon, Sylvester, Lewis, Timmons, Woodley, and others ready to step up and dominate when the big guys go down, you’ve got a team that can survive even with a slew of injuries. It’s really a testimate to the work that the Front Office and Kevin Colbert in particular has put in to bringing young talent to Pittsburgh. Just look at our Offense: Antonio Brown, Emmanual Sanders, Wesyle Saunders, Mike Wallace, Gilbert, Pouncey…these are all young guys who have stepped up this year or last to prove that they belong in the lineup and can handle themselves on the field. Hines Ward goes down, Antonio Brown steps up, Aaron Smith goes down, Ziggy Hood steps up, McFadden goes down and Keenan Lewis steps up (big). James Harrison goes down, the $60 Million Dollar Man steps up and averages two sacks a game. The depth with the Steelers is remarkable, and might be the reason this team has been able to get better as the season gets longer.
And what about Big Ben and the offensive line! Amazing what a little consistency can do, right? Last week was the first time ALL SEASON the same offensive line started for two weeks in a row. Gilbert is a rookie and has been outstanding in pass coverage, as has the only guy who has started every game since he’s been here this stretch, Max Starks. We now have competent players at the most important positions (RT-Gilbert, C-Pouncey, LT-Starks) and Big Ben is starting to look like the QB I thought he was going to be this season. When the line stays healthy, so does Ben Roethlisberger.
Last week Big Ben shred up the Patriots defense. The Steelers moved the ball at will in the air, in part thanks to a great game plan put together by Bruce Arians. He deserves credit where credit is due, and last week the Steelers’ offense was unstoppable. I would usually not read so much in to one game, but there really hadn’t been a defining game for the Steelers thus far this season. Wins against teams like the Colts, Jags and Cardinals don’t really make people go “ooo and ahh” when they talk about the Steelers. But, a win against Tom Brady, the man who has been the thorn in the Steelers’ collective side since 2005, means something more. I was at the Patriots game in Pittsburgh last year. I watched the Steelers get beat so bad I could hardly take it. It was such a disappointing loss (of course, we still made it to the Super Bowl, so…), and I remember wondering if we’d every have the upper hand. Well, I guess a banged up Steelers team is good enough to beat the Pats, which means we’re good enough to beat anyone. Even the Packers.
Of course, before we start chanting “I got a feelin,” the Steelers have to beat their other rivals, the Baltimore Ravens. Stopping the run will be key in this game that is sure to be a bloody battle. Stopping the pass rush is another key. We’ve seen it before: without protection, this offense falls apart. The Ravens have not looked good the last couple of weeks, but we all know that won’t be the case against the Steelers. This is their Super Bowl. They won’t ever get to the big game, so they blow everything they’ve got on beating us. That’s OK too, cause I know we can handle the Ravens. We’re not the same team that walked in to Baltimore week 1. This is a different team, with a kind of swagger I haven’t seen in a while. Beat the Ravens, handle the Bungles, and we head in to the bye week at 8-2 and the lead in the entire AFC.
Let that one sink in. We went from being “Old, Slow, and Done” to leading the AFC. Wins against the Ravens and Bungles mean a definitive lead. Who saw that coming after week 1? Not I, that’s for sure.
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