The Steelers should not be content with their performance Sunday until that smirk is wiped off Dalton's face, Image Courtesy of bengals.com

“Nut-Up or Shut-Up Time” for the Steelers Tomorrow


Let's hope Tomlin has his guys ready for tomorrow's pivotal matchup, Image Courtesy of post-gazette.com

I apologize in advance for the coarse language I used in the title of this article, but I honestly feel that there is no better way to describe tomorrow’s game and how the Steelers need to respond after last Sunday Night’s dumpster-fire like collapse.  So in addition to my personalized take on the upcoming Steelers vs. Bengals matchup, I also want to discuss why I believe that the Steelers need to look at tomorrow’s game as an absolute “must-win.”  Hit that “Continue Reading” Button and let’s get started:

Why Tomorrow is “must-win” for the Steelers

A.F.C. North/Postseason Race:

I don’t think that I need to remind you readers that the Steelers have dug themselves in quite the latrine hole in terms of their position in the A.F.C. North.  At 6-3, they are a half game behind the Ravens in addition to being 0-2 against them.  Moreover, they are also a half game behind their opponents tomorrow, the 6-2 Bengals.

Poor Browns, they're still irrelevant, Image Courtesy of profootballfocus.com

It would realistically take a record of 6-1 or 7-0 down the stretch for the Steelers to jump ahead of Baltimore and steal the A.F.C. North.  Don’t get me wrong, the Steelers could succeed and reel off seven wins in a row.

The Steelers have the talent to do it, and Baltimore has been known to collapse when the chips are on the table in the past.  Plus you factor in a favorable schedule for Pittsburgh (Browns 2x, St. Louis, San Francisco, Cincy. again, and K.C.), and the Steelers could go 12-4 or 13-3.

Easy schedule notwithstanding, the Steelers still need every win they can at this point and still need to go out and win said “easy” games.  And that is precisely why I would classify the Cincinnati games (especially the one tomorrow) as being the ones of the utmost importance which are still left on Pittsburgh’s schedule: The Steelers will be fighting for their Division/Playoff lives against an opponent that has the best chance to cripple their Division Title/Postseason chances.

A win tomorrow and against Cincinnati later in the season are crucial for not only notches in the Steelers total wins belt, but their Conference, and Divisional belts as well.  If the Steelers “lay the wood” to the young Bengals tomorrow, the Steelers would go up by a full game in the standings on Cincy. and already have won one of their two head-to-head matchups with the Bengals.

Why I Want to Watch

As salty as my tone has been throughout this article, I’m personally stoked about watching this game.  Why?  To me, this game is a perfect litmus test of whether or not this 2011 Steelers team is a legitimate contender.  Thus, this game should reveal any and all questions about the identities of both the Steelers and the Bengals.

Character Revealing Time:

Like it or not, tomorrow’s game and its outcome are going to reveal the character and desire to win of not only all of the players on this roster, but also the entire Coaching Staff as well.  Don’t believe me?  Here’s what I’ve been thinking about over the last couple of days:

For the players, all I am going to say is this: I will be watching closely who on this 2011 Steeler team believes in winning and will be giving 100% no matter what.  This isn’t to say that I don’t look for players that are prone to loafing or showing a lack of effort at times during games.  Yet tomorrow, when the stakes are the highest that they’ve been so far this season, and the Steelers need a W, it will be clearly evident to me (and hopefully most of you in Steeler Nation) who on this team wants to make a postseason run, and who simply wants rest on their laurels and accept a mediocre 9-7 or 10-6 season.

As for the Coaching Staff, I’ll be watching them closely as well.  Will Bruce Arians actually continue to utilize his weapons properly like he has over the past month?  Or is he just going to put his head in the ground like he has so many times in the past and ignore them?  Will he fix the Red Zone mistakes made by play-calls and use his TE’s down there more?  Or will he keep allowing his Offense to settle for 3′s instead of 6′s without any consequences?

Is Dick LeBeau going to learn from his mistakes and get his boys to finish games?  Or is this going to be 2009 all over again where he allows his guys to become lackadaisical when the game is on the line and decide not to bring pressure against immobile QB’s when it is needed the most?  Hey Dick, now would be a good time to outfox a Rookie QB that you and your Defenses have ravaged for decades.

Finally, is Tomlin going to actually take some initiative and call people out for their mistakes?  I understand that it is not his style to lose his cool over things, but the buck stops with him, and it would be nice to see him right the proverbial “ship” after last Sunday’s debacle.

Either “Statement Game” or Steelers’ “Worst Nightmare”:

If this Steeler team is as good as many of its supporters (including myself) say that it is, they should theoretically go into Paul Brown Stadium tomorrow and “wipe the floor” with the upstart Bengals.  The Steelers must ultimately play a 60 minute game where nothing short of the complete and total domination of the Bengals can suffice as par for the course.  A big win could inevitably work two-fold for the Steelers. First, it could not only boost the Steelers’ confidence for future weeks and reaffirm who the “top-dog” in the rivalry is.  But a huge loss could send the Bengals into a tailspin after their first tussle with a legitimate opponent.

That being said, the Steelers can’t afford to play patty-cake with Cincinnati and allow the Bengals to stay in the game.  Giving a young yet talented opponent any sort of confidence on their home field is one of the worst things that a team can do.

If the Steelers decide to go the route of Johnny Lawrence in “The Karate Kid” and decide not finish off their inferior opponent when they have the chance, the Steelers could get a “Crane Kick” to the face by Mike Zimmer and the Bengals stellar Defense.

If Zimmer’s boys win the turnover battle, and “Ginger-Vitis” cobbles together a few decent drives, the Steelers could be in some serious trouble.  A win for Cincinnati means their confidence grows even more and the Steelers fall a game and a half behind the Bengals.  More confidence for  Cincinnati equals better play.  Better play means more wins.  This is a recipe for disaster for the Steelers, and an outcome they can ill-afford to let happen.

Thus, tomorrow’s outcome can work in one of two ways for the Steelers.  Either Pittsburgh can put the N.F.L. on notice and illustrate to the League that they are a force to be reckoned with.  Or they can take one more in the Loss Column and essentially prove to everybody in the N.F.L. that they aren’t up to snuff in 2011.

Conclusion

All the Steelers need is a spot in the Playoffs because there isn’t a clear-cut favorite in the A.F.C. and the Steelers definitely have the talent to win the A.F.C. for the second consecutive season.  However, teams that have Super Bowl dreams and consider themselves a “Super Bowl Caliber” squad don’t lose to Rookie QB’s and teams they for all intents and purposes can and need to beat.  And this is especially true when those teams are in your very same Division and are vying for a playoff spot as well.

To me, this can either be 2008 or 2009 for Pittsburgh.  The Steelers can rebound from a tough home loss (a.k.a. Indy in ’08) and take names and kick some tail all the way to a Super Bowl championship.  Or they can take it up the tail-pipe at home (a.k.a. Cincy. in ’09) and proceed to constantly shoot themselves in the foot against weaker and inferior foes (much like in ’09, the Steelers ’11 mid-late schedule is less than stellar).

It’s now or never Steelers.  Treat “Ginger-Vitis” Dalton like that red-headed step-child that he looks like Mr. LeBeau, and unleash Hell like you have so many times before on Rookie QB’s.  Let Wally, A.B., Cotchery, and Heath run wild on that Cincy. Secondary Brucey.  You know that they can give those guys fits.  O-Line, just keep protecting Ben and he can find those boys running wild.

Don’t disappoint us boys, we know you’ve got what it takes.  It’s just time to “Nut-Up.”

Follow me on Twitter (@DominicDiTolla)

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