Relax. Calm down. Put down the razor blades. I know, I know: after Sunday’s loss, the Steelers are now three games behind the Bengals. But, the Steelers’ season is far from over.
For whatever reason, Steeler fans always want to obsess over the negatives, and after a loss like that, I can empathize… to a degree. But, for the love of Pete, stop with all of the “woe is us” self pity. There are plenty of teams that have had setbacks, but it is not the end of the world. Since so many Steeler fans are insistent about harping on the negatives, I shall instead focus solely on the positives.
Ben’s first drive
On the first drive of the game, Ben Roethlisberger was surgical. He distributed the ball, hit his receivers in stride, and was in a word: flawless. Immediately, visions of the offense that we had all expected to see (record-setting) ran through our heads. After that drive, I know that I personally figured that the Steelers would score forty-plus points against the Bengals.
Then… Geno Atkins fell into Ben’s injured knee.
From that point on, Ben was not stepping into his throws; in turn, his passes were sailing over his receivers’ heads (three times they landed right in Bengals defenders’ hands). The majority of Steeler fans want to focus on the interceptions and/or on the fact that Ben’s knee might have suffered a setback. I, on the other hand, want to focus on that first drive. Remember it… because, once Ben gets in stride, the majority of his drives will indeed be exactly that flawless.
Speaking of overcoming injuries to star players…
DeAngelo Williams is “good enough”
As soon as Le’Veon Bell grabbed his knee on the sideline, every Steeler fan gasped. We all figured that best running back in the league was likely done for the season, and alas, that is indeed the case: Bell was officially placed on injured reserve. (Insert here: moans and groans about the season being “over!!!”)
Instead of feeling sorry for ourselves, we should focus on the game that DeAngelo Williams had. I understand that most of us probably missed just how well Williams played, considering that the Steelers lost not only the game, but their star running back. Regardless, allow me to try to convince you that the Steelers will be alright.
Before I go any further, I want to clarify that there is no replacing Bell; he truly is the best running back in the league and I am not trying to say that Williams is his equal. Yet, what I am indeed saying is that Williams will be “good enough” to make this offense still very potent. In fact, here is an interesting stat that might just alleviate some of your despair: Bell was averaging 120 yards from scrimmage; on Sunday, Williams had 110 yards from scrimmage. Someone will likely point out that any player can have one good game, which could be true… but, that is not the case. After the first two games of the season, Williams was only nine yards behind the league-leader in rushing yards. In other words, Williams’s 110 yards was no fluke; in fact, I expect him to maintain that average for the remainder of the season.
The defense is on the cusp of greatness
Last season, the defense got better and better as the young players became more accustomed to the NFL. Likewise, this season’s defense just keeps playing better with every passing week, as they get more and more used to Keith Butler’s system. In the past three weeks, the Pittsburgh defense has held the top scoring offense (Arizona) and the third-ranked scoring offense (Cincinnati) to thirteen and sixteen points respectively.
Butler’s defense is predicated on not allowing the offense to beat you deep and forcing a team to take a dozen plays to get into the red zone. Sure, the cornerbacks are giving up chunks of yardage left and right, but instead of focusing on that yardage, we should instead look at the points given up per game, which is sixth best in the entire league. Once the opposition reaches the red zone, with the shortened field, Pittsburgh’s defense clamps down and routinely forces the opponent to kick a field goal.
Holding teams to field goals is good, but getting “splash plays” would be better. Patience, grasshopper, patience. As Bud Dupree and Ryan Shazier get more experience and/or once Stephon Tuitt returns from injury, the sacks, fumbles, and interceptions will indeed start to pile up. If you give those players a dozen opportunities to attack the quarterback, more times than not, one of those Steelers defenders will get there. Just wait, the splash plays are coming.
In summation, the Steelers will be fine. Ben will shake off the rust and get back in sync with his bevy of talented receivers. Likewise, DeAngelo Williams will provide just enough of a running threat so that teams can not “sell out” against the pass. Adding one plus two, we get an offense that we have all been waiting for since the season began. In other words, scoring should not be a problem from here on out. On the other side of the ball, the already staunch defense will only get better. When all of these parts are melded together, it translates into a run of many, many victories over the next few months… well into January… and, quite possibly February.