Opening night of the 2015 NFL season was full of emotions as the Steelers officially began their journey down the road to Super Bowl XLX. Not only did the Steelers have to deal with the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, but they had to deal with the drama that comes from playing them as well. I’m officially naming this latest incident involving the Patriots, “The Great Radio Controversy”. It’s a reference fans of the rock band Tesla will understand and appreciate, because it was the name of their second album, and was based on a court case that proved Nikola Tesla, not Marconi, was the inventor of the radio. In any case, Thursday night’s great radio controversy in Foxboro is about who manipulated radio frequencies that allowed the Patriots radio broadcast to bleed into the headsets of the Steelers’ coaches, rendering them useless for a good chunk of the first half. The NFL stated that there was a ground problem in the system that was made worse by the inclement weather, and the only people who seem to believe that story are Patriots fans.
The Steelers’ coaches and players have refused to blame the loss on the mystery surrounding the failure of their headsets, but they definitely don’t seem to be buying the explanation. This is from the Bob Labriola- Steelers Come Up Short To Pats, 28-21 article on Steelers.com:
“This is the kind of stuff that happens to the visiting team in Gillette Stadium all the time. From the start of the game through the opening 14 minutes of the first quarter, the Steelers’ coaches’ headsets were receiving the Patriots Radio Network broadcast of the game. The broadcast was so loud that the Steelers coaches were unable to communicate, and the NFL rule is that if one team’s headsets are not working the other team is supposed to be forced to take their headsets off. It’s what the NFL calls the Equity Rule. Strangely enough, whenever an NFL representative proceeded to the New England sideline to shut down their headsets, the Steelers headsets cleared. Then as the representative walked away from the New England sideline, the Steelers’ headsets again started to receive the Patriots game broadcast.”
This may not have come from the Steelers’ organization, but being that it has been posted on their official website, this description of the events has their blessing. The Steelers have also filed a complaint with the NFL over the great radio controversy, and it will be interesting to see if any findings get released or if it just ends up in a private apology. Not only was communication a problem with the coaches’ headsets, it was also an issue on the field. There also was plenty of confusion at times on secondary assignments and as bad as it looked, there were also moments where they looked pretty decent as well. Once Brandon Boykin finally sees some game action, he will help provide needed leadership to stabilize this unit. Cortez Allen looked like his confidence is returning. Although it was just the first game, he had the look of someone who is ready to bounce back after a rather forgettable 2014 season. Hopefully as the season wears on, Keith Butler will have the corners move up and challenge receivers at the line.
How about Ryan Shazier being all over the field making plays? A few of them prevented what initially looked to be big gainers on the ground. This guy has a chance to be special and he looks ready to take that next step. Jarvis Jones may not have stood out, but the fact that his aggression made an offensive lineman take a swing at him at the end of a play is a good sign. He looked more sure of what he was doing on the field than he has at any time since his arrival in Pittsburgh. Less thinking can only mean better things await Jones this year. Maybe the same can be said for Bud Dupree, who looked pretty decent in his debut by blowing up a running play in the backfield and getting his first sack.
D’Angelo Williams has always been a productive running back throughout his career. Last night he ran with a chip on his shoulder all game. It’s doubtful anyone expected him to average 6.1 yards per carry on his way to 127 yards, but that’s what he did. One can only imagine what he’ll do to a dilapidated 49’ers defense that is worse off than the Patriots when it comes to run defense. With minimal carries the last few years in Carolina, Williams has fresh legs and will give the Steelers the best 1-2 punch at running back in the NFL, when Le’Veon Bell returns. The most important thing is that D’Angelo Williams gives the Steelers the luxury of being able to rest Bell at anytime to help keep him fresh and healthy.
While it’s easy to look at this loss and focus on all the reasons for it, there were also a number of positive things that occurred in the game that the Steelers will be able to build on the rest of the way. Something else to take away from the game, is that many of the defensive issues they face are mental ones. These issues can be cleaned up. There is ample talent on this side of the ball that’s good enough to get the Steelers back to the postseason. Having the most dangerous offense in the league affords Keith Butler’s unit the time to gel and help put the team in position to contend for the franchise’s seventh Lombardi trophy.