We've all talked about the unique dynamic of the NFL in that it changes dramatically during the course of a season. The idea is to survive through December and peak through January. Looking back at the first third of the season, one would think it was actually three seasons ago. The undefeated Patriots from a year ago got crushed at home by a team who almost didn't win a game a year ago. Brett Favre and the Jets were downed by the Oakland Raiders. The Colts were losing regularly and I swore the Eagles were not going to allow another first down after the Steelers debacle.
Now, a guy who never started a football game in pro or college is looking like the legend he suddenly replaced, the Jets look like the team to beat in the AFC, the Colts have not lost in a month and the Eagles look completely dismantled. Only in the NFL. The Steelers have morphed in their own right. After seeing that the make-up of the offensive line was not compatible with the style of our quarterback, the offensive braintrust changed the way we did business. It was a major transition to make. We went from an extreme team, one who either pounded the clock or had our quarterback break a tackle and make a big play, to an equator team, one that chips downfield and takes what the defense gives us.
I have defended Bruce Arians before, and continue to do so. Were it not for two bad blunders by Ben against the Colts, the Steelers would be 9-2. Moreover, the team would still be growing in its new "equator offense." Ben looks more comfortable every game. The line knows it role better. The receivers understand their jobs as well. The only thing inconsistent, at the moment, is the running game, where the Steelers main man is on again-off again. Interestingly, the team we play this weekend, the Patriots, prove that half an offense is all you need when you can do it so well that you don't even need the other half.
The Bengals played hard last week, make no mistake. You can sense alot from team benches when in attendance and the Bengals were fired up all game until the end. I give them alot of credit, especially Marvin Lewis for sending Chad home, but that is another story. I was also impressed with Anthony Collins, who started his first game opposite Deebo. The Bengals took him in the fourth round after we took Bruce Davis third. Most Steelers, including, Troy, Hines, Woodley, Deebo and Timmons do not shine in year one, so it is premature to judge Davis this season, but it is hard for me to not wish we had Collins right now in the wings, but that too is another story.
The crazy thing is, there are five teams in the AFC right now who are capable of peaking in the third trimester and into the playoffs. Some may argue others. The Steelers are one of them. For starters, no one has a defense as consistent, talented and well coached, period, end of story. Even the great Peyton needed the Steelers offense to hand him the ball on the 32-yard line TWICE in order to squeak out three touchdowns. The defense alone gives us as much hope as anybody, and that is with numerous injuries all along the way.
So now the offense needs to continue to expand, inch by inch. By expanding, I mean taking the equator short game and adding touches of what Ben was used to. He is not only getting better acclimated to the two-step-drop-and-throw, he is comfortable to the point of starting to be the old Ben also. He scrambled for a first down and scrambled for a score recently. He is also starting to roll more and do that naked play action. "Expansion" is further manifest by the emergence of Gary Russell as a valuable part of the offense in addition to his kick returning value. And if we can finally get Willie back for good, we can really expand into traditional Steeler Football pounding the clock.
They say adversity breeds asset. Maybe the adversity of the early offensive woes has allowed us to play a new game while we inch back the old game. Our tight ends have been huge in recent games, so has Mewelde catching passes, so have Hines and Tone in the short game. We're not perfect, but you can't blame us for not trying everything. And best of all, the best may be yet to come. After two-thirds of the journey, there are five AFC teams who can legitimately believe they can improve and peak between now and Tampa. The Steelers are one of them, and as good as any of them