Take a deep breath, Steelers Nation – the bye week is here. Ten weeks into the season, it is finally time to rest those "old" bodies. Time to heal and to get some players back. And enjoy a 7-3 record with a division lead - if only for a week.
The Red Cross Department
By my count (which included only "out" statuses on the official injury reports) We have had an amazing number of 18 players missing games because of injuries (19, if you count Mendenhall who suited up but did not play a down once). Of these 19 players, at least 13 are starters or back-ups who contribute significantly week in and week out, and not just on special teams. That is more than a third of the 53-man roster!
It is amazing how this season the injury bug bites the Steelers – it picks one specific position and really chews in. Just look up the injury stats. We have had 4 offensive linemen miss games (throw in how many had to miss time during games or to play with injuries). There was a game during the early part of season when we were down to our final lineman on the game-day roster.
We have had all three starters on the defensive line, as well as a top back-up, out pretty much at the same time (it was weird to see the Hood-Hoke-Heyward or even Hood-McLendon-Heyward in various combinations), losing one for the season.
When our running backs got hurt, they got hurt together (Mendy and MeMo).
Most recently, when our linebackers started falling down, they did so in bunches, with Harrison, Worilds, Woodley and Farrior all missing games, sometimes three LB-bodies at a time.
Finally, the wide receiver position took a hit with a tough stretch for Hines Ward, a personal loss and a knee injury at the same time for Manny Sanders (I bet the latter one makes it so much more difficult for #88 to deal with the former one) – thankfully (irony here) Cotchery got hurt early in the season and got back to the line-up in time for this stretch.
Well, also throw in Big Ben who played a few games on a badly sprained ankle, and really the only position that was untouched by major injuries is the secondary (knock on wood!).
That's the kind of adversity the Steelers played in for 10 long weeks. And the Standard that is preached by Coach Tomlin has certainly paid off. It is amazing that a team with so many injuries, with all the bad luck that resulted in a -12 turnover differential at one point during the Cincy game, is 7-3 and leading the division after 10 weeks).
The Ravens Syndrome
There's a saying in a country where I live – "One time is an incident, two times is a coincidence, three times is a pattern". Well, this has been a No. 3 for Baltimore.
It is actually pretty amazing, the combined record of the teams to which the Ravens lost at the time when they played was 3-12 (Tennessee was 0-1, Jax was 1-5, and Seahawks were 2-6), their current combined record is 11-16.
As much as I like this phenomenon as a Steelers fan (and we are now one Ravens miscue away from fully retaking the division lead), this, in my view, is little more than growing pains of a generally very good team. It is as if they are too youthful and too excited where they need to be more business-like. Don't be surprised if they get together and blow out Cincinnati 40-3 next week (they could do it with no Green and no Leon Hall for the Bengals).
But this definitely does not speak well of John Harbaugh. He just can't keep the team focused, concentrated and motivated for a game with an inferior opposition.
A Business Trip to the Jungle
I want to echo a post by maryrose right after the Ravens choked on Monday night at Jacksonville, about having to play "the opponents' Super Bowls", and how the Steelers do it on a weekly basis this year. Well, throw the Cincinnati game into the pot as well.
I think the Bengals were one of the most underrated 6-2 teams in the NFL history, with right about everyone explaining their surprising start by a weak starting schedule, with only one win coming against a winning team (Buffalo, and look where it is now). All the NFL was buzzing that the Steelers would be a real litmus test for these Bengals and their rookie QB. This was the first sell-out at Paul Brown stadium of the season. And if you think that the Bengals saw this as a possible statement game for them, to finally catch the world's attention and get some fans to the stadium, you were right. To me, this was the Bengals' Super Bowl.
Cincy played a spirited game, they played very well, but it was just not enough to beat the Steelers, the team that is strong enough to maintain a business-like approach to the game, and yet has a little chip on its shoulder following a loss to the Ravens to avoid coming out flat after the Pats-Ravens combo of games.
There are good and bad things to say about the Steelers. I was really disappointed by the play of the offensive line. I was frustrated by the lack of sacks and the Dalton's ability to throw the ball away when needed. As always this season, there was one heartbreaking play when a rusher (Harrison) got to the QB a split-second too late, but that split-second was enough for the 2nd TD by Dalton.
I was pleased by the play of Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace (save a couple of drops), as well as the play of the secondary. That being said, I was annoyed by the secondary's inability to adjust to the dink-and-dunk offense, it is the inexperience of the rookie QB that helped us avoid the game-tying TD via Gay's interception.
I would like to see a little more accuracy from Big Ben on deep throws to Mike Wallace. Last year, Ben had a knack for underthrowing Wallace, this year he overthrows him – he missed on two passes, I think, that should have gone all the way. Whether it is a throwing problem or a wind impact remains to be seen, but this is something I noted.
I am also happy about Troy's play. Yes, he may have misplayed the ball on the Green TD, and he may still be looking for his first INT, but he was a beast around the line of scrimmage, a couple of his hits made the highlight reel for sure.
All in all, a win is a win, and it is not the worst one in terms of quality. Remember the MNF game at Cincy last year where almost dead Bengals went down to the final play on 4th down that was almost caught but broken up by a massive Harrison hit? Well, this one was not that close.
And, last but not least, I think pretty much everyone projected the Steelers to be at our around 7-3 at this point of the season. Which makes me think we are in a good shape, and if we win the next three games, and if the 49ers have the first round bye clinched by the time we play out West on Dec. 19, things would look very pretty for us.