Here's the question as the Steelers begin the second half of the season with a Monday night game against the Chiefs at Heinz Field; homecoming game or trap game?
The latter option seems unlikely given the revenge factor for offensive coordinator Todd Haley and how well the team has been playing lately (and how poorly Kansas City has been performing as well). But just a reminder for that paranoid streak that many Steelers fans have lurking just beneath the surface at all times; last year we struggled against this team in a primetime matchup, and they ambushed the Packers later on in the year. I'm not saying its likely to happen, I'm just doing the necessary due diligence for those of us who like a little heartburn with our football.
Otherwise its been good times in Steeler Nation. That the team is in the midst of a three game winning streak is really only part of the story. It is how they have been winning that is the source of the real excitement. Apparently, for a limited time at least, the old Steelers are back. You know, the team that runs the ball at will, shuts down opposing offenses with casual disdain and beats you up like a schoolyard bully on a rampage for lunch money. Nor is this something that has only been picked up upon by Steelers fans. The nation took notice of the Giants game and have come to an identical conclusion.
Pittsburgh is a hot team entering the most crucial portion of its schedule. They have to play them as they come, but you're probably lying if you don't have one eye looking ahead to the Bumblebee (yes those uniforms again) blood bath coming up against the Ravens next week. I know the Chiefs and their fans are hoping for that.
Escape from New (Jersey)York
This looked all the world like one of those games that you write off as a loss. And after three quarters of very questionable calls perhaps fueled by the plight of the Giants and their fans in the wake of Hurricane Sandy it just seemed like too many forces were aligned against the Steelers and the fan base would console themselves with the notion that maybe Pittsburgh would see this team again on a neutral site and things would be different. The comeback and win has energized Steeler Nation and allowed many of us to entertain the idea of a deep playoff run.
The intimidation factor
The fun part about the Steelers surge is that nasty undertone that is so clearly part of Pittsburgh's play. Ryan Clark has been doing his part with the controversial hit he put on Victor Cruz in the Giants game. A big component of this intimidation factor has been the play of the offensive line. And they are getting credit now. for both their competence and their attitude. And the Steelers are also making some noise in the voting for the dirtiest players in the league.
The head coach gave a pretty comprehensive assessment of where he sees the team during a news conference this week. Tomlin was also the beneficiary of a midseason poll by the Sporting News where he was named the favorite coach by players around the league.
You remember that a few short weeks ago we were discussing in these parts whether cornerback Ike Taylor had reached the end of the line. Quite a few people opined that Taylor was through and should be jettisoned. This week Taylor was named the AFC defensive player of the week. Funny stuff.
In case you may have forgotten, this should be viewed as a pretty big week for Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley as he faces the team that he led just a few short months ago. Understandably there has been some speculation as to how this will influence what the offense does this Monday night.
The number three receiver has been making a bit of noise both on and off the field. On the field he is showing that in this case three is just a number. Antonio Who? Manny showed that Brown and Chris Rainey have nothing on him as a kick returner. In fact, it is now abundantly clear that the only thing that has stood in Sanders way has been injuries. However, there may be one area where Sanders needs work. Apparently the league was not impressed with his star turn during the Bengals game and he and the Steelers have been fined. And as Neal Coolong has pointed out, we will be watching to see if Victor Cruz will be following in Sanders footsteps. If not then expect that the grumblings about inquisition and conspiracy directed against the Steelers will continue apace
The Steeler rookie waived a preliminary hearing in what is going to be a long and complex set of legal procedures this week.
Running back controversy
Earlier in the season the situation at running back was muddled because no one was performing well enough to stand out. Now we have the opposite problem. Everyone is performing at a high level and it is unclear as to how this wonderful little conundrum will be resolved. The Post-Gazette points out one possibility.
No review of the week's events would be complete without some attention given to the injury situation. Antonio Brown and Chris Rainey joined the list of the impaired this week. It appears that Rainey will return to action, while Brown will be held out of action against the Chiefs. It appears that some key personnel such as Troy Polamalu will be returning to action just in time for the huge matchup with the Ravens this week. Rashard Mendenhall also appears to ready to rejoin the fray. In this sense all things considered the team has been relatively fortunate with injurie this season. But I don't have to tell you that this story isn't over. Here's hoping that the Steelers achieve the most important goal this Monday night; avoid any additional crippling injuries.