Weekend Checkdown: the top stories of the week

Ed Szczepanski-USA TODAY Sports

Can the Steelers bounce back against another hated rival?

The Steelers are obviously struggling. That much we can agree on, but as to why, what it all means and what should be done about it we get into the eye of the beholder territory.

Total Panic II: There and Back Again.

is how Gene Collier characterized it. Are some of us, including many within the organization just in denial? Or are some overreacting? Maybe a little of both. Some of the failures might have been mitigated or avoided through smarter play and decision making. But what can you do about injuries? The goat suit fits pretty well on Zoltan Mesko, but how do you explain Shaun Suisham or Heath Miller? And how do you explain the discrepancies between what some of us see? Maybe a Boston area fan can help us understand the differences in perspectives that occur based on what our fan experience has been.

Injuries

They hit the offensive line hard this week and Ben paid the consequences. Though most of the damaged parties may find their way back on the field against New England. But with DeCastro (ankle), Foster (concussion) and Whimper (knee) out or hobbled during the course of the game, Ben took a beating and the competence and the integrity of the offense as a whole suffered. But here's the thing, we may we be comforted that familiar numbers are on the field, but the question must be raised as to whether their effectiveness is impacted in a manner that has created negative results. Maybe this explains some of the uncharacteristic behavior of a Heath Miller. He's well enough to be on the field, but is he well? So while the numbers of players down doesn't look to be too daunting besides those who are, and have been on IR, it is unclear how many of those in uniform on Sunday would be more accurately characterized as walking wounded. As of Friday DeCastro and Markus Wheaton are out for this week's game due to injury.

Terminations and demotions

In one of the more easy to predict consequences of the Raiders game, punter Zoltan Mesko lost his job. Newcomer Mat McBriar is the beneficiary. Continuing a pattern that, if not unique, at least seems particularly acute this year, players are sliding up and down the depth chart (and off and back on the roster) at a pretty good clip. This week Jason Worild's star is ascendant as Jarvis Jones stumbles a bit. William Gay, one of the consistently bright spots this season has is also in the spotlight this week. I also suspect that with DeCastro out and with Foster and Whimper in delicate straits, Mike Adams may be crawling out of the doghouse.

Marcus Gilbert

And speaking of ups and downs, the Steelers right tackle received the highest Pro Football Focus scores of his career based on his performance in Oakland. Others receiving positive marks were linemates David DeCastro and, drum roll please, Mike Adams. Brett Keisel was also recognized.

Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown

We knew this spring Sanders would be playing in this game. What wasn't clear was for which team. I believe Sanders has proven that the Steelers made a wise move in paying the price for retaining his services, even if it is just for one year. Disrespected in a backhanded way when it was suggested that the loss of Mike Wallace would result in a serious decline in the Steelers receiving corps, The Brown/Sanders duo has quietly become one of the most productive tandems in the league. With Wallace now gone and enjoying good health, Sanders is beginning to shine and putting to rest the doubts that some had about his abilities. His run for a two point conversion was one of the few bright spots last Sunday.

On the other hand, Sunday placed Brown under a bit of a cloud in the midst of an otherwise brilliant 2013 campaign. In an occurrence reminiscent of last season's game in Oakland, a reception that should be considered routine given Brown's abilities resulted in a turnover. He also was not able to hold on to another well thrown ball that would have kept a drive alive late in the game. Those two plays, just as much as the two misses by Suisham could be considered the difference in a game that was decided by three points. However, what Brown and Suisham have in common (and Ben as well) is that they are also responsible for the most of the good that has happened for this team in 2013.

Film room

Sometimes the analysis by Paper Champions and Steel34D will show us when some players aren't receiving the credit they deserve for their efforts. And then there was this week where we had the opportunities to see the failings of the offense and defense in slow motion clarity.

Coordinators Corner

It's clear that some among the fans and the media are frustrated when coaches don't pour gasoline over their heads, set  them aflame and then run around screaming. No Jim Mora's or Buddy Ryan's here, Haley and LeBeau resolutely refuse to declare that the sky is falling or throw their players under the bus and declare how much they suck. I agree with the approach. While some, I guess, find it cathartic, maybe even 'professional' to have orgasms of negativity, as coaches they are operating under a different covenant. The race is still in progress and indulging in flagellation is counterproductive. But if it were effective, with so many young players it would be best to do not that in the public glare, no matter how entertaining we might find such an approach to be. Plenty of time at season's end to count the warts.

Troy

There have been plenty of targets for assigning blame for Pittsburgh's troubles, but Troy Polamalu wouldn't be one. The Steeler safety, washed up in the minds of many a few short months ago, has done everything he can to try to keep the listing Pittsburgh ship afloat adding an interception and continuing disruptive play to a quality, inspired season of play. Troy will try his hand at that special formation that gave the Ravens fits when the Steelers tee it off against the Pats this Sunday.

Special teams

Another one of the few bright spots, until this week, was special teams. The offense had done things that had cost the team games, so had the defense, but, surprisingly, special teams had been steady. This was especially noteworthy given how badly that leg of the stool had played during the preseason. When the unit failed in the past it was usually because of punt and kick coverage, but this time it was mostly the kicking itself. I'm not much for scapegoating. Losses, as well as wins usually don't come down to the success or failure of any one player, if so it is usually indicative of a number of less visible failures that led up to what we may view as a defining event. For example, to what extent is the failure of the offense to score touchdowns complicit with the fact that Suisham's kicks mark the difference between winning and losing? That being said, the performances of Mesko and Suisham were not helpful. Maybe the positive will be a clear realization that it is dangerous to have to depend upon the placekicker to pull your fat out the fire time after time.

On doublemindedness

Two ideas have been gaining currency among the media and the fanbase. The first is that the Steelers would be best served if they gave up on the season (even though they are nowhere close to mathematical elimination) and concentrate on building for the future, either by allowing younger, less tested players get experience regardless of how that might effect the competitive posture of the team in the immediate term, or more brazenly, in essence lay down in the hope of coming in with a bad enough record to score some high draft picks.

Putting aside for the moment how despicable that latter concept is on a fundamentally ethical level for a profession and a team that is dedicated to attempt to make the best effort to win every time they take the field, the fact is that Steelers Nation has not shown that it possesses the psychological capacity to embrace such an 'enlightened' approach. Mind you, that some who are proposing this course of action are some of the same people who panicked and lost their minds because the team finished 8-8 and missed the playoffs by one game last season. They wanted to fire any and everybody because the Steelers must at least make the playoffs EVERY year and if not it is proof positive of widespread incompetence and heads must roll.

So the best minds in the Nation propose that integrity be damned, take a dive (that is what you are doing when your intention is to lose. And how do you do that anyway? The only ethical means is that you make like the Pirates and trade your best players for draft choices and cash. Or do you fake injury reports? 'Ben's out this week because he's, hmm, tired, and Landry Jones needs the work'). Tomlin is being criticized in some quarters because he hasn't given up on his team or the season. Silly me, I thought that was part of his job description. And the sick, underhanded part of it is that some of those who are suggesting that we should give up on the season will turn around and suggest that players and coaches be fired because, you guessed it, they gave up on the season. They have no spine.

The second idea is that the team is losing because it lacks discipline. Let's take a brief trip down memory lane shall we. 1974, the year of the first Super Bowl victory. Joe Gilliam was the starting quarterback to begin the season in part because there was a players strike during camp and Gilliam was one of the players that crossed the line. The quarterback play was so disciplined that three different players would start at the position. Joe Greene walked out on the team one day in mid season. In 2005, Super Bowl victory five, they were so disciplined that the only way they could make the playoffs was to run the table in December. And wasn't that the year that Joey Porter missed a game in Cleveland because he got into a fight during the pregame warm ups? 2008, Super Bowl victory six, they were so disciplined that Ben got sacked in a game in Philadelphia seven times. The following week the offense was so inept against the Ravens that they, and the rest of the team, were booed off the field at the end of the first half (I don't recall this team being booed). The team's best running back griped to the press that the runners weren't getting the ball enough, while the top wide receiver was suspended for a game against the defending Super Bowl champion because he was caught with marijuana in his car. In 2010 this same wide receiver was sent packing for additional off field behavior. Ben was suspended for six games for a rape accusation.

There have been any number of seasons where the Steelers have been discipline challenged and some of the most disciplined teams came up empty.

Grasping at straws.

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