Strange as it may seem and in spite of it all, these are pretty upbeat times for Steelers fans. Consider the following.
* The team is still in contention for a playoff spot. Yes, I know. By the time you read this that may no longer be true. But please don't miss the point. Would you have thought at Columbus Day that the Steelers would be any part of a discussion about playoffs this late in the season? Still relevant. Barely, but still relevant.
* With all that has happened this season, last Sunday's little beat down of the Bengals shows that this sideways season has not broken the spirit of this team. To the contrary, it can be argued that they are playing their best ball. Hard to understate how big that is given the number of young and developing players on this team and it is likely to pay off down the line in seasons to come.
* Ben is as healthy as he's ever been (or so it seems) and is playing at a very high level, Antonio Brown is off the charts, Heath is back, Troy's still got it, Suisham remains consistent and Cotchery is proving to be a very solid investment.
* Worilds, Heyward, Hood, Dwyer, Gay and Sanders are fulfilling their promise. Bell, DeCastro, Beachum, Thomas, Wheaton and Williams are young players that are clearly on the rise. Al Woods and Terrance Garvin are pleasant surprises.
* If just some of the following players can return from dry dock, it could make a big difference: Maurkice Pouncey, Larry Foote, David Johnson, Sean Spence, LaMarr Woodley, Fernando Velasco, LaRod Stephens-Howlings.
I think we can agree that the prospects are a lot cheerier than we were thinking earlier in the year. Hope. How appropriate for this time of the year.
Before we delve into purely football matters, let's keep our priorities straight and extend greetings to those among you who celebrate Christmas. And let's also highlight some of the activities that mark the team's recognition of the holiday.
Rebecca Rollett and other music sensitive individuals may want to cover their ears, but the Steelers continue their tradition of sharing their, um, singing talents as they give their rendition of (butcher) various Holiday classics. It is moments like these that they and their families must be extraordinarily grateful that these young men know how to play football at a high level.
Which Steeler would be more appropriate to impersonate Santa Claus (Particularly now that Casey Hampton is no longer with the team) than the Beard.
Heinz Field Homecoming
You may have missed this in all the excitement of the big Steeler win last Sunday. The team arranged for a local family to have one the best Christmas' they'll ever celebrate.
Gay and Foote
If you missed Steelers.com's piece on William Gay's back story, here's another chance to familiarize yourself with his background and his motivation to celebrate and be of assistance to women who have been victimized by domestic violence. Larry Foote has also been busy making his presence known in the community this holiday season.
Their Life's Work
Neal Coolong interviewed author Gary Pomerantz on connections between how the 70's Steelers would handle some of the challenges facing the 2013 squad. If you are still in the market for the perfect gift for a Steeler fan, or you just want to treat yourself, Pomerantz' book may be your answer. I and a number of people I know, including several associated with BTSC have read it, and without exception have given it very high marks. A great way to spend some of the quiet time that comes between now and the new year.
Last year Steelers.com gave us the gift of Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau's annual recitation of The Night Before Christmas. It will probably be another day or so (hopefully) before its available, but its worth checking their site to make your Steeler Christmas complete.
How many of you would have guessed that one of the big newsmakers this past week would be Terrence Garvin?(Honestly, how many of you knew he was on the team?) Its not an exaggeration to say that pretty much everyone associated with the NFL knows who Garvin is now. The rookie undrafted free agent linebacker from West Virginia ignited a firestorm when he leveled Cincinnati punter Kevin Huber during Antonio Brown's touchdown run back. Huber suffered a broken jaw in the collision and is lost to the Bengals for the rest of the season. We all learned that the league now has rules in place that are intended to prevent certain players from being molested during the course of the game. This would include punters like Huber, even though he was attempting to make a tackle. As a consequence Garvin was required to make a contribution of $25,000 dollars to the NFL.
Opinions of Garvin's actions differ. Bengals fans, frustrated and angry, (no doubt partly fueled by the butt whipping administered to them on national television in prime time. Don't let anyone think that just because they've fallen on some hard times that the Steelers have forgotten how to exert dominance in the AFC North. I bet Burfict remembers Willie Colon.) expressed outrage over the actions of the thug Garvin. They impotently ranted and raved about the injustice of it all. One young fan wrote Huber wishing that Garvin would be punished by becoming destitute (homeless) and living out of his car (A Steeler fan insisted that the fan was not young but was an adult Bengals fan demonstrating typical penmanship and intellectual function of that segment of society). Steelers fans vacillated between a bemusement and a different sort of outrage. Any player who jacks up an opponent will become an instant hero to Steelers Nation. The more outrageous the violation the better. Our objections were concerning Roger Goodell's apparent agreement with the Bengal's fan that Garvin should be made destitute.
The team's number one wide receiver was named Steelers Digest Player of the Week as he continues his outstanding 2013 season and, given his contract and work ethic, could be on track, if he remains healthy, to be on the short list of Steelers greats who transcend any particular era. He is at the point now where it can seem that he is a threat to score virtually any time he touches the ball. His history and draft position is such that it will still take some time before the world fully catches up with how great he is becoming.
You would be forgiven if find yourself having trouble accepting this given how long it has seemed that the Steelers O line was destined to be found wanting. But it has become apparent that this group has finally crossed the threshold and is now a competent group. A more skeptical view would be that the success of the offense is the result of some scheme changes and the implementation of the no huddle offense. Whatever. And if you have trouble accepting this modest bit of progress then you'll have a real hard time with the idea given by an experienced league personnel man that this group hasn't approached their ceiling yet and could, in short order, become the strength of the team. Its obvious that with few exceptions the offensive line's players are just getting started with their careers. These guys could develop into exceptional pros in the coming years.
Not to be outdone, the defensive line continues with it impressive and rapid development. It is just about reached the point where outstanding play from Cam Heyward is become just a standard expectation. The surprise came from a really solid performance by Al Woods who played nose tackle in place of the injured Steve McLendon. It is speculated that the transition to a new group of stalwarts is already complete.
All of this has led to the belief that the combination of the rapid development of a deep group of young linemen, coupled with ongoing injury concerns and considering the contract situation, it is likely that the team captain is probably playing his last two games in black and gold this week in Green Bay and then next week against Cleveland.
I am increasingly coming to the conclusion that situations of this sort are not merely tragic for the player and the fans who have followed him for over a decade, but it is harmful to the product the team puts on the field as well as, given their operating philosophy, their ability to successfully compete. Great players in the early stages of decline are often still very good players. And they continue to bring leadership and experience to the table that almost always proves to be of exceptional value. That teams feel compelled to separate from these veterans so soon is a loss for the game of football and contributes mightily to the inability to sustain excellence by teams.
Another player who may have seen his last action in a Steelers uniform is outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley. The issues here are some chronic injury issues (He was placed in IR this week) and a huge salary owed him next year. The emergence of Jason Worilds certainly hasn't helped either.
The Steelers quarterback is as healthy as he's been since at least 2008, is setting records and exercising a lot of leadership. He is also doing what he can to calm the waters and provide a vote of confidence for the offense and its coordinator. In her ongoing series of character Rebecca Rollett reminds us how far Roethlisberger has come since the incident in Georgia over three years ago.
DeCastro and Troy
These two received the highest marks for the team from Pro Football Focus this week. Each player is in the conversation for a spot on this season's Pro Bowl.
Paper Champions takes us through some of the whys and wherefores of last Sunday's game, analyzing how some of the big plays came about.
Yep. We are still entitled to discuss such a thing, though it feels just as likely as being attacked by a polar bear and a grizzly bear on the same day. Here's how things would have to play out. Also, members of this community give themselves permission to dream a little.
The Steelers can't completely control whether or not they make it into the playoffs. They do have total control over whether they can avoid suffering the first losing season in the tenure of head coach Mike Tomlin, and for Ben, the first time since junior high school. Some things may be working in the teams favor. First the weather looks to be more forgiving with the prospect of snow replacing that of frigid temperatures for Sunday afternoon's match up.
The Packer's starting quarterback will miss this game, it was announced on Friday afternoon. This may be less of a problem for Green Bay that Packer's fans may fear. Dick LeBeau discusses the two Packer quarterback and his preparations.
Bell vs Lacy
The topic came up as the two high draft picks from 2013 have drawn requests for comparisons that cannot be avoided. Tomlin has stood behind his guy.
Super Bowl blues
This is the first meeting between the two teams since Pittsburgh's loss in the Super Bowl. While the line is that this is just another game, players acknowledged how painful it was to have lost a Super Bowl. This is not to say that the players will have any addition incentive to do well with this game.
Perhaps too little too late, it appears that everyone who occupies the active roster for the team will be on board and able to play on Sunday.
- Steelers vs. Packers: Everything you need to know
- If Le'Veon Bell will crack 100 yards this season, it will be in Week 16
- Steelers were preparing for Aaron Rodgers to return this week
- Aaron Rodgers out for Week 16 game vs. Steelers
- Keisel pushed it in practice to play final two games this season
- The Standard is The Standard: Steelers pre-Week 16 show
- 5 questions with SB Nation's Packers' blog, Acme Packing Company