The pot calling the kettle black?
Some time ago, Homer J spoke of the winter soldiers. They were the ones who stuck in there when the weather got dicey and the provisions were low. He, Bill Steinbach and I were experiencing that this past Sunday afternoon as even the stoutest of Steelers supporters were abandoning ship as that ugly game wound down. I certainly don't blame folks for doing so. It was difficult to watch and a test of will to stick it out on an otherwise pleasant afternoon. But it didn't pass our notice that the sunshine soldiers, literally fair-weather warriors, were those who had been most loudly critical of the team throughout the game. Make no mistake, no one, and I mean no one, was happy with what was transpiring, and by the time it ended only a tiny fraction of the crowd remained. But I can't help thinking that those who bailed first would be the ones to most eagerly embrace labeling the Steelers as being 'soft'.
Let me pause momentarily to make two points. This team definitely has issues and they will be addressed soon. The vast majority of Steelers Nation, though disgusted and disturbed by one aspect or another of this most recent loss are, nonetheless, taking things in stride. But then there are the others.
The image that keeps playing out in my mind is from the movie Airplane. You know, the part where the passengers go into a full-blown panic. I was amused by one of Hombre's Five Burning Questions: Is it time to hit the panic button? That horse left the barn weeks ago. It seems that Neal Coolong's full-time job these days is talking people down from the ledge. Rusty knives to the abdomen all around. Is there something in the water?
I have a co-worker who's a Cowboys fan. Being a native of Oklahoma, he comes by this honestly. Naturally, he was quite pleased with the results of the past weekend. The road win against the Seahawks was truly impressive and their 5-1 record holds the promise, after the better part of a generation of disappointment, that the fans of this proud franchise may return to a season of good times. He gently needled me about the Steelers. I wasn't going to begrudge him that. I was actually surprised how quickly I had gotten over the game. We continued to talk football and I eventually mentioned in a matter-of-fact manner that some want Tomlin fired, the Rooneys deported back to Ireland - you know, the usual. He's looking at me like he thinks I'm trying to pull his leg. When I finally convince him I'm not kidding he says, "Why would they want to do that? What's your record, 2-3?"
And as I try to explain to the uninitiated those things that afflict the psyche of some in Steelers Nation, an unavoidable conclusion must be faced. They're soft, mentally fragile, weak. How else to explain panicking or, in some cases, giving up on the season or wanting to break up the franchise over a .500 record in October? Well, you say, they're not a good football team. True. Nor, however, are they bad. A .500 record is the precise definition for average. And if you have difficulty distinguishing between average and bad, because they're not the same thing, then I have doubts you'd know good if it was staring you in the face.
Then there's the whole 'Fire everyone' business. Again, soft. Why? Consumers have their powers, but direct demands to make policy or personnel changes isn't one of them. If you go to a restaurant and the meal isn't up to standard, you don't demand that the owner fire the chef, nor do they fire the lead tenor or music director after a sub-par concert performance. What you can do is withdraw your support. You vote with your dollars and your feet. You do that because a dollar given in disgruntlement or anger is just as valuable as one given cheerfully. A pissed off fan is still a fan. But when you're soft there's no spine for doing something so principled or effective. While they may spread vitriol over the airwaves and the internet, verbally and perhaps physically abuse friends and family members, not show up to work on Monday, there's no way that they'll give up their addiction. So their fall-back position is manipulation and control, literally trying to nag in order to get their way, hoping to influence the thinking of others and get them to buy in. You see it in schoolyards all the time.
So here's a provocative issue for you. There was a time when playing in Pittsburgh was something of a considerable challenge for opponents. Fans actually believed their behavior could make a difference in the outcome. They still do. Otherwise, what's the purpose of Renegade, or the Dog Pound in Cleveland, or the Twelfth Man in Seattle? It would seem that some in our fan base are becoming Eagle-ish, as in Philadelphia. Hard to imagine that fan enthusiasm won't be adversely affected if people are double-minded. After all, in order to get a wish that particular personages are fired, cut or demoted, the team has to fail, does it not? So what, in fact, are they rooting for? If I'm Bill O'Brien of the Texans, I'm thinking do whatever I can to jump out quickly on the Steelers and there's a good chance their fans will quit and some may turn on the team.
And the final word on this subject comes at the end of a nice piece by Beth Mincin on celebratory behavior. At the end she says,
I don't expect my team to win every week. That's just unrealistic. But when you do lose, can you at least have some dignity in the process?
Dignity? Dignity!?! Talk about your double-edge swords. What does Steelers Nation know about losing with dignity?
The Steelers are probably doomed anyway. They lost to the Browns, and anytime that has happened since the NFL returned to Cleveland in 1999, the Steelers have missed the playoffs.
Rob Rossi's comment in the Trib is probably the exact way not to think about the Browns game. It's understandable, particularly if you're younger, say under 35, that certain things would seem immutable when they're not. It's just that the arc of history is longer for some things than for others. This is why some are having a hard time grasping that being a Super Bowl contender year after year is not the Steelers' birthright (or anyone else's). The NFL is structured exactly in a manner to prevent that from happening. This isn't the Big Ten where one team is going to dominate practically forever while the others lie prostrate at its feet. The league considers that bad for business and they're probably right. Pittsburgh has been the most successful franchise in this era because they occasionally, not frequently, make it to the big game while most other teams get there rarely, if at all.
To assume that the Browns would be forever bad is just as mistaken as assuming that the Steelers would be forever great. Bill publicly cursed me out last week for writing a piece during the winter that suggested a revitalized Cleveland franchise would ultimately be the best thing for the Steelers in the long term. I found myself regretting having done so and certainly didn't have Sunday in mind when I wrote that. As the week has worn on, however, my 180 on this has turned into a 360. So the Browns finally made a stand and decided they were tired of being Pittsburgh's b---h. What took them so long? Good for them. And now the Steelers (and the Bengals and Ravens) will have to respond as the AFC North begins to reassert itself as the strongest division in football. Tomlin's post-game comments are here, Ramon Foster's reaction to his own post-game comments and the sideline perspective of Craig Wolfley is here.
Are the Steelers playing like punks?
Admittedly, a harsh way to characterize it, but if you distill the allegation down to its essence, there you have it. That they allow themselves to be pushed around physically. When circumstances require, do they step up mentally or do they shrink and fail to perform routine tasks such as run a correct pattern or catch a ball thrown directly at them? Are the bullies being bullied? So it sent some shock waves through the Nation when Bill Cowher and Hines Ward insinuated that such may be the case. Now, of course, such accusations need be taken with a grain of salt. It would be one thing if each man, as a member of the Steelers family, volunteered his position on the matter. But their current job descriptions would demand such behavior even if they weren't inclined to support such an assessment. In fact, the politics of the situation may have demanded that they come down even harder than others because their credibility as it relates to impartiality might be questioned otherwise. That being said, James Harrison has pushed back.
There has been a shift in those players and staff who have drawn the ire of a Nation. Easily topping the list is offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who is now being dissed by international celebrities, former executives of other teams and columnists who are openly calling for his head. Even Tomlin may be getting into the act. As one who has been as frustrated as anyone with Haley's tactical decision-making, I can certainly relate. But we may have reached a magical moment here when, in a move that would make any Communist dictatorship proud, Bruce Arian's history and reputation are being re-imagined.
And now we've even begun to turn on our franchise quarterback. He's getting this from multiple directions. And if Saint Tom Brady can be criticized, why not? Part of the problem here for Ben is that, besides some poor throws and with the offense being the focal point of the critique, the no-huddle which he runs becomes part of the problem as well. As with so many things related to attempts to analyze what ails this team, there's confusion as to where the onus on coaching ends and that of player execution begins. And just as Deebo pushed back on the criticisms of the defense, Maurkice Pouncey did the same in reference to Ben.
Not a good day for them. The chief offenders being Markus Wheaton and Lance Moore, both of whom flat-out dropped critical third down passes as well as other catchable balls. Moore's performance in particular has shelved the criticism of Tomlin for playing his 'pet project' Justin Brown. While Wheaton goes back into the lab and attempts to recover his mojo, the big beneficiary of these men's misfortune is likely to be rookie wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who looks to be rolled out on national television this Monday.
Speaking of rolling things out on Monday night, it appears that Daniel McCullers will be making his debut as well. Two factors contributed to this move. The shoulder injury to nose tackle Steve McLendon and the performance of arguably the most reviled of the Steelers' players in the early going, Cam Thomas.
He's being benched in favor of Brice McCain for the Houston game. The discussion now centers around whether Allen is a bust after signing a big contract extension. It has been pointed out that there's a precedent for this type of move, specifically Ike Taylor in 2006. You could also argue that, given McCain's familiarity with the Texans, it might be a smart move on that basis alone. Of course, if McCain does well on Monday, leave it to Pittsburgh fans. While other places have quarterback controversies, wouldn't it be typical of us to have a cornerback controversy?
Ventrone and Johnson
And now people are threatening to jump off the ledge over roster moves. The Jets picked up Johnson, the rookie offensive tackle after he was released by the team last week. This shouldn't be considered a surprise given the shortage of quality offensive linemen league-wide. Ventrone has been able to remain relevant because of the change in league practice-squad parameters this preseason.
Though injuries played a role in the Johnson and Ventrone moves, on balance, it has to said that the team has remained fortunate on this front. No one escapes unscathed, of course, but the team so far has continued to avoid the type of season-ending injuries that struck players like Alex Mack and Victor Cruz. Shamarko Thomas is likely out on Monday, as is McLendon. Ryan Shazier is slowly making his way back, and Ike Taylor remains on the shelf. But none of these players is scratched for the year (though Shaquelle Richardson was placed on season-ending injured reserve).
As Pittsburgh approaches the contest against the Texans, the consequences of the erratic and disappointing play of some on the roster (though Mike Mitchell is playing well, free agents Moore and Thomas have been below the line so far) is that this year's rookie class may have as great an impact as any in recent memory. They're certainly likely to get their opportunities. With Bryant and McCullers poised to get their first opportunities and Shazier returning, all that remains is for Stephon Tuitt and Dri Archer to, hopefully, elevate their games.
A bit of an up-and-down week for Le'Veon. He and the running-back group generally, were big winners from Sunday's game as Bell was named Steelers Digest Player of the Week. But he was also in court for a preliminary hearing related to his DUI arrest this summer.
Another winner was the 36-year-old veteran who saved a touchdown, albeit temporarily, on an impressive speed-and-hustle play that should put to rest any remaining doubts concerning his value to the team at the present time.
Foster and Timmons
These two received the PFF high marks for the Browns game.
Back in the news because of current events concerning the ongoing legal issues, as well as some buzz about a Will Smith film project that will focus on the story surrounding former Steeler Mike Webster.
Paper Champions provides the always-insightful analysis of key plays.
Optimists vs realists
Nice satirical piece by Anthony Defeo on perspective.