Ranking the uniforms
Let's start light this week for a change. The fashion police have been rendering judgment on NFL team uniforms. The Steelers did pretty well, coming in 27th (with 32 being best). Factors such as the integration of the team logo and black face masks were viewed favorably. The Saints, Lions and Washington (gold pants) ranked higher, with the red and gold theme of the 49ers receiving top billing. On the other end of the spectrum, it's tough times for the state of Florida with Jacksonville and Tampa getting particularly bad marks. And bringing up the rear is (ahem) Cleveland. Feel better?
A .500 record is the precise definition for average.
There's this joke about the Washington DC beltway. The average speed is considered to be 35 mph. But practically speaking, that means you're either going 70 mph or 0 mph.
The competitive trend of 2014 has been that of the yo-yo, up one week, down the next
And this pretty much captures what is meant when you describe the Pittsburgh Steelers as being average. It seems that they're either going 70 mph (e.g. Carolina, first half of first Cleveland game, 73 seconds against the Texans) or 0 mph (e.g. second half first Cleveland game, most of the second Cleveland game, Baltimore). Jekyll and Hyde. As Jack Finn points out, this makes for Paradise for both optimists and pessimists as there's something to sink their teeth into for both. A critic such as a Matt Steel can legitimately throw roses in one paragraph and hand grenades in the next.
For all the drama, both the good and the ugly, the team has remained at or just above .500 for the season. If the pattern holds then this would be a Hyde week when Indianapolis comes to Heinz Field and either administers a beat down or edges them out. But the bottom line would be a loss and, again maintaining the pattern of the early season, the rending of garments, the call for executions and firings (the more the better) and, of course, the obligatory suicide watch.
The pattern breaks. Sooner or later, either Jekyll or Hyde will capture the soul of this team. If it's Hyde, the earliest we'd know would be next Sunday against Baltimore. Jekyll could commence as early as this Sunday. No one actually knows. Anyone who says they do is guessing or flat-out lying. Those associated with the team are hoping for Jekyll but even they know that Hyde lurks and may appear despite their best intentions. I believe the reason why no one can legitimately say which direction the team will take is because the outcome of most of the games this season has hinged on momentum. And the momentum has turned for good or ill on just one or two plays in most cases. Whether it was Wheaton's drop, and/or Wing's bobble in Cleveland, or Bell's long run, or Bryant's touchdown reception this past Monday, one turn of fortune seemed to galvanize one team and undo the other. Pretty difficult to predict from where we sit now.
The fact that Pittsburgh won the game was good, of course, as much a relief as anything. But the big story was how they won. Everyone who had a platform, players and media spoke to the unusual and historic nature of the explosion at the end of the second quarter that turned a developing nightmare into a celebration and a definitive exclamation point in a possible, imagined future where it could be said that the Steelers turned it around. Some considered this a must-win situation, though certainly not so from a mathematical perspective. Amazingly, even with the considerable issues dogging this team thus far this season, a win on Sunday could put the Steelers in the position to vault into first place when they play the Ravens.
The last week has been significant for the 2014 draft class. Two of them (Johnson and Richardson) left the team. Two others had their coming-out parties on Monday night to pretty positive reviews. A big part of the good feeling coming out the Texans game is the knowledge that wide receiver Martavis Bryant and defensive tackle Daniel McCullers both demonstrated the capacity to realize their projected upsides. Bryant's 35-yard touchdown reception, his first NFL catch, showed his potential as both a deep and red-zone threat, and got the ball rolling on the Steelers' comeback. He's now definitely in the wide-receiver mix going forward, and one of the biggest beneficiaries could be Antonio Brown.
McCullers, though raw, didn't appear to be overmatched and this raises the question of whether any one man can effectively block him once he becomes clearer about what he's doing out there. Nor was he the only rookie defensive lineman to make a positive impression, as Stephon Tuitt also had a good night. The one disappointment from this group on the active roster would be Dri Archer, who has been underwhelming on kickoff returns, though not bad out of the backfield. Danny Smith hasn't given up on him. And fans should be mindful of all the times that players have been written off a bit too soon.
With Ryan Shazier likely to rejoin the fray shortly, this draft class has the potential to have as great an impact on the fortunes of this team as any rookie group in recent memory. At the very least, they're on track to get the quantity of experience that would allow them to be seasoned contributors in the years going forward. The net perspective is that significant talent has been transferred from the 'potential' to the 'operational' category, which is to say the team got some help.
J. Brown hasn't been terrible but, with Moore now healthy, Bryant apparently getting up to speed, the offense struggling a bit and the degree of difficulty in opponents going up, reshuffling the deck at wide receiver might be advisable at this point.
This was mentioned two weeks ago and is the reality now. Some questioned the decision to keep six receivers, while others questioned keeping this particular six. At this point, all have contributed to the success this team has enjoyed thus far, though the roles and pecking order have been tossed into the air somewhat. Bryant has shown that he belongs, and perhaps in a big way. Lance Moore too. Darius Heyward-Bey chipped in an important reception for a first down, even though he was auditioning for the goat role if Michael Palmer doesn't recover that onside kick. This puts some pressure on Markus Wheaton, mired in something of a mini-slump, to step up or out. And all this activity kicked Justin Brown to the bottom of the depth chart. If Justin Brown is the No. 6 receiver, then I'd say the group is in pretty good shape. And if these guys continue to improve, then the most likely, tangible result is that Antonio Brown (whom Jon Gruden says is the best receiver in the league to this point) might have his most impressive work of this season still ahead.
Just slightly more than a year ago, much (most?) of Steelers Nation wrote Adams off after a horrible performance in London. After delivering quality work against an opponent who some claim to be the league MVP, it may be time for a reassessment. According to Ramon Foster, this experience did wonders for Adams' confidence, very important. With Marcus Gilbert still dealing with the effects of the concussion he suffered, it appears that Adams will get his first start against the Colts. We'll see how that turns out.
LT had a good game and was named Digest Player of the Week. However, he'll probably be best remembered from this particular night by the rather graphic nature of his digestive issues. Check Foster's link above for a teammate's perspective on Timmon's intestinal fortitude, or lack thereof. Fortunately, there have been no Ebola jokes.
For the second consecutive week, the 36-year-old defensive lineman made a big play that had people talking and rendered foolish all those who dismissed him as being washed up. On the other hand, he got some grief from some of his teammates for failing to take his interception return to the house.
Another player who is stacking consecutive weeks of high-quality, individual play is the free-agent safety. He's getting comfortable with the system and working with Troy Polamalu. He created a nice strip-fumble in the fourth quarter that helped preserve the Steelers' lead.
The Texans' J.J. Watt wasn't the only player who was a recipient of MVP talk. Some people are suggesting that Le'Veon Bell is developing the resume to be considered in that class as well. Ben Roethlisberger has been talking him up and indicating that the full range of his potential has yet to be fully exploited. Perhaps the best compliment I can think of is that you can comfortably speak his name in the same sentence as Antonio Brown at this point. High praise indeed.
AB continues to be a lightning rod for controversy in one form or another. He was at the center of two of the top-three controversies coming out of Monday's game (the ill-advised pass to Bryant as the game was winding down being the third in my opinion). First was his touchdown pass to Lance Moore. Brown and Moore executed flawlessly, but the play-call itself was troubling to some. The second was the reversal of what was initially called a touchdown pass to Brown in the fourth quarter.
Sunday's game will be Ben's 150th NFL start. And if the Steelers can manage to win, he will have reached a very significant milestone, specifically being one of only four quarterbacks to achieve 100 wins in that few starts. If successful, he'd be joining Terry Bradshaw, Tom Brady and Joe Montana (three of four having Pittsburgh ties). This would be huge.
In Grantland, Bill Barnwell gives his analysis of the market for NFL quarterbacks and provides an interesting perspective on the Class of 2004 (Ben, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers) and how each may be waiting until one of the others signs, in order to set the market for their services.
Worilds was the highest-rated player on the field according to PFF. He had a nice game.
The shadow side of being "knowledgeable"
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.
It almost worked. Ed Bouchette and others pointed out that there was a large number of no-shows for the game and the mood throughout the first half was sullen and hostile. Deservedly so, I would quickly add. And it wouldn't be the first time that a Steelers team was booed by its own fans on a Monday night. The 2008 Super Bowl Champion team was soundly booed in the first half of their game against the Ravens for an offense that was as anemic as the 2014 version has been at times.
But the larger point here is that sometimes overconfidence in one's own power of discernment can lead into inappropriate cul de sacs. It's probably too early to say if Cleveland or Houston has defined this team in any way beyond the assessment that it's inconsistent. Eventually, either the optimists or pessimists will look like world-class sages, but probably not because either knows in any definitive way what they're talking about. The issue isn't settled yet and it's not yet time to be pressing panic buttons or making playoff reservations.
Apparently, many in the fan base got this one right, particularly BTSC founder Michael Bean. LaMarr Woodley is once again done for the year due to injury issues. Hombre de Acero also points out that the call on this one should be considered a feather in the Colbert/Tomlin hat in terms of being a wise-if-difficult personnel decision.
Steve McLendon, Marcus Gilbert and Shamarko Thomas are out against Indianapolis. But given the history, you can't be distressed by this year's injury situation. There's a good chance all three will be available against Baltimore. There's a target date for the return of Jarvis Jones. Ike Taylor returned to the practice field this week. The Steelers are still fortunate.
While some might want to let up on the defense given the turnovers generated and the positive execution in short yardage situations in the second half, the Steelers' defensive coordinator emphasized the areas in need of improvement, particularly consistency. And he offered a somewhat scary assessment of Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
Snoop and Todd
Those 73 seconds of offensive competence provided a much-appreciated break for offensive coordinator Todd Haley. Even Snoop Dogg backed off a little.
The film room
Paper Champions' continuing education program continues, featuring the Bryant touchdown pass and more.
Alternative to London
It's possible to get a full slate of international NFL games without moving a team out of the country.
Uniforms (part two)
The throwback bumble bee uniforms will be brought out for Sunday's game. Want an interesting thought? Think about what Dan McCullers will look like in that outfit.
Last season the bottom-feeding St. Louis Rams were forced to go head to head in the ratings on a Monday Night with St. Louis Cardinals who were playing in the World Series, same night, same town. The Rams won. On Monday, two .500 NFL teams were once again pitted against a World Series game. Once again, the football game between mediocre teams won the ratings battle.
Some former Steelers are finding homes with other NFL teams.