There’s no question the Steelers are hurting right now—both figuratively and literally.
The figurative part stems from the 34-3 beating Pittsburgh took at the hands of the Eagles last Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. The literal pain is the injuries so many players suffered in that game—including Ryan Shazier, Ramon Foster, Eli Rogers, Sean Davis, Robert Golden, etc.
To tell you the truth, I’m not too worried about the figurative pain the Steelers experienced last weekend. Sure, it was the worst defeat in nearly 30 years, but every team is always one game away from an historically “worst” or “best” performance; when it happens, this doesn’t necessarily mean it will carry over to the following week.
When a baseball team is on the wrong end of a no-hitter, or worse yet, a perfect game, does the hangover continue on into the next day?
In other words, each game is its own entity. Sure, momentum means a lot in sports, but being at home probably means even more than that. And this Sunday, Pittsburgh will be hosting the Chiefs in front of a sell-out crowd at Heinz Field. That doesn’t necessarily guarantee success, but it’s a whole heck of a lot better than traveling to ridiculously loud Arrowhead Stadium for a Sunday night affair.
If the Steelers are what so many said they were coming into the season—and especially during the 2-0 start—they should respond like champions.
Of course, there’s the matter of that injury list, which could keep many players on the sidelines this Sunday night, while their healthy backups tangle with Kansas City.
That’s certainly disconcerting, but when you break it down, it doesn’t look so bad.
Shazier is without a doubt Pittsburgh’s most dynamic defender, but if he can’t go with a knee, well, it’s not like head coach Mike Tomlin hasn’t had to deal with this scenario before during his 2014 first round pick’s two-plus year career.
The news that Lawrence Timmons appears to be healthy after suffering a puncture wound against the Eagles is promising. No, No. 94 isn’t what he once was, but he’s still a consistent veteran, and capable of playing either inside linebacker spot. As for backup Vince Williams, I doubt Kevin Colbert and Co. would have signed him to a new three-year deal this summer if they didn’t think they could trust him to start whenever his name was called upon.
There’s the matter of the injuries to Golden and Davis which could severely hinder the secondary. Then again, how far could the drop-off be for a defense that’s already 31st against the pass?
Maybe this is the game in-which Justin Gilbert sees some playing time in the secondary; and according to Tomlin at his weekly press conference on Tuesday, the third-year corner is making progress with regards to learning the defense after coming over from Cleveland via trade four weeks ago.
This could be the week the Steelers defense pulls a 2015 and compensates for a weak (or weaker) secondary by making life miserable for the opposing quarterback (in this case, Alex Smith). After only posting one sack in three games, that might be hard to imagine. But while it can be painful to do, sometimes you just have to give credit to the opposition; according to Pro Football Focus, Pittsburgh’s defense has faced three of the top 12 offensive lines so far in 2016—including two of the top seven.
Kansas City, on the other hand hand, was ranked just below average coming into the season, according to PFF; that might explain why the very mobile Smith has already been sacked nine times in three games.
While Pittsburgh’s defense has its problems, there’s no question its strength lies in a talented and deep defensive line that’s highlighted by studs Cameron Heyward and Stephon Tuitt.
The dynamic duo combined for 13.5 sacks in 2015, but has none so far this year.
The Steelers defense collected 48 sacks last season with essentially the same personnel along the front seven. Maybe scheme has something to do with the lack of a pass rush (playing safer to prevent the big play), but I think it’s more about a talented defensive front—especially the defensive line—not rising to the challenge so far in 2016.
As they say in baseball: a correction is bound to take place.
On offense, the potential absence of Foster is a concern. But if a line that was believed to be talented and improving can’t sustain the loss of one player, what does that say? Fact is, David DeCastro and Marcus Gilbert were awful against Philadelphia, and if they’re the players everyone has hyped them up to be (DeCastro is already a Pro Bowler, while Gilbert is believed to be on the cusp), they should respond with much better performances this week.
Rogers, the newly-minted favorite slot receiver, is ‘very questionable’ for this Sunday with a turf toe, and that could hinder the passing game. However, Le’Veon Bell, the consensus all-world running back, will make his regular season debut against the Chiefs, and that should alter Kansas City’s defensive preparation.
Who do you think Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton would rather prepare for: a virtually unproven slot receiver or a running back who, when in the lineup, is the life-blood of Pittsburgh’s offense?
Yeah, I’d rather prepare for the former, too, Bob.
For as polarizing a figure as Bell was this past offseason, he’s certainly a welcome sight right about now.
Adversity is a part of football; here’s a retro article from 2008, which detailed the injury problems Pittsburgh faced after an overtime victory against the Ravens in Week 4—the Steelers were down to third-string running back Mewelde Moore by the time Jeff Reed kicked the game-winning field goal on Monday Night Football.
Injuries were certainly a part of life for the Steelers last season, but they managed to win games without Maurkice Pouncey, Martavis Bryant, Kelvin Beachum, Bell, and, most famously, Roethlisberger.
If the Steelers can go out this Sunday night and make a big statement against a 2-1 Kansas City team (or simply just survive with a victory), everyone can quickly move away from the panic button and start talking about the Super Bowl once again.
After all, three wins in four games over 2015 playoff teams is a much better barometer than one really bad loss.