The Pittsburgh Steelers are 2-0, though the validity of this record seems to be a matter of perception. A pair of wins against the likes of DeShone Kizer and Case Keenum is objectively less impressive than a pair of wins against, say Philip Rivers and Dak Prescott. But there’s the rub: the Steelers can only beat the teams outlined on their schedule. Style points and strength-of-schedule matter not in the NFL, and a 2-0 start is a 2-0 start, independent of any allegorical underpinnings.
The Steelers travel to Chicago this weekend where they will face the 0-2 Bears, who played admirably against the defending NFL Champion Falcons in Week 1 before being annihilated by the Buccaneers in Week 2. Sunday’s game will provide no respite from this offensive onslaught. Let’s grab a few of the particularly interesting storylines from this matchup and expand on them:
The long-awaited offensive explosion
Ben Roethlisberger has yet to realistically threaten the 300-yard threshold. Antonio Brown has not scored a touchdown. Le’Veon Bell’s slow start has been newsworthy in and of itself, though his offensive line is certainly doing him no favors. As a team, the Steelers have been uncharacteristically shaky between the 20s, a region in which they typically thrive. Consequently, Todd Haley’s famous and ever-elusive 30-point baseline has remained just out of reach.
Such is often the case with the Steelers, who are habitually lackadaisical in September (such is the case with everyone, arguably, as the scourge of offensive ineptitude appears to be nearly league-wide). And fortunately, any issues with the offense have been far more aesthetic than functional. The Steelers are undefeated after all, and scoring 26 points against Minnesota, the third-best defense in the NFL a year ago, is a laudable achievement.
But aesthetics matter, too. We’ve waited almost two years to see Pittsburgh’s offense back at full strength, and I demand that they come together to make my Sundays more enjoyable! Eventually, the Steelers will win games and will look mighty extravagant doing so. Roethlisberger will hang 350 or 400 yards and three or four touchdowns on some poor, undermanned secondary. Brown will pioneer a new touchdown celebration that excites half of the fan base and alienates the rest. Bell’s patience will reward him eventually, and he will accumulate 200 all-purpose yards and a couple of touchdowns in a single game, including three or four highlight-reel forays. Sunday seems like as good of a day as any to get started.
Mike Tomlin, a perfectionist, would like to see his defense create more turnovers.
“…if we want to be one of the elite groups, we have to get in the game and produce [turnovers],” Tomlin told reporters earlier this week at his press conference.
The Steelers have created two takeaways so far, a T.J. Watt interception against Cleveland and an Artie Burns fumble recovery against Minnesota, though the latter occurred in garbage time and had no impact on the outcome of the game.
Mike Glennon is somewhere between Eli Manning and Alex Smith in terms of interception proclivity (although, to be fair, I suppose that range covers just about everyone), and much like every other quarterback in NFL history, his interception rate balloons when his team is trailing. Pittsburgh certainly will have its chances, as Glennon has attempted at least 40 passes in each of his first two games with Chicago, including 40 attempts in Week 1 in a close game against Atlanta.
Turnovers notwithstanding, Pittsburgh has played like an elite group, currently ranking No. 3 in the NFL in total defense and No. 6 in scoring defense.
Playing against bad teams has proven problematic for Mike Tomlin’s Steelers, which is partially attributable to Roethlisberger’s inability to play like Hall of Famer Ben Roethlisberger beyond the confines of Heinz Field. Feast on these home/road splits:
Home record: 71-22; Away record: 55-39
Y/G Home: 260; Y/G Away; 245
Home TD/INT: 175/72; Away TD/INT: 130/89
Home rating: 99.6; Away rating: 88.9
Pittsburgh is better than Chicago in virtually every category. By this logic, the Steelers should be 3-0 by Monday morning. So, too, should the Baltimore Ravens, who play against Jacksonville this Sunday. It would be understandable, then, for the Steelers to look ahead to their Week 4 matchup against Baltimore. The Ravens look better than perhaps anyone expected, and their defense is a legitimately fearsome, championship-caliber unit. This is undoubtedly a significant game, enabling the winner to establish some early-season superiority in the AFC North. Imagine what a road victory over an undefeated Ravens team would do for Pittsburgh’s confidence moving forward. Now imagine how easy it would be to get ahead of yourself while pondering that.
Anthony Chickillo’s continued development
I wish I’d known that Anthony Chickillo would go on to play such a vital role in Pittsburgh’s defense. I would’ve wished him luck when I ran into him at Ribfest a few weeks ago.
In two games, the former sixth-round pick has 11 tackles, a pair of sacks, and a difficult-to-quantify number of quarterback pressures. He has simply been a dominant, disruptive force, and Tomlin notices as much, as evidenced by the fact that James Harrison has played just four snaps so far this season. I suspect that Tomlin is pleased with this result.
Frankly, the ability to post appreciable sack totals now (the Steelers have nine through two games), while leaving arguably the team’s best pass rusher on the shelf to incubate until later this season, is an unspeakable luxury. Harrison has summarily defied the conventions of age up to this point, but Father Time remains undefeated. Why subject Harrison to the rigors of a full season when the team can just as easily keep him in storage while simultaneously cultivating a younger replacement? Chickillo has been more than a pleasant surprise; he’s been integral to Pittsburgh’s defensive success thus far. I’m keenly interested in viewing his ongoing development.