A long holiday break, replete with traveling, delayed the Stock Report. Let’s check in on the Steelers as they enter their first meaningful Week 17 since 2015.
Stock down: Oh God, everything
The Steelers need a win and some help to make the playoffs. The good news is that, should they defeat the Cincinnati Bengals—a team they’ve defeated seven times in a row—in Week 17, the Steelers could win the AFC North, thereby securing the AFC’s fourth seed and hosting a playoff game. Their foe would most likely be the Los Angeles Chargers, a team against whom they built a three-possession half-time lead earlier this season and very probably should have beaten.
The bad news is that, in addition to defeating the Bengals, the Steelers must hope that the formally woebegone Cleveland Browns defeat the resurgent and thoroughly invincible Baltimore Ravens. If the Ravens emerge victorious, the outcome of Pittsburgh’s meeting with the Bengals become irrelevant. With that in mind...
Stock up: Our brothers and sisters in Northeast Ohio
I’m gonna level with you, Cleveland, we’ve been sore winners.
Pictured here is Yinzer Santa Claus, defecating in a Browns helmet. This is obviously extremely inappropriate and not at all reflective of how we, the Steelers fanbase, regard the Browns franchise or, by extension, the city of Cleveland. We are sorry.
Stock down: Keith Butler
Nick wrote a good thing about Butler’s job security, in which he opined that the Steelers ought to fire Butler. I’d imagine the collective negative Butler sentiment is largely universal, so I don’t wanna waste too much of your time with my own redundant observations—I will waste some of it, though.
Nick, much like many of you, is a better film study than I, so I don’t necessarily have the vocabulary to tell you in 1,200 words why Keith Butler sucks; but as an outside observer, one with many years of experience calling their own defensive plays in Madden, I am confident in saying that Keith Butler’s suck baseline is in the bottom-third among NFL defensive coordinators.
I am curious, though, to see what would become of the current iteration of the Steelers defense if an elite coordinator directed this outfit. It’s a semi-adequate group, I suppose, one with a solid defensive line, good outside linebackers, functional inside linebackers, and a secondary that’s played well enough in spurts. I don’t have any illusions of this being a top-tier defense, but maybe Jim Schwartz or Vic Fangio or some similarly innovative defensive mastermind could game-plan around the Steelers’ inherent weaknesses and emphasize their strengths.
Alternatively, maybe the Steelers defense is actually awful—very possible!—and any success they’ve enjoyed this season is directly attributable to Butler’s schematics. Maybe if the Steelers had, say, Khalil Mack and secondary whose collective skill set was on par with Chicago’s, Pittsburgh would rank first in the NFL in everything and we wouldn’t even be having this discussion.
Stock down: Mike Tomlin
I swore my undying fealty to Mike Tomlin long ago, so, as a steadfast defender of my King, it pains me to say that his job may very legitimately be on the line. Starting the season 7-2-1—as the Steelers did—and missing the playoffs is one thing, but starting the season 7-2-1, all the time looking like one of the NFL’s best, most well-balanced teams, before collapsing to finish 9-6-1 or 8-7-1 and out of the playoff race, is a fireable offense.
With that said, regardless of Sunday’s outcome, I don’t think that Mike Tomlin will be fired, nor do I think that he should be fired. He’s still a very good coach, one who the players seem to admire and respect deeply, and I think him remaining at the helm gives the Steelers the best opportunity to win what is quickly becoming an increasingly elusive seventh Super Bowl. I do think it would behoove Tomlin to hire some kind of booth consultant to help him better manage his timeouts and coach’s challenges, because his misuse of these entities this season has been at times downright reprehensible.
Stock up: Antonio Brown and JuJu Smith-Schuster
Smith-Schuster, on the strength of an enormous breakout campaign, was recently named team MVP, an acknowledgement that was derided by Ben Roethlisberger sycophants (seriously, imagine being irked by a meaningless and inane award that’s being handed out by a potential non-contender). Brown, meanwhile, recorded a precedent-setting 100-catch campaign and scored a career-high 15 touchdowns. Although the Steelers may miss the playoffs this season, Brown and Smith-Schuster are both under contract through 2020, which should safeguard the passing attack’s status at the league’s pinnacle—or, should Ben Roethlisberger retire, help ease the transition of his heir.
Stock up: Big Ben
Ben, at age 36, will almost certainly conclude this Sunday’s proceedings having had the best statistical season of his career. He’ll probably surpass the 5,000-yard threshold sometime in the second or third quarter against the Bengals, which would make him just the sixth quarterback in NFL history to achieve this notable feat. He’s turned the ball over approximately a million times this season, which is something the Steelers will need to address in 2019, but for the most part Roethlisberger looks as sharp as ever.