Against all odds the Pittsburgh Steelers just traveled across the country with a roster decimated by injury and proceeded to defeat the Los Angeles Chargers in a game that ended up closer on the scoreboard than it actually was on the field. They may have managed to stay relevant in the AFC North in the process.
Here are some observations from the Week 6 game:
- The outcome of the game was a surprise if we are being honest. The Steelers never seem to perform up to expectations when they travel to the West Coast. This truth has burdened the franchise for years, with the heartbreaking loss to the pathetic Oakland Raiders squad last season serving as a perfect example. This years Steelers team was able to buck that disturbing trend because of a couple of reasons. First of all, this year's team doesn't carry the aforementioned burden of expectations that is usually associated with any Steelers squad during Mike Tomlin's tenure. Secondly, this team has a team first mentality that permeates throughout the locker room.
- Each ecstatic player interviewed after the game thought to mention that they had committed as a team to make those game changing plays necessary to help relieve as much pressure as possible from the shoulders of QB Devlin Hodges, who was making the first NFL start of his career in a hostile environment.
- A funny thing happened on the way to that perceived hostile working environment for the aforementioned young QB affectionately known as Duck. The stadium was unceremoniously invaded by Steelers Nation. Announcer extraordinaire Al Michaels estimated that approximately seventy five percent of the stadium crowd was comprised of Steelers fans. So much for the Chargers’ home field advantage. There were moments throughout the game when the multitude of Steelers brethren in attendance sounded louder than a actual home game at Heinz Field, as far as I could tell sitting at home on the couch. That is a story for another day.
- The Steelers gave a valiant effort to come out victorious in the contest. The team first mentality of this team is impressive to behold, and the selfless attitude being displayed each week has been a breath of fresh air. The players appear unconcerned thus far as to who gets credit when things go according to plan, but rally around any individual who they believe is being judged unfairly. That mindset bodes well for the Steelers organization moving forward from this snake bit season.
- With that out of the way, I would like to take a second to recognize a few players who have performed admirably despite such a rough start to the season, and regrettably one who's play hasn't been up to snuff.
- Cameron Sutton has arrived this season. Some players take longer to develop than others. We all had teammates who hardly played as freshmen but were valued contributors as upperclassmen. Some players need consistency and familiarity to find their niche and reach their potential. Others need improved talent around them that allows them to focus on their responsibilities. I feel Sutton falls under both these categories. The improved team speed on defense and the additions of Bush, Nelson, and Fitzpatrick has allowed Sutton to focus on his best attributes as a solid slot cover CB. Obviously to outstanding results.
- Anybody who is familiar with my articles knows I am not afraid to call it like I see it. After all, it is only my humble opinion. I try to be fair with any criticism, but always honest. I have had to eat my share of humble pie. The next two players I want to mention have made sure that I have eaten more than my share this season.
- Tyler "Dirty Red" Matakevich is having the best season of his young career. Always known as a superior special teams performer who offered very little as a ILB, Dirty Red appeared to constantly be a day late and a dollar short. His speed and athleticism were sub par, and he didn't display the necessary football instincts required to overcome those shortcomings. With his inevitable exodus from the team looming in the distance, Dirty Red found his game. Suddenly he appears quicker in space and more assertive, and he has been making the tackles that he previously was missing. I no longer shudder when I see him giving a starter a breather in our base defense. I never want to see Matakevich and Vince Williams on the field at the same time however. That is a recipe for disaster.
- Don't look now, but the Pittsburgh Steelers have a honest to God NFL caliber punter. Yes, I am referring to none other than Jordan Berry. Berry has long been the poster child of everything I deemed wrong with our not-so-special teams. I believed whole heartedly that Danny Smith had no business coaching in the NFL if he couldn't recognize what a waste of oxygen that Berry actually was. While the jury is still out on Smith's coaching ability, Jordan Berry has performed admirably this season thus far. Much improved distance and hangtime, with the naked eye. What has led to this career revival? Hopefully there won't be a PED suspension anytime soon. I would rather believe it is because of this seasons impressive beard. He may have caught some Keisel magic. Fear Da Beard!
- Lastly, one players Steelers journey maybe nearing the end. It saddens me to say, because I am a huge fan of Ryan Switzer the man, but Ryan Switzer the player needs to make a play, and soon. This Steelers receiving core isn't deep enough to carry a player who offers next to nothing as a receiver, especially with the injury to James Washington and the monumental struggles of Donte Moncrief. At least Moncrief was able to contribute against the Chargers by making a difficult reception along the sidelines.
- To make matters worse, Switzer has brought nothing to the kick return units, which have struggled mightily. That was supposed to be his bread and butter. The Steelers need more than a fair catch and a cloud of dust. The end may come sooner rather than later.