Like most teams and most fans of those teams, the Steelers Week 7 bye couldn’t have come at a better time.
Why? Because that’s what you’re supposed to say. Nobody wants to think their bye came at the wrong time. Besides, in Pittsburgh’s case, it’s actually true. With all the injuries suffered before and during Sunday night’s victory over the Chargers—including the season-ending pectoral tear sustained by Stephon Tuitt—the Steelers could actually use a break this early in the season.
Also, it would be a really good idea to spend this extra time forging an identity and finding out who is good at what. Not so much on the defense, mind you. As weird as this is to say, I believe the defense is on a fast track to being really dominant. I realize the loss of Tuitt, who was off to the best start of his career, hurts tremendously. But, in one of those silver-lining moments most of us look for in situations such as this, I believe the loss of Tuitt will be a showcase experience for Javon Hargrave, who may get a chance to put his pass-rushing prowess on display as a rotating defensive end.
That remains to be seen, of course, but I think the defense can still operate quite well in Tuitt’s absence.
As for the offense without Big Ben Roethlisberger around to carry it on his shoulders? That’s an entirely different story. This may be a good time for head coach Mike Tomlin to gather offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner and his assistants together and figure out a way to make this offense truly functional in the wake of Roethlisberger’s injury. What kind of offense will it be with Mason Rudolph presumably coming back as the starter against the Dolphins and beyond? Will it be an offense that’s running back-centric? For my money, this is what they should do. With the passing game compromised due to, not so much the inexperience of Rudolph and Devlin Hodges (although, that plays a part), but the lack of a truly cohesive receiving corps, perhaps Fichtner should do what Todd Haley did in late 2016, when his receivers after Antonio Brown were decimated by injury. Right after the crippling loss to the Cowboys on November 13 that left Pittsburgh 4-5, Le’Veon Bell quickly became the focal point of the offense, and the Steelers rode him to a nine-game winning-streak all the way to the AFC Championship Game. I’m not saying James Conner is Bell. What I am saying is, he proved last year, and in the two wins the Steelers have had in 2019, that he’s perfectly capable of being the focal point of the offense. And with Jaylen Samuels presumably coming back from arthroscopic surgery in the not so distant future, the Steelers may have a nice little trio at running back. Trio? Yes, I’m saying trio after rookie Benny Snell Jr. rattled off 75 yards on 17 carries against the Chargers on Sunday night.
If recent history has taught us anything, it’s that a Pittsburgh offense that is centered around its running backs is an offense that is more conducive to winning.
It will be interesting to see what little tweaks the team makes during its break, but for the sake of the fans, I sure hope they’re good tweaks. Let’s face it, Steelers fans are all about championships—or at least the hope of them. And with a huge road win coming just before the bye, there is now momentum, the momentum of hope.
It is starting to build, and it will quickly pick up steam now that the fans will have extra time to think about those playoff possibilities.
Of course, that hope could be dashed with a couple of losses in the near future. I don’t think anyone is expecting a loss to the Dolphins when Pittsburgh resumes play on Monday Night Football on October 28. And there better not be a loss, not to a team that doesn’t appear to have the talent and/or will to win a single game in 2019. If the Steelers really do win that game, that, my friend, is a two-game winning-streak. Pittsburgh hasn’t won more than one game in a row since it won its sixth-straight last November 18 in Jacksonville.
And the game against the Dolphins will be the first of three-straight at Heinz Field. If there’s ever a time to make some hay, it’s now. Sure, the Colts and Rams, Pittsburgh’s next two opponents after Miami, are certainly no pushovers. But if there’s one thing the Steelers have proven during their four and a half games without Roethlisberger, it’s that they’re not pushovers either. It’s perfectly fine to expect a good showing against both Indianapolis and the defending NFC champions. In fact, given the Steelers’ competitive play without their star player, it’s perfectly acceptable to expect no worse than a split in those two games.
Assuming a win over the Dolphins, that would be three victories in four games. That, my friend, is called momentum.
I don’t know about you, but 4-5 inspires much more hope than 1-4. They can do something with 4-5. Given the Steelers schedule over the last seven games, they can still get somewhere at 4-5.
But it all starts with the Dolphins.
Steelers fans will surely have some exciting possibilities dancing in their heads by the time the bye week ends on October 28.
Will the Steelers be up to the task of turning those happy thoughts into reality?