Andrew Luck retired Saturday. What followed was the full spectrum of reactions, ranging from the customary deluge of perfunctory well-wishes and teary-eyed soliloquies, to Colts fans booing Luck out the door of his home stadium, to referendums on Luck’s toughness or desire to compete or whatever. Look at this stupid tweet from Doug Gottlieb, the foremost invertebrate in FS1’s cabal of ghoulish take-havers:
Retiring cause rehabbing is “too hard” is the most millennial thing ever #AndrewLuck— Doug Gottlieb (@GottliebShow) August 25, 2019
Here’s another from Dan Dakich, a wet diaper hailing from America’s heartland:
I have family working in steel mills..cops..teachers making far less and this guy is “tired”..... my backside https://t.co/2zx5kutkSL— Dan Dakich (@dandakich) August 25, 2019
It almost pains me to cite these particular examples, because drawing attention to them greases the wheels of the media machinery that pays Gottlieb’s and Dakich’s mortgages; contrived Hot Sports Takes like these are valuable currency in the modern “sports journalism” ecosystem. Still, at the risk of indirectly financing Gottlieb’s or Dakich’s next beer, it’s worth mentioning that the discourse they’re promoting is problematic for a number of reasons. For one, it aligns with the notion that modern professional athletes are more pampered and entitled than their predecessors and that, by extension, they are weak. That right there is a microcosm of the overly macho BS that makes the NFL so unappealing to so many people, but expounding on that’s just gonna lead to a conversation about toxic masculinity and all that. Alas, this blog’s supposed to remain politics-free, so I’ll digress.
No, what’s most problematic with the opinions from goons of Gottlieb’s and Dakich’s ilk is the assumption that Luck owes it to us to remain engaged in a vocation that’s no longer personally fulfilling. If Andrew Luck doesn’t want to play professional football anymore, then he ought to have full autonomy over that decision. He owes us, the audience, absolutely nothing.
As an aside, to Gottlieb’s point, I’d actually argue that “The Most Millennial Thing Ever” is plying a soul-draining trade that you hate deeply because it pays the bills, which include student loan payments whose accrued interest you haven’t even put a dent in, which you took on in the first place because a college education is now a baseline requirement for many good jobs or because you were 18 and wanted to delay reality for another four years, which you wanted to avoid entering because Gen X and the Boomers shortened the lifespan of Mother Earth by burning lead paint-chips and dumping irradiated cadmium in our reservoirs. Also, Greenland is melting. Thanks for killing all the bees, Doug Gottlieb.
Now, this is the part where I’ll disclose that Andrew Luck is my favorite non-Steeler in the NFL, so I’ll acknowledge that this piece is rooted in bias. With that said, as a millennial, I truly cannot overstate how jealous I am of Andrew Luck. He’s taken back control of his own life, and just in the nick of time to pursue all manner of personally fulfilling things. This is a happy and good thing. But it makes me sad that Luck became so disinterested with a thing that he once seemed to sincerely love. Clear five minutes from your schedule and watch this brief clip of Luck mic’d up, which includes him enthusiastically congratulating defensive players who had moments earlier used his corporeal presence to form Luck-shaped craters in the earth’s crust.
Luck was a one-of-a-kind weirdo, but he was also cerebral, discerning, and thoughtful, a veritable Smart Dude who just happened to have a bazooka arm and an outside linebacker’s build. Most importantly, he seems like a genuinely good person, someone who never challenged coaches who needed challenging, rebuked teammates deserving of scorn, or shat upon media hordes. Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, and Ben Roethlisberger, who, like Luck, are the unquestioned leaders of their respective outfits, cannot say the same.
Of course, Luck totally ruled as a quarterback, too. I’d argue that no quarterback in the NFL has done more with less than Luck since he joined the Colts in 2012. TY Hilton is a legit receiver, but who was the Colts’ second-best receiver during Luck’s tenure? Late-stage Reggie Wayne? Eric Ebron or Jack Doyle? Donte Moncrief? Tom Brady gets a lot of credit for turning run-of-the-mill pass catchers into Randy Moss proxies (Chris Hogan can go to straight to Hell, do not collect $200), but that Luck amassed 24,000 yards and guided the Colts to four playoff berths while throwing passes to LaVon Brazil and Griff Whalen is itself a glowing endorsement of his elevated quarterbacking acumen. Worth acknowledging, too, is that Luck’s been sacked three trillion times over the past six seasons, a fact that no doubt precipitated his departure.
Luck’s early retirement and, resultantly, his inevitable absence from the Pro Football Hall of Fame will belie what a special player he was, which is a shame. If you’re angling to build the ideal NFL quarterback from scratch, you’d want someone with a powerful arm, one strong enough to whip laserbeam passes into impossibly small windows, but one accurate enough to deliver feathery touch-passes with surgical precision to receivers in-stride. You’d want someone built to handle the rigors of professional football, someone who even the beefiest defensive tackle can’t easily drag to the turf singlehandedly, but nimble enough to escape the pocket and extend broken plays. They should have full command of the playbook but be adaptable to any offense. You’d want someone who isn’t risk-adverse, but who isn’t an unapologetic gun-slinger. If you’re angling to build the ideal NFL quarterback from scratch, you’d build Andrew Luck.
For as great as Luck was on the field, he’s poised to do even greater things away from it. I wish him all the best.
Quarterbacks: Trending up
Screw the third preseason game. You know that you care too much about a team when watching a preseason exhibition palpably elevates your heart rate. Imagine if Ben got hurt during a preseason game; the “Fahr Tawmlin” overtures would quickly reach a deafening crescendo. Established starters should never play even one second in the preseason. Thank you for attending my TED Talk.
Thankfully, Big Ben avoided any major licks and threw a touchdown pass. We’ll see him in uniform again 10 days from now in Foxboro.
My only piece of analysis from the ongoing Josh Dobbs/Mason Rudolph “battle” is that the Steelers should retain both and implement a two-quarterback system in the event that Roethlisberger gets injured. Rudolph is obviously more refined as a passer and is a markedly better decision-maker, but Dobbs has the stronger arm and is genuinely one of the most athletic quarterbacks in the NFL. Smart teams develop game plans that accentuate the inherent strengths of their core components (this is why the Chiefs put the ball in Tyreek Hill’s hands 20 times a game and why Tom Brady hasn’t thrown a pass farther than 15 yards since 2015), and there is upside to playing both Dobbs and Rudolph.
Running backs: No movement
James Conner had a nice game. If he suits up against Carolina I will riot in the streets.
Your guess is as good as mine when it comes to figuring out who’s gonna emerge as the tertiary back behind Conner and utility knife Jaylen Samuels. The Steelers aren’t going to cut a fourth rounder loose before he gets a full season under his belt, so my money’s still on Benny Snell, but...who knows. Nobody wants to win this job.
Receivers: Trending up
JuJu Smith-Schuster caught a touchdown pass, which he celebrated by playing cameraman. It was delightful. Very on-brand stuff. I can’t wait for the slimiest turds in Pittsburgh’s local media toilet (not gonna name any names, but they are not difficult to guess) to gang up on JuJu and run him outta town for celebrating too rambunctiously or playing too much Fortnite.
James Washington is a veritable demigod and he’s gonna have a million yards this season. I cannot wait. No forthcoming regression for this lad, no sir.
In the first stock report, I predicted that the Steelers were going to keep six receivers: JuJu, Washington, Donte Moncrief, Diontae Johnson, Ryan Switzer, and Eli Rogers. I’m standing by that for now but I’m only like 17 percent sure.
I still have no idea who the tight ends will be.
Offensive Line: Trending up
Human turnstiles Chukwuma Okorafor, Zach Banner, and Jerald Hawkins rebounded nicely after a less-than-stellar showing last week and played no small role in holding the Titans sackless (hehe). To spur additional runs to greatness, I will be sure to call out specific under-performers by name in all future articles.
Defensive front seven: Trending way up
The Steelers sacked Titans quarterbacks seven times last Saturday. On a 3rd and 6 toward the end of the second quarter, Cameron Heyward decided that he wanted a brief vignette written about him on Behind The Steel Curtain dot com. Heyward aligned himself with the right guard’s shoulder—a three-technique stance—and planted his meaty fingers in the turf. On “hut,” Heyward emerged from his stance like a desperate and sweaty man seeking respite in a clean highway toilet after a traumatic run-in with a gas station hoagie: hurriedly, forcibly, and with an unflappable sense of purpose. He tossed the guard aside like a stray twig on the green blocking the path of a putt; there was now seven yards of absolutely nothing standing between Heyward and Titans quarterback Ryan Hannehill, whose eyes were scanning for open receivers downfield and therefore totally oblivious to his imminent doom. Heyward, a man who weighs nearly three bills, closed the gap in less than a second and pulverized Tannehill, reducing the erstwhile Dolphin bust to a sniveling heap of tears and puss. That Tannehill did not fumble the ball is proof of the existence of a higher power.
The Steelers defense might not force very many turnovers and they might allow a whole bunch of yards but this outfit assuredly will rank among the top five in the NFL in sacks.
Ulysees Gilbert and Tuzar Skipper entered the preseason as presumptive camp bodies and may end up finishing it on the 53-man roster. Both are at the very least strong practice squad candidates. Devin Bush is gonna be the Defensive Rookie of the Year. BOOK IT.
Secondary: Trending up
The secondary had a nice night, holding Tannehill and Marcus Mariota to 69 combined passing yards on a dozen attempts and no touchdowns. Artie Burns was unfortunately subjected to a pair of meme-able fake-outs by rookie receiver A.J. Brown, but I’ve avowed to take it easy on Artie this season so we’ll chalk those up as slight occupational mishaps.
There are numerous reasons to be cautiously optimistic about Pittsburgh’s secondary—Burns is fighting for his career; Sean Davis and Terrell Edmunds played well in spurts last season and could both be poised for big years in 2019; Cameron Sutton looks solid; demigod Joe Haden still exists—but none are greater than the presence of Teryl Austin, a mercenary enlisted solely to increase the secondary’s turnover output. If the defense does elevate its takeaways, it’ll take pressure away from the offense and help mask any other defensive deficiencies.