A few extra quotes on the short week. Normally I’d cut a couple of these once I looked at them fresh, but I wanted to get this posted as quick as possible since the Ravens game is up on Thursday. So it’s long. Be warned...
“Nothing is perfect about us except our record... We want to wear it the proper way.”
— Mike Tomlin
Man, I love a good Mike Tomlin quote. This says like three things at once.
1) We’re not afraid of our success, the way some teams/players need to constantly pretend they’re disrespected. The Steelers will wear their record.
2) We know everyone else sees that record, and is going to pull out all the stops (like trick plays on special teams), so we’re not going to forget that we’re wearing a bull’s eye on our chests.
3) We’re not perfect, and the dumbest thing we could do is behave like we’ve already won. Wearing this record the proper way means understanding that that it’s just a number and we’ve got plenty to improve on, still.
Smart man, that Mike Tomlin.
“Ben Roethlisberger said last week that the team would not take the Jaguars lightly... The Steelers took Roethlisberger’s words to heart.”
— Josh Alper (Pro Football Talk)
A quick reminder that leadership matters. Of the 53 men on the active roster, only 15 were on the team when the Steelers lost to the Jaguars in the 2017 playoffs. It would have been easy for 71% of the squad to take the 1-8 Jags lightly. But that core of leaders, who knew better, insisted that this game matters just like the others. And their voices got heard. That’s a really good sign.
Side-note: two weeks ago in this column, I cut the Steelers some slack for their weak first half against the Cowboys – citing Ryan Clark’s comment, that the luckiest team is the one who plays the Steelers or Ravens the week after their matchup. It looks like that may have been accurate. The Steelers started stiff against Dallas, but ever since Big Ben got his knees knocked, just before halftime of that one, the Steelers have outscored their opponents 87-19.
“Whatever happened last time, you can’t let it affect you. That’s the mindset I try to have. Unfortunately, it kept pouring into another bad play into another bad play.”
— Jacksonville quarterback, Jake Luton
That’s what it’s like the play the Steelers, kid.
- Steelers Twitter account
I want to acknowledge that Minkah Fitzpatrick is turning into the guy we saw last year. Not just because of the two interceptions; his open-field tackling has been awesome too. His two-handed drive-tackle on D.J. Chark, just three plays before the first INT, was a thing of beauty. When I played rugby in college, that was exactly how they taught us to tackle. I love it when textbook technique produces highlight reels.
“We are not a Big Ten team playing a MAC opponent this week.”
— Mike Tomlin
“I haven’t had a chance to get him yet… I have to figure out what conference William & Mary is in.”
— Ben Roethlisberger
I love this exchange. Tomlin obviously doesn’t hate the MAC (he keeps drafting MAC guys), and the implication was pretty clear: the Jags are at our level. But I mention this because there’s a real camaraderie on this Steelers team that I like seeing.
Ben is older than Tomlin was when he was hired as head coach, and they’ve been together for 13+ years. I like that Tomlin can make this kind of comment and it doesn’t become stupid locker-room drama, and I like that Ben can poke at the coach without it seeming disrespectful.
People often talk about the Coach/QB combination. When it’s all said and done, Tomlin/Roethlisberger will be among the great ones. Part of that is knowing each other well enough to laugh when it’s appropriate and get serious when you have to.
“I literally just came from hanging out with James Conner and JuJu. We all hang out... This team is different from any other football team I’ve been on, simply because we take the time to hang out. … Let’s watch the night games. Let’s hang out, let’s be a brotherhood. That’s why we play at such a different way.”
Speaking of having a good team culture… I love hearing this stuff. For years (decades!) I’ve heard stories from new Steeler players: “it’s different here; people are genuinely friends.” I’ve always credited the Rooneys—particularly Dan, who players seemed to really appreciate. I rarely hear much about Art II, but for now at least, the tone is still there.
I think the Steelers’ unselfishness has something to do with team friendship—each guy feeling proud of the others, and not putting so as much weight on their own headlines. JuJu Smith-Schuster can catch 4 passes for 19 yards on his birthday (and roll his ankle on a stupid flag), and he’s still stoked for everyone else. Pick a guy; they all seem that way. Everybody eats.
“Question for the Associated Press: Can I give my MVP vote to the Steelers defense?”
— Nate Davis (USA Today Sports)
One of my favorite statistical oddities is when a quarterback throws more touchdowns than incompletions in a game. It’s rare but it happens; usually resulting in a perfect or near-perfect QB rating. The Steelers defense has pulled a similar two-fer the last couple of weeks. This defense has allowed only four 3rd down conversions in the last two weeks, while recording six takeaways.
Remember that terrible game against Philly, when the Eagles converted 10 for 14? That’s apparently under control. They won’t sustain this rate forever, but these guys continue to prove that they can fix their problems as needed.
“Picture the Pittsburgh Steelers at 9-0, still haven’t put a complete game together, finally, later on down the season, start clicking on all cylinders. It’s gonna be scary”.
— Ike Taylor
I’ve been thinking about the 2004 Steelers—Ben’s rookie year, when the team went 15-1 before losing in the AFC Championship to a Patriots team that was totally, seriously not cheating. The Steelers closed the season with 14 straight wins, which makes them sound like a juggernaut—and they were, sort of. A juggernaut that peaked too early.
Weeks 8 and 9 saw the Steelers play the Patriots and Eagles consecutively (the teams who eventually met in the Super Bowl). New England was 6-0, riding a record 23-game winning streak. The Steelers gutted them 34-20 in a game that wasn’t nearly this close. The next week, the Eagles were 7-0, and the Steelers dismantled them 27-3. This is still the only team in history that beat undefeated opponents in successive weeks this late in the season. And the Steelers didn’t just beat them, they annihilated both. This was the best team in football, and it wasn’t close.
And then they kinda plateaued. They kept winning because they were a very good team, but they didn’t steamroll opponents. Their most lopsided victories all season were, remarkably, these two (along with a 24-10 decision over Cleveland the week after Philly). By the time the playoffs rolled around, they’d lost that edge. They barely snuck past the Jets in overtime in the divisional round, courtesy of multiple missed field goals by Doug Brien. Then they came out flat against that same old New England team at home and lost by 14.
No one wants to play their best football of the year in week 8. You want that in the home stretch, like the 2005 Steelers, who only went 11-5, but wound up winning the Super Bowl.
Well, the 2020 Steelers haven’t played their best football yet. They might be the best team in the NFL, but they’ve still got room to grow and improve. For a 10-0 squad, they look like a team that’s still on the rise. And that’s pretty exciting.
“And no! They fake it… The Steelers are ready… and the team that’s 9-0 continues to deliver…”
— Announcer Ian Eagle (after Jacksonville’s surprise onside kick)
The Steelers got caught on this kind of thing the last two weeks—a fake punt against the Bengals and a punt return lateral by the Cowboys. They’re not getting fooled anymore and they didn’t have to take an “L” to wise up.
“Tua Tagovailoa… could put his name next to Big Ben’s in the NFL record book… [If the Dolphins beat the Broncos,] Tua would start his career with four straight wins.”
— John Breech (CBS Sports)
First of all, Miami lost, so that conversation is over. But let’s be clear, even if Tua had won, he wouldn’t put his name next to Big Ben’s. Winning your first four starts is nice and all. But it’s NOTHING compared to winning your first 14. Ben is still in a class by himself.
Also, with Joe Burrow going down, and Tua getting benched, can we maybe start talking about Chase Claypool for rookie of the year? I realize Justin Herbert plays quarterback, which is all anyone really looks at for big awards, but as Kyle Brandt put it on NFL Network (see above clip), “that Claypool thing has changed the whole AFC.” Can we really say that about any of these other guys?
“Le’Veon Bell has no ego.”
— Chris Collinsworth, during the SNF broadcast
What? You can’t be serious. (I don’t remember if Collinsworth was quoting someone or not. It doesn’t matter. This is the most absurd thing anyone has said in a sports broadcast all year.)
I don’t dislike Collinsworth like some do. But to anyone who wants to claim that he blows sunshine at his favorites, whether they deserve it or not: today is your day. This Bell comment was beyond the pale. Ridiculous.
“The Steelers may be the only 10-0 team ever that can still sneak up on opponents.”
— Mark Madden
The Steelers have been called “the worst 10-0 team in history” (which is sort of like saying “the poorest billionaire in the Riviera ”). But the truth is, teams that get headlines are often amazing in one area, but mediocre elsewhere. And those teams can be shut down by a bad matchup. The 2019 Baltimore Ravens went 14-2 with a record setting run game; the 2004 Colts, 2007 Patriots, and 2013 Broncos each set records as passing offenses. All four won and won and won. And none of them took home a Lombardi.
The 2020 Steelers are excellent in a number of areas. They rush the passer at eye-popping rates, and they make interceptions and knock down passes. They’re capable of brick-walling the run (see: Cleveland and Tennessee), but even when they don’t, they can dig deep and get the stops they need (see: 4th and goal against Baltimore). They can pass for 300 yards and four touchdowns—deep or short to any one of six or seven targets—and they’re working on jump-starting their running game (fingers crossed).
This team can sustain a lead, mount a comeback, or come up with the stop in the final seconds. Whatever the moment requires, they seem to produce. That’s harder for the talking heads to deify. But it’s no less effective.
“The first [interception] was an overthrown ball... The second one was just playing my zone…”
— Terrell Edmunds
I already wanted to give Terrell Edmunds a shout-out, but this is also a good moment to point out that his comments on Sunday’s INTs were largely about downplaying his own excellence. Overthrown balls are easy to catch… I was just playing my zone… This was the first two-pick game of Edmunds’ career (including college), and he’d only made one prior interception as a pro. If he was ever going to chirp about himself, it would have been now. Instead: humble. I like Edmunds now even more than when he was making the picks.
As a side note: this was the first game two Steelers had multiple picks in 25 years. Once, in 1974, three Steelers had two INTs in a game—Glen Edwards, Jack Lambert, and Jack Ham. Your move, 2020 Steelers.
“It’s not about what you’re capable of, it’s what you’re willing to do.”
— Mike Tomlin
Tomlin delivered this line in 2008, on the Steelers’ way to Super Bowl 43. It may as well be a tagline for the 2020 Steelers. We talk about “next man up,” or the “don’t blink” mentality; about the depth across the board, or the stars who ought to sweep the post-season hardware (but won’t). But at the end of the day, it’s not about what you’re capable of; it’s what you’re willing to do. Awesome.
“[We can] just say you’re going to go to this spot, you’re going to go to this spot… [the WRs] don’t need to be in their memorized spot. They’re able to learn the whole package and understand when things are changed what they’re supposed to do...”
— Ben Roethlisberger
This isn’t the first time I’ve noted how the offense excells at going off script. What’s exciting to me is that this ability is usually reserved for veterans, or guys who’ve played together a long time. But Ben wasn’t on the field last year, and there wasn’t a preseason or full training camp for him to build chemistry with this green wide receiver room. Those guys are just that good.
And by “those guys” I also include Ben. As Chase Claypool put it: ”He tells us what to do and it always works out… He just tells me a route to run, and I’ll run it, and the ball’s there.”
“This organization is ran to win. …They’re accustomed to winning, so they understand how to build an environment full of winners. I think the difference here is that the environment is bulletproof. Like, if you’re in this environment, that’s the only way you understand it…”
— Eric Ebron
This echoes Avery Williamson from last week—who couldn’t believe how confident his teammates were during their Dallas comeback. We talk about how Steelers fans aren’t satisfied with anything less than a Lombardi. But the team works that way too. They want to go the distance every year, and they believe in each other all the way. Even when they start 1-4 (like last year), or trail by double digits (like they did against Dallas or Baltimore), no one panics. That’s mental toughness. I wondered last fall if losing would pull the locker room apart. Of course it didn’t.
I don’t know if this place is “bulletproof” but I like that.
“I believe in those guys up front. They’ve gone up against some really good defenses, some good D-lines, some crazy blitzes and different things. …I wouldn’t want anyone else in front of me”.
— Ben Roethlisberger
This is apparently the first time in franchise history that the Steelers haven’t given up a sack in three straight games. Some of it is Ben’s quick release. Some of it is scheme and formations. Some of it is that patchwork O-line (which takes flack for their run-blocking but appears to have pass-blocking down).
Whatever the case, this stat is almost incomprehensible for those of us that remember the 2006-14 seasons, in which Ben was sacked a ridiculous 45 times per 16-games.
Keep the big man standing, that’s what I say.
“[Tennessee] wanted it more than us.”
— Lamar Jackson, after the Ravens loss to the Titans Sunday
File this under “Things Ben Roethlisberger would never say after a crucial loss while the Steelers were clinging to their playoff lives.”
This was a revenge game for Baltimore, as their season slipped away. A game in which their coach practically came to blows with the opposing defense before kickoff. And they couldn’t get their energy up? That’s bad. Meanwhile, when your starting quarterback—the reigning MVP that the whole team was built around—says so out loud... well that’s another thing altogether.
“I feel like people want us to lose,” Jackson added after the game. Yeah, buddy. The other team and their fan base want you to lose. That’s what it’s like to be in competition. Yikes.
“I love this team”
— Chase Claypool
I love this team— Chase Claypool (@ChaseClaypool) November 22, 2020
I thought I’d close with one of my most pleasant surprises this week. On public forums like Twitter, the biggest topic for Steelers players (and fans and alums) was predictably the 10-0 record. But I was surprised at how many young Steelers players said some version of “I love this team.” That’s so awesome. Keep rolling…
Love this TEAM‼️#10-0— Diontae Johnson (@Juiceup__3) November 23, 2020