As most of our members already know, my fellow BTSC colleagues and I offered our expert analysis and quarterly grades for the Steelers offense, defense, special teams, coaching staff, and overall assessment during the 2020 NFL season. I can't resist a slight grin on my face as I think about referring to our "expert analysis". While I would put our knowledge about the Pittsburgh Steelers above almost anybody in the national sports media, I find it difficult to call anybody an expert that resides outside the facilities. Even the local sports beat is only as good as the source of their inside information.
As my quarterly Steelers grades can attest, the Steelers were never able to accomplish the main goal during the regular season that I personally believed was the key to the Steelers having a magical season. I wanted the Steelers to show consistent improvement over the course of the regular season so they could peak as a football team around playoff time. As I have pointed out on occasions to numerous to mention, every team must avoid peaking too soon.
The Pittsburgh Steelers burst out of the gate with the longest winning streak to start a season in franchise history. I believe the unmatched string of success early created a false sense of accomplishment and caused some serious deficiencies to be overlooked or swept under the rug so to speak. It appeared that the Steelers got caught up in the undefeated streak and possible playoff seeding and therefore lost sight of doing whatever was necessary to achieve continuous growth and improvement over the course of the season.
Throw in devastating injuries to key contributors, scheduling conflicts, COVID concerns, and opposing defenses catching up with a one dimensional offense; turns out the Steelers never had to worry about peaking too soon because they never came close to playing to their full potential. A few early season defeats would have been preferable to a team desperately running a unsustainable offensive philosophy to remain undefeated.
The Steelers were winning, but they never were willing to exhaust every option to improve their atrocious running game. I know this because Kevin Dotson, by far their best run blocker, spent way too much time standing on the sidelines. Matt Feiler, the best right tackle on the roster, struggled playing out of position all season. There more than likely would have been some hiccups and struggles due to the necessary changes, probably resulting in a loss or two, but wouldn't that have been better than the late season collapse that eventually occurred?
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers were the polar opposite of the Steelers to start the season. Tom Brady looked the part of a aging all time great QB who had played his entire NFL career with a single franchise and legendary head coach. Brady struggled developing his timing with his new teammates and confidence in a new scheme and terminology. He even forgot what down it was during one late game desperation drive.
The Buccaneers were anything but consistent during the first half of the season. One game they would look like a true contender, then turn around and resemble a pretender the following week. Through all the immense pressure of expectations and increased media scrutiny, Brady and HC Bruce Arians steadied the ship and stayed on course. The Buccaneers knew coming into the season they possessed a championship level defense if healthy, so they focused their efforts on developing chemistry and balance on offense.
The growth of the Buccaneers offense hit a snag when the team signed WR Antonio Brown at the behest of Tom Brady. Brady tried to force the ball to Brown whenever he was on the field in an concerted effort to get the talented wide receiver up to speed as quickly as possible. This would often disrupt the flow of the offense and leave the other skill position players visibly frustrated. The running game showed slow but steady improvement, although at times it appeared to be no more than an afterthought.
At one point the Buccaneers found themselves at 7-5 and in real danger of missing the playoffs. Many national pundits jumped off the bandwagon around that point, but the team never lost faith or focus. They could feel their momentum building each week of practice and during the games. Their overall record proved to be far less important than the undeniable momentum they had achieved during the final quarter of the season. They peaked at just the opportune time.
Three road playoff victories have resulted in a never before seen scenario in NFL history. By proving to be true road warriors, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers have earned the opportunity to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium. That has to be considered hugely advantageous, being able to play the biggest game of the season in the friendly confines of your home turf.
Nobody really knows what to expect because the likes of which have never been seen before. The greatest winner in NFL history against the young superstar who would be king. The NFL couldn't have wrote a better storyline if they had tried. Who knows, maybe they did.