During the Steelers' impressive performance Monday night, facing a Houston Texans team that's probably stronger than many people had suspected, the most intriguing aspect might have been the Steelers' obvious commitment to distributing substantial snaps among a broad complement of players on their roster.
What we witnessed was a continuous rotation of players that ultimately succeeded in terms of keeping fresh bodies on the field and elevating the overall tempo of the team's play.
Given the high stakes in this Week 7 game on national TV, it was a significant gamble for Pittsburgh coaches to depart from their former mode of bringing young players along at a relatively slow pace. However, under the bright lights of Heinz Field, we saw a huge cast of characters make their appearances on this national stage. In the process, Mike Tomlin and his assistant coaches gained some excellent film that reveals how several of their youngsters stack up against teammates who previously have been ahead of them on the team's depth chart.
In quite a remarkable way, this game combined the player-evaluation aspect typical of preseason with the passion and execution expected in a mid-season battle.
Despite the nagging inconsistency this team has shown during the first half of the season, it's difficult to escape the impression that this game stands as a strong signal that the Steelers' vaunted "standard" is still alive and well. This game may have been the Steelers organization's way of saying, "We know what we've been doing in the recent past hasn't been working so we're going to try a new approach."
While such an assessment probably would be dismissed by the Steelers' brain trust, it was quite clear that we saw a significant departure on Monday night from the team's previous, conservative approach.
After all, what trait has better defined the great Steelers teams of the past than the sense of dominant will and sheer fun we witnessed during their amazing 2-minute turnaround at the end of the second quarter?
We saw a re-emergence of the razzle-dazzle offense, plus the splash-plays on defense that have historically defined some of this team's greatest moments. We also saw a reappearance of the swagger that the Steelers seemed to have lost during their past two seasons of .500 football.
Even Brett Keisel, the elder statesman on this youth-movement team, appeared rejuvenated as he snatched a bank-shot pass deflection, setting up another TD during the Black-and-Gold's second quarter flurry.
The Steelers' amazing turnaround sent a strong message to the rest of the NFL. For a brief and marvelous period, we saw an exhibition of the massive potential in store for this team, once it completes its current transition and regains the services of some key players lost due to injury. Quite possibly, this was a cameo appearance by the budding Super Bowl contenders of the future, and it was certainly a thrill for fans to behold.
By now, we ought to know better than to read too much into this win. It's too early to consider this as representing the definitive arrival of our favorite team into the ranks of bona fide NFL contenders.
There are still some key holes to fill and the youngsters still need a lot more game experience before hitting their stride as established NFL stars.
As many have commented here on BTSC, certain players on the field Monday night clearly will not be wearing Steelers uniforms after this season, if not before. Of course, we can always debate the relevant names and numbers.
But for the time being, a positive and hopeful vibe has infused Steelers Nation. We're seeing a break in the dark clouds that shrouded the team's early-season performance.
Some of the players that perhaps appeared previously, as evidence of issues in the team's drafting or personnel development, have now begun to show indications of a new core of talent that will carry the Steelers forward to future success.
Suddenly, the master plan of Mike Tomlin, Dick LeBeau, Todd Haley and the Steelers' front office has come into clearer focus as we see the Steelers' talent tree is beginning to bear fruit.
Unfortunately, in this age of immediate gratification, too many fans refuse to accept the obvious reality that this Steelers roster still needs substantial growth to reach the level of performance it ultimately will achieve. Thus, many now will expect the team to make an unfettered run into the playoffs, and if the Steelers should stumble along the way, we'll hear and read the same tired prescriptions for cleaning house on the roster or firing Coach A, B or C.
The Steelers' brain trust cannot function within such a bipolar atmosphere. Despite the pressure to win, they must continue to implement their long-term plan to bring this team back to where it rightfully belongs. On Monday night, we saw clear evidence that some of the puzzle-pieces are starting to match up.
We now have real hope that some new faces are emerging to fill the voids which have been so troubling to Steelers Nation during the past two-plus seasons. It's no longer merely wishful thinking to believe this Steelers team is on the upswing once again and back on the road to new and greater triumphs.