Nautical analogies can be fun, except when your ship is rapidly taking on seawater. The Steelers' vessel clearly had sprung some leaks in the wake of the alternating, shocking defeats they suffered in Weeks 2, 4 and 6. But the crew appears to have gathered its wits now and they've patched the ship's hull. If Sunday's destruction of the Indianapolis Colts gives any clue, the Black-and-Gold flag will be flying under full sail as the Steelers head into Heinz Field on Sunday Night Football to face the dastardly Baltimore Ravens.
And if Captain Mike Tomlin has any words of advice for his mates before their Sunday night voyage, it might very well be that well-worn sailor's command, "Steady as she goes." Two weeks ago in their battle against the Houston Texans, we had a brief-but-thrilling appearance by the same guys who showed up again in different, uglier uniforms, only this time they stayed for the full 60 minutes to knock the Indianapolis Colts down from their high horses. As Coach Tomlin has said often and in many different ways, winning in the NFL is a continual building process during which the successful team must avoid riding the dreaded emotional roller-coaster. At the same time, a competitive team must add something new and positive to its repertoire each week. For the past two weeks at least, the Steelers have done precisely that, first giving their new offense a brief test-drive against Houston before blowing the Colts' doors completely off (if you'll pardon the automotive analogy).
Particularly after this huge win, though, we need to be careful before proclaiming that we're truly sailing. For the most part, Steelers Nation currently resembles the neurotic Bob Wiley (played by Bill Murray), lashed firmly to the boat's mast in the movie What About Bob. We're pretty sure now that our course at last is set toward the post-season, but who would be willing to bet the ranch on that? Perhaps we'll get further clues this Sunday night based on how successfully First Mate Benjamin Roethlisberger dispatches those scurvy knaves from Baltimore before a nationwide TV audience.
I'll venture out on the gangplank here and predict that, despite all of the bile spewed in the direction of the Steelers' brain trust recently, their master plan ultimately will be proven sound. All of the patience that once seemed so naive to Steelers fans will be revealed this season as an essential element in the team's development. Getting the right players onto the gridiron represents only one half of the task. After that, you need those players to implement and execute the right schemes. Prior to the past two games, the Steelers seemed to have parts of each half, but never the full monty.
Naturally, given the light-speed with which today's NFL teams analyze film and develop their game plans, Baltimore will be well prepared for the Steelers' revised offense which truly appeared to catch the Colts by surprise at Heinz Field this past Sunday. Also, what are the odds that Big Ben can deliver another performance even approaching what he accomplished against Indy? But an equally valid question is how on earth the Ravens expect to stop the kind of offensive firepower we've seen on display now in two consecutive games from Tomlin's troops. This certainly won't be accomplished by the kind of mediocre effort we saw from the Ravens in their loss at Cincinnati. If Silverback has been saving his breakout game of 2014 for anyone, surely it must be for Joe Flacco.
Quite obviously, the Steelers' offense has some new and dangerous weapons. But what makes the entire unit even more deadly is the newfound diversity of targets that Ben is able to find, regardless of the situations he faces during a game. With a menu of options like Antonio Brown, Heath Miller, Markus Wheaton, Martavis Bryant, Le'Veon Bell, LeGarrette Blount and others to dial up at will, Roethlisberger no longer is tied to what recently had lapsed into a too-predictable Steelers' attack plan. What we saw in the game against the Colts was a surprise party featuring some guests that Indianapolis never expected. While this element of surprise won't be nearly as strong now, Coach Haley still has some additional, new weapons in reserve which have scarcely been used. For example, despite receiving generally poor reviews so far, Dri Archer and Darrius Heyward-Bey command the kind of lightning speed that requires nothing more than a split-second of indecision on the defense's part to turn into a very big play. Sooner or later, one or both of these guys will want to get into the team's offensive act. Tomlin and Haley still haven't yet fired all of their guns.
Lest we forget, though, Joe Flacco might be the closest thing to an indestructible quarterback east of Andrew Luck. Joe takes a licking and he keeps on ticking, as they say in the wristwatch commercial. So if we thought we were getting any break this week from the apparently unbreakable Colts QB, we'd better think again. And I don't think the Colts have any pass-rushing linebackers on a par with Terrell Suggs. So perhaps we'll be boarding a somewhat slower boat come Sunday night.
This game might well see a return to the typical Steelers-Ravens cardiac contests of the past. They might need a spatula to peel most of our BTSC crew off of the walls by the time the final whistle blows. But the hope is, when all is said, done and drunk, we'll no longer be repeating those bitter words of Terry Malloy in the film On the Waterfront: "I coulda been a contender." With fully half of this 2014 regular season already in the books, that's a goal the team has already attained. Now it's a matter of just how far this mid-season surge carries our Pittsburgh Steelers.