There’s nothing like a vacation week to ease the pain of a hard day’s work. The “grind” if you will. Ask any 9-to-5, ham and egger, and they’ll tell you that getting a week off from work is something everybody looks forward to.
I don’t think I’d classify any member of the Pittsburgh Steelers roster as a “Joe six-pack” type, but I’m sure—to a man—they’re all enjoying time off this week as the team’s bye-week has fallen at the exact halfway point of the 2017 season.
I can’t exactly say it was expected that this team would reach this point the way they did. The road loss to Chicago was a stunner but, given the team’s history of under-achieving in road games outside their division when favored, it certainly wasn’t a total shock.
That stinker of a game at home with Jacksonville, though. Yeah, that one really sneaked up on everyone.
So has the lack of punch from an offense expected to be explosive, punishing and running up the score each week. During eight games, they haven’t even cracked 30 points once. The most TD’s they’ve scored in a game has been three. And that happened only once in a road win at Baltimore.
Le’Veon Bell started slow, but he’s picked up his game. Ben Roethlisberger has been average, but better since that 5-pick nightmare with the Jaguars.
We won’t even go into Martavis Bryant. No need for that.
So that covers the bad and perhaps more than a 6-2 team currently sitting atop their conference should have to discuss.
Now let’s cover the good, starting with a young boy and his bike.
And I’m not referring to Pee-Wee Herman.
I’m talking about JuJu Smith-Schuster of course. The kid started out slow, but during the past four weeks, he’s been driving the offense with his play, hauling in 16 of his 24 catches and 332 of his 424 yards receiving. His four TD catches leads the receiving corps and it’s just one behind Bell for the team lead at five.
But what about the bike?!
That’s a story for another day.
T.J. Watt has been productive. His play has been noticed since the first game by many as a positive sign the team’s investment in young defensive studs during the past four seasons is paying off.
Ryan Shazier has been a beast all season. Despite not having registered a sack, he leads the team in solo, assisted and total tackles. Oh yeah, also in interceptions and passes defended. Then there was that tipped pass against Baltimore that led to a pick—plus he’s a member of his local Rotary . . .
You get the idea. He’s good at this football thing.
Then there’s that secondary. The one that was expected to be the team’s weak link. The one that a supposedly washed-up Joe Haden was joining after being hurt and disgruntled in Cleveland. Haden has manned up alongside Mike Mitchell, Sean Davis, Artie Burns and Mike Hilton to form what has been a pass defense that has given up only 6.2 yards per pass attempt—good for second best (among three teams) in the NFL.
Chris Boswell has been solid. Special teams overall is doing what it’s supposed to do.
And we’ve really not spoken much about Todd Haley. How cool is that?!
I said 14-2 before the season started and I’m sticking to that number.
I said this team would win home field advantage with a win over the New England Patriots. I’m not budging on that either.
I said this team would be the AFC representative at the Super Bowl. My guns are locked and loaded on that as well.
And I said the Steelers would win a seventh Lombardi in Minneapolis the first weekend in February.
I’m all in on it baby, so let’s enjoy the second-half ride.
Covering sports for over 20 years in Pittsburgh, John Phillips has been writing about the Steelers for BTSC since 2014. Don’t look for him on Twitter, as JP thinks it’s a waste of time.