5 Smoldering Questions On the Pittsburgh Steelers, Week 1

via USA Today

by Hombre de Acero

I’m thrilled to announce the debut of this series. Enjoy, and don’t forget to comment. It’s an open-internet test, and the links just might help, but you must show your work, as Hombre notes below…

Week 1 of the NFL’s 2015 season is now in the history books, leaving half of the NFL rejoicing and the other half in despair. Pittsburgh found itself on the wrong side of the dividing line, so not only was the Steelers loss to the Patriots a disappointment, it leaves Steeler Nation struggling with 5 Smoldering Questions*:

1. Mike Tomlin went 4-0 in season openers in his first four years, but since Super Bowl XLV his teams have gone 1-4 in the first game of the season. In their own way, each of the season openers established an important storyline for the season to come. What do you think we learned in the Steelers loss to the Patriots?

2. The performance reviews of the Steelers defense in general and its secondary in particular were scathing following the Patriots game. While giving up 28 points is never a positive, the last time the Steelers traveled to New England, the Patriots scored 28 points in the 4th quarter alone. Are you ready to accept that this loss, however disappointing, marks progress since the Steelers started  2-6 in the 2013 season?

3. As everyone knows, Martavis Bryant is serving a suspension for substance abuse. Fortunately the words “Steelers” and “Substance abuse” have not collocated** much recently. However, the early 1990’s were different, as drugs had a role in derailing the careers of Tim Worley, Bam Morris and, to an extent, Eric Green. If you could get 5 minutes alone with Martavis Bryant, what would you say to him?

4. Steelers blogger Paul Dawkins had an interesting take on HeadsetGate:

What do you think of this latest suspicious incident involving the Patriots, and do you think the Steelers were right to accept the NFL’s conclusion that it was unintentional?***

5. Based on what you saw vs. the Patriots, what is the one change you would make going into the 49ers game?

That’s it folks. As this is the first time for this incarnation of the series let’s remember a few ground rules: You must show work to get full credit, but looking at your neighbor’s paper is encouraged if not required. Please follow all other house rules, and remember to use a No. 2 dark pencil.

Have at it!

*I’m wondering if we should go with the British spelling. “Smouldering” seems so much more, well, smouldery…

**Nice word, Hombre. It isn’t often I have to look something up…

***You might want to check out the link provided by commenter “Peter” in an earlier post—it’s annoying but funny…


  • 1. As I pointed out in my immediate post game comments, the Steelers lost the game more so than the Pats won, and not by much. In fact, it was interesting to me that Tomlin mentioned that the game was closer than what might be indicated by the final result, and Pittsburgh fans who were at the game said Pats fans were worried throughout. And for good reason. Though a disappointing and frustrating loss, many of us were expecting to see worse, much worse, and that didn’t materialize. Now, does anyone truly believe that what we saw from the defense is the best they are likely to do? That an offense that was statistically dominant (how often does that happen with the Steelers?) won’t improve with the return of Bell and Bryant? If DeAngelo has another game on Sunday like his first is it possible to have a running back controversy? In a game that was structured for them to lose, and in the minds of even their most loyal fans, to lose decisively, they came away looking just a brick or so shy of a load. If they stay reasonably healthy, I like the possibilities of where this group will be in November.

    2. Sorry to be self referential again but in my season preview I pointed out that the defense, like the offensive line is ensemble work, and this a group from the coordinator down have had practically no game experience working together (and it showed). Considering the fact that they were trying to work all of that out while Tom Brady is trying to eviscerate you is challenging. In spite of that only 28 points. And as others have pointed out, the failures of the offense contributed to their difficulties as well. Jones, Shazier and Dupree trending in the right direction. My main concern is that the 49ers and Rams are probably better than we think, so some will panic if we struggle against them, but this will prove to be a good defense eventually.

    3. Don’t be afraid or too proud to ask for help. The temptations and pressures that come with this work will drive people to self medication of some kind. You are on the cusp of greatness and you need to have strong and wise support to successfully make that leap, Dangerous to try to do this alone and probably few people in your circles understand what’s possible and what’s at stake. Does that don’t need to learn to do no harm or be cut loose, including family. You can reconcile after you retire. The good news is that you have already shown the capacity for dramatic improvement, you just have to become clear about where your bread is buttered and who, if any, your friends are.

    4. I don’t think it was unintentional, and I don’t think the Steelers believe that it was unintentional (check out Ben’s recent comments). Having said that the response is the wise one. Pittsburgh is doing what the Pats and the league in their hubris is not, protecting the shield. Everything about that night is sketchy, from the headsets to what happened to tight ends coach Daniels. The only thing that is sparing the NFL from a devastating scandal is the belief that the league and the Patriots are in a totally adversarial relationship.But what if they aren’t? The Steelers certainly wouldn’t benefit from something on the order of the Black Sox Scandal. Especially in the 21st Century.

    5. Play Boykin.


  • Part of #3 was a little confused. Meant that those in his circle must learn to do no harm or be cut loose. That is the ‘socio’ part of socioeconomic. There are certain behavioral demands to reaching a level of wealth and status that have to be honored or one becomes a liability.


  • 1. I honestly thought we learned the Steelers defense was a bit farther along than we feared in the pre-season. We also learned that the offense needs Bryant, unfortunately, and that DeAngelo Williams is better than we hoped. I have had people say they think this is an 8-8 team. I may be a cock-eyed optimist, but I think it is way better than that.

    2. Absolutely shows progress. The difference is, in 2013 the defense was an aging group going downhill. This is a young group going uphill.

    3. I’ve said it already, in an approximately 4,000 word piece (I’m not kidding about the length, either) that is coming out tomorrow. So thanks for the set-up, Hombre : )

    4. I think that if it had been anyone but the Pats we would have believed the NFL’s assertion. I think the Pats have made their bed, and they are lying in it. Pun intended. In other words, pretty much everyone but Pats fans are going to assume the worst on anything which could possibly have a sinister construction. As for what the Steelers believe, I don’t think for a moment that Mike Tomlin believes the NFL – I think he only doesn’t see an advantage in possibly looking like a sore loser.

    5. I would do everything possible to make sure that I didn’t have to make a field goal attempt, short of the criminally stupid. Either go for it or punt…I think perhaps I would also simplify the defensive plans for the game until I was sure everyone was comfortable. After all, better to properly execute something obvious than even fool yourself with something clever.

    And I would put a spotter on Kaepernick.


    • I am with you Rebecca, I think we are a much better team than 8-8. Also, if the defense gets used to the new scheme, we are going to be a scary team come the playoffs.


  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    1) The Steelers defence isn’t as bad as I expected. I already knew the offence has the potential to be amazing. The NFL cannot police itself.

    2) There were mistakes by the defence but my expectations were so low that I had expected them to give up 50 points. They were better against the run than I expected and the pass rush is better than I expected. Not many QBs are going to be able to get their passes off in 2 secs every play for an entire game.

    3) I think Ivan’s advice is quite good. It has taken a lot of hard work and persistence for Martavis to get where he is now. It would be a shame to waste this opportunity.

    4) Again I need to agree with Ivan. The real question is who is actually messing with the communications. Is it the team, some fans or a third party who has found a way to benefit financially from manipulating the scores of the games? Maybe it is just Putin’s way of saying thanks for the ring.

    5) I have no advice. The 49ers are a very different team than the Pats.

    * I know. Adding the u adds colour to the phrase.

    ** I am glad you puts this here. I thought it was a typo.

    It is too early in the season for a must win game but I think the Steelers really need this win. It isn’t getting any easier in the next few games.


  • 5 Burning Answers

    Hombre, I was so excited to see this article that I literally gave a fist and exclaimed, YES! If that gives you some idea how much I have enjoyed this series over the years. Onto the answers.

    1. I actually saw what I expected. A defense that is going to struggle early in the year because of all the new faces and guys on first contracts and an offense that is missing three of its best players. We fared better against the Patriots than I expected, actually.

    2. It is progress in the sense the Steelers have went from old and slow then, to young and dumb now. This is a process we all knew was going to have to take place, we are right in the middle of it but the good news is the team has a lot of young talent on the defensive side of the ball.

    3. I would defer my five minutes to James Harrison. Talk about scaring someone straight..

    4. I definitely believe the Patriots cheated but I also believe the Steelers were wise to keep their brand far from the scandal of the Patriots cheating. It was brought to the attention of the NFL and the media, that is enough, to keep pressing the issue would have gotten some of their stink on us.

    5. The Steelers have some of the best coaches in the league wouldn’t I be silly giving them advice.

    Bonus answer: Burning!


  • I intended to edit after posting but can’t seem to find the edit button.


  • Here we go,

    1. I would say that we learned once the defense gets used to the new scheme and communicate better on the field, this defense is going to be pretty darn good. When you look at the scores the pats had on us, 1 TD to Gronk was a complete blown coverage/miscommunication between defenders on who was covering him, leaving him wide open to basically walk into the endzone. Another td to him was an out pattern with a linebacker covering. I don’t think many linebackers in the league would have stopped that. The only nagging feeling i have with our Defense is that throughout the preseason and into the first game, we are allowing an alarming % of throws to be completed.

    2. Refer to # 1 above. If any loss can be a good loss, i think this was one. As much as I hate to lose to the pats, I saw more positives than negatives coming out of that game for the Defense. I won’t compare to 2 years ago though as this team is very different than they were then, and it is waaaaaay to early yet to see what our Defense is all about.

    3. I would say, ” Martavis, if you want to smoke pot, that is just fine. Just hold off until after you retire from the game. You have a massive oppurtunity that many many people would trade anything for and throwing it away because you want to do that is not very smart. So, just put that life aside at the very least until you retire. Retire a wealthy man and then you can enjoy life however you see fit. ”

    4. In the immortal words of Colonal Sherman T Potter (M.A.S.H) I think it is complete Horse Hockey! I agree that the NFL has complete control over the headsets for the game, but as they are wireless, it is not beyond the realm of possibility (or the patriots ethical stance) that they could somehow interfere with the frequency the visitors’ headsets are geared to. This could also be an independent act by the station running the patriots radio broadcast. Only time will tell us, if at all, what is causing the interference. I do agree with the Steelers that it was unintentional by the NFL, though i do find it really fishy that the NFL did not turn off the pat’s headsets during that time either. granted, we, as NFL football fans in general, have seen very weird, stupid, fishy calls made by officials in the past so this is not necessarily out of the realm of other stupid rulings/decisions that have been made.

    5. Play Sammy Coates.


  • I learned that our D is on track to becoming very good. The front seven will be ferocious by late December if not sooner. Yes, the DB is horrid, but Gay, Mitchell and Will A. Are okay and hopefully improve as a unit. Replace Blake with Boykin and you have a shaky unit but one which will be serviceable until better players are found.

    2. Definite progress. Offense is explosive and D front 7 is showing it can play the run and run to the ball. We have a high ceiling.

    3. I would ask him if a ten game suspension for the next time sounds good. I’d also ask if he ever heard of Santonio Holmes.

    4. There will be a major scandal if Goodell is not replaced and all will suffer.

    5. Play Boykin a lot. Cut Blake.


    • In re No.3, I think the next level is a full year. Either would be crazy…


      • No, as part of the modifications to the CBA, the next stage for a pot suspension is 10 games…. If I’m Mike Tomlin, Kevin Colbert and/or Art Rooney II, I’m going get Tim Worley and/or Bam Morris to come to Pittsburgh and have a heart to hart with Bryant.


    • I know you once said you had a split personality and didn’t mean to post under the name Roxana Firehall…but what a terrific name! I hope it’s a person not a place. (Please don’t tell me.) Like a superhero who shows up in a big red truck or rescues everyone caught in a burning building. If I had a split personality, I’d want the other half to be Roxana Firehall.

      Liked by 1 person

  • 1 – I think we learned that to assume that the offense will always carry the defense is too presumptuous. The yards were there, the points weren’t. The defense will have to get better if the team will truly contend for a playoff spot.

    2 – I find it hard to say there was progress, but not just because of the loss. The secondary was so, so bad that game, that there really was no way to judge if the front 7 improved. A few individuals showed individual flashes of awesome, but as a unit… the secondary didn’t give the front 7 much time to show their stuff.

    3 – I’ve never been attracted to substances that ‘alter reality’. So I cannot really relate to it. But I would simply ask him what is more important to him in life. If it is the fun and the weed, that’s fine. I’d just assume Colbert will draft another WR next year. I certainly wouldn’t scold him or talk about team loyalty, letting the fans down, etc. NFL is a business, like any other. Employees who buy in to what their company (the Steelers) is about will do well, those that don’t, rarely pan out.

    4 – I think too much was made of the issue. Yes, it was sketchy. The NFL took the blame. And I find it hard to believe they’d try to cover for the Pats less than a week after trying to hammer them in court. Crappy headsets didn’t make the secondary forget to cover Gronk.

    5 – One change? Niners are a different challenge than the Patriots. The one change I’d make is grab Big Snack from 7 years ago and use him to keep Carlos Hyde in check.


  • 1. Tom Brady has made a career of making more talented secondaries look bad. It was bad but I didn’t see anything that isn’t fixable. I have seen Blake play better, but it isn’t every week that Brady will be picking on him.

    2. We have to remember that the Steelers are fist and foremost built to play in the AFC North. No team they play in the AFCN can pick apart a defense the way Brady can. If we played against Brady two or three times a year, I could see mortgaging the farm to buy a top flight free agent corner, but against Flacco, Dalton and whoever, I just can’t see it. That’s why the Pats beat us, and why the Ravens can beat the Pats, they have to face Ben two or three times a season. Holding the Pats to 28 points was a victory in it’s own way.

    3. Having raised four boys and having had these conversations with them, where I told them about my years of experience with drugs and how bad life was and how many ways I could have died, I would say nothing to him that he would listen to. He needs to be talked to by his fellow players, the ones that he let down.

    4. Was it suspicious? Yes. Do I think it was intentional? Yes. If the NFL believes their own story, nothing anyone says on the subject will change that. If they don’t, they will be watching for repeats. As far as the Steelers accepting the story officially, it’s the right thing to do. The focus now is on the 49’ers.

    5. They get paid for coaching, not me. I have faith in Tomlin and Co.

    I may not have answered these posts much in the past, but I always enjoyed them, glad to see them again.

    Liked by 1 person

  • 1. This defense is going to be a very easy defense for quarterbacks to complete passes against. 19 in a row for Tom Brady, and it was the continuation of a pattern we had seen in the preseason. There are going to be a lot of easy throws out there if QBs are willing to take them. The days of tackling the catch are not gone.

    2. The defense as a whole has improved, but there hasn’t been much progress in the secondary. Cortez didn’t show anything to say he was going to rebound. I don’t believe that Will Allen is a starting quality safety in this league, but no one on our roster has been able to supplant him. Mike Mitchell did look better, maybe he really is the player we all hoped he was last year, and this is the only improvement I saw in the secondary. Blake looked about the same. He’s getting a lot of flak but TB to Julien Edelman is a tough assignment and he was on it all night. Will Allen was his usual self, which is to say very good.

    3. I would tell him that despite what he hears or reads, pot can be very addictive for some people. I would tell him that he is one of these people, an addict, and the he needs to seek help to overcome this. He could be like AB earning 10s of millions of dollars to help himself and his family, or he could be Josh Gordon and be an entire city’s disappointment.

    4. This is simple. Read the NFLs statement closer. They’re responsible for the headsets themselves. They clearly state that there was an issue with the stadium’s infrastructure, which obviously is the responsibility of the Patriots. Once the NFL found this and fixed it, the headsets were fine. The problem was clearly in the Patriots domain of responsibility. Given what I have read about the interference fading out while league officials approached the Patriots sideline to remove their headsets under the rules of fair play, and then returning soon as they left, there is no doubt in my mind that this “infrastructure problem” is something that was designed and controlled by the Patriots to introduce interference into the Steelers radio frequencies. It is very interesting that the exact nature of this problem has not been talked about or released. Mike Tomlin’s anger about this after the game was very uncharacteristic and points to something more unusual than the typical glitches teams encounter.

    5. I would cover the other team’s #1 red zone threat. I wouldn’t leave 15yards of unguarded grass between him and the endzone. Under no circumastances would my 5th string linebacker ever end up guarding him man to man.


  • 1. I was suprised at the multiple/major communication breakdowns that occured and I hope that when playing in the “tackle the catch scheme” the first guy actually makes the tackle. Also as Elpalito said ” Come on man in tight coverage at least put a hand on the receiver off the line” (or something like that:)
    2. Yes it is progress in my opinion.
    3. I would introduce him to those that wasted their God given talent and the chances they had been given. I would have him listen to their stories of how they let their family down, how they let everyone down. I would hope he would listen with tears in his eyes and learn from their pain. I know the Roonies, along with MT and staff will do all they can for him.
    4. Obviously I call Bull*%$! Obviously
    5. Spy Kap/be prepared for the option and please tackle better. Oooops that’s 3.


  • 1). That either Tomlin and the FO are willing to throw away this season as a “learning period” as the cost of implementing a totally different and complex defensive system; complex apparently because so many of the back 8 weren’t sure what to do or where to go on many plays, or…..the players they’ve selected are both poorly prepared for NFL level of play and not adequately coached up on the new system.

    2) No. This is a different Patriots offensive unit in a different year. Can’t truly consider them the same, especially since they fielded TWO rookies on the O line with little deleterious impact. The Steelers’s defense clearly lost the game due to being ill prepared and poor execution.

    3) it’s time to put away childish things. Grow up.

    4). Yes, but not because the NFL was right, but because to pursue it would have been too great of a distraction.

    5) There is no one thing to change that will fix what ails us…but how about tearing out the trick plays from Haley’s playbook.


  • Like Fever, I was thrilled to see this again. Smart questions bring out the best in everyone. Glad to see you again, Hombre. You’re a gift to the rest of us. Your blog is pretty great, too. Read it, people.

    1. What did we learn? I wish I could be as optimistic as some of you, so I’m going to hope and then hope some more but I think we’re in for a bumpy ride with more ups and downs than usual. I’m willing to be patient but the impatient among us are going to stew in anger, then boil over. Maybe they should replace Renegade with Gloria Gaynor’s “I will survive” at Heinz Field. From the team to those fans. I’d love to see Deebo singing and pointing at the exits.

    AB is better than we thought, so too DeAngelo. A lot of dumb mistakes seem fixable. Disappointing to see drives that ended in no points. I watched the game with a Seahawks and Lord of the Rings fan who said–with admiration–that Ben moves like an Ent. And by comparison, Wilson is “elfen.” I’ll think of that all season.

    2. I spent the last 2 seasons afraid we’d see Troy carted off the field, so that’s a relief. Dupree had a sack. That’s progress. I’m going to trust Ivan and others on this one.

    3. Talk to Bell. He has the right attitude. Ask Santonio if he has regrets. Google Bam Morris like I just did. (Nice reminder of Steeler history, by the way. I remembered only the name as someone my dad liked and then got upset about. What a tragedy. At least Worley turned his life around.I googled him too. )

    And Ivan’s response seemed spot on to me, smart and generous. I think we tend to forget that there are a lot of smart and talented people in the world. The ones who keep pushing themselves to greatness sometimes have crippling self-doubt and fears, then make bad choices for the same reasons they’re great.

    4. Tomlin looked furious and that’s most of what I need to know. And Rebecca nailed it. No one believes the Patriots any more. The matter was dropped because…what’s the point? It would be wonderful to settle this in the playoffs if you optimists are right.

    5. One thing? I’m blank. The whole NFC West scares me. The Niners seemed like they might be the weakest of the division but despite the comedy of errors in the first half of MNF, they looked tireless. Bowman’s back on defense and Kaep’s like one of those clumsy dogs who keeps trying and trying and finally catches a few tennis balls. How about the secondary gets its act together and hogs all the tennis balls? No Vick jokes, please. But I would like to see him on the field, if only so someone other than Ben gets sacked.

    As for the smoldering/smouldering controversy (isn’t everything one these days?), I was surprised to see it without the U. Apparently, I read too many British novels.

    Now I’m going to go dig out my Terrible Towel from wherever I hid it at the end of last season. Maybe last week was my fault. I wasn’t prepared to do my part.



  • I meant to add about DeAngelo–Rebecca likes her favorite players to be good looking. I like mine to be funny. You know, just for the heck of it. Hence my previous attachments to James Farrior (dry wit) and Ike Taylor (no explanation needed). I’m not much of a Twitter person but someone kept sending me links to DeAngelo’s account and he was just plain funny, so I was really glad to see him have a great game. He’s got a big heart, he’s a very likeable man, I’m pulling for him all the way this year.

    Liked by 1 person

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