5 Smoldering Questions: Post-Thanksgiving, Pre-Giants


via Steelers.com

by Hombre de Acero

For the first time in 66 years the Steelers snapped their Thanksgiving curse. They did so in authoritative fashion, to the tune of a 28 to 7 victory over the Indianapolis Colts. Two convincing wins in five days, albeit over struggling teams, has led some to suggest that the Steelers have turned a corner, an important one.

The New York Giants figure to offer stiffer test this week at Heinz Field.  But before taking on that challenge, this corner of Steelers Nation must first answer 5 Smoldering Questions on the Steelers. 1. Prior to the Patriot’s game, Steel City Insider’s Jim Wexell authored a column titled “Do. Your. Job.” He was drawing upon the words of Todd Haley, who reiterated that the coaches needed the players to execute their assigned tasks, and not try to be Super Heroes. Following the Colts game, both James Harrison and Ryan Shazier have argued that the Steelers new found success is because players are finally doing just that.

Is this new-found discipline a sign of successful coaching, or is that achievement mitigated by the Steelers’ collective delay in reaching this point?

2. As Ivan Cole (and many others) have noted, the Steelers’ need to platoon Eli Rogers and Cobi Hamilton opposite Antonio Brown has hamstrung the offense at times. Yet in his third appearance of the season, Ladarius Green made what Mike Tomlin describes as “field-flipping plays.”

Are you ready to declare that the threat of Ladarius Green going deep is strong enough to give the offense the complement that Antonio Brown needs to excel?

3. Mike Tomlin has declared that Bud Dupree and James Harrison will lead the Steelers depth chart at outside linebacker, while the trio of Anthony Chickillo, Arthur Moats and Jarvis Jones will vie for two spots in the second rotation.

Do you think Bud Dupree has shown enough in two games for Mike Tomlin to make this declaration?   

4. On the day he retired, Dick Hoak reminded us that NFL assistant coaches are “Hired to be fired.” Often times that is true. With that in mind, the Steelers special teams have had a number of high profile foul ups, ranging from on-sides kicks, to giving up long returns, to blocked punts and being caught flat footed of fake punts.

Many “fans” would love nothing more than for Danny Smith to pay for these mistakes.

Understanding that season is still in progress, do you think criticism of Danny Smith is fair at this point in the season? [Note from Rebecca—in yesterday’s press conference Mike Tomlin specifically referenced the lack of both Shamarko Thomas and Darrius Heyward-Bey, who he described as important members of special teams. Does this mean he doesn’t feel “The Standard is the Standard” in this instance?]

5. In looking to the Giants game, I am struck by how much has changed since the last meeting against New York in 2012. In that game, a .571 (4-3) Steelers team managed a convincing road win against the defending Super Bowl Champions. (The Giants were 6-2 at the time.) Isaac Redman ran for nearly 150 yards. Mike Wallace took a 51 yard pass to the house. Willie Colon looked to be settling in as a quality, if not dominant, NFL guard.

Today only Antonio Brown, Ben Roethlisberger, Marcus Gilbert, Ramon Foster and Maurkice Pouncey remain from that offense.

Four years later, a .545 (6-5) Steelers team will face the Giants at Heinz Field. The Steelers have changed a lot since then. But do you think have they progressed?


  • 1. Neither, IMO. I think it is an artifact of playing so many inexperienced guys (they may not technically be rookies, but they are in effect.) I think the senior members are finally confidant that the young guys more or less know what they are doing, and they can just concentrate on their job. James Harrison called it “playing selfish.”

    2. I think that in conjunction with Sammie Coates, yes. Coates may not be catching much (or anything ATM) but teams still take him quite seriously when he runs a go route. I think he is going to finally catch a pass without breaking another finger and his confidence will return. And I think Green is going to get better, and thus more looks, every week.

    3. I’m not sure that’s what Tomlin said, exactly. I didn’t hear him demote Chickillo. But it may well happen soon if Dupree comes on in a hurry. Jones, in the meantime, is almost certainly the odd man out.

    4. I sort of answered this in my addendum to the question, but to put it more baldly, I don’t think Tomlin would be making excuses for special teams if he was done with Danny Smith. As we know from the Bruce Arians situation, the Rooney may feel otherwise. But honestly special teams has been doing alright statistically, and it’s been a while since I’ve noticed a penalty, which is good.

    5. Love this question, Hombre, because the answer, could be obviously yes or obviously no given the bent of the answerer. I don’t find it completely easy to answer. Back in 2012 we had the Bugatti Boys and Heath Miller in his prime and a Ben Roethlisberger who was five years younger, but not a great running game, despite Redzone Redman’s big game that you referenced. The offensive line was not good, to put it charitably. , They gave up 40 sacks, and perhaps the lack of a great running game was at least partially a byproduct of their relative ineptitude.

    I think that if the 2016 Steelers had the services of Martavis Bryant and Ladarius Green had been ready to start the season there would be no question. For me, the answer is still “yes.” The development of the offensive line and the growth of Ben into a great leader, despite his occasional off days as a player puts it over the top for me.


  • 1. I believe there is a gap between potential and manifestation related to repetition and confidence with many players that we fans either don’t recognize or accept. As Harrison has said in reference to other issues, you can lead them to water, but you can’t make them drink. In that sense you can’t coach confidence. They can’t force that light to come on in the players head.

    2. I am not so sure that the lateness of Green’s contribution would have been that big a deal if Wheaton, Hey-Bey and Coates had been available throughout. Even as it stands, if he consistently produces at this and a higher level from this point on, then this will all be forgotten in January. And, yes, I believe that Green compensates to a degree for the loss of Bryant.

    3. Yes. I don’t think the other three have played badly, but Dupree impresses me as being a cut above, even with the limited time he has put in to this point. His absence may have been as significant as anyone’s this season, though no one has said as much.

    4. Fans are always looking for someone to ‘pay’. To Hell with them. Talk about short memories. There have been a few execution problems and some decisionmaking that didn’t pan out (and that’s not on Smith), but special teams, like the offensive line recently has not been the heartburn machine it was in previous years.

    5. I believe this team is potentially better, but no Steelers team has demonstrated the potential to win or lose on any given gameday.


  • That is to say on #5, like the 2016 team. Who knows what we’ll see.


  • 1.This team went with three rookies starting on Defense, and really put a lot on the rookies’ plate. No question other guys were looking over their shoulder to make sure the kids didn’t screw up. The light seems to have gone on in the rookies’ heads, as Ivan says. So now, everyone can concentrate on his own job.

    2. You absolutely need somebody to lengthen the field, and Green – with his size and speed – is capable of doing the job. The other guys, for various reasons, haven’t been. So, you fight the war with the army you have.

    3.Oh. Hell. Yes. Bigger, quicker, stronger. He just may be the lunatic we’re lookin’ for.

    4.The 11 guys on the ST’s aren’t all equal. If you lose your kickers, or if you lose your gunners, it’s like losing your QB or top RB. I absolutely buy into Tomlin’s explanation that the loss of Hey-Bey and Shamarko has been critical, because they were key players. Also, I don’t think people understand how difficult the job of ST coach is, with injuries and roster changes. No unit undergoes as many changes in a year.

    5. They’re not as old….they have transitioned to a much younger team, especially on defense. They are absolutely on the cusp of growing into their potential on D. Ask me in three weeks if this team has progressed. The defense is – in some ways – like a bunch of German Shepherd puppies. They are gonna be big and ferocious, and you can tell by how big their feet are. But they just recently opened their eyes and they’re trippin’ all over their feets. I think the personnel package has progressed, and we can see what they’re gonna grow into, but the performance isn’t there. Not yet. But it’s coming.


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