5 Smoldering Questions on the Pittsburgh Steelers, Week 2

photo via Steelers.com

By Not-Hombre de Acero

Hombre is off pottering around the world somewhere, and thus the Smoldering Mantle falls on my shoulders this week. It’s a pretty hot place to be. So let’s get this started:

1. One could scarcely even ask this question in an ordinary year, but with the big flurry of horse-trading in which the Steelers engaged just prior to the season, it’s reasonable to ponder this. After watching last Sunday’s game, if you could upgrade any one player with a modest free-agent signing, who (or which position) would it be? [For the purposes of this question we’ll assume such a player would be available to be signed.]

2. And, in a similar vein, from what you’ve seen so far, do you think the trades/signings the Steelers made just prior to the season are going to be a success? Specifically, do you prefer Haden to Cockrell, McDonald to David Johnson (since that was the effective result,) and Wilcox to, I suppose, Golden?

3. I’ve heard theories as to why the offensive line seemed to be quite effective in pass protection but not in run blocking last Sunday, including it being a silent conspiracy to punish Bell for missing training camp. Do you have any thoughts on this?

4. A number of people have been upset about the massive number of penalties the Steelers took in the first game. Do you think this was due to any of the things I’ve heard expressed, as listed?

A. Mike Tomlin runs an undisciplined team.

B. Referee bias

C. Just another problem with Le’Veon Bell’s holdout (although it wasn’t technically a holdout)

D. A result of the cutting of padded practices and meaningful pre-season games (if I may be allowed to posit the latter.)

E. Other (Please elucidate.)

5. When looking at the league-wide scores in Week 1, it struck me how few really close games there were. There were only two decided by 3 points—Steelers @ Browns and Chargers @ Broncos—and only one other decided by less than a touchdown (Falcons @ Bears.) The average difference was 10 and a half points, with the high being Colts @ Rams (in which the Rams won by 37 points. Really!)

And, curiously, four of the six games decided by more than two touchdowns were a win by the visiting team. Including, of course, the Chiefs embarrassing the Patriots. (That was unnecessary but oh so satisfying to point out…)

So do you find it worrisome that the Steelers were on the bottom end of this scale against the Browns? Or do you think it’s a matter of what Mike Tomlin calls September football?

Bonus question: Since I’m really into the trade questions, here’s a more-than-usually frivolous one—if you could trade Antonio Brown for the entire 70s Steel Curtain defensive front, just for this year, would you do it, and why or why not? If so, how would you deal with the penalties they would certainly incur?

21 comments

  • cold_old_steelers_fan

    1) I can’t think of any atm though I am will likely think of someone eventually.

    2) We already knew that Cockrell and Golden were not working so there is nothing to regret there. I liked David Johnson and he was performing well in training camp but the chance to upgrade to MacDonald, whom I understand is as good a blocker as Johnson but is more explosive with the ball in his hands, seems like a reasonable move. I am more surprised by the moves involving Steve Johnson and now LJ Fort. I am waiting to see what the end game will be there.

    3) Most of the first team offence missed a lot of the preseason games and the o-line was not together as a full unit much of that time. Also, the addition of MacDonald will have messed with their cohesion to a certain extent.

    Another possibility is that the Cleveland D-line coach has specifically introduced techniques into the Cleveland D-line’s repertoire that enhances their ability to stymie the run game. My first thought was defensive holding, which they got caught with on one occasion.

    4) I will go with B, C and D though there may be some E in there as well.

    5) The team was rusty and several new pieces had been dropped into play at the last moment. The rust will wear off as the season progresses and repetition will improve performance and cohesion.

    BQ) I think we are in the third modern era of football. The first would have begun after the introduction of rigid vs leather helmets. The second with the merger. I am not quite certain where the dividing line is for the 3rd era but it probably will be when the NFL realized it was open to lawsuits over CTE and started changing the rules accordingly. Somewhere between the 2nd and 3rd eras there was also a change to training and fitness levels. The introduction and removal of steroids… hmm… maybe there are more eras here than I can elucidate in one sitting. I will leave this to a more organized (mentally) and eloquent writer.

    I loved the Steel Curtain but I wonder if they could compete with today’s athletes. How do they measure up in terms of fitness and strength? It would be like having a front four composed of Vontaze Burflicts (he is a throw back who should be thrown back). They would have to be retrained both physically and mentally to play in this era. If that could be done then there is no reason to assume they couldn’t compete very successfully (the mental outlook is so they wouldn’t take all the penalties that would have them perpetually suspended in the modern era).

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    • Love the Burfict comment : )

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    • I think the players of the Steel Curtain would be just as good in today’s NFL. They had the innate talent, the rest is training and conditioning, IMO, that is the biggest difference between players back then and today.

      That is the first I have heard that Vance McDonald is a good blocker as a TE.

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      • cold_old_steelers_fan

        V MacD was supposed to be a good blocker iirc. Maybe I got it wrong.

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        • I can’t find any recent information on his NFL block prowess or lack thereof. Going back to his draft profile, it seems he was good blocking in space, not so much along the line. He played in the slot a lot during his college days, even then his hands were questioned. Steelers do use the WR screen quite often, and with DHB being the best blocking WR, Vance could help out in that area as a blocker.

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    • “They would have to be retrained both physically and mentally to play in this era.”

      I’ve talked to folks who don’t think the comparison holds, but Deebo managed that sort of transition pretty well, no?

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  • 1. I think Sean Spence is available.

    2. I am fine with Haden and Wilcox. So far I just don’t see the McDonald thing. He may be less of a deep threat, but I think David Johnson is a better blocker and receiver.

    3. I guess its possible, but nah! First of all, how stupid and counterproductive would it be to put you season in jeopardy just to get petty with a guy you’re going to need to succeed. If true then this team doesn’t deserve a championship, and will almost certainly fail to do so. Poor character. Second, I saw Tomlin get genuinely pissed at his press conference yesterday at a national reporter that seemed intent on continuing to push the Bell controversy. I don’t necessarily agree with how Bell handled the situation, but it is no worse than how media and fans are handling it now. Let it go.

    4. I think D is closest to the truth of the situation. I think Tomlin and others have been very up front about the fact that they were sacrificing a certain level of preparation in favor of preserving the health of the team, and in the hope that they will be able to muddle through September until they hit full stride. I totally support the philosophy, and didn’t I predict the exact nature of the overreaction and angst because so many had unwisely, but predictably lathered themselves up to expect perfection coming out of the gate. Nobody at Waters Street believed that.

    5. The answer to #4 covers it partially. The other part is that I believe that Cleveland is one of the teams that will prove to be a lot better than people believed entering the season. Certainly not pushovers.

    Bonus. No. The old Steel Curtain would not be as effective in this era. They would be jailed before halftime. Conversely, if you sent AB back to seventies he might have been executed by Jack Tatum and George Atkinson. They would have claimed self defense.

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  • 1 – I’d swap out rusty Bell for prime Bell

    2 – I don’t know. Only Haden is a potential upgrade, imo. And that’s if the past 2 seasons aren’t indicative of his current ability. You should ask this again in 4 weeks.

    3 – I think fans come up with incredibly silly conspiracies. No, the line didn’t conspire to not block for Bell. Players want to see players get paid.

    4 – First game jitters? Lack of cohesion from lack of preseason play? Simply stupid plays from some players who should know better? I think a combo of those 3. Shazier hitting a sliding QB just makes me shake my head.

    5 – No. Not worried. Every week is different and every team has professionals. The team still won. The Steelers are allowed to improve for next week. What I found most interesting about week 1 is that many teams had trouble running the ball.

    BONUS: No. Those guys are old or not around anymore. Team already has Harrison for age.

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  • I need to jump on these smoldering questions earlier. Everything I would have said has already been covered, although I like elpalito’s answer to #1.

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  • 1, I would do nothing. We have enough new players to get up to speed.

    2. Haden – Yes, the jury is out on the others.

    3. The o line only played together a few snaps in pre-season, so we shouldn’t have expected mid season form.

    4. D

    5. Cleveland is better that we thought. And about time too. No fun beating up on those guys year after year. Lets do it to the Bungles for while.

    BQ. No.

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  • 5 Feverish Answers

    1. Sorry, but I never liked this type of question. My opinion is to relish the players we do have.

    2. IMO, the Steelers don’t have a true blocking TE anymore, they should have kept David Johnson, Vance isn’t the quality blocker of Johnson, and appears to be what we were told he was, a guy who has trouble catching the ball. Haden should be an upgrade over Cockrell, so this gets a stamp of approval.

    3. Same as last season, the Steelers were in the top 5 in pass blocking but not so great at run blocking. I love a good conspiracy, but, this one has no merit.

    4. E. Unless the trend continues, it is too early to be concerned. Any or none of the possible could be correct.

    5. Are the Steelers still on track to go 19-0 and win the Super Bowl? The old answer a question with a question trick.

    Bonus. This is a stumper, one more question like this and I will report you to the Editor. If I get to be the kid who catches Mean Joe’s jersey, then yes, otherwise Antonio Brown is too fabulous to trade for anything or anybody.

    Not very feverish in retrospect, oh well, the semester is just beginning.

    Go Steelers!

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    • Oh, please, Fever, don’t report me to the editor! She might rap my knuckles with a ruler!

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    • “3. Same as last season, the Steelers were in the top 5 in pass blocking but not so great at run blocking. I love a good conspiracy, but, this one has no merit.” What….???

      I agree, early in the season the pass blocking was far better than the run blocking. Someone in the press whom I respect even privately mused to me that the Steelers were no doubt regretting having re-upped DeCastro and Gilbert.

      But to be honest, that change during the course of the season.

      Le’Veon Bell broke the Steelers single game regular season rushing record and then he broke the single game playoff rushing record, twice. While that certainly shows us how special Bell’s talent is, that also only happens if the line is doing its job, and doing it well.

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