Steelers Opponent, Week 9: Bye Week
Chillin’ at the Bye Week practice: Photo via Steelers.com
It may sound odd to characterize a week of rest as an “opponent.” And theoretically, what could be better than a chance to heal up and then go into the second half of the season with renewed vigor? Well, plenty, as it happens. Because one of the things a break like that can do is to interrupt the process of team-building, which in these degenerate days of a much lighter schedule in training camp, more of the team-building has to take place while you’re playing actual games that count.
And between all the drama that has characterized this season, what with Le’Veon Bell excusing himself from training camp and Martavis Bryant being excused by the league, we’ve certainly seen the offense in particular taking its own sweet time to gel. In fact, I think it is fair to say it hasn’t really done so yet.
Given all this, you could argue it isn’t the best thing for the team to have a bye just at this point. But my main interest in this article is to take a look at the Steelers under Mike Tomlin, post-bye week, in the same way I did for the Bengals and the Lions.
As we saw, those two particular teams have had very different post-bye results. While the Bengals’ overall win percentage is 53%, post-bye week it is 40.7%. Looking at the Bengals since Andy Dalton has been their quarterback, both numbers are better—60% overall and 50% after the bye—but as you can see they are distinctly worse after a bye. The Lions, on the other hand, are just the opposite—much better after a bye week than their overall record would indicate. Let’s just look at the figures since drafting Matthew Stafford. (Jim Caldwell hasn’t been their head coach very long, and may not last too much longer either…) Under Stafford they have won 43.7% of their games, but have won an astonishing 75% of their post-bye week games. (This figure will have dropped somewhat after last Sunday…)
So let’s do the same exercise for the Steelers:
Since 2003 the Steelers have won 63.8% of their games. During this time they have won 57.1% of their post-bye week games. If we confine it to the Mike Tomlin era, the overall wins rise slightly to 64.4%, but post-bye wins come up a bit more, to 60%. During most of the time it didn’t seem to matter whether the games were at home or away, and in fact Mike Tomlin, after his first season, had an unsullied post-bye record, with the Steelers winning six years in a row, even in a couple of years where the Steelers weren’t that great overall.
But—and it’s a big but—the Steelers have now lost the last three post-bye week games. The first was at home against a much inferior Saints team (the Steelers were 7-4 coming into the game, the Saints 4-7, and the Steelers ended the season 11-5, the Saints 7-9.) The last two were on the road, against Seattle in 2015 (the game in which Ben Roethlisberger self-reported a concussion) and last season’s game against the Ravens. The Ravens’ record wasn’t that much worse at the time (4-3 Steelers, 3-4 Ravens) but of course Baltimore ended the season 8-8.
So one could look at the losses the past two seasons as being part of the overall huge home-road splits for Ben Roethlisberger. But somehow it was a bit alarming to see it laid out that way.
This season the football gods seem to have set things up nicely for the Steelers, as they will travel to Indianapolis to take on a struggling Colts team, one which will presumably still be Luck-less, since he hasn’t yet practiced this season. These sorts of games make me quite nervous. But that would be whenever in the season it fell.
It will be interesting to see whether the opportunity to keep up with the Jones (or the Bradys, I suppose it is) will be enough to send a hungry and focused team to Lucas Oil Stadium next week. Because if the Steelers lose that game, one will have to conclude that, with the help of the bye week, the Steelers beat themselves.