At the Half: Pittsburgh Steelers 2017 Second Quarter Report

39E21EF9-52D9-4E47-8280-5880303CA198Photo via Steelers.com

By Ivan Cole

The last time I attempted to write something for Going Deep was right after the Jacksonville game. The piece was sullen and dark, involving terms like “hubris” and “ego”, but before I could get very far I was struck down. Maybe it was the spirit of Dan Rooney (more about him in a separate post). Whatever the source I have been on the Physically Unable to Perform list (PUP, writing only) from then until now. Just in time to reflect (as opposed to just reacting) on the second quarter of the season.

“Matching the first quarter record could be a considerable achievement. 6-2 at the Bye would look really good.” That’s how the first quarter report concluded. But you know what? It’s actually better than “really good”. Now, I know that many of you reading don’t believe that. So, before I make my case let’s get something out of the way.

Steeler Nation snowflakes

Growing up, I developed a hatred for Yankee fans. And Lakers fans, and Celtic fans. In short fans of teams with crazy long runs of competitive success. Until recently I chalked it up to pure green-eyed jealousy. Pittsburgh teams in those days may have a highly competitive team once a decade, a championship caliber team once a generation.

However, upon reflection, what I believe I was reacting to are the insidious effects of privilege and fragility. For years the biggest challenge facing some of these great franchises was where they were going to find space to hang their championship banners. Yet through it all their fans came off as ungracious complainers.

That disease, a plague, has infected Steeler Nation to various extents. As Mike Prisuta pointed out the other day, there are portions of Steeler Nation (hopefully not a majority, but certainly a much larger cohort than is healthy) that honestly believe that the Steelers should not just be winning Lombardis every single year, but should win every single game as well, with anything less meaning that something is amiss. They (we?) will claim it is perfectionism. No. It’s entitlement.

Consider our last opponent, Detroit. Here is a franchise that hasn’t won a championship since Dwight Eisenhower was President. SIXTY YEARS!! The Steelers are a team whose success most other teams aspire to—a red circled date on their schedule. With a good coach, one of the better quarterbacks in the league, an extra week of preparation for an (for them) uncommon primetime platform, and augmented by several blown opportunities by their opponents, they still couldn’t get it done because Pittsburgh figured out a way to win anyway.

A normal person, so one would presume, would be celebrating three heroic goal line stands, a rookie and the youngest player in the league having a performance that would garner player of the week honors and the team being universally declared the class of the conference heading into the Bye and the midpoint of the season. Good times, right? But others can only see too many yards surrendered, too many dropped passes or overthrown balls, the offense once again did not reach 30 points (they promised!), a malcontented wide receiver and an under-utilized 500-year-old man.

Metaphorically speaking, you have one person, homeless, who is forced to scrounge in garbage cans to avoid starvation, next to another who loudly complains that their filet mignon was improperly cooked and that they should have had the lobster. My friends, they don’t hate us for our Lombardis, but rather because too many of us (present company included) behave like entitled jerks.

But don’t listen to me. Prisuta also noted how the team’s present circumstances has impacted..

Joe Haden

Haden is in full died-and-gone-to-Heaven mode. Most recently, he and 49ers refugee Vance McDonald helpfully noted that the land of 6-2 is not a destination frequently visited in the NFL. In an earlier interview he marveled at being on a team that has the capacity and belief that it can win any time it takes the field. Being still relevant in November? What a concept. Now let’s examine what is so great about Pittsburgh’s current situation. [I have to add here that my son told me to listen to the “Sights and Sounds” video on Steelers.com for the Detroit game and particularly note what Joe Haden said. I did, and it stunned me. Haden noted that he had never played a Sunday night game. That really brings it home, doesn’t it?]

Are you entertained?

At the end of the day that is the point of the exercise. Yes, watching them can be a frustrating experience, but it is why we are frustrated that is fascinating. You want superstars in their prime? And rookie phenomes? And young emerging talent rising into greatness? Solid line play on both sides of the ball? Big splash plays on both sides of the ball? Solid coaching?

The 2017 Steelers can maddingly underachieve at times, but are still being recognized in many corners as the best team in football (and in others as the second best in Pennsylvania). When watching the Bengals game with Homer, we both noted that it was such good football. The Kansas City game was like that as well. We are being treated on a fairly consistent basis to the type of play that causes us to count the days to training camp in March, April and May. Compelling, competitive and best of all, they won all the games we would prefer them to win.

They swept their division match ups and gaining a stranglehold on the title. They played the team recognized as the best and dominated them in their home stadium, establishing they have the capacity to beat anyone anywhere. You don’t want to miss watching this team play. And we’re pretty certain we haven’t seen their best work yet.

Better news

Tony Dungy declared Pittsburgh the most complete team in the conference, and likely the league. They are solid in both the breadth and depth of their talent. There aren’t any Cam Thomas types on this squad. The outcomes from free agent moves and trades are uneven, the jury being out on McDonald and Coty Sensabaugh. On the other hand, Joe Haden, Tyson Alualu and J.J. Wilcox appear to be solid wins. And OMG, Mike Hilton!

The Haden situation deserves special attention. I have contended that the environment created by head coach Mike Tomlin could prove an advantage in the marketplace. If money is your guide, Haden had better offers than Pittsburgh (Martavis, please take note), and chose the Steelers to the delight of all parties.

Then there is the blossoming of previous investments. For example, the jury is in on Al Villanueva. As spectacular as the play of others has been, Chris Hubbard gets my vote for MVP of the second quarter. He and B.J. Finney are unnoticed when they are playing, the best compliment you can give to an offensive lineman. Hard to criticize Ryan Shazier, Bud Dupree, Anthony Chickillo or Vince Williams these days, though some have tried. And what about L.T. Walton?

Then there are the anticipated second year leaps from the likes of Javon Hargrave, Sean Davis, Artie Burns and Tyler Matakevich. And then something developed that I don’t think many people anticipated. We patted the Steelers brain trust on the back for the success of the 2016 draft/free agent class. The top three picks (Burns, Davis and Hargrave) all became solid starters on an established playoff team. And it was noted how hard that is to do given Pittsburgh perennial low draft position. So, who thought the 2017 draft class (so far) would be better?

Cancer survivor and local college star James Connor, rocket scientist Joshua Dobbs, JJ Watts’ kid brother T.J., and a 20-year-old named JuJu were all great human-interest storylines. And, so the thinking went, if only one of these guys could give us as much as we got the first year from Javon or Sean then we would be in great shape.

Well, little T.J. has kept Deboo off the field and is an emerging star. Sweet! And then JuJu comes along, knocks T.J. out of the headlines, Martavis to margins, and is arguably more entertaining than Antonio Brown. What happens when he’s old enough to buy a drink? (How do you recognize JuJu’s bike? The training wheels). Now lie to me and tell me you saw this coming. Because of this a roster spot has become precious (significant contributors from previous seasons Jordan Dangerfield and Fitz Toussaint are languishing on the practice squad), a helmet on game days even more so, and playing time is life and death.

This fact alone would seem to be at the root of whatever discontent is currently simmering on the team. And this situation is exaserbated by the best news of all.

This team is healthy

The biggest injury concern for the entire first half of the season is Marcus Gilbert’s hamstring and Stephon Tuitt’s sore back. Really? Whatever rituals you are into, please don’t stop. So, this is how different things have become. One of the members of the 2017 draft class, cornerback Cameron Sutton, has been chilling on IR, but is now all better and attempting to return to the team. Sutton has two problems. The first is trying to climb aboard a moving train, difficult enough. The second is that currently, there really aren’t any seats on the train.

When he went on IR everyone was hoping to see him back mid-season because he showed such great promise and pass defense is the glaring weakness standing between the Steelers and glory. Except, it’s not.

Until this past Sunday the Steelers were the best in the league, which must have been annoying as hell to those ‘yes, but’, entitled snowflakes who imagined riding that train all the way to Tomlin’s pink slip. So, here’s the question—if Sutton manages to board the moving train, who gives up playing time for him? Mike Hilton? William Gay? Joe Haden? Sutton may have to Tanya Harding someone. That’s what it’s come down to these days.

“Good times. Really. But if you really want something to worry about. Indianapolis is next. Trap game, right?

18 comments

  • It’s good to have you back.

    But…does this mean you’re injury prone? Are you done for good, like Deebo, Will Gay, Ben and anyone else who has a bad day or misses a game or is over the age of 25? Are you a distraction now? Imagine the complete unknown we could get for you if we traded you for a rookie who had a good day on a college newspaper!

    It was a revelation to me to meet Seahawks fans. They cherish their best players, love their coaches, enjoy their games and are happy to win even when they “win ugly.” I guess a real Steelers fan would say they were the worst fans in football, band wagon, ignorant and arrogant all at once. 🙂

    Thanks for making me excited about this team all over again.

    I hope Dan Rooney approves of this message! Go Steelers!

    Earthling

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  • The above was me btw

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  • To me the most unconscionable thing is Steeler “fans” who seem to hope that the team will fail, and thereby validate their criticisms of players, coaches and management…

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    • I’ve never gotten that. There seems to be a small but vocal contingent whever there are a lot of fans commenting who delight in pointing out the shortcomings of the team, coaches, what have you. Should the Steelers ever play a “perfect” game—say, beating New England 77 to 3, with Tom Brady at quarterback, some of them would still find something to criticize, and some of them would disappear until the next sub-par game (even if they win.) It’s just weird to me. I would think they would be happier as Browns fans, honestly. Maybe we could trade them for some of the long-suffering, loyal Cleveland fans…

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’ve always found real nobility in the way Lions or Browns fans can stay loyal and keep cheering even when their teams will most probably lose. I’ll admit that I was NOT a Steeler fan in grade school because at that time they were awful. Most us adopted another team — mine was the Rams because of those helmets!

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        • cold_old_steelers_fan

          I started cheering for the Steelers because they were awful and I felt sorry for them but then again, I have always been a little different.

          Liked by 1 person

  • And thank you Rebecca for pointing out that SIghts and Sounds feature on Steelers.com. As many times as I’ve been there, I never noticed those. I’m barely restraining myself from spending the whole morning working backwards to watch them all. But after yelling “That’s LaMarr Woodley! That’s LaMarr!” a few dozen times, I think I’m done for the day. What a great feature. Maybe I’ll learn what the young guys look like without helmets, but I’m especially happy to hear Billy and Tunch. For a while, they were all I had of Steelers football and I miss them.

    Did Ivan include, btw, the weird hatred Steelers fans have for any player who leaves the Steelers? LaMarr seemed almost impossible to dislike, as a player and a person, but he was routinely trashed. For injuries and trouble recovering from them. Whie being paid a lot of money as if the two were related. How unforgiveable.

    Earthling

    Oh and Ivan, despite the 7,000 things Rebecca does extremely well on a Will-Gay-like consistent basis, we should fire her if she doesn’t cut your salary. I”m not sure why either should happen but I’m angry and disgusted and I’ve been a fan of this team for X number of years.

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  • Re Juju: “Now lie to me and tell me you saw this coming.”

    Okay. But it’s no lie. We DID see this coming. Maybe not with the bike and Kamehameha and Hide and Seek, but we DID see it coming. You did. Homer did. And Rebecca did.

    We read the USC reviews of Juju, and what Swannie said about him. We saw the NCAA highlight packages. We read about how he excelled at the OTA’s and how he had become Hines Ward’s pup. So he and Hilton were the two guys we were really amped up about.

    Just one look, as the song goes, was all it took. One look at the size and strength and fluidity. The first time we laid eyes on him at Latrobe, we could see the signs that he was “that kid.” He was doing the difficult things with an almost effortless ease and grace. Then we read how Hines said he was like a sponge, asking all the questions and focusing on the fine points. And how Ben was actually trusting the rookie.

    Gotta be honest: the pick caught us off guard. Never expected a WR at 62 with all the secondary needs. But once we looked into it,
    it made perfect sense. And the more we saw, the more we liked and the more we expected.

    Homer never expected a rookie to ever capture the imagination of Steeler Nation the way Franco did in 1972. Homer was wrong. But he still saw the Juju train coming down the track, and knew it was something very special. And so did you, Ivan, because you said so back in August while they were still at training camp.

    Fess up. You knew he was more than just a keeper.

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    • Well, yeah you’re right. Who says going to training camp has no value? But, as you also mention, and speaks to a slightly higher truth, picking a wide receiver that high in the draft and expecting him or any other newcomer to be contributors of great significance more or less immediately on a title contending team that was already loaded with great young talent seemed a wee bit counter intuitive. But no surprise in the outcome if you were at Latrobe and had eyes.

      So, Bill, COSF and others who have contemplating making the pilgrimage camp, it is a simple pleasure worth considering, and you would be surprised how beautiful that part of Pennsylvania can be in the summer. And, note to Earthing, it’s cheap. This is important because Rebecca has many virtues, however she is quite merciless with compensation. So let’s keep my being injury prone on the down low for now.

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      • Oh great, another disgruntled employee. I suppose Ivan wants to get “hisses” (the equivalent of “mines”, I presume.) Well, I’m never trading you, Ivan, so just suck it up. I’ll try to make it up to you : ) And if some hot-shot writer from California comes along, I expect there are still enough words for all of us…

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      • cold_old_steelers_fan

        The pilgrimage beckons but, for the next few years at least, I will not be traveling to the USA.

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        • Don’t blame you unfortunately.

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          • cold_old_steelers_fan

            Yeah, it was a tough call. Some friends were celebrating their 25th in Minneapolis. It was going to be all weekend, with live music (The Duhks), and a rented riverboat and more but my wife and I thought it over and decided we were no longer comfortable traveling to the USA. We will see how things go the next few years.

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      • I need to.just put it on the calendar in the spring and do it. This past camp snuck up on me so fast that I blinked and it was over. Kind of like how this season is going. Seems like the first game was last week….

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  • yeah that really surprised me to. But I already knew that six out of eight games were against top ten defenses

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