Pittsburgh Steelers 2018 First Quarter Report
Photo via Steelers.com
By Ivan Cole
A Friendly Reminder
Watching the Steelers during the first quarter of the 2018 season has been a dispiriting experience. That being said, let me remind you of points made in the season preview and elsewhere which warn about the weight that is placed on early season performances. Off the top of my head, here are some of narratives that we have been treated to over the course of the first month of the season:
- After a loss to Jacksonville, the New England Patriots were declared washed up They have, as of this writing, won their past two games, including an impressive win over the, then, undefeated Miami Dolphins.
- Based upon that same performance, the Jaguars were anointed a beast in the AFC. The following week they managed to score all of three points against Tennessee.
- Beware the Ravens after they thumped Buffalo in the season opener, then promptly went to Cincinnati and lost.
- The Bills, after being slaughtered in their first two games, were declared the worst team ever, and then they went to Minnesota.
- With quarterback Jamais Winston suspended for the first three games Tampa Bay was supposed to be in deep doo-doo. Not.
- Philadelphia is going to cruise right back to the Super Bowl.
- The Steelers looked bad against Kansas City, and how good could the Chiefs possibly be?
- The New York Jets are on their way!
- The Steelers are toast. Fire everybody.
Blah, blah, blah. Please don’t misunderstand. There are some significant problems and a lot not to like about this team so far. My point is that it is still too early to put any team either in the top ten of the 2019 draft, or a lock to go deep into the playoffs. What passes for genius in the NFL’s business model seems to shrink hourly, but the Any Given Sunday mantra has largely held firm.
So, here is my take on the current state of the Steelers—I don’t like their attitude. Unlike those who see this as primarily a coaching concern, I am more inclined to believe that this may represent the shadow side of Rebecca’s Character Accounts assessments.
In football you underestimate the value of belligerence at your peril. This may not always manifest in overt acts of violence or dirty play on the field—rather, it is a meanness of spirit that delights in the destruction of an opponent. This doesn’t preclude being civil, even friends after the fact.
Right now, the Steelers are a bit too ‘Christian’ for my taste. Too much talk by Tomlin and others of how well the team responds to being punched in the mouth. True enough. But how about we find out how the other team responds when they’ve been punched in the mouth. Hard. Continuously. Early and often.
As Homer J is often fond of saying, let’s hear the wailing and lamentations of their women as they are being throttled on the field of battle. I am not questioning their toughness or their discipline. To my eyes they are insufficiently ruthless. All too content with their ability to get up off the floor and counterpunch. To Hell with that. Drag them off the bus, beat them bloody and take their lunch money.
To be sure, the evolution of the league has created challenges in promoting that approach. One of the more soul killing moments of last season was when JuJu Smith-Schuster was given a one game suspension for giving Vontaze Burfict the thrashing he richly deserves. And the rules are clearly trending away from mean, but clean, play.
However, there may well be another element at play here as well too. If I may be a bit indelicate, we have a deficit of assholes on this team. Obviously, you can go too far in this direction (read: Cincinnati), but let’s get real. Historically, where would the Steelers be without (Mean!) Joe Greene, Jack Lambert, Greg Lloyd, Joey Porter, Hines Ward, James Harrison, Willie Colon and so forth? With the current crew, is there anyone who you would get nervous about them hanging around your sister or liquor cabinet?
Ben Roethlisberger the Scoundrel has given way to Ben the Family Man. JuJu is being neutered in his crib. Maurkice Pouncey has been derided by a certain class of fan as being a ‘thug’ (and what’s your point?). Al Villanueva, a 6’9” Army Ranger and combat veteran, is considered to be such a nice guy. Wouldn’t the competitive situation be better served if he took to wearing a bayonet strapped to his thigh, and rumors were dropped of him experiencing flashbacks?
Perhaps the one individual with the proper attitude might be Antonio Brown when he’s assaulting water coolers. You go AB!
Let me offer a few more considerations to watch as we move into the second quarter. With all due respect to JuJu and James Connor, both of whom I believe have the chance of being very good players, they are not (yet) Martavis Bryant and Le’Veon Bell. Until they can prove that they can beat me, if I am an opponent I am going to sell out to thwart Ben and AB. I like Ryan Switzer, got nothing against him, but he becomes the go to guy instead of Vance McDonald, Jesse James, James Washington, James Connor, Justin Hunter, Darius Heyward-Bey, Steve Ridley, JuJu, Jaylen Samuels, Roosevelt Nix. Are we saving these other weapons for the holidays?
Two things to remember about the defense: Defense is ensemble work. Like the offensive line, a breakdown in one place can make the whole unit look like crap. This is probably why Dick LeBeau was not particularly a fan of young players. Considering the integration of new personnel, and the youth of some (Morgan Burnett, Jon Bostic, Terrell Edmunds, Cam Sutton), the idea that the Steelers could experience significant positive evolvement without radical alteration of personnel or scheme may not be the lame alibi it may appear to be it the moment. Instability and disruption with players is more of a problem than it appears.
While the team hasn’t suffered any catastrophic losses thus far (not counting Nat Berhe being place on IR this week), there have been games lost by starters and other key players (David DeCastro, Joe Haden, Marcus Gilbert, Vance McDonald, Morgan Burnett, Ramon Foster, Vince Williams). Not to mention the big wooly mammoths in the room —Ryan Shazier and Le’Veon Bell. With major performance and leadership roles being placed on the likes of T. J. Watt, JuJu, Connor, Sean Davis, Artie Burns, etc., it is no exaggeration to say that besides Ben and a handful of others, this is a relatively young and inexperienced (relative to playing together) team.
It will take a little more time to determine who they are, for good or for ill. It’s time to explode a myth: Steelers fans are not nearly as knowledgeable as we assume.
This was not always true. But I believe that the fruit of decades of privilege and entitlement may finally be taking its toll. When I was with Behind The Steel Curtain I had a bizarre exchange with a fan who insisted that the Steelers must win the Super Bowl every single year, and that anything less than that was totally unacceptable. Understand, his position was not aspirational, but an outcome that should and must happen with anything less being an unacceptable failure that would require firings (Duh!) and all manner of other punishments. This would be equivalent of saying that a baseball player who didn’t hit safely in the majority of his at bats (.501 or better) was failing.
I believe we have reached that point with a rising number of fans in Steelers Nation. I find I increasingly favor spending time with more casual fans who are happy when the team wins or plays competitively. I wonder why some of the more ‘dedicated’ fans even bother to watch. They don’t seem to enjoy the experience much.
Referring to the things listed earlier in this piece, a myopic (or is it narcissistic) worldview distorts the fact that if you payed just a little more attention it would be clear that the problems the team is trying to address are not at all uncommon to the profession.
A question: Is not the underlying assumption of a ‘Trap’ game that it is impossible for an opponent to win a contest save for the underperformance of the favored team? How arrogant is that? All of this to say that, yes, the Steelers have some issues, but as the saying goes, they pay the other guys too, and teams like the Chiefs and even the Browns performed better in September than I’m guessing many expected. The story of this season has yet to fully unfold.
Thank you for this, Ivan. I apologize to everyone for the complete silence the last four weeks. As I hinted earlier, life has been trumping football in a big way, to the extent that I haven’t watched a single game, with the exception of part of the second quarter of the Tampa Bay game. The only reason I watched that was I was waiting for a plane to board. (Ironically, this was in the Baltimore airport.)
Not everything happening in my life is bad, but it is quite demanding of my time and attention, and I don’t know if/when this is going to change. To those of you who have faithfully followed us, thank you, and I hope to be able to reward your interest with more extensive coverage one of these days. In the meantime, I hope I am going to at least be able to resume watching games. I miss my Steelers, even in a disappointing season…