A lot changes in one week in the NFL. Seven days ago the question facing the Steelers was whether Ben Roethlisberger could shake off the rust. Today the Steelers defense looks like a sieve, and Pittsburgh is momentarily last in the AFC North.
And to make things worse, this was a week of 10-12 hour work days, which means no blogging so instead here are 4 Random Thoughts on the Steelers 2018 season thus far.
1. The Defense Wasn’t As Bad Against Kansas City as it Was Against Jacksonville
When the outcome of Sunday’s home opener against the Chiefs became apparent, fans rushed to compare it to the January disaster against the Jaguars. That’s not an accurate description.
- The Steelers defense wasn’t as bad against the Chiefs as it had been against the Jaguars. It was worse.
Jacksonville’s defense scored a touchdown. The Steelers offense also gift-wrapped another. Kansas City got no such stocking suffers from the Steelers offense, although Danny Smith’s special teams did set up the Chiefs first touchdown.
But when comparing the two games consider this:
- Sean Spence was playing whereas a month before he’d been out of football.
- Javon Hargrave was hurt, and played very little, yielding to L.T. Walton.
- Injuries forced Stephon Tuitt to play with essentially one arm.
- Mike Mitchell was manning the deep safety slot.
Since that awful January performance, the Steelers have signed Jon Bostic, cleaned house in the secondary, bringing in Morgan Burnett and Terrell Edmunds. John Mitchell has gone upstairs replaced by Karl Dunbar, while Carnell Lake has left (and no, I don’t entirely buy reports that Lake left on his own) and Tom Bradley has taken his place.
T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree have switched sides. Players like Mike Hilton, Cam Sutton and Artie Burns have had another year to develop and mature. Oh, and Pittsburgh has had a full off season to work on the “communication problems” that plagued Keith Butler‘s defense.
- As Cam Heyward reminded, there IS a lot of football left to be played.
But thus far the Steelers defense appears to be getting worse, not better. The bright side? They have no where to go but up.
2. Antonio Brown’s Antics Are No Longer “Minor Annoyances”
When asked about Antonio Brown‘s Facebook live incident, Steelers President Art Rooney II described it as “minor annoyances.” Against the Chiefs, Browns walked off of the field, and got into shouting matches with Randy Fichtner and wide receivers coach Darryl Drake.
Later this week Antonio Brown explained his outburst as a non-outburst, and offered that his non-outburst was fueled by the fact that the Steelers were losing by 40.
- Except they weren’t, because James Conner was barreling into the end zone with an impressive second effort to tie the game.
All wide receivers want the ball. Hines Ward, Lynn Swann and John Stallworth were no different. Yet none of them became Divas. While Antonio Brown has flashed signs of Diva like behavior in the past, it wouldn’t have been fair to have labeled him as such before.
- Is it fair to label Antonio Brown a Diva now?
Time will tell, but at this point his behavior has passed the point of being “minor annoyances.”
3. Mike Tomlin Has “Lost Control of the Locker Room”
That’s a popular narrative. And to some degree, whenever you’re losing, everything your critiques they say is true. But there’s really not a lot of evidence to support the “locker room is out of control” missive.
- Yes, Antonio Brown is a distraction (see above).
- Yes, Le’Veon Bell‘s absence is an on-going story.
But is there anyone else in the locker room that is a problem child? So far, no. And sure, the Steelers do seem to have serious issues on defense. But let’s keep those in context.
In 1990, Joe Walton arrived, and installed an offense that his players hated and struggled to grasp. The 1990 Steelers went one month without scoring an offensive touchdown. Assistant coaches could be heard screaming at each other through the headsets.
- Even Joe Greene remarked, “I hope this isn’t our identity” when quizzed about Walton’s finesse offense.
There may be some legit issues in terms of the Tomlin-Butler relationship on managing the defense, but 2 weeks into the season, the Steelers locker room has hardly gone rouge.
4. Tomlin and Colbert’s Gambles Look a Lot More Questionable Today
Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin gambled 14.5 million dollars in salary cap space that Le’Veon Bell would be back. That’s 14.5 million that could have gone to the defense. At the time it looked like a wise gamble.
- As of now, the Steelers are getting nothing form that 14.5 million, and next spring all the extra cap space won’t knock any years off of Ben Roethlisberger’s age.
On defense the Steelers gambled that they could bring in Jon Bostic as a stop gap measure and stuck to their guns in the 2018 NFL Draft when they couldn’t get one of the inside linebackers they wanted. The thought was that the Steelers could compensate by deploying extra defensive backs.
- Thus far that doesn’t look to be the case.
But week 3 is only beginning, and there’s still a lot of football left to play.