The Steelers comeback win over the Jaguars improved Pittsburgh’s record to 7-2-1 which far better than anyone had the right to expect at the end of September.
- Nonetheless, playoff berths, division titles and, dare we dream for a Bigger Prize, remain a long way away.
At this point a winning record, however likely, is not even a mathematical certainty. As Mike Tomlin might say, it is too early to paint the Steelers 2018 season with “broad strokes.”
But during this six game winning streak, the Steelers have debunked six myths that have been circulating about them since the playoffs ended so abruptly last January. Let’s take a look at them, one by one.
- Myth #1: The Steelers Defense Fell off a Cliff the Day Dick LeBeau Left
- Myth #2: The Steelers did Nothing to replace Ryan Shazier
- Myth #3: There Is No Life for the Offense After Le’Veon Bell
- Myth #4: The Steelers have a Deficiency for Evaluating Defensive Talent
- Myth #5: Big Ben Doesn’t Need Preseason or Training Camp
- Myth #6: Mike Tomlin Still Struggles with Clock Management
Myth #1: The Steelers Defense Fell off a Cliff the Day Dick LeBeau Left
Let’s agree that the Steelers defense was lost for most of September. They couldn’t cover, couldn’t stop teams on third down and couldn’t stop the big play.
- Calls for summary firing of Keith Butler were common place.
Fans debated over whether Butler or Tomlin deserved the largest share of the blame. But perhaps most annoyingly of all, people went on as if the Steelers defense had gotten progressively worse with each day that had passed since Dick LeBeau‘s departure.
- Nothing could have been further from the truth.
Yes, Detroit, give me that Red Zone/Goal Line defense every week, and I’ll keep fantasy owners happy and spot them an extra 100 passing yards.
Myth #2: The Steelers did Nothing to replace Ryan Shazier
This one was just as popular with the press as it was with the fans. And, as the Steelers insisted on listing Tyler Matakevich as the starter going into preseason, the argument was understandable, to a point.
- But the Steelers signed Jon Bostic.
Jon Bostic certainly wasn’t a sexy, day one splash free agency signing the way Mike Mitchell or Ladarius Green was (and how did those work out?) No, the Jon Bostic pickup was more reminiscent of the decision to sign Ryan Clark in 2006 who was intended to serve as a bridge between Chris Hope and Anthony Smith.
Jon Bostic certainly isn’t a dynamic player like Ryan Shazier was, and he may never develop into a pillar on defense the way Ryan Clark did, he is proving to be an asset to the defense.
Myth #3: There Is No Life for the Offense After Le’Veon Bell
Time for a mini-mea culpa. Le’Veon Bell played a huge role in the Steelers offense accounting for nearly 1/3 of its production during his non-injury years, and folks like yours truly never tired of reminding everyone whenever the “Running back by committee” cry got raised.
For however big a role that Le’Veon Bell played in the Steelers offense and numbers don’t lie it was big, 10 games into 2018 and it is clear that he isn’t irreplaceable.
There are no shortage of fans who churn out stats to show the Steelers offense is more efficient with James Conner than with Le’Veon Bell. Those comparisons make for great social media posts, but they’re a bit overstated because James Conner still has to prove he sustain his early success.
But even if that is true, James Conner has shown he is a formidable weapon in this offense. (Again, clutch your rosary beads that he stays healthy.)
Myth #4: The Steelers have a Deficiency for Evaluating Defensive Talent
This is another one that was popular when the embers of the Jaguars playoff debacle still burned brightly.
- And Artie Burns sitting on the bench complicates the counter argument tremendously.
But look at the Steelers defense over the past six games, and you’ll see major contributions coming in from not only stalwarts like Cam Heyward and Stephon Tuitt, but also the likes of Sean Davis, T.J. Watt, Javon Hargrave, Bud Dupree and Terrell Edmunds – in other words players taken when the Steelers defensive rebuild began in earnest.
Myth #5: Big Ben Doesn’t Need Preseason or Training Camp
- It says here that Mike Tomlin is far wiser than I when it comes to knowing how rest players to keep them fresh for the long haul.
But I’m enough of a curmudgeon that I couldn’t resist commenting, “Well, if he only would have practiced more…” back in September.
Myth #6: Mike Tomlin Still Struggles with Clock Management
This site has taken aim at this myth before and gone as far as to praise times when Mike Tomlin has displayed excellent clock management skills. Jim Wexell took up the cause on Twitter:
Might want to check my math but I count 2 finishes and 3 halftimes in which clock management mattered for the Steelers:
– GWTD vs Jax :05 and 1 TO left
– half TD vs Cleve :08 left
– GWTD vs Cin :10 and 1 TO left
– half TD vs TB :06 and 1 TO left
– half TD vs KC :18 and 1 TO left
— James C Wexell (@jimwexell) November 20, 2018
Nonetheless, Mike Tomlin took heat during his weekly press conference over his clock management at the end of the Jaguars game (#ICYMI the Steelers won.) Tomlin gave a long explanation and acknowledged that critics will criticize and then concluded with “I don’t care.”
Neither should you.