Blame JuJu? If Steelers Go One & Done vs Browns “They” Will Say “Its All Smith-Schuster’s Fault”

The Steelers are set to take on the Browns in an AFC wildcard game at Heinz Field on Sunday night, but if you think Cleveland is in trouble thanks to several players and head coach Kevin Stefanski being placed on the COVID list, guess again.

  • Pittsburgh is the squad in serious jeopardy of going one and done. Again.

Why?

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers vs Saints, JuJu Smith-Schuster fumble

Two years ago JuJu Smith-Schuster’s fumble doomed the Steelers. This time it could be his mouth. Photo Credit: Butch Dill, AP via Tribune Review

While speaking virtually with the media during the week, Steelers receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster infected his squad with something even worse than COVID; he plagued Pittsburgh with negative bulletin board material that the Browns will surely use as an elixir to cure what ails them ahead of their first postseason game in 18 years.

“Nah, I think they’re still the same Browns that I’ve played every year,” Smith-Schuster said in a quote courtesy of CBS Sports.com. “I think they’re nameless gray faces. They have a couple of good players on their team. But at the end of the day … the Browns are the Browns. It’s AFC North football. They’re a good team. I’m just happy we’re playing them again.”

  • Ouch…if you believe in such things.
  • I don’t, of course.

Believing in bulletin board material is cute and all, but I don’t think it has any effect on the outcome of a game. Oh, sure, players and coaches might say it gave them extra motivation after a win, but what about all those times a team has lost despite going into a game equipped with bulletin board material?

Funny how bulletin board material is never mentioned after a loss. I guess that’s because the team that didn’t shut up, put up.

  • Either that, or it’s because bulletin board material doesn’t mean squat.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t matter what I think about bulletin board material, because if the clock strikes midnight on the Steelers’ 2020 season this Sunday evening at Heinz Field, the fans and media will have a convenient scapegoat to blame: JuJu’s mouth.

Just like with head coach Mike Tomlin’s interview with Tony Dungy back in 2017 where he mentioned a possible postseason rematch with the Patriots weeks before he knew he’d have to win a rematch with the Jaguars before even facing New England, folks will point to Smith-Schuster’s comments as the reason Pittsburgh lost to the Browns.

If you talk to someone during the offseason, they’ll bring up Smith-Schuster’s virtual press conference. If you listen to sports talk radio next summer ahead of the Steelers reporting to St. Vincents College for training camp (hopefully), they’ll cite Pittsburgh’s lack of focus and lack of respect for the Browns as to why the franchise came up short in the previous postseason.

Again, I think it’s silly, but it’s low-hanging fruit for the media and the masses, and it’s easy to blame intangibles such as quotes and a player’s social media activity than it is to acknowledge that the opposing team was just better on a certain day.

The Steelers and Browns have spent hours preparing for Sunday’s postseason clash, and to think, the outcome could actually be decided by JuJu Smith-Schuster’s perceived lack of respect for the Browns.

Unless the Steelers win, of course.

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Roethlisberger Lets It Rip vs Colts Proving Steelers Right All Along

If you are a Steelers fan who is used to “experts” telling you that you don’t know what you’re talking about, you may have been confused as to why the team kept on trying to grind it out with an ineffective short-passing game during its recent three-game slide.

  • The Steelers went from 11-0 to 11-3, while the offense went from looking unstoppable to seeming totally anemic.
Ben Roethlisberger, Steelers vs Colts

Ben Roethlisberger prepares to let it rip against the Colts. Photo Credit: Chaz Palla

The short-passing attack, one that had clearly been figured out by opposing defensive coordinators, was a bone of contention with just about everyone who watched and covered the team the previous month or so heading into Sunday’s game against the Colts at Heinz Field.

Even while head coach Mike Tomlin, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger were stating that execution was the problem, it appeared that scheme and predictability were the real culprits.

Throughout the first half of Sunday’s showdown against the Colts, Pittsburgh’s offense continued to try to execute its short-passing game vs. yet another defense that didn’t seem all that interested in adhering to social distancing.

  • The receivers were surrounded by defenders with each quick pass, and the offense accounted for a measly 98 yards in the first half.

“Why aren’t they changing anything,” you may have been screaming at your television, as the Colts opened up a 24-7 third-quarter lead. In fact, you may have no longer had a television following Pittsburgh’s pathetic four attempts to score after securing a first and goal from the one.

But, just like that, as if the Steelers were Rocky to Indianapolis’s Apollo when the former switched back to a lefty in the 15th round of Rocky II, the passing game began to open up. Roethlisberger started to go for the deep pass and hit receiver Diontae Johnson for a 39-yard score.

There were more deep throws — including one that led to a defensive pass interference penalty — and everything began to feel different. Roethlisberger’s arm didn’t look so lifeless. His supposedly injured knee didn’t seem so injured. In fact, he even moved around in the pocket a time or two.

Tony Romo, the now famed color analyst for CBS’ number one announcing crew, even mentioned that the Colts’ defenders were starting to back off. They could no longer dare Roethlisberger to beat them with intermediate-to-deep passes because he was doing precisely that.

The Steelers’ 17-point deficit had transformed into a 28-24 victory, complete with an AFC North crown that looked like a mere formality weeks ago before that puzzling slide began.

There was much speculation as to why the Steelers were so reluctant to move on from their short-passing attack that had proven to be quite successful early in the year before it no longer wasn’t.

Was it Roethlisberger’s health? Was it Roethlisberger’s reluctance to stand in the pocket behind a once-formidable line that had perhaps seen its best days? With a playoff berth already secure, were the Steelers simply protecting their most valuable asset at the expense of a few regular-season games?

We may never know for sure. But we do know a problem when we see one. NFL head coaches are fond of telling us that football is a simple game, that it’s not rocket science. Maybe that’s why we get so angry when a simple solution isn’t explored.

The Steelers did in the second half of Sunday’s game what so many fans had been insisting that they must do to get the offense moving again–and it worked.

Take a bow if you’re a Steelers fan who is reading this. Football isn’t so complicated, after all, and the answers to problems are often as simple as they seem.

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The Steelers Will Win the AFC North in 2020. That’s A Great Accomplishment

The Pittsburgh Steelers may already be AFC North Champions, by the time you sit down to read this article. That depends on what the Browns do on Sunday against those hapless Giants, of course.

Steelers 2018 Offensive line, Ben Roethlisberger, Maurkice Pouency

Maurkice Pouncey is keeping Ben Roethlisberger clean. Photo Credit: MyDaytonDailyNews

Even if they aren’t after Sunday’s action, chances are, the Steelers will clinch the title once they likely have their way with the Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on Monday Night Football. If that doesn’t happen, and Pittsburgh loses its third-straight game to fall to 11-3, well, it’s going to happen eventually, right? I mean, it better.

The only way the Steelers can’t win the division is by losing out and Cleveland winning out. Losing out for Pittsburgh would mean a five-game slide heading into the playoffs. I don’t know about you, but I wouldn’t like the Steelers’ chances of doing anything at that point.

  • No, the Steelers will win the North for the first time since 2017, and for this truly great franchise, it will be its 24th divisional crown since 1972.

Winning the division has become so commonplace for the Steelers and their fans, it’s barely even acknowledged anymore when it does happen. Nobody notices when the players and coaches wear their post-clinching division title memorabilia that usually consists of t-shirts and baseball caps. Speaking of which, do you still buy that stuff as a fan? Do you go to your local outlet malls and snatch up all the division championship shirts, hats and banners you can get your hands on, or do you at least do so online?

I’m not telling anyone how to spend their money, but you should. OK, the economy is bad, right now, and I can certainly understand if you don’t want to splurge on that AFC North gear. Fine, but you should still appreciate it. You should cherish it.

  • After all, there are teams out there who haven’t won a divisional title in decades.

The Detroit Lions, for example, haven’t been the kings of their own jungle since way back in 1993, when it was called the NFC Central Division. The New York Jets have only won two AFC East titles since the AFL/NFL merger way back in 1970, with their last one coming in 2002. The Miami Dolphins have only won the AFC East twice since Dan Marino retired in 1999. The Arizona Cardinals have only won their division five times since the merger–and three since moving from St. Louis in 1988.

  • Heck, the Cleveland Browns haven’t won a title since they came back into the league as an expansion franchise way back in 1999.

It’s really amazing when you examine the histories of a lot of franchises and discover just how rare divisional titles are. There are thousands of fans out there who would give anything to be able to buy some division champions memorabilia.

You should, too. For one thing, it really is an accomplishment. Think about it. As a team prepares for its upcoming season, the first thing it wants to do is be better than its divisional opponents. Doing so means your program is better than your closest rivals. The first step for every organization each year is to capture its division. The Steelers are on the verge of doing that.

Also, it’s just really cool to watch a team win something, anything.

And if that’s not a good enough reason, celebrating a Steelers’ AFC North title shows that you’re not taking things for granted. It’s true that the standard is and will always be a Super Bowl. However, you never know when that won’t be the standard any longer. You never know when a true fall from grace will hit any franchise.

  • Enjoy it while you can, because you just never know.

The Steelers will once again run the AFC North. Time to celebrate.

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Steelers Place Vince Williams On COVID List For 2nd Time

Looks like the inside linebacker position will be even thinner for the Steelers as they take on the Bills on Sunday Night Football.

Photo credit: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

Just weeks after coming off the COVID list due to being considered a close contact of tight end Vance McDonald, Vince Williams is back on it again and will miss the game in Buffalo.

The Steelers have seemingly been one of the more responsible teams when it comes to following NFL COVID protocols amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, but that hasn’t prevented them from repeatedly being affected by this issue.

Among those who have either tested positive for the virus or have been deemed a high-risk close contact include running back James Conner, defensive end Stephon Tuitt, running back Jaylen Samuels, center Maurkice Pouncey, special teams coach Danny Smith, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, Williams and McDonald.

As it pertains to the Steelers’ current situation at inside linebacker, Williams’ latest inclusion COVID list seems them paper-thin at the position. The Steelers lost Devin Bush for the year with a torn ACL back in October and will likely be without his replacement, Robert Spillane, who left Monday’s loss to the Washington Football Team with a knee ailment.

The Steelers traded for the services of veteran Avery Williamson shortly after Bush’s injury, and he appears to be the only able-bodied inside linebacker available for Sunday night. Second-year man Ulysses Gilbert III has yet to be activated from the short-term IR due to an injury he’s been dealing with for a while.

The Steelers have some options at inside linebacker, however, including safeties Marcus Allen and Antoine Brooks Jr.

At any rate, the Steelers defense, one that is arguably the best in the NFL, has simply been ravaged by the loss of key personnel in recent weeks. Joining Bush on the season-ending IR list is outside linebacker Bud Dupree, who also suffered a torn ACL in Pittsburgh’s 19-14 victory over the Ravens on December 2.

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Steelers Report Card For 23-17 Loss To The Washington Football Team

Quarterback

In a continuation of a recent theme for the veteran quarterback, Ben Roethlisberger attempted 53 passes. Sure, he completed 33 of them for 305 yards and two touchdowns, but his 5.8 yards per attempt were rather pedestrian, and the passing game as a whole seemed very lethargic–speaking of recent themes. Still, Roethlisberger may have enjoyed a better fate if not for seven more drops by his receivers. There was also the matter of more tipped passes–including the one that was intercepted by former Steelers linebacker Jon Bostic that snuffed out Pittsburgh’s last realistic chance for victory. Grade: C+

Running Backs

If James Conner was worried about being replaced during his absence due to testing positive for COVID-19, he need not worry after Monday’s dreadful performance by his replacements. Benny Snell Jr., Anthony McFarland and Jaylen Samuels rushed for a combined 21 yards. McFarland had a chance to be a bit of a hero when he was the target of Roethlisberger’s pass on fourth and one late in the game. Unfortunately for the rookie, the pass was a bit off and he was a bit lacking in his response to helping his quarterback out. Grade: D-

Tight Ends

Eric Ebron did have seven catches for 68 yards, but there were more notable drops as he appears to be in his own head regarding that annoying flaw. As for Vance McDonald, he wasn’t targeted once. It’s too bad I can’t give these guys brownie points for blocking in the running game. Speaking of which, Ebron gets one demerit for his pathetic excuse for a block on Snell’s failed attempt to score from the one on fourth and goal. Grade: D-

Wide Receivers

James Washington had a great effort on a 50-yard touchdown catch-and-run, which is the only thing keeping me from giving this unit an F. Again, seven more drops, including a few from JuJu Smith-Schuster and Diontae Johnson. Rookie Chase Claypool saw a drop in playing time and didn’t really contribute a whole lot except for drawing another pass interference penalty. Grade: D

Offensive Line

The offensive line again kept Roethlisberger clean for a fifth-straight game, but was that based on ability and talent or the fact that No. 7 now likes to get rid of the football quicker than any passer in the league? If you cite the lack of a running game along with the unit’s 2008-like habit of not being able to get any push on short-yardage plays as evidence, I’d say it was the latter. However, considering center Maurkice Pouncey was out for a second-straight game due to COVID restrictions, I will give the hogs the benefit of the doubt–at least a small one. Grade: C-

Defensive Line

The trio of Cameron Heyward, Stephon Tuitt and Tyson Alualu had a bit of a quiet night, but Tuitt did record one of the defense’s three sacks. Also, the Washington Football Team was limited to just 45 yards on the ground–including 23 on 14 carries for running back Peyton Barber–and that starts up front. Grade: B-

Linebackers

T.J. Watt was his usual disruptive self, tallying one sack and four hits on quarterback Alex Smith. As for rookie Alex Highsmith, filling in for the injured Bud Dupree, he had a decent enough showing for his first-career start. But he’s no Bud as a pass-rusher (at least not yet), and it showed. Robert Spillane had another decent night from the inside linebacker spot and recorded one sack, three tackles and three passes defended before exiting with a knee injury. Avery Williamson took his place and had a rather active night in his own right. Normally, I would say it was a decent evening for both the inside and outside linebackers–and it was–but Watt made two critical errors in the game. The first came when he was called for holding on a fourth and goal play early in the second half that kept a Washington drive alive and led to a touchdown. His second error occurred in the fourth quarter when he had a chance to fall on a fumble that he forced but seemed too intent on scooping and scoring, allowing Washington to recover. Grade: C+

Secondary

The unit came into the night missing cornerback Steven Nelson, who missed the game with a knee injury and ended the night without cornerback Joe Haden, who left in the second half with a concussion. There was no doubt these injuries were a factor, as Washington tallied 296 passing yards and the unit struggled to cover tight end Logan Thomas. Mike Hilton did have an exceptional night and probably would have been the player of the game had the team won. Grade: C-

Special Teams

Marcus Allen was called for roughing the punter early in the game, a penalty that kept an early Washington drive alive. As for return specialist Ray-Ray McCloud, he wasn’t his usual dynamic self. Punter Jordan Berry averaged 44.3 yards on six kicks and downed two inside the 20. Matthew Wright, filling in for an injured Chris Boswell, connected on two extra points and a 37-yard field goal. Unfortunately for the youngster, head coach Mike Tomlin didn’t have enough confidence in him to allow him to attempt a go-ahead 45-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Grade: C+

Coaching

Tomlin isn’t shy about absorbing the lion’s share of the blame when his team doesn’t perform well. His players jumped out to a 14-0 lead and seemed to act as if the game was in the bag after that. Then, there were the mental errors and physical errors. Plenty of blame for the head coach to absorb.

As for the offense, I’ve always been a defender of much-maligned coordinator Randy Fichtner, but his unit failed to pick up a single yard after facing a first and goal from the one. Also, there was the matter of Washington’s defenders bragging that they figured the Steelers’ offensive tendencies out.

I hate to harp on Keith Butler‘s defense too much, considering the injuries just keep piling up on that side of the ball. But I think the turning point in the game came on Washington’s first drive of the second half. Washington was backed up and faced a third and very long. Washington converted and eventually marched down the field to score a touchdown. That’s how 4-7 teams get back into games and start to believe. Grade: C-

Unsung Hero

Mike Hilton recorded six tackles, including two for a loss. One of those TFL’s occurred in the first quarter when he snuffed out a Washington running play on fourth and one.

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Steelers Undefeated Streak Ends with 23-17 Loss to Washington

The Steelers built a 14-0 first-half lead but ultimately dropped their first game of the season, 23-17, to the Washington Football Team at Heinz Field on Monday night.

Both offenses struggled to move the football early on, but Pittsburgh mounted a 14-play, 72-yard drive that culminated in a three-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to receiver Diontae Johnson to make it 7-0 with 10:33 left in the second quarter.

The offense got the football back in premium field position moments later after Washington went for it on fourth and one from its own 34 and cornerback Mike Hilton stopped running back J.D. McKissic for a three-yard loss.

The Steelers quickly took advantage and ultimately had a first and goal from the one thanks to an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty. The offense was stymied on three-straight tries and decided to go for it on fourth and one. Unfortunately, second-year running back Benny Snell Jr. was stuffed while trying to dive over the top.

The Steelers defense forced a quick three and out, and on the very first play of Pittsburgh’s next offensive possession, Roethlisberger found receiver James Washington for a 50-yard touchdown catch and run to make it 14-0.

The Steelers continued to dominate the rest of the second quarter, but the Washington Football Team found some life on the last play of the first half on a controversial 49-yard field goal by kicker Dustin Hopkins. Just prior to the play, Washington quarterback Alex smith was sacked by Stephon Tuitt. Smith took the football with him as he headed for the sideline, making it a scramble for his team to get the designated kicking football onto the field. With Washington out of time outs and the seconds running off the clock, the officials stopped play to allow Washington time to get things in order.

Washington built on that momentum by taking the second-half kickoff and marching 82 yards on a 14-play drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown plunge by running back Peyton Barber to pull the visitors to within four points.

The Steelers extended their lead to 17-10 on the first play of the fourth quarter when Matthew Wright, filling in for an injured Chris Boswell, connected on a 37-yard field goal.

After the two teams exchanged punts, the Washington Football Team tied the score at 17 on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Smith to tight end Logan Thomas with 9:09 remaining in the game.

The Steelers offense, a unit that had struggled for most of the game, mounted what looked to be a decisive scoring drive, but after things stalled at the Washington 28, Pittsburgh faced a fourth and one with 4:53 remaining. However, rather than trot Wright out to attempt a 45-yard field goal, head coach Mike Tomlin elected to go for it; it was to no avail, as Roethlisberger’s pass down the sideline intended for rookie running back Anthony McFarland fell incomplete.

Washington mounted a decisive drive of its own and took its first lead of the game when Hopkins connected from 45 yards out with 2:04 remaining.

Did the Steelers offense, one that had helped to carry the team to an 11-0 start, have anything left for a comeback? The answer was a quick no; Roethlisberger’s very first pass was tipped and intercepted by former Steelers linebacker Jon Bostic.

Washington added one more field goal to pad its lead and send the Steelers home losers for the first time in 2020.

Roethlisberger completed 33 of 53 passes for 305 yards, two touchdowns and one interception on the day, while the running game was again non-existent, tallying just 21 yards on 14 carries.

On the injury front, both inside linebacker Robert Spillane (knee) and cornerback Joe Haden (concussion) left the game with injuries in the second half and did not return.

Next up for the Steelers, they travel to Buffalo to take on the Bills on Sunday Night Football.

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The Steelers and Their Fans Must Stop Acting Like They Already Own The Bye

Another day, another occasion in which the Steelers and their fans think they’re getting the short end of the stick from the NFL.

  • In fact, for as dramatic and whiney as everyone in Steeler Nation has been lately, you’d think the NFL was smacking the Black and Gold with a giant baseball bat.

As you’re well aware, by now, the Steelers Thanksgiving Night game against Baltimore at Heinz Field was switched to Sunday afternoon due to a COVID-19 outbreak within the Ravens organization. Unfortunately, because Ravens’ players kept on testing positive — including 2019 NFL MVP Lamar Jackson — the contest was pushed back even further to this Tuesday night at 8 p.m.

JuJu Smith-Schuster, Steelers vs Texans, JuJu walk off touchdown

JuJu Smith-Schuster literally walks to a touchdown. Photo Credit: Karl Roser, Steelers.com

The Steelers and their fans have been grinding an ax ever since, insisting that they’re getting screw (and, I guess, beaten with that giant baseball bat). Coming just weeks after losing their mid-season bye due to an outbreak within the Titans’ organization, many are convinced that the NFL is simply out to get the Steelers, you know, the team with awesome ratings and world-wide following?

Another way the Steelers and their fans believe the league is out to get them is a COVID contingency plan that would involve adding one more postseason team to each conference and eliminating first-round byes entirely. To be clear, this is just a contingency plan and would only go into effect if the NFL couldn’t complete its 17-Week regular-season schedule in its entirety.

“How can they do this to us/ the Steelers!” they’ve been screaming. “They’re 10-0, damn it! They’re trying to take our/their bye away!”

The Steelers may be 10-0 for the first time in history. They may be the only undefeated team remaining in the NFL. However, the Chiefs are hot on their tail with a 9-1 record.

Pittsburgh and Kansas City do not play this year. That means, the second NFL tiebreaker to decide the top seed and the AFC’s lone bye (btw, once the NFL added a seventh playoff team to each conference, that eliminated the bye for the second seed) is conference record. The Chiefs have one loss in the conference. Pittsburgh obviously has zero.

  • However, that could all change when and if the team suffers its first loss of 2020.

According to the NFL’s official tie-breaking rules, the third tiebreaker is record against common opponents. After that, it would come down to strength of victory, followed by strength of schedule. I’m not so sure the Steelers, a team with a fairly pedestrian schedule, overall, would want it to come down to any of those tiebreakers.

What I’m saying is, don’t act like the Steelers are entitled to that lone bye, just because they are currently in the pole position to obtain it. We still have six weeks of football left. Anything can happen. Anything often does in the wacky world of professional football.

The NFL may be guilty of a lot of things, but screwing the Pittsburgh Steelers, one of their biggest cash cows, certainly isn’t one of them.

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Undefeated Regular Season or Not, the Steelers will Feel Pressure in Playoffs

I suppose it’s normal for Steelers fans to worry about things like whether the team should lose its first game to, you know, take the pressure off.

Ben Roethlisberger

Ben Roethlisberger. Photo Credit: Mike Ehrmann, Getty Image via The SteelersWire

It’s probably been a common concern throughout history for most fanbases of teams that, like Pittsburgh, have made it through nine games without a single defeat. I get it, you feel the pressure, it’s enormous. It’s like a balloon that continues to expand every week.

  • When will it happen?
  • When will the bubble finally burst?

You need to appreciate what losing feels like. You think the Steelers need to know what losing feels like. You believe this will humble them. You theorize this will provide an opportunity for them to work on things that they may currently be overlooking during their 9-0 start to the 2020 campaign.

But, most importantly, you just think they need to get that first loss out of the way before the playoffs. Does matching the 1972 Dolphins’ feat of going undefeated all the way through the Super Bowl matter? It does if Pittsburgh can actually pull it off, of course.

However, what if the Steelers get through the regular season without a single mark in the loss column–something that only the ’72 Miami team and the 2007 Patriots have been able to pull off in the modern era–but lose in the postseason? That fate befell the ’07 New England team, and it happened in the waning moments of Super Bowl XLII. The Patriots went from 18-0 to 18-no! thanks to former Steeler Plaxico Burress‘s championship-clinching touchdown catch with just seconds remaining.

In many ways, that loss to the Giants shaped New England’s extended championship run–some say it’s the greatest dynasty in the history of professional sports–as much as those six Lombardi trophies.

But at least the Patriots endured that loss in the middle of what would turn out to be an unprecedented Super Bowl era.

  • If the same thing happens to the Steelers, they’ll have no recent Super Bowl victories to hang their hat on.
  • Damn it, they should lose and just get it out of the way!

Why? Do you think the Steelers will feel any less pressure if they enter the postseason with a loss or three on their record?

Former players whose teams got off to similar starts to the Steelers have talked about the enormous pressure they felt and how that all seemed to go away with a loss. But with all due respect to folks who experienced something I admittedly never have, they were going to experience the weight of the playoff moment whether they entered the dance with one loss, four losses or zero losses.

  • I believe the pressure of going undefeated only pertains to the regular season.

Once you’re in the playoffs, the pressure one feels is like the wetness one experiences while submerged in water–wet is wet.

It’s the postseason. It’s do or die. It’s win or go home. When it comes to the Steelers, they always feel the pressure to succeed in the playoffs. And it’s not just making it there and winning a game. It’s not just advancing to the Super Bowl. Nothing but a Lombardi trophy and a parade (excluding this year, I’m guessing) will ever be good enough.

As it pertains to most NFL players, do you honestly think they feel any less pressure as a 13-3 team instead of one that’s “chasing history”? Aren’t all Super Bowl contenders chasing history? I mean, if you enter the postseason with the best record and a bye, folks are going to expect you to exit the postseason with a Super Bowl title.

I don’t know why the Patriots lost in Super Bowl XLII, but I’m pretty sure it wasn’t because they were under overwhelming pressure to go undefeated. Were they asked about their chances of going 19-0 a lot over the course of the season? Yes, but it didn’t seem to get in their way until they met up with a Giants team that had a great front-four that made life miserable for Tom Brady.

While speaking with the media on Wednesday, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said the team’s goal was to win a Super Bowl, not go undefeated.

  • Kudos to him, but that’s how it’s always been in Pittsburgh.

It will be the goal this postseason, as well, whether the Steelers enter undefeated or not.

 

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What Do Steelers Fans Want from Bud Dupree and JuJu? Super Bowls or Draft Picks?

The NFL trade deadline came and went on November 3; the Steelers added more than they subtracted, thanks to acquiring inside linebacker Avery Williamson and a seventh-round pick from the Jets in exchange for a fifth-round pick in 2022.

This was seen as a success by many Steelers’ fans and media members who were a bit concerned about the inside linebacker spot after the season-ending ACL tear suffered by Devin Bush against the Browns back in October.

Bud Dupree, Ryan Finley, Steelers vs Bengals

Bud Dupree strip sacks Ryan Finley. Photo Credit: Matt Sunday, DK Pittsburgh Sports

However, there may have been more than a few fans disappointed by the fact that Pittsburgh failed to part with either outside linebacker Bud Dupree or receive JuJu Smith-Schuster in exchange for some 2021 draft compensation. You see, that’s the new thing now, not only with the fans, but also with the media and, yes, even the teams, themselves.

Both Dupree and Smith-Schuster are in the final year of their rookie deals, and I don’t know how many times I was asked if I thought the Steelers were going to trade the star players before the deadline. In the old days, it was just understood that some players were going to reach the end of their rookie contracts and ultimately depart without anything in return except for maybe a compensatory draft choice.

  • But those days are long gone.
  • Today, everyone thinks they’re owed compensation.
JuJu Smith-Schuster, Chris Lammons, Steelers vs Dolphins MNF

JuJu Smith-Schuster out duels Chris Lammons for the go ahead touchdown. Photo Credit: Barry Reeger, PennLive.com

Again, even the fans are preoccupied with worry about a pending free agent. Instead of being excited about what Dupree and/or Smith-Schuster could do for the Steelers here in 2020 and their quest to finally make it back to the top of the NFL mountain, the sentiment among so many folks leading up to the deadline was: “So, they’re supposed to just let them walk without getting anything in return?”

Yes…at least this season. Pittsburgh is 8-0 for the first time in franchise history. What would you rather have:

  • A 2021 first-round draft choice for Dupree or a Super Bowl?
  • A second-round pick for Smith-Schuster or a seventh Lombardi?

I realize that outside linebacker Alex Highsmith, the rookie third-round pick out of Charlotte, has shown a great deal of promise this year. I also understand how deep the Steelers’ receiving corps is. But can you imagine Pittsburgh’s defense without Dupree and what he has brought to the outside linebacker position opposite T.J. Watt? Can you picture that receiving corps without Smith-Schuster leading the way both on the field and off?

  • As I alluded to already, this isn’t just driven by fans.

In my opinion, they’re taking their cues from the media and even the teams. How often do you hear media members talk about the possibility of getting compensation for a pending free agent? More now than ever, and that’s because NFL general managers and coaches seem to be interested in doing just that.

But while that might make sense for your downtrodden franchises like the currently winless Jets, it makes very little sense for a team like Pittsburgh. Besides, do you think a team like New York is going to part ways with a premium draft choice in exchange for a rent-a-player? No, that team is going to want to stack draft choices, not part with them. And do you really think the Steelers are going to trade a main cog in their machinery to another contender? No, because that would be quite dumb.

Avery Williamson is a free agent after this season, and he’ll likely leave. But that’s okay because he’s just a rent-a-player for the Steelers, one that the team didn’t develop and one that the fans didn’t become emotionally attached to.

Hines Ward, Super Bowl XL, Steelers Super Bowl XL, Antwaan Randle El Hines Ward Super Bowl XL

Hines Ward catches a touchdown pass from Antwaan Randle El in Super XL. Photo Credit: Bill Frakes, Sports Illustrated

  • Dupree and Smith-Schuster, but especially, Smith-Schuster, are different.

I get that, but it still doesn’t change much.

Back in the old days of NFL free agency — for someone my age, that would be the 1990s and 2000s–many Steelers players came and went, but not before leaving behind lots of great memories.

Kevin Greene, a veteran free agent pick up in 1993, gave Pittsburgh three great years and helped the franchise reach Super Bowl XXX, their first trip to the big dance in 16 seasons. But he left for the Panthers after that.

Antwaan Randle El, a receiver who also specialized in punt returns and even a little quarterback from 2002-2005, threw the game-sealing touchdown pass to Hines Ward in the fourth quarter of Super Bowl XL. Immediately after becoming a Super Bowl hero, Randle El signed a lucrative second contract with the Washington Football Team.

  • Can you imagine how that 2005 season may have played out if Pittsburgh was more interested in flipping Randle El for a future draft pick?

I don’t know how the Steeler careers of Dupree and Smith-Schuster will end, but if they leave behind some Super Bowl memories, well, that would be much better than some extra draft compensation.

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Stop Worrying About a Steelers Loss Until They Have One

The Pittsburgh Steelers take on the Dallas Cowboys this Sunday afternoon at AT&T Stadium.

Minkah Fitzpatrick, Lamarr Jackson, Steelers vs Ravens

Minkah Fitzpatrick after batting away Lamarr Jackson’s final pass. Photo Credit: New York Times.

The Steelers (7-0) will face a Dallas squad that will be down to either its fourth or fifth-string quarterback, depending on who starts and where you want to rank the candidates: Cooper Rush and Garrett Gilbert.

That’s right, no Dak Prescott (severe ankle injury), no Andy Dalton (concussion) and no Pittsburgh’s own Ben DiNucci (poor play).

Pittsburgh is a two-touchdown favorite to win this game and improve to 8-0. As far as many are concerned, the Steelers should be doing so well in this contest that Mason Rudolph gets his most extensive work since starting eight games for the injured Ben Roethlisberger a season ago.

I can see that. I can get behind that. I’m fairly confident these Steelers will walk into the JerryDome and leave with a thoroughly enjoyable blowout victory against America’s Team.

But what about the annual Tomlin loss? In case you don’t know, a “Tomlin loss” refers to a defeat, usually on the road, against an inferior opponent. This is the kind of loss folks didn’t see coming early on in the career of head coach Mike Tomlin, but it has become so prevalent over the years — think the Chiefs in 2009, the Raiders in 2009 or the Browns in 2009 (wow, there were many such losses in 2009) — that fans just naturally begin to circle possible candidates on the schedule the moment it’s released every spring.

  • As I already said, I don’t think the Steelers will lose this Sunday.

Unfortunately, the game against Dallas (2-6) marks the first of three-straight match-ups that can only be described as trap games. After the Cowboys, Pittsburgh will take on the Bengals (2-5-1) and the Jaguars (1-6 heading into this Sunday’s action) before the epic rematch with the Ravens on Thanksgiving.

Plenty of opportunities for the fans and the media to worry about and speculate on the possibility of the team’s first loss of 2020. After all, if it’s going to happen, it’s going to happen against a team that Tomlin will not have his players ready for.

  • What is it with this attitude?

I’m not trying to be all rah rah about the Steelers. I get that it’s natural to always think about the worst-case scenario, but my goodness, Pittsburgh is 7-0 for the first time since Star Wars was gripping the nation, and all we can talk about is a possible first loss?

If you’re looking at 1978 (the year I alluded to in the previous paragraph) in a superstitious manner, the Steelers first loss really should happen this Sunday in Dallas. The eighth game was when the eventual Super Bowl champions suffered their first defeat in ’78.

  • And, get this, it was against a team from Texas: The old Houston Oilers.

If it’s not in Dallas, surely it will happen against the Bengals and their stud rookie quarterback, Joe Burrow. OK, but these are the Bungals, right? No way Pittsburgh will give up its chance to make history by losing to them. Fine, but those Jags are always a pain in the butt.

Maybe it will happen over these next few games, but I don’t think we need to sit around and worry about it. One thing these 2020 Steelers seem to be is extremely focused. Yes, many games have been a little too close for comfort, so far, but, believe me, Pittsburgh isn’t alone in that category.

  • The NFL is a tough league, and that’s what makes the Steelers start so remarkable.

Enjoy the ride. Will a loss happen? Probably–the odds suggest that it will happen sooner rather than later. However, that’s for the Steelers to worry about.

As for you, just enjoy those undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers.

Not many NFL fans get to do that in November.

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