When you lose a Thursday Night Game in the National Football League the hangover can linger for seemingly ever.
It still seems like a bad trip of a dream that the Steelers were beaten so soundly by the Cleveland Browns by the score of 17-29. The Browns possessed the ball 36:09 minutes out of a possible sixty, although it seemed as if their running backs Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt held onto the ball the entire game.
This was Mitch Trubisky’s best game as a Steeler although the competition for that participation trophy was rather unimpressive. Against the Brownies he barely broke 200 yards passing, and none of those completed catches were in the painted patches of the endzone.
The defense is proving to be defenseless without T.J. Watt on the field and being that over reliant on one player is about as wise as investing all of your life savings in today’s stock market.
This is a team starting to look well south of mediocre and worst of all, they have been at times, generic brand to watch. We are seeking entertainment, after all.
With this funeral dirge of an opening playing in the background, it’s time to talk about the New York Jets flying into town.
The Steelers can only hope they’ll be able to rid themselves of their season starting baggage, or the cacophony of disgruntled fanbase will make themselves heard like never before their hometown stadium, whatever its name is these days.
What’s going to happen in this all-important matchup between two underperforming teams? Let’s give it a Spin.
Let’s Celebrate This
One of the most macabre scenes in the NFL this season will be the sight of Miami Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa being carted off to the hospital this Thursday with another apparent severe concussion, the second in four days. People should lose jobs and bank accounts over the decisions that lead to that young man playing against the Cincinnati Bengals.
You have to feel for Tua, because this is a player who was hearing the “bust” whispers early throughout his career, and this season he was finally enjoying his time in the sun in Miami. You can’t fault him too heavily for wanting to fight through the discomfort and risks to be on the field for his team.
But the Miami Dolphins leadership? Shameful!
It is yet another reminder of how impressively the Pittsburgh Steelers organization cares about its players. Under the leadership of the Rooney family and Head Coach Mike Tomlin you have a strong confidence a player’s future and family priorities will always come first. This should be acknowledged and celebrated.
You would have to be an ill-informed gambler and poor historian to not consider Tomlin an odds-on favorite to turn this team around before the end of the season. Time after time, he’s been able to conjure up ways to perform Young Frankenstein types of surgeries on failing squads so Steelers Nation is able to say yet again, “It’s alive!”
With a brutal upcoming schedule including the likes of the Buffalo Bills, Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Miami Dolphins and Philadelphia Eagles this will be no easy miracle surgery this time around. This might be his greatest turnaround performance ever for Tomlin.
Still, the question that must be posed, and with somewhat of a deep sigh:
Why are we having to turn around a season again at the beginning of a year? Isn’t that what the offseason is supposed to accomplish?
Career In The Balance
As underwhelming as Mitch Trubisky’s performance was against the Cleveland Browns in front of many of his hometown friends and family you must acknowledge this: It did represent progress.
It was his best game as a Pittsburgh Steeler and although he continued to look unhappy in an NFL pocket he was able to deliver several impressive passes, some of which deserved to be caught.
Although much of Steelers Nation is anxious to see if Kenny Pickett is the answer to offensive anemia for the team, you still can admire the spectacle of Trubisky fighting for his NFL career this weekend.
The incredible pressure of entering a stadium with the knowledge that some 95% of those there wished you had another job can not be underestimated. For Trubisky, this Jets game may be the last opportunity he gets in his life to compete for a starting role in the NFL. This, in a league where he was once the second overall draft pick and considered to be one of its brightest new stars.
This is just the fourth game of a long season for most of the Steelers players. But for Trubisky this is the Super Bowl of his career. If he is able to counterbalance the considerable forces working against him, real and imagined, he will be well deserving of any cheers he musters.
Regardless of performance, he’s been a positive member of team and supportive of Pickett as much as anyone else. It’s wicked for us as Steelers fans to root against him.
Believe me, I’ve had to seek penance many times this season already. But the more decent part of me (it’s in there somewhere) is strongly hoping Trubisky experiences a breakthrough on Sunday.
The Steelers have evolved (or some would say devolved) to a team that is no longer in a “championship or bust” mentality. Say what you want about Coach Tomlin but his streak of non-losing record seasons in the NFL is a remarkable achievement.
This alone has put him in an elite status among his colleagues.
Yet this shift from being a “championship winning franchise” to merely a “non-losing franchise” may see its greatest challenge this year and require Tomlin to reach deep into his leadership toolkit.
Fortunately for Tomlin, he has two major Silver Bullets he can fire and each of them are capable of resulting in three game winning streak bursts on their own.
One of these will be the return of A.J. Watt back to the field of play. As long as they make sure he is ready to go, there is no question A.J. will be ready to go and his impact will be immediate and profound.
The Steelers defense has been stumbling and bumbling since he went down, but not so much that a little high Wattage could suddenly render them game-changing once again.
The other Silver Bullet is the one Tomlin has been so reluctant to use to this point and that is University of Pittsburgh legend and Steelers first round draft pick Kenny Pickett.
Tomlin knows (as we all do) that his trot on the field will signal the beginning of another three game resurgence on its own. In preseason Pickett already proved he feels right at home in the stadium he performed in all during his college career.
Unlike Trubisky, he is comfortable in the pocket and will immediately run Matt Canada’s game plan the way it was drawn up. He’ll be able to squeeze whatever water can come out of that rock.
Yet Tomlin also knows that following this three-game resurgence of local fan hysteria (remember Duck Hodges) the rest of the NFL will catch up to Pickett’s strengths and weaknesses and some of initial superpowers will wear off. He’ll have to struggle through being a young NFL quarterback from that point forward.
With the prepondering difficulty of the games coming up in the season, the timing of these two Silver Bullets will have more impact on the Steelers story this season than just about anything else.
Watching The Kettle Boil
We’re only three games into the season, folks. There is plenty of time for a major shifting of fortunes. If this season-long war is to be won, then many key battles will have to be individually victorious.
There is, of course, the aforementioned opportunities for change with Trubisky winning his own personal Super Bowl and proving he can contribute at this level. Then there are the Silver Bullets of Watt and Pickett that could change the team’s field of battle significantly.
There also is the opportunity for Najee Harris to rediscover his rookie season charm and to start playing again like one of the most promising offensive players in the NFL. If he could focus less on defending his offensive line publicly in the news and more on actually running through the holes they are creating for him, the impact could be substantial.
And progress can sometimes be imperceptible, something akin to watching a kettle boil. But one of those areas of growth is with the Steelers offensive line. As unwilling as Trubisky is to remain in the pocket, there has been one created for him on most occasions if he was so inclined to use it properly.
On defense, there are many improvements as well. Although the team has struggled with some individual play against the pass (namely Ahkello Witherspoon) overall the coverage has been rather tightly woven, and we’re no longer having tight ends ripping apart the defense as was the case so many years prior.
Although Terrell Edmunds had a poor game last week, he’s been markedly improved this season and players like Levi Wallace, and of course, Minkah Fitzpatrick are performing at high levels.
The run defense has been disappointing, yet there have been some promising advances by young players like Montravius Adams and DeMarvin Leal earning more playing time and Isaiahh Loudermilk is back to help the cause as well.
Both Myles Jack and Larry Ogunjobi are proving to be excellent additions to the defense and Alex Highsmith is on the brink of NFL stardom, which will mean he’ll be bring his paychecks home in Brink’s trucks before too long.
Losing to the Browns is never pleasant, and having a record of 1-2 is no way to start a championship season, but the water is heating up among the Steelers roster.
Will it rise to a boil? Maybe not this season, but there is much to bank on bright futures.
Leaving On A Jet Plane
All of this is merely Pomp and Circumstance if the Steelers can’t seem to find a way against the New York Jets.
With the schedule showing some serious dark clouds in the near future, Pittsburgh needs to pull this one off or they could find themselves 1-7 before too long, with fans watching more college than professional football as they start trying to find answers on their own.
As important as this home game is on the Steelers schedule, it won’t be easy. The Jets feel they are a team on the rise in terms of their young, talented roster. They too feel their record isn’t reflective of their capabilities.
With teams like the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins in their division, they can’t afford to trip up against the Steelers either at this point in their journey.
Two losing teams. Both with much to lose with a loss.
You wouldn’t have written the script this way for the Steelers this season, but you can’t argue it’s prime time viewing.
Can’t wait to kickoff.