If you don’t mind drinking your wins out of a crumpled brown paper bag, then the Pittsburgh Steelers are serving up plenty of victory ripple for you this year. You know what they say, ugly always looks better after a few drinks.
Add to this the news the Steelers will be playing against backup quarterbacks for the next two critical away games against their division rivals and you can start lining your pockets with four leaf clovers.
First up are the Cleveland Browns whose Dorian Thompson-Robinson steps in for their starting quarterback Deshaun Watson.
The last time Thompson-Robinson played a full National Football League game was against the Baltimore Ravens October 1st, where he barely broke the 50 percent completion mark, suffered three interceptions, and ended up with a 25.7 quarterback rating.
No wonder the Browns are looking to bring Joe Flacco back from the recycling bin.
And with news that Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow is out for the season as well, the Steelers defense are licking their chops like they’re five booths deep into a rib cookoff.
If ever there was a chance for the Steelers to sneak some gumballs out of the post-season contention jar, that moment is now.
The only bright side for a Cleveland Browns team that hasn’t experienced true sunshine for many years now is they currently boast the league’s best defense, at least statistically.
Considering the Steelers refusal to put meaningful points on the board this season, this could end up being an absolute Brown Bag special of a game.
Bring on the parade of prancing punters.
Who needs offense anyway? Let’s give it a Spin.
The Beautiful Game
It’s been a common refrain among Steelers players and coaches that “who cares how you win, just as long as you win.” There are no beauty points in football, they would say. Just win, Baby and other famous Al Davis quotes.
I would counter argue this point vehemently. Winning ugly is not sufficient for Steelers fans. Winning the Steelers way is the only way for us to gain victories without deep nausea and mind-aching hangovers.
That’s because beauty is in the eye of the beholder. And Steelers Nation is beholding to a type of beautiful play that perhaps few other teams would ever covet.
You see, unacceptable, whether it’s a win or loss is allowing for a Steelers defense to be trampled over in any NFL match. If you have your skinny guys run sprints past us for deep passes, we might just give that a pass.
However, it is never permissible for a Steelers defense to be run over like a sunburned tourist at the Running of The Bulls in Pamplona. We don’t care what the score is. It’s always utterly unacceptable.
The same holds true for our offense. The Pittsburgh Steelers way is that we get our way with opposing defensive lines. We want our big fellas to be stealing the lunches from their counterparts. We think being a bully is a really good thing.
The brand matters. Steelers football.
Which is why our special brand of beautiful has been the most welcome development in the team’s recent success.
A running game at last? Bowling over the opposition with both of our running backs? Impressive, pile driving line play? Are you kidding me?
Now…that’s beautiful! So too, is a defense that is able to smack down opposing linemen and running backs. Elandon Roberts? Way to go, sir. That’s how you get all Gandalf and say, “Though shall not pass!”
Winning matters. So does beautiful victories. The Steelers way.
Welcome Back Jack
Speaking of linebackers, one player I was disappointed to see let go last March by the Steelers was Myles Jack. Upon his arrival as a free agent, he made a significant impact for the Steelers in quality of linebacking play.
It’s understandable for contract reasons and roster space that the Steelers front office might have decided to part ways with him at the end of last season. But now that Jack has been officially waived from the Philadelphia Eagles his return to Pittsburgh would be most welcome.
Is he the player he once was? No. There’s a reason he didn’t start in Philly. But can he fill a considerable gap in the Steelers defensive depth chart while effortlessly jumping right back into the defensive scheme. You bet.
Don’t be surprised if this sneakily ends up being one of the better free agent reacquisitions the team has completed in years.
Almost Feel Sorry
I have a friend from the United Kingdom who had the particularly bad fortune years ago of visiting Cleveland and then being invited to a Browns game.
As is typically the case for foreigners, the first team they watch live and in person becomes the one they adopt as their own. Now, my poor friend has claimed to be a suffering Browns fan ever since.
I’ve done all I can to provide an intervention and welcome him to Steelers Nation for a much happier rest of his life, but so far, he’s been clinging onto futility like all of the other depressed Browns fans. He’s an Arsenal fan as well…so misery is his company.
With Deshaun Watson’s season-ending injury, his acquisition has blatantly become yet another doozey in a long list of horrible decisions by Browns brass. If that wasn’t the worst trade in National Football League history, then please enlighten me as to what was.
Forget about the public relations disaster of all time in limousining Watson into town along with all his personal demons. Just look at the trade on its own demerits.
In exchange for Watson, who was doggie paddling in a pond of legal issues and controversy, Cleveland gave up three first round picks in 2022, 2023, and 2024 as well as a 2023 third-round and a 2024 fifth-round pick. So far, in return for this lofty investment, Watson played terrible last year, and hardly at all this year. He’ll enter next season as a 29-year-old in a sport engineered for the young.
This is after many years of the Browns squandering high first round draft picks on players like Baker Mayfield, Johnny Manziel, Brandon Weeden, and Brady Quinn.
Should have kept Baker.
When Steelers fans complain about the slow progress of Kenny Pickett this year, always remember this:
We could have been Cleveland Browns fans.
Finding Middle Ground
Speaking of Kenny Pickett, there’s a vibrant inquisition throughout the league regarding how poor the Steelers offense has played this year. How could a team be 6-3 with such an anemic attack?
The Steelers are the fourth worst passing team in the league, only surpassed in incompetence by the New York Jets, Arizona Cardinals, and New York Giants. It should be noted that all three of those teams were forced to play significant parts of their year with auxiliary quarterbacks.
So why is the Steelers passing offense so weak? It’s become a chicken or the egg conversation. Is it Kenny Pickett or his offensive coordinator Matt Canada who is most to blame? Or should both the chicken and the egg get fried?
My observation is that clearly Pickett is not taking the league by storm…like C.J. Stroud, Brock Purdy, Joe Burrow, Justin Herbert or Jalen Hurts in their early days.
(By the way…what a quarterback draft it was in 2020 when Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa, Justin Herbert, Jordan Love, and Jalen Hurts were the first five selected that year).
Yet, even though Pickett is not proving to be a fast study, I believe it’s much truer that the cause of his challenges are the plays he’s being asked to execute.
An analyst shrewdly pointed out recently that Purdy has it much easier in San Francisco with Kyle Shanahan designing the offense than Pickett has in Pittsburgh.
In Purdy’s case, the play design allows for him to consistently target wide open running backs and short crossing receivers (who then do the heavy lifting with yards after the catch.)
Have you seen the route running of the Steelers receivers? It’s as if almost every attempt Pickett is being asked to throw requires him to complete the most difficult pass in the NFL…which are sideline flats against tight coverage.
It’s no wonder his pass completion percentage and ability to convert third downs has been a struggle this year.
Why is the middle of the field become the Devil’s Triangle in Steelers offensive design? It’s been a no-fly zone for years, and it’s become the most bizarre of mysteries.
Perhaps a return to the field by TE Pat Freiermuth will be accompanied with a return to more sanity in play design.
300 Pound Difference
There is no doubt the Steelers run offense has taken a highly positive turn the last couple of games. Jaylen Warren’s underdog efforts have always warmed the hearts of Steelers Nation, yet Najee Harris is also proving the point that he can burst through a hole as long as he’s not hit three times before reaching the line of scrimmage.
What’s been the big difference these last couple of games?
There’s no doubt. It’s first round draft pick Broderick Jones. His pulling tackle play against the Green Bay Packers was the most beautiful big man splash this team has witnessed since the days of Hall Of Famer Alan Faneca doing his pulling and destroying of yesteryear.
It’s a reminder of an important lesson when it comes to drafting offensive linemen with high picks, something the Steelers haven’t done enough of in recent years.
The lesson is that one super talented player chosen high in the draft can significantly elevate the play of the entire line. You don’t need five superstars (although what’s stopping us?) to make an impact.
Too many years. Too many wide receivers.
Moving forward, let’s hope the Steelers prioritize bringing in the big guys on both sides of the line.
Sadly, this game has all the ingredients of a huge Pittsburgh Steelers letdown. Without an NFL-ready quarterback, the Steelers should be able to go into Cleveland and break about 70,000 hearts.
Yet, the Browns defense is not just number one this year, they’ve been performing far above the second ranked unit in the NFL. They have been dominant.
When you combine this with the Steelers predictable ineptitude on offense, it could be a Molotov cocktail of misery for Pittsburgh.
One thing is certain. Emerging running game or no, this won’t be a leisurely stroll through the Cleveland park.
Throw in there the always entertaining undercard of Myles Garrett vs. T.J. Watt and hurry up and grab your popcorn…the show is about to begin.
Winning ugly? That might be the only choice this Sunday. Are you ready for some serous ol’ time football? Looks like we’ll be brown bagging it again this weekend.