The 2014 Steelers: What’s Their Identity?

The Steelers are almost halfway through the 2014 NFL season.  This Sunday they’ll play their eighth game versus the Colts in Heinz Field.  Who are the 2014 Steelers?  What is this team’s identity?

Are they good?  No.

Are they bad?  Not totally.

Do they have a dominant defense, a trait that always seems to define the Steelers?  HAHAHAHA, uh, NO.

Do they have an elite offense?  Well, they SHOULD…but they don’t.

This team has played more bad football than good, but they somehow have a 4-3 record, despite playing maybe 7 good quarters of football in 7 games. I feel like the 2014 edition of the Steelers should be subtitled: WTF?

What we do know about the 2014 Steelers:

  • They are MADDENINGLY inconsistent.  Get crushed on a Thursday night in Baltimore while the cloud of the Ray Rice elevator video hangs over the Ravens?  Check.  Go to Carolina a week later and dominate the second half of the game?  Check.  Lose to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at home a week later.  Check.  Have so-called lost cause Mike Adams come into the Texans game and hold his own against J.J. Watt?  Check.  Seriously, WTF is going on here?
  • Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are studs.  They have been the two most consistently good players this season.  Has either had a game where they were disappointing?  I can’t recall one.  Brown continues to be the best receiver in the AFC and one of the best in the league (I’d put Megatron ahead of him, maybe Dez, but no one else) AND a 100% completion percentage to boot!  Bell sure seems destined to be the Next Great Steelers Running Back.  His pass catching abilities only make him more valuable to this offense, even leading Ben to say earlier in the week that he’d like to use Bell more in empty sets.  Ben also said Bell has not yet reached his full potential…this isn’t Bell’s full potential?!  Wow, what does his “full potential” look like?!
  • The offense is underachieving in a big way.  Sure, they rank pretty high in yardage per game, but that hasn’t translated to points.  They seem to freeze in the red zone, which is frustrating to no end.  They couldn’t pick up a first down at the end of the Tampa game (and made a bizarre call on 3rd & 5), which ended up costing them a win.  It looked like they could be an elite offense before the season, but that hasn’t come to fruition yet.
  • LaGarette Blount was a great signing–he’s averaging 5 yards per carry.
  • The defense is bad, but we knew they’d be bad.  The injuries to Ryan Shazier, Jarvis Jones and Ike Taylor didn’t help matters on a defense sorely lacking in depth.  There have been encouraging signs at times, but this defense is not to be trusted.
  • A guy named Bryan McCann is now the #1 cornerback over the guy the Steelers signed to a multi-year contract in the offseason.
  • Dri Archer was a wasted pick.  I like the guy’s speed, but I’m not sure the Steelers really know how to utilize him.  I’m hoping the Archer experiment in the return game is over, as it has not worked out well.  He was a “nice to have” guy, and the Steelers really didn’t have the luxury of wasting a 3rd round pick on a “nice to have” guy when they had so many glaring holes on the roster.
  • Lawrence Timmons is the most underrated player on the roster.  The defense as a whole is bad, but Timmons has played well and doesn’t get talked about a whole lot.  Plus, he had the game-changing vomit against Houston (which did not faze his teammates whatsoever).
  • Cam Heyward continues to develop.  We saw him get better and better last season, and he continues to grow this season.  It’s hard to argue against he and Timmons being the two best players on this defense.
  • The coaching is suspect at times.  This is always a hard thing for me.  Coaches look great when they have great players and look bad when they have bad players.  It’s hard to blame everything on the coaches (though some do) when the players are the ones failing to execute on the field.  Do I agree with all of Todd Haley’s play calls?  Not at all, but I also realize that Haley isn’t the one dropping balls or overthrowing wide open receivers or taking stupid penalties.  Do I think Dick LeBeau’s scheme may be outdated in today’s NFL?  Possibly, but I also think he’s handcuffed by his defensive personnel–I mean, running a 3-4 defense with a mediocre or worse nose tackle is not ideal (we miss you, Big Snack!)  Do I think Mike Tomlin has stumbled at times in the handling of this team?  Absolutely.  But then he makes a genius call on the AB pass play and uses his timeouts correctly in the Houston game, and leaves us all a bit shocked.

What will come of the Steelers in the second half of this season?  I have no idea.  I know that winning one or both of the next two games at home would make me feel A LOT better about this team.  The win against Houston was great, and that was some of the craziest football I’ve ever seen in Heinz Field.  But the fact is, outside of the insane last three minutes of the 1st half where they scored 24 points (spurred by Lawrence Timmons puking on the field, then getting a sack on the next drive), the Steelers didn’t play all that great the rest of the game.  The defense had some nice stops in the second half, but still allowed Arian Foster to score late.  They failed to pressure Ryan Fitzpatrick very much.  The offense was able to score from the red zone when the defense forced turnovers that gave the offense short fields.  However, the offense was still incapable of putting together a long touchdown drive.

Beating the Colts this weekend would be a huge statement for this team.  It’s also a very tall task for a team that allowed Mike Glennon to throw a last-second, game-winning touchdown in Heinz Field.  Andrew Luck is much, much better than Mike Glennon.  In fact, this season Andrew Luck is better than just about anybody not named “Peyton” or “Aaron.”  He’s been outstanding (and has also made me look like a genius for drafting T.Y. Hilton in my fantasy football league).  He can beat a team throwing, running, or whatever the situation calls for.  The Steelers may catch a break this week with Reggie Wayne being out.  He’s still an incredible receiver, despite this being approximately his 35th year in the league.  But as long as Luck’s on the field, this is going to be a tough game for the Steelers to win.  I wouldn’t be surprised if they won—it would fit in nicely with the “WTF?” theme of the 2014 Steelers.  I also wouldn’t be surprised if they got crushed.  Literally, nothing this team could do would surprise me at this point.  This is a team that has accepted and is unfazed by their starting inside linebacker vomiting during games.  How could anything they do be shocking?  They could trade Ben to the Bengals for some of that disgusting Cincinnati chili and while I’d be aghast and angry, I wouldn’t surprised (though I’d be appalled that anyone would actually want to eat Cincinnati chili).

Will we know more about who the 2014 Steelers are after Sunday?  Maybe, though I think many expect a loss and a win would probably be seen as a fluke.  So chances are we’ll still be scratching our heads at this team next week.  I think the Colts will win, but if Lawrence Timmons pukes, all bets are off.


(Photo: ESPN)


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