The Steelers Aren’t Great, But Do They Have to Be?

By Joe Smeltzer

I’m in no mood to be optimistic about the Pittsburgh Steelers.

If I said that in a bar, (I know the bars are closed right now, but let’s not overanalyze) I’d get a variety of responses, all dependent on each patron’s glass of IC Light.

If the glass of IC Light is half empty, here’s what the patron would say:

“I don’t feel too good about em’ either, ya know? Big Ben, God love him, is gettin old, and them receivers don’t catch the ball n’at. Forget winnin the Super Bowl, Yinz can’t even beat those bums from Washington.”

Now if the glass is half full;

“Yinz are crazy. Nobody has a better record than the Stillers n’at, not even that Patrick Mahomes! They’ll straighten it aht.”

My glass of IC Light is, well, it’s non-existent because I don’t own any cans or bottles at the moment. But if there were, it would be half empty and half full.

Let me explain. With sports, I try to keep my thoughts level. Through 12 games going on 13, there are a lot of reasons to love and hate where the Steelers are.

We love where they are because, with four games left, this team has already matched or exceeded most expectations for 2020. 11 wins in 16 games would have been a good year. 11 wins in 12 games is fantastic. Unless the Steelers play like an eighth grade team with Lindsay Lohan calling plays from here on out, this season will go down as a success, and Mike Tomlin will have a solid chance to win Coach of the Year for the first time.

Here are the problems. The past two weeks, the Steelers have played like an eighth grade team with Lohan calling plays. Tomlin said so, albeit in a much less funny way, after Week 12’s slop fest against the Ravens, calling his team’s performance “junior varsity.” Week 13 against the vaunted Washington Football Team was even worse, ending in the Steelers first loss. So knowing what’s good and what’s bad, anybody who doesn’t see the world as a Black and Gold clad rainbow should agree that the Steelers are a good team, but not a great one.

And maybe that’s OK.

Right now, nobody in the National Football League is great.

It’s not like every year brings around another version of the ’85 Bears, but usually at this point in the season, one dominant team emerges.

Last year, it was Baltimore. Two years ago, it was New Orleans. Three years ago, it was Philadelphia. Only one of those three won the Super Bowl, mind you, but in all three cases, those teams were putting their opponents over their knees and spanking them. Aside from Week 8’s game against Cleveland, the Steelers haven’t really done that at any point this year, unless you count beating on Jake Luton and the 1-11 Jags.

Sure, the Steelers have their problems. But so does everybody else.

Kansas City hasn’t beaten anybody by more than six points since October (The Jets don’t count).

New Orleans has been starting Taysom Hill at quarterback, and Drew Brees is 41 with about a dozen ribs more smashed than a frat boy on St. Patrick’s day.

Buffalo is good and will probably beat the Steelers tomorrow. The Bills defense, however, has underperformed, and their last playoff win was three months before Braveheart won Best Picture.

Didn’t the Packers lose to Minnesota at home? Didn’t the Seahawks fall to Colt McCoy at home just last week?

The Steelers have flaws. They can’t catch the ball. They’re too dependent on Big Ben. They’re defense is elite, but battered. If I had to bet, I’d say those flaws will keep them from winning the Super Bowl. If there was ever a year to be merely “good” and get away with it, however, it would be this one. To paraphrase Jay-Z, Pittsburgh has 99 problems, and so does everybody else.

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