PITTSBURGH (93-7 The Fan) – Here we are, three weeks from the official start of spring, with March Madness, the NHL Playoffs, and another baseball season looming, and we’re talking about what else: The Pittsburgh Steelers.
As well we should be.
This isn’t your usual, “Pittsburgh’s a football town first” kind of vacuum-in-the-sports -world discussion, though.
When you lock up arguably the best wide receiver in the game long-term and ensure the best all-around running back in the game will be coming back for at least one more season of his prime, and that they’ll be joining one of the league’s few remaining great quarterbacks, you’re not just having a great offseason. You’re having the best day any NFL franchise is going to have between February and August.
Now that the Steelers have won the offseason – and that’s all well and good, mind you – the question remains: How in the heck do they plan on beating the New England Patriots, winning at least one more championship before the end of Ben Roethlisberger’s career, and capitalizing on the insane level of talent they’ve assembled in one offensive huddle?
There should remain no doubt, that after the moves Monday afternoon to lock up Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell, this team’s only legitimate goal next season should be another Lombardi Trophy. And while management, coaches, and players will all come in to Latrobe this summer repeating that stated goal, as they do every year, they need to know that each time they fall short of it, they take one more step toward becoming what the Oakland Raiders were to the great Steelers’ dynasty of the 1970s: A footnote. To the Patriots’ decade-and-a-half long reign over the NFL., the Steelers of the 2000s have been just that.
Knowing you’ll want to point to each of the Steelers’ three trips to the Super Bowl and two victories there in the last 11 seasons, the prepared response would be to point out that not once have they arrived at football’s biggest stage by beating New England in the postseason.
You can go back and check the tape. I’m sure the Patriots have plenty of it for you to review.
Moreover, every time the Steelers have faced the Pats of Bill Belichick & Tom Brady in the postseason, they’ve lost spectacularly.
The Patriots are so far inside the heads of the Steelers, that Belichick is stealing the signals between Mike Tomlin’s synapses when they fire.
You could see it in the AFC Championship when Tomlin forgot what his defense had done well the second half of the season – you know, the half of the season where they actually managed to get after the quarterback – and had them sit back and let Brady pick them apart, rather than going after a guy who’d had the blueprint for beating him written last January by the Broncos.
This Steelers team is the most talented in the league when it comes to high-profile offensive players, and cementing both Brown and Bell in for at least one more year with Ben is the way to go. That’s indisputable. It’s worth saying again: They’ve already won the offseason.
Their defense spent the ’16 season growing up and learning on the job, and there will be more pieces on the way via the Draft. They should have the talent to keep most quarterbacks under pressure and most plays in front of them.
Tomlin has the weapons – for the foreseeable future, anyway. He knows how he needs to use them – or at least he should by now. There can’t be any more excuses for a team that is allocating over 25% of its salary cap space to just three players.
All three of those players are MVP-caliber talents, and somehow their General Manager has kept them all on the same roster moving forward, which ought to earn him some Most Valuable mentions of his own.
When the time comes to stare down the Patriots again in the postseason though, and the opportunity to avoid becoming the modern day John Madden to Belichick’s Chuck Noll is presented, Tomlin needs to be ready to shoulder the brunt of the responsibility.
And that’s all anybody should be talking about.