The Pittsburgh Steelers are “stacking wins.” This is the phrase Mike Tomlin likes to use to describe his team when things are going well. After winning three straight games, all of which were at home in Heinz Field, the Steelers now set out on the road for four of the next five contests.
My biggest concern is not that the Steelers are playing on the road, but that they are going to be playing two very struggling teams. Combined, the New York Jets and Tennessee Titans have three victories. Both teams have question marks at the quarterback position and on defense.
On the surface, we’d expect the Steelers to march into New Jersey and Tennessee and post easy victories but we would be forgetting recent history if we did that. The Pittsburgh Steelers in recent years have had a very unpleasant trend of losing to teams that they really shouldn’t be messing around with. “Playing to the level of the competition” is how most of us typically phrase this issue and it’s something that has haunted Mike Tomlin-led teams in recent years. Look no further than games with the Oakland Raiders in the past two seasons as proof of this trend.
Earlier this season Raiders’ Head Coach Dennis Allen was fired. At that time, Allen had just eight total victories in his two plus years of coaching and two of those wins came against the Steelers. That’s down-right pathetic when you think about it.
As physically demanding as football is, we often forget about just how grueling the game can be on the mental and emotional side. The Steelers entered their three-game home-stand fresh off of a beat down at the hands of the Cleveland Browns. Their record stood at 2-3 and any thoughts that a division title or even playoff spot was possible were few and far between. Somehow and some way, the team rallied. Behind a resurgent defense and a hotter-than-Hades quarterback, the Steelers have stormed to a 5-3 record and sit just behind the Cincinnati Bengals who they have yet to see this season.
First things first however; the Steelers need to focus on the 1-8 Jets who despite their poor record still pose a threat. The front seven of the Jets’ defense is very good and will make running the ball and protecting Ben Roethlisberger a very difficult task.
Offensively, the Steelers will see Michael Vick at quarterback. He replaced the inept Geno Smith last week and will get the start on Sunday. Vick may be getting old, but there is still enough life there to make plays against a Steelers’ defense that has given up more plays over 20 yards than almost every team in the league. Couple that with the effective running of Chris Ivory and you have the makings of a potentially long day against Gang Green.
There’s no question that from my perspective the most important thing I’m looking for on Sunday is mental toughness and preparation. I want to see if Coach Tomlin has finally broken through with this team and I want to see if these last three games were the real deal or just a false sense of security given to all of us.
The NFL is no stranger to teams looking great one week and horrible the next but I want to see if these Steelers are different. It all starts on Sunday in a hostile environment against a team with nothing to lose. Pittsburgh had best be ready physically, mentally and emotionally.
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