A huge "Thank You" goes to the Jacksonville Jaguars. Because of their absolutely unthinkable victory over the Baltimore Ravens this week, the Steelers are back in the game.
So, now it's a two-game season for the Steelers. A season that begins and ends in the next two weeks.
Win both and the Steelers have the top spot in the playoff race, hold all the tiebreakers, and have their fate in their own hands.
Lose both, and we get to prepare the biggest, longest, most fun-filled kiss-your-moronic-butt-goodbye party that the city of Pittsburgh has ever seen, with Bruce Arians as the guest of dishonor.
Defeat the Patriots and lose to the Ravens, and the division title is a long-shot and they have a dogfight for a playoff spot. Lose to the Patriots and defeat the Ravens, and they have a better chance to win the division but still have a dogfight for a playoff spot.
Come on, admit it. After the first few games, we all questioned whether or not the Steelers could really be a serious contender in the long run, even with a fairly easy schedule. Not with a defense that looked its age, is apparently allergic to turnovers and had trouble tackling a turtle on its back. Not with an offense that thought that quarterbacks are supposed to make plays from the prone position and that barely scored enough points to defeat some of the worst teams in the league.
Not with New England, Baltimore and Houston having even easier schedules than the Steelers.
History tells us that Dick LeBeau is afraid of Bill Belichick and Tom Brady. New England has advanced to only one AFC Championship game and one Super Bowl in the last six years. LeBeau has seen other teams do what it takes to stop B&B but doesn't seem to understand how to adjust his defense to do those same things. He has seen the Master and Commander toy with his defense year after year, and yet still he does the same things year after year, expecting different results. Albert Einstein would have thought him to be insane.
Bruce Arians can't get the offense past New England and Baltimore without serious help from Fate. He doesn't have the brains, the courage or the heart. He lives in the Land of Oz, and the Wizard lives in Foxboro, with a second home in Charm City.
Mike Tomlin manages a game well enough, but well enough isn't good enough. He needs the aggressiveness that inspires his team to score that one more field goal at the end of the half, instead of wasting two minutes NOT running the two-minute offense. He needs the killer instinct that leads his team to score more points when they have a big lead instead of letting the also-rans back in the game. He needs to give his coordinators a swift kick in the rear end when they call plays that even idiots who never played the game can see coming. He says the "standard is the standard" for his players, but does he hold his coaches to the same standard?
But as the craziest baseball coach I ever had would say now, the foxes are running. (And, no, I never did figure out just what the blazes that means). So now it's time to chase down the prey and go for the kill. It's time for many things.
It's Ziggy time. Whether Aaron Smith was healthy or not, Ziggy Hood had to play. He's the future at defensive end. Aaron Smith is the professor and now he must teach the undergrad how to earn his PhD.
It's time to throw down with Wally, Sanders and Brown. How good can a passing game be when Hines Ward is arguably the fourth-best receiver on the field? Have the Steelers ever had the receiving corps that they have now? No, never. At the risk of speaking sacrilege, not even Swann and Stallworth had as much explosive potential.
It's time for Heath and Hines to shake and shine. Hines can't beat defenders deep all that often these days but he's still one of the toughest receivers in the game. Wes Welker can catch Brady's short-range darts but Hines can catch the darts and then run over the bystanders. And Heath? There isn't a linebacker in the game who can cover him. If only they had someone who would call the plays that would show it.
It's time for some extensive R&D. That's Redman and Dwyer. Redman is averaging about 4.4 yards per carry, Dwyer about 3.3 (if you exclude the 76-yard run). Both have proved that they can get those three or four yards in the middle, even with an offensive line that can't open holes for their running backs and yet, ironically, has more holes than Swiss cheese. Who else could you trust to get the tough yards on third and three? Mendenhall? I haven't seen it yet. If only R&D had someone who had the courage to trust them.
It's time for Mendenhall to stop mendin' and start haulin'. He averages 3.7 yard per carry, stompin' at the Savoy when holes don't exist and dancing with the stars when they do. The guy can outrun everyone outside the tackles, and yet he ends up there only by mistake.
It's time to get more from Moore. The guy averages 5.8 yards per carry and 15.3 yards per reception, with minimal playing time. He does whatever is asked of him, with nary a whit nor whimper of complaint. If only he had someone who knows how to use him to maximum effect.
What would an opposing defense do on third-and-three if it had to worry about a tough inside running back, a speedy outside running back, and short, medium and long receiving threats? What defense is there that can can account for all of the things that the Steelers offense could do at any time? If only they had someone who knows how to drive such an offense like Belichick, Brady or Rodgers do, instead of driving like great-grandma in her Model A.
Alas, as we all know, Bruce Arians isn't that someone.
All of which means that now it's time for Ben. Ben needs to take over the offense and make things happen.
Arians wants a pocket passer, but when the pocket is too small for Jiminy Cricket and nearly gets the quarterback killed, forget what Arians says, forget what anyone says. Get out of the pocket and do whatever it takes to get the job done.
Third and two? Forget five wide receivers and an empty backfield. Call for subs and then pound the defense into submission with Redman and Dwyer. Arians, Tomlin and Mendenhall don't like it? Tough. They won't complain when Ben steers the offense on eight-minute drives for touchdowns. And I'm sure the defense would appreciate the extra rest as well.
The deep threats can't get down the field? Fine. Time for Heath, Hines and Moore. Three-step drops, slants, cut-ins, whatever (but for goodness' sake, PLEASE, no dreadful, wide-receiver screens!). Be Tom Brady to Wes Welker. Starve the defense eight yards at a time, and after they begin playing tight, then Ben can burn them deep.
It's time for Ben to put the team on his back and take them for a long ride. We know he can do it, he's done it before. The question is, will he? Or, more importantly, will he be allowed?
The next two games will tell. It's a two-game season, and as another famous Ben would say, "It's clobbering time!"
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