Steelers hope to change course
After a rough 0–4 start, the Pittsburgh Steelers sent the city into a state of panic. The Steelers were written off and previously unimaginable conversations were being held at dinner tables and bars.
Fans thought of trading Super Bowl winning quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and starting over with a rookie from next year’s quarterback-heavy draft.
But ever so quietly, the Steelers have strung together two straight wins, including one over their division rivals, the Baltimore Ravens. Heading into Week 8, the Steelers sit only 2.5 games out of the wild card and three games out of the division. It is entirely possible for Pittsburgh to recover from its terrible start and sneak into the playoffs.
The turnaround can be attributed to a few major changes. First, head coach Mike Tomlin started to lay down the law by banning all games such as pool and table tennis in the locker room in hopes of improving player focus. It started as a ban on just players with less than four years of experience, but after two games under that restriction, the team felt the forced divide within the team was unnecessary, and the ban was extended team wide.
The start of the Steelers winning streak can also be connected to the return of rookie running back Le’Veon Bell from a Lisfranc sprain. His return in Week 4 helped bolster a piecemeal running back core that had been ravaged by injury. Veteran running backs Isaac Redman, Felix Jones, and Jonathan Dwyer tried to carry the load after Pittsburgh let former workhorse, running back Rashard Mendenhall, leave in free agency. Redman has since been released, with Dwyer reduced to backing up Bell and Jones making his main contributions on special teams.
The Steelers turnaround can become one of the great stories of the NFL, but not all Pittsburghers actually want to see their team do well this year. There have been concerns for the past two years that the Steelers are too old and have too much cap space tied up in aging veterans. By winning just enough games to make a run at the playoffs, the Steelers could place themselves with another mid-first round draft pick, where prospects have lower ceilings.
With a high draft pick, the Steelers could get an immediate starter on defense. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney and linebacker Anthony Barr both project to be top five talents. Pittsburgh could also choose to continue their focus on their offensive line with three tackles projected to be top 10 picks: Jake Matthews, Taylor Lewan, and Cyrus Kouandjio.
Either way, the Steelers are showing signs of life and hope for the future with Bell as their lead running back. Whether the team wins now or later just dictates how many more chances Roethlisberger and Tomlin get at another Super Bowl together.