(Wanted to mention that Armageddon is upon us: I talked to Ray Rice yesterday for CBSSports.com. I asked him about facing the Titans and the Steelers, and what Tennessee might try to do against Pittsburgh. It’s the first segment and runs about 10 minutes.)
Welcome to the fork in the road, people. It’s only been a month, but we’re at the point in the season where the Steelers’ plans for January and beyond could very well be decided in the coming days — if they haven’t been already based on personnel decision and, to a larger extent, luck.
We like to think of ourselves as eternal optimists here at Steelers Lounge, but after the Texans game — and the subsequent recap podcast reliving the horror — we got comments, emails and tweets all saying basically the same thing: “Wow. We were depressed on Sunday but felt somehow worse after listening to you guys talk about it.”
Of course, the news only got worse on Tuesday when Mike Tomlin announced that James Harrison, Aaron Smith, Jason Worilds, Jonathan Scott and Mewelde Moore were all out for Sunday’s game against the Titans, and a whole cast of characters were questionable. It would’ve taken less time to name the guys who were healthy enough to suit up.
But here’s the thing: it’s barely October. The season is four games old, and the Steelers — warts and all — are 2-2. More than that: Big Ben is still upright, if barely, but as long as he can limp, he can play. And as long as he plays, Pittsburgh has a chance.
Now we wouldn’t be in this predicament if the offensive line wasn’t somehow worse than we imagined.
(I know, I know: losing 60 percent of the opening-day starters certainly didn’t slow the Texans’ pass rush. And even if Colon, Legursky and Scott were in tip-top shape, there’s still an average bunch. That, coupled with Ben’s style invariably means that Roethlisberger will be banged up. The only question is when. In a season full of questions, at least we have some certainty there: “Week 4, Ben sprains foot, breaks out the other Frankenstein boot.”)
So what happens next? I have no idea. Max Starks is back in the building, but I have a hard time believing that re-signing a guy nobody wanted for two months will suddenly fix everything. Max doesn’t stop the run or make tackles and, honestly, despite all the o-line shortcomings, the defense is the biggest reason Pittsburgh is 2-2.
Tomlin insists that it’s all fixable and doubling up this week on practicing in pads will expedite the process. We’ll find out soon enough; Chris Johnson’s coming to town and after a slow start, he cruised to his first 100-yard game last week against the Browns. Tomlin’s track record suggests he knows what he’s doing. But this is the NFL where, to use his own Tomlinism against him, there’s a fine line between drinking wine and squashing grapes.
Bill Cowher was in Pittsburgh for six seasons before the Steelers had a losing record, so maybe Tomlin’s due. Or maybe it’s just a rough patch. Despite our pessimism following the Texans’ debacle, I’m leaning toward the latter.
Either way, here’s to hoping this is the week we’ll look back on in some months and say, “Yep, that was the turning point.” Otherwise, there’s the very real danger that Tomlin starts talking about “unleashing hell” up in here. And, really, no one wants that.