The Steelers seemed poised to make another Super Bowl run, heading into the 2015 season, despite starting the season of without two of their biggest offensive weapons. Le’Veon Bell and Martavis Bryant were slated to begin the season serving their two and four game suspensions. To steady themselves through the absence of Bell, the Steelers signed free agent running back D’Angelo Williams. In place of Bryant, Derrius Heyward-Bey stepped up and made some huge receptions in some pretty clutch situations. In both situations, the next man up did in fact, get the job done. As cliché as Mike Tomlin’s much stated philosophy sounds, it was about to be seriously tested.
Almost from the moment that the Steelers got Le’Veon Bell back, Tomlin and his philosophy was severely tested along with the team’s resolve. The injury bug has bitten the Steelers very hard and very often this season, to the point of being extremely unfair and disproportionate to the 31 other teams in the NFL. All told, the Steelers have lost these players for the season, or for significant amounts of time; Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell, Maurkice Pouncey, Kelvin Beachum, Ryan Shazier, Shaun Suisham and Will Allen. Through it all, Mike Tomlin and the Steelers have continued to walk it like they talk it. Landry Jones, Deangelo Williams, Alejandro Villenueva and others have taken the reigns to keep things rolling forward.
The analysts had mostly written the Steelers off, when Ben went down, with his injury, but the players believed in each other and picked each other up. Tomlin has taken who he has had available and has made it work. The next man up philosophy has worked because Mike Tomlin and his players believe in it, even as his critics have passed it off as nothing more than the cliché they believe it to be. Through all the injuries, the Steelers have hung in there and beaten some pretty good teams to keep themselves in playoff contention. In the process they have, at 8-5, become “the most dangerous team in the AFC that nobody would want to see in the playoffs”, according to LaDainian Tomlinson and a few others.
With three games left in the season, the Steelers find themselves sitting as the seventh seed in the AFC, but in control of their own playoff destiny. They are as healthy as they have been all season, and are preparing for their final regular season home game against the Denver Broncos. If they can win their game Sunday afternoon game against the AFC West leaders, all that stands between the Steelers and winning out, are two very winnable road games against the Baltimore Ravens and the Cleveland Browns. It has been a total team effort to this point, which is the only way they could have made it this far, and that has left the Steelers with an outside chance of still winning the AFC North for a second consecutive year. Either way, the last time the Pittsburgh Steelers found themselves in this position, they won the Super Bowl.