It’s an accepted fact that on any given Sunday in the National Football League, any team has the capability of pulling out a win, either through solid execution or by an unbridled miracle. Most of the time though, the teams that are expected to win usually do, but that’s why they play the games. As the Steelers know, teams that are supposed to win don’t always come out on top. Losing to a team that is expected to win is disappointing enough, but unfortunately for the Steelers, two of their three losses this season have come against teams they should have beaten by double digits. On each occasion, the Steelers looked sloppy in their execution on offense, and undisciplined on defense. When you add in all of the self inflicted wounds such as the pre-snap penalties and other mental mistakes, on top of the ever growing list of the walking wounded, what you’re left with is a team that should be counting their lucky stars that they are in first place going into their bye week.
There is not a whole lot that the Steelers coaching staff can do about minimizing the injuries that have plagued the roster again this season. What they can control, is focusing on eliminating the mental mistakes that have taken away big plays, and points off the board. Perhaps what seems to be a perfectly timed bye week is just what the doctor ordered, both literally and figuratively. After two straight disappointing losses, games the Steelers were good enough to win, everyone in that locker room needs to focus on excellence in execution. In all three of their losses, the Steelers have been their own worst enemy. Poor tackling, blown assignments, and unnecessary penalties are why the Steelers are 4-3 instead of 7-0. Not one of those three teams are better than they are. All things considered though, the Steelers are entering the bye week in pretty decent shape by virtue of their first place standing in the AFC North. These two weeks should give the players the opportunity they need to get healthy and mentally refreshed in time for their trip to Baltimore. Perhaps they’ll solve their mental issues for playing down to the level of the competition, and start beating the teams they should, away from Heinz Field.
Looking over the remaining nine games, there is not one team on the schedule that has more talent than the Steelers do. As much as they are capable of beating each of those teams, the Steelers have shown they are just as capable of beating themselves. It’s something that all NFL teams do, costing themselves games every season because of mistakes. As much as some people like to blame Mike Tomlin for this trait, the problem rests mostly with those who suit up to play each week. The coaches may put the game plan together, but it’s the players who have to execute it. Against lesser teams, the Steelers practice and prepare the same way they do for teams like the Patriots. Sometimes though, it doesn’t seem to carry over into those games, which seem to be some of their sloppiest performances. It’s these games against the weaker teams where the Steelers seem to sabotage themselves the most, and where they have killed their post season hopes in the recent past. It happened under Noll and Cowher, as well as Tomlin. It has to be psychological, because with the Steelers, talent is definitely not the issue, even with all the injuries.
Maybe that’s why Hines Ward always seemed to specialize in painting Steelers as underdogs who got no respect. Maybe that was his way of providing his teammates a proverbial axe to grind. The two teams who beat themselves the least, tend to find themselves playing in February, which Ward’s teams did three times. The Steelers, without question, have the talent and weapons necessary to make another deep postseason run. What they apparently need to find is that edge, that chip on their shoulder that they had in 2008, courtesy of Hines Ward, when they played with that “us against the world” mentality. That version of the Steelers had plenty of talent as well, but what set them apart was their attitude. It was that attitude that kept that team focused and didn’t allow them to beat themselves. Perhaps Mike Tomlin should have the 2016 Steelers watch highlights of those 2008 Steelers during the bye week, to help them prepare for the rest of the season. It’s conceivable to believe that every player in that locker room who watched those highlights would be feeling like just about every guy who ever left a Rocky movie in the 80’s, that just about all of them could beat the bejuses out of anyone who needed it.