Pittsburgh Steelers’ Head Coach Mike Tomlin was not a fan of his team’s ‘average starts’ to seasons in past years so he set out to start fast in 2016. Despite a humbling loss in Philadelphia, the ‘fast start’ was nevertheless achieved as the team entered the game yesterday in Miami at 4-1. Twenty-four hours later, Tomlin’s team is facing a critical period that could define the entire 2016 season.
After a humiliating 30-15 loss to a Miami team that was fighting for its season, the Steelers find themselves at 4-2 and atop the AFC North. That’s the good news. The bad news is that today Ben Roethlisberger will undergo surgery on a torn meniscus in his left knee. This will likely sideline him for a few weeks.
While the injury to Big Ben is on a level all its own, injuries to Cam Heyward and Ryan Shazier were glaring yesterday. Throw in injuries to Marcus Gilbert and Markus Wheaton and you have yourself a real mess. No one is going to shed a tear for our Steelers though and Tomlin knows this, but does he understand what is facing his team in the coming weeks?
The banged up Steelers will host New England this week in a game that will not be nearly as glamorous as it looked a few days ago. Tom Brady is playing well and he’s making everyone around him better as well. With the Pats being the only AFC team with one loss now, they smell blood in the water in the race for home-advantage and a win over Pittsburgh would go a long ways towards assuring that.
Win or lose, the Steelers will have a much needed week off before traveling to Baltimore where John Harbaugh and the Ravens await. They aren’t having a great season and are banged up but they’ve gotten the better of the Steelers over the past few years. Is it possible that following that game the Steelers could be 4-4? Damn right it’s possible and Mike Tomlin knows it too.
But there are other issues looming with this team and potential for fracture is there.
Antonio Brown is not happy and he’s going to be even less happy with Landry Jones under center. You may recall how demonstrative he was last season when Jones was forced into action and couldn’t get the ball to Brown. The shoes and the dancing are nothing compared to the distraction he could become if he doesn’t start seeing more throws his way.
I can also tell you there are serious doubts about the toughness of Ryan Shazier and Markus Wheaton. Both coaches and players have made comments regarding these two according to a source close to the team. In Shazier’s case, this isn’t the first time his injury and toughness have been questioned inside the locker room.
When adversity hits, you either circle the wagons and pull together or you fracture and try to save yourself which leads to team failures. I’m not suggesting that falling to 4-4 will be the end of the season by any stretch but the next few weeks could likely define how the rest of the season goes for the Steelers.