LeClaire / USA TODAY Sports Images

The Pittsburgh Steelers have been riding a roller coaster this season and now they are poised for the homestretch.

Publisher Jim Wexell's analysis of the Steelers' win over the Colts reads more like a big-picture view of a long-term project that's ready for the unveiling.

Analysis of a team that's just won by 35 points is fun.

But it doesn't sell. So, today I won't be selling anything.

Even though some might say I'm peddling it out of a wheelbarrow.

Yes, the ups and downs of Mike Tomlin roll on.

The coach of the Pittsburgh Steelers lives in a new interactive world in which everyone has a voice. And, man, those voices come out whenever a fake field goal blows up, or his team loses, even if it's to one of the best in the league on that team's home field.

The Steelers lost the previous week to the Seattle Seahawks after going down to the wire with them. A couple of coaching decisions were questionable, and un-social media lit up like the proverbial Christmas tree.

A coach with a sparkling record was vilified because he hasn't won more with the great franchise quarterback. Never mind that the franchise quarterback was intercepted twice and overthrew Martavis Bryant in the end zone and then took off on a half-baked scramble run that had no hope of succeeding. That's when Tomlin kicked a field goal and columns were written about the hypocrisy of living in his fears.

No need to re-hash what I didn't understand, in terms of the hypocrisy, but I neither criticized the coach nor the quarterback. I instead patted the team on the back for coming so close.

Of course, no one likes that kind of critique.

What I felt was genuine, though. I felt an "atta boy" was in order because I was impressed with the way the Steelers took the burgeoning Seattle Seahawks down to the wire before losing. I felt this was a sign of better things to come. I felt the level of preparedness was commendable and would soon pay off big.

Not that I expected 45-10, but an easy victory over the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday night was my assumption and that's what happened.

The Seahawks went on to win this week and are being hailed as having fully rebounded from their latest Super Bowl and are now the biggest threat in the NFL. The Steelers have lost to three of those other threats: at New England, Cincinnati and at Kansas City.

Not that anyone buys Kansas City right now, but they have won six in a row, starting with the Steelers, who lost in K.C. with Landry Jones under center.

And if no one buys Cincinnati as a threat, than they believe the Steelers will win this week. After all, they are poised to make their case.

The Steelers have endured those ups and downs of this season and I'm not sure any other coach on the landscape could've done a better job of bringing them to this point than Tomlin. He's lost with Mike Vick at quarterback along with the aforementioned Jones. He's lost at New England well before his defense was ready, and he's lost to Cincinnati and Seattle in games that could've gone either way.

The suspended have returned. The injured, at least those not out for the season, have repaired. The final tweaks have been made. They are as ready as anyone could've hoped to begin the homestretch.

Those final tweaks against the Colts involved the return specialist and the secondary. Not that either has been solved. The return game has merely been exposed as an open sore, but that's an improvement over Dri Archer and then Jacoby Jones, who've been abject failures. At least we know the coach knows that now. Whomever he uses as a kickoff return specialist will likely take his touchbacks and rare runs without fumbling. Antonio Brown will continue to return punts for touchdowns at the risk of exhaustion and injury.

At least it's better than having a loose, rolling football stand up as one of the longest returns of the season.

The secondary is far from being a team plus but it has improved as much as its talent will allow. The latest move has been to install the better cover man, Brandon Boykin, in the mis-named sub-package (it's actually used far more than the base) and keep Antwon Blake as the run-downs corner in the hope that he will live up to his potential as a tackler.

It was THE move to make, and frankly I understand why it's taken Tomlin so long to make it. Did you watch Boykin closely? In the deadpan words of Chuck Noll, when asked why he benched one of his defensive starters, "He was being blocked." And, wow, Boykin was blocked easily.

But the final tweaks have been made. Replacements such as DeAngelo Williams, Alejandro Villanueva and Cody Wallace are playing exceedingly well. Depth has been developed in the names of Vince Williams, Sean Spence, Robert Golden, Jarvis Jones and Jesse James. They have their very specific packages that now include a run-downs corner, but are also -- as we saw with the 3-TE/FB/Darrius Heyward-Bey run-game packages -- probably one toy too many for an offensive coordinator with time on his hands.

In my opinion, all of this has been thoroughly hashed out and the team is ready to play, the quarterback in particular. It's a team that's been curated to the point of top-five status in the league, and now the proving of the homestretch begins.
 
After a couple of weeks of trying to ignore the tiebreakers, it's time to actually pay attention, just as it's time to begin winning the toughest games on the schedule. I've believed in this team and this coach, and now we're about to find out if I've been a seer or just someone who's buddy buddy with the coach and doesn't want to criticize him.

It's time to put it all on the line. It's time for the fun to begin.


Steel City Insider Top Stories