Geographically speaking, Pittsburgh lies somewhere between Boston and Cincinnati. What a convenient little metaphor for our Pittsburgh Steelers.
Last night’s impressive domination of the Cincinnati Bengals notwithstanding, one must wonder just where the Steelers stand – are they anything close to as good as they were in beating the Bungles, 27-3, or are they closer to the team that was dismantled in a 30-3 loss in Foxboro to the Patriots?
Probably somewhere in the middle, like many similar speculations, but Steelers fans certainly have to be hoping last night was the ice breaker on a run that will put the Steelers back on track in the AFC North.
All I can say is, thank goodness for the dumpster fire that is the Bengals.
The Steelers desperately needed a lifeline at 0-3. With Cleveland and Baltimore both middling along, an 0-4 start would not have necessarily been a death sentence, but the Reaper would have been sharpening his scythe.
Okay – ridiculous metaphors aside – it was great to watch the Steelers dominate a lesser opponent instead of playing down to them. Randy Fichtner deserves credit for a scheme that stretched the Bengals’ heavy base defensive packages and jump-started the Steelers’ ground game.
Suddenly the maligned offensive line could block again, the more maligned James Conner found daylight and exploited embarrassingly bad tackling, and the wildcat featuring Jaylen Samuels confused the Bengals who did not make good adjustments.
The defense was suffocating, though greatly helped by a terrible Bengals’ O-line, and a curiously diminished Andy Dalton who looked like he’d would rather have been watching the game from McFadden’s.
As for Mason Rudolph – he’s fine. Since a shaky first half against San Francisco, he has been downright good. The truer test for both he and the Steelers is coming, though, and the Baltimore Ravens are not the Cincinnati Bengals. Sunday should be a tough go for the Steelers, but at least Monday night showed that the Steelers have not yet turned out the lights on the 2019 season (forgive the final, cheesy metaphor).
- How does Pitt follow up a signature win over Central Florida? With a three-point squeaker over Delaware. Not complaining about a win, but not polishing the old ACC Coastal Division champions’ trophy, either. It was the least impressive home win Pitt’s had since, well, since a 10-point win over Ohio U earlier in September. But hey, Pitt is 3-2 and, uhm, rolling.
- With Thursday’s season opener against Buffalo looming, the Penguins had a curious week of cap-motivated talks/moves. Jack Johnson is the rumored subject of trade talks that would rid the Penguins of his cap-strapping contract, and backup goalkeep Casey DeSmith was released by the team on Monday. Not sure about a plan to hand the keys to Tristan Jarry when Matt Murray suffers his annual variety of injuries, but a deal for Johnson might give the Pens the space they need to make a move at some point in the season when they decide they are Cup contenders. A lot of hockey to be played first, though.
- Fans are fickle. I should know, I am one. A consistent overtone of local sports talk has been fans calling for the head of Clint Hurdle. His head is delivered on a platter, and the reverb has been that Hurdle is a victim – a scapegoat for a failed organizational structure that handcuffed poor Clint with awful pitching and a mediocre lineup. “You can only play with the hand you’re dealt,” is a favorite line of many. Give me a freaking break. Hurdle was a major problem with the Pirates. He could not control his own clubhouse, consistently made lineup and pitching decisions that were downright awful, and excused every mistake with an, “I have been doing this a long time, I know baseball, you all do not,” attitude that was as offensive as it was wrong. Hurdle needed to be fired. That does not let the Pirates off the hook for allowing Neal Huntington and Frank Coonelly to continue in their roles. Where they have failed the fans by talking about championships while operating an absurdly low-budget, but highly profitable Major League team, the duo has obviously more than satisfied the main business objectives of ownership. Managers come and go – Hurdle is easily replaced, probably on the cheap – but finding executives willing to sacrifice winning for profits must be harder to find in professional sports. Nothing will change with the Pirates as long as current ownership is in place, and as long as profits, not winning championships, remains the goal.