The Steelers’ 2018 demise began seemingly harmlessly enough with a second-half collapse against the Los Angeles Chargers on a Sunday night at Heinz Field.
Fast forward a year, change locations to a nondescript soccer stadium in Carson, California, and the Steelers may have begun to rebuild their 2019 season with a dominating first half against those same Chargers.
Sure, the defense gave up some late points to the Chargers and increased the drama for those who love drama, but there really was little doubt that the Chargers would not overcome this deficit on this night – a night when the Steelers’ defense flexed all of its muscle on their way to a big win that moved the Steelers to 2-4 and kept them within sight of the 4-2 Baltimore Ravens.
A sigh of relief – that big exhale that come with tension leaving the body – followed by the immediate realization that the win in LA came at a cost – Stephon Tuitt.
Tuitt has always been more potential than production in his career until this year. Not that he was confusing anybody with Reggie White, but Tuitt was a dominant force along the Steelers’ defensive line. His play helped the Steelers control the line of scrimmage and pressure opposing quarterbacks.
His loss will be felt.
Can Tyson Alualu, Justin Hargrave and the newly resigned LT Walton maintain the standard? After all, it is the standard.
Other nagging injuries – Joe Haden’s groin, James Conner’s quad, Jalen Samuels’ knee, Mason Rudolph’s concussion to name a few – could derail an in-season reclamation for the Steelers, but the Tuitt loss, if not accounted for, could blow it all apart.
Kudos to the Steelers for coming through in a “road game” in LA. With an off week to heal and three straight at Heinz Field, that Week 10, game 9, Thursday night matchup in Cleveland could become a very, very interesting game.
- We can finally talk for real about the Penguins. An underwhelming four-game homestand followed by two solid road performances has the team at 6-4 despite an injury to Evgeni Malkin and a lineup seemingly overrun with dead weight. Still, they have found a way to work some newcomers into the lineup and have success. Matt Murray, except for the home loss to Winnipeg, has been very solid and Sid remains Sid. Still, the rumblings about Sullivan, his rigidness with certain players in the lineup (I don’t get the Dominic Simon thing, either), and the Penguins ability to literally sleepwalk through certain games persists. Overall, however, it is hard to complain too loudly about a 6-4 start.
- Will somebody please find Juju Smith-Shuster and return him to the Pittsburgh Steelers?
- How differently would Steelers Nation feel today had James Conner and Juju not fumbled games away? 4-2 instead of 2-4, alone in first place in the division and the tiebreak advantage over Baltimore? Despite losing a franchise quarterback, the Steelers are that close to being just fine. Please, please, please don’t screw it all up against the Dolphins.
- How about Gerrit Cole? Really speaks volumes about the value of analytics when Cole moves on from a stale and middling career with the Pirates – a franchise whose players do not breathe unless the analytics tell them to – to a kick-ass strikeout master who might be the most important player for Houston this postseason. Analytics are great if you enjoy breaking down a player’s WAR, a pitcher’s xFIP and whatever other advanced stats rock your boat, but watching Cole rear back and blow a 98-mile-per-hour fastball past a hitter whose expected pitch-count contact rate suggests a change up, or a knuckle curve, or a Vulcan pitch, or an eephus pitch, is just so satisfying for those of us who still love baseball.
- How equally fun was it to watch 20-year-old Juan Soto belt a bomb off of the railroad tracks in Houston off of one of those Cole fastballs? Soto’s heroics give the Nationals a win they probably were not expecting and a big advantage early in the World Series, much to the delight of PB Founder, Father Christopher Klein. (at the time of this writing, the Nats were up 1-0, at posting, they’ve since whacked the Astros with another 12-3 victory, and have a 2-0 lead)