Let me just get this off my chest before I move on to the Steelers: Pitt should be ashamed of its effort at Virginia Tech last Saturday.
In the fog and filthy air of Blacksburg, Va., and on a field that looked like a transplant from 1978, brownish splotches and all, Pitt did not even bother to show up in a game that mattered, an all-too-familiar narrative. Kenny Pickett was awful, Pitt’s running game was a joke, and the defense never had a chance to keep the Panthers in the game. Can’t wait for the, whogivesadamn.com bowl, or whatever meaningless bowl game Pitt plays.
So about those Steelers – what a strange, strange season 2019 has been and continues to be. Myriad injuries and the emergence of the defense as the strength of the team have combined to reestablish the Steelers’ identity, the bizarre 11-day Mason Rudolph journey that included, from most to least, five interceptions, two vomitous performances, one bludgeoning by a helmet-swinging maniac, one defamatory accusation by the same maniac, one meaningless touchdown pass, one significant fine, and one well-earned benching has created a quarterback controversy between a never-will-be and a QB brought in to be a camp arm, and a lack of a number one receiver, an underperforming offensive line, and an injury-riddled, marginally talented running back corps has everyone wondering what kind of smoke and mirrors the Steelers have used to get to 6-5 and the six-seed in the AFC playoff picture.
But there they are – the six-seed in the AFC playoff picture.
This will be wildly unpopular, but Devlin Hodges made one good throw on Sunday against the Bengals, albeit one more than the inept Mason Rudolph, and it was good enough to beat the Bengals, but is he close to good enough to beat the Browns, the Cardinals, the Bills, or any team besides the Bengals?
Oh wait, he did beat the Chargers, didn’t he? He didn’t play as well as Pittsburgh Duck Callers would have you believe, but he was good enough.
I suppose it comes down to this, in whom does Mike Tomlin have the most faith? Rudolph was good enough in wins over Cincinnati, Indianapolis, and the LA Rams, and had the Steelers in position to beat San Francisco and Seattle. Hodges had the Steelers poised to beat Baltimore. This all begs the question, does it really matter between Hodges and Rudolph?
That’s for Tomlin to answer. Maybe the Steelers treat the quarterback position like a hockey team treats the goaltender position – go with the hot hand, and keep him on a short leash.
Regardless, the Steelers season, and tenuous playoff hopes, relies on a very good defense playing great football for five more weeks. I am almost certain that Baker Mayfield and the Cleveland Browns feel like they are coming to Pittsburgh to ruin the Steelers’ season and stick a giant middle finger in Steelers Nation’s collective face, but this Sunday could be a real, defining moment for the Steelers. Their chance to exact their revenge for the debacle in Cleveland two Thursdays ago in the only way that matters – by winning at Heinz Field and effectively ending the Browns’ season.
Does it really matter how it happens? Does the offense have to, “look good,” for the win to mean more? Not at all. I will take a one-point win and a 7-5 record going to Arizona, and continue to wonder at the utter strangeness of it all.
- Pitt basketball is experiencing the exact types of growing pains an emerging program feels. Players going through lulls of bad and spurts of good play, mostly beating the bad teams and losing to the better teams, and working out the kinks of a system that has not been completely defined. Jeff Capel is saying all of the right things in post-game press conferences, and fans will have to be patient with the process. For the first time since 2010, Pitt basketball is pointing up.
- I am amused at the spatterings of criticism and applause at the Pirates hiring Ben Charrington as the team’s new general manager. I’ll reserve judgment until Charrington actually does something. I hear the Mets want Marte – what a splash Charrington would make if his first significant act as Pirates’ GM would be to dump the team’s best player for a package of draft picks and middle relievers.