Overreactions from Steelers Nation: The Standard

Welcome to my weekly edition of “Overreactions from Steelers Nation”. This week, I’m trying to figure out if Steelers fans even watch the games!

Losing is never something that’s easy to accept. The bitter pill to swallow came shortly after the Steelers 16-all tie with the Detroit Lions last Sunday. Players were falling like dominoes in practice, and otherwise, as T.J. Watt and Joe Haden were ruled out of Sunday night’s road trip to Los Angeles, and Minkah Fitzpatrick was sidelined due to COVID protocols.

Without those players against the Chargers, Ben Roethlisberger on a short week with no practice, and some other fill-ins throughout the roster, there weren’t many who were giving the Steelers a chance to defeat upstart QB Justin Herbert and his team.

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However, what transpired was an ugly defensive display with an equally atrocious fan reaction.

Where is the defense? Fire Mike Tomlin! Fire Keith Butler! Fire Kevin Colbert!

Yes, fire everyone. They can’t coach, prepare or otherwise adjust. The general manager can’t build a team. The Steelers SUCK!

The overreaction to Sunday’s game solidified the entitlement that some Steelers fans have. I swear some of these folks just like to wear the Black and Gold to look cool. They know Pittsburgh has been a winner – with no losing season since 2003.

Others loathe that accomplishment because it hasn’t brought the Steelers 25 consecutive Super Bowl rings. This team is toast until they blow it all up and force Bill Cowher out of retirement to fix it!

Yeah, let’s not forget that Coach Cowher had that last losing season, among other shortcomings – and only one Lombardi Trophy to show for it. (Not saying that’s a bad thing: the NFL is a tough league to win in!)

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But the biggest oversight is by the fans who finally watched a game this season. As this one was broadcast nationally on NBC Sunday Night Football, I imagine more “fans” watched than usual. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t recognize some missing names on the field.

Personally, I didn’t recognize those players who replaced the known names. The luminaries whom graced the field Sunday night range from Taco Charlton to Karl Joseph to Delontae Scott. Charlton, a former first-round pick on his fourth NFL roster since 2017, was signed by the Steelers on September 21st. Some may not have noticed Karl Joseph, elevated from the practice squad Sunday, took Melvin Ingram’s old number 8.

And the oddest “who is that?” occurred with Scott, also elevated from the practice squad, ran on the field wearing number 50.

I wonder if those fans thought Ryan Shazier recovered and made his return, or if they even noticed how bare the cupboards became for the Steelers D? Heck, I didn’t even include the other practice squad addition, Daniel Archibong… I’m sure most didn’t notice him out there either.

Charlton was handed the task of taking over Watt’s outside linebacker spot, but he rotated with Derek Tuszka, wearing Bud Dupree’s old 48. Tuszka, a seventh-round draft choice with Denver last season, was added to the Steelers roster after being cut by the Broncos at the conclusion of training camp.

If you’re keeping count, that’s three bonafide starters out, plus another two who have missed significant time since earlier in the season (Tyson Alualu, Stephon Tuitt) for a total of five defenders the team sorely missed.

Let’s keep counting, because I’ve already named five players who weren’t in camp with the Steelers but were on the field in Los Angeles Sunday night: Charlton, Tuszka, Joseph, Scott, and Archibong. Add CB Ahkello Witherspoon to that list to make it six.

The bleeding doesn’t end there, as seventh round pick Tre Norwood, a pleasant rookie surprise yet still inexperienced, played his most snaps of any game all season: and more than he played in the previous four games combined.

Archibong and Scott played 8 and 7 snaps, while Joseph added 15 (20%) but Witherspoon (20/26%), Tuszka (32/42%) and Charlton (49/64%) all managed significant time.

Let’s toss Henry Moundeaux, who started the season on the practice squad to the mix too. Mondeaux, a backup DE, logged 27 snaps (36%) during this game as well.

With the six players who weren’t in camp combined with a late round rookie pick and another practice squad player, the Steelers fielded eight mostly inexperienced and/or backups against the Chargers. Chris Wormley, who has played out of his mind in 2021, is yet another who had to ascend from a backup role early this year to become a full-time starter, increasing the count to nine.

Not that all of these players are on the field at the same time, they aren’t, but there’s only eleven players on each side of the ball on any given play. When taken into account, it’s easier to understand how a hodgepodge group of players can give up 533 yards.

I’d love to join the angry mob and demand that there be no excuses, but no matter what you think of Mike Tomlin’s “The Standard is the Standard”, at some point, the standard is substantially lowered.

Removing a two-time (and soon to be three-time) Defensive Player of the Year candidate (Watt) from the equation, and replacing him with far lesser talent, is going to hurt. It’s why the Steelers gave him a landmark contract that even broke their own negotiating rules before the season started.

The other missing starters are also key contributors. At some point, you can no longer overcome replacing a player or two, when it becomes three, four, and five players sitting out – and as noted, that doesn’t include the substitutions and role players either.

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I’m not sure if I’m alone in this thinking, but it’s a miracle the Steelers were even in this game until the near end. Yes, blown coverage led to a Mike Williams game-winning 53-yard touchdown reception, but I think we can take some solace in seeing the Steelers offense put up its most points of the season.

The defense, short-handed, came away with a turnover – as two of the remaining playmakers, Cameron Heyward and Cameron Sutton, combined for a Herbert interception.

Miles Killebrew, overwhelmingly a special teams player, made an impact with a blocked punt too.

It was ugly, but it shows that even though the Steelers were incredibly short-handed, they somehow still maintained some semblance of a “standard”, even in defeat.

The good news?

Those nine players won’t be entirely relied upon going forward, as the team expects to get Watt, Fitzpatrick and Haden back in the coming weeks.

Going over some of the online sportsbooks available in Pennsylvania for Week 12, the Steelers are underdogs for their rematch against the Bengals on Sunday. The spread ranges from 3.5 to 4.5, but that could change, as long as there are no big changes to either roster, the numbers should not move very much.

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