Football, Families and Keeping Your Promises

Being a fan of the University of Michigan and Pittsburgh Steelers football teams, this has been a rough year for me. Experiencing it in Columbus, Ohio doesn’t make it any easier obviously.

Amongst other things, this has not been easy on my family; particularly my wife. As the frustration grows and my mood sours the tension in the house gets kinda high.  Nobody enjoys this.  I would like to think I have gotten better about sports as I have aged, and having kids actually makes it better (they are great at distracting you and reminding you what is really important), but I won’t deny it has been a rough year and I have had my share of ruined days.

In light of this, and in the aftermath of Michigan’s ugly and improbable win last night, I promised Lisa I would take her and the kids to the Columbus Museum of Art (which is free on Sundays) instead of sitting around the house and getting grumpy.

What I hadn’t thought about was that the game was actually on TV (Fox because the Lions are NFC). So instead of huddled over the computer following it online while listening to Steeler radio, or going somewhere to watch it, I could watch from the couch on the full screen TV.

When we came home from church I watched the first quarter as the kids changed their clothes, ate lunch, and played.  And it started out great. Soon the Steelers were up 14-0 and I was smiling and joking with the kids. And I began to wonder whether Lisa really expected me to sacrifice the joy of a Steelers victory just because I said something about going to the museum last night …

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Steelers are a bad football team

I think we have a pretty clear answer to the question we were pondering last week.  Sure, the defense has tragically begun to play at a top-level with most of their playmakers healthy and rounding into shape.  But the offense has struggled mightily and looks lost except for the occasional big play.  They can’t run the ball effectively at all and commit critical mistakes at the most inopportune times.  They haven’t looked in rhythm for months.

And Ben Roethlisberger is at the top of the list of examples.  Without a running game he is frequently running for his life and then tries too hard to be a hero and ends up costing the Steelers the game.  In critical losses against the Chargers, Cowboys and Bengals Ben’s turnovers led either directly into points or led to scores that cost the Steelers the game.  In fairness, Ben was knocked out for three weeks but upon his return he looked rusty and the last two weeks turned the ball over when he had a chance to win the game.

Time after time, game after game, when the Steelers had a chance to win either the defense or the offense (and often both) blew it. It is hard to find a signature win on the schedule but a number of loses or close wins to very bad teams.  I admit I was in denial for some time about this team (heck, even last week) but there is no evidence that this is a good football team.  Talent? Sure, there are playmakers on offense and defense.  But they have been unable to put it together outside of a four game stretch in the middle of the season.

Losing your start QB for three critical games hurts.  Losing key defenders for long stretches hurts too.  And having a patchwork offensive line (one that is often mediocre when healthy) is a recipe for trouble.  But the fact of the matter is that against beatable teams the Steelers had multiple chances to win games and simply didn’t.  Ben Roethlisberger had chances to win games and instead lost them.  Special team mistakes cost them critical points and opportunities.  They never played together as a quality team outside of a few games.

It doesn’t matter if your defense seems ready to a dominant unit again if you will be sitting at home for the playoffs.  The Steelers simply couldn’t make plays when it mattered.  And that is the signature of a bad football team.

The torment of watching the Steelers this year

Gerald Sensabaugh, Emmanuel Sanders, Eric Frampton

I am torn about this Steelers team. Are they a good team dealing with a lot of injuries and unable to get out of their own way or a bad team with some talent here and there? Some of both I would guess.

But the funny thing is, if they win out they are in the playoffs. And incredibly if they win out and the Ravens lose their last two games the Steelers win the division (according to this playoff scenario generator) and get a home playoff game. Much more likely is they travel to Denver in the playoffs and lose again (won’t that be fun!).

I almost wish they would just lose and put me out of my misery.

Of course, I don’t really wish for that, but will instead dream of getting healthy and hot at just the right time and making a run. Heck, a playoff win on the road would be a miracle at this point, even making the playoffs will be a challenge (they have lost four of thier last five) but they are at home against the Bengals and Browns.

It is easy to blame this painful season on injuries. They have had at least one of their best defenders out every game and frequently two or three. Today they were down to their 4th and 5th CBs I think.  The offensive line has been a mess, WRs and RBs have been hurt with regularity, and of course Ben missed some crucial games and has struggled in critical times upon return. But lots of teams are struggling with injuries. The last two weeks they lost to teams with significant injuries, so that is not much of an excuse.

What is really frustrating is just how they can’t seem to be consistent. The start slow today and then make some big plays, get back into it, and take the lead. Antonio Brown promptly fumbles a punt return when they very well could have sealed the game with points.  Brown then fails to field a punt and gives Dallas like 20 yards but the Steelers make it up on a pass play combined with a roughing the passer penalty … and the offensive line becomes a sieve and Ben is sacked twice forcing a punt. After remarkably holding the Dallas on a crucial defensive stand the Steelers get the ball first in overtime. Touchdown and they win and are looking good. Ben throws a pick and game over.

Game after game the Steelers struggled to close out games against poor teams losing to Oakland, Tennessee and San Diego and barely beating Philadelphia and Kansas City. When the defense plays well, the offense struggles when the offense get going the defense can’t stop anyone. It is a torment because they have some talent, when healthy, and they can look pretty good at times but you never feel like they can put a game away.  Somehow the whole is less than the parts.

My gut tells me this is a potentially dangerous but pretty mediocre team. After all, their best win is probably one at Cincinnati or against a decent Washington team at home. Wins against the Giants and Ravens don’t look all that impressive now that those teams are struggling. The funny thing is the Steelers were two late game field goals from being 7-1 in the first half of the season and a couple of last second wins against the Ravens and Chiefs from losing six games in a row after that.  If you have weak nerves, I don’t recommend watching the Steelers

So the season comes down to two divisional games. Beat the Bengals and the Browns and they are in the dance and maybe even with a chance to do something when they get there. But a loss to the Bengals will cement this as a bad team despite the talent on the roster.

What’s that they say? Hope springs eternal …