Random Steelers Observations: Los Angeles Rams edition
As many insightful pundits predicted; myself included, prior to this season, the AFC North is the toughest division in the NFL. It’s the only division in the league where all of the participants are .500 or better.
The Cincinnati Bengals got off to their typically slow start, primarily because of Joe Burrow’s calf injury, but they are improving in conjunction with his health.
The Baltimore Ravens are leaning on Lamar Jackson’s improving all around game to put points on the scoreboard, while second year safety Kyle Hamilton’s emergence has taken the always stout Ravens defense to the next level.
The Cleveland Browns are the biggest surprise in the division in my opinion. Superstar RB Nick Chubb was lost for the season with a devastating knee injury, and DeShawn Watson looks like the worst contract decision in NFL history, but none of that seems to matter. Primarily because DC Jim Schwartz is utilizing all of the talent at his disposal to dial up the most suffocating defense in the NFL.
So where does that leave our beloved Pittsburgh Steelers, who currently sit at 4-2 on the young season, including 2-0 within the division? Truthfully, the Steelers are extremely fortunate to have a winning record at the moment. What’s the old saying, “Sometimes it’s better to be lucky than good.”
That statement perfectly embodies the Steelers thus far this season. Because the Steelers haven’t come close to playing a complete game this season. However, cheer up, Steelers Nation. Never fear, as hope is here. There is even more good news on the horizon, as I have a sneaky suspicion that the Steelers are on the verge of finding their identity, on both sides of the ball. That would be great news actually, because being lucky isn’t sustainable.
Now it’s time for some of my random thoughts and observations on the Steelers.
- You can include recently retired QB Alex Smith to the long list of NFL community members who have called out the obvious deficiencies of Matt Canada’s offense. Smith pointed out the archaic nature of the scheme, calling it ‘vanilla’. Thanks for pointing that out, Mr. Smith. I wish it would help, but the powers that be can’t seem to see the forest for the trees.
- The NFL trade deadline is Halloween, and the Steelers desperately need to acquire secondary help in my opinion. Broncos All Pro CB Patrick Surtain is at the top of most wish list, including my own, but there are a couple of other Broncos that might be more realistic targets. Damarri Mathis is just the type of athletic, fast, and tenacious young corner that the Steelers need to pair up with Joey Porter Jr.
- However, another talented Broncos player’s availability has recently shown up on the deadline radar: Justin Simmons. Simmons would be a huge upgrade for the Steelers secondary, and would pair nicely with Minkah Fitzpatrick. Simmons is a proven veteran, with plenty of tread left on the tires. He is long, rangy, and versatile. Khan would reach legend status in my eyes if he can figure out how to make this trade happen.
- Another trade deadline target being rumored to the Steelers is DeAndre Hopkins. The rationale behind this suggestion seems short sighted and ill conceived. Hopkins would be a definite upgrade over Allen Robinson, the Steelers current WR3. However, Hopkins is primarily an outside receiver, the same as Diontae Johnson and George Pickens. Therefore, I just don’t see Hopkins as a good fit. I would much rather see the Steelers start to get Calvin Austin lll more involved in the offense.
- Surprisingly, there have been multiple mentions that the Steelers may actually be sellers at the deadline, focusing mainly on the Steelers offensive tackle depth. This is another example of a shortsighted rumor. You can never have enough quality offensive line depth, where multiple injuries can occur in a single contest. I believe this rumor stems from the irrational belief that the Steelers need to move one of their starting tackles to get rookie first rounder Broderick Jones in the starting lineup. An injury is what got Jones on the field in the first place. I believe the Steelers value their quality depth, the type of insurance they have lacked in recent seasons.
- The Steelers have a tough matchup with the Jacksonville Jaguars this Sunday at Acrisure Stadium, and George Pickens has definitely caught the Jaguars attention. Specifically their secondary, who seemingly are questioning Pickens ability to produce splash plays against their cornerbacks. All the trash talk seems like mind games to me, which was inevitable after Pickens childish response to similar behavior from the Rams last week. Pickens hopefully learned a valuable lesson against the Rams. If you are going to talk the talk, you got to walk the walk. Be prepared for every opponents best efforts, and for the oversized target on your back.
- Great news: Cameron Heyward’s 21 day window to return from the IR has officially started. He has returned to practice in a limited capacity, as he tries to knock the rust off, and get back into football shape. This is in line with the Week 10 return against the Green Bay Packers I predicted after his injury Week 1 against the Niners. Here’s hoping for no setbacks.
- It appears that Anthony McFarland Jr will finally make his triumphant return from the IR. This development should give the Steelers a serious boost in two areas. First off, McFarland has been the only kick returner that didn’t make me cringe whenever they brought the ball out of the end zone. Secondly, McFarland is a real receiving threat on money downs. He is faster than Harris, and a more natural receiver than Warren. McFarland had a real chemistry with Pickett on wheel routes during training camp. Don’t be surprised if they rekindle that chemistry if the opportunity presents itself.
Here’s hoping that the Steelers are working overtime to get Darius Rush up to speed in their defense. Rush is an immensely talented young corner. Athletically gifted, with elite level press coverage intangibles and potential. The two most instinctual positions on the football field are running back and press corner. Simply identify his responsibility, and say “sic ‘um”. Rush was a 2023 fifth round selection by the Colts, but was surprisingly released in final cut downs, after dealing with a nagging hip injury during the preseason. The Colts are loaded with young press corners at the moment, and it appears that Rush was deemed expendable. Hopefully the Colts loss will be the Steelers gain. One last insight; Rush had a solid week of practices at the Senior Bowl, especially when matched up in WR/CB drills. Give the kid a rep or two to see what he can do. He might just shock us all, and rise to the challenge. I highly doubt he could do any worse than Levi Wallace.
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No guarantee Broderick Jones will be the starting LT when Dan Moore Jr. is healthy