PITTSBURGH — A slip to a division rival and all of a sudden the sky is falling in Steelers Nation.
But that's to be expected in this week-to-week world we live in, with such a gouged Steelers roster that continues to be plagued with injuries to its star players.
So as we head into Week 12, at 5-5, here are 11 Things "I think I think" about the Pittsburgh Steelers.
1. I think the brawl at the end of the Steelers-Browns game was disgusting on every level. Both Mason Rudolph and Myles Garrett weren't at their best in the waning moments Thursday night, but I honestly thought I saw the second time the Steelers QB cheat a life-altering injury. If the helmet was flipped the other way and Garrett, routinely described physically as a Greek God type, made clean contact with Rudolph's head, the story would be so incredibly different. Rudolph said he was "fortunate" to be unscathed in the incident. Yea, I'd say so. It was ugly. To me, it was a lack of awareness in a game where the outcome was already determined.
2. I think the NFL was quick and just in the punishments handed down in the brawl. What Garrett did would be treated as assault in the "real world," and he should feel lucky he's only missing paychecks after violently swinging the helmet toward Rudolph's head. Maurkice Pouncey's suspension was reduced to two games, and while I do not condone his actions either, I understand his reaction. Again, this was a scary situation with these super-human athletes, and the destruction they could cause is so unbelievably great, I think we all forget that from time to time. Hopefully it is a learning situation for all involved, because it was ugly all the way around.
3. I think I'd like to talk about actual football now. Hope you're OK with that. OK, good. The Steelers offense was putrid in Cleveland. There's no other way to say it. They accumulated 236 total yards of offense. The only scoring drive was 87 yards, and 53 of the yards came via a Browns penalty. None of their drives gained more than 40 non-penalty yards. How is that even possible in today's NFL -- a league tailored for offensive production? The answer to that is multi-layered. Understand that it isn't one solitary reason.
4. I think the biggest reason for the offense's lack of production is the simplest. Injuries have decimated this roster and it starts with Ben Roethlisberger just six quarters into the season. I believe the Steelers knew it would be a challenge moving forward, but when so many guys are in and out of the lineup, how is a group truly able to find a rhythm? Offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner told me the best way to describe the state of the offense is "disappointing," and really that's the only way to put it. Nobody is crying for the Steelers' misfortunes when it comes to injuries, but they've been hit hard in 2019.
5. I think it's hard for Steeler Nation to not be frustrated with this offense. In a matter of months, the Steelers offense has gone from Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and Le'Veon Bell to replacing or bolstering those position groups with Rudolph, Donte Moncrief and Benny Snell Jr. The talent discrepancy is right there. Factor in the fact that JuJu Smith-Schuster, still only 22 years old, would have to "learn" how to become a true #1 wide receiver in the NFL. That alone would be challenging. Factor in James Conner being able to run without the likes of AB on the outside taking away a loaded box. Shall I go on? OK, I will.
6. I think Rudolph is unfairly being labeled as a guy who can't play in the NFL. As I mentioned above, look at the talent surrounding him. None of them are proven NFL quantities outside of, perhaps, Vance McDonald in their role now without, again, Roethlisberger, Bell and Brown. He's only played in eight games in the NFL. EIGHT. Does he hold onto the ball too much? Yes. Is he inconsistent with his accuracy? Yes. All I'm saying is we, and especially the Steelers front office, can't truly determine if Rudolph is going to be the "next" quarterback to leading this organization in the Post-Ben era. I understand it's hard to preach patience, but take a realistic look at everything involved in this equation.
7. I think getting Snell back in the fold this week should help ease the pressure off Rudolph. Before the knee injury, Snell was coming off his best performance of the season, where he had 70 rushing yards on 17 carries against the Los Angeles Chargers. He's a true between-the-tackles back who should have a nice day against the NFL's worst run defense in the Bengals (167 rush rushing yards per game). Benny Snell Football anyone?
8. I think it's time for James Washington to have a breakout performance. In his last three games, he's posted 69, 90 and 49 yards receiving, along with 1 touchdown. The Bengals allow more than 258 yards through the air each game. I'd like to see the Oklahoma State connection between Washington and Rudolph take that next step Sunday at Paul Brown Stadium.
9. I think the Steelers defense continues to play at an extremely high level that'll give the team a fighting chance in the final six games of the regular season. I asked Joe Haden Thursday after practice, "You got two (INT's) today?" and he responded with a huge smile on his face, "Yes sir!" Although their streak of forcing at least two turnovers was snapped at eight games in a row, this group is ridiculously talented and they'll go up against a Bengals offense that enjoys coughing up the rock. Oh, and they're playing a rookie QB who managed to complete just 13 of his 31 passes for 115 yards against an Oakland Raiders team that doesn't have any true talent in their secondary. This group smells blood in the water…or jungle, I should say.
10. I think the fine assessed to Minkah Fitzpatrick of $10,527 for waving at the Rams during his TD return a couple weeks ago is bonkers. Celebrations are allowed after touchdowns and sacks, but isn't what Fitzpatrick did considered a celebration? Was it taunting? Sure, but it wasn't malicious in its intent, in my opinion, like standing over a player after getting laid out. That to me is the taunting that should be out of the game. And how did they come up with that amount exactly? Just odd. Literally.
11. I think the Steelers will somehow, in the midst of all the adversity surrounding them, find a way to pull out a win over the 0-10 Bengals Sunday in Cincinnati. They have the better defense. They have the better quarterback. Yeah, really. And they have history on their side. They haven't lost to the Bengals since 2015. They get the win and all is right again in Steelers Nation.
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