2019-11-11 22:28:121 Oct 2018 01:53 AM EST
-by Bo Marchionte, Contributing Writer; Image: Pittsburgh quarterback Mason Rudolph. (Image Source: Frank Hyatt/College2Pro)
Pittsburgh, PA— Who are the Pittsburgh Steelers?
“It’s a pretty resilient group,” said Pro Bowl guard David DeCastro after the Steelers 17-12 win over the Los Angeles Rams. “I think we showed that.”
Pittsburgh was resilient against one of top teams in the National Football League. The Rams boast explosive players on both sides of the football. It was a well-rested team coming off a bye week, but the Steelers were able to methodically beat them on both sides of the football.
There not going to be pretty, but gritty.
Nails are going to be chewed down to the cuticle.
Expect tirades of expletives to rain down as close games unfold, testing the mental fortitude of Steelers Nation.
Pittsburgh is not alone in facing adversity, every team in the league inherits the same fate. The way a team responds and deals with that adversity is the testament to their toughness.
“Curious to see how it goes,” said DeCastro before a scrum of reporters would reach him as they targeted other players before getting to the back of the locker room where the offensive line resides. “So, we are going to enjoy this one. We’ve had some close games. Some tough (games) and some early ones that didn’t go our way. Now we seem to be on the other side of them. Excited to keep it going.”
They started out 0-3.
Their embarrassing loss to the New England Patriots (33-3) in Week 1 set the tone for a giant amount of skepticism surrounding the team.
It’s first six quarters of play with Ben Roethlisberger at quarterback resulted with one lone touchdown. It was hard to imagine the team turning the corner without him for the remainder of the season.
The defense surrendered 30.5 points per game over the opening two games. With no Big Ben and a lousy looking defense, the outlook looked bleak.
It appeared doomsday had arrived.
Quarterback Mason Rudolph was unproven.
Before we could get a take on what he brought to the team, he was in concussion protocol. Despite Rudolph’s impressive 4-1 record when starting and finishing games this season there is still a small fan contingency that clamors for Devlin Hodges return.
“He is so young,” DeCastro said of Rudolph. “I remember my first year it was a whirlwind with a lot going on. The game with only get easier for him and slow down for him. I love his attitude.”
Rudolph has been resourceful in taking what defenses are giving him and finding the target downfield.
The second-year quarterback hit seven different Steelers against the Rams. James Washington had seven targets. Diontae Johnson and JuJu Smith-Schuster each with six a piece. Tight Vance McDonald and running back Jaylen Samuels each matched Washington with seven targets of their own.
“I think we are doing a better job of spreading the ball around,” said Rudolph. “Doubling JuJu. He knows he’s going to attract that attention from those kind of flies during the game. We understand that someone else has to step up. Diontae Johnson has been doing it all year for us and James Washington has been coming along the last couple of games and making some big-time conversion catches.”
Pittsburgh beat a quality opponent against the Rams. It probably seemed like an impossible reality that when Los Angeles was 3-0 and Pittsburgh 0-3, they would leave Week 10, each with 5-4 records.
That is the way the NFL goes, with peaks and valleys on every team’s schedule.
As Pittsburgh navigates its way through the season, the offense still is finding different ways to win without their top players at the skilled positions.
Rudolph expressed the trust that is growing as different players are stepping up. With both James Conner and Benny Snell missing the game the trio of Samuels, Tony Brooks-James, and Trey Edmunds were called to duty.
“I think the trust factor with the offense, with running backs,” Rudolph said is growing. “Trey Edmunds to go make that catch on whatever it was, fourth and one or two. It shows you that depth and the development of running back position and trusting to put the ball in his hands in a crucial situation. Hats off to Trey and Tony (Brooks-James) and the way they stepped in, filling in for James Conner.”
Rudolph was referring to the fourth-and-one call to go for it on their own 34-yard line with 8:55 left in the final quarter of the game.
“We are just playing to win,” said Mike Tomlin. “Sometimes you have to take calculated risks. Sometimes it works out like it did in that instance. I am also the guy who called a play-action on the minus six and got a sack for safety. You win some, you lose some. When the guys are playing with that amount of energy and urgency, as coaches you have to support them and how we support them is being aggressive.”
So, who are the Pittsburgh Steelers?
“It’s a brotherhood,” said Samuels. “Everybody is a brother. Everybody is close. Everybody got connections to somebody. I got connections to the defense and I don’t even practice with them. That’s brotherhood.”
Samuels stressed the positive vibe in the locker room, pausing in the moment to reflect on just how much this team is in sync with one another.
“We’re the Steelers. It’s a family,” he said.
Team chemistry has been the resounding component to their recent success. It is allowing an offense to find a rhythm while the defense is brimming with confidence each week.
Jared Goff and the offense managed a field goal worth of points. A fumble returned by Dante Fowler for a touchdown and a safety, along with the field goal was all the points the Rams could produce.
“They did a good job today,” said Rams head coach Sean McVay. “I think it was a collaboration of everybody can be better and we have to go back and look at the tape, and that’s something that we’re going to do. We have to be better for our team.”
Not exactly a ringing endorsement of the way the Steelers manhandled McVay’s offense. The results speak for themselves.
“They are playing at a high level,” said Los Angeles safety Eric Weddle. The six-time Pro Bowler added, “They’re confident and really their season turned around when they started playing well.”
High praise coming from a safety the caliber of Weddle.
So, who are the Pittsburgh Steelers?
“Fun man,” said T.J. Watt. “I’m having so much fun right now. It just seems like there are a lot of plays being made by a lot of guys. It doesn’t matter who is making them we are having a blast out there.”
Pittsburgh has registered 33 sacks over its first nine games of 2019. The 33 sacks are the most for the Steelers over that stretch since 2008 (when Pittsburgh registered 34 over the same time period). Since 2014, the Steelers have recorded 260 sacks, which is the most in the National Football League.
Watt is on par with any premiere pass rushers in the entire league. With 29.5 sacks over the last three seasons, he ranks seventh overall and first among all NFL linebackers over that span. His energy is contagious throughout the defense. His 11 forced fumbles are tied for the most in the league since the start of the 2017 season.
Then add in the acquisition of Minkah Fitzpatrick. The in-season trade with the Miami Dolphins has provided a tremendous boost not only to the Steelers secondary but to the entire defense.
“Can’t say enough about (Minkah) Fitzpatrick,” said Tomlin. The tear he is on is what it is. He needs no endorsement from me.”
Fitzpatrick has recorded four interceptions, five passes defended, and two defensive touchdowns over his last three games. He is involved in eight of the 26 turnovers caused by the Steelers defense.
Who are the Steelers?
It appears that the Steelers are a resilient brotherhood having fun.
Their words. Not mine.
To read more from Bo Marchionte at College2Pro.com, click here
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