The Pittsburgh Steelers may or may not make the playoffs. There are a lot of variables at play, starting with a suspect back up quarterback leading the way for a stagnant offense.

One thing is certain. We are seeing a revival of sorts. A Steel Curtain revival.

The current defense is easily the best defense seen in Pittsburgh since the prime Troy Polamalu years. Not to mention, it conjures memories of those famed ‘70’s Steel Curtain defenses.

When Jack Lambert, Mean Joe Greene, and Mel Blount hit you, it caused a players’ teeth to rattle. The same is happening now when JJ Watt, Bud Dupree, or Cam Heyward hits you.

The current defense is making quarterbacks uncomfortable…and sore. Sound familiar?

The current defense is forcing turnovers and setting up the offense with short fields. Sound familiar?

The current defense is scoring touchdowns on their own. Sound familiar?

The Steelers defense could actually get better. Other than veterans Joe Haden and Cam Heyward, the defense is youthful. Watt, rookie Devin Bush, and newly acquired Minkah Fitzpatrick lead the way. Javon Hargreaves, Bud Dupree, Steven Nelson, and Terrell Edmunds are still in their primes as well.

They are doing this without Stephon Tuitt, who was arguably having his best season before he got hurt. Also out since the start of the season is safety Sean Davis, who showed flashes in his time with the Steelers. He most likely won’t have a job when he is healthy.

I hate to single players out, but the lone weakness on this Steelers defense is linebacker Mark Barron. He has shown a propensity to allow big plays to opposing tight ends down the field. It may be wise to give Vince Williams a larger piece of the playing time pie at that position.

Pittsburgh is even getting good contributions from depth guys like Cam Sutton, Mike Hilton, Tyson Alualu, and Isaiah Buggs. Playing defense in this day in age is not easy. Every rule is designed for the offense, and officials call games that way. Even when the Steelers defense has an “off week”, it isn’t bad. Thursday they couldn’t generate any turnovers or get many sacks, but they more than kept their inept offense in the game.

It is painful watching the Steelers offense, but it is a joy watching this defense take the field. If the Steelers make the playoffs, it will largely be due to the exceptional play of their defense.

Lots of things have happened with Pittsburgh’s football team, but the coolest thing to happen is the Steel Curtain Revival.

Two Cent Takes

NHL

~Sidney Crosby had surgery for a sports hernia. It was a smart move, betting on his team to hold steady until his return. A fresh Crosby could be invaluable in the second half of the season.

The Penguins can help things out by not constantly getting behind and playing catch up in every game. That is not a formula for success.

~Carter Hart is starting to take charge of the net in Philadelphia. The Flyers have been playing good hockey, and Hart will be a key player if that is to continue.

College Basketball

~Kentucky lost to Evansville at home. These are things that will happen more and more with so much turnover at the top programs. John Calipari will use this to motivate his team.

~I’ve already written it once, so let me do it again. The flop rule is stupid. Call it and move on.

~Best win early on goes to Ohio State. The Buckeyes demolished Villanova. Is it possible the Buckeyes hoops team will be as good as its football team?

~Penn State got a solid early season win by handily besting Georgetown on the road. These are the games Patrick Chambers must win. He’s got a tournament caliber roster, so this is the year he needs to get his team there.

College Football

~There are just not very many upper echelon teams this year, and I’ve been saying this for weeks. It really boils down to LSU, Clemson, and Ohio State. There are a large number of teams on that next level. Those teams are solid, but they have warts. Here is this week’s Two Cent Top Ten:

  1. LSU
  2. Ohio State
  3. Clemson
  4. Georgia
  5. Oregon
  6. Utah
  7. Alabama
  8. Penn State
  9. Oklahoma
  10. Florida

~Despite Gary Danielson’s most unbiased(heavy sarcasm intended) attempt to explain Alabama needs judged as a team, Tua Tagovailoa’s injury affects how the Crimson Tide are viewed. They didn’t exactly have a stellar resume to begin with, but with Tua out for the year it is even weaker.

~No more Cinderella. Minnesota lost at Iowa. They were uncharacteristically sloppy. P.J. Fleck did a poor job, especially with clock management in the fourth quarter, then making it worse with his decision to onside kick with just under four minutes to play.

In Waco, Baylor turned a 25 point lead into a 3 point defeat. This was a total choke job. Underdogs often try to just get to the end, and they stop playing. Baylor stopped playing offense. This was egregious considering Oklahoma’s defense is atrocious.

Teams like Minnesota and Baylor will always have trouble winning big games. They usually aren’t ready for the moment, and they find ways to lose.

~Kudos to Jalen Hurts, who rushed the ball 27 times from the quarterback position to lead Oklahoma to their epic comeback. He took hit after hit and never flinched. Think Nick Saban wished he were still in Tuscaloosa?

~Hearing Penn State fans boo the team early in Saturday’s game was interesting. Fans don’t determine anything relative to the coaching staff, but it certainly does tell you that everyone in Happy Valley isn’t exactly happy with James Franklin. That can change with an upset in Columbus next weekend.

~If you wanted to see truly poor coaching, you needed to only look across the sideline when Indiana attempted a bizarre fake punt. It failed, and Penn State seized control with a touchdown minutes later.

~Is recruiting now the most important job for a college football coach? As I watch games each week it becomes clearer and clearer that is the case.

James Franklin ropes in recruits to Happy Valley like a professional cowboy. His actual coaching has left Penn State fans scratching their heads(and booing). Franklin let the 2017 Rose Bowl slip away with questionable game management. Since then there has been more evidence that his game coaching is suspect. He is good at fist bumping, chest bumping, and high fiving. However, his recruiting has led to Penn State having a very talented roster.

Down between the hedges Kirby Smart is killing it in recruiting. He too, however, has heard the “boo birds” this year. He recruits the talent, but doesn’t always put them in the best situations.

Out West, Mario Cristobal, the Oregon Ducks head recruiter, er coach, is close to owning Los Angeles. Taking advantage of USC and UCLA down turns, Cristobal is having great success with recruiting. Watching the Ducks play shows you a team that lacks discipline and direction. The game management is suspect to say the least. He is winning games because of talent.

I could go on and on from USC to Florida to Michigan and beyond, questioning the actual game coaching we see each and every week. Every coach makes a questionable call from time to time. It just seems like coaching has taken a back seat in recent years, making recruiting the best players even more vital.

Most of the teams I mentioned are top ten teams. Is it because they have better players or better coaches?

In some cases, such as USC, you can have great recruiting but a lack of coaching wastes the talent. Maybe this explains the recent dominance of Alabama and Clemson. Nick Saban and Dabo Swinney are both excellent game day coaches. Coaching still makes a huge difference.

NFL

~The Eagles are going to have to win the NFC East to gain access to the playoffs this year. I trust them more than the Cowboys, but just barely.

~The Patriots are going to do it with defense this year. They always find a way. Speaking of the Patriots, how is it possible Julian Edelman didn’t play basketball for Duke. He has a lot of Christian Laettner, Bobby Hurley, and Grayson Allen in him.

~This was not called pass interference.

It was also not called pass interference during replay review.

~This WAS called pass interference.

Oh, it was called interference on #59 of the Cardinals.

The NFL has a serious problem with this pass interference stuff, and clearly has no idea how to fix it.

~The Steelers desperately need some wide receivers. Terrell Pryor posted on Instagram he will only play for his hometown Steelers. Low cost, low risk option. Or they can continue to watch Johnny Holton not make catches.

A Penny For My Final Thought…

I would be remiss if I didn’t give my two cents on the fiasco from last Thursday night in the Steelers/Browns game.

After watching it 833 times, I’ve come to the conclusion that Mason Rudolph bears some of the blame. Rudolph was a guy who had thrown four interceptions, was smacked around all night, and got tackled a tad late. He was frustrated. In the process he tried to pull Myles Garrett’s helmet off and had his foot placed in an inappropriate place. Garrett reacted as many would have, but then went too far.

The flip side of that coin is the Browns lead the league in penalties, and personal foul penalties. They were head hunting all night, knocking two Steelers out of the game with illegal hits. One player had already been ejected. Garrett has had his share of personal foul penalties this year. The hit on Rudolph was probably a bit late, plus he rolled right on him.

We have no idea what words were exchanged, but to say Rudolph was innocent is wrong. I don’t have a problem with what he did. Ironically it is the only thing he did Thursday night that I didn’t have a problem with. However, if you are attempting to rip the helmet off a defensive lineman then you should expect retaliation.

Im fine with Garrett’s suspension. He could have killed Rudolph if he would have hit him square with the crown of the helmet. We all know things like this have happened in practices, scrimmages, and the like. That doesn’t mean it’s right.

Maurkice Pouncey should not have been suspended. First, he was defending his teammate. Also, he didn’t land any of his punches and kicks. An ejection and fine would have been more appropriate. Hopefully the appeal process will right this wrong.

The person who most assuredly deserved a suspension was Larry Ogunjobi. He was the Browns player who waited until Rudolph wasn’t looking, came in, and shoved Rudolph to the ground. I agree with Rudolph on this part. Ogunjobi is a bitch.

Otherwise, Rudolph would have been wise to take Mike Tomlin’s approach and not say anything about the incident. He’s nobody. He’s not good. He hasn’t earned the right to call someone else a coward. Maybe when he shows any level of competency he can “tell it like it is”. Until then…shut up, try to move in the pocket a bit to avoid those hits, and throw the ball to the correct team.

The fact is Mason Rudolph isn’t very good.

His field awareness is below average. His game awareness is below average. His pocket presence is below, below average. He is a good tackler after throwing interceptions, so he does have that going for him.

The problem is the only other option right now is a man named Duck. Duck was not drafted for a reason. There aren’t a lot of options, including Colin Kaepernick after his joke of a workout.

Rudolph isn’t getting any help. The running game doesn’t exist. Receivers need to call Fred Belitnikoff to get some good “stickum”. The offensive line needs to step up. Finally, offensive coordinator Randy Fichtner needs to go.

The defense is stellar, but you have to score some points to win.

The fiasco at the end of the Cleveland game distracted everyone from the true crime. Mason Rudolph should get arrested for impersonating an NFL quarterback.

Just my two cents…