I’m still digesting the Super Bowl. The game was not pretty. It was not sexy. In a 13-3 victory, the Patriots ended the Los Angeles Rams’ playoff run. The Rams’ offense showed up briefly in the fourth quarter. But if you blinked or sneezed, you missed it. I am still looking for Jared Goff. The game ended with Tom Brady and Julian Edelman’s beard victoriously hoisting the Lombardi trophy.
If you look at both rosters, the Steelers had arguably better talent on its offensive roster than both teams. The Rams had Todd Gurley. The Patriots had Edelman and Rob Gronkowski. The Steelers had Antonio Brown and Le’Veon Bell. The Steelers refused to pay Bell and we all know how that ended. But, the Steelers had the pieces offensively to compete on the big stage.
What do the Super Bowl teams have that the Pittsburgh Steelers lack?
Is it the coaching? Mike Tomlin is a no-nonsense coach. He has maintained his character throughout his tenure with the Steelers and I love that about him. But Bill Belichick is that guy. He makes smart adjustments. His teams are prepared and disciplined. The Steelers will play unprepared or won’t respect an opponent and end up losing winnable games.
Is it the quarterback? Ben Roethlisberger is no Tom Brady but they are both championship-level quarterbacks. At this point in their careers, they both have a penchant for throwing interceptions. However, no matter how many mistakes Brady makes, he never gives up. He never walks away mentally from the situation.
Can the same be said for Ben?
I have seen Ben shut it down mentally. I have also seen teammates looking at Ben with disdain. Ben either doesn’t see the entire field or simply refuses to throw the ball to the open or best receiver on the field. Meanwhile, Tom Brady’s players fight for Tom Brady. They love him. They sacrifice their bodies for him. They respect him. Even former teammate Brandin Cooks congratulated Brady after the game. Also, did you notice Tom refused to give an interview with CBS before he greeted the opposing players, his teammates, coaches, and the Pats owner, Robert Kraft? He shows them respect. And while we are on the subject of mutual respect…did you see the Brady and Edelman hug after the game? They embraced like two soldiers who had been in the foxhole and made it out alive. There is genuine love there. Have we seen a hug like that recently? Maybe Jordan and Pippen or Kobe Bryant and Derek Fisher but it has been years. Brady fed his best and arguably only receiver the ball. Repeatedly. Ben? His best receiver, Brown, wants out. Ben can’t maintain healthy relationships with teammates who rival his greatness or popularity.
Is it the defense? The Steelers have people on defense who show up in Black and Gold uniforms. That’s the nicest thing I can say about the Steelers’ D. The Patriots’ defense executed a game plan against the Rams that will go down in history. They played smash mouth defense. They went after Jared Goff. They hurried him. They sacked him. They confused him. They held what was perceived as an offensive juggernaut in the Rams to three points.
To be fair, the Rams defense was also formidable. They held Brady to zero passing touchdowns. Their defense was relentless. Specifically, Penn Hills’ own Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh were extraordinary.
Where are the Steelers’ Aaron Donalds? When teams look at the Steelers, who on their defense frightens them?
Don’t worry, I’ll wait.
The Steelers used to have players like “Mean” Joe Greene, Troy Polamalu and James Harrison. They no longer have defensive players that can impose their will on the game.
That’s what’s missing. A disciplined and dominating defense. And when there is no defense, the Steelers are forced to depend on the Cleveland Browns for postseason entry.
The Patriots won Super Bowl LIII playing the traditional Steelers brand of football. They ran the ball, played smash mouth defense, and played disciplined.
The Steelers have lost their defensive identity. They need to find it because once again we are reminded that offense wins games but defense wins championships.
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