The Steelers are one of the league's best teams, but once again, they're beset by drama
The Steelers have Super Bowl potential. They're currently first in yard differential per game, first in Football Outsiders’ overall efficiency metric, and—obviously most importantly—second in our most recent Power Poll. Through seven games, they've been the most balanced team in the league, the only one in Football Outsiders' top five on both sides of the ball. The defense in particular has improved significantly. It held the Bengals to 19 second-half yards last week, and ranks first in offensive/special teams points allowed per game (up from 11th last year) with a largely anonymous secondary holding opposing QBs to the fourth lowest passer rating (14th in 2016). On offense, Pittsburgh has successfully relied on the league's best RB-WR tandem. Antonio Brown has an absurd 220-yard lead over every other wideout, while Le’Veon Bell leads the NFL in scrimmage yards going back to Week 2 (though he does have the fourth most offensive touches by any player through seven weeks since 2000).
But you won't find any of that in today's Post-Gazette. Instead, the talk out of Pittsburgh is the latest drama flooding the three rivers. In the preseason, there was the Bell holdout. Then came the Alejandro Villanueva-centered anthem situation. That dominated local discussion until Brown threw a Gatorade cooler, which was big news until Ben Roethlisberger sardonically muttered, “Maybe I don't have it anymore,” during a post-game media scrum. Now, it's Martavis Bryant's turn. Having seen 36 targets (65th in the league) after returning from a yearlong drug suspension, Bryant has asked for a trade. “I just want to be happy, whether it's here or it's somewhere else,” he told ESPN Tuesday. Mike Tomlin responded by saying a trade was out of the question given how much the team had invested in the 25-year-old, adding, “I'll rain down my judgment and we’ll move forward.” Tomlin seemed particularly miffed by statements Bryant made on social media. “He’s said things when he’s not around us that’s been somewhat of a distraction because I have to field questions about him,” the coach said. For his part, Roethlisberger responded to the news by saying, “He really is a good teammate. I know it seems crazy and you guys might be rolling your eyes, but he is. He’s a good teammate. He’s just—we’ve got to talk and figure this thing out.”
Ironically, this issue could sort itself out, as rookie JuJu Smith-Schuster is now in the concussion protocol, giving Bryant a chance to reassert himself in the offense as Pittsburgh prepares for four defenses ranked 16th or worse against the pass (with a bye in the middle). Maybe then we can get back to extolling the Steelers.
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1. So much for the euphoria in Philadelphia. Eagles coach Doug Pederson confirmed Tuesday that both left tackle Jason Peters and middle linebacker Jordan Hicks are both done for the year. Conor Orr has more on what the loss of Peters specifically means for Philly.
2. Marshawn Lynch's one-game suspension for grabbing an official was upheld upon appeal Tuesday, even with Chiefs corner Marcus Peters reportedly arguing on Lynch's behalf.
3. The Vikings are headed to London, and they've enlisted sleep specialists and "special glasses if you want to look at your phones" in the hopes that the intercontinental travel does not slow Minnesota's momentum. Facing the Browns over there should help, too.
4. Derek Carr loved Madden’s practice mode growing up and more reasons why he's both weird and also perfectly suited to lead comebacks like the one he pulled off last Thursday, via The Ringer’s Kevin Clark.
5. T.Y. Hilton is clearly in the Colts doghouse after criticizing the offensive line following Sunday's shutout. “I was wrong,” he said Tuesday. “I can say I messed up.”
6. Widow Lisa McHale shared the painful story of nine-year pro Tom McHale, who descended into post-retirement depression and drug addiction before dying in 2008 and being posthumously diagnosed with stage three CTE. Meanwhile, 60-year-old Dwight Clark explained that ALS has taken 80 pounds and nearly all of his strength. “My wife has been incredible,” Clark said. “She’s taken over the gigantic load of having to do everything because I can barely pick up a bag right now.
8. Kevin Van Valkenburg goes inside the negotiations between Washington and Kirk Cousins and looks at where things could go from here. Staying in D.C., the Terrelle Pryor savior storyline has soured quick.
9. The only thing tougher than preparing for a Patriots game is preparing for them when the All-22 coaches' film looks like this.
10. Writing for England's Independent, Jonathan Liew says, “The NFL offers a whole different kind of sporting experience that, whether or not we want it to, is beginning to leave its mark in the UK.” He was taken aback by the league's lack of on-field advertisements, among other things.
Speaking of Steel City drama, someone seems to have stolen JuJu Smith-Schuster's bicycle. And if that doesn't seem like a big deal, you must not know that the rookie doesn't have a car, or even a driver's license.