The structure of the NFL schedule virtually begs for the type of over-analysis that typically accompanies each of a team's 16 regular season games. It happens in the media and throughout the fan base, and it also can happen within a locker room, or among the members of the coaching staff, or in the meeting rooms of upper management. As Mike Tomlin has said often, the facts are sufficiently malleable to tell whatever story you'd like.
But sometimes, a win is just a win.
The Steelers got a win last Sunday at Heinz Field, and if there is some hyperventilation attached to 23-10 over the Buffalo Bills, maybe it can be explained by there being so few victories to over-analyze to this point in the season. It was a win that raised the Steelers' record to 3-6, and beyond that pretty much everything else to happen over those three hours becomes conjecture.
Oh, but there are plenty of temptations lurking. The way the Steelers ran the ball. The way the Steelers stopped the run. The pass rush. The special teams. The offensive line seeming to be impervious to even more injuries.
Maybe the most glaring transformation had to be by a defense that was barely a speed-bump on a two-lane blacktop in Foxborough, but became an aggressive, physical, opportunistic bunch that after allowing an opening field goal forced nine punts and came down with an interception over the next 10 possessions.
Against both the Oakland Raiders and New England Patriots, the Steelers defense contributed to a losing performance by allowing 197 yards rushing. That's not 197 yards rushing, as in the total for those two games, which on its own is not up to their standard. But 197 yards rushing for each team in each game. And Buffalo, yes, Buffalo, came to town with a running attack better than those.
Of equal importance to last Sunday's outcome was an offense finding a way to do to the opposing defense what was being done to its own defense. The Steelers had plans for their running attack this season, but those plans didn't entail trying to make it work with a revolving cast of five along the offensive line. Jack Bicknell Jr. was changing fivesomes so regularly it was as though he was coaching college basketball instead of NFL offensive linemen.
Which brings us to special teams, long the black sheep of the Steelers' family. The field goal kicker again was money, but this time Antonio Brown had two electric punt returns, and the field goal team used some hocus-pocus to draw the Bills offside on an attempt coming on a fourth-and-3 from the 11-yard line. Shortly after the penalty was assessed is when Le'Veon Bell ran the ball across the goal line, which gave the Steelers what sure felt like an insurmountable 17-3 lead late in the third period.
Today, the Steelers get to report to work with a victory having smoothed so many of Sunday's rough edges. If a mistake or a mis-play or some tactical blunder wasn't sufficient to cost the team a victory, it cannot have been that serious. Right?
That's where things get more than a little murky. There was never any contention that the 2013 Steelers were incapable of competent play, but the issue for them has been finding it within themselves to play competently on a week-to-week basis. So far, any taking of a Steelers victory and projecting the elements of it beyond the boundaries of that individual game has served only to disappoint.
There can be no reasonable expectation that next weekend against the Detroit Lions the Steelers will run the ball and stuff the run and dominate on special teams and overcome whatever injury-based adversity is presented to them just because they did all of it last Sunday against the Bills. In fact, in the down-the-rabbit-hole path this season has taken, the smart money would seem to be on them pulling a George Costanza and just doing the opposite.
The Steelers really needed a win last Sunday, and they got it over the Buffalo Bills. If you want to know what that game means, check back after next week's against the Detroit Lions.
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