After beating the Browns last Sunday, 38-7, what we’ve heard from a lot of naysayers is the same old, ‘yeah buts.’
As in, ‘yeah, the Steelers are 5-0 for the first time since 1978, but who have they beaten?’
Does everyone on their schedule thus far count?
A 5-0 record in the NFL is a 5-0 record no matter how you got there. After all, didn’t the Broncos just go into New England and win last week while the Eagles and Texans – two other teams the Steelers have beaten – took the Ravens and Titans to the edge of defeat?
Wins are wins in the NFL. And you don’t apologize for who you’re playing or how much or how little a margin by which you are winning.
And the fact is, the Steelers just might be the NFL’s most complete team.
Offense? The Steelers are averaging 31.2 points per game, placing them in the top five in the league in scoring. They’ve scored at least 26 points in each of their five games this season.
Defense? The Steelers are second in the NFL in points allowed at 18.8 per game and third in overall defense, allowing 285.2 yards per game.
The Steelers are the only team in the NFL in the top 5 in both of those categories. Not the Chiefs or Ravens, who haven’t been quite as potent on offense as they have been in the past, or the Seahawks, who are scoring well, but rank in the bottom of the league in scoring defense.
If you look just beyond those stats, the efficiency rankings on FootballOutsiders.com have the Steelers ninth on offense, second in that same metric on defense – behind only the Buccaneers – and seventh in special teams. The Saints are the only other team in the NFL with top-10 rankings in all three of those metrics.
“They are well-coached – they’re extremely well-coached. They’re talented. They play well,” said Titans head coach Mike Vrabel, whose team will put a 5-0 record of its own on the line against the Steelers Sunday at Nissan Stadium.
“It has been tough for people to run the football on them. We’ll have to get to work. ... We’ll have to block them. They’re good on the edges and they’re very good inside.”
The Steelers are making that kind of impression on people around the league, especially in terms of controlling games with their defense.
The bottom line is a team that can win a game in a variety of ways. The Steelers can totally dominate an opponent, as they did against the Browns, when everything is clicking, or they can win a shootout, as they had done the week before in a 38-29 win over the Eagles, when the defense had an uncharacteristically bad day.
That, at least according to Mike Tomlin, is the definition of a complete football team.
“(A complete team is) a group that is capable of winning games in a lot of ways that has players capable of stepping up, so they are tough to draw a bead on from a balance standpoint, a team that also has a high floor,” Tomlin said when I asked him that exact question on Tuesday. “You talk often about ceilings and what people are capable of from an outstanding standpoint, but there has to be a certain level of consistency and play. That’s displayed by a good, high floor in terms of the things you can expect from a performance standpoint. And lastly, a team that’s difficult to beat. By that, I mean a team that doesn’t beat themselves, and that is largely done through negativity that is created through penalties and things of that nature.”
That all sounds pretty familiar.
This week’s picks
Steelers (plus 1) over Titans: Losing your left tackle for the season is tough. Losing him the week you play the NFL’s best pass rushing team can be fatal to a team’s chances of winning. And that’s what happened to the Titans when Taylor Lewan was lost last week. Ryan Tannehill is playing as well as any quarterback in the NFL, but will he have time to throw? The guess here is no. And Tennessee’s defense is atrocious. Take the Steelers, 34-27
Browns (minus 3) over Bengals: The Bengals have shown to be a team that’s just good enough to lose close games this season. The Browns have shown to be a team that takes care of business against bad teams and loses to good ones. That makes this easy. Take the Browns, 31-27
49ers (plus 2) over Patriots: The Patriots are still getting way too much respect. They’re not a good football. They have no offensive playmakers. And the defense hasn’t been as stout as it was a year ago. San Francisco’s defense hasn’t been as good this season, either. But the 49ers do have playmakers on offense. Take the 49ers, 24-17
Rams (minus 6) over Bears: The Bears are not a good enough team to be 6-1, which is what their record would be if they win this one. The Rams defense is good enough to give Chicago fits. And while Chicago’s defense is good, the Los Angeles offense will be good enough to win this one. Take the Rams, 26-17
Panthers (plus 7) against Saints: Carolina has been one of the surprises of this season. And the Saints haven’t been as good when it comes to the sum of their parts. Carolina’s offense might actually be the better unit in this game. The Panthers will keep it close. Take the Panthers to cover in a 33-28 loss
Last Week: 4-1. Overall: 18-10-2