Aug 21, 2014; Philadelphia, PA, USA; Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver Jeff Maehl (88) avoids the tackle attempt of Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Ryan Shazier (50) during the second half of a game at Lincoln Financial Field. The Eagles won 31-21. Mandatory Credit: Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports
After a couple of disappointing seasons, finishing 8-8in both while missing the playoffs, the Steelers are looking to redeem themselves by moving back into the playoff picture. Yesterday was another step in the wrong direction as the Steelers looked awfully weak against their first serious preseason opponent. Even after the Eagles lost both LeSean McCoy and Jeremy Maclin, their offense proceeded to dominate the Steelers en route to a 31-21 victory where the Steelers failed to score in the first half (even Mark Sanchez managed to have a good game). Steeler’ fans post-game opinion was summed up by Nice Pick Cowher’s Kim Myers.
Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount’s behavior couldn’t have helped the situation either. Bell has struggled to get going this off-season, though Blount has been relatively steady. Their arrest news naturally blew up on the internet (because they are the Steelers) and prompted this reaction from ESPN analyst Herm Edwards. When a former coach points out that he would cut a player who is seen as a key for this team going into the season, it’s clearly cause for concern. Myers’ points out in her article that this incident occurred while the players were on their way to catch their flight for this trip. Naturally engaging in any behavior that is clearly against the rules of both the league is concerning, but doing so prior to getting onto a team flight seems outrageous. Did they think they wouldn’t be noticed by team officials? Did they think their teammates wouldn’t notice either? One has to wonder if they simply didn’t care if others noticed because the chance that no one around them would notice is nearly impossible. Blatant infractions like this must raise questions regarding how this team handles its players. The Steelers actions going forward will certainly tell the story.
Thursday night also brought about some disappointing injuries for the team, and even as a Bengals fan I have to hope that none are serious. Sean Spence suffered another knee injury (PCL) which is extremely disappointing considering his strong preseason thus far. He is attempting to return from a previous knee injury which held him out for nearly all of the past two years. Starting linebacker Jason Worilds suffered a knee injury of his own while Cameron Heyward also left the game with an ankle injury. If either, or both, Spence is out for any amount of time, the onus may fall on promising rookie linebacker Ryan Shazier. After not playing in the Steelers first preseason game, Shazier had a strong performance against the Bills in game two. The Steelers will be hoping that these key players aren’t out for too long.
I don’t want to make to big of a deal out of the preseason, but it has been an interesting off-season for the AFC North. As pointed out by Anthony Cosenza of Cincy Jungle, many analysts have picked either the Steelers or the Ravens to win the division and some have even placed the Bengals out of the playoff picture. These predictions despite the Bengals consistently trending upwards while the Ravens have been trending downwards and the Steelers have seemed to plateau recently. I do understand these thoughts as history is a hard thing to get over and the Bengals (long) history hasn’t been good in comparison to these other two. But there is something to be said for trends and the Bengals have steadily improved since 2011 despite its lack of a playoff win. I expect the AFC North to continue to be a struggle as it has historically and I expect all three of the Bengals opponents to put up a fight for the AFC North crown, but if I had to guess today, I’d say the Bengals will retain the crown in 2014.