This Thursday, hundreds of thousands of area households will fill their plates with turkey, cranberry sauce, stuffing and a mountain of tots — isn’t there some kind of law in Pittsburgh where every plate has to be covered in fries or tots?!? — then sit down with a slice of pie to watch the Steelers face the potentially Andrew Luck-less Indianapolis Colts.
At 5-5, there isn’t a whole lot to be thankful for this season. And yet, this team still has a chance to turn the year around.
Here are five things fans should be thankful for this year.
Ben Roethlisberger is (kinda) healthy
But the thing is, when he’s healthy (and at home) he can be downright awesome. Roethlisberger has 2,524 yards passing on 353 attempts in nine games this season, averaging 280.4 yards per game. His average is markedly below the last two seasons — 328.2 and 309.5, respectively — but it’s the fourth highest average in his career. He has 20 touchdown passes to just seven interceptions, his best touchdown rate and second best interception rate since 2012, and he’s managed, somehow, to only get sacked 14 times so far this season.
This hasn’t been Ben’s best year, but he’s still an elite signal caller in the NFL. When healthy. Fans should certainly be thankful for that.
Mike Tomlin. Yep.
I know, I know. It’s weird even saying it, that of all the things the Steelers should be thankful for this season, Mike Tomlin is one of them. There’s a strong case to be made that any coach who has been in one spot for 10 years starts to lose his edge, and the team – especially the veterans who have been with him for a while – begin to tune him out.
Surely, that case can be made, but it feels odd being made in Pittsburgh. The Steelers have had three head coaches since 1969. In his 10th season, Tomlin is 97-57, a .630 winning percentage in the regular season, and he’s never had a losing season as a head coach in the NFL. While the championship aspirations of this team seem far-fetched through 10 games – a fair reason for fans to be frustrated – Tomlin has taken Pittsburgh to two Super Bowls, winning one in his nine previous seasons.
Bill Cowher, who Tomlin replaced in 2007, spent 15 years in Pittsburgh and had a .623 winning percentage that included three losing seasons. Cowher also went to two Super Bowls, winning one.
That comparison is not to suggest Tomlin automatically deserves another five years or that Cowher deserved all the years he got. It’s here more to say, well, sometimes in the NFL you should be thankful for what you have.
There’s comfort in consistency, especially when it comes from a man who has presided over six of nine seasons with double-digit wins. Sure, this year’s 5-5 record is comparatively pedestrian, and over the last five years the Steelers are 42-32 with only one playoff victory, but people wishing for Tomlin to leave should be careful what they wish for. Chuck Knoll isn’t walking back through that door anytime soon. But hey, Jeff Fisher might be looking for work soon.
Le’Veon Bell is … back?
Let’s be positive here. Bell rushed for 146 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries, adding another 55 yards on eight catches last week, catching fire just in time for a playoff run. Yes, it was against Cleveland, and yes, yes, it was the first game in a month he rushed for more than four yards per carry, but he’s had at least six receptions in each of the last six games, and he’s had just one game of the seven he’s played with fewer than 100 yards from scrimmage.
He’s scored just three touchdowns this season, but they’ve all come in the last two weeks. A healthy, productive and unsuspended Bell can change everything this season.
Antonio Brown still exists, right?
Antonio Brown has 77 receptions this season, three more than Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald for the most in the NFL. Brown’s 907 yards are the fourth most in the league, and his seven touchdowns are the third most in the NFL and the most in the AFC. He has just 10 punt returns this season for 107 yards, but he’s the only receiver in the top 10 in the NFL who even plays special teams. No matter what else happens, always be thankful for this.
Won’t lie, I tried to find something about the defense to be thankful for.
Alas … the schedule isn’t bad down the stretch, buoyed by the fact Luck may not be out of the concussion protocol by Thursday, which gives the Steelers a near certain victory if Indy is without their quarterback.
The final five games are all winnable, too. The Giants are tough, but that game is in Pittsburgh, and the Giants are just 2-2 on the road, with a 5-1 slate at home. The Bills are currently 2-2 at home and with that team anything can happen there. Cincinnati is a mess, with or without AJ Green, so even though the Dec. 18 Sunday Night Football game is on the road, the Steelers could be heavy favorites by then.
Baltimore is tough no matter where Pittsburgh plays them, but the second game this year is at home for the Steelers, who end the season with a bye week in the shape of a big orange helmet.
The Steelers probably won’t run the table, but they could. They even might. It’s worth being thankful for that.