The dynasty that was the 1970’s Pittsburgh Steelers was built on the foundation of hard-hitting, grind-it-out style football. The team, led by legendary coach Chuck Noll executed each play as if it were the most important of the game. After last week’s spectacular hybrid of Steel Curtain Defense with today’s pass-heavy playbook, Steelers fans couldn’t be blamed for getting ready to embrace a new look in the evolution of this franchice.
Contrast the 70’s era with this season – specifically last Sunday – and one can see the clear, disappointing differences in the way the Steelers play the game. Sure, the game of football has evolved in the last 40 years as teams have shifted towards a more pass-oriented style of play, and defensive players have penalties to worry about that players couldn’t fathom decades ago, but aside from natural changes in the game as a whole, the way the Steelers go into games like last Sunday is different than in years past. Their mentality is different, and the way they conduct themselves is different. To say the Steelers played a bad game on Sunday is an understatement. The Steelers played an atrocious game that was littered with missed tackles, missed field goals, turnovers, and poor execution overall.
Today’s Steelers are simply not the same team as the 70’s Steelers, no matter how 75’s ceremony last week may have extended hopes for Steelers Nation that nostalgia wasn’t a one week surprise.
Sunday’s game culminated with Steelers Safety Mike Mitchell leaping over the line of scrimmage while New York was lined up in the victory formation after the Steelers failed to recover an onside kick. Some argue that this was a dirty play; suggesting that it was disrespectful, or that it showed a lack of class, but I disagree with those statements entirely.
In my opinion, the previous touchdown pass from Ben Roethlisberger to Martavis Bryant finally gave the Steelers the jolt they needed to start playing at the level that they should have been playing all game long. Unfortunately, the touchdown came with less than two minutes remaining in the game, and the Steelers needed two touchdowns to tie the game.
After the failed onside kick, all the Jets had to do was take a few quarterback kneel downs and they would run out the clock. Mitchell, unwilling to give up without making an effort to cause a turnover, subsequently leapt over the line of scrimmage upon the snap of the ball – just as Troy Polamalu did in 2010 against the Tennessee Titans.
This was absolutely not a dirty play, but it shows why the Steelers are not the same team as they were 40 years ago. The team went into Sunday’s game with the mentality that – because they were playing one of the worst teams in the league – they already had the game won. It was not until the last two-minutes that the team played with the vigor and enthusiasm as it had in the three weeks prior.
Recently, they have played teams similar to the Jets in the same way, and they have gone into these types of games with the same mentality. It has been happening ever since the team won Super Bowl XLIII, as in the following season they went on a five game losing streak that saw them fall to some of the worst teams in the NFL.
In the 1970’s, this never would have happened to the Steelers. They had the mentality that each game was the most important game they had to play, and they certainly did not look past bad teams. Today’s Steelers are not the same as the 70’s Steelers. The 70’s Steelers played every game – every play – with the same fire that Mike Mitchell had in the games closing moments. Had the Steelers played that way for the entirety of Sunday’s game, they could have easily won.