With their deeply-talented roster, sack-happy fashion and early-season success, the 2020 Pittsburgh Steelers conjure grainy, romanticized photographs of the crew’s Seventies glory days: quarterbacks fleeing their protection in terror and opponents pushed facemask-first into the filth, whereas foundry staff cheer them from smoky faucet rooms and John Facenda narrates over a cinematic soundtrack.
It’s tempting — and extremely untimely — to attract parallels between the present unbeaten Steelers and their Metal Curtain predecessors: T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree walloping quarterbacks like Jack Lambert and Imply Joe Greene; Minkah Fitzpatrick as turnover-hungry Mel Blount; James Conner hammering out yardage like Franco Harris; Juju Smith-Schuster and the rookie sensation Chase Claypool channeling the swish Lynn Swann and the bodily John Stallworth; and Ben Roethlisberger orchestrating the havoc just like the wily Terry Bradshaw.
However simply as Pittsburgh is many years faraway from being a sooty mill city (the faucet rooms are actually brew pubs, the pierogies probably full of braised brief rib or spinach-and-mushrooms), the 2020 Steelers (5-0) can’t fairly declare direct lineage from the groups that gained 4 Tremendous Bowls within the Seventies. This yr’s roster does, nonetheless, validate the Steelers’ traditionalist franchise-building philosophy and represents a welcome return to the crew’s roots.
In a league the place organizations change regimes like they’re toner cartridges, the Steelers have modified head coaches solely twice within the final 51 years. Mike Tomlin has coached the Steelers since 2007. Normal supervisor Kevin Colbert has been at his submit since 2000. The crew’s strict finances practices — contracts are not often prolonged earlier than their last yr, and big-money acquisitions are uncommon — have been in place for many years. The Steelers nonetheless deploy a variation of the bottom protection that Chuck Noll put in in 1983. Even the crew’s uniforms have barely modified since 1968.
That dedication to continuity has paid off. The Steelers haven’t endured a dropping season since 2003. They’ve reached the playoffs 18 occasions and the Tremendous Bowl 4 occasions since 1992. Invoice Cowher’s perennial contenders of the mid-Nineties (led by defenders like Kevin Greene, Rod Woodson and Greg Lloyd) and the Cowher/Tomlin Tremendous Bowl groups of 2005 and 2008 (Roethlisberger, defenders Troy Polamalu and James Harrison, old-school weapons like Jerome Bettis and Hines Ward), all bore clear resemblances to the Seventies-era champions.
When the Steelers strayed from their conventional template within the mid-2010s, with operating again Le’Veon Bell and receiver Antonio Brown becoming a member of Roethlisberger because the crew’s marquee performers, it almost tore the franchise aside.
The Steelers reached the playoffs in each season from 2014 by means of 2017 with a high-scoring offense (they completed within the high 10 in scoring all 4 years), a less-than-spectacular protection (tenth or decrease in fewest factors allowed 3 times) and an ever-increasing, uncharacteristic aptitude for melodrama. The 2018 crew began the season 7-2-1 however then misplaced 4 of its final six video games to overlook the playoffs, collapsing beneath the cleaning soap opera story traces of Bell’s yearlong contract holdout and Brown’s behind-the-scenes histrionics.
The group allowed Bell to signal with the Jets at the beginning of the 2019 low season and traded Brown to the Oakland Raiders so he might pursue Batman villainy elsewhere. When Roethlisberger sustained a serious elbow harm within the second recreation of the 2019 season, it appeared to sign a tidy finish to an period. With their superstars injured or dispersed, absolutely it was time for the Steelers to interchange Tomlin (who appeared to have a substitute instructor’s command of the locker room) and plunge right into a rebuilding cycle with a brand new quarterback.
As an alternative, the Steelers went in the other way, extending Tomlin’s contract earlier than the 2019 season started, then buying and selling away their 2020 first-round draft decide for Fitzpatrick as a substitute of earmarking it to pick Roethlisberger’s substitute. The commerce was extensively criticized, however the Fitzpatrick-Watt-Dupree protection produced 54 sacks and 20 interceptions, and the Steelers remained within the playoff chase till the ultimate week of the season regardless of an injury-ravaged offense.
The Steelers’ refusal to strip-mine the roster and begin over is now paying off. The 38-year-old Roethlisberger has solely appeared barely creaky since his return; he’s additionally noticeably slimmer than the chunky bouncer who waddled onto the sphere within the late 2010s. Roethlisberger has unfold 11 landing passes by means of 5 video games amongst newcomers (Claypool), holdovers from the Actual Steelers of Allegheny County period (Smith-Shuster), and kids who made the a lot of the 2019 hole yr (Dionte Johnson, James Washington).
The Steelers protection, in the meantime, leads the N.F.L. with 24 sacks and permits solely 3.3 yards per operating play. And with Bell lately launched from Jets purgatory and Brown finest left as the subject of a distinct form of essay, the Steelers are freed from each tabloid fodder and regrets.
So whereas the Tremendous Bowl plans and Metal Curtain comparisons ought to at the very least wait till after the Steelers face the 5-0 Tennessee Titans and the 5-1 Baltimore Ravens over the following two weeks, there are good causes they encourage 8-track flashbacks. The Steelers are throwbacks to an period of longer consideration spans and slower information cycles, when granting the quarterback and the coach an additional yr made sense and instant-gratification roster selections didn’t. They’ve constructed a younger nucleus with out “rebuilding,” developed rising stars as a substitute of overpaying and created a extra thrilling crew than they fielded within the Bell-Brown period with out compromising.
The 2020 Steelers are so old style that they’re now retro stylish. It’s a glance that actually fits them.