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Saunders: Five Steelers Thoughts from Super Bowl LVIII

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Steelers Super Bowl

The Super Bowl is in the books, and with the Kansas City Chiefs beating the San Francisco 49ers winning their second consecutive title and third in five years, the 2023 NFL season has come to a close.

Here are my quick-hit thoughts from Sunday night, and what we can learn about the NFL and the Pittsburgh Steelers from the game.

Good luck against Mahomes

When it comes to competing for the Super Bowl in the near future, there is the team that has Patrick Mahomes and the 31 that don’t. He’s that good. He basically put the team on his back in the playoffs, rallying a mediocre cast of surrounding characters by throwing one interception over four games in the postseason.

It’s an all-time great playoff run from a quarterback that is rapidly climbing toward all-time great status, despite throwing the ball to the likes of Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Kadarius Toney all season.

There should not be a year that a team is favored to win the Super Bowl over Mahomes, as long as he keeps playing at this level. He’s been to four Super Bowls in five years and won three of them, and he’s only 28 years old.

The rest of the league is basically starting out playing for second place, and teams in the AFC like the Pittsburgh Steelers have it even worse.

Defense still matters

Despite the fact that Mahomes is nearly singlehandedly running roughshod over NFL record books, let’s not overlook the contributions of the defenses in this game. It took five quarters to get a team over 20 points, and even that was aided by a late fourth-quarter San Francisco special teams gaffe.

If Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Andy Reid are the deserving stars of the show for Kansas City, give defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo fourth place. He was outstanding all season, and came through in the clutch for big turnovers and red-zone stops, even when the Chiefs were giving up chunks of yardage.

In many ways, Sunday’s game reinforced something I’ve been saying for a while. We need to change what we consider to be a successful defense. The game is too slanted toward the offense and the skill position players are too good to defend every blade of grass.

At the end of the day, what’s important for a defense is preventing scoring, and adding possession. The ability of a defense to turn a drive that crosses the 50 into a punt, a drive that crosses the 20 into a field goal, and to create turnovers to get the ball back for offense or score on their own is what they should be judged by.

While the Steelers don’t have a Mahomes and won’t have one soon, they can have a great defense again, and quickly.

The Steelers aren’t as far from a Super Bowl as you think

Look, the difference between having Mahomes and not having Mahomes is massive. We’ve covered that.

But if you want to compare the rest of the Steelers’ roster to the 49ers and the Chiefs, they’re really not that far behind. A healthy Pittsburgh defense is right with those two units, and the Steelers offensive skill guys are better than Kansas City’s. The offensive line and the secondary still need to be upgraded, and that’s the main job for Omar Khan and company these next couple months, but really, the Steelers are pretty close to a quarterback away.

Now, will they find one? Their best hope for 2024 is that Kenny Pickett becomes that player. He won’t be Mahomes, but he sure can be Brock Purdy. Or Jared Goff, who made it to the NFC Championship Game. And if he can’t, then they’ll go into the 2025 offseason able to put nearly all their eggs in one basket as a solid team seeking a quarterback.

The negativity surrounding the future of the Steelers doesn’t match the talent on the roster and the current trajectory. They’re closer to putting this together than most of you think.

Don’t wish for a home Super Bowl

At one point during this week, it took traffic an hour to cover one mile of Las Vegas Boulevard. The Super Bowl makes a mess in every city it’s in, and even though Vegas is more used to hosting big events than any other city in the country, its infrastructure was completely overwhelmed by the scope of things.

Now imagine the traffic if they tried hosting this game in Pittsburgh.

There are plenty of reasons it won’t happen. It seems that the NFL will not repeat its one-time Northern outdoor game experiment after playing in New Jersey in 2014. The Steelers are not getting a dome any time soon.

But the city just isn’t big enough or set up correctly to host an event of this magnitude. Let the mess of a Super Bowl week be someone else’s problem. Be the city that takes over another city, like Steelers fans did in Detroit and Tampa, instead of the other way around.

Tony Romo wasn’t ready for his Super Bowl moment

This is not a strictly Steelers thought. Tony Romo, the  former Dallas Cowboys quarterback turned CBS color broadcaster, is a wonderful joy during the doldrums of the season, when his endless enthusiasm and encyclopedic knowledge of the game can spice up any moribund matchup.

But on the biggest stage, sometimes, the best thing a commentator can do is shut up, and Romo hasn’t figured that out yet. He talked over Jim Nantz’s call of the game-winner, and did so not to discuss the emotions of victory, or the historic nature of the overtime win, but to break down the inanities of Andy Reid’s offensive play calling.

It was a big whiff. Here’s hoping he learns from it.

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L M
L M
February 12, 2024 11:44 am

These are good points, except for one. What has Pickett done, specifically, on the field, that warrants his comparison to Goff or Purdy? Nothing. He was an overdraft that has set the Steelers backwards. The sooner that’s admitted the better. The pick after Kenny Pickett? Trent McDuffie to the Chiefs. How nice would the Steelers defense look with McDuffie and Porter!

Jesus Christani
Jesus Christani
February 12, 2024 11:56 am

AMEN to this whole article…

mckg
February 12, 2024 12:01 pm

It isn’t Andy Reid and I get sick of hearing it, it is Pat Mahomes period. Unlike Brady, Mahomes truly is the goat and early. Mahomes doesn’t have weapons, and can put the team on his back. Brady didn’t do that, they won many of their SB’s on the foot of Vinateri.

lafayette16
lafayette16
February 12, 2024 12:37 pm

Alan, nice work on the Final Word. Thanks for calling out Rossi on his “10 years” comment. With good talent evaluation, improved coaching, and healthy players the Steelers can contend well before then.