PITTSBURGH - Mike Tomlin has said it a million or so times: The standard is the standard and the Pittsburgh Steelers don't make excuses.
Nonetheless, reality is reality, and it's distressing to see an injury report that includes James Harrison and Troy Polamalu just two weeks into the season. The Steelers have a full roster, but they only have a handful of players who are difference makers. Harrison and Polamalu are on that short list.
If they can't play today, the New York Jets' task just got significantly easier. Despite Tomlin's oft-stated pragmatism, players are not interchangeable parts. Some are superior talents who cause significant problems for opposing coaching staffs.
The Jets probably also operate on the standard "standard is the standard" philosophy, but there was undoubtedly a sigh of relief at Steelers headquarters when it was learned Darrelle Revis wouldn't be able to play today.
You win games with players who are well above the standard.
Mac is lacking
When the dissection of the Pirates' freefall starts in a few weeks, James McDonald will be a name that keeps recurring. Since the All-Star break, McDonald has made 12 starts and only two of them have been good. That's in sharp contrast to the first half of the season, when he was one of the best pitchers in the National League.
His start wasn't a fluke. McDonald was the only Pirates starter who improved over the course of last season. His ERA and WHIP declined as the season went on, and his walk/strikeout ratio improved significantly. This year's start built on that progress, and offered hope that he'd matured into a quality starter at 27.
Pitching coach Ray Searage is good, but he's had no answer for McDonald's decline. The Pirates have said there's no physical issue.
McDonald's inability to maintain his success has not only been costly this season, but it raises a huge question for the 2013 rotation as well.
Some people are reaching deep for explanations on why the Pirates have gone south. It isn't complicated.
It isn't Rod Barajas or Chad Qualls or whatever moves weren't made at the trade deadline; it's the dramatic drop-off by major players.
Pedro Alvarez emerged from a power drought to hit three home runs in nine at-bats against St. Louis in late August. Otherwise, he's hit three home runs in 153 at-bats since July 23.
The Pirates were 16 games over .500 because they got quality pitching from A.J. Burnett and McDonald, and offense from Andrew McCutchen and Alvarez.
Mehno can be reached at email@example.com.