Friday, December 11, 2009

What's Wrong With the Steelers?

5. Super Bowl Hangover - It seems like the easy and childish explanation, but I believe there is some merit. The Steelers opened up the NFL season this year on Thursday Night against the Tennessee Titans, and the stars seemed to be aligned for another Super Bowl run. But Steelers came out flat in that game and were lucky to win, Troy Polamalu seemed to be the only player playing at a high level, at least until he got hurt. The Steelers woke up 2 weeks later 1-2. They did go on to a nice little run before losing to Cincinnati in early November. The mentality with Steeler Nation and probably the Steelers themselves was that at least we have Kansas City up next to play. There seems to be an air of overconfidence on this team and for Steeler fans in general. This squad thought they could just show up and would beat teams like the Chiefs, Raiders, and Browns, but it has not been the case. This team isn’t hungry. Do you think Jerome Bettis and the 2005 Steelers would have lost these games? A magical Super Bowl run does have an indirect effect on a team. Not only do their heads get big, but you get top efforts from your opponents, and the breaks don’t always fall your way.

4. Player Regression - I was trying to think of two or three players to put here, but this is mainly for one, one of my favorite all-time Steelers, James Farrior. Farrior chasing down Chris Jennings last night looked like me trying to catch Usain Bolt. Remember him trying to cover Ray Rice on the all-important 4th and 5 in the Baltimore game? Polamalu may be the play-maker and Silverback is the defensive player of the year, but James Farrior has always been the nucleus of the defense. He has been the bridge between the defensive line and the secondary, and the center of the linebacking corps. Once a great run stopper, a solid blitzer, and a good pass defender, but all of a sudden, he looks old and slow.

3. Injuries - Goes without saying. Look what happens to the secondary when Polamalu is out. Ryan Clark becomes a little exposed. He was everybody’s favorite “cult” player last year, but is simply not the same player without Polamalu in the lineup. Tyrone Carter now starts. I think Carter is a pretty good backup but has some obvious ills. He plays the Polamalu role as a blitzer and late run stopper, but he just doesn’t have the same speed and overall athletic ability as Troy. Not his fault or anything, it’s just the facts. Ryan Mundy now plays a lot of nickel, which would have been Tyrone Carter territory last year.
We saw what happened two years ago when Aaron Smith got hurt. Same story this year. When’s the last time the Cleveland Browns dominated the line of scrimmage against the Steelers? The Steeler defense this year has been without Polamalu, Smith, and a declining James Farrior, arguably the three most important Steelers on defense.
Do you think the Ravens would have beaten the Steelers if Roethlisberger had not sustained a concussion? Chris Kemoeatu, Hines Ward, Willie Parker, Travis Kirschke, Lawrence Timmons, etc, have all been hurt and missed time. Like I said, sometimes the luck and breaks don’t always go your way.

2. Bruce Arians - The offensive coordinator is always the easy punching bag, but this is getting so frustrating. Last night on the first offensive possession, Rashard Mendenhall gets 9 yards on two carries, and what do the Steelers do on third and one in frigid temperatures? SHOTGUN. It’s just idiotic to me. I don’t care if you pass. Play action is fine, a screen?, but the shotgun is basically a big red sign to the defense of what you are going to do. Remember that awful pitch to Melwelde Moore in overtime against Kansas City? Wasn’t there more of a rhythm with Mike Murlarkey and Ken Whisenhunt that just isn’t at all evident with Arians? The ball is always snapped with one or two seconds on the play-clock and the plays are rather predictable to me. Start two tight ends? Matt Spaeth is worthless. Three wideouts? Go spread? A fullback? I miss Dan Kreider. Where’s the identity? Starting lineups seem to change weekly. Rashard Mendenhall is an absolute potential star and is so underused. In most of their losses this year, they have been leading in the fourth quarter. I was never the biggest Bill Cowher fan, but would he have lost those games? Run the ball in the second half, run the clock out, and win time of possession, those ideas don’t seem to be on Bruce Arians’ agenda.

1. Mike Tomlin - A lot of these problems can be rolled into the leadership category. Why are the Steelers flat some games? Why does Bruce Arians still have a job? What part of Mike Tomlin is imprinted on this team? He was a former defensive back's coach, and yet the secondary has regressed, with or without Polamalu. Tomlin announced changes would be made, and yet the same starters played last night. He always preaches about the importance of special teams, but the unit is historically one of the worst of all-time and shows no sign of improvement. He’s a smash-mouth guy, but lets Arians loose and throw all over the field. He’s a cover-two guy, but lets LeBeau loose with the zone-blitz (not a complaint). The point I am trying to make is where is his personality on this team. When people say a Bill Cowher type team, you know what they are talking about. His game and clock management skills are below average at best. There was the 2-point conversion debacle in the Jacksonville playoff game. Last night, there were two timeouts taken prior to the 2 minute warning. If those timeouts were saved after the failed 4th down conversion, the Steelers could have gotten the ball back with about a minute left. More important than all of that is the fight and fire. “We are going to unleash hell…..” It was obvious that the Cleveland Browns were more prepared to play and far more fired up yesterday. The Steelers were slow all night. They walked to the line of scrimmage, they ran the play clock all the way to basically zero, and they were playing catch-up on defense. Where is the fight? Where is the fire? Where is the motivation? If this team has in fact quit, in which Hines Ward hinted at, then that lies on the coach. Mike Tomlin is a good coach and nothing can take away the Super Bowl he won last year, but my trust in him has certainly been shaken this year.

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