A Season Squandered

For the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers after a 5 game (and counting?) losing streak takes them from a once promising 6-2 to a moribund 6-7 with three games remaining. Which basically begs the question “what the hell happened?” Basically a number of things at once mostly on the defensive side of the ball. Several games this season they have been exposed as being rather ordinary without Troy Polamalu anchoring the defense. The blitz schemes have been more vanilla without his presence, and their cornerbacks couldn’t cover 50 year old men in a phone booth if the pass rush isn’t getting there immediately. And the pass rush doesn’t get there immediately, especially given the fact it is legal in the NFL to hold James Harrison, if its not an exotic blitz that confuses the other team’s offensive line. This adds up to inexcuseable gaffes like giving up 27 points to Kansas City or three 4th quarter touchdowns to Oakland.

The special teams is horrendous. Sepulveda is one of the best punters in the league, but the punt and kickoff coverage teams are atrocious. And yet they keep kicking the ball to people rather than concede their deficiency and punt the ball out of bounds and do squib kicks. To be fair its not just the coverage, though. Its become clear to me the Steelers need a kickoff specialist as Jeff Reed cannot get the ball to the end zone and he has to line drive it to get the ball inside the 5 yard line, which puts the coverage unit at a disadvantage.

The offense was not so much at fault, excluding the Baltimore game that Dennis Dixon quarterbacked until Thursday night’s loss in Cleveland. 6 points against the Browns? 8 sacks?? 6 goddamn points??? Even in other games, while the defense blew it late, the offense failed to get off to a good start in the game. 17 first half points would’ve been enough to bury teams like the Chiefs, Raiders, and Browns and make the 2nd halves mere formalities. But entirely too often they’ve drove the field only to bog down with a turnover, a field goal attempt, or a punt 1 first down shy of field goal range. Those things obviously happen sometimes in football, but entirely too often in this case.

But more than anything, I just don’t think the effort has been there. I don’t know if, after the 6-2 start that included wins over San Diego, Minnesota, and Denver they thought things would go just like last year and teams like the Chiefs would roll over for them, or if they just became fatigued as injuries sapped their depth, but the effort has been disappointing. That’s not an across-the-board statement; Rashard Mendenhall has been breaking out, James Harrison and Hines Ward are still themselves, statistically Ben is having his best season. But its becoming clear its time to retool a bit and tell guys like Casey Hampton, James Farrior, and Ike Taylor thanks for the memories and have a pleasant life. Will this be the season Dick Lebeau retires? Especially if he finally gets his long overdue Hall enshrinement? It will be an offseason with decisions to make, whether to chalk this season up to flukiness and not make many changes? Or to do a more involved refit? Depending on how the last 3 games go the Steelers are looking at their 1st round draft choice being somewhere in the teens. Obviously that pick, barring something unforseen on Draft day, needs to be whoever the best cornerback available is. A cover corner that actually prevents the other team’s receiver from getting wide open would be a nice thing to have. The draft as a whole obviously they’ll address getting more depth in the front 7, offensive line, you can never have enough wide receivers. But at least 3 picks need to be defensive backs.

A few people in Pittsburgh refuse to throw in their (Terrible) towels yet and point out that the Steelers can still make the playoffs. They technically could if they win out and all but one of the following happens: 1) Denver loses 3 of 4, 2) Jacksonville loses 3 of 4, 3)Baltimore loses one of their non-Pittsburgh games, 4) Miami either loses a non-Steelers game or they are the only two teams tied at 9-7, 5) New York loses one conference game (that maybe is enough) or two games, 6) I’m not forgetting anything. That’s obviously not all going to happen. Its a real shame to, as they had a chance to be historic. Repeating as Super Bowl champs would’ve allowed them to challenge New England as the team of the decade with 3 Lombardi’s each (New England would’ve had the perfect season SB loss versus the Steelers losing a couple other AFC title games as a tiebreaker). I assume the ECMB would’ve still given the achievement to the Patriots but I would’ve had plenty of room to argue the point. Oh well. The season was probably doomed as soon as they put Polamalu on the Madden cover. But its frustrating to miss the playoffs because they go 1-4 against the Bears, Chiefs, Raiders, and Browns.

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