This weekend fans across the nation of teams like the New England Patriots, San Francisco 49ers, Green Bay Packers, and five others will sit down in front of their big ol’ flat screen TVs or gather with friends & fellow fans at a local watering hole or wings eatery and cheer on their favorites as they compete in the conference semifinals of the NFL playoffs. As a lifelong fan of the Pittsburgh Steelers I will pay casual attention to the games but spend the vast majority of my time reading a book or watching movies. This is unacceptable. However, since I am a solutions oriented type of guy I have decided to offer a fan’s perspective on what the folks in the Steelers front office need to do so that this time next year…okay, maybe the year after next if I am being perfectly honest…I may once again enjoy the playoffs and look forward to my Steelers making a legitimate run at a 7th Vince Lombardi Trophy. Therefore, it is with all due respect to an organization that has dominated the NFL for most of the past four decades and won more Super Bowls than anyone else that I humbly present…..
from the home office in Latrobe, PA…..
The Superfluous 7 Ways To Fix The Pittsburgh Steelers:
7 A Legit #1 RB
When people talk about the Steelers the conversation traditionally goes in one of two directions…the awesome defense or the strong running game. The Steelers have always been primarily a running team until the past few years. Even when Swann & Stallworth were catching balls from Bradshaw in the late 70’s & early 80’s there was still the specter of Franco Harris & Rocky Bleier, who combined for 1500 yards or so for several years. More recently there was The Bus Jerome Bettis, who ran for over 1000 yards annually from 1996 to 2001 until injuries and time share situations decreased his role. There have also been a whole host of guys that maybe didn’t make a long term impact but were pretty darn good for a short time…Bam Morris, Frank Pollard, Willie Parker, Merrill Hoge, Barry Foster. Does current starting RB Rashard Mendenhall measure up to Franco, Rocky, & The Bus?? Hell no. Is he as good as those second tier guys?? Maybe, which is why I am not ranking this as a primary need…yet. But since Mendenhall was a 1st round draft pick there is a heightened level of expectation. Since beginning his NFL career in 2008 Mendenhall has only exceeded 1000 yards twice, and in 2012 was hampered by injuries. Backup Isaac Redman is exactly that…a backup, and it became clear this past season that he cannot be counted on to carry the load. I do not think the Steelers should jump thru hoops or make any crazy trades to snag a back, but if the opportunity presents itself I would not be heartbroken to see Mendenhall shown the door and someone new be given the chance to tote the rock.
6 Backup QB
It is not unusual to see an NFL team floundering like water deprived fish on a warm sidewalk when their starting quarterback goes down. But most teams have gotten the message that in the modern NFL a decent backup QB is essential. The Steelers brass is far from clueless and until now have had the situation covered, but it has become obvious that this has evolved into an area of need. 38 year old Charlie Batch is believed to be retiring, and Byron Leftwich is an injury waiting to happen. And the elephant in the room is the fact that Ben Roethlisberger is now 30 years old and, because of his freewheeling style of play and the fact that a porous & injury prone offensive line has left him hung out to dry far too much in the past few seasons, usually misses atleast a game or two every year due to injury. At the very least a reliable veteran backup is needed that might be able to lead the team to a couple of victories now & then, and it may not be a horrible idea to groom a youngster to take the helm in 3 or 4 years. Kirk Cousins anyone??
5 Faster Linebackers
Lawrence Timmons & Lamarr Woodley are both fairly young players, but the two had a total of just 10 sacks between them in 2012. That has to improve. James Harrison & Larry Foote are both in their 30’s and have obviously lost a step, The jury is still out on Jason Worilds (although it doesn’t feel to me like he’ll ever become anything more than a complimentary player) as well as youngsters Stevenson Sylvester & Sean Spence. It seems likely that the team will need to add atleast one, maybe two linebackers. As a Steelers fan it is odd…and a little disconcerting…when a discussion of the best linebackers in the NFL includes names like Patrick Willis, Clay Matthews, Terrell Suggs, and DeMarcus Ware with nary a Steeler in sight. This must change. Would Jarvis Jones or Manti Te’o look good in black & gold?? Maybe.
4 Younger Defensive Line
Brett Keisel & Casey Hampton are in their mid-30’s and likely finished. Will Ziggy Hood, Cameron Heyward, & Steve McClendon step up and become a new Steel Curtain for the 21st century?? It is possible. However, it is likely that one or two additional pieces are needed. Alameda Ta’amu was supposed to be Hampton’s replacement, but he was cut then re-signed to the practice squad in the wake of a felony arrest for drunk driving, aggravated assault, & fleeing law enforcement last autumn. I suppose Ta’amu could potentially still evolve into the second coming of William “Refrigerator” Perry, but one can fairly assume that he is on a v-e-r-y tight leash and will have to work extremely hard to cajole himself into the lineup. The Steelers front office has always had the knack for knowing when to cut veterans loose who had nothing left in the tank while simultaneously having their replacements ready & able to step into the spotlight, but one has gotten the feeling over the past couple of years that they may have held onto a couple of these guys a bit too long and haven’t been as prudent as usual in laying out a succession plan.
3 Depth on the O-Line
I must give proper credit where it is due. Last year the Steelers drafted guard David DeCastro in the 1st round and tackle Mike Adams in the 2nd, so it isn’t as if they have not addressed the problem. And it is no one’s fault that a pre-season knee injury derailed most of DeCastro’s rookie campaign. However, there is still work to be done. Various injuries plagued the offensive line throughout 2012, exposing a few players as either injury prone or just not worth the effort. Some tough decisions are going to have to be made about who to keep around and who to cut loose. Obviously salary cap issues will play a significant part in these decisions as well. Since I am far too indolent to do the necessary research about such mundane issues as salaries & contracts, I’ll just go with the eye test. I’d jettison guards Willie Colon & Ramon Foster, as well as tackle Max Starks. That means drafting atleast one or two offensive linemen again as well as signing a couple in free agency. It might make for a rough 2013, but since that is probably going to occur anyway they may as well look ahead to having a solid line ready for the following season.
2 Offensive Coordinator
It was clear from the very beginning that Todd Haley and QB Ben Roethlisberger weren’t on the same page. And even though head coach Mike Tomlin did a fine job of keeping egos in check most of the season that discord never completely disappeared. At this stage of his career I think Big Ben has earned a certain amount of influence in the direction of the offense. I didn’t have a problem with Haley’s ideas about getting back to traditional Steelers smashmouth football, but the fact is that when you have a quarterback with the unique skill set of Roethlisberger, a group of pedestrian & injury prone running backs, an average at best & also injury prone offensive line, and a fine receiving corps like Mike Wallace, Antonio Brown, & TE Heath Miller you dance with the one who got you to the soiree. It is my understanding that Haley is being interviewed for some of the various head coaching & offensive coordinator positions available throughout the NFL, and I wouldn’t be heartbroken if he took off for greener pastures. Maybe Norv Turner would like to recapture some of his offensive coordinator mojo by working for a fine organization like the Pittsburgh Steelers & with another future Hall of Fame QB like Roetlisberger. And even if Turner is a pipe dream I still think there’s got to be a better answer than Todd Haley. Heck, I’d even welcome Mike Mularkey back into the fold.
1 A Shutdown Corner
I’ve been saying this for it seems like forever. I must again give due credit though. Kudos to both Keenan Lewis & Cortez Allen for stepping up in 2012 and being decent enough corners. Between them and Ike Taylor things weren’t horrible this past season, but they can & should significantly improve. The Steelers only forced 1.3 turnovers/game, which ranks near the bottom of the league. They intercepted 14 balls…far less than 19-21 range where the league leaders reside. The defense accounted for 37 sacks, which puts them in the middle of the rankings for that category, not near the top where they should be. This obviously has more to do with not getting enough pressure on the opposing QB, but I also think it means that the pass coverage needs to be better. Look, I know that some people might look at this and say “Dude…the Steelers statistically had the top defense in the league in 2012…what are you complaining about??”. I get that. But one thing that no one seems to ever account for is the fact that the Steelers offense always ranks near the top in time of possession, which means that the defense is on the field less. I believe that helps to mask certain issues. Is it a bad defense?? Of course not. Are these cornerbacks that atrocious?? Not really. But if the opportunity arises to draft Dee Milliner from the national champion Alabama Crimson Tide, or sign a free agent like Leodis McKelvin or Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie then I think it would behoove the suits in The ‘Burgh to do so.
- Pittsburgh Steelers: Why They Must Use the Draft to Fix the Offensive Line (bleacherreport.com)
- Kovacevic: Steelers disciplined? Say what? (triblive.com)
- Haley interviews with Cardinals (triblive.com)
- Steelers 2013 Draft Needs Initial Look (steelersdepot.com)
- The Best Free Agent Fit at Every Position for the Pittsburgh Steelers (bleacherreport.com)
- Who Must Stay, Who Must Go for the Pittsburgh Steelers? (bleacherreport.com)
- 10 ways to fix the Steelers (triblive.com)
- Pittsburgh Steelers Mock Draft: A Complete 7-Round Wish List (bleacherreport.com)
- Steelers 2013 salary cap options by position – outside linebacker (behindthesteelcurtain.com)