Wednesday, December 9, 2009

DISAPPOINTMENT: THY NAME IS PITTSBURGH STEELERS

The Steelers played a great game on Monday night, November 9th, and who would have believed at the time that it would be the high point of their season? The Steelers were 6-2, had just beaten a supposed "up and coming" Broncos team on the road and in very physical fashion. The offense, in the second half, looked nearly unstoppable.

Everyone was licking their chops in anticipation of a rematch against the  Bengals who had beaten the Black & Gold in Cinci on September 27th. A crowd of 65,000 gathered at Heinx Field, anxious to see the Steelers issue a patented "beat down" on Cincinnati. Inexplicably, the Steelers did not show up for that game and have subsequently lost to a horrible Chiefs team, a substandard Ravens club and last week, to the lowly Raiders, leaving them with a very pedestrian 6-6 record with just four games to play. Tomorrow night they go up against one of the worst Browns teams ever and if they lose that game, there will no doubt be mass suicides taking place on  the city.



ABOVE: Famous motivational poster, available for ordering.

During this stretch of games, the offense has had sporadic good spells while the defense has lapsed into a near comatose state in the fourth quarter of each contest. This team, that as recently as last year was being hailed as being one of their greatest defensive teams ever, has fallen so far, so fast, that it borders on the unimaginable. Have the Steelers lost their desire?



ABOVE: The "Bunny of Disappointment", watch out, he's everywhere.

Much as I hate to admit it dear readers, it certainly appears that way. A few years ago, after winning SuperBowl XL, the Steelers went on to post a disappointing 8-8 season in Bill Cowher's final year. Taking a cue from a man who everyone knew was a lame duck coach, the Steelers sleep-walked through that disastrous season. But this year? Mike Tomlin certainly doesn't strike me as a lame-duck coach after winning his first championship last season, so what's the problem with the Steelers?

Most of this team's problems, both past and present, can be directed entirely towards two areas: The defensive secondary and the kickoff team.



ABOVE: Yes, Steelers defensive backs have moved like zombies.

The Steelers have been highly praised for good personnel moves over the years, but they have confused me so far this season. First of all, there has been much talk about the poor coverage on kicks and players have come and gone on those units. But are those players really to blame? How about Jeff Reed? This guy can't seem to even approach getting a ball into the endzone. In fact, many of his kicks come down between the five and ten yard lines. If the Steelers had someone who could kick a ball consistently in the end zone, wouldn't this be worth a roster spot? After all, a ball downed in the end zone is tantamount to a tackle on the 20. So what's wrong with that? It's surprising that no one on the Steelers has recognized this problem.

Secondly, the Steelers defensive backs are playing some of the worst footbal I've ever seen. Most of the time these guys aren't even in the picture when a receiver catches a pass...that's how far out of the plays they can be. It gets much worse as the game goes on, leading me to believe that there may be conditioning issues among this group.

A few weeks ago I was watching some NFL highlights and the announcers were raving about a new free agent for the Saints, former Packer Mike McKenzie, who in his first game back intercepted a pass and broke up three other plays. Were the Steelers asleep at the wheel on McKenzie? The Steelers cornerbacks haven't intercepted a pass in...well i can't even remember the last time. When they do get a chance, they look like people trying to catch a ball who literally have no hands. Imagine trying to catch a football if you had no actual hands. You'd look lilke Ike Taylor or even worse, rookie Joe Burnett who had one of the easiest interceptions in the history of the NFL fall through his hands (or wrists as you will) last week. That interception would have easily sealed a shaky victory for the Steelers. Instead, here were are, weeping and gnashing our teeth.

So what is to become of the Steelers this year? Can they make the playoffs?

Mathematically, the answer is still yes, but it will require one of those magical finishes to the season and a lot of other teams to lose key games. Do I think they will make it? Unfortunately, no. In fact, my answer now is that I hope that they don't. This team has lost far too many games to far inferior competition to warrant them playing on in the post season. It seems to me that instead it has become time to retool several areas.

The Steelers of 2010 will have a far different appearance from this year's team and obviously there are several holes that need to be filled before they can regain their form. Drafting in the middle of the first round, instead of at the end of it should assure them of getting a top flight defensive back or two this off season. Many veterans will see their contracts not renewed as the team will go into a rebuilding mode. In the meantime, the rest of the players can look back and congratulate themselves on a very disappointing effort in 2009. This team should have accomplished much more than it has this season. These players have only themselves to blame. Disappointment, Thy name is Steelers.  



ABOVE: There are temporary setbacks and then the kind that...well you never seem to get over them. Hopefully, in the offseason the Steelers will right their ship once again.