A model NFL franchise, they say, a winning culture. These cliche lines get sprinkled in by broadcasters and journalists like they’re peppering a ribeye. As a fan of the NFL it’s annoying. As a fan of the Steelers it’s just not happening right now.
Every year for the past 4 years we have immersed ourselves into the hype of once again clinching the Lombardi trophy, and it always seems just out of our grasps. The Steelers have tinkered and tweaked the team over this course of time, but really, what have they done to correct the glaring issues presented to them.
Richard Sherman, Trumaine Johnson, Malcom Butler, Talib Kweli, Marcus Peters’s are all better options then what we have at cornerback. It’s not like they slip through the cracks either. The Steelers weren’t even rumored to have interest in any of them. What is Mike Tomlins plan here, I know Kevin Colbert is the GM but the coach has to have a say in this right? Joe Haden, Cam Sutton and Artie Burns just didn’t work last year, they ranked bottom 12 in yards per attempt which means no one was scared to throw on them, but their other stats were deceptively good and remained around top 10. So how does this explain Jacoby Brissett, Brett Hundley and Blake Bortles all having multiple touchdown games against the “steel curtain”. Well for one Ryan Shazier would have helped in the divisional round with his speed slowing the play action dumps down from Bortles and not allow to run freely. But he was present for the games against Green Bay and Indy, two teams that did not have great years last year. So what’s wrong.
Is it the schemes and plays that were being run last year? When Tomlin instructed Keith Butler to Bellichick proof the defense by switching to man coverage sprinkled in with some zone blitzes. They had the Patriots on the ropes in week 15 and that lead to a heartbreaking loss that will hurt for years to come.
When thinking about the Steelers teams from the past five years I’m always reminded of the old adage. “They play down to their competition”. Sounds like the first half of a Yogi Berra quote but I get the point. They overlooked the Colts, they overlooked the packers, the bears(terrible), the Ravens sometimes anemic offense and of course the Jag(twice).
The fact is that they are usually more efficient in a zone coverage because(surprise!) they don’t have great corners. You can have brilliant linebackers like Shazier and it won’t make a lick of a difference most of the time because all another team needs is a qb with a quick release and a couple shifty wide receivers and it’s off to the races with Joe Haden looking gassed and Mike Tomlin looking for someone to blame.
Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are two premier offensive weapons in this league. Each arguably the best at their position. And say what you want about Big Ben but holy shit can he sling it. Those 5 TDs(+1 for the shovel pass) in the divisional round against the Jags were incredible. He looked like an all time great most of that game. Yet they fell by the waste line. My biggest problem with the offense is different from the defense in regards to personnel. I love everyone on that side of the field, but holy shit does Tomlin run them ragged. Not only that but his clock management and play calling is questionable at best. Remember the fake spike blunder against New England? Remember the laughable 2 minute drill that could have been won by them. At a certain point it just seems like Tomlin is always rolling the dice and he does not have a good percentage. The fact that he is running one of the best running backs in football for the past 5 years into the ground with 400+ touches a year and it’s been well documented that he leaves players in the game when they are blowing teams out. Le’Veon has been the recipient of this as well. In 2016 it cost the Steelers what could have been a close game against the Patriots in the AFC championship and I have to say with his yards per carry slipping last season, it’s a scary thing to say, but his best days might be behind him, I hope I’m wrong though. The play calling for Big Ben has also been atrocious. It seems like abysmal play calling at times when in the third quarter up 2 possessions it seems like they are content with 3 and outs, and teams will nudge their way back and make it a game. Tomlin just has to learn to keep his foot on the gas and keep exploiting the other teams weaknesses. Football season is still 5 months away but how long will it be until they put together the season they are capable of? One can dream.