Pittsburgh Steelers: Art Rooney II End-of-Season Address

Chris GazzeCorrespondent IJanuary 17, 2012

Pittsburgh Steelers: Art Rooney II End-of-Season Address

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    The Pittsburgh Steelers season came to a disappointing end in the Wild-Card round of the NFL playoffs, and now that the sting of the loss has begun to wear off, it is time to look ahead to the 2012 season. There is no better person to share that vision than team president Art Rooney II.

    Rooney spoke with the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette's Ed Bouchette and the Tribune Review's Scott Brown and reflected on the 2011 season as well as addressed offseason concerns.

    Areas of particular included addressing the 2012 salary cap, potential philosophical changes on offense, free agent priorities and potential changes in the coaching staff.

    Rooney made it clear that though the Steelers suffered an upset loss in the playoffs and face difficult roster decisions, the Steelers should be competitive once again next season.

    Here is a breakdown and analysis of some of the highlights from what Rooney had to say about the state of the Steelers.

On the 2011 Season

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    "We didn't reach our ultimate goal,'' Rooney told the Post-Gazette.

    "But on the other side, there are positive things we can take out of it.''

    Rooney took a middle-of-the-road approach on the 2011 season. He recognized that in Pittsburgh, it is Super Bowl or bust, but he is encouraged for the future, and he should be.

    The Steelers have a franchise quarterback in place who is still in the prime of his career and is surrounded by a wealth of talent at the skill positions.

    Pittsburgh also locked up their defensive core with deals to Troy Polamalu, LaMarr Woodley, Lawrence Timmons and Ike Taylor and have up-and-coming young players such as Ziggy Hood and Cameron Heyward to supplement them.

    As to be expected, the Steelers do not rebuild; they reload. They are able to achieve that with their drafting philosophy and allowing young players to sit and learn behind veterans.

    Another draft class could help an old defense get younger and faster in a hurry.

On the Impending Salary Cap Issues

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    "There's no question salary cap's an issue," Rooney told the Tribune Review.

    "It's probably as big an issue as we've had to face."

    According to Ed Bouchette, the Steelers are approximately $25 million over an estimated $124 million salary cap and must be under the cap by March 13.

    This could mean that long-time veterans could no longer be in the black and gold this fall.

    Potential losses include: Aaron Smith, James Farrior, Hines Ward, Casey Hampton, Chris Kemoeatu and others.

    Smith and Farrior are at the point where they are no longer effective starters and retirement may be an option. Hampton has a huge cap hit ($8 million) and cannot be brought back at that price.

    Ward is an interesting case because he still wants to play and has said he is willing to take a pay cut.

    "I'd probably have to restructure my contract," Ward told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

    "That's fine with me. I recognize that. I'm telling you I want to be here, I'm telling you I'm willing to do that. And I understand the ramifications -- we have the cap number and stuff, but I want to be here."

    Rooney did not say one way or another what the team will do with the team's all-time receiver.

    "He's one of the all-time Steelers," Rooney said.

    "Hopefully he'll be a Hall of Famer. You want it end the right way when it ends."

    It is hard to argue against the Steelers releasing or not re-signing many of the previously mentioned players. However, Ward is another story. He was the face of the Steelers franchise for a decade and deserves to retire in Pittsburgh.

    There is no doubt this will be one of the hardest, if not the hardest decision the team will make this offseason.

Offensive Problems

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    "We need to take fewer sacks,'' Rooney said when addressing areas to improve on the offensive side of the ball.

    Between the sacks and ranking 21st in scoring, Rooney established the two obvious areas of improvement.

    It is no surprise that he wants Ben Roethlisberger to take fewer sacks. He is always near the top of the league in sacks, and as he turns 30, his body will not heel nearly as fast.

    The answer? Roethlisberger needs to adjust how he plays the game. That is not to say that he completely eliminates his ability to extend plays, but rather, play a safer game.

    Roethlisberger can use his check downs more rather than getting hit by 300-pound linemen. He can use more three step drops to get rid of the ball fast. If he wants to go deep, he could roll out of the pocket.

    There is a reason Roethlisberger has established himself as one of the best in the league, and he cannot change that. Instead, he needs to do enough to keep himself healthy.

    Scoring is a clear issue, and that goes beyond Roethlisberger modifying his playing style. That is going to have to integrate changes from the offensive philosophy to upgrades with the offensive line.

    A better offensive line would result in fewer sacks and more scoring. High draft picks Maurkice Pouncey (2010 first round) and Marcus Gilbert (2011 second round) have helped, but more is needed.

Defensive Problems

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    Name the two biggest problems that the defense had this year.

    If you said not enough sacks and not enough turnovers, you would be in agreement with Rooney.

    These were the missing components from the NFL's top-rated defense, and it was a big factor in them not winning the division and losing in the opening round of the playoffs.

    The lack of pressure directly correlated with the lack of turnovers. Pittsburgh only has one playmaker in the secondary (Troy Polamalu) who had a down year in the turnover department.

    Beyond Polamalu, the Steelers need to pressure the quarterback to force mistakes, and that just did not happen this year.

    It appears as the only pass rushers that the Steelers have are James Harrison and Woodley, and both struggled with injuries this season.

    Pittsburgh will need to address inside linebacker with the potential departure of Farrior, and Larry Foote is nothing more than a stop-gap player.

    If the Steelers can get to the quarterback again, the turnovers will return.

Offseason Priorities

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    Rooney stated that signing Mike Wallace to a long-term deal would be a priority.

    Well, you can bet on one contract that will get done: Mike Wallace's.

    Typically, when the Steelers make a player their priority, they take care of him. This year should be no different.

    Though there was some frustration with Wallace's lack of production over the second half of the season as Antonio Brown emerged, he is still a tremendous deep threat and has been improving as an overall receiver.

    Pittsburgh is a much better team with him than without him.

    The other big offensive player in the final year of his contract is Rashard Mendehall.

    Mendenhall's ACL injury complicates an already complicated call. There are some questions whether or not he should get a long-term deal, a pricey one at that, before the injury, and now, the knee injury jeopardizes his tenure with the Steelers.

    Pittsburgh would be best taking a wait-and-see approach, even if that means risking losing him to free agency after next season.

Odds and Ends

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    Dan Rooney is expected to rejoin the Steelers after he steps down from his position as ambassador to Ireland.

    It will great to have Mr. Rooney back with the organization regardless of his capacity.

    The Steelers will also move forward with plans to expand Heinz Field by adding 3,000 seats to the open end zone.

    There will be no problem filling up these seats with the season-ticket waiting list, and the extra fans will make Heinz Field an even more difficult place to play. The expansion is long overdue.

     

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