10 Reasons Pittsburgh Steelers Fans Should Be Optimistic in 2012
Every season, every team sets out with the goal of of winning the Super Bowl. In most cases, that is just a fantasy. There are some teams that simply won't have a realistic shot at it.
Then there are the other teams. The elite teams in the NFL. These teams are the ones that are almost always near the top of the NFL. The Patriots, Packers, Ravens and, yes, the Pittsburgh Steelers are included in that list.
This offseason has already been one of the craziest ones for the Steelers in a long time. Having the "retired-fired" Bruce Arians issues, and those with his replacement, Todd Haley, this has already been an unusual year for the Steelers.
And Mike Wallace set to become a restricted free agent, and the chance of the Steelers losing him, has set off another head ache for Steelers Nation. Add to that the $25 million the Steelers were over the salary cap to start the year, and most teams fans would be ready to throw in their towel.
The Steelers towel, however, is Terrible, and fans don't throw it in for anything.
The 2012 season may look like the Steelers have issues, but in the grand scheme of things, they really aren't all that bad.
I read a note at one time that said: "Dear Optimist, Pessimist and Realist, while you were all arguing over the glass of water, I drank it. Signed, the Opportunist."
To me, this means you can either look at a situation negatively, positively, or the trouble that is ahead of you, but the best way to handle that trouble is to look it in the eyes and knock it out of the park.
That is why I believe the Pittsburgh Steelers' 2012 season is going to be successful. And when it comes to the Pittsburgh Steelers, the only time a season is successful is when they are raising the Lombardi Trophy at the end of it.
The Mike Wallace Situation
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The Mike Wallace situation is one of the craziest situations I have seen in a long time. I have heard all of the talking heads on ESPN, NBC, CBS and every other outlet that talks about football say how hard it is going to be for the Steelers to keep Wallace in place.
My thoughts? This is a win-win scenario.
Mike Wallace is an asset and one the Steelers have already said they are going to make their top offseason priority. They have already done so, evidenced by Wallace saying that his agent and the Steelers are already working on it.
This means a deal will likely not get done before Wallace becomes a free agent. The Steelers will do one of two things: franchise tag him, or offer him a restricted free-agent tender.
The first will guarantee Wallace will be a Steeler in 2012. The second will guarantee Wallace will not.
If he is a Steeler, they will have one of the most potent three-WR sets in the NFL.
If he isn't, the Steelers will receive another first-round pick and ,from that, will fill an additional need they have.
This works out great for the Steelers either way.
You can read the article I wrote about the options with Wallace, right here.
The Offensive Coordinator Situation
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At the end of the 2011 season, if you had polled 10,000 Steelers fans and asked them what they would do if they could make one decision for the Steelers, 9,993 of them would have said to fire Bruce Arians.
Honestly, I don't mean to beat a dead horse, but you could put your entire playbook into a hat, pick plays out at random and do a better job at calling plays than Bruce Arians did.
Well, he is now gone, and he has been replaced by Todd Haley.
Haley is the former head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs. Though he was not successful there, you can't really look at that to judge him. Go back to the last time he was an offensive coordinator, which is when he was with the Arizona Cardinals went to the Super Bowl (ultimately losing to the Pittsburgh Steelers).
What Haley had in Arizona is similar to what he will have in Pittsburgh to work with: great QB—check; elite WR corps—check.
What Haley will be able to do is similar to what happened in Arizona. No, he is not going to be BFF's with Ben Roethlisberger. I like that. Roethlisberger needs someone that is going to push him, and Haley is that man.
Add to that the Steelers ties Haley has, and I look at this hiring as nothing but positive.
Salary Cap Situation
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Everyone was so adamant that the Steelers were going to be in so much cap trouble that they were going to have to rebuild, and it was going to be years before they were at the top of the NFL again.
Well, that $25 million over the cap has almost disappeared, and the only players that are off the team were No. 5 receiver Arnaz Battle and the fifth corner, Bryant McFadden.
By restructuring contracts, the Steelers have lowered the amount of money over the cap to around $5 million.
Yes, they still have a way to go, but there are people (Ben Roethlisberger and James Harrison) willing to restructure their deals, and that alone will get the Steelers under the cap.
Then, there is still a list of players the Steelers could release and clear up a lot of money towards the cap.
You can check out my article on that, right HERE.
Either way, the Steelers appear to be heading into the 2012 season in better shape than most people gave them credit for.
The Keith Butler Situation
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Two years ago, Keith Butler interviewed for the Miami Dolphins defensive coordinator position. It was offered to him, but when he talked to the Steelers they made him an offer he could not refuse. He turned down the offer, and rejoined the Steelers.
This year, his contract was up, and it was reported everywhere that Butler was going to leave the Steelers to join Bruce Arians in Indianapolis. Butler never even made the trip to Indy to even talk to the Colts face to face because he had a meeting with Art Rooney and was given probably the best position in sports.
Coaching the Pittsburgh Steelers, even if you are a position coach, gives you something most other positions don't give you: security. The Steelers don't just fire coaches. Before Arians, who is the last coach that the Steelers fired? I can't remember. Butler has more security than any position coach in the NFL.
However, that isn't why Butler stayed with the Steelers. Butler stayed with the Steelers because it is believed that when Dick LeBeau retires, Butler will step into the Steelers' defensive coordinator position.
If you want to be a head coach in the NFL, you have to be a successful coordinator to get serious looks. Do you think Butler would have been more successful as a DC in Indy or Pittsburgh?
Either way, the Steelers have two great young LBs in LaMarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons, and two rising stars in Jason Worilds and Stevenson Sylvester. To have Butler to groom them is icing on the cake.
The Age Situation
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"Old, slow, over."
That is what Warren Sapp on Showtime said of the Pittsburgh Steelers after they were spanked by the Baltimore Ravens in the opening weekend of the 2011 NFL season.
What happened after that?
The Steelers went on to have one of the greatest defenses in the NFL for the remainder of the season, finishing first against the pass, in scoring and total defense.
Yep, definitely "old, slow, over."
The reality is the Steelers do have age on their defense but, as I have said before, Pittsburgh does not rebuild, it retools. Unlike most teams in the NFL, the Steelers get replacements before they need them. Mike Tomlin calls them "starters in waiting." For almost every person that is old, slow or over, there is someone on the depth chart that was earning playing time.
James Farrior—Stevenson Sylvester
Aaron Smith— Ziggy Hood
Brett Keisel—Cameron Heyward
James Harrison—Jason Worilds
Ike Taylor—Keenan Lewis
It is time for the Steelers to make some hard choices on players that Steelers Nation loves. The reality is, it is better to get rid of someone a year too early than a year too late. The Steelers will make those hard decisions and will be better because of it.
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Baltimore Ravens fans are pounding their collective chests that their team finally won the AFC North title away from the Pittsburgh Steelers. They managed to beat the Steelers twice last year and finished the season with almost the same record.
Though this did get them a home playoff game, they still eventually lost, on the road—again—to the New England Patriots.
What is the price for this? The first-place schedule.
If you look at the teams he Steelers and Ravens both have to play, there is obviously not much difference. Both teams will play the Browns and Bengals, as well as each other, both at home and on the road.
Here are the rest of the common opponents:
That totals 14 games. The other two are to the advantage of the Steelers. Because the Steelers finished second in the AFC North, they will play the second-place finishers in the AFC divisions they don't already play. That means the Steelers will play the New York Jets at home and the Tennessee Titans on the road.
The Ravens will play the other AFC Division winners, having to play the New England Patriots at home and the Houston Texans on the road.
That mean, the Ravens will have two games against former playoff teams, while the Steelers will play two teams that didn't make it.
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At the Pro Bowl this year, Ben Roethlisberger was not happy with Steelers management and said that when he got back to Pittsburgh he was going to sit down with Art Rooney and ask him what he expects of the offense now that Arians is gone.
Apparently, that meeting has already happened, and Roethlisberger went from that to already preparing for the 2012 season.
Last offseason, with the lockout and such, the Steelers didn't get together and practice. Yes, it ended up hurting them, but at the same time, it appears Roethlisberger has learned from that mistake and has already started working out.
Roethlisberger also said he is going to work with the receivers this offseason, which is more than we got last year.
Look, I know that the Steelers have had issues with Big Ben in the past. He has apparently gotten his life together, he is married now (no wedding distractions this offseason) and is looking at entering the prime of his career.
Plus, he is doing this knowing what he needs to do to get the Steelers back to the Super Bowl.
The Offensive Line Situation
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For years, the Pittsburgh Steelers had an offensive line that simply dominated opponents. Players like Jeff Hartings, Alan Faneca and Marvell Smith are just some of those players.
It has been a long time since the Steelers line has been dominant. No, I don't expect it to be dominant in 2012, but at the same time I expect it to be a lot better than it was in 2011.
The Steelers are anchored at center with Maurkice Pouncey. They have a new starting LT in Marcus Gilbert. Gilbert may not be the best in the NFL, but after an above-average rookie season, I expect him to be better than anything the Steelers had last year.
One of the things the Steelers didn't have last year was a quality starter—from day one—on either end of the line. With Willie Colon healthy, the Steelers could have both set at RT and LT.
If the Steelers decide to use one of their first two draft picks on another tackle, they can move Colon to huard, where he would probably be better suited. Colon has more of a size for guard, based on his shorter size. Before the Steelers re-signed him last year, his agent had stated he believed Colon would be a Pro Bowl-caliber guard, and I tend to agree with him.
Either way, the Steelers still need work on the interior of their offensive line, but having three of the five starters in place, and possibly four, is a lot better than they have had since Roethlisberger was a rookie.
The NFL Draft
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There are four areas of need for the Pittsburgh Steelers (ranked in order of importance): NT (Casey Hampton could be done), OL (as shown on the last slide), ILB (especially if James Farrior and Larry Foote are both released) and safety (Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark are in their 30s).
However, I honestly believe the two most important are the two in the trenches.
Though they do not get the public glory or much recognition on the stat sheet (especially in the 3-4 NT), games are won and lost in the trenches. These are two areas the Steelers need to address, and they are two of the deepest areas available in the draft.
When the Steelers' pick at 24, they will likely have the option of either line and get a quality player that could come in and be a starter from Week 1. They also have the ability to grab someone in the second round that could do the same.
Though there are areas of weakness, like every team has, the Steelers don't have that many and they have the ability to address those and make them a strength.
If the Steelers draft someone like Dontari Poe, whom I have them taking in my mock draft, they will have three players that have all been drafted in the first round over the last four years. That is a great, young line.
The Rooney Family
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Regardless of what anyone says, there is nothing more important in professional sports than having an owner that cares more about the team than anything.
The Rooney family, who have owned the Steelers since day one, love this team like they are fans.
Yes, they are going to have some hard decisions to make this offseason, but they have shown time and time again they are not afraid to let go of the people that need to be let go of and are not afraid to pay the people they need to in order to keep a successful team together.
As long as the Rooney family hold the keys to the Pittsburgh Steelers, you can be optimistic about the chances of the Black and Gold.