With December coming to a close, most fans of the Pittsburgh Steelers would ordinarily be looking hopefully to January and the start of the NFL Playoffs.
This year is different, however. The Steelers are on the outside looking in.
Finishing with an 8-8 record, the Steelers and the proud Steeler Nation are going to be sitting at home wondering what happened to a team that was considered a Super Bowl contender at the beginning of the season.
When the kind of collapse that happened in Pittsburgh happens to a team with such high standards, it causes many to question what kind of changes will be coming in the offseason. An offense that seemed out of sync for a majority of the season, a defense that was unable to create turnovers and special teams plagued by penalties and miscues—there could be much change in the Steel City.
Many fans are calling for the firing of offensive coordinator Todd Haley for his offense sputtering down the stretch and never producing a reliable running game all season. Haley’s offense has scored 20.8 PPG this season, only .5 points more than Colts OC Bruce Arians.
The running game has looked particularly frustrating this season, only averaging 96.4 YPG, almost twenty less per game from last season. Haley has also been reported to not be on the same page with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, something that looks evident by the play on the field and numerous comments by Roethlisberger to the media.
While Haley is unlikely to be fired from Pittsburgh, there are rumors he is the front runner for the Arizona head coaching position if it becomes available.
On paper, the Steelers defense was among the NFL’s best. What Steeler fans will tell you is another story. A failure to create turnovers, at times an inability to create pressure on opposing offenses and being steamrolled by offenses on inferior teams that should have been shut down completely.
The blame deserves to go everywhere, as not one unit performed exceptionally outside of Lawrence Timmons. But blame will be placed, and it seems like stalwart defensive coordinator, Dick LeBeau, is the recipient.
LeBeau has been a fixture in Pittsburgh since he became the DC in 2004. Now it’s almost 2013 and the defense that used to frustrate opposing teams looks slow and stagnant; it breaks at the wrong moments and doesn’t deliver when it’s needed most. This can be attributed to aging talent, poor scheming or any other defensive excuse, but it will fall back on LeBeau. For the first time in years, Steelers fans aren’t certain if he’ll return; if he will finally step down or not.
There will be much change in Pittsburgh this offseason—not as radical as many think it should be, but change all the same.
Veterans like James Harrison and Troy Polamalu will be faced with either taking reduced contracts or being cut outright in order to help with the salary cap situation. Mike Wallace will be a highly touted free agent wide receiver who will be offered more money by other teams and most likely lured out of Pittsburgh.
The Steelers face their most uncertain offseason since Mike Tomlin’s first season as head coach, an offseason that will be heavily watched and scrutinized as it develops.