The Pittsburgh Steelers missed the playoffs for the first time since 2009 after a mediocre 2012 season. Inconsistencies in all three phases of the game and a rash of injuries doomed the team to 8-8 mediocrity.
If Steelers fans are looking for places to point the finger of blame, they might start with these seven missteps.
Headed into the game against Kansas City, I personally thought that the Steelers were in the midst of a special run. Coming off a signature win against the Giants, Pittsburgh was converting over 50 percent of their third downs and was dominating their opponents in time of possession. Bleacher Report’s own Michael Schottey suggested at the time that Kansas City’s best hope of victory might be divine intervention.
Steelers fans know the next part of the story well.
Big Ben got crunched, and the circus that was the Steelers' backup quarterback situation took center stage. Apart from one unbelievable touchdown run from Byron Leftwich (literally difficult to believe) and one magical half of football from Charlie Batch, the abominable play from the quarterback position threw a wet blanket on all of the momentum that the team had generated.
When Roethlisberger returned, he was not the same player that had been playing at an MVP level. That was to be expected. However, Steelers fans found themselves in the unfamiliar position of watching their best offensive player suddenly become a liability. He was absolutely not at his best, doubling his season interception total by throwing four in the final four games.
At the defining point of the season, Roethlisberger tipped the scales too many times in the other teams’ favor.
In what is becoming a disturbing trend for this team during head coach Mike Tomlin’s tenure, the Steelers did not bring their “A” game against some of the NFL’s weaker teams. Facing Oakland, Tennessee, Cleveland and San Diego, Pittsburgh let an inferior opponent stick around and it burned them in the end.
If the Steelers had buried even half of these teams when they had the chance, they would have been postseason bound. Instead, it’s what-ifs, mock drafts and Penguins hockey for Steel City fans until next season rolls around.
The return of the “ground and pound” offense left something to be desired in 2012. Between uninspired running by the ball carriers and an unstable, injury-ridden offensive line, the Steelers sputtered to a 3.7 yards per carry average.
Late in the season, all of the Steeler tailbacks took turns coughing up the football, leaving fans wistfully remembering the days of Jerome Bettis and Franco Harris. In all honesty, Steeler Nation would likely have welcomed the days of “Fast” Willie Parker compared to this season’s debacle.
With Rashard Mendenhall and Chris Rainey not expected to return, and Jonathan Dwyer, Isaac Redman and Baron Batch free agents, this will likely be an area of major upheaval in 2013.
According to the NFL’s official statistics page, the Steelers topped the league in both pass defense and total defense, and boasted the second-best rush defense. However, the early mock draft consensus suggests that Pittsburgh should look to the defensive side of the ball early. How can this be?
As Mike Tomlin would put it, the defense did not make enough “splash plays” this year. The Steelers were more solid than spectacular this season, mustering just 10 interceptions and sacking opposing signal callers 37 times, a far cry from the 51 they posted in their Super Bowl season of 2008.
With Troy Polamalu unable to stay healthy and no defensive player save Cortez Allen making plays on the ball, the Steelers will likely need to draft a defensive stud if these numbers are to improve.
The traditionally fearsome bookends of the Steelers 3-4 defense seemed more like doorstops in 2012. James Harrison was slow to round into form during his recovery from offseason knee surgery, and his six sacks were the fewest that he’s ever tallied since becoming a full-time player.
On the other side, LaMarr Woodley’s oft-injured hamstring continued to stunt his growth, and some say his offseason conditioning program may be to blame. According to Josh Harris from Trib Total Media, strength and conditioning coach Tom Shaw has an alternative program in mind for Woodley:
There are three ways to pull a hamstring — overuse, overstriding and dehydration. A linebacker who makes 80 percent of his plays within 10 yards is playing within a box. He shouldn‘t hit his (full) stride length. I want Woodley to come down here. He‘s a hard worker, but we teach the proper way to run.
Regardless of what 2013 brings for both outside linebackers, there’s no debate that the pass rush was a huge disappointment in 2012.
The “Young Money Crew” wide receiving corps took a step backwards this season. Mike Wallace’s holdout caused problems of its own, but that doesn’t explain the lack of focus and production shown by fellow receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders.
Dropped passes and fumbles plagued all three players, and the trio went from one of the team’s greatest strengths to something of an Achilles’ heel for the offense. One has to wonder if the absence of veteran leader Hines Ward had something to do with the drop in effectiveness from the Steelers' young wideouts.
With Wallace likely headed to another team in 2013, the front office will likely search out playmakers in the offseason to pick up the slack.
In the days following the 2012 NFL Draft, analysts declared the Steelers winners in the war room. By drafting David DeCastro, Mike Adams, Sean Spence, Alameda Ta’amu and Chris Rainey, the Steelers nailed several of their team needs in the first five rounds.
However, 2012 was a tough year to be a Steelers rookie—with DeCastro and Spence suffering serious injuries, Ta’amu being unable to make it on the field and Rainey being largely ineffective before running into legal issues that, according to ESPN, will lead to his release.
The positive news is that the Steelers will have the equivalent of two rookie classes to evaluate when next year’s training camp comes around.
The Steelers' headman did not have his best season in 2012. From the fake field goal fiasco against the Giants to the running back roulette against the Browns to the decision not to try and develop a serviceable backup to Ben Roethlisberger, Coach Tomlin left something to be desired in making the calls. However, his track record of success gives him a bit of a pass here.