5 Reasons Pittsburgh Steelers Fans Should Be Worried About 2013
An 8-8 season and some disturbing offseason developments have the Pittsburgh Steelers looking for solutions and fans wondering if their beloved football team can survive this latest storm.
With problems and questions mounting, should fans be worried about one of the league's most stable and successful franchises?
Here are five reasons that fans should indeed be concerned about their favorite team in 2013.
This isn't your older brother's AFC North.
The Baltimore Ravens just won Super Bowl. While they have their own set of issues like retaining Super Bowl MVP Joe Flacco and working to get under the salary cap, they have the look of a team that could make another playoff run.
They'll be competitive and they always play Pittsburgh like the fate of the world rests on them.
The Cincinnati Bengals have made consecutive playoff appearances and are a young, talented team that has a ton of salary-cap space to improve. They have holes that can easily be fixed by using that space and having another successful draft haul.
Even the Cleveland Browns are threatening. Under a new coach with an offensive background and with building blocks all over the roster, the Browns are only a couple of solid drafts away from being a really good team.
All three teams took games from Pittsburgh in 2012. If the Steelers aren't careful, they could find themselves behind all three in the final standings in 2013.
Perhaps this section should be called the lack of replacements.
There just isn't a lot of proven talent sitting on this roster. It certainly doesn't resemble the years of transition of old when the Pittsburgh Steelers could still be a playoff threat even as they retooled.
When Jerome Bettis left, Willie Parker was emerging. When Kimo von Oelhoffen retired, Brett Keisel was waiting in the wings. When Earl Holmes and Jason Gildon departed, James Farrior and Clark Haggans stepped up.
The list goes on. Perhaps the Steelers have had their fair share of luck over the years, but for whatever reason they've never had trouble restocking.
James Harrison is getting too old. Jason Worilds may or may not be an answer. Casey Hampton's replacement should be Steve McLendon, but he isn't proven completely either. There's no replacement for Larry Foote, Troy Polamalu, Ryan Clark or Rashard Mendenhall.
One draft won't fix all of those problems. There will be other areas that need help too for various reasons.
For any fan, the thought that a team that's always been able to grow replacements with seemingly little effort can no longer do so is very disturbing.
For years, the most a reporter could get out of the Pittsburgh Steelers after a frustrating loss or season was that it was a team effort and that they'd come together and find a way to recover.
It worked too. The Steelers were the picture of solidarity for a long, long time.
Those days might be over.
There was a recent USA Today report from an anonymous teammate that indicted outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley for being out of shape. The player went on to indicate that his poor conditioning was the reason why Woodley was often ineffective and injured during the 2012 season.
That may be. Woodley's sudden drop in production was hard to figure out after so much dominance.
But the words themselves are a bigger problem than any one player's conditioning problems.
Those words indicate that there's a problem in the locker room. Ryan Clark said the same thing and said that there's a "fracture" in the locker room. (h/t USA Today)
This is a sign that the coaches don't have good control of the players and that the players don't know how to police themselves and conduct themselves as a team.
That's not Pittsburgh. If that is what this team has become, 8-8 in 2012 might just be the tip of the iceberg.
Perhaps the most obvious problem for the Pittsburgh Steelers is that they've backed themselves into a financial corner.
There was a time when the Steelers would begin the offseason a couple of million dollars beyond the salary cap. A cut here, a restructure there and they'd be all set for free agency and the draft.
They'd add a piece or two in free agency that could give them some complementary help and then draft the next round of star players.
Now, they'll have to let most of their free agents (many of which they could use) walk away and still be well over the salary cap. That means another year of restructuring a ton of contracts, cutting some expensive players and generally weakening the team.
While the Steelers may need a couple of years of this to get back to playing Pittsburgh football on and off the field, the next season or two could be painful.
For a point of reference, the 1998, 1999 and 2000 seasons are eerily reminiscent of where this team is at now. They're talented, but not enough. They have too many problems and just need time to fix everything.
The problem in 2012 seemed to be one of a square peg being shoved into a round hole.
That square peg was offensive coordinator Todd Haley. The round hole was the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive personnel.
Ben Roethlisberger has a big arm and receivers that can go get his long throws. Haley wanted a short passing game coupled with a hard-hitting rushing attack.
The rushing attack stunk because the personnel weren't right along the offensive line and in the backfield. Instead of adjusting to that reality, Haley continued to push his scheme and even leaned more heavily on the run as the team hit a wall.
If that happens again in 2013 and beyond, the Pittsburgh offense will be stuck in reverse and will fail to capitalize on the remaining years of Roethlisberger's prime.
Many fans were worried about another year of Bruce Arians. Now they're worried about another year of Haley.
And they should be worried. Haley doesn't seem to have any concept of what his players can do. That's how he failed as a head coach. So far, he's failed as an offensive coordinator for the Steelers.