They may not be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs, but for all intents and purposes, the Pittsburgh Steelers 2013 season is over. With little to play for in terms of a postseason appearance, it could be very tempting for Pittsburgh to throw in the towel.
Sitting in the bottom third of the league in wins, the prospect of drafting in the top 10—or even top five—has to have at least entered the mind of the Steelers’ brass.
Just think of the possibilities that the Steelers would have if they had a top-five draft choice.
Pittsburgh could secure another pass-rusher in Anthony Barr. Another option could be nose tackle Louis Nix, who would be a key figure in reconstructing the defense into an elite unit. Of course, Ben Roethlisberger would appreciate the addition of an elite playmaker like wide receiver Sammy Watkins.
But the name that many would say that would help the most is left tackle Jake Matthews. Finally, an elite left tackle to protect Roethlisberger’s blind side.
As good as all that sounds, throwing in the towel this early in the season—or at any point for that matter—is not going to happen.
There is little value of the Steelers tanking their remaining seven games of the season to ensure a 3-13 final record and likely a selection in the top three or four picks of the draft.
Adding an elite player via the draft can go a long way into turning a team around, which is why I advocated that the Steelers lose their 2013 regular-season finale against the Cleveland Browns last season.
Draft position does not always equate to draft success. There are busts every year, and recent first-round selections haven’t exactly panned out for the Steelers.
Since Mike Tomlin was hired by the Steelers, only one of his first-round draft picks has made the Pro Bowl, according to Pro Football Reference. That was Maurkice Pouncey, who has made it three times as well as being named to the Associated Press All-Pro team three times.
By comparison, the previous seven first-round choices included four Pro Bowl players, an Offensive Rookie of the Year (Ben Roethlisberger), Defensive Player of the Year (Troy Polamalu) and Super Bowl MVP (Santonio Holmes).
Drafting is an inexact science that is a challenge for all NFL teams. Selecting higher in the draft provides more quality options, but teams still must make the right selection if they are going to have any success at the NFL level. In recent years, the Steelers drafts have provided us with some doubt.
Besides the lack of guarantee of finding a great player when it comes to the draft, the Steelers still have plenty to play for.
The first, as hard as it is to believe, is that the Steelers are not mathematically eliminated from the playoff picture. According to Sports Club Stats, the Steelers have a 3.42 percent chance at making the playoffs, so while unlikely, there is still a chance.
One of the reasons that Pittsburgh still has is shot is that it has four games left against AFC North opponents. Only two games back of the Cincinnati Bengals in the loss column, the Steelers will do their best to catch up.
Playoffs aside, there are more important reasons that no one will throw in the towel.
Losing games means potentially losing your job. That goes for the players, coaches and members of the front office. Now more than ever, the members of the Steelers at all levels of the organization are facing a ton of pressure.
Mike Tomlin's spot on the hot seat has been discussed by many including Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk, Bleacher Report’s Andrea Hangst as well as myself following the season-opening loss to the Tennessee Titans.
The Rooney family is very patient with their coaches, but with a second consecutive missed playoff appearance looming and with their worst team in well over a decade, the seat just may get hotter for Tomlin. The NFL is a "what have you done for me lately" business, and the Steelers have been losing at an awfully high rate lately.
Tomlin is going to put his best roster out on the field each week, meaning that he will stick with his veterans. He will not play young players for the sole reason of preparing them for the future if they do not give his team the best opportunity to win today.
General manager Kevin Colbert will be feeling the pressure as well given the lack of production from recent draft classes. This is highlighted by the fact that no players remain on the roster from the 2008 draft class.
But it has extended beyond the front office and coaching staff as the Steelers did not offer contract extensions to any veterans in the final years of their contracts. Then came the blockbuster report from NFL Network's Ian Rapoport about Roethlisberger’s potential status with the team beyond the 2013 season:
Sports talk in Pittsburgh has been all over these topics, and it is solely because of the team’s performance. Winning silences this talk. Winning also is a culture that the Steelers want to sustain within their locker room.
Many of the veterans on Pittsburgh’s roster have at least one Super Bowl ring. Guys like Roethlisberger, Polamalu, Brett Keisel and Ryan Clark have a lot of pride. Losing hurts and it is not something that they are used to.
While the young guys have not had the same type of success, they need to learn how to win so that they can continue the long-time winning culture that has been developed in Pittsburgh.
"No, not at all," said Roethlisberger. "I wouldn't have (come out). They would have had to drag me off. I’m not going to quit. I’m going to stay out there and fight until the end."
Tomlin had a no quit attitude as well:
I believe that (it was the right decision). We’re a group that still believes some good football is ahead of us. We also acknowledge we’re a group that needs to improve. That was an opportunity to continue to do that. The healthy guys were going to stay on the field and play with an attempt to move the ball and, obviously, get better at our football.
A couple of days after the New England game, Roethlisberger’s attitude did not change when addressing the team’s 2-6 record on his radio show on 93.7 The Fan (via Scott Brown of ESPN.com).
"If anybody’s ready to quit, then they need to get off this train because I’m going to keep it moving and I think everyone feels the same way," Roethlisberger said. "You know you’re not going to get any quit from me, and I’m going to make sure no one else does."
Regardless of how the season turns out, this type of attitude is what the Steelers need. They must go out and compete throughout the remainder of the season.
It may cost them a top-five draft position, but it will help them build a winning mentality for the future. They have lost 11 of their last 16 regular-season games and need to turn it around at some point.
Just look at the Kansas City Chiefs. They were the worst team in the league at 2-14 last season. Now they are the lone undefeated team left in the NFL with a 9-0 record.
The Steelers can use the offseason to upgrade their roster, but for the rest of this season, they need to focus on getting better and getting back to winning. They may finish below .500 for the first time under Tomlin, but there will be no quit in this Pittsburgh team.