We are now into December, and Christmas approaches. As each week passes, the Steelers’ Christmas list gets a little longer. Here is a Steelers’ Christmas List as I see it, one wish for each of the twelve days of Christmas.
1. On the first day of Christmas, the Steelers needed a win. I’m not sure a team has ever needed a win to get back on track more than these Steelers, who have become the NFL’s version of Notre Dame, that team that everybody celebrates beating even as it becomes a weekly occurrence.
Actually, the Steelers will need four wins to get into the playoffs, which seems like a tall order even if they were playing Cleveland in all four remaining games. But, since Cleveland comes up next, they’ll likely finally get their win.
Of course, how many of us thought that about the Chiefs…and the Raiders. This is all about one game at a time at this point.
2. A New Offensive Coordinator. This goes without saying. Most of us knew it last year even as we accepted the flawed logic that you can't replace a coordinator when you win the Super Bowl. Bruce Arians is simply not an NFL caliber offensive coordinator.
The play calling is ridiculously predictable and all too often highlights weaknesses for opposing teams to attack.
Will they get this wish? Not by Christmas but probably not that long thereafter. Public opinion has turned too strongly against Arians for it not to happen, at least if Tomlin doesn’t want to see the full fury of Steelers’ Nation turned in his direction. What was that he said about unleashing Hell?
I’d take Bruce Springsteen or Bruce Willis as offensive coordinator over Bruce Arians at this point. Heck, I’d take the actor who played “They Call Me Bruce” back in some cheesy movie I vaguely remember from when I was a kid.
3. Some new Metaphors. When using a metaphor, a key is to make sure it won’t backfire. Alas, promising to unleash Hell before promptly landing your fan base there is not a good strategy.
Watching the Steelers lose to the Raiders certainly felt like purgatory to me. Making that kind of boast and then losing to the Raiders is akin to Russell Crowe promising to unleash Hell seconds before surrendering to the French.
4. A healthy Troy Polamalu. If I ever had any doubts about the importance of Polamalu, they are long gone. The Steelers’ defense has been barely average with him out, which has been the most stunning development this season.
Is Polamalu really that good or has the rest of the Steelers defense regressed? I can’t point to a single player on that defense who I think is actually outperforming their level of play from last year.
A few players are grossly underperforming expectations. Is Troy Polamalu that high of an impact player that he makes everybody around him appear that much better? Maybe. Although I suspect that a few players (calling Lamarr Woodley, William Gay, and Lawrence Timmons) are simply not living up to expectations.
5. Shortened football games. Do you realize that the Steelers have held leads in every fourth quarter this year except one? They promptly lost half of those games. Dan Rooney is an influential fellow. I think he should immediately put forward a motion for the NFL to shorten games to 45 minutes.
If we just throw out that pesky fourth quarter, these Steelers would not only be headed to the playoffs, but would have a first round bye. Whatever happened to “Steelers’ football is sixty minutes?” Steelers’ football has been shortened a bit.
6. On the sixth day of Christmas, the Steelers asked for Bryant McFadden back from the Cardinals. Most of us hoped that William Gay would be up to replacing McFadden. But, that one isn’t even close.
McFadden is an excellent young starting cornerback who can single cover Reggie Wayne en route to the Super Bowl. Gay is a decent nickel/dime corner who should never be left alone with any wide receiver with better than 4.9 speed for more than half a second.
There is a huge difference and we see it on display on a weekly basis. The Steelers seem to drop a couple critical interception opportunities on a weekly basis, each one more lethal than the one before.
This is a gift that they just aren't going to get. So, I think they'd settle for a couple interceptions by their current group of cornerbacks instead. Heck, one would be a good start.
7. Some peace and goodwill in the locker room. It is easy to be a “Band of Brothers” when everything is going your way. When the floor drops out, this becomes a much taller order.
If there was a sour mood before the Raiders’ fiasco, it is probably a whole lot worse today. Actually, when things are going this bad, a little bit of friction is not an altogether bad thing. At least it shows the players still care.
8. Some losses for a few other teams. Considering they just lost four straight games, the Steelers, somewhat shockingly, remain fairly well positioned for a playoff run.
This is largely attributable to the fact that the AFC is not terribly deep this year. Denver is moving into position to lock down the fifth spot, but the sixth is still wide open. Nobody seems to want it. Do you realize that the Steelers have only lost one more game than the Patriots?
With games against the Ravens and Dolphins on the schedule, the Steelers, who need to win out, can further help their cause by dealing a couple key losses to top rivals. Jacksonville has a grueling final four games and is likely to drop two games. The Jets also have a tough stretch.
As hard as it is to believe at this point, if the Steelers win out, they will be in the playoffs.
9. A bit of good luck, also known as a break or two. Some seasons seem almost charmed. All of the breaks seem to go a team’s way. Other seasons seem cursed, when all the breaks go the other way.
This is one of those seasons. Maybe somebody on the Steelers disrespected the Terrible Towel. Heck, based on the current run of bad luck, maybe several players disrespected the Towel together in some form of Towel disrespecting party. Maybe the special teams coach used the towel to wash his car or something.
Maybe it has something to do with Troy on the cover of Madden, although that doesn’t seem to be hurting the Cardinals. Who knows? But, these breaks have a huge impact on who ultimately wins the Super Bowl, since each one can potentially set off a chain reaction.
10. Some Killer Instinct. If you are content to win a lot of close games, chances are you will lose a lot of close games as well. This is one thing I appreciate about Bill Belichick. He goes for the kill every week.
The Steelers, on the other hand, play to the level of their competition. If their opponent stinks, so do the Steelers. If they are playing a really good team, the Steelers match them.
Why? Because the playcalling is dictated entirely by the score. If the Steelers’ grab a lead, they play more conservatively, allowing the other team to catch back up. They did the same thing last year, playing much better from behind, but somehow survived it thanks to late game heroics and a killer defense.
11. Playoff losses for the Patriots, Colts, and if they get in, the Ravens. I would prefer those above teams lose to the Steelers, and I’m sure the Steelers’ players would as well.
But, all things being equal, if it has to be somebody else knocking them off, so be it, as long as they are comfortably out of contention by season’s end.
I normally root for the AFC team in the Super Bowl. If and when the Steelers fall out of contention, this year may be the exception. I wouldn’t mind seeing the Cardinals, Saints, or Bengals win it all.
But, this is a Steelers’ list you say? Well, I’d be surprised if anybody on the Steelers is pulling for the Patriots, Colts or Ravens if they get eliminated.
You can’t win it every year. True enough. But, if we can’t win it, the other team that gets to walk off holding the trophy is not immaterial.
12. Good health. Everybody wishes for good health at Christmas time. And, if they are going to right the ship, the Steelers need it more than ever. That’s a pretty big list but even a few of these gifts might be enough to at least prolong the season a bit.
If they win out, I’d be stunned if the Steelers don’t sneak into the playoffs. And, if they get in, who knows?
It seems laughable to suggest that a team that loses to the Chiefs and the Raiders can do any real damage in the playoffs and it was a relief that Tomlin treated questions about the playoffs that way.
But, I wouldn’t roll it out just yet. Still, each loss brings us a little closer to looking forward to April and the draft. One more loss will seal the deal.