The 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers, since starting 6-2, have now lost five straight to go to 6-7 for the season. Tonight they saved Eric Mangini's job when the Cleveland Browns beat the "Black and Gold" 13-6. The offense had their worst showing of the season, possibly creating interest for Rob Ryan as a head-coaching candidate. The Browns played like a team that had nothing to lose and played magnificently on defense.
Steeler killer Joshua Cribbs did it again, once on a punt return and several times as a wildcat QB. Why the Steelers insist on kicking to this guy is one of the mysteries of the NFL. It is tough to see a silver lining in this loss but since this is the holiday season, I will try to stay positive looking toward the future. Here goes...
1. Bruce Arians Is Officially Done
If this game does not get Arians fired, then Ben Roethlisberger, not Mike Tomlin, is the head coach of the team. I have refrained from criticizing Arians for several weeks but this time he made it too easy.
Had the Steelers rallied and won this game, very few people would mention Arians's ineptitude like last season. Wins cure everything. Perhaps this season will finally get Arians out into the unemployment line. Too bad it will cost the Steelers a chance to defend their Super Bowl.
Exhibit A: On two straight 3rd-and-shorts, Arians has Roethlisberger in the shotgun with no back in the backfield. Why?? I am not criticizing a pass play but without a back in the backfield, there is no threat for a run play. Arians set up Roethlisberger to fail tonight.
Exhibit B: There was no "hurry-up, no-huddle" again. Why not? Roethlisberger is at his best when he improvises and most of his improvisation comes from the no-huddle offense. If Arians's play-calling was more creative, I would no problem. Sad thing is, he is more predictable than the sun in the morning in Southern California.
Exhibit C: On a windy and cold day, most of us thought that this would be Rashard Mendenhall's day. What did he do? How about just 16 carries for 53 yards? Yes, Cleveland did a good job in containing Mendenhall but this is the same Mendenhall who took over second halves against San Diego and Denver, two better defenses than Cleveland's.
I am not even going to mention the Baltimore game, which the Steelers rushed for 153 yards on 38 carries against a stout Ravens defense. Once again, Arians aborted the run too quickly even after the Steelers cut the score to a one-possession game.
Scoring zero touchdowns against a below-average defense is inexcusable. Making that same below-average defense look like the 1985 Chicago Bears is even worse. If this game does not get Arians fired, nothing will.
2. Ramon Foster Should Start at Right Guard
I have always been suspect of Trai Essex and tonight he proved me right. Essex single-handedly tried to put Corey Williams into the Pro Bowl in one half. Essex is a marginal player and is a good backup. Starter? Absolutely not.
The Steelers' offensive line was never great to begin with but held together for most of the season. Tonight, they just plain sucked. The schemes by Rob Ryan were amazing and creative, but how do you explain the sacks when the Browns rushed just four men and played coverage underneath? Larry Zeirlein might also come under fire after tonight's disaster.
3. Bench William Gay and Ike Taylo, Put Polamalu on IR
Madden curse or not, Polamalu's 2009 season has been hampered by that left knee. The Steelers should try to protect their investment and save him before he causes any further damage to himself.
After the 2005 season, Ike Taylor was benched midway through 2006 for subpar play. Call it the Super Bowl hangover, whatever. With three games left and no playoffs in sight, the Steelers need to find out what they have in rookies Joe Burnett and Keenan Lewis. Are they going to be the future starters or not?
The Steelers will likely draft a cornerback in the 2010 draft, but this is the time to find out what round said cornerback should be drafted.
As for William Gay, he is not Bryant McFadden. Yes, I would have done the same thing considering the amount of money McFadden commanded but Gay is not even an adequate cornerback. He is one of the five worst in the league. Lucky for the Steelers, Gay is a free agent at the end of the season. They will likely not offer him a contract.
4. Keyaron Fox Should Start at Inside LB
Start Fox for either James Farrior, who has gotten very old right before our eyes, or Lawrence Timmons, who is a great pass rusher but has been beaten in pass coverage consistently this season. Fox might not be the wily veteran Farrior is or the freakish athlete Timmons is but Fox won't hurt you as much when playing.
Aaron Smith has been sorely missed this season. I get that. However, the defense has looked slow and sluggish most of the year, especially in the fourth quarters of games. Did the defensive personnel get that old that quickly? Is the venerable Dick LeBeau running out of blitz schemes? Either way, the defense, despite only giving up 13 points tonight, still had a letdown.
5. Mike Tomlin Should Watch What He Says
First it was: "Unleash hell." Then it was: "There will be some changes made." Well, the "unleash hell" part came true. It just fell on the Steelers themselves.
The second part is the one I have the most problem with. Why make such threats if there is no follow through? William Gay, Ryan Clark, Tyrone Carter, etc. all started and played significant time tonight. If this is really your team coach Tomlin, take control. Instead of talking tough, put tough players on the field.
6. Ben Roethlisberger Cannot Do It All by Himself
Tonight was a perfect example of that. The Browns frustrated Big Ben into making one bad throw after another. While he did have a chance at the end of the game for the tying score, he never saw David Bowens jump the route on the season-killing 4th-and-6. Why Roethlisberger did not run with the ball when it appeared he might have a chance at a first-down conversion is beyond me.
Given the expectations at the beginning of the season, this has to be the most disappointing Steelers team I have ever seen in my life, replacing the 1998 Kordell Stewart team that lost a close game to the Denver Broncos in the AFC title game. That team faltered after a coin flip debacle on Thanksgiving day in Detroit. The 2009 team? Even in games they won, they looked suspect.
We can all hope for the best and even I will never count the Steelers out until they are mathematically eliminated. However, until this team rallies and finds some heart (and gets some miracles from Jacksonville, Miami, Denver, Baltimore, and anyone else playing for the Wild Card), they are done as far as I am concerned.
Next game: Dec. 20 against Green Bay Packers at 4:15 PM EST.