The 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers: Disappointing and Coming Up Short
The 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers, marred by inconsistency, were officially eliminated from the 2009 playoff chase after JaMarcus Russell came into the game for the Oakland Raiders in their game against the Baltimore Ravens.
The 30-24 win against the tough Miami Dolphins was not enough, as the Steelers needed too much outside intervention to play next week.
Still, the Steelers have no one to blame but themselves.
If they had held on to one of the five fourth-quarter leads they had lost this season, this article would be much different.
Still, this season should be looked upon as a blessing in disguise. Now, unlike last season, there will be no justification for keeping incompetent personnel, i.e., Bruce Arians.
Now that the season is officially over, let's take a look back at perhaps the most disappointing season in Steelers history.
The season in review :
Best personnel move : drafting Mike Wallace in the third round
Wallace, the speedster from Ole Miss, was the steal of the draft. Wallace led the league in yards per catch and was one of the most exciting young players in the Steelers.
It will be exciting to see what Wallace can do next season as the established third receiver going into training camp.
Worst personnel move 1a : allowing Bryant McFadden to go to Arizona
It was rumored the real reason why McFadden left Pittsburgh was not because of money, but because coach Mike Tomlin would not guarantee a starting role for McFadden.
William Gay was perhaps the worst cornerback in the league this season. Gay, a restricted free agent, will likely not be tendered a new contract by anyone.
I would be very surprised if Gay plays in the NFL in 2010.
Worst personnel move 1b : cutting Anthony Madison in training camp
Madison was a potential Pro Bowler as a special teams player and was one of the most integral reasons why the Steelers had the best kick coverage unit in the league in 2008.
Madison was cut in favor of kick returner Stefan Logan, who dazzled during preseason and while he had a solid season, was not quite the difference maker that everyone envisioned.
Without Madison, the Steelers allowed more kick return touchdowns than anyone in the league. Madison came back to the team in December, but by then it was too late.
So much for Tomlin's statement on emphasis on special teams in August.
Best game : Steelers 28, Broncos 10 on Nov. 9
It was the best game because the Steelers did something which they did not do all season.
They played a complete game.
The offense had great play calling for one of the rare times this season and the defense did not blow any fourth-quarter leads. It is no surprise that the 18-point victory was the biggest margin of victory this season.
For one night, the Steelers played like the champions for 60 minutes.
Worst game : Steelers 6, Browns 13 on Dec. 10
I could have gone with any number of games here but that Dec. 10 loss to the Browns pretty much ended an realistic playoff chance for the Steelers.
The offensive play calling was at its worst that night as the Steelers' offense failed to score a touchdown for the first time in over a year.
The defense, which looked old at times, looked ancient, lost, and uninspired. Brady Quinn played less than stellar but the Browns still snapped a 13-game losing streak to Pittsburgh.
This is the game that should get offensive coordinator Bruce Arians fired without hesitation.
Best moment : Roethlisberger to Wallace for 19 yard touchdown, giving the Steelers a 37-36 win against the Green Bay Packers
Roethlisberger further cemented his legend as a clutch quarterback when he took the Steelers down the field and kept their slim playoff hopes alive with an amazing throw to rookie Wallace.
It was not just the best moment of the Steelers' season, it was the best moment of the NFL season.
Worst moment : Troy Polamalu going for the loose ball on the blocked field goal in Week 1
Madden curse or no, Polamalu's 2009 season was doomed from the first day of the regular season, when while diving for an Aaron Smith blocked field goal against the Tennessee Titans, Polamalu suffered a knee sprain.
Polamalu came back over a month later and played in just five full games this season, hampered by another knee injury.
The defense looked lost, old, and tentative without Polamalu.
Still, injuries occur all the time in the league and the Steelers have no excuses.
What now for the Steelers :
1. Bruce Arians has no leg to stand on
The Steelers offensive play calling was bad last season but the Steelers won a Super Bowl in spite of Arians's incompetence and predictability.
This season, the play calling was even worse.
While Roethlisberger passed for over 4,000 yards, Rashard Mendenhall rushed for over 1,000 yards, and both Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes went over the 1,000 yard mark, the offense was inconsistent at best.
It would look unstoppable in some games (see the Green Bay game) and just pathetic in other games (see the aforementioned Cleveland game).
Arians's meal ticket this year was his friendship and good relationship with the players, especially Roethlisberger. Now that the Steelers are out, Arians cannot count on his friendship to get him past the firing line.
If this truly is Mike Tomlin's team, Arians will not be with the team next season.
Whoever the next offensive coordinator is, he should try for a truly balanced offense that takes advantage of Rashard Mendenhall's talents.
Chris Kemoeatu and Willie Colon are much better run blockers than pass blockers.
It's nice that everyone put up great numbers but it does not translate into wins for the Steelers.
2. The painful wait ends for Bob Ligashesky
The special teams unit for the Steelers was one of the worst ever in the league the last decade. Ligashesky will be fired soon.
The Stefan Logan experiment.
He was a great story but let's face it. He was not the difference maker that everyone envisioned after making the roster out of training camp.
He was good but not great and also had some ball security issues earlier in the year.
3. Goodbye, Willie Parker
Parker had his best game in 2009 today, running for 91 yards.
Still, Rashard Mendenhall did more than enough to be the Steelers' top running back. The only way Parker comes back to the Steelers is if he is willing to take a lesser role.
Parker is 29 years old and has not taken many hits in his football career. I expect Parker to get a few offers in free agency this spring.
He is still a viable starter in this league, at least for a couple more seasons.
4. Expect to hear names like Joe Haden, Trevard Lindley, and other cornerback prospects this spring
The Steeler cornerbacks finally had their first interception of the season today.
Still, most of them have had subpar seasons and in the case of William Gay, a disaster of a season. Ike Taylor will be back, but expect 12 year veteran Deshea Townsend to retire. Keenan Lewis rarely played, and Joe Burnett was not very impressive when given playing time.
The Steelers should draft a cornerback for the first time since Chad Scott in 1997.
5. Re-sign Casey Hampton
Hampton, while he will be 33 when next season opens, still showed he was an impact player at nose tackle. He still has some gas left in his tank and should be brought back on at least a three year contract.
Hampton is one of the best at his position.
6. Name LB coach Keith Butler as the defensive coordinator-in-waiting
Butler's name came up a few times when the Bill Cowher "back to the NFL" rumor mill got going.
Butler would likely be one of the first people Cowher would call to run his defense if/when Cowher comes back.
Dick LeBeau is 72 years old and while he takes great care of himself, he will not be coaching forever.
I believe that if Butler knows he will be given the top spot in Pittsburgh after LeBeau retires, it would make his decision to join Cowher's staff much tougher.
7. Do not change into the Tampa two next season
I could hear some people now.
LaMarr Woodley as a defensive end, with Aaron Smith and Evander "Ziggy" Hood as the defensive tackles, and Brett Keisel as the other end.
James Farrior as the MLB with Lawrence Timmons and James Harrison as the OLBs. While it sounds good in theory, it would not work for the Steelers, at least not next season.
The personnel for the Steelers' defense is designed for the 3-4 front.
James Farrior was an average MLB before he came to the Steelers in 2002. While he has slowed down this season, Farrior is still a better 3-4 ILB than a 4-3 MLB.
Also, could a 33 year old Aaron Smith, coming off a four-game season, make the change successfully to a DT?
I do not think so.
8. Give Mike Tomlin a three-year extension
The Rooneys have traditionally never allowed their head coach to reach the lame duck stage and I do not expect them to change their philosophy here.
Tomlin had some head scratching moments this season, but the team blowing fourth-quarter leads cannot be placed solely on Tomlin's shoulders.
Bill Cowher was given a contract extension after a 6-10 season in 2003 and he promptly led the team to a 15-1 season in 2004 and a Super Bowl a season later.
Tomlin should be given a new deal before training camp begins.
See you all in the offseason.
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