For the second time in a row the Pittsburgh Steelers have fell subject to the feared Super Bowl hangover—this time finishing with at least a winning record at 9-7 rather than the 2006-2007 record of 8-8.
The Steelers season was filled with inconsistencies; in fact the only consistency was inconsistency. That and terrible fourth-quarter defense.
After starting off 1-2 and scaring fans into thinking this was a repeat season of 2006, the Steelers went on to win five games in a row capped off by a Monday night beatdown of the Denver Broncos. Yet, even though the postseason was already in sight, it quickly slipped away as the Steelers lost five games—three of which were to some of the NFL's worst teams.
After licking their wounds at 6-7, the Steelers found a way to win out for the season and finish 9-7 in the most dramatic fashion of a playoff picture that only the movie Baseketball could fathom.
The fourth-quarter defense was terrible, to be put nicely. The Steelers surrendered 324 points this season, 131 of which were given up in the fourth quarter. In five of the seven losses the Steelers had, they had a fourth-quarter lead.
The leading cause can be attributed to the loss of Troy Polamalu due to his knee injury, which limited him to only five games this season—five of which the Steelers won. However, collectively the defense fell apart. Backup safeties Tyrone Carter and Ryan Mundy both failed in dramatic fashion along with cornerback William Gay in pass coverage, taking the first-ranked pass defense of last season to 16th this season.
The loss of Aaron Smith due to his injury plagued the run defense as well. The first-ranked run defense of last year fell to fourth in the league this year. The loss of Larry Foote to free agency promoted Lawrence Timmons to the inside linebacker position. Timmons proved to be a good coverage linebacker but a terrible tackler.
The only bright spot of the season appeared to be the offense, barring the first two weeks. Willie Parker continued to prove his decline and gave Mr. Rooney more conviction not to re-sign the 30-year-old free agent.
Due to Parker's lack of production, second-year man Rashard Mendenhall stepped into the spotlight in Week Three and rambled for 1,108 yards and seven touchdowns. Despite Mendenhall's sudden results, the Steelers rush offense finished 19th in the league.
Ben Roethlisberger continued on his march to a Hall of Fame bid, establishing himself as an elite quarterback as he passed for a career-high 4,328 yards and 26 touchdowns. Hines Ward and Santonio Holmes both finished with over 1,000 receiving yards.
Rookie Mike Wallace appeared to be the bright spot of this year's draft as he finished with 756 yards and established himself as a legitimate deep threat. Wallace, Heath Miller, and Hines Ward all finished with six touchdowns, which led the team.
As for the staffing side, Bruce Arians has been a cancer to the team ever since Ken Wisenhut's departure. Arians calls runs when he should call passes and calls passes when he should call runs. He created a predictable offense for the Steelers leading to many offensive issues. Arians' return should mean that Hell will freeze over, but more exotic phenomena have happened before.
As for missing the playoffs, it's shoulda, coulda, woulda. Perhaps if the Steelers didn't lose to Kansas City, Oakland, or Joshua Cribbs, they would easily be in the playoffs. But the fact of the matter is that they made their bed and they have to sleep in it. The way they have played this year, they don't deserve to be in the playoffs.