Now that the season is officially over for the Pittsburgh Steelers, it's time to take a quick timeout from drowning our playoff-less sorrows and celebrate the best (and worst) of 2009.
Here are the 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers team awards!
Most Valuable Player
No player on this team was more important to their successes than Roethlisberger, who had a career season and set several personal and team records. Roethlisberger was overlooked by Pro Bowl voters, but is no less deserving of accolades than Peyton Manning, Tom Brady, or Philip Rivers.
Roethlisberger set the Steelers' single game (503 yards) and single season (4,328 yards) passing records. He helped Hines Ward to a sixth 1,000-yard season and Santonio Holmes to his first such mark.
He was the trigger man on some of the season's biggest plays and, during a one game absence, it was obvious that the team was not the same.
Honorable Mentions: Lamarr Woodley, Ward, Holmes
Woodley and Ward both deserve mention as pivotal players for the Steelers, as does Holmes, but no player was more important this season than Roethlisberger. Holmes and Ward would not have had the seasons they did with a different quarterback. Woodley had a good season, but was invisible much of the first half of the year.
Least Valuable Player
No player has endured more criticism this season than Gay. All of it is deserved. Gay was a huge reason that the Steelers struggled so much on defense this season, and teams often targeted him when looking for a big play.
Gay was expected to step into the shoes of Bryant McFadden this season, a role he filled effectively last year when McFadden was injured. Instead of being the same steady presence as McFadden, Gay was spectacularly awful.
Unable to blitz effectively, Gay was always left in coverage. In man and zone situations, Gay was often burned by teams' secondary wide receivers.
When the time comes for roster evaluation, it is likely Gay will be targeted for demotion or the cut list. His play this season did nothing to inspire confidence from the coaches or the fans.
Honorable Mentions: Ike Taylor, Limas Sweed
Taylor saved himself some face with an interception in the finale, but he was also inexcusably bad this season. The only reason he was not targeted for more criticism was Gay's presence on the roster. Taylor appears to have lost a step and may be bound for a demotion if the team can find a better option.
Sweed's lousy hands were overshadowed by Mike Wallace's tremendous rookie debut, but Sweed, like Gay, will be a target for the cut list when rosters are shaped for 2010. He has shown nothing in two years with the team and his recent non-football injury does not bode well for the former second round pick.
Rookie of the Year
Is there any other choice out there? Wallace was phenomenal and showed the potential to be a No. 1 receiver in the future.
He does everything you want a receiver to do extremely well, and will likely only get better with time.
Wallace runs tight, accurate routes, but can also adjust his route to the flight of the ball. He has good hands and instincts. Best of all, he developed an almost-immediate rapport with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who targeted Wallace on many of the team's biggest passing plays.
Wallace's speed also makes him a threat on reverses if the Steelers ever choose to utilize that offensive play.
Honorable Mentions: Stefan Logan, Ziggy Hood
Logan spent time previously in camps, but this year was his first official action in the NFL. He was stellar, finally giving the Steelers a return threat teams must respect. Logan set the team record for kickoff return yardage as well.
Hood was spectacular late in the season, but was not a big enough factor during the season to merit overall honors. He did show that he will be a formidable player and that he fits the Steelers' pass rush extremely well. Along with Woodley and Harrison, Hood seems to have a knack for stripping the ball.
Offensive Player of the Year (Non-Quarterback)
While any of the Steelers' top three receivers are deserving of the honor, Rashard Mendenhall's performance came behind a below-average offensive line.
Mendenhall also established himself as the team's back of the future by unseating Willie Parker and rushing for over 1,000 yards. Mendenhall will only get better with time and improvement along the line, but he gives the Steelers the tough inside runner they have lacked since the retirement of Jerome Bettis.
In addition to his ability to get tough yards, Mendenhall has the speed to be a home run threat from anywhere on the field. He's a shifty runner who effectively uses the spin move and legs that never stop moving to push defenders backwards.
Honorable Mentions: Ward, Holmes, Wallace
Any of the three receivers could have earned this honor, but again, their performances were determined at least in part by the guy throwing them the football. Wallace's development, along with the performance of Holmes and Ward, is encouraging as the Steelers develop a new offensive identity.
Offensive Liability of the Year
Sweed's action was limited and the offensive line was often liable for the team's inability to score consistently, but in a season where one play determined so many of their games, Limas Sweed cost the Steelers a victory that would, it turns out, have put them into the playoffs.
In the team's Week Three contest against the division rival Cincinnati Bengals, Sweed dropped a sure touchdown pass in the end zone that would have given the Steelers the necessary edge to win the game. Because of his drop, the team was forced into an overtime situation and lost by three points.
Sweed was deactivated after the game and will likely not be part of the team's plans in the future. He never regained playing time and eventually went on injured reserve with a mysterious injury and likely a case of shaken confidence.
Honorable Mentions: Willie Colon, Max Starks
Colon is a leader in a category known as "stupid penalties" that includes false starts (particularly at home), obvious holds, and illegal formation (where he fails to line up correctly). He's a one man wrecking crew at times. When he has his head in the game, he's an efficient, yet unspectacular, player. He isn't particularly good at run blocking and often gets help from a tight end.
Starks was terrible after getting a big money deal to protect Ben Roethlisberger's blind side. At left tackle, Starks often became a turnstile for opposing rushers, leaving Roethlisberger open to unnecessary hits. Starks was a major weakness in the running game, too, as the Steelers failed often when running to the left.
Defensive Player of the Year
Woodley finished the season with 13.5 sacks, which masks his strange disappearance during the first quarter of the season. Woodley then came on strong and finished as the team's best defensive player.
Woodley is a great pass rusher on his own and, when paired with James Harrison, is devastating. He improved on a stellar 2008 season and looks to be the force the team is looking for at the linebacker position.
Woodley appears even better considering he played almost an entire year without Aaron Smith in front of him. He proved late that he could work well in tandem with rookie defensive end Ziggy Hood.
Honorable Mention: James Harrison
No one on the defense distinguished themselves throughout the season, so second to Woodley's effort is his pass-rushing mate Harrison. Harrison finished with 10 sacks, down from last season but still good for a team that too often failed to generate big plays.
Defensive Liability of the Year
Since William Gay already won an award, Taylor takes honors here. Taylor was only marginally better than Gay, which isn't saying much.
Often assigned to cover the opponent's best receiver, Taylor failed in his assignments. His poor hands were joined in 2009 by poor coverage skills, poor speed, and an all-around inability to avoid costly penalties for pass interference.
Taylor is a little more secure in his job than Gay given his experience, past success, and contract, but he is on the bubble. Should the team uncover a better talent, Taylor could be demoted, something the team has already flirted with this season.
Honorable Mention: Gay
Need I say more about him? I think he's had enough for one article.
Special Teams Player of the Year
Jeff Reed was clutch once again, but his key special teams statistic, kickoffs, were down from previous seasons.
Logan came on strong after being a long shot to make the team out of camp. He set a record for kickoff return yardage (1,466 yards) and averaged 26.7 yards per return. He wasn't as effective on punts, but his speed makes him dangerous.
Logan is also a weapon the Steelers have lacked for years and is likely to get better. He can still improve his ball-handling skills and his choice of route, but he will likely stabilize the long-fluid kick returner position for Pittsburgh.
Honorable Mentions: Reed, Daniel Sepulveda
Reed was again spectacular on field goals, making 27 of his 31 attempts and all 41 extra points. He also missed only two field goals after a disastrous showing in Week Two against Chicago.
Sepulveda returned from ACL surgery this season to become one of the best punters in the conference. He averaged 42.7 yards per punt, which is excellent, and also downed 29 punts inside the 20-yard line. His punting took some of the pressure off of the defense, although the coverage units were often abysmal.
Special Teams Liability of the Year
It's hard to single out one player for this, but the entire kickoff and punt teams deserve shame for their work this season. Until the return of special teams demon Anthony Madison seemed to help stabilize the units, the Steelers allowed three returns for touchdowns.
The units often also gave up prime field position, neutralizing the effect of Daniel Sepulveda's excellent punting and Jeff Reed's kickoff placement.
The units have likely cost coordinator Bob Ligashesky his job and will also spell big changes in the offseason as the Steelers continue to shore up one of their most glaring weaknesses.
No Honorable Mentions
Coach of the Year
While it may seem obvious that the head coach would be the team's coach of the year, Tomlin did his best to keep his team focused during a terrible five-game losing streak. Tomlin never seemed baffled as to what to do or where to focus, and the Steelers remained determined as they won their final three contests and nearly snuck into the playoffs.
Tomlin cannot be blamed for individual player failures or unit failures. He can be criticized for selecting the coaches he did three years ago, but for the most part, his work this season was spectacular. As the face and voice of the team, he provided insight, hope, and direction.
There's no question he is the right coach for this team, and I predict he will have things turned around in short order.
Honorable Mentions: Keith Butler (Linebackers), Kirby Wilson (Running Backs)
Butler's linebackers provided one of the few bright spots on a defense that was maligned for most of the season. The continued growth of Lamarr Woodley and Lawrence Timmons was a good sign that Butler is working wonders with the team's linebackers.
Wilson's masterpiece, Rashard Mendenhall, had a breakout year in 2009, rushing for over 1,100 yards and emerging as the team's back of the future. Wilson also helped salvage Willie Parker, who had a good second half in relief of Mendenhall. There's no question that he was the team's top offensive assistant in 2009.
Coaching Liability of the Year
Everyone knows how much this man is disliked by Pittsburgh fans. Arians' name is a bad word around town these days and his play calls are constantly debated and dissected by fans and analysts.
The problem with Arians lies in his philosophy. He is an ultra-conservative play-caller, using a balanced or unbalanced attack that has no imagination or trick plays.
The team has the talent and depth to be dynamic, yet Arians stubbornly sticks to basic plays and formations. His calls are predictable and his work in the red zone was awful.
The other major flaw in Arians' work is his inability to use players correctly. Instead of using a faster back like Willie Parker in a crucial third and short situation against Kansas City, Arians elected to run the slower Mewelde Moore on a slow-developing toss play. This is just one example of why Arians simply must go.
Honorable Mentions: Ray Horton (Secondary), Bob Ligashesky (Special Teams)
Horton has failed to groom young talent in the team's secondary and it showed badly when Troy Polamalu went down with an injury that cost him 11 games.
William Gay has turned into a liability, Ike Taylor has taken several steps backward, and Ryan Clark was left by himself as the lone starter to have a consistent impact. Even he couldn't mask the fact that the secondary needs an overhaul in both coaching and personnel.
Ligashesky's special teams failures have already been discussed and he will likely lose his job. More than any other coach on the staff, Ligashesky is on the hot seat.
Best Moments of the 2009 Season
Last-Second Magic: Roethlisberger to Wallace
Needing six points to tie Green Bay in a crucial Week 15 contest, Ben Roethlisberger targeted his rookie receiver Mike Wallace in the front corner of the end zone as time expired. Wallace pulled in the pass and tapped both feet in bounds to record the winning points and keep the Steelers' playoff hopes alive.
Roethlisberger's Big Day: 503 Yards
In the same game, Ben Roethlisberger came up big. With the running game grounded by a staunch Packer front seven, Roethlisberger took to the air and completed 29 passes for 503 yards, shattering Tommy Maddox's 2002 record of 473 yards.
Guts and Glory: Roethlisberger Guts it Out
Slammed to the turf and awkwardly landing on his throwing shoulder, it appeared that Ben Roethlisberger's season would end before the Steelers were eliminated officially from the playoffs, but Roethlisberger gutted it out and led the Steelers to a clock-killing 14-play drive against the Dolphins that all but ran out the clock and ensured the final win of the season.
Polamalu Dazzles the Crowd: One-Handed Interception
Known for his amazing plays and blazing speed, Troy Polamalu started a lost season in a memorable fashion, picking off Tennessee Titans quarterback Kerry Collins in an acrobatic, one-handed fashion. Polamalu's pick was one of his few big plays on the season as he missed 11 games with two knee injuries, but his one-handed pick was the defensive highlight of the year.
Stopping Perfection: Steelers Defense Keeps Favre at Bay
In one of the few memorable defensive stands of the season, the Steelers stopped Brett Favre on back-to-back drives as his Vikings attempted to rally at Heinz Field. An interception and then forced fumble snuffed out the rally, ensuring the Vikings would not go undefeated and that the Steelers were back on track early.
Dixon Fills In: Former Third Stringer Turns in Stellar Showing
Regardless of the final play, Dennis Dixon's performance against the Baltimore Ravens in place of the injured Ben Roethlisberger and Charlie Batch was excellent. In his starting debut, Dixon flashed his athleticism with a fine touchdown run and several big plays in the face of a fierce Ravens blitz.
That wraps up 2009, folks. It wasn't their best season, but it was an interesting season. We can only hope that, next year, the Steelers won't be asking Oakland, Kansas City, and Cincinnati for help when it comes to making the playoffs.
Enjoy the offseason!
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