An Emotional Rollercoaster for the Steelers and Fans

Vicki FarriesCorrespondent IJanuary 7, 2010

Some Steeler fans may blame New England for blowing a lead in the fourth quarter, allowing Houston to score 21 unanswered points and win 32-27.

Some may curse the Raiders for losing to Baltimore after they defeated the Steelers and the Bengals earlier in the season.

Other fans are bitter at Cincinnati for playing their scrubs in the loss against the Jets to get them in the playoffs.

Many Steeler fans complain there is a conspiracy in keeping the Steelers out of the playoffs this season.

Whether you believe any of this or not it’s on you.

But there is one thing that does hold true, the Pittsburgh Steelers lost five games in a row, three to the worst teams in the NFL, and got themselves eliminated from the playoffs.

If kicker Jeff Reed made the two field goals in Chicago, the Steelers qualify.

If Limas Sweed held onto the ball in the back of the end-zone against Cincinnati, the Steelers make the playoffs.

If corner Joe Burnett held on a sure interception against Oakland, the Steelers are in the top six.

If special teams had covered a couple of kickoff returns in Cleveland, the Steelers are given the chance to defend their Super Bowl title.

Instead, the 9-7 Steelers, ranked third in the AFC North division, were eliminated from the playoffs for the second time in four years after winning a Super Bowl. The last time was in 2006 after winning Super Bowl XL. But when they lose to Cleveland, Oakland and Kansas City, they deserve their own fate.

For the first time in Steeler history, the offense can boast a 4,000-plus yard passer who in one game threw for 503 yards, two 1,000-plus yard receivers who including the tight end caught 75-plus passes, and a 1,000-plus yard rusher.

During his postgame interview, Roethlisberger defended offensive coordinator Bruce Arians and his play-calling. He described the offense as the most dynamic and potent offense in the league because of Arians.

2007 was considered a banner year for Roethlisberger’s career as a quarterback under Arians with 3,154 yards passing, 32 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. It was that years’ performance that made many sports pundits sit up and take notice of Roethlisberger as an elite quarterback instead of just a care-taker.

But this season he finished with another banner year, passing for 4,328 yards, 26 touchdowns and 12 interceptions.

So with such incredible statistics, and an offense so dynamic, so potent, why is there a drop in touchdowns? Most importantly, if the offense was so dynamic, so potent why didn’t they score enough to make the playoffs? At least in 2007, they made the playoffs.

Then there is the offensive line. They were much maligned last year and yet they won a Super Bowl.

You would think that after a year of playing together, they would act more like a Super Bowl-caliber unit. Instead, they couldn’t run-block, and allowed Roethlisberger to be sacked 50 times (two more than last year). Individual members complained of not being prepared when faced with a 4-3 defense or were confused by defensive line changes.

And yet through all of that, the Steelers have a 1,000-yard rusher in Rashard Mendenhall. Can you imagine what he could do if the line could block? How about a 2,000-yard rusher?

What happened to the No. 1 ranked defense of 2008? The lack of production cannot be due solely to the absence of SS Troy Polamalu and DE Aaron Smith (although by some it was). And yet the absence to these two individuals made the defense look horrible.

They couldn’t stop anyone in the running game. Ravens RB Ray Rice ran for 141 yards to end the Steelers 33-game streak of not allowing a 100-yard rusher.

The defensive backs were torched repeatedly. In fact they may have helped some journeyman quarterbacks (Bruce Gradkowski, Matt Cassel) get new contracts next season because of how bad they played them in the fourth quarter. Needless to say, the defense was less than mediocre.

Finally, there is special teams. This is a head scratcher. For years, even under Cowher, special teams has been a challenge.

Being in attendance at Tomlin’s first training camp, I witnessed for the first time in my five years’ of going to training camp, special teams workout. I felt excited about the attention to special teams’ which was not a priority under Cowher.

Last year the coverage team improved dramatically. After allowing three kickoffs of 90-plus yards and a half-dozen 44-plus in 2007, the 2008 season saw the special teams allow one return for approximately 44 yards reducing the opposition’s average from 30 yards per carry in 2007 to 26.4 yards per carry. 

This year the hope was for the return game. Tomlin and general manager Kevin Colbert drafted two big-time college return men and signed one free-agent. A couple of return guys for kickoff and punt return will link special teams’ into a dynamic unit.

Although the return game wasn’t half bad, the coverage team was horrible. The coverage unit allowed an NFL-high four kickoff-return touchdowns in five games this season. That’s two more than in 2007.

This has been a nightmare of a season and I for one am glad its over. A new 53-man roster will be formed and new coordinators will replaced those who failed. It has already been announced that line coach Larry Zierlein has been fired. In addition, Bruce Arians stays as offensive coordinator.

Here’s to a new season and the climb to that dream to acquire the seventh Lombardi in 2010”.


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