The Downfall of the '09 Steelers... How and Why

Mike MillerCorrespondent IJanuary 11, 2010

MIAMI - JANUARY 03:  Head coach Mike Tomlin of the Pittsburgh Steelers looks toward the scoreboard after the Miami Dolphins pull to within three points in the fourth quarter at Land Shark Stadium on January 3, 2010 in Miami, Florida. The Steelers defeated the Dolphins 30-24.  (Photo by Doug Benc/Getty Images)
Doug Benc/Getty Images

     I wrote an article to my buddy after 14 weeks into the season and I thought I'd share it for what it's worth.  I'm not going to edit it for posting on this site.  I usually would, but I simply do not have time right now.  I hope you enjoy it.

     After doing a little research it is, to me, as clear as a bell as to why the Steelers are 6-7 after 14 weeks of the '09 season after just winning the Super Bowl this past February.
     Sure our defense has been spotty.  They've broken down at the most inopportune times and they've had some significant injuries.  They are not the defense of '08, but then again, that defense was downright scary.  Still, they are ranked fourth in the league and have only given up 19 TD's all year (15 pa, 4 ru).  They have recorded 39 sacks, but only 8 interceptions.  Don't kid yourself.  This is still a very capable unit,and they are not the cause of the 6-7 record. 
     Our offense is ranked 9th in the league right now.  We are ranked 12th passing and 16th rushing.  I would certainly like to have a better rushing ranking, but we weren't that great last year either, and we won the Super Bowl nonetheless.  Not that it helps, but the four top rushing teams in the league are the Jets, Titans, Dolphins, and Panthers... Not exactly elite clubs there, which I find very surprising.  Our offense, in general, isn't all that bad.  It's performed better than 6-7 in my opinion, and that is not our problem.  The Steelers were ranked 22nd offensively in 2008 and went on to become world champions.
     The primary reason we are 6-7 is our poor special teams play and some really unlucky bounces.  And I know this isn't newsbreaking info for any of you.  But upon doing a little research, the numbers I discovered are staggering. 
     During the first 10 games of this season, the Steelers were victimized by 8 return touchdowns.  This includes four by kickoff, two by interception, and two more by fumble.  The source I went to was the 2007 media guide, and in some years I did not research completely as to whether the opponents scored on fumble returns or blocked FG returns (hence the red question mark you'll see when a fumble return TD is noted).  There is also the chance of a fake FG going bad and being returned the opposite way.  There may be more possibilities, but that is neither here nor there.  To compare, I looked at seasons 2000 through 2006 to see how many such touchdowns the Steelers allowed.  Here's the breakdown...

2000 - 2 int, 0 KO, 0 punt  Total: 2
2001 - 0 int, 1 KO, 0 punt, 1 fumble? Total: 2
2002 - 2 int, 1 KO, 0 punt, 3 fumble? Total: 6*
2003 - 3 int, 1 KO, 0 punt  Total: 4
2004 - 3 int, 1 KO, 0 punt  Total: 4
2005 - 1 int, 0 KO, 0 punt, 1 fumble? Total: 2
2006 - 3 int, 1 KO, 0 punt, 2 fumble? Total: 6*
2009 - Only 13 games in mind you...
          2 int, 4 KO, 0 punt, 2 fumble  Total: 8

The Steelers of '09 may set a team record this year with these horrific numbers.  Their offense is just not good enough to overcome these mistakes.  Not many teams are, sans the Saints and maybe the Colts.  They shouldn't have to be either.

Special teams is almost completely responsible for their downfall this year.

     Sept 20:  Reed misses FG's of 38 and 43 yds.  Chicago wins by 3.
     Sept 27:  Joseph returns int. for 30 yd TD.  Cincy wins by 3.
     Nov 15:  Scott returns KO for 96 yd TD.  Neither team scores an offensive TD.  Cincy wins by 6.
     Nov 22:  Charles returns KO for 97 yd TD.  KC wins by 3.

     Their last three losses (Balt, Oak, and Cleve) had no such returns.  They were all were very close losses, and a couple lucky bounces and we win 1 or 2 of those if not all three.  In my opinion, special teams and bad luck are the biggest contributors to this mediocrity we are seeing in 2009.  They'll be back next year and I certainly don't expect 6-7 after 14 weeks.  I think this year was simply an anomoly, and I don't look for it to happen again.   
     I'm a little concerned about the free agencies next year, but I don't think it's anything they can't overcome.  Afterall, they will sign some of them.  The biggest concerns are Batch, R. Clark, Colon, Gay, Hampton, Keisel, Kirschke, Parker, Reed, Sepulveda, Spaeth, Stapleton, and Townsend.  Forgive me if they've already signed some of those, but that was the list (some of it) shortly before the season started.  And many of those I think can be replaced with relative ease.