The Pittsburgh Steelers finished a disappointing 9-7 in 2009. The culprits were many, ranging from special teams to defensive backs to offensive coaches, but the reality was that, once again, the Steelers failed to recover from a Super Bowl hangover.
As the 2010 season dawns, several players and coaches are facing what could be their last chance in Black and Gold. Step up and play better now, and they might be back for 2011 (assuming that there is a season then). Fail, and they'll likely find themselves in street clothes.
Here are the top five Steelers facing "put up or shut up" situations in 2010.
You can point to two dropped touchdowns by Limas Sweed and say that the Steelers would have made the playoffs and had 11 wins if not for his inability to squeeze a football in the endzone.
But what you can't ignore or blame on Sweed is that the Steelers struggled to score from the red zone. They also failed miserably for a second straight year to score in goal to go situations.
Play selection hasn't been that great either, and for that we look at Bruce Arians, favorite target of fans and analysts.
Steelers' President Art Rooney II says that there was never any conversations about letting Arians go, it seemed as if he was holding back the truth about the situation.
What we do know, however, is that this is Arians' last chance. He's in the final year of a contract and he's got to be on shaky ground. The Steelers went out and got him some new weapons in free agency and will probably get a couple more in the draft.
Fail now, and he's a goner.
He's not on as thin of ice as Arians or his defensive backfield mate William Gay, but Taylor isn't going to get many more second chances.
Twice since he was hired, Mike Tomlin has benched Taylor in favor of less proven players to send a message about Taylor's work ethic and effort on the field.
Taylor wasn't very good last year, getting burned routinely by faster receivers and failing to live up to his old reputation of covering the opposition's best.
It's crazy to think he's slowing down, but he isn't good in coverage and looked a step slower in 2009. He has terrible hands, which showed once ball-hawking safety Troy Polamalu went out for most of the season.
Taylor likely will get one more chance at starting even if the Steelers select a corner early in the draft, but he will be on a short leash. Tomlin showed no hesitation to let Joe Burnett and Keenan Lewis play late last season.
If anyone could challenge Bruce Arians as the lightning rod for scrutiny in 2009, it was William Gay.
Bryant McFadden, who started at corner for the Steelers in 2008, was let go in favor of Gay, who had played well in limited opportunity. The decision was widely ignored. McFadden, after all, was never viewed as an essential piece.
Oh how things have changed.
Gay was awful. He got burned by fast receivers, out-foxed by elusive ones, and outplayed by everyone. He probably couldn't cover the NFL's worst receiver in a phone booth.
He quickly became the focal point for a failing defense. Of all the weaknesses exposed by the loss of Polamalu, the weakness of cornerback play, particularly Gay's, was the most obvious.
He hasn't been cut, but he also hasn't been endorsed by management. He could be on the outside looking in if the team drafts a player like Kyle Wilson or Earl Thomas, or if Joe Burnett and Keenan Lewis step up and take his job.
This is most definitely his last chance.
Maybe I'm cheating a bit by pairing these two together, but its a veritable tie which one has been more disappointing.
Starks signed a big contract and then became the easiest route to the offensive backfield. His turnstile ways forced Ben Roethlisberger to leave the pocket far too often.
Colon doesn't get the same heat thanks to a smaller contract, but he's also disappointing. He makes dumb penalties (false starts at home), doesn't rub-block well, and also is wildly inconsistent.
The Steelers have made no secret that they'd like to upgrade their line and improve their running game and pass protection. These two will not be able to start on an improved unit unless they clean up their play.
Colon is more likely to go first, as Starks (who played well on the right side before) could slide into his spot and someone else into the spot on Ben Roethlisberger's blind side.
You can't fault either of these players for on-field performance.
But in Pittsburgh, that alone won't suffice. This team has a long-held and hard-earned image for being one of the more upstanding franchises in the NFL, content to disabuse themselves of malcontents and troubled souls.
Bam Morris was emerging as a force at running back until a Super Bowl week drug arrest in 1995. He was gone immediately.
Cedrick Wilson ran into legal troubles in 2007 and was gone immediately as well.
The Steelers haven't shown the same speed with handling Reed, who has been twice arrested for charges stemming from public drunkenness. The team usually will give players a second chance, but Reed is now on number three.
The team used it's franchise tag on him, but they will be quick to dispose of him should he run into further legal troubles. He seems to have turned the corner and learned his lesson, so we can only hope he stays clean.
I've been loathe to write about Roethlisberger's situation simply because I don't think it's news. It does not, yet at least, relate directly to anything going on during a game. It doesn't have any direct connection to the organization either. That's what I'm tasked to write about.
But Roethlisberger is also on strike two. The team seems content to see if this too ends up being nothing more than empty allegations (I'm not making any decisions on that until I see the case). If it is, they will likely give Roethlisberger a speech about the team's ideals and how they will not hesitate to part with a star who abuses their image.
If these are not empty allegations, well, Pittsburgh would likely go through a losing season before they would keep someone with that kind of reputation.
Hopefully these two guys have put their troubles behind them by the time the season begins.