Pittsburgh Steelers: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly For 2010-2011
It has taken a week for me to get over the loss in Super Bowl XLV to the Green Bay Packers. This morning, I watched SportsCenter for the first time since last Sunday night. I normally watch every day, sometimes twice a day.
I still feel badly for my beloved Steelers and their amazing nation of fans, but this was not a bad season overall, not when you look at all the adversity that the Men of Steel had to overcome.
Let's take a look at the season, in each area of the game, and see what was good, what was bad, and what was just plain ugly.
The Good: Ben Roethlisberger threw for a career low five interceptions, which is always a good thing. While it was not his best season statistically, a lot of that can be attributed to the fact that he was suspended four games. If you extrapolate his numbers out to a full season, he would have gone 360/519 for 4267 yards, 23 TD, seven picks.
He was already second in the league for fewest INT, so two more would have dropped him to a tie for fourth. But the other numbers would have put him fourth in yards and tied 13th for TDs.
Not to mention his knack for coming from behind to win games. The fact that he could not pull it off in the Super Bowl doesn't take anything away from him in terms of his ability to win. The Packers had a good game plan and they executed it.
And people still don't want to list him as an elite quarterback. Face facts. He's elite.
While Ben was out, Dennis Dixon and Charlie Batch filled in extremely well. Most Steelers fans I know would have been happy with a 2-2 start, but Dixon and Batch led us to a 3-1 start and within minutes of being 4-0. You can't ask for too much more than that.
The Bad: Yeah, about that suspension. I understand a young guy is going to go out and party. I get that. I did that, too. But when you are the starting quarterback for one of the most recognizable and storied franchises in sports, you have to comport yourself in a manner befitting your position. I'm sorry, you do.
If you want to be able live a "normal" life, without all the scrutiny, don't play quarterback in the NFL.
Whether or not he actually did anything immoral or illegal, he should not be putting himself in a position for his actions to be questioned.
Let's all hope he has learned his lesson. It certainly seems like he has, but only time will tell.
The Ugly: Ben's nose in the game in Baltimore after Haloti Gnata smacked it sideways. Yikes.
The Good: Rashard Mendenhall had 1273 yards (eighth place), 13 TDs (tied second) and two fumbles during the regular season. That is production out of your featured running back, however you slice it.
He is as good running between the tackles as he is running outside. Plus, he can block and can catch the ball. He is a very complete back.
Isaac Redman and Mewelde Moore spelled Mendenhall and combined for 346 yards on 85 carries (4.1 yards per attempt). Most of that was made by Redman, who played the role of thunder to Mendenhall's lightning.
They are not a flashy group and probably never will be, but they get the job done.
The Bad: In the playoffs and Super Bowl, a span of three games, Mendenhall had two fumbles. That is not good, especially when you consider that one of those may have been the one that cost the Steelers their seventh ring.
I don't like to say one play is the difference in a football game, but a strong case could be made here. I would rather chalk it up to the quality of the defenses the Steelers played against in the playoffs.
Would you like to bet that your running back won't fumble once in three games against the Ravens, Jets, and Packers? Either way, if Mendy is catching the fumble bug, he had better get to the clinic today.
The Ugly: I saw way too much dancing around the backfield this year. As they say, stick your foot in the ground and take off. Save the toe tapping for Tom Bergeron.
Receivers and Tight Ends
The Good: The emergence of Emmanuel Sanders and Antonio Brown. These two young receivers showed they have what it takes to lead the Steelers passing game deep into the playoffs, and possibly more championships, in the upcoming years.
Sanders channeling his inner David Tyree against the Ravens in the divisional round of the playoffs is one of the best plays I saw all year.
Heath Miller showed he is a workhorse for the Steelers by catching 42 balls for 512 and two touchdowns, despite missing two games with a concussion.
Mike Wallace continued to grow by leaps and bounds. He amassed 1257 yards and 10 touchdowns, and was seventh in the league with a 21.0 yards/reception average. (Of the six men ahead of him, only one, Desean Jackson of Philadelphia, had more than 11 catches on the year. Wallace had 60)
The Bad: Hines Ward is probably in the final year or two of his playing career. He has not had numbers this low in a season in which he played all 16 games since his third year in the league. (59/755/5)
The man is a Hall of Famer, whether you want to admit it or not. He owns all the important receiving records for the Steelers, and they have a couple guys named Swann and Stallworth already in the Hall. He has won Super Bowl MVP and two rings.
Additionally, he changed the way receivers play the game. He is by far one of the most physical receivers to ever play, as attested by the fact that the NFL implemented rules against his style of play.
It will be a sad day when Smilin' Hines finally hangs 'em up.
The Ugly: The hit that Jameel McClain put on Heath Miller in Baltimore (Week 13). In a year when player safety took center stage and James Harrison was fined $125,000 for helmet to helmet hits, I would have liked to have seen a penalty flag on that play.
The Good: This patchwork line played well enough to get to the Super Bowl. They played well enough for Mendenhall to be eighth in the league rushing yards. They played well enough to allow the fewest number of sacks they have allowed in five years.
They lost Willie Colon before the season started and Max Starks during the season. They lost rookie Pro Bowl center Markice Pouncey in the AFC Championship game. And yet, they still had a chance to win the Super Bowl.
All things considered, they could have given up and called the season a wash after Starks went down. Instead, the backups, along with Pouncey, a rookie, and free agent Flozell Adams, played very well.
It could have all been very bad, but it wasn't bad at all.
The Bad: Wow, what a startling number of injuries to one area of the team. Obviously, nothing can really be done about guys getting injured. That is part of the game. Let's just hope our boys can stay healthy when football returns.
The Ugly: The two fumbled exchanges between Ben and replacement center Doug Legursky in the AFC Championship game. I'm glad they got that worked out before the Super Bowl.
The Good: Much like the O-line, the defensive line suffered what could have been a crippling injury during a game against Miami. Aaron Smith is widely regarded as the best 3-4 defensive end in the game, but Ziggy Hood stepped in nicely when Smith was hurt.
Instead, the line moved on that injury and only led the league in rushing defense. It wasn't even a close contest. The Steelers allowed a paltry 62.8 rushing yards per game for the regular season. The second place team was the Chicago Bears at 90.1 yards per game.
Read that paragraph again. The Steelers allowed 27.3 yards per game less than the second place team. How good is that?
Simply put, nobody ran on the Steelers this year.
The Bad: It is conceivable that Aaron Smith has played his last game for the Steelers. With the emergence of Hood and Smith's uncertain health, the team may decide to release him and move on. Smith has only played 11 of a possible 35 games in the last two seasons. Questions of his durability have to be flying around Pittsburgh right now.
In a perfect world, he would have never been injured in the first place. But in the business world of professional football, tough decisions have to be made.
Smith may become a victim of his own rickety body.
The Ugly: Brett Keisel's beard when he has his helmet on an the chin strap attached. It looks like sticks and twigs are growing out of his chin. His poor, poor wife.
The Good: They were a huge part of the reason that the run defense was so good this year, and they managed to lead the league in sacks with 48. That is unheard of.
Generally, a defense that is good against the run has trouble making sacks because they are playing gap control. A defense that is racking up tons of sacks tends to let a few rushing yards go.
Not the Steelers.
Plus, three of the four linebackers had two interceptions each (James Harrison, Lawence Timmons and Lamar Woodley). The New England Patriots had two linebackers with two picks each. No other team had more than one linebacker with multiple interceptions. Those three guys also contributed 11 forced fumbles and five recoveries (the other linebacker, James Farrior, was second on the team in tackles, and had a forced fumble and a recovery. Oh, by the way, he turned 36 on Jan. 16).
In my opinion, this is the best linebacking corps in the league.
The Bad: Where did these guys go in the Super Bowl? No turnovers and two sacks from the group that produced three sacks per game and 12 turnovers in the regular season? I know the Steelers did not play well overall in the big game, and Green Bay executed their game plan nearly to perfection, but we should have seen a little more production out of this excellent group of men.
The Ugly: A lot of bloggers are saying the league and the refs had it out for the Steelers this year. I don't know if I subscribe to that, but I will say this: I saw James Harrison get fined $125,000 during the year for hits he made. Penalty flags were thrown on all of those hits. Some of those hits deserved penalties and fines. Some could have gone either way.
During one game against the Ravens, however, I saw at least two hits that didn't even draw penalties (but did draw fines from the league later). How can one officiating crew see things so differently from another. This might be the biggest reason to have full time, dedicated NFL referees.
The Good: The much maligned defensive backfield of the Steelers actually did not play as poorly as you might think.
The Steelers were 12th in passing defense and number one in scoring defense for the season. Obviously, they can improve on the passing defense, but these numbers tell us that while they bent a lot, they only occasionally broke.
Troy Polamalu won Defensive POY, and rightfully so. Despite missing games due to injury, he was a force to be reckoned with. Don't believe me? Ask Joe Flacco, or Matt Ryan, or any of the other guys he intercepted during the year. He was only tied for second in the league for interceptions with seven and made game changing plays throughout the year (remember the play in Tennessee when he jumped over the line at the snap and tackled Kerry Collins on first and goal from the one yard line? Unbelievable play. I didn't see Ed Reed doing that).
Ryan Clark, Ike Taylor, Bryant McFadden, and Anthony Madison combined for seven picks and a fumble recovery. Not stellar numbers, but nothing to sneeze at.
The Bad: Dick Lebeau deserves a lot of credit for hiding what is clearly the weakest part of this incredible defense. One can only hope that they will address the need for a real cover corner in the draft, because the Steelers never spend big money to bring in high priced free agents.
As was shown in the Super Bowl, when Polamalu is having to help out in coverage, he cannot free-wheel the way he normally does.
The Ugly: Troy Polamalu completely disappeared in the playoffs and Super Bowl. At one point during the Super Bowl (in spite of the fact that I only ever left my seat during commercials), I asked my wife if I missed him getting hurt or something because I hadn't seen him in so long. That can't happen.
The Good: Bringing in Shaun Suisham and jettisoning Jeff "Skippy" Reed was a good move, . When he was making kicks, the Steelers could tolerate some of the off-the-field crap with Reed. Once he started missing them, it was time for him to go.
Suisham was very good for the Steelers, missing only one field goal in the kicker's Bermuda Triangle known as Heinz Field.
Jeremy Kapinos was a serviceable replacement for Daniel Sepulveda after Sepulveda went down with his second season ending injury in three years. If he is healthy, Sepulveda will be back because he is a better punter, but neither man will be in the Pro Bowl any time soon.
The return game showed improvement with receivers Antonio Brown and Emmanuel Sanders taking turns running back kicks and punts. Antwaan Randle El had very little impact when he got into games.
After getting killed for several returns the previous year, the kick coverage improved. This may be due to head coach Mike Tomlin deciding that having dedicated special teams players might be a good idea after all. (He had cut a lot of the dedicated special teamers in 2009) It takes a special kind of insanity to play special teams and do it well. Having guys like that on your team is not a bad thing.
The Bad: Speaking of dedicated special teams players, Keyaron Fox has to go. Too many times he cost the Steelers with penalty flags in crucial situations.
It may not have cost them the game, but his personal foul on the last kick return of the Super Bowl cost the Steelers precious field position that they certainly could have used.
The Ugly: Pick One Even with the improvements, the Steelers were still only 13th in the league in kick return average and last in the NFL in punt return average, or Suisham's 52-yard attempt in the Super Bowl that looked like it missed by about 52 yards.
The Good: Given all the stuff with Ben Roethlisberger's suspension and the unbelievable amount of injuries the Steelers had, Mike Tomlin and his staff had a really, really good year. They weren't even projected to make the playoffs. All they did was win their division, earn a first round bye, and go to the Super Bowl.
Tomlin continues to grow as a coach, learning from the mistakes he makes, and minimizing the damage when he does make them.
He admitted immediately after the game that the 52 yard field goal attempt in the Super Bowl was a mistake and that shows you the kind of man he is. He admits his mistakes and moves on. I guarantee he does not make that mistake again.
Dick Lebeau continues to field one of the best defenses in the league year after year, and this year was no exception. His players love playing for him and the Steelers are truly fortunate to have him patrolling the sidelines on Sundays and coming up with new ways to terrorize quarterbacks.
The Steelers defense played much better over the previous year, when they let far too many leads get away, costing them several games and a chance to defend their title from 2009.
The Bad: I don't want to say they were bad, because they certainly were not bad, but I feel like this offense could be so much better.
Bruce Arians seems to abandon the run very easily and early in games, even when it is working. He seems to love the spread offense, which is fine, but when the run is working, why not run the ball and shorten the game?
There were several times throughout the year that I was hoping the Steelers would go into their no-huddle offense so Bruce would not be calling the plays.
I'm sure he is a good football coach and he knows his business, but it just doesn't feel like he is a good fit for the team.
The Ugly: The penalties, oh, the penalties. How many times this year did the Steelers make a good play only to have it wiped out by a penalty? How many times did they give an opponent good field position or an extra chunk of yardage because of a penalty?
In a blowout win over the Raiders, they committed 14 penalties for a team record 163 yards. They won that game by 32 points!
Would the Super Bowl have ended differently without Keyaron Fox's bonehead penalty near the end of the Super Bowl, backing the Steelers up to their own 13 yard line? Who knows, but I like the Steelers chances from their own 26 more than from their own 13 with 1:59 left in the game.
The Steelers picked up 20 yards in that last drive before turning the ball over on downs. If that drive starts from their own 26 (as it would have if Fox had been using his head), they would have been on their own 46 after picking up 20 yards. A Hail-Mary would not have been out of the question on fourth down. Stranger things have happened.
This area of the game must improve. I have no doubt it will.
Did the year end the way Steelers Nation would have liked? No.
But if you think about it, only one team can say their season ended the way they wanted to each year. The Steelers were within 87 yards and two minutes of saying that for the seventh time in their storied history.
Every team had needs to address, things that need to be improved upon, and the Steelers are no different. I have every confidence that Mike Tomlin will make the necessary adjustments.
The fact is there are 30 other teams who would like to be in the Steelers' shoes today. Let's all be thankful that we are fans of the greatest franchise in sports:
The Mighty Pittsburgh Steelers.