Oh boy. Things are getting a little ugly in Pittsburgh. On Sunday, the Steelers went into Cleveland and got themselves embarrassed by the Browns to the tune of a 31-10 loss. The Steelers entered the game 18-1 against the Browns with quarterback Ben Roethlisberger under center, but this day belonged to the Browns.
Aside from a dominating win over the Carolina Panthers in Week 3, this team has played some very questionable football on both sides. However, when you look at it, where do you start to break down the layers of blame that permeate a team playing so poorly?
I have always been one to side with the coaches in most instances. Ultimately, when a highly paid professional athlete is put on the field, the expectation is that they will execute, regardless of the coaching.
Nevertheless, this season has really started to test this theory for me. Losses to the Browns as well as the Tampa Bay Buccaneers left the fanbase scratching their heads. Even the win over the Jacksonville Jaguars left me wondering where the disconnect is for the Steelers’ staff and its players.
Let’s take a closer look at the three Steelers coaches on the hot seat at this point.
Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau
Of the three primary culprits in all this, LeBeau is clearly working with the least amount of talent. The Steelers defense has been decimated by injuries, which in turn narrows the playbook exponentially.
Of greater concern when it comes to LeBeau is about the viability of the 3-4 scheme that LeBeau coaches. The NFL continues to evolve, especially on offense. Athleticism is increasing every year. In addition, the rules of the game continue to skew toward the offense and more scoring. This puts serious pressure on the scheme that any team trots out there.
But the bottom line is no one is firing LeBeau. The 77-year-old coordinator can’t coach forever, but he is an icon in the city. It would be nice to see him make some roster changes in an attempt to light a fire under this group. Gerry Dulac of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette shared this thought on Twitter.
After watching the Browns run through the defense, I think it's time we see Daniel McCullers.— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) October 13, 2014
I’d take it a step further. The fact that defensive end Stephon Tuitt isn’t playing while defensive end Cam Thomas continues to clutter the field is criminal. And why not pull outside linebacker Howard Jones off the practice squad and see if he can spark an anemic pass rush? Could he really do worse than the 9.0 sacks the Steelers defense has mustered in six games?
Prediction: LeBeau makes it through the year. However, if this team continues to struggle, don’t be shocked if he hangs it up at season’s end.
Offensive Coordinator Todd Haley
It might be time for the Steelers to cut ties with Haley. It might seem drastic to fire a coordinator during the season, but it is not without precedent. Back in 2012, the Baltimore Ravens had seen enough of then-offensive coordinator Cam Cameron, and they fired him during the year. The result? Quarterback Joe Flacco went on a tear, and the Ravens won the Super Bowl.
All you have to do is watch the Steelers offense to understand where Haley is going wrong. Being ranked No. 6 in the league in yards but No. 24 in points is a product of poor play-calling. There’s just no other way to look at it. Somewhere there is a disconnect between what he is asking of this team and the team’s motivation.
Specifically, play calls inside the red zone have been puzzling. Going into Sunday’s game, the criticism was that Haley had gone pass-heavy in the red zone and forgotten about running back Le’Veon Bell.
Once again we look to Dulac as he offered this statistic to highlight these problems before Sunday’s game.
Not counting 3 kneel-downs at end, #Steelers attempted pass on all 10 plays in the red zone in Jax. TBay it was 8 of 9. 33 of 47 in 2014.— Gerry Dulac (@gerrydulac) October 8, 2014
So, with all the attention this was getting, what does Haley do? The first time the Steelers are in the red zone against the Browns, Haley calls three straight runs and the drive stalls. It was perhaps the most telegraphed set of plays Haley has called all season, and that is saying something.
There comes a point where a coach’s philosophy doesn’t fit the personnel, and it is time for a change. This team has some truly elite talent on offense, and it appears they are being squandered with Haley’s convoluted offensive philosophy.
Prediction: If the Steelers cannot turn it around in terms of scoring, Haley is gone. And I mean gone this season. I don’t want to get emotional, but I really miss Bruce Arians right about now.
Head Coach Mike Tomlin
Ultimately, all of the failings of this team fall firmly on the shoulders of Tomlin, justified or not. When Tomlin was hired, he followed a legend in Bill Cowher. When Cowher was hired, he followed an icon in Chuck Noll. The Steelers are the franchise that sets the standard for stability at the head coach position.
But none of that matters if this team can’t start winning. Tomlin came in and won early in his tenure with a roster built primarily by Cowher. The past three seasons, a team molded more by his hand has struggled to remain competitive.
This is rock bottom for Mike Tomlin's career as Steelers head coach. We are there. Right now.— Colin Dunlap (@colin_dunlap) October 12, 2014
The problem with laying blame on Tomlin is he beats you to it. Tomlin is quick to lump himself into the big blame soup every week. I understand that you cannot lay all the blame for shoddy game plans at Tomlin’s feet. Just like you can’t blame Tomlin solely for the poor draft picks in recent years. However, part of the responsibility of being the head coach is being the one with the biggest target on their chest.
Prediction: Tomlin’s job is safe. The Rooneys are loyal, and they are going to ride this out with Tomlin. He has earned that. Tomlin needs to decide if he can win with Haley running his offense and take a more active role in personnel. But overall, Tomlin is a quality head coach, and he isn’t going anywhere.