As the Steelers approach the final week of the season many fans find themselves surprised with the situation the team is in. Following a season of defensive dominance and offensive adequacy that lead to a record sixth Super Bowl ring, the Steelers find themselves on the verge of missing the playoffs altogether.
The game is in a constant state of change, and in recent months so to are the Steelers.
The ability to dictate their own game offensively and adapt to the ever-changing offensive climate of the NFL defensively has allowed them to be the most consistent franchise in the NFL for decades. Relentlessness has always been the forte of the Pittsburgh Steelers.
They have not always had the best team, the biggest stars or the most prolific numbers, but they have always refused to quit attacking their opponents until they buckle under the pressure.
But like so many have already proudly proclaimed; “these are not your parents Steelers”.
The Steelers have run into some serious issues this season that have lead to mind boggling losses at the hands of some of the leagues worst teams. The problems have had little to do with the pass happy offense, or the less aggressive defense, or even the injuries that have plagued this team since training camp.
The difference between this season and seasons past can be summed up in a single word:
The Steelers have looked flat-footed and anything but relentless this season, only showing sparkles of things past. The once Steely demeanor of their Head Coach that was solidified by the fire in his eyes, has slowly become a stone-faced stare with lifeless eyes behind it.
Sadly enough the team has followed suit. The team’s locker room leaders have spent more time bickering this season than they have with the ball in the fourth quarter, and the break in unity has been a perfect depiction of their deteriorating mental toughness.
Major whispers of changes concerning the Pittsburgh Steelers have become plain talk, and the results this season demand that the talking becomes action.
So what actions need to be taken to insure that the Steelers’ woes are for the short term?
While the Steelers have been in a state of change there are certain things that should never change about the Pittsburgh Steelers. While you can change an offensive philosophy, players and even the uniforms, the Steelers are a reflection of a legacy that runs as deep as the franchise has been in existence.
The Steelers have always been mentally tough, close-lipped and had the desire to win even when they didn’t have the tools to do so.
In order to regain that mentality some things are going to have to change within the organization, and it all starts with the leadership.
If the Steelers have ever been noted for anything it is the quality of the organization and the type of players and coaches they allow to represent them. Over the course of this season the state of leadership within the team’s makeup has virtually evaporated. Not only from a coaching standpoint, but also from a players perspective as well, the Steelers have become a group of individuals rather than a team.
I dare say it starts at the head, and it is going to be the head that gets cut off if he does not take his place and command his team. The time for passive aggressive tactics and nonchalant personas has come and gone.
The Steelers have come to a place in the season and the state of the organization where the tough questions need to be asked of the right people and the answers to those questions need to be demanded. Mike Tomlin is the man that needs to begin to ask those questions of himself and his team.
While everyone loves to talk about Tomlin coming from the Dungy lineage of coaching there is a major difference between the two. No one could ever mistake Dungy’s quiet, mild mannered disposition as apathetic. Nor could they ever question his ability to command and control the attitude and intensity of his team under adversity.
Is it possible to ask those questions of Tomlin’s approach to the current situation in Pittsburgh? I would say it is not only fair, but he needs to ask them of himself. Tomlin’s team has played with what seems to be an apathetic, lifeless disposition that oozes from the platform of every press conference their coach does.
After the look inside it might behoove Miximus to “unleash hell” in the locker room before they can ever do so on the field. His team’s captains and leadership have not only led poorly they have caused division within their own squad.
A “calling to the carpet” so to speak of every player and issue needs to take place, and it is with this type of accountability and aggressiveness that Tomlin can bring his team back to life. When the tone is set that the finger pointing is only acceptable when the finger is pointed in the mirror then and only then will the team become a team once again.
With that said Tomlin is going to need to clean house when it comes to assistant and positional coaches.
Bruce Arians has taken part in the development of Peyton Manning and done a great job as a positional coach, but the aptitude for play calling tends to escape him. His predictability has not only become a weakness for the Steelers, but it has caused them to virtually disappear inside the redzone this season.
If you continue to scour the offensive side of the ball the buck has got to stop with the offensive line. This is like beating a dead horse, but hey what’s one more whack to a dead horse anyway?
If I can be so bold I would dare to say that neither Alan Faneca nor Marvel Smith are the biggest losses the Steelers have had along the offensive line in the last five years. On the contrary Russ Grimm’s presence as the offensive line coach has left this team with a void that has yet to be filled since his departure for Arizona.
The performance of young talent may have taken the biggest hit as the teaching and mentorship of a hall of famer can rarely be replaced. Larry Zierlein certainly has proven that he was not the man for the job as we have watched players digress from previous levels of play while none of the younger players in the organization have stepped up either.
The Steelers have some needs to address this off-season, and while the offensive line is definitely the most glaring hole, the cornerback position simply cannot be ignored any longer.
William Gay has looked more like a matador this season than the promising young athlete that we saw filling in for injuries and in nickel and dime packages last season.
With Ike Taylor looking susceptible and Deshea Townsend’s increasing age the team needs to find a way to upgrade the cornerback position in the offseason. If like be a lady the Steelers will find a way to move up in the draft and snag one of the elite defensive backs available in this year’s crop.
Couple the choice with the firing of defensive backs coach Ray Horton, and the Steelers secondary will be in much better shape come spring drills.
Overall the difference in this year’s Steelers team can be seen in their play and their current situation going into the game today. They have sat back and let other teams come to them this season and it has cost them dearly.
Now the Steelers are going to have to do the same and rest the fate of a meager season on the intentions of other teams in order to make the post season. Not only will they have to beat the Miami Dolphins, but they are going to need to see losses from a combination of the Jets, Ravens, Texans, and Broncos.
The days of sitting back and letting things play out has got to end today for the Pittsburgh Steelers. What the team does today will set the tone for the offseason and effect them greatly concerning next season as well. It will be up to them to take destiny into their own hands and begin to change the culture amongst the team that they have let slip this season. It’s all going to come down to desire.