For the second time in five seasons the Pittsburgh Steelers followed up a Super Bowl title by failing to make the playoffs the following season. Now the Steelers, like 20 other NFL teams, are left wondering what went wrong and what must be done to rectify the problem. For this team that's particularly baffling considering that they played so well against some of this year's elite, but struggled mightily with so many basement dwellers. Add in the lack of intelligent football in critical situations and you've got to wonder if the biggest problem with the 2009 Pittsburgh Steelers was between their ears.
Whether it was complacency, a lack of effort or simply poor game plans, the Steelers could not or would not bring their best effort to the table week in and week out. After playing one of the most difficult schedules in league history in 2008, the 2009 schedule seemed very manageable and looking back, it should have been. The Steelers played seven games against playoff teams, although four of the games were against teams from their own division, and nine games against teams who ended the regular season at .500 or worse. The rather easy schedule though proved to be their downfall as they went 4-3 against playoff teams, with all three losses coming against division mates, but somehow they lost three of five games against teams with ten or more losses on the season. The great Dale Lolley said it best in early December:
I've heard from a number of players over the past few weeks that this team hasn't paid attention to the details or hasn't been on the same page. To me, that's inexcusable. If you're a professional football player, you'd better play every game like it's the last one you'll ever see. Not paying attention to the details is another way of saying that they took somebody lightly. That explains how the Steelers have beaten San Diego, Minnesota and Denver but lost to Kansas City, Oakland and Cleveland.
Oddly enough that statement sums up the 2009 season for this team very well. The problem isn't talent or age or even injuries, although each of these three certainly contributed to the 9-7 record. The real problem was something unquantifiable. It's something we can't see, hear or even measure, but when it's not present, as was the case for large parts of the season, everyone can tell. Hopefully watching the playoffs from home will change that in 2010, but for now all we can do is sit back and see who loses their jobs as a result of this disappointing season. Maybe the changes will be in personnel or in the coaching staff or some changes in philosophies but however drastic the changes may be, everyone in Steelers Nation knows that missing the playoffs with this much talent on the roster is unacceptable.