I am not a Steelers fan myself but one of my very good friends is a complete diehard. He wrote this short analysis on the Denver game, and the 2011 season as a whole, shortly following Sunday's loss.
Okay I'll give you my observations of the steelers game and then put this season to rest for me. I was in a meeting for the first half of the game and so I only got to see half of the third quarter and the entire fourth quarter / overtime. Bare with me...
Let's put things into perspective - the steelers, pretty surprisingly, had the best pass defense in the NFL this year by a long shot. It wasn't some sort of weird run / pass stat thing either - they only gave up an average of 171 passing yards per game, and no quarterback threw for over 300 yards against them even one time the entire season (this included playing Tom brady, Joe flacco twice, Andy Dalton twice, Matt schaub, and Kevin kolb - all big yardage qb's). They only gave up TWO - that's two - plays over 40 yards this whole season. The key to this much improved pass defense (which was probably their achilles heal that prevented them from winning the super bowl last season) was the dominance of Ike Taylor who locked down the opponents number one receiver completely one-on-one every game (even playing in the slot against wes welker), the improved play from the rest of the corners - william gay (although I feel like he always gets burned) and Keenan lewis, and the pro bowl season from ryan clark - one the biggest hitters in the game and the steelers leading tackler this season. The main reasons they didn't make a strong push for 15-1 this season (they got completely outplayed in the first ravens game), and another super bowl title was because of their utterly weird inability to force turnovers, and the laundry list of injuries to many key players.
If you're keeping score at home - there was only one offensive lineman who started on opening day and also started this week against denver and that was Chris kemoeatu - who was injured and then replaced for most of the season and only played this week due to other injuries. Maurkice pouncey (the best center in the game - yes better than nick mangold), max Starks, and Willie colon were all out. Doug legursky filled in admirably at center but single-handedly killed a good drive and took the steelers out of field goal range before the half with an errant shotgun snap that rolled 25 yards backwards. He also had a few more bad snaps out of the shotgun during the game, a formation that the steelers have had to use 80% of the time since ben's injury to protect his ankle. Obviously rashard mendenhall was out for the season, but Isaac redman ran very well in his absence (17 carries for 121 yards and 21 yards receiving). Their third down back mewelde moore was also out. Heck even their running backs coach was out for the game after suffering serious burns in a house fire. Their punter, sepulveda, was out for the year. On defense, they missed james Harrison for 5 games (4 for the broken eye socket and one due to suspension) and lamarr woodley for most of 8 games with a hamstring that never really healed (he was in and out of the Denver game too) after starting the season with 9 sacks and a defensive player of the month award. Aaron smith was lost for the season again (and most likely done for his career), and both Casey Hampton and brett keisel (pro bowl type year) were knocked out of the Denver game very early on. They were on their 3rd string nose tackle - mcClendon - a rookie, due to injury. Their 3, 4, and 5 corners (lewis, brown, and allen) were all either banged up or out for the denver game. No team in the NFL was decimated with as many injuries to their key players as the steelers were (except for maybe the chiefs but they stunk anyway).
The two biggest injuries though were obviously big ben's ankle, which didn't allow him to set properly or push off his foot on deep throws (which basically took away the steelers advantage of having mike wallace) and more importantly didn't allow him to move around the pocket and extend the play - his best attribute - for the last few games of the season. He was having his best year as a pro by far until then (the steelers have become a pure passing team - 60% to 40% pass to run ratio - previously unheard of in Pittsburgh - mostly due to ben's maturing as a pure qb and calling most of the plays). The other major loss was Ryan Clark due to the sickle cell trait that didn't allow him to play in the high altitude of denver. I think this was the real reason tebow put up the best game of any qb against Pittsburgh the whole year - 316 effective yards and 4 huge plays down the field. Clark's replacement, ryan mundy, had a nice strip of mcGahee during the game, but he also got completely lost on some of the big pass plays down the middle of the field. For example, on the overtime td pass - mundy's responsibility was to fake a safety blitz off the right side and then quickly backpedal into the middle of the field to take away a crossing route by demarius Thomas - the only denver receiver on the play. I think Ike Taylor made a mistake by overplaying Thomas on the outside - towards the sideline - but mundy oversold his fake blitz and was just plain late getting back, giving tebow / Thomas the opening for the in-stride slant td. I don't know if Clark would've made the play or not but it was just one clear example of the number of times mundy just plain messed up during the game. I also blame dick lebeau for not giving more help in the secondary throughout the game with clark out, and seemingly relying on the fact that tebow can't throw. All in all, they had their shots to win that game - even driving down to the Denver 35 yard line with about 20 seconds to play - before dumervil stripped big ben to lose like 15 yards. I really wanted to see a run from redman - who had been dominant all game - in that spot. also, the steelers made a mistake by not taking a page out of the ravens book with ray lewis - and sitting big ben until the playoffs. They played some very winnable games down the stretch and could've used a fully healthy big ben in the playoffs...
Basically they'll be back next year - hopefully healthy and ready to roll. The most exciting part of the team is the development of their young receivers - mike Wallace (3rd rounder), Antonio brown (6th rounder and a true game-breaking threat), and Emmanuel sanders (3rd rounder). We may have seen the last of Hines ward after getting 10,000 catches and 12,000 yards for his career (on a mostly all running team for a good part of his career) - easy hall of famer when you factor in his world class blocking, two super bowls, super bowl MVP, multiple pro bowls, and win on dancing with the stars.
I think this injury thing sums up the steelers whole season but i had my own two cents to throw in...ok, so basically you said that they had lots of injuries this year. we all knew that. we also know that the steelers d is old. you watch this game and they werent ready. according to my steelers fans here in college, they were out coached as well.
also, i think you have to ask why they have continually drafted LB's and Dl's high in the draft when they have huge needs at cb and ol. how long did you think that secondary was gonna last? the other teams in the division all took care of their weaknesses (bengals drafted dalton and green, the ravens reinvented their secondary with bernard pollard and two new above-average corners) while the steelers continued to stockpile DL and LB's to do nothing but wait for the starters to get hurt.
another point about injuries, when you play in denver, the trainers HAVE to be prepared that any existing injuries will tighten up VERY fast. they werent ready for that denver environment.in terms of the o-line, i dont know if pouncey is the best yet, but hes definitely on the rise. but the whole steelers line stinks and it really doesnt matter who is playing. basically, i believe the steelers will be back because of great coaching and veteran leadership but they will next year be in the ravens situation this year, one last chance to dance before new faces come in.