It’s tempting, given the history of success, to ignore the ending of the regular season. Many in Steeler Nation take playoff participation for granted and as such see the post season as simply a normal extension of the football year. This is understandable given past generation of Steelers football.
It’s probably fair to say that there is some disappointment in not having a division title and a low seeding in the playoffs. But I’m also certain that if, in August, most reading this had been offered a twelve win season and a spot in the playoffs they would have taken it with few, if any complaints. In previewing the season I wrote that this would probably be a difficult season for fans because, given the circumstances, our expectations would be excessively high. Judging from my own feelings and that of those I know it seems as if we have to constantly remind ourselves that things are actually going pretty well so far. It’s as if we have been limping to the finish line since the debacle in
Although many of us give a lot of lip service to it, I think it’s really hard to wrap our minds around how truly difficult it is to sustain a consistently high level of performance year in and year out. For example, half of the teams in last year’s playoffs (Philly, the Jets,
My awareness of this was elevated in the wake of the first loss to the Ravens. Folks seemed to come out of the woodwork to make the point that the Steelers had gotten their behinds kicked. It took me a while to realize that this was a compliment. As I learned to point out to people on the occasions of the team’s other losses this season, in a normal year there may only be three or four opportunities to give Steelers fans grief. The majority of the people who were taunting me have now moved on to college basketball, hockey, the NBA, whatever.
One common thread concerning the games lost this year is that they came at the hands of playoff caliber teams who had a greater incentive to win. The Texans and 49ers are two franchises that are trying to establish and reestablish themselves respectively as top tier programs. And we know what demons the Ravens are wrestling with. I understand the standard being the standard, but realistically you just can’t circle all of your games in red. I was at Three Rivers Stadium for a game against the Vikings in ’72 when a young Steelers team established that they were now going to play with the big boys. The Vikings were not that amped up. They couldn’t be. Like those Vikings nearly 40 years ago, the Steelers are a team that others constantly measure themselves against. If they can beat
With a second consecutive 12 win season and the fourth minimum 10 win year out of 5, Mike Tomlin continues to keep this team performing at a stunningly high level year in and year out. This in spite of having a pretty big target on their backs as defending conference champs, a big bite from the injury bug and another strong dose of controversy. But the most impressive coaching performance this year was turned in by rookie Defensive Backs coach
Another coach worthy of lifting up is Special Teams coach Al Everest. As recently as 09 the offense and defense were consistently burdened with having to overcome special teams blunders. The trepidation that was usually associated with that phase of the game has completely dissipated. Offensive line coach Sean Kugler also deserves an honorable mention for putting a competent unit on the field week after week in spite of unrelenting injuries and limited talent.
Wouldn’t it be fun to see what it would be like if you basically started the same five guys for an entire season? No matter what you think of the O line, it would be difficult to fairly evaluate this group given the continual challenge to group cohesion in the form of injuries. I suspect that in the future that Pouncey, a healthy Willie Colon and a more seasoned Gilbert will be the foundation for a strong unit. This year I would salute right guard Ramon Foster for his steady play and Trai Essex functioning in the crucial role as universal sub.
I part company with those who are dissatisfied with the running game. You’ll notice that as the weather has gotten dicey late in the year the running game steps up a bit. Mendenhall has ran hard all year, Redman, despite his bout of the fumbles yesterday, has been more thoroughly integrated into the offense and has a tremendous opportunity ahead of him in the upcoming playoffs. Mewelde Moore has proven that he is not nearly as washed up as many liked to have believed and is still a clutch performer. His role may be crucial in the near term. With surprise contributions coming even from practice squad player John Clay, the only disappointment has been that deadbeat Baron Batch. The problem looking forward is that there will be six pretty good performers to choose from next year. Who do you keep?
And speaking of guys named Batch; once again the Elder Police have emerged, insisting that any player over the age of 30 be banished to the Home, regardless of the status of their skills. Old Man Charlie had a remarkable performance against the Rams considering the fact that he was using a walker and he couldn’t see or hear. Seriously, I don’t get enthusiasm to push Batch out the door. I’m good with all the quarterbacks. I think it’s the best group in the league. But if
Anybody miss not having a fullback? I guess Arians won that argument. Heath had a great year, but Weslye Saunders has really got my attention. An improvement from last year and looks like the position will be solid for the foreseeable future.
I watched Antonio Brown have an outstanding camp. But a lot of people have had All Pro caliber pre seasons. Brown has fulfilled the promise and then some. Generally, the same could be said for the receiving corps as a whole. The performances of Brown and Mike Wallace has been validated by their selection to the Pro Bowl. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that Sanders Is a bust. He’ll be heard from eventually. Isn’t it great to feel that the offense now has the potential to score from anywhere at anytime? Bad news? Is it really the end for Hines? I guess the Elder Police are happy about that one.
The challenge put forth a few years ago was that the D line had to get younger and deeper. Guess what? The line has caught some grief concerning its performance. Warren Sapp has had a lot of help in criticizing the Steelers defense. Never mind that once again they are the number one defense in the league. I think the perceptual problem is that given the bias toward offense the definition of defensive dominance has shifted. With the likelihood that Smith and Hoke may be gone, it is comforting that
Wouldn’t it be great if we have a healthy Woodley and a healthy Harrison on the field at the same time? Wouldn’t it be great if
Ike is having a career year. It’s a shame he didn’t finish higher in Pro Bowl consideration. Folks are still waiting (hoping?) for Willie Gay to blow up. Hold your breath. Reports that Keenan Lewis was a bust were premature. Allen and Brown show great promise. And you can’t say that they are just the beneficiaries of a great pass rush. Pretty good turnaround don’t you think?
The only liability here is the reliability of Suisham’s field goal kicking. But he does contribute positively with his kick offs which have aided in keeping opposing teams from getting advantageous field position. Kapinos punt placement has been a pleasant surprise and raises some interesting questions about that position next year. Generally the play of this unit has been consistently outstanding.
Generally speaking home field advantage is somewhat overblown. It didn’t help the Steelers in 04 or 07. It didn’t help the Pats or Bears last year. The one possible exception might be