Has the pulse of Steeler Nation really flat-lined?
My fellow fans, this has been brewing inside of me for a while, and now I've reached my boiling point.
What is wrong with you?
I know all about the eight turnovers. I endured each and every one, right along with the rest of you. I know all about the injuries, too. What I don't know is how, with everything that has happened this year, some of you could have conceded your Terrible Towels, after two freakishly weird games. [Here's looking at you, Defeo]
Et tu, Brute? Not that Mr. Defeo officially speaks for every card-carrying member of Steeler Nation; but his words summed up the sentiment flowing through the confluence following a very painful loss to the Cleveland Browns. I'd accuse the lot of you of knee-jerking, but this has been percolating for a few weeks.
I found an unexpected laugh towards the bottom of BTSC's homepage, Thanksgiving Day morning. The fanpoll, which used to have a prominent home at the top of the old site format, has been lost; floating away, caught in the current of the river. I realize that not everyone participates, and even fewer do because of the lack of convenience involved in such participation; but I found the results that morning surprising, yet quite fitting.
(editor's note: this poll resets itself every few days)
After a difficult loss to the Ravens in Pittsburgh, morale was at a minimum. Coaches and Players were being questioned. Old men were called to wear the armor once again, and fight the fight of the young. While all the land spoke highly of the kings of yore, secretly they had all accepted surrender in their hearts. In my opinion, this was the first time our Fan Poll showed the true face of the fans, themselves.
Judging by the comments made during gameday here, and the wails of the twitterverse; that graph is not very likely to start climbing back up, anytime soon. The ultimate failure of the 2012 season cannot be quantified in injuries, fumbles, or interceptions. The true failure of this season falls on Steeler Nation. Your soldiers lie bleeding, of wounds incurred on your behalf; and you just washed your hands, and let them die. For that, I say: Shame on You.
This fan's towel is not getting folded, and stashed away in the closet until next season. This fan's old worn out Steeler hat will not be retired for another one. This fan can still feel a pulse. This fan can still see a chance for recovery. This fan is going to pick up the paddles, and fibrillate the heart of Steeler Nation.
Before you start firing coaches and cutting players from your Soap Box Front Office Penthouse, or start scratching giant, red "L"s across the rest of our schedule; perhaps we should make sure our patient has actually passed away, and that the heart monitor hasn't simply malfunctioned.
Let's start with the coaches. Many folks have begun to call for Haley's head on a platter, because his offense isn't as successful with his third string quarterback installed. Can you name me one NFL offense today that does?
When it's not Haley's fault, it's Tomlin's. Why, because he's the head coach? He is expected to have the perfect answer, every time. That is the task befallen him. Many want to question his reasoning in several key areas, so let's discuss those.
- Why did he leave Leftwich in so long against the Ravens?
- Why did he leave Batch in so long against the Browns?
- Why won't he stick with one back?
- Why won't he make them stop committing penalties?
- Why won't he put our hurt guys back in, even though we don't want them hurt any worse?
These are the questions Tomlin is forced to have answers for, no matter how ridiculous they sound sometimes. I will take a stab at these answers, as we break down our issues by position.
Do I believe Charlie Batch had a bad game against the Cleveland Browns? Yes, I do; so does Charlie Batch. Perhaps Batch's performance today tells you why Coach Tomlin would allow Byron Leftwich to stay in the Raven's game. Batch was never meant to start; most third quarterbacks aren't. To act like we should have a game ready third-stringer on hand, that can play well with only one week of practice, is absolutely hilarious.
To those wondering why the Steelers haven't taken their third quarterback so seriously, I ask that you consider the point that you are pounding. Batch has contributed more to the success of this season than his play on Sunday dictated. His spot on the roster was earned. Whether he will be asked to return in a uniform next year is a different story; but that has nothing to do with the 2012 season.
The Steelers did what they could by signing Brian Hoyer. I, like many of you, would have like to see Hoyer at the end of the game, for a possible Hail Mary, considering he probably has a little bit more arm strength than Batch. He wasn't put in. So? It's one thing to muse and speculate; its another to expect tangible results from the imaginary experiments. Relying on a quarterback that has been on your roster for 4 days, is relying on just as much luck.
Would you rather have a coach that operates on a gamble? Or, would you rather have a coach that operates in knowns, especially those that you believe give your team the best chance to win? It's hard to blame the coach, for the effect Father Time has taken on a tenured veteran. No one on this roster, including Ben Roethlisberger, understands this offense better than Charlie Batch; as he is the one operating between the coaches and the quarterbacks on gamedays. It was his body that let him down.
If Roethlisberger can play next week, then he will play. Just hope he really is healthy. The instant fan-benching of Charlie Batch is having a hand in this decision. If something happens to Ben because he rushed back; you helped make it happen. Should Hoyer get a chance? Probably, but I can't disagree with Tomlin's handling of his quarterbacks, knowing what I know now. I will trust his judgment moving forward.
The Running Backs:
Some of you have come down on Tomlin for his handling of the backs. This confuses me as well. I won't lie, I've tossed my hat into the ring in the Dwyer/Mendy and Wallace/Brown fights already. However, both situations have been handled professionally on all accounts. Unless you are accusing Tomlin of cursing his backs of fumbilitis, you can't blame our running failures on him. Mendenhall, before fumbling twice, had barely played to get a full scope of his ability. Dwyer, while usually a productive runner in 2012, had as dismal of a day as the rest of the corps, fumbling away a drive himself.
Tomlin has caught a lot of heat over a two-game benching of Dwyer for fumbling, but that story was greatly blown out of proportion. With the early season injuries, we were short on active spots on game days. We had to sit somebody, and with Mendenhall set to come back; running backs were becoming expendable. Dwyer was selected to be the guy that sat, because of the fumble; but it was just as much about seniority. Coach simply took a chance to remind his young back how much he thinks about ball security. What Coach Tomlin didn't expect, was to see his other backs fumble, fall, and flounder. He simply can't bench every player that fumbles, or commits special teams penalties; we would have to forfeit due to lack of participation. The next best thing he can do, is bench a guy. You fumble, you sit. Good plan. That will send a clear message.
You have to laugh at the fumbling trend against the Browns. This plan of benching guys shouldn't have to compensate for that. I'm not a huge fan of the by-committee approach, but Coach Tomlin has done his due diligence to make sure that every healthy player gets opportunities to contribute. We can speculate all we want, but until a player actually fails on the field, the coaches will consider what they knew yesterday to still hold true. However, I'm sure the Coaches did learn some things that they will use tomorrow.
Chris Rainey is fragile, and we need to be more considerate in how he is used. In fact, someone needs to teach him to slide. He has shown he will drop the ball when you lay into him; take that out of the equation.
Fumbling the ball is not the end of the world, because as we learned on Sunday; everybody does it.
If you want something to blame the failure of the running game against the Brown's, blame Willie Colon's knee. Colon began having issues on Friday, and had to be replaced pre-game by Doug Legursky. Coincidentally, the linemen failed to open up holes for the backs. Mike Adams also left the game, replaced by Kelvin Beachum. The running game struggled even more. How is it a coaches fault that his backup linemen are not as athletic as his primary linemen. Isn't it supposed to be that way?
If you haven't been whining about any of the previous topics, perhaps you've given your two-bits worth on this one.
Haley is getting blamed for his playcalling. I remember from a long, long time ago; all of the speculation following the hire of Todd Haley. His new offense was to be built around running the ball, play action passing, and protecting our franchise quarterback. Until Ben suffered an improbably rare injury, his offense had been just that. And, despite some defensive gaffes in the first few weeks, Haley's offense had been successful. Ben got hit less, we were scoring points in the redzone, and the defense was allowed to rest more as we added to our normal time-of-possession advantage.
Suddenly Ben is lost, almost permanently; and now Haley has to gameplan around Ben's Bizarro, Byron Leftwich. Haley had to find a way to twist his scheme to keep the slow-throwing Leftwich healthy, yet playing to his strengths and away from his weaknesses. No one expected Leftwich to get hurt falling down. That injury is why the Nestea Plunges I see players like Antonio Brown doing gets under my skin. You can be done just that easily. However, Byron wasn't showing off; he was toughing out a touchdown, going above and beyond the call of duty. It happens. It is rare, but it happens.
We have no way of knowing whether Haley's gameplan for that evening would have actually worked, as every pass was compromised by Byron's injury. If Batch looked that good against the Browns after a week of practice, how do you think he would have fared coming in for Byron with none? Injuries aren't a coordinator's fault. It is his job to compensate, and he has been trying. Ben has only been out two weeks. You cannot evaluate a coordinator's performance when he has a different quarterback every week. Considering we were within one score in both losses, I would say we weren't that far off.
I'm only bringing LeBeau into this conversation, to extinguish the flames before they've had a chance to spark. With his superstar Safety, Troy Polamalu, out; LeBeau is still leading a top defense. While we lost to Cleveland and Baltimore, the defense has done as well as you can ask any defense to play.
The return of the special teams penalties, was just more salt on a wide open wound. However, some of us honestly believe that no one is telling these guys to knock it off. That's funny.
It's really not that hard. To play in the NFL, you have to know the rules if you are going to adhere to them. Holding is one of the most self-explanatory rules in the book; right along with block-in-the-back. You can question the intelligence of the player for repeat offenses, but every coach tells his players to not commit penalties. If you feel Tomlin should start benching the special teamers, keep in mind he would have to put starters in their places. This is how Polamalu got hurt and missed tons of action in the past. Tomlin learned his lesson from that, and won't make that mistake again.
The Schedule and The Record:
We are now 6-5. Take a second and think about that.
No Troy Polamalu. No Rashard Mendehall. No James Harrison. No Ben Roethlisberger. No Ryan Clark. No Sean Spence. No David DeCastro. No Marcus Gilbert. No Antonio Brown.
We are now 6-5. Think about it again.
Most teams would consider themselves fortunate to be on the winning end of things when they were missing that many important players throughout their season. If you told those teams that their playoff hopes were not only alive, but doing well; they'd be ecstatic. How does Steeler Nation react? "Bottomline, the Steelers suck".
If you bother to look at the upcoming schedule, and the standings; you realize that we are only competing with 2 teams for 2 wild card spots: Indianapolis and Cincinnati.
Indianapolis has two games left versus Houston, one against the Chiefs at Arrowhead, and another at Ford Field in Detroit. It's hard to rule out their other game at home versus Tennessee; as that depends on which Titan team shows up that week.
Cincinnati has a slightly easier path, but they still have 2 division games left against Baltimore and Pittsburgh; which Ben, Antonio, and possibly Troy should be ready by. They have one game against the Cowboys, which are inconsistent, but have the talent to be dangerous. Even their 2 other games [Eagles, Chargers] aren't exatly throwaways.
Baltimore doesn't escape the math either. Even though they sit at 9-2, they have looked anything but good. They barely beat the Chargers, to maintain their claim to a first-round bye. However, their remaining schedule is not full of San Diego-s. After the Steeler rematch, they have dates with RG3 and the Redskins, Peyton Manning and the Broncos, Eli Manning and the Giants, and finally that game against the Bengals. The Ravens have not given me the impression that they will fare well against these high octane offenses. It is not all that unreasonable to say they could lose out the rest of the season. Baltimore has not clinched anything yet. They will have to earn it.
Our upcoming game against the Ravens is the closest to a must-win we've faced all season; and even that has yet to be determined, but handing the Ravens a loss would significantly benefit our cause. Even if Ben is unable to play against Baltimore, but can return the following week, this is what he as to look forward to: 3 home games against the Bengals, Browns, and Chargers; and one away game at Dallas. While Dallas can be dangerous, Romo is easily rattle by our style of defense, and does not scare me.
Call me homerly optimistic, but I believe those are all wins. Even if we lose to the Ravens, we're looking at a 10-6 record. If the Bengals lose to the Ravens and the Steelers, they are 9-7. If the Colts lose twice to the Texans, they are tied with us at 10-6; with both of us in the playoffs. If the Colts lose to the tenacious Chiefs also, they are 9-7 with the Bengals.
While injuries have plagued us all season long, the only one that isn't coming back is Sean Spence. Troy Polamalu is not in an Aaron Smith situation. He will return. Woodley is nursing an ankle, but will not likely be done for the season. Antonio Brown will soon be back. Ben will be back. Cotchery will be back. Leftwich will be back. None of the damage done was inoperable.
In Other Words:
Quit your whining. Get back on the bus, sit down, and shut up. Unless you're twirling your Terrible Towel, then feel free to stand and cheer your guts out. Make sure to keep those Towels high, too. If they can't be seen, they don't work. Please reserve all pointed fingers for aiming skyward in celebration. Take your Doom and Gloom, and leave it in the basement where it belongs.
If things actually can, and do, get worse; then you will have plenty of time to dwell in your depression when we are actually deceased. Until that day, recognize the fact that we are very much alive; and support your team as such.
Represent your team with pride. Ignore the doom whisperers, and keep the faith. All is not lost.
[Oh, and for Heaven's sake, let's get that Fan Poll graph moving in an upward direction. That's just downright embarrassing. No one else will respect us, if it appears we show no respect for ourselves.]