Tim Heitman-USA TODAY Sports
The Steelers' 2012 season crashed and burned in a maddening mix of defensive brilliance that was trumped by offensive ineptitude. We celebrated Christmas by picking up the pieces.
Two of the most durable and reliable Pittsburgh Steelers players have been Heath Miller and Ike Taylor. The fact that both were placed on Injured Reserved this week (along with Baron Batch) may constitute the most precise and eloquent statement of the 2012 season.
Two defining themes of the 2012 season once again manifested themselves this past Sunday. Once again the end came with a score at the very conclusion of the game. And yet again it was a game punctuated by injuries. The first trend defines the difference between this year's and last year's record. One loss of this type is usually one more than is tolerable in any season. The fact that these types of losses were common, habitual this year was gut wrenching and for many fans beyond frustrating. Predictably there were calls for heads to roll of course. Anyone who could be remotely associated with the effort had their capabilities and character called into question. It will take some time for a complete level headed assessment to emerge. Unfortunately, we'll have plenty of time for that.
The head coach was forthright and showed no signs of panic or anger in either his post game assessment or his weekly press conference on Christmas Eve. Some were infuriated by this display of steadiness. Perhaps if he had torn the head off a live chicken.
This is the other trend that continued unrelenting throughout the entire season. There has not been one week this season that I haven't had to include a section on injuries on the Checkdown. As I pointed out earlier team Ironmen Heath Miller and Ike Taylor were placed on Injured Reserve this week. Mike Wallace, a player who has not missed a game during his career with the Steelers has been declared out for the contest with the Browns. I went on record this week to say that the injury situation for this team over the past eighteen months went beyond what could be considered reasonable for a team to be effective, particularly a team that was in transition as the Steelers have been this season. It probably wasn't the sole reason for the team's difficulties but had to be considered a factor in most, especially the inability to develop an level of consistency of performance. The only group that was untouched by the injury bug this year were the kickers. And I may have just jinxed them.
Though it was clearly a bad week for the Steelers tight end on the health front, there was also some good news that was associated with a fine season that even his injury and the stench of a bad ending for the team could not diminish. Miller was named the Steelers team MVP. Miller, along with center Maurkice Pouncey was also named to the Pro Bowl. We can be grateful that the timing of his injury was such that he was allowed to complete enough of his body of work to earn well deserved recognition from both his teammates and the broader NFL community for a truly outstanding season. Hopefully his rehabilitation will be such that he will be able to pick up where he left off in the 2013 season.
There were a number of bright moments in what was otherwise a dreary afternoon at Heinz. The defensive effort generally was excellent, and that of the secondary was well above the line. Cortez Allen, who took on the difficult assignment of containing Bengal wideout A J Green was declared game MVP by Steeler Digest. Keenan Lewis, despite being less than 100 percent gutted out a quality performance. Troy Polamalu provided hope for next season by returning to form as a disruptive force. The secondary collaborated for three turnovers in the second half alone. Unfortunately, the offense was incapable of capitalizing on these gifts. But that should not be reason to overlook another fine job of coaching and preparation by coach Carnell Lake. Speaking of Troy, Trib writer Alan Robinson conducted an interview with the Steeler safety where he put some positive spin on the team's difficulties. He stated that perhaps the team needed be humbled in order to re-familiarize themselves the virtues necessary to achieve and maintain excellence, particularly the young players. Maybe that sentiment needs to be extended to the whole of Steeler Nation.
In something of a mini-trend Ben once again was the source of the Steelers' sorrows as he threw a late interception that led to the game winning field goal for Cincinnati. This has led to much speculation, unanswered by the Steelers as to whether he is still feeling the effects of the injury he suffered several weeks ago. A more radical assessment poses the question of whether Ben is showing the signs of a permanent decline. And, of course, in light of the ineffectiveness of the offense, the questions about the relationship between Ben and offensive coordinator Todd Haley continue. In my opinion a shoulder separation involving the throwing shoulder should open the question as to whether the quarterback continues to be adversely effected this soon after suffering the setback.
As to the actual fate of the Steelers coordinators, those who were hoping for turnover will apparently be disappointed. At this point both Haley and defensive coordinator Dick Lebeau are expected to return to the team for the 2013 season. LeBeau has been explicit in expressing his intention of returning to his duties. Let me go out on a limb and say that this news should be welcome to all right thinking citizens of Steeler Nation as well as fans of the NFL generally.
As the season quickly winds down for the Steelers the questions begin concerning who will be leaving and who will stay, particularly among some long tenured (and expensive) veteran players. This topic along with who may be the likely prospects to join the team either through the draft or free agency will be the coming front and center on this site soon, though the answers won't be clearly sorted out for some weeks. But a number of players including James Harrison, Brett Keisel, Casey Hampton and Larry Foote are part of the early discussion.
The Steelers won't be the only ones heading into the season ending game at Heinz Field with injury issues. Cleveland has announced that third string quarterback Thad Lewis will be starting on Sunday.
Player safety in general and head injuries in particular are still being sorted out on various levels. The National Football Post poses the provocative question as to whether fans care about player safety at all. The Sports Agent Blog announced a webinar on concussion litigation coming in early January.
Immaculate Reception (cont)
We are still in the midst of the holiday season so let's try to end things on a more positive note. As many of you familiar with the site know our own Homer J (Mike Silverstein) was included in the recent NFL Network special on the Immaculate Reception. He is putting up his signed locker room pass from that historical occasion up for auction with the proceeds benefiting Transitional Services, Inc.
LeBeau Part Two
Those of you familar with Coach LeBeau know that he is lauded for his yearly recitation of The NIght Before Christmas. Steeler.com posted a video of his performance on Christmas Eve.
Have a happy and prosperous 2013 everyone.