Steelers 2013: Are we witnessing the fall of the House of Colbert?

Karl Walter

The Steelers’ offense is in disarray, as was exhibited by the Steelers in their 16-9 home opener loss to the Tennessee Titans on Sunday. Is the man responsible for building this team also responsible for its decline into decrepitude that has become increasingly visible over the past two seasons and continues into a third, or is he facing some hard decisions that need to be made quickly?

Over the past three years, the Steelers have lost all three season opening games by a combined score of 82-35; over the past three opening games, the Steelers are minus 8 in turnovers; over the past three openers, the Steelers have lost five starters to serious injury; over the past three seasons, the Steelers have made five major coaching changes.

Who is responsible for the coaches charged with getting the team prepared to open a season?  Head Coach Mike Tomlin.  Who is responsible for drafting and signing players for Tomlin to prepare?  Kevin Colbert.

Kevin Colbert is the General Manager of the Pittsburgh Steelers, a title he has held since 2010. Before then, he was the Director of Football Operations since 2000, essentially the same thing. The Rooney family still controls the organization, and given their ownership style of allowing the people they hire to operate using the skills and knowledge that led them to be hired in the first place, the current Steelers are for all intents and purposes a house that Colbert built.

When Art Rooney II publicly said the Steelers needed to "...run better..." the owner's message made it clear there was disagreement between factions within the organization over how the rushing game was being utilized. When the Rooneys declined to extend Bruce Arians' contract and "retired" him, it happened shortly after the head coach said in the media that Arians would return.

We don't know how the decision making process on draft picks is structured within the Steelers organization; there is no clear indication how much input Tomlin has, or how much credence Colbert gives to the head coach's opinions on specific players, but the fact of the matter is there are no players on the Steelers' roster from the 2008 draft class; there are only two from the 2009 class.  These two draft classes should be providing a bulk of the backups if not the starters; instead there are but two, Ziggy Hood and David Johnson.

We don't know if the decision to implement an outside zone blocking scheme for the O line to use was part of a larger master plan developed by Tomlin and Colbert to utilize the offensive line players he and Colbert drafted together, or whether it was done to compensate for the offensive line players Colbert picked for Tomlin; either way, Sunday afternoon proved it is not working.

Colbert traded Adrian Robinson to the Philadelphia Eagles for running back Felix Jones, whose price tag was half of either Jonathan Dwyer's or Isaac Redman meaning one of those two backs was expendable, and Jones was already well versed in running behind an outside zone scheme.  Who wanted Jones, Colbert or Tomlin?  Did they work together or did Colbert tell Tomlin he was trading Robinson, or did Tomlin ask Colbert to get Jones?

Dwyer was cut in favor of Redman amidst rumors the coaches were not in agreement with the decision; Redman had an atrocious game Sunday and now Dwyer has been re-signed purportedly due to the injury to LaRod Stephens-Howling.  Yet if Dwyer and Redman were duplicative backs, why wasn't some other back more in the vein of Jones signed?  Was it primarily due to Dwyer's ability to provide pass protection in addition to his knowledge of the Steelers' playbook?

While the Steelers defense played adequately enough in the loss to the Titans, the offense was an embarrassment.  Yes the loss of Maurkice Pouncey early in the first quarter was a blow that will be felt all season, but injuries happen.  As was documented in a previous article, since 2007 the Steelers rank 19th in terms of AGL (Average Games Lost, as calculated by Football Outsiders)

As shown in that article, the Steelers are slightly worse than average in terms of suffering injuries.  So why is it they are unable to field a consistent and effective offensive line?  The offensive line's inability to open running lanes or protect the QB after the injury to Pouncey speaks to a lack of foresight by those responsible for the makeup of the final 53 man roster.  Pouncey missed the 2010 Super Bowl due to an ankle sprain, but his replacement Doug Legursky filled in adequately, yet Legursky was not re-signed and left to join the Buffalo Bills in free agency.

Tomlin is responsible for the coaches who are teaching the players, and Colbert is responsible for the players the coaches teach.  So who is to blame for what Steeler Nation witnessed Sunday?

Kelvin Beachum replaced Pouncey against the Titans, but Beachum started the game as the second tight end, reporting in as an eligible receiver. He was in at tight end as a means to buttress an offensive unit that proved incapable of establishing a running game or adequately protect its quarterback through 16 quarters of pre-season games.  Beachum started ahead of a regular tight end, David Johnson. Beachum was drafted in the seventh round as a guard in 2012 and in 2013 we have a second year player as our No. 1 backup for five different positions on the O line and starts starts ahead of a tight end kept for his blocking abilities?

A seventh rounder is first man up to back up all five O line positions and play tight end?

Who made that decision and other roster decisions like that?

Beachum to his credit has practiced and played in every position on the O line, but he is one man.  Given that injuries are a part of the game, to call relying on one man to be the sum total of the depth chart for six positions (OL and TE) negligent is to be charitable.

The offensive line is the foundation upon which the effectiveness of a franchise quarterback is built upon; without adequate protection, Roethlisberger cannot excel at what he does best.  Without an adequate offensive line, there is no running back who could "run better" under any type of scheme. The offense produced ZERO first downs rushing and gained only 32 yards on 15 attempts (2.1 yards per attempt) with Redman contributing a whopping 9 yards and two fumbles to that total; the same Redman who was selected for the final 53 man roster of instead of Dwyer.

Who made that decision and other roster decisions like that?

Why is it that after four years worth of draft picks culminating in an offensive line made up of two No. 1 picks and two No. 2 picks, we have an UDFA in Ramon Foster starting at left guard and we get a seventh round guard playing tight end as the best player available to replace Pouncey?

Who advocated for the selection of Marcus Gilbert who had an abysmal game on Sunday at right tackle, a position he has made clear he does not like to play, especially since he was drafted to play left tackle?

There is disarray in the house that Colbert has built, and he needs to fix it before that house completely falls down around the Steelers franchise quarterback, ending any hopes of his claiming a seventh Lombardi for the team.  If the blame resides in the scouting department that identifies and ranks prospective draft picks, Colbert is the man who oversees the scouting department.

If there is disagreement between the GM and the head coach over which player to draft or keep, their disagreements are now showing up on the field.

If there is a fundamental flaw in the coaching staff when it comes time to evaluate players in camp and train them to execute the plans the coaches have devised, either Tomlin's choices in coaches is flawed, or they don't know how to teach, or what they're teaching isn't compatible with the players they have.

As Abraham Lincoln once said, "...a house divided against itself cannot stand..."  What became apparent last year as each game went by, and was quite apparent last Sunday is Colbert's house is divided; there is a huge divide between the rhetoric and platitudes Colbert and Tomlin espoused in the off season and training camp and the quality of the product they showcased on the field last Sunday.

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