The state of the Steelers Part Two: what actually happened this year

Karl Walter

If Steelers Nation has learned anything this year its that its not over until its over.

We can focus upon the failures and frustration. We can focus on the hope. I believe we do ourselves a disservice if we don't look at it all. The marvelously intriguing and complex season that ended in the Immaculate Molestation (We really did get screwed in the end) nevertheless has taught us a lot about what is both right and wrong about the Steelers, football, the NFL, our culture and ourselves. The opportunity exists for us to take this from a mere entertainment experience to the transcendence that true recreation (to recreate) can facilitate. So here's one person's take on what actually happened with the Steeler's 2013 season.

Steelers Nation

They call it fear porn. You can see it practiced on various websites and on YouTube. Comet Ison, which is really Planet X or Nibiru or an alien Death Star is going to destroy the Earth. We will meet our end sitting as slaves in a Fema Camp because the useless eaters created social unrest and invaded the suburbs to get our stuff. And then Obama, who is obviously a minion of Satan declared martial law, and...Well, you get the idea. Now I'm not disputing the possibility of any of these things happening. Anything's possible I guess. But that misses the point. There are always deadlines with these things. And they're always missing the deadlines. Ison/Nibiru/X was supposed to take us out in August, no September, no Halloween, no Thanksgiving, no Christmas, no New Years. Next up, Martin Luther King Day. Before Obama was the devil it was Bush (Hilary would make a good one don't you think?). The point of the exercise is to induce fear and panic.

For the last year or so some of us in Steelers Nation have been engaged in fear porn. We're doomed! Players can't play, coaches can't coach, managers can't manage, the owners ain't s**t. And if you don't happen to agree with this assessment then you're just an unrealistic, pollyanna, childish, Rooney sycophant. Turns out they were wrong about pretty much everything, particularly the 'whys', the meaning of the facts. The mindset continues. "We don't deserve to be in the playoffs". Let's unpack that for a moment shall we.

Are you saying that if Succop had made that kick it would have been some sort of travesty that the Steelers had gotten into the playoffs? The integrity of the NFL would have been soiled? Not deserving to be there they would have absolutely no chance of beating the Bengals or any other team they would be matched up with. Hell, why even play the game. Just submit a 2-0 score and pencil in Cincinnati for the divisional playoff game. The team that went 8-4 over the latter part of the season are imposters, posers or just extremely lucky. The group that went 0-4 in September are who the Steelers are. I guarantee you that some variation of that narrative will grow and persist for the next year and particularly throughout the winter which is why I was only half kidding when I proposed in part one that we consider executions.

Anticipating the rebuttal, no I am not saying that one cannot or should not be 'negative'. This has nothing to do with positive or negative, this is about making sense. In this respect there is a version of 'The standard is the standard' (a line that I'm beginning to believe needs to be banned) operating at BTSC. We don't, for example, have much in the way of tolerance for trolling, excessive profanity, racism, sexism, political or religious proselytizing. There are other sites that are fine with any or all of that. This is not an anything goes kind of place, and I don't believe it should be. Its one of our greatest strengths, and we've had no trouble getting traffic. There is one other standard that used to be displayed prominently on the masthead before it was redesigned, and it is the reason I chose this site, and I suspect it is what attracted many of you reading this as well; level headed thinking. So much so that I and others experienced a certain level of intimidation before we screwed up the courage to post a comment. If only others were so fearful.

If you don't get development you won't get the Pittsburgh Steelers. As far back as 2009 you could find discussions on this site involving founder Michael Bean and others anticipating the 2011 to 2013 time frame as one of transition to a new generation. There is nothing particularly mysterious that has been going on here, taking into consideration certain unknowns such as injuries the new CBA and other rules and policy changes that couldn't be predicted in advance. For those who like to preface their comments with 'I bleed black and gold', I would ask if you've considered the University of Iowa? Their uniforms are even patterned after the Steelers design. It wasn't the color of the uniforms that earned this franchise six Lombardi trophies. It was how their values are manifested in how they conduct their business. If you ignore or hold these things in contempt then what, in fact, are you rooting for?

So you would have preferred to have done a little worse so we could have a high draft position. How has that worked for Cleveland? The Steelers have gotten players of the caliber of Antonio Brown, David DeCastro, Maurkice Pouncey and Cam Heyward occupying a much lower draft position than they will this season. Maybe Iowa's the place for you. Want to get knee deep in high profile free agency like real smart teams such as Washington and Dallas, or change coaches like you change your shirt? How about Wake Forest?

Last year Houston was considered a Super Bowl favorite. Now they are back to square one. Atlanta and Washington were playoff teams last year, the Ravens Super Bowl champs. People thought the 49ers were on the path to invincibility last year and probably think the same of the Seahawks now. The Patriots maintain a higher position in a chronically weaker division. There is something to be said about expanding your focus to gain a greater appreciation for some things that you are close to and take for granted. When I was growing up in Pittsburgh I didn't think much of Carnegie Mellon University. It was walking distance from my school and my friends and I some times hung out at Tech, which is how we referred to it in those days. When I left town to go to college I discovered how highly respected CMU was around the country. Similarly it might be useful to reflect upon how ridiculous some of us are viewed in the eyes of other knowledgeable fans from other places.

The Steelers remain on track for greatness. They've done it operating largely as a renegade (an appropriate term) relative to the business culture and values of the rest of the league. It is not paranoia that this franchise has been specifically legislated against down through the years. The pursuit of parity at all costs and am ethic that is decidedly anti-development is great for generating surface popularity and cash, but bad for the Steelers. Add the back stabbing of Know Nothing hacks in the media, and a cadre of Know Nothing fans and you see the problem. In spite of it all they still thrive.

Ownership and Management

I wondered earlier this year what might be the impact of the return of Dan Rooney to the helm of this organization, particularly given the fact that his position was anything but ceremonial. While he maintained a remarkably low profile I think his fingerprints were quite visible. This season was ripe for opportunities for missteps of all kinds in the wake of the uncertainty and criticisms leveled at the organization during the off season and the team's early struggles. There was nothing close to the debacle that was the handling of the Arians/Haley situation. It doesn't take much imagination to conceive of a scenario that could have allowed the controversies surrounding Haley and Roethlisberger to morph into something that could have ugly, distracting, even crippling ramifications.

Over the past year some had got themselves lathered up to the point that Colbert couldn't do anything right. So let's revisit some things from a current day perspective. Any problems with giving a long term contract to Antonio Brown and letting Mike Wallace walk? Don't be shy, speak up now. How about bringing back William Gay, Matt Spaeth and Will Allen? Retaining David Johnson and Emmanuel Sanders? Drafting Cam Heyward, Jason Worilds, Lawrence Timmons, Jonathan Dwyer, Kelvin Beachum, even Ziggy Hood and Chris Carter? Signing Jerricho Cotchery? Going out and finding Fernando Velasco and Cody Wallace. Do we need to even mention Bell, DeCastro, Thomas or Jarvis Jones. And, careful now, are you really ready to declare Mike Adams a bust at this stage of the game? Confident you won't have to eat those words in a year or two?

Many have said, if only they hadn't retained their aging veterans so long. Let me take a contrary position. Their difficulties during these past two seasons may be explained in part because they let some the veterans go too soon. This is where the financial structure of the league not only does not serve the Steelers, but the game itself. Viewed strictly as a talent issue, yes, certain players were certainly on the downside and were expensive in an environment where teams are in penny pinching mode in the area of talent procurement while the league is, otherwise, drowning in money. Operating under the current structure, Jerome Bettis, who was certainly on the downside in 2002 might have been jettisoned. If he had its hard to imagine the team winning the Super Bowl in 2005. Maybe the Ravens could have won the Super Bowl last year without a much diminished Ray Lewis. I'm not so sure. So, could having a James Farrior, a Casey Hampton or a Chris Hoke on the roster made the difference in reversing one loss to a victory? They wouldn't have had to be starters or stars. I think it would.

Coaches

There is this film of Vince Lombardi ranting and raving on the sidelines during a game. You hear him say "Everybody's grabbing out there! Grab, grab, grab!" He's obviously upset that his players aren't using proper technique when attempting to tackle. Here's the question. Did he not teach his players the proper technique? Do you think there was any chance that he was neglectful or incompetent in conveying this training to his team? So, what's the problem? As others on this site have said, 'Coaches coach and players play'. Even an all time great like Lombardi can only lead the horse to water. He can't make them drink. This brings us to Mike Tomlin and some things that I think are past time to put to bed.

So first let's properly frame the discussion. Mike Tomlin, in just completing his seventh season is fourth in longevity behind Noll, Cowher and Buddy Parker (he'll tie Parker next season). He is the only head coach in the history of the franchise to not have at least one losing season. So, let's address those who would say that the jury is still out on Tomlin. Are you an idiot? Ahem. Perhaps you just don't understand. If you've been paying attention over the past few days you'll realize that seven is a long time in coaches years. The jury doesn't exactly procrastinate in these matters. For Tomlin the jury came in either in March of 2012 when Art Rooney II announced to all who would listen his intention to extend Tomlin's contract, or that summer when the extension was consummated. You don't extend a year before the end of a contract if you're not pleased with the performance. He's fine with his players and his employer. Some media folks and fans have some issues. And your point would be what? Perfection? Noll and Tom Landry were not inspirational coaches. Cowher was a poor disciplinarian, Tom Coughlin is too strict. Belichick is ethically challenged. Tony Dungy was a soft spoken, nice guy. The Harbaughs are crybabies. Tomlin has game management issues. They all have rings. I can certainly understand if you don't like him. I'm not crazy about Belichick, but as much as I would like to justify it by claiming he's incompetent, the fact is that he's a good coach.

No, Dick LeBeau is not too old and he's likely not going anywhere. Haley's offense is working pretty much as ideally conceived after there is enough of the proper personnel in place. If this is the beginning of a trend Ben's career could be extended a few years. Perhaps more importantly in the short run, any move to replace Haley would probably guarantee a couple of more years of instability as the team acclimates to yet another new offensive scheme. At this point it appears that all the new additions; Bicknell Jr., Mann and Smith are successful upgrades. But this is just speculation. The final take on the coaching staff has yet to take place. But, generally, all things considered, the coaching turned out to be quite good. The team improved and did not lose focus in spite of considerable temptation to do so.

Part Three address the players.

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