The recurring theme of the Steelers' 2012 season has been that of lost opportunities.
Steelers president and co-owner Art Rooney II reiterated that in an interview with the Post Gazette in its Thursday edition, saying the season "It was one of those seasons that a play here and play there would have made a difference in a lot of those games," but also strongly endorsed Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin.
"I certainly still have a high level of confidence in Mike. I know he is working as hard as he can already, just to figure out how we can get back on the right track."
Ever since his grandfather, Art Rooney hired Chuck Noll in 1969, the Steelers have been the model NFL franchise in terms of coaching retention. Just two other men have been hired since Noll, Bill Cowher and Tomlin.
Tomlin, suddenly, is the seventh-most tenured head coach (with the same team) in the league, behind Green Bay's Mike McCarthy, Houston's Gary Kubiak, New Orleans' Sean Peyton, New York's Tom Coughlin, Cincinnati's Marvin Lewis and New England's Bill Belichick.
Both Noll and Cowher achieved that point in their careers.
Tomlin's career and season, though, are not unworthy of criticism. Tomlin inherited a veteran-laden team one year removed from a Super Bowl championship and two years removed from a 15-1 season. He has been leading quarterback Ben Roethlisberger through his prime, while enjoying the careers of two of the best Steelers defensive players in history, James Harrison and Troy Polamalu.
While Cowher lost Super Bowl XXX, only to reach the game again and win it in February of 2006, Tomlin won his Super Bowl in February of 2009, but lost his in February of 2011. He hasn't won a playoff game since then, and just suffered his worst season record-wise as a head coach.
Rooney, according to the article, pointed to turnover differential as one of the main reasons the team struggled in close games (3-5 in games decided by three points or less). While the Steelers were -10 on the season, they had a curve-wrecking eight turnovers in a Week 12 loss at Cleveland. Still, with just 20 takeaways in 2012, and 16 in 2011, the Steelers are headed in a bad direction both in turning the ball over and taking it away.
While offensive coordinator Todd Haley is (or maybe isn't) in consideration for the head coaching opening in Arizona, the mission is clear this offseason; find ways on offense to create more points (the Steelers have ranked in the bottom third in the league in scoring in each of the last two years) and find ways to generate more splash plays on defense (35 and 38 sacks in the last two seasons, respectively, are both in the bottom half of the NFL).
Rooney also suggested cap estimates that put the Steelers around $10 million over the projected $121 million figure are "on the lower side," than where they really are, suggesting more cap manipulation will be needed to move the team forward.
"As it stands today, it doesn't all fit. We have work to do, whether that's players not being here or players restructuring contracts, we will see. We've got work to do. There's no doubt."