The success enjoyed thus far by this Steelers squad has been borderline miraculous. Their ability to remain competitive after replacing elite talents with young upstarts and unknowns is nothing if not admirable. Like pulling off a well received Secret Santa party with bargain bin specials. This has been an surprisingly enjoyable ride for Steelers Nation, because who doesn't love an underdog.
This Steelers team is like a talented young fighter on the rise, who doesn't know his own strength and potential. It is up to his management team to not rush his development, to not step up his level of competition till he is ready. It can be tempting to overestimate your fighter and pull the trigger prematurely, but a loss be devastating to a fighter's confidence and momentum.
Regardless what happens over the final two weeks of the regular season, the Steelers front office needs to partake in some honest self reflection and soul searching. For this article, that all starts with GM Kevin Colbert and the Steelers coaching staff.
Despite what a select few may believe, Colbert has done an excellent job in his time with the Steelers. He is rumored to be a hot commodity on a few teams wish list after the season, with the Carolina Panthers most mentioned. Any development that results in losing Colbert would not be optimal for the Steelers at this point. The Steelers need consistency and stability with Ben Roethlisberger's career and the Steelers resulting championship window rapidly closing. Ownership and Colbert need to come to terms on a contract and start looking toward the future.
The same could be said about Head Coach Mike Tomlin. This has been Tomlin's most impressive season yet. Not only has he been without his future HOF QB for the first time in his career, but many of the skill position players that were being counted on to produce this season have been unreliable due to injury or performance.
He has done a masterful job at avoiding panic and instead portraying a calm demeanor. Looking back, he probably had plenty of practice in previous seasons acting like everything was chill, even in the face of childish drama. His ability to babysit the malcontents and juggle multiple egos should never be overlooked or forgotten. He willingly dealt with all the distractions in an effort to bring a seventh Lombardi Trophy back to Pittsburgh.
This season's success has brought Tomlin some well deserved recognition. Consistent success is often taken for granted. Tomlin is also believed to be a hot commodity this off season. No matter how this season plays out, the evaluation of Tomlin's performance should be very clear. He is a leader, both on the field and in the community, and one of the best HC in the league. He must be retained.
Offensive Coordinator Randy Fichtner is a much harder evaluation, truly a tough nut to crack. Talented players often make a coach look brilliant, but the opposite is also true. Fichtner lost his best receiver during the off season, then his field general after the first game of the season. The whole offense was built around Big Ben's abilities and his preferences. Ben is lost for the season and suddenly half of Fichtner's playbook is useless because the remaining quarterbacks on the roster are not talented enough to execute it.
Fichtner has tried to take those limitations into account and gameplan accordingly, but has achieved mix results. The Steelers have managed to win more games than they have lost thus far this season, but it has mostly been in spite of instead of because of the offense. Fichtner is hardly irreplaceable, but do the Steelers really want to start over with a new coordinator when hopefully they will get a healthy Ben Roethlisberger back next season? Ben knows the offense front to back and is comfortable with Fichtner. I don't see how replacing Randy would be optimal. Expect the Steelers to stick with the status quo.
Defensive Coordinator Keith Butler suddenly looks competent this season. Funny how having talented players at your disposal often has that effect. Butler probably still has no idea what players are on Injured Reserve for each opponent, but his plethora of first round draft picks knows how to execute his defensive gameplan. Talented players + good coaching = superior production. That has been particularly true with this unit. No matter how you look at it, Butler deserves his fair share of credit for the defense's improvement this year. I definitely gave him plenty of blame for previous season's defensive struggles.
This years Steelers defense has a real shot to lead the league in both sacks and turnovers. That would be the third year in a row that the Steelers paced the league in sacks, and the latter would have been unthinkable as recently as last season. I think that would qualify as a bounce back season for Coach Butler.
That brings us to Special Teams Coach Danny "Big League Chew" Smith. This is where job performance is much harder to evaluate. Both kickers have had solid seasons. K Chris Boswell has bounced back in a big way, back to being one of the best in the NFL. P Jordan Berry has enjoyed the best season of his career, and has been avoiding the shanked punts and mental lapses that plagued him in previous seasons. Well, at least, till the Bills game. The kick coverage units have performed well, and are filled with talented young athletes.
The kick return units are still below par across the board, which truthfully falls on both the players and Smith. Ryan Switzer was a fair catch or kneel down waiting to happen before he was placed on IR. WR Diontae Johnson and RB Kerrith Whyte have brought a spark to each unit over the last couple games, but I question whether Devin Hester could have been successful with Smith's units poor blocking fundamentals.
How much credit does Coach Smith deserve for the improvement in the kicking game and in coverage? Likewise, how much blame should he warrant for his units continued inability to block effectively on returns? Is he the right man for the job? Only the Steelers hierarchy can adequately answer that question.
The Steelers strive for stability and consistency, and I believe that is the correct philosophy moving forward this off season.