The Pittsburgh Steelers franchise is nothing if not consistent. They are beyond predictable because you always know what they are going to do in every situation. To the best of their ability, they are going to try to do the right thing in every opportunity. They base these decisions around a very specific set of values and ethics, with stability and loyalty nearing the top of the list.
The heart of their extraordinary and admirable business model and behavior comes from the Rooney family. It's the ‘Steelers Way’ and has created the most consistently successful franchise in the NFL over the past fifty years. They are old school in every way, and any fundamental change in procedure has been hard pressed and slow coming, but changes have been required and have come to fruition eventually.
The results are truly impressive and beyond compare. Three head coaches during the past half century, the most overall wins and best winning percentage over the same time frame, and six Super Bowl championships during the time when multiple franchises have none. Some franchises, like the Cleveland Browns, have never even been to the dance. Some fans need a little reality check the next time they want to whine “oh, woe is me.” Being a part of Steelers Nation requires a lifelong commitment. Wimps need not apply.
The Steelers are famous for allowing their legends to play past their expiration dates. The Steel Curtain defense was retained until they decided they no longer could take the field. Although I hated watching them go, coupled with the lack of success during the 80's, I had to admire the Steelers loyalty to the legends that had turned around a franchise previously more downtrodden than even the Cleveland Browns.
Will the Steelers do the same thing with current legend Ben Roethlisberger? I believe his arm is still capable of leading the Steelers to another title, but I am not as certain about the rest of his body, particularly his knees. That is a question only Ben and the Steelers executives can answer, and they must make that decision prudently. His cap hit is troubling as is, especially if he isn't certain of his desire to return and ability to play up to his own standards. I have faith the Steelers will handle the situation properly. It's the ‘Steelers Way.’
The problem with the Steelers old fashioned way of handling their business extends to the current coaching staff. Most of the Steelers positional coaches have been with Mike Tomlin for years, some date back prior to his Steelers tenure. Some have failed to cut the mustard on multiple occasions, but have retained their jobs because the Steelers value stability and abhor change. Many of the current coaches would have been long gone on other franchises. The Steelers don't make knee-jerk reactions.
That's why one decision still troubles me greatly from Sunday's playoff loss to the Browns. The Steelers started left guard Matt Feiler, fresh off an extended stint on the IR, over rookie standout Kevin Dotson. That decision was mind-boggling for yours truly. Feiler often struggled during the regular season after being moved from right tackle to start the season, and that was prior to his injury layoff.
Dotson on the other hand was the best Steelers rookie offensive lineman in recent memory. He brought a desperately needed power element to the Steelers aging line, and gave the Steelers at least some semblance of a running game that was nonexistent without him in the lineup. He made the PFF All-Rookie team and is the present and future of the Steelers offensive line.
I understand the old adage that you don't lose your starting position due to an injury, but players lose their positions everyday due to a lack of production or performance. This situation qualifies any which way you choose to look at it. The decision to start Feiler over Dotson definitely wasn't the main reason for the Steelers disappointing performance, but it did provide a glimpse at a chink in the Steelers armor, procedurally speaking.
That old-school way of thinking, such as not playing rookies until they have had ample time to observe, resistant to trading up in the draft to obtain a coveted target, or refusing to utilize modern contract negotiation standards; these beliefs are no longer practical in today's NFL and the Steelers have slowly started to adjust, rather begrudgingly I might add.
I love the fact the Steelers value loyalty as a foundational part of the legacy of the franchise, but decisions like the one they made prior to Sunday's game could cost them dearly down the line.
The Steelers didn't win a single Super Bowl championship during the past decade, underachieving throughout based solely on the talent at hand. More necessary adjustments and honest evaluation is required this off season. The fate of the Steelers legendary winning culture is at stake, and very much in danger.