The Pittsburgh Steelers 2020 season is over. And before it even takes place, the Steelers did not win the Super Bowl this season. In fact, it’s been 10 season since they have even been to the big game.
As is usually the case when a team, like 30 others in the league each year, comes up short on the season, the fan base comes out in droves saying exactly what is wrong with this team.
Well, there’s a lot wrong with this team.
The Steelers are getting older in places where they need to get younger, numerous players are no longer under contract going into next season, players that are still under contract have inflated salary cap hits due to constant restructuring, and the team just can’t find a way to run the football.
Did I hit the major points?
Oh yeah, and then there’s the coaches.
Trust me, the coaches should not get a pass for places they have come up short and doing their jobs in making the Pittsburgh Steelers the best team it can be every season. Just like a quarterback should be blamed for overthrowing a receiver and giving an easy interception, coaches should be blamed when making poor decisions or failing to develop a reasonable scheme.
But as we often do as fans, we sometimes take our narratives to the next level. Sometimes, this level is quite unreasonable. One statement I’ve seen floating around on various places discussing the Steelers on the inter-web is how the Steelers have wasted their talent during the Mike Tomlin era.
Not only is a statement almost impossible to prove, it makes a whole lot of assumptions which should not be made.
First, define talent. Is it making Pro Bowls? Is it being selected in the first round of the NFL draft? Is it just who you think is good and like to cheer for? The problem is, talent is relative. What someone may deem as being very talented, others may not. As Steelers fans, we are very biased and unreliable evaluators of talent. We have players that we love that we claim are better than they really are. More often than the previous example, there are plenty of players on the Steelers where the fan base are sure they are terrible and yet the team keeps around.
As fans, I would say our track record is pretty bad. We’re terrible evaluators of talent as a whole. Obviously, some people are better than others. But remember, it wasn’t long ago Bud Dupree was a big mistake for the Steelers in drafting him in the first round. And now, there are many who can’t stand the thought of losing him to free agency.
For those who are among the crowd that says the Steelers have wasted their talent for the last 10 years, I want to give a counter argument: The Steelers have over-performed with their talent they have and, therefore, cannot draft high enough to constantly get game-changing players every season.
I’m not saying I believe this argument, but it is just as valid as saying that the talent was wasted. In this case, we can actually look at players who have gone on from the Pittsburgh Steelers to help shape the argument. If the Steelers are so terrible at wasting their talent, then I’m sure players are just tearing up the league the moment they get out of Pittsburgh. We all know how true this statement is, right?
Let’s look at the extensive list of former Steelers who have gone on to make the Pro Bowl since they have left Pittsburgh. Since it’s been 10 Years since the Steelers made their last Super Bowl, let’s start that far back. Here we go…
And we’re done. The only player to go on from Pittsburgh in the last 10 years and have more success than what they did with the Steelers was wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Earning two Pro Bowls when he played in Denver in both the 2014 and 2016 season, Sanders only had 2,000 yards in four seasons and 11 touchdowns in Pittsburgh. But when another wide receiver drafted in the same year constantly outperformed Sanders, he became expendable.
Speaking of that other receiver drafted the same year as Sanders, the Steelers have recently had two All-Pro players leave the Steelers and found very limited success. Granted both of these players are still alive in the 2020 postseason, their contributions to their current teams are nowhere close to what they were doing in Pittsburgh. So in looking at these types of players, it appears they over-performed in Pittsburgh and their talent is being wasted on their current teams.
Let’s just look at the players who moved on from the Pittsburgh Steelers last season and how they performed in 2020. If their talent was wasted in Pittsburgh, I’m sure they were all named to the Pro Bowl this season.
The biggest name who left the Steelers in free agency after the 2019 season was defensive tackle Javon Hargrave. Moving to the Philadelphia Eagles, Hargrave didn’t jump onto the scene anymore in Philadelphia they what he already had in Pittsburgh. With fewer tackles than he had the previous two years, Hargrave did have 4.5 sacks in 2020 where he only had 4.0 in 2019. But Hargrave’s 2018 season had 6.5 sacks while he was in Pittsburgh. In looking at PFF grades, Hargrave went from a top 10 interior defender to ranked number 76 in the league in 2020. His replacement on the Steelers, Tyson Alualu, slid into that top 10 position according to PFF as he finished ranked 8th.
Another player who left the Steelers this past season was Tyler Matakevich who had a very equal season in Buffalo to what he did in Pittsburgh. B.J. Finney left the Steelers for Seattle but didn’t earn a starting spot or even last the season. Finney ended up being traded to the Cincinnati Bengals and did not have a single offensive snap in the 2020 season for either team.
Other players who left the Steelers were tight end Nick Vannett who did have one more catch for 33 yes the large in Denver this season but did actually have a touchdown. The other player lost was Sean Davis to the Washington Football Team who ended up releasing him and he signed back with the Steelers. Artie Burns did go to the Chicago Bears, but suffered a season-ending injury in training camp.
I’m still trying to figure out if the Steelers are wasting so much talent why players aren’t exploding onto the scene the minute they get out of their dreaded black and gold uniform.
Maybe it’s the players the Steelers aren’t letting go which people deem to be the superior talent. After all, the defense is loaded with a lot a first round draft picks. Looking at the players who started in Week 1 for the Steelers, there were eight former first-round picks with the only exceptions being Stephan Tuitt, Steven Nelson, Vince Williams, and Mike Hilton. Of those eight players, three of them were not drafted by the Steelers. While the Steelers did use the first round draft pick to acquire Mikah Fitzpatrick, both Joe Haden and Tyson Alualu were cast offs from their previous teams. And what have they done since joining the Steelers? Alualu had arguably the best season of his career this past year in Pittsburgh while Hayden earned Pro Bowl honors last season which was something he hadn’t done since 2014. It’s just extremely difficult to prove that these players would be so talented other places that are being wasted in Pittsburgh.
Am I saying that Steelers Nation should be complacent with not winning a playoff game since 2016? Not at all. But winning in the NFL is tough, and winning in the playoffs is even tougher. It’s not something every franchise can do.
I’m sure there is a large number of NFL fans from various fan bases who won’t win Super Bowl LV who feel their talent was wasted by not bringing home a championship. It’s just how it works.
Saying the coaches are wasting the talent is actually a pretty big cop out, but it’s not one without reason. Right now, at this point of the season, the only thing teams out of the running can do is change their coaching staff. They can’t sign new players until March. They can’t draft the next big thing as that won’t happen until the end of April. The only thing teams can do right now is make changes to their coaching staff. Therefore, that’s got to be what needs changed.
Any time a team comes up short of winning the Super Bowl, it’s easy to say they wasted talent. But asking yourself if the team was really as talented as you thought they were might also be something to ask yourself before calling for the head of every coach at every position. It might just be those coaches getting the most out of their players after all.