The Pittsburgh Steelers fell short of their goal of a seventh Lombardi trophy, but as Mike Tomlin has repeated since 2009, only one team gets to hold up that trophy — and it wasn’t the Steelers, again.
After a 13-3 regular season turned into the dud against the Jaguars, there was plenty to glean from the performance. After waiting a few days to let my blood pressure return to normal levels, I decided to put some thoughts into an article. If you are looking for a “Fire Everyone!!” article, I’m going to stop you here, I simply don’t think that way. Rather, I tried to be as analytical and honest as possible with my own personal assessment of the Steelers after their 45-42 loss to the Jaguars.
Here goes nothing...
1. As long as Ben Roethlisberger is the QB, this team can contend
Roethlisberger put up crazy numbers, and rather than hold retirement over the heads of the organization and fan base this entire offseason, Roethlisberger has already stated publicly he will return in 2018-2019. As long as Roethlisberger is under center, this team will contend.
2. The defense is more than just “one player away”
There was a time when the general consensus was the Steelers’ defense was just one player away from being truly elite. That simply isn’t the case. Safety play, along with all four linebacker positions, simply wasn’t good enough. This will be a tough offseason for the defensive depth chart.
3. Antonio Brown is an absolute freak
When Brown received his hefty extension, several wondered if he was worth all that money. If you didn’t know yet — he is. He is worth every dime, and his performance throughout this season, and postseason, was proof.
4. Bud Dupree had a very disappointing season
I had high hopes for Dupree entering this season. It seemed if there was going to be a time when the ridiculously athletic, but raw, Dupree finally flipped the switch, it would be this season. He worked with pass rushing specialists this offseason, and seemed to have all the tools necessary to carve out his own legacy in the Steel City. What fans saw was a 6-sack output throughout the regular season. An improvement, but nowhere near what fans expected. This isn’t some fourth round project we are talking about, but a first round pick. If things don’t improve, Dupree will be headed the way of Jarvis Jones.
5. Situational ‘Football IQ’ is something which needs improved across the board
4th-and-short will be a huge talking point this offseason, but it isn’t just those offensive play calls which should be addressed. The team’s situational ‘Football IQ’ as a whole is lacking. As Keith Butler watched the Jaguars rip through his defense, both through the air and on the ground, very few adjustments were made. Where were the blitzes when your front four were getting manhandled? Overall, this coaching staff, and players, need to become better at realizing the situation and how to manage it. Can you say ‘onside kick with over 2-minutes remaining’?
6. Vance McDonald turned out to be a very good pickup
From “What a dud!” to “What a pickup!”, McDonald was a pleasant surprise for the Steelers. I hope they can find a way to keep him around, his athleticism is noticeable in almost every way.
7. In fact, almost all of the Steelers’ Free Agent acquisitions played well
When looking at the Steelers’ free agent acquisitions this season, only a couple leave a sour taste in my mouth. J.J. Wilcox will be remembered more for back-breaking special teams penalties, and Coty Sensabaugh was the man who filled in when Cameron Sutton was working his way back off Injured Reserve. Other than those two, and Sensabaugh did contribute to the team, Tyson Alualu, Joe Haden and Vance McDonald were all contributors to the Steelers’ success this year. Great to see, and hopefully the trio of quality players will be around for at least another season.
8. Team, and organization, must learn from this shocking defeat
Clearly, the end result is what needs to change, but what truly needs to be a learning moment for the entire team is the process. The process of knowing what to say, and when to say it. Knowing how to remain focused on the task at hand, and realizing how to avoid the media fire storm which seemed to follow the Steelers this year. Some may think avoiding this type of negative media attention is impossible in today’s day and age, but about 30 other NFL teams do it yearly. Time for the Steelers to learn how too.
9. Man, did the Steelers defense miss Ryan Shazier
When Shazier was carted off the field in Cincinnati, fans knew there was a void to be filled, but most didn’t realize just how big the void would be. Sean Spence did the best he could, but Shazier is such a unique talent. His size, speed and intelligence is what the team built the entire defense around — and you just don’t replace that midseason. Heck, there is no guarantee the team replaces that next season. Inside Linebacker is a huge need for the Steelers now, and there is no easy way around trying to find someone who comes close to filling in for No. 50.
10. Less ‘me’, and more ‘we’ will do the trick next season
This isn’t just a 2017 Steelers thing, but has been going on for a few years now. When you think about Antonio Brown’s Facebook Live video after the team’s AFC Divisional Round win in Kansas City, it screamed “Look at me!”. The same could be said about Le’Veon Bell’s tweet about having two rematches coming up before the Jaguars game this Sunday. It would be great for the Steelers to learn to be more ‘we’ and less ‘me’ when it comes to the collective. Don’t talk about your contract days before the team’s most important game. Don’t throw a teammate under the bus in the comment section of an Instagram post. Maybe the team just needs to mature, but as a whole, the team needs be more of, well, a team.