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Blog Entry

If Only

Posted on: January 5, 2010 5:55 am
Edited on: January 5, 2010 6:03 am
A wing and a prayer, that’s what it came down to, prayers that somehow a miracle will happen, or should we say three miracles?  It could happen.  After all, who foresaw the losses of the Bengals, Eagles and Steelers to the Raiders?  Who thought the Ravens would miss opportunities by stepping on their own toes?  Who would have thought that a rookie quarterback with 12 TDs and 20 interceptions would still be in the playoff hunt, Rex Ryan surely didn’t.  Miracles do happen, right?  After all, it was a miracle that I was cheering on the Cowboys in a game in 2005. 

However, Sunday the Steelers would find no miracles waiting for them.  The wing and a prayer ended officially when the Baltimore Ravens lost to the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.  Instead of preparing for the playoffs, James Harrison and Casey Hampton will be preparing (if there is such a thing) for the Pro-Bowl, while the rest of the Steelers players and coaching staff will try to figure out where they went wrong and why,  Knowing the only one’s to blame were themselves.  No doubt Mike Tomlin and many of the Steelers players acknowledged that time and time again..

What led to the breakdown of the Steelers this season?  Of course the fourth quarter meltdowns on defense had a lot to do with it.  After all, the Steelers had substantial leads in the majority of the games only to see them eaten away.  CBS Sports writer Mike Freeman would have us believe that we can trace it back to Mike Tomlin and “Camp Cupcake” but is that all to it?  In 2007, when Mike Tomlin first took the reigns of the Steelers, he did so with a firm grasp, and in training camp had the players practicing in full pads, the team seemed to have ran out of steam by the end of the season.  After going 10-6 and winning the AFC North that year.  Despite their 5-1 division record, the Steelers would surprisingly lose to teams that many expected them to dominate.  Losses that year included a rebuilding Cardinals team, a New York Jets team that ended it’s season at 4-12.   Of course there is the argument of a soft training camp leading to players not being in proper condition to be able to play a full four-quarters.

Some would also point to the injury of Troy Polamalu as being a big factor in the breakdown of the defense due to the number of turnovers.  What was also missing was the disruptive force of Aaron Smith.  Though the front line of the defense played well enough, the tipped or batted down passes seemed to have diminished under the line by proxy which allowed offenses to exploit the middle of the field all too often.  Sometimes, it seemed that the replacements were attempting to imitate the missing defenders rather then play their own individual strengths.  Again, we can look to 2007 when Polamalu and Aaron Smith went down, not to mention Ryan Clark, how suspect the Steelers secondary looked, especially when they went up against Tom Brady and the 18-1 Patriots.

We could say there’s an age disparity with the Steelers defense having either older players or much younger, inexperienced players and no depth in between and that age is finally catching up with the defense, and this is a plausible argument given some of  the uncharacteristic missed tackles made by James Farrior over the course of the season.  No doubt the Steelers defense is aging and the depth in position in younger players is a major need in next years draft and free agency acquisitions. 

Some might point and say that the Steelers secondary is weak, showing where the secondary consistently was getting burned.  With the exception of  Bryant McFadden, the secondary remained intact, with rookie cornerback, Joe Burnett coming in and well, playing like a rookie.  However, is that something really new?  Okay, it’s a given that the 2008 season, everyone and their brother on defense seemed to be registering an interception, yet the Arizona Cardinals in Superbowl XLIII did manage to uncover the weakness in the Steelers secondary.  So it’s been there.  It’s been a weakness in the Steelers defense even back to the days of Cowher.  It’s just that well…

Perhaps James Harrison hit the nail on the head to define what the actual issue was this season with the Steelers defense.  "I think at times we played as a team and, at times, we played as individuals," he said. "Sometimes it may have seemed that some individual things were more important than actually the whole concept of the team."(1).  With the fourth quarter losses to the Kansas City Chiefs, the Oakland Raiders and the Chicago Bears, it could very well be that once the offense gained the lead, defensively many players bought into the hype.  Superbowl hangover?  Perhaps.  Effects of Camp Cupcake?  Maybe.  Or perhaps it was the lack of a common goal that kept the defense over the past few playing as a unit and not as individuals.  It was no secret that for the past few years the defense was playing for “Coach Dad”.  There were no bones about it, the Steelers defense, especially last season, were looking to help get Steelers Defensive Coordinator Dick LeBeau into the NFL Hall of Fame.  And now, with the nomination and the likelihood of LeBeau being enshrined a probability, that goal was achieved. 

Whatever happened, it’s left fans, sportswriters and even Steelers players and management scratching their heads trying to figure out exactly what happened.  For a team with so much talent, both on offense and defense.  For a team that had the stars aligned for them in scheduling.  For a team that actually had the potential to make a strong Superbowl run for a back to back, it became a season of missed opportunities and  if only. 

(1) Steelers facing adjustments in personnel and attitude , Gary Dulac, Pittsburgh Post Gazette, 1/05/10

Category: NFL

Since: Sep 9, 2006
Posted on: January 5, 2010 3:40 pm

If Only

Thanks guys for the responses.  Since I have nothing better to do this week, but continue to scratch my head, I'll bring some of these points up in addition parts of this series

Since: Sep 17, 2009
Posted on: January 5, 2010 2:56 pm

If Only

First: Coaching I think that it's a battle of regimes. I'm talking about the old system BC built vs. MT is trying to build. Big conflicts and issues. That is where the locker room was lost. Not once this season you see Tomlin diggin' in someone ass. Especially the secondary in the fourth quarter. Poor choices they all made from MT to the coaches.  

Second, Injuries and backups: Okay I had it up to here about absence of TP and AS. Yes they are a different team without them. But the bottom line is.... People got to step up and make some plays happen.

Third: Offensive lineYet another season where the O line did not help Ben staying off his tail.

Since: May 23, 2007
Posted on: January 5, 2010 1:47 pm

If Only

Ahhh... The Bengals swept the Steelers... Ahhh Innocent

Since: Apr 30, 2007
Posted on: January 5, 2010 1:21 pm

If Only

Good post, IMHO the issues were:

1. offensive line/running game

2. injuries

3. not so special teams

4. NFL parity

Simplified, yes, but that is what I observed.  I did not see all the games, so I will qualify my post.

Since: Sep 9, 2006
Posted on: January 5, 2010 6:05 am

If Only

I know this is nothing new and perhaps I'm regurgitating what everyone else is saying but bear with me. 

The views expressed in this blog are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of CBS Sports or