Don’t rest easy, Yinzer Nation. Your Steelers aren’t the Steelers you’re used to seeing, unless, of course, you followed them during lean times in the 1980s, pre-1970s and, gasp, parts of Bill Cowher’s tenure.
In other words, the Steelers stink.
But stinking has them at 3-3, well within playoff contention. Sure, they lost to Cleveland, but the Browns are better than Steelers fans, who took to social media to remind everyone about the six Super Bowls without nary a consideration Cleveland won eight NFL titles back in the day, want to believe.
The Browns are better, and the Steelers are reeling. Coming off Sunday’s blowout, the Steelers were criticized by Bill Cowher and Hines Ward. Naturally, their critical remarks were taken seriously by fans, who believe Cowher is 15 times the coach Tomlin ever will be (not true) and that Ward is the epitome of unselfish play (also not true). Cowher must forget he lost nearly every big game he coached. As for Ward? Well, he celebrated a reception for negative yards because it was his 1,000th. That, folks, was the single cheesiest moment of Steelers football the past decade.
There was talk of being “soft”, “elevator music” and “fire Tomlin and Haley.” It’s been a rough week in an increasingly trying season.
How did a franchise so accustomed to postseason play hit times harder than Dusty Rhodes having his leg broken at the hands of the Four Horsemen? (For the record, Rhodes goes down as the greatest face in the history of the business. Don’t believe me. Watch this clip and soak in its awesomeness.)
The Steelers could use a few good, hard-working men like Dusty Rhodes. But there’s only one Dusty. And there’s 50-some Steelers heading toward a third-consecutive nonplayoff season. Not exactly a Dusty finish (Google it.)
So what went wrong? Here’s a few things:
Let’s look at the Steelers’ 2009 draft class (in order): Ziggy Hood, Kraig Urbik, Mike Wallace, Keenan Lewis, Joe Burnett, Frank Summers, Ra’Shon Harris, A.Q. Shipley and David Johnson. How many are still in Pittsburgh? If you said, “none,” you’d be correct. Hood hung around but never looked like a first-rounder. Wallace and Lewis provided good value considering each were selected in Round 3, but neither were retained. Losing an entire draft class is difficult to overcome, particularly for a franchise that fancies itself more of a clearance rack shopper than a big spender in free agency. To compound matters, no player from the 2008 draft class remains. That’s two wasted draft classes.
Ryan Shazier – the 2014 No. 1 pick – hasn’t been healthy (preseason or regular season). Jarvis Jones – the top pick in 2013 – played poorly as a rookie and is now injured. Picks were wasted on players like Mike Adams and Landry Jones. Alameda Ta’amu and Chris Rainey made headlines for off-field issues. Cameron Heyward – the 2011 No. 1 pick – regressed this year after displaying potential late last year.
Bad drafts fall on Kevin Colbert and Mike Tomlin.
Speaking of draft picks, the Steelers select an overwhelming number of players from Power 5 (ACC, Big Ten, SEC, Big 12, Pac-12) conferences.
Are they not interested in scouring smaller schools and Division II and III for talent, or just too lazy?
Then, there’s the issue of chartacter. Choir boys aren’t required in the NFL, but the Steelers are making practice of reaching for players with issues. How many of those reaches have panned out?
Troy Polamalu played well in 2013, but nowhere near his old form. He can’t cover slow, plodding tight ends. Running backs blow by him on pass plays and the defense regularly gives us chunk plays over the middle. The Steelers needed to release Polamalu two years ago.
Same goes for Brett Keisel.
Same goes for Ike Taylor, who, sadly, still ranks as Pittsburgh’s best cornerback as he stands injured on sidelines.
They held on to James Harrison and Hines Ward too long. With Harrison and Keisel back, how soon until Ward is signed to bolster receiver depth?