By Jeremy Hritz
Before the 2011 Steelers season even began, a gaggle of random acts of immaturity unrelated to anything on the playing field raised serious reasons for concern. LaMarr Woodley ran off at the mouth on the NFL Network that Joe Flacco would not win a Super Bowl “in his lifetime;” Rashard Mendenhall foolishly shared an insensitive personal perspective about 9-11 on Twitter; James Harrison bashed his teammates in Men\’s Journal, not to mention Roger Goodell, who honestly, probably deserves some of it for his crusade to sissify a man’s game. Throw in the revered veteran Hines Ward who celebrated his Dancing with the Stars victory a bit too much and earned himself a DUI and what you had was a cluster of distractions that could derail a less-storied NFL team. Considering all of these things, on the heels of a Super Bowl loss and the misdeeds of Ben Roethlisberger two March’s ago, it comes as somewhat of a surprise that the Steelers were able to finish 12 and 4. Dejean Kovacevic, columnist for the Tribune Review and a guest on the Terrible Podcast this year, stated in a piece earlier this week that the Steelers were never able to find a “spark.” A sparse amount of turnovers, lack of a true signature win (maybe New England), lack of a complete game (no, a second quarter in the second matchup with the Bengals doesn’t count), and too many close victories against what were inferior opponents (Cleveland, Jacksonville, Kansas City), mark the 2011 Steelers as less than inspiring. While it is difficult to define what the missing spark was, it should have been something initiated by one of the many leaders on the team. However, when your leaders are too busy making poor decisions and dealing with the consequences, is it truly a shock? Essential to the Steelers making a serious run next year in the playoffs is not just to avoid key injuries and to earn at least one home game by winning the North, but also to make sure they do not bring any negative attention to the organization that has seemed to be expected over the past few years, something that may have to be done through subtraction sometime after March 1st.
While many of the Steelers are young men and are still learning their way through the world, they need to understand the impact that their behavior can have on the focus of the team. Even as recent as this Sunday after the embarrassing loss to the Broncos, Maurkice Pouncey popped off at one of his Twitter followers, finding it necessary to respond to a fan’s criticism. Now I understand that every man has his limits when being poked and provoked, as Pouncey was on Twitter. But it’s just that, Twitter. And it begs the question: would behavior like this occur if there was better leadership on the team?
This is a very important offseason for the Steelers for the success of the next seven to ten years of the team, and not just because so many entrenched players have probably played their last snap. It is important because head coach Mike Tomlin and the Rooney’s need remind those players who will return to next year, and those who will be joining the team as free agents and rookies, of what is their purpose is, and that is playing Steelers football and winning championships. And while 12 and 4 was definitely a successful year, it could have been greater with a few less distractions and a bit more leadership.