By Jeremy Hritz
It’s all over now.
Another Ben Roethlisberger interception, another loss, except this time, it put to bed any hope for postseason play. While the potential for the 2012 season was great, it never materialized, and the last gasp at manifesting a playoff berth fell a few yards short off of the toe of Shaun Suisham.
The Cincinnati Bengals, led by Andy Dalton, left Pittsburgh with a 13-10 victory and are now in the playoffs as a Wild Card team. And the fate for the Pittsburgh Steelers you ask? They are staring at either an 8-8 or 7-9 record, depending on the outcome of their game against the Cleveland Browns next week.
The Steelers played well on Sunday in spurts, but could never achieve any sense of continuity offensively, something that has been a thorn in the side of the team all year. The running game was patchy, though there were a few solid carries, the protection was pathetic, and Roethlisberger could not lock into a rhythm. The defense however, as it had done all year, played well, and limited the Bengals, and this time around, they even forced three turnovers and racked up six sacks. Sadly though, as has happened all year, the offense could not match the performance of the defense, and the only accounted for ten measly points, definitely not enough to win a playoff-atmosphere football game.
This game summarized the problems on the offensive side of the football from the entire year and serious questions have to now be addressed about the fit of Todd Haley with Roethlisberger and company. Throughout the season, the offense was inconsistent, and it did not even come close to rivaling the offense that Bruce Arians coordinated in previous years. Imagine that. The speculation during the offseason last year was that running backs coach Kirby Wilson would serve as the new offensive coordinator, yet the burns that he experienced from a house fire kept him from stepping into that position. Considering the performance of the Rosetta Stone offense this year, especially in Sunday’s game against the Bengals, it would not be surprising to see Haley let go and Wilson step in for next year as the new offensive coordinator.
There is so much to talk about and examine over the next several months before the beginning of the 2013 Steelers season, and who will coordinate the offense is just one of them. This offseason promises to be one of great turnover, as many players who have become fixtures on this team, will be gone, and several new faces will climb on board.
And what about the schedule for next year? It doesn’t get easier as the Steelers will take on the NFC North and match up against the Packers, Bears, Vikings, and Lions, plus, if the season ended today, they will play a third-place AFC schedule and will battle against the Jets, Titans, and the Raiders, opportunities to avenge two of the terrible losses from the 2012 season.
More importantly, our attention needs to shift to the NFL Draft and the many needs of this Steelers team, and it raises the question for next week, win and finish 8-8? Or lose, finish 7-9, and have a better draft pick. While the goal is never to lose the game, if they happen to lose to the Browns next week, getting a first round draft pick one to two spots higher definitely can’t hurt.
Nobody saw the 2012 season ending this way, but the results are the reality. The good news is that the Steelers are not that far away from being a contender. The bad news? We’ll have to wait over eight months before we can see how much ground they have made up.