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Steelers’ Arrow Dull & Pointed Down?

By Jeremy Hritz

What a frustrating team the Pittsburgh Steelers are at 7-7.

Despite having a seven point lead, being on the verge of starting another drive with an offense on-fire in Dallas territory, and getting the ball to start the overtime period, the Steelers managed to find ways to continue to make mistakes and lose a game that ultimately they should have won.

The evidence in this 2012 season is unavoidable: this is a team that is error-prone.

Consider how the absence of any of the following plays would have impacted the Steelers season:

  • Ben Roethlisberger’s interception for a touchdown in the fourth quarter against Denver in what had been a close game.
  • Antonio Brown’s fumble after a 20 yard reception against Oakland in the 4th quarter that was recovered by the Raiders.
  • Roethlisberger’s interception near the end of the first half against Tennessee; the drive would have concluded in a field goal had the pick not been thrown.
  • The blown punt coverage against the Ravens at Heinz Field that resulted in Baltimore’s only touchdown that essentially won the game.
  • Pick your turnover against the Browns.
  • The backwards pass against the Chargers that resulted in a touchdown.
  • Against Dallas, Brown’s fumble and Roethlisberger\’ pick in overtime.

You can make one hell of a highlight tape for the Steelers’ opponents from this list. Discouragingly, these blunders are one of the many factors contributing to the Steelers underwhelming performance this year.

The Steelers organization is first class and professional, so you cannot argue that this team is not prepared for play come Sundays. You can rule out the age factor because how old a player is does not determine whether or not he fumbles the ball or throws a pick.

Earlier this season after the loss to Tennessee, Tribune Review writer Mark Kaboly asked the question, “are the Steelers really just not good?” Following the losses to San Diego and Dallas, and based on the overall performance of the Steelers this year, this question has to be reconsidered.

Though Roethlisberger is having a solid year statistically, he has made at least three plays that influenced the outcome of the game in a negative way. All three of our “talented” young-money receiving crew have an inescapable case of the drops and the fumbles, killing potentially successful drives. LaMarr Woodley, for the one game he is not injured, is out of position against the run and ineffective against a poor offensive tackle. And Troy Polamalu makes the occasional pedestrian tackle, while struggling to help an injured secondary make plays.

It’s not that these players are not good, it’s just that they have not been good and good consistently this year.

The injuries and the lacking continuity are definitely a factor that cannot be ignored, but when coaches and fans keep waiting for the other shoe to drop for some of these players, and it doesn’t, it is difficult not to develop some serious skepticism about how effective they really are.

If Mike Wallace, Emmanuel Sanders and Brown are as good as advertised, then why are we not seeing shoestring catches and touchdowns instead of drops and fumbles?

If Woodley is still the pass-rushing force and dependable linebacker against the run that he was in recent years, then why isn’t he punishing quarterbacks and stuffing the run?

If Polamalu, even though he has slowed a bit, is still an effective player, why aren’t we seeing at least the occasional play in the secondary?

And if Roethlisberger is as clutch as he has proven to be during his career, why does he continue to make debilitating mistakes rather than making comebacks?

You can point to injuries. You can point to age. You can point to lack of preparedness. You can even point to Todd Haley as Dejan Kovacevic did in Monday’s Tribune Review.

Where you point really doesn’t matter right now as all the pointing in the world may not be enough to get the Steelers’ arrow pointing upward this season.

It’s very hard to believe that their arrow is sharp enough to take down a Bengal this Sunday.

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  • Patrick

    There isn’t a thing in this article that I don’t agree with. Well said and 100% accurate.

  • Tom

    For me, the most disappointing part of the team this year has unquestionably been the receivers. What was supposed to be the strength of the team never materialized. In fact, I believe that they became a liability. The drops, fumbles, bad routes, and not fighting for the ball (Wallace) have become unbearable to watch.

    While I am not suggesting that team needs to be “blown up” I do believe that a couple of the older guys need to be let go if salary cap allows. It’s pretty much a given that Hampton will be gone after this year which is best. I think it’s time to seriously think about letting Troy go as well. As great as a player as he has been in the past, I don’t feel that he has done anything lately, nor can he be counted on to stay healthy in the future. If healthy, I would like to see Harrison retained for another year. He still seems to have the knack for causing turnovers, something that the rest of the D is totally lacking.

    Offensively, I think the success or failure of the team is totally contingent on the play of the offensive line. They have been injured and awful again this year. In my opinion, the absolute worst run blocking unit in whole the NFL. While I’d like to see a RB drafted, until the line can stay somewhat healthy and get a push… one will consistently be able to run behind this MASH unit. I don’t think that Haley has necessarily done a bad job. I think he has simply tried to minimize the poor O line play. With decent O line play, I believe his play calling would be much different. Fortunately, I believe the pieces needed for good O line play are already in place. They simply need to be groomed and kept healthy.

  • steeltown

    Did anyone see OL Kraig Urbik just got an extension in Buffalo. I remember being excited when the Steelers drafted him.. and I couldnt understand why he didnt atleast stick around as a backup, its as if they just gave up on him. With guys like Chris Scott and Jonathan Scott being given far too many opportunities its a head scratcher how they just let young potential talent like Urbik just walk.

  • steeltown

    Oh also Tony Hills was another that seemed to atleast get a 2nd chance at making the Team

  • dgh57

    I agree with most of this post!!

    Add to this failure
    to get turnovers! It was at one time that we couldn’t create turnovers!
    Well guess what, it has gotten WORSE! We now give the ball away!

    tired of Woodley! He only plays like the player he could be if he is up
    for contract renewal!! The last time he played good was 2010 when he
    was trying to get a new contract. PLUS if you go back to the 1st 6 weeks
    of last season on this very blog you see reports of his lack of effort
    of taking plays off.

    No pass rush!! When your secondary is depleted like it was last Sunday YOU GOT TO HAVE A PASS RUSH!!

  • Cols714

    This is the NFL, this stuff happens. They can still beat Cincinnati, they can still go on a run in the playoffs. And if they don’t? It’s still fine, no need to worry about this franchise. It’s been competitive for the last 20 years straight, I’m not worried about the wheels coming off yet.

  • steeltown

    Agreed. Before the season I was talking of letting Harrison go after this year due to his big cap hit next season and injury problems, BUT he is the most productive of the OLB’s on roster, no question. He’s signed through 2014. I hope however that they restructure his contract again to lower his cap hit (Woodley too)

    I ALSO hope they draft a RB and let Mendenhall walk. I think a new talented RB with Dwyer, Batch and Rainey on the depth chart would be a full compliment of running styles.

    Hampton will be gone which hopefully opens the door for McLendon to play the majority of the snaps, in a pass happy League McLendon is the perfect NT with his quickness and power and in my opinion Sylvestor, Mundy, B.Johnson should be gone.. Ike and Troy are already signed and could have another good season between them.. Foote needs to be re-signed (maybe 2yr deal)

  • Tommy

    Wow, I have to say I am a little disappointed in some of the reaction to the articles on this site. I had to double check to make sure it wasn’t a Jets or at times Bengals site. Have the past several games been disappointing, Absolutely! Does that mean it is time to dump half the roster and fire the coaching staff? Absolutely not! Woodley is one game back from injury lets see how he does the next couple before deciding he is worthless. Playing the corners that we are being forced to play both Polamalu and Clark will be forced to lay back and not be able to make “splash” plays. They can’t play up and try to make big plays because they have to stay back to try and prevent long plays. 2 games left. Win both and in the playoffs. Can this team make a run in the playoffs if they make it? Yes. Linebackers are getting healthier week by week and that is the strength of the defense. Hopefully another week of practice will help the corners. Let’s not give up yet!

  • steeltown

    Woodley is always one game back from injury… but I agree, and I do not want to dump the roster, I am very supportive of the coaching staff and players. I personally was just stating my opinion on the future, while hoping for success in the present

  • Tommy

    Steel, sorry my response wasn’t targeted at you or anyone in particular. Just frustration at responses to the articles on this site. I do however think overall they do a pretty good job of judging talent. Hindsight is always 20/20 :-) We can still do it this year!!!!!!

  • Jeff

    I will be shocked if we beat the Bengals on Sunday. Dalton & Green may feast on our depleted secondary & I feel the confidence level of the two teams are on opposite ends of the spectrum. I hope I’m wrong but I’ll predict a Bengal win by 2 TD’s.

  • steeltown

    I agree.. lets face it, the major downfall this year has been too many turnovers, most in the NFL over the last 5weeks.. It is NOT for lack of talent

  • steeltown

    Our depleted secondary could likely get exposed, but the Steelers usually play better with their backs against the wall

  • Cols714

    Why would anyone be shocked if we beat the Bengals? We already beat them once. Yes, the Steelers can lose to any team but they can also beat any team.

  • RW

    Agreed – usually the release of a lineman like Urbik has to do with injuries to other positions and the need to bring in more depth (as we have seen a number of times this season with players coming in and out of the practice squad), although I can’t remember whether that was a contributing factor in his release. Ultimately, there were three or four years where the steelers just did a horrible job with judging the talent of offensive and defensive linemen. It’s just starting to catch up to us now.

  • RW

    I agree with most everything you just said regarding who to keep and who not to, but only agree with resigning foote if he’s slotted to play on obvious running downs only. I think if Spence can get the hang of the defense he should start – we only have one LB right now who can cover TEs and RBs effectively out in space and that’s Timmons.

  • steeltown

    I totally agree.. I want Foote to be re-signed for three reasons. 1. He has been very productive 2. veteran leadership 3. Spence (if he pans out) is not quite ready yet, due to his season ending injury, BUT yes, once Spence has learned the Defense and gets his feet wet, I hope that he takes over that spot because he could be that sideline to sideline speed LB that we so badly need

  • Mikey Hoje

    how come nobody picked on the AB fumble…??? It wasn’t a jarring intense NFL tackle; it was a Pop Warner reach in … and the ball squirted loose. I will soon STOP watching this sport if this continues :(

  • uglybagofwater

    The Steelers are too old at a lot of key positions on defense, and it has a negative impact on the rest of the team. It’s a lot easier to go out and perform if you’re Ben Roethlisberger when you can trust your defense to hold a 7-10 point lead. But this defense is easily one of the worst the Steelers have fielded in recent memory, statistics be damned. Hampton barely commands the attention of the center, let alone double teams. Even when healthy, the corners on this team aren’t great. Polamalu can’t bring it anymore. Our outside linebackers can’t get to the quarterback. Clark is a solid, but unspectacular safety. And we have zero depth behind any of these players. Lawrence Timmons is by far the best player on this defense, but that’s just not enough. Kovacevic likes to point the finger at Haley, but he couldn’t be more wrong. Haley has done a great job keeping Roethlisberger upright. If Arians is still OC, Ben has about 4-6 more INTs, and has played in 2-3 less games. In Haley’s offense, the team has been able to mount long drives and keep the weak link of the team off the field pretty consistently. There are at least 2 wins we don’t get without him.

  • uglybagofwater

    Only when they have the players on the roster to do so. This defense is, in fact, old and slow. The only hope we have is that the running game gets going, so we can possess the ball for long stretches, keeping our awful defense on the sideline.

  • JT

    The Bengals have been crap lately too. Only reason Steelers are still in it.

  • JT

    Actually, the problem is the secondary right now is young and stupid. Old and Slow was the #1 D in the league most of the season.

  • uglybagofwater

    It all starts up front. Without a nose guard who is disruptive on every snap and demands double teams, the linebackers in a 3-4 will suddenly look very pedestrian. Hampton can’t bring it anymore, and it is really hurting the rest of the defense in a bad way.

  • uglybagofwater

    They were the #1 D statistically only because we were able to execute a game plan to chew clock and limit possessions. We were better on defense with Polamalu in street clothes. And Hampton is not a disruptive force on the line anymore. Nose tackle, safety, and corner need to be addressed in the offseason. Preferably we take an elite nose guard in the first round, a safety in the second, and find a good free agent corner. Those can be the difference to get us to contender status again.

  • dgh57

    Yes also add the DE in Ziggy Hood. But at the same time did your hear how Woodley played last Sunday?!! He played against one of the worst RTs in the game and even when he was single teamed he couldn’t do anything!!!! So the D-Line only has some things to do with it.

    After this last game I would sit Woodley even if healthy maybe that will straighten him out. Tomlin needs to do something to motivate these guys!

  • Mike Carroll

    Yes, the last five games have been terrible for offensive giveaways. Prior to that, the offense had not given up that many. But, if you are going to talk turnovers, you have to include the utter lack of takeaways by the defense. It’s two full years in a row now that the defense has failed miserably to take the ball away. Bottom line, I would say it’s been a combination of the two, resulting in the team losing the turnover battle (and games of course) way too often.

  • Mike Carroll

    This article fails to mention the utter lack of defensive takeaways. There are exactly 4 teams in the NFL who have less takeaways than the Steelers! This is now two years in a row that defense has failed miserably in this category (they were LAST in the NFL in 2011). Some teams (Bear and Patriots) have gotten nearly 3X as many takeaways as the Steelers.

    It would be a much better assessment to say the Steelers have repeatedly lost the turnover battle and that is the single biggest reason for a disappointing season thus far. Of course, losing the turnover battle and losing games have always gone hand in hand in the NFL.

  • steeltown

    I completely agree with a Safety, we will need one very soon, Troy and Clark are not spring chicken anymore (though Clark has been lights out) and with the way the Steelers groom players, they better start soon. I think McLendon could fill in nicely at NT, in fact he should be starting now with Hampton coming in to spell him, plus, IF they hold onto Ta’Amu, he could turn out to be a solid player. BUT a young Safety is a must!

  • steeltown

    That Defense held quite a few QB’s to under 200yds passing.. Eli had one of the worst games of his career against us this year, same with a few others.. the scoring Defense could improve, but overall the Defense bailed the Team out far more than the Offense has

  • steeltown

    Yea the turnover ratio has been horrible.. I think Defensive takeaways all comes down to pressuring the QB.. that forces ill-advised throws which can turn into turnovers. We just can seem to get any solid pressure on QB’s the last 2 seasons

  • uglybagofwater

    steeltown – That defense also made Carson Palmer look like a Pro Bowler. It also has been showing its age as the season wears on, wilting in the 4th quarter in losses.

  • uglybagofwater

    McLendon is fine as a backup, and just fine on a 4-3 defense. We need a space eater on the line, though. Someone who can push blockers off the line of scrimmage with regularity. I don’t think the organization is going to keep Ta’Amu, and he’s not even close to the disruptive player Hampton was when he was drafted. We need a blue chip nose tackle, who can blow up the middle of the line on short drop passes. This is the new running game in the NFL.

    Safety may be as big a need, but in the 2nd round, the 2nd highest rated safety will still be available, versus the 5th or 6th highest rated tackle.

  • uglybagofwater

    This isn’t college, where you have 85 guys on scholarship, plus another 10-20 walk-ons. There are 2 backups for four positions among the linebackers.

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