By Michael K Reynolds
Not only have the Pittsburgh Steelers thinned their playoff chances down to a mathematical miracle over the weekend, they did so with historic flare. With the worst defensive effort in Black and Gold history, the team is not only out of it, but appears to be drifting in the wrong direction.
Before the ship completely turns to timbers on the rocks, it’s time for a close examination. Here are ten questions which demand an answer.
1. How does a Hall of Fame defensive coordinator consistently look over matched against the New England Patriots?
In Coach Dick LeBeau the Steelers have been blessed with one of the greatest defensive coordinators of all time. For this, our hats are tipped in gratitude. But a disturbing question still exists. How is it that with few exceptions Coach LeBeau has gotten outfoxed, out-coached and pretty much bully whipped by Bill Belichick through the years?
2. Why doesn’t Ike Taylor chase down his mistakes?
Although Ike Taylor is graying around the edges, he has proven this season he remains capable to cover the top receivers in the league. Which means he still has elite speed. So why is it that he never chases down his mistakes? How many times this year have we seen Ike jogging behind a receiver after he gets burnt rather than giving it his all? Ike…that’s not “swagging” that’s “slagging”.
3. Why don’t we care about kick-off returns?
Why don’t we treat every kick-off as a chance to impact the game like so many other teams? True. Felix Jones was able to get a strong return at the beginning of the match. But for the rest of the game it seemed like the scheme for kick-off returns (and there were quite a few) was to squat in the end-zone. Why not keep a Reggie Dunn (or find someone else) who at least appears anxious and capable to return kicks?
4. Why do we lose to bad teams?
Yesterday’s game in Foxboro was one most Steelers fans anticipated would be a tough game on the schedule. Perhaps the Titans weren’t a gimme. But the Vikings? The Raiders? Did you notice that Nick Foles and the hapless Eagles lit up the Raiders for seven TD’s one week after the Steelers went to Oakland and laid an egg? Our inability to handily win against poor teams has plagued this team for years and the coaching staff must be accountable.
5. What did Jonathan Dwyer do to get treated so poorly?
Jonathan Dwyer delivered just about every time he has touched the ball this year. This was true last season, in the pre-season and even in the few opportunities he has gotten during this regular season. So how is it possible he is not getting more opportunities and is inexplicably behind Felix Jones in the depth chart? He’s young. He’s talented. And now he’s giving great effort. Isn’t it time to give him the respect he deserves and pair him up for the future with LeVeon Bell?
6. Why do we squander timeouts?
For years, the coaches have squandered timeouts as a result of confusion, slow play-calling and clock mismanagement. After wasting a critical one in the second half last week against the Raiders, which arguably cost the Steelers the game, you would expect timeouts this week to be treated like gold. But no! Two more timeouts were used up recklessly in the second half this week, even while the game was still in play.
7. Isn’t it Shamarko Time Yet?
It’s clear that Ryan Clark‘s best days are behind him, and fading fast in the rear-view mirror. He’s been a warrior for the Steelers for years, but his speed is clearly suspect in the passing game and the years of stingers and head ringers seem to have affected his willingness to fill the hole against the run. And what about future Hall of Famer Troy Polamalu? He’s no longer fast enough to make up for his recklessness and his off-sides have grown tiresome. Can Troy Polamalu reinvent himself, much as Rod Woodson once did, and start playing safety…well…a little safer? If not, he’s going to continue to look like someone desperate to prove he’s still worth a defensive player of the year salary. Either way, isn’t it Shamarko Thomas time now?
8. Why did it take so long to realize Cameron Heyward is a significant upgrade over Ziggy Hood?
One player on the defense this year who has really flashed is Cameron Heyward. So why did it take so long to discover he was a major upgrade over Ziggy Hood? In these days of free agency the Steelers must come to realize you don’t have the luxury of “developing” first round pick defensive ends for three years. Who else on the roster is on the sidelines who deserves to be on the field? Should Steve McLendon move to end allowing Hebron Fangupo or Al Woods on the field at the nose?
9. Why can’t we build an offensive line and keep it healthy?
When comparing Tom Brady‘s career to that of Ben Roethlisberger one thing stands out: Ben has never played behind a great line. Look through Brady’s highlight reels and you’ll see some of the most magnificent pockets ever seen on a football field. For years the Steelers’ offensive line has been in rebuild mode and for all of that effort and expense we have a functional unit duct taped together with castoffs from other teams. David DeCastro is a keeper, but beyond him, it’s a line devoid of stars. What about Maurkice Pouncey? With his contract year coming up soon is he really going to be worth an All-Pro cap hit? He has the talent and potential, but are there 40 million dollars separating him and Fernando Velasco? Or is Velasco kept and the money saved used to get a proven left-tackle talent. That’s a question the Steelers will soon have to determine.
10. Are we allowed to use the word “transition” now?
The Steelers are now 2-6 and have lost 13 of their last 17 games in regular season, not to mention their 0-4 preseason record. Is it now safe to call the team “in transition”? Sure, we want to try to win every game each week. That’s the Steelers way, and the coaches and players are fighting for their careers. But can’t we do so as we rebuild for the next years of greatness? Isn’t it time to look toward the future and prioritize getting our young players on the field?