Steelers Learning Lessons From Second Half Surge Last Season

The Pittsburgh Steelers have had more than their fair share of years recently that could be divided just about right down the middle between good and bad.

This started in 2009, when they once again got off to a 6-2 start. But injuries to key players such as Troy Polamalu and Aaron Smith, and a shaky secondary that wasn’t on the same page with each other and William Gay in over his head as a first-time starter, saw the Steelers drop five games in a row.

They managed to charge back, winning their last three games to finish 9-7 and barely missing the playoffs.

In 2012, the Steelers were off to a 6-3 start when quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was injured and missed the following three games. The Steelers managed to win one of them, but when Roethlisberger returned, he was not the same player.

He only managed to win one of his four starts at the end of the year and drew the team to a disappointing .500 record after a promising beginning to the year.

It didn’t get any better to begin last season, as the Steelers dropped their first four games, and six of their first eight. Going back to the previous season, they had a 4-11 record in their last 15 games, and things simply were not looking good.

But this time a poor first half gave way to a strong finish, even if it ultimately wasn’t enough for the Steelers to advance to the postseason.

Pittsburgh went 6-2 in their last eight games, twice putting together three-game winning streaks in the process, and they’re looking to build off that momentum to carry them into this season, as the misfortunes of 2012 dragged into last year.

Offensive lineman Ramon Foster talked about their promising finish last year earlier this offseason and how he’s getting his teammates to work from that foundation to help build a championship team:

I think we have a very firm foundation, especially with the offensive line in that room right now.  Guys understand what it takes to win, what it is to finish in this league. I think there were more positives out of this season than negatives and those are things championship teams are built on, and I think we have the makings for that.

Offensive coordinator Todd Haley also recalled the successes of the late surge from a year ago, and how that started putting the pieces together for a strong team heading into this season:

The second half of the season, we did a lot of good things, as we worked our way through adversity when you couldn’t see much light at the end of the tunnel. I think a lot of good came out of that. I think a lot of the guys that were here and are still here, feel that and know what we have to accomplish. We are all interested in building off of that finish.

As we saw last year, it’s not easy to carry over a strong first half of a season into the next if there’s a weak second half separating the two. The Steelers had that poor 4-11 stretch spanning the 2012 and 2013 seasons.

But bookmarking that were two strong runs of winning football, which together translate to a 12-5 record. We’ll see how the team manages this year coming off a weak start and strong finish, rather than vice versa. Was that 4-11 stretch merely growing pains, getting them to where they are now? That question can only be answered on the field.

About the Author

Matthew Marczi
Passionate Steelers fan with a bit of writing ability. Connoisseur of loud music. Follow me on Twitter @mmarczi.
  • Paddy

    The competition in games 9-16 was not so good. Lets not forget they were 8-8 two years in a row. I am looking for 9-7 this season which might get them in the playoffs. Too many question marks

  • Kurt Williams

    Will the O-line perform better? How will the receiving corps produce w/o Sanders, and Cotch? Will Shazier be in over his head? How will Mitchell and Polamalu gell? Will the outside linebackers production be above the line? Too many questions. I agree 9-7, is about what I expect.

  • Eric MacLaurin

    I’m not a believer in momentum carrying over from one season to the next.

    I also agree with Paddy that the strength of the competition has to be considered.

    I do however feel like Tomlin has allowed a little too much “save something for later” or thinks about not peaking to early.

    I remember starting out in track and reading a book on how to run the 220. yeah, I’m old and had terrible coaching. I’ve carried one theory from that book that works well for everything.

    Start out like you are doing a short sprint, get up to top speed and then coast and try to hold it.

    It doesn’t work for endurance and it might hurt you later in the season but the playoffs are not a given. You need to be committed to winning that first game at all costs. You need to play with an expectation of winning and with an effort that saves nothing for later.

    It’s ok to fail if you run out of energy. It’s not ok to fail because you saved something you could have used. The first game is just as critical as the last and momentum matters so all things considered the first game is probably more important. Especially when you consider that secondary factors have so much impact on late games. (injuries, motivation etc)

    I don’t think the team would have struggled at all last year if Pouncey and Foote had stayed healthy. Injuries and turnovers are always going to be the deciding factors for the most part. That said, there is tremendous value in a good start that I don’t think is as appreciated as it should. The idea of doing anything to impact the first game in favor of potential playoff benefits is questionable at best.

    I do understand the need when coming off a playoff run to provide more rest but don’t think that rest should come at the expense of a reduced first game effort.

  • charles

    A lot of mediocrity we have seen the past 5 years has come from the defensive side of the line of scrimmage. Expecting good things out of O. Haley and Ben could end up being a prolific tandem. Lots of new faces on front 7 of the D. They will dictate our season. SB winners usually go in tandem w stifling D and not so much w prolific O. Just ask Brady or Manning.

  • Weiss Chad

    Last years defense I will agree with.The years before that this defense was a lot better than mediocre.Id say number one pass defense two years and ranking in top five four out of five yrs seems better than mediocre imo

  • charles

    Just discussing that in another article. Lake’s pass D has propped the total D up. Think about it: number one pass D w no pass rush. THAT IS AMAZING. Lake should be considered for DC if LeBeau ever retires.

  • Virdin Barzey

    Sorry, when I look at some of the teams that we lost to in those past two years, I think it had less to do with momentum. We had no business losing to some of those bad teams and I’m not sure what you chalk that up to. I’m thinking bad preparation.

  • Weiss Chad

    Carnell lake has been very very good to steelers .He is one of my all time favorite players . You talk about a player that was underrated , my gosh he fits the bill..He has been an outstanding coach. With that being said,I think Keith Butler will be new D coordinator providing lebeau don’t stick around for ten more years .If butler decides to take one of these jobs he gets offered ,Then I would think Lake would be in the running.There is a reason Butler is highest paid lb coach in league.The steelers coaching staff is full of great coaches right now .Imo definitely the best staff in league . I think they are still a year away but it’s going to be one of the most exciting seasons to watch .

  • charles

    Agree mostly. Butler or Mitchell, imo, can’t recognize talent. A very serious coaching handicap.

  • Weiss Chad

    I don’t get that at all.our front seven has been one of the best over last ten yrs

  • charles

    Look at the last 5 years and the sacks, turnovers , and W-L don’t agree. There is one thing that profoundly affected our D that you won’t find in any stat. That is Goodell using Steelers to emphasize ‘safe’ hitting techniques. It completely took away Clark’s rocket hits, Polamolu started making a lot more arm tackles and James kept doing what he always has, smoking QBs, so Goodell suspended him for one game. It removed the intimidation factor making a HUGE difference.

  • Weiss Chad

    I agree w Goodell making a “example”out of steelers with hitting which altered a cpl things .The rules change every year and everybody has to adjust to them.Imo this defense has been nothing short of awesome over last ten yrs or more..What do you expect to happen to a team that’s consistently picking between 24&32,meanwhile losing 9 starters on defense in two years?Lebeau is a d coordinator not a miracle worker.there is young guys all over the place. Some aren’t ready,some can’t stay healthy,and some haven’t came full circle in learning defense yet.This defense has carried this team year after year while the offense kept putting them in a bad spot year after year and now that it has been completely replenished and extremely young lebeau all of sudden forgot how to coach?

  • Weiss Chad

    Yes I think o line will be better w Munchak coaching and decastro and pouncey hopefully getting to play w each other all year.and a solid running game.sanders who ? That dude was a disaster from day one.Cotchery will be missed .Shazier is an upgrade from last year at very least.The linebackers is biggest question mark Imo.God I hope jones got stronger.Mitchell is a huge upgrade over Clark.I think this team goes 10@6 and hopefully really start to gel in playoffs.If they get in we all know anything can happen after that.On paper this team is much better and really needs to stay healthy