Thursday, December 27, 2012

The 2012 Steelers - All The King's Horses..., pt. 1

They had a great fall...
The 2012 Pittsburgh Steelers players have missed an approximate total of 110 games due to injury this season. While teams are expected to weather the injury storm front, these came in torrents.

The Steelers, in fact, had their injuries to come in groups of positions. Before the season even began, they were struck at linebacker and on the offensive line, then there were issues at running back, then (again) on the offensive line, then at wide receiver, then at quarterback, then at defensive back and then again (again) on the offensive line.

It was monsoon season in the Steel City that ended with eight players on Injured Reserve. Yet, despite all of the Ace bandages and surgical tape, this team did show flashes of elite ability on offense and had the number one ranked unit on defense.

To begin with the offense, it did actually work at times. Its failings were directly associated with the aforementioned injuries, especially on the offensive line, a limited running game, dropped passes, fumbles and interceptions and the stubborn refusal of one individual to adapt and change.

With two offseason issues staring the Steelers offense in the face - the holdout of the No. 1 wide receiver and the introduction of a new offensive coordinator - before Training Camp ever started, Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger could have taken the bull by the horns and kept loose ends from unravelling.

A new offensive coordinator does not guarantee immediate success, especially when your speedy wide receiver isn't in Camp, but buying into it would at least help to more smoothly transition the offense into place. Big Ben is the leader of the offense and the players look to him as such.

Let's look at it this way and assume for a minute that half of Steeler Nation will get what they want and offensive coordinator Todd Haley is also allowed to "retire?" Think about it: What if Big Ben doesn't like the next new offense, either? Does he continue to whine and pout his way to another 8-8 season?

Big Ben is and always was the lynch pin. The success or failure of this offense begins and ends with him. He is the leader and could have provided the proverbial ounce of prevention. Instead, there are pounds of cure needed to remedy this situation, without new OC Haley once retaliating in kind to Big Ben's quips.

As even he himself admitted, Big Ben deserves the brunt of the blame for what transpired this season. He believes, though, that the offensive problems and the late-season collapse are not signs of things to come. -

If It Ain't Steel has always defended Big Ben in the past, and, though we aren't going to castigate him now, we realize it is definitely time for him to truly mature and to accept the change in surroundings. Though he by no means shoulders all the blame, again, the Steelers success still begins and ends with him. -

Now, we all know Big Ben isn't going anywhere, but (sorry to disappoint many of you) neither is Haley. To even suggest such a thing is incredibly premature and unwarranted. As we've written before, not one coach fumbled, dropped a pass or threw an interception. But that doesn't mean they escape with impunity.

The offense was at times brilliant and at time putrid. Unfortunately, sometimes in the same game. This is where the coaching staff receives a failing grade. What did Haley say last Thursday before the Cincinnati Bengals game regarding how their season is measured?

"What we are about is wins and losses," he said in Coordinator's Corner. "That is how you are measured. How many wins do you have? Are you in the playoffs? That's what we are shooting for, to play the game in New Orleans. That is our only goal."

If that is your only goal as a coaching staff, you failed. And even if turnovers were directly associated with the three-game losing streak, the coaching staff still shares the blame. Here's how.

Big Ben's propensity for success on third down prior to his injury and in recent years is well publicized, including right here in this blog. In his first eight and a half games this season, he had over a 66% completion rate on third downs, including seven touchdown passes and no interceptions.

In his three post-injury games, though, Big Ben has less than a 41% completion rate on third down and has thrown only one touchdown and has thrown one interception.

He spoke last week about feeling the offense needed to stretch the field more as defenses had adjusted to their short passing game and had been doing a better job at disguising pressure and coverages.

We preach that players must execute and that pinpoint execution trumps predictability every single time. The problem is that Haley never really adjusted the offense to offset what the defenses were doing and therefore put his offense in a position to execute cleanly.

Whether it's a spread look, zero formations, flood routes or slant routes to combat this and give the receivers space to gain separation, it wasn't done. Nor were the running backs used out of the backfield enough.

It affected the Steelers offensive line as well. In the three games since Big Ben has been back, he's suffered 10 sacks, and even more hits, for an average of over 3.3 per game. In the games prior, he was only sacked an average of 2.12 times per game.

Instead of orchestrated rhythm, there was cacophony.

Another issue is identity. Art Rooney II had said after the firing of former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians that he simply wanted to see things "tweaked" a little bit.

Well, (work with me here) why not simply "encourage" your existing OC to adjust his offense to include more fullback/H-back play, a more effective run game and more three and five-step drops? Especially since you claim you mainly want to extend the life of your franchise quarterback.

If It Ain't Steel suggested after the Arians firing that it might have been a premature move because of that still-maturing offense. With still very young wide receivers, a running back that wouldn't be starting the season healthy leaving two young runners to carry the rock and with potentially three new offensive linemen (one simply in a different position) in your lineup, that may not have been a time to rock the boat. -

Rooney II had also wanted more effective running of the ball. Last year, the Steelers ran the ball 43% of the time. This year, roughly 41% of the time, the lowest percentage in many years.

Steelers have started seven different offensive line combinations this season, with one game to go. They started 10 different combinations last season. So, with neither a consistent nor effective run blocking line, or a steady running back, we're saddled with these results.

And now Willie Colon is hurt again. What will happen with him now? Free agents and salary cap issues will be discussed in future articles.

So much, however, went into the great fall of the Pittsburgh Steelers: Divo wide receivers, entitled quarterbacks and stubbornly rigid offensive coordinators. It will certainly take all of the king's horses to put this back together again.

...and somewhere Bruce Arians is smiling.


TIDBITS: Only once in Dick LeBeau's 11 years as Steelers defensive coordinator has the team ranked worse than 5th (9th) in total defense. Fives times in last nine years they've been number one. LeBeau said Thursday, "I love Pittsburgh," tells players he'll be back next season. Here's what LeBeau said about his return to the Steelers and some decisions Tomlin must make about his staff:


Casey Hampton won The Chief Award for cooperation with the media, Mike Adams was voted the teams Rookie of the Year and Heath Miller was voted the team MVP.

Steelers have two Pro Bowl players for 2012: C Maurkice Pouncey and TE Heath Miller. Pouncey is the first center ever to be selected to a Pro Bowl in each of his first three seasons.

Steelers alternates: Roethlisberger, Clark, Suisham and Timmons.


STEELERS PRACTICE/INJURY Report - DeCastro (hamstring) full practice for Steelers; LB Marshall McFadden(abs) limited; Troy, Adams (ankle), C. Brown (ankle), K. Lewis (knee) and Wallace (hip) DNP