Sunday, January 13, 2013

Art Rooney II - The State Of The Steelers, pt. 1: 'Frustration'

The president spoke, he delivered his address and everyone took note. However, this wasn't Obama or the State of the Union, but Pittsburgh Steelers' team president Art Rooney II speaking to the local media on the State Of The Steelers.

With the offseason for the Steelers underway, Rooney II's now annual season wrap-up featured a few points of interest for Steelers fans. Nothing, however, that was unexpected nor anything that took football's version of Pythagoras to figure out. In a word, it was "frustrating."

"It was clearly a frustrating season, mostly because we had so many opportunities that we didn't take advantage of," said Rooney. -

One of those missed opportunities was turnovers related. The defensive side of the turnover ratio, as we've covered in previous blog posts, was a result of the lack of pressure on the quarterback. As Rooney II stated, "We have to get more pressure on the quarterback. Anybody will tell you that creates turnovers."

As he pointed out, the Steelers need a better pass rush, more turnovers on defense and fewer on offense. These are priorities for 2013, and will be discussed in more detail in part two of the interview. None of them, though, are going to happen if one thing in particular isn't taken care of first: the Salary Cap problem.

ESPN reported recently that the Steelers currently are $10.8 million over the Cap. Rooney said that it's much more than the $10 or so million over. As we said also, add the exclusive rights free agents and it's around $12 million. -

However, as some have further reported, add the dead money that's owed and it is closer to about $15-$16 million over. There are more tough decisions ahead, Rooney said, and called it a "jigsaw puzzle."

Many of the pieces in that puzzle are amongst the unrestricted free agents as they attempt to determine who will be kept and who will be allowed to go off into free agency making room for the restricted free agents they'll need to retain. These are the ones we believe will be allowed to go:

Casey Hampton
Ryan Mundy
Justin King
Brandon Johnson
Greg Warren

Charlie Batch
Byron Leftwich (Injured so much he got a hangnail clicking this link)
Plaxico Burress
Rashard Mendenhall (2014 compensatory draft pick)
Mike Wallace (2014 compensatory draft pick)
Ramon Foster (Unless they decide to cut Willie Colon after June 1st)
Doug Legursky

There is unfortunately one more on that list: Max Starks. Starks was the only Steelers lineman to play every snap this year. We'd love to see the team extend a two-year deal to him since he has given so much to the organization. Will it happen? Probably not. What does he think will happen? -

Starks isn't the only player on the team who is contemplating his future. Many realize how much of a possibility it is to be in another uniform next season, or simply looking for work. It can be a sobering thought, especially when one's season ends unfulfilled. -

There are a few currently under contract as well who might have to be let go because of not fitting into that puzzle anymore. The most obvious of those are defensive end Brett Keisel ($2.8 million), linebacker James Harrison ($10 million), and guard Willie Colon ($1.2 million). Releasing those players would save the Steelers about $14 million in Cap space.

The problem with that is whether or not their backups would be ready to step into their vacated positions? There's the rub. A jigsaw puzzle indeed.

Rooney II also spoke on the problem the team has had lately with injuries. He said that while injuries do come in cycles, the Steelers will evaluate their training methods to see if they need to change anything.

Here's a consideration: In June of 2011, Ariko Iso, the first and only female NFL athletic trainer, left the organization to take the position of head athletic trainer at her alma mater, Oregon State. She seems to have taken with her the knowledge, training tactics and experience that the current person does not have. It also might be pure coincidence. But it is a feasible thought considering that the last two years have been replete with injuries. It is something worth considering at the very least. -

Rooney II naturally spoke on the offense as well and gave both head coach Mike Tomlin and offensive coordinator Todd Haley votes of confidence, saying that each did a "good job." He made the point that nine games into the season, the offense was functioning at a high level and that quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was taking fewer sacks. Something that he had wanted to see when former offensive coordinator Bruce Arians' contract was not renewed. Points that were discussed and emphasized on Talkin' Steelers Football:

He's basically accurate. Through those first nine games, the Steelers were 6-3, were scoring 23.0 points per game, were just -1 in turnover differential and were averaging 103.8 rushing yards per game. Not record setting numbers, but certainly winning football.

The last seven games on the other hand, they were 2-5, scored only 17.5 PPG, had a turnover ratio of -9, and their rushing YPG dropped to 86.1.

The two biggest reasons for this was the putrid turnover ratio and the declined play of Big Ben. Regarding his part in this equation, Big Ben admitted after the season was finally over, that he came back too early from his injury and, because of either not trusting the game plan, not trusting his teammates enough or both, he tried to do too much. -

It wasn't just him, though. Frankly, how could he completely trust his teammates when his top two wide receivers, Antonio Brown and Mike Wallace, were in double figures in both drops and fumbles?

How could he completely trust the game plan when it went away from Heath Miller about halfway through the season? A man whom Ben calls the "best player on the field whenever he's on the field." Or, for that matter, when Tomlin and Haley couldn't settle on a feature running back? A point that was perplexing and that even brought "friendly criticism" from one teammate in particular. -

But Big Ben believes the offense can work if they simply execute properly. He said so earlier in the season when he attempted to dismiss any philosophical disagreements with Haley. Big Ben is quoted as saying that he was convinced the offense “works for us. When we‘re executing, I think it works.”

He also said that a full offseason working with Haley should be productive, and that they just "need to continue to grow." -

The only problem with that is whether he'll be able to or not.

On Thursday, January 3rd, the Arizona Cardinals officially asked for permission to interview for their vacant head coaching position. The Steelers granted permission and, according to those associated with the Steelers organization, Haley did interview.

What would happen to the Steelers offense if Haley were to leave? Mark Kaboly of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review offers this assessment:

Yes, it is a big "if" on Haley's possibility of leaving. If he does leave, however, Kirby Wilson is considered the only one in-house replacement candidate. After that, there is long list of possibilities. Haley did say, however, during his final interview before the offseason, that he is happy where he is.

“Really, it isn’t anything I am thinking about,” said Haley about head coaching jobs. “I’ve said a bunch of times, and even when I came in and sat down with Mike {Tomlin} earlier on, this is where I want to be." -

If Haley and Big Ben are to be taken at their word regarding their relationship, and that their "feud" was more media-driven than anything, the full offseason time that Big Ben spoke about will be welcomed and needed, especially with him at an essential crossroads in his career. -

The offense has its issues, yes, as Rooney II alluded to, but they are things that can be fixed. Through the upcoming draft, a possible dip into free agency and, most importantly, simply learning to execute better, the offense can be what they want it to be.

However, there is still one more thing, as touched on earlier, that they will need to address. Something about which Rooney II spoke extensively: turnovers -- but on both sides of the ball. We'll discuss this in part two of this series.