Saturday, November 30, 2013

What Is The Steelers Direction After Loss To Ravens?

“Have to clean up some things down there at the goal line. The run comes first. We'll fix that. Gotta get the run game going.” - Pittsburgh Steelers fullback Will Johnson

That will be more difficult if rookie running back Le'Veon Bell is out for an extended period, and, if so, greatly hinders any real playoff hopes.

In the Steelers 22-20 loss Thursday night to the rival Baltimore Ravens, Bell, who appeared to lose consciousness, fell backwards into the end zone for what was originally ruled a touchdown, but the rookie running back was ruled down just short of the end zone because his helmet came off before the ball broke the plane. -

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger hit wide receiver Jericho Cotchery on a quick slant for a 1-yard touchdown, but fellow receiver Emmanuel Sanders was unable to hang on to a potential game-tying two-point conversion pass on the next play.

“He (Sanders) had a corner just come into the game, so I went to him,” Big Ben said. “You get so close, but it's a tough team, tough environment, and I've got to make plays down the stretch.”

After the game, though, Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin after the game implied that Manny wasn't the primary target. It seems he was correct, or at least that Cotchery felt that way too. -

“I was open (on the two-point attempt), but a quarterback has a lot of decisions to make,” Cotchery said. “The touchdown (play) was going to be the 2-point play call, but we had to go with it.”

As for Bell, he got more than his rung and was promptly taken to the locker room and examined for a concussion. The Steelers haven't as of yet given an update in his status. But it would be a bad blow if they're forced to go without their leading rusher the final four games.

As the initial quote alluded to, getting the ground game going was and is important. Starting the game with five straight runs isn't exactly the way to do that, but that was done as part of a patient *ahem* gameplan due to the presence of Elvis Dumervil.

They were just starting to see Bell's potential and wanted also to establish his presence. Bell has rushed for 528 yards in nine games this season, had developed into a good every-down running back and a very good receiver out of the backfield (his 29-yard catch-and-run got the team to the Ravens 20-yard line on the near game-tying drive). His previous best game had been against the Ravens, and he then was repeating that against them again.

However, his wasn't the only injury sustained Thursday.

The Steelers team announced Saturday that center Fernando Velasco had been placed on injured reserve with an Achilles tendon injury. The 28-year old had stepped into the starting lineup after Maurkice Pouncey suffered ACL and MCL tears in the Steelers’ season-opening loss to the Titans.

Cody Wallace replaced him and finished out the game. Steelers also announced that they signed former Saints center/guard Eric Olsen and former Browns offensive tackle Rashad Butler. Wallace and Olsen are now the Steelers centers. 

Kelvin Beachum and Mike Adams were also hurt in the game. But Beachum won't likely be switched to center because the offensive line has been playing very well, better than they have in a long time, and cannot withstand any further shifts.

They also released cornerback DeMarcus Van Dyke.

But what does this mean for the rest of the season? How will the team react to losing the game and one or more players?

“I don't expect any quit,” a resolute Big Ben said after almost pulling off yet another fourth-quarter comeback. “We haven't quit to this point. I know what I'm going to do. I'm going to fight my butt off all the way to the end.”

The same should be expected from the rest of the team.

Though some teams might (and have in the past) tank the remaining games to better position themselves for a higher draft pick, the Steelers won't do that.

Big Ben has said more than once that he never wants to have a losing record. To this point in his career, he hasn't. Last season was his worst record as starting NFL QB to date, a record that may be duplicated this season.

Consider this: many veterans on the team have at least one Super Bowl ring. A few have two. Big Ben, Troy Polamalu, Brett Keisel and Ryan Clark have a lot of pride, and losing hurts. Being that several, including some of the above mentioned, won't be on the team next season, it is something that they are not used to and isn't how they want to end their stay.

But, while the Steelers could still reach a 9-7 record, wouldn't a 5-11 record be better come the last weekend in April?

Actually, there is little value in the Steelers tanking their remaining four games of the season to ensure such a final record as it would likely only result in a selection three or four picks higher. Because, if they set their sights on a particular player within their reach, say in the 14-to-18 range, moving up two or three spots wouldn't affect them.

Case in point, last year they wanted Jarvis Jones. Period. If the team had lost the last one or two games they would have has a higher draft pick, but they still would've selected Jones.

Also, draft position does not always equate to draft success. There are busts every year and surprises every year. Drafting is an inexact science and is a challenge for all NFL teams. All still must make the right selection if they are going to have any success.

Not only that, but losing games means potentially losing your job. That goes for the players and coaches alike, and we all know that the Rooneys are patient with their coaches. But that doesn't go for assistants as much as it does for head coaches.

Also, general manager Kevin Colbert may feel the pressure as well given the lack of production from recent draft classes. As a point of reference, no players remain on the roster from the 2008 draft class.

No, the Steelers won't fold, won't mail it in. Too much rides on their licking their wounds and finishing out their season on a positive note. Too much pride. While they may not dare to dream of a run reminiscent of the 2005 run, their sights are still set straight ahead.