Monday, January 04, 2010

Steelers Season In Review

I've written and rewritten parts of this post several times. I'm trying to balance the disappointment of not making the playoffs after coming off of a Super Bowl Championship with the fact that the organization is still one of the best in football. I'm sure many of you don't see that today, but living in the DC area, it's easy to see that the Steelers are in significantly better shape than the Washington Redskins and many other teams in the NFL (ex. Detroit Lions, St. Louis Rams).

Before I share my thoughts, let's look back at the 2009-2010 predictions by drinkyourmilkshake of Behind the Steel Curtain; Phil of Phil's Occasional Musings; Michael Rizzo of Rizzo Sports (and the Rizzo Sports Blog); Messiah, Marc & Gobo of White Nerdy Wonks; Donald of Steelers Today; Steve of Steve Is Alive; Rob of The Bluey Blog; and me.

1. Number of sacks James Harrison will have this season.
Steve predicted 12 for James and that Woodley would lead the team with 15.5. Messiah also believed that Harrison would have 12 sacks. The actual amount was 10 with Woodley leading the team with 13.5 sacks.

2. Limas Sweed's numbers (catches, yards & touchdowns).
The actual amount was 1 catch for 5 yards and 0 touchdowns. We all expected significantly more except for Rob who predicted "no more than 10 catches, 1 TD and 150 yards."

3. Stefan Logan: Reminds me of Antwaan Randle El as a Steeler; Greatest returner in team history; or Another Allen Rossum?

Well, Logan didn't have any touchdowns but he set the Steelers record for most kick-off return yards. Logan wasn't anything special returning punts and was often replaced by Mewelde Moore when a fair catch was probable. Overall, though, he was a solid returner and improved his special teams coverage as the year progressed.

Messiah - I'd say he's not quite Twaan, but certainly better than Colclough.
Donald - I predict that Logan will become the greatest 5'7" returner in team history.

Points for both Messiah & Donald!

4. Will Jeff Reed be arrested during the season?
Rob - Once, for drunk and disorderly conduct.

During the season, Reed was cited by police for disorderly conduct and public intoxication.

5. Who will lead the team in touchdowns scored?
Rob - Rashard Mendenhall. Mendenhall led the team with 8 touchdowns followed by Hines Ward, Heath Miller and Mike Wallace with 6 each. I need to take Rob with me to Vegas the next time I go!

6. Season prediction (please include the team record) + Any other thoughts/predictions:
All of us predicted division champs and playoffs. I think Phil's prediction was the closest though. 11-5. It's extraordinarily difficult to repeat as Super Bowl champions. I think we're going to have another good year and win the division but lose a close-game heartbreaker in the playoffs. Maybe that's just what I'm used to as a fan. Despite our success, I wouldn't know what to do with myself if I didn't have something to complain about when it comes to the Steelers.

Phil, that brings us to today. There were certainly positives to the season such as the pending stardom of LaMarr Woodley, the thought that Rashard Mendenhall can be a #1 running back and the fact that Mike Wallace may be the offensive rookie of the year. Unfortunately, there were more negatives. The kick return coverage was among the worst in NFL history and the defense rarely made stops when needed. The secondary struggled, particularly in the fourth quarter, though I wonder how much of this was related to Troy Polamalu's absence. Taking away one of the best players in football certainly impacts the rest of the team and especially the secondary. I'm a big fan of Tyrone Carter playing spot duty or in specific packages. Unfortunately, he was exposed playing nearly every down. It also didn't help that rookies Ryan Mundy (I know he's not really a rookie, but he never left the practice squad in 2008) and Joe Burnett were playing significant minutes and that another rookie Keenan Lewis couldn't get on the field.

Now here's the positive to all of this. The Steelers have had a history of getting little production out of players in their first season only to see great improvements during their second season. It happened with Mendenhall, Polamalu, Woodley, and Lawrence Timmons. If we get similar growth out of players like Mundy, Burnett, Lewis, Ziggy Hood, and tackle Ramon Foster along with a healthy Polamalu and Aaron Smith, I think the team will be in good shape coming into next season.

There are a few other items that should be addressed. I know that a lot of people think offensive coordinator Bruce Arians should go. I'm not so sure. The Steelers finished 7th in the league in total yards with better numbers than playoff teams such as Indianapolis, San Diego, Philadelphia and Baltimore. While we may miss the days of giving the ball to Jerome Bettis 25 times a game and watching him run for over 100 yards, the NFL is now a passing league and that's where the team excels. Unfortunately, the team isn't able to close games like we did in seasons past. To have Bettis run out the clock in the fourth quarter when everyone knows that the team is going to run. However, I don't think you can pin this on Arians. The team, and in this case I'm referring to the personnel department, hasn't adequately addressed the offensive line over the past few years.

Bottom line: Perhaps this was Super Bowl Hangover Part II. It's certainly possible that the team overlooked Kansas City, Oakland and Cleveland. They may not have said it, but I'm sure that the players came into those games knowing they were the better team and believed that they would win just by showing up. That won't happen next year. I also believe that having Polamalu and Smith healthy would have translated into at least one more win. One more win would have got the team into the playoffs.

Finally, not everything is bad in the world. The Steelers have won two Super Bowl Championships over the last 5 seasons. How many teams would dream of having even one?

No comments: