October 31, 2014

A Closer Look At The Steelers

My look at the Browns last week raised a cacophony of howling and hissing from Browns fans. Today I am really going to poke the beehive by taking a look at the Steelers, because they aren’t going to like what I have to say at all. But if they are honest with themselves, they know I have a good point.

OFFENSE (2011)
Overall 12th
Passing 10th
Rushing 14th
TDs 19th
DEFENSE (2011)
Overall 1st
Passing 1st
Rushing 8th
Sacks 17th
INTs 24th
TDs 1st
2012 DRAFT PICKS
1.24 David DeCastro OG
2.24 Mike Adams OT
3.23 Sean Spence OLB
4.14 Alameda Ta’amu DT
5.24 Chris Rainey RB
7.24 Toney Clemons WR
7.33 David Paulson TE
7.39 Terrence Frederick CB
7.41 Kelvin Beachum OG
TOP PLAYERS
Ben Roethlisberger
Mike Wallace
Antonio Brown
James Harrison
Troy Polamalu
Lamarr Woodley
FA ADDITIONS
(none)
FA LOSSES
Chris Hoke
William Gay
Bryant McFadden
Hines Ward

Dynasties come in many forms, many durations, many intensities. And there is no arguing that the Steelers have been the primary force in the AFC North for a number of years. But despite their many differences, all dynasties eventually have one thing in common: they end.

I am not declaring the Steelers dynasty as over in 2012. They will still be a force this year. But this offseason revealed some cracks in their foundation that I think in the next few years will leave the fabled fortress breached, the yellow-and-black painted fans crying in their yellow hankies, and TV commentators searching for another franchise to fawn over.

Money. The team found themselves committed way over the salary cap this offseason. They were forced to cut ties with several long time players not just to get back under the cap, but also free up adequate space to try to strike a deal with phenom WR Mike Wallace.

The most notable casualty was Hines Ward. Despite his declining numbers, his absence will still be felt most because of his ability and persistence as a blocker. And it will be a little odd not seeing the old LB James Farrior roaming the field any more.

I’m not going to pretend to be an expert on the Steelers’ cap situation, but last I knew, they were only a few million under the cap. And the deal with Wallace is still lurking. Unless they have cleared out more space that I am not aware of, they are going to be in the exact same position next year when they have to negotiate with WR Antonio Brown.

This situation also puts more pressure on the front office to hit home runs with the draft. They simply do not have the money to plug holes with free agents.

Age. With the money-motivated house cleaning that moved Ward, Farrior, Hoke, Kemoeatu, Battle, McFadden and Smith off of the roster, the Steelers lost 76 seasons of experience in those 7 guys. That is a significant amount of experience to move off of the roster all at once.

But there is still plenty of age left on their roster. Take a look at how many years that a number of their starters have been in the league: Will Allen (8); Ryan Clark (10); Jerricho Cotchery (8); Larry Foote (10); Casey Hampton (11); James Harrison (8); Brett Keisel (10); Heath Miller (7); Troy Polamalu (9); Ben Roethlisberger (8); Ike Taylor (9).

That’s 11 guys — names you know well — entering their 8th season or later, and six entering their 10th season or later. They won’t all go down this year, obviously, but Father Time will not be so generous to those who do get nicked up. And with the regular pounding that Roethlisberger takes, at some point it is going to cost him. It almost did last year.

New OC. Bruce Arians made happen something that I never thought I would see: the conversion of the Steelers to a passing team. But it made sense to use the best of the tools that had been given to him. Obviously it worked.

Now the offense will be working under a new guy, Todd Haley. Sometimes the transition to a new coordinator goes smoothly, and sometimes it does not. Will Haley know how to call the plays that bring the best out of his guys? Will Haley’s reportedly sizable ego make him too rigid at times? I don’t know about these, but it is safe to say that he has huge shoes to fill just to keep pace with Arians.

Bottom line, the Steelers will still be a tough team to beat this year, but they have spent and aged themselves into a place where it is going to be difficult to maintain this success much longer. Time, injury and cap space will continue to force out the guys who have defined them for the past decade. Unless they have outstanding drafts in the next couple of years, this dynasty will be ending soon.

Comments

  1. mitchitized says:

    Steeler fan here, and this didn’t work me up at all. Good job :-)

    Seriously though, you did miss one massive change this year from years past, which just might have more impact on anything else you mention here: the offensive offensive line. Projected to be starting two #1 picks, two #2 picks and a #3 pick – this line has more potential than any other combination they have had in the past two decades.

    Either the new OL flops, or it flies. IMHO that will be the real determining factor as to whether the Steelers can continue their competitive spot at the top half of the division.

    • Bill says:

      It is about time that the Steelers addressed their O-line. But I did not mention it in connection with the age thing because the only aging guy they will aid is Roethlisberger. As a guy who has built his career scrambling and making hay on busted plays, keeping him in the pocket to be protected by the line is not playing to his strengths. It will keep him healthier though.

      I will definitely be curious how their new O-line holds up to the Bengals’ further improved D-line as well as the Ravens, the Giants, etc. They will get plenty of testing this year.

  2. retiredmd says:

    Yes, and “Titanic” was unsinkable. Your premise is flawed.
    I will say this but once: Money factors did NOT precipitate the loss of Ward, Smith, Hoke, Farrior, Battle, Kemoeatu or McFadden. Both Smith and Hoke retired after significant injury. Ward and Farrior could no longer play as evidenced by their limited 2011 participation. Kemo was pure incompetence. McFadden was clearly supplanted on the roster by younger, more talented players (Brown, Lewis, Allen).
    To be sure, there is concern given the age of some Steelers as you mention. However, if their recent drafts prove to be successful, their success will continue.

    • Bill says:

      From PFT on 2/29/12: “’I do feel that I still have more football left in me and I am looking forward to playing in the NFL again this upcoming season,’ Ward said, via the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review.” Ward retired three weeks later when no one was interested in him.

      Aaron Smith: cut by team, then retired, like Ward. Farrior: cut by team. And yes, Kemoeatu sucked, but 2011 wasn’t the first year he sucked. Yet he somehow managed to hang on until the team was overspent on the cap.

      These guys were largely dead weight, but they were the expensive dead weight. Trying to convince us that money was a non-factor makes you sound silly. There won’t be nearly as much ‘dead weight’ to trim next year when they have to do the same thing to make room to negotiate with Antonio Brown, meaning those cuts will hurt more.

  3. DBR96A says:

    I think the “old and slow” crap is getting exaggerated at this point. During the NFL draft, ESPN’s ticker noted that the Steelers have seven starters in their 30′s on defense. What they failed to note, however, is the following:

    1. Four of those seven starters (Ryan Clark, Larry Foote, Troy Polamalu, Ike Taylor) will be no older than 32 when the season starts. If the Steelers had seven starters in their mid-30′s, then I’d be concerned, but as of right now, they’re all still in their primes, and each likely has at least a couple of years left therein.

    2. A fifth starter (Casey Hampton) will start the season on the “personally unable to perform” list due to an injury sustained in the playoffs. In his place will be either Steve McLendon or Alameda Ta’amu, both of whom are young. This is also likely Hampton’s last season with the team.

    3. With the exception of the two Ss, the Steelers have drafted replacements for all of their older starters in the last three drafts. It typically takes defenders at least two years to learn Dick LeBeau’s system of defense, which is why nobody’s noticed the younger players yet. As for safety replacements, the 2013 draft is expected to be loaded with S talent.

    Another point I need to stress is that the “old and slow” mantra was initially uttered by one of the dumbest football commentators on TV, so I automatically have reservations about the credibility of any commentator who parrots him.

    • Bill says:

      Still in the primes? Hmmm… late in their primes, maybe. Still a good group this year, but not exactly the same as they were 3-5 years ago. Ask the St Louis Cardinals how well relying on a number of guys who are late in the primes is working out for them right now.

      Nice bait-and-switch with the “old and slow” angle. Too bad it isn’t what I said. Search my post for the words “old” and “slow”. I only used “old”, and then only once in reference to James Farrior, who is gone. So nice try. But I automatically have reservations about the credibility of any commenter who — intentionally or not — misrepresents what I said.

      • DBR96A says:

        But herein lies the rub: even if the performance of the defense declines slightly, it will be still be good enough to win plenty of games, and will also be more than compensated for by the improvement in the performance of the offense, especially with the improvements along the offensive line, and the fact that Todd Haley has a much more professional-caliber system of offense than Bruce Arians ever did.

        • Bill says:

          I can’t help but wonder just how much improvement the revamped O-line will make. I assumed that the Steelers paid so little attention to upgrading the line (they have been knocked for having a lousy line for a few years now) because it really doesn’t play into BR’s style since he is a scrambler. If he is outside of the pocket a lot, what does it matter how good the pocket is? Or are they going to limit his game and make him stay in the pocket more?

          I messed up by not making a full point out of this in my post, but another reason I think this is coming down the road (not this year… as I said above) is the changing AFC North. I don’t see the Ravens going anywhere any time soon (although losing Suggs will hurt this year). You may or may not see it, but the Bengals have a solid core of young, quality players, and it is now on them to break the past 20+ years and prove it by having a second winning season and then doing more in the postseason than just get there. And as I tried to tell Browns fans last week, if they can hold on through one more rough season and actually stick to the plan (and I’m not sure they can), they could be a year or two from being pretty good. I imagine that you are scoffing, but it is what I see coming. And there is only so much room at the top.

          • Whodey? says:

            It may not fit his style to sit in the pocket and deliver, but with the speed the steelers have on offense it will be easier for him and harder for opposing defenses to cover all that speed for long periods of time. The only weakness I see on their offense is lack of size at the skill position and who exactly will run the ball. They have Heath miller and Jericho cotchery as red zone targets and a reshard mendenhall who’s coming off an all injury. Can Isaac redman handle the load, or do they need to go out and add another back to split carries with him? Those are bigger questions than their age on defense and whether or not big Ben can sit in he pocket like a traditional QB.

          • Bill says:

            I’m not saying he would be a bad pocket passer, but if he is more limited to the pocket, you’ll miss out on those opponent-deflating, broken big plays. Personally, I am more afraid of BR when he is scrambling than when he is in the pocket.

            As for age, all I’m saying is that I heard the exact same dismissive confidence from Cardinals fans two months ago.

  4. Whodey? says:

    Ive read tons of comments on the past few blogs and all I’ve seen was bengals fans claiming this was their site and other fans are trespassing, but I haven’t seen one bengal fan comment other than the writer of this blog. Where are the bengals fans? Were they only interested in arguing with other AFC north fans?

    • Number 1 Fan says:

      The biggest community this site shares is during the live recording of the podcast. A large group of people interact with the podcasters in a chatroom and there is good Bengals discussion.

      Also, it is the offseason, many Bengals fans are following the Reds right now.

      • Whodey? says:

        Then why write the blogs when the most of seen was 6 bengals fans comment this month that didn’t involve debating other teams fans?

        • Number 1 Fan says:

          why ask that question? Why do you care?

          You could look at the traffic and see at least over 1000 views everyday and at times over 7000 views a day. Just because there are not many comments does not mean there is no one reading.

          • Whodey? says:

            Isn’t the purpose for the blogs to read and comment? No one writes blogs and expect no response. I kept seeing “this our teams site” and what not, but no one comments on anything, but they sure do pop up when someone from another team shares an opinion different from the bloggers. Just curious.

          • Number 1 Fan says:

            The purpose is to read, comments are nice too but knowing people read your stuff is nicer.

  5. Phillip Hutton says:

    The Steelers have been a force ever since the 70′s. The only thing that separates them every decade is how many Super Bowls they attend. Even in their bad decades (80′s & 90′s), they were a playoff team almost every year. Many of those playoffs resulted in AFC Championship games. The primary difference between the “off” years and the “good” years was their ability to win those AFC Championship games.

    I see no reason why this decade will be any different. To simply state that they will continue being a force in the AFC is a no brainer. To simply state that they “may” not be as good as those teams that won the more recent Super Bowls is also a no brainer. It’s hard to be better than the best every year.

    My prediction: the Steelers will be in the playoffs at least 8 of the next 10 years. They will be in the AFC Championship game at least 2 of the next 10 years. Unlike other teams, these are the MINIMUM expectations of the Steeler Nation.

    The only question that remains is how many Super Bowls they will win in the next decade. I think they have an even chance (50/50 odds) of taking another 2 Super Bowls.

    • Number 1 Fan says:

      I think you are insane. What makes the Steelers organization that much better than any other in the NFL? In the 70′s it was steroids.

      In the 80′s and 90′s it was not as good as you claim in your comment.

      Since the Steelers have been on the positive side of some great coaching and excellent scouting / coaching. It also helped to play in a division with no real challenge.

      Eventually the well dries, it always happens.

    • Bill says:

      Don’t look now, but three NFL guys agree that 2012 will not be one of those 8 playoff years. DOH!

      • Whodey? says:

        Just like I’m sure everyone thought the packers would repeat by beating the patriots in the Super Bowl? Or that the 49ers would be the worse team in their division? Or your bengals being so bad they’d be picking in the top 5? You should Know better than anyone not to take what “experts” say as gospel.

        • Bill says:

          I know you haven’t read other posts from me; if you had, you’d know that I have made fun of the “experts” on numerous occasions. They can no more predict the future with certainty than you can. But teams like the Steelers generally get the benefit of the doubt from the “experts”. Dissing the Bengals or the Browns is just another day at the office at ESPN; dissing the Steelers is much more unusual.

          If it were one lone guy whose name no one knows, I (like you) would dismiss him as someone just trying to generate buzz to get his name out there. When a former player, coach and GM agree and all three pick the Steelers to finish third in the division, it is at the very least something noteworthy. And it indicates that conventional wisdom — ESPN’s true specialty — says that 2012 will be substandard in Pittsburgh.

          • Whodey? says:

            Tbh, bill polians opinion is the only one I’d respect. I like Marcellus, but I don’t agree with him or herm Edwards. I think herm edwards is a better motivator than he is a football mind. What’s the bengals BIGGEST question for this season? IMO, it will be their offense, who will step up opposite aj green to contribute and will they be able to run the ball with the law firm successfully. The steelers biggest question? It isn’t their age. It’s again their offense. How will mendenhalls injury affect the offense, who will shoulder the load of running the ball, and mike Wallace, will he play like desean jackson or Matt forte because of his contract situation. All that being said I’d count more on the team wih proven veteran leadership than I would the young and talented team who has yet to prove they can duplicate their success.

  6. Whodey? says:

    The cardinals don’t have the same talent, leadership and depth the steelers do and as far as Ben goes, he’s more dangerous when he breaks the pocket, but a lot of running threats are. What makes Ben special is he can be great in the pocket too. So I don’t think the upgrade at offensive line will hurt the steelers because they might not have as many broken plays turn into big plays, I think it will make them that much more dangerous because they’ll be more consistent run blocking and pass blocking. Teams won’t be as geared to stopping one thing and have to prepare for a complete offensive attack.

    • Bill says:

      I’m not the only one to raise the age question. Jamison Hensley writes of Heath Miller:

      He’s still the most complete tight end in the division. But he turns 30 during the season, and you wonder whether he’ll give the Steelers more than 50 catches and two touchdowns like he’s done the past two seasons.

      And there are 10 starters older than him. Age is a ruthless lioness, and you rarely see her coming.

      • Whodey? says:

        I understand age is a question, I’m saying it’s not their biggest issue.

  7. Tim Tebow says: